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Senator Tester: Dr. Jackson Nickname "Candy Man" By White House Staff; Sources: Jackson Was So Drunk Secret Service Intervened; French President Addresses Congress Amid Uncertainty Over Iran Nuclear Deal; Trump Trashes "Insane" Iran Deal But Says New One Possible. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: ow's that for advice from the man who nominated you? That is just one of the issues that Dr. Ronny Jackson is facing today. President Trump's embattled nominee to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs is also facing something of an explosion of new claims.

Drinking on the job, creating a toxic work environment inside the White House and recklessly doling out prescription pills as the White House physician. Whistle blowers have been talking to key senators about all of this. Here's Senator Jon Tester.


SENATOR JON TESTER (D-MT), RANKING MEMBER, VETERANS AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Our overseas trips in particular that the admiral would go down the aisleway of the airplane and say who wants to go to sleep? And hand out the prescription --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, you're talking about like an Ambien type?

TESTER: Yes, that's exactly right, and put them to sleep and give them the drugs to wake them back up again and that's the reports we got from the 20-some people who got a hold of us, and we have a problem. This doctor has a problem because he hands out prescriptions and they call him the candy man.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House to flush more for us as always. Kaitlan, what are you hearing from the White House on this today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, the White House is pushing back against that line there specifically saying that it is unfair. We just heard from the White House legislative affairs director, Marc Short, who is gaggling with reporters here on the north lawn and he was asked about that name specifically from Senator Tester and here's what he had to say about that.


MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: It was absolutely unfair for him to drop that line. I think that there have been multiple -- every year they come in and they do a review of the White House physician's office on prescriptions and every year they said he's totally in compliance with what he's been prescribing.


COLLINS: Now the White House is rallying behind Dr. Ronny Jackson as you saw there from one official and also citing President Barack Obama's words yesterday, sending that out to reporters where the statements he said about Dr. Jackson.

Of course, Dr. Jackson served in that administration, as well. One of those in particular was saying President Barack Obama said his positive impact cannot be overstated. He said he was a tremendous asset to the entire White House team.

But continuing on, the White House really rallying behind him after the president said yesterday that he wouldn't blame Dr. Jackson if he dropped out, but he did not want him to. Of course, Kate, the president also during that press conference admitting that Dr. Jackson has an experience problem here.

That was a problem he was facing long before these allegations came out, not just from Democrats on Capitol Hill, but Republicans as well who were worried about nominating and confirming this person to be the next VA secretary because, of course, they say that he's never run anything like that before.

So, regardless before these allegations, he was facing an uphill battle. His confirmation hearing was supposed to be today, but of course, it was delayed indefinitely, but Marc Short did tell us that the White House is going to request a new hearing for Dr. Jackson.

BOLDUAN: We are all waiting for that to be put back on the calendar. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Much more to come, one of the claims against Jackson dates back to his time as White House physician for President Obama. According to four sources, Jackson was drunk on an overseas trip with the president. He wasn't drunk with the president, but he was on an overseas trip with the president and he was drunk, and so disruptive that Secret Service had to step in.

CNN politics senior writer, Juana Summers is here. Juana, you've been talking to some of these whistle blowers, what exactly do they say happened here?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: I have, Kate, and here's what they have told me. On the 2015 overseas trip, four sources including one with direct knowledge told myself, and Manu Raju that Ronny Jackson, the White House physician was intoxicated.

He went to the hotel room door of a female employee and banged on her door. Now this drunken behavior was so loud that it drew the attention of the Secret Service. A source with knowledge of this incident says that the Secret Service was concerned that because this behavior was so loud, they feared that it would wake then President Barack Obama.

Now this is one of a number of claims that the members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee have been approached with and they are reviewing and it's important for us to note they haven't corroborated this.

And many of these claims they've heard about from former and current members of the military because there's not a lot of documentation here. Still, they're looking into it and Senator Jon Tester acknowledging to CNN that this is a claim that he is indeed aware of.

One thing that's important to note, Ronny Jackson has not spoken out about this specific claim, but he was on Capitol Hill yesterday, and he spoke with Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas and according to Moran, he told them that he had never drank on the job before.

Now, I spoke to one of my sources who worked in the White House Medical Unit with Ronny Jackson. I said, you know, many people are traveling overseas, what have you. They might have a drink in their hotel room after they're done with work.

