Return to Transcripts main page
Politically Correct Donald Trump Overseas; Lawmaker Calling for Impeachment Receiving Racial Threats; Michael Flynn to Plead the Fifth Over Trump-Russia Ties; President Trump in Israel. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 22, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: On a good day, Lolo can find 40 truffles at $45 an ounce. That's $500 worth of black truffles.
So, what do you do with all of them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take them to restaurants and just (INAUDIBLE) and be like, hey, I just found this today. And most chefs will be really receptive of that and be like, oh, we would love to.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, to the news. Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Two major breaking stories at this moment.
The first, President Trump's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, says he will plead the Fifth and is refusing to cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee over all these questions about the Trump campaign ties with Russia and his involvement, so, much more on that in just a moment and what this means for the investigations.
But, first, an historic moment in the Donald Trump presidency, President Trump standing side by side with a welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They faced reporters just a short time ago, announcing a united front in taking on terror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And there are many, many things that can happen now that would never have been able to happen before. And we understand that very well.
That includes advancing prosperity, defeating the evils of terrorism and facing the threat of an Iranian regime that is threatening the region and causing so much violence and suffering.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners.
And that's where we see something new and potentially something very promising. It won't be simple. But for the first time in many years, and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime, I see a real hope for change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Hope for change, then these pictures, this moment at the Western Wall here. President Trump is on his second leg of his first overseas trip as commander in chief.
Today, this historic moment for a first for a sitting U.S. president by becoming the first to visit the Western Wall.
Let's begin with Jim Acosta this hour, our CNN senior correspondent there live tonight in Jerusalem.
Jim, President Trump has basically gotten a break from the Russia scandal on this trip. Explain what's happened.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He has to a large extent.
And, Brooke, we should warn our viewers, you're going to hear some noises over my shoulder.
BALDWIN: Are those fireworks?
ACOSTA: Those are fireworks. I just want to make sure everybody knows those are fireworks happening here in Jerusalem, a part of the pomp and circumstance that is welcoming President Trump here to the Holy Land.
And he has largely avoided this Russia issue throughout this trip. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was asked a brief question about this over the weekend.
But we should point out, during a photo opportunity with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, earlier today, a reporter shouted out a question about this matter of when the president met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, a couple weeks ago. It was during that meeting, CNN and other outlets have reported, that he shared classified Israeli intelligence with those Russian officials.
And the president offered this misleading explanation about that when he was asked about this earlier today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel, never mentioned it during that conversation. They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: So, he doesn't deny that he shared the intelligence or that it was Israeli intelligence. He only says during that moment there that he didn't mention Israel by name. But, really, that is just one unfortunate moment for this president in
what has largely been a pretty successful trip so far for President Trump. And as you have seen all day long, Brooke, the president and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are very much on common ground on whole host of issues, especially the subject of Iran.
The president and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier today were pretty sharply critical of that Iran nuclear deal that was crafted by the Obama administration, though the president has not, as of yet, fulfilled that campaign promise to scrap that nuclear agreement. And, of course, if he decides to take any more questions on this trip, my guess is, he will be asked about that, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you in Jerusalem amid all those fireworks. Thank you.
Fareed Zakaria is with me now, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
Always a pleasure to see you.
Even down to the fireworks, hearing Mr. Netanyahu saying today, "for the first time in my life, I see a real hope for change, "President Trump at the Western Wall, how do you think the trip is going so far?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, it's going very well, in terms of both the symbolism and in one important respect the substance, which was the speech that President Trump gave on...
BALDWIN: In Riyadh.
ZAKARIA: In Riyadh on Islam -- was carefully done. It was nuanced. It was, frankly, the kind of speech President Obama could have given.
He never used the words radical Islamic terrorism, which he kept insisting that Obama use. In fact, he once said that -- he tweeted that Obama should resign because he was unwilling to use that phrase.
BALDWIN: That's right.
ZAKARIA: Well, Trump refused to use the phrase as well.
He pointed out that 95 percent of the victims of Islamic terrorism are Muslims. You know, so, it had the kind of nuance and empathy that people look for, because, ultimately, what you're trying to do is to convince these Muslim countries to in some way take on, battle, expel, as President Trump said, the scourge of Islamic terrorism.
