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Secretary of State Unhappy With White House?; President Trump Attacks Female News Anchor Over Her Looks; North Korea Tensions. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 29, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SALLY KOHN, CNN COMMENTATOR: I mean, he -- it's not because the media attacks him personally. It's because he -- they report facts, and he just doesn't like that. He doesn't want to be held accountable. He doesn't like an independent media. And that's totalitarianism. That's scary.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: It's self-inflicted. I feel like people have come to this so much. So much of this is self-inflicted wounds. It's derailing his own agenda.
And let me just show -- if you haven't been following along, this is actually Mika. Mika responded.
And let's just show everyone what she did on Twitter today. Guys, if we have the Cheerio box tweet. Do we have it? Standing by for Cheerio box tweet.
Basically, she responds, and if we can drop the banner, scroll up. It's a cereal box, which, just from memory, something like great for small hands, which how to explain that? Questions, criticizes his manhood. We're all on the same page?
BALDWIN: This is, you know, CNN here.
That said, Dana, you know, everyone's saying we should be talking about health care, you know, tax reform, infrastructure. It's energy week this week. The president's speaking this hour on energy. But no one's talking about it because the president himself chose to tweet about a female anchor's bloody face-lift.
The president of the United States, he did this to himself.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly.
Look, and I -- you know, the sort of eye for an eye with that Cheerio box maybe certainly isn't what I would have done. But putting that aside, the idea that the president is doing this and not focusing on what the House -- let me just give you one example.
BALDWIN: Yes. BASH: Health care policy, that's a big fight in the Senate. But in
the House of Representatives, the whole message of the day was supposed to be an immigration bill that was keeping the promise that President Trump made over and over on the campaign trail, one of his biggest applause lines on the campaign trail, which is to try to get rid of sanctuary cities.
That was the whole focus, was supposed to be, of Republicans in the House and at the White House today. The homeland security secretary was even at the House Republican meeting and came as part of the press conference today with the House speaker in order to try to push this message.
Again, this is promise kept on an issue my voters, if I'm Donald Trump, really wanted me to push and a way to make the base understand that -- you know, that the president is trying to pay attention to them. And it's completely blown out the window.
And that is why you see the frustration, one of the many reasons why you see the frustration. Forget about Democrats. Forget about journalists. Forget about just decent human beings. Republicans on a purely political level, because it's so distracting even to their agenda and to the president's own political agenda.
BALDWIN: Just quickly, some of these tweets.
Senator Susan Collins: "This has to stop. We all have a job. Three branches of government and the media. We don't have to get along, but we must show respect and civility," Republican.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican: "Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office."
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican: "Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America."
If you are just joining us, we are all talking about these two tweets from the president this morning where he is viciously attacking a female journalist on MSNBC.
We have heard the attempted defense of the president from his deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Let's replay just a portion of the briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think so. I mean, I think that the president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program.
And I think he's been very clear that, when he gets attacked, he's going to hit back. I think the American people elected somebody who's tough, who's smart, and who's a fighter, and that's Donald Trump. And I don't think that it's a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire.
The things that this show has called him, and not just him, but numerous members of his staff, including myself and many others, are very deeply personal.
So to then turn and pretend like, you know, this approach is -- I guess it's kind of like we're living in "The Twilight Zone." They do this day after day after day, and then the president responds and defends himself and everybody is appalled and blown away.
Frankly, if this had happened in the previous administration, the type of attacks launched on this program, the things they say, utterly stupid, personality disorder, mentally ill, constant personal attacks, calling multiple members liars, liars to their faces while they're sitting on their programs, the rest of the media would have said, guys, no way, hold on.
But nobody does that. But the president, he's not going to step back. He's showed that. And that's exactly what he did today. But he's not going to sit back and be attacked by the liberal media, Hollywood elites, and when they hit him, he's going to hit back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's go to the White House to our correspondent there, Sara Murray.
And it's been echoed by a number of folks on this panel. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, multiple people have covered her and known her for years. She's a lovely, lovely woman, but clearly as she was speaking today behind that podium, she was speaking to her audience of one.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's probably right, Brooke.
