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"Mystery Man" with Trump Ties Cooperates with Mueller; Cohen Provided Secret Witness Testimony on Steele Dossier; Trump Ready to Make Deal on DACA; Kushner Meets with Mexican President After Losing Top-Secret Security Clearance; Gary Cohn Leaves White House over Trump's Tariff Plans; Trump Asks China to Develop Plan to Cut Trade Deficit; Indictments Handed Down against Nikolas Cruz; Trump's Approval Rating Dips. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:30:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He's described as a man of mystery, but a low-profile Middle East expert is becoming a critical piece in Robert Mueller's investigation. Now sources say he's cooperating with Mueller. So who is he? Nader is Lebanese-American, said to have prominent ties in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Iran.

He was present at a December 2016 meeting in New York between officials from the United Arab Emirates and members of the Trump team, including Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Steve Bannon. Nader also attended a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles Islands between the Emirates and Trump associate, Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater Security. Nader is not suspected of wrongdoing but could help the special counsel in understanding possible efforts to influence key figures in the administration.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, of Arizona.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

What does the special counsel's interest in George Nader say to you about the scope, the direction of this overall Russia investigation?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO, (D), ARIZONA: Well, it tells me that Mueller is doing his job. He's trying to go deep to see how -- why the corruption potentially is within the Trump administration as well as what occurred during the Trump transition and Trump campaign. So he's running a professional operation, and we hope in the process we'll get to the truth.

BLITZER: A source tells CNN that President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was provided with secret information about testimony of another witness before the House Intelligence Committee. The testimony was supposedly related to the Steele dossier that Republicans, as you know, have tried to discredit. What do you make of that and the problems plaguing the House panel's Russia investigation right now?

GALLEGO: What it points out to all of is that Paul Ryan has been irresponsible in the fact he hasn't replaced and removed Congressman Nunes. Congressman Nunes has been involved in a very intricate, structured cover-up that has essentially stalled this potentially independent investigation, and that Speaker Ryan should actually take leadership and please remove Nunes because it's stalling what we think is a very important job for Congress to actually have oversight about what occurred.

BLITZER: On the Russia probe, Nunes supposedly was removed, removed himself. Congressman Conaway took charge, Republican charge. Adam Schiff is the top Democrat. Not good enough for you?

GALLEGO: No, because clearly that's not the case. We've seen Nunes reinsert himself many times into this investigation, whether he's openly lied to the president, fabricating documents or situations to help out the case of the president. He's not at all been forthright. And he essentially is the head of, I would say, the head of a cover- up, at least occurring here in Congress.

BLITZER: "Cover-up" is a strong word.

But let me get to other issues while I have you, Congressman. Last hour, President Trump addressed the Latino Coalition Summit here in Washington. He said he's ready for a deal on the so-called DREAMers under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're trying to have a dark victory for everybody, by the way. The Democrats are nowhere to be found. They're nowhere to be found.


TRUMP: Really terrible. We're ready. You know the expression, ready, willing, and able. We're ready, willing, and able. They're nowhere to be found. They don't care about the immigration system or reform, and they don't want to solve the problem. They would rather use it to get elected.


BLITZER: All right. What's your reaction to that, Congressman?

GALLEGO: Just lunacy. This president had many opportunities to deal with us. There were many deals given to him, even funding his stupid border wall, which I was against, but it was part of a deal. At the end of the day, he just did not know how to deal. He has no control over his own staff. Chief of staff John Kelly has zero account of action on immigration, so it makes it very difficult. And Steve Miller is an outright xenophobe who won't allow an actual compromise to come through. The president needs to figure out what he wants then make a deal. The biggest problem we have is Trump.

BLITZER: He says he is willing to allow 1.8 million DREAMers, including a million who never registered as DACA recipients, to eventually get legal status here in the United States, and potentially have a pathway to citizenship in exchange for border security, the wall, other issues. You say you're ready to make that deal with the president?

GALLEGO: Wolf, we've actually had this conversation. Democrats have had this conversation. Bipartisan groups have had this conversation with the president. It's not border security. It's not the wall. What he wants to do is have wholesale change to immigration policy that's been part of our standard for 70 years. If that's going to happen, then we have to have a different type of deal. The president understands this. John Kelly understands this. Steve Miller understands this. The problem is that, in his mind, a deal means he gets everything and everyone else basically gets nothing. That's not how this is going to work.

[13:35:13] BLITZER: President Trump, as you know, Congressman, insists that there is no chaos in his administration, despite a string of very high-profile departures, including his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who just announced he's leaving the White House yesterday. The president says he's constantly searching for the best people, that conflict results in the best ideas. How do you respond to him on those points?

