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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey; Putin Admits Russians May Have Meddled in U.S. Election; Former FBI Director Set to Testify; White House Won't Say If Trump Believes Climate Change is a Hoax; Pentagon Warns Climate Change Could Lead to War. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 2, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A Senate insider tells CNN that President Trump will likely fail if he tries to block James Comey's upcoming testimony by invoking executive privilege. The possibility of a dramatic showdown to silence the former FBI chief now under review at the White House.
Refusing to answer. The president's chief spokesman still can't or won't say if Mr. Trump thinks climate change is a hoax. We will look at new attempts to deflect on the Paris deal pullout, the Russia investigation and more.
Absolute confidence. We're told the president's son-in-law still has Mr. Trump's full support, even as Jared Kushner grows more embattled by the day with the constant drip of new revelations about his Russian contacts.
And hysteria. Vladimir Putin dismisses the U.S. uproar over Russia, denying any secret deals were struck with the Trump team. In surprising new remarks, the Kremlin boss now is comparing claims of Moscow's election meddling to anti-Semitism.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, the Trump administration is refusing, refusing to rule out an attempt to muzzle James Comey, this as anticipation builds for sensational public testimony by the fired FBI director six days from now.
White House officials say Mr. Trump will review a possible effort to invoke executive privilege. Tonight, a Senate Democratic source is driving home the difficulty of doing that, telling CNN the only way Mr. Trump might stop Comey would be to launch an unprecedented and politically risky court battle and even that might not work.
Also tonight, the White House is reaffirming that the president still has confidence in son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. But new questions keep arising about Kushner's Russia contacts and conflicting explanations about why he met with the banker linked to the Kremlin.
President Vladimir Putin is weighing in on the Russia investigation tonight, dismissing it as hysteria. In new public remarks, Putin denies any secret backroom deals with the Trump team on lifting sanctions on Russia or anything else.
Also breaking, the White House still won't say if Mr. Trump believes climate change is a hoax a day after his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Multiple officials were asked multiple times, but still no answer.
I will talk about all of that, much more with Senator Ed Markey. He's a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But, first, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, the White House now leaving the door open to invoking what is called executive privilege, but we're hearing more about what an uphill fight that could be.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
A Senate source says if President Trump wants to block Comey's testimony, he may have to take the fight all the way to federal court and seek a restraining order, something that's never been attempted before. Even if the president doesn't take it that far, the Senate source says Comey's private citizen status, plus the president's statements, make it all that more likely that Comey will in fact testify.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is weighing whether to assert executive privilege to block FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Literally, my understanding is 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.
SCHNEIDER: Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway indicated she expects Comey to talk, but sent mixed messages when asked.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: We will be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies.
QUESTION: So, the president is not going to invoke executive privilege?
CONWAY: The president will make that decision.
SCHNEIDER: Comey no longer works for the government, so the president can't order him to stay silent. And some say President Trump's tweets about Comey and declarations like these--
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me you are not under investigation, which I knew anyway.
SCHNEIDER: -- waived the president's right. Others argue asserting executive privilege is necessary.
PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It sets a dangerous precedent that the president's conversations, you know, private conversations can be revealed. It will be a he said/he said type of thing. It's one side of the story. I don't think that helps the process.
SCHNEIDER: And there is new insight into how James Comey might recount his conversations with the president.
A source with knowledge of Comey's thinking says that, while Comey was "disturbed" by his interactions with President Trump, Comey believed he had the situation under control.
The source says if Comey believed at the time that any specific encounter constituted obstruction of justice, Comey would have done more than just write a memo. But tonight, the source says, when Comey testifies next week, he may tell Congress that when all of the comments the president made to him are taken together, along with his firing, they could suggest a more serious pattern.
And there are continuing questions about Jared Kushner's mid-December meeting with Russian bank chairman Sergey Gorkov, a man who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. The White House insists Kushner conducted the meetings in his capacity during the transition.
VEB Bank maintains it was part of their -- quote -- "business road show." The meeting was arranged after Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in early December at Trump Tower. In St. Petersburg Friday, President Putin defended the talks.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Our ambassador met someone. That's what the ambassador must do. That's his work. He's getting paid for that. He must meet. He must discuss current affairs. He must make agreements.
