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President Trump Calls for Senator Jon Tester to Resign for Public Criticism of Former Veterans Affairs Nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson; New Revelations Indicate Russian Lawyer Who Met with Trump Campaign has Deeper Ties to Kremlin than Previously Disclosed; Attorney Michael Cohen's Relationship with Donald Trump Profiled; North Korean and South Korean Leaders Meet; Kanye West Draws Controversy after Tweeting Support for President Trump. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 28, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: -- Nobles in Washington in today for Fredricka Whitfield.

A Montana senator says he's not going anywhere after the president calls for his resignation. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, issued this statement, quote, "It's my duty to make sure Montana veterans get what they need and have earned. I'll never stop fighting for them as their senator." That of course came after President Trump basically blamed Tester for derailing his pick to be the next V.A. chief, Dr. Ronny Jackson.

Here's the president's tweet. "Allegations by Senator Tester against Admiral Dr. Ron Jackson are proving false. The Secret Service is unable to confirm, in fact they deny any of the phony Democrat charges which have absolutely devastated the wonderful Jackson family. Tester should resign. The great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being. Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire. And now for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester."

Some of those allegations include improperly dispensing prescription drugs, drinking on the job, and crashing a government vehicle after a party, and overseeing a hostile work environment. The White House says it has documents that show that some of these allegations are false. CNN's Boris Sanchez traveling with the president today. He is in Washington township, just North of Detroit. That's where the president will hold a reelection rally tonight, of course counterprogramming to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Boris, what's going on?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ryan. Yes, quite a big crowd gathered behind me awaiting the president's arrival. He's not set to speak until 7:00 p.m., so some of his supporters are bearing some 30-degree temperatures outside awaiting the president's speech. And it could go anywhere tonight. If history is any indication, the president often at these rallies goes in a number of different directions.

Of course, this is his comfort zone, speaking to his supporters. Last time we were at one of these, it was in Cleveland. The president abruptly announced that American troops would soon leave Syria, something that was unexpected by not only officials at the Pentagon but also within his own White House. So stand by for potential breaking news tonight, any announcement the president might make.

We can expect he will likely talk about Jon Tester and the allegations that were made toward his nominee to be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson. You mentioned those documents put out by the White House. Some of them contradicting accounts that we heard not only from 20-plus sources that Jon Tester apparently got these stories from, but also stories that were told to CNN.

I can tell you that specifically on the notion that Ronny Jackson drunkenly crashed a government vehicle, the White House provided CNN with documentation showing four years of records detailing three separate incidents that Jackson was involved in, all minor traffic accidents, no indication that alcohol was involved in any of them.

Separately on the notion that Jackson maintained a grab-and-go culture when it came to prescription medications being available to members of the administration, the White House indicated that there had been six audits done on the storage of prescriptions by the White House medical unit. Now, that report doesn't clearly state what Jackson's approach was, if he indeed had a lax approach to offering these medications to people within the administration.

And lastly, Ryan, the question of Jackson being intoxicated while at work, so much so that some indicate that at some points he was nonresponsive. When he was reached out to by officials in the administration, these documents by the White House don't answer some of those allegations, Ryan.

NOBLES: All right, Boris Sanchez live in Michigan where the president will be tonight. Boris, thank you for that report.

Meanwhile, we know the Russia probe is also on the president's mind. He's also tweeting about that today, saying, quote, "Witch hunt," and that there's no collusion after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released findings of their Russia investigation. This comes as the committee's top Democrat says the Russian oligarch and Russian lawyer who were key players at the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 also reached out to the president's team after the election. Congressman Adam Schiff says they were trying to overturn a key piece of legislation. CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has the details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials in 2016 touted as having dirt on Hillary Clinton now admits that she has closer ties to the Kremlin than she previously disclosed. In fact, she calls herself an informant for the Russian government. Citing newly surfaced emails, "The New York Times" reports that Natalia Veselnitskaya once worked with Russia's top prosecutor. "I am a lawyer and I am an informant," she told NBC news. "Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general." Just last year Veselnitskaya said just the opposite.

[14:05:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever worked for the Russian government? Do you have connections to the Russian government?

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): No.

SCIUTTO: The Trump Tower meeting is of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller for two potential reasons. First, to see if there's evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the campaign, and second to see if the president attempted to obstruct justice by helping to draft a misleading explanation for what was discussed in the meeting. Ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said the lawyer's revelation makes Russia's intentions clearer.

