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China Helping North Korea?; President Trump Speaks Out. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired December 29, 2017 - 3:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump weighing in on the Russia investigation, saying he expects special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly.
But he says this investigation, in the president's words -- quote -- "makes the country look very bad."
Now, the president also insisted there was -- quote -- "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia. In fact, he repeated those words, no collusion, 16 times throughout this one interview.
Today, the president invited 60 members of the U.S. Coast Guard to play golf at his club.
So, let's head to Florida, where all that is happening.
CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is joining us from West Palm Beach.
Sara, we know the president often taunts "The New York Times" as failing. Tell us more about this interview.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently, he got over that last night.
But it was certainly an impromptu interview. There was a "New York Times" reporter who was apparently invited to the club by Chris Ruddy, who is the CEO of Newsmax and also friend of President Trump. And Chris Ruddy was on MSNBC today sort of explaining how this all came about.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: It certainly wasn't the plan. Michael was a guest of mine with a couple of other people, including Andrew Stein, former borough president of Manhattan.
And the president enjoyed his conversation with Michael. And they did an interview, quite a lengthy interview, but the president is a guy that likes to speak his mind and he doesn't necessarily follow protocols all the time. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: And it was a lengthy interview, indeed.
In addition to talking at length about the Russia investigation, saying the president is not going to call for an end to it, but that he believes in fact that Robert Mueller is going to treat him fairly, the president also talked a little bit about his upcoming agenda in the new year.
He's expected to be in Florida for a little bit longer, but when he gets back to Washington, D.C., there's a laundry list of items and the president is still saying he hopes that Democrats will join him when it comes to DACA, when it comes to infrastructure.
We will see, though. In that interview, he had some pretty critical words for Democrats he tried to bring on board for tax reform, particularly Senator Joe Manchin. So, we will see if the senator read that interview and if that makes him any more inclined to cooperate with the president in this new year -- Ana.
CABRERA: Reverse psychology perhaps? Who knows? Sara Murray in West Palm Beach, thank you.
Let's talk more about this and some of the other headlines from this interview with CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, conservative commentator Carrie Sheffield, and A. Scott Bolden. He's the former D.C. Democratic Party chairman.
So, Carrie, I'll start with you.
In this new interview with "The New York Times," the president says that because of the Russia investigation, his base is stronger than ever. Do you agree that the Russia investigation has united and empowered his base? And, frankly, is that enough?
CARRIE SHEFFIELD, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Sure.
So I do agree that his base has been really frustrated by a lot of the noise around this. And they want to talk about substance. I have a lot of family and friends who are big supporters of Trump. They want to talk about tax reform and they want to talk about Internet freedom that the president just helped pass with Ajit Pai.
They want to talk about all the things at a policy level. He just repealed the Obamacare mandate. That's a good thing. He's pared back the regulatory state. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board just showed that $9.8 billion worth of regulatory costs are going to be repealed in 2018 because of what's happening by this Trump White House.
So I think the base is really frustrated by the lack of substance and the lack of focus on what actually matters for the kitchen table issues.
CABRERA: So you are saying that he's uniting his base, but not necessarily in a good way?
SHEFFIELD: Well, I think that the base is frustrated, you know, to see there are a lot of headlines that are happening around the investigation.
And to be clear, I absolutely agree. And even the president said himself that inspector Mueller needs to have the freedom to be independent and to come with the conclusions here, that the truth will prevail. And I think the truth is prevailing.
In fact, the president said in his interview what this investigation has shown is there was Democratic collusion. That's what "The New York Times" reporter admitted in the interview as well. The Podesta group has completely collapsed with the wake of these revelations, as well as the problems with the dossier.
And so I think the base is very frustrated with the lack of substance. And 2018 and New Year's Eve resolution, let's focus on substance.
CABRERA: Before we get to that, Ana, it was interesting to read the transcript from this interview, because it really was revealing in terms of the president's thinking.
No aides, no advisers, Trump unfiltered. I mean, is this what we get in lieu of that end-of-year-news conference most administrations have. Instead, the president sitting down for this 30-minute impromptu interview with "The New York Times"?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's remarkable that they let that happen, that they would let Trump be unfiltered, because when he is unfiltered he's often unhinged.
Look, this was an interview that really revealed that enormous amount of stream of consciousness by the president of the United States. He is all over the place on so many subjects all at once. And it was like watching some sort of a crazy game going on.
You almost think to yourself -- it's a good thing we all know he doesn't drink, because he sounded like he had a few Bloody Marys after the golf game during this interview.
