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Kavanaugh and Rosenstein Cases Engulfs White House Ahead of Trump Speech at the U.N. General Assembly; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now I want to bring in Alex Marquardt. He is over at the U.N. with a preview of the speech that most world leaders see as an opportunity.

So, Alex, as you watch this, we understand that he's looking to take aim at China among other countries.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is certainly going to be hitting on China, Iran, North Korea, you know, all of the major concerns for American foreign policy.

Jim, as you know, these are the speeches by world leaders where the countries lay out how they see the world, what their priorities are in terms of foreign policy. So everyone will be watching this speech very closely to see what Trump hits on, and it's expected to last around 40 minutes. And he is expecting to hit on this major theme of sovereignty. In many ways, this speech will be similar to last year's speech which was his first in the U.N., and many ways that it will be different.

But one continuing theme will be this notion of sovereignty, which as you mentioned essentially can be understood as a continuation of this principle of "America First," which the president trumpeted on the campaign trail and at the White House.

Now we understand that this speech was primarily written by Stephen Miller who is one of the principle architects of "America First." And essentially what this White House has said is that they feel that in many cases in international agreements, multilateral treaties, that these agreements and treaties infringe on the rights of Americans and they want to pull out of them.

Just yesterday, we heard from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. She proudly listed the number of treaties that the U.S. had pulled out of, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord, the Global Compact on Migration, other things that she did not mention were defunding the U.N. agency for Palestinians, for pulling out of the International Criminal Court, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The list goes on and on.

But, Jim, he will hit on North Korea, of course. That was one of the main themes last year. That's when Trump was taunting Kim Jong-un, calling him little rocket man, threatening to annihilate North Korea. Of course we find ourselves in a very different place this year following that summit in Singapore. Just yesterday, the president talking about the beautiful letter that he had gotten from Kim Jong-un and talking about a second summit.

As for Iran, he's expected to be harsh on Iran, continuing to accuse them of being a destabilizing factor in the world, of being sponsors of terrorism around the world. Of being involved, of course, in the war in Syria. But at the same time, the president has indicated that he might be open to a summit with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, tweeting today and calling -- saying that I am sure Rouhani is an absolutely lovely man.

Now, Jim, China is going to be the area where most of us are going to be watching closely. That is the area of U.S. foreign policy that has perhaps the greatest consequences. The president is expected to defend his tariffs, to talk about how China has been unfair in international trade, how they violated international law in terms of maritime law and intellectual property. But essentially what we're going to see today is the president going into the home of international diplomacy, a place where -- that is designed to foster multilateral global cooperation, and say thanks but no thanks.

Even on this most international of stages, the Trump administration is still playing to their base -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Joining me now to break this all down, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN political analyst David Drucker, and CNN national security analyst Sam Vinograd.

Sam, if I can begin with you, because I remember standing outside the U.N. this time last year listening to that speech by the president calling Kim Jong-un rocket man, talking about totally destroying North Korea if it were to threaten the U.S. again. There was an enormous amount of alarm inside the General Assembly to hear those words from the president. A year later, there's been a face-to-face summit, the president is talking now about a second summit.

Does the president deserve credit for taking the U.S. and North Korea back from the brink of war?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, to a certain extent, what a difference a year makes. Right, Jim? We have gone from little rocket man to the president praising Kim Jong-un and talking about meeting him again, but I don't think that we should overplay how much has changed.

North Korea is continuing to starve its own people. North Korea continues to have huge stockpiles of chemical biological weapons and nuclear weapons, that hasn't stopped, and is still attacking us via cyberattacks on an ongoing basis. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI continue to issue alerts. So some things have changed but more things have stayed the same.

And the question really is, when is North Korea actually going to denuclearize and is Trump in his speech going to use North Korea as a model for what's possible for a country like Iran, and Iran could step back and say, OK, all you have to do is meet with President Trump and you go from being the subject of fire and fury to being praised on the world stage.

