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President Trump Has Just Authorized The Deployment Of About Fifteen Hundred Troops To The Middle East; The President Used His Twitter Timeline To Share An Edited Video Of Pelosi; Trump Defends Giving Barr Power To Declassify Russia Probe Intel. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and thanks for joining me. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin this afternoon. We begin with Breaking News, after weeks of escalating tensions with Iran, both sides flexing military might, President Trump has just authorized the deployment of about fifteen hundred troops to the Middle East. As he departed the White House for a state visit to Japan, the President said these troops and equipment are mostly protective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Well, I think it's going to be very good in the Middle East. Iran has been a -- as you know, they stage terror all over the world. They're a much different country now than when I first got here. When I first got here, there were at 14 different locations fighting.

Right now, I don't think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don't think they want to fight with us. But they cannot have nuclear weapons. And under the Obama horrible agreement, they would have had nuclear weapons within five or six years. They can't have nuclear weapons and they understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: This, as the administration also just notified Congress that the President will cite an emergency provision to expedite the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. This is according to Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. An arms deal is widely opposed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The President's move now essentially circumvents any congressional approval.

Kim Dozier is a contributor to "The Daily Beast" and CNN global affairs analyst, here with us now. Kim, 1,500 troops, but we don't even know much about this apparent threat that has spurred this action. Why the lack of transparency?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Ana, I did just come from the Pentagon briefing and they tried to give us a bit more -- in an on record, but off-camera briefing where they said about half of these troops are a Patriot missile battery unit that is already there and it's just going to be extended.

The rest are defensive in nature, they are intelligence, and surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, and fighter jets -- things that can help them understand what Iran is doing. They said they're not going to send these troops to either Iraq or Syria. It's just somewhere else in the Gulf where they have large U.S. military bases. And they say, an Iranian threat that has been rising and is underway. Things that have already been planned that they wanted to head off.

CABRERA: And the President is calling 1,500, a relatively small number of troops. Is it? Put it into perspective for us.

DOZIER: Fifteen hundred troops -- when you look at the fact that some of them are already there and are just being extended against the tens of thousands of troops we have deployed throughout the Gulf. What they're talking about is increasing their capability to see what Iran is doing not just in the waterways of the Gulf.

They are worried that Iran has already threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz that it might actually carry it out. So they want more manpower to detect whatever they're doing and also to see what their proxies are doing.

One of the things that the U.S. officials told us, without offering -- corroborating intelligence, but they did claim to have captured plans for several different, either Iranian troop or proxy plots underway, some of which they saw being carried out. And they said that is what led them to initially take all of these steps in the first place from deploying the aircraft carrier, onward to this current -- what they say a defensive only deployment.

CABRERA: Let's talk about the timing of this deployment. It is the Memorial Day weekend, after all. The administration asking 1,500 troops to put their lives on the line. Our Barbara Starr, pointing out, the Pentagon isn't even putting someone out there to discuss this. Why?

DOZIER: Well, you see what has happened in the past when you put officials out from the Pentagon or the State Department with what they think the plan is, and you get your boss on the record and on camera. And then the President decides and tweets something else, that gets people fired.

So, what I think I see is, the Pentagon here trying to protect its officials who are doing their best to meet what they say, are the needs of the Central Commander in the field who asked for these assets and explaining why they're going. They also told us that they were trying to message to Iran militarily that we see what you're doing and we're prepared for it, don't even try it without messaging that they're being a good aggressive.

At the same time, it's very hard to take when you're told you're allowed to use the audio, but they're afraid to say it on camera.

[14:05:09] CABRERA: I want to ask you about these, expedited arms sales to allies there in the Middle East, a Democratic Congressman now saying they were given no explanation, but they were notified.

CNN has some reporting that the administration cited an increasing Iranian threat for the reason to have this sort of emergency declaration. I mean, this is very controversial, even with members of the President's own party who have been against arming the Saudis. Is the President trying to use a backdoor to make an arms deal?

DOZIER: Well, we did try to ask if that was actually part of the strategy to arm, the nations in the region. And, you know, it looks like they're using the Iranian threat to give weapons to Gulf allies who the U.S. is asking to basically carry their water in the region, to take the threat on the chin.

