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White House Source: V.A. Nominee Jackson Not Withdrawing; Trump Signals He Could Be Swayed on Iran Nuclear Deal; Trump Praises Kim Jong-un as 'Honorable'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 06:00   ET



REAL ADMIRAL DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINEE TO HEAD VETERANS AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATION: I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing and answering everyone's questions.

[05:59:42] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need some time to get some more information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hands out prescriptions like candy. In fact, in the White House they call him the Candy Man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Macron was trying desperately to woo President Trump on the issue of the Iran deal.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-un can decide, "You know what? I see where the president's heading on the Iran deal." This is not someone I want to negotiate with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state dinner, culmination of a long day of diplomacy, pomp and circumstance.

TRUMP: God bless France. God bless our alliance.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, April 25, 6 a.m. here in New York.

Here's our starting line. Disturbing new allegations against President Trump's pick to head the V.A. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee tells CNN that Dr. Ronny Jackson was known as, quote, "the candy man" for improperly handing out prescription drugs. And there are accusations of drinking on the job. A source tells CNN that Jackson has no plans to step aside. The White

House at times rushing to his defense. Even as President Trump suggested that Jackson should consider withdrawing.

The cabinet chaos does not outshine the glitz and glamour of President Trump's first state dinner last night with the French president. The first lady shining as the host and planning of this regal party. So in just hours, Emmanuel Macron caps his visit to the U.S. with an address before a joint meeting of Congress.

CUOMO: All right. So what about on the substance? President Trump signaling progress on a possible fix to the Iran nuclear deal. But the president did issue an ominous warning to Iran. The open question is whether Macron succeeded in getting Trump to stay in the historic multination accord?

And the president flipping the script, now calling North Korea's Kim Jong-un "very honorable." This is a man he once, of course, mocked as Little Rocket Man. They will not negotiate any concession until Pyongyang takes steps towards dismantling its nuclear arsenal. All of this is a set-up to this potential summit.

We have it all covered. So let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House -- Ab.


By all accounts, last night's first state dinner of the Trump -- Trump presidency was a smashing success, especially for first lady Melania Trump, who quite literally shone last night.

But at the same time, there is a little bit of a hang-over for the president's nominee to be the V.A. secretary, Ronny Jackson. New disturbing details are coming out about his conduct while serving as White House doctor for multiple presidents. But the White House is digging in and defending him.


PHILLIP (voice-over): Troubling new allegations against Veterans Affairs secretary nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I understand he had a nickname in the White House among some of the White House staff?

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: It was "the candy man," because he handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.

PHILLIP: Senator Jon Tester describing what whistle-blowers told a congressional panel, that Dr. Jackson reportedly would hand out prescription drugs to help travelers sleep.

Sources telling CNN the White House doctor allegedly became intoxicated during multiple overseas trips on duty, including one in 2015 where sources say he banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night. One source claiming Secret Service had to step in, out of concern that he would wake then- President Barack Obama.

Lawmakers postponing his confirmation hearing indefinitely as Jackson denies the allegations.

JACKSON: I'm looking forward to rescheduling and answering everyone's questions.

PHILLIP: President Trump continuing to back his embattled nominee while giving him an opening to drop out.

TRUMP: I really don't think personally he should do it, but it's totally his his. I would stand behind him. Totally his decision.

PHILLIP: But only hours later the two met in the Oval Office, and sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump told Jackson to stay and fight.

The concerns over Jackson's nomination have Republicans and Democrats alike concerned. But President Trump seemed undeterred as he hosted French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House. The pomp and glitter of the Trump brand on full display at the first state dinner of his presidency.

TRUMP: May our friendship grow even deeper. May our kinship grow even stronger.

PHILLIP: The two leaders showing their affection and friendship beyond the usual handshakes, their "bromance" stealing the show.

TRUMP: I like him a lot.

PHILLIP: Macron hoping his visit would sway President Trump on several foreign policy challenges. Mr. Trump signaling that he might be open to staying the Iran nuclear deal, which the French president hopes to salvage, but issuing this ominous warning to Iran.

