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Trump at Mar-a-Lago as North Korea Tensions Build; VP Pence Heading to Seoul Amid Tensions with North Korea; Russia Demands Independent Probe of Chemical Attack. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening. Jim Sciutto here sitting in tonight for Anderson.

A busy night on the program, an edgy week really for the world. It's now founder's day in North Korea and the world is watching, waiting for a possible nuclear test there or other military provocation. If one happens, it would cap a week that's already seen a nuclear threat from Kim Jong-un, tough talk from President Trump, Cold War words from Russia, hints of escalation in Syria, and the dropping of a truly massive bomb on Afghanistan. President Trump, through all this, is on vacation. More on that shortly.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is at Mar-a-Lago. Alexandra Field in Seoul, South Korea. Matthew Chance in Moscow. Jim Acosta is at the White House tonight.

Let's bring in Suzanne from Florida.

So, Suzanne, for President Trump -- sort of a working/golfing weekend for the president?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you could call it that. They say they are ready for anything, that they are prepared. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, actually was with him in the motorcade on the way at Joint Base Andrews, but did not accompany him here in Florida.

So, he doesn't have his top level staff in Florida with him. We are told from a White House official that that's very intentional. That this is supposed to be a light foot print, allowing the president to have time with his wife and his children, allow top advisers do the same.

It is a break in protocol, Jim, having covered President Obama and George W. Bush, there's usually a security adviser even on vacation with the president.

But Trump is doing things differently. He does have members of his national security staff with him, some junior members. They are keeping an eye on what happens in North Korea, whether there's any kind of provocation. At the same time, we did see the president playing golf. One of our

photographers getting those pictures earlier today, those exclusive pictures. That would make it his seventh time that he's here at the resort since he's become president and his 17th visit to a golf course, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Seventeenth round in 85 days.

Looking at Mar-a-Lago there, how well-equipped is it now to deal with extremely sensitive classified information, communications, et cetera?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's certainly -- it's not the White House, but they do have a secure area, where he's able to get briefings. He's able to get classified information. This is where he received information about the strike in Syria recently.

And so, they feel pretty confident about that, that they do have the team, the mechanisms in place. They're also a briefing room that's been set up at the hotel where Trump staffers are staying, where some of the reporters are staying. It can be fired up at a moment's notice. All of us reporters were going to be waiting to see what happens in North Korea, whether or not there will be a response overnight. I don't know if it's via email or Twitter, but we're all going to be on high alert, standing by for that.

At the same time, the president is getting updates on the whereabouts of Vice President Mike Pence. He's traveling to the region, to the Asia Pacific area, is expected to arrive in South Korea on Sunday -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: All of us watching North Korea very closely. These holidays a time North Korea often takes advantage of, for shows of force.

Suzanne Malveaux was there in Florida.

More now on what Vice President Pence will find when he arrives.

CNN's Alexandra Field, she's in the South Korean capital of Seoul. She joins us now.

Alex, no one closer to the North Korean threat than South Koreans. What is the mood there as they await for a possible provocation?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're waiting with the rest of the world to see what happens in the next few hours. And perhaps more importantly what happens in North Korea is the question of how the U.S. will react to any provocation. This is the most important day on the North Korean calendar, the celebration of the founder's birthday. Shortly, we expect to see North Korea pumping out images to the rest of the world of a military parade that is meant to project their military might.

It is also the reasons why some analysts have speculated that this could be a holiday around which North Korea plans to carry off its sixth nuclear test. Analysts who've been looking at satellite data say that the nuclear site is primed and ready and this kind of test could happen at any moment. Given the rise in tensions here on the peninsula, China is calling for calm, for cool heads to prevail, particularly as Vice President Mike Pence makes his way to the region. He'll be stopping in Seoul this weekend. Then to Tokyo, where we know he'll be talking to his allies here about all the options that remain on the table when it comes to how to counter this mounting North Korean nuclear threat.

SCIUTTO: Another possibility, of course, another missile test.

We know the North Korean government, they had some choice words for both the U.S. and President Trump today. What did they say?

FIELD: Choice words, a polite way of putting it. They are always are very strong words. They're always threatening a strict and severe response, saying they wouldn't hold back in terms of any provocation or any hostile action from the U.S. That's the kind of rhetoric that you do often hear.

But it is directly being said as a result at the fact that you've got Vice President Mike Pence heading over here and more directly, as a result of the fact that you've got these U.S. warships redeployed to the waters off the Korean peninsula.

[20:05:11] According to state news, according to KCNA, which comes out of North Korea, they see the movement of these strategic nuclear assets as a threat to global security. They are saying that it brings the region to the brink of thermonuclear war. That's the affront they are taking from the presence of these warships.

