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Trump to Address Financial And Political Leaders at Davos; Trump Threatens to Cut Off U.S. Aid to Palestinians; At Least 39 Killed in South Korean Hospital Fire; Sudanese Migrants Tortured in Libya for Ransom; Trump's Visit to Davos Overshadowed by Vulgar Slur. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 00:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, welcome to Davos, sir. Sir, what's your message for everyone here, sir?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to talk about the role that America plays in the world. And as America grows, the world grows.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're not a cheerleader for your company or for your country, no matter what happens it's not going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President -- how can you be America First, when you're rubbing elbows with all these bigwigs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody can stop globalization. Nobody can stop trade. And I believe if trade stops, war stops.

TRUMP: It's very exciting to be here. Very happy to be here. The United States is doing very well. It will continue to do well. And this will be a very exciting two days. Thank you very much. Very exciting.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Very exciting days in Davos and the most excitement might yet be to come.

Hello -- everybody. I'm John Vause, live in Los Angeles.

In just a few hours, the U.S. president will deliver a special closing address to the World Economic Forum. Donald Trump's visit to this annual gathering of financial and political leaders has been seen by many as a showdown between the brash, America First president and the global elites he seems to despise.

Shortly after the President's chopper touched down in this exclusive resort town in the Swiss Alps, he was asked the question which has hung in the air for days.


TRUMP: You tell me.


VAUSE: Tell me. And many have asked how would Donald Trump treat everyone else? So far, it seems there has been conciliation, not confrontation.


TRUMP: I just want to say that there's been a lot of warmth, a lot of respect for our country, and a lot of money -- billions and billions of dollars is coming in to the U.S.

And people are very happy with what we've done not only on the tax bill but also cutting of regulations. And I think also being the cheerleader for our country. You know, if you're not a cheerleader for your company or for your country, no matter what happens it's not going to work.


VAUSE: But what happens when the President takes to the podium? That's anyone's guess.

Live now to CNN's Nic Robertson in Davos.

Ok Nic -- CNN has now confirmed an earlier report by the "New York Times", President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert Mueller, special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. According to four people told of the matter but he ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.

All of this now raises the question, Nic, will Donald Trump go off script, will he rip into the global elites and use his closing address as a chance to rally his base back home and divert all the attention away from this news?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, he's had his script, he would have had plenty of time to be adjusted to this news back home. And we do know that President Trump likes to fight back. And we do know that pretty much every time he gets into a one- on-one interview situation, he does like to remind whoever is interviewing him that there's nothing there that the Russian investigation can find, that Robert Mueller's not going to come up with anything, that there was no collusion with the Russians.

So this is an issue that he's been very prickly on. If you go back to June last year, that part of that "New York Times" report says that President Trump thought that Mueller should be fired because of all this. He's saying that he was unsuitable because number one, he'd been in a golf club that belonged to President Trump for which he'd resigned because the fees have gone up.

Another point that he raised was because Mueller had been -- had Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, as a client previously. There were several reasons that the President gave.

So he has -- he has certainly for sometime realized that he has little room to maneuver on this but this is fresh criticism, something he is very prickly about.

He is, when delivering speeches in this kind of forum doing it from a prompter, on script, tends to speak to the script. But as I say, there's plenty of opportunity to have that script tweaked.

We can expect him to deliver a message that's going to resonate with his base and they very well push back on everything that's been said here by so many leaders in Davos already this week -- John.

VAUSE: Well, as far as expectations there in Davos, a prominent Dutch politician who's a member of the European parliament. She spoke to Politico ahead of the President's address and said this. "With low expectations it will not take much to exceed them. Still at the end of the day, while words matter, actions always speak louder than words." The actions she's referring to was the decision by Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.

So is that view -- is that shared by many there at Davos?

[00:04:55] ROBERTSON: You know, I think when you listen to the words of Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian prime minister, to the words of President Macron, the French president who said, you know, taking about -- both talking about Europe -- that's it's stronger. President Macron said we need to have a ten-year vision.

