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Hawaii Governor Issues Lava Emergency Proclamation; Dow Opens Lower After Jobs Report; Scott Pruitt Employee Shopped Negative Stories About Secretary Zinke; Paul Ryan Accepts Back Chaplain; Confusion Over Status of Three American Detainees in North Korea; White House Press Secretary Facing New Credibility Questions; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 4, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is part of that massive structure of Kilauea volcano, the most active of the volcanoes on the big island. So far Leilani Estates, that you're seeing there, and Lanipuna Gardens have been evacuated.

There's another area, Lower Puna, that is also under threat because they're not quite sure what that lava is going to do. The National Guard is on hand, the Civil Defense for Hawaii is on hand. All of this started earlier in the week where there were hundreds of volcanoes and then yesterday there were geologists with the -- with the Hawaii Volcano Observatory who were actually on a crater east of the Kilauea cone.

There was a 5.0 earthquake there and then hours after that, that's when you saw this happening several miles east of that cone where a fissure along a neighborhood started to open up and then that hot, white lava, gas, blue flames started pouring out of it. And they're not quite sure how far it's going to go now. It's only moved about 10 feet. It's taken over some roads, but it is threatening homes so they've evacuated a couple of neighborhoods and they have put others on alert. High drama and just incredible to see those pictures.

Back to you, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the pictures, you know, fascinating to see here, obviously concerning for so many people there.


BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. We do have breaking news. Stock market just opened. This after the jobs report, the unemployment rate down to 3.9 percent. How is the market reacting?

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is back -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. Down about 93 points for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. That's a third of a percent so that's not a big move overall. What people are really looking at this number was how strong the labor market is. But you didn't see a really big pop in wages. And you would think that wages would start going up a little bit more if you really have a labor market this tight. It just didn't -- only 2.6 percent year-over-year wage growth so that has still been the mystery of this recovery.

HARLOW: Is it partly because of sort of the gig economy, as they called it? That so many of these jobs are these sort of Uber drivers, that sort of thing?

ROMANS: Partly that's it. Five million jobs here, five million people are working part-time jobs that want to be working full-time jobs. So we have seen wage increases that's been at the bottom end. A lot of the retailers, Wal-Mart and others, have raised their minimum wages themselves from $9, $10, in some cases $11 an hour.

But when you look at these numbers, the unemployment rate 7.8 percent, that's been trending in the right direction. And John Berman absolutely loves that --


ROMANS: That overall unemployment rate number chart that just shows it's going steadily down from the peak in 2010. You see just steadily down. That is a good -- that is a good chart. That is what you want to see.

I'm hearing from economists this morning they expect maybe 3.5 percent unemployment maybe sometime this summer. But if you want to get 3 percent or 4 percent economic growth, some economists are saying you're going to have to find more workers. To be able to grow the economy more we're going to have to find more workers.

HARLOW: I can assure you that chart is going to be the lead of the White House press briefing today.

BERMAN: No doubt.

HARLOW: If I were them, I would blow it up and I would put it behind Sarah Sanders.

ROMANS: There's a whole bunch of really good numbers in this report.


ROMANS: Including another record low for African-American unemployment and Hispanic unemployment, matching this all-time low.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Thank you.

HARLOW: So another wave of scandal for EPA chief Scott Pruitt. A member of his own team is now accused of trying to take the heat off his boss by spreading negative stories about someone else in the Trump administration.


[09:37:33] BERMAN: All right. New questions, yes, even more.


BERMAN: New questions for EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Questions about foreign trips, about a house he bought in his home state with a lobbyist, reimbursements he paid to himself from his two campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general.

HARLOW: Yes, plus a member of his team, his press team, is now accused of trying to throw the head of another agency in the same administration, the Trump administration, under the bus. Aren't they supposed to be on the same team?

Elaina Plott from the "Atlantic" has the scoop, joins us now.

I couldn't believe this, frankly, when I was reading your reporting. Walk us through what happened.

ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: OK, you have to bear with me. It requires some mental gymnastics.


PLOTT: Essentially a press aide at the EPA was trying to pitch a story to different reporters. He alleged that a press aide in the Department of the Interior was trying to leak damaging stories about Scott Pruitt as a way to prop up his own boss, Secretary Zinke. So this EPA press aide in return tried to do the same thing, leak a story about this person to prop up his own boss at the expense of Zinke.

So, yes, as you put it, Poppy, everybody is supposed to be on the same team.


PLOTT: And I think this is why this is ruffling feathers. The White House caught this press aide as I reported in the midst of trying to do this. And they're not happy. They even inquired from EPA officials who are my sources whether or not they could fire this person.

BERMAN: So this aide, this EPA aide who was trying to pitch dirt on the Interior Department, this person was a former Trump campaign official?

PLOTT: Correct. As was this aide in the Interior Department. So my sources think it goes back to a rivalry during the campaign, not to mention a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt, both of whom have telegraphed perhaps more than any other campaign official that they have -- post 2020 ambitions.

HARLOW: OK. What about Pruitt in terms of -- well, what's the EPA saying in response? And is there any sign that Pruitt knew this was happening?

