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Paul Ryan Fires House Chaplain; North and South Korea Begin Talks; Trump's Explosive Interview. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired April 27, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin.
President Trump sending a strong message on his upcoming sit-down with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, saying -- quote -- "Something very dramatic could happen" and the he does feel a responsibility to get something done when it comes to North Korea.
The president, of course, just wrapping up his day with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who praised Trump for his part in today's historic announcement from the Korean Peninsula, about to bring a formal end to the Korean War.
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): Today, we meet at a point in time when it has become very clear that the strength of the American president, where he really saw to it that the sanctions against North Korea are abided by, are respected, has opened new possibilities, opened new ways.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I have a responsibility. I think other presidents should have done it. I think the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the president of the United States.
And I think we have -- I think I have a responsibility to see if I can do it. And if I can't do it, it will be a very tough time for a lot of countries and a lot of people.
It's certainly something that I hope I can do for the world. This is beyond the United States. This is a world problem. And it's something that I hope I'm able to do for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now live from the White House.
So, Merkel gave President Trump some credit for his role, as we mentioned, in those North Korean talks. Walk us through what else we heard.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Erica. The president there, as you just saw, really recognizing the gravity of the situation with North Korea and he even at once acknowledged how things have radically changed between him and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.
Of course, just months ago, they were in a name-calling situation, trading insults, the president commenting on his height and his stature at one point on Twitter. And the president acknowledging that things have changed drastically since then, and now they are in talks to meet.
The president repeating that there are potentially two locations they have narrowed it down to for that potential summit with Kim Jong-un. So very different language there from the president, but also saying that he does not believe this is simply a United States problem. He criticized his predecessors at length for saying that they never handled the situation and he wished that he wasn't dealing with it, but now that it is in his hands, he said he realizes this is simply more than the United States.
It is a world issue. He also spoke about Iran in that, of course. It's interesting, Erica, because of course we just saw the French president here a few days ago. Now we're seeing Merkel here today. Largely, the substance of these press conferences were the same, the Iran deal, tariffs, North Korea.
But they're very different in their style. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, it was very chummy, buddy-buddy, lots of pats on the arms, smiles. This one was much different, much less personal, much more down to business, but essentially the same president there.
On Iran, the president said he would not say if he would make any military moves, did not express a lot of hope in the Iran deal, of course. And then Merkel said she could not answer whether or not the president was going to grant them a permanent exemption on tariffs, saying she was going to leave that up to President Trump -- Erica.
HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us from the White House, Kaitlan, thank you.
The House Intel Committee, meantime, releasing its findings on the investigation into Russia and the 2016 election. While the Republican-led report found no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, Republican lawmakers did point out poor judgment was used, especially at that meeting in Trump Tower in 2016.
The president today saying he was honored by the findings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We were honored. It was a great report. No collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It's a witch-hunt. That is all it is. What we really should do is get on with our lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: The report, heavily redacted, including the Democratic dissent, disputing the Republican conclusions.
CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju has been combing through that report.
What really stands out to you here, Manu?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does fault the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign for what it says are highly objectionable, questionable actions that were taken during the campaign season.
It does go after the Clinton campaign for its ties to that Steele dossier. But for the Trump campaign, it says it demonstrated poor judgment in reaching out and having communications with WikiLeaks, which occurred at least on two occasions with Donald Trump Jr. in the heat of the campaign season, direct messages over Twitter, but also separate meetings that occurred between Russian officials and Trump associates during the campaign season.
In addition to that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, it does lay out a number of meetings that did occur, include with Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser for the Trump campaign, who had traveled to Moscow during the campaign season for a conference sponsored by R.T., the television network.
It said that he and -- Michael Flynn and his son met with the Russian ambassador the time, Sergey Kislyak, and this meeting which had been revealed was -- quote -- "a good meeting" a in the words of Flynn Jr.'s -- Flynn's son, Michael Flynn' son.
It also discusses on Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, in his efforts to try to get a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project built, something that was later abandoned, but it showed some e-mail exchanges in which there was some discussion about how Trump should appear on stage with Vladimir Putin and that could help him win the Republican nomination.
And it refers to a number of efforts to create meetings with Putin and Trump that just never really materialized during the campaign. Republicans, of course, say this does not show evidence of collusion.
But Democrats and their own views say that's just not the point. It was not investigated fully to come to that ultimate conclusion that they believe shows signs of a coordination, at least attempting, between the Trump campaign and Russia, Erica.
HILL: And, of course, this is released on the same day that we're learning of "New York Times"' reporting that the Russian lawyer who was at the center of that meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 is now a -- quote -- "informant" we're learning with close ties to the Kremlin.
