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NEW DAY

Eye Witnesses to Toronto Van Attack Speak Out; Former President George H.W. Bush Battling Sepsis; Trump, French President to Talk Iran, Syria; Allegations Could Upend Ronny Jackson's Nomination for Veterans Affairs; Embattled EPA Director Under Multiple Investigations. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIAN ALI, EYE WITNESS, TORONTO VAN ATTACK: Then probably ten seconds after that's when I got to Young and Finch. And there were probably about 20, 30 people standing around, four or five people on the sidewalk, a number of pedestrians franticly performing CPR on some of those people. There's a lot of blood and just mass confusion. It was very tragic.

[07:00:19] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And I know, Christian, you were -- you were saying that in that moment, when you were realizing what it was, you were thinking about your kids and that you were hoping they were safe at school.

ALI: Yes. That was the first thing that came to mind. You know, I checked the time. My mind went straight to them. You know, at first, I wasn't too sure what was happening. I thought maybe there's an incident that happened on a bus or something like that, because there's a bus parked there, but, yes. It's moments like these that make you think about your family and -- and every day when you step out the door what's going to happen.

CUOMO: And look, you know, the job is to get the facts and get perspective from people who are there, but you know, Diego, I've been around a lot of these, and you saw some rough things and you did some very extraordinary things in that moment.

And while they're going to be a point of pride and people will commend you for that, it was nice that you tried to help. Take care of yourself and make sure that you get any help that you need. These are not natural things to see, and they don't often go away that quickly.

But thank you for what you did. I hope you're well. You know how to get us. Check in if you want to and let us know how you're doing, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: Thank you for what you did.

And Christian, thank you for sharing what you witnessed. Be well, gentlemen.

ALI: Thanks. CUOMO: All right. And thanks to you, our international viewers, for

watching us. For you "CNN TALK" is going to be next. For our U.S. viewers, there is a lot of big news. NEW DAY continues. Let's get after it.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Right now. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

The bond between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron will be put to the test today as the two leaders tackle many pressing foreign policy issues. Emmanuel Macron hopes to leverage his relationship with Mr. Trump to persuade the U.S. president to stay in the Iran nuclear deal and keep U.S. troops in Syria. Their visit will be capped by a state dinner tonight planned by first lady Melania Trump.

CUOMO: We're also following breaking news. Former President George H.W. Bush is at a Houston hospital. He's in intensive care this morning, facing a medical setback. He's actually been battling sepsis. This started just a day after his wife's funeral.

Let's begin there. We have Ed Lavandera, who is live in Houston.

Look, we all know how it can often go, 73 years of marriage, these people had a connection that is unequal by what most people know in their life. And when one passes, it's often very difficult for the other, let alone with his fragility and his advanced stage. What are you hearing about how he's doing and how the Bush clan is coping?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds like it has been a difficult 48 hours. A great deal of concern. Just hours after returning back to Houston, after burying his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush, at the presidential library in College Station, Texas, George H.W. Bush admitted here to the hospital, Houston Methodist, where we understand, according close -- to a source close to the family, that he had received a blood infection that turned into sepsis.

This is an incredibly difficult situation for somebody in the former president's situation, given his health history and the emotional state that he has been in over the course of the last week. So there has been a great deal of concern. In fact, so serious, according to this source, that there were a couple of times on Sunday that there was severe questions as to whether or not the former president would be able to pull through all of this.

You know, and what is touching throughout all of this is that President H.W. -- George H.W. Bush had said just after his wife's death last week that he had the outpouring of love and support from people across the country. Remember, he came out and greeted mourners just last Friday here in Houston as people came by the casket of Barbara Bush to pay their respects. He stood by that casket for a short while on Friday, greeting mourners. And then making the trip up to College Station to talk to -- to bury his wife.

So all of that causing a great deal of concern as people here watching very closely the former president's health and whether or not he'll be able to pull through this latest round of medical attention that he's receiving -- Alisyn.

CUOMO: OK, Ed, please keep us posted as you hear anything from down there. Thank you very much.

President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron will tackle several pressing foreign policy issues today, and then tonight they will break bread at the first state dinner of Mr. Trump's presidency.

CNN's Abby Phillip is live at the White House with more. So tell us how the day is going to look, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

There's already a flurry of activity here at the White House in preparation for that state dinner. And Emmanuel Macron is here, both to shore up the U.S./French relationship but also his personal relationship with President Trump. They have to deal with some really thorny foreign policy issues and that, at the top of that list, is the Iran nuclear deal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[07:05:26] PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump rolling out the red carpet, welcoming French President Emmanuel Macron. Beyond the pomp and circumstance of his three-day visit, the two leaders are expected to tackle several thorny foreign policy issues, including the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, North Korea denuclearization, Russian aggression, the Syrian civil war and climate change. Macron has been dubbed "the Trump whisperer" by some because of their close diplomatic relationship.