Why is the fact that the president's doctor is drinking on these trips, why does that matter so much to us and why should we care for his confirmation? My source telling me that when you're the doctor for the president, you are on call 24 hours.

It's not clear when you could be called in to service. You're working for one of the most powerful people in the country and you have to be able to be on call and ready to do your job at any time. So this source said drinking inappropriate raises questions about Ronny Jackson's judgment.

BOLDUAN: Juana, thank you so much. Juana speaking to sources. Much more on that.

So, joining me right now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, Chris Cilizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large. Great to see you both.

[11:05:05] Dana, what do you make of what we just heard there from Marc Short, first off, when he says that the "Candy Man" line that Jon Tester described hearing from some of these folks who worked with Ronny Jackson saying that it's completely unfair and kind out of line?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Marc Short has a point and yet, Jon Tester also has a point to explain some of the allegations, yes. Jon Tester used a very sort of colloquial line like that.

But when I say Marc Short has a point, I will just tell you my experience in sort of the understanding of how a White House doctor works in covering the White House back before he was there during the Bush years is when a White House employee needs something, they go to the White House doctor and the White House doctor does hand out prescriptions.

Not, you know, to the point where it's dangerous, at least in my experience. I'm talking more broadly now, but I cannot tell you how many times I've heard stories of overseas trips and they hand out Ambien and things people might need.

The question is whether this person who suggested to Capitol Hill that it was, you know, it was egregious, that it was too much, obviously suggesting it's dangerous when you are talking about prescription drugs, what did this person mean? What did -- what does this person think of Dr. Jackson?

Because we also know from our reporting that Dr. Jackson did not have a great relationship with a lot of the people who worked with him. He had management issues. There's no question about that.

So, that is why it is right for this committee if this nomination stays in play and it is shocking that it is still in play, let's be honest. It is right for them to actually run down these allegations and maybe to do so before you talk about it like that publicly?

BOLDUAN: Maybe. I'll get to that in just a second. Chris, before we get to know, let's go to yesterday. President Trump said if I were him I wouldn't do it in terms of putting yourself through the process and take the job. The White House is now sending out talking points and supporting Ronny Jackson. Are they sending mixed messages intentionally?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Always, Kate, the answer to that is I don't know because I never know if it's strategy or Donald Trump staying things and a strategy wrapped around it. It's very hard to distinguish.

I think what you saw yesterday frankly was Donald Trump contradicting himself in the course of his one answer on Ronny Jackson. He starts off saying he's a fine man. I don't like what's being done to him.

I'm not sure anything is being done to him, but these are Donald Trump's words, but then he goes through an extended answer in which he talks about how he talked to Dr. Jackson and if he wanted to get out he would understand it, and to your point, if I were him I would not do it.

Gosh, if your boss says to you, I understand whatever decision you make. If I were you, I'd quit. It has a profound impact, I think, and that's to Dana's point which is remarkable and absolutely sort of a traditional that we are a talking -- that this nomination exists today.

Everything pointed to after that meeting at the White House yesterday late afternoon between Donald Trump and Ronny Jackson and that they would withdraw and blame it on the nastiness and partisan warmongering in Washington and he's still here. I'm not sure what that tells us. I still think it is very hard given what's out there for him to make it, particularly, when you consider that there is already an issue. Republican senators are already concerned about management.

BASH: Kate, we've seen -- we've seen in the past, Republican administrations, Democratic administrations, nominations go down.

BOLDUAN: Yes, of course.

BASH: I mean, Tom Daschle, you remember, he was a former Senate majority leader and the Obama team put him up to be HHS secretary. He was exceedingly qualified. He had a problem with his taxes.

I remember again covering President Bush, Harriet Meyers was put up to be Supreme Court justice and her problem was that she just didn't have the qualifications and that's why she went down. The issue, Kate, with Ronny Jackson is that he's a combo platter.

BOLDUAN: He's a combo dealing both.

BASH: Exactly. He's got both issues, which is why the fact that White House is sticking with him is frankly, a disservice to Ronny Jackson. You know, he might have done things wrong. He might not be the perfect person in terms of management.

But he also clearly was not ready for this job as somebody who is a great physician by all accounts, but not a great manager and you are talking about somebody who is being nominated to manage one of the most difficult bureaucracy in all of government.

