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Ahead of Possible Meeting, Trump Praises Kim Jong-un; White House Defending Embattled V.A. Nominee. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 07:00   ET


TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: It won't be able to trust what we have put on the table. So these two things are tied together. They're tied together in another way.

[07:00:08] The president has trashed the Iran deal repeatedly, from the campaign on through to today. Now, the chances of him getting a deal as good as the Iran deal with North Korea in any negotiation are pretty slim. The intrusive measures we have in the Iran deal are probably not going to be replicated in anything we might get over time with North Korea.

So the president is setting himself up with North Korea by getting over a hurdle he can't get over.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Tony Blinken, appreciate the perspective. Thank you very much.

All right. Thanks to you, our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, we've got a big day of news. Let's get after it.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This Trump administration has done the worst job of vetting their nominees.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really don't think personally he should do it. But it's totally his. I would stand behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Real Admiral Ronny Jackson was intoxicated. He banged on the hotel room door of a female employee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This person has been vetted. They 've been passed through administration after administration.

TRUMP: He has been very open. And I think very honorable.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: A man who had his half-brother assassinated with nerve agents, what in the world is going through Donald Trump's head?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the North Korean negotiations will hinge on what they see Donald Trump do with the Iran deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a Melania Trump event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has a new friend on the world stage, and he indeed is the president of France.


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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

Disturbing new allegations against President Trump's pick to head the V.A. The top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee tells CNN that Dr. Ronny Jackson was known as "the candy man" for handing out prescription drugs on overseas flights.

There are also these allegations of excessive drinking on the job. A source tells CNN Dr. Jackson has no plans to step aside. The White House is rushing to his defense. The president saying, "This is an ugly process, and I can understand if Ronny Jackson wants to bow out, but it's up to him."

CAMEROTA: But that cabinet chaos did not outshine the glistening glamor of President Trump's first state dinner last night with the French president. In just hours, Emmanuel Macron will cap his visit to the U.S. with an address before a joint meeting of Congress.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House. What a night there, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alisyn. After a night of glitz and glamour last night at the White House, they are having a little bit of a hangover on a different subject.

The president's nominee to be the Veterans Affairs secretary, Ronny Jackson, is facing increasing criticism over his actions when he was serving as the White House doctor. 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 --

COOPER: "The candy man"?

TESTER: -- 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.

DR. RONNY JACKSON, V.A. NOMINEE: I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing 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.

[07:05:05] TRUMP: Kim Jong-un was -- he really has been very open, and I think very honorable from everything we're seeing.


PHILLIP: So the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has one more day in Washington. He plans to meet with a joint meeting of Congress this morning at 10:30 a.m. And President Trump today has another interesting meeting on his schedule. He's meeting with the Apple CEO Tim Cook today, after Tim Book joined him at the state dinner last night, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Abby. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics, Mr. Chris Cillizza. Good to have you both.

David Gregory, Tony Blinken just said, "Hey, they had the right issues on the table here. The president identifies a real problem with Iran." But the question is what to do about it and the idea that Macron is saying leaving this deal would be the biggest mistake in terms of policing Iran. How is it playing so far?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you have a prospect here for the president to try to refashion the deal. So he may talk a lot about completely abandoning it. I don't think, as Tony Blinken just suggested, who was part of the Obama national security team that negotiated this deal and implemented the deal, I don't think the president wants to get into a situation where Iran has a free hand to restart its nuclear program. Because the big goal was to try to prevent that, to deter it for as long as possible, because there haven't been any good military options going back to the Bush administration when they first contemplated those things.

So here, it's a question of what do you do about the fact that Iran is a bad actor in the region, develops ballistic missiles, has a lot of cash to deploy to do no good around the region? That's where the president, I think, hopes he can drive a more muscular European response and perhaps a new deal. And I think he considers that, and it would be a strengthening of the deal. And that could be a significant achievement.

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, what did you see in these two leaders' interactions and at the state dinner last night?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, they clearly have a personal affection for one another. I don't think you can fake that. Donald Trump is not terribly good at sort of faking how he feels about people. Usually just comes out and says it. He and Macron clearly have that personal connection. And that does matter. Diplomacy is about relationships.

So you know, now, Macron acknowledged, Trump sort of acknowledged that they do have significant policy differences, most notably, I think, on Iran and what to do next. They didn't talk -- and these are not -- the public statements are not necessarily the forum to do this. They didn't talk all that much about those differences.

