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President Trump Seeking to Assist Chinese Company?; Melania Trump Undergoes Kidney Surgery at Walter Reed; Turkey Recalls Ambassadors to U.S. & Israel Over Violence. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to start with breaking news.

The first lady's office just moments ago announced that first lady Melania Trump had kidney surgery today. She remains in the hospital. She is expected to remain in the hospital for the week.

Doctors performed the procedure at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Melania Trump turned 48 years old last month. A White House official tells CNN that President Trump will visit her today, perhaps even in the next hour.

She is the first first lady to undergo such a serious medical procedure while also in the White House since first lady Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy in 1987.

We have a team of reporters.

CNN's Kate Bennett is the one who broke the story. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on hand with more about the procedure. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

I want to start with Kate Bennett.

Kate, was this planned or was it an emergency procedure? What can you tell us?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't believe it was an emergency procedure. I would imagine that this was planned. Of course, the White House has not said yet, but just all indications point this to not being an emergency.

I'm going to read the statement from the first lady office, Jake, just so we're all on the same page.

"This morning, first lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition. The procedure was successful and there were no complications. Mrs. Trump is at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and will likely remain there for the duration of the week. The first lady looks forward to a full recovery so she can continue her work on behalf of children everywhere."

Speaking of that, it was just last week we saw her in the Rose Garden delivering her information about Be Best, her new initiative, her formal platform, the president in the front row there doing that.

The week before, we saw her at the state dinner, hosting and that white hat moment that she had during the day that we all saw. So, certainly, she's been more public. She's been more visible. We have seen her a lot lately. Clearly, today's news is quite shocking to most people.

TAPPER: And, Kate, tell us about President Trump. We know that he's been at the White House all day. Obviously, he participated and was watching the ceremony in Jerusalem with the opening of the U.S. Embassy there. He also had some important meetings, not at the hospital while his wife was going through this. That was her decision, you say.

BENNETT: Well, I think, knowing the first lady, covering her, she's very private. She doesn't like a lot of attention drawn to herself.

I would imagine that if the president does go anywhere, if he leaves the premises of the White House, it involves more security, a bigger motorcade and a media press pool that needs to go with him. Just understanding how the first lady operates, it is very -- very different operation in the East Wing than the West Wing.

And the fact they pulled off an entire surgery for a first lady without any leaks coming out of that sort of tells you just how differently they operate. I would imagine that they wanted to keep this very close to the vest and therefore the president was not going to be present during the operation, but certainly her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, just told me that he's expected to visit shortly. He will be there.

TAPPER: Are her parents -- her parents live in the area. Are her parents with her at the hospital?

BENNETT: That is unclear. I don't know the answer to that. Just learning these things.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, this news broke just moments after today's White House briefing. And they left the announcement to the first lady's office.

But what is the White House, the West Wing, what are they saying about this now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No comment yet, Jake, except for that statement from the first lady's communications director.

The West Wing has actually been quite silent on this. Of course, as Kate noted, the president is expected to go and visit the first lady at Walter Reed. We have no indication that he's done so yet today. Of course, he's been at the White House this morning, several meetings. He had a lunch with the vice president.

And, of course, when he does make a movement like that, a trail of reporters goes with him anywhere. And that has not happened today. But it does seem -- the indication is that he is going to go, we would assume, somewhere here shortly in the next short while, which is why the White House likely isn't going to comment until that movement actually takes place.

But we do know that the president has not gone yet, but it does seem, Jake, that he's going to go here in the next short little bit.

TAPPER: Let me bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta to try to understand what exactly is going on here.

Sanjay, the first lady's office described the surgery as an embolization procedure for a benign kidney issue. What does that mean? What is going only here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a bunch of terms being thrown around.

First of all, it is unclear whether the first lady in fact had surgery, an open operation, or just this embolization procedure. Not to minimize it, but it is a little bit different. It involves putting catheters into blood vessels and then threading those catheters to an area close to the kidney, to basically try and inject some glue or something into the blood vessels to stop blood flow to a particular area, in this case a particular area of kidney.


Why is that done? Typically, it is done because you have seen something that you're worried about in terms of it potentially being able to cause bleeding or to start bleeding. And that is why it is typically done.

