Return to Transcripts main page


WAPO: Trump Urged Mexican President to End Defiance on Wall; WAPO: Transcripts Released of Trump's Calls with World Leaders; Trump: U.S.-Russia Ties at "All-Time Low"; Interview with Rep. Francis Rooney. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2017 - 10:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the breaking news this morning, a new report of "The Washington Post" revealing the private conversations of President Trump -- revealing conversations with world leaders, awkward conversations with world leaders.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And conversations that importantly call into question some of his most famous - famous campaign promises and his ability to deliver on them. And notable that this huge leak comes just a day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions is due to announce a major crackdown on leaks.

Let's go to Greg Miller, "The Washington Post" reporter who broke the story. He joins us now. Long, 52-page transcript that you guys obtained of these calls in January. What are the key points that stand out?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think there's a -- the main one to me is just the contradiction between Trump's sort of public decision on Mexico and making Mexico pay for the wall. And what he says to the Mexican president in his call which is basically an admission that there's no way for him to do that. And he's trying to enlist the Mexican president in an agreement to stop saying publicly that Mexico won't pay because it's becoming a big political problem for him.

I think there are broader things though with these calls. I mean, these are really acrimonious conversations in which involved -- and affect the lives of thousands, if not millions of refugees and immigrants around the world. And there's really no discussion of their plight or focus on their plight or even on U.S. relations with these two countries. These conversations are all about Trump and how these issues reflect on him.

BERMAN: And again, just to hammer home the point here, if you cover the Trump campaign or watched any part of the Trump campaign -

HARLOW: Do you turn on the television? BERMAN: -- for all those months. You watched a rally, he would say, I'm going to build a wall. Who's going to pay for the wall? The answer was -

HARLOW: Mexico.

BERMAN: -- is going to pay for the wall. Then in these conversations with the president of Mexico which took place the week after the inauguration. He is essentially acknowledging to the president of Mexico, yes, we know you are not going pay for it, but just don't say it out loud because that puts me in an awkward position. What was the response of the Mexican leader, Greg?

MILLER: Well, the Mexican leader is -- resists that. He tries to explain to President Trump what a big issue this is. He tells them at one point. Look, you guys have put a big mark on our back with all these language about trying to make us pay for the wall. I can't go there. I can never say that that's going to happen. My position has to be, that is never going to happen.

HARLOW: It was striking to me and I wonder if it struck you as well in reading this. That at one point in the conversation, the -- President Trump said to President Pena Nieto about the wall, it is, quote, "the least important thing we are talking about, but politically might be the most important."

Isn't that him showing that he actually doesn't think the wall is of great significance?

MILLER: Well, yes. I mean, it's sort of a glimpse at the kind of the stage directions in the script here, right? This is -- it's his fall for public consumption. This is kind of a fiction. This is an issue that I exploited in the campaign. There's really no way for me to achieve this or enforce this vow to make you guys pay for it. But I've got to maintain that fiction. I've got to keep that story.

BERMAN: You know and again, just one other highlight here. Highlight is depending how you look at it right now. He's talking about the -- with the president of Mexico, he is talking about the drug problem. You know, which is there's no question. There is a drug problem in the United States. We have a massive drug problem where kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy, the president said.

But then he says this, "I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den." He didn't win New Hampshire in the general election. He did win in the primary. Already public officials from New Hampshire are quite offended by the description of that statement, Greg.

MILLER: Absolutely. One of the senators from New Hampshire is already tweeting this morning about what a despicable statement that is about New Hampshire. It's also really remarkable for a president of the United States, right? One of those states is New Hampshire, talking to a foreign leader and speaking so derisively about one of those states. -- But again, the purpose there is to reflect on Trump. It's to -- again, find a way to reference his political success and prowess even if it is at New Hampshire's expense.

HARLOW: Greg Miller, I know you guys must have been up all night working on this. We appreciate you being on and for your reporting. Thank you very, very much.

