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Senate Panel Expected to Reject Pompeo; Trump Lashes Out at NYT, Maggie Haberman over Cohen; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired April 23, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so basically, he needs -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not the end word on this subject. If he doesn't get a positive vote there, he can still push it to the floor.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Pretty extraordinary to that --
BLITZER: -- for a secretary of state, but it's doable.
DEMIRJIAN: It'll be the first time in almost a century, so it'll be history making. But a lot about this administration is history- making. But yes, if he goes to the floor, it looks like he's got the votes right now. There are three Democrats that have pledged to support him. That's enough to offset Rand Paul who said he won't, and we're not sure what Jeff Flake will do, and John McCain won't be there for this floor vote to place this week. But 59/41 in the Senate. You just need a simple majority now since the filibuster rule was pushed out the door for cabinet secretaries. So he could have this. Democrats may have one shot to block things from coming out of committee, but I don't know that there's that appetite for that sort of political fight, because you do need someone in this office going into the next few weeks.
BLITZER: And, Carrie, the vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled for late this afternoon. It looks like he's not going to be confirmed there. But then they can just put it on the Senate floor, as Karoun points out, and it looks like he narrowly got through. When he was nominated to be the CIA director, it's going to be much closer this time around.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's one of the interesting things about the increased debate over his nomination for secretary of state is he was confirmed as a CIA director. And I would suggest that was perhaps more of a controversial appointment because here you had someone who was a politician, not a career intelligence professional being nominated for that position. So once he was nominated to that position, he has generally, sort of the view in the national security committee is that he has been a decent steward of the agency during his tenure there. He clearly has the ear of the president, having participated in many of his -- whether they're daily or several times a week -- intelligence briefings. So the president has developed a relationship with him that, I think, for the majority of the Senate that's going to be voting, thinks will be an effective partner if he is confirmed as secretary of state.
BLITZER: It looks like he's going to be confirmed. Remember, only three weeks ago or so, he made that secret visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, and actually sat down with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, setting the stage, potentially, for a meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea.
All right, they're getting ready to leave Joint Base Andrews, heading to Washington, D.C.
We're standing by for the White House press briefing. We'll have coverage for that right after this quick break.
[13:35:37] BLITZER: We're standing by for the White House press briefing. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, getting ready to walk out. Presumably, she'll have a little announcement at the top, as she usually does, and then answer questions for reporters. Lots of questions, including on the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. Also what's going on in New York with the president's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Over the weekend the president tweeted this. Let me put it up on the screen, a lengthy tweet, and then we'll discuss" "The 'New York Times' and a third-rate reporter, Maggie Haberman" -- he corrected the spelling of her name after originally misspelling her name - "known as a Crooked H. flunky, who I don't speak to and have nothing to do with, going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will flip. They use non-existent sources and a drunk/drugged-up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account lawyer, who I have always like and respected. Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry. I don't see Michael doing that, despite the horrible witch hunt and the dishonest media."
Karoun, a lot of factual errors, including the assertion that Maggie Haberman is a third-rate reporter. She's an excellent reporter for the "New York Times."
BLITZER: Yes. And he doesn't talk to her. He talks to her all the time since he's become president in phone interviews, personal interviews. So he just goes after her because she wrote a piece saying there's some concern among White House officials that Michael Cohen, under enormous pressure, he's the target right now of a criminal investigation, could flip.
DEMIRJIAN: The president's Twitter feed is a barometer of what gets to him, and this seems to have certainly gotten to him. He can create his own truth on his Twitter feed, and he's certainly doing that to try to discredit as much as possible the people behind the report, even if there's plenty of evidence about their relationship going back years. And also to just discount, discount, discount anything that's in there and spin. And that's what he's doing here. It suggests that there may be some truth to what was in that report if this actually struck a nerve quite this sharply.
BLITZER: It clearly has struck a nerve, Rachel.
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He's pushing back on this any way he can, first, saying Michael Cohen wouldn't flip, also saying there is nothing for him to flip on or about in terms of turning over two prosecutors. And then you also see some Trump allies sort of saying this thing about, oh, well, if he is giving some things up, people could lie to get themselves out of legal jeopardy. You can see the concern rising and you can see they're trying to combat it from every angle they can to try to dissuade what mayor may or may not happen.
