Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Visits Israel; Saudi Arabia Pledges Financial Support on Infrastructure; Tillerson Press Briefing Without U.S. Media; President Trump Discusses Comey's Firing with Russians; Billy Bussh Finally Speaks; North Korea Fires Another Missile Test. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: President Trump on his way to Israel with a focus on peace in the Middle East. We go live to Jerusalem with how Trump will be received following a series of controversies ahead of the visit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: The president kicked off his trip in Saudi Arabia with a call to Muslim nations to share the burden in the war on terror. We're live in Riyadh with more of what the president said on a sharp pivot from his campaign rhetoric, and certainly a sharp pivot from the Obama administration as well. Good morning, everyone. It's Monday. I'm Dave Briggs. It's good to see you on "Early Start."

ROMANS: It is Monday and it is a busy morning with a lot of events for you this morning folks. I'm Christine Romans. It is May 22nd, 4:00 a.m. exactly in the east. Right now, President Trump is on his way to Israel after beginning his first foreign trip in office in Saudi Arabia, and the last stop dominated by a speech that broke sharply with his past rhetoric on Islam, the president calling for cooperation from Muslim nations, asking them to drive out terrorists and share the burden in the fight against terror. More on that speech in a moment.

BRIGGS: Today, though, the president shifts focus to another key mission on this week-long trip, making progress on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. President Trump wants to make what he calls ultimate deal for peace. He'll be meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and make a historic stop at the Western Wall.

Our coverage of the president's trip begins with CNN's Sara Murray who's live for us in Jerusalem, just past 11:00 a.m. there. Great to have you, Sara. What are the expectations ahead of this momentous visit? SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly

going to be a very closely watched trip and there are a number of the bilateral meetings as well as ceremonial events on President Trump's schedule today. He begins with this arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv before meeting with Israeli President Rivlin.

After that, he has this afternoon two visits to supremely holy sites, the Church Of The Holy Sepulcher, which is the holiest site in Christianity for those of that faith as well as a visit to the Western Wall, which is the holiest site for those of the Jewish faith to pray. All of this, and then later on this evening, he's expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, are expected to dine with the prime minister and his wife.

And of course, this all comes against a backdrop of the president making clear that he wants to see a Mideast peace agreement during his tenure, to that end, while he's meeting with Bibi Netanyahu today. Tomorrow he'll be meeting with President Abbas of the Palestinian authority.

Now, if you talk to analysts, their hopes certainly aren't high that you're going to get some kind of monumental breakthrough on this trip, but it will be interesting to see what President Trump says publicly in these various stops about his pursuit of this peace agreement.

BRIGGS: Yes, interesting. We remember Trump's statement that Mideast peace may be not as difficult as people have thought over the years, but that will certainly soon come to reality. But still this trip comes with the president dealing with a number of headaches here at home. Is this trip a departure from all those or will he be confronted with some of those headaches?

MURRAY: Well, I think that his advisers certainly hoped that this would be sort of a reset for him, a way for him to rehab his image to say, look, I can be productive. I can get victories for the United States, even though the cloud of this Russia investigation hangs over him. But he doesn't just leave these troubles behind.

Obviously, back in the United States, there are still a number of questions about what's going on with this investigation, and to that end, his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and one of his senior advisers, Steve Bannon, actually hopped off the foreign trip after Saudi Arabia, they're headed home only to do some sort of strategic planning for what happens when the president returns to the United States.

BRIGGS: Sara Murray live for us in Jerusalem, thank you. We'll check back to you in about 30 minutes.

ROMANS: All right, President Trump isn't even on the ground in Israel yet and already there have been a few hitches. Among them, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordering his government ministers to attend President Trump's arrival ceremony after several of them said they plan to skip it. So, what are Israeli officials thinking as this visit begins? For the

latest, let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann live for us in Jerusalem. Good morning. We know the president has left Saudi Arabia. He is on route to Israel. We expect him to land in Tel Aviv later this morning, maybe an hour, couple hours or so. So, what are officials there saying, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this should be an easy trip. It's a Republican president, it's a conservative prime minister, and it should be easy for these two to get along. And they've certainly sent signals and messages to each other that they look forward to hosting each other and meeting with each other. Trump even saying recently that he's a great lover of Israel, looks forward to showing that.

And yet, there have been a number of these as you call them hitches or misunderstandings or issues or in some case even worse. One of those is

[04:05:00] Netanyahu having to order his ministers to attend the arrival ceremony at Tel Aviv. Many of them when they realized they wouldn't be able to shake the president's hand upon his arrival and get that photo op intended to skip. That's on the Israeli side.

On the American side, there have been far more. First, confusion about what Trump intends to do with the U.S. embassy here. Is he going to move it? Will it stay where it is? And it was only just a few days ago that we've gotten an indication from the administration that they'll leave the embassy in Tel Aviv as Trump tries to pursue peace.

But then confusion from the White House on where they consider the Western Wall -- is it Israel? Is it the West Bank? And that hasn't really been clarified. And then perhaps the biggest issue was Trump's alleged leak of Israeli intel to the Russians. We've heard from former intel officials who say they would be furious if something like that happens.

