Return to Transcripts main page


Sweden Drops Julian Assange Rape Investigation; Trump Embarks On First Overseas Trip Today; Pillar Suspended 2 Games For Anti-Gay Slur. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:35] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're following breaking news.

Swedish prosecutors say they're going to close their seven-year rape investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Prosecutors there deciding to discontinue the investigation. Didn't specify why.

So, does that mean that Assange is just going to walk out of the embassy? Maybe not. He has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. Police in the U.K. warn Assange if he leaves the embassy, he will still be arrested on an outstanding bail charge.

Assange has also expressed concern he could be extradited to the U.S. for leaking secret documents. And indeed the U.S. and U.K. do have an extradition. So, U.K. police would grab him and send him to the U.S.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Iranians, the voting for the president today. The vote is widely viewed as a referendum on the landmark nuclear deal with the U.S. and the West. Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent and key architect of that deal is seeking a second term in office. His main challenger in what could be a tight race is a hard line conservative cleric. Results are not expected until the weekend.

CUOMO: All right. Here is some of the video that tells the story of this terrible event in Times Square in New York City yesterday. A driver plowed into the crowd. This is supposed to be a very secure place.

The video is not easy to watch, but it's important. Here's the piece. See it?


CUOMO: Right through the middle of Times Square.

Real security questions raised for New York authorities. Why weren't there more truck barriers? How did this car get so many blocks?

It was a truck barrier. You see it right there. That's what stopped that car. Why weren't there more? That's something that the authorities have to deal with right now.

This was some Italian film crew that captured this. An 18-year-old tourist, Alyssa Elsman, died because of that at the hands of this man. Almost two dozen others injured, four of them critically. So, we're going to have to follow their conditions.

The driver's name is Richard Rojas. He now faces murder and attempted murder. According to police, Rojas tested positive for PCP, a very heavy duty chemical, and told them god made him do this.

Investigators say this is an isolated incident. It is not a terror investigation.

BALDWIN: Awful. Eighteen-year-old just walking through Times Square. Hopefully I think we were talking about local reports adding more of the truck barriers, to your point. So, that never happens ever again.

President Trump hoping to turn the page on what has been a blistering week with his first overseas as commander-in-chief. You know, expectations -- they are high. What can he accomplish? We'll discuss that next.


[06:38:17] CUOMO: President Trump is going to leave today for his first overseas trip. Any way you look at it, politically, this is a big deal. He is going to visit five countries in nine days. That's an ambitious agenda. Is he ready? What's at stake?

We have a real pro for perspective on this. CNN military and diplomatic analyst and former State Department spokesperson, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Don't laugh when I'm building you up, Kirby. It takes away from the whole heft of the moment.

BALDWIN: Takes a lot for him to do that, Admiral. Takes a lot.


BALDWIN: So tell us. When you look at this trip, just from the onset, give us a good plus-minus here in terms of the potential advantages here and the concerns.

KIRBY: Look, I think it's very commendable and laudable, in fact, that he is going to Riyadh for his first overseas trip. I think that says a lot about where he wants to place his priorities. I think it's obviously a strategic location. I think it gives him an opportunity to really dive into and develop or at least articulate a longer strategy for the Middle East and to try to really get at some of the continuing Shia-Sunni challenges that are there.

I mean, don't forget, today, we've got an election in Tehran. Very important election for their president. That's going to be sort of the back drop as we get ready to take off from Air Force One. So, I think he's got some opportunities.

He also has great strategic opportunities when he goes to Europe because you have now countries that are shaken a little bit by his comments on NATO and his devotion to multi-lateral institutions, those same institutions that have secured European safety and security now for more than 50 years. He has an opportunity to shore that up.

So, I hope he takes it. I hope he is really thinking in larger geostrategic terms.

The cons, though, are that he has to be on script. This is one trip, particularly when he goes to Riyadh and to Israel.

[06:40:02] He's got to be on script. Words matter there. Everything he says is going to be parsed for nuance and context. He has to be really, really careful.

BALDWIN: You know, it's interesting, Admiral, when you look back at all the different trips the previous presidents have taken. Generally, it's to our neighbors to the north and south, be it Canada or Mexico. You know, he is tossing that road map and starting with Saudi Arabia.

Do you think that that's a good thing?

KIRBY: I do. I actually think that going to Saudi Arabia makes a lot of sense.

Look, this is a president who campaigned on being tough on terrorism. Saudi Arabia is right in the heart of the fight against terrorism in the region. They are our key ally and partner for the United States and have been for a long, long time.

Obviously, they have other things they want to get out of this. They're looking forward to this big defense package that he is apparently going to announce. They're probably going to want more support from the United States for the fight against the Houthis in Yemen. He needs to be careful with a real answer, as Secretary Mattis said when he went to the region recently was, a political solution, not more military fighting.

So, I think there's a logic to this, and I think he should be commended for going to Riyadh first. I actually -- I think it's a good move. But it's rally going to be as good as he makes it and how he careful he is when he gets up there and talks.

