Return to Transcripts main page


Defending Trump's Foreign Diplomacy; Trump Escalates Feud With Germany; Kabul explosion: Blast kills at least 80 near diplomatic area in Afghanistan; Source: Flynn To Hand Over Docs To Investigators. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:31:25] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: The White House trying to map out a foreign policy blueprint. The president sees the world not as a global community but an arena of competitors. A worldview bound to rattle America's allies.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: The White House remains tight-lipped on reports of backchannel overtures to the Kremlin but the president's former national security adviser ready to respond to subpoenas on the Russia probe.

ROMANS: And a deadly attack in Kabul's diplomatic quarter. Nearly 100 dead, hundreds more hurt. This comes as the president weighs more troop deployment in Afghanistan. Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs on cup four of "covfefe." But this morning, the White House taking new steps to reclaim the narrative on two big stories, the president's foreign trip and the Russia investigation. Now first, on the foreign trip. Two top aides looking to puncture the idea that the president left foreign leaders nervous. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Economic Adviser Gary Cohn out with a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed this morning really defining the Trump doctrine, if you will. It's entitled "America's First Doesn't Mean America Alone."

ROMANS: Both were on the overseas trip with the president and they offer a staunch defense of his global vision. They say in part, "The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a 'global community' but an arena where nationals, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage."

BRIGGS: "We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it." So their clear message, American strength will keep America first.

ROMANS: This comes hours after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave his take on the president's trip.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was an unprecedented first trip abroad just four months into this administration and it shows how quickly and decisively the president is acting to strengthen alliances, to form new partnerships, and to rebuild America's standing in the world. We've never seen before, at this point in a presidency, such sweeping reassurance of American interest and the inauguration of a foreign policy strategy designed to bring back the world from growing dangers and perpetual disasters brought on by years of failed leadership.


ROMANS: All this comes amid what looks like a diplomatic feud between the president and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Now, whether there's actually a rift between the U.S. and Germany, that seems to depend on whom you ask. For the third day in a row, Chancellor Merkel hammered at her view that Europe must, as she put it, take our fate into our own hands.

BRIGGS: The president back in the Oval Office after his European trip, escalating the rhetoric with a tweet. He wrote, "We have a massive trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for the U.S. This will change."

ROMANS: Adding a third view, Press Secretary Spicer then downplayed any clash between the two leaders.


SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel, he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G7.


ROMANS: For the latest on how this is all going over with European allies, we want to bring in senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen, live this morning in London. And, you know, there's some -- German companies employ some 700,000 workers in the United States so that idea of, you know, losing badly because of a trade deficit is a little more complicated than that.

[05:35:03] FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly is, and I think that's one of the things that many German industrial leaders have also pointed in the past to the White House as well, and something Angela Merkel will say as well.

It's not that the German's employ -- or German companies employ around 700,000 workers in America, some of the biggest German car plants in the world are actually in the U.S. You take the BMW plant, for instance, in Spartanburg. That's, I think, the biggest exporter of cars in all of America and is also the largest single plant that BMW itself has, and that includes all of their German plants as well. So certainly, it is a little more complicated like that.

There is, however, of course, a fairly large trade deficit that the U.S. does have with Germany. However, the Germans are saying look, the reason why that's happening is because German goods are very competitive in the world. It's not just in America, it's in other countries as well. And there was some criticism as well by some in the White House saying look, all of this is because of the weak euro. But, of course, it's not the Germans that set the value of the euro, it's the entire European Union or at least the countries that are part of Eurozone.

So it is definitely a little more complicated than that and I think that's one of the reasons why now you have this rift, I would call it, between the U.S. and Germany with Angela Merkel saying look, we have to stand on our own two feet more than we have in the past.

ROMANS: Sean Spicer said the relationship between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel is "fairly unbelievable" and I think he meant that as a good thing. What's the view from your side?

PLEITGEN: Look, I think that she would probably say the same thing but I think that she believes that in a sense where they don't see eye-to-eye on most issues. I think as far as NATO is concerned, I think the Germans are aware of some of the shortcomings there, them only paying about 1.2 percent of their GDP for defense.

ROMANS: Right.

PLEITGEN: They know that that's not enough and they also know that that's a point that's been made by various American administrations in the past -- that European countries need to contribute more and it simply hasn't been happening. As far as trade is concerned, I think the Germans think that it's very unfair. And, you know, Angela Merkel is someone who really has businesslike relations with most foreign leaders. She's not someone who gets emotional, who likes or dislikes people, but I think as far as her sort of analytical way of going about things she does see that there -- she doesn't see eye-to-eye with President Trump on many issues and she doesn't, I think at this point, believe that many of those rifts are things can be worked out in the future.

