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Military to Guard Border; Trump Again Attacks Amazon; Trump Tough on Russia; Mueller Team's First Sentence. Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're following breaking news. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Up first, the president of the United States sounding off on several issues just moments ago, including China, Russia, immigration and Mexico. The president met with Baltic leaders over at the White House. Here are some of the highlights from the president's remarks. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year. It's not something we can live with. So we'll be working with China.

So I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful. Your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border. And we are going to be doing some things. I've been speaking with General Mattis. We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military.

Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Now, maybe we will and maybe we won't. And probably nobody has been tougher to Russia than Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's quickly go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's over at the White House.

Wide ranging remarks by the president, answering questions from reporters inside the White House, just as he's having lunch with the leaders of the Baltic States.

But what he's saying, first of all, about Mexico, that the U.S. was about to deploy military personnel, military troops to the Mexican/U.S. border. That seems like a new strategy.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and he said it while he was sitting right next to the defense secretary, Jim Mattis. And so apparently this is an order from the commander in chief to the defense secretary that the U.S. is now going to deploy the U.S. military to the border with Mexico. The president saying that in absence of a wall, in the absence of proper security, in his view, he's going to be deploying U.S. troops on the border with Mexico.

Now, we're going to have to wait ask see, obviously, what it said in these midday sprays over here at the White House. They sometimes don't hold true for very long, Wolf. And so we'll have to find out if that's the case. But the president had sort of a stream of conscience there, went through a number of topics.

He was asked about the future of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. At one point he said, I hope he's going to be great, talking about Scott Pruitt. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement.

He was also asked about Vladimir Putin and Russia and at one point the president said that nobody's been tougher -- or probably nobody's been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump. He said that in the company of the Baltic leaders who were obviously very nervous about whether or not the president would uphold Article 5 of the NATO charter, which says an attack on one country -- one charter country is an attack on all. And I suspect, although that question was not directly asked of the president in this spray with reporters just a few moments ago, he may be asked at this news conference that's coming up in the next 35 minutes or so. The president is going to be taking a question from a U.S. reporter, and then, from what we understand from talking to White House officials, Wolf, that each of those Baltic leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, they'll be taking questions from their respective press corps as well.

But, no doubt about it, a pretty eventful 20 or 30 minutes in the last several minutes over here at the White House with the president saying he wants to send the military to the border with Mexico. Again, the president venting his frustrations on this issue of immigration.

BLITZER: He didn't back away at all from his criticism of Amazon, saying that Amazon was taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, did he?

ACOSTA: That's right. And at one point, at the very end there, and you could hear the aides to the president says, thanks very much, guys, thanks very much, and then the reporters would ask additional questions. Just for folks at home who are wondering, well, why do reporters shout questions at the president at these things when they're told to wrap things up and then they continue to shout more question sis because in many cases the president keeps answering those questions.

And one of those last questions was on Amazon and "The Washington Post." That's, of course, because the owner of "The Washington Post" is Jeff Bezos, who also owns and founded Amazon. And at one point the president said that Amazon is going to be paying much more money to the post office. As the president has been making these comments about Amazon over the

last several days, we've seen their stock price go down, Wolf, and that, obviously, has been detrimental to their investors and has been sort of a scare tactic that the president has uses on employees of "The Washington Post." The people at "The Washington Post" are saying they're not going to put up with it. But make no mistake, when the president talks about going after Amazon and making them pay more money at the post office, he is trying to intimidate "The Washington Post." There's no other way around it. That's what he's trying to do, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, stand by. I know you're getting ready for the president's news conference coming up later this hour. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that.

[13:05:03] Let's bring in our panel.

Our Gloria Borger is with us.

Let's talk a little bit of what the president said. He was asked specifically if Putin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a friend or a foe. He said, we'll find out. I'll let you know. There will be a time when I'll let you know. You're going to find out very quickly.

BORGER: Right. I mean and he said nobody's been tougher on Russia than he has, which is a notion a lot of people might dispute. And I think what -- you know, what he's -- look, we've expelled diplomats. We went along with the rest of our allies and doing that as a result of the poisonings. And so I'm sure he considers that tough. But he's also somebody who congratulated Vladimir Putin on his reelection and has said that he wants to meet with him.

And I think it's just one of these notions where Trump believes that he can be the good cop and maybe everybody else can be the bad cop, and somehow he'll be able to negotiate something with Putin that will surmount all the problems that we've been having, and everybody is, including, I believe, most of his national security team, current and ones that are coming in, are skeptical about. But this is, you know, this is the president's old saw, that he can do things that nobody else could do.