So is it a back -- is it a way to get past congressional oversight? We'll have to see what the sales are and if they go through.

CABRERA: Kimberly Dozier, I always appreciate your expertise and your reporting. Thank you.

DOZIER: Thank you.

CABRERA: And right now, President Trump is wheels up to Japan. The beginning of a three-day visit expected to focus on trade and security. But this is now a three-day and increasingly personal feud with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that's clearly at the top of his mind.

The President used his Twitter timeline to share an edited video of Pelosi last night with the caption, "Pelosi stammers through news conference." The clip was part of a segment on the Fox Business Network where panelists had debated the House Speaker's health and competence based on that manipulated footage.

Now, moments ago, the President defended his actions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When you say -- when you say a personal attack, did you hear what she said about me long before I went after her? Did you hear she made horrible statements. She knows they're not true. She made -- she said terrible things. So I just responded in kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: That's not the only edited video. Another one from Pelosi's appearance shortly after that contentious White House infrastructure meeting is making the rounds on social media as well. We want to show you that altered clip next to the real unedited clip. And you can see that the altered one on the right that you're about to watch has been slowed down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort of visuals that obviously were planned long before.

And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort of visuals that obviously were planned long before. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Again, that second clip was not the unedited clip. It was slowed down. And it was posted by the conservative Facebook page "Politics WatchDog." It was re-tweeted by the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani later deleted his tweet while saying, "If Pelosi wants an apology, she should first offer one to the President for saying he needs an intervention."

White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is in Tokyo, ahead of the President's visit there. Boris, this war of words has now escalated to alter the videos. What is the strategy here?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana, President Trump counter punching. He's still aggressively going after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After a few days ago, she alleged that the President is taking part in a cover-up over his actions.

One source close to the President said that he's very frustrated. He believes that Democrats are trying to ruin his life and hurt his family. Of course, the President has also called Democrats obstructionists before departing for Tokyo. He said that he believed that how Speaker Pelosi was bad for the country.

Keep in mind, it was President Trump who dropped infrastructure talks because Democrats are continuing their investigations into him. The President is now leaving the political battles of Washington headed for a warm reception from Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

The two men have plenty to discuss both on trade and security. On trade, President Trump wants to open up Japanese agricultural markets for American business people. And on the flip side, Shinzo Abe wants the President to stay away from his talk of tariffs on Japanese auto ports and electronics.

And on security, obviously, both men with a lot in common when it comes to countering North Korean aggression and rising Chinese influence in the region. Keep in mind, Shinzo Abe has an election coming up in July. So, he really wants to show the Japanese people that no one handles President Trump better than he does.

Obviously, this is a crucial relationship for Japan. So, having a President Trump here, attending a sumo match and playing golf together as they often do, certainly plays into his favor -- Ana.

CABRERA: Okay. Boris Sanchez for us. Thank you. Josh dossier is a White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and a CNN political analyst.

[14:10:07] CABRERA: I want to go back to that doctored video because the President was asked about these videos of Nancy Pelosi just before he left for his trip to Japan. He deflected saying, "I can't tell you about the video," even though he tweeted and at one point pinned one of these videos.

So, talking about the Fallout, YouTube has taken them down, Facebook demoted the videos, they have been viewed millions of times already, Josh. These might be fake, but the impact is real and the President knows it.

JOSH DOWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The President has a microphone like no other on Twitter. Not only do is tweets, you know, get millions of views, they often get written up in stories, they get highlighted on television, they get passed around the web.

I haven't talked to the President about this, Ana, but I just talked to Rudy Giuliani, the President's lawyer who shared one of the videos, and he said that he did not realize it was doctored at first and then was told later it was doctored and he took it down. And he said that he thought that others also did not realize that.

I'm not sure if that's the case or not but that's what Rudy Giuliani says. But he's still continuing to say that he thinks her speech pattern is getting worse. And it seems to be this ratcheting up of attacks from Trump allies and kind of going to a really delicate spot here to try to accuse Nancy Pelosi of something that -- frankly, the video show is false.

