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Dozens Killed in Protests; Middle East Peace; Furious about White House Leaks; Trump Saving Chinese Jobs. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 14, 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] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 1:00 a.m. Tuesday in Beijing.
Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We start with the breaking news. Massive, deadly protests in Gaza along the Israeli border as the U.S. breaks with decades of tradition and officially opens its embassy in Jerusalem. The move making an already combustible region a bit more volatile on this day. The Palestinian health ministry says at least 52 Palestinians have died, more than 2,000 others were injured in today's clashes. About 50 miles away in Jerusalem, a campaign promise fulfilled for President Trump and a foreign policy win for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a new U.S. embassy was officially unveiled. President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, praised the decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SENIOR ADVISER: 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.
When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN has a team of reporters standing by across the region.
Let's start with Elise Labott. She's joining us from Jerusalem.
Elise, President Trump can count this as a campaign promise fulfilled.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and very popular here in Israel for that move. The streets of Jerusalem covered with signs that say "Trump is a friend of Israel," "Trump will make Israel great again." And that was really the theme of the ceremony, about President Trump delivering on that message about the unshakeable bond between Israel and the United States.
President Trump addressing the crowd by video, getting a standing ovation, as did Jared Kushner when he talked about this move. And I think he tried to straddle the fact that the Israelis are so emotional and jubilant about this move. After 70 years, their close ally acknowledging Jerusalem as their capital, but knowing this is a crushing blow to Palestinians. Both President Trump and Jared Kushner making a nod to the fact that they hope Jerusalem can be a city of peace and that they will recognize the status quo of the holy sites of Jerusalem, which are home to the most holy sites of not only Judaism but Christianity and Islam, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by.
I want to get to CNN's Ian Lee. He's right in the thick of the protests that have been going on now for hours in Gaza, along the border with Israel.
Ian, first of all, what are you seeing there now?
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the protests have died down a bit, but you said earlier, that -- 52 people have been killed. You know, this is the deadliest day since the 2014 war. This is the deadliest day since the protests began seven weeks ago. And, today, we saw why. We saw live fire being used. In certain parts we saw -- we heard heavy automatic fire. We also heard tank rounds going off as well as airstrikes.
But it all focused on that border. And at the camp we were at, there were tens of thousands of Palestinians there and all around that border. And their goal was to try to cross over that border into Israel, into lands, they say, that they lost during the 1948 war.
But Israel said, you know, Wolf, that is a red lie. They said they will not allow anyone to cross over. They say they'll use tear gas, which we saw a lot of tear gas. Drones dropping canisters of tear gas into the crowd. And then we -- they also said that if people get even closer, then that's when they'll use live ammunition.
Well, we just heard from Hamas, Wolf, and they said that all of today's blood is on the hands of the Americans.
BLITZER: All right, Ian, I want you to stand by as well.
Our correspondent Oren Liebermann is right outside Jafa (ph) Gate, the old city of Jerusalem, for us right now.
What are you seeing where you are? And tell us what's been going on in the West Bank.
OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's very obvious here that Israelis are very much celebrating on the wall of the old city here behind me. Our projections of the U.S. and Israeli flag saying, thank you, President Trump.
There have been some smaller protests in and around Jerusalem and in the West Bank as well. One even just outside that embassy as that ceremony started to officially open the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem here.
But that can't at all dampen the spirits of Israeli leaders who have seen not only last week, but this week, and essentially the time surrounding now as nothing but a pure victory. Not only did President Donald Trump withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pushing him to do, that leads into this week, the U.S. opening of the embassy. And that will continue. A royal visit coming up in June.
[13:05:14] So when Israelis look at this picture, when Netanyahu looks at the picture right now, he will certainly see this as a diplomatic and a political victory.
It's also worth pointing out that Guatemala and Paraguay, certainly two smaller countries, that they will also open their embassies in Jerusalem this week.
Wolf, as for the 52 Palestinians killed in Gaza, Netanyahu, I would say, doesn't have to worry too much about that because he knows Trump will protect him at the United Nations.
BLITZER: Oren Liebermann at the old city of Jerusalem for us.
Fred Pleitgen is joining us from Tehran right now, where a senior official said the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was, quote, speeding up the annihilation of Israel.
Fred, give us some more reaction from the Iranian government.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly was some fury here in Iran, Wolf, not just from the government, but apparently there was also a protest by students earlier today in Tehran chanting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans. And then there was that senior Iranian official you were just talking about, the head of Iran's supreme security council, and he called the measure catastrophic to move the embassy. He said it would unite Muslims. And then he said what you were just saying, that it would speed up what he called the destruction or annihilation of what the Iranians call the fake Zionist regime, obviously referring to Israel.
