Return to Transcripts main page


Donald Trump Exonerated By The IG Report; A Major Move By The Administration, Announcing New Tariffs, $50 Billion Worth Of Goods Will Be Taxed At 25% Aired: 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 15, 2018 - 09:30   ET


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The President was really, this morning adamant that on multiple fronts, not only was he exonerated by the IG Report, his summit with Kim was an unequivocal success and that he basically is presiding over what he believes is the best time for this country and that his critics are attacking him because he's doing so well.

So, Poppy, it was really extraordinary to see him standing there taking questions for quite some time, but he was being pressured by reporters, by CNN reporters, by others from other outlets on a number of issues, but particularly this North Korean issue.

He seemed somewhat defensive about the idea that maybe he had excused Kim Jong-un's human rights violations. He believed that the United States got, in his words, everything out of this, which is a halt to the threat of nuclear war. Although, as everyone has pointed out this morning, there's nothing on paper that says that, there's nothing concrete that we know about as of this moment.

The President said that details on verification are being worked out right now, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Abby, thank you. David Chalian, our political director, back to you.

Just to be very clear here, and Laura makes a good point, did the President even read the IG's report before making those assertions this morning. It's very unclear to say the least.

Horowitz, the IG, found no evidence, "From the report, to connect the political views expressed in the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, no evidence to connect the text messages to specific investigative decisions." That is critical and it is something ignored by the President this morning.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Tight. That is the piece that the President said he believes is where the IG blew it. He thought the whole report was fantastic because it takes down Jim Comey and justifies in President Trump's mind his firing of James Comey.

And of course, it reveals these clearly politically biased text messages against President Trump. But when presented with -- but the report comes to the conclusion that there was no political bias in the outcome of actions, that there was no effect or as you were saying connection. he says, "Well, that's clearly not true." He just denies that part of the report.

So, this report that he says completely exonerates him, he believes, in the Mueller investigation, which this report is not about, he then also uses to say that it's entirely untrue that there's no political bias and that the IG blew it. You can't have it both ways, Mr. President.

HARLOW: You can't, but he's trying to this morning, and I should know, Chris Cillizza, Horowitz, who wrote this report, the IG has been roundly praised by Democrats, by Republicans like the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, conservative Trey Gowdy. He is someone who's worked under the Bush administration, the Obama administration, but the President thinks it is clearly politically expedient for him to accept most of the report but not one of the key findings.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN: Yes, I would say the key finding. Yes, you can say there were breaks with protocol, you can say the Strzok texts are clearly inappropriate, but at the end of the day what you have to say is did these actions, were they biased politically? Were they motivated by a political view? That would be a major problem.

But this IG report says the opposite. They weren't motivated by a political view. Now, I don't--

HARLOW: You wrote about this last night, Chris. You wrote about the fact that those seven words--


HARLOW: -- from Peter Strzok, an FBI agent about stopping Trump would be all that would be focused on.

CILLIZZA: Yes. It's a 568-page report, I think. Those seven words -- the second I saw them, you knew that's what Donald Trump is going to focus on. He does this all the time. He picks the things that affirm his already -- the beliefs he already has and he dismisses everything else there.

HARLOW: And they matter. They matter.

CILLIZZA: They do.

HARLOW: We've been talking about them, but the context matters.

CILLIZZA: They absolutely matter, but they are not definitive as it relates to the report more broadly. It is not illegal for Peter Strzok to want Donald Trump to lose. It is illegal for Peter Strzok to act to obstruct an investigation to bring that result about, and there's just not evidence, no matter what you say, read the IG report, there is not evidence that that happened. That does not excuse Peter Strzok. He is not an ideal FBI employee.

HARLOW: But the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, this morning, said he should be tossed in jail. It's not a crime. Right? For what? CILLIZZA: I mean, for what?

