Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump's Military Call Turns Political: Calls 9th Circuit "Big Thorn In Our Side"; Trump on Cabinet: May be Changing a Few; House Judiciary Committee Subpeonas Comey, Lynch. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 22, 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]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Helped create a country that's doing better than several done economically. So a lot of people are coming up here because their country is not doing well and perhaps for a reason. Whatever that reason is, their countries are not doing well.

OK, couple of more, anybody else?

QUESTION: How prepared are you for this meeting with President Xi? How are you preparing for it and how confident are you?

TRUMP: I'm very prepared. I have been preparing for it all my life. You know it's not like, oh, gee I'm going to sit down and study. I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than everybody knows it. And my gut has always right. And we're doing very well. And I will tell you, China very much wants to make a deal. China has been taking advantage of the United States for many, many years. They have taken out $400 billion, $500 billion, $600 billion a year, that doesn't include the theft of intellectual property, which has been horrible what they have been doing.

And you know it's not a question of preparing. I think I prepared for this meeting. I had a meeting literally right in that corner with President Xi. We have a great relationship. I like him a lot. I think he likes me. Probably likes me less now than he did before we did what we're doing. But we picked up trillions of dollars in value, and China has lost trillions of dollars in value since I'm president. Trillions. Many trillions of value. And we have picked up many trillions of dollars in value.

And we are a true economic power, far greater than we were before I became president. We are an economic power that is far greater than we were -- when we were -- when I took over, we were teetering. We were in bad shape. We were going down to minus 4, minus 5, minus 6 percent in GDP. Instead, last quarter, we hit 4.2 percent. And we are doing very well. I can say this. China wants to make a deal very badly -- because of the tariffs.

Right now, on $250 billion, they will be paying as of January 1st, 25 percent. And in many cases they're already paying 25 percent. On the rest they're not, they're paying 10 percent. But the 10 percent goes to 25 percent on January 1st. And so they're going to be paying a tremendous amount of money which frankly is great for our country. We're taking in billions of dollars from China. We never took in 10 cents from China. They took everything from us. We never took anything from them.

Now, as of already we're taking in -- right now, we're taking in billions. China, people don't understand this, China is right now paying us, right now paying us billions of dollars a month. That's never happened before. And soon, they're going to be paying us many, many billions of dollars a month. But China wants to make a deal. If we can make a deal, we will.

QUESTION: Are you worried about Matt Whitaker's finances?

TRUMP: You know Matt Whitaker is a highly respected person. And you know, once I choose somebody, they always go through hell. But Matt Whitaker is a highly respected man. The Justice Department respects him tremendously. I have spoken to a lot of people, and you know, the press has been nasty to Matt Whitaker, but I can tell you that he's a highly respected, strong person. And he's doing a great job. Everybody tells me that. He's doing a really great job.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: No, I haven't been asked to. No.

QUESTION: Do you want him to face charges?

TRUMP: I don't know anything about it. I am not very familiar with the whole situation, but I would say that if somebody made a request, I guess it's something we would consider. I just don't know very much about that situation.

OK. What else? Anything else?

QUESTION: Are you interviewing people this week for new jobs in your administration?

TRUMP: Yes, we'll have a few. I'm very happy with my cabinet and the people that work for me. And for us, really work for the country. We have a great cabinet. We have absolute stars. A few of them I would say can do very well outside. Everyone is doing well when they leave. That's one thing I'll tell you. Everyone that leaves the Trump administration has come out really well. I'm very proud of a lot of them.

Look at Hope. Hope Hicks is doing a fantastic job. She is a fantastic young woman. And I'm very proud of her. Look how she's doing. She's become a very important person in the outside world. And we have many such people where they work here for a year and a half or for a period of time, and they go outside and they do really well, many of them. So - and that's what I want. I want to say there's always a lot of change.

Yes, I'll probably be changing a couple, maybe a few, but very little. Overall, we're very happy. QUESTION: Are you doing interviews this week for that?

TRUMP: Yes, I'm doing interviews this week. I'll do interviews, as we say in the southern White House, people like doing interviews here.

QUESTION: What job are you interviewing for?

TRUMP: Well I'll let you know. You'll see. I know. Maybe I will.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Ivanka about her e-mails?

TRUMP: Yes. I have, actually and very innocent, a short period of time, very early on.

[10:35:07] There was no deletion of e-mails like the 33,000 plus probably another 100,000 that Hillary Clinton did after she got a subpoena. There was no bleach bit. There was no anything, just innocent e-mails. There were no classified e-mails, a much different deal. That's another fake news story.

And she did transition out. She is a private person and ultimately she transitioned out from private to government. And I believe all of her records are in the historical society, the historical records. Much different than the other situation that I have talked about for a long time. But she transitioned out. But everything is in historical records.