BLITZER: And as you know, Carrie, the pressure on Michael Cohen, the president's layer, as far as this has been enormous. He's been under criminal investigation not two or three weeks, he's been under criminal investigation for months. They finally got a court order. They went and gave some evidence, probable cause, to a federal judge to allow the FBI to raid his home, his hotel room, where he's temporarily staying, his office, as well as his safe deposit box, his computers, his laptop, his phone. That's not an easy decision for prosecutors, for investigators to take. Especially, A, he's a lawyer, but, B, he's the president's lawyer.
CORDERO: He is. And so they would have had to have had a lot of information, establishing probable cause and being able to take that, search warrant application to the judge for approval. I agree, let's not underestimate the pressure that Michael Cohen might be under right now in terms of his whole life has really -- the subject of an investigation like this, their whole life has really turned upside down. But it's really too soon for any observer to be able to judge whether Michael Cohen would so-called flip or cooperate with the government in a particular case, because we don't know, as members of the public, what he might be charged with right now. So there is a big disparity between whether he is charged with some kind of extensive financial crimes, along the lines of the money laundering- type allegations we've seen against Paul Manafort and Mr. Gates, or if it's something like other charges like 1,001 false statements.
BLITZER: There she is, Sarah Sanders.
[13:39:52] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today, the president and first lady welcome president Emmanuel Macron and Mrs. Macron to the White House, beginning the first state visit for the Trump administration. This visit will celebrate the long and enduring friendship between France and the U.S. Discussions will include economic, diplomatic and global issues.
The first lady has taken an active role in every detail in planning of the visit, including the state dinner which will be held tomorrow evening, and we are looking forward to a very successful state visit.
As you all saw, we now have three Democrat senators who have announced they will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo, President Trump's highly qualified nominee for secretary of state. However, a majority of Democrats continue their pointless obstruction to score cheap political points with their base as a willful attempt to undermine American diplomacy.
Regardless, the president is looking forward to Mike Pompeo's confirmation so he can continue doing an incredible job on behalf of the American people.
I also want to commend the heroic actions of James Shaw Jr. early Sunday morning at a Waffle House in Tennessee. Mr. Shaw saved lives when he wrestled a gun from an active shooter who had opened fire.
The president offers his condolences to the victims and their families. He is monitoring the ongoing situation and the White House is in regular contact with state and local officials.
Finally, I want to congratulate the duke and duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their third child, a baby boy. And from one mother to another, I know the reality of being outnumbered can be very scary, but I know she and Prince William will continue to be amazing parents. So congratulations to them.
And with that I'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Sarah, on North Korea, is the president willing to accept anything short of complete denuclearization before lifting the sanctions?
SANDERS: Certainly the goal is denuclearization of the peninsula. And we're going to continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing to North Korea until we see concrete actions taken towards complete and total denuclearization.
QUESTION: But does that mean no sanctions lifted until that's achieved, or are you willing to go incrementally?
SANDERS: Certainly no sanctions lifted until we see concrete actions taken by North Korea to denuclearize.
QUESTION: And the president's -- the president said in his tweet that they had agreed to denuclearize. Where did they do that? Have they already agreed to do that?
SANDERS: Certainly in a number of conversations, including the comments I'd refer you back to. Also South Korea President Moon, who has said that North Korea has expressed a will for complete denuclearization. And certainly that's the focus of any conversation and negotiation that the United States will have with North Korea.
QUESTION: Sarah, to what extent will the Iran nuclear deal come up in the conversation between the president and President Macron? And what does President Trump want to hear from Macron on this thing? SANDERS: I -- look, I'm not going to get ahead of any conversations that we expect to take place over the next couple of days.
As you know, they just landed a few minutes ago and haven't even arrived here at the White House. I'm not going to presume what those conversations will look like.
We certainly expect that that will be part of the conversation. And we'll keep you posted if we have any specific details to put out about that.
QUESTION: Is the president (ph) still leaning toward decertifying the deal when it comes up again on May 12th?
SANDERS: I don't have any announcements on that front. But the president has been extremely clear that he thinks it's a bad deal. That certainly has not changed.
QUESTION: Sarah, wanted to ask you a question sort of following up on what you were asked this morning about Michael Cohen. It was noticed by some that you didn't close the door one way or the other on the president pardoning Michael Cohen.
What -- what is your -- what's your read on that now?
SANDERS: It's hard to close the door on something that hasn't taken place. I don't like to discuss or comment on hypothetical situations that may or may not ever happen.
I would refer you to personal attorneys to comment on anything specific regarding that case, but we don't have anything at this point.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about a tweet that the president put out last week? He tweeted a lot over the weekend, but last week he said -- he was talking about sanctuary cities in California, and saying, "There's a revolution going on in California. So many sanctuary areas want out of this ridiculous crime-infested and breeding concept." We haven't had a chance to ask you about that tweet.
