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Trump Holds News Conference as Ex-Aide Pleads Guilty. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly will. Just to set the stage here, these are two leaders who had a rocky start at the beginning of President Trump's administration. As you'll recall, that contentious phone call they had about refugees. The two men have seemed to put that behind them and have warmer relations.

But you can imagine, Wolf, that gun control will be one of the key lines of questioning here when the president does take questions from reporters really on both sides, because Australia is a country that has combated gun violence as well. As you recall there was a mass shooting in the '90s where 35 people were killed. And since then Australia took very strong measures to cut down on gun violence. So, that will likely be brought up.

And also, the president's suggestion that teachers who are highly adept should be armed and other proposals and what the specifics are or details to back them up and how he could turn these ideas into action will likely come up. A lot of topics on the domestic front beyond that, though, Wolf, including just today, the plea deal of a third person from his campaign in Robert Mueller's Russia probe, that will likely come up. And what the president has to say about that, if he is concerned and if he maintains that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Also, Jared Kushner's security clearance is another topic top of mind here in this room because since John Kelly's new memo saying those with an interim clearance can no longer look at top secret information. Jared Kushner fits into that group. So, the question will be, will the president give him any special exceptions? That will likely come up as well. A lot of questions here today for these two world leaders, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we'll, of course, stand by for live coverage of that, this joint news conference, the president and prime minister of Australia.

Pamela, thank you very much.

We're also getting word right now that former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates could be about to flip and offer up incriminating information in Robert Mueller's special investigation into Russia's election meddling here in the United States. Gates revealing in a letter to close family members and friends that he has had a, quote, change of heart and won't be fighting the criminal charges against him. We just saw gates, by the way, walking into a federal court here,

courtroom here in Washington. He will plead guilty to these charges.

I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz, our CNN crime and justice reporter.

Shimon, tell us exactly what we know about this guilty plea.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, two things here, Wolf, that are important to note, right? And so, you have this guilty plea. But really what it means for the overall case, I think that is the most important point here in that this puts pressure, perhaps, on Paul Manafort. We know that investigators have been wanting, have been really wanting Manafort to cooperate, and this could, perhaps, put pressure on him to do so.

We have no indication obviously that Manafort would do so but there's every indication that this is partly why the special counsel is doing this.

Now, as to Rick Gates, he's pleading guilty to two counts. We expect -- one of them has to do with the overall investigation, and the fraud charges, and the tax charges. So, you have that. But the second one, I think, is the most interesting charge is the making of false statements to the special counsel, and that has to do with when he appeared before the special counsel just a couple of weeks ago, on February 1st and it was during that time that he was discussing a potential cooperation agreement and what they call a proffer in where he has to tell them everything he knows about crimes that had been committed, his own crimes, perhaps other crimes and just really be an open book about everything he knows.

And according to the charging documents that he's going to plead guilty to, it says that he lied to the special counsel about his knowledge concerning a meeting that Paul Manafort had with a congressman in 2013 where there has discussions of Ukraine. And when the special counsel investigators and the FBI asked them about questions from that 2013 meeting, according to these documents, Rick Gates lied about it. Now, it's not clear why he lied about it, but that is one of the charges he is pleading guilty to. And it's just interesting that they have reached far back, the FBI, the special counsel has reached as far back as 2013 in this case.

BLITZER: Shimon, stand by.

It looks like the doors are opening, the senior delegations from the U.S. and Australia. They're walking in. We see some of the top officials, the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence is there right now, secretary of state is there, the secretary of commerce.

So, they are seated. The president will be introduced. The prime minister will be introduced. We'll get opening statement from both of these leaders. They will be followed by questions, there you see the first lady walking in as well. She's there with the first lady of Australia, with the prime minister's wife. They spent some quality time together earlier in the day over at the White House. You know, Gloria, the president's opening statement will be on

U.S./Australian relations and the prime minister will speak about the same. But then the questions begin. A question from an American journalist, followed by a question by an Australian journalist, then an American journalist, then an Australian journalist.