[10:05:03] SCIUTTO: David Drucker, are there risks for the president here? Because he went to the summit in Singapore. I was there. This was a few months ago. Came back with no verifiable steps on denuclearization, still since then none, but now he's already talking about a second summit.

Is that risky for President Trump even with his own supporters?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a huge risk. It's a huge risk because North Korea has played the U.S. for 30 years. They have played Democratic presidents and Republican presidents, or at the very least, you could say this. Democratic and Republican presidents that have come before Trump have tried various avenues to peacefully get North Korea to denuclearize and stop threatening its neighbors, and every time they have broken their word and turned their back on the United States and its allies.

And we've seen nothing in the North Korean situation since the summit to suggest that they're doing anything different. The president, I think, can take credit for a reduction in tensions. I think he can take credit for squeezing North Korea with a maximum pressure policy that I think he should have continued, but where he says that we're on a path to denuclearization, nothing is further from the truth at this point.

And if he ends up getting played the same way his predecessors did, he's going to have an even bigger problem on his hands and it's going to be a foreign policy failure that he has to explain. And you put this together with the problem the U.S. has in China -- with China that goes far beyond the North Korea situation. I think the president doesn't quite understand that China has goals beyond the economic.

They want to compete and in fact supplant the U.S. as the predominant power on the world stage. And if this president doesn't understand that, it's -- he's going to find himself boxed in by Chinese ambitions.

SCIUTTO: Right. Right. Just as we have been speaking, this is a live picture of the president's motorcade leaving Trump Tower here in New York for the short trip east to the U.N. headquarters where he will speak. He was scheduled to speak at 10:15. Looks to be since he's just leaving now, he's meant to leave a number of minutes ago, that that start might be a bit late. Regardless, we're going to bring it to you live as it happens.

Dana Bash, if I can go to you, our understanding is that a major target of Trump's speech at the U.N., as David was speaking about there, could be China, and a defense in effect of the president's policy of tariffs, saying that they are working. I imagine a big audience for him beyond all those leaders there at the U.N. is the domestic political audience here to say, hey, listen, you know, give me time on this. We're getting what we want. I mean, is that working?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. You know, we'll see if it's working or not because the reality that the president and more importantly Republicans who are up for re- election in six weeks, especially those who are in farm rich states, they are being targeted directly because of where they are by the Chinese.

The Chinese and, Jim, you know this better than anyone, you understand that country and how it works, they are focused on the political situation here, and they're trying to hit the president and hit the Republican Party where it hurts the most, and that is in key swing districts. So that is for sure going to be part of the president's audience. To try to reassure people back home, but also to call out the Chinese, to say I know what you're trying to do here. And we're not going to let you do it.

And that is very much the domestic political argument that he is making. Short-term pain, long-term gain. Stick with me, it will be better in the end.

SCIUTTO: We'll see. From China's perspective early on, they thought this was going to be just a few months of politics, but now they're bracing themselves for much longer term.

Dana, Sam, David, stand by because we've got lots more to discuss here. We're still watching, waiting for the president any minute now to step out on the world stage, speak in front of leaders at the U.N. He is on his way, his motorcade on the way there now from Trump Tower. All of this as the president is in the crosshairs of not one, not just one, but two potentially consequential political crises.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:13:33] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. These are pictures just moments ago of the president's motorcade arriving at U.N. headquarters here. He's going to deliver what we expect to be about a 40-minute speech that's going to start momentarily. The moment it starts, we're going to bring those to you live. China expected to be one focus of his comments.

As we wait, we want to go to the U.N. to speak to Abby Phillip. As we are waiting for the president's speech there, big developments concerning the president's embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. What's the latest you're hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We know this is one of the big things on President Trump's mind as he's coming to the U.N. this week. He has been urging his -- yes.