All of this speaks to what Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who's also given an address here, what she said last year which was because of President Trump and this was before he even withdrew the United States from the Paris climate change agreement. We need to rely on ourselves. We need to look ahead.

So I think there is a certain feeling that the bar is low that I don't think they're particularly looking to hear anything positive but will be welcome if they came. But if there was -- if it runs true to form, the form that they expect here, many of the leaders they have already made their decision.

That decisions that are in their national interests and the way that they need to deal, their countries need to deal with the United States during the period while President Trump is in the administration, recognizing that he won't be president -- that he won't be president forever. And that there will be somebody else in the White House who they want to continue to have share those national interests.

Security is one of them. Countering terrorism is one of them. But when it comes to dealing with globalization there is a rift of difference. And I don't think anyone here is expecting to -- expecting President Trump to go off his own well-narrated scripts, well-set out script by all the White House administration officials who've been here in recent days.

No one I think here is expecting that bar to move at all -- John.

VAUSE: Maybe he's learned that lesson from that NATO summit last year. Anyway, before he actually made the speech, pretty much I think, the historic meeting there at Davos, Donald Trump spent some time with the British Prime Minister Theresa May. He had some fence- mending to do.


TRUMP: The Prime Minister and myself have a really great relationship. Some people don't necessarily believe that but I can tell you I have a tremendous respect for the Prime Minister and the job she's doing. And I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot. And there was a little bit of a false rumor out there. I just wanted to correct it.


VAUSE: You know, judging by the body language I learned it seems the President may have a little more work to do, I think -- Nic.

We have lost Nic. Ok.

Well, luckily we have Dominic Thomas with us here to talk more about how European leaders are dealing with this balancing act in Davos and the visit from the U.S. President.

Dominic is the chair of the Department of French and Francophone studies at the UCLA.

Ok. We lost Nic but let's just pick up where we were with Nic. You know, on this reaction that we had from Theresa May to Donald Trump, this is what she said after Donald Trump, you know, sort of was gushing over her. Listen to this.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We continue to have a really special relationship between U.K. and the United States. (INAUDIBLE) because we are faced with many challenges across the world. As you say, we're working together to defeat those challenges --


VAUSE: You know, she was polite, not exactly effusive. It was businesslike. It wasn't personal. So I guess, politically, how boxed in is Theresa May when it comes to dealing with Donald Trump.

DOMINIC THOMAS, FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES, UCLA: I think when you juxtapose what she said to what Donald Trump said, she's talking about state to state meetings and benefits. She depersonalized his comment.

VAUSE: Yes. THOMAS: It wasn't about Donald Trump is my best friend. Now, of course she's in a precarious position. She's not the most popular individual in the United Kingdom today. She doesn't have many friends in Europe.

And Donald Trump is, of course, a problematic figure but has made things difficult for her and his re-tweets of fire right British political groups, his public comments and so on. That made it very difficult for her to articulate that proximity to the United States.

Now, in a post-Brexit world, a free trade deal or a trade deal with the United States is, of course, of absolute paramount importance to her and she realizes that. This is a delicate relationship but the future of post-Brexit Britain in her mind is to be mediated through the United States. And so that relationship is important.

VAUSE: Ok. Here's some reporting from Politico on the reaction in Davos from European leaders when they are asked about Donald Trump.

The customary pose is mournful words with a furrowed brow. How troubling to have a U.S. president who sounds contemptuous of international institutions and the connected world they promote.

The grimace however sometimes conceals a smirk. For a generation, many leaders fretted that the United States had become an unchecked hyperpower, a lament not heard much at Davos this year."

[00:09:55] So you know, there is this fine line, you know, with European leaders that was maybe playing out in Davos, you know, between concern about, you know, sort of growing American isolationism and pulling back and sheer glee at maybe the opportunities that that could present.

THOMAS: Yes. And the very fact that the President of the United States is there which, of course, is the first U.S. president to set foot there since Bill Clinton in 2000, almost 20 years ago at the end of his presidency. He's a president who arrives in Davos with deregulation policies, with a $1.5 trillion tax concession to corporations, and a United States that is open to the world for business.

