Return to Transcripts main page
Trump to Announce Iran Deal; Trump Tweets About Kerry; Firing EPA Chief; New York Attorney General Resignation; Trump Flustered by Giuliani. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 8, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: See you back here for INSIDE POLITICS tomorrow as well. "Wolf" starts right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Paris, 9:30 p.m. in Tehran. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
The world holds its breath as the U.S. president gets ready to announce the fate of the Iran nuclear deal. A decision that will have a ripple effect on everything from ally relationships to gas prices.
Plus, he's one of the president's fiercest foes, and was a champion of the Me Too movement. But now, New York state's attorney general abruptly resigning after abuse accusations from four women. New details just in.
And also just in, new CNN reporting on the embattled EPA chief. Why President Trump may now be entertaining the idea of firing Scott Pruitt. Stand by. We have new information.
But let's begin with the biggest foreign policy decision of the Trump presidency so far. About an hour from now, the president announces whether the United States will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Sources say he's expected to announce that he will reinstate sanctions against Iran. That would be the first step toward withdrawing from the agreement. But those sources also caution that nothing is final until the announcement by the president is made one hour from now, 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now live.
Jim, we know the president spoke with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, earlier in the day. Macron, of course, has tried to persuade him to stay in the Iran deal. What are you hearing about that conversation?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're hearing about that conversation and other conversations is that all indications are at this point is that President Trump will begin to either fully or partly withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. Obviously the devil is in the details and we're going to start to get those details at 2:00 this afternoon when the president makes the announcement in the diplomatic room here at the White House.
But I've been talking to a number of sources this morning. A senior U.S. diplomatic source telling me just in the last hour that they are deeply pessimistic over in Great Britain about what President Trump is going to announce because, obviously, they would like the U.S. to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. So the U.K., France, all at this point sounding as though the president is going to make this announcement that the U.S. is pulling out of the deal, Wolf.
And I just spoke with a congressional source in the last several minutes who said at this point, according to what they're being briefed on by White House officials, the expectation is among Republican lawmakers at this point is that the president will fully or partly withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. That measures, from what we're hearing, from a senior administration official just in the last couple of hours who told me earlier this morning, Wolf, that most of the work going on behind the scenes in the last several days in the lead-up to this announcement of this decision from President Trump has been on withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal.
So barring some kind of last-minute surprise announcement from the president, a reversal from the president, all expectations are at this point that the U.S. will begin to fully or partly withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Of course, it's a very intricate and complicated agreement that was crafted by the Obama administration. And so the details really are going to matter here.
But just from a rhetorical standpoint, we do expect the president to give sort of a full-throated announcement that he's scrapping this agreement. That, obviously, is going to thrust U.S. allies into a state of chaos. I was talking to a diplomatic source earlier this morning who said that at this point they really don't have any kind of expectation of the U.S. announcing a plan b at this point in terms of what to do with the Iran nuclear deal, what to do about the Iran nuclear program because it's really unclear at this point how the Iranians will respond. It's expected that they'll try in some part to restart that nuclear program, but they also want to gauge the domestic reaction in Iran to see how the Iranians are going to react. And, of course, that may, obviously, impact how the U.S. deals with that at this point. But all indications are, Wolf, is that President Trump will make this announcement that the U.S. is getting out of that deal, at least partly or fully, here in the next hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, critically -- a critically important decision indeed. We'll, of course, have live coverage.
Jim, we're going to get back to you. Jim Acosta at the White House.
President Trump has called the Iran nuclear deal insane and ridiculous. He says it doesn't do enough to address Iran's ballistic missile program or its activities in the region. Jake Sullivan was a top aide to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He helped open the secret channel that paved the way for the nuclear negotiations with Iran. He's joining us now live from Boston.
Jake, thanks so much for joining us. JAKE SULLIVAN, WORKED ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL: Thanks for having me,
BLITZER: So, what do you think? How do you respond to the president's really severe criticism of the Iran deal going back throughout the campaign, worst deal ever, he says. He hates it. He wants to get rid of it. Hates all the money that Iran got as a result of the deal. How do you respond to his criticism of the Iran deal?
