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Trump's Tariff Talk Prompts Global Retaliation Threats; NYT: Mueller Team looks at Possible Influence of UAE adviser on Trump Policy; South Korean Delegationg Meets with Kim Jong-un. Aired 10- 10:30a ET
Aired March 5, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
Happening now, President Trump lashes out at President Obama for not doing enough to fight Russian election meddling, while he addresses what he sees as a huge global threat. Canada. Global fears of a trade war as the president shows no signs of backing down from controversial tariffs inside the White House, pure madness. That's according to "The Washington Post."
One senior adviser says we haven't bottomed out. All this as the president took a fresh jab this morning at, as we said, President Obama, over Hillary Clinton and the election, the election that was 482 days ago.
Kaitlan Collins at the White House, a hub of trade activity and confusion this morning, Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. A hub of trade uncertainty, certainly, with the president bringing NAFTA into this saying that maybe if Mexico and Canada bend to the will of the United States, they may not have to face these proposed tariffs after all. The president tweeting, saying, quote, "Tariffs on steel and aluminum will only come off if new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed." He goes on to say, that "Mexico must also contribute to this by stopping the pouring of illegal drugs into the United States."
So, John, we're getting a little bit of a bird's-eye view into the president's mind here where he is saying that he might be using this as leverage. As you know, these tariffs have not been implemented yet and we're actually not getting a lot of clarity on when they will go into effect, if they do go into effect. The Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying that he can't even say with complete certainty that they will go into effect, but saying Peter Navarro, the president's trade adviser saying they do expect them to be implemented this week and next week at the latest.
But still, a lot of uncertainty because that same trade adviser said that no countries would be excluded from these tariffs, but the president seems to be saying something different on Twitter this morning, John. So, not a lot of clarity over these tariffs ever since the president first announced them in a hastily arranged meeting last week.
BERMAN: On the subject of Twitter, Kaitlan, the president with an official statement this morning, on the subject of Russian election meddling and what has not been done about it, although not during his administration.
COLLINS: Yes, that's right. And he's calling a bigger scandal than Watergate. The president tweeting this morning, switching gears from trade to say, quote, "Why did the Obama administration start an investigation into the Trump campaign with zero proof of wrongdoing long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked Hillary would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did nothing about Russian meddling."
Now, of course, the president has been bringing up the Obama administration's role in the way they reacted to that, of course. His administration is also being criticized for not doing enough to confront potential future Russian meddling in the elections. And, John, I should note that this tweet comes one year and one day after the president first accused Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower before the election. A claim that he made that was never verified.
Of course, and the president later backed off of, but all of this comes as the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife are set to arrive at the White House here in the next hour or so. And the question has been on everyone's mind, is if Jared Kushner is going to participate in this visit. The White House is now telling my colleague, Kevin, that Jared Kushner will be participating in those meetings with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Something that was up for question after, of course, Jared Kushner was stripped of his top secret security clearance last week. But they are saying he will participate. Certainly the first high profile visit for him since all of that went down, John.
BERMAN: He'll participate. How much? Will he have to leave the room at some point, who knows? Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for being with us.
Joining me now, Patrick Healy, CNN political analyst, Steve Cortes, CNN political commentator, former Trump campaign adviser and Christine Quinn, former New York City Council speaker.
Steve, I want to start with you, with what I think is one of the most ambiguous statements ever from a U.S. cabinet secretary, the secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, one of the architects, we have been told, of the trade in tariff policy. Basically went on TV and said, you know what, the president is going to do everything he said he's going to do unless he doesn't. Listen to this.
[10:05:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Whatever his final decision is is what will happen. What he's said he has said. If he says something different, it will be something different.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So dissect that for me, Steve. What did he just say there?
STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what he means is that there is room to negotiate. And that is the point, really. When I look at tariffs, I don't think tariffs are a good thing. But tariffs are to international trade policy what military action is to diplomacy.
Military action is not worth anything if you're not willing to ever use it. There are times you have to. In trade, there are times you can't just threaten tariffs, you have to actually institute them, when countries are treating the American worker poorly. Donald Trump was - when you talk about being ambiguous, Donald Trump was unambiguous as candidate Trump in 2016 promising American people better, fair trade deals. America has been abused for decades in international trade. We don't have reciprocity. We don't have fairness and we got our international property stolen, particularly in regards to China. So, I think this is the first salvo of saying America is not taking that anymore. We demand fair, real trade and use tariffs if necessary as a punitive measure.
