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Sarah Sanders on the Defensive Over White House Credibility; Aide Who Made McCain Joke Out at White House; President Trump Alienating Canada?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 15:00   ET



RACHEL CRANE, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: But in order for it to be truly transformational, people have to be willing to fly them.

(on camera): When most people think about flying cars, they're pretty scared and also very intrigued.

SEBASTIAN THRUN, CEO, KITTY HAWK: The number one most important thing other than safety for us is the side of acceptance.

Will people be willing to fly on these devices, live next to a device like this that flies nearly above and so on?

CRANE (voice-over): But public acceptance is just one hurdle. Flyer's battery only lasts about 20 minutes. So, for now, its applications are limited.

(on camera): Kitty Hawk's mission to eradicate traffic. You can't do that with a recreational vehicle.

TODD REICHERT, LEAD ENGINEER, KITTY HAWK: Yes. We're on sort of a story arc from recreation to exploration to transportation. And we will have to evolve along the way.

CRANE: That was awesome.



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, continuing on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Here's our top story this hour. After several political pardons, President Trump has just declared an act of clemency that even most his critics will likely applaud.

President Trump is commuting the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson. She's a 63-year-old great-grandmother who got life in prison for her first drug offense. Johnson will soon be walking out of an Alabama prison after serving 21 years behind bars.

The president learned of Johnson's case from a White House visit by Kim Kardashian West last week. The reality star learned of Johnson's plight after the news site Mic featured her story.

And moments ago, she tweeted this: "The phone call I ever had with Alice will forever be one of my best memories. Telling her for the first time and hearing her screams while crying together is a moment I will never forget."

With me now is one of the Mic co-founders who really helped motivated Kardashian West, co-writing this piece that got her attention. Jake Horowitz is here with me from Mic. Also with us, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, just great having both of you here.


BALDWIN: First, I got to start with you, because et's just cut right through it. The fact is had it not been for Mic and you all featuring Alice Johnson's story, Alice Johnson may be serving the rest of her life behind bars.

HOROWITZ: Yes, it's been incredible.

So, we told this story in October of last year. It's a heartbreaking story of a woman in prison for 21-and-a-half years for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, heartbreaking in so many ways.

And, honestly, we didn't expect what happened next, which is, it just caught fire and Kim Kardashian West shared the story on social media. She got very personally very, very moved to act and very involved behind the scenes since October, so for months now, to try to get this woman released. And it's been incredible.

BALDWIN: Let me play just a quick clip of your conversation with Kim after she learned about Alice.


ALICE MARIE JOHNSON, INMATE: (OFF-MIKE) But I lost my job. I struggled financially. I couldn't find a job that -- to take care of my family. I felt like a failure.

I went into a complete panic. And out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.

KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, CELEBRITY: I just really strongly believe that she is someone that has completely rehabilitated herself and will continue to do so outside of prison.

You know, she's done her time. I mean, she's done almost 22 years. You know, I think in life everyone makes mistakes and she really deserves a second chance.


BALDWIN: Tell me about what she shared with you, because we saw the pictures from the Oval Office of Kim Kardashian West and the president, and he really listened, obviously.


Well, I think what she shared is that she felt like a human being, very -- that this was wrong. And, you know, when you watch that video, what you really get is a sense of Alice's life. And Alice was -- she got caught up in the wrong thing.

It was a real crime. She was in her 40s and she had been working at FedEx, and she lost her job and she was turning to something for money. And she got involved in this drug conspiracy ring, but 21-and- a-half years for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, I think Kim, like many Americans, felt like that was just too long. So...

BALDWIN: So this is one kind of commutation. We're talking potentially about the disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a totally different kind of potential commutation.




We were talking about Dinesh D'Souza last week and his pardon. And now the president from our White House teams that the president is considering pardoning or commuting dozens of others.

BORGER: Right. We don't know who those dozens of others are.

This case is clearly very different from the previous cases.

BORGER: But brought to his attention by Kim Kardashian.


BALDWIN: A celebrity.


BORGER: Which is a celebrity.

Not to say all you were doing wasn't important.

HOROWITZ: Of course.

BORGER: But you didn't get the entree into the Oval Office that, of course, Kim Kardashian did.

HOROWITZ: Of course.

BORGER: So, that's something we ought to take note of.


And Barack Obama did these kind of commutations, hundreds of them, I believe over 1,000 actually, himself.