This was the exact meeting that in those findings they pointed out actually was poor judgment on the part of the campaign.
How are lawmakers reacting to this revelation, Manu?
RAJU: Well, along party lines, as you probably would expect.
Democrats say this is a rather stunning development showing that the president's eldest son as well as two senior campaign officials, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, met with this Russian informant in Trump Tower during the heat of the campaign.
But Republicans say it's not as big of an issue as you would see, because that meeting really did not amount to much. Now, when I asked the Republican who ran the Russia investigation whether he was aware about her role as a Russian informant, he said he was not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: Not that I recall. That's new information.
RAJU: Trouble you in any way that she was a Russian informant and had a meeting with senior level Trump campaign officials in 2016?
CONAWAY: No, because that's not how she presented herself, and there is no evidence that she acted on that.
RAJU: Does it concern you at all that the Trump campaign had this meeting in June 2016 with a Russian government informant?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: No, the meeting added up to nothing and. And don't always know who you're meeting with. The fact is nothing happened in the meeting. That's the important thing.
RAJU: Does that require further investigation all by the committee do you think because of this, of what happened here?
KING: Not as far as the meeting, because nothing happened at the meeting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So the question now is whether any of these redactions in this heavily redacted report will ultimately be lifted. We really don't get a sense of that this point, but that's something that Republicans and Democrats are going to fight with the intelligence community about over the coming weeks here -- Erica.
HILL: We will look to see if any of them are lifted.
All right, Manu, appreciate it. Thank you.
Joining me now, Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor, and David Catanese, senior politics writer for "U.S. News & World Report."
So, we look at all of this. And it's interesting, as Manu point out, not surprisingly, the reaction to this really split along party lines. There's also another reaction, though, that seems to be missing in some ways, which, is this really all that much of a surprise, and, David, I will throw this one to you, that we do learn that Natalia Veselnitskaya was in fact an informant?
DAVID CATANESE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": It's not a huge surprise me, at least to me. I don't think it's surprise to many people.
We should also point out that it was interesting in the interviews that Manu did with those congressmen saying that wasn't relevant, because they did still -- even though they cleared the Trump campaign of collision, they did say they used bad judgment in even taking that meeting at Trump Tower.
Now, I think the real key to this is, Donald Trump Jr. know that she was connected to the Russian government? Did Jared Kushner know? That's the real connection to whether there was any collusion, is, did the Trump administration officials and Paul Manafort going into this meeting know her ties to the Russian government?
We don't know the answer that yet.
HILL: Would there be any legal implications there if someone had known that in fact they were meeting with a Russian informant?
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, not necessarily anything different than what we have already been talking about in connection with this meeting, the obstruction, the drafting of the White House plane letter and all of that.
What's interesting to me is that they were told that they were meeting with someone who's connected to the -- what they called mistakenly the crown prosecutor. So whatever they thought going in, they had every reason to believe that there was actually a Russian government person in the room with them.
And that does put a different spin on it to me.
HILL: And, legally, what is the definition of an informant?
RODGERS: Well, it's just someone who's giving information, basically, so it doesn't have to be someone on the payroll. It could be someone who just for their own purposes or any purposes is just giving information back.
She didn't have to be -- actually have a technical title or a paycheck or anything like that. But she's someone who's acting at the behest of the government in that connection and is giving them information, and is presumably available to act as a conduit.
And that's really the issue here. Is there someone in that room who is going to continue these discussions trying to set up this channel of information and action? And that's what they had denied so steadfastly until this came out.
CATANESE: The most troubling thing about it to me is that she lied about it. She lied to Congress about it. And there was no outrage in those reactions. And they were just saying, well...
HILL: No outrage over the fact that she lied.
CATANESE: That she lied.
They said, well, she didn't disclose it. Well, from what I know, they ask her these questions, if she had a connection to the Russian government.
HILL: She said specifically -- and I'm quoting here -- "I operate independently of any government bodies." That was her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
CATANESE: Right, which is a little bit of a nuanced answer. That's not a no.
But these congressmen don't have any outrage about it. And I think that's that's the problem in this, is that it has become so partisan, especially on the House side. And, remember, we've these two other investigations, the Senate and Mueller, which are I think more credible than the House side.
But these Republican House members aren't mad about being lied to? I would be mad if I was lied to.
HILL: But also the other part of that, is there really any recourse for them, realistically? So she lied. Well...
RODGERS: Well, it depends.
