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Trump: Rare Opportunity to Bring Stability to Middle East; Comey Agrees to Testify Before Senate Intel Committee. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired May 22, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Your visit here, Mr. President, is truly historic.
[07:00:11] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we must work together to build a future where the nations of the region are at peace.
I think Islam hates us.
We must seek partners, not perfection and to make allies of all who share our goals.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Mr. Lavrov is the stooge of a thug and a murderer, and he had no business in the Oval Office.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think what the president was trying to convey to the Russians is, "Look, I'm not going to be distracted by all these issues."
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: In two weeks, we will know more based on the testimony from Director Comey.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: This is about the fight, but it's all about democracy.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEW DAY. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins us. Very busy day.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Very busy.
CAMEROTA: Great to have you here.
So President Donald Trump touching down in Israel, trying to recast his presidency on the world stage today. Mr. Trump says that he believes there is a rare opportunity for peace in that region.
BERMAN: Now minutes ago, the president arrived in Jerusalem. He is set to make history this morning. He will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith, the Western Wall.
We're covering every angle of this president's trip, starting with Sara Murray, who is live in Jerusalem. Sara, what are we going to see?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. The president did just arrive to Jerusalem. He is on his way to meet with President Rivlin in a bilateral meeting. This was after he got yet another dose of the pomp and circumstance that comes along with an arrival on a visit like this. He arrived in Tel Aviv at the Ben Gurion Airport and made some brief remarks there. Take a listen to what President Trump had to say upon his arrival.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: On my first overseas trip as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel. We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to the region and to its people. Defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now this is just the beginning of what is sure to be a very busy day for President Trump. John, as you mentioned, he is going to be making an historic visit to the Western Wall later this afternoon. That will be the first time a sitting American president has ever visited. This is the holiest site for those of the Jewish faith to pray.
And then later on this evening, he will be meeting one on one with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister here. After their meeting, they will bring their spouses in: first lady Melania Trump, as well as the prime minister's wife, and have dinner together.
And of course, the backdrop of all of this is President Trump's broad goal. He has said he wants to achieve a Mideast peace deal while he is president. If you talked to analysts and experts on this region, they don't necessarily believe that there will be a sudden breakthrough on the trip, but certainly, President Trump is going to be trying to inch not only Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority whom President Trump will meet with tomorrow, closer towards those negotiations. It will be very interesting to see what all of them have to say publicly about that over the next two days.
Back to you, John and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Sara, as you're speaking to us, we're watching these live pictures of President Trump arriving here in Jerusalem. He is about -- there you go. He is there. Greeting, shaking the hand of President Rivlin. Both men will be speaking. We will follow all of the live events that are unfolding really quickly here throughout Israel. So -- and there are the first ladies -- are greeting each other. So we'll be watching all that as we have our conversation.
Let's bring in our political panel. We have associate editor, columnist of Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard. CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN global affairs analyst Tony Blinken.
David Gregory, you've been watching this with us all morning. What do you see?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you see a highly- choreographed visit to Israel by an American president who is making it a priority and is really saying to the Israelis, saying at the least this is going to be a centerpiece of his foreign policy and his security policy. And the Israelis are happy to have it, particularly because they're trying to turn the page as we watch the two of them go through the president's residence and maybe making comments or signing the guest book there at the beautiful residence there for the president in Jerusalem.
But setting -- resetting that page to say that this is a new day, a new administration. There's going to be a different kind of relationship between the United States and Israel, after the fraught relationship, as Tony Blinken can speak to, between Israel and the Obama administration.
[07:05:12] But we should hasten to point out that, while there may have been frayed relations, that bond from a security point of view was still extremely strong between the Obama administration and the administration of Bibi Netanyahu in Israel.
But nevertheless, you have two leaders now who are more aligned on the question of Iran. Who are even more aligned on the question of fighting terrorism more generally. And I think that will all play out as the day goes on.