PLOTT: So I cannot confirm the extent of Pruitt's knowledge. I have sources telling me different things but I don't feel comfortable enough with anything at this point in my reporting to suggest what he did know and what he didn't know.

The EPA is just denying this ever happened, even when I told them I had e-mail correspondence from this aide to reporters pitching the story.

HARLOW: Right.

PLOTT: Still they flatly deny it. But, you know, at this point, there it is.

BERMAN: Again, this only matters to an audience of one. I mean, if, if it shakes an audience of one, that's the president.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:40:04] BERMAN: Any sign that the president -- this has pushed the president one way or the other on Scott Pruitt?

PLOTT: I don't think so. And I think that's why EPA officials and even other officials rather are pretty comfortable brazenly denying things, because as long as Trump, this president, feels that they're not culpable, he's not going to push the issue further.

BERMAN: Fascinating.

HARLOW: Yes. Thank you.

BERMAN: Elaina Plott, it's a terrific story. Everyone should go read it in "The Atlantic" right now.

PLOTT: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. So forget that resignation, the House chaplain Pat Conroy has rescinded his resignation. He says he's not going anywhere.

HARLOW: And House Speaker Paul Ryan says he accepts it. There's been a lot of brouhaha about this.

Our Sunlen Serfaty has more. So what is the latest, now he's going to remain?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. And this has really snowballed essentially into a very public spat for speaker of the House Paul Ryan after the House chaplain was abruptly fired or was forced into his resignation last week. A lot of lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill just had a firestorm of criticism for the House speaker, questioning why this move was made, demanding to know an explanation and really unhappy that the House chaplain was out.

So now we see Speaker Ryan accepted him back to the House to take over his job again and really trying to explain his motivations for making this move and forcing him out. Paul Ryan saying in a statement, quote, "To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. It is my job as speaker to do what is best for the body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post."

And the House chaplain in something of a fiery two-page letter to the House speaker in rescinding his resignation talked about this conversation that he had with speaker of the House Paul Ryan's chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, in which he alleges that his Catholic faith was one of the reasons for his dismissal. The House chaplain saying, quote, in that letter, "I inquired as to whether or not it was for cause and Mr. Burks," Ryan's chief of staff, "mentioned dismissively something like maybe it's time that we had a chaplain that wasn't Catholic."

And I should note that Jonathan Burks disputes that account of their conversation. It's very clear, though, John and Poppy, a lot of questions about this remains. Still a lot of people unhappy. Nancy Pelosi for one saying that there are still many questions to be answered. Paul Ryan, of course, wants to move past this and he will sit down next week up here on Capitol Hill with the House chaplain when they get back from recess.


BERMAN: It's fascinating. Paul Ryan blinked here, but it may be, you know, for the best inside the House to move away from this conflict.

Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

So imagine being a family member of one of the three detained Americans in North Korea. Then imagine you hear Rudy Giuliani saying they will be released and then the White House has to walk it back. This actually happened. How did it happen? And most importantly, what's the status of these three detainees? That's ahead.


[09:47:28] HARLOW: So this morning very different messages coming from the president, his new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the rest of the folks at the White House about something incredibly important. Tree Americans being held in North Korea.

BERMAN: Yes. Mayor Giuliani made the claim that the three men would be released yesterday. They were not. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, she had to walk that back and said she had no information about the detainees being released.

So what is going on? Let's get the latest from South Korea. Alexandra Field is there -- Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John and Poppy. Just moments ago the National Security Council saying there is no update regarding the release of these three men. Certainly a trying 24 hours you would imagine for these families who have already gone so much. You're talking about three American citizens who have been detained by North Korea. One of those men since 2015, two more since 2017.

And just within really the last 24 to 48 hours, their families were given a great reason to hope that their release would in fact be imminent. The president teased this, saying that everyone should stay tuned, and then bizarrely almost inexplicably you had Rudy Giuliani saying that the men would be freed on Thursday. Thursday has come, Thursday has gone, these men have not been released.

The White House was not able to say when they could potentially be released and now we are learning from White House officials and also from State Department officials that they're still working to verify these reports that the three detainees have been moved from the locations where they were being held, moved closer to Pyongyang which would certainly indicate that the release was more imminent.

It's widely believed of course that releasing the detainees in advance of the summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump would be a good faith gesture on behalf of North Korea. There is a high level of confidence it seems within the administration that a release will happen, but we are no closer today to learning when exactly it could happen. Something that had seemed so imminent, now seemed very much uncertain, Poppy and John.

HARLOW: Alex, there's also this "New York Times" reporting that President Trump is asking his Pentagon, asking the Pentagon for options for removal of U.S. troops or at least some from South Korea, but it seems like the Pentagon is pushing back now.

FIELD: Yes, they're quickly trying to throw some cold water on that. They aren't the only ones, the National Security adviser, John Bolton, strongly refuting that report this morning as well. This is the statement from him. He's saying "The New York Times" story is utter nonsense. The president has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea.

We should point out that that "New York Times" report which does say that the president asked for options about how to draw down the number of troops also said that this wasn't about using a drawdown as a bargaining chip with North Korea, but it was a separate matter entirely.

