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Did Trump Try to Lift Russia Sanctions?; Does President Trump Still Believe Climate Change Is a Hoax?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 2, 2017 - 15:00   ET




QUESTION: Does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?

SCOTT PRUITT, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: You know, what is interesting about all of the discussions that we have had through the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue. Is Paris good or not for this country?

That's the discussions I have had with the president and whether they were good environmental objectives that were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was no. And that was the extent of our discussion.

Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: But on climate change, yes or no?

PRUITT: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Does the president believe today that climate change is a hoax? That's something, of course, he said in the campaign. When the pool was up in the Oval Office with him a couple days ago, he refused to answer. So, I'm wondering if you can speak for him.

PRUITT: I did answer the question, because I said the discussions that the president and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue. Is Paris good or bad for this country?

QUESTION: But you're the EPA administrator. Shouldn't you be able to tell the American people whether or not the president still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?

PRUITT: As I indicated several times through process, there's enough to deal with, with respect to the Paris agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue.

That's what our focus has been over the last several weeks. I have asked -- I have answered the question a couple of times.

QUESTION: Does the president share the EPA administrator's thoughts on this topic? And has the administration sort of backed away from using the words climate change?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't -- I have not -- as I have mentioned, I have not had an opportunity to specifically talk to the president about that.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in senior correspondent Jim Acosta.

You were for that briefing. Jim, does it seem that the president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, doesn't actually talk to the president? Because he just keeps on saying, I haven't had a chance to talk to the president about that. And he was asked the same question the day before.


Well, I do know that Sean Spicer is in meetings with the president from time to time. I can't say exactly when is the last time he had a chance to talk to the president and whether he brought up this issue.

But it is an interesting question. We asked Sean Spicer this earlier this week. I think the expectation would be, if you have had a few days to come up with an answer, that you would have an answer.

But you heard the press secretary during that briefing today. He was asked, well, we asked to you go back and talk to the president about this? Have you had a chance to do this? He said he didn't have an opportunity to do so.

I think part of that, Ana, is because administration officials, top White House officials, including Gary Cohn, Kellyanne Conway -- you heard the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, take a swing at this today during the briefing today -- they just don't have that answer from the president.

And so they are simply dancing around this very critical question, which is whether or not the president believes in climate change, whether he still believes it's a hoax that is perpetrated by the Chinese to weaken American manufacturers, as he's said periodically in tweets and so on.

And it's stunning to hear administration officials over and over again asked this question when they have had a good 24 hours since this Rose Garden speech. Obviously, one of the questions that would be asked, you know, looking back at the president's comments in the past, is, where does he stand on this issue?

And they just simply did not have an answer for us today. You did hear the EPA administrator, though, Ana, though say that they do believe that carbon emissions are being brought down, that progress has been made on CO2 emissions.

So, if you're talking about, well, we believe we have made progress, Ana, on CO2 emissions and carbon emission, then one would think they believe or that the president believes that climate change is occurring and that human activity, which results in carbon emissions, is a contributing factor when it comes to climate change.

But they are just not willing to answer that question. And it sort of reminds me, Ana, of when that president made that comment, about well, President Obama wiretapped me at Trump Tower. And we have gone back and forth, back and forth with the White House over and over again for months and months and months about this charge made by the president, and the president still never withdrew that comment.

I don't think the president is going to withdraw this comment. It will be fascinating if he finally says, I do believe in climate change, because that would essentially mean in the past he had been wrong on the issue.

CABRERA: There's been so much dancing around in recent days, but even during the campaign, he seemed to soften his stance when he was asked about whether climate change was a hoax. And it seems that he had evolved on that issue. The administration likes to use that word evolution in terms of his positions.

But, again, they continue to dodge the direct question and answering just yes or no, does he believe it's real?

ACOSTA: Right.

CABRERA: Let me ask you about another point that was brought up at this briefing. And that's of course the upcoming testimony of James Comey, the fired FBI director. He will testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee next Thursday at 10:00 a.m.

It will be an open briefing initially. A lot on the line at that briefing. What do we know about whether the president is going to try to stop Comey from speaking?

ACOSTA: That too is an unresolved question, Ana.

During the briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about this. He said that the question is being reviewed, which is a pretty stunning comment, because it means that this White House, the White House Counsel's Office, the president, that they want to take a look at this and at least hold out the prospect or even perhaps you could call it a threat, that the president could sort of come in here at the last second and say, no, I'm invoking executive privilege. I would like to block James Comey from testifying.


I think you would have to bring in constitutional experts, some balance of power experts to determine whether or not the Congress could at that point try to challenge the president in some sort of constitutional fashion to see whether or not he's even capable of doing that.

But it's a very interesting question, whether the president would actually attempt to do that, because obviously it would signal, once again, the president trying to interfere or get in the way of the public hearing from James Comey.

