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President Trump's Commencement Speech at Coast Guard Academy; Burden Falls on White House; Washington's Change in Tone; Trump's Advice in Commencement Speech. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Something that people haven't been talking about, one of the big, big plagues of the world, not our country only, the world, human trafficking.

[12:00:05]

Americans will place their trust in your leadership just as they have trusted in generations of Coast Guard men and women with respect for your skill, with awe at your courage, and with the knowledge that you will always be ready. You are always ready.

Not only will our citizens trust in your leadership, your commanders will trust you as well. The Coast Guard is the gold standard in delegated decision-making down to chain command (sic).

So, just as your instructors have at the academy, your Coast Guard commanders will explain their vision and then they will trust you to get the job done, just like I, as your president, will also trust you to get the job done.

It's amazing to think of the adventures that are about to begin for you.

Across the country this month, millions of other students are graduating high school, college. Many others are wondering, "Just what am I going to do?" They're saying to themselves what are they going to do. You know what you're going to do.

Many, many students that're graduating from college right now. They're saying, "What am I going to do? Where am I going to go to work?" You know it.

You picked a good one, by the way. You picked a beautiful one, a good one. And we're really proud to have you, I can tell you.

(APPLAUSE)

Years from now, some of them may look back and ask themselves whether they've made the right choice, whether they've made the most of the opportunities they've been given.

In the Coast Guard, you will face many challenges and many threats. But one thing you will never had to face is that question of, "What will I do?" When you look back, you won't doubt. You know exactly how you spent your time saving lives.

I look at your admirals, I look at General Kelly, I look at some of the great people in service, and I want to tell you, they're excited about life. They love what they do. They love the country. They love protecting our country. And they love what they do. Is that right? Good. I didn't think anybody was going to say no.

(inaudible), that would've ruined our speech, right?

(LAUGHTER)

They're great people.

You always know just what you'll be: the leaders and officers of the United States Coast Guard.

(APPLAUSE)

And when they see your uniform, everyone in the world will know exactly what that means, what standard -- and really, if you think of it, when you talk about the great sailors and the great sailors of the world, we have them.

But what stranded sailor doesn't feel relief when those red racing stripes break the horizon? What drifting soul at sea, with only a short time left to live, doesn't rejoice at the sound of those chopper blades overhead, coming back and coming down to rescue them from death? What poison-peddling drug-runner, the scourge of our country, doesn't tremble with fear when the might of the Coast Guard comes bearing down on them?

In each case, we know the reason: America's life-saving service is on the way. The Coast Guard is truly vital to the United States armed forces and truly vital to our great country.

(APPLAUSE)

Out of the five branches of our armed services, it's only the Coast Guard that has the power to break through 21 feet of rock-solid Arctic ice, right?

(APPLAUSE)

You're the only ones.

And I'm proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years. We're going to build many of them.

(APPLAUSE)

We need them. We need them.

The Coast Guard stands watch at our ports, patrols our waterways, and protects our infrastructure.

[12:05:08] You defend America in a world of massive and very grave threats. Soon, some of you will be leading boardings of suspicious vessels, searching for the most deadly weapons, and detaining criminals to keep our people safe.

Others of you will work with partners in scores of countries around the globe bringing in the full power of the United States Coast Guard right up to those distant shores. And some of those shores are very far away. To secure our borders from drug cartels, human smugglers and terrorist threats, Coast Guard cutters patrol more than 1,500 miles below our southern border. A lot of people didn't know that.

What enormous pride hits your heart, you realize that it's with this great skill and tremendous speed, our Coast Guard men and women interdict dangerous criminals and billions and billions of dollars worth of illegal narcotics every single year. Your helicopters launch from the decks of world-class national security cutters.

And they chase drug smugglers at speeds far in excess of 50 knots. In rough seas, at high speeds, our incredible Coast Guard snipers take their aim at the smugglers' engines. And time after time, they take out the motors on the first shot. They don't like wasting the bullets, right? They actually don't.

Your slice through roaring storms and through pouring rain and crashing waves is a place where few other people will ever venture. Exciting. Exciting. But you have to have it in your heart. You have to love it. You love it.

In the Coast Guard, you don't run from danger. You chase it. And you are deployed in support of operations in theaters of conflict all around the world. But not only do you defend American security, you also protect American prosperity. It's a mission that goes back to the earliest days of the Revenue Cutter Service. You've read about that and studied that.