Again, Jim, Washington is saying these warships are meant to be there as a deterrent against further provocation, but it certainly seems the word from Washington at least and the word here in South Korea is that when it comes to another missile test or a nuclear test, it really isn't a question of if but when.

SCIUTTO: These are shocking, worrisome words.

Alexandra Field, thank you very much.

Now, Syria and Russia. With Washington buzzing about the cruise missile strike in Syria last week, and possibly more U.S. military actions still to come, the Kremlin has issued a warning against it, using two words -- grave consequences. That would bring a Cold War chill.

Let's go now to CNN's Matthew Chance who is in Moscow from the latest from there.

Matthew, what can you tell us today? I understand that Russia was meeting with Iranian and Syrian officials, those allies in effect in the Syrian conflict, what was the meeting about today?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think, first and foremost, it was a show of unity between the Syrian allies, but it was also a show of defiance towards the United States, as well, because you had these three foreign ministers from Russia, Iran and Syria, criticizing the U.S. strikes last week on that strike on the Syrian air base, calling on the United States to respect the sovereignty of Syria and to respect international law, as well. And warning that any further attempts at regime change, which is how they characterize these missile strikes, would fail.

This is what Sergey Lavrov had to say. He said, "We confirmed our position, it's a united position and it consists of our condemnation of the attack. We demand the United States should respect the sovereignty of the state and avoid such actions that threaten the current world order."

And all this coming less than 24 hours after Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, left Moscow having delivered a strong message to the Kremlin, that now is the time for them to turn their backs and put distance between themselves and their Syrian ally, Bashar al Assad, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Do you see any possible daylight between Russia and Iran and Assad himself? They're not going to abandon Syria, but any lessening of the tie with Assad possible?

CHANCE: Well, I don't see any sign of that. I think this meeting today with the Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers underlines that. I mean, the thing is, Assad, for the Kremlin, he's a guarantor of Russian interests. They've got economic and political and, of course, military interests in Syria. I think the Kremlin is concerned if there was anyone else in that position, anyone else in his shoes, he wouldn't be so indebted to the Kremlin.

For instance, if there was someone that was palatable to United States, he could well turn his back on the Kremlin and move more towards the Western powers, and the Russians don't want to risk that. They like Assad where he is right now because he doesn't have anywhere else to go.

He has to protect Russian interests because no one else is prepared to be an ally of his.

SCIUTTO: Now, both Syria and Russia, we know, have been questioning whether this chemical attack that led U.S. military action happened at all, calling it fake. But then Russia vetoes a U.N. Security Council resolution which would have called for an investigation.

CHANCE: Yes, it's contradictory. What the Russians say is they didn't just reject an investigation into the chemical attack, they vetoed a resolution which they say was biased and had already prejudged who was guilty, and that's not something they said they want. They say they want an honest and true investigation.

So, they've called for the international body, the OPCW, which is concerned with the prohibitions of chemical weapons, to come into Syria and to do a proper, impartial study. Of course, you know, around the world to Russia's critics in particularly, that just looks like another excuse to extend the matter and to shield its Syrian ally once again. SCIUTTO: That's why the OPCW had guaranteed in effect that the

chemical weapons were out of Syria. But it turns out Syria is able to hide some.

Matthew Chance in Moscow for us -- thanks very much.

As we've been reporting, it's been quite a week in the world. Perspective now from CNN's Jim Acosta. He's at the White House.

Jim, a lot of talk about the 180s from the president on China, on NATO being obsolete, other pillars of his foreign policy. From where you're sitting, are those permanent changes in Trump's foreign policy?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think President Trump has done this much flipping since he was in real estate, Jim. But no question about it, there have been a lot of changes for this president on some important policy positions.

Just consider what we heard late today which is the Treasury Department formally saying that China will not be listed as a currency manipulator.

[20:10:03] That is a reversal from a position the president took during the campaign when he promised to label China a currency manipulator.

Now, of course, they're hoping this will be an incentive to the Chinese to help contain North Korea. And so, you see the president shifting in these positions. They do seem to serve a purpose when it comes to Russia. You know, the president said during the campaign, he wanted a great relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin.

But now, it seems he sees the Russians as an impediment to bringing some kind of resolution to the situation in Syria. And so, that is why you heard the president the other day during that news conference with the Jordanian king, saying that he's a flexible thinker and he's not fixed in these positions. Something that we learned during the campaign, something we're learning now that he's president.

SCIUTTO: One of the most striking reversals possibly on NATO after he had the meeting with the NATO secretary-general in Washington, this week, does that increase the division with Russia going forward?