But it is important -- David noted this. It is important that Donald Trump, despite saying this is the worst deal ever cut, Barack Obama should never have done this, did leave it open as to say, "OK, there is flexibility." He said, "Good leaders have to be flexible."

The question is do you leave the deal in place and it's sort of the first step? Macron outlined four pillars, with the deal being the first one. Is Trump OK with that, given what he said about the deal? Or does it need to be blown up? And that, I think, is, as David pointed notes, hugely problematic.

GREGORY: But can I underline something that Chris is saying, because I think it's really important. You know, when you become president and all of a sudden you're on the world stage with other leaders, that's a -- that's a small group of people, of men and women who run the countries of the world.

And, you know, Macron has been as pragmatic and transactional as President Trump. He's been very charming. He knows how to defer to President Trump. He knows how to play Trump and appeal to his ego.

And all of those things have worked. And don't underestimate the potential for Macron to have a lot of influence over Trump.

And I go back to covering President Bush. You know, Tony Blair, who was so tight with President Clinton, all of a sudden became extremely close to President Bush. And it was a relationship forged after 9/11, for sure, more deeply. But even before then, there was an influence that Blair had as someone who could teach certain things to President Bush, expose him to certain things, and just have his ear and have his trust in a way that other leaders did not. That has a very positive impact.

And I'm not suggesting that Bush was malleable in that sense or that Trump would be. But that influence is important, and it can happen between leaders, and it can happen very quickly.

CUOMO: It shows what the prospect of change, how real it is. Trump supported his opponent. Trump said bad things about Macron early on. And now they're hugging and kissing like, you know, they've been lifelong friends.

All right. So now let's look at what's on the domestic agenda, Chris Cillizza, Ronny Jackson. It seems very clear that the White House did not make the requisite phone calls what kind of stink may come up on Ronny Jackson to get ready for this confirmation hearing.

From what you're hearing, are these fair avenues of critique and concern, or is all of this a smear campaign against a doctor that the Obama administration recommended very highly?

[07:10:09] CILLIZZA: That is true. And I think part of --- part of the reason, Chris, that you didn't see all that much vetting was because this was someone who was already serving in the White House under Barack Obama. And he was the White House physician. They thought, how bad can it be?

That does not excuse it, by the way, for either Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

Is it a smear campaign? I don't have the sense that it is. I think the bar is higher when you are the White House physician as it relates to drinking on the job. Or off job hours. If you are on a foreign trip in which you're the care of the president of the United States, the health of the president of the United States is your main task, and you never know when that could come up, obviously. I think it is problematic.

I think that this is being turned into, by President Trump, being turned into -- and he did this yesterday -- well, this is a partisan fight, and Democrats are the ones who are trying to ruin him. I don't get the sense that that's true. I mean, I think Democrats are not favorably inclined to him. But you have seen doubts expressed by Republicans, as well.

Staying and fighting works until you decide that it's not worth it anymore. So Ronny Jackson's going to stay and fight until he decides it's time to go. I still think it's more likely he withdraws than stays in,, given these new allegations.

GREGORY: Given -- and given what the president said. I mean, the president opened a huge set of double doors for him to walk out of by suggesting why would he even want it? But I mean, you know --

CAMEROTA: Yes, but you know, just to say the White House has also said these are false allegations.


CAMEROTA: And said he's being dragged through the mud by political opponents.

GREGORY: Right. And it's, again -- this is a strange circumstance. Because he does have a very good reputation. He's served multiple presidents who have evaluated him very fairly. I'm personally uncomfortable with this "candy man" idea. I want to know more about that. I don't want to make a judgement about if he was offering, you know, Ambien or sleep aids to White House staff or even journalists traveling on an overseas flight is not uncommon in my experience covering the White House.

So you know, I think there's more to be learned about all of this. I think the trigger for a lot of this is lack of experience for the job. And that's caught so many people off-guard.

CUOMO: Right. I mean, the way he came about from the president having a personal affection for him did make people a little cynical on it.

But let's be very clear. Let's say all of these allegations are false. "Candy man" thing is misrepresented, as David was suggesting, from his own experience on those types of flights. The knock on the door. There are complaints, but there's an explanation. Let's say all of that.

We still should have never been here.

CAMEROTA: That's right.

CUOMO: These are still phone calls that you make as routine when you do this job well and know, so that oh, yes, we've heard about this stuff. So as soon as the suggestion comes up, "Have you heard this?" "Yes, I've heard it, and I chased it down. And it's not true, be careful if you go near that, because you'll be tarring someone unfairly."