It can be a cancerous mass. But in the statement, as you point out, Jake, are very clear to state that this is a benign mass. It is a benign lesion, they are saying. So they are not saying it is cancer. But that doesn't mean it is something that you might not still be worried about that could potentially bleed.

But, again, was this surgery or the embolization procedure alone? She is going to be in the hospital for several days. That sort of speaks to the significance of this in terms of her recovery. What exactly was it that required the treatment?

Those are things we still don't know, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, Sanjay, and you mentioned the fact that she's expected to say in the hospital all week.

GUPTA: Yes. TAPPER: We live in a medical world now where somebody can get a tumor

removed as an outpatient procedure, go home that night. This sounds pretty serious, if she has to stay in the hospital all week.

GUPTA: I agree.

It is certainly worth learning a little bit more about why that decision was made. This is the first lady. Is this more out of an abundance of caution in this regard?

After these embolization procedures, because you have stopped blood flow to a particular area, in this case, the kidney, there can be pain associated with that. People can be at risk of infection because of that.

You want to make sure that, in fact, the procedure worked, that there is no longer blood flowing to whatever this lesion or mass or whatever it is as well. So, those are all important follow-ups, but oftentimes they take place as an outpatient.

In this case, they have said that she is going to stay in the hospital for a few days. And I think that does speak to the significance of this, Jake.

TAPPER: And you noted the term that they used exactly is a benign kidney condition.

Obviously, we laypeople are used to hearing the word benign in association with cancer. Is it possible that it is being used with a different association, or only -- is it only used with regards to cancer?

GUPTA: No, I think it can be used in different conditions as well. In fact, if I heard benign kidney condition, the first thing that I would think of is maybe a cyst, a kidney cyst, or something like that.

Those are more common certainly than a type of mass. There is -- that could warrant this type of treatment. Cysts are something that people develop as they get older, certainly.

But given that she had an embolization procedure, that wouldn't be used to treat a cyst. That would be used to treat something else. And we don't know what that is. There are certain masses that are benign. One of them has a big word. It is angiomyolipoma. It's a type of benign mass that also has a lot of blood vessels in it.

And one of the concerns about something like that is that it could bleed. So, that's why an embolization would be done in that case. But, again, did she have surgery as well? What exactly was treated? Why do they think she needs to be in the hospital for several days?

TAPPER: Yes. The statement is wanting, I would say, in terms of what exactly is going on.

Obviously, our thoughts and our best wishes are with the first lady. We're just trying to get to the bottom as to what exactly is going on. GUPTA: That is right.

TAPPER: Sanjay, the procedure that you just described that might meet the criteria of what we're getting from the first lady's office, why would you want to stop blood vessels from going to that area, and what then would you do as a physician?

GUPTA: The embolization procedure is done basically, again, to stop the blood flow.

And the reason you would want that done to a particular area is because there is something there that you are worried could bleed. It could be a mass, for example, that has a lot of blood vessels in it, and you know that the history of those types of masses may be to bleed. So you want to prevent that from happening.

It could be that it maybe already had some bleeding in the past, and caused some pain, and that is what sort of warranted the whole investigation and workup. But that is typically it.

There is also things, Jake, people have heard the terms like aneurysm, which is like a weakening of the blood vessel. Those can bleed. You would -- you could treat those with embolization as well.

But, again, we don't know. All we really know is that she had an embolization procedure. That's it. We don't know that she also -- may have also had something else done or she did not have something else done. And we don't know what was specifically embolized.

TAPPER: And, meanwhile, while we are on air discussing this, it is my understanding that President Trump has tweeted something about this Chinese telecom company ZTE.

Kaitlan Collins, President Trump had raised a lot of eyebrows by talking about how he wanted to help this Chinese company, ZTE.

What has he tweeted? And have we -- do we have any understanding as to why he's trying to help this Chinese company?

COLLINS: He's raised a lot eyebrows about this, Jake.

And this comes, I should note, as we're noting that the president has not visited the first lady yet at Walter Reed. Of course, we reported that she did go in this morning for that surgery. The president remained back here at the White House.


And now the president tweeting again about this Chinese phone company that was under a ban for seven years buying any American product, something that has been a point of contention after the president tweeted that he was going to help bring this company back after it was penalized by the United States, by the Trump administration for selling American technology to North Korea and Iran.

Now the president tweeting about ZTE again, saying, "The large Chinese phone company buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies."