He's sort of like a cheap salesman there. I mean he talks about the United States and the business -- really to him the United States is a business. And he's eager to open this up to the world. His very presence there vis-a-vis his base is ambiguous because he is, of course, fraternizing with these global elites.

But what he can argue and will probably do so in his closing speech is that he's tough on trade deals. He's going back over those Obama-era trade deals which he presents as being so negative to the United States and bringing corporations to the United States, therefore jobs and prosperity to Americans. It's quite a clever strategy in that regard.

What's lost in the translation we could talk about a little bit more is the whole notion of the America First question. VAUSE: Well, you know, it's a bizarre world when a year ago, you know, the President of China is there talking up open markets and free trade; a year later the American president arrives talking about protectionism and America First.

THOMAS: Right. And the whole purpose of this conference, the theme in this particular year is to talk about a shared future in a fractured world. There is no individual on the planet today who is more responsible for this fractured world than this sort of move away from multilateralism from agreement from the Paris Climate Accord -- all of this questions are absolutely essential.

President Macron got a standing ovation. Angela Merkel talked about the importance of multilateralism. So this America First agenda is precisely what Europe has been struggling with for the past few years is when one says France first, Britain first, Italy first in Europe -- this is the language of the far right political parties, of populist parties, of radical right parties that the liberal democratic values of the E.U. have been struggling with and that had been so deeply divisive when it has come to the question of globalization.

And that's an important aspect of last year potentially in his rhetoric.

VAUSE: You mentioned the French President Emmanuel Macron -- apparently he was the one who convinced Donald Trump to attend Davos. When Macron opened his speech at Davos, he started with a climate change joke which seemed to be at the expense of Donald Trump.


EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: For sure with Davos, when you look outside, especially coming -- arriving in this building it could be hard to believe in global warming. Obviously and fortunately you didn't invite anybody skeptical with global warming this year.


VAUSE: You know, it ended with a wink at the end, you know, not too subtle. This is a joke. Everyone got it. But it does say so much about Europe's opinion of the U.S. president.

THOMAS: Right. And he's completely picking up on the recent awful weather that the East Coast of the United States was hit with and that Donald Trump used as an example as to the non-existence of global warming, of climate change, and so on.

So this relationship with Macron is interesting. I mean he obviously has emerged as one of the major global leaders, one of the leaders of Europe, particularly as Angela Merkel has been so embroiled in complex coalition talks. And here we have, you know, Emmanuel Macron who has developed this relationship with President Trump that seems to be one of the global leaders who is able to sit down with him and engage in conversation, who has just been invited officially at an official state dinner in the United States and will be here later this year at a time when Trump is not really welcome in the United Kingdom and has been trying to sort of rebuild that.

And Emmanuel Macron seems to be able to both joke about this, to bring this obvious elephant in the room, which is this major disagreement over the question of climate to perhaps potentially deflate the situation as a way to pursue a conversation rather than getting President Trump's back up against the wall and to have him be so defensive that he's unwilling to yield on this question.

VAUSE: It's interesting. You know, Stephen Colbert, the host of "The Late Show" on CBS had a little fun with that invitation to Donald Trump from Emmanuel Macron.


STEPHEN COLBERT, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Macron is clearly just trying to embarrass Trump here -- right. Oui, oui, go to Davos, Mr. Trump. They will love you there. Wear that wonderful little hat with the words on it and one of those ties that go down to your knees. It is tres chic.


VAUSE: Yes. The reality is quite different. That's not he at all. I mean Emmanuel Macron, as you say, is sort of playing this mediator role with Trump.

[00:15:03] THOMAS: Yes. And so, of course, you know, Donald Trump treated him to this very respectful and official state visit to France, took him out to the Eiffel Tower. And of course, one can imagine Donald Trump taking him to the Trump Tower, you know.

So this sort of competition here --


THOMAS: Right -- between the two here and it's going to be -- that's going to be an interesting visit to watch and how that goes down in Europe.

