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'Washington Post': Trump to Trim Cabinet Further; Trump Admits to Making Up Facts in Meeting with Canadian P.M.; Trump Names Larry Kudlow as Chief Economic Advisor; White House Backs U.K.'s Expulsion of Russian Diplomats. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- bad shape, the irony is the people in his agency like him and think he does a good job. Mark Preston, and so do you.

Thank you, brother. Appreciate it.

[07:00:07] MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Congratulations, by the way, pal.

CUOMO: Thank you very much. I'll be seeing you soon.

All right. Thanks to our international viewers, as well. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, there is a lot of news. So what do you say? Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though I think President Trump and Justin Trudeau don't see eye to eye, it would be better, of course, if we were dealing with honest conversation.

CUOMO: President Trump blasting U.S. allies over trade, ahead of crucial North Korean negotiations.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They announced Kim Jong-un would like to meet with President Trump. Let's see what happens.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: New documents show a deeper link between the Trump Organization and payments to silence Stormy Daniels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a president who said, "I'm going to be a different type of candidate."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What an entangled web we weave when we practice to deceive. The saga continues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What started in Florida on display in schools across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 17 people that died in Florida they can't protest for anything anymore, because they're dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Change is coming. Change is here. Change is here to stay.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We begin with President Trump admitting that he made up information in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "The Washington Post" reports that the president told donors in a closed- door event he had no idea whether the claims he was making about a trade imbalance were true.

The president also making a veiled threat to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea if he does not get a better trade deal with Seoul.

CUOMO: CNN has uncovered a deeper link between the Trump Organization and the legal battle with porn star Stormy Daniels. What's the link? Well, apparently, there was a second lawyer at the president's company that was connected to efforts to silence her.

And staffers inside the White House are nervously waiting for the next shoe to fall. One administration official telling CNN the president wants to fire every cabinet member that he considers deadweight.

Let's begin over coverage with Abby Phillip, live at the White House. The cabinet was supposed to be the best. Now he's looking to see who to take out next.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president is in a hunting move this week, Chris. And also, last night was in St. Louis campaigning and talking a whole lot about himself and not so much about the Republican Senate candidate that he was there to endorse.

But it was his remarks at this private fund-raiser that really have stunned people in the United States and overseas, where he really illustrated how far he's willing to push his U.S. allies in order to get what he wants on the issue of trade.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): "The Washington Post" reporting that President Trump admitted to making up facts at a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while recounting this familiar story.

TRUMP: He said, "No, no, you have a trade surplus."

I said, "No, we don't."

He said, "No, no, you have a trade surplus."

I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, we do not."

PHILLIP: "The Post" reports that Mr. Trump added a new anecdote last night, telling the crowd that he made the claim, which turned out to be false, without even knowing if it was accurate. JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We've consistently been, you

know, positive and contributing in a meaningful way at the NAFTA table. We're looking for solutions for paths forward.

PHILLIP: The president also blasting a number of America's closest allies, including South Korea, accusing them of only caring about themselves on trade. "The Post" reports that Mr. Trump seemed to threaten to pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn't get what he wanted on trade. The veiled threat coming hours before a South Korean delegation arrives in Washington to discuss a potential meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: We've had a problem for years with North Korea. Let's see what happens.

PHILLIP: President Trump's new chief economic advisor, media analyst Larry Kudlow, will soon join the White House despite opposing Trump's tariffs plan.

TRUMP: We don't agree on everything. But in this case, I think that's good. He now has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point.

PHILLIP: Kudlow's appointment comes as one official says the president has been complaining that his cabinet has fallen well short of his expectations and that he wants to purge the dead weight.

Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with at least two embattled cabinet members, V.A. Secretary David Shulkin and Housing Secretary Ben Carson. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also causing alarm after failing to answer basic questions about schools in recent interviews.

LESLIE STAHL, "60 MINUTES": Have public schools in Michigan gotten better?

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I don't know overall. I can't say overall that they have all gotten better. I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

PHILLIP: Anxiety is growing in the West Wing over additional departures as new documents obtained by CNN now directly link another Trump Organization employee with efforts to silence Stormy Daniels about her alleged affair with the president.

[07:05:04] PHILLIP: The documents show that Jill Martin, a senior lawyer with Mr. Trump's company, filed an arbitration document against Daniels last month.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Well, on the Stormy Daniels issue, Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, still insists that he was acting alone and in his personal capacity when he paid her $130,000.

