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Scaramucci: Kelly Tried to Cover Up Porter Allegations; NYT: Kushner Family Got $500 Million in Loans After White House Meetings; Did Trump Completely Upend GOP's Gun Agenda; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And Jared Kushner has always sort of been the crown prince of this White House. And what happened? I don't think anybody knows how this plays out. Kelly seemed to be on thin ice in the wake of the Porter thing. Whether or not he is on thinner ice at this point, who knows.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Olivia, you did a very good profile on Hope Hicks in 2016, right, for "G.Q." magazine. You've continued to report on her. When you look at her departure, I mean there has been a question of the timing. I know that your reporting has been that this was a departure she had actually considered for some time. Keeping that in mind, what does it mean for someone who a lot of people thought she'll be one of the last people standing to go?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, in the wake of the Porter controversy and his exit, there were a lot of stories about I don't know John Kelly being unhappy with Hope Hicks. There is a still a lack of clarity about who exactly drafted the statement attributed to John Kelly that initially defended Porter prettying aggressively when the first story came out. And --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Was it Hope Hicks?

NUZZI: There was reporting that it was. I have four or five White House officials who confirmed that she was in the room when it was dictated by Kelly, but not drafted by Hope Hicks. But that was an early draft of that statement. It is unclear to me anyway how much it changed from that early draft. But with Hope Hicks gone, I think Donald Trump -- I mean, we've been seeing Donald Trump in a good state comparatively to how he might feel without Hope Hicks there. She is a familiar presence in a place that he is uncomfortable, in a city where he is uncomfortable. This is a man of habit. He lived in the same building, in the same city for years and years. He goes to Mar-a-Lago almost every weekend. He has maintained a lot of habits that he had as a civilian businessman in the White House. And without her there, I think it will be very interesting to see how it affects his mood in ways that we could all observe.

KEILAR: And I want to ask you, Joe, if your experience at DOJ and in government about Jared Kushner. So you have the president's son-in- law who also is now according to the "New York Times" facing a lot of scrutiny for something else, which is that he met with the founder of Apollo Global Management one of the founders and this was in an official capacity at the White House. And then, low and behold, right after this, the Kushner family business is getting big money from Apollo. When you look at that, how problematic is that for Jared Kushner?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's hard to say. It is part of an overall pattern when you mix a complex business background and relationships with public service. And Special Council Mueller has demonstrated he is willing to follow the facts wherever they go and whomever they go to, whether a low-level campaign aide or members of the Trump family. So I think anyone that comes in the crosshairs of the special counsel's investigation has to be concerned. This is serious business and the special counsel shows no indication of going away.

KEILAR: Guys, stand by for me.

We had the 2:00 p.m. White House briefing, it has become the 2:30 p.m. White House briefing. We're hoping it at least happens today, and we're thinking that it is going to, which is good news.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: So we're watching the room there. The Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is going to take the podium very soon. We'll bring that to you.

Plus, President Trump stunning his own party at a round table on guns that you saw live right here on CNN. So has he backed Republicans into a corner or not?

Stay with us. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:37:48] KEILAR: President Trump stunned members of his own party, also Democrats, I would say as well, during a bipartisan meeting broadcast live from the White House where he broke with GOP orthodoxy and embraced gun laws. Democrats say they left that meeting feeling optimistic. Conservative reaction was swift though. Take a look at the headline on "Breitbart." It reads, "Trump the Gun Grabber Cedes Dems' Wish List."

So here is a question worth asking? In that one bipartisan meeting, did the president really upend the Republican gun agenda? Let's watch some key moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to do something about it. We have to act. We talked about the bump stock issue.

We can do that with an executive order. I'm going to write the bump stock, essentially write it out.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I want to bring us back to the issue of background checks if I could because I think there is real opportunity.

TRUMP: I agree.

You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don't be shy.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: If all we end up doing is the stuff that the gun industry supports, then this isn't worth it.

TRUMP: You have a different president. I'm a great fan of the NRA. The NRA are great people. These are great patriots. They love our country. But that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything.

It doesn't make sense that I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a hand gun, but I can get a weapon at 18.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You're afraid of the NRA, right?

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I think you underestimate the power of the gun lobby.

TRUMP: They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don't need it. What do I need? I want a counter. I want a very strong counter punch.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Allow due process, the ability to go to court, obtain an order and collect not only the firearms, but any weapons in the position that --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Or take the firearms first and then go to court. I like taking the guns early. Really be nice to create something that is beautiful, that works. I like a merger because I think a merger works out better.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You can add that to this bill. That would be great. If you can add what you have also, and you think you can, into the bill.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Can you do that? Add and subtract to it. Put it for a vote.

I'm not even worried about 60 votes. Very strong on mentally ill. You have to be very, very strong on that.

