Return to Transcripts main page


North Korea Designated as Terror Sponsor; Trump Tweets about UCLA Players; Trump Criticizes GOP Flake; Kushner Attorney Response. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 20, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Students jailed in China. It all begins right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim Sciutto, we'll take it from here.

Good to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

Moments from now, the White House briefing will begin and the president has a lot to answer for after another tweet storm. He is attacking a wide range of targets, from Republican Senator Jeff Flake, to elephant trophy hunters, to the father of one of three UCLA basketball players released from Chinese custody after shoplifting, and in that case the president actually expresses regret for helping to free those young men. We'll get into that and more.

But first to the breaking news this afternoon.

Amid the ongoing nuclear standoff, President Trump just made a massive announcement today regarding North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. It should have happened a long time ago. It should have happened years ago. In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil.


BALDWIN: So let me bring in Jane Harman, head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former California congresswoman.

So, congresswoman, it's a pleasure to have you on. Welcome.


BALDWIN: So designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, how significant is that?

HARMAN: It's a big deal, and it's sad that the news is going to move to tweets. I mean this is -- should be the centerpiece of President Trump's day. It was worked on by Rex Tillerson. Kudos to our secretary of state who worked behind the scenes with all the countries of -- in the region to support this effort and it's clearly justified. It's legal to do this.

North Korea was on the state sponsor of terrorism list until it was removed in 2008 by President George W. Bush. It's good that it's back. And the activity that it's engaged in that I worry about most is proliferation of missile and possibly nuclear technology. And there's every reason in the world to think that that has happened and could happen.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman, for people listening, and wondering, well, why the heck would President Bush have taken them off the state sponsor list, why would that be?

HARMAN: Well, my understanding at the time was that he was hoping that would make them more friendly. Well, oops, none of our gestures over three administrations, starting with Clinton, then Bush, then Obama to make nice have worked.

So I applaud President Trump for being tough. I think this kind of tough sanctions hopefully will lead to a diplomatic breakthrough.

BALDWIN: How do you think Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un, responds to this news?

HARMAN: Well, he's been quiet lately. Very interestingly, when President Trump was in South Korea, was there a prediction that he would launch a missile or do something even worse. He didn't do that.

BALDWIN: But he didn't.

HARMAN: He hasn't responded to the provocative tweets. And my view is that not only is, as reported, track to diplomacy going on in some level with the North Koreans, probably in New York, around the U.N., but also that he's playing a bigger game, or hopefully he's playing a bigger game. The annihilation of his regime and his country is not an outcome he seeks.

BALDWIN: So you don't attribute Kim Jong-un's reticence or lack of missile action in the last couple of weeks to President Trump's tough rhetoric, congresswoman?

HARMAN: Well, I don't think the tweets are helpful, but I think that the trip that President Trump took was successful in some ways. It was not successful on trade. It was not successful on human rights. But he did make North Korea his top priority. He talked to all the countries in the region about North Korea and all of them have individually been ratcheting up sanctions against North Korea. I mean there's some ideas out there, like a naval embargo, which maybe have to be considered on a multilateral basis, but I think the North Korea strategy that I'm seeing lately is a very responsible strategy.

BALDWIN: Lastly, let me just return your attention to the president's actual announcement. He said that North Korea has been responsible for assassinations on foreign soil.

Now, we know about the murder of Kim Jong-un's half-brother. Are there other killings that the president is referring to here?

HARMAN: Well, I -- you know, I can't speak for him. I'm sure that's one that he was referring to that was not on North Korean soil. But I think the highest priority or the thing we have to focus on most with North Korea is proliferation of missile and nuclear technology. The third party's possibly terror groups, which wouldn't hesitate to use those things if they could manage it and think tactical nukes or dirty nukes, that would be the easiest form of catastrophic weapon to transfer to a terror organization.

[14:05:03] BALDWIN: Jane Harman, thank you so much.

HARMAN: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Now to this back and forth between the president and LaVar Ball. This is the outspoken father of LiAngelo Ball, one of those three athletes from UCLA who was freed from Chinese detention after shoplifting some Louis Vuitton sunglasses when they were over in China.

So the president has now tweeted, quoting him, now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son, and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail.

CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip is with me live on this.

