Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Infighting Over Trump Trade Policy?; North Korea Ready to Talk?; White House Chaos. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue on. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Just about 30 minutes from now, President Trump will be taking questions at this joint news conference with the prime minister of Sweden. Here he was sitting with him in the Oval Office just a couple minutes ago.

This is the first European leader he has met with face to face since announcing this whole controversial tariff on steel and aluminum.

Today, Republican House and Senate leaders urging the president to act less broadly.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There is a lot of concern among Republican senators that this could sort of metastasize into a larger trade war.

And many of our members are discussing with the administration just how broad, how sweeping this might be. And there is a high level of concern about interfering with what appears to be an economy that's taking off in every respect, as you have heard others suggest here today.

So, yes, there's a high level concern about it. There are other steps he needs to take, and we're looking forward to seeing what he decides to do.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What we're encouraging the administration to do is to focus on what is a clearly legitimate problem and to be more surgical in its approach so we can go after the true abusers without creating any kind of unintended consequences or collateral damage.


BALDWIN: This news conference coming up also after a bit of a turbulent week in the West Wing, the high-profile resignations, heated arguments among staffers and top advisers under investigation.

Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, there.

And I know you will be in that news conference. Which -- of the myriad of questions to be asked, what do you think will dominate?


You can put all those subjects in a hat and take your pick, Brooke. I think it is going to be an interesting press conference, obviously. We have to understand there are only going to be two questions for the U.S. press, two questions for the Swedish press.

Customarily, that's how these things go at these press conferences. But you heard the president speak earlier this afternoon, Brooke, pretty positively about the potential for some kind of diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea.

He went as far as to praise North Korea's participation in the Olympics, saying that they were terrific at one point. That's a pretty far cry from describing Kim Jong-un as little rocket man. So at least from a rhetorical standpoint, some progress appears to be under way when it comes to North Korea.

We will see what happens. Not only is there a Tuesday and Thursday Donald Trump. Sometimes, there is a 1:00 and a 2:00 Donald Trump, so we will see what he has to say about North Korea at this press conference coming up here shortly.

And then there is a whole host of issues he has vacillated on from immigration to gun control to now tariffs. We understand from talking to our sources that perhaps the president might have some carve-outs or exemptions when it comes to these tariffs with Canada and Mexico, depending on how they participate and what they come to an agreement on with respect to renegotiating NAFTA.

The president has indicated this. And so I suspect we will be getting some answers from the president, but not all of the answers we are looking for. And, of course, there is what we saw all day yesterday, the full Nunberg, which apparently appears to be its own Olympic act, Brooke, because there was quite the reversal earlier today, when he was telling our Jeremy Diamond that he does plan to cooperate with the special counsel.

That could come up as well. And that could also lead to some fireworks because Sam Nunberg had some pretty choice comments for the president yesterday -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: The full Nunberg, is that what you are calling it, Jim?

ACOSTA: I think it was the full Nunberg yesterday, but I don't know what you call it after you reverse yourself about talking to Robert Mueller.

BALDWIN: Incredible.

ACOSTA: It's a 360. It's something like that. Exactly.


BALDWIN: Thank you. We will look for you in that two and two in just a little bit.

Meantime, on North Korea, there is a new sheriff in town. This is a quote or at least that is what Kim Jong-un reportedly wants the world to believe, North Korea now saying it is willing to give up its nuclear and missile testing in exchange for talks with the United States.

Just think about that for a second. The caveat here, the North wants its own safety guaranteed. That official announcement coming from the South, which announced this rare summit between Korean leaders.

That will happen next month, a meeting that hasn't happened in more than 10 years. And just as Jim was talking about, President Trump weighed in on this moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are settling, and we're going to do something now. One way or the other, we have to do something him. We cannot let that situation fester. We cannot let it happen.


TRUMP: We are going to see what happens. I don't want to talk about it. We are going to see what happens.


BALDWIN: Dana Bash is with me, CNN's chief political correspondent, and Bruce Klingner from the Heritage Foundation. He was the former deputy division chief of the CIA's Korea branch.

So, great to have both of you.

And, Dana, to you, listening to the president's comments in totality, he went on for about four minutes sitting there talk, commenting on the news from North Korea.


And you heard him say, we will see or phrases like I hope so or North Korea seems to be acting positively. There was no, well, this is because of my tough talk, rocket man.