The other thing you're talking about, will he pardon Rod Blagojevich, who tried to sell his Senate seat in the state of Illinois, and who is somebody who was convicted by Patrick Fitzgerald?

Patrick Fitzgerald is a close friend of James Comey and is also James Comey's attorney right now.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

BORGER: So you have this kind of little play playing out. And so the question is, would that be about mercy or would that be about getting back at your enemies? And the answer is, you know, selling a Senate seat is selling a Senate seat.

BALDWIN: Yes. But your point about President Obama and either previous -- or other previous presidents, they do this at the end of their term.

BORGER: And they're controversial.

BALDWIN: They are controversial.

When Bill Clinton pardoned a big contributor, Marc Rich, at the end of his term, it was usually controversial. So it's not that these things are without controversy. It's just that they usually don't happen in this time frame, and usually you can't draw these direct links to people the president likes or doesn't like. You know?

HOROWITZ: And remember the boxer Jack Johnson, who was pardoned...

BORGER: Exactly.

HOROWITZ: ... just two weeks ago.


BALDWIN: But that was Sylvester Stallone who brought it to him. You have Kim Kardashian West bringing this.

Then you look at Martha Stewart, Rod Blagojevich, who was on "The Apprentice."

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: These are known -- these are celebrities. Do you think -- how much do think that...


BORGER: But Martha Stewart was prosecuted by Comey.

So, there's another link.


BORGER: There's another tie there.

I mean, these things are supposed to be about mercy. They're supposed to be really about taking a look at the pardon system, taking a look at who is in jail and who shouldn't be there and the applications that you receive and go through a certain procedure at the Justice Department.

This is kind of skipping the whole procedure part. And it's another thing the president can do unilaterally. And he's frustrated that he can't do a lot of things unilaterally.

BALDWIN: But he can do this.

BORGER: But he can do this.

BALDWIN: But he can do this.

Last question, Jake, just back over to you...


BALDWIN: ... since you have obviously been such a thrust behind so much of this story and with Alice.

Do you know if Kim Kardashian West -- she's obviously had the phone call with her that she saves she will never forget.


BALDWIN: Will she go to Aliceville, Alabama, when she walks out of that federal prison?

HOROWITZ: I couldn't say.

But I can say that they spoke today, as she tweeted. And it's just really an amazing thing. One thing I definitely wanted to say is that Alice has an incredible family. She has a great support network in Memphis, in Arizona.

And I'm very confident through all of our reporting that that family is going to be very supportive and she's got a great opportunity in front of her. And we will be continuing to following the story, because I think it would be a great success story if she indeed does well outside of prison.

BORGER: And we hope she does.


BALDWIN: Yes, we do, we do.

Gloria Borger, thank you so much as well.

Moments ago, we saw Melania Trump in public for the first time in nearly a month. She toured the FEMA headquarters there with the president. We will take you there live for details on her first appearance publicly in 26 days.

Plus, President Trump asking a Republican senator to back off when it comes to tariffs -- what Bob Corker is trying to do to rein in the president's power to slap new taxes on the U.S.' trading partners.

And, later, the White House aide who joked about Senator John McCain dying is officially out of a job. But Kelly Sadler's is apparently still welcome to work for the Trump administration.

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 and longstanding allies has taken a testy turn.

Sources say the president had a contentious phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the tariffs that the administration is putting on Canada's steel and aluminum. According to sources, Trudeau pressed Trump on how he could justify the tariffs as a -- quote, unquote -- "national security issue."

And this was President Trump's response -- quoting him -- "Didn't you guys burn down the White House?" referring to the War of 1812.

However, once again, President Trump got his history a bit wrong. That arson was actually referring to the one committed by the British. And it was done in retaliation for an attack on land that ultimately became part of Canada.

But what is accurate is this, that the White House assertion that the aluminum and steel tariffs are to improve U.S. security, a concept Trudeau's foreign minister has really criticized.


CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: So, what you are saying to us and to 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: Let's talk this over with CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary for homeland security, and CNN political commentator Catherine Rampell, who is a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Ladies, good to have both of you on.

And, Juliette, just starting with you. It's one thing to cite national security, Russia, China, especially everything that is going on with ZTE, but Canada? Can you explain that for me?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I will quote the Canadian foreign minister. Seriously?

It's so shocking that, I guess one has to laugh. Canada has done more to help support America's national security efforts than most other countries, whether it's on border security, counterterrorism or, of course, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But even putting that aside, it's very dangerous for the White House to utilize the national security exception, which is meant to be utilized in instances like what you said, China and Russia, as a sort of carve-out to protect American interest against enemies.


