Return to Transcripts main page
Report: Don Jr. Called Blocked Number and Can't Remember the Call; Trump Says Mueller Probe Is Disgusting, Illegal and Unwarranted; Trump Meets with NATO Chief; Trump Says U.S. Ripped Off by China in Trade Negotiations; Trump Offers ZTE Explanation Because of Jobs Lost in U.S.; Trump Contradicts John Bolton to Save The Summit. Aired 2- 2:30p ET
Aired May 17, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:10] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there, I am Brianna Keilar in for Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for joining me. It's been exactly one year since Robert Mueller was appointed to be special counsel in the Russia investigation. And President Trump is standing by his position that it is time for the probe to end.
The president tweeted today: "Congratulations, America, we are now into the second year of the greatest witch hunt in American history. And there is still no collusion and no obstruction. The only solution was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an election despite the spending of far more money."
He then went on to call it quote: "The disgusting and illegal and unwarranted witch hunt." As far as special investigations go, the Russia probe is just a babe in comparison. Check this out. Watergate lasted several years after Richard Nixon resigned. Iran-contra was close to seven years and in its one-year Mueller's team has filed 75 criminal charges, charged 22 people and companies, brought five guilty pleas and seeing one sentencing. All of this as one of the president's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani claims that Mueller's office told him they did not believe they could indict a sitting president.
Well, more on that in a moment. We begin with what just happened at the White House. press secretary Sarah Sanders ending her briefing moments ago. And we have CNN's Kaitlan Collins standing by. Kaitlan, Jeff Zeleny asked the White House about the anniversary. What did he get in response?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He did. He was referencing those three tweets from the president this morning. Because although Kellyanne Conway insisted the Russia investigation was not a distraction for the president, he seems to be proving otherwise on Twitter, sending out three tweets calling it a witch hunt, his usual motto for this investigation. Sarah Sanders on the one-year anniversary of this investigation still facing questions on it today. This is what she had to say just now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning the president marked the one-year anniversary of the Mueller investigation saying it's disgusting, illegal, unwarranted and a witch hunt, but his own FBI director yesterday said it's not a witch hunt. And why does the White House still believe it's a witch hunt. And why did he cancel his news conference this afternoon. Why did he cancel his news conference this afternoon, which was originally set for 3:00?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president knows there was no collusion in the campaign and he has been quite clear about this. It's gone on for over a year. They found no evidence of collusion and still strongly believe it's a witch hunt. I'm not sure how we could be any clearer and certainly not sure how the president could be any more clear about his beliefs in his opinion. In terms of a press engagement, the president will have press at his event here shortly, which is why we're going to have to keep it quick and short today and likely take a few questions that the event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: That last question about why is there no press conference with the president today, of course, the NATO general secretary is here at the White House now. He's actually in the Oval Office with President Trump right now. And according to the NATO website that was posted several days ago, they said that the president and the general secretary were going to hold a press conference today this afternoon here at the White House, which is where generally two questions would be posed to each person and that is a chance for reporters to ask the president not only about North Korea but also about the Russia investigation to where the president can't ignore those questions.
He's essentially put on the spot, directly asked those questions, unlike what Sarah Sanders just said, reporters going into the Oval Office where the president is, multiple reporters shouting questions to the president, which he can ignore which ever question he doesn't want to answer. It not the same, those two press availabilities. There are reporters in both rooms, but the circumstances are very different. The president cannot deflect or not answer a question in a pointed press conference like that.
It does make a big difference there, which is why my colleague, Jeff Zeleny was asking Sarah Sanders, why is there no press conference on the schedule today? It does appear the president is in the Oval Office with the general secretary. We'll see if he answers any of the shouted questions about Robert Mueller, the Russia very long or a myriad of other topics like North Korea. But it certainly is not the same as holding a press conference with the president.
One official did tell CNN earlier that one of the reasons they weren't holding that press conference any longer is because the White House is eager to keep the president from answering questions about Robert Mueller and about the investigation while his legal team is trying to wrap things up. That is one of the reasons for the cancellation of the press conference. Another is they want the president to keep with this restrained response to North Korea's threat to cancel that highly anticipated summit.
[14:05:00] So far, the president has been restrained about that, no tweets, no off-the-cuff remarks, the White House today saying they're going to move forward with preparations for that. So certainly, there is a tactic behind there being no press conference with the president today.
