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U.S. Blames Hamas for Violence at Gaza Protests; Trump's CIA Pick Said CIA Shouldn't Have Had Interrogation Program; Trump Heads to Capitol Hill Amid McCain Joke Controversy. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 15, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: When he announced the decision in December, the location of our embassy has no bearing on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders. It has no bearing on Jerusalem's holy sites. It does not prejudge whatever the parties might negotiate in a peace agreement. It does not undermine the prospects for peace in any way, and yet, for some, this is supposedly a cause for violence.

But let's remember that the Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy. In recent days, multiple news organizations have documented the Hamas incitement in Gaza. They have reported that Hamas maps and social media show the fastest routes to reach Israeli communities in case demonstrators make it through the security fence.

They have reported on Hamas messages over loudspeakers that urge demonstrators to burst through the fence, falsely claiming Israeli soldiers were fleeing when in fact they were not. The same loudspeakers are used by Hamas to urge the crowds to, quote, "get closer, get closer," to the security fence.

Hamas hacks attacked the Karem Shalom crossing, the biggest entry point in Gaza for fuel, food and medical supplies. This is how determined they are to make the lives of the Palestinian people miserable. They light Molotov cocktails, attached to kites on fire, and attempt to fly them into Israel to cause as much destruction as possible.

When asked yesterday why he put a swastika on his burning kite, the terrorist responded, quote, "The Jews go crazy when you mention Hitler," unquote. This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday.

I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.

Those who suggest that the Gaza violence has anything to do with the location of the American embassy are sorely mistaken. Rather the violence comes from those who reject the existence of the state of Israel in any location. Such a motivation, the destruction of a United Nations member state, is so illegitimate as to not be worth our time in the Security Council other than the time it takes to denounce it.

Yesterday's opening of our embassy in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for the American people. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was the right thing to do. It reflects the will of the American people. It reflects our sovereign right to decide the location of our embassy, a right that everyone in this room claims for their own country. Importantly moving our embassy to Jerusalem also reflects the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It has served as Israel's capital since the founding of the state. It is the ancient capital of the Jewish people. There is no plausible peace agreement under which Jerusalem would no longer remain the capital of Israel.

Recognizing this reality makes peace more achievable, not less. The United States is prepared to support peace negotiations and a peace agreement in every way. We want nothing more than peace. A peace in which people of all faiths are free to worship in Jerusalem. A peace in which the rights of all people are respected and the future prospects of all people is bright.

That peace will only be achieved if it is rooted in the realities that too many choose to deny. The United States action yesterday promoted the reality and the desire for peace. It is our sincere wish that the nations of the world will join us in this pursuit of credible, realistic and enduring peace.

As I conclude, I want to take a moment to mark the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence. In this United Nations Security Council, on behalf of the American people, I congratulate our friends in Israel on the remarkable achievement of 70 years of independence.

[10:35:04] From humble and desperate beginnings, a proud people have realized the Prophet Isaiah's vision of a light unto the nations. May the next 70 years be ones of strength, of hope, and of peace. Thank you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: There are the remarks from U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, speaking at this emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council there, pointing a clear finger at Hamas and Hamas solely for the violence that has broken out and claimed some 60 lives there in Gaza on the border with Israel.

Also saying once again that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and saying that no possible peace agreement can be reached without that recognition. The argument for the administration, and Nikki Haley here, is that taking Jerusalem off the table in negotiations with the Palestinians makes peace more achievable, not less in her words, that is not the view of the Palestinians and is not the view of them in the wake of the U.S. embassy, opening yesterday in Jerusalem.

Let's go to our Ben Wedeman, he joins us live from Gaza.

Ben, look, two things struck me. One, the separation that Nikki Haley made between Hamas and the Palestinian people, saying it is Hamas that is making the lives of the Palestinian people miserable, and then saying once again, making very clear the U.S. stance here is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, without a mention of east Jerusalem whatsoever as potentially being a capital for the Palestinian people.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's fairly -- that's been the line we've heard from the Trump administration fairly early on, and it continues, and certainly you can find many sides of this argument, Hamas, the cause of the plight of the Palestinian people are not -- certainly Hamas has made plenty of mistakes, the Palestinian leadership is divided between Hamas and Fatah.

