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White House Briefing After Turbulent Week for President, Cabinet; John Kelly Expands on Remark Trump Embarrassed by Russia Probe; Reports Homeland Security Secretary Threatens Close to Resigning; Speaker Ryan Weighs in on Aide's Crude Remark about McCain. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:33:56] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Any moment now, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders will take questions from reporters capping off a turbulent week of controversy for the president and his cabinet, much of it was self-inflicted.

CNN's political director, David Chalian, is back to talk to us about this.

What are the questions do you have, David, for Sarah Sanders today?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: There will be a slew of questions. Lots of questions. Let's start with the aide and the John McCain comment. Will the administration apologize for the aide's remarks? Will she be fired? This is what Meghan McCain was getting at earlier today on "The View."

Why did Trump blow up about the DHS secretary in front of the cabinet? We know it was about immigration. Why did she get so under his skin? We'll see if Sarah Sanders answers that. Does the president agree with John Kelly that undocumented immigrants can't assimilate into U.S. society? This is what he said in that NPR interview. Tons of controversy around the chief of staff's remarks. Let's listen carefully to how Sarah Sanders will try to walk that back, if she does at all.

Did Donald Trump know about Michael Cohen's client list after the election? The answer will probably be, "Talk to outside counsel." Does the White House agree that the statements of AT&T and Novartis CEOs that hiring Michael Cohen was a mistake? We saw both those big companies come out with statements saying we got this wrong when we hired this guy. Again, if the history here is any evidence, Sarah Sanders is going to pump on these questions I'd imagine.

Is Donald Trump embarrassed by the Russia probe, as Kelly suggests he is? This was another comment he made in that NPR interview.

[14:35:32] KEILAR: I asked you off camera what did you think about that? You said you thought that was a misstep.

We got a preview because Jeff Zeleny tracked down Chief of Staff Kelly. He said he messed that up and what he meant to say was distracted. So perhaps that something we'll hear Sarah Sanders reiterate.

CHALIAN: The idea that President Trump is embarrassed about anything seems completely out of character in a way to describe this president. Perhaps John Kelly got his words wrong there. Kelly was describing what it was like to have a foreign leader to come in and they talk about the fact that Trump's under a cloud of investigation and that that's a distraction to the purpose of the meeting.

Why does President Trump still have confidence in EPA Chief Pruitt after yet another controversy? You heard the question in the Cabinet Room earlier. Pruitt was sitting right there to the president's right a couple seats over, and the president said he does, indeed, still have confidence. Sarah Sanders will have to explain why.

And President Bush 43 in a speech warns against American isolationism. How does the White House perceive President Bush's comments about President Trump's policy, and will they comment on what their predecessor said?

And why did President Trump praise Kim Jong-Un when he had that triumphant moment of bringing the prisoners home from North Korea? Why did that dictator deserve the United States president's praise? That will be a question, I imagine.

And Chuck Grassley, the head of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, was on a radio show pushing Supreme Court justices. If you're thinking about retirement, you better decide on retirement soon, like yesterday, he said. Does the White House share this views that if anybody, namely Anthony Kennedy, is thinking about stepping down from the court, do they need to do so right now, the way Chuck Grassley would like to do, so they can get hearings for a successor out of the way before the midway elections -- Brianna?

KEILAR: I can play White House press briefing Bingo with the David Chalian question list.

Thank you very much, David Chalian.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Stand by for us because we still have the White House press briefing ahead.

Former Vice President Joe Biden called it "rock bottom." Now House Speaker Paul Ryan weighs in for the first time on that crass remark about Senator McCain made by a White House aide. S.E. Cupp will also join me live to talk about her interview, an exclusive, with the House speaker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:42:09] KEILAR: We have some breaking news. CNN's Jeff Zeleny caught up with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly there in the Rose Garden just moments ago around the president's announcement and he asked him to expand on a remark that he made about President Trump being embarrassed by the Russia probe. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF (voice-over): There may not be a cloud, but certainly the president is somewhat embarrassed, frankly, when world leaders come in. You know, Bebe Netanyahu was here. He's under investigation himself. It's like you walk in and the first couple minutes of conversation might revolve around that kind of thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny with us now.

That was pretty interesting, and it was also interesting as I look at the transcript of your discussion, he was saying we're not having an interview here but, clearly, he wanted to clarify his remark.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What embarrassed was an unusual way to describe the president's views. He's called the Russia investigation a witch hunt. But I did catch up with the White House chief of staff and he did say he wasn't going to do an interview. But he did say embarrassed isn't the word, distracted is more of the word. He said it's a witch hunt, it's untrue and he's distracted, not embarrassed. It is a cloud that does indeed hang over this White House.

I also asked John Kelly if he believes that Secretary Nielsen at the Homeland Security Department will stay on in her job. She used to be a top deputy to him. There was a heated exchange in the Cabinet Room earlier this week, the president very frustrated by immigration. The "New York Times" reported she was on the cusp of submitting her resignation. She denies that. But no one denies that there was, indeed, some tough words. But John Kelly said, yes, she will stay on in her role. And then he said no more interviews and it is his 68th birthday today so he walked away after that. But certainly an interesting clarification on embarrassed to distracted -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Sure seems like a great interview to me, Jeff Zeleny.

I wonder what you think because of this NPR interview he did. He did make a lot of news. We got the transcript. The answer about inaccurate statements that the president has made caught our eye.

