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White House Staffers Worth Billions; How Will Trump Officials Resolve Conflicts Of Interest?; More Than 250 Dead In Colombia Mudslides; Trump Says U.S. Could Act Alone On North Korea Threat. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: -- decent chunk of those people beyond just the people who are going to be for him no matter what --


CILLIZZA: -- in order to get reelected.

CAMEROTA: Yes, those --

CILLIZZA: That's the question.

CAMEROTA: -- fence sitters are those people we don't exactly --

CILLIZZA: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- how they're feeling but we will at some point.

CILLIZZA: And those fence sitters -- just very quickly -- those tend to be the people who are not paying all that close -- nearly as close attention as we are. They tend to dial in much later on in the election, so all of this could just be noise for them.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Are they going to wind up going in his column --


CUOMO: -- with these kinds of obvious distractions where he's trying to change the story --

CAMEROTA: Unknowable --

CUOMO: -- because he doesn't like it?

CAMEROTA: -- yet. Chris Cillizza, thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you all.

CAMEROTA: Be sure to check out Chris's new piece on It is online now.

CUOMO: All right. So, we've been hearing about financial disclosure forms and how they fit into what's going on with the Russia probe but they're also a big part of conflicts, apparent and otherwise, within the White House. The big money deals are raising the eyebrows of ethics watchdogs. Who said what, what do the numbers show us? Facts ahead.


CAMEROTA: Back to CNN Money Now. The White House releasing financial information for 180 staff members. The big takeaway, they're loaded. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here to break down the billions.

[07:35:05] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. When you have so much money it gets complicated. So this is how it looks. Here are some of the big names included in these disclosures revealed by the White House. Jared Kushner's filing shows he and Ivanka Trump are worth as much as $740 million. Former Goldman Sach's president Gary Cohn holding up to $611 million in assets. Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway also worth tens of millions of dollars. Now, you guys, staffers are only required to post a range of the value for what they own so that's why these aren't exact numbers. We're showing you these ranges.

There are new conflict of interests concerns this morning. Now, Jared Kushner's filing shows that his wife, Ivanka, has a huge stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. It could be worth as much as $25 million -- $5 million to $25 million. And the couple earned up to $5 million in income last year from that stake. Ivanka will file her own disclosure later this month. She, as you know, took an unpaid White House job now so she will have to put these financial numbers on paper. It's unclear whether the Office of Government Ethics will ask her to divest those hotel stakes or if she'll do it voluntarily.

The other big headline coming out of these disclosures, former national security adviser Michael Flynn initially did not include thousands in speaking fees from three Russian companies. He did include them in a second filing. Flynn was paid to speak by Russia's state-funded television network in Moscow -- a speech in Moscow -- and by two other Russian companies for speaking engagements in the U.S., Chris. And that first one to the Russian television network, it's something intelligence officials have said that particular television station is a propaganda tool for Vladimir Putin.

CUOMO: All right, so you've got the big numbers. That's impressive all by itself. But you also have what they mean in terms of any potential conflicts and the need to resolve them. We're going to discuss that with CNN contributor, former Obama White House ethics czar, and fellow at the Brookings Institution, Ambassador Norman Eisen. And, former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard Painter. Gentlemen, good to see you united again in purpose and on NEW DAY.

Counselor Painter, while I have you, you were going at it with the social media director for Donald Trump a little bit this weekend. I want to get you on record about that. He was suggesting that they might primary a Republican who wasn't helping advance the president's agenda. You said that may violate the law. How so?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, you're not allowed to use your official position for influencing an election. That's illegal under the Hatch Act. And he has a so-called personal Twitter page that's loaded up with official photos of him in the White House and lots of White House stuff on there. That's not a personal Twitter page, that's official, and he's using that now to encourage someone to challenge a Republican congressman in a primary.

That's politicalactivity, that's illegal in an official capacity. He could do it in his personal capacity but without mentioning his official title. This is an abuse of his office and he would have been fired in the Bush administration if he'd done that. We would not have put up with that in the White House.

