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Vietnamese Prime Minister Meets With President Trump; James Comey to Testify Before Congress. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 31, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: It's going to be more riveting, is going to be done in executive session. I can't imagine...
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I would say that it is pretty riveting if you have a, you know, former FBI director saying the president of the United States told him to drop an investigation.
BALDWIN: That is significant.
GAGLIANO: And if he went on paper with that.
As we say in FBI, anything of note, anything that is going to have any evidentiary consequence, you go on paper. If he went on paper with this, and those documents get subpoenaed, yes.
The only thing that I could see preventing that from happening -- well, two things, one, the president somehow interjecting himself, and asking for executive privilege. I don't know how that would play out in a Senate investigation.
But the second is if the FBI director or the special prosecutor insists that those conversations are part and parcel of the Russian collusion investigation, and that takes precedence.
BALDWIN: OK. Stay with me.
Gloria Borger, let me bring you in this. And we can comment on the bizarre nature of the briefing here in just a second, but to hear Sean Spicer refer any question on, you know, the next week's testimony with Mr. Comey and the investigation, referring to outside counsel, is this the beginning of the new norm?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think it is.
BORGER: And Marc Kasowitz is somebody who has long represented Donald Trump, and I have been told by a source that Kasowitz will provide a supervisory role, that there are probably going to be other lawyers hired, and that Kasowitz will be the one who communicates with the president most frequently.
There clearly is a comfort level there, and this clearly is a very different world, because I think that what you are going to find in this White House, as you have found in the Clinton White House, is that you have to kind of wall people off from this investigation, Sean Spicer doing his job, and not answering questions that the president's personal attorney ought to be answering.
And Eric Lichtblau, you're the one with all this reporting that was referenced in the question to Sean Spicer. If people are just tuning in, give us your news.
ERIC LICHTBLAU, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, what we are hearing is that Comey, the fired FBI director, and Bob Mueller, who was named the special counsel in investigation just a few weeks ago, have a talked, have met, and worked out an agreement, essentially, the parameters for Comey to testify publicly, which is a big deal.
There had been some question since Mueller was named about whether he would essentially allow that go forward or not, because of concerns that, well, could that bleed into the investigation if you have a fired FBI director?
So what we are hearing is that Comey will testify. It could be as soon as next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee. They're working that out. It will happen publicly. And he is willing and even eager to get into his discussions with the president, which have now become so notorious, about the investigation.
You remember, as you referenced, the one-on-one conversation where Trump allegedly told him to drop or let go of the Michael Flynn investigation, his former national security adviser, another one where he allegedly asked Comey if he had his loyalty if he were to stay on as director.
And Comey, as we hear, has taken meticulous notes about these conversations, because they were awkward, to put it mildly. And we expect from what we're hearing today that he will testify about those conversations, but he will not go into any more detail about the investigation itself, the question of whether or not there was any collusion between the campaign and Russia.
That, he will leave to Bob Mueller.
BALDWIN: So, Eric on the reporting.
David Sanger, just on the analysis, I was talking to our political director David Chalian last hour, and he said, Brooke, grab the popcorn. He was saying the nation has not seen a hearing like this since Anita Hill.
Where are your expectations on next week?
DAVID SANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, David may well be right. And as Eric has indicated, I suspect you won't hear very much from him on the evidence that he was until the day that he was fired as FBI director.
But think for a minute about what President Trump may have unleashed by firing him. If you are serving the president, the statement that you always can make, and that gets around every question is, I'm terribly sorry, I don't speak about the personal conversations I have or the policy conversations I have with the president, the advice I give in, the instructions I receive.
Presidential conversations are always considered to be somewhat off- limits. So, what has happened here? By firing Comey, he has, President Obama -- President Trump has essentially freed up Mr. Comey to go out and begin discussing at least those conversations.
