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New: More U.S. Allies Expel Russian Diplomats; Russia Vows Retaliation After Expulsion Of Diplomats; Louisiana AG Announcement On Alton Sterling Shooting; AG: Police Actions "Well Founded And Reasonable" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:05]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. This morning, the U.S. and a growing number of allies are shrugging off threats from Moscow and expelling more Russian diplomats. The Eastern European country of Moldova is the latest to take action as well as the NATO military alliance.

In all, some two dozen countries are kicking out more than 100 Russian diplomats. It's a global response to the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The U.S. is leading the way booting 60 diplomats and closing a facility. And now Moscow is vowing retaliation.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski is in New York. So, Michelle, there is a lot of international chatter over these moves, but still no word from President Putin or President Trump, right?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Putin has weighed in on other important matters in his country, but not this, although, we have heard from a Kremlin spokesperson, we heard from the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and warning the U.S. that there is going to come a time when it is going to realize that it's made a grave mistake.

Although for its part, the Trump administration has warned right back that if Russia does retaliate, which we fully expect it to do by expelling U.S. diplomats, then this administration may well take additional actions.

And yesterday, President Trump had a phone call with Justin Trudeau of Canada, and in the readout the White House said that this behavior from the Russia is the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.

So, we have heard from the White House through the press secretary. They put out this strong statement, not signed by the president or in the president's name, it was, like I said, from the press secretary, we heard from other administration officials, using very strong terms in describing Russia's behavior.

So, the question remains will we hear Trump at all weigh in on this action that he was the final decider on, and if he does weigh in, what exactly will he say? How aligned will he be with those around him?

The reason we even have to ask this question is because it was only days ago that the same national security team around him told him in all capital letters not to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election win, but Trump did just that.

And he also didn't even bring up the poisonings in the U.K. on a phone call with Putin. So how bought in is he on this action? I mean, supposedly he was the one who decided to do this, again, at the recommendation of his national security team. But I think there are plenty of people out there wanting to hear from him on this directly -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And that's the thing, there is a lot of bipartisan support for these recent moves by the administration. But you're still seeing this difference. One that seems to be more of a new development, at least in terms of the intensity and the significance of what we're seeing.

But there is quite a difference between the rhetoric that we have seen coming from the president as it pertains to Russia and Vladimir Putin from the very beginning of the time he came into the White House -- Michelle.

KOSINSKI: Yes, there has been this difference among even certain members of his administration, and him. Nothing wrong with that. People are always going to differ in their thoughts on something, how it should be handled, and in the way they present themselves, but at times with this administration, it has been quite stark.

Remember, only recently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was secretary of state put out a statement in his name excoriating Russia over this poisoning attack. The next day, we saw him fired and that raised questions because of prior things that Trump, and members of his administration said, was he fired because of that statement?

So, it is strange to even have these questions, but they exist for a reason. And so, when you see his national security team recommend something and then he do just the opposite, it makes sense that the next time they make a recommendation for this action to punish Russia over this poisoning attack.

We see the story leak out to us as if somebody who has a stake in these discussions wants the world to know that this was recommended to the president, perhaps just in case he decided not to take action -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much for that.

Let's bring in our guest, National Security Council Spokesman Michael Anton, joining us from outside of the White House. Thanks so much for being with us, Michael.

MICHAEL ANTON, SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. KEILAR: The readout of this call between the president and the Canadian prime minister has some tough words for Russia for sure. But why can't the president say that directly to Vladimir Putin?

ANTON: Well, look, first of all, the president has used tough rhetoric about the relationship before. He's used it in speeches in Poland and Europe.

[11:05:07] He used it in a widely mocked tweet that was 100 percent accurate when he tweeted several weeks ago that his administration has been much tougher on Russia than the past administration. I think the record bears that out.

KEILAR: The record doesn't bear that out, Michael.

