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Interview Contradicts Trump's Claim on Why He Fired Comey; CIA Director Secretly Met with North Korea's Kim Jong-un; Nikki Haley Strikes Back at White House over Russia Sanctions "Confusion;" Lawmakers Leave Classified Briefing on Syria "Very Unnerved;" Remembering Barbara Bush. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

Brand new this morning, almost a year after he fired James Comey President Trump is denying or forgetting or hoping that you will forget the rationale that he admitted in a TV interview at the time for why he fired the FBI Director James Comey. Hold that thought, though, for a moment if you will because also new this morning the president broke his social media silence on the matter surrounding Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who claims that she had a relationship with the president and she was threatened to keep quiet. The president this morning calls that a total con job. Again, the important thing here, this is the first time he's chosen to weigh in on this on social media.

Our Kaitlan Collins in Florida with the president near Mar-a-Lago. Kaitlan, what are you seeing.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John. This is the first time we're hearing from President Trump on Twitter about Stormy Daniels. Of course, he made some remarks on Air Force One denying that he knew about that payment that Michael Cohen made to her. But now he's weighing in and this comes - kind of sets this up for the viewers after Stormy Daniels was on the view yesterday and they released this sketch of a man. A man that she says threatened her when she was with her daughter telling her to leave President Trump alone before he was president, of course. And they released this sketch.

And now the president himself is weighing in on it on Twitter saying, "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it." A stunning statement there, John, from the president weighing in on this certainly something that we've reported his advisers and his lawyers have told him not to weigh in on it publicly, not to bring it up. But of course, he's doing it there saying that this person who threatened Stormy Daniels or she says threatened her simply just doesn't exist, John.

BERMAN: Yes. It is interesting, and the president also, Kaitlan is talking about the FBI Director James Comey and at war with his own words.

COLLINS: Exactly. That President Trump is contradicting himself, something we often see him do with his spokespeople, not often with himself. Now, of course, this morning he's tweeting about the reason James Comey was fired and to take you back a year ago after James Comey was first fired by the president, that the White House maintains for 48 hours that it was because of a memo written by the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, respectively. Of course, the president offended that messaging and a few days later he told Lester Holt of NBC News that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he fired the FBI director. Now, pair that with the president's tweet this morning where he said, quote, "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was there no collusion, except by the Democrats."

Of course, you see that tweet there and listen to the president here speaking to Lester Holt.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it, and in fact, when I decided to just do it I said to myself. I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


COLLINS: So, John, there are often questions raised about the White House's credibility when they say one thing and the president says another, but they're -- you can see what the president told Lester Holt and what he tweeted this morning, sometimes it comes from the top.

BERMAN: Yes. The problem for President Trump here is President Trump. Kaitlan Collins in Florida, thank you very much. Let's discuss this.

We are joined by CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin and CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, up is down, black is white and night is day here as we deal with this statement from the president. I mean it is odd. It is odd that -- does he think we're going to not remember? Is he trying to blur the lines here? Any sense?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: All of the above. I just think if you kind of look at this with the big picture lens, you wonder why his attorneys don't want him to talk to Robert Mueller. I mean, exhibit a right here on the silver platter, Mr. President. You know, if you're tweeting out something that directly contradicts a statement that you made on camera to a network television anchor, you're going to be in trouble.

So, you know, this is classic Donald Trump in that he really doesn't have regard for things that he said before because in his world it doesn't matter. And the truth is in the world that he is trying to reach on Twitter it doesn't matter for many of those people, for many people in his base. It doesn't matter. It is only up to us and those who are outside that world to remind everybody that what he said is not what he said after he fired James Comey which is it was about Russia.

[10:05:20] BERMAN: And Jeffrey, it's not like this is a small matter for the Mueller investigation, right? The reasons behind firing James Comey could get to the heart of the obstruction issue.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No question. I mean, the whole Stormy Daniels saga is I think fundamentally a sideshow here and you know it's amusing and the sketch, who knows? The sketch to me looks more like Tom Brady or Jon Bon Jovi than anyone else.


