Return to Transcripts main page


Wild Week Turnover, Infighting, Policy Clashes and Russia Probe; FBI Counterintelligence Investigating Ivanka Trump Business Deals; U.S. Markets Open Amid Trade War Fears. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] CAMEROTA: Well, Gus Kenworthy, thanks so much for being with us.


CAMEROTA: And congratulations to you on all of your success.

KENWORTHY: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman whose nickname is also Bemo.

CAMEROTA: Mm-hmm. Strangely. Have a great weekend.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president seems to have changed his positions on guns and the spelling of Alec Baldwin all within the last 12 hours.

Good morning everyone. John Berman here.

This morning it appears the White House is a place where steadiness goes to die, not to mention syntax. A level of chaos that is having ripple effects around the West Wing, around the country, around the world.

This is a 9:00 a.m. status update. After a nighttime meeting with the NRA the White House is trying to clear up whether the president supports gun control measures he said he supports. After previewing steel and aluminum tariffs causing the stock market to plummet and fears of a trade war to rise, the White House is trying to clear up whether the president will actually announce the tariffs he said he will announce.

His chief economic adviser is reportedly threatening to quit or not. His National Security adviser is reportedly leaving -- or not. And he misspelled Alec Baldwin in his first statement of the day which was about "Saturday Night Live."

Now in fairness to the president, his opposition to Alec Baldwin, or Alex, seems to be clear and unwavering which is fine except, remember, Vladimir Putin says he has a missile that can evade NATO defenses, 17 people were murdered inside a school two weeks ago, and the stock market tanked yesterday and is down big in pre-market trading.

So let's start there. CNN's Abby Phillip for us at the White House. The president all over the issue of trade this morning -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He is defending vociferously this proposal to lay 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum. This proposal was opposed by some members of his own White House and a lot of Republicans on the Hill. But the president here is doubling down on social media.

He says, "We must protect our country and our workers." He's singling out the steel industry which he says is in bad shape. "If you don't have steel, you don't have a country." The White House this morning saying that the president is not as much concerned about the drop in the stock market, he's concerned about the fundamentals of the economy which are strong and he wants to protect these industries because he believes that protecting them is a necessary thing for national security.

At the same time there are questions being raised about whether one of the president's key economic advisers is willing to leave the White House over this issue. Gary Kohn is said to be dissatisfied with how this turned out and is considering leaving as a result of the fact that these tariffs are so unpopular, so unpopular with Republicans, and could put this sort of strong economic situation that the country is currently in at risk.

BERMAN: So, Abby, it's interesting. The White House having to send out Sarah Sanders this morning to clean up what the president thinks or will do on tariffs, also on this meeting he had with the NRA last night. What is the cleanup this morning?

PHILLIP: That's right. The main question here is, what does the president actually believe about guns? Sarah Huckabee Sanders told some reporters here in this briefing room this morning that the president still believes what he said in that Wednesday meeting, that bipartisan meeting with Republicans and Democrats on school safety. He still supports at least conceptually this raising of the age limit for buying rifles to 21.

But at the same time she says he was the one who reached out to the NRA, called them and asked them to come to the White House for that meeting. The NRA's interpretation of what the president believes is that he is not for more gun control. That's what the NRA spokesman -- the NRA said after that meeting. But the president and the White House is saying he still stands by what he said on Wednesday.

Where the truth lies I think is anyone's guess at this moment and the question becomes now where does the White House go on this issue, what are they willing to support and what are they willing to push for?

BERMAN: Yes. The other big question -- of course, another big question this morning is, does the National Security adviser still work at the White House?

PHILLIP: Again, this is one of those questions about staff turnover in this White House that has been turning over quite a bit just in this last week. H.R. McMaster has had a sordid relationship with the president. They still don't really get along on an interpersonal level. And he's had some conflicts with other members of the Trump administration. We are told from multiple sources that there are plans going into motion right now for McMaster to leave the administration as soon as this month and that he may not stay in the military, he may retire as a three-star general.

Who will replace him? It's unclear. But there are already several names being floated for his possible replacement. Meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee Sanders once again saying the president believes H.R. McMaster is doing a good job and she is batting down these reports that he's leaving any time soon -- John.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip at the White House.

If it all seems like a lot to digest, it's because it is. And there is more. This morning we have a CNN exclusive. Sources confirmed that the FBI is now investigating one of Ivanka Trump's international business deals.