CUOMO: So when then President Obama went to Cairo, I was one of the, you know, huge multitude of media that went to cover it, there was an obvious mission there where Obama wanted to carry through on his kind of partners of the world, being more empathetic about Islam, et cetera.

What do you think Donald Trump needs to clean up, reinforce, deliver as message when he gets into that part of the world?

KIRBY: I think what they're going to want to hear and I hope we hear is that he makes it clear we're not at war with the Muslim faith, that this fight against terrorism is not about Islam. It's about terrorism. Terrorism as a strategy, terrorism as a tactic, and that's what I think they want to hear. I think that's what we all want to hear.

Now, that's going to be interesting to see how he manages that, because he got two camps inside his own White House. He got the McMaster camp, which doesn't want to use the phrase radical Islam and terrorism, and then you got the Bannons of the world who absolutely do. So, it's going to be interesting to see how he parses.

As I understand it, Steven Miller, who has been a very tough critic on the Islamic faith and Muslims in general, he is going to be one of the key drafters of his big speech there. So, I think that's going to be really interesting to see how that plays out. I hope that if Mr. Miller is drafting it, that other people, other more mature people, people that have a more worldly view of Muslim -- the Muslim faith, will be editing that draft and moving it along.

BALDWIN: Quickly, nine days, five cities. We're talking long flights, jet lag. You know, if you have tensions with your staff, that we have reported that indeed exists, it is only further exacerbated by a trip like this.

KIRBY: Don't forget -- yes, don't forget the problems he is facing here at home with Comey and Russia and special counsel and all the -- those are -- they are going to be on Air Force One with him. He is going to get asked about it every day. There's no escaping it.

So, in addition to a long, lengthy trip with lots of stops and lots of public activities, he is going to have to still deal with it is tensions at home. These trips can be very exhausting. I've seen him at the Defense Department, at the State Department.

The principal, in this case the president, he's going to have to be on his game every single, because in every single stop, it's a good trip and important trip. He's going to have to really focus every single day to get the right message across. It would be important for him to have a strategic message every single day. Something that he can help maybe drive a better narrative than what he is facing right now.

CUOMO: Good test for the media also. The media often gets caught up in the latest shiny object. You know, who is going to stay focused on what they think matters. How do they cover this trip? We'll see.



CUOMO: Admiral Kirby, thank you very much, as always. Have a good weekend, sir.

KIRBY: Thanks, guys.

BALDWIN: Thanks. CUOMO: So, here's the question. I know that you are a big gambler. Is already dreaming, already thinking about another jewel in its crown? We have a preview of the Preakness in the "Bleacher Report". I heard you talking to your bookie.

What do you got, Baldwin? What action are you laying?


[06:48:00] CUOMO: The Toronto Blue Jays suspending centerfielder Kevin Pillar for two games for yelling anti-gay slurs at a Braves pitcher. Yes, that is the truth.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report".

How does this happen in this day and age?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I don't know, Chris. You know, this happened during Wednesday night's Braves Blue Jays game. Kevin Pillar not happy with pitcher Jason Motte because he quick pitched him, which made Pillar strike out. That has been Pillar using the anti-gay slur, and you can see the Braves immediately were not happy with what was said.

After conferring with Major League Baseball, the Blue Jays suspending Pillar for two games, and last night before the series finale, Pillar apologizes for his actions.


KEVIN PILLAR, BLUE JAYS CENTERFIELDER: There's no place for this type of language, on a baseball field, at home, in a clubhouse. I regret saying it whole-heartedly, and I look forward to making it right.


SCHOLES: Horses are set to run in tomorrow's Preakness Stakes. All eyes are going to be on Always Dreaming as he tries to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. This will be the first time ever Always Dreaming has run on just two weeks rest, but he is the heavy favorite going in. Riding Always Dreaming is John Velasquez who is the all- time leader in prize money, but he has never won the Preakness. Post time set for 6:48 Eastern.

Of course, you know, fingers crossed for all of us fans out here watching. Always Dreaming wins because then the Belmont in three weeks, Brooke, that much more exciting because then Triple Crown will, of course, be on the line.

BALDWIN: Apparently, I'm a big gambler. So, I'm really paying close attention.

CUOMO: What does 3-1 mean -- trifecta is best played. What do those terms mean?

SCHOLES: Those are good betting terms, Chris. BALDWIN: Somebody knows what they're talking about.


BALDWIN: Stop cheating.

SCHOLES: Because, you know, there's five fresh horses in the race. I actually think one of those guys might win.

BALDWIN: All right.

[06:50:00] CUOMO: And good for Pillar for apologizing right away, saying it earnestly. Let's see what he does to make good on his own promise.

BALDWIN: Scholes, thank you.

President Trump, changing gears, preparing for his trip to the Middle East and Europe. He leaves today. But is he thinking of changing his media strategy here at home?

Press Secretary Sean Spicer's role might be changing. We'll talk about that, next.

CUOMO: I'm a friend. I can talk --


BALDWIN: As the president tried to move past another week of controversy, there's growing speculation about a possible shake-up in his communications team. Might Sean Spicer get benched?

Let's discuss this further. I've got Frank Sesno here, director of School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, and author of, "Ask More". Also with us early this morning, senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter.

