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Trump Holds News Conference Amid Whistleblower Firestorm; Trump on China Trade: I'm Looking For A Complete Deal; Trump Dismisses Whistleblower Complaint As Political Hack Job. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: -- will benefit from.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we can do, Scott, a very big deal with China and it could go very quickly as you know. But it wouldn't be the appropriate deal. We have to do it right.

And it's a very complicated deal with intellectual property protection. We have to do that and other things. I could leave lots out and have a deal very quickly but we want to do it right.


MORRISON: Yes, sure. Andrew (ph)?

TRUMP: I assume Andrew is a nice person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President, the best. Thank you very much for hosting us. Also on China and tariffs, what do you say to Australian businesses and to Australian people who say that your trade war with President Xi threatens their prosperity? And to the prime minister, a linked question, do you think that Australians are going to be collateral damage in President Trump's tariff with China?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, you know, I look at numbers, I love numbers, and the numbers of Australian are doing incredibly well. You're doing unbelievably well. When we have a deal with China or not but when we have a deal with China because they want to make it perhaps more than I want to make it because I actually love all the billions of dollars that's pouring into our treasury. Billions and billions of dollars. We've never seen that before from China. It's always been the other way.

But when -- and I'm taking care of our farmers out of that. We're helping our farmers. Our farmers were targeted and they were targeted for $16 billion and I made that up to them. We paid them the $16 billion and had tens of billions of dollars left over.

So I will say though that Australia is doing very well. If we do end up doing a deal, Australia will do even better. And we were discussing that, but Australia will be one of the big beneficiaries of a deal.

And in the meantime, as you know, I did tariff relief with respect to a certain product, in particular, coming out of Australia, and that's something that we wouldn't do for anybody else. This has been a truly great ally and we work very well together. But your numbers are absolutely fantastic, your economy is strong like ours, and I think we're two real examples of two countries doing extremely well.

Some countries aren't doing so well. Europe is not doing well, Asia is not doing -- large parts of Asia are not doing well. China is not doing well.


MORRISON: Thanks, Mr. President. Australia is in its 29th year of consecutive economic growth which is an extraordinary national achievement. And we will continue to grow as our most recent national accounts demonstrated. Australia is also very used to dealing with a complex and changing world. And that's why we've diversifying. I tried (INAUDIBLE) and had been doing for many years. I mean, six years ago when our government came to office, I mean, 27 percent of our trade was covered by agreements around the world. That figure is now 70 percent and we're going to take that to 90 percent and that's important, and that's opening up opportunities.

So, some ebbs and flows go in the global economy and Australia has built up resilience through the broad-based nature in which we're taking our economy to the world. I mean, Australia has never got rich selling things to itself, and we've always had an outward-looking perspective when it comes to engaging our economic opportunities. And a big part of what we've been discussing here is some new opportunities wherein the (INAUDIBLE) the critical minerals, frontier technologies, space. You know, this is where jobs are going to be in the future as well.

And so, we will deal with those ebbs and flows as they come, but the president is right. The arrangement they will come to, and I'm confident they will with China, will be one that will set, you know, a new bar in terms of how China's economy then deals with a lot of these complicated issues in the future with developed economies like Australia. So we look on with interest, and I think ultimately when we arrive at that point, it's going to put global trade on a stronger footing.

TRUMP: And Australia has really been so focused on the economy. They do minerals. They have incredible wealth in minerals and coal and other things. And they are really at the leading edge of coal technology. It's clean coal, we call it, clean coal, but it's also great for the workers. And things that would happen, too, because it was very dangerous years ago and very bad for a lot of people, and you've rectified that 100 percent.

It's incredible. I looked at your statistics the other day, and coal miners are very, very safe in Australia. It's incredible what you've done. In fact, we're looking at what you've done.

[12:35:00] MORRISON: We can do a deal on that.