BALDWIN: What about human rights, Fareed?
ZAKARIA: It's not actually true that Obama talked much about human rights when he would go to a place like Saudi Arabia, Egypt a little bit more.
In some sense, the shift is not as dramatic as people, even the Trump administration is making out. Obama in a sense was the real shift. President Bush was the guy who was saying, we're going to promote democracy all over the Middle East.
Then comes the Iraq War. Then comes the backlash from it. And Obama himself had a kind of realist foreign policy, talked about how he admired people like George H.W. Bush and Kissinger. Trump is in that way simply extending that foreign policy.
But there's no question people in the region, particularly the Arab dictators and the Arab monarchs, like what they hear from Trump, because he's more resolutely anti-Iranian. There's no effort to try to broker any kind of deal.
Now, is that good for America? Are you going to be able to stabilize the Middle East without any kind of outreach to Iran, without any kind of involvement in Iran?
BALDWIN: Reelecting more moderate leader in Rouhani?
ZAKARIA: Right, even at the time when Iran has elected -- reelected Rouhani with a landslide, it's difficult to imagine a stable Middle East without some engagement with Iran.
BALDWIN: What about -- so many people were looking ahead at the unscripted moments. And Jim alluded to the moment where the president acknowledged -- and I just want to be precise in quoting him -- "I never mention the word Israel in the meeting."
He's going back to the reports that he disclosed classified information with the Russians the morning after Jim Comey was fired. It's been noteworthy, though, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or anyone in the Israeli government just sort of brushing it off and not saying much about that, despite critics saying this will have a chilling effect on intel sharing.
Why do you think he's been quiet?
ZAKARIA: Well, remember, the president of the United States remains a very, very powerful man. Every government needs things from America. They are not going to criticize him. They are going to flatter him. They are going to praise him.
The mistake was made. In fact, President Trump kind of awkwardly conformed that it was Israel that was the country that had been talked about in that situation. By saying, I didn't mention the name Israel...
BALDWIN: He was confirming it in a sense.
ZAKARIA: ... he was in a sense confirming it was Israeli interview that he had been talking about.
ZAKARIA: But, look, people misunderstand the relation with the United States if they think, particularly publicly, any of these governments is going to criticize Trump. No, quite the opposite. They are going to flatter him. They are going to cajole, which is what they -- people forget, but, when Obama came into office, all -- many of these same regimes were falling over themselves to talk about how it was a new start with Obama, when he went to Turkey, when he went to Egypt.
The proof will be in whether or not this produces stability on the ground. Can you get things more stable Syria? Can you get things more stable in Iraq? Can you get things more stable in Yemen?
In each of those places, there is this contest between Iran and the Sunni states in some sense. And, as I say, the Trump administration's policy has essentially been to side overwhelmingly with the Sunni states, to subcontract our policy on the Middle East to Saudi Arabia.
Well, that -- Saudi Arabia is going to be happy with that. It's not entirely clear that will produce stability in the region.
BALDWIN: Talk about stability, and, instantly, I think of Middle East peace. I think of his meeting with Mr. Abbas, the leader of Palestine, and how Arab nations are feeling, given where he's standing here, and his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu.
What should he say to Mr. Abbas?
ZAKARIA: Well, he's saying many of the right things about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
I can't tell whether it's kind of a heartful, whether he's being bold and intends to press forward with action, because the reality is, on the ground, the situation is not right for peace. The parties are not ready for it.
The Israeli -- particularly the Israeli political spectrum has moved pretty far to the right. He would really have to press Israel to get some kind of concessions.
But nothing he has done so far has suggested he's willing to do that. So, it's a little odd. He keeps talking about Middle East peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and I don't think he's -- he either doesn't recognize or doesn't want to recognize the parties are very far apart.
And Israel has been quite unwilling to in any way engage with -- on the kind of conditions that the Palestinians have, settlement freezes, things like that. This was a huge issue for the last several years.
Perhaps Trump thinks that just the force of his personality and his relationship with Bibi Netanyahu will change that. It won't. There are some very hard political realities on the ground that are obstacles to peace right now.
