Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION
Is President Trump Above the Law?; Interview With Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland; Interview With California Congressman Kevin McCarthy; Bannon, Midterms Are Trump's "Second Presidential Race"; Donald Trump Jr. On Roseanne Barr And Samantha Bee, "Real Americans Get It"; Obama Reflects On President Trump Win in New Book. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired June 3, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Presidential power. A newly revealed letter from the president's lawyers to the special counsel asserts sweeping executive authority, arguing the president cannot illegally obstruct the Russia probe.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a total witch- hunt. I have been saying it for a long time.
BASH: What does it tell us about the president's legal strategy? Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara will be here.
And identity crisis? Prominent Republicans say they no longer recognize the GOP.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I think the Republican Party has gone dormant.
BASH: With pivotal midterm elections looming, what is the party's message to voters? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be here in moments.
Plus: Fair trade? President Trump hits U.S. allies with steep tariffs on steel and aluminum.
TRUMP: I love Canada. I love Mexico. But they take advantage of us economically.
BASH: And sparks threats of retaliation.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: These tariffs are totally unacceptable.
BASH: Is the president risking a trade war? Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland will be here.
BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, in for Jake Tapper.
The state of our union here is debating executive power.
We are getting a new look inside President Trump's legal strategy against the Russia investigation.
In a confidential 20-page letter obtained by "The New York Times," President Trump's lawyers argue that the president cannot be compelled to testify in the Russia probe. And they say he has full authority over all federal investigations.
The letter was submitted to the special counsel's team by the president's lawyers in January. It asserts, in striking language, that the president has sweeping power, saying that, by virtue of his office, the president -- quote -- "could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction, because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon, if he so desired."
Now, in an interview this morning, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said that the president probably does have the power to pardon himself, but has no intention of doing it.
The letter also confirms for the first time that President Trump dictated the misleading statement about the meeting Donald Trump Jr. held in Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer in June of 2016.
That admission directly contradicts numerous statements from the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. They both said the president was not involved.
I want to go straight to Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by President Trump last year. He also prosecuted Dinesh D'Souza, whom the president pardoned this week.
Thanks for joining me this morning, Preet.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
BASH: I want to start with the news that the president actually did dictate the statement on the Trump Tower meeting.
Does this put the president or anyone around him in legal jeopardy?
BHARARA: You know, it may.
We sit here on television from time to time and pick up on little bits of information and the fact of a particular meeting or a particular statement or a particular report. And I don't think any one of those things makes a clear-cut case on obstruction or on some crime related to collusion.
But, taken in aggregate and in combination, I think it ends up making a difference. I think the important thing, as you pointed out at the top of the show, is that you have the lawyer of the president of the United States Jay Sekulow -- and, on separate occasions, you have had Rudy Giuliani do this -- basically lie to the American people repeatedly.
And I don't -- I don't quite understand it. Jay Sekulow said time and time again directly into the faces of the American people on television -- Sarah Sanders did the same thing -- and said, in no uncertain terms -- if you go back and you look at the statements, there's no wiggle room here -- they said the president had nothing to do with that statement by Donald Trump Jr. and didn't draft it, didn't sign off on it.
And it turns out that is completely untrue. And if you are going to take the position, like they do in the sweeping letter about executive authority, that the president is in a special position in various ways, then I think the lawyers to the president have a special responsibility not to come on television and lie.
BASH: Well, let's talk about the sweeping power they argue.
It does lay out that the president's power over the Department of Justice -- quote -- "Put simply, the Constitution leaves no question that the president has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations."
So, the president's lawyers are arguing, Preet, that he can do whatever he wants with this -- these investigations.
Do you see the law that way?
BHARARA: Yes, I think most people think that obviously the president is in a special position.
That letter, which I have read -- and it is a long letter, and it misses a lot of points -- but it says, in lip service, at one point the president is not above the law, but most of the letter suggests that he is.
Now, the interesting thing about it is, usually, in communications with opposing counsel, defense lawyers will take extreme positions, because that is their sort of bargaining spot in connection with the back-and-forth adversarial process.
So, it's not -- it's not crazy and it's not unique that these folks are taking a very, very, very sort of broad position. Defense lawyers do that all the time.