BERMAN: You can have both, Jeffrey. - Leave that aside for a moment.

TOOBIN: I just would like our viewers to consider whether that looks like Jon Bon Jovi or Tom Brady. Neither of whom are suspects.

BASH: I go for Jon Bon Jovi.

TOOBIN: OK. OK. Dana is a smart woman. She's right. I mean, you know -- but as for the obstruction part of the case, the reasons for firing James Comey are critical.

BERMAN: Right.

TOOBIN: Because if he's fired because of that memo that Rod Rosenstein wrote that it was all about the Hillary Clinton investigation, his mishandling of it, that is not an obstruction of justice, you can argue if it's a good thing or a bad thing. But if he fired James Comey to stop or interfere with the Russia investigation as Trump himself suggested in that interview with Lester Holt, that's a very different story and potentially highly incriminating.

BERMAN: Yes. The tweet's not going to make it not so. You know the evidence will be the evidence and the president's statement in the past will be the -

TOOBIN: Dana's right. I mean, you know, much as most Americans should be watching this television program, more of them are just reading Donald Trump's tweets especially his supporters and they don't hear the other side.

BERMAN: To the Stormy Daniels matter, though, we also know that his advisers, his lawyers and everyone who knows the president has been telling him stay away from Stormy Daniels. He couldn't stay away.


BASH: Exactly.

He couldn't. I was just communicating with somebody who is close to him and works for him and the response on the Stormy Daniels tweet was just one almost word, ugh and that kind of sums it up. And I think Jeffrey, you know, may be right when it comes to the legal implications of Stormy Daniels. We'll see.

But in terms of the politics of Stormy Daniels this is something that the president's team is worried about. Very much so because despite the fact that the president won the election post "Access Hollywood," here we are more than a year, a year and a half later and the combination of all of these allegations, it's really weighing him down and more importantly weighing down Republicans who are on the ballot in November.

BERMAN: You know who is rejoicing at the president's tweet this morning was Michael Avenatti, --

BASH: You're kidding.

BERMAN: The lawyer for Stormy Daniels.

BASH: Boy, did he take the bait.

BERMAN: He says, "FBI search warrants uncovering existing documents and recordings showing con job after con job pulled on real people and very real American citizens who didn't know it. Welcome to the playing field." Hashtag #whereyoubeen. I mean Avenatti basically saying, thank you, Mr. President for tweeting this.

TOOBIN: And also, you know, it's worth remembering that the whole Stormy Daniels saga is in the courts because Trump's lawyers initiated an arbitration proceeding against them. They started this fight. Michael Avenatti is the happiest person in America and on television more than basically anyone - who actually works in television at the moment. But he's only on television because the Trump people started this fight. If they had simply ignored her, if they had simply ignored her interview with Anderson Cooper and just gone on with the business of being president of the United States, you know, Michael Avenatti might not be as famous as he is now. 2 BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Dana Bash, thank you very much for being with us. In my mind you're both bigger than Jon Bon Jovi.

All right, less than 12 hours after the White House press secretary declared the administration does not comment on the CIA director's travel, the president commented on the CIA director's travel, confirming that Mike Pompeo paid a secret visit to North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. This is a major development and the relations between the two countries.

Kaitlan Collins is back with me from Florida. Kaitlan, what have you learned?

COLLINS: John, certainly a major development. It really shows just how serious those talks with that potential meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un. Truly are and yet Sarah Sanders did say we are not going to comment on that story, but the president himself confirmed "The Washington Post" reporting this morning when he said that the CIA Director Mike Pompeo who I should note is in the confirmation process right now to become the next Secretary of State did travel to North Korea on Easter week and to meet with the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un.

[10:10:03] The president commenting on that this morning on Twitter saying that the "Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed." He said that the "Details of summit are being worked out now." And the "Denuclearization will be a great thing for world, but also for North Korea!"