BLITZER: And, Pamela Brown, your our senior White House correspondent. You've been doing some reporting on what's going on behind the scenes as we get ready for more questions for the president.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

And just really quickly on Gloria's point, you know, he talks about the fact that we'll see, we'll see how a relationship with Russia is. Well, he's been in office for more than a year now and Russia has taken some very aggressive actions while he's been in office. What more evidence does the president need in terms of the fact that Russia won't change its behavior? His own administration has said that he has hacked the U.S. power grid, Russia's starting to meddle in the midterms. There is all kinds of signs that Russia isn't going to change its behavior. On the flip side, I'm told by sources familiar with the matter, that

the president is sort of renewing his conviction that he is his own best adviser, Wolf. That he's sort of embracing his instincts.

And we're seeing that play out with the firing of his recent -- the recent firings of his cabinet secretaries, including Rex Tillerson. I'm told behind the scenes there was a lot of friction between him and Chief of Staff John Kelly, who pushed back and said, no, we need to wait for Tillerson to come back. We need him to come into the Oval Office with Pompeo. This needs to be ceremonious. This needs to be orderly.

Well, the president, apparently, would not commit to that. And, as a result, Chief of Staff John Kelly was very upset. And that's what prompted this phone call to Tillerson saying, you better hurry back, because he was so worried the president would tweet out the firing while he was overseas.

It just gives you sort of a glimpse into the sort of disorderly manner behind the scenes with the president ignoring all of his advisers and really sticking with his own instincts.

BORGER: With his own chief of staff.

BROWN: Yes, exactly.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Pamela's absolutely right, especially when it comes to this Pruitt situation, he is his own counselor now. There seems to be more of a push and pull tug-of-war with John Kelly, his chief of staff, because John Kelly wants Pruitt to go and the president's like, no. And now it's --

BROWN: For now.

RYAN: For now. Right, right, for now.

But the president is standing firm on this.

BROWN: Yes.

RYAN: This is back and forth between John Kelly. And let's see if it's going to be Kelly or Pruitt who goes first now.

BROWN: Exactly.

RYAN: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, and, Carrie, you're with us as well, Carrie Cordero, our legal analyst.

He did say -- and I'll read it specifically, that the U.S. was about to deploy military troops to the border with Mexico.

We have very bad laws for our border and we are going to be doing some things. I spoke with General Mattis, the secretary of defense. We're going to do some things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step.

As you know, civilian personnel, border police, among others, they've been guarding those borders.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They do traditionally. There are times where prior presidents have used a military presence in some way.

BLITZER: In an emergency, National Guard personnel have gone in, but that's in an emergency.

CORDERO: Right. They can -- they can assist civilian efforts. But I think both this issue, as well as the -- his statements regarding Russia, from my perspective, having worked with the intelligence community in the past, it raises the question of what the president bases his statements or his decisions or these pronouncements that he makes about what he's going to do on. Was his -- for example, was the statement regarding deploying troops from Mexico, is that something that he really has been a part of a policy process throughout government where actually there was a process, an interagency process that there usually would be, that then informed this decision, which he revealed in his press appearance today, or is it something that he just sort of has been thinking about because he's concerned politically about the border issue and immigration in the last week and so he just decided to say this in the moment. And it's similar with respect to the Russia question and his stance towards Russia that he relayed in this press conference. Is his decision making based on intelligence information and policy process, or does he just sort of say what comes to mind in the moment.

[13:10:06] BORGER: Well, and, remember, he said he was going to pull out of Syria, right? And we don't -- we don't know -- we still don't know where that -- where that came from. Or does it come from what he watches on television?

RYAN: But the question is, this is a state of emergency with this Honduran caravan. Is he considering this an emergency issue where he has to put troops on the border? And, if it is, why is it such an emergency? What are they bringing? What's happening? Why?

BLITZER: And, Pamela, a familiar theme we're hearing from the president, President Trump, right now blaming his predecessors for so many of the problems that exist today, whether China or immigration. And now one of his tweets this morning, he goes directly after President Obama, calling him cheatin Obama. Cheatin Obama.

BROWN: Right.

BLITZER: I think that may have been the first time he's directly had a label for the former president of the United States.

