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EPA Administrator Under Fire; President Trump Targets Amazon Again; Trump Ramps Up Border Rhetoric. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 3:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're going to be able to do something about that, hopefully soon. Hopefully, Congress will get their act together and get in and create some very powerful laws, like Mexico has, and like Canada has, and like almost all countries have.

We don't have laws. We have catch and release. You catch and then you immediately release. And people come back years later for a court case, except they virtually never come back.

So, what we are preparing for the military to secure or border between Mexico and the United States. And we have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it's something we have to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's start there with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, in Washington.

And it's my understanding, too, Jeff, that since the president has made these comments, the Mexican government has formally asked the State Department and Department of Homeland Security for clarification on the president's comments. What can you tell me about the president's plan?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They did, Brooke.

Certainly, the president has been amplifying his rhetoric about immigration really for the last several days. From the weekend on, he was down in Mar-a-Lago, he was talking about immigration, tweeting about immigration.

But this, of course, is taking it to the next level here. Now, nothing really -- he has a sense of urgency in his voice, but nothing has changed in terms of how the situation has been there.

It's unclear why he exactly is ratcheting this up, except he seems to be playing to his base and trying to get some support from that. This isn't that unusual. The Bush administration and the Obama administration, they both used the National Guard in limited circumstances here, but the president saying the laws are unsafe, we don't have laws at the border, simply doesn't necessarily align with the facts here.

He has been now in office for going on 15 months or so and he has certainly talked about immigration a lot, but is not necessarily championing any new specific laws here. This all goes back to the wall funding. He got about $1.5 billion or so in that big omnibus bill he signed a couple weeks ago. He asked for about $25 billion.

He has been angry about that, stewing about that. And this is what we get here. It's unclear exactly what will come of this meeting he's having at this hour with Defense Secretary James Mattis, but he clearly wants some more border patrols on the border, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Maybe also up for discussion with the U.S. military, a question was posed to him earlier as well on his recent comments on Syria, I know taking the Pentagon by surprise, that they were planning on maybe putting more U.S. troops into Syria and he wants to withdraw.

This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have as of three months ago $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing, nothing out of it. Nothing. It's time.

We were very successful against ISIS. We will be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it's time to come back home and we're thinking about that very seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Listen, I'm sure a lot of Americans agree with him. That is a lot of time and a lot of money. How is that sitting with General Mattis and others?

ZELENY: That is certainly going to be interesting, an interesting part of that meeting, but, Brooke, it simply does not square with what the administration policy currently is.

Just almost at the same time the president was there speaking in the East Room of the White House, this special envoy who is in charge of fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, said this.

He said: "We're in Syria to fight ISIS. This is our mission. Our mission isn't over."

The presidential special envoy who is actually in charge of this, the president put him in charge of this, he says the mission isn't over. The president says it's time to pull out here. It seems to me, it sounds to me this is the Donald Trump from the campaign trail. He is trying to appeal to his supporters there, much less so than the commander who is actually implementing these policies here. We have seen a change in his mood, a change in what he's talking

about. The reality is, though, he can make the decisions. We will see if there's an immediate change or not, but certainly striking that he is saying one thing, his commanders and others saying a different thing here.

It gets back to his mood. And again to me it sounds like he's talking to his supporters on the campaign trail, not necessarily as president in the White House -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

And as he just mentioned, those comments on Syria literally minutes apart from this statement from the U.S. special presidential envoy to counter ISIS, Brett McGurk. Here you go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: In terms of our campaign in Syria, we're in Syria to fight ISIS. That's our mission. And our mission isn't over. And we're going to complete that mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go straight to retired Colonel Peter Mansoor, used to serve as an aide for General David Petraeus.

Colonel, the message doesn't seem on par with the president's own military leaders.

[15:05:01]

COL. PETER MANSOOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: And it also contradicts the president's own campaign rhetoric when he said that President Obama created ISIS.

The bit of truth of that is by withdrawing troops from Iraq, he created the conditions for the resurrection of al Qaeda in Iraq, re- branded as ISIS. If President Trump were to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and Syria today, he would be following in the same failed footsteps.

By removing our ability to influence the situation over there, we would be creating the conditions for ISIS 3.0. And I think it's just very, very misguided.

BALDWIN: He's also, going back to campaign trail Trump, he said he would never telegraph any sort of military plans. And while I realize this isn't specific, still, by saying he wants to withdraw, isn't that a straight message to ISIS? We want to leave?

