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White House Still Won't Say If Trump Believes in Climate Change; White House Could Block Comey Testimony; Source Close to Trump: Kushner on "Delicate Ground". Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 2, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sir, when NASA says that 95 percent of the experts in this area around the world believe that the earth is warming and you are up there throwing out information that says, well, maybe this is being exaggerated, you talk about climate action exaggerators, it seems that you are denying it and it's a significant threat to the planet.

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA SECRETARY: I said this in the confirmation process and I'll say it today. There is --


ACOSTA: Arctic ice and the sea levels and --


PRUITT: There is -- we have done a tremendous amount as a country to achieve reductions in CO2 and we have done that through technology and innovation. We will continue to do that and to stay engaged. We are part, as you know, the U.N. CCC and that encourages voices by subnational groups and countries across the globe and we're going to stay engaged and try to work through agreements to put America's interests first. This is not -- this is not a message to anyone in the world that America is somewhat -- should be apologetic of its CO2 position. We're making tremendous advantages. We're not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurt citizens across this country.

Yes, sir?

ACOSTA: You're putting your head in the sand, Mr. Pruitt.


ACOSTA: You're putting your head in the sand.

PRUITT: There's no evidence of that.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Miles O'Brien is also with us.

You're very connected to the scientific community, Miles. What do you think of that?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Let's pick apart this so-called pause in global warming. That's a classic cherry-picked piece of information. In the late '90s there was an el Nino effect and they say, from that point on, there was a pause. The fact is 15 of the last 17 years have been record heat for the climate, for the planet. Period. The evidence is there. This is not about belief. These are facts. And there is, apparently, an attempt here to go for alternate facts. It's like saying, do you believe the sky is blue or if the sun will rise? It's not a belief thing. The facts are --


CABRERA: The facts are the facts are the facts.

O'BRIEN: The facts are the facts. It's like looking at the mall and saying there's more people there than for Obama's inauguration. The facts are, this is happening.

I think we have our answer from the administration by doing what they have done and not saying whether it's a hoax. They have said, we believe it's not true. And that is refutable on several counts. As we speak, Ana, there's a piece of Antarctic ice the size of Delaware that is about to drop into the ocean. That won't increase the sea level in any appreciable way right away, but will unleash the ability for more water and ice to come off Antarctica and into the ocean and, ultimately, lead to more sea level rise. The evidence is all around us. The science is as clear as it gets. It's not a hoax. And if you accept the facts, it is incumbent that we all do something about it because there is no greater existential threat to us all.

CABRERA: We hear Scott Pruitt said there's nothing to be apologetic about, the U.S. is still a leader when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and investing in clean energy investment. What say you?

O'BRIEN: Some of this has to do with the clean power plants, Obama's policies. Coal is going out. We're not going to go back to whale oil either. This is a natural evolution that is occurring. Frac and natural gas is cheaper. It has less carbon. That's helped a little bit. Renewables are taking hold. Market forces are in place here and the market has already spoken on this, large corporations, small corporations. And all of this talk about jobs being lost, let's talk about the jobs being gained. The fact is, the renewable sector, the clean-energy sector has tremendous opportunity. If we want America to be first in the world, we need to be in this game. We will be also- rans if we step aside.

CABRERA: I want to read you a quote that I found really interesting with the world resources institute: "If you simply add up the commitments under the Paris deal until 2025, it's about a trillion dollars of investment opened forbidding."

It sounds like there's a big economic upside to being part of this Paris deal, Shelby Holliday?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, POLITICS & BUSINESS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Watching that press briefing underscores the confusion within the administration. One hand is not talking to the other, whether it's the debt ceiling or climate change or taxes. But they are saying that this is America first and is in America's best interests. Climate change has a huge economic angle. People say if the temperature continues to rise, that hurts industries, agriculture, manufacturing. Incomes will fall. It has a global economic impact. And so that's one of the big reasons everyone in the world has been addressing it.