KEILAR: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you very much. Now to the details to the infamous Trump Tower meeting where Donald Jr. and other Trump campaign members met with the Russians five months before the election. We know that Don Jr. called somebody on a blocked number twice in two days before the meeting and then once just after it happened. Yet the president's son can't remember who it was. Now Democrats are demanding answers.
In the meantime, Rudy Giuliani is trying to down play the point of the meeting, which was for the Trump campaign to get a smoking gun. That was a quote used by a friend of Donald Trump Jr.'s against Hillary Clinton. That failed to happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The headlines today, Don Jr. admits he was looking for dirt on Hillary.
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: Oh wow. And they weren't looking for dirt on Donald Trump? Even if it comes from a Russian or German or American, it doesn't matter. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russian, they would have used it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Joining me now, we have former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, now at Columbia Law School and impeachment attorney Ross Garber with us as well. Jennifer, let's start with this blocked number. Who is this blocked number? That is the question and why is that question so key?
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Obviously, the timing of the call and the length of the call, an 11-minute call sounds like a substantive call, it's not leaving a voice mail, hey, call me back, it's not I'll be there in five minutes. And the timing, right in the heat of this meeting makes it sound like he was calling somebody to report about the meeting and what was going on with it. So that's why everyone is so interested in it. I should also note that it's blocked for us and it's blocked for the person calling but it's not blocked for the phone company. So, the Mueller team knows who was called and so they're already on top of whatever it was.
KEILAR: So, they're able to piece this together. When you look at that graphic that we just had up there, Ross, to be clear there's this four-minute call on June 6th, which is right after Donald Jr. is getting this e-mail from the son of a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Four four-minute call to a blocked number. Then he calls Emin, sets up the June meeting and calls 11 minutes to a blocked number. He says he doesn't recall who. Do you find that believable?
ROSS GARBER, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: Look, I have probably dozens of contacts who call me from blocked numbers, so it is possible.
KEILAR: He's in a different line of work than you so I wonder. There may be blocked calls as well but you're dealing with law enforcement.
GARBER: Fair enough. But the other thing is any lawyer who has a client who is testifying is going to advise the client if you don't remember, then you say you can't remember. The notion that you can remember precisely who you were talking to on a particular day, it not implausible. It just not.
KEILAR: It was a while ago. So even, Jennifer, if the person you normally talk to because we do know according to Corey Lewandowski that the number that not then President Trump was using was a blocked number. Even if that's the person you normally talked to who has a blocked number, if you're not for sure you say you don't recall, right?
RODGERS: I think Ross is right about that. A lot of people do block their numbers. The question is going to be if in fact it the president's number, is it believable he would say he didn't recall talking to the president right at that moment about that topic.
KEILAR: Sure, that's a really good point, although in the end if doesn't tell you, Ross, what they spoke about.
GARBER: At that point it wasn't the president, it was his dad and his boss. The notion that he would talk to his dad about any number of things, family things is reasonable to me.
KEILAR: Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani. So, the president's lawyer says that the special counsel's team has informed the president's attorneys they have concluded they cannot indict a sitting president. This goes along with some long-standing guidance from the Department of Justice. All you get to do is write a report is what Giuliani says. Why is he putting that out there? What's his strategy here?
[14:10:00] GARBER: I don't doubt that Rudy Giuliani had that conversation with Mueller or somebody on Mueller's team and Mueller is no doubt aware of that Department of Justice guidance and aware that he's bound by it as the special counsel, and so it doesn't surprise me that they would have that conversation. Now, what is Rudy Giuliani trying to do by getting that out there? It's probably just to take that notion of prosecution off the table, the notion that the president of the United States that he's bound by it as the special counsel, and so it doesn't surprise me that they would have that conversation. Now, what is Rudy Giuliani trying to do by getting that out there? It's probably just to take that notion of prosecution off the table, the notion that the president of the United States is going to be prosecuted for anything that Mueller finds isn't in play.
