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Trump Historic Visit to Western Wall; Comey Agrees To Testify; Documents Requested from Trump Campaign Aide; McMaster Talks About Trump Remarks. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has in Donald Trump the U.S. president an ally of a different order, right? I think he's going to be able to get along with Trump in a way that he was not with President Obama.

There are substantive differences with regard to Iran. Here you have Trump coming in and saying, like Netanyahu believes, that Iran is the focal point of the danger in the region that is posed to the United States, to Israel, and to allies throughout the region, largely Sunni state allies. That is -- means that Netanyahu and Trump are aligned.

I think in terms of the very sensitive particularities, what you have here is a larger point to be made, and that is that, you know, Trump, as a candidate, was talking about Islam being a threat to America. He comes to Saudi Arabia and makes a much more measured speech --


GREGORY: Talking about Islam not being the enemy. He's coming to Israel, backtracking on his promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He goes to visit the Western Wall, which is a powerful symbol to send about the Jewish nature of Jerusalem and Israel. Remember, Israel as a Jewish state, that is the key part of negotiations with Palestinians, that its Jewishness would be affirmed. Here, the president is not doing so with the Israeli prime minister. So he's sending a strong signal, but still pulling back from any major change in U.S. policy. In other words, Donald Trump is being very careful here to -- to stick to the tradition.

HARLOW: But, David, I should note -- I should not, I think it is significant that the Israelis did -- and the Israeli cabinet did make some significant and important gestures towards this -- towards the Palestinians just ahead of this president's visit. I mean the easing up their movement restrictions, trying to open up a little bit more economic activity and economic growth for the Palestinians. How significant is that, the timing, that they made the gestures ahead of the president?

GREGORY: Well, I think that is important and I think Yakkov can speak to this as well.

HARLOW: Yes. GREGORY: I think what the Netanyahu government wants to do is send some signals to the Trump administration, look, we're going to work with you here. You want to pursue a big peace deal? You know, we're going to show that we'll make some measures to do that. You know, the much trickier issues have to do with settlement policy. It was one of the reasons why Netanyahu got his back up so early in the Obama administration because they took a strong stance on settlement policy right away. Here, Trump has been a little bit softer on that.

So, in this way, I think Netanyahu recognizes that in Trump he's got somebody who is more like-minded, that he can work with, who's more aligned with his priorities with regard to Iran, although Trump has not abandoned the nuclear deal that was set under the Obama administration. So I think that Netanyahu wants to give some space and show some good will to keep the administration close to them.

HARLOW: Yakkov, could you speak to that point as well, the move, is it more symbolic, or is it meaningful that the Israeli cabinet made towards the Palestinians ahead of this visit. This visit from a president who has -- who has said numerous times that he believes he may be the one to be able to finally broker a peace agreement in the region.

YAKKOV KATZ, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE JERUSALEM POST": A peace agreement that he actually calls the ultimate deal.


KATZ: A president who also, I think, Israel's right wing coalition thought would not want to be getting his hands dirty with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but seems to be very keen on trying to achieve a peace deal. So I think that those confidence building measures, as they're called in the so-called peace process jargon is basically meant to send a message and signal to President Trump that Netanyahu was serious. That he knows how to make moves towards peace with the Palestinians. He knows how to make compromises.

But I think that what you'll see here over the next 24 hours or so is both sides, Israelis and the Palestinians, kind of angling for the blame game that will follow. I don't -- I don't sense, in Israel or in the Palestinian side, a real belief that a peace deal is necessarily possible. But neither side wants to be blamed by a very unpredictable president, and then feel his wrath, potentially, if he -- if President Trump thinks the Israelis are the ones who are to blame or the Palestinians are the ones to blame, and then they would come under the wrath of President Trump. So both sides want to make the steps that make it seem at least that they are willing to make the bigger -- or take the bigger steps for peace, but I don't know that they're -- when push comes to shove, if it comes -- a deal is put on the table, that's a whole different ball game.

HARLOW: And we're looking at live pictures of the president's motorcade as they have departed that part of the old city in Jerusalem after that historic visit to the Western Wall.

Just quickly before I go, one final thought to you, David Rohde, and that is remember what this president said earlier this year when asked about, OK, you're going to broker a deal, how are you going to do it? Here's a quote. "I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like." And then he went on to say, "I can live with either one." I can live with either a one-state or two-state solution, which just floored a lot of folks.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's -- it's -- frankly, it's not clear. I agree with Yakkov, how does he actually deliver a peace deal. It's -- it's -- it's incredibly difficult. There's huge opposition from the right wing parties that Netanyahu relies on the Israeli side. The Palestinians are under, you know, pressure to not back down. How do you deliver on containing Iran? I mean that's the question. There's lots of talk. Are we going to bomb Iran? Who was going to use military force against Iran? So both sides, as Yakkov said, they want to give the president good pictures and this is a productive and positive visit. How does the president deliver in the long-term?

