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Trump Kicks Off Critical Week Of Diplomacy; Trump To Host Leaders Of Egypt, Jordan, And China. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We do have breaking news this morning, a metro blast killing at least 10 people in St. Petersburg, Russia. You're looking at new video from the scene as we have just learned that some 50 people have been injured as well. Let's go straight to our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance. He's covering all of this for us from Moscow.

I know that it is early hours, but what can you tell us?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, horrendous scenes emerging from this metro station in the center of St. Petersburg, Russia's second biggest city, where, as you mentioned, 10 people have been killed in a blast that took place at 2:30 local time. It's now 4:00 local time in the afternoon.

And at least 50 people injured. Those figures coming to us from the office of the governor of St. Petersburg. We're also being reported by state media that children are among the casualties. It's not clear yet whether any of them are dead.

The evacuation of this metro station, which has been named as the Sennaya Square Metro Station in the center of St. Petersburg. It's been now completed, but seven other metro stations in St. Petersburg are also being evacuated. So, obviously, this is causing a wide-scale chaos in the public transportation system inside St. Petersburg, Russia's second biggest city and, of course, its cultural capital.

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President was in St. Petersburg at the time the blast took place. He's been on live television, in fact, as the blast happened, giving answers to a Q&A session, a media forum, that was broadcast on state television.

Later on this afternoon, he was expected to meet Alexander Lukashenko, who is the president of the neighboring country of Belarus, so there were these two national leaders in St. Petersburg when this blast tack place, both of them well out of harm's way according to the Kremlin. But there has been a statement coming from Vladimir Putin expressing his condolences to the family of the dead and the injured.

Vladimir Putin is saying that he is now working with the FSB, the federal security services, the successor to the KGB, on trying to establish the cause of this explosion and of course, for bringing those responsible to justice. So that's a paraphrase of the kind of remarks that he's been making, but clearly, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, is vowing a tough response to this explosion on the metro station in the center of St. Petersburg.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Matthew, we're looking at pictures right now. There were recorded from earlier, pictures of the twisted metal of the subway cars underground, obviously, where the blast took place. We also see some live pictures from around the scene.

You noted that seven other subway stations in town have been evacuated, in St. Petersburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin says it's too early to know the cause. It is being investigated. You've been in Russia for some time. Typically, his response after an act if it is deemed terrorism?

CHANCE: Oh, yes. I mean, look, Vladimir Putin has a reputation for being a tough responder to terrorist acts, and I wouldn't expect anything less from him now. He's already said he's offered his condolences and he's working with the FSB. What we can expect to see in the hours and in the days ahead is a very strong crackdown on anyone who is suspected of being involved in this.

And, of course, it underlines this issue, if it is found to be terrorism -- and, of course, it's almost unavoidable to reach that conclusion at this point -- it underlines what Russia says about the need for the world, for the United States and Russia, for instance, to cooperate on the issue of international terrorism.

Donald Trump made a big thing of this during his election campaign. He wanted to cooperate with Russia on international terrorism. Of course, he's not been able to do that because of the political situation in the United States right now. Russia has become a toxic issue and a poisonous issue in American politics.

But, you know, and this is a question many people are asking right now, is it possible that this could be an incident that changes all that and brings Moscow and Washington a bit closer together on the issue of international terrorism?

BERMAN: All right. Matthew Chance, stand by in Moscow. I want to bring in CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruikshank who is here with us in New York.

And, Paul, Russia as a target for terror, if that is what this turns out to be, why?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Russia is now arguably the top target for global jihadists, al Qaeda and ISIS, a target even higher in the pecking order than the United States. And that's because they've launched all these air strikes in Syria, which had killed so many Sunni Muslim civilians. This has deeply angered the global jihadi movement, but it's also massively energized the global jihadi movement.

According to Vladimir Putin, up to 7,000 Russian nationals, people from the former Soviet bloc countries, have traveled to Syria and Iraq, joined groups like ISIS. And the worry is that they are now coming back into Russia to launch attacks, particularly concerned about people from the caucuses region of Russia joining groups like ISIS. They've emerged as some of the fiercest fighters in ISIS. And they were responsible, the fighters from the Russian caucuses, for that Istanbul --

[09:05:24] HARLOW: Right.

CRUICKSHANK: -- airport attack back last summer. So concern of a new wave of terrorism now hitting Russia is blowback for their intervention in Syria.