What is the importance in your view of this admission by this Russian lawyer that she wasn't just a private attorney but she was working in effect for the Russian government?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it really corroborates what we have seen of Veselnitskaya, what we have seen of her contacts within the Russian government as well as her persistence in terms of one of Putin's top priorities would indicate this is not a solo agent. This is someone working on behalf of the Kremlin.

SCIUTTO: Notably, Schiff says that Veselnitskaya reached back out to Trump aides after Trump won the election.

You're saying it has the impression of a quid pro quo?

SCHIFF: It certainly does. Certainly the Russians thought they had reason to believe after the campaign that they now might get the help that they sought in that meeting in Trump Tower.

SCIUTTO: The revelations come as Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a redacted report concluding that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Republicans, however, did fault the campaign for meeting with the Russian lawyer, saying it, quote, "demonstrated poor judgment." And they criticized Trump's repeated praise for WikiLeaks.


SCIUTTO: Stating it found, quote, "The Trump campaign's periodic praise for and communications with WikiLeaks, a hostile foreign organization, to be highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests." President Trump praised the Republican report.

TRUMP: We were honored. It was a great report. No collusion, which I knew anyway. No coordination, no nothing. It's a witch hunt. That's all it is.

SCIUTTO: In other findings, the report revealed that Michael Flynn before he joined the Trump campaign formally, and his son contacted the Russian government earlier than previously known in 2015, meeting with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at his residence, a meeting requested by either Flynn or his son. The report says, quote, "The meeting was later described by General Flynn's son in an e-mail to the Russian embassy as very productive."

Also in 2015, Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian- American business associate Felix Sater were involved in efforts to cement ties between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. During an e-mail exchange about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, Sater wrote to Cohen, if, quote, "Putin gets on stage for Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, Donald owns the Republican nomination."

And more revelations contained in the Democratic version of the House Intelligence report. Evidence of communications from Russians involved in that June, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, reaching out to the Trump family and associates days after Trump's election, including discussions of possible business deals. Certainly information, certainly communications that the special counsel Robert Mueller would be asking questions about as well.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


NOBLES: Jim, thank you. Let's discuss these developments with my panel, Republican strategist Kevin Scott, Democratic political strategist Howard Franklin, and CNN politics reporter Jeremy Herb. Thank you all for joining. Let's start with Jeremy first. Exactly what were the Russians looking for when they reached out after the election? Do we know the answer to that?

JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: So the Russians were interested in overturning the Magnitsky Act, which is a 2012 U.S. law passed that sanctioned Russian officials for human rights abuses. That was what ended up being the subject of that Trump Tower meeting. Donald Trump Jr. was expecting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Instead the Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, she talked about sanctions and adoptions and getting this overturned.

So what we learned yesterday was there was follow-up after the campaign, after Donald Trump was elected, from both her and a Russian oligarch involved with organizing that meeting as an attempt to see if the Trump campaign that was turning into the Trump transition would look at overturning those sanctions.

NOBLES: Howard, do you view that as a significant development? Do you think this could have an impact on the Mueller investigation?

HOWARD FRANKLIN, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: It absolutely could have an impact. I think it is significant. Obviously communications going beyond the campaign cycle and into the transition are going to have implications for the White House. So now bifurcating what happened in 2016 and looking at how it might impact Trump's governance is absolutely a development. NOBLES: Kevin, what about from your perspective? Do you see this

more as a partisan interpretation of this, or do you think there's actually some there there?

KEVIN SCOTT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it is a very interesting development. I want to call balls and strikes regardless of who's pitching. And I think this is very concerning. It's going to be something of significant interest to the Mueller investigation.

[14:10:06] At the same time, we know Russians' interest in the election is to kind of mess up, to sow seeds of distrust. And if this is somebody who is tied to the Russians, the meeting is bad, but her wavering back and forth and stirring this up, I don't think that's any surprise to any of us.

NOBLES: Kevin does make a good point there. It seems as though Natalia Veselnitskaya had a different story at different times. She now is saying that she's an informant of the Russian government, whether or not that means she's a full-blown agent and actually had ties to the Putin regime is a whole other matter, Jeremy. But how important from the aspect of the House investigation are these revelations about her role in all of this?

HERB: Well, I think there's been doubt among investigators, both on the Hill and with Robert Mueller, that she was telling the truth that she didn't have any sort of connections, that she was doing this independently. And she admitted, as we saw yesterday in the interview with NBC, that she was an informant for the Russian prosecutor.

