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Some Republican Congressmembers Withholding Support of President Trump for Reelection; President Trump Discloses Secret Meeting Between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un; Lawmakers Emerging, "Unnerved" From A Classified Briefing About The White House Strategy In Syria. U.S. Has Not Had A Strategy In Syria For A Long Time. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] LINDA MALONEY, RETIRED 20 YEAR NAVY VETERAN FLIGHT OFFICER: And I just can't say enough great things about her.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Linda, we really appreciate you giving us this first person account of what your friend is like. And I know that you've said if there's any silver lining it is that maybe more young women will see her as a role model and follow in her footsteps, which of course is so important and we thank you for your service as well. Thank you, Linda, for being here.

MALONEY: Oh, thank you. Have a great day.

CAMEROTA: You too.

We're following a lot of news, so let's get right to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Thursday, April 19th, now 8:00 in the east, and we begin with breaking news. As President Trump faces firestorms on multiple fronts. Get this, CNN has spoken to more than two dozen Republican lawmakers, many of them senior senators, and they say it's too early to tell our reporter whether or not they will back the president of the United States, their party's standard bearer, for reelection in 2020, the leader of their own party. Now this comes as 40 Republicans have announced they're leaving Congress, including the speaker of the House.

CAMEROTA: President Trump expressing optimism about his upcoming summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. But the president says he is willing to walk away if the talks are not fruitful. The president also trying to convince the world that no one has been tougher on Russia than him despite changing his mind on sanctions and throwing Ambassador Nikki Haley under the bus in the process.

So let's begin with CNN Manu Raju with our new reporting and our top story. Manu? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Now a wide array of House and Senate Republicans tell me they aren't ready to endorse President Trump's bid for a second term. This reflecting the deep uncertainty on the Hill over his political standing and the tenuous relationship he has with his party.

Now over the last week or so I've spoke to more than two dozen lawmakers representing a cross section of the GOP, and for the most part members were mum. They said it was too early to make such a decision. They did not know if he would face a primary challenge, and they were still uncertain the president would ultimately stand for reelection even though President Trump has repeatedly said he would run, hired a campaign staff, raised money, held rallies, announced he would run soon after taking office, but still some members aren't so sure.

Now, this is all rather unusual since most presidents automatically get support from lawmakers from their own party without a blink of an eye, but not this time.


RAJU: You're prepared at this point to endorse the president in re- election for 2020?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't even thought about that election. I'm worried about the midterm election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 reelection?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I'm focused on working and doing what I do and, so talk about what might happen in at that time is I think premature.


RAJU: Many Republicans do not think there's any room for a primary challenge against Trump. They think it's a bad idea to run against him, pointing to history like in 76, 80, and 92 when sitting presidents were challenged within their respective parties, they won their primaries but they lost the general elections. Moreover, Trump ran against his own party in 2016 and he still maintains rock solid support among base GOP voters that may not really care what his party in Washington believes.

But one prospective 2020 challenger, Jeff Flake, the Arizona senator who is retiring at the end of the year, told me, quote, I wouldn't gauge what support there's a year and a half from what there is now among base GOP voters. So we will see what support there is for Trump from his own party on Capitol Hill come 2020 and whether that makes any difference at all. Guys? CAMEROTA: All right, Manu, very interesting. Thank you for sharing

your reporting with you.

Meanwhile, President Trump expressing optimism ahead of the planned talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. But the president is also vowing to cancel the meeting or walk out of the meeting if it is not, quote, "fruitful." CNN's Abby Phillip is live in West Palm Beach, Florida, with more. Do we know what that means, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really unclear what it does mean, Alisyn. But we are learning a little bit more about what President Trump has been advised by his advisers, including his new national security adviser John Bolton, who told him that the meeting with Kim Jong-un doesn't have to be particularly long and he could walk out if it's not bearing any fruit, as you just mentioned.