HARLOW: When is the last time, Paul, that we saw a terrorist attack akin to -- we don't know if this is one, it's early hours, but, you know, what would history show us in terms of the attacks that Russia has faced? Again, you mentioned the threat from the caucuses.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, there's been a whole string of terror attacks in Russia over past decades. They've been badly hit particularly by groups from the caucuses region. There've been attacks against airports --

HARLOW: But what about specifically for intervention in Syria? Have we seen anything yet?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, we've seen a string of ISIS-inspired plots and attacks within Russian territory, within the caucuses, but also there's been plots and indeed attacks much more in the Russian heartlands. Back in the November of 2016, there was an ISIS-inspired plot, they believe, to launch a Paris-style attack in St. Petersburg and Moscow. That was thwarted by Russian intelligence services. They treated that threat very, very seriously.

And they've been going hard already at all these sort of militant groups operating in the caucuses region, operating potentially on Russian territory. So, you know, there's going to be a further crackdown where they're already cracking down very, very heavily indeed.

I think this is going to be the new normal now in Russia. I think that there's likely to be a significant wave of terrorist, actually. So many Russian nationals have joined groups like ISIS, and they're learning all of this terrorist tradecraft in places like Syria and Iraq. They're killing people on a regular basis now. And they're migrating back now into Russian territory to launch attacks, very, very motivated to do that.

But as of this hour, no claim yet of responsibility from any terror group. But the working assumption, right now, is this is an act of international terrorism.

BERMAN: Ten dead, 50 injured. Russian President Vladimir Putin says they are investigating right now, the cause. Paul Cruickshank, thanks so much. Stick around. We're going to stay on this story throughout the morning, but there is

other developing news in the United States. This is the morning when President Trump's Supreme Court nominee faces a key senate committee vote.

It's the same morning he's about to meet with the leader of a key Middle Eastern nation. It's the same week where he sits down with the Chinese leader to talk about trade and issues that include possible nuclear war on the Korean peninsula. But what is the President doing this morning?

HARLOW: Well, he's tweeting this morning, and he's tweeting about Democratic primary debates. Seriously. The President tweeting, "Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate? Just asking!"

You might remember Donald Trump won the election. You also might be asking this morning, how does that tweet help one single American? Just asking!

That aside, it is a huge day in Washington, so let's go to Ariane de Vogue, our Supreme Court reporter for the latest on what will happen today with these Gorsuch hearings.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, actually, it's a big week for Neil Gorsuch, right? The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 10:00 a.m. And at this point, it's all about the math, right? So far, there are three Democrats who say they will support Gorsuch, but he needs 60 votes for confirmation, as things stand now.

There are 36 Democrats led by Chuck Schumer who say, look, they will filibuster. But listen to Mitch McConnell from this weekend, who responded to that.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority. And I think during the course of the week, we'll find out exactly how this will end, but it will end with his confirmation.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Why doesn't President Trump, Democrats, and Republicans in the Senate sit down and try to come up with a mainstream nominee? Look, when a nominee doesn't get 60 votes, you shouldn't change the rules. You should change the nominee.


DE VOGUE: The debate, today, we should see a little bit of fire, right, because the Democrats have concerns. First of all, they're furious that Merrick Garland never got a vote. They say his seat was stolen. They say that Neil Gorsuch had evasive answers during his hearings on issues such as gay marriage, corporate rights, campaign finance. And we'll also hear about women's health issues. The Democrats there,

they feel like Donald Trump before or during the campaign said he'd put on pro-life judges, so they felt like that gave them license to ask Gorsuch about Roe v. Wade. And they felt like he never really properly responded.

[09:10:00] John and Poppy, this could be the first step in changing the way Supreme Court nominees are chosen for the years ahead. It's a big deal.

HARLOW: It is a big deal. Ariane De Vogue for us, thank you very much.

Again, this hearing is kicking off in less than an hour, and it's expected to bring fireworks. We'll bring it to you live when it begins.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us, the senior Senator from the state of Utah, Orrin Hatch. He's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Hatch, thank you so much for being with us. You heard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moments ago. He said it over the weekend, saying that Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed. The implication there is, if you need to, you're going to invoke the nuclear option. That means no more filibuster for Supreme Court justices. Is this a move you would support?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Yes, I would support that move. I would hope that we wouldn't have to do that. It would be the first time the Democrats or anybody had forced us into a vote on cloture. And frankly, it looks like they're going to do that, and they're politicizing this whole process. Why? On a man like Gorsuch who, you know, has agreed with the liberals on the Circuit Court of Appeals for 10th Circuit, my circuit, 99 percent of the time?

