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Trump: "Insane" Iran Deal "Should've Never" Been Made; Trump Warns Of "Bigger Problems" Than Ever Before If Iran Restarts Nuke Program; Hearing Delayed Indefinitely For Trump's VA Nominee; Whistleblowers Detail Allegations Against Trump's VA Nominee. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Just minutes from now, President Trump faces reporters and reporters' questions as he and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, hold a joint news conference at the White House. But in terms of the president, he's already had a lot to say this morning. A warning for Iran and a scolding for a reporter. We'll get to that in a second.

But also new this morning, it is never good news when your confirmation hearing is postponed, but that's exactly what just happened to President Trump's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Tomorrow's confirmation hearing for Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson postponed indefinitely we find out this morning. Lawmakers pulling the plug amid new allegations of misconduct in the workplace and just after the White House delivered a full-throated endorsement of Jackson.

Let's begin, though, with the state visit and what we just heard from President Trump. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, President Trump right out of the gate, during what was just a photo-op with Emmanuel Macron, issues a warning to Iran. What did he say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Kate, it was a stunning moment there in the oval office, President Trump was seated next to President Macron, of course, they're just now getting down to business, they had a big arrival ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance.

And, of course, on the agenda for them to discuss is the Iran deal. Now, President Macron, part of his mission while he's here today, is to convince President Trump to have the United States stay in that deal, but things do not look good for that prospect, based upon what we just heard from President Trump here in the oval office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're going to be talking about it. We'll see. People know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. Should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or reasonable deal. The Iran deal is a terrible deal.

We'll find out. You'll find out about that. It won't be so easy for them to restart. They're not going to be restarting anything. They restarted, they'll have big problems, bigger than they ever had before and you can mark it down. They restart their nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.


COLLINS: So, you see there, Kate, of course, the president was asked a question by ABC News' John Carl about if the United States does pull out of the Iran deal and Iran does restart their nuclear program and the president issuing a threat, saying there will be a big price to pay.

But Kate, that wasn't the only thing that caught the president's attention as the reporters were asking questions. Generally, in these settings, they're making these introductory statements before they get started with their bilateral meetings.

But the president was asked again by a reporter if he was considering a pardon for his longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, of course, that is something that has been in debate lately with the president's legal team.

Saying that they believe that Michael Cohen could end up cooperating with the federal officials who were investigating him for his business dealings, some which have to do with President Trump.

But this was President Trump's answer just there, sitting next to another world leader, when asked if he was going to consider a pardon for Cohen.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Stupid question.


COLLINS: So, you see his face there, Kate, he was clearly quite irritated by that question. He said it was a stupid question to ask if he's considering pardoning Michael Cohen. Now it is unclear if it is a stupid question because it is obvious that he would pardon Michael Cohen, or it is so obvious that he would not consider so. He did not clear that up for us there -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Or maybe he just didn't feel like talking about it right then and that is how he reacted. The president very fired up this morning, now you definitely don't want to miss the press conference when they're going to be speaking later this hour. Kaitlan, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Let's discuss this, Tony Blinken is here, CNN global affairs analyst, former deputy secretary of state under President Obama. Tony, we had a lot to talk about before the president spoke just now. I want to get your take on what you heard from the president on the Iran deal.

Mark it down, he says, if they try to restart their -- if they restart their nuclear program, they're going to have bigger problems than they have ever had before. It had the feeling of when the president talked about fire and fury and his message to North Korea a while back.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I got to tell you, Kate, my takeaway is the president just made the case for sticking with the deal. He said if they restart their program. That says rightly and implies rightly that they stopped it. That's exactly what the deal did.

Why he would want to throw out the deal and give the hardliners a rational in Iran for restarting it and heading us to a crisis either with our allies who may want to stick with the deal or with Iran if it really does move full force forward with its nuclear program.

It makes absolutely no sense. The only thing we succeed in doing effectively in terms of meeting the threat posed by Iran is the nuclear deal. So, throwing that out makes no sense and the president acknowledged that it is working by definition. It stopped their program and the last thing we want is for them to restart it.

BOLDUAN: So, the president is facing obviously a very big decision coming up next month, early next month, if he will recertify that Iran is keeping with the agreement. He's sitting right there with Emmanuel Macron in that room and we know Emmanuel Macron's position, he wants the president to stay in the deal.

