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Soon: Melania Trump Unveils Her Platform; Report: Israeli Spies Hired To Discredit Iran Nuclear Deal; Trump Urges West Virginia Voters To Reject GOP Candidate. Aired 1:30-2pm ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:41] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The first lady, Melania Trump, by stepping into the spotlight in a little while later this afternoon to announce her formal platform of her Rose Garden ceremony. All of this happening as a new "Washington Post" report delves into Trump's sub -marriage and details how they're apparently, according to "Washington Post" living largely separate lives.

And as CNN poll numbers show a boost, a significant boost for Melania Trump. 57% of the American people in the poll have a favorable opinion of the first lady, jumping 10 points from the last poll in January. Joining us now to discuss CNN senior political reporter Nia- Malika Henderson and our White House reporter, Kate Bennett. And Nia, these numbers are significant. Give us some perspective.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, they are. I mean typically following the first lady -- has written about first lady's path, typically first ladies are more popular than their husbands. You think about somebody like Laura Bush, her poll numbers were as high as 80% at times when her husband was in the White House.

The question always becomes, how can the first lady sort of transition that popularity to the popularity of her husband's party or her husband. So I imagine when folks see these numbers, A, I'm sure Melania Trump is happy, because it's clear that Americans are starting to get to know her better, and they're start to go like her more.

But if you're a Republican, you're thinking, what can we do about these numbers? Can she be helpful on the fundraising circuit? Can she be helpful on the stump? Because we saw that from former first ladies, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush trying to help their husbands win reelection. They were very effective in that way. Not as effective in the midterms, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama. But we'll see. What is Melania Trump willing to do? We see her stepping out, as you've written out, Kate Bennett, and so we'll see what happens with her.

BLITZER: In about an hour and a half or from now over the White House Rose Garden, she's going to be announcing her agenda, her platform. Set the scene for us.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: So for the past several months she's been talking about how she wants to help children and children's well-being as a part of this. That's a very broad umbrella. So I think today what we're going to see her do is narrow that down to a specific focus likely to be more than one thing, probably two or three.

I would imagine it will include the opioid crisis, something she's focused on with families. Also emotional health and well-being. She's really focused on kindness. And of course, social media, which includes the cyberbullying issue of which she has gotten some flak because obviously her husband is a prolific name-caller via Twitter. This is something the first lady says she's going to go forward with despite criticism, she said she's aware of the skepticism that's come her way because for choosing this topic. I think she's going to go forward for it. We'll hear from her about that today.

BLITZER: I assume, correct me if I'm wrong, the president will be at the Rose Garden when she makes these important announcements?

BENNETT: I can't reveal that, but I would assume, Wolf, that he would be there. He wouldn't want to miss his wife's big moment. I think we'll see other members of the administration as well. The Rose Garden, of course, is a historic location. It's her first time giving a speech of the length I think we're going to see and some location on the West Wing side of the White House.

BLITZER: So, she's giving a former speech with the teleprompter, the whole nine yards?

BENNETT: The whole nine yards.

BLITZER: Yes, soon we'll have a live coverage of that here on CNN. The other first lady and Michelle Obama, I want to play a clip of what she's saying, and then get you to react as well. She's sending out a very passionate message to American women. Listen to this.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: In light of this last election, I'm concerned about us as women and how we think about ourselves and about each other and what's really going on. I mean, I think more about what is going on in our heads where we let that happen?

You know? So I do wonder what are young girls dreaming about if we're still there? If we as women are still suspicious of one another, if we're still -- if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don't have for men, if we're still doing that today, if we're more comfortable with -- if we're not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president compared to what? You know?


BLITZER: She got a pretty significant reaction there. What do you think?

[13:35:04] BENNETT: I mean I think Michelle Obama is a very effective public speaker. I think she's really got a lot of traction talking about women's issues. I will say this about Melania Trump and this poll that we have today, Wolf. The higher numbers, the rise came from women and Democrats. There was a jump of 13 points for women in supporting and 15 points from Democrats. So, perhaps it's interesting hearing Michelle Obama sort of raise the flag about women, this could be a sign for a bit of divide in the Trump fans.

BLITZER: And her popularity going up. As reports are spread that maybe there are some distance between her and the president?

BENNETT: Exactly. She's wholly been independent.


BENNETT: This is a first lady joined with her husband. We've seen her expect of independence several times in different ways, mostly nonverbal cues, but certainly had huge surprise that they don't interact.

BLITZER: Nia, listen to another clip from the former first lady. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I wish that girls could fail as bad as men do and be OK. Because let me tell you, watching men fail up, it is frustrating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very frustrating.

OBAMA: It is frustrating to see a lot of men blow it and win. And we hold ourselves to these crazy, crazy standards. We hold each other to these standards.


