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Trump Contradicts Himself on Comey Firing; President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Meeting; Did White House Embarrass Nikki Haley?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because the United States has not been properly led on trade. Our people have let us down, whether it's our presidents or our representatives. They have let us down.

So, free, fair and reciprocal. And I think we have all agreed to that. And that (INAUDIBLE) very important. OK?

Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you all.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, I think he's going to come through. I think -- I think Mike Pompeo is extraordinary.

He was number one at West Point. He was top at Harvard. He's a great gentleman. I think he will go down as truly a great secretary of state.

I will say this about Rand Paul. He's never let me down. Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I'm concerned. He's never let me down. And I don't think he will let us down again.

So, let's see what happens. If you remember, he voted for health care, and he did us a big favor. It was somebody else that voted against it that hurt us.

So, I have a lot of confidence in Rand, but I also have a great deal of confidence in Mike Pompeo. I think Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great secretary of states.

And, by the way, he just left North Korea, had a great meeting with Kim Jong-un, and got along with him really well, really great. And he's that kind of a guy. He's very smart, but he gets along with people. So I think that Mike will be in good shape. We will see what happens.

A lot of people are predicting other things, but I have a feeling it's going to work out very well. And I think our country really needs him. He's going to be a great leader.

Thank you very much. (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK, Elise Labott, I have got you now.

Two notes. On,e I was going to ask you about this -- the Pompeo meeting with Kim Jong-un. But I think it's noteworthy. The president is talking about this secret meeting, which his CIA head, who he hopes to be the State Department secretary, goes over to North Korea, meets with Kim Jong-un.

And, of course, as he's been going through this grilling up on Capitol Hill and he needs the confirmation from this committee, may not get because of the votes. And one of the potential no votes is Republican Rand Paul.

And you heard the president there saying, well, he hasn't let me down in the past. So, there's that, number one. But, number two, I'm wondering, with the prime minister of Japan sitting at the table, the news emerges in the last 48 hours that Pompeo pops over to North Korea, I'm wondering if Japan feels at all sidelined.

Have they had any sort of say or would they have any say when Kim is in the room with Trump?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's unpack the Pompeo stuff first, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes.

LABOTT: One of the reasons that Rand Paul said he doesn't want to vote for Mike Pompeo is because a lot of his previous record, which is considered kind of hawkish. And he's worried.

He supported a President Trump that was elected on promising to get the U.S. out of entanglements abroad. Rand Paul is really not interested in kind of U.S. military overseas, was against the Iraq War, is against any kind of military action really.

And so he at the confirmation hearing was saying to Mike Pompeo, I think you're going to be taking Trump away from those instincts and into war. So it's interesting that we're talking about Mike Pompeo going to North Korea and trying to enact diplomacy with North Korea.

This was a man that about a year ago was kind of suggesting maybe there should be regime change in North Korea. So now he's going to be the secretary of state, if confirmed. He will be the top diplomat and the idea that he's the one kind of navigating this, I think what the president was trying to say to Rand Paul is, this is who I want as my top diplomat and I hope you won't let me down.

On the Japan issue, Prime Minister Abe is really one of the leaders who has really formed the closest bond with President Trump and has really found a way to talk to him in a way that President Trump feels comfortable with.

This is not his first time at Mar-a-Lago. And I think it comes a very interesting time in the North Korea issue. The Japanese are very hesitant about this meeting, not only because they have been kind of left out of the loop with South Korea, but they're afraid that the U.S. may make a deal with North Korea at their expense.

So, certainly, they're going to be talking about that. They're going to be talking about trade, but the North Korea issue hangs, looms in the balance. I'm pretty sure that the Japanese did not know about it, or I would expect that it leaked, it would have leaked from the Japanese side.

But they're obviously going to be talking about it. And John Bolton, who met with his Japanese intel counterpart last week, will have a large part in those discussions as well.

[15:05:07]

BALDWIN: Elise Labott, you set me up perfectly for my next conversation. Thank you so very much.

With me now, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, and CNN political commentator Paul Begala, who once served in the Clinton White House.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.

And, Senator, first to you.

You just the president basically just, boom, put the ball back in the court of Rand Paul, saying, he hasn't let me down. What's Rand Paul's volley back?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: I always stammer when I talk about Rand Paul, because he's just a little different than what I'm used to.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Look, I have a lot of respect for him. He cuts his own path.

