Return to Transcripts main page


Six Dead in Storms Across Oklahoma; Nine Climbers Die on Mount Everest So Far This Year; Trump Slams Democrats in the House for not Working to Pass Bills. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:25] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning and welcome to a special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto has a well-deserved dayoff, and the president has had a long and busy day in Tokyo, not one but two engagements with Japan's new emperor, trade and security talks with Japan's prime minister, and a joint news conference where he stood shoulder to shoulder with a leader who wasn't even there, Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Listen to the president contradicting not only his host but his own National Security adviser on whether North Korea's latest missile test violated U.N. resolutions.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people think it could have been a violation. I said no. I view it differently. I view it as a man, perhaps who wants to get attention. And perhaps not. Who knows? I am very happy with the way it's going. And intelligent people agree with me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're not bothered at all by the small missiles?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. I am personally not.


HARLOW: It's really significant.

My colleague Boris Sanchez is following the president. He is in the Japanese capital where it is just after 10:00 p.m.

And Boris, what is the reaction to the president nonchalance about what Japan considers an existential threat?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remained measured and sort of polite when he was asked about the president's feelings regarding the short-range ballistic missile tests. He essentially said that the missile tests are a great regret. But he didn't go further in condemning them.

It's clear that President Trump trusts Kim Jong-un despite the outlook from some of his closest advisers like National Security adviser John Bolton and even the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. It's not the only thing that the president is siding with Chairman Kim on. Recall that last week North Korean officials put out a statement taunting the intelligence of former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Listen to what President Trump said when he was asked about that at a press conference today in Japan.


TRUMP: Well, Kim Jong-un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.


SANCHEZ: The president swiftly pivoted to Iran, talking about Biden's role in securing the Iranian nuclear deal, saying that that was a huge failure. Despite that the president now says he wants to negotiate a new nuclear deal saying that he does not believe that regime change is necessary in Iran, something that also goes against what Ambassador John Bolton has written about before.

We should point the president just departed this banquet for him, held in his honor by new Japanese Emperor Naruhito. The president is turning in for the night. Tomorrow he's set to tour a joint Japanese and American naval base before returning to Washington -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Boris Sanchez, live for us in Tokyo this morning, thank you very much.

I'm joined now by former director of National Intelligence and our national security analyst James Clapper.

Good morning, Director Clapper. It's very good and important to have you on all of this news that happened overnight on the president's trip. Let's just talk about the significance of the president really standing shoulder to shoulder with Kim Jong-un, even though Kim Jong- un was not there, while he is in Japan and siding with him over not only Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but his own National Security adviser John Bolton, all while he again is in Japan. How big is that?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's -- yes, it's big, I mean, but it's not surprising or inconsistent with the president's previous behavior. It's not the first time he's contradicted his National Security adviser or others on his cabinet, his team.

First, I think it's clear the North Koreans are not happy with the state of affairs right now since the failure of the Hanoi summit and typical North Korea, when they want attention, they'll do something like this. And despite all the word-smithing, this was a ballistic missile test and it does contravene U.N. Security Council resolutions.

HARLOW: Right. CLAPPER: And of course there is the -- you know, just the fact that

he's in Japan on a state visit and -- you know, these missiles do pose a threat to Japan even though they may not pose a threat to the United States. So it's --

HARLOW: Right.

CLAPPER: It really puts, as you -- you and Boris pointed out, as kind of an awkward position for Prime Minister Abe to be in.

[09:05:05] HARLOW: Right. And we'll get to sort of Abe's response in a moment, right, and how much Japan depends on the United States. And then obviously plays into his response or non-response to hearing the president say that but you've got the United States with 20,000 in South Korea, 50,000 troops in Japan. Shouldn't the president be just as alarmed by any missile tests by North Korea as Japan is, even if it can't reach the United States, this particular test?

CLAPPER: Well, yes, he should be because, you know, it's still a good practice for the North Koreans.

HARLOW: Right.

CLAPPER: And, you know, it's a question of range, is the only distinction. And yes, he has lots of troops and families in both countries.

HARLOW: Right.