I do think it's really fascinating that Donald Trump is a jobs-first, America-first, economy-first president. But yet, he ignored the advice he got from Fortune 500 CEOs, from a lot of people in the business community on this. It's not a surprise that he pulled out of the Paris agreement. It's something he said he would do on his campaign trail. We can't be shocked that he did it. But it is surprising that he ignored not the advice of Jared and Ivanka, but the advice from brilliant CEOs who lead some of the biggest companies in the world.



[14:35:04] CABRERA: We've got to leave it there for a moment, guys.

Stand by, everyone.

More breaking news to talk about at this hour. The White House suggests President Trump is deciding whether to use executive privilege to try and block fired FBI Director James Comey from testifying next week. The risks and the realities, that's next.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the White House going to evoke executive privilege to prevent James Comey from testifying before the Senate Intelligence panel next week?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOIUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That committee hearing was just noticed and I think, obviously, it's got to be reviewed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So that's not a "no?"

SPICER: It's just saying I don't -- literally, my understanding is that the date for that hearing was just set. I have not spoken to counsel yet. I don't know what that -- how they are going to respond.


CABRERA: That was White House press secretary moments ago, Sean Spicer. And we're getting new details into what fired FBI Director James Comey might reveal during that much-anticipated testimony next week. A source tells CNN that Comey was, quote, "disturbed" by his interactions with the president and thought perhaps President Trump needed to, quote, "be trained about how to interact with the FBI." Furthermore, Comey told our source he didn't believe any of the president's individual actions obstructed justice, but the quote here, "aggregate pattern of behavior" could be a different story.

Joining me now is CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, what more do we know about this in anticipation of Comey's testimony?

[14:40:21] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, at first, we're dealing with the issue of executive privilege. You heard it from Sean Spicer right there. The decision is still not made. The White House not ruling that possibility out. So there's still a question as to whether or not President Trump will try to block some of James Comey's testimony on Thursday.

We know from our sources that Comey is eager to tell his story. Today, a source with knowledge of Comey's thinking tells us that Comey, after he met with the president, was in fact disturbed by his interactions but did think that the president could be taught on how to talk to director. He viewed it as an ongoing project, teaching the president.

And the source also said Comey, he would have done more than write a memo if any of those actions rose to the level of obstruction of justice. But of course, if Comey takes all of these things together during his testimony next week, he might come to a different conclusion about this.

That bring us back to, will President Trump try to exert executive privilege to stop the testimony in full or in part.

Earlier this morning, this is how counselor, Kellyanne Conway, responded.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: Does he want former Director Comey to testify before Congress?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: We'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies. The last time he testified under oath, the FBI had to scurry to correct that testimony. He was off by hundreds of thousands in his count. His sworn testimony count of the number of information -- the number of e-mails that Huma Abedin allegedly sent to her husband, Anthony Weiner. He said there was hundreds of thousands. Turns out that was off by --


STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president is not invoking executive privilege?

CONWAY: The president will make that decision.


SCHNEIDER: So the lingering questions as we approach the testimony on Thursday, will the Trump administration try to block the testimony?

Ana, it is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. That's the public testimony and then the closed session will be at 1:00.

Some are arguing that since James Comey no longer works for the government and is a private citizen, they're arguing any instruction from the president not to testify wouldn't hold weight. And, in addition, some say the president may have effectively waived his executive privilege because he's tweeted about James Comey on several occasions, he's referenced their meeting in interviews. So, Ana, still waiting for a word from the White House on what they might do, if anything -- Ana?

CABRERA: Jessica Schneider, that really sums it up as we anticipate that meeting on the 8th. Testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

I want to widen the conversation and bring in CNN political analyst, David Drucker; CNN legal analyst and constitutional attorney, Page Pate. Also with us, Shelby Holliday, politics and business reporter for the "Wall Street Journal"; and Timothy O'Brien, the author of "The Art of Being The Donald."

David, I'll start with you.

