Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Baffling Comments; President Trump Considers Raising Gas Tax; FBI Translator Goes Rogue, Marries ISIS Fighter. Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired May 2, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:33:47] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. So, President Trump just did a spate of interviews and they've given us a real host of things to struggle with. Baffling comments, as he was going through his 100-day mark and it makes us wonder why he says some of the things he says. Why would he, once again, say well, maybe it wasn't Russia that did the hacking, maybe it was China? Why would he say, again, that he was wiretapped by the Obama White House and that it's been proven strongly?

In an interview with Sirius XM radio, he did some revisionist history questioning aloud, "Why was there a Civil War?" He said nobody asks that question. Historians answer it with a single word that's been asked in 1861 and the answer is "slavery".

He then waded back into troubled territory by, again, praising dictators, this time telling a "Bloomberg" reporter he would be "honored" to meet with North Korea's notorious leader, Kim Jong Un. He also defended extending a White House invitation to the Philippines authoritarian president despite his atrocious human rights record. Mr. Trump noting Rodrigo Duterte's high approval ratings.

And in his interview with CBS, he was asked if he stands by his unproven wiretapping claim, as I said. You know what his answer was? I don't stand by anything, and then he abruptly ended the interview when asked to justify why he called President Obama bad and sick.

[07:35:09] Last, but not least, when asked to reflect on being president he summed it up for "Reuters" by saying he thought the job of being president would "be easier." So, the question is why? Why does he say these things? I give him a pass on thinking the job would be easier -- that's just about a feeling -- but these other things that just confound any notion of fact, why do it?

Let's discuss. Symone Sanders, CNN political commentator and former national press secretary for Bernie 2016, and Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and former Reagan White House official. Jeffrey, you are a lover of history. We do not have to go back and forth with what started the Civil War, we understand that. But the question is what do you think motivates the president's continuing desire to conflict with fact? Why does he do it when he has to know it's going to drive another negative cycle of appraisal?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think he's just answering questions. I mean, this Civil War issue, I think, has been way overblown. I was just looking at his statement again. I mean, he was saying quite clearly, and he used the phrase if Jackson had been there a little later, meaning if he had been president in, say, 1856 -- between 1856 and 1860 -- he might have been a whole lot less passive than James Buchanan was. I mean, that's a perfectly reasonable historical point of view.

CUOMO: Right, except that's not what --



CUOMO: Right.

SANDERS: No, except that AndrewJackson was a plantation owner that also owned slaves and the cause of the Civil War was slavery. It was the Confederacy that attacked the Union, i.e., the South that attacked the North and it caused an illegal and costly war all because they wanted to defend what they thought was their right own African people and the descendants of African people because --

LORD: Well, Symone --

SANDERS: -- they benefitted economically.

LORD: Symone, you are 100 percent right.

SANDERS: Do you -- do you disagree? OK.

LORD: No, you are 100 percent right. And as I have said many times and written many times, Andrew Jackson, as the co-founder of your party, was one of the people who put this core of racism -- the culture of racism at the center of the Democratic Party, which exists today. You know, Symone, I was doing a little reading last night --

SANDERS: That's a reach. I think the culture -- I think the culture of racism --

CUOMO: All right, wait. Now, hold on, hold on.

SANDERS: -- is beyond the party.

CUOMO: Both of you -- both of you are going down a rabbit hole I have no interest in. I don't care about the racist roots in the Democratic Party. I get it, it's a good distraction.

SANDERS: Thank you.

CUOMO: Not the topic today. The topic is the regard --

LORD: How's that?

CUOMO: Oh, it's a complete distraction, Jeffrey. I'll tell you why. Here's the issue before us. Why does the president insist on, if he's going to get things wrong, never owning that error? It's not true that people don't ask why we had a Civil War. It's not true rhetorically, it's not true literally. But when confronted with that he has to double down and justify what he was saying about Andrew Jackson, even though he was dead for years before the Civil War. That's the pattern.

LORD: He didn't say that though, Chris.

CUOMO: He did say exactly that.

LORD: Chris, he did not say that.

CUOMO: He did say that.

LORD: I mean, please, I just read the statement right here.

CUOMO: He said --

LORD: I think he said if he were there a little bit later -- a little later. I mean, he knew he was dead, for heaven's sake.

CUOMO: Whether he knew it --

LORD: He's been to his home.