To use it so willy-nilly as a means to justify an economic policy that should be judged in and of itself, so, basically, the United States, the Trump administration is utilizing an exception or a justification because they cannot justify the tariffs on economic grounds, because everyone knows that the Canadians and the economic policy are not harming the United States.

BALDWIN: Juliette made this point.

And, Catherine, I want to give you credit because you have been making this point with me for a while, and others are jumping are just in turn -- and you said it a second ago, that you don't enforce national security by alienating your military partners.

And I just want to hit this point home. Canada's own government Web site says -- quote -- "The United States is Canada's most important ally and defense partner. And more than 40,000 Canadian forces have served in Afghanistan with the U.S. from '01 to 2014."

So, what's this about? How damaging? How long-lasting would the damage be?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the damage is tremendous to our relationship with Canada specifically, to our economic situation in the near term, and potentially in the long term.

Look, it seems like the tortured logic Trump is trying to use here is that if for some reason we needed to ramp up steel production and we needed -- and steel and aluminum production, that Canada wouldn't be friendly enough to actually help us out there, that they would cut off those supplies.

Well, maybe this is a self-fulfilling prophecy here. Right? If we do enough to damage our relationship with our friends, yes, maybe they won't cooperate with us in our hour of need. And this is so ill-advised for reasons beyond national security, of

course, right? It's not only that. It's that there are lots of American jobs that count on getting steel and aluminum as inputs to manufacture other kinds of finished products. And now those inputs are getting more expensive, putting those jobs at risk. We're now facing retaliation from Canada, Mexico, the E.U., not to mention lots of other places.

BALDWIN: On retaliation from Mexico, they have slapped back on the tariffs. They have slapped more than $3 billion worth in American goods in tariffs after the imposed tariffs from the Trump administration last week.

You keep saying this is like -- these are the opening salvo of a trade war. This seems like a trade war. Who does this hurt the most?

RAMPELL: It hurts the Americans. Right?

When you think about it, we have put this tariff basically on countries worldwide, meaning that our costs are going up, and we're slapping them across the broad. And every other country is hurting a little bit from this, but then these other countries, when they retaliate, they can be much more strategic.

They can choose products that will hurt us the most, Kentucky bourbon, Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Wisconsin, for example, that will hurt us the most that maybe they have alternative suppliers for.

So we have done this so unstrategically on so many levels, that basically we are hurting American consumers and potentially American workers way more than we're hurting these other countries.

BALDWIN: Which is such a problem.

And, Juliette, I know you want to get in on this. I'm hearing you agree with what Catherine has been saying.

I want just to slip this speed of sound in. Republican Senator Bob Corker, he is filing this bill that would require lawmakers to approve any presidential trade actions done on national security grounds. And Senator Corker is doing that despite the president asking him to drop this whole idea in this apparent heated phone call.

Listen to this.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I talked at length with the president about it today. I mean, he's obviously not pleased with this effort.

QUESTION: What do you mean? Did he express his objections to you doing this?

Was he angry?

CORKER: He's not pleased with the effort. QUESTION: And you talked to him on the phone or did you go over to

the White House?

CORKER: No, phone.

QUESTION: He called you specifically about this?


QUESTION: How long did you guys talk for?

CORKER: Fairly lengthy.


BALDWIN: Fairly lengthy.

I mean, if Republicans are saying this is not OK to the president, how significant is what we just heard from the Republican senator?

KAYYEM: I think it could be significant.

I don't know how much backing Corker has. There is actually some debate about that. But it's significant. At the very least, you're seeing some life out of the Senate Republicans, because they are really one of the checks on all of this stuff on the president.

And I think what you're hearing from Corker, obviously someone who is very involved with foreign relations, too, is just how damaging it is for the United States to dilute the term national security.

This White House uses the sort of national security defense on everything from, of course, what Catherine was talking about, about the tariffs, to the immigration issue separating a woman and their children, to even whether we have transparency on where Cabinet officials are going.


They often say, oh, for national security reasons, we can't tell you. The dilution of that term is very scary, because when you want to use it for real purposes, when there are actual threats, no one is going to believe you anymore.

And I have to say...

BALDWIN: It's like crying wolf.

KAYYEM: ... this use of the national security exception in the Canadian case, it's -- we're done. Like, I don't believe them anymore.


