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Exclusive Interview with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 15, 2017 - 16:00   ET



[16:00:08] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right. Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for being with me this Sunday.

All right. President Trump is in Virginia today spending in another weekend at one of his golf clubs but this time he has accompanied by a couple of friends. He is Senator Rand Paul right there you saw sharing a little fist bump as they hit the links there in Sterling, Virginia. And then yesterday, Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham spent the day at the same golf club. Both of whom the President has publicly criticized in the past.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joining me now.

So Ryan, what do you know about this quality time? What it make potentially lead to? What is happening?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no doubt this is an opportunity for the President to get out of the White House and to be with the senators in a more informal setting. And while they are certainly enjoying themselves there is an opportunity for them over the course of this 18 holes of golf to talk about some big issues confronting the administration including a new plan on health care, how they are going to get tax reform done.

And it is believed that that is part of what the conversation was today. But these players are important as well. You have someone like Rand Paul of Kentucky who while has been an ally of the President publically, he is also been someone who stood in the way of some of these key pieces of legislation, health care in particular, and he is also seems to be a bit skeptical about the upcoming tax reform plan.

Lindsey Graham is another one. Graham is very popular with his fellow senators but at the same time he has found opportunities to criticize President Trump when appropriate. It is very important for the President to build these relationships because things have been pretty icy with him and members of the Republican Senate and he desperately need them if he wants to move his agenda forward -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Ryan, you know, President Trump also spoke with Senator Mitch McConnell on the phone. They will meet tomorrow to discuss the fall agenda for the President. What do we know about that? NOBLES: Well, there is no doubt that it is important for the

President to make nice with rank-and-file members of the U.S. Senate. But his relationship with Mitch McConnell is more important than any of those relationships. And it has been very difficult throughout the course of this administration. And so, it looks as though both sides are attempting to repair that relationship. You are right, they spoke on the phone yesterday. They will meet at the White House this week. And according to Lindsey Graham it is not necessarily Mitch McConnell's fault that the Senate isn't accomplishing the President's goals.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mitch McConnell is not our problem. Our problem is that we promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and we failed. We promised to cut taxes and have yet to do it. If we are successful Mitch McConnell is fine. If not we are all in trouble. We loses our majority. And I think President Trump will not get reelected.


NOBLES: That was Lindsey Graham on CBS this morning. And of course, Fredricka, you know, personalities aside, the real problem for Republicans right now is that they can't seem to come up with an agreement on the policy. And until they can find a way forward and come up with a plan that at least 50 senators will vote for, there is no way they get any of these things accomplished. Perhaps that is what the President and Mitch McConnell will talk about this week at the White House -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much at the White House.

U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is trying to stay in the Iran nuclear deal even though the President is threatening to pull the U.S. out of the agreement. Tillerson made the comments in wide ranging interview with Jake Tapper on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning where he also reaffirmed diplomacy is the President's goal with North Korea. Here is a portion of the conversation.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So before we get to what the President did I want to ask the question. You said recently that Iran is in technical compliance with the deal. But President Trump said on Friday that the Iranian regime has quote "committed multiple violations of the agreement." So which is it? Is Iran in technical compliance or has it committed multiple violations?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the answer is really both, Jake. Under the nuclear agreement the JCPOA that there is a multi- lateral party agreement, there had been a number of technical violations carrying too much inventory and having materials that are used to construct high speed centrifuges. But under the agreement, and this part of the weaknesses and the flaws, Iran has a significant period of time to remedy those violations. And so they have remedied the violations which brings them back into technical compliance.

I think though that demonstrated pattern of always walking right up against the edges of the agreement are what give us some concern as to how far Iran might be willing to go to test the limits from its side of the agreement. Our response to that has been to work with the other parties and demand that we be much more demanding of the enforcement of the agreement, much more demanding inspections, much more demanding disclosures. And that is what we are shifting since we have taken our seat at the table to joint commission.

TAPPER: OK. President Trump decertified the deal on Friday but he did not withdraw from the deal as he could have. Did the President want to withdraw unilaterally before people in the administration such as yourself, secretary Mattis and others successfully persuaded him to pursue what might be described as a middle course?

