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Trump/Conte Press Conference; Trump Takes No Questions on Mueller or Cohen at Press Conference. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] GUISEPPE CONTE, ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translation): 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 their job to find a new one.

These are all the reforms that we consider to be a positive element to represent an economic leverage over our country which can then try and reach the world (ph).

TRUMP: I do think this, one of the biggest things that we've done -- obviously the massive tax cuts, but maybe equal too would be the tremendous cuts in regulation. And I know Italy well and they have a lot of regulation, and I have no doubt that the Prime Minister Giuseppe will be working very hard on that.

But I think, Giuseppe I can say from our standpoint one of the most important things we did was cutting massively these horrible regulations -- and I believe so strongly in the environment. I want the cleanest air, the cleanest water, the cleanest everything, the best everything.

But you had ten regulations for every point in some cases, it was ridiculous. It would take many years to get a highway or a road approved, but we have that way down. We have it down to two years and it will hopefully be down to one.

And it may get rejected. But at least it's going to go quickly. So we want regulation, but it's got to be cut to a minimum and do the trick and I think that Italy will follow suit. I know that they've looked at it very strongly and they're going to follow suit, OK?

Thank you. Thank you very much. Roberta Rampton of Reuters, please? Roberta? Hello, Roberta.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You spoke a bit about Iran today and your discussions, and I'm wondering if you could tell us what you think Iran needs to do to reduce some of the tensions. And you've met with the leaders of North Korea and Russia.

Are you prepared also -- are you willing to meet with President Rouhani and under what conditions? And have there been any preliminary discussions about something like that?

TRUMP: I'll meet with anybody. I believe in meeting. The (inaudible) better than anybody can say it. Speaking to other people, especially when you're talking about potentials of war and death and famine and lots of other things. You meet, there's nothing wrong with meeting. We met, as you know, with Chairman Kim and it -- you haven't had a missile fired off in nine months, we got our prisoners back, so many things have happened so positive.

But meeting with people -- I had a great meeting in my opinion, of course the fake news didn't cover it that way, but I had a great meeting with President Putin of Russia. I think it was a great meeting in terms of the future, in terms of safety and economic development and protecting Israel and protecting everybody, I thought it was a great meeting.

Great meeting with NATO, I just explained NATO -- hundreds of billions of dollars of more money will be paid into NATO, the coffers of NATO and much already has. So I believe in meeting, I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet.

I don't know that they're ready yet, they're having a hard time right now. But I ended the Iran Deal, it was a ridiculous deal. I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet, and I'm ready to meet anytime they want to.

And I don't do that from strength or from weakness, I think it's an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that's meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.

QUESTION: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

TRUMP: No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I'll meet anytime they want, anytime they want. Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I'll meet.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, I wanted to -- to ask if you and the President did -- you talked about the need to stabilize Libya. I wanted to ask if you and the President discussed working together on energy production in Libya in some way? Did you discuss oil production in Libya? Do you see a way for the United States to become involved there, perhaps with Italy's help?

CONTE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We discussed the problem of stabilizing Libya and obviously the security to be guaranteed for the whole of the Iranian area. You see, it's not only a problem of the migration routes.

Many of the migration routes from African countries concentrate in the Libyan area, and it's also a problem of security in general because for instance through the migration routes, foreign fighters might reach European territory, to agents which could -- who could carry the terrorist threat.

We didn't discuss in details other problems. Certainly it is our intention to respect the Libyan population. We are not driven by economic interests, we are not driven by the problem of energy supply. Our interest, and from this point of view (ph) I can announce -- I've already said that we are going to organize an agreement with President Trump.

I'm going to organize a conference on Libya. We would like to still and discuss (ph) all of the issues related to the European people, involving all of the stakeholders, actors for governments and the whole of the Mediterranean.

We are going to discuss economic aspects, but also social aspects. We need protection (ph) of civil rights, the problem of constitution of process, of issuing and passing laws in order to enable Libya in particular to get to the democratic elections in a condition of the utmost stability.

I'm told that (inaudible) from La Stampa wants to ask a question.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you. I have a question to President -- Prime Minister Conte and then a question to President Trump. There are three pending issues on the table with the American administration.

One of them is sanctions to Russia. In Italy -- the two main government parties in Italy said that they want to lift sanctions on Russia. What's the official position by the government?

It seems the (inaudible) is asking for these sanctions to be kept, yet other points (ph) are the TAPI gas pipeline and the American Department asked to (ph) continue with the work, while there are some ambiguous decisions in Italy in relation to this project, and the F-35 program.

What is Italy going to do? Will Italy confirm the program? Thank you.

CONTE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I'm going to answer in relation to a sanctions on Russia. I'm going to repeat what I said before, because I've already taken a stance in all of the international comments. I'm going to be boring, but this confirms that the position of the Italian government is not changing in this respect.