Stuff like this may continue to come up. The House concluded its investigation into the Russian meddling. When we have talked to lawmakers, they've said we are open to considering reopening this. That's Republicans we've talked to. But yesterday when we -- this did come out, there wasn't any indication that this is something that would move the ball in that direction.

NOBLES: Howard, when you look at the admissions about what took place in this meeting, we know at one point the Trump campaign thought they were getting dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign. But pretty much everyone agrees that's not what was revealed in that meeting. If that type of information did not pass from these Russians to the Trump campaign, did they really do anything wrong?

FRANKLIN: You have to ask the question as to what's the threshold for collusion. I don't know that we necessarily close the door just because every report we've heard thus far doesn't justify it. I think really the central premise of the Trump presidency is that you had a man who had all this global experience and reach. He had all these resources at his disposal. And you would have thought for bringing all those resources to bear on the presidency, he can make better decisions. I think what the issue here is a question of judgment. Why would you engage with a foreign actor without any knowledge of what you're actually getting or how it might impact the White House?

NOBLES: Is that criminal, though, Kevin, if they were just naive to what the implications were of this meeting going forward? SCOTT: No, I don't think so. And I think the fact this is what

people keep bringing up shows that our focus is different than where most of the American people's focus is. This week people are looking at things like a meeting in South and North Korea and trying to figure out what their taxes are going to be, and we're still talking about Russia. I think most of America is ready to move on from this. Until Robert Mueller concludes his investigation, I think then it's important. Otherwise, we're just having the court of public opinion here, and I think most Americans are tired of it.

NOBLES: A lot of speculation, no doubt about that. The president himself is obviously very focused on this. He has not specifically commented on this Russian lawyer, but he is talking about the findings from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian election meddling. This is what he tweeted, quote, "House Intelligence Committee rules that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. As I've been saying all along, it is a big hoax by the Democrats based on payments and lies. There should never have been a special counsel appointed. Witch hunt." Jeremy, Republicans are saying it's over. Democrats have a much different view than the president, right?

HERB: They do. They issued their own lengthy dissent of that, basically said the Republicans failed to properly investigate the question of collusion. They didn't call key witnesses, they wouldn't subpoena for documents and for testimony from a number of officials, Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr. And so this isn't over in the Democrats' minds. They're going to try and continue doing this investigation. What the report gives the president is ammunition to point to the committee and say, look, they found no collusion. The president, of course, neglects to mention that it's only Republicans who reached that conclusion.

NOBLES: Right, OK. Unfortunately, the investigation not over but this segment is. Guys, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it. Kevin Scott, and Howard, we appreciate all of your perspectives.

President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen scores a win in court after a judge puts the Stormy Daniels case on hold for now. What we know about the man call the president's personal fixer, next.


[14:18:28] NOBLES: Ninety days, that's how long a federal judge in California has halted Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen in part because Cohen invoked his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. The judge said he thinks Cohen could be indicted in a criminal investigation. Cohen, of course, has been a pretty big fixture in the headlines lately. So just how close is he to the president? CNN's Gloria Borger reports.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lately, Michael Cohen has been in the news almost as much as his famous client, Donald Trump. But their relationship goes back more than a decade. In the soap opera in which a porn star accepts a payoff to keep quiet about her affair with Donald Trump, there's got to be a guy who gets it done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is Michael Cohen?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is this guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is this guy?

BORGER: Michael Cohen is where he's been since 2007, standing behind Donald Trump, or closer, in his back pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael was, I'd always like to say, the Ray Donovan of the office. He took care of what had to be taken care of. I don't know what had to be taken care of, but all I know is that Michael was taking care of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the guy you could call at 3:00 in the morning when you have a problem.

BORGER: Do you know stories of Donald Trump calling him at 3:00 in the morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump has called him at all hours of the night. Every dinner I've been at with Michael, the boss has called.

BORGER: But Cohen did not call the boss, he says, when he decided to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket 11 days before the election.

[14:20:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's ludicrous.

BORGER: So you believe 100 percent Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred percent.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: There's not a meeting that takes place, there's not an expenditure that is authorized that he doesn't know about.

BORGER: Cohen wouldn't go on the record for this piece, but his friends claim it's all part of his job in Trump world, giving the boss deniability and protection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you know the relationship between the two people, he took care of a lot of things for Mr. Trump without Mr. Trump knowing about it. That's part of the overall structure, that Michael had great latitude to take care of matters.

