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W.H. On Trump Saying He Should've Left UCLA Players In Jail; W.H. Briefing As North Korea Is Named State Terror Sponsor; Source: DOJ To Sue To Block AT&T-Time Warner Merger. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 20, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:02] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's made that clear by taking that action upon himself to do that without being asked and certainly something that he's done several times in these brief, short, 10 months that he's been in office where he's secured the release of several American citizens and brought them home. Steve?

STEVE: Sarah, I'm thankful for surviving our 12 days in Asia in one piece. Happy to be back here. The President has not made a weekly radio broadcast for more than a month now. Have they been scrapped by this administration and if so, why?

SANDERS: No. We're always looking for different ways. We received quite a few comments and a lot of feedback that the weekly address wasn't being used to its full potential, so we're looking at different ways that we can revamp that and make it more beneficial and actually gets more information out. We'll keep you guys posted as those details happen.

I know there certainly will be a Thanksgiving message. I'm not sure on the specifics and the date, but I'd be happy to follow up with you that front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, I have a quick more and more question that I want to ask you about welfare reform. Has this candidate talked to Roy Moore since, you know, November night which is the day that these accusations first came out?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not aware of any conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then today the President said that welfare reform is desperately needed, it needs to be reformed, what exactly is he talking about? Is he talking about food stamps? Is he talking about Medicaid? What is he talking about exactly?

SANDERS: I think there's no secret. The President has spoke about this during the campaign and something that he's mentioned briefly since taking office and when we have specifics on what that will look like. We'll certainly announce them and roll them out. I don't anticipate that happening over the next couple of weeks. We're very focused on tax reform and making sure we get that done by the end of the year. But this is something that the President has a great deal of interest in and I think you can count on probably the first part of next year seeing more specifics and details comes out on that.

Vic (ph)?

VIC: Thanks Sarah. I have a question. You mentioned, on Friday the President will release an extended list of potential (INAUDIBLE) portion date until -- I don't know (INAUDIBLE).

SANDERS: You did break the rule.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can explain, you know, a little bit why this President probably is necessary to add list that he put out during the campaign? And also if you address concerns about the diversity of some of the President usual picks and not the Supreme Court and more probably across the federal judiciary and talk about how the White House sort of values or doesn't value diversity among the federal judiciary and what comes (INAUDIBLE).

SANDERS: Certainly, value diversity not just in the judiciary but across the administration and always looks for more ways to grow that, improve that. But in terms of the release on Friday, the President hadn't added any new names in nearly a year and felt like it was a good time to do that. There's nothing more to read into it other than expanding the list. Should there ever be a potential vacancy for us to fill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this administration (INAUDIBLE), can you certain address why that's the case?

SANDERS: I have to look at the specifics before I can comment on it. Sorry. Margaret?

MARGARET: Thank you. I'm thankful for the First Amendment and for this exercise.

SANDERS: I think it's a good preparation for everybody for Thursday with your family so that you guys would have already thought through what you're thankful for, so you'll be the most prepared. Exactly.

MARGARET: Yes. Can you say whether the President or the White House actively encourage the Justice Department to move forward with the federal antitrust suit against AT&T-Time Warner, against the deal that (INAUDIBLE)?

SANDERS: No. I'm not aware of any specific action taken by the White House.

MARGARET: Is there -- can you give a view on that -- as you think on the President (INAUDIBLE)?

SANDERS: Not at this time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll go first. My gratitude. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to fill in for our chief John Roberts and I'm grateful to only have a month left. (INAUDIBLE) first and I've got a lot to learn.

My question is about the UCLA basketball players. President Trump over the weekend, he called them ungrateful and I'm just curious because these players (ph) have already apologized in their briefing last week. So what more would President Trump like to see from them? What would satisfy him?

SANDERS: Look, I think that the President, like I said, was happy to intervene. I think it was less about the players than the father of one of the Americans releasing to have a problem with it. Frankly, it didn't seem like the father wanted the President to intervene which I think would have been a sad thing if he hadn't, most likely. Matthew?

[15:35:07] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And does he want -- does he believe that he really should have left the players in jail?

SANDERS: No. I think if that's the case he wouldn't have taken the action that he did and certainly acted in order to help get those individuals released and brought back to the country. Matthew?

MATTHEW: So following on that, if that's not how he feels then why did he say that he should have left them in jail?


