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Trump Administration Failing to Implement Russia Sanctions; Investigation Continues Into Deaths of U.S. Soldiers; Republican Civil War. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 3:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think one of the things I was thinking as this was all going down on Twitter is just how connected we are, because the military swears an oath to uphold the Constitution. So does the president, who is entrusted to make decisions, sometimes of life or death, on the part of military members.

The media is protected by the Constitution and entrusted to ask questions to make sure that the country, that the government is being a good steward of the sacrifices that military men and women make.

So, as I see all of that, I see this interconnected fabric. And things have just gotten to divisive, which is part of the reason I tweeted back, and was so happy to get such a good response.

At least anecdotally in my family and many others, there isn't a reason for there to be this division, because there is all of these -- whether you are a politician or you're in the media, or you are in the military, everyone is connected.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I love you. And I so respect you even more that you shared all of this with everyone else.

And I encourage everyone watching to please read Brianna's opinion piece, CNN.com/opinion.

We are grateful to your husband and his sixth deployment and his service and everyone serving this great country. Brianna Keilar, thank you.

KEILAR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: All right, we continue on, hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The president is en route to Texas right now, but before he left the stopped and held this impromptu and wide-ranging really what turned into a news conference with the media there, making all kind of headlines.

The biggest perhaps was his claim of great unity within the Republican Party, a party that is really now in a civil war, with the president in there as well. It's a division that was put on unprecedented display after two Republican senators condemned his leadership and called for others to rise in protest as well.

But the president just dismissed the actions of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, adding that he thinks they will vote for his tax reform plan. Here was the president moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think so. I think it's fine the way it is. We have actually great unity in the Republican Party. Yesterday, I was--

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Oh, that's OK. Look, they have to do their thing. We have great unity. If you look at what happened yesterday at the meeting, we had I guess virtually every senator, including John McCain, we had a great conversation yesterday, John McCain and myself, about the military. I think we had a tremendous -- I called it a lovefest. It was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest.

But we had standing ovations. There is great unity. I mean, if you look at the Democrats, with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, that's a mess. There is great unity in the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's start with Kaitlan Collins, our reporter covering the White House for us, following the president ahead of him there in Dallas.

And so tell me more about the president's reaction as he was speaking today to the two senators. As I recall correctly, he mentioned Jeff Flake and how he didn't originally know who he was and thought he was a Democrat.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, the essential message that we got from the president there on the South Lawn was that there is nothing to see here with the Republican Party and that everything is going just fine.

He did not miss an opportunity to criticize Senator Flake, though, of course. Like you said, he said that Senator Flake didn't like him before he had even met him. He talked about his low poll numbers in Arizona and said that the first time he saw Senator Flake on television, he thought he looked like a Democrat.

But back to that lunch on Capitol Hill yesterday, the president described it as a lovefest. He said that he received several standing ovations from Senate Republicans, and said that the lunch went well and there's great unity in the Republican Party.

But that's pretty much how no one else sees it right now. We have seen some really stunning rebukes of the president by Senator Flake in that 20-minute speech on the Senate floor yesterday and from Senator Bob Corker, a very prominent member of the Republican Party, who said that the Republican president of the United States is debasing the nation.

So those are two things you don't often hear and pair that with criticism from Senator John McCain and that speech from former President George W. Bush a few days ago. So the president may think there is great unity in the Republican Party right now, but what we are really seeing is fight for the soul of the Republican Party between these seasoned establishment conservatives and these anti- establishment forces that we have on the other side.

But, Brooke, all this comes as the president is headed tonight. Right behind me is going to be at a fund-raiser with Republican donors and the Republican National Committee. So we just see things get more and more interesting with all of this.

BALDWIN: You said it so well. It's a fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

We will look for the president a little later on there in Texas.

With Republican Senator Jeff Flake out of the way here, Arizona Republicans are scrambling to try to find an alternative to Steve Bannon's handpicked candidate, Kelli Ward.

[15:05:05]

Some are saying Kelli Ward's candidacy only had one central argument, that she isn't Jeff Flake, and that argument now moot.

So, let's talk it over with Robert Graham, former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

Bob Graham, nice to see you.

