Return to Transcripts main page
Trump's 'America First' Policy Faces Major Tests; Trump to Meet with China's President Xi Today; Trump Suggests Susan Rice May Have Committed A Crime. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired April 6, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATS: When you kill innocent children that crosses many, many lines.
[05:58:45] SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: This would never have been possible, had they not had the cover Putin has given.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: How many more children have to die before Russia cares?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea's capacity is increasing. You have to communicate your willingness to take action.
TRUMP: Be strong. Don't let China take advantage of us.
UNIDENTIFIED MAL: I think the national security adviser thinks things will get better when Mr. Bannon returns to a more appropriate role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not legal to be able to use information that's gathered officially for political purposes.
MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: What has gone on here is lawful, appropriate and pretty routine.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, April 6, 6 a.m. here in New York.
Up first, President Trump's "America first" policy facing several major tests on the world stage. The president now says the chemical attack in Syria, quote, "crossed a lot of lines," end quote after he saw images of children choking on gas. So what action will the U.S. take?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's the question. What will the tough talk lead to? That same question looms over Trump's biggest world leader meeting yet. In just hours, he's going to sit down with China's president. What will he be able to get done on trade? And the big question will be North Korea. How will those two men agree on a response to North Korea's aggression?
Busy day on day 77 of the Donald Trump presidency. We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
A defining moment for this president and this administration. As a candidate, Donald Trump slammed China for its trade policies and promised to win at the negotiation table.
Now with hot spots around the world in crisis, he sits down face-to- face with the leader of the country he attacked on the campaign trail.
TRUMP: These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump confronting multiple international crises during a week of high-stakes diplomacy, including today's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
TRUMP: My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.
JOHNS: The president opening to door to greater action in Syria in the wake of the horrific chemical attack perpetrated, the U.S. says, by President Bashar al-Assad against his own people.
TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, that crosses many, many lines. I do change, and I am flexible. And I'm proud of that flexibility. And I will tell you, that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me.
JOHNS: A significant shift for a president who, in the past, has advocated against intervention in Syria after similar attacks.
TRUMP (via phone): Now we're supposed to get involved with Syria. I would say stay out.
JOHNS: And fought for a ban on Syrian refugees.
TRUMP (on camera): I'm putting the people on notice that are coming from Syria as part of the mass migration, that if I win -- if I win, they're going back.
JOHNS: United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley warning that the U.S. may take unilateral action if other countries fail to respond.
HALEY: When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.
JOHNS: A starkly different tone from her comments just days ago when she told reporters, "Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out." Those comments and others from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prompting bipartisan rebuke. REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: The remarks that we were no longer
going to go after Assad as one of our major policies, I believe caused Assad to do what he did.
RUBIO (via phone): I don't think it's a coincidence that a few days later we see this .
JOHNS: Ambassador Haley now slamming Russia for supporting the Assad regime.
HALEY: How many more children have to die before Russia cares?
JOHNS: As President Trump also condemns the Kremlin, but in much lighter terms, telling "The New York Times," "I think it's a very sad day for Russia, because they're aligned."
North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch presenting another major test for Trump when he meets with the Chinese president today.
TRUMP: We have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing.
JOHNS: China's role in confronting North Korea's nuclear threat certain to be a main point of conversation during the two-day summit, which the president has acknowledged will be difficult, particularly after his routine criticism of China on the campaign trail.
TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country. And that's what they're doing.
TRUMP: The White House will be moving on quickly after the departure of that controversial aide from the principals committee of the National Security Council, Steve Bannon. The president acknowledging yesterday that the problems around the world are now his problems to solve -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: All right, Joe. Thank you very much for that.
We also are following some breaking news at this hour.
Turkey's justice minister says that autopsy results show definitively that chemical weapons were used in the attack that killed, now, 86 people and injured hundreds more in Syria.
We want to warn you: these images of the aftermath are very disturbing.
Emergency workers took more than 30 victims of the attack to Turkey, where three victims have since died. Some of those killed include young children. Turkey blames Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime for carrying out this chemical attack.
CUOMO: All right. Let's start with these developments in Syria. The pivot by the White House. What will it mean? And of course, this major meeting between the president of the United States and the head of China.
We have a great panel for this: CNN political analysts David Gregory and Maggie Haberman. Maggie has the exclusive interview with President Trump in "The New York Times" this morning. Also joining us, national security correspondent for "The New York Times," David Sanger. David has a big piece on this pivot.
