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Request for Flynn Documents; Live Coverage of the White House Press Briefing. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 25, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Defense Intelligence Agency about these speaking appearances, about the money that he received for those speaking appearances. And, you know, the House Oversight Committee is pushing back on that. I heard from a staffer just after that statement was released by Michael Flynn's attorney saying that this committee has seen no evidence that Michael Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency about these activities.
And so there is a bit of a he said/she said here over exactly what General Flynn was doing and what he was doing to comply with the law in this area. But make no mistake, Brooke, when you have the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee saying that President Trump's first national security adviser was not in compliance with the law, that is no small thing. And underlined the fact that during the campaign, we saw this time and again, General Flynn was leading the chants of "lock her up" during the campaign and now he's being accused, not just by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and up on Capitol Hill, but by fellow Republicans --
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
ACOSTA: That he was not in compliance with the law. So I suspect that will come up during this briefing today. But at this point the White House is really offering no other further comment than we -- you know, we just don't have those documents to provide to the committee at this point and that is obviously not a response that's going to work for the committee for very long.
BALDWIN: Can I -- I mean let me follow up on that just because if the White House is saying, well, we don't have the documents which, you know, by the way, again, this is the White House and this is where, you know, General Flynn worked for a time, and they're referring, you know, people to the relevant agencies. What are those agencies?
ACOSTA: My guess is it would be the Defense Intelligence Agency, it would be the Department of Defense. Those would be the relevant agencies and departments at this point. If he did brief the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his attorney is saying at this point, then there should be some record or documentation of that. But, of course, we heard from the staffer on the Oversight Committee and the Oversight Committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, was saying as much to reporters earlier today that, no, we don't have any evidence of that. And so this is obviously another one of those drips, drips, drips for this White House on this issue of Russia, the story that just doesn't seem to want to go away.
BALDWIN: OK, Jim, stay with me. I know you're going to be seated momentarily when that briefing begins.
BALDWIN: Let me bring my panel in.
And, Gloria Borger, let's step back three steps. The question into why this, you know, this speech and the money and this key information being withheld when he's applying for this security clearance for this job at the White House, the question to me is, why would one withhold this? Would one withhold this because he knows that there will be questions into, you know, the Trump associates during the campaign and ties to Russia, or was this just simply an oops?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I doubt that it was simply an oops. I think it may well reflect the fact that he didn't get the clearance, as you've been discussing before, to go over and participate in this conversation or to get paid for it. These things are supposed to be cleared even if you're no longer a member of the DIA or if you're no longer a member of the intelligence community and working for the government. These things do need to be cleared. And if in fact it wasn't cleared, then you have to ask the question, why didn't he get it cleared? And that may explain why it wasn't on his disclosure form.
And I should also point out that these disclosure forms are very important when people are getting top clearances. And we also know, for example, that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, didn't disclose his meetings with Russians and other officials of other governments on his original disclosure form and that now he is trying to work that out. He says it was an oversight and it was a mistake and that now he's trying to work that out and has interim clearance before he gets his official clearance. Kushner says it was sloppiness on the part of the transition and his own fault. He admits it was a mistake. I'd like to hear what Michael Flynn says it was because, of course, his error is way more egregious here because he received money and had worked --
BORGER: You know, and should never have been doing that without clearance.
BALDWIN: It's interesting you use the word "sloppiness."
Susan Hennessey, CNN national security and legal analyst and former attorney for the NSA. I mean do you see it as -- with Gloria's additional example? I mean this goes back to the campaign and issues they've had, sloppiness, recklessness, carelessness. How do you view this?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right, so there are really two possibilities here. One is that the White House was aware that the national security adviser had lied on his security clearance form. That's a felony. That would be a big deal if they had ignored that. The other possibility is that the White House wasn't aware that he had either lied on his form or that he had accepted these payments. Considering that this is public information, or it was reported shortly after the election that he had accepted these payments, that raises real questions, potentially even more troubling questions about how exactly the White House security clearance process is functioning and who else currently holds a clearance in the administration that -- where red flags were ignored.
[14:05:29] BALDWIN: Tom, I'm going to come to you in just a second, but, Susan, just a quick follow-up. For just people watching and trying to understand, you tell -- why is it important for high-level military leaders like a General Flynn here to disclose these sorts of payments from foreign governments?
HENNESSEY: Right. So before an emolument clause was actually part of the U.S. Constitution. And so the reason it's included there is really to insure that nobody in the U.S. government is accepting money from foreign governments without the permission of Congress. That's about protecting U.S. national security interests from undue or improper foreign influence. So it really is central to basic constitutional principles.