Also quite interesting, Iran's foreign minister, who, of course, right now is on a tour of Russia, Europe, and China to try and save that nuclear agreement that the U.S. just left, he also heavily criticized what's been happening in Gaza, saying that it was blood on the hands of the Americans and the Israelis, and then also called the embassy move illegal.
Wolf, all of this, of course, coming amid massive tensions between Israel, Iran and the United States after the U.S. left the nuclear deal, and then also, of course, after that altercation apparently between Iran and Israel in the Golan Heights on Thursday. Again, the Iranians, right now, trying to salvage the nuclear agreement. But right now a lot of fury here at the moving of that embassy. Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect it will intensify. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.
Oren Lieberman, Ian Lee, Elise Labott, thanks to you guys as well. We'll get back with you.
Joining us now, Aaron David Miller, CNN global affairs analyst, also the vice president, distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center here in Washington. Spending many years at the State Department trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
How did that work out, that peace negotiation?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I used to be a lot taller, Wolf, before I started on this project.
BLITZER: Yes, so it --
MILLER: It didn't work out so well.
BLITZER: What do you think is going to happen now that the U.S. has formally moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
MILLER: I mean I think this is a major hit to American credibility. Take the Israelis and the Palestinians out of it. And let me just say, I worked for Republicans and Democrats. I've voted for Republicans and Democrats.
But what you saw in the opening of the embassy I think is the triumph of political interest over American national interests, because this decision was unmoored and untethered to any foreign policy consideration.
The peace process is comatose. Let's be clear about that. This decision is going to make an already mission impossible that much more difficult to achieve.
BLITZER: So when Jared Kushner and the president and other U.S. officials insist this will actually help the peace process because it accepts reality, Jerusalem is Israel's capital, you say?
MILLER: Well, the problem is the peace process -- Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is more than one hand clapping. And the reality is, even though that statement last December referred to the fact that the final status borders and status cities open for negotiation. The fact is the Israelis have laid claim to the entire city. They are doing everything they possibly can, I think, to make a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem possible. And the Trump administration is acquiescing.
So, again, the -- don't get me wrong, the embassy of the United States of America belongs in west Jerusalem. It's one of the probably only countries in the world in which we do not maintain a diplomatic presence in the preferred capital of the host country. But it belongs there, either in the context of a negotiated settlement or some statement by the administration that acknowledges the fact that the -- Israel is not the only party that has an association, a bond and a claim to -- to this city. And that to me has been -- has gone on holy (ph) and reckless (ph).
BLITZER: Some U.S. officials continue to insist -- and you tell me if you think this is realistic -- that if there ever is a two-state solution, Israel, alongside the new state of Palestine, the Israelis will have their capital in west Jerusalem, but the Palestinians potentially could have their capital in east Jerusalem, the U.S. could have an embassy in west Jerusalem for the Israelis and in east Jerusalem for the Palestinians.
MILLER: That's exactly where it should go. Absolutely. And had the Trump administration -- and they're still -- perhaps there's still time when, in fact, the Kushner initiative -- Trump initiative is put on the table, 30 pages of a very detailed peace plan, the administration should basically make that unmistakably clear, that in the context of negotiations leading to two states, the United States is prepared to put an embassy, its embassy, representing the United States to the putative state of Palestine in east Jerusalem. That would certain go a long way. Other issues to be resolved, no trust and confidence between Netanyahu and Abbas. But in a minimum, Jerusalem is not off the table, Wolf. Jerusalem has become the table.
[13:10:17] BLITZER: But the Trump administration -- the Trump administration hasn't necessarily ruled that out, have they?
MILLER: They haven't.
BLITZER: I mean they still potentially are open to that possibility.
MILLER: They -- under defense (ph) there's -- there's the --
BLITZER: The Israelis may not like it, but the Trump administration still seems to leave that door slightly open.
MILLER: Right. And if the logic were logic of one of my former bosses, Jim Baker, he might say, sure, let's apply as much honey as we can to the Israelis during this phase of the negotiation so that when you have to apply the vinegar, which are the difficult choices Israel has to make, no Israeli prime minister will be able to say no to Donald Trump because the U.S. has its back. But I'm not entirely sure that's the strategy.
BLITZER: One development that hasn't really received a whole lot of attention, except from experts like you in the -- in the region, is this emerging relationship behind the scenes that are developing between the Israelis, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Bahrainis, and, of course with Jordan and Egypt. That seems to be a major new development, the result of their -- their united antipathy toward the Iranians.
