JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: a week of tragedy in Washington and a president under investigation for obstruction of justice.
A politically motivated shooting prompted the leaders of the nation's most political city to stop and reflect.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Washington, we have our disagreements, but we all agree that we are here to serve this nation we love and the people who call it home. That is the source of unity, and, more than ever, we must embrace it.
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DICKERSON: As lawmakers on both sides of the aisles spoke of unity and resolve.
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REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
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DICKERSON: From showing sadness.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people is a great people, and we have great values. We represent great people every day in this country on both sides of the aisle.
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DICKERSON: And fury.
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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I am sickened by this despicable act. And let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.
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DICKERSON: The threat of a crippling inquiry into the heart of the presidency sparks a new set of partisan reactions, as investigations into Russian meddling, possible Trump campaign staff collusion, and presidential obstruction of justice picked up speed.
We will talk with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, as well as Vermont's Bernie Sanders. Plus, we will hear from Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team.
We will have plenty of political analysis, and finally a very different kind of tribute to the class of 2017.
It is all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning, and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I am John Dickerson.
The Trump family is off for their first weekend at Camp David after an emotional week here in Washington. There is good news this morning, as Congressman Steve Scalise's condition has been upgraded from critical to serious, and he is able to speak with his family.
While the shooting dominated this week's headlines, it wasn't the only news. The president himself appeared to confirm he is being investigated by the special counsel for possible obstruction of justice in a tweet: "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch- hunt."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and pushed back against the suggestion of any wrongdoing.
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JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: That I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.
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DICKERSON: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Congress he saw no reason to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, despite a friend of Mr. Trump's saying the president did.
Rosenstein was also reported to have privately suggested he may have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, as his boss, Sessions, did in march.
President Trump traveled to Miami to announce he was reversing pieces of President Obama's Cuba policy.
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TRUMP: We now hold the cards. The previous administration's easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people. They only enrich the Cuban regime. I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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DICKERSON: This morning, there are also many questions about Saturday's collision of a Japanese container ship with the USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan.
Several bodies were found in the Fitzgerald's flooded compartments, but the Navy has not announced how many until their families have been notified.
And we begin this morning with Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who joins us from Miami.
The president has called the investigations a witch-hunt. What is your opinion of that?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, I know he feels very strongly about it.
My advice to the president is what I communicated publicly, I should say, the way I have to tried to communicate to everyone on this issue. And that is this. It is in the best interests of the president and the country to have a full investigation.
I really -- if I were the president, I would be welcoming this investigation. I would ask that it be thorough and completed expeditiously and be very cooperative with it. That's what ultimately I anticipate they will do.
That's in the best interests of the president. I really believe that. I think it is in the best interests of our country that we have a full-scale investigation that looks at everything, so that we can move forward.
DICKERSON: So, regardless of what you may think about James Comey's firing as FBI director, you think it should be investigated?
RUBIO: Well, I just think it is important to answer questions, because, otherwise, if people have any doubts, it undermines confidence in our system of government, in our elections, in our leaders.
As I said, I -- the best thing that can happen for the president and for America is that we have a full-scale investigation that is credible, that it reaches its conclusion one way or the other, so that we can move on, and -- but, at the same time, be knowledgeable. We have to know everything the Russians did and how they did it, so that we can prevent this from happening in the future.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about what the Russians did.
You voted for the sanctions bill in the Senate that would punish the Russians for that meddling. Do you think the president will sign that when it gets to him?
RUBIO: I hope so. It is important to send that message that this is -- as I said, that this is not acceptable.
And I remember, back in October, when those leaks came out, and I was, I think, one of the few Republicans in to the country that wouldn't discuss WikiLeaks, because I don't want that to be a part of our system here.
We can simply not allow foreign governments to be meddling and interfering in our elections that way. But they are going to keep doing it. They are doing it now. They will keep doing it in the future. We need to know how they do it, so that Americans are more knowledgeable about that and take that into account when making their decisions at the ballot box.
DICKERSON: When you were running, you -- for the Senate, you talked about the Senate being a check against the administration, whoever was going to be president.
Do you see this Russian sanctions bill in that form? In other words, the administration seems reluctant to punish Russia for this. The Senate is stepping in and saying that, well, we are going to punish Russia.
Is that a check, essentially, on the administration?
RUBIO: It is, but not perhaps for the reasons people think.
A lot of people -- nothing to do with the investigation, per se. It is more along the lines of the secretary of state believes that he wants to explore the opportunity to get Russia to be more cooperative on a number of issues, the foreign policy view that they have, and so they think that these sanctions may undermine that effort.
And while I respect that point of view, and I have considered it, ultimately, I think it is incredibly important for us to make clear that there are consequences for doing what they did during the 2016 elections. And that's why I supported these sanctions.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about Cuba.
