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EPA Chief Scott Pruitt to Face Capitol Hill Grilling on Ethics Scandals; Interview with Representative Paul Tonko; Interview with Bill Richardson; Dr. Ronny Jackson Withdraws as VA Secretary Nominee; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is interesting to know that Pruitt, he actually denied the White House of giving him any prep for this hearing. He said no, thank you to that. It is CNN White House correspondents' reporting that essentially they feel as if there are people within the administration who are working -- actively working to get rid of him and so he said, no, thank you, when they offered help in prepping for this hearing.

But it is also interesting to note that despite all the controversies that Scott Pruitt has been facing, he's been able to hang on to his job. But we will be paying close attention to not so much what the Democrats are asking him, but the tone and the questions from Republicans, to see if the tide has indeed turned for Scott Pruitt. His hearing will get under way in just about 30 minutes from now and then this afternoon, he has another hearing.

Back to you, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Rene Marsh for us on Capitol Hill. Rene, thank you very much.

And the first appearance by Scott Pruitt will be before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Joining me now Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko who's a member of that committee.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. You have already called on Scott Pruitt to resign even before this hearing. So is there anything he could say in his testimony that would make you change your mind?

REP. PAUL TONKO (D), ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Well, John, there was concern expressed by many of us via a letter that was sent and called for his resignation. You know, I wish we could spend most of our time this morning talking about the huge, profound cuts to EPA, the lack -- reducing the opportunity and the ability of the agency to respond to the needs of communities, to children and families across our country, to protect this country's environment, to provide for clean air and safe water, and a sound environment.

But the top of the equation, the very top, the leadership of this agency, brings many causes and concerns about his performance. There is this growing number of reports, an avalanche of reports about an abuse of power, unethical behavior, misconduct, disregard for the taxpayers' money, and certainly not embracing the mission statement of the agency, and, really resorting to a terrible outcome.

And so that's what we're going to have to focus on here, and whether he can respond in a way that will turn our thinking around, these charges are very strong, they're very severe and would declare him unfit for this role.

BERMAN: An internal EPA document, according to the "New York Times," indicates that the administrator might try to blame his staff for some of the things that have gone on.

TONKO: Well --

BERMAN: Will that answer the questions to you?

TONKO: Well, basically, you know, he's in charge. He is the head of the agency. Whoever reports to him, that chain of command it ends and it begins with him, and if there was this mismanagement, if there was this failure, it really falls on to his plate.

BERMAN: There is apparently now some space between the administrator and the White House. The administrator's office apparently is worried that the White House is trying to undercut him or create some distance there. The White House, you know, not giving full throated support to the administrator here.

Do you see that space from where you sit, albeit a Democratic vantage point in the House but is it something you witnessed?

TONKO: No. You know, I haven't seen that because quite honestly the air has been clouded and congested with all sorts of discord and reviews and lack of vetting, the appropriate vetting, and basically what we're calling for here is accountability, transparency, transparency soundness of leadership for an agency that is bearing great responsibility, not just for our generation but generations to come, and so it's important that we have the right leadership.

BERMAN: It's clear you have two issues with the administrator. Number one, his policy. Number two, the ethics issues, though. Are you just using the ethics issues to try to undercut him because you disagree with his policy?


BERMAN: Policy that the president supports and was elected on, and, you know, he gets to pick the people he puts in positions.

TONKO: Well, basically, I think that both are very valid concerns but we're not masking our concern for his lack of leadership and lack of embracing the EPA mission statement. We have very serious concerns about his mismanagement. His ability to help some in this case polluters rather than addressing the public good and public health documents, so we think he's bringing an imbalance to the job so that's very critical, but also I think the efforts, the problematic efforts to build a stronger environment is yes, an important part of the equation and we want facts and science to be regarded, not disregarded. BERMAN: Do you anticipate that you will have Republicans pressing him

on the ethics issues, the ethics questions as well?

[09:35:02] TONKO: At some point I got to believe that no matter what your political persuasion, you see the failure here. The mismanagement of funds, the -- you know, the use of the tax dollar, public tax dollar to benefit your own growth, your own -- your own comfort zone, rather than working in a way that responds to the public advocacy that is so required at EPA, to have the sound management.

We've made great progress. We have to go forward and make certain that these sweetheart deals where you get condos, luxury condos at a bargain price from a lobbyist that appears before the agency are not the outcome. So there's a lot of cloud here that needs to be undone and we're going to start with that whole ethics review. We want ethical behavior at the top, the very top, and we want the soundness of embracing the policies and mission statement of the EPA.

BERMAN: Congressman, I'm not sure if you had a chance to listen to the president of the United States. He did a rather long interview this morning where he talked about a number of subjects, among them his fixer and friend, Michael Cohen, who he now says did represent him on the Stormy Daniels' matter but mostly is just a businessman and the president has nothing to do with his businesses. Does that answer the questions that you might have about his relationship with Michael Cohen?

