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Trump Scores Win; McCain Rejects Haspel; Trump Welcomes Freed Americans; McCain Defends Dossier Action; Pentagon Releases Ambush Report. Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired May 10, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a snapshot. But today I think that Donald Trump is looking a lot better than he was a couple days ago.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And, Molly, to that point, I mean ripping up the Iran deal, essentially, one day, the next day bringing three American detainees homes, supporters and critics would have to agree that this president, President Trump, is driving world events right now.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. And the administration feels that the constant drumbeat of these investigations casts a dark cloud and prevents them -- you know, it's a constant distraction from the achievements that they'd like to focus on.

Now, the president has, of course, often been part of the problem with his focus on the so-called witch hunt and inability to focus on a consistent message, but it is -- but, you know, if you believe that as the White House says, as the vice president says, that there is nothing there, then you want to wrap it up to remove that dark cloud. Of course, the unspoken assumption of what the vice president's saying is that there is nothing there. I don't think you would have them saying that they want to wrap it up if they actually believed there would be some result of the investigation that they're not going to like, which is, of course, a very strong possibility.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Matt Lewis, you said you think things are looking up for the president over the last two days. And, in fact, in his poll numbers, specifically on the issue of North Korea, you know, his numbers are up ten points since March and nearly 20 points since last November. You know, I'm not suggesting that he's doing the North Korea negotiations for political purposes, but does it provide some kind of a political opportunity for him overall?

LEWIS: Absolutely. And, again, I don't want to compare him to Nixon and Watergate, but, you know, that turned out very badly for Richard Nixon, but there were times along the way when the public said, hey, leave this guy alone. You're -- you know, this is -- this is a witch hunt. And they're -- you know, right now I think if it's a snapshot, today Donald Trump is doing very good and it's transferrable. We see the midterm elections are coming up in November. Democrats have just a narrow lead in the generic ballot over Republicans. It's a big reversal. Very good news.

And I think if you look at the optics of last night in the middle of the night with President Trump and First Lady Trump standing there welcoming the hostages back, you know, no matter where you stand on politics, it was heart-warming and you just can't put a -- in terms of positive optics, you can't just put a price tag on that. So I think that the economy's going good, you got this scandal over here. It's really a tale of two Trump presidencies right now.

HARLOW: Molly, the president's self-described right hand or, you know, Pitbull as Michael Cohen called himself a few years ago for the president, didn't he make it all but impossible for President Trump to hit the campaign trail and help folks out during the midterms and say, you know, I'm the president, we're the party that will drain the swamp?

BALL: I think that's part of it. I don't think anything is impossible for Trump. I think he is perfectly capable of declaring himself to be draining the swamp, even as we see things like this happening, which are, you know, objectively very swampy looking. I don't -- I don't think that he suffers from cognitive dissidence in that regard.

But, yes, I mean, we have a story in this week's "Time" magazine that is just out today about how serious these revelations are and -- and what they add to what we know about these ongoing scandals. It's really a major development, which can be hard to stand back and appreciate because there is such a drumbeat. It feels like there's always something.

But this is potentially a big deal because of the corruption angle. And, you know, strategist, political experts who I talked to say, look, voters are kind of confused by the whole Russia thing. They don't feel like it affects them. But when you talk about corruption, when you talk about pay-to-play, that is something that potentially could offend people on a whole different level.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, right, because there is a difference in these cases between corruption and Russia or they can be separated and a lot of Democrats say the same thing, we should be running on corruption, we shouldn't be running on Russia.

You know, Matt Lewis, some Trump supporters point out that maybe what Michael Cohen did was just wrong and dumb, but the president's not connected to it. Do you think the president can separate himself from his right hand man and fixer selling access to the White House?

LEWIS: I mean it's definitely -- I don't know -- the political maneuver actually might be harder to pull off than the reality. I think it's entirely plausible that Michael Cohen was at least implicitly selling access and that Donald Trump didn't know it.

The thing -- you know, I don't know Donald Trump personally, but what I've observed about him is, I don't think he would be happy with knowing that someone else was selling access to him. I think he would resent that. Like, how's Michael -- Michael Cohen's making money off of selling access to me? No way. So it might be actually -- the optics are probably worse than the actual reality in terms of Donald Trump specifically.

HARLOW: Yes. But there are some sticky issues like the fact that he had dinner with the Novartis executive in Davos after Novartis was paying Michael Cohen $1.2 million.

[09:35:07] Thank you, guys. Molly and Matt, appreciate it.

Former prisoner of war Senator John McCain calling remarks by President Trump's pick for the CIA director disturbing. Why he says he cannot support Gina Haspel to run the agency and why he's asking fellow senators not to as well.


BERMAN: This morning, Senator John McCain is urging his colleagues to reject President Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel.

HARLOW: McCain, of course, who spent five years as a prisoner of war, writes, I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing and her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying.

