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Trump Touts "Really Great" Asia Trip; China Sending Envoy to North Korea After Trump Visit; 3 UCLA Basketball Players Return to U.S. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 06:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[06:30:01] What's the latest, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

The president returning to Washington last night. And already this morning on Twitter touting what he sees as the accomplishments, the friendships and benefits when he says will last for years as a result of the Asia trip. Not quite clear so far at least what the president sees as those accomplishments. We're waiting to hear more on that.

Meanwhile, as you said, the president's handpicked attorney general once again on defense and the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have done a really fantastic. It's been a great trip.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump touting the success of his Asia trip but offering no details about the major announcement he teased this week on North Korea and trade.

TRUMP: Countries were taking advantage of the United States. And those days are over.

JOHNS: The president touching down hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' heated five-hour testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Sessions insisting he never lied under oath about his knowledge of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials with an important caveat.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've always told the truth and I have answered every question as I understood them to the best of my recollection.

JOHNS: Sessions was repeatedly pressed on a number of discretions on past testimonies including this exchange from last month.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you're saying?

SESSIONS: I did not, and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. JOHNS: The attorney general now explaining that media reports jogged

his memory about this 2016 meeting with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, where Papadopoulos proposed setting up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Vladimir Putin, as later revealed to special counsel Robert Mueller.

SESSIONS: I did not recall this event which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago. I gladly would have reported it had I remembered it because I pushed back against his suggestion.

JOHNS: Sessions repeating this line more than 20 times throughout the hearing.

SESSIONS: I don't recall. I don't recall it. I don't recall. I don't recall.

JOHNS: Citing the chaos of the Trump campaign for its lack of recollection.

SESSIONS: We traveled sometime to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply.

JOHNS: Despite revealing in a letter Monday, the Department of Justice is considering appointing special counsel to look into alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of a uranium company. Sessions appeared unconvinced that a probe is necessary.

SESSIONS: It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointments.

JOHNS: The attorney general rejecting the idea that DOJ is being influenced by the White House to go after the former opponent Hillary Clinton.

SESSIONS: The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents. And that would be wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Now, that letter from DOJ to members of Congress sends mix signals on whether pressure from the Oval Office to launch a second special counsel will succeed even indicating the DOJ inspector general will get a chance to weigh in before any additional steps are taken -- Chris and Alisyn.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Johns, thanks for setting the table. It was a big day.

Let's bring back David Gregory and Errol Louis.

Big takeaway for Sessions in front of the committee?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I just think he looks bad. He looks bad. I mean, this idea that, you know, you can't -- you know, the whole thing from him and from others, there's nothing to see here. Nothing to any of this Russia thing, oh, yes, except for that meeting over there. Yes, that doesn't mean anything. Oh, yes, that meeting over there. But that doesn't mean anything either.

Rolling disclosures, and the thing that he remembers clearly is when he stood up like a knight in shining armor to say, no, you can't do that. You can't contact Russia and set something up, that he remembers. I think it looks bad.

I don't think it's as significant as other disclosures. But I think it is more evidence of what has the president lacking confidence in sessions about. And I just think, you know, he's become a distraction. And a guy who doesn't seem to be as aggressive as the president would like.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that the testimony yesterday moved the needle?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, I think it moved it probably against the White House frankly. I mean, when you see public polls suggesting that something like 49 percent of the country thinks that the president did something wrong. They just don't know what it is, with regard to Russia, it means that the White House story is not getting out.

And any day that Russia is being talked about, especially by a high official like Sessions is a bad day for them. That is just a threshold question. But then for him to sort of get wrapped up, and tangled up and have all of this, you know, Democrats in particular really attacking him, bringing him back to his own testimony from just a few months ago and these expectations saying it was chaotic, it was busy.

[06:35:03] Well, you know, all campaigns are chaotic. All campaigns are busy, you know? You're in these photos. You have months to prepare your testimony or to get your story straight. And somehow this excuse of, well, it was busy and I didn't quite remember except the exculpatory information that I have now been reminded of. It's just not going to --

GREGORY: Look, some critics are landing blows on that. You know, the whole idea, first of all, I mean, when he says, boy, we had multiple stops and it was disorganized. I want to be like the ESPN guys, come on, man. You're the first person to be on the campaign.

By the way, you weren't even -- you were a big part of the campaign. You weren't part of the campaign staff. You were in and out of that thing.

So, the fact that they were disorganized is actually a real problem to the extent they were. That's where they were vulnerable to this kind of compromising by the Russians. That is a big point against them.

CUOMO: Yes, the gang that couldn't shoot straight is bubbling up more and more.

And, you know, also, one of the things we have to come in mind, he wasn't against the sharpest swords yesterday. The questions were OK, but they were not the toughest that Sessions could take on the issue. Another thing he did yesterday that may play into your theory by the president would want to encourage Sessions to take the write-in seat is what happened with Jim Jordan.

