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Trump White House on Defensive Over Transparency; Trump Team to Debate Future of Paris Climate Deal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2017 - 06:00   ET



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I need the people to understand, you know how successful the president has been and how much he's paid in taxes.

[05:58:53] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very basic. Why doesn't he release his tax returns?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm aware the president says he's still under audit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole tax reform is going to go absolutely nowhere unless there's a lot more transparency in this administration.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea would do well not to test his resolve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the president says, "America first," does that mean without our allies? We'll see what happens.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope there's going to be peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to make this individual's world very, very small.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A cross-country manhunt for a cold-blooded killer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He committed a heinous crime. We want to get him off the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I want to see is him brought to justice.


ANNOUNCER: There 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's Tuesday, April 18, 6 a.m. here in New York. The Trump White House on the defensive over transparency, refusing to release any of the president's tax returns. And the administration is being sued for not releasing visitor logs and those that would allow the public to know exactly who is going in and out of the White House.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Context matters here. Then candidate and before that, citizen Trump railed on President Obama to release the logs, to be more transparent.

Remember, he campaigned on "drain the swamp." But now ethics experts say that this administration is the least transparent in decades. Could this impact the president's ability to deliver on his promises. We're going to cover this and more on day 89 of the Trump presidency.

Let's begin with Joe Johns live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.


On a day when millions of Americans have to file their taxes, it's a reminder that, as a candidate, Donald Trump ran on the issue of transparency and used it as a weapon. Now, after he's gotten the job and taken a seat in the Oval Office, it doesn't seem to matter much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it time to say once and for all, the president is never going to release his tax returns?

SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.

JOHNS (voice-over): The White House on the defensive, facing mounting criticism over the administration's lack of transparency.

SPICER: We're referring to the same audit that existed, and -- and so nothing changed.

JOHNS: Press secretary Sean Spicer again citing routine audits to justify President Trump's refusal to release any tax returns. Except an IRS audit does not prevent disclosure.

This lack of transparency now jeopardizing another Trump key campaign promise, an overhaul of the tax code. "The New York Times" writing the Democrats are uniting around a pledge not to cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically how that provision would benefit the billionaire president and his family. A growing number of Republican lawmakers also calling on the president to make his returns public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be a good gesture on his part to release them, like all other presidents have.

JOHNS: Some lawmakers are being shouted down at town halls over Trump's taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I'm aware, the president says he's still under audit. (BOOING)

JOHNS: The president himself downplaying the issue in the face of nationwide protests this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Show us your taxes! Show us your taxes!

JOHNS: Tweeting, "I did what was an almost possible thing to do for a Republican, easily won the Electoral College. Now tax returns are being brought up again?"

The administration also facing scrutiny for refusing to disclose who is golfing with the president and for reversing an Obama-era precedent of making White House visitor logs public.

SPICER: We recognize there's a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come and express their views.

JOHNS: Press secretary Sean Spicer suggesting that such disclosures would be harmful and unnecessary. Spicer adding that the Obama White House redacted some visitor names while acknowledging the Trump administration will not release any.

SPICER: Frankly, the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub what they didn't want out didn't serve anyone well.

JOHNS: This policy change inconsistent with Trump's past criticism of Obama, who he labeled the least transparent president ever, tweeting vaguely in 2012, "Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition. Hiding something?"


JOHNS: Today, the president travels to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to visit Snap On Tools. He's expected to challenge an executive order, changing the H-1 visa program, which brings in highly skilled workers. The administration says the object of this order is to promote the hiring of American workers -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our political panel to discuss all this. We have White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" Carol Lee; and CNN political analysts David Drucker and Maggie Haberman. Great to see all of you this morning.

So Maggie, for those of us who have covered President Trump, Donald Trump for a long time, the idea that he now doesn't want to release his taxes comes as no surprise. But it may surprise voters, who believed him when he said that he would at one point. MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know how many voters

actually believed him when he said that he would, to be fair. I mean, he -- you know, voters went into the voting booth on election day with, I think, as much knowledge as you could get. That he was clear he was not going to release them, whatever the excuse.

