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North Korea's Last-Minute Attempt to Get Trump Back to the Table; Ex-Clients Granted Requests Under Acting Interior Chief; WAPO: Trump's High School, College Transcripts Were Hidden; Sen. Martha McSally (R) Reveals Her Rape by a Superior Office While in Military. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That last-ditch effort, though, the fact that it was there, though it may have fallen on deaf ears, that clearly says the door is open, one might think. So what does this mean? What are next steps here?

JIM SCUITTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's the positive read. Yes, they walked away. They couldn't reach an agreement. But if there was a willingness to say, OK, perhaps we can discuss again this possible exchange. One that was thought about. There were discussions about it. The devil's in the details. So that offers some hope. They have not set the next round of talks. They have not set and the president made no commitments to a Kim/Trump summit. And we're still waiting for details of when lower level negotiations might take place.

HILL: And we have these images.

SCIUTTO: And we have these images.

HILL: And we now have the president talking about North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're moving along. We're discussing that with Lindsey and Mitt. They're moving along well. We'll see what happens. They'll either going to be a good deal or it's not going to be a deal, but I think they're moving along very nicely.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any message for Republicans that are going --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- breaking a promise by rebuilding a key missile launch site?

TRUMP: We'll see. It's too early to see. We have to solve a problem. We have a very nasty problem there. We have to solve a problem. The relationship is good. I would be very disappointed if that were happening. It's a very early report. We're the ones that put it out. But I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim and I don't think I will be, but we'll see what happens. We'll take a look. It will ultimately get solved.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody.



HILL: The president sending a message there, Jim, very clearly to Kim Jong-Un.

SCUITTO: Right. If the activity at the missile site was a North Korean message, the president says, I'll be very, very disappointed. This is a president that's touted a personal relationship and that's a personal message to Kim saying, what's going on here?

HILL: So there's sort of a date range, right? We don't know the exact date that all of this was happening, and that's important.

SCIUTTO: It is. We do know it happened either in the days leading up to or during the talks or just after. Each of which would be troubling in its own light.

HILL: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Regardless why they had this high-level visit around that time, they were willing to, you know -- you could say rattle the saber a little bit to remind people we have these missile sites and we could start them up at any time.

HILL: Absolutely. It's certainly not the last we've heard of this, Jim.

Thank you. Nice to see you.

SCIUTTO: Nice to see you, too.

HILL: Up next, a CNN exclusive, how former clients of President Trump's acting Interior secretary got their request granted not once, not two times, 15 times.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Excuse me, sir. Drew Griffin with CNN. Can we have a few moments of your time?



[14:36:45] HILL: The man President Trump has nominated to lead the Department of the Interior after his predecessor resigned is raising eyebrows. David Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist and has oversight of the industry he once represented. He's serving as Interior secretary while waiting to be confirmed. And CNN has learned Bernhardt appears to have been working overtime to grant favorable requests to his former clients.

CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has more.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was advertised as a press conference. Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt visiting the Martin Luther King Jr National Park, but when the speeches were over --

DAVID BERNHARDT, ACTING INTERIOR DEPARTMENT SECRETARY: That's going to conclude our press conference today.

GRIFFIN: -- it was clear that Bernhardt wasn't about to take any questions.

(on camera): Sir? Excuse me, sir. Drew Griffin with CNN. Can we have a few moments of your time? We thought this was a press conference and we thought we'd get a few questions to ask you. We're doing a story, sir.


GRIFFIN: Can you stop for one second?


GRIFFIN (voice-over): There may be a good reason Bernhardt and his staff are uncomfortable on camera because, since he's been at the Department of Interior, a curious pattern has emerged.

(on camera): The fact that more than a dozen of your former clients has been getting favors through the Department of Interior


HILL: -- since you joined --

BERNHARDT: You're welcome to contact --


GRIFFIN: Is that just a coincidence?

(voice-over): Since Bernhardt joined the agency, the Department of Interior has made at least 15 policy changes or decisions specifically requested by his former clients that benefited them, according to a CNN analysis.

JESSE PRENTICE-DUNN, CENTER FOR WESTERN PRIOITIES: Yes, we're seeing a raft of favors both large and small being granted, everything from specific projects getting green lights to larger policies that are either being rolled back from the Obama administration or moved forward in the Trump administration.

