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Trump Leaves for Arlington Natl Cemetery this Hour; White House Defends Kushner's Contacts with Russia; Merkel: Europe can't Completely Rely on U.S.; North Korea Test-Fires Third Missile in 3 Weeks. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the day off. Just moments from now, President Trump will leave the White House for his first Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery. The president will lay a wreath and deliver remarks to honor the nation's military men and women who have given their lives defending our freedom.

In his first public event since returning home from the nine-day overseas trip he does leave behind some bruised alliances including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who says Europe can no longer, quote, "completely rely on other countries." Pretty clear she was pointing to the United States.

And the president lands in a deepening crisis at home. Multiple reports that his son-in-law and one of the top advisers, Jared Kushner, tried to set up a secret back channel communique with the Kremlin.

Our Athena Jones is at the White House and has more. So, finally, last night we did hear from the president on this statement to "The New York Times" but the line out of the administration across the board just seems to be, this is not a big deal.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. That's right. The president came to Jared Kushner's defense last night in that statement to "The New York Times." I'll read to you part of it. He said, "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him."

That statement went on to say that Jared Kushner is respected by virtually everyone, is a good person. But this latest news, despite what the White House is saying, despite folks like Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly saying this is not a big deal to have this sort of communications back channel or not with another country. You have others who are saying that it raises concerns. Folks like Michael Hayden, who was the head of the National Security Agency and the head of the CIA. He said this kind of move was off the map. In his words, he said, "I know of no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my lifetime -- within my life experience." So, this is a question that is going to raise concerns not just on Capitol Hill but also among the various committees investigating this Russia matter and of course, the special counsel investigating the Russia matter. It's just one more story line in this story that we seem to have bombshell reports on nearly every day. Poppy?

HARLOW: But especially with Jared Kushner who, you know, some folks have nicknamed the secretary of everything, right, Athena? This is - you know, these are not the kind of headlines the White House wants to be having right now.

JONES: Absolutely not.

HARLOW: Thank you, Athena at the White House.

All right, now to that striking statement from German Chancellor Angela Merkel after several meetings she had with President Trump on his overseas trip. Let's go to our international correspondent -- our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen in London with more.

Fred, you have spent an inordinate amount of time in Germany, in Berlin, covering Angela Merkel. What was your reaction when you heard her remarks?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's almost unprecedented Poppy and I think it certainly does show that Angela Merkel feels somewhat alienated by the Trump administration and really finds the Trump administration and President Trump very difficult to figure out. And that's why she made this statement where she's saying, we can't rely on others for our security in the future anymore. That certainly is a striking statement coming from one of America's closest allies. Let's just listen in quickly to what Angela Merkel said exactly.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): The times for me to completely count on others, they are over to a certain extent. I've experienced this in the last few days. And that's why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.


PLEITGEN: So you hear there, Angela Merkel, she didn't mention President Trump by name but she certainly seemed to reference some of the meetings that she had with the president over the past week or so in Europe, both in Brussels and in Italy, as well as at the G7 summit.

Now, her spokesman came out later and said, look, the chancellor did not want to say that she's giving up her alliance with the United States. To the contrary, this is Steffen Seibert, Angela Merkel's spokesman saying, quote, "Those who have accompanied Chancellor Merkel journalistically for a long time know how important the German- American relations are. They are a pillar of our foreign and security policy and Germany will continue to work on strengthening those relationships."

So, certainly the Germans are saying they do want to continue this relationship with America. However, it does appear as though for the time being, at least with this new administration, they really aren't sure where they stand, Poppy.

HARLOW: Just to be clear, Fred, Angela Merkel is not someone who speaks off the cuff.

[10:05:00] PLEITGEN: No, she certainly isn't. And I do have some experience accompanying Angela Merkel for the past 17 years or so. And she's not someone who would just make a remark just like that.

Now, we do have to mention she is right now in an election campaign but she's firmly in the lead. And she's certainly someone who really thinks things through. She's always been known not for flamboyant statements but certainly, really for choosing her words very carefully. That's really something that also in the German press, I can tell you people are saying look this could have pretty big consequences for relations in the future.

HARLOW: Clearly knowing that this is the remark that would get all of the headlines. Fred Pleitgen, thank you.

Joining us now, Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent, Aaron David Miller, CNN global affairs analyst and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, our military analyst. Christiane, to you, wow.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Poppy, it's absolutely correct Angela Merkel did step forward and say this stuff over the weekend. But she also pulled Britain into it as well. She basically was referring to both the United States and Britain. Why? Because Britain, which is the second most important heavy lifter when it comes to military might and all sorts of other things with NATO after the United States is on the Brexit track. So, they're very concerned, they can't count on Britain, either.