HARLOW: Stay with me. We have a lot to get to here. But also standing by patiently waiting for us is Democratic Congressman, Eric Swalwell who sits on the intelligence and the judiciary committee. Appreciate your patience. We've had a bit of breaking news this morning. Good morning. Thank you for being here.

I want to get to those text messages and your response to the IG report in a moment, but first I'd like you to address some of the assertions that the President made this morning in this wide-ranging interview and then press gaggle at the White House.

Okay, so first on North Korea, here is what the President said when a reporter asked him about Otto Warmbier, the college student who died at the hands of the Kim regime and the President we know has said he's good friends with Otto's parents, and then--


HARLOW: -- the lack of at least a deep discussion with Kim Jong-un about human rights atrocities. Here's the President's explanation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've spoken so passionately about the circumstances that led to Otto Warmbier's death. In the same breath, you are defending now Kim Jong-un's human rights records. How can you do that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know why? Because I don't want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And by the way, you declared the nuclear threat from North Korea is over.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family. I want to have a good relationship with North Korea. I did a great job this weekend.


HARLOW: Are the two mutually exclusive, that addressing human rights atrocities means you can't prevent nuclear war?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: No, and Poppy, we just watched 45 minutes of scammapalooza ranging from North Korea to Russia. This President deceived the American people on a number of different issues. As relates to the summit last week, you would have thought that Donald Trump met with the Pope in the way that he described Kim Jong-un.

He again shows that he's incapable and he's too weak to directly confronting the most ruthless leaders in the world. He did this with Putin. He said he can't ask Putin about Russian interference because it really offends Putin. Well, I'm sorry, Mr. President, you stand for Americans, not for Russia. again, why couldn't he bring up the human rights violations in North Korea?

HARLOW: On Russia, he did blame President Obama for the annexation of Crimea, not Vladimir Putin and Russia. Notable to say the least. The President also pointed a finger at you and fellow Democrats for his own administration's policy, which has led to the effective separation of undocumented children from their parents at the border. This change in policy over the last month. Listen to the President on that.


TRUMP: I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children. The Democrats can come to us, as they actually are, in all fairness, we are talking to them, and they can change the whole border security.


HARLOW: He says it's your fault. What do you say?

SWALWELL: Poppy, it is his administration. It's his border patrol agents who are separating families, mothers and their babies at the borders. He can issue a directive right now and stop that from happening.

But on immigration, he has benefitted from making imaginary decisions. He says, "You know what? You pass the immigration bill, I'll take the heat." He knows that the Republicans in Congress do not have the courage to bring that bill, and so he benefits from those imaginary decisions.

We need a Democratic majority in Congress to put on his desk all the things that he has said he would sign and see if he's serious, because right now he just benefits from a Congress that's not going to step up and stand for these families.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about the IG report and some of the findings in here, because the President this morning tweeted, "It doesn't get any lower than that." He's talking about the text messages exchanged between two FBI agents that worked on the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and on the Mueller probe for a period of time, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

As you know, Peter Strzok wrote, "We will stop. We will stop candidate Trump." There we have it. Let's pull it up on the screen. She writes, "Trump is not ever going to become President, right? Right?" Peter Strzok says, "No, no, he won't. The President this morning says that it doesn't get any lower than that." Do you agree with the President that an FBI agent working in these capacities saying these things is at the least problematic?

SWALWELL: Oh, absolutely, and those exchanges are disgusting to read. Americans are allowed to have political opinions, but we expect the FBI to hold itself to a higher standard. Now, of course there's no evidence this influenced the investigation and Bob Mueller removed Mr. Strzok from his team immediately, but I don't like that one bit, Poppy.

HARLOW: And you know that in the IG's report, the IG does assert that at the end of the day after a year of investigating this that they cannot say conclusively that the steps that were taken by Peter Strzok were "free from bias," saying we did not have confidence that Strzok's decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on what was called the midyear investigation, the Clinton e-mail investigation, discovered and the lead that was discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop was "free from bias." Are you concerned about that?

