Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Meets With Key NATO Ally Today; Trump White House Contradicts Itself On Iran Nuclear Deal; Tillerson: Iran May Be "On Same Path As North Korea"; Trump Facing Barrage Of Foreign Policy Tests; Futures Point To Higher Open On Wall Street. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Gosh! What a wonderful message that high school sends.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And being prom queen is a big deal, but this memory, I bet you, will mean even more.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Time now for CNN NEWSROOM with John Berman. Take it away, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Alisyn, Chris, thank you for that. Puts a smile on my face this morning. Got a lot of breaking news this morning, so let's get to it.

All right. The breaking news, karma is a witch. But not with a W. In this case, it is a J, as in Judge Gonzalo Curiel because this morning, a federal lawsuit that will test aspects of President Trump's immigration crackdown is now in the hands of the Judge, the judge that candidate Trump infamously, others say racistly, criticized.

Candidate Trump questioned whether the Indiana born Judge Gonzalo Curiel could objectively oversee the Trump University lawsuits because of his Mexican heritage. At the time, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the remark racist. CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now.

Rosa, bring us up to speed on the details of the case of this DREAMer, Juan Manuel Montes.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, one of the things that's fascinating here is that the reason why Judge Curiel is involved is because this is a FOIA lawsuit. And I think this is really important to point out because normally, of course, we have immigration courts.

And all of these immigrations cases that we've been following go through that immigration court system, so why do we have this one in a U.S. district court? Well, because this DREAMer's attorneys are alleging that immigration deported and detained him and did not give him copies of his deportation processing. So that's what's at stake here.

It's a FOIA lawsuit asking the federal government to fork over all of those processing documents. But here is the other big issue. DHS, immigration, is saying that some of the things, some of the allegations, that attorneys are alleging here never happened. So let me give you the background.

So this 23-year-old is Juan Manuel Montes-Bojorquez. He alleges that on February 18th, he was hailing a cab. Immigration picked him up at that point and deported him to Mexico. Now, DHS says that that never happened.

But here is where DHS and Bojorquez's attorneys do agree. They agree that on February 19th, he was picked up by immigration again and deported on February 20th. And, so, John, that's what's at stake here, that his attorneys are saying immigration, you did not give him processing documents. We need those processing documents to figure out his legal recourse so that they can then go to the immigration court system -- John.

BERMAN: Rosa Flores, thanks so much. I want to bring in Joe Johns because, as we said, this case is now in front of Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Remind us of who this Judge is and what his relationship is to President Trump.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. It is a fascinating turn of events quite frankly just because of the personalities involved, John. So Judge Curiel is best known as the judge who handled the Trump University class action lawsuit last year. That lawsuit was settled and Judge Curiel actually had to sign off on the settlement.

So Donald Trump, during the campaign, complained more than once, quite frankly, that he believed the Judge, because of his Mexican heritage, was biased or had a conflict of interest in handling the case. And he said it many times, including in an interview last June with CNN's Jake Tapper. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think so at all.

TAPPER: No?

TRUMP: No. He's proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.

TAPPER: But you're saying he can't do his job because of that.

TRUMP: Look, he's proud of his heritage. OK? I'm building a wall. Now, I think I'm going to do very well with the Hispanics.

TAPPER: He's a legal citizen --

TRUMP: Do you know why I'm going to do well with Hispanics? Because I'm going to bring back jobs, and they're going to get jobs right now. They're going to get jobs. I think I'm going to do very well with Hispanics, but we're building a wall. He's a Mexican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Mr. Trump was also very active on Twitter criticizing the Judge. We have some examples of that. "I have a Judge in the Trump University civil case, Gonzalo Curiel, San Diego, who is very unfair."

Second tweet, "I should have easily won the Trump University case on summary judgment, but I have a Judge Gonzalo Curiel who is totally biased against me." "Even though I have a very biased and unfair judge in the Trump U civil case in San Diego, I have thousands of great reviews and will win the case."

[09:05:00] So, yes, the Trump University cases have been settled. Curiel signed off on them. But now there is another case on his docket, and this one will certainly test the administration's evolving view on the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals or DOCA program that was signed into law by President Obama.

Of course, Donald Trump, the candidate, said he wanted to throw it out, but he has softened his views, apparently, since entering the Oval Office, John.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. As Joe was saying, the President's views on DREAMers have evolved. Quite a sight from Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

DREAMers, of course, are people who are born in another country, brought here by their parents, raised in the United States. This is what the President had to say about it in February.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are going to deal with DOCA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don't forget, and I have to convince them what I'm saying is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that. But the DOCA situation is a very, very -- it's a very difficult thing for me because, you know, I love these kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now to discuss, Salena Zito, CNN Contributor and reporter with the "Washington Examiner;" Brian Fallon, a CNN Political Commentator and the press secretary, you'll remember, for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; and Alice Stewart, a CNN Political Commentator and a Republican strategist.