So David Gregory, when we call it a pivot, Trump in 2013, when they had that chemical attack that was linked to Assad, which killed many more people, many more children than we've just seen now, he said don't go into Syria to Obama. But now he sees it differently. Why and what could it lead to?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the view from inside the Oval Office out, as opposed to outside in, is a lot different for anybody who assumes the office. And this becomes a test of moral leadership for any president of the United States.
A moment when I think he or she realizes, look, only the United States can lead in such a way that can make a real difference. Both with military might and with diplomatic might.
Here the president has changed his view. He's using very sloppy language, just like President Obama did, but taking it to another level. Talking about causing -- crossing all kinds of lines for him. Suggesting he's preparing to take some type of military action, without it being clear what he might do, how he might do it, with whom he might do it.
And at the same time, I think, if you're listening to Ambassador Haley at the United Nations, putting the United States now on more of a collision course than it's been recently and certainly, given everything, Trump has said with Russia, which does so much to prop up Assad and has for a long time and has military assets in place, flying sorties over Syria just as the U.S. is targeting ISIS.
CAMEROTA: David, I'm just reading your piece on the president's pivot. And he actually spells out what prompted his new point of view, and that was seeing all of the hideous images on cable news of children. And so this has now gripped him and got his attention in a way that it hadn't before, for whatever reason. Was it -- is it clear to you what his plan is now?
DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it -- what we have seen here is a president who's watching these images, as David said, from the Oval Office instead of from Trump Tower.
These images were horrific, and what happened is a huge international tragedy. It is no larger an international tragedy than what we saw when chemical weapons were first used in 2013. And it was at that moment that Mr. Trump was arguing that the United States, as you heard in the introduction, should stay out of Syria.
What was missing yesterday was any description of what his strategic objective would be if he went in. There's a reason that President Obama did not follow through with his threat to go bomb Assad. Whether you think that decision was the right decision or the wrong decision, and I think it had a lot of bad consequences for the United States following on. His -- what led him to the decision was he couldn't figure out what happened the day after you did the bombing.
And so instead, it led to a negotiation, which President Trump has not referred to yet. They got much, but clearly, not all of the chemical weapons out of Syria.
So what -- I think what we were missing in yesterday's press conference was any description of what his ultimate objective here is. Is it to protect the population? Is it to topple the regime? Is it to somehow keep an alliance together that would go in and confront the Russians? Would he join the Russians?
And the Russian issue is front and center next week, because Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is going to Moscow for what will be the first face-to-face encounter with President Putin for anybody in the Trump cabinet.
CUOMO: All right. So Maggie, we have the overall experience that's going on, which the White House, with President Trump, is learning the difference between talking tough and then having to act on it. OK, that's granted.
But he has a built-in plus and a built-in minus that Obama did not have. The plus is, when Obama went to Congress, once he bungled the red line, and "OK, I guess they did cross it, let's go and bomb," Congress had no desire to have that happen.
But now Republicans and Democrats are calling on the White House to do more. And they have their own menu of options. That's the plus.
But on the negative side, "I'm sad for Russia." Yes, Nikki Haley used stronger language. Even Tillerson suggested it's something more. But our president said, "I'm sad for Russia." Until you decide to go at Russia hard for supporting a despot, not much can get done.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think, to David -- my colleague, David Sanger's point, we don't have any clear understanding of exactly what this president is prepared to do. So without knowing that, it's impossible to gauge exactly how much of a plus this is.
It is true that Congress has a menu of options that they would like. It's also not clear to me, frankly, just because Republicans hold Congress and are the party in power in the White House, as well, that that means that there is much of a desire at all, while there are so many other issues that they are tackling, to go ahead with this. So that's one issue.
The other issue, to your point, is when my colleague, Glenn Thrush, and I were in the Oval Office yesterday and talking to the president about Syria, and he lingered on the images and seeing them and what the experience of that was like. But when we pushed on, you know, what does this mean in terms of Russia and Syria, he seemed unprepared to answer that. And I don't mean that he's not aware of it. He simply did not want to discuss it beyond very muted words of this is a sad day for Russia. At another point, he described himself -- described it as disappointing, the other word he used. And it's not clear exactly what that means.
CAMEROTA: But also, Maggie, I mean, he claims -- I'm looking at the transcript of your interview from yesterday in the Oval Office -- that it's by design. "I don't talk about what I plan to do militarily. I like to keep people guessing. I don't ever ever telegraph this.