NAVARRO: I think it's uncanny how he returns to his same themes over and over again.
He's now been a president for almost a year. The election has been over for more than a year. And he is still re-litigating the election. He's re-litigating the popular vs. Electoral College vote.
Look, Hillary Clinton is at Costco selling books. Let it go. You won. You are president of the United States. But he keeps going back and back at it. I did find his frequent mentions of DACA very interesting. It's
obviously top of mind for him. He's obviously in a deal-making mood. I tell you he wants to get through of the visa lottery. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that.
But I would say that it gives some degree of hope to the 800,000-plus DACA kids that are affected and whose lives are in limbo right now.
CABRERA: Let's focus forward, Scott, because he did talk a little bit about his plans for 2018, including bipartisan legislation on DACA, on health care, on infrastructure, he says.
Of those I just listed and that he listed, what area do you think is most likely to get a bipartisan win?
A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: You know what? I have no idea, because Donald Trump will do an interview, as he did yesterday with "The New York Times," and you have to wait two or three days, because he will start tweeting and say something just the opposite.
He lives in this world of hypocrisy, and so you never know what you can believe or can't believe. I will tell you this. With 2018 as the backdrop, DACA is an important issue to both Republicans who are up for reelection, as well as the Democrats.
CABRERA: Even Republicans who aren't up for reelection, like Jeff Flake.
BOLDEN: Exactly, who are on those border states.
So, it's going to be a big deal. I think they could reach a deal on DACA. But the Republicans and Donald Trump have to come to the table with the Democrats with a real deal, not a dead deal, a deal that the Democrats can get their arms around, whether it's DACA or infrastructure or even health care to improve it.
But you see what happens is, Donald Trump destroys all of this because he drives a negative narrative. One on one hand, he says one thing, and then tweets the negative on the other, and then the Democrats say, no, I'm not coming to the table. So you have to wait and see.
It's really dangerous rhetoric, because he hates the press. He attacks the press. He needs the press. That's not going to change either.
And so I don't make a whole lot of his interview. We have see what he does after the interview.
But one thing he has been consistent on both yesterday in that interview and even today in his tweets was this sort of red line he is drawing on DACA when it comes to his wall, saying there has to be funding for the border wall if there is going to be a deal with Democrats on DACA.
Given how passionate we know Democrats, and as you point out a lot of Republicans are too on protecting dreamers, are they going to cave to that demand?
BOLDEN: Well, Democrats certainly aren't cave to that demand. The wall is dead. It's been dead.
In fact, the rhetoric coming out of the GOP and Donald Trump talks about border security, other types of security measures. Mexico is not paying for it. He has lied about that. The American people aren't going to pay for it. They are not going to allow him to raise taxes on it, and so it is simply not going to happen.
So any deal that requires actual wall funding vs. DACA is not going to happen. And I think the Democrats and those Republicans who need DACA to happen are going to be far more overwhelming in that deal discussion than any discussion about the wall.
They will give him money for border security, but they are not going to give him money for a silly wall to be built that people can either climb under or crawl over.
CABRERA: So, Carrie, when talking about bipartisanship, Sara Murray pointed out the president's little dig that he got in on Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
And let me just read you what he said. He said: "You know, we hear B.S. from the Democrats like Joe Manchin. Joe's a nice guy, but he talks. But he doesn't do anything. He doesn't do."
I guess so much for bipartisan.
Well, and that absolutely is the problem. And 26 Democrats in the Senate are going to be up for reelection in 2018 vs. I believe eight or nine Republicans. And of those 26 Democrats, 10 are in states that Trump won, including five in states that Trump won by double digits.
So, if Joe Manchin and if Democrats coming from conservative states, they better watch out in 2018, because a conservative policy agenda is what is going to help this country move forward.
CABRERA: Do you think that's how he's going to get them on board, by poking at them, by attacking at them? That's how he gets them on board to come to his side, to see a deal?
SHEFFIELD: Well, I think, in deal-making, it's always a combination of carrots and sticks. Absolutely.
I think it should be both. I would like to see more conciliatory messaging coming out from Chuck Schumer, as well as from Mitch McConnell. I would love to see both. So I agree with you there.
But I do think sometimes you do have to put the hammer down when people are not responding to the will of the people in their own states who elected them.
CABRERA: Ana, what do you make of that strategy?
NAVARRO: What do I make about what?
CABRERA: What do you make of that strategy on Joe Manchin? Nice guy, but he doesn't do?
NAVARRO: Look, I'm not sure there is much strategy to it.