GALLEGO: If that's the case, then he's really going to have the best people because that type of turnover is amazing. Had this been the Obama administration, the word dysfunction would have been thrown out by everybody. The reason he can't keep the best people or attract the best people is because the president is not a good president. He has no concept of what he's doing. He's slowly deteriorating the strength of this country. If you are a staffer or somebody who wants to serve in government, you do not want to be associated with this administration, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican.

BLITZER: Congressman Gallego, thanks so much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Right now, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, is in Mexico meeting with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto as tensions escalate between the two nations. We have new details. We'll be right back.


[13:40:49] BLITZER: He just lost his top-secret security clearance, but that's not keeping Jared Kushner from dealing in some very, very sensitive foreign policy matters. The president's son-in-law and senior adviser visiting Mexico right now, where he's been tasked to try to improve cooperation after a rather tense phone call between President Trump and Mexico's president over a border wall funding, among other issues. Kushner, whose security clearance is right now only secret -- that's lower than the chief White House calligrapher, who has top-secret security clearance -- led a delegation focused on major economic issues, namely the president's controversial tariff plan on steel and aluminum imports into the United States. The president has said Mexico would be exempt only if they see to his demands for renegotiating NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement.

Joining us now is Max Baucus, former U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama and a former U.S. Senator for Montana as well.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to Jared Kushner making this high- profile visit to Mexico just days after being stripped of his interim top-secret SCI security clearance? Can you really go into a major meeting with a foreign leader like this without that kind of top-notch security clearance?

BAUCUS: This comes across to me as like the consolation round. That is the president of Mexico is not going to visit the United States to see President Trump because of a spat, so the president's son-in-law is now going to Mexico. I think because he's the son-in-law, not Secretary Tillerson, not Masterson (sic), the head of the security council, that he, Jared Kushner, will not be taken as seriously as he should be. It's unfortunate.

BLITZER: I assume you had top-secret SCI security clearances --

BAUCUS: Yes. Right.

BLITZER: -- as U.S. ambassador to China. Is it at all realistic that you could negotiate with Middle Eastern countries, whether the Israelis or Palestinians or the Saudis, the Emirates, the Qataris or the Mexicans or Chinese, without that security clearance?

BAUCUS: It's very difficult. Very, very difficult. He will not be taken seriously because he does not have top security clearance. He'll be treated as the president's son-in-law, not as a top diplomat who has full security clearance. It's not a good position for the United States to be in. It demeans the United States, I think, and causes other countries, Mexico, UAE, other countries, to kind of not take us as seriously as they otherwise would.

BLITZER: You go into those meetings with those leaders, your aides who come along to help out, whether career diplomats or national security officials, they all have top-secret security clearance.

BAUCUS: Yes, they do. Yes, they do.

BLITZER: But the person in charge doesn't.


BLITZER: It could get very awkward, as you know.

Let's get to another sensitive issue. Gary Cohn, who was the top economic adviser to the president, is now leaving the White House. He's very upset over the president's tariff plan and talk of a potential trade war. A source close to president called Cohn the only good guy left, saying of all things -- "Of all the things, this will cause the most trauma." How worried are you about Cohn's exit?

BAUCUS: I'm very concerned. This is not the departure of another staffer. Ha this is the departure of Gary Cohn, a man I know. He's got gravitas, very highly regarded in Wall Street, the business community, by Europeans, our allies, people around the world. He's been the adult in the room. When the adult leaves, you know, the playground gets a little chaotic. I'm very, very concerned that his departure is going to undermine business and world confidence in the White House and in America.

BLITZER: As a former ambassador to China, I want to get your reaction to this tweet that the president posted earlier in the day: "China has been asked to develop a plan for the year of a $1 billion reduction in their massive trade deficit with the United States. Our relationship with China has been a very good one, and we look forward to seeing what ideas they come back with. We must act soon." That's the president's tweet.

At the same time, one of the names floated to replace Gary Cohn is a fierce China critic, Peter Navarro, who wrote the book "Death By China," among others. As I say, you're a former ambassador, what do you think about all this?