MILLER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's go to the White House. Let's see if the White House is responding. Sara Murray is there. Any comment yet, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't have official comment from the White House. I imagine if there's a briefing today, that Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be asked about it.

[10:05:03] We have heard from a spokesman for the NSC, basically saying, look, we can't confirm or deny the authenticity of allegedly leaked classified documents. I'm sure that you can bet if the White House believes that these are accurate documents, which there's no reason to believe they aren't, that we are going to see them rail against leaks and rail against what they see are people in the national security realm trying to undermine this presidency.

But it does really offer a window. One, into what the president's priorities actually are, what he's saying in these conversations with world leaders and, two, his style of doing business. Remember, we are talking about Mexico and Australia here. These are two very important U.S. allies. These should not be derisive, contemptuous conversations in the same way they are.

And one of these conversations - it's not confirmed though of Australia. He actually -- President Trump referred to his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a pleasant call. Essentially saying that was a better conversation, the one he had with Putin, who's had an adversarial relationship with the U.S. than the conversation he's having with Malcolm Turnbull. So it does really give you sort of a window into where President Trump's head was at early on taking office.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray for us at the White House. Keep us posted if we get any reaction to this in the next few minutes.

Joining us now to talk about this, CNN political commentators, Paul Begala, Errol Louis, Alice Stewart.

You know, Errol, where to begin? I suppose one way you could look at this is during the course of the campaign when the president, then- candidate Donald Trump made a promise that Mexico was going to pay for that wall. A lot of people said, no, they are not and everyone knows they are not going pay for that wall. So, the fact, that it was discussed like this after the inauguration, what's the significance?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it - look, it confirms what was said repeatedly throughout the campaign. People said you cannot compel the leader of another nation to do these kinds of things. And this is, I think, sort of a reality check for Donald Trump. He began to realize. And frankly, the first few months of the presidency, I think, are a lesson in the limits of presidential power, right? I mean, famously, the power of the presidency is the power to persuade. You can ask, but you really can't dictate. So, we found that out with Congress. He finds it out with the courts. He finds it out in this case, with the dually elected leader of another nation. You cannot compel people to do what you want.

HARLOW: He also -- one point during this call, threatened the Mexican president with a 35 percent tariff on all imported goods, sort of insinuating that he could just do that. Well, no, he needs Congress to do that. That's very hard to get through.

So, Alice, the president heads tonight on the heels of this to West Virginia, to a lot of those folks who he promised he would have a wall built and that they wouldn't pay a cent. The taxpayers wouldn't pay a cent. Mexico would pay for all of it. How does this impact that? Or does it shake them or do they say, no, no, no, that is just, you know, the mainstream media spin?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: When they go to the heart of his base and when the president is there in the midst of his people, they are going to still be just as jazzed as they were throughout the campaign. And he will probably say, we are going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it, even in the face of what we heard today.

But he is -- he does best when he is among his base. It energizes him and it certainly energizes them. He's able to get directly his message directly to them. And I'm sure he's going to do like what we have seen on Twitter this morning. He is going to be critical of Congress. He is going to talk about Russia. He will certainly talk about fake news.

And these are the kinds of issues that he will talk about with his base. And my guess is that this news that we got out of "The Washington Post" is not going to faze or deter the energy that we have at that event one bit.

BERMAN: I'm just not sure though what the base or anyone thinks about it is what matters here, as much as what was behind the promise that he made repeatedly on the campaign trail. And now, as revealed in this conversation on January 27th, there was no meat in that promise. He was perfectly willing to admit according to this transcript that he didn't think Mexico was ultimately going to pay for that wall. He just didn't want Mexico to say it out loud because it was personally embarrassing to him, Paul Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he knew - we should have known that that promise was a lie. But where I disagree with you is a whole lot of Americans, apparently 63 million of them thought it wasn't a lie. He's a con artist. Not really conservative. And this is why a lot of Republicans are breaking with him on the Hill. He says whatever he needs to say to get the deal. Well, OK. Good for him. He apparently got his name on a lot of hotels and golf course.

