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Report: Trump Answers Questions Amidst His Attacks on Mueller; Trunk Faces Reporters with Like-Minded Italian Prime Minister; Trump Says There's No Problem Doing A Government Shutdown Over Wall Funding; Trump Says NATO Was Going Out of Business Before Me. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 30, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: -- continued to cut down Robert Mueller and the investigation here this Washington. At the same time, president Trump is rallying his party with talks of a potential government shutdown in the coming weeks. While we wait for the two leaders to speak, let's get straight to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny already in the east room over at the White House. Jeff, do you think reporters will get a chance to ask the president about his latest Twitter attacks against Robert Mueller.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf it certainly seems so. It certainly is on the president's mind. Even as he meets with the Italian prime minister. He had a meeting with him in the oval office and a bilateral meeting with aides just a short time ago. But it is the tweets he has been sending out all week long talking specifically about Robert Mueller's investigation is weighing heavily on the White House. Things have changed. Particularly Michael Cohen. His long-time friend and fixer turning against him. We have witness trying to ask the president about that for several days. This will be the first opportunity he has to answer if in fact he is taking questions here. We certainly believe he will because this is billed as a news conference.
If you look at the comments and messages over the weekend that the president was sending from Bedminster, New Jersey, certainly, personally going after Bob Mueller, everything from collusion to conflicts of interest to other matters. Without evidence are being specific here, but Wolf, this is not anger as much as strategy. This is a key strategy by this White House, this president, to discredit the Russia investigation just as Paul Manafort his former campaign chairman of course is standing trial.
That starts tomorrow in the eastern district of Virginia just across the river in Alexandria, Virginia. That is one of the reasons that the president is talking about Bob Mueller at this time. So much happening here at the White House with immigration, with Italy's -- new prime minister from Italy. I have a sense, wolf, at least the questions from the American side certainly would seem to be about Bob Mueller. That's what the president of course is consumed by. You could say that Bob Mueller is in his head. He has been talking and tweeting about it. We will see what he has to say here in the east room about it today Wolf. BLITZER: Looks like the delegations are beginning to show up there in
the east room. Presumably, this joint event is about to begin fairly soon. Jeff, walk us through the format? Opening statements from both leaders, followed by questions from reporters?
ZELENY: Indeed, there will be opening statements by both leaders. The new Italian prime minister, and then the president as well will make opening statements talking about the meetings they just had. We do believe there will be two questions from each side. Two questions from U.S. reporters, two from Italian reporters visiting. They will each have an opportunity to question their respective leader and each other.
We will have a chance to see what the president if the president answers questions about the betrayal of Michael Cohen, the long-time friend and fixer and really family friend. We certainly now is at odds with him. We have seen so much of this litigated on our air here on CNN and elsewhere. Will see the president hopefully having the first time to address his view that himself.
BLITZER: Live coverage coming up presumably fairly soon. There you see some of the senior aides to the president and prime minister already there. Presumably they will be walking in fairly soon. Let's bring in our analysts and correspondents for serious discussion. Gloria Borger, the last time there was one of these two on twos it was in Helsinki. I was there. Some of our friends were there. And the president of the United States was asked two tough questions from two American journalists as you will remember.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I do. We will have to see who he calls on today. I'm sure the president has that memory as well. It didn't go so well for him. We will have to see. Obviously, what's on everybody's -- oops, there you are.
BLITZER: There they come. The president will speak first.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm honored to welcome my new friend. We got along very well right from the beginning, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to the White House.
Mr. Prime minister, I want the begin by congratulating you once again on your tremendous victory in Italy. It was something that all the world was watching. And it excited the people all across Italy. And I can tell you, all across the United States as well. Congratulations. In your election, the Italian nation has reaffirmed the great traditions of sovereignty, law, and accountability that stretch all the way back to ancient Rome. This proud heritage sustains our civilization and must be always defended.
[14:05:00] Today, Prime Minister Conte and I are pleased to announce a strategic dialogue between Italy and the United States that will enhance cooperation on a range of issues. This includes joint security efforts in the Mediterranean, where we recognize Italy's leadership role in the stabilization of Libya and north Africa. They have been terrific. Both the prime minister and I are focused on the urgent need to protect our nations from terrorism, and uncontrolled migration. Our countries have learned through hard experience that border security is national security. They are one and the same.
Like the United States, Italy is currently under enormous strain as a result of illegal immigration, and they fought it hard. And the prime minister, frankly, is with us today because of illegal immigration. Italy got tired of it. They didn't want it any longer. The people of Italy have borne a great part of the burden for Europe through the course of the migration crisis. I applaud the prime minister for his bold leadership, truly bold, and I hope more leaders will follow this example, including leaders in Europe. The prime minister and I are united in our conviction that strong nations must have strong borders. We have a solemn obligation to protect our citizens and their quality of life.