SANDERS: Look, the President was -- it was a rhetorical response to a criticism by the father. Again, I think the President was happy to see the release of these individuals and have them back in the United States. I'll take one last question. John?

JOHN: Thank you, Sarah. I'm thankful for the position i have and the colleagues who are my friends. I'm thankful for my father, 96 years old and going strong, and to my wife, my heroine, thankful to her for saying yes on the fourth request. My question is about Zimbabwe.


SANDERS: That's the best that I've ever seen.

JOHN: Will the administration recognize the new regime that apparently is being led by General Chiwenga in Zimbabwe and will there be any interaction with the new government in Harare specifically about their cutting back on the influence of China and North Korea?

SANDERS: I don't have any announcements on our relationship with Zimbabwe at this time, but certainly we'll make sure and keep you guys posted. Again, I want to wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving and thank you for participating in this very fun exercise. We'll be around today and tomorrow. Thanks, guys.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there you have Sarah Sanders and a lot of giving thanks there in that White House briefing room. But let's begin, though, with someone who we rarely really see, let alone briefing the press was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson taking questions from the White House press corps specifically on the news today that the Trump administration has decided to agree to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

So I've got Michelle Kosinski and David Chalian and Sam, all here with me. And so, you know, a couple of points just on the practical effect. It seemed like the Secretary of State was making the point that we have lot of -- those actions are in place implicit within this designation and really this is for dissuading third parties from interactions with North Korea.

But first, David, just on Rex Tillerson and the, you know, bizarre last couple of months starting with the, you know, moron comment directed toward the President. What do you make of him and his appearance and just where we are today?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Starting with that and culminating with just last week his spokesperson of the State Department indicating that there was indeed a problem with morale there at the State Department. So, yes, there is the fascination to watch the Secretary of State which -- who does not seem all that close to the President he serves in the briefing room speaking there from the White House.

But I do think on the substance of what he was saying, Brooke, what was so interesting to hear him saying is that while they were touting this new diplomatic step of re-asserting this status for North Korea, he made clear this was not the end of the road of diplomatic options. And that this was just one in a series of steps to continue to ratchet up pressure, but by no means did he want it to be perceived that this was sort of like an ultimate, exasperated moment of some final bit of diplomacy.

BALDWIN: Michelle, to David's point on Heather Nauert on Friday saying, you know, it's acknowledging publicly that the poor morale at stake. Can you tell me more about that?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think that the Secretary of State would acknowledge that himself and he didn't deny it today when we asked him a question specifically about that. But he did want to take that moment to turn around and stay before cameras during this photo-op and say that he takes exception with anybody who feels that the State Department is not running well. I mean, he made a strong statement on that, but again, not denying that there's a morale problem. He said that his re-design which has garnered some criticism and as seen by many as hurting morale is actually going to fix the morale problem. So there's plenty of questions that remain on there too.

But I think when you look at today, the dynamic here is always something to be watched. This afternoon just before he headed to the White House which was unexpected, at least, you know, among the press people here at state, he was asked by members of the press about this North Korea issue. Because we already knew what the President had stated earlier, but the Secretary of State chose to remain completely silent on this while at the State Department, before the State Department press corps.

[15:40:19] He just turned around. He didn't even want to say I'm going to have something to say about this in just a few minutes. I mean, he said nothing about it then he appears before the White House press corps, and answers all kinds of questions. He even sort of tries to explain what is, in this case and in other cases, a slight difference in language that he has with the President.

He says that he calls this the increase the pressure campaign, acknowledging that the President calls it the maximum pressure campaign. So he's saying that he has a slightly different view there, but he wanted to meld it all together and explain why he feels like this would be beneficial even though we all know that there was some disagreement within the State Department over whether this was a good idea. But it tells you that this is policy that is fairly being directed, motivated by the White House.

The State Department obviously did the work on this and completed the process of adding them to the list. But this, you know, it's very starkly obvious that this was not an idea that came from Secretary of State Tillerson or within The State Department and may try to push this through.

BALDWIN: On the substance of the designation, Sam, let me turn to you hearing essentially out of the gate the Secretary of State saying this is all an effort to, quote, turn up the pressure. But then one of the reporters asked the perfect question which was, well, you know, we thought he was sitting in Seoul speaking to the national assembly these couple weeks ago saying to North Korea, you know, let's talk, come to the table. And if you have this now state-sponsored of terrorism designation for North Korea, does that then negate any efforts of diplomacy? How do you see it?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think they're mutually exclusive.