BALDWIN: Last question, just quickly. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, did not allow -- according to the government, the meeting happened with the leader of Afghanistan so quickly, it didn't allow American press to be part of this quick news conference.
Talking to Rear Admiral John Kirby, who was spokesperson for State and Defense, he was trying to -- not entirely calling out Rex Tillerson, because he said things happen, things happen quickly, and you just have to hustle and have the meeting and roll.
Do you think, though -- how much fault do you put on the secretary of state for not having the American press there?
ZAKARIA: I think it may be because they are new. It may be because many of these people have come from business, where it's a different mentality.
BALDWIN: CEO of Exxon is different from -- sure.
You're almost trying to do things privately. I think it's very important that high officials of the world's most important democracy are always open to the press because, by being open to the press, it's important to understand they are being open to the American public.
The point here is not that the press has some kind of privileged role. The point is that the press transmits the dealings of the secretary of state to the American public, and we believe in that role because we believe in democracy.
BALDWIN: And we should be there, even if it's quick.
Fareed, thank you very much. Fareed Zakaria, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" on Sunday mornings, good to see you, as always.
ZAKARIA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: More breaking news, the president's fired national security adviser says he will plead the Fifth in the investigation over the campaign's tie to Russia -- what Michael Flynn's refusal to cooperate means for his fate.
What about the fate of the investigation involving the special counsel?
And the retired FBI Director James Comey will testify. But what can he reveal publicly, and will he respond to the president's personal attacks?
And the black congressman who is calling for the president's impeachment is on the receiving end of threats involving the F-word, the N-word and discussions of lynching.
He will join us me live on the voice-mails he is receiving coming u.
BALDWIN: All right, got some breaking in the investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.
A source tells CNN the president's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will plead the Fifth and will refuse to hand over any records. General Flynn is shutting down just two months after he offered to open up.
Remember back in March Flynn's attorney, seeking a deal for his client's immunity, said this -- quote -- "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it" -- end quote.
But leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees rejected that immunity offer, this as the former head of Trump's transition team at one point, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is opening up about what he really thinks of Michael Flynn.
So, here is some of what he said moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think it's safe to say that General Flynn and I didn't see eye to eye, and that I didn't think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration.
And I made that very clear to candidate Trump and I made that very clear to president-elect Trump. That was my opinion, my view.
But I would just say this to you. If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn't let General Flynn in the White House, let alone give him a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Joining me now, attorney general and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, and CNN law enforcement contributor Steve Moore, who was once an FBI supervisory special agent.
And, Renato, first to you.
When you hear General Flynn had initially said he has a story to tell, then he wanted immunity, that was rejected, now he says he's pleading the Fifth, what's the first thing that pops into your mind when somebody wants to do that?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, in this situation, he's not just pleading the Fifth as to statements, but he's actually taking the Fifth as to the act of producing documents.
And that tells us something in addition. What it tells us that there are some documents in his possession that his attorney feels may either implicate Mr. Flynn or the mere fact that he has those documents would implicate Mr. Flynn.
So, what that tells us me is that there's something in Mr. Flynn's possession that the government might want. And what Mr. Flynn and his attorney are likely going to be seeking is something called act of production immunity, in other words, immunity so that their act of giving up this incriminating document can't be used against Mr. Flynn.
BALDWIN: So, just so I'm clear, because I was talking to some also -- some very smart attorneys last hour. And they were saying to me, hang on, Brooke, he could plead the Fifth, but that wouldn't apply to his documents.
But you're saying, under what you just explained, that can be protected?
MARIOTTI: Well, in certain circumstances, in other words, if you -- if the mere existence of the document would implicate you or your possession of it.
I will give you an example.
MARIOTTI: Let's say that you were being charged with possessing particular classified information or you were being investigated for that.
And the government subpoenas you for the information that it says that -- or that it's investigating that you have. The mere fact of you producing would tell the government that you're guilty of the crime.
BALDWIN: Got it.
MARIOTTI: And so what would you would want is immunity from the government, because the mere act of doing it would be communicating something to the government. And essentially that's protected by the Fifth Amendment.
BALDWIN: OK. Got it.
As we're all keeping track of all the intricacies of the story, Steve, here's my next question to you, because this is -- this is all -- there are multiple investigations, multiple committees within U.S. Congress, and then you now have as of last week Bob Mueller, the former head of the FBI, appointed as special counsel.