But the talks are sure to highlight the differences between the two allies, including President Trump's threat to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. The deadline to either waive sanctions against Iran or leave the deal just weeks away.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our participation can be cancelled by me as president at any time.

EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE: What do you have as a better option? I don't see it. What is a what-if scenario or your Plan B? I don't have any Plan B for nuclear against Iran. So that's a question we will discuss.

PHILLIP: The outcome of Macron's talks setting the stage for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the White House on Friday. She, too, will press President Trump to stay in the Iran deal.

The French, along with the U.S. and U.K., carried out air strikes on Assad's regime in Syria after another chemical attack. Macron wants President Trump to keep U.S. troops there, which Mr. Trump has vowed to pull out very soon without a clear plan for what happens after.

And on North Korea, the White House says the U.S. will not lift sanctions until the regime takes concrete actions towards denuclearization. SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not going to take

the North Koreans simply at their word. The maximum pressure campaign is going to continue until we see concrete actions taken by -- we're not naive in this process.

PHILLIP: Trump and Macron are both political newcomers, hoping their relationship will help them hash out these pressing issues. Their friendship on display yesterday when Macron arrived at the White House and forever immortalized in this never-ending handshake at Bastille Day celebrations in France last summer.

But the West Wing is facing more turbulence inside the Trump administration. The president's pick to run Veterans Affairs, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, hits a snag ahead of tomorrow's Senate confirmation hearing. Sources says both sides of the aisle raising concerns as they dig deeper into allegations of improper conduct at various points in Jackson's career. Senators declined to publicly detail specifics of the allegations but say they are looking into whether they are substantial enough to upend his nomination.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Well, sources tell CNN that Jackson's committee hearing at the Veteran's Affairs Committee could very well be postponed in the wake of some of these allegations.

And later today, just in a few short hours, we will see President Trump and President Macron for a traditional military welcoming ceremony here at the White House, and then later there will be a press conference in the Rose Garden, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you for previewing all of that for us. Let's bring in CNN political analysts. We have David Gregory and John Avlon.

David Gregory, so, a lot of substance for these two leaders to tackle. I thought in Abby's piece the overarching question was the one that Macron posed, what's your Plan B? You pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, then what he was basically saying to the president.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, since it's a meeting with the French, I think the ambience in the room is what's important. The ambience of the visit. You might count on that from me.

No, but I think -- I think the stage craft here is what matters. Here is President Trump, who's on the world stage with western European leaders, countries where he is deeply unpopular. He's not the first. I covered George W. Bush, who was also deeply unpopular in western Europe.

But he has an opportunity here because of personal relationships to do something that they are advocating for, which is to stay in the deal. And I think this Plan B idea about the Iran nuclear deal is important on its face, which is you -- how do you toughen the deal in a way, which I think likely secretary of state Pompeo is working on, that -- that would satisfy the hawks, the hardliners within the West Wing? But also how do you send a signal that will help the diplomacy on North Korea, which I think is of utmost importance to the Trump White House to pull off a bigger nuclear deal there.

So I think all of that is part of the environment in which they're talking. And I think that what Macron understands, apart from the specifics of the deal, is how to try to make Trump look good, try to be deferential. I think all of those things work in his and Merkel's favor.

CUOMO: All right. So let's put up what the disagreements are. Right? We have a graphic here. And this is just to show the difference between what is sold as, well, these two men are friends.

Let's not forget how this relationship started, by the way. It was pretty ugly early on.

But on the substantive issues, the Iran deal they're on opposite sides. The Paris agreement, they're on opposite sides. Syria, they're on opposite sides. Trade, they're on opposite sides in terms of approach to international commitments they're on opposite sides.

So on the substance, they're not there. But at least there is some mutual basis of, what, a need for cooperation or a want for something productive to come out of this?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that, at the end of the day, Macron is trying to present himself as the Trump whisper, emphasizing the shared relationship. There is a shared love of pomp and circumstance. There's also building on the foundation of the friendship between our two countries, which goes back to the American Revolution, which is one of the reasons they had dined at Mount Vernon last night, Washington's home.

The problem is, as you point out, on policies they could not be further apart. I mean, climate change, Syria, trade, as you point out. You know, Macron is a radical centrist. Trump is a conservative populist. Macron is defending himself as a defender of liberal democracy in the west. Trump is much more comfortable with some of the forces that are on the other side of that ledger from Brexit, to Orbonne (ph) to Erdogan.

So there are real tensions. Can personal diplomacy bridge those? That's Macron's bet. Because at the end of the day, his desire to make France great again depends upon a close alliance with Donald Trump's America. Whether that's unpopular at home or not. But it's a big bet, because they disagree on the details of policy. That can't be papered over.