He said, "This is reflective of the larger trade deal we're negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi."

Of course, that tweets comes after there has been bipartisan pushback to the president's tweet on Sunday about helping this company out, something that a lot of people said flew right in the face of his America-first campaign promise. Now people are raising questions.

But it does appear that the president is tweeting once again about this phone company. It is still unclear, Jake, if he's on the way to Walter Reed or if he remains here back at the White House.

TAPPER: And, obviously, a lot of people in the national security community pushing back on this, concerned about Chinese technology being used for espionage if it comes to this country.

We are going to talk more that -- we're going to that more later in the show.

But we're going to stick with breaking news right now, first lady Melania Trump in the hospital after undergoing surgery for a kidney condition. She's going to be there for the week. We're going to go live to Walter Reed Medical Center next.

Stay with us.


[16:15:33] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with breaking news.

First Lady Melania Trump is in the hospital where she had surgery for what we're told is a benign kidney condition. She's at Walter Reed Medical Center. We know that President Trump plans to visit her there. Hopefully, we're told soon, if that happens we'll bring that to you.

CNN's Joe Johns is outside Walter Reed right now.

Joe, what do we expect to see as the president arrives?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it depends on how he gets here, of course, Jake. There are multiple gates leading into and out of Walter Reed as you know. There is also daunting Washington rush hour traffic to consider. So, certainly, a possibility that the president might travel by helicopter and simply fly over all of the traffic.

Now, there's been some discussion on the air about how closely a secret this was and how closely guarded it was. I can tell you earlier today, I did reach out to someone who absolutely would be in the know about -- a notable persons I should say who come in and out of Walter Reed and in this situation, reaching out to that person earlier today, absolutely no clue that the first lady of the United States was headed here to Walter Reed. So, they've kept it very quiet and put it out in a statement publicly earlier today.

Back to you.

TAPPER: All right. Joe Johns in Bethesda, Maryland, outside of Walter Reed -- thanks so much.

Joining me now, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. We also have Anita McBride on the phone. She was chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush.

Anita, I want to start with you. Obviously, first and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the first lady and her family at this time. I do wonder as a communication issue, we know she had this procedure this morning. Are you surprised that the White House waited until hours later to reveal it and the fact that the statement is so sparing of details, although we're told she'll be there for the week, which suggests a fairly serious procedure.

Is that a surprise to you?

ANITA MCBRIDE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH (via telephone): No, I can completely understand their need and desire to keep this as private as possible. At the end of the day, you're right, Jake, all of us do wish her well and a speedy recovery and that should be first and foremost. I mean, notwithstanding any medical expertise of anyone that may give an opinion on the condition of her health.

But when Laura Bush had neck surgery in 2007 and she went to the hospital with G.W. and we really did not release any information on that until after it was over and that she was going home. And in fact, George W. Bush was in Australia for the APEC summit, and part of it is difficulty in scheduling something like this.

If there is -- if it is not an emergency, there is a lot on the first lady's schedule. They just have to pick and choose the best possible time when things are not -- the schedule is not so terribly impacted and obviously this seemed to be the best time.

TAPPER: And what was -- beyond the scheduling issue, because you have first-hand experience with a situation like this, the First Lady Laura Bush getting surgery and not informing the public or press until after it was over. Obviously, that's very different than one would treat it were it being the president, the commander-in-chief.

MCBRIDE: Of course.

TAPPER: Was it about privacy, was it about she didn't want the stress, she's about to have surgery and doesn't want to deal with the stress of cameras and security as she goes to the hospital, why make that decision?

MCBRIDE: Well, I think it's a combination of those things. And also the fact is, as Doug will tell you, with the president of the United States, he is the elected official and it is important that the country know and there is a right to know and a need to know. That's not really the case with the first lady, at the same level that it is for the president.

TAPPER: That is fair enough.

And, Douglas, you just heard Anita McBride talk about the right to know and the need to know is not the same as with the first lady and that is true but the desire to know might be just as strong. Melania Trump is the first first lady to undergo such a procedure when Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy. That is pretty significant I would think.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is significant. And particularly since she may be in there over a week, recovering. It's great news that she's handling this well. Walter Reed Hospital is the best doctors in the country. So, she's in great care.

But it's odd in some ways that a White House that leaks things all of the time, didn't have this leak out in any way. But it is a matter of personal privacy.

