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Trump in Hawaii, Leaves for Tokyo Soon; "The Last Republicans"; Former Trump Adviser Details Moscow Trip; Trump Says He Was "One Of The Great Memories Of All Time"; Trump Begins High-Stakes Trip: 13 Days, Five Nations. Aired 11-12p ET
Aired November 4, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:59:49] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: In just a couple of hours he leaves for Tokyo. He will have a hopscotching of five countries and meet with world leaders during his tour of Asia; and across much of the region, anxiety grows over a nuclear--armed North Korea and its bellicose exchanges with President Trump.
Also threatening to overshadow the trip, the Russia investigation and a new development. Former campaign adviser Carter Page is backing away from his earlier denials and confirms a meeting last summer with Russia's deputy prime minister.
Even more significant, Page says several members of the campaign knew about his Moscow meeting and afterward he even sent an e-mail about it to a campaign aide.
We have a lot to cover right now.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is traveling with the President and joins us now from Honolulu -- Ryan.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred -- good morning.
Aloha from Honolulu where the President is spending the night, preparing to take off for his five-country tour of the Asia Pacific region. He'll take off from Honolulu this morning en route to Tokyo, which will be the first stop on that trip.
He had a busy day here in Honolulu yesterday. This was a working layover for the President. In addition to meeting with military leaders, getting a briefing from the Pacific Command, he also toured the U.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, a solemn moment as he threw flowers into that sunk vessel, which, of course, entombs many of the sailors that were killed during that attack during World War II.
The President also went to a military ball where he took pictures and shook hands and hugged many military members that are stationed here in Hawaii.
There have been a few protesters that have camped out in front of the hotel where he is staying at here in Honolulu, also at the state capitol in Honolulu. But by and large this has been a pretty much on- schedule trip for the President. He does have a very ambitious agenda over the next 12 days meeting with leaders from Japan, from South Korea, from Vietnam, and from China. Among the topics for discussion, the growing tension with North Korea and the Kim Jong-Un regime. The President will talk about looking for a path forward there with many different leaders.
And there will also be some economic news that we expect to be announced during this trip. Of course, the President did pull out of that Asian free trade deal that was initially hatched by the Obama administration early on in his presidency, so now he'll have conversations with each one of these individual world leaders about opening up trade deals between the United States and these Asia Pacific countries.
This will be a long trip for the President, the longest of his administration, and it's also the longest presidential trip to this region since the George H.W. Bush administration. And White House officials say there's a reason for that.
There's a lot of work to be done and the President is hopeful, as he put it to reporters on Air Force One, that he will represent the citizens of the United States well on this trip -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles in Honolulu -- thank you so much.
All right. Joining me right now CNN political commentator David Swerdlick, he's an assistant editor at the "Washington Post"; and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, a "Washington Post" columnist. Good to see you both.
WHITFIELD: All right. So David to you first, you know, the President's five-Asian-nation tour comes at a very prickly time. How much will the Russia probe interfere potentially, with Trump's ability to assure, comfort, or even work with leaders worried about North Korea?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure Fred -- so I think at a minimum it's a distraction for the President, even though the administration, I think, would probably welcome this trip abroad, a chance to get away out of the daily grind of Washington. The news of the Russia investigation is going to follow them.
It's going to keep us busy here. And I think that it also, as you say, lets leaders across the world know that this president is not on the same page with his members of Congress here. He's not necessarily on the same page with people in his inner circle. And that gives them, I think, pause when they are having to negotiate with this president on matters of trade, as Ryan just reported, or on matters related to North Korea.
The President has to project the idea that he, his party, and that abroad he and leaders of our allied nations are on the same page, that there's no daylight between them. And I think it's going to be much tougher for him to do that in this atmosphere. WHITFIELD: And Josh -- in addition to that, you know, remember the G-
20 when the President was there, it was just last July, he avoided a press conference, which is very unusual and unheard of for a U.S. President. Is there an expectation that he just might try that again during this 12-day journey?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There will be no opportunity for President Trump to avoid the press on this trip. He's got several engagements, several bilateral meetings with press availabilities, and a couple of major speeches where he plans to lay out his vision -- what they call the Indo-Pacific strategy for the region, which is supposed to be a response to the Obama administration's Asia pivot.
