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Trump and Macron to Talk Iran Deal, Troops in Syria; Confirmation Hearing for Trump's VA Pick Delayed Indefinitely; Suspect in Toronto Van Attack Appears in Court. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, the French leader sometimes called Trump whisper will put his skills to test on issues ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate accord, to the war in Syria, as well as U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum. We just got a glimpse of what President Macron might be trying to do, the mind games he might be trying to play with President Trump and his opening remarks.

Our Kaitlan Collins at the White House, very interesting remarks from Macron, pointing out some differences between the two countries.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, John. Pretty much sums up this entire state visit is going to be about. There is a lot of pomp, a lot of circumstance, a lot of talk about where these two leaders agree. Of course, they both brought up that joint air strike on Syria recently in response to that chemical attack, but then we're also seeing the differences between President Trump and President Macron as well. Of course, during his remarks, just now here a few minutes ago, on the south lawn, during this very -- certainly a lot of pomp and this arrival ceremony. President Macron was talking about nationalism and climate change, very against nationalism, of course, speaking about climate change saying that it is a real threat. Of course, those are two things he and President Trump do agree on. And that is really what the rest of today is going to be about.

They just had this very big arrival ceremony, a lot to do going on, but now they're going to go into the Oval Office and into the cabinet room and have these bilateral meetings where they get down to business and they talk about the issues that they're here to discuss, John. Of course, on the agenda here is the Iran deal, President Macron is trying to convince President Trump to stay in that deal, something that seems incredibly like a long shot that he's going to be able to convince him to do so. But that as well as the steel tariffs of the president recently imposed. Of course, the Paris climate accords, is something they're going to be discussing as well.

And then they're going to hold a joint press conference here later on today around lunch here at the White House in the East Room where they're going to take questions on those very issues. They're going to be asked what kind of agreement they came to, if they had any disagreements about that. And then later on tonight, they'll get back into the more traditional things that a company, a state visit -- a big state dinner here tonight, of course at the White House, where they're going to have about a hundred or so guests with them and the first ladies. That will be a lot of focus on first lady Melania Trump. But right now, John, they are going to be discussing the issues that they're here to discuss.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us. Kaitlan, thank you very much. Guys, Kaitlan noted there is a formal press conference scheduled for a couple of hours from now. But very shortly we will see the two leaders inside the Oval Office and sometimes President Trump can't help himself but answer questions from reporters. So we could get some very interesting exchanges just moments from now.

In the meantime, just in to CNN, the confirmation hearing for President Trump's pick to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, the confirmation hearing has been delayed indefinitely. This, as lawmakers are looking to a series of allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson, that involve, we're told, improper conduct and various stages of his career. Specifics about the allegations are not at all clear at this point. One Republican senator has called them devastating if true.

Our Ryan Nobles live on Capitol Hill with where things stand. Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, right now things are on hold for Ronny Jackson and his confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. We just heard from Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana. They're the two ranking members on the Veterans Committee and they came out and told us that they're going to put this hearing on hold for now, so that they can take some time to look into these allegations against Jackson.

And Johnny Isakson in particular is a Republican. He said that he doesn't necessarily believe some of these allegations that are coming out about a hostile workplace environment that Jackson perhaps presided over at different points in his career. There is also some talk about alcohol use and things of that nature. And Isakson said he wants Jackson to have the full opportunity to respond to some of these claims and he frankly believes that many of them are not true.

Take a listen to what Jackson and Tester had to say just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: We've had a good meeting. We're going to release in just a second a joint statement and a letter that we're sending out that will speak for me and I think for will speak for John. And we're going to have a hearing at some time in the future, but not Wednesday.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why not Wednesday?

ISAKSON: We need some time to get some more information.

RAJU: Are you concerned (INAUDIBLE)?

ISAKSON: I'm concerned that the press is making up far too many stories that aren't true before we even get a chance to have a meeting. So, Mr. Jackson and myself are concerned. We need to take a deep breath, give the man a chance to be heard, let's give us a chance to ask questions that need to be asked. As a chairman, I'm going to see to it the information comes to my attention that ought to be vetted. It is vetted in the appropriate way and the appropriate order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So as you can hear there, Senator Isakson wants to hear about these allegations, but he made it clear in that conversation that he doesn't necessarily believe some of them.

[10:05:01] And he also said specifically that he does not want Jackson to withdraw his nomination. That could be in part because the White House has doubled down on their support for Ronny Jackson.