We tell you, you have to watch NEW DAY, because we set the agenda for you. Jim Jordan was on here, the congressman from Ohio. He was making his very passionate case for why a special counsel is needed to investigate Hillary Clinton. The expectation he had going into this hearing is that Jeff Sessions would echo that, given what the Department of Justice had just put out in a letter dated the 13th. But listen to what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: It sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document, some "National Enquirer" story, into an intelligence document, take that to FISA court to, get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with President Trump's campaign. That's what it looks like. Doesn't that warrant a second special counsel as 20 members of this wrote you three months ago asking you to do.

SESSIONS: I would say, it looks like there's not basis to appoint a special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Uh, forget about the hypocrisy that Jim Jordan and others have argued that a special counsel wasn't needed in the form of Bob Mueller. It should have been congressional. It should have been open.

CAMEROTA: On the other side, yes.

CUOMO: It is political spitballing.

But for Sessions to look at him and say, no, I don't think so. Jim Jordan has the same position that the president of the United States does on this. How do you think that helped or hurt Sessions?

GREGORY: Well, I think that -- you know, you want to believe that Sessions is strong enough in his role, independent enough that he is taking some steps to shut down this unprecedented demand by the president to say, we really ought to have special counsel looking into this against my political opponent who I have already defeated. And for him to say, look, I'm going to have people look at this so I can go back to the White House and say, look, there's no basis for this out here.

And you've got a congressman out there who doesn't want to talk about an attack on America by the Russians but who is digging into the conspiracy files to see what he can find out about this business. You know, he should watch. I'm sure he's watching a lot of Fox News. He should go back and watch some of what was done on there yesterday where they took apart this uranium deal.

CAMEROTA: On Shepard Smith's show.

GREGORY: On Shepard Smith's show. Yes. CAMEROTA: That's not Fox (INAUDIBLE)

GREGORY: Well, it's the same network. My point is that they are spinning a lot of wheels. I do think that -- I think Sessions there asserted himself in a way the White House may not like.

CAMEROTA: What did you think, Errol?

LOUIS: He's absolutely right. He knows and we're now learning and I think the White House is starting to learn. You call for an independent counsel, that's an unguided missile. That person can do whatever they want and what is a purely political attack, which is really all this is.

This is an attempt to create a parity in the minds of voters and viewers of television. There's one thing over here with Russia and one over here with Clinton. It's been the Trump playbook from day one of his campaign. If he wants to try and do that, he's not going to have the Justice Department to carry out that attack for him.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it was an interesting moment.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

So, Donald Trump Jr. acknowledging he communicated directly with WikiLeaks during his father's campaign. How big of a deal is that from an intelligence standpoint? We ask former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden when he joins us live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:43:34] CUOMO: So, the president completed his 12-day trip in Asia. We're now learning that China is sending a special envoy to North Korea this week. The president has repeatedly called on China to put more pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. Is this proof of progress?

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst, retired General Michael Hayden, the former CIA and NSA director, now a principal at the Chertoff Group.

Sir, always a pleasure.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good morning. Thank you.

CUOMO: So, this development, should we see this as a reflection of the president's effectiveness?

HAYDEN: I think the timing suggests that's true. A bit of a ray of light, breath of fresh air, the Chinese trying to ramp up their pressure on the North Koreans. But we need to be realistic, all right? China is most interested in the stability on the North Korean part, on the whole Korean peninsula. They're not too excited about change. I think we can rely on them to amp up the pressure a bit to have Kim,

the youngest, tone down the rhetoric. Maybe stop testing for a while. I don't think he's going to point out that you need to give up the weapons.

CUOMO: So, you think that this is largely window dressing at this point?

HAYDEN: No, I wouldn't say that. But I also wouldn't overestimate the amount of influence that the Chinese have on the North Koreans because this is pass/fail for Kim Jong-un. This is about his and his regime survival.

[06:45:03] CUOMO: So, because it is existential to Kim Jong-un, it is not the typical calculus of what China, what pressure they can exert, unless they want to be all in to remove the regime, which they don't want to do.

HAYDEN: They don't want to do, because they just gain us out. They have the second, third, fourth move down the board. There are a lot of branches and sequels down there very unhappy for China.

CUOMO: Well, him not testing would do alt-right now for the state of play, because that's certainly what's amping it up. It takes us to the next topic, which is the president of the United States and his -- the perception of the public on his stability regarding his use of nuclear weapons, which is one of the most near unilateral, absolute powers that the president on the United States has.

So, let's put up some numbers on that.

All right. Level headed, 65 percent no, 30 percent yes. Now, a lot of this politics, right? This is perception of what he says, what he thinks or fails to the think about.