And so the fact that he hasn't let the president down is frankly quite remarkable to me so far. And maybe he won't let him down again.

I think maybe this whole olive branch and sending Pompeo to North Korea was very much directed at Rand Paul, because this is the kind of thing that Rand Paul would like to see done, which is sort of a de- escalation of hostilities, America playing less of a pronounced role in the world.

And Pompeo, arguably, someone who I agree with very much on foreign policy, has been much more of a hard-liner. I think the fact that Pompeo showed that he has these skills, too, and that he works for the president and not the other way around, hopefully this will be a signal to Paul that this is something he can vote for. BALDWIN: Paul, what do you think about it?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that -- well, first off, I thought Rick could be the secretary of state. That was such a diplomatic answer.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Thank you. Not interested.

BEGALA: OK.

But I do think that there's a real problem. Donald Trump, he calls himself a Republican. He's really a third-party candidate. And he's held together this uneasy coalition with the establishment Republicans.

He ran as a noninterventionist. Elise described it perfectly. Senator Paul represents a lot of folks all across the country really who have that same view, conservatives who believe that we should disengage, as the president promised the other day, we're going to disengage from Syria, and the next day he's lobbing missiles.

It's really hard to know where he's going to land. And I know a lot of noninterventionist conservatives who are very upset by the president hiring John Bolton, who is one of the architects of the Iraq War.

So, this is a really delicate time for the president. And he's going to have to decide, do you want to be in TPP or not? He's had both positions in the last 10 days. Do you want to be in Syria or not? And now we will see if he gets Pompeo. But if he doesn't, it's going to be because of folks like Rand Paul.

BALDWIN: So, there has been all this confirmation drama.

Just, Senator, back over to you. Rand Paul has said no. Obviously, a lot of Democrats are saying no. And I don't know if they will have the numbers. And maybe they will somehow force it to a full floor vote.

Do you think that the notion -- here's the president and Prime Minister Abe down in Mar-a-Lago, and we know this secret meeting happened about a month ago and it gets leaked and it gets out there in the last 24 or so hours.

Do you think that the North Korean meeting was leaked because of all this drama over Pompeo and whether or not he gets the nod?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, I think Pompeo is going to get confirmed, whether he has an up-or-down -- a positive vote in committee. As you know that, doesn't stop the nomination from moving forward. The nomination can still come forward, and I think he will have the votes on the floor to pass.

Mike Pompeo is going to be the next secretary of state. But I understand how the president would like to see a positive vote in committee, and that's something that is important. Whether it was leaked at that, I don't know.

Leaks are so prevalent in this White House, it's hard for me to imagine what people's modus operandi for leaking something like this. But I think the timing was good, from my perspective, if you want to try to properly influence Senator Paul.

BALDWIN: Yes. OK, gentlemen, stand by, because I want to get to James Comey and the president's attack on his former FBI director today.

The president tweeted this, this morning: "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there no collusion, except by the Dems."

But that tweet from this morning totally contradicts what the president said on TV last year. And Comey spoke about the contradiction this morning on "the View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have seen the tweet.

Both of those things can't be true. I actually think that illustrates part of the problem that I'm trying to bring up, that it matters that the president is not committed to the truth as a central American value.

So, I don't know what to make of it.

Look, when he tweets that I should be in jail, my honest reaction is a shrug, like, there's another one of those. But then I stop myself and say, wait a minute, there's danger in my shrug, becoming that means I'm becoming numb to the fact that the president of America is saying that a private citizen should be in jail.

That is not OK, right? That is not normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:10:02]

BALDWIN: All right, let's back up two steps.

Kaitlan Collins is down in Florida here.

And, Kaitlan, I think we should go back to that original sound, when the president sat with NBC's Lester Holt and said one thing, and now this morning he's saying the other.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, the president has essentially debunked his own tweet with his own words, because to take you back to last May, when James Comey was first fired, the White House maintained for roughly 48 hours or so that he was only fired by President Trump because of this memo written by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And that was it. It had nothing to do with the Russia investigation. And then the president threw cold water on that just two days later when during this interview with Lester Holt, he said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But, regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So you see there, in the president's own words, he said, "Regardless of that recommendation, I was going to fire him."

But, Brooke, it's not just that interview clip. Also, the president met with Russians officials in the Oval Office the day after he fired James Comey, and in that meeting, he called James Comey a -- quote -- "nut job" and told those Russian officials that it released great pressure off him to fire him because of the Russia investigation.

