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Support for CIA Nominee; Haspel Meeting with Lawmakers; Sanctions on Iran; Congress' Oversight on Daniels Payment; Decision on Iran Deal; Struggles with Pruitt. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 8, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: CIA, Gina Haspel is back on Capitol Hill today. She's scrambling for support from lawmakers one day before what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the president again trying to rally support for Haspel. He's doing it on Twitter. This is what he wrote. He says she will be a leader who will be tough on terror. The big hang-up for a lot of Democrats right now, and some Republicans as well --


BERMAN: Is her role in enhanced interrogation.

Joining us now, CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne.

Ryan, what's the latest here?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, John, I think Haspel is expecting a very tough and contentious hearing tomorrow focusing largely, as you said, on this issue of her role in the CIA's controversial interrogation program, which many consider to be torture.

Now, she is scrambling for support. President Trump's signaling his support for his nominee to lead the CIA. The CIA expressing support.

Now they're going to need some Democratic votes given the nature of the balance in the Senate right now. So the hunt for Democratic votes is paramount.

Now, the top Democratic on the Senate Intelligence Committee said that the CIA had provided an unacceptable level of transparency with regard to Haspel's record at the CIA. However, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did signal his willingness to support Haspel potentially in comments today.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: She has been -- she has been a true soldier and done her job. She truly has. Everything I've seen. But there's going to be other people that might have a different twist. I'm going to listen to them. But I believe -- I hope they show the respect. This is a professional. She truly is. And she's put herself in harm's way all over the world for us.


BROWNE: And that -- that was actually yesterday, those comments.

Now, the -- all eyes will be on other Democrats at the Intelligence Committee, in addition to Joe Manchin, seeing if there's any willingness to support Haspel, who needs to get those critical votes in order to get confirmation to lead the CIA.

John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Ryan Browne, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Joining us now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

It's nice to have you here, congressman, as Gina Haspel is on Capitol Hill trying to rally support ahead of what will be a tough confirmation hearing tomorrow morning.

As our Ryan Browne just went through, the concerns about the black ops site that she operated in 2002, the fact that waterboarding of at least three suspected terrorists happened there, what does she need to say to members of Congress to assuage their concerns tomorrow?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I think she has to make it clear that 2002, just coming off the heels of 9/11, America was very nervous, these were approved. And I actually think enhanced interrogation, this is just me speaking, should still be in the toolbox in extreme circumstances. Actually not as effective as many other ways of interrogation. But I think she needs to assuage people's fears that when she becomes CIA chief, she's going to go in and reinstitute these and I think talk about where we're at on that now. She's -- I think she'll going to get approved. But, you know, the good thing about the appointment process is people get to ask questions and get answers from it and hopefully it will be good.

BERMAN: Yes. This is what confirmation hearings are for is to ask these questions and to answer these questions. I don't think you think there's anything wrong with putting tough questions to her about this, correct?

KINZINGER: Yes, anybody not. I think, you know, any nominee, anybody put in front needs the tough questions. And -- but, ultimately, with that comes the responsibility for the Democrats to also say, look, we have to give some deference to the fact that we're going to give the president his preference unless something major blocks us from that, because that's always kind of been the rules of the Senate and I would hate to see that go away long-term because it would make that place even more dysfunctional than it already is.

HARLOW: So, in just a few hours, the president will announce a decision he's already made on the Iran nuclear agreement, whether or not to waive the sanctions again. If he doesn't, that's essentially going to pull the U.S. out of the agreement. If he does that, here is what Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the result will be. It will violate a cardinal national security rule, avoid having more than one nuclear crisis at a time. Is he right?

KINZINGER: No, I don't think so. Look, I think if the president -- and I don't know what answer he's going to do, what he's going to end up -- it appears that he might be pulling out of the deal. I think there's a way for him to pull out and hopefully compel something broader and better. And, you know, -- let's re-impose some of these sanctions. The reality is, in 2026, most restrictions on Iran's nuclear program go away. So that's eight years from now. By the way, eight years ago was only 2010. And so that's a --

HARLOW: But not the key one. As you know, they -- but not the key one. I mean, as you know, they signed the --

KINZINGER: But now most do.

HARLOW: The nuclear -- the nonproliferation treaty, meaning any enrichment of uranium has to be for peaceful purposes. Now, of course, it's Iran, so --

KINZINGER: Yes, exactly.

HARLOW: How much do you trust? But that is -- that is an important part of the agreement.

KINZINGER: Yes, but there's not many people out there that really will defend this to the inth degree. They'll say, look, this is better than nothing, even my friends on the other side of the aisle.

I think there's an opportunity to get a much better deal here by being tough about it and saying, look, if Iran truly doesn't want to -- if they want to have peaceful nuclear activity and they don't want to have ballistic missiles, let's negotiate ballistic missiles long term into this. Let's make this deal basically never expire. Let's talk about their behavior in Syria in propping up a guy that's killed half a million Syrians and destabilized the region. So I think these are all things that can be brought into broad context.