[11:05:08] And the president says it is a disaster. It is the worst deal that they could have put together. Emmanuel Macron, France is part of the deal, they agreed with this deal. It was pretty -- it was also pretty amazing of a moment.

BLINKEN: Well, you know, we ourselves have repeatedly -- our intelligence agencies as well as the international group that is monitoring the deal have repeatedly said that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal.

And we now have more visibility, more transparency, more inspections on Iran's program than we have any nuclear agreement anywhere in the world in the past. So, this is manifestly a good thing for us. No deal is perfect by definition. You're negotiating, you compromise a little bit.

But it took one big problem off the table far into the future. The French recognize that. Macron said something very powerful in the leadup to this meeting. He said, look, if you want to throw out this deal, tell me, what is your Plan B? There is no Plan B.

BOLDUAN: You know what, let's play that for -- for our viewers, I wanted to ask you about that. Here is Emmanuel Macron speaking to Fox earlier. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, FRANCE: What do you have? I don't see it. What is a what if scenario or your Plan B? I don't have a Plan B for nuclear against Iran. So that's the question we will discuss that, that's why I just want to say on nuclear, let's preserve the framework because it is better than sort of North Korean type.


BOLDUAN: Tony, do you think that Emmanuel Macron is the guy who can convince the president to stay with the deal?

BLINKEN: Well, two things, Kate. One, he's exactly right. There is no Plan B. And, you know, heading into this potential negotiation with North Korea, the last thing the president should want to do is throw out the Iran deal and send a message to Kim Jong-un that the United States is not good to its word.

Why would the North Koreans negotiate anything with us if they think we can't be trusted? Macron is right on the substance of the Iran deal and right to hint at the problems the president may face with the North Korean negotiation if there is one.

Macron is trying to turn himself into the Trump whisperer. We'll find out if he has some success in doing that with the Iran deal. He has been effective. You know, he had the president come to France, celebrated him with making him the guest of honor at the Bastille Day Parade.

As a result, we may not get a parade in Washington, the president was so impressed by it. By the way, I'm really glad that he didn't get an invitation, the president, to the royal wedding. I was afraid he would go and come back and say he wants one of those too.

But right now, the challenge for Macron is to see if he can convince the president that it is worth staying in this deal, Europe is going to do more to crack down on Iranian misbehavior to deal more effectively with missile testing, but the price for that should be sticking with the deal.

Merkel then comes a few days later, she'll have the same message. Whether that's enough to keep the president on the straight and narrow remains to be seen.

BOLDUAN: We will see. There is a big moment coming later this hour. Both presidents will be facing reporters at the joint press conference. Let's see what President Trump says, after this one meeting and many more conversations they're going to be having during this all-important state visit. Tony, thank you so much for coming in. I appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, when the president faces reporters, he may also face questions about the other major drama unfolding over his handpicked choice to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. The man that President Trump nominated to lead that massive agency is Dr. Ronny Jackson.

His nomination is now in something of a holding pattern as both Democrats and Republicans say they want to look into allegations of misconduct that they just became aware of from Ronny Jackson in the workplace.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill. He's been following all of this. It has been moving fast this morning, Ryan. What do we know?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. That's a good way to put it. At this point, Ronny Jackson's nomination as the secretary of Veterans Affairs is not dead yet, but it is on life support. This after Johnny Isakson, who is the chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee, announced this morning that they're going to delay a hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday, so that they can look into these allegations that have come up about his past.

Not only his past in terms of military service his behavior in the workplace, some other pretty serious accusations that have come out in press reports against Ronny Jackson. Listen to what Senator Isakson had to say about this process this morning.


SENATOR JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), CHAIRMAN, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: We're going to have a hearing at some time in the future.


ISAKSON: We need time to get some more information.

RAJU: Are you concerned that the White House is not doing adequate job of vetting this nominee?

ISAKSON: I'm concerned that the press is making up far too many stories that aren't true before we have a chance to have a meeting. Mr. Jackson and myself and Senator Tester and everybody in Congress needs to take a deep breath, give the man a chance to be heard, give us a chance to ask the questions. And as chairman I'm going to see to it that information comes to my attention that ought to be vetted, it is vetted in the appropriate way.