I think that the president has made clear he wants strong spokespeople who will go out and defend him, essentially, no matter what he says. And I think this is sort of a difficult arena in which to do it and difficult tweets to defend.
And we have seen that in the way that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have responded today. It's been pretty universal from Democrats and Republicans. They find it appalling. They find it sexist. They find it beneath the office of the presidency.
And that's, I think, one of the key differences here is that if you are elected president, if you decide you want to run for president and then you are successful, which President Trump was, there's heat that comes with that office.
There are personal attacks that come with that office, and there is going to be, you know, news coverage that you perceive to be unfair. But what we are not used to seeing from our president is responding back in the same sort of personally vicious manner. I think the other thing that really stuck out to people in reading
those tweets from the president was how those personal attacks were directed at the female anchor, Mika, more so than they were directed at the male anchor, Joe.
And we have seen a pattern of the president doing this over and over again of criticizing women for their looks. We saw him do it to Carly Fiorina. We saw him to do it to the wife of Senator Ted Cruz. We saw him make lewd, sort of crass comments about Megyn Kelly and lewd comments about women in his past that came to haunt him on the campaign trail.
So I think that's the other reason you're seeing this very incredible and sort of swift backlash is because people don't just see it in the context of the president's relationship with these two cable news hosts and what he said right now. They see it in the broader context of the things he has said about people in the past.
BALDWIN: OK, listening to you, S.E. Cupp, I think about -- you hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, people elected a fighter. Somebody's going to fight, he's going to fight back.
And a lot of people in his base love, love that he is waging this war with the media. But does this cross that line, even among his fiercest supporters?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I doubt it. You know, they elected a guy who we got to know pretty well over the course of the campaign. He's someone that openly mocked prisoners of war and disabled journalists and women, as Sara recounted.
So I don't think this is going to shock them or bother them. In fact, I have heard a number of prominent Trump supporters defending this. But this is a real misnomer that he is defending himself. He said nothing in defense of his policy or his politics or Rex Tillerson, which the comments that Joe and Mika were about. He did not defend himself.
All he did was attack this woman. And I think the other thing to keep in mind is, Trump has a history of misunderstanding the role of the press. He said -- remember, he did that event for veterans. I don't know if they ever got their money, but he was...
BALDWIN: Right, during the campaign.
CUPP: ... fund-raising for veterans. And he said, why isn't the media celebrating me for doing this?
That's not our job. And it's not our job to celebrate you or applaud you. It's our job to be critical and to ask questions. And especially when you give us this kind of fodder, we're going to examine and discuss its importance and put it in context.
It's just unbelievable to me that this is a man who gets up every morning in a very nice address, he has five beautiful healthy children, billions in the bank, and yet is so -- and is president -- and yet is so insecure fundamentally that he wants to take the time out of his day to attack a woman's looks on Twitter because that makes him feel good.
It's just -- it's very sad, and, for the first time, it really does make me worry about his stability. A happy, healthy person does not behave like this.
KOHN: Happy, healthy, competent, grown adult person, period, doesn't behave like this, let alone the person who holds the highest office in the land and who is supposed to represent, who is supposed to be held to the highest standard in our country.
I want to make a point about Trump supporters, because I have traveled around. We all have talked to a lot of them.
KOHN: I have yet to meet a single Trump voter -- this was during the election or after -- who said, you know, I just really like the guy. You know, he just -- he seems like such a nice guy, and when I saw that "Access Hollywood" tape, like, wow, I just thought, you know, guys who grab women by the crotches and brag about it, that's the guy for me.
Like, no one was out there saying that they voted for him because of these personality qualities or his -- or his character.
BALDWIN: I think they like -- I think some people like him for being tough and for fighting back and for standing up for himself.
KOHN: No, a lot of people are saying, but it was in spite of that. They are saying, I'm willing to overlook all of that because I think he's going to go in there and get things done.
KOHN: The fact that now that character, that personality -- those personality qualities are getting in the way of getting his own agenda...
BALDWIN: Of getting things done. That is a huge piece of it.
KOHN: ... people may be making excuses, but I don't know how long that's going to last, because, literally, he is his own worst enemy.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, that's right.