The difference here is, they are making this -- taking this position on behalf of the president of the United States. And all the public statements and public actions by the president, in connection both with pardons and assertions of his own power when he himself goes on television and talks to the American people, seem to jibe with that view. I mean, one of the things that I think legal experts have been talking
about for the last 20 hours is that the letter spends a long time talking about a particular statute -- not to get in the weeds -- but a particular obstruction statute, Section 1505, and they don't discuss at all in that letter the more relevant and more recent statute, 1512.
BASH: Right. Right.
BHARARA: So, there's a lot of problems with the legal argument technically and also given its expansiveness.
BASH: Right. They -- they cite the wrong statute.
But let's focus on the big picture, as you mentioned. Just generally, they say in this letter that the president, a president cannot obstruct justice because he is the president.
Is that right? Is that a common view in legal thinking and legal -- sort of among legal experts?
BHARARA: Well, here's the problem. It doesn't come up that often.
BHARARA: It comes up almost -- almost never.
And so one of the central questions related to your question of whether or not the president can be subpoenaed for testimony is basically untested.
The last time that happened and came to the fore was in 1998. And, as everyone knows, the independent counsel at the time, Kenneth Starr, said that the president had, President Clinton at the time, had to come in and testify in response to a subpoena.
They had a legal wrangling about that, as often happens with these kinds of things when there is an assertion of executive power and expansive executive authority, and they negotiated something, and the president at the time came in voluntarily.
Something like that could happen here. I mean, Rudolph Giuliani himself said, again, directly into the television cameras in 1998, when it was helpful to him, given his political view, that a president absolutely must comply with a subpoena to testify.
I think the view is overly expansive and overly broad. But I think the other thing that this indicates is, this is not ultimately going to be decided by Bob Mueller. It will be a court or it will be Congress.
BASH: But let's just -- one other thing on this letter. You talked about Rudy Giuliani. He also just said moments ago that he agrees that the president probably does have the power to pardon himself, though he added that he doesn't think the president will do that.
What is your take? BHARARA: You know, I think it would be outrageous for a sitting
president of the United States to pardon -- I think if the president decided that he was going to pardon himself, I think that it is almost self-executing impeachment.
Whether or not there is a minor legal argument that some law professor somewhere in a legal journal can make that the president can pardon, that is not what the framers could have intended. That's not what the American people, I think, would be able to stand for.
The second thing is, when Rudy Giuliani says -- and I hate to keep harping on this point -- Rudy, just like Jay Sekulow, keeps coming up with things that end up being false. So, when he says the president is not contemplating something, I have no faith in that whatsoever.
BASH: Let's -- let's turn, Preet, to the pardon that the president exercised this week, another controversial case.
He pardoned cont -- excuse me -- conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza after his guilty plea for an illegal campaign contribution in 2014.
You were the prosecutor on that case. Now, the president says he pardoned D'Souza because he was treated -- quote -- "very unfairly."
What is your reaction to that?
BHARARA: Well, I was a U.S. attorney at the time.
There are career prosecutors, career agents who brought this garden- variety case in connection with using straw donors illegally to contribute to a political campaign.
It's not the crime of the century. We had about, you know, 1,000 more important cases that we prosecuted at the time. But Dinesh D'Souza was -- intentionally committed a crime, which was proven beyond all doubt. He admitted his guilt in a guilty plea before the court. He said he regretted the action.
His lawyer, by the way, who is no slouch, Ben Brafman, who has a lot on his plate these days and is about as aggressive a lawyer as there is, literally said in court, "We have no defense, Your Honor."
So, the questions about whether or not he was treated unfairly was litigated in the court. The judge, very well-respected, Judge Berman, listened to the arguments about that, said it was all hat, no cattle. There was no evidence of that whatsoever.
It's the kind of -- look, we prosecuted more people for that precise crime who are Democrats than Republicans. Most people had never heard of Dinesh D'Souza, even though he's making a lot of noise now. He seems to think that the world revolves around him when he's making all these comments.
BASH: Well, let's -- let's talk about the noise that he is making...
BHARARA: Yes. BASH: ... because a lot of that noise is aimed personally at you.
I just want to read one of his tweets about you. He said: "Karma is a bitch department. @PreetBharara wanted to destroy a fellow Indian- American to advance his career. Then he got fired, and I got pardoned."
BHARARA: It's charming, isn't it?
Look, I don't have any other response, other than to say he was prosecuted fairly. Nobody takes into account someone's ethnicity or background or even political viewpoint.
Like I said, we prosecuted people based on the facts and the law. There was overwhelming evidence, such that his lawyer had no legal defense to bring. And he can whine and gloat simultaneously if he wants. The fact remains is, we had a lot of important cases in the office. Career people did their job. And that is what they are supposed to do.
