Return to Transcripts main page


Reports of Shots Fired at Central Michigan University; Stock Selloff Deepens after Trump Announces Tariffs; CNN: McMaster could Leave White House by End of Month; Trump's Tariffs Spark Trade War Fears. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Some 20,000 students go there. We're told the shooter is still at large, considered armed and dangerous. The university is in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. It's about an hour and a half away from Grand Rapids. According to the school's Twitter feed, the reported shots happened inside Campbell Hall. That is a dormitory. Again, a shooting at Central Michigan University, the shooter at large, we're trying to get more information on this. We'll bring it to you as soon as it comes in.

Also breaking, Wall Street reacting very badly to the president's plan for steep new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and perhaps more, down some 308 points right now, this follows a drop of more than 400 points yesterday. This morning, the president declared a trade war can be good. Now, whether or not you agree with him, and he will get some political support for that, investors do not like it one bit. They are very nervous that a trade war could increase consumer -- the prices of some consumer goods and could cut on business profits. That is a concern for the investors on Wall Street right now.

All right, also this morning, the White House in what some people consider to be a level of disarray. Senior advisers, key advisers to the president said to be close to leaving, the president's staff having to suggest that he has not changed his positions on guns or on tariffs for that matter.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning with the very latest. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, John, the president seems to be saying this morning that he thinks trade wars could be a good thing, and after he made that surprise announcement yesterday here at the White House and the Cabinet Room during a hastily arranged meeting that he's going to impose these tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. He certainly stunned many of his advisers, surprised a lot of GOP leadership over on Capitol Hill, and even succeeded in battling the stock market.

But the president doesn't seem to mind the blowback that much. He's been tweeting about it this morning since the early hours starting around 6:00 a.m., saying, quote, "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," going on to say that when countries are - only are down $100 billion, with a certain country, and they get cute, quote, "don't trade anymore and we win big."

So the president seems to be continuing to buck his advisers here, John. He certainly doesn't seem to mind the whiplash and the chaos that he's created part of his agenda to up end Washington here. He seems to be saying, John, that this is really just the beginning of all of this.

BERMAN: The president had the surprise meeting. Surprise in the sense we didn't know about it last night at the White House with the NRA. The NRA's main lobbyist came out saying essentially the president is not for gun control and the White House having to explain where in fact the president does stand this morning. Where?

COLLINS: That's exactly right, John. The president called the cameras into that meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday. That very freewheeling meeting that aides did not want the press to be there for, but the president is the one who wanted the press to come in with the cameras to stay for a while, to watch that discussion and certainly a very freewheeling discussion. It was very fascinating to watch the Republican president throwing around the ideas of gun control, saying things like he prefers taking the guns early instead of due process.

Certainly, something that the NRA was not a fan of, as well as his suggestion to expand background checks and then last night we did find out it was a surprise and the only reason we found out about this meeting with these NRA officials is because the president tweeted about it. But we do now know he was meeting with Chris Cox, the top lobbyist for the NRA who tweeted this morning, kind of saying that he believes the president is backing off those gun control measures that he had seemed to suggest and go along with doing that meeting and Chris Cox tweeting this morning, the president is a strong supporter of due process and the Second Amendment as well.

But certainly, John, there are no specific policy proposals coming out of the White House yet, even though we were initially promised them by the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, in this room that I'm standing in now. She said we would see them by the end of the week. But after that meeting here at the White House on Wednesday, we're told that White House aides were since scrambling and now they are not going to propose those specific proposals because they're not even sure where the president seems to stand right now, John.

BERMAN: Maybe the end of the week was metaphorical, it meant, you know, maybe 70 day a week. Kaitlan, also, what is the current status of the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster?

COLLINS: Well, now we are reporting that he could be out of the White House by the end of the month here, John. We know that this has been a long simmering departure for the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. He and the president have never gotten along. The president actually chafes at the way that H.R. McMaster briefs him, because he feels in a way that he's being condescending when the president asks questions. So it is safe to say there would be no love lost there. But they are talking about an exit plan for H.R. McMaster.

[10:05:02] There is a sense that he could be out of the White House. Though officials were cautious to express any kind of confidence in him being here for the long-term, just a few days ago, just this morning Sarah Sanders, the press secretary said the president thinks he's doing, quote, "A great job."

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, maybe we'll be back with you in a few minutes if there are new developments.

