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Trump Ordered Staff to Ivanka Trump's Grant Security Clearance; Sen. Mike Rounds (R), South Dakota, is Interviewed About North Korea Rebuilding Missile Site. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 06, 2019 - 07:00   ET


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And of course, you have those who say, "We are victims of R. Kelly." They say they, too, have shed many, many tears over how they were treated.

[07:00:12] So it will be interesting to see what more he has to say this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Sara Sidner for us in Los Angeles. That interview was something. Thank you.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump pressured John Kelly to grant his daughter a security clearance against recommendations.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: When you cannot get information, you cannot be a check. It's not some witch- hunt.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Eighty-one people or organizations got letters. It's a disgrace to our country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Judiciary Committee has the right to look at all of this. I hope they just provide us with the documents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all about setting up the stage for impeachment proceedings. That's pretty clear.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

New this morning, brand-new reporting from CNN that raises new questions about the honesty of President Trump and now his daughter Ivanka. CNN has learned that the president pressured top White House officials to grant his daughter Ivanka Trump a security clearance.

Sources say the president pushed his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, and White House counsel Don McGahn to get clearances for Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, against the recommendations of intelligence officials.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Now, this revelation contradicts denials from President Trump and Ivanka in interviews in the last month.


I. TRUMP: The president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband's clearance. There are literally close to a million people in the federal government who are in the pipeline to get their permanent clearance and are on temporary status.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no special treatment?



CAMEROTA: Well, the White House has rejected congressional requests for information about these security clearances.

So joining us now to discuss this and so much more, we have David Gregory, a CNN political analyst; Dana Bash, CNN's chief political correspondent; and Elie Honig. He is a former federal prosecutor and is now a CNN legal analyst. Great to have all of you here with us.

So Dana, you know, Ivanka gave that sort of unequivocal "No, no special treatment. No involvement." It's possible that she didn't know.


CAMEROTA: But the backstory is that John -- I mean, our CNN reporting, and it matches what "The New York Times" had reported about Jared -- John Kelly was upset about it. Don McGahn, White House counsel, was upset about it. The Office of Personnel was upset about this. The FBI and the CIA were advising against this. So it's possible she didn't know, but President Trump knew.

BASH: Yes. This is terrific reporting from Pamela Brown and Kaitlan Collins; and it does speak to a potential really big issue, not just for the president, but for Ivanka Trump. Because she now is in a position where she is the first daughter. She is a senior White House official who has access to information that the people who are in charge of protecting that information, except for the president, didn't -- for some reason didn't want her to have.

So the obvious question is why? Why? What was preventing -- what was making them so skeptical and even upset about the notion of her having access to the biggest secrets in the land?

And then the next question, obviously, is how and whether Congress, the Democrats in the House who now run it, are going to be successful in getting the information that they are seeking to answer that question I just asked: why?

BERMAN: And, again, the White House has already told the House Democrats, "We're not giving you the security clearance stuff."

BASH: Right.

BERMAN: When this will just begin the process.

BASH: But that's why God made the courts.

BERMAN: Exactly. That's what subpoenas are for.

BASH: Exactly.

BERMAN: You know, David Gregory, I guess it's possible that Ivanka Trump didn't know that her father was pressuring officials for security clearance. Is it plausible? That's another question.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, though, knew apparently, when he told "The New York Times" he had nothing to do with it; and that appears to be a lie. And it's just hard for me to get beyond that. Why the lies about this?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's hard for me to imagine that father to daughter, you know, you've got a portfolio of work that you want to do at the White House; and that the conversation doesn't happen, you know, "Hey, Dad, I'm all set to go here, but I'm still caught up on my security clearance here. It's not getting through, and we can't seem to get over this hump. What are we going to do about this?"

And this is -- just goes to the heart of why it's a problem to have your children working in senior roles in the West Wing. It's such an obvious statement.