BASH: Let's talk more broadly about the idea of pardoning.
Look, this isn't the first time that President Trump pardoned one of his political allies. We can put that on the backdrop of the fact that several campaign officials, as you know, are either being prosecuted and investigated. One has pled guilty.
How do you read the tea leaves here? Do you think that the president is trying to send them a message?
BHARARA: I don't know if he is trying to send them a message, but they are clearly getting a message. One of his former associates, Roger Stone, has said that he has gotten the message loud and clear.
Part of the problem here is, with respect to Dinesh D'Souza or anyone else, there is just a process you are supposed to follow. And it is true that the president has a broad grant of authority, especially in the pardon arena.
But, generally speaking, so people understand that that power is being exercised fairly and equitably and on the merits, and not because of whim or spite or partisan advantage, you go through the pardon attorney, and you get the opinions of the people who engage in the prosecution, and you talk to the judge, and there's a deliberation. And then the president can choose to disregard it.
By now pardoning a number of people who are his political allies and whose pardons will please some segment of his base, like D'Souza and like some of the others, Scooter Libby and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I think he is -- he is making it very clear -- whether he is sending a message or not, he's making it clear that he is prepared to pardon anyone for any reason without any review.
He -- it was suggested that he reviewed the case. I don't think Donald Trump did anything of the sort. He decides in the moment to take a political action, and that is what he did in this case.
BHARARA: And I think he is going to keep doing it.
BASH: And one last question.
Aside from the signal he might be sending, the pardons that he is making just happen to be cases prosecuted by people like you, not his best friend, and others who he is sort of at political odds with.
Do you think he is intentionally undoing cases that people like you tried successfully?
BHARARA: I don't know. Obviously, you're referring to the suggestion he made that he might pardon Martha Stewart, who was prosecuted by Jim Comey, and Rod Blagojevich.
BASH: Yes, and Rod Blagojevich.
BHARARA: You are supposed to pardon people because they are worthy of being pardoned, not because you're trying to please anyone in your political base or you're trying to spite anyone who you might think is your political adversary.
And I think it's a sad commentary on the power, which, by the way, can be taken away by the American people in the future -- and if you abuse the pardon power in a particular way, there comes a point where Congress can take action as well.
And maybe he's doing it for that reason. He does a lot of things on whim and for spite. I hope that is not the case, but it's looking more and more like that is so.
BASH: Preet Bharara, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.
BHARARA: Thank you. Thanks.
BASH: And anger and threats of retaliation, as concerns about a trade war escalate.
Has the president damaged the relationship with one of America's closest allies?
Plus: Prominent Republicans are speaking out, saying their party is now dormant. Has the GOP lost its way, or is it just the new party of Donald Trump? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is here next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:17:35]
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
As President Trump comes on his 500th day in office, some prominent Republicans are pushing back against their party's leader.
On Saturday, Senator Bob Corker announced an aggressive strategy to challenge the president on trade. He tweeted: "I am working with like-minded Republican senators on ways to push back on the president using authorities in ways never intended and that are damaging to our country and our allies. Will Democrats join us?"
This as former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Ohio's Governor John Kasich say their party has been taken over by Trump.
Joining me now from his home state of California, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Mr. Leader, thank you so much for joining me this morning.
We have a lot to get to. I actually want to start with the news about this letter that the president's lawyers wrote to the special counsel back in January.
His legal team admits that the president himself dictated that statement on the Trump Tower meeting.
And this is what the letter says. It says -- quote -- "The president dictated a short, but accurate response to 'The New York Times' article on behalf of his son Donald Trump Jr."
That's a direct contradiction to what the White House said last year.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and -- and I'm sure with -- in consultation with his lawyer. So, that wasn't written by the president.
The president didn't sign off on -- on anything. The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate. But he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Mr. Leader, are you bothered by the fact that the White House lied about the president's involvement here?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Dana, first of all -- Dana, first of all, thank you for having me.
Look, the one thing I have found, this has gone on for more than a year. Millions of dollars has been spent. The White House has been cooperating all the way through.
This was all based upon, was there collusion involved in the election? Everyone who has looked at this says there is no collusion going forward.
BASH: Mr. Leader, I understand that those are the -- those are the talking points.
But this is a specific question. Are you concerned that the White House -- you heard the sound bites. You saw the statement from his own lawyers. They lied.
