Return to Transcripts main page


Many Republicans Not Ready to Back Trump's 2020 Bid; President Trump Won't Say Whether He'll Fire Mueller or Rosenstein; Trump Willing To Walk Away From North Korea Talks; Interview with Rep David Cicilline; Rising Steel Prices Prompt Business To Pass Cost To Customer. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] CUOMO: She grabs the suspect --

CAMEROTA: Wait a minute.

CUOMO: -- and slams them up against the wall.


CUOMO: And helps the officers up. The suspects ultimately get arrested. The officers are OK. As for Gira (PH)?

CAMEROTA: Yes? Yes. Does she get a medal of commendation?

CUOMO: She's going to get something. That was supposed to be part of this. But you don't know. And it's the mystery that brings you back. What happened to Gira? Did she get arrested as an accessory? Was there something else that happened? Was there something good? You'll have to tune in tomorrow and we'll tell you.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you will. It's time now for "CNN NEWSROOM with John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here. New this morning, it's not a trick question and really should not be a hard one.

Republican lawmakers, will you support the re-election bid of Donald Trump, the president of the United States, the standard bearer, the nominal leader of your party?

But faced with this very straightforward question instead of choosing option A, yes, option B, no, a surprising number are choosing option C, squirm. This should tell you something, a lot, in advance of what could be a very tough midterm.

Our Manu Raju chased them down and looked for answers -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. A wide array of House and Senate Republicans tell me they're just not ready to endorse President Trump's bid for a second term, really a sign of the deep uncertainty on the Hill over his political standing amid his growing problems and the tenuous relationship he continues to have with his own party.

Now I spoke to more than two dozen Republican lawmakers representing a cross section of the party and for the most part, members were mum. They said it was just too early to think about such a decision. They wanted to worry about the midterms first. They did not know if he would face a primary foe, and they were just uncertain that he would ultimately stand for re-election even though Trump has repeatedly said he'd run, he's hired campaign staff, he's raised money, he's held campaign rallies.

Now this is, of course, unusual since most presidents without a doubt get support from lawmakers from their own party without a blink of an eye, but things are different this time.


RAJU: Are you prepared at this point towards the president for re- election in 2020?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I haven't even thought about that election. I'm worried about the midterm election.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I did not endorse the president for the Republican nomination in 2016. I supported first Jeb Bush and then John Kasich. So, again, I think it is far too early to make a judgment of that type.

RAJU: Will you support the president for re-election?

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Whoa. Again I'm focused on working and doing what I do, and so talk about what might happen in -- you know, at that time is I think premature.


RAJU: Now there is one thing that most Republicans do agree on. They do not think there's any room in the party right now for a primary challenge to succeed against President Trump and they think it's a bad idea for anyone to run against him. They point to history, 1976, 1980, 1992 when sitting presidents were challenged within their respective parties, they won their primaries but they've lost the general elections.

Moreover Trump ran against his own party in 2016 and may not need Republicans on the Hill to support him and plus he maintains a rock solid support among base GOP voters, making it hard for anyone to challenge him in a primary, but one prospective challenger, the Arizona Senator Jeff Flake who's retiring at year end, told me this, quote, "I wouldn't gauge what support there is a year and a half from now, from what support there is now."

So we'll see what support there will be from Trump -- from his own party on Capitol Hill come 2020 and whether that makes a difference at all -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, very interesting. Thank you very much. Much more on that in a moment.

First, a stark warning for the president on a different front. Your personal fixer may be preparing to turn against you. A former lawyer to Donald Trump says the president called him for advice last Friday and his main message to the president was clear, Michael Cohen may end up cooperating with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

This as President Trump refuses to say whether or not he will fire the men leading the Russia investigation.

Our Abby Phillip in Florida near Mar-a-Lago where the president is staying. Abby, what's the latest?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. Yesterday President Trump had the same word to say five times, no collusion. He repeated that multiple times in his press conference in response to questions about whether he was willing or planning to fire Rod Rosenstein, the man who is in charge of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Now President Trump did not answer the question directly but here is what he did say in answer to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here, so we want to get the investigation over with, done with, put it behind us.