We are open to dialect with Russia. We do believe that Russia is a place for a mentor role (ph) in all international, geopolitical prizes (ph). So thinking that Russia can be kept out of a dialogue -- as President Trump said, if we want to solve problems we cannot choose the counterparts we deal with.

We must accept and sit at the table and negotiate in our dialogue with those who aren't (inaudible) counterpart. As far as this sanction system specifically is concerned, I'm well aware that (inaudible) system stemming from the Minsk Agreement is the outcome and is connected to the implementation of the Minsk Agreement.

So it is clear that it is unthinkable today to lift overnight those sanctions. However, exactly because we are open to dialogue with Russia, the position of my government has sated -- straight away (ph) is to make sure that the system of sanctions doesn't affect the -- the civic society, doesn't affect the economy of the small and medium size enterprises in Russia. Italy, from this point of view, has a traditional, intense, economic relations with Russia in this respect. So in order to (inaudible) once again with a final statement, sanctions against Russia are not and cannot (inaudible) an end.

Second issue, trans-Adriatic pipeline, I discussed it with President Trump. And I reported to him that my government is well aware of the fact that this is a strategic work in terms of energy supply to Italy and to the south of Europe in a different (ph) area.

We are perfectly aware of the fact that this can provide a contribution also in the renewal of the energy system and the elimination of coal, which is part of our program. At the same time I correctly informed President Trump that there are some uncertainties by local communities, the communities where the pipeline will land.

Since problem (inaudible) we face directly, I'm not trying to avoid them. Once back to Italy, as soon as possible I will discuss the issue with the (inaudible) Ministers and I will go and meet the local mayors, the local communities, trying to find a solution which will take into account the concerns of local communities.

I found, as the third point is concerned, at 35 (ph). As you know, do you know it is a program which was decided in 2002, that agreement was signed 2002. So it's a great big period of time, in terms of talking about need for defense and security. As a government, we are responsibly evaluating this file. As you know, it is already a process of orders are being issued, which is taking place, and these orders are issued much earlier, because the work is ready (ph) complex. So we will continue to follow this file, and will make all the necessary choices in a very cautious way, in view of the needs of defense and security, being fully transparent with our partner, the Trump administration.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

Sanctions on Russia will remain as is. As far as a pipeline is concerned, I'd like to see a competing pipeline. So Mr. Prime Minister, I hope you're going to be able to do that competing pipeline. And we are already talking to the European Union about building anywhere from nine to 11 ports, which they will pay for, so that we can ship our L&G over to various parts of Europe, and that will be more competition. But the sanctions on Russia will remain as is.

[14:41:50] TRUMP: OK. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you feel betrayed by Michael Cohen, sir? Mr. President, do you feel betrayed by Michael Cohen, sir?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, you heard a couple of shouted questions at the end there, do you feel betrayed by Michael Cohen. No other questions involving the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, or Robert Mueller, the special counsel, for that matter, at this news conference.

But there were two major headlines emerging. The president of the United States saying he would have no problem doing a federal government shutdown if he doesn't get what he wants on border security, including a wall. And at the same time, he says he is willing to meet, without any preconditions, with the Iranian leadership, President Rouhani. No preconditions, willing to meet with them any time they want. A significant statement given the fact that the State Department regards Iran as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.

There's a lot to discuss. Let's go through with our experts.

First, let's talk about the president's threat, Gloria Borger, when he says, I would have no problem doing a shutdown. He says we are the laughing stock of the world when it comes to immigration.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANAYLYST: He made that very clear. What he didn't tell us, Wolf, was the date of the shutdown. Would it be before the midterm elections in September or -- which people in Congress do not want, and have been reminding him, you know, we have a Supreme Court justice we need to confirm. We are trying to save control of the House. We would rather not shut down the government. Or would he wait until after the midterm elections? We don't know the answer to that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: What I think we did hear though is that he said he is always willing to negotiate. This was not somebody who was holding a hard and fast line. To my ears, it sounds like he's not intent on shutting down the government. That's not a desired policy outcome for him. That, I think, is pretty clear. What he is going to do is be a thorn in the side of Republican leaders from now until the government funding bill is done where he is going to hang out and dangle this desire to get more funding for his wall. But I think he is keenly aware of the political ramifications of stepping on Kavanaugh, of complicated the life of many vulnerable House Republicans, but he wants to keep this notion of the government shutdown in the ether, to keep driving that, which is going to complicate things for Paul Ryan.

BORGER: He didn't stick to $25 billion either --

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BORGER: -- when he was asked about it.

KAITAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He didn't speak to that. And he didn't speak to the date. That's a key thing because, it could come after the midterm, which could change things. So far, there has been pushback to the president's threat to shut down the government from his allies on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: Certainly, the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate don't want a shutdown specifically before the midterm elections in November. They don't want it afterwards.