[14:40:06] UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Maybe you can show leadership about all the violence we have out of Hollywood and all these videos. You watch FOX News like I do, and every night, you see all of these films about everybody being blown up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I mean, wow, that was amazing to watch.

Nia?

HENDERSON: Yes.

KEILAR: And it's even more amazing to watch kind of all of the really most interesting starts stuck together like that. Did the president upend the GOP agenda? I think that is really the question. In the end, you wonder does he just capitulate on some of these things or is he serious when he is even disagreeing with his own vice president?

HENDERSON: Right. It is not even clear that the GOP had a gun agenda going into this. There was the Fix NICS bill. It looks like some of our folks are reporting that Mitch McConnell is reporting that there will be no gun vote next week. So it is not clear. This was great television, sort of a bookend or echo of what we saw on the DACA debate. And we know what happened after the DACA debate. Pretty much nothing, even as the president was on all sorts of sides of that issue and finally coming down on a certain place. But, yes, it was a potpourri of everything.

KEILAR: But even saying that where he is talking about take the guns and due process later. I mean, wow that is just --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes, yes. Heads exploding, right, if you're a conservative.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: If you think about the NRA last week at CPAC basically saying it is the Democrats who are the gun grabbers, who want to confiscate everybody's guns, and there is a Republican president essentially saying do away with due process, do away with laws that govern this kind of stuff, and take away people's Second Amendment rights.

KEILAR: He said to -- well, really all the lawmakers there, but really it would have been Republicans where he said you're afraid of the NRA. The NRA has a lot of power over you folks --

HENDERSON: Not over me.

KEILAR: -- not over me so much.

However, a lot of diehard supporters of President Trumps are diehard supporters of the NRA, are very much in line with what the NRA believes. And they vote on that issue. So maybe they do have power over the president.

HENDERSON: You would think they would because they are in lock step with the NRA. They have very hard and fast beliefs in terms of gun ownership. They don't want to see any gun control. They think it is a slippery slope. So to me, this seemed like a lot of theater. The president probably thought he was going to get great reviews in the way that he did after the DACA bipartisan session. But here it just seemed to be all over the place and leaving people, particularly conservative, scratching their heads, but also locked into what they were going to do, which is not much of anything.

KEILAR: I understand, Mitch McConnell said no vote next week.

HENDERSON: Right. Right.

KEILAR: Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you so much.

Next, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, says he is canceling the order for a $31,000 dining set for his office. We'll have his response to accusations of lavish spending. And I'll speak live with an interior designer about this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:45:26]

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let me start by saying what a meaningful experience it was to attend yesterday's Ceremony Preceding the Lying in Honor of Reverend Billy Graham. Reverend Graham left this earth last week but his legacy will live on -- on for eternity.

As the president said during his remarks, everywhere he went Reverend Graham delivered the same beautiful message: God loves you. That's a message that we should all stop and really consider a little more often.

The president and first lady will also be attending Reverend Graham's funeral in North Carolina tomorrow.

I'd like to highlight some positive, important work the House did on Tuesday by passing H.R. 1865, this bill empowers federal, state and local prosecutors to hold websites accountable for supporting the sale of sex trafficking victims.

As you may recall, the president and Ivanka Trump met with survivors, law enforcement officials and victims advocates here at the White House.

He made it clear that this administration will fight to hold sex traffickers accountable and to ensure survivors have the support they need.

This bill is an important step forward and the White House appreciates the House taking action on a bipartisan basis.

Earlier this week I mentioned that we were going to begin regularly highlighting the historic obstruction of Senate Democrats, an issue that threatens the safety and security of the American people. As a reminder, compared to the four previous administrations, this Senate has confirmed the fewest nominees. Half of the president's highly qualified nominees are still waiting on confirmation.

Today, we have another example, 276 days ago Kevin McAleenan was nominated to be Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Kevin's primary responsibility would be to help safeguard American borders, keeping both terrorists and their weapons out of our nation, all while facilitating lawful, international trade.

Kevin should be preventing terrorists and contraband from entering the nation, yet he is still awaiting Senate confirmation.

SANDERS: Senator Schumer should stop putting the safety and security of the America people at risk and immediately confirm him.

And, with that, I will take your questions.

John?

QUESTION: Sarah, the president announced at the meeting a little while ago punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports which would take effect next week -- 10 percent for aluminum, 25 percent for steel. He announced them even though the fine details have not been worked out yet about what countries will be involved, whether there are any exemptions. The Dow is down about 500 points as a result of this. Some of our allies, including Canada, are saying that these actions are unacceptable. Why did the president announce them now, particularly before the details have even been worked out?

SANDERS: The president is announcing his intent to sign those actions next week. We're not going to get into any more details until those details are finalized but that is what he intends to do next week, and he was making that announcement.

QUESTION: Is he concerned about the results or the effects that his announcement has had so far?

