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Comey Scheduled To Testify This Coming Thursday; President Thinks Climate Change Is A Hoax; Bill Maher Used An Offensive Racial Slur On-Air; Immediately After President Trump Announced Pull Out Of Paris Climate Accord, Dozens Of Governors and Mayors Across The Country Formed An Alliance; White House This Week Released To The Public A List Of Waivers Granted To Members Of The Trump Administration. Aired 4:00-5:00p ET

Aired June 3, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I like to have some company. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And we are just days away now from hearing for the very first time from James Comey since he was fired as the director of the FBI. Comey is scheduled to testify this coming Thursday. His very words have the potential to rock Washington and really blow open the investigation into the current administration and what came before the election.

You see Comey is expected to talk about his private conversations with the President, and whether President Trump ever attempted to influence the man who at the time was investigating his campaign, and Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. We may also finally get an answer to the most significant question of all, does James Comey think he was fired to stop the Russia probe.

In a twist, there is still chance the President to try to stop this from happening hearing by using executive privilege. But according to a new report in "The New York Times," this seems more and more unlikely. Two senior officials telling the paper, President Trump plans to let the testimony go on. Meaning in less than a week, we could know all the details surrounding Comey's dramatic firing.

CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is outside the White House this afternoon.

Athena, what are the risks that the President chooses to use executive privilege?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: H, Ana. Well, there's a political risk, of course, which is that if the President tries to invoke executive privilege to block Comey from testifying, it might look bad. It sends a message that the White House had something to hide about these conversations.

The other risk, of course, is that he could try to invoke executive privilege, and fail at it. Legal experts have been debating whether he be likely to be successful simply because the President himself has already talked about and tweeted about some of his conversations with the former FBI director.

Remember, on twitter, he even suggested that there might be recordings of their conversations. And so legal experts are saying that the President can't use executive privilege as a shield in one context and as a sword in another context. The administration, if they were to determine block Comey's testimony, could try to get a court order from a federal district court. But that kind of move is unprecedented. It's not a guaranteed recipe for success. And we know the D.C. circuit court has already held that privilege, executive privilege disappears all together if there's any reason to believe that government misconduct is involved. So it would certainly be complicated, and a big deal for the President to try to stop Comey from testifying - Ana.

CABRERA: Athena, there is some new reporting also today, CNN learning more details about this reported war error that the administration is trying to set up in order to respond in a more targeted way to Russia investigation questions. What more can you tell us?

JONES: Yes, that's right. I spoke with a senior administration official earlier who told me that that war room, the so-called war room is still in the process of being set up. And it might not just be one unit. We could see different organizations. There are outside groups who want to help, to support the President who are offering to set up their own rapid response teams. That's the idea here, that you have a team of folks who are dedicated to answering questions and dealing with anything having to do with questions around this whole Russia investigation. So people who would be sending out press clippings and video clips, trying to defend the President.

Now, I asked this official, would it be odd to try to figure out how to coordinate it if there are different groups, would it be hard to try to coordinate them. And the official suggested that not a lot of coordination would be needed because the goal is simply to defend the President. Different groups of people could be trying to do that at the same time. So that is still very much in the works.

But it's interesting, you hope -- you would think that they would hope to have it all ready to go. Certainly ahead of this potentially pivotal testimony from the former FBI director. So we will see what we see coming out of any sort of rapid response effort -- Ana.

CABRERA: But of course, we are still having to react to the questions about the big news this week, which of course, is the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Since Trump announced that, aides have refuse to say what the President beliefs were on climate change specifically and whether he believes it is a hoax or thinks it's real. I understand at least one administration official is speaking out now, answering that question.

JONES: Yes. This is remarkable, Ana. A lot of administration officials have been asked repeatedly about this question of whether the President still thinks climate change is a hoax. Something that he tweeted a couple of years back, whether he believes that humans contribute to climate change. Well, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, is finally

answering that question. I want to play that clip for you. First she talks about the difficulty of meeting the emissions targets, the greenhouse gas emissions target that were set under the deal. But then she was pressed by our own Jake Tapper about this what the President thinks about climate change and final here is a real answer. Watch.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Let me tell you what President Trump has tweeted about climate change. Quote "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," unquote. Are you willing to acknowledge that that is nonsense?