NOBLES: So what Senator Isakson wants to do is actually look into these allegations and he actually told us pretty forcefully that he believes many of these reports in the press are simply not true.

[11:10:07] And he went on to say that he does not want Ronny Jackson to withdraw his nomination, he wants him to go through this process. And to that end, both Senator Isakson and Senator Tester sent a letter to the White House, they're asking for all documentation and correspondence related to Ronny Jackson's service in the military, not only as a military doctor, but also any information that the White House uncovered during their vetting process of Ronny Jackson.

And Kate, that might be part of the problem for the White House because there are many on Capitol Hill that are concerned that he just was not vetted carefully enough. This was someone who the president grew to like quite a bit during his annual physical.

He was very impressed by his performance in the White House press room when he talked about the president's overall health and the president took a shine to him and decided he wanted him to become the next secretary of Veterans Affairs.

And the White House still believes in Ronny Jackson, put out a statement in support of him this morning, but right now he still faces a pretty rocky confirmation process if he hopes to become the next secretary of Veterans Affairs.

BOLDUAN: And just very simply, more questions than answers for the second largest bureaucracy that he would be heading up. That is a huge job that he would be taking on and right for senators to be asking the questions now. Can't do anything about it after the fact.

Also, this, when we're talking about the president's inner circle, Ryan, there is the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, he's also facing continued trouble over ethics violations. The White House stood by him, really strongly, until now though. It seems things are changing. What are you hearing?

NOBLES: Yes, you know, from the very beginning of this -- what has really become an avalanche of negative stories about Scott Pruitt and his past, and his interactions as EPA administrator, the White House has always stuck by him. The president in particular has always stuck by him.

But yesterday, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was specifically asked about this latest round of allegations about his past. And she said that the White House now needs to look into them and then decide whether or not it is something that they need to act upon.

Now she did follow that up by saying that the president believes that Scott Pruitt is doing a very good job as the administrator of the EPA. And there are also many people that believe that the president just has a personal affection for Scott Pruitt. He likes him, he likes he is, you know, carrying out his agenda in that job as EPA administrator.

So even though it does look as though he is in some trouble, the White House maybe not fully embracing him as they once did, at this point still in that job, and there are no signs he's going anywhere.

BOLDUAN: All right, with all of this, as we have to say, stand by to stand by. Still many more minutes of this show to have it all changed. Thanks, Ryan.

So, for more on this, let me bring in right now, Chris Cilizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large. Chris, what is going on here with Ronny Jackson?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Nothing good from the White House's perspective, Kate. I think -- and Ryan mentioned this, Donald Trump is someone who very much embraces his gut instincts, his seat of the pants decision-making. He likes Ronny Jackson. They have a personal relationship.

I think he liked how Ronny Jackson did in that press conference where he talked about Donald Trump's health, said if he got on a little bit better diet, he might live until he is 200. That's all music to Donald Trump's ears and so he picked him.

I don't think Ronny Jackson was vetted. Remember, being the White House physician, President Obama named him the White House physician in 2013, that's different than heading the VA, second largest bureaucracy in the government.

There are already concerns among Democrats, yes, but also Republicans, about Ronny Jackson's sort of ability for the job based on his past. And now I think -- you don't delay a confirmation hearing for nothing.

BOLDUAN: Johnny Isakson, though, seems to be giving him the benefit of the doubt. It is all -- it sounds like this is really just coming at the senators, they're really just -- that also leads me to wonder, was -- did the White House have no inkling about it or they didn't -- they didn't care about it? The allegations against him, which it is not -- it has not become clear exactly what all the allegations are.

CILIZZA: That's a very good question. I'll remind you that we had incidents, Johnny McIntee, White House aide to President Trump, obviously Rob Porter, we have had situations where people working in close proximity to the president of the United States seemed to have issues in their background that you would think would have disqualified them on the front end and didn't.

Now, that doesn't directly answer your question, Kate, which is how much did they know if anything. But I wouldn't say, well, just because he's the White House physician, I wouldn't say that means the White House was aware necessarily of some of these allegations because if past is prologue, they might not have been.