SCIUTTO: The president walking into the building just as you're speaking there so you know. But please, set the context here as he faces this crisis back in Washington.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's right --

SCIUTTO: Here's the president, he's going to speak. Sorry to interrupt, Abby. Let's listen to the president. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- sanctions at a very

massive level, one of the highest levels we have ever done. Iran has to change its tune before I meet with them. They want to meet. I'm not meeting with them until they change their tune. It will happen. I believe they have no choice. We look forward to having a great relationship with Iran but it won't happen now.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: We're in the process of setting up a meeting with North Korea. Chairman Kim has been dealing with us. We have made tremendous progress, far greater than the media would understand or know.

[10:15:05] It has been really a very good relationship. As you know, there have been no tests, no nuclear tests, no rockets, no missile launches. And we got our hostages back. We're getting the remains of our great heroes back. And that's already started, that process, and many more are coming in the very short future. So we're doing very well with North Korea. Again, far greater than anybody would know.

I have much personal correspondence with Chairman Kim, and we will -- I think we'll do something that's good for Chairman Kim and good for North Korea and also good for the rest of the world.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I'm meeting with Rod Rosenstein on Thursday. Today I'm doing other things, as you probably know.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: That as well is a very sad case, and we want to see it fixed. What's happening there is a human tragedy. OK?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: You've just been listening to the president there as he enters the U.N. before his speech. Making some headlines on three topics. He says, regarding Iran, after tweeting this morning that he might be willing to meet with Rouhani, sure that he's a lovely guy. He says look forward to having great relations with Iran, but they will have to change their tune first.

He also spoke about North Korea, said that the U.S. has made, quote, "tremendous progress," more, he said, than the media understand. He mentions the return of remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War. Hostages and the fact that there have been no tests, nuclear tests or missile tests, claiming that as tremendous progress there. Still, as you know, no progress on denuclearization.

The president also referenced the Kavanaugh case saying it's a very sad case and that he wants to see it fixed.

Let's go to the panel now. David Drucker, the president seems to be redefining what amounts to

progress with North Korea, does he not? Because by the president's -- by his administration's own standards, the standard was reverse -- irreversible steps, verifiable, irreversible steps on denuclearization. All the stuff the president cited there easily reversible. No diminution of the North Korea's nuclear program.

DRUCKER: Yes, the jargon that many Republicans were using in and around the summit was CVID, complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization. That's nothing that we have seen.

Look, I think that it's possible, obviously, the president privy to classified information, to communications between Secretary of State Pompeo and the North Koreans could know more than we know at this time, but one of the biggest tells to know whether North Korea is really going to change its behavior over time and get around to CVID at some point is how they treat their own people.

Because the only thing that props up the Kim regime, and they are all about self-preservation, is the nuclear program. The minute they denuclearize in a real way is the minute we focus in a real way on the fact that they starve their own people and run a racket in that regime that kills people.

SCIUTTO: That's something the president has refrained, Sam Vinograd, from criticizing North Korea, the North Korean leader with, been calling him a great leader, saying that they have a wonderful relationship, but he doesn't cite their horrendous human rights record, which continues.

VINOGRAD: He doesn't, and he referenced a potential second summit today. We have been hearing about that, but Jim, I have to say, I think the Kim train has already left the station. President Trump met with Chairman Kim -- or excuse me, met with Kim Jong-un, and at that point, every other world leader looked around and thought, why can't I do that, too? He's meeting with the Chinese. It's entirely possible he'll meet with the Russians.

And just lack week, there were CEOs going to North Korea to talk about potential business deals between the South and the North. So what President Trump personally does with this personal pen-pal relationship with Kim Jong-un is to a certain extent irrelevant at this point because so many other things are moving forward.

SCIUTTO: Dana Bash, if you're still there, the president, as he often does, is doubling down despite the advice even of many of his own supporters on something like North Korea, saying listen, you know, I know you criticize my last summit, but heck, I'm going ahead. He said just then, we're in the process of setting up a second meeting without, as David Drucker, was mentioning any of those conditions met that the Trump administration itself set on complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization. No, as you look at the president's move, it appears his mind is made up on this.

BASH: It does. He has been told really since he had that first meeting with then-President Obama when he was President-elect Trump in the Oval Office that North Korea is the thing that nobody has been able to do and the biggest risk to national security.