[09:05:05] This is as the first daughter who is a senior adviser to the president is still without permanent security clearance, we believe.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz live in Washington, part of the team that broke the story.

Shimon, what have you learned?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. The FBI's counterintelligence, their agents and analysts, have been looking into the negotiations and meetings, contacts and some of the financing surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver according to current and former U.S. officials.

Now the scrutiny could be about -- could be a hurdle for the first daughter as he tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as an adviser to the president. And it's standard procedure, John, in these situations, in these foreign probes for contacts in international business deals to be part of a background check investigation.

But it's important to note that something with this Vancouver deal has triggered the attention of the FBI which has been looking closely at the international business entanglements of both Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner to determine whether any of those deals could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents including China, Russia and other foreign countries. This according to U.S. officials.

Now, John, it's important to note we did get a statement from an ethics lawyer for Miss Trump and he says that, quote, "CNN is wrong that any hurdle, obstacle, concern, red flag, or problem has been raised with respect to Miss Trump or her clearance application."

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, for us in Washington. Shimon, thanks so much.

We're going to talk much more about Ivanka Trump, these business deals, the issue of ethics in just a moment. We're going to stick on this overall issue of a White House in a bit of disarray this morning.

Joining me is Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, senior columnist at the "Daily Beast," CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga and Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.

And Bianna, again, I think it just bears stating some of the things going on and some of the things that the White House felt that Sarah Sanders had to clean up this morning, where the president stands on guns, where the president stands on the tariffs that he brought -- you know, he brought up the other day, whether his chief economic adviser and his National security adviser are staying.

This is all big important stuff and there just isn't clarity this morning.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it really puts things in perspective when you have Vladimir Putin basically provoking the U.S. and the West with his nuclear arsenal and we don't have time to respond because there's too much chaos going on in Washington. And the real question is how sustainable is this and how much is the president deflecting one crisis with another or is he really sticking to the tariff idea or revamping his stance on guns in this country. And that's why you're seeing so much uncertainty, not only in the U.S. and the stock market but around the world.

BERMAN: I mean, just basically a statement on where things stand that Sarah Sanders doesn't know 100 percent for sure, whether the president will announce what next week on tariffs, what he said he would announce yesterday out loud.

I want to read you one of the great paragraphs in journalism over the last 24 hours, Caitlin. It's about Jared and Ivanka but it's really bigger picture. This is written by Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman in "The New York Times."

"Privately some aides have expressed frustration that Mr. Kushner and his wife, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, have remained in the White House despite Mr. Trump at times saying they should never have come to the White House and should leave. Yet aides also noted that Mr. Trump has told the couple they should keep serving in their roles even as he has privately asked Mr. Kelly for his help in moving them out."

So he wanted them there but he wants them gone. He wants them to stay, but he wants them to leave. That representative of so many of the other issues the White House is dealing with today.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS. I think that tells you everything you need to know. And what's happening now is that this seems to be actually -- this White House has operated in a state of chaos for over a year. But this seems to be kind of having an impact now, not only with the gun meeting earlier this year where the -- earlier this month, sorry, week when the president was all over the place on guns, scrambling the issue for lawmakers, but yesterday talking about imposing these tariffs without any plan, spooking the stock market, concerning U.S. allies, and relevant Republican lawmakers on this policy.

So when you have the president's inner circle kind of shrinking in with the departure of Hope Hicks, you have this question of whether to keep Jared and Ivanka, whether the president wants to keep them closer in this kind of time or push them away. They seem to be creating all sorts of added controversies. Jared Kushner especially.

BERMAN: I think the answer of whether or not he wants to keep them closer or push them away, the answer is yes. He apparently wants to do both.

HUEY-BURNS: Yes. That's right.

GOLODRYGA: Depends on what time of the day.

BERMAN: Let's sort of break down some of these issues that are in dispute this morning. And let's start with guns, Matt Lewis, because we have that dramatic, you know, open mic meeting which we saw was transparency is great. It's great to see people lay out their positions so that we can know where they stand. The problem is that they don't actually stand where they say they stand two days later. You know, do we know what the president wants and what he'll push on here, Matt?

[09:10:02] MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think we do. And it's unclear why that is. You know, maybe there's a Machiavellian thing where Donald Trump knows that in the heat of a crisis you can just 2sort of rhetorically tell people what they want to hear. That will calm things down, and then once the story moves on, the news cycle changes, you can back away from those pledges.