Does that concern you?
MCCARTHY: Lookit, they can go on with the investigation.
What I was concerned most about, like most Americans, was there any collusion? There was no collusion. This has gone on for more than a year. It's been investigated in so many different manners.
What I am really concerned about is, look at what our economic numbers are. Look at North Korea's meeting going through. Look at the trade discussions we are having. And these -- this is the number one question we are following through?
Let them walk through their investigation. But I think, if there is no collusion, it's time to wind this down.
BASH: OK. You don't want to answer the question about the lies. We are going to talk about the economy in a second.
But let me talk just even broadly about what the White House legal team -- excuse me -- the president's legal team asserted in this letter.
And that is that the president can't be subpoenaed to testify. He can't commit obstruction of justice for firing DOJ officials. He could even potentially shut down the Russia investigation if he chooses to do so.
That sounds like a president who -- at least his legal team -- thinks he is above the law, or at least he doesn't see the rule of law maybe the way others do.
How do you view those statements?
MCCARTHY: That's -- well, that is the action of the legal team moving forward. Let's look at the action at what the White House has done. They have
cooperated fully. The president said, let's get to the bottom of this. They have walked through this. We have spent millions of dollars on this. We have investigated it in the House. We have investigated it in the Senate.
We are looking for, is there any collusion? And there has been no collusion moving forward. I will thank -- the legal teams can argue about what they can and cannot do in the process. But the one thing I have found is that the White House has been cooperating.
BASH: OK. That might be fair, that the legal team can make the argument.
But you could be the next speaker of the House. That is a constitutional role.
BASH: Second in line to the presidency.
So, the Constitution vests credible oversight responsibility in you in the House of Representatives. So, your opinion matters here. Does the president, any president, have the sweeping powers that his legal team argues he has?
MCCARTHY: Well, I think the Supreme Court could make the argument there.
The Constitution says the only thing within here that the House has is about impeachment. So, I think what the argument going forward is, was there any collusion going through? And that is exactly what the House looked at. That's exactly what the Senate looked at.
And even if you talk to Republicans and Democrats, they have found no collusion in the process. I think the Supreme Court, and if you look back to even what Clinton would argue in this process too, I think it is still vague.
So, I think maybe you could have a legal ruling to see one side or the other. And every day in court, both sides on legal sides make arguments about what the determination is.
BASH: One more question about checks and balances.
The president's lawyers in the letter that they wrote talked about broad pardon authority. He actually used some of his pardon authority this week. He pardoned conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza.
Take the name Donald Trump out of this. Put the name Hillary Clinton in or Barack Obama. If a Democratic president started pardoning his political allies, you would go bonkers.
And we are hearing crickets from Republicans now. What happened to checks and balances?
MCCARTHY: Well, I also watched...
MCCARTHY: It's exactly what checks and balances are.
The president has the power of the pardon, just as he pardoned a boxer because he was African-American, was put -- was put illegally because he married a white woman. Did you talk about that pardon as well?
BASH: Yes, we did. We did. But is this...
MCCARTHY: I think the president -- the president has the power to pardon.
That is part of the process of checks and balances. And also part of checks and balances, that is why the House looked at, was there any collusion in the process? We have gone on for more than a year. We have spent millions of dollars in the process.
BASH: But this is separate. This is about pardoning his political allies. This isn't about Russia, just more broadly.
MCCARTHY: Is that the basis why the president pardoned? I mean, that would be a question for the president.
Does the president have the power to pardon, just as presidents have before them pardoned individuals going forward? We will look at where the president goes in the pardon, but the president -- the question is very clear on constitutionally. The president does have the power to pardon.
BASH: Do you think he has the power to pardon himself? What do you think?
MCCARTHY: I don't believe -- that would be a legal question. The president is not saying he is going to pardon himself.
I don't know why we're walking through hypotheticals here in this process. The president has never said he would pardon himself. I don't know where the president would go forward pardoning himself, but I don't a president should pardon themselves.
BASH: The only reason I ask is because it was brought up by his legal team in that letter.
Let's move on to what your former colleague, the former Speaker of the House John Boehner, said this week.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is no Republican Party. There is a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of a taking a nap somewhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: You worked very closely with John Boehner. You were his number two in the House.
And there is no doubt that the Republican Party has changed over the years. Do you think it has changed for the better?
MCCARTHY: Well, I would think it changed for the better, because let's look at the facts, Dana. We are at 3.8 percent unemployment. This ties a 50-year low in America.
