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First Lady Recovering in Hospital from Kidney Procedure; Trump: Leakers are 'Traitors and Cowards'; Protests Expected to Turn Violent Again in Gaza. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- at this hour after undergoing a procedure for a benign kidney condition, we're told. But there are still more questions than answers. The White House has offered very few details about exactly what is wrong, and it is not clear why Mrs. Trump would need to remain in the hospital for the rest of the week.

[07:00:17] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, the White House is still refusing to apologize for an aide's morbid joke mocking Senator John McCain's health. Instead, the president is zeroing in on leakers around him, calling them, quote, "traitors and cowards."

All of this as Israel faces international criticism after nearly 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza protests. The White House is standing by Israel, blaming the terror group Hamas for the tragic violence.

Let's start our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, live at the White House with our top story. Kaitlan, good morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, David, the first lady is in the White House [SIC] this morning, recovering from -- excuse me, in the hospital this morning, recovering that kidney illness.

Aides are being tightlipped about the details surrounding her medical procedure, but they are insisting that she is recovering without any trouble at a military hospital outside of Washington.

President Trump remained at the White House during that procedure yesterday, but he did go and visit the first lady for a little over an hour last night.


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first lady underwent a long-planned medical procedure, and I'm pleased to report the procedure was a success, and Melania is already on the mend.

COLLINS (voice-over): First lady Melania Trump is recovering after undergoing an embolization procedure at Walter Reed Medical Center to treat what her office describes as a benign kidney condition. The first lady's communications director offering limited details about the procedure but noting that Mrs. Trump will likely remain at the hospital until the end of the week. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: An embolization

procedure, it's not really surgery. It's basically threading this catheter near this -- near the kidney and injecting a glue-type substance to try and stop blood flow to an area of the kidney where this abnormality is.

COLLINS: It's the most serious medical procedure a first lady has undergone while in the White House in over 30 years, since Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy in October of 1987.

The procedure coming as the first lady's popularity continues to grow as she takes on a more prominent role in the White House. Mrs. Trump hosted the administration's first state dinner with the president and first lady of France last month.

And last week, she joined the president in welcoming home three Americans who had been detained in North Korea after unveiling her official Be Best platform focused on helping children.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The three main pillars of Be Best will include wellbeing, social media use and opioid abuse.

COLLINS: President Trump wasn't at the hospital during his wife's procedure, but he visited with her for over an hour last night, tweeting that the procedure was a success and that Mrs. Trump is in good spirits.

But before commenting on the first lady, the president lashing out at his own staff for recent White House leaks, tweeting, "Leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are."

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: It's not so much leaking as using the media to shiv each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you expect personnel changes as a result?

CONWAY: I do. Actually, yes, I do.

COLLINS: The president's criticism coming as the White House continues to refuse to apologize for White House aide Kelly Sadler's crass remark about Senator John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not just apologize so America doesn't think that that is an acceptable way of speaking inside this White House?

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I understand the focus on this issue, but it's going to be dealt with and has been dealt with internally.


COLLINS: Now the White House has threatened to go after leakers before, but it's actually incredibly difficult, because dozens of senior White House officials speak to reporters on a daily basis. At times, even President Trump himself speaking to reporters. President Trump will be on Capitol Hill today for the first time since

that remark that Kelly Sadler made was revealed to the media. He's going to attend the Senate Republican lunch. Now, Senator John McCain will not be at that lunch, but several of his allies who believe that the White House mishandled this entire situation will be.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan. Thank you very much for the reporting.

Let's discuss it. We want to bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

A.B., let me start with you. It's hard to know how much to worry about the first lady, because we don't have a lot of details. But -- and some of it sounds quite benign. OK, a procedure. Sure, we get it. It's -- they're making it sound like it's, you know, nothing to be that concerned about. She went in. The president wasn't even there for the procedure.

But then we hear things like, "and she'll be in the hospital for the rest of the week." I mean, after a C-section you're thrown out two days later. So, you know, it's hard to know what we're being told out of the White House about her condition.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. Well, I do think that Dr. Sanjay Gupta initially was saying and describing this procedure, which he described as pretty routine, that you do need to stay still. And it might be out of an abundance of caution that she's staying a few extra days.

