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Trump Urges Embattled EPA Chief To "Keep Fighting"; Trump Meets With Baltic Leaders, Will Hold Presser Next Hour; Trump Says He'll Put Troops On Southern Border. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS ANCHOR: -- in a Washington condominium own by a lobbyist who has EPA interest. But an administration official tell CNN, the President himself called Pruitt just last night and told them, quote, keep your head up, keep fighting, we got your back. So why does Pruitt survive, at least for now, while other cabinet members have fallen out of presidential favor.

CNN's Pamela Brown joins us now live with a new reporting on the President's mindset. And as increasing reliance, Pam, is this the right way to put it on his instincts over his advisers?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely the right way to put it. He has really renewed his conviction, John, that he is his own best adviser and he has been ignoring the advice of his closest aides, his top aides, including his Chief of Staff John Kelly and the recent firings of cabinet secretaries. These aides are trying to create stability, or at least the perception of stability.

And we're told by a source familiar with the matter, particularly in the firing of Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, that the President ignored John Kelly's advice, his guidance, that the President should wait and do something more ceremonious with Tillerson, to Levin and Pompeo, that the new Secretary of State coming in.. And that John Kelly had recommend, John, that the President wait for Tillerson to return from his trip and to have a meeting in the Oval Office with Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, his successor, and the President and then do some sort of formal unveiling in the east room with Pompeo, with the new Secretary of State, the new top diplomat.

We're told by a source familiar, John, that the President ignored this advice from his Chief of Staff and wouldn't commit to waiting, and so that is what prompted John Kelly to call Tillerson while he was sick overseas on his trip telling him to hurry back to Washington. So that's just a glimpse, John, of how the President is operating now in the sort of chaotic environment ignoring those around him. He want more stability in the White House, and he's also make situations like what's going to happen with Pruitt more perplexing to aides who are advising the President that he can't sustain this. But as you point out, the President likes him, and if anyone's guess what he's going to do.

KING: Anyone's guess, I think, is the key point there at the end. Pam Brown, appreciate the fresh reporting. Let's come back in the room. And to that point, so the President called Scott Pruitt last night and said, hang in there, we got your back. If you are a senior official in the White House, is that cement dry, or do you think, no, I'm not going to trust that? What's the shelf life, I guess?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I think we'll just have to wait and see, but it's true that the President likes what Pruitt is doing at the EPA. He thinks he's executing his mission there and he likes Pruitt personally. So, for the moment, at this moment in time, it appears that Pruitt is all right.

You know, we've seen this with other advisers, too. Secretary Zinke of someone else has had some ethical difficulties. He's still there and no one heard. I guess there was a meeting with John Kelly at one point, but he's been, a, OK. So it's been --

KING: And Secretary Price does not survive, the former Health and Human Services Secretary. Why? Because all of that played out at the moment when the President wasn't getting his way in Obamacare in Capitol Hill?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, within the context of the policies that Price was not able to be implemented at that point. There is a bit of a formula to when Trump turns on somebody, but then there also is just his gut feeling about people, and that seems to be driving a lot of this with Pruitt. Pruitt has played the game really well. He's been pretty over the top in his public praise of Trump. He knows how to message to the President, and that goes a long way and people (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And he has said, if you approve the Trump agenda, he has had success. If you're an Obama fan or Democratic fan, mainly not, but he has rolled back today the fuel economy rules for cars. We'll see if it survives a court challenge. Clean power plan rules, clean water rules, the Paris climate of court have all happened on his watch.

However, the President does check news coverage and look at his headlines. "Pruitt had a $50 condo linked to lobbyists. Their client's project got approved." "EPA explored private jet lease for Pruitt's travels last year." "Pruitt security included Disneyland, Rose Bowl trips." That's normally the stuff that sets the President off.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: OK. I think you're looking at pattern to be seen here. I think you generally need to have multiple strikes against you to get fired by the President. I remember, what one time source put it to me, memorably, during the John Kelly stat (ph) when people thought, you know, he was on the ropes over the handling of Rob Porter which is that in situations like that the President doesn't like to fire people as much as reality TV altered ego then because there's always some crisis that he's dealing with, if not creating.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: This is definitely the conflict that Trump is facing right now. My colleague Peter Nicholas reported on this a little bit yesterday. Inside the White House, Trump is referred to Pruitt as my lawyer. There was a bit of connection there. He also fits a sort of central casting role that Trump likes in his cabinet and his administration.