Joining us now is Republican senator of South Dakota, John Thune.

Senator, it's nice to have you here.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Good morning, Poppy. How are you?

HARLOW: Good morning. I'm well.

[09:40:00] We watched the hearing live on our show yesterday morning as, obviously, you and so many Americans did. You know, Gina Haspel could have said, as Senator McCain points out, yes, torture is immoral. She did not despite repeated questions to that to that effect.

Would you have been more comfortable supporting her -- because we understand you're a yes vote for her -- if she had said, yes, it is immoral?

THUNE: Well, I think she -- I think she did say that, Poppy, that going forward that's not something that she would ever, as the head of the CIA, allow to happen in the future.

HARLOW: Right, but she stopped, she hesitate to call it despite being asked directly immoral, that it was point blank immoral.

THUNE: Right. Well, and I -- and I think that -- I'm not sure that that particular question or her answer to that question is what the focus needs to be on here. I think that -- you know, everybody's raising this issue of what she knew, when she knew it and how involved she was in the destruction of these tapes and all that, but that's all been investigated. I mean it's all -- there was a special counsel that looked into that. There was an internal investigation that looked into that. And I think right now the focus ought to be on her qualifications for this job, which are completely -- I mean there isn't anybody who questions her capabilities, including many past CIA directors from both Republican and Democrat administrations.

So she's -- she's gotten wonderful reviews for her 30 some years that she's been involved in working for the CIA in a lot of different functions and roles and I think that, you know, the American people expect that when the president puts somebody forward who is qualified for the job that the -- that the Senate ought to confirm them.

BERMAN: Do you think torture is immoral?

THUNE: Do I think torture's immoral? I'm uncomfortable with torture in any form. And I think the discussion that was occurring at the time, when I was, I think, coming -- you know, in the House part of the time, but when I got to the Senate there was a fairly spirited discussion about that. It was in the wake of 9/11. It was a very different time than what we're in right now. But that being said, I don't think there's any circumstance under which torture should be used.

HARLOW: Let's talk about North Korea and the wonderful sight we saw in the middle of the night, and that is those three Americans returning home to their families thanks to the work of the Trump administration and other parties as well.

Here's what the president said, and I'm going to read it to you. He said, we want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people. Would you have said that?

THUNE: No. But, you know, I'd probably say a lot of things differently than the president does.

But, look, I mean the issue here is that these detainees are home. You have to give credit to the president and to Mike Pompeo for negotiating that. And on whether you like his tactics or not, I think you have to agree that they are on this level working. We'll see what ultimately happens as a result of these discussions that we're going to have on -- with North Korea on denuclearization. But this is a great story and I think it -- you know, the president needs to be given the credit that he's due.

BERMAN: It's a wonderful development for these families and for these detainees, no doubt. And Secretary Pompeo to come home with him like he did after that 90 minute meeting is remarkable.

What attitude do you think the president needs to take going into this meeting with Kim Jong-un? Do you think saying, you know, you treated these detainees you had in captivity for a year, in some cases two or three years, that you treated them excellently, is that the right approach heading into this meeting?

THUNE: I -- no. I mean I think that you want to head into the meeting with clear eyes about who you're dealing with. I mean this is a dictatorial regime and my view is it's always trust but verify. I think they have to show hard evidence and we have to have disclosure and verification mechanisms in place to ensure that whatever might be agreed upon actually is something that they'll follow through on, because we have plenty of experience in history by which to measure the veracity of this -- the regime there. And so I think that whatever our negotiators, as they get there and the president, when he has these meetings, perhaps ultimately agree to that needs to be with a clear eyed focus on insuring that there's compliance with that agreement because I don't think you can trust these people.

HARLOW: Turning the corner to Senator John McCain's book that is coming out in just a few days. We're getting some more excerpts of it. And one of them is his explanation of why he gave the Steele dossier to James Comey, then head of the FBI. Here's what he writes. I did what duty demanded I do. I discharged that obligation and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell. The senator's words.

Would you have done what Senator McCain did? Would you have handed over that dossier to the head of the FBI?

THUNE: You know, it's hard for me to say. I mean it's a hypothetical question. I think that the -- Senator McCain, for whom I have the greatest respect, is a true patriot. And I'm sure he did what he thought was in the best interest of the country and obviously at the time handing it off to the chief law enforcement official in this country who would be responsible for dealing with it in an appropriate way, I'm sure in his views seemed like the right thing to do. So I think -- I don't doubt that and, you know, how -- what I would have done, I just -- is hard to say. But I think that that's part of the history now. That's part of the narrative. And I think going forward we need to focus on trying to get the facts, get conclusions, get this Mueller investigation eventually concluded and let's find out where we are.

[09:45:15] BERMAN: I will say, I did detect a smile on your face when we read back to you what John McCain said, anyone who didn't like what he did can go to hell.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: I think we'd all like to hear more of that from John McCain, if we could.