ACOSTA: I think it does. I think it puts Russia on notice. I also think, Jim, you know, if the president is looking to bring the wrath of the U.S. government to is, as we saw this week with the detonation of the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan, he is going to need NATO support. And so, going after NATO, calling it obsolete, you know, the way he used to criticize NATO during the campaign, that kind of rhetoric was just not going to serve him well as president.

And I think as president, Donald Trump is finding the world is a lot more interconnected than that America first policy that he advocated during the campaign. But at the same time, Jim, I want to tell you that senior administration officials, I don't want to describe them as giddy, but they're feeling very good after these couple of weeks. They feel like the president has projected strength not only with the military operation in Afghanistan, but those airstrikes, those missile strikes that were intended to punish Bashar al Assad in Syria.

And I was just talking to a senior official minutes ago before we came on the air, who said watch out, we're going to have a strong finish heading into the 100-day mark, which will be in the next two or three weeks. And so, they're feeling very confident over here, even though the Gallup tracking poll shows the president at 40 percent and people are scratching their heads about these policy flip-flops, there is no shortage of confidence over here at the White House, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

A panel is going to weigh in next. And later, more on the president's habit of doing exactly what he said he wouldn't do, taking time away from the White House.


[20:16:16] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

This week on the program, a guest told Anderson that he thought the president was facing more global flashpoints than any president has since the Second World War. The former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told me the U.S. hasn't faced such a diverse array of threats in decades.

Here to talk about it, our military, foreign policy and political panel: retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, Mike Chinoy, Kimberly Dozier, and Ryan Lizza.

General, if I could begin with you, you've commanded troops in combat, in Iraq. There is always tension between the U.S. and North Korea. There's always the exchange of hyperbolic rhetoric, particularly from North Korea. Right now, though, are you concerned that this has reached a particularly tense level? Is there something different about it right now that concerns you?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There is, Jim. And I have commanded in Iraq and in Germany and also in Korea, and I have never seen the tension in Korea the way it is right now. And it has to do twofold primarily because of Kim Jong-un, who is actually more provocative than I think many of the watchers of Korea and that part of the world have seen him in a long time.

He is close to achieving his goals, and he's being pushed on several sides. North Korea is a racist society. They see themselves as pure and they see South Korea and China as being impure and influenced by the United States. So, it's not that they're irrational actors, is just that they have a different rational than we do, and you have to understand that before you push the leader and the North Koreans to the brink, because they will go there if that's the only choice they see they have.

SCIUTTO: Mike Chinoy, I want to draw on your experience. You've been to North Korea a number of times. You met with North Korean officials. There's trope out there that General Hertling referred to you. They often say, well, North Korea is an irrational actor. The leader is crazy.

But in reality, you talk to North Korean experts that say, well, as brutal as it is, the strategy is rational if survival is the only goal really.

Do you agree with that?

MIKE CHINOY, SENIOR FELLOW, USC U.S.-CHINA INSTITUTE: I think you put your finger on it. There is this kind of conventional stereotype of North Korea as crazy and irrational. I think, in fact, Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the U.N., described Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader that way.

But in fact, the North Koreans I think have a very cold blooded and ruthless, but very rational perspective. The name of the game for North Korea is regime survival. The North Koreans look around the world in the last dozen or 15 years. They look at the example of Iraq where Saddam Hussein was toppled and eventually executed after the U.S. invasion.

And he didn't have nukes. They look at Libya's Moammar Gadhafi who voluntarily gave up his nukes and was overthrown. They look at Syria being a U.S. target last week. None of these countries have nuclear weapons.

And the North Korean view is we are a small country, our goal is to keep our system and our regime and our dynasty in power and having a nuclear capability does that. I don't see any circumstances under which they'll give that up.

SCIUTTO: Mark Hertling, again, drawing on your experience in Korea, you have Kim Jong-un. He's capable as his father and grandfather before him of hyperbole and very scary threats. Very scary threats.

I'm not comparing him to President Trump, but President Trump has tweeted and said things about U.S. action, he said if China doesn't take care of it, we'll take care of it ourselves. When you have that combination, does North Korea read him with trepidation? Does that increase the chances, are you concerned, of conflict, or if not conflict, misunderstanding that could lead to conflict?

[20:20:00] HERTLING: Well, I think it gets to what we're just talking about. He's there to make sure his regime continues to exist. And anyone that threatens him overtly will cause him to be -- will dig in more.

So, yes, I'm concerned about this, and the bluntness and brashness of Mr. Trump, without a strategy, and the things that he has said about what he's going to do without options. So, Jim, I'll give you an example. If North Koreans, if the leader does actually execute a test of a nuclear weapon tonight or tomorrow, and then fires multiple missiles, what are we going to do? That's the question.

