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Mexican President Denies Trump's Claims of Phone Call; NYT: Trump to Challenge Affirmative Action in Colleges; North Korea Flew within Miles of Passenger Jet Flight Path. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- saying, hey, there was no phone call. And he claims that President Trump's so-called facts are wrong.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The president of Mexico is essentially accusing the president of the United States of making things up. And this comes on the heels of the White House making it clear that the president's lawyer did not tell the truth about the messaging on a meeting that the president's son had with a Russian lawyer.

Now, the president's team calls the discrepancies of no consequence. Let that sink in. The truth is of no consequence. Apparently, it is of some consequence to Congressional Republicans now directly questioning the president's honesty with new signs that Republicans might be willing to split from the White House on some issues.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House with this new Mexican rift. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John and Poppy. This all got started on Monday as the president was lavishing praise on his new chief of staff, John Kelly. He had just been sworn in. And they were at his very first cabinet meeting as the chief of staff. Let's listen to what Trump had to say about John Kelly during that meeting.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and now close to 80 percent stoppage. And even the President of Mexico called me -- they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.


COLLINS: So while that might have been the ultimate compliment for President Trump, it also might not have happened. Mexico issued a statement after Trump made that comment during the cabinet meeting saying that he hasn't spoken to President Pena Nieto since in recent weeks during that meeting. They said that the last time they spoke was July 7th, during the G20 summit in Germany when they had a meeting together. They did discuss illegal immigration during that meeting. But Mexico is saying that they haven't talked to Trump on the phone since that happened.

We have reached out to the White House for clarity to see when this call happened, if that comment was made months ago. But they haven't gotten back to us yet. But, John and Poppy, this all ties in to a broader problem with White House credibility, as you both know, yesterday we found out the president did, in fact, weigh in on the crafting of Donald Trump Jr.'s statement, the first statement he issued after "The New York Times" reported on his meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower las summer.

In that first statement, he said the meeting was primarily about adoptions and that they did not discuss campaign issues. And we later found out that that was misleading. He was under the impression he was meeting with a Russian government attorney to discuss incriminating information on Hillary Clinton on behalf of the Russian government's efforts to help his father's campaign. So, this all ties into whether or not the White House is being truthful with us. John and Poppy?

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you for that. The Justice Department is tight lipped this morning, not commenting on a "New York Times" report that it's launching a new fight against racial discrimination.

BERMAN: Maybe that's because the Trump administration's apparent belief - well, this has to do with what the Justice Department will and will not do for minorities and for white Americans having to do with admission into college according to Times. Federal lawyers can sue colleges that give preferential treatment to minority applicants.

CNN's Jessica Schneider in our Washington bureau to explain. Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, John and Poppy, this all relates to an internal job posting that's being circulated inside the Department of Justice. It's really creating all of this affirmative action buzz.

Now it was obtained by "The New York Times" and the job post seeks lawyers to work on a new project related to, quote, "intentional race- based discrimination" in college and university admissions. So "The New York Times" is portraying that posting as geared toward helping white applicants fight back against any discrimination they perceive from affirmative action policies.

But I talked to a DOJ official this morning. They are framing it this way, saying that this is not a new policy or program but rather a way for the DOJ to look into any credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race from someone of any background. So right now the DOJ is pushing back on this report, but still not commenting officially on the record.

Now, "The New York Times" does note that these investigations would be run out of the Civil Rights Division's front office. That's where the Trump administration's political appointees work as opposed to the career lawyers who typically do handle this work involving schools and universities. So indicating this could be part of a political agenda.

Now, of course, affirmative action has been a really hot topic in the past few years. The Supreme Court did uphold a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016, saying in fact that race can be one factor in the admissions decision but that there can't be any racial quotas. So now it seems the Department of Justice based on that job posting obtained by the Times, they want to investigate if maybe universities are overreaching when it comes to those - when it comes to race in their admissions decisions. John and Poppy?

HARLOW: We will be watching. We'll see if there's a comment from the Department of Justice. Jess, thank you very much.

[10:05:01] A lot to discuss this morning, let's bring in Caitlin Huey Burns, national political reporter for "RealClearPolitics." It's also her 21st birthday today. Kristen Soltis Anderson, "Washington Examiner" columnist, she's also Republican strategist, a pollster and Michael Shear, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

So, because it is your 21st birthday and you are about to have your first drink tonight -


HARLOW: Before you do - before you do, let's talk about the credibility gap that is clearly getting wider at the White House. They haven't said anything yet about the Mexican president says, Mr. President, I never called you and said those things that you said in your cabinet meeting Monday -- I did.

