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Report: Trump Commutes Woman's Sentence for Drug Charges; Melania Trump Appears After 26 Days; Trump Defends Tariffs in Testy Phone Call with Trudeau; Top Republicans Break with Trump Over FBI Infiltration Issue. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We got the breaking news now. The latest presidential act of clemency. President Trump has just commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson. She has spent the last 21 years in prison on drug charges.

She was a first time non-violent offender. Johnson in part wrote this, "Trump has the power to give me a second chance. He truly has the power to change our justice system for the better. I can only continue to be steadfast and hope that he hears me." The president did hear her. Heard her case from a visit from reality star Kim Kardashian last week. She was there with the president discussing all of this in the oval office. She learned about Johnson's plight after the site Mic aired her story.


ALICE MARIE JOHNSON, 21 YEARS IN PRISON ON DRUG CHARGES: I lost my job. I struggled. I felt like a failure. I went into complete panic and out of complete desperation, I became involved in a drug conspiracy.

KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, REALITY TV STAR: I just really strongly believe that she is someone who has completely rehabilitated herself and will continue to do so outside of prison. She's done her time. She's done almost 22 years. You know, I think in life everyone makes mistakes and she really deserves a second chance.


BALDWIN: Let go to the White House this afternoon. Where CNN's Jeremy Diamond is standing by and we know that Johnson's commutation is part of a batch of pardons and acts of clemency that the president is considering or planning. On Johnson's case, do we know what specifically about her and her case appealed to Trump?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clearly Kim Kardashian West's meeting had an impact on the president. Until that moment we had not heard the press discuss this case involving Alice Johnson, a 63-year- old woman, first-time, non-violent drug offender who was convicted to a life sentence on attempted possession of cocaine and conspiracy to possess cocaine. But the White House in a statement did explain that it believed that Alice Johnson had accepted personal responsibility for her actions, noted that she had been a model prisoner during her time there and had sought to rehabilitate herself and even had a statement from the warden from that prison, which also praised Alice Johnson as a model prisoner during her time there. She has served more than 21 years so far, and we know that this comes as the president is increasingly turning to his power to pardon, to deliver these acts of clemency.

This is the sixth act of clemency the president has delivered so far in his time of office and we know he is considering several others as well. The president has paperwork and is considering acts of clemency, as many as 30. I'm told a handful of those are similar to Alice Johnson's case. And those are currently being reviewed right now by the White House counsel's office. Clearly this is something the president is increasingly turning to and today Alice Johnson's prison sentence has been commuted.

BALDWIN: Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much. Let's expand this conversation with me now. CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. I want a big picture and then I want to go specifically to Alice Johnson's case. We don't know about the dozens of others that the president is considering, but between the one last week, considering a few others and now this today. What's he doing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's using the power that he believes he has and most people who are legal experts, constitutional experts believe he has pretty much unfettered power to pardon and commute sentence sentences. Last week and several of the other pardons he had given were blatantly transparently political. He was doing it to send signals to political foes. This is different.

[14:05:00] In this case, the president aligns with some of the most liberal lawmakers and some of the most conservative lawmakers and even activists around the country who have been working very hard to right the wrongs of the laws that were in place when this woman was convicted.

And it's something that he can do with his executive power to commute this sentence, but it also is something that people like Cory Booker and I know you talked to our Van Jones about this but just legislatively people like Cory Booker on the left and Rand Paul have been working among others across party lines to get something down so that this is just not something that a president can do case by case but that things change in an important big way by statute.

BALDWIN: On the Alice Johnson case, this is in line with Jared Kushner and what he's been working on, we're talking about draconian sentencing, she was the first-time offender. Even the president's biggest critics would applaud this. You applaud it as well.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You have to look at it sort of historically. There were sentences that were all disparate. Then there were the sentencing guidelines that were put into place which were supposed to normalize them. But they were terribly draconian. They were unfair for crack versus powder and they were discriminatory in lots of other ways. The Supreme Court changes that and then it's not sort of made retroactive and there's lots of problems with it.

BALDWIN: I'm listening to you but we're also putting these pictures up. This is the first time we've seen the first lady in 26 days. Here she is sitting next to her husband, the president, there at the FEMA headquarters. Of course, the 2018 hurricane season began June 1. So, this is the briefing from FEMA on hurricane preparedness and obviously a whole other really important part of this conversation is Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico and the latest numbers out of the Harvard study where these researchers found in actuality that there is something like 4,600 deaths as a result of the storm instead of the death toll sitting at 64.