So, certainly that there, but it may make you wonder, why is the president bringing this up nearly a year after he fired James Comey? And it's worth remembering that we do know the special counsel Robert Mueller is interviewed in discussing the firing of James Comey and the events surrounding that firing with the president if he ever does interview him -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you.

Paul Begala, Rick Santorum, come on back, because, Senator, this is a president, right, who has said he has one of the greatest memories of all time. Did he forget his own words, or is he hoping that we did?

SANTORUM: Look, I think the president had a lot of reasons to fire James Comey. And that's that's the only thing I can think of that would lead him to say the things that he's said.

But I can't -- I can't defend that the tweet on obvious grounds. I mean, he's definitely contradicted himself. I have said this many times, that the president would do much better if the president tweeted less about these types of personal things and quit -- start focusing more on the policies that he is trying to promote.

He's got a very important meeting today with the Japanese prime minister. We're engaged in a whole host of very other important things he's not talking about.

BALDWIN: Here's the problem. The problem is that the very reason why he fired Comey is precisely what this whole Mueller investigation is looking at when it comes to obstruction of justice, Paul Begala.

BEGALA: Well, absolutely.

And Kaitlan, as always, is spot on. In fact, I looked up the exact quote. This is what our president told our adversaries in Russia in the Oval Office. He said -- quote -- "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off. I'm not under investigation."

He fired Comey to corruptly obstruct justice. That's what Mr. Trump is telling us. That's what he told Lester Holt in that interview that you referred to.

Now, is he going to go back to his original story, which was nonsense, that he fired Comey because Comey was too mean to Hillary? Now, I would have fired Comey for that. What Comey did was outrageous and swung the election to Trump.

Do you think Donald Trump is upset that Jim Comey swung the election to him unethically? Is that really why he fired Comey, or because in fact he was under investigation and he wanted to kill the investigation?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Senator, you have been shaking your head.

SANTORUM: Yes, the president has a right to fire anybody he wants.

That's not obstruction of justice. This idea that the president, by firing somebody, obstructed justice, the president can fire anybody he wants. The investigation continued. The idea that -- it's just blatant on its face he didn't obstruct justice, because things have continued to move forward.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Hang on a second, Senator. Isn't there a difference between firing him based upon the grounds that Rod Rosenstein laid out in a memo and firing him because he wanted this whole Russia thing to go away?

SANTORUM: First off, he can fire him for whatever reason he wants or no reason at all. And that's not obstructing justice.

The fact of the matter is, the president has cooperated with the special counsel.

BALDWIN: Legal experts would disagree.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If the president fires the head of the FBI because he doesn't like his tie or because he was rude to Melania, that's fine.

If he fires him with the intent to stop an investigation, that's obstruction of justice. He does not have the right. He can sign or veto any bill he wants, but if he signs a bill because I give a million bucks to sign it, he can't do that. That's a crime.

[15:15:01]

The president is not above the law. And by his own admission, his intent to fire Comey was to stop the Russia investigation. He told NBC that and he told the Russians that.

SANTORUM: Well, again, I think the president can fire someone for any reason he wants, including because he didn't like the way he was conducting the Russia investigation. I think that's proper.

He thought it was a bogus investigation. He continues to think it's a bogus investigation. If you look at the reality, no collusion has ever been proven or even alleged.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We will leave it up to the investigators, gentlemen. Let's leave it up to the investigators.

Paul Begala, Rick Santorum, thank you so very much.

Let me remind every single one of you that James Comey is sitting down for a interview with Jake Tapper tomorrow. Please don't miss those questions at 4:00 Eastern on "THE LEAD," the tough questions with Jake Tapper.

Coming up next: President Trump confirms a secret meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un. What this highly unusual move means for a potential deal. And we will break down where a meeting between the president and Kim could actually take place around the world.

And we will take you live and up close with this plane engine and show what is believed to have happened in that deadly Southwest emergency landing.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:20]

BALDWIN: The president has just confirmed a secret meeting between CIA director Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, tweeting: "Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for the world, but also for North Korea."

Soon after, though, the White House did have to clarify the meeting actually took place over Easter weekend, not last week. But this is happening as the president whittles down the locations for his own meeting with Kim, while simultaneously floating the idea that there may be a meeting or there may not be a meeting at all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have not picked the site yet, but we picked five sites where it's potentially going to be. We will let you know fairly soon. And let's see what happens.