But you mentioned at the start of this segment that he's breathing a little easier. He shouldn't get too comfortable.


BENDER: We reported that there's a review on through his conduct (ph) in Washington. White House officials were very adamant about this yesterday. They were not walking back (INAUDIBLE) on any reporting that there's a lot of angst about Pruitt inside the White House.

[12:35:04] But they are careful not to get ahead of Pruitt because what happened with H.R. McMaster just a little while ago. And, you know, I wouldn't be surprised to see something -- see decision made in the next couple of days. And the next week, that reverses what Trump said --

KUCINICH: And we don't know that everything have come out yet either.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: There could be more about Pruitt. And --

KING: There seems to be more all the time. And even if no special favors are down for this lobbyist, I'm sorry, you're joining the cabinet, are you going to take a cut rate deal to live in a lobbyist condo? I mean, get it quick. The common sense should apply here.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, next has the Trump boom, become a stock box, to look at the President's rule and the recent stock market (INAUDIBLE).


[12:40:06] KING: Welcome back. We're just seconds away from hearing the President of the United States. He's at a working lunch at the White House with the leaders of three Baltic nations, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Meeting at the White House this hour with the President of United States, reporters were invited.

The President took questions on a number of issues. One, these three leaders on assurances will be tougher against Vladimir Putin's Russia. He says no one has been tougher than Donald Trump, that's the President words. Number two, interesting. We want to hear it in full context the President said that he is prepared to send the military to the United States border with Mexico for tougher border enforcement. We want to hear the President on that.

A number of other issues coming up as reporters were invited into the cabinet room. Again, this is a working lunch of the President of United States. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great respect for President Xi. Two of the most incredible days of my life were spent in China. Many of you were with me. He's a tremendous person.

But we have a problem with China. They've created a trade deficit, and I really blame our representatives, and frankly, our preceding presidents for this. They have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year. It's not something we can live with.

So we'll be working with China, we'll be negotiating with China. Again, our relationship is very good with China, and we intend to keep it that way, but we have to do something to seriously relieve that trade deficit. We can't have a $500 billion a year trade deficit. We also have the theft of intellectual property, and that probably is in the neighborhood of $200 to $300 billion a year.

So whether we like it or not, we have a great stock market, we have a very, very powerful country, we have our country militarily, as you know, presidents, we have just received $700 billion. Our military will be stronger than ever before, but we have to do something on trade with certain countries. And obviously China is the leader in terms of deficits.

We've never had a situation where a country -- and nor has there ever been in history a situation where a country has done that to another country. We've helped rebuild China. Over the last 25 years if you take a look at what's happened, we have helped rebuild China. So we intend to get along with China, but we have to do something very substantial about the trade deficit.

And with that nothing is easy. I campaigned on that, I talked about that. China won't be the only country, but I did, in fact, campaign on it. Mexico, if you look at the caravan of thousands of people coming across, I told Mexico, look, you have a cash cow in NAFTA. NAFTA has been great for Mexico, has not been good for the United States.

A lot of businesses have closed down because of NAFTA. You look at empty plants all over the place, and this is from years ago. They still haven't recovered. NAFTA has been a terrible deal for the United States. We're renegotiating the deal right now, but it will still be good for Mexico and for Canada. And when this caravan came in, and this is a caravan of a lot of people coming in, in this case, from Honduras, if it reaches our border, our laws are so weak and so pathetic. You would not understand this because I know how strong your laws are at the border. It's like we have no border. Because we had Obama make changes. President Obama made changes that basically created no border. Catch and release. You catch them, you register them, they go into our country. We can't throw them out.

