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White House Daily Briefing; White House: Aides Vulgar Remark on McCain "Dealt with Internally"; White House: Hamas Responsible for Dozens of Deaths in Gaza Protests; Deadly Protests Erupts as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 14, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: -- speak your mind without feeling like your colleagues will betray you, that's a difficult work environment. I think anybody who works anywhere could recognize that.

QUESTION: Is there any environment where that, conveying that thought, would be viewed as appropriate?

SHAH: Again, I'm not going to address it any further. It's been...


QUESTION: So to be clear, was it completed last week? You said it was -- was dealt with internally. Has anything been dealt with since last week when she called the family, the McCain family, for clarity?

SHAH: She -- she called the McCain family. I'm not going to address it any more from the podium.


QUESTION: Raj, if I might ask you an indelicate question, it's been reported that you were leading the meeting where Kelly Sadler said what she said. How did it strike you? Did you find it to be inappropriate, and how did -- what was the reaction in the room?

SHAH: Look, this is not about my opinion or anybody else's opinion. It's an internal matter, and we're -- we've addressed it internally.


SHAH: Anita (ph)?

QUESTION: Two questions. First, the White House is hosting some kind of meeting on Wednesday with California officials on sanctuary cities. Can you tell us what that's about? Will the president attend, and what's the -- what's the point of the meeting?

SHAH: Well, I can't, obviously, get ahead of the meeting, but, look, the Department of Justice is engaged in certain litigation regarding sanctuary cities in California.

We believe that California should help us, and all municipalities and states, should help the -- the federal government enforcing federal law, in (ph) helping to deport, when appropriate, criminal illegal immigrants.

And, you know, help, I guess, stem the tide of, you know, illegal immigration in the United States. It's actually on the rise, now, it's a point of frustration for the president and for the administration. So that'll be part of, obviously, what's discussed.

QUESTION: So there's no negotiation. This is just to solidify your point? I think the...

SHAH: I'm saying that I'm not going to get ahead of the meeting.

QUESTION: OK, and my second question is, the president's going to Capitol Hill tomorrow to meet with Senate Republicans. Can you tell us about that meeting, and do you -- the topic of the conversation, and also, do you think he will not get asked by senators about the Kelly -- Kelly Sadler issue?

SHAH: Well, obviously, you'll have to ask senators what they'll ask him.

QUESTION: Does he (inaudible) been prepared?

SHAH: But I -- I -- I think he will be discussing the administration's agenda. I think a focus of that will be on appointees, and getting the president's team in place, particularly Gina Haspel, who we believe should be confirmed as the next CIA director. This is an individual who's had over three decades of exemplary service and experience with the CIA, and we hope that the Senate takes it upon themselves to confirm her.

QUESTION: Besides the CIA, is there another issue? It's not solely to talk about (inaudible)

SHAH: It's to talk about the administration's agenda.


QUESTION: Thanks, Raj. The Trump organization...

SHAH: I'll get to you next.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SHAH: All right. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Trump organization is involved in a project in Indonesia building hotels, golf course residences. It's getting up to $500 million in backing from the Chinese government. Can you tell -- or, you know, explain the administration's perspective on, A) how this would violate the emoluments clause, and B) how it wouldn't violate the president's own promise that his private organization would not be getting involved in new foreign deals while he was president?

SHAH: I'll have to refer you to the Trump organization.

QUESTION: No, but I mean, the Trump organization can't speak on behalf of the president, as the president -- the head of the federal government, the one who is -- who's responsible, and who needs to assure the American people (inaudible) that responsibility.


SHAH: And -- and you're asking -- you're asking about a private organization's dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. That's not something that I can speak to.


QUESTION: A couple things. I need some information -- we all need more information about the conversation that the president had by phone with James Shaw (ph). Why wasn't it here at the White House? And also, what about prison reform? If you could give us a little bit more about prison reform. We understand that's working its way, and there's a big push from the White House. And also, on -- on Sadler, where does decency and morality come in -- into play on -- in the workplace? I mean, she still has a job. She made that statement about an American hero. No matter what the political feelings are about him, he was broken and bruised overseas for the freedoms of this country. And to say those things, I mean...

SHAH: Again, that's an internal matter, and has been addressed internally.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SHAH: Yes.