[09:05:18] PHILLIP: Well, that's not clearly a direct answer to that question. The president didn't rule it out but he suggested that all of the talk of firing Rosenstein hasn't come to fruition at this point, but, of course, while all of this is being said here in Florida, the president's allies are all over the air waves talking about Rosenstein as someone who should be out of the job as soon as possible.

Meanwhile all of this commotion with the president's personal lawyer has caused a lot of concern here in this White House. Sources tell CNN that the president is more concerned about that issue than he is even about some of the other things going on, the Stormy Daniels litigation, for example. Yesterday, CNN's Gloria Borger talked to one of the presidents old lawyers, Jay Goldberg, someone who represented the president in his divorce cases in the past, who spoke with him recently and gave him some advice about how to deal with the Michael Cohen situation.

He warned President Trump that Cohen should not be trusted. Here's what he said. "Anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up without exception. A person facing a prison term cooperates." Goldberg warned the president that he should be prepared for Cohen to be possibly wearing a wire with the prospect that he might be facing prison time as a result of this investigation.

Now we should also say that, you know, Michael Cohen hasn't been charged with anything yet but these raids on his home and his office in the last week have caused a lot of concern. The president's own lawyers and Cohen's lawyers trying to hold back some of the information that the federal agents might have collected in those raids -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us in Florida. Abby, thank you very much.

Let's talk about all of this. Joining me, Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and Salena Zito, CNN contributor.

I want to go back to Manu's reporting. This question to Republican lawmakers, will you support the president in his re-election bid which he's already announced? The president's already announced, by the way. First I thought it might be early to ask that question but I was really struck by the way that these lawmakers answered. Watch in fact Bob Corker and Ron Johnson, the senators who were on "NEW DAY" this morning asked the same question.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: It could be a completely different world by 2020. We have a 2018 election first, so, you know, listen, I understand the kind of gotcha question you're engaging here, but this is way too early to be talking about it.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I have no idea who's going to run for president in 2020 and I'm not about to say who I will support for that, so we have no idea who's going to run. Whether the president runs again or not I think is very questionable candidly.


CORKER: I don't know. Why would he?


BERMAN: Their answers are just weird. I mean, Alex, it's very interesting listening to them speak. It's not just Corker who has his issues with the president but John Thune, you know, and Cornyn. These guys haven't been giving straight answers.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It's extraordinary to hear a senator, particularly a senator like Ron Johnson who's really not a maverick in the big picture of the party. He's a pretty good soldier for the Republican Party. To call it a gotcha question, but if you would have asked a Democrat in 2011, are you supporting Barack -- or in 2010, are you supporting Barack Obama for re-election, they'd say yes, or you ask a Republican that question about George W. Bush in 2002, they'd just say yes.

It's not a gotcha question. Under normal circumstances, it's a really easy question, in fact, so easy that you probably wouldn't even bother to ask it. So I think Manu's reporting here is really revealing and it's not the first time, you know, the prospect that Bob Corker raised that look, who knows if he's even going to be on the ballot. That's certainly not the first time I've heard that from a Republican in Congress. It's not the first time we've heard it from actually people who are closer and more aligned with the president than Bob Corker. Chris Christie has said publicly, you know, we'll see. He's new to the political process. We'll see if after four years of this he actually wants to do it again.

BERMAN: It would be surprising given that he's already filed for re- election, given that he does campaign rallies and has been spending money from his campaign account.

You know, Salena, we haven't seen this question asked. Normally the question you get asked is -- to lawmakers, do you want the president to come campaign for you in the midterm? Would you stand beside him in a midterm? But that's different than this. I mean that I've seen distance before with both Obama and Bush. This is a weird different kind of distance.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, if President Trump was a traditional president, this wouldn't -- this wouldn't -- this would surprise me, but we saw all along even in the primary process in 2016 where there were establishment Republicans who were unwilling to campaign and-or throw their support behind him. He's not of the traditional mold and we've seen it happened to traditional presidents in '76, in 1980, and in both parties in 1992, with President H.W. Bush when he was challenged by Pat Buchanan.