But all of these conflicts, all of these questions arise from that original mistake. And it comes in large part out of the president's disrespect for the institution. And the fact that he just doesn't care. He considers this kind of an extension of his own private enterprise. And we see that, unfortunately, in so many different areas.

[07:05:11] So I'm with Dana. I think beyond that original point, what were the nature of those concerns about why -- about the president overruling them? That's really what I think we've got to know.

CAMEROTA: And also, I mean, let's just remember, and this of course say political issue, but I think that it's also just sort of a common- sense issue, Elie, which is that so many people, when the Clintons were in office, so many Republicans said, "They think they're above the law. Rules don't apply to the Clintons."

And here rules don't apply to the Trumps. I mean, you just see it right here in, you know, stark relief. And what can Congress do about this? The White House is resistant now to releasing more information, particularly about security clearances. So this -- what happens? It's tied up in court forever?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We're going to go to the courts. This could bring the legal issues to a head, and it could be the first of many legal battles that we see.

We've already seen people pushing back on the request from Congress for documents relating to Jared Kushner's clearance. We saw 81 requests that Representative Nadler sent out, which could turn into subpoenas, which then could bring us into court. We're going to see objections. I think we're going to see some real resistance. We just saw it in John's interview with Mr. Caputo.

People are going to resist these requests. And then the subpoenas are going to come out. And then we're going to get invocations of executive privilege. And we could end up right back where the Supreme Court ended up deciding the Richard Nixon case in 1974 on the claim of executive privilege.

BERMAN: And Democrats aren't just going to walk away from this, Dana, right?

BASH: No. Absolutely not. It is hard to imagine that this is not going to go to the courts, for the obvious reasons that we've just been discussing, that the White House is going to say, "Oh, no, no. You're not going to get any information."

And the Democrats are going to say, "Oh, yes, we will."

It's interesting the Democrats just more broadly -- and, you know, I don't know if this is a political reason or just the fact that they like Ivanka better -- they seem to have been approaching her with more kid gloves and more gingerly.

BERMAN: She's not on the list, right?

BASH: She's not on the subpoena list, which is noteworthy. And Brianna Keilar was told from a Democratic source that -- that they were considered about the political ramifications, because she's a popular figure.

If that's true, that's --


BASH: -- not good because, you know, not that it's not good that they're not subpoenaing her but that they put her in a different category for political reasons. It speaks to exactly what President Trump is trying to paint the Democrats with.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But also, David, I mean, Democrats are going to have to prioritize, OK?

GREGORY: Yes. CAMEROTA: So they are casting such a wide net, let -- that they need

to focus, because obviously since the White House is resistant. So is it going -- are they going to focus on getting the president's taxes? Are they going to focus on insurance fraud that came out during Michael Cohen's testimony? Are they going to focus on security clearances?

What's their pecking order?

GREGORY: Right. I don't think we know that. And we also know that there's a progressive wing of the party playing itself out and asserting itself on a number of different issues that are saying, "No, of course we should be impeaching President Trump."

So you know there's that energy there that's fueling a lot of this. And Michael Cohen represented the kind of the setup for ultimately pursuing impeachment, even though the leadership is more cautious about it.

But I think priority is the right word. They do have to set some priorities, because there will be political backlash.

The president said yesterday you either want to get legislation, you want to go -- you know, get insurance, prescription drugs, infrastructure, or you can just have this investigation, and you've chosen investigation.

Now he's been setting them up to say that for a long time. But they are going to get criticized for this kind of approach. And they want to be more focused on areas where he may have abused power, may have been corrupt, especially when he's been president.

BERMAN: All right. If you went to sleep thinking there was no connections between hush-money payoffs to porn stars and turkey pardons.

CAMEROTA: You were wrong.

BERMAN: You were way wrong. Way wrong.

All right. So "The New York Times," Elie, reported overnight they obtained more of the checks that Michael Cohen says the president wrote to him over 2017 as reimbursement for, Michael Cohen says, hush- money payoffs to Stormy Daniels. And there's images of the checks here.