And also, that second lawyer, Jill Martin, she also says that she was acting privately as an attorney for Cohen when she filed those documents that CNN uncovered.

As for the cabinet shuffle that we are expecting, we will be waiting to see who is next on that list of folks that President Trump says he might want to get rid of this week, Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Abby, thank you very much. I was just getting my script prepared. Because back by popular demand, he will be doing another dramatic

reading for you.

CNN political analysts John Avlon, one of the people who demands it, and Julie Pace, who doesn't know what to expect right now and is regretting accepting our invitation to come on this morning. Julie, great to see you.

So listen, the reason we're making light of this is because I think there has never been a better window into the idea that President Trump doesn't need facts. He doesn't need figures. He doesn't need it to be true. He goes with a hunch, and he goes with his gut feeling. Even, we now know, with world leaders.

CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: So he was is at this fund-raiser last night, and he was bragging to them and explaining -- it was a closed-door meeting, but there is audio of it. But we don't have the audio yet. We have a transcript of the audio from "The Washington Post." And he was bragging about how with Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister --

CUOMO: He lied. That's what he was bragging about. That he lied to the head of Canada. Because that's what it's an example of. The man who loves to talk about fake news is the biggest purveyor of it himself all too often.

CAMEROTA: Now, if you would all get comfortable, we will do the dramatic reading from the transcript.

CUOMO: Who are you? You're Trump.

CAMEROTA: I'm President Trump.

CUOMO: I'm Trudeau.

CAMEROTA: OK.

CUOMO: All right.

CAMEROTA: "Trudeau came to see me. He's a good guy, Justin. He said --"

CUOMO: "No, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please."

CAMEROTA: "Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by 'The Washington Post.' "Nice guy. Good-looking guy. He comes in --'" CUOMO: "Donald, we have no trade deficit."

CAMEROTA: "And he's very proud because everybody else, you know, we're getting killed. So he's proud. I said, 'wrong, Justin. You do.' I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong.'"

CUOMO: Sounds familiar.

CAMEROTA: "'You know why? Because we're so stupid.' And they thought they were smart. I said, 'You're wrong, Justin.' He said --"

CUOMO: "Nope. We have no trade deficit."

CAMEROTA: "I said, well, in that case, I feel differently."

But it goes on. It goes on.

"I said, 'But I don't believe it.' I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out. I said, 'Check because I can't believe it.'"

They came back.

CUOMO: "Well, sir" --

No, this is him. This is still Trump.

CUOMO: All right. He's making a third character. Can you be the third person?

AVLON: Sure. "Well, sir, you're actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn't include energy and timber. And when you do we lose $17 billion a year."

CAMEROTA: "It's incredible."

And scene.

AVLON: So good.

CUOMO: Other than the laughing, it does remind of the reading of the passion that many Catholics will have to be going through in a couple of weeks.

CAMEROTA: Julie, I know this is more than you were expecting this morning.

JULIE PACE, CNN ANALYST: It was very enjoyable. I like that a lot.

CUOMO: We worked on it, to be honest.

CAMEROTA: What are we to make of the fact that the president goes without facts with a foreign leader and just runs with his hunch?

PACE: Well, it's at the same time both shocking and not surprising at all. Because in the one sense, you know, you have the president of the United States admitting that he's going into meetings with foreign leaders and a close ally in this case. This is not an adversary. This is the prime minister of Canada. And he's basically making up the facts on the spot and saying things that he then eventually knows are not true. So that is shocking.

On the other hand, it does follow a pattern for this president. He does speak really loosely in formal and informal settings. He goes with his gut, as Chris says, he's somebody who is driven more by instinct than fact in a lot of cases. And he does tend to live in a world of his own facts.

So that element of it is not surprising. I do think, though, it sends a message to allies who are used to having a relationship with the United States that is -- that is open, that is fact-based. That's not going to be the case for this president. That's something they have been learning over the last several months, and it's simply not going to change.

CUOMO: Now, look, it's a great example of how the president is very comfortable with truth abuse. You know, and at the end of the day, with all this left, right, the truth is a side, as well. But here's the problem, John.