And since it has already appeared in "The New York Times" and elsewhere that he had taken these notes and that he felt pressured, those leaks almost assured he was going to get asked about it. And it sounds like, if the reports are true, that he simply plans to explain those conversations.
And, as you say, that could be pretty riveting television.
BALDWIN: Gloria, what else? What else will you be listening for?
BORGER: Well, look, we want to -- we want to know the details of those memos.
BORGER: That is what we are going to be looking for, and that may be the only thing he can talk about in open testimony, because he is not going to -- he is not going to try and talk about what Bob Mueller's case is anymore. There is now a special counsel.
And so if the special counsel is going to prosecute, he is going to prosecute. I think members of Congress are going to want to know -- and maybe they will ask him this question -- did you consider it to be obstruction at the time?
Because we know from our sources -- I have spoken with one source who said, look, he -- I don't think that he did at the time. He kept these memos because it made him uncomfortable, but he felt that he could educate or school the president in the right way to talk to the FBI director.
So, I think, until the day he was fired perhaps, he didn't think it was obstruction. Now, of course, he could change his mind the day after he was fired, when the president told Lester Holt he was thinking about Russia at the time.
But I think that it is a question that -- that members of Congress are going to want to ask Comey. BALDWIN: Just quickly, though, David Sanger, back over to you on the
nature of the briefing. What did you make of that?
SANGER: Well, it is interesting, because what the not-so-subtle message out of Mr. Spicer's reference to the outside counsel is, this has moved outside the political realm and into the legal realm.
SANGER: And that is why they are leaving all the answers to the counsel.
And I think Mr. Spicer has concluded that he doesn't want to be responsible for saying anything that could affect the legal case against the White House staff, ultimately against the president, if there was one, and I can understand why he would not want to be in that position.
It does remind me a little bit about what happened in the Clinton White House, though, where they somewhat successfully walled off questions about impeachment from the policy operation, and it enabled the Clinton White House to actually get back on track, and get reengaged with policy.
BALDWIN: On the agenda that they keep trying to bring up, trying to have those accomplishments, despite all this noise from the outside, and all these very, very pertinent questions being asked of the administration.
Let me also talk about -- we have more news from this briefing of course on the Paris climate deal.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent Sara Murray on that.
And so it was clear to me, Sara, that Sean Spicer could not say whether or not the president has decided. It sounds like he has not yet, but we should know soon.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He could not say much about anything today in this briefing, Brooke.
Honestly, he was not very straightforward in answers to any of his questions, and that included on Paris. He did not say that the president has not made a decision. And sources have been telling CNN that the president is prepared and he is expected to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
What he did say is, I don't know whether he has made up his mind yet. When he does have a decision, he will announce it publicly. And this was a very bizarre briefing, in that it was off-camera, it was extremely short, it was about 12 minutes' long.
And Sean Spicer frankly looked pretty dejected as he was fielding these questions. He got the Paris question, as you would expect, a number of times, and could not even really give us any texture about who the president has been speaking with in recent days about this, what factors he is weighing throughout this decision-making process.
He just sort of said, wait and see. And I do think the other thing that was telling, as you guys were just discussing, was the fact that this is an administration that was even not willing to talk publicly about the fact that the president had brought on outside counsel.
Today, we saw Sean Spicer at the podium saying if there are going to be questions related to the Russian investigation, these have to go to the outside counsel. Pretty clear that this staff does not want to get in front of the president on these issues and potentially embarrass themselves or get themselves in even worse trouble.
BALDWIN: And with all of that, just to you all, you have been in those briefings. We take them just about every each and every day.
Why then -- was it audio-only? What was beside that decision?
MURRAY: It is a great question as to why it was audio-only.
We know that they have decided they do not want to put Sean Spicer out there in front of the camera every single day. They feel like he -- the White House feels like he is taking a beating from reporters. President Trump oftentimes feels like his message is not getting conveyed in the way he would like to suggest.
You have to remember that this is a president who was his own spokesperson for his entire life essentially, is someone who is very attuned to media and to his presence on television.