VAUSE: Macron could end up being Europe's Trump, we'll probably see.

Dominic -- thank you. Good to see you.

VAUSE: Well, shortly after arriving in Davos, the U.S. president met with a friendly face, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And ahead of that meeting, Trump broke with long-standing U.S. practice taking a very hard line with the Palestinians and threatening to cut off millions in dollars of aid if they did not return to peace talks with Israel.

We've got details now from Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are the strongest words we've heard from President Donald Trump directly aimed at Palestinian leaders. Trump said the Palestinians disrespected the Americans by not meeting with Vice President Mike Pence when he was here this week and seemed to say he would threaten cutting even more U.S. aid to the Palestinians if they didn't agree to a peace process.

Trump insists there still is a U.S. plan for peace but his latest statements put the White House firmly on the side of the Israelis that's great for the Israeli government and for Trump's base.

But a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fired back at the Trump administration saying if Jerusalem is off the table, then the Americans are off the table meaning no negotiations with Israel led by the U.S.

Abbas was just in Europe trying to convince E.U. countries to recognize the State of Palestine and trying to create an alternative to a U.S.-led peace process. However King Abdullah of Jordan, speaking in Davos, said there can be no peace process or political solution without the U.S.

Meanwhile Trump directly contradicted statements from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Trump said Jerusalem is off the table while speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meaning Jerusalem isn't open for negotiation.

Just a few hours later, Haley speaking at the U.N. said the U.S. has done nothing to prejudge the final borders of Jerusalem.

So where does all that leave a peace process? Where it's been for years in a deep freeze.

Oren Liebermann, CNN -- Jerusalem.


VAUSE: And stay with CNN for continuing coverage from Davos. Joining our Becky Anderson in the coming hours David Beasley the executive director of the World Food Programme, William Lacey Swing director of the International Organization for Migration, and Frederick Kempe president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.

We will take a short break.

When we come back dozens have been killed in a hospital fire in South Korea. We are live in Seoul with the very latest.

Also migrants tortured and held for ransom in Libya. The terrifying video that led to military action, ahead.


[00:19:54] VAUSE: Well, at least 39 people have been killed and more than 70 injured after fire swept through a hospital in South Korea. Around 200 people were reportedly inside the building and adjoining nursing home in the southeastern city of Miryang.

Officials say the fire is now out. This is said to be South Korea's deadliest fire in almost a decade and it's feared the death toll could rise.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now, live from Seoul, South Korea. So Paula -- what more is known about the cause of the blaze and why the death toll is so high?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John -- we've had a number of briefings, there's no word yet on what exactly the cause was.

We're being told where it started. They it was on the ground floor emergency room of the hospital that then spread to the second floor as well. But they say they did prevent it from spreading to the third floor.

The adjoining nursing home, we understand there were no fatalities in that particular area. But as you say, 39 killed. The number of injured has gone up as well -- 18 critical, 113 non-critical in the building as well.

So we don't know exactly what caused this fire. We don't what caused it to spread so quickly either. We know that it started just after 7:30 in the morning. And according to firefighters who rushed to the scene they say it took until about 10:30 in the morning to put out the flames and to be able to do a proper search of the area.

Now one of the medical center facility chiefs said that he believes that the number of deaths was so high because there were very elderly patients within there.

He said many of them died from suffocation on the second floor. It was actually the ICU, the intensive care unit. And many of the patients there were simply unable to move.

And an interesting fact as well, on duty at that time for almost 200 patients, there were two doctors and nine nurses. So clearly very difficult for such a low amount of personnel to be able to move people quickly -- John.

VAUSE: Paula -- thank you. We appreciate the update. Paula Hancocks there live in Seoul.

Now to Libya where a group of Sudanese immigrants appear to have been kidnapped by human traffickers and then brutally tortured. The torture was then videotaped. The disturbing images were posted on social media as part of a ransom demand.

CNN has not independently verified those videos. And a warning -- there are graphic and shocking images in this report from CNN's Nima Elbagir.