Those who are loyal to Trump will not care about what he just said that he does. They'll say, "Well, this is deal making. And he's savvy. And they all do it." You know, I just don't understand what the threshold is for people in terms of wanting to see Trump's behavior as anything other -- other than acceptable. Within the base. Within that 35 percent of the --

[07:10:18] AVLON: Let's be clear, Trump's base seems to be a fairly solid third of the country. OK? You know, you can fool some of the people all the time and you can't fool all the people all the time. And the problem is that Trump -- it's not about the impact of Trump being fact-free and loose and charming in meetings and how that impacts the base.

It's how it affects the presidency and the president on the world stage. Because if other world leaders look at us not as a, you know, a beacon of liberty, as a place run by a man who's committed to facts and and is a straight shooter and has integrity, if you believe that character matters, which it does, ultimately, in the lives of individuals and nations, as Teddy Roosevelt said, then all of a sudden, that denigrates the presidency, and it denigrates our place as a world leader. That's the problem.

We're not going to be able to, unfortunately, convince everybody that facts matter. But we can say they exist. We can say that we have to have fidelity to them even if the president doesn't.

CAMEROTA: And I mean, obviously, 2020 is a long time away. So I mean, just playing to the base is different. But what a lot of stuff that happens before that, including the international relations. And here's what the president said at the same fundraiser about the Korean Peninsula. He said, "We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military.

We have right now $32,000 soldiers between North and South Korea. Let's see what happens."

And so Julia, tying those two things together, people feel it was a threat to South Korea.

PACE: And a really odd time to be making that threat, given that he's now talking about having dialogue with the leader of North Korea. That's something that the South Koreans have actually been reaching for. They've been trying to act as an intermediary here.

But for the leaders of South Korea, also Japan, another ally, where the U.S. has troops. The idea that the president would so casually throw out the idea on of perhaps withdrawing those troops, I think, will be very chilling for those countries.

CUOMO: He's also getting in his own way again. Because look, you know, I get that there are those on the left who will say that the president can't do anything good, because it's normalizing somebody who they believe inherently is a bad person. But putting aside the extremes, opening a door to speaking with North Korea is a good potential opportunity.

AVLON: Sure.

CUOMO: However, what he just said muddies up the chance of having that sit-down and keeping the alliance strong with the South heading into it, which is fundamental. Because the big concern of everybody is that the North would cleave the South away from the United States. So why do this?

AVLON: Because he can't help but undercutting himself, particularly in areas of strength. I think, as you know, the president deserves a lot of credit for taking a tough line on North Korea and maybe chasing the calculus of that regime. That's a positive thing.

But by this, this is a form of extortion. This is basically the geopolitical version of "Nice DMZ you've got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it."

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

AVLON: Everybody gets that. And that is incredibly dangerous at this time of leading up to negotiations. And it puts South Korea over a barrel, one of our longest standing allies in the region.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's talk about the revolving door at the White House, because it continues. And so to replace Gary Cohn, senior economic adviser, there is talk that it will be Larry Kudlow.

CUOMO: Talk from the president. He just tweeted "Larry Kudlow will be my chief economic adviser as director of the National Economic Council. Our country will have many years of great economic financial success with low taxes, unparalleled innovation, fair trade, and an ever expanding labor force leading the way. #MAGA" AVLON: Wow. I love that Trump has adopted fair trade as his own. I

mean, you know. That was such -- it was a very liberal, activist term as a counterbalance to free trade not that long ago. And now the president has adopted this on his own."

Look, Larry Kudlow is a free trader. But most importantly, he's going to be an effective messenger for the president. And as we see over and over, he wants people he knows from TV. He wants a cast of characters in his cabinet, in his White House.

CAMEROTA: I mean, listen, he -- the president watches cable news. We know that to be true. And so he does have lots of people that he's picked, from Larry Kudlow, Mercedes Schlapp, who obviously has been a contributor and now in the press office. He's considering Josh Bolton. He's considering, we're told, Pete Hegseth. K.T. MacFarland was on TV. Heather Nauert was on TV.

And so that is something that the president values, Julia. But, you know, listen, Larry Kudlow is not in complete lock step, obviously, with the president, certainly on tariffs.

PACE: We had this very interesting conversation with Larry Kudlow yesterday after he confirmed that he was going to be taking this job, where he said in the same breath that he disagrees with the president on tariffs but is in accord with him on his economic policy, which is really hard to square, because tariffs are so central to what the president is trying to do.