GRIFFIN: David Bernhardt defines the Washington, D.C., revolving door, moving between government jobs to a major lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. Now, this oil and gas lobbyist is back in government service. Appointed first as deputy secretary of the Interior by President Trump in 2017 and promising in this ethics letter not to be involved, to recuse himself from any decision involving 26 different groups, mostly in oil and gas, that he has lobbied for, but only for a certain amount of time.

Curiously, 13 of his former clients have gotten what they wanted from the Department of Interior since Bernhardt's been there.

And one name keeps popping up again and again, the Independent Petroleum Association of America or IPAA. One of the group's requests? Do something about the sage grouse.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUCER: The deteriorating health of the bird has sparked the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.

GRIFFIN: In 2015, the Obama administration implemented a protection plan for the bird, which meant lots of federal lands across the west would be either off-limits or more difficult for oil and gas exploration.

The IPAA, Bernhardt's former client, repeatedly lobbied Department officials to loosen restrictions. Records reviewed by CNN show Bernhardt involved in three meetings with Interior officials on the issue. IPAA and other groups thanked Bernhardt for his involvement. And by December of 2018, the Trump administration released a plan to amend sage grouse protections and open vast swaths of western land for oil drilling.

[14:40:23] The industry requests and actions taken go on and on, fracking, offshore drilling, easing of safety requirements. Former clients asking and receiving favorable decisions from the government agency run by the former oil lobbyist.

PRINTICE-DUNN: We're talking about the literal FOX guarding the hen House. This administration doesn't seem to mind the notion that a lobbyist is not going to regulate the very industry that they used to work for.

GRIFFIN: Bernhardt spokesman said the acting secretary is fully in compliance with his recusal agreements and critics who say he is granting favors are categorically incorrect, either misunderstand the law, regulations, and the acting secretary's ethics pledge or they are deliberately misleading.

Myron Ebell, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, defends the acting secretary's actions this way.

MYRON EBELL, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Dave Bernhardt is not pursuing his agenda or that of any people he worked for as a lawyer. He's pursuing the agenda that President Trump won the election on and is implementing. GRIFFIN: But the acting secretary isn't so eager to talk about any of


BERNHARDT: I'm happy to visit with you at any time. Right now's not the time. Go ahead and talk to my press folks. We'll set something up.

GRIFFIN: Just to be clear, your press folks have told us you're inaccessible for the next several weeks, so.

BERNHARDT: They haven't talked to me so I'll talk to them. We have a flight to catch, sir.

GRIFFIN: Within minutes of this conversation, Bernhardt's staff in Washington was sending an email to CNN confirming there will be no interview.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


HILL: Our thanks again to Drew Griffin for that report. They may have confirmed no interview, I can confirm drew will stay on top of this.

As then-Citizen Trump challenged President Obama to reveal his grades in school. Turns out, efforts were under way to hide his own grades, but why?

Plus, we're keeping an eye on Ohio, where, in just a few minutes, hundreds of workers will leave the General Motors plant there for the last time. Workers feeling left behind in the president's economy as an iconic American job nears extinction.


[14:47:07] HILL: The president likes to tout his intellect acumen and question the intelligence of others. Former President Obama a regular target.


TRUMP: If Barack Obama opens up and gives his college records and applications, and if he gives his passport applications and records, I will give to a charity of his choice.

I asked to see his college records because I'd like to see them.

I don't know why he doesn't release his records. Why doesn't he release his Occidental records?

Everyone says he was this great student. If he was that great and if he wasn't that's great. I was a very good student.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: Donald Trump says he was a very good student. That comment coming, as you saw, from the date there back in 2011. He was a private citizen at the time.

Fast-forward to last week, and you may remember this moment in Michael Cohen's testimony, the president's former fixer. Take a listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: When I say con man, I'm talking about a man who declares himself brilliant, but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the college board to never release his grades or SAT scores.


HILL: So Fordham University confirming. after that testimony, it did, in fact, receive a call from the Trump organization in the run-up to 2016 about releasing the president's records. But we're learning it wasn't the only school contacted.

Marc Fisher, a senior editor at the "Washington Post," has new reporting on efforts made to conceal the president's high school records. He's also co-author of "Trump Revealed."

So, Marc, you actually spoke with a former administrator at the New York Military Academy about pressure he received back in, I believe it was 2011, to make sure that the president's high school records didn't see the light of day. Where did that pressure come from? Was it a call from Michael Cohen? Was it Donald Trump? Who wanted them concealed?