ANTON: The record absolutely bears it out. There is not a single sanction that we have lifted, that we have even eased, and we've tightened all the existing sanctions, taken a bunch of new actions, the start of this administration, the Russians had four consulates active in the United States, we've now closed two of them.

That's a 50 percent reduction, we set -- we reduced the cap of diplomatic personnel in this country by more than 200 people. We just PNG'd by names 60 intelligence operatives yesterday, sorry for those who don't understand bureaucratic ease, PNG is a diplomatic term for persona non-grata.

It means you're kicked out of the country. It's the largest action ever taken. This is also a coordinated action with -- as of last night, 23 countries with more countries continually joining.

The Russians really have never faced a coordinated multinational diplomatic rebuke like this that they have faced and that is not 100 percent owing to this president's action, but certainly owing to his leadership in marshaling these countries together to all act in concert.

KEILAR: Well, that tweet was a while ago and what you're talking about are some recent actions. No doubt there have been -- this has been welcomed by Democrats and Republicans, these recent actions. There does remain this disconnect, though, between these more recent policy decisions of the administration and the words of the president. Why doesn't the president just articulate the criticisms and concerns about Russian aggression that his administration is taking action on?

ANTON: The tweet was about three weeks ago, maybe a month, wasn't particularly long ago. The closure of the San Francisco consulate and the reduction of the personnel cap by 200, which is a very big number, that took place in September. The approval of --

KEILAR: But we're talking about his rhetorical, Michael. That's not what I asked you about, Michael.

ANTON: You said why have the actions only gotten tough recently? I'm taking you back through -- KEILAR: No, that's not what I asked. I'm saying why is he using --

Michael, Michael, that's not what I'm asking. The rhetorical restraint, because, as you know, that's not his style, that's completely counter to his style. Why is that his style when it comes to Russia?

ANTON: This administration has actually been rhetorically tough on Russia in a number of different venues and that includes the president. The actions are what ultimately matter more than the rhetoric. What you're obviously referring to is the phone call and these other interactions with President Putin which have been cordial.

I think that's because the president values, our president values the leader to leader relationship. He wants to see relations improve if the Russian government chooses to take another path and he thinks that maintaining cordial relations at the top is the one viable way to see those relations improve if the Russians choose another path.

As yet they haven't chosen another path and we remain on the path that we're on, which is defending U.S. interest, our allies, and standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies. We're hoping that showing a tough face and remaining tough in action will bring about a change of heart on the part of the Russian government. So far that hasn't happened, but the door is still open for them to have that change of heart and to act differently.

KEILAR: So, go easier rhetorically on a foe like Russia, but rhetorically be tougher talking about allies like Mexico or Australia?

ANTON: Well, I don't know exactly what you're referring to. You might be referring to some leaked transcripts of private phone calls where the president did deliver tough messages to allies. But the president -- this president has delivered a combination of tough and positive messages to allies, adversaries and countries in the middle alike.

The United States has interest that we have to defend. We have unbalanced trade relationships with some of our allies. He's been willing to call that out in a way that hasn't been called out in decades.

That's an -- we're seeing results because of that. We're getting NAFTA renegotiated, making progress on renegotiating the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. So, these things are positive steps that require a little tough language to get going.

And it will also require an acknowledgement of truth that have just been denied or ignored for far too long. I still think it is a mistake to focus solely on the fact the president had two face-to-face interactions with Vladimir Putin, one meeting in Hamburg and not a meeting, a hallway conversation at the APEC Summit in Vietnam and a few phone calls.

And yes, he has kept those interactions cordial, tried to keep them positive, but he's also been willing to bring up with Vladimir Putin serious concerns, so the call from last week, they talked about strategic stability in the nuclear realm and the president was pointed in his criticism of some of Putin's recent nuclear saber rattling.

And what he thought was unhelpful rhetoric about the potential for an arms race, he was pointed about that. So, I think it is even inaccurate to say that his rhetoric toward Vladimir Putin or personal conversations is always positive. He brings up U.S. concerns.