We just heard from Jessica Schneider's about Comey's state of mind, his interactions with the president, that he seemed to think that the president was a project and was maybe asking inappropriate things because he didn't have the experience to know differently. Does it change anything, in your view, in anticipation of his testimony?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think a lot of people are going to watch it and it's going to be highly scrutinized. I think what is interesting here is if the administration actually tried to invoke executive privilege, it looks like the president has something to hide. If he testifies, we can already see from Ms. Conway's testimony, that they are going to try to continue to tar James Comey's character. That's a position they'd prefer to keep. Let him talk, continue to undermine him and tar his character. That's what they have done since firing him. It's been the most interesting part of this. And this is why I think we're in this position. Not so much that they fired Comey but the way they did it and ever since they've tried to undermine him. A lot of things you can say about Comey, both Republicans and Democrats are unhappy with how had he handled things last year but nobody's accused the guy of being dishonest. I don't know that it's going to serve the administration well to continue to try to go after him but they are now in this position that they don't really have any better option and trying to stop him from testifying, even if it worked, would send a signal like, you're really worried he's going to say something that's going to make the president, in particular, look bad. And I don't know that's a position that they want to be in either.

CABRERA: Page Pate, we heard from Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway and not rule out whether the president would assert executive privilege. Are they considering this?

[14:45:10] PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Ana, I find it incredible, honestly. Let's talk about executive privilege. There's no law that sets out what it is. It's not written in the Constitution. There is this developed understanding that the president can keep things privileged and doesn't have to talk about it, no one in the administration has to talk about it in front of Congress or other proceedings.

But every time an executive privilege has gone in front of a court, the court has limited that privilege. They will not uphold executive privilege. In other words, they will require an administration official to talk if the issue involves something that, number one, has already been discussed by this administration and we have that here because the White House and Trump specifically has made public his meetings with James Comey. And, two, the issue they are trying to protect has to be in the public's interest, not something to protect the president's personal interests. I don't see them being able to successfully invoke executive privilege and the decision to do it I think would be a huge mistake here unless he has no other choice, unless he's convinced that James Comey is going to say Trump is lying about what we talked about in our meetings.

CABRERA: Timothy, do you think they are really mulling this over or just trying to build some suspense?

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, AUTHOR: I think they are not a group of strategic thinkers and I think they've had sort of a slash and burn mentality about how to deal with this FBI probe and with Congress since it began. And I think to their detriment. They are not on very firm ground here if Trump tries to invoke privilege. This comes back to Watergate when Nixon tried to prevent the releasing of the tapes.

CABRERA: It didn't work.

O'BRIEN: It didn't work. And then 16 days or so later, he resigned. To continue to go after Comey's character and then to invoke executive privilege when Trump's been tweeting quite publicly about these matters and spokespeople have been out rumbling for him, I think that they are on very weak ground. And I don't think it's strategic. I think it's defensive.

CABRERA: Shelby, is it better for the Trump administration, the bigger risk for them to invoke privilege and prevent him from testifying?

HOLLIDAY: It's more risky to clock him from testifying. Trump has already fired him. There was tremendous backlash. You have a growing list of events that are now public, including Trump's dinner with Comey, Trump made phone calls to Comey, administration officials asked top officials in the intelligence committee to come out and bat the story down and defend President Trump. You also have President Trump admitting that the Russia investigation bothered him. So it doesn't -- I don't think Comey is expected to give any sort of bombshell answers. He will possibly address the memos but, in general, we already know a lot of the things that President Trump has done.

You know, proving obstruction of justice requires intent but he already does have all of these actions that looks like he was trying to mess with the investigation or influence it in some sort of way. CABRERA: On the issue of intent, Page Pate, let me ask you about this

idea that perhaps one individual conversation could have been seen as innocent enough. And we just heard from our reporting with Jessica Schneider, Gloria Borger talking to sources, that there were multiple meetings and each looked at individually looked at alone, Comey didn't want to go to obstructing justice. He didn't think there was enough "there" there. Perhaps in retrospect, he could be asked, when you take the sum of those meetings, could it point to intent.