[09:35:05] But right now I think we're sitting on a situation where in eight years we're going to look at some of the things that expire, or 10 years, and start to regret it.

BERMAN: You keep on saying eight years, 10 years. But how six months from now, tomorrow, do you think the world is safer if the U.S. pulls out of this deal?

KINZINGER: I think the world is safer if we take a long-term approach at keeping Iran, not just from getting nuclear weapons, which we have the ability to do, and I think we can negotiate a better deal to do it, but also when we confront Iran's behavior in the Middle East. They're destabilizing -- even outside this, even with disagreement --

BERMAN: But you --


BERMAN: But you think in -- you would agree, you can confront that behavior even while, you know, preventing them for staying in this deal to stop them from producing nuclear weapons for eight or 15 years, depending on how you count it?

KINZINGER: I think it's -- I think it's possible. But if you want to confront that behavior peacefully and not militarily, I think you have to be able to compel Iran to the table, and that includes some of the sanctions that have been included in all of this. And I think this sends a message to in the negotiations in North Korea, look, we want a deal with Kim Jong-un, but we're not going to accept something that allows you to get back on a track to a nuclear weapon. I think this actually sends a message to Kim Jong-un that he needs to give up his nuclear weapons long-term and he'll probably get a guarantee of security from China or something like that.

HARLOW: Let me get your take to Congress' role as it pertains to oversight. Rudy Giuliani, as you know, in one of his many interviews in the last week, said that the president, quote, his word, funneled money, hush money payments to -- for Stormy Daniels through Michael Cohen, his attorney. One of your Republican colleagues, who was on the show with us last week, outgoing Congressman Charlie Dent, said, yes, at this point Congress has a role to investigate. That oversight should look into this. Do you agree?

KINZINGER: Well, Congress always has a role of oversight and investigation. The problem is when, you know, the Intel Committee comes out and says, we don't see any collusion, I haven't seen evidence of collusion, it's wildly dispelled as just partisanship. So, yes, do we need oversight? Absolutely.

HARLOW: But I'm asking you -- I'm asking you about the hush --

KINZINGER: But an issue -- an issue like this the FEC.

HARLOW: But I'm not asking you about the Russia investigation --


HARLOW: I'm asking you about the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. That's what Dent was talking about.

KINZINGER: But in an issue like this, if, in fact, this turns out to be the case, is an FEC issue and that, from my understanding, FEC issues have purview by the FEC. So, is there a role for oversight? I always think Congress should have oversight and should be a competitive branch with the executive branch no matter who's in power. But if this is a specific FEC thing and the idea is we're going to claw areas from that, I don't think that's necessarily appropriate.

BERMAN: Rudy Giuliani would not rule out the possibility that ultimately President Trump will assert his FIFTH AMENDMENT rights here if, in fact, he is compelled to testify. What message would that send to you? KINZINGER: It's hard to tell. I mean the president has a right to take

the Fifth Amendment, of course. And I'm really confused by Giuliani's interview. So it's kind of hard for me to tell what he's -- what he's putting together all in one. So the president takes his Fifth Amendment right. It's probably a concern about what's going to be said. But I have no indication that he's going to do that right now beside this confusing interview by Rudy Giuliani.

HARLOW: Yes or no answer since you say it's confusing. Is Rudy Giuliani helping or hurting the president? Helping or hurting?

KINZINGER: Well, yes or no, I don't know. It seems to me hurting unless there's some deep strategy I don't understand here.

HARLOW: Congressman, thank you.

KINZINGER: Any time. See ya.

HARLOW: Deal or no deal? When the president announces his decision on the Iran nuclear agreement today, the world will be watching, so will our next guest who helped craft it.


[09:42:30] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Our friends are safer if we stay in this agreement. We made an agreement. Iran is living by the agreement. Yes, we have concerns on the missiles, on Yemen, other things, but we should be working on those. The Obama administration made a clear decision that working on those other issues and making progress on them is easier with an Iran that doesn't have a nuclear weapon that an Iran which is moving towards one.


BERMAN: So that's former Secretary of State John Kerry. His message to the president. The president's message to John Kerry, butt out.

This is what the president wrote this morning. John Kerry can't get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it. Stay away from negotiations, John, you are hurting your country.

HARLOW: Of course the background there, Kerry had been doing these negotiations sort of around the White House, trying to get -- rally support to stay in the deal.

Joining us now is Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the Obama administration and worked on crafting the agreement with Iran.

Thanks for being here.


and I don't think anyone would argue it's a perfect deal, but the Trump administration thinks it can renegotiate the deal with Iran. Any chance that can happen?

COUNTRYMAN: The Trump administration has laid out no plan for how credible negotiations could take place with Iran. What they are doing, whatever the president decides today, would be the first of seven states that signed the agreement to be in violation of the agreement. It's incredible that Iran has shown more credibility and more consistency with international law than the White House is showing. And it will have several very negative follow-on effects.

First, an unnecessary fight with our best allies in Europe. Secondly, the loss of visibility of inspection capability for the international community in Iran. Third, the possibility that Iran goes back to exactly the behavior that we stopped in its tracks four years ago. And finally, the White House will create a crisis, not one that you'll see tomorrow but a slow motion crisis that significantly increases the risk of the U.S. making another disastrous military intervention in the Middle East.