Just turning around because there's one of these Israeli drones about to come over head and drop their tear gas on to the relatively small crowd we have today, certainly compared to yesterday. But I have to tell you, that speaking to people here in Gaza, and I've been coming here now for almost 30 years, there is a fundamental belief that the Palestinian people have been wronged. That they have many -- I think 80 percent of the population here is -- are either refugees or the children of refugees.

And there is a deep felt sense that justice has not been served, and on a practical level for ordinary Palestinians, particularly here in Gaza, life is bleak. I believe according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, something like 44 percent of young men between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed.

There is more of those tear gas. And for many young men you're seeing out here today, they have nothing else to do. They have no jobs, no opportunities, and when they look across the border at prosperity of Israel, they put the blame on them -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Ben Wedeman, reporting for us live from Gaza, thank you to you and your team. Obviously putting your lives at risk, being there, bringing that reporting to us.

We are also following breaking news concerning the president's pick to head the CIA. Gina Haspel, a new letter that she sent talking about torture tactics used while she was at the CIA. Much more ahead on this breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:42:57] HARLOW: All right. We have breaking news now, and President Trump's pick for CIA director Gina Haspel.

Manu Raju has the story, the scoop on the Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A letter that was just sent by Gina Haspel to Mark Warner, the top Democrat in the committee, tries to go into a little bit more detail about her views about enhanced interrogation techniques, very harsh interrogation techniques, people, things that people here call torture, like waterboarding. And after her hearing last week, she got a lot of criticism by not denouncing waterboarding as immoral.

But in this letter that we have obtained, she goes further than she did in the hearing by saying that this was actually a very wrong tactic. She says this, "While I won't condemn those that made those hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers in our standing in the world, with the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken."

Now, Poppy, remember in the hearing last week, not only did she not say it was immoral, she did in a sense defend the use of those tactics of the time saying they were illegal. But suggested that going forward, they would follow the law and they would not actually undertake those tactics like waterboarding. But she made it very clear in this letter, it should not have been undertaken at the time.

HARLOW: Right.

RAJU: Looking back at it, that was the wrong decision.

HARLOW: And you wonder, Manu, how much this letter is a response to Senator John McCain, saying that her failure, her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying and the impact that his views as a senior senator given the condition he's in now and his experience with torture as a prisoner of war is weighing on senators that have to make this vote.

Will this be enough from her to assuage his concerns?

RAJU: It could be enough to assuage some other senators' concerns. It will be uncertain if McCain will ultimately flip on this. But I can tell you, Poppy, in talking to Democratic senators from red states, up for re-election, that they're leaning towards supporting this nomination. That's going to be critical at the end of the day.

[10:45:03] Watch for Heidi Heitkamp, key senator from North Dakota.

HARLOW: Yes. 2

RAJU: Possibly making that decision to vote yes, joining at least two other Democratic senators to say yes.

HARLOW: Right. Yes.

RAJU: So she will probably get confirmed but barely -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Manchin and Donnelly as well.

All right. Manu on the Hill, thank you very much.

Still much more ahead on this breaking news, involving the president's pick to lead the CIA ahead of the vote on her. We'll discuss it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: All right. Back to the breaking news. Let's bring in our panel. With me Kristen Soltis Anderson and Bakari Sellers.

Kristen, to you first. Look, you have Gina Haspel, the president's CIA pick, writing this letter to the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, Mark Warner, and going farther than she went in her testimony when it comes to the use of enhanced interrogation, otherwise known as torture.

[10:50:12] And she said the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world, said she would not do it again. Is this going to be enough to tip the balance in her favor when the senators have to vote?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I hope so. I mean, my wish is that we would have more people in government who would be able to reflect back on things that they have done that they regret and be candid about changes in policy they'd like to see moving forward. So my hope is that for Democrats who are on the fence, especially those Democrats in red states, who are up for re-election this year, and who know that it would be damaging in their states to be seen as someone who is opposing the president's agenda and opposing the president's nominees, that this will be enough to give them comfort to know that Gina Haspel will run the CIA in a way that reflects American values properly.