ROMANS: All right, Fred Pleitgen, so glad to have you here. You've been covering her for some time and I'm sure there's a lot more to talk about in the days ahead.


ROMANS: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much. I think that tie is fair unbelievable, by the way.

BRIGGS: I was going to ask you how you characterize our relationship --

ROMANS: A fairly unbelievable --

BRIGGS: -- but thank you for the compliment.

ROMANS: A fairly unbelievable tie this morning. Joining us this morning, CNN political commentator Shermichael Singleton, and Republican strategist. And, political analyst Ellis Henican, author of the "Trump's America" column for Metro Papers. Good morning.

Shermichael, let me start with you on this idea of this -- of this rift between the United States and Germany, you know. Sean Spicer trying to downplay that but this worldview in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning, talking about how it is not a global community -- the world is not. It is an arena of competitors, companies, countries, non-governmental actors. It's a real departure from what has been the worldview of Republicans and Democrats for the past 70 years.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well look, I think because of globalism we are more reliant upon one another than we ever have been at any time in the past and I think that will continue to be the case as we move forward together. I think it's very obvious that President Trump and Chancellor Merkel have extremely disparate policy views on how they view the world. That's quite obvious.

Of course, Sean Spicer's going to say they have a great relationship and if Merkel were asked I'm almost certain she would probably say the same thing. But it's obvious, at least to me, based off of several statements she has made since the very first meeting with President Trump, that she does not see eye-to-eye with him on many fronts.

BRIGGS: All right. So this "Wall Street Journal" op-ed really, folks, lays out the Trump doctrine -- the foreign view on this. What do you make of the fact that Gary Cohn, not just President Trump's chief economic adviser but probably the most left-leaning person in the administration, co-authored it and it really centralizes this transactional view of everything abroad for this administration?

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, AUTHOR, "TRUMP'S AMERICA" COLUMN FOR METRO PAPERS: Well, it does. I guess the first thing it tells us is that they have a boss and that boss is Donald Trump, and as long as they want to work for Donald Trump they're not going to fight him on this kind of thing. It's quite startling though. I mean, I am a global community guy and I think most of us are, right? We had the view that yes, even if our goal is self-interest that it's pursued better when we have allies, which requires some give and take, a certain respectfulness, and we all end up better that way.

ROMANS: I wonder, you know -- oh, go ahead.

BRIGGS: Yes. Well, what shocks you, though? You said you were shocked.

HENICAN: Well, because it's such a --

BRIGGS: By what notion?

HENICAN: It is such a departure from those seven decades of what has succeeded for us in the past. I mean, listen, Europe has been pretty peaceful.

BRIGGS: Some would argue it hasn't necessarily helped them -- helped Americans -- helped Americans in the middle of the country. Helped lift up our economic.

HENICAN: This would -- this would be the comparison I make.

BRIGGS: Right, yes.

HENICAN: Do you prefer what's happened in those years or what happened in World War I and II?

[05:40:00] BRIGGS: Sure, right.

HENICAN: I kind of like this one.

ROMANS: You know, Shermichael, let me ask you about this whole -- the worldview, in particular here, and the fact that 700,000 Americans are employed by German companies right now. And you've got the business community that is more of a global -- sees the global community -- a business community that doesn't want to get out of Paris. A business community -- a pro-business president and business leaders are against sort of this go it alone approach. How does that play out with Republicans?

SINGLETON: You know, I think for Donald Trump, what you're seeing is two worldviews here. You have one that wants to argue an ideological spectrum or position and then you have another approach which you see with Gary Cohn who I think is more business-minded. I'd even think the president at his core is more business-minded. But again, we have to take into consideration the people who elected him. We have to take into consideration the promises that he made when running for president.

Look, I think the fact of the matter is when America is not leading the world we have seen in the past what the end result is. I don't think anyone, regardless of Republicans or Democrats, wants to see a world today where America's not at the forefront because what does that mean? Would that mean Russia is now leading the world? Does that mean China is now leading the world?

ROMANS: It means China.

SINGLETON: I'm not certain that's the reality we want to live in.