And in many cases they shouldn't be here. Many, many cases they shouldn't be here. And after they get whatever happens over the next two or three years, they're supposed to come back to court. Almost nobody comes back to court. They're in our country. And we can't do anything about it because the laws that were created by Democrats are so pathetic and so weak. So I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful, your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border, and we are going to be doing some things. I've been speaking with General Mattis. We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military.

That's a big step. We really haven't done that before, or certainly not very much before. But we will be doing things with Mexico, and they have to do it. Otherwise I'm not going to do the NAFTA deal. NAFTA has been fantastic for Mexico, bad for us. We've had our car plants move to Mexico, many of them. We make tremendous numbers, millions of cars in Mexico that years ago didn't exist.

[12:44:59] They closed in Michigan, they closed in Ohio, they closed in other places. Now they're starting to move back because of what we've done with regulation and with taxes, they're starting to come back into our country in a big way. But I told Mexico very strongly, you're going to have to do something about these caravans that are coming up. And I just noticed that the caravan now, which is toward the middle of Mexico coming up from Honduras, is breaking up very rapidly. That's because Mexico has very strong immigration laws, as we should have.

We should have those laws. We don't have. We have immigration laws that are laughed at by everybody. And it's got to be changed. We need the wall, we need the protection, and we have to change our immigration laws at the border and elsewhere. So Mexico has, at this moment, it seems they've broken up large numbers of that particular caravan and we'll see what happens. But we're prepared at our border.

We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way, never showing up to court. So the court case will be set for two years, or three years if you can believe this and they never show up. For the most part, very rarely do they show up. Plus if you notice, they are trying to hire thousands of judges.

So every person that walks across -- and they're taught to say the right thing -- they walk across and then they go -- and they're supposed to go to court. So we're supposed to have thousands of judges because we cannot have them take it out. We have to bring them before a ridiculous court system. We have to change our policies fast. Just like we have to change in sanctuary cities.

If you look at what's happening in California, they're having remotes out there because there are a lot of areas, Orange County and others, they don't want to have sanctuary cities which are guarding criminals. So a lot of things are changing. But I have just heard that the caravan coming up from Honduras is broken up and Mexico did that. And they did it because frankly I said, you really have to do it.

We're going to have a relationship with NAFTA. We're going to have to include security in NAFTA. So Mexico -- very strong laws and that's the way it is. So it looks like it's been broken up. So that will be good.

OK. Thank you all very much.


TRUMP: Now the caravan doesn't going to take me. The caravan makes me very sad that this can happen to the United States. Where you have thousands of people that decide to just walk into our country, and we don't have any laws that can protect us.

And the wall because of the Democrats has been delayed. We started the wall just the other day. We have 1.6 billion. We're fixing and building brand new walls in certain areas. We're doing a lot of work on walls. We have 1.6 billion and we're starting brand new sections of walls, but we need to have a wall that's about 700 miles to 800 miles of the 2000 mile stretch. We have a lot of natural boundaries. But it's very sad to see it, and sad even for both sides.

It's sad for the people in the caravan and it's sad for the people of the United States. It's really sad. If we don't have laws, let's say, we have a border and if you don't do it legally you can come in to the United States. To me that's a very sad thing for the people of the United States. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.


TRUMP: I will be very good. I have great respect for the Baltic States.


TRUMP: Tremendous people. Tremendous leaders who I've known now for a pretty long period of time. No, we have great respect for the Baltic states. Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.


TRUMP: Thank you very much. We want to be able, if possible, and this is speaking with the Baltic States. Ideally we want to be able to get along with Russia. Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Now, maybe we will and maybe we won't. And probably nobody has been tougher to Russia than Donald Trump. If you take a look at our military strength now which would not have happened, had the opponent one, if you take a look at the oil and gas we're producing now, we're now exporting oil and gas. This is not something that Russia wanted.

If you -- The three presidents just told me that NATO has taken in a tremendous amount of money because of Donald Trump. That would have never happened. So NATO is much stronger. You may want to say that. Would you like to say that, madam president, please?