And then, of course, regarding the United States, you know they ended the G7 summit in Sicily on an unprecedentedly divided note. They could not even come up with a, you know, with a joint statement as they always do because President Trump would not agree to the commitment to the Paris Climate accord.

So that all led, you know, a bit of discombobulation to what should be a set piece summit meeting. So, that's what happened. And she is being, you know, warning for some time. This is not the first time. Angela Merkel has said that we, Europeans, need to take more of our destiny, more control for our destiny in our own hands.

And I would just say one thing. Yes, she has laid down a marker. Yes, it's the beginning of a, you know, new look at how potentially the Transatlantic alliance might go, but she did use two very important qualifiers. She said we cannot completely rely to some extent. You see what I'm saying?

HARLOW: Yes, I do. And they're important markers, you're right. Aaron to you, just building on this, discord granted the qualifications that Christiane mentioned which are very important, but discord between the United States and Germany, our critical ally in Western Europe. Is that not playing right into Vladimir Putin's hands?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think there's no doubt about it. And you know, the president came to Europe after a very successful Middle East trip from his point of view, loaded for bear. He broke a lot of crockery, Paris Climate, Article 5 and the Euros are now pushing back. You know, McKrone squeezing the president's hand until it almost fell off, Mrs. Merkel, basically making a virtue out of necessity.

And I think Christiane makes an important point. There is a certain reality here with Britain on its way out and some of Mr. Trump's campaign commitments actually coming true. I think there's an adjustment going on here. And Mrs. Merkel, the leader, not only of the European Union but it looks like the free world, is getting used to the reality that there's not only a lot of uncertainty but the American role in Europe Transatlantic alliance may simply not be as primary.

And I think that said, one additional point the president talks about making America great again but the problem is that he is undermining the very mechanisms, the security architecture and the nature of the alliances that allowed the United States for decades to project its power and to be a force for good and for positive change in the world.

HARLOW: He was not explicit at that NATO meeting of his support and the U.S. support for Article 5, the collective -- collective defense and security agreement.

Colonel Francona, you tweeted about this recently. "About time someone holds the Europeans and Canadians to their NATO commitment. Perhaps, quote, "Not After Two O'Clock" will listen this time."

Do you think the president's actions are effective, especially eliciting a response like this from Angela Merkel?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, as I said it's about time we hold the Europeans accountable. We tell the Germans and the French they need to live up to their commitments. If this transatlantic alliance is going to work and it has been, as Aaron said, it has been the backbone of our transatlantic relationship for decades.

It's important that that alliance continue. But the United States can't foot the bill the entire time, you know, for decades, relied on this massive military might of the United States and the defense umbrella that goes with that to focus on their economies while the United States focuses on their defense and that has got to change.

There's a great path forward for the alliance. But we have to go into this as partners. And that partnership has to be addressed on a more equal footing.

HARLOW: You know, Christiane -



AMANPOUR: Go ahead.

HARLOW: Weigh in but I also want you to answer this part of my question which is this is the president who ran on America first, right? And that's a big part of what got him elected. However, given the world today, it is not America alone.

[10:10:04] Does this president's policies, rhetoric, et cetera, not even you know -- as you said no joint statement out of the G7. Does that put America first at risk?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, you know, it's very confusing what just happened. I don't think there was any sort of real America first sort of conclusion there. But I think just to take exception with what Lt. Col. Francona just said. There is no treaty obligation for this 2 percent.

I'm sorry it's just not there. This was something that's aspirational, that came after the invasion by Vladimir Putin of Eastern Ukraine and that all the NATO countries said, yes, we need to step up the contribution to NATO and of course, that's aspirational and of course, it should happen.

But by saying that this is a transactional relationship it ignores the reality, which is that Europeans have been doing a lot, yes, some of the countries are at 2 percent, some of them aren't but the excessive amount of money that the United States has been paying over the last 16 years is because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Look at the balance sheet. Look at the figures. That is why the United States has been paying way disproportionately its amount.

And I will say at this point you can imagine how it really gets in the craw of people over in Europe who invoked Article 5 for the first time in their history to support the United States after it was attacked on 9/11. So, this is not a transactional -- not a transactional relationship and there's no such thing as back taxes by NATO members -


HARLOW: Right, that's not how it works.

AMANPOUR: -- It just doesn't work like that. And if you look at the figures and I would refer you all to a very good breakdown by Peter Baker in "The New York Times" today of precisely what is on the plus side, what is on the negative side and what actually matters in this relationship. The idea that President Trump and the United States might want to sort of jangle up this 70-plus-year alliance that's kept the peace in Europe for this long is one that's creating quite a lot of, you know, concern over here in Europe. HARLOW: Concern to say the least. Not only the first time Article 5, the only time Article 5 has been invoked for the United States.