[10:20:07] So for somebody like Donald Trump, there is no bigger challenge, and he has no more determination on anything else, I think, on the global stage, aside from trade, than trying to solve this problem. And he believes very firmly in his own ability to make a deal and to charm. And to see things through in a way that other people can't which is why he made a point of saying there when he spoke to reporters that he has frequent communication with Kim Jong- un, that they talk more than people realize.

He's trying very hard to keep this going. There have been fits and starts. Maybe more fits than starts in recent weeks and months. But he's absolutely determined to do it. The problem is, and again, Jim, you know this, when he goes after China on trade, if he's going to do it as aggressively as we think he might in the speech coming up, how much is that going to hurt his chances of getting things done in North Korea? Because China is --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: Is now and always has been and always will be the linchpin in that region and in -- and with North Korea.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Lizza, as I speak to people who follow the U.S.-China relationship closely, the fact is despite the criticisms, that the U.S. has China's attention now on these issues. Early on, they thought that this was purely a political play, these tariffs. It might be short term, but in fact the president is sticking with them. And this is something that multiple administrations, Republican and Democrat, have tried to do with China. Press it on bad trade practices, stolen intellectual property, et cetera.

Does the president deserve credit here for getting their attention, in effect, on these issues?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and previous administrations were always restrained by the -- you know, a bipartisan consensus that tariffs were not an effective way to get China's attention. That starting a trade war would just lead to, you know, losses on both sides. Trump so far has avoided some of the political fallout from these tariffs, but they're still relatively recent.

I was in Iowa recently on a reporting trip, and I'll tell you, all the farmers I talked to there were talking about tariffs. They were beginning to be hit by some of these. And so we'll see if during the midterms if the political backlash against them changes the Trump administration's calculation.

To your question, yes, I suppose he deserves some credit for, you know, pursuing a slightly different path to get China's attention. It's been very haphazard. I think you have a lot of people around the president who try and channel his impulses and weird fetish about tariffs into something that is possibly more productive, but we're still at the early stages of Trump's relationship with China, and you know, it's probably too early to say whether this has been successful or not. SCIUTTO: We are just moments away from the president taking the

podium there at the U.N. General Assembly. We're going to turn to that as it happens.

David Drucker, just as the president prepares to take the stage here, who is his audience? Is it world leaders or is it really domestic political audience?

DRUCKER: Well, you know, that's the real question is who does the president want to speak to? Because I think the president is still making his case to a domestic audience that his foreign policy works, that his domestic policies are working. And it's not me taking a -- making a judgment call that they're not working.

I think the president seems to work overtime in trying to convince everybody that things are as good as he says they are. And so it strikes me that he's going to be talking to a domestic audience. He should be talking to an international audience and setting the terms for U.S. engagement and what he expects both from our allies and our foes, and we have myriad challenges.

What's happening in China, what's going on in the Middle East, the Russians. These are areas that the president -- that any president would have trouble, I think, juggling all at once, but where the president still has to prove that he can make inroads, and I think there's still a question about whether or not the president appreciates the role that the U.S. took in the post-World War II era, which was to be the global guarantor of the Western world order and world peace and whether he still wants the U.S. to play that role.

And it's significant now because of a rising China, because of a belligerent Russia, both of whom are now talking to each other to try and deal with the problems they face from the U.S. And so it will be interesting to see what he communicates about how he sees the role the U.S. should take today.

SCIUTTO: Yes, those treaties have helped keep the peace. You can argue.

[10:25:01] Stand by, we're going to take a very short break here as we wait for the president to speak momentarily in front of leaders at the U.N.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: We're standing by for President Trump to take the stage at the U.N. General Assembly. This is the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, speaking now. He was actually supposed to speak after President Trump. President arriving a bit late, so he jumped the queue. The president, though, will take that stage momentarily. And as he was arriving at the U.N., he spoke about U.S. relations with Iran. Have a listen.