So there will be a lot of opportunities for him to stay on message. There will be a lot of opportunities for him to go off message, too.
[11:04:52] And it will be largely up to the President whether or not he can take this chance to spend 12 days focusing on foreign policy, the real problems in Asia, the real opportunities in Asia, and ignore some of the distractions. His record on that so far has not been that great.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Because those questions will come if there's an opportunity for reporters to ask that question worldwide, it's going to happen.
WHITFIELD: So David, you know, one of the concerns on this trip is, you know, Trump's tendency to use words like "little rocket man" and other inflammatory language about North Korea, something national security advisor H.R. McMaster talked about several times this week. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The President will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously. I don't think the President really modulates his language. Have you noticed him do that?
I mean he's been very clear -- he's been very clear about it. I've been aware of the discussions about his just inflammatory -- now what's inflammatory is the North Korean regime and what they are doing to threaten the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: But, David, showing some kind of restraint just might be, you know, respected particularly with these Asian country leaders.
SWERDLICK: Right, so General McMaster there had sort of a blind flash of the obvious. Yes, the President will say what he wants to say and he has a right to say it. Whether or not that's helpful, whether or not that's doing his job in a way that advances the interests of the United States is a completely separate question. I know that the general is in a position where he has to sort of, you know, make light of it or, you know, move past that. But it's not that helpful of an answer, because as we've been talking about, the President started out his administration sort of capriciously throwing away a chip that he had with Asian countries with pulling out, I think, capriciously from the TPP pact without getting anything in return from it.
So now he starts off as Ryan reported negotiating bilateral trade deals with Asian leaders, as well as trying to get Japan, South Korea, other countries on the same page about what to do about North Korea and how to leverage China.
At the end of the day it's not these tweets that leverage China into helping us with North Korea, it's figuring out what interests we have and they have in common.
WHITFIELD: So, Josh, you know, with those kind of, you know, economic setbacks, you know, from the perspective of many of these Asian nations, you know, will the President have leveraging power, particularly as it pertains to China?
ROGIN: When I talk to Trump administration officials, what they tell me consistently is don't expect any big movements or big announcements on this trip. They're not trying to pen huge deliverables.
The President will make tough statements about Chinese predatory trade practices while he's in Beijing in a meeting with business leaders. He'll bring up Chinese misbehavior in the region and some of the other countries not in China and definitely not standing next to Xi Jinping.
The real action on economics and trading with China will come when the President returns home. Over the next 40 to 50 days, there'll be a number of huge decisions that will come due at the White House, talking about tariffs, things like stealing (INAUDIBLE), intellectual property.
So the tough on China economic policy that Trump promised throughout his campaign is coming, but you won't see it in Beijing. That will be a smile test.
WHITFIELD: And then, you know, back to Russia, clearly, the President has to expect he's going to be peppered with a lot of Russia-related questions and then we know Vladimir Putin is going to be at the APEC summit in Vietnam -- Vietnam one of the stops for the President.
David -- do you see any potential of these two having any kind of sideline meeting or brush with one another?
SWERDLICK: Perhaps they will. Josh may have some better reporting on that than I do. I think though again, what matters most as we go forward at this point is not whether or not they meet, but what is said in those meetings that we may or may not be privy to and what is reported out of those meetings.
You know, we have strategic interests that we have to work with Russia on, like North Korea, they are a member of the Security Council.
But you know, the President is going to be able to sort of avoid or run from but won't be able to hide from ultimately all these questions swirling around the administration about what Russia did to try and upend our democratic process.
