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Dem Senator Durbin Confirms Trump Made "Shithole" Remark; Source: Trump "Loves" Controversy Over "Shithole" Remark; State Department Gives Diplomats Guidance Amid "Shithole" Furor. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. Just minutes from now, President Trump signs a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Day and it comes as he is facing new accusations of racism and hate mongering.

The "Washington Post" says lawmakers were shocked when the president railed against immigrants from Haiti and African nations. "Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here and why do we need more Haitians, take them out," it was reported.

Now it took 14 hours for the president to issue an unusually mild- mannered sort of denial, but a short time ago, one Democrat inside that room, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said, "The president did, in fact, say those things and more."


SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: In the course of his comments, he said things which were hate filled, vile, and racist. He -- use those words advisingly. I understand how powerful they are. I cannot believe the history of the White House, in that oval office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.


KEILAR: We're going to play more of Durbin's strong remarks in just a moment. But first, I want to go to the White House, CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. She's been following all of this. How is the White House trying to spin this, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, in a typical White House this would be an absolute PR disaster, but this White House seems to be reveling in the chaos because last night the president took what one official is calling a, quote, "victory lap" as he spent the evening phoning friends, allies, staffers, asking them how they thought the quote "shithole" remark was playing out in the media.

And then another source familiar with the president's thinking tells my colleague, Gloria Borger, that the president, quote, "loves this." So, certainly a very different response to something like this than you would see from any other administration.

We actually heard from the president himself this morning on this on Twitter, he tweeted, "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is obviously a very poor and troubled country. Never said, quote, "take them out." Made up by Democrats and I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings. Unfortunately, no trust."

Now that tweet comes after multiple sources inside the room have confirmed to CNN that the president did, in fact, use this language, but it also comes after the president's own spokespeople did not deny that he said, quote, "shithole countries," during that meeting with lawmakers at the White House.

Because if you look at the response we got from the deputy press secretary last night, he said, "Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people."

But circling back to the president's tweet here, Brianna, the president is not denying everything. He's only denying that he called specifically Haiti a, quote, "shithole country," he's not denying that he referred to other countries in Africa as shithole countries and he's not denying he believes the United States should take in more people from countries like Norway.

So, certainly a lot of chaos happening here at the White House this morning. It's likely we could hear from the president here in the next hour as he signs that proclamation before he leaves the White House for the weekend. But what's not clear what more there's left to say on this remark from the president other than what he said on Twitter this morning.

KEILAR: Surely, Kaitlan, there are some officials at least privately who understand the problem with the president talking like this, right?

COLLINS: I've spoken to very few officials in this White House, Brianna, who see any kind of problem with this. There are, of course, a few who do not believe the president should have said this and that he should have been more diplomatic about it, but a lot of White House staffers were telling me last night that they actually don't think this is that big of a problem and they think that these comments will resonate with his base rather than alienating them -- Brianna.

KEILAR: They need to get out more. All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for that. I appreciate it.

In just a moment, we will check in on Capitol Hill. First, we want to play a bit more from one of the lawmakers, who was inside that room when these comments were made. Democrat Dick Durbin, the Senate minority whip, brushing aside the president's denials and said his comments were racist, hate-filled, and shocking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DURBIN: You've seen the comments in the press. I have not read one of them that's inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.

When the question was raised about Haitians, for example, we have a group that have temporary protected status in the United States because they were the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval, the largest groups, El Salvador, the second is Honduran and the third is Haitian.

And when I mentioned that fact to him, he said Haitians, do we need more Haitians. Then he went on and he started to describe the emigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure.

[11:05:11] That's when he used these vile and vulgar comments calling the nations they come from shitholes. The exact word used by the president. Not just once, but repeatedly.


KEILAR: I want to go to CNN Congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, you have covered Dick Durbin for a long time. I've covered Dick Durbin for a long time.

I think it would be fair to take his word and his credibility over what we've heard from the president and it seems like from what you're reporting that a lot of Republican lawmakers are saying that as well?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. We are getting a sense that after that meeting in that oval office yesterday, that many Democrats and Republicans came back up here on Capitol Hill and discussed those words amongst themselves.

We heard this morning from Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who said he spoke with people in the room and essentially confirmed what President Trump said. He just tweeted this out moments ago, quote, "The words used by the president as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance were not tough, they were abhorrent and repulsive."

We're also hearing from Republican Mia Love from Utah. She called for President Trump to apologize, and notably she's the first Haitian- American elected to Congress. She says the president's comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values.

While we are hearing from some Republicans in response to what was allegedly said in the oval office meeting yesterday, notably, Brianna, we have not heard from Republican leadership on this issue. They have been silent so far.

KEILAR: And all of this, the timing, is really extraordinary because of how this could affect immigration talks. Democrats want to protect DREAMers, hundreds of thousands of young people who came to the U.S. really through no fault of their own, only know this country, America, as their home country, and Republicans have been trying to get more on border security. In light of the president's comments, where does this negotiation now stand?

