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White House Press Briefing; WH: Giuliani Adds "Value: To Trump's Legal Team; Trump: I'll Announce My Iran Nuclear Decision Tomorrow; Any Moment: Melania Trump Unveils Her Formal Platform. Aired 2:30-3:00p ET

Aired May 7, 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] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: -- in May of last year. His wife, it's interesting, it was someone claiming to be with a financial firm in the U.K. that wanted to make a donation and investment in their child's public school, his wife confused as to why they were reaching out to her, kept trying to say, well, there are probably better people that you can talk to about this. And yet repeatedly, this person at what turns out apparently is a fake firm insists, no, I want to meet with you. Here's one of the e-mails that I've been provided as this outreach took place.

This person as they were insisting, this is how they responded to her, well, we were going to put that in the screen, "The reason I'm responding to you individually is because I want to hear from you, an involved parent about the workings of the school, before reaching out via official channels." It's that kind of outreach that at the time they couldn't quite explain, but now looks fishy in light of what they've learned since then.

And I want to note another coincidence here or, you know, seems more than a coincidence, the name of that firm that this person supposedly worked for is Reuben (ph) Capital Partners, that's the same name of a fake firm for someone who reached out to Rose McGowan, who you may remember, who was one of Harvey Weinstein's accusers, in an effort to discredit her. And this is one of those threads that they're pulling on now tying it to this firm and tying it to --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Jim.

SCIUTTO: -- a campaign to undermine them.

KEILAR: So sorry to interrupt you. I need to go to the White House now and the briefing with Sarah Sanders.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- of state and local officials. "The New York Post" said today that CIA acting director Gina Haspel has headed four CIA stations across the globe. Been a senior official in the CIA's Russia operation, held several top roles in the division responsible for covert operations and post-9/11, was a senior level supervisor in counterterrorism. The "Post" further noted that her integrity and significantly her political impartiality are unchallenged. She deserves quick confirmation without partisan theatrics.

The bottom line, acting director Haspel has an unparalled understanding of the CIA and is the right person to lead it during these dangerous times. Lastly and on a slightly lighter note, I would like to congratulate Katherine and Alex, two members of the White House Press Corps, on their engagement over the weekend. So congratulations.

And with that, I don't know if they even showed up today, but that's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're in the back.

SANDERS: Definitely would have given them a question, but since I don't see them, Kevin, we'll go with you.

KEVIN (ph): Thank you, Sarah. A couple questions. First, on Gina Haspel. Is it true the president and yourself and others had to sort of convince her not to withdraw her name from consideration? And if so, what was that like? And has this circumstance happened before since you've been at your position here at the White House?

And a follow up about Don Blankenship. Why does the president believe he can't win an election in the state of West Virginia?

SANDERS: Let me answer the first question. We'll come back to that. In regards to acting director Haspel, her commitment to the agency is one of the reasons that she is the right person to lead it. She wants to do everything she can to make sure the integrity of the CIA remains intact, isn't unnecessarily attacked. And if she felt that her nomination would have been a problem for that and for the agency, then she wanted to do everything she could to protect the agency.

At the same time, she wants to do everything she can to protect the safety and security of Americans, which is why she is 100% committed to going through this confirmation process and being confirmed as next leader of the CIA.

KEVIN: And the follow was on --

SANDERS: Sorry.

KEVIN: -- Blankenship in West Virginia. Why does the president believe that he can't win an election in the state of West Virginia? Why not?

SANDERS: As you all know, I have a few more limitations than the president and, due to the Hatch Act, can't get into the specifics about an election prior to it taking place. But I'd refer you back to the president's tweet, which I think is pretty clear. And if he has more to say on it, he certainly will.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Sarah. We also congratulate Alex and Katherine.