[09:10:09] So we do do this. And I think the thing we should even look at is how much weaker our big parties are. They're not the central force any more with voters, both Republicans and Democrats alike. And I think we're going to see more of a distance from what the establishment wants on both sides of the aisle than what the voters want.

BERMAN: It's a really fair point. If you look at the people who did not support the president at least vociferously in the election in 2016, a lot of them are on their way out. You know, Speaker Paul Ryan, I'm talking about you right now, and Donald Trump moves forward.

Salena, if I can, I want to shift to the Mueller investigation and the way that the president answered or didn't answer the straightforward question, are you going to fire Robert Mueller or Rod Rosenstein. You know, he didn't say yes, but he didn't say no there. How do you assess?

ZITO: Right. Well, this is classic Trump, you know. I mean, there's two different answer that he gives. There's the Tuesday-Thursday Trump where he says one thing on Tuesday then Thursday his mind is completely changed. And then there's the not answer answer. And I think part of it is not that he hasn't made a decision but that he wants to drag the media along and sort of not answer so that it becomes a thing, and then he can turn around and say, see, see how they talk about me? I answered that but they don't think I answered that. I mean, that's sort of part of his persona.

BERMAN: You know, on Rod Rosenstein, Alex, it is notable that CNN has reported the White House has been drafting talking points to besmirch him basically, to pave the way for a dismissal of Rod Rosenstein. And there are Republican members of the House who are taking action or again laying the ground work to take action against him and Democrats, even some Republicans say this is all part of some grand plan.

BURNS: I don't -- you know, I think we always have to be really careful about ascribing a grand plan to this president and this White House, but it does seem overwhelmingly clear at this point. The president would like to get rid of basically all of these investigators, everyone who's touched the investigation. He's made that eminently clear about Jeff Sessions. We know that he has raised with aides the idea of getting rid of Robert Mueller himself, but he hasn't quite gone there and I think Salena is right that sometimes he makes up his mind and then kind of drags it out.

I think we also have seen enough with him over the years now. That there are times when he has a certain impulse and he expresses the impulse over and over again and he also knows for whatever reason that he can't quite go there.

BERMAN: Rod Rosenstein, though, they are doing stuff, right? They're drafting the talking points.

BURNS: They're doing stuff with all.

BERMAN: House members are looking at the possibility of contempt hearings over documents they're trying to get for him. So that's interesting.

And Salena, last question on Michael Cohen here. I want to talk about the legalities of whether Michael Cohen flips or not. But it was notable to me from a political standpoint, also from a relationship standpoint, when you're talking about President Trump, that he called his former divorce lawyer and real estate lawyer to ask him whether he should be concerned about this other personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Here's clearly concerned. He's clearly making calls on this. This is clearly preoccupying some of his time.

ZITO: Sure and I also think we need to think about the loss he has, right, that loss of that confidant, that loss of that personal friend, that he could just pick up the phone and say, hey, what do you think about this? Hey, what do you think about that? He lost that relationship at least temporarily with Cohen. So it makes sense to me that he calls someone else to try to sort of gauge the wilderness just to see, you know, what's going on.

People always need a connection and he lost his most important one in terms of looking at things legally and also personally. So I'm not surprised, but I'm not quite sure it means anything yet.

BERMAN: Yes. Look, those of us who have covered Donald Trump for a long time only did it through Michael Cohen for years and years and years and years. And that loss is a big one.

Alex Burns, Salena Zito, great to have you with us this morning. Thank you so much.

ZITO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ready to walk. The president says he is willing to leave a meeting with Kim Jong-un if it's not fruitful. More on that high stakes sit down or maybe a high stakes walkout.

Plus a new legal storm brewing, the attorney for Stormy Daniels says he might sue the president for defamation over the president's tweets. And we have new developments, by the way, surrounding legal machinations of Michael Cohen as well, and in a fair accusations of blackmail, a criminal indictment turmoil in Missouri over mounting allegations against the state's governor. In minutes a judge will decide whether to toss the felony charge against him. If you have not been following this case, it's bonkers.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New this morning, CNN has learned that new national security adviser, John Bolton, has raised the prospect of a walkout in the middle of talks with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. If you don't like where this meeting is headed, Bolton says, just leave.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski has the details here and this really seemed to pre-stage some of the president's comments on this, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Been saying that, look at this meeting, just the fact that you're having it is historic. It doesn't have to be super long. It could be less than an hour and still be considered a success and if the North Korea's aren't playing ball, basically, you can just leave. Listen to what the president said yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go. If the meeting when I'm there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.