I'll see you over at the Coast Guard. I'm going over to say hello to the Coast Guard right now which I look forward. I don't know if you're going, but if you are, I'll see you there. Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: What are you most thankful for, Mr. President?

TRUMP: For having a great family and for having made a tremendous difference in this country. I made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you won't believe it. And I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can't even believe it. When I see foreign leaders, they say we cannot believe the difference in strength between the United States now and the United States two years ago, made a lot of progress. Thank you very much. Thank you everybody.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, what was billed as a long distance phone call with troops deployed to war zones on this Thanksgiving Day became an almost equally long conversation with reporters there. The president, as he left there, saying what he's thankful for is the tremendous difference that he's made in this country.

He also made a number of claims that we're going to immediately fact check. He said that the CIA reached no conclusion on the crown prince of Saudi Arabia's involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In fact, intelligence agencies do not make conclusions. They make assessments. In this case, a high confidence assessment, which is the highest confidence assessment they will make.

The president, as with Vladimir Putin and Russian interference in the U.S. election, says that the crown prince vehemently denies involvement in that killing, apparently taking him at his word. The president issued a number of further attacks on the courts, keeping up his fight with the Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. He also seemed to reveal at the top of the conversation that he does have plans to visit troops but he will not name the date of when that will happen. Prior to that, he had a call with deployed forces, and we should note that in that call, the president brought up a number of domestic political points, asked those deployed soldiers to comment on those domestic political points. Very unusual thing for a president to do to deployed forces.

I want to bring in -- we have a lot of smart people here to comment and react to this, including Lieutenant General Mark Hertling who commanded thousands of U.S. deployed troops in Afghanistan during the surge there, during the war. General Hertling, as the president brought up with U.S. forces, the southern border wall, trade deals, his dispute with judges here in the U.S., what kind of position does that put uniform soldiers in?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A very bad one, Jim. And I got to point that out from the very beginning. But before I say that, what really struck me about the phone call or the teleconference, the VTC, with the troops from all four, five services, was the fact that I hoped the people who were listening noticed how commanders talked positively about their mission, about their team, about the people that worked for them. There were no complaints at all about what was happening. And that's the difference. This is leadership from the people who are on the other end of that VTC. Talking about their mission and how they were accomplishing it with a great team with no complaints on a day where everyone is celebrating Thanksgiving and being grateful.

The president bringing up political issues with those commanders in front of their soldiers is a horrible position to put them in. And you notice that not a single one of them commented on really what were some obvious distortions of issues like judges. The commander in Kuwait was asked about the trade in Kuwait. You know something he should not be put in the position to comment on. The commander of the Reagan was talking about how he has just come back from a freedom of navigation exercise. And yet he was put in a position on commenting about navy readiness and the type of equipment that are on aircraft carriers, announcing it to the whole world, how what is happening with different types of experimental launch systems. All of those things are just flat out wrong.

[10:40:07] SCIUTTO: It was an interesting -- that moment General was particularly interesting because the president has this pet issue with steam catapult launchers on aircraft carriers, how they're launched into the air, versus the new one, electromagnetic. And he put that officer on the spot saying which one do you support. And I was waiting for his answer there. And to his credit, he said listen, these are better. They got -- And I wondered for a moment whether he was going to be dropped off at the nearest deserted island as the carrier continues its deployment.

Kaitlan Collins, I want to go to you because clearly the president was sensitive to recent questions about how he has not visited troops in the field two years, nearly two years into his term there. He does this conference call, conference phone call. Do his advisers believe that he accomplished something with this call to show his interest in the troops? Even as he brought up all those political issues to forces deployed in war zones?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they think the criticism that he hasn't visited a war zone yet since he has been president is unfounded. So they had this call today. Jim, watching it was really surreal because it started out a scripted typical call, nothing unusual. The president expressing his gratitude for their service, telling them he wished they could be with their families for the holidays. But then as he began to call the individual members and speak with them, to ask for updates, that's when it turned political.

The president bringing up his border wall, calling it barbed wire plus, bringing up people trying to cross at the U.S./Mexico border, calling the Ninth Circuit Court a thorn in the side, something that has obviously been a frustration of his in recent days. And then it continued from there. As he was just making the point, the president seemed to put some of those military members in uncomfortable positions. Not just because he was making political comments, but also he seemed to be asking about potentially sensitive intelligence issues like why one ship was in a certain place, how many troops a certain person was commanding. That's typically information that the president might discuss in a private call with some of these leaders, not one that is being carried live on television.

So certainly an interesting way for the president to thank the troops by bringing up some of the political issues during that phone call on speaker with five different branches of the military, for everyone to hear, being broadcast live on television. Jim.