I mean, this is a guy who is a mainstream conservative, which they hate. They don't like that. And, of course, they're still upset about my other friend, Merrick Garland. But the Republicans had every right to delay that during a presidential year, which the Democrats would have done had the roles been reversed.

HARLOW: Well, that has left the ninth seat on the High Court open for 400 days and counting now.

HATCH: Right.

HARLOW: Let me just get your take on what this means, though, because, Senator, as you know, if you do invoke the nuclear option, that will mean that that is precedent, right? And the next time the Republicans aren't in power and the Democrats are in power, it gives them a wide-open lane to have a nominee that is much more left leaning, much more radical. Are you comfortable with that?

HATCH: Well, that's right. Well, what else can I be? All I can say is, is that we can't let them just stop one of the best nominees ever nominated to the Supreme Court because their far left constituencies --

BERMAN: Senator --

HATCH: -- are screaming and shouting. And that's really what's behind this, they just don't know how to handle them. And so instead of standing up and saying, look, he's a very qualified nominee, they won the election, we should at least allow an up or down vote, they can't seem to that. They don't seem to have the courage to do it.

BERMAN: Senator, but they look at you and say that's a double standard. I mean, you call Judge Gorsuch one of the most qualified judges ever been nominated. You're a friend.

HATCH: Highly qualified, yes.

BERMAN: Almost everyone said the same thing about Merrick Garland, including you. So there seems to be a double standard --

HATCH: Well, that's right.

BERMAN: There seems to be a double standard where you're saying it was all right last year when we, for political reasons, halted the nomination of Merrick Garland, but it's not OK this year when Democrats try to halt the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. Why is that not a double standard?

HATCH: I'll just tell you straight up that's total B.S. what you're saying there because they're -- I can't go back in time and show you any case where, during a presidential election year, they've allowed a Supreme Court justice to be nominated unless both sides agree. And both sides didn't agree on this.

Now, Merrick Garland is a fine fellow. There's no question, a fine judge. He's a friend of mine. I went down personally to his chambers to chat with him about this. And frankly, it was every right of Senator McConnell and the Republicans to say we're just not going to do this during a presidential year.

And at that time, keep in mind, it looked as though Hillary was a sure winner, and we would have gotten an even more liberal judge than that one. But that was a stand on principle, not some new barbaric thing that some tried to make it.

BERMAN: But there's never been a Supreme Court nomination that was held up on an election year eight months before Election Day. There have been Supreme Court nominees that were confirmed during election years. Again, all I'm saying --

HATCH: Yes, but that's when everybody agreed.

BERMAN: No, all I'm saying --

HATCH: That's when you had bipartisan support for them. And, frankly, you know, there's never been one of this type that has been allowed to go through. Now, to be honest with you, the Republicans acted properly within their procedural rights. I think they did it properly.

And even though I like Merrick Garland personally, I think it was the right thing to do. It looked as though Hillary's going to win.

HARLOW: Why is it the right thing to do, Senator --

HATCH: It looked as though he'd be automatically, again --

HARLOW: Senator, why was it --

HATCH: Well, it was the right thing.

HARLOW: Why was it the right thing to do to not even hold --

HATCH: The --

HARLOW: -- hold on -- to not even hold an up or down vote eight months out from an election? We're not talking about eight days or eight weeks. To not even have the voices of your fellow senators heard on this on, why was that right then for the American people and what the Democrats are trying now not correct?

HATCH: That's what democracy is. Democracy says that, you know, you can hold a vote or you don't have to hold a vote. I was willing to go ahead with it, but to make a long story short, the Republicans acted fully and wholly within the rules and I think did so properly.

It looked as though Hillary was going to win. It looked as though she could either reappoint the judge or Judge Merrick Garland or pick somebody else. But in all honesty, Republicans acted totally properly in that particular matter. It just so happens that Trump won, and this really outstanding man named Gorsuch has been the nominee.

[09:15:11] You'd have to look long and hard to find a better nominee for this court than Neil Gorsuch. And frankly, if you look at his record, it's across the board, yes, he's conservative, but he voted 99 percent of the time with the other judges on what really was a liberal dominated court.