WHITFIELD: And Josh -- how do you see it? Advantageous or, you know, potentially dangerous if the two were to meet?
ROGIN: No, there's no problem with President Trump meeting with President Putin. They should meet. That's part of regular diplomacy. It's part of Trump's job.
I agree with David, the problem could be what he says both inside the meeting and after the meeting and how is that maybe disjointed with U.S. policy. But I would point out here that, you know, just from your opening, right, the story of Trump and Putin's relationship is being overtaken by the continuing drip, drip, drip of revelations from the Russia investigation.
And yesterday is a good example, because actually, in fact, Carter Page admitted to meeting Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich during his trip to Moscow last year, in an interview with the "Washington Post". That's been public for 13 months.
But yesterday the "New York Times" reported it as if it was new and then all of a sudden it seems like a new revelation. So that's part of the confusion of the Russia story that tends to overtake events and meetings which would otherwise be non-controversial.
WHITFIELD: And adding to the confusion why Carter Page does make himself, you know, available. And there are increments to the story that do seem to change or become a little bit more shrouded.
[11:10:06] Later, we'll talk more about that coming up, as well.
Josh Rogin, David Swerdlick -- thanks so much.
SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right.
Still ahead, candid criticism of President Trump from two former presidents -- Bush 41 and 43 speaking out on why they consider the President a, quote, "blow hard" and feel that he doesn't understand the gravity of the office.
A CNN television exclusive next.
WHITFIELD: All right. There's an unwritten rule among former presidents that you don't criticize the sitting commander in chief, but in today's political climate that rule has all but gone out the window. Former U.S. Presidents have criticized Trump's policies or leadership style at one point or another. And in a new book called "The Last Republicans", Bush 41 and Bush 43 take direct aim at President Trump, calling him a blowhard and expressing concerns that he doesn't know what it means to be U.S. President.
[11:15:10] CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with the book's author for an inside look at that incredibly candid conversation.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Former President Bush 43 told you when Trump entered the race he thought --
MARK UPDEGROVE, AUTHOR "THE LAST REPUBLICANS": He thought interesting, won't last.
GANGEL: Won't last.
UPDEGROVE: Won't last.
But when Trump started to rise, I think he became concerned because he saw this populism of Donald Trump getting in the way of America's position in the world.
GANGEL: He gave you rare insight, though, into his criticism of Donald Trump. What did he tell you?
UPDEGROVE: One of the things he said was that one of the hallmarks of great leadership is humility. So when Donald Trump said I am my own adviser, Bush thought, and this is a quote, "Wow, this guy doesn't know what it means to be president".
GANGEL: What was his tone when he talked to you about Trump?
UPDEGROVE: I think it was restrained. The Bushes are very restrained. And I also think that they realize they have a role to play as former presidents. And they have to be restrained. They have to be dignified.
GANGEL: He weighed his words.
UPDEGROVE: I think he did, yes.
GANGEL: President Bush 41 was a bit blunter. He said that he thought Donald Trump had, quote, "a certain ego" and then he told you point blank --
UPDEGROVE: He's a blowhard. He's a blowhard. And I don't like him -- plain and simple. And I'm not excited about him being a leader, which is a quote.
And if you look at the Bush family, it makes perfect sense. Donald Trump is everything that the Bush family is not. George Bush grew up thinking about the greater good. Donald Trump, I think, is manifestly narcissistic. It's part of his brand. And that brand is the antithesis of the Bush brand.
GANGEL: How do you think these two men feel that Donald Trump is now the standard bearer of the Republican Party? I think it's pretty clear if you look at their records and their views politically that -- I'm going to quote George H.W. -- they are not excited about Donald Trump being our leader. That's not a leap of faith. That's pretty clear.
And I think the most clear demonstration we get of that recently is Charlottesville. The Bushes came out with a joint tweet, which they had never done in the past, condemning bigotry and anti-Semitism and all the things that were on display in Charlottesville among the white supremacists.