CILIZZA: Kate, by the way --

[11:10:05] BOLDUAN: One of the things that I find unusual, Chris, about this is kind of when we look at the past is that Republicans, the party in charge, the party of the president are coming out voicing real frustration not privately, publicly, that from their view the vetting shouldn't have come to them catching this.

The vetting should have been done and Lindsay Graham saying that he was supposed to introduce Ronny Jackson in the hearing and Lindsay Graham voicing frustration that the vetting clearly doesn't seem to have been done here.

I guess, without making an assumption, I wonder if the White House didn't know or the White House didn't care if they heard some of this.

CILIZZA: Well, that's the plan I was going to make, which is we focus on Ronny Jackson and these allegations, and rightfully so, at the same time, if half of this stuff winds up being true, he never should have been put forward in the first place.

This is, I think, a function of Donald Trump governing by seat of pants backfiring, which is he likes to govern by -- and make choices, by these are the people I like around me, and I like people who are loyal to me. BOLDUAN: That's the thing I want to know, if you realize, OK, I shot from the hip and this one is wrong.


BOLDUAN: How do you get out of it?

CILIZZA: Well, I think that's what he was trying to do yesterday, Kate, which is essentially say this isn't about Dr. Jackson and his qualifications. He's hugely qualified. This is about partisan warfare and besmirching a good man.

So, that basically allows Donald Trump to say I wasn't wrong. He's great. At the same time, it's probably best if he heads for the exits because this is too nasty to put someone who is as nice and unfamiliar with politics through this. I would remind you why he's in the mid of this is because Donald Trump nominated him.

BOLDUAN: They're fighting him and telling him to stick up and fight. That's why I'm confused. If you're offering a soft landing, keep the landing pad there. Don't move it away 24 hours later and saying fight it. I guess, I'm always confused.

Dana, can I ask you about one note on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt? He's going to Capitol Hill tomorrow. He's clearly going to face a lot of questions about the ethics allegation against him answering in public for the first time and sources are telling CNN that he's refusing any hearing prep that has been offered up by the White House. What do you think that means? Does that say more about him or more about what he thinks the White House can do for him?

BASH: I think it says more about him. I really do because this is a pattern now. The White House, we reported when bee had from his point of view a disastrous interview with a former colleague, Ed Henry, who is now over at Fox, who could answer questions, seemed stunned that Ed was asking the really basic questions.

Scott Pruitt refused to listen to the White House, who suggested probably doing that interview was a bad idea or at least helping with some prep for that. It's a pattern and I think it's in keeping with the picture that has been painted throughout the past month or two and even more about the kind of leader and politician he is.

He does what he wants to do. He knows better. He knows best and marches to the beat of his own drum and he is determined to do that. On the flip side, I think the fact that we know, Kate, that the White House has offered for help and he didn't get it. This is also CYA, it's the White House covering their, you know what, when and if this hearing goes very bad. Not our problem. We tried.

CILIZZA: What Dana just described about Scott Pruitt could be said for every trait which she's right about Scott Pruitt is exactly (inaudible) you could use to describe Donald Trump, which I think is one reason why Scott Pruitt is still around because he and Trump see in one another sort of a similar personality, the establishment doesn't like us. They don't manage us. We do want when we want. BOLDUAN: Let's see how he fares tomorrow in front of the cameras. Great to see you, guys.

Happening right now, French President Emanuel Macron addressing a joint session of Congress as we speak. He came to Washington to stop President Trump from completely scrapping the Iran nuclear deal. He had big goals in mind. Did he accomplish them? Where do things stand now?

Also breaking right now, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments over the president's travel ban. Could Donald Trump's own words impact this court decision? We will go there live.



BOLDUAN: Happening right now, French President Emanuel Macron speaking before a joint meeting of Congress and talking about his long historical bond between his country and the United States. The old French-American bond apparently has blossomed into something of a bromance that Macron hopes will help salvage the Iran nuclear deal.

President Trump now suggesting he might be open to keeping the U.S. in the deal despite having trashed it for years and as recently as 24 hours ago. If he does decide to stick with it, it could be because of his unlikely friendship with Macron, which was on full display over and over again yesterday.