TRUMP: I will say if Iran threatens us in any way, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.

PHILLIP: President Trump also raising eyebrows with this comment about North Korea's dictator, who he hopes to meet with soon.

TRUMP: Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open, and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing.


PHILLIP: And Macron has one more day in Washington. He's scheduled to address a joint session of Congress this morning at 10:30. And President Trump this morning -- today is also going to be meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who was a guest at last night's state dinner, Alisyn and Chris.

[06:05:13] CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all of the reporting.

Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. Great to have both of you.

OK. So David Gregory, about Dr. Ronny Jackson, first when we started hearing these whispers or these claims about him, there was some suggestion maybe it's a smear campaign. Maybe these are just a smear campaign from critics and that we should be cautious.

But now the number of people -- I mean, there's this growing chorus. It's up to, like, 20 sources who have is these really troubling accusations. He was called "the candy man." There are reports, CNN reporting that drinking on the job, pounding on a female staffer's door in the middle of the night while on the road at a hotel.

So now what? Now where are we?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're just in this unusual zone or Donald Trump and people he supports, despite the political headaches that they're creating. I mean, there's not really a vetting process. It's so clear that this is just the impulsiveness of the president, who liked Dr. Jackson, thought he was good on TV, so he should run the V.A. You know? A troubled bureaucracy that needs somebody with extensive leadership experience, not just a doctor.

So the experience question is one, let alone these accusations that are coming up and are being pursued in a pretty bipartisan way. I mean, it's difficult to see them as just a smear campaign. I think Congress has to do its job and do it fairly. And we'll see what happens.

The president is standing there saying basically, "Well, I don't know why he would want to do this," suggesting he should drop out. But then coming around and saying, you know, that there's nothing to it, and he should stand and fight. Is just the -- is the riddle that is the Trump presidency. Putting him in a very difficult position.

And I suspect, again, if he has enough backing by the president, then he'll continue on. But it's like with Scott Pruitt, I mean, how much of this mounts and becomes impossible? If that's the case, I think the president just suggests that he goes internally, and we can see him just walk away.

CUOMO: So you have two pieces of sound that are key. One is what the president came out of the box and said about this. And the other is John Tester, who is of course, on the committee that's going to be overseeing the vetting of this man now and his confirmation process and their concerns. So here's the president.


TRUMP: I haven't heard of the particular allegations, but I will tell you he's one of the finest people that I have met. But the fact is I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it.

What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren't thinking nicely about our country? I really don't think personally he should do it, but it's totally his. I would stand behind him. Totally his decision. COOPER: I understand he had a nickname in the White House, among some

of the White House staff?

TESTER: It was -- it was "the candy man." He handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.

COOPER: The White House doctor is nicknamed among some people in the White House was "the candy man"?

TESTER: Correct. That's correct. That's what we were told.


CUOMO: Telltale sign whenever a journalist repeats what you just said. That means it's usually impactful. So I think the key -- the key dovetail here is the president is saying, "Well, these lawmakers are not thinking about America nicely," John Avlon. Is that what this is about, or is this about them not making phone calls about this guy that the president likes?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, the senators who were doing their due diligence that normally the White House would do as part of a proper vetting of a nominee before he's nominated, are thinking about America conscientiously, nicely. That insinuation they don't care about America as they're criticizing, kicking the tires on a nominee is absolutely ridiculous.

Look, this is a problem of Donald Trump's making. When he floated Ronny Jackson as a possibility in private meetings in the White House, apparently people thought he was joking, because it was so outside the box. Not based on personal concerns and allegations necessarily but the total lack of experience in running what is the second largest bureaucracy in the government. That's the fundamental problem the congressmen are facing.

Now, however, we find these allegations that -- allegations that were floating around murkily yesterday are actually really quite specific and troubling. You've got the "candy man" allegation. That's not good for a doctor. You've got an allegation that he's basically defining hostile workplace, banging on the door of a female subordinate, and two women who worked for him apparently complaining, and then accusations of drinking on the job. Those things on themselves, any one of them could be disqualifying. That, to the lack of experience running anything, that's a mission impossible for a nomination, folks.