SERFATY: Yes, that's the big question. I think you can say these talks were very delicate before and they're even more so now with this splash of controversy thrown into the mix, an issue that was certainly very highly charged before.

We have Senator Dick Durbin who today, the gang of six, that's working on that negotiation, saying we're going to push forward even though that proposal that they put forward to the White House yesterday was all-out rejected by President Trump. He's saying they are going to push forward.

We know behind the scenes the leadership is trying to corral control of this and want to take the lead in the negotiations, but certainly this is a big wrench thrown into very delicate talks.

KEILAR: All right. Sunlen Serfaty covering this on the Hill for us, thank you so much.

I want to bring in our guests now, we have Steve Rogers, he's a member of the Advisory Board for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Chris Lu, a former assistant to President Obama and the former deputy secretary of labor, and Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist.

OK, Shermichael, the White House did not deny this report. The president, he's sort of tried to cloud exactly what he said about, but it's not really exactly a denial. He said, "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made a big setback for DACA.

Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is obviously a very poor and trouble country. Never said take them out. Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians probably should record future meetings. Unfortunately, no trust." What do you make of these tweets?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's not a complete denial. I'm a Republican and I've always been a Republican and I'm embarrassed. This is the party of Abraham Lincoln. I have to ask myself how in the world have we come so late and lonely to this place. I have seen many arguments proposed by individuals who support the president about being politically correct, et cetera.

You can be a straight shooter without offending people. I don't expect -- Republicans shouldn't expect people to acquiesce and go along with the president because he is a Republican. I support tax reform, wanting better health care, securing our border.

But there is no way in the world I can support a president who continues to be divisive, who continues to divide the country. The president, Brianna, should speak not just to the Republicans, he should speak to the whole country, speak so much so that every individual in this country feels so inspired to be better than where they found themselves prior to. I cannot say that President Trump is doing that.

KEILAR: Steve, as a supporter of President Trump, can you react to those sentiments?

STEVE ROGERS, DONALD J. TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISORY BOARD: Well, to begin with, to characterize the president of the United States as a racist over this issue, is unfair, it's as unfair as characterizing Nancy Pelosi, who last night stated that those five white guys in that room are talking about immigration. My point is this, a lot is being said --

KEILAR: Steve, I will stop you there. Let's talk about the central part five, the fine people on both sides of Charlottesville, Pocahontas --

[11:10:10] ROGERS: Brianna, I expected this --

KEILAR: This is not old news -- Elizabeth Warren, the travel ban, back to the campaign --

ROGERS: -- away from Nancy Pelosi -- you see this is the point --

KEILAR: Give me five examples of her -- I don't think that that was appropriate what she said but give me five --

ROGERS: It wasn't.

KEILAR: -- five or six examples of what she said that fits that same thing.

ROGERS: Look, there's a lot of things, I wish I had the list here, but I want to get back to what you asked about Donald Trump. First of all, he was talking about conditions on the ground. I don't see people running to these countries. They're running away from these countries not because of the people, they're fine people.

Even Omarosa who would have a bone to pick with the president says he's not a racist. We're sending billions of dollars of aid, military fighting terrorism, people on the ground bringing a lot of health aid to those countries, so the fact of the matter is there's a lot being said and you're going to see Democrats say yes, he said this or that.

I believe, I really believe, that he was talking about conditions on the ground. To tell you the truth, I've said things about cities in this country --

KEILAR: You believe he was talking to who?

ROGERS: I believe that he was telling the truth. He was telling the truth when he's addressing issues on the ground. He's not talking about the people for goodness sakes. He's hired Haitians and people of all ethnicities.

KEILAR: That makes it OK?

ROGERS: Makes what OK?

KEILAR: To use -- to talk like that?

ROGERS: He didn't -- he did not -- he said he did not use that language, OK. I believe him. You think I'm -- you think -- look, I really have a lot of mistrust as most of America does and look at your polls, the U.S. Congress and media. The man has a history, all right, of being a great businessman, worked hard, good kids.

It's a shame that we focus on these negative issues and not on some of the positives. I just proved the point, as soon as I brought Nancy Pelosi up, you defended her, all right. That was --

KEILAR: No, I didn't. Actually, I disagree with you because I said I didn't agree with what she said. Chris, your reaction?

CHRIS LU, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: The comments are abhorrent. It's very clear based on the incident you flagged as well as the president's conduct over the past year that he has no sensitivity to racial issues. To call him a racist is perfectly fair.

But I think let's get to the central issue which is immigration reform. That's what they were talking about and these senators were very close to a deal that could have helped 700,000 people and started to clean up a very messed up system. The president's words may have derailed that by forcing both sides to their corners.