BLITZER: Sounds like another, at least indirect jab at the president.

HENDERSON: I mean it wasn't even that indirect, right? I mean remember, Michelle Obama from the campaign trail in 2016, she said in the wake of that "Access Hollywood" tape that she was shaken to her core. We know very well how she feels about what happened in the 2016 election. And there she is really asking women to look at themselves and looking to see how women are viewing other women.

And we know, for instance, that white women very much supported Donald Trump. You didn't see that with other races of women. African- American women wholeheartedly supported Hillary Clinton. Latino women as well. So she's really I think sparking the conversation about women. Is there really solidarity? Should there be solidarity in terms of how women view each other and we saw in that last election there wasn't a lot of solidarity, particularly along our racial lines.

But listen, she is probably glad she's finished working on her book. We'll see that book I think come out in the fall, and you can see there she's still very, very popular and passionate about this issue.

BLITZER: She's certainly. We'll look forward to cover our CNN coverage of the Melania Trump's event in the Rose Garden today as well. I know you going to be heading over the White House right now. Guys, thanks very much.

President Trump blasting the former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for conducting, "potentially illegal shadow diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear deal." You're going to hear how Kerry is responding. That's coming up next.

And as the president stares down at deadline on the Iran nuclear deal, we're on standby for a White House briefing. There you're looking live pictures coming in from the White House Briefing Room. We'll have coverage of that. Stay with us.


[13:42:27] BLITZER: President Trump by now is just five days to decide if the United States will stay in the Iran nuclear agreement. Iranian leaders are now warning it would be a "historic mistake" for the U.S. to withdraw. President Trump is been under enormous pressure domestically to remain in the deal, but also from mostly from the foreign allies, including French president, Emmanuel Macron, who has been openly lobbying for the U.S. to stay in the pact.

Ahead of this critically important decision there are now new reports that aides to President Trump hired an Israeli private intelligence firm to dig up dirt on Obama National Security officials who helped create this Iran nuclear deal back in 2015 in an elaborate attempt to discredit him. Our chief security correspondent, Jim Sciutto has been reporting on this. So what do we know about this private Israeli intelligence firm?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I spoke to one of the apparent targets of this campaign. He name is Colin Kahl. We has on the NSC in the Obama administration so involved somewhat in the Iran deal, although there were many people involved. But he and Ben Rhodes, who of course was the deputy national security adviser of the president, they became targets of what was something of an odd campaign.

And it's interesting when I spoke to Mr. Kahl, he said he was not aware of this until he was contacted by reporters with "The Guardian" and "The New Yorker." But then the Fox started to occur to him of some odd outreach in May of last year in Colin Kahl's case to his wife. A group reaches out, claims to be an investment firm in Europe saying they're interested in the public school that his wife's child goes to, that their child goes to, and starts to offer the possibility of money, investments, et cetera. She doesn't quite know why they're reaping out to her. She tries to divert them to someone else. They keep coming back saying, no, it's you we want to meet with, we want to meet with you, et cetera.

Lets that go. What's interesting in retrospect is that the name of what is apparently a fake firm, Rubien Capital Partners, is the same name of a firm that was used to reach out to Rose McGowen who was one of Harvey Weinstein's accusers at the time, again, using this front to reach out established contact, not clear what they wanted to do with that contact.

I should note that these Obama officials, Colin Kahl included, they have no direct evidence that this is tied to Trump aides or the Trump campaign or the Trump administration. But in retrospect, what they're finding is odd outreach at this time from this firm that bears the hallmarks of previous outreach by the same group.

BLITZER: Yes. Clearly there is a lot more reporting that needs to be done to come to the bottom line.

[13:45:03] Now the president, meanwhile, he's got to make his decision by Saturday, and he's now going after John Kerry, the former secretary of state, who helped negotiate this Iran nuclear deal in 2015. The president tweeted this. "The United States does not need John Kerry's possibly illegal shadow diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran deal. He was the one that created this mess in the first place." I'm assuming he's referring to a meeting that Kerry had with the Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran.

SCIUTTO: And that's why -- and also European officials and diplomats, because of course the Europeans were partners in this deal. And the Europeans, as you know, do not want to leave the deal. They've been advising the president Emmanuel Macron, the British as well, have been advising the president to stay in. Let's find a way to, you know, tighten the news as it were on, you know, the restrictions on Iran, but let's not leave this deal because it has benefits.

And Trumps has been meeting -- rather Kerry has been meeting with those folks to see if there's something he can do. Of course, President Trump is taking that as an opportunity to take a shot at Kerry, the Obama Administration. Even some of Trump allies comparing it to what the Trump Administration had been accused of during the transition. Of course, Michael Flynn reaching out to the Russians. You know, only one president at a time saying in effect John Kerry is doing the same thing that they were accused of doing as being --

BLITZER: Violating the Logan Act.