But now he's the president of the United States. And this is a crisis of credibility for him because I believe he knew when he made that promise that he could not make Mexico pay. I believe he is a liar. I hate to say that about my president, but it's true. I think it's abundantly true. And now, that comes out in black and white in these transcripts.

And I do think rather than obsessing about his base, because that's all he's got left. He's at 33 percent. Remember, he said I could shoot a guy in Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, which is true. Dick Cheney shot a guy, did not lose any votes, right?

[10:10:01] We know that but they're not analytically interesting. There's about a quarter of Americans who will follow Mr. Trump wherever he wants to take them. But he is taking them in increasingly dark places. The problem is over 60 percent of us disapprove what he's doing -- and he's got to reach out to them.

HARLOW: And also, you bring up the polling, that also shows, Errol, among Republicans, where he held 84 percent of support from Republicans not long ago, now it is 76, when you are below 80 -- in your own party, that's an area of concern. And now, how will something like this, in a week that has been full of credibility gaps, to say the least, affect those numbers and affect the presidency.

LOUIS: Yes, those are fairly robust numbers. I think it's probably premature to assume that his overall approval ratings are going to sort of spell the doom of his ability to get anything done. The reality is he's got quite solid support where it counts in key swing districts and in key swing states and in his party.

So, he can go along and sort of stumble along and survive a lot of this kind of very damaging, embarrassing news. But I mean, here again, the wall, I think it was also discussed during the campaign, was in some ways a metaphor, right? The idea was do something about - immigration.

HARLOW: Do you think that's how his supporters saw it?

LOUIS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean -- look at where most of his supporters were. Do you think somebody in New Hampshire cares one way or the other about whether or not the wall gets built on the southern border?

BERMAN: Let's talk about -- first of all, you know let me also note the irony here. This is one phone call that did actually happen unlike the other phone calls the president has talked about this week that didn't happen, which have got in the middle a bit of trouble. One of the things that he said in this phone call was about New Hampshire, since Errol just brought it up.

He was talking about the drug problem which absolutely does exist in this country. But he told the president of Mexico, we have a massive drug problem, where kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy. I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den. I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den. He won the primary. He didn't win the general election. The senator from New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan, right now extraordinarily upset about this. Let me read you some of what she is writing right now. Donald Trump's comments about New Hampshire are disgusting. As he knows, New Hampshire and states across America have a substance misuse crisis.

It goes on, to date, POTUS has proposed policies that would severely set back our efforts to combat this devastating epidemic. Instead of insulting people in the throes of addiction, POTUS needs to work across party lines to actually stem the tide of this crisis.

You know, Alice Stewart, look, you know I can understand why you know anyone, public official in New Hampshire right now is upset about seeing these comments right now out in the public. But the fact of the matter is the president of the United States never thought they would be made public. He thought this was a private conversation. And these leaks continue from inside the White House. The question is, why?

STEWART: There's any number of reasons. But first, let me address a comment that he made. Once again, it's not so much what he said. It's how he said it. Look, there's no disputing the fact there is a drug abuse problem in New Hampshire and in many states. That's why we are even having the conversation about opioid addiction and funding addiction programs to help curb the problem there in many states, including New Hampshire.

But as for the leaks and why we are having them, there's any number of reasons. Certainly, it could be because someone feels as though they are being undermined. He has made some critical statements about the Intelligence Community. That could be it. Someone could feel as though they are influenced in the White House whether it's in the comms shop or in another part of the White House. It is being diminished and they want to get some information out there.

There's any number of reasons why people leak information to the press. But I can assure you, if anyone is going to do something to stop the leaks and plug-up those holes, it will be General Kelly, who's now the chief of staff. That's one of the top orders of business. We are going to hear more from Jeff Sessions tomorrow on this.