[16:05:07] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: What I will tell you is the regulations from the Paris agreement were disadvantaging our companies. We know that. I knew that as a governor. We know that now. The jobs were not attainable as long as we had to live under those regulations. It wasn't possible to meet the conditions under the Paris agreement. Had we even attempted to do that? And so I think we have to look at what's realistic.

We have a President who is going to watch out for the environment. It's what we do, it's who we are, we are going to continue to be a leader in the environment. The rest of the world wanted to tell us how to do it. And we are saying we will do it, but we will do it under our terms.

TAPPER: But the standards were set by the United States for the United States. But just to be clear on this --

HALEY: No, the standards were set by President Obama, and not passed through the Senate because the standards couldn't have been achieved.

TAPPER: No. But my point is, you said that the world was imposing standards on the United States. President Obama, the President of the United States at the time, is the one who set the standards. But moving that aside for one second, I just want to be clear on this. You are not willing to acknowledge that calling climate change a Chinese hoax is just a big box of crazy?

HALEY: President Trump believes the climate is changing, and he believes pollutants are part of that equation. So that is the fact. That is where are. That is where it stands. He knows that it's changing. He knows that the U.S. has to be responsible with it. And that's what we are going to do. Just because we got out of a club doesn't mean that we don't care about the environment.


JONES: So that's quite significant there, to see ambassador Haley finally answering a question that at least four administration officials that I heard speaking just this week alone were unable to answer. Now finally Ambassador Haley saying she believes Trump believes -- President Trump believes the climate is changing and it's caused by pollutants - Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Athena at the White House, thank you.

Let's talk more about what we are going to expect now in the week ahead when James Comey testifies on Thursday. Joining me now is CNN law enforcement contributor and retired supervisory special agent for the FBI, Steve Moore.

Steve, always good to have your expertise. And we appreciate you joining us. When it comes to these meetings between President Trump and James Comey, how many details can we expect to get?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think you're going to get a lot of details. Because Comey is not the type of person, from everything I have heard, from people who know him, that will be general or vague in anything. I mean, this guy was a very successful federal prosecutor which means that every single sentence that you speak to him, he is going to analyze, he is going to think about it, and whether you agree with his decisions or not, he is going to act upon them. And he will record them in detail. I guarantee you that.

CABRERA: So interesting. Everybody wants to hear his answers. There's been a lot of leaking of his memos. Could Comey, though, be asked whether he thinks President Trump's actions fit the legal definition of the obstruction of justice?

MOORE: I think he can. But I think there's questions on both sides as to whether director Comey's decision on what's prosecutable and what's not is acceptable. I mean, you know, go back to the Hillary Clinton thing, and there's going to be a lot of disagreement about whether that is prosecutable. But either way, it doesn't have to go all the way to something that's prosecutable. If you give the director of the FBI some innuendo that doesn't quite reach obstruction, it's still significant, the intent of it.

CABRERA: Intent of what's important here, because Comey has told some of his colleagues, according to our sources, that each individual action or conversation that he had with President Trump may seem like it could have been innocent enough, that maybe it was President Trump asking something inappropriate because he just didn't re really know the boundaries when it comes to the FBI's involvement in this kind of investigation. But then when you look at it from a bigger birds' eye perspective, the culmination of all these meetings might send a different message. And would Comey be at risk if he says something different in front of this committee than what he maybe testified before regarding whether there was something intentional that the President was trying to do here? Would he be at risk of looking like he's not a credible witness?

MOORE: I'm sure that one side or the other are going to portray him that way, depending on what he testifies to. I mean, we can expect that. However, here's the bottom line on that. Whether he believed any conversations reached the level of obstruction is different than necessarily the intent. I mean, it could be, hypothetically, that the President tried to obstruct. But his actions didn't reach the level of prosecution. That said, you don't take one meeting as a stand- alone little event.

It's like in a classified document. You can take this piece of information and this piece of information, which by themselves are not classified. But if you say, rocket launch here, and a gate here, put them in the same document, all of a sudden it's classified. So what could happen here is that a series of conversations over the course of several months might actually turn out to be de facto, intimidation, or obstruction. I'm not alleging that, I'm just giving you the parameters of what we could find.