I mean, as I understand it, she submitted a letter. Obviously, you can be charged with lying to Congress if you're under oath. So, I don't know if the letter is considered to be under oath. I suspect it's not. She probably voluntarily submitted, which means there's no criminal liability so far as we know now.
You have to believe that this revelation will cause some digging by the Mueller team and perhaps by the Senate committee. And maybe they will uncover other things that she did that pose criminal problems.
CATANESE: They want this to go away. So to charge her with perjury would make -- would only open the can of worms back in and would upset the president. And you can tell the Republican House does want to do that.
They want to push this under the rug and move on from it.
HILL: David, Jennifer, appreciate it. Thank you both.
RODGERS: Thank you.
CATANESE: Thank you. HILL: Still ahead, exclusive new details about the man who withdrew
his nomination for VA chief -- what staffers are telling CNN now about the way Dr. Ronny Jackson ran the White House Medical Unit.
Plus, a mysterious dismissal on Capitol Hill. Speaker Paul Ryan fires the House chaplain with no real explanation. Ahead, I will speak to one of his fellow lawmakers who is demanding answers.
HILL: Angela Merkel's visit to the White House wrapping up a rather wild week for President Trump, which began, of course, with fired FBI Director James Comey speaking to just about everyone about his new book and in the process slamming President Trump as being morally unfit for office.
Then there were the allegations of a drinking and handing out drugs against President Trump's nominee for VA chief, which ended with Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrawing his name from consideration.
The president's EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, also faced a grilling on Capitol Hill over ethics concern. And Mr. Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen showed up to court, only to announce he would plead the Fifth regarding his involvement in a hush money deal involving porn star Stormy Daniels.
Of course, there was also the official business, a state visit for French President Emmanuel Macron, who despite being rather chummy with Trump, called U-turns on foreign policy -- quote -- "insane."
And then today President Trump taking some credit and being given some credit for Korean leaders coming together vowing to bring an official end to the Korean War. It was apparently so much for the president, he felt the need to vent earlier this week.
Here's a sampling of that interview when he called into Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They've given up denuclearization, testing, research. We're going to close different sites.
And I'm saying to myself, wait a minute. All of these things he's given up, and we haven't even really that much asked them, because we would have asked them, but they gave it before I even asked.
These are all false accusations that were made. These are false, and they're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics.
QUESTION: How much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?
TRUMP: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. And you look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it's a disgrace.
And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but, at some point, I won't.
There's no collusion with me and the Russians. Nobody's been tougher to Russia. And everyone knows it.
QUESTION: We could talk to you all day but it looks like...
KILMEADE: ... you have a million things to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Some of the highlights there.
Let's bring in Michael Smerconish to talk more about it.
Listen, we have been hearing from sources here at CNN for weeks that the president has despondent over this Michael Cohen raid, very unhappy, as we know. All you have to do is take a look at Twitter. They hear even more behind the scenes.
That was interview explosive. In it too, I should point out, one thing we didn't play, we learned that the president said, yes, Michael Cohen representing me on that -- quote -- "crazy Stormy Daniels deal."
There was a lot in that interview. Is that proof as to why the president's counsel does not want him sitting down with Robert Mueller?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Probably, because the president untethered is likely, Erica, to go in any direction.
I have to say that the lawyer in me was surprised by that acknowledgment regarding Michael Cohen, because, as I have said here before with Brooke on several occasions, he's got to thread a needle, right?
He wants the agreement with Stormy Daniels to be upheld. But he's very careful to say that he was not a party to that agreement, he wasn't consulted in that agreement. And so the acknowledgment that Michael Cohen was acting as his lawyer in negotiating that deal is potentially legally significant.
HILL: So that's one thing we should definitely be watching.
What else stood out to you? This was obviously a lot that we heard from the president. And it went on for, what, nearly a half-an-hour.
SMERCONISH: Listen, I think we have come to expect this sort of, I'll use the word volatility, from the Trump White House.
But I think of all the events that transpired this week, the most significant was the presumed detente between North and South Korea.
And to be fair to the president, it begs the question of whether he's deserving of credit for Kim Jong-un finally coming to the table. And you have to ask, did those tweets, Rocket Man, Little Rocket Man, cause Kim to take a look at Trump and say, this guy seems unsteady, I'm better off dealing with the South Koreans than I am waiting for whatever the retribution might be from the United States?
I mean, I am of the opinion that Donald Trump is due some credit for bringing Kim to the table.
HILL: Look, we heard some of that. Angela Merkel say that he definitely deserves some credit and offering him some praise. And the president himself noting that they had moved beyond the name calling earlier today, which was also a good thing. We will continue to watch how that unfolds, obviously.
