Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Leaves for Speech in Reno; CNN Sources: Trump & McConnell Not Speaking; Clinton: "My Skin Crawled" When Trump Stood Behind Me; Ex Russian Ambassador Denies Being a Spymaster; U.S. Cuts Millions in Aid to Egypt over Human Rights. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: We're hearing CNN sources telling us that McConnell -- Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and President Trump haven't spoken in weeks since the telephone conversation. Are you concerned or troubled when you see that the president of the United States has such a relationship with important people within his own party?

STEVE ROGERS, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ADIVISRY BOARD: Not at all. The important people within his own party are the American people. He is clearly articulating a lot of things that people like those of us on the street would want to articulate publicly. We're tired of career politicians. We're tired -- I'm talking about both parties. I don't just place blame on Democrats. I place blame on the career Republicans who promise so much to so many and deliver to so few.

WARD: But wouldn't you like to see him get on the phone and call Mitch McConnell and say, let's work this out, let's put the interests of the American people ahead of these grievances?

ROGERS: I'm sure he has. I'm sure he has gotten on the phone. He said, let's work this out. We've --

WARD: How are you --



ROGERS: I didn't bring my Captain America shield, so give --


BOYKIN: I'm laughing. It's preposterous.

ROGERS: My point is this. He is a very successful businessman. He got there --


BOYKIN: Six bankruptcies.

ROGERS: He got there through -- you always want to bring the negative. That's the problem.

BOYKIN: I'm responding to your accusations.

ROGERS: You are not responding.


WARD: Let's stick to the topic.

ROGERS: I don't have an opportunity to answer your question.

WARD: Let him speak. Let the man speak.


ROGERS: He is a very successful businessman. He has been successful because of his ability to speak and negotiate with people. There's two sides to this story. Mitch McConnell failed. He failed miserably for delivering for the president. Yes, you're right. There has to be a time when they sit, agree and talk. But it's on Mitch McConnell also. My point with the president of the United States is, we're all hearing the side the left wants us to hear. Frankly -- you can roll your eyes. Frankly, there's a lot of good this man has done.

WARD: All right.

BOYKIN: We heard an hour of the president's speech. Don't tell me it's what the left wants to hear. This is an unhinged, unstable man who is incapable of working with anybody. He is not only attacking Jeff Flake and John McCain last night. He's also attacking Hillary Clinton. He's attacking Barack Obama. He's attacking the media. He is attacking Republicans in his own party. He's attacking Democrats. He is attacking everybody except the 34 percent of people who support him. He has to be the president of the entire United States, not just the president of his base. The campaigning season is over. It's time for governing. He has shown himself incapable of doing that. And that's what --


WARD: Wait. Let --


RAUL REYES, CNN OPINION WRITER & IMMIGRATION ANALYST: Let's maybe step back for a second. Probably, in my view, the kindest thing we can say about the performance last night, it was erratic. He is going after people he doesn't like. He is playing to the red meat.

And I hear you. He has an agenda. He wants to get it done. The American people want to get things done. Things in Congress get done with Mitch McConnell, with -- through Jeff Flake.

ROGERS: Oh, please.

REYES: He is not going to be able to do tax reform, the debt ceiling, his infrastructure. None of those things will happen without the backing of Republican members of Congress. He is picking fights with the very people with experience -- great experience in the field who will help him to get there.

Meanwhile, as you talk about this is what the public wants, 39 percent public approval rating, even in Arizona, a state he won.


WARD: Let me --


WARD: You raise an interesting point.

I want to give Amanda a chance to weigh in on this.

I want you actually -- to weigh in on the president kind of going back to Charlottesville, yet again, double, tripling -- I lost track of how many incarnations there have been. Do you think it was effective? Did it play well? With Americans. What's your take on it.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, for what he is trying to do, I think it did. Let me explain. I think we have to acknowledge the fact that the president is holding re-election rally- style events with no legislative accomplishments to speak of. There's no health care reform, no tax care reform, there's no wall. Instead of positioning his speeches into saying, hey, I want these bills passed, this is what it should include, call your Senators, doing that sort of pressure campaign to get legislation passed, he is doubling down on the culture war that he has always been fighting against the media.

The most important line from that speech last night I think was this. It was, "They are trying to take away our history and heritage." That is a siren call to the culture war he is trying to fight, that touches not only immigration, but the monument fight. But to things like ESPN saying that a man -- an Asian man named Robert Lee can't go on the air right now because things are too hot. So he has his eye on the ball, something bigger than what's happening in washington. That's how he got here. We need to pay attention to those calls and not get so much caught up into the legislative fight. I think he is actually abandoned it.