[16:10:45] CABRERA: So glad to hear from you. Thank you much, Steve Moore. Good to see you.

MOORE: Thanks.

CABRERA: Up again, I want to turn to what's coming up on Thursday. James Comey finally breaking his silence. He was fired by President Trump. And now the Senate Intel committee is going to hear the former FBI director's story, and it will be here live. What will he say? You can watch it on air or stream it on Coverage begins Thursday morning at 9:00 eastern.

But first, Bill Maher, no stranger to controversy but has he crossed the line one too many times? This time using the "n" word in a conversation with the Republican senator. No surprise his words have provoked outrage and anger. That's next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[16:15:31] CABRERA: Right on the heels of the outrage surrounding the picture of Kathy Griffin holding a President Trump mask covered in blood, another comedian is finding himself in some hot water now. During an interview last night with Republican senator Ben Sasse Nebraska, Bill Maher used an offensive racial slur on-air. Listen.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: I have got to get to Nebraska more.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: You are welcome. We would love to have you work in the fields with us.

SASSE: Working the fields? Senate, I'm a -- it's a joke.


CABRERA: Well transparency, CNN and HBO share the same company, Time Warner.

I want to bring in CNN political analyst and "New York Times" editor Patrick Healy, and CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers.

Bakari, first I just want to get your reaction as an African-American man hearing that exchange.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it was a vial, despicable joke, shame on Bill Maher. Shame on Senator Sass for laughing and cackling, and shame on the audience.

I mean, listen. This is a lot more than a comedian going out of his way to try to be funny and falling flat on his face. The term house nigger is one that brings up images of black bodies having no value, being ravaged by slave masters, bringing up complexities of color. The list goes on and on and on. It brings up those images of mentality.

So I want to have that discussion and I want to educate Bill Maher and anyone else who thinks this is a laughing matter of what a house nigger really was. Because it's time that we have this very difficult discussion about race in this country and maybe Bill Maher started it.

CABRERA: Even you saying those words make me cringe a little bit. It's hard to hear those words because of the history behind it which I'm glad you just brought to our viewers as well.

Patrick, when you listened to it, what was Bill Maher thinking?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think he was, you know, trying to rift off of what Ben Sass was saying, but it was a huge misjudgment. I mean, Bill Maher prides himself on basically having no self-editing filter. He had a show for years that was called "politically incorrect" that, you know, from his point of view gave him license to say things that might shock and appall. But he saw himself as an equal offender. More recently, you know, he has had on guests from the right, from the far right, who are people who really are -- who have said very despicable things, but he sort of takes it as a point of pride.

Now, I'm not here to explain Bill Maher being un-apologist, but it was shocking and I think sort of politically. Also Ben Sass, the senator from Nebraska said that he cringed when he saw this. And he is getting a lot of blowback from people who can look at the video and not seeing, you know, Ben Sass cringing right now. Bill Maher has apologized --.

CABRERA: Yes. Let me read you his apology. He just put out a statement. Let's put it up for everybody to see. So Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I'm reflecting on the things I should or shouldn't have said on my live show. Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and I'm very sorry.

Bakari, some people are calling for Bill Maher to lose his job. Is his apology enough?

SELLERS: You know, I don't really care whether or not Bill Maher keeps his job or not. I'm interested in having this odd discussion. I mean, if Bill Maher is fired, so what. I mean, the fact is you are still going to have people who are going to replace him. You still going to have people who come on TV and call each other nigger whether or not they do it in attempting to do it in jest or being derogatory.

The fact is I want to have this discussion about race in this country. I want to have this discussion really about why that word carries so much hurt and pain for so many. You know, on twitter, and social media, everyone asks, they say, well, how can an African-American, how can they say nigger or how can you listen to rap music and say this. And then I think the response who was made by (INAUDIBLE) very much earlier today is very simple. That we have a very complicated and unsettled history with the term. White Americans do not. And so therefore, Bill Maher and anyone else who thinks it's funny or otherwise right for them to use the term, they are not.

CABRERA: Would you have felt the same way if it had been a black comedian saying the same word?