[13:45:26] BAUCUS: I think we're in a difficult spot. Many of us in the West think maybe we've lost China. That is, we assume China be more like us. China is not going to be more like us. China has got bounce in their step. They got the wind at their back. President Xi Jinping is getting even more power. They kind of think they've got us where they want us, frankly. And we've been giving big gifts to China. Our departure from the Trans Pacific Partnership has hurt the United States a lot. China is filling the void. They love that. This Trump tariff of 25 percent on steel and aluminum is going to hurt our allies much more than it's going to hurt China. In fact, that's a gift to China in itself. Why? Because it enables China to work with the European allies, divide and conquer. We're not standing up in the world. America First is becoming more and more America alone. That's going to isolate us and hurt us worldwide. China is not going to deal with us out of weakness. They're going to deal with us out of strength. They're becoming more and more powerful.

BLITZER: Well, it's a huge issue, indeed.

Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

BAUCUS: You bet.

BLITZER: We're getting breaking news. Indictments have been handed down for Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, last month. We'll share the details with you right after this.


[13:51:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, indictments are being handed down, relating to the shooting massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Nikolas Cruz is facing nearly three dozen charges in the killing of 17 people, 14 of them students.

Rosa Flores is in Ft. Lauderdale for us.

Rose, tell our viewers what you're learning.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the grand jury met for two days and they just returned a 34-count indictment, 17 counts of premeditated murder in the first degree and 17 counts of attempted murder. Now, as you know, Wolf, Nikolas Cruz had confessed to arming himself with an A.R.-15 rifle and gunning down 17 people. We had heard that he had injured 16 others. But now from this indictment, we're learning that, indeed, it's a 17-count indictment related to the attempted murder charges.

As you know, the grand jury is a very secretive process. For the past few days, witnesses have been going in and out of this courthouse through back doors. We have seen very few people actually go inside the courtroom, Wolf.

Today, we did speak to Jim Lewis, the family of the Snead family, who allowed Nikolas Cruz inside their home after his mother died.

But, Wolf, again, breaking news from Ft. Lauderdale a 34-count indictment for Nikolas Cruz, 17 counts of premeditated murder, 17 counts of attempted murder -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Rosa, thank you. Rosa Flores in Ft. Lauderdale with the latest. We'll continue to follow that story, of course, as well.

We're awaiting the White House press briefing as the West Wing faces multiple headwinds, including a top advisor's resignation, a porn star's lawsuit against the president. We'll have live coverage of the White House briefing. That's coming up.


[13:57:29] BLITZER: This just coming in. A new Monmouth University poll numbers are just out. President Trump's approval rating has dipped.

Patrick Murray is joining us, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

New numbers, we'll put them up on the screen. Do you approve, disapprove the way the president is handling his job, 39 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove, 8 percent, no opinion.

PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: This is a consistent trend we've been seeing. His numbers went up about six weeks ago. Everybody was looking at the tax plan, had improved. But now that stalled. And I think that's why his numbers are going back down. People are not seeing any more benefit from that tax plan. That's a big part of it. BLITZER: You also asked a question on Jared Kushner, the presidents

son-in-law, senior advisor, should he stay, should he go. And 55 percent say Kushner should resign, 33 percent say you should continue working, 12 percent don't know.

MURRAY: This all coming out of that brouhaha of him losing his top- secret clearance. And 24 percent say that's just a bad idea to have Jared Kushner, family member, inside the White House working for him.

BLITZER: Interesting number.

Look at this question on whether or not the president's personal interests are tied to Russia. Do Trump or his family's financial interests or ties in Russia influence decisions? And 29 percent definitely, 28 percent probably, 19 percent probably not, 17 percent say definitely not. What do you think?

MURRAY: And 7 percent --


BLITZER: If you add up the two.

MURRAY: There's no question that the public feels that Trump's family is having an impact, the personal interests the business interests are having a significant impact, particularly around Russia, where most people believe there's a lot of election meddling still going on in the 2018 midterms.

BLITZER: And you asked whether the president takes this whole threat of Russian meddling seriously. Look at this. Is Trump taking the threat of Russian interference in 2018 election seriously, looking ahead to the midterm elections? Only 28 percent say yes, 62 percent say no.

MURRAY: He said he was, yesterday, in a press conference, but the public decided no, he is not really taking it seriously, and it is a real threat --


BLITZER: Your biggest latest takeaway from your latest poll is what?

MURRAY: The blip we saw last month on the tax plan, that seems to have faded away. The public is looking at a lot of other things going on that are scandals around the president's family. The whole Russia thing is percolating up again. These are things that are now taking the public's eye away from the tax plan and on to the president.

BLITZER: Clearly, the president and his supporters should be worried about these latest numbers and your poll.

Patrick Murray, thanks very much for joining us.

MURRAY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Meantime, the news continues right now.