WARD: Do you agree, Keith? Is that an accurate assessment? Is this a call for a culture war?

[11:35:12] BOYKIN: I think Donald Trump has been engaged in a culture war since the moment he announced his campaign. When he came down the escalator and said that Mexicans who are coming to the country are rapists and murderers, and some are good people. I think he was engaged in a culture war when he called for a ban on Muslims. He was engaged in a culture war when he spent five years attacking President Obama. Of course, that's the only thing this man knows. That's the reason why he gave this racist dog-whistle speech that was not even that much of a dog whistle. (CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: I, as an African-American, could hear that he was appealing to white racists and white supremacists and the base of his party that, unfortunately, is not going to get him re-elected. He has to reach out to people beyond the 34 percent who approve of him.

REYES: You know what's the danger? For one day, we spoke about his speech about Afghanistan, his plans or lack thereof, what was ahead for the country in Afghanistan for one day. Then with this rally by moving back to Charlottesville and those issues, he has erased that. We are back to this polarizing racial debate. He has stirred it up in a very self-destructive way.

ROGERS: You know what hurts politics, when a state legislature calls for the assassination of the president of the United States. That is outrageous. It's tragic. That should never have come out of the mouth of elected officials.


BOYKIN: First of all, it's legislator, not legislature.


BOYKIN: It's one person.


BOYKIN: Trump has never apologized --


ROGERS: You want to criticize --

WARD: OK. Time-out. Time-out.


ROGERS: BOYKIN: Stop lying.


ROGERS: You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Shame on you.


ROGERS: Shame on you for lying.

WARD: Time-out. Everyone take a deep breath.

We're going to shift gears for a second. I would like to talk about Hillary Clinton's new book for a second. She talks in detail about this moment when she was on stage with now-President Donald Trump at the debate. Let's take a listen.

Then, Amanda, I would like to get your thoughts.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, back up you creep, get away from me? I know you love to intimidate women, but you can't intimidate me. So back up. I chose option "A." I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option "B." It certainly would have been better TV. Maybe I have over learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.


WARD: Amanda, the Clintons are not well-known for being candid or open. This seems like a pretty intimate depiction of this thoughts?

CARPENTER: It's fascinating, Clarissa, that this is the excerpt she's choosing to show the world, before the entire book. To me, when you read it, it's like the idea that she never had a successful public confrontation with Donald Trump is gnawing at her. I think it gnaws at not only her but other people who see Donald Trump -- may support the policies that he wants to enact. But want some kind of check on his bad behavior.

There's a lesson for Democrats, too. I think they're struggling to go in this excerpt that Hillary is struggling with. Do you take the high road with Trump? Which did not work in the last election. Be composed and grit your teeth. Or are you going to lash out and match him bit for bit? The Republican Party struggled with this as well. There's no clear-cut winning formula for checking Trump's behavior. That's what this excerpt speaks to.

WARD: That's an excellent thought to finish on.

Amanda, Keith, Raul, Steve, thank all of you.


WARD: We're grateful as always.

BOYKIN: Peace out.

[11:39:32] WARD: Peace and love. All right.

Well, one of the men at the center of the Russia investigation breaks his silence in an exclusive CNN interview. The former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, emphatically denies that he is a spy master. Stay with us.


WARD: Former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak, one of the men at the center of the Russian controversy, he is downplaying meetings with members of the Trump campaign.

He hasn't granted an interview to anyone in the Western media until now. Our CNN's Matthew Chance just wrapped up an exclusive interview with Kislyak. He joins me now live.

Matthew, what did he tell you?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we got a chance, Clarissa, to ask him some of those key questions that so many people in the Western media at least have been trying to ask him really since this whole scandal about the Trump administration, the Trump team's alleged connections with the Kremlin really first broke. This is a figure after the conversations with whom Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, had to resign. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, had to recuse himself from the investigations about Russia because of the conversations he had with Sergei Kislyak. So there's a load of questions about the nature of those conversations.

Again, we traveled here, which is about 400 miles from the Russian capitol, to track him down and to put those questions to him. Take a listen.


[11:45:28] CHANCE: Did you discuss lifting sanctions with any members of the Trump team when you were in the United States?

SERGEI KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: With your respect, I'm here to talk to Russian people.

CHANCE: I understand that. You say you have no secrets.

KISLYAK: I have said everything I wanted prior to this.

CHANCE: Did you discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin with Jared Kushner, for instance?

KISLYAK: I have said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American counterparts out of respect to our partners.

CHANCE: Fair enough. But when you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secret. But it was a good meeting. And we were discussing things that are very important to your country and to mine.

CHANCE: What about the allegation that you are a spymaster, a spy recruiter?

