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President Trump: 'I Am a Racist'; White House Criticizes WSJ Over Trump Interview. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That, I can tell you.

[05:59:14] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm telling you he did not use that word. It's a gross misrepresentation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He rejected a bipartisan deal brought to him by his own Republican senator, because he wants to make racial politics here.

TRUMP: (Inaudible) The Democrats are the ones that aren't going to make it--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats are negotiating in good faith.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We have a shutdown looming. We have to make sure this government runs and operates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it really is the case that a single employee could hit the wrong button, obviously, that system needs to be redesigned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to stay calm when we don't know what's happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It really highlights the stark reality that the people of Hawaii are facing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, January 15, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. The one and only Poppy Harlow here. Thank you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Did you see the Vikings last night?

CUOMO: I did. Amazing.

HARLOW: Just amazed by a week (ph).

CUOMO: Amazing. Harlow long time agonizing Vikings fan. Is this your year?

HARLOW: Yes, it is.

CUOMO: We'll discuss. Here's our starting line.

President Trump declaring he is not a racist, but the president has a credibility problem. He is denying he referred to Haiti and some African nations using the "S-hole" word. I've said the word enough. We've all said it enough. You know what he said.

His real problem is that he clearly expressed a preference for people from a place like Norway to brown people from hard-hit countries.

Now we have this sickening coverup going on, with lawmakers who were in the Oval Office disagreeing with each other about what was said. Some Republicans first said they couldn't recall. And now they say they do recall, and the president never said that.

But please, don't be distracted. No one denies the comparison that Trump made, the preference he stated, and that is the problem.

The president once again creating his own trouble, jeopardizing any DACA deal. Trump saying Democrats are holding up the deal on the so- called DREAMers as the threat of a government shutdown looms for this Friday. There are Democrats threatening to vote against funding legislation to keep the government open if it doesn't include protection for DREAMers.

HARLOW: And we'll ask two of the Democrats we'll have on today that exact question. Also this morning, the White House in a war of words with "The Wall Street Journal," disputing a quote from the paper's long interview with the president. Both sides released the audio of that contested exchange, and it's all over a contraction. Did the president say "I" or "I'd have" a very good relationship with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un?

Now also, on top of this over the weekend, the missile alert that sent residents and tourists scrambling for shelter in Hawaii. We're going to tell you the latest in that panic-inducing false alert that is raising -- raising hugely significant questions how this could happen. Why were there no checks on this?

We have it all covered this morning. Let's begin our Kaitlan Collins. She is live in West Palm Beach, Florida. The president is spending the holiday weekend. What are the developments this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a way to start Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the president, because he denied overnight that he made the derogatory remarks about countries in Africa and denying, as well, that he is a racist after the White House initially did not deny the president, that the president made those remarks. Then as this continues, just the outcry is continuing to grow over what really happened in that meeting at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump on defense after days of outrage over his disparaging comments about immigrants from Haiti and some African nations.

TRUMP: Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments? They weren't made.

COLLINS: Lawmakers who attended the meeting offering differing accounts about whether Mr. Trump referred to these countries as shitholes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeated.

COLLINS: The lone Democrat in the meeting, Senator Dick Durbin, arguing the president did use the vulgar characterization, while two of Mr. Trump's Republican allies said Friday that they did not recall the phrase before insisting Sunday that it did not happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did not use that word, George. And I'm telling you, it's a gross misrepresentation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't hear that word either. I certainly didn't hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly.

COLLINS: Senator Tim Scott telling "The Charleston Post and Courier" that fellow Republican Lindsey Graham told him the comments are basically accurate.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I was in a meeting directly afterwards where those who presented to the president our proposal spoke about the meeting. And they -- they said those words were used before those words went public.

COLLINS: The bitter infighting is stalling talks over a potential immigration deal that would protect DREAMers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't have an immigration compromise if everybody is out there calling the president a racist.

COLLINS: The president declaring Sunday morning that DACA is, quote, "probably dead," but later leaving the door open.