And so before we even react to what the president just said, let's go to the back story. What did LaVar Ball say about President Trump?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, well, this is a really big clash of two massive personalities. LaVar Ball taking it all the way back when his son returned home, essentially said in an interview that he didn't think that President Trump had done anything for him. And President Trump had already made it very clear that he wanted thanks, and he asked for the three basketball players to come out and thank him for what he did to help them. They did that. But LaVar Ball was very much not on the same page.

The president tweeting yesterday the tweet that you just read, but also again this morning tweeting to LaVar Ball that shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be. Five to ten years in jail. But not to father of LaVar Ball. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful.

So President Trump not letting this one go and reviving yet another sports feud on social media yet again. In a second tweet, completely unrelated to the UCLA basketball players, you have the president reviving the NFL anthem protest, this time talking about Marshawn Lynch, an Oakland Raiders player, who stood apparently for the Mexican national anthem, but sat for the United States national anthem. The president is very much unhappy about that and wants the NFL to fire him. The NFL actually has not responded to the president's comment and suggestions that they should go ahead and suspend him.

But again, this is -- with all the stuff going on, North Korea --

BALDWIN: Yes. Taxes.

PHILLIP: Roy Moore, taxes, this is what the president woke up to this morning.


BALDWIN: So this is -- this is a window, perhaps, into the president's headspace.

But back to, Abby, the UCLA tweet, right, and I should have left them, whatever it was, you know, left them in the Chinese jail. I mean you think about the broader takeaway from this tweet, the need for President Trump to be thanked, to be praised. I want to jog everyone's memory back to Howard Stern for this.


HOWARD STERN: I, actually, think this is something that it's going to be very detrimental to his mental health, too, because he wants to be liked. He wants to be loved. He wants people to cheer for him.


STERN: And all of this hatred and stuff directed toward him, it's not good for him. It's not good. And it's -- listen, there's a reason every president who leaves the office has gray hair.


BALDWIN: Do you think Howard Stern, Abby, someone who's known President Trump, Donald Trump, for years and years and years here in New York was on to something?

PHILLIP: And we've heard similar comments from other friends of the president over the course of the last several months. President Trump is still a very polarizing, political figure. Sure, plenty of his supporters, his base, really, really love him, but a lot of folks on the other side really do not. And we've heard repeatedly from the president that he wants to get more credit for the work that he thinks that he's done.

You know, on this -- on the UCLA players, I think these -- this is a real triumph for him, getting these folks back into the United States. It was something that was a very positive note off of this Asia trip. But the desire for praise for an American president doing what is essentially part of the job description, advocating for American citizens who are in trouble abroad, is unusual, certainly.


BALDWIN: But the Howard Stern soundbite, I think just speaks to this need for the president, and you've been covering him, Abby --


BALDWIN: This need to get credit, right? Be thanked. Be loved.

PHILLIP: Yes. And what you see from a lot of folks who work for the president, and especially in his cabinet, Brooke, you remember a couple of months ago when there was an infamous cabinet meeting in which almost every single person around the table thanked and praised the president. It's very common.

This is definitely something that he wants and he's made that very clear in this situation and in several others over the past several months. White House aides always talk about his belief that he's being treated unfairly, that he's not getting the credit that he deserves. And in this case, is taking the fight to the father of an American college player who was detained abroad. Nothing is too small for President Trump to engage with on social media it seems.

[14:10:23] BALDWIN: Let's move on and let me ask you, Abby, about this one comment from the White House that's raising some eyebrows. I mean you know the president has yet to fully weigh in on the sexual assault allegations facing the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. His adviser, Kellyanne Conway, was on TV earlier today and she suggested that the White House wants Roy Moore's vote on their tax bill.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: And Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled, he'll be a vote against tax cuts.


CONWAY: I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.


BALDWIN: So that's also a stark differentiation from what Kellyanne Conway said a couple of days ago, you know, regarding these accusations and Roy Moore. And so now it's all about, all right, get him in the Senate because we need another "no" vote -- or rather a "yes" vote.

PHILLIP: Right. The White House is trying to thread a line here and maybe trying to have it both ways. They don't want to say that they don't support Roy Moore or that they do support Roy Moore, but by encouraging voters in Alabama to go out and vote for his -- to not vote for his Democratic opponent, they're essentially saying, this is the guy that we want in the Senate because he's going to vote with us on taxes.