[14:05:06] Four questions, but usually, we'll see if this happens, some of those questions, especially by the American reporters, are multi -- several questions in one. Here is the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Today, I'm honored to welcome my friend, Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia and Mrs. Turnbull. Thank you very much. It's great honor.

We're looking forward to sending our newly nominated ambassador, Admiral Harry Harris, to very shortly. He's an outstanding man. You're going to find that he is a great man.

I want to thank the prime minister for offering his condolences on the horrible tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Americans are grateful for the prayers and support of our Australian friends, and friends they are, as our entire nation grieves the senseless loss of 17 precious lives and all the horribly injured. The United States and Australia are currently honoring 100 years of mateship, a term that you used very beautifully, Mr. Prime Minister.

A century has passed since brave Americans and Australians first fought together in World War I. Over the last 100 years, our partnership has thrived as a bulwark of freedom, security and democracy. Last spring, the prime minister and I celebrated the remarkable 100-year milestone during an extraordinary evening on the USS Intrepid.

And my friend, Greg Norman and Anthony Pratt and some of the others in the room today, they were -- hello, folks. Stand up, Greg. Stand up, Anthony. Where is Anthony? Good. It was a great evening. Thank you.

This afternoon, I'm pleased to announce that the United States will named the Littoral Combat Ship 30 the USS Canberra in honor of Australian crews lost fighting alongside the U.S. Navy during World War II. Our secretary of the navy has chosen Australian Minister of Defense Marise Payne to be her sponsor. I know that the USS Canberra will be a worthy successor to both her Australian namesake and her American predecessor, the former Navy Baltimore class heavy cruiser, USS Canberra. As she sails the open sea, the new USS Canberra will symbolize to all who cross her path the enduring friendship between the United States and Australia. There is no closer friendship.

Today, strengthened by our common values and history, we're working together to promote our mutual interests. I want to thank the prime minister for serving as a strong voice for peace and stability across the entire Indo-Pacific Region. Australia is one of our closest partners in our campaign of maximum pressure to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Today, we put the strongest sanctions on Korea that we have ever put on a country. We must continue to stand together to prevent the brutal dictatorship from threatening the world with nuclear devastation. Our nations, likewise, share a commitment to keeping our people safe. Australian troops are currently serving alongside Americans and our partners in Afghanistan and the coalition to defeat ISIS.

Today, we're denying terrorists' safe haven, cutting off their funding and discrediting their wicked ideology. ISIS land has been largely recaptured almost 100 percent. I'm very honored to say. And they are on the run.

Our strong partnership can also be seen in our flourishing economic relationship. Australia remains the key market for U.S. defense products. We make the greatest products in the world, so you have very good taste in choosing our product. Automobiles and aircraft and our fair and reciprocal trading relationship is a model for other countries as we seek bilateral agreements.

News that America is open for business has also reached Australian shores. In May, Australian entrepreneur Anthony Pratt announced a new $2 billion investment in box making factories across the United States.

But he only did that if Trump won the election, I think. Is that a correct statement, Anthony?

[14:10:00] Thank you. Boy, that was a close one. I was worried.

(LAUGHTER)

These people would have had a field day if you gave the wrong answer. Thank you.

No, but Anthony did call and he said if he wins the election, we're going to spend billions of dollars in the United States and I appreciate your giving me a very, very correct comment. Thank you, Anthony. I'll never do that again.

This investment will continue to build on an almost 100,000 American jobs that are taking place and already supportive by Australian companies. I'm glad to share that the United States is also, by far, the largest investor in Australia. In the room today are dozens of American and Australian business leaders and great athletes, great athletes and business leader, by the way, Greg, who are working together to identify further opportunities for bilateral investment and cooperation.

Mr. Prime Minister, I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on your immigration reforms and on Australia's commitment to merit-based immigration. Are my friends from Congress listening to that? Merit based. We want to do merit-based immigration also. And we will. That really protects the interest of Australia and its people. It's

the way to go. You've been very successful with it. Here, we're working very hard to do the same. In that sense, we're going to hopefully follow in your footprints.