VINOGRAD: I think to deal with North Korea right now, the President is wisely using all tools in his toolkit. State-sponsored designation is one way to increase the pressure in Secretary Tillerson's words. While we also try to add credibility to an actual military strike if North Korea doesn't denuclearize, I was struck by two things today in the secretary's press briefing.

The first is he said that this was a result of an inner agency process so we finally have a situation where the President is using his national security council and not making policy by tweets which is something that I feel a little bit better about.

BALDWIN: A step in the right direction.

VINOGRAD: Indeed. We'll take it. But I was also struck by the fact that Secretary Tillerson was pretty measured in how these sanctions would actually have an impact. He actually used the phrase there is no silver bullet, and I think that's smart. Nothing by itself is going to force North Korea to denuclearize right now. I think it's going to be a combination of factors.

BALDWIN: Made the note on the measured tone. I'm curious to see how the President potentially tweets about it.

Let me move on, David Chalian. Let's switch gears and talk about Alabama and the Senate race. The White House, you know, once again saying it's up to the people and the great state of Alabama really could be the ones to decide Roy Moore's fate. You know, he is the candidate denying all of the sexual assault allegations. But Sarah Sanders was questioned on the comment by Kellyanne Conway suggesting that they now want Moore to win to be able to use his vote for the tax bill. Listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: 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 David Chalian, now it's about numbers and taxes, right?

CHALIAN: Yes. And it's about this White House again trying to have it both ways on this issue. They don't want to have the President out there demanding that Roy Moore step away in the way that Mitch McConnell has or everyone from Mitch McConnell all of the way to Susan Collins. That's a pretty broad spectrum of the Republican Party there.

And everyone in Washington here has been calling for that except President Trump who obviously has his own troubled past with allegations against him and doesn't want to get cross waves with his own base who are supportive of Moore as he was in the primary. So, those two factors claim the reason why they don't want to weigh in on Moore and yet they want to be able to sort of wink and nod as Sarah Sanders did today that they want a senator who supports President Trump's agenda.

And as Kellyanne was just saying there, she's making the case that Doug Jones is not that person. So therefore, they kind of want somebody who's going to support the President's agenda. Well there's only one person in the race that's going to do that and yet they don't want to be anywhere near Roy Moore and just say leave it up to the people of Alabama. So they're trying to have it both ways.

BALDWIN: Yes. So then the questions started coming on UCLA, right? Those three basketball players who were in trouble in China right around the time when the President happened to be over there visiting with President Xi, accused of shoplifting some Louis Vuitton sunglasses, end up getting tossed in detention. [15:45:07] And the President says that he spoke with President Xi and, you know, work to get them out and thanks to me for, you know, doing all of that program. We've seen the press, you know, conference with the athletes, they said I'm sorry and thank you directly to President Trump. Fast forward to now where the father of one of these players has come out and he criticized the President in saying, I'm paraphrasing, you know, maybe he doesn't quite deserve the credit that he's getting.

And so the President to the -- perhaps surprise of so many people, tweets about this and at the end of the tweet, David Chalian says, I should have left them in jail. And then you hear, you know, it asked to Sarah Sanders and clearly with a note she kept going back to. The President was happy to intervene. Happy to intervene and that was simply a rhetorical response because of the criticism of the father. What do you say?

CHALIAN: Rhetorical response and that, of course, the President is happy that they're no longer in prison, right?


CHALIAN: And so if the President is happy then why would he threaten that he should have left them there? Oh, that's just a rhetorical response. So we're not supposed to take that seriously apparently, which I don't think many people really think that the President would want to leave Americans in jail somewhere.

He was clearly in a back and forth with the father, as you notion -- as you suggested, but the notion that Sarah Sanders from the podium now has to separate out this is a rhetorical flourish of the President. Again, this is the President of the United States who is writing in what we have been told by this White House to consider an official White House statement a tweet that was threatening that perhaps the better outcome would leave them in jail. She walk that back today. She had to reverse --


CHALIAN: -- the President's words because they knew that that went too far.

BALDWIN: I'm going to use your point and put it to my next guest. David Chalian, thank you. And Sam and Michelle, thank you all as well.