HARLOW: Bakari, what do you think? Enough to tip the balance, especially among those red state Democrats? Manu said watch Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota very closely after this.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, definitely. And Donnelly and Joe Manchin.

HARLOW: Right.

SELLERS: And I do think that this is enough and I do believe that two points need to be made. The first is this reflects back to a conversation we were having earlier about John McCain and the White House. And this shows that John McCain does matter. It shows that, although he may be dying of cancer, his voice, his legacy will live on for a long period of time because he is the person who put the pressure on Gina Haspel to come out with a statement such as this. That's first.

The second thing is, my concern, however, is although this statement is made, and given her past behavior, will she stand up to the president of the United States and be independent in the White House? Because what we know coming from this White House is that they want to lower our global stature and standard and go back to the time which we were waterboarding and committing acts of terror.

And I'm not certain that that is where we need to be going. In fact I'm absolutely sure now that most Americans feel that way. The question is, will Gina Haspel stand up to that as well?

HARLOW: And that is, very quickly, Kirsten, a question that was posed during the confirmation hearing that she did not directly answer.

ANDERSON: Well, bear in mind that this administration and the intelligence community, there is a fairly sizable rift there, that there is lots of consternation I believe early on in the administration, you have President Trump tweeting about the intelligence community negatively. So I firmly believe that this CIA will be interested in preserving its independence and its ability to operate effectively around the world. And my hope is that the White House will not want to pressure them to doing things that will harm American interests.

HARLOW: That's a very important point. Thank you both very much. Appreciate you sticking around. We'll be back to that breaking news.

Soon President Trump will leave for Capitol Hill, a pretty rare visit, a lunch that could be tense with Senate Republicans looking for answers from this president on a number of fronts. A live report ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:55:13] HARLOW: All right. We're waiting for the president to depart the White House, head to Capitol Hill. He is set to have lunch with fellow Republicans. But this may not be the warmest of welcomes for the president out there.

Our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty joins me now on Capitol Hill with more.

There is tension between these Senate Republicans and the president on two big fronts.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There certainly is, Poppy. And I think sort of speak to the elephant in the room today at lunch with Trump and Senate Republicans up here will really be the fallout over this controversy over the White House aide Kelly Sadler's comments over John McCain. There has been some pretty fierce criticism from many Senate Republicans up here on Capitol Hill, really calling out the White House over this.

And notable that it's coming from top Republicans, part of the Senate leadership. We heard from Senator Cornyn yesterday. He said he thinks an apology from the White House is appropriate, a public apology, and he called those comments a really dumb thing.

Senator Thune said he is surprised that the White House has not put this story to rest and has really festered and grown after now six days and the idea that they would let this drag on. He seemed a little perplexed by that notion.

And also here's Senator John Kennedy, a Republican, on that White House aide Kelly Sadler who made these original remarks about John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't know Miss Sadler so I don't know whether she is stupid or not, but she sure made a bad decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now Trump will meet behind closed doors later today. And as we said, that's not the only issue that is sparking some controversy up here. Also many senators, many Republicans wanting to question President Trump about his tweeting about the trade announcement on China, the easing of restrictions for the telecommunications company ZTE.

A lot of Republicans up here, Poppy, very caught off guard by this announcement. The abruptness of this, the fact that they were not given a heads up, this reversal, and they want to know more. Senator Cornyn saying -- telling our team up here that he intends to bring this up with President Trump today to question him on that, hoping for more clarity about his plans. Clearly a lot of questions not only about this policy, but obviously the political fallout about John McCain.

HARLOW: Sunlen, is Marco Rubio, Senator Rubio, going to be in this meeting? Because he has been nonstop tweeting about this, the latest this morning says we're going to get out-negotiated by China again on this one.

SERFATY: That's right. And that is raising a lot of eyebrows up here. He's been very out front in his criticism of the White House, trying to get more clarity and saying, look, I'm going to push for more answers. He will be in that lunch today, Poppy. So it will be certainly interesting to see and hear from him on what he actually confronts President Trump on today.

HARLOW: All right. Let us know what you hear as you report that out.

Sunlen, thank you. Good to have you.

All right. Thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. At any minute, we're going to expect to hear from President Donald Trump.