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Trump Abroad Amid WH Crisis over Russia; Chaffetz, Comey Set to Speak Today; Trump Budget Slashes Medicaid Funding; Interview with Rep. Lee Zeldin; Congress Requests Docs from Ex-Campaign Aide. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 22, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: -- human rights, that we in the United States stand with them and we won't sell them out.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Eastern, a lot of breaking news this morning. In just an hour, the president, President Trump, will sit down with his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This comes after a historic visit to one of the most holy sites in Judaism. You see just moments ago, the president there going to the Western Wall, the first sitting U.S. president to make that visit. You see him approaching the Wall, touching it. This is a very solemn moment.
We also learn that the first lady, Melania Trump, who visited with the president but went to a separate part of the Wall, as is customary, inserted a prayer into the Wall. The president also took part in another tradition, placing a note of written prayer, we've learned, in the Wall. His greatest hope on this trip and overall, which he's been very vocal about, is trying to revive Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. And perhaps, he hopes, be the president who can help broker a deal.
Important to note, Israeli officials did not accompany President Trump on this visit to the Western Wall because the area is disputed and the U.S. did not want it to look like it was choosing sides.
Let's go to Sara Murray, who's traveling with the president, also our Jerusalem correspondent Oren Liebermann is there. And Sara, let me begin with you. What stood out to you most as you watched this?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, you know it was sort of interesting the way the president navigated this. The remarks he's made leading up to this visit at the Western Wall. The fact that he declined to be joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does tell you how much has changed from the rhetoric we heard from candidate Trump on the campaign trail, who, you know, sort of talked about how it would be easy to get a peace agreement, how he would instantly move the embassy to the realities of governing. He's not moving the embassy instantly. He was not joined by the prime minister at the Western Wall. And I think what you're seeing is the president sort of trying to strategically lay the groundwork to begin working toward what he still hopes will be a peace deal.
Listen to how he talked about this earlier today when he was meeting with Israeli President Rivlin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also look forward to discussing the peace process with Palestinian President Abbas. Young Israeli and Palestinian children deserve to grow up in safety and to follow their dreams free from the violence that has destroyed so many lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now, President Trump is expected to meet with President Abbas in the Palestinian authority tomorrow and what you're seeing is really the notion that he's going to try to turn the Israelis and the Palestinians against a common enemy, Iran and unite them in that. Now, when you talk to analysts leading up to this trip, no one really believes that there's suddenly going to be this huge shift and that there's going to be an enormous breakthrough for Mideast peace. But they do believe that Israeli and Palestinian leaders are at least making signals that they're willing to show up at the negotiating table. Whether that ultimately leads to a deal, though, that is still a big question, Poppy.
HARLOW: All right, Sara Murray in Jerusalem, thank you very much.
Let's go to Oren Liebermann as well, who our correspondent based in Jerusalem. This is a significant week. This is Jerusalem week. This is also a president trying to walk quite a tight rope here after quite a dust-up within the administration over comments on the Western Wall just ahead of this trip.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so far, he's walking that tight rope very well, navigating the sensitivities and the -- all of the delicate issues that surround Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself is the most sensitive issue in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the old city of Jerusalem here behind us is the most sensitive issue in Jerusalem. It appears Trump and the White House realize that and have taken great pains to avoid prejudging this, right?
It's always been up to U.S. foreign policy for decades now that the final status of Jerusalem would be decided only in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. That's why the embassy hasn't ever moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It would be the White House and the U.S. saying that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. It would essentially be taking the Israeli position. Trump has realized that and has shown quite a bit of sensitivity in his first day here in dealing with the issues here.
Not so much when this issue started a couple weeks ago when an Israeli official and a U.S. official got into an argument planning for this trip. Israeli officials initially wanted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accompany Trump to the Wall and they wanted to broadcast it live. A U.S. official preparing for the trip snapped back and said the Western Wall is in the West Bank. It's not your territory.
Well, that led to a stunned Israeli official or officials seeking clarification from the White House on what the position is, what is Trump's position on where is the Western Wall. The clarification actually has never come. They only said the Western Wall is in Jerusalem, but that in and of itself is a meaningless statement.
[10:05:04] One repeated by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the way here and that's because the question never was, where is the Western Wall, it's where is Jerusalem? Is it in Israel? Is it in the West Bank? That sensitivity is something that Trump has realized in trying to restart a peace process here.
HARLOW: Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem. Thank you very much.