You know, let's talk more about this UCLA story. With me now Kelvin Washington, ESPN radio host of Afternoons with Marcellus, Kelvin and ED, and CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth About Trump." Gentlemen, your appearance is mighty timely just having that, you know, White House press conference.

And Michael D'Antonio, I mean, to David Chalian's point, the way in which Sarah Sanders had to walk back the President saying should have left them in jail with, oh, no, no, no. That was a rhetorical response. What did you think of that? MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Well, I think we all have people in our lives and maybe some of them will come around on Thanksgiving who say terrible things and then tell us it's a joke, you know. But the insult that oh, no, I'm just kidding and leave them in China, in prison -- oh, no, he's just kidding. This is actually the kind of thing that narcissists to abuse situations indulge in all of the time.

So the President here is engaged in a game with Mr. Ball. I mean, he -- Mr. Ball, I mean, is a very astute, self-publicizing fellow. He knew how to get the President's attention. He does it for personal and probably a financial gain.

The President is signaling to his base. He always seems to attack people of color or women. He doesn't seem to be very inclined to attack white males, and I think that's a signal. But at the end of the day he's got Sarah Sanders going out and saying oh, he's just kidding. So we can all read into it what we'd like and the President gets to play it every which way.

BALDWIN: All right. You maid a couple of great points. Let me pick them apart. First, Calvin, to you on, you know, the latter point about the President doesn't seem to have an inclination of, you know, criticizing or taking on white males. I mean, when you look at the theme, if you want to call it that, and I think it sort of seems to be you have these basketball players he's taken on, NFL players, you know, not these high-profile NBA coaches, Popovich Kerr or even most recently with that video of Eminem not saying a word. Why do you think?

KELVIN WASHINGTON, ESPN RADIO HOST, AFTERNOONS WITH MARCELLUS, KELVIN AND ED: It could be what Michael pointed out or it also could be just simply who he deems, Brooke, as people of power. People who are, you know, For instance, you mentioned Popovich. He is a powerful person within the NBA. Eminem, maybe one of the most popular rappers of all time, clearly he is. So maybe these people he deem also who has power and he does not want to challenge that.

I'm not exactly sure but, again, the idea that we have to dissect his words and dissect each tweet, while he didn't mean that one or that was rhetorical or that one was only a joke, that's not really shouldn't be the burden that we have to carry. It should be we're taking you at your word which I, again, why I think it was very, very interesting the words that he chose to say about these players. Brooke, I thought we were taught if you do something right out of the kindness of your, you're not supposed to expect to be thankful. You're supposed to do the right thing.

[15:50:03] And so the idea that he did them allow, the players, to say thank you, he said they better say thank you before their press conference where eventually they did thank him. And so the idea that if my father, in LiAngelo Ball's case, he doesn't feel or show enough gratitude, that that somehow is an implication of how I feel when I've already told you I said thank you. So now you want me to remain in jail. I can see how the players and other people would be offended by that. BALDWIN: Listen. I know what my mom taught me. I know what, you know, maybe what your mom taught you about not needing all of the thanks, right? But not everyone is created equal. So there is that. Then there is, you know, you mentioned LaVar Ball is the dad, right? Who this is about a little bit lately, the father of one of those players. And so he told ESPN, what was Trump over there for? Don't tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.

So I was reading more about this dad and one, you know, USA reporter called him the basketball equivalent of a Kardashian for his relentless pursuit, you know, of the family's growing brand and many are suggesting these two actually have quite a bit in common. Kelvin?

WASHINGTON: Well, they do. They do. They both know how to manipulate us, the media. They know how to use us to get out their points and their agenda. So they definitely have that in common.

But what LaVar Ball has really done is starting an empire. As Michael was alluding to, he is a very shrewd businessman. And he starting it, of course, within their family, with their sons. They have a Facebook television show. They have their own brand, Big Baller Brand and they are trying to, of course, build upon this and grow this.

One thing I will say, though, even though when he doesn't -- I don't often agree with some of the things he says or some of the things he does, I will say LaVar Ball from what it seems to be is a great father. LaVar Ball seems to be highly interested in the development of his sons. He also seems to be there for his wife who suffered a stroke and he's personally rehabbing her back to health.

So, there's going to -- you have to dissect the businessman who is kind of WWE, he'll say whatever just to get your attention and then also the man himself who seems to be a great father. So I do want to acknowledge that there is a distinction between the two. But they have that in common. If there's a microphone, if there is a camera, they're going to say something.

