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Interview with Senator Joni Ernst; Senate Committee Releases Transcripts on 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; Trump Says He's Not Giving in to Chinese Demands; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Sarah Sanders saying the White House fully expected a threat like this from North Korea. Listen to what she said to reporters.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Your reaction to the latest threat from North Korea saying that they're not going to be boxed in to denuclearize?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this is something that we fully expected. The president is very used and ready for tough negotiations and if they want to meet we'll be ready and if they don't, that's OK, too.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As you said, this was fully expected. Did you believe that they would sort of pull back at some point or --

SANDERS: We know that this is kind of, I guess, a standard function that can often happen, and you know, we're not surprised by it, but we're going to continue moving forward.


HARLOW: All right. As North Korea threatens to back out of next month's summit, what should the next step then be for the White House? What should the president say, not just the spokesperson?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We had a chance to Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa just a little while ago. She's a member of the Armed Services Committee.


SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: Well, I think they should respond by reaching out to North Korea and to express how important it is that we make this meeting happen. I think we're on a great pathway to of course denuclearizing the peninsula, but also joining North and South Korea again in peace which is the ultimate goal.

BERMAN: You know, one of the things the president has said about Kim Jong-un during these initial discussions was that he has acted very honorably. Do you believe that this latest maneuver is acting honorably? ERNST: Well, I would say that I don't fully trust the North Koreans.

I don't know that any of us do, but we still have to go through the efforts of making sure that we're fostering discussions with North Korea, with South Korea and trying to find a pathway forward. I think that again is the ultimate goal. We want peace in that region. We want security in that region, and of course, trust is earned and we'll have to see how this goes.

HARLOW: You say you don't fully trust the North Koreans in this, and that most parties do not, but do you think that the president has been too trusting of North Korea when he said, for example, that Kim Jong- un had treated those three American detainees in an excellent manner when they finally were able to return to the United States? Is he too trusting and is he going into this clear-eyed enough?

ERNST: I think the president is going in clear eyed. I think of course he wants to be very complimentary of the North Koreans trying again to foster those discussions, but again, we can't trust them fully if we're not allowed to fully understand their government and what goes on behind that closed border, but again, I think that we are moving in the right direction and I think it is very important that we have these discussions.

I think trust, it is a two-way street. I don't know that the North Koreans fully trust us either, but again the ultimate goal is to find peace and security in that region of the world, and I think we have an opportunity to do that, and we should find a way forward.

BERMAN: Senator, if I can ask you about the Republican senator lunch that you had yesterday with President Trump. So many of you went into that meeting very upset about the fact that a White House staffer had said something offensive about John McCain, made a joke that wasn't in any way funny and was really hurtful. And many of you had asked for the White House to apologize for that. Yet, when you had the president in the room yesterday none of you brought it up with him. Why?

ERNST: Well, it didn't come up. The president was going through a number of other issues talking about trade, about NAFTA, about North Korea, a lot of other very important things. These are topics that I think can be addressed one-on-one and I have made myself very clear that I believe that John McCain is a war hero. I admire him very, very much, and understanding that the White House will have one position and we can certainly push in another direction, but again, my stance is clear. I admire John McCain. I think he's a wonderful American and I wish him and his family all the best.

HARLOW: But it matters to Meghan McCain, for example, his daughter, that the White House publicly apologize. She was promised that according to reporting from our Jake Tapper by the White House aide and no public apology has been issued.

You said earlier this week the White House needs to afford him, McCain, the respect that he deserved. You say it didn't come up in the meeting, but isn't it incumbent on you and other leaders in the Senate to call on the White House to do this, to at least ask the president about it when he's sitting with you for an hour?

ERNST: Well, again, he wasn't really sitting with us. He came in, he gave a presentation and he left. So a lot of the topics again were centered on things like North Korea, about trade. A lot of things that are very important to our state.

This is another matter entirely. It is one that has been made quite public, and I have been quite public about my stance on John McCain and the fact that he should be afforded, absolutely, the respect that he deserves and has earned through the years.

[10:35:11] But again, this is a matter that we've called the White House out on, and of course, while we have the president we did want to focus on things that were very important to national security that are important to our states like tariffs and --


HARLOW: But on that front, on the national security issue, again, no senator brought up the issue of the Chinese tech giant ZTE which Congress has found to be a national security risk. The president this week saying he wants to help save that company, save Chinese jobs, you know, from Marco Rubio on down the line, Republican senators were complaining about that, concerned about it, yet no one brought it up to the president in the lunch yesterday. Why?

ERNST: Well, again what the president was doing is providing a very broad overview of the topics that are important to all of us and we have those conversations with the president privately and one-on-one. I know that whenever I do call about those types of issues and believe me, I have talked to the president about China, about tariffs, he was always very, very responsive and so I feel that I get a better discussion when I'm talking to him one-on-one and able to make the points that are important to Iowans, for example. I know many other senators have the president's ear, as well. So it wasn't --

BERMAN: Just to clear because we have to let you go. You haven't brought up with him one-on-one ZTE or John McCain, have you?