So that is hovering over this briefing. But what's significant, too, is that we are seeing the first lady for the first time in 26 days. Dana, if I can just ask you about she obviously underwent surgery, she was out of the public eye for a little bit of time. I was reading Margaret Sullivan's piece in the "Washington Post" this morning where she made this point that the first lady, her staff, I mean, cost taxpayers a lot of money. I think that her communications person referred to the media at rabid at one point in time but it's a news story to know where she's been.

BASH: Yes. Look, this is a tough one. It really is. Because she does by definition, you know, she's somebody who has a formal role -- excuse me, an informal public role but that does mean she does spend taxpayer money. But she wasn't elected. She doesn't have an official elected title. So, she is not bound by the expectations and the needs, rightly so, of people who elect officials and want to know where they are and how their health is because they were put there by the people. She wasn't. And so, there's that part of it. And the fact that she is who she is. She is somebody who is fascinating to people in this country and around the world. People --

BALDWIN: The #where is Melania. People want to know everything they can about her.

BASH: In some ways she understands it in this particular case because it's medical, it's a tough one. It really is.

BALDWIN: On the other issue of Puerto Rico, is -- when will the president finally address this, do you think?

BASH: I don't know. Wouldn't it be great if he's doing it right now? The fact of the matter is, I just keep thinking about President George W. Bush and the fact that he got rightly so, he got hammered for Katrina. And that really changed -- was kind of the beginning of the end of his presidency. Should we listen?

BALDWIN: Let's take a listen.

[14:10:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Michael Pompeo, we're keeping him very busy. We're keeping you so busy, a lot of flying in the next couple of weeks, but what a job you've done, and we appreciate it. The whole country appreciates it, mike. Thank you very much. Thank you. Steven Mnuchin, Steve, wherever you may be, he's working hard on those taxes. Weeks, but what a job you've done, and we appreciate it. The whole country appreciates it, mike. Thank you very much. Thank you. Steven Mnuchin, Steve, wherever you may be, he's working hard on those taxes.

BALDWIN: The piece that we missed, he's sitting there, and he was thanking FEMA and thanking himself wife, the first lady for the job that she's done. Let's remember that she went to Florida and Texas and Puerto Rico with her husband in the wake of those hurricanes last fall and so we just want to keep an eye on this. And just to the question that I know a lot of Puerto Ricans, so many of whom have fled to places like Orlando because of the dire situation in Puerto Rico and so a lot of people wanting the president to address the death toll that's come out from this Harvard study.

I've got something new here, new approval ratings for Melania Trump, the latest Quinnipiac poll, 49 percent. That is higher than her husband, the vice president sitting there, Sarah Sanders and the lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Final note on -- you said it, people are fascinated by Melania Trump.

BASH: And she's not the first lady who has been --

BALDWIN: Eclipsed.

BASH: Yes, or this has been kind of the zeitgeist around her. You go back to Jackie O. Or Jackie Kennedy obviously then. But I think this is important to say how much she -- she didn't ask for it, I don't know that she really wanted the job, but she understands the power that she has and the fascination with her. Having said that, she also because she wasn't elected, she does have a right to some privacy.

BALDWIN: Dana, thank you. Michael Zeldin, thank you. We know it was short. We're going to come back to this next hour. Still ahead here, when allies don't get along, what we're learning about a testy phone call between the president and the prime minister of Canada and the impact that could all have on this upcoming g-7 summit. The president heads to Canada Friday.

Also, no evidence of spying. The speaker of the House breaks with the president and sides with the FBI over the use of a confidential source during Trump's 2016 campaign. And no laughing matter. Samantha Bee prepares to go on TV this evening and address that vulgar comment she made about Ivanka Trump. What will she say? What should she say? You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: We're back, you're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. This tariff face-off between president Trump and America's most faithful, strongest allies. President Trump had a conversation with Justin Trudeau. Trudeau pressed Trump on how he could justify the tariff as a, quote, unquote, national security issue. In response President Trump said: "Didn't you guys burn down the White House"? He was referring to the world of 1812. He got himself history wrong. The arson was done by the British, done in retaliation for an attack on land that became part of Canada. What is accurate is the Trump White House assertion that the aluminum and steel tariffs are to improve U.S. security, a concept the foreign minister has slammed.


CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: So, what you are saying to us and all of your NATO allies is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States. And I would just say to all of Canada's American friends and there are so many, seriously?