TILLERSON: What the President wants is a more comprehensive strategy to deal with Iran in his totality. I think for too long and served in the last administration, we will need to find the Iranian relationship around this nuclear agreement. This nuclear agreement is flawed. It has a number of weaknesses in it. And so the President said throughout this campaign he said I will either reform the agreement, I will renegotiate the agreement basically saying I will fix these flaws or we will have to have a different agreement in totality (ph). I think his decision around the new policy is consistent with that.

So now we want to deal with the nuclear agreement's weaknesses. But we really need to deal with a much broader array of threats that Iran poses through the region. Our friends and allies and therefore threats that they post to our own national security.

The policy itself really has three components. And I think it is important that people understand this. The President described these in his speech. There is the nuclear agreement which we are going to undertake an effort to see if we cannot address many flaws in the agreement working with partners. It may be a secondary agreement. Maybe it is not within the existing agreement but we may undertake a secondary agreement.

But then a much broader array of threats from Iran, this ballistic missile programs, the support of terrorist organizations in the region, Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, these are all very threatening organizations and is this destabilizing activities in Yemen to support the rebels, the Houtis, to support the rebels in Syria, the Assad regime. Everywhere you look Iran's activities destabilize the region and threaten.

But the third element of this policy and the President touched on and this progresses (ph), this is not about the Iranian people. This is about the regime in Iran, this revolutionary regime that ever since it came to power, there has been intent on killing and harming Americans and harming others in the region.

We do not hold the Iranian people accountable for that. So our effort is to support the moderate voices in Iran, support their cries for democracy and freedom and hope that one day the Iranian people will retake control of the government of Iran and restore it to the rich history of the past, reintegrate and become a fruitful member and trade commerce in the region. So that is really the end game here. But that is a very long game and we realize that.

[16:07:06] TAPPER: Before the Senate not long ago your counterpart at the Pentagon, secretary Mattis was asked if he thought staying in the agreement was in the best interest of the United States. Not a question about whether or not he wanted to improve upon the deal or add a secondary deal as you just discuss, but whether or not the U.S. should say in it or leave. And he said staying in it was his course. It sounds like you agree with it, as well that you would not want Congress to immediately impose sanctions that would end dispute.

TILLERSON: I do agree with that. And I think the President does, as well. That is why he took the decision he took. But look, let's see if we cannot address the flaws in the agreement by staying within the agreement, working with others signatories, working with our European friends and allies within the agreement. But as I said that may come in a secondary agreement, as well.

So we want to take the agreement as it exists today and fully enforce that agreement, be very demanding of Iran's compliance under the agreement and then begin the process of addressing these flaws that we see around not the absence of addressing ballistic missiles for instance. The concerns we have around the sunset provisions, the space out of the agreement.

You know, we know what that looks like. We have seen this in the past in the 1990s with North Korea and agreements that ultimately phase out. What happened has put us on the road where we are today with North Korea. We don't want to find ourselves in the same position with Iran.

TAPPER: Speaking of North Korea you talk about working with European allies. As you know, our European allies are very concerned about the stuff that President Trump took on Friday. I want to show you what the German foreign minister had to say.

Quote "my big concern is what is happening in Iran or with Iran from the U.S. perspective will not remain Iranian issue but many others in the world will consider whether they themselves should acquire a nuclear weapons too given at such agreements are being destroyed."

And I guess the question there is as voiced by German foreign minister why should North Korea believe anything that the United States has to say if the President has shown his willingness to walk away from agreements about nuclear weapons?

TILLERSON: I think what North Korea should take away from this decision is that the United States will expect a very demanding agreement with North Korea, one that is very binding and achieves the objectives not just of the United States but the policy objectives of China and other neighbors in the region. A denuclearized Korean peninsula.

We intend to be very demanding in that agreement. If we achieve that then there will be nothing to walk away from because the objective will be achieve. The issue with the Iran agreement is that it does not achieve the objective. It simply postpones the achievement of the objective. And we feel that that is one of the weaknesses under the agreement. So we are going to stay and we are going to work with our European partners and allies to see if we can't address these concerns which are concerns of all of us.


WHITFIELD: All right. We have so much more straight ahead on that conversation with the secretary of state. Did he, in fact, call the President a moron? Plus, his response to a top Republican's controversial comment this week.


[16:10:03] TAPPER: You have a cattle ranch. You don't want to say anything about the senator CALLING -- suggesting you have been gelded before the world? It is not anything that bothers you.