There is not an option. You can't just conduct a strike like we did in Syria or drop a bomb like Mick Nicholson did in Afghanistan and solve the problem, because there are second and third order effects of striking North Korea. And you have Seoul right under their radar. They can strike Seoul and kill tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people with artillery from riveted positions that are very difficult to bomb.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and a lot of Americans in Seoul, including soldiers, as well.

Kimberly Dozier, you've been speaking to military officials about U.S. military options here. Is one of those options a preemptive strike?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, DAILY BEAST CONTRIBUTOR: That is just one of a number of options that they keep on a shelf to be ready at any time if the commander in chief asks them, tell me all the things you can do.

SCIUTTO: But is it a realistic option? Recommended?

DOZIER: No, it's not the one they want to use, and when a report came out this week on another network that it was a possibility, I heard from lots of different administration officials trying to tamp it down, because they don't want it to trigger or provoke North Korea. Their preferred option is to ratchet everything back and get in a position where China can use its influence on North Korea, and solve this through a mixture of threatened economic sanctions, and the carrot of loosening some of those sanctions and the food aid that North Korea needs.

SCIUTTO: So, what was just described to me, Ryan, sounds a lot like the Obama administration policy towards North Korea and the George W. Bush administration, where is this dramatic change of President Trump?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, two things. First, what would we be pre-empting? This would be the sixth nuclear test. So, there's nothing to preempt. The time to pre-empt a nuclear power is before the first test if I'm not mistaken.

Yes, he's back in the same place on a lot of these issues of his predecessors were. He's back on the same place on Syria, right? He's back with -- Assad has to go and we'll use a deterrent capability to stop him from using chemical weapons, but we don't want to intervene any further than that.

On North Korea, he's left with the same options. I mean, I think it was very telling this week when he said he talked to the president of China, who explained to him --

SCIUTTO: How complicated a problem it was.

LIZZA: That actually Donald Trump for the last two years was wrong in saying that, oh, the Chinese could solve this problem in a second. The Chinese president said, well, actually, it's not true, it's a little complicated, here's the leverage we have, here's what we don't.

SCIUTTO: I did wonder who briefed him for that meeting. That's something North Korean experts would know. LIZZA: Yes, that's something we would expect them to know. I think,

you know, we're watching a president in real time grapple with the world as it is, rather than the way he thought it was on the campaign trail.

SCIUTTO: Mike Chinoy, you've been going to North Korea a long time. And the concern had always been, what if we had a nuclear North Korea? That was the nightmare scenario. Here we are, a nuclear North Korea, in effect. Is that the new reality? Is there a sort of grudging acceptance of that fact now?

CHINOY: Well, officially, the U.S. and many other countries say they won't accept North Korea as a nuclear state. But the reality is, North Korea is a nuclear state and I think the odds of the North giving up their nuclear capability are very, very minimal. Which raises an interesting question, if you get back to diplomacy, what would be the goal?

And there are people who believe it is not impossible, if the U.S. and North Korea started talking, to try to achieve a deal which the North would freeze its current capabilities in return for American economic and security concessions. But we're nowhere close to talking. And to me, what is most dangerous now is you have this set of mixed messages from Washington, threats on the one hand, but not backed up by enough force to really do anything.

The North Koreans, I don't take the threat seriously, in a sense. We haven't seen any mobilization of the North Korean military in the last few days. But the North I think could be spooked by the threats from Trump and may lash out. So, that's worrying.

SCIUTTO: Thank you very much. We're going to have to leave it there, unfortunately, General. We are going to have a chance to talk about it later in the program.

Coming up, critics say when the going gets tough, the president goes golfing. Do they have a point? We're keeping them honest, next.


[20:28:53] SCIUTTO: As we said at the top of the show, the world seems to be coming a little unglued right now. The president himself called it a nasty place, a mess. When he said that just a couple of days ago, he had the look of a man who knows there is a lot of work to be done, and that he's the one to do it, which is what he promised during the campaign. He pledged to stay home and buckle down.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off and make great deals, right? Who's going to leave?


SCIUTTO: Well, in fact, he's leaving, departing yesterday for Mar-a- Lago, leaving a week ago for Mar-a-Lago, or perhaps March 17th, leaving for Mar-a-Lago. Now, in a week of serious foreign and domestic policy, 180s from the policy, this might not rank with his discovering that NATO is not obsolete.

On things like that, or on Russia, North Korea, China and more, you can argue that the world has simply changed and he is merely changing with it. On this, though, the only different seems to be, that that was then, and this is now.

A reminder, here's then.


TRUMP: I wouldn't leave the White House very much because, you know, little things like these little trips where they get on. They cost you a fortune.

I love working. I'm not a vacation guy.

