Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

New York Prosecutor Convenes Grand Jury to Look into Trump Organization; Manhattan D.A. Trying to Flip Weisselberg Against Trump; Pentagon Considers Telling Troops to Report Suspected "Havana Syndrome" Incidents; Eight Fatalities, Suspect Dead in San Jose Shooting; House Democrats Urge Biden to Appoint Anti-Semitism Ambassador. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 26, 2021 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

HARRY LITMAN, LEGAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Weisselberg is the center of that speculation for now for a number of reasons.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: So Michael, talk about that. Alisyn mentioned your piece on CNN.com. How close to the center is Allen Weisselberg and how much could he know?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he is the center. If there's a target that they're shooting at, Allen Weisselberg's face is probably pasted on the target.

Not a penny, not a nickel or a dime that went through The Trump Organization that Weisselberg wasn't aware of, he knew all the sources of revenues. He knew all of the spending. And this included the personal finances of the members of the Trump family.

So this is why he would have been aware of the payoffs that kept women quiet during the 2016 campaign, and I think it's why he's essential to the prosecutors. You know, as Harry said, it's going to be a very long slog, but more to the point, it's going to be a very circuitous route that they follow.

There's probably no more opaque business organization than The Trump Organization with its 500 different entities. And they're going to need someone who knows where everything lies and what's important and what's not.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: First of all, no one has ever mentioned doughnuts before. Now I want to be on a grand jury. Second of all --

LITMAN: No you don't. No, you don't.

CAMEROTA: I do. I do.

LITMAN: It's not an incentive, not this time.

CAMEROTA: With that incentive, I do. But speaking of long slog, I mean, Harry, the D.A. has been investigating for two years. If there were a smoking gun, wouldn't we know about it by now?

LITMAN: Probably not. And, by the way, there's probably an end point here. That D.A. is leaving at end of December. And you can be certain he wants to make at least the charging decisions.

But I think we have reason to believe that they have developed sufficient evidence against whom? Probably Weisselberg, because as Michael said, not only must there be someone, it must be he.

What they need is intent evidence. Evidence to show that Trump, you know, as Michael Cohen has asserted, knew what was happening or Eric did or Donald Jr. or Ivanka. And I think that can only go through Weisselberg. Remember, the A.G. just joined this investigation about a week ago. That's an unusual alliance. That might auger that she's developed evidence about Weisselberg, but I think someone has. They can't be faking it here.

And that is what they're asserting, I think, in putting so much pressure on him because they're saying, if you don't cooperate, we will indict you. And they can't say that unless they have the goods.

BLACKWELL: We know that there is that A.G. investigation into Weisselberg's taxes as these two state investigations are now cooperating. Michael, back to you. Is Weisselberg an easy flip?

D'ANTONIO: You know, I think he has a lot of reasons to consider that option. His two sons have been intimately involved with The Trump Organization for many years. One of them works for a lender that's done a lot of financing for Trump. The other was an employee who handled a lot of cash and there's a lot of discussion now about what happened and whether all of that cash was declared.

So you've got on one side his loyalty to Donald Trump and Trump's loyalty to his own kids. And on the other side his concern for himself. He's 73 years old. Does he want to spend his golden years in prison? And concern for his children. So, this is a really fraught situation.

And the last thing I would mention is that this is the first time that Donald Trump has ever faced the prospect of being brought into a courtroom without either the presidency protecting him or the confidence that no one will flip. He's never had somebody flip on him. And I think the pressure for Weisselberg to flip is enormous.

CAMEROTA: Well, speaking of the adult children, Harry, if Ivanka or Don Jr. or Eric were subpoenaed, couldn't they just plead the fifth?

LITMAN: Certainly. And I don't think they can make this case through any of them. They have to make it through Weisselberg and others.

For example, they got the tax records from Mazars. That person -- there's going to be someone at Mazars who talked again and again and again to probably Weisselberg.

[15:35:00]

Yes, in fact, in New York there's a special rule that anyone who goes into the grand jury gets transactional immunity. So in some sense they probably can't even make it through Weisselberg, but they've got a lot of paper and they've got other witnesses.

And they have, I think, concluded that they have probable -- more than probable cause. They have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt going to Weisselberg. Maybe the taxes.