And, frankly, he doesn't really think anyone does as good of a job as he would do as he watches them on TV. And we know that President Trump has been an avid consumer of Sean Spicer's briefings and was sort of tickled in the beginning that they were such rating blockbusters. And he seems to have soured on that a little bit.
And I think that is why we are seeing sort of the different mix of briefings. We saw other officials briefing on camera. We saw this a little bit in the run-up in the last couple of weeks leading up to the foreign trip, and we saw another administration official briefing on camera today, but not Sean Spicer.
BALDWIN: All right. Sara at the White House, thank you so much.
Let's continue the conversation on Paris.
I have still got Gloria and David with me. Also joining us, CNN's John Sutter, and Christine Todd Whitman, the former EPA administrator under George W. Bush, former governor of New Jersey.
Nice to have you on to you.
CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Pleasure.
BALDWIN: But, John, I read your piece obviously on CNN.com. And here is the line that really struck me, that you say you don't want to -- quote -- "sound alarmist, but there is no simply overstating the stakes here. The Paris agreement is critical to the survival of life on Earth as we know it."
JOHN SUTTER, CNN OPINION COLUMNIST: I know it's a bold statement, but if you talk to the climate scientists, everything we know is that this gets more and more alarming the more time passes without us doing something to end the era of fossil fuels.
We know that is us. We know that we are causing this warming that we are observing. And we know that it's going to be really bad. This is things like rising sea levels, which threaten the viability of low- lying island nations, as well as cities like New York and Shanghai and New Orleans.
Disease increases with more warming. Heat waves get deadlier. Droughts get more intense. There are climate migrations that have already started to happen in some parts of the world. And so I really don't think the stakes can be overstated here.
And the Paris agreement does not fix everything, but it does set sort of this North Star goal of limiting warming to two degrees Celsius, which is seen as sort of the red line or the especially dangerous zone for climate change.
So, I think it is hugely critical. And if the administration were to pull out of it, that would be the second biggest polluter on Earth saying we don't want to be a part of this global pact which is a promise to the globe and a promise to the future that we are going to do something about this massive existential problem.
BALDWIN: Governor, let me just turn to you, because this is your former home turf, right, EPA, climate. You speak this language.
And John laid it out, but how do you see it if in fact the president decides to have the U.S. pull of the Paris agreement?
WHITMAN: Well, the good news for the climate is that this ship has left port.
We already have a number of our big companies that are -- have made aggressive -- set aggressive goals for themselves in reducing their climate impact and their carbon output. It cedes leadership. It certainly puts us on the back row of international negotiations on this and anything, because this is an enormously important issue, not just to the United States, but to the world, as we've seen.
I would want to be Sean Spicer. It's got to be a terrible job, not to -- when the president has already said nobody can know what I am thinking.
BALDWIN: But what about jobs?
I had famed economist -- and he had advised the president as a candidate -- Stephen Moore on last hour. And he vehemently argued that this would be great for jobs, which is one of the reasons why, you know, President Trump is in the White House. Would he have a point? I mean, somebody on the other side saying, no, no.
WHITMAN: Getting out of the climate change -- out of the Paris agreement?
BALDWIN: By getting out, exactly.
WHITMAN: No, I disagree.
We have proven it again and again. From 1990 to 2008, we saw the population in this country grow by 30 percent -- I mean, sorry -- 20 percent. We saw that our power use, our electricity use increased by 35 percent.
We more than doubled our GDP. And yet we reduced the key criteria pollutants, the one that are the worst offenders, by 67 percent. This idea that you cannot have a clean and green environment and a healthy, growing environment is just wrong. And, in fact, you can't have a healthy, growing economy if you don't have a clean environment for people in which people can live.