And speaking of consequences, there are new provisions the president has put in place to put pressure on Cuba for its human rights record. But when the president...
RUBIO: But I would...
DICKERSON: Go ahead.
RUBIO: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
No, I wouldn't view it just as putting pressure. I really don't. I think this is an effort to strengthen individual Cubans. Understand what this does. This basically says that American travelers to Cuba, they will continue to fly on commercial airlines or get there on a cruise, but when they get there, they have to spend their money primarily with individual Cubans who own private businesses, which is what everybody who supported the Obama opening was always bragging about.
They were saying there was all these new small businesses. Well, we want to put them in a privileged position. And so American travelers to Cuba will have to spend their money with them, instead of the Cuban military.
That was goal of this is, is to empower individual Cubans to be economically independent of the Castro military and of the Castro regime.
DICKERSON: But when the president gave his speech, he said that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed. He talked about freedom of assembly. He talked about all political parties being legalized.
So, I guess what I was interested in is that, when he went to Saudi Arabia, he said he is not going to lecture Saudi Arabia about its considerable human rights challenges and what is happening in Yemen that Saudi Arabia is funding.
And I wondered if you could square for us, on the one hand, a very public lecturing of the Cubans and no lecturing of countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and how you see that.
Well, a couple points. First of all, when you talked about not lifting sanctions until they have elections, that is actually the law. That's the law of the United States. It is codified under Helms- Burton. It says that. The embargo goes away when they meet those conditions. And you have outlined them and the president outlined them.
As far as squaring the two, obviously, the administration will have do that, because I criticize Saudi Arabia as well. In fact, I would -- I take a backseat to no one on criticizing them or anybody the world when it comes to human rights and the violations or lack of democracy.
I will say this, however. This is in our region. This is 90 miles from our shores. The Western Hemisphere 35 years ago was largely controlled by dictators, but, basically, every nation in region has had a free and fair election at some point over the last 20 or 15 years, except for one, and that is the island of Cuba.
So, in our region, in our own backyard, we are not going to allow tyranny and dictatorship to grow and to surge. We want the people of Cuba to have the same opportunities the people in the Dominican Republic have had, the people in Haiti just had, the people of Colombia have, and that is to be able to vote for their leaders.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you about, domestically, the issue of health care. Your Republican colleague Senator Ron Johnson said: "I want to know exactly what is in the Senate bill. It is not a good process."
What is your assessment of the process of evaluating health care in the Senate?
RUBIO: Yes, it is always tough, because it is difficult to put something like this together, you know, in front of every camera in the world.
But, ultimately, every camera in the world is going to have to see what is in it and we're going to have plenty of time to debate it. So, I have no problem with a group of meeting to conduct a proposal, but, ultimately, that proposal cannot be rushed to the floor. And I don't think the Senate rules would permit it.
So, it is fine if they are working on the starting point, but, ultimately, we are all going to see what is in it. The whole world is going to see what is in it. And then the rest of us or all of us are going to have an opportunity to make changes to it as a condition of our vote.
And so that is the way I view this. This is not -- the Senate is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor. There is just -- especially on an issue like this.
So, they made -- the first step in this may be crafted among a small group of people, but then everyone is going to get to weigh in, and it is going to take a long -- it is going to take days and weeks to work through that in the Senate.
DICKERSON: Finally, Senator, in the shooting this weekend in Washington, what do you think is the lesson in the aftermath of that?
RUBIO: Well, I mean, the only person to blame for that a shooting is that person who did it. It was obviously someone who had big problems in -- both mentally and other -- and behaviorally.
That said, I do think it is an important moment for us to understand that violence is the opposite of dialogue, and we in this nation have First Amendment involved. The law continues to protect the First Amendment. I think we have to ask ourselves whether we are culturally cracking down on free speech.
Have we reached the point now where we are blocking people from speaking because we disagree with them? You know, it is funny on the one hand to hear people say we should be engaging in dialogue with Raul Castro and yet you have mainstream politicians in the United States being boycotted at graduation speeches across America.
We cannot have a new -- a whole generation of young Americans growing up to believe that, if you disagree with someone's points of view, the way to do it is try to shut them down.
I am not saying that is -- to the shooting. I am saying that we have to be, as a nation, capable of debating issues on the merits of the issues without dehumanizing or demonizing the person on the other side.
You and I can disagree on the right approach to Cuba, taxes or health care. I don't have to go around telling you, you are an evil human being for what you believe in, because once you convince someone that the other side is evil, that, I think, in the minds of a deranged individual, is an invitation to commit a violent act against them.
I am not blaming the shooting on any Democrats or the left. I am just telling you, both sides need to think about that as we move forward.
DICKERSON: All right, Senator Marco Rubio, thanks so much for being with us.
