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China Announces Possible Tariffs of American Goods; Special Counsel Mueller States President Trump is Subject but Not Target of Investigation; Interview with Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy from South Carolina. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Ivan Watson. He's live in Beijing with our breaking news this morning. Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David. Beijing has made it clear that if the Trump administration wants a trade war, it is ready to fight back, announcing that it is prepared to slap 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods, including soybeans and airplanes which were two of the U.S.'s biggest exports to China, $14 billion each worth of business in 2016. China says this is retaliation for the Trump administration's announcement that it's going to impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods going to the U.S.

Now, the Chinese have also made it clear that they are still willing to bargain, that they have not yet imposed these tariffs and that now is the time to negotiate and to cooperate. The Trump administration has argued that its latest proposal for tariffs are basically a response to allegations of intellectual property theft by China against U.S. firms that have invested in China. Chinese officials were asked about that at a press conference here in Beijing today, about the vice minister of commerce responded to that accusation, calling it fake news, saying China does not steal intellectual property. China says it is going to take this matter to the World Trade Organization for dispute resolution. Meanwhile President Trump has tweeted that the U.S. is not in a trade war with China, that that trade war was lost a long time ago. Alisyn, David?


GREGORY: "Washington Post" reporting this morning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has told President Trump's legal team that the president is a subject but not a target of his Russia investigation. Will President Trump agree to an interview given this develop? CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House with more on this this morning. Hey, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, David. We are learning some new details this morning about what kind of legal jeopardy the president could be in as a result of this Mueller probe. And while Mueller has told the president's lawyers that he is not under criminal investigation, he is still not out of the woods just yet.


PHILLIP: During negotiations last month between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and lawyers for President Trump, the "Washington Post" reports that Mueller said he was looking at president as a subject of his investigation but does not consider him a criminal target at this point. Mueller also relaying to Mr. Trump's team investigators are compiling a report about the president's actions and possible obstruction of justice, stressing that he needs to interview Mr. Trump, according to "The Post."

Meanwhile President Trump ramping up his tough talk on immigration, surprising Pentagon officials by announcing he wants to send the military to guard the southern border.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Until we have can a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step. We really haven't done that before, certainly not very much before.

PHILLIP: The White House later saying that the president had been briefed about a strategist that includes mobilizing the National Guard, a step that both his predecessors took. Details remain unclear, but a source tells CNN that the president has been working on the number of troops he is considering. President Trump also taking credit for pressuring Mexico to block a group of Honduran asylum seekers from reaching the United States.

TRUMP: I have just heard that the caravan coming up from Honduras is broken up and Mexico did that. And they did it because, frankly, I said you really have to do it.

PHILLIP: Mexico responding that the decision to break up the caravan was made solely by its members and not due to any external or domestic pressure. President Trump also reiterating his interests in pulling U.S. troops out of Syria.

TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

PHILLIP: But just yesterday CNN learned that the military is working on plans to send dozens of additional troops into Syria. And just minutes before Trump's remarks, the special envoy in charge of the mission to defeat ISIS said this.

BRETT MCGURK, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR GLOBAL COALITION TO DEFEAT ISIS: We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission. And the mission isn't over, and we're going to complete that commission.

PHILLIP: The president's public statement in stark contrast to this earlier criticism.

TRUMP: I don't want to tell the enemy how I am thinking. Does that make sense? Surprise. Remember they used to call it the element of surprise.

We must as a nation be more unpredictable. I don't talk about military response.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump also touting the administration's actions against Russia.

TRUMP: Nobody has been tougher on Russia. But getting along with Russia would be a good thing, not a bad thing. And just about everybody agrees to that except very stupid people.

[08:05:01] PHILLIP: The outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster later contradicting the president's assessment.

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions. And we have failed to impose sufficient costs.


PHILLIP: These new Mueller developments come after the first jail term was handed down by a court yesterday. A lawyer who was associated with some of Trump's former campaign aides was sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to the Mueller investigators. President Trump today has been tweeting this morning but has an otherwise quiet morning before he heads to a private fundraiser this afternoon. They're gearing up for the 2018 and 2020 elections here, Alisyn and David.

CAMEROTA: Abby, you promised a quiet morning in the 6:00 a.m. hour, OK. And now there has already been tweets, and I don't know if it is going to be a quiet morning. But anyway, thank you very much.

So here is the tweet. President Trump has just tweeted this about China's retaliation. He says "We are not in a trade war with China. That war was lost many years ago by the foolish or incompetent people who represented the U.S. Now we have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year with intelligence property theft of another $300 billion. We cannot let this continue."