BALDWIN: And on your point on world leaders, let me pose that to David Chalian on -- David Sanger -- forgive me -- David Sanger, on that the U.S.' standing in the world -- we just saw the president on this world stage, even meeting with the pope of all people who would like for him to, you know, stay in. This would be going against the pope's advice.
What would the consequences be to the U.S.?
SANGER: Well, Brooke, the long-term consequences for this may be environmental.
The short-term consequences, to my mind, are mostly about American power and influence. The United States would actually find itself isolated. The Europeans, as was made incredibly clear to President Trump during his trip last week, are unified on this issue, even when they disagree among each other on other issues.
The Chinese have emerged as leaders on this issue and have demonstrated, to Secretary Whitman's point, that you can actually create jobs and economic opportunity out of it.
But, more importantly, we will have ceded the high ground on this to the Chinese and to many others. Our other main allies, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and I have already pointed out the Europeans, they are all going to keep moving in the direction they are moving.
And I think the question is, when historians look back at this, it is going to be a brief blip in which the United States took out of the leadership and comes back, or will this be one of those break points where we have separated ourselves from everyone else?
And I think that that is part of why you have seen business executives arguing with President Trump on this point.
BALDWIN: What about, though, I'm also -- forgive me -- David Chalian was on my brain, as he should be at all times with his brilliant political advice.
But I was thinking of a point he made this morning.
And so, Gloria, I will pose this to you. A point he made this morning was, it would be one thing if you have had this president who had a really successful honeymoon period, had done a lot to appease the base thus far, a lot of legislative accomplishments, and then decided to sort of go against the grain and take the more isolationist st perspective and pull out of -- have the U.S. pull out of the Paris agreement.
But he needs the base. This is his political imperative. So why would he do something that seems so politically dangerous?
BORGER: Well, you know, his base, you know, the concerns of his base voters are not the Paris accord. The concerns are jobs.
And if the president is going to use the argument that Stephen Moore used to you before that this is a job creator, that is what he is going to talk to his base about.
BORGER: Look, he has not withdrawn from NATO, for example, which is something he said he was thinking about during the campaign.
He has not gotten health care reform. He hasn't gotten tax reform and on and on. And so he has been lobbied by everyone from the pope, I presume to his daughter, to Cabinet secretaries about this.
BORGER: And I think it is clearly a difficult decision for him. But, in the end, if he decides to withdraw, he is going to talk about it in terms of jobs. And that is an issue that resonates with his core constituency.
BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, David Sanger, Eric Lichtblau from earlier, John Sutter, Christine Whitman, thank you all so very much.
We wait. We see what the president decides to do in the course of the next couple of days.
More from the briefing, including the odd response that Sean Spicer gave trying to explain away the president's midnight tweet, in which he -- you laugh, right, but he inadvertently invented a new word. We will go there coming up.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are going to find out very soon. Thank you all very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you all very much.
It is an honor to have the prime minister of Vietnam at the White House and the Oval Office. Prime minister Phuc has done a spectacular job in Vietnam, led so many different categories in trade and other things.
We are going to be discussing trade. We will be discussing North Korea. And we have many things to talk about. And we look forward to being together, very much so.
NGUYEN XUAN PHUC, VIETNAMESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Let me begin by thanking you, Mr. President, for inviting me to pay this official visit to the United States.
I bring with me the warmest greetings from the Vietnamese people to each and every American. And greetings to you all, good friends.
The relationship between Vietnam and the United States have undergone significant upheavals in history. But, today, we have been able to become comprehensive partners.
I have had the great pleasure of having a phone conversation with the president last December and also in exchange of letters. I was very impressed by the openness and friendliness of the president. And I'm confident that our meeting today will be equally open and will be fruitful to Set out major directions for our enhanced Vietnam-U.S. cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and equality, in the interests of peace, stability, cooperation and development in ASEAN, in the Asia Pacific and world.
We very much look forward to welcoming you, Mr. President, to Vietnam to attend the APEC economic leaders meeting in Da Nang, as well as pay an official visit to Vietnam in November this year.