MANSOOR: Exactly. And all you have to do is wait us out.

It's the same message that unfortunately we have been sending to the Taliban, which finally the president, in his speech on Afghanistan, said, no, we're there for the long haul. It's the same kind of policy he needs here in the heart of the Middle East.

If he wants to prevent terror groups from arising, he has to help the people on the ground create stability. And the only way to do that is to put U.S. diplomats on to the front line, put U.S. troops on the front line and put our power behind these groups that are going to fight ISIS and keep them from recovering.

BALDWIN: You have served in this part of the world. You would know.

Let me ask you, Colonel Mansoor, also just about his comments on Mexico, and sending in U.S. troops to protect the border. Just practically speaking -- and I realize Bush 43 and Obama did it as well -- what would he do, send in the National Guard and then would that be up to individual states' governors?

MANSOOR: Well, the activation of the National Guard is up to the states. If the president wants to federalize the National Guard, then he would have to pay for the deployments. And then he could use the National Guard.

He could use federal troops as well. But all of these troops under federal control have a problem. They cannot arrest or detain individuals on U.S. soil.

BALDWIN: They can't?

MANSOOR: It's against the Posse Comitatus Act. And it would be very, very hard for the troops to do anything more than observe on the border and then report border crossings to the Border Patrol.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Forgive me, Colonel, but if he wants them to curb immigration, he keeps talking about the flow of immigrants over our borders, what would their function then be?

MANSOOR: The function would be reconnaissance. I have actually commanded these missions with my air cavalry troops in the past.

You observe the border. You observe border crossings. It could be drugs, it could be illegal immigrants, it could be a number of things. But then you simply hand that information over to the Border Patrol, which has jurisdiction on U.S. soil.

As it is, U.S. troops can do no more than that.

BALDWIN: Do you think it's a good idea?

MANSOOR: No, actually. We would be militarizing a border that's largely peaceful. This is a civil jurisdictional matter. The fact is that the president is angry with Congress for not funding his border initiatives and instead he is going to use the instruments under his control, the U.S. military, to do something that it's really not designed to do, and that is preventing illegal border crossings.

I think he just -- the president needs to go back and work with Congress to get a deal that will get enough votes to both protect the border and prevent illegal immigration in the future by working with the source countries to stabilize their own lands.

BALDWIN: Colonel Mansoor, thank you so much.

MANSOOR: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: President Trump goes after Amazon again, insisting he's right that they're ripping off the post office, even though the facts don't bear that out.

We will discuss what is behind his attacks, the politics, the economics.

And breaking news, a judge handing down the very first sentence in Bob Mueller's Russia investigation, this as we learn the Justice Department told Mueller to investigate the president's campaign chairman for collusion with the Russians. What that means for this case.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:13:35]

BALDWIN: President Trump continues his attacks on Amazon. Moments ago, he unloaded again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The post office is losing millions of dollars and the taxpayers are paying for that money because it delivers packages for Amazon at a very below cost.

And that's not fair to the United States. It's not fair to our taxpayers. And Amazon has the money to pay the fair rate at the post office, which would be much more than they're paying right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Amazon's stock plunged more than 5 percent Monday, and then Amazon started up. And 11 minutes after this tweet, Amazon went back into the red.

Since the first reports last week of Trump's Amazon attack plan, the Internet giant has lost $60 billion in market value. And Amazon at this moment tops the president's growing list of targets on Twitter, the torrent another sign that shows the president is going with his gut and against what most of his most senior aides are actually telling him.

That's according to sources who are familiar with the president's thinking.

So, with me now, CNN political commentator -- commentator -- easy for me to say -- Tara Setmayer.

Good to see you.

And CNN senior economist analyst Stephen Moore, who used to advise the Trump campaign.

So, Stephen, you know the man. Let me just start with you. I know you're an economist. But I want to focus on the politics of this. This goes against everything Republicans have stood for, free market, big business, government can't pick winners and losers.

[15:15:07]

How do you see it?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, look, I don't like the government bullying American companies.

As you said, Amazon has lost, what was that number you just said, Brooke, something like $60 billion in market share, in no small part because of some of these comments Trump has made.

Now, one question is whether Donald Trump said about Amazon, is that factually true? Now, I have spending the morning actually trying to get to the bottom of this, Brooke. And it appears there may be some truth to the idea that Amazon is not -- quote -- "paying its fair share" for Postal Service costs.