BROWN: And it was only a matter of time. I think we can all agree on that. Yes, it just struck me because he's clearly fixated by his predecessors and even Hillary Clinton, he brought her up again saying that, you know, if she was president, this would have never happened. So it is -- it does strike me that he is still not sort of understood or grasp the fact that he is now the president. Who cares about these other people? Why is he so fixated on them?

BORGER: Well, and, of course, as we know from having studied Donald Trump for a while now, he's never to blame for anything.

BROWN: Right.

BORGER: Nothing is ever his fault. It's always somebody else's faults. And perhaps you can reverse that on Obama and say, well, gee, if it were Barack Obama who were being -- who was being questioned about an affair with a porn star, where would that story have gone?

RYAN: Right.

BROWN: Right.

RYAN: Exactly.

BORGER: If you want to talk about cheatin Obama --

RYAN: Exactly.

BORGER: If there had been one --

RYAN: Watch the words (ph), yes.

BORGER: Where would that story have gone?

RYAN: You're exactly right.

BROWN: And it was interesting. I was talking to a senior administration official yesterday. He was saying, you know, to your point about whether this was policy, was he looking at policy and that kind of thing. This person said that whenever people in his administration try to brief him on important topics and he feels like they're trying to maybe disagree with his point of view, he'll meander to a completely different subject. He'll bring up Amazon. He'll bring up the Russia probe, that he's only been to Russia once. He doesn't like to hear differing opinions. And he doesn't like to sort of take the time, I'm told by officials, and I'm sure you've heard the same, to really dive into the matter and memos and so forth.

RYAN: Right.

BLITZER: Very quickly, April, because we've got to take a break, but do we know why the president all of a sudden is referring to President Obama as cheatin Obama? Is there something that President Obama said in recent days or did in recent days, why the current president is lashing out at him like that?

RYAN: This president has an ego and he realizes he's totally different from President Obama. President Obama, before he left, left, for some, in a blaze of glory. And he does not like that. He sees the big difference. He's a person who doesn't read his intelligence. He's a person who goes more knee jerk, whereas Obama was more -- mostly a person who wanted to listen to advisers. And he felt the pulse of the people. And this president realizes the -- he is the exact opposite of Barack Obama, who was well loved by a large portion of America, who has a large poll number versus this president. He does not like President Obama, number one, because of just -- just -- he's totally different.

BLITZER: Right.

RYAN: He's not a traditional president. He is the -- he's the Republican president, former Democratic person, but Republican president.

BLITZER: We'll try to figure out --

BORGER: How about calling a former president that, though?

BLITZER: Yes. We'll try to figure out why he's calling President Obama cheatin Obama at this point.

Stand by. Moments from now, President Trump, once again, he'll meet with reporters, he'll take questions. We'll have live coverage of that. He's having lunch right now with the leaders of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

And there's breaking news. A judge handing down the very first sentence in the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. This as we learn that the U.S. Justice Department recently told Mueller to investigate the president's then campaign chairman for collusion with the Russians. What this means for the case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:18:04] BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news as we await the president's news conference.

A federal judge here in Washington just handing down the very first sentence in the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. A Dutch lawyer with ties to the Trump campaign official Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, for that matter, getting 30 days behind bars and a $20,000 fine for lying to the feds. And Mueller's team warns this should serve as an example for what happens when you lie to federal investigators.

All of this as a newly released classified memo lays out the scope of the special counsel's investigation. It shows how the Department of Justice authorized Robert Mueller to investigate allegations that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort colluded with Russian officials during the campaign. It also approved the investigation into Manafort's payments from Ukrainian politicians were pro-Russian.

Let's bring back our panel.

And, Gloria, first of all, what's your reaction to Alex van der Zwaan, this 33-year-old Dutch lawyer working for a major U.S. law firm, who's now a convicted felon. He will pay a significant price for this, 30 days in jail, probation, a $20,000 fine. BORGER: Don't lie. Don't lie to the special counsel. I think Rick

Gates learned that. I mean Pamela and I have been doing a lot of reporting on this. Time after time, if you lie to the special counsel, you're going to get in trouble for it. This is somebody, of course, who is an attorney with (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: Which is a major firm.

BORGER: The major -- a major firm. And he's very remorseful, clearly, about what he did. But they are --

RYAN: After he got caught.

BORGER: Right, but they are not fooling around here. And you cannot -- you cannot lie to them, period.

BROWN: And it's interesting because we know the president's lawyers are paying attention to this.

BORGER: Yes.

RYAN: They are.