Tom Rogan, contributor to the "National Review" and columnist for "The Daily Telegraph," what are your thoughts on this?
TOM ROGAN, CONTRIBUTOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, I think the first issue here is that if you look at the context of what is going on with the three-star general now without the paper trail that his people that he had suggested would eventually vindicate him, there is an implication not just of misconduct and that act in and of itself, but there's also a very serious concern, quite frankly, about what he was thinking in terms of the basic foundation that if Russia gives you money, whether through a cut-out or a thinly veiled (ph) government cutout, such as RT, they have leverage over you for the long term, right, that that is something that will come back. And so in the best case here, he was incredibly ignorant and stupid, quite frankly --
BALDWIN: Here we go. Tom, forgive me. Sean Spicer.
[14:06:54] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
I'd like to start off today by having the secretary of commerce discuss some action that the Commerce Department took last night with respect to Canadian softwood lumber, and some action that talks about what we're doing to make sure that we're fighting for our industries here at home.
So without further ado, I want to bring up Secretary Wilbur Ross.
ROSS: Thank you, Sean.
The action we took last night is actually the culmination of a couple of decades of disputes between the United States and Canada. What's provoked the disputes is the following.
In Canada, the forests are owned by the individual provinces and each of the provinces sets a charge for the loggers to use when they're taking trees down. In the U.S., it's all open market. It's all market- based prices. So the provinces subsidize the cutting down of lumber, the technical term being stumpage, and then that lets them charge a subsidized low price when the product hits the U.S. border.
We have determined preliminarily that those problems, while they vary from one province to another, in some cases are as high as roughly 25 percent, and on average are around 20 percent. So they're quite material items.
So what we -- the preliminary decision that was put out yesterday imposes those countervailing duties on softwood lumber from Canada. Those duties will be collected starting today and they will be collected on a retroactive basis going back 90 days, because it was 90 days ago that the Canadians were put on notice about this being an inappropriate process.
What it amounts to is the following. There is roughly $15 billion worth of hardwood -- softwood lumber used in houses in this country, and about 31.5 percent of that comes from the Canadians. So that's roughly $5 billion a year; 20 percent tariff on that is essentially $1 billion a year. And the retrospective 90 day feature adds another $250 million to that on a one-time basis.
Softwood lumber, as I say, is fundamentally used in single-family houses. We do not think that the price of lumber will go up by anything like the 20 percent, but there may be some small increase in the price of lumber for the house.
QUESTION: So will housing prices be increased in the United States due to that action?
ROSS: Not necessarily, because you're talking such a small amount. And the biggest part of most home prices in any event is the land value, not the lumber value. Lumber is a pretty small percentage of the total cost of a house.
QUESTION: Secretary, what provoked this?
As you mentioned, this has been a long-running dispute, subject of conversations between the U.S. and Canadian government, the Bush administration and the Obama administration. Is this part of the milk dispute? I mean, is this a lever or a bargaining chip with the Canadian government over that -- that dispute that's going on as well?
ROSS: This investigation had been under way before anything came up about milk. And on the statutory basis, the last day we could've released the findings would've been today. So the only thing that we did do was accelerate it one day.
QUESTION: Secretary Ross, if it's not related at all to the milk dispute, do you see it is as factoring in the Canadian judgment about how to respond or how to resolve some of these other trade disputes? ROSS: Well, everything relates to everything else when you're trying to negotiate. So, I can't say there's no impact.
But what we had tried to do was to clear the air and get this dispute out of the way before the big NAFTA talks went on.
That was not possible to achieve. And that's why we went ahead and released the findings.
QUESTION: Secretary Ross...
QUESTION: ... Canada is a -- is a -- an extremely close ally and neighbor. Are you comfortable with how this has worked out in terms of what it means in the overall relationship between our two countries?
ROSS: Well, they are a close ally. They're an important ally. They're generally a good neighbor.
That doesn't mean they don't have to play by the rules.
QUESTION: What do you mean by "generally a good neighbor"? ROSS: Well, things like this I don't regard as being a good neighbor, dumping lumber. And there's a feeling in the dairy industry that they're a little bit abrupt in the action that they took the week before.
QUESTION: Secretary Ross, (inaudible) Canadian government said that those are unfair tariffs. And each time, the case was brought to an international court, Canada won its case. What do you answer to this?
ROSS: I had nothing to do with the prior cases. I'm confident that this case is a good case.