Let's get over to the State Department with more on this. CNN's Michelle Kosinski is there. Michelle, Donald Trump called the deal insane and ridiculous yesterday, but also is signaling he's open to something of a new deal. Where do things stand? What are you hearing?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, that insane and ridiculous line. That sounded just like him and that's the kind of rhetoric we've heard for a long time on the Iran deal from him and his administration, but then almost a minute later it seemed like it was sort of whiplash.

You heard him say that, well, maybe among ourselves we can come up with an agreement to move forward on this, and it was just, like, what are you talking about? But you have to kind of know the background of what's going on here.

I mean, he does sound very amenable. So, he and his administration and European governments have been meeting at lower levels. It's reached up to the level of the State Department at this point.

[11:20:07] There have been a number of discussions to try to keep the U.S. in the nuclear deal but satisfy the U.S. by fixing things that the U.S. feels is very wrong with it. There is a lot of agreement, too.

I mean, European allies feel like there are holes to fix. That there are things like enforcements and inspections that need to be topnotch. That the U.S. and its allies need to be tough on Iran and make sure it's not getting away with anything.

They also want to be tough on its ballistic missile program, which, of course, is not included in the Iran nuclear deal. So, European don't want to change the deal because they feel like Iran's never going to go for that and that will ruin the deal so the plan they've come up with to satisfy the U.S. and keep everybody in the deal and keep it intact is to come up with a sort of post-Iran deal that fixes some of those problems.

The U.S. in these meetings has seemed fully bought in, that they're working on this and that apparently, they're close. European allies say they're optimistic about this and Trump certainly seemed optimistic that at least that political agreement to fix things after the current deal expires would be workable.

The problem is, though, nobody really knows what ultimately Trump is going to do and that's the usual way of things. European governments are telling us, as of days ago they really don't know which way this is going go and we know Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, says he feels the Iran deal is unfixable and there is a question mark hanging over this -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. All right. Michelle, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Joining me right now, Michael Anton, who until just this month was the spokesman for President Trump's National Security Council. Michael, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: So, let's talk about the Iran deal as Michelle was laying out right there. Improve on it, don't scrap it, was kind of what a lot of folks were trying to tell the president all along. I mean, how can the president and Macron be working out a new deal now? Do you see President Trump going along with that after he calls it insane and ridiculous?

ANTON: Well, I would point you back to the president's own words. This is really the president's idea. He laid out in a statement that he issued in January a way forward if the United States would potentially stay in the deal, to fix these flaws.

And it would not be to re-open the Iran deal as it is and renegotiate it with Iran. It would be a deal between the United States and our European allies that we would jointly commit to re-imposing sanctions if the Iranians breached certain thresholds that we would agree to together.

Those are the talks that are going on now. The president in that statement was very clear about what he wants to see. Those negotiations have not concluded. When something is done, they'll show it to him and if it meets his standards then he may well stay in the deal.

BOLDUAN: Is it staying in the deal? Is it a political win to allow him to save face, so he doesn't have to go back on everything he's said about the deal to this point. No, I think it would be a national security win for the United States and our allies.

Look, the purpose of the Iran nuclear deal, (inaudible) if the purpose is to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon. Yet, the deal has a ten-year time limit on it. Why should it -- if the purpose is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

If the president can get that problem fixed, if he can get the inspections problems fixed and if you can get the ballistic missile problem fixed as your reporting shows, it doesn't cover ballistic missiles.

That's an inherently nuclear technology. Countries develop ballistic missiles, so they can put warheads on them. If he can get those things fixed, that would increase the security of the region, of the United States, of our European allies and it's a security win for everybody.

BOLDUAN: So, what about the May 12th deadline? The president said a lot yesterday about Iran. He also said this about the May 12th deadline. Listen to this, Michael.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There is a chance and nobody knows what I'm going to do on the 12th, although, Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea, but we'll see. But we'll see also if I do what some people expect.


BOLDUAN: Did President Macron change President Trump's mind?

ANTON: Well, I wasn't privy to those private conversations. The president said we'll have to wait and see. I think he somewhat enjoys uncertainty. I think he views it as a necessary and useful negotiating tactic.

But the May 12th deadline, what that is gets very complicated, but under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, there are statutory sanctions that Congress has imposed on Iran that have a waiver provision.