CLAPPER: But I think he is so wedded to his -- you know, his love affair, air quotes, with Kim Jong-un, and in a sense is kind of putting it to Kim Jong-un, I will say this, not to test nuclear weapons underground or launch long range missiles. And I don't know what they'll do -- what the president will do if that happens. And the North Koreans again when they feel they're not getting the attention they deserve, they'll do things like this.

HARLOW: Right. It's this, you know, this step today but what is the next step to get that attention.

OK, so let's address Shinzo Abe's response, the way the Japanese prime minister chose to respond or not really, right, to what the president said right there in Japan. He has tried for good reason to really curry favor with the president, economic reasons, security reasons. But really has gotten so little in return. You've seen other U.S. allies. long-time allies sort of take the hint, try to work around the United States. But for Japan, there's not a lot of options.

CLAPPER: Well, there isn't. And Prime Minister Abe is in a tough place and I think he's doing the best he can by literally and figuratively rolling out the red carpet for the president, appealing, you know, to his ego in light of current trade negotiations. And there's an election coming up in July in Japan. And so this is all complicated, of course, by the behavior of North Korea while this visit is going on.


CLAPPER: So he's in a tough place and I think he responded as diplomatically as he could.

HARLOW: Let's turn the page to Iran here and what the president said. Let's listen to him because he made very clear where he at least stands on regime change in Iran. Here was the president.


TRUMP: And I know so many people from Iran. These are great people. It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership. We're not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We're looking for no nuclear weapons.


HARLOW: That was a very deliberate statement, a deliberate word choice, no regime change. That probably comes as a disappointment, perhaps a surprise to some closest to him, including John Bolton who, you know, months before taking this position wrote about needing regime change in Iran.

CLAPPER: Well, exactly. I think that may be a statement more for public consumption. I think really this administration would prefer regime change. And certainly Mr. Bolton, prior to becoming National Security adviser, made that pretty clear, that that would be his position.

One the thing with Iran, I always like to think about is which would you rather have a, state sponsored terrorism with a nuclear weapon or state sponsored terrorism without a nuclear weapon?

HARLOW: Of course.

CLAPPER: And I sort of opt for the latter. And even if there were regime change, there's absolutely no guarantee at all that what would succeed the current regime would be any different. So I'm not quite sure what we're trying to achieve in Iran. But it sure shows a difference, when you're dealing with a country that has a nuclear weapon or nuclear weapons like North Korea versus one that doesn't.

HARLOW: Right. Yes, it certainly does.

All right. Director Clapper, so good to have you this morning. Thank you very much for coming in on the holiday. We appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Poppy, for having me.

HARLOW: All right. Let's talk about the politics of this. Molly Ball is here, "TIME" magazine's national political correspondent and CNN political analyst.

Good morning to you, Molly. And the same goes for you. Thank you for being with us on this holiday, Memorial Day Monday.


HARLOW: Let's just take down what happened in the last two days for the president, siding with Kim Jong-un on the issue of North Korean missile tests, doesn't bother him at all. Ignoring Japan's plea to remove those steel and aluminum tariffs and publicly goading Abe when it comes to touting Japanese investments in the United States.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

[09:10:03] BALL: Well, and I think a lot of American allies have felt that way over the past couple of years thanks to the president's, shall we say, unorthodox views of American alliances. Look, this is not really a working visit for Trump. Right? This is much more of a ceremonial visit, seeing the new emperor and visiting with Prime Minister Abe. But he has managed to ruffle some feathers as he tends to do, and I think as Director Clapper was just saying, the response of the Japanese has just been to try to be as diplomatic as possible. But especially when it comes to North Korea.

You know, the fear of a lot of experts who saw Trump walk into these negotiations with Kim Jong-un was that he would give away the store and not get anything in return.

HARLOW: Right.

BALL: A lot of those people were really gratified and praised the president for walking away from that last summit in Vietnam thinking, OK, this shows he isn't going to just let them get away with anything. But I think that that fear is kind of resurgent now that he seems to be making excuses for the North Koreans over these nuclear tests and as you said contravening others in his administration over how to view them.