Today, the Coast Guard helps keep our waters open for Americans to do business. It keeps our rivers flowing with commerce. And it keeps our ports churning with American exports. You help billions and billions of dollars in goods to navigate our country every day. You are the only federal presence on our inland waterways. You police the arteries we need to rebuild this country and to bring prosperity back to our heartland. And we are becoming very, very prosperous again. You can see that. Think of the glorious mission that awaits. You will secure our harbors, our waterways and our borders. You will partner with our allies to advance our security interests at home and abroad. And you will pursue the terrorists. You will stop the drug smugglers. And you will seek to keep out all who would do harm to our country, all who can never ever love our country.

Together, we have the same mission. And your devotion and dedication makes me truly proud to be your commander in chief.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

Now, I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.

Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly.

[12:10:09] You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.

(APPLAUSE)

I guess that's why I won -- thank you. I guess that's why we won.

Adversity makes you stronger. Don't give in, don't back down, and never stop doing what you know is right. Nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy, and the more righteous your fight, the more opposition that you will face.

I've accomplished a tremendous amount in a very short time as president.

Jobs are pouring back into our country; a brand-new Supreme Court justice, who's going to be fantastic for 45 years; a historic investment in our military; border crossings -- thank you to our generals -- are down more than 70 percent in just a short period of time -- a total record, by the way, by a lot.

(APPLAUSE)

We've saved the Second Amendment, expanded service for our veterans. We are going to take care of our veterans like they've never been taken care of before.

(APPLAUSE)

I've loosened up the strangling environmental chains wrapped around our country and our economy, chains so tight that you couldn't do anything, that jobs were going down, we were losing business. We're loosening it up.

We've begun plans and preparations for the border wall, which is going along very, very well.

We're working on major tax cuts for all. We are going to give you the largest tax cut in the history of our country, if we get it the way we want it. And we're going to give you major tax reform.

And we're also getting closer and closer day by day to great health care for our citizens. And we are setting the stage right now for many, many more things to come. And the people understand what I'm doing, and that's the most important thing.

I didn't get elected to serve the Washington media or special interests. I got elected to serve the forgotten men and women of our country, and that's what I'm doing.

(APPLAUSE)

I will never stop fighting for you, and I will never stop fighting for the American people.

As you leave this academy to embark on your exciting new voyage, I am heading on a very crucial journey, as well.

In a few days, I will make my first trip abroad as president. With the safety, security and interest of the American people as my priority, I will strengthen old friendships and will seek new partners, but partners who also help us, not partners who take and take and take. Partners who help. And partners who help pay for whatever we are doing and all of the good we're doing for them, which is something that a lot of people have not gotten used to, and they just can't get used to it.

I say, "Get used to it, folks."

I'll ask them to unite for a future of peace and opposition (ph) for our peoples and the peoples of the world, first in Saudi Arabia, where I'll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism and embrace a peaceful future for their faith.

And they're looking very much forward to hearing what we, as your representative, we have to say. We have to stop radical Islamic terrorism.

(APPLAUSE)

Then in Israel, I'll reaffirm our unbreakable alliance with the Jewish state.

In Rome, I will talk with Pope Francis about the contributions of Christian teachings to the world.

[12:15:05] Finally, I'll attend the NATO summit in Brussels and the G- 7 in Sicily, to promote security, prosperity and peace all over the world.

I'll meet scores of leaders, and honor the holiest sites of these three great religions.

And everywhere I go, I will carry the inspiration I take from you each day, from your courage and determination to do whatever is required to save and protect American lives -- save and protect American lives.

We want security. You're going to give us security.

(APPLAUSE)

In just one example we see how priceless that gift of life is to the people you touch every day.

A few years ago, a Coast Guard helicopter and rescue swimmer took off in the direction of three terrified fishermen who clung to their sinking and burning vessel.

That day, our Coast Guard heroes did their jobs well. They flew over the sea, despite tremendous danger, and extended a helping hand at the moment it was most urgently needed. There was very little time left.

But that's not the most remarkable part of that story. As one Coast Guard swimmer put it, you do that stuff all the time. You do it every hour of the day. Something is happening all the time with the United States Coast Guard. You do an amazing job.

A remarkable thing happened with that rescue. But when you think of it, you do those rescues all the time.