TRUMP: We'll do a deal. We'll make a deal. Yes? Go ahead, please. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. In the midst of these escalating tensions with Iran, you've now named a new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is he recommending to you in terms of dealing with the latest strikes on Saudi Arabia and the response? And then secondly, you announced new sanctions on Iran. Secretary Mnuchin said that affects the last available funds for that regime. Have we now exhausted sanctions in regards to Iran?

TRUMP: Well, these are the strongest sanctions ever put on a country. We are at a level of sanction that is far greater than ever before with respect to Iran. Today, with did central bank, as you know, and we'll see. We'll see.

They're having a lot of problems not only with us. They're having problems within their own country, and I think they have a lot of self-made problems. We are by far the strongest military in the world. Going into Iran would be a very easy decision as I said before. It'd be very easy, the easiest thing.

Most people thought I would go in within two seconds, but plenty of time. Plenty of time. In the meantime, they have a lot of problems within Iran. Iran could be a great country, could be a rich country, but they are choosing to go a different way.

They'll be appointed which they'll be very sorry for that choice, but I think I'm showing great restraint. A lot of people respect it. Some people don't. Some people say you should go in immediately. And other people are so thrilled at what I'm doing.

And I don't do it for anybody, I do it for what's good for the United States, what's good for our allies. And it's working out really very well.

As far as Robert is concerned, he's -- Robert, maybe you could stand up. Robert O'Brien has done a fantastic job for us with hostage negotiations. I think we can say that there has never been anybody that's done better than you and I as a combination. We've brought many people home and we brought them home quickly. Speed is a very important thing, I find, with hostages. It's really something.

I had dinner the other night with the Warmbier family, an incredible family. The whole family and some of Otto's friends in addition to the family. We had 25 people over on Saturday night. And we did that dinner in Otto's honor and it was a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful thing.

The first lady and I, it was very touching and really very beautiful. We talked about Otto. And I will tell you that people should have moved faster. And Robert and I were talking about that. Should have moved faster. He was there a long time, you got to move fast. With hostages, you have to move fast. All of a sudden it gets very hard for the other side to do anything. And sometimes it's just too late. In the case of Otto, it was very late. We got him home but he was in horrible, horrible condition. What happened to him was actually incredible, just horrible. But you have to move fast.

Robert and I have been really successful. And the reason I know him so well, I actually work hard on hostages, I think you would say. I think most presidents wouldn't do that but I do. These are great -- I guess in almost all cases, American lives. We helped other people also -- we've also helped other countries with their hostage situation while we have some strength that they don't.

But these are great people and we get them home. We got them home from North Korea, as you know, and we got them home from a lot of different locations. Egypt. We get them home from many different locations. Turkey.


TRUMP: President Erdogan was very good and we got a hostage home. Our great pastor who everyone in this room knows and loves. But we've had tremendous success. And what surprised me, I didn't know too many people knew Robert. And when it came time to pick somebody for the position, it was a very critical time, I had so many people -- I shouldn't say this in front of Robert, he'll be embarrassed, but I had so many people that called me and they recommended Robert O'Brien.

So I think he's going to do a great job, and he was here -- I can tell you this, he started about 12 minutes after he was chosen. He sat in with us. And he's very much involved now in what we're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One quick follow-up on that in regards to Iran. If sanctions don't work and they continue their malign activity, are there any other measures outside of a military option that can be taken?

TRUMP: Well, I don't want to talk about that, but I will say I think the sanctions work and the military would work, but that's a very severe form of winning but we win.

[12:40:02] Nobody can beat us militarily. Nobody can even come close.

What we've done for our military in the last three years is incredible. All made in the USA, by the way. And it's really incredible. Our nuclear was getting very tired. They hadn't spent the money on it, and now we have it in, as we would say, tippy-top shape. Tippy-top. It's -- we have new -- and we have renovated and it's incredible and we all should pray that we never have to use it. We should never have to use it.

And our military itself is in phenomenal shape. And we have a great gentleman, as you know, going to be taking over. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford has been fantastic. He's a great man and a friend of mine. But General Miley is going to be taking over and it's going to be -- we're going to have a little bit of a celebration both for Joe and more for everybody.

