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Trump and First Lady Honor Military Mothers and Spouses; Iran Suggests It May Deal with Other Countries; West Virginia GOP Candidate Thanks Trump for Huge Tweet; White House Briefing as Trump Threatens to Take Away Press Credentials. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Making our military the mightiest fighting force in the world and getting stronger all the time. We just approved $700 billion for our military. We'll have the best equipment ever known and next year $716 billion. I wanted to let you know. And, by the way, I know you don't care about this but that also includes raises for our military. First time in ten years. Your love, resilience and courage uplifts our heroes and indeed our nation. We are forever in your debt.

I also want to thank all of the spouses here today who are serving in uniform. You are an inspiration to us all, a great inspiration. Today I'm here to tell you that my administration is totally committed to every family that serves in the United States armed forces. That is why earlier this year I was proud to sign that big pay raise that I've already spoken about and I am proud of it and I guess there will be others, too. Would you like one sooner or do you want to wait another ten years? I don't know. We're also taking action to expand employment opportunities for our great military spouses. I know what you've gone through. The competence is so high and yet it's so difficult. That's not going to happen anymore.

One of the things that helps is our tremendous job situation in the United States. We just hit 3.9 percent unemployment, which is the biggest of this century, the best of the century. So that helps, it really helps a problem. But even beyond that, you're going to given treatment like never before. The unemployment rate of it's spouses of whom more than 90s are women is estimated to be four times higher than the unemployment rate I just spoke of. But we are going to change that, and we are going to change it as quickly as we can. You'll see what we've done. We'll get it done. We're working with states across the country to encourage them to remove licensing barriers so that spouse who is working in careers such as teaching, nursing and law, many others also, can get a job in their profession no matter where they move.

And in just a moment I will take executive action to promote military spouse hiring across the federal government, something that people have wanted presidents to do for a long time. Military spouses have already shown the utmost devotion to our nation and we want to show you our devotion in return. We will now ensure that you have better access to federal jobs.

By taking this action today, we're leading by example and encouraging American businesses across the country to expand job opportunities for our incredible and talented and highly educated military spouses. This includes opportunities to work remotely, which technology, as you know, has made more possible and more of everything in life possible than ever before. America owes a debt of gratitude to our military spouses. We can never repay you for all that you do.

We know what you do, and your spouse know what it is you do. We can never repay you for that. But we can and we will give you the opportunities you deserve. Today we take one of many important actions to ensure that you are free to pursue your careers, support your families and continue serving this nation that we all love so much. When you're strong, your families are strong. And America thrives. Thank you, god bless you, and god bless America. Thank you very much for all you do. Thank you very much. Thank you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: President Trump there along with the first lady honoring military families, specifically military mothers and spouses for what they do, at what is a very busy time certainly and has been for years and years for the various branches of the military. We are monitoring this. It looks like it's about to wrap up it. We are awaiting the White House press briefing. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be back in just a moment.


KEILAR: We're getting stunning pictures out of Iran. Iranian leaders have been reacting from President Trump's decision to react to the nuclear deal, lawmakers burning an American flag along with at copy of the deal. That happened during a session of parliament and they're going to vote on taking reciprocal action against the U.S. and they said the president's corpse will be worm food. President Trump asked what he would do if Iran restarted its nuclear program and he responded like this.


TRUMP: Iran will find out. I don't think they should do that. I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. I would advise them very strongly. If they do, there will be very severe consequence.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Hillary Leverett, who has quite an impressive resume, you were a former Middle East specialist, you also worked at the State Department. You represented the Bush administration in negotiations with Iran after 9/11. Specifically, we should mention with gaining some kind of entree in Afghanistan, to have a footprint there. Do you think the president can bring Iran back to the table or is this ceding ground to have the Europeans, to have China, to have Russia take over?

HILLARY LEVERETT, MIDDLE EAST SPECIALIST FOR STATE DEPARTMENT: There is this misnomer that Iran somehow has to be brought to the table. But in my experience, I look back through American history with Iran, Iran is always willing to go to the table, and we see that with the Europeans, with the Russians and with us after 9/11 and Afghanistan. Even in the Reagan administration, you have Reagan administration officials go with a Bible and a cake, the famous Iran-contra affair. The Iranians are always willing to negotiate.

This time it's such a shock that I think they're going to negotiate without us, with the Europeans, with the Russia, with the Chinese. We are in danger of ceding our influence in the Middle East to not only a rising Iran but with Iran's allies, Russia and China.

