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Bernstein: Mueller Investigating 2017 Meeting Between Manafort & Ecuador's President; Comey Doubts Acting A.G. Whitaker Will Derail Mueller; White House Press Briefing. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired November 27, 2018 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I have a question, Carl. We know in "The Guardian" report, it talks about this meeting between Manafort and the President-Elect Moreno of Ecuador. He, of course, because Julian Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. That's key. The report says this was about a large-scale Chinese investment. We did not know, as you reported, this was something Robert Mueller has known for quite a long time that they are investigating. They're looking to see what else he might have been speaking to the president-elect about. What would the concern be that Manafort could be -- why would he have an interest in talking to the Ecuadorian president if there is some Assange connection here?

BERNSTEIN: I wouldn't speculate. Certainly, if there are previous contacts between Manafort and Assange or Manafort and WikiLeaks or Manafort and some kind of cutout between him and WikiLeaks, perhaps it could be. And certainly this is a line of inquiry of the special prosecutor. I do know this much. This is what the special prosecutor wanted to find out the moment he learned more than a year ago about this visit to see the incoming president of Ecuador. But I don't know what the exact meaning of it all is, except that great experience was being attached to it as a matter of intense investigation by Mueller. Indeed, many witnesses have been asked about this. And perhaps this is something that might figure in what the prosecutor is saying that Manafort lied about. This, of course, is speculative, what I just said. It's not speculative about this visit and how intensely interested Mueller has been for a year now.

KEILAR: It's really interesting. Carl, you brought up the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. Let's listen to what ousted FBI Director Jim Comey said about him today.


JIM COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer, but he can see his future and knows that if he acted in an extra-legal way, he would go down in history for the wrong reasons. I'm sure he doesn't want that.


KEILAR: Do you take that comment as Jim Comey warning Matt Whitaker or do you take that as Jim Comey being confident that Matt Whitaker is not going to do anything to disrupt the special counsel's investigation?

BERNSTEIN: That's a pretty good statement that describes the state of play and the tensions on two sides that Whitaker is being pulled to and from. We know what Whitaker said and thinks about this investigation. Also he is someone who doesn't want to get pulled into obstruction of justice himself, which is possible if he were to play this thing. It's a long shot, but he could get pulled into it. I think it really describes what Jim Comey was saying. It describes what the tug is that somehow Whitaker has to balance.

The one thing we do know is that he is, in the president's view, finally a window into the Mueller investigation and that the president, according to those around him and those that I talk to, regards Whitaker as a great asset in terms of potentially learning what's going on in the Mueller investigation or aspects of it anyway. But we also don't know how much information Whitaker might have supplied the president with. He does work with the president of the United States and is not recused from the investigation. It's more to be learned.

But what we are seeing here and, again, back to the midterms, in the last three words, his absolutely obsession that Trump now has with the investigation. We see from Giuliani that he did not want to, the president, did not want to answer questions in certain areas. Does one of those areas have to do with WikiLeaks? We don't know. If would be nice if Mr. Giuliani would tell us, what were the areas, and Sarah Sanders would tell us today --


BERNSTEIN: -- what were some of these areas.

KEILAR: Carl, I will say Giuliani reveals a lot. Who knows? Maybe he will tell us. You never know what he's going to say.

Carl Bernstein, thank you very joining us.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.

KEILAR: Great reporting.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Any minute, we will be going to the White House. Live pictures as we await the briefing. We'll bring that straight to you.

Plus, a racially charged Senate contest is coming to an end today as Mississippi voters cast their ballots in this special election runoff. We are live from Jackson.

[13:35:08] And from the Mexican border to the rest of the world. It is a picture that has gone viral. Now this mother caught in a cloud of tear gas with her children is speaking out.

And let's head straight now to the White House. SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and first

lady will travel to Argentina for the G-20 summit. President Trump's participation is in the G-20 summit is a key opportunity to reiterate his commitment to domestic and global economic growth and prosperity, cement relationships with other world leaders, and advance a global economic system that is based on fair economic competition and free, fair, and reciprocal trade.

SANDERS: Later this week, the President and First Lady will travel to Argentina for the G20 summit. President Trump's participation in the G20 summit is a key opportunity to reiterate his commitment to domestic and global economic growth and prosperity, cement relations with other world leaders and advance a global economic system that is based on fair economic competition and free, fair and reciprocal trade.