[13:05:08] SULLIVAN: Well, Wolf, I respond with the basic facts. And the basic facts are that the deal is working. Iran is complying. The international community is united and holding the Iranians accountable. And the world has blocked every pathway through this deal for Iran to get to a nuclear weapon. Their nuclear program is in a box. And the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has reiterated over and over again, confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community, and most recently by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Congress that Iran is living up to its end of the bargain and that the deal is stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. So why would the United States decide, for basically no reason at all, to walk away, to give that up, to allow a situation in which Iran could move its capability forward? It just makes no sense.
BLITZER: What the president, I assume, is going to say, and what he has said on many occasions, it does open the door, what, in seven, eight, nine, ten years for Iran to resume its nuclear program. And it has given the Iranians hundreds of billions of dollars that they use. The State Department itself regards Iran as the number one state sponsor of terror.
What's your response that the deal did nothing to prevent Iran from engaging in what the U.S. regards as terrorism and other activities?
SULLIVAN: Well, first -- first let me respond to this notion that somehow after seven, eight or nine years or 10 years or 15 years iron can go ahead and get a nuclear bomb. That is flatly untrue. The deal permanently bars Iran, not just from seeking a nuclear weapon from it, but from engaging in any form of weaponization activity, and crucially it remains a permanent requirement that Iran allow verification and inspections so that the world can be satisfied that it's not, in fact, seeking a bomb.
On the issue of --
BLITZER: But after -- after let's say 10 years, can't they resume their program to enrich uranium?
SULLIVAN: Well, they're currently enriching uranium at a very low level, but they can only keep 300 kilograms of their stockpile in Iran right now, which is not enough for them to produce even a fraction of one bomb's worth of weapons grade uranium.
What is true is that after 10, 15, 20 years, they will be able to do more in respect to peaceful nuclear purposes. The type of nuclear energy that is used for civilian purposes. But they are permanently barred from being able to do anything that even approaches weaponization activity.
And I would just add this, that to the extent we're concerned about making sure that after 10 or 15 or 20 years that we continue to keep this very tight lid on them, the United States has a long history of negotiating follow-on agreements. We've done it with the Russians. We've done it with other countries. This is something we know how to do. But to walk away from the deal today because of a hypothetical scenario of what might happen 10 or 15 years from now, and to create that scenario now by ourselves just doesn't make any sense.
And just on -- quickly on the new -- on the regional issues. The nuclear deal expressly reserves the right for the United States and for our allies and partners to pursue aggressive economic pressure against Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism and for other things it does in the region. The fact that it doesn't address regional issues, this deal, works for the United States, not against the United States. And I do believe that we should continue to step up our pressure against Iran in the region, but that doesn't mean walking away from the deal, it means enforcing the deal to the hilt and then pursuing an effective regional strategy.
BLITZER: As you know, the former secretary of state, John Kerry, strongly urging President Trump not to withdraw from the Iran deal. He's also been in contact over the past few days with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who's been in New York at the United Nations, Javad Zarif, to discuss ways of keeping the agreement.
That prompted this tweet from the president. Let me put it up on the screen. 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, end quote.
Do you believe the former secretary of state is overstepping his authority, getting involved in these sensitive talks with the Iranian foreign minister at this delicate moment?
SULLIVAN: I don't think that John Kerry is doing anything of the sort. I think he's having ongoing conversations the way that former diplomats always do. He's not trying to interfere with President Trump's decision. What he's trying to do is to argue publicly, as he did today, that the president is making a big mistake.
And in terms of the substance of President Trump's tweet, that Secretary Kerry somehow blew it, again, the facts suggest otherwise. All of the indications are that this deal is working. It's working for the U.S. It's working for our allies. And it's working to protect our partners in the region, like Israel and the Gulf states.
[13:10:17] And what the critics said would happen at the start of this, that it would never work, they've been proven wrong. So, you know, from my perspective, John Kerry has every right to go out and say that he believes this deal should stay in place because he thinks it's in the best interests of U.S. national security.
BLITZER: Do you know, Jake, if he at all coordinated his conversations with the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, with any U.S. officials, any State Department officials? Usually in sensitive negotiations like this, a former secretary of state would be in touch with the current administration. Do you know if that happened?
SULLIVAN: I don't know whether he has spoken with the administration or not. What I do know is that John Kerry isn't engaged in some kind of intricate negotiation. He's engaged in a transparent process of making his opinion clear and in trying to persuade this president not to make a big mistake by walking away from the deal today.