RUBIO: Thank you, John. Thank you.
DICKERSON: Joining us now is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He is in Burlington.
Senator Sanders, I want to start with this week's shooting.
In talking to Senator Rubio, he said obviously this was -- the man who did the shooting is responsible for his own actions. But in the wake of that, in this conversation about what leads to the heated political atmosphere, Senator Sanders -- Senator Rubio pointed out, he said that when people try to stop free speech, stop people from talking, it creates pressure in the system that might cause people to act out.
What do you think of that theory?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I think he is right.
Look, freedom of speech, the right to dissent, the right to protest, that is what America is about. And, politically, every leader in this country, every American has got to stand up against any form of violence. That is unacceptable.
And I certainly hope and pray that Representative Scalise has a full recovery from the tragedy that took place this week.
DICKERSON: There's been a lot of protests on campuses when people come to speak. They have been -- people have protested and said they shouldn't be allowed to speak.
Where do you come down on that in the context of this pressure on free speech?
SANDERS: I think people have a right to speak. And you have a right, if you are on a college campus not to attend. You have a right to ask hard questions about the speaker if you disagree with him or her.
But what -- why should we be afraid of somebody coming on a campus or anyplace else and speaking? You have a right to protest. But I don't quite understand why anybody thinks it is a good idea to deny somebody else the right to express his or her point of view.
I think, John, what is very clear is, we are in a contentious and difficult political moment in our country's history. I have very grave concerns about the Trump agenda right now. We will -- we are looking -- we are not looking.
There is a health care proposal in the Senate which nobody has seen yet. But the proposal that passed the House, as you know, would throw 23 million Americans off of health insurance. I mean that, to me, is just incredible.
It would raise premiums very significantly for older workers. It would defend Planned Parenthood and deny two-and-a-half million women the right to get the health care that they want, cut Medicaid by over $800 billion.
You know, we -- I and I would say the vast majority of the American people have strong disagreements with that approach. But you don't have to be violent about it. Let's disagree openly and honestly, but violence is not acceptable.
DICKERSON: I want to get to the details of the health care plan in a moment, or the details you don't know at the moment.
But let me just -- staying on this question here, is anything going to change in the wake of this in Washington, at least in the way lawmakers deal with each other? And is there something that should change?
SANDERS: I think, you know, what -- and, again, where this is such a strange moment is, we are looking at a lot of dishonest news that comes across, where people are lying outrageously about other people.
And I hope that folks on all sides could say, look, I disagree with him or her, but that is an outrageous lie. But let us, on the other hand, be frank, is, there are real differences of opinions that exist in Congress.
It is not like -- you know, you mentioned Marco Rubio. I like Marco Rubio. But we disagree on issues. And people should understand, it is not that there is all kinds of hatred. There's a -- in the Congress, there is a fundamental disagreement.
President Trump made a -- brought forth a budget which will go nowhere, but this is a budget that over a 10-year period would give $3 trillion in tax breaks to the top 1 percent, the very wealthiest families in America, while making massive cuts in education, into health care, in nutrition programs, really devastate working class of this country.
I disagree with that. But, obviously, that debate has got to be played out based on the facts, and let's debate it.
DICKERSON: Let me move here now to health care.
You mentioned some of the policy differences, but there is a procedural debate going on about how this is being handled in the Senate. Some Democrats are suggesting, because the -- because you don't know what is in the bill and the bill is being worked on in secret, to just stop all Senate business, to just shut the place down as a way to kind of force play.
Are you on board with that?
SANDERS: John, here is the situation.
We know the legislation that passed the House. It was the worst piece of legislation, frankly, against working-class people that I can remember in my political life in the Congress. Throwing 23 million people off of health insurance is beyond belief.
Now, in the Senate, what you have is you have, I believe it is 10 Republicans working behind closed doors to address one-sixth of the American economy. That is what health care is.
Republicans, the average Republican doesn't even know what is in that legislation. My understanding is that it will be brought forth just immediately before we have to vote on it.
This is completely unacceptable. I mean, nobody can defend a process which will impact tens of millions of Americans, and nobody even knows what is in the legislation. And, John, the important point here is the reason they don't want to bring it public is because it is a disastrous bill, I suspect similar to what passed in the House.
Who is going to defend cutting Medicaid by $800 billion at the same time as you give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent? So, they want to keep it secret. They don't want the media involved. They don't want members of Congress involved. And at the last minute, they present it, they push it through, and that is one-sixth of the American economy and millions of people thrown off the health insurance.
That is unacceptable. I believe Democrats should do everything they can to oppose that legislation in any way that we can.
DICKERSON: All right, Senator Sanders, we are at our last minute, so thanks so much for being with us.
And we will be back in one minute.