KEILAR: We're going to hit pause for just a moment and listen to the president in the Oval Office.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. It's an honor to have Secretary-General Stoltenberg with us. He's been working closely the United States. Our relationship is very good. Together we've increased and really raised a lot of money from countries that weren't paying or weren't paying a fair share. We have a little ways to go but many billions of dollars of additional monies have been raised. I really appreciate the great job you've been doing. As many people know, you've been extended for a long period of time and I think that was very much with my leadership and the fact is we pushed it very hard because this gentleman does a tremendous job at NATO and I appreciate it. Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG, Secretary-General, NATO: Thank you so much, Mr. President, for hosting me and my delegation once again here at the White House. Let me thank you for the leadership you show on the issue of defense spending because it is very important that we all contribute more to our shared security and it is really having an impact because, as you said, allies are now spending more on defense. All allies are decreasing their defense budgets.
TRUMP: Do you give me credit for that?
STOLTENBERG: You have helped to do that because your leadership has been important, and it has had great impact and we see that because all allies increased and add billions to the budget. That's important because we live in a more unpredictable world and we need strong NATO and need to invest more in our security.
TRUMP: Thank you very much for being here. It's an honor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, a question on North Korea?
TRUMP: Nothing has changed with North Korea that we know of. We have not been told anything. If it doesn't, that's fine. We have not been told anything. We're just reading stories like you are. We've heard certain things from South Korea. We'll see what happens. If the meeting happens, it happens. If it doesn't, we go on to the next step.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This just is the typical thing that North Korea does, did you know that?
TRUMP: I really don't know. I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Our people are literally dealing with them right now in terms of making arrangements for the meeting. That's different from what you read but often times what you read if it's not fake news, it's true. We'll see what happens. We are dealing with them now.
We may have the meeting, we may not have the meeting. If we don't have it, that will be very interesting. We'll see what happens. The border is still quite strong. I think things changed a little bit when they met with China. They met the second time. As you know, Kim Jong un had a second meeting with China, which was a little bit of a surprise meeting and we have many of the Chinese here today, as you know, big delegations negotiating trade because the United States has been ripped off for many, many years by its bad trade deals.
I don't blame China, I blame our leadership of this country from the past. We have been ripped off by China. An evacuation of wealth like no country has ever seen before given to another country that's rebuilt itself based on a lot of the money they've taken out of the United States. And that's not going to happen anymore. But there has been a big difference since they had the second meeting with President Xi. With that being said, my attitude is whatever happens, happens, either way we'll be in great shape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider a personal outreach to Kim to get him moving towards --
[14:15:00] TRUMP: We'll see what happens. You have to want to do it. With deals you have to have two parties who want to do it. He absolutely wanted to do it. Perhaps he doesn't want to do it. Perhaps they spoke with China. President Xi, a friend of mine, a great friend of mine but he's for China and I'm for the United States. That's the way it is and I suspect it's never going to change. I will say this, we are continuing to negotiate in terms of location, the location that's where to meet, how to meet, rooms and everything else. They've been negotiating like nothing happened. But if you read the newspapers, maybe it won't happen. I can't tell you yet. I will tell you very shortly. We're going to know very soon. Steve?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to tell the Chinese trade officials?
TRUMP: Well, I've been telling China -- you people have been covering trade, China for a long time. Have you ever seen a negotiating in trade? Nobody's ever seen anybody from our country even negotiate on trade. Trade with China and with other countries. I'm not just blaming China. China's the biggest. But trade has been a total one- way street. Right outside of this nation you take money out by the bucket loads like no other. Whether it's the European Union, which you know so well, whether it's japan or South Korea or I could name almost every single country in the world. We had nobody representing us. And now you have somebody that's very good at this stuff, me, representing us. And China has taken out hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the United States. And I explained to President Xi we can't do that anymore. With all the years that you've covered trade and nations and wars and everything else, you've never seen people come over from China to work on a trade deal.
Now, will that be successful? I tend to doubt it. The reason I doubt it is because China's become very spoiled. The European Union has become very spoiled. Other countries have become very spoiled. Because they always got 100 percent of whatever they wanted from the United States. But we can't allow that to happen anymore. We're an incredible country. We have incredible potential. The potential we have is incredible. But we lost $800 billion on trade last year. If you add it all up, of which China was around the $500 billion mark. So much we lost $800 billion. Can you believe that? Is that an amazing thing to even think about? We lost $800 billion on trade. We're not going to be doing that any longer.
Reporter: What's happening with ZTE? Are you going to lift your ban?
