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Source: Trump Slams Immigrants From "Shithole" Countries; Source: Trump Asked "Why Do We Need More Haitians?"; Dem Whip Durbin: Trump "Used Those Words"; Trump Denies Saying Anything Derogatory About Haitians. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

A sad irony this morning, but today is the day that President Donald Trump will sign a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day proclamation less than 24 hours after news broke that he called African nations, in his words, "shithole countries" and asked, quote, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"

Now more than 15 hours after this news broke and the White House did not deny it, the president is denying that he made those comments, comments that the U.N. Human Rights Council called shameful and racist. The president writes, "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough were the outlandish proposals made. A big setback for DACA."

And wait, there is more in just a moment. Thus the president publicly killed the bipartisan immigration agreement that was the subject of the meeting at the White House yesterday when he sat down with those senators. And just moments ago, he more explicitly denied all of this saying that at the same meeting, quote, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out," talking about this agreement that they thought they might have on immigration reform.

Let me point out, today is the eighth anniversary of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake that killed some 300,000 people. Many survivors of which the president and this administration apparently now want out of this country.

And finally, so far, no one in Republican leadership in Congress has condemned outright the president's comment.

Let's go to the White House. More from Joe Johns.

You know, look, the White House didn't deny he said this last night in a long statement. They could have. The president didn't deny it for 15 plus hours. Only now is he doing this.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Apparently and it's happened before quite frankly where the White House message machine had to catch up with the president's tweets. Just a few minutes ago, the president tweeted again and he sort of clarified what is being clarified here in a tweet.

Here is what he said. "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is obviously a very poor and troubled country. Never said take them out. Made up by Democrats. I have a wonderful relationships with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings. Unfortunately no trust."

Of course, that question of recording future meetings would be really interesting given the fact that there is so much to talk about in an interview with the special counsel in the Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, I think it's also important to say, as you said, Poppy, the president denying the language but last night, White House spokesperson Raj Shad did not deny the "shithole" remark. Instead said in a statement that, "The president is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, or our economy and assimilate into our great nation."

They had initially suggested, of course, that these comments actually would be accepted and embraced by the president's base -- Poppy.

HARLOW: So we have not heard any explicit outright condemnation on Twitter or out loud from Republican leadership in Congress. We're waiting. But -- I mean, what about from other lawmakers? What are we hearing?

JOHNS: Well, we have gotten some condemnations from other lawmakers, some of which came last night. But I want to read you one that came this morning from Congressman Steve King, the Republican of Iowa. He is of course an immigration hardliner, and he was more receptive to the president's tweet. He says, "Hang in there, Mr. President. If those countries aren't as you described Democrats should be happy to deport criminal aliens back to them and anchor babies, too."

Meanwhile from some of the other lawmakers, notably the retiring Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, he indicated in part that his ancestors came from countries not nearly as prosperous as the ones we live in today. Glad they're welcomed here.

And a couple African-American lawmakers including Congresswoman Mia Love calling the president's comment as quoted last night as divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values. The only African-American senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republican, calling the remarks disappointing.

Also, though, important to point out that members of Congress were on planes or otherwise in transit last night when the story broke going back to the district after the legislative workweek ended.

Back to you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much.

We're waiting for more from the White House, and before we bring the panel in, let me just get you some new reporting from our Jake Tapper, what his sources are telling him is that the president did not explicitly use that language, blank-hole, when talking about Haitians. But he did say referring to the deal, the potential immigration deal, "Why did we need more Haitians? Take them out of the deal."

Again, eight years to the date today after that devastating earthquake in Haiti which is the reason why so many came here. And also he did say, according to Jake's reporting, just another source on this, that those African nations are shithole countries and why do we need more people coming from those countries to this country.

[09:05:10] Joining me now our political editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, CNN political commentators Tara Setmayer, she's a conservative commentator, worked on the Hill, and Symone Sanders, on the left, press secretary for the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign.

Chris Cillizza, to you, I hope everyone read what you wrote about this last night and you say there have been a lot of highs and a lot of lows for this presidency but this is the lowest of all.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, I mean, I think I believe that, Poppy, because it's not just the comment which is consistent, frankly, with other sentiments he's expressed in both public and in private before. But it's also the massive cynicism that comes out of the White House in the wake of it. The statement from Raj Shah last night, the White House spokesman, essentially said look, the president is going to be looking out for us and we're not going to be -- he was the president of the United States, not the president of a foreign country.

OK, I mean, that's essentially acknowledging he did it.


CILLIZZA: And then the one that really set me off was the background comment and anonymous source to Kaitlan Collins' CNN's own White House reporter, which essentially said, hey, look, this is good for us with our political base. I just think there are things that have to go beyond politics. That Symone and Tara and me and everybody else can say, you know what, we have an all men are created equal thing. Let's live by that, particularly the president of the United States, our elected of leader of all Americans.