Prime Minister Turnbull, it's been a pleasure to host you today. Great lunch with your representatives. A lot was discussed and lot of deals were made for the purchase of additional military equipment and other things. For a century now, the people of the United States and Australia have inspired the world with their determination, their bravery and their generosity.

I know that our close friendship and enduring alliance and our personal friendship will grow even stronger in the century to come. Our relationship with Australia will always be a very powerful and very successful relationship. It's been incredible and it's only getting better. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Mr. President, thank you so much. Lucy and I want to thank you and First Lady Melania Trump for your very warm welcome, your generous hospitality and your friendship.

Our meeting today was a great opportunity to strengthen and deepen our engagement with the United States. You are our most important strategic and economic partner. And to lay the groundwork for a new phase of intensified cooperation, the next hundred years of mateship.

Now, I'm here, as you noted, Mr. President, with the most substantial Australian delegation ever to travel to Washington, D.C. We have, in addition to the CEOs, several of whom you have identified here today, who are busy creating jobs. We spent much of our time today talking about jobs.

They are creating jobs in Australia and in the United States, demonstrating that our two great nations committed to competition, to freedom, to economic innovation, science and technology working together. Complement each other. And that's why we're seeing strong jobs growth in both countries. We've had 403,000 jobs created last year in Australia, the largest number, Mr. President, in our country's history. Sixteen months of continued jobs growth.

And we have been inspired, I have to say, by your success in securing the passage of the tax reforms through the Congress. We have secured some tax reforms in terms of reducing company tax but not as much as we need to do. We've got more work to do.

And the stimulus, the economic stimulus that your reforms have delivered here in the United States is one of the most powerful arguments that we are deploying to persuade our legislature to support reducing business tax because, as you were demonstrating and as we all know, when you cut company tax, most of the benefit goes to workers. It produces more investment and you get more investment, you get more jobs. And, of course, I'm also joined on this visit with six of the leaders

of our states and territories. The only two that are not here, Mr. President, are those that are fighting elections.

[14:15:02] So, as you can imagine that's always a top priority. And we're meeting at the national governor's association again, broadening and deepening the relationship. We have a huge amount to work with. Our relationship, as you said, has been forged over a century through times of war and peace, securing both our nation's freedom and security in the world.

But our relationship is based not only on history, we have the same values. We share a deep wealth of trust and spirit based on those enduring values, of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, enterprise, ingenuity, the spirit of having a go and if it doesn't work out, dust yourself off and have another go. That is a core American and Australian value. That spirit of enterprise is what leads us on.

And, of course, our relationship is under pinned by millions of people-to-people and family links and, of course, extensive economic cooperation we've spoken about. Our security alliance is as close as it possibly could be, yet keeps getting closer. The cooperation is more intense than it has ever been, whether we are standing up for freedom's cause in the Middle East in our region, around the world, combating terrorism.

The cooperation in a connected world that we need to have is greater than ever. And that trust between Australia and the United States, between the thousands of brave service men and women working together right now, that trust underpins our security.

You mentioned, Mr. President, our economic relationship and trade. Do you know since the Australia/U.S. free trade agreement came into force in 2005, two-way trade has grown by over 50 percent. The United States does have a trade surplus with Australia of $25 billion. It's your third largest trade surplus with us.

But, you know we know it works for both of us. The two-way investment has more than doubled in the past decade, was worth around $1.1 trillion in 2016, again boosting jobs and growth in both our nations, both our economies.

And today, we've agreed on some new initiatives that will deepen this relationship further, where it's seeking to expand transparent and global energy markets, cooperating on high-quality infrastructure and investment in the United States and in the region. We've spent a lot of time talking about infrastructure, including urban infrastructure. Mr. President, of course, you have a lifetime of experience in. And the leadership you're showing on infrastructure in the United States is being admired around the world and Australian companies and Australian experience is there to help, as you know and is already operating here, a number of our infrastructure players are very active in the U.S.