I think the question will be what Kudlow's role will be, not on television but actually in the room when he's at the White House. Is he going to be someone who's going to be trying to influence this president, push him toward his positions on policy? Or is he largely going to be a yes man who's going to simply go on television, be someone that the president, I think, is a strong communicator for his ideas and less involved in the actually policy making piece of this job.

CUOMO: Fair point for Larry Kudlow. He is not known as a yes man. It will be interesting how he handles his relationship with the president. But also how he handles the relationships with Peter Navarro, who he is really at odds with, and other people there. He could be an agitator in the White House. And he is an active opponent.

CAMEROTA: OK. It will be very interesting.

Julie Pace, John Avlon, thank you for all of the fun and analysis this morning.

CUOMO: All right. So we're talking about how the president conducts these relationships with allies. Because often, they wind up becoming really, really important. Like what's happening with the U.S. and the U.K. right now. Britain condemning Russia for a nerve agent attack. Now we've heard from Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the U.N. We heard from the ex-secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. But the president has not come out and denounced Moscow's actions. Why is he silent? Senator Angus King, next.

CAMEROTA: And a Russian threat you cannot see. CNN exclusively goes inside a nuclear-powered sub to see how the U.S. is preparing for potential threats in the arctic. Stay tuned for that, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:29] CUOMO: All right. So the White House backing British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. President Trump, however, leaving it to his aides to condemn Russia.

Joining us now is Maine's Independent senator, Angus King. He serves on the Armed Services and Intel Committees.

Senator, always a pleasure. Good to see you.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Yes, sir. Good morning.

CUOMO: So am I wrong to be suspicious of why, once again, the president, who seems always to be spoiling for a fight, brags about lying to the Canadian prime minister, will not mention Vladimir Putin or Russia even after an alleged murder on the soil of one of our greatest allies?

KING: Well, I think you take what you can get in this situation. Nikki Haley made a strong statement at the U.N. The White House as an institution released a very strong statement yesterday backing up the British. The president, I guess, hasn't been asked about it or hasn't made a statement about it. But I wish he would.

I listened to Nikki Haley's speech yesterday. My only problem: she listed all the things that Russia was doing wrong in the world, talking about chemical weapons and what happened in Britain. Never mentioned what happened here in our election, and what's going on right at this very minute.

CUOMO: That wasn't a mistake either, right, Senator?

KING: Well, it was -- let's say it was a very loud omission. And I think that's unfortunate, because we're never going to get to the bottom of this. We're never going to be able to prevent the Russians from doing again what they did in 2016 until we acknowledge that they did it.

CUOMO: Right. I mean, look, the president has been asked about this, and he has spoken on it. But he has a light touch on it, and that's the point because that's not what he is known for.

Here's a little bit of sound of one of his recent responses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all of the evidence they have. I don't know if they've come to a conclusion.

It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia. And I would certainly take that finding as fact.

As soon as we get the facts straight, If we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, that has happened. He just hasn't done it, Senator. And there's a point of fact here. That would be a fine prescription for how to proceed if we didn't know anything. But the president at the time that he said that had to know that Theresa May had already addressed Parliament and said, "We know that it was Russia." So it wasn't that he was waiting for facts. He just didn't want to act on the facts.

KING: Well, I think maybe you're being a little hard, because he said, "We don't know all the facts." They got the facts. The White House just issued a statement. It's true he didn't issue the statement. But the statement that I saw yesterday from -- and it was on the White House stationery, speaking for the president, was pretty strong.

CUOMO: So you don't think it has to come from the president directly?

KING: Well, I think that's preferable. But, you know, I think maybe we're cutting the lines fairly fine here.

CUOMO: Now, something else you were talking about there that we saw in the Nikki Haley statement takes us into this universe of what we believe about Russia to be true in this country. Is the idea of, well, they may have interfered in the election, but they were not doing it to advantage Donald Trump and help him be president. That was the conclusion drawn by the House Intel Committee, GOP side, in their closing down of the probe. Not only no proof of any collusion but no proof that they were not trying to help Putin. Do you accept that conclusion?

KING: No. I don't think -- I just don't think that passes the straight face test. I mean, just start with the e-mail from Rob Goldstone, who was the go-between on that famous June 9 meeting with Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. He said -- he said we've got some dirt on -- the Russians want to meet with you. They have dirt on Hillary.

And then he said an amazing thing. He said, "This is part of the Russian government's efforts to help your father." I mean, how much more clear can it be? And the intelligence community concluded this. Trey Gowdy concluded this. He disagreed with the majority on this Intelligence Committee.