KISLYAK: Nonsense. Nonsense.

CHANCE: Did you attempt to recruit any members of the Trump administration?

KISLYAK: You should be ashamed because CNN is the company that keeps up pointing to this allegation. It's nonsense.

CHANCE: It was U.S. security officials, intelligence officials that made it.

KISLYAK: I heard that in the statements by them. Also by former head of the FBI who said it. I was a diplomat. I had no - no reason to doubt that he knew what he said.


CHANCE: Sergei Kislyak, a diplomat to the end, very much following the -- towing the Kremlin line on all of his responses to those questions. Those questions are not going to go away. There are multiple investigations in the United States to try and get more full answers to them -- Clarissa?

WARD: They're not going anywhere.

Matthew Chance, fantastic reporting. Thank you so much.

Just a few months ago, President Trump declared to the Middle East, we are not here to lecture. But now, the president put the brakes on millions of dollars in aid into Egypt. And we will be taking a look at his -- at Jared Kushner, his son-in-law's trip to Egypt where he has been snubbed. That's next.


[11:51:04] WARD: New this morning, the Trump administration is cutting millions of dollars in aid to Egypt over human rights. Trump approved the decision after White House officials said they were blindsided when Egypt passed a law that may restrict NGO's rights to development and social work. During a visit in April, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi assured the White House that the law wouldn't pass. The move comes as the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, is set to arrive in Egypt today.

Joining me to discuss is CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken.

I want to start out with the idea, it's a little bit confusing, I think, while some people have been talking for some time about alarming human rights issues under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, from the Trump administration, we've heard a pretty much continuous line of thought that, basically, America is not in the business of caring about how other countries run their own countries, we're not in the business of enforcing human rights. What prompted this decision to cut this funding? TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's a great question,

Clarissa. It is very surprising. This about-faces, not something I wouldn't have expected or nobody else would have expected. And you have to wonder whether we have a case of the right hand and the left hand not knowing what each other is doing.

It appears this decision was made by the State Department because it is the secretary of state's responsibility to decide on a periodic basis whether to sustain aid, whether to waive some of the restrictions imposed on aid. So apparently, the State Department chose not to allow this to go forward. I happen to think it's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, we have seen a dramatic downward trend in Egypt over the last couple of years in terms of basic civil rights, repression of political dissidents of all stripes, and non- governmental organizations. And at some point, something needed to be done about that. But you're right, it flies in the face of everything you've heard from the president. I would predict we'll see a presidential tweet coming out saying exactly the opposite.

WARD: The timing of this is so incredibly awkward. You have Jared Kushner in Egypt today. His meeting with the foreign minister has been cancelled. It's hard to believe. Was this coordinated this way where the news would drop at the same time as this? What is Kushner's role? Is he level there in a very uncomfortable position?

BLINKEN: Yes, again, there does seem like, on the surface, there wasn't a lot of coordination, and the State Department did one thing while the team of senior officials, including Mr. Kushner, and the deputy national security director, Dina Powell, and others are out there in Egypt. Whichever way this happened, it sure would have been better to coordinate it.

But the bottom line is this. It's a very strong signal and a strong message to Egypt that it needs to do something about this very, very disturbing downward trend in human rights, in respect for civil society, and NGOs. And there's a reason for this, Clarissa. It's not just that we're lecturing others about what they should be doing. This is a national security issue. The more Egypt continues to repress voices of dissent, people who have differences with the government, the more it forces them into prison and underground, the more it's going to radicalize people. We know the al Qaeda group started in those places, started in Egyptian jails. So this actually affects us. And we've been right to hammer the Egyptians --


WARD: It does. And, yet we have heard President Trump come out swinging for Abdul Fattah al Sisi in the past, saying he's a great leader and we're behind you.

Just quickly, some have suggested this might have something to do with Egypt's closeness to North Korea. What do you make of that theory?

BLINKEN: Well, I don't know about the North Korea relationship. But I do know that you put your finger on something important. Which is I'm concerned that the president's unvarnished and unconditional support for al Sisi has emboldened him to continue in the direction Egypt's been going in, in terms of cracking down on human rights, in terms of cracking down on civil societies and NGOs. This is a good course correction. We'll see how long it lasts.

[11:55:15] WARD: That's the question, isn't it? Mixed messages. And we'll see how long it lasts.

Tony Blinken, thank you for helping us to unpack it.

And to all of you who are watching, thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"INSIDE POLITICS," with Jake Tapper is coming up next.


[11:59:53] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to "INSIDE POLITICS." I'm Jake Tapper. John King is taking a well-deserved vacation.

Another day and another big audience for President Trump. The president will speak to an American Legion convention in Nevada this afternoon. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.