KEILAR: So, what does that look like long-term? What is the risk the administration is run by seeding that ground?

LEVERETT: Long term I think it's a strategic disaster. It really brings Russia more into the Middle East where we see Russia making inroads every day, first in Syria and now they will make much more inroads with Iran. Pro-Iranian parties just swept the elections in Lebanon, they'll sweep elections in Iraq this evening. We'll have a rising Iran with more influence in Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, with a rising Russia and China, sitting at the cross roads of the international gas and oil supply between Asia and Europe. It's a tremendous strategic problem for the United States to cede this much influence to Iran and its allies.

KEILAR: Does it make a more dangerous world for the U.S.?

LEVERETT: I think it does as long as the U.S. wants to continue to have a role in the Middle East. If we just stayed at home, but as long as we're out there in the Middle East around the world with a rising Iran, a rising Russia and no dialogue, no effective dialogue with them, we're the ones in trouble.

KEILAR: How do you see with your tremendous expertise, the president having this influence on the world stage right now? Because he is making changes that are shaking things up. When it comes to Iran, when it comes to North Korea, where he is on Syria, where he's sort of talking a tough game but then keeps also saying he wants to bring U.S. troops home. How do you see his position on the world stage?

LEVERETT: It's possible it's completely incoherent. And I hope this all ends very well. On Iran, the silver lining here is that even though supporters of the Iran deal here in Washington, even though we like the aspects of it that dealt with Iran's nuclear program, in reality it really wasn't working for anybody. Iranians were not getting the benefit and it changed nothing in the U.S.-Iran relationship. So, we had no better relationship. It was European firms going into Iran, Chinese firms going in. If we don't have the nuclear deal, we can start afresh. My concern is that Trump will not pursue negotiations with Iran to really start afresh to help the United States and we will cede the table to Russia, China and the Europeans.

KEILAR: Hilary Leverett, we appreciate your input. And she is the co-author of "Going to Tehran." Important to note that book.

In the Russia investigation, where does the money trail lead? CNN learned that the special counsel is looking at why Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen's was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a company linked to a Putin ally. The White House is facing a lot of questions. We are going to bring you the briefing at any moment.


KEILAR: We have new polls just into CNN that show Republicans may not be in as much political trouble in the mid-term elections as they had feared. Among the GOP primary winners in four states, some candidates got direct support from President Trump via Twitter, listen to what Patrick Morrisey had to say after he won the Republican nomination for the West Virginia Senate seat.


PATRICK MORRISEY, REPUBLICAN SENATE VICTOR IN WEST VIRGINIA: I would like to recognize President Trump for weighing in in this race. Mr. President, if your watching right now, let me tell you, you're tweet was huge.


[15:50:00] KEILAR: Full embrace there. CNN political director David Chalian joining us to talk about there. How much of a factor was that tweet?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He just said don't vote for Blankenship. He wasn't even in his corner and you could see how thrilled he was. Every Republican said it clearly had some impact in quelling last-minute momentum that may have been building for Blankenship. We see how popular Donald Trump is in the states so him saying don't vote for this guy has impact.

KEILAR: So that is the Republican primary. We're looking toward the general election, Joe Manchin is facing a -- maybe a tough re- election. Who has the advantage, Democrats or Republicans?

CHALIAN: We have brand-new CNN poll numbers out looking at that congressional ballot, who will be the choice for congress and the Democrat or the Republican. It is now a 3-point advantage for the Democrat. 47 percent to 44 percent. But take a look at the last couple times we've asked this poll. Over time, you see that is a narrow advantage. Go back to February, it was a 16-point edge and in March a 6-point Democratic edge and here now it is three points within the margin of error, the first time this close for this cycle. So that is good news for Republicans white sox is enthusiastic about voting.

Take a look at this. Among Democrats, 50 percent now say that they are very or somewhat enthusiastic about voting. 44 percent of Republicans say that. Take a look at march. That was a 15-point advantage for the Democrats and now down to a six-point advantage. The Democratic number is holding steady, but Republicans are getting more enthusiastic about this election season.

KEILAR: And so, when we look at that, we look back to 2016, it is this argument that not every vote -- not every person saying something in a poll is equal to another person when you consider enthusiasm. That is interesting. So, when you are looking at the general election and President Trump's impact and the numbers trending, Republicans should start to be a little relieved but how does the president help or hurt.