HUEY-BURNS: The credibility coming from the White House, this gap has existed from day one. Remember when Sean Spicer talked about the crowd sizes. The reason that matters is because this White House has not had kind of that reservoir of credibility to dip into at times like this.

And so, yesterday was really significant by saying that, yes, we're confirming the reporting that the president weighed in, crafted, -- had a hand in crafting this statement regarding his son. Then today, talking about the conversation with a Mexican leader who is a key ally of course and as it pertains to the president agenda on trade, there isn't this credibility here. And this is an existing problem no matter who's in charge of the comms shop.

BERMAN: I mean the accusation here is that the president is making stuff up. I mean, the president of Mexico is essentially saying the president of the United States is making stuff up. That you know, what happened yesterday with the statement on Don Jr., the president's lawyer was caught in a lie.

And Kristen, one of the things we hear from the president's team is it's of no consequence, the statements were of no consequence. My question to you because you look at polls, right? I mean, you are numbers person here. Are they right? Is this of no consequence? KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": It feels like every week of this presidency has had some other scandal or controversy or alternative fact or you know, thing that has come up that made everybody go. How can this possibly be real? How is this possibly happening?

And yet, if you look at Donald Trump's approval ratings since the beginning of his presidency, he didn't start in a very good place. He's not in a very good place now. But his numbers have not fallen off in dramatic fashion. For the most part, Donald Trump remains beloved by over 80 percent of the Republican Party and about a third of independents. That's about -- it's a little less than what he had when he was elected.

But I think from a political perspective, when the White House says, look, Trump supporters believe him. They believe him even in the face of - you know, facts coming from, say, the Mexican president or other folks saying this didn't happen, this isn't true. The White House has gambled and in some ways politically gambled correctly that Trump's own supporters won't leave him over things like this.

HARLOW: So, that's so interesting to juxtapose, Michael, with the Republicans that have been more willing this week to come out and do just that. Namely, of course, Jeff Blake with his political column, but we're going to have, you know Republican Congressman Mark Sanford on later who has been critical of the president. How far do Republican lawmakers go in John's words, is this a Bulworth Moment ahead. What do you think?

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think Kristen is that there's a sort of part of the Republican base that's still very much behind Donald Trump. But that doesn't translate when you are a Republican member of Congress, maybe a Republican senator like Jeff Flake.

And you see increasingly two things. One is that there's a lot of falloff in the Republican Party writ large that it's not just about the base. It's about those folks in the middle who sort of lean one way or lean the other. And you've got to figure out - you know, as a lot of these candidates do, how to attract that support. But also look, you know part of the problem with the credibility gap that the White House has gotten over the last six months that we have been talking about is that as president and as a White House, you don't want to get in a situation where your membership, your Republican members on Capitol Hill are coming to bat for you, defending you, only to have the rug pulled out from them later.

And that's what happened, for example, with the situation involving the president's lawyer where the president's lawyer asserts, hey, the president didn't have anything do with this. You have Republican members go out and say that and defend the president. And then later on it's found out that that's just not true. That's a problem for a Republican member of Congress who doesn't want to be in that situation.

BERMAN: Yes and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, the senator who said, when you put out a misleading statement, it's going to be hard to look at other things. It sours the relationship.

You know, Caitlin, it feels like something changed, right? Over the last week or so and I'm not sure whether it was the 11 days of Anthony Scaramucci. I'm not sure whether it's, you know, getting caught in what appears to be moments of dishonesty or flat out lies here. But these Republican members do seem more willing to split with the president, whether it's on symbolism like Jeff Flake is saying or on health care. I mean, now we have these bipartisan health care meetings above and beyond what the White House wants.

That's what's key. The policy aspect. Every couple of weeks, they check in with Republicans and see what the breaking point would be. They point to the idea of if the agenda starts to fall apart, that is thing link that's meetings above and beyond what the White House wants.

HUEY-BURNS: So I think that's what's key here. That's the difference here is policy aspect. Every couple of weeks, they check in with Republicans and see what the breaking point would be.

[10:10:03] And they always point to the idea of if the agenda starts to fall apart, that is the link that is keeping this, you know marriage of sorts, arranged marriage together. And so, they're seeing their agenda derailed at this point and wanting to get through.

But it also says there are different kinds of Republicans in the Trump era, right? You have those Republicans like Jeff Flake. I have also talked to Republicans in states that Trump won or did well. And they are actually going to plan on running with the president, saying the president needs more allies in Congress, not less. So, keeping an eye on these tensions, I think, they're certainly there but not exactly at the breaking point with all of them.