TONKO: Not fully. You know, I think there's a lot of drilling going on by Mr. Mueller. I think we should let that go. We need to make certain that that drilling should continue for the sake of not only us in the present moment but generations to come. We need to learn from this and we need to have all the facts at our fingertips.

BERMAN: Congressman Tonko of New York, great to have you with us. Thanks so much. We'll be watching that hearing very closely.

TONKO: Thank you so much, John.

BERMAN: All right. A big day internationally as well. Just hours away from the first meeting of the two Korean leaders in many, many years. President Trump gives new details of the CIA director's secret meeting with Kim Jong-un.


[09:41:08] BERMAN: All right. CNN has learned that President Trump and the French president Emmanuel Macron made plans this week to try to launch new talks with Iran and fast on the heels of the state visit. Emmanuel Macron told reporters, quote, "There is a big risk that President Trump will pull out of the deal aimed at stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons," despite Macron's best effort to keep that deal intact.

Sources tell CNN the side agreement that President Trump wants would address issues beyond nuclear weapons including missile tests and possibly carry the weight of a formal treaty. Joining me now, former New Mexico governor, former energy secretary,

form U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us. Any chance do you think that Iran would sit back down at the table and negotiate a new deal as President Trump seems to be suggesting right now?

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Well, I think there's a very small chance, and that would be probably on missiles, probably because Germany and France would lean heavily on Iran, and Iran doesn't want any of their compensation from sanctions to diminish. There's a slight chance, but my worry is that if we get out of the Iran deal, it's going to affect Kim Jong-un.

He's going to say, well, how can I make a deal with the United States' one president, and then another president can overturn it? So there's a lot riding on this decision the president has to make on May 12th right before the Kim Jong-un summit.

BERMAN: We'll talk about Kim Jong-un in just a minute there. What do you think would be the immediate practical effect if on May 12th, the United States says, the president says he's pulling out of the deal? Would it mean that all of a sudden he puts new sanctions on various parts of businesses? Would Iran immediately start trying to develop nuclear weapons again or would there be a period of, I don't know, you know, sort of a quasi calm?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think there's another option the president has and that is to postpone the decision for four months. Under the agreement this can happen. This would be the best outcome. In other words, wait to see for the Kim Jong-un summit and then look at the issue again in four months, you know, and I'm sure the president will issue a lot of demands in those four months.


RICHARDSON: That may be the best outcome.

BERMAN: Unclear whether or not he wants it. Emmanuel Macron does not think he's going that way. Macron seems to think the president will pull out in just a few weeks.

Let me play you something the president said just moments ago. This has to do with North Korea and the CIA director Mike Pompeo's meeting with Kim Jong-un. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Mike Pompeo did go there. He wasn't supposed to meet with Kim Jong-un, but he did. You know, they arranged actually while he was there to say hello. We have incredible pictures of the two talking and meeting, which I'd love to release, if we can, I'll do that. Actually it's not a bad idea.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: So it was just a hello, Mr. President? TRUMP: No. It was more than hello. They got along. They were with

each other for, you know, more than an hour.

DOOCY: Right.

TRUMP: They spoke and he also spoke with his counterparts in North Korea. They had a great meeting. He then left. It was very, very secret. Very, very quiet.


BERMAN: Actually it's much more than we've known right now about what went on in that meeting. Based on your vast experience in these types of things, is that what should be happening heading up to the presidential level meeting?

RICHARDSON: Yes, that is a good sign. Usually when you go to North Korea you don't know who you're meeting with. They usually give you a list that has lower-level individuals and then suddenly, if they want to send you a message or the meeting isn't going well, you meet with a higher level person.

Kim Jong-un, since he doesn't meet with anybody, except lately, that is a good sign, so I'm encouraged by that. It means that he is personally leading the negotiations, not leaving it to underlings and a nuclear negotiator. So that's a good sign.

BERMAN: We got about 20 seconds left, Governor. The two Koreas, the leaders from the two Koreas meet within the next 24 hours. What's your expectation out of this meeting?

[09:45:01] RICHARDSON: Well, a lot of ceremony scripted but I think let's watch what North Korea asks for. They probably will be vague on denuclearization. They probably will want to get South Korea on their side on trade concessions, on sanctions, saying to South Korea, help us out on sanctions. They'll do some human rights talk, family reunification, which is good.

But I think the big enigma is going to be can Kim Jong-un go from international pariah to international statesman? And you know, he's moving in the right direction. So it should be an interesting summit, but it's really the prelude to the main event which is President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

BERMAN: We will be watching very closely.

Governor Bill Richardson, thanks so much for being with us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BERMAN: A 72-year-old ex-police officer facing two capital murder charges in California today. Authorities believe that is a tiny fraction of the horrors committed by Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo is alleged to be the infamous Golden State killer responsible for a dozen murders and at least 50 rapes dating back decades. He was arrested after police matched DNA from his home to crime scene evidence.