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.



[16:14:20] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson was pressed on a number of issues this morning on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Tillerson once again refusing to deny reports that he called the President a moron.


TAPPER: You were in China, we just talked about the North Korean problem, you were in China trying to resolve the dispute with North Korea in a diplomatic way as President Trump tweeted I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man. And then he sent second tweet saying save energy, Rex. We will do what has to be done.

Now, if I were a Chinese official or North Korean official seeing the tweets while you were there trying to negotiate and try to solve this problem, I might think secretary Tillerson doesn't really speak for President Trump.

[16:15:07] TILLERSON: Fortunately, Jake, President Trump and President Xi have probably one of the closest relationships the presidents has with the head of the state. If you are aware, they have had two major face-to-face meetings, the summit in Mar-a-Lago, a very comprehensive bilateral in Hamburg. The President speaks to President Xi on the telephone frequently. I think they have a several calls. I have a very close relationship with the state counselor of China who reports directly to President Xi on their foreign policy.

So rest assured that the Chinese are not confused in any way on what the American policy towards North Korea or what our actions and efforts are directed at.

TAPPER: Did that tweets like that undermine you?

TILLERSON: Well, I think what the President is doing is he is trying to motivate action on a number of people's part in particular the regime in North Korea. I think he does want to be clear with Kim Jong-un and that regime in North Korea that he has military preparations ready to go and has those military options on the table and we have spent substantial time actually perfecting those. But be clear, the President has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically. He is not seeking to go to war.

TAPPER: So he does think it is a waste of time?

TILLERSON: No, sir. He made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts which we are. And we will - as I told others the diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.

TAPPER: The relationship that a secretary of state has with a President is one of the most important relationships in the world. World leaders need to know that you speak for him and that he has faith in you and that you have faith in him. NBC News reported that you were frustrated with President Trump over the summer and you called him a moron during the meeting at the Pentagon. And you dismissed the question as petty. But this is literally one of the most important relationships in the world, the one between you and President Trump. Is it true? Did you call him a moron?

TILLERSON: Jake, as I indicated earlier, I was asked about that. I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo, and they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way. I don't work that way. I don't deal that way and I'm not just going to dignify the question.

I called the President Mr. President. He and I have a very, very open frank and candid relationship. I see him often and speak to him nearly every day. I am in the oval office a number of hours every week. We have a very open exchange on views on policy. At the end of the day, he makes decisions. I go out and do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully. And he understands at all times what we are trying to achieve to fully implement his foreign policy.

He has assembled a very I think unconventional team. He, himself, is an unconventional President. He assembled unconventional cabinet. I'm an unconventional pick for secretary of state. But that is because he does not accept the status quo with the many threats but they were confronting in the world today. And he is going to take forcing action. And often times the tweets or decisions he takes are intended to cause this forcing action to get off of the status quo to force people to take action (INAUDIBLE).

So whether it is the decision on the Iranian agreement that was announced to force action to address this defective agreement or there is decisions forcing North Korea to move to a different place of engagement, all of those are steps the President is taking to force action. He is not going to accept the status quo. The American people elected him to change the status quo and that is what he is doing.

TAPPER: Ever since you called it petty I have been thinking about it because I'm a reflected guy. And I understand the media makes mistakes and the media always could improve. But here is the thing. Either he didn't say it in which case there are whole bunch of administration officials telling the press and telling the President that you did and that is a serious problem or you did say it and, look, you are a serious guy. For you to say something like that suggests a real frustration with the commander in-chief. So, when you don't answer the question, it makes people think that you probably did say it. But either way whatever happened it is serious. So can you please clear it up?

TILLERSON: As I said, Jake, I'm not playing. These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. They are not helpful to anyone. And so, my position over this, I'm not playing. I'm not playing. You want to make a game out of it I'm not playing. It is a simple as that.

TAPPER: I'm not making a game out of it. I mean, I'm just trying to seek clarity because saying that if I said that my boss was a moron that would be a serious issue and my boss doesn't control nukes. I'm willing to move on, but I just want to be clear. You still haven't denied that you called him a moron. And you know, a lot of people are going to watch this and think he probably said it.

[16:20:00] TILLERSON: I'm not dignifying the question with an answer, Jake. And I'm a little surprised you want to spend so much time on it when there are so many important issues around the world to deal with.