SCIUTTO: The political issues and operational issues. I want to play, Barbara Starr, the president's interaction with one of those deployed officers where he brought up and made really just you know an un-based connection between the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and his southern border. Let's have a listen there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You probably see over the news what's happening in our southern border. And our southern border territory, large numbers of people and in many cases we have no idea who they are. In many cases they're not good people. They're bad people. But large numbers of people are forming at our border. And I don't have to even ask you. I know what you want to do. You want to make sure you know who we're letting in. And we're not letting in anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So, Barbara Starr, as you know, the president has deployed active U.S. military to the border and making a connection there. What is the state, the view from the Pentagon of this truly unusual deployment of U.S. forces to a domestic threat that the president hasn't quite explained to the American people why you need thousands of U.S. troops there to back up the already nearly 20,000, many most of them armed customs and border patrol agents already there. What is the view from the Pentagon of this deployment?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well I think Undersecretary Mattis there's a quite narrowly focused view on it. And look, you know the president talked about the possibility that the military would use lethal force against migrants. Just yesterday, Secretary Mattis told reporters here that the U.S. troops would not be armed. They will not be carrying weapons when they protect CPB agents.

I think it's really important, frankly, to sort of rip the Band-Aid off a little bit here about what the president is saying versus what top commanders are worried about right now. It is very clear that there is a good deal of concern about the president using the military as he did today to highlight his own political partisan agenda, the things that he truly believes in. That is not what the military is used for.

And we saw -- the reason I'm on this point is we saw just a couple days ago, General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff once again publicly talk about he felt very deeply that part of his job as chairman is to make sure the military is not politicized.

[10:45:04] That is a message that was very pointed. He will never challenge the president in public, of course. But he is telling the White House through these kinds of comments and through the things we know that they are worried about that they are worried. They're worried if the president goes to the war zone that when he encounters a large group of troops who will applaud for him as commander in chief. He will suddenly be thinking he's at a political rally and will begin a political discussion in front of troops in a war zone. They are worried that the 2020 election already essentially underway in Mr. Trump's mind, he's going to use the military. And we saw it today.

There is going to be a good deal of concern that he is putting troops in these positions. He should not be asking them what they think about the border. That is not the job of the troops that he is talking to. As American citizens, absolutely entitled to every opinion they have as a voting American citizen, but troops are not to be asked about their views on matters which are essentially politics, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, president deployed those troops before the midterm elections. What's to stop him from making similar moves before 2020?

Elie Honig, the president, of course keeping up his feud with judges here. Claiming, and we should note this, he has a singular focus on the Ninth Circuit because it's also the court that stood in the way of the first couple iterations of his Muslim travel ban actually. And I think we have the statistics. Other appeals courts have been overturned at a higher rate than the Ninth Circuit, even though the president has his fixation there. But let's play Elie Honig the president's comments on judges as he was speaking to troops here. And I want to get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We get a lot of bad court decisions from the Ninth Circuit which has become a big thorn in our side. We always lose, and then you lose again and again, and then you hopefully win at the Supreme Court, which we have done. But it's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border. It's a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Again, fact checking the president there. Not true about the Ninth Circuit and the overturn rate. But Elie Honig tell us about from a legal perspective, you worked as a prosecutor. When you have the president, commander in chief, making these bold pronouncements as he has for days now about how they're Obama judges. How the courts in effect are not doing their jobs if they are not siding with the president.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so Jim, the president clearly has found himself a new political scapegoat, and that's the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. What happened over the last week or so is the president took action to severely limit the ways that people can apply for asylum here in the United States. The Ninth Circuit did its job. They reviewed the action, and they concluded there may be a constitutional problem with it, so they put the brakes on. The president then lashed out, and much to his credit, Chief Justice Roberts responded.

And Jim, understand how unusual it is. Judges are allergic to politics. Federal judges will say nothing about politics. But the chief justice took the strong step of responding to the president of the United States. And I think the chief justice showed real guts and leadership in doing that. And really in reminding us that the judiciary and the justice system is an independent, nonpolitical co- equal branch of government.

SCIUTTO: So, so many things came across the transom here, Patrick Healy. It's hard to -- easy to miss some of them, but I want to highlight the president having what you might call another Helsinki moment here. In Helsinki, famously he stood next to the Russian president despite the intelligence community's high confidence assessment of Russia's interference in the election. And he said well, Vladimir Putin denies it. He vehemently denies it. Here you have the president repeating that exact phrase again about the Saudi crown prince. He denies it, he vehemently denies it. The president was excoriated for that moment in Helsinki for being obsequious to the Russian president. Does he risk the same here with the Saudi crown prince?