There, the Vietnamese fishing captain grabbed the swimmer's hand. He looked at his Coast Guard rescuer in the eye and said, "I was asking God to 'Please let me live. I need to see my kids. Please God, please, let me live so that I can see my kids.' Then God sent me you." It's what he said.

(APPLAUSE) To every new officer and to every new Coast Guard member here today, or out protecting life around the world on some of the roughest waters anywhere, you truly are doing God's work.

What a grateful heart you must all have. Because it is with my very grateful heart, and America's cheers for the Coast Guard -- and America cheers for you often -- that we wish you good luck.

As your commander in chief, I thank you, I salute you, and I once again congratulate the Coast Guard class of 2017.

God bless you. God bless the Coast Guard. And God bless the United States of America.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, everybody. Great honor. Good luck.

Enjoy your life.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King in Washington.

Let's keep our eyes on the president of the United States there. He is on the stage in New London, Connecticut, just wrapping up his first commencement address as president to members of the Coast Guard Academy, the graduating class of 2017. The president spoke for about 30 minutes there. Most of it a textbook commencement speech. But near the end, made no specific reference to the big controversy here in Washington, but did turn defiant.

With us as we discuss what the president just said and the big controversies here in Washington, to share their reporting and their insights, Michael Shear of "The New York Times," CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist," and CNN's Sara Murray.

The president leaving Washington to go speak at the Coast Guard Academy on a day and as he was speaking new developments. Last night, the House Government Oversight Committee demanded any memos James Comey, the former FBI director, made of his conversations with the president and any records the White House has of such conversations. While the president was speaking, the Senate Intelligence Committee did the same thing and also said it was inviting Director Comey to come publicly testify.

Now, the president has said nothing since word leaked, first reported in "The New York Times" last night, that Director Comey wrote memos suggesting that the president pulled him aside in a private meeting at the White House and asked him to shut down a giant part of the Russia election meddling investigation, the part of the investigation looking into former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. The president has said nothing about this. He did not directly address it in his speech. But listen here as a defiant president, near the end, attacked the Washington media and offered the cadets what he said was some advice.

[12:20:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now I want to take this opportunity to give you some advice. Over the course of your life, you will find that thing are not always fair. You will find that thing happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, a trademark defiant political message there. But, again, I want to make the point, he did not specifically say, I didn't do this. He has not specifically said, I didn't do this. The only thing we have is a White House statement issued by an unnamed official saying the conversation that Director Comey says happened never happened.

I mentioned that because I want to make the point that Washington is very different today. Up until yesterday, the investigations were about Russia meddling in the election and did associates of then candidate Trump do something nefarious? Did they collude or somehow have coordination with the Russians during that? Today, we are talking about conduct of the president of the United States, allegedly pulling his FBI director aside, as James Comey said in the memo, quote, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Now, again, that would be the president of the United States, after asking the attorney general and the vice president to leave the room. That is the conduct in question, which is why this town is in a very different place today. Some people recklessly, irresponsibly talking about impeachment. That's premature. We're nowhere near there. But, what is the burden on this president right now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The burden on this president and this White House is to explain what actually happened in that meeting. I think the reason that you saw a statement from an unnamed White House official is because White House officials don't know what happened in that meeting and they are used to putting their names out there, putting their face out there to say, no, this never happened, only to see the president come out on Twitter and say, well, actually, it did, but I'm allowed to do that because I'm president.

So I think that a number of people are waiting, as we saw from the House and the Senate, to actually see these memos from James Comey. And I do think you're right, it's a very different tenor in Washington last night and this morning. It was a very different tenor on The Hill last night. Our CNN colleagues tell me of, you know, we know Republicans have been frustrated with the president that he keeps getting sidelined by controversies and can't move forward with his agenda, but this was sort of the first kind of clear marker that this president may have tried to personally interfere into this investigation into Russia.

KING: Right. And outside friends of the president, I am told, are having a conversation among themselves about whether the president needs a private outside counsel. And, again, that does not mean they believe he did anything wrong. That's just being cautious and being safe. You go back to the Clinton days. They had David Kendall around all the time when we were in -- whether it was Whitewater, to Paula Jones, to Monica Lewinsky. But the fact that they understand that thing have changed to the point that this is a very different, much more serious business and the president has to be very careful about what he says now.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and --

KING: Because the Comey memos exist. And just, again, one last footnote, the president hasn't tweeted in 20 plus hours now.