I don't think, you know, we should be speculating on whether or not she's in -- has a condition that's more dangerous. She's an extremely private person. And I think that is probably very hard for her. It sounds like it was scheduled, and she had to put this off until after she organized the entire state dinner for the Macrons, you know, executed the dinner, launched her Be Best initiative and had these other occasions in the spotlight, which she does not prefer to be in and she probably has been putting this off.

And if it requires further treatment, she's such a private person, I imagine she just doesn't want us to know that yet.


STODDARD: And so that's something we have to all hope that she heals well and quickly, but we have to just respect the fact that this is a person who's the polar opposite of her husband and really intends to be out of the spotlight and out of the news as much as possible.

GREGORY: And John, pretty arguably uncomfortable with this role as first lady, particularly, when there's been so much in -- in the press, you know, about her marriage and about her husband's activity that's just awful.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that's why there's a lot of sympathy for Melania Trump, the first lady. Her approval numbers are well ahead of her husband's. Now that tends to be a pattern with presidents and first ladies.

But I think Trump has created a problem for her in this -- at this moment, too, because of his lack of transparency and forthcomingness about his health. You know, the dictating of a clean bill of health during the campaign to Dr. Bornstein, which we found out after the fact, immortalized by Martin Short, I should say.

GREGORY: Yes, that's what I was thinking.

AVLON: But I could see you thinking that. But look, obviously, we wish her well. There's plenty of precedent for first ladies getting medical procedures and being relatively private about them, finding out about them after the fact. And we all wish her well. But that also is about what we should do when health concerns come up. This is something that transcends politics.

And I think the other thing waiting in the wings of the contrast between the White House staff about John McCain's illness and the well wishes we all should give the first lady.

CAMEROTA: We will get to that momentarily. But first, A.B., so the president calls leakers in the White House "traitors and cowards." But there are a lot of them, and so, you know, there's the age-old debate, are you a traitor if you're a leaker, or a whistleblower? Here is how Kellyanne Conway sums it up.


CONWAY: Some leaks exist to hurt, I guess colleagues. Some leaks exist because they disagree with the policies that are being put forth, but none of them are helpful.

And I will tell you something else that's gone on in this White House but not as badly as it was at the beginning, where it's not so much as leaking as using the media to shiv each other. And that was going on quite a bit at the beginning of this administration, and it's less so now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you expect personnel changes as a result?

CONWAY: I do, actually. Yes, I do.


CAMEROTA: A.B., how should we see all of the leaks that come out of the this White House?

STODDARD: Well, first of all, I don't expect personnel changes. Because they've threatened to get rid of people before and hunt down the leakers and, you know, punish them, and it hasn't yet happened.

We know that people have leaked from the top to the bottom, as you mentioned, including President Trump, who frequently speaks off the record with reporters.

And there's two kinds here. I think we've seen people leak, very serious leak out of the Oval Office from NSA employees about the president speaking to Russian officials about him firing FBI Director James Comey.

And we've seen leaks that are just staff sort of, you know, this retribution, and they do leak to shiv each other as Kellyanne described.

But there's these leaks about whether or not the president was going to withdraw troops from South Korea, and John Kelly had to talk him down. Really major policy decisions that they have to pull him back from. The time that he wanted to pull out of NAFTA a year ago, and leaks came out that Ivanka and Jared had to get Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, to get President Trump to sort of calm down and not pull the trigger on that.

So, there are often these kinds of leaks that people inside the White House want us to believe are whistleblowing leaks, that they're trying to save the country with, and that they're forced to do in the name of steadying the ship.

I just don't see anything changing, though. This is a pattern from day one, and I don't see people getting fired for it.

GREGORY: You know, John, I think it's important to point out, as somebody who's covered the White House what kind of thing happens. They're hardly unique here. I mean, the Clinton White House used to leak a lot. There were designated people whose job it was to leak and work over certain media figures to get a story out to massage and manipulate.

CAMEROTA: But this much?

GREGORY: The Reagan White House leaked a lot. I think there's a gossipy aspect to this which reflects how there's a breakdown in discipline, because people feel like they want to try to influence policy, correct mistakes.

[07:10:07] And you do have a president who, it's not just tone. You said that before. I think that's absolutely true. He not only leaks to the press, but he is also talking to outsiders. And he's -- he wants to operate in a very transparent way, even without his name, in the public domain.