While at the G20, the President and the delegation will interact with many leaders, including bilateral meetings with the President of Argentina, the President of Russia, Prime Minister of Japan and the Chancellor of Germany in a working dinner with the President of China.

To speak more about the G20 and what the President intends to accomplish, I'd like to welcome to the podium Director of National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, and following him, National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton.

After the remarks, both will be available to take your questions on the G20 and other foreign policy news of the day, and then I'll be back up to take other questions on news of the day. Thank you.

KUDLOW: Thank you Sarah, thanks everybody. Let me just walk through some quick themes and then I want to mention some things the President talked - talked to us just a little while ago. As Sarah said, G20 - funny, it's not actually the G20 when we count it up properly.

As Ambassador Bolton points out, it's much more than the G20. Now, in terms of the U.S. positions, we're going to use this as an opportunity to talk about our measures of tax cuts and deregulations and reskilling and job training and so forth that have generated significant economic growth and prosperity, that includes women's economic empowerment.

As Sarah mentioned, free, fair, and reciprocal trade and trade reform, there'll be discussions of infrastructure, finance and also the U.S. emergence as the dominant energy power in the world today, actually.

In terms of the much discussed meeting, it's going to be a dinner meeting between President Trump and President Xi and representatives from both sides. It'll be bilateral. I want to just mention what the President told us a short while ago, and that is in his view, there is a good possibility that a deal can be made, and that he is open to that - he is open to that.

KUDLOW: But having said that, some caveats, as always. Certain conditions have to be met with respect to fairness and reciprocity, as we've said many times. For example, issues of intellectual property theft must be solved, forced technology transfers must be solved, significant tariffs and non-tariff barriers must be solved, issues of ownership have to be solved.

The president will probably reiterate his view. We want a world, ideally, of zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies.

Now, whether they can get through all that remains to be seen, but that's the president's point of view, as I said just a little while ago.

U.S. is coming to the summit in very good shape. Our economy is quite strong. It's grown at three percent over the past year. Second quarter was 4.2, third quarter was 3.5, perhaps to be revised upwards.

We had a very strong holiday season, so-called Black Friday, very strong. We've had tremendous investments, business investments, energy investments. Oil prices and gasoline prices coming down, that helps consumers, of course. We're in very good shape.

China, not so good. I'm not here to critique or second-guess the Chinese economy, but most observers believe China to be in a slump, whereas the United States is in a very strong, solid position going into this summit.

However, again, to repeat, the president said there's a good possibility that we can make a deal. And he is open to it. But on the other hand, if these conditions I mentioned a few moments ago are not met and not dealt with, the president has said, look, he's perfectly happy to stand on his tariff policies, which 10 percent last $200 billion, scheduled to go to 25 percent. That's not a certainty, but that's the schedule.

And he has said, as recently as yesterday, the day before, if need be, if things don't work out in this -- in this U.S.-China summit meeting, he will invoke another $267-some-odd in tariffs.

That may not be the first choice. I'm just saying that is his view. If we can't get something done -- and things have been moving very slowly between the two countries -- until the president himself called President Xi and said, "Let's restart. Let's try to get things going again." And then since then, he's made positive comments about that.

So we will -- we will see. As I said, the key U.S. goals around growth and prosperity. And, you know, our economy is in good shape. Theirs is not.

I'll just leave it right there.

John, do you want to add stuff to that? Do you want me to take some questions?


KUDLOW: You sure? OK. Good.

Let me take some questions and try to help out on this. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Kudlow, I'd like you to address some concerns recently from representatives in Italy and France and Germany. You say that we're actually backing away from the national stage, and they (ph) fear (ph) that Russia will be the dominant economic force in Europe and the Middle East in the coming years.

Could you address those concerns, A, and, B, could you tell us a little bit, if you can, about the layoffs at -- at G.M.?

KUDLOW: Well, I'll talk to you about G.M. layoffs. Regarding the Russian story, I'm going to leave that to my longtime friend and colleague, John Bolton.

I met with Mary Barra yesterday, and we had a lengthy conversation about the layoffs, the cause of the layoffs. It's a great disappointment, obviously. The president had indicated his own disappointment.

He believes -- as, frankly, the prime minister of Canada, Trudeau, believes -- that the USMCA deal was a great help to the automobile industry, and to auto workers. And by the way, they made those statements separately.