[09:50:05] That's what the opinion that was provided by the officials recited in that report. The question about drawing down troops in South Korea has certainly been raised in recent weeks and really for months before that because you talk now about the possibility of a peace treaty, North Korea and South Korea have expressed that it is their intention to finalize a peace treaty which would put a formal end to the Korean War since 65 years after the fighting stopped and it has of course raised the question what about the 30,000 U.S. troops who are stationed out here.

What would happen to them? President Trump back when he was a candidate on the campaign trail talked about the possibility of reducing forces overseas at a cost saving measure, talked about the possibility of trying to get other countries to share more of these defense costs. And certainly it's something that the administration has talked about in the past.

But South Korean officials did talk about the possibility earlier this week. They insisted that even with the peace treaty they feel it's necessary to have U.S. forces out here. They say that's part of the bigger security and peace structure in the region.

BERMAN: Alexandra Field in Seoul for us. Alexandra, thanks very much. And really, we are thinking about the families of those three people who are still detained in North Korea.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And hoping for the best.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says she tells reporters the best information she has at the time. Question is, is the best information true?


[09:55:48] HARLOW: The Trump administration's credibility is in question, and this morning the messenger for the administration has a major problem.

Here's Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We give the very best information that we have at the time. Again, we give the best information possible at the time. And, again, I've given the best information I had at the time. Again, I gave you the best information that I had. I gave you the best information that I had. Again, I'm giving the best information I have, some information I am aware of and some I'm not.


BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter who truly does have the best information.


BERMAN: Brian, the question that Sarah really was being asked there in so many words was did the president lie to you? It's a very simple question, and she would not give a very simple answer.

STELTER: Which obviously makes you believe that, yes, of course, the president was keeping her in the dark and keeping a lot of people in the dark or actively misleading.

BERMAN: In the dark is different than lied to.

STELTER: That's true. Yes, you're right.

BERMAN: Right? Right? I mean, the question here is, Sarah Sanders walked out in March and said that I just talked to the president, who told me that these stories are false.

STELTER: Right. Right.

BERMAN: So the president said that to her in March. Did the president lie to you? And she didn't say no.

STELTER: It seems like Sanders is in a situation that she cannot recover from. But we've been here before with Sean Spicer as well. Several times in this presidency there's been talk about a credibility crisis. But really this started on the very first day. This problem isn't solved until the president decides to take a different approach or he's voted out of office. Those are the only two solutions to what is an ongoing crisis.

HARLOW: As you know, covering the media the way you do, many if not all White House press secretaries at some point or another are kept out of the loop on something, so they have plausible deniability. How is this or is this different?

STELTER: I think it's different because it's an ongoing rolling situation. Every single day there are times where it feels the White House is not being candid, not being as honest as possible, with the public. And, again, that starts from the top. It's about tone that is set from the top. So there is a lot of talk today about whether Sanders should quit, whether she can remain in her job or not.

I think that's an interesting debate. But whether she is in the job or someone else is in the job, it all comes from the top with the president. And with the 3,000 misstatements that the "Washington Post" has counted since Inauguration Day. And there is times where there are flare-ups about this, but it is an ongoing everyday issue. And I would frame it as disrespect.

When the president misleads the public, when his aides mislead the public, when they lie, it's disrespectful to the public, that voted for him, and the public that didn't. I think fundamentally when the president is on Twitter or in speeches, coming up with crazy statistics or speaking nonsense, he's actually disrespecting his voters. I wish it was framed that way more often. Not just about him trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It's about disrespect.

BERMAN: And question is, does he care? And the question is, you know, do the people who work for him care? And we don't know.


BERMAN: We don't know. I mean, as everyone says Sarah Sanders should walk in there and quit. Who knows? I mean, she may have signed up for this fully knowing this was a situation.

Brian, it was less than a week ago now.


BERMAN: I mean, time flies. Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents' Dinner gave a performance that was critiqued by some as being particularly harsh on Sarah Sanders. I want to remind you what she said. Let's listen.


MICHELLE WOLF, COMEDIAN: I actually really like Sarah. I think she's very resourceful. Like, she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye.


BERMAN: Now some people thought that Michelle Wolf was making a comment about Sarah Sanders' appearance there. Michelle Wolf says it was about the issue of the fact that Sarah Sanders says things that are not true.

HARLOW: Burns facts.

BERMAN: Burns facts. Based -- you know, do we need to reassess the criticism of Michelle Wolf now?


BERMAN: Based on this week.

STELTER: Maybe it's telling that we're not continuing to hear the complaints about the White House Correspondents' Dinner that we heard from Trump allies and even some journalists a little less than a week ago. I think it has been helpful in a strange way to have Rudy Giuliani out there on TV, helpful to be reminded just how extraordinary these mistruths and disinformation campaign really is.

It's put the focus back where it needs to be and that is the president's deceit. It's such a disappointing moment in American history that this is such a big story, but it is. And it has been since day one. And now what is it? Day 100 -- day what, 400 and something. It continues to be the biggest story.

BERMAN: Brian Stelter, great to have you with us. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

The next hour of NEWSROOM begins right now.