HARLOW: All of us. All of us.

CILLIZZA: Not just the people who voted for him. And by the way, when you're seeing some of this fallout internationally and the symbol of the United States in the world. And don't underplay the importance of that, too, Poppy.

HARLOW: Tara, look, and Chris Cillizza is so right when he says us. I mean, who is us, who is America? What is America if not a melting pot? Right? What is America if it is not the words that Emma Lazarus wrote, that are, you know, on the front of the Statue of Liberty. The -- the president denying it this morning, just now on these series of tweets, OK, he didn't deny it last night. The White House didn't deny it last night. It's been 15 plus hours. Does it ring true to you, this denial?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course not. I mean, Trump -- President Trump is a notorious liar and proven so. And you can't believe anything that comes out of this White House unfortunately which is a very sad state of affairs. Anyone who's followed the art of Donald Trump's career and his history and his words and comments, behavior, knows that he probably said this.

I mean, I would bet that he said this. And -- and let me tell you an example really quickly. Everyone knows about the housing discrimination lawsuit that Donald Trump -- that the Justice department brought against Trump in the '70s where they were not renting to black and Hispanic qualified renters and they would mark on the application whether they were colored or Hispanic or not. And he was sued for this.

And it was reported that during the proceedings, during the break, he actually went to one of the Justice Department lawyers and said, come on, you would not want to live with them either. Donald Trump is a notorious bigot and have been. There are countless examples. But you know what --


HARLOW: So where is the leadership in your party?

SETMAYER: That's where I'm going.

HARLOW: I mean, you're a Republican strategist.

SETMAYER: That's where I'm going.

HARLOW: You worked on the Hill. I mean, where are they?

SETMAYER: I am appalled at the fact that the Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate have been silent on this. Their silence equal complicity in my opinion. They need to grow a pair and speak up.

Why does it take the -- you know, the only black Republican member in the House, in the Senate, and Mia Love and Tim Scott --


SETMAYER: -- to come out and say something?

HARLOW: Right.

SETMAYER: And you know what? Donald Trump and the Republican leadership, they need to read what Mia Love wrote because it was excellent. What she said was 100 percent correct.


SETMAYER: Her being from Haitian parents that came here. Good for her. HARLOW: Yes.

SETMAYER: But it's a shame that we're here now and shame on the Republicans for being silent and someone who was in that room should come out and admit that this is what the president of the United States said and put an end to this speculation whether he did or didn't.

HARLOW: On the show a little bit later we're going to have a Haitian American assembly woman from New York to have her response to all of this.

Symone, the irony, the sad irony, this comes, you know, less than 24 hours before the president will sign this proclamation of Martin Luther King Day and all that it means and all that he meant for this country. Where do we go from here?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump -- you know, Donald Trump has no real understanding of, in my opinion, the legacy and the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And what's so problematic for me, Poppy, there's so much here, but Donald Trump, quote, unquote, "explanation," if you will, this morning via Twitter, I mean, he reinforced this idea that Haiti is just poor because it's poor. And he clearly has no recollection of history or the facts.

If anyone knows anything, you know that Haiti was originally established as a French colony through their transatlantic slate trade. Haiti, what would eventually become Haiti, fueled the French empire, the wealth.

[09:10:04] Two-thirds of the sugar, three-fourths of the coffee that you consume. And then there was a Haitian revolution, the Haitian people revolted. And they were punished by the revolt from the Europeans and frankly the United States of America. And they wouldn't trade with them for decades and the only way that the Haitian people were able to just inject themselves back into the economy was to pay 150 million gold francs.

It took them the whole 19th century to pay that back. It even involved money from some of the U.S. banks to do so. And you know what happened? Those banks in 1914 pushed President Wilson to go in and raid the gold reserves in Haiti. That contributes to why Haiti is so poor. But when we're talking about history, when we are ignorant, the facts of the world, that leaves our president to say the words that he said today.

So I'm disgusted per usual. But I really wish that yes, lawmakers stand up and say what he said in this meeting. But we need to have a broader conversation about why is the president so hell bent on uttering and demonizing folks from black and brown countries, and black and brown people in this country.

HARLOW: Chris Cillizza, look, back to your original point about the source inside the White House saying to our Kaitlan Collins, we're not worried about this. This plays well with our base.


HARLOW: We think this is going to resonate just like the president's comments about NFL players kneeling. I mean, this goes way beyond that. And this is the same president who, as you know, during the campaign said whether you vote for me or you don't, I want to be the greatest champion, I will be your champion speaking to Haitian Americans.

CILLIZZA: This is a president, Poppy, who, you know, it's not even 72 hours held an open meeting on immigration with the top leaders in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and said let's miss this a bill of love. You know, let's find a way to make the DACA program continues. Let's find a way to comprehensive immigration reform.