And yet, G.M. comes in right after the deal -- by the way, that deal will be signed in Argentina, with the U.S. and Canadian representatives.

So there's great disappointment there. There's disappointment that it seems like G.M. would rather build its electric cars in China rather than in the United States.

We are going to be looking at certain subsidies regarding electric cars and others, whether they should apply or not. I can't say anything final about that, but we're looking into it. Again, that reflects the president's own disappointment regarding these actions.

Ms. Barra told me, on the other hand -- I want to be completely fair here, it's her business -- it may be possible to transfer workers to other plants in Texas and Michigan. I -- I'm not an expert on General Motors. I'm not an analyst -- auto analyst, but that's what she said.

But obviously, there's a lot of disappointment, even anger. I've heard it, again, from Mr. Trudeau, from President Trump, from Democrats and Republicans.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, do you think it's going to adversely affect our economy coming into the Christmas season? And after --


KUDLOW: No. I mean, look. I don't want anybody to get laid off. I'm -- I want workers to do very well. I want worker wages to do well, and they are. I mean, that's one of the great things. You know, there's a certain amount of pessimism that I'm reading

about. Maybe it has to do with the -- really, a mild stock market correction.

Let's not forget, a couple weeks ago, just on this very point. We had 250,000 new jobs, which was a blockbuster number. Nobody really expected it.

With a 3.1 percent yearly gain in wages, and a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, those are very spiffy numbers by any benchmark and any metric.

So, again, holiday season layoffs from G.M., brutal. Brutal. All right? Very disappointing. Will it affect the overall economy? I don't think so. I do not think so.


QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Back to the question of the tariffs. If these talks with President Xi go nowhere, and we move forward with this escalation of the tariffs that you just described, which -- correct me if I'm wrong -- would be the biggest addition of tariffs that we've seen in your lifetime.

What -- what will the impact be on the U.S. economy? I mean, you -- you -- I'm asking --


KUDLOW: That's (ph) a (ph) long (ph) --


QUESTION: -- I'm --


KUDLOW: -- that's a long period of time you mentioned.

QUESTION: I -- well --


KUDLOW: My lifetime.

QUESTION: But -- but I mean, you've (ph) --


-- (inaudible) free trader for almost all of those years --


QUESTION: -- so what -- what will be the impact on the U.S. economy, if we see tariffs go up to the degree that you just described? KUDLOW: You know, we'll see what happens, OK? I -- I don't want to presuppose anything. President's going to make up his mind after the meeting.

But I -- I will say this. Our economy's in very good shape right now. And when you multiply through whatever numbers you want to use -- $250 billion, or tack on another tranche, which may or may not happen, at a 10 percent tariff rate or more -- it's really just a fraction of our economy. OK? It's just a fraction of our economy.

I'm not suggesting that there aren't winners and losers in that game. It's a complicated game. But on the other hand, I think we are in far better shape to weather this than the Chinese are.

And I'll say one (inaudible) thing. I appreciate your characterization. I am a free trader. But you have to ask yourself -- this is what President Trump has been talking about -- is it free trade when there's clear evidence of unfair and WTO-illegal (ph) trading practices by China, for several decades? Is that fair? Is that free?

KUDLOW: Is it free when intellectual property theft occurs, or when Chinese ownership of American companies force transference of technology from American companies to the Chinese companies? Is that fair? Or high tariffs on agriculture and industrial supplies, is that fair?

So President Trump is the first president in, I don't know, at least 20 years -- and I'm including Democrats and Republicans -- who not only has made this case but continues to make this case forcefully and to take actions to defend American workers and our overall economy.

Other presidents in both parties have raised the issue and then walked away from it. And President Trump obviously doesn't intend to.

You know, this is under the heading, I think, for him, of promises made, promises kept. It's something he's talked about for several years, and he now continues. If China will come to the table, or in this case the dinner table, with some new ideas and some new attitudes and some new cooperation, as the president said, there is a good possibility they could make a deal. He's open to it. So nothing is written in cement or stone.

But again, for a free trader, where's the free trade?

And for several months now, since I've been here, the president and I have talked about this. You know, we'd love to see a world of zero tariffs and zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies. We'd love to see that world. But, unfortunately, we don't have that world, particularly with respect to China, but not only China. And so he is taking actions that he thinks will get us closer to that world.

We can go around. Yes, please?