But there is no ignoring the fact that it is a major development, as you point out, Michael.
Also, a lot of attention this week -- and I know you have been really hot on this topic. Kanye West and the president, there's been a lot of back and forth here. There's been a whole lot of action on the old Twitter, including at one point Chance The Rapper coming to Kanye West's defense for his support of the president and saying, black people don't have to be Democrats
Well, then we saw a little bit of a reversal. And I just want to read part of what he then posted apologizing for defending Kanye West's support of the president -- quote -- "I would never support anyone who has made a career out of hatred, racism and discrimination. I would never support someone who would talk about Chicago" -- of course he's from Chicago -- "as if it's hell on earth and then take steps to make life harder here for the most disenfranchised among us. I understand why people are disappointed with my words, but I was raised to believe actions speak louder than words. So, let my apology be seen in my future works. Let me make up my poorly timed comments with immediate action and advocacy for those who need it most."
Couple of things to point out here. We say in his tweets, Kanye West said he doesn't agree 100 percent with the president. But this of course comes on the heels of Shania Twain being asked a question where she would have voted for the president, even she found him offensive, but he seemed honest. She had to backtrack on that.
I know all of these apologies, Michael, are making your head spin.
SMERCONISH: They are.
And I think it's a sad commentary on our civil discourse that in the case of the Shania Twain, she does an interview with "The Guardian." This was the second to last paragraph of a story that was about 10 pages long single-spaced.
It was almost a throwaway line at the end, Erica, where she said hypothetically because she's a Canadian that she would have voted for Donald Trump. And then there were four successive tweets that she felt obliged I'm sure to do damage control and apologize for it.
And, frankly, I don't think she had anything to apologize for. And then into the mix comes Kanye West, who doesn't seem to have stepped back.
And there was actually a third incident. A tape came to the surface this week of the Eagles owner, Philadelphia Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, at an owners meeting last October making comments that were disparaging of President Trump. And I put that into the mix because I say, OK, I'm an Eagles fan.
Am I now to determine whether to root or not root for the team based upon the owner and how he feels about President Trump? In other words, where does this end? If an exterminator comes to my house, if my wife goes to a nail salon, if I rely on an accountant or an attorney, and I become aware of their political views, is that's supposed to cause me then to say so, uh-oh, I can no longer do business with this person?
At some point , that slippery slope I think goes too far.
HILL: It also begs the question to when have we seen this before?
Is this simply a product of the Trump era and the divisiveness that we saw after the 2016 election?
SMERCONISH: I think the polarization has been building frankly for the last 20 or 30 years.
I think that it's reached a crescendo in the age of Trump. I think that the provocateurs among us, those who stir their audiences into a lather either for or against the president as they laugh all the way to the bank because they don't care about good governance, are probably the root cause at least of that part of the polarization that we're discussing.
HILL: And how unfortunate that, as you point out, civil discourse in the midst of all of this, which is what we should all be working on, seems to have gone out the window.
Always good to see you. Michael Smerconish, thank you.
SMERCONISH: Thank you.
HILL: And you can catch's Michael tomorrow 9:00 a.m. eastern.
Up next: President Trump says he feels he has a responsibility to solve the North Korean nuclear problem. He's narrowed down a location for that meeting with Kim Jong-un, said it's been narrowed down to two countries.
We will take a look at what to expect as these historic talks move forward.
HILL: Just hours after that historic agreement between North and South Korea, the United States now starting to see some action.
South Korea and North Korea have agreed to peace and to an end to the Korean War six decades later. The pictures, they are remarkable. Kim Jong-un smiling, holding hands with President Moon Jae-in, both leaders stepping foot on each side of the DMZ.
Well, now the U.S. has also observed dismantling activity at North Korea's testing site. President Trump praising the peace agreement moments ago and earlier denied North Korea is trying to play the United States here with talks of denuclearization.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Oh, I don't think he's playing. No, I don't think he's playing. And it's never gone like this. It's never gone this far.
I don't think it's ever had this enthusiasm for somebody for them wanting to make a deal. And, yes, I agree the United States has been played beautifully like a fiddle, because you had a different kind of a leader. We're not going to be played, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Joining me to discuss, Isaac Stone Fish, journalist and a senior fellow at the Asia Society here in New York City.
I mean, as we just -- we look at all this, the president also said he now feels a responsibility to the world just sort of go to see this through.
There's no denying the historic nature of what we saw earlier today. How much credit does the president deserve here?
ISAAC STONE FISH, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS JOURNALIST: This is certainly a historic moment.