When he used the word "breeding," was he making a derogatory term about Latinos in California, that they breed a lot or that they're prone to breeding?
SANDERS: No, he's talking about the problem itself growing and getting bigger.
SANDERS: Sorry, I've answered a couple.
Justin (ph), go ahead. QUESTION: I also wanted to follow up on a couple of the president's tweets.
The first was earlier this morning. I'm wondering if you could explain the president's tweet that he had ordered DHS not to allow the large caravans of people into our country. So if you can say both what specifically he had ordered DHS to do, and what that would mean for individuals claiming refugee status within the United States.
SANDERS: Look, the president continues to monitor the ongoing situation. A sovereign nation that cannot defend its borders will no longer be a sovereign nation.
The Trump administration is committed to enforcing our immigration laws, whether people are part of the caravan or not. If you enter the United States illegally, let me be clear: You've broken the law, and we will enforce the law through prosecution of illegal borders (sic).
We are committed to doing everything we can on the border to secure our nation. We need Congress to do their job as well, and to pass legislation to close the legal loopholes, and (sic) prevent us from securing our borders and protecting Americans.
QUESTION: The other tweet that the president did over the weekend. He said that he didn't see Michael Cohen flipping to get out of trouble with the government.
I guess that prompts two questions. The first is what the president believes his personal attorney might have done to get him in trouble with the government. And secondly, what the president's done that he is worried Michael Cohen could flip about.
SANDERS: The president's been clear that he hasn't done anything wrong. I think we've stated that about a thousand times.
Beyond that, I don't have anything to add, beyond the president's tweet.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
There have been a number of documented cases in the press recently of EPA Administrator Pruitt at least appearing to be dishonest by requesting raises for aides, about his relationship with a lobbyist who had business before the EPA, to name two.
Is the White House concerned at all about this pattern? And is there concern about him testifying before Congress on Thursday, as scheduled, where these issues will probably come up?
SANDERS: We're continuing to review a number of the reports that you've mentioned, and we'll let you know if we have any changes on that front.
Ashley (ph)? QUESTION: Sarah, President Macron is hoping that a (inaudible) side deal between U.S. and European powers could strengthen the Iran deal (inaudible) that President Trump would feel comfortable staying in it. So is that, sort of, a fool's errand? The president has said it's a bad deal. Does he believe there's anything that could be done to fix it in a way he'd be comfortable with?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get ahead of any potential conversations that are going to take place over the next couple days. But as the administration has policy announcements, we'll be sure to share them with you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
Just to go back to Jonathan's (ph) question about North Korea, the president tweeted pretty flatly, "They have agreed to denuclearization." And then you're saying that they're just -- agreed to talk about it. What is the president's definition of complete denuclearization?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to negotiate with you guys. I'm going to leave that the president and Kim Jong-un to walk through what some of those details would look like when that meeting takes place.
But I can be very clear that we expect it not to just be mentioned in words, but there have to be concrete actions that take place towards total denuclearization of the peninsula.
QUESTION: Does that mean removing all nukes, our nukes and their nukes?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the negotiations of what will take place and what the agreement will look like. But there have to be concrete actions that stop the denuclearization of the peninsula.
QUESTION: Sarah, the president -- President Macron appears to have a very robust agenda coming into Washington. He wants to change the president's mind on a lot of different things: on the Iran nuclear deal, on keeping U.S. troops in Syria, on tariffs, and maybe even on the Paris climate group (ph).
Does he have an open mind? Is it possible that he will change his mind after President Macron gets through with him?
SANDERS: I think that -- I feel very confident that we have the best negotiator at the table.
Look, you have two leaders that have...
SANDERS: ... an incredibly good -- hold on, let me finish.
QUESTION: ... great negotiator, and not such a great negotiator.
SANDERS: Let me finish. That's not what I said. I said that we have a great negotiator at the table. I certainly was not commenting on President Macron's abilities; simply stating the obvious: that we have an incredibly good negotiator at the table for the United States.
But what you do have are two leaders who have a great deal of respect for one another, who have a great friendship. Certainly, both have a great deal of interest in doing what is best for their country.
But being able to have very open and candid conversations because of the relationship, not only that the leaders have built, but that has existed between the two countries long before either of these individuals arrived on the scene, and we're going to continue that relationship. But I think we can expect this to be a very productive and very positive state visit for both countries.
QUESTION: Positive for France?
SANDERS: I said for both countries.
QUESTION: (inaudible) the president change (ph) his mind on some of these things?
SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of conversations that are going to take place. But as we have any policy announcements, I'm sure you guys will be the first to know.
SANDERS: Again, the president wants to make good deals for this country. And if he feels like he can make a good deal that benefits this country, he's certainly going to engage in those conversations.
QUESTION: Sarah, why should North Korea believe that the U.S. is an honest broker when the president has said publicly that he would like to get out of the deal the U.S. and others made with Iran?
SANDERS: Look, the president's been clear from day one that he thinks that's a bad deal. I don't think any deal that he would sign and agree to, he would consider a bad deal.
The president wants to do what is in the best interest...
QUESTION: (inaudible)? SANDERS: The president wants to do what is in the best interest of our country, and even in the world. And particularly having North Korea and the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, I think is a good thing for everybody. And I think even you would be hard-pressed to find something different.
QUESTION: Sarah, I'm wondering what you said about the...
SANDERS: Sorry, Peter, I have got time -- so I'm going to keep moving.
QUESTION: I -- I think we should...
QUESTION: Yeah. Sarah, I just want to follow up on that, about North Korea. I'm wondering what gives you any optimism that the North Koreans are really looking to denuclearize because of the statements that they're making.
Everybody seems to be jumping on the very positive aspects of the statements. But they're also saying over the weekend that their completion of the nuclear arsenal -- which they call their "powerful treasured sword" -- firmly guarantees forever the country's security and wellbeing. That doesn't sound like any wiggle room on denuclearization.
SANDERS: Certainly, we're not going to make mistakes from previous administrations. And we're not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word.
Like I said before -- and we've said many times before -- the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue until we see concrete actions taken by -- look, we're not naive in this process. We've seen some steps in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.
We also have seen a major change in what has taken place in the past, by having our allies and partners in the region step up and do much more than they have in the past.
China has taken a more active role in putting pressure on North Korea. They can certainly do more. We hope they will, and will continue working with us.
And that's all at the direction and because of the relationship that the president has built with President Xi of China.
SANDERS: Yamesh (ph)?
QUESTION: I have two quick questions. First one is, the New York Times and others report that federal prosecutors have recommended charges against the New York police officer involved in Eric Garner's death. But the Justice Department has expressed some strong reservations.
Where do things stand with the case of Eric Garner? And when does the Justice Department -- when are they going to make a decision about -- about the police officer and whether or not they're going to charge him?
SANDERS: I don't have an administration update on that front, but we'd refer you to the Department of Justice to get further details. And I'll work on getting an update for you and let you know.
QUESTION: ... question I have is...
QUESTION: Sure. The...
SANDERS: Usually when we let one, it's kind of a -- it's not exactly a secret. But yeah, be happy to share that with everybody.
QUESTION: The second question is the president tweeted "James Comey illegally classified documents to press in order -- illegally leaked documents to press to generate a Special Counsel. Therefore, the Special Counsel was established based on an illegal act. Really, does everyone know what that means?"
What does the president think that means? And is he indicating the special counsel should be fired because of the way that it was begun?
SANDERS: As we've said many times before, we have no intention of firing the special counsel. We've been beyond cooperative with them, we're continuing to cooperate with them. Turned over nearly -- over a million pages in documents to the special counsel, and have been cooperative.
SANDERS: Exactly what the president's been saying all along: That this was a false premise that this entire thing started on. We continue to repeat that we think that the idea that the Trump campaign was involved in any collusion with Russia is a total witch hunt.
Our position on that has been very clear since the beginning of this process, and the president's echoing exactly what that position it.
QUESTION: Yeah, a follow-up. Thanks a lot, Sarah.
Over the weekend, a fourth House Republican called for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to step down. He said he's the wrong fit for the EPA. What's your reaction to that?
SANDERS: Again, we're reviewing some of those allegations.
However, Administrator Pruitt has done a good job of implementing the president's policies, particularly on deregulation, making the United States less energy-dependent and becoming more energy-independent. Those are good things.
However, the other things certainly are something that we're monitoring and looking at, and I'll keep you posted.
QUESTION: Last week -- last week, Andrew Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate, he is Scott Pruitt's deputy at the EPA. Couldn't he easily implement all of the president's agenda if Scott Pruitt stepped aside? He wouldn't have a dark cloud hanging over the agency.
What's your view on that idea?