I don't take vacations. I'm not like Obama where he takes Air Force One to Hawaii.

I don't take vacations. I promise you, I will not be taking very long vacations, if I take them at all, there's no time for vacations.

There are people that go away for weeks and weeks, I don't like taking vacations.

Obama likes relaxing and going on vacations. Me, I like working. I like working. I really do.

If I get elected president, I'm going to be in the White House a lot. I'm not leaving. We have deals to make. Who the hell wants to leave, right?


SCIUTTO: Just not a vacation guy, he said, so keeping them honest. Take a look, by the end of the weekend Pres. Trump will have spent 24 days at Mar-a-Lago since taking office. And by some estimates he's on track to spend as much on travel in his first year as Pres. Obama did in eight years. And then there's golf.


TRUMP: Obama, it was reported today played 250 rounds of golf.

Everything is executive order, because he doesn't have enough time, because he's playing so much golf.

Obama ought to get off the golf course and get down there.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. This guy plays more golf than people in the PGA tour.

I love golf. I think it's one of the greats, but I don't have time. But if I were in the White House, I don't think I'd ever see Turnbury (ph) again, I don't think I'd ever see Doral again.

By I'm not going to be playing much golf, believe me, if I win this I'm not going to be playing much golf.


SCIUTTO: Now, we don't actually know exactly how much golf the president is playing, and that's because the White House isn't saying. And they do their best, in fact, to keep it all off camera.

However, as you can see granted through the (inaudible) here, he began today at his own golf club in West Palm Beach and that is, (inaudible) count his 17th visit to a golf course as president, far out pacing his predecessor Pres. Obama.

Now, in fairness, he certainly does do official business at what's been called the Southern White House, you'll remember, he hosted foreign leaders there, including China's president. And some of his golf outings include foreign leaders as well, CEOs, other dignitaries, so it's not entirely just play and no work. Still, he might at least take a lesson from another former president, who never looked like he was out of the office, even when he was at his own vacation home on the beach.

Welcome to our panel now. Tonight, we got Jack Kingston, Maria Cardona, Ryan Lizza, Bakari Sellers, Matt Lewis and by satellite we have Steve Deace.

Jack, I got to start with you, how do you defend that?

JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Well, I have to say this, number one, the American people always have the right to question the work habits and the work venues of anybody who's elected to office. But I don't think you can ever say that he's not out there working, because nobody from Hollywood will play with them, unlike Obama where they stood in line to go out there and say I've played golf.

SCIUTTO: But he's been given a lot of opportunities, 17 times.

KINGSTON: Well, the only people who are going to play golf with Trump really are out there for business, and they're talking about, you know, how to change the economy or how to handle world affairs.

SCIUTTO: He said during the campaign, you heard him said I'm not going to do this. He brought it up.

KINGSTON: Well, you know what? He's still getting it done and I think that's what the important thing is.

SCIUTTO: Jack, say, if you worked at a company and your boss gave you grief for playing golf on the weekend or set a rule or something, and then went out every weekend to play golf?

KINGSTON: Well, you know, I understand that and I hear that, but I don't think anybody would say that this is a 30-hour a week guy, this is a guy who works seven days a week, and he works in Mar-a-Lago, he works on the plane, he works on trips, I mean, he's a workaholic. And I don't think -- you know, to me, criticizing Obama for too much golf, maybe that's campaign rhetoric, maybe it's not. But the reality is --

SCIUTTO: Frequent campaign rhetoric.

KINGSTON: If you think about how busy he's been, since the day after the election, putting his cabinet together, putting his economic plan, working for, you know, legislation. I think he's a workaholic wherever he is.

SCIUTTO: Maria is jumping --


MARIA CARDONA, 2008 SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Here's the thing. So, Trump is a lying hypocritical flip-flopper, that's not news. It's tough to defend. But it's not news, OK?

KINGSTON: Oh, Maria.

CARDONA: I think the impact here, though, and I don't begrudge presidents for taking trips, because I agree with you, I think that he is working. Here's the issue, $3 million it costs taxpayer money every time he goes to Mar-a-Lago, OK? So, number, it's not just the hypocrisy that him saying that he was not going to go anywhere, he's going to sit in the White House. He is going somewhere. And he's doing it on taxpayer dime.

The second things is that every time he goes, it's like the most expensive taxpayer funded commercial for his own properties that he and his family is getting rich off of. That's something that a taxpayer should be concerned about.

SCIUTTO: Steve Dayes, how does Pres. Trump defend that to his base? This is a lot of money we're talking about here.

[20:35:4] STEVE DEACE, SYNDICATED RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think you got to define, you know, what his base is, you know. I think we have to, first of all, come to grips with the fact that the old binary choice world of right and left we used to lived in doesn't exist anymore.


