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Trump Cancels U.K. Trip, Blames Obama for Bush's Decision; Dick Durban & Some Republicans: Trump Lying About Racist Comment; Hillary Clinton Tweets about Trump's Racist Comments; Condoleezza Rice Discusses Mueller Investigation on "AXE FILES"; Mueller Sets Trial Date for Manafort & Gates; Photo Resurfaces of Haitian Immigrant Weeping at West Point Graduation. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:31:00] BROOKE BALDIWN, CNN HOST: There are a lot of ways to cancel a complicated presidential trip to visit a U.S. ally. So the fact that the president canceled his trip to open this brand-new U.S. embassy in London, he did that in a tweet. Let me read: "The reason I canceled my trip to London is I'm not a big fan of the Obama administration having solder perhaps the best located the finest in embassy in London for peanuts only to build a new one in an off location for $1.2 billion. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon. No." He says.

A couple things to consider. One, the decision to move the old U.S. embassy in London came from the administration of George W. Bush, not from that of Barack Obama. Two, the new embassy, being in an off location and a bad deal, the diplomat who was President Bush's ambassador to Britain at the time disagrees.

Robert Tuttle joins me now. He served as U.S. ambassador to Britain from 2002 to 2009.

So, Mr. Ambassador, a pleasure sir.

ROBERT TUTTLE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO GREAT BRITAIN: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

BROOKE: And your reaction to president's tweet and rational for canceling the trip?

TUTTLE: Just quickly, Brooke, I'll tell the story rather than go back and forth.


TUTTLE: I went to London in 2005 well aware that the Grosvenor Square location had two problems. Desperately in need of overhaul and two narrow side streets go on the side of the embassy. And I quickly determined, if a truck pulled up, like the Oklahoma City bombing, it would kill a lot of people. We also quickly determined that the square could not be rehand. So there was a building right next to the embassy, we put it on the market and sold it for half a billion dollars, which then we now we could get that much for the embassy, which we did. So we raised total of a billion dollars and looked at 60 locations, found one on the south bank of the river. And projection at the time was we could build a new embassy, plus purchase the property for the same amount of money. So really, no projected cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

Second, lastly, and I'll be quick, something I'm very proud of, we have been building a lot of embassies, but undistinguished architecturally. And I went to the state and said these are the best allies in the world and we need a competition. Choose a prominent architect and, as a result, we have really an iconic building which the American people can be proud of, and our best friends and allies in the world, people of the United Kingdom, can be proud of.

BALDWIN: So you were the guy. I mean, that's why we wanted to talk to you. Because when you saw the president tweeting, oh, it was the Obama administration, did you want to say, Mr. President, you are wrong?

TUTTLE: You know what, I'm not into right or wrong. That's just what happened. And, again, I'm very proud of what happened. And I think years from now people will be very proud of that embassy. That building. I also might say to get from Grosvenor Square down to the main buildings, we did drives from both places, and where the new embassy is, the same amount of time. A little farther distance way but the same timewise.

BALDWIN: Here's what I want to know what is the message president is sending to our other friends around the world if he's bailing on this but beautiful state of the art embassy in London, our best of friends, what is the message he's sending globally by doing that?

TUTTLE: Well, if I had my way I wish he would have gone in an opened the building. But I think is about our relationship with the United Kingdom. And in spite of what the president does or says, they still are best friends and strongest ally in the world. And we have created a great building that will belong after this administration and many other administrations and long after I'm alive.

[14:35:11] BALDWIN: So we know that we have heard from Ed Miliband, who is the former British labor leader, obviously, calling B.S. on this reason why the president is saying he doesn't want to go to London, it's saying no nobody wants you to come and you got the message. Already talks about protesters. And made it clear he is not welcome here. Seems he finally got this message. Reinforces mistake it was for Theresa May to rush in extending a state visit in the first place. Does this damage the U.S.'s relationship with our dearest ally, England?

TUTTLE: I don't think so. But I hope the president will go and make a visit to the United Kingdom. I think it's important that he and the prime minister get together and spend quality time together and the people of London get to know him better.