CUOMO: This guy's name is Dan Scavino. People can go online and see what he's been saying and judge for themselves. Thank you very much for that, Richard. All right, now we have the numbers we just heard from Christine, Norm. So he's got a lot of rich people in there. That may matter to some, may not to others. Why does it matter to you?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning, Chris. It matters to me, same reason it mattered to Professor Painter in the Bush White House. We made people unload their holdings, sell them, divest them, because of the conflicts that they create.

And if you take Jared and Ivanka, for example, they have -- are hanging onto major holdings, real estate, trade related. A big financial debt to big banks. That means they're going to have to recuse in all those areas and if they stumble over an issue -- they work on an issue in one of those areas that they shouldn't, we're talking criminal liability. Why would the president put his son and his -- son-in-law and his daughter in harm's way? Why would they do that to themselves? They ought to divest.

CUOMO: Well, the other side of it is -- to you, Richard -- is look, you knew who these people were when you elected Trump and his family and they've got a lot of money. There'd be a lot of hardship if they had to divest. People understood that they were wealthy. Many supported them because they were wealthy, so it is what it is. It's already baked in.

PAINTER: Well, yes, but they have to comply with the law and it's a criminal statute. So what this means is Ivanka and Jared will have to recuse. They cannot participate in policy discussions in a broad range of areas, including bank deregulation and finance because real estate is so dependent upon what happens in the banking sector. They're going to have to recuse from tax reform because there are so many goodies in the tax bill for real estate. There are already goodies in the code for real estate so they've got to stay out of tax reform.

[07:40:08] And then, finally, trade because Ivanka is making clothes overseas and bringing them over here and then slapping her name on them with a label. Everyone else is doing that but that's a big trade issue. That's why jobs are going overseas. Well now, she and Jared are both going to have to recuse from trade negotiations.

And it's not just them. Wilbur Ross has a shipping company -- the Commerce secretary -- so he may have to recuse from trade negotiations. I don't know if anyone's going to be left to deal with trade other than the president and Steve Bannon, and that could be a real disaster, so I'm very worried about this situation.

CUOMO: How do you police that, Norm? I mean, at least let's just limit it right now to the son-in-law, Jared Kushner. I mean, he has been pretty high profile in dealing with a lot of international components of the White House. China, we understand he's going to be a part of that. Trade, according to one of the information advisers here on NEW DAY this morning. He's going to be a big part of the agenda. How does he not involve himself in that discussion if he's an adviser on China and how do you police that?

EISEN: Well, Chris, even in a normal White House the policing issues would be complicated. Remember, all of Ivanka's conflicts are attributed under federal law to her spouse, Jared. So he's stuck with the fact that she has all these China entanglements, including trademarks like her dad. Trademarks in China that give China a lever over her. They can yank the trademarks if they don't like the Trump- China policy.

In a normal White House, you'd have a compliance system. Richard and I both ran them in the White House. But here, the compliance system is broken. So when you already have actual or apparent violations by so many people around the president -- Bannon, Priebus, Kellyanne Conway. Mr. Liddell who, it appears, may have even violated criminal limitations. We need more information to know for sure. It doesn't seem like they care about ethics and are they really going to tell the boss' son-in-law and daughter, hey, don't do that or you've done wrong or I'm going to report you to the Office of Government Ethics? I don't think so. It's a recipe for disaster.

CUOMO: Let me ask you something else while I have you, Richard Painter. Tom Price, Health and Human Services secretary was in the Congress obviously, in the House of Representatives. There's an allegation that he may have made a sale transaction on a drug company right after creating legislation that was favorable to the regulation of that same industry and company. What's your take?

PAINTER: Well, I've worked on an insider trading law for almost 30 years and if you have somebody who is buying the stock on the same day that there are developments happening in Congress that are non-public information, that's a classic insider trading case. So I don't know why the FCC isn't looking into this and maybe they are. But this is not the kind of thing that a member of Congress ought to be doing, moving in and out of stocks at the same time as they are working on bills that are going to affect the price of the stocks. There's insider trading issues as well as conflict of interest issues. I don't know how he got into that mess but it's very, very troubling.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see if it develops into a mess. Like you said, the infraction is only as good as its enforcement. Let's see if anything comes of it. Richard Painter, Ambassador Norman Eisen, always a pleasure. Thank you, gentlemen -- Alisyn.