It's in some dispute. But there is some people who know this issue very well say that Amazon maybe should be paying a little bit more. But, look, my feeling is...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let me just jump in on that point, because I, too, was looking into that, because I want to understand what's right and what's wrong.

Amazon says -- they pay the same lower rate that the post office charges other bulk shippers.

MOORE: That's true.

BALDWIN: And it collects sales tax in every state that charges it. Fact.

MOORE: That's right. And the dispute it is whether that rate that they're paying should be paid by companies or whether they should be paying more.

I'm not an expert on that. I'm just saying that there is something to what trump is saying. But, look, the idea that Amazon is hurting the Postal Service is not true. Without Amazon, there might not be a Postal Service at all. I mean, it's millions of packages that is delivered by the Postal Service at a time when fewer people are sending letters and so on. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Tara, if these attacks -- I want to hear you.

But if these attacks do go against what traditionally Republicans have stood for, then where are the Republicans right now?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: That's for Tara.

(CROSSTALK)

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's pretty disappointing that the free market Republicans and conservatives who would have freaked out if President Obama had made comments like this and singled out a company that lost that kind of market share and plunged the stock market as a result of it, for simply being an innovative company.

And we're forgetting a couple of things. I just want to put a couple of things in perspective. Number one, Amazon is not the reason why the post office have -- in $65 billion in debt since 2007.

It's because, in 2006, there was a law passed that said that the retiree benefits...

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: That's not true. That's not the reason.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: I didn't interrupt you.

MOORE: I'm sorry.

SETMAYER: A lot of that money is going toward that.

It's also because they're losing money on first-class mail, because a lot of people aren't sending letters anymore. But the bright spot in this is parcel deliveries. That makes up 28 percent of what the post office revenue is.

So, you want to get rid of Amazon, Amazon is no different than any other bulk carrier. So, the president's attacks here against Amazon are personal. It has nothing to do with economics, it has nothing to do with the post office and restructuring it financially. It's because Jeff Bezos -- Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. Donald Trump envies that.

And also because Amazon is so successful that it's hurting brick and mortar businesses, like on Fifth Avenue, where Trump Tower is. And it's affected Trump's bottom line, because his real estate values have plunged about $400 million as a result of brick and mortar stores losing money. It's personal for Donald Trump. And that should scare everyone.

MOORE: I think Tara is right.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Look, Tara is right that Amazon is one of our great innovative companies. No question about it.

Jeff Bezos is a great businessman. I would just say, on this hypocrisy issue, though, I worked at "The Wall Street Journal" 10 years when Rupert Murdoch bought "The Wall Street Journal." Rupert Murdoch being a conservative.

And, my God, liberals went crazy. How can a conservative buy a newspaper? It's going to ruin the newspaper. And then a few years ago, Jeff Bezos bought "The Washington Post." Jeff Bezos is a big liberal.

And I didn't hear that complaint about, oh, my gosh, this is going to affect the commentary and the news of "The Washington Post." And it is true, just as a matter of fact.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: That it is very liberal, it's very anti-Trump, and Trump is hitting back a little bit at this.

BALDWIN: Yes. He's the one who is hitting. He's the one who is hitting.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: What has "The Washington Post" reported that is untrue? President Trump is upset because "The Washington Post" has done excellent investigative work uncovering a lot of the corruption and mistruths that are happening in this administration.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We have all been hit. And there's the failing "New York Times." But that's his hometown paper, so maybe his ire is directed on "The Post."

I want to move on because I want to talk about his ire elsewhere, Stephen Moore, with you, with the sudden outbursts on Twitter, Amazon aside, immigration, Sinclair, NAFTA, DOJ, FBI, cheatin' Obama, this is all stuff that helps him assuage, I realize, any concerns his base may have.

But why do you think he feels to need to unleash these red meat tossing tweets?

[15:20:00]

MOORE: Well, he has done this since the very first day that he started running for president.

And he's in a lot of ways been really effective at this. He's really changed the way that people run for office.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Hang on, though. I'm with you.

But the last couple of days, you blink and he's tweeting again.

MOORE: It's a fair point.

I would like to see Trump tweet less. I have told Donald Trump that to his face.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And what does he say to you?

MOORE: What he says is that this is my way of communicating directly with the American people, and not having to go through the filter of CNN and "The Washington Post."

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Is it with the American people or is it with conservative media, his base? Let's be specific.