SELLERS: As I just said, our relationship this word is quite unsettled. And so, I think if he was making self-deprecating humor, I wouldn't laugh at that as well. However, those words coming out of Bill Maher's mouth, yes. It is a double standard. It's not a partisan double standard, but yes, it is a double standard. And the fact is wide Americans do not have unsettled history with the term nigger. In fact, while white men were raping and beating and calling us nigger, that is why it's such a painful word. African-Americans don't have that same unsettled notion. My friend Don Lemon doesn't want it used at all for many people that still unsettled.

[16:20:34] CABRERA: You talked about the reaction by Ben Sass. And he has been tweeting up a storm. He can't apologize enough for not reacting more strongly. Does this just expose a political weak spot for him?

HEALY: I mean, it's an odd apology, because basically, first, he is defending the right of free speech for comedians, and then he is condemning the speech that Bill Maher made. So he is in a difficult spot. I wouldn't be surprised if we haven't heard the last of him in terms of getting an apology.

But you know, in terms of Ben Sass, part of his reputation as being around sort of an independent-minded Republican, so personally, within that Republican Party, I don't know if there will be as many repercussions for him. It seems like right now, my colleague Dave (INAUDIBLE) has been doing a lot of great reporting on this. And you know, I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Maher addresses this on his show this coming Friday. At this point it doesn't look like he is going to be suspended or fired or anything. And I would not be surprised if he invited Bakari or other African-Americans, white Americans, Hispanic- Americans, to talk about this word, and to talk about race. Bill Maher, again, not being an apologist, but he is someone who would use that word in a broader conversation to get into it. So we will see. I mean, I think how he --

CABRERA: The story may not be over.

HEALY: Right, is a question.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Patrick Healy and Bakari Sellers. The discussion is taking place lit up social media right now. And again, the reaction has been so strong. Seems like he miscalculated in coming on the heels of the Kathy Griffin move this week. It translate for a broader discussion. Thank you both.

Now as President Trump pulls out of the Paris accords on climate change, several governors are stepping up. And up next, I will speak with the governor of Connecticut about why he is helping to lead a crusade on tackling climate change, whether the White House helps or not.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[16:26:46] CABRERA: Immediately after President Trump announced he was pulling out of the U.S. Paris climate accord agreement, dozens of governors and mayors across the country formed an alliance, not just to denounce the President's decision but to find ways to keep this accord alive within their border.

Connecticut governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, is joining us now. He is among the governors promising to uphold the Paris accord in his state.

Governor, thanks for being with us. During the phone call with reporters, you said quote "our President effectively signed the death warrants of individuals who will die because we will not make progress on climate change." That's a pretty strong statement, stronger than what we heard from other governors on that call to reporters. It doesn't sound like --.

GOV. DAN MALLOY (D), CONNECTICUT: It's the reality.

CABRERA: Let's work on this. Was it intended to be fighting words?

MALLOY: Yes, sure. Absolutely. And the reality is that people die in my state because of pollution coming from other states. And that happens in the United States. And it happens around the world. What's significant here is that we entered into an agreement with the entire international community or almost the entire international community to do something about climate change, to clean our air, to make sure that our temperature didn't rise another 1.5 degrees.

And this President, who has yet to really demonstrate leadership on any issue, except wrong-minded leadership, decided to pull us out of that agreement. Quite frankly, we are the laughing stock of the rest of the world. I mean, he made these references that we are going to stop being the laughing stock. We will stop being the laughing stock when he stops doing things like this, that basically tear up international agreements that were reached over a long period of time. And quite frankly, people will stop laughing at us when we stop ceding our authority to the Chinese.

CABRERA: OK. So you are in this alliance. Tell us exactly what that means.

MALLOY: This means is we can do this without him.

CABRERA: What will you do? What are you committing to? MALLOY: We are not only committing to cleaning up our environment,

but to playing a leading role. I mean, after all, Connecticut invented the first green bank in the world to be successful. We are doubling and then doubling again and then doubling again our renewable energies portfolio. We have had, just since 2014, we have had 10,000 -- almost 11,000 families sign up for home solar. We are going to keep doing these things. We are going to keep investing in these things. And if we do that, and California does that, and New York does that, and Massachusetts and Vermont and other states join us, we can meet these targets that we should be meeting. And quite frankly, push our economy towards greater job growth.

CABRERA: So now you are sounding more optimistic. Can states send a message directly to the world or will the U.S. be judged on the world stage by what the President has done?