However, he is now president. He does have a raft of potential business conflicts, and that is where this becomes an issue. When you combine that with the fact that the White House has changed what the Obama precedent was on releasing the White House visitors log, you don't -- logs, you don't know who is going into the White Houses to meet with the president or his aides.

CAMEROTA: And what's that about? I mean, honestly, what's -- what's so -- what's so scintillating in the visitor logs that they don't want to release those?

HABERMAN: I could speculate, but I think -- I don't know how useful it is. I think at the end of the day, I think it does open them up to, among other things, criticism about transparency, No. 1. I think their rationale for how it was potentially harmful for governing was a head scratcher. And I imagine there are going to be lawsuits where, if they lose, then you wonder what the point was.

[06:05:05] CUOMO: Well, look, but also, we've seen this before. Trump in 2012 went after President Obama, saying, "Why are you fighting releasing the visitor logs? You're so lacking in transparency." Now he's doing the same thing.

Does the hypocrisy matter? He says, "I'm under audit. That's why I can't release them." That hasn't changed. We've never seen any proof that he is under audit.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't matter if he's under audit, though, because he can still release his tax returns anyway.

CUOMO: It is a legitimate rationale for not releasing it. You can release under audit. I understand that, but you don't have to.

CAMEROTA: But there's also several years that are not under audit.

CUOMO: He says he's always under audit.

DRUCKER: Look, he doesn't have to do...

CAMEROTA: That's not what the IRS says.

DRUCKER: He doesn't have to.

CUOMO: Hold on a second. This matters, because we're going to hear about it.

CAMEROTA: They won't comment.

CUOMO: The IRS won't comment.

CAMEROTA: They won't comment.

CUOMO: He has not shown that he's under audit. But I get that tax attorneys will say to you if you're under audit, it's better not to show.


CUOMO: The question is, does he have a higher standard and will it ever come out?

CAMEROTA: I think that even his attorneys say that some years, like before 2010, were not under -- no longer under audit.

CUOMO: Right, but his attorneys have never put out a statement saying, "These years we could release." That we haven't heard. But should he, and does it really matter if he doesn't?

DRUCKER: There's a substantive issue here, and there's a political issue. I think substantively the country is better off when -- when you have a president of the United States releasing as much information about his business ties and his financial relationships as possible.

I think the country operates better when we have a lot of facts so people can make a decision. And it also sends a message in terms of how our democracy operates. That we expect this sort of thing from our high officials.

Politically, this is not the kind of thing that is going to cause him problems. The voters have built in with Donald Trump, into the cost of administration, all sorts of things, including the fact that he said, "Yes, I'm going to release my tax returns. Never mind. I don't want to."

Where it could potentially cause a problem, and where that could change, is in 2020 when he runs for reelection, if he's not running against somebody with a cloud of scandal hanging over her or him because they're not under FBI investigation, then all of a sudden people may start to make a different judgment about his level of transparency and what that means to them.

CAMEROTA: At the moment, let's look at where the public polls are on this. So this is the Quinnipiac poll. This is the latest poll, on should Mr. Trump release taxes? Sixty-eight percent, Carol, say yes.

Here's another interesting poll. Gallup poll of Americans. Americans who say Trump keeps his promises. In February, 62 percent of Americans believed that he did, now only 45 percent.

So I hear, David, none of this matters until election day 2020. But it seems as though the public is changing their opinion about it.

CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": The danger is that you create a narrative that the president is going to create this narrative that's going to follow him. And it's -- that starts now. That's not an election day thing. That's something that -- that happens early on in this presidency.

And it's not just this. It's that what is feeding this idea that he doesn't keep his promises is a number of promises. It's not -- it's policies. It's transparency. It's tax returns. So there's a number of ways in which this can cut against him. I think if you're in the White House, you're weighing what is the benefit of releasing tax returns, based on what's in them versus not, and which gives you a bigger hit.

On the transparency issue, their argument was so interesting on the visitor logs, because what they were essentially saying is, "Obama did this in a way that wasn't fully transparent, so we're just not going to do any of that." It's not...

DRUCKER: Also Obama was worse.

CUOMO: Yes, that was -- that was -- Spicer tried that, that they can -- yes, that they can move on national security off, so we can just take everybody off. So why even make them transparent?