-- whimpering as the men were forced to raise their heads to the camera. One man screams to the torturer, (INAUDIBLE).

ELBAGIR: The families of the men shown hear tell CNN that they were sent these videos as ransom demands. And they disseminated those tagging CNN to raise awareness of what was happening.

But that's not all. There was another video of a man being tortured -- oil and fire dripping on their backs. And that's really all we can show you. The rest is -- is too horrifying and it's hard to imagine but these are actually the lucky ones.

The pictures we're showing here -- these are pictures disseminated by the Libyan Special Forces after they say they carried out an arrest of the traffickers suspected of sending and filming those horrifying videos.

There are hundreds of thousands of African migrants held hostage by traffickers as they attempt to cross via Libya, to pursue their dreams of Europe.

There are those still now as we speak held under horrible conditions of depravation and torture. An ongoing CNN investigation has traced many of these money trails crisscrossing across the globe.

We spoke to the families of victims in Sudan who were given bank accounts, who were given agents to hand the money over to. We were shown receipts from money transfers. This is a global criminal network. And it is still active as we speak.

The Sudanese foreign ministry says that it has summoned the Libyan charge d'affaires in Sudan to register its process and it's warning its nationals not to cross illegally through Libya, not to attempt the illegal migration routes to Europe.

But is it enough? That remains to be seen. All we know is that thankfully, miraculously, the man that you see here are for now safe.

Nima Elbagir, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: Well, the Libyan foreign ministry has released a statement on the torture case saying in part, "The foreign ministry renews its condemnation and in the strongest terms of this criminal act and stresses the continued efforts of the government of national reconciliation to achieve security and stability for its citizens and foreign residents on Libyan territory of various nationalities."

[00:25:10] And we'll be back after this.


VAUSE: Welcome back -- everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.

I'm John Vause with the headlines this hour. At least 39 people have been killed in a fire at a hospital in South Korea. More than 70 have been injured. Officials say many of the dead are elderly who appear to have suffocated. The fire apparently broke out in the first floor emergency room.

A source has confirmed to CNN, U.S. President Donald Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. That was just weeks after Mueller took over the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Mr. Trump backed down after the White House legal counsel threatened to quit. We reached out to the White House but they declined to comment.

And President Trump is warning he will withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to the Palestinians if the leaders do not agree to return to peace talks with Israel.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pushed back on this saying the U.S. has abandoned its role as an honest broker after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and they won't negotiate until the Trump administration abides by international law and agrees to work towards a two-state solution.

Donald Trump made those remarks while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He will address the group in the coming hours and is expected to promote his protectionist message of America First which runs counter to the globalization which is being embraced by so many there at Davos.

Well, Donald Trump -- he's only in Davos for two days but a lot has already happened in that very short time.

Let's go back to Nic Robertson in Davos -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Yes. Good morning -- John.

Well, you know, expectations were perhaps set quite low but with President Trump the expectation is always that something can happen that appears to be off the intended message.

He arrived saying that he wanted peace and prosperity -- that was his message. Things unraveled fairly quickly after that.


ROBERTSON(voice-over): He may be a polarizing figure but the U.S. President Donald Trump still commands everybody's attention when he walks into a room. His message on arrival --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President -- sir, what's your message for everyone here, sir?


TRUMP: Peace and prosperity. [00:29:56] ROBERTSON(voice-over): But minutes later the message of goodwill was apparently gone. And it was back to more familiar territory ahead of a meeting with Israeli prime minister. President Trump threatened to cut off more aid to the Palestinians.

TRUMP: That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate.We took Jerusalem off the table.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Explosive remarks that will reverberate across the Arab world. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' office has already issued a defiant response.

"If Jerusalem is off the table, then America if off the table as well," President Abbas' official spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh (ph) said in a phone call with CNN.

The president has been causing waves elsewhere, too, his visit to Davos overshadowed by controversy around his alleged description of African countries as "shithole" nations in a meeting with U.S. lawmakers.