SANDERS: The president is concerned about the men and women of this country who have been forgotten about, the industries that our country was founded and built on. And this shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. This is something frankly the president has been talking about for decades. Certainly, something he talked about regularly on the campaign trail and something that he's delivering on, making that clear today and those details and the actual announcement and signing will take place sometime next week.

QUESTION: Sarah, the president often talks about stock market reactions with his presidency. Is he surprised to see the market down after making this announcement without explanation on tariffs? And do you have any detail on why he decided to announce it today? As John was asking you, it seemed kind of sudden when we were called in for that event. It wasn't something on our -- necessarily our public schedule.

SANDERS: This is something again that the president has been talking about for a long time. It's not a surprise and we're going to continue doing what we can to protect American workers. That was something that the president committed to during the campaign. This is something that he feels is vitally important. That part is new and he's announcing his intent to make those things happen next week and we'll have more details on that.

QUESTION: Did he make that decision today?

SANDERS: Again, this is something the president has wanted to do for quite some time.

QUESTION: Why was this a surprise to the press gathered there? It wasn't on the schedule.

SANDERS: I don't think that the president always tells you guys everything first but it's certainly something he's been talking about for a long time.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SANDERS: Look, these are conversations that the president has been having for a long time. He's made his intentions very clear to the team at the White House. I don't think it came to a surprise to anybody here.

QUESTION: Did he say 10 percent and 25 percent or could that change between now and next week?

SANDERS: I think that's the intent but until those details are finalized I'm not going to get into any more specifics right now.

QUESTION: A couple of questions for you first -- a number of members of this cabinet have fallen under public scrutiny and in some cases in general for spending -- whether it be first-class travel in the case of Ben Carson a $31,000 dining set. The president talked about on the campaign he was going to drain the swamp. So, does he plan on draining some of his cabinet?

SANDERS: In terms of if you're asking if he's getting rid of anyone on the cabinet? I'm not aware that that's taking place at any point right now. To be clear on secretary Carson the order that you referenced was canceled and they're looking for another option that's much more responsible with taxpayer dollars.

QUESTION: There's been a number of times when the president loses confidence in a member of the cabinet he tells us. That means we haven't heard that, so he has confidence in these people. So, can you explain why the president has confidence in some of these members of his cabinet -- Carson, Shulkin, Pruitt and Zinke who there have been a number -- there are numerous investigations into some of their spending. So, why do they have the president's confidence?

SANDERS: Look, starting with the VA with Secretary Shulkin the president is glad for the job that he's been doing in reforming the V.A. and modernizing the V.A.; a lot of the movements that they've had there. And he supports him those efforts. But they're also -- we have been reviewing these actions and making sure that we're being very responsible with taxpayer dollars. This is something that the president has asked all of his team to go back and look at.

QUESTION: And, Sarah, just one quick one on guns. Senator McConnell, up on Capitol Hill a few minutes ago, said that next week the Senate would not being moving forward with the Fix NICS legislation that Senator Cornyn has put forward. And Cornyn said that they're going to be discussing the (inaudible) -- regulation of potentially also human trafficking next week, not gun legislation.

After yesterday's session it seems that Republicans are running away from what the president wanted as sort of a quick solution to this -- a quick resolution on this front. Why didn't the president have the -- the clout on Capitol Hill that the president -- you know, this a Republican president, Republican Congress, why can't he seem to get Congress to bend to his will?

SANDERS: I don't think it's necessarily about bending to his will, I think it's about an ongoing discussion about the best pieces of legislation that they can put forward. Yesterday was certainly an important part of that.

The president has met with a number of stakeholders. Next week he'll also be meeting with members of the video game industry to see what they can do on that front as well.

This is going to be an ongoing process and something that we don't expect to happen overnight but something that we're going to be engaged in and continue to look for the best ways possible, to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect schools across the country.

Celia (ph).

QUESTION: Sarah, does the president want to get rid of his Attorney General?

SANDERS: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: And how about Jared Kushner?

SANDERS: No.

QUESTION: Is Jared Kushner becoming a distraction, given all the controversies that he's been at the center of in recent days?

SANDERS: Look, Jared's still a valued member of the administration and he's going to continue to focus on the work that he's been doing and we're going to continue pushing forward on that front as well.

QUESTION: And are there any concerns about conflicts of interest given those meeting that he had with executives from companies that gave his family business millions of dollars in loans (ph)?

SANDERS: I would refer you to the statement that was put out by his attorney. John.

QUESTION: But conflict of interest (ph) -- appearance, even, concerns about that here at this White House?

SANDERS: Again, I would have to refer you to the statement put out by his attorney. John?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

Back on the -- on the tariffs announcement. Is the president concerned about the impact that this may have on America's allies, like Canada or the U.K., the E.U.?