[11:10:09] KEILAR: He did not bring up Russian interference in the election. He didn't bring up the U.K. poisonings. I do want to ask you, Michael --

ANTON: Come on, now, they had a 45 minute -- out of 2-1/2-hour meeting in Hamburg, 45 to 50 minutes of that was spent on meddling in the elections. The president felt that Putin said all he was going to say, denied it several times, was never going to be moved off of that denial, and the reason he didn't bring up the poisoning in the conversation with Putin is because this U.S. action was in motion at the time they had the conversation.

As President Trump often has said, he doesn't telegraph his moves or punches when he's about to make a move. He let the process play itself out, knowing that he was getting close to taking this action, rather than warn the Russians or give them advance notice.

He did the right thing, which is not say anything about it until the U.S. was ready to act, and then have the State Department summon the Russian ambassador at 8:00 yesterday morning and delivered the news at the appropriate time, which is when we were ready to act and not give them, you know, six or seven days --

KEILAR: There was a White House statement, there was a White House statement that came out days ago. I will say that. I want to ask you about something else. CNN's Jim Acosta had this question for your colleague, Raj Shah, after this announcement was made. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would this president consider sanctioning Vladimir Putin or his cronies to punish him and the Russian government for what happened in the U.K. and also for meddling in the 2016 election?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the united states has issued sanctions on key Russian oligarchs in response to the meddling in the 2016 election. So, I wouldn't close any doors, or I wouldn't preclude any potential action, but the president doesn't telegraph his moves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: The sanctions that were announced on March 15th by the administration were against people who were listed, or entities listed in the Mueller indictment. Russian internet trolls, folks involved in that online operation, also the man who bankrolled that, (inaudible), and then a few intelligence officers as well. That's not a crackdown on Russian oligarchs. So why did Raj Shah say that there was. ANTON: He was referring to one of the provisions of -- a congressional law that requires us to submit a -- two reports really, one unclassified report and then a classified annex to Capitol Hill that outlines the activities of Russian oligarchs and Russian -- both government and private sector figures, suspected of or known to interfere in --

KEILAR: That was a list of oligarchs that Treasury put out. I mean, those weren't sanctions.

ANTON: It is a list that is a precursor to further action. These actions take a while to develop. We can't just sanction people spontaneously.

KEILAR: Congress passed -- you guys passed on imposing those sanctions that Congress --

ANTON: No. I think you're misunderstanding what happened. That's a different provision. One of the other provisions, what it does --

KEILAR: So, you're not talking about the list of oligarchs put out by the administration.

ANTON: You're confusing the two. I'm trying to explain it to you. One of the other provisions of the law says that the United States will be required to sanction third countries if they do business with certain Russian entities. It leaves it to the executive branch to define which of those Russian entities. We did that.

We published that list. As a result of publishing that list, countries that were contemplating doing business with these Russian entities have backed off. So, it is true that the deadline to sanction those countries or the certainly not the deadline, but the first effective date in which we were going to do it passed.

The reason no sanctions were issued on that date and they would not have been sanctions against Russia, would have been sanctions against third party countries, those countries did not engage in any transactions with the Russian entities.

In other words, the law acted as a deterrent with the way it was intended to. Countries backed away from doing business with the Russian entities that the executive branch identified.

KEILAR: You said it may be a precursor to further action. So --

ANTON: It may be.

KEILAR: Now, what the administration chose to do, not in line with what Congress was certainly supporting, are you saying that perhaps --

ANTON: That's not accurate either. Look at the statements that --

KEILAR: How is that not accurate?

ANTON: Look at the statements that the author of the -- Senator Bob Corker put out saying that he's satisfied that the administration has complied with the law thus far. If other countries do business with Russian entities, we will sanction those countries. So far, they haven't done it in part because they have been deterred from doing it by the law, which is one of the things the law was intended to do.

KEILAR: Michael Anton, thank you so much for joining us.