In the meantime, there is a CNN exclusive. Sources confirm that the FBI is now investigating one of Ivanka Trump's international business deals. So is her security clearance now in jeopardy?

Our Shimon Prokupecz, part of the team that broke the story in Washington. What have you learned, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE AND CRIME REPORTER: Yes, John. So the FBI's counterintelligence agents and analysts have been looking into the negotiations, meetings, contacts and the financing surrounding the Trump international hotel and tower in Vancouver which opened in February of 2017, according to current and former U.S. Officials. Now, the scrutiny could be a hurdle for the first daughter as she tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as adviser to President Donald Trump. It is really not clear why investigators are examining this particular deal. The flow of foreign money either from the developer, could be that, or international condo buyers, could be sparking some of the scrutiny. And it is pretty standard procedure in security clearance background checks for foreign contacts to be checked on as part of a background check investigation. But there is something with this Vancouver deal that certainly has sparked the interests of the FBI which is also scrutinizing the deals of her husband, Jared Kushner, to determine whether anything could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents. John?

BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz in Washington for us. Shimon thanks very much. We're going to talk more about Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and their business dealings in a moment.

In the meantime, I'm joined by CNN political commentators, Errol Louis, Symone Sanders and Doug Heye.

Errol, interesting, that Symone Sanders -- Sarah Sanders - my apology, Symone - Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, came out this morning and had to sort of lay out the White House stance on several issues. Number one, has the president changed his positions on guns? Number two, is he really going to announce the tax and tariffs? He said he would announce next week. Number three, the national security adviser, is he staying or going? The chief economic adviser, is he staying or going? That's a lot to have to explain away before 9:00 a.m., Errol.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. Because we have got a president who likes to be a little spontaneous, he likes to be loose. He likes to change his mind. He likes to say things like we'll see or we have to all wonder what he means by that. And then at the same time, he's kind of cut off at the knees, his whole communications staff. Even before the departure of his third or fourth communications director, it was pretty clear that there is a communications director sitting in the Oval Office.

And so to the extent that Donald Trump wants to manage his own communications, and at the same time be completely inconsistent, he's got a world that -- I don't know if he fully recognizes is waiting patiently to see if there is any coherence. The people have to make real decisions about what they're going to do with their dollars and their families and their institutions based on what he says.

BERMAN: Doug, so the president is his own communications adviser. We know that. I mean he is the communications chief of the White House. And one of the ways he chose to communicate was Wednesday when he held that meeting in the White House, sort of open mike meeting right there. And the thing is we heard him say things. We heard him say things about his position on guns. And now there say question two days later about whether or not he meant the things he said. And that's extraordinary. That's an extraordinary place to be when you can't take the president at his word.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. And I think one of the things that really is troubling Congressional Republicans, one thing I hear on the Hill all the time isn't just that there isn't a legislative or ideological coherence from the president or this administration. But it is this chaos and chaos by surprise. So we know that there are all these staff moves. We see them every day. We read about them. We talk about them every day.

But the fact that the president is catching his own White House staff by surprise, Congressional leaders by surprise, is one of the things that is really troubling to so many Republicans on Capitol Hill. They may not be saying it publicly, but they're sure saying it privately. And Errol knows and certainly Symone knows that there are a lot of politicians who like to be their own communications director and the press secretary and even the communications director will say publicly that that is a good and fine and proper thing, privately they'll always say something differently because it creates a lot of headache for the staff that is trying to implement those priorities that the administration has in place or a campaign or congressional office.

BERMAN: You know, Symone, it is interesting. Democrats have been sort of highly interested bystanders this week. During that gun meeting, the president said that a lot of things the Democrats like. This tariff on aluminum and steel is something that some Democrats like.

[10:10:00] So what do they do? Do they try to cherry pick the things that he says when he says them that they like and run with it or they just hold back and have to say we'll wait and see?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the best place for Democrats to be whenever Donald Trump is being teleprompter Trump or reality TV Trump and he's carrying on in these meetings, such as we saw earlier this week at the White House on gun control that you have to wait and see. First of all, I do not think that White House meeting was serious. Donald Trump was literally just saying anything. He was playing to the cameras, and I would like to note that there were no -- African-Americans members of Congress present at that meeting when gun violence is an issue in a number of their districts. So that's one thing.