SCHNEIDER: And Putin attacked Hillary Clinton for blaming her election loss on his country, using this over-the-top analogy.
PUTIN (through translator): They decided to say, it's not our fault, it's the Russians' fault. It's like anti-Semitism, to blame the Jews for everything. We all know what this can lead to, nothing good.
SCHNEIDER: Kushner's meetings with Russian officials came as Russia was feeling pressure from U.S. sanctions imposed after Russia's action in Ukraine. Retired coordinator of sanctions policy Dan Fried is now speaking out
about his efforts to stop the Trump administration from lifting Russian sanctions earlier this year. Fried retired from the State Department in February and said he contacted lawmakers in an effort to codify the sanctions, something that never happened.
DAN FRIED, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Lifting sanctions without the Russians doing anything, as a free gift struck me, strikes me now as a bad, bad idea. My colleagues were concerned about this. And so was I at the time.
SCHNEIDER: Press Secretary Sean Spicer continued to refer all questions about the Russia investigation to White House outside counsel. Spicer also said that Jared Kushner absolutely continues to have the full confidence of the president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.
The White House is clamming up tonight about more than just the Russia probe. Multiple officials refusing to answer a key question. Does the president still believe climate change is a hoax?
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, you and other reporters, you repeatedly pressed for information from the press secretary, Sean Spicer, from the EPA administrator. And you got more pushback. You didn't get answers.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And keep in mind President Trump, there was a media availability earlier this afternoon. He was asked once again whether he believes climate change is a hoax, whether he believes it is real. He did not answer the question. And so, once again, he has left it to his top aides and administration officials.
And today it was the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's turn to explain what is going on inside the president's head when it comes to this question. And he was struggling to provide some climate cover. I tried at one point during the White House briefing earlier today to press Pruitt on the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening. Here is what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Why then is the Arctic ice shelf melting? Why are the sea levels rising? Why are the hottest temperatures in the last decade essentially the hottest temperatures that we have seen on record?
SCOTT PRUITT, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: We actually have been in a hiatus since the late 1990s, as you know. (CROSSTALK)
ACOSTA: But, 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 and so forth, and you talked about climate exaggerators, it just seems to a lot of people around the world that you and the president are just denying the reality.
And the reality of the situation is that climate change is happening and it is a significant threat to the planet.
PRUITT: Let me say this. And I have said it in the confirmation process and I said it yesterday.
ACOSTA: Arctic ice.
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. We will continue to stay engaged. We are part, as you know, of the UNFCCC. And that process encourages voices by subnational groups and by countries across the globe, and we are going to stay engaged and try to work through agreements and achieve outcomes that put America's interest first.
This is not, this is not a message to anyone in the world that America somewhat should be apologetic of its CO2 position. We are actually making tremendous advances. We're just not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurt citizens across the country.
ACOSTA: They're a little worried that you are putting your head in the sand.
PRUITT: Well, there is no evidence of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, the other unsettling thing that happened later on in the briefing, Wolf, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about how he was asked earlier this week whether he had talked to the president about this belief that the president apparently has that climate change is a hoax.
[18:10:02] During that briefing earlier this week, Spicer told reporters that he
would come back at some point and provide that answer in the Briefing Room. He was pressed on that again and asked, well, what is the answer? Does the president still believe climate change is a hoax?
And Spicer did not have an answer to the question today, Wolf, despite having several days to work on just that one question. And, of course, when the press secretary to the president of the United States is struggling to provide answers in the Briefing Room, then ultimately undoubtedly at some point the questions are going to start to be about the future of the press secretary.
And I think that's the problem that Sean Spicer has, when he can't answer a basic question like that to reporters, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and they have asked, as you point out, a few days about it. I will get back to you. Had a few days and didn't get back to the reporters.
ACOSTA: Didn't get back.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much for that report.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Senator Ed Markey is joining us. He's Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You're welcome.
BLITZER: All right, we have got a lot to discuss.
But I want to begin with next week's scheduled testimony from the former FBI Director James Comey. He's scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning for the first time since he was fired by President Trump.
The White House now is considering invoking executive privilege to block his testimony. Are you worried that the president will prevent Comey from giving a full account of their exchanges?