BALDWIN: All right. Ambassador Robert Tuttle, thank you so much for the time. TUTTLE: Thank you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

We do have more on breaking news. A Democrat Senator inside that meeting says the president is lying when he says he didn't make those vial comments about African nations. Well, now the Republicans inside that meeting are responding as well. Stand by for that.


[14:40:35] BALDWIN: All right. So slowly all these different puzzle pieces coming together. Starting to here from these different governments who were in the room when the president reportedly said what's been reported.

So what I want to do is read from you a Republican from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, so part of his statement coming out of this is as follows: "Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I always believed America is an idea designed by ideals." Goes on, "The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. It was best said a long time ago, 'E Pluribus Unum,' out of many, one. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration, we cannot lose these American ideals."

David Axelrod, I get to talk to you now, CNN senior political commentator and former Obama adviser, host of "AXE FILES."

OK. We are now, again, like I said getting different pieces of the puzzle. Because the president is denying he said X, Y and Z. Heard from two Republicans Senators saying we don't recall. We heard from Democrat Senator Durbin most vial remark ever spoken in the Oval Office. Now you are seeing this from Lindsey Graham which sounds to me when he's saying I said my piece directly to him yesterday. Sounds like he's saying he called the president out. What do you think?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, AXE FILES: It did sound that way. It also should be noted that his colleague, Tim Scott from South Carolina, said that Senator Graham basically confirmed to him that the president said what was reported. So, yes, it does sound that way. Lindsey Graham has been walking a very delicate path here, trying to keep his relationship up with the president. He's become frequent golf partner while still stewarding this particular piece of legislation forward. He's been a long-time advocate of immigration reform. But it's a tough path to walk right now.

BALDWIN: So if you have Tim Scott corroborating and Lindsey Graham said he said it, Dick Durbin saying he said t I can't get over the fact that the president is straight up denying having said this, and that the sources are telling us here at CNN that he's actually loving this controversy. So, David, he's being called a racist, and he has hurt so many people, he has hurt America's image, and he's enjoying this? AXELROD: Look, Brooke, I said last night, and by the way, we should

point out that the White House itself last night after this was reported did not deny what he was reported to have said.

BALDWIN: Correct.

AXELROD: I'll say it last night, and I'll say it again, we know who this president is, and that question has been asked and answered. The question is who are we. And is this what we want to project to the world. I'm the son of a refugee who came from one of those broken places that the president would, in a modern-day context, would have called a shithole. And this country opened arms to him. This is why I love our country so much. And the strength of our country is we are a beacon all over the world who aspire and want to make something of their lives. And they have come and generations of immigrants. Because remember back then there was big resistance to the polls and Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe and so on. But it's been immigrants who have built this country. And the president, I know he doesn't read, but he should read some history or at least get on books on tape and understand what the immigrant experience has meant to this country.

BALDWIN: Well, he likes to read documents, David Axelrod. That's what I'm hearing. I'm winking at you as I'm saying that.

Let me read to you. We have a tweet from Hillary Clinton. This is what she said: "This anniversary of the devastating earthquake eight years ago is a day to remember the tragedy, honor the resilient people of Haiti, and affirm America's commitment to helping neighbors." She goes on, "Instead, we are subjected to Trump's ignorant racist views of anyone who doesn't look like him."

What do you make of that?

[14:45:16] AXELROD: Well, look, I mean she's not the only one who is saying that. I think there is a widespread feeling about this and about his words. And, you know, I think, as I said, when you see the reaction pouring in from around the world, we have to ask ourselves is this who we want our country to be. He is the president of the United States, but he is not the sum total of our country. What you hope is other leaders will stand up of both parties and say, this isn't who we are. We are the America we have always been. We welcome you to our shores. We understand that immigrants helped build our country. We want to be a refuge for people who are seeking it and need it and can also contribute to our society. I mean, we want to be that America. I think most persons do.