And, of course, it was during those meetings with James Comey that the former FBI director says that the president attempted to basically ask him, well, can you let me know whether I'm in hot water on all of this?

It would add more questions to this whole saga as to what the president is up to when it comes to James Comey.

CABRERA: Jim Acosta, thank you.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CABRERA: Let's dig deeper with our panel.

Joining us, CNN contributor John Dean, who was White House counsel for Richard Nixon, Eric Lichtblau, the assistant managing editor of CNN's Washington bureau, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor.

So, Eric, we have some new reporting on Comey's state of mind leading into this testimony. What are we learning?

ERIC LICHTBLAU, MANAGING EDITOR, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Well, I think one point that he is likely to hit is that this was a process for him with the president, as well as the country, a process to try to understand these sort of awkward overtures, if you will, from Trump that seemed so unusual coming from the White House.

I think what we're hearing is that no one of them perhaps crossed over the line or clearly smashed through the line of manipulating or pressuring the FBI to drop the investigation, and perhaps Comey felt that he could sort of handle or educate the president, but added up cumulatively, and certainly in the light of now Comey's firing there, that it was sort of the appearance that the president was trying to take control of this investigation because it threatened him personally.

CABRERA: So, Laura, if that were to be his testimony, that doesn't sound good for the president.


But, remember, you have to think about it in context. If the endgame of the FBI investigation was to determine whether or not there was collusion between a foreign entity, that being Russia, and the Trump campaign, then to hinge the entire investigation on an obstruction charge will be a bit odd.

And the reason I say is because obstruction charges are ones you kind of add on to the overall claim. To stop there would be a gift to the administration if they are in fact guilty of any type of crime, because it would say to the people, look, the roadblock you put up also stopped the investigation into whatever was beyond it.

So it would be odd. It would be hard for the administration to follow that tough, very tough pill, but it would not conclude that the investigation should have stopped at that particular point.

CABRERA: All right.

John Dean, so let's talk about executive privilege. Should the president try to invoke executive privilege in this scenario? What would you advise?

JEAN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ana, I probably know as much about executive privilege as anybody.

And it's only been recognized one place in the law. That was in U.S. vs. Nixon, a Supreme Court case on the tapes. And I have got to tell you, I have never heard of any president invoking executive privilege on a witness and insisting he not testify.

It's something done that is through collaboration and discussion. He has absolutely no authority without short of going to court to force Comey to comply with his desire to invoke executive privilege. If Comey doesn't want to, he doesn't have to -- he's not bound by any kind of contractual relation or binding commitment to the executive branch.


CABRERA: And that is because he's a private citizen now?

DEAN: That's because -- that's the only leverage you have, is you could remove somebody from their job if the president didn't want them to testify.

But let's just say my own situation, when I testified and Nixon didn't want me testifying. He never threatened me with executive privilege because there was no way to enforce it. So I don't really know what all this talk about invoking executive privilege.

It sounds like a P.R. move to me, where Trump is going to -- he has nothing to invoke, but is going to say, well, I won't invoke it. Now let him go ahead and testify because I'm not afraid of what he's going to say. So it's a lot of smoke to me.

CABRERA: And, Laura, obviously, the president has himself brought up publicly what was discussed in these private conversations. He talked to Lester Holt in that NBC interview about having the conversation with the president and with Comey on at least three occasions, asking him whether he was under investigation and being told, according to the president, that he was not under investigation in their conversations.


So, does that in effect waive parts of executive privilege?

COATES: If there was a privilege to assert in this case -- and your prior guest is absolutely right, it has no teeth to it -- he could say, listen, I have already waived part of that by actually disclosing parts of the contents of that conversation. People are focused on executive privilege because, remember, Sally

Yates also testified. And she chose in her testimony to honor a form of privilege. Remember, she wasn't talking about executive privilege. She's talking about the fact that she was a government lawyer and her role was different than that of FBI Director Comey.

So, there was an ethical obligation that may have been there for Sally Yates that was not there where there's the absence of an attorney- client privilege or the thought of one.

And, remember, that same case about Nixon, in terms of turning over those tapes, the court did also go on to say, not only is that privilege really not applicable here, but you also -- if there's a criminal investigation, then the interests of Congress and the people of the United States can override even that privilege.

Here, you have got a criminal investigation, a special counsel, Robert Mueller. This is not the opportunity to invoke that privilege, even if it had teeth.

CABRERA: What's the bigger risk politically or optics here, Eric, if he invokes the executive privilege vs. not?

LICHTBLAU: Well, I think, politically, it certainly could boomerang on the White House, if they really were to take that step.

And, as John and Laura said, that's a big if, whether they really would cross the bridge. But that's something that would make it appear at the grandest stage possible that they had something to hide, that the president was personally intervening to silence the FBI director that he fired after reports of trying to caution investigation.