Rudy Giuliani said that, if necessary, it's possible that Michael Cohen could have paid off other women to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with the president. Is that possible? Are there other women out there who received money from the president to stay quiet?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any other activity, but I would refer to you Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions or anybody else on the president's outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you've been in his circle for a long time now. You were on the campaign. Is that anything that came across your desk?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not aware of anything like that. But I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

Steve.

STEVE (ph): The president has got a May 12 deadline on the Iran nuclear deal. Is he wavering on this deal based on the pressure from the Europeans with Boris Johnson here this week?

SANDERS: The president will make an announcement on what his decision is soon. As you know, he's got a few days to do that, and we'll let you know when he's ready to make a decision on it.

[14:35:04] STEVE: And John Kerry's shadow diplomacy, how does that impact the deliberations?

SANDERS: I don't think it impacts it at all. I think the president spoke out about that pretty clearly, and I don't think that we would take advice from somebody who created what the president sees to be one of the worst deals ever made. I'm not sure why we would start listening to him now.

John.

JOHN (ph): Thank you, Sarah. Back to Gina Haspel, her confirmation hearing is on Wednesday. It's an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Are there any questions that are off-limits, from the White House's point of view, as it relates to her career at the CIA?

SANDERS: We think that acting director Haspel is a highly qualified, uniquely positioned individual to lead the CIA, and we're very confident in her ability to answer the questions that we know are going to come. And if you don't believe me, listen to some of the quotes from a lot of other people that have been very outspoken in their support for her.

Former director Leon Panetta said, "I'm glad it's Gina, because frankly, she is someone who really knows the IA inside and out." Former director Michael Hayden said, "Haspel is the absolute best choice to be director." Former acting director and deputy director Michael Morell said, "She is capable. She has integrity. She cares deeply about the mission of the agency, and she cares deeply about the men and women of the agency." And lastly, former acting director and deputy director John McLaughlin

said, "If you're picking a professional officer to head the agency, I can't think of a better person than Gina." We want her to get a fair hearing, a thorough hearing. And we're very confident that not only will all of the members of the Senate see what the rest of us see, and certainly even some of the people that have held that position see, that Gina is more than qualified to run and lead the agency.

JOH: So, Sarah, if she's asked any questions regarding enhanced interrogation techniques that took place during her tenure at the CIA, that Democrats say that she was involved with, she can answer them fully in an open hearing. Is that your position?

SANDERS: I'll let her address those questions as they come. But as we've said, we think all of the issues surrounding her record, her experience, will be brought up. And we're fully confident in her ability to answer those questions.

Steve.

STEVE (ph): Yes, Sarah. President Putin, in Moscow, was inaugurated today for a new six-year term. Over the weekend, throughout Russia, we saw police arresting, it's estimated, about 1,600 anti-Putin demonstrators, including organizer and anti-corruption campaigner, Alexei Navalny. We've seen the president tweet about other Russia matters today but not about either of these things. What message does the president have for the Kremlin and the Russian people about these events?

SANDERS: First, the president congratulates him and looks forward to a time when we can hopefully have a good relationship with Russia. However, the United States believes that everyone has a right to be heard and assemble peacefully.

Blake.

BLAKE (ph): Sarah, thank you. The president has said in the past that the Russia investigation is an excuse for Democrats losing the 2016 election. But today, he appeared to look forward to the 2018 midterms, and tweeted out, "Is this phony witch hunt going to go on even longer so it wrongfully impacts the midterm elections, which is what the Democrats always intended?" And he ended that with a question mark.

Does the president now believe that the Russia investigation actually has to do with the 2018 midterms, as well?

SANDERS: I think he thinks that the idea that this narrative continues to be driven, the fact that a year and a half later, after spending most all of your time, every single day, looking into this and still finding nothing, the fact that we're still talking about it will -- and has the potential to impact the 2018 election. I think the point he's making is how ridiculous it is that we're still having this conversation, and the depths to which this research has gone on and investigation has been conducted and still produced nothing.

BLAKE: Is the president pleased with the appearances of Rudy Giuliani over the last few days?