I think it's an unfiltered moment of truth from Donald Trump, who is frustrated with a Joe Manchin who represents a state that Donald Trump won by a lot, by a huge margin, who is supposed to be a centrist, and yet he votes with the Democrats on the big issues like the tax bill, like the health care bill.
And I think Donald Trump is frustrated by that. But I also think that what you are seeing in Donald Trump, there is a line there where he says, I am practical. I think what you are seeing in him is that he is in a deal-making mood and he himself recognizes that there is going to be a lot more Democrats come 2018 in the House and maybe even the Senate than there are today and he's being practical.
I think the wall, the wall and DACA and immigration are going to require a great deal of practicality. To me, the question, the sweet spot is, how do you define a wall? Is it made out of LEGOs? Is it a virtual wall? What makes a wall a wall?
NAVARRO: And I think we have got to get creative in how to define it in order to get to a place of yes when it comes to moving DACA.
Really, I think there should be no red lines right now. There are so many kids who are going into 2018 with their lives and their dreams and their futures hanging in the balance, not knowing if they are going to have to leave the only country that they know.
We have got a deadline here approaching, fast approaching, in March. So I hope that there are negotiations going on behind the scenes. I think what this interview reveals is that there are. And I hope that it actually accomplishes a result.
CABRERA: Seems like a nice place to leave it.
Ana Navarro, Carrie Sheffield, A. Scott Bolden, final thought real quick.
You know, we are presuming that Donald Trump is going to be a factor in 2018. His numbers are in the 30s. Over 65 percent of Americans don't like his success with his legislation and where the country is going.
And Republicans are going to have to figure out in those states that are up for reelection whether they are going to run to him or run from him. That's a big issue with those numbers that low.
CABRERA: All right, everybody. Thank you so much. Good to see you all. Happy new year.
And happy belated birthday, Ana.
NAVARRO: Oh, thank you.
CABRERA: I forgot to say yesterday when we saw you here on the program. We're so grateful that you decided to spend of it with us.
Up next, new evidence suggesting North Korea could be planning another missile test in the new year, this as President Trump warns China, he may get tougher on trade if they don't do more to sanction Kim Jong- un's regime.
Plus, Puerto Rico's governor has just requested up to 1,500 additional utility workers to get the lights back on across the island. It has been three months and some people still don't have electricity. CNN takes you to one of the hardest-hit areas, where people are still trying to cope months after Hurricane Maria hit.
CABRERA: In that interview with "The New York Times," President Trump defended his decision to keep trade active with China, pointing to the North Korea threat, saying: "China is hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war."
Well, this interview came on the same day as he accused China of stealing -- excuse me -- selling oil to North Korea, despite U.N. sanctions. And now China is responding.
CNN's Alexandra Field has more now from Beijing -- Alexandra.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a year of almost constant provocation from Pyongyang, and that has resulted in a raft of resolutions and sanctions aimed at curtailing and cutting off the revenue streams and the resources that have fueled that rogue regime and its illicit activities.
The question now, has North Korea found a way to skirt the sanctions against the regime using an illegal network of ships? That's the allegation that President Trump is making. And he goes further than that, saying that China is allowing it. That is the bold tweet that the president sent out in the overnight hours here in Beijing.
It's what officials here woke up to this morning. Officials in Beijing have responded by saying that China is doing its part fully to implement and uphold all United Nations Security Council resolutions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUA CHUNYING, SPOKESWOMAN, CHINESE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): A series of recent reports do not accord with the fact. China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfills its international obligation.
We never allow our Chinese citizens and companies to engage in activities that violate the Security Council resolution. If through investigation, it is confirmed there are violations, China will deal with them in accordance with the law and regulation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: As far as back as November, the U.S. Treasury Department suggested that North Korean vessels could be used to make these illegal ship-to-ship transfers, a way of getting oil that was banned into North Korea.
The State Department now says it's also aware of ship-to-ship transfers that have been made involving vessels from a number of different countries, including China. This all came to light again earlier this week when South Korea media outlets published reports saying there were satellite images that showed Chinese vessels transferring oil to North Korea vessels.
North Korea depends on foreign sources for its soil. It relies heavily on China. This is oil that is needed to fuel the economy and the military inside North Korea.
Again, the line from officials here in Beijing throughout the week and in response to the allegations from President Trump are that Beijing is doing everything it needs to do to uphold the sanctions and that, if any companies or vessels are found in violation, they will be dealt with.
More evidence, though, that this illegal shipping network could be taking hold in the seas outside of North Korea, well, South Korea authorities now say that back in November they seized a Hong Kong- based ship that was leased to a Taiwanese company.