ROBERT GRAHAM, FORMER CHAIRMAN, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Hey, it's good to see you too. Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, so, first just your reaction. We were all sitting here together watching Senator Flake's speech from the floor this time 24 hours ago. When you were watching it, what were you thinking?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think people were really surprised, I mean -- or shocked, I should say. I think the timing, maybe people were surprised with. But given his current numbers, and giving his disposition as it relates to the president and just getting really pummelled here by way of the numbers in Arizona, it wasn't a big surprise.

So, when he came out and said what he said, I don't think that people that are the political inside, but also real activists within the base, I don't think anybody was really shocked that he made this announcement. BALDWIN: The president, a little while ago, said Senator Flake's

retirement actually helps the president in Arizona. Would you agree with that kind of confidence?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think so. I mean, look, even before Donald J. Trump was the president of the United States during the general election, Jeff Flake was really an opposition against the president.

And then when it crossed over into the presidency, I mean, he's voted with him on a lot of personnel votes. But as far as policy, trade policy and a lot of other real key issues in this country, including religious liberty, Jeff Flake was pushing back on it.

And so you look. When you have an agenda as it relates to your vision for any kind of leadership you try to do the best you can. And when there's obstacles that present themselves, like somebody in the Senate, you are going to do what you can to work hard to either convince that individual or, if you have to, oppose them in an election to make sure that you have somebody that can work with your vision or see the same opportunities that were promised during the campaign.

BALDWIN: All right. So what about you? I mean, with Senator Flake kind of out of the way, looking ahead, are you considering throwing your hat in the ring in this race?

GRAHAM: Yes, I would say that, now more than ever, I mean, it's one of these things where I was the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party for over four years, and I know the state very well.

My mission then was to get Republicans elected and I know the state and I know what they want. And what has happened consistently is Republicans, but also the constituency at large, the people of Arizona have felt somewhat let down. We feel like not bringing much to the people.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I hear you and I know you the Republican Party in Arizona. But was it the Flake news that changed your mind?

GRAHAM: No. No, I'm a business guy, so first and foremost.

And what it comes down to is, it comes down to duty. So when Jeff Flake started making -- ever since the president has been elected, I have been encouraged to run for Senate. And so you look at that and you try to put things in line.

I think have got six children. I have got a lot of moving parts. So trying to balance everything and give back, I sacrificed four years as a noncompensated role chairman, so I had to kind of refresh.

The end of January was -- my term was up and so I had to refresh and kind of get things rerouted. And now what's happened is the consideration has always been there. There's been encouragement from back East, and even the president has kind of said, hey, let us know what you want to end up doing.

And so now, getting to this point, you look at it and say, my gosh. And I'm not confident in the Kelli Ward candidacy. I don't look at the depth and understanding that she has for our state. And I think, quite honestly, she is blinded by ambition, and we need somebody that actually is engaged because they want to have the best outcome for the people, not the title of U.S. senator.

BALDWIN: Blinded by ambition.

Listen, it could be pickup for Democrats, depending on how you look at it, or it could be an improvement, so say some Republicans, maybe someone such as yourself.

Speaking of being a businessman, the commander in chief businessman, he was talking to reporters today and he was saying, listen, there was a whole standing ovation behind closed doors in Capitol Hill yesterday during this tax lunch, and that it's a unified front here in the Republican Party.

But, Bob, look at just in the last week, you have seen Bush 43, Senators Flake, Corker, McCain criticize, beyond the president's policies, criticizing his very core of being, his character. How is that party unity?

GRAHAM: Well, when you look at it, look at the hand -- you are talking about a handful of individuals that have been very open about their disdain or dislike for the presidency.

When you look at places like Arizona, we have over 1,300,000 Republicans that voted to support -- most voted to supported Donald J. Trump in the primary and then in the general election.

So unity goes much deeper than a few people that are the political establishment in D.C. Right now, what you are saying is political establishment in D.C., and this is more to it. When you talk about tax reform or tax relief for the people, that's when you see strong unity because it goes back to the people.

[15:10:00]

But all those people, when you talk about Bush, Corker, Flake, all this--

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You are saying they're not emblematic of the party.

GRAHAM: No, I would say that -- I would say they are the swamp that he is talking about draining.

And whenever you challenge the integrity of any institution, if it's the establishment, then they are going to fight back. And right now they are trying to do it with words. And instead of digging in and fighting, they are actually heading for the hills and not digging in to fight. And our president is a fighter. BALDWIN: Robert Graham in Arizona saying he will likely run for

Senator Flake's seat, good luck. Thank you so much.