AVLON: In this way, Donald Trump is radically transparent. I mean, the Twitter feed itself is like Nixon tapes in real time. It's amazing. You get to see what's happening.

GREGORY: What's in his head.

AVLON: And that's -- that's wonderful. I hope he never stops for the good of the republic.

But people are -- look, all administrations leak. Some more than others. Tone does come from the top. Some of the leaks in Washington are, you know, shockingly self-interested. Some prevent defense on policy and others legitimately are whistleblowers. A.B. mentioned the leak from the Oval when the president is talking to the Russian foreign minister the day after firing Comey.


AVLON: Yes, that is a breach of national security protocol. I would also argue that is very much at the level of whistleblower, given that he's talking to, you know, the foreign power which attempted to influence our elections on his behalf about why he fired the FBI director.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic. Let's talk about this ongoing controversy with the White House aide, Kelly Sadler, who made the nasty joke about John McCain.

Can I take the White House's position for a moment, A.B.?

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's do this. Let's do this exercise. Isn't this an internal -- an internal matter? She didn't say this publicly. She said this in a meeting. It was leaked. And who are we in the press to tell the White House how to deal with an internal nasty joke?

STODDARD: Well, it's not really up to the media at this point. The son -- I mean, the daughter of John McCain, Meghan McCain, told the public that she's been apologized to and that she requested a public apology and hasn't got one and is waiting for one and can't believe that Kelly Sadler still has her job. That's a pretty important point here.

Cindy McCain, the wife of John McCain, weighed in on Twitter about this. This is a family in a deep amount of pain and suffering.

And then now you see, I think a little late, but Republican colleagues in the Senate coming around and saying publicly, "Wow, can't believe this is in day five, and you guys aren't doing the right thing."

And so there's the pressure is coming from the allies and friends and colleagues of John McCain, and that makes it a media story in day five or six. The White House has made it clear we know that the culture of the White House is that you're not allowed to apologize. President Trump sees that as a sign of weakness. And he -- and you will get in trouble if you apologize for anything without his approval.

GREGORY: And that's -- and that's --

STODDARD: He has refused to honor and acknowledge John McCain's heroism from day one. And we know that, as well.

CAMEROTA: Yes. There's bad blood.

STODDARD: And I think that Raj was forced to come out and use the word "internal" 12 times or whatever he did because they want to rebrand this episode as a leak matter.

AVLON: But they're fundamentally misreading the problem. The outrage is not that there was a leak. That may be of an operational concern to them, and that's their prerogative to deal with it.

But the fundamental outrage is that a member of the White House staff dissed a senator dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis, who is an American hero of his own party. And the reason they haven't apologized is this apparently has the benediction of the president in private.


AVLON: That's the outrage. The leaking problem is a separate operational issue. And to try to flip that script speaks to, I think, the disconnect between the White House and basic decency.

GREGORY: Right. There's also -- this is actually kind of simple. I mean, I would tell the White house what you do is you say, "You know, we really wish this kind of stuff wasn't leaked, but this was clearly over the line. We've had our problems with John McCain, but this is completely unacceptable."

What I don't understand is why the chief of staff, General Kelly, who has no problem lecturing the press about how to handle military families, doesn't come out and say this is just over the line.

So anyway, we're going to leave it there. A.B., John, thank you very much.

Meantime, these violent protests are flaring up again in the Palestinian territories this morning, following the deadliest day in Gaza in four years, as Israel and the White House blame Hamas for Monday's bloodshed.

CNN's Ian Lee live in Gaza with the latest on the ground there -- Ian.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David.

We're following the protests here today. So far there's been dozens of people at this camp that we've seen. They have lit some tires on fire. We've seen the drones overhead responding with tear gas.

And one person looks like was shot and taken away by the ambulance.

You know, it isn't the same numbers, though, that we saw yesterday. We're still expecting more people to come out after these funerals which are taking place right about now. But other places along this border, we're monitoring them, as well.

What these protesters are doing is they're getting close to that border, and that's when we see that tear gas and fire. And that's what really created yesterday's death toll, that 60 people killed, including eight children. One of those children was an infant, months old, that died from tear gas, asphyxiation.