CHALIAN: I don't want to give away the impression that Republicans could sit back and now --

KEILAR: You're fine -- no.

CHALIAN: They are facing a lot of head winds, but these are numbers that cause them to say, hey, maybe it is not as terrible as we thought. You asked about the president. Among the most enthusiastic voters, we asked whether or not you would be likely to support a candidate that opposed Donald Trump or supports Donald Trump and here is the issue and this will give Republicans some pause and some worry. Among those most enthusiastic about voting, 55 percent say they would rather support a candidate who opposes the president, only 39 percent say support the president. So, among that vote -- that voter that is out is there to be excited about the election and get out there, potentially to vote, Donald Trump cuts against what Republicans are trying to accomplish.

KEILAR: Don't wipe your brow yet, Republicans.

CHALIAN: Not yet.

KEILAR: David, stay with us for just a second. Because moments from now the White House press briefing will get underway as President Trump threatens to pull media credentials over what he considers negative news coverage or as he called it, fake news. Revealing something interesting. We'll have more on that straight ahead.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Cham was a former vice chairman of the committee said he could not name the last time so many former intelligence professionals agreed on a single nominee. And in her opening statement, Acting Director Haspel outlined what she is focused on to better position the CIA for tactical and strategic success and to accomplish its mission.

The acting director demonstrated why the president selected her and her character and her experience and her commitment to protecting the country. She is the right person to lead the CIA and the senate should confirm her. Because the president is traveling tomorrow, and we won't have a briefing, I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity to wish my daughter scarlet who will be six tomorrow a happy birthday. And with that, I'll take your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, you mentioned the CIA director nominee. Gina Haspel said today the president -- if the president asked her to do anything -- to restart the integration program the CIA was criticized for she would not do that. Is that something the president would ever ask?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any requests by the president to the past CIA director or what we hope to be the new CIA director very soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May I ask you one more question. Just on a separate subject, following up on the Iran announcement from the president, the Europeans are working hard now to keep that deal alive, despite the United States being pulled out. Can you say, will the White House ensure that European companies who trade with Iran will not suffer the sanctions that the United States is going to put back on?

SANDERS: The sanctions that were in place prior to the deal will go back into place. But for the specifics, I know there is a winddown period for specifics on any particular company, I would refer you to the Department of Treasury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, the president suggested stripping journalists from credentials and that is a line you are willing to cross.

SANDERS: I'm standing up in front of you taking your questions. I think a number of you have mentioned both off air or on air, in private or other occasions this is one of the most accessible White House and committed to the free press and we demonstrate that every single day, not only by me being up here and taking your questions as I'm doing right now, the president did it just a couple of hours ago. And has made multiple sets of remarks and will be in front of the press later tonight as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How would the suggestion of taking American journalists press credentials away advocate for a free police -- a free press in the country. Those two don't go together.

SANDERS: The fact I'm taking questions and the president took questions from your colleagues just two hours ago demonstrates this White House commitment to accessible and to providing information to the American public. At the same time, the president has a responsibility to put out accurate information. Just yesterday "The New York Times" accused the secretary of state for being AWOL. When he was flying across the globe to bring three Americans home.

There is an outrageous claim, just earlier this week "The Washington Post" accused the first lady of not living in the White House. That outrageous claim was then repeated again in this room. We are here, we are taking questions, we are doing everything we can to provide regular and constant information to the American people and there is a responsibility by you guys to provide accurate information and we'll continue to try to work with you as I'm doing right here and right now and as the president did just a couple of hours ago.

[16:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you wouldn't be able asked these questions that you have already answered without these credentials.

SANDERS: and you are so you are clearly sitting right here asking them right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you this question. The confidential credential records of Michael Cohen's company, Essential Consultants were made public prompting the Treasury Department's office of the inspector general to launch an investigation into how that happened. But among the records were payments from AT&T to a person very close to the president at a time when AT&T was looking for government approval of a proposed merger with Time Warner, and also payments of over a million dollars from Novartis Pharmaceuticals at the time the president was talking about doing something to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals. Is the president concerned about any aspect of what we've learned in the last 24 hours?

SANDERS: As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation. I would refer you to the presidents outside council to address those concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president concerned that major corporations were giving money somebody very close to him at a time when they had business before the federal government?

SANDERS: I haven't heard the president express any concerns about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, do you believe Michael Cohen was in any way qualified by insight into this administration.

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into somebody else's qualifications.