TRUMP: We are ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA, but I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal.

COLLINS: The stalemate raising concerns that the deal will not be reached ahead of Friday's budget deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I for one will not vote for government funding until we get a deal on DACA.

TRUMP: I don't know if there will be a shutdown. There shouldn't be.

COLLINS: President Trump also addressing this frightening false alarm in Hawaii.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. Pacific Command has detected a missile threat to Hawaii. A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes. This is not a drill.

COLLINS: The mistake sending panicked residents running for their lives. President Trump suggesting that tension with North Korea contributed to the chaos.

TRUMP: But part of it is that is people are on edge. But maybe eventually we'll solve the problem so they won't have to be so on edge. We have great talks going on. The Olympics you know about. A lot of things can happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, the only administration official to address the president's remarks is Homeland Security -- Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nelson, who was in the meeting at the White House. She said she doesn't recall the president making those remarks. But there is no denying that the outcry over these comments comes as the White House is in critical negotiations with Capitol Hill just days before the government is scheduled to run out of money, Chris and Poppy.

CUOMO: All right. Kaitlan, you're standing out there in that South Florida weather, so I have no problem keeping you a little bit longer. Let me ask you a couple of questions.

One, nobody denies the preference that the president stated and the comparison he made between brown people from Haiti and South America and African nations and people like Norway. Right? Nobody denies that comparison, true?

COLLINS: No one is denying that. The only thing they're denying is that specific vulgar language that the president used. But you have to look at the timeline here. Because the White House initially did not deny these remarks. They did -- they did not push back on this at all when the "Washington Post" reported it. And then several outlets quickly confirmed that the president made the remark in a room full of several other people.

And only now those two Republican senators, Senator Cotton and Perdue, also didn't deny that he said it. They said they didn't recall it. And a few days later, they denied the president made those remarks.

So you have to look at the shifting timeline here over did the president say it, did he not? And it's continuing to change.

CUOMO: Well, going from "I don't recall" to "I know he didn't say it" is just suspect. It just is.

But more importantly, Kaitlan, the night that this happened, there was a day that this happened. You spoke to someone at the White House who not only didn't deny it but said, "WE think that the base is going to be OK with this." In fact, the president's making calls, and his supporters are almost taking this as a victory lap. True or false?

COLLINS: Yes. That's exactly right. Not only was the White House not denying it, the president spent Thursday night, the day of this meeting, the day that these comments happened, phoning his friends, phoning his allies to see how they felt the remark was playing out in the media, what they thought the reaction to this was.

And then someone in the White House told my colleague, Gloria Borger, that the president was loving all the controversy and the outcry over this. And then the White House, they did not see this as a P.R. disaster as a typical administration would, because they actually thought the remarks would resonate with the president's base. Not alienating them.

Remember those attacks on the NFL that the president made. They thought it really mirrored that, as well. So no pushback from the White House privately or on the record about these comments at the beginning. And the president himself is saying he did use tough language. And I just referenced Homeland Security Secretary Nelson, she also said that the president speaks in tough language. So they do seem to be defending the sentiment of what the president said during that meeting.

HARLOW: OK. So I'm going to say two words this morning. One, he's not going to say them again, but this is Rich Lowry, who we're going to have on later, who for example, came in and said, "Look, he said shithouse..."

CUOMO: You want me to hold the baby's ears.

HARLOW: "-- not shithole." Thank you very much. Don't need to say it again.

You've got Erick Erickson, a conservative, saying, "Look, I talked to someone who was in a meeting immediately after, who said this, as well."

So whether it was that word or that word, the point is, let's bring in our Saba Hamedy, who's our CNN Politics reporter, co-author of "The Point" with Chris Cillizza. Karoun Demirjian joins us, as well.

Kaitlan, stick around, as well.

Karoun, to you, whether it was this word or that word, you've got not a complete flip from some of these Republican senators within a matter of 48 hours. What gives? Someone is lying, and the sentiment is what it is. And that's not debatable.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, this have been -- you've seen a lot of Republicans that were in the room, basically initially saying, "I don't recall what was exactly said. Or not willing to actually say things in public. They would actually put themselves on the record about what they heard the president saying what they thought about it."