ANTON: You're welcome. Thank you.

KEILAR: And breaking news, officials in Louisiana holding a news conference on whether or not there will be charges against two police officers in the 2016 shooting death of an unarmed African-American man, Alton Sterling. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:19:02]

KEILAR: Breaking news, the Louisiana attorney general holding a news conference on whether or not there will be charges against two police officers in the 2016 shooting death of unarmed African-American man, Alton Sterling. The decision is coming at any moment.

Now you may recall in 2016 there were two white officers who shot and killed the 37-year-old man, Alton Sterling, during a struggle outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge. He was shot at close range while officers pinned him down.

Sterling didn't display a gun during the struggle. Police say that he was reaching for one and a gun was recovered after he was killed. Sterling's death was caught on camera. I need to warn you that this is disturbing video.

(VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And joining me now to discuss is CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson, and Cedric Alexander, deputy mayor of Rochester, New York, also served as the city's police chief.

[11:20:08] So, Cedric, Alton Sterling was shot by police there in July of 2016. The Louisiana attorney general has had this case since last May. Now for months, elected officials have called on Landry to finish his investigation to make this announcement. Did this investigation take the appropriate amount of time in your opinion?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, PAST PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF BLACK LAW ENFORCEMENT EXECUTIVES: Well, two years is a long time since the time of this shooting. And when you have that long period of time that takes place, all it really does, quite frankly, is leave citizens feeling as if nothing is being done.

When in fact everything could be completed as part of this investigation. But to your question, it is lengthy, but, of course this is a very sensitive case that has been watched locally and across the country, but considering the fact and the circumstances around this, it certainly creates some question having to wait two years to find out what's going on here.

KEILAR: Joey, the Louisiana attorney general only got this case because the Justice Department gave it to him. They found they didn't have enough evidence to move forward. Does that tell you anything about what state prosecutors are announcing?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's talk about this. Brianna, good to see you, good morning. Good morning, Doctor. You know, there are different standards of proof in a federal case than there would be a state case.

Under the federal government's theory, in the event you were going to show a civil rights violation, you are to show willfulness. You have to show animus. You have to show that with regard to the killing. Some would argue the tape shows exactly that. The federal government disagreed with that.

However, when it goes to the state, the state has so many more tools available to them in the event they wanted to pursue charges. Like what? Take out the element of intent for one minute. And say, for example, there was a conclusion reached by the state that there was no intent to kill at this point.

They were merely attempting to protect themselves. Clearly the state could proceed under a theory where the officers acted recklessly, consciously disregarded the risk of their behavior. You could also argue they acted negligently, they were careless, et cetera, they escalated the confrontation.

And so, understanding the dynamic between federal government and not going forward because they were thinking they couldn't prove intent, you have to understand the state government could still, if they wanted to, move forward on the theories that the officers acted carelessly and irresponsibly.

Whether they do that remains to be seen with this press conference, but there are a lot more tools at the state level to pursue charges if they wanted to and if the evidence pointed in that direction than they would be at federal level.

KEILAR: Cedric, it is a case really, as so many cases do, that has gripped this local community. It has been under the national spotlight as well. The state police are mobilizing ahead of this announcement. If you were in law enforcement, in Baton Rouge today, what would your concerns be? What -- hold on a moment. Let's listen to the announcement right now.

JEFF LANDRY, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- throughout the encounter, the officers attempted several nonlethal techniques to gain compliance and control of Mr. Sterling's hands. Their efforts to do so were a direct result of the information relayed to them by the Baton Rouge Police Department dispatcher.

And that was that Mr. Sterling was armed with a firearm. Therefore, their attempt to gain control of Mr. Sterling's hands, well founded, and reasonable, under the circumstances, and under Louisiana law. Furthermore, the officers' concern that he was armed and dangerous was in fact subsequently verified and correct. The seminal question presented is whether officers how whys Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni can be held criminally responsible for the death of Alton Sterling under applicable laws of the state of Louisiana.