You know, it seems, Wolf, that one of the things that is driving President Trump in all of this is that he wasn't the one who negotiated this deal, Barack Obama was. And that just doesn't sit well with Donald Trump. That may be a reason for Trump to be annoyed, but it's not a reason for a commander in chief of the United States to walk away from an international agreement that we've signed up to with all of the world powers.
BLITZER: Jake Sullivan, thanks so much for joining us.
SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: And we'll stand by to hear precisely what the president has to say. We'll get much more on that.
But right now this is just coming into CNN. President Trump now entertaining the idea of firing the embattled Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, as his list of controversies grows longer and longer.
Our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown, is with us and she's got some new details on the latest developments.
What are you hearing?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, our team has learned that the president's support for his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, may be wavering as White House aides renew a push to convince the president he should fire his embattled EPA chief. We have learned that White House officials saw a fresh opening to sway the president against Pruitt late last week after "The Atlantic" published a report accusing a Pruitt aide of trying to spread negative stories about a fellow cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Now, the report struck a chord with the president, who was bothered by this development, we are told, and has grown more open to his aides arguments that Pruitt must go. This is according to a White House aide and a source close to the White House, who talked to my colleagues, Jeremy Diamond and Sara Westwood.
Now, Trump, you know, has resisted, as we know, he has resisted calls to fire Pruitt thus far, despite nearly a dozen investigations because he's been worried in part that it would be difficult to confirm a successor that would carry on the same deregulatory agenda. But White House aides have assured the president, we're told, that the agency's work can continue unabated in the EPA after recently confirmed deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler came on board. They have convinced him that he will take the reins and continue the same work.
One White House official said that the ground has absolutely shifted, saying the president is becoming convinced that Pruitt is doing more harm than good in his position.
Now, what has really changed here, Wolf, what you're seeing here, is White House aides have gone from just not defending Pruitt to now actively trying to convince the president to fire him.
BLITZER: And did they think that by trying to shift the attention on Ryan Zinke that would help Pruitt? Is that what they were thinking?
BROWN: Well, that is what this "Atlantic" article says, that this aide to Pruitt was essentially trying to shop around negative stories to other media outlets in order to take the attention away from Pruitt and put a negative light on Ryan Zinke. This is -- obviously is something that the White House does not like. They don't want to catch wind of one agency trying to spread negative stories about another agency or leader of the agency.
So all of this combined with the fact that there are nearly a dozen investigations into Pruitt is sort of adding to this momentum we're seeing to fire Pruitt. Now, of course, we'll have to wait and see what happens. There is that big concern about a confirmation fight. The president, you know, doesn't really want to see that. But at the same time, Pruitt does have a deputy who could carry on the same agenda.
BLITZER: Yes, that's -- if it's true, it's pretty ugly, they're trying to change the subject to the interior secretary as opposed to the EPA chief.
Appreciate it very much, Pamela Brown.
BLITZER: Good reporting.
A dramatic fall in a matter of only hours. We have details now of the behind the scenes resignation of the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after four women came forward with accusations of abuse.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani's media blitz is starting to get to the president. There's new CNN reporting on why the newest addition to the president's legal team may be put on the back burner.
[13:15:04] And the White House is sanding by Jeff Sessions right now as some House Republicans, including Devin Nunes, make the push to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt. We also have new details on that.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States, arguably the most important foreign policy, national security decision so far in his administration. He's about to announce whether or not the United States will leave the Iran nuclear deal that was worked out with allies and Russia and China during the Obama administration back in 2015. We'll have live coverage of the president's statement to the nation, indeed to the world. That's coming up.
But there's other news we're following right now, including some shocking allegations of abuse against a key critic of President Trump. The New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, resigned under pressure only hours after the story broke of allegations of abuse from several women. In a statement Schneiderman said this, quote, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me. They will effectively prevent me from leading the office's work at this critical time. I therefore resign my office, closed quote.
[13:20:18] Here with us to discuss is Lauren Burke, she's a writer for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and CNN political analyst Molly Ball. Molly writes for "Time" magazine, as well.
Were you surprised at how quickly, Molly, Schneiderman resigned? It was a matter of only a few hours after the story broke.
MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, almost exactly three hours from the time that -- the time stamp on "The New Yorker" story published online. I didn't have time to be surprised, frankly, because it did happen so quickly. But you have to think that given the damning and really conclusive nature of this report detailing, you know, multiple women on the record, as well as other women who didn't want to be named, very consistent allegations, very consistent stories of physical abuse. If you are -- if you're Eric Schneiderman, you look ahead and think there is no way that I'm going to come out of this. There's no way that I'm going to be able to move forward with my political career. And you had the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, calling who's, of course, extremely powerful in New York politics, calling for his resignation. Schneiderman was someone who was thought to be ambitious within Democratic circles, but this just -- you have to think that that's over.