That was a clear betrayal of American values and the Bushes came out with that joint -- I think that spoke resoundingly about the void in leadership that they were seeing from the White House.
GANGEL: There are a lot of quotes from the Bushes that are going to make news in this book. Bush 43 talks about whether Vice President Dick Cheney had played an outsized role in his presidency, something that gets talked about all the time where Dick Cheney too powerful. And Bush 43 told you?
UPDEGROVE: Well, he was talking about the neo conservatives in general and specifically about Cheney and Rumsfeld, and he said, and I quote, "Cheney and Rumsfeld never made one (EXPLETIVE DELETED) decision.
GANGEL: That's the quote?
UPDEGROVE: That's the quote.
I understand his frustration, because at the time there was a perception that Dick Cheney was the acting president, but, in fact, George W. Bush had had a lifetime of making bold decisions. He has this preternatural confidence in himself as a leadership.
And if you talk to those around him, they have confidence in his leadership. And so this notion that Cheney was making the decisions is ludicrous.
GANGEL: When you started to write this book, let me guess -- the title was not "The Last Republicans".
UPDEGROVE: When I set out to write this in 2013, you know, it was a very different time, but "The Last Republicans" became the right title during what has become the Trump era.
UPDEGROVE: Well, you know, George W. Bush himself said in 2016 privately -- and to me, you know -- I fear that I'll be the last Republican president.
GANGEL: He confirmed that to you? UPDEGROVE: He confirmed that to me. And it wasn't just about Hillary
Clinton becoming president. It was because Donald Trump represented everything that the Bushes abhorred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jamie Gangel joining us right now. Good to see you -- Jamie.
GANGEL: Hey -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: You know, the Bushes offering very candid thoughts here on Trump, but these are thoughts from them during the campaign, right? But in recent weeks we did hear candid thoughts from Bush 43.
So how have their thoughts, you know, evolved about candidate versus President Trump, do you think?
GANGEL: Right. So first of all for context, those -- the interviews for this book were done during the campaign, but they are standing by them. No one is saying that they changed their mind.
In some ways this is a surprise because they've been very careful about going on the record. On the other hand, let's remember neither of these men voted for Donald Trump. President Bush 41 voted for Hillary Clinton. President Bush 43 said none of the above at the top of the ticket
So I don't think it's a surprise -- big picture. I think they wanted to say these things, and they knew it was going to be out there.
WHITFIELD: Is there a way -- I mean I know you're very close with former President George H.W. Bush. In your view or perhaps even with your recent, you know, interactions with him, was there any real consternation about kind of breaking the ranks, you know, of that kind of code of silence that comes with former presidents not commenting or saying anything about a sitting president?
GANGEL: I don't think so because let's remember again, the interviews for the book were actually done before he became president. And so I don't think you're going to see them going out to do this again. They've said what they are going to say.
And there's one person, of course, Fred, we're still waiting to hear from. We reached out to the White House to see if President Trump had a comment. We have not heard back, but maybe watch that Twitter account. You never know.
WHITFIELD: Anything can happen. All right, Jamie Gangel -- thank you so much for bringing that to us.
GANGEL: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Appreciate it. Good to see you. All right still ahead, as President Trump heads overseas, the Russia
investigation is moving closer to the west wing. The new questions now after a former Trump aide tells CNN multiple members of the campaign knew about his trip to Russia -- Carter Page's trip to Russia, where he met with a senior Russia government official.
More on that, next.
[11:22:07] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: As President Trump prepares to take off from Honolulu later on today heading to Japan for his Asia trip, the shadow of the Russia investigation is not far behind.
CNN's Jessica Schneider looks back at the week of indictments and denials and the ongoing special prosecutor's investigation.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Tonight the President remains defiant amid mounting evidence that he knew about his campaign adviser's connections to Russia.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion, there was no nothing.
SCHNEIDER: In February of this year he pleaded total ignorance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously, was dealing. So that's one person, but he was dealing as he should have been.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?
TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of. Nobody that I know of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Look, look, look -- how many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it.
SCHNEIDER: Tonight, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates remain under house arrest. The indictment against them was unsealed Monday for money laundering and failing to register as foreign agents. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from their work as lobbyists for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party and was not explicitly related to their work during the campaign.
And now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also coming under increasing fire for answers he gave at several congressional hearings over the past year.
SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you're saying?
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it's not that he has a problem with the truth. , I think it's easier to say that he's perjured himself at least three times.
TRUMP: A bit of background --
SCHNEIDER: The accusations from Democrat come after revelations from former campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Carter Page telling CNN that he told congressional investigators he mentioned to Sessions a trip he planned to take to Russia at the height of the campaign. And in a march 2016 meeting, where Papadopoulos sat in between then-candidate Trump and Jeff Sessions, court documents show Papadopoulos told the group he had connections that could arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.
Campaign adviser J.D. Gordon sitting next to Papadopoulos, tells CNN Donald Trump heard him out, but then senator sessions, who was a top campaign surrogate, shot down the idea of a meeting with Putin, a source tells CNN.
SESSIONS: The next president will have a strategy in keeping with American traditions.
SCHNEIDER: This is video of Papadopoulos speaking at an event unrelated to the campaign in 2016. President Trump has downplayed his role, calling him a low level volunteer and a liar. But Papadopoulos's disclosures to the FBI as part of his guilty plea for lying about his contacts with Russians during the campaign are already affecting the administration.
And we've learned that the start of the trial and the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates case won't happen until May 7th, 2018, at the earliest because of the judge's schedule. Prosecutors say it will take at least three weeks for them to lay out their case. That means the case will push into the summer, keeping Russia in the spotlight as the midterm congressional races heat up.
Jessica Snyder, CNN -- Washington.
[11:29:57] WHITFIELD: All right, I want to bring in our political panel. David Swerdlick is a CNN political commentator and assistant editor at the "Washington Post" and Josh Rogin is a CNN political analyst and columnist at the "Washington Post". Gentlemen -- welcome back. I want you to hear what Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, had to say to CNN about his conversation with Jeff Sessions, where he mentions that trip to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: You know, I -- that mention, which was the big headline yesterday, was a brief comment as we were walking towards the elevator after having a dinner together. And so, it was such a nothing event, and, you know, as you've correctly noted, I mention that, you know, I'm heading over there and totally unrelated to the campaign.
So, I actually had -- it was a meeting that -- or a dinner that was set up sort of at the last minute and I ended up changing around my schedule because I was just getting ready to go in a couple of days, so I said it was the only time I ever met him. We had one dinner together --
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sessions?
PAGE: Yes, I said it was great to meet you. I'm glad I was able to meet this before I head to Moscow. I mean, it's totally in passing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, so, David, Carter Page's comments, does it help clear things up or fuel more questions about Russia and the Trump campaign?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we still have things we need to learn. I don't think it necessarily clears things up. Carter Page has made himself available to the media in various instances. Josh has interviewed him, where he has tried to put out a story that he's going to compartmentalize his dealings as a private citizen versus his dealings as an adviser to the Trump campaign.
And maybe that's the case, but it certainly doesn't help with all of the other details that we know swirling around other members of the Trump orbit, right. You had Senator Sessions, at one point, meeting with Ambassador Kislyak.
You have Jared Kushner, at one point, meeting with Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov. You have Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya. You have -- during the campaign, President Trump making all of these complementary comments about Vladimir Putin, and saying that Vladimir Putin liked him.
None of this, Fred, it's worth pointing out means that that president or anyone in his orbit committed any crimes, other than George Papadopoulos, who was mentioned in Jessica's report, no one has -- he entered a guilty plea, no one else has entered a guilty plea.