You know, Salena, this issue of DREAMers and immigration for Donald Trump, you know, it is interesting because we heard him say there in February, he is still thinking about the issue. These kids, he says, are beautiful people. Yet, it does appear as if he has now deported at least one. Do we know exactly where he stands or where he's headed here?

SALENA ZITO, CONTRIBUTOR, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I mean, I think he gave us evidence to where he is heading in the clip you just played in that, you know, once you become President, what you see on the campaign trail and then what you actually see and feel and experience and have to deal with as President is completely different.

And I think that he is showing that he is being more reflective about this. He is not being as bombastic. He's not using, you know, words that, you know, make people cringe when he talks about people of a different race.

This case is going to get a lot more scrutiny than any other deportation case would because of the judge that will be presiding over that. Having said that, I think deportation cases are pretty normal, and I also think that you see a softening on the President's side on the DREAMers.

BERMAN: You know, Brian Fallon, I'm asking you this not as a Democratic strategist, not even as the spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, but you worked in the Justice Department. You have some experience yourself with the judiciary.

Candidate Trump had some things to say about a judge, not flattering, and that judge is now hearing this case. You know, is this, you know, what goes around, comes around?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is a remarkable coincidence. And I have to say that, some mornings, I wake up and it feels like the 2016 campaign will never end. But in a campaign that was filled with a lot of low moments, this was among the ugliest.

But for all the racist bluster that you heard from Donald Trump in that clip that you just played and that interview with Jake Tapper, his legal team sort of implicitly acknowledged that there was no legal basis to seek a recusal on the part of this judge in that case because they sought one. And he, indeed, presided over the case until it was ultimately settled by Trump.

And so, similarly to that case, I don't see any basis for the U.S. government, the Justice Department, to seek in this case to get Judge Curiel removed. I assume that he will preside over this case, judge it impartially. There's no basis to question his impartiality.

And I suspected that if Sean Spicer is asked about it, say today or tomorrow, that you will not see this White House sort of re-up the rhetoric against Judge Curiel that you heard from Donald Trump in the campaign.

BERMAN: No, I suspect you're right. I mean, the President could be asked about it himself. He's holding a news conference later today, but there is no evidence that Judge Curiel has been anything but impartial from the beginning up until now, and probably going forward as well.

Guys, we do have some breaking news on health care, the efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare. I think we're in part three right now of this. We just got word from sources close to the talks that there could be something of a breakthrough in discussions between the Freedom Caucus -- those are very conservative members of the House of Representatives -- and the so-called Tuesday Group. Those are more moderate members. Mark Meadows and Tom MacArthur, they have reached what we are told is

a significant breakthrough on health care. We don't know on what, that's important, but they reached a breakthrough that could bring 18 to 20 more votes to support this plan.

Alice Stewart, to you, I mean, these talks have been going on again, off again for some time. If these two sides come together, could you get the votes?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, and they want this. Look, there is going to be a confidential call at 10:00 this morning with those people that you mentioned. Those of the House Freedom Caucus and members of the Tuesday Group. Basically, as you indicated, the more conservative facet and the more moderate.

[09:10:07] They've been speaking with people in the districts. They know what they want, and they're going to go over the MacArthur amendment to this bill, which outlines many of the things we've discussed but specifically what is the limited waiver option which gives states the opportunity to opt out if they need. And that is going to be critical, and that is a critical bargaining chip between the two sides here.

And I'm also being told this is being driven fully with Vice President Pence in the driver's seat. He really wants to come to a consensus on this. They would like to get something on the table for a vote before the 100 days are up.

This would be a great victory for the Trump administration to be able to get something through on health care before the 100 days. But clearly, Mike Pence is working behind the scenes to get this done. When you have these two opposing sides on the phone working on the nitty-gritty details, it's a good sign. I do think we should see something next week.

BERMAN: Yes. Alice, first of all, Mike Pence is working on this behind the scenes, we're told, from his trip to Asia. So he's working from quite far away to make this happen. You seem to know a lot more about this than I do so far, Alice, these discussions.

You say they have reached an agreement on state waivers. Is this on the community rating or essential health benefits? Community rating basically deals with pre-existing conditions, allowing some states to waive requirements that people receive health care or equal health care depending on their pre-existing conditions. Is that what this is about?

STEWART: That's one of the aspects. There's a laundry list of things that have been discussed, pre-existing conditions, keeping kids up to age 26 on their parents' health care. Those are things that pretty much everyone agrees on those.

The key factor with the conversations they'll have this morning, in about an hour, are the limited waivers for the states and opting out of certain provisions on this. That is something that -- that's the one rub that the two sides can't seem to come to agreement on. But when they go back to their districts and talk to their constituents, that's what they want. They want states to have a little bit more option in deciding what's best for them.