QUESTION: Now put (ph) tariffs on dairy, too?
ROSS: The -- the problem with dairy isn't that they're dumping dairy products in the U.S. The problem is the reverse: They're prohibiting U.S. dairy producers from selling their products in Canada, and -- as a practical matter. And we're looking into whether there are measures we can do to try to correct that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, have you heard from anybody in the Canadian government, or has the prime minister reached out to President Trump to try to convince you to change your policy or change the approach or work with you in any way?
ROSS: Well, I haven't heard of anybody trying to ask us to change the approach.
You've seen the public statements that the Canadians put out. As far as I know, that is their position.
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Curious whether this softwood lumber dispute or the milk dispute points to the need to revisit -- to renegotiate NAFTA sooner rather than later?
ROSS: Well, I think it does because think about it: If NAFTA were functioning properly, you wouldn't be having these kinds of very prickly, very unfortunate developments back to back. So, in that sense, it shows that NAFTA has not worked as well as it should.
QUESTION: Milk's not covered by it, this particular...
ROSS: That's -- that's...
QUESTION: ... dispute's not covered by NAFTA.
ROSS: ... that's one of the problems. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
QUESTION: ... in other words. Why not try to resolve this in a not-so- public fashion? You're coming out into the briefing room, you're obviously trying to flex the muscles of this administration.
What would you say to the laymen out there who says, "Why is President Trump messing with the Canadians now?"
ROSS: Not a question of President Trump messing with the Canadians. We believe the Canadians violated legitimate practice. And if -- and -- and to the degree we're correct in that, it should be corrected, just like steel dumping from China or any other trade infraction.
QUESTION: You're trying to make a point publicly.
ROSS: We -- we make it publicly all the time. It's just that there has been so much general public interest engendered by the two things, the dairy and the lumber, that we felt it was good to clarify.
QUESTION: During the presidential campaign, people following (inaudible) -- then-candidate Trump would assume his singular focus would be on Mexico in terms of trade. All of a sudden, now we're hearing all of these items related to Canada.
Can you tell us why the focus seems to have shift up north?
ROSS: Well, we had no way to know that the Canadian dairy people would take the action that they did. Nor did we have any way to know that the lumber dispute wouldn't have been resolved by negotiation.
ROSS: We tried. It didn't work. And so we went ahead with the statutory proceeding. (CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: ... additional trade action against Canada?
ROSS: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Is the administration contemplating additional trade actions against Canada?
ROSS: As far as I know, there's nothing immediate contemplated.
QUESTION: Secretary Ross, (inaudible) they say the substance of what you did is very routine, like this has been done before; these preliminary countervailing duties. But they said what was really irregular was the way that you communicated it. Is this something that you're trying to sort of do as a bit of a P.R. thing to put NAFTA on notice? How shall we read your very aggressive statement?
ROSS: Well, it's not routine. It's not routine in that $1 billion of countervailing duties does not happen every single day. This is a quite large...
QUESTION: (inaudible) in the early 2000s.
ROSS: Pardon me?
QUESTION: It's happened before. It's not unprecedented.
ROSS: Well, we made the release the way that we made the release.
QUESTION: But why did you make it that way?
ROSS: It seemed appropriate under the circumstances.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary -- Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir.
Sir, India and America both were -- India -- America was the largest trading partner of India, or India was largest trading partner under Prime Minister Modi. And now we have a new administration with a new thinking and a (inaudible) administration (inaudible). Same thing in India. Prime Minister Modi has the same (inaudible).
So what is the future of the trade between U.S. and India (inaudible)?
ROSS: Well, the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement with India at this point. So the trade relations between U.S. and India are governed by the WTO rules. There's nothing in the actions we've taken that changes that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, following up on what Jim (ph) said, though, if housing prices do increase due to this, what do you tell the average consumer in the United States? If their prices are going up, they didn't bargain for that?
ROSS: Well, I don't know what they bargained for, but I'm sure what nobody in the United States bargained for was people dumping product. It's not different whether you dump steel or aluminum or cars or lumber of anything else. Nobody has...
QUESTION: (inaudible) the term countervailing duty and anti- dumping interchangeably. They're two different things. Which is it: dumping or countervailing duty?
ROSS: This is countervailing duties.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you give a specific timeline for when the president is going to announce his intention to renegotiate NAFTA? And could this move actually complicate his efforts to get a good deal?