Meanwhile, President Trump is using the secret meeting that his CIA director had in North Korea with Kim Jong-un at one of the reasons why a senators should vote to confirm him to be secretary of state.


[08:05:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

PHILLIP: President Trump giving new insights into his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump promising Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he would work hard for the return of at least a dozen Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and '80s. The president also declaring CIA Director Mike Pompeo got along really well with the North Korean dictator during their secret meeting over Easter weekend. Mr. Trump using the news to push for Mike Pompeo to be confirmed as the next secretary of state, but one prominent Republican senator still opposes this.

TRUMP: I will say this about Rand Paul, he's never let me down.

PHILLIP: Meantime CNN is learning new details about the confusion with plans to impose new sanctions on Russia. Three senior administration officials tell CNN that President Trump personally made the decision to abandon those plans hours after U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley made the announcement in an televised interview on Sunday.

TRUMP: We'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it.

PHILLIP: As the commander-in-chief grapples with the Russia investigation closing in on his inner circle.

TRUMP: There has been no collusion. They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

PHILLIP: President Trump declaring five times that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia despite ongoing investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate. Mr. Trump down playing speculation that he could fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

TRUMP: 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.

PHILLIP: CNN also learning another one of President Trump's longtime lawyers warned him that Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation, could turn against him after the FBI seized records from his office, home and hotel room. Jay Goldberg says he told the president on Friday, anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up.


PHILLIP: President Trump just wrapped up two days of meetings with the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe here in Florida, but he plans to remain here for the next couple of days including through the weekend. But today he's going to Key West, Florida, to meet with the military unit that intersects smugglers, drug smugglers, by air and by sea, Alisyn and Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Abby, thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian and CNN political analyst Julie Pace, two big brains with encyclopedic minds when it comes to the history of politics. David Chalian, remind me the last time when asked well in advance of the next election, members of a political party said, I don't know if I support the president who is the standard bearer of my party?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm not sure that question always gets asked. I think this particular presidency begs that question in a way that some of his predecessors did not, Chris.

But I do think what's important to note here of what's the difference. You've got to remember, past presidents, they would not even be running technically for reelection at this stage of the game. We're probably a little less than a year away from when past presidents would open up their campaign accounts and start doing their fundraising, gearing up for their reelection campaign. Donald Trump did that inauguration weekend of his first term. So he is a fully declared presidential candidate. He's got an open campaign account. He is running for reelection again in the very literal term, which to me makes this question all the more legitimate.

Even though we are eons away in America politics from what the ramifications of folks on the Hill not yet supporting the president, what that may mean, because that's a long time in American politics, but it is significant that Donald Trump is out there, has a campaign operation, has named a campaign manager, is raising money for his campaign, and once again we see this split between Donald Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill, which is not necessarily the determinative decision makers on whether or not the president get reelected of course, but nonetheless the establishment of his party, the folks he has to work with on Capitol Hill, are not obviously just pro forma saying of course I'm with this guy. CAMEROTA: What do you make of that, Julie? If this same question had

been asked at the same time in George W. Bush's president, would it have been a no-brainer for people? Is there any other historical context to which we can look at what happened with Manu's reporting?

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think based on our past few presidents, this would have been a no-brainer. I think that people from a party generally just support their incumbent president. It makes it a heck of a lot easier for a party if they don't have a primary challenger to a sitting president for their own reelection prospects.

[08:10:00] David and Manu in his earlier reporting I think do make a good point. It's unclear for someone like Trump whether not having the full-throated support of his party actually matters. So much of his brand is actually tied up in this idea that he's not of the Washington establishment, that he's not necessarily in lock step even with his own party's leaders. In some respects that actually could potentially help this president.

CUOMO: All right, we'll leave it at that I guess. I think it's weird. I never heard anything like this before. I think I'm going to be buying lots of people lunches, because when they say he's going to get primaried, I say I don't see it. Maybe like a Ben Sasse, some younger guy, get your name out there. But maybe I'm wrong.