Hogan Gidley, White House press secretary - deputy press secretary, issuing this statement earlier this morning saying, quote, "Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country. He's served as the physician to three presidents, Republican and Democrat, and been praised by all of them. Admiral Jackson's record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what's needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve."

So even though things look rocky for Ronny Jackson right now, it appears that the White House is not ready to back away from his nomination and it appears that Johnny Isakson, who's the senator that has the most in terms of influence as to whether or not this confirmation goes forward is going to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him a few days to explain his side of the story and if this hearing ever takes place, that's when we'll know whether or not Republicans in the Senate are prepared to push forward and ultimately confirm him to this post. But, John, he's got a long way to go at this point.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Joining me from Capitol Hill as well, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Senator Cardin, thanks so much for being with us. We're just getting this news that the hearing for Dr. Jackson delayed indefinitely. Do you have any sense of what the specific concerns are about his record and resume?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: First, it is good to be with you. I think that information has come to light from the committee -- to the committee. They don't know whether that information is accurate or not. They want to be able to vet that information and have the nominee answer these questions. So I think that's a normal process during the vetting process. We know that President Trump doesn't always have the deepest vetting procedures before he makes the nomination. So it is a responsibility of the United States Senate to make sure that all nominees are properly vetted.

BERMAN: As far as we know, Dr. Jackson really hadn't been vetted at all. That's our reporting in this case. President Trump very much liked and admired the admiral, by the way, who was well liked within the Obama White House as well, not just by President Obama by the White House staff who looked to him often for medical advice. Yet you brought up the fact that things have come to light that have caused concern for some committee members. Do you know what these are and do they cause concern for you?

CARDIN: No, I only know what has been reported about the conditions in the workplace. So I think we need to get the facts before we respond to it. But you're correct, not only was this nominee not vetted by President Trump, it is a nontraditional route to become the head of the veterans administration. So I think all that raises serious concerns that the Congressional nomination process really carries much greater weight.

BERMAN: Something very unusual happened in one of your committees overnight, the Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs Committee and that was the committee did approve, did pass on the nomination of Mike Pompeo to become Secretary of State, but not without some drama. It required Chris Coons of Delaware to vote present because Republican Senator Johnny Isakson couldn't make it there. It is seen by many as an act of bipartisanship. I'm wondering if you can reflect on that moment overnight.

CARDIN: I think it is an act of courtesy. Our committee does try to work in a bipartisan manner and I think the reputation of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is that we do that. But the circumstances were such that the majority of the committee supported Mr. Pompeo, I did not. And that nomination now is going to the floor of the United States Senate.

BERMAN: Where you will once again vote against it, sir, correct?

CARDIN: That's correct. I believe our Secretary of State needs to be the top diplomat in our country, always recognizing that we should use diplomacy certainly before we use military. And Mr. Pompeo's record on Iran, the record in regard to the Paris climate talks, gives me grave concern as to whether he can carry out that responsibility.

BERMAN: On the subject of Iran, very much at the top of the meetings between the French Leader Emmanuel Macron and President Trump, we just watched the arrival of President Macron at the White House and their opening remarks and we do expect the French leader to push President Trump on the Iran deal to get the United States to stay in. Do you have any hopes that the French leader will be successful?

CARDIN: You know, I've talked to representatives of France on this issue, they have been in my office, I've been to France, Paris, to talk in regards to the Iran agreements. I know how strongly they feel. But I also know how the president feels. I do hope at the end of the day that the United States is working with France and working with our European allies together in regard to Iran. We don't want to isolate the United States. Iran is the actor, the bad actor. They're the ones that we need to concentrate our attention to.

[10:10:03] They still do things that are unacceptable, particularly as it relates to supporting terrorism and human rights records. And I would hope that we could come to unity with France and other European allies as to how to deal with Iran, but not for the United States to be the one that violates the Iran nuclear agreement.

BERMAN: So you brought up the issue of support of terrorism there. There is also the issue of Iran conducting missile tests. Would you support -- could you support side deals on missile testing, side deals on support for terrorism or side deals on the sunset provisions for the nuclear deal, could you support those to try to keep the overall framework of the nuclear deal in place?

CARDIN: Not only support taking action against Iran for their nonnuclear violations, Congress has authorized new sanctions that the president has not used to take action against Iran for its support of terrorism and its ballistic missile violation and its human rights violations. As it relates to the sunset, there is no sunset in Iran nuclear agreement on Iran's commitment to not become a nuclear weapons state. So it is right for the parties to this agreement and the international community to say, we want to make sure that you comply with the underlying agreement, even past sunset. That's acceptable. But for us to try to modify the agreement unilaterally, that I think is going too far.