DICKERSON: After Wednesday's shooting, Congressman Gary Palmer said: "Our republic is in danger. We are fraying at the edges."
Congressman Rodney Davis said: "The way we talk to each other has to change. The political hate has to end."
It is not the words we use. It is what is in our hearts. We are meaner than we used to be. According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of both parties see the other in very unfavorable terms, a view that has doubled since 1994.
We used to think our opponents were just wrong. Now a lot more of us think they are evil. Politics defines more or our of our lives, which means this is all more personally felt.
The political system uses hate to motivate voters. No fund- raising letter or get-out-the-vote flyer starts, "Hey, the other guy has a point." Instead, the other guy is corrupt and heartless.
In debates in social, partisan and mainstream media, if you are skilled at pointing out dark motives in your opponents, the market will reward you.
We can stop applauding this and we can stop taking the bait. We can start acting in the ways we praise after a tragedy, recognizing our common humanity, acting with restraint, assuming good motives.
Your opponents have families, just like you do, who worry about them in a crisis. Their kids amaze and confuse them, just likes yours do.
Lumping people into groups steals the humanity we recognize in times of tragedy. Judging motives off the bat starts conversation in the gutter.
This doesn't mean ending the battle of ideas. It means returning to ideas, not being lazy and defining other people by the left or the right or your ilk.
Let's hope lawmakers are successful toning down the hate, but we can do more than hope. We can act. And we must, because we are all part of the problem.
Back in a moment.
DICKERSON: And we are back with our political panel.
Jamelle Bouie is Slate's chief political correspondent and a CBS News political analyst. Ramesh Ponnuru is the senior editor for "The National Review." We are also joined by CBS News chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes. And we want to welcome the "Washington Post" White House bureau chief, Philip Rucker, to the broadcast.
Nancy, I'm going to start with you, though.
You have spent so much time up on the Hill after the shooting Wednesday. Give me a sense of the feeling, the temperature, the atmosphere in the wake of that.
NANCY CORDES, CBS NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, every member of Congress knows, in the sense that they are a target. They have all gotten death threats. They all have a story about someone who has vandalized their property or someone who was arrested for making such extreme threats. But they go about their daily lives with that knowledge in the background. Otherwise, they really wouldn't be able to get out there and meet the public and do their jobs.
Now it is in the forefront. And I heard many members say this week, not just they are worried about themselves, but they are a lot more worried about their staffers, because those are often the people who are on the front lines here in Washington and in their home districts. And they are not really sure what the solution is, how you stop a madman like this.
DICKERSON: Phil, the president has had to -- this is the first kind of thing like this he has had to respond to. What did you make of the White House and the president's response to this?
PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I thought his response the morning of the shooting was really different, a different tone from him. He was presidential. He talked about uniting the country.
And I think he is starting to recognize the danger of this political rhetoric that we are all dealing with that you spoke about a few minutes ago, and he is at the forefront of that. I mean, it is his tweets, it is his comments at his rallies that is stoking so much sort of anger and emotion out there in the country. And he is trying to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to calm that down a bit.
DICKERSON: Ramesh, how long do you think -- if things have changed, have they and how long do you think it lasts?
RAMESH PONNURU, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, the precedent is that the tendencies towards increased polarization, less civil rhetoric, that just keeps increasing. There are these momentary pauses.
I don't see any reason to doubt that that is what is happening now. I am always reminded when I cover presidential elections every four years Tocqueville's comment that it is like a national crisis, it's like a national fever, and then, after the election, it passes.
This time, it doesn't feel like the fever broke.
DICKERSON: And, Jamelle, in the way people talked about the event itself, it seemed wherever you started the conversation might get you into an immediate fight again, I mean, whether it was about guns, whether it was about rhetoric, the president or what. What did you make of this week?
JAMELLE BOUIE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
It was striking, because I got the sense that so many people were trying not to make this a political conversation, not to make this something so politicized, because there is something just frankly crass about trying to turn the shooting of a congressman into a partisan football. At the same time, there are legitimate issues here. And I felt people were struggling trying to get those to the forefront. Some of those legitimate issues are guns, are domestic violence. The shooter was arrested for a domestic violence incident. And all of that, I think, got a little lost in this drive to not politicize.
DICKERSON: All right, we are going to end this here briefly.
We want to take a little break.
Next up is Jay Sekulow, who is President Trump's legal -- on President Trump's legal team, and then we will have a lot more from our panel.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: We will be right back with more FACE THE NATION.
Stay with us.
DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION.
We're joined now by Jay Sekulow. He's a member of the president's legal team and chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.
Mr. Sekulow, I want to start this morning with the president's tweet in which he wrote --
JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: Sure.
DICKERSON: "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director, by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt." What's he talking about?