MOORE: Look, it's a pretty good communication device in the sense that every time he tweets something, Brooke, you guys on CNN put it right on the air.

He's getting a lot of publicity out of these tweets, for better or for worse.

BALDWIN: When you have a president referring to the Department of -- air quotes -- "Justice" as an embarrassment to the country, it's something that needs discussing.

I'm also wondering, Tara, on the same note, though, I can't explain the avalanche of tweets, but is it Mueller? Might it be this whole investigation and swirl that is driving the tweets, keeping his -- we were referring to the Mar-a-Lago FOX News Cabinet placated, so that Trump feels protected?

SETMAYER: I think Twitter is a pacifier for Donald Trump, for sure.

It's clear. He says that he uses it to speak directly to the American people. But he does that because he doesn't want the filter of scrutiny of misinformation.

The tweets over the last couple of days have been filled with propaganda, mistruths, misrepresentations. And when anyone criticizes that or checks him, and says, wait a minute, that is not true, if he's fact-checked, then it becomes fake news. This is very dangerous because it's propaganda. And a lot of people will believe it. But, interestingly enough, even though he attacks the free media, a Monmouth poll came out that said that more people actually believe CNN and "The Washington Post" and mainstream media sources over Donald Trump.

He's really only appealing to his base. He's not appealing to most of the American people, because I think they recognize it for what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Last thought, just why he sort of seems more off-kilter, if that's the phrase, Stephen, that he's really feeling like he needs to appeal to his base with this, Tara's word, propaganda the last couple of days.

What's up?

MOORE: I think he's feeling frustrated about the unfair treatment that he gets in the mainstream media. There's no question about it that 80 to 90 percent of the reporting that is done about Trump is negative.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: What's unfair, Stephen?

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: It's not surprising that he wants to communicate directly to people and not have the filter.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: He has a whole channel dedicated to praising him over on FOX News. So, he should be thrilled.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: What's unfair?

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Yes, but FOX News is one network out of 10 that are...

SETMAYER: It's a large network with a huge platform. What's the problem? Because we're actually holding him accountable, and they're a propaganda channel now.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: I think he's freaking out now because of Stormy Daniels and those cases are heating up. And it doesn't look good for them, paying off a porn star with $130,000 a couple weeks before an election.

(CROSSTALK) MOORE: Why was the media obsessing about the Stormy Daniels story? What does that have to do with anything?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Who brought up Stormy here, guys? I didn't bring up Stormy Daniels. You guys brought up Stormy Daniels.

On that note, Stephen, Tara, thank you so much for the discussion. I didn't do it.

SETMAYER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: EPA chief Scott Pruitt under fire on multiple fronts. Privately, President Trump telling Pruitt he has got his back. Publicly, he said just says he hopes Pruitt will be great

Despite the fact that he's been on the job for more than a year, we will dig into what he actually has done in that time, the policy.

And she says it's time to set the record straight. The wife of former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was just fired days before earning his pension after serving the agency for 21 years, firing back at President Trump and what she describes as her family's enduring nightmare.

Don't miss this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:38]

BALDWIN: A Republican congressman is now calling on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to either resign or for President Trump to outright fire him.

This is coming as Pruitt faces a list of scandals, including a questionable housing arrangement in Washington. The White House is looking into ethical concerns after Pruitt rented this condo in Washington for just $50 a night from a family linked to a powerful lobbying firm. That same family also donated some money to Pruitt's 2014 campaign for Oklahoma attorney general.

And "The New York Times" reports that same lobbying firm got a pipeline expansion project approved while Pruitt was staying at said condo.

Under that whole cloud of potential controversy, CNN has learned that Trump called Pruitt last night to say to him, got your back. But, today, the president did stop short of throwing his full support behind the embattled administrator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Thank you.

QUESTION: Scott Pruitt, sir, do you support Scott Pruitt?

TRUMP: I hope he's going to be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Elaina Plott is with me. She is a staff writer over at "The Atlantic" who has been covering all things Pruitt.

And so, Elaina, nice to see you.

Read your piece. And you really dig into, in addition to the condo, this other issue of Pruitt and these two staffers who he brings to Washington from Oklahoma, wants to give them raises, goes to the White House and asks for the raises. And they say what?

ELAINA PLOTT, "THE ATLANTIC": So, yes, in early March, Pruitt goes to the White House, says, hi, these are two of my favorite aides. I would like tens of thousands of dollars in a pay raise for them.