BLITZER: Yes, the article was so damning, Lauren. Let me read to you one quote from one of the woman who offered this charge, this accusation against the New York state attorney general. Quote, sometimes he'd tell me to call him master and he'd slap me until I did. He started calling me his brown slave and demanding that I repeat that I was his property.
When you read that, that kind of sentence, that kind of line, what went through your mind?
LAUREN BURKE, WRITER, NATIONAL NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION: I was pretty shocked, actually, that, you know, usually in these stories you do see something in there where the governor would actually have at least the conversation, a (INAUDIBLE) conversation with the person before demanding a resignation. He did not even stop to do that, and he didn't need to stop to do that because, of course, these two reporters, Jane Mayer and, I'm sorry, what's his name --
BLITZER: Ronan Farrow.
BURKE: I'm sorry, Ronan Farrow, who, of course, just won the Pulitzer Prize or had it locked down so tight. And, of course, we have that other source in there with regard to an unnamed prominent New York attorney, which we'll probably find out later who that is, but the fact that Ronan put -- is on this and is on this incredible role, quite frankly, with the facts all locked down, and for him to resign in only three hours, this type of prominent, political career, a promising political career actually, it's incredible, absolutely amazing.
BLITZER: Yes, only an hour after the governor of New York --
BLITZER: As you point out, Governor Cuomo, said he's got to go and he's got to go quickly.
It didn't take also very long, Jeff, for the president's inner circle, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Junior, among others, firing off some pretty gleeful tweets. They hated Schneiderman like a lot of Trump supporters did. Schneiderman was often going after the president. Kellyanne tweeting, gotcha. What do you think of that quick response?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, not surprising at all. It gave them, you know, a moment to, I guess, smile about this whole thing. But I think, you know, the reality here is that Eric Schneiderman appears, at least that these allegations are accurate and they seem to be, otherwise he wouldn't have resigned so quickly.
He's a hypocrite. That was the biggest thing of all. I mean he has been someone who has been on the leading edge really, you know, making a name for himself being a crusader against Donald Trump. So that, of course, is why they responded so much there.
But I think it is a good reminder as we head into the midterm election season where there is this under current of the Me Too movement. And it can and, in fact, does happen in both parties. And the fact in the story there, and Ronan said this morning on "NEW DAY," that some people advised them not to come forward because it could take down a Democrat is offensive and absurd, really. So it's a reminder that Democrats do this as much as Republicans and it's gusting.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. All right, guys, everybody stick around. There's a lot more news we're following, including new news involving Rudy Giuliani. The president is growing apparently increasingly frustrated with his newest lawyer. The behavior of Rudy Giuliani, the media blitz, among other issues. We have details.
Plus, we're awaiting the president of the United States to announce a major diplomatic statement on Iran. Will the U.S. formally pull out of the Iran nuclear deal? We have live coverage of that.
We'll be right back.
[13:28:50] BLITZER: Apparently some chaos is escalating within President Trump's newly assembled legal team and now his newest addition, Rudy Giuliani, may be walking on rather thin ice with the president. His recent string of unscripted TV interviews and the negative coverage surrounding his comments has left President Trump flustered and annoyed. One source speculating that the president will move Giuliani to the back burner. All of this as senior administration officials say they remain in the dark on Giuliani's media interviews and his next move.
My panel is back to discuss this and more.
There's new reporting. What does it mean, Jeff, for Giuliani's future because he's caused a lot of political and legal problems for the president in his off the cuff comments?
ZELENY: He has. And he's only about three weeks or so in. He's about a week into his very public performance here. And we're learning that the president is not pleased with it. Of course he's a longtime friend of Rudy Giuliani's, so I think that means that he's different than virtually anyone else who works for the president. This is someone who -- it's not an equal, of course, in the president's eyes. But he's someone who's known him for a long time.
[13:29:50] That said, we're told the president is not pleased with everything that's happening. Sometimes he is, but then he watches the news coverage of it and he sours on him. So the reality here is, some of the president's other lawyers also aren't pleased with this. I think that is perhaps the more interesting thing here.