MALLOY: We will, in the short run, unfortunately be judged on the missteps of our President. What I'm hoping for is that people outside of our country hear our voices, that the American people are committed to playing a role in cleaning up our environment, and slowing climate change, and hopefully eventually reversing climate change as we know it.

For people to deny that humankind is having an effect on our climate is utterly ridiculous. These are the same folks who will argue dinosaurs and early man roamed the world at the same time. They are science deniers. If they could go back and declare a flat earth, they would probably do it.

What I want is the rest of the world to understand that Americans, not our President, but Americans understand our international obligations to clean our environment, to save our climate, to make a difference.

You know, one of the other things I said the other day, if the President has his way, there's going to be a lot more waterfront property in America, because the tides are going to rise. It's going to change what we look like, where we live, and how we live if he has our way. I'm trying to help save our environment and save our world.

[16:30:59] CABRERA: The President has said he wants to save the environment as well. And we heard from Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador from the U.S. today talking about the fact that she believes the President does believe the climate is changing. But one of the sticking points we heard from the President as well as the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is a problem with this deal was that 26 to 28 percent of reduction in carbon output, they say this is unattainable. Your response?

MALLOY: Of course it's attainable. And by the way, it will create jobs. I mean, I honestly, first of all, let's hear from the President what he thinks of the human impact is on the environment and on climate change. He is largely a climate denier, let's be honest. Maybe some people around him want to use different verbiage, but that's where he is.

Of course, if humankind can have an impact negatively, we can have an impact positively. We can clean up our environment. We can use different fuels. We can conserve more energy. Because that's where a lot of our pollution is coming from. We can drive cleaner cars. And ultimately, perfectly clean cars with respect to carbon emissions. If we do those things in the United States, with really only five percent of the world's population, creating a much more significant portion of the world's pollution, if we do that, then we are showing the way and we are demonstrating leadership and we are creating far more jobs than he talks about keeping in the carbon business.

I mean, let's be honest, Exxon says we should do these things. The corporate community says we should do these things. Americans know we should do these things.

CABRERA: There were a lot of CEOs and a lot of businesses who advocated to stay in the Paris climate accord. Now you and those businesses are all reacting in a way to try to improve the climate, which is a good thing all around.

Governor Malloy, thank you very much.

Donald Trump promised to, quote, drain the swamp. Is he breaking that promise by giving a pass to his top aides in the White House? We will talk about that next.

But first, W. Kamau Bell isn't afraid to have uncomfortable conversation. On the next "UNITED SHADES AMERICA" Kamau dives into the hot issue from guns in the U.S. tomorrow night at 10:00.


W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA: What are your thoughts on guns in this country?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just scream and say what can we do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we convince young people that firearms are not the solution?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many of my friends were killed because of guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have a gun problem, we have a heart problem. There's no sanctity of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think anybody should be able to own a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every round has two things attached to it, a jail sentence and a lawyer.

BELL: Is it irresponsible to do whatever you can to protect your family?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:37:58] CABRERA: The White House this week released to the public a list of waivers granted to members of the Trump administration. Now, these waivers allow some of the president's inner circle to deal with people in the business world. And the field where they used to work, some of them as lobbyists. Legal experts are concerned that the lines between the public and private sectors are now blurry.

CNN Money Cristina Alesci has more.


President Trump promised to drain the swamp. But the White House has offered at least 14 ethics waivers to former lobbyists in private sector players. What does that mean? Some staff are now allowed to work on the same policy issues they previously handled on behalf of special interests.

Now, one of the waivers seems to apply to chief strategist Steve Bannon, although it doesn't mention him specifically, it allows White House aides to communicate with news organizations, even if they involve a former employer or former client. Bannon, you'll remember, was head of Breitbart, a far right news website. Now, before the White House issued the exception we are talking about, Bannon was subject to an ethics pledge that he couldn't talk to people at Breitbart about anything that overlapped with his official White House duties.

But a watchdog group accused him of doing just that. And this waiver could get him off the hook. Why? Well, the White House made it retroactive, back to day one of the Trump administration. That means Bannon could have violated the original ethics pledge, and this waiver covered those prior conversations. Now, this is key because ethics hawks are worried about Bannon using Breitbart as a tool to advance his own interest and perhaps hurt his political foes.