CAMEROTA: To Julie's point. He has -- he's an antiestablishment candidate.

CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: He's run as that.

CUOMO: But he is the putative head of the Republican Party. And remember this also, something we call out on the show all the time, these same men who are saying that they won't say whether or not they support him, they don't stand up against him either. It's not like there's some voices of independent thought down there. Let me ask you about something else, David, while we have you --

CHALIAN: I just want to throw this out there. We just got to remember, in all the polling about President Trump right now, he is between 80 and 85 percent support among Republicans across the country. So that is what makes primary challenge daunting for somebody who wants to take that on.

CUOMO: Sure, 100 percent. And just unseating a sitting president, very rare. So David Chalian, this lawyer comes forward, irony of ironies with the president saying all of these things that aren't true about the privilege, attorney-client privilege, one of his other than attorneys gets called by the president reportedly for advice and then decides to talk to the media about it. And this guy Jay Goldberg says I think Michael Cohen is going to flip on the president because anybody facing 30 years doesn't stand up.

First of all, we have no way to even believe that Michael Cohen could be facing any jail time let alone 30 years, but what do you make of this, that this lawyer, confidant of the president who handled his two divorces, so I don't know why the president was calling him if he's a divorce attorney, but whatever, and he says this kind of thing about Michael Cohen who matters so much to the president. Your take?

CHALIAN: My take is I think that if you've been observing the Trump- Cohen relationship, even in recent weeks with the Stormy Daniels swirl around his head before the raids, you have seen a two-way street of public embrace. Come to Mar-a-Lago and we're going to have dinner and we're going to do this publicly and I'm going to show people we're still together even though you're mired in this controversy. Michael Cohen saying I would jump off a building before I would flip on him. So the relationship publicly has remained rock solid.

And now of course there is real concern inside the White House about what the federal investigators are going to be able to find and learn. Michael Cohen, Chris, as you know, we say how close they are. Their closeness is important but what is really important is what brings them together, and that is that Michael Cohen is the protector at every potential political weak spot and pitfall that Donald Trump has experienced in his career in the last 15 years or so. So he knows every weak spot of what could be a potential public problem for Donald Trump. That's what Michael Cohen has worked on. So you see some people who claim to have Donald Trump's best interests in mind calling him and saying, be very careful about remaining in such a public embrace with this guy.

CAMEROTA: Julie, it might be helpful to look at the scope of Donald Trump's legal issues in the monetary sense, OK, and we have some information on that. A fifth of his reelection funds have already been used to pay legal fees. So he's paid something, according to FEC filings, $834,000 to various lawyers and legal law firms that are representing him. That is stunning, and, as we've discussed earlier, it depends on if you think people who support his reelection like this or don't know this or this would make them uncomfortable, hard to know.

PACE: You typically don't give money to a presidential campaign because you expect that the money is going to go to lawyers. You expect it's going to go to rallies and campaign signs and things like that. But the FEC filing does really underscore what is the reality of this presidency at this point and what would be the reality of a reelection campaign. This is a president who will run for reelection under investigation. It unlikely that the Mueller investigation is going to wrap up quickly. There is some speculation that Mueller would drop reports potentially the summer but put off certain issues until after the midterm election. But Trump is going to be under this cloud for quite some time. And that's why you see these legal bills mounting. This not something that is going to go away. It is as fundamental to his presidency, these legal questions, as any policy that he has tried to push.

[08:15:00] CUOMO: It sheds a little light on something else also. The president keeps saying I have plenty of lawyers, a lot of people what to work for me. I had really only known the name Jay Sekulow in terms of somebody who is out there dealing specifically with the President on these investigative concerns because Ty Cobb and Done Mcgahn worked for the White House, but eight different firms got money here which means the President is accurate. He does have a ton of lawyers who were working for him and willing to do so because there are eight different firms.

CAMEROTA: All right, Julie Pace, David Chalian, thank you very much.

CHALIAN: Thank, guys.