MARKEY: Yes, that would actually create a complete mess of this investigation, of the potential Russian interference in the American elections.
I think that the American people have a right to know whether or not in fact President Trump asked Jim Comey to pledge his loyalty to Donald Trump, whether or not he asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, whether or not he told the president that on three separate occasions that he, that the president was not under investigation, because we have to get the answers to those questions.
And if the president attempts to invoke executive privilege, that would just continue to raise the question of obstruction of justice, which the very firing of Jim Comey has raised in the minds of the American people.
BLITZER: Senator, would the Senate respect the president's invocation of executive privilege or will the Senate force the president to go to court, a federal court, and ask that court to block Director Comey from appearing?
MARKEY: Well, I would hope that Democrats and Republicans would put politics aside, put party aside, and put the best interest of our nation up front and center, because, ultimately, the American people are entitled to these issues.
And the Senate has prerogatives as well which the president cannot truncate. So I would hope that Democrats and Republicans will stand strong and insist that Comey testified, and if the president attempts to invoke executive privilege, that the Senate use all of its prerogatives, including going to court in order to ensure that Comey tells the Senate and through the Senate the American people what happened during that Russian investigation.
BLITZER: Senator, I also want to get your thoughts on the White House punting all Russia-related questions to outside private legal counsel. Listen to Sean Spicer at the White House briefing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you clarify the nature of the conversations that Jared Kushner had with Russian officials and a banker in December and what was the date of the meeting with the banker?
SPICER: I cannot. And as I have mentioned the other day, that we are focused on the president's agenda, and going forward, all questions on these matters will be forwarded to counsel, Marc Kasowitz.
QUESTION: But how can you not answers about it when the president himself tweets about it?
SPICER: I just -- all we are focused on his agenda and going forward, all questions on this matter will be referred to outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, what do you think of the White House strategy here, Senator Markey, especially in light of fact that the president himself continues to frequently treat -- tweet, I should say, about the Russia probe, calling it a witch-hunt?
MARKEY: Well, they want to go dark. They don't want to have to respond. They want private counsel to respond and then private counsel to say, we can't comment.
And, as a result, the American public won't be able to ask or get answers to these questions. So, again, it's just a further attempt to obfuscate, a further attempt to cover up the information which the American people have a right to know the answer to, including what was the subject material that Jared Kushner actually talked about with the Russian banker? [18:15:00]
What was the subject material that Jared Kushner talked to Ambassador Kislyak about? The American people right now have a question about the compromise of their election last year, the presidential election and during the transition period , what was the Trump administration doing? This is just another attempt to kind of sweep it under the rug, hope the time passes, hope that people lose their focus, that the press goes away, that other issues will arise.
But it's not going to happen, Mr. President. The pressure is going to continue to mount until you give the American people the answers to these key questions. And every day that you delay is a step closer to a constitutional crisis.
BLITZER: As you know, there's a lot of speculation that the subject of those conversations may have been U.S. sanctions against Russia and lifting those sanctions.
The former coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department says it would be a free gift if the Trump administration were to relieve Russia of those sanctions without receiving anything in return. Do you worry that the Trump administration is going to take that step?
MARKEY: I do worry. I think that, unfortunately, Donald Trump has given signals that he believes that cozy cooperation with Putin is the pathway to a better world.
But in Crimea, in Ukraine, in Syria, in the compromise of the American presidential election in 2016, how many instances do we need to understand that Putin does not care about the values of human rights and of the values which are central to what America stands for?
So I am very concerned that, if the signal was ever sent from the Trump transition team that sanctions could be relieved without any actions by Russia to improve their own behavior, that that would only further embolden Putin to continue to engage in these reckless activities, which in fact are undermining national security for the United States and for the rest of the world.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, what about that report in "The Washington Post" that the Trump administration is actually moving toward the possibility of returning two diplomatic compounds to the Russians, one on the Eastern Shore of Maryland outside of Washington, one out on Long Island outside of New York?
Those compounds, as you know, were confiscated in December in retaliation for Russian election meddling. What message would that send? Because you know the Russians, they really want those two compounds back.