CUOMO: Whether he was dead or not, the point is him saying, you know, we don't ask why about the Civil War, that's just not true. But then, when pushed on it, he doubles down. When he's asked about Russia -- and he says it could have been China -- you have all the Intelligence Community say it's not true. You have the men in uniform around him saying it's not true. Then he's given an opportunity and, again, he doubts it. Why? Why continue the pattern of fighting fact? Why?

LORD: Because Chris, he doesn't agree that what you're saying is fact. I don't agree with it, either.

CUOMO: So you disagree --

SANDERS: Wait -- no, no, no.

CUOMO: -- with the entire Intelligence Community --

SANDERS: Facts are not debatable.

CUOMO: -- and the people that he's put around him -- his trusted advisers, none of whom -- none of whom agree with what you're saying and the president is saying that maybe it wasn't Russia. So what's your basis?

LORD: Chris, I am saying -- I am saying that Gen. Flynn's name is out there because --

CUOMO: General Flynn?

LORD: -- his -- he was listened -- yes, he was listened to -- surveilled by the American Intelligence Community. SANDERS: The spin is real this morning.

CUOMO: It has nothing to do with Russia.

SANDERS: The spin is real.

CUOMO: That has nothing to do with what I just asked you, Jeffrey. It has nothing to do with what I just asked you and Flynn was never surveilled. He was picked up on surveillance of someone else. That's a material difference and you know it. Symone, what's your point?

LORD: And his name was leaked.

SANDERS: You know -- well, Chris, I guess my point is your question is why does Donald Trump do this. I believe this is how Donald Trump has gotten through his entire adult life but he's been afforded this luxury -- this privilege because of who he was. He was a celebrity. He was a -- you know, allegedly, a very, very rich businessman with a lot of power and a lot of access, and so that works I guess in the business world where no one -- his words are not under constant scrutiny -- you know, he's his own boss.

But when you're the President of the United States you work for the people and I think we've seen that the smell test just doesn't hold up. So, Donald Trump is having a real time adjusting to the reality that the rest of us have lived in for our entire lives and it's not serving him well and I, frankly, just don't think he cares.

[07:40:14] CUOMO: Jeffrey, counter.

SANDERS: He doesn't care.

LORD: Chris, when -- I mean, I don't understand where were these stories when President Obama said that he had an uncle that liberated one of the death camps, which unless he was a Russia simply didn't happen? He referred to Polish death camps. There were no Polish death camps.

SANDERS: We're talking about Donald Trump.

LORD: They were --

SANDERS: We're talking about Donald Trump.

LORD: We are talking about presidents who get -- you're talking about presidents in dealing with history, but I'm just saying --

SANDERS: Wait, this isn't normal, Jeffrey, though. This is not normal.

CUOMO: Well, hold on.

SANDERS: This is not normal.

CUOMO: Hold on, hold on. Well, here's the point.

LORD: Well, so why wasn't it normal for --

CUOMO: Jeffrey, here's -- Jeffrey, how does it serve -- how are you serving the president well by obviously --

SANDERS: He's not.

CUOMO: -- distracting from his own concerns by bringing up presidents past and other situations? I am not, in any way, saying --

LORD: Because, Chris --

CUOMO: -- that we've had perfect people in office before President Trump. What I'm saying is if I ask you about what he said and why it's false and why he doesn't correct it, it is not instructive at all to say other people --

LORD: He's answering a question.

CUOMO: -- have done the same thing.

LORD: Chris, Chris, Chris, he's answering a question.

CUOMO: I know, incorrectly.

LORD: You might not like the answer.

CUOMO: No, it's not that I'm not liking it, it's whether it's true or not. It's not an opinion.

LORD: But, Chris --

CUOMO: It's not an opinion.

LORD: But, Chris, it is your opinion. It's your opinion and, Chris, what you are doing here is constructing, and you're certainly not alone, a media narrative about Donald Trump, and I am countering it -- that's all.

CUOMO: Jeffrey -- Jeffrey, how is it a basis of opinion that when the Intelligence Community comes and has a consensus? When the men and women around the president, at his own choosing, say that this is about Russia when we're holding Congressional hearings, how is it just a mere opinion when I say the president is wrong to say it was China, not Russia?

LORD: Where is the proof that Donald Trump and the Russians colluded for him to win the election?

CUOMO: That's not what I'm asking you about.

LORD: Where is it?

SANDERS: No point in saying that.

CUOMO: They're doing an investigation right now. Maybe they'll find proof, maybe they won't. I asked you something else and you ran away from it. I don't know how that serves the president well. I just don't.