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian, and senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight Perry Bacon. Great to see both of you. So Karoun, it seems as though the president is tweeting this because of what's happening with the Dow futures. So they're down. It looks like it's going to be another rocky day for the stock market. And people of course are worried about a trade war. How do you see it?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. People have been concerned about this for a while, but now the fact that China has said we will respond with dozens and dozens of categories of retaliatory moves, that has a lot of people scared. A lot of producers of a lot of these goods are very, very worried.

And so for a president who used to point to the stock market and say this is a sign of how well the economy is doing under me to have the stock market take so many successive hits like this, he has to be concerned that people are going to point the finger back at him and these new policies that clearly seem to be very much the inspiration for these falls.

And so he is taking this tweet and it seems defending that strategy that he put out there. He is saying I didn't start it. This was long ago and I had to take this move. You could say, OK, well, maybe you're still escalating whatever trade wars you believe started before your presidency began, but this is really the president kind of answering the markets at this point. And they used to be on the same side in his opinion.

GREGORY: Perry, it is interesting. There's no question that you could be spooked by looking at the market reaction once he started talking about tariffs and we saw accommodations that he made for allies on that to try to tamp that down. Here is the president this morning saying we are not in a trade war, and China saying we don't have to implement these responses that could have both economic and political effects for President Trump. These may be a negotiation that is playing out day after day, no?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Yes, I think so. We are not in a trade war. I guess we're having some trade battles or skirmishes or something like that I think right now. I think the Chinese are trying to say we can dial this back some. But I don't see the president doing that. He did campaign this idea that China is cheating us in trade deals and we need to take them on. And it looks to me in this sort of second year of the more unrestrained Trump, slightly more un unrestrained, he seems to be more unrestrained particularly on trade and tariffs. So I don't see him backing down anytime soon.

CAMEROTA: We are just getting word in that Wilbur Ross on a different morning show, the commerce secretary, has just said frankly, I'm a little surprised that Wall Street is so surprised by this. Is that what he said, surprised by this? Yes, that he is surprised that Wall Street is reacting like this.

GREGORY: Which is fair. Even the president's tweet, Karoun, definitely makes the point this is a president whose views about trade go back many years, and it is among the more thoughtful of his policy areas. Consistent, and you can obviously criticize timing and impulsiveness with regard to this, but certainly these are long held beliefs, and I think that's what Wilbur Ross is getting at.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, certainly this is a point the president has been very consistent on since he was a candidate. It's also not like we just woke up today and realized that there are issues with trade and China. So that's a fair to say nobody should be surprised. But I think with a lot of things the president campaigned on points that these are policies that have not necessarily seen their way through. I think if there are changes made to NAFTA there will be the similar reaction in the markets. I think there's a lot of people that were watching the administration come in and maybe hoping some of these points were just populist messages to his voters, not necessarily policies that he would pursue because it could potentially have such a shocking effect to the economy, to the markets. But he has pursued, so he is being consistent, and now we are seeing that reaction play out.

[08:14:56] GREGORY: And it is not just the markets, obviously. You've got, in an election year you've got red state senators, congressmen who are going to be up for reelection who are going to look at the economic impacts of this on their constituents, farmers, soybean farmers, other manufactures who are very much a part of Trump's political coalition who could be hit most directly by this.

CAMEROTA: OK, next topic, Perry. The "Wall Street Journal" is -- sorry, "Washington Post" this morning is reporting that Robert Mueller's team has shared with President Trump's legal team that President Trump is the subject, not the target, of the Mueller investigation. What do you think the significance is?

BACON: This could be an important story. I think it is important to break this story down a bit. They are saying he is the subject, not the target. That could be for two reasons. One reason could be because Mueller is not saying Trump did anything wrong or anything particularly illegal. The other reason could be, this is a very viable reason too, is that Mueller believes or concluded the president cannot be indicted and he has to write a report and then Congress has to deal with presidential misconduct, not Mueller. So I think it's worth discussing.

We don't know exactly why the president is a subject and not a target. And we shouldn't assume that means the president is necessarily innocent or has not done any wrongdoing. The other big part of it is, though, this idea of Mueller putting out these public reports is really important because these reports could go in to a lot of detail, they could tell us a lot more about what happened, they could exonerate Trump on one hand or they could be the basis for some kind of impeachment process for the Democrats in the House next year.

GREGORY: They're certainly going to be Talmudic study of whatever these reports are, Karoun, parsing on both sides whether it exonerates Trump, explicates Trump, or indicts him in any way that could be fodder for the political process, which is what an impeachment proceeded would be, a political not a legal process.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. There are still several questions before we get to that point. The indications given are that the first report would be on the obstruction issue and then you presume the further reports may address other questions that are out there.