Trump may experience a frosty reception meeting some African leaders for the first time since the comments. South Africa's ANC leader had this to say.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, ANC PRESIDENT: President Trump, as a leader of an important country like the United States, it is important for you not to disrespect or show any disrespect to any country in the world.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But not everyone is outraged by President Trump's remarks Ugandan president Museveni saying he loved Trump's honesty.




MUSEVENI: I love Trump because he says (INAUDIBLE).


ROBERTSON (voice-over): While Trump later denied making the comments, he set off a diplomatic uproar from African and global leaders. Rwanda's foreign ministry describing them at the time as "demeaning and unnecessary."

Now as Trump comes face-to-face with Rwanda's president Paul Kagame, the head of the African Union, the world will be watching and listening closely.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: When he talks to some of the delegations here, they do say that President Trump's straight talking, you know, what he says is what you get, that there's no guessing about what he really means, what is wrapped up in the nuance of some high-faluting comment.

There is none of that with President Trump and they appreciate that. However a South African businessman has written to -- an open letter to other members of the South African delegation that are here, that the best way to show their displeasure with President Trump is, when he begins his keynote speech, rather than boycott the whole thing altogether, when he begins his keynote speech, is to get up, stand up, quietly, quietly, respectfully, and walk out of the room.

That's the best way to show him what they really think. We don't think that's going to happen here -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: It's funny you should mention the president style and the words he uses because we've got a little more on that coming up. Nic, thank you.

A programming note here. CNN's special coverage of President Trump's speech at the World Economic Forum begins at 12:30 pm in London, 1:30 pm in Davos.

A short break here and, as promised, Donald Trump and that unique style setting a tone the U.S. has never seen before, fallout from the insult comment (INAUDIBLE).





VAUSE: Donald Trump has been called the insult comment in chief, giving nicknames to political oppositions like Little Marco and Cryin Chuck which proved to be devastatingly effective. From these early salvos in the campaign until this day, Trump has mocked, slurred and humiliated seemingly without hesitation Mexicans, women, judges, Jews, the list goes on.

And those schoolyard antics, the taunts and bullying can be contagious.

Remember the Republican Conversation in 2016?

The crowd was whipped into a frenzy over Hillary Clinton and her imagined wrongdoings.


VAUSE (voice-over): Just this week, Lynn Patten (ph), a senior official with Housing and Urban Development, appointed by the president, apologized for a now-deleted tweet insulting reporter April Ryan.

"I hear Miss Piggy's still on a rampage. Gee, I must've struck a nerve, @AprilRyan"

On Monday, singer and feminist Cher sent out this tweet, saying, "Someone should tell White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to stop dressing like a sister wife."


VAUSE: Yes, that was Cher, fashion advice.

Mind you, Sarah Sanders isn't known for pulling her punches.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that the premise of your question is completely ridiculous and shows the lack of knowledge that you have on this process.

Let me be very clear on this, the fact that you're basically accusing the president of being complicit in a school shooting is outrageous.

The press loves pick -- every single week, there's another one of us leaving so we'll see what fake news is pushing next week --


VAUSE: And that's just this week and the week is not over yet. It's been a depressing spiral into the nasty and mean, especially so for anyone who remembers this moment from the 2008 presidential campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not -- he's an Arab. He is not...



MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He said is a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about.


VAUSE: Oh, John McCain, he (INAUDIBLE).

Republican commentator Lanhee Chen was the public policy director for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He is with us now from Stanford.

You know, Lanhee, one reason why I wanted to talk to you about this is because you worked for Mitt Romney. I've met Governor Romney a number of times over the years. You can say what you will about his policy, he is a profoundly decent person and his campaign was a reflection of that.

So how do we go from that to what we've got now?

It just seems a little bit too easy to blame all of this on Donald Trump.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER ROMNEY PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR: Yes, John, I don't think we can blame all of it on Donald Trump. I think what we've seen is the steady decline of civility in American politics. You see this all over the country. You see it in congressional races.

You even see it in local races, the degree to which people are willing to impugn each other. I remember a time, John, when using the word "liar" to describe your opponent was verboten. You just wouldn't do it on a campaign but now it's commonplace.