I think to say that there wasn't evidence that the Russians were trying to tilt the election toward Mr. Trump is just, like I say, it just doesn't make any sense in light of really overwhelming evidence. CUOMO: Arguably the strongest point of mitigation that they have is,

well, it wasn't just to help Trump. It was to just sow division. They were saying things that were pro-Bernie, anti-Bernie. You know, they were throwing other groups out there. They were going after African-American empowerment groups. They were just trying to seed dysfunction and chaos. It wasn't really angled to help Trump.

[07:25:05] KING: Well, those two things can both be true. They were trying to seed division and chaos, no question about that. But they were also definitely trying to hurt Hillary Clinton. That's perfectly clear. And they were trying to help Donald Trump.

I don't think that was their intention at the beginning as the -- as I've seen the intelligence and the information. I think they were just trying to disrupt and undermine our democracy, which they did a pretty good job of. But toward the summer of 2016, it's pretty clear from the data that they were lean toward helping Donald Trump and trying to hurt Hillary Clinton. As I say, no less authority than Trey Gowdy in the House, a prominent Republican member, concluded the same thing.

CUOMO: And look, and you would know, based on what you're seeing in the Senate Intel Committee. They take you at your word until you guys issue your report.

Let me ask you a couple of confirmation questions while I have you. First, is it your understanding that the White House can slide somebody from one cabinet position into another without going through any recertification by the Senate?

KING: No. I've never heard that theory. Oh, no. If Mike Pompeo is going to moves to be secretary of state, there clearly has to be a full confirmation process. Hearings in the Senate and a Senate vote on confirmation. Those are two very different jobs. The qualifications for director of the CIA and secretary of state are very different.

CUOMO: I hear you. I just wanted you on record about that in case there are any developments to that end going forward.

So now we have two names in the mix. Pompeo, as you alluded to, going from the CIA to the State Department. And we have who is going to succeed him at the CIA, Gina Haspel. How do you feel about those two people at this point?

KING: Well, I'm going to reserve judgment on both of them. I voted for Mike Pompeo going to the CIA. I felt like he had the technical background and the skills to run that agency.

That's a -- the CIA is essentially a fact agency. Their job is to -- is to develop intelligence and provide the policymakers with information.

State is an entirely different job. It's a policy job.

CUOMO: Right. KING: It's not a technical fact job. He's the spokesman for the United States of America across the world. And I have some real questions about that, because Mike Pompeo has some views expressed over the years in Congress, and I think that needs to be examined.

Gina Haspel is another question. She has generally a very positive reputation in the intelligence community. People -- Jim Clapper supports her. And I think Mike Morrell, former director at -- acting director at the CIA.

On the other hand, she was very much involved in the torture situation and the black sites in Thailand during that very unfortunate period. As John McCain characterized it the other day, one of the darkest periods in recent American history.

CUOMO: And you don't -- I know what you're about to say. But I want to tee it up for people. Because a lot of people, Leon Panetta, OK, the other day said, "You know what? I back her." She was -- she was doing a program that met where America's understanding methods were at that time, post 9/11. She didn't create these. Since then -- they were found legal at the time, these different interrogation methods. We've had a change of heart.

Panetta and that administration changed the rules. So don't hold that against Haspel, because you say she had a hand in covering up what those practices were. That bothers you. How so?

KING: Well, my question is, did she? There was a videotape of one of these so-called enhanced interrogation that you and I would call a torture. And the general counsel of the CIA said, "Do not destroy this tape." It was destroyed. And I want to know what her role was in that decision.

To me, that takes -- that takes it out of, "Well, we thought it was legal and we did it."

I'm not going to prejudge this. I'm going to listen to it. But I really want some answers on that. She'll come before our committee. And I think she has -- she has some things she's got to make clear.

And also, I want to be sure she understands now what the law is. And the law is no more torture. It's not part of what we do. And, you know, we've got a president who has talked about waterboarding in the past as not a big deal. And I want somebody who's going to say, "No, Mr. President, the law doesn't allow that."

CUOMO: And will she say that? Because he does seem to have been of the mind that torture can work, which is not what most of the intel community will tell you.

Senator King, thank you, as always. Appreciate your perspective.

KING: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. So from coast to coast, students walked out of school to send a message to lawmakers to end gun violence. A Florida congressman who represents Parkland, he marched with them. And he joins us next.

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