SANDERS: I didn't speak with him specifically about his feelings about it, but certainly feels that he's an added member -- added value member to his outside special counsel.

Francesca.

FRANCESCA (ph): Thank you, Sarah. On that note, Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that the president could plead the Fifth if he's subpoenaed by the Special Counsel. And I want to know why the president would even go that route if he hasn't done anything wrong as he's said repeatedly that there was no collusion and there was no obstruction of justice.

SANDERS: That's a question you'd have to ask the outside special counsel. I'm not an attorney, certainly couldn't address that.

Jim.

FRANCESCA: Sorry, Sarah --

SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving just because we're going to get real tight on time here. Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In the same vein, does the president believe he is within his executive powers to reject a subpoena from the Special Counsel's office?

SANDERS: That's a question that I would refer you to the Special Counsel.

ACOSTA: And can I follow up on Gina Haspel?

SANDERS: I'm going to just keep moving because I did it to your colleague.

David.

[14:40:03] DAVID (ph): The president, this time around, on Iran, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, and you've got John Bolton, the new national security advisor, they've been among the most prominent critics of the Iran deal. I mean, is there any reason to think President Trump won't kill the deal when Saturday rolls around?

SANDERS: The president will make that announcement very soon, and we'll certainly keep you all posted on it as it happens.

Michael.

MICHAEL (ph): On the EPA, Andrew Wheeler has been now confirmed as the second-in-command at the EPA. Does the president think that he would be able to continue the deregulatory agenda that Mr. Pruitt has been in charge of, were he to remove Mr. Pruitt? And given the sort of cascade of ethical problems, how close is -- what's the status of the review that you guys have been saying that you're doing? And is the president closer to removing Mr. Pruitt from office? SANDERS: I don't have any personnel announcements on that front.

Certainly, we have confidence in the number two, otherwise, the president wouldn't have asked him to serve at such a senior-level position within the EPA. But I don't have anything further on that front.

Justin.

JUSTIN (ph): I wanted to catch back up with -- on China, after the delegation came back. Presuming that the president has had some briefing on that interaction now, can you tell us his reaction to the talks that happened, if the U.S. has plans to talk to China again before the May 22 public comment deadline, and what sort of next steps are there?

SANDERS: Sure. The president had a briefing this morning with members of the team that traveled. The president has a great relationship with President Xi. And we are working on something that we think will be great for everybody. China's top economic advisor, the vice premiere, will be coming here next week to continue the discussions with the president's economic team, and we'll keep you posted as discussions are ongoing.

Steven.

STEVEN (ph): Sarah, in its front-page story this morning, the "Washington Post", among many things, reported that there are persistent rumors that Mrs. Trump does not live in this White House. And that she lives with her parents somewhere in the suburbs. What do you make of those rumors?

SANDERS: I make of the fact that just when you think the "Washington Post" can't get things anymore wrong, they do. And that that is an outrageous and ridiculous claim. The First Lady lives here at the White House. We see her regularly. And I think that's something that belongs in tabloid gossip, not on the front pages of the "Washington Post". And I hope that they'll do better next time.

Peter.

PETER (ph): Sarah, we're going to hear from the First Lady in a moment. She's going to promote, among other things, good behavior among children. Part of this effort has to do with cyber bullying right now. Does the president accept any responsibility for American skepticism that the First Lady from the White House would be speaking out against cyber bullying?

SANDERS: Look, this is something that is extremely important to the First Lady. I'm not going to get ahead of her announcement or her comments. In fact, I'm only going to take one last question because we got to make sure that we get there so nobody misses that. And the president will also be joining the First Lady at that event, so we want to make sure everybody has a chance to tune in.

Ayesha, we'll take you questions last. PETER: Just if you could, the question was about him, not about her.

I know that we'll wait to hear what she says. But does he accept responsibility for this climate that exists right now, that there is the need to sort of address an issue like cyber bullying?