No one else other than Manafort and Gates has been indicted for anything. That being said, the idea as you played in the clip, nothing that the president said over and over again, he had nothing to do with Russia, people around him had nothing to do with Russia, that over the last weeks particularly has started to really disintegrate on the administration.
WHITFIELD: And, Josh, we reporters love it when subjects say, yes, you've interviewed Carter Page, but what is his motivation? What do you suppose he does say yes to these interviews when it makes things a bit more convoluted?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I've known Carter Page for a long time. I've interviewed him several times. He feels genuinely that he is under attack being accused of things that he didn't do and wants to get his side of the story out.
Now, the fact he does so in an often clumsy way, sometimes adds confusion, but here are the facts. His trip to Moscow in July was well reported at the time. It wasn't a secret. Everybody knew about it. It was on CNN all the time.
The fact that he met with Russian deputy prime minister while he was in Moscow I reported. He confirmed that to me on the record 13 months ago, so that was not a secret. Why Jeff Sessions doesn't seem to remember any of this is weird and unexplainable.
He could be forgettable or deceiving, I really don't know, but what we're seeing here is these investigations get to all of these things that happened last year. They are rehashing a lot of things that we already knew from last year and presenting them as new information.
So, that's just a caution for everybody who's writing and thinking and talking about this. There's a lot of smoke. There's not a lot of fire. Carter Page doesn't seem to be helping himself or the Trump team by doing continuing interviews on this.
But the overall story that came out last night that he went to Moscow and that Trump campaign knew about it and he met with a Russian official, that's old news.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And speaking of which not being able to recall, President Trump, you know, insisting that he can't recall a campaign meeting during the election when Foreign Policy Adviser George Papadopoulos floated the idea of setting up the visit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Here's President Trump yesterday, and -- about what he can and cannot remember.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting, took place a long time. Don't remember much about it. I'm a very intelligent person. One of the great memories of all time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, David, the president, you know, has said he has one of the greatest memories of all time. What's going on here?
SWERDLICK: Yes, it was just last week that he reiterated that claim, that he has one of the hall of fame memories of all time, but he can't remember this meeting, even though as Jessica just reported, J.D. Gordon, who was sitting there in that meeting next to George Papadopoulos has a different sort of recollection of how things went.
The president also, when George Papadopoulos was named as one of the people indicted on Monday, the president portrayed it that he was a low-level person, didn't have a clear recollection of.
[11:35:10] But I wonder if he remembers when the president sat down as a candidate with the "Washington Post" Editorial Board, he listed off George Papadopoulos as one of his key foreign policy advisers at that point in the campaign.
WHITFIELD: And Josh, of course, Special Counsel Bob Mueller has to be listening to this very closely and potentially trying to extract whether it could be beneficial to the investigation.
ROGIN: Right. And the bottom line is, we don't know. We don't know what he knows. We don't know if it is really substantial to the investigation. I mean, the context here is important. Back at that time, the Trump during the primaries the Trump foreign policy team was ad hoc, slap dash.
Trump didn't really meet with them at all. They were just collecting people willing to sign up to what was then considered a long shot endeavor, so these characters, J.D. Gordon, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, they all seemed like they were, you know, in the inner circle.
But the truth was that they were low-level periphery figures and their reemergence into the debate is now sort of calling into question all of these important issues, and the bottom line is that, you know, we're going to have to wait and see if Mueller can connect these issues.
Which at the time were sort of well-known but not seen as important, to what actually happened, what actually was the Russian interference, whether or not there was collusion. So far, those connections have not been made or at least not made public. Let's wait and see.
WHITFIELD: Got it. All fascinating, nonetheless. Josh Rogin, David Swerdlick, thanks so much, guys. Appreciate it.