Patrick Healy, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He really does, Jim. I mean the language is so stunningly similar. And it's so easy to conclude, to sort of take away from this, you know, that he's basically saying, American values are for sale. You know, if the money is good enough, if we're making enough money from the Saudis, if we're getting the kind of oil deals that President Trump wants, then you can turn somehow a blind eye. It's just extraordinary that he doesn't seem to express any interest in actually knowing whether the crown prince did order this murder. And he sort of dismisses again sort of the CIA, the high confidence assessment. You know, maybe he did, maybe he didn't. And the reality is, though, that he feels like with his treatment of Putin, that he has not paid a political price for that.

[10:50:04] You know, in his view. And that in the same way, if he's able to somehow sort of focus American attention on the financial benefits that he sees the country getting from Saudi Arabia, that that will be sufficient. But you know, the reality is, Jim, this is a president who has never it seems like seen his role as to be a champion of American moral values, of American principles. It's his view of kind of what America First means. And his view of what nationalism means and if the ends justify the means in terms of these deals.

SCIUTTO: And we got to fact check the president even on the claims of economic benefits. He talks about hundreds. More than $400 billion, when in fact with arms deals, in a portion of more than $100 billion arm deals memorandum of intent, not the same as a deal. The actual number at this point is $14 billion. Anyway, what's the price of American values? I suppose that's the question here.

General Hertling, I just want to end with you because you of course have commanded deployed forces during wars and when they have been visited or contacted by the commander in chief. How do soldiers take these interactions today? What are they saying now as they head back to their quarters or to Thanksgiving Day meals after that interaction with the president when their commanders, when their fellow service members were put in that political position by the president?

HERTLING: Jim, it's hard for me to say this. And I'm trying to be as positive as I can today. But from a military perspective, truthfully, that teleconference started out as a very nice gesture on the part of the president, trying to talk to all five services spread out across the world at different locations. But it quickly turned into a farce. And the press conference afterwards was even worse. Because it was filled with lies and hyperbole, as you have just pointed out. So as some of those troops who were listening, who were brought together behind their commanders, who were talking either on the VTC or telephone were thinking, OK, it's great to be on with the president, but boy, oh, boy, that was interesting. And most of them don't want to be involved in politics.

They want to do their job wearing the uniform. They're disconnected from judges and walls and immigration. They are only doing their job in their small part of the world. So that's what they're focused on. And truthfully, I have been there before where someone says, hey, somebody in the big brass wants to talk to us, so let's get together in the conference room and they'll talk to us, and in fact, I have probably been guilty of doing that to forces under my command. It's never a good thing. It's important to remember that as a leader, the good Lord gave us all two eyes and two ears and one mouth, and someone once told me we should use those in that ratio. You should listen and hear and see more than you talk. The president's not doing that.

SCIUTTO: It's good advice. Listen, everybody, thanks to all of you. And just a note to us, from us here to service members deployed abroad. The only message we have to you, the family at CNN today, is thank you. There are service members missing their families, the holiday today abroad. There are service members here deployed now at the country, down at the border missing the Thanksgiving holiday. All we can say to you is thank you.

This just in to CNN, House Judiciary Committee has officially now subpoenaed the former FBI Director James Comey and the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. We're going to have more on that news after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:57:59] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. CNN has learned that former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch have now been subpoenaed by House Republicans.

Joining me now is Laura Jarrett, CNN justice reporter. I imagine Laura that this is in effect during the lame duck session when the House Republicans still have control of the committees and therefore able to subpoena.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. There appears to be no truce between House Republicans and the former FBI director. Even on Thanksgiving. We're learning just now that Comey was subpoenaed late last night along with the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Comey firing back right away this morning saying that he's happy to sit down for a public hearing as he said in the past but he's resisting a closed-door thing because I have seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.

I also just got a statement in from Comey's attorney, David Kelly, who says of course, while his client welcomes again an open hearing, he will resist this in court. Now we haven't heard anything from the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch on how this will go. She may decide to voluntarily submit to a deposition behind closed doors or she, too, may resist it. But of course, all of this may be for naught. As you pointed out, Jim, this is during the lame duck, and when Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who is expected to become the chair of the House Judiciary takes the rein in January, he's not going for this.

SCIUTTO: We also know that federal investigators are looking into campaign donations to Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general. What do we know about this, just briefly?

JARRETT: We just heard Trump say there that he's a great guy, and anyone he chooses goes through hell and the press rips them to shreds, but we've learned that the Office of Special Counsel, not to be confused with Robert Mueller's investigation on Russia, but a different one is looking into campaign donations that Whitaker received in early 2018 while at the Justice Department and whether that violates the Hatch Act which prohibits executive branch employees from taking political contributions while serving in office there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett thanks very much, and thanks to you for joining us today. We wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving with a particular note to our service members, men and women deployed all across the world.