QUESTION: Just another GM question. When the president said yesterday "They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly," was he just venting his frustration or does he have some consequences in mind if they don't?

KUDLOW: You know, I'm going to leave that to him. There -- you may find additional announcements coming on that topic.

Was there more? Let me go in the back. Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about what Ambassador Cui Tiankai said recently to The Wall Street Journal...


QUESTION: Ambassador Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador...


QUESTION: ... to the United States. His thought was that there would be a real risk to global -- to the global markets if there wasn't a deal, that they could become fragmented as well. How big are the stakes if you can't reach a deal?

KUDLOW: Look, the ambassador makes a point. Now, if he would do his part, or his government would do their part, then we can all make a much better point. That's what president trump is saying.

I mean, I'll read you the quote again. "There's a good possibility we can make a deal," and he's open to it. But certain conditions, you know, have to be met. Certain things have to be changed. And the president, again, in the spirit of promises made, promises kept, is going to defend, you know, the interests of the American workers and ranchers and small businesses and the economy writ large.

We -- let me just add one other point to this. The rest of the world agrees with us. I mean, we signed at the U.N., for example, the trilateral agreement with the E.U., the United States and Japan -- worth looking at that document, which outlines what they call non- market abuses -- read "China."

Just recently, before the Shanghai conference, where President Xi was to give an -- an important speech -- I'm not sure there was much new there, but in any case, just before that conference, with no prodding from the USA, the ambassadors -- the French and German ambassadors to China -- the French and German ambassadors to China -- wrote a very tough piece going after, again, non-market, unfair, non-reciprocal trading practices.

There is broad-based support for the American position here, which is China should change its practices and come into the community of responsible trading nations. They can do that, right? They're a major economy right now. It's not like they were 25 or 30 years ago. We would welcome it. The president has said he's happy to make a deal, but they have to take certain actions and give certain assurances.

So, you know...

QUESTION: Mr. Director, does that mean you'll spend the G-20 getting that support around your position from other countries at the G-20? KUDLOW: I'm sure we will. I'm sure we will. We have in many other forms.

Let's (inaudible) more -- I want Ambassador -- I want Ambassador...

Yes, please?


QUESTION: Director Kudlow...


QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: ... me.

QUESTION: Were you?

QUESTION: Tariffs are in effect a tax on imported products that are paid for by the consumer. So does the president realize that these escalated tariffs are going to be paid for by the American citizens?

KUDLOW: Well, look, he realizes the ramifications. As I said earlier, given the strength of our economy, given the size of our economy, we are in position to deal with this and handle this very well. That's the key point. And I'm not so sure about China, but I'll leave that to China experts and so forth and so on.

The benefits -- let me just look at the other side of the ledgers, very important. The benefits of true free trade globally will be enormous. You know, if we go back to the idea of zero tariffs and zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies; if China plays by the rules, even the WTO rules -- and all that needs reforming, in our judgment, but they're violating those rules. If we do have a free trading system or we move in the direction of the free trading system, a true free trading system, we will benefit enormously.

And frankly, we will benefit; they will benefit; and the rest of the world will benefit. You know, free trade throws off enormous benefits when it's done properly and consistently and in a reciprocal manner. That's the key point the president emphasized, and he's absolutely right.

So, you know, I think of it as possibly a long rainbow here. At the end of that rainbow is a pot of gold. You open up that pot and you have prosperity for the rest of the world, but you've got to get through that long rainbow. We're not there yet. We can get there. The president is reaching out, but we'll see how that works.


KUDLOW: Yes, go ahead? Sorry. Yes, go ahead? QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Earlier you mentioned low oil and gas prices as evidence that the president's economic policy is working. You mentioned the U.S. becoming the global dominant energy player. But merely days ago the president said that it was necessary to let Saudi Arabia and its crown prince get away with ordering the murder of a Washington Post journalist because Saudi Arabia ensures low gas prices. Now which one is it, sir?

KUDLOW: I'm going to let Ambassador Bolton handle that question. I'm trying so hard to swim in my own lane. And I think John will help out with that whole discussion.

QUESTION: Is it...

KUDLOW: He's sitting there much too calmly and quietly, so I want to get him up here.


We've known each other a very long time. You're on, John.

BOLTON: You're going to throw me under the bus?


Well, I'm delighted to be here.