This is an extraordinary development here, John, the highest level of contact between the United States and North Korea since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled there and met with Kim Jong-un's father in 2000. So, certainly, something very stunning here, the president repeated yesterday that he hopes his meeting with Kim Jong- un would happen by early June, John. But he did add the caveat that if things don't go well the meeting may not happen at all upon, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us again in Florida. Kaitlan thank you very much.

We're going to have much more on that secret meeting and a whole lot of other major foreign policy headlines including lawmakers saying they are unnerved over the Trump administration's Syria policy after a classified briefing. We're going to speak with a key member of Congress on that.

Plus, terror at 30,000 feet, what went wrong with the flight that had a sudden engine failure mid-air.

And we are remembering former first lady Barbara Bush, a closer look at her life and legacy ahead.


[10:15:26] BERMAN: All right, a very public disagreement and now an apology. Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says he is sorry after saying that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was confused about new sanctions on Russia.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski joins me with the very latest on this and a very stern, public reaction from Nikki Haley.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: John, you know something is very, very wrong when you have this glaring difference of opinion within the administration. You have Nikki Haley coming out and saying get ready for sanctions against Russia. They're coming. They may have already happened. I mean she was that definite in them. And then there are sanctions never happened. And then you have nobody wanting to explain why this happened. It was silence for a while coming from the White House, the Treasury Department, the State Department, from Nikki Haley herself. And then you have the president's economic adviser Larry Kudlow come out on the record. He was the only one. And say this.


LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador and there might have been some momentary confusion about that.


KOSINSKI: So, he was the only person who explained why this happened on the record. The reason this is important is because there is an enormous difference between a member of the administration getting -- getting something a little bit wrong or interpreting something wrong although this subject is so significant, it's hard to see how that would happen, the difference between that and President Trump for some reason wanting to go against members of his own team and not sanction Russia. So, the explanation was confusion.

But Nikki Haley was not going to let this stand. She put out this very simple statement saying, "With all due respect, I don't get confused." Powerful in its simplicity, but how angry do you have to be about what the administration is saying to put out a statement like that. So she's clearly saying that the line from the White House is not true, and if that's the case, why is the White House telling the American people and the world something that is not true? And if that is the case, maybe everybody deserves an apology here and not just Nikki Haley. John?

BERMAN: Yes. I think you have to be very angry to put out a response like that, maybe justifiably so if people are saying things that just aren't true about you. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much for being with us.

I'm joined now by Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you so much for being with us, Congressman.

When you see this public disagreement between the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley and the White House over who knew what, when about these sanctions that haven't happened yet. What's important here?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: What's important here is that it's an administration that seems not to be able to shoot straight because of the president. The president says one thing one second and one day and he comes back another day or his administration, he doesn't listen to him, but it shouldn't surprise us because all along he doesn't need anybody. We heard that in the campaign. And so, apparently, and that's the problem with him and some of our allies, you know, someone can say something that they've gotten from his administration and maybe even from him himself and a few hours or next day or something he comes back and goes just the opposite way. That's the problem with the president of the United States.

BERMAN: One of the major issues on foreign policy right now is North Korea and this looming meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. We learned that CIA director Mike Pompeo who has been nominated to be Secretary of State went to this secret meeting with Kim Jong-un. Do you see this as a positive development moving toward the ultimate highest-level meeting?

MEEKS: Well, look, I like the fact -- I think it is important that if you're going to have a meeting that there should be some preparation and that Pompeo was going to meet with Kim Jong-un. But here again, we have the same problem because he can meet with him, but he's not the president. And so, what he takes back and what the president then does we don't know. He doesn't listen to his own advisors and so the problem is the president. I may have more confidence in Pompeo and his negotiations but then he takes it back to the president and who knows? That's the problem.

BERMAN: This wasn't done instead of the president, though.