GRAHAM: All right. Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

President Trump speaking out just moments ago also about that deadly ambush of four U.S. soldiers in Niger. He confirmed that he did not specifically authorize that mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's a dangerous business. I have to say, it's a dangerous business. So what? No, I didn't, not specifically. But I have generals that are great generals. These are great fighters. These are warriors. I gave them authority to do what is right so that we win. That's the authority they have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And regarding specifically fallen soldier Sergeant La David Johnson, the president once again stressed he was very respectful when he made that condolence call to Johnson's widow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David, who, by the way, I called La David right from the beginning. Just so you understand, they put a chart in front, La David, says La David Johnson.

So I called right from the beginning. There's no hesitation, one of the great memories of all time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Meantime, CNN is learning new details about that deadly ambush.

Military officials tell CNN that they were there to collect intelligence on a high-value target, a terror leader in the area, and not that their mission was to kill or capture that individual.

David McKenzie is live in Niamey, Niger.

And so, David, what are you learning on the investigation? So many hugs questions unanswered still.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, that's right. Brooke. There are so many questions unanswered.

One of the key questions I think is what level of intelligence came in that they were told that this mission was a routine one that didn't necessarily have any huge risks attached to it? But let me put it into perspective. Where I'm standing here in the capital, Niamey, just a couple of hours away, Brooke, is that region where this deadly ambush happened. It's a volatile border region with Mali.

And anyone you speak to here in the capital of Niger will tell you that is where the threat is, it's close by. And several attacks have happened on Nigerian forces just this year. So it is a dangerous place to operate.

This is a place that Special Forces found themselves in within the Nigerian counterparts when the intense firefight happened that left those four American soldiers dead. So those questions are still out there, why they went without a great deal of protection. The assumption is they didn't think that it would be such a dangerous mission.

But these are routine missions that are happening throughout this theater. There are some 800 American soldiers operating within Niger, mostly on intelligence gathering. The base is just close by to where I'm standing.

And it's playing a critical role in acting as an advisory and capacity-building group to try and stop those Islamic groups, that terror threat from pushing into Niger from neighboring Mali -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Why was the body found a mile away? Did the local villagers have anything to do with tipping off the ISIS affiliate to ambush these individuals? All kind of questions.

David McKenzie on the investigation piece there live in Niger, thank you so much, David.

Coming up next here, the art of digging up secrets -- new revelations into the now infamous dossier that alleged ties between Donald Trump and Russian officials and who helped pay for it. Sources today confirming Hillary Clinton's campaign and DNC were involved. We will play you the president's reaction the news this afternoon.

Also ahead, a trial that is making national headlines. Five teenage boys facing the possibility of life in prison, accused of throwing a cement rock off a bridge overpass, killing a driver on a Michigan highway. We will have the latest from the courthouse.

And why the NAACP is warning African-American passengers to avoid a major American airline. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:19:04]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump lashing out against new revelations today about this dossier that alleged Russian collusion with Donald Trump. A source now confirms to CNN that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC bankrolled part of the research. Here was the president reacting to this news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. It was made up. And I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money.

And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it. And now only because it's going to come out in a court case, they said, yes, they did it. They admitted it. And they are embarrassed by it. But I think it's a disgrace. It's just really a very -- it's a very sad commentary on politics in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We should add that the Democrats did not bankroll this entire project.

[15:20:00]

And the research firm that was initially hired by anti-Trump Republicans during the primaries.

So let's talk about this with Adrienne Elrod. She's the former director of strategic communications for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Also with us, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

So, good to see both of you.

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: You too.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be here.

BALDWIN: But, to you, I have just got to ask, remember, when we first met in Iowa, you were in full swing of campaign mode. You were part of the campaign. And did you not know?

ELROD: So, I actually was not involved in this. I was a member of the communications team, but was not involved in the research effort.

But, look, this is part of a modern-day presidential campaign. You do opposition research on your opponents.

BALDWIN: You were clearly unaware? Just to make this crystal-clear?

ELROD: Yes, I was unaware. But I wouldn't be aware, because that wasn't exactly my role on the campaign.

BALDWIN: I understand.