BERMAN: And I think that's one of the issues that the French Leader Emmanuel Macron has as well.

CNN reported overnight, senator. That President Trump has begun using his personal cell phone much more to communicate with friends and allies. Is there anything about this that concerns you?

CARDIN: Donald Trump's the president of the United States. Everything he does is consequential. So when he decides to go out of the norm and do things that don't have the same protections using a personal cell phone, all that would have concern to me. He certainly is entitled to communicate. He's certainly entitled to use cell phones, but I would hope that he recognizes that when he uses -- when he communicates. He's communicating not as Donald Trump, but as the president of the United States.

BERMAN: Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you so much for being with us this day.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, coming up, sources telling CNN new information about the driver of the man who plowed that van into the sidewalk in Toronto. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:33] BERMAN: Moments ago, we learned that the confirmation hearing for President Trump's nominee to be secretary of Veterans Affairs has been delayed indefinitely.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Symone Sanders. Doug, we're talking about Dr. Ronny Jackson, just elevated to admiral, the White House -- chief White House physician, the circumstances and the stories emerging from Capitol Hill a little murky here. Is this an issue of Dr. Jackson or is this an issue of the White House really doing no vetting at all?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think neither of those are mutually exclusive because of how this is all played out. Having a hearing delayed for a nominee in this circumstance is really something that is unheard of. And it is part of why even Trump supporters sometimes feel that we always have a -- there is always a best of times, worst of times with the Trump White House. The Jackson nomination being -- the hearing being delayed, being the worst of times, having Pompeo move over for Trump supporters, the best of times. These two things happening at once make it hard to really deliver a cohesive message on the administration moving forward on those priorities and those policy priorities that it really hopes to do so on.

BERMAN: You know, Symone, we're now, what, a year and four or five months into the administration. The processes at this point should be in place to run things, to run the government more smoothly. Yet you see this next example of something that should be a fairly simple process running into a speed bump.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. You know, the question that I have, John, I think the others are asking is if they did not vet Dr. Jackson, who else has been put forth before the American people or currently serves in the White House at this point who was also not vetted. We have seen many instances of folks actually working in the actual White House, and the media uncovers something, whether it is the former staff secretary, who was found to have been a serial domestic abuser. There are many folks in the White House that do not currently have security clearances.

When it comes to nominating secretaries, this is a process that, you know, the Trump administration doesn't have to reinvent the wheel here. This has been happening long before Donald Trump got into office. This is -- there is a format here that should be followed and it is just clear the Trump administration decided to cut corners and now this is where we are today.

BERMAN: Just a button on the issue of Dr. Jackson, Doug. In your experience on Capitol Hill, it is vast there, delaying indefinitely, you know, that almost always means done, doesn't it?

HEYE: It always means done. And what we don't know yet is, we know that the nomination hasn't actually been pulled. So what we don't know is while we say right now it is delayed indefinitely, if they come out later today and say, OK, we're moving it back two or three days that may assuage the situation, but that rarely happens in American politics. Once something gets delayed, it usually means that it's going to be canceled and there are reasons for that and there are ramifications for that.

BERMAN: We should note the White House is standing by, Dr. Jackson, as of this morning, putting out a strong statement of support saying he's the absolute right pick to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, another cabinet official, Symone, in the spotlight, very much not just Democrats criticizing him now. We're talking about Scott Pruitt, who was the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency right now. There are more Republicans coming out, saying that there should be hearings about some of the issues surrounding Director Pruitt.

Let me read you just a brief summary of some of them, you know the $43,000 he spent in a soundproof booth for the EPA, the 24 hour security detail, the travel expenses, the controversy over where he was living and the rent he was paying, the raises he gave to close aides.

[10:20:09] And "The New York Times" report that just came out about his Oklahoma politics and real estate purchases during the years there. Is this enough, do you think, at this point, to put his job in jeopardy, Symone?

SANDERS: I would like to say yes under regular circumstances, John. But unfortunately what we have seen is that many -- folks that are associated with this administration -- can do a laundry list of things that in any other administration would be deemed unacceptable and a fire ball offense and they're still there. So, I think that if the scrutiny on both sides of the aisle for the EPA administrator gets a little bit louder and if you see more Republicans crossing the aisle and criticizing the administrator and in fact, calling for his resignation, we could possibly see him step down. This is just not normal, though, John. I can't say it enough. It is not normal.