SEKULOW: The president issued that tweet on social media because of the report in "The Washington Post" from five anonymous sources, none of which, of course, anyone knows about, alleging that the president was under investigation in this purported, expanded probe. The fact of the matter is, the president has not been and is not under investigation. So this was his response via Twitter, via social media, was in response to "The Washington Post" piece with five anonymous sources.
And by the way, John, five anonymous sources, they don't even identify the agencies upon which these individuals purportedly work. So the response there is clear. And I want to be very clear about this, the president is not and has not been under investigation.
DICKERSON: How do you know?
SEKULOW: Because we've received no notice of investigation. There has been no notification from the special counsel's office that the president is under investigation. In fact, to the contrary, what we know is what James Comey said, the last thing we know when he testified just a couple weeks back, that the president was not and is not a target of an investigation.
DICKERSON: Of course there have been events since James Comey told him that. Is it -- but is it your view, and just to educate viewers, that -- that if you were under investigation, there would be an obligation for the special counsel to let you know? Couldn't you be under investigation and they're just not let you know yet?
SEKULOW: Well, look, I -- I can't imagine the scenario where the president would -- would not be aware of it, number one. There's a serious constitutional issue here. I mean I want you to think about the context upon which this would take place. Under "The Washington Post's" theory of the case -- this is "The Washington Post" theory -- that the president of the United States, after being advised by his attorney general and the office of the deputy attorney general, determined to remove James Comey from the FBI directorship. If "The Washington Post" leaks were correct, the president of the United States would be, if this was correct, under investigation for taking the action that the Department of justice asked him to take. That raises not only serious -- it's not a serious constitutional question, it's an easy constitutional question. That's impossible. The president cannot be investigated, or certainly cannot be found liable, for engaging in an activity that he clearly has powers to do under the Constitution.
DICKERSON: Power to fire the FBI director. And let me ask you this question more --
SEKULOW: James Comey acknowledged that, by the way, John. I mean James -- James Comey said he served at the pleasure of the president.
DICKERSON: More broadly, the big question really is --
DICKERSON: Did the president interfere in any way in the investigation that James Comey was undertaking?
SEKULOW: No. In fact, he said to the contrary, remember, you -- remember, in part of the interviews that he's given, he acknowledged that when he removed James Comey, especially during the Lester Holt interview, when he -- you read the entire context, the transcript of that interview, he acknowledged that by firing James Comey as FBI director, the president acknowledged that he would, in fact, probably extend the nature and length of the scope of the FBI -- the special counsel probe. But he thought it would be the best for the American people and -- and, look, I -- I've got the letter and --
DICKERSON: Let me ask you --
SEKULOW: The two letters from both the -- let me -- it's important here. The FBI director was removed after a deliberative process, and in part based on, of course, the statements coming from his own attorney general and deputy attorney general who said, and I want to read this, "as a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a directive who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges to never repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective changes." So this is not coming out of whole cloth.
DICKERSON: Let me ask --
SEKULOW: This is coming out of a recommendation.
DICKERSON: The president said he would speak under oath about all this. That, I assume, is still true?
SEKULOW: Yes, the president was very clear about that. He said that if he was asked to do it, he would. He -- that's been asked and -- and -- and addressed. Again, I want to be clear here, the --
DICKERSON: Would -- would he go do it with -- with Congress? Would he -- because you've got this investigation going on. It takes a long time. He could kind of short-circuit by just going up to Congress, Senator Graham and others have called him to testify in front of Congress.
DICKERSON: Could that get -- get this faster?
SEKULOW: Well, that doesn't short-circuit anything. There's multiple tracks of investigations going on here, which is problematic because once the special counsel was appointed, it changes the nature of who can and who will not participate before Congress. So I haven't discussed that with the president at all. He stated he would testify under oath. He didn't specify the venue. We'll just leave that as it is.
Again, there are multiple tracks of investigation. But, again, I want to be clear here, the president is not under investigation. James Comey said it. Nothing has changed since then.
DICKERSON: The president said last week he would release the tapes of -- if there were tapes -- of his conversation this week. That hasn't happened. Where is that?
SEKULOW: I think the president is going to address that in the week ahead. There was a lot of issues this past week. The president gave a major address in Cuba. We had the assassination attempt of -- of Steve Scalise. There were a lot of intervening factors. So the issue of the tapes, I think right now was not priority issue number one when the country was facing an assassination attempt on Steve Scalise and other members of Congress and their staffs, by the way, and our thoughts and prayers are still with him. I know he's in -- still in a very difficult situation. But also he gave a major address on the issue in Cuba and the attempt there to reconcile and redraft a policy that makes sense. So the president has a lot of issues. And I think this shows that the president's concentrating on governing. This issue will be addressed in due course I suspect next week.
DICKERSON: All right, Jay Sekulow, thanks so much.
SEKULOW: Thank you for having me.