My administration is working hard to pass border security legislation, improve vetting, and establish a merit-based immigration system which the United States needs very, very importantly, very badly. As far as the border is concerned, and personally, if we don't get border security, after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It's time we had proper border security. We're the laughing stock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world. In our meeting today, the prime minister and I discussed ways to enhance our cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
That also has to do with border security. I want to thank the Italian people for Italy's contributions to counter-terrorism and operations in the coalition to defeat is, where we have had a tremendous success, as you know, and in NATO's resolute support mission in Afghanistan. The prime minister and I agree that the brutal regime in Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. Never. We encourage all nations to pressure Iran to end the full range of its malign activities. The United States welcomes the partnership of Italy in these vital efforts.
Today, we are also addressing the crucial issue of trade and commerce. We are working closely with our European partners, including Italy, to ensure fair and reciprocal trade. A few days ago, I met with President Juncker of the European commission. We had a great meeting. Following that meeting we announced a breakthrough agreement to remove trade barriers and increase United States exports of agriculture, energy, and other goods and services to the European Union. Now is also the perfect time to expand commerce between the United States and Italy. America's booming economy is setting records in so many categories. It creates enormous opportunities for investment.
Likewise, I recommend investment in Italy. It is a great place with great people. I look forward to working closely with the prime minister to open up new commercial opportunities that will reduce our trade deficit substantially and increase our mutual prosperity. Mr. Prime Minister, we discussed our shared goal of combatting unfair foreign trade practices from non-market economies. They are brutal. But we are winning.
[14:10:00] These abuses including subsidies, excess capacity, intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, currency devaluation and distortion, caused by state-owned enterprises. In this area, like so many others, cooperation between Italy and the
United States can make a tremendous difference not only for our countries, but all over the world. And it's making a big difference. And we are making a big difference. Tremendous difference. In this area, like so many others, cooperation between Italy and the United States can make a tremendous difference not only for our countries, but all over the world. And it's making a big difference. And we are making a big difference. Tremendous difference. On trade and on fairness.
But we also have to be fair to the people of the United States and the taxpayers of the United States. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you again for joining me for these important discussions. We are both outsiders to politics. Can you believe it? We are outsiders to politics. I look at all of these wonderful politicians. And we are both determined to protect the rights and needs and interests and dreams of our citizens. And we will do that. I look forward to partner with you to grow the beautiful friendship between our countries in the effort of creating a brighter future for both the people of Italy and the people of the United States. With that, I just want to again thank you again very much for coming to the White House. It is my great honor. Thank you.
GIUSEPPE CONTE, PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY (through translator): Good afternoon. I wish to thank you, President Trump, for this kind invitation, for this warm hospitality, only two months after the formation of my government. I take it as a sign of the special attention to Italy and to me as well. Forgive me but I don't want to renounce the privilege for speaking in my wonderful language now.
Before all I would like to -- remember -- to all the families and all the members of the families, to the victims of the fires that took place recently in California. I would also like to say a very, very affectionate hello to all the friends. Our relationship is a very long one. It goes very back. And today we have strengthened it even more. And I'm extremely happy about this. And with this very fruitful encounter here in the White House we have made another step ahead in order to make our work together even more adequate vis-a-vis the geopolitical economic situation in the world from June 1st.
There is another element that brings us even closer, the United States and Italy, my government, and the Trump administration are both governments that represent change. They were chosen by citizens in order to change the status quo and to improve their life conditions. There are so many thing that bring us to the, that unify us in Italy as in the United States. We are doing what we had promised during our electoral campaign, and we are working in order to give answers to the expectations of our citizens so that we won't disappoint them. And we don't betray our mandate. In Italy and the United States, we are proving that change is possible.
Donald and I have concentrated on a number of topics, and we both have agreed upon and reached the following results, which in part were already mentioned. Today we will have made a great step ahead. We will start working in Italy -- it is a directorship both, as it were in the Mediterranean between Italy and the United States. I would say we are almost twin countries in which Italy is becoming a reference point in Europe and a a privileged interlocutor for the United States for the main threats and challenges that we have before us. Terrorism, all of the crises we see in the Mediterranean, in particular in regard to Libya.