SWALWELL: No, because I've seen the evidence in this case. This is a pebble compared to the mountain of evidence of the Trump campaign reaching out to the Russians. The candidate inviting the Russians to hack, back channel conversations they were having with the Russians

So, you know --

HARLOW: But hold on, Congressman. I'm just asking about a specific thing. Are you concerned that the IG found this independent body, that they couldn't confirm that this FBI agent was, quote, "free from bias" when deciding which to move on faster, right? The Russia -- in the days before the election, by the way.


HARLOW: The Russia probe or the Clinton e-mail investigation?

SWALWELL: No, I'm not concerned that another course was taken. I believe that he was removed appropriately. He acted inappropriately, but this investigation is bigger than one agent's opinion. It's a mountain of evidence of concerning contacts that the Trump team had and it should be able to proceed.

HARLOW: When you listened to what the President has said about former FBI Director James Comey, he proclaims on Twitter this morning, "Comey is the worst leader by far in the history of the FBI," and he says he did a great service to the American people by firing Comey.

In light of what the IG report found on Comey, which said that his moves holding that press conference before the election, exonerating Hillary Clinton were "extraordinary and insubordinate," is the President right that he did a service to the American people by firing James Comey?

SWALWELL: No, and I would ask the President, sir, were you lying to the American people and Lester Holt when you told Lester Holt on NBC News that you fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation? Were you lying to the Russians when you brought them into the Oval Office and kicked out the Americans and told them that you fired James Comey and it gave you great relief of pressure on the Russia investigation?

I'll take the President at his word that it was because of the Russia investigation. HARLOW: Congressman Eric Swalwell, appreciate your time. And again--

SWALWELL: Of course, Poppy.

HARLOW: -- thanks for waiting around for us.

SWALWELL: no problem.

HARLOW: All right, still to come, President Trump going after China, again, officially this morning. a major move by the administration, announcing new tariffs, $50 billion worth of goods will be taxed at 25% and it's going to hit your pocketbooks. We'll break it down, next.


HARLOW: All right, welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York and we do have more breaking news from the White House for you this morning. The White House just moments ago officially announcing really significant tariffs against our largest trading partner, that is China -- $50 billion worth of Chinese goods will be taxed at 25%. This escalates concerns about a trade war that many economists argue is already under way.

Just moments ago, President Trump insisted tariffs are a good thing meant to protect this country. Listen to this.


TRUMP: We're just going to do $50 billion on $50 billion of high technology equipment and other things coming into the country because so much of our secrets -- you know, we have the great brain power in Silicon Valley, and China and others steal those secrets and we're going to protect those secrets. Those are crown jewels for this country.


HARLOW: Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, is with me now. Look, we thought this was coming, it's hugely significant. The President says it's good for the country.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, CNN: He does and he says this shows that he is America first and he's going to fix the wrongs of every administration ahead of him. And the President just moments ago, you heard him there on the trade agenda. He's saying that US isn't the one who started this trade war. Listen.


TRUMP: The trade war was started many years ago by them, and the United States lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you're saying we're on the losing ends of it?

TRUMP: There is no trade war. Well, no, there is no trade war, they have taken so much. So, last year $375 billion in trade deficit with China. We had overall over $800 billion over a period of years, each year close to $800 billion in losses on trade. Not going to happen anymore. It's not going to happen.


ROMANS: Just goods, Poppy, but even if you add in services, it's $335 billion trade deficit with China last year. So, the China tariffs are back on. The President says trade with China is unfair. The situation is no longer sustainable. He's targeting technology that China has vowed to dominate. Xi Jinping's Made in China 2025 initiative, there will be a 25% tariff on 1,100 product categories.

This is what the US calls industrial significant technology, so it is focused ere on aerospace equipment, tech, manufacturing, medical supplies. Things that are going to lead the future. US companies will pay that tariff to the US government when they import the goods. They can do a couple of things. They can either absorb the higher cost or they can pass it along to consumers.