We're obviously working to intensify our cooperation on digital trade. Bob Lighthizer and Wilbur Ross from your side, Steve Ciobo, my trade minister, who's here with him today, have made terrific progress in that regard.

Now, we turn to security. Yesterday, Lucy and I were with General Dunford at the Arlington National Cemetery and we honored America's war dead. We honored an Australian airman who had died in combat in New Guinea in the Second World War, who was buried there at Arlington also.

And we were reminded that all of the freedoms we enjoy, whether it is in our parliament in Canberra, or here in Washington or the White House or in the Congress, all those freedoms had to be secured generation after generation by courageous men and women defending freedom's cause. Our freedoms have depended on them. And Americans know, as Australian knows, that each of us have no better ally. We are mates, a hundred years of mateship.

We're working together, as you said, to address the greatest threat to our region right now, North Korea's illegal nuclear weapons program. And I want to welcome and, of course, support, Mr. President, the new sanctions that have been announced today and we continue to do precisely with our own autonomous sanctions, and, of course, enforcing the U.N. Security Council-mandated sanctions.

We're working to combat terrorism around the world, helping the Iraqis and the Afghans build up the resilience to hold their countries secure in the face of terrorists.

[14:20:11] And, of course, we both recognize that the prosperity of our region and, indeed, the world, has been under pinned and, in fact, built on a foundation of a rules-based order, which has been secured by the leadership of the United States ever since the Second World War.

That leadership has been critical and the commitment you showed, Mr. President, when you came out to the region, to the East Asia Summit, to APEC last year, that commitment was so important. It spoke volumes for America's continued commitment to our region, to our part of the world, to the Indo Pacific. So vital. The engine room, if you like, of the fastest economic growth, most rapid economic growth we've seen in our times.

Now, Mr. President, I want to thank you, as I have earlier in our meetings. I want to thank you for the very rare honor you have shown to Australia by naming one of your future Littoral combat ships, the USS Canberra. That is -- what a great symbol of our alliance and our shared security endeavors. What an extraordinary statement of commitment.

And it's worth observing that that ship will be built by Austal in Mobile, Alabama. So you have an Australian company with American workers working, operating in the United States, building ships for the U.S. Navy. What a great example of 100 years of mateship.

And when you grieve, as you said, you noted at the outset, so do we. So, we send our love, our prayers, our condolences to all the victims and their families of the shocking school shooting in Florida. We are mates. We stand by each other and when we are hurt, we are

hurt as well. So, Mr. President, thank you for your warm welcome. A hundred years of mateship we celebrate 100 years ago on July 4th, General John Monash led American and Australian troops into battle in the First World War for the first time, and we've been side by side ever since. A hundred years of mateship celebrated and 100 more years to look forward to, closer than ever.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Well, thank you very much, Malcolm. That's very beautiful words and we appreciate it. On behalf of the first lady, who is right here and our great vice president, Mike, thank you very much. It's an honor to have you.

We'll answer a couple of questions. Is that OK?

TURNBULL: Yes.

TRUMP: How about Trey from One America News? Trey, where are you? Go ahead.

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Yes.

REPORTER: I have a couple of questions for you.

TRUMP: How about one? Go ahead, Trey.

REPORTER: We'll compromise at two. Following mass shootings, there's often a lot of talk and little action. So, I ask you today what specific pieces of legislation or legislative framework will you propose to lawmakers following the Parkland shooting?

TRUMP: Well, we're going to do a lot, but we are going to be very strong on background checks. I've spoken with many of our people in Congress, our senators, our congressmen and women. And there's a movement on to get something done.

We want to be very powerful on background checks. When we are dealing with the mentally ill, as we were in this last case, he was a very sick person and somebody that should have been nabbed. I guess they had 39 different occasions where they were able to see him or potentially see him. We want to be very powerful, very strong on background checks and especially as it pertains to the mentally ill.