BORGER: In Michael Cohen, Trump hired his consiglieri, a version of his long-time mentor, the lawyer Roy Cohn, a controversial pit bull and aggressive defender of all things Trump, no questions asked. After D'Antonio finished his book on Trump, he got the Cohen treatment in what turned out to be an empty threat. D'ANTONIO: Then he got mad, and it was, well, you just bought

yourself an f-ing lawsuit, buddy. I'll see you in court.

BORGER: In 2011, Michael Cohen described his job this way.

MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's of course of concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

BORGER: Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump Developments, then went to the mat for Trump against one of his condo boards, and won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump loved him for it. That was the beginning of it. And then after that, they became close. It was much more than an attorney-client relationship. It was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of thing, always hot and cold. Donald Trump could be yelling at him one second and saying he's the greatest person in the world the next second. Donald Trump knew that Michael always had his back.

BORGER: For Trump, it wasn't about pedigree. Cohen, who is 51, got his degree from Western Michigan's Cooley Law School and had some initial success in the less than genteel world of New York taxicab medallions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look where Michael came from in his legal career before he started working for the Trump board, it wasn't like he came from a white-shoe law firm. He came from a hardnosed New York trial firm. Trump has an eye for talent. And this was somebody that he used to call his bulldog, his tough guy.

BORGER: At the Trump Organization, he's done a bit of everything, running a mixed martial arts company, securing real estate branding deals, and even taking care of transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The famous Trump plane, there was an engine issue that he actually took care of and got a really good deal on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watching him is -- it's like a reality show. He's got three phones. He's got the hardline. He's got two lines, he's texting. He's on the computer.

D'ANTONIO: You can almost say this is Donald Trump's mini-me. For a guy who started really in the middle class on long island to now be quite wealthy himself, known internationally, and yes, he's in a bit of a jam with the Russia scandal.

BORGER: In the eye not only of Stormy, but now under criminal investigation in New York, including a stunning raid on his home, office, and hotel room with a search warrant that mentioned not only Cohen's businesses but the president himself, causing a fight and a circus in court, not to mention the continued interest from the special counsel and Congress. COHEN: I look forward to giving all the information that they're

looking for.

BORGER: During the campaign when Trump said he had no contact with Russia, Cohen was privately trying to cut a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow. It never happened, but Mueller has asked about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sad reality is that Michael pursuing that Trump Tower deal in December is just another factor that goes into this whole Russian narrative.

BORGER: Cohen's name was also in the infamous dossier, which alleges he travelled to Prague to meet with Russians. He's completely denied it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's immeasurable, the damage that has been caused to him, to his family.


BORGER: When Trump became president, he did not bring his brash wingman to Washington.

Do you think he wanted to be in the White House, be White House counsel?

D'ANTONIO: There must have been a part of him that was dreaming of a great job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he's also the guy who not only knows where all the bodies are buried, he buried a lot of them himself. And that ironically disqualified him.

[14:25:10] COHEN: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his righthand man. I mean, I've been called many different things around here.

BORGER: Now he may be called to testify with the Stormy Daniels case in federal court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know Michael Cohen for over 21 years. And I know that he will not rest. He will not sleep -- he doesn't sleep anyway, right, until he recovers every single penny from Stormy that's due the LLC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen a lot of attorneys use intimidation tactics. The problem is if that is your speed, and if you are a one- trick pony, and you use that in every case, when all the sudden you run up against somebody that doubles down and that isn't intimidated, well, then you're lost.

BORGER: Cohen flew to Mar-a-Lago to dine with the president the night before Stormy Daniels appeared on "60 Minutes," because if you're Michael Cohen, you've always been the ultimate loyalist.

COHEN: The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous -- BORGER: And that loyalty --

COHEN: -- compassionate, principled.

BORGER: -- is what the president and his allies are counting on as Cohen faces the feds.

We'll just have to wait and see who wins that test of loyalty. Gloria Borger, CNN, Washington.


NOBLES: Thank you, Gloria.

A historic show of unity as North and South Korea agree to end a war that has lasted for more than a half a century. Is there a chance of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula?