SANDERS: I think the idea that you're trying to blame cyber bullying on the president is kind of ridiculous. When it comes to kids, this is something that has been problematic and something that we have seen over the last decade. And the First Lady sees it --

PETER: Is not at all to blame?

SANDERS: -- to be an important issue and something that she wants to address. And she'll do that here shortly.

Ayesha.

AYESHA (ph): Thanks, Sarah. There have been some reports that an Israeli intelligence firm was hired to kind of dig up dirt on former Obama administration officials regarding the Iran nuclear deal. Does the White House have any knowledge of that or the idea that any Trump aides were involved in hiring this intelligence firm?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of anything on that front. If something comes up, we'll let you guys know.

Thanks so much. We hope you'll join us here in the Rose Garden with the First Lady and the president rolling out her initiatives. Thanks, guys.

KEILAR: All right. Well, that was a slightly abbreviated White House press briefing, they got the squeeze between the late start and also this live event that we're going to have coming up in the Rose Garden, Ms. Melania Trump unveils her agenda.

I want to bring my panel back in to talk -- well, for starters, let's talk about the Russia elements, the Russia probe elements of what was addressed. And let's start with Rudy Giuliani, who has kind of stepped in it. You know, you could say, he's recently talked about how Michael Cohen could have paid off other women if necessary in what he describes as nuance (ph) payments, he suggested that the president could defy a subpoena from Robert Mueller by taking Fifth Amendment.

Asked about that, Sarah Sanders said that he adds value. Josh.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Basically she just declined to say anything about anything about anything about this. She's out of the mistress hush money payment commentary business, OK. And she -- last week, she tried to play along with the press and to talk about these issues in a little bit more detail.

[14:45:04] She's not doing that anymore. All questions automatically go to, you know, the president's personal attorney and the spokesman and then everything she says, so, we like Rudy, Rudy is fine. And, you know, let's remember, what Rudy said, you know, he said, I'm getting up to speed on the facts, I'm about halfway there. That was on national television yesterday.

So it's clear that he's putting out all sorts of information that's changing, that's damaging to the president's case. Potentially legally, definitely politically. And it was also clear that Sarah Sanders is not looped in on these things the way that you would expect the White House press secretary to be. So she's caught between a rock and a hard place. It's not a Sarah Sanders problem, it's a Rudy Giuliani problem, it's a President Trump problem. And as long as she is not going to be in the confidence in this little loop, asking her questions about it has limited value. And her answers are basically, you know, useless.

KEILAR: Is that a throw-away answer, you think, where she said he adds value? Do you think it is, Tara?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think he adds value. I think it's been an unmitigated disaster to steal Michael Avenatti's term after seeing Giuliani's interview yesterday on "This Week". I -- the only value it adds is to Donald Trump's ego in that he wants to fight. He likes the pugnacious nature of the way Giuliani is handling himself, but it's at the chagrin of his other lawyers, people who've actually practiced in a while, you know, practiced daily. Giuliani hasn't actually practiced law in a long time. He's not really there for the legal strategy. He's there to do a P.R. campaign that I think is a complete disaster outside of the Fox News crowd.

And he is running the risk of becoming the story for too long. We already know how the president didn't like that. He might be happy with him now until you can -- the president continues to see the bad reviews Giuliani is getting similar to the Scaramucci situation. Anthony Scaramucci, he loved him until he didn't. So, I think Giuliani is running the risk of going that route if he keeps this up. How do you go out there saying you represent the president as his lawyer but you only know half of the facts?

You've been around now for almost two and a half weeks. So what are you doing on national television commenting on anything when you don't know what's going on allegedly.

KEILAR: Scaramucci has enjoyed some of those comparisons. Maybe, I don't know if Giuliani should ignore them as well.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Already surpassed the mooch (ph).

KEILAR: Right, yes.

BASH: Which is, by definition, (INAUDIBLE) said this (ph).