At the same time, interestingly, Roy Moore is such -- he's so much against the GOP establishment, including Mitch McConnell, that it's not actually even clear whether Roy Moore would be that reliable of a vote in the Senate. At the same time, the White House is not being entirely clear about

where President Trump's endorsement stands. When Roy Moore won that primary, Trump went on Twitter and said that he's not going to make America great again. He seems like a great guy. Yesterday, a White House legislative director was asked on the Sunday morning programs where President Trump's endorsement stood. He would not say whether Trump had pulled that endorsement or not.

So as we get closer to this actual Election Day, you're hearing more and more from the White House about the practicality of this. They want that last vote in the Senate so that they can get their tax reform bill by the end of this year.

BALDWIN: They want it by Christmas. That's the self-imposed deadline.

Abby Phillip, thank you so much, at the White House. Again, minute away from that White House daily briefing. We're going to take that live.

Meantime, speaking of Roy Moore, the first of his abusers is breaking her silence, giving an emotional account of her experience as a then 14-year-old target of Moore's alleged assault. Hear her story, her own words.

Also ahead, Jared Kushner's attorneys say his client is a hero in the campaign's role in possible Russian meddling. Hear why and what he thinks of Senate investigators.

And breaking news today, a new clue in the desperate search for a missing submarine. Crews detecting sounds they say seem like banging against the hull of a sub. A known method to signal for help. New details ahead here on CNN.


[14:17:47] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump hoping senators are getting into the holiday spirit ahead of their vote on the Republican tax bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas. Hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present.


BALDWIN: A great big, beautiful Christmas present, yes, but one of the Republican senators who the president needs to get that tax bill passed caught on a microphone saying this about the president.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: If we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.


BALDWIN: The president is now firing back. Senator Jeff Flaky -- with the "y," according to the president, right -- who is unelectable in the great state of Arizona -- this is his tweet -- quit race, anemic polls, was caught purposely on mic saying bad things about your favorite president. He'll be a "no" on tax cuts because his political career anyway is toast.

David Catanese is with me today, he's a senior politics writer for "U.S. News and World Report."

Good to see you.


BALDWIN: A couple of assumptions in the tweet, you know, hot mic, you know, Jeff Flake says, no, no, no, I wasn't caught. But the most important piece is the assumption of the "no" vote.


BALDWIN: So shouldn't the president, in needing all the yes' he can get, not be saying he's a "no" and if anything saying how do we get him to "yes."

CATANESE: Right. And now Jeff Flake doesn't have any qualms about opposing the president because he's not running for re-election.

BALDWIN: He wrote that book (ph).

CATANESE: There's no -- there's no penalty for him at this point, which is a dangerous game for President Trump to play. You've also got Senator Corker. And I think, you know, these guys are both conservatives who laid out their main problem with any bill would be that it's not deficit neutral.


CATANESE: That it adds to the deficit going forward. That they couldn't get onboard with that. So I think they're very, very dicey. And Trump is playing with fire, sort of picking at them, because they -- they're already mad at the president. They're in a big fight with the president.

BALDWIN: So it could takes just the littlest thing for them to say, all right, you know what, we'll be a "no"?


BALDWIN: I mean, hopefully not, because, you know, they're obviously voting for what's best for the party. But, guys, throw the -- throw those senators up on the screen because I want you, sir, to go through these different -- you were saying dicey on Corker and Flake in the middle column, right, expressing concerns.


[14:20:09] BALDWIN: Walk me through these wildcards.

CATANESE: So, you know, interesting that Johnson was the first one out as a "no" from Wisconsin, a state that Trump carried.

BALDWIN: He said he wanted to get to "yes."

CATANESE: And could still get to "yes," right? I mean a lot of this will depend on what happens in the Senate and the House.

But Collins is interesting because she's always the most likely "no." The most moderate. And, remember, if they include the repeal of Obamacare, which is in the Senate bill, she's definitely going to be a "no" --


CATANESE: Because she was against the Obama -- you know, repealing Obamacare.


CATANESE: Corker and Flake we touched on just with their personal grudges with the president.


CATANESE: But then you've got, you know, John McCain --

BALDWIN: Who was the thumbs down on that.