BERMAN: You know, it is an odd way of getting back at China, slapping Canada. I mean, you know, he's just going to abuse the heck out of Canada for transgressions he sees China doing right there. And this morning among other things he said a trade deficit with Canada. Well, you know, U.S. statistics actually show that in 2015, 2016, there was a trade surplus with Canada right now.
You know, Christine Quinn, this is actually an issue that does split some Democrats. I've seen a lot of Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Ryan of Ohio, and others, Sherrod Brown of Ohio saying that they support these tariffs. Do you see Democrats being unified here?
CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Well, you know, I think tariffs historically have been an issue where you see splits in the parties in different people based on where they represent, et cetera, have different positions. I think this is a different moment, though, because as Wilbur Ross so clearly said, by not saying, the president doesn't have a position and it might be this and it might be that, which isn't really negotiating. He didn't put out A or B. That doesn't really seem like negotiating when the president is saying, well, now, for Canada and Mexico this is linked to NAFTA. But then his lead trade adviser goes out and says, absolutely, positively line in the sand this is happening.
So I think Democrats and Republicans, because we're seeing a lot of Republicans in the Senate and the House speak out against this, are going to be very careful about supporting any of this, because what is it, why are we doing it, and why are we doing it this way? The president has not articulated any of that. He's only articulated more confusion.
BERMAN: You know, Patrick Healy that gets to a separate issue. You can argue trade and tariffs, I suppose, if you want. It is hard to argue right now that there is a certain uncertainty, a certain level of upheaval inside the West Wing. I think Steve will say it is not as bad as what you think it is. But when you have the secretary of commerce admitting it, he says something different, it will be different. Again, the guy who is supposed to know what this policy is, not knowing what the policy is. It does tell you that there's a lack of uncertainty, a lack of uncertainty, I should say.
PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Completely, John. I mean it was sort of stunning that the Commerce secretary was being put in the hot seat yesterday to sort of articulate the administration's policy on trade, something that he's been focused on you know from before the -- before the election, when he was advising Donald Trump and after you know basically a year and a half, it comes down to, well, whatever the president's final decision is, it will be. His comments, John, were so interesting yesterday, Wilbur Ross', because he tried to sort of frame it as the administration's been spending more than a year on this interagency review regarding trade. He tried to sort of convey this very logical thought through process, kind of a normal policy review and process that a typical presidential administration would have. And it all sounded very logical and very familiar to how government usually works. And then he just veers off. The way the President Trump does, and basically says, well, for all of that interagency review, it is going to be whatever President Trump finally decides on a Thursday or a Friday, who knows.
I mean it just -- it goes to the culture inside the White House now with so many high profile departures and the president reading some of these headlines over the weekend about chaos and the White House. And he decides to wake up this morning and starts sending tweets about, you know, about NAFTA. I mean, as you pointed out, this is so much about China and other countries and the broader sort of trade war and now he's trying to sort of veer in a different direction.
BERMAN: It is interesting. One other thing, he's writing about this morning, I don't know if we have it, but the tweet where he says that the Obama administration started the investigation into the Trump campaign long before the election in November, to discredit -- he wanted to discredit the Trump campaign. He says, "So crooked Hillary could win."
Steve Cortes, to you, again, if he wanted to discredit the Trump campaign, the Obama administration, don't you think they would have made public that the FBI was doing these investigations instead of making very public that they were reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails?
[10:10:16] CORTES: Well I think they would have gladly done so, had they found anything. I think the good news for our country, and certainly the good news for Trump partisans is despite an intense investigation that began even before the election, well before the election, continues to this very day. We still don't see one reasonable shred of evidence of collusion with any foreign power, much less with Russia.
BERMAN: Again, -- I don't want to interrupt, but when you talk about no evidence of collusion. Collusion is not a legal term in this case. There is evidence because people have pled guilty to various contacts with Russia lying about meetings and what not. There have been indictments about Russians from meddling in the election and Donald Trump Jr. admitted to holding a meeting when he was promised Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. So, if you want to use, you know, a small collusion, that happened, that happened, Robert Mueller hasn't weighed in on it just yet.