BROWN: The number of people who have been charged and pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, to the special counsel, and that is part of, you know, what is in the calculus when they're trying to decide whether or not to let the president speak to Robert Mueller's team. There's a lot of concern, as we know, that it could be a perjury trap for the president.

[13:20:10] BLITZER: And if you read this memo that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, he was then acting attorney general, wrote on August 2, 2017, now released by Robert Mueller, it's a memo from Rosenstein to Mueller, the special counsel, the scope of investigation, the definition of authority, it clearly states that they want to take a look at possible collusion between Manafort, the then Trump campaign chairman, and the Russians, even though the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican majority, they concluded -- they saw no evidence of collusion and as a result they wrapped up the investigation.

RYAN: But you have to remember, the special prosecutor has broad scope. Special counsel has a broad scope. And I asked a former prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson trial, Chris Darden, this. He said, you have to think about the scope of an investigation, something like this. He said, it's like someone going into a house looking for drugs, but then you see the wife being beaten or the children being beaten. You can't just ignore that and take care of the drugs. You have to look at the whole picture of this.

And he's got the whole picture. And this could -- this could even go into Stormy Daniels. I can go into so many things. When you're looking for money and looking for -- you know, following the trail of money, people might lie about that, people might lie about this, but he has to follow the trail wherever it may lead. And there is a broad scope. BLITZER: And what they're specifically looking at in this memo from

Rosenstein to Mueller, August 2, 2017, the allegations against Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, the allegations that he committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election of -- for president of the United States in violation of United States law and that he committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych. Viktor Yanukovych, a very pro-Russian at the time.

Those are very, very serious, potential allegations.

CORDERO: Well, they are. And part of the reason that this pleading and this memo was filed with the courts is because Paul Manafort is challenging the special counsel's authority to prosecute him for a variety of crimes, including false statements, including money laundering, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. And so Manafort is trying to challenge the special counsel's authority. And, as a result, the special counsel filed this long document which includes this memo from the deputy attorney general.

And it shows a few things. First of all, it shows that the deputy attorney general, just as he has said all along in his public statements and in his testimony before Congress, that he is conducting active oversight of the special counsel's investigation. This August memo, which is attached to the filing, is just an indicator of that he really is doing that. And it dates back to August.

There could be other memos that have been issued during the -- you know, in the ensuing months that we don't know about that continue his written oversight in addition to what he has said has been meetings he's had.

BLITZER: And it clearly underscores that Mueller is investigating possible collusion, money laundering, perjury, obstruction of justice. He's got a full plate that is moving along.

BORGER: Well, can I just say one other thing?

It clearly also underscores that Rod Rosenstein is on board with the scope of this investigation, which isn't going to make the president of the United States really happy because he thinks it's all a witch hunt and a hoax and Rod Rosenstein has not been his favorite person. And so I'm wondering where that leads.

BLITZER: Even though he named him to become deputy attorney general.

BORGER: Yes. Yes, he did.

BLITZER: And he's in charge --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: He's in charge --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: Because the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Under the rules of the Justice Department.

BORGER: Right. Right. Right.

BLITZER: All right, there's a lot more that's happening right now.

Once again, only moments from now, the president will face reporters. He'll take questions. We'll have that live for you.

Plus, new scandals involving EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, including a report that he defied the White House by giving two of his favorite staffers big raises. I'll speak live with a Republican congressman. We'll talk about that and a lot more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:28:44] BLITZER: We're just moments away after President Trump's scheduled joint news conference with the leaders of three Baltic states. We're going to go there live as soon as it begins. Aides are already getting ready for it.

In the meantime, joining us now, Congressman Francis Rooney. He's a Florida Republican. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me back on.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to the president now saying he's just met with the defense secretary, General Mattis, and he wants to start deploying U.S. military troops to the border with Mexico apparently because the wall is slow going right now. What's your reaction?

ROONEY: Well, I don't really think -- feel really comfortable with deploying military troops and creating the possibility for an increase in violence and an escalation of the conflict. I mean these people should be stopped at the border and vetted out, just the normal process. And we should have plenty of agents down there to do that.

BLITZER: There have been emergencies in the past when National Guard personnel have been deployed, either by the governors of various states or by the president, but those have been in emergencies. Do you think it would be necessary for the president to get legislation through Congress to authorize the deployment of large numbers of U.S. military personnel to the border if that's what he wants to do?

[13:30:04] ROONEY: I don't think that Robert Kennedy had to get congressional approval back in Little Rock in Mississippi back in 1961.