DALIA GRYBAUSKAITE, PRESIDENT OF LITHUANIA: We talked -- I mean, the -- five minutes ago that for us important the presence and (INAUDIBLE) of the United States and NATO. We expect together for the United States to go ahead with deep reforms of NATO, especially on decision making, on decisiveness, on their denial -- actually, denial which we expect to see from Russia in case of aggression.

[12:50:16] Without the United States, this is not possible. About 80 percent of spending is coming to the United States -- to the NATO from United States. And why the vital laws and vital leadership of the United States for the reforms is important, we are behind and with you. I think that the best alliance you have in Europe and NATO is the Baltic States today.

And we also doing homework (ph), we modernizing armies. We're spending already 2 percent, and together I think we can do a lot and I'm very much looking forward to it to see everybody around the table in presence and go ahead with a better NATO, more resultative NATO and more efficient NATO.

TRUMP: And has Donald Trump made a difference on NATO?

GRYBAUSKAITE: What is that?

TRUMP: This is a very risky question. If she said the same thing what she said in the Oval Office --

GRYBAUSKAITE: I can repeat that it's just a little bit pressure to all of us, all members of NATO, it is better pressure to all political elite who thinks that somebody else needs to protect but not themselves. So the faster you do homework and then you ask for your partner to come with you. And that's exactly what you did. And this kind of leadership is good. We're using it also. I'm open. We're using kids to influence their opinions in other countries that the first we need to invest ourselves. And already then, the partners can come with us.

TRUMP: You think NATO has taken in billions of dollars more because of me. Because I said, you're delinquent. You're not thing. Many of the countries, is that right? Many of the countries sort of thing.

And even now, Germany is paying 1 percent and they're not even paying the full 1 percent. Germany hooks up a pipeline into Russia where Germany is going to be paying billions of dollars for energy into Russia. And I'm saying, what's going on with that? How come Germany is paying vast amounts of money to Russia when they hook up a pipeline? That's not right.

So you look at what's going on. Now so Germany pays 1 percent. The United States is paying close to 4 percent. The United States, as you said is paying 80 percent of the cost of NATO. Do you think that's fair? With all of that being said, because of me and you can speak to the head of NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg, he said that because of what I've said to the countries, they've taken in general I think you confirm this too, many billions of dollars more than they would have if you had crooked Hillary Clinton as president, OK? That I can tell you.

Many billions of dollars more. So, you know, we've been very tough on that, we've been very tough on Russia, frankly. But I will say that if we got along with Russia, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing. It's possible we won't. We're going to find out whether or not we do. But if we could all get along, that would be great. And that includes China, and that includes many other countries. But we'll see what happens.

Only time will tell, but nobody has been tougher on Russia. But getting along with Russia would be a good thing, not a bad thing. And just about everybody agrees to that, except very stupid people, OK?


TRUMP: We'll find out. I'll let you know. I mean, there will be a time when I'll let you know. You're going to find out very quickly and see what happens.


TRUMP: OK, thank you, all.


TRUMP: Thank you. And I have a great respect for the Baltics. I have great respect from my friends. I have known them now for -- right from the beginning of my presidency. These are great, courageous people and have done a fantastic job for their country. So I have great respect for you and for your nations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.

TRUMP: Thank you all, thank you. Thank you.



TRUMP: Well, you take a look at the post office, you take a look at the post office and the post office is losing billions 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. The other thing is a lot of retail businesses all over the country are going out of business, so that's a different problem. And that's a big problem.

You have retailers all over the United States that are going out of business. If you look at some of these small towns where they have a beautiful mainstream with stores, those stores are all gone. So that's a different problem that we're going to have to talk about.

But if you look at the cost that we're giving a subsidy to Amazon, and we're talking about billions of dollars a year, the real cost. And a report just came out.

[12:55:08] They said $1.47, I believe, or about that for every time they deliver a package, the United States government, meaning the post office, loses $1.47. So Amazon is going to have to pay much more money to the post office, there's no doubt about that. Thank you all very much. Thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott Pruitt, sir?

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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks guys. Thanks everyone. We had to go.