And this is a close alternative that allows for some room for equivocation. It is the lesser of two evils in their minds right now. I mean, the fact that this has dragged on for so long. And now you have a he said/he said going on about what went on in the room, does not take this issue off the table, is the irony of all this. Right?

They're trying to cover for the president in some way. They're making it less bad than it initially seems. They're now starting to debate about what the exact word this was that he used. We continue talking about it. We continue debating it. We continue scrutinizing the president and his opinion of these countries and other things that he has said has been, you know, controversial over the last year of his presidency. So it seemed like it's an effort to make it go away but it's not making it actually go away.

CUOMO: Look, "house" versus "hole" with the invective in front of it, who cares? Saba, this is about the preference that he expressed. You're not hearing from all these countries. You know, the reports out this morning that the diplomatic corps from the U.S. are being called into the offices of these South Africans. They're angry. They're not angry just because of that word, Saba. They're angry because he said, "Why do we have to have these people..."

HARLOW: Here.

CUOMO: "-- and not more people from Norway." That's the preference. Nobody denies it. And isn't that his problem here?"

SABA HAMEDY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, definitely. And I think that he has had that problem for quite a while. I think that just using the word or whether he used it or not is just sort of -- you know, the most recent example and maybe the most extreme, you know, for the moment. But he spent his campaign, you know, basically offending all different types of minority groups. It's just kind of...

CUOMO: His record is clear. But now there's a new dynamic, Kaitlan. Now he has -- he has people working with him on it. Right? Because it just strains credulity. It strains common sense. But you're sitting in a meeting with Tom Cotton, like Will Perdue and others. And a word like this is excused. A sentiment like this is express, and you don't remember.

If they wanted to cover up for the president, they would have done it at jump. They would have said, "I was there. He never said this. Let's move on. There's more."

How is this playing for Cotton and for Perdue?

COLLINS: Well, look at how it goes. They went from saying they don't recall it to then insisting that he did not say it. If the president makes this comment like this in a meeting with 10 or so lawmakers and a few staffers. You're going to remember that he said that.

But parsing this and going back and forth on what this specific term was that the president used is a way to distract from the overall sentiment that the president made this remark during a very serious meeting on immigration at the White House that's going to affect hundreds of thousands of people. And this is the sentiment that the president expressed.

So it's easy -- it's important to not let it get lost in all of that, the overall criticalness of the discussion that the president was having with these lawmakers at the White House when he said this, when he expressed what he really thinks about these ongoing negotiations. This is really overshadowing just days before the government is going to run out of money.

So it really shows that the president has this penchant for speaking out, for speaking his mind, something the office often applauds him for often. We're see how that's getting in the way of critical negotiations with lawmakers on something that's going to affect a lot of American people.

HARLOW: You know, it wasn't just that Senator Perdue came out and said that he did not use that word. He went on to insist it was a, quote, "gross misrepresentation."

CUOMO: Will Perdue says it's a gross misrepresentation. And he puts it on -- David Perdue. And he puts it on Dick Durbin.

HARLOW: Exactly. And he says...

CUOMO: A Democrat who was in the room, saying this guy -- both of them say this guy has got a history of lying about what happens in White House meetings.

HARLOW: So the question is, as Chris just said, it's not about what the word was. It's about who the president wants in this country and who he doesn't. And by the way, how that all ties into DREAMers and the fate of these 600,000-plus people in this country, DREAMers waiting for something to get done, hopefully, for them by Friday.

So Karoun, to you, how does this impact the DACA negotiations? You heard Senator Rand Paul come out over the weekend on the Sunday shows and say, "If everyone is calling the president a racist, how can we get anything done on immigration?" That's one way to look at it. There are a lot of other ways to look into it, too. What does this do in your mind?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it doesn't necessarily help them along. I mean, the thing that the Democrats are probably trying to weigh right now is, you know, how far they were thinking they were going to get along if they played more nicely with the president. Which is, you know, we saw last week President Trump was out there saying, "I want a bill with love. We will do a clean DACA. No, we won't." You know, depending on who was asking the questions in that very long session is he held with members of -- members of Congress.