BALDWIN: I got you. And I'm sure, you know, other folks who probably would say the same about Donald Trump. Kelvin and Michael, thank you so much. Good to see both of you.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you.

WASHINGTON: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, Late Night in the Age of Donald Trump. We'll take a sneak peek at "CNN SPECIAL REPORT." How the work of comedians has changed during the Trump administration. We'll be right back.


[15:55:53] BALDWIN: Breaking news here. The Justice Department is set to file a lawsuit to block AT&T's takeover of Time Warner. The parent company of us here at CNN. That is according to a source. The $85 billion acquisition announced a year ago.

So let's go straight to Brian Stelter and Bill Carter to analyze some of this. But, Brian, first to you, how unusual is it to have the federal government intervene?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Highly unusual. And this was completely unexpected when the deal was announced this time last year. So there's two narratives about what's going on. The first is that the Justice Department, which is going to announce this in about an hour, is going to say this deal is anti-competitive, that it gives AT&T too much power over its rivals like Verizon. So that's one narrative.

The other narrative is that this is personal and political. That President Trump given his well-known animosity towards CNN is using this deal, using his government to punish CNN through Time Warner and AT&T. Those are the two competing narratives here and that is what will be debated in court now.

BALDWIN: Bill Carter, how did we get here?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well, it's interesting. I mean, the President when he was running for office said he was going to try to block this deal and he has openly expressed his hostility towards CNN. And, you know, we've heard the stories that CNN -- the sale of CNN was somehow brought up in these negotiations. So, you know, it's going to be very difficult for them to totally say this is unrelated. I'm sure they will say that.

But it is a very unusual thing for a Republican administration to take a position that is sort of anti-business. And that's what this would be seen as, certainly a Democratic administration doing this would be more likely. This is a very highly unusual move as Brian said.

STELTER: Yes, President Bernie Sanders would have seemed inclined to do something like this, where he would use antitrust law to try to challenge acquisitions. It's unusual, though, to see a Republican administration doing this, but it has been expected for the past couple of weeks. There has been a real delay attached to this deal, Brooke, so the AT&T executives I've been talking with have been preparing for this moment, preparing for litigation. They're going to release a statement later today.

BALDWIN: But this is a vertical merger, right? So, which typically have been non-controversial.

STELTER: Yes. What that means is a horizontal merger, the other kind. That's when I have a channel, you have a channel and we merge. That would be horizontal. I mean, there's one less company owning channels.

In this case, though, it's a vertical merger because AT&T doesn't really own any channels right now. It owns a lot of wireless customers' relationships. A lot of people in the country have AT&T for their phones. So AT&T wants to own channels. It wants to own Time Warner, which is CNN, HBO, TNT, TBS. Vertical merger is typically have been blessed by the government, have been approved usually with some conditions attached. That's why it comes as a surprise that Trump administration's DOJ is intervening here. But they say they have a case.

We know the antitrust chief has been laying the groundwork for this. So they're going to make their case this afternoon. AT&T will make its case and this will be fought out in the courts for at least several months to come.

BALDWIN: So off the bat, Brian, laid out two different narratives, two different ways to look at this. Bill, so my question to you is, if of one narrative, if this is being done to hurt CNN, how does this hurt CNN?

CARTER: Well, it would only hurt CNN if AT&T capitulated to this kind of pressure and said, OK, we're going to sell off that asset in order for this deal to be consummated. I think there is a strong feeling, though, that this is a very long shot by the government. I've heard a lot of lawyers come forward and say they have a very difficult case to make.

For the very reasons that Brian just spelled out, this is not a horizontal merger and it doesn't seem to be anti-competitive. And I think they're going to have a hard time making that case. And, you know, the fact that there's this other political aspect hanging over it, only adds to the questionable aspect of it, it seems to me.

BALDWIN: But even then, Brian, 30 seconds. How would that hurt CNN?

STELTER: I think there is a sense that delays gumming up the works, slowing a deal down, you know, delaying it, making it not happen at all. All of it would create this sense of a failure on Time Warner and AT&T's part. It would be President Trump sticking his thumb in it.

Again, that's just a theory. It is not something that has been proven in court, but AT&T may well try to prove it. The New York Times said this could be the antitrust case of the decade.

BALDWIN: Brian Stelter, Bill Carter, thank you. "THE LEAD" with Jim Sciutto starts now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Brooke.