[14:15:00] Secondly, the American administration also recognizes that Italy as a leadership role as a promoter country that will lead to the stabilization of Libya. And of course, this was a great respect for the Libyan population. With the United States we will be working in order the reach these results and we will decide what needs to be done in view of this result. I am truly thankful to you, Donald, for your support. Thirdly, in terms of immigration, I also described to President Trump the innovative approach that Italy has put forth and the European Union now has a responsibility to not leave the weight of the management of immigration on the shoulders of the countries of arrival, like Italy is.
And as you heard President Trump say we appreciate this contribution which has been provided by the Italian government which is providing good results. We are talking about a multilevel approach in order to try to resolve the phenomenon of immigration not because of an emergency, but because this is a structural approach. I want to underline this is in line with the position of president Trump, which goes from the respect and dignity of people to make sure that fundamental rights are protected. And it wants to make sure that these rights are trampled over because these people are in the hand of criminal bath. I also want to underline that the world day for the exchange of human beings is going to be celebrated. I also told president Trump that I am very satisfied for the understanding that was reached very recently between ourselves and the president of the European Commissioner Juncker.
I believe this understanding is fundamental and we have to work upon it immediately, bringing our efforts together to make sure that European, American, Italian citizens receive the benefits of a more equitable trade relationship which is completely r completely reciprocal. Italy is open to a relationship with Russia, but Italy also knows that the dialogue between the United States and Russia is fundamental so that we can have positive results in a more global perspective for stability and security purposes. In terms of energy security, president Trump and I also found ourselves in agreement with the need to make sure that there is a greater diversification for the sources of energy and to make sure that the energy roots are diversified as well.
Finally, I personally am sure that we can increase and improve with the made to at all levels. In in particular in the space and aerospace fields we already have a great partnership between the Italian space agency and NASA. So, we hope that aerospace will bring together American technology, Italian technology so that we can launch new aircraft that cross the atmosphere and will be able to bring the United States and Italy together in an hour and a half. This is a project I would like to speak in deal with the American administration. I thank you for your attention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. To follow up on what you were saying about the shut down. Are you saying that you would be willing to shut the government why down in September if it does not fully fund $25 billion worth of your border wall and also deliver all of the immigration priorities that you listed in your tweet? Or leaving some room for negotiation there?
TRUMP: I will always leave room for negotiation, but this has been many years. This isn't just Trump administration. We are new. There have been many years, even decades.
[14:20:00] We have immigration laws. We have border security. We have all sorts of things going on that are -- it's disgraceful. We are doing a phenomenal job. We are setting records, but we have laws that don't work. We are working around those laws. It's unfortunate. I have to take my hat off to the border patrols, law enforcement, the ICE which really has been maligned by the Democrats, the job they do. They go into these MS-13 nests, nests of bad, bad people, killers in many cases, and they go in there fearless and they do an incredible job and they get them out. They either go to jail or they get out of the country.
So, I want to take my hat off the ICE and the brave people that have really been pa lined by the Democrats. We need border security. Without a border, as this gentleman can tell you also, because the prime minister really was a very big factor in his win, and other people's win in Italy. Have really been pa lined by the Democrats. We need border security. Without a border, as this gentleman can tell you also, because the prime minister really was a very big factor in his win, and other people's win in Italy. It was a big factor in my win. We need border security. Border security includes many other things. We have to end the lottery. We have to end the chain. The chain is like a disaster. You bring one person and you end up with 32 people.
We have to end these horrible catch and release principles where you catch somebody, you take their name, and you release them. You don't even know who they are. And then they are supposed to come back to a court case where they want us to hire thousands of judges. The whole thing is ridiculous. And we have to change our laws. We do that through Congress. I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done. As you know, we are already approving things in various bills including we are going to be taking care of the military. We always put the military and law enforcement very high. But I would be certainly willing to consider a shutdown if we don't get proper border security. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir just to follow up on that quickly, is the $25 billion a red line for you?
TRUMP: I have no red line, unlike President Obama. I just want great border security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Prime Minister, here in the United States, amongst our commentariat there was the consensus that the president's appearance at the G7 and NATO damaged our relationship with those institutions. As a member of both of those institutions, what is your assessment of the president's appearance at both? CONTE (through translator): Both at the G7 and NATO we had a very
fruitful exchange of views and opinions and oppositions. I think that all the positions and stances which are expressed with clarity and provide a contribution also to review well established positions are more than welcome. There is a fruitful exchange. We had a truthful he can change both at the G7 summit and NATO summit in different frameworks. We for instance, in the framework of G7 summit, we agreed on the need for reforming the WTO, the system of the WTO. It is a- year-old system which consider China as an emerging country. You can understand that applying those same rules after years with the privileges granted to an emerging country clearly means having a system which is not well functions and it's not well rational.