SHAH: You mentioned prison reform. We're pleased to see last week, the House markup with a pretty broad bipartisan vote, prison reform legislation that the White House is supportive of that in particular, Jared Kushner has been very involved with. You know, we believe that, you know, that that legislation can help reduce costs at prisons, and improve quality. We hope to see it, you know, looked at at the House floor, and then eventually pass the Senate.

And with respect to -- with respect to James Shaw, you know, it -- it was -- it was a conversation that the president asked to -- to have, and...

QUESTION: Why not here at the White House? Why -- why not, I mean, he's saluting heroes.


SHAH: I -- I -- Honestly, I don't know if he -- if he was invited. I -- I -- I just honesty don't have more for you on that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Raj. I wanted to ask you about the embassy opening today.

SHAH: Yup.

QUESTION: The person who delivered the invocation, Robert Jeffries, he's made some statements in the past that he believes that Muslims are going to hell, Jews are going to hell, Hindus are going to hell. Do you think that, considering especially his remarks about Jews that he's one of the right people to speak at the opening of our embassy in Israel? And can you give us a little information on how that came to be?

SHAH: Well I honestly don't know how that came to be, and you know I -- I know that -- think it's Pastor Jeffries you know has -- had you know a strong relationship with many people in the faith community, as well as folks in the administration and Republicans on the Hill and others.

I believe Democrats as well. So I think that he has a longstanding involvement with public officials. You know, beyond that I don't really have a whole lot to add.


QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate for a person who thinks that -- who said that Jews are going to hell to speak at the opening of our embassy in Israel?

SHAH: I -- I -- you know I haven't seen those remarks, but obviously there's -- those aren't remarks that the President (inaudible). Yes, Xavier (ph)?

QUESTION: So I have two questions for you. First on ZTE, did the Chinese government give any specific concession for the President of the United States to tweet in support of a Chinese company?

SHAH: No, the President has asked Secretary Ross to look into the matter consistent with ...

QUESTION: Why did he do that?

SHAH: The issue has been raised at many levels by the Chinese government with the -- with various levels of our administration.

QUESTION: ... raising the issue was enough to spawn a presidential plea (inaudible)?

SHAH: Well it's -- it's a significant issue of concern to the Chinese government. You know, and in our bilateral relationship there's a given and take, and we -- and we discuss these issues.

QUESTION: And then another on the President's tweet on Paris. He said that America needs to change its thought processes. What did he mean by that? What was he hinting at?

SHAH: Well I think that you know -- I think that the President wants the United States to be tough on terrorists. Wants our government to be tough on terrorists. I haven't asked him about that specific tweet, but I think his thoughts on how to address terrorism are pretty clear.

Look through the legal system, through our international, through our foreign affairs policy. So just understanding the existential threat that terrorists pose to American citizens and addressing it accordingly. Yeah?

QUESTION: Raj? On the issue of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. When was the last time the White House reached out to Palestinian leadership, and will, given the high numbers of casualties, Palestinians calling what's happened today a massacre, will the White House be reaching out?

SHAH: Well I don't obviously have an answer for you on that. I'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up then?

SHAH: Sure.

QUESTION: I -- Jared Kushner has seemed (ph) -- pointed a finger at the Palestinians, saying they were responsible for provoking violence. But given the fact that it's only Palestinians who are being killed, should Israel not shoulder some of the blame?

SHAH: Well as I said earlier, we believe Hamas bears the responsibility. But this is a propaganda attempt. I mean this is a -- a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence.

And we're finding it very unfortunate.

QUESTION: ... throwing rocks 50 meters from the wall and were faced with a sniper attack. I mean is the White House in denial of the split-screen reality that's occurring?

SHAH: Again, we believe that Hamas is responsible for this. Blake (ph)?

QUESTION: Can we ask you -- on ZTE, the congressional hearing that John (ph) was talking about in which the intelligence chief said that the people should not be using ZTE products because of security concerns. Does the President himself believe that there is a security concern using -- involved with ZTE?

SHAH: I haven't asked him about that. But again, he has asked the Commerce Department to look into this matter consistent with applicable laws and regulations.

QUESTION: Speaking of the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross said at the National Press Club just a little while ago, he said of the meeting this upcoming week with the Chinese, he said it wouldn't surprise me if they bring up ZTE.

