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Trump Embarks on High-Stakes Asia Trip; Trump: Hitting ISIS "Ten Times Harder" after NYC Attack; Sessions' Testimony on Russia Contacts under Scrutiny. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 3, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:25]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR:

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern this Friday morning. Good morning. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

And we have a lot of news to get to. Moments ago the president departed on his high-stakes Asia trip. You see him as he is about to board Air Force One there. He is heading to five countries, this as tension keeps escalating with North Korea. The Russia controversy is also hanging over the White House, as the president departs.

Moments ago as he left the White House, with the first lady, he took some questions from reporters and made a lot of news. At the top of the list of questions, a meeting he attended in the spring of 2016 with foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting. It took place a long time. Don't remember much about it.

All I can tell you is this, there was no collusion. You want to look at Hillary Clinton and you want to look at the new book that was just put out by Donna Brazile where she basically bought the DNC and she stole the election from Bernie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our Joe Johns is at the White House. He made some other major headlines as well. What else did we hear from the president, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, I think he did. Obviously the news about the meeting with Papadopoulos and others back in March of 2016, probably on the top of the list the president indicating as you showed right there that he simply didn't remember much about that meeting. I think the other big, big headline out of that brief conversation the president had with reporters relates to the president renewing his criticism of the Department of Justice. And this time, apparently in relation to the election last year. Also, he's made a big deal about the e-mails of Hillary Clinton. And he's also renewed his criticism of the Justice Department asking the Justice Department to get involved in an investigation after hearing news of the book by Donna Brazile, the former interim director of the Democratic National Committee. Let's listen to the president and his criticism now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't know. I'm really not involved with the Justice Department. I would like to let it run itself but honestly they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty. They should be looking at a lot of things and a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Including the president. So we've heard this song before, obviously, the president renewing it on his way out on this long Asia trip. It will be the longest foreign trip of the president's new administration and the fact of the matter is this president is seeing all of it overshadowed at least for the moment by the Russia investigation. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House, thank you.

This morning, the president also weighed in on the fight against ISIS and he said, when we are hit by ISIS, as New York City was by that attacker here on Wednesday, we will hit you back 10 times harder.

Let's go to Ryan Browne at the Pentagon with more. Ryan, I think this came as a surprise to many people because it doesn't reflect at least what the most recent publicly available data shows us. What can you tell us?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Poppy, President Trump making some strong claims about the military effort against ISIS, saying that, you know, following in the wake of ISIS kind of claiming the most recent New York terror attack is being carried out by one of its soldiers. Trump said the U.S. would hit back 10 times harder. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What we're doing is every time we're attacked from this point forward, and it took place yesterday, we are hitting them 10 times harder. So when we have an animal do an attack like he did the other day on the west side of Manhattan, we are hitting them 10 times harder. They claimed his as a soldier, good luck. Every time they hit us, we know it is ISIS. We hit them like you folks won't believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWNE: Now, President Trump there saying that military actions had been increased, saying specifically mentioning yesterday, but publicly available data released by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS shows air strikes against ISIS have remained constant over the last few days. Of course there are always special operations forces, but what the reality is ISIS has suffered multiple battlefield setbacks in recent weeks, losing many of its cities. They're left with a few small towns on the Iraq/Syria border. So there are just fewer targets to strike. So not clear exactly what President Trump was referring to with this talk of an increased level of military activity against the terror group. Poppy?

[10:05:05] HARLOW: Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, thank you very much for that reporting.

And now to the Russia investigation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony on Russia and Russia contacts is under scrutiny. Once again this morning, former Trump adviser Carter Page testified yesterday that he told Attorney General Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. That raises new questions about Sessions' comments to multiple members of Congress.

Jessica Schneider is with me now. Why is this so critical?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Poppy, right now we know that Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, they want Attorney General Sessions to clarify this. And it's so important because Sessions said in his testimony just last month that he did not communicate with Russia, and that he was not aware of anyone else who did.

But of course now Carter Page says he told Jeff Sessions that he was traveling to Russia at the height of the campaign when Sessions was the time leading the campaign's national security team. Carter Page says he told him at a group dinner in Washington in 2016. And now, Page says he's mentioned it -- he mentioned it in passing and Congressman Mike Conway who is leading the committee's Russia probe is downplaying the significance but other people on Capitol Hill are not downplaying this. In fact, Democrat Al Franken, he told CNN last night that Sessions seems to, quote, "have problems telling the truth" and we do know that Congressman Patrick Leahy has also submitted additional questions to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but that was before this latest disclosure by