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White House Daily Briefing Wraps Up; Macron Breaks from Trump on Issues While Addressing Congress. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. Rap superstar, Kanye West, has been in the news for supporting the president and expressing admiration for the president.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Covering all the ranks.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm curious whether the president has reached out to Kanye West and whether he'd be willing to meet with him at the White House.

SANDERS: I don't know of any conversation that they've had over the last week or so. I'll keep you posted if that changes anytime.

Matthew (ph)?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Sorry, I -- I know they've met during the transition. That's the only meeting I'm aware of that's taken place or conversation., before everybody has a meltdown and thinks that we had a meeting last week.

QUESTION: That'd break the internet.

QUESTION: In today's Supreme Court arguments about the travel ban, there was most discussion of the president's proposal during the campaign that all Muslims be barred from entering the U.S. And it was noted during those arguments that the president has never actually disavowed that proposal. And it was also noted that he had not made those comments since being sworn in as president.

So I wanted to ask, does the White House disavow that campaign proposal or does it stand by it?

SANDERS: The administration's top priority is to ensure the safety and security of the American people. For that reason, the administration has put in place enhanced global security measures to improve screening and vetting capabilities and share information.

It's working. There has been significant improvements in identity management and information sharing with foreign governments. Because of this, our international partners have raised their own baseline requirements.

SANDERS: Without the ability to impose entry restrictions, the United States may be forced to unsuspectingly allow dangerous criminals or terrorists into the country.

Additionally, without the restrictions, foreign governments have little incentive to improve their information sharing and identity management practices.

The focus of this travel ban has been on safety and security, is limited to a small number of countries, and a lot of Muslim-majority countries have the same abilities to travel to and from the United States, as they did in previous administrations. I think that alone in action answers your question clearly.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Jim (ph)?

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on Dr. Ronny Jackson.

Yesterday, the president suggested that Dr. Jackson does not have the experience to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Is that a fair assessment, that he lacks that experience?

SANDERS: That's not what the president said. I think you're taking some of his words out of context.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: He said, he said it (inaudible) an issue.

SANDERS: ... and based on your (inaudible) today, I know you don't appreciate when people take your words out of context. So I'd appreciate it if you'd not do that to the president.

If he didn't think he had the experience, he wouldn't have nominated him.

He said that that had been one of the questions that people had posed about him. Obviously, the president thought...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) person has all the experience necessary to run the department?

SANDERS: Look, I think he has an incredibly strong...

QUESTION: It's a yes-or-no question.

SANDERS: ... background. He's a highly qualified, highly skilled individual. And if he didn't think he was capable of doing the job, he wouldn't have announced his nomination in the first place.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Just a few -- just since you brought up being taken out of context; it seems that -- to be a press-related question. Are you trying to say that this administration is a champion of a free press? And it seems...

SANDERS: I certainly think that, as I stated a moment ago, we support a free press. But we also support a fair press. And I think that those things should go hand in hand. And there's a certain responsibility by the press to report accurate information. I think a number of people...

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I'm not finished.

QUESTION: We have a certain responsibility to require the president's...

SANDERS: I think a number of people in this room do that every single day. They do their very best to provide fair and accurate information.

Certainly support that, and that's one of the reasons I'm standing here, taking your questions.

And a lot of times...

QUESTION: We appreciate that.

SANDERS: ... taking your questions in a tone that's completely unnecessary, unneeded, and frankly doesn't help further the conversation, or help the American people get any more information in a better way, which is your job and my job, and that's what I'm trying to do.

QUESTION: Well, we appreciate that. But, Sarah...

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I'm going to move on.

David (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: The president's tone towards the press...

SANDERS: Jim (ph), I'm finished. Thank you, Jim (ph).

QUESTION: The president's tone towards the press obviously is not helpful at times. And I think that that's plain to see.

QUESTION: A Navy -- a Navy inspector general had problems with the way Jackson ran his medical office, which it only has 50 people in it. What makes him qualified to run a big department that has greater than 50,000 people?

SANDERS: Look, I -- I saw a number of members of both the House and Senate do interviews today, just earlier this morning, in which they said, "Look, we've tried this a number of other ways with people who have run massive organizations and it hasn't worked out very well."