[09:35:12] HARLOW: Right, now it's down to the details, and that is the important part.

Thank you very much to all of you. We appreciate it.

Please, stay with us. We have a lot ahead coming up. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: All right, as President Trump travels overseas, you just saw him making that historic visit to the Western Wall, Congress here at home is keeping a razor sharp focus on the Russia investigation. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz telling ABC News, he is planning to meet with fired FBI Director James Comey today. Notably, Comey has agreed to testify in public before the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's going to happen sometime after Memorial Day.

[09:40:14] All of this is happening as Republican lawmakers, like Marco Rubio, are trying to defend -- struggling a bit to defend controversy surrounding the White House, including that "New York Times" reporting that President Trump called Comey a nut job to the Russians.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There's no doubt that this cloud is impacting everything else. And I think the White House would acknowledge that. So we need to get over this once and for all and the best way to do it is to have a process in place to arrive at the facts, no matter what they are. And whatever those facts are, that's what we need to make our decisions on.


HARLOW: Our Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill following all the reaction.

I mean what are other Republicans saying about this? I mean you heard John McCain using pretty tough words as well over the weekend.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You've got Democrats unanimously, of course, panning President Bush for these comments, but also Republicans who have openly criticized the president on this, really believing that this is just beyond the pale here, the fact that the president, according at least to "The New York Times," saying I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy. A real nut job. And that this happened during an Oval Office visit, a meeting, with the foreign minister of Russia, as well as the Russia ambassador, the day after he fired Comey. These are folks who want to be aligned with the president, many Republicans, but others who have been open critics of him, particularly when it comes to the Russia investigation. As you had mentioned before, Senator John McCain being just one of many who spoke out this weekend.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm almost speechless because I don't know how to -- how to -- why someone would say something like that. But I know this, Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murderer who used Russian precision weapons to strike hospitals in Aleppo, who has committed human rights violations all over the place, has invade Ukraine, has taken Crimea, has acted in the most thuggish and outrageous fashion and he had no business in the Oval Office.


MALVEAUX: CNN has also learned that there is activity on the House Intelligence Committee side. That is where we have learned that Mike Caputo, he was a communications adviser during the Trump campaign, a very important person in that campaign, has been asked to go before the committee to produce documents related to what he knows about Russian ties. Also to come before the committee in an interview, a transcribed interview, in their offices. We are told that Caputo is cooperating, providing those documents.

What do they want to know? Why is he so essential here? They believe that he can talk about any type of Russian ties or connections with those inside the Trump campaign and outside with Russian officials. You might recall that it was the testimony back in March in -- Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Spear (ph) had called Caputo, among many, part of a tarantula web of links to Russia. Caputo, for his part, had said he will voluntarily go and testify before this committee to clear his name. He has gone on social media. He has also sent a letter, CNN has learned, to this committee saying, look, he did not discuss Russia during the campaign with Trump at the time or with other associates. So we expect we're going to get more information regarding this specific committee about the investigation in the days to come.


HARLOW: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much for the reporting.

Let's also get to this, which is important, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in an interview over the weekend, not denying "The New York Times" reporting that we were just talking about, that the president in that meeting with the Russians referred to then FBI Director James Comey, who had just been fired, as a nut job, saying that firing him would take some heat off the Russia investigation. Listen to this.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't remember exactly what the president said and the notes that they apparently have, I do not think are a direct transcript. But the gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is ham strung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been obviously so much in the news. And that was the intention of that portion of the conversation.


HARLOW: All right, there you have it, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

Let's discuss with our panel. Jay Newton-Small is a contributor for "Time" magazine, David Swerdlick is our political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post," Alex Burns is here, our political analyst and national political reporter from "The New York Times."

Nice to have you all here.

Alex, how notable is it that H.R. McMaster did not come out and dispute at all that the president said that? He just talked about the intent. How significant is that?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's really significant and for two reasons. The first is just, as you know, Poppy, this is an administration that, if they can find any way to cast doubt on a story or poke holes in any of its claims, they always prefer to muddy the waters as opposed to, you know, appearing to confirm any --

[09:45:01] HARLOW: And he's not muddying the waters here.