BRIGGS: Well, Shermichael mentions Russia, and the Russia investigation continues to ramp up, and the latest surrounds everything Jared Kushner-related. Did he attempt to set up a private backchannel communication with the Kremlin? There are five different takes from within the administration --

HENICAN: Yes, yes, yes.

BRIGGS: -- just yesterday alone, so it's difficult to know what their stance is on it until we hear from the president, and there's no telling when that is. So how does the president turn from this investigation -- show some momentum, perhaps based on legislation?

HENICAN: Well, I mean, two things. One is yes, they come up with a story. I mean -- and the thing, by the way, once Trump tweets on it the media won't have something different to say an hour or two later.

BRIGGS: Well, his retweet of a "Fox" article completely --


BRIGGS: -- conflicted what administration officials had been saying.

HENICAN: Go figure, Dave. I mean, the other thing -- I mean, there was a bureaucratic thing that could be done and I think they're on the way to doing it, which is to set up some kind of isolated unit inside the White House to deal with this issue. And then, Sean Spicer and others could say you know what, send that over to headquarters over there and they'll take care of it. That's on the way, I think.

ROMANS: Shermichael, I want to listen real quickly to what Sean Spicer said about backchannels yesterday because he didn't say there were any. He wouldn't confirm, sort of, the basis of the idea of backchannels, but then he did offer this analysis on whether it's an appropriate part of diplomacy.


SPICER: I think Sec. Kelly and Gen. McMaster have both discussed that in general terms, backchannels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.


ROMANS: How comfortable do you think mainstream Republicans are with the idea of someone who is not in the White House during a transition actually having an open backchannel with Russia?

SINGLETON: That's where we have to put the emphasis on. They were not in the White House at that point in time when Kushner was attempting to set up these alleged backchannels. I think what it does, it feeds into that narrative that there was or is possible collusion with individuals around the president and Russia. I think the administration has to be transparent on this.

They have to get to the forefront of this because look, we're talking about Russia almost every single day. We're not talking about economic policies, we're not talking about infrastructure. We could be talking more about trade, we could be talking more about education, about job creation, et cetera. We're not talking about any substantial or substantive policy issues because every single day there's something new on Russia. The administration's going to have to do everything they possibly can to change the narrative and get into the forefront of this so that we can start talking about the issues that most Americans are actually concerned about.

BRIGGS: Or at least find one common voice because, again, the president's tweet -- retweet -- said "Jared Kushner did not suggest Russian communication channel in meeting." An article that had no byline and one anonymous source. Shermichael, Ellis, thank you, both.

SINGLETON: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: I thought they didn't like anonymous sources.

HENICAN: All right. See you, guys.

BRIGGS: They don't, except when they use them.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: Got that?

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Ellis. Thanks, Shermichael.

BRIGGS: All right. A major decision on the president's plate thrust into the headlines overnight. A major attack in Afghanistan as the president weighs more troop deployment there. We're live with more, next.


[05:48:25] ROMANS: Breaking news. A huge explosion rocking Kabul's diplomatic quarter. An Afghan official describing this as a suicide attack near the German Embassy. Our national security reporter Ryan Browne joins us live from Washington where he is monitoring all of these developments. Ryan, bring us up to speed.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Christine. This massive bomb -- vehicle-borne IED going off near the diplomatic quarter, very close to the German Embassy. It's estimated that it killed at least 80 people and injured hundreds more. The German Foreign Ministry saying that some of its embassy staff were injured. An Afghan security guard at that embassy was killed. They're still assessing. These numbers could go up. Casualties are still being reported.

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan said that Afghan security forces did prevent this vehicle bomb from driving into the green zone where most of the U.S., Afghan, and government embassy locations are, so they were able to prevent that. But this bomb injuring a lot of the civilians during rush hour, during the holy month of Ramadan.

This kind of comes as the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated as the summer months typically bring in an uptick in fighting for both the Taliban and ISIS. Both the Taliban and ISIS have conducted suicide bombings in Kabul in the past, but it's been some months since anything of this scale has occurred. Now the Taliban has denied responsibility through a spokesman but it's still being determined who exactly was responsible for this attack.

[05:50:00] But this is all coming as President Donald Trump is weighing whether or not to support the Pentagon's recommendation and provide additional military advisers -- potentially thousands of additional military advisers to Afghanistan in order to bolster the Afghan military as it battles these insurgent groups and tries to kind of restore some of the security to this area. So a big decision weighing on the president with regards to Afghanistan right now. ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, Ryan, thank you for that. Again, at least 80 killed, 300 injured at this point. Ryan Browne for us in Washington.