HABERMAN: So some of that certainly is true, that he does like keeping people guessing, and we're aware of that. But I don't know how much of that here is because they simply are not sure which way to go in terms of the question that you -- the point that you just raised about, he said, "I don't like to discuss what I'm doing militarily" or on any strategic initiatives.
The question was, are you willing to use influence with Vladimir Putin? And that was his response.
CUOMO: Now, David Gregory, let's look at how this pivoting and how the difference between talk and action will be made manifest in what is probably the biggest moment internationally for President Trump today, when he meets with China's leader. Tough talk, ugly talk from Trump during the campaign about China. Said they were raping the U.S. because of their currency manipulation. Do you think that that is the right way to hype this meeting, that this is the biggest moment. Something does have to come out of it. It is a test.
GREGORY: Well, it's certainly a test. And, you know, you have all of this rhetoric from candidate Trump that is -- was not measured that he now has to try to soften a little bit and put in the package of what he wants to achieve. This is the same issue that David brought up before.
You're getting ready to have a big meeting with your probably most important strategic partner/adversary. The language around China gets very subtle. What is it that you want? What do you want to walk away with? What are you trying to achieve?
So you've got a whole issue on economic matters, on trade. You've got presence in the South China Sea. You've got the fact that, by pulling out of an Asian trade pact, China has room, then, to negotiate their own deals.
But on North Korea, what is it that you want China to do? What is China prepared to do? And then what will you do unilaterally, if you have to, as a new administration?
There's no doubt that Trump's national security team saying, "What are the options here militarily, if I want to force the issue. Who can we work with on this? And China is going to be the key player. But he set himself up to say, "I'm going to fix this problem on North Korea and even if I had to do it alone." And because of what Secretary of State Tillerson has said, we're not negotiating with these people. Well, you're going to have to probably give on one of those two
things. Because it's not like other presidents haven't been here and grappled with this incredibly difficult issue when you're dealing with, you know, instability and leadership in North Korea.
CAMEROTA: David Sanger, what are you keeping an eye out for today? Do you think that President Trump can extract some promise from China with dealing with North Korea?
SANGER: I'm sure that by the time this summit meeting is over, the Chinese will have promised to fully implement United Nations resolutions and crack down more on sanctions on North Korea. I'm also confident that that will not do the trick.
If the Chinese were going to solve the North Korean problem for the United States, they would have done it 20 years ago. They've chosen not to for a very specific reason. They fear the instability on the Korean Peninsula -- the collapse of Kim Jong-un's regime, the movement -- potential movement of American and South Korean troops up to the Chinese border -- more than they fear the current status quo.
And so you'll hear, I think, President Xi argue that the United States should go back into negotiations, that we should have talks, that they should do nothing precipitous.
The argument in Washington is you don't want to do that until you've got significant leverage. And so when they did the North Korean review, just sort of reached an interim conclusion ahead of this summit, it called for massively increased military and economic pressure and then perhaps an engagement with North Korea later on.
Which, by the way, is not what Secretary Tillerson talked about when he was in Seoul two weeks ago. He said we just wouldn't negotiate with the North Koreans until they gave up all their weapons, which doesn't seem likely.
GREGORY: Quickly, I just want to add...
SANGER: That's going to be the interesting dance.
CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.
[06:15:05] GREGORY: The other issue with China is the movement of North Koreans. Any greater freedom in North Korea or kind of relaxation of relationships has the potential of a huge flow of people going into China from North Korea which is something the previous administrations have dealt with and China doesn't want as a reality for them.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Panel, thank you very much for all this context. We have many more questions for you. In fact, Maggie's big interview with President Trump is making headlines on many fronts. The president suggests that Susan Rice may have committed a crime. What is his proof? The president's answer next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: OK. So President Trump making a strong allegation about Susan Rice's unmasking in intelligence reports. In an exclusive interview with "The New York Times," the president said, quote, "I think it's going to be the biggest story. It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time."
Reporter Glenn Thrush then asked, "Do you think she might have committed a crime?"
[06:20:05] The president replied, quote, "Do I think? Yes, I think." The president did not provide any proof to support that claim, but let's welcome back our panel. We have David Gregory, David Sanger and Maggie Haberman, who conducted that interview in the Oval Office with the president.
OK, so what did he say about Susan Rice, Maggie?