ROSS: Well, we put the Congress on notice quite a few weeks ago of our intention to renegotiate NAFTA. What's been stalled is getting the trade promotion authority, the so-called "fast-track authority," approved by the Congress. Now, with Bob Lighthizer having been confirmed out of the committee today, and hopefully coming to the Senate for a full vote very shortly, that should cure one of the objections that some of the senators had. Namely, they were concerned about formally reopening NAFTA in the absence of the U.S. trade rep being confirmed.
Now, the catch-22 to that was they were also slow-walking the confirmation. So it's a little bit of a circular thing. But in any event, that appears to be in the process of being corrected.
QUESTION: Well, could this move complicate your efforts to do a deal?
ROSS: Everything affects everything else. But this trade issue over lumber, as has been pointed out, is not a brand new issue. It's been around for quite a while.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the meetings next -- the upcoming meeting of the G-7 is about a month away, and the U.S. is in the middle of negotiations with -- or talks with China about how to address North Korea. Are you comfortable that the North Korea calculus has not hamstrung your ability to be as direct with China on matters like this? And is the action with Canada meant also to signal to our other Western economic allies and partners that if they mess with the U.S., they could face something like this?
ROSS: Well, as to Canada, as you know, at the Mar-a-Lago meetings, we agreed on the kind of 100-day program. And we're going back and forth with the Chinese over that 100-day program. So we shall see what comes from that.
As to the action with lumber or, for that matter, with dairy with Canada, it really has no bearing on the Chinese relationship at all.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, it seems to me that the object of the -- of the 25 percent tariff on soft lumber coming out of Canada is not to raise wood prices. It's to save and create American forestry jobs and loggers who are losing their jobs right now as a result of the dumping.
QUESTION: Has the administration done a study? Do you know how many American jobs are going to be saved by this tariff?
ROSS: Well, it's quite a lot of board-feet of lumber. Lumber sells for about 38 cents per foot. So if you take all these large amounts, there are about 47 billion board feet of lumber consumed in the U.S. market in a given year.
And part of the reason I don't see that there will be a huge price differential coming in is this only affects 31.5 percent of that output. The competition among the American producers remains the same. So this is not like suddenly house prices are going to up 10 or 15 percent. That's silly.
ROSS: Pardon me?
QUESTION: How many new jobs will be created or jobs will be saved as a result of stopping the (inaudible)?
ROSS: Well, I don't have an exact total, but I can tell you it's in quite a few states along the northern perimeter, going all the way down into Louisiana. So this affects quite a number of people and quite a number of businesses.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you're getting bipartisan support at the very least for your actions on softwood lumber. I expect that there will be bipartisan support on whatever action you take on behalf of the dairy industry as well.
I mean, you appear to be laying the groundwork here for your notification to Congress that you'd like to renegotiate NAFTA. Are we correct in reading that way, that you're kind of paving the pathway here, at least greasing the skids? ROSS: Well, the president announced a couple of months ago that he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. And as I say, it's been stalled in the Congress because to do it effectively, you really need to use the trade promotion authority. I think you're aware of the benefit that gives, which is when it comes to the floor for a vote, it's an up or down vote. They can't amend the deal.
So it makes it much more probable of getting a deal approved. That's the practical significance of it.
QUESTION: So these very public actions that you're taking and being here in the briefing, is that sort of paving the way for promoting that authority?
ROSS: Well, we hope to get as soon as possible the trade promotion authority granted. Only Congress can do that. And so we've been consulting with the staff. I've met I don't know how many times -- quite a lot of times both with Ways and Means and with the Senate Finance Committee. And we hope that with the Lighthizer confirmation, that will remove that impediment.
QUESTION: (inaudible) a free trade agreement with India (inaudible)?
ROSS: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear.
QUESTION: Do you favor a free trade agreement with India, as you said earlier, (inaudible) the two countries (inaudible) now? Do you favor a free trade agreement with India?
ROSS: Oh, any pending trade events with India? Is that the question?
QUESTION: A free trade agreement...
ROSS: I don't believe that there have been any serious discussions with India of late on the topic of a free trade agreement. But there's no inherent negative attitude on our part (inaudible) that.
QUESTION: (inaudible) have an announcement on Thursday that you'll do something similar with aluminum that you did with steel last week, in terms of initiating investigations into potential aluminum dumping into the country. Could you talk a little bit about that?
ROSS: Well, I think the right time to talk about executive orders is once they've been issued.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the -- this is a very high -- this is a high-profile action, even if there's a precedent for similar action in the past. Is there a risk that this could provoke retaliation on the part of the Canadians and we could see a trade war between the United States and Canada?