TAPPER: I want to ask about Senator Bob Corker who said something about you. And he was referring, he is a friend of yours. He has tremendous respect for you. He speaks highly of you all the time. He says that you are one of the best things about the cabinet. And he has dismayed, he thinks President Trump is constantly undermining you. This is a Republican chairman of senate foreign relations committee. He said the President has quote "castrated you before the world stage." That's his word, not mine. What is your response to that?

TILLERSON: Well, as I indicated earlier, Jake, I think this is an unconventional President. He uses unconventional communication tools. He uses unconventional technics to motivate change. And for people that have been around Washington a long time, this is a place that you know better than I, you have been here long than I am. This is not a place that likes the change. It actually enjoys the status quo. The last thing anyone likes to do in this town is make a decision because when you make a decision you are suddenly accountable for that decision.


TILLERSON: And so the President is out trying to motivate people to change whether it is on healthcare, whether it is executive action he recently took to motivate the change, whether it is on executive orders or immigration to motivate that change or it is under the action he took under the Iran deal, I mean, on Friday, is to motivate a change.

People in this town get very nervous and get very uptight about having to address serious issues by making decisions. So the President is simply trying to do that in his very unique style. And he is very unique. I don't think there is any doubt that anyone sees him as anything other than the most unique President we have certainly seen in modern history that we can - whoever recorded history.

TAPPER: Hard to dispute that.

TILLERSON: But again, I would say I am fully committed to his objectives. I agree with his objectives. I agree with what he is trying to do. How he wants to use his own skills tactically to push things towards change I'm there to help him achieve those.

TAPPER: You have a cattle ranch and you don't want to say anything about senator suggesting you have been gelded before the world? Not anything that bothers you?

TILLERSON: I checked. I'm fully intact.

TAPPER: I did not expect that answer.

So let's turn to Russia. Senator John McCain, a Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Democrat, they slammed the Trump administration on Wednesday for missing a deadline to implement sanctions passed by Congress against Russia. It was clear President Trump didn't want to sign that legislation. He made that very clear but it was passed through with veto-proof majority so he signed it into law. But it does seem, at least according to McCain and Cardin, that the administration is slow walking the implementation of these sanctions. How do you respond?

TILLERSON: Well, with respect to Russia in particular, we are being very careful to develop a guidance that companies need because there are business entities that need guidance. There are important allies and partners in NATO, other parts of the world who need specific guidance so they do not run a foul of sanctions act as well. So we are working with the treasury department to develop the guidance, wrote the guidelines so people understand what will be allowed and what will bring them a foul of the sanctions themselves, putting themselves at risk. I have been through one session on that with treasury now. We are going to get those guidelines out so we can begin full implementation of the act. We have every intention of implementing (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: President Trump says that the United States is more respected now in the world than it has ever been polling to the contrary notwithstanding. What do you think is the Trump administration's greatest achievement internationally since you became secretary of state?

TILLERSON: I think there have been more than just one. But a couple I would highlight is the President early on called upon NATO member countries to step up their contributions, step up their commitment to NATO, modernize their own forces. They got a lot of blowback from that. Their concerns that we were going to leave NATO. That we were not committed to article five.

He has been very clear. And as a result of that countries stepped up their contributions towards their own defense. This leads to a strong NATO which we desperately need with the threats that all of us are aware of in the European (INAUDIBLE) and beyond. In central Asia where NATO is playing a very important role in the fight against terrorism.

The second area I am quite proud of that he has brought great international support for is our policy towards North Korea, the implementing of sanctions, the implementing of diplomatic pressure. We now have the most comprehensive in placed that ever been put in place to strangle the North Korean regime's economic revenue streams.

We have China now joining us in putting pressure on North Korea in ways that has never been achieved before. And I attribute a lot of that to the very strong relationship President Trump has with President Xi. So we have the international community more unified against North Korea's nuclear program than we have seen. Countries sending North Korean ambassadors home.

It is a combination of economic diplomatic pressure and then the President building a very strong message to North Korea that you will engage with us at some point to solve this because we are not going to allow you to have nuclear weapons. And if I have to take the ultimate decision, the tough decision, the hard decision, that one that I don't want to take decision, I will.

And so, I think in North Korea we have completely unified the international community including North Korea's previously closest allies now are aligned with us. I think that is a significant achievement from a foreign policy standpoint for this President.