Look, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, look, the American people knew what they were getting when they voted for him. I don't know if people really expected this. There was all this talk about a pivot or he's just doing this to get elected and then he's going to take care of business and so forth.
LOUIS: But let's take her at her word. It sounded, frankly, like what you hear a dispute after a real estate transaction goes bad, right, when people are asking for their money back.
Where's my deposit? Where's my escrow? Hey, you knew what you were getting.
In this case, though, if there's buyer's remorse, people have got to be treated like adults. If you're old enough to cast a vote, you're old enough to be held responsible for all of the implications of that vote.
BALDWIN: How will this not get in the way, this tweet, this stooping to this low and talking about a woman like this -- I don't care if you're on the left or on the right or whatever -- how will this, on a, I don't know, an emotional level get in the way of getting business done, when you hear from Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, people he needs in his camp to get things done to, to get a win on the Hill, but when they're saying, stop it?
LOUIS: Well, that's right.
They're saying it, and there's been some decent reporting about potential nominees who are saying, you know what, I don't know if I want to throw in my lot with this administration, because we don't know what he's going to say or do at some point in the future. And that could be as soon as tomorrow.
BALDWIN: Let me go quickly back to the White House and just follow up, Sara Murray, with you on this on-/off-camera briefing bit.
Has the White House previously said that they don't do on-camera briefings on days when the president is making public statements? What happened to that?
MURRAY: Yes, Brooke, I mean, obviously, there have been a lot of issues with press access here at the White House, with the fact that they have closed the briefings and for the most part to cameras. Today's was on camera with Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
And the reason that the timing was a little bit strange was because, very recently, Sean Spicer said the reason he wasn't briefing on camera was because the president was slated to speak that same day, and he wanted the president's words to speak for themselves.
Now, that's something we saw now and again throughout the campaign, and even here at the White House, but, today, the president is slated to speak. He's slated to deliver a speech coming up pretty soon here, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders also did the briefing on-camera.
So, it doesn't seem like that is necessarily a hard-and-fast rule. It seems like they're kind of making up the rules for what they want to be in front of the cameras and what they want to be more closed off as they go. Obviously, that's one of the things that we have been pushing back on here. We think that the American public should be able to hear the people whose, you know, taxpayer dollars pay their salary answer questions about what this administration is doing and what the president's doing every day.
BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, Chris Cillizza, to you, just behind closed doors -- and, Dana, I think that was you -- we will come to you next.
Behind closed doors, Chris, what's happening? Who's the person in the room who says, Mr. President, that's not -- that's not an OK thing to tweet?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, that one's an easy answer, Brooke. There isn't anyone, because anyone, literally anyone, Melania Trump -- I know her spokeswoman says he fights fire with fire or whatever.
And I know Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Sean Spicer -- anyone, if he said, hey -- if he took his phone and he's like, check this out, here's what I'm thinking of going with, they'd be like, this is a terrible idea. Right?
BALDWIN: Delete, delete, delete.
CILLIZZA: Right. Their job, of course, is to go out there, although, you know, I think you're stretching the bounds on duty here, but their job is to go out there and say, well, the president's a fighter, he's tough.
Sidebar, again, I'm going to make this point over and over again. It is not tough to attack someone on social media about their looks. That's not the definition of tough. Right? OK, sidebar. I'm back.
The point -- the point here is that there is no one. This motor does not have a way of -- he has one gear, and he -- no one pulls him back. No one says, that's not presidential. Or even if they do, he doesn't listen. I mean, I think that's probably the broader point. He says he -- people will say, you need to scale back. He does what he wants.
This is who he is. Sara made a really important point. This is not an isolated incident, whether that's bullying people online or talking the way he is talking about women. This has happened over and over again.
Let me -- let us remember the "bleeding from her wherever" about Megyn Kelly.
CILLIZZA: That hasn't been -- this is a pattern of behavior for a 71- year-old man. This is not a, oops, I accidentally touched something into my phone, oh, I don't understand technology, it happened. Right?
BALDWIN: Right. CILLIZZA: This is purposeful.