HABERMAN: Well, we went in there to talk about infrastructure. This was an interview that had been rescheduled about a week earlier. He began by talking about Susan Rice.
CUOMO: He took "infrastructure" to mean the infrastructure of a political deception?
HABERMAN: It's a different -- "infrastructure" has many meanings. We talked about Neil Gorsuch, and from that we said -- we were talking about Democrats. He segued from that into talking about Susan Rice, said what you just showed on camera. He talked at length about how there's more there. Hinted that there were things we didn't know. We asked repeatedly what those were. He couldn't say.
He did have something in there, and if you look at the transcript, you can see it, where he said, you know, there are other people involved. And he hinted very strongly that there will be some other names that emerge. We asked him would he declassify this intelligence.
HABERMAN: He said, "I don't want to talk about that."
CAMEROTA: That's right, and you pressed him. Time and again, in reading the transcript, you pressed him over and over: "What more can you tell us? What do you mean a crime? What evidence can you give us?" And he -- he paradoxically said that he wants you to cover it more. He doesn't think you have covered the story enough, but he doesn't want to give you any more information.
HABERMAN: We made that point to him. We pointed out that, in fact, "The Times" had covered the story and that if they had provided us more information earlier, we would have written about it earlier.
But again, that said, Susan Rice, it's important to say here, No. 1, said through a spokesperson that she wouldn't dignify this, quote unquote, "ludicrous charge" with a response. She also has been adamant that she did nothing that wasn't proper. She did acknowledge on TV earlier this week, in an interview with Andrea Mitchell, that she did ask for identities of some people who were picked up on intercepts. But that that was basically in the context of other things. And that she did nothing wrong.
So the leap becomes from unmasking to leaking. And the president would not explain to us what he was talking about.
CUOMO: This is not new. He's been trying to get away from the Russian interference. He sees it as synonymous with him having done something wrong, and he distracts. And he's never made an allegation and promised proof where he offered proof ever. That's never happened.
HABERMAN: We pointed that out.
CUOMO: This has to include other people, because Susan Rice couldn't have unmasked them by themselves. She had to do a protocol. There's going to be a chain. But this conversation is taking place in the Oval Office, and there were some atmospherics involved here that were different in terms of interviewing the president. How many people were in there? What was it like? What was the feel in there?
HABERMAN: It was surreal. When we walked into the Oval Office -- and it is not usually like this -- there is often in -- Trump's Oval Office is a little more Grand Central Station than sort of private -- private vestibule. So there are often people coming in and out, and he has an open door policy. A lot of people have walk-in privileges. Or a number of them, anyway.
But usually, it's only handful of aides. When we walked in it was -- it was really sort of a cast of thousands. There were so many so that I didn't realize exactly who was there. At one point, I almost walked smack into Ivanka Trump, not realizing that she was standing there. There was Gary Cohen, his top economic advisor. There was Reed Cordish, who is another assistant to the president, working on the infrastructure issue, who works with Jared Kushner. Hope Hicks, who is his longtime spokeswoman. Sean Spicer was sitting behind me.
At one point, the vice president and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, walked in together, which occurred to me belatedly was actually possibly done for effect. Because Glenn and I had done a piece about a week ago suggesting that there was some clashing of Priebus' aides or some allies of his and...
CUOMO: You think that was the point of it? I mean, why were they all there?
HABERMAN: I don't know. Why they were all there, it seemed to suggest to me sort of a show of force. Keeping the president on message to the extent that they could. Reminding him of what the topic was. Then he, of course, went off topic right away.
CAMEROTA: Yes. And then, before we get to the rest of the panel -- and which we will -- but just one more question. What was the mood? I mean, what was the president's mood? Was he annoyed, angry? Uplifted, excited? How can you put a finger on it?
HABERMAN: So to your -- to your question of atmospherics, when -- you know, when we walked in, he was sitting -- and you both have interviewed him, so you know that when he is in a bit of a defensive posture, he does this. And then he sort of relaxes and unwinds.
He took issue with me on a couple of points. He talked -- he was upset about certain issues of coverage, and we passed through that. But eventually, he ended up actually being in a pretty good mood. And he was not -- he was not rough or hostile by any measure. At the outset, he was just a little bit more curt.
He loves talking about infrastructure. This is one of his favorite topics. This is the issue he cares about far more than health care. He does care about tax reform more than health care, as well. But you know, we asked him, among other things -- we talked about this plan.