And NATO, there was a clear stance taken by President Trump which I personally share. Fairly, he expressed a position and the need to rebalance the expenditure which is born out of from addition by the United States which is very disproportionate. These are absolutely reasonable positions and stances, and I personal take them into great account. And I will be personally the carrier of the message and I will try to make the others understand his position as well. We must negotiate with the United States to find balance in interest of Italian cities, American citizens, and European citizens.
TRUMP: Also, I would add to that -- I want to thank you for what you just said. It has been unfair to the United States. We had a very good G7 meeting. That's where Giuseppe and I became friends. I think we were more closely aligned then everyone else in the room.
[14:25:00] But it was a great meeting in every respect. I would say it was very good. NATO in particular. I went to NATO. It was essentially going out of business because people weren't paying. It was going down and down and down.
You have to look at the line. I came along last year and in a fairly nice tone I said you have got to pay. And they paid $44 billion more. And this year I said it in a little bit stronger tone. And they are paying hundreds of billions of dollars more over the years. And NATO will be strong again. And if you speak to Secretary General Stoltenberg, I think he's the biggest fan of Trump because he said, we couldn't collect money until President Trump came along. And he said last year we collected $44 billion, and this year, the money is pouring in. But it's like the prime minister said. We really -- talk about imbalance. We were treated very unfairly.
The United States was treated very, very unfairly. Because we are shouldering anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the costs of to. That's not fair. It's not fair. Especially when you take Germany. They are paying a little more than 1 percent and they are buying and paying tremendous amounts of money to Russia. So, we are supposed to protect countries from Russia, but they are paying Russia billions and billions of dollars for the energy. Not good. Not a good situation. And I let it be known. So, the bottom line is the NATO countries are now paying a lot more money. And NATO has become a lot stronger because of it. And I appreciate your answer. Thank you. Please.
CONTE: Sorry Donald. May I add something? I am saying as a person who has a great huge experience as a lawyer, you have a president who is a strong supporter and advocate of the interests of the American people and the American country. He is a great negotiator. And I'm told there is a reporter who wants to ask a question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despite its terrific potential the Italian economy underperforms regularly. Given your stellar success in the U.S. economy, what do you think would reignite the Italian economy? Is what role do you think the EU should play in it? President Conte, do you think President Trump's formula would work in Italy as well?
TRUMP: I can answer the biggest thing Italy needs is great leadership. They have it right now. I honestly believe the prime minister is going to do a tremendous job on economic development in addition to borders. You know, for economic development you need borders also. But you have a man that's going to do a terrific job. I have no doubt about it at all. He knows how to sell. He knows how to promote really a great product because they make among the greatest products. I won't mention their names, but they are great. I have some of them. And Italy makes a great product. I think it's going to do very well economically.
And we are there to help. We have had record numbers. I have been here for a little more than a year and a half, and we have had record numbers. We have had numbers that nobody believed possible, especially if you look at one particular fact that was not reported very much. Trade deficit. $52 billion reduction in the trade deficit for the quarter. And I think probably Steve Mnuchin Treasury Secretary is here and Mike Pompeo. Nobody would have thought that would be possible so quickly. $52 billion reduction in the trade definite sit for the quarter. I think that Italy is going to be able to do the same thing. Slightly different numbers but the same thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What role should the European Union play in the reignition --
TRUMP: That's up to them. I don't want to get involved in that. European Union. Jean-Claude and I had a terrific meeting last week. We were having a hard time. Then I did mention tariffs on cars and we got along very well. Very well. I think they are going to treat us fairly. We are going to treat them fairly. As you know it is been a one-way street. The European Union has totally taken advantage of the United States. We can't let that happen. Not fair to the United States. By the way, Italy has a $31 billion surplus with the United States. Meaning we have a $31 billion trade deficit with Italy. And we discussed that. And we will work something out. We are going to work something out. OK? Thank you.
[14:30:00] CONTE: As far as I am concerned I'm very envious, very envious of the records and the growth figures of the American economy. We discussed that before with Donald. Somehow these are systems which cannot be compared because their magnitudes orders of magnitude are very different. At the same time, I'm envious but ambitious at the same time as the government leader I'm ambitious for my economy to do a lot, much more than what was done in the past. We are preparing a series of structural reforms which we will be submitting to the attention of our European partners, too. I do not want the tax reform to be set aside. It was leverage in this country for economic growth. -- is well constructed. It represents a leverage for economic growth. Working on streamlining and simplifying red tape and administration regulation. So, we are trying to eliminate corruption pockets. We are trying to speed up the civil trials, the proceedings so all sectors together with the citizenship income which will support those people who lose --