What I have been trying to argue with the people around the president to release them is the nothing burger argument, which is if you are so convinced that these are a non-event, then put them out. And boy, will that throw cold water on the people who think there's something there.

You know, very often this would be great brinkmanship, you know, on the political side of "I don't want to put them out. I don't want to put them out." Then you put them out and there's nothing there. And it would be a big political victory for him.

The problem they have is they haven't seen them. The people who are advising the president around him haven't seen his taxes, Carol, so how can they make a good argument about what to do with them?

LEE: Well, and but the problem is, as my colleague wrote today, is that the Democrats are going to use this not just as a political bludgeon but also to stop his policy from moving forward. This is a president that has really struggled to get...

CUOMO: Does that work, though? We've heard our friend Richard Painter, you know, the ethics czar from the Bush administration. He said, "You can't do tax reform until he releases his taxes." Do you buy that?

LEE: I buy the idea the Democrats have a base that's in no mood to negotiate with this president. And so I think that the tax has become part -- becomes part of that argument.

I don't know that I buy it on its own as an argument. But I think it's impossible to separate out the degree to which the Democratic base might have been -- there was a small window at the very beginning of his term. And I think by very beginning, I mean like day one through three, where I think there was some feeling that he could make inroads with Democrats, hold onto the gains he made with independents, if he was going to capitulate a bit, if he was going to reach out to the other side a bit. He has done none of that. And so Democrats are not in the mood to...

[06:10:07] CAMEROTA: It's not just intransigence. I mean, it's also -- it's not just that they're saying, "Well, you're not going to release this, so we're not going to work with you." They're saying, "How can we know what will benefit the Trump Organization..."

HABERMAN: That's right.

CAMEROTA: "... unless you release your taxes? Why would we vote for something that's going to make you richer?"

DRUCKER: I think, though, to Maggie's point, the bigger problem that President Trump has in working with Democrats is something like -- I think it was a tweet yesterday, where he recommended a book about Democrats, that was a bunch of blank pages.

CUOMO: And put it on the Amazon best-seller list.


DRUCKER: It's funny but in the context of governing, you have to put this sort of campaign attacking aside. And that's one of the reasons that the Democratic base is so dead set against their party doing anything with them. Not only do they, you know, feel obvious issues with him; they feel under constant ridicule and attack from him. And so their party is so in no mood to test their relationship with their base by working with him on major issues.

HABERMAN: When have we had a president in modern memory who has done zero outreach to the people who did not vote for him? I mean, that is really what this comes back to. It's not as if this is just political brinkmanship. This is a president who lost the popular vote by not a small margin and has done zero outreach to the people who weren't with him, who basically has represented his base.

CUOMO: That was the original plan. You remember, our early reporting about what Jared was going to do, in DJ Team 100? They had a plan in place to try to get him to 100 percent popularity, the most expansive presidential base ever. Now it seems to be shrinking, not growing.

And that's what we're seeing with some of these special elections, right? In Kansas, it was really important for the president to get out there and say it was a blow-up win. It wasn't. He won by much more than Estes did. And now in Georgia it's tight also. So much so that he's taken to Twitter to bash this new Ossoff that we're going to have on the show later on. How important is it?

LEE: Well, from a perspective -- from a perception standpoint, it's hugely important. Because he's obviously a new president. He's -- you know, there's a lot of questions about his -- whether he's, you know, politically viable beyond the circumstances in the 2016 election. And -- and it will -- if he were to lose these seats, it would have this -- politics has this ripple effect. And it would -- it would have an impact.

And also, he's struggling not just with Democrats. He's talking about working with Republicans in Congress. And so if he were to lose, it just gives another way in which they would feel emboldened to not side with him. Because there's that real question of whether or not they are.

CAMEROTA: All right. So as just said, coming up on NEW DAY, we will speak with Georgia congressional candidate and Democrat Jon Ossoff about that special election that he could win. It was Tom Price's seat.

CUOMO: All right. So we have politics at home. We also have politics abroad. And we're following breaking news from Japan. Vice President Mike Pence in Tokyo discussing the U.S./Japan economic alliance and the nuclear threat from North Korea.