[16:25:32] WHITFIELD: All right. A lot to digest from that conversation. Our panel dives right in after this.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. You just heard U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a wide ranging interview on CNN's "State Of The Union" with Jake Tapper this morning. Tillerson discussing everything from the White House's Iran strategy to diplomatic efforts on North Korea and Tillerson's response to reports he called the president a moron.

All right, joining me right now is CNN political commentator, Jack Kingston, who is also a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign. Also with me is A. Scott Bolden who is a former D.C. Democratic Party chairman. Good to see all of you.

All right, to Scott, let me begin with you. Tillerson says the U.S. wants to stay in the Iran deal just days after the president elects not to recertify. In the past he has said the whole deal should be scrapped. So what is the message being sent to allies who have already expressed concern that perhaps if U.S. fiddles with it then the whole deal is done?

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: Unreliability. A chaos in foreign policy. Uncertainty. Listen, you only got two choices in Iran. If you don't do this deal then you're sending a message to the allies and others that you want to go to war. That's real. There's no in between there.

And so this kind of chaos approach to foreign policy not only undermines our credibility with friends and enemies but leaves our friends around the country wondering whether they can believe the tweets or they can believe Tillerson or they can believe the president. That's not good foreign policy but that's not good for our safety and the safety of other countries.

WHITFIELD: So Jack, on the credibility issue, I mean the message potentially is being sent. The U.S. will engage in a deal but then retract if, you know, you have a new president in place who decides that the deal by the predecessor is not a good deal.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, absolutely not. Those triggers are in the deal which Barack Obama put in there. The idea that the president would have the option of recertifying it every 90 days and that Congress would have 60 days after that to decide what should be done, that's is absolutely per the agreement that Barack Obama signed into law. And what the president --

WHITFIELD: Except the president is saying n, he wants to reshape certain portions about the deal. It's not just, you know, honoring that window but it is going back to the drawing board. He is sending it to Congress. That is a very different kind of message.

KINGSTON: Well, there are two or three issues here and you are correct in that, but one of the issues is access to the sites that the Atomic Energy Commission Agency cannot go to the military sites where they would be hiding their nuclear capabilities. There is the fact that they do have a plutonium produce and heavy water reactor --

WHITFIELD: But the IAEA is saying there are no violations.

KINGSTON: But they also said they can't certify that Iran is not in the business of creating a nuclear device. So they have kind of sent two signals there. But, you know, in addition to that is just absolutely true that Iran is continuing to be a bad actor in the region, supporting terrorism supporting the Assad regime in Syria and pursuing ballistic missiles. So I think it's still a threat, and part of the reason they're able to do that is because of the $150 billion which we freed up for them to have at their disposal.

And you know, another thing that we all have to be concerned about is how much nuclear technology and information are they swapping with Russia or with North Korea? We don't have a grip on this so I think --

WHITFIELD: But Jack, when you have a consortium of six nations who have all signed on, at what point was that agreement to empower just the U.S. to unilaterally say, you know what, we are policing this differently, we are reinforcing this differently, we want to make changes?

KINGSTON: Well, remember Israel and Saudi Arabia immediately endorsed what the president has done and Germany and the United Kingdom and France have not been heavily critical.

WHITFIELD: Or saying they don't like.

KINGSTON: They haven't been as critical as they could be. They're not jumping up and down about it, but let's agree that the European Union follows the United States. They rarely leave regardless when it comes down to staring down the gun of an enemy, Europe is always the one who follows and they complain all the way about what we're doing. But I think what the president is doing is throwing it back to Congress and saying let's look at this thing.

BOLDEN: Now that was a pivot that my good friend Jack Kingston said. He went from whether the Iran deal needs to be decertified and he said, well, but they're still a bad actor. Saudi Arabia is the worst actor in that region causing complete unrest. But here's the deal, Republicans and Democrats both agree that the deal was working.

If you don't like the deal which is part of this campaign, say you don't like the deal and kill the deal. But simply not liking the deal, it's working if you will.

[16:35:00] And if you don't like how it's working, then re-negotiate and get to the table. Those are two options without decertifying but this president seems to either want to suggest that we're going to go to war which I doubt seriously. Is he sending a message, do you want to go to war with Iran or is he sending a message that I want a completely new deal? You don't have to de-certify to get to the last option.