ZELENY: That's very interesting. It's interesting that he was even doing this interview. John Kelly gives very few interviews. That was a very interesting thing that he said. Asked if all these clarifications, all the misstatements, everything from crowd sizes to more serious matters are a distraction. His answer was very interesting. He said we draw something of a wall between the White House staff here and the president's outside lawyers.

He said when Sarah Sanders stands at the White House briefing and declines to answer questions about Rudy Giuliani or many other things, he said it's done for a reason because there is a wall between the White House investigation and White House staff here. But, Brianna, he did not really answer if it was a distraction or not, all the corrections, all the exaggerations, all the misstatements. Certainly an interesting insight from John Kelly. What we don't know is what the president's reaction was to any of that, if he happened to listen to the interview or has seen any news coverage of it. I suspect at some point he will.

[14:45:46] As we know, John Kelly has been chief of staff since last July. So almost a year. It's been unclear how long he'll stay in that position. Last week, the president was walking across Andrews Air Force Base, the tarmac, with his arm around John Kelly, insisting he's still in his good graces and will stay. We'll see how long that last, Brianna. But certainly some interesting words today from John Kelly -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, at the White House, thank you.

Next, former Vice President Joe Biden calls it "rock bottom." Now House Speaker Paul Ryan weighs in on the crass remark about Senator McCain's health that was made by a White House aide. S.E. Cupp joins us live with that exclusive interview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:50:52] KEILAR: "Rock bottom," that's how former Vice President Joe Biden characterizes the latest controversy coming out of the White House. This one isn't from President Trump. It's coming from one of his lower-level aides. It's about Arizona Senator John McCain, who has been away from Capitol Hill battling brain cancer. The controversial remark coming from White House aide, Kelly Sadler. A White House official said that Sadler was reacting to McCain's opposition to Trump's pick for the CIA director when she dismissed his opposition and said, quote, "He's dying anyway." A source said that Sadler apologized to McCain's daughter, Meghan, but that did not keep Meghan McCain from saying this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: Since my dad has been diagnosed, it's almost a year July 19th, I really feel like I understand the meaning of life and it is not how you die, it is how you live. Right?

(CHEERING)

MCCAIN: And I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job. And that's all I have to say about it.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: I guess the fish stinks from the head because it's easy to say something like that and not think that, ooh, that is a wrong-headed comment to make out loud. You can think what you want but you don't say this kind of thing out loud. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Joining me now is HLN host, S.E. Cupp.

S.E., you just had an exclusive interview with the House Speaker Paul Ryan and you talked about this. What did he tell you?

S.E. CUPP, HLN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": I did. I talked to Speaker Ryan today. He's speaking at the Jack Kemp Forum. We talked about a number issues, from poverty to upward mobility to the future of the GOP. I asked him whether he's been tough enough on Trump. That will all air on Monday on HLN.

But I did, I asked him about today's news and those comments about John McCain. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: I want to ask you about John McCain. He's meant a lot to you and to me and to many Republicans, and he's taking some unnecessary incoming from surprising corners at the worst possible time. Is there anything you'd like to say to him or to his family or to Republicans?

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, John McCain's a hero, no two ways about it. John McCain, I mean, he gave his entire adult life for this country. John McCain fought for us in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, came home and dedicated his life to public service. His vocation in life was making life better for people and better for the country. There are so many accolades I could heap onto John McCain.

But I know John very well. John McCain helped us save our military. He was so passionate about this. We lost 80 servicemembers to death by training and equipment failures. That's part of a problem of a budget we had. John McCain made sure we reinvested in our military, fixed our Veteran Affairs problems. His legacy is so long that John McCain is a hero to us. And John McCain, all of our thoughts and prayers are with John and his family right now at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And also, S.E., you are -- it's very interesting to hear that reaction from him.

You're also friends with Meghan McCain. With that in mind, when you hear something like this reported out, a comment from a White House aide, you also have a very personal perspective on this. What did you think about the comment?

CUPP: You know, it -- I don't like to rush to Meghan's defense. She likes to joke that she is her dad in a dress. She's a really strong, tough cookie. She doesn't need my help. But it's hard when you hear comments like that about your friend, your friend's family, especially when you know what they've been going through. And it just so gross and disappointing. And of course, you know, it's hard -- it's hard to be too surprised,

right? Kelly's boss, President Trump, has mocked John McCain himself in public. So it's a really troubling times we're living in when that kind of comment is made on the job, on the clock, in front of a large group of people with really no concern about how it would land or whether it would get out and whom it would offend.

[14:55:29] KEILAR: Clearly, someone was offended, right? Because they let it be known that it was said.

CUPP: I would hope. That's a very generous view of how that got out. I would hope someone was offended. This is, of course, as you know, a White House that is very internally combustible, lots of leak, lots of people telling on each other. So I'm not sure if this was intended to shame Kelly and bring this to light or some other sort of internal politics going on. Who knows? But I would like to think someone in that room was offended by that comment.

KEILAR: That's a really good point, S.E.

S.E. Cupp, thank you so much.

CUPP: Thank you.

KEILAR: You can see her full interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday on HLN, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, over on our sister network.

Next, did the secretary of Homeland Security threaten to quit her job after President Trump reportedly berated her over border security? We'll have more on that as we await the White House press briefing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:59:55] KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar. Let's pick up where we left off. We're waiting for Sarah Sanders to take questions at the White House press briefing where a major topic will be a comment made by White House aide, Kelly Sadler. You may have not heard of her, but you've probably heard what she said now.