So, there's a couple of different reports that the president is considering scaling back on the daily briefings, maybe moving Sean Spicer aside. What do you know, and do you consider that I a smart move?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, "Politico" has called it the downsizing, that perhaps after the foreign trip, Sean Spicer would no longer hold on camera daily briefings. That raises the possibility of someone else coming in and doing it, or not having daily briefings as a matter of course anymore.

This has been a tradition for a long, long time.

[06:55:01] And I think it would hurt both the American public and journalists, but also hurt the White House if there aren't these daily on camera briefings because then it's even harder to get information from the White House and even harder for the administration to express its point of view.

I did e-mail Spicer last night, asked him about the political report, and he did not respond.

CUOMO: Frank Sesno, first of all, your students love you. At the Nancy Pelosi town hall the other night, they were coming up talking about the great Frank Sesno, and they were right in their praise.

So, in dealing with this potential change at the White House, is this dealing with the symptom and not the source? Is this not about the president and his trusting of his own instincts and his desire to follow those to the exclusion of any kind of advice?

FRANK SESNO, DIR., SCHOOL OF MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. It is totally -- I don't know about the students. The jury is out on that, Chris.


SESNO: You know, the temptation is to shoot the messenger. The thing you have to look at is what is the message? It is not credible for Sean Spicer. And, you know, we had him over at George Washington University ten days into the administration, on the 30th of January.

And he and I talked for over a half an hour largely about, Sean, do you realize this job is all about credibility? The spokesman is all about credibility. Whether it starts with the size of the inaugural crowd or his latest comment that he just put out, which is a written statement yesterday that the president respects the investigative process that's going on.

How can you say the president respects the process when he -- the president is calling it a witch hunt? So, they can move Spicer aside. They can give him fewer briefings. They can fire him altogether, but if the president himself is still sending conflicting messages and incorrect information, it doesn't matter who is at the podium.

BALDWIN: But it's the president, Frank. Ultimately, you know, the president can't help himself. Whether it's, you know, saying something that was directly opposite of whatever statement might have been released by the White House the night before, or as we saw this time yesterday tweeting.

SESNO: Well, you know, sit on your Twitter finger and turn off the television. I mean, he takes his cue from what he sees on television often.

The most important thing -- having covered White Houses for this network and other things and on a daily basis -- the most important thing for the White House is discipline and credibility. They don't have either. The president has shown over and over again that he is not disciplined, and his comments are constantly in contradiction with themselves and with what the White House is putting out.

So, as I say, you can move the furniture around, but if the ship itself is leaking underneath, you are not going to do very well.

CUOMO: All right. And then we have the end game. Brian Stelter. What got Trump where he is? His gut, his ability to go after the media, to combat rivals or as he calls them enemies and make a connection to a base that by most objective criteria, he had no business connecting to.

So, trusting his own gut, reducing the people around him that distract from his own message, and let the chaos reign. It's worked for him before.

STELTER: Chaos is what I was going to say. Chaos is something that Trump seems to feed on. That was even true on television on "The Apprentice." It was true in his business life. Maybe it's true again now.

You can make the case, of course, that chaos is not working when you are trying to run the free world, but I can understand maybe President Trump sitting in the Oval Office thinking, well, this hasn't worked so far. Spicer at the podium hasn't worked so far. Reporters are asking inconvenient, uncomfortable questions. Hasn't worked so far. Let's go a different way. Let's try something else.

I think that's faulty logic, but I can understand the president maybe considering that.

BALDWIN: OK. So, before we let you go, I love Melissa McCarthy. I am an "SNL" viewer. Frank, do you think it's possible -- if --

STELTER: A finale.

BALDWIN: The finale this weekend. If Sean Spicer goes away after this trip, might this be the end of her reign as spicy?

SESNO: I doubt it, but I will say this. That if Sean Spicer wants to host "Saturday Night Live", I'm quite sure they would take him.


STELTER: I hadn't thought of that. That would be fascinating in TV.

BALDWIN: I think so.

SESNO: Nancy Reagan rehabilitated herself with second hand rose. You know, a little self-deprecating humor in this town goes a long way. I don't know if Sean Spicer is considering it, but, you know, there's always a road to rehabilitation.

CUOMO: What a show this accident with. The Rock hosts. Katy Perry is the music. The Rock.

STELTER: And, all of a sudden, people are talking about him as a presidential candidate in 2020?

CUOMO: He didn't close it, by the way.

STELTER: No, he did not.

CUOMO: That will be impressive thing.

All right. Frank Sesno, thank you very much.

SESNO: It's my pleasure.

CUOMO: Brian, as always.

BALDWIN: Thanks, guys.

CUOMO: And thanks to you, our international viewers for watching us here. For you, "CNN TALK" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, this interview, a friend of James Comey speaking out about how the former FBI director felt about President Trump and political pressure. Let's get after it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion, and everybody, even my enemies, have said there was no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There needs to be some public telling of the truth here.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The whole point is to have an independent investigation and follow the facts wherever they may lead.

TRUMP: It divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that.