And I think it's critical for many reasons, not just when we're talking about classified information. But a lot of the leaks are palace intrigue. And it's an unfortunate distraction. We should be talking about how we are wanting -- take another go at repealing and replacing Obamacare and certainly tax reform and we are stuck talking about palace intrigue stories.

So I'm encouraged that General Kelly has brought about discipline, order and a call for unity in the White House. And will certainly demand more accountability. And it's going to go a long way to plugging these leaks.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Paul Begala, Errol Louis, Alice Stewart, thank you very, very much. We continue to pour through - you know I have one more question for Paul, I'm sorry. Paul, I have to ask you this - conversations. If Bill Clinton had conversations with world leaders and the transcripts were -- published like this, would there be embarrassing things that he'd be upset about?

BEGALA: No. - No, it's a short answer. No, he would never say New Hampshire was a drug-infested den. By the way, he didn't call the White House a dump and didn't call America -

BERMAN: President denies he did that also.

BEGALA: He does deny it. But he's often mistaken in his denials. But no, these are the most on the record thing you can have and not released contemporaneously. But they are for history and they go throughout the national security apparatus so people know what's going on between the United States and Mexico.

[10:15:06] People -- thousands of people in our government, presumably the Mexican government, have to then implement the conversations that happened between those heads of states. So, a president talking to a foreign leader is on the record issue can be.

And the president knows that there's a note taker sitting next to him. There are people obviously listening in right in front of him, in the Oval with him and taking notes. So that we all know - no president have to be extremely careful talking to foreign heads of states. It is as on the record as you can be.

BERMAN: All right. Well, thank you for that clarification. And thank you for the first script question throwing there at the end. Errol, Paul, Alice, thank you very, very much.

The president says that U.S.-Russia relations are in dangerous and historic low. But who does he blame for it. Here is a hint, not Russia.


[10:19:39] BERMAN: All right. New this morning, the president more or less says that the problems between the United States and Russia, not the fault of Russia. He writes our relationship with Russia is at an all-time and dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us health care.

HARLOW: Joining us now is Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. He's a member of the House Foreign and Joint Economic Committee. It is nice to have you with us.

So, let's just begin with reaction to the president's statement blasting you and your colleagues in Congress, for everything bad, it seems about Russia, this all time and very dangerous low. Just checking history, is it you guys who annexed Crimea or invaded Ukraine?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: You know, I think as I wrote that op-ed that I think we talked about one other time -


ROONEY: There have been a lot of actions that the government has taken that have shown weakness to the Russians and they have exploited it.

HARLOW: So, why is he blaming you?

ROONEY: Well, I can't speak for the president. But I know that we have to take some dramatic actions to get back into parody with Russia and what we do in the Ukraine is a big part of it.

BERMAN: So, what is a statement like this then do to that relationship which you feel very strongly about? Look, you voted for these sanctions. You pushed these sanctions very hard. This is an area, you know, near and dear to your heart.

When the president of the United States makes a statement like this, that the problems having to do with Russia, you know, doesn't point out intervention in Syria. He doesn't point out Ukraine, doesn't point out Russian election meddling. He says it's because of you. What message does that send to Vladimir Putin?

ROONEY: Well, I don't know how Vladimir Putin would react to that. I think he's such a steely eyed KGB operator that he would probably sit and - confusion and one more opportunity to exploit the United States.

HARLOW: OK. So, in your opinion piece that you bring up, that you wrote earlier this spring. You talked about how the actions and some of the words from this administration, even though you've been very supportive on it on many fronts, embolden Putin. Does a message like this, on Twitter from the president this morning, further that? Does that embolden Putin more?

ROONEY: Well, I don't know. I guess it could. I think that we need to do the things that are being talked about in the Ukraine, sell -- those mobile missiles. I think we need to continue to deploy these sanctions on both Russia and Iran. Fortunately, those were added by the House. You know, I think it would be nice to highlight some of the important things the House has done rather than talk about what the Senate has not done, for example.