[14:20:00] TRUMP: ZTE was a company that I spoke to with President Xi. He asked me if I would take a look at that because it was very harmful to them in terms of their jobs and probably other things. I certainly said I would. He asked me to do it and I would do that, I certainly out of great respect, I like him, he likes me, we have a great relationship. He asked me if I would look at ZTE. Don't forget, it was my administration with my full knowledge that put very, very strong clamps on ZTE. It wasn't anybody else. It wasn't President Obama. It wasn't President bush. It was me. I put very strong clamps on ZTE.
They did very bad things to our country. They did very bad things to our economy. The one thing I will say, they also buy a large portion of their parts for the phones that they make, and they are the fourth largest company in terms of that industry, they buy those things from the United States. That's a lot of business. So, we have a lot of companies that won't be selling those parts. But the president of China, President Xi asked me to look at it. I said I would look at it.
Anything we do with ZTE is only a small component of the overall deal. I can only tell you this, we're going to come out fine with China. Hopefully China will be happy. I think we will be happy. As the expression goes, when you're losing $500 billion a year on trade, you can't lose the trade war, we've already lost it. We've had horrible representatives in this country that have allowed other countries to get away with murder. Those days are gone. Those days are over. We just want fairness for the workers of this country and for the United States. That's what's going to happen.
I'll let you know as time goes by we'll let you know. As of this moment, everything we know. North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else, as though nothing happened. Will it happen? Will we be going on that very special date and can some great things happen, you know, we're going to be looking at it very soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [inaudible] the comment from John Bolton on the Libyan model.
TRUMP: Well, the Libyan model isn't the model that we have at all. While we are thinking of North Korea. In Libya we decimated the country. The country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gadhafi. The Libyan model that was mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong un, something where he'd be there, he'd be running his country. His country would be very rich. His people are tremendously industrious. If you look at South Korea, this would be a South Korean model in terms of their industry, in terms of what they do. They are hard-working, incredible people.
But the Libyan model was a much different model. We decimated that country. We never said to Gadhafi, oh, we're going to give you protection, we're going to give you military strength, we're going to give you all of these things. We went in and decimated him, and we did the same thing with Iraq. Now, whether or not we should have, I could tell you I was against it from the beginning because look what we have right now. We have spent $7 trillion -- can you believe that -- $7 trillion in the middle east right out the window. You might as well throw the money right out the window. And we've done a lot of infrastructure. We just had airports approved, a lot of things are happening, but we
spent $7 trillion in the Middle East and look where we are right now. It's pretty sad. But the model, if you look at that model with Gadhafi, that was a total decimation. If we make a deal, I think Kim Jong un will be very, very happy. But this is just the opposite. When John Bolton made that statement, he was talking about if we're going to be having a problem because we cannot let that country have nukes, we just can't do it. Again, you look at Syria, that was a total decimation.
Reporter: What security guarantees are you willing to give to North Korea?
TRUMP: I'm willing to do, we are willing to do a lot. And he's willing to I think do a lot also. And I think we will actually have a good relationship assuming we have the meeting and assuming something comes of it. And he will get protections that are very strong. Syria never had protections. If you look at Syria or if you look anywhere around the Middle East, you look at Iraq, you look at Libya. With Libya certainly, they didn't have protection. They had the exact opposite. That was absolute decimation. That's what we planned to do and what we did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reduced U.S. troop levels a possibility? In South Korea?
TRUMP: I'm not going to talk about that. We are going to say that he will have very adequate protection. And we will see how it all turns out. I think this, the best thing he could ever do is make a deal. I have a feeling, however, that for various reasons, maybe including trade because they've never had this problem before, China has never had this problem with us, it could very well be that he's influencing Kim Jong un. We'll see what happens. Meaning the president of China, President Xi could be influencing Kim Jong un.
But we'll see. Look, if you remember a few weeks ago all of a sudden out of nowhere Kim Jong un went to China to say hello again a second time to President Xi. I think they were dedicating an aircraft carrier paid for largely by the United States, thank you very much, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please start making your way toward the door.
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you! No, it's time to go! It's time to go! Please start exiting toward the door!
KEILAR: And that is the chaos of ending the press pool there in the Oval Office. I want to bring in Barbara Starr, so we can talk about some of what we just heard. The president talking for more than a dozen minutes there about North Korea in particular.
