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Trump's Late Night Tweet; Kabul Suicide Attack; Portland Suspect Faces Charges; Trump Withdraw from Climate Deal. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:23] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: What were you doing at midnight last night? The president was tweeting this, "despite the constant negative press covfefe." And that's it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You owned the pronunciation right there, I have to say.

HARLOW: I just - I can't do it anywhere -

BERMAN: You owned it.

HARLOW: Nearly as well as you do it, so I just try.

Anyways, it seems like he was about to complain about the press, but he never finished. So that tweet was deleted about 5:50 a.m. this morning.

BERMAN: And about 20 minutes after the deletion followed this, "who can figure out the true meaning of 'covfefe'? Enjoy."

HARLOW: See. See

BERMAN: It is hard.

All right, an innocent typo, probably. But, remember this, Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said many, many times the president is his own best messenger.


QUESTION: It seemed that the president was implying that Sally Yates may have had something to do with the leaked information to newspapers. Is that what he was implying?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the tweet speaks for itself.

QUESTION: He seemed to imply in that tweet that he would be in favor of primarying some individuals in the Freedom Caucus who oppose his agenda. Is that correct? Did I read that correctly?

SPICER: I'm going to say I'm going to let the tweet speak for itself. QUESTION: Does the president stand by his statement that President

Obama is a bad or sick guy?

SPICER: I think the president's tweets stand for themselves.


BERMAN: Covfefe, it speaks for itself.

Let's discuss now. Dan Pfeiffer is joining us, former senior adviser to President Obama, and Justin Sayfie, former communications director for Governor Jed Bush.

Justin, if I can start with you, leave aside for the fact that universities are already preparing their syllabuses, you know, with covfefe on it, to teach classes on it. But one thing it does show is that the Twitter discipline that the president was under during his nine day overseas trip, it really does seem as if that has been relaxed. The midnight tweet, tweeting this morning about what he calls the witch hunt. We'd been hearing about a new communications strategy. Is this it do you think?

[09:35:13] JUSTIN SAYFIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that, you know, look, he has 31 million followers on Twitter, OK? It was a powerful tool for him during the presidential campaign. I am not one of those who says the president should stop tweeting. I think it's a great way for the - the president to directly get his message out to the people of the country. I think he should actually use it more and more effectively than he has been and he can do things like Periscope, live broadcasts from his Twitter feeds. There's other things he can do to take advantage of that huge audience that he's amassed on Twitter.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Meerkat (ph).

SAYFIE: So I'm not one of those who thinks he shouldn't use it.

HARLOW: Meerkat.

All right, Dan Pfeiffer, let's just unpack that. He says do it more and also Justin says do it more effectively. I just wonder, you know, when you say a lot of stuff and you put some things out there that aren't even words, how are folks supposed to take the other things they're saying on the medium seriously?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I - well, look, I don't - I think the problem is not Twitter, it's the tweeter and - because Trump says these factual, inaccurate, inflammatory fairly dumb things, whether it's in a tweet, at a press conference, in a speech or in an interview. And so this is the ultimate communication challenge for the administration is that Trump every day, either in person or on the Internet, says something that is problematic and upends whatever convoluted message strategy they spent the morning developing.

BERMAN: So, Dan, you had the job. Mike Dubke, by the way, you know, resigned yesterday. That's a job that you held, Dan Pfeiffer, you know, inside -

PFEIFFER: For longer than three months.

BERMAN: For longer than three months. So how much can a communications director shape the message of a president?

PFEIFFER: I think a communications director in a normal world with a normal president, Republican or Democrat, can play a very important role in doing it. In setting up a message calendar, developing message plans, figuring out how you're going to deliver that message, figuring out how to respond to the crisis dejour. But that is not - this White House does not function in that way. I don't get the sense that Mike Dubke was very good at his job. I definitely don't think Sean Spicer is particularly good at the job he's doing right now. But even if you put the best people the Republican Party had to offer in those jobs, I think it would still be a disaster because the problem is Trump, both as a messenger and as someone who does not allow his White House to function in any sort of normal way that would allow you to have a plan and then actually execute on it.