SCIUTTO: -- talk about dollars spent. This is not a right or left issue. It's a straight up mathematical issue that in the first year he's --

DEACE: Well, it kind of --

SCIUTTO: -- spend more money traveling than Pres. Obama did in eight. DEACE: It kind of is. I mean, let's face it, I mean when Obama did this, --

SCIUTTO: It's kind of a money --


DEACE: -- what I do for a living. No, it's kind of a left, right issue. And I'll explain. When Obama did this, a bunch of people who do what I do for a living did their whole shows on how he's leaving the American people behind and now suddenly they don't seem to care that Trump leads the American people behind. And it works the other way, as well, on the left. The same people who said, hey, presidents need a break, now suddenly want to say, hey, Trump needs to be in the White House more, and then at the same time say, everything he does when he's in the White House is bad.

So I think of your Trump's base it depends on which base, guys, I think if his is cult, and I've never seen a politician who have a stronger cult in my life, I think Trump can say and do whatever he want to them. They just want the show. But if you're talking about people who voted for him because he wasn't Hillary Clinton, I think they're disappointed by what they've seen so far.

SCIUTTO: Ryan, Steve makes a great point, because there is a part of the base really nothing penetrates, right, that rock solid connection. But --

LIZZA: Yeah.

SCIUTTO: But, doesn't --

LIZAA: They don't care about this.

SCIUTTO: Does it resonate with anyone?

LIZZA: I mean, you know, it's a pattern of hypocrisy here, right? When you're able to show the setup that you showed, just, you know, I went to a lot of those rallies. This was a standard, you know, joke, this was a standard part of the Trump talking points and hits on Obama that he equated playing golf with Obama somehow being checked out, right?

I'm just a little bit surprised about how audacious he is about it, right? There's just no effort here to -- there's no apology, it's just too bad.

SCIUTTO: This is not a subtle reversal on that point.

LIZZA: I thought, Steve, made a great point about you Democrats want him in the White House working really hard --


KINGSTON: And Marie, you got to remember, the White House has leaks, maybe it also has mice, you know, they want to get out of there. Obama never spent a Christmas there.

SCIUTTO: You got to put that putting green back like Eisenhower. Panel stay with us, we got a lot more time when we come back to the panel after the break.

And coming up, a closer look at the "Wall Street" millionaire who is now ensconced in the president's inner circle, what we know about Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs banker. That's right after this.


[20:41:21] SCIUTTO: Trying to keep track of Pres. Trump's inner circle can be like watching The Real Housewives, it's hard to know who's in and who's out during any given week. Seems like the latest aide (inaudible) is a Wall Street millionaire, you may not be all that familiar with, his name is Gary Cohn. And Tom Foreman has a profile.


TRUMP: You don't mind having lower taxes, do you?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Across the president's broad agenda, from money matters to infrastructure.

TRUMP: We have to build roads. We have to build highways.

FOREMAN: One name is rising rapidly.

TRUMP: Where's Gray, is he here?

FOREMAN: Gary Cohen, the former Goldman Sachs boss who sold $240 million worth of stock to avoid conflict of interest so he could lead the president's economic council.

TRUMP: Did you give that up, Gary?

FOREMAN: Cohn's coziness with Democrats and his moderate views are in start contrast to other conservative ideologues close to the president. But he's the point man on what is expected to be a massive tax overhaul.

GARY COHN, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: I would say it's probably my number one agenda item right now is taxes. We are committed to get it done this calendar year, so this calendar year is very important to us.

FOREMAN: He's talking about other issues too, including health care, even as the Obamacare repeal has floundered.

COHN: It's not just about coverage. It's about access to care. It's about access to be able to see your doctors.

FOREMAN: And he's expected to help write new federal bank regulations, even though his old firm was dead center in the recession. PHIL ANGELIDES, CHAIRMAN OF FINANCIAL CRISIS INQUIRY COMMISSION (FCIC): We'll ask Gary Cohn, Goldman's president chief operating officer, how his firm's derivatives dealings may or may not have contributed to the financial crisis and the economic crisis to fold.

FOREMAN: As a kind in Ohio, Cohn struggled with dyslexia.

COHN: I worked really hard through high school and I worked really hard to get into college.

FOREMAN: That work ethic paid off at a 26-year hugely lucrative career at Goldman.

COHN: I never hesitated to get on a plane. I never hesitated to go somewhere. I never hesitated to deliver the tough message when it needed to be delivered.

FOREMAN: And now his pragmatic approach to politics and policy seems to be surging when the president saw his first job report, guess whose name came right off.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His team led by Gary Cohn. We're really pleased the number this morning.