At a news conference with the deputy prime minister, Pence said that the U.S. will work to find a peaceful solution, but all options remain on the table. Pence says Japan's prime minister agrees with the U.S. position that strategic patience on North Korea has run out.


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless. It is necessary for us to exercise pressure. And the United States of America believes the time has come for international community to use both diplomatic and economic pressure to bring North Korea to a place that it has avoided successfully now for more than a generation. And we will not rest and we will not relent until we achieve the objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.


CUOMO: Pence calling North Korea the most ominous threat facing the Asia-Pacific region.

CAMEROTA: All right. So the president's top advisers will be meeting today. And they themselves are deeply divided over the Paris climate agreement. Will the U.S. stay in this global pact? We take a closer look next on NEW DAY.


[06:18:10] CUOMO: All right. Top White House advisers are expected to meet today to discuss whether the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord.

You remember this one. It was the landmark 2015 international agreement. It set the most modern goals to reduce emissions over the next several decades. President Trump's inner circle is reportedly divided over what to do.

CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman back to discuss. What do we know of this division?

HABERMAN: We know that it is very similar to almost every other issue in the Trump White House. You could set the phrase "They are split down the middle" to repeat.

On the one side, you have Steve Bannon and others who believe that this ought to be ripped up, that this accord is problematic and that it is regressive to some extent.

On the other side, you have people like the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who argues that this is actually an important seat at the table that the United States should have.

It is critical for the president to have a clear sense of where he's going on this before his first foreign trip, which is coming in a couple of weeks. And so you have a deadline set for when this decision has to be made. You have the president -- I don't think the president has a deep-seated feeling on this one way or another.

We know that on Twitter before he was a candidate many years ago he talked about climate change as a hoax. He made all sorts of comments about throwing out this accord when he was a candidate.

As we have seen, he has discovered that governing is a little different and that you have to make different adjustments. He has been very, very firm on sticking to the promises he made to coal country about, essentially, ripping up regulations, bringing back jobs. Now, bringing back those jobs is going to be pretty tough for a lot of reasons. But I think that you're going to see him looking at it through the prism of his political base.

CAMEROTA: But if you look at that breakdown that we just had with Jared and Ivanka on one side with Rex Tillerson, and Steve Bannon on the other. Doesn't conventional wisdom of the day, of this week suggest that that side, the supportive side of the Paris Accord wins?

[06:20:02] HABERMAN: First of all, I'm not so clear on how aggressively Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are actually pressing on this issue. I know that it was floated initially as something that they were going to look at, particularly Ivanka Trump. I don't think she has used a ton of her capital on this.

And frankly, she's used a fair amount of capital recently, according to all of our reporting, on helping to marginalize Steve Bannon.

So what Trump does historically -- and you know this as someone, and you know this as someone we both covered a long time -- he tends to sort of swing back in the other direction sometimes. Whether this is going to be an issue on which he does that remains to be seen. But I wouldn't assume that just because the people who are ascendant in the White House right now are in favor of sticking with this accord that it means that's where the president will go.

CUOMO: So you have a political and you have a policy dynamic. On the policy side, you almost have to give a little compassion to the president on this. Because he has no one around him who knows anything about this. He's got the oil man giving him advice about what to do about an environmental accord. And in fact, he's on, some would think an ironic side of this, given Exxon's past on that issue.

But so he doesn't really have anybody in this circle of conversation that he's having who can really know anything about this accord.

Then you have the policy side. This is about a lot more that just emissions. There's a lot of business sharing and incentive structures built in. This is almost like a trade deal on some levels.

So if you don't have a seat at the table, which is what Rex Tillerson is talking about, you're going to lose out.

HABERMAN: Yes, and it also, again, goes back to the campaign rhetoric versus the reality, right? The president has talked about fair trade. He has talked about reversing trends in deals like NAFTA, for instance. But that's a big headline that people understand.

Whether people are going to understand the details of the Paris Accord and how that relates and see that as impacting their lives, I think is a big open question. And I'm not sure that he is going to actually want to start ripping that up and trying to explain it.

CUOMO: They seem to be getting bruised by this ham-fisted, "We don't know if global warming is real or not."