KOSINSKI: So, the North Koreans have been saying all of the right things. They've been saying that they're willing to talk about denuclearization.

[09:20:03] Now South Korea says that they're also willing to not insist that the U.S. keep -- that the U.S. remove troops from the Korean Peninsula, which has been a sticking point for decades, really.

So, the North Koreans clearly are reaching the point that the U.S. wants them to be, but the president, as you know, he's going to be flexible. He wants to have this meeting. He's looking forward to it. He thinks it can be successful, but you heard him say, if it's not going his way, he could stand up and walk out of there. That would be pretty dramatic.

BERMAN: Indeed, it would. Michelle, the president also made a point of talking about Russia during this press conference, what did he say?

KOSINSKI: Since this has been such a story lately, now we know that it was the president who decided not to go forward with sanctions, even though some in his administration, at least we know were ready to go. There were still drawing up the details of what the newest round of sanctions would be on Russian companies, but he was the one who decided not now.

So yesterday, he did clarify some of this, saying that he would be willing to impose more sanctions when the Russians really deserve it. He also said that nobody's been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.

I will say, you know, talking to people in the foreign policy community, some people were surprised that the U.S. was going to do another round of sanctions now. It's like they kicked out these Russian diplomats, they did more air strikes in Syria, there wasn't a huge Russian response that was going to be very negative.

So, why impose another round right now and the president is now saying, well, he's wanting to wait until possibly Russia does something else and would be even more deserving of them -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Michelle Kosinski for us at the State Department. Michelle, thank you very much.

Here now to discuss Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. The news this morning, the statements from the president yesterday if the meeting is not going well with Kim Jong-un, he'll just get up and go. And now we know that the new national security adviser, John Bolton, is pushing that line. Does that make sense to you?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I think it demonstrates why this is a very high stakes meeting. There was a reason that prior presidents had rejected the idea of meeting with the North Korean dictator, his father and grandfather before him, because it elevates his standing in the international community right away by having the meeting.

So, the notion that its historic, it is historic, but it may not be historic in a good way. But the reality is it requires deep preparation, a real understanding of the history of the North Korean regime, about their pattern of making aggressive statements or actions and then having the international community provide some support, some food aid or something and then cheating on any agreements they might have.

So, I think this is one where the president has to be prepared, he has to be surrounded by experts in the region who have prepared him for this meeting and that there's high stakes. There's not a lot left after that meeting. Once the two principals meet, if they walk out, what's the next step? So, I worry about the preparation. I worry about how well thought out this is and what the strategy is for achieving the long-term objectives.

BERMAN: Right now, it looks like it's going to happen, so if it does happen assuming it does go forward on the current path that it is if he starts this meeting, John Bolton basically says if it's not going well, leave. Do you think that would imperil our national security in any way?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, it's hard to know. It's hard to know what the response of the North Koreans would be. It's hard to know why the president walked out, but it doesn't bring certainty to a very difficult and complicated problem.

And, you know, we have to look at the history and the behavior of the North Koreans, who have been desperately trying to get a meeting with the U.S. president because it elevates the standing of the regime.

And I think, you know, one of the dangers is, if that meeting falls apart, what's left? Is the president then going to argue? The only thing that's left is military action. I think we have to be very concerned about that.

The North Koreans have never expressed any intention to stop their nuclear program and when they have, they've cheated on that agreement, so I think it's why prior presidents have avoided this.

Hopefully, they'll be lots and lots of preparation and that won't happen, and they'll be some good result. But I think there's a lot of reason to be concerned.