CABRERA: Apparently, this week was the moment Pelosi really got under the President's skin in their meeting that was supposed to be about infrastructure. Pelosi characterized Trump's behavior as a temper tantrum, which led to Trump doing this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday in the room?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO U.S. PRESIDENT: Very calm instead of temper tantrum.

TRUMP: What was my attitude when I walked in. Did I ever scream?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: No, you were very calm and you were very direct.

TRUMP: What was my attitude yesterday at the meeting?

LARRY KUDLOW, U.S. NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: Mercy is right, Kellyanne is right, you were very calm.

TRUMP: What was my tone yesterday at the meeting?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Very calm -- I've seen both and this was definitely not angry or ranting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Josh, your take on that spectacle.

DOWSEY: It was certainly something to have five White House aides in the room to validate the President who says, he would not have a temper tantrum. Obviously, I wonder if he would have, would they have said that on television? It's hard to believe they would have. But that said, it's clear that this narrative of the President's

raging and fuming to Democratic leaders is really annoying him. You know, repeatedly, he's got on -- tweeted about it. He's had his staff validate him publicly.

Rudy Giuliani and others are saying that it's just beneath Nancy Pelosi to make attacks, that say that he's incompetent or erratic. But if you talk to Pelosi's folks, which I have today for a story we're working on, they say, you know, essentially, he does things that don't make sense. He behaves in unusual ways, un-orthodox ways, and ways that Veer and Corinne from one side to the other, and that she's just going to call and get as he sees it.

So it's an escalation of words, that certainly is getting worse and worse by the day, not better.

CABRERA: And Josh, before let you go, I want to pivot to the disaster relief bill, because a lot of people expected this to be a moment of bipartisanship to sort of sail into the holiday weekend, and yet this bill failed in the House, or at least has been postponed at this point.

It's not a done deal after a Texas Republican objected to the way they were going to go about the vote, which was going to be able to kind of unanimously pass it without having to physically be there to take the vote. He's saying, you know, this didn't have money for the border wall, Pelosi called it political cynicism, and the last minute sabotage. Is this just a preview of the rest of this legislative year?

DOWSEY: Well, it seems that way. To be clear, most of the Republicans here, including the White House wanted this to pass even though they've divided it for not having border money, for having too much spending in their minds on Puerto Rico.

Some of the folks in the White House were pretty queasy about this bill, but they kind of wanted this episode to be over. They were feeling increasing pressure from states with President Trump. One, states like Alabama, from Georgia from lawmakers there. And the President eventually decided that he'd be willing to go forward with it without the border money that he sought and without cuts to Puerto Rico.

And people thought this episode was kind of done and obviously it's now not that Chip Roy, the Texas Republican has stopped the bill. He says it's loaded with pork money spending that the government should not spend. And we're going to go back into this fight again after the recess in June, goes another week without the disaster money, obviously, going to places that need it.

So for the President and the White House, this is kind of unfortunate. It's usually we see Republicans fall in line with the President and vote how he tells them to vote, vote how we want them to vote with rare exceptions. Here's an exception where one congressman has stalled a project because he just won't go along.

CABRERA: All right, Josh Dowsey, as always, thank you.

DOWSEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: President Trump had said it was time to move on from the Mueller investigation but he's now pushing for an investigation into how the whole thing got started and allowing his Attorney General to declassify intelligence material. How much we can learn with Bill Barr in charge.

[14:15:04] CABRERA: Plus, President Trump just weighed in on Theresa May's resignation. Why he says he feels badly for her.

And climbing Mount Everest has never been what you'd call risk-free, of course, but now it's even more dangerous and deadly, with two people losing their lives just this week.

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14:20:16 CABRERA: So as President Trump defies House Democrats amid their ongoing investigation of him. He is now demanding cooperation in the Attorney General's investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

Moments ago, Trump just talked about his new memorandum. This orders all major U.S. intelligence agencies to assist William Barr as he reviews, surveillance issues surrounding Trump's 2016 campaign. This means Barr now has significant authority to declassify sensitive intelligence material as he sees fit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: For a long period of time, they wanted me to declassify and I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is this truly about? Is it about getting payback for these two years?