HARLOW: One thing that we are seeing, Kristen, is perhaps a bit of trouble for the White House in getting some top folks in there. Look, you have Kelly in a very important role as chief of staff. And there's bipartisan agreement from everyone who's been on this show that that is a good thing for this White House.

But you've got Mike McCaul, very highly respected, House Homeland Security chairman, who they are looking at apparently to put in to lead Department of Homeland Security and that he has reservations. Because he has seen how this president has treated some of his own team, even his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Problematic for this White House?

ANDERSON: Yes. I think it's a big problem. Because one of the most important things you are doing as president is staffing the federal government in these political appointment positions with talented individuals who can execute on your agenda. I think Chairman McCaul would be a wonderful choice for Department of Homeland Security. But he is even taking flak in just the last day or two for the House advancing -- trying to advance legislation that doesn't actually pay for a physical wall along the entire border.

That instead, you know, smart folks that focus on border security have said, look, some places it's a physical barriers, some places it's enhanced. You know, you have people on the ground, some places its technology. And that's the kind of person that he would be. But of course, if Donald Trump all of a sudden, you know, sees a column or a segment on television by somebody who is a real immigration hard-liner who wants that physical wall all the way, does that create friction? And I think if you would be smart to be wary to walk into that situation.

BERMAN: You know, Michael, what do moves, like we're seeing starting today from the White House. How do they help? He's got an immigration event coming up. He's going to do some, you know, China crackdowns on trade coming up today. There's this affirmative action or you know, anti-affirmative action, measures coming from the Justice Department. What does the White House want to get from that?

SHEAR: Look, I think the most important thing that the White House could do to begin to try to heal some of these rifts between themselves and members of their party and to solve some of these problems that we have been talking about is to move more towards policy and away from some of the kind of chaotic back and forth on personnel and fighting amongst themselves that have sort of dominated the first six months. There's a huge desire among the Republican establishment here in Washington to move forcefully towards a tax reform effort. There's a huge desire, bipartisan in some places, to do kind of infrastructure measure that would reinvest in roads and bridges and tunnels and that kind of thing.

And I think that, you know, one of the things we will be looking at is -- whether John Kelly as chief of staff can kind of bring the disparate parts of the White House in the focus. And say, look, we want to move in several key directions. Let's do that. Let's do that together. And maybe that begins to heal some of the rifts, especially with Capitol Hill.

BERMAN: All right. Michael Shear, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Caitlin Huey-Burns - Happy Birthday to you -- thank you all so much for being with us, the worst birthday party ever.


All right, a tense relationship with North Korea just got worse. Experts now worried that North Korea missile tests could be putting passenger jets at risk.

HARLOW: Plus, another claim that Baltimore police may have planted evidence. Does the body camera footage prove it? We're on it. You will see it here.

And from the cockpit to Congress, maybe a retired fighter pilot says she's ready to take on career politicians in D.C. Can she win a fight in Ruby Red Kentucky?


[10:17:55] BERMAN: All right. A dangerous new twist in the rising tensions with North Korea, new flight data reveals that the North Korean missile that was fired off on Friday. It flew within miles of the flight path of an Air France passenger jet. This is what we know. It was Air France flight 293. It was just seven minutes of flight time away from where the missile splashed down in the Sea of Japan.

HARLOW: So, this clearly dangerous launch sounded off a lot of alarms, forced Japan to issue warnings nearby vessels and aircrafts. Experts are now saying, North Korea's continued missile tests, which take place often without any notice, could pose significant risk to passenger planes.

Let's go to the Pentagon. Let's hear more from Barbara Starr. What else are we learning on this this morning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, good morning, guys. What we are hearing from the Pentagon is what they have been saying for several days now. They want the North Koreans -- if they're going to launch these missiles, which of course they object to, issue a notice to airmen, issue a notice to mariners, follow the standard international protocol so aircraft and shipping in these areas know that something might be happening. This is one of the standard practices. This is what the U.S. and other nations do when they have missile tests. They have restricted areas and they tell everybody to stay away. But this area just 80 miles off the coast of Japan is very heavily trafficked with both air and shipping traffic. It's a busy commercial area. Nobody expects military activity in this area.

After this happened, Air France actually issuing a statement saying and let me quote from it, the airline saying, "North Korea's missile test zones do not interfere in any way with Air France flight paths. We constantly analyze potentially dangerous fly over zones and adapt our flight plans accordingly." So, Air France, saying that posed no threat to their aircraft. A quick haptic to our colleagues at ABC News for being the first to dig out that this all happened, that they came so close.