But how does it play into a reckoning of larger capabilities?

HAYDEN: So, what I know about American polling and American politics, division in our society, the numbers suggest the middle pretty much all went one way, which is they have their concerns. So, they have Senator Corker having the hearings yesterday.

And make no mistake about it: that was about this president. It wasn't about the formal chain of command. We could have done that any time in the last 20, 30 years. It was about this president.

And what we heard yesterday, there are legal guardrails with regard to what the president can do. No American officer is going to follow an unlawful order. The laws are in conflict, necessity, distinction, proportionality and so on. But they will be forced to follow and unwise order, as long as it is not unlawful.

And I think that was the gist of the conversation yesterday, based upon the president's rhetoric. And I can't read the president's heart or the president's mind. Based on the president's rhetoric, the kinds of things he allows himself to say, you can see why many people are concerned.

CUOMO: What can really be done about it, other than a very scrupulous general?

HAYDEN: Well, you got generals who follow the laws of armed conflict. They will not do the unlawful act. If they have been directed to do an unwise act, I would expect them to push back.

A moment, Mr. President. Can we have another discussion about this, Mr. President? But, Chris, at the end of the day, presidents matter. He's the commander-in-chief.

CUOMO: Commander-in-chief. And that we have a unified executive in the form of one person, which is the president. Can legislatively that be changed?

HAYDEN: Well, perhaps. I don't think, is and this might surprise you, I don't think that would be wise.

CUOMO: Because?

HAYDEN: I don't think we should be changing the structures of our government just because of the passing needs at the moment. Changing the structures have lasting impact how we govern ourselves.

I mean, elections matter. We got a result. The president carried Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin. He does carry some of the sovereignty of the American people.

We have to live with the consequences of the vote.

CUOMO: And in terms of that election, there were things that happened that need to be examined. Though not so much according to Senator Chuck Grassley. He basically is a human bucket of cold water when it comes to the Russian investigation.

The latest development of some merit is that WikiLeaks was corresponding with Donald Trump Jr. Not just during the campaign but the timing is sensitive because it was after they had started to dump the e-mails they had stolen.

And this is what Chuck Grassley says about those communications. Put up the full screen, please?

I read the e-mails. He only responded to two or three of them. And they were very innocuous. So, I don't even know why you'd be asking about him if you read them.

Do you agree?

HAYDEN: No, put collusion over here, I'm not a lawyer. Let other people discuss that.

I know what synchronization is. And it is clear based upon these e- mails that the campaign synchronized its actions and statements with what they were learning from WikiLeaks in a dialogue between the two sides.

And even more importantly, Chris, the two most important acts of synchronization, go to this Website and the candidate saying certain things, took place after Jeh Johnson and Jim Clapper went out in early October and said this is the work of the Russian government. And yet despite that, the campaign went ahead and did these things.

You know, when I read the article, it literally took my breath away. I just said, oh my goodness. Why would anyone think this was an OK thing to do? Just quite separate from whether or not it's not a legal thing to do.

CUOMO: The operator word would be think.

HAYDEN: Yes.

CUOMO: And the over looking, just the straight appetite of playing to advantage.

But you mentioned what that bar is, but is it illegal? That's going to be Mueller's purview and something that maybe a high crime or misdemeanor for political purposes. It doesn't make it a crime.

HAYDEN: But the broad public has a right to --

(CROSSTALK)

HAYDEN: -- on a political and policy basis.

[06:50:03] CUOMO: True.

HAYDEN: Not just on a narrow legal basis.

CUOMO: True, no question about it.

General Hayden, always a pleasure. Always value added.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Thank you, sir.

Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, now to sports. Three UCLA basketball players back home after being arrested in China after shoplifting on a team trip. We have details in the "Bleacher Report", next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: The three UCLA basketball players accused of stealing sunglasses in China are back on U.S. soil this morning.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

So, what happened, Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Alisyn.

This "Bleacher Report" is presented by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

So, the three players including LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, returning to Los Angeles last night. They were greeted at LAX by a slew of media hoping to get answers for what happened in China. The players did not speak.

But UCLA will be holding a press conference today at 2:00 Eastern. The players will attend but not expected to answer questions.

[06:55:00] The players return came hours after President Trump said he was hopeful that they would return home soon after he had talked about the situation with Chinese President Xi.

In a statement, PAC-12 Commissioner Larry Scott thanked President Trump for his help in getting the players home.

Now, what's next, Chris, is the punishment for these players. Are they going to be suspended a few games? Could they possibly be suspended for this entire college basketball season? Maybe that's something we find out today at the press conference.

CUOMO: And when you do, let us know. Andy Scholes, thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

CUOMO: So, the president is back home from Asia. But he's got has several big challenges right in front of him. Tax reform, how does he help get it done? Is the mandate being folded in the right move? Insight, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)