So it's a very bad idea and the Trump administration has not laid out any credible Plan B to get to a renegotiation of the terms it doesn't like.

[09:45:02] BERMAN: You talk about this slow motion process, the idea you think they'll manufacturer a slow motion crisis here. One of the things we're hearing from the administration is, is that the president will not waive the sanctions any more, move to re-impose the sanctions, but that might take some time. You'll have this few month period, this sort of nebulous purgatory while we're waiting for the sanctions to go in.

During that period of time, you know, what happens?

COUNTRYMAN: Well, that's very unclear. But, first, make no mistake, if the president refuses today to waive the sanctions that the U.S. is committed to waive, that would be a violation of the agreement. It would not immediately kill the agreement because there are six other parties that are committed to the agreement, but it would be -- it would seriously wound the agreement.

At that point, what matters is the way that Iran and Europe respond. I would hope that they would do everything that they could to uphold the continued agreement despite United States absence. But the thought that the European Union can negotiate a better deal with the U.S. without involving the Iranians is ludicrous.

HARLOW: Iran has been able to, though, despite this deal, increase its ballistic missile program, increase its funding of terrorist across the region, continue meddling in Syria, propping up Bashar al Assad. Shouldn't the U.S. be deeply, deeply concerned about this?

COUNTRYMAN: Absolutely. And our best allies in the world, the European Union, are equally deeply concerned. But again, the Trump White House has not shown any way that blowing up this deal makes those other issues easier to deal with. Rather, it's going to be harder for us to have credibility --

HARLOW: But the argument is, if you keep waiving these -- the argument is, if you keep waving these sanctions and allowing more money to flow into Iran and prop it up economically, it just encourages these bad actions.

COUNTRYMAN: Well, if the U.S. policy is eternal hatred of Iran, then you should try to have all the sanctions you can. But if you wish to have a situation in which the United States has credibility as a negotiating partner, then you uphold the agreement that you made and you work seriously on all of the other issues using all the other elements of pressure.

As you heard Secretary Kerry say, addressing terrorism or ballistic missile threats becomes harder, not easier, when Iran is moving towards enrichment of uranium and towards a nuclear weapon.

BERMAN: Thomas Countryman, thanks so much for being with us.

COUNTRYMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Congressional investigators want proof that EPA Chief Scott Pruitt had permission to fly first class. They have not received it yet. And now we're hearing from White House staffers why Pruitt's job is likely safe.


[09:52:32] HARLOW: The spokesperson for EPA Chief Scott Pruitt said that his boss had official permission to take all of those first class flights on the taxpayer dime.

BERMAN: Yes, but in new reporting to CNN, where congressional investigators asked to see proof, all they were given was a pair of memos. So now White House officials say one thing that is helping Pruitt keep his job is the continued struggle to confirm other nominees and the challenge that would come from confirming Pruitt's replacement.

Our Sara Ganim joins us now live from Washington.

Sara, what's the latest here?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy.

That tough time confirming nominees may be the only thing that's allowing Pruitt to keep his job at this point. And as Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, Republicans, are combing through 1,700 pages of EPA documents turned over as part of their investigation of Pruitt, we're learning that one thing that was not turned over was permission required by law for Pruitt to fly first class before each and every trip. The EPA says that he had it, but documents do not back that up. Instead, there was just one request in May of 2017 that simply says we have observed increased awareness and at times lashing out from passengers and that sitting in coach class would endanger his life because he's not easily accessible by his security team.

Now, a second memo, as part of that -- those documents grants permission, but says that the upgraded travel is allowed if use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property. It also cites a federal statute that clearly states justification must be prepared for each and every trip.

Now, all of this comes as 24,000 pages of documents were released to news organizations by an advocacy group called The Sierra Club. "The New York Times" has been combing through those, as have we. They have an analysis out there that says that many of the communications between the staff of Pruitt show that it was his desire to be shielded from the public that was driving his secret schedule, not security concerns, as previously believed. So instead of security concerns, it was staff trying to keep him from tough questions from the public, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Important reporting. Sara Ganim, thank you very much.

And equally interesting, the fact that, you know, he's keeping his job from our reporting largely because the White House thinks it would be tough to get someone to fill it that can be confirmed.

BERMAN: It will not be easy.

HARLOW: In Hawaii -- that's an awkward term -- in Hawaii, volcanic activity might have subsided -- look at those pictures -- but the threat of lava, toxic gas still is huge for many residents on the big island. This is time lapse video, so you can see the lava consuming a car. Dozens of homes have been destroyed, 1,800 people evacuated. Officials warning people to stay away after two people were arrested for ignoring those lava roadblocks.

[09:55:24] BERMAN: All right, we are getting some brand-new reporting just in to CNN about how President Trump views his relationship with his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani. He may not want to buy new office furniture just yet, Rudy Giuliani. Things may not be going as planned. New developments just ahead.


[10:00:11] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.