DICKERSON: And we're back now with our political panel.
Phil, the president said he was being investigated, but his lawyer now suggests he was just basically retweeting maybe something from "The Post." Where are we on this?
RUCKER: Well, I can tell you, "The Washington Post," my colleagues there, have reported, based on U.S. officials, that the president is indeed under investigation. That it is an investigation into his potential obstruction of justice, in addition to a number of other issues related to the Russian matter. Now the president may not have been given any sort of formal notice about that, but that doesn't mean that Mueller, the special counsel, is not investigating him.
DICKERSON: Ramesh, Jay Sekulow's arguments seemed to be that because the president has the power under I guess the unitary executive to fire his FBI director, that's it, he has the -- he has the power and -- and that sort of opens and shuts the case, but it doesn't seem like it will.
PONNURU: Well, I think there are a number of potential problems with that line of argument. One is that if you're doing something corruptly, that raises a separate set of legal issues. And two is that there's a question of political accountability. It is certainly true that it's within the constitutional power of the president to pardon anybody who commits a crime in his name, for example, but that doesn't mean that the House and Senate would or should treat that as just par for the course. Nixon's, the articles of impeachment against him, Clinton, the articles of impeach against him, both referred to obstruction of justice. So the idea that there's no accountability for that is, I think, just not true to our constitutional tradition.
DICKERSON: Jamelle, the first kind of question that the president's lawyer had to clear up was one about something the president tweeted.
DICKERSON: Although they say and the president says this is a great thing for me. But if he had not tweeted about this investigation, we wouldn't have had to spend the time talking about it. Is -- is he basically building this case for himself by what he says?
BOUIE: I think -- I think that's a fair thing to say. If you look at sort of this entire saga, so much of it is self-inflicted. So much of it stems from choices. The president made impulsive firings, for example, tweets, going on -- having interviews in national outlets and simply saying out right that he is -- you know, I fired Director Comey because of this Russia stuff. Had the president simply shown more discretion, he would not be in this mess.
I mean we're sort of in this sort of feedback loop where the president's lack of discretion results in investigations or pushback, which then fuels further lack of discretion, which then fuels, you know, further investigations and pushback.
CORDES: And that's why so many congressional Republicans wish that he would just stop tweeting because they would that if he wasn't in trouble with the special counsel before, he is now because of the things that he's saying publicly.
CORDES: And they also worry that he's essentially taunting these investigators, you know. If you're saying to these investigators, you're fake news, you're a witch hunt, they worry that's just going to embolden them. You really don't want to be on the wrong side of the FBI and the special counsel.
PONNURU: But it's not just what he tweets. He said on the record in an interview --
PONNURU: That he fired Comey because he was upset about the Russia investigation. That's the kind of thing that Jay Sekulow was trying to barrel past in his interview with you. And, you know, if the president lacks impulse control, a sense of self-discipline, that's not a problem about the medium of Twitter.
DICKERSON: Phil, is there any solution to this challenge that they kind of have to keep dealing with here, which is the -- the president is in a sense taking himself off message?
RUCKER: I -- the solution would be for him to focus on his agenda and lay off Twitter, but we've shown that -- or he's shown that that's not really possible.
Look, he's in the White House stewing over this. He's angry. He's confiding in friends about his frustration with the Russia matter, the cloud, as he's referred to it over and over again. And I don't know where this ends. We -- we're currently at the White House staffing up with lawyers. Vice President Pence just hired his own counsel. The president, Trump's lawyer in New York, Michael Cohen, hired his own lawyer. So they're clearly preparing for a much more serious investigation.
DICKERSON: And that starts to get quite expensive for those who have to pay all of those legal bills, which creates tension in a White House, in addition to everything else we've been talking about.
Nancy, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, testified this week. A lot of Democratic senators were frustrated they weren't getting answers from him. Where does that stand? Are they going to get those answers they wanted, specifically in this case about the firing of James Comey?
CORDES: Probably not because they really have no recourse in Congress to somehow compel him to answer questions about his conversations with the president. And you really saw a split this week between Democrats who thought, you know, there really is no written policy that prevents him from sharing what he said to the president and what the president said to him about James Comey or anything else, and Republicans who said, no, there really is a tradition, the president's top advisors do need to be able to keep those conversations confidential because the president has a right to, you know, free information and guidance from the people around him. He can't be thinking that anything he says to them is going to end up in Congress or in the public space.
DICKERSON: Jamelle, I thought that actually Attorney General Sessions, because he was able to say I'm not going to talk about the obstruction things, and was able to defend himself on the collusion, actually ended up helping the White House this week.