WHITFIELD: But fiddling with the deal, Jack, we've heard expressed concerns from those European allies which we say that will now undermine the deal all together.

BOLDEN: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: And so it would be the U.S. who would be in breach and then it has nothing -- their argument it's the U.S. in breach and not Iran in breach.

BOLDEN: Exactly.

KINGSTON: But Fred, if you go back and look at President Clinton's agreement with North Korea 20 years ago, it's the same thing

WHITFIELD: Just stick to that -- stick to that, Jack.


KINGSTON: Let me say, we've been down this road before where it's delay and say, oh yes, this is going along great. We can't get to the military sites.

WHITFIELD: No, we're at this junction right now for the first time so really address the expressed concerns from those European allies, the U.K. and Germany already saying that.

KINGSTON: I think that they would want to know if the inspection is going well, if they're able to get on military sites or not and the fact that that doesn't disturb them and actually I do think it does disturb them because they're not jumping up and down and crying and kicking and screaming over the president not certifying.

BOLDEN: It doesn't qualify for decertification Jack. It doesn't qualify for that.

KINGSTON: But Scott, as you know, this was what Barack Obama put into the deal -- this is what Barack Obama put into the deal.

BOLDEN: That's called anticipatory breach. They're anticipating they're going to breach the deal with no substantial evidence to that effect. Why go in and just create havoc.

KINGSTON: Scott, let me ask you, don't you --

BOLDEN: -- renegotiation portions of those deals.

KINGSTON: Well, number one, it's not havoc Scott and you know that. But don't you feel like it would be good to get the military --

BOLDEN: Donald Trump is putting havoc on that deal by de-certifying, that's the havoc I'm talking about.

KINGSTON: Don't you think it -- but then why did Barack Obama build it into there? Don't you think it would be good to go on military sites and see exactly what they are doing?

BOLDEN: He builds it into that agreement because if it wasn't working --

WHITFIELD: Well, wasn't the --


BOLDEN: -- if it wasn't working you could de-certify it.

WHITFIELD: Then the de-certify.

BOLDEN: Right.


WHITFIELD: -- but now, but it sounds like, Jack, you are trying to justify pre-emptive de-certification not based on violations because IAEA, many are all in agreement, there have been no violations, but now this is just in case there are violations, now de-certifying, is that what you were -- (CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Wouldn't it be nice to know that there is nothing on the military sites? Wouldn't you have a higher comfort level if we can go there and look? Wouldn't it be great if --

BOLDEN: And there are ways for you to do that without de-certifying and causing unrest and uncertainty in that region and raising havoc in that region. There are lots of ways you can find that out. And if it's not working, fine.

KINGSTON: But there is not --

BOLDEN: But it's working by all accounts, but it's not the way you like it.

KINGSTON: But let's talk about havoc in that region, that is what Iran is doing by backing Assad in Syria.

BOLDEN: Well, we should be concerned --

KINGSTON: There is -- the only havoc in that region is there. Israel is not comfortable with this that's why Israel has endorsed it and --

WHITFIELD: But the monitors have been charged with those evaluations and the monitors have said no violations.

BOLDEN: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there.

KINGSTON: Well, but they are not on the military sites. I just think it's in everybody's interest to be sure before you re-certify. That's all what the president is saying.

BOLDEN: And there are ways to do that without de-certifying and this president, based on his foreign policy is really, this is a bad decision. You know it, I know it. And we should be talking about something else because he's decertified it.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there. A. Scott Bolden, Jack Kingston, thanks gentlemen.

BOLDEN: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. This week, NFL owners and the players and the players union will be meeting in part to discuss whether the league should create a rule about players standing for the national anthem. We're just looking at some of the video here, you see a long line of New Orleans Saints there all taking the knee there in a home game against the Detroit Lions and they actually stood during the song.

In a letter to NFL teams this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote, everyone involved in the game needs to come together on a path forward to continue to be a force for good within our communities, protect the game and preserve our relationship with fans throughout the country. The NFL is at its best when we ourselves are unified. Let's get the latest now with CNN's Coy Wire. So Coy, you know, several games already underway, is there anything different?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Well, 4:00 games not much changed in the 1:00, 4:00 games started. The networks did not show the national anthem but Fred, I think (INAUDIBLE) within the past few weeks we've seen an increase in this divisive rhetoric regarding the protest of racial and social injustice during the national anthem, and many players in the league feel that the protests have inaccurately been pegged as protest of our flag, of our military and that just damaged the image of the players and the league as a whole.