African-American and women are at the lowest in unemployment. Unemployment claims are at a 44-year low. The G.I. Bill is now no longer 15 years or you lose it. It is now for a lifetime.
Human trafficking, the modern-day slavery, we actually eliminated that process when it comes to online, where 70 percent of that is being used. Look what we're doing in two weeks here, 70 different bills when it comes to opioid, rebuilding the military.
And then one thing we have never even talked about on this discussion, come June 12, North Korea is sitting down, talking about dismantling their nuclear weapons.
So, you know what? I'm proud of this Republican Party. I'm proud of what we have been able to achieve, two million more jobs in America. Yes, we are working hard, exactly what we said we would do. That is a proud Republican Party. That is a party that stems on their principles. That is part of what we ran on. That is part of what we said we would do.
And you know what? We are accomplishing it.
BASH: You talked about the accomplishments, rightly so, including the economy. It is humming. There's no question.
That should be really good news for you heading into November's election. But a lot of your Republican colleagues are really worried about a potential trade war over the steel and aluminum tariffs that the president is putting in place, that they could hurt your constituents, make voters upset.
Is the president making a mistake that could jeopardize the House majority?
MCCARTHY: First, let's look at the facts. We are -- I disagree with trade wars. I don't think anybody wins a trade war. But we are not in a trade war.
BASH: Not yet, but is the president pushing us to head that way?
MCCARTHY: No, he is not. We are in a trade discussion to renegotiate NAFTA. Remember what
we've been able to achieve in a short amount of time. We have renegotiated a trade deal with South Korea that, you know what, makes America a little stronger.
If we build a car in America today and it goes to China, it gets a 25 percent tariff. If it goes to the E.U., it gets a 10 percent tariff. But if they send cars to us, it is 2.5.
So, what I think is happening here, just as Republicans said, we believe in free trade, but we believe in fair trade. The president is standing up.
Think about every country around this world would agree with us, even the E.U. That is why they issued the WTO complaint against China on the theft of I.P.
BASH: But, sir...
MCCARTHY: I think what we're finding here is, we are in the middle of a trade discussion. Nobody wants to be in a trade war. Nobody wins a trade war.
But we are standing up for the process of where we're moving forward that we have fair trade. If you are talking about Canada, look what they do when it comes to our dairy products. Look what it -- our wine cannot sit on their supermarkets.
I think this is a discussion, trying to finalize the NAFTA agreement, going through on renegotiations. And you are just in the middle of it.
BASH: Mr. Leader, thank you so much for joining me at that early hour out in California. I really appreciate it.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
BASH: And, as you just heard, President Trump is preparing to visit Canada after blaming the country for unfair trade practices.
The Canadian prime minister says new tariffs are insulting and unacceptable. Should President Trump expect a warm welcome?
Well, we're going to ask the Canadian foreign minister up next.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
Longtime U.S. allies are lashing out and threatening retaliation, as President Trump defends his move to impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.
In a flurry of tweets on Saturday, the president said the U.S. can't lose a trade war and said unfair trade can no longer be tolerated, this as the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is calling the new tariffs insulting and unacceptable, and arguing President Trump's move marks a turning point in the relationship between the two nations.
Here now to discuss the Canadian minister -- excuse me -- here now to discuss is the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland.
Thank you so much for joining me, Madam Foreign Minister.
Let's start out with what your prime minister said, very, very harsh discussions, harsh words this past week, saying that there is a turning point now in the Canadian-U.S. relationship.
What does that mean?
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first of all, Dana, it is very nice to be with you. Thank you for the invitation.
I stood beside the prime minister when he made those statements. And they were strong statements, because I think what it is important for Americans to understand is the justification under your rules for the imposition of these tariffs was a national security consideration.
So, what you are saying to us and to all of your NATO allies is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States.
And I would just say to all of Canada's American friends -- and there are so many -- seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you?
And that is why the prime minister said it is, frankly, insulting.
When Ronald Reagan visited Canada in the 1980s, he said, we are more than friends and neighbors and allies. We are kin, who together have built the most productive relationship between any two countries in the world.
That was Ronald Reagan. And that is how Canadians feel. And so this is a really sad time for us. We are hurt, and we are insulted.
BASH: Well, you mentioned the fact that the Trump administration is defending the tariffs citing national security concerns. The reliance on steel from other countries limits the U.S. ability to produce military equipment, should the need arise.