All right, President Trump embarking on the most ambitious trip of his presidency so far. The diplomatic stakes at play and what American allies need to hear from him next.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump will soon be climbing aboard Air Force One in Hawaii and heading to Japan for the first leg of his 13-day, five-nation Asian tour. The president's meeting in Tokyo with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe comes at a time of high tensions with North Korea.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is making one thing clear, the president won't be moderating his language in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously, and what the president has done is clarified in all of his -- all of his discussions, his statements on North Korea, our determination to ensure that North Korea's unable to threaten our allies and our partners and certainly the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labbot, joining me now. Good to see you. What is at stake for the U.S. diplomatically as the president meets with leaders of the five nations and could an unfiltered Trump under the nuclear threat with North Korea really cause more harm than good?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it remains to be seen, Fred, how North Korea reacts to that rhetoric. I mean, look, I think what these leaders are looking for right now is, yes, the U.S. is going to be tough, but they are also looking for assurance.
They are looking for clarity on the U.S. position, so much more than rhetoric, I think that these leaders are going to be looking for what the Trump administration policy is. There have been a lot of mixed messages, particularly on North Korea.
And so, you know, you have the fire and fury coming from the president, but then, you know, you have Secretary of State Tillerson talking about, you know, a diplomatic back channel. So, I think these leaders want to know what to expect in the event that North Korea continues those provocations.
WHITFIELD: And China is really important in this whole equation. You know, the president has been a rather vocal critic of that country so how will Trump be received there? Will he have real leverage?
LABOTT: Well, I think he definitely has leverage on trade, and he has leverage in the sense that he's told China that if you're not going to get tough on North Korea, perhaps, you know, he'll take more tougher economic measures, economic sanctions against Chinese banks.
Look, China has done a lot more than it ever has. It's still not -- there's a lot more that it can do, but I think, you know, President Trump wants to use the economics as a lever with China.
He also wants to, you know, have China as a partner, so he's kind of balanced -- this balancing act for President Trump as he tries to -- he's still forming a relationship with President Xi. And I think it remains to be seen whether he's going to be able to get the Chinese to do what -- I mean, China has its own interests there, so it's not really just about compromising with the United States, it's what's in China's best interests.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And then later on in the week, there will be the APEC Summit in Vietnam, Trump and Russian President Putin will be there. Might come face to face and might the White House be pushing for some sort of bilateral meeting?
LABOTT: Well, I mean, they are being very coy about it, but I think if those two leaders are going to be in the same country at the same meeting, I think you can expect some kind of interaction.
I mean, clearly, all of these investigations with Russia, and the whole, you know, issues of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation is going to be, you know, the kind of elephant in the room.
But there are a lot of important issues between the U.S. and Russia. That's Syria, that's North Korea, so I think that you will see some kind of meeting between these two leaders, although, it may not be as formal as we would expect.
WHITFIELD: And what are the expectations that there might be a North Korea test while all of these leaders are in the region?
LABOTT: There are varying opinions of what would happen. I mean, I don't think you're going to see a kind of big nuclear test or some kind of test that would be super provocative. You might see some kind of launch, a missile launch.
But I think China has really sent a message to North Korea that while President Trump particularly is in Beijing, is meeting with these Asian leaders, this is something that they don't want to see. I mean, relations with China and North Korea are, you know, on the outs.
[11:45:08] There's a lot of tension there, but I do think China still has a lot of leverage over North Korea and they've sent that message to North Korea that it better behave while President Trump is there. You might see a little something to get some attention, but it won't be that -- I don't think it will be that provocative.
WHITFIELD: All right, we shall see. Elise Labott, thanks so much in Washington.
Still so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, but first Anthony Bourdain visited Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria ripped across the island, and this week on "PARTS UNKNOWN," he delves into Puerto Rico's complex patchwork of its weak economy, diverse cultures, and sensational cuisine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST, "PARTS UNKNOWN": Puerto Rico, you think you know it, maybe you grew up around Puerto Rican culture like I did in New York City. It's incredible music, incredible food. Lovely people. I've been drinking a fair amount of this lately. But Puerto Rico itself is a dilemma. Is it a state? Is it a country? Is it a commonwealth? Is it a colony? What is Puerto Rico? It's not a state.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an unincorporated territory.