So there is now a concerted effort to get the messaging of the protest back on track. Part of the problem has been the perception of inconsistent approach through the protest. Today as you mentioned, the Saints took a knee before the anthem then stood as we say Cowboys do it at one point. The Packers and Vikings all stood during national anthem locked arms as we saw several other teams do as well.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was actually in Minnesota for that matchup. The New York Jets were hosting the Patriots and both teams stood on the same sideline in a show of solidarity -- we've not seen that often. Now the 49ers, the organization for which Clin Kaepernick played when he first started the protest of racial injustice, had several players kneeling during the national anthem and has been the case for that team.

Now team owners and the commissioner are going to discuss the anthem issue during the fall meeting this week in New York. And in an extraordinary move, they are also inviting the players and their union leaders to take part. And as someone who has served as a NFL players union rep for my team during my playing days, I've seen up close and personal how contentious the relationship can be between owners and players.

[16:45:00] So the owners' inviting the executives from the NFLPA and the players to join them at their annual meeting is quite profound. Part of those meetings are going to be to figure out how are the parties involved can approach this anthem issue in a more unified front. I talked to one high level NFL executive who said that the league also feels that it's vital that owners provide platform for the players to help create positive change and also keep the messaging, Fred, on track.

Now, on a conference call last week, the NFL did say that there are no proposals currently on the table that would force the players to take a stand or, you know, stand up during the national anthem. We'll see if that ends up being the case.

WHITFIELD: And the expectation is it has to be more than symbolic that you have players, player's union at that meeting with the NFL. It has to be meaningful. All right, thanks so much, Coy Wire. Appreciate it. All right, joining me to discuss now, CNN sports analyst and sports columnist for "USA Today" Christine Brennan and CNN contributor and national reporter for the "Washington Post," Wesley Lowery. Good to see you both.

All right. So Christine you first. You know, NFL owners, players, players union meeting this week in part to discuss the league's policy or what could be next. Like I was just saying, the expectation is it has to be more than just symbolic. How significant is it and potentially influential is it that all of these people will be at the table?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Fred, I think it shows first of all how seriously everyone is taking this. The NFL, Roger Goodell, the player's union, all the players. This is not something that anyone is just going to say unilaterally we're going to change and do X, Y, Z. I think there was confusion last week especially when the president tweeted that Roger Goodell is demanding that the players stand.

He never said that. He said they should stand. That's the exact wording they've had in the rule book and the guidance they've had all year and he reiterated that. So, I think in some ways we may have gotten ahead of ourselves. Some reporting that this was like some definitive change, I don't think we know that at all because I think the players are very serious about this and I think a lot of the owners understand if they may disagree, they understand they can't do anything unilaterally and alienate other players. They just can't do that at this point.

WHITFIELD: But at the same time I wonder if there has been an about face or has something changed. Goodell's initial statement was, three almost four weeks ago, he was talking about how players protesting it has to be honored yet in the statement that I read earlier in part, he talks about there should be unity.

And so, is that sending a mixed message because if some of the players are saying this is why I am protesting for social change and then you have some players who are electing not to kneel, who want to stand and then you have, you know, a message being sent that there can't be that in the form of protest on the field, where do you get the unity?

BRENNAN: Well, I would say again that's what the meeting, the idea to have a meeting is and --

WHITFIELD: But if you sent a message is there like, you know, that messaging from him, that last statement, is that kind of precursor to these are going to be boundaries? We can talk but there will be boundaries.

BRENNAN: Again, I think people are interpreting it that way. I'm not sure the NFL feels strongly that it can -- it has those boundaries. And we know for example that Goodell spent a day with the Dolphins last week in the community. I really do think, and maybe I'm a bit Pollyanna, but I do think that they are paying attention to what the players are saying and that they know they just cannot ram something down everyone's throat. They just can't do that. The NFL might try to do it. If they do that, I think there will be quite a backlash against it, Fred.


WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I definitely -- I think I agree with that. I think that you have a moment where the NFL is in no matter the politics of Roger Goodell and the NFL is in a bit of a publicity crisis, a P.R. crisis. Right here you have outspoken athletes who have decided to buck the leadership of the league in a way they have not recently. You have a player's association, player's union that has been pretty outspoken about this.

But you also have this desire while you are receiving some backlash from fans in both directions in this. A desire for the NFL to project a level of unity and so, no, it would not look good for now after this having played out for weeks for Roger Goodell to come and say, well you know what, no one is allowed to kneel and I'm fining you if you do.

You know, frankly, the window to make an action like if that is what the league wanted to do is probably closed at this point because you would certainly then be challenging players essentially to martyr themselves by taking a knee, all right. And so, I don't know that that's what I expect us to see. You know, I think that no matter what the politics of the president is, like, remain very interesting no matter what statement comes out of the league.

It's very likely to be closed, you know, in this language of unity and teamwork and sports and athletics as uniter. That is something that can be exploited by a president who might want to say, see, I did this and I agitated this, but I think what we're likely to see is not any type of ruling or any rule that expressly prohibits players from this type of stand or this type of knee in

[16:50:00] this case because I just think that at this point, this played on for too long for the league to be able to clamp down that way.

BRENNAN: Well, and also one of the things I think that the NFL, especially the players are concerned about is Trump being able to declare victory, and we know --

WHITFIELD: If there's a rule or if there are limitations as to what you are able to do in terms of form of protest on the field.

BRENNAN: Exactly. We know that that tweet storm is ready. And if all of a sudden there is no protesting and we know some people are now protesting against Trump, obviously the original, Colin Kaepernick protest to social injustice and those other issues may have been lost or watered downed a bit, diluted over the last few weeks.

But, oh my goodness, if the idea that Trump could declare victory, everyone at the NFL knows this, the league office knows this, the players know this, the union knows this, and they do not want to allow Donald Trump to be able to do that. Throw that into the mix as you look at this picture.

WHITFIELD: To be a fly on the wall at that meeting. All right, well, we can't wait to hear what happens, what transpires, et cetera. Christine Brennan, Wesley Lowrey. Good to see you both. Thank you.

BRENNAN: Thank you.

LOWREY: Thanks for having us.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up next, the real ex-wives of Donald Trump. How Ivana Trump's first lady comments this week became the talk of the town and the subject of this week's Cartoonion.


IVANIA TRUMP, FORMER WIFE OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Because I'm basically first Trump wife, OK. I'm first lady, OK.



WHITFIELD: It's not often a first lady has to defend her undisputed title as first lady. Well that's just what Melania Trump did this week when the first Mrs. Trump tried to take that title for herself. And that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): There is a brand new reality show in Washington, D.C. in New York, "The Real Ex-Wives of President Donald Trump."

I. TRUMP (voice-over): I don't really want to call him that because Melania hates that. I'm basically first Trump wife, OK. I'm first lady, OK.

TAPPER (voice-over): All over Washington you can hear people saying, oh no, she didn't. And the real first lady wasn't having it. Her office issuing a statement saying, this is unfortunately only attention seeking and self-serving noise, unquote.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): She does this to get over it.

TAPPER (voice-over): The first lady versus the first wife. We could get T.V. host Andy Cohen to officiate.

ANDY COHEN, TV HOST (voice-over)_: First lady Melania Trump, please join me. Ivana, honorary first lady. Marla Maples, you come too.

TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump may not be the first divorced president but his ex-files are the longest.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I have a very good relationship with Ivana. I think I have a very good relationship with Marla.

TAPPER (voice-over): The two former Mrs. Trumps' relationships with one another, not so much.

I. TRUMP: She's a showgirl. Never achieved anything in her life.

TAPPER (voice-over): One thing that all the ex-wives and wife seem to agree on, they cannot change Mr. Trump.

M. TRUMP: I'll just say he can do whatever he wants. He's an adult. He knows the consequences.

TAPPER (voice-over): But I do think it's fair to assume if this reality show were to ever hit T.V. as a series, President Trump would watch.

D. TRUMP: You're going to get great ratings, what do I get out of it?

TAPPER (voice-over): And I guess the ultimate lesson when it comes to having the last word, Ivana said it best.

I. TRUMP: Don't get mad, get everything.


WHITFIELD: I think everybody would be tuning into that. All right, thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We've got so much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom" with Ana Cabrera.