BERMAN: What you're watching right now is President Trump signing a guest book there. He is about to meet with the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin. And Tony Blinken, symbolically, President Trump is a most welcome guest right now. Most welcome, to say the least, inside Jerusalem, the city that President Rivlin earlier this morning called the beating heart of Israel. It is a city that the president of Israel is very excited to show off to Donald Trump this morning. What are you watching for?
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think David has it exactly right. On the one hand, there was a fraught relationship between the Obama administration and Israel. On the other hand, what really mattered: Israeli's security, the relationship was probably never closer. And the previous administration, the Obama administration, did more for Israel than any previous administration.
The Iron Dome missile defense system. The F-35 fighter. The largest defense system package in history, $38 billion over 10 years. And having Israel's back in all these international organizations.
I think the president is to be commended, President Trump, for putting the focus on Middle East peace to try to get the parties engaged in talking again, conversation in place. That's a good thing. But we shouldn't underestimate the difficulties. They are far apart on the core final status issues. Security, borders, refugees, and especially Jerusalem. That's going to take a very, very heavy lift.
And the politics on both sides, on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side, are not moving in the direction of some kind of a settlement. So we shouldn't expect any quick results from this.
But the fact the -- that the president is engaged on this, that he's put the focus on this, is a good thing. If you can get people talking again, that's better than the alternative.
CAMEROTA: And Tony, before we get to A.B., I just want to have you expound that a bit. Because why was the relationship with President Obama so fraught? We just heard Christiane Amanpour say that there's a feeling on this trip of ABO, "Anybody But Obama." So people are welcoming, you know, even in Saudi Arabia, people are welcoming President Trump because they're so happy to have this turn of a page. So just give us a little bit more context on what had gone wrong and what President Trump can now fix.
BLINKEN: Look, Alisyn, I think the difference is well known. And on substance, it primarily had to do with Israeli settlement policy. And President Obama took a strong stand against that and urged that it -- that it stop. And then, of course, on a personal level, the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu was not among the best.
But on settlements, unless and until something can be done to really halt this process, then the idea of actually getting to a final piece is going to be, if not impossible, very, very difficult.
And here's where we are. We're at the point with the settlement policy that, if it continues much longer, the idea of a Jewish Democratic Israel will be gone. It is impossible for Israel to be both Jewish and Democratic if it continues to try to have dominion over this increasing and growing Arab and Palestinian population. So it has to make a choice.
President Obama was putting his finger on that choice. It's something very uncomfortable for the Israelis. Of course, they also need a coherent partner in the Palestinians to negotiate. They haven't had one for a long time.
BERMAN: There was a notable chuckle in the voice of Tony Blinken when he said the personal relationship of President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not the best. I think everyone took note of that.
A.B., I should note that President Trump and President Rivlin now meeting behind closed doors. When they are done meeting, they will both speak. We will bring those remarks to you live when they happen.
A.B., obviously, this trip -- Saudi Arabia, Israel, on to the Vatican and Europe, as well -- happening at a time when the president has a sea, a boiling sea of problems here in the United States. The White House in turmoil right now, facing report after report after report.
Nevertheless, he has to do his job. The job is the United States leader overseas. How is he doing so far?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I think he's doing a great job so far. I think he stuck to his script. I thought the speech yesterday was very well-written. He is going to have, all the symbolism of this is actually really important, making the Middle East his first foreign trip instead of Canada or Mexico. Very ambitious, high-risk, high reward.
If he stays on script, if he gets through it without a big bump, I think it's going to really help him reset his confidence, confidence in the Congress in him and confidence on the world stage.
What's happening in Israel is going to look great behind the harmony of the headlines. What comes next after this trip is the real question. He's facing a deadline of whether or not to sign another waiver of -- preventing the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
[07:10:14] Netanyahu is under a lot of political pressure at home. There have been indications that President Trump might on this trip or in the days that follow express his support for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. There are prickle points that everyone's hoping to avoid.
But really, on a broad scale, if you look at this trip and it continues to go well when he gets to NATO and everything else, I think it's going to be -- I think it's going to help him a lot.