As you know, our secretary of defense has just come in, Mark Esper, and he's been here for a short period of time, but he's got tremendous energy. He's going to it. He knows that that's what he's been doing for a long period of time, from the day he graduated, or maybe I should say from the day he started at West Point where he was a top, top scholar, et cetera.

So we have incredible people. And Steve Mnuchin is here. We did the sanctions today and I think they're probably, Steve, the strongest that has ever been put on a country. We will certainly never do that to Australia, I promise you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then one for the prime minister, if I may.

Mr. Prime minister, you have been very tough on Huawei even under pressure. You've been very consistent with the ban even though you said you have a good working relationship with China and they're important for your economy. Do you plan to continue to support the United States and the tough stance on China? And can you give any more specifics about what you've told the president you would do to help in his measures to reach a fair trade deal?

MORRISON: Well, first of all, I mean, we have the most perfect of relationships with the United States and it goes back a century and more, as the president was reminding us on the lawn this morning. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China. This is a part of the world in which we live and managing that relationship important to Australia's interest.

One thing I can always assure you and I think the president can say the same, we will always -- both of us act in the national interests of our countries. We will always put our countries' interest first. And that means, you know, engaging countries in our own region, not just economically, but in a people-to-people level as well. We have a lot of operations we do together right across the world militarily and we'll continue to do those.

But the focus I think at the end of the day has to be what's best for our people. And that means a stable securer region, and the presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific where they have been for a very long time is a stabilizing force in the region. And what does that mean? It means that countries can trade with each other. Economies can develop. People come out of poverty.

The United States has had a positive presence in our region. And that's why we always work together because we share objectives. It isn't a matter of the United States saying to us, we need you to do this, or Australia saying to the United States, we need you to do this. It's about us having shared objectives and looking through the world through a similar lens. And so that just naturally brings us together to focus on the things that promote prosperity.

As I started out (INAUDIBLE) today, we love jobs, the president and I. We love jobs. And we like the jobs here and we like jobs everywhere. And when people have jobs, well, they tend to focus a bit more on the things that are going on in their lives every day and making sure they can live peacefully with each other.

TRUMP: And one of the things that's important I think is, during our meeting we discussed I said, what percentage of your military do you buy from us. And it's -- the answer was, we work it together, or it's about a hundred percent, it's close to a hundred percent. And we make the best equipment, he understands that, but it's a real relationship. They buy a hundred percent of their military, and it's a massive purchase. And it's gotten bigger -- I guess you said it's the biggest purchase since World War II.

MORRISON: Yes. It will be at two percent of GDP next year, and that comes up from what was the lowest level of defense spending as a share of the economy since prior to the Second World War. So it's a $200 billion investment, and a lot of that, that's being built in Australia but also built in partnership with the United States and other allies. So it's an important part of what we're doing.

I think David Crowe from Australia was next.

DAVID CROWE, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Thank you very much. David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. On the questions on Iran, Mr. President, you've praised the Australian commitment today to deal with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

[12:45:05] And in your talks today with Mr. Morrison, did you discuss further military action in order to keep the pressure on Iran? What might those military actions be, and what could Australia contribute to that?

And Mr. Morrison, on that same issue --

TRUMP: Hold on one second, you'll get a second, correct? You'll get a shot at your prime minister. I'm sure you're looking forward to it.

We didn't discuss too much of Iran. We discussed more trade, more China. We discussed Afghanistan where Australia is helping us and we're slowly reducing in Afghanistan as people know. We've been very effective in Afghanistan, and if we wanted to do a certain method of war, we would win that very quickly. But many, many -- really, tens of millions of people would be killed. And we think it's unnecessary. But they've been -- Australia has been a great help to us in Afghanistan

But we're reducing in Afghanistan. We're reducing in Syria where we had, you know, we've taken over 100 percent of the caliphate. We have a hundred percent. When I came in, it was smaller, but it was a mess. It was all over, and now it's in a position -- I won't repeat what I said before with the prisoners, but we have thousands of ISIS fighters from our work in capturing 100 percent of the caliphate. And we're asking the countries from where they came whether it's Germany or France or other countries to take those people back, put them on trial, do what they have to do with them. But the United States will not keep thousands and thousands of people for the next possibly 50 years or whatever it may be. It's going to be up to those countries.