What is your reaction to his tone?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's trying to keep this train on the track, which is something we're not used to from this president. We are used to rocket man and tough talk and taking credit, as you would say, for even getting to this point, where we might be on the cuff of renewed conversations between the U.S. and North Korea and other countries in the region. Having said that, it's good news. I think it's objectively OK to say

it's good news to be potentially on the cusp of those talks. The question is, as I mentioned the train is on the tracks, where is it going? And there is a lot of concern that the Trump administration has gotten to this point, but then it's not really clear how they're going to take it even further, how they are going to continue to keep it going down and deal with this in a diplomatic way that could actually see progress, given the very, very difficult situation this is and would be for any administration.

BALDWIN: Bruce, same question, what do you think of the president's comments?

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, right now, what we have had is a situation where there has been so much focus in the Trump administration on will they or won't they do a preventive attack and is the president behind or not behind diplomacy.

Now that diplomacy has sort of been dumped in our lap, it's a bit of a case like the dog caught the car, and now what does he do with it? We're uncertain really of the parameters that the administration is looking for, but what we obviously need is a lot of coordination with not only South Korea, but also with Japan.

BALDWIN: With regard to the region, we were looking at numbers, in 2017 alone, Bruce, the North launched 23 missiles, including its first intercontinental missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles.

It said it had enough range to reach the U.S. mainland. This makes it easy, I would imagine, for the North to say, sure, you know, we will hold off, what they're not saying is nothing because of the testing we have already done, we don't need it. Is that a part of the equation here?

KLINGNER: Well, by saying that they're putting a moratorium on their launches, it's unclear whether in the North Korean version of the announcement whether they want to link that to U.S. and South Korean military exercises or not.

But while having them not test may prevent further development or refinement of their systems, they as you have point out have already done a lot of testing. They can still do things to augment and refine their nuclear arsenal and their missile capability even if they are not launching.

BALDWIN: Who -- Dana, if someone from the U.S. were to sit at a table from someone -- you know where I'm going.

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: I had this really interesting conversation with David Sanger last hour. He was saying I can't imagine it being Rex Tillerson. And a guy who would make just left his job on Friday.

BASH: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Who would it be?

BASH: We don't know. It's hard to see somebody as high level as the vice president of the United States going.

Having said that, I can't think of anybody else at this moment in time who would have the gravitas when it comes to the Trump administration maybe even more importantly when it comes to the North Koreans, because one of the very big problems for Rex Tillerson and for this administration in having this year-long drip, drip, drip, drip of conversations about the fact that the president isn't happy with him, whether or not he's going to leave the president, himself, the president himself undermining his secretary of state on Twitter on the very policy that we're talking about in North Korea, then it's hard to put him in a place where he is a trusted negotiator.

Trusted meaning that he won't go back and just be completely undercut by a president who is already publicly disagreed with him. It's a very difficult question to answer as to who the point person would be.

BALDWIN: Conundrum at the moment.

Dana Bash, do me a favor and stick around.

Bruce Klingner, thank you so very much.

We are going to take a break.

Coming up, as we wait for the start of the president's news conference with the prime minister of Sweden, we are also wanting to get into some of the other political hot topics of the day. You have what Jim Acosta referred to as the full Nunberg, the whole Sam Nunberg saga that was, after the whirlwind series of TV interviews, now going back on his refusal to comply with the subpoena from Robert Mueller's office.

What a difference 24 hours makes.

Also ahead, the sex scandal that took down the mayor of Nashville, how her affair with her bodyguard led to a guilty plea for theft and her resignation today.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We are back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump today trying to squash reports that the White House is at all in chaos, tweeting that there is -- quote -- "only great energy," energy so great that the president hinted even more staff may be out of a job soon, going on to write: "I still have some people that I want to change. (Always seeking perfection)."

Dana is back with me. Also joining us now, Jamie Gangel, our CNN special correspondent.

And, Jamie, just turning to you on the tweet. Yes, you can talk about the all-caps chaos and the whole nothing to see here bit, but the bit about changing people. There are still some people that want to change.


BALDWIN: What does that...

GANGEL: This is not good for morale and for someone...



BALDWIN: Everybody is like, are you going to change me?

GANGEL: Right.

For someone who wants to say there is no chaos and everything is great, and then there is this threat, I still have some more people to go, on the heels of, let's face it, we have had a week of reports that his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, is not long for the job.

Because of his son-in-law Jared Kushner being downgraded on his security clearance, there has been a lot of speculation about how long he would last, and even some reports that President Trump was talking to his chief of staff, John Kelly, about, well, how can I get him out of here?

I want to say, I don't think that's happening. This is family and the rules are different. But he's thinking about it. And what do we know? When he's thinking about something, he tweets about it.

BALDWIN: It's so funny, Dana, we were just talking about North Korea. We were saying in the commercial break how diplomatic he was on North Korea sitting there in the Oval with the Swedish P.M., but yet on chaos in big, bold capital letters, it's almost like a different man.