BLACKWELL: So many criminal and civil investigations, and it seems like there's an update in one of them every day. Harry Litman, Michael D'Antonio, thank you both.

CAMEROTA: OK. This just into CNN. The Pentagon is preparing new guidance for its troops around the world about those attacks that have been causing the mystery illnesses in U.S. personnel and their families. We have all the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:40:00]

CAMEROTA: New info about those mystery illness attacks that have been hitting White House officials and American citizens around the world. We've just learned that the Pentagon is working on a memo for U.S. troops.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for the latest. Barbara, what's in this memo?

[15:40:00]

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're looking at, Victor and Alisyn, is the possibility of sending out a memo to the entire Defense Department. The civilian workforce and military forces around the world. Asking them if they are experiencing some of these mysterious symptoms. No final decision on sending the memo out. But it is looking likely. The State Department has already done something similar.

The idea is you put something out to the troops that specifies what these symptoms are that people are experiencing -- headache, vertigo, dizziness, reports that they're hearing a piercing noise, head injuries, traumatic brain injuries, that kind of thing, and ask people in the Defense Department if they have experienced this similar group of symptoms. Nobody knows what's causing this. It is happening around the world. Even two national security staffers here in Washington reported similar attacks, if you will.

And the real question, of course, is what is causing it? Is there some adversary out there that is using some kind of weapon of some sort that is causing this? Are they targeting people? Here at the Pentagon what they say is they just don't have enough data. They want to hear if there are more cases. They want to get more data. They need more information to try and formulate that conclusion about what this Havana syndrome -- because it began with the U.S. embassy in Cuba years ago -- what it's really all about.

The intelligence community running much of the investigative effort across the government and coming under a lot of pressure from Congress to come up with some answers. Now the Pentagon and the State Department taking some steps in that direction.

BLACKWELL: Fascinating. So many questions. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

All right, more on our breaking news now. Bomb squad now scouring the building in San Jose, California. That was the scene of a mass shooting earlier today. The suspect has been identified. We know that he also has been killed. The state Senator who represents this district will join us live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:45:00]

CAMEROTA: More on our breaking news. Police are still processing the scene of today's mass shooting at the Valley Transit Authority in San Jose, California. We know at least nine people are dead, including the shooter. Police now know his name and that he was a VTA employee. We still do not know how many others are injured or how serious those injuries are.

BLACKWELL: Joining us now State Senator Dave Cortese, represents the area of where this shooting happened. Thank you for being with us. We also know that you were on the board of the VTA. So first your reaction to what has happened at this facility and there in your community.

SEN. DAVE CORTESE (D-CA), REPRESENTS AREA WHERE SHOOTING HAPPENED: This is horrific, and it is actually a facility that's adjacent to the Sheriff's Department in what we often call the Civic Center Complex.

It's only separated from the county administration building where the board of supervisors meets and where several thousand employees work, by a parking lot, by an employee parking lot. And across the street is the jail and the police department. So right in the middle of law and order and law enforcement this horrific act took place.

CAMEROTA: Mr. Cortese, have you had a chance to talk to any of the folks at VTA?

CORTESE: I have not. I've reached out to the leader of the Amalgamated Transit Union. I'm a little troubled not having received a response from him. John Courtney was talking to me just yesterday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. about labor issues that they were experiencing, concerns that they still had about PPEs and such things particularly on the light rail, and that shooting today occurred literally in the light rail yard. I heard from the sheriff, I was here on the Senate floor in

Sacramento, you know, in the California State Capitol. The sheriff herself called me while I was on the Senate floor and I stepped out to take that call, which is when she indicated that she was going to be publicly announcing nine total deaths, including the shooter.

BLACKWELL: I don't know how much you know specifically about this facility, but do you know anything about the typical security there, what would have about expected at that hour of the day 6:30 on a Wednesday morning?

CORTESE: Yes, it is a facility that's just -- it's sort of inherently secure from a public standpoint. It is at a location a lot of people are familiar with because you essentially when you drive down the street past the sheriff's department, you're forced to make a left turn or to enter the private driveway, if you will, of the VTA equipment yard, the light rail yard, where they bring light rail vehicles in for servicing and replacement and so forth.