The other theory is simply that Donald Trump doesn't have strong world views. And he is the last person that talks to him influences him. So, you know, I'm not sure which of those two things is true, maybe both. Maybe a combination. But one thing is very clear. It used to be that whatever the president said, whoever the president was, that those words really meant things and that's not the case. Donald Trump has really changed the way I think we as consumers of information, as journalists especially, interpret the power of his words. He could say something that any other president said that you could take to the bank. With Donald Trump it's more of a -- it's more of a suggestion than a promise.

BERMAN: And to be clear, Matt, on guns, he would need to lead here in order to get something done.

LEWIS: That's right. I think Donald Trump is uniquely positioned. You know, we've talked about the only Nixon can go to China phenomenon. Richard Nixon of course was this, you know, cold warrior, anti-communist, who had all of the credibility in the world to then work with China, to go to China. Similarly, Donald Trump has this blue-collar base. He was heavily supported by the NRA. He has the leverage that he can go to the American public and Republican congressmen and senators and say look, we're not going to take away the Second Amendment, but they're killing us out there. We've got to raise the age to 21 to buy a rifle, we got to get rid of

bump stocks. This isn't radical. He could do that. If he led I think he could gain popularity.

BERMAN: Right.

LEWIS: And he also could get something done. But if he doesn't, it won't happen.

GOLODRYGA: And you could say that some of his constituents actually are more aligned with him and support him more than they even do the NRA. The question is, will he act on it?

BERMAN: So, Bianna, among your many skills, you're a terrific financial reporter also. And this tariff announcement -- it's not an announcement, I guess, until it becomes official next week.

GOLODRYGA: Becomes law.

BERMAN: Even though the president said it, it's not official. Go figure.

GOLODRYGA: Well, his economic adviser didn't even know it was coming so there you go.

BERMAN: And that's a big deal. And Gary Cohn saying he's going to quit if it does become official. How much would he be missed? How much would the markets miss Gary Cohn if split?

GOLODRYGA: Well, Gary Cohn brings some stability, no doubt, to the markets and to the president's overall agenda, right? I mean, when you think about what he's implemented, whether it'd be the tax cuts, it is a traditional Republican platform that a lot of people, when you see so much chaos in an organization, an administration at least know there's some consistency there. Gary Cohn, if he leaves and you have someone like Peter Navarro who is very much in favor of tariffs and very much a protectionist and very anti-China, if you see somebody like that come into the fray, then I think you will see a lot more uncertainty.

And then there comes a point where, you know, you have allies, you have rivals around the world who dismiss what the president says or says, you know, maybe next week he'll be different up until a point.

BERMAN: Right.

GOLODRYGA: And then they start acting on their own.

BERMAN: And how about McMaster? Because that's the other discussion here. Gary Cohn, he may leave, he may not. Where does McMaster factor in? How would his departure affect things?

HUEY-BURNS: Right. And this has been an ongoing question for several months. We know they don't get along quite well. And there would be a question -- the question over all of this with all these departures is who wants to come in to this environment, what kind of hiring position you're in when you have all of these departures and morale is low.

And just to get back to the trade part for one example, the thing that Trump has been consistent on and he hasn't been consistent on many things, though, is this idea of trade. And so it shouldn't be a surprise to Gary Cohn or to lawmakers that the president would take this action. He's been -- he campaigned on it heavily.

You also saw people like Sherrod Brown, senator -- Democratic senator from Ohio praising this decision. So it has the potential to scramble alliances. The thing is, though, the way it was introduced and the way in which people have been trying to get him to think about this a little bit more, and to your point, the fact that people have been able to get him on the more traditional conservative points on taxes and the economy.

BERMAN: You shouldn't be surprising your own White House when you make announcements like that.


BERMAN: All right. Caitlin, Bianna, Matt, thank you very, very much.

Legal questions mounting as FBI counterintelligence officials zero in on one of Ivanka Trump's business deals.

Plus thousands of flights cancelled as a dangerous nor'easter targets the East Coast. Evacuations under way. We are there live.

And bracing on Wall Street this morning. The president says trade wars are good but do investors agree? Christine Romans with a preview -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The answer is no, no, no, no, and no, about 200 or 300 no's if you're counting them in points the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Look, when the market opens we're expecting a selloff again here on Wall Street.

Wall Street investors do not think trade wars, even trade skirmishes, are any good. They want to see more details about what this proposal is from the president if there really is one to raise tariffs on both steel and aluminum. In the meantime, the path of least resistance is down. I'll have the opening bell for you -- John.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New legal questions this morning about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and their access to the president and security measures. Sources tell CNN that one of Ivanka Trump's business deals is now under investigation, just days after her husband's security clearance was downgraded.