MILLER: And Sunni jihadis. I would argue, Wolf, that if you asked me what was new in the region about the pursuit of Israel-Palestinian peace, it would be that confluence of interest between Israel, the Emiratis, the Saudis, now with two peace treaties, Israel and Egypt, Israel and Jordan, you do have a constellation of forces. The question is whether or not the Arab states are prepared to press the Palestinians and support them and reach out to the Israelis publicly. Because to do this deal, it's got to be regional -- it's got to be a regional deal.
BLITZER: So, is it going to happen?
MILLER: I mean nobody ever lost money betting against Arab-Israeli peace, Wolf. And I think the chances of a two-state resolution right now, what's the date? Today's May 14th?
MILLER: The 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel. The chances of a two-state solution are slim to none.
BLITZER: Really. That's pretty depressing.
MILLER: It is indeed. I depress myself all the time.
BLITZER: Yes. Yes. All right, well, thanks very much, Aaron David Miller --
BLITZER: With that depressing analysis. Let's see what happens.
Up next, still no public apology over the rather vulgar remark regarding Senator John McCain. And now the White House is looking to turn the script, calling leaks the real issue at hand.
Plus, an about face from the America first president. Why President Trump is now aiming to save a major Chinese company from a U.S. business ban, citing concerns about Chinese jobs.
And the U.S. Supreme Court rules today, striking down a federal law that bans sports betting. New details.
Stay with us.
[13:16:57] BLITZER: It's looking more and more like a broken promise. A source tells CNN that the White House aide, Kelly Sadler, promised Meghan McCain she would apologize publicly for mocking her father's health. Sadler joked Senator John McCain is, quote, dying anyway, in response to his opposition against President Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel. McCain is battling, as you know, brain cancer. And as of today, there's been no public apology from Sadler or from the White House for that matter.
Meghan McCain talked about the controversy on "The View" earlier this morning and alluded to those who have defend Sadler on TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: People are going to have to answer for their own conscience. When you go on TV -- I've never actually gotten on TV and lied. I have that liberty in my life. And I think when you go on TV and you say things like this, you belief in right and wrong, people espouse a lot about God and living with values. And when you say things like that, it's what you're going to have to live with at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Members of the president's own party also condemned the remark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a pretty disgusting thing to say. If it was a joke, it was a terrible joke. I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that's not who we are in the Trump administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Trump administration officials, however, don't see it that way, including a member of the president's cabinet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: You have to have some freedom to speak in a private meeting, to speak candidly. We've all said things in private, especially in smaller groups that we work with, that we would never say publicly.
I think she's handled it appropriately. I'm really disappointed that -- that someone would undermine the president by leaking that out of a private meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now, our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
So, Pamela, why hasn't she apologized in public?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's clear that White House officials are digging in their heels and making this more of a leak issue than an issue with the comment that this White House aide, Kelly Sadler, made in this meeting saying that it was essentially immaterial that John McCain opposed Gina Haspel as the CIA director because he's dying anyway. As you just saw there from -- from one of the White House officials there, that they're making this about, hey, how did this leak come out of this meeting. That is the real issue at hand here.
And this is a White House, Wolf, as you know, that rarely, if ever, apologizes. But that doesn't take away the fact that a source tells my colleague, Jake Tapper, that Kelly Sadler spoke to Meghan McCain, of course the daughter of John McCain, and said that she would publicly apologize for making this comment. It's been days since the revelation, since the news of her comment came out in the public, and she has still not publicly apologized, and she is still an employee here at the White House.
So when the White House briefing starts here shortly, it's supposed to start at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, Raj Shah, the deputy press secretary, will be asked, why hasn't there been a public apology, particularly if Kelly Sadler made a promise to Meghan McCain that she would come out and publicly apologize, condemning the comment she made in this meeting, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it shouldn't be that hard. She apologized in private that conversation -- phone conversation with Meghan McCain. I don't understand why it's such a big deal for her to say publicly what she's already said privately.
[13:20:07] We'll monitor that briefing, of course, at the top of the hour.
Another sensitive story we're following right now, Pamela, in a tweet, the president vowed to find a way for the Chinese telecom company, ZTE, to get back into business fast. Just last month the administration blocked American firms from selling to ZTE because the Chinese company had violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
So why the change? It's pretty dramatic that the president is now trying to help create jobs in China.
BROWN: Particularly when this is a president who has said that China is taking away jobs from American workers. It is somewhat perplexing, Wolf, that then he would tweet out and say, look, they're losing too many jobs with this company and he wants to work with President Xi to basically give a lifeline to this telecommunications company that once relied on American software to help make its telecommunications mechanics.