BERMAN: So, Congressman, you were part of this classified briefing on U.S. actions in Syria. This is a meeting Senator Lindsey Graham walked out and said he was unnerved. I spoke to Gregory Meeks, House member who is on your committee, who told me yesterday he was puzzled by what he heard. I'm trying to understand again without revealing any classified information, what was so concerning to both Republicans and Democrats who were in that meeting?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, I think there have been public statements by the administration about their authority for the military strike. Look, everyone who saw those videos was horrified by the chemical attacks.

[09:25:02] But our founding fathers brilliantly included in our Constitution that the only body that could authorize a declaration of war is the Congress. The reason they did that is, they wanted to be sure when the president engages in a military action, it's not just the president, it's the American people going to war and engaging in military action.

We want to make sure that the American people's voices are heard in these deliberations through the Congress. Also, it forces the administration to come to Congress with an actual plan, a strategy, what's the objective? How do you intend to achieve that objective?

What do you need to do that? If the president on his own gets to just do that without authorization, without having to articulate a strategy, sort of a one-off that makes you feel good, but is not part of achieving a long-term objective, I think that's very troubling to all of us.

And I think the administration has said publicly, we can do this under Article 2, the Constitution requires the president to come to Congress, that's not just because we want to assert ourselves, it's fundamentally because when the country goes to war, it's the American people that do that, not the president.

And we also want to put a check on a reckless president who might just do this willy-nilly. The genius of our founders put that in the Constitution. I think many of us have been disturbed to hear, first of all, no strategy, no plan.

And the idea that the president can do this whenever it hits him, he thinks it's right, I think that's not what our founders wanted and it's not in our Constitution.

BERMAN: I will know both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have stop short of calling for votes in the past. Have a sketchy record when it comes to actually authorizing --

CICILLINE: I'm not one of those.

BERMAN: I'm not saying you, but look, this happened with President Obama.

CICILLINE: We've been trying even with President Obama to get an authorization for the use of military force, been asking the speaker to bring it to the floor, debate it. We don't have the ability to bring that to the floor. We have asked the speaker in a number of different ways. We've got privilege resolutions trying to get Congress to have a debate and that hasn't happened.

BERMAN: No, it has not happened. Speaker Ryan says he thinks the president has the Article 2 power to do it. Again, you know, the Constitution seems to indicate otherwise. Congress hasn't had been a shining example of the last several years on this --

CICILLINE: Despite the efforts of Democrats to try to force a debate on that issue.

BERMAN: Some. Despite the efforts of some Democrats. Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right. A new report finds that some businesses across the country are seeing a dramatic increase in the price of steel after the president announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and some cases companies are seeing a double-digit jump. Now manufacturers are warning they may have to pass on some of that cost to customers. Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, is here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the fed's base book. This is the 12 regional banks of the fed. They reach out and they talk to business leaders and business owners to find out what they're seeing as a real feel temperature of what's happening in the economy.

And what they found here is that some three dozen instances of business owners saying they're worried about trade and tariffs, they're seeing it already moving in to higher steel prices.

You know, March 23rd the president put in those steel and aluminum tariffs to 25 percent and 10 percent, and when you look in Boston, there's one anecdote in this report that these tariffs are killing high paying American manufacturing jobs.

In Chicago, a manufacturer is expected to pass on about half of the increased cost to their customers. In Richmond, a steel and aluminum prices rose sharply and were expected to rise further. It's not all businesses saying this, but for the first time, 36 instances of it mentioned here.

We know that according to the "The Washington Post," some 1,200 companies have applied for relief from these tariffs. The idea -- they're designed to help domestic industry. That hasn't happened overnight. You've got the users of the foreign steel aluminum who are feeling the pinch and paying the price.

Watching futures right now, down a little bit. A quiet morning. You have three higher days. The market's basically unchanged for the year now so watching carefully, maybe a little bit lower here. I wouldn't call that a big move.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans before the bell, thank you so much for with us. Appreciate it.

A former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with the president is now legally free to tell all and still gets to keep the hush money. Her story ahead.

And this is an interview you will not want to miss. Jake Tapper interviews fired FBI Director James Comey. That's this afternoon on "THE LEAD" at 4:00 Eastern right here on CNN.