ERNST: No. Not one-on-one. Not yet.


ERNST: So we will continue to work the trade issues and the ZTE, obviously, will fall within the trade space, and so I do anticipate that when I'm able to speak with him next about the trade issue, of course, the Iowa agricultural goods, manufacturing, very important but we will have that opportunity to talk about ZTE because honestly Chinese workers, I'm not concerned about them.

BERMAN: Senator Joni Ernst, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

ERNST: Appreciate it. Thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. We have much more on our breaking news. We're going through the document, the transcripts of the testimony just released by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is all about the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton. Stay with us.



[10:41:19] SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: It seemed like an awfully unusual meeting that was clearly set up with the Russians for the purpose of gathering information to help the Trump campaign and to hurt Hillary Clinton which is at the roots of all of the investigation that Mueller's initiating.


HARLOW: That's Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois there responding to the thousands of pages of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was just released this morning. Of great focus is the testimony that the president's son Donald Trump Jr. gave to members on the committee.

Let's bring in CNN national security commentator, former Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee, Mike Rogers.

I know you've been following this. Thank you for being here. There's part of it that really struck both John and myself. This is testimony that comes from Rob Goldstone, and he is basically the manager of this famous Russian musician that facilitated this meeting between Don Junior, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner.

Here's part of what he testified. "A few minutes after this labored presentation by the Russian lawyer in the meeting, Jared Kushner who is sitting next to me appears somewhat agitated by this and said, I really have no idea what you're talking about," and that's what some Democrats this morning are clinging on saying, look, Jared Kushner knew that this was a promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton and he was angry, agitated, infuriated when that wasn't what he was getting from this Russian lawyer, this Russian informant. How do you see it?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: You know, I think it's a little bit much to try to speculate the people's motive for showing up to the meeting. I mean, clearly, you can get some of that through the testimony, and I think the biggest piece missing here, Poppy and John, is what happened next?

You had two individuals in that meeting, one had admitted to be an informant for the Russian government and another one who was a counter -- used to be a Soviet-era counterintelligence agent, and those folks don't tend to drift away from the Russian intelligence services, so you had two individuals there. So the meeting, you can -- you know, we can go through and parse, you know, what some person said. You'd have to try to apply what their intent was with those statements, and I'm sure that's what the investigation is going to try to do, but more importantly, what contact happened after this meeting?

Were -- was the Russian informant was the former counterintelligence official there trying to spot and assess people that the intelligence services could then come back to, either to make a run at them or other things, and if I were the investigators in that, that's what I would target. What happened next? What calls happened next? What meetings happened next?

BERMAN: And look, you know from your experience in the FBI and also as chairman of the Committee, and we know from Steve Hall who worked as, you know, a station chief over Moscow, what likely happened is that the Russians in the meeting reported back about what they saw.

ROGERS: Clearly.

BERMAN: This was an intelligence gathering mission right there. There's very little question in all likelihood that they went in there and reported back who they sat with, what they said, and it's interesting to me that one of the things they may have very well said is that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, was pissed.


BERMAN: He was upset that we didn't deliver more goods on Hillary Clinton because that's clearly what he thought he was getting. You know, Donald Trump Jr. forward the e-mail promising that. So it is interesting, I do get what you're saying there from an intelligence gathering standpoint what happened afterwards might be more important. From the legal investigation what was going on in the heads of the campaign people in that meeting is also very important.

So, you know, again, as a former politician, as someone who ran for office, you're not struck at all by the mindset that Donald Trump Jr. clearly went into the meeting with, Jared Kushner clearly went into the meeting with?

ROGERS: Clearly. I mean, I think it was incredibly naive to take the meeting in the first place, and I think it was more naive than conspiracy minded.

[10:45:04] That's the problem. And so if you're an investigator, you know, as a former FBI guy in me, that's a pretty tall order to get to that you'd have to try to prove this point that they purposely went in and then took action on the information in the meeting to get information under the computer fraud and abuse act, they would have to cause the information to be stolen and then cause the information to be released without the knowledge of the folks that it was stolen from.

That's the problem I think on the investigative side. Do I think it speaks to intent? Sure, you -- clearly they went into the meeting hoping or at least some of them hoping that they would get some information that they could use in the campaign. That in and of itself isn't a crime, but what was interesting to me, if you're going to try to investigate what the Russians were up to in all of this, to have again two individuals, and I can tell you as an FBI guy, those informants, it wasn't 38 seconds later that they're trying to report back to somebody about what happened and by the way, what people they think they could follow up on.

That's what I meant by the next series of meetings that are important.