They're not in a position to defend any of these things in any real way, so the president says it's un-American. Mercedes Schlapp says none of it is true. But he also doesn't seem to know anything about any of it.

CAMEROTA: The president said, "I don't know about these new allegations."

CUOMO: And so you have Senator Jon Tester, the Democrat who's on the committee, he is in the proxy position of doing what the White House was supposed to do. Here's his take.


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

TESTER: And there was -- it was "the candy man," because he handed out --

COOPER: "The candy man"?

TESTER: -- prescription drugs like they were candy.

COOPER: The White House doctor's nicknames among some people in the White House as "the candy man?"

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


CUOMO: The Cooper repeat question always a signal of severity. But Chris Cillizza, again, you know, am I wrong about this?

The "candy man" name, whether it's fair or not, the White House should have known about this. They should have been ready to defend him and show they know who this guy is, and they stand behind him on the substance.

CILLIZZA: I wrote a piece about this yesterday morning which essentially, Chris, is that this is the most avoidable situation, both predictable and avoidable, in that -- predictable in that Donald Trump -- and we know this, whether it's Rob Porter, whether it's other folks in the White House who have struggled. Johnny McEntee, background check issues.

We know that Donald Trump prioritizes people he likes over everything else, and we know Donald Trump's decision the seat of his pants. He likes to do that. He's an instincts guy. So we -- that is something we know of him. Could this have been avoided? Yes, of course.

You don't nominate someone to run the second biggest bureaucracy within the federal government without doing some level of basic checking on him. There was no vet here. It was caught by surprise. Caught by surprise. Democrats, many people in the White House, by the pick of Ronny Jackson. We know how it happened. Donald Trump likes him. And Donald Trump liked his performance in a press conference in which he explained that Donald Trump himself was actually better than many people said, that if he had a better diet, he could live until he was 200.

[07:15:06] Don't overthink it. We know Donald Trump likes that stuff. We know he rewards people who say good things about him. That's why Ronny Jackson got this job -- nominated to get this job.

CAMEROTA: All right, David. Let's talk about Mick Mulvaney. He's the current director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. He was -- he was quoted in "The New York Times" giving a speech to bankers in which he said this: "We had a hierarchy in my office 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."

That's the swamp calling on line one, Mr. Mulvaney.

GREGORY: Yes, I mean, this is what people hate about Washington. He said it out loud about how Washington works. But the Trump administration was supposed to be different. I mean, you've got to call out the hypocrisy for what it is.

Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp. And here's one of his top guys who ran the budget process and now is head of this Consumer Protection Agency, financial protection agency, talking about how important it is if you give enough money that you can lobby and sway legislation. And it's calling on bankers to do that now.

You know, it's going to outrage a lot of people, as it should. The other end of it is, he's in a job, heading an agency. And his primary job is to basically wind down the agency. And there's a lot of conservatives in the country who will applaud that. And that's, to me, the similarity with Scott Pruitt, where he's got ethical problems but he's also unwinding regulations from the Obama era, environmental regulations. And a lot of conservatives are cheering that on.

CUOMO: Look, we made the invitation to Scott Pruitt to come on and defend himself. Mick Mulvaney, you should come on. You should make the case to the American people about why you want to take the word "financial" out of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After that's why this was created. Why you want to help protect payday lenders. Come on and make the case, because it looks bad.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, Chris Cillizza, thank you very much.

There are new allegations against the president's embattled pick for V.A. secretary, as we have been talking about. So can Ronny Jackson's nomination recover? Senator Chris Coons on that next.


[07:21:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TESTER: And something happens with the president, it's very difficult to go in and treat the president and do what needs to be done. So this is totally unacceptable.


CAMEROTA: That was Senator Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, sharing new allegations about the president's nominee, Dr. Ronny Jackson, drinking on the job. A source tells CNN that Jackson has no plans to step aside.

Joining us now to discuss this and more is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He serves is on the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So I want to talk about these allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson. Last night Mercedes Schlapp, who is senior communications advisor in the White House, went on FOX and said unequivocally, these are false allegations.

Do you think it's possible this is -- these are a smear campaign against Dr. Ronny Jackson?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, my main concern about Dr. Ronny Jackson in the first place was that, besides being the White House physician, he has never run a large medical organization. And the Veterans Administration is the single largest health care system, I think, in the world. They spend $180 billion a year. They employ 370,000 people, and they provide service to 9 million of our American veterans every year.

So I had questions at the outset about whether he had the management experience. The point of having confirmation hearings is to make sure that we have vetted someone who's been nominated to make sure they're appropriate to run an agency.