AMANPOUR: That's correct.

HARLOW: -- after 9/11. Aaron David Miller to you, we're going to find out this week from this president so he tweets whether or not the U.S. pulls out of the Paris Climate accord or not. Here is how Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sees it.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If he does withdraw that would be a definitive statement by the president that he believes climate change is a hoax. It means that the leader of the Republican Party is in a different spot than the rest of the world. It would be taken as a statement that climate change is not a problem, not real, that would be bad for the party, bad for the country. Stay in the agreement, because it's voluntary and try to make the world respond to better business practices when it comes to cleaning up carbon.


HARLOW: He's essentially saying, Aaron, you'll be going against many members of your own party if you do this.

MILLER: That's true. But you know, let's remember that Bill Clinton signed Kyoto and the Bush administration withdrew. The circumstances are very different. Look, I make a prediction. I suspect the Trump administration is going to stay within the agreement.

But, but, since they repealed the Clean Power Plan, with respect to emissions, number one, that's going to cut and reduce America's voluntary commitments and second, the Obama administration has pledged $3 billion to help poorer nations cope with these realities and to push them toward renewables and other sources of energy. I doubt whether that financial commitment is going to be made.

So, some argue that in fact if the administration stays they're going to essentially try to rework and renegotiate the agreement from within. But on balance I still believe that -- better to be at the table than not there at all.

HARLOW: Christiane Amanpour, Aaron David Miller, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, thank you all very much.

President Trump, slamming North Korea for a third missile test in as many weeks. The short range ballistic missile flew about six minutes overnight it landed within the waters in what's known as Japan's exclusive economic zone. President Trump this morning tweeting, "North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor, China, by shooting off yet another ballistic missile... but China is trying hard!" Meantime, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promises, quote, "concrete action" as a result of that test.

All right, please stop me if you've heard this one before, OK? The White House is considering big staff shake-ups. This, as tensions build over the Russia probe.

Also, standing up to hate, the college graduate and an army veteran are killed on a Portland train defending a teen and her friends, calls now growing for President Trump to address their bravery.

And we will take you live to Arlington National Cemetery where today, on this Memorial Day we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

[10:15:01] President Trump set to lay a wreath and speak in just moments. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: President Trump's first overseas trip is behind him. But he comes home to a White House under the persistent cloud of the Russia probe. Now in the spotlight is the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and news that he sought to set up a secret back channel of communication with the Kremlin. The president did stand behind Kushner last night issuing a statement that reads in part, "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him."

With me now to debate CNN political commentator, Kayleigh McEnany, she's also a contributor for "The Hill," CNN political commentator Symone Sanders. She's a former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders and Shannon Pettypiece, the White House reporter for "Bloomberg," nice to have you all here.

[10:20:03] Kayleigh, I got to ask you about the front page of "The New York Times," the headline this morning, "Kushner's Role in White House is Under Strain." It's not just the "Times." It's all the headlines this weekend or a lot of them. Is Jared Kushner more of an asset or liability for this White House right now?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONTRIBUTOR "THE HILL": Jared Kushner is a tremendous asset. He's very bright. He's very smart, very good at negotiating. He's an asset to this White House. One of the things I really would like to point out is just to me, what I see as a double standard -


MCENANY: -- when it comes to this reporting of the back channel. About a year ago "The Washington Post" had a headline about a year to the date, the headline was, "The Omani Back Channel to Iran." This was with regard to the Obama administration. Not the Trump administration. This was Obama utilizing a back channel through Oman to communicate with the number one state sponsor of terrorism, that would be Iran, but there was not this big uproar about Obama doing -- what Jared Kushner was proposing to do.


HARLOW: Kayleigh just one second. An important fact that is a differentiator, as David Rhodes was just saying on this program last hour is, Kushner setting up a back channel, wanting to set up a back channel, it never happened is one thing, right? Past administrations have done that as you know, right?

However, the difference is, if he wanted to utilize, you know, Russian ways of doing that, meaning Russian means out of the ability -- so that U.S. agencies did not know it was going on. That's the difference, to use up -- to use sort of the Russian apparatus to do that. Do you acknowledge that that is a key difference here? Because that is our reporting is what Kushner was trying to do and that's a big difference.

MCENANY: Well, John Kelly noted and we of course Department of Homeland Security secretary, noted that, in fact, the back channel does not mean that it's shrouded from the rest of government, it means that it's a secret means of communication shrouded from the media. This is someone in the administration who acknowledged this on a Sunday show. You have H.R. McMaster who said he's not concerned about the story, either.