It depends on Rod Rosenstein whether we ever get to see those reports because Mueller doesn't have the authority to actually put them out there publicly himself. And remember this is also all happening as the backdrop of the big question of will the president or won't the president sit down with Mueller's team for an interview. If the president is seeing these headlines that he is not a target of the probe, maybe that makes him more inclined even though his legal team doesn't necessarily really want him to be doing that. And there are questions, many of the people that have been -- faced court proceedings to this point has been because of mistruths they told to FBI investigators, and his team is very concerned he might do the same. And one of the issues that Mueller is looking at is obstruction.

So really this a midpoint temperature taker of where we are, but as Perry said, it depends on where we go from here of what ends up in those reports and who gets eyeballs on them and what political effect that has because at the end of the day, yes, the arbiter, especially if there is a fly flip in the House in terms of who is control, may be Congress and not ultimately this investigation.

CAMEROTA: OK, Karoun Demirjian, Perry Bacon, thank you both very much for all of the insights.

Here is it a news flash. There is a stark political divide in this country. And there's a lot of toxicity. How can we stop that? These two Republican lawmakers want people to unify. They have some ideas. So Congressmen Trey Gowdy and Senator Tim Scott are going to be here to talk about their new book, "Unified."


[08:17:04] CAMEROTA: "The Washington Post" is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has told President Trump's legal team that the president is a subject but not a target of his Russia investigation.

Joining us to talk about this and so much more, we have Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy from South Carolina. They are co-authors of a new book "Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for A Divided Country".

I see you have your copy of the book, I have mine as well.


CAMEROTA: I read much of it last night. It's such a great book. It's such a great message.

SCOTT: I'll tell you, it's a blessing from the Good Lord of being in a position where I have a guy like this that I can call as my wing man, the guy that makes you stronger, that anchors me in public service, coming up in a single parent household, distressed communities, here's a son of affluent doctor finding a path in a state where when we were kids, family that we could have played together, we would have gone to school together, we could have eaten at the same restaurants, go the same water fountains.

And for South Carolina and this so much progress, it's just a blessing. I know we have a lot of conflict in our society, we have a lot of polarization. But the fact of the matter is if we can become best friends, in is money for a divided country because Americans, we really are exceptional.

CAMEROTA: So why is he leaving?

SCOTT: Please stay. Please stay.

CAMEROTA: I mean, seriously, the way you guys describe your working relationship and your friendship, I mean, doesn't it give you pause? Don't you think you guys are needed in Congress right now?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he is unique. I think he has a unique skill set. Frankly, people like me are a dime a dozen, middle aged white lawyers are not unique.

I'm going to always support his career. I've been in public service for 25 years. I really enjoyed the courtroom. I haven't been good I don't think in Congress and I don't enjoy it.

CAMEROTA: Why? Why what have you done I don't think?

GOWDY: I don't know that I've done anything wrong. I like fairness, I like process, I like facts. And in politics, the objective is as to win.

And in a criminal justice system, prosecutors clear people just like they convicted people. And the process matters. How you get where you are going and how the jury views you matters. In politics, it really is just about winning.

CAMEROTA: But are you sort of getting out because you see so much disunity and toxicity?

GOWDY: It's existed pretty much from the day we got there. I mean, if you are in the minority, your number one goal is to become the majority.

So, you know, I was thinking last night when President Obama was elected, several Republicans said their objective was to make him a one term president. Not to do good for the country, not to --

CAMEROTA: We remember.

GOWDY: Right. And there were lots of people who were laying in bed dreaming of running in 2020 to make President Trump a one-term president.

So, the notion that folks work together for the betterment of the country I think right now with this moment in American politics, we mainly work towards either keeping the majority or becoming the majority.

[08:20:09] CAMEROTA: And I do want to talk to you about the politics of the day, but first I just in the book it was so poignant and touching to hear about what happened after you heard about the massacre at Mother Emanuel Church and he was your first call.

SCOTT: It was almost surprising to me looking back on that experience sitting in my bed 10:00 at night getting a call from the sheriff's department that Clemente Pinckney and eight others had been murdered, massacred in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. My uncle went there for 50 years, Clemente was a friend of mine.

And to be sitting in the aftermath of a racially motivated shooting with a state like South Carolina, all the provocative and rich history, to call a white guy from the state, it was -- it was surprising and shocking. But it also was heartwarming weeks later when I looked back at how much progress I experienced. I went to schools where folks would use the "N" word every once in a while, it was a toxic environment, but over time, we learned to love each other. And South Carolina's response after that church shooting was amazing.