CILLIZZA: This is who he is. And at some point, you have to say, it's not Democrat, it's not Republican, this is about you cannot do these things. You are being -- you are a role model, whether you like it or not.
People look to you. Kids look to you for behavior. They are aware in the way in which you behave, and if this is acceptable conduct -- do we want this to be acceptable conduct? That's the question every person should ask themselves.
BALDWIN: I just sit here wondering -- and, Dana, you cover all -- the higher-ups within the White House. And do you think that they all think that this is OK?
BASH: No. No. No, they don't think it's OK.
I guarantee you they don't think it's OK. But they learned, you know, a long time ago it's very hard to stop it. It's very hard. There was a brief moment during the end of the presidential campaign when somehow the sort of forces around the president, a combination of Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and others, were able to get together and figure out a way to convince the president not to send tweets like that.
It doesn't happen anymore. You know, there could be lots of reasons for that. But it doesn't. But I guarantee you, there is no one in that White House who thinks that this is a great idea. Whether they say it to him is a different question.
BASH: I just want to I just want to say one thing that was mentioned earlier about what effect this could have on the women senators who are critical to health care.
BASH: I actually think that it's irrelevant. The female senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, they're focused on what they think is best for their constituents and whether or not they think that the substance of this health care bill is going to get to a point that's good.
The president's behavior is not a surprise to them, and I don't think -- I think that they're grown-up enough to focus on what matters and not focus on a distraction like the president's tweet.
KOHN: I mean, OK. But, OK, first of all...
BALDWIN: And then we go to go. KOHN: There's two observations here. One is just that we have all fallen over ourselves to say nice things about Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
I do think that's just interesting to note that, like, these supposed attacks from the liberal media, like, everybody's trying to actually be quite generous to her in the role she's in, number one.
Number two, to these Republican senators who keep coming out and they're so dismayed by Trump's language, listen, criticizing him for his behavior and his rhetoric is really nice, but they keep lining up to support his policies. They keep lining up to support his reckless and dangerous behavior as leader of this country, including his policies.
And it just rings hollow. It's like, if you want to be a real leader, if you want to show the president what real leadership looks like, then put your policy where your mouth is.
BALDWIN: Not necessarily with health care. I think we have got a ways to go on that one. But I hear you. I hear you.
Thank you all so very much. We could go on. We're going to cut it.
The other big headline -- thank you.
The other big headline from the White House briefing today, the White House announcing new measures to put pressure on North Korea, what they plan to do next, how this is involving this Chinese bank now and that announcement from the Treasury chief.
Also is Rex Tillerson losing his patience? Reports that the secretary of state blew up at some of the White House staff, we have those details next.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
The tensions between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the White House are reportedly reaching a new high. Apparently, Secretary Tillerson is not at all pleased with the pace of filling crucial staff positions at the State Department and wants more control over who gets hired. So let me just show you this moment from earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you satisfied with the pace of staffing (OFF-MIKE) State Department?
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: No, I would like to go faster. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So let's talk all this over with Elise Labott. She's our global affairs correspondent.
And, Elise, you tell me, what are you hearing from your sources about Secretary Tillerson reportedly venting his frustrations at this White House meeting?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think it's careful.
You have got to be careful to note, Brooke, that this is part of the push and pull of any Cabinet secretary coming in, in a new administration, with the White House who wants to appoint their political appointees and the State Department or the Defense Department wanting more autonomy over the picks.
But I think, in this case, Secretary Tillerson, who is a former CEO of ExxonMobil, had a lot of autonomy in his former life, is now coming up against the rub of a White House that wants to dictate some of the picks of the State Department. It's taking a long time.
And I think that the two are both very frustrated at each other at how long it's taking. In this meeting that was first reported by Politico, Secretary Tillerson vented his frustrations at the White House director of presidential personnel, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, saying, listen, you know, stand down. I have got this. I want to be able to be responsible for my own picks, and the White House saying, well, you know, make those picks.
It's taking a long time and there are a lot of vacancies at the State Department. But officials do tell me that, you know, the secretary's aides say he wants to pick the most qualified people for the job based on merit and isn't interested in this political patronage that goes on in these political appointees.