TRUMP: This is about finding out what happened. I won an election. I won it easily 306 to 223. I won it pretty easily. And I'll tell you what, this is all about what happened. And when did it happen? Because this was an attempt to take down to the President of the United States. Let me just tell you, it is not payback. I don't care about payback. I think it's very important for our country to find out what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The memorandum went to these Trump top officials, these top Trump officials, including the directors of National Intelligence and the CIA. Now there are three ongoing reviews investigating the investigators of the Russia probe. In Barr's investigation, you have John Hubers who was asked by Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions to look into FBI misconduct. And there's an internal review by the Justice Department's Inspector General. Harry Litman is here. He was the former deputy assistant attorney general. Harry, do you have concerns about the declassification of this information? HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, I really

do. It's not just significant authority. It's unilateral absolute authority. The Attorney General can do whatever he wants selectively. And there are two big problems. The first is it runs roughshod over the intelligence agencies and changes the normal dynamic. And of course, that also sends a -- perhaps chilling signal to anyone who would be sharing information with us in the future.

And the second concern is it really does seem, based on the track record to date, that it's at the service of a political narrative and agenda of the President and not overall national security information. And so, we might have a dribbling out of information that somehow supports this witch hunt narrative, which I think is bogus.

But even setting that aside, it's not really meant to give a full account. Both those things I think are matters of really significant concern.

CABRERA: You have the President and the White House, on one hand stonewalling on everything from documents to testimony that Democrats want for their investigations and yet calling for a complete transparency here. How do you square it?

LITMAN: Well, yes. You know, irony is one way you could put it. Political hypocrisy is another but it's really true and both are remarkable. The Barr order remarkable, in terms of the complete up ending of the normal relationship for how you declassify things and the degree of stonewalling, if you compare with other crises -- Iran- Contra, Watergate, etcetera, also basically unprecedented. You know, complete attempt to starve congress of any information. We're in a fix.

CABRERA: And putting aside the national security concerns you brought up about informants, working with intelligence officials, and being able to do the jobs that they've been asked to do. Given the criticism of Barr's handling of the Mueller report and subsequent testimony that he gave before Congress, will you take his conclusions into the genesis of the Russia probe and what he chooses to declassify at face value?

LITMAN: You know, I would have many months ago, but I don't think you can anymore. The sort of Exhibit One is his characterization of the Mueller report before was published, which was just, not simply false, but not credible.

So no, I think there's a real concern that it will all be selective and slanted in order to tell a political story. And that's, you know, wrongheaded in a number of ways. It's that part also -- a big worry.

CABRERA: We're still waiting to see when and if Robert Mueller will testify. His team is reportedly telling House Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler that Mueller wants to testify in private, not public, because of the political implications of a public testimony -- the potential spectacle, it could all be. Should Robert Mueller have to testify publicly?

LITMAN: It's the better move. Look, you understand his reticence.

[14:25:00] LITMAN: He doesn't want to be part of the political spectacle and these almost silly grandstanding five-minute sessions, but look, he has this really important job of figuring out what happened and communicating it forcefully to the American people. And he's shown reticence basically ever since the report has come out. And when we really -- I think the American people really need a kind of strong voice about just what he found. So should he have to? You know, I think it would really serve the country well if he did.

CABRERA: Could Democrats force him to testify publicly?

LITMAN: I think the short answer is "no." I mean, there are, you know, do they have the raw power perhaps? But if you really think about the dynamic, the nature of the order of hailing him in and making him stay, I just don't think it flies. So if he insists -- and by the way, what he what he proposes to do is make a long opening statement and then proceed to close session. But if he really insists, he will not be in public, I don't see, as a practical matter, how he can be forced.

CABRERA: All right Harry Litman, I really appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

LITMAN: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: The tearful goodbye of British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Why she announced her resignation. Plus, it was a horrifying crime that really gripped the nation. A teenage girl kidnapped, her parents murdered. Today the man who says he did it, faces life in prison. He'll be sentenced. How Jayme Closs is doing months after escaping her kidnapper.

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