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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Republicans Keeping Health Care Bill Secret From Public; President Trump Lashes Out at FBI and Justice Department Over Investigation; Hospital: Scalise in ICU in Critical Condition. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 16, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Bezos spent $14 billion at Whole Foods, and he left with four stalks of organic asparagus and some humus.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Episode 148 in which the president becomes his own leaker, President Trump now tweeting that he's under investigation for potential obstruction of justice, as even his lawyer looks for a lawyer.
You might have a better chance of finding out the truth about Area 51 than getting a look at the Republican Senate health care plan. Why so many secrets about a bill that could impact every one of us?
Plus, a follow-up in our "Earth Matters" series, an American island in danger of being swallowed by the sea. After our report on their plight, the mayor got a call from President Trump, the man who said climate change is a hoax. Today, the mayor will visit us and tell us what they had to discuss.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We are going to begin with the politics lead.
Whether he meant to, whether he even knows he did, today, President Trump tweeted what seems a clear confirmation that he's being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.
The tweet, one of many in a flurry over the past few days, seems to confirm the "Washington Post" scoop of a couple days ago, and it comes just days after the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, seemed to be pooh-poohing any story about the FBI investigation that has anonymous sources.
Rosenstein issuing quite an unusual statement last night, warning Americans not to -- quote -- "accept as true stories based on anonymous officials," but President Trump, as it his wont, then undermined his underling's caution and then attacked Rosenstein, tweeting -- quote -- "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director! Witch- hunt." In point of fact, of course, Rosenstein wrote a memo recommending Comey's dismissal, but the president told NBC that his mind was made up well before that.
In other presidential tweets, Mr. Trump has referred to the investigation as being led by -- quote -- "very bad and conflicted people," and additionally suggested that intelligence and law enforcement officials -- quote -- "made up a phony collusion with the Russian story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story" -- unquote.
Turns out the biggest critic of the Trump administration might be President Trump.
Meanwhile, today, Air Force One flew through the cloud of the Russia investigation to Miami, where President Trump announced that he's going to close some of the doors President Obama opened up with Cuba.
Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us.
Jeff, President Trump seems to be doing the leaking for us this time.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he appears to be doing just that.
He's the one who announced that he's under investigation, and that, we're told by a White House official, is based on what he saw in news accounts, not what any official actually told him.
Now, he's been advised of all the legal ramifications of sending out all of these messages, but one person who has spoken to him in the last 24 hours told me that the president does not care. He's taking the fight into his own hands, perhaps in hopes of discrediting this investigation.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump saying publicly for the first time today that he is under investigation, as the probe of Russia's influence in the 2016 election expands.
He also assailed the integrity of the Justice Department official overseeing the investigation. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director!" the president said. "Witch-hunt."
That man is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who made the decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Only a month ago, Rosenstein, a veteran of the Justice Department, received the president's praise.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but, regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. ZELENY: But it's the firing of FBI Director James Comey that
investigators are now exploring to determine whether the president was trying to obstruct justice.
In the Oval Office today, the president huddling with his aides before traveling to Miami to announce new restrictions on travel and business with Cuba.
TRUMP: We will enforce the embargo.
ZELENY: But the president's agenda overshadowed by the Russia investigation, as he's lashing out on Twitter.
"After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my collusion with the Russians, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad."
A White House official told CNN the tweets were less spontaneous than a strategy by the president of taking matters into his own hands. "This is a political fight, and he's going to fight it," the official said.
But the Russia cloud threatening tone Gulf the president is far more than political. CNN has learned members of the Trump transition team received a memo urging all volunteers and aides to preserve any records relating to Russia, Ukraine or investigations into top Trump campaign officials in the inquiry.
All this comes two years to the day after Mr. Trump jumped into the Republican primary. Now, six months into his presidency, a sense of anxiety hangs hover the White House.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein offered this warning: "He believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired. That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president's oath of office."
ZELENY: Now, as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is, what is his relationship with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein?
Now, the president has said through his aides that he does not plan at this time to try and fire the special counsel, Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake, Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate, told CNN Money earlier today this: "I would fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayers' money. This is a witch-hunt."
Those words sound familiar -- Jake.
TAPPER: They sure do. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.
Today's presidential tweetstorm comes as the Russia investigation seems to be widening.
CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.