We have also learned a driver for the BBC, Mohammed Nazir, was killed in the explosion. He was driving colleagues to the office when the attack struck. That is according to the BBC. That's a shame.

BRIGGS: We continue to learn more about that. Time now for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota joining us.

ROMANS: Morning.

BRIGGS: A very full slate for you guys, Ali.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: As always, Dave and Christine. So, of course, we will have the latest threads into what's happening in Kabul because there's just been a shocking number of causalities from that blast, so we'll bring you all of the breaking news.

Then back here closer to home, we will debate the fallout from Kathy Griffin's political stunt gone wrong. Apparently, there is a line you can cross in comedy and she went way over it. Senator Al Franken, an "SNL" alum as we all know, will be here to weigh in on that. And, of course, he'll also talk about all the latest threads in the Russia investigation and his new book here, "Al Franken: Giant of the Senate." He'll be talking about this. Even the cover is funny. So we look forward to diving into that with him.

ROMANS: All right, can't wait, Alisyn. Thank you.

BRIGGS: They've got some good things.

ROMANS: I wonder if this has ever happened to Alisyn? Has you kid ever bought something on Amazon without your permission? This has happened to me, and you may be getting a refund. I'll tell you how, next.


[05:56:00] ROMANS: Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global markets, U.S. futures mixed. Wall Street closed lower, ending a seven-day winning streak for the Nasdaq and the S&P, but a few tech companies hit new highs. Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft, Tesla -- all of them, record highs. Amazon hit $1,000 a share during trading, closed a little bit below there. Tech stocks have been on fire, up about 20 percent this year.

Has your kid ever bought something on Amazon without your permission? You may get your money back. Amazon is refunding up to $70 million to parents whose children made in-app purchases. A court found Amazon didn't have enough protection to stop children from buying items on its sites. Amazon sent eligible consumers an email to seek a refund. This has happened to me.

BRIGGS: And now, breaking news. President Trump, after 124,581 retweets has deleted the infamous "covfefe" --

ROMANS: Has he?

BRIGGS: -- misfire on Twitter. It is gone. No longer --

ROMANS: I need to go get a cup of "covfefe."

BRIGGS: -- on his timeline.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Michael Flynn is going to hand over a batch of documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

ROMANS: Trump attorney Michael Cohen says he will gladly testify.

SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D) MINNESOTA: This group isn't acting like people who don't have anything to hide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House refusing to deny whether Jared Kushner sought a secret backchannel to Russia President Vladimir Putin.

SPICER: Your questions presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as the heat is turned up in this investigation he starts to distance himself from them.

SPICER: He is frustrated to see stories come out that are patently false and see narratives that are wrong. To see "fake news."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A powerful car bomb exploded near the German Embassy in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bomb felt across the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hospitals are flooded so you can certainly expect casualties to rise.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 31st, 6:00 here in New York, and we do have breaking news for you. This, out of Afghanistan. A massive suicide bomb attack has rocked Kabul's diplomatic quarter just a few hours ago. It's killed at least 80 people, injured hundreds. The attack happened near the presidential palace and the German Embassy. Several German diplomats are among the injured, so we will have a live report for you from Kabul.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: That's the major headline on today's starting line. Also, President Trump's fired national security adviser Michael Flynn reversing course. He is now willing to turn over subpoenaed documents to Senate investigators for their Russia investigation. White House spokesman Sean Spicer refusing to confirm or comment on reports that Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret backchannel to Russia. And, two of the president's top aides are touting his foreign trip in a new op-ed, saying "America First can come with a foreign footprint."

CAMEROTA: And there is one word that has the world bewildered today,"covfefe" -- that's the word. That was President Trump trying to say something in an unfinished tweet sent after midnight that we believe has now been deleted. We have it all covered for you so let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He's live at the White House for us -- Joe.

JOHNS: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, what's most notable this morning is the apparent ramp-up in the Russia investigation. It's very subtle but very important -- the congression -- the Congress simply going from requests to subpoenas. It's a legally enforceable document that carries the possibility of even jail for someone who does not comply.


JOHNS: President Trump's fired national security adviser Michael Flynn now says he is willing to cooperate with Senate investigators to provide them with documents sought by two subpoenas. Flynn expected to hand over the first batch to the Senate Intelligence Committee by June 6. Congressional investigators are expanding their sights to other Trump aides. Michael Cohen, a personal attorney to the president, flatly refusing a request from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to offer up information and testify.