GREGORY: I think Macron understands that if he -- if Trump can be in a position to claim victory, say, on a new Iran deal, you know, Trump is not ideological about these things. There are those around him who are. Like John Bolton, his national security adviser, who's long been against the Iran deal. Mike Pompeo, as well. But again, if they can strengthen it in a way that Trump can say, "Look, I'm the one who drove that," it could be helpful. I just think the psychology of this is important, as well. Trump

wants to be seen as legitimate world leader. And I think Macron is a young, kind of political outsider who understands, you know, what Trump needs emotionally. And that is important.

You know, we've seen in the past presidents who do respond to, you know, what John was saying. I can remember, you know, Tony Blair had a real impact on George W. Bush when it came to Mideast policy, something they were declined to really pursue, and he had that influence on him. So we'll see, you know, what Merkel and Macron can do together.

CAMEROTA: And we'll see at 11:45 a.m. Eastern this morning they're going to have a press conference with President Trump and President Macron. See if they announce anything. I mean, sometimes that matters, though Chuck and Nancy learned with running for press conference with the DREAMers that sometimes that also changes. But in any event, we'll see that at 11:45.

Let's move on to what's happening with the president cabinet's nominations. So it now looks as if Dr. Ronny Jackson, who is President Trump's pick to head the Veterans Affairs Administration, is in trouble. We don't know why, but the hearing about this may even be postponed because lawmakers have enough concerns, John Avlon. Something has come up in their vetting of him, some sorts of allegations. And that's all we know.

AVLON: Yes. And I think it's important to put those allegations almost aside, because they are so murky. And this could just be political skullduggery.

What's significant is, is that the White House is getting pushback from Republican senators, like Georgia's Johnny Isaacson, who say this may not be ready for primetime.

And it goes back to the fundamental problem with the appointment, which isn't that Ronny Jackson isn't an appealing person, by all accounts liked on both sides of the aisle, when it comes to his work in the White House.

But he does not have the experience managing the largest bureaucracy in the federal government outside the Department of Defense. And that matters when it comes to running the V.A.

So you've got Republican senators saying, "Hold on. We don't think he necessarily has the qualifications to pull this off."

So allegations aside, that's fundamental and the Republican Senate support seems to be shifting the other way.

CUOMO: David, we're just seeing another example of them not having their game together that well.

Now, on the opposite side of that, because we don't really know any of the meat on these bones, and until we do, why fan the flames? But with Pruitt we do know a lot of what's going on. And of course,

they couldn't have seen that coming, except for his kind of harsh stance against science in some cases.

But he has about six open points of investigation. He's got Trey Gowdy in the oversight committee looking for him. They're asking for documents. They believe they're getting put off. They're getting more upset about it. How much is too much?

GREGORY: Well, you know, I have thought Pruitt was -- was surviving enough of this, but the fact that it's still -- he's still getting hammered on this and it's Republicans who are tempering support and even the White House reportedly telling people, kind of "Back off your fervent support of him."

[07:15:14] That tells you that he's still vulnerable.

The unfortunate truth about life in Washington for anyone is that, once there's blood in the water, it's very hard to recover. And if the president is not totally behind you and ready to go to the mat, and if that support pulls back, that gets very dangerous for you.

And I think, look, the president has to be held accountable for judgment here. Sometimes it's bad process. Sometimes they're not organized. This is -- this is bad judgment. I mean, you've got somebody for, you know, the V.A. This is a huge job with a lot of problems, and the president said he was going to make it a priority.

And he has put somebody up who does not appear to be prepared or have the background to take on such a difficult bureaucratic role.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, John Avlon, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Skullduggery?

AVLON: You're welcome.

CUOMO: Great word. Has nothing to do with skulls but a great word.

CAMEROTA: Or duggery.

CUOMO: Oh, there's some duggery going on.

All right. The White House says there are no plans to fire Robert Mueller, but they won't say that this probe will definitely reach its conclusion. Now the new suggestion from the president specifically is that it all began, this probe, because of an illegal act. Is that true? Let's break it down next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:20:40] SANDERS: We have no intention of firing the special counsel. We've been beyond cooperative with them. We're continuing to cooperate with them. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, once again insisting that the president has no intention of firing Special Counsel Bob Mueller. This comes as CNN learns Mueller's team revealed statements made by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates during interviews with investigators that could be used against Manafort in court.

Joining us now, former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

Good to have you two with us this morning.

Laura, what jumps out at you in terms of relevant, legal development?

LAURA COATES, CNN FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the fact that they've already given statements and, if the deposition statement, they've already been sworn, which means that at that time they lock themselves into their own answers.