And sometimes allegations like these do come out at the last minute about their behavior in their previous roles. And I think what was being discussed last night here on CNN was truly concerning about the possibility that Dr. Jackson had been drunk on duty, had been someone who did not run a tight ship and a good office as White House physician.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But I guess what you're saying is the confirmation process should proceed. I mean, have you heard the allegations, being drunk on the job, handing out prescription drugs willy-nilly, banging on the hotel door room of a female staffer to the point where she was quite concerned? So do you believe these allegations or not?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, I've just heard them in the last 24 hours in the press. I'm not on the Veterans Affairs Committee. So I think we ought to trust the folks who run the Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator Isakson is the chair. Senator Tester is the ranking. And let them go through a confirmation process if Dr. Jackson chooses to go ahead. My larger concern here, Alisyn, is about a number of people who have

been nominated not because of their qualifications but because of their closeness to President Trump or because of his goals. Our HUD secretary, for example, had zero experience in public housing or administering large housing systems. He might be a good brain surgeon, but he had no relevant experience. And we just had an appropriations hearing with him that highlighted, again, his lack of relevant experience.

CAMEROTA: Well, listen, you know the president says that it's your fault; you Democrats are the obstructionists. That's why his nominees aren't being -- the open slots aren't being filled faster.

COONS: I'll remind you, Alisyn, that the last nominee for V.A. secretary under this administration got a 100-0 vote in the Senate. He had significant experience running a very large health care system before. He had experience in the V.A., as well. It's not that we're obstructionists, I think. It's that we're insisting that, when people who have no relevant qualifications are nominated for senior positions like secretary of education, or secretary of HUD, we'd like there to be a full confirmation process so we know what we're taking up. It is part of our advise and consent role.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that Dr. Ronny Jackson should withdraw his nomination?

COONS: Well, I think that's something he's going to have to decide. You know, thorough aggressive confirmation hearings are not new. I was here as a senator under the Obama administration. We certainly had, you know, long confirmation processes when President Obama was president, Republicans were in control of the Senate.

[07:25:09] I think it's part of our Senatorial role.

My larger concern, frankly, is about decisions that the president is going to make that have a big impact on war and peace and whether or not we're going to create another generation of veterans in potential conflicts whether with North Korea or with Iran.

CAMEROTA: OK, on that note, let's talk about what happened with the nomination of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state. You changed your vote from "no" on the committee to "present." Why did you do that?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, to be clear, it didn't change the outcome. It only changed the hour. So in committee I voted against CIA director Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of state. And on the floor, I will vote against him.

But my friend and colleague, Johnny Isakson, had delivered the eulogy for his best friend in Atlanta, Georgia, that afternoon and didn't make the plane that would have gotten him to the hearing at about 5 or 5:30. And so as with sat there, the committee chairman made it clear to us that we had two options. Either one of us could change to voting "present," which is what I did.

And we could move forward or we could reconvene after 11 a.m. at night, make Johnny come up, come in, make all of us reconvene and cast exactly the same vote with exactly the same outcome. It was just a small gesture of kindness to a valued colleague.

CAMEROTA: Well, Senator Bob Corker was really touched by that gesture. Let me play his thank you to you.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I, in particular, want to thank Senator Coons for displaying the statesmanship that I've been accustomed to seeing in the Senate. Senators at the right time can do you outstanding things.


CAMEROTA: What did you think about him getting choked up there?

COONS: You know, I've been grateful for the chance to work with Senator Corker. Last year we spent Easter weekend visiting a refugee camp in South Sudan and Uganda. He's someone I've enjoy legislating with and working with.

And I just wanted to share that part of why I took that step on Monday was because, when my own father passed away a year ago in February, Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, came across the floor, looked at me and said, "You need to leave. Go be with your family. And if I need to change my votes the rest of today so that it doesn't have an impact on the outcome, I'm happy to do that."

That's the kind of courtesy to each other, simple human decency towards each other that used to be far more common here. I think Senator Corker was simply reflecting the thoughts of many of us, that we wish this were a little more kind and humane place where partisanship wasn't always predictive of outcomes.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for sharing that personal story. That is really touching. Senator Chris Coons, thanks so much for being here.

COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.


CUOMO: Isn't it good that people from different partisan perspectives could do the right thing just on a human decency level? Good. Bravo. Let's see more make its way into action.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is under fire for a series of ethical scandals while in his role. This isn't about who he was before. It's about who he is right now. Will he keep his job? Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum tells us, yes, he should. The case, the testing, next.