HARLOW: And on other major issues on the foreign policy front, you've got what seems to be, molly, a growing divide and a significant one between the president and his National Security adviser John Bolton. So clearly the word choice there, we're not looking for regime change in Iran, putting them on a little bit of a different page, Bolton publicly isn't saying that right now. His writing has made clear what his view has been on Iran and at the same time, on Venezuela, the divide between the president and John Bolton when it comes to Venezuela. Both public divides on really significant foreign policy issues. What does this mean for John Bolton? I mean, is he about to be Tillersoned if you will?

BALL: Well, we haven't heard that kind of personal acrimony from the president. It's more have been about different views.


BALL: I don't think anybody is surprised that President Trump has a little bit of a different world view than John Bolton, particularly when it comes to the use of military force, although, when he's been interviewed on this topic, Bolton has described them both as sort of realists on foreign policy. But, you know, there is a clear policy divide. Potentially there's a strategy behind it. Potentially there's a sort of good cop-bad cop going on where these international actors can be kept off balance by not knowing which part of the administration's rhetoric they should trust.

But we don't know that. You know, and usually with this administration it turns out not to be a strategy. It turns out to just be the transparency, if you will, of these disputes that usually happen inside the White House coming out into the open and the president expressing them publicly, particularly when it comes to Iran, there's been these rumblings that have really reached a crescendo in Washington in the past several weeks and made a lot of people nervous in Washington.

So if President Trump is really speaking to them, really speaking to a domestic audience that's been wondering, are we saber rattling? Are we potentially gearing up for a war here?


BALL: I guess we now know where Trump is on that.

HARLOW: Yes. It's a question that should matter to each and every American certainly.

Molly Ball, thank you. Good to have you this morning.

All right. So if you have not seen these pictures, look at this. The images say it all. The top of Mount Everest is so busy, people are dying in what has become a literal human traffic jam. We'll take you live to Kathmandu.

Plus her rescuers didn't give up and neither did she. This amazing story of a hiker missing for 17 days in the forests in Hawaii. How she survived and what we are learning about her remarkable rescue.

And this Memorial Day, we are honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice serving in the U.S. armed forces.


[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, so this morning, search and rescue operations are still under way in Oklahoma, this is after an EF-3 tornado leveled a hotel and a mobile home park just west of Oklahoma City over the weekend.

Two people died in that tornado. In all, at least six people are dead after severe weather swept across the state, packing strong winds, rain and flooding. Just this month, there have been reports of more than 387 tornadoes across the country. That's more than a 100 above average for the month of May.

Meantime, to Mount Everest where gridlock on top of the mountain may be to blame for at least nine deaths just this year though. Take a look at this picture, that is a literal human traffic jam. This is the line of people waiting to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

One mountain guide rather says difficult weather conditions and a lack of experience is contributing to this. Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is live in Kathmandu, Nepal. That is remarkable to see, I certainly didn't even know that can happen. Not only can it happen, but it's proving to be deadly.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Poppy, and this is why it's so deadly because that area where all those people are backlogged, that's known as the Death Zone. And there's a reason why it's called the Death Zone.

Is because when you're at that altitude, every breath you take, it only contains about a third of the oxygen that it would if you were at say, sea level. So your body is literally degrading. You're literally dying when you're there. And extra time can prove to be lethal.

The waits on some days were hours long for people to reach the summit and come back down. And of those nine people and counting who died just on the Nepali side trying to make the summit, in this very short climbing periods, only a few weeks, most of those people died while they were on their way down, while they were descending, and most of them from altitude sickness.

[09:20:00] That is how dangerous this potentially can be. And some of them, it would seem, more aware of the dangers. There was one British climber who died, his name is Robin Haynes Fisher. And he had posted to his Instagram about his concerns about the wait, saying "with a single route to the summit, delays caused by overcrowding could prove to be fatal."

So he had to try to mitigate that, but actually postponed his summit day for a few days, hoping that it would be less crowded. But well, you end up happening -- what ends up happening is that once the weather clears, there's this big crush, this rush for the summit that's resulting in this backlog. But really, Poppy, that's only one of the reasons why these fatalities occur.

HARLOW: And Arwa, obviously, the question becomes, you know, how much of the responsibility lies on the government and how much responsibility lies on the individual people? Is edge -- very quickly before we go, is anyone else going up at this point?

DAMON: As far as we're aware, no. The last group, according to a government official we spoke to is actually on their way back down.