GREGORY: Can I -- can I just point out something I think is so significant, and I think Tony can expand on this, as well. This is the first sitting president who's going to visit the Western Wall. And there's a reason why presidents, in my estimation, don't visit the Western Wall. One is political. It's a -- it's a fraught message to go into East Jerusalem and to recognize the Jewish character of Jerusalem and therefore, Israel, which is recognize as a Jewish state. And to therefore go there in a disputed part of Jerusalem and to effectively say, yes, the Jewish holy site. The holiest place in Judaism is a place that I want to lift up as significant.
And religiously, for Jews around the world and for evangelical Christians, it's so important that, as a religious matter, that he would go to the site of the western retaining wall of the second temple. There's more than 600 references in the Hebrew Bible to Jerusalem. It is therein contained. It's believed it is the holy of the holies, including the Ten Commandments.
So as Jews, you know, we pray toward Israel. We pray about Israel, the most important psalm in the Psalms is about being exiled and always thinking about Jerusalem. So I think it's incredibly important that he's doing that, and that sends a very powerful signal that could also be a distasteful signal to Palestinians, with whom he may have tried to get some negotiations going. BERMAN: But Tony, he is also drawing some clear lines there. He's
going alone. He's not going with the prime minister of Israel, because he wants to distinguish that he's not making an official recognition that the Western Wall is part of Israel. It is a private visit, we are told. He is going to pray there. The administration will not make these bold statements about it.
So you know, visually important, but still within certain confines, Tony.
BLINKEN: Well, that's right. But it's incredibly fraught for the reasons that David said. You've got the three great faiths that all lay claim, in one way or another, to holy sites in Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself is a final status issue in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
So putting the thumb on the scale in any way may make it more difficult to actually get to that agreement. And the other thing is it could undermine some of the progress the president believes he's made with the Sunni/Arab states and with Saudi Arabia.
CAMEROTA: So should he not be going there, Tony, in your estimation?
BLINKEN: Look, it's a very, very delicate line to walk. And certainly, going alone, not going with Israeli officials, is the right move if you're going to go. Because otherwise, you're basically endorsing their narrative of the status of Jerusalem.
GREGORY: But he -- but he also faces -- quickly, he's also faced a lot of criticism. You think about the campaign about, you know, giving some space to anti-Semites among his supporters. And I think this -- I think he probably has an interest in sending this message, as well, to religious Jews is something of a statement of solidarity.
BERMAN: We will see if he puts a note inside the wall. We will see if they tell us what he writes on that note. That will be interesting, as well.
Guys, thanks very much.
President Trump's trip coming as a welcome relief from the cloud of the Russia investigation, which really he can't quite shake even overseas. The fired FBI director, James Comey, has now agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with the latest -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, John.
Well, clearly, the president overseas, but both House and Senate committees investigating Trump and Russia's ties to the election of 2016 moves forward in earnest. They are anticipating getting a lot done this week, first of course, reacting to the news over the weekend, the breaking news over the weekend, and numerous developments.
First, that James Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This something that they requested, they were concerned because of the special prosecutor rule. But now that looks like that is on the agenda. Some House committees frustrated that that did not happen for them.
We heard from Senator Marco Rubio, who is on the Senate committee saying that, look, this is a cloud, this Russia investigation, that impacts everything that the White House does. We've heard from Senator John McCain also weighing in. Doubling down, describing this investigation and the Russia question as something of a Watergate-size scandal.
The other thing that they are reacting to is the bombshell report from "The New York Times," essentially saying that the president this month in his meetings with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office said that he fired Comey and explained the motivation behind it. [07:15:12] In his words, the quote being, "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was real crazy, a real nut job. I face great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
Well, numerous top officials have been asked about whether or not this is true. They do not deny this story, but they are trying to explain it in a different way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think what the president was trying to convey to the Russians, says, "Look, I'm not going to be distracted by this -- all these issues that are here at home."