CILLIZZA: There is a yoyoing nature to his personality. I mean, you know, I always say it's a day-to-day presidency. What he does one day does not predict what he will do the next. This week is a perfect example of that. But I do think -- and both Tara and Symone touched on this, I do think there -- if there is a narrative, you can look back to the first day he was a candidate. Mexican -- Mexico is sending rapists and criminals. There are dots along that from that day to this day whether it is Charlottesville, NFL players kneeling, the comments he made about Lonzo Ball -- LaVar Ball and getting them out of jail in China, why they are not more grateful.

There is a lot of little things or some big things like this, like Charlottesville, they all point to Donald Trump just doesn't -- his view publicly and clearly privately is what we would describe --

HARLOW: And look --

CILLIZZA: -- in anyone as holding racist views. I don't know what other conclusion you can draw.

HARLOW: And we're looking at it on the screen, guys. And stay with me, you're going to be back a little later this hour. But from everything, the odds that the president took out when he was citizen Trump years ago by the Central Park Five, what he said about that and so much else. We'll get into it in a little bit. Stay with us.

Thank you all very, very much.

We have a lot ahead this hour. Haiti and Botswana summoning U.S. ambassadors, demanding an explanation about what the president meant. Also the president tells the "Wall Street Journal" that he probably has a good relationship with Kim Jong-un, the man he's named rocket man. He also won't say whether or not he had spoken with Kim. What? And so much for signing whatever they send me, those words, the president's words not long ago as he outright rejects the bipartisan effort to reach a deal for Dreamers. This morning, he is blaming Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:17:56] HARLOW: In an astonishing morning of developments, the United States top diplomat in Haiti have now been summoned over the president's disparaging comments about people from that country.

This morning, the president says he never said anything derogatory about Haiti, just it was born in trouble. But as our Jake Tapper reports again this morning he did ask "Why do we need more Haitians, take them out," meaning out of a potential immigration deal that would protect their status in this country.

All of this happens on the eighth anniversary that devastating earthquakes that claimed somewhere around 300,000 lives.

Joining me now from El Salvador is our correspondent, Patrick Oppmann. Yet, another country that was part of this meeting and these discussions about temporary protective status for those who come to this country. What are you hearing on the ground?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It is been a bomb shell, here. We have 200,000 Salvadorans who live in the U.S. that are protective under this temporary protection status, and they send a lot of very badly funds back here. You know, Salvadorans know about the problems very well in their country.

It is a country that is poor. That has a lot of violence. The people here are very, very proud and they find these comments whether they are true or not to be incredibly insulting. They say they are racist and they are frankly not true.

The Salvadoran foreign minister last night came out and brought the point about Salvadoran workers help rebuild the Pentagon after 9/11. They helped with the recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

They are people who joined the military and they are people because they are part of the legal immigration system pay taxes, and they feel they contribute a lot to the United States and they have a great appreciation for the United States.

I was struck driving around the country yesterday, how many American flags did you see. I thought something you see in many countries in Latin America. People here have a lot of appreciation for the U.S., perhaps today a little bit less although -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Patrick Oppmann, thank you. Let us know what else do you hear on the ground. We appreciate it.

All right. Now, I want you to look at this picture, lets pull this picture up. This is a hero. This is an American hero. This is also someone who has given everything of this country, a graduate of West Point, tearing up just thinking about all that this country means to him.

[09:20:14] And now the president asked, why do we need more Haitian in this country. This is a Haitian, a powerful moment from the 2016 West Point graduation. This Haitian immigrant in tears after working his way through the nation's most prestigious military school.

Our Barbara Starr pointed this out to all of us this morning and joins me now with his story -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, you need to see Lieutenant Alix Idrache. You need to see his face. This young man graduated in West Point 2016. He had only been in the United States a few years. He grew up in Port-Au-Prince, his father determined that his children would have a better life than he did.

He came to this country and joined the Maryland National Guard and then got an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point. Guess what? When he graduated, he had the top rating in his class in physics.

This young man is going on now to serve and giving back to the country and joining as a volunteer obviously, this is a volunteer military force in this country. He's now serving and willing to risk his life like so many others to serve his commander-in-chief, and serve the country.

It is really an important point to make here because immigrants are so important to the diversity of the U.S. military. The U.S. military is a national security imperative. They need people who have language skills, cultural understanding.

They need people who know the countries in which they may be called to go back to and serve. In terms of Africa, the other issue we are discussing, consider this, there are 6,000 U.S. troops right now across Africa, across more than 50 countries serving there in some of the toughest circumstances, working with our African partner military forces trying to bring security to those countries as well -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, thank you for pointing it out to all of us this morning and for sharing his story. We won't forget it.