Our job was not to determine whether the Baton Rouge Police Department's policy was followed, or if certain tactics or language was more appropriate than others. After a thorough and exhaustive review of the evidence, the facts that can be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The law and jurisprudence in the state of Louisiana and the obligations of prosecutors under the Code of Professional Conduct, the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either Officer Lake or Officer Salamoni. This decision was not taken lightly. We came to this conclusion after countless hours of reviewing evidence gathered --

[11:25:06] KEILAR: All right. That is the conclusion there. Cedric and Joey, Cedric, what do you think as you hear this, no charges. You hear Landry saying that there were several times they tried to use nonlethal actions to get a hold of his hands and they had reason to believe he was armed because the dispatcher had told them that and he said this was well founded and reasonable. Their actions were, under the circumstances, and under law. What did you think?

ALEXANDER: Well, to be quite frank with you, I'm not surprised of the outcome of this investigation. As you just heard, the state AG clearly articulated all the evidence suggests that this was not some careless shooting or some vicious shooting.

It's so unfortunate for everyone involved. But here again, I will go back to what I said earlier, is that when cases such as this, as the whole world watched, and it became very sensitive to the entire community in light of where the police and community is in Baton Rouge and in many cities across the country, it certainly created a great deal of pause.

Going forward, one thing is going to have to happen, that city mayor and that chief, both very capable and competent, will hopefully move that community toward healing because this is a time we have to begin to bridge these relationships and hopefully over the last couple of years they have been doing so, so that resolve can come to this and this community can heal and everyone can somehow find a way to move on with their lives.

KEILAR: Joey, some people are not going to be ready to do that. They look at that video, and they see a man who is pinned down, you hear there Landry saying his hands were not secured. He had a weapon, yes, there did turn out to be a weapon, but a lot of folks look at that video and they say, no, this doesn't match what I am seeing here.

JACKSON: And therein lies the problem. Look, people, of course, are going to go and they're going to peacefully protest, and they have the absolute right to do that. And why are they doing that? Because you see repeatedly where police engaging in behavior like this are clear, clear, clear.

It speaks to a number of issues. Number one, I understand that the attorney general is opining about what he believes the evidence shows, that's a jury question. In the event you want to ensure police accountability, start holding police accountable.

There are members of a jury who could assess whether or not the conduct was reckless in any way, whether or not the comment was negligent in any way, but not to bring forth charges at all and clears them furthers the narrative and the divide that are police respecting communities or escalating matters?

In speaking about that, what about investigations of the police? Should they be done by officials or should they be done by perhaps outside sources, where the public can truly respect and understand what they say. So, I don't think the public is going to be at all pleased with this in any way, shape or form.

It's something, in my view, not surprising, but entirely disappointing and I think members of that community should have heard, evaluated the evidence and they should have been the one deciding whether or not this was criminal, not a unilateral determination made by a state official who is too closely connected in my view to the matter.

ALEXANDER: If I can jump in here for a minute. In many ways I agree with my friend Joey there, but in some ways, I do have to differ. I differ from the perspective is this, this is the process there in the state of Louisiana. If that's their process, then the process maybe needs to be changed.

But what we have in front of us now is a determination of due process that has been concluded. No, there are not going to be people in that community that are happy, but what has to happen, if they're not satisfied with the process, how do we change that process because here again, as I said at the top of the show, two years is too long.

It creates too much suspicion anytime an investigation takes that long. When a conclusion is not what a community assesses or appears what it should be, certainly does create continued anger and fear with people.

But what I would say to that community as I said to many communities across this country is that now is the time, if you want to -- if people want to march and they want to protest, it has to be certainly in a peaceful and civil manner, so that your community and the rest of the country can hear you.

But at the same time, that community is going to -- and its leadership is going to have to find a way to build and continue to build those bridges so that if something again similar to this even happens ever again then a much better place than they were today --