We did them a big favor. We went in, we took them down. The ISIS fighters, in the end, weren't very good fighters against the United States. But we have thousands of them and we want them to be taken over by Germany, France and all of those countries from where they came. OK?

CROWE: Thank you. And Mr. Morrison, on the same issue of Iran, are you open to further military action against Iran, or is the Australian commitment solely contained to a freedom of navigation (INAUDIBLE)?

MORRISON: Well, as the president said, I mean, there are no further activities planned or requested for assistance from Australia, so the question to that extent is moot. And I want to commend the president who is demonstrating as he said in the earlier press conference in the Oval Office, you know, restraint. There are other measures that he and the secretary have announced today and they're pursuing those channels.

So the calibrated, I think, very measured response that the United States is taking has been a matter for them, and obviously, at any time when issues arise with us as an ally, we consider them on their merits at the time in Australia's national interest. So I think that's where -- that's hitting.

TRUMP: Well, thank you very much. And Jennifer, thank you very much. The first lady, thank you. And I hope you're going to be able to seat tonight to the media because really it's going to be a beautiful evening in honor of Australia and the Morrisons. Thank you very much.

MORRISON: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you.

MORRISON: Thank you.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The president of the United States shaking hands with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, heading back now from the East Room into the West Wing of the White House. A lengthy press conference there. There are two questions from each side but several follow-ups.

So the issue that came up earlier in the Oval Office, the controversy about the so-called whistleblower did not come up at the press conference. But think of where Australia is in the world. A very important trade relationship with China, the prime minister saying how important it was to the Australian economy. One of the first questions to the president was, would you cut a monetary deal with China as opposed to the large package you have demanded from China, including big concessions from the Chinese, or are you willing even if you can't get this before next year's election?


TRUMP: We're talking a little bit this week, talking a lot next week, and then top people are going to be speaking the week following. But I'm not looking for a partial deal, I'm looking for a complete deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel you need that deal before the election, sir?

TRUMP: No, I don't think I need it before the election. I think people know that we're doing a great job.


KING: That is his position. It's a risky position, frankly, and it's a position on which for all the criticism of the president for not being consistent, he is taking a huge political risk hereby being consistent. At least up to this point of saying I'm sorry to the American farmers, I'm sorry to other industries hurt by Chinese tariffs, but I'm holding out until we get a real deal. The negotiations restart in earnest next week. The question is will he continue to hold that position if the American economy slows down and if his political team keeps telling him, sir, this could hurt your map.

[12:50:03] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's going to take a lot more from his political team based on what he's seeing right now. What he has done consistently and we've seen this is he believes there is not going to be longer-term pain. He has seen the market eventually come back up. This is what -- you know, he generally doesn't have strongly held views on a lot of issues, but tariffs is one of them.

He's been talking about it for decades, and I think that he believes that if he moves off of that, he is going to lose the supporters that he has. There's obviously already this farm bailout which is quite expensive but I think he thinks it's going to help.

The way they are looking at it is they only have to get through the next four economic quarters without two consecutive wins of negative economic growth. And then there's not actually officially a recession and even if there is a slowdown, it will blunt that argument. We'll see if he's right.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you're exactly right about it being because we talked about it before the press conference, about there being just a few things that he's been very consistent on throughout his whole adult life, this being one of them. Yes, that the broad numbers might -- and he might skate by without an official recession rather. But when you're talking about the actual people, the people he relies on, the people that senators and members of the House rely on, voters who are hurting in a very, very deep way, like in Iowa, for example, and other areas where they're making agriculture that -- where China is their number one buyer and they're not able to sell there, they've already put in a position of being asked to be what the president is calling patriot farmers, and the question is how long will that last and will they say enough already.