CUOMO: This is a big day today. So, James Comey has gone out there, the former head of the FBI and he's put his story out, but now it is time for everything he said to be put back on him and, boy, is he sitting across from someone capable of doing that today?

Jake Tapper, James Comey live at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on "The Lead" right here on CNN.

CAMEROTA: Looking forward to that. Okay, meanwhile lawmakers emerging, "unnerved" from a classified briefing about the White House strategy in Syria. One of them, Republican Senator, Bob Corker is going to join us next to talk about that and more.

CAMEROTA: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham expressed concern about the White House strategy on Syria following a classified briefing. Listen.


LINDSEY GRAHAM, US SENATOR, SOUTH CAROLINA, REPUBLICAN: Everything in that briefing made me more worried not less. I don't -- it just makes no sense to me. I'm very unnerved by what I hear and what see and I think President Trump's been a good Commander-in-Chief, but when it comes to Syria, you think he's going down a very dangerous path.



CAMEROTA: That comes as lawmakers work on a new authorization for the use of military force against terror groups including those in the Middle East.

Republican Senator Bob Corker is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of that new AUMF and he joins us now. Good morning, Senator.


CAMEROTA: Good to have you. Did you share Senator Graham's feelings about being unnerved after that briefing that you got from Secretary of Defense Mattis?

CORKER: No, not really. I thought Mattis did a great job, so, look, I mean, the administration is clear they're not going to stay to help shape what's happening on the ground in Syria against Assad, Russia and Iran.

They've been clear for a long time, and look, we basically gave the country to Russia and Iran three or four years ago when we invited them over the chemical weapons issue. They've taken it. They have defense mechanisms.

Where I think the administration, we need to be a little concerned is over what they're doing against ISIS and talking about taking the 2,200 troops we have out too quickly there. Fortunately, Mattis intervened when the White House said they were leaving quickly.

And we're not going to do that. We're going to stay behind, the SDF that we have there and support the Kurds that are doing the fighting for us on the ground.

CAMEROTA: Because, I am wondering if you can also help clear something up.


CAMEROTA: There are reports that Secretary of Defense Mattis was pushing for Congressional approval for whatever was going to happen with Syria and that strike on Syria, but then there are conflicting reports about that. Do you know if that's what Secretary Mattis wanted?

CORKER: I don't and who knows whether he wanted it because he felt like it was the Constitutional way of going or whether he just felt like that Congress should have some buy-in. I thought what the President did was appropriate in that regard that did a surgical strike, a strike.

I told him that on Thursday morning when he called before the attack. But look, we've had no strategy in Syria. Our nation has not had a strategy in Syria for a long time. One of the lowest moments in my foreign relations career here was when they crossed the red line in 2013 in August and we did nothing.

The opposition had momentum. It was at a time when it would've made a huge difference and instead, we invited Russia in and of course, they've taken the country over. The strategy for us and all western nations has been terrible in Syria, but today it would take almost our entire military to really try to shake things on the ground.

So, where I'm concerned is that we leave too soon before we've done a complete job with ISIS and as you know, Turkey is really making life miserable for us, and certainly for those Kurds who have given 4,000 lives to fight the fight for us, if you will, against ISIS.

CAMEROTA: And so that leads you to your push for the new authorization for the use of military force. So, what is your concern? Are you concerned just about, as you said, fighting ISIS in Syria or you want to be involved in whatever happens, let's say Assad uses another chemical attack on his people, that Congress needs to be involved before the President acts? CORKER: So, this AUMF would really be to replace the '01 and 02 AUMFs

and would have nothing whatsoever regarding the fight against the Syrian regime if one were to occur. That would take a new AUMF, so this is only relative to our fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

Many people here have cried out for years that we need to weigh in again, that we need a new AUMF. I agreed with President Obama when he said he had all the authorities he needs. I agree with President Trump that the '01 and '02, give them legal standing to go pursue these tariffs.