CORTES: Wait, I disagree. What was the collusion? Tell me. I mean even small collusion.
BERMAN: Donald Trump held a meeting with Russians because they promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. So I guess it was attempt at collusion by your definition.
CORTES: Well look, I think that was a mistake of Donald Trump to hold that meeting. However, nothing came of it, absolutely zero. - It was a worthless meeting. No follow-up. So that's not collusion.
BERMAN: -- Let's wait and see what Robert Mueller has. You know, Christine Quinn, to you. There is one interesting thing the president gets to at the end of the statement. He says that President Obama did nothing on election meddling. You obviously were big Hillary Clinton supporter during the campaign. As you look back, do you wish that the Obama administration had done more and done more publicly?
QUINN: Certainly I do. I mean, you know, I was a big fan of President Obama, obviously. But there is no question that things were going on, that meddling was occurring in the presidential race and there's even evidence now that indicate in other races in a real way. And I think it was a frustration for all of us close to the Clinton campaign, towards the end, and after the election about why the president didn't move -- President Obama, move more quickly and aggressively. I think to contradict Steve I think he was overly concerned about looking partisan, overly concerned about looking as if he was helping Hillary, not what he says about overly trying to help Hillary. I will say there is one thing that the president has said that I think is true, though he might mean it differently. I do think the Mueller investigation could end up being bigger than Watergate.
BERMAN: All right, Steve Cortes, Christine Quinn, I think you and Steve will disagree on exactly what that is all about, Patrick Healy, terrific to see you as well.
A new angle in the Russia investigation, the special counsel reportedly investigating attempts by one country to gain political influence over the Trump campaign and it is not Russia.
And a historic meeting happening in North Korea, Kim Jong-un speaking face to face with South Korean officials. This as the president says North Korea wants to talk.
[10:17:08] BERMAN: New this morning, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly looking into whether the United Arab Emirates tried to buy political influence. "The New York Times" reports that the investigation centers around a businessman, an adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who is a frequent visitor to the White House last year.
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois who is on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman thanks so much for being with us.
A lot of us read this article and said, wait a second, the special counsel now looking at possible influence from the UAE? Not Russia? Is this an issue which has crossed your desk in the House Intelligence Committee?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, here's what I would tell the American public. This is exactly why the investigation has to go on. You reference whether this is bigger than Watergate, it is far more complicated than Watergate. If Watergate was Algebra, this is Calculus, because it involves not just Russia, but other foreign counterparts. The money laundering that took place in Eastern Europe and Cyprus, as far as the UAE goes, here is what I can talk about.
Blackwater fame, Erik Prince meets in the Seychelles with the UAE. Just to talk business he says. But he refused to answer my questions about his past business dealings with the UAE. So, he also, by the way, when he's there, meeting at a bar in a hotel with the UAE, despite the fact that he lives there, oh, by the way, this is another Russian finance chief that you should talk to as well. And he refused to answer questions in detail about what all that was about. So the American public, don't let them shut this down. This is just an intro into how much more is involved.
BERMAN: So, Congressman, and I know there is certain things you cannot discuss because it is classified, much of the information that you learned in your committee, but as we look at this, is it reasonable to think now that the special counsel's investigation, not to mention various congressional investigations, are focused on the possibility it wasn't just Russia trying to meddle in the elections, but other countries have also been trying to exert influence as well?
QUIGLEY: I think there were several countries trying to gain influence over the upcoming administration. There were other countries attempting to compromise members of the oncoming administration. And I think some of them were witting to this, meaning Trump associates and some of them were unwitting. I will tell you, they were extraordinarily naive, but willing to do business and that's why the House, Senate and Mr. Mueller must be allowed to continue.
BERMAN: Axios reporting this morning, Congressman, that a witness who has appeared before the special counsel received a subpoena for communications that this person had with a number of people within the Trump campaign, the Trump organization, and ultimately the White House.