That would send a powerful signal and a pretty threatening one, I would think, to the White House.

CABRERA: John, if Comey acknowledged before Congress that what's in these memos that we have learned of are true and that President Trump asked him to drop the case against Michael Flynn, is that enough for some type of criminal charge or grounds for impeachment?

DEAN: Well, it may or may not be. It may fit into a larger pattern of information that we have. Comey may have part of it. I don't think he has all of it.

Even his -- Trump's tweets may tell us or his later conversation with the Russians. We have to look at it in a larger frame. I don't think that Comey alone is going to drive a nail in the issue, so it's just a piece of it, is what he's going to offer in this testimony.

LICHTBLAU: And remember, Ana, the claim of obstruction doesn't just relate to Comey, although that's certainly a few of the most dramatic moments.

There are also allegedly attempts to silence two others that are head of NSA and CIA and along with others to get them to either say that there was no merit to the investigation, so there are other potential pieces of ammunition in an indictment besides Comey.

CABRERA: Laura, in your mind, what could be the most revealing question asked of Comey?

COATES: Well, whether or not his conversation about this motivation for wanting to drop the investigation into Flynn was politically motivated or not.

That is going to be the damning evidence that would contradict yet again another assertion from the White House as to the motivation in doing so. It wouldn't end the inquiry with respect to collusion, but, again, if the totality of circumstances that we have here that can prove a case, we don't have the low-hanging fruit.

But if you show us an apple and there's more in the orchard, that would be the issue here.

CABRERA: All right, Laura Coates, John Dean, and Eric Lichtblau, thank you all.

COATES: Thank you.

CABRERA: An explosive new report to tell you about suggesting that the Trump administration secretly explored lifting sanctions against Russia in just the first weeks of his presidency. Hear why it perhaps did not happen.

Plus, CNN tracks down the Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner. The big question, why is the White House saying one thing about the meeting and Russia saying another?

And more on why the White House can't say if President Trump believes climate change is real.

This is live right now. It looks like the president is getting ready to sign some legislation. Let's listen in.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, all. It's a great honor.

And I thank the vice president for being here. Thank you. Ivanka Trump, thank you for being here. And we have a great group behind us, incredible people, some of whom are very good friends.

Good afternoon. It's an honor to be with you, the men and women of law enforcement, as well as two fantastic state attorneys general, who are always proud to stand by the side of law enforcement officers.


TRUMP: That's Pam Bondi and Leslie Rutledge.

Thank you very much. Thank you. I want to thank also Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal

Order of Police, and Sheriff Greg Champagne, president of the National Sheriff's Association.

Where are you folks?


Appreciate you being here, really two great champions of law enforcement.

We are here today to reaffirm our unbreakable support for the American heroes who keep our streets, our homes and our citizens safe. I think they are doing an amazing job under very adverse conditions.

We will always support the incredible men and women of law enforcement. I can speak very strongly for myself and for Mike Pence, the vice president. We are behind you 100 percent.

Every single day, America's law enforcement officers, firefighters, first-responders and their families make tremendous sacrifices for their communities and for their nation.

When a home is threatened, when danger visits our doorstep, when innocent lives are on the line, Americans turn to their courageous offices of law enforcement, because we know that they are here to serve and to protect us all.

They sacrifice every day to keep us safe. Many have paid the ultimate price, laying down their lives to save others. Incredible people. They are true heroes, and we will always be grateful.

So, I want to thank you folks. That is so true.

Our duty as Americans is to honor their service and sacrifice and to protect those who protect us. Today, I am proud to sign two laws to helpful fill that very, very sacred commitment.

First, the Public Safety Officers Benefits Improvement Act will help disabled officers and firefighters and families of those who fall in the line of duty quickly receive all of the benefits they so justly deserve. People have wanted this for a long time. And I'm not just talking about the people behind me. I'm talking about many people that represent the people behind me, family members and friends and people who just appreciate the work that they do, which is incredible.

For too long, injured officers have suffered and the children of fallen officers have put their dreams of college on hold while bureaucracy delayed crucial benefits, made it impossible for their families. No longer. It's unacceptable. And it's going to end today. In fact, it's going to end in about one minute.

This bill speeds approval times by giving the local enforcement great role in determining eligibility and lets applicants track the progress of their claims online, so, a much, much faster situation.

You all happy with that?


TRUMP: You have been waiting for this for years.

Second, the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act allows the use of federal grants to help our military veterans transition to new careers in law enforcement. America is proud of our veterans. And I think I can say they're double proud or triple proud. We love our veterans.

And they are serving overseas. They are in harm's way, as they are doing things that very few people would have the courage to do. And we will be and always will be incredibly proud to have them with us. And they have been with us like nobody. And we are going to be protecting them.