You know, America's first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge -- first adviser, I should say -- wrote in an op-ed. He wrote this: "To rely upon foreign producers to provide for our domestic and military infrastructure, amid such uncertainty, is shortsighted and impedes our ability to be prepared and agile. Steel capacity is not something that can be replaced at the snap of a finger should allies become unreliable or our enemies disrupt the supply chain." By way of context, Tom Ridge is no huge fan of Donald Trump. And, also, I think what he and others are arguing is, it's not so much that they see Canada as a security risk, is that the United States has to be more self-reliant.
FREELAND: Well, look, what I would say there is, this is an unprecedented use of Section 232, which is the national security consideration under which these tariffs are being levied.
As a matter of U.S. law, Canada is considered a part of the national defense industrial base. We have been allies and have been working together for 150 years.
When Jim Mattis unveiled the national defense strategy at the beginning of the year, Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, he said something really powerful, which is that history proves that nations with allies thrive.
That is 100 percent true. And so I would just really say to our closest allies in the world, you, the United States, please think hard about the message you are sending to your closest allies.
BASH: Well, in a response to the U.S. decision, you announced a series of retaliatory tariffs, not only on American steel, but -- and aluminum, but also a variety of consumer goods, coffee, whiskey, tablecloths. You called it the strongest trade action Canada has taken since World War II.
Are the U.S. and Canada in a trade war?
FREELAND: You know, Dana, I would prefer not to use that kind of bellicose, militaristic language when talking about trade, but this is the strongest trade action Canada has taken since the Second World War.
It is perfectly reciprocal and balanced. So these will be -- this will be a dollar-for-dollar retaliation.
Our action is legal under WTO rules, responsively. And I want to point out that the U.S. action which provoked this Canadian response is illegal under the rules of the international trading system.
BASH: So, if you wouldn't call it a trade war, what would you describe is going on here, that the countries, U.S. and Canada, are imposing new tariffs on one another?
FREELAND: Well, you know what I -- a word that I would not use to describe it, Dana, is a trade discussion.
I have now heard a few people, including people you have been interviewing, try to term what is happening between the Canada and the U.S. -- and it's not just Canada -- this is also the E.U., this is also Mexico -- as a trade discussion.
BASH: So, what is it?
FREELAND: And that is to minimize -- that is to minimize something very, very serious.
This is not just about words. This is about actions. And it's about actions which will hurt everyone, first and foremost, actually, American companies, American consumers. Canada is the single largest market for the United States, larger than China, Japan, and the U.K. combined.
BASH: So, if it is not a trade war and it's not a trade discussion, what is it?
FREELAND: It is -- well, you know, part of the issue here is, it's allegedly not even about trade, right? We started our discussion describing the extent to which this is allegedly about a national security consideration.
So, i would say it is a very grave difference between the closest allies of the United States and the U.S. around both national security and the global economy and the rules for the global economy.
BASH: Let me ask you a question from the point of view of President Trump.
He made really clear during his campaign that his world view is America first. And he is following through with that by -- he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal. And now he is doing this.
So, he would ask, what is wrong with putting America first? What is your response?
FREELAND: Well, it is obviously up to Americans and American leaders to judge what are good policies for the American people.
But I can say very clearly that this particular policy, the imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, is going to hurt Americans first and foremost.
And it is going to hurt all of those American companies that need Canadian steel and aluminum and will now face higher prices, and will therefore be less competitive. It is going to hurt all of those American consumers who will have to pay more.
And the retaliatory measures which we have been compelled to take in response, those will also hurt. And I really regret that, but that is the reality.
We know that beggar-thy-neighbor policies don't work. That was the lesson of the 1920s and the 1930s. This is now not just about Canada and the U.S. It's about the U.S. and all of its closest allies.
And I really hope people will take some time to reflect on the lessons of history, and not go down that path again.
BASH: Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.
FREELAND: Great to be with you.
BASH: Thank you.
And he takes credit for fuelling President Trump's rise. Now he is saying it is President Trump on the ballot in November. Steve Bannon tells CNN midterm voters have a choice, Trump unfiltered or impeachment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Trump's second presidential race will be on November 6 of this year. He is on the ballot. And you're -- we're going to have an up or down vote.
Do you back Trump's program -- OK -- with all its good and all its bad you back Trump's program or do you back removing him because that is what Pelosi and Tom Steyer and these guys want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: President's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, putting a very real political spin on the simmering culture wars that percolated this week. For Trump to succeed it is about us versus them in politics and in pop culture.