[07:15:09] Today, though, we're expecting more people to slowly come out here. But you are having these kind of war of words. The White House blaming Hamas for this. Hamas says the blood is on the hands of the Americans. But when you talk to people, they say they're frustrated with the situation in Gaza. It's been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt for over a decade. They're also frustrated with the U.S. embassy move. They say that they're just not being heard. But they say that, you know, they'll continue to come up -- come out here to vent that anger -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ian Lee, thank you very much for reporting on the ground for us.

Meanwhile, the White House, as you know, is targeting leakers instead of apologizing for that joke from an aide about Senator John McCain's health. So what will make this go away? We debate that next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump blasting the media over leaks coming from his White House. He calls the leakers "traitors and cowards." The White House still refuses to apologize for the leaked comment by that aide, who mocked Senator John McCain's health.

[07:20:10] So let's bring in CNN political commentator Ana Navarro; and Amy Kremer. She is co-chair of Women Vote Trump.

Ladies, thank you very much for being here. So Amy, the White House calls this insult from an aide about John McCain's health an internal matter. Do you think it requires a public apology?

AMY KREMER, WOMEN VOTE TRUMP: Alisyn, I actually don't. I think that Kelly Sadler already called Meghan McCain and apologized to her and the family; and I think it should be left at that. You know --

CAMEROTA: Just on that -- sorry to interrupt, but just on that note, it sounds like Meghan McCain was promised or said she was promised a public apology and was hoping for that.

KREMER: Well, it was an internal conversation. And we don't know exactly what was said there. I -- I believe that probably what was happening was a discussion about whipping votes or vote counting on Gina Haspel's nomination to head the CIA, and Kelly Sadler probably made the comment that he's dying. And that -- there's truth to that.

And also, I want to say, you know, you're talking about days before that you're in the media talking about who's invited to John McCain's funeral, which I think is an odd conversation to have anyway.

CAMEROTA: Well, we're not joking about it. OK, we're not joking about it. Everybody understands how dire the situation is.

KREMER: But you don't know for sure that Kelly Sadler was joking about it either. She was probably making a matter-of-fact statement, which is the truth, and it was leaked to the press as she was joking about it.

CAMEROTA: You don't believe that report?

KREMER: I don't know how that could be taken as funny. I don't know how it could be taken as funny, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK.

KREMER: I mean, I don't know how anybody could seriously take that as funny.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ana, go ahead.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, you know, I'm dying. Amy, you're dying. We're all dying.

KREMER: We all are.

NAVARRO: We just don't know when. And I think, frankly, what's happening here is that the White House is irritated that John McCain is not dying of cancer; he's living with cancer. And he is choosing to make every single day on this earth something that's meaningful and counts. And he is still confronting Donald Trump for his outrageous -- he is still speaking conscience and conviction and principle. He's reminding Republicans what we used to be.

It's very irritating, I suspect, to the White House on this torture issue, because McCain speaks with a moral certitude that few can. That of a man who was actually tortured for years, who has experienced it in his own bones and his own skin and has got the literal scars to show for it.

So no, John McCain is not dying with cancer; he is living with cancer. And all of us are dying. And for you to continue saying that when you know how hurtful it is to the family, is something that I don't understand. But well, you know, we all have the First Amendment right.

I do think that the White House should have apologized, because I think there's a lot of people who have lost friends, loved ones to cancer.


NAVARRO: Who are living today with people who have terminal illnesses and, you know, it's just -- it's hurtful. It's offensive.

KREMER: And I --

CAMEROTA: Go ahead. You can respond, Amy.

NAVARRO: It's not some corporation.

KREMER: I just want to say, first of all, as somebody whose father is suffering with liver cancer right now, I understand. I can imagine what this family thinks.

But if it were me and somebody said something that hurt my feelings or hurt my mother's feelings, and they came to me and apologized, I wouldn't ask them to go make a big deal out of it to the public. That's not necessary here. What matters is that she gave a heartfelt apology to the family. That's my personal belief. And I think the whole thing should be dropped. I don't think that we

should continue on with this. I don't know why the press is such in a frenzy over it. Just let it go.

CAMEROTA: Well, do you think that -- I understand. But Amy, do you think it would have gone away if, on the first or second day, she had apologized publicly?

KREMER: I don't know. I mean, I honestly -- probably, but I don't know.

