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Trump/Merkel Joint News Conference; Trump Praised Ronny Jackson, Would Not Name New Nominee. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 27, 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] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll get rid of them. And I will tell you, we're getting choice. We're putting choice in very, very strongly. We have tremendous support in the Senate for that. But I do. I have a lot of people that want the job. We're getting -- We're doing a great job over there in -- for the vets, and you know, that was one of the things that, to me, was the most important. We had tremendous support from the vets. We're getting great reports.

But getting a thing such as accountability done. We'll be, soon, getting choice done, meaning if a veteran stands on line and can't get to a doctor for various reasons, they're going to a private doctor, and this country is going to pay. They're not going to wait nine weeks on line for a cure to something that could have been very easy to cure, and then they end up dying from it.

So we're going to -- we're -- I'm very proud of what we've done, and I will tell you, your new head of the V.A. is going to be very exceptional. We have some exceptional people that want to do the job, OK?

QUESTION: Before I get to Chancellor Merkel, I wanted to backtrack to the U.S. embassy opening up in Jerusalem. You said in the past that you would like to go...

TRUMP: So they came to me -- This is a little bit about government. Somebody said, "Could I tell this story?" And they came to me with a proposal for a $1 billion embassy in Jerusalem, and the papers -- Mike Pence can tell you -- the papers were put before me to sign an application for more than $1 billion to build an embassy. I said, "What are you talking about, $1 billion?" You know, most embassies are like a single story. And they said, "Yes, sir. It's $1 billion." And I had my name half-signed, then I noticed the figure, and I just didn't -- I never got to the word "Trump." I had "Donald" signed, but I never got to the word "Trump."

And I called my ambassador, who's a great lawyer. Most people in business know David Friedman. He's the ambassador to Israel, and loves Israel. Loves our country, loves Israel, too. And I said, "What's this $1 billion?" He said, "I can build it for $150,000." I said, "What?" He said, "I can build it for $150,000, the embassy. We have a building. We have the site. We already own the site. We own the building. I can take a corner of the building, and for $150,000, we can fix it up, make it beautiful, open our embassy. Instead of in 10 years from now, we can open it up in three months." And that's what we did.

But I said, "David, let's not go from $1 billion to $150,000. Let's go to $3-, $400,000." And that's what we did. We -- we're take (sic) a piece of the building. It's going to be beautiful, and it'll be somewhat temporary, but it could be for many years, because by the time they build it the other way, it's going to be many, many years. They were looking for sites. We already have a site, and we have a great site. The site's better than anything you could imagine.

But that's the way government works. They were going to spend $1 billion, and we're going to spend much less than a half a million. Could have done it for much less than that, but I said, "Let's make it really nice." So that's what it is.

I may go -- very proud of it. Jerusalem has been a subject that's been promised for many years, as you know, the embassy in Jerusalem. It's been promised for many, many years by presidents. They all made campaign promises, and they never had the courage to carry it out. I carried it out.

So I may go. It's getting ready to open, and I do want to tell that story though, because there are a couple of people that got to see it, including Mike, but others, where literally, they were going to spend a billion dollars, and we're spending a tiny, tiny fraction of that, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars instead. And it will be very nice. Maybe it'll be nicer than a billion-dollar building, OK?

For the chancellor, please?

QUESTION: Well, Chancellor, I wanted to ask about the Iran nuclear deal. You just heard President Trump say that "Iran will not be restarting the nuclear program. You can bank on it." Do you fear that if the U.S. backs out, that Iran will restart their nuclear program? And also, you're the second European Union leader -- or, European leader to stop here at the White House this week. What improvements did you recommend to the president that needs to be changed, in order to keep the U.S. in the deal?

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I set out my position, and that is that I believe that, obviously, the -- this agreement is anything but perfect. It will not solve all the problems with Iran. It is one piece of the mosaic, one building block, if you like, on which we can build up this structure; and that when the United Kingdom, France and Germany work together with the American colleagues, this was brought about, and then we will now see what sort of decisions are made by American partners.

I said that the whole of the region (ph), obviously, is of prime importance to us, because it's not a thousand kilometers away, as it is the case, for example, between the USA and -- and Syria. But Syria and Iran are countries that are right on our doorstep. So that is of prime importance for us, and we will continue to be in very close talks on this.

Mrs. (inaudible), please.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Christina (inaudible) from (inaudible).

Madam Chancellor, you used to describe America as a destination of your, sort of, well, what you ever wanted to be (ph). And now, it's said in Germany by you that Europe actually has to take its destiny in its own hands, and that you cannot rely on the United States supporting you all the time. Have you talked with the president about this development where - this unhappy development that drifting apart and should not you in many ways deliver also on this promise of significantly increasing the defense spending?