KING: Fifteen minutes of questions there. The President of the United States in the White House cabinet room with the three leaders of Baltic nations, a few questions about them specifically. The President beginning by saying he does not want a trade war with China and responding to a question but saying he has to be tough because of the trade deficit ending, with a quasi vote of confidence in the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, saying I hope he'll be great. He's been on the job for more than a year.

In the middle, they are the president have couple of vacation saying no one has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump. That's a headline out of that meeting the people will discuss and debate. Another one I think most interesting in this airing his grievances about the border, he said he is prepared. We're going to protect our border with the military. That's a big step.

Now, we'll have to get the details of what that means. Does that mean the National Guard? Does that mean the United States army? Other military assets? But to hear the President of the United States say that tells us what?

PACE: It tells us that he wants to show some kind of action even if he can't go back to our earlier conversation get anything done on Capitol Hill. I think it will be very interesting to see Secretary Mattis who is sitting next to him is aware of this plan. It has, you know, next steps to move the military to the border.

It certainly would be a bold step by the President. It would show some action on his part for his base. We want him to sharpen border security, whether it would be effective as a policy measure, or not, I'm not sure, and certainly would be temporary at best.

KING: It's interesting to listen to him, forgive me for interrupting. It's just this that it's hard to follow sometimes. He started off by criticizing this caravan. It's been happening for five years. It's an annual event. It's a political statement. It's a publicity, I don't want to call the stunt, but it's a publicity move. These refugees march northward coming toward the United States. They say they deserve refugee status.

The President -- at the beginning said, as they talk, as if they already crossed in the United States then he gave the Mexican government actually credit for breaking it up, just waiting them for moving forward. And then he says he's going to send the military to the border. It's hard to follow sometimes.

KAPUR: There's a really key point here I think to consider, which is that President seems to be calling for a crack down on asylum laws and changing the laws. Right now, the rule say that if you come to the border, if you turn yourself and then surrenders yourself to the authorities, not try to sneak in, you have a right to be heard. If you can show credible fear persecution at home, there's some things like race for the gene (ph) nationality or the you're scaping gangs and bands and you're probably going to be killed, you have a right to be heard if you can.

And that's a judge (ph) of deported. You cannot cover the U.S. for five years. That's been alone the books for a long time. It's been an issue, it's been debated. There is a catch and release policy which he talked about where some people are allowed to come into the country while they wait their court case. On paper he's correct that their general laws and practice doesn't quite work out that way because they're not in backed log (ph). There's a high burden of proof, and you know, a lot of people ultimately just can't get in.

BENDER: And this wouldn't be the first time he sent the military to the border. Mentioned earlier, Obama did in 2010 because of George campaign issues. President W. Bush did it because of illegal immigration back then. As you pointed out, we don't -- didn't really quite hear exactly why President Trump is -- his rationale for sending military to the border now, but what's clear is he's feeling pressure on this issue.

And as tick through the number of issues he's talked about, I just point out we're not even to the news conference yet which you supposed to stand up in front of the media and take a round of questions at 1:30. So, it's getting pretty feisty here and I think the news conference can be interesting.

KUCINICH: And for as much as President Trump likes to ding President Obama for his immigration policy, I think you should talk to his Hispanic activist because they'll you tell that they were really upset with President Obama during his tenure (ph) because they -- and they still refer to him as the deporter in chief. So there is a lot of revisionists in history.

KING: Well, look, there's politics involve and everything but the Republicans have controlled the House since 2011. They've controlled the Senate since 2015. The President was railing (ph) against Democratic laws. He's been President with all Republic in Washington for quite some time.

But interesting perspective as you noted, at 1:35, the President and his three Baltic leaders supposed to take questions from reporters, the White House say they'll be one question from each country. So four questions. They're not a full-fledged news conference. It has been well more than a year since the President of the United States had a full-fledge news conference. It would be nice to have a solo news conference, but don't hold your breath. But again, about 30 minutes from now, we will see the President back in the White House taking some questions.

Hope you can stay with us for now. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. Thanks for spending your time with us. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer, the winner of the CNN Bracket Challenge starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're following --