Now, the head of the office of government ethics told there's no such thing as a retroactive waiver. For its part, the White House said it hasn't violated any ethics rules by issuing this kind of a waiver, and it says quote "those who received waivers are in compliance with their ethical obligations."

And Ana, at the end of the day, the White House holds the cards here. Back to you.

[16:40:00] CABRERA: Thanks, Cristina.

And with me now, CNN political commentator and Reagan era White House political director Jeffrey Lord, and the White House chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, Richard Painter.

So Richard, do these waivers go against President Trump's campaign promise to drain the swamp?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS ATTORNEY: Well, I believe they do. And the Bannon waiver is very, very worrisome because this White House has launched an attack on the press, on the first amendment, on attack on a great many news organizations. And now to have someone like Steve Bannon so high up in the White House favoring his former employer, a far right news organization, Breitbart news, in violation of the ethics pledge is unacceptable. And this back-dating of the ethics waiver, the so-called retroactive waiver, is not permissible. Nowhere do the government ethics rules allow for there to be backdated waiver, retrospective waiver.

In criminal law, that's called a pardon. If somebody's done something wrong, and you want to say it's OK, we are going to give you a free pass. But there's no such thing as a retroactive waiver. Somebody's waiver is already even dated.

CABRERA: I want to give a few other examples because you brought up Steve Bannon. That's one example.

Jeffrey, the environmental policy adviser was a lobbyist who work for an energy company, just a few months ago, Kellyanne Conway can now meet with advocacy organizations, even though she used to represent pro-life groups and the NRA. And there is another waiver, less anyone in the executive office talking about policy with news organizations. What happened to President Trump's two-year rule he imposed?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know. You know, I really do think these things get way overblown here. We had the Watergate scandal. And that drove a lot of ethics reform, if you will, sensibilities through the following decades. And I think to some degree we overdo these. But the main point here in draining the swamp is to drain how Washington does business, which is a mammoth policy challenge.

And frankly, you know, I think back to before I was around to Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President Kennedy who was a famous stock speculator in the day. When Franklin Roosevelt created the Securities and Exchange Commission, he put Joseph Kennedy in-charge of the SEC to the great dismay of the FVR's liberal fans, thinking that he put the FOX in the henhouse. In fact, Joseph Kennedy did a fabulous job as the SEC commissioner and really set the standard here. So having people -- my point is having people who know something about these issues, who are --

CABRERA: But here's the thing, Jeffrey. I hear what you are saying. Maybe it's blown out of proportion. But in the case of President Trump, he made such a big deal about this sort of thing, about the lobbyists. And made such a big deal of saying, I'm going to do things differently. There will not be lobbyists. He established this rule to begin with. What's the point of making that rule to begin with?

LORD: Well, at the end of the day, he is the President, not the lobbyists.


LORD: He makes the decisions.

CABRERA: Before we go, I want to get your reaction to some reporting just in. We are learning the President has filed for an extension for his 2016 tax return. The President said no one cares about tax returns. Polls show that's not the case. Richard, what's your reaction?

PAINTER: Well, it's fine for him to file for an extension for his 2016 return. He needs to show us his 2015 return and his 2016 return when he files it. Every single President has disclosed their tax return to the public since Gerald Ford. And President Trump ought to do the same. And I have to say with all due respect that Steve Bannon is no joke. He is someone who has come in to the White House from an extreme right, racist news organization --

LORD: That's not true.

PAINTER: It is true. It is. Breitbart is --

LORD: It's totally --

PAINTER: -- it is a racist -- I've read it. It is disgusting. I've been a Republican for 30 years. Breitbart is racist.

LORD: That's not right, sir.

CABRERA: Go ahead, Jeffrey. Let's give Jeffrey a chance to respond, Richard.

LORD: I know Steve Bannon. I have read that publication that leaders of that newspaper are all Jewish. Are you saying these Jewish men are racist? Is that what you're saying, seriously?

PAINTER: I'm saying its racist garbage. And he comes in, he shouts out "The New York Times," a respectable news outlet. And then in violation of the ethics pledge, is favoring Breitbart news. This is unacceptable and it's un-American.