KING: And the question will be when they try to cut a spending deal, is there more bailout money, more aid money for farmers as part of that heading into an election year. We'll see all that play out.

HABERMAN: The question will also be who is the Democratic nominee. At the end of the day, these folks are not going to be making a choice, not in a vacuum, there's going to be a binary.


KING: Another issue that came up a lot there and I don't mean this to suspect. A lot of words were spoken, we didn't learn a lot as the president goes into very sensitive meetings. We're not supposed to know a lot about his military options when it comes to Iran. They blamed Iran for this drone and (INAUDIBLE) attacks on the Saudi oil infrastructure.

The question now is what to do about it. When you listen to the president there, the -- from the Australian side, they are asking, are you going to ask for Australia's help. Australia has been an ally in Afghanistan back in the Iraq War to a degree. When you heard the president talking there about what he was considering, careful in his words, measured in his words, saying he can be tough if he has to be. Very easy, he said. I don't think -- I think that's an overstatement. It wouldn't be very easy if you had a war with Iran.

But what did you take away from what you heard?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think he is being measured appropriately. I don't agree with the crowd that saying we should strike into Iran including their oil refinery capabilities. There are lots of places that you can herd around. Remember, they're overstretched. They're playing in Yemen, they're playing in Iraq, they're playing in Afghanistan. They're trying to cause trouble in Bahrain.

So they have weaknesses built around the region, and, you know, a sensible plan for causing them pain, and I argue they should have some pain to be accountable for what they've done, could be, a, the sanctions, you start out with sanctions, and then the second, there are targets for folks who are doing really bad things and getting people killed that the United States could engage that would cause pain to Iran without an attack on Iranian soil.

I would be very, very careful. And the good news here is I think that's where Trump's instinct is about going into Iran. Mainly if that happens, it will be very, very difficult to try to get that thing to stop burning. And that's what I think people are concerned about in the Middle East. Cause them some pain, do it economically, there are some targets. Don't go into Iran, you know, at least for the time being on what your options are.

KING: I want to come back to the story that we started the hour with which did not come up at the press conference which is this whole controversy over a whistleblower in the intelligence community, who made a report to the inspector general for the intelligence community suggesting, and we don't know a lot about this so we need to be careful, but suggesting that the president on a foreign phone call with a foreign leader did something inappropriate, made an inappropriate promise. The president said repeatedly earlier in the day it's nothing. He said it was ridiculous, he said it was partisan.

One of the questions is, when will Congress -- will Congress be told the specifics. The House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was just asked about this at length. I'm just going through some of it. Do you want to get the whistleblower information? Do you want to know who it is? From the standpoint of I want to know who the whistleblower is, what they are saying, they could have come to Congress and given it to us. Kevin McCarthy said that.

Then he went on to say later, the point is tell me who the whistleblower is. Is the person still working there? Let us see what the facts are. So many times I've seen in the media, people go out there and sensationalized something then they have to correct themselves. Let's have all the facts before we go.

I agree, let's have all the facts. The president could release the transcript. They could send people up to Capitol Hill even in a closed setting if they had to.

Where are we here, and is there a process or we had loggerheads over the law in the process?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is total self-inflicted pain on the part of the president and the administration. If they would have just followed the process and let the IG report this complaint to the appropriate classified intelligence committees, then the complaint would have been vetted and they would have been able to review it.

[12:55:02] It would have been done in a bipartisan way. The temperature would have been down. We wouldn't have these immediate calls for releasing a transcript which a release of that type really would be quite unusual and not something that we want from an intelligence perspective, want to get in the habit of doing. So by fighting the process as laid out in law, they have actually created a crisis that didn't necessarily need to exist.

ROGERS: And just a real quick point on this, this is just the allegation, the complaint. So they weren't going to get a completed investigation at any rate. They were going to get the allegation which would put a lot of pressure --

KING: But to your point, if there was actually a bipartisan process on something sensitive in this town, that would be breaking news. That would guarantee.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here Sunday morning as well. Get up early with us, 8 a.m. Eastern.

Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage on this very busy day after a quick break. Have a good afternoon.