You know, again, you said you don't know what you'd do because it's a hypothetical, but you know what John McCain did.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Did he do the right thing?

THUNE: Well, I mean, I think that, again, I don't know everything about what he saw or what he knew, but I think that -- I always believe John McCain is an incredible patriot and somebody who served this country with just distinction and honor. And what he did at the time I believe is what he thought was right for the country. And I -- and the colorful language in which he describes it is something we've all experienced firsthand and on a personal level. BERMAN: Yes.

THUNE: But he is very forthright. He says what he thinks. And, in this case, I have no doubt that what he did was what he thought was in the best interests of this country.

HARLOW: We heard the vice president, Mike Pence, say just a few hours ago the Mueller investigation needs to, quote, wrap up, his words. And you've said, look, this thing needs to wrap up in so many words.

Now we know a lot more. We know that six months ago Bob Mueller's team was talking to big corporations like AT&T, like Novartis about payments made to Michael Cohen to influence or at least get insights at the very least into President Trump. Knowing what we know now that we didn't know 48 hours ago is part of Mueller's investigation, do you still think it needs to wrap up immediately?

THUNE: Well, I don't say immediately, Poppy, but I do think it needs -- there needs to be sort of a pathway here to bringing some conclusion to this. You know, there are lots of things that they've already looked at, indictments that have been issued and I think there are ultimately going to be people who are going to pay a price for wrongdoing in all of this, some of which -- some of whom have already been indicted.

But I do think at some point, you know, the American people expect, and I think we all expect too, that this can't drag on forever. And, you know, there's a lot of information bits and pieces of which come out on a regular basis. But the special counsel is looking at the full spectrum, I think, of these issues and we trust him to conclude it and complete it, but I hope that it's completed in a timely way. That this isn't one of those things where it becomes just a, you know, an unending process because I think the American people are going to grow very weary of that and they do want the president to get on with the important work of the country.

BERMAN: Senator John Thune of South Dakota, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

THUNE: Thank you all.

HARLOW: Thank you, senator.


BERMAN: So the Southwest pilot who successfully landed that plane after it blew an engine midair is speaking for the first time about those moments just ahead.


[09:52:10] HARLOW: We have new details this morning in the Niger investigation as the Pentagon prepares to release its final report on that deadly ambush. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in that attack last October.

BERMAN: And CNN has now learned that portions of the mission were not authorized.

Our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with all the details.

Barbara, what have you learned?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The investigation seven months in the making. We are going to get a press briefing in a couple of hours.

What we now know is that the troops that were sent on this mission in Niger had a very confusing situation. They were at some point told to go look for a high value ISIS operative. That was not a mission they were even authorized, trained, equipped, given the weapons and the readiness to be able to do it. But that is what they were sent to do initially.

Then they were switched to being working with local forces. That was supposed to be their regular mission or job, if you will. And then at some point they're sent to look at an abandoned terrorist camp to try and determine what intelligence they could gain from that. The entire thing confusing.

And at some point this ambush begins. They're overwhelmed by ISIS fighters in this remote area of West Africa. And overwhelmed would be an understatement. Four dying in this fire fight. The troops, the U.S. troops, were separated on the battlefield at various points. They didn't know where each other -- where they were all located. They had to keep looking for each other. Sergeant La David Johnson fought valiantly, as the others did, and then had to run for his life. He was shot and killed and, of course, he is the young man whose body was not found for 48 hours.

The big question, also, how is it that rescue forces did not come into the area for over an hour. How are they sent on a mission with no medevac and no rescue forces readily available to help them? These are all the questions the Pentagon is supposed to be answering.

But let me underscore something, what we learned a few minutes ago is, we're getting a briefing, we're getting the summary, we will be able to ask questions. After seven months, we are not getting the full report. That full report still being declassified. No indication of when the full report of this event that killed four American soldiers in Niger, no indication when that report will be made available to the American public.

John. Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, important points.

Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

The pilot who successfully landed that Southwest plane after the engine blew midair says those moments felt like a flashback to her time in the Navy. Captain Tammie Jo Shults speaking for the first time about those harrowing minutes. She and her co-pilot, Darren Ellisor, told ABC News what was going through their minds.

[09:55:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARREN ELLISOR, SOUTHWEST CO-PILOT: We're passing through about 32,000 feet when we had a large bang.

CAPT. TAMMIE JO SHULTS, SOUTHWEST PILOT: And we had to use hand signals because it was loud. And there was -- it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.


HARLOW: One passenger, as you'll remember, died on that flight last month.

BERMAN: The three American detainees from North Korea now back on U.S. soil, as the president praises Kim Jong-un for releasing them. This coming ahead of the big summit. We're following all of the latest developments.

Stay with us.


[10:00:05] HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. This morning, an historic homecoming for three American detainees finally back on American soil after being freed by North Korea.