BURNS: He's not doing that and Sean Spicer as well in his initial statement on the story did not contest the basic facts. It's significant for a second and perhaps more substantive and revealing reason that what you're hearing right now from General McMaster and other folks at the White House is an attempt to defend both the comment that the president made in that meeting and more broadly the way he's approached this relationship with the FBI in terms of policy, to make the claim that he got rid of James Comey, he spoke to the Russians about him in these terms because he felt the FBI director was getting in the way of diplomacy, not getting in the way of a criminal investigation.

It's a politically tough sell and it's a tough argument to make. We will see as the facts come out whether they can substantiate that, that he wasn't -- HARLOW: But that will be interesting, this -- sort of the crafting of a new narrative and strategy by this White House --

BURNS: Right.

HARLOW: Ahead of, by the way, FBI Director Comey publicly testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee soon.

BURNS: It's a political strategy. It's also potentially a legal strategy.


BURNS: If you end up in a situation where Congress is alleging that he obstructed something.

HARLOW: It's an important point.

Jay, you make an interesting point, and you say this is not even close to the first time that this president has used according to "The New York Times" the language "nut job," but there is a common thread tying all of the people together to whom the president refers to that way.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Absolutely, Poppy. So over the last couple of years, you've seen him say Bernie Sanders is a nut job. Lindsey Graham is a nut job. Kim Jong-un is a nut job. And these are people who, whenever he feels that they're in opposition to him, whenever he feels that they're not doing what he wants them to do, he just dismisses them as crazy and saying, oh, well, that's just the way they are.

And, alternatively, these are also people at different points he's also praised, saying, well, Kim Jong-un, he might actually meet with him. He respects that he has, as a young man, consolidated power. With Bernie Sanders he's also expressed admiration for the revolution that Bernie started. So it's really something that he reserves when he says -- he's just unhappy with that person. Oh, he's just crazy. He's a nut job. That's the way he goes.

HARLOW: David, on Air Force One, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about, you know, what the president's plans are in terms of whether he will apologize or not while he's in Israel. He's meeting in just a few hours with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Whether he will apologize for that intelligence sharing with the Russians, with Kislyak and with Lavrov, in the Oval Office, which is parentally the same time that he -- that he called Comey a nut job, et cetera. And Tillerson said, I don't know that there's anything to apologize for. It's not an outright denial either.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's not an outright denial and there was not an outright denial from National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster last week on that same question.

HARLOW: Right.

SWERDLICK: So the White House tried various ways of trying to explain around this, rather than just batting it down and saying, as they did -- tried to do very briefly, that it didn't happen. But that didn't hold very well and so this is one of those statements that's not really a statement. You can't completely blame Secretary of State Tillerson for not wanting to get out ahead of the rest of the administration, but it is still sort of stunning that you have senior officials in the administration not being able to deal with this idea that the -- more forthrightly, I should say, that the president may have, according to, you know, reporting from multiple sources, let slip sensitive, classified information in a discussion with Russians who are our adversaries. Let's underscore that. This isn't like letting -- it's a bad thing, Poppy, to let classified information slip in any circumstance, but to our -- one of our principle, if not our principal adversary on the global stage is stunning.

HARLOW: And intelligence that is widely reportedly been from one of our closest, if not our most important information sharing ally, Israel, ahead of this trip.


HARLOW: Alex, to you. You had Marco Rubio say over the weekend to Jake on "State of the Union," you know, there's this -- this cloud surrounding everything and he was asked, you know, would this be grounds for obstruction of justice? And he said, look, if any president did, you know, what has been reported to have been done that this president denies that would be possible obstruction of justice. You have John McCain saying's he's almost speechless. Do you see this as any different than what the president has faced before in terms of a growing divide between him and his -- leaders in his own party, is it different?

BURNS: I do think -- I do think it's different because now he's the president, right? That we've seen in the past during the campaign, in the very early days of the administration, friction between President Trump or candidate Trump and others in the party who saw him as a political liability. You know, folks like John McCain and Marco Rubio, I think, is a really revealing one because he is, in general, a pretty cautious politician. You know, these are guys who care passionately about national security and who see much of the same classified information that folks in the White House see through their roles in the Senate. And so you're not just talking about differences in messaging or differences in tactics, you're now talking about, you know, profound disagreements in terms of national security strategy.

HARLOW: Jay, do you see this as different this time around? I mean it is different from the campaign, as Alex points out. There have been times during -- during his presidency that John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been very outspoken against this president, but is -- is it all different this time? That you're actually hearing what we heard over the weekend from Marco Rubio.