Quick reaction from the Chinese commerce ministry, they said the US kept changing its mind and has now begun a trade war. They're right on the on and off. The tariff tiff has been on and off. The White House first unveiled this in March, multiple rounds of trade talks with China, a cease-fire -- remember in May. Then the recent summit with North Korea, many thought that was a big win for China.

But today, $50 billion in tariffs anyway. The Chinese vow retaliation. The White House vows more tariffs if China targets egg or hurts American companies there. The US, the President of the US Trade Representatives say this is punishment for China stealing trade secrets, for forced technology transfers from American companies, for cyber theft, and it fulfills the President's promise to try to cut that trade deficit which he sees as a bank account that is negative, that America loses money every year. It's not a view that every economist takes.

HARLOW: Also, you know, giving not a pass but letting ZTE, the big Chinese tech firm stay in business despite violating sanctions, et cetera, et cetera. What's the strategy here? It's not consistent. Christine, thank you so much for the reporting.

Let's go to Matt Rivers, he is our correspondent in Beijing, on reaction. Matt, what I find fascinating about this is that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo less than 24 hours ago was sitting with Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, and one of things they were talking about was trade, and now this.

MATT RIVERS, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, you can imagine, Poppy, that was a bit awkward given that both men likely knew this was going to happen as it has. I mean, we knew that the Trump administration was going forward with these tariffs at that point, and now they have, and Xi Jinping certainly knew what China was going to do and that was to retaliate.

We heard very quickly after that announcement from the White House that China would retaliate in kind. They will levy $50 billion worth of tariffs on American imports here to China and part of that list would include things our viewers would be familiar with -- soybeans, beef, certain cars that come from the US to China, smaller airplanes, fruits, a whole wide list of products.


RIVERS: $50 billion in tariffs represents almost a third of what the US sends to China each year, around $140 billion or so in exports from the US to China. So that's going to hit those consumers.

I mean, take soybeans, for example, Poppy, that depending on the year and the last couple of years, $15 billion worth of American soybeans were bought by China each year. That is going to hit farmers in the Midwest, in the soy-producing states.

The other big consequence of this, according to China, that anything that was agreed upon in the last three rounds of trade negotiations between China and the United States, anything that was agreed upon, China now views that as null and void.

So China is accusing the US of launching the trade war, the President says it was China that started it in the first place. Whoever you believe, this is happening right now and where it goes from here is the big question.

HARLOW: Matt Rivers, appreciate the reporting in Beijing, thank you very much. With me now, CNN political commentator, former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent; CNN senior economics analyst and former Trump economic adviser, Steven Moore. Nice to have you gentlemen. Congressman Dent, let me go to you, soybeans, for example, right? I mean, this is one of the largest, if not the largest ag export in this country. It is going to be hit. It is going to hurt farmers.

You look at the state of Pennsylvania, you look at the rural voters that helped the President win that state, and win the election, your former constituents, are these tariffs helpful for them?

CHARLIE DENT, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN, PENNSYLVANIA: No, absolutely not. In fact, Poppy, look, the President is correct to point out that China has abused us in terms of intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and dumping in excess capacity of metals.

But they've gone about this completely wrong. This trade policy is strategically and economically incoherent and self-destructive.

I can tell you, if the issue is China, why are we slapping tariffs right now on Canadian steel and aluminum? Same with Brazilians and Europeans? I'm sitting here in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 35 miles south of the anthracite coal region. That coal goes to Brazil and to Asia, to make steel.

I mean, we have trade surpluses with Canada and Brazil. Why are we launching a trade war with them? We should focus on China. We need these countries. They're our allies, to help us take on China at the WTO, on those issues we just mentioned with intellectual property theft and of course with technology transfers. This is an incoherent policy, it is self-destructive and we need to get to a better place.