[10:20:08] Some of the names on this list, Carter Page, Corey Lewandowski, Donald J. Trump, Hope Hicks, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon. These are many central figures in Trump world in the Trump campaign and now, also, the White House. What strikes you about that list?
QUIGLEY: Yes. It is not surprising. What's a common theme is that most of those people have appeared before my committee, and all of them there that are involved with the White House are now under a gag order. So as this investigation expands and Mueller gets closer to the central core of Trump world, we're being shut off. The House select committee on intelligence majority, the Republicans, are going along with the gag order. So a lot of the names you just heard are people who are saying that they're following the instructions of the White House, not to tell us what happened, what influence the Russians had attacking the Democratic process. It is very scary right now. If I had to predict in the next month they will shut down the House and Senate investigations, and I would imagine that they would cheer on the White House attempt to shut down Mueller.
BERMAN: So you're saying they will shut down the House intelligence investigation, which you're a part of right now. Is the House intelligence investigation as currently constructed achieving anything?
QUIGLEY: I think we have made progress. My Republican colleagues have said that they were upset that there was a nine-hour interview last week. Here's a way to solve that. Quit going along with a gag order by the White House. Make the witnesses tell us what happened. If they want this investigation over, they should swing the doors open, and tell the White House we're going to subpoena these people, we're going to make them answer questions. It is simply not happening right now. So, sure, I'm frustrated. But to end the investigation now would just be helping President Trump obstruct.
BERMAN: Again, the question is, as currently constructed, with Devin Nunes in charge of the committee, not the Russia investigation per se, because Conway is in charge of that, is it achieving anything? Republicans may want to shut it down. You want it to keep going, but as it is going, are you finding anything out?
QUIGLEY: We are extraordinarily slow fashioned, still reviewing documents. We're getting more just last week that are of special importance. I guess what I'm trying to say is the middle ground here. I think Mr. Conway is doing what he can to help us. But the man still is pulling the strings. The man who still signs subpoenas and refused to in many cases is the committee chairman. So it is not for us to give up and say, well, it is just not working. It is for us to let the American public know what's happened and to push as hard as we can.
BERMAN: Congressman Mike Quigley thanks so much for being with us.
BERMAN: Historic meeting on the Korean Peninsula as Kim Jong-un meets face to face with top South Korean officials. We're live from Seoul next.
[10:27:40] BERMAN: So for the first time since he took power, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has met with top South Korean officials.
CNN's Andrew Stevens joins us now live from Seoul in South Korea with the very latest. Andrew?
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, it is extraordinary to think that Kim Jong-un has been in power now since December of 2011. This is the first time that he has actually met senior officials in any sort of official effect from South Korea. That South Korean delegation arrived in Pyongyang this afternoon. There was a meeting with Kim Jong-un. We didn't know what the agenda was going to be. There was an assumption and expectations that Kim would appear in some form, but he held meetings with them, and then hosted a dinner with them as well.
Now what we know is the delegation handed Kim Jong-un a handwritten letter from president of South Korea. We don't know what was in that letter. In fact, we don't know what was discussed. What I with say is before the South Koreans left Seoul, they said they wanted to talk denuclearization with North Korea. They wanted to talk about furthering inter-Korean relations, John. I also want to talk about North Korea, speaking more, getting more involved in talking to the international community, particularly to the United States. That, of course, is the thorniest of all these issues by a long way.
BERMAN: You know it is interesting, Andrew, because President Trump seemed once again to suggest that North Korean denuclearization is a precondition to a meeting. What does North Korea have to say about that?
STEVENS: Yes. Trump was very firm on Saturday saying that we will not talk to North Korea unless they denuke in the president's words. Although the North Koreans came back and as expected came back pretty strongly saying it was a preposterous idea to think that this should be a conditionality of any talks between the U.S. and North Korea. So you have this massive gulf between the two. And South Korea is -- I wouldn't say in the middle, but threading a line, it does more to see warmer relations with its neighbor across the most heavily fortified military zone in the world.
And there is an expectation that they would like to see a summit between the two leaders. But South Korea's most important ally is the U.S. as we know, and in fact the leader of the South Korean delegation, John, is a man known to be very close to the U.S. Who will be going to Washington to report about this meeting?
So, obviously, South Korea is very, very aware of upsetting the U.S. --