ROSS: While I know that that would be a stimulatory thing for all your readership, but we don't think that's going to happen.
QUESTION: So this is isolated? This is dairy and softwood and...
ROSS: We think so. And we certainly hope so. And we look forward to constructive discussions with the Canadians as we get into NAFTA.
QUESTION: So you don't anticipate any retaliatory action on the part of Canada?
ROSS: It's totally Canada's decision what they'll do. I'm not aware of anything that we've violated, so I don't know what it is that they could do that would be a legitimate action.
QUESTION: What if we pass a border adjustment tax (inaudible) part of the tax reform package?
ROSS: Well, as I understand it, there will be some word on the tax reform package and the people who are working on it so it would be better to address that question to them.
QUESTION: While we have you, Mr. Secretary...
... (inaudible) of 3 percent GDP growth. Is that a fair assessment? Is that something that is realistic? Do you believe (inaudible)?
ROSS: Well, I would hope that the growth could over time get to be better than that. President Obama's the only president in many, many, many, many that didn't have at least one year of 3 percent growth. And with all the initiatives that we're doing -- the regulatory reform, the trade reform, the tax reform hopefully, and unleashing energy -- there's no reason we shouldn't be able least to hit that, if not beat it.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned cars. Who is dumping cars to the United States?
ROSS: No, I just used that as a figure of speech.
QUESTION: Who is dumping cars to the United States?
ROSS: I said it was a figure of speech.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what happened between the press conference with Prime Minister Trudeau, when the president said he would only be tweaking the relationship, and this decision on softwood lumber? What changed?
ROSS: Well, first of all, this was not a presidential decision to do the softwood lumber. This was a decision that arose from a trade case that was under way, so it was a normal decision. So I don't think it has anything to do with the personal relationship between Mr. Trudeau and the president.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, finally, if you or the president have any faith and trust in WTO? ROSS: Well, WTO is a whole different subject matter. We do have some questions and concerns about it. There will be a WTO meeting coming up in the next several weeks, and what will come out of that will come out of that. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
In your view, should the U.S. stay in the Paris Climate Agreement or withdraw from it?
ROSS: Well, now you're really getting outside my area.
QUESTION: You're a participant to those discussions.
ROSS: It's really outside my -- my area. I -- I'm having enough difficulty dealing with the trade issues rather than poaching on other people's territory.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
ROSS: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: ... are you concerned about the new negotiations of SPA (ph) with South Korea?
ROSS: Well, the fifth anniversary of these South Korean arrangement, the so-called KORUS, comes up I believe on May 4th or May 5th, something like that. So that would be a logical time to think through whether there was something to be done or not.
QUESTION: Do you think softwood lumber might get Michael Flynn's name off the front pages?
ROSS: Is Michael Flynn now a trade issue? I wasn't aware that he was.
QUESTION: Ms. Secretary. Just one more, way out of the box for you.
ROSS: Oh, well, thank you for that.
QUESTION: If in fact the next president elected is Marine Le Pen in France, who is not at all for the -- continuing the E.U., how would that affect the relationship with France and the E.U.?
ROSS: That's such a hypothetical question that I find it very difficult to answer...
QUESTION: Or Monsieur Macron? ROSS: Well, I think let's wait for the French run-off election. Let's see what -- who's elected. Let's see what actions they take. And then we'll be in a position to make a reasoned response to the question.
QUESTION: You're always welcome.
QUESTION: Come any time you want.
SPICER: That doesn't make me feel too good.
ROSS: What did they way?
SPICER: They said come back any time.
QUESTION: You're always welcome.
SPICER: He is always welcome.
ROSS: I'm glad you're out of questions because I'm out of answers.
SPICER: Now the secretary has exhausted you all.
So up on the screens -- I know we had a little bit of discussion about this yesterday -- this is the landing page for the content of the website that we launched late last night on the president's busy first hundred days. I know that many of you have noted the robust pace that the president has kept during these first hundred days, so it's just a glimpse of some of the action that he's taken and some of the key priorities that he made to the American people.
Despite the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats, he's worked with Congress to pass more legislation in his first hundred days than any president since Truman, and these bills deliver on some of his most significant promises to the American people.
He signed a historic 13 Congressional Review Acts to clear unnecessary regulations and keep government out of the way of the American people.
He's extended the Veterans Choice program, giving our nation's heroes the peace of mind they deserve, while this administration continues to work with Congress to enact comprehensive reform and modernization at the V.A.