[14:31:18] NOBLES: Just a day after the historic summit between North and South Korea, President Trump is weighing in on plans for his own talks with North Korea's leader, tweeting out "Just had a long and very good talk with President Moon of South Korea. Things are going very well. Time and location of meeting with North Korea is being set. Also spoke to Prime Minister Abe of Japan to inform him of the ongoing negotiations."

The agreement between the two countries committed to a declaration of peace and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. I want to bring in CNN's Will Ripley. He is live for us today from Seoul, South Korea. And Will, is it impossible for the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un to take place if we don't get this first step of the meeting between the leaders of South and North Korea?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It needed to happen because President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un needed to talk first about inter-Korean relations because at the end of the day the two Koreas want to determine their own path forward. They were divided back in -- at the end of World War II by the former Soviet Union and the United States. And then the wars that were fought, it was essentially a proxy war as well. And now they want to have a hand in their own future moving forward.

And so step one, the inter-Korean summit. But the very important step is the summit with President Trump, the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president, because that is going to decide whether the Koreas can accomplish things like denuclearization and a peace treaty formally ending the Korean war.

NOBLES: There's obviously some other pretty powerful players in that region who are going to want to have a say in these discussions, including the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Is he in support of these meetings with North Korea? He obviously has been in contact with President Trump. RIPLEY: Yes, Prime Minister Abe was certainly blindsided by President

Trump's quick decision to accept a meeting with Kim Jong-un because Japan really dug in their heels on a more hawkish approach that they thought the Trump administration was taking. In fact they were until they weren't.

But Prime Minister Abe did go to Mar-a-Lago. They had a good meeting. I think the prime minister of Japan feels more engaged right now. He's also organizing a trilateral meeting expected to happen within the next couple weeks in Tokyo. President Moon will fly to Tokyo for that. Also, they'll have a representative from China there as well to talk about North Korea as well as other regional issues.

NOBLES: And of course Kim Jong-un talked about reuniting Korean families as part of this agreement. Is that an important issue for South Koreans?

RIPLEY: It absolutely is an important issue on this peninsula because there are so many families who have been divided since the end of the Korean War, since that armistice that was signed in 1953. And a lot of these family members, brothers who haven't seen their sisters, they're getting older and they're dying without ever having these reunions take place. So time is of the essence.

And one of the agreements made at Panmunjom, at the inter-Korean summit, was that the family reunions are due to happen again. They have happened periodically over the years. They're going to try to make them happen again probably sometime this summer.

NOBLES: All right, Will Ripley with the view on the ground there in Seoul, South Korea. Will, thank you for that report.

Still to come, details on three marines charged with sexually assaulting two women. A live report on that investigation straight ahead.


[14:38:56] NOBLES: Three U.S. marines are accused of sexually assaulting a Tulane University student and her friend earlier this month in New Orleans. Twenty-year-old Alexander Davenport, 18-year- old Antonio Landrum, and 18-year-old Jared Anderson are all facing rape charges. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins me now with the latest. Polo, give us the update.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ryan, these are three men who have defended our country, now defending themselves against some very serious allegations here of rape. You mentioned those three men now identified as Private Antonio Landrum as well as Lance Corporals Jared Anderson and Alexander Davenport. These charges stemming from a mid- April incident in which a Tulane University student and one of her friends claim to have been sexually assaulted repeatedly by these men, allegedly.

I looked over these police reports, and it does make mention of at least one of these sexual encounters reportedly being consensual. However, eventually, according to the victim, either one of several of these men then allegedly forced themselves on these women. So that is what authorities are investigating right now. The Marine Corps certainly on this case as well. They've released a statement here recently about their three service members here saying, quote, "The Marine Corps is aware of the alleged incident that may have involved marines stationed here," obviously Louisiana. "We cannot comment specific details due to the ongoing investigation by the Marine Corps police department and New Orleans police department."

[14:40:17] The statement then goes on to say that these allegations are being taken extremely seriously by the marines and they're fully cooperating with authorities. We've learned these three men are recently enlisted back in 2017. We've also learned that though this incident reportedly happened off the Tulane University campus, the campus certainly took steps to keep their student body up to date. They even sent out an alert for some of their students, or at least information about this incident, just giving them a heads up, essentially, about what had taken place here. But again, Ryan, we can confirm according to information coming from the Marine Corps that these three young men, all enlisted Marines, now facing these rape charges in New Orleans.

NOBLES: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you for that report.

The president and the rapper Kanye West loses millions of Twitter followers after publicly supporting President Trump. Is the backlash fair? And how does that square with past criticism West has leveled against Republican presidents?