But as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I am trying to you know, adhere to the fact that there are people who want to weigh in and so I've crafted something with Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake and other members of the Committee, Coons, Nelson and many people that have been involved in cosponsoring. But we've crafted -- Todd Young, we've crafted something that I strikes a middle ground that hopefully can attract Republicans and Democrats that doesn't constrain the President's ability to fight terror, but does keep Congress involved when we go to new countries, when we add new groups.

Look, it's going to be tough. People act like they want to weigh in on these issues and then it feels like to me find -- can find and place whatever excuse possible to not be for it.

CAMEROTA: And why is that, Senator? Why is that when the rubber meets the road, they back off? Why are you meeting -- are you meeting resistance and what's that's about?

CORKER: Sure, you know, look, we are in a hyper partisan environment. You know that well. It's just like with the Pompeo confirmation that is -- we are under way with. You know, Democrats..


CORKER: -- I'm not being pejorative, I am not criticizing. I am just observing that they feel like any support for a qualified Secretary of State which Mike Pompeo is, in my opinion, is really showing proxy support for Trump and they don't want to be in that position.

Republicans in some cases that might push back against the AUMF, they may feel that it looks like it's constraining the President's power, which it is not.

But, look, we're in a hyper partisan place. If you remember, Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry both received 94 votes to be Secretary of State. It happened quickly. Mike Pompeo served in the House, has been the CIA Director that many of them have worked with and lavished praise on, but you know, it's going to be a tight vote.

CAMEROTA: Do you -- I want to get to some news of the morning. Our Manu Raju is reporting about President Trump's re-election bid that he has announced.

Do you support today, President Trump for re-election in 2020? CORKER: Look, you know, who knows whether President Trump is even

going to run.

CAMEROTA: He's announced that he's going to run.

CORKER: Well, surely CNN is not taking for face value everything that comes out of the White House all of a sudden.

CORKER: But, wait a second, shouldn't we trust the President when he says he's running for re-election?

CORKER: I have no idea whether the President runs for re-election, nor what the field will be on the Republican side, so I think it's way too early to weigh in on who one might support.

CAMEROTA: But are you saying that you're not sure that President Trump is going to run?

CORKER: Oh, I'm definitely not sure he's going to run.

CAMEROTA: He's raised $4 million.

CORKER: Well, $4 million is a speck of sand in the ocean as it relate to these kind of things and you know that, so look--

CAMEROTA: But if he -- okay, hold on, this is what I am getting at--

CORKER: Let me just say this, any President that's 18 months into their term or 15 or 16 or 17 or whatever it is, is likely to say that they're going to run for reelection. They do not want to be viewed as a lame duck, so, you know, I take it with a grain of salt. It's just another thing going across the internet.

CAMEROTA: Okay, here's what I am getting at, if he is the nominee will you support him?

CORKER: Again, if he's the nominee, meaning he's won the primary?

CAMEROTA: If he runs for re-election, are you going to support him?

CORKER: I want to know who else is in the field. Do you know who you're going to support on the Democratic side?

CAMEROTA: What makes you think that I will support someone on the Democratic side, Senator?

CORKER: I don't know.

CAMEROTA: Senator, the point is you are a Republican, this is your President, this is the leader of your party, the leader of our country.

CORKER: Look, I have no idea. Yes, I know. But look, we are going to burn time, we could be talking about other things. I have no idea who's going to run for President in 2020 and I am 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,


CAMEROTA: Why wouldn't he?

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

CAMEROTA: Because he likes being President of the United States.

CORKER: Well, he might. He might not. Who knows? But look, when it comes time, ask me that question when we know that for real papers have been filed and we know who the field is, I'd be more than glad to come forward as I always do and tell you what I think.

CAMEROTA: Okay, we'll hold you to that. That is a date, Senator Bob Corker. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

CORKER: Thank you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. There was drama in the court. Time Warner CEO calls the Federal government's rationale for blocking the AT&T merger ridiculous. Our media experts break down the legal battle, next.