As we continue to watch, we know the president has gone back for a moment to the King David Hotel, which is customary for leaders to stay when they are in Israel. He will meet very shortly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Let's discuss this with Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It's nice to have you here. Let's begin with this, because you have been outspoken when it comes to the president's promise during the campaign and after he became president to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That's not going to happen, we've learned, on this trip and it's certainly slowed down from when he was talking about it with a real sense of urgency. Does that concern you?
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: It does. I believe that the president should reconsider that change of position, that the embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jerusalem should be recognized as the unquestionable capital of the Jewish state of Israel. Jerusalem is where you're seeing these images coming back of the holiest site there where the president is praying. This is where the Knesset is, the Israeli president and prime minister live and their offices exist as well. I mean, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. That's where our embassy should be.
HARLOW: Do you believe that this is a president who is having second thoughts, Congressman, about whether to do that? Do you believe he is still committed to that?
ZELDIN: I'm not sure if he remains committed to that after what we have heard out of the White House over the course of the last few days. What's important to note is that we do have allies who he's in communication with. Back in December, if you remember, when Egypt was introducing a U.N. Security Council resolution with regards to Judea and Samaria and the West Bank. The president spoke to the Egyptian leader and then Egypt withdrew that. Jordan has already visited Washington, D.C. multiple times.
So, as you look at these other countries we've been in communication with, aligned with, they don't want to see the embassy moved. So, I think that the president is seeing a dilemma here following through with his campaign promise. I would just encourage him to do it. He said he would do it. It's the right thing to do. And I believe that these other countries would respect him for it if he just followed through with a promise. Jerusalem is where our embassy should be.
HARLOW: There are many that would point to it and say that it could be a roadblock in terms of reaching a broader peace agreement. So, let me get your take on that big picture, Congressman. You have the president saying in this interview with an Israeli newspaper about a peace deal, potentially, you know, the hope is among his administration that he can be the president to do this.
He said, "I think we have a very, very good chance of making a deal." You've obviously heard many, many flattering remarks about him from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority saying just last month, "Now, Mr. President, with you we have hope." Where does your hope stand for a peace accord?
ZELDIN: The United States and I would agree with this position. We have been ready to do our part for years and decades to help strike a long-term peace deal and it has to be negotiated on the ground there between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israel has long remained committed to striking that long-term peace deal. I was in Ramallah, met with the prime minister the Palestinian authority who told me, that it is nonnegotiable. They will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. You have a growing element within the Palestinian authority in Hamas that will not rest unless Israel's wiped off the map.
So, while there are these different elements of the negotiations and compromise that needs to be reached on both the part of the Israelis and the Palestinians. As you see, Palestinian terrorists murder innocent Israelis and Americans and then the Palestinian leadership treats -- they call those terrorists -- those murderers martyrs, they treat them to state funerals and then financially reward their families. -- What's important is that on the other side --
HARLOW: I just wanted -- they're wrapping me. We're getting out of time, but I wanted to get your take on this other thing, because you do sound hopeful that we could see some sort of agreement, but you're also talking about a president who said after he became president, when asked about this in a press conference, you know, his position on a two-state solution, he said, "I'm looking at a two-state, a one- state and I like the one that both parties like." He went on to say, "I can live with either one."
Are you hopeful that that president that's said that is the same one who can reach an accord and do words like that concern you?
[10:10:01] ZELDIN: Well, no, actually, what's important is that it's negotiated on the ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians and whatever they are able to work out between them for a long-term peace is one that we should be seriously considering as option "a." But certainly, ensuring that we have a Jewish state of Israel continuing to exist, they are our nation's greatest ally and we can't lose sight of that.
HARLOW: Congressman, thank you very much for your time. Sorry we had to cut it a bit short.
ZELDIN: Thank you.
HARLOW: Still to come for us, a lot ahead. While President Trump gets ready to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in just a few moments, the controversy around him back here at home certainly looms large.
The head of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, is set to speak today with fired FBI director James Comey.
Also, the president's budget proposing huge cuts to Medicaid, $800 billion in cuts, to be specific, what does that mean for the millions of Americans who rely on it? Stay with us.
HARLOW: While President Trump makes history overseas, back here at home, Congress is keeping a razor-sharp focus on Russia. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz telling ABC News he plans to speak with fired FBI director James Comey today. Comey has agreed to testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee sometime after Memorial Day. All of this is happening as Republican lawmakers struggle to defend ongoing controversy surrounding this White House.