GREGORY: This is the kind of thing, too, that obviously, you want to vet and try to get ahead of rather than it coming up like this. I mean, look, this is a doctor who served in the Obama administration. He served President Obama. As the administration has pointed out, he got a glowing review from President Obama.

[06:10:07] And this "candy man" thing, I have to say I have questions about it. I mean, these things have to be investigated.

If, you know, he was giving out Ambien, you know, to help people sleep on long trips, whether members of the media or White House staff, is that somehow, you know, totally inappropriate? Because I certainly saw that, you know, with previous White House doctors when I covered the White House. Perhaps they're talking about something else. Because I can't imagine that alone would be disqualifying.

CAMEROTA: So wait a minute. So wait a second. You did see doctors, White House doctors hand out Ambien, which is a prescription drug?

GREGORY: Yes. For long flights, if you were traveling to Asia and you needed help sleeping, yes, they would do that, absolutely.

CAMEROTA: I mean, but what you're hitting on is that the president has called Democrats obstructionists: "It's taken so long to get my people installed. The Democrats are not doing this for the country."

CUOMO: He's got Republicans involved in this also.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but also -- yes, but of course it takes longer, if you have to start with vetting yourself. If Democrats have to start at square one instead of someone coming in having been vetted.

AVLON: Yes. These are not partisan concerns we're hearing from senators. I mean, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson was one of the first to raise the flag. It happened to be Tester who went on TV last night.

And look, I think David makes an important point, that in his job review, which the administration released from President Obama was glowing. It expressed an enormous amount of confidence in Dr. Jackson. But there's a different between an internal review by a president who might have been perfect insight into the full 360 of your management style. And being nominated to head the V.A.

At the end of the day, this is a problem of Donald Trump's making. It is a direct result of an impulse -- an impulsiveness to nominate someone who hadn't been properly vetted. So he says, "I don't know who'd do it." Well, Mr. President, you're to blame for creating this circumstance for Dr. Jackson.

CUOMO: Now look, the concerns are telescoped. Right? You get concerns about the man or woman you put in office as a projection of what they'll do once they get there.

Now sometimes, even if you vet somebody or somebody has a good record, you still don't know what's going to happen when they get there, and that's what leads us to Mick Mulvaney. OK?

This is one of the most obvious broadside assaults on what we're seeing with this administration. Mick Mulvaney doesn't like the agency or bureau that he is now overseeing, OK, the Consumer Protection Bureau, which now he wants to call something different, to take financial services out of it, because he was giving a speech to bankers and was doing everything he could to assure them, "We'll go easy on you." He heads the bureau that was created in 2010, David, to protect people from bankers who aren't behaving properly. We have full screens of what he talked about. And this is from "The

New York Times." "We had a hierarchy in my office" -- OK? -- "in Congress. If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you."

Now, this was done in the context of his -- him encouraging the bankers to take up their own cause and to lobby heavily. He went on on to say, "If you were a constituent and you were sitting in my office, I spoke to you without exception." But it's the first part of the message that should resonate.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Those are the rules he's setting out there. Those are not the right rules.

AVLON: Outrageous.

GREGORY: Well, I mean, this is, you know, I thought Donald Trump wanted to drain the swamp. And here is the tension now. So you have someone in Mick Mulvaney who is coming out and saying the kinds of things that outrage a lot of voters. I mean, this is the problem about money and politics and the lobbying game in Washington. It's all legal. And that's what turns so many people off of politics.

But in Mick Mulvaney, he's heading an agency that a lot of conservatives don't like, that a lot of business people don't like, because they think there is regulatory overreach that hurts the economy.

Take Scott Pruitt at the EPA. With all of his ethical trouble, he is still rolling back a lot of EPA regulations the conservatives want to see rolled back. So in Donald Trump, you have someone who claimed that he was going to rise above all of of this in terms of ethical behavior. And yet he has people who are not doing that. But they are -- they are executing on an ideological vision that he agrees with and that a lot of conservatives agree with.