If they have said anything at this point that contradicts an earlier statement or gives them some cause to corroborate what Mueller's team already knows to be fact, they have essentially assisted in building a case against themselves.

He will be thinking, "Well, if I gave a deposition in a separate case, didn't have to do with this or an earlier statement, that then can't later be used against me."

Well, we all can recite the Miranda warnings at this point, and what you do say can be used against you, and this time it will.

CUOMO: Renato, a little bit of a dovetail into politics here for a second. Am I wrong when I say that the White House or the president saying, "I have no intentions or plans to get rid of Bob Mueller" is not the same as saying, "This probe will be seen through to the end"?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Of course, yes. Of course, there's a big difference there. And I think those words are carefully chosen. You're saying what your present intention is. I don't intend to do this now. You can change your mind tomorrow. You can change your mind next week. You can change your mind in a month.

And I think the idea is that they -- I think the White House sees some value in keeping pressure on Bob Mueller, in keeping pressure on Rod Rosenstein, in keeping pressure on that team and, you know, continuing the sort of drum beat for the end of the investigation. They view that as it's either to their political and perhaps to their legal advantage, as well.

CUOMO: You know, Laura, one of the things that is neglected in the understanding of what the special counsel is that everybody keeps saying, well, where are the crimes? Where are the crimes? That is part of his mandate. But isn't it true that the purview from Rosenstein to the special counsel is also for him to develop notions and facts of coordination?

COATES: Absolutely --

CUOMO: Not necessarily criminal activity but coordination that I guess could be meaningful to lawmakers if they're considering any political action?

COATES: Absolutely. Remember, at the end of the entire investigation, Mueller's job is to hand over a report to Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general. He could then choose to either publicize that or hand it over to Congress in their parallel legislative probe.

So his directive is twofold. If there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing and activity, continue with the indictments that he already has done. You have Flynn. You've got Vander Zwaan. You've got Gates and Manafort and you've got 13 Russian nationals.

But if he continues to see other patterns that may be more assisting for the legislative probe, he can hand that over, as well, and presumably, they would then carry the torch to get us through the midterm elections. So it's part of his charge not only looking at the criminal side of it, but to be figuring out if there's any evidence to farm out out of the U.S. attorney's offices or to Capitol Hill.

CUOMO: All right. So three things were suggested to be vetted. The first one is too easy for you guys. The idea of rebutting the presumption of, "Well, there's been no proof of collusion yet," and "This investigation has been going on too long."

You both were in the business too long to say that this has been a long time for an investigation. You guys take forever with your federal investigations. This is nothing. So forget about that.

The second one that I want to take a look at is the idea that, but for Comey leaking those memos, we would have never had a special counsel. That's what the president says, that this was all predicated on an illegal act of a leak. Renato, do you agree?

MARIOTTI: Well, first of all, I don't think there was anything illegal about Comey leaking the memos. We call it a leak, but leaking -- leaking information is not a crime unless it's -- the information is classified. And --

[07:25:04] CUOMO: Some of it may have been, though, right? I know it was done after the fact, but some of it may have been confidential or sensitive at the time. There were certain redactions that were done at the time.

MARIOTTI: So some of the -- one of the memos was -- had redactions that were done to it. After the redactions, it was unclassified. There was another memo that was classified later on.

You know, Comey at the time was somebody who actually could decide. He the guy who would actually make materials classified. He's the one who set the classifications for those memos.

So, it's going to be very hard, I think, for the administration to argue that he, you know -- he did not have the power to declassify his own memos at that time.

So, I don't think there was an illegal act here. We'll never know exactly, you know, why and what circumstances would have led to Mueller's appointment, you know, if that didn't happen. You have to think a lot of the same facts would have come to light whether or not the memos ultimately were published in the press. But I think the chances of Comey being successfully prosecuted are close to zero.

CUOMO: Laura Coates.

COATES: I agree with that assessments. And also, the White House has to actually shift its perspective about what is actually the predicate act that led to everything else. It's not necessarily the giving over of information by Comey. It was actually the firing of Comey that led to a lot of different scenarios.

The chicken and the egg game that the White House would like to play really exonerates their own role in what all this took place. Because had the president of the United States not engaged in the activity, according to Lester Holt's interview, that he was going to terminate the director of the FBI, who was known to be a bipartisan support over a ten-year term, and you would not led to the circumstances that leaked the memos to somebody else and then led to the special counsel. So in the chicken and egg game the president of the United States loses.

CUOMO: Let's end it there. Laura Coates, thank you very much.

Renato Mariotti, appreciate it.

Alisyn.

COATES: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All riht. Former President George H.W. Bush is back in the hospital this morning. He's being treated for a blood infection. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us for an update on this resilient 93- year-old former president, next.