HARLOW: Steve Moore, you advised the President on all things economy during the campaign. Is it self-destructive what he's done?

STEVEN MOORE, FORMER TRUMP ECONOMIC ADVISER: Well, look, we knew this day was coming for a long time. I did campaign with Donald Trump and was adviser to him on the economy during that campaign and the voters knew this is exactly what Donald Trump would do and by the way, as my friend Charlie Dent knows, this was a very popular policy in states like Pennsylvania where Americans agreed with Donald Trump that a lot of trade deals hadn't worked.

I agree with Charlie that we should focus on China. You're exactly right about that, Charlie, and I have a problem when Donald Trump says we have to get tough with Canada, Germany and these other countries.

The problem child is China and Donald Trump is exactly right about this. They do cheat. They do steal. We estimate that about $300 billion of our technologies are stolen by the Chinese without them paying for the patents and the copyrights and so on. That cannot continue and Trump has basically said, look--

HARLOW: Steve Moore, hold that thought because one of the other folks that you worked with is Gary Cohn, who is the President's Chief Economic Adviser up until a few months ago. And he was asked just yesterday in Washington about the impact of these tariffs on China specifically and what they would mean. Here's what he said.


GARY COHN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation. You could end up with more consumer debt. Those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it wipe out the benefits of the tax bill in.

COHN: Yes, it could.


HARLOW: Is he right, Steve Moore?

MOORE: I don't like tariffs. I agree a lot with what Gary Cohn just said, and by the way, as you know, Poppy, Gary Cohn left the White House because he disagreed with Trump on the tariff policy.

Look, I just think that Trump is right, that the status quo with China cannot stand, and by the way, I'm just looking at the lead story of the "Wall Street Journal" here this morning is growth in US leaves the world behind and they talk about how the United States is now growing at 4% to 4.5%. China's economy is sort of flat lined right now. Let me just make this point. China needs to trade with the United States more than we need to trade

with them. If they want to pick a trade fight with the United States, it is a fight they cannot win because China absolutely has to have access to American markets.

HARLOW: I will say, even though China's growth has slowed, you know, Steve Moore that about 6% to 7% growth is double -- more than double what the US is seeing right now. Congressman Dent, finally to you, do you think that the--


HARLOW: -- effect of these tariffs like Gary Cohn said on people's pocketbooks, those voters, your former constituents in Pennsylvania will wipe out potentially any gains they had from the tax breaks?

DENT: I tend to agree with Gary Cohn on this issue. It will have negative impacts on American consumers. But just one last thing on China. Look, if we want to get serious about China, we need to rejoin the trans-pacific partnership.

Pulling out of that, basically ceded the field to China in terms of writing the rules and setting the standards of trade. We need to be writing these rules, setting the standards along with our Pacific rim allies as a counterbalance against China. That's the best way to protect the American worker; otherwise the Chinese are going to set the standards and write the rules. We've got to get back to a strategically coherent trade policy.

HARLOW: It is an interesting point, and as you guys know, the President complains a lot about Canada's tariffs on dairy, for example, being 270%. He is correct when he says that, but a little known part of TPP that we pulled out of, the trans-pacific partnership would have all that eliminated that tariff on dairy going into Canada. Gentlemen, thank you both for being here and thanks for waiting around. We had a lot of news this morning.

All right, so President Trump with an impromptu long news conference on so many issues. You will hear from the President on all of it right after this.

HARLOW: Good Friday morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. So, glad you're with us. Our breaking news comes straight from the White House lawn. President Trump on the attack against perceived political enemies and the FBI and far beyond declaring himself, "totally exonerated" in the Russia probe, distancing himself from his own long time lawyer, and from his former campaign chairman when he was running for President, not to mention so many other headlines on North Korea saying that he has solved that problem. Let's get to Abby Phillip at the White House.

Good morning, Abby. And let me just begin, this was an extraordinary--