HARLOW: All right, we are out of time because of the breaking news. We'll have you back and ask you about the comments you made about Mitt Romney. We'll get your answer to that one coming up.

HATCH: Glad to do it.

HARLOW: Thank you, very much, Senator. Nice to have you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: If Senator Orrin Hatch uses the phrase b.s., you know, that it's something --

HARLOW: You're no b.s. in my words.

BERMAN: Those are not words that often come out of the mouth I think of Senator Orrin Hatch. So we appreciate him for being with us.

HARLOW: I think you're right, candid conversation this morning. That's for sure.

Still to come for us, we are, of course, on top of the fast-moving developments in the deadly blast in St. Petersburg, Russia, that has taken at least ten lives and injured 50 more.

Also, forget Twitter diplomacy --

BERMAN: The president meeting top international leaders face to face, actual sit-down meetings with key foreign leaders.

Plus -- the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, beginning its process of investigating alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia.



HARLOW: President Trump kicks off a critical week of diplomacy meeting face to face this week with three foreign leaders, in just a few hours, he will greet the president of Egypt, on Wednesday, he sits down with King Abdullah of Jordan and then on Thursday, he will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago.

BERMAN: President Trump is putting pressure on the Chinese leader ahead of this meeting. In an interview with "The Financial Times," the president said if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. CNN's senior White House correspondent, Joe Johns is at the White House. Joe, any sense from the White House how they will solve North Korea?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No sense at least right now, but it's pretty clear from reading into what the president has had to say about it if China does not participate in the solution, the United States will go it alone.

But look, a very busy meeting, a very busy week of meetings for this president, including starting today, with the president of Egypt appearing here at the White House later this morning.

A variety of things no doubt on the table, the partnership against terrorism, as well as military aid for Egypt, not likely that they'll talk in any great degree about human rights, which was a big concern for the Obama administration.

Then on Wednesday, the president will be meeting here at the White House with King Abdulla of Jordan and Thursday and Friday, at Mar-a- Lago with President Xi of China. Of course, a very tricky meeting there given the president's rhetoric on the campaign trail relating to China.

It is pretty clear also that the president wants to talk about trade as well but North Korea certainly will be near the top of the agenda items. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House with all of that, thank you very much.

All right, let's bring in our panel, CNN political commentator, Patti Solis-Doyle, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye, and we're awaiting for David Gergen who will join us shortly.

Thank you guys very much for being here. So it's a huge week as we saw those three leaders that he is meeting, the key meeting is Thursday with Xi Jinping, but he's not tweeting about that this morning and he is not, Doug, tweeting about Judge Gorsuch on this confirmation week.

Here's what he's tweeting, "Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate? Just asking" --

BERMAN: I don't think that's going to come with Xi Jinping.

HARLOW: I don't think so and I'm just asking how does that help one single American, Doug, what do you make of it?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it does help one single American, Donald Trump. It means that he can steer the conversation to wherever he wants it to be, even if it doesn't necessarily make sense to you or I.

And so we know if the meeting with China doesn't go well, we'll probably be talking about the latest thing that Donald Trump tweets, the latest outrage du jour and not focus on a meeting that didn't go well.

If you look at the meeting with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, it didn't go well and what we saw from the White House was Attempts to distract and they're successful at those attempts to distract.

BERMAN: Prophylactic tweeting is I think what Doug Heye is saying right there.

HEYE: I did not use that word.

BERMAN: I'll use it. David Gergen, I want to talk about this week the importance of this week. Meeting with three key foreign leaders, Al-Sisi of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Xi Jinping at the end of the week, what does President Trump need out of this week, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The most important meetings he has at the end of the week with China. That's the most important relationship we have anywhere in the world, two major powers, one rising, the other, you know, has been on top for a long time, but China is trying to challenge us.

But there is, John, in Mar-a-Lago the possibility of laying the foundations for a major deal. The highest priority in international affairs for the Trump administration is to de-fang North Korea and they really need China's help, more muscular help than anything we've seen so far to get that done. In exchange for that, the Chinese really want to avoid a trade war with Donald Trump and the United States. Remember, Trump promised back in the campaign a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods coming into the United States.

That would touch off a trade war, and it's conceivably we could stumble into something that where some guns are going off and that's to be avoided. From the Chinese point of view, they are status quo oriented country, they'd really like to avoid that, so you can see the makings of a deal.