LORD: But I'm not -- I'm not running away from it, Chris. I'm just saying that there are disagreements with the way you are presenting things, that's all. And that's no crime, this is America.


LORD: God bless it.

CUOMO: All right, we've got to go. Symone, last word. I've got to go.

SANDERS: Look, there is no disagreement with the facts and the facts do matter. The bar for this White House is so low, the bar for Donald Trump is low, and if it was anybody else under any other circumstance we would hold them accountable. We need to raise the bar.

LORD: Not Barack Obama.

CUOMO: Symone, Jeffrey, I love you both -- relax.

LORD: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Next time -- next time -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, Chris. An idea floated by President Trump could end up costing you more money at the pump. We'll tell you the details next.


[07:45:47] CAMEROTA: President Trump says he's considering raising the federal tax on gasoline. What could that cost you? Chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now. Tell us the story, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And what could it pay for, right? Raising the gas tax, a traditional no-go for Republicans but the president says he would consider it to fund infrastructure.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The truckers have said that they want me to do something as long as that money is earmarked to highways.


ROMANS: The federal gas tax has not increased since 1993. The price at the pump, you know, has been, overall, rising here but still near the lowest prices in a decade -- high supply, weak demand. That means overall extra cash in the pocket of everyday Americans. Higher gas taxes would be felt most by lower-income drivers and folks in rural areas who drive more. Gas taxes could disproportionally affect the very people who elected President Trump. But Trump's bill to repair America's highways, bridges, and airports could top $1 trillion. The administration needs revenue and the gas tax raised more than $29 billion in 2015, so it is a source of revenue to pay for some much- needed repairs.

CUOMO: All right, Christine Romans. Thank you, as always.

So, she worked for the FBI and ended up marrying an ISIS fighter. This is a must-see CNN exclusive investigation, next.


[07:50:53] CUOMO: All right, now to an exclusive CNN investigation. An incredible real-life drama involving an FBI translator who goes rogue. She travels to Syria and marries the ISIS fighter that she was assigned to investigate. Drew Griffin tracked her down. He joins us now with this incredible story -- Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's rattled the FBI. In fact, the FBI telling us they've changed procedures to try to tighten up the vulnerabilities this case exposed but, clearly, Chris, for a time the FBI lost contact and control of one of its own.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language spoken).

GRIFFIN: He is known by ISIS as the German, Abu Talha al-Almani, a notorious ISIS fighter and recruiter. A former German rapper who in intense and disturbing videos called for violent jihad and proudly held the severed head of an ISIS victim. Denis Cuspert is his real name. A German national targeted by the United States as a specially- designated global terrorist who survived a U.S. missile strike in 2015 and is believed to be still alive somewhere in ISIS-controlled Syria.

What has not been disclosed until now is that an FBI employee with top secret clearance lied to her bosses, secretly traveled to Syria, and married Cuspert for a short time, becoming the ISIS bride of the very terrorist she was assigned to investigate. That now-former employee is Daniela Greene, her face obscured due to concerns for her safety. Having violated the public trust and endangered our nation's security, according to federal prosecutors, Greene served just two years in prison and is now free. She wouldn't answer CNN's questions, saying if I talk to you my family will be in danger.

The information about her case comes from previously sealed court documents, the records unsealed only after Greene finished cooperating with authorities and after prosecutors asked the judge to make them public. "Unsealing these documents," they write, "will allow appropriate public access to this case."

Greene, who was already married, traveled to Syria in the summer of 2014 and not only spent time in the company of members of ISIS but ended up marrying an infamous ISIS terrorist.

GEORG HEIL, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: He is calling upon his followers to commit attacks inside Europe. He says "Europe is the new battleground." He says go and slaughter them and ambush them, shed their blood, take hostages, kill them.

GRIFFIN: Daniela Greene, according to people who knew her, was born in Czechoslovakia, raised in Germany, met and married a U.S. Army soldier. The U.S. Army brought her husband to South Carolina where Greene enrolled in Clemson University's history department seeking her master's degree.

ALAN GRUBB, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Daniela was a very hardworking, conscientious student.

GRIFFIN: Professor Alan Grubb was Greene's thesis advisor and a few years after graduation the FBI hired Greene as a translator, assigning her to the Detroit field office. She was tasked with helping investigate a terrorist labeled "Individual A" in court documents. CNN has learned "Individual A" is the German rapper turned ISIS fighter, Denis Cuspert. Greene was able to track the terrorist using three Skype accounts, but it turns out the FBI knew of only two. Greene had sole access to a third Skype account.