[10:15:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Let's go straight to Capitol Hill, our Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly, is there. Phil, it's not just Marco Rubio. It's John McCain and others.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, you have to keep in mind, Poppy, that lawmakers had already left town by the time the most recent news or few bombshells broke on Friday. So, we're going to hear a lot from them when they get back. But I think it's important to note that it's not just Democrats that were kind of taken aback by the comments that were reported that occurred in the Oval Office in terms of reference to FBI director Jim Comey. As you know, it was Republicans as well, none stronger than Senator John McCain. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm almost speechless, because I don't know how you -- 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's committed human rights violations all over the place, has invaded Ukraine, has taken Crimea, has acted in the most thuggish and outrageous fashion and he had no business in the Oval Office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Now, Poppy, one of the interesting elements, at least of this week, is with the president. Republicans I've been speaking to have actually been kind of looking forward to this moment, really an opportunity to refocus, perhaps in the Senate on their health care negotiations. Obviously, the budget is coming out this week as well, but there's no question about it, they simply aren't able to escape the Russia story.
And it's also worth noting that there's a pretty good reason why, not just because of the stories we've seen, but also because their committees, despite the announcement -- the appointment of the special counsel, Bob Mueller, House leaders, Senate leaders, the committee leaders themselves have made clear that both the House Intelligence Committee investigation and the Senate Intelligence investigation will continue. As you noted, Jim Comey has committed to testify publicly in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That was an open question for a period of time after the naming of Bob Mueller. And also, the House Intelligence Committee which, Poppy, as you know quite well, had been beset by kind of all sorts of problems just over the last couple of weeks.
Now, looks like it's ramping up its investigation, sending a letter to Michael Caputo, former senior adviser on the Trump campaign, did a lot of work for the campaign on communications strategy, on convention strategy, was eventually fired. But this committee sending him a letter asking for any relevant contacts, any information he might know. Now, he's responded, a source tells us, saying he does not know anything at all.
But this is really the first time we've seen a clear indication that we know the Senate committee has been doing its work, but it's very clear the House Intelligence Committee is starting to step up its probe as well. So, no matter what lawmakers try to focus on when they come back to Capitol Hill, it always seems to come back to Russia, Poppy.
HARLOW: It does indeed, Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Thank you very much.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster not denying -- this is important -- not denying "The New York Times" reporting over the weekend that President Trump referred to FBI director James Comey as a "nut job" and that he allegedly said that Comey's firing would take the pressure off of the Russia investigation. Listen to McMaster in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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's hamstrung 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: All right. Let's discuss this. Errol Louis is with us, our CNN political commentator and political anchor of "Spectrum News," Maria Cardona, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist and Jeffrey Lord is here, CNN political commentator and contributing editor for "The American Spectator."
Jeffrey Lord to you first. H.R. McMaster could have come out and said that is absolutely not the case. I was in the room that is not the case. He did not. He did not deny it. He said that was not the intent of the president, but it is significant that he did not deny it. How do you read it?
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONTRIBUTING EDITOR "THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR": Yes, I mean, I'm taking the accounts at face value that he said it. That's fine. Look, he's the President of the United States. Presidents get to say what they want in the Oval Office, good, bad or indifferent. So, I mean, these things will be out there for the public to make their judgment, but he certainly -
HARLOW: So, you're fine with it, Jeffrey Lord? Jeffrey Lord, you're completely fine with it?
HARLOW: You're completely fine if the president in that meeting, according to "The New York Times" reporting, called the FBI director that he had just fired because of, in his own words, at least partly to do with the Russia investigation, a "nut job," saying that it would take the pressure off the investigation and sharing, you know, U.S. intelligence from an important ally with an adversary in the Oval Office? That's all OK because he's president?
LORD: Well, the president gets to make those decisions.
[10:20:00] HARLOW: But I'm asking you, does it concern you? I'm asking you if it concerns you.
LORD: No. It doesn't concern me. I mean, if this kind of thing was so concerning, where was everybody when Barack Obama was telling the Russian prime minister that if Vladimir just gave him a little flexibility, he'd have more abilities after the election.
HARLOW: You're talking about the hot mic moment. And Jeffrey, I'm talking about -- I'm not talking about past presidencies. I'm talking about the current president.
LORD: No, no, no. We have to have the same standard, Poppy.
Poppy, I'm sorry. We have to have the same standard for everybody. No double standards.
HARLOW: I'm not asking about a double standard. I'm just asking you what makes you -- explain to the American people why you're comfortable with those statements being made from the sitting U.S. president to an adversary in the Oval Office.
LORD: Because Presidents of the United States get to decide what they are going to say or not say in the Oval Office. And the rest of us can debate it, but they get to make that decision.
HARLOW: So, let's debate it. That's why you're all here. Errol, is he right?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL ANCHOR "SPECTRUM NEWS": Well, I mean, look, people can say whatever they want.