My panelist back, Chris Cilizza, Alix Idrache, he learned English in seven years going from Port-Au-Prince to this country. Part of what inspired him to go to West Point is that he saw the humanitarian efforts of U.S. forces on the ground in Haiti and what they had done. Now, we are reminded of all of that with this picture, your thoughts.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. I mean, this is the -- there is always a problem of typecasting, you know, in using character of a nation or in the case of Africa, a continent that Donald Trump has some views about.

I think it's even more dangerous with Donald Trump, number one, because he is the president of the United States. Number two, because he appears based on a number of comments that have been reported over the past few months, he appears to be operating under a very old character of many of these places.

He -- the "New York Times" reported right before the end of the year that in June, in a meeting again about immigration, he said that Nigerians, quote, "live in huts." He says mostly all of people in Haiti have AIDS.

Again, these are impressions that are not only wrong but are based in a madman sort of era. It is troubling for your uncle to have these views and voice them at the dinner table on a holiday.

It is beyond troubling for the president of the United States to have these views. I want to echo, if the Republican Party wants to be a national party going forward, you have to define what you stand for and what you stand against.

There is just -- this is not a political issue. I feel like this is Charlottesville all over again. This is not a political issue. Describing countries and continents that way is not something that is a Democrat or a Republican view or it's certainly should not be something that is.

SETMAYER: Chris, this is part of the reason why I have fought so hard since Donald Trump announced his presidency to point out why character matters and why the Republican Party and conservatives allowing normalizing these character flaws in Donald Trump is so dangerous not only for the conservative movement and the Republican Party moving forward but to the country.

And that is part of the motivation. Most of my motivations for why I have been so adamant about pointing out why Donald Trump is unacceptable and unfit to be president of the United States. He demonstrates it every single day.

And you know, the idea that he disparages these countries and we can discuss whether some of these countries are troubled or have issues there. That's fine, but he is lumping people and identity politics.

[09:25:12] Lumping a group of people and making these assumptions. And that's a part that he even undercuts his own message when he says he wants merit-based immigration (inaudible) seeing that there is no one that has merits that come from any of these countries. It's ridiculous.

Is he going to say that about Emanuel Menza, who is a National Guardsman, who lost his life? He's from Ghana, who lost his life saving people in that awful fire in the Bronx a couple of weeks ago. Is he going to say that about him?

I mean, we could go down a list of examples of great Americans and people who have come here from other countries. I am a walking example of a woman of mixed race. We come to Ellis Island from Germany in the 1920s and my other side of the family came from Guatemala escaping the revolution there. This is unbelievable that we are having this conversation.

HARLOW: Tara, I am sorry to interrupt. It is important and what you will see at the bottom of your screen. The Democratic whip, Dick Durbin, of Illinois, who was in this meeting confirmed the exact words that the president used.

Let me read you what he just said on MSNBC, "You have seen the comments in the press, I have not read one of them that is inaccurate." To no surprise the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words. It is not true.

He said, "These hate-filled things and he says them repeatedly." Durbin goes onto say "He said, Haitians, do we need more Haitians. That's when he used violent, vulgar comment calling the nation they come from shitholes, the exact words used by president not just once but repeatedly."

SETMAYER: Republicans need to come out, too.

SANDERS: What else need to happen before Congress, a co-equal branch of government is going hold this president accountable? You know, Chris said something really interesting. He said, it is one thing for your uncle to be talking about this. It's another thing for the president of the United States.

At one point in time, Donald Trump (inaudible) and it is so actually not appropriate for anyone anywhere, but so many people excuse these comments time and time again because of the forum that they are in and you wonder why we pop up and have a president like Donald Trump or both like Representative King from Iowa to say the very inflammatory and nasty things that they've been saying.

So, it is time for Congress to act. I just like to offer that if former President Obama popped up and said that all of the white folks are coming from shitholes or everybody from Europe was in a shithole country, the Republicans at Congress would have had a field day.

They would have moved swiftly to censor him and let him know that under no circumstances would they accept this type of attitude or rhetoric from this president -- by the Donald Trump.

HARLOW: You actually hope that Symone that everyone.

SANDERS: The Republicans are in charge of Congress. They are in charge of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

CILIZZA: The problem is, if it is Donald Trump's word against U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's word, I think as Symone mentioned is the problem that you have is Donald Trump has said 2,000 plus things that are totally false or misleading in the first year of his presidency. So, it is kind of hard to say, oh, on this thing, he's telling the truth while a U.S. senator who sat in the meeting is lying.

HARLOW: You know, the question again, guys, is how do you explain this to your kids? Thank you all. Chris, Tara, Symone, we appreciate it.

So, the president now says thanks but no thanks on an upcoming trip that was planned to London, but the mayor of London says, yes, Mr. President, apparently you got the message.