And so it is -- does raise the question, why did the president tweet this out? Of course it comes ahead of some big trade talks here in Washington later this week. It also begs the question, Wolf, whether the president consulted his own intelligence community before tweeting this out because the intelligence community has said that this company has helped the Chinese spy on Americans.
It also raises the question about whether -- you know, how this helps the maximum pressure campaign against Iran and North Korea because this is a company who has been accused of violating the sanctions against Iran and North Korea. So by helping this company, how does it advance that effort to put maximum pressure on both Iran and North Korea?
Wolf, a lot of questions for Raj Shah coming up at this press briefing.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of questions. We'll see what he says. We'll have live coverage, of course, at the top of the hour.
Pamela, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown at the White House.
The president's move to save these Chinese jobs, by the way, and the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, there certainly, as I point out, will be a focus at today's White House press briefing. You're looking at live pictures. Lots of empty chairs right now. They'll be full at the top of the hour.
Stand by. We'll be right back.
[13:26:21] BLITZER: Live pictures coming in from the White House Briefing Room. At the top of the hour, the deputy press secretary, Raj Shah, will face reporter's questions and there are a ton of questions today for the White House. We'll have live coverage of that coming up.
Right now, though, I want to bring in our panel, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Also with us, CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade.
You know, Rachael, still no public apology from this White House official who uttered those ugly words about Senator John McCain. Do you think we're going to hear it today at the White House press briefing, they're going to say something about this, or will they hold firm and say this was a leak, we don't' talk about leaks?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, if they were smart, they would obviously clear the air. This has become a huge distraction for the White House. Last week the president had a huge week with North Korea and American hostages coming home. This leaks and of course this becomes the first story that a lot of people are talking about. And five days later, we are still talking about it.
The interesting thing to see, you know, on Capitol Hill that we're seeing more and more Republicans come out and say it's time to apologize. Lindsey Graham did it over the weekend. No surprise there. You know, he's always been critical in calling out the White House when he needs to, although he does have a good relationship with the president.
BLITZER: And He and McCain are best friends.
BADE: Exactly, yes, and he has visited him as well.
But we also saw relatively less vocal Republicans come out. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said, quote, she should show some respect and apologize. So I think it would be probably wise politically to clear the air and apologize and move on.
BLITZER: They seem to be much more concerned, you know, Karoun, about the leak as opposed to the actual words that were uttered.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I mean, the White House is focused in on the fact that they -- you know, oh, my goodness, how could our private conversations get out, which, kind of, you know, there's a lot of leaking happening from this White House. So the fact that they would get that up in arms about this is a questionable approach, but that's clearly what they're focusing on.
Look, you have to also remember that this is a White House that does not put a high value on apologies. If we think back to last summer and how long it took for the president to turn around his comments about Charlottesville. If we think back to other episodes too. And so there is just a culture where it takes a lot to get them to actually say a public, I'm sorry. And at this point, you also have to say it's been days that have gone by, how sincere will people find that I'm sorry. So they're doubling down on the leak and they're doubling down on that complaint.
BLITZER: And what's also disturbing, John, I'm sure to you as well as a veterans, the administration keeps saying they want to honor veterans, do whatever they can to help veterans. Well, John McCain is not only a veteran, but he was a war hero, spent, what, five years in a POW camp in Vietnam. And you would think that on a sensitive issue like this, the man clearly has brain cancer, he's dealing with this as best as he can, they would -- what's the big deal, why not just simply say, we made a mistake, we apologize.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I taught naval history at the academy, Wolf, many years ago. You cannot teach naval history in this country without talking about the McCain family. They are that integral to the 20th century history of the United States Navy. And he is a war hero. And you're right, this absolutely defies logic.
I was also a spokesman for much of my time in uniform and I can tell you that rule number is, when you make a mistake, you fess up, you apology and you move on. It just absolutely makes no sense that they wouldn't do this. This story would be over. It would be done. Nobody would have any reason to talk about it anymore.
DEMIRJIAN: One other element that you have to kind of bring into this is that there is tension between McCain and Trump. McCain is making a lot of very bold statements right now and he is using this position that he's in where everybody's very worried about him to talk about torture, to talk about immigration and he's directly crossing the president and the president does not take kindly to those things and essentially would not be inclined to go against his nature at this point and take your advice in this sort of a moment given that there is that tension that started over, I think, the funeral question, right, and --
BADE: Right, and could potentially derail his CIA -- his choice to be the next CIA director, right, Gina Haspel. McCain has come out against her. It's going to be a razor thin vote. And so his opposition could sway some people to also oppose her.
[13:30:11] KIRBY: I did not think it was possible for this particular president to be more small, but he