FOREMAN: Although, Cohn has critics on the lest and right, he would clearly like to be one of those rare souls who can talk to both sides and make deals anyway and at least for now the president seems invested in giving him that chance, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Back to the panel now, Bakari, Gary Cohn, we don't really know what his party affiliation is, something a reputation in a minimum being -- his interest, as a Democrat, does this give you comfort to have someone like this close to the president?

BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE MEMBER: As a Democrat, I can tell you, we're looking for just examples of comfort throughout the administration, and I guess Gary is this close to that comfortability as you'll get.

But the fact is, I mean, to be in Donald Trump inner circle you want some Corey Lewandowski, to Paul Manafort, to Kellyane Conway, all of these people who come in, and then are just showing the door, we see Steve Bannon, with one foot in and one foot out.

The only people who stay in his inner circle are his children. That is it.

And so, there's really no loyalty within this Donald Trump inner circle. But I do love the fact that Donald Trump is a part of one of the largest cons this country has ever seen and becoming president of the United States actually got someone from Goldman Sachs to sell populism to the American people and talk about to cutting taxes for the low income and middle class worker, why this phenomenal? But Gary Cohn has one problem they just had a job report that had 494,000 jobs. Those number are small, big time.

SCIUTTO: Matt Lewis, what's interesting about Gary Cohn, he's kind of late comer, you know, he wasn't with the campaign as long as -- many of his closes advisors, how did he managed to jump to the head of the pack?

[20:45:07] MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, look, I think the part of it is that Donald Trump started off trying to be a nationalist and a populist, and it didn't work. He got off to a horrible start when he was listening to Steve Bannon, when he was giving speeches written probably by Steven Miller and Donald Trump doesn't have, you know, a core ideological world view. He's about winning and putting points on the board. And when the Bannon philosophy didn't work, when it was an embarrassment, he decided, let's go with different direction. And this is the different direction.

And, by the way, I would just say -- I think it seems to be working. My sense is that Donald Trump has turned a corner in the last several weeks. It feels like this isn't a left versus right thing as much as it's sort of incompetence versus competence thing.

SCIUTTO: Steve Deace, I want to ask you, because you brought up previous block about the part of Donald Trump's base that is sort of being impenetrable, a cult issue, you said. But when you look at a guy like Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs, Donald Trump took shots at Goldman Sachs, Hillary Clinton's ties through the campaign. But here's a banker, does his base look at that and say, wait a second, I thought he was a man of the people, why is he hanging out with those guys? Does it penetrate that report?

DEACE: You know, listening to that report I guess the one thing that came to my mind was -- to use the term coined by Trump's cult, for making globalists cuts great again. And I'm reminded of the last primary in the India where one of Trump's cult members stands out front of a Ted Cruz event and began chanting globalist cuts, Golden Goldman Sachs and Ted Cruz and Heidi Cruz and everything else. And Ted goes over there and actually tries to address this individual with actual facts.

It's a little bit like talking to that crazy Jehovah's Witness at your door that bothers you on Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m., you know, I mean, they just sort of blink three times, you know, point out them out what they believe is a scam and they just go right back to, you know, their talking points. And that's exactly what you see from Trump's cult.

And I wonder, you know, as you watch this thing unravel a little bit, he sort of becomes Chris Christie style Republican, moderate to liberal east coast Republican, which is probably what he really is to begin with, you do wonder, when you watch Mike Cernovich's and Bill Mitchell's of the world ripping each other, spleens out when they essentially became somebody's writing off of his exhaust, you do wonder where this is going to end, sure. SCIUTTO: Yeah, and you're starting to see some criticism for the first time of the administration from those corners. Thanks very much. There's still much for us to discuss tonight.

And coming up, the Trump White House announces it will keep its visit for logs secret, why it made the decision as well as the reaction, that's next.


[20:51:31] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. The Trump administration announced today that it will not make public White House visitor logs. Instead, it will keep them secret until at least five years after Pres. Trump leaves office, citing grave National Security risks as well as privacy concerns for White House visitors. The decision is a reversal from the Obama administration and a reversal from Mr. Trump's own prior stance on the issue of transparency.

Nearly five years ago, then-citizen Trump posted this accusation on Twitter. "Why is Barack Obama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least-transparent president ever, and he ran on transparency."

I'm back with my panel. Jack Kingston, help explain that turnaround for me.

KINGSTON: Look, as I understand it's really not that different from the Obama administration. The Obama administration, 2011, the center for public integrity, accused them of moving the logs from the secret service to the White House. And then a lot of those logs disappeared. They actually ended up in court before the Obama administration won and defended the position that they needed to keep some of it secret unless there was a FOIA request which was --

SCIUTTO: What happened, to be fair, the court ordered -- they won in court but the Obama administration then released most or many logs and redacted ones that they considered National Security issues. So, the question is why can't the Trump administration in fact do the same? If it's a National Security risk, those won't be public, but other the rest were an open book.