DAMON: Now the Nepalese government says that the number of permits doesn't have anything to do with this delay. They say that these are completely unfounded allegations and they say that 600 people did summit, make it to the summit --


DAMON: This year. But there's also a burden of responsibility that's on the climbers on their level of experience. And what's --

HARLOW: Sure --

DAMON: Especially crucial, experts will tell you when you're climbing something like this, Poppy, is knowing your body and its limitations.

HARLOW: Arwa Damon, I'm glad you're there, please keep us posted because it is stunning. Ahead for us, back in this country, more Democrats calling for the president's impeachment. Will recent court wins push Speaker Pelosi there, though? Now, that's a key question, next.


HARLOW: All right, so the president this morning is halfway around the world in Japan. But his fight back home with Democrats is very front and center. Just hours after saying -- get this, that he would be willing to work with congressional Democrats -- remember what he said last week, well, now he's slamming them, calling Democrats obstructionists and saying they're doing nothing in Congress.

That's not true, by the way. Two hundred and thirty five bills have passed the Democratic-led house this Congress. All this as the president's stonewall strategy to take on a string of Democratic investigations that's starting to show some legal cracks. And those are the ones that matter.

Elie Honig; former federal prosecutor and state prosecutor is with us. So let's talk about how important these court rulings are, the two that are favorite with Democrats so far. But the fact that, you know, the fact that they are being expedited --


HARLOW: By these judges says a lot.

HONIG: It does. It's so important that judges follow the examples set by the judges in D.C. and New York last week. Here is the thing. If these cases are not expedited, meaning hurried up --

HARLOW: Right --

HONIG: Then the White House, the executive branch is going to get its way simply by running out the clock. There isn't that far to go until the next Congress takes office. And if you look back historically, when Eric Holder was held in contempt and then there was a court battle, that went on for seven years, ultimately rendering it moot.

So, I think it's really important that both judges got those cases to the very top of their dockets --

HARLOW: Right --

HONIG: Judges control their own dockets and got them decided quickly.

HARLOW: And one other note you make that I do think sort of doesn't get as much attention as it should is that each and every one of these decisions, so the New York and the D.C. decisions last week, they set a precedent for future legal battles on --

HONIG: Yes --

HARLOW: The same front.

HONIG: For sure, look, we're going to have a series of these, and you can see which ones are coming down the pipe. Tax returns, potentially over McGahn, Hope Hicks, that kind of thing. And every court case sort of has precedential value.

Now, trial level judges, and that's where these cases are now -- the decisions of one trial level judge do not necessarily dictate the decision of another one, but they will be cited anyway as influential. So when we get the next battle, you can --

HARLOW: Right --

HONIG: Bet Congress is going to say, look at what the judge did in D.C., look at what the judge did in New York, they both found that Congress has very broad power.

HARLOW: And the language in both of those decisions was so declarative --

HONIG: Yes --

HARLOW: And definitive, there was nothing sort of wishy-washy about it. But at the same time, you note, Elie, that you think the White House is making not a political error, a tactical error in the blanket stonewalling. Why?

HONIG: I do. I think it makes it transparent that they are just putting up this all across-the-board stonewall. I think it would be smarter if I was in position to advise the White House, let's be strategic here, let's pick our battles. Some of these -- they are not on solid footing,

For example, the two opinions we've seen where Congress is trying to get information from a private bank or financial institution. That's a really tough fight for the executive branch to jump in as a third party and stop it. There are better fights that they can have.

And I would say, let's save our fire for the important ones because judges are aware of this. And if I was Congress, I would argue this. They are just putting up a blanket now. And you're right, Poppy, the decisions last week were really strong and really reaffirm this ideas that Congress has very broad, not quite unlimited, but very broad subpoena power.

HARLOW: They do, and that's been shown in both of these decisions.

HONIG: Yes --

HARLOW: Elie, good to have you --

HONIG: Thanks, Poppy -- HARLOW: Thank you very much. Coming up, wait for this. She was

found alive after being missing in Hawaii in a forest there for 17 days. Her incredible story along with the rescuers who would not give up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it did come down to life and death and I had to choose, and I chose life. I wasn't going to take the easy way out.