[14:45:39] NOBLES: A superstar rapper's admiration for President Trump is sparking a divide along political and cultural lines. Kanye West has been public about his support of President Trump since his candidacy was announced back in 2016. He even appeared alongside him at Trump Tower and said at a concert that although he didn't vote he would have backed Trump if he did.

This week Kanye told his followers, quote, "You don't have to agree with Trump, but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals, and we have the right to independent thought." President Trump responded with praise for the rapper on FOX News.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to get to Kanye West. He tweeted that he loves you, that you're his brother.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the left goes ballistic. What's your reaction?

TRUMP: Well, they do. You know, I have known Kanye a little bit. And I get along with Kanye. I get along with a lot of people, frankly. But Kanye looks, and he sees black unemployment at the lowest it's been in the history of our country, OK.


NOBLES: And joining me now to discuss this, Lisa France, an entertainment writer and producer for, Ayshia Connors, director from the Arizona Republican Party, and Howard Franklin, a Democratic political strategist. I'm told all three filled with dragon energy and prepared if this panel, so I appreciate that, guys. Thank you.


NOBLES: Lisa, let's start with you. There's a lot of backlash, both culturally and politically for Kanye. So from your vantage point, where do things stand right now?

LISA FRANCE, CNN.COM ENTERTAINMENT WRITER, PRODUCER: There may not be as much backlash as people think. It was widely reported that he lost millions of Twitter followers, but a Twitter spokesperson told us that actually was just a fluctuation because he had left Twitter and came back.

At the end of the day, Kanye has a personality much like the president of the United States, very P.T. Barnum. And for a lot of fans, as long as the new music he brings us is amazing, people are apt to forgive what he says, even about Trump.

NOBLES: Howard, why has there been such backlash from Democrats? Is it impossible that a rapper could support the agenda of this president?

HOWARD FRANKLIN, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Absolutely not impossible. I think the question is more along the lines of why Kanye chose now and what policies or what results he's seen from the Trump administration that make him want to come out in support of this president. But reading the tweet, it sounds more like he's saying he sees much of himself in the way he communicates in President Trump. I think he's less informed or less qualified to be making pronouncements of a political nature or policy nature based on his support of Trump via Twitter.

NOBLES: And he hasn't really talked at all about policy in these tweets, just really more about Trump the personality. And Asia, Kanye famously ripped into President Bush during the hurricane Katrina crisis declaring this on national television. Take a listen.


KANYE WEST, SONGWRITER: George Bush doesn't care about black people.


NOBLES: I distinctly remember when that happened. That was an enormous statement for Kanye to say at that time. What do you say to people who ask if he could say that about President Bush, then how can he support President Trump now?

AYSHIA CONNORS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AND EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, President Bush and President Trump are two different people, and like the panel has mentioned, I think that Kanye likes Trump as a person. And I think that this is a really great situation that's happened because now we're able to see the hypocrisy on the left. Kanye comes out and supports Trump, and all of a sudden everyone abandons him and leaves him.

So it just shows everyone says Trump is a bully and everyone says Trump attacks, and yet people are leaving Kanye because he had the courage to come out and promote free thinking. I support what he's doing. I think it's very genius. We all know he has got an album coming out. So I think it's pretty clear why he's doing this now. So I'm really happy that him and Chance came out and they're able to help the black community have this open discussion about what it means to be black in America and that we don't all have to think alike.

NOBLES: Ayshia -- Howard, hang on -- Ayshia, I distinctly recall, this is not something that happens just for performers that support Republicans. I remember the Dixie Chicks, when their lead singer was critical of President Bush, and I remember Republicans holding parties where is they burned their CDs down. Aren't Democrats free to decide whether or not they like his music or not like his music based on whatever precept they have? It doesn't necessarily have to be about one line of political thinking?

[14:50:08] CONNORS: Yes, absolutely. But then you can also say on the flipside, why are people on the left saying that Kanye may be mentally ill because he supports President Trump? I think that's a valid question to ask.

NOBLES: Yes, and that is actually a good question to ask. Lisa, to your -- from your perspective on this, is the criticism of Kanye fair when it gets into the area he might have a mental problem? Is that where we're getting into territory that probably isn't fair for the performer?