I think we'll go to Jeff Zeleny, our White House correspondent.

You're there in the East Room. Give us your take on what we just heard.

[14:45:01] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iran meeting without preconditions, as you have been discussing, is a major headline, as well as the government shutdown. I think another headline is what was not asked here at this news conference. Clearly, on president's mind through his own towards and his tweets over the weekend he is, indeed, consumed, at least in part, by the special counsel's investigation. Those questions were not asked. We tried to ask the question at the end of the news conference, if he does feel betrayed by Michael Cohen, his long-time lawyer confidante and protector. He turned briefly but did not answer the questions.

Wolf, we should say, the limitation of questions, two on each side, is a way to protect the White House from the sort of questions that we call news of day, the biggest headlines that may be out there. Of course, there are so many questions to ask the president. But it is true, Wolf, I can tell that you White House aide were asking some reporters here today what they planned to ask the president. Now, this is not necessarily untypical. You probably remember this as well from when you covered the White House for so many years. Administrations do ask reporters what they plan to ask. Most reporters I know do not answer that question besides of news of day. I always say, you know, whatever the president has spoken about, maybe tweeting about, those are fair game for questions. We did not tell the White House what we planned to ask today and, of course, we were not called on here. Wolf, it's clear, I think one of the headlines here at this press conference is the fact that some of the biggest controversies and clouds hanging over this administration were not asked today about the two U.S. journalists who were called on by the White House -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm sure the president is relieved, sighing a little bit -- a breath of relief over the fact that the two American journalists who asked questions, one asked about a government shutdown, an important issue obviously --

ZELENY: No doubt. Very important.

BLITZER: -- and the other asked about Iran, talks with Iran, which also a very important issue. As you correctly point out, the president was not asked about a third very important issue, the investigation, the Robert Mueller investigation, his personal attacks on the special counsel, which escalated in recent days, and what his supporters believe is a betrayal by Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer.

Jim Sciutto is with us.

When the president of the United States says, "I am certainly willing to meet with the Iranian leadership if they want to meet any time they want to meet, no preconditions," he's open to that even though the U.S. government regards the Iranian government as the world's leading state sponsor of terror. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let's remind

folks what the president said about the Iranian leader one week ago, I believe eight days ago. He said to Iranian President Rouhani, "Never ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history ever suffered before." That tweet in all caps from the president. That was eight days ago. Now he is saying he is willing to meet with Iranian leaders, presumably among them the Iranian president, with no preconditions. That is a remarkable turn, if it is a turn. We have experience with Donald Trump playing both sides before going tough as he did with Kim Jong-Un before being able to sit down and negotiate with him. Regardless, it is the second time I have heard the president bring up the idea of negotiating again with Iran. He's, of course, panned the nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated. But he has now put out there twice, that, listen, that doesn't mean that I won't make any deal with Iran. Seems to be saying if I can make a better deal, as the president claimed he can or would be willing to do, he will sit down and negotiate.

COLLINS: I wonder what our allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have to say about this. There are no for U.S.-Iran diplomacy at all. If there was going to be some sit-down like this set up, we would not have the middle country like we did with the North Korea summit in South Korea helping to facilitate that a lot more than the president's tweets about fire and fury did and a lot more likely than the president's tweet about consequences. There is no one there to help facilitate that meeting with Iran. Even some of the president's own advisors, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the National Security Advisor John Bolton have had public and open views about what they think about the leadership in Iran. It raises the question how they would feel about how they would set that meeting up especially if there are no preconditions.

SCIUTTO: Or our European allies who negotiated this Iran deal with the U.S., folks, leaders who have decent relationships with this president who lobbied him aggressive. The French president, the British prime minister, who lobbied the president to stay in this deal. This is best way forward. He said, no, it is a horrible deal, worst deal ever made in history and pulled out. What are they thinking after all of that lobbying? Saying, wait, you are willing to talk and negotiate another deal? I imagine there's a little bit of whiplash.

BLITZER: The president also said, in connection with meeting with the Iranians, he said it was a great meeting with Chairman Kim, Kim Jong- Un. He said it was a great meeting. He also said, despite what the news media suggests, it was a great meeting with Putin in Helsinki as well.

You remember --


[14:50:08] CHALIAN: We still don't know the details of that meeting.

BLITZER: That's right. That was a private meeting. But you remember when President Obama suggested at one point he was

willing to meet from anyone, the reaction he got from Republicans.

CHALIAN: And Democrats. Both sides. This is when he was then Senator Obama, a candidate for president in a CNN debate in July of 2007. And he said he was willing to meet without preconditions for a bunch of rogue leaders, from a bunch of nations at the time. Hillary Clinton hammered away for days, obviously unsuccessfully, at Obama about this as did many Republicans. And, yes, he slams the Obama Iran deal, what Obama did as president, but is adopting the Barack Obama position that he would sit down with the leaders without preconditions.