SCIUTTO: Violating the Logan Act, which we've talked about a few times. But, you know, bigger picture here, there are a lot of expectations and in fact the president is going to leave the Iran Agreement, and U.S. allies are seeing that as a possibility, preparing for that as a possibility, and Trump's, whatever internal decision making process he's doing, at the same time he is, you know, launching an effecting PR campaign against the deal to, as supposed, potentially back up, you know, that decision if he chooses to make it.

BLITZER: He saw the article in the "New York Times" by Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary. He wants the U.S. to stay in the deal.

SCIUTTO: He does. And this is consistent --

BLITZER: And he's been here in Washington.

SCIUTTO: And he's been here in Washington making that case. In fact, he's been meeting at this time. Still be meeting with Mike Pence, the vice president as the last effort to do that. They're making the case as Emmanuel Macron did. Listen, he has deal has flaws but this deal is better than no deal, and let's find the way to add more restrictions rather than take this pillar as they call it away.

But again, as I said, you know, there's not a lot of optimism out there about it.

BLITZER: And getting back to that Israeli's private spy company that was apparently engaged, somewhat described as these dirty tricks. What was the point? Why were they going after these individuals looking for "dirt"?

SCIUTTO: Well, it's not clear although a pattern of the Trump Administration with policy positions like this is whatever the internal decision-making process is. Some of them, in moving away from positions that the Obama Administration took, there is a public campaign as well to undermine support, how they were planning to undermine support for the (INAUDIBLE) personally targeting these people, we don't know. There are some patterns of, you know, kind of counterintelligence operations the way foreign intelligence services try to undermine people or establish contact, it's just not clear.

But I will note this. At the same time this outreach was being done that said Sebastian Gorka, adviser to the president, he was making public comments about Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl as well. So, you know, there's been a consistent public message from this administration about the Iran deal but also about the people, including John Kerry, involved in the deal.

BLITZER: All right. As I said, a lot more reporting needs to be done --


BLITZER: -- to get to the bottom of this. Thanks very much for that, Jim Sciutto.

Remember Alabama. That's the message from President Trump today as he urges voters in West Virginia to reject the state's very controversial Senate Republican candidate, Don Blankenship.


[13:53:17] BLITZER: President Trump is launching a last ditch effort to stop Republican candidate Don Blankenship from winning tomorrow West Virginia's Senate primary. The ex-con coal baron is running a Trump style campaign and he's facing intense backlash after this recent ad.


DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA'S SENATE PRIMARY CANDIDATE: Trump captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact his China family has given him tens of millions. I will beat Joe Manchin and Ditch cocaine Mitch for the sake of the kids. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: While Blankenship has been an underdog. He's now striking distance of his two Republican challengers. President Trump tweeted a warning today, "To the great people of West Virginia, we have together a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is Don Blankenship currently running for the Senate can't win the general election in your state. No way. Remember Alabama."

Blankenship firing right back, "Tomorrow West Virginia will send the swamp a message, no one and I mean no one will tell us how to vote."

Joining us now CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston. Mark, tell us about Blankenship.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well a couple things. We know that he is a wealthy coal baron, as you had said, but he is running right now for the Senate Republican nomination right now in West Virginia. Let's take a quick look.

As we said, a coal baron, here's where things get very interesting. He was a very successful coalminer owner in West Virginia, but he was convicted of willfully not following health and safety standards around mines. Twenty-nine people died in an explosion at one of his mines in 2010. He actually served a year in prison. While he was in prison, Wolf, he decided that he was going to run for the United States Senate.

So as we can see, he was there, he decided to run for Senate, and then what is the connection right now with President Trump and why is President Trump weighing in? Well, a couple things.

[13:55:12] One, they are very similar. In fact Don Blankenship says he is more Trumpier than Donald Trump if you can imagine that. Now we do know that Donald Trump weighed in on the race today, Wolf, because he was asked to by Republicans. Jeff Zeleny is telling us that he was asked to do that. But Don Blankenship has a lot in common with President Trump. Conspiracy theories, he goes out and spins tales, specifically we've seen about Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, he uses very harsh rhetoric. He is a very wealthy politician, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens tomorrow. Remember the president said Remember Alabama referring to what the Republicans faced in Alabama not too long ago in that Senate race. Mark Preston, thank you very much.

As President Trump battles serious legal challenges and a deadline on the Iran nuclear deal approaches, the White House is gearing up for a press briefing. You are looking at live pictures right now set to start any minute. Stay with us. We'll have live coverage.