KINGSTON: You know, my suspicion is, in time, they will get to something that's closer to the Obama administration. But for right now, I frankly think they ought to keep these records secret, which is what -- at least undisclosed, which is what the Obama administration --

SCIUTTO: All White House -- Bakai Sellers --

SELLERS: This is not a partisan issue, though.


SELLERS: And that's why I'm kind of troubled by Jack's sentiment there, because -- I mean, I understand we put on partisan hats, we talk about this all the time. But this is just an American responsibility, transparency issue. That's not Donald Trump's house. That's the taxpayers' house. And he works for the taxpayers of this country. And the taxpayers deserve to see who's going in and out. I mean it's -- we're not -- if and if it's a National Security risk or a privacy concern? Then redact it. But this isn't partisan at all, Jack.

KINGSTON: But they are following the Obama court --

CARDONA: No, they're not.

KINGSTON: -- position of releasing it --


SELLERS: But that just shows you -- that doesn't make it right but that also shows you the level of transparency, because after the president won, he still released the records.


SCIUTTO: That is a fact. The court -- the Obama administration did redact some for National Security concerns. But they released a whole host voluntarily, in effect. That is a fact.


LIZZA: But they did release them on a regular basis. You could go to the website --

CARDONA: That's right.

LIZZA: -- and see them. The website since the Obama administration left has just been a blank page. So, and this -- you know, this is another area where there was -- back sliding in terms of government transparency and ethics.


KINGSTON: -- ethics standards for all the people he's hired, a five- year lobbying ban that he --

CARDONA: He does not.


KINGSTON: -- absolutely does.

SCIUTTO: Let's focus on the records.


SCIUTTO: Explain to our viewers at home, wait a second, why do we need to know this, what's the value?

CARDONA: So, again, to Pres. Obama, he actually released 6 million names of the people that came in and out of the White House, right? Bakari is right --

KINGSTON: A lot of it disappeared, though --

CARDONA: This is the people's house. This is not Donald Trump's house. And, so much of what gets done --

KINGSTON: Donald Trump met --


[20:55:04] CARDONA: Hang on Jack. I didn't interrupt you. Hang on. This is the people's house. The people's business gets done there. American taxpayers deserve to know who has gone in, who is coming out --


CARDONA: And they don't want to say anything.

KINGSTON: We all agree with that --

SCIUTTO: Matt Lewis.

LEWIS: This is not -- there's no law that says that this is the people's house and that they have a right, we have to be, you know, transparent. As a journalist, obviously, I'd like to know this, because then I can know who -- you know, it certainly came in handy to know who was meeting with like Hillary Clinton and different things like that. But there's no law that says this has to be done this way. And, before Barack Obama, --


SCIUTTO: There's no law that requires you release your taxes but there's argument for it.


CARDONA: -- transparency.


SCIUTTO: -- guys, we're running out of time. Bakari then Steve I want to go --

SELLERS: -- a lot of the our viewers, because I really don't see this as a partisan issue. I think --

CARDONA: It shouldn't be.

SELLERS: -- the Clinton White House was wrong so we're not releasing these records, just as wrong as Donald Trump is for not doing so. And transparency evolves.


SCIUTTO: Steve Deace. Steve Deace, final word to you.

DEACE: First of all, I agree with Tom Fitton, a Judicial Watch who was critical of the Trump White House for doing this today. But, you know, I live in Iowa, guys, not Washington. And a lot of Americans frankly are sick and tired of, well, Obama did it so it's OK now, and now it's not OK that Trump is doing it, and vice versa. What is the right cotton-picking thing to do for the American people? And just do it. And stop making excuses.


DEACE: That's what children say. This is not how to govern a country guys. This is how children communicate. Even now when you're yelling at me, if I was making my point, that's children --


DEACE: That's children talk. This is not about leadership.

KINGSTON: Why does the press constantly say, --


KINGSTON: -- undisclosed sources. If we want to be fully transparent --


SCIUTTO: We're going to have to leave it.


CARDONA: Your voice being loud doesn't mean you're right. Democracy dies in darkness. This is part of the darkness.

SCIUTTO: We're going to have to leave it there, powerful quote, Maria Cardona.

Hold that conversation (inaudible) and hold that thought. There is much more to discuss in the next hour of "360" including the possibility of another nuclear provocation from North Korea's Kim Jong-Un. Not to mention its latest warning if the U.S. takes action against it. The latest on what could be an escalating standoff, that's right after the break.