The second thing is, look, I know some folks like this tax for tariffs on aluminum and steel. But the fact of the matter is, if you drink soda, if you drink beer, if you like LaCroix, -- LaCroix have you say I don't like it, but some people drink it, John, and they're going to pay more. This is really a tax that will be passed on to consumers, and I think it is really going to hurt, you know, regardless of how folks feel about whether Donald Trump can get to a 3 percent growth this year as he talked about wanting to do trade war is not good for growth. I don't see how this pans out.

BERMAN: So, Doug, it is interesting, Symone said something there at the beginning, which, you know, should send chills. She never took that White House meeting seriously. Again, the president was saying things and they just weren't being taken seriously because people were concerned that he would change his mind on that. Is that fixable from a communications standpoint from inside the White House?

HEYE: No, what we have seen so many times is cleanup on aisle five by the White House press office. Now that's their job. That's what you would do in any administration. The problem for this administration is that it happens not every week, but pretty much every day. And so there are always not just responding, but having to clean up, you know, the self-created outrage du jour, the crisis du jour that always emanates from the president.

And one of the things that we know that Donald Trump has said consistently, there are some things he's consistent on. He consistently says the world is laughing at us. When we see things like this, where his own White House staff is caught by surprise, or they have to clean up things that he says because he didn't mean what he said necessarily. I can tell you from meetings and conversations I've had, the world is not laughing. Foreign governments are looking at this very seriously. They're not laughing. And that's a problem for this administration, as it tries to do things not just here in the United States, but on an international stage as well.

BERMAN: The market down 340 points right now. Errol Louis, one of the things you will hear is this was not a politician, right? This was someone who came to office with no political experience. This is how he did things, how he ran business. We should judge him in a different way. When does that stop? At what point during his presidential administration should he be judged as a president?

LOUIS: Well it stops right now. I mean, the markets are telling you that. The foreign leaders are telling you that. Frankly, the Mueller investigation is telling you that. You don't get to change the standards that radically when you walk into a job that has 240 years of tradition behind it. You have a president who is the most powerful person in the world, and who often treats it as a game. I mean, at the same time as we have got this question about a trade war brewing, at the same time as we are trying to recover from this massacre, and national movement that seems to be springing up around it, you have the president tweeting about a Hollywood celebrity at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, in the most ridiculous kind of misspelled somewhat unhinged kind of a communication. And so, yes, we can all say that well, that's just Trump being Trump. And let Trump be Trump and so forth and so on.

But the reality is he runs a risk of fomenting chaos on the one hand and people not taking him seriously on the other hand. I mean if you want to know what's going to happen on gun control, listening to the messages from the president is not going to give you any clarity at all at this point.

BERMAN: We will all remember -- we got to run, Doug. But we will all remember where we were for Alec Baldwin-Gate this morning. That's for sure. Errol Louis, Symone Sanders, Doug Heye, thanks for being with us.

HEYE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Growing legal questions about Ivanka Trump. Will this affect her role at the White House?

Plus, more than a thousand flights grounded as this powerful nor'easter hits the coast.


[10:18:31] BERMAN: This morning, new serious questions about the security clearance for Jared Kushner, now Ivanka Trump. Sources tell CNN the FBI is now investigating one of Ivanka Trump's international business deals, just days after her husband who was also a senior adviser to the president of the United States had his security clearance downgraded.

Joining me now, CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin and CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to the National Security Council Samantha Vinograd.

You know, Jeffrey, a counterintelligence investigation into this business deal, doesn't mean she necessarily did anything wrong. But it does mean there are questions about her business practices before and as she was entering the White House.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And this underlines several complexities that just permeate the whole Trump White House. What happens when you have people with extensive continuing business interests that also work in the White House? You know, when they need financing for their businesses. There is nothing wrong with needing financing for your businesses, but if, like Jared Kushner, you're negotiating with China, when you're negotiating with Qatar, at the same time you need financing from those countries or you may be seeking it from those countries, that presents complexity. The same thing - deal -- is the question of nepotism. You know how do you treat a daughter and son-in-law of the president like every other employee? The answer is you can't. That's why people don't have their close relatives working in the White House historically.