I worked for Barack Obama in 2005 when he was in the U.S. Senate and we were trying to get an immigration deal done for the last 12 years we've been pushing on this issue and we've gotten pretty close. I'm concerned that these incendiary remarks forces us back to square one again.

KEILAR: What do you say, Shermichael, when you talk to people and I'm assuming you talk to people who support Donald Trump, who don't support Donald Trump, how do you make sense of this kind of discussion that he had?

SINGLETON: I think a lot of people are willing for reasons that in many cases are dumbfounded to me, to allow these types of remarks to go excused. I think that's why you have seen reporting from CNN, our very own reporters have stated, people at the White House is saying this is a good thing because it will play well with the base.

As I stated earlier, when you are the president you are not just a president to the people who voted for you. You are the president for the entire country. If you are incapable of recognizing that, incapable of speaking for and to all of us, you have absolutely no business whatsoever in that position.

This has nothing to do about whether Donald Trump passed policies that are conservative or not. This is a matter of decency, this is a matter of character, and in my view Donald Trump fails on those points. KEILAR: One of the issues, Chris, appears to be this habit of saying things like this. This isn't happening, this isn't happening in a vacuum, just I think it was three weeks ago -- yes, December 23rd, take a look at what "The New York Times" reported Trump as saying about Haitians. They all have AIDS.

This is what he grumbled according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a person that was there, and then 40,000 had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added, "Once they had seen the United States they would never go back to their huts in Africa, recalled the two officials who asked for anonymity to discuss the sensitive conversation in the oval office. He is talking about the people here, they all have AIDS.

LU: Look, this is not the way the leader of the free world should speak. It's not the way that any responsible parent should speak when they're setting an example to their children and the irony is that the president very shortly is going to sign a proclamation on Martin Luther King.

Dr. King did not just fight for the rights of African-Americans. He fought for people of all race, regardless of their country of origin. And if I were the president today I might quietly sign that proclamation without any press there, and get to Florida. Anything he does at this point adds fuel to the fire.

KEILAR: Steve?

[11:15:03] ROGERS: Brianna, thank you. I would like to make a couple points. One is, his economic package, his tax relief package is helping all Americans no matter what race, color or creed. So, that's one thing.

But getting back to this issue of the sources at the White House you mentioned, you know, I've been in law enforcement my whole life and I always dealt with evidence and facts. When I hear sources and who wants to be anonymous, I really don't take too much of those into consideration as being credible until they come forward.

If these people strongly feel about this and so convicted about this, they should tell us who they are. Let them face their accuser, people accused have a right to face their accuser. I think there's just too much being said by Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous and sources, come forward. Look, I'm brave enough, you're brave enough. You got two fine gentlemen --

KEILAR: I mean, we just ran Dick Durbin as a source but --

SINGLETON: I mean, Steve, there are Republican senators who were there who heard what the president had to say. I get you don't want to admit the anonymous sources. Fair enough. Let's say that they're lies. What about the Republican senators who said we heard the exact same thing as the Democratic senators. Are you going to deny them as well?

ROGERS: Listen, here's my point, and look, you guys are great, I mean, you're articulating your position very fine, and I appreciate that. My point is that I think everybody has to settle down, bring the temperature down, and let's get to evidence and facts, evidence and facts. We're not hearing much of that.

SINGLETON: The facts are the president has used divisive rhetoric, Steve, that cannot be denied. That is a fact.

KEILAR: And we're going to have to leave it there, Gentlemen. Steve, Shermichael, Chris, thank you so much to all of you for being with me today.

Just ahead, when the president speaks the world listens and his comments, his shithole comments, triggering global shock, disbelief and outrage. One U.N. official calling the remark racist and it's leading some countries to summon their U.S. ambassadors for an explanation.

Plus, we're standing by at the White House. We're going to potentially see the president this hour for the first time since those comments for a very important event. Stay with CNN.



KEILAR: Now nations around the world are condemning President Trump's description of Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as shithole countries whose people are not wanted here. The U.N. Human Rights spokesman flatly calls the remarks racist and says it goes against the world's universal values.

A spokeswoman for the African Union says President Trump's statement was alarming considering the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the U.S. as slaves. The government of Botswana took official steps. They summoned the U.S. ambassador to express the displeasure.

Haiti, one of the countries explicitly characterized as a shithole also summoned the top U.S. diplomat there to discuss the remarks. A senior State Department official is telling CNN that guidance was given to top diplomats at U.S. embassies, who were called in by their host country to say, quote, "The U.S. has great respect for the people of Africa and all nations and our commitment remains strong."

I want to go to CNN's Patrick Oppmann in El Salvador, which is one of the countries that is being discussed by President Trump. What's the reaction there, Patrick?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just had the country's foreign minister tweeting again. He tweeted last night to say they would wait and see what the White House said and if the White House would actually confirm these comments.