EISEN: Thanks, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Chris, there's a dire situation in Colombia to tell you about. Hundreds of people killed in these devastating mudslides. We have the latest from there, next.


[07:47:10] CAMEROTA: There are some new developments in the deadly mudslides in Colombia. More than 250 people dead. The country's president declaring a state of emergency. CNN's Dave Briggs joins us now with the latest -- Dave.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Good morning, guys. More than 1,000 soldiers and national police officers are involved in what's an ongoing rescue effort trying to find survivors after the Colombian city of Mocoa was effectively washed away.


BRIGGS: In southern Colombia, scenes of devastation after surging rivers sent an avalanche of floodwaters throughthe city of Mocoa, destroying homes and sweeping away cars and trees as residents slept early Saturday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The floodwaters got stuck up in the mountain and when it came down many people didn't have time to react and they were washed away.

BRIGGS: The violent mudslides killing over 250 people and injuring hundreds of others. Rescuers seen here searching through the mud and rubble for survivors while heartbroken families line up outside a cemetery waiting for answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am looking for my three daughters and a tiny granddaughter. They disappeared when it happened and I haven't been able to find them. I ask the whole world -- the whole society to help me. I need help.


BRIGGS: Colombia's president confirming that 43 children are among the dead. And the organization, Save the Children, saying that 70 had been separated from their families. Guys, the scramble now to reunite those families and get hospitals and utilities back online.

CUOMO: We're just saying it will last days and weeks just to know what they're dealing with. Dave, thank you very much.

President Trump is set to face -- meet face-to-face with China's president this week. How will his stern warning, his strong words about China's actions in the past affect the meeting this week? We discuss, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:53:00] CAMEROTA: President Trump's stern warning to China that the U.S. could act alone if China does not respond to North Korea's nuclear threat is setting the stage for a high-stakes meeting on Thursday. This comes as President Trump meets two other world leaders this week. Let's discuss all of this with editor-in-chief of the "Hindustan Times," Bobby Ghosh. And former deputy Secretary of State and former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken. Gentlemen, great to have both of you.

OK, let me read to you what President Trump told the "Financial Times" in an interview about North Korea and China. Here's the headline. He says, "Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That's all I am telling you." How do you interpret that, Bobby?

BOBBY GHOSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HINDUSTAN TIMES: I interpret that, as I'm sure the Chinese will, as pure bluff. The United States has no real cards to play with North Korea. We've got sanctions against the country. There are not a lot more new sanctions.

CAMEROTA: Why can't we use a military response to take out some of their weaponry?

GHOSH: Against a country that has nuclear weapons and ahighly unstable leader? I don't think that would be wise. I don't think anybody in the U.S. military would advise the president to do anything like that. And we have 30,000 troops, is it, in South Korea, a very important ally. Another important ally in Japan to destabilize all of East Asia, a major, major trading sort of hub for American goods and services. So, no, I don't think the U.S. really has any leverage that it can exercise in North Korea. This sounds to me like pure bluff.

CAMEROTA: Do you agree, Tony?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, here's the challenge. North Korea has relentlessly pursued the capability of a long-range missile that can reach the United States with a nuclear weapon. It's accelerated the efforts to get one. And if you put that technology in the hands of a leader who acts, at best, impulsively and maybe even irrationally, that is unacceptable for us. The problem is -- Bobby's right -- there's not a clear-cut military solution. Most of their program is very deep underground. Increasingly, they're developing mobile missiles that can be hidden, rolled out really quickly, fueled in a matter of minutes, and then launched.

[07:55:04] So the question is how do you get them back to the negotiating table to denuclearize, and that's where China comes in. China does have a unique card to play. Its relationship with North Korea -- its economic relationship is unlike any other country in the world. Virtually all of North Korea's trade goes to, through, or is with China. If China exerts pressure -- real pressure -- combined with pressure from other countries around the world, there's at least a possibility of getting the North Koreans to the table to negotiation.


BLINKEN: Meanwhile, the president's right that we have to take every reasonable measure to defend ourselves and I think, hopefully, that's what he's talking about. Missile defenses that the Chinese don't like, for example, we've got to do it to protect ourselves and allies that we're also sworn to defend.