HARLOW: You know, there are those, Justin, who would argue that folks who had Dubke's job and Dan Pfeiffer's job just cover up the truth of what the president really wants to say, or at least color it in the way that they think - think will play best in the press. I mean there is that appetite in America. We saw it during the campaign. And, you know, he won for - let me hear it right from the lips of the president with no - with no shading from the professionals.

SAYFIE: I could not agree more. Look, President Trump was a reality TV star. And this, he's bringing that same authenticity to his Twitter account. That's what people liked so much about his campaign was the fact that they could hear it directly, unvarnished, unpolished, unpoll tested. No one thought that Donald Trump was talking to his pollster or his handler or his press secretary or his communications advisor before he put something out on Twitter. That - there's something attractive about the fact that you do get to - you get undiluted truth from the president, from his lips, in terms of what he's thinking, rather than, you know, do we really want to go back to the days where you kind of - the president has to, you know, consult with ten people, including his pollster, including his communications advisors, let them polish it up, let them show it before a focus group -


SAYFIE: Let them poll test the message and then have them put something out that's so sterile and so vanilla.

HARLOW: I hear you but you say unvarnished truth. I hear you but you say unvarnished truth. I would just say there are things he has put out on Twitter that are - that are not factual or accurate or truthful.

BERMAN: Varnishes or otherwise.

But, Dan Pfeiffer, I want to get to you on one important point here. Frank Rooney (ph) did an op-ed in which he interviewed Mike Bloomberg, former independent mayor of New York City. But the mayor said something fascinating and I think this should send chills down to the spines of Democrats. He said, "Democrats are still searching for the right issues and words and too many have visions of 2020 dancing in their heads. They'll step on each other and re-elect Donald Trump." And the mayor estimated a 55 percent chance that Donald Trump gets re- elected. What do you make of the mayor's assessment.

PFEIFFER: That's slightly better than a coin flip. It's - we don't know where we're going to be in 2020. Democrats have a - I'll be the first to admit, Democrats have a lot of work to do to figure out what the right message is to build a - not a majority in the country, because they had them in 2016 (ph) elections, but a majority in the key states that divide us (ph). So we have work to do and I think Democrats should not think that the White House is going to get handed to them because history says incumbents almost always win re-election. And so there's a lot of work to do, both in organizing and messaging between now and 2020 to be prepared for that election. So we not - we should not take that for granted. I agree with the mayor on that.

HARLOW: And they can't just run on the Russia chaos. That's not going to work.

BERMAN: Right.

[09:40:02] HARLOW: Guys, thank you. Dan Pfeiffer, Justin Sayfie, nice to have you both here.

A lot ahead for us.

BERMAN: Yes, a devastating attack rips through the morning rush hour. More than 80 people are dead. The death toll this morning is rising. A live report coming up.


BERMAN: All right, some grim news and horrifying pictures from Afghanistan. A devastating scene in Kabul this morning after a suicide blast there. At least 80 people are dead, hundreds more injured, and those numbers are expected to rise. Officials say a vehicle packed with explosive went off near the German embassy right during the morning rush hour.

HARLOW: Heartbreaking images.

The U.S. embassy put out this message. "We stand with the Afghan people." And some important context here. This is all happening as President Trump is weighing whether or not to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan.

Let's go straight to our Ian Lee, who joins us from Istanbul.

It is too early to say what this is going to mean for USs. policy and if we do see more troops, but what are you seeing in the aftermath of this attack?

[09:45:09] IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, John and Poppy. There - this was a huge explosion, one of the largest that Kabul has

seen in about a year. This large vehicle, we are hearing that it was a water tanker that was packed with explosives. We're hearing also that it was trying to gain entry into the green zone where all those embassies are housed. According to officials there, it was denied entry, and that's when that explosion happened right next to the German embassy, a few hundred yards from it, but killing dozens of civilians in the aftermath.

That bomb felt across Kabul. The carnage really in the aftermath, you can see people who are bloodied, cars that have been turned into the skeletons of their frames. This is something that Afghans are seeing more often as the security situation does deteriorate inside Afghanistan.

BERMAN: That security situation one of the reasons that President Trump is considering extending U.S. troop involvement, raising the number of U.S. troops there. How does this incident play into that decision?