BALDWIN: CNN political and national analyst David Sanger is with me. Paula, we normally see you in Canada. You broke this story with Jim Acosta. It seems the key issue from Canadians is what national security threat could they possibly pose?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We give the president a little credit here, maybe it was a joke. The response from Canadians is it's not that funny. Why? We're talking about tariffs that are going to cost not just Canadian jobs but American jobs. We'll get to that in a second. The issue here is security concern again. The minister said seriously? You know why? On a very serious topic, when 9/11 hit, there were Canadian commanders alongside American ones at NORAD. The president knows not just Republicans, but Democrats out there are also sick and tired of being kicked around by Canada when it comes to issues about dairy and some others like lumber and president Trump just wants to prove if I said it in the election, I'm going to do it even to our best friends.

BALDWIN: On the point, though, I think on the military and I think that's a valid one, David, to you, Canadians have been our partners militarily for years. Canada's web site says "more than 40,000 Canadian forces have served with Afghanistan with the U.S. between 2001 and 2014. Is this about NAFTA? How damaging is this?

[14:20:00] DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's pretty damaging. The question is how long lasting is the damage? We're talking about this on D Day and the Canadians were part of the great alliance that all represented. And the idea that that there are trade issues with Canada is hardly new. As you just discussed we've got serious issues on lumber and other questions. But there's only one reason that they used the national security explanation for this and that's because that's one of the few exemptions inside international trade law in which can you sort of route around and immediately declare some reason that you're going to either block products or raise the price on them. Now, do we think that that would hold up in international courts if challenged? No, of course it wouldn't. The only argument the president can make is that it somehow undercuts the American industrial base.

But the oddity here is that he's making the national security argument about Canada and other allies while he is apparently negotiating a way for ZTE, the Chinese phone manufacturer, which was also banned on national security grounds, to get back on the market. Well, it wouldn't take us very long on this show to lay out the national security threat from ZTE. It would be pretty hard in the Canada case. BALDWIN: We know that the president will be in Canada, Paula, on

Friday for the start of the g-7. Not only will he be face to face with Trudeau but also Emmanuel Macron. How awkward is all that going to be?

NEWTON: It will be awkward, but the Canadians and Europeans are adamant that if we are families -- Larry Kudlow just said this is all among friends, fine. Let's get everything out on the table and discuss it. The Canadians would rather leave any bilateral, NAFTA issues until later on but when it comes to national security, they're going to try and hash it out. Great, let's get it all on the table and discuss it. The issue here is whether you're in a political season and it isn't just here but state to state to state when you're in this kind of political season, how far he will actually go to listen to them is an open question.

BALDWIN: One more on our other friends to the south, David. Mexico just slapped the U.S. with tariffs worth $3 billion in American goods. You know, this is the nation hitting back after Trump imposed tariffs last week. It feels like a trade war. How would you characterize it and who does this hit the most?

SANGER: Well, it sure does feel like a trade war. I think the Canadians were going after this in part because their president has been very strong in coming back after president Trump. He's actually -- he tweeted in real time the other day, the president of Mexico did, when president Trump at a rally began discussing how once again the Mexicans would go pay for the wall. So, you can imagine the sensitivities out here. Over the long term I don't think the Mexicans can afford to be into a lengthy trade war with the United States, but there's no doubt as Paula put it that we're going to see the price here as well because both Canada and Mexico are such huge consumers of American goods and American services, and that's what president Trump frequently leaves out of this discussion.

[14:25:00] He is sort of fixated in a 1950s image of the workings of the American economy so exports of software, expertise, all the things that really make a modern digital economy hum don't tend to calculate much with him. He wants to see actual goods.

BALDWIN: David Sanger, Paula Newton, thank you very much. Coming up, top Republicans break with the president over allegations that the FBI placed, according to the president, a spy in his campaign. How will Trump react to this? Plus, this candid comment.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Here's what I want to say. It wasn't my finest hour.


BALDWIN: President Bill Clinton talking about that tense interview earlier this week on NBC news on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the me-too movement. How he is cleaning it up coming up.


BALDWIN: Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy getting a bit of backup on his assertion that the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do regarding a confidential source used in the Russia meddling investigation. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Richard Burr today say they both agree with Gowdy. Gowdy said the FBI acted properly when it used a source to speak to members of the Trump campaign. Manu Raju has more. Let's start with Speaker Ryan and what he said.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very significant move here by Paul Ryan, backing up Trey Gowdy, someone he's been very close with over the years. Gowdy said the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do, got a lot of criticism from people like Rudy Giuliani, others on the right criticizing Trey Gowdy.