SANDERS: We're very excited that the Democrats have finally allowed another one of our nominees to go through. We hope that they'll allow some of the other several hundred that sit waiting to be confirmed, very highly qualified individuals. We hope that they'll continue to follow in the footsteps of that and get a lot more people within this administration working.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
On the Iran nuclear deal, President Macron said, "Don't -- don't leave if there's not a better option.: And then the Iranian foreign minister tweeted today, quote "President Macron is correct in saying there's no Plan B. It's either all or nothing."
So my question to you is: Does the White House believe that there is actually a realistic Plan B out there?
SANDERS: We certainly think that there should be a better deal, one that actually is positive, that works. And we don't really typically look to the leadership in Iran to determine what our foreign policy is.
QUESTION: And then later today on Mike Pompeo...
SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving, just cause we're running out of time.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Sarah.
QUESTION: You may not be willing to be specific about the matters that President Trump and President Macron will negotiate on, but the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, was very specific at the World Bank and IMF spring meeting. He said on Friday that France will insist on, and I quote, "a full and permanent exemption," end of quote, of any trade tariffs the United States might want to impose on France.
He went on to say that if they are going to be a partner in dealing with China and other countries, they cannot have what he called a sword of Damocles hanging over them. That's pretty strong language.
Is trade (inaudible) permanent exemption?
SANDERS: We can at least agree on that.
QUESTION: Is it on the table, as Minister Le Maire wishes?
SANDERS: Again, we certainly expect this to come up in conversations over the next two days.
When we have any policy announcements, we will absolutely let you know.
SANDERS: Kevin (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
Two quick ones. One on Syria. Is it fair to say the president agrees with the French president that a precipitous or too-quick removal of America's presence from Syria would be a danger or damaging to the Syrian people?
And if there is agreement there, is there a possibility that the two will come to some sort of a formal announcement during his time here?
And a follow on Mike Pompeo: What would be the number one issue that the president would like him to tackle, assuming that, as expected, he is approved today?
SANDERS: First, I'll talk about the Syria question. Again, certainly something that will come up.
The president is committed to defeating ISIS. That is our primary goal and function of being there. We want to see that happen.
The president also wants to see the partners in the region step up and do more, both militarily and financially. That's going to be something that I can imagine will be raised, and we'll keep you posted on that front.
When it comes to Director Pompeo, it is absolutely outrageous that he would not move through quickly. He's extremely qualified for the position. The Washington Post, a number of outlets that certainly aren't typically the biggest advocates of this president have said, "Confirm him already."
I think you have to look back at history, specifically to secretary of state confirmations and bipartisan votes. John Kerry was confirmed 94- 3. Hillary Clinton was confirmed 94-2. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed 85-13. Colin Powell was confirmed unanimously by voice vote.
I think that if you even look at some of the questioning that's been brought out by the Senate, no one doubts Pompeo's qualifications and his ability to do the job.
So I think that not only is the White House, but all America should be calling on the Senate to actually do their job, do what they are required and expected to do. And that is to help government function and to help on the safety and security of our country.
This is an incredibly important position, and that plays a big role in that. And they should certainly support Mike Pompeo and get that done and get that done today.
And I think, frankly, for particular members of Congress, that it's very hard for them to justify voting in favor of someone like John Kerry and not following suit and voting in favor of Mike Pompeo.
SANDERS: Right here.
QUESTION: Just on Pompeo, does the president consider Republicans who oppose Pompeo's nomination to be obstructionist?
And, separately, what does it say to the rest of the world if Pompeo can't get a favorable recommendation out of the Senate Foreign Relations...
SANDERS: Certainly don't think that those members are being helpful.
And I think what it says to the world is what we've been saying for a long time, is the Senate's got some real problems and they need to figure out how to actually show up and do their job a little bit better.
QUESTION: A couple -- I wanted to -- one on NAFTA and Iran.
On NAFTA, has the administration decided whether to bring a -- a -- renegotiated deal back to Congress? Is there (ph) a chance (inaudible) that -- that those changes won't need congressional approval?
And just on Iran, the -- that deal have been -- being looked at by a team that was appointed by...
SANDERS: Let me address NAFTA first.
On NAFTA, those conversations and negotiations are ongoing. I don't have any updates for you on that front, beyond what we've already said.
QUESTION: The president's (inaudible) replace McMaster and Tillerson. Does the president still have confidence in that team? Has he been briefed on their developments lately? And does -- does he and John Bolton support what they're -- where they're at right now?
[13:59:42] SANDERS: Absolutely. The president has a great deal of confidence in a number of members across the board that remain part of his team, his national security team. A great group of people, and the president has been working close with them. Most of those individuals have been on in part of the administration for some time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A couple of questions, two questions. Going back to the issue of --