And just you, Mr. President, a lot of people are irritated by the way that you fulfill this most important job that exists in the rest of the world with sudden aggressive Twitter messages and so on. I want to ask you whether and certain facts that you make, does this mean that in the future there will less comprise struck by the United States, less reconciliation and how will you decide on the first of May when it is about a possible (inaudible) extension of the exemption for terrorists?

What is your position on this, Mr. President? Will there be a trade war with this big bloc Europe, or do you see an opportunity of actually not going into such a trade war?

MERKEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Well, I think for a lot of people in Germany, but also in many other countries, people wish and love to go the United States. We have just said there are more than 40 million people who have their roots in Germany and Europe here in the United States.

Also for many people in Germany and Europe, America is a great country. And even though we may seem matters differently on certain political issues, we have to address that, we have to talk about this. But this land, our freedom, this great country obviously still remains very attractive, and so I continue to say that.

And I say it, yes, Germany and Europe have to take their destiny into their own hands, because we can no longer as we used to during the period of the Cold War, during the years when Germany was divided, rely on America coming and helping us.

America is still helping us, but step by step we will simply have to increase our contribution too (ph). And America has been very much engaged, very broadly engaged in parts of the world that are far away from America. And the people of America, too, have said well what's in it for us? So the president is saying, you ought to have some more burden sharing.

So in a way we're maturing, we're growing out of a role where after the Second World War people were rather happy for Germany not becoming too engaged, not too active, because during the period of National Socialism we created such incredible injustice in the world, and -- but this post-war period is at end. It's more than -- this post-war period is -- well, that's essentially 70 years ago. So we as Germans have to learn to assume more responsibility.

We're proud to be the second largest troop contributor in NATO. We've done a lot over the past few years. Obviously from the president's perspective not perhaps fast enough, but I would say as German Chancellor we have made important steps in the right direction, and we will continue to do so. We cannot rely, if conflicts are on our doorstep, for others to step in, and we ourselves don't have to give in a contribution. And this contribution will have to increase over the next few years to come. That has something to do with military engagement, with the defense spending, with combating and tackling root causes of flight, but also with the readiness to become more engaged in diplomacy.

Germany, for example, for the first time is part and parcel (ph) of the so-called "small group," that has just had a meeting in Paris on Syria, together with the U.S., with the U.K. (ph), with Saudi Arabia, and we want to give our contribution to this, as well. It's our obligation. It's our duty. I don't think that we ought to complain about this.

We have to learn as a big country, as an economically successful country. As the president says, you're economically successful but, militarily and politically, you don't wish to do so much. We have to learn to assume our role and there are differences of opinion, we, as friends, can discuss that openly.

TRUMP: Thank you, Chancellor. We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don't have. The United States right now has a trade deficit with the European Union of $151 billion. And the chancellor and I have discussed it today at length and we're working on it. And we want to make it more fair and the chancellor wants to make it more fair.

Same thing with NATO, we have a far greater burden than we should have. Other countries should be paying more. And I'm not saying Germany alone; other countries should be paying more. We're protecting Europe and, yet, we pay, by far, more than anybody else. And NATO is wonderful but it helps Europe more than it helps us. And why are we paying the vast majority of the costs.

So we're working on those things, it's been unfair. And I don't blame the chancellor and I don't Germany, I don't even blame the European Union; I blame the people that preceded me for allowing this to happen.

There's no way we should have a trade deficit of $151 billion. So we're going to make it reciprocal. We're going to make it a much more fair situation and I think, in the end, ever body's going to be very happy.

I think both countries -- I view this as many countries, but looking at it as one block -- will -- will really benefit. There's tremendous, tremendous potential between the European Union and the United States and I think that's going to happen.

There's also tremendous benefit to NATO when people pay what they have to be paying. Some counties actually pay more than they're supposed to. They think the United States is -- I've been told by numerous country -- Poland being one. Poland is great. I mean, they pay actually a little bit more than they're supposed to be paying or have to pay because they feel the United States is more than carrying the load. And, perhaps, they feel it's not fair. But it's something we very much appreciate.

But I believe that -- you know, when I look at the numbers in Germany -- and some other countries, they may not like Donald Trump but you have to understand, that means I'm doing a good job because I'm representing the United States.

Angela is representing Germany; she's doing a fantastic job. My predecessors did not do a very good job. But we'll try and catch you, OK? We'll try.

We're going to -- we're going to have a reciprocal relationship and it's going to be something that benefits all of us, OK?

Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Angela, thank you very much.

[14:42:18] TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

Angela, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And there we have it. The press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump

As they file out, let's bring back in our panel.

Dana, first to you.