So it's essentially not a place that the public goes, and, in fact, it's a place where the stop lights divert you immediately to the left on a 90 degree angle away from this location.

[15:50:02]

So it was not only secluded enough and private enough, but, you know, the minute you heard it you had to think that it was, you know, an employee/employer situation or something of the like.

Ironically, it is literally contiguous, literally adjacent to the sheriff's office, and in our county the sheriff has law enforcement jurisdiction over all Valley Transportation Authority operations, so it couldn't be any closer to law enforcement than they were.

CAMEROTA: And, in fact, I mean, we heard that law enforcement was on the scene while shots were still being fired and they attempted rescues. But Mr. Cortese, I appreciate you sharing your concern about your colleague and hearing back from your colleague. Are you saying at this point you don't know who of your colleagues on the VTA survived basically?

CORTESE: I don't know, and, yes, I serve on the VTA board over a number of years dating back to my days as Vice Mayor of the city of San Jose, 12 years on the board of supervisors. During that time I was assigned or appointed, if you will, to the Value Transportation Authority board which is the authority where -- that these employees work for, and also served regionally here in the Bay Area on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for a number of years on.

So I'm very close to the employees, to the operation, to the management as well as the rank and file employees, and as you can imagine in this day and age with COVID and everything else, almost in weekly contact regarding labor concerns and safety protocols and so forth, and so this strikes -- really strikes home, it hits hard.

You know, we're a suburban community. We're the largest county in the Bay Area and the largest city in the Bay Area and third largest city in the state, but it's very much a suburban community.

This Civic Center Plaza is even surrounded by single family homes just across the street and next door, so it's not a place where you would expect this to happen or anything like it, and unfortunately, it's part of this mass shooting epidemic that we're going through now in this country.

BLACKWELL: Yes, State Senator, Dave Cortese, I don't know if there is left a place where you don't expect something like this will happen because it's happening so often. Our condolences to you. You know this facility, you know, these folks and that is your community. Thank you so much for your time.

CORTESE: Yes. Thank you. Appreciate your interest.

BLACKWELL: And we are expecting an update out of San Jose in about 30 minutes from now from law enforcement. Stay with CNN for live coverage. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:55:00]

BLACKWELL: A group of Jewish House Democrats have sent a letter to President Biden asking him to appoint a U.S. ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat anti-Semitism around the country.

CAMEROTA: The request comes ahead of tonight's expected meeting between Biden officials and Jewish advocacy groups. Let's bring in Dana Bash. She's CNN's chief political correspondent and co-anchor of "State of The Union."

Dana, great to see you, do we need an ambassador-at-large to combat anti-Semitism? Isn't that sort of what the FBI is for?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It should be, but listen, when there is bipartisan support for something like something like this in these times it tells you something, that perhaps the answer is yes, it is needed.

And what's interesting is that there was -- has been kind of a lower level position at the State Department for a very long time, since the Bush years. And that has at various times been taken, you know, seriously depending on the person in there or not more recently before the Biden administration, but this is an attempt to elevate that position and make the person more prominent and give the person more responsibility given the spike in anti-Semitic and hate crimes against Jews.

BLACKWELL: We'll see if the president moves forward with that. I want to point out this historic -- now it would wrong to say it's a historic moment. The entire White House press briefing today was historic. Tell us about it and why, Dana.

BASH: Well, you had an African-American woman who was having the press briefing, who is the Deputy Press Secretary. Karine, she is somebody who is well known before the Biden

administration. She was doing a lot of political strategy. She was on cable news quite a bit and now she is at the podium. You see that picture of her there.

It is the first time in 30 years that an African-American woman has been -- as the press secretary, has delivered the president's briefing and it certainly was an historic moment. The time before that it was Judy Smith who they modeled that show "Scandal" after, and she didn't brief very often, but it had happened before.

BLACKWELL: Yes, H.W. Bush administration, 1991. Dana Bash, always good to see you.

BASH: There you go.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: You, too.

BLACKWELL: All right. Well, listen, we've had a very busy afternoon. Of course, the breaking news coverage continues right now with The Lead with Jake Tapper.

END