AVLON: Yes, but let's also not try to put lipstick on this pig. This is Mick Mulvaney overseeing an agency that he thinks shouldn't exist, that exists to protect consumers who've gotten really raked over by banks in the past, denigrating he idea of the agency, rolling back its regulations, giving a speech to the bankers who are overseen by it, saying, "Lobby your congressmen to help me achieve an agenda to get you off the hook."

And the best way to do it is to give congressmen money as lobbyists. And that he himself, by the way, took over $60,000 from payday lenders. So this is a -- this is a big deal. This is the substance of stuff that should really get people fired up.

CUOMO: Right. Now, on that last point, Mick Mulvaney is welcome to come on and make his moves to you about why his moves are OK. Especially the last one that John just mentioned. Payday lenders, hopefully they don't play a role in your life and you don't have to live with those kinds of short-term loans and these ridiculous interest fees that are allowed and are illegal. [06:15:15] I've researched the issue. I've investigated it. I would

love for him to come on and justify helping out such a predatory business.

CAMEROTA: David, John, thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So the state dinner, got to talk about it. Honoring the French president, capping off two days of hugs, handshakes and more. Even some diplomacy in there. So what got accomplished of substance other than all of this loving? Next.


CUOMO: President Trump and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, wrapping up two days of diplomacy with the first state dinner of the Trump presidency last night, an august occasion. The two leaders discussed many foreign policy challenges, including the fate of the Iran nuclear deal. Here's a little bit of sound.


TRUMP: There is a chance that nobody knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea. But we'll see. But we'll see also if I do what some people expect, whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations, because this is a deal with decayed foundations.


CUOMO: All right. We all know the problem. Nobody was expecting a lot of heavy detail about what the plan is going forward. But it seems to have been positive, by the president's own assessment.

[06:20:06] So let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and John Avlon. If we can -- I know what we all want to talk about -- but if we can resist for a moment on a substance basis, David, the plus/minus.

GREGORY: You know, when you talk like that, I just want to give you a hug.

CAMEROTA: Why stop there?

CUOMO: You know what? I'm a fan of affection. Just have your eyes open when we embrace. Men don't close their eyes when they hug. Everybody knows it. OK.

GREGORY: I think there's a couple things going on, and I do think part of it does seem a little bit superficial. And we'll get to that.

But I think that the idea of President Trump on the world stage being embraced, being seen as, you know, as the alphas, the president of the United States, someone who's going to kind of dictate a new road forward on America's security policy, I think that matters that he's been embraced and he's been courted by the French leader. I think there is clearly a stronger relationship there than with other European leaders. And I think that perhaps that Macron has had some impact.

So I think what it sounds like to me, and with the signals that we're picking up out of the administration, I think Trump wants to get out of this deal and immediately move to doing a new one. And I don't think he wants to completely abandon the architecture of this deal, but he wants to strengthen in ways that -- that he thinks would close some of these loopholes, the initial cash payments to Iran.

I mean, you heard the president talk about facts. The role that Iran plays to destabilize the region, to project its force throughout the region is a loophole of this deal even as the western powers were able to, as far as we can tell, delay the full blossoming of a nuclear problem that Iran might have down the road. That deterrent, that pushing off into the future, was at least something to be achieved without outright disarmament, which nobody has been able to figure out how to do yet.

CAMEROTA: John, is it possible to get a new deal? And does it sound like Macron would go along with that if that's what President Trump is signaling?

AVLON: What they said yesterday, certainly, as Macron was open to improving the deal. This is always one of Donald Trump's ideas. "The deal is bad. Bring me in. I'll make it better." You know, and part of that will be threatening to scuttle it entirely.

What Macron really seems to be preaching to the president, the president seems to be buying or influenced by, is king of a unified field theory of containing Iran. That runs through Syria. That runs through the Iran deal. But the threat to abandon it entirely, that may be a precondition for renegotiation. But there's no guarantee that Iran is going to go ahead with it.

CUOMO: But you also have others involved too, other than France and the U.S. that are involved. To be fair, the president is often good at identifying a problem. OK? This was a problem at the time. When they negotiated this deal, the fact that it didn't address that Iran is run roughshod over that region of the world and creating a lot of bad energy, they had to acknowledge that they were going to leave that out in deference to this more existential issue.

AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: What they find as a solution to that problem, we'll have to see.

Now, there was a dovetailing, David. The president started talking about North Korea. And people said, "Well, that's a non-sequitur." No, it isn't. not related. It's inherently related to what happens with the Iran deal. Listen to what the president said.


TRUMP: So we're having very, very good discussions. Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open, and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing.

Now, a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they've never been in this position.


CUOMO: Now, a little carrot and stick action going on here. Heavy with the stick, a little bit of the carrot. What is the takeaway from this type of talk about this kind of man?

GREGORY: Look, I think the president sees something unprecedented here. I think he sees an opportunity to get a disarmament deal with North Korea that previous administrations have not been able to get. And he's willing to do something that's certainly unorthodox, that's certainly risky, which is to meet one on one and see if he personally can secure that deal.

We know all the risks associated with that. If you go all the way up to the leaders of the country and North Korea does what it has done in the past, which is simply lie, cheat and steal and get out of these agreements, then you've got a real problem. Because what else do you do?

I think, you know, there's a lot made of the fact that he called him honorable. And of course, he's not honorable. The president is very loose with his language. I think we know that by now.

But I think he's trying to hone in on the prospect of getting something real here. And you know, there is this promise of Donald Trump, the norm busting, nonpolitician business guy who comes in and does something that nobody can imagine.

We've seen the prospect of it on domestic policy like immigration, not come to fruition on the world stage. I think he's got a lot of enthusiasm. Again, I think a lot of this embracing of other leaders is that he wants to be that guy, and that's what he sees with North Korea as a potential right now.

[06:25:09] CAMEROTA: All right. Now we have to get to the "bromance" B-roll. And that is where we see Emmanuel Macron and President Trump. I thought he was going for the lips.

Now this -- here is some grooming. Man grooming.

CUOMO: So much for the germaphobe.

CAMEROTA: I don't know when they stopped holding hands there, but it was a long time. There's a lot of hugging.

CUOMO: There's a little bit of a tussle there.

CAMEROTA: And OK, then there's an arm flung around the president. And it stays for a long time. I mean, look at this. There's a massaging of the shoulders.

John, what's happening here? AVLON: I think if we look at these species in the wild, you'll see

that this is a -- really, there's almost an anthropomorphical quality to the alpha male.

CUOMO: Go Marlin Perkins on us?

AVLON: Get some Marlin Perkins.

CUOMO: You don't want to be Jim in that equation. He always gets attacked by the cheetah.

AVLON: That's true. He does.

And -- but you know, I really do think you're seeing two alpha -- alpha dogs try to sort of compete but with real affection. I do think the fact -- the dandruff moment was so surreal. Donald Trump can't help just a little bit of humiliation, even within -- within --

CUOMO: Doesn't this have to be seen as a positive? I mean, he's had such strange relations with fundamental allies. Clearly, these guys are getting along well.

GREGORY: I mean, I think you can't overstate -- I mean, first of all, it looks like when Cuomo and I see each other when I come up to New York. Chris, that's basically what --

CUOMO: I get up on my tippy-toes, try to plant one on those rose petal lips of yours.

CAMEROTA: The pheromones that are flying. So true.

GREGORY: Anyway, I do think that there is such enthusiasm for Trump to be on the world stage and to be embraced, literally and figuratively. And it's -- it's a special feeling when you're president. And we're seeing that play out.

CAMEROTA: Yes. It's called cringy.

CUOMO: No. Look, it's good and it's positive.

CAMEROTA: OK. I like that. I do like that.

CUOMO: And you have to encourage men to be affectionate with one another.

CAMEROTA: I'm Italian. I like men kissing each another. I just thought that these lingered a little long. Comfort level.

CUOMO: We've talked about this long enough. We've been -- morning to move on. Can't talk about men doing this too much.

A quick programming note. Join us tonight. We're going to have a live town hall with James Comey and the one and only Anderson Cooper moderating from Comey's alma mater, William and Mary, 8 p.m., only on CNN.

OK. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the fate of President Trump's travel ban. A live update next.