CATANESE: Who was the thumbs down on Obamacare. No fan of Trump. You know, a consistent critic.

And then you have two more, hard rock conservatives in Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Rand Paul is a -- Donald Trump's golfing buddy, but he's -- you know, this is a guy that is a maverick in his own party on his own right, on sort of the opposite spectrum of McCain.

And then Murkowski, who I would put in sort of the Collins bucket there as a moderate who is going to really need a hard sell on, are tax cuts coming to Alaska? You know, very -- she's very -- obviously very focused on her state. So, I mean, look, he can only lose two and look at all those senators.

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE). Exactly. If they lose three --

CATANESE: You've got -- that's really dicey.

BALDWIN: They're done.

Now perhaps the White House obviously realizes that some of the dicey- ness in the equation and so you have the OMB director Mick Mulvaney on with Jake Tapper yesterday with significant news, and we'll play the sound in a second, essentially saying that the White House would be OK if they needed to pull that Obamacare individual mandate out of this. It was in the Senate version of the bill. This is what he said.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: I don't think anybody doubts where the White House is on repealing and replacing Obamacare. We absolutely want to do it. If we can repeal part of Obamacare as part of a tax bill and have a tax bill that is still a good tax bill that can pass, that's great. If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we're OK with taking it out.


CATANESE: If they keep that repeal in the Senate bill, it's hard for me to see they get Collins and Murkowski. To me, that -- they most likely lose those two. And then they're at a tie ballgame.

And then you have the Alabama picture in all of this, right? The special election is December 12th. If Republicans lose that seat, if this vote doesn't take place prior to that, which is a very aggressive schedule to begin with, you could have a Democrat flipping a seat. So that's the other calculation. I think that goes to Kellyanne Conway's comment earlier this morning --


CATANESE: Saying, hey --

BALDWIN: But then we -- we need him.

CATANESE: We probably need a Republican senator in Alabama, even though it wasn't a full-fledged endorsement of Roy Moore. This is what they're worried about. They're on a tough timeline as well with that December 12th special election.

BALDWIN: It's all about the numbers. They can only have two "nos" to eventually get to a "yes" with the vice president as the tiebreaker.


BALDWIN: David Catanese, thank you so much.

CATANESE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

CATANESE: Jared Kushner's lawyer accusing senators of playing gotcha games and claiming that his client is actually the hero when it comes to alleged Russian meddling. We will hear his explanation and whether it actually makes sense, next.


[14:27:38] BALDWIN: Breaking news here on CNN about outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. She submitted her resignation today and will officially step down from the Fed's board of governors next year once her successor is seated. Yellen's term as the Fed governor was to expire in 2024. She was appointed by former President Barack Obama. President Trump has nominated the current fed governor, Jerome Powell, to be the next chair.

New developments now and new pushback into possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The Senate Judiciary Committee is accusing President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, of not disclosing key documents, including information about WikiLeaks. Kushner's attorney says the investigation has just totally become political and that they are now playing this gotcha game with his client.


ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: In my communications with the Senate Judiciary Committee I said take these documents and let's talk about what else is relevant. They jumped the gun to make a media event. And any perception that Mr. Kushner has been anything but not only cooperative, but if you look at the contents of the e-mails, he's the hero. He's the one who's saying there shouldn't be any contacts with foreign officials or foreign entities. That's what the Senate Judiciary Committee should pay attention to and not create some sort of partisan gotcha game.


BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd, and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

And, so, Shimon, just to you first on the reporting all -- of all of this, remind us about the documents and the committee -- what the committee wants from Kushner.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So in this letter basically that was sent to Kushner's lawyer, senators say that Kushner hasn't been forthcoming, leaving out documents and information about communications with the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. They want more information on his security clearance forms, which he's had to amend several times. There are e-mails concerning WikiLeaks and e-mails in which he rejected a dinner invite -- that Kushner rejected a dinner invite from a Russian official. You know, and as you just played that sound there, his lawyer says he's been cooperating -- Kushner's been cooperating and all this is kind of gotcha demands from the senators.

[14:29:50] Now, there are also interviews planned, as we've been reporting, of -- for some of the closest aides to the president, including Hope Hicks, who's the communications director. She's expected to be interviewed by the special counsel team, along with White House Counsel Don McGhan.