But our position is that it would be an enforcement action separate from trade. Is that the position of the White House, that whatever may or may not happen with ZTE, that has nothing to do with trade negotiations, or does it?

SHAH: Well, I think Secretary Ross speaks for the U.S. government on this matter. And, you know, the president has asked him to look into it.

I haven't seen those remarks, and I'm sure there'll be some follow-up conversations but (ph)...


... he doesn't reflect our view.

QUESTION: And on the Supreme Court decision today on -- on sports gambling that allowed (inaudible) to go forward with that, does the White House have any opinion, one way or another, on -- on the decision...

SHAH: I don't have a reaction for you just yet.

Francesca (ph)?

QUESTION: Raj, on Israel. The United States and the White House are hoping to release their peace plan in the next few months.


Going back to that split screen, I understand that you're blaming these on Hamas.

But does the White House feel that -- that the position is undermined, now, by these deaths that have happened today, that have -- (inaudible) the count was at 52.

SHAH: No, we don't. Look, the peace plan will be brought forward at the appropriate time, and it can be evaluated on its merits. But the actions today, both the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem and these tragedies in -- in southern Israel.

You (ph) know (ph), we don't think it (ph) will (ph) impact the peace plan.

QUESTION: And on a -- a different foreign policy topic, sort of -- the president isn't going to the royal wedding this weekend. Today, we saw him deliver a video address at the embassy opening.

Will he deliver an address of some sort via (ph) video? Is he sending a gift? Is there anything you can tell us about that?

SHAH: I don't have anything for you. Yes?

QUESTION: Last month, the -- Sarah said that the (inaudible). Is there a...


SHAH: Say again? QUESTION: Last (ph) month (ph), Sarah said the -- the allegations against the government of Missouri were concerning. The governor, now, is on trial this week.

Does the president believe he should resign? He's campaigned with him. He's been out with him. He's met him several times. Does he believe he should resign, irrespective of the verdict? Or if the verdict comes down in his favor, should he not resign?

SHAH: I'll have to get back to you on that. I -- I don't have anything.


QUESTION: Raj, thank you, Raj. So later this week, Thursday and Friday, Chinese officials are supposed to be here in D.C. to have continued trade meetings.

Can you tell us which U.S. officials and which Chinese officials are going to be involved in those? What the president hopes to come out of those continued talks, this round of those talks?

And has the administration provided -- I know Larry Kudlow had mentioned one -- at one point, that the U.S. was -- or the administration was considering providing a list of what they'd like to see out of these trade negotiations.

SHAH: Well, some of those details, the participants in particular have yet to be determined. And -- and we'll provide that information when it's ready.

But, look, the U.S.-China relationship, again, it's a complex one. We believe that China has engaged in decades of unfair trade practices, forced technology transfers and the like.

That was part of the discussion that went on, you know, when -- when the U.S. delegation, or U.S. group of administration officials went to China, and that's going to be continued -- continued later this week.

All right. Last question.

Hunter (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Raj. You -- you said, before, that you hadn't heard Pastor Jeffress' remarks. Among other things, he said, quote, "Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism," quote, "they leave people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell."

I also wanted to talk about Pastor John Hagee, who was involved in that ceremony. He once said that Hitler was an instrument of God. Separate from that, on Sunday, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump met with Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the chief Sephardic rabbi in Israel. And he once compared black people to monkeys.

So I'm wondering, in all three of these instances, can you tell us anything about how these people were brought into the ceremonies? And do you think it's regrettable that people with these views were involved with the American government?

SHAH: I don't have any readout on how they became involved with these events. All I'll say is that those specific views that you outlined, if they're accurate reflections of what was said, wouldn't be embraced by this White House.

Beyond that, I don't have anything else.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of still unanswered questions coming to us from the White House press briefing.

Bringing back Chris Cillizza and Dana Bash to talk about what we just heard.

A few things to talk about, of course. Israel. I want to start with ZTE, this China corporation that's getting special treatment from the U.S. in the face of sanctions.

But let's talk about these comments by a White House aide about John McCain, dismissing his criticism of the president's CIA pick because "he's dying any way." She said, Kelly Sadler, she would apologize publicly. She has not. And what we heard over and over from Raj Shah, this is being dealt with internally. How, we don't know, but that's what he said.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Who cares if it's being dealt with internally?