All of that casts a shadow over this trip. And yet again, it should be an easy trip because Trump and Netanyahu see the Middle East from the same perspective, that is, they see Iran as the great threat in the Middle East and they see the need to combat that influence. I have spoken to a member of Israeli politicians, however, who say, look, we're all on edge here. For this to go well, Trump needs to come in, make the right statements, shake the right hands, and then let's get this over with.

ROMANS: All right, Oren Liebermann for us in Jerusalem this morning, again, waiting the president's arrival in Israel. Thank you.

BRIGGS: The president's visit to Israel follows a mostly successful stopover in Saudi Arabia where he delivered a highly anticipated speech to Muslim nations, calling on them to aggressively combat terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Muslim nations must be willing to take on the burden if we are

going to defeat terrorism and send its wicked ideology into oblivion. Every country in the region has an absolute duty to ensure that terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil.


BRIGGS: All right, let's go live to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bring in CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. Great to have you, Nic. Certainly a sentiment here that human rights was missing from this speech, but how did it play there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this was a message for this specific audience, 55 kings, prime ministers, presidents, amirs from the region here. So, this was tailored for them, and it was one of reassurance our friends can always be assured that we've got their back. It was one, if you will, of aspiration, talking about the betterment of the lives of children in the region and of how that Muslims are mostly the targets and are the victims of these terrorist attacks.

There was cajoling in there, you know. He said I have not come to tell you what to do but we have, you know, we have a common interests and we can find security through that, and there was also a sort of a stronger, more demanding line -- chase these terrorists out of your region. This is how he put it.


TRUMP: Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.


ROBERTSON: The other part of this trip, aside from the security, was business -- $350 billion worth of business deals signed, oil, gas, but the biggest single-ticket item was $109 billion weapons sales, defense industry sales to Saudi Arabia, a big deal. The First Lady, Melania Trump, got great write-ups for the newspaper here on what she was wearing, but she also took part in engaging with Saudis. She went to a girl school here promoting women's rights here, and she also went to a business center.

You know, for the president here, it wasn't all work. He got to get involved in. Saudis do a greeting with leaders like him, which was a traditional dance. That did seem to be a favorite of many in his entourage, but a moment of likeness (ph) if you will on a trip that, as you said, did seem to go pretty well for him. Dave?

BRIGGS: Nic Robertson, thank you. Certainly a lot of focus on what Melania Trump was wearing and what she didn't wear with the head scarf as well. Nic, thank you.

ROMANS: And the sword ceremony, that sword dancing ceremony.

BRIGGS: Yes, Rex Tillerson particularly seemed at home during the sword dance.

ROMANS: I think as a guy who used to run an energy company, he probably has had to do the sword dance before

BRIGGS: He said this was not his first.

ROMANS: Yes, this is not his first Saudi sword dance. All right, the president moving on from Saudi Arabia with a whole briefcase full of deals. The Saudis are pledging $20 billion to finance American infrastructure. That money is part of a fund run by private investment firm Blackstone, and it was about a year in the making.

It plans to raise $100 billion for infrastructure projects. You can see right below on your screen the group's CEO Steve Schwartzman. He runs Blackstone. He advises President Trump.

[04:10:00] During the campaign, the president vowed to modernize the aging U.S. airports, bridges and roadways, and the White House has promised a $1 trillion plan. The administration hasn't released details but is pushing for a mix of private and public funding for this infrastructure build-out. The problem, those partnerships don't always succeed in rural areas. They have less of a chance of being profitable there, so it will be interesting to see how they address that wrinkle.

The Blackstone agreement is one of many over the weekend between the U.S. and Saudi firms. General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed Martin also signed big deals. Some of those deals, by the way, took years to come to fruition so, they are being announced right now, but many of them have taken several years of negotiation, beginning negotiation back in the Obama administration.

A newer $100 billion tech fund backed by the Saudis and Japan Softbank says it's nearing its goal. The Softbank CEO promised half of that money to the U.S. would create 50,000 jobs for that tech fund.

BRIGGS: Just two days into his visit to the Middle East, there is a new potential conflict of interest for the Trump administration. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledging $100 million to the Women's Entrepreneur Fund. That's a concept proposed by Ivanka Trump.

The program is supposed to support women in the Middle East with capital and access to networking and financial markets, but countries like Saudi Arabia impose severe restrictions on women and their ability to even participate in society there. And even though the fund would be run by the World Bank, critics already drawing comparisons to the Clinton Foundation.

ROMANS: All right, an apology from the State Department to the U.S. Press Corps after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a media briefing in Saudi Arabia without members of the American media. Only foreign reporters were in that room. That left American journalists scrambling to figure out what happened. A spokesman for Tillerson claims there was not enough time to alert members of the U.S. media about the briefing. Calls to the White House and the State Department for a comment have not been returned. BRIGGS: All right, so much more on this trip ahead. Two of the

president's top aides not exactly quieting concerns that the president's conversations with the Russians focused on James Comey.