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The gist of the conversation was that the president feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia to find areas of cooperation because this has been, obviously, so much in the news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: We expect a lot of developments this week on the Hill. Not until after Memorial Day that Comey will be here to testify. I do expect to see Attorney General Jeff Sessions to answer questions this week -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Suzanne, thank you for all of that reporting. So as we just heard, fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify before a Senate committee. What do Republicans want to hear from him? That's next.
CAMEROTA: All right, everyone. We have some breaking news, because President Trump is speaking with Israel's President Rivlin. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So that is a real positive. We're very happy about that.
REUVEN RIVLIN, PRESIDENT OF ISRAEL: Every challenge creates opportunities.
TRUMP: It's a challenge and it's an opportunity. You have a great opportunity right now. There's a great feeling for peace throughout the Middle East. I think people have just had enough. They've had enough of the bloodshed and the killing. And I think you're going to see things starting to happen.
What we did over the weekend was -- they say there's never been anything like it ever before. And it was really a coming together, and now today being in Israel is just very, very special for us. So we expect to have some very interesting talks.
We are praying for peace, and we are pushing for peace. And with God's help, somebody will bring us peace altogether. Altogether. Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
RIVLIN: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. As promised, we are staying on top of all of the breaking news this morning. There's a lot of it. You were just watching President Trump there speaking with Israel's President Rivlin. The presidents, they had already met at Ben Gurion Airport, but now they are -- were having that conversation.
So let's bring in now Congressman James Comer. He is a Republican. He is on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Great to see you, Congressman.
REP. JAMES COMER (R), HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Thank you. Great to be here.
CAMEROTA: So have you been watching along with President Trump's overseas trip? What has struck you?
COMER: I have. And I've been very impressed. I think thus far it's been a huge success, and one could argue that it's probably been his finest moment thus far in his early presidency.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what's going on at home while all of this is happening overseas.
As you know, the news is fast and furious in terms of what's happening with the Russia investigation in terms of reaction to the president firing the FBI director, James Comey. You agreed with the firing of James Comey. Correct me if I'm wrong.
COMER: You're correct.
CAMEROTA: OK. But now James Comey is going to testify in an open session at the Senate Intel Committee. What do you want to know from him?
COMER: Well, I want to know several things. First of all, when he had the opportunity or when his deputy FBI director had an opportunity to testify under oath just a few weeks ago to Congress, and he was specifically asked if anyone was trying to hinder the investigation, and he said no.
I also want to know why, if this conversation happened as Comey claims, in February, why didn't Comey bring it out any sooner? And why did he wait until after he was terminated?
CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, basically, it sounds as though, from his memos, he thought that he could handle it. He thought that he would not be swayed by the president and the president's inappropriate requests. Do you accept that?
[07:20:07] COMER: Well, I think it's going to be very interesting to hear his testimony. I think he's obviously due his opportunity to tell his side of the story. And then, once former FBI director James Comey tells his side, then I'm sure we'll hear from the president.
But the one thing that strikes me as ironic to this whole case is a few weeks before Comey was fired, all you heard in Washington from Democrats was how Comey had lost the confidence of the American people, how Comey was in the president's back pocket and the president needed to terminate James Comey. And if he didn't, then obviously, they were -- they were working together.
So once the president terminates Comey, because clearly Comey had lost the confidence of both parties in Washington, D.C.
COMER: Once the president terminated Comey, then you hear a different story from -- from a lot of the Democrats in Washington.
CAMEROTA: Look, I think that the place where Democrats get -- get stuck is that -- or certainly hang their hat on -- is that Comey was leading the investigation into whether there were Trump team ties to Russia. And so it felt as though there could be an obstruction of justice with the president inserting himself in there, asking Comey to not look into Michael Flynn and then firing Comey.
COMER: Right. And those are some of the things that, hopefully, will come out either in the Senate Intelligence Committee or in our House Oversight Committee.