So we've obviously come to a place in just a few short years -- it's very, very different from when Governor Romney ran for president.

VAUSE: If you look back at the last 12 months or so, is the biggest impact of the Trump presidency so far, it is actually on Americans themselves in terms of attitude, of the resentment and hostility toward each other?

CHEN: Americans are remarkably divided, John, and that's one thing that I think maybe people from the outside intuit or they sense but maybe they don't realize just how significant the divisions are, such that people who support Donald Trump can't even stand to be in the same room as people who oppose him and vice versa.

So that dynamic is one that I think we're seeing all over the country. I don't think we can understate the order or, you know, certainly underestimate the degree to which there is this polarization and division in the American electorate.

I'd argue that the partisanship in Congress, the way that members of Congress treat each other, that's certainly at an all-time low as well. So I don't think that this is exaggeration. I don't think this is hyperbole, John. I think the American political system has reached a new low in that sense.

VAUSE: But the tone of the country in so many ways is that from the Oval Office and it seems that this is a president who, in many ways --


VAUSE: -- has deepened those divisions over the last 12 months.

CHEN: There is no question that people look to the office of the presidency as an example and that's always been the reason why, in presidential elections, there's been an argument that character matters because, at the end of the day, people do look to the commander in chief for an example in and they do want to be able to see in that office something that's aspirational.

And for all the things that we've seen, I think there are certainly unprecedented expressions of anger, unprecedented expressions of outrage, unprecedented expressions directed at individual people or groups of people that I think is highly unfortunate.

So that is something that certainly contributes to the tone and some of the nastiness we've seen around the politics.

VAUSE: In the past, there was always this hope that political differences over policy would not become personal. Listen to Barack Obama after a shellacking in the 2010 midterms.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Figure out those areas where we can agree on, move forward on those, disagree without being disagreeable on those areas that we can't agree on.


VAUSE: "Disagree without being disagreeable," I don't know if we were ever there in the politics but we were a lot closer a few years ago than we are now.

Is it possible to get back to that point or has this horse now bolted?

CHEN: It's such a quaint notion, isn't it, John, the idea that we can have a discussion about policy and disagree without getting completely on each other's nerves. I don't know if it's reconcilable at this point. I would hope it is. I do think it's going to take leadership from the top.

I think it's going to take leadership all up and down the different levels of government. You're always going to find a few bad apples; I'm not saying that there wasn't polarization and there wasn't this kind of rancor before President Trump or before Barack Obama.

It is just that now we seem to have it at a different level and just the magnitude and the degree to which this is happening seemingly every day, I do think that's unprecedented. I think that's something that certainly the tone of the country, if I just think back to the 2012 election, certainly I think if Mitt Romney had been elected president, things may have been different in that regard.

But the nature and the tone of the conversation would certainly have been different.

VAUSE: Yes, Governor Romney, is certainly an example of what politicians should aspire to in personal dealings and the way he conducts his life. The excuse you often hear from Trump defenders is that the president just says what most Americans are either thinking of they're saying it. You debate whether it's most or some.

But there are real consequences when the President of the United States does not have a filter and he talks like Joe Six-Pack, right?

CHEN: It may be the case that he's expressing the view of some or as you say, many Americans. But that's not the point. The point is that we treat our public officials in the United States -- we should treat them differently. We should hold them to a different standard and whether that's the president or a member of the U.S. Senate or a member of the Congress, those individuals are held to a different standard.

Now for the president, it's a little different because the president is the leader of the entire country. He's the only person that has a national constituency in the United States. And that does set the president apart.

And in that sense I do think we can expect and demand more of the president and his dealings the way that he expresses himself and that would be the case for Donald Trump. It would be the case for any president, that we would hold him to that higher standard.

VAUSE: Exactly. This is not about Donald Trump; this is about the influence of the Oval Office and the presidency has on the rest of the country.

Lanhee, thank you so much. Great conversation. I really appreciate it.

CHEN: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. "WORLD SPORT" is up next. You're watching CNN.