Every time one of his secondaries pops their head up and says something like that, the slap-down is pretty severe and unanimous, other than a little pocket that he can't just depend on exclusively for support anymore. So do you think that plays into this?

HABERMAN: I do. I think that there is the bigger question again, and we talked about this before in the previous segment, that there is the question of how much outrage he is going to do to people who are not supportive of him.

And this is not -- this is one that will upset his base. We certainly know where his EPA head is. And he is in favor of a lot less regulation. And he essentially was a businessman who was against a lot of the regulations we've seen. I think that's another complicating factor.

But I think that, when push comes to shove, I think the president right now sees his approval ratings ticking up. He tweeted a Rasmussen poll yesterday that seemed wildly out of sync with other polls, but if you look at the Gallup trending poll, he is inching up a little bit. I think he will look at those numbers and feel sort of a firm and a more moderate approach and that will be likely is what governs...

CAMEROTA: The Rasmussen poll had him at 50 percent approval. We don't use the Rasmussen poll, because its methodology is not one that most news organizations use. They use land lines.

HABERMAN: Correct.

CAMEROTA: So let's talk about the globe-trotting that we've seen of his cabinet and his advisers, like Jared Kushner going to Iraq, Rex Tillerson Moscow, Mike Pence. Is this customary for the president to stay behind and send everybody else out to do all the diplomacy? HABERMAN: It's really interesting. My colleague, Julie Davis, wrote

about this the other day. It is not just that the president is not going abroad. The president is not really going west of Mississippi. Right? I mean, we are seeing an incredibly localized presidency, which is very, again, in keeping with what we know of Donald Trump. He is a home body who doesn't like sleeping in beds that are not his own.

CAMEROTA: Unless it's in Florida.

HABERMAN: Well, part of that is his own. Or Bedminster, the golf club is his own. Or his -- you know, he has an apartment in L.A. But he does not -- he -- remember how frequently during the campaign he would fly back to New York to sleep in his own bed?

He is not somebody who is global. He's a very provincial politician, more so than I think anybody we have seen. And I do think some of this is the result of -- remember, you had the White House say, when he did his address to Congress, we were told that he was going to go out and he was going to really sell these policies at rallies and at visits and not campaign-style stops but certainly presidential stops out in the country. That has not materialized.

CUOMO: You have convenience. Then you also have what you're raising now, which is this confidence issue. It can't be a coincidence that he's tweeting about the Electoral College and all these petty things in the media when he's got North Korea and Syria being hotly debated. He knows that he should be weighing in on those, and yet he is not.

HABERMAN: I think that there is the question -- and we have had this question for a while with this president -- of how much of a ceremonial presidency we were going to see for somebody who has not been in the government or political domain before. It is interesting how much he is delegating. Some of that is not a total surprise. We know that there are areas where he is not well-versed. I think that there is a reason you are seeing Mike Pence visiting Asia.

But I think that -- I think it is going to be incumbent on the president to make a stand of his own and make a trip that leaves a mark.

[06:25:04] CAMEROTA: Maggie, thank you. Always great to have you here in studio with us.

So we have to give you an update now on this story. That Ohio man who is still on the run. He's accused of committing this heinous murder and posting the video on Facebook.

Now the victim's family has a very surprising message for the suspected killer. We have all the details when NEW DAY continues.


CAMEROTA: So the nationwide manhunt is intensifying for a suspect accused of gunning down an Ohio grandfather on Easter Sunday and posting that footage to Facebook. So far no concrete leads on the suspect's whereabouts as dramatic 911 calls, though, are released.

CNN's Sara Ganim is live in Cleveland with the latest.

What are the police saying, Sarah?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Steve Stephens now on the FBI's Most Wanted List as police overnight are releasing 911 calls from the scene.

Investigators here saying the killer could be anywhere.


GANIM (voice-over): The manhunt for 37-year-old Steve Stephens expanding nationwide. Police warning residents across five states that the alleged killer is considered armed and dangerous.

CALVIN WILLIAMS, CLEVELAND POLICE DEPARTMENT: We're still asking Steve to turn himself in. But if he doesn't, we'll find him.