But if you've got an open spat, it becomes slightly more difficult to reach a deal. But if the deal was going to be something where the Democrats were going to have to swallow, you know, the president's wall, maybe that deal wasn't actually the greatest place to start out with. So that's kind of the open question right now. Where were they? When they left that room, had this comment not been made, were they actually at a point at which this was actually leading in a good direction or were they at an odds anyway? And so you're having this -- this debate about what the president actually said.

But really about what these sentiments are against a back drop where they weren't getting that much done anyway. So that is -- that is the kind of crux of it right now. And clearly, you know, this week looking towards the budget deadline. But then going out beyond that, you know, more time where they were going to be working on this now a little bit more time because of the court decision to actually stay. The full implementation.

But this is, you know, the first step. It doesn't bode, necessarily, very well for the steps that will follow.

HARLOW: That's a good point. Thank you all, ladies, very much. We appreciate it.

Ahead, the president clashing with "The Wall Street Journal." At the heart of the dispute, the contraction, did the president say, "I have" or "I'd have" when discussing his relationship with North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un. Why one letter is so important and why the president is fighting this now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:18:37] HARLOW: All right. So "The Wall Street Journal" this morning is standing by its reporting that President Trump said, quote, "I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong-un." Both "The Journal" and the White House have now released audio of this same interview. Because the White House insists the president did not say that. They say he said, "I'd have a good relationship."

CUOMO: The difference is him stating something that's almost impossible to believe, which is after all the hostility...

HARLOW: They have a relationship.

CUOMO: -- he has a good relationship or any relationship, you're right, versus him saying prospectively, "I'll be able to do it better."

HARLOW: Right. So it matters. The White House didn't dispute this, right? At the end of the interview...

CUOMO: They didn't.

HARLOW: -- he said how much he enjoyed it and was going to do this monthly.

So we're going to bring back in our analysts to look at this, Karoun Demirjian; and also with us CNN contributor Wes Lowery.

And guys, let's just play for our viewers both versions of this without transcription. You listen. Your ears, you decide. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: And I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong of North Korea.

And I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Wes, what do you hear?

WES LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think I hear the -- him saying it the way "The Journal" initially reported it.

[06:20:04] Now, look, I can see why someone might suggest there's a little ambiguity there. You know, it can be hard to figure out of there are contractions or not sometimes in speaking.

But the reality here, you know, I think what's interesting is that this is the battle the White House has chosen to fight, right? That it speaks to a vulnerable they perceive that they have. There have been so many questions about the president's competence, about his status, his mental capacity currently, about his behavior in some of these closed-door meetings.

And so the fact that they would so focus on whether it the word was "I" or "I'd," not that there's not a substantive difference, depending on what he said. You know, sometimes the -- you know, "the hit on hollers," right? The thing you focus on the most is the thing you're most concerned about.

CUOMO: You know what, Karoun. Just in the interest of progress, give it to him. Give it to him. He wasn't saying that he has a great relationship with the guy right now, which would be a preposterous notion. He's saying prospectively, "I'd be able to do it." It doesn't really change anything.

This is once again the president getting in his own way. On the eve of MLK Day, he expressed a preference for having white people in this country instead of brown people.

And that was on him. They say they record everything. Play the recording of that meeting. Play the part where you talk about it, and let's see what you said. And isn't the biggest part of this the comparison that he made. And now his fighting it and compromising Cotton and Perdue, if so, really is just another example of him getting in his own way and then trying to blame the meeting.