CAMEROTA: Right. But do you think that -- I mean, why are you comfortable with the president firing the director of the FBI who was spearheading the investigation? COMER: Prior to the actual termination, the overwhelming majority of
Congress in both parties privately wanted the president to terminate James Comey. So you've seen a situation where, I think, both parties would agree that Comey's handling of the presidential election last year was awful. It was awful initially for Republicans and then, in the final few weeks, it was awful for Democrats.
In fact, we even heard Hillary Clinton blame Comey for her defeat. Obviously, we'll never know whether that was an accurate statement or not. But the bottom line is both parties had lost confidence in James Comey.
So the president clearly wants to go in a different direction and try to restore credibility to the FBI. Just because Comey has been terminated does not mean the FBI cannot continue their investigation into Russia. I'm very concerned about Russia's involvement in the election. There's no doubt Russia was involved in the election. That's wrong, and Russia should suffer the consequences.
CAMEROTA: Congressman, I want to ask you, on a personal note, what's been going on with you in your home district and these angry town halls, where you've been having to confront angry constituents. Let's just play our viewers a moment of a recent one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys knew this was the bad deal. You kicked it down the road for the Senate to take care of now. You guys didn't do your job!
COMER: If you're on the premium, you're paying your payments...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If, if, if.
COMER: Well, I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happens if I lose my job?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. So there, we can hear just a little portion of how concerned your constituents are about the health care vote that they say you all kicked down the road. So what's it like when you go home and confront your constituents? And is it worrying to you?
COMER: Well, the overwhelming majority about town halls, and I've had 16 so far, have been very positive. Obviously, that was a clip from a very concerned constituent. That's something that's very important to me to have town halls. I'm not backing away from town halls.
In fact, I gave "The Washington Post" all access during the last recess to more of my town halls, that one included. So every town hall, I learned something different, something helpful. I'm going to continue to try to explain the healthcare vote.
I think the majority of people in my district, like the majority of people in America, realize that there's a serious problem with health care in America.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but the majority don't like this. I mean, let's face it, Congressman. The majority don't like the plan that was passed by the House. And just so that people don't think that we're cherry picking, I mean, the reason that we played that is because of the all- access that you gave to "The Washington Post." They have you -- they quote you as saying this Trump thing may not be sustainable, as though when you go to the town hall...
COMER: No, that's not what...
CAMEROTA: ... meeting, something has shifted.
COMER: What -- what the quote was, you know, when I left Washington, my thought was is the -- is this Trump thing sustainable? And the purpose of the story was to follow me back to Kentucky to see if the people that overwhelmingly voted for Trump are still sticking with Trump. That was one person, obviously, that I'm going to go out on a limb and say did not vote for Donald Trump to begin with.
[07:25:08] But he got 72 percent of the vote in my district. I think he clearly, clearly has an overwhelming majority. Every bit 2/3 of the support of my district.
And people realize it. We're faced with rising premiums in 31 of the 35 counties in my congressional district. We only have one insurance carrier. And that's a problem throughout all of rural America.
So something has to be done with health care. This was the first step. The Senate now has the ball, and I'm sure they're going to make changes. And then hopefully, we can come together and try to improve health care.
Because regardless of your opinion of the president, regardless of your opinion of this health care bill that we passed out of the House, we have a crisis in America, especially in rural America, with health care; with access to carriers; with the rising Medicaid populations in America. So the story that "The Washington Post" that questioned -- the headline, "Is This Trump Thing Sustainable?" And I think the very last paragraph concluded that, in my congressional district in Kentucky, it is sustainable, thus far. And he's still popular.
COMER: He's made some -- made some mistakes. I think he's had a few self-inflicted wounds.
COMER: But this -- this week on his first foreign trip...
COMER: ... I think he's making America proud. He's made a $400 billion deal.
COMER: He's protected Americans. He's creating jobs. So I think he's still popular in my district.
CAMEROTA: OK. Congressman Comer, great to get your perspective. Thanks for being on NEW DAY.
COMER: Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Alisyn.
President Trump making some similar overtures as his predecessor. This during his trip overseas. And his appeal to get rid of terrorism inside Muslim countries. But there were some differences, as well. We'll discuss, next.