Every state is different. Every need is different state by state. And that's the one key component that, once they agree on that, it looks as though it's full speed ahead.

BERMAN: So, Salena, first to you on this because voters seem to be saying two things in a lot of these Republican districts. Number one, the deal that was on the table before is lousy. That's what people have been saying when they call their offices. The second thing they've been saying is, how come you don't have a deal yet? Is this a case, Salena, where maybe they've moved past both of those things?

ZITO: Yes, I believe so. I've been out driving across the country again and talking to two voters who both supported the President and who didn't support the President, and you know, the general reflection that people have been expressing is that they want them to get this done, but they want it to get done right.

They don't have as much urgency of getting it done immediately. They'd rather see them spend more time being more thoughtful but also getting different kinds of buy-in from different kinds of congressmen.

You know, she is right in that all these districts and all these different states are all completely different, and they have different needs and different concerns. And I think that the first one was too rushed, and this one, I know that they've been working behind the scenes for weeks. I think that, like she said, it's going to probably be taken care of within the next couple of days.

BERMAN: It would be a big accomplishment or a big legislative move, at a minimum, if they get this done by a week from Saturday, which would be within the first 100 days.

Brian Fallon, to you, I mean, this could happen, it will happen if it happens at all, without any Democratic support, I imagine. So then what do Democrats do and say about this after the fact?

FALLON: Well, let's be clear what we're talking about here, John. You made a reference to it, this opt out provision that Alice is talking about. It would give states the freedom to tell insurers that they're free to, once again, discriminate against people with pre- existing conditions.

If anything, this so-called compromise may cause the number of uninsured people to go up under this proposal, which is one of the main things that caused voters to reject it and give it only a 17 percent approval rating. So I think they're taking a bill that was very unpopular and making it even worse. So I think Democrats, and the U.S. House of Representatives, will say, be our guest, put this bill on the floor.

And I think a lot of these moderates, the leadership of the Tuesday Group, may end up signing off on this compromise. But I cannot imagine that a lot of these moderates in vulnerable districts, and again there are 23 House Republicans in seats right now that were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 among the most vulnerable members in the Republican Caucus, I can't manage they're going to want to vote for this.

Even if they do, I can't imagine this bill is not going to be DOA in the Senate. There is nothing that I understand that they've done to restore any of the cuts to Medicaid, which is another big objectionable provision in this bill. So even if they muscle this thing through the House, I think it's just going to put a lot of House Republicans in a very vulnerable position. They'll officially be on the record on a garbage piece of legislation that will probably die in the Senate.

[09:15:02] BERMAN: All right. Brian Fallon, Salena Zito, Alice Stewart, thank you so much. Again, the breaking news, word of a possible breakthrough, some kind of agreement inside the House of Representatives, at least among different factions on moving forward with health care.

All right, 15 minutes after the hour, the no Bill zone, the Fox mega star is out, but is this the end or just the beginning. With Fox executives meeting right now, reports overnight that there could still be more to come.

And then a preemptive strike that, quote, "Doesn't allow the survival of the enemies." A menacing new threat from North Korea as U.S. troops begin high stakes military exercises next door.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, brace yourselves in just a few hours, President Trump will hold a news conference standing next to a key NATO ally and we will learn if he has changed his position on NATO. Again, we might learn if he's changed his opinion of Bashar al-Assad in Syria again. We might learn if he will promise to tear up the Iran nuclear deal again.

[09:20:00]On that front, it has been a head spinning 24 hours. Now during the campaign, Donald Trump said his number one priority was dismantling the Iran deal. It is day 91, no dismantling and no ripping.

Instead Tuesday night, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said Iran was in compliance with the agreement. But then the White House said it will launch a 90-day review of the agreement and then the secretary of state said this about the agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran. It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, yes. Unpredictability can be an asset in foreign policy. With Richard Nixon, it was called the madman theory, keep your enemies guessing. Over the Trump administration, could it be called a man theory, no conviction so strong it can't be changed?

Let's begin on Iran with Elise Labott. Where are we on the position today, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been a kind of head spinning couple of days, John. You know, basically, the U.S. has to report every 90 days on whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal and so on Tuesday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement that said Iran has been compliant with its commitments.

But then you heard yesterday obviously being a little bit more tougher, not only his statement going on to talk about Iran's support of terrorism, but yesterday with reporters he really struck a much tougher line. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TILLERSON: Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interest in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon and continuing to support attacks against Israel. An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: So what's going on here? I've talked to diplomats that are party to the agreement and also analysts and they don't think that the U.S. is really looking to rip up that deal. They think that it is probably a kind of, you know, confirmation that Iran is making good on the deal disguised as a little bit of rhetoric.