Now I'll say this. If the president was excited, perhaps it's because he's getting some reinforcement from his base who strongly believe in this message that we shouldn't be welcoming people. That this is competition for jobs. And that it dilutes our culture. This is the same argument, by the way, that was made against immigrants in my Father's Day, immigrants from, as I said, Europe and Italy and Poland and other places. So, you know, these are familiar arguments. We've heard them before. And in that base, which is where he lives, I mean, he lives in this silo, and he gets reinforcement in this silo, I think that he is getting some support. So perhaps that's why he's so intolerant about the mess he's made here.

BALDWIN: Hard to imagine. I love how you said he is the president, but he's not all of us.

Let me ask you about Condoleezza Rice. You did the interview with former secretary of state. We'll play the tape. This is when she's talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He is a terrific person. Straight shooter. I think he will push to a conclusion. I don't have any idea what it will be. I hope, frankly, it's over pretty soon. Because we need to get on with our business.

And by the way, I want to go back to one thing about Vladimir Putin. David, I think he loves the fact that we are spinning around about this. That our heads are blowing off. I would have preferred to say, we know you did it, and at a time of our choosing we will punish it, and you won't do it again.

AXELROD: Doesn't it send a mixed signal if the president calls it a hoax?

RICE: Well, the president shouldn't call it a hoax. Let's just say that.


BALDWIN: Let me quickly interject before -- I want to hear more from you. But May 14th -- speaking of Bob Mueller, just set a date, trial dates for both Manafort and Gates, May 14th. Tell me more about what -- what was your takeaway from that?

ALEXROD: That was interesting. Well, that was really interesting, because Condoleezza Rice served with Bob Mueller. He was FBI director when she was secretary of state. As national security adviser, she worked very, very closely with him. And as you can hear, she was effusive. She calls Mueller a terrific person and straight shooter. Also sending a message to the person when she said he should not call this a hoax, and very emphatic about that. It was a very interesting conversation. By the way, she volunteered in this conversation. This was before the events of yesterday, how much she disagreed with the president on the issue of immigration.

BALDWIN: How about that.

AXELROD: She was diplomatic, but she definitely made clear where she stood on many of these big issues. It was a great conversation.

BALDWIN: We cannot wait to watch "AXE FILES," Saturday, 7:00, here on CNN.

David Axelrod always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

AXELROD: Thanks, Brooke. You, too.

[14:49:37] BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up, amid growing outrage, one powerful moment is resurfacing. A Haitian immigrant weeping at West Point graduation. The story behind this image, next.


BALDWIN: In the wake of the president's comments, a photograph that stirred all kinds of emotion when it first went viral in 2016 has now resurfaced with new impact. This is Alex Adrochi (ph), a Haitian immigrant, weeping at his West Point graduation.

So let's go to Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon.

Barbara, you have you been looking into this young man's story. Tell me about him.

[14:54:36] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What an amazing young man, like so many immigrants who come to the United States. He was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2016, just seven years after he arrived in the United States from Haiti. He grew up in Porta Prince watching U.S. troops doing disaster relief missions over the years. His father, by all accounts, determined to see that his children got a better life than he did in such an impoverished country. When he graduated from West Point, he wept. He was so humble about what had happened to him.

But consider this, this young man graduated at the top of his class in the rating of physics. He had the top rating as a physics student when he graduated. We believe he has now gone onto flight school. Because he posted this comment when he graduated. I want to read it to everyone. He said, "Knowing that one day that highly be a pilot is humbling beyond words. I could not help being flooded with emotions, knowing that I'll be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life. To me, that is the greatest honor."

It is worth remembering every day for all of us that the United States military is an all-volunteer organization. Immigrants come to this country, they volunteer to join the military, serve the nation, the entire nation. And they are willing to give their lives for that service -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Bless him. We are full of gratitude for him, especially on days like today, when we hear things like that from the president.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Coming up next here, on this breaking story, President Trump asked during an MLK event today, is asked flat-out by the press, are you a racist. New details from inside that event as more Republican lawmakers are speaking out.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[14:59:49] BALDWIN: We continue on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN.

And this just in. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is now responding to the reports that the president called African nations shithole countries. This is coming after major fallout from what a source says happened in this bipartisan on immigration reform. The president not only insulted Africa, the sources tells us, also the nation of Haiti, asking, quote, "Why do we need more Haitians?"