Thank you very much.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much.
BALDWIN: The president of the United States with the prime minister of Vietnam, but it was just that ending point that we really wanted to lead in and hear, because you just heard from Sean Spicer in the audio briefing essentially saying that the president has not yet made up his mind, it sounds like, on whether or not he wants the U.S. to stay in or pull out of the Paris agreement on climate.
And so the president was saying he heard from a lot of people both ways, so that decision for him is looming.
Let's move on from that, because now let's talk about the typo that will go down in history, not because of what it says, but because of what it possibly revealed.
Shortly after midnight, the president tweeted this -- quote -- "Despite the constant negative press covfefe." Covfefe? Covfefe? Don't know.
Our best guess is that he was attempting to write the word coverage, but the Internet had its fun. Six hours later, the president actually deleted the tweet and wrote -- quote -- "Who can figure out the true meaning of covfefe? Enjoy."
And just moments ago, here was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempting to explain the tweet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you think people should be concerned that the president posted somewhat of an incoherent tweet last night, and that it then stayed up for hours?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.
QUESTION: Why did it stay up for so long? Is no one watching this?
SPICER: No, I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.
SPICER: Blake? Blake.
QUESTION: What does it mean?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Before we go on, I realize, on its face, this is entirely silly. It is a typo. We all make mistakes. We all make typos.
But it is worthwhile to think about what drives the president of the United States to tweet sloppily random thoughts that he gets at apparently 12:06 a.m.
For insight on that other political headlines of the day, let's bring in our CNN contributors.
Michael D'Antonio is a Trump biographer. And Emily Jane Fox is a writer for "Vanity Fair."
So, not going to spend a ton of time on this tweet, but, Michael, to you.
We had all this great reporting from Gloria Borger yesterday. She is talking to the people in the know saying essentially that the president is lonely. And to have the president of the United States putting out this incoherent tweet at 12:06 in the morning, what the heck is going on?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It does make you think he is lonely.
But we also had yesterday the Hope Hicks glowing review of her boss' great traits. And one of the things that she said was that he has a wonderful sense of humor. Now, at least he is saying have fun with this.
D'ANTONIO: It shows that there is a little bit of life in the old guy yet.
And I think that is encouraging, but, yes, I think he's, as Gloria said, pretty depressed. You know, this is not going to way the presidency he imagined would have gone. I think he thought he was going to get in there and accomplish 100 great things in 100 days, and it never happened.
BALDWIN: It was interesting watching his Twitter feed, Emily, while he was away on this mega-overseas trip.
And it seemed much more temperate. It was not thoughts. It was pictures of world leaders. And what I have read was that it was because his wife is there. How much influence does Melania Trump have on her husband to tweet or not to tweet?
EMILY JANE FOX, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is hard to say much about their marriage because they're so private about their relationship.
But not only was the first lady there the entire time, but he was surrounded by his daughter, by his son-in-law, by his top advisers, by his communications team for the entirety of the trip. He was not sitting alone in the residence by his himself bored and frustrated watching cable news. So, for the first time in his presidency for a prolonged period of
time, he had minders who were with him 24 hours a day. And that clearly made a difference in his online behavior.
BALDWIN: Moving off of that and on to this incredibly big piece of news, whether or not he chooses to have the U.S. pull out of this climate agreement, this Paris agreement, when we are hearing from folks who would like for him to remain, someone you have been covering for a long time, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn.
Would that tell you -- if he is leaning, according to our reporting, leaning on having the U.S. pull out, is their influence waning in the White House?
FOX: Well, I think that the -- there are two important things to think about here.
We have long heard two narratives. The first narrative is that Jared Kushner is this moderate voice, and the second narrative is that Ivanka Trump is a very present voice in his ear, the perhaps greatest influence in the West Wing.
And I think that what we are seeing now is not that their influence is waning, but those narratives are incorrect. Jared Kushner was very much in support --