One question I've got for you for others, so Jared Kushner has been given responsibility for the Middle East in the Trump White House. He's now the chief road in to from China, they are going through Kushner to get to the president.

[09:25:09]Why in the world is Jared Kushner in Iraq? I don't understand that.

HARLOW: And why is he doing a lot of what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson you would assume be doing. It is a fascinating background and color to all of this, Patti, as we bring in the facts that Kushner met with Henry Kissinger, had him go over to China to meet with Xi ahead of this meeting. It is fascinating.

You have said sort of politics aside of your dislike of the president's politics, you think he comes into these meetings especially the meeting with the Chinese president, from a position of weakness. How so?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, his favorability is in the 30s. He is under FBI investigation. He has lost his two big first initiatives and that's his travel ban and then health care. He is a lot of talk, tough talk, a lot of bluster but going into the meetings in a weakened position as the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

He's meeting with the leader of arguably the second most powerful country in the world and comes at it in a weakened position. Also there's no clear foreign policy coming out of this administration.

We don't know who is in charge as David Gergen suggested, is it Rex Tillerson, Nikki Haley, Jared Kushner? Still as of yet there is no undersecretary for East Asian Affairs. So I think yes, he's going into the meeting not only weakened but probably ill-prepared.

BERMAN: You know it's interesting, Doug, David brings up a good question about Jared Kushner because there is this narrative out there that he is the secretary of state, national security adviser, you know, the prince, the alternative president, but he wasn't in town during the health care negotiations. He is not in town prior to the China meeting and Al-Sisi. Maybe the narrative is wrong, maybe it proves he's not as important as much of a central player as some in the media like to say he is, Doug?

HEYE: I mean, obviously we all know the phrase palace intrigue. There's no more intrigue with any other palace more than Donald Trump's White House right now. You know, whether we are talking about tweets or a particular person and what their role may be or other positions that haven't been filled.

There's still a lot of questions out there and at a certain point hopefully we'll get some answers. I think the Trump White House would do itself well to start filling some of those positions so we get some more certainty.

I think not just people talking on TV, but markets would get more certainty, Republicans on Capitol Hill would feel a lot better about how things are going.

HARLOW: David Gergen to you, the president was asked in this fascinating broad interview with "The Financial Times" this weekend about his tweets and here's what he said, "I don't regret anything because there's nothing you can do about it."

And then he said, "You know, if you issue hundreds of tweets and every once in a while you have a clinker, that's not so bad." I mean, that drives Mitch McConnell crazy, drives a lot of Republicans and Democrats crazy. If you don't have a clinker, that's not so bad?

GERGEN: A clinker like, you know --

HARLOW: He's the president.

GERGEN: That's right. Well look, a clinker can go a long way. Just think of his claim that he'd been wiretapped by President Obama and that vicious attack on Obama. That has stirred up a lot of trouble for him, and Doug talks rightly about trying to create distractions. Some distractions you don't want and this is one that got in his way.

I also want to come back and respectfully disagree with the point about how weak the president is. That is absolutely right that he's weak at home right now. He's gone through a really rough period, we all know that.

But the United States has such enormous power still in the world that any American president going into a meeting with China or anyone else still has great residual power and you know how, you need to know how to use that, and think about it.

And I do think one of the questions that is over this, I do agree with Patti on this, it's not clear what our strategy is toward china especially on trade.

There appears to be an epic battle within the White House, within the president's own camp about whether it would be really tough on China, go after, something Steve Bannon wants or the secretary of the treasury, Gary Cohen inside the White House, the economist from Goldman Sachs, they want a more traditional, they don't want a trade war with China right now. It could jeopardize the growth we have and the job progress we are making.

BERMAN: Patti, you want a quick last word? DOYLE: Well, just on the tweets, I think you know, reading the interview this morning, this just really is unfortunate and sort of you know, disheartening that this president has no regrets about the tweets that he has given, whether it's the wiretapping, whether it's the 3 million illegal votes, whether it's on a day he should be working on the SCOTUS confirmation and meetings with China, he's tweeting about a debate that happened in the election over a year ago. It's just as I said as a citizen disheartening.

HEYE: John and Poppy, remember Donald Trump may view a clinker very differently than you and I may, and that's the one thing that we still don't know in this White House.

BERMAN: Doug Heye, David Gergen, Patti Solis Doyle, great to have you with us, guys.