How will General Flynn's pleading the Fifth affect the special counsel Russia investigation?
STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's going to -- it has -- it's hard to say right now.
But I'll tell you, the fact that he's pleading the Fifth, rather than coming up with an immunity agreement, is going to make it easier for Robert Mueller.
Robert Mueller... BALDWIN: In what sense?
MOORE: Well, if he had pled -- if he had gotten an immunity agreement with Congress, it might have impacted what Mueller could use as far as things that Flynn said publicly.
And that complicates matters. You have to fight about what's now part of an immunity agreement, whether that was immunity just for congressional purposes or for criminal purposes. It just muddies the water incredibly.
So, the special prosecutor doesn't go into any case thinking that they are going to get a confession. They assumed that if Flynn has done something wrong, that they are going to have to prove it without his cooperation.
BALDWIN: So, do you think his immunity rejection -- sorry, I'm just trying to keep up here -- his immunity rejection then would help the case for Bob Mueller in the special investigation?
MOORE: I don't think it will help and hurt, because you're not allowed to take that right of using -- right against self- incrimination and use it as evidence against somebody.
So I guess what I'm saying is him claiming the Fifth brings us right back to where we started from.
BALDWIN: Got it.
MOORE: You have no more or no less information than you began with.
BALDWIN: Got it. Got it.
BALDWIN: Renato, back over to you.
And let me actually, if I can, just switch from Flynn to James Comey, because the now fired FBI director, he could testify next week.
BALDWIN: A source is saying that Comey now believes that President Trump was trying to influence his judgment in the Russia investigation. He's supposed to go before Senate Intel next week.
What -- as a private citizen now, what can he say ask and what can he not share?
MARIOTTI: Well, he can share non-classified information or information that is not law enforcement-sensitive as well. I think that would be another category of information that he would not want to share, in other words, information that he has that, if revealed, could compromise the investigation.
But above and beyond that, I would say that if Mr. Comey was my client, and this was an ordinary case, which, of course, it's not...
BALDWIN: It's not.
MARIOTTI: ... I would try to discourage him from saying much of anything and -- because he's ultimately going to be a witness, and his testimony is going to be ultimately under oath in some future proceeding.
But, here, given that there's a congressional inquiry, these are matters of serious public concern. And the public has a right to know what Congress is investigating. He's going to have to do that. And it's a very difficult water for him to navigate.
BALDWIN: OK. These are just important questions. And we will continue having these conversations leading up to next week, when Mr. Comey is front of the Senate Intel Committee.
Gentlemen, for now, Renato and Steve, thank you both so much on your legal expertise through all of this.
Coming up next here: The tough-talking Donald Trump we met on the campaign trail seems to be taking a backseat to a more politically correct President Trump on his first trip overseas. One of my next guests calls him a coward for how politically correct he is being. We will debate that in a couple of minutes.
BALDWIN: By and large, President Trump has been sticking to script as he travels abroad for the first time in his presidency. And what's more, his words have not been divisive or inflammatory.
Let me show you the president in Jerusalem today during a joint statement with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Today, we reaffirm the unbreakable bond of friendship between Israel and the United States, a friendship built on our shared love of freedom, our shared belief in human dignity.
We have so many opportunities in front of us. But we must seize them together. We must take advantage of the situation. And there are many, many things that can happen now that would never have been able to happen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, so, with me now, Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and contributing editor at "The Atlantic," and Ben Ferguson, CNN political commentator and host of "The Ben Ferguson Show."
Guys, welcome back, both of you. That was obviously President Trump in Israel. What we really want to
talk, though, is his speech in Riyadh, because your article caught my eye as I was reading yesterday, and how he had really, despite the candidate Trump who we had seen on the campaign trail and radical Islamic terrorism and calling out Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for never using the phrases, he didn't -- and not a lot of people were surprised by it -- but he didn't in Saudi Arabia.
And you, in your piece, talk about his political correctness, and you call him a coward.
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
I think a coward is someone who says things behind someone's back they won't say to their face. And Donald Trump ran as a truth-teller, especially about Islam, right, not just a --