CAMEROTA: Bobby, has China shown any appetite for exerting pressure on North Korea?

GHOSH: In the margins, not seriously, because I think China has some legitimate fears there. They feel that if North Korea implodes then they have major refugee crisis on their borders because hundreds of thousands -- millions of North Koreans will be streaming north into China and that's a situation China doesn't want.

CAMEROTA: Understood. I mean, so it sounds like what President Trump and the White House is saying is it hasn't worked. Trying to get China to act as parental guidance from North Korea hasn't worked so let's try something different.

GHOSH: Well, that is -- that is the sort of -- you've captured in a nutshell Trump's foreign policy. Stuff hasn't worked, let's try something new. That's a sort of seductive idea but if stuff hasn't worked it's a reason why -- there's a reason why it hasn't worked, and with North Korea I wouldn't go that far. I think North Korea has been contained. If you ask South Koreans they'd say, you know, this is the best possible under the circumstances. It's not always a good idea to kick in the hornet's nest or the sort of beehive just because you can. The consequences of getting this wrong are enormous. This is not some obscure little country with no weapons and in a part of the world we don't care about. We do care about it enormously there.

CAMEROTA: Right, but I mean, Tony, look, I don't have to tell you dealing with North Korea is not easy and going hat-in-hand to China, once again, how is that going to change anything?

BLINKEN: It's actually not going hat-in-hand. It's making clear to the Chinese that just as they have core interests, we have core interests, and North Korea has become a core interest, and that means we're going to have to take steps that China doesn't like if it can't help us solve the problem. More missile defenses, more military presence in the region. Sanctions, potentially, on Chinese companies and Chinese individuals who are engaged with the North Korean regime.

None of this is directed at China but the point is China fears -- Bobby's exactly right -- instability. North Korea has become the greatest source of instability in the region. China needs to do more to deal with the challenge.

CAMEROTA: OK, so maybe that's what President Trump is going to spell out when he meets with President Xi this week. I mean, hard to know because he's not talking about, but what do you think? How do you think this meeting will go?

GHOSH: Well, I think -- I think Tony's right. If he were to say to the Chinese that look, if you're not going to get involved a little more with this problem we'd like to -- we'd like to get involved ourselves. We have to protect our interests. We have to protect our allies in South Korea, we have to protect our allies in Japan. We are going to put more military hardware onto -- on -- in East Asia, that might get the Chinese' attention a little bit.

But the Chinese know that it is, at the end of the day, really a bluff. They do know that the United States does not have any levers any the North Koreans. They're the only ones who do. They've always maintained that North Korea is not a problem that can be solved like that. It takes a long, slow process. It is the Chinese way. It is in their neighborhood. They have much more to lose if North Korea implodes. I think he's -- I think President Trump's got to show a little respect on that.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Tony, as we speak, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and one of his top advisers, has just landed in Baghdad. He was invited by the chairman of the joint chiefs to accompany him and he says that the goal there is to express the president's support and commitment for the government of Iraq. And I guess my question is what role is Jared Kushner playing in Iraq, playing with these China discussions, and how is it different than the Secretary of State?

BLINKEN: Alisyn, it's a -- it's a great question. He seems on occasion, certainly, to be the de facto Secretary of State -- relationships with the Chinese ambassador, with the Turks, with the Saudis, and now with the Iraqis. Now, on the other hand, it's good that he's there looking at this firsthand, looking at the progress that we've made, supporting the Iraqis in dealing with the Islamic State, having real success in Mosul and, hopefully, continuing that effort.

But, you know, this goes to a larger question and the larger question is, up until now we haven't seen a lot of regular order in this administration when it comes to making foreign policy. It's supposed to be centered around the National Security Council. The national security adviser is supposed to bring everyone around the same table. They debate the policy, they decide the policy, they speak the policy. That doesn't seem to be happening. There's a lot of freelancing going on.

CAMEROTA: All right, we'll try to get the answers to that. We have a Republican lawmaker coming right up. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Bobby, great to have you here in the studio.

We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.


CUOMO: President Trump facing the most critical week of international diplomacy.