BOURDAIN: Unincorporated territory?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BOURDAIN: What is that? Nobody can really give you a straight answer in where they are going. Where are they going? What will happen to this beautiful place?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. New Zealand is known for its pristine environment and vast wildlife. The country is determined to protect that ecosystem, which includes endangered species. CNN's Bill Weir take us there in tonight's episode of "THE WONDER LIST."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL WEIR, CNN HOST, "THE WONDER LIST": What's this guy?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a pretty special opportunity. They were rediscovered high in the mountains. They're one of our most endangered birds. There's only 280 left on the planet.
WEIR: It's not just the birds on the brink here. The tuatara is New Zealand's most iconic reptile native. It looks like a lizard, but is really the sole survivor of an order that goes back to the dinosaurs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are entirely endangered. So, the problem for these guys is, again, they evolved in the presence of avian predators, not mammals, and so, their response when threatened, you know, from above, when threatened at all, is to freeze. If you freeze and you have a cat behind you, it's game over.
WEIR: So, Zealandia is one of last few places a tuatara (inaudible) can relax, but kiwis are not content with just predator-free parks. They want to make New Zealand a predator-free country. It is a plan so audacious in scope it's been called New Zealand's Apollo project. That is, wipe out every rat, every mouse, every possum, every weasel.
Hundreds of millions of predatory mammals by the year 2050, and to pull it off, they'll have to spread millions of tons of poison all over this incredibly beautiful country. But as much as kiwis love the kiwi, not everyone thinks this is a great idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, Bill Weir now joining us live from New York. So, who is leading this opposition plan, how powerful?
WEIR: Well, what's interesting is I went down there expecting all kinds of outrage over this idea that this toxic chemical called 1080, they'd drop it by the ton all over the country, but people are so on board with this plan of getting rid of all the invasive mammals, all the rats and cat feral cats, even dogs taking their birds.
They're so on board that the protesters are sort of considered fringe in a way that 9/11 truthers would be in the United States. And I went down there because it's such an interesting experiment and, man, trying to put nature back the way he found it and, you know, human beings first showed up in New Zealand, it was the last big land mass to be discovered, it was nothing but birds.
But then our ships brought all these pests that wiped out a quarter of the native species are extinct. The kiwi, there's only about 70,000 left. So, everybody in this tiny country goes out on the weekends and kills rats or weasels as part of their national duty. It's so interesting.
WHITFIELD: So, why is there such assurance or confidence that this kind of chemical is only going to target and kill the things that they want to go away?
WEIR: Well, the protesters would point to dead kia, which are these rare mountain parrots that have been killed as collateral damage, deer, some farmers say their wildlife has been poisoned. The defenders, the Department of Conservation says that it's water soluble. Once it hits the land it sort of dissolves and goes out.
But it's part of this really interesting story about this perfect little country, it's so beautiful and so wild, they invented bungie jumping and rolling down hills in big inflatable balls and jet boats. They love adrenaline in New Zealand. They're really good at sports.
[11:55:10] They have a little tiny population with all this land, but now everybody wants to move there. Since the Trump election, Americans who have been trying to immigrate to New Zealand has spiked.
They're trying to manage their own sort of, you know, immigration system, merit-based as you've heard in the news recently. So, we look into how this country can try to stay as perfect as it can in these complicated times while poisoning every mouse in sight.
WHITFIELD: I know you are focusing on the environmental side of things, but I know you're also very adventuresome so did you partake in any of that fun stuff rolling down the hill or --
WEIR: I did. I lost my bungee-inity. I went bungee jumping for the first time on the bridge where they invented the commercial operation. That's all part of the story tonight.
WHITFIELD: It's all part of the thrill, right? All right. Bill Weir, good to see you. Thanks so much. We'll be watching "THE WONDER LIST" airing tonight at 9:00 on CNN.
We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.