We're going to get rid of the bump stocks and we're going to do certain other things. But one of the feelings that I have -- and you probably heard me in a speech this morning -- very, very important that we have offensive capability as well as defensive capability within the schools, because when you have a gun-free zone, you're really inviting people to come in and do whatever you have to do and often times get out. Now, I was the one that brought up the fact that these shootings, on

average, last three minutes and it takes anywhere from six to ten minutes for the police to get to the site.

[14:25:10] And I want to have people in the building and, in many cases you have ex-marines, ex-army, navy, air force, coast guard, you have them in the building and they can have concealed weapons and still be teachers or they could be in the building in a different capacity. But we have to have offensive capability to take these people out rapidly before they can do this kind of damage.

But we'll be putting in strong language having to do with the background checks and that will take place very quickly. I spoke with Paul Ryan this morning, with Mitch McConnell. And people are looking to really energize.

I know that you had -- this has been going on for a long time, many, many years. And you've had people in my position and they would mention things, but not a lot of things got done, obviously.

We take it very seriously. We want to put an end to it. And if -- by the way, the bad guy thinks that somebody is in this room with a weapon that's going to be pointed at him with live bullets, he's not even going into the school. That's the one way you're going to solve it.

You're not going to solve it with gun-free spaces because they'll get in there and they're going to be the only one with a gun. So, we need offensive capability and we are going to be doing something about it. We're dealing with Congress right now. Thank you.

RPEORTER: If I can follow up, Mr. President, amid talks of arming teachers and mental health, what specific commitments to American students can you make that these policies will make them safer?

TRUMP: Well, I think it's going to make it safer. And, you know, the problem that's been happening over the last 20 years is people have talked. You said it, it's all talk, it's no action.

And we're going to take action. I think it's going to make it safer. I think the fact that you have some capability within a school, they're not going to go into that school. They're not going to do it.

You can look at what's happened with airplanes. We put marshals on planes with guns, where pilots in many cases have guns. Nothing has happened in a long period of time when it used to almost it was getting to the point of being routine.

When you have somebody with a gun staring you down, it's going to be a lot different for them to walk into those schools. Right now, they look at the sign outside. This is a gun-free environment. That means they're the only one with a gun. And the damage this lunatic did in that school for such a long period of time.

And frankly, you had a gun and he was outside as a guard and he decided not to go in. That was not his finest moment. That, I can tell you. He waited and he didn't want to go into the school. I just heard this. And it's a terrible situation.

But we need people that can take care of our children. We're not going to let this happen again. And the way it's not going to happen again -- because they're basically cowards. Innately, they're cowards. And if they know bad things happen to them once they get into that school, by people that love the children -- see, a security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children.

This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children, probably doesn't know the children. The teachers love their children. They love their pupils. They love their students.

They're doing it also for love. Now they have to be very adept. I'm not talking about every teacher. I'm talking about a small percentage. But people that have great ability with weaponry, with guns, those are the only people I'm talking about.

But they'll protect the student.

For the prime minister?

REPORTER: Certainly.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for joining us today here in Washington.

Australia is known for helping the Syrian people and Syrian refugees. So, I ask you today, as the world watches, what steps can Australia take with the help of President Trump and the United States to ensure that civilians are protected in eastern Ghouta?

TURNBULL: Well, the Australian armed forces have been working as part of the coalition to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria for some time now. That's been our principal concentration or focus of our efforts now is in Iraq as opposed to Syria, where we are training both their elite special service unit, their counterterrorism service and their regular army and armed police.

We have trained over 30,000 personnel at our Task Force Taji, which is based at the Taji airfield near Baghdad.

The -- in terms of refugees, Australia has a very substantial humanitarian program. We are currently taking about 18,000 refugees a year. We've taken 12,000 from the -- in addition to that from the Syrian conflict zone. But we determined which -- we are very careful about security, of course, in terms of our humanitarian program.