Joining me now, CNN national security analyst, former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa, and CNN contributor and former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub. Asha, I want to start with you. So, the FBI is investigating one of Ivanka Trump's business deals in Vancouver in February of 2017. Is this standard operating procedure?

[09:20:05] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: John, we need to make clear a counterintelligence investigation is not the same as a criminal investigation. So, this doesn't necessarily mean that Ivanka has broken any laws or done anything wrong.

However, what it does mean is that there is some foreign intelligence nexus between this business deal and what they see as an opportunity. We don't know what country this is. Remember that in places like Russia, banks, businessmen, are not necessarily independent of Putin or the security state.

So, when someone like Ivanka has access, as she does, being in the White House, and a potential vulnerability, a financial need, a foreign intelligence service may see this as an opportunity to exploit. This is something that the FBI would look into because we don't want that anywhere near the White House because it could be a national security risk.

BERMAN: So, Walter, when it comes to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, you say nepotism is the gift that keeps on giving if you like gifts of disaster. Explain.

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, this is the foreseeable type of harm you get with nepotism. When the president chose to bring his daughter and son-in-law into the White House and depart from the tradition of all modern presidents, in fact, depart from the practice of a nepotism law that has stood for half a century, he decided to take on a different kind of level of risk.

For one thing, it motivated him and the rest of the White House not to hold them to the same standards they normally hold assistants to the president to with regard to divesting financial conflicts of interest.

It is true that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump divested a number of assets, but they kept a number of significant holdings that you would not normally expect to see a White House appointee hold. The nature of those holdings is such that they're inevitably entangled with foreign interests.

Because these are large real estate projects in the case of Jared Kushner or licensing and trademark issues involving Ivanka Trump, and so they are by nature exposed to lots of opportunities for exactly the type of think Asha just talked about, that it creates a risk they're out there doing business with these types of individuals.

I don't see how it could be anything but inevitable that some foreign power would try to exploit that, to leverage them or influence them.

BERMAN: Asha, one other bit of news we got overnight has to do with Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI. There's this Justice Department inspector general review going on. Both "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" are reporting that Andy McCabe is going to be faulted for improper media disclosures.

Now that's essentially leaking in some form or fashion, but it doesn't have to do with Donald Trump, which is what the president often said. It has to do with the Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation. Still, is this something that will give the FBI a headache?

RANGAPPA: It will. Look, the FBI needs to be non-partisan and not seen as political one way or the other. So, whenever you have a senior official who appears even there's a perception that they are trying to express or influence or do anything with their political views outside the scope of their private lives, which they are entitled to do that does have an impact on the FBI generally.

This does debunk this allegation that the FBI has been this pro- Hillary Clinton cabal, but I do think it continues this perception that the FBI is political and that is not something that it needs right now.

BERMAN: Walter, if I can go back to Ivanka Trump, one of the things she said in a NBC interview is she hasn't been contacted by the special counsel. Look, I'm not suggesting that Ivanka Trump did or did not do anything wrong, but she was a key player in the campaign. She is a key player in the White House. Many key players have now testified before the special counsel. Is it odd to you that she hasn't?

SHAUB: Well, not necessarily. The nature of any criminal investigation is you'll start from the outer fringes and work your way in. So, she may not be off the hook forever. In addition, you know, it's not a monolithic entity, the campaign, the transition team or the White House had different people doing different things. It's entirely possible she may not have been involved in some of the types of things that Mueller is looking at.

BERMAN: All right. Walter Shaub, Asha Rangappa, thanks so much for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

Wall Street set to open moments from now, this after the president's announcements on tariffs sent global markets into a frenzy. We'll have it all covered in the opening bell. A lot of downward arrows. This is next.



BERMAN: All right. We are 40 seconds away from the opening bell, from the stock market emerging this from this day yesterday which was a frenzy to say the least after the president made an announcement on tariffs that he wants to levy on steel and aluminum imports.

Joining me, CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, and CNN money editor-at-large, Richard Quest. It's 20 seconds until it opens. Richard, what's the mood down there?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": The mood is cautious, worried. They've got the curling champions, the U.S. Olympic team champions ring in the opening bell. It's going to be ugly at the open, John Berman. Expect the market to be down around 200 to 300 points that's the way the future is showing and so (inaudible).