I don't -- I don't really have much to add. Sarah gave you the list of bilaterals. Let me just update it a little bit because we're trying to fill every minute of the president's schedule. She said he's going to meet with President Macri, the host government of Argentina. He'll meet with President Moon of South Korea, he'll meet with President Erdogan of Turkey, Prime Minister Abe of Japan.

That will transform at some point during that meeting into a trilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, and then as Sarah said the President will meet with President Putin and have a working dinner with President Xi.


Yeah, right here?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Does the President have any plans in the works to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince while he's there?

BOLTON: No, look the - the bilateral schedule is full to overflowing at this point and so that - those are the ones that I've listed that he'll be meeting with. Yes ma'am?

QUESTION: I have a question about the border tensions right now with the U.S. and Mexico.

BOLTON: Yes. QUESTION: The U.S., you know, launched tear gas canisters into Mexican soil and I'm wondering if you've gotten - if - if Mexico has given the go-ahead before that happened, and what is the U.S. doing to mitigate any tensions right now with the incoming Lopez Obrador administration?

BOLTON: Yeah, I don't think that's really a subject of the G20 but I can say that Secretary of State Pompeo, who will be attending the G20 and therefore will not be accompanying Vice President Pence to the inauguration on Saturday the 1st - Secretary Pompeo will fly overnight from Argentina to Mexico and will meet with the new Foreign Minister of Mexico on Sunday the 2nd and they'll have a full conversation about all of the issues in connection with the border.

QUESTION: What do you - what do you expect to be on the agenda for the President's meeting with Putin?

BOLTON: Well I think all of the issues that we have on security issues, on arms control issues, on regional issues including the Middle East. I think it'll be a full agenda, I think it'll be a continuation of their discussion in Helsinki.



QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador. Two questions about the (inaudible) on Thursday to meet with the new incoming President from Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. One on trade that I know is one of the priorities - for the past few years, Brazil had a trade surplus with Brazil ...

BOLTON: The United States had a trade surplus with Brazil.

QUESTION: ... just last year, $27 billion (ph) alone, and besides of that (ph), President Trump complained about the Brazil protections (ph), say Brazil is one of the toughest on trade excess. What should we expect related to trade relationship with Brazil - the new Brazil government?

Should we expect more cooperation or more tariffs like those on steel and aluminum? And another one on Venezuela that I know is another priority of the meeting, what kind of cooperation do you expect with the new Brazilian government? Are you guys going to discuss sanctions?

BOLTON: Yeah. Well the meeting with President Elect Bolsonaro came as a result of President Trump's call on election night in Brazil to congratulate President Elect Bolsonaro. They had a - a really outstanding phone call, I think developed a personal relationship, even remotely.

President Trump was the first foreign leader to call President Elect Bolsonaro, so following up on this, we thought it would be useful and certainly very helpful to the United States to hear from the President Elect what his priorities are, what - what he's looking for in the relationship. From the perspective of the United States, we see this as an historic opportunity for Brazil and the United States to -- to work together a whole host of areas, economics, security and a range of others. So I'm really looking forward to hearing what the president-elect's priorities are, trying to respond to them, trying to tell them a little bit about what President Trump's views are and hopefully when President -elect Bolsonaro is inaugurated on January 1st, that the two leaders can really get off to a running start. So I'm just really there to prepare the ground for -- for them.

QUESTION: You tweeted earlier today about a case involving American families being held in China. Is the president -- have you talked t the president about this case? If so, what has he told you? And will he bring this up directly at his meeting with Xi Jinping and expect the family to be allowed to leave before any trade deal?

BOLTON: I've discussed the question of American hostages and people wrongfully held with him on a whole range of subjects. I don't want to get into what his reaction was; because I don't think those conversations should be public. But this is a matter of real concern to us and I think given that the range of issues that President Xi and President Trump will be covering, it's entirely possible that that will come up.

QUESTION: Thank you. That's (ph) that meeting with President Putin and President Trump, will President Trump condemn Russia's aggression in Ukraine? Does the U.S. consider it an act of war and has he spoken with (ph) Putin or Poroshenko about what happened?

BOLTON: Look, Ambassador Haley in the very estimable (ph) position of U.N. ambassador, spoke for the United States yesterday at the Security Council we're going to stand on that statement.

[13:59:58] JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Look, Ambassador Haley, in the very estimable position of U.N. ambassador, spoke for the United States yesterday at the Security Council, and we're going to stand on that statement.