MARKEY: Again, it is a signal to the Russian government that they are going to get what they want, without, in fact, giving the United States what it needs. And that is just not acceptable. It is, again, almost like his decision to back out of the Paris
climate accord, a presidential indifference to the role that United States must play on these critical global issues to provide leadership for the entire planet. Giving back those diplomatic residences without a change in behavior by the Russians would be another historic mistake.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by. There's more we need to discuss. There are other developments unfolding even as we speak. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Ed Markey following the fallout from the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Senator, at the White House press briefing, the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, they joined a long list now of Trump administration officials who can't seem to answer a simple question. Does the president still believe climate change is a hoax?
You remember, he has tweeted. Back in 2012, he tweeting: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive." A year later, he tweeted: "Ice storms roll from Texas to Tennessee. I'm in Los Angeles and it is freezing. Global warming is a total and very expensive hoax."
So, why can't these officials now answer the simple question, does the president still believe what he tweeted back then?
MARKEY: Because Donald Trump's climate science is as bogus as a degree from Trump University, which is where I think he is getting his climate science from.
And he basically has decided he is going to honor his pledge to 70,000 coal miners in our country and break the pledge the United States made to the world and break the pledge which this generation of Americans should keep to every subsequent generations of Americans to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
And so he is just listening to Steve Bannon, to the climate deniers, and trying to make his base be happy, even if the National Academy of Sciences of every single country in the world has a concluded that science, of climate change is absolutely and totally nondebatable with regard to accelerating and it being caused by human activity.
BLITZER: The president, he is receiving, as you know, a lot of fierce blowback from leaders around the world, including very close allies, for this decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
I want you to listen to this. This is the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: Because whatever we believe, wherever we are, we all share the same responsibility, make our planet great again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so you just heard him co-opt the president's campaign slogan.
So is the decision to pull out of the Paris agreement a major blow to America's standing out there on the world stage when you have these allies very, very critical of the U.S. decision?
Yes, it completely undermines our credibility as a global leader. It is an abdication of American economic opportunity, of our national security interests, of the public health implications of sending all of this additional pollution up into the air that leads to asthma, heart disease.
And it's a moral behavior. Pope Francis asked him to be the leader, to step up. And as the chairman of the Climate Change Committee in the House of Representatives for four years, I chaired 100 hearings on this subject.
And across the world, from Ban Ki-Moon to the prime minister of Sweden, who testified before the committee, there was a unanimity of opinion that this was real, it would be catastrophic, but it would also offer tremendous economic opportunity to create millions of jobs in our country.
And what the president has decided to do is to cede that leadership to China, to France, to Germany, who will be now much more likely to reap the economic benefits of a revolution which is just going to continue unabated with the United States on the sidelines.
BLITZER: Senator Markey, thanks for joining us.
MARKEY: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news. Will the president invoke executive privilege to try to silence James Comey? And if he does, will that work? Our specialists are standing by.
And why is the White House fuelling a climate of uncertainty by refusing to answer a burning question?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What does the president actually believe about climate change? Does he still believe it's a hoax? Can you clarify that, since apparently nobody else in the White House can.
SPICER: Yes, I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the White House says President Trump will review whether or not to invoke executive privilege to try to block James Comey from testifying next week. The fired FBI director is expected to publicly confirm that the president urged him to end his investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. We've got lots to discuss.
Susan Hennessey, James Comey clearly is going to testify publicly next week, unless the president can come forward with this executive privilege argument and stop him from doing so. The White House is considering that, apparently. We didn't get a firm answer from Sean Spicer today. You're our legal analyst, national security analyst. Is that doable?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So executive privilege is a way for the president to prevent other parts of the government from essentially compelling information from the executive branch. It's usually applied to current officials who don't want to testify.
Jim Comey is a former official who does want it testify. So this is a case in which the scope of executive privilege, which is already fuzzy, it's not clear that it's applicable. It's not clear, if it does apply that Trump hasn't waived it through the interviews and tweets he's made on the subject. And this is really about sort of the countervailing interests of Jim Comey, who has a First Amendment right to talk about anything that isn't classified information, essentially.
BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, how do you expect the administration to respond on this sensitive issue?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This administration always is a little bit unpredictable, but we've already seen, you saw specials or Kellyanne Conway this morning start to kind of tear down James Comey, mentioning that he got the numbers wrong, and he was talking about Huma Abedin's e-mails during his last testimony in front of Congress. And I think you can -- I think you can expect more of that sort of talk, really questioning his credibility and making this a he said/he said.
