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Trump Takes Aim at Sessions, Senate GOP; Trump DOJ Pick Faces Questions on Russian Bank Ties; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:33:39] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We've got a president apparently trying to force out his attorney general. We have a former campaign chair receiving a subpoena to go testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A lot going on. Back now with our panel.

Margaret Hoover, first to you. We just spoke to Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado, your home state. He would not address directly the fact that the president, according to his own communications director, would like the attorney general out. You know, he essentially said the attorney general is doing a good job, but he won't criticize the manner with which the president is doing on it. You had a strong reaction to that.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I mean, I know Ken Buck because he's from my home state. He's a good friend. We know his family. He does not like the behavior of this president. Let me just tell you, it is totally counter to Ken Buck and how he comports himself in public office and to how many, many Republicans view the office of the presidency, and what should come from the president's list.

What you saw there was a very reluctant member of Congress, reluctant to criticize the president. And this is what you have. Donald Trump won his district by 23 points. All right. And so this is the dynamic you have in Congress, is you have many, many members of Congress whose seats really depend on the success of, frankly, the actions over the week. Is health care repealed and replaced or not?

And many of them who could lose their seats if Donald Trump isn't successful. And so while this absolutely undermines their idea of what the president should be, and how the president should comport himself, they are reluctant to criticize him because it, frankly, risks their future and office and their future majority.

[10:35:10] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Which, Mark Preston, gives the president license to do this again and again and again, no?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly does. I mean, look, in the many tweets that he has sent out today, one of them was, I'm going to Ohio. We expect big crowds to come out here tonight. You know, it's OK, I think, as president or as a politician to think in political terms to try to get things done. What's not OK, though, is how you go about doing it, and then you try to turn the blame on others when you're not able to get things done.

So, for instance, on health care, we saw President Trump last night turn to his HHS Secretary Tom Price and say, you better get the votes, Tom, you better get the votes. Well, I don't know anyone else on this panel, but I've never known an HHS secretary who's been able to go in with votes. That lays strictly at the doorstep of the president of the United States and that's something that we haven't seen President Trump focused on.

Today, he could have been focused on trying to get the 51 votes. Instead, he has decided to go off and has attacked his attorney general.

BERMAN: You know, Asha, we know that if you're a Special Counsel Bob Mueller, obviously, you're probably curious about what this might mean about your job. Not that Bob Mueller needs the job, I mean, I'm not sure that he really cares whether he's fired or not. That's an aside there.

But what do you make of it, if you are the special counsel right now? All these tweets, these personal statements coming from the president of the United States, do they factor into your investigation?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think to some extent, they will in the sense that you're going to hunker down and make sure that you get as much covered as you can.

I think the president failed to understand the nature of the legal system and a bureaucracy. Even if Mueller goes away, the investigation is not going to disappear into thin air. That is just not how our criminal justice system works. The premise of these investigations was begun a year ago. They will be continued in the FBI. I have been in the FBI, I know this. They simply cannot just close this midstream.

So he's going to I think take into account that it's possible he may leave and to make sure that there are mechanisms in place for this investigation to continue. And I think that the president, if that's his goal to shut the investigation down, he will be sorely disappointed because it will go on and it will be completed.

HARLOW: Mark Preston, all of this has been happening this morning. It's pretty hard, frankly, to keep up but Paul Manafort being subpoenaed to appear in public tomorrow. As Asha pointed out earlier, if he doesn't, he could be held in contempt of Congress. So what is -- what's your playbook for Paul Manafort? Does he come? Does he plead the Fifth? What does he do?

PRESTON: Well, clearly he has some concern about going before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now we do know that he's going to go to the Senate Intelligence Committee or we're told anyway that he will do that.

I think what Paul Manafort has done, though, is that he's drawn a line in the sand, so to speak, and I think from that line, he will now try to negotiate with Congress to see what he can get out of Congress in terms of protection if there is need to be protected. But as this subpoena is being issued or at least as we're told, because it was issued late last night, but as we're told today we have Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the president, going up to Capitol Hill on day two and right now is behind closed doors testifying as well.

So talk about a distraction right now. This whole Russian investigation has been on the Trump presidency.

BERMAN: Margaret, can I ask you a question about health care? Because that is, you know, behind door number three.

HARLOW: A huge deal today. Yes.

BERMAN: A vote that will be historic one way or the other. The Senate looks like it will vote on the motion to proceed. You know, I suppose it could kill conclusively the effort right now for health care or it could open the door for more votes next week. What pressure do you think being felt by the Republican members of the Senate right now?

HOOVER: Well, I think they are under an enormous amount of pressure, to a certain extent. But, I mean, this is why Paul Ryan has a press conference, right? I mean, what Paul Ryan said is I have an agenda. But what he was really saying without saying it is we did our job, guys, it's your time now.

I mean, that's why Paul Ryan got there and had a press conference right now because he really didn't have much substantive to say that was new. Right? But I think part of it is because the president hasn't been all in, hang wringing, 100 percent, trying to twist the arms of Shelley Moore Capito and Rob Portman and all of these moderate Republicans --

HARLOW: Not at all, some of them.

HOOVER: Right. Well, you have Mitch McConnell looking at the map for 2018 for the Senate reelection bid and seeing a really easy map compared to the Democrats. I mean, the chance that the Republicans continue to have a majority control of the Senate in 2018 is very, very high, regardless of whether they vote on health care or not. The real problem is the House of Representatives.


HOOVER: And that's why Paul Ryan is out there today.

[10:40:02] HARLOW: All right. Guys, thank you so much. Margaret Hoover, Mark Preston, Asha Rangappa, quite a bit of news to get through today. We appreciate you rocking and rolling with us.