This is a different approach, but it certainly doesn't mean it's a wrong approach, or that he's not qualified.

This is somebody who's been on the battlefields, made decisions at a very high stress level, and saved a number of individuals' lives in some of the most trying circumstances; somebody that understands the relationship between veterans and the needs and the care that they have, as a veteran himself -- or as a servicemember himself; and somebody who has a relationship and a deep-rooted care and concern for those individuals that may be far and above what we've seen from previous administrators that have overseen that agency.

He's a highly qualified individual and we're going to continue looking at this, and continue moving forward.

Julie (ph)?

QUESTION: Can you -- are you telling us that the White House was not aware of any of the allegations before the president decided to name Dr. Jackson? Just first of all, to clarify.

SANDERS: I'm telling you that none of those things have come up in the four separate background investigations that have taken place. There's been no area of concern that was raised for Dr. Jackson, specifically.

QUESTION: Can you -- can you describe to us then, what the vetting process was at the White House, before he was named, given that, as Dave (ph) just mentioned, there is an inspector general report and there have been allegations in the past that are now coming to light, but they existed before the president chose him?

SANDERS: Again, Dr. Jackson has undergone four separate background checks, one that was conducted by the FBI, and all of those revealed nothing and came back with a clean and -- clean recommendation.

QUESTION: So the only vetting that was done on him as a nominee was to look at his past background checks, is what you're telling us.

SANDERS: No. I mean, there's a number of things, but you also have to remember, this is somebody that spends more time with the president than just about anyone. These investigations are very thorough, and certainly something that was taken into consideration.

Blake (ph)?

QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple questions about the -- the Tim Cook meeting that is either wrapped, or going on right now.

Do you by chance have a readout of what exactly took place? Did the president promise the (inaudible)?

SANDERS: The meeting was still ongoing when the briefing started. I know that the primary focus and purpose of the meeting is to discuss trade, something that's been on the president's schedule for the last couple of weeks. If we have any additional information, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: Let me ask you, in the last month now, the president has met with Bill Gates, who is the second wealthiest individual in the world. Now he's meeting with Tim Cook, who runs the largest company in the United States.

Does the president have any intentions at any point to meet with the wealthiest individual in the world, Jeff Bezos? And if so, under what conditions would that be?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of that being on the schedule. I certainly haven't seen it on any of the look-aheads.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I -- I think the president would be open to it, but I'm not aware of anything being locked in at this point.

Ashley (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

Scott Pruitt lived for below-market rent in a Capitol Hill rowhouse owned by an energy industry lobbyist. He reportedly directed staff to give raises to top aides, and then obfuscated about it. He spent over $150,000 -- taxpayer dollars on first-class travel. And he reportedly once even tried to get his security detail to use their sirens so he could get to a reservation (inaudible), among other alleged ethical lapses.

I know you've said -- yesterday, you were looking at reports about him, but can you, sort of, explain why he still has a job in the president's Cabinet, and also, how his behavior is in keeping with the values of (inaudible)?

SANDERS: Again, we're evaluating these concerns, and we expect the EPA administrator to answer for them. And we'll keep you posted.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thanks.

Just to follow-up on that, when you say you expect the administrator, Pruitt, to answer for these accusations, where do you expect that to happen? Like, do you -- are you looking for this in hearings? Are you -- is the White House asking questions (inaudible)?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: We're having ongoing conversations.

QUESTION: And -- and also, just to -- to follow up on Jackson, when you said -- you say that he's been through four background checks, can you say -- but these allegations have now come up, and some of them are very serious.

Is the White House going to look into the allegations that have been made against him about drinking on the job, and (inaudible)?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Certainly something that we would look at, absolutely.

OK, one last question.

Francesca?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

I wanted to clarify, too, about these four background checks. Were any of these background checks since President Trump took office, or since he was named as the nominee for V.A. secretary?

Has the White House ever been informed of allegations like these, like excessively drinking on the job, or passing out medication like candy, as it -- as it were, since he was the physician for President Trump?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any of those allegations being made until the nomination was made.