BOLDUAN: We'll see. Thanks, Chris. Great to see you.

CILIZZA: Thank you, Kate.

[11:15:06] BOLDUAN: Coming up, we'll hear live from President Trump answering reporters' questions in a news conference with the French president. That's coming up this hour, and it comes just moments after -- you heard that stark warning that he issued to Iran over the nuclear deal. What more will the president say?

Plus, stunning video from that deadly van attack in Toronto that we're getting in. The suspect in the standoff with -- in a standoff with police and caught on camera. It is what the officer does not do that is making headlines today. Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: All right, breaking news right now, we are getting in new details about the allegations we were just discussing that has led to delaying the confirmation hearing of Donald Trump's nominee to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Ronny Jackson.

CNN Politics senior writer, Juana Summers, just spoke with two White House medical staffers. Is that right, Juana? What are you hearing right now?

[11:20:03] JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Kate, I've spoken with two former White House medical unit staffers and right now the members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee are reviewing allegations from these whistleblowers that under Ronny Jackson, the White House Medical Unit, was a toxic work environment.

They've also told the committee, they tell me about excessive drinking by Ronny Jackson, who's the president's nominee to be the next leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both sources tell me they observed this behavior while working at the White House unit. They're no longer there.

Lawmakers who have spoken with CNN have express concerns that this is a pattern of behavior and not just one or two isolated incidents. My colleagues on Capitol Hill are also hearing from individuals with different allegations regarding the handling of prescriptions by the White House Medical Unit as well as an additional workplace survey that was done because of issues in the White House Medical Unit under Jackson's leadership.

Now, these accusations have already rolled the plans for Jackson's confirmation hearing. He was supposed to be on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, that has been delayed according to leaders of the committee. However, it is really important to note that the committee is still in the process of figuring out whether or not there is truth to the allegations.

They have yet to substantiate them. There is little to no documentation so far, but certainly adding to new questions about a nominee to lead this agency that was already facing questions from a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about whether he had the right management experience to lead this significantly large agency.

BOLDUAN: And Juana, real quick, the medical unit staffers that you spoke with, are they in communication with the committee?

SUMMERS: Yes, they told me that two of them have told me that they have spoken with the committee. I spoke with them by phone over the last few days and again, they're expressing that there is concern over a toxic workplace under Jackson as well as excessive drinking.

BOLDUAN: Gosh, Juana, thank you very much. Some details flushing out of what Johnny Isakson and John Tester say they have questions about right now and why we're seeing the delay in confirmation hearing. Let's discuss this. Juana, thank you so much. Joining me right now, Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. He sits on the Environmental Committee as well as Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, we're just getting this in from Juana Summers, some of the details -- some of the details about Ronny Jackson, the allegations of misconduct now about Ronny Jackson and the details of what this is all about. What is your reaction to this?

SENATOR ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, my reaction is that the president clearly named him as the nominee to run the VA almost on a personal impulse. He likes him. He thinks he can run the entire VA. But clearly there was no comprehensive vetting of him for this job.

Not only in terms of his competence as a manager of an institution that has responsibility to provide benefits, medical benefits to the families of every veteran in our country, but also his own personal temperament and behavior.

So now, it comes to Congress to actually have to do the vetting that ordinarily is done by an administration, and clearly enough information has already surfaced that is calling for a time-out while more information on a comprehensive basis can be gathered about him in his suitability for this critically important job to protect all American families.

BOLDUAN: Senator, do you hear enough though that you think he is -- you do not think he's fit to be VA secretary?

MARKEY: Again, I think that the committee is taking the right posture on this issue. It is saying, let's stop, let's learn more, let's listen to people, let's hear from the whistle-blowers. Let's do a more detailed analysis of his background both professionally and personally and then we can make a decision.

But I think that there are troubling signs that have already emerged. And I think on a bipartisan basis Democrats and Republicans are saying let's stop, let's learn more, this is too critical an institution, that is already in need of serious help in order to make sure that the veterans of our country received the services they deserve.

BOLDUAN: And that pause is happening as we speak on a bipartisan basis. Let's see how that plays out. I want to ask you what we also just heard earlier from President Trump. He's meeting with the French president right now. The Iran deal was always going to be a very big topic of conversation between the two leaders.