And in June 2014, Greene told her supervisor she was making a trip to Germany to visit family. Instead, she flew through Toronto to Istanbul, traveled south to Gaziantep, Turkey, crossed the Syrian border with the help of the terrorists and disappeared. There, in ISIS-controlled Syria, government prosecutors say Daniela Greene met up with the ISIS terrorist and not only married him but told him she was employed by the FBI and that the FBI had an open investigation into his activities. Professor Alan Grubb says any tale involving terrorism simply could not involve the Daniela Greene he knew.

[07:55:05] So, if I told you that she got wrapped up in a terrorist investigation where she's the target, I would assume that you would find that hard to believe?

GRUBB: I would be dumbfounded by that. It would be hard to believe. I don't think there's anything in her background that would suggest to me, or any of the people she worked with here, proclivities in that direction. So yes, I would be surprised.

GRIFFIN: Shortly after arriving in Syria, Daniela Greene had a change of heart and within weeks was sending emails back to the United States. "I was weak," she wrote in one. "I really made a mess of things this time." The following day she wrote, "I am gone and I can't come back. I am in Syria. I am in a very harsh environment and I don't know how long I will last here, but it doesn't matter. It's all a little too late." She went on, "I will probably go to prison for a long time if I come back, but that is life."

On August 6, 2014, Daniela Greene left Syria, left ISIS, and did return to the United States where she was immediately arrested. Unlike other terrorism-related cases, Daniela Greene's arrest and plea deal would receive no publicity at all from the Department of Justice. The case quietly hidden, court records sealed for months. Even after her case became a matter of public record, still silence. A look on the FBI and the Department of Justice websites show page after page of press releases about similar terrorism arrests over the years, but this one stayed buried until now. SCOTT GLOVER, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: This is a very wild tale involving terrorism, the FBI, matters of national security, and it's hard to imagine that there would not be public interest in it.

GRIFFIN: CNN investigative reporter Scott Glover discovered the court documents.

GLOVER: I think it's a fair assessment to say it's embarrassing when an employee with a top secret national security clearance secretly travels to Syria and marries a terrorist who is the subject of the investigation that she's working on.

GRIFFIN: What is even more stunning about this secretive case is how it ended. Greene began cooperating with the FBI immediately upon her arrest. She pleaded guilty to making false statements involving international terrorism, though the government said she skirted a line dangerously close to other, more serious charges. The assistant U.S. attorney wrote, "The nature and circumstances of this offense warrant serious punishment."

Similar cases have ended in sentences of eight, 10, 15 years in federal prison. Greene was sentenced to just two. According to prosecutors, it was because of her cooperation. She's already out, on probation, but free. As for Denis Cuspert, the German rapper turned ISIS soldier who married the FBI contractor, he remains at large and still a specially-designated global terrorist.


CAMEROTA: Hey, Drew, a riveting story. All of here in the studio were watching with rapt attention. And,I mean,I know you addressed this but why did this FBI agent Daniela Greene get such a light sentence? It just feels disproportionate somehow.

GRIFFIN: The Department of Justice -- well, one official there tried to tell us that her sentence in line with similar cases but offered us no proof, no analysis of that. And like we said in the report, similar cases like this -- we've seen cases where the people get eight, up to 15, and sometimes even much more than that when they have lied to the FBI about terrorist investigations.

CUOMO: They still tracking the terrorist?

GRIFFIN: They are tracking him. He's been a lot less active since that missile strike, Chris, but he's believed to be living along the Syrian-Iraqi border on the Syrian side, and one source is telling us with a new wife -- a new wife from Sweden.

CUOMO: Drew Griffin, that was one you had to see to believe. Thank you very much for bringing it to us.

GRIFFIN: Thanks.

CUOMO: All right. We're following a lot of news, including President Trump's big health care gamble. Do they have the votes? If they're not sure, why are they doing it? Let's get after it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to get health care down to the floor of the House. We're convinced we've got the votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suspect there are probably are a few more no votes than 21 at the moment.

TRUMP: We're either going to have a great plan or I'm not signing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's clearly a disconnect between what the president believes is in the bill and what's actually in the bill.

TRUMP: If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him I would be honored to do it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What you do is you legitimize the person who is one of the really bad actors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see any harm in trying to improve America's relationship with the dictator in North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a president who shows a disturbing penchant for authoritarian figures.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. It is Tuesday, May 2nd, 8:00 in the East. The Trump administration wants House Republicans to vote this week on their health care bill.