LEE: Yes. President Trump is mulling over whether to spend more blood and treasure inside Afghanistan. The Pentagon proposes a plan that would see an increase of up to 5,000 U.S. troops there. Right now there's already 8,400. And also could see more air strikes and also more investment into the security apparatuses that are currently operating inside of Afghanistan.

This is something, though, that when you talk to security officials they say is desperately needed because the Taliban is on the front foot. They're gaining territory and they say they need to stop them and reverse those gains.

BERMAN: All right, Ian Lee covering this for us. Thank you so much, Ian. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: All right, coming up for us, no remorse, no restraint. The suspect in that horrific Portland stabbing on a train unleashes a courtroom tirade.


JEREMY JOSEPH CHRISTIAN: You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism. You hear me? Die.



[09:51:40] BERMAN: All right, new questions this morning after the suspect in the Portland stabbing murders went on a disturbing courtroom tirade with one of his victims just feet away.


JEREMY JOSEPH CHRISTIAN: Free speech or die, Portland! You've got no safe place. This is America. Get out if you don't like free speech. Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if you hate our freedoms. Death to (INAUDIBLE). You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism. Do you hear me? Die.


HARLOW: That suspect faces nine charges this morning, including aggravated murder, that carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Our Paul Vercammen is following all of it.

And, Paul, the Portland police chief spoke with CNN just a short time ago. What is he saying?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: well, basically saying that they had a brush with Jeremy Christian not long ago, three weeks ago, and he told us, in fact, that they confiscated a baseball bat from him. He also had done some hard time, seven and a half years, though he's not unknown to them.

Now they're looking, you know, deeper into this and trying to find out just how he went haywire and about the time, by the way, Poppy and John, that he unleashed this tirade in the courtroom. The charging documents surfaced and they're just bone chilling. Some of the things he said in the, you know, police cruiser, on the way to jail, included, "I'm tearing out expletive throats," and then dot, dot, dot, and "I can die in prison a happy man." Clearly, Jeremy Christian is someone, as I said, if they knew that everyone was fearful of, including that poor surviving victim, Micah Fletcher. He sat just in front of me in the courtroom while this tirade went on and it was visible that he had suffered just those extreme stab wounds to his neck. There were stitches on the side. There were bruises. He was very calm as he listened to this, which was rather surprising. But you could tell he was clutching his father's hand very tight.

Now, also, people both inside and outside the courtroom talking about free speech in Portland. A liberal bastion, a city that allows people to say whatever they want on each side and in some ways perhaps they've paid a price for it with these very violent protests. Let's listen to what the police chief had to say about that.


CHIEF MIKE MARSHMAN, PORTLAND, OREGON POLICE: Portland dos have a pretty rich history of protests and people exercising their First Amendment right. And again, you know, as the city, we're OK with that. Portland's a unique city to provide policing services and a lot of people want to get out and voice those opinions. So this, to me, is actually nothing new. But since we have different election cycles and different people in administrations, different communities pop up to voice those concerns.


VERCAMMEN: And this comes at a tough time for Portland in that it's the Rose Festival. That's just a few days ahead. A grand celebration here in the city of roses, as they call it. And there will be another protest on Sunday. Poppy. John.

BERMAN: All right, Paul Vercammen for us in Portland. Thanks so much, Paul.

[09:54:47] Still to come for us, no deal, not anymore. The president set to make his announcement on the Paris Climate Accords. Sources tell CNN he is expected to withdraw. Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right, the breaking news, a major decision by the White House and a major shot at the Obama legacy. President Trump expected to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This is according to two senior U.S. officials.

HARLOW: We should note, those officials do caution this decision could change, but President Trump is already promoting the big announcement on Twitter saying this morning, "I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days." Now, it's unclear how long this process of withdrawal could take and what kind of wave of consequences it might trigger for the U.S. in terms of relations with our allies overseas.

[09:59:57] Let's get straight to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, who's following all of this.

So, the nuts and bolts. This was a landmark agreement.


HARLOW: They couldn't reach it in Copenhagen in 2009. They did it in Paris in 2015. What does it mean to pull out?

LABOTT: Well, it's a big deal to pull out.