[16:20:02] What usually happens is the first lady in a couple of weeks will probably talk about this to somebody.

You know, Betty Ford, she has breast cancer. She used an opportunity for awareness. Even in presidential history, William McKinley, his wife would have epileptic fits and people thought that was a sign of mental instability and they tried to teach the public about epilepsy to work through the condition. So that good news is she seems to have pulled there through and we'll find out more in the coming hours.

TAPPER: And Kate Bennett, our expert on the East Wing and the first lady, pointed out, Douglas, that in terms of the lack of leaks that you're talking about, that is the big difference -- I guess there are a lost them, but one of the big differences between the West Wing which leaks like a sieve, and the East Wing in which people who work there really have tremendous loyalty and affection for the first lady.

BRINKLEY: That's a -- that is a great point, Jake. And, you know, I think that the first lady has learned to create a culture of loyalty around her. We still don't know much about her child rearing with Barron and the time in Virginia versus the White House.

So, it has been kind of a veil of secrecy and it's unlike Donald Trump, who likes to kind of bruise people every day and create some people anxious to leak on him. Melania Trump is a beloved first lady right now. Her numbers are high in public approval, you know, polls and I'm sure that the country right now is just saying, my gosh, I can't believe she had this and we didn't know about it and hope that she's able to mend quickly and we'll learn more about problems that people have with their kidneys and -- and what something like this means for all of us in our lives.

One of the great things about presidential history and the story of first ladies is when illness does come in, the public gets kind of a quick education and medicine about it because we watch what they do and how they recuperate so carefully.

TAPPER: And, Kate Bennett, our expert on the first lady and the East Wing, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but there aren't records any more. I don't want to sound like a broken CD, but let me say, staying for a week at a hospital suggests something serious. People have tumors removed as an outpatient procedure and don't spend one night in the hospital.

Does the first lady's office recognize that there are a lot of people out there who might see this is serious and I wonder what's really going on?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think they do -- they're aware, the American public wants to know more about the first lady and this is, you know, part of the Melania Trump mystique that we've seen since the beginning her -- her husband being in office and her not moving to Washington even until June of last year. Certainly, we'll want to know more.

You know, and I think her instincts are correct. Saying in the hospital for several days makes it appear more serious than the statement is saying. But it is true, she has surrounded herself with a staff that is extremely loyal and makes it more difficult to cover her. But she has 10 people on staff and she took her time hiring them. And I think it's very interesting to juxtapose the East and West Wing.

And I agree with Douglas by all means that we would want to know more and in coming days we might know more. However, my gut is telling me this statement might be all we get and this is very common for Melania Trump to keep things close to the vest and be very, very private.

TAPPER: All right. Kate Bennett, Anita McBride and Doug Brinkley, thank you so much one and all.

At least 55 are dead and almost 3,000 injured, it's the deadliest days in years in the Gaza strip all while Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner opened the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Now, there's breaking news about one country that's recalling its ambassadors from Israel and from the United States. That story next.


[16:28:04] TAPPER: We have more breaking news in our world lead today. Turkey just announced it is recalling its ambassadors to the United States and to Israel because of the deadly violence in Gaza. A spokesperson for the Turkish embassy says they do not know yet how long this recall will last.

This comes after scores of Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces when the Palestinians tried to cross the border into Israel. It is the deadliest day in the region since 2014.

The deadly violence happened while President Trump's daughter and son- in-law were attending the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, something President Trump had promised he would do on the campaign trail, move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins from the White House filed this report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (voice-over): For President Trump, it was a day of ceremony and celebration, as he fulfilled a signature campaign promise.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we officially opened the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations. It's been a long time coming.

COLLINS: The move upending decades of American foreign policy and handing Israel a long sought victory. Trump appearing by video at the opening ceremony as daughter Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin traveled with the U.S. delegation to Jerusalem.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth.

COLLINS: But barely 40 miles away on the Gaza border, clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces left more than 50 dead in the bloodiest say since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014. Smoke, sirens and teargas filled the air as Israeli soldiers tried to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.

Palestinians who also believe Jerusalem should be the capital of any future Palestinian state are furious at the U.S. move, and said it shows the U.S. cannot be a fair broker in the peace process. The White House is blaming Hamas for their deaths.