So, whatever this back channel was and we don't have the details this is all anonymous sourcing once again, whatever this back channel was the people in the administration who we know and trust who are very respected -

HARLOW: But Kayleigh, the fact, the fact that he sought to use Russian diplomatic facilities to set it up is the key differentiator. Is it not, Shannon?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Well, yes and also that at least the reports at the time he was a private citizen and not a member of the government and I think that's also something that's raising questions, too, if in fact, these reports are accurate. He was doing this during the transition though, still as a private citizen not as a government official or you know, member of the Intelligence Community.

HARLOW: Symone?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY BERNIE 2016: I would also add that Russia was again under immense scrutiny for having meddled in our elections and this just doesn't make sense. I think H.R. McMaster and General Kelly, they did go on air and tried to kind of tamp down concerns about a back channel and I want to be clear that the issue here is not back channel in general. The issue here is who was back channeling, the fact that this was essentially something that is reportedly wanted to be shrouded in secrecy from the Obama administration and that is not normal, that is not protocol and that's not something we should just sweep under the rug.

HARLOW: Let's listen to how Secretary Kelly is addressing this as you brought up Kayleigh and then, how the former director of the CIA is addressing it. Listen.


JOHN KELLY, DHS SECRETARY: Whatever the communication is comes back into the government and shared across the government, so it's -- it's -- it's not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government.

I would just say that any line of communication to a country, particularly a country like Russia, is a good thing.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is off the map, Michael. I know no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my life experience.


HARLOW: Shannon what does history tells us here? Is this off the map or is this just much ado about nothing not a big deal?

PETTYPIECE: Well, you know -- I guess I'm not an expert in military and classified and confidential communications, but I can tell you that it's unlikely that this was an idea that Jared Kushner came up with on his own. It was likely coming from someone else in that transition or in the campaign. I would, you know, suggest Michael Flynn has been suggested in reports.

But also another point to make, too and sort of you know, looking forward, is sort of as to what this means for this White House. Like Jared Kushner, don't like Jared Kushner, he's very instrumental to this White House. He's the president's closest and most trusted adviser in the west wing. And so, any questions around Jared Kushner, whether he's going to be moved to the sideline or hobbled in some way means a lot for what this administration can do going forward and sort of how balanced it is now.

HARLOW: I want to get Kayleigh's response to that in a moment but just so everyone has our CNN reporting on the point that you brought up this back channel that Kushner wanted to set up would have allowed Kushner an incoming -- at that point incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn to talk securely with Russian military officials.

[10:25:12] Again, it was not set up, but the goal our reporting is, is that Kushner wanted to set it up and that it would use according to "The Washington Post," these Russian diplomatic facilities inside the United States.

Kayleigh, does it cripple the White House to have Kushner under scrutiny for this and not sort of focus on as he's been dubbed by some, the secretary of everything, right? That tech summit he's about to hold, helping negotiate a Mideast peace deal, China, Mexico, you name it?

MCENANY: It doesn't. It doesn't if the White House doesn't let it. You know, they need to insulate this story and some of the negative reporting from their day-to-day activity and if they do that, they can be successful.

And I would just really want to point out quickly that "The Washington Post's" own story buried again about six paragraphs down says we know the Russians are known for inserting false information into the dialogue, it's something that we've talked about many times on CNN. The Russians are known for this. This could all be a false story. So, it's at least worth mentioning we don't know the details and the story might be intentional disinformation by the Russians.

HARLOW: It's a good point. The reporter, Adam Entous, was asked about it by our Pamela Brown on Friday night. He addressed it. I've asked about three panelists that in the span of an hour and a half on this program, so not trying to bury that whatsoever.

Symone to you, what do Democrats do with this strategy wise? Because we've had an increasing number of Democrats come on this program and say we can't run on Russia, right? We can't run on this Russia chaos call it what you will controversy in 2018 and 2020. How much should Democrats, really be focusing on all of this right now?

SANDERS: Let's and those Democrats that are saying that are absolutely correct. There is no indication that Russia is an issue that people are going to the polls on, right now. Now that could change six months from now, a year from now but currently it's not.

And so, I think Democrats need to keep the pressure up on Russia. They need to continue to make inquiries. They need to continue to talk about this because this is important information but they also have to remember that folks are dealing with issues that affect their everyday lives.

We have to continue to talk about health care, that under the midst of everything that's going on Republicans are still trying to take away people's health care. We have to talk about education and if Democrats are able to directly speak to those issues, go into communities, talk about what they are doing and why they should have folks vote in 2018 I think they'll be just fine.

HARLOW: Kayleigh you're going to be back and respond to that health care because that's a whole another debate for another time and I am out of time. Thank you very much all of you for being with us.

Coming up, something you will not want to miss, the growing opioid epidemic in this country, through a child's eyes and not just any child. One who has seen their own parents deal with addiction and leave them abandoned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess for giving my mom so many times that like -- you just keep going back, like it's hard, every single time.