[10:20:09] This was done in advance of the president's trip to meet with Kim Jong-un apparently or Henry Kissinger went to China before President Nixon went to China. Do you see this as a sign - there could be concerns about disorganization leading up to this meeting? Do you see this as a sign that they're approaching this in perhaps a more organized way?

MEEKS: Again, I think that by Pompeo going and talking -- clearly would not want the president of the United States to be meeting with the leader of North Korea without any prep work. That is good. The problem is after that prep work is done and you bring it back to this president. And based upon all of the information that that person gathered, you give it to him and you make recommendations and this president then can just throw it all away.

So, I have no confidence in the president. We'll have to wait and see, relying upon the information that he gets back from his then-CIA, maybe Secretary of State. It happened with Tillerson. It happened again with Ambassador Haley. You know, clearly, there was dialogue and conversation. She didn't go out and do this all alone. They came back and made recommendations to the president. He promised OK, I'm going to do - and then he comes back the next day and it's a whole different thing and that's the problem, the president of the United States.

BERMAN: As a member - a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, you were given a classified briefing on Syria and the U.S. military action in Syria by Defense Secretary James Mattis and I also understand the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joseph Dunford. Senator Lindsey Graham on the Senate side left his briefing and he said, quote, "I'm very unnerved by what I'm hearing and seeing." Do you have any sense of what Senator Graham is talking about? What was your reaction from that meeting?

MEEKS: I'm very puzzled about what's going on. I had questions when I went into the meeting, and I had the same questions when I came out of the meeting. So I can't discuss what took place, but yes. I am concerned and while he said unnerved. I would say puzzled. I did not get any answers there and so -- I've got some strong concerns.

BERMAN: When you say you're puzzled - (CROSSTALK)

MEEKS: -- foreign policy.

BERMAN: Well, OK. And again, I understand this was classified and I don't want you to say anything that was classified here on television. But you say you're puzzled and concerned. Are you puzzled and concerned over the strike itself, the details surrounding the strike or puzzled and concerned over what the U.S. long term strategy vis-a- vis Syria is?

MEEKS: Well, about both, to be quite honest with you. I can't get into why my concerns about the strike, but I think clearly about long term, because I do believe that it is important for the president to come back to Congress so that there could be an authorization for the utilization of military force. That's our job, and I think he should come back to us and we should then look at what that resolution is and how narrow or wide it is because I think that the presidents and the last AUMF that we gave was too broad because people have been utilizing it since 2001. So I think that it is time to come back to Congress and that Congress do its job and the president tell us what its plan is.

BERMAN: Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, thank you so much for being with us. I want people to check out your Twitter. You had very nice words to say about Barbara Bush, the former first lady who passed away overnight as well. So, thank you for that. Thank you so much, Congressman.

MEEKS: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Saying good-bye to an icon. Barbara Bush has died at 92 years old. How her family is remembering her this morning. Stay with us.



[10:28:12] BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: BERMAN: At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.


BERMAN: Those words from Barbara Bush, a testament to how she lived her life. The former first lady died yesterday surrounded by members of her family and by her side her husband of 73 years. Former President George H.W. Bush. This morning, those families are remembering Barbara Bush as gracious and graceful and loving and tough.

CNN's Jamie Gangel joins me now. And Jamie, you spent so much time with the Bush family over the years and you've had the chance to talk to so many members of the Bush family exclusively about Barbara Bush. JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I love that you played that part of her speech because we use the word authentic a lot. Barbara Bush was authentic. Just before we hear from her family, a couple of pieces of news exclusive to CNN, our colleague Kate Bennett is now reporting that first lady Melania Trump will be attending the funeral this Saturday to pay her respects and for other people who would like to pay their respects, we also want to let people know that on Friday, Barbara Bush will be lying in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church. It is open to the public all day long and you can come and pay your respects and then the funeral service will be on Saturday at the same church. That is by invitation only. That will be private. So now to her sons. There is a word that her sons used as a nickname for her, it was "The Enforcer." So, let's listen to three of them about what it was like growing up if Barbara Bush is your mother.