We will either have a very good meeting or we won't have a good meeting and maybe we won't even have a meeting at all depending on what's going in.

But I think that there's a great chance to solve a world problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, let's go now to rear -- retired Rear Admiral John Kirby now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst.

And, Admiral, just me through potential locations for this meeting.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Sure, let's take a look at that.

He said five locations. He wasn't specifying. We will have to wait and see what it is. We don't know exactly what site, but we can take some educated guesses at what they might be

I think it's important to rule out a couple right at the top. It's probably not going to be here in the U.S., not going to be in North Korea, too politically unviable for either leader to go to the other's home turf.

China and Russia would love nothing better than to mediate a discussion between the U.S. and North Korea, but I don't know that that's going to be real viable either, again, for that reason, that we don't want to give them more influence in helping solve this problem right now.

Likewise, I don't think it's likely that Kim Jong-un is going to want to go to Japan or South Korea. So what does that leave us? Well, it leaves us maybe with the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, and Panmunjom.

These are neutral sites, very, very secure, very close to Pyongyang. So Kim Jong-un wouldn't have to travel very far. And, course them, Panmunjom was the site of the Korean armistice, so certainly an appropriate site for a discussion like this.

But President Moon of South Korea is meeting with Kim Jong-un in a couple weeks in Panmunjom. Not clear that Trump's going to want to sort of duplicate that venue. So we keep our eye on this, but not really sure, Brooke, that that's going to work.

So what else is there? Well, there's neutral sites, third-party sites. There's a lot in Asia in particular. There's Singapore, there's Bangkok. Both countries, both Thailand and Singapore, have diplomatic relations with the U.S. and with North Korea. They have embassies there.

They could easily host this. Take a look at, though, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. The president in Mongolia said, hey, we'd love to have. We're close to Russia. We're close to China. We're a neutral site and pretty accessible by train from Pyongyang.

So I would keep an eye on that in terms of a regional location. But what about Europe? There are lots of places in Europe, too many to name, that could host a meeting of this stature, many sites, many cities that have a long history of diplomatic relations and meetings of this kind.

I would keep an eye on Stockholm. Sweden is the protecting power for the United States. We don't have an embassy in North Korea. They are our protecting power. They take care of consulate activities for us. They helped negotiate the return of Otto Warmbier, the college student that was detained there in North Korea, helped us get him home last summer.

Stockholm might be a real attractive option here, but as you can see there's plenty of others. So if I'm a betting man, Brooke, I would bet on some sort of third-party neutral site either in the region or in Europe.

BALDWIN: All right, I take your bets, Admiral Kirby. Thank you so much.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Good to see you.

KIRBY: You too.

BALDWIN: Moments ago, the U.S. ambassador to U.N., Nikki Haley, told reporters that her relationship with President Trump is in a word perfect, despite a public dispute over whether there would be new sanctions on Russia. We will discuss what could be happening behind the scenes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:36]

BALDWIN: With just eight little words, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, is fighting back and standing up for herself against this White House.

Sunday, Ambassador Haley said that the U.S. would level new sanctions against Russia the very next day for the chemical weapons program in Syria. She said this on the Sunday shows.

"The New York Times" reporting that the president got angry when he was watching and saw those interviews and actually started yelling at his TV. And when those sanctions were never enforced, the White House pointed the finger at Nikki Haley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: She got ahead of the curve. She's done a great job. She's a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And Ambassador Haley fired back -- quote -- With all due respect, I don't get confused."

Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow has also apologized and called Ambassador Haley to say that their plans on sanctions had changed and that she wasn't looped in.

Asked about her relationship with the president just moments ago as she was walking into that Security Council chamber, she said -- quote -- "It's perfect."

With me now, CNN political commentator Andre Bauer. He is the former lieutenant governor of South Carolina and ran against Nikki Haley back in 2010 for the governor's seat.

And so I want to start with just, you know her quite well.

ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Very well.

BALDWIN: Very well.

What -- knowing her, tell me what you think of her --

BAUER: Well --

BALDWIN: -- and then also in the context of what we're talking about.

BAUER: Well, first, so your viewers don't think I'm just somebody that is not getting along with her, for the last three years, I have never said anything bad, as I have been employed with you all for three years.