You know, kind of trying to play down that Iran is meeting its commitments and emphasizing some of its other behavior. Look, U.S. has also been concerned about Iran's behavior, and that's why it is undertaking this review.

Definitely doesn't want to undertake what happened with North Korea, doesn't want to see a nuclear power of that state and, so, that's why Rex Tillerson gave out this statement.

And you also have, you know, the U.S. extending the deployment of the "USS Carl Vinson" in the Korean Peninsula for another month, that doesn't only send a message to North Korea, it also sends a message to Iran that, you know, North Korea might be misbehaving, but we're still watching you -- John.

BERMAN: I think in this case we'll check if the "Carl Vinson" is there for the full month after the military tells us it will be there. Elise Labott, thank you so much for being with us.

Joining me now, Norm Eisen, a CNN contributor, former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, and Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN military analyst.

Cedric, you know, Elise was saying right there that a western diplomat told her essentially that the back and forth on Iran is certification dressed up in rhetoric. As they make a lot of noise here, but nothing changes. How do you see it?

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, John, I think that's probably correct. You know, it is very interesting I think to some extent Secretary Tillerson is playing to his base, in other words, the president's base.

In this case saying that, you know, there are a lot of problems with Iran that also fits in with Secretary of Defense Mattis' visits to Saudi Arabia where he also came out saying that Iran is basically the biggest troublemaker in the region.

There is evidence to back that up when you look at some of the things that are going on not only in places like Iraq where we have watched the Iranians for quite some time, but also in Yemen where Iran supports the Houthi rebels, and of course, Saudi Arabia supports the government as it kind of exists in Yemen.

So there are a lot of areas where there are problems with Iran. But the big thing we have with them is of course that JCPOA agreement, and that's the one that really counts right now between us.

BERMAN: You know, Ambassador, I question whether the Trump foreign policy was the madman theory of foreign policy. No conviction so strong that you won't change it. But you do know that unpredictability can be an asset in foreign policy, correct?

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning, John. And on -- you are exactly right. Unpredictability can be an asset in foreign policy. It worked for Nixon, and it worked for Reagan in Europe where I served.

Reagan's unpredictability was one of the factors that helped bring about the fall of the Soviet Union and the decline of communism. But unpredictability has its dangers, too.

[09:25:02]Even in the Nixon administration, the madman theory didn't really take hold until he was further into his term and he had the strong guidance of Kissenger and Nixon himself was a foreign policy expert.

What we're seeing here with Trump is on the job training and I would describe it as a flip-flop man on China, on Russia, on NATO. He's going back and forth and that's dangerous.

And even the armada misstatement that the Vinson was headed toward the Korean Peninsula when it turned out it was going in the opposite direction that has tremendous dangers.

BERMAN: You know, Colonel, quickly on North Korea, the U.S. involved in exercises now as it does with South Korea on the Peninsula. The North Koreans just issued another warning. They threatened a preemptive strike that would completely destroy the enemies. Just words here?

LEIGHTON: Yes, for the most part. Of course, we always have to take them with a grain of seriousness, John, but this kind of rhetoric is very typical every time there is a U.S.-South Korean exercise. So I don't put too much stock in it. But North Korea also bears watching and that's why it makes sense to really not only have the exercise, but do some more in terms of exercise vigilance and do other things like that.

BERMAN: Ambassador, Colonel, thank you so much for being with us. Interesting discussion going forward. Appreciate it.

All right, we have some live pictures right now from outside Fox News here in New York City. The 21st Century Fox board meeting is actually happening right now. This comes one day after Bill O'Reilly was let go from that show.

You can bet investors here, 21st Century Fox, a big, big company wants to know what's next for Fox. We are just moments away from the opening bell.

Cristina Alesci joins me right now. We want to know, you know, 200- point drop for the last week or so for the Dow. Where are we headed?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's going to depend on corporate earnings, which have been coming out over the course of the last couple of days and will continue to come out and basically, investors want to see growth going forward to justify some of these very high evaluations.

And so far the results have been mixed and today is a perfect example of that. Verizon missed, American Express beat expectations. These are very important numbers because it is a check on the U.S. economy, on the health of the U.S. consumer.

Investors are clinging to these numbers against a backdrop of global uncertainty at this point. We have so much global uncertainty. You have elections in France that are unpredictable.

You have unrest in the Middle East and in Asia, which is causing a lot of anxiety and you have the timing of tax reform here domestically. So these are all questions that are creeping in to this domestic uncertainty as well.

So this is just more example that there is a lot of information that investors have to digest and we are going to see a lot more volatility in the market these days.

BERMAN: And what the market will say about a possible breakthrough in congressional talks over health care bill. We will watch that over the next several minutes. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

Ahead for us, Fox News now with a show called "The Factor" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)