BALDWIN: So, that's on Secretary Tillerson, but while I have you, we're reporting that President Trump will be meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit next week.
What do we know about anything surrounding the meeting?
LABOTT: Well, look, the two leaders have said they want to meet for a long time. And, you know, this has been going back and forth about whether they would meet. They will be both at the G20.
And I think Syria will certainly be on the top of that agenda, what's going on, on the ground in terms of fighting ISIS, in terms of finding a political solution to move forward. I think they will also talk about Ukraine.
I think the real question hanging over these meetings is all these Russia investigations, charges of Russian meddling in the election, whether President Trump is going to bring that up and say, listen, you know, we have a 2018 midterm election. Don't even think about it, because we will retaliate. I don't necessarily think that will be the case. President Trump has
said he wants to move forward with the relationship with Russia. But, you know, these -- all of these investigations and these charges have really put a cloud over the relationship. Congress is looking to pass new sanctions on Russia.
And the administration has said, please don't do that, because this is going to really tank the relationship and stop the flexibility that we have in dealing with Russia.
So, all eyes will certainly be on this meeting, but I don't think it will be a tense one. I think it will be two leaders trying to reestablish a relationship that everybody's been waiting for.
BALDWIN: Elise, thank you on that in Washington.
I can tell you that the president is also preparing for a key meeting with the leader of South Korea under the shadow of a new nuclear threat from North Korea.
CNN's now learning that U.S. defense officials are ready to hand over new military options to the president in the event that the threat from the communist regime escalates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The threat is much more immediate now, and, so, it's clear that we can't repeat the same approach, failed approach of the past.
What we have to do is prepare all options, because the president has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: This, as we just heard, the secretary of treasury, Steve Mnuchin, announcing sanctions on two individuals in a Chinese bank which the administration claims acts as a pipeline to support alleged illicit North Korean financial activity.
But Secretary Mnuchin insists the sanctions are not a direct warning to China. Here he is when he was being questioned by our own correspondent there at the White House, Jim Acosta.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're saying that in no way this is a message aimed at China?
STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I specifically said in my comments this wasn't aimed at China. We continue to work with them. Again, this is about North Korea and this is about how serious we're taking this. And kind of whether it's China or anybody else, we will take this seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World," Jen Psaki, CNN political commentator, former White House communications director, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute. He is the author of "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy."
So, let's just begin, Gordon Chang with you, just on what we heard from at the briefing Secretary Mnuchin saying that this senior White House official said Wednesday the administration believes China is falling short of this pressure it could be applying to North Korea. And that was also implied in that Trump tweet from about a week ago.
But what do you make of the insistence that these sanctions are not a direct message to North Korea, rather to China?
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Well, of course they're a message to China.
You know, September 26 last year, the Obama administration sent a signal to the Chinese that it knew the Chinese were involved in money- laundering for the North Koreans, but it didn't unplug a Chinese bank at that time.
This time, they did. The Bank of Dandong will not be allowed to do business in dollars. And of course this is a message, because the administration officials over the last three weeks have said that they were willing to target Chinese financial institutions that were involved in other activities, illicit activities.
And, by the way, this Bank of Dandong punishment is also a signal, because, in 2016, the U.N. panel of experts report noted that Bank of China, one of China's largest banks, was involved in putting together and operating a money-laundering scheme for the North Koreans.
You know, unplugging a large financial institution certainly would rock the global markets, but it would get Beijing's attention. And, by the way, it's not only Bank of China. It's ICBC, the world's largest financial institution, has also been suspected of illegal financial activities for the North Koreans. So, there are a lot of signals here.
BALDWIN: So, that's China. But I'm looking at you, and you're Skyping in from Seoul, South Korea.
So, Michael, let's talk South Korea.
We know that President Moon will be at the White House today. President Moon and President Trump have very different strategies in handling North Korea. We heard, you know, that -- General McMaster talking about options on the table, potentially military options, even though that's not necessarily what people want.
But can you just talk me through the South Korean politics with their neighbor to the north?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Greetings, Brooke.
Well, yes, I think President Moon wants to have some kind of a detente, if possible. But he seems to be pretty savvy about how to pursue it so far.