My panel is with me now. Senator Santorum, you know, the president is really adept at using culture wars to his advantage. I mean, he started out with being sort of the birther guy, right?
So do you think this is a strategy that could actually work in November?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the White House is very concerned about the base. They look at the election results in my home state of Pennsylvania, my old district of Pennsylvania, and the fact is that voter turnout in a lot of Trump areas has been very low among Republicans, and they are looking to try to gin up the base by saying this is really about the guy that you voted for and not about these Republicans who aren't necessarily doing a great job in cooperating in -- with President Trump in getting some things done. Yes, I think that's -- that's the motivation.
Look, the Republicans still have a chance between now and the election to do some things that can motivate the base. One is health care which is, you know, I've been working on for quite some time. I think there is still an opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare.
They need -- they need to show something more than just having pass the tax cut to energize the base. And if they don't do that then they are left with, you know, just trying to gin up saying, no, this is about Donald Trump. I'm not sure that's enough.
BASH: And on the flip side, Bakari, the whole notion that Bannon was talking about of trying to lay out the election as either for Trump or for impeachment that is not necessarily a great message for Democrats.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No but this race will be about it. As much as Democrats are talking about issues every single day, they're talking about the fact that trade wars aren't good for America, the fact that we need to make sure that we strengthen up our health care system, the fact still remains that this is race is going to be a referendum on Donald Trump. Midterm elections are reference on Donald Trump.
Even more importantly these cultural wars help gin up our base as well because our base doesn't look at this necessarily as culture wars as much as they are dog whistles. And when you have things like the Roseanne Barr incident of the football players, or all of this things, then you realize that there is a string of racism and xenophobia and bigotry that Democrats and their base wants to beat back as well.
And so it's a double-edged sword for Donald Trump. He actually played it well in 2016. I think people will push that back in 2018.
BASH: Well, his son, Donald Trump Jr., was on Breitbart radio this week and he talked about the double standard that he and many conservative say that they see between discussing Roseanne Barr and some things that liberals say about the president and his family.
Listen to what Donald Trump Jr. said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It is such a flagrant double standard. I think real Americans get it. They are no longer buying this notion that oh it's fair on both sides.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BASH: Do you agree?
LINDA CHAVEZ, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: I absolutely agree and that's -- maybe the first time I've ever agreed with Donald Trump Jr. on anything.
The fact is the culture war works to the benefit of Republicans. It's been doing it for 50 years.
BASH: Does that make it right?
CHAVEZ: No, it doesn't make it right. But I have to tell you liberals walk right into the trap when they have a Samantha Bee out there not just using the most vile, vulgar word to describe a woman but going after her in such a personal way, going after her relationship with her father. Look, I have not a whole lot of use for Ivanka Trump. I don't think she should be in the White House. But you don't go after somebody in that kind of really nasty vile way in a way that frankly I think that word and the fact that it was scripted and, you know, essentially she may have read it from a teleprompter says a world about liberals and their values.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: But here is the problem. You have the president himself who has used that word. It's been reported that he used the c word to describe Sally Yates.
Here's the thing. It is -- it is really bizarre and wild that the president makes himself a victim and -- he and his administration makes him a victim when he is a bully in chief.
He uses the bully pulpit to attack. He goes after women of color, he and his administration. They go after Latinos and immigrants. Calling them -- calling them animals, conflating MS-13 to immigrants, to refugees, people who are looking for asylum which we should be giving them asylum. And this is -- what is happening is that the president has opened up this kind of -- racism was here before Donald Trump and sadly it will be here after Donald Trump.
So that is the fact. But he has -- what he has done is he has normalized, he has given license to people to make it OK to say, hey, all right, you want to put out your racism even loud and be public about it, go ahead, because he is doing it. And that is the problem that we're in with this culture wars because it's coming from the White House.
BASH: What do you say to that, Senator?
SANTORUM: Well, I disagree with some of the examples that were given by Karine. The reality is that this president uses crude words and acts crudely sometimes. And I think most Americans even Republicans have problems with that.
And we see Democrats who do the same thing. I think most Americans of the mind that they really hate this crude -- this crude behavior, the coursing, the discourse in our society. And at the same time most Americans, you know, want to allow people to sort of, particularly comedians, to say what they want to say and, you know, be edgy, and even the president and others to sort of, you know, be real and be out there.