QUESTION: And -- sorry. And to follow up on what I was asking, about the background check, when was his most recent background check?

SANDERS: I'd have to look at the specific date, but my understanding is that a new one took place at the time of the new administration.

Thanks so much, guys. See you tomorrow.

[14:39:28] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So I've got a couple of voices here. There was a lot there. I would say the predominant topic on this potential V.A. nominee, the White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson and Sarah Sanders points on saying he was vetted. She said he passed four investigations, including recent FBI investigations, but that contradicts our information. The vetting wouldn't be thorough enough because the president was pushing so hard for him.

So I've got a lot of great people.

Catherine Rampell, starting with you, our CNN political commentator.

Though all of these, you know, vets, according to Sarah Sanders, these allegations never came up. But would they, based upon the kind of vetting that occurred?

[14:40:10] CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This announcement came so fast. It was announced on Twitter. Apparently, people didn't even know this name was going to be given to the public that it's impossible that they could have done the very -- the extreme vetting, that they should have done. And they should have done it not only because they need to make sure that they have the right person in the job and as an aside I will say the things I'm much more concerned about with this particular nominee have less to do whether he's handing out Ambien. And more to do with whether he's qualified to run the second largest agency in the country. But You want to do that not only because you want someone who is qualified in the job but because you want to be fair to that nominee. If there are going to be allegations that come out that are going to be embarrassing, whether true or not, you want to give that nominee a chance to get ahead of the story. And clearly, they did not do that.

BALDWIN: Let's get back in the briefing room. Jim Acosta is standing by, out chief White House correspondent.

Jim, we're talking about Dr. Jackson and how --

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure.

BALDWIN: -- on the defense of Sarah Sanders was, despite all of everyone's attempts to ask the tough questions, she again saying, over and over again, saying he's our guy.

ACOSTA: That's right. You heard her save Dr. Ronny Jackson had worked for previous administrations. While they were dumping on the Obama administration for DACA, they were taking President Obama's ringing endorsement of Ronny Jackson as gospel and as a reason why he should get the job to run the V.A. Sarah Sanders said I had taken something out of context at the press conference yesterday. The president said with respect to this issue of experience, he said, quote, I know there's an experience problem because lack of experience, the president say quite plainly yesterday that Dr. Jackson seems to have an issue when it comes to having the right amount of experience to run the V.A. So I think that more than anything else, perhaps more than these other allegations that are swirling around the doctor may be the one issue that trips him up the most when he goes into confirmation hearings, if those hearings actually happen. And that is does he have the experience necessary to run the V.A. When I asked Sarah Sanders about that, she sort of resorted to a cheap shot about being taken out of context. I think that --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Seemed a little personal.

ACOSTA: Yes, it got a little personal there. I think she was referring to a comment that I had made that I said was taken out of context. You know, which led me to ask a follow-up question about something that was raised in this briefing and that is why is it that the United States seems to be dropping when it comes to rankings of press freedom all around the world during this administration. It just happened recently, somebody asked about it in the room. I asked Sarah Sanders are you saying this administration is some sort of champion of a free press. She feels because she come up to the podium and answers questions that somehow makes them champions of the free press. Just about any mayor spokesperson or gubernatorial spokesperson does that all over the country. I'm not sure that makes you a champion of the press when the president of the United States does not have a press conference with the press in over a year, calls people the enemy of the people and fake news and threatens "The Washington Post" and so on. That is not champion of the free press. She went after us on that. It's unfortunate, but it just goes to show you how uncomfortable they are with these questions about these issues in the cabinet and, specifically right now, Ronny Jackson -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Amen.

Jim, thank you so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Back over to Jonathan Wackrow here on Dr. Jackson.

You worked how many years in Secret Service for President Obama?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Fourteen years.

BALDWIN: You worked with President Obama. Dr. Jackson worked with President Obama. You know Dr. Jackson very well.

WACKROW: Yes, I do.

BALDWIN: You have been handed Ambien by Dr. Jackson. Did you feel like, in your personal experience, that he was -- he's been called a --

(CROSSTALK)

WACKROW: Candy man.