But President Trump issued a warning to Iran during their photo-op when they were having their first -- having -- sitting down for their first sit-down meeting. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're going to be talking about it. We'll see. People know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. Should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or reasonable deal. The Iran deal is a terrible deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iranians say they will restart their nuclear program.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We'll find out. You'll find out about that. It won't be so easy for them to restart. They won't be restarting anything. They restart it, they'll have big problems, bigger than they have ever had before, and you can mark it down. They restart the nuclear program, they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.


[11:25:12] BOLDUAN: Senator, what is your reaction to that?

MARKEY: Well, my reaction is that the Iran nuclear deal is working. It has rolled back the Iranian nuclear program. It is under full scope monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that agency says that Iran is in full compliance with the agreement.

And if the president has problems with other aspects of Iran conduct, ballistic missiles, human rights, adventurism in other countries in the Middle East, he already has authority to sanction Iran or Russia or anyone which is partnering with Iran or he can come to contact and ask for additional legal authority to do that.

But it is hard to understand a strategy that would burn down the house in order to remodel the kitchen. If he feels there are some problems with Iran, bring those problems to us, and we will try to work with him on a bipartisan basis to deal with those issues. But the deal itself is working, it is monitored, it has rolled back the Iranian program.

BOLDUAN: Emmanuel Macron has said, as he was heading into all of this, he wants to convince Donald Trump to stay in the deal. Do you think that the French president can do that?

MARKEY: Well, my hope is that Macron and later on this week, Merkel, along with other countries persuade Donald Trump. It makes sense to stay in agreement that has already been negotiated and is being monitored very closely by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I think if we look at a president that pulls out of the Paris climate accord, pulls out of an Iranian agreement and seeks to cut deals, for example, with North Korea, on their nuclear program, there won't be any credibility that the United States stands by the deals which it has already made.

If the president wants to begin a process to deal with other problems, then let's all work on that. But these central issues that got resolved on an international basis are right now working. And he is destroying America's credibility to be the leader and not the laggard on international policy if he continues to pursue this course.

That's why I'm hopeful that Macron and Merkel will be able to persuade him to stay inside of this agreement.

BOLDUAN: A huge task ahead of them. Let's see what happens just today, get through today. I want to ask you real quickly about yesterday. A funny thing happened in committee. Kind gesture which seems such a rarity these days, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, he couldn't be at the vote for the secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo because he was a funeral of his very best friend.

The vote was tied. The committee would need to wait until 11:00 p.m. or midnight to get Isakson to fly back and then cast his vote in support of Mike Pompeo. With the outcome certain, but just very much delayed, Democratic Senator Chris Coons offered to vote yes. What did you think of that gesture in committee?

MARKEY: That's typical of Chris Coons. It was a courtesy gesture to Johnny Isakson and to the committee rather than reconvening last night at 11:15, which was the other alternative. Instead there was an ability -- on a bipartisan basis, in the Foreign Relations Committee to find a resolution of it that was respectful, especially of Johnny Isakson and his need to deliver the eulogy for his best friend at his funeral.

BOLDUAN: But Senator, it seems like such a rarity that these kind gestures happen, maybe at least in public. That Bob Corker the chair of the committee, he was visibly moved afterward. Just for viewers if they haven't had a chance to see it, I want to play for you Bob Corker after the committee meeting and Chris Coons explaining his reasoning why he did it for Johnny Isakson. Please join me and listen.


SENATOR BOB CORKER (R-TN), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: I particularly want to thank Senator Coons for displaying the statesmanship that I've been accustomed to seeing in the Senate. Senators at the right time can do outstanding things.

SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D-DL), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: When my father died, a Republican senator who I did not know well came up to me on the floor and said if you need to miss the next vote, I'll pair with you, I'll vote, I'll either leave or vote the way you would have voted so it doesn't change the outcome. That meant a great deal to me. So, every now and then we should find our way toward each other in ways like this.


BOLDUAN: Really was an amazing gesture. What do you think moved Senator Corker so much, though?

MARKEY: I think it was probably the combination of the fact that Senator Isakson was delivering a eulogy at a funeral and --