ROMANS: And we are finally hearing from Billy Bush. What does he say about the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that got him fired before Donald Trump was elected president?


BRIGGS: Welcome back. Top administration officials are not denying that President Trump discussed his motivation for firing FBI director James Comey with Russian officials in the Oval Office. "The New York Times" has reported that the president told the Russian ambassador and foreign minister that Comey was "crazy," a "real nut job," and that his firing ended great pressure on the president.

ROMANS: On Sunday, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster seemed to concede that the president had discussed the Comey firing with Russian officials. Here's McMaster on ABC.


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 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.


ROMANS: All right, all this comes after we learned that Director Comey will testify publicly to the Senate Intelligence Committee sometime after Memorial Day, although the date has not been set, but he will testify publicly.

All right, Billy Bush is speaking out, breaking his silence about the "Access Hollywood" tape that cost him his job on the "Today" show. Bush admitting to "The Hollywood Reporter" it was his own failing that triggered his downfall. He says, "Looking back on what was said on that bus, I wish I had changed the topic. Trump liked TV and competition. I could have said, can you believe the ratings on whatever? I didn't have the strength of character to do it." Bush said when the tape first hit the airwaves, he thought he could survive the scandal, but it didn't take long for him to figure out that was not the case.

BRIGGS: He says, "I put together an apology right away. I told people that I was ashamed and embarrassed, and I was. From the beginning, I thought, OK, we'll go and own up to this moment. Then I got home and it started to become apparent that I would not be returning to "Today" and it hurt a lot and I feel, excuse me, I fell apart." Bush knew for 11 years the infamous "Access Hollywood" Trump tape existed but didn't think it would ever go public. He says the irony is glaring that he was fired over the tape while

Trump went on to become president. No doubt, the mother of all ironies there. As for his career, Bush says he's planning a TV comeback but would not elaborate.

ROMANS: All right, did you see this terrifying moment caught on tape?


ROMANS: I cannot -- A sea lion grabs a little girl from behind and pulls her under water. A tourist family visiting a fisherman's dock in British Columbia this weekend began feeding the apparently docile creature when it popped its head out of the water, but when the little girl turned her back to the sea lion, it suddenly lunged, grabbed her dress, yanked her under water.

A man who appears to be a relative immediately jumped in after her. Bystanders pulled them both to safety. The good news, neither of them were injured. You know, that was in Vancouver. In San Francisco, where they have the sea lions are all over the place, you know, they move people away. They'll even shut down docks and move people away because they keep people away from them and they have signs saying that, you know, sometimes, especially the males can be really aggressive when they're trying to protect their territory.

BRIGGS: What you really need to see -- the slow motion's interesting, but you need to see it in real speed and maybe we can get that next up. It shows how violent this girl was jerked into the water. And if that was not in front of the water, if it was a few feet to the right in front of a boat, that might have been tragic.

ROMANS: I got to tell you, that guy jumped in after in a split second. I can't believe he moved so fast.

BRIGGS: Unbelievable video.

All right, China is urging all parties to show restraint after another ballistic missile test from North Korea.

[04:20:00] Why Pyongyang's dictator says now is the time to grow the program, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. South Korea and Japan slamming yet another medium-range ballistic missile test by North Korea, Pyongyang's second missile test in a week. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un supervised the launch. Kim announcing afterward the test shows the missile is ready for deployment and mass production. CNN's Will Ripley monitoring developments from Tokyo for us this morning. He joins us live. Good morning, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Yes, this mass production statement from North Korea especially troubling when you think about the fact this is a [04:25:00] state enterprise. They own the factories. All of the

employees will work around the clock if their supreme leader tells them to do so. So, don't underestimate North Korea's ability to produce very quickly this kind of missile which puts within striking range -- 52,000 U.S. troops here in Japan, 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, and not to mention millions of people living in those countries.

And the missile that they tested last week could, experts say, have the capability to reach Guam. It was a big step forward in their ICBM program. This ballistic missile has a shorter range, but still potentially, according to the North Koreans, could carry a nuclear warhead, and we know they're continuing to develop those as well.

The timing of this really interesting, because it happened just hours before President Trump's major foreign policy speech in Saudi Arabia. We can't read the minds of the North Koreans. We don't know exactly why they chose that moment to launch this missile, but we know that last week they launched a missile just hours before a major global economic forum in Beijing.

Clearly, North Korea uses these missile launches, one, to gain scientific knowledge, but two, as sort of geopolitical theater to remind world leaders that they're there, they're developing these weapons and they want to be part of the global conversation. They want discussions about how they can be reintegrated into the global community on their own terms, which, of course, the United States has said repeatedly, just won't happen. They're not going to be rewarded, they say, for this kind of behavior, Christine.

ROMANS: Geopolitical theater, I think that says it very, very well. All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much Will.

BRIGGS: All right, after smooth sailing in Saudi Arabia, it's on to Israel for President Trump.


TRUMP: So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.


BRIGGS: Mideast peace on the agenda, but can the president help get the two sides closer?