Now, that's complicated by some of the information that's already out there, particularly the Special Counsel Mueller's presence in all of this. And the memos that Comey has -- that have been reported on. But I can't imagine they're not going to have some kind of offensive against Jim Comey if this -- if they don't try to use the executive privilege.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, a source with knowledge of Comey's thinking has told CNN that, while he was disturbed by his conversations with the president, he thought he had the situation under control, that maybe the president didn't fully realize how he should act with the FBI director.
Is it possible that President Trump didn't realize the inappropriateness of his actions?
[18:35:07] DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Anything is possible, Wolf. But look, forget about the legal standard for a second. Just on a common-sense standard or even an eighth-grade civics standard, given the relationship of the president to the director of the FBI, who does serve at the president's pleasure but is loyal to the Constitution, the president should have known that this was inappropriate.
Remember also, this was the president who campaigned over and over again that he was among the smartest people. He was so smart that he could do this job so easily; and maybe he just didn't think this through enough.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, you were there at the White House briefing today. You asked Sean Spicer about Jared Kushner's meetings with a Russian banker. Here is the exchange you had. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY CALLER": Can you clarify the nature of the conversation that Jared Kushner had with Russian officials and a banker in December? And what was the date of the meeting with the banker?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I cannot. And as I've mentioned the other day, that we're focused on the president's agenda; and going forward all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz.
COLLINS: But how can you not answer questions about it when the president himself tweets about it?
SPICER: I just -- all -- we're focused on his agenda, and all -- going forward all questions on this matter will be referred to outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How frustrating is it to be in that briefing room, Kaitlan, as a reporter, asking important questions that deserve some answers but not get answers?
COLLINS: It's very frustrating. No one wants to speak on behalf of the president when it's something controversial. They had days to come up with an answer about why Jared Kushner was meeting with these Russian officials and a Russian banker in December; and they still had no answer except to refer us to outside counsel.
Now, this lawyer that they're referring us to is not answering his phone when reporters call. So it's a dead end. So what are reporters supposed to do? There is no answer. These are people who are designated to speak on behalf of the
president, and they just don't give us answers. They don't take any time to clarify, explain or even recognize that the president is making these claims about the investigation into Russian interference in the election on Twitter. So he can tweet about it, but they're not going to mention it during the briefing the next day.
BLITZER: It is pretty extraordinary, Jackie Kucinich, to get non- answers in the course of a briefing, where the questions are well- known in advance. You know these questions are going to come up. And not get any significant answers.
KUCINICH: Well, truly. Especially when it comes to things like climate change and the non-answers you heard from lots of the president's aides. At this point, it's like who are you speaking for? Why are you even here if you're not going to answer these very basic questions or, as Kaitlan said, refer reporters to a black hole, essentially?
So it's frustrating, but it's also doing a disservice to the American people, frankly. Because we're representatives of them, asking these questions. We're not just doing this for our health.
BLITZER: You know, and David Swerdlick, I guess lawyers will always tell clients, you know, if they're under investigation, "Don't say anything. It could only hurt. Refer all questions to legal counsel." Is that -- is that what's happening here?
SWERDLICK: Well, I don't know. But it's very possible that the outside lawyer working with President Trump has told him not to answer questions; and the White House, as a matter of legal strategy or political strategy, may have decided that they're going to shut down the answering of these questions, even though as Jackie and Kaitlan have said, it's doing a disservice to the public and to the press in doing our job.
But here's the thing, right? If you don't answer these questions, one, this information is still finding its way out. And the second thing is that this is not like running the Trump Organization, where President Trump had nondisclosure agreements for his employees and where, you know, he had a team of lawyers involved in any number of legal cases. This is the business of the American people.
BLITZER: And Susan Hennessey, you're our legal analyst. Explain the difference why, in this particular case, the press secretary is referring all questions on the Russia probe to the outside, private legal counsel, as opposed to the White House counsel, a government employee.
HENNESSEY: Right. So the White House has essentially decided to sort of bifurcate to avoid this scandal from engulfing the rest of the president's domestic agenda. So by putting all Russia questions into their own counsel, a private counsel, they're trying to sort of have that separation.