BALDWIN: -- the candy man.

WACKROW: No. Absolutely not.

BALDWIN: You're saying that's taking it too far?

WACKROW: It absolutely is taking it too far. White House medical unit including Dr. Jackson do hand out Ambien. It's part of their medical protocol pursuant to the job requirements of agents and White House staff traveling around the world. As a medical practitioner, Ronny Jackson is the highest caliber. Any time I received something from him or any member of the White House medical unit, first they did a quick medical assessment. Is there a need for me to receive this medication? Two, letting me know the dangers of it. Three, signing the medication out, documenting that I received medication. So what's being purported as, you know, sort of salacious that he's handing out medicine out of a bag, I've never experienced that in my entire time at the White House.

[14:45:12] BALDWIN: What about the reports of him being overseas at one point, being intoxicated, banging on the door of a female employee and the Secret Service having to intervene?

WACKROW: I can't speak to that actual incident, and I have not heard firsthand from anybody that observed that.

I can say I find that really out of character for Dr. Jackson. He was a member of the emergency action team for the president of the United States. That includes the military aide, the White House communications presidential communications officer, the detailed leader of the United States Secret Service and the White House doctor. Those four individuals are solely responsible for dictating what happens in the event of a crisis, whether it's initiating the continuity of operations for the United States government or 25 percent of that group, I find it every hard --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I'm listening so carefully, but have I to push you on, there are 20 people who have come forward with different stories of these allegations. So how do you measure --

WACKROW: I don't want to conflate a bunch of stories. Do we know that at the time he was the on-duty medical doctor at the time? Do we know what his actual condition was? I can tell you, as an agent, on a midnight shift, I've told a ton of people to be quiet, that they were going to wake up the president or the first lady of the United States. Noise in the hallways happens all the time.

BALDWIN: But is that person the physician of the White House, who -- presumably, there is only one. And when they're overseas, it's not like you're on, you're off.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You have to be ready to roll any given time.

WACKROW: Exactly. That's why, in knowing Ronny Jackson's character --

BALDWIN: Yes.

WACKROW: -- in what I have observed, I find it hard to believe as on- duty physician, I would --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I got you. I got you.

RAMPELL: I think, going back to the point that, even if all of this stuff is false, he's still not qualified to run this agency.

WACKROW: This is low-hanging fruit.

RAMPELL: And that's the bigger issue.

WACKROW: This is low-hanging fruit in the whole narrative of what's going on here. What should be going on is, can he execute the duties --

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Which was the initial focus when we first, surprised, over Twitter, found out that this was the individual the president --

WACKROW: Exactly.

BALDWIN: -- to be V.A. secretary. And then out comes these stories and the allegations that now members of Congress have paused the hearings because they want to find out are they true. So we need to function in fact.

Let me hit pause on this conversation because we were just talking to our chief White House correspondent, and he was pointing out -- I just want to show you that Jim was right.

Let me play for you what President Trump said -- listen to what President Trump said yesterday, quoting the president: "Now I know there's an experience problem because of lack of experience but there's an experience problem, the Veterans Administration is very important to me." He goes on -- this is all about Dr. Jackson. "And as far as experience is concerned, the Veterans Administration, which is approximately 13 million people, is so big, you could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it's smalltime compared to the Veterans Administration. So nobody has the experience."

Let me add another voice here. Brandon Friedman, former director of digital media for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He's also a veteran of both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First and foremost, thank you so much for your service.

As a veteran, this is so important to you, what are you thinking? You've heard this whole conversation. How do you feel?

BRANDON FRIEDMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL MEDIA, VETERANS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT: Yes. I've been watching the whole thing sort of play out. I will tell you that the allegations so far nothing has really stuck out at me as a deal breaker. What for me is more important is what everybody else has been saying, and that is that Dr. Jackson is not qualified to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. I worked at the V.A. From 2009 to 2012. There's 370,000 employees. It's a $185 billion budget. This is not something he has the experience to do.