[10:20:00] BERMAN: You put together something of a bible for people applying for security clearance going through this process as they're going into the White House. If you could lay out some of the highlights for us, I think people would benefit from it.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Most definitely. There are some basic rules in national security, some principles that anybody who wants to serve their country follows. And one of those is don't wing it. From all the reporting that we're seeing, Jared Kushner thought that he was smarter than all of the experts on the National Security Council where I served. He went into meetings. Jeff, you just referenced this, with the Chinese, without bringing anyone from the National Security Council who had experience, who knew what to watch out for from a counterintelligence perspective. That's violating national security 101. He opened himself up as a target to Chinese counterintelligence.

And a second rule that I'll mention, Jeff, is bring a friend. Nobody with any experience goes into a meeting with a foreign counterpart by themselves. We saw this with Rex Tillerson meeting with the Turks without anyone else in the room. We have seen Jared Kushner do this. When you walk into meetings by yourself, with the Chinese, for example, the Chinese tape records every meeting so that there is an official readout. Jared Kushner went in by himself, meaning the Chinese are the only ones with the actual information on what happened and they can manipulate that.

BERMAN: And again, it raises questions about what happened inside there at the same time.

Jeffrey, switching gears, overnight the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post" both reported that the inspector general report at the Justice Department is going to say that Andy McCabe improperly released information to the media. Now, before Donald Trump gets all excited about that, saying, look at this guy, he's been after me from the beginning. Apparently, it was about Hillary Clinton and various investigations into her and the Clinton Foundation. Nevertheless, if these reports are true, it appears the inspector general is going to say that Andy McCabe did something improper.

TOOBIN: You know, we have to appreciate a little of the irony of this is an improper leak about an improper leak. But be that as it may, Andy McCabe was a big target of the president, unprecedented American history for a president of the United States to attack, essentially, a midlevel bureaucrat by name. But it will give him an opportunity to say that Andy McCabe did something bad. What that matters to the average American and how that fits into the current political narrative I don't know. But it would certainly be better for Andy McCabe if, and better for the FBI, if they concluded he had done nothing wrong. BERMAN: Fact of the matter is he doesn't work there anymore. And Samantha, one of the things that is interesting is that, you know, you worked inside the Intelligence Community. And, you know, an investigation is something different. You don't release details of an ongoing investigation. However, you know, sometimes you do talk to the media to get the story right. If they have part of a story and you want to set the record straight, this does happen, occasionally.

VINOGRAD: It does. But, John, as a national security professional, we really didn't talk to the media much particularly about an ongoing investigation. Our focus was on letting the investigation continue and on doing our jobs. So I think there's a lot of questions being thrown around and suggestions about transparency and setting the record straight. It is very clear that the Justice Department and the FBI are doing their jobs and I think the best thing we can do right now is let that continue and refrain from trying to figure out and read the tea leaves about what is happening.

TOOBIN: And Berman, you know it also is worth remembering, you know, we as journalists try to get these -- this is our business. So I just always find it a little churlish on our part to get all outraged when someone gets caught leaking because we encourage it. And we view it as our job. So I just think that's -- it is worth putting that out there as part of the story.

BERMAN: It is interesting. Although it was the inspector general's job to figure out if he did something counters to Justice Department policy, which is what he might find according to the leaks, cut the story, ends right there. Samantha, Jeffrey, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

All right, you're seeing the breaking news on your screen right now. The Dow is down more than 300 points, major fallout from the president's tariffs that may come soon on steel and aluminum. Stay with us.


[10:28:43] BERMAN: Trade wars are good. Alec Baldwin is bad. Guns are, well, we're not quite sure. There is the possible revolving door of key White House staff.

Here now to discuss all of it, the Democratic senator from Hawaii, Mazie Hirono. Senator, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good morning.

BERMAN: As you look at the end of this week where the White House is explaining its positions on guns, its positions on tariffs, saying the key staff members are not in fact leaving. Would you look at this White House and say it is running like a well-oiled machine?

HIRONO: Of course not. The word is chaos continues. So as one of my Republican colleagues said, every day is a new adventure with this president. And his most recent announcement about the tariffs, the Wall Street immediately -- the stock market immediately responded. But the bottom line for this president is that whenever he's under attack, then he goes to his base and it is all about Trump every day, all the time. And he starts talking about America First, and his nativism. He preys on the fears of people in the public.

BERMAN: The word you used was chaos. Sarah Sanders the White House press secretary said this morning, look, you know, if this is chaos, we got the tax cut that we wanted. She is saying the Republicans got it. We're getting the judges that we wanted. We have been cutting regulations that we want. If that's the result of chaos, then so be it.