DEMIRJIAN: And in others' way, as well, who were his allies, really. Look, this is a selective reliance on tapes that does certainly beg the question of why. Look, I talked to members on Capitol Hill. Absolutely every single day and catching them off-guard. Sometimes people misspeak. You would be shocked at the number of times that people communicate something to me that is grammatically nonsensical, and it's not because they're not thinking straight. It just doesn't always come out of our mouths the exact way that we want it to. So the president could very easily have said, "You know what? Maybe it sounded like I said, you know, 'I have' but what I meant 'I'd have.' It should have been obvious, whatever, move on." But you know, he's digging in on this one and diffing in on the other one. And certainly, we're talking about both.

But as you said, the one seems to be an honest, you know, disagreement about what he precisely said/meant to say, which we do that all the time, versus the other one where it is -- you know, this is a really serious issue behind the argument they're having about which salty word he chose to use to describe people that probably don't want to be described either way.

HARLOW: Yes. Definitely don't want to be described either way and shouldn't be described either way.

Wes, the White House says, Sarah Sanders says, "Look, we went to 'The Journal' Friday morning. We asked them to correct the record on this. They would not. 'The Journal' is standing by its reporting. What do you make of the fact that this was -- was reported? I mean, is this sort of typical? Because the president says, "Oh, I wish I would have recorded that meeting at the White House with the senators on immigration, because then you'd hear that I," you know, in his mind didn't use that word.

Normal that this interview was recorded by the White House, as well?

LOWERY: I mean, so it's certainly normal that the interview was recorded by the journalists who were there.

HARLOW: Yes, but what about the White House?

LOWERY: It's not completely atypical. Oftentimes a politician or at least their handlers, or communications director, their spokesperson may themselves record an interview. I mean, when you talk about something happening in the White House or with the president, it's a little more rare. And it does raises the question, you know, this president has, in fact, previously threatened to record his meetings or suggested there were secret recordings of meetings that people did or did not know about.

The obvious and perhaps overdone comparisons would be to all the Nixon tapes that came out eventually. A bunch of, you know -- but I think that there definitely is some significance to the president of the United States recording it.

But beyond that, I think the greater significance is -- is the fact that, while this was recorded by everyone involved, the president's tack here was to say "The Wall Street Journal" just made something up initially, right? So there's no -- it wasn't, "Hey, this is what I intended to say, or perhaps, it was unclear. Let me clarify." He'd immediately jumped to "This is fake news. They're making it up. I definitely didn't say this."

And all the recordings show that a reasonable person can listen to that and conclude exactly what "The Wall Street Journal" did. CUOMO: Well, and that takes us, Karoun, to Jeff Flake, senator from

Arizona, not running again. All this talk about who will replace him. He wants to give a speech and he wants to indict the president of the United States for going against the media and trying to destroy the free press. What do we understand about his motivation and his hope here?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, Jeff Flake has announced now a while ago that he's planning on retiring. And he has kind of taken the gloves off since that happened to criticize the president very openly on many things that he thinks are important for the good of the country and beyond the term of when he'll be in office to actually, you know, have the -- have the podium to be talking about these things from the position that he has right now.

He was somebody who criticized his party when they rallied around Roy Moore. Now he's standing up and saying, you know, "You can't do this to the Fourth Estate, to the free press."

[06:25:07] It's -- you know, he's breaking with the GOP as they rally around Trump on various policy and just generally, you know, the issues that he considers moral issues for the country, basically. The question is how -- does anybody join him? And does he keep this up for other topics, as well, that are going to be important to discuss, especially as, you know, the president has made comments about everything from the press to the judicial branch.

I mean, there's an open panoply of options there, things that he could latch onto. Where will he decide to go, and how much oomph can he put behind his message?

HARLOW: You said he's not running again. Not running for Senate again, right? Is this all a--

CUOMO: A very key distinction.

DEMIRJIAN: May be running for something in 2020.

CUOMO: Key distinction.

Wes, Karoun, thank you very much. Enjoy Martin Luther King Day, both of you.

Queen Elizabeth, unscripted, in an unprecedented conversation, describing her coronation...

HARLOW: Wow.

CUOMO: -- 65 years ago. She can recall something that happened 65 years ago. Our senators can't even remember an hour ago. She wants to tell you the story of what she called a horrible day, next.