BORGER: And can I just say one other thing, that the president just kind of threw out there? Russia sanctions will remain on Russia. Boom. Am I wrong? He just came out and said it.

SCIUTTO: Tucked it in at the end --


BORGER: Tucked it in the end, sanctions will remain. I think he was referring back to Helsinki, the bad reviews he got, the fact that we don't know what occurred. I think that the difficult time that Pompeo and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had the other day. The president threw it in there --


BLITZER: You could read that two ways. You could say the sanctions will remain as is, meaning --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- there will be no change to the sanctions that currently exist. But there's enormous amount of pressure coming from Capitol Hill right now --

BORGER: Right. You could read it both ways.

BLITZER: -- to increase the sanctions against Russia right.

When he used the word "as is," Jim Sciutto, it says to me that he is not enthusiastic after what he called his great meeting with Putin to see the U.S. intensify sanctions against Russia.

SCIUTTO: Just those six words are all he uttered on it. I have to say I took it as him saying, following the criticism on Helsinki, I'm sticking with the sanctions, I am not pulling them back. But I think it's worth following up with the White House whether he has a stated position now on current bipartisan efforts in the Senate to push new sanctions on Russia.

COLLINS: Also we have to talk about what we're not talking about here, what the president is surely pleased he was not asked about, and that Michael Cohen and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which, as we saw from the president's Tweeter feed this weekend, is something that truly consumed him in recent days. He ramped up his attacks from not uttering Robert Mueller's name before March to now he mentioned it multiple times in one day, one time period, alleging he has conflicts of interests but declining to say what exactly they were.

Also the question that Rudy Giuliani couldn't answer this morning on CNN when he was asked what exactly the conflicts of interest that the special counsel, that they believe are. The president was not asked about that by those reporters. But there are so many questions you can ask. But clearly, a subject the president is trying to avoid questions on.

Last week, he was not pleased when I and several other reporters asked about that during the meeting in the Oval Office, especially about Michael Cohen, this attorney and long-time fixer and friend of the president, that is now alleging he knew about that meeting between Donald Trump Jr and the Russians before it occurred and after, which is not what the president, not what his aides have said. They said he learned in July of 2017, a year after it occurred. The president wasn't asked about that there, even though he did push back on it on Twitter this week and we did see him really ramp up his attack on the special counsel.

BLITZER: He's also ramping up his attack on the news media, David Chalian. The extraordinary exchange he had with the publisher of the "New York Times," the editorial page editor of the "New York Times," when they warned him, Mr. President, in a private, off-the-record meeting, which the president later broke the rules and tweeted about it -- in a private, off-the-record meeting, they said to him, don't talk about the news media being the enemy of the American people, it has dangerous, dangerous ramifications.

CHALIAN: Right. So you have the publisher of the "New York Times" pleading with the president that there's potential violence associated when he is out there referring to the press as the enemy of the people. What does he do today? He didn't use those words but he went back to the fake news media quip that he uses. Obviously, those concerns those pleas from Sulzberger clearly fell on deaf ears.

BLITZER: And it is a serious problem.

BORGER: It is a serious problem. And I think it's all part of the same sort of Russia story. You know, the president is feeling attacked. He's clearly worried about what's going to happen next. He feels that the stories that CNN and other news organizations are doing are fake or wrong or it make him nervous or whatever else he wants to say. And the context of all of this is that his lawyers are trying to talk to Mueller and they are not getting any response, which makes them nervous. Rudy Giuliani told Dana Bash today, I think we at least deserve a response. We were reporting last week that they made proposals to Mueller and he is not responding to them. Does that mean the president is about to get a subpoena? Does it mean Mueller is about to wrap up the investigation? I think Trump is spinning about this. I think it's --

(CROSSTALK) [14:55:19] CHALIAN: Clearly.

BORGER: It's making him a little nervous and I think that's why we are seeing all of this, this outrage that's even beyond what he normally says about the media, about the Russia investigation and about Mueller personally.

COLLINS: And the House is saying they are under the impression that investigation will come to an end early next year. That's exactly what they said when -- the reason they cited when they delayed the invitation for the Russian president to visit. They said they are going to wait until after the special counsel's investigation wraps up even though they offered no evidence for why they think that is a date that that meeting is going to wrap up. They're maintaining that meeting is still delayed.

BLITZER: Very strong analysis.

Guys, don't go too far away.

Also developing right now, the president and his lawyer coming out swinging against the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in an effort to try to discredit the entire investigation. Why Rudy Giuliani's new comments about collusion are raising lots of eyebrows and has critics saying they are moving the goal posts.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.