There's two aspects of this which are interesting. No. 1, "The Times" gives us a contemporaneous account of what the president was doing as president during those days. Hosted Chancellor Angela Merkel on one of the days he wrote a check. Hosted senators to talk about tax cuts. And then on November 21, pardoned the turkey. So there's -- there's that aspect to it. There's the -- you know, it's interesting the juxtaposition of doing the job there.


BERMAN: And there's also the legal roadmap that these checks might provide. Speak to that.

HONIG: So here's going to -- here's what the big dispute is going to be over these checks. Were they reimbursement for hush money, or were they a retainer? Right? Rudy Giuliani, I think, has said this was just the standard fee that a client would pay to an attorney every month.

But when you put it in the contest of the president is going about these important, weighty issues of state, whether it's dealing with Angela Merkel or the turkey pardon, but he's taking time out to issue these checks.

[07:10:07] You would never do that if it was a retainer. That would be automated. That would be through your corporation. It wouldn't be something the president himself would take time out, distract himself from the real business of state and cut a check, unless it was something that was really on his mind.

So it's circumstantial evidence, but it could be key to sort of resolving this dispute.

CAMEROTA: But also, Elie, Carrie Cordero told us in the last hour, when you're president of the United States, you don't need to pay $35,000 a month for a legal retainer, because you have something called a White House counsel --


CAMEROTA: -- of really expert lawyers in the White House. You can just walk right next door there. So this is just -- it doesn't pass the smell test.

HONIG: Yes, it's a good point, but you do have two sets of lawyers in the White House. You have your White House counsel's office, which represents sort of the institution of the presidency, but you also may have your personal attorneys, as well. So I'm sure that's what he'll argue: This was my personal attorney.

But, again, it's inconsistent with all the evidence and certainly inconsistent with Michael Cohen's testimony --

BASH: Exactly.

HONIG: -- and common sense.

BASH: Exactly. I mean, he was asked pointblank at the very beginning of his very lengthy public testimony, "Did you have a retainer," or did he -- "Did the president have a retainer with you," and his answer was no. No.

CAMEROTA: And I think that it's also important to note that President Trump said, "I had nothing to do any more with Michael Cohen. He wasn't serving any function."

BASH: Right. I mean, all of that is right. Now, Michael Cohen was saying this for the second time before

Congress, or you know, he spoke -- he's spoken before Congress many times. One of the reasons he's going to jail is because he lied. So you know, you want to try to give him the benefit of the doubt that this time he was telling the truth.

The question is, can the Trump team, Rudy Giuliani, the president, find any piece of paper that shows that it was a retainer? And the reason this matters is because, if that is the case, then these payments are just for him being a lawyer, not necessarily for hush money. But, it's just a --

BASH: I don't know that it's believable, and frankly, at this point, one of the -- one of the things I think is most genius -- and you can take that term how you want -- about the way that the president and Rudy Giuliani have handled this over the past many, many months is that they've already injected this into the bloodstream of the American people.

Now people are hearing about hush-money payments and writing checks, and they say, "Oh, wait, don't I know about this?"

BERMAN: Nothing surprises anymore.

BASH: Exactly.

BERMAN: I mean, you know, December 5, 2017, a $35,000 check to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush-money payments to a porn star, Michael Cohen says; and the president talks to Netanyahu and Abbas about Middle East peace. It's just jarring, David. This is not, I think, what the framers of the Constitution and the founders intended.

GREGORY: Right. But to Dana's point, I think there's a lot of reaction politically saying, "Well, if we already knew about that, we've accepted that about the president," and now, you know, this big Russia investigation boils down to paying off porn stars, when that's not really the point.

It is the juxtaposition that is jarring, and it is the extent to which he was abusing the office, you know, committing -- committing crimes while in office. And the way his attention was diverted.

And, of course, the bigger piece is the extent to which there may have been corruption. Whether he was doing the bidding of personal business and his personal enterprise through the presidency. And that's just part of the grounds here for investigation.