[14:25:00] Barbara, some of the things that stood out here, he contradicted John Bolton, his new national security adviser, who had said that when it comes to North Korea, the administration is looking at the Libya model in terms of taking away, well, in Libya's case it was sort of hodgepodge nuclear parts certainly compared to what Kim Jong un has and what has been in development in North Korea for decades. But he seemed to dismiss that idea, which is something that specifically the North Koreans had cited as a reason for being upset at this point in time and really throwing the idea of these talks into question about whether they're even going to happen, but he was also stressing that when it came to Libya, when it came to Gadhafi, we didn't say to them, meaning the U.S., that they'll get protection, that they'll have military strength. He's talking about adequate protection for Kim Jong un. What's he talking about here? Is he just trying to say, hey, we're not talking about regime change in North Korea? Don't be so upset right now?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, I think there is no other way to interpret all of this than Donald Trump speaking specifically to Kim Jong un on all of this. This is a message to Kim directly. Let's take it bit by bit. Kim is worried about the Libya model because the U.S. eased economic sanctions against Libya in return for Gadhafi giving up its weapons and then backed rebels that essentially backed Gadhafi being murdered. Kim wants to stay in power, have the U.S. do nothing to risk that. So, he gets worried about the talks.
Could this weaken his own control on his country? President Trump today right now reassuring Kim, no, you will have protection. That's the president of the United States telling the North Korean leader who runs one of the most repressive -- what can you say -- anti-human right regimes in the world that will you have U.S. protection. He talks about guarantees, talks about military power. He outright suggests that one of the other wrinkles in this is that President Xi of China is trying to convince President Kim to back off. China remains one of Kim's biggest supporters. They are also supporting some of the sanctions, but the U.S. has long felt China is not doing enough. This is also Donald Trump's message to the president of China you better get in line, you better support what we're trying to do.
And then the president makes another turn. He says that what John Bolton is really talking about is if Kim doesn't make an agreement, then the Libya model, then Kim could see his power being threatened by whatever the U.S. might do after there is no agreement to take away Kim's nuclear weapons. I think it's -- we all talk about extraordinary moments. This is the president of the United States assuring the North Korean leader in Donald Trump's words he will have protection. It's hard to read it any other way other than getting Kim to the table but making an extraordinary promise to that North Korean leader.
KEILAR: I want to bring David Chalian on into this conversation with Barbara Starr who was at the Pentagon. This idea he's saying to Kim Jong un it's the Libya model if we don't go along, that seems look rhetorical gymnastics because that's not what John Bolton was talking about.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We're discussing the most precarious foreign policy moment of this presidency perhaps, certainly to this date and perhaps through the entire Trump tenure. And what he is now saying, he's saying pay no attention to what my national security adviser who speaks for me on this issue said. He's trying to put a genie back in the bottle.
He understands that John Bolton's comments about the Libya model are precisely not the message that should be sent right now to Kim Jong un. You can hear in the president's remarks today, it's unclear who wants this deal more. He's saying it really only works if everybody wants a deal. I think right now the nervousness on the part of the administration is trying to determine do they want a deal as bad as the president wants this win?
KEILAR: He clearly wants one.
CHALIAN: He really wants one.
KEILAR: He doesn't tend toward restraint except for in the rare cases where he wants something so bad he's actually going to use restraint.
CHALIAN: That's his tell, right?
KEILAR: It is in a way because it's so un-President Trump-like for him to say that. He stated over and over, our people are dealing with them in a way that doesn't really mesh with what you're reading in the news about how things may be falling apart. He said we're talking about timing and everything else as if that hasn't happened. If we don't have the meeting, he said, that will be very interesting. We'll see what happens.
[14:30:00] CHALIAN: And maybe not on that special date. But it had been announced. It's special to the president. He had a whole roll out, the buildup, the date, the location and all of that. It seems to me he also is trying to indicate we haven't heard a direct message from North Korea on this being called off or stalled in some way. If indeed that's the road we're headed to, I think the president was calling them out saying we need to hear from you directly on this.
KEILAR: Barbara Starr, I want to ask you about something else that the president said. He said, "whatever happens, happens, either way we're in great shape." That seems like a sugar coating to say either way we're in great shape. If all of this falls apart and there is no possibility of some sort of agreement reached with North Korea or even a chance to sit down at the table and give it a chance, that doesn't sound like being in great shape.
STARR: What are you going to do? Are you going to go back to last year's fire and fury? The White House keeps talking about maximum pressure. That's a combination of economic sanctions, diplomacy and the threat, a genuine threat of military action.