KEILAR: The bar was low. OK. So -- and the other thing was just the timing of this where she says this is ridiculous that this is occupying so much time, that this Russia probe is now bleeding into the midterms.

BASH: And that is where it looks as though the president and his supporters are getting some traction on the public relations/political front. The legal front, who knows. I mean, we really don't know. We have to keep remembering that, that right now what Rudy Giuliani is doing and the president as well on Twitter and their allies on Capitol Hill are doing are, you know, sort of chipping away at the credibility of Robert Mueller's investigation and saying it's going on too long, it's unwieldy. Sort of the way that Bill Clinton's allies were able to do against Ken Starr in a pretty efficient way.

Now, that's all well and good until and unless we see something very -- until we see the end of the Robert Mueller probe because at the end of the day, that's what matters.

KEILAR: The president -- I need to do this (ph), because the president just tweeted so we have some breaking news. The president just tweeted on the Iran deal, he says he's going to announce his decision on the deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00 p.m. The deadline, as we know, had been ticking here in the next few days about what he was going to do. Was he going to say that he was getting out of the Iran deal that was brokered in the Obama administration, a lot of pressure from European allies to not do that, a lot of pressure from folks who say what does that say to North Korea as you're trying to broker a deal with them but then throwing away another one really just leading up to that.

So, as you look at that, where are we in this discussion, Karoun Demirjian, and what's at stake here?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, May 12 is the actual deadline for when Trump has to extend the waivers of the nuclear related sanctions that we have in order to keep the United States keeping up its end of the bargain. If we don't, it's effectively like saying we're not part of this deal anymore and then the whole thing starts to unravel because it depends on Iran being -- complying, us complying, the European nations complying, Russia, China, et cetera.

The fact that he's saying this four days before the actual deadline, to me, is extremely striking. Because anybody who watches international negotiations knows that sometimes the last minute is the absolutely most powerful one. It's the one where you can actually hold people's feet to the flame, that consequence of doing things start to matter. The last-minute diplomacy, what have you. The fact that he said, I'm making my announcement tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. means that you lost three and a half days of that schedule if you're the Europeans or your other voices around Trump trying to say, please don't do this.

KEILAR: Who is jumping the gun, in a way.

DEMIRJIAN: It's -- we don't know what he's going to say, right? But the fact that he's advancing up the schedule, he could wait until -- Saturday is the deadline, he could take the whole week to think about this, or talk to other people but he's choosing not to, which means --

[14:50:08] ROGIN: Yes. A couple of things --

(CROSSTALK)

ROGIN: A couple of things. You don't set up a big announcement for doing nothing, right? If you're (ph) going to stay in the deal, you don't have to announce that, we're already in the deal. So, smart money says we're getting out of the deal, OK? That's what everyone (INAUDIBLE) --

KEILAR: Except that if you thought the indication was that he was going to bail on it, either way he would have to explain himself, right?

ROGIN: Sure, but I'm telling you, like all the reporting shows, he's not going to waive the sanctions. Now, the question is, here's a work (ph) that's interesting. What happens the next day? OK. So he can say, we're not going to waive the sanctions. And then he could frame that as, this is us pulling out of the deal or we're just not waiving the sanctions, and then Iran, it's your move. And we're still in the deal. And if you want to take the sanctions and save the deal, that's up to you.

KEILAR: But there's --

ROGIN: Does he have a plan for the Europeans? Does he have a plan for the Russians and the Chinese? How is he going to impose the sanctions? Are they going to go right into effect? It is going to take six months? In that six months, can we keep negotiating? These are big important questions that the State Department, Treasury Department, intelligence community, Congress are all grappling with. And how much of that comes out in tomorrow's announcement will be a huge sign about whether or not they really thought this thing through.