PAGE: Absolutely. And one thing that Comey didn't know then but he knows how, the president fired him to stop the investigation. The conduct continued after the meetings. The fact that the statements continued after the initial meetings, all of that shows intent and think about it, to accuse a sitting president of committing a felony, he's going to be very reluctant to do that unless he's sure. Once he got fired, I think the evidence is now very strong.

CABRERA: Timothy, is James Comey a credible witness?

O'BRIEN: Of course, he's a credible witness. He's been an inflammatory personality more recently but I don't think anyone has ever thought he's a flat-out liar and fabricator. We know he went back and drafted memos as part of his work product after he had meetings with Trump. I think he consciously did that to create a paper trail and a record of this to substantiate what he believes occurred. I think he consciously did that to create a paper trail and a record of this to substantiate what he believes occurred. I think he's been cautious about how he plans to release that into the public realm. He has a relationship with Bob Mueller, and I'm sure they've spoken so that Comey doesn't get in the way of the Mueller investigation. And it's a very perilous strategy for this White House to be doing character assassination on James Comey.

[14:50:24] CABRERA: All right. Everybody, thank you. We've got to leave it there.

Up next, is the influence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner shrinking inside the White House? New details about their relationship with the president, when we come back.


14:55:02] CABRERA: First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, also senior White House adviser to the president, they are keeping a low profile right now. A source tells CNN the kushners are not the power brokers many assumed. The FBI is investigating Kushner's role with the contacts with the Russian officials. It has put an unwanted spotlight on the president. And former presidential adviser believes that it's time for Kushner to take a break.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Jared Kushner has to be extremely careful what he says to people. He cannot be in a position where it's later claimed that he's witness tampering. People around him are going to eventually testify. If he goes up and gives instructions about how to think about this or that, that can be considered tampering. It's one of the reasons why I think that Jared Kushner should be considering a possibility of taking a leave of absence.


CABRERA: Maeve Reston, CNN national political reporter, is joining us now.

Maeve, is their influence waning in the White House?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think the investigation has created such a cloud around Jared Kushner at this point that there's no way in which he couldn't be taking a step back in terms of his role which was so vast and broad in the White House before and like David Gergen said, there's a lot of concerns now as this investigation escalates about what he says, what he's advising on. But we don't know really what the conversations were between Jared Kushner and President Trump, how much running room he gave him. He gave him a lot of running room. But it's clear that while he's taking a less visible role, Ivanka will be the Trumped adviser to her father. And she talked about in an interview in April with CBSs, talked about speaking quietly to the president, speaking with total candor on a lot of these issues that she disagrees with him on, like climate change and Planned Parenthood. So I think it remains undiminished. But as far as Jared Kushner, clearly, they know there is a lot of legal jeopardy there and he's certainly taking a less visible role. We'll see how Trump handles all of this hubbub surrounding Kushner publicly. But today, you heard Sean Spicer talk about how the president has full confidence in Jared Kushner and how he thinks the entire investigation is a witch hunt or at least that's what he says publicly.

CABRERA: Well, the answer was "absolutely" when asked, does the president still have confidence in Jared Kushner, though a lot of people have noted that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were the ones advocating to stay in the climate change deal --

RESTON: Exactly.

CABRERA: That didn't happen.

Maeve Reston, thank you.

Up next, more of our breaking news. The White House says the president will review whether he'll try to block James Comey from testifying next week about their private conversations. Stand by for that. Stay with us.


CABRERA: Top of the hour. Thanks for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera. Brooke Baldwin is off today.

Moments ago, the White House stood firm on President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord to curb global warming. And as his spokesman defended the move, he dodged at least five times the question of whether the president believes that climate change is happening.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States.

PRUITT: It's interesting about all of the discussions we had in the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue, is Paris good or not --