The issue, of course, is that it appears that this -- that the outside counsel isn't actually answering. And so I think the necessary follow-up, each and every time the White House tries to deflect these questions to outside counsel, is asking whether or not the president has authorized that individual to answer that question, who's his lawyer, and there's actually legal privilege issues there. If he's actually authorized by that individual to answer the questions.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're going to be discussing. We've got to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:44:33] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. We're talking about the ongoing mystery about whether or not President Trump still believes climate change is a hoax.
Kaitlan, let's talk about that. You know the White House top administration officials still will not say if the president continues to believe climate change is real; climate change is a hoax. The EPA administrator, the press secretary, president's chief economic adviser among others; they all refuse to answer that simple yes or no questions. Why do you think the White House is stonewalling reporters on this?
COLLINS: Because they don't want to answer. I don't think the president's opinion on climate change has changed that much since when he tweeted a few years ago that it was a hoax and B.S. And the White House knows that. So, they don't want to answer.
Otherwise, why would you not have an answer ready for a question that you know you're going to be asked by reporters? Sean Spicer is asked about this Tuesday at the briefing. He said he didn't know what the president's thoughts on it and would he get back to us.
Today, on Friday, after the president withdrew from the climate agreement, he still did not have an answer for us. And as of 30 minutes ago, when a poll reporter asked Sean Spicer about this, he still said he had not spoken to the president.
Now, there's a point when the White House spokesman tasked on speaking on behalf of the president doesn't have an answer, how is that doing his job?
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty extraordinary, I must say, myself as a former White House correspondent, seven years as White House correspondent.
David Swerdlick, the White House always says, go ask -- you have to go ask the president. But he hasn't taken questions from the news media in weeks. The only statements we have from him those on climate change, the statements he tweeted a few years ago, that climate change is a hoax.
Given the sensitivity of this issue, are they doing themselves, White House officials, a disservice by not simply answering that question? DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR ,THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Wolf,
on this issue at least, I don't think he is doing himself a disservice for this reason. In the Gallup Daily tracking poll, he is right around 40 percent, give or take a point or two depending on what day it is, which is not very far off where he has been for his entire presidency.
What that says to me is that President Trump is playing to his base. His base is fine with this. It is a disservice to him if he is trying to expand his reach beyond his base and right now, it seems like they are playing for the base.
If I could just add one more point. Kaitlyn is right. The president hasn't changed his position much since the 2012 tweet. He has changed his position, Wolf, since 2009 when he and a bunch of other CEOs took out a full page ad in "The New York Times" saying, urging President Obama to take action on climate change and saying that the green economy was good for jobs.
It was signed by him. It was signed by Donald Trump Jr., signed by Eric Trump, signed by Ivanka Trump. That is a different position than the one he took yesterday in pulling out of Paris.
BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, you're our national security and legal analyst, I want to turn to the president's travel ban. The Trump administration, as you know, is appealing its travel ban case right to the U.S. Supreme Court. Based on what you know, what the appeals courts have decided, against the president's travel ban, what is the Supreme Court likely to do knowing the make-up of the nine justices?
HENNESSEY: Well, it's incredibly difficult to predict. Essentially the question is how willing the court is going to be to look beyond the pure language of the law itself and statements that Trump and other officials made. So, the Justice Department is trying to argue that in making that evaluation you only the court should only look at the law.
Thus far, lower courts have said no. They looked at comment that candidate Trump, President Trump, associates and White House officials have made, calling it a Muslim ban and essentially admitting that they had a discriminatory intent, but were careful in the drafting to evade court review.
And so, really, that's going to be the critical question here, whether or not they're willing to essentially ignore what we've all heard the president say.
BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, this is going to be a big decision by the Supreme Court. What they do, how they do it, the president, a lot of the president's reputation on this sensitive issue will be at stake.
KUCINICH: Absolutely, and they'll be under a lot of pressure to do so. That said, from the president and also from the president's backers. What we'll have to see whether they decide to uphold the law or not, but certainly this is going to attract a lot of attention from the White House and perhaps the harder that -- the more they are in this, the more it detracts from other things the White House is trying to do and trying to push as far as their messaging.