BASH: Absolutely.

And, look, Jamie is right that when he thinks about it, he is thinking about it. But it's also true -- and we know this from experience over and over again watching him as president -- that he could be thinking about something completely different, something sort of the opposite notion of whatever he's thinking about at the moment he tweets five minutes later.

So I think we have to take that as a snapshot in time. I think that that's something that we have learned with his tweets. He could have been watching something on TV. He could have been reading something that made him want to do that. That is the likely case.

And we also know -- and Jamie has talked to people, I have talked to people who are in contact with the president. He calls them all -- people all time who he trusts and who he knows to say, hey, what do you think about this person? How is that person doing? Should I fire that person? Should I fire this person?

So, you never know if it's just something that he's just discussing and just kind of musing about with people he likes and he knows or not. I will tell you that at this moment in time, there is somebody who we have been told is in his crosshairs because of the whole back and forth over his controversial new tariff policy.

And that is his national economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who clearly does not like the fact that he has announced his imposition of 25 percent tariffs on steel, something that he campaigned on. There are a lot of people in the White House who do like it. But there are some who don't.

And that is a very, very big point of contention as we speak on a very, very important policy issue.

BALDWIN: I think we should get into that. Let's take another quick commercial break.

Again, we are watching and waiting for this joint news conference to happen. Live pictures there at the podium. We are waiting to see the president and the prime minister from Sweden taking two questions, two from Swedish press, two from American press, all kinds of questions that could be asked of them.

But we should get into tariffs and how the Republicans on this one are essentially saying, Mr. President, this is a bad idea.

Stick around. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Again, just a reminder. We are standing by, live pictures from the White House, standing by for this joint news conference with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Sweden.

They will be taking questions both from Swedish and American press.

But as we are waiting for this to begin, we are also just now learning -- we were just talking about the president's chief of staff, John Kelly, how he met today with eight Republican senators about the president's plan to impose these new tariffs steel and aluminum.

And some of those senators hoping to convince the president to withdraw the plan.

Dana Bash, Jamie Gangel back with me.

And, Dana, to you. This is Dan Merica's reporting. So you had Paul Ryan yesterday saying not such a great idea at all. You had Mitch McConnell this morning echoing that. You have now these eight Republican senators. Where does this go? Because the president so far seems to not move on this.

BASH: This is such a classic example of the split between the traditional Republican Party and the Trump Republican Party, Brooke.

You know, we kind of could have expected this when he, first of all, beat the 16 other Republican candidates, most of whom, not all of them, but most of whom follow the traditional Republican credo of fair, free trade, that the more trade the better. He does not.

And that is in large part, remember, how he won, won over Democrats, registered Democrats in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, and won the White House by promising he was going to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum, exactly what he is saying that he is going to do now.

So it isn't a surprise that the Republican establishment, if you will, are pushed, that they're pushing back against the president. What maybe shouldn't be a surprise as well is that the announcement was done in a very chaotic fashion without a lot of press to reach out to these Republicans and frankly to even reach out to some people inside his administration to have a better strategy to communicate why the president wants to do this.

But, you know, this is the way that this White House operates. This is the way this president operates. We are seeing the conversations that we normally see behind closed doors about whether a policy is good or bad happening, it's spilling out to the public and is happening real time as we're watching it.

BALDWIN: So, Dana astutely points out the difference in Republicans, right?

But you also noted the language that the Senate majority used in saying, sort of like there is great concern over this, right? This is how you almost have to communicate with the president, because he doesn't like being told, don't to this.


GANGEL: There is no point in trying to paint Donald Trump into a corner, just as there's -- it's not surprising that this is his position.

So, how are they going about it? It's what apparently -- I'm very disappointed. I'm very concerned. Let's discuss this. Let's see where it goes.

Mitch McConnell said today, we will see where the president ends up.

It's not over yet. And I think this meeting with General Kelly -- and I'm sure there were countless phone calls, not only from other Republicans who weren't in that -- but from what -- we had the Canadian prime minister, Trudeau. They were told this was not going to happen. This is not -- they are trying to -- Donald Trump does make deals. So the question is, even though he has campaigned on this forever and ever -- it's not a surprise that he feels this way -- they're all trying to move him closer to one of those deals.

BALDWIN: It just makes you wonder what conversations, if any, have been had with the Swedish prime minister. Volvos, anyone, is one of the conversations being had, and certainly I have to imagine this is one of the questions that will come up in that joint news conference.

Ladies, thank you so much.

Again, live pictures, as we watch and wait for this thing to begin.

We will be right back.