SANDERS: The president's biggest concern is making sure that we're doing everything we can to protect American workers and that was what his announcement on his intentions next week are specifically geared towards.

This isn't something that he's shied away from or something that he hasn't spoken about regularly and often and -- or something that he's going to stop talking about at any point soon.

Blake (ph)?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) retaliation...

SANDERS: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you.

QUESTION: Is the president concerned about any retaliation from any -- any of the countries that may be impacted by this announcement?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. Blake?

QUESTION: One final things, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: It's all right.

QUESTION: Just wanted to ask you about a comment and get your reaction to -- Republican Senator Ben Sasse put out a statement in regards to these new tariffs. He said that, "the president is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong." And he concluded by writing, "You'd expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one."

Do you have a comment on that?

SANDERS: I don't know that the president will, or should, ever apologize for protecting American workers and, certainly, not to Senator Sasse. Blake?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Let me try and drill down on this. You say you won't be getting into details at this point, so if there are details to get into, should we read into it that there will be exemptions for certain countries? SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get ahead of the final details that'll be put out next week. At this point there's no additional information to share as this is all being finalized.

QUESTION: Has the president made up in his mind which countries he is -- he might exempt or at least is considering?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into any details on this front and I don't have anything further to add on his intentions; that will take place next week. We're a little bit tight so I'm going to keep moving. Jordan.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Yesterday was the deadline that Chairman Gowdy set for the White House Chief of Staff to reply to his questions about security clearances at the White House. Was that request met? Did the Chief of Staff sends a reply to Chairman Gowdy?

SANDERS: We're having conversations with the committee and we're going to continue working with them - and I can't go any further than that at this point.

QUESTION: Do you have any time -- do you think that you might answer the committee?

SANDERS: Again, we're in regular conversations with them and we're going to continue working with them. Trey (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, this week the president expressed frustration with his Attorney General and the Department of Justice as it relates to the process to look into FISA abuses. What would the president like to see done differently?

SANDERS: Look, the president's made clear that he has a lot of concerns, like you said, with the current FISA process. Nothing makes the problems of FISA cleaner than what was outlined in both the Republican and Democrat memos. The FBI used political campaign material to get a warrant to spy on American citizens. They failed to disclose to the judge that the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, even as it was being used to spy on people associated with the Trump campaign.

Obviously, that alone shows us that the process needs to be looked at closely and reformed to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect the privacy of American citizens.

QUESTION: And as it relates to that tweet, could you elaborate on the relationship between the president and the Attorney General? Does President Trump believe his Attorney General is disgraceful?

SANDERS: Look, the president has made his frustrations very clear -- I don't have anything else to add. Dave.

QUESTION: Sarah, what was the president's reaction to what the Mayor of Oakland California did last weekend in which she tipped off residents that there was an imminent immigration raid coming? Does he -- does he feel that the mayor broke the law and now the Justice Department is looking into it?

SANDERS: I think it's outrageous that a mayor would circumvent federal authorities and certainly put them in danger by making a move such as that - and that's currently under review by the Department of Justice - and I don't have anything else to add.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two for you, first, I know you're averse to providing details about the tariff plan. Does the president plan to couple the tariff plan with any policies to mitigate the impact on, say, the auto industry?

SANDERS: Again, I don't have anything else to add at this point.

QUESTION: And very open ended, did you take note of President Putin's speech? And do you have a reaction to his rhetoric and threats about these invincible weapons?

SANDERS: Yes. President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along, which Russia has denied. Russia's been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade, in direct violations of its treaty obligations.

President Trump understands the threats facing America and our allies in this century and is determined to protect our homeland and preserve peace through strength.

U.S. defense capabilities are and will remain second to none. And now, because of the new defense budget of $700 billion, our military will be far stronger than ever. As the president's nuclear posture review made clear, America is moving forward to modernize our nuclear arsenal and ensure our capabilities are unmatched. John?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two short questions. First, can you confirm or deny that the president has made a decision to go for the outside for a successor to Hope Hicks as communications director rather than promote from within?

SANDERS: The decision on that hasn't been made. I don't have a personnel announcement.

QUESTION: The other thing is that the president's good relationship with Senators Manchin of West Virginia and Toomey of Pennsylvania, has he been in touch with either of them to discuss further the proposed universal gun ban that's been floated around since last week?

SANDERS: I know that they were both part -- attended the meeting earlier this week. The president also spoke, I believe, with Senator Toomey earlier today, but has not seen that final legislation as discussion are still ongoing. And so I can't say where we fall in position on that piece of legislation at this point. But he is continuing to have conversations and is going to continue to be engaged with members of Congress across the board.

Francesca?

QUESTION: Sarah, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was due to be at the White House today for the opioid summit. Did the president have an opportunity to speak to him while he was here?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

[15:00:00]