MARC FISHER, SENIOR EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: No, this was not from Cohen directly. This was filtered through a number of wealthy alumni in the New York Military Academy who were friends of Mr. Trump. And this took place within hours, about 48 hours after that clip that you showed of President Trump threatening President Obama and demanding that he turn over his records. Well, in this case, after a couple of days after that speech, the people at the school got word from wealthy alumni that they needed to go down into the basement, retrieve the student records of Donald Trump, remove them, and hand them over to those alumni supposedly for safekeeping. It sounds like a cloak-and- dagger operation but it really was an ethical dilemma for the leaders of the school because they were being ordered for the first time in their career to remove a student's records and hand them over to someone else. Eventually the superintendent of the school decided not to give the records to those alumni but rather to put them in a secret hiding place on campus, thereby, guaranteeing that no one casually looking for them would be able to find them. And that's supposedly where they remain to this day.

[14:50:17] HILL: So even today, in 2019, we think they're still in that secret hiding spot?

FISHER: That's what the folks who ran the school back then say. The people who run the school today aren't talking about it, so we don't know for certain. They were squirreled away. Those who got a look at the records back in those days say that it really wasn't something that most people would feel was necessary to hide. The grades and scores weren't terrible. They certainly weren't great. They certainly weren't top of the class as the president has claimed. They were decidedly mediocre.

HILL: It's fascinating. Decidedly mediocre.

And really quickly, what else did they learn from those records? Not that he was a terrible student, maybe not the greatest, but also there was a little bit more detail about what he did at the school. He was a big baseball player.

FISHER: He was a real standout in the baseball field. He was very involved in sports. He competed -- he was a very competitive student and he competed in the various contests that the military academy had, such as who could make their bed most neatly and who could be best dressed and so on. He did hold elite leadership positions among the student cadets but he did not receive any academic honors.

HILL: Marc Fisher, it's a fascinating read.

Thank you.

FISHER: You're welcome.

HILL: The president likes to talk about the strong economy. America's budget and trade deficits, however, are exploding to record highs. The new warnings.

Plus, from Turkey pardons to high level meetings, what the president was doing at the same time he signed several checks for Michael Cohen.


[14:56:16] HILL: Emotional words from Capitol Hill just a short time ago where Senator Martha McSally revealed she herself was a victim of sexual assault in the military. She said it happened at a Senate Armed Services -- this happened, rather, at a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee addressing that issue. McSally served in the Air Force.

Take a listen now as she talks about what happened to her and how she felt when dealing with the system.


SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY, (R), ARIZONA: Like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor. But unlike so many brave survivors. I didn't report being sexually assaulted. Like so many women and men, I didn't trust the system at the time. I blame myself. I was ashamed and confused. And I thought I was strong but felt powerless.

The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways. And in one case, I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer. I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as a military grapple with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know, I, too, was a survivor. I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years over my despair. Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again.

But I didn't quit. I decided to stay and continue to serve and fight and lead to be a voice from within the ranks for women and then in the House and now in the Senate.

So this is personal for me too, but it's personal from two perspectives, as a commander, who led my airmen in a combat, and as a survivor of rape and betrayal. I share the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who failed in their responsibilities.

But it's for this very reason that we must allow, we must demand that commanders stay at the center of the solution and live up to the moral and legal responsibilities that come with being a commander. We must fix those distortions in the culture of our military that permit sexual harm towards women and, yes, some men as well. We must educate --


HILL: Let's bring in now Sunlen Serfaty, who joins us with more on this hearing.

Talk about a powerful, powerful moment, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very powerful and very emotional. You have this freshman Senator coming out and revealing for the first time this story about her sexual assault while she was in the military. It speaks to the weight of the moment, the significance that she's revealing it for the first time at that committee hearing today. This was in front of Senate Armed Services Committee. They have been working on legislation to combat the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the military. And she came out very clearly with a very moving story of her own sexual assault while she was in the Air Force. And I think the moment that really resonated with me, not only was she emotional, of course, in describing what happened to her, describing the rape by a commander, but the moment when she said, I, too, felt that the system raped me over and over again. The fact that she felt that she was not strong enough, in her opinion, her words, to come forward, that she was confused and anxious about revealing this. She was essentially saying that's the problem with the system here. And that is exactly what this committee hearing is focused on and working on. This comes at a time up here on Capitol Hill that they have been hearing from --