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Trump Slams Amazon & Jeff Bezos; Is Kellyanne Conway's Husband Trolling Trump; Trump Fires V.A. Secretary Shulkin, Nominates White House Physician. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 13:30   ET

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


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[13:33:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Right now, Amazon shares are slumping once again thanks, in part, to President Trump's Twitter attacks on the retail giant. The latest one saying, and I'm quoting, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery, causing tremendous loss to the U.S., and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business."

I'm joined now by CNN political commentator and "Washington Post" columnist, Catherine Rampell.

Catherine, why does the president have so much animosity towards Amazon?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are a few possible explanations. Trump has a history of inflating his net worth. And Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, happens to be the richest man in the world. But I think his Amazon bashing is just an extension of his media bashing. Jeff Bezos owns the "Washington Post." Amazon doesn't, but Jeff Bezos does. And President Trump has very confusing ideas about the relationship between Amazon and the "Washington Post." And if you look back at all the times he has attacked Amazon -- and there's been maybe a dozen tweets over the last year and a half, couple years -- they've often been prompted by what he sees as political coverage by the "Washington Post." He's lashing out at Amazon because he's angry about media coverage, essentially.

BLITZER: I want to point out, Catherine -- take a look at this. The president's next worth, according to Forbes, the most recent Forbes billionaire list and Jeff Bezos' next worth. You see Jeff Bezos. He's now number one, richest man in the world, $112 billion net worth. He's gone up in the past several years dramatically. Look at President Trump, on the other hand. His net worth is $3.1 billion, which is obviously very good. Not $10 billion as he's claimed. He's now 776th in the world. His spot has gone down significantly about 400 points since 2016. Is there something personal going on here? Do you think these numbers feed the president's personal anger towards Jeff Bezos?

[13:35:12] RAMPELL: I think that's possible. We don't exactly know what the motivations are here. I think we need to pause for a moment and just reflect on how crazy it is that the sitting president of the United States appears to be taking actions to try to drive down the stock price of what he perceives to be a political enemy, or the net worth of what he perceives to be a political enemy, which is Mr. Bezos here.

We haven't even talked about the precise criticisms the president has made against Amazon. You showed the tweet earlier where Trump was claiming Amazon isn't paying state and local taxes, which is wrong. Amazon does collect state and local sales taxes in every state that levies a statewide sales tax. And the comment that Amazon is somehow scamming the postal service is also backwards in that, yes, Amazon gives a lot of business to the postal service, and the postal service makes a lot of money off of it. In fact, package delivery is potentially the only thing keeping the postal service, which is highly troubled, afloat, given that you see declines in revenues from first- class mail. Package delivery is doing well. Everything about this criticism, whether about Bezos or about the "Washington Post," whatever the motivation, it's very confused.

BLITZER: I dropped one word when I was reading his tweet earlier. He said, "using the postal system as their delivery boy." I didn't use the word "boy." "Causing tremendous loss to the U.S."

What they're doing, as you correctly pointed out, all these deliveries are giving the U.S. Postal Service a lot more money as a result of all the work that Amazon does.

When he says they're putting many thousands of retailers out of business, a lot of smaller retailers are in business because of the opportunities they now have to go online and sell their products, right?

RAMPELL: Yes, there are a lot of third-party sellers on Amazon. I know I used them. I'm sure many of the other viewers watching this have used them. It's true that Amazon is a fierce competitor, and a lot of shops that don't participate in their platform may suffer from that. But the thing you have to keep in mind is that if you're looking at U.S. antitrust law, which it seems like Trump is interested in levying against, again, a perceived political enemy, generally, the way that our antitrust system works is that you have to show there is harm to the consumer. It's not clear that having low prices and having effects on potential competitors is necessarily hurting consumers. So, again, these criticisms seem to have very impure motives, and are confused to boot.

BLITZER: Catherine, thank you very much for that explanation.

RAMPELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did President Trump choose another cabinet member based on chemistry over qualifications? There are new questions about the new job that his personal physician just received.