BERMAN: One final point on these sanctions here. You must be pleased that they passed both House of the Congress and ultimately were signed by the president of the United States. What difference do you think they will make going forward?

ROONEY: Well, you know, there's a dispute about how affective sanctions are anyway. But to the extent that they can be effective, I think we need to put them in place. It's going to be more effective when we couple those sanctions with definitive acts like in the Ukraine and like, hopefully drawing China and maybe even Russia into the North Korea problem.

HARLOW: I'm sure you have read "The Washington Post" reporting by this point that came out about an hour ago. Full transcript of the president's conversation with two world leaders including the president of Mexico where he concedes that the wall is not the most important issue, but the most important politically and also, essentially concedes that you know, he knows that Mexico is not going to pay for it. They will figure that out. That will, quote, "come out in the wash," but he cannot have the president of Mexico saying that publicly. What do you make of that?

ROONEY: Well, I think, it's another bit of campaign rhetoric. It's highly unusual. But I don't think anyone during the campaign seriously thought that Mexico would pay for that wall, even though we all desperately believe in the wall as a metaphor for border security.

BERMAN: Do you feel like it was a campaign promise? Because that's what it sounded like when the president would say it at every rally he gave. I'm going to build the wall. Who's going to pay for it? The crowd would shout, Mexico. You don't think that was a campaign promise?

ROONEY: Well, you know, these campaigns are full of all kinds of -- promises, commitments, expressions, vitriolic diatribe and you know, once the campaign is over, it's time to move on to governing.

BERMAN: Time to - not implement what you promised? I'm just confused to how you chalked this up, that yes, something he said but no one believed it.

ROONEY: Well, there been a lot of those. There are a lot of things people have said during campaigns that turned out not to be believed later. It might have been better had he not -


HARLOW: Hold on. Hold on, Congressman. He said it after the campaign. I mean, he said it in the White House. He may even say it again tonight at his rally in West Virginia. And then he made clear to the president of Mexico in this phone call while he was sitting, you know, president in the White House, that no, I don't actually really think you are going to pay for it but just please don't say that publicly because, quote, "the press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that." Are you comfortable with that from this president?

ROONEY: I think it would have been better had he not distracted the discussion of border security by bringing up who is going to pay for the wall and what kind of wall it would be. We have a lot of ways that we can strengthen our border and physical barriers are one, technology is another. And I think we need to begin about doing that.

HARLOW: I guess what we are really trying to get from you, as someone who is a Republican member of Congress, who's been very supportive of the president.

[10:25:03] Do you think he was -- knowing what you know from this transcript, which the White House is not disputing openly, do you think he was straight and honest with the American people?

ROONEY: I don't think anyone really thought that the Mexicans were going to pay for a wall. I mean, regardless of a boisterous campaign or post campaign comment. These politicians, these professional politicians make comments all the time. President Trump was not a professional politician, so maybe he made even some more comments that might be disputed later.

But the bottom line is no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall and no one would believe that we don't need to secure our borders. So those are two asymmetrical concepts there.

BERMAN: Can I ask, how should this color how we view other promises, then, that come -- given that he made this promise and may not have meant it as you're suggesting. How should we perceive other promises that come from the president?

ROONEY: Well, how about the promises for the last eight years to repeal and replace Obamacare? I mean, there are a whole lot of promises that politicians have broken. And no wonder the American people want to see some things done, some concrete things done to fix our country, fix our work force and get the economy growing again.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida, a busy, busy day. Thank you so much for being with us, appreciate it.

ROONEY: Thanks for having me on.

BERMAN: All right. We are just minutes away from what could be a pretty tensed meeting between the president and his national security adviser. Will they hash out a plan on Afghanistan? We'll have the latest on that.