BOUIE: Right. I think -- I think Attorney General Sessions' sort of emphatic denials of collusion ended up, yes, taking some of the heat away from President Trump, suggesting that the -- that kind of almost conspiracy that's ensketched with regards to collusion is overstated. And if, you know, if the president could show more discretion, would have, I think, really helped the president politically this past week going forward. But the problem, of course, is that Sessions could give those kind of politically helpful performances again and again and again, but as long as the president is unwilling to temper what he says in whatever forum, it kind of is awash in the end.
DICKERSON: In -- in this whole context, the White House had of the president had a cabinet meeting this week. I want to take a look at a little bit of it and then, Ramesh, I what to get your thoughts about what we think this was intended to do. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to -- to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the -- the privilege that you've given me and the leadership that you've shown.
ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Mr. President, last week was a great week. It was infrastructure week. Thank you so much for coming over to the Department of Transportation. Hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled to hang out, watching the whole ceremony.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people. And we continue to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Ramesh, cabinet meetings like this tend to be showy at the start. We're -- we're familiar with that. But this still was a little bit different.
PONNURU: Well, it was the first time he's got his entire cabinet assembled for a meeting, and he, I guess, wanted to put on a show. It -- to -- amongst some of the cabinet members, not all, it seemed to devolve into a contest about who could praise the president most fulsomely. And I'd say that the chief of staff, Reince Priebus won that contest, you know, going away.
But a lot of the others, they were just saying, thank you for the honor to be able to serve the public, which is, I think, a pretty anodyne kind of statement that people in both parties would have said.
CORDES: Look, these are smart people. They know what works with this president.
CORDES: It's like the Saudis putting a ten story high image of him up on a building. They know what he reacts to. They're all competing to get his attention, to get him to embrace their proposals for how to move their particular department forward, and they know that one of the quickest ways to do that is to flatter him.
DICKERSON: Phil, was this -- and there was an orchestrated feel to it, against, as Ramesh quite rightly put it, this is not totally unfamiliar. The --
DICKERSON: You know, cabinet members praising the boss. But it still, they -- they all seemed to have been given a memo. And what I wonder is, whether this tells us anything about the sense of where this president feels in -- either under siege, he's talked about being under siege, whether he feels it personally, whether this was an effort to kind of beat back or -- or put forward some kind of strategy, or whether it was just about saying nice things about the president.
RUCKER: Well, clearly the president feels like his whole presidency is under siege and under attack. But these cabinet members, when they introduce him at events in public individually, they say the same thing. Vice President Pence says it everywhere he goes, broad shouldered leader, the amazing sort of President Donald J. Trump. And it's sort of like the dear leader language you hear out of North Korea and another country. We're not used to that in the United States. But President Trump responds to that. He feels like this is very much a personal sort of leadership style that he has and he wants to -- to be praised. And -- and it works. DICKERSON: Jamelle, let's switch quickly to health care. The Senate is trying to put together a bill. The president apparently told some senators that he thought the House bill that had come out had been mean, was mean. Where do you see things right now for this?
BOUIE: I mean part of the trouble here is that we don't really know what is in the Senate bill. It's being crafted in almost complete secrecy. Key senators are unwilling to speak about its contents. Voxx.com did a series of interviews with eight senators who, to a person, could not describe how the bill they are considering meets their goals. And so, substantively, it's generally difficult to say whether or not the Senate bill is going to be less mean and then the House bill. I think it is clear that Majority Leader McConnell is desperate to get something across the finish line. It's trying to insulate his members from any kind of political or public pressure. And I think Trump's scandals have had this effect of making that even more urgent. That the longer the president is sort of under scrutiny, the longer our political conversations focus on the president's misconduct, perhaps, the more difficult it is for them to do anything.
DICKERSON: Nancy, Mitch McConnell's a smart guy and knows how to do things. What's his strategy here?
CORDES: Well, you know, his challenge is, if you're not going to do the House bill, because it's mean, and if you're not going to do Obamacare, because you think that's a failure, your universe of options is quite small. So they're trying to thread this needle in private. They're trying to craft something that is somehow going to get 50 members of their caucus, you know, the most conservative, the most moderate, and that's incredibly difficult. It's pretty clear at this point they're not going to meet their self-imposed deadline at the beginning of July, just because time is running out. They don't have information from the CBO about what this would cost and what it would mean and they've promised to do that before they try to pass something.
DICKERSON: Thirty seconds.
PONNURU: I had a long conversation with a member of the Senate Republican working group on Friday. I get the impression there are very serious decisions that are still not made. How -- how many people are going to be eligible for Medicaid? What's the growth rate going to be? I -- I agree, I don't think that they are close to hitting this deadline.
DICKERSON: And the question also is, in the way they're doing it. Don't they run up against the criticism they had about the Affordable Care Act, which actually did have lots of bipartisan discussion?