He made news at one point, where we asked about the public funding component for a potential infrastructure bill with estimates of $200 billion to $300 billion. And the said, actually, the public funding component will be higher than that, which was surprising, and it is a budget buster. He did not explain how this would be paid for.
[06:25:12] We also asked him about when the last time he rode the subway was in New York. And he said it was when he was much younger, going to school. You know, "I used to ride between the cars," and my colleague, Glenn Thrush, said, "Well, you're sort of doing that politically now." And he laughed. It was -- it was a very, very genial interview.
CUOMO: Except for that gang of people, that you had all of them.
HABERMAN: That was unusual.
CUOMO: It is unusual. You know, David Gregory, you've been in this position. Sanger, you've been in this position. These guys are never alone. Right? I mean, they always have a retinue with them. But this sounds like something different. Like this was the, "Hey, we're unified, and we're here." It didn't work to keep him on message. But what do you make of that kind of atmosphere, David Gregory?
GREGORY: Well, it's a little bit like the Marx Brothers movie "Night at the Opera." You know, where you just keep packing people into the room.
And I think what Maggie suggested in probably a lot of what happens. I mean, you know, you have a new administration formulating policy, moving in many different directions. Not everybody in place. And I'm sure that, just as a management style, he doesn't mind a little bit of that chaos, especially when he's creating it.
You know, it's interesting what Maggie says. If he would spend more time tweeting about infrastructure, he could create more discipline in the approach and the politics and everything else.
On Susan Rice, I think it's important to remember a couple of pieces of context. No. 1, our president was the same one who advanced a conspiracy theory against President Obama that he was not a legal citizen and was not born in the United States. OK, we should not forget that as a piece of history.
And now he's advancing another conspiracy theory, which has been unproven, about his predecessor wiretapping him. And all you have to do is to get conservatives all riled up, from Breitbart to Capitol Hill, is say, "Susan Rice." And -- because the next step is Benghazi and her role in that. And it becomes a complete diversion.
The reality of the matter is that there was some unmasking going on to understand what kind of contacts there were between the Trump campaign and the transition and in the campaign with foreign government folks. People who -- where there may have been intelligence that had been breached or things that were inappropriately done.
President Obama could have done a lot more to turn up the heat on this, to crack down on this when this was happening. He didn't do so, because he didn't want to interfere. And he earned, you know, a lot of misses, I think, from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
But now, of course, the narrative that the White House wants to sell is that it was, you know, political spying and interference. And there's not evidence of that yet. The president's going to produce it. We'll see over time. All he is doing is dangling things out there.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David Sanger.
SANGER: Well, first of all, having done interviews with Maggie, if I was being interviewed by Maggie Haberman, my good friend, I would want to have a lot of people in as back-up, as well, I think. You know? I see what that's like.
What I actually think is notable about this is that what Mr. Trump does not have a fair number and when Maggie and I went in to do some interviews with him on foreign policy last year, that's when he really can wander off a fair bit. That's when he talked about, you know, letting Japan and North Korea and South Korea build nuclear weapons to deal with the North and so forth.
So I think that they were engaged right now in trying to keep him more disciplined. And the message yesterday was that, on foreign policy, he was more disciplined. He didn't tell us very much about what he was doing. I think he probably held back too much on what his objectives were.
On a point that David made before about Susan Rice, I think there would have been a big question here had Susan Rice not asked what it was -- who it was in the conversations.
Because remember, the Obama administration was way behind on the Russia investigation. It took nine months between the time the FBI first went to the Democratic National Committee to ask some questions and the time the president was told that the Russians had been inside their system. That's a huge amount of time. The president, as David suggested, waited a long time and really never
got his arms around publicly calling the Russians out.
CUOMO: Right. And the Clinton team...
SANGER: When you go back into history here, what happened was, Susan Rice was playing catch up.
CUOMO: And there's an untold story in that, right, about how angry, as you suggest, David Gregory, the Clintons were; and the campaign felt that Obama left them in the lurch on something he should have advanced.
But you talked about the big crowd, Maggie. Was Bannon in that crowd?
HABERMAN: He was not. Steve Bannon and Steven Miller, who represent that nationalist wing of the White House. were not in our interview.
CUOMO: What did you think of that?
HABERMAN: I noticed the absence, mostly just because when there are so many people in the room, you start looking when the vice president is staffing an interview with the president, you notice who is not there.
I wouldn't overread it. Bannon often comes in and out of meetings that he wants to be in or doesn't want to be in. I'm not really sure...