ROGERS: Did they have another meeting with Don Junior later on or someone else that was in the meeting to say hey, we think we can help you on what you were thinking about? Those are the kinds of things that the investigation is going to look at.

BERMAN: All right, Mike Rogers, Mr. Chairman, great to have you with us.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you very, very much.

The president with new statements this morning saying that nothing has happened with the Chinese technology company ZTE, and says that China has much to give in trade negotiations.


[10:51:04] HARLOW: All right. President Trump this morning taking to Twitter and saying he is in no way giving in to China's demands on these trade negotiations.

BERMAN: And you can see what the president wrote. He said there has been no folding. He also says a lot about who is he, whose demands and what demands have been made by whom on what, but what he says may not actually coincide with reality here.

"Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin has been all over this story.

Josh, what's going on here?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president seems to be denying that the U.S. side has received a list of demands from the Chinese side on a range of things that they want the U.S. to do as part of their ongoing negotiations.

I am here to tell you that I reported that they have received this list of demands, I have seen the list of demands, I have the list of demand, I've confirmed with Trump administration officials, multiple Trump administration officials that the U.S. has received these and the delegation.

I don't know if Trump has seen them, but all of his -- a lot of his officials who are involved in this have definitely seen them so, you know, this is like facts are stubborn things or apples not bananas, right, in the CNN parlance. You know, this is kind of a straightforward thing. Now in the tweets, Trump said a lot of other interesting things that

we can get into about what's going on in the trade negotiations. He said he's not going to give China a bad deal. OK. Well, let's see if that happens. He says he didn't do anything on ZTE which is kind of true. I mean, he didn't actually give ZTE reprieve, he just ordered the Commerce Department to get them back in business, to save Chinese jobs, and the reason we knew that is because he tweeted about that. So there are some sort of -- some things in here that seem true, some things that are definitely not true and some things that are really unclear.

HARLOW: So, Josh, a lot of the analysis out of the negotiations between U.S. trade officials and Chinese trade officials a few weeks ago in Beijing is that the U.S. really left with nothing. So now this week from Tuesday on, up until the weekend, Chinese trade officials are here in Washington having these negotiations sort of round duos, again. Obviously, this is part of the president's calculation here, but you note in your piece that the demands from the Chinese side range from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

ROGIN: Right. Right.

HARLOW: How ridiculous?

ROGIN: So this is actually the third round right now, the Chinese came here, then we went there, then they came here.


ROGIN: And both sides have these like extreme positions, right?

HARLOW: Right.

ROGIN: Negotiating stances and there could be a compromise. They could make a short-term deal where they buy some soybeans and, you know, we let them off the hook for ZTE. That's what they're kind of discussing so we'll see what comes out but if you look at the Chinese list of demands, their tough negotiating position, it's got all sort of crazy stuff in there.

First of all, they want the U.S. to release the Tiananmen Square sanctions. All right? The sanctions that we imposed after the Chinese Communist Party massacred pro-democracy activists. Right? That would mean certifying that China is a good human rights actors, which is, you know, contradicted by all of the evidence that exists, right? They want the U.S. to let go of all of its trade investigations, intellectual property investigations, all of the stuff that the Trump administration has been doing over the past year to confront China's economic aggression and to protect our national security from companies like ZTE who are trying to dominate -- not only dominate the industries of the future but also plant themselves in the United States for intelligence-gathering purposes.

This is real national security stuff. Now we can't do that, right? Even Trump doesn't think we can do all of that stuff. The question is where is the overlap? And my point in the article was that if you look at this list of demands it shows that the Chinese have not really yet taken seriously the fact that the Trump administration is confronting them on this stuff and they're trying to cut a small deal on this and it just might work.

BERMAN: Josh Rogin, thanks so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

ROGIN: Any time.

BERMAN: We are following the breaking news that's been going on all morning. The Senate Judiciary Committee released transcripts of the testimony that had to do with the 2016 meeting in Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. There are new details revealed inside these transcripts.

[10:55:01] Much more coming up.


BERMAN: All right. Happening now. You're looking at live pictures of embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt. He's on Capitol Hill facing tough questions on ethical issues from senators and Administrator Pruitt says that some of the criticism he has faced has been unfounded and exaggerated, and he had much more to say as well. Listen.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: There have been decisions over the last 16 or so months that as I look back on those decisions I would not make the same decisions again, and I'm sure we're going to talk about some of those, but some of the areas of criticism are frankly areas where processes at the agency were not properly instituted to prevent certain abuses from happening.


HARLOW: The latest is the inspector general report about his request for 24/7 security that has cost millions and millions of dollars, and whether what he testified about that previously was actually accurate. That's just the latest. Of course we'll continue following this hearing all morning.

Thanks for being with us today. A lot of breaking news. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: Yes. I'm John Berman. Much more on the transcripts from the Senate coming up now. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan begins right now.