HENDERSON: Yes. That's right. He hasn't tweeted. And that's uncharacteristic. And I think for some people probably a relief that he hasn't been fuming in front of a television and wanting to tweet in response.

It is a very different Washington today. There's always a sense among Republicans that, you know, Donald Trump sort of had nine lives and he would sort of always land on his feet, that they could kind of focus on their agenda, whether it's tax reform, infrastructure or Obamacare or repeal and replace. But now you see something different. And we can see on our screen there, the Dow reacting to some of this, as well.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: There were all these sort of hopes and dreams about what Donald Trump administration would do in terms of jobs, in terms of rolling back regulations, and that was built into that surge that we saw in the stock market. And now, today, you see something very different.

You do hear people talking about impeachment. And some of those folks have always been talking about impeachment. But something that's new now is you hear Republicans privately talking about obstruction of justice and publicly some of them now talking whether or not there is a need for some sort of independent investigation in this. People like Susan Collins, who again is a centrist and more of a moderate. But those are the people that even Democrats are looking to, to see if they can gain some momentum in terms of this independent investigation.

KING: Right.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THEE FEDERALIST": I was going to say, I think he does have nine lives, but he has nine lives like an alley cat, not nine lives like the Himalayan eating out of a crystal ball. It's not helpful, it doesn't look good and it's not helping the agenda, right? But he continues to sort of maintain these very low numbers.

He said something. He said, I've been treated so unfairly. But what he said earlier in the speech to the cadets was, you have to act properly and you have to learn to do that under great pressure. And I would suggest that he should take that advice because this is not all about outside forces. The guy pitched himself as a great manager. A great manager could see pretty clearly that Comey was a guy who would take notes about what is going on here. Frankly, if I worked for Trump, I would take copious, contemporaneous notes about what was going on because, as we've seen with staff, they have a tendency to get sold out on these things.

[12:25:00] KING: And if you made the bold decision to pull the FBI director aside, and even if you thought you were being a human being to your friend Michael Flynn, and forgetting for a minute that you're the president of the United States, forgetting for a minute that you're in the Oval Office, and just saying, you know, is there a way to just make this go away? The guy's having a hard enough time as it is. Even if you're doing that, then you fired him. Then you fired him after he -- after he refused to do that.

HAM: And, by the way, I think --

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean I think -- oh, I'm sorry.

HAM: I think it's possible that's like a -- that's his New York guy move, right? It's like, hey, man, let's go away. But then you fire the guy who has the goods.

SHEAR: Right. I mean I think, look, I agree. I think that what crystallize this week was the sense of things that get set in motion that are out of the president and out of the White House control, right? You begin to see things that add on. You fire the FBI director. That has consequences. That sets other things in motion. The memo is now likely to spark hearings with the former FBI director, which are going to be amazing hearings where he probably reads from the memos and that could spark -- that could lead to an independent investigation that goes on and on.

KING: And when Congress offers the chance for the president to offer his side of the story, that opens Pandora's box because then --

HENDERSON: Yes.

SHEAR: Perjury, you know, the -- you know, that's -- remember, that's what they got Clinton on initially was the -- you know, was a perjury and obstruction kind of charge. So that -- it just -- it all builds and it all leads and that's the sense, you know, over the week, but especially last night, that I think we all got.

HENDERSON: Yes, and that's when you start to bring in aides and staff. What did they know? When did they know it? Do they have notes, as you said, or --

SHEAR: And they need lawyers then, right?

HENDERSON: Yes, and they need lawyers. So this, again, it opens up territory that we haven't seen before for this president.

MURRAY: That commencement address is so telling. It's very clear the president still sees himself as the victim in this. And, you know, we were talking about learning to act properly. That's not his concern. His concern is who is sharing this information, not, I shouldn't have said this to James Comey, not, maybe we should have made sure we were going through the proper protocols if we were going to share sensitive information with the Russians. He does not seem to be eager to learn from his mistakes, to realize that they are mistakes, or to try to do this job perhaps in a better, a less sloppy way that might allow him to move forward with his agenda and, frankly, give Republicans on The Hill fewer panic attacks.

KING: That's an interesting point and we're going to continue the conversation after a quick break.

Up next, a crisis for the president and a moment of truth for his Republican Party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)