This morning taking a much tougher line, Brianna, saying that they reject these comments and are filing a formal protest with the United States over President Trump calling El Salvador and these other countries a shithole and you can understand why when you look at this morning's papers in El Salvador. Here you go.

It's Trump (inaudible) you don't have to speak Spanish to understand what they're saying and the outrage here because Salvadorans do feel very close with the United States who have 200,000 Salvadorans in the United States with temporary protection status that are now facing deportation about 18 months.

There are also Salvadorans while they are very much aware of their country's problems, this is a poor country, terrible gang violence here, but it's also a very beautiful place. Behind me is an absolutely spectacular scene, a volcano outside of the capital, beautiful beaches here.

So, people are rightfully proud of their country despite the problems and they feel that as well they contribute a lot to the United States. U.S. diplomats here trying to do damage control here saying it's a beautiful country but some things you can't spin -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Some things you can't. We can hear the shoveling from all the way here in the U.S. Patrick Oppmann, thank you so much in El Salvador for us.

Now joining me now is Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

And a little-known fact that some people may not know is that there are actually 2,600 Salvadorans living in Rhode Island and you have called on Congress to take action in light of the president's decision about their protected status. What would a change to their status mean for them?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI), FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: Well, for the Salvadorans who are here and in other parts of our country it would mean returning home for many going back to very difficult conditions. The Salvadorans principally here because of a serious earthquake in 2001.

They are sending remittances home to their families. They are working hard. They're making contribution in the communities that they live here in Rhode Island and the reality is that TPS program because a determination has been made because it's unsafe or impossible for people to return home because of violence, a natural disaster.

We have a long tradition of being a country that accepts people into the program so long as they continue to contribute and be productive residents of our country. The president just doing this really no good reason apparently other than sort of he felt like it and causing incredible disruption in the lives of so many families across this country.

[11:25:03] It's a part of a larger effort I think of the president to appeal to his political base rather than to promote good public policy.

KEILAR: And this happens while there are -- the whole reason that these comments happen was in the middle of a negotiation or a meeting on immigration. Democrats want to protect DREAMers, hundreds of thousands of young people who are in the U.S. who know no other home than the U.S., but they are undocumented, and they're worried they're going to be deported. What do the president's comments do to those negotiations?

CICILLINE: Well, I think they obviously make them more difficult. Look, we have about 800,000 DREAMers in this country, young people who came as infants with their parents who are working now in schools, serving in our military, who really know no other country but America.

And they're citizens in every way but for a piece of paper and they are making incredible contributions to our country. I think overwhelmingly the American people recognize we need to take care of the DREAMers and they should be allowed to remain here in a country that they have come to know and what we should be doing is moving quickly to pass the DREAM Act.

I think there's bipartisan support for it. But what the president does by making these sorts of statements is it disrupts this process and we now spend days focusing on these horrible comments of the president, about what his real attitude is about immigrants and about immigration reform and the DREAMers and we don't make progress on this underlying issue.

I met with a DREAMer in my office just a couple days ago, a Fulbright scholar now studying at Harvard University studying for Masters in Public Health and a volunteer to a free health clinic here in Rhode Island. These are amazing young people and we should very much want them to stay here.

The idea that he doesn't know whether he will be able to stay here or go back to a country he doesn't even know is really horrible.

KEILAR: You are a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and so I know that you have a particular eye to these stories that we're hearing of diplomats who are being called to the mat in foreign countries to essentially atone or explain these remarks. What is your concern about these remarks and what they're going to have -- the effect they're going to have on relations with other countries?

CICILLINE: Well, they're very damaging. We rely on our partnerships with allies around the world to promote American interests, to secure the safety of the American people here at home and around the world.

Those -- that requires close coordination and partnerships with so many countries and the sharing of intelligence, the sharing of economic opportunities, the promotion of our shared values.

And when the president of the United States makes comments like this it undermines those relationships and ultimately can undermine our position in the world and the relationships that are necessary to keep us safe, to keep our economy growing, to promote American interests around the world.

And so, you know, it's very damaging when the president is perceived to be someone who doesn't value entire countries, entire communities, it makes maintaining these really important partnerships much more difficult.

And we're seeing in just a few hours, the consequences of the president's conduct here and it's damaging the security and economic interests of our country and our standing in the world. It's not making America first, it's causing us to retreat further behind.

It's very counterproductive to our country. It also, you know, diminishes our standing in the world as a country that respects basic human rights and shares universal values of human dignity and the value of every human being and it's very, very damaging.

KEILAR: Congressman, we appreciate your time. Congressman David Cicilline from Rhode Island. Thank you so much.

Any moment now we're expecting to see President Trump at the White House. These are live pictures because he is set to sign a proclamation for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Of course, this is amid the firestorm over his shocking comments. We'll have more ahead.