CABRERA: All right. Got to leave it there, gentlemen.

Richard Painter and Jeffrey Lord, thank you for both of your thoughts. We appreciate it.

Straight ahead, America's departure from the climate deal leads the effort to the global change without a clear leader. And that void could be filled by a short time ago seemed an unlikely candidate, China. How their position on the world stage could be changing.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[16:49:20] CABRERA: There's been growing backlash since President Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the landmark Paris climate accord. The country's departure from this deal leaves a leadership void in the push to limit climate change and some say that rule can be taken over by one of Mr. Trump's biggest targets, China.

Jamie Metzl Senior fellow with the Atlantic council and former member of the National Security Council and he is joining us now. Jamie, can the worst polluter on the planet, China, really take the

lead when it comes to climate change?

JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well, they can, because the United States has abdicated. The United States played a central role in bringing this issue to the forefront of international negotiations, in making the Paris agreement possible. And now that the United States is walking away, China, which is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter has a choice, either they can walk away or they can take the mantle of leadership. And it looks like this is a real opportunity for China to do what's been very difficult in the past, which is to step up, not just on climate change, but on every other issue where the United States is stepping back from the role that we have played, really, since the end of the second world war.

[16:50:24] CABRERA: We heard the President in his announcement basically say this was an unfair deal to the U.S. That the U.S. had to put up much bigger responsibility than a place like China or India. Is that the case?

METZL: Well, it's kind of a preposterous point. But this is not an agreement where we all came together and negotiated what everybody would do. We agreed that every country would set its own standards, and those countries brought that to Paris. And so if there is a standard, it was imposed, if it was imposed, by the Obama administration. So it's really just ludicrous to say that China has forced us to do something.

CABRERA: We made our own rules.

METZL: This is what we have done. And we have done it from a position of leadership to address one of the most important issues.

CABRERA: Some have said that the effectiveness of this was the competitive nature that got everybody onboard, 190-plus countries, only two at the time, Syria and Nicaragua we are saying we are out. But we have India, we have China. Do you think that they will continue to try to push each other and raise the bar without the U.S.?

METZL: The bar will be lower without the United States. But those countries will move ahead. And frankly, they will benefit from moving ahead, because the economy is not about coal. President Trump said this was about saving Pittsburgh. This is about saving the world. And it's also about saving and positioning the United States economy for the future, not the past. Solar energy, wind energy, these are part of the economies of the future. And certainly coal is part of the economy of the past. So it's really, really difficult to see what is the coherent vision is of where we are going as a country and economy.

CABRERA: China still has 66 percent of its energy mix as coal.

METZL: Right.

CABRERA: They have agreed and said they are going to work on some renewable energy technology, $360 billion in investment in renewable energy through 2020. But the President kept, you know, railing on China in his speech, when he was pulling out of the Paris accord. Let's listen to some of what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years.


CABRERA: Jamie, is that true what we just heard from the President?

METZL: Yes, that was what was negotiated, that China will have until 2030, to be their peak coal consumption. And then things will come down. But China, for its own reasons, is going to reach that number much earlier, because they are shuttering coal factories, there were plans to create new coal plants that are not -- that are being taken offline. And the reason is that they recognize that solar is going to be in the not distant future less expensive energy source certainly than coal. And China has big environmental problems. They are going to be able to do both of those things simultaneously.

So yes, that was what was negotiated. And it was negotiated because China and the United States and other economies are at different levels of development. And to get everybody to come together, we had, again, it wasn't an agreement, but everybody had to bring what was possible. And we had to pressure and cajole each other. And this was -- Paris was just a small first step. And if we can't take a leadership role in just a small first step like this, it really bodes ill for what will happen not just on climate change going forward, but really on every other issue where the United States has up to this point played a leadership role.

CABRERA: Jamie Metzl, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

METZL: My pleasure.

CABRERA: Nice to see you.

Coming up next, we go to Iowa and we hear what Trump voters there think about the President's recent move to leave the Paris climate deal, that's in the next hour here in the CNN NEWSROOM.



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CABRERA: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello on this Saturday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

To begin with what is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal week in the Trump administration. On Thursday, fired FBI director James Comey is in the hot seat. He is testifying publicly before the senate intelligence --