ELROD: But, look, this is part of a modern-day presidential campaign. You do opposition research. As you noted, that's originated during the GOP primary. So, it's not

unusual at all that, given that the opponent -- that one of the opponents became the nominee for the GOP, that we then took that research and utilized it, so not a surprise at all.

BALDWIN: Not surprised.

You, sir, I read some of your notes say kind of hypocritical.

CALLAN: Oh, very hypocritical.

And when you step back and look at the whole picture, these politicians, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, choose to play in the mud, looking for dirt on their opponents. And they both now get splashed by it.

Trump had the high ground for a little while. He was saying, this is horrible. I did none of these things. It was leaked by the FBI.

And you know what we find now? It was funded by Republicans originally. And when it became apparent that Donald Trump was going to be the nominee, guess what? Then the information was turned over essentially to the Democrats, who continued to fund it.

So, both parties are dirty in this. And there is no high ground here. It's all low ground and muddy ground.

BALDWIN: Just to push you a little bit, how is it is that Democrats can cry foul at this now infamous Don Jr. meeting up at Trump Tower wanting dirt on Hillary Clinton, but you are saying that this piece isn't OK? What's the difference in the two?

ELROD: The difference in the two is that Don Jr. took a meeting with somebody who clearly had ulterior motives and was trying to accuse Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing.

This is actually taking factual information that exists out there, compiling it in a way that presents the facts in a very unified, cohesive way. So, again, I will go to the original--

BALDWIN: But it's--

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: -- foreign nationals. You can argue foreign nationals.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But still.

ELROD: This is collecting and gathering information that's fact-based information, that is part of opposition research, part of what you do.

The person that Don Trump Jr. met with was somebody who had ill intention, somebody who was part of the Russian -- was a former Russian spy who had ill intentions toward Hillary Clinton as a foreign adversary. So, there's two totally different--

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: No, they are not totally different.

BALDWIN: They are not totally different.

CALLAN: They are very similar, because Christopher Steele, who was essentially the author of the stuff in the dossier that we are talking about, came from British intelligence, MI6.

So the Democrats were buying information, negative information, about Trump from essentially a foreign intelligence officer. Now, you could say, well, Britain hasn't been an enemy of the U.S. since War of 1812.

BALDWIN: Been a while.

CALLAN: All right, I will give you that.

But I suppose you could say we have actually never gone to war with Russia. So I think when you try to argue that one was worse than the other, in the end, they both come out looking bad.

ELROD: But on that note, also to make clear that Perkins Coie did not oversee the subcontract -- they subcontracted, but they were not overseeing the day-to-day part of that.

So that included contact with Mr. Steele, as you just mentioned. So, again, I will make that point that they were not overseeing that actual ongoing process. They were simply funding it.

BALDWIN: This kind of thing is so common, isn't it?

CALLAN: It's very common. Opposition research.

ELROD: Opposition research, yes.

CALLAN: It's done all the time. They look for dirt against each other.

And the sad thing is, as long as the voters buy into this, buy into the lies, when they think is a banana is an apple, then that's when we have this problem.

BALDWIN: That's when we have an issue.

CALLAN: That's right.

BALDWIN: Paul and Adrienne, thank you so much.

ELROD: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you for that, Paul Callan.

Well played. Well played, sir. We are getting some breaking news just into us here at CNN, word that

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been taken away from an area in the South Sudan after rallies got a little dicey.

Elise Labott is there live in Africa. We will talk to her about what's going on next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:56]

BALDWIN: The president just spoke of great unity within the Republican Party.

But his administration is now defying lawmakers over a plan that was approved overwhelmingly not just by Republicans, but also Democrats.

Talking about the sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. And despite signing the bill into law, President Trump has missed its October 1 deadline to actually put the sanctions in place.

The White House is placing blame on the State Department for this, who is now doing review on its portion of the law.

Let's straighten all this out with Manu Raju. He is our CNN senior congressional correspondent.

And so you talked to both Senators McCain and Corker on this very issue. What do they tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is frustration and there is concern.

They want to know exactly what is delaying things. McCain himself threatening to use the Armed Services Committee, the committee that he chairs, in order to push for more information, weighing various options as recourse, because this is legislation that passed overwhelmingly in both chambers, nearly unanimously, something that you rarely see.

And the president reluctantly signed this into law, and he's not yet implemented it yet, prompting these concerns, both from Senator Corker and John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, I know that Senator Cardin inquired about it at the end of September.