[09:50:11] NEWTON-SMALL: Poppy, I do think it actually is different in the sense that these are people who are in the same party as the president who up until this point have generally lined up with him on policies, sort of supporting him, taking -- really just taking a back -- back seat, watching what's happening, seeing if they support him or not. And the fact that they feel so comfortable coming out against the president, criticizing the president, I mean, really, we're at like less than 150 days into the presidency, right, I means that they -- that this is just the beginning, that they could potentially keep criticizing his foreign policy. And that's really the -- strength of a president, right? Usually a president is -- the one thing is they control is foreign policy. Congress doesn't usually -- isn't -- especially even members of the same party are not usually that critical of their own presidency when they go do foreign policy. You saw, for example, the Bush administration, it was very rare for Republicans to come out and criticize, especially in the first four years of the Bush administration, his foreign policy. So the fact that they're doing it now is pretty significant.

HARLOW: Thank you all very much. Jane Newton-Smalls, Dave Swerdlick, Alex Burns, nice to have you.

We certainly have a lot of news this morning as the president makes history. He did moments ago, visiting the Western Wall, along with the first lady, Melania Trump. We're actually just learned that she also inserted a prayer into the wall. Is this going to be a reset for the Trump administration, you know, going forward? Is he going to be the one able to finally broker a peace agreement? We're going to have much more straight ahead.


[09:55:45] HARLOW: President Trump making history today. He just wrapped up a visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall. He's the first sitting U.S. president ever to make that visit. It is a moment with political and religious significance, and it comes as the president faces a cloud of controversy over the Russia investigation back here at home.

Let's bring in Congressman Brendan Boyle. He is a Democratic from Pennsylvania.

Thank you very much for being here.

Let me just get your take overall on the president's visit to the Western Wall following the language that he chose to use and notably what he chose not to say while he was in Saudi Arabia. Are you hopeful that this is a president who has turned the page when it comes to at least foreign policy, because you've been vocal in terms of your criticism of him?

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: No, I'm really not. And I say that not out of any sense of partisanship, but real concern that this president's completely out of his league when it comes to foreign policy. I mean just a couple months ago when Bibi Netanyahu was visiting Washington and President Trump and the prime minister had a joint press conference in the White House, a reporter asked the president if he supports the two-state solution.

HARLOW: Right.

BOYLE: Something that has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. And President Trump's response was, yes, sure, two states, one state, whatever he wants. So, so far there's been no indication whatsoever that President Trump has what it takes on the foreign policy stage.

HARLOW: All right, but to be fair here, and you're right, he did say, you know, I'm open to a two-state or a one-state solution, which confounded a lot of people. What about now, this trip that he's on, his first foreign trip? It's been a few months since he made that statement. You know, the remarks that he gave in Saudi Arabia calling Islam one of the world's greatest faiths, a big about face from his rhetoric on the campaign trail and since taking office. I mean, you know, analysts point to it and say that sounded a whole lot like former President Obama or former President Bush.

BOYLE: Well, certainly if you use as the benchmark what President Trump said as a candidate last summer when he said Islam hates us, then, yes, it is a dramatic improvement. However, if you use as the benchmark performance of previous presidents, whether it was George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the idea that we would have a president of the United States goes to Saudi Arabia and not even mention once the importance of human rights. And it's not just the president. Other members of his administration, especially the secretary of state, have signaled that we are now de-emphasizing human rights. We're the United States of America. That would be a historic first and something that would, frankly, I think shame previous presidents of both parties. So, my concerns remain.

HARLOW: Let me get --

BOYLE: His rhetoric is certainly better than the awful rhetoric of the campaign, but compared to previous presidents, it's still quite alarming.

HARLOW: Congressman, what would it take for you to call this foreign trip, at least the two first stops, of significance when it comes to peace in the Middle East and the common foe being Iran between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States, what would it take for you to call this a success? Meaning, what are you looking for out of this president's, especially 36 hours ahead in Israel?

BOYLE: Well, first, I mean let's acknowledge that many of us did not have high expectations for this trip. So if he's able to come back having, you know, essentially do no harm, if he's able to say that he achieved that rather low bar, then that at least in and of itself would be a success. Also, if while he is there he is able to signal, let's talk specifically about Israel now -- if he's able to signal to both the Israelis and Palestinians that the U.S. is still engaged in the peace process, this is a meaningful part of U.S. foreign policy, then that in and of itself would be something positive that he could achieve.

I also hope that while he's there in the broader Middle East he could signal to those who are still fighting and advocating and protesting for greater human rights, that we in the United States stand with them and we won't sell them out.

[10:00:03] HARLOW: All right. Congressman, we'll be watching. I appreciate you joining me. Thank you.

All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. 10:00 a.m.