ANNE MARIE SCHUBERT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: We found the needle in the haystack. And it was right here in Sacramento.

BRUCE HARRINGTON, BROTHER OF MURDER VICTIMS: For the 51 ladies who were brutally raped in these crime scenes, sleep better tonight. He isn't coming through the window. He is now in jail and he is history.


BERMAN: DeAngelo is being held without bail in Sacramento pending arraignment tomorrow.

The president's pick to be Veterans Affairs secretary withdraws his nomination, launches into a fierce defense of Ronny Jackson. Best- selling author, fiction extraordinaire chief Jake Tapper joins us next.


[09:51:22] BERMAN: All right, the president's embattled pick to be Veteran Affairs secretary is out and the president talking about it this morning. Listen.


TRUMP: He would have done a great job.

DOOCY: Did you --

TRUMP: He has a tremendous heart.

DOOCY: Any idea who you might --

TRUMP: These are all false accusations. These are false -- they're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics.

DOOCY: Sure.

TRUMP: But for Jon Tester to start bringing up stuff like candy man, and the kind of things he was saying, and then say, well, you know, these are just statements that are made.

DOOCY: Right.

TRUMP: There is no proof of this.


BERMAN: All right. Here with me to discuss, CNN chief Washington correspondent, host "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION," best-selling author, new author of the "Hellfire Club," I'm projecting at least -- JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You hope it's a best


BERMAN: Exactly.

TAPPER: As do I.

BERMAN: Jake, I find the case of Dr. Ronny Jackson to be extremely curious on several fronts here.


BERMAN: President Trump says welcome to Washington. Well, I actually think it's different than most things we've seen there. All these things come to light despite the glowing things that had been said before. We don't know if they're true, but they seem to be corroborated by multiple sources.

What is really going on here? Is this a case that the president at a certain level, the White House, should have known these allegations at least existed?

TAPPER: Yes, look, this is the consequence of governing by gut. President Trump nominated Rear Admiral Jackson because he liked him, he liked his performance at that press conference, and he thought he could do a good job. Based not on Admiral Jackson's ability to preside over a large bureaucracy, any experience, but just that he liked him.

The administration sent up the nomination without the vetting that needs to be done. And look, I get President Trump's desire to disrupt. And I get the idea and actually agree with him that Washington, D.C. should rethink the way we look at deploying troops or we should rethink the way we look at negotiating trade deals.

But the establishment does do some things well. And one of the things is you do your homework, you vet people, and you check out their record. On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, they got his nomination, they started doing research on him, research that the White House should have done.

It wasn't just Democrats that sandbagged this nomination, it was Democrats and Republicans with serious concerns. And, again, like you, I don't know if the charges are true.


TAPPER: But that's a lot of people saying a lot of negative things and they're not just people off the street, they're people that work with Admiral Jackson. Now there's a question, well, how did he get through the Obama years without those -- with all those glowing reports and that's a legitimate question.

BERMAN: And should he be back in the White House, at the White House position, if any of these things are true, and you bring up a good point, you can't vet and disrupt at the same time. TAPPER: Yes.

BERMAN: What brings you to New York today is a wonderful thing.


BERMAN: It is your new book, the "Hellfire Club," which is a work of fiction.

TAPPER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Which I had a chance to read, and thought these things, I really, really did enjoy it.

TAPPER: You've been an early supporter of the book.

BERMAN: It talks about the '50s and politics and goes into a period that's just fascinating. What I love about it is while this happened, you know, 60, 70 years ago, there are direct ties to today including linkage of actual characters, Roy Cohn.

TAPPER: Right. Roy Cohn was the protege of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy and Cohen are characters in the book. And in real life, Roy Cohn went on to become a mentor to Donald Trump. So there is a connective tissue. There also is a connective thematic tissue in the sense that Joe McCarthy was a disrupter. Joe McCarthy went into Washington to upset a lot of apple carts. And --

BERMAN: How did it end for him?

TAPPER: Not so great. Not so hot. Because by the same way that I think establishment Washington is trying to figure out how to deal with Donald Trump, the disruptive part that is positive as well as the disruptive part that is negative, the lying and the smearing, which McCarthy did as well ultimately had caught up with him.

[09:55:09] And one other interesting parallel, McCarthy and Cohn were incredibly loyal to each other, the way you see Donald Trump and Michael Cohen be loyal to each other. That ended up being the undoing of McCarthy and Cohn. Their loyalty to each other ended up paving the way for people to destroy them.

BERMAN: The book is "The Hellfire Club" by Jake Tapper. Read it for an education, not just on the 1950s, but on Washington and maybe now as well.

Jake, great to have you.

TAPPER: Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

Moments from now, EPA chief Scott Pruitt faces a grilling from House lawmakers. How will he defend really the questions and the scandals that have embroiled his tenure.