LOUIS: And if they think it's going to be kept confidential, they can speak more freely, which apparently this conversation was sort of in that spirit. Unfortunately for the president, it all leaked out. So, now we know what was said. We had H.R. McMaster who was there essentially confirm the gist of what -
HARLOW: Doesn't it that he's not denying it, right?
LOUIS: Oh, absolutely. It more or less confirms exactly what was said. We have the Russians there making sport of it, saying, well, we'll release the transcript since you folks can't seem to get your act together about what did or didn't happen. I think the important thing is the underlying question, which is that, you know, should a person like James Comey be disparaged in such a way to, as Senator McCain pointed out, someone who's a stooge for a murderous regime, who probably ought not to have been in the Oval Office in the first place.
And you know, we are entitled to sort of make our judgments about that. The president for all of his power and for all of his freedom to say whatever he wants is also our employee. And so, the public is now debating this and he's going to come home I think to a very divided nation that has some real doubts and some real questions about his judgment when these things happen.
HARLOW: Let's take a listen to what Republican Senator John McCain said reacting to all this over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I'm almost speechless, because I don't know how you -- 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's committed human rights violations all over the place, has invaded Ukraine, has taken Crimea, has acted in the most thuggish and outrageous fashion and he had no business in the Oval Office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Maria Cardona, to you. Should it be rattling to this president? Should it be concerning or any different to this president than before to have what appears to be more and more of his Republican colleagues speaking out against him? McCain's been very vocal against him on certain issues, but you had Rubio with some pretty strong words this weekend, too.
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Of course it should be concerning. This should be concerning to all of us, Poppy. But at the same time, you know, McCain is right to be speechless. I think what Trump said is wholly inappropriate and continues to underscore how incredibly unfit he is to be the President of the United States and hold the highest office in the land. But I would also say it's concerning to us because remarks like this and the way that he behaves, has behaved in the Oval Office, I think gives credence to the fact that there absolutely could be collusion, could have been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
To me, the meeting between Lavrov and Kislyak, who, by the way, is one of the top known spies and spy recruiters in the Oval Office and the president sharing highly classified information with them, calling Comey a "nut job." I think all of that is proof of exactly what the Russians were doing and wanted to do when they influenced the campaign, throwing the election to Trump and perhaps even having infiltrated the campaign through Michael Flynn and who knows how many others. All of this will point to that and that's why we have a special prosecutor investigating all of this.
HARLOW: Errol Louis. So, the president is overseas. And the focus, you know, this morning was on the Western Wall visit. He's going to meet with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in less than an hour. So, that's where sort of the cameras literally will be on him, but he is going to come home to this -
LOUIS: Oh yes, absolutely.
HARLOW: And he is going to come home to a special prosecutor and he is going to come home to -- former FBI director James Comey testifying publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
LOUIS: That's correct.
HARLOW: He is going to come home to mounting pressure against him from some of his fellow Republicans. LOUIS: That's right. Look -
HARLOW: What does he do?
LOUIS: Look, the professional staff of the Justice Department, of the Senate Intelligence Committee, they don't stop just because the president left town. So, they're going to continue to dig. They're going to continue to prepare subpoenas. They're going to continue to go through evidence and try and develop some sense of what really happened. He lands right back in the middle of that.
[10:25:01] If he is smart, the president will take a hands-off attitude and deal with whatever comes down the pipe when it arrives. But to continue to interfere, it takes us back to these Watergate memories that many of us have, that you know, it didn't really get serious for President Nixon until he started firing people and obstructing the investigation.
HARLOW: It was a two-year period. People forget between sort of the initial and the actual resignation.
LOUIS: A little under 2 1/2 years from the arrest to the resignation, but there was a six-month period in which there was the cover-up and that's what actually doomed the administration.
HARLOW: And you have John McCain going to answer questions this weekend about what he meant when he said Watergate size. And that's sort of - you know, from a Republican. Thank you, Errol. Thank you, Jeffrey Lord.
Jeffrey Lord, I have 30 seconds, final word.
LORD: I'm amazed at Senator McCain. Three Republican presidents that I know of, Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush, all entertained Russian leaders either at the White House or Camp David or their personal residence after brutal soviet invasions of other countries or thuggish behavior and he seems to have forgotten this totally.
HARLOW: Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. We do have some breaking news we're just getting word of out of the Supreme Court. Our reporter is on the ground there.
Also, the White House is getting ready to roll out this budget plan. We do have some details, including an $800 billion cut to Medicaid. We're going to tell you what that means for millions of Americans straight ahead. Stay with us.