PONNURU: Absolutely, and I think Senator Rubio is going to probably be joined by other Republicans in saying, whatever the process by which you're drafting this, you've got to have an extended conversation. You can't just ram this through once it's put together.
Well, that's the end of our extended conversation. Thanks to all of you.
We'll be right back in a moment.
DICKERSON: We turn now to CBS "This Morning" cohost Norah O'Donnell, who joins us from Seoul, where she will be interviewing the president of South Korea, President Moon Jae-in.
NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS "THIS MORNING" CO-HOST: Hi, John and greetings, yes, from here in Seoul, South Korea.
It is a new day here in this country, in part because there is a new president who is promise a change in strategy. President Moon was elected just last month. And what he's talking about is going back to the sunshine policy, opening a dialogue with the North, and that is a significant change, a significant break from the past decade. In fact, President Moon, just this week, said he wants to sit knee to knee with the North Korean dictator, President Kim Jong-un.
DICKERSON: And, Norah, your interview comes at an important time as well for his relations with the United States.
O'DONNELL: And the timing is incredibly significant because President Moon is heading to Washington and the White House to meet with President Trump. And that relationship between the South Korean president and the U.S. president is incredibly important. This is one of the most important strategic alliances in Asia, in part of the world. We've heard from defense secretary, Mattis, saying that North Korea's nuclear weapon program is the most urgent threat to U.S. national security. How will President Trump and President Moon work together?
We've already seen the new president create some distance with the United States. One of his advisors saying just today that they're talking about their own anti-missile program. What about the status of the 28,000 U.S. troops who are stationed here? There's talk about, in a concession perhaps to the Chinese or to the North to talk about reducing the number of joint military exercises. So all of those things are on the table as this president, in particular, is looking at a way to find a solution to North Korea's nuclear program.
DICKERSON: An incredibly delicate time and we're happy to have you over there, Norah. It's a bit of a homecoming for you a little bit.
O'DONNELL: My dad served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, so I was stationed here. My dad was stationed at the Yongsan Army Garrison. So I actually lived on the military base for two years when I was about ten years old. So it's been a while. It's been 30 years since I've been here. So it's -- it's really exciting for me to be back here. I'm going to take a tour of the garrison tomorrow, see my old home is -- is still there. But also it's just significant because they're talking about moving most of our troops from Yongsan to another base further away from the DMZ. So I have a lot to learn. And also because I think this is just a new time, as I said earlier, with this new president, President Moon, going to the White House, what is this going to mean for the future of the Korean peninsula?
DICKERSON: Norah O'Donnell on assignment. Norah, thanks so much.
Again, Norah's interview will air on CBS "This Morning," Tuesday at 7:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific. And also throughout the day on our digital network, CBSN.
We'll be back in a moment.
DICKERSON: Commencement season is just about wrapped up, and as we take a look at some of our favorite speeches this year, instead of focusing on the famous, we thought we'd share the fresh wisdom of the graduates themselves. They spoke the languages of the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CALEB PINE, UNIVERSITY OF (INAUDIBLE): Friends and fellow graduates, welcome. In Arabic (INAUDIBLE), or in the words of Confucius (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: And they did it with a millennial touch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYED HOSSAIN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: But first, let me take a selfie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: They braved the elements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone, for hanging out in the rain.
ADRIEL BARRIOS-ANDERSON, (INAUDIBLE): We usually try to forget -- whoo --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: Without missing a beat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRIOS-ANDERSON: Hidden in our stories are silences that critically shape our experiences.
(END VIDEO CLIP) DICKERSON: They showed us they were listening when we thought they were just wasting their time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER NELSON, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHEASTERN (ph) CALIFORNIA: SpongeBob taught us, love yourself and stay optimistic. Even "South Park." "South Park" taught me to question authority, question power, dig beneath the most convenient answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: And in their enthusiasm for the lessons of life, they showed us they were actually paying attention to the important stuff too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMILY CUBILETE, (INAUDIBLE): Remember that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Don't worry about your failures. Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try. Worry about the direction you've fallen. Fall forward, never backwards.
MATTHEW SKINNER, HOBART AND WILLIAM SMITH COLLAGES: Cherish within your heart the love of those characteristics which will make you the best parent, partner, co-worker and friend. Don't silence those who have been silenced their whole lives. Often it's the quiet person in the corner who has the best stuff to say. And lastly, for the love of God, shut up and listen.
AUGUSTE ROC, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Let courage be our defense against cowardice, hope our defense against despair, compassion our defense against destruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: The class of 2017, from Spellman College in Atlanta, to Teen University in New Jersey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): That sunshine in my pocket. Got that good song in my feet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DICKERSON: And Boise State University, to West Point, graduates, we salute you.
And we'll be right back.
DICKERSON: And that's it for us today. To all the fathers out there, Happy Father's Day.
Thanks for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.
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