KAYYEM: If you're going to use this against Canada, how will I believe it for immigration enforcement or how will the American public and our allies, who we may need when there is a real threat?

CAMPBELL: And just to one-up that even, Trump has not only said that we need to have these tariffs on steel and aluminum for -- quote, unquote -- "national security," which is preposterous.

Now he's suggesting that we need tariffs on cars for national security.


CAMPBELL: So, it's like they're just trying to make it more and more ridiculous.

BALDWIN: Let's also keep in mind the president will be in Canada on Friday for this G7, and how that goes when he's face to face with Trudeau. We're, of course, going to be in Canada and reporting on all that.

Catherine and Juliette, thank you, ladies, so very much for that. Great conversation.

Coming up next, the woman who made a crass remark about Senator John McCain's cancer is no longer working at the White House. It is not because, though, of what Kelly Sadler said about that. Another Trump insider says someone on the team had it out for her.



BALDWIN: Kelly Sadler is out at the White House. You may not know her name, but this was her job, the former communications aide.

And she's the young woman who mocked Senator John McCain. Sadler saying it didn't matter that McCain was opposed to President Trump's CIA choice because he's -- quote -- "dying anyway."

Still, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway tells CNN that Sadler may still have a future in the Trump administration.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Kelly Sadler has been told that there are administration jobs that fit with her skill set and her experience, and that the rest is really her choice of what she would like to do next.


BALDWIN: CNN political analyst Margaret Talev joins me now. She's the senior White House correspondent over at Bloomberg News.

And, Margaret, what do you make of Kellyanne Conway leaving the possibility open that Sadler could find another job at the administration?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it's instructive.

And I don't think that it was an accident. She said it on CNN morning, and then I was down the street at a breakfast roundtable of reporters hosted by "The Christian Science Monitor," and she repeated the same comments, declined to give us any insights into any particular job offers, but indicated that she would be qualified in several places.

So I think this is the White House sending a clear message that they're publicly defending Ms. Sadler, even as she has moved on out of the executive office of the president.

BALDWIN: Well, Anthony Scaramucci is weighing in as well.

Let me play this sound. Of course, he's the ex-communications director over at the White House. He defended her on "CUOMO" last night and blamed the problem on internal feuds. Here was the Mooch.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Let me just say a couple things about Kelly Sadler, OK? She was a very hardworking person. She was extremely loyal to the president.

There are factions inside that communication team that have been peashooting at each other since the day they joined the communications team. And it required real leadership to knit that team together and to think about it the way a corporate merger would go down.

And since that did not happen, a faction on the right and faction on the left were shooting at each other, and someone had it out for Kelly Sadler, because that was a sorry joke. It's an unforgivable statement. I'm not here suggesting the statement was OK.

But I am suggesting, as somebody that has run a pretty decent corporation, that when you're sitting inside the inner sanctum and somebody says something like that, to run outside the sanctum, and to rat on that person, I think that's a terrible thing to do to the person.


BALDWIN: Margaret, not to go totally inside baseball, but what do you know? What's going on in that White House com shop?

TALEV: It's not just the White House com shop.

Since the beginning of the administration, we know there have -- the sort of palace intrigue coverage is driven by the availability of palace intrigue stories. And this was obviously an incredibly unfortunate episode of a really inappropriate comment and one that, once it was aired, became the story unto itself, whether or not Anthony Scaramucci's points about inciting and leaking and the damage of leaks are all true.

I think communications director would feel that way about internal discussions. But, nevertheless, once that becomes a public story, it's essentially an inexcusable situation for someone who is an American hero, who has bipartisan support and is -- has a terminal illness.

And so it's a problem. And it runs into what has always been kind of the unofficial motto of President Trump, which is never apologize. There are some things that require apologies. Sometimes, they're public apologies. And the conflict was in, whether or not she made her apology privately, how this was dealt with publicly.

BALDWIN: Last question on the woman who stands at that podium just every about day. And you're sitting in there with that White House press corps asking all the tough questions.

Sarah Sanders, she's obviously being pressed on telling the truth. She is under fire for not giving that accurate account of President Trump's role in that misleading initial explanation in the wake of the Trump Tower meeting with Russians the summer of '16.

She was defensive yesterday when she was pressed. Here she was.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Frankly, I think my credibility is probably higher than the media's.

And I think that, in large part, that's because you guys spend more of your time focused on attacking the president, instead of reporting the news. I think that if you spent a little bit more time reporting the news, instead of trying to tear me down, you might actually see that we're working hard to provide you good information --