BOLDUAN: Every time he comes up against it, he has threatened I might, I might not recertify that they're in compliance.

ANTON: Actually, this is separate from certification. So, there is a certification part of it and then are these sanctions. OK, so he certified twice and then declined to re-certify in October and hasn't since. I don't expect he ever will again.

He has however continued to wave the sanctions to keep the U.S. in the deal thus far to see if a follow-on agreement with the European nations is possible. In the January statement that I referenced he said that's the deadline and this is the next time the waivers are up, I want to see something concrete before that date.

[11:25:12] BOLDUAN: The president also offered a warning to Iran, if they restart the nuclear problem, they will have bigger problems that they've ever had before. In that statement, does that statement also seems to acknowledge that the Iran deal has worked? That the nuclear program has stopped? Does the president need to acknowledge that? Is that what he's said?

ANTON: Well, remember, the Iranian regime has all along denied that it had any kind of a nuclear program beyond civilian power generation.

BOLDUAN: Right. And no believed it.

ANTON: They tried to have it both ways. They say on the hand we don't want a nuclear weapon. We've never worked on a nuclear weapon, but then they threatened him, and they say if the United States gets out of the Iran deal, we'll re-start our nuclear weapons program.

That by the way, just said we never had and didn't want. So, they have to sort that contradiction out amongst themselves. I think it's a bit of a problem. Look, it is the assessment --

BOLDUAN: The president acknowledging, though, that the Iran deal worked?

ANTON: The Iran deal -- I don't think anybody really knows whether the Iran deal has worked or not because the intelligence on it is murky. The best assessment we have is that the Iranians have made very grudging, minimalist compliance with the terms of the deal and have also kept as much of their infrastructure and scientific expertise intact as possible to restart as quickly as they can at a moment's notice for whatever reason.

And we also don't know what we don't know. We don't know what they might have been doing behind the scenes and keep in mind that the Iranians had an elicit uranium enrichment program in 2002 that they kept secret from the world for a long time until it was exposed, which is how we got on the track where we are now.

BOLDUAN: Michael, can I ask you really quick about North Korea. The president said that Kim Jong-un yesterday was very open and very honorable in what the president has seen. You are a spokesman for the National Security Council, would you call Kim Jong-un honorable?

ANTON: What he specifically said that Kim Jong-un had been honorable in the negotiation over the summit. So, he limited it to that one very narrow topic --

BOLDUAN: He says he's been very open and honorable. When he was given the opportunity to clarify, he did not. I would not allow much wiggle room.

ANTON: I read this comment in the paper as I was coming in here. I wish I'd memorized his exact language. He said he'd be open and honorable in the talks about setting up the meeting. He did not say he is an open and honorable ruler. He did not say he's been open and honorable in his treatment of the North Korean people or in any of that. He was very specific to this one meeting.

BOLDUAN: Would you apply honorable to this even?

ANTON: Look, I think when you decide that you're going to sit down with another leader and again this is at that other leader's request, you will have to deal with that leader and deal with his people and to the extent that they are on the up and up about negotiating the terms and timing of the talks, I think it's reasonable to acknowledge that if you want the talks to be successful. It doesn't mean you're conceding any other points about the justice and the injustice and the harshness of the regime and the threats that it poses to the region.

BOLDUAN: Do you acknowledge that the word choice is questionable? I mean, at all. If Barack Obama would have used the word honorable with regard to Kim Jong-un, I think Republicans would be lighting their hair on fire.

ANTON: I think you're making much too much of this. The president said he was --

BOLDUAN: You do?

ANTON: He said that in a very narrow context about the setting up of the talks which is necessary. The world believes -- and I think the majority of public opinion including the president's critics believe that these talks could reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula and take our country, North Korea, and the region on a better path.

If these talks are going to be positive then they have to take place and to take place they have to be set up and there has to be a little bit of trust on both sides that we can find a venue, a timing and the terms.

And that's all the president was talking about, and I think trying to extend it beyond that to a macro comment about the North Korean regime, which he clearly didn't mean. I just don't think that's accurate.

BOLDUAN: OK. I just don't know if it is as clear as you're making it, though, Michael. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

ANTON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Breaking news we are following, new details on the arguments in the Supreme Court over President Trump's travel ban. We'll take you there live and what's coming out of those oral arguments.