Just curious, your thoughts on this and everything we just heard, the president making an interesting point saying they may not like Donald Trump but that means I'm doing a good job because I'm representing the United States.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's representing the Trump era in the United States. There's no question about it. You know, I thought that the fact that he almost sort of side stepped that question, which I guess in some ways is understandable. There is a lot of news on a lot of the substance, the global -- the issues that are going on globally, major issues, namely North Korea and Iran. And particularly on Iran I thought that Angela Merkel's answer was perhaps telling about what went on behind the scenes in their conversation, maybe the same goes for the conversation he had with the French leader, Macron. Her saying, look, it's not perfect, it's a building block but very intentionally noting that it's an international agreement saying when the U.K., France, Germany and American allies put this together, we understood that. So she's clearly trying to signal they never thought that this was the end all be all, this agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear program, but it's at least a start. And that is really within of the most urgent issues before President Trump. You have that at the same time his brand-new secretary of state is abroad on his first trip, signaling it's going to be very difficult for the president not to tear it up in a couple of weeks. So I thought that was just in terms of what is in front of them that has major global implications very interesting to hear from the German chancellor.

HILL: And interesting, too, because as we've been leading up to this press conference, we're all waiting to learn a little more about what happened behind closed doors. There was discussion about was this the one-two punch. We saw Emmanuel Macron earlier this week lay the ground work. A much different relationship between those two leaders versus what we see with Angela Merkel and Donald Trump, but she's coming in to perhaps start closing the deal in a matter of respect.

Max, based on what you heard, how do you think that effort worked?

[14:45:00] MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't see any information that Angela Merkel is any more successful than Macron was in nudging Trump along in the if the of the Iran nuclear deal or the future of the tariffs on steel and you do not see the same buddy-buddy language that you saw with Macron, no brushing of the dandruff and this was much stiffer. Merkel and Trump don't have that kind of warm relationship. We still have to wait to see and what behind the scenes. I don't see indication of any kind of breakthrough. If you listen to Merkel was saying, she said it's up to Trump on tariffs, up to Trump on the nuclear deal. Translation, there was no deal reached behind closed doors.

HILL: There was no budging there.

The other thing that was interesting, that stood out to me -- Elise, I want to throw this one to you -- the praise you hear from Angela Merkel in terms of what was happening in North Korea and giving President Trump a lot of credit regarding North Korea.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's what really struck me about this press conference, too, Erica. The praise President Merkel had for the president, whether on North Korea, talking about how the president was strong and the strength of the president kind of led to this Korean summit today. She was really kind of buttering him up on a lot of things. I think, you know, it is true that Emmanuel Macron came in, he really pushed on the Iran deal. It was up to Angela Merkel to come and make the one-two punch and talking about trade and exemptions on the aluminum tariffs. She knows that buttering this president up is something that he likes, seems to work. She sees what's going on, on North Korea, and I think she's trying to show the president it's good that he remains tough. If we can keep that toughness on Iran but also stay within the confines of the deal, maybe we can have something. My understanding is that the Europeans are going to be fighting to the last day on that Iran deal but they're already kind of talking about the day after. When they talk about the building blocks, when Emmanuel Macron talks about his plan for the Middle East, this is pretty much already assuming that President Trump will pull out of the deal and the countries need something for what happens the day after. So I'm sure there was a lot of talk about that.

(CROSSSTALK)

HILL: In terms of that planning -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, and that question --

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Go ahead.

HENDERSON: I was going to say that question came up. One of the reporters asked what does this mean? Is there possibly some sort of military effort in the offing in term of Iran and the president said that's something he didn't want to get into, but he guaranteed that Iran wouldn't go nuclear. Of course that's what this agreement is supposed to prevent, going into 2025. So that was something that came out of this news conference as well. What's interesting is you did see Merkel really playing to Trump's ego but also trying to remind Trump of America's role in Europe more broadly, talked about America's role in the reunification in post-world-war Europe. It almost felt like a eulogy for that relationship that Americans had with Europe and Trump in that final comment essentially said America is for America, essentially that's what he was saying, he's the deal maker for America and Merkel will be the deal maker for Germany. And Merkel having to come to terms of what that means. This is about a maturation of Germany, she said. They'll have to spend more on the military. Of course, there's a military relationship America has with German, with troops there. So it was really fascinating to look at this, and you feel like it's the end of something and the beginning of a real new era.

(CROSSTALK) BOOT: And I thought that was disturbing, really the way that Trump basically was bragging about how unpopular he is abroad because that means he's doing the job for the American people. He has no conception that international relations can be win-win, that he can be doing the job for America and getting along with our allies and being incredible unpopular in countries that are some of America's oldest and closest allies, what is not a sign of success. If he's turning the screws on them on tariffs, he's destroying or at least corroding our relationship over the long term. He doesn't understand the notion of soft power. That's not in his mind at all. He doesn't understand that so much of America's strength is based on our relationships with these other countries. He basically just wants to turn the screws on them as much as possible and bragging he's so unpopular.