FRANCE: People questioning Kanye's mental state isn't just based on what's going on with what he's been saying on Twitter about Trump. It's also about the fact that he suffered from exhaustion and had to end his tour. He's been very volatile. There was a --

CONNORS: So why are they bringing this up now after he shows his support for Trump? Nobody was talking about it until he came out, though, and said this.

FRANCE: Actually, people were talking about it. People have questioned his mental state before.

CONNORS: But not like --

NOBLES: Ayshia, let Lisa finish.

CONNORS: But not to the same extent. OK. FRANCE: Yes, the thing about Kanye I think people need to keep in mind is Kanye is on a completely different planet. He's on planet Kanye. And that's the thing. He's always been this way. He's always pushed people's buttons. He did it when he jumped on stage when Taylor Swift was accepting her award years ago.

And Kanye speaks for Kanye. He has come out and said that he hasn't studied conservatives enough to consider himself a conservative. So People want to make this about politics because of course it's about Trump and there's a lot of divisiveness. But when it comes to what Kanye is about, is about Kanye, as he has said. He said he doesn't agree with anybody 100 percent except for himself. So he's team Kanye all the way.

NOBLES: And to that point, team Kanye, we know he as albums coming out, I think as many as five albums coming out in the near future. Howard, is this about downloads and selling albums a lot more than helping President Trump get reelected?

FRANKLIN: Absolutely. I don't think this has anything to do with President Trump getting reelected whatsoever. But I do think he sees a bit of himself, as Lisa said. And I think based on the comments he's made in a number of different forums, not just in politics, he is only qualified to be a spokesman for Kanye West, I think for no one else. I don't think anyone in the hip-hop community is looking for him to grab a microphone and represent a broad diaspora of thoughts or opinions on policy from this president.

NOBLES: Ayshia, do you -- would you like to see Kanye West talk specifically about what it is about President Trump that he likes? Maybe there are some policy positions that the president has taken that Kanye supports. Would you like to hear from him on that respect?

CONNORS: Yes, I mean, yes, I would be interested in knowing. I just think he realizes that black unemployment is the lowest and people are starting to see in our community, and people that have a platform like Kanye are taking note and making people aware of it, making people rethink their political policies.

And like you said, he hasn't really expressed why he likes him politically. He likes him as a person. I think it shows a genius marketing stunt that he's doing here. As we said, we know he has albums coming out. We've seen that people know if you attach yourself to President Trump, people are going to talk about you. Everybody's been talking about Kanye and Chance this entire week. So I think it's genius what he's doing.

NOBLES: And let's talk more about Chance the rapper, actually. He considers Kanye a mentor. Lisa, he came to his defense. And that prompted a thank you from the president. But Chance rejected that and even apologized to his fans. So what are you learning about that?

FRANCE: Because Chance said that he loves Kanye and he appreciates Kanye and he was just simply defending his brother. But he doesn't want to stand for something that he says he doesn't believe in, which is he does not feel as though the president of the United States is aligned with Black Lives Matter and other things that he cares deeply about. So he came out and apologized.

And we see also John Legend, who's a good friend of Kanye's also. Kanye shared text messages between the two of them where John Legend is really taking him to task for his stand and saying you don't want to do this type of damage.

And it's interesting because we're getting an opportunity to see how people can agree to disagree in a way. And we saw a picture from John Legend's wife's baby shower from last night where John Legend is standing with Kanye. Kanye says it's all love. But people -- it's a very divisive thing. But we see Kanye being divisive over and over again. That's just simply who Kanye West is.

NOBLES: Right. And Howard, we have a very short amount of time. Can they just agree to disagree in this case, or could this have long-term effects for Kanye?

FRANKLIN: I think a lot like President Trump, Kanye makes a pronouncement, it could be grandiose, it could be unconnected to the truth, and then he'll move on. I think beyond just being divisive, I think he's a provocateur. People who have gotten to know him, who listen to his music know that's who he is, and we can move on.

NOBLES: All right, thank you so much. Thanks for bringing the dragon energy, panel.

CONNORS: Thank you.

FRANCE: Thank you.

NOBLES: Very much appreciate it, and enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

And thank you so much for joining me this afternoon. I'm Ryan Nobles in for Fredricka Whitfield. We appreciate you tuning in. We have much more ahead in the next hour of the newsroom with Ana Cabrera after this short break. Have a great day.

[14:55:00] Have a great day.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for being with me on this Saturday.

[15:00:02] We begin this hour with President Trump gearing up for a reelection rally tonight in Michigan after a bombshell admission involving this woman.