You got to remember that previous V.A. Secretaries, one was an Army chief of staff, Secretary Shinseki. Secretary McDonald was the former CEO of Procter & Gamble. And they faced a lot of serious challenges with this. You're going to take a guy who is the White House physician and he's never managed more than a few dozen people at a time in his life and throw him in that crucible. Not only are you setting him up for failure but you're setting the 20 million veterans in America up for failure.

BALDWIN: Do your other veteran friends, would you say they agree with what you just said?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I can't speak for everybody, but I've talked to a lot of people -- (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I'm sure you're having conversations. Yes. I'm sure you're having conversations.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. Yes. Right. I've talked to a lot of veteran friends. People are quite shocked he would receive the nomination, especially people who have worked there. You know what worked there. You know what working at the V.A. is like and you know the challenges that the V.A. secretaries face, and he doesn't have the experience. He doesn't have the political experience, the policy experience. It would be very difficult for him to be successful in that environment.

[14:50:08] BALDWIN: What do you need, from your own personal experience working there, what do you need to be a successful leader in that position?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you need to have experience managing thousands and thousands of people with as many people that work there. You have to have experience managing either a budget in the billions of dollars or an organization that has sales in the billions of dollars. Because there's so many priorities. I mean, he's going to be responsible for 800,000 people on the G.I. Bill, eight million people who receive health care from the V.A. Hospital system, 135 national cemeteries, and disability benefits for millions of veterans. He's never successfully faced -- or even faced issues like this before. So it's insane that they would nominate this man who, by most accounts, has had a very honorable service in the military, with or without these allegations that have surfaced recently. It's setting him up for failure and setting veterans up for failure. The president campaigned on talking about how much he was going to do for veterans, and what he is doing now is showing total reckless disregard for the care the veterans receive in the V.A. system.

BALDWIN: Wow.

Brandon, thank you so much for that point.

And, Jonathan and Catherine, thank you both so much as well here on Dr. Ronny Jackson.

We have more on this breaking news. Also, ahead, more on this contentious moment involving the White House claiming it's the champion of free press, despite the president's constant attacks on the press. Stand by. We're bringing some White House reporters to react, next.

(COMMERICIAL BREAK)

[14:56:07] BALDWIN: Former President H.W. Bush is awake and alert. A family spokesman says the 41st president contracted an infection that actually spread to his blood and that he will be staying in the hospital for a couple more days. The spokesman says the 93-year-old Bush is more focused on Houston Rockets playoff series than his own health. We wish him well.

And French President Emmanuel Macron just became the first head of state to meet the White House with President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: Let us not replicate past mistakes in the region. Let us not be naive. Let us not create new walls ourselves on the other side. It is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns and very important concerns. This is true. But we should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead. Your president and your country will have to take in the current days and weeks its own responsibilities regarding this issue. And I am sure one day the United States will come back and join the agreement. Personally, if you ask me, I do not share the fascination for new foreign (ph) powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism.

(APPLAUSE)

MACRON: Therefore, distinguished members of the Congress, let us push them aside, write our own history and burst the future we want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now is Elliot Ackerman, a CNN national security analyst.

Elliot, nice to have you on.

The world has been witnessing this handsy bromance between these two. But here you have Emmanuel Macron on the president's home turf basically saying, Mr. President, you're wrong.

ELLIOT ACKERMAN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think he is really giving a repudiation of American political life at this moment, where everything is zero sum and we are kind of living under the tyranny of extremism on both the left and the right and the middle in our country has been just completely hollowed out. Comments on Iran, he was saying, let's not be naive and let's not rush to war either. In effect what he's saying is let's pursue the middle ground, let's pursue the middle ground and in the U.S., it seems we're capable of pursuing the middle ground.

BALDWIN: When he said, we can't get rid of the Iran nuke deal, and it seems like when we were listening to them yesterday they were in agreement over a better deal, revisions. What happens, Elliot, what Macron leaves Washington?

ACKERMAN: I think that's the larger question. And I think that's the larger question with regards to the Trump administration on the international stage right now. I think it's also important to realize that Macron is making these comments about Iran in the context of what's going on right now with North Korea. So it will be interesting to see. It seems as though President Trump is taking a tact right now where he is, at every turn, saying he's willing to, you know, throw the deal away, whether --