[14:50:07] BASH: But that is classic Trumpism. That is the guy we saw on the campaign. That is what we expect. Those ideas, that kind of approach is what people really liked who voted for him, the sort of America First, it's not about them, it's about us that he ended with. Although have I to say one of the things that really struck me is not obviously with regard to Europe but with regard to North Korea, when he said I think I have a responsibility as president of the United States to try to fix this. That is not Trumpism.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: And he said fix it for the world, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Exactly. So much more comfortable than we've ever seen him in being in the position, which he is, which is the leader of the free world.

(CROSSTALK)

LABOTT: That's because -- that's because you look at what's happening today in the Koreas with this historic summit, and Kim Jong-Un just months ago threatening nuclear war with the United States and the name calling that President Trump talked about today, he feels that he played a part in that.

BASH: He did.

(CROSSTALK)

LABOTT: Exactly. And both Kim Jong-Un and President Moon of Korea are giving him the kind of props he needs to feel to keep him going. It's true what Nia said, America Merkel was doing today to play to that responsibility, that confidence he has, that that's their last hope maybe that they would try to get something on the Iran deal. He may say he has the responsibility as president of the United States, I'm not necessarily sure he understands the historic America indispensable role in the world and that's what these leaders are trying to remind him of.

(CROSSTALK) HILL: To your point, perhaps trying to broaden his view.

I do want to get your take on this because this is just coming in to us. A U.S. official telling CNN the U.S. has observed dismantling activity of North Korea's nuclear test site. This is consistent with Kim Jong-Un's public marks. The official warning, though, these are reversible actions. What do you make of all that.

BOOT: I make very little out it have. There's reporting the reason they're dismantling the nuclear test site is it's inside of a mountain and they've had so many nuclear explosions there that the mountain is on the verge of collapse. So they're basically trying to get credit for doing something they would have done anyway. This is a part of a pattern with Kim Jong-Un and with his father before him. They make these small, very reversible concessions, like dismantling this nuclear test site or stopping nuclear or missile tests and then they expect to get a huge payoff for doing that. Trump has said he's not going to do that, but he is also praising them wildly for denuclearizing, making great progress, saying Kim is honorable and an open person, really raising hopes of a deal to a point which is not very realistic because you're not seeing the North Koreans are making big concessions. You are seeing a propaganda blitz, you're seeing a lot of theatrics going on in the summit between Moon and Kim Jong-Un, but the North is not actually making these significant concessions.

LABOTT: I -- I --

And maybe they will but there's no sign of that so far.

LABOTT: I have to respectfully disagree just slightly in the sense that it is true that he hasn't tested anything since November, and before that, you saw this kind of rocket barrage of missile attacks, things were going in a very bad trajectory. I'm not saying that we need to be kind of have rose colored glasses about what the future holds, and I think anybody that expects an agreement at this summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un is, you know, that's very unrealistic. I think if president -- Kim Jong-Un has clearly made the calculation that his regime's survival, the economy is tanking, he could be going in another direction, he's clearly made the calculation that engagement is best for his regime right now. I think it's the beginning of a process. Certainly there's a lot of a propaganda element. I don't think we really know what his intentions are. They're so different what we've seen since he took office several years ago.

HILL: Real quickly, before I let you all go, Dana, I do want to get your take on Ronny Jackson. The president asked about him, praised him as a good man, high, high quality individual, said he was treated unfairly, but he would not give a name when asked if there was a nominee. There a lot of people that want the job. What did you make of everything he had to say there?

[14:54:50] BASH: Well, first of all, it's not surprising he didn't give a name yet, if they're not ready to. But the fact that he, first of all, called him an American hero but quickly connected it to his own sort of gripes with what he considers obviously to be sort of the deep state, he blames the Democrats on the Russian hoax. That was a leap that I was even surprised to see someone like the president who likes to turn things around to issues that are about him.

But the other thing that I also -- my political radar went up and we're seeing this a lot from Republicans, it was noteworthy, that he went after John Tester, the top Democrat on the committee, for going out and calling Ronny Jackson the candy man, talking about the whistleblower allegations that were coming through the committee. Why does that matter? Because John Tester is a red-state Democrat up for reelection. He's from Montana, who had been -- Republicans had thought he was probably in good shape but Republicans are hoping to seize on this whole controversy to try to beat him in November.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: The president pointing political fingers and making it political at the same time.

We're going to have to leave it there.

Appreciate all of you joining us. Thank you.

Just ahead, breaking news. Stunning revelations about the Russian lawyer who was in that 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, the one that included Donald Trump Jr. Why she's actually much closer to the Kremlin than she originally said.

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