Jessica, another development. The deputy attorney general said he would recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller probe, if necessary. He said that weeks OK, but he reiterated it today.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. It's a stance that Rosenstein is standing by, like you said, after mentioning it two weeks ago, saying he will in fact remove himself if the investigation ends up involving the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
The possibility of recusal has become a lot more pointed in recent days, as it becomes apparent that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is widening his probe and as the president continues to lash out over Twitter.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, new questions as to whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel's Russia probe, which he launched by hiring Robert Mueller.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Director Mueller is going to have the full degree of independence that he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately.
SCHNEIDER: Mueller and his growing team of prosecutors are planning to interview top intelligence officials, in the clearest indication yet that the probe could expand to include obstruction of justice in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, in which Rosenstein played a role.
But a Justice Department spokesman tells CNN: "As the deputy attorney general has said numerous times, if there comes a point where he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed."
Thursday night, Rosenstein issued a peculiar statement, saying, "Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations."
QUESTION: Are you under investigation by the FBI?
SCHNEIDER: President Trump took aim at Rosenstein today, tweeting: "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director! Witch-hunt."
If Rosenstein does in fact recuse himself or is fired outright by President Trump, then Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would then oversee the Russia investigation.
RACHEL BRAND, ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: If confirmed, I will strive to undertake my role with integrity.
SCHNEIDER: The Senate confirmed Brand, a civil litigator by training, to be the Justice Department's third ranking official in May, her second stint with the DOJ, having previously served under the Bush administration.
All this as members of President Trump's transition team have been directed to preserve all records pertinent to the Russia investigation, including any relevant foreign travel. A memo obtained by CNN asked transition officials to also retain records related to former Trump campaign associates, specifically former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.
Meanwhile, Mueller's team is examining the president's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner's Russia-related meeting, including whether he was acting as a member of the Trump campaign and transition or as a real estate businessman.
Kushner met with the head of the Russian bank VEB in December. And the bank said it was to discuss business, but the White House has said the meeting was part of Kushner's foreign policy responsibilities.
Vice President Mike Pence, who led the transition team, is now lawyering up, but told reporters today to not read too much into it.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very routine.
SCHNEIDER: And Vice President Mike Pence isn't the only one lawyering up.
President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and former campaign aide Michael Caputo have both hired private attorneys -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
Does the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, also need to recuse himself from the Russia investigation? I will ask Senator Amy Klobuchar from the Judiciary Committee coming up next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We have some breaking news for you in our national lead.
A jury in Minnesota reached a verdict in a police shooting, one that you may remember. It received worldwide attention because the aftermath was streamed live on Facebook. You might remember the case of Philando Castile.
His girlfriend was broadcasting on Facebook Live after he was shot by an officer during a traffic stop. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot and killed Castile, was found not guilty just now, not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. He was also acquitted of two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangered safety.
Those charges were because Castile's girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car.
Joining me now is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She's a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, you're here to discuss other issues. We just got this breaking news. But because you're from Minnesota, I do want to ask you about your reaction to this verdict.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Well, Jake, I just heard about it myself.
And I will say that I got to know Philando Castile's family. He was someone who was loved in his school. And this has been a really tough case for everyone involved.
There were top-notch prosecutors from the U.S. attorneys and the Ramsey County Attorney's Office that were handling this case. I'm sure we will learn more about why the jury reached the verdict that they did.
I always believe in the jury system, but I hope that -- tonight, I know that people had planned a protest for whatever night the verdict came out at the state capitol. And they said it would be peaceful. And I hope, for our community's sake, that that will be the case.
[16:15:08] It's just been a very tough thing on the family, of course, and also the community.
TAPPER: Yes, our thoughts and prayers with the family, of course, and with the people of Minnesota.
Let's turn to politics and some national issues. The president tweeted earlier: After seven months of investigations and committee hearings about my, quote, collusion with the Russians, unquote, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!
Your reaction to that. There are Trump supporters who say, you know, where's the evidence? Where's the collusion? What's your -- what's your response?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, there are ongoing Senate Intelligence Committee investigations involving Democrats and Republicans coming together. You saw that committee doing its work over the last few weeks and they are not done. They are continuing to investigate Russian interference in our election. We've had 17 intelligence agencies with the U.S. government, non-partisan, intelligence agencies saying it happened and now, there is a special counsel or special prosecutor investigating.
The work is not done yet, and I think what I'm most disturbed about was the president's tweet number four and the four tweets that occurred in the early morning hours in which he talked about the firing -- that he was told to fire the FBI director from the deputy attorney general who is now investigating him when in fact, and this is public, because we asked at our briefing if it could be public, the deputy attorney general actually wrote the memo about the firing after he had been told that the president had planned to fire the FBI director.