BERMAN: Yes. On top of all of this, could there be another nominee from the president with a Russia connection? Just one of the many things unfolding on Capitol Hill today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: All right. Any minute now, President Trump's nominee to head up the criminal division of the Justice Department will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HARLOW: His name, Brian Benczkowski, has already told the committee about a previous job that he held that is raising some major questions. He previously represented a Russian bank, a bank that has been under scrutiny by the FBI for potential ties to the Trump Organization.

Joining us from Washington, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

This is Alfa Bank. So what's the back story here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So he's actually, you know, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as we speak where, you know, they have already raised some issues with his representation of the bank -- of Alfa Bank.

[10:45:12] So, you know, Brian Benczkowski here would be the nominee to head up the criminal division of the Department of Justice. And basically what that would be would he would oversee all of the criminal cases like gangs, organized crime and some of the cyber crime as well as white collar crime. He's no stranger to the Trump administration. He ran the Trump transition team for the Justice Department. He also previously worked there in the Bush year. And for the past several years, worked for a law firm where he just recently revealed in a letter to the Senate committee, that at that firm he represented a Russian bank that has been scrutinized by the FBI.

As CNN has reported, this bank, Alfa Bank, which is a Russian bank that came up in the FBI -- in an FBI investigation after unusual activity by the bank's computer servers indicated it communicated with the computer servers belonging to the Trump Organization during the campaign.

The bank hired him, hired his firm as part of its internal investigation to find out what was going on. And you know, Brian Benczkowski just recently revealed this work he claims because he was tied to confidentiality agreement. And also this information came up in security clearance forms. You know, much has been said about these SF-86 forms that have gotten Jared Kushner in some trouble.

But keep in mind, you know, Poppy and John, law enforcement officials have said to us that while there was some interesting activity in this bank's servers, they have not found anything nefarious about the activity.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: We did just get a statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. She says she has concerns about this nomination. The fact that the nominee continued to represent the Alfa Bank until the day of his nomination which was June 6th raises questions, she said. Essentially why did he continue to represent the bank after he knew about the potential nomination.

I guess one thing that's important here. He'd be running the criminal division inside the Justice Department. Does that have any connections, Shimon, with the special counsel investigation right now?

PROKUPECZ: So it's really -- it shouldn't because the counterintelligence investigations falls under the National Security Division which obviously is separate, has its own sort of AG, its own head who runs that department. The only way here where he may have some exposure to it is some of the financial investigations that we have all heard about that may be going on as part of this.

But all of that, anything that is connected to anyone within the Trump world is being handled outside of the Department of Justice with the special counsel. However, you know, if Sessions goes, then a new attorney general would come in and who knows what will happen. This could potentially, potentially, you know, have him overseeing some aspects of that investigation.

BERMAN: Questions of recusal with him more. All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

HARLOW: High sea tension between the United States and Iran. We're learning this morning that a Navy ship had to fire off some warning shots at an armed Iranian patrol boat.

BERMAN: This happened in the northern end of the Arabian Gulf and according to officials the Iranian boat is believed to have been operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and came within about 150 yards of the U.S. vessel. According to the official that spoke with CNN, the Iranians did not respond to any warnings from the U.S. ship.

HARLOW: Today, an emotional return to Capitol Hill. Senator John McCain coming back for a crucial health care vote less than a week after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He is on his way to Washington. And we are on top of the fast-moving developments.


[10:53:06] BERMAN: All right. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been dealing with some in-house drama lately. But last night they signed free agent Derrick Rose.

What do you think LeBron James thinks about that? Kept me up all night.

HARLOW: Do you think I know?

BERMAN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: I have no idea. But you know who does? This man. Coy Wire.

Good morning. COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good to you, Miss Poppy. And

John, good to see you.

Former number one overall draft pick, Derrick Rose, will be taking a 90 percent pay cut to go play for the Cavs and a chance to win an NBA title. Rose made $21.3 million with the Knicks last year and he just signed a one-year veteran minimum contract for $2.1 million to play in Cleveland. He could have made much more elsewhere, but Rose wants to play alongside King James and chase the ring.

LeBron tweeted rose emojis last night saying, "Let's rock, D." Still no word from Cavs' current all-star point guard Kyrie Irving who had previously asked to be traded, according to reports. And listen to this, though. With the addition of Rose, the Cavs and Warriors who've met in the last three NBA Finals now combined to have all the NBA MVPs from 2009 to 2016.

Come look at this. Soon to be 8th grade football player, 6'4", 286 pounds, already getting some big time scholarship offers. Jaheim Oatis from Columbia, Mississippi, said even the great Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he was shocked when he found out just how young he is. Jaheim tweeted that he's getting offers from schools like Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

And look at this kid run. 4.7 in the 40-yard dash. That's the average time of NFL draft prospects and he's running that fast. And how big is he? Well, according to some recruiting sites, the average D1 defensive lineman is about 6'3" and 260 pounds. This rising eighth grader, already bigger than that.

This is for you, Poppy. The fastest wiener dogs on the planet competed in the 22nd run-in of the Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals.

[10:55:06] All to raise money for a non-kill shelter. It was 1 1/2- year-old Baby Bo, a dachshund running with a trial time of 5.8 seconds. Believe me, the fastest one in the history of the nationals. All for a good cause, too.

I love seeing athletes giving back for a good cause.

HARLOW: I'm a little bit more of a retriever girl than a wiener dog girl but I'll take it.

BERMAN: Yes. Baby Bo was juicing.

All right. Coy Wire, thank you so much.

We've got a lot going on this morning. The president trying to push out his attorney general apparently. The campaign chair subpoenaed to appear before the Senate. New developments just ahead.