BERMAN: The difference between Scott Pruitt and maybe some other cabinet secretaries who have run into trouble, Doug, is that the president and the administration really, really likes the job he's done as EPA administrator. Nevertheless, Bloomberg reporting overnight, you almost never this, Bloomberg reporting overnight that the White House sending out signals to Republican lawmakers, maybe you need to sort of dial back your defense of Scott Pruitt. That was interesting.

HEYE: Yes, you don't hear that very often. One of the jobs that I used to have when I first started working on Capitol Hill was running communications for the House Resources Committee that deals with a lot of the environmental policy coming from EPA and Interior. There is so much that Scott Pruitt and his team are doing at Interior that I love, and that I want to be able to talk about.

But when we find that we talk about the politician, not the policy, it is always a bad thing. That's true of Democrats, true of Republicans. And it is why we see so many days of the week where we talk about this politician or that politician or cabinet official and we're not focusing on the actual job that they're doing, because these things always get in the way. It is the definition of the word distraction.

BERMAN: Has this crossed a line in your mind -- Pruitt?

Hang on, one second. Just quickly, Doug, has this crossed the line?

HEYE: I think we're getting there. If they can stop the bleeding, then you can move forward. But as long as there is still bleeding, you have a problem that is not going to go away. BERMAN: Symone, sorry, didn't mean to cut you off.

SANDERS: No worries. I think there is plenty -- to Doug's point, there's plenty to talk about happening inside the EPA right now. They have rolled back a number of regulations. I will say there are some good things happening. But, you know, we should never forget that Administrator Pruitt did -- was a lobbyist and someone that advocated and brought -- against the Environmental Protection Agency prior to him being installed as the EPA administrator. And so, he didn't need to have this kerfuffle of misuse of funds and all the exorbitant spending that is happening. We could have merely had a conversation and could be critical just on the policies. But then again, we have unforced errors of folks that are creating problems for themselves. No one did this but Administrator Pruitt.

BERMAN: We'll see how it goes. Scott Pruitt with a history as a lawmaker in Oklahoma, attorney general of that state but an ally, no doubt of the energy industry during that time. Doug Heye, Symone Sanders, thanks very much for being with us.

HEYE: Thank you.

BERMAN; He is accused of deliberately running down dozens of innocent people. Now the suspect in the deadly van attack in Toronto making his first appearance in court. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:47] BERMAN: The man accused of deliberately mowing down pedestrians in Toronto appeared in court moments ago and was charged with 10 counts of premeditated murder. 10 people are dead, 15 more injured. 30 minutes after the attack, there was this dramatic scene as a police officer faced off with the suspect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Come on, get down!

UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECT: Kill me!

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: No, get down!

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Get down!

UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECT: I have a gun in my pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: I don't care, get down!

UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECT: I have a gun in my pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Get down!

Get down or you're going to get shot.

UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECT: Shoot me in the head!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The officer did not shoot and moments later the suspect was arrested.

Our Alex Marquardt in Toronto. Alex, what's the latest? What have you learned?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL -CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, really the latest are those counts of premeditated murder. We were waiting all morning for the suspect to appear in court. We understand that that hearing is over. 10 counts of premeditated murder as you mentioned. But there are also some 15 wounded. So, there are more than a dozen counts of attempted murder. So we are not -- we're learning a lot about the suspect but not so much about more about the motive. Authorities are saying less about what they believe the motive to be than what they believe the motive not to be. And that was -- that is terror.

The police and federal officials coming out very quickly saying they do not believe that this was terror related. It was certainly intentional, they said. But they didn't -- they didn't find any reason to change their national security footing. They did not change the terror alert level. So they're still very much looking into the motive behind what they're now calling premeditated murder. John, we're learning more about the suspect himself. He's a 25-year-old male from Richmond Hill, that's a nice suburb, about half an hour away from where I'm standing right here in Toronto. His name is Alek Minassian.

And when one other thing that investigators are looking into is a Facebook post that he -- allegedly posted yesterday shortly before the attack, in which he wrote, "All hail the supreme gentleman, Elliot Rodger." Now, John, for the viewers who don't really necessarily remember that name, Elliot Rodgers, a name from 2014, he was a young man who carried out an attack near UC Santa Barbara in California. It was both a car ramming attack, as well as a shooting attack that left some six people dead. So they will also be looking into that in terms of trying to determine that motive. John, terror is for now being ruled out. But of course, when you see the style of this horrific attack, all you can do is think of the other ramming attacks that we've seen all across Europe, over the last few --