SETMAYER: But you have to take into consideration what's going on internally in Iran, which is the conversation that we haven't really touched on, but there is turmoil going on in Iran. Their currency has devalued significantly this -- since the beginning of the year. And there's been a run on the banks. So they've had some significant crackdowns in Iran to stop the elite from taking their money out to leave and then from what happened in December 2017, you had more blue collar folks that were back in the streets protesting, which is a bad combination for the mullahs (ph) there who actually run Iran because now, you may potentially have a combination of the elite and the blue collar coming together against this current regime when you're talking about their money.

So what the president could do, what this administration could do is continue to put pressure with increased sanctions, it could go after the central bank because that also ties in to Syria. The central bank in Iran is also financing what's going on with Assad and Syria. So then I think they may stay in the deal but then squeeze Iran with their domestic situation to take advantage of that, to get what they want to try to go renegotiate that new deal that's sampled (ph) to talking about in a couple months.

DEMIRJIAN: Economically, that makes sense, but also keep in mind what's happening geopolitically also around Iran, right? May 12th is also the day that the Iraqi parliamentary elections are happening. Iran has a lot of influence in that country, stands to gaining a lot more. Then on the 14th of May, you have the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, which is going to be a very emotional moment for that region. And when you're talking about Iranian influence across the region, you can't disconnect these items because this is -- could swing your whole Middle East strategy in the span of a week.

BASH: And the other thing is, just kind of on the domestic politics of this and on what we were just talking about trying to manage the public relations on Robert Mueller and so forth and what Rudy Giuliani told me yesterday, which didn't pan out as of this morning, which is, I'll deal with the legal stuff, we will -- we, the legal team, will deal with that, you deal with Iran and North Korea. This allows the president for better or worse to -- no matter what his decision is to be presidential, to deal with that and we're talking now about a major, major presidential decision that has global political geopolitical implications and domestic implications because he promised to tear this up on day one. And it is far past day one and he hasn't done it. So what's he going to do?

And so, all of that plays into this decision and the announcement that he's going to make an announcement.

SETMAYER: If they focus more enough (ph) to do that, we already saw today he hasn't.

KEILAR: I'm going to have --

BASH: You can't act alone. I mean --

SETMAYER: Right.

BASH: -- this took many countries to do this.

KEILAR: Correct.

BASH: Considering (ph) it's going to take many countries to fix it as well.

KEILAR: All right. I'm going to have you guys stand -- to fix it or nix it, I'll have you guys standby as we await this other live event that we're keeping our eye on, they're getting ready in the Rose Garden for Melania Trump to deliver a big speech, perhaps the biggest speech that she has given. This is her unveiling her policy platform. And we just learned that the president is going to be in attendance.

We'll be taking this live right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:58:35] KEILAR: Top of the hour, and thank you for being with me. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Brooke. At any moment, First Lady Melania Trump will take the podium in the White House Rose Garden right there as we keep our eye on it. And while she has spent much of her time being seen and not so much heard, she's going to take on a very traditional part of her role today, unveiling the First Lady's formal platform. During this campaign, Mrs. Trump -- during the campaign, I should say,

Mrs. Trump said she would focus on the well-being of children especially when it comes to cyber bullying, something for which her husband is often criticized.

CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett is live from the Rose Garden. Kate, this is actually something Sarah Sanders was asked about, does the president take responsibility for this being a difficult subject for the First Lady to execute. She side step (ph) that question, of course. But, are you learning any details about how the First Lady plans to tailor her agenda?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's interesting. We've now learned that her platform is called the best. And on -- about the platform, there is going to be three tiers as sort of a well-being, emotional, physical health, there's also the opioid crisis and how it affects families and, of course, social media. Which you mentioned the cyber bullying incidents that happen with the president and his name calling on Twitter.

The First Lady has said -- in March, she said that she did not really particularly care that people were criticizing her for this. She knew she was going to get some critics who are, you know, sort of picking on her for taking on this topic considering her husband's pension for being on Twitter so much in a negative way.

[15:00:07] She said she was going to move forward with it, it's an issue that's facing a lot of kids today. And she's going to, you know, go ahead and go with cyber bullying.