BASH: It's not about internal, it's external. That's the whole point. The point is, to make clear to the public that a conversation you're having in and around the Trump White House, where this kind of remark is made, which she clearly regrets, given the fact that she called Meghan McCain, make it public. And at the end of the day, I think we have a pretty good sense of why it's not public. Because Donald Trump doesn't apologize. And let's just say she did apologize publicly. Then you made this observation while we were watching. Every single time, something of this ilk happens, the question at the briefing will be, will Kelly Sadler apologize?

KEILAR: Why shouldn't the president.

BASH: Why shouldn't the president? That is not an excuse, just an explanation.

[14:45:02] KEILAR: And that's a reality. I mean, if she were to apologize, and then you have President Trump saying anything like that, of course, that's going to be the measure, so what's not acceptable for a lower level aide is somehow acceptable for the president? He doesn't lead by example? The answer to that question is, no, he doesn't.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: No. Especially now. I think that's possible that when the story broke, which is Thursday, Thursday-ish, if Kelly Sadler put out a statement that said, I made a terribly insensitive attempt at a joke, I regret it. Wouldn't have been a great story for them, but it would have been over. I don't know that we would be having this conversation about what it means for Donald Trump's inability or unwillingness to apologize. But now, this - "it's an internal matter" defense is ridiculous. And Peter Alexander, who asked a question in there, that's the right one, is there any situation in which expressing views like the one that Kelly Sadler, which no one denies she expressed.

KEILAR: Can we just be clear? Raj Shah's point was, you should, anyone, should be able to have --

CILLIZZA: Feel free to speak.

KEILAR: -- a conversation at work and know that it's not going to become public. That's when he said what you're explaining?

CILLIZZA: Right, so the reporter says, is it ever appropriate to talk in these terms. It's an internal matter I'm not going to get into it. This is ridiculous. That's like saying you can express racist views, as long as they're expressed internally. It's not accurate. This is the president of the United States, this is a staffer for the president of the United States who theoretically works for the people of this country. So when you do things like this you don't get to hide behind, it's an internal matter, it's not how it does work, and it's definitely not how it should work.

BASH: The idea is that John McCain has a sense of humor and he's said some off-color things. Maybe not like this, but he said things he later had to apologize for. He and his family would understand it. This should not be something we are talking about. They are prolonging, and they are making -- prolonging this issue, and making it even bigger unnecessarily so.

KEILAR: She will also -- this is what she will carry forever, this staff. This is sort of the scandal that will be around --

CILLIZZA: And it's not --

KEILAR: -- just around her for some time, it's --


CILLIZZA: And it's not just -- I think people have a tendency when these things crop up, you, media, you just want to make them apologize. I would remind people that Lindsey Graham, lots of other Republican Senators, Republican elected officials have said, this is appalling, this is something we should not do. It should have never been mentioned. It should be apologized for. This is not the three of us saying you should apologize. This is a broad spectrum. And the reason why not, always comes back, it starts at the top. Donald Trump sets the tone by which a joke in air quotes is acceptable. And he makes it so that you can't just say, sorry, I said a dumb thing, like we've all said at varying levels of dumb things in our lives, I shouldn't have said it. Because the president doesn't ever say sorry, it's very hard then to justify a staffer saying I'm sorry.

KEILAR: Change of subject now. Talking about the unveiling of the American embassy in Jerusalem that had previously been in Tel Aviv. This is something a lot of presidents have campaigned on but haven't actually did, the president did it. And the way they were describing it in the briefing to reporters you had this split screen. That's what we saw as this was happening, Jared Kushner speaking. You're seeing protests around, not far at all from where this was going on. Specifically in Gaza where it got very violent. And you're looking at dozens of deaths. Raj Shah saying, this is Hamas. They cynically and intentionally provoked this response. Someone followed up a little later with, these were rocks met with gunfire, and again he goes, Hamas.

BASH: True. This is -- again, how many times have we unfortunately tragically heard those questions and that kind of answer rom American administrations? And I think, at the end of the day, the reason is, because this is, to borrow a term from Raj Shah, extremely complex. He was talking about China, but I'll apply it here. They're both, they're all right. Hamas is instigating this. And at the same time, they might be using rocks versus guns. It doesn't make it right. There's no easy answer, which is why the critics of the Trump administration of making this decision -- of moving the embassy say you are making it harder to make a very, very difficult situation that's been going on for generations even more difficult.