They have been protecting us. We're going to be helping them right now. They have really been with us in terms of freedom, in terms of our rights. And we're right now in terms of their rights.

As president, keeping Americans safe is my highest duty, and supporting law enforcement is my unwavering commitment. I am very proud to sign these two great bills today.

I want to thank everybody for being here. And if you have the bills, we will sign them. This has been years in the making. And I will tell you that this is something that I'm very happy to be doing.

So, congratulations, everybody. Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.


CABRERA: We are just listening in to this press conference moments ago, with the president signing a couple of bills dealing with law enforcement and veterans, but still refusing to answer any questions about the climate decision or James Comey's testimony.

We will have more on those two breaking stories next.


CABRERA: It's a yes-or-no question that the White House can't seem to answer. Does the president believe in climate change?

Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he hasn't had that discussion with the president, which is pretty confounding, considering President Trump just withdrew from the world's biggest effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Let's talk about this with Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator and former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate. Also with us, former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers during President Obama's first term. [15:25:11]

All right, Senator, to you first. This question, does the president believe in climate change, why is this such a difficult question to answer?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think probably because it doesn't really matter. I think what matters is two things.

CABRERA: Why doesn't it matter?


SANTORUM: Yes, I will explain. Two things really matter.

Number one, what is the impact of this treaty on the United States of America? And, number two, does the treaty actually do something positive toward averting climate change?

And on both scores, what the president has said and his people have said is no. Number one, it's not good for America. Number two, even if it was good for America, it doesn't really do anything to solve the problem. So, on both cases, whether you believe in climate change or believe that man has is -- altering the climate, this treaty doesn't do anything about it and it's bad for the U.S., end of story.

CABRERA: Austan, is that how you see it?



And that's not the way the majority of America sees it either. I'm sure you saw the polls came out yesterday. They released that the majority of American people in every state, there's a majority in every state supporting this agreement.

It's not a treaty. It doesn't actually make sense what Donald Trump said. The fact-checkers went through his speech and it lit up the board like a pinball machine of falsities.

In my opinion, I think it's somewhat sad that the United States has come to this, that a nonbinding agreement in which the countries of the world got together and said we're going to try to affect how much carbon pollution we're putting out, including all the countries of the world, except for Syria, Nicaragua, and now the United States, I think it's sad that we're going to pull ourselves out of that.

And you saw major CEOs from industries all across in the board in the United States condemning this decision that Donald Trump made. I think it's a mistake, and we're going to look back on it and regret it.

CABRERA: Senator, where does the Republican Party stand when it comes to climate change? What is the stance of the GOP? SANTORUM: Well, I think it's all over the map. I think most

Americans are very skeptical about the role that man plays in the climate change.

CABRERA: And why is that? Because the science is very clear. Ninety-five-plus percent of climate scientists it's very real.


SANTORUM: That's a bogus number. There are hundreds, if not thousands of scientists who have signed documents and published letters saying...

CABRERA: Hundreds, if not thousands?


CABRERA: Which ones?

SANTORUM: Saying -- well, I haven't added them up, but I have seen lists for over a long period of time of people who question not that the climate is changing.

I don't question the climate is changing. I suspect Donald Trump doesn't question that the climate is changing. But the climate is always changing.

The question is, what role does man play in that change? And that's where there's disagreement, number one. And, number two, what man can do about it is also even more of a challenge because most of it is -- Austan talks about all these countries that have volunteered to reduce emissions.

Well, of course, that's not true. China is increasing their emissions and is going to increase their emissions. And they are the biggest polluter there is. India is going to increase their emissions.

In fact, most of the Third World under this agreement is going to increase their emissions. And the only one that has really agreed to, wrongly, in my opinion, to hamper their economy and hamstring their economy by dramatically reducing is the United States. Bad deal.

CABRERA: Austan, your response?

GOOLSBEE: Well, look, factually that's not correct on either count.

A, as a scientist, I do not believe that Senator Santorum is very good. He's not describing what the scientific findings have been.

It doesn't take a lab or a Ph.D. to figure out that if you smoke, you're more likely to get lung cancer, that if you emit carbon pollution -- and we know that carbon in the atmosphere contributes to global warming -- that human activity is correlated with the change in climate.

Now, we can have a sober discussion. And I agree with the senator that we should think about what the costs are and how fast that we can do those. And we should expect other countries to come on board.

But in a case like this, where it was a nonbinding thing, in which all the countries of the world are holding hands and saying let's try to work toward an improvement, for the United States to thumb its nose at the world, when it was a nonbinding agreement to begin with, is -- really just hands world leadership over to countries like China and Russia and our adversaries.

CABRERA: Let me just ask you, Austan, about the jobs issue, because if you say Trump is so bad for the economy, and we're talking --