And so there is these two minds. And it tends to fall out is that, well, if it's the Republican that does it I'll take the, you know, and I am a Republican then I'll sort of give them some slack saying, well, we want them to be able to say what they want to say. And if it's a Democrat well, then they condemn.
And that is the problem here is that there are two minds and people can sort of fall into whatever camp they wanted based on the -- on who says it.
CHAVEZ: You know, I'm a mom and I'm a grandmother. And when my kids used to say, well, so and so did it -- well, you know, David did it or Rudy did it or Pablo did it so it's OK for me to do it. You know, I used to say, no, it's not OK.
And that's the problem here is that they -- that both sides are acting like children and this is really, I think, disgusting and is devaluing our culture. I think it is making us a worst place to live.
SANTORUM: I agree with that.
SELLERS: Can we talk about just the pure hypocrisy and irony of Donald Trump Jr., just one moment? Because -- OK. What Samantha Bee said is beyond the pale.
You wouldn't want anyone to talk about your daughter, sister or mother that way and it should not be talked about even in comedy. What Roseanne Barr said was not comedy. It's the First Amendment right. She also has the consequence of that First Amendment right --
SANTORUM: I agree (ph) to that.
SELLERS: -- because you just can't be racist --
SELLERS: -- today because you feel like you want to be racist in public. So we have all of these things but it starts and stops in one place and that's the White House.
JEAN-PIERRE (ph): Yes.
SELLERS: I mean, we can go back to "Access Hollywood." The same way you don't want Samantha Bee talking about Ivanka Trump that way the words that came out of Donald Trump's mouth on that bus you don't want anybody talking --
BASH: OK. So we're talking about understandably the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But President Obama said something according to a new book by his former adviser, Ben Rhodes, that really is interesting because it's really about this whole notion of a cultural war.
He said the following, "Maybe we pushed too far. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe. Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early."
You worked for him. You know, he is talking about culture. He is talking about identity politics.
BASH: Do you agree? JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I can understand that the president, President Obama is now reflecting especially what we have seen in the last two years. When I was in the White House the first two years I worked on both elections. And what we saw was pretty horrific.
You elect the first black president and there was an uproar. You saw the Tea Party, you saw the obstruction by Republicans time and time again and I would say that we swung, we elect the first black president and then we swung an elected Donald Trump. And it is kind of problematic.
It is -- there is something that says a lot about this country, and what Donald Trump did is he tapped into it. Because let's not forget he started his political career talk about birtherism, being the spokesperson of birtherism. And so he saw something as well and tapped into that, tapped into that racism that we have been seeing for the last -- in particular very heavily so in the last 10 years.
And so this is where we are. And he's taking that, Donald Trump is taking that. And he ran with it.
And let's not forget how he capped off his first year, he saw neo- Nazis marching in Charlotte and what does he say, they're fine people on both sides. This is the president of the United States that we're talking about.
SANTORUM: What's being ignored here is the role that Barack Obama played in all this. I mean, you just can't go from, we elected our first black president and all the sudden we get Donald Trump. There was something in between those two things.
JEAN-PIERRE: No. I'm saying that we -- clearly it tapped into something in this country --
SANTORUM: The thing that tapped into this was--
JEAN-PIERRE: -- when we elected the first black --
SANTORUM: -- that many, many, many people saw --
JEAN-PIERRE: -- of racism.
SANTORUM: -- Barack Obama being just that, doing more to exacerbate racism in this country that any --
JEAN-PIERRE: How? What did he do? What did he do?
SANTORUM: -- every time there was a controversy with someone of color was involved he took the side many times against the police, against people of --
JEAN-PIERRE: When people -- people who were -- SANTORUM: -- he did it over and over and over again.
JEAN-PIERRE: -- who were treated unjustifiably (ph) so (ph)?
SANTORUM: President Obama was to many people out there --
JEAN-PIERRE: Are you talking about Trayvon Martin? Is that what you're talking about when he came out --
SANTORUM: -- to come together and brought this country together --
JEAN-PIERRE: -- and said this was wrong, a young boy who was shot --
BASH: Guys, it breaks my heart to say this because this is an important discussion and I hope you'll continue it online or on Twitter or --
SELLERS: -- with Obama was --
JEAN-PIERRE: I know.
BASH: Thank you very all of you for joining us. Thank you.
And coming up Fareed Zakaria goes one-on-one with Steve Bannon. That's next.