They say that ship left a port in South Korea and then it joined up with the North Korean vessel that transferred oil to.
In Beijing, Alexandra Field, CNN. CABRERA: Thank you, Alexandra.
To discuss, I want to bring in Aaron David Miller. He's CNN global affairs analyst.
And we always like to have you on, especially on a Friday, Aaron.
You wrote this opinion piece for "The Washington Post" in which you argue, despite Trump's America-first policy, so far, Trump's foreign policy mostly puts America last. You raised concern about a military option specifically on North Korea. Explain your thinking on this.
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, I do.
But I think the bottom line, Ana, is that the president has demonstrated a sort of preternatural tendency to be risk-verse, not risk-ready. I think I say -- my co-author, Dick Sokolsky, and I say that he's not the un-Obama. He's actually Obama redux when it comes to the application of military force, because if you look at the examples, he struck proportionately in April against the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.
He has limited American deployments in Syria. The surge in Afghanistan was modest, by any proportion. And despite all of the bluster and tough words and rhetoric against Iran and North Korea, fortunately in the North Korean case, he has exercised a great deal of restraint.
I think General Dunford and Mattis, Secretary Mattis, have a lot to do with that.
CABRERA: At the same time though, he has been effective I guess you can say in getting the international community to unite in imposing the toughest sanctions ever on North Korea.
MILLER: It's absolutely the case. And the administration deserves credit for that third round of sanctions in December.
The problem, of course, is that will sanctions be effective? Will the stick only be effective? And that's unclear. The Chinese -- and he's depending heavily on them, I think wrongly, to somehow a deliver a solution to the problem of Kim Jong-un's North Korea nukes. That's not going to happen, because the Chinese frankly are more worried about instability on the Korean Peninsula and incursions by South Korea and the influence of the U.S. than they are by Kim Jong-un's nuclear weapons.
So, yes, we have half of a strategy, but we need the other half. And maybe 2018, recent signals about toning down, being more discreet about U.S. military exercises, hopefully, that's the beginning of a more positive trend.
CABRERA: Let me read you another excerpt from this interview where President Trump says in regards to China: "If they're helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that's what I've been doing. But when oil is going in, I'm not happy about that."
So am I hearing you say, though, it doesn't really matter what China does or is there something you could see him doing to apply pressure on China that would make a difference in North Korea?
MILLER: I doubt it.
I think, for the Chinese, this is not necessarily an existential issue. But they really do want to avoid instability that allows the Americans or the South Koreans to steal a march, gain an advantage and increase their influence on the peninsula.
And as far as a trade war is concerned, the president continuously talks about, even in his foreign policy speeches, the stock market that is at record levels. The last thing this administration wants, it seems to me, is a trade war with China that is likely to produce -- give significant downturn in the economy.
So, threatening one in an effort to gain another, I suspect, is going to leave the president, figuratively speaking, poorer, both in terms of his capacity to influence North Korea and his determination to improve the American economy.
CABRERA: OK, bigger picture, I want to ask you about his foreign policy on whole and some new comments from his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who also did an interview with "The New York Times" and said the president's approach to foreign policy is out of his comfort zone, meaning out of H.R. McMaster's comfort zone.
But he says he likes the president's disruptive style. What do you make of this?
MILLER: I don't -- you know, look, I worked for Republicans and Democrats and I voted for Republicans and Democrats.
If you want to be a great power, you need to be admired, you need to be respected, and you need to be feared. And, frankly, in my 25 years in government, I can't remember a time when we have been running deficits, frankly, in the admiration, the respect, and the fear categories.
And, frankly, I think that's bad. The president deserves credit for separating the Islamic State from its caliphate. He deserves credit, it seems to me, for avoiding the kinds of nation-building exercises, not of his predecessor, but his predecessor's predecessor.
But, on balance, it seems to me we are less admired, we are less respected across the board. And are we feared? Well, I think people fear Donald Trump's unpredictability, but I don't think Putin fears Donald Trump is going to strike Russia or its assets.
I don't think President Xi of China feels the same way. What they fear is the president taking some step that would indirectly create problems for them. So, no, I think our adversaries are gaining an advantage on us, our
allies are hedging their bets because they really don't understand what our policy is.
I'm hoping, but I have been hoping now for a year or so, that in fact this policy would be brought back into the comfort zone, not entirely, but back into the comfort zone. And I just don't see it.
CABRERA: All right. Aaron David Miller, thank you.
MILLER: Thank you, Ana.
CABRERA: And just in, Friday document dump release involving e-mails from longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin that were found by the FBI on Anthony Weiner's laptop.
More on that coming up.