And, again, when it applies to the security clearance or other aspects, it then becomes a question of his judgment, and a question of competence in the administration, which I think does become a political argument that gets made by Democrats in the course of the investigation.

BERMAN: All right, Dana, Elie, David, thank you very much.

Other major news overnight: new satellite images show, apparently, that North Korea is rebuilding a missile launch site. This happening after talks between North Korea and the U.S. collapsed. We're going to ask a Republican senator for his reaction next.

CAMEROTA: And we're going to take the pulse of the people. Which member of Congress had our panel of Democratic voters saying this?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love that, yes.



[07:17:57] BERMAN: Breaking news. New satellite images apparently show that North Korea has begun rebuilding key missile facilities. And this, of course, is taking place after talks collapsed between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. So what is North Korea up to here?

Joining me now is Republican Senator Mike Rounds. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Rounds, great to have you on NEW DAY. We saw these pictures overnight for the very first time of activity at a North Korean missile site. Does that concern you?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: It does. It doesn't surprise us, but most certainly, you would think that there would be a reaction once these talks broke down. I think the president was correct to walk away if he didn't feel that we were getting a good deal. But when that occurs, then North Korea's going to do something.

It does not surprise us to see that they would -- and that they clearly understand that we can see what they're doing, so it may be as much a part of messaging as it is anything else.

BERMAN: What message do you think North Korea is trying to send?

ROUNDS: They're trying to send a message that they're for real and that they expect that, if we're not going to capitulate to some of their demands and continue to negotiate, that they're going to continue on with their nuclear development programs, including the development of, you know, the -- the types of delivery system that we have in the past been able to stop them from achieving, which includes ICBMs.

BERMAN: When he walked away -- when he walked away from this summit, President Trump said that North Korea had agreed to no new missile testing and no new nuclear testing, despite the fact that the talks broke down.

Well, missile development may be not actually firing a rocket, but shouldn't that be of concern? Should that perhaps be a reason why President Trump should take a ha a harsher tone with Kim Jong-un.

ROUNDS: Well, I think sometimes in the private ones. I think sometimes publicly, he may appear to be soft. I don't think behind the scenes he's necessarily soft. I think that's one of the things that's evidenced by the fact that he walked away from these talks.

Most certainly, North Korea is a threat. They continue to be a threat. We keep our eye on them. We identify them as one of the four major challengers in the world today. We have China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

[07:20:08] North Korea keeps our attention and most certainly, look, this is an individual who clearly needs the attention of the world. He wants more attention, and he wants to be recognized as a world power. They want regime continuation; and the way that they want regime continuation is to carry a nuclear weapon that is a threat to other countries.

BERMAN: I will note you said that North Korea is a threat. The president, after Singapore, tweeted that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. You believe that the president's wrong there and North Korea is a threat?

ROUNDS: I would disagree with that assessment that they are not a threat. I think they are a threat.


ROUNDS: And I think that -- I think their original intentions and their offer that they would be moving forward with negotiations to denuclearize was a step in the right direction. It doesn't mean that this has all come to a complete standstill, but most certainly, this is not something that we can look beyond.


ROUNDS: We have to be aware of what this threat looks like and what they're trying to do to continue to build up their -- their capabilities to threaten our homeland.

BERMAN: I'm going to move onto a different subject. But does the president need speak out about this development today, do you think?

ROUNDS: You know, I'm not going to tell the president how he ought to handle his international affairs.


ROUNDS: I think, you know, look, he's gotten a long ways down the road already with them just to have two summits. But it's still a matter of we haven't taken any of the sanctions off. We do have to have international cooperation with us.

We may very well have to go back to China once again and push them into -- into siding with us a little bit more than what they are right now. It's kind of tough to do when you're in the middle of trade talks and pretty tough negotiations like we are with China and -- and their theft of our intellectual properties right now.

BERMAN: It's all very complicated, to be sure.

There is a vote that will come before the Senate next week to block the president's emergency declaration at the border in order to get funding for his border wall. Will you move to block the emergency declaration? Will you vote?