And the other thing I would say, Alisyn and Ana, is honestly, I mean, if somebody doesn't want to apologize, why would you want to force them to apologize? Don't tell me you're sorry if you truly don't mean it.

CAMEROTA: If it's not genuine. Yes, I hear you. I think that that's a good point. So Ana --

NAVARRO: I think that's a perfect point, too.

CAMEROTA: But what does make this go away? We are stuck in this -- in this loop, because it doesn't feel satisfying. We don't know what the internal, what action has been taken. Is this OK? Is this tone OK in the White House? So how -- what does make this go away, Ana?

NAVARRO: Look, I don't know that it goes away, because it seems that it goes away momentarily and then it comes back.

Part of the reason that they really can't apologize is because Donald Trump has done much of the same. Donald Trump has been attacking John McCain with cancer, without cancer. He was a POW. He served this country since the age of 17. He is a national hero, who John -- who Donald Trump has been attacking and calling a loser and saying he doesn't like him, and he was only a hero because he was captured from day one, practically of his campaign.

He continued attacking and mocking him and leading chants against him at CPAC, at rallies in Arizona, even after the cancer diagnosis.

[07:25:09] So why can't they apologize? Because then Donald Trump would have to apologize. Donald Trump has called John McCain's family, as well, and promised he would never do it again and apologized. And has gone out and done it again. So, of course, it is a tone. Of course they can't apologize. It comes from the top. It stinks from the top.

KREMER: And can I -- I want to add something to this.

Yesterday when the news broke about Melania, two minutes before, I had a breaking news alert about Harry Reid on my phone. Two minutes later, the news alert came about Melania being in the hospital. As of this morning, right before we went on air, John McCain had tweeted to Harry Reid to get better. Not one tweet to Melania.

So the bad blood goes both ways. Don't pretend that this is only going one way, because it's not.

CAMEROTA: Do you think, Amy, that the tone comes from top and that the president sets the tone in the White House?

KREMER: I do think the president sets the tone in the White House. Yes, I do.

CAMEROTA: And so when there's a nasty tone, do you think it's the president's responsibility to try to fix that?

KREMER: I don't think that -- the president -- the president didn't say this. If it was said, it was said by Kelly Sadler, and she apologized. And I think that that is sufficient for her to call and give a private apology to the family. It was not a public statement. It should have never been leaked.

And she was, in fact, doing her job, talking about vote counting. She made a matter-of-fact statement. I mean, that's all there is to it. I don't think she was joking about it. I don't know how you could make it into a joke. And I think it's shameful that anybody would go and leak something like this. But it just shows that people are out for themselves and not about what's best for the country.

CAMEROTA: I'm curious about that. What do you think it shows that this White House leaks so much, Amy?

KREMER: I mean, I think it shows that people are out for themselves. I think that, you know, that it -- they get attention. They leak for numerous reasons. I don't think it's helpful. And I think it's shameful. And whoever is doing it, if they were caught, I think they should be fired. I don't imagine it's helpful to your country, when there's so much other stuff going on in the world right now and so many things that we should be focused on, and to be focused on something like this, it's absolutely ridiculous. And I think that the country and the people in this country deserve better.

CAMEROTA: Ana, last word. We only have 15 seconds.

NAVARRO: Look, people leak because they want to make a point about having been in the room. It's an ego boost.

But also in this case because there's no loyalty. Most politicians have a team of loyalists that have been with them for years if not decades. Donald Trump doesn't. He's got a bunch of people who are clawing all over themselves to see who's on top and who gets on top. We have seen this kind of drama. We have seen back stabbing in this White House from day one.

And Donald Trump's tweet yesterday was laughable. The first part of the tweet he says, "Oh, these are minor things. It's not really a leak. It's all made up by the press. But damn it, if we catch those leakers, those cowards and those traitors, we're going to get them."

So which is it? Are there leaks or are there traitors and leakers? It makes no sense.

KREMER: I think there's both. I think there's both.

CAMEROTA: All right. On that note, Ana Navarro, Amy Kremer, thank you both very much for your perspectives.

KREMER: Thank you.


GREGORY: Alisyn, thanks.

The White House is blaming Hamas for the deadly violence in Gaza. What are Palestinians saying about the deadly confrontations? We will talk to a former legal adviser to the president of the Palestinian Authority, coming up next.