And so, all of this just leads me to the conclusion that the special prosecutor Mueller who has just gotten this appointment, just hiring people, starting to do his job, must be allowed to do his job. And in the words of Lindsey Graham, my Republican colleague, it would be simply a disaster at this point to fire him. He hasn't even started doing his job.
TAPPER: Are you -- do you share the concern of Senator Dianne Feinstein that the president is gearing up to both fire both Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor, and also potentially the deputy attorney general who technically is the only one who can fire the special counsel? Do you worry that both Mueller and Rosenstein are head for the chopping block?
KLOBUCHAR: You know, I wasn't worried about that after Rod Rosenstein had firmly said just this last week in front of the Senate committee that in fact he was the only one that could do that. It would have to be for lawful reasons, so I thought, okay. This is put to rest. We'll get to the bottom of the facts. Let the chips fall where they may.
But now with the president sending this last tweet out this morning, it really is concerning that he's attacking his own deputy attorney general, someone that served under President Bush, someone who has served in the Justice Department for years. And I just hope is that would not be the case, and it is not the president that can fire Mueller. Rod Rosenstein under the rules is the one that would have to do that.
TAPPER: Senator, can you explain what's going on with the health care bill being drafted by Senate Republicans. We're hearing a lot of complaints from Senate Democrats that there are no hearings and everything is being done behind closed doors. Is there really no way for a senator such as yourself to find out what's in this legislation that's being drafted?
KLOBUCHAR: At this point, we have no idea what is in the legislation. No one has seen a copy. We don't know how much it would cost. We don't know how many Americans would lose their insurance and here, the president with his direct words behind closed doors the other day when referring to the House bill called it mean, and I thought that was pretty interesting. You don't need a poll groups, you don't a focus group, you can you just call it what it is and he called it mean.
And what we don't want to have in the Senate is the Senate mean or mean, too. We don't want another bill that throws a bunch of people off their insurance. There should be changes to the Affordable Care Act, changes to the way the exchanges work, changes in the pharmaceutical prices.
I have three different bipartisan bills, including bringing drugs -- less expensive drugs from Canada and stopping pharma from paying off the generic companies to keep their products off the market. I have a bill to allow for negotiation for our seniors to get rid of the ban that stops our seniors from using their market power to negotiate the price of drugs.
There's a bunch of things we could do, but just throwing it out without really a replacement plan that works for America is not where we should be.
TAPPER: Senator Amy Klobuchar, thanks. We'll be thinking about Minnesota this evening.
KLOBUCHAR: All right. Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: The day before he opened fire on lawmakers at baseball practice, the shooter seemed to be planning to return home to Illinois. What we're learning today about his behavior before his horrific attack, next.
[16:24:15] TAPPER: Welcome back.
In our national lead today -- some positive news on the condition of Congressman Steve Scalise. Hours after this third surgery for the gunshot wound, hospital officials now say his condition is improving, although he remains in critical condition.
CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me now live from Washington MedStar Hospital in Washington D.C.
And, Ryan, what can you tell us about his condition?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, if there was any question as to just how grave the situation was for Congressman Scalise when he arrived here to this hospital a few days ago, those questions were answered today by Dr. Jack Sava. He was head of trauma at the Washington MedStar Hospital Center.
And he described his condition as critical with an imminent threat of death. He said the big problem was the immense amount of blood that Congressman Scalise had lost, and it was something that surgeons had to address right away.
[16:25:03] He said that they were able to do that, even though it was difficult at times. He said the fact that they have been able to keep the bleeding under control is one of the reasons he believes that his chances of survival are greatly improved from when they were when he first arrived. That said, he still has a long road of recovery ahead of him. It will take time, but they do believe, though, Jake, that he has the opportunity at one point to walk, perhaps even run again. So, there was definitely more good news here today that there was bad -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.
So, what exactly is in the Republican senators' health care bill? If you don't have a clue, well, you're not alone. More on what the future of your health care might be, coming up next.
TAPPER: We're back with more in the politics lead.
The U.S. Senate has two weeks before the July 4th recess and its self- imposed deadline to pass a version of their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Now, many Republicans remain in the dark about what's going to end up in the legislation, and finding a compromise that both chambers of Congress can live with, not to mention all the Republicans in the Senate, seems to be a tough task.