Plus, more on the breaking news, a judge denying Stormy Daniels' motion to depose the president and his lawyer.

And the president getting ready to speak moments from now in Cleveland, Ohio. Stand by for that.

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[13:42:40] BLITZER: Is the husband and White House communications senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, trolling President Trump? It appears that way. Take a look at what George Conway tweeted after news broke that Trump's attorney had floated the idea of pardons. Just three words, quote, "This is flabbergasting." Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president. The critiques have become more frequent, which is odd considering his wife works for the Trump White House and devotes her days to defending the president of the United States.

Let's bring in CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, what else did George Conway have to say?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Listen, George Conway is a long-time conservative attorney, and of course, he's Kellyanne Conway's husband. Not just a member of the Trump administration, but one of the prominent defenders of the president. A number of his tweets, beyond the flabbergasted, he's been bringing attention to a range of issues that the White House has been trying to avoid.

First, of all, this issue of the president's legal team, the trouble he's been having. Here's a few of the retweets he's put out in recent weeks. And then you have more issues than just that. You have Stormy Daniels, of course, which the White House has repeatedly rebuffed questions. Sarah Sanders yesterday frustrated about those. Here's George Conway retweeting a tweet that called attention to the fact that that $130,000 hush payment may have been an illegal campaign contribution, according to a former FTC chairman.

Then you have some more directly critical tweets. This is one that George Conway retweeted from Chuck Todd, pointing out, "Every day a tantrum. Every day more enabling. This is no way to run a PTA, let alone the largest organization in the world."

But George Conway has also had some words of his own. You can see here in the next tweet we have, "So true it's absurd, which is why people are banging down the doors to be his coms director. This is in reference to a tweet about the fact that the president repeatedly denies reports that ultimately turn out to be true.

Why is this most interesting? First of all, George Conway has since deleted this tweet and he's been deleting a series of recent tweets. I reached him today to asked him why he's deleting these tweets. Perhaps it's about Kellyanne Conway being considered to become the next White House communications director. He would not say. He said, "Nothing to add." When I asked him why, he said, "No reason" -- Wolf?

[13:45:00] BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, we'll stay on top of that story as well. Very intriguing. Thank you.

Coming up, Veterans Secretary David Shulkin is now out. The president's personal physician will replace him if he's confirmed by the United States Senate. Did he choose chemistry, the president, over qualifications?

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BLITZER: President Trump has made another change to his cabinet, firing Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. The president has nominated his White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, as Shulkin's replacement. It may be this performance in front of cameras that certainly caught the president's eye.

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[13:50:00] REAR ADM. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The president, you know, he's very sharp, very articulate. A lot of energy, a lot of stamina.

Look at his vision. He's 75 years old and can drive if he wants to without glasses.

He washes his hands frequently. He uses Purell.

The president's health is excellent. His overall health is excellent.

He has incredible genes. I assume, I think he will remain fit for duty for this remainder of this term and even through the remainder of another term if he is elected.

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BLITZER: Joining us now is Joe Chenelly, a Marine Corps veterans and national executive director of AMVETS, one of the leading veteran service organizations.

Joe, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's talk about this shift yesterday. What was your reaction when you heard Shulkin was fired and Dr. Jackson was coming in?

JOE CHENELLY, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMVETS: Certainly disappointed to hear about the firing. Not exactly surprised, but very disappointed. Thought Secretary Shulkin had been doing a great job and we have concern about the nomination.

BLITZER: What is your concern about Dr. Jackson? He is Navy -- and he will be leaving active duty if confirm by the Senate, but he is an admiral.

CHENELLY: We don't know the admiral. I don't. We don't know much about him. That's part of the concern. We've looked into his background, official Navy bio, his Wikipedia page. Some of the things that we can find out about him. We don't see much there as far as experience to run a $200 billion agency with 350,000 employees. Veterans' lives depend on this decision being right. So we're very eager to start this confirmation process and we hope that a lot of these answers or a lot of these questions are answered.