ROUNDS: I'm -- I'm going to side with the president on this one. There are a couple of different accounts.

Congress has clearly given the executive branch authority, sometimes more authority than what they probably should have. But in this particular case, he's accessing three separate accounts.

Two of the three accounts he wouldn't even need the emergency declaration for in order to access. So he's got access to several billion dollars, a matter of fact, $600 billion out of a treasury fund. He's got access to another $2.5 billion in a fund that he doesn't need to declare emergency on.

But did he declare an emergency, which he has the right do, and Congress recognizes that, to access, finally, about $3.6 billion in funds that would otherwise be used for construction of military facilities. That's the one which is in question.

But once again, this is a case where Congress has given him the authority to do it with very few strings attached.

BERMAN: One of the things --

ROUNDS: I do think there's a bigger issue here, though --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

ROUNDS: -- that's going to come about, and that is that, within the appropriations process, remember, the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats. I think the bigger challenge is going to come when the House probably tries to restrict the use of those different categories of funds in the future.

BERMAN: Right.

ROUNDS: I think that's when the real fireworks are going to start.

BERMAN: Democrats have told me they might try to do that going forward.

One thing you have said you were concerned about is that future presidents, maybe Democrats, would use this emergency power for different things.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, who is running for president, Democratic nomination, told me if President Trump does this with the border wall, if Jay Inslee becomes president, he's not ruling out doing it for climate change. ROUNDS: Right. There's -- this is -- in 1976 they created this war

power -- they created this Emergency act. And right now, when the president does that, that creates this type of a scenario as a possibility in the future.

Now, I think that's an area that may very well be revisited, as well. Once again, this is Congress delivering to the -- to the executive branch these authorities.

So rather than simply walking back in right now and saying, "OK, we've decided in this particular case that we don't like what the president has done," and I actually think there is an emergency when it comes to having 76,000 people trying to get across the border in the last month alone. So I understand the reason why the president's doing it.

But if Congress doesn't like that, then Congress should change the law, rather than selectively picking this one particular issue.

BERMAN: We're going to talk about those new numbers, because they are glaring, the jump. Many of those, if not most, are families presenting themselves. So it's not clear to me what a wall would do.

I do want to get you on one last question, though. "The New York Times" put out copies of these checks that Michael Cohen provided to them from President Trump, signed by President Trump. We can see the copies of them here.

And it's just interesting that these checks were written to Michael Cohen, Cohen says as reimbursement for hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, on certain dates in the presidency.

One on a day that the president met with Angela Merkel; another on a day that he hosted senators to talk about tax cuts. I know you care deeply about the tax cuts. Another on a day when he talked to Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

You know, this is a jarring juxtaposition. The president accused of writing pay-offs to porn stars at the same time conducting presidential business. As you look at it, are you OK with all of this?

[07:25:06] ROUNDS: I think most of us have a concern any time you have a president who is trying to work through some very personal matters. I think -- I honestly think this president loves his family, and I think it has as much to do with trying not to -- not to have public discussions about something that is, for him, a private matter that he didn't want to have discussed with his family. And I think that's a lot of it.

You know, I think that every time I think about this I think about that particular issue, because I -- I think he really does care about -- about his family. I think he loves his family, and I don't think he wanted his family to -- to go through this.

BERMAN: There are people who have testified that part of those payoffs, though, were to influence the election. You do know that that is something that the Southern District of New York has alleged?

ROUNDS: I think they'll have to take a hard look at what that is. You know, right now we talk about what are considered campaign expenses, legitimate campaign expenses. I'm not going to try to litigate that today.

BERMAN: Senator Mike Rounds, we covered a lot of subjects. I do appreciate you joining us this morning.

ROUNDS: You bet. Nice to visit with you, John.

BERMAN: All right. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right. House Democrats are launching sweeping investigations into the Trump administration. Is it going too far? We ask a Democratic senator about that and the spike in border crossings, next.