[14:50:13] CILLIZZA: So much of this is tied into Donald Trump's belief that politicians of the past, Democrats and Republicans, have promised things on the campaign trail and refused to do them because they're politically difficult. So much of this is promise made, promise kept. That's what he operates under. He also operates under unorthodoxy. This is unorthodox. I would say, if we were sitting here talking about six months ago and talking about Rocket Man and "my nuclear button is bigger than yours," I would not have said, I bet this will lead to a historic summit in Singapore between Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump.

BASH: The other thing --

CILLIZZA: It's worth noting that unorthodoxy does sometimes yield results.

BASH: This is unorthodoxy on the whole issue of the Middle East. Donald Trump and people who are representing him in Israel and the United States cannot stand the idea of what they call a moral equivalency. How can you blame Israel for doing what they're doing, when they believe that Hamas is 10 times worse, because they do terrorist acts and use kids as human shields, and so forth? And those are the people who believe that, who helped get Donald Trump elected. Especially with the money people like Adelson.

KEILAR: Dana Bash, Chris Cillizza, thank you so much to both of you.


KEILAR: Next, we're going to go live to the region. A historic moment met with deadly clashes as the U.S. and Israel celebrate the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Hear what the president's son-in-law said at the ceremony. And we'll discuss next.


[14:55:50] KEILAR: We're back now with breaking news as Donald Trump's campaign promise has just become a reality. The historic opening of a new U.S. embassy and America's recognition of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. This is a move contested by Palestinians and many in the Arab world. Israel basking in glory while simultaneously fighting deadly battles as thousands of Palestinian protesters rally at the border between Gaza and Israel. At least 55 people have been killed, making this the deadliest day since the 2014 Gaza war.

This violent scene playing out miles away from where the president's daughter and son-in-law stood.


JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP ADVISOR & SON-IN-LAW OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American embassy, once in office, this president delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.


KEILAR: A video message from the president, playing at the ceremony.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital. Yet for many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel's capital is Jerusalem.


KEILAR: Joining me now, Daniel Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration.

Ambassador, this clear demonstration, do you think this is a Trump doctrine, this go-it-alone foreign policy that is based on making good on promises?

DANIEL SHAPIRO, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL & SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I don't think I want to give the president credit for a doctrine that governs all of his foreign policy, which is very unpredictable and haphazard and not well staffed. I do support the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is Israel's capital and has been since Israel's founding. The embassy is located in west Jerusalem. The idea of establishing our embassy there is reasonable, plausible, and should have been accompanied by some additional clarity that the two- state solution that the president would want to achieve, the ultimate deal, would give Palestinians the opportunity to establish their capital in east Jerusalem. He hasn't done that. He could have done it before. He still could do it now.

KEILAR: While you support this move, you feel like this should have been part of a larger comprehensive approach, really part of a series of actions moving towards peace in the region?

SHAPIRO: Indeed. It's reasonable to bust the myths that sometimes there's traffic on the Palestinian side that there's no historic Jewish or Israeli connection to Jerusalem, that's the positive about establishing the embassy in west Jerusalem. However, there's another myth that there's such a thing to the end of this conflict without a Palestinian state being established. What was lacking, there was the whole context of that decision. The strategic objective is not where our embassy is established, as important as that is. The strategic objective is to end this conflict. That's only a two-state solution. The Palestinians will also have needs met in the situation.

KEILAR: We're seeing these scenes play out on the Israel Gaza border. Violent scenes as protesters there heading for a fence that separates Gaza from Israel have been met with gunfire. We know at this point more than 50 people have died. When you see this scene, does this tell you anything about the long-term prospects for peace under this administration? Is this a sign that there's no hope?

SHAPIRO: Well, in fairness to the administration, they inherited a difficult situation, in which both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are simply not equipped to have negotiations. The Palestinian Authority is led by Mahmoud Abbas, who has a rivalry with Hamas. The Israeli leadership, Prime Minister Netanyahu, a very right-wing government. Many people who oppose a two-state solution. And he has corruption investigations which limits his flexibility. And Hamas continues to control Gaza. So this is a very difficult situation. I wouldn't expect negotiations to be achieved even with the most well-put administration. Obviously, these --