CAMEROTA: I reported down there, it was a beautiful response. I mean, to see everybody united, it was a beautiful response. But I mean, it still makes you emotional today talking about it.

SCOTT: It hurts my heart to think that someone came to my hometown to start a race war and in the home of the start of the Civil War. So to write a book on unity, unifying our country, as polarized as things are today, it is not a pipe dream. It actually is within our grasp.

The greatness of America can shine again as it relates to our culture diversity that keeps us focused on being one nation. That is the key. We can disagree, we can even disagree on many of the topics, but 80 percent of the goal and objectives of every day families is to make sure that the next generation has a better chance at success to achieve the American dream of home ownership, to see economic opportunity and prosperity hit the poor zip codes that I come from.

If we focus on those things and not the 20 percent that guide us divide us, we'd at least have more credibility to have a conversation about those 20 percent that divides and that divides us strongly.

CAMEROTA: Do you think President Trump is focused on uniting the country?

GOWDY: I think politics is inherently divisive. I think it is divisive at almost every level. Contrast is good, but we have devolved into conflict, it's almost a daily -- we almost vote on a daily basis.

So, the unity that he described in the aftermath of the Mother Emanuel shooting, I think one of our goals is how do we capture the unity but minus the catastrophe, minus the 9/11, minus the hurricanes, minus the shooting. I mean, we do OK at coming together out of grief, out of pain. That is unifying. I think there should be other things that unify us other than pain.

CAMEROTA: This is a serious question. Do you think the president's tweets help or hurt with unity?

GOWDY: I'm not a big Twitter guy. I can't capture the mysteries of the world in 140 characters. I think tweets are sometimes OK at raising issues, they are really not ever good at resolving issues. So, my rule on Twitter is if it's not positive, don't say it. And I'm not smart enough to capture the mysteries of the world in 140 characters.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that. But do you think calling President Obama cheatin' Obama, I mean again, you guys are looking for unity. You are trying to lower -- ratchet down the discord. Is that helpful, Senator? SCOTT: Well, I'll tell you the truth, I go back to the specific

incident in the Charlottesville situation where I had harsh comments about the president. And I was very candid about my displeasure and how I found some of this comments to be indefensible.

He invited me into the Oval Office after my criticism, and I found something quite surprising happening in the Oval Office. He said, we're not on the same page in history of race relations in this country. Help me find the way forward.

So I started talking about legislative remedies that would help poor kids from poor communities, like the ones I grew up in, has gone investing on opportunity (ph), and he said that he was interested in the legislation.

Long story short, he supported the legislation and now, Cory Booker, and myself, Chris Coons and other Democrats along with Republicans on the Finance Committee got that bill passed in the law and every state is now looking at the ways to create opportunities.

So, yes, the rhetoric cannot be helpful, it can be indefensible at times. But the challenge that I laid on the president's desk was to help me find a path forward and legislatively, you had to concede that that legislation, as well as now record low unemployment in communities of color are helpful targets from a public policy standpoint, but we still have to wrestle with the rhetoric that can sometimes be hurtful.

CAMEROTA: I think that's a really valuable story that you just told because what it illustrates one-on-one, when you are together and dealing with somebody interpersonally, you can see them as a human. But when you're lobbying, tweet -- toxic tweet attacks on somebody, and I don't just mean the president, I mean everybody in this toxic time, it's much harder.

GOWDY: It's hard to hate something you know and it's hard to hate up close.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it is, and so, do you think more Republicans should tell the president to change that tone from the top?

GOWDY: I've actually never met or had a conversation with the president. Mick Mulvaney is the closest I can come.

I think -- I'm a big fan of persuasion. Insults don't persuade. Living by a separate set of rules than I would advocate for you is not persuasive. But also remember the word deplorable used and I remember someone in the previous administration referring to House Republicans as terrorists. None of those words help.

CAMEROTA: Both sides do it for sure.

GOWDY: And none of it helps.

CAMEROTA: But we see it in stark relief every day with the president. GOWDY: It's -- this is the most divisive time I can remember and I'm

glad -- and I never thought that a death penalty case would have more civility than modern day politics, but they do and that's what I'll be going back to.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, we have a lot of questions to you about the book and about news of the day -- I see you're promoting the book.


CAMEROTA: You know what's so funny? I'm going to ask you when we come back, what's so funny? Because you guys are both cracking up on the cover, so -- and we have news of day to cover to. So, we'll be right back with one of you. Stick around.