What about the U.S.? Well, overnight the U.S. also test fired - expected to have happened -- an ICBM of its own.

[10:20:03] We have some video to show of that test flight. That is a standard U.S. missile intercontinental test that was long expected. But in this case, the U.S. notified those who might be flying aircraft, might be doing shipping through impact areas. This is standard practice. That's what the U.S. wants to see the North Koreans do.

HARLOW: Indeed. We will see if they comply. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Joining us now, Susan Glasser, chief international affairs columnist for "Politico" and a co-author of "Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution." And we will get to a lot on Russia in just a moment. But let's get you on North Korea.

I wonder if you think it is emboldening the Kim regime and these increasing missile tests, et cetera without warning. The fact that the White House messaging is truly all over the place, you've got Nikki Haley says on a Sunday, time for talk is over, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokeswoman says, all options on the table, the president says this week, it will be handled, then the Secretary of State says yesterday, we would like to sit down and have a dialogue. Is that mixed message empowering them?

SUSAN GLASSER, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, "POLITICO": Well, it certainly is a mixed message. You know I was struck yesterday when Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, came out and said basically, we want to bring you to the table. I don't think there's anybody who thinks that he is either empowered to hold serious talks with them or really has the capacity at this moment in time to do so.

And I think the particular problem for the Trump administration as with by the way -- for the Obama and Bush administrations before them, is that while there is enormous military force that the United States can deploy in the region, very few people believe that the United States has any real willingness to launch a counterstrike on North Korea given the enormous risk to South Korean citizens that any military action would pose. And so, that really has limited American options from the beginning in dealing with this nuclear proliferation threat in North Korea.

BERMAN: So, when the Secretary of State says something like that, says something along the lines of he would like to sit down and have a dialogue, you said there, no one takes it seriously. What does China make of that? Who does China believe?

GLASSER: Well, look, the bottom line is you have the president of the United States just the other day dinging China once again in a tweet and basically, saying, their efforts on North Korea have failed. We tried to reach out to them. It didn't work.

Now you hear significantly rumblings from within the Trump administration that they're finally looking to launch a little bit more of the aggressive trade war against China that they had promised initially. But that Donald Trump himself had pulled back on, suggesting there was linkage with Chinese cooperation on North Korea. To the extent that that was a Trump administration policy as opposed to a set of tweets. It now no longer seems to be the policy. - So here we are left reading tea leaves on tweets.

HARLOW: Not the best thing to do when it comes to foreign policy. Not the best thing to do. So, you guys at "Politico" have a fascinating report out this morning that Secretary of State Tillerson, as we were just talking about him, is actually refusing to spend some $80 million that has been allocated to the State Department by Congress for fighting Russian disinformation, terrorist propaganda, et cetera.

And a Tillerson aide, according to the State Department official, tells "Politico" one reason is because using that extra money for these programs to block Russian propaganda, media influence, would anger Moscow. Wow.

GLASSER: Well, you know, I'm glad you brought up the report by my colleague, Nahal Toosi. I do think that it is very telling report. What does it tell us? Well, first of all, it does tell us that Tillerson's State Department is understaffed, undermanned and having a really rocky transition. So some of it, I think, is really a lack of capacity to even figure out what is their policy and should they spend this money. $60 million of the $80 million, according to the reporting in the story, will run out if it's not spent and taken up from Congress by the end of September, number one.

Number two, it tells us about Russia. And right now, we are left once again reading tea leaves, what is the Trump administration's actual policy toward Russia? On the one hand, I believe, you have President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson to a certain extent continuing to single that they are desperately looking for an improvement in relations notwithstanding Congress's very clear signal in this Russia sanctions bill that that's not going to happen right now.

Look, President Trump has not yet signed the sanctions bill. He has not yet said anything whatsoever in response to the Russian decision to kick out hundreds of American diplomats. This is a very serious move on the part of the Russians. And it's actually quite extraordinary that you heard nothing from President Trump about it.

So, to me, that indicates that there still is the sort of holdout hope by President Trump. But at the same time, you have Vice President Pence in Eastern Europe just right now, out there saying a completely different message, which is we're on the same page with Congress.

[10:25:01] We're going to be tough on Russia. We're on board with the sanctions. And so, you have this almost schizophrenic approach to Russia still being the case.

BERMAN: And until he signs that sanctions bill, it raises a question, why hasn't he signed it? Susan Glasser, great to have you with us, thanks so much.

GLASSER: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The president's word versus another president -- that is what we're talking about this morning. Did the president of the United States just flat out make something up?