BLITZER: You know, let me take, Kaitlyn, as you know, the president since taking office, he is removed, he is undone a lot of the legacy issues of the former president. But on two sensitive issues, he is continuing exactly what President Obama did despite Trump's own campaign promises.
As you know, yesterday, he formally signed a waiver to keep the U.S. embassy in Israel and Tel Aviv. Not move it to Jerusalem, even though he pledged he would do so, recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv.
He also had the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, sign a former document saying Iran is, quote, compliant with its commitments under the joint comprehensive plan of action. As you know, during the campaign he often said that was the worst deal the U.S. made ever, the Iran nuclear deal.
[18:50:04] He said it since then.
Why do you think he's avoiding his campaign commitments to throw away the Iran nuclear deal, to move the embassy? He's continuing the Obama administration's policy and strategy in those two areas.
COLLINS: Well, I think he's certainly stalling on them. It's easy to make promises on the campaign trail. It's harder to implement those promises once you're in office and I think he's realizing that.
He have stepped away from some of his major campaign promises. We've seen that with DACA, the H-1B visas, labeling China a currency manipulator. We've seen it time and time again. Now, I think the people who supported moving the embassy would not say that if Trump does decide to move it in six months would be fairly quickly, which is what he promised. But I do think that we're seeing he's starting to step away from some of the campaign promises that got him into office.
BLITZER: How painful do you think that is, David Swerdlick, for the president to actually have the secretary of state sign a document that Iran is compliant, living up to its commitments as far as the Iran nuclear deal is concerned, and how painful was it, do you think for him to sign that six-month waiver saying he's not moving the embassy to Israel?
SWERDLICK: Yes, he can't love it because this is a situation where the president of the United States wanted to project this image that he was going to tear down all these things that he called bad deals that President Obama engaged in and did. And on some of these issues, if he wants to make any progress at all, he's got people telling him you just can't do these things. Something like the embassy issue, is something where, you know, if he moves the embassy, that's just putting him one step further back if he really intends to strike a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
And so, you know, presidenting is hard, Wolf. That's pretty learning.
BLITZER: Yes, it's different to be president of the United States than simply be a candidate for president of the United States.
All right. Everybody, stand by.
There's a lot more happening tonight. The president says he's withdrawing from the climate deal to protect American jobs, but is he in the process putting national security at risk?
[18:56:34] BLITZER: Tonight, the White House is keeping America guessing about the president's personal views on climate change. The president facing global backlash after his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, and there are fears here at home as well that -- fears that that move could impact the nation's national security.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is taking a closer look at this part of the story.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we're learning new details about just how concerned some are inside the administration, that ignoring climate change indeed is a risk to national security.
STARR (voice-over): The U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon have warned for months climate change could lead to war. How?
Whether disasters forced 21 million people out of their homes last year. In Somalia, hundreds of thousand of people have been displaced not by terror, but by droughts and famine. Oceans are rising.
ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Chaotic organization, food insecurity, water scarcity, massive movements of population and the list can go on and on. But one overriding mega-trends is far and away at the top of that list, climate change.
STARR: If President Trump is paying attention to warnings from the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, it wasn't evident in his decision.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.
STARR: But some military experts say the president should look farther down the road.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You have seen war games where there have been indicators that in the future, there could be fights, wars over water supplies.
STARR: Navy ports from Norfolk, Virginia, to San Diego, California, could be overtaken by rising seas. The big winner could be Russia, in the resource rich Arctic which could become more navigable with rising seas.
ASHTON CARTER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Arctic is going to be a place of growing strategic importance. The Russians are active there.
STARR: During his confirmation process, Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote: climate change can be a driver of instability.
Similarly, a director of national intelligence report warned just nine months ago, a changing climate could lead to conflict, saying, quote: When climate related effects overwhelm a state's capacity to respond or recover, its authority can be so undermined. In the most dramatic cases, state authority may collapse.
STARR: And look at it this way: if state authority collapses in some of these fragile countries because of rising seas, rising temperatures, lack of food, all the climates change factors that could happen, conflicts can erupt. You get conflict zones and time and again, this has also been shown to be a prime breeding ground for terrorism -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good report, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.