BLITZER: I'm sure there will be a lot of questions for him during the Senate confirmation before the U.S. Senate.

But so much of the work of the Department of Veterans Affairs has to do with the physical, the health, mental health, physical health of veterans here in the United States. So, isn't it good that a physician will be atop that administration?

CHENELLY: We are pleased with his medical background, but the health care side of the V.A. is really only one-third of the V.A. There's claims, appeals. We have an appeals backlog. Veterans are waiting seven to 10 years for their appeals to be adjudicated. Very serious stuff. We don't know that this secretary has that type of experience to be able to oversee that. The V.A. has experienced a leadership vacuum for a while. In addition to the carousel at the top of the V.A., there's no V.A. undersecretary.

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BLITZER: Is there deputy secretary, a number two?

CHENELLY: That's really important point. There's is a deputy secretary. Somebody else we have a lot of confidence in. We, being AMVETS and other organizations. We have a lot of confidence in that deputy, but he was leapfrogged in this, and they brought in somebody from the Pentagon.

BLITZER: To be acting secretary?

CHENELLY: Right. We're puzzled by that and have put inquiries in to the White House and the administration to why that would be.

BLITZER: What's the answer you're getting?

CHENELLY: We're not getting any answer. And --

BLITZER: This acting secretary, this Pentagon undersecretary, will be the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs until Dr. Jackson is confirmed?

CHENELLY: Right. That could take months.

BLITZER: The process could take months, indeed. But your concerned about that.

What was your biggest opposition to Shulkin being fired?

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BLITZER: You know, there were all these stories of the trip he took, other issues. He was opposed to privatization. Those are sensitive issues in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

CHENELLY: The privatization is not sensitive as far as veterans organization go. I don't speak for any others but my own. We stood united, the major legitimate veterans' organizations, very opposed to privatization. Veterans lose out on that. And taxpayers lose on that as well, at least $500 billion more. BLITZER: He wrote in "The New York Times" today, Shulkin, he said,

"They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. This is because I'm convinced privatization is a political issue, aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans."

Do you think that's why he was forced out?

CHENELLY: Absolutely. We're grateful to Dr. Shulkin for writing that. This is a really important narrative. And this is where we need to be focusing right now as a nation when talking about veterans' issues.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip, totally on another matter, Joe. The secretary of defense, James Mattis, moments ago, received John Bolton, who is going to be the president's new national security adviser. Let me play this little clip, what we just heard.

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JOHN BOLTON, INCOMING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Mr. Secretary, so good to see you. Thank you for inviting me over.

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GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Oh, yes. Thank you for coming. Nice to finally meet you.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON: Absolutely.

MATTIS: I heard that you're absolutely the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.

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BLITZER: In case you didn't hear, the secretary of defense, General Mattis, saying to John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., "I heard you're actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you." Bolton laughed and Secretary Mattis laughed. But it's the first time they're actually meeting right now.

I don't know if you wanted to react on that, Joe. But you follow military related, defense-related issues very closely. You served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CHENELLY: I actually served under General Mattis in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a great deal of respect for him. What he's doing with the Pentagon is very much on track. That comment, I'm guessing that was something off the cuff there.

[13:55:03] BLITZER: A joke.

CHENELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: They tried to say devil incarnate. But it will get some pickup, as you know.

But are you pleased that John Bolton will be the national security adviser? He does not need Senate confirmation.

CHENELLY: We're looking forward to hearing what his update in more- modern, present-day stances are on, obviously, a lot of very important issues, national defense issues and national security issues.

BLITZER: That would affect the veterans.

And we're grateful to you and all the veterans for the service they've done to our country.

Thank you for joining us.

CHENELLY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, there's breaking news in the case of the president versus the porn star. A judge denying Stormy Daniels' motion to depose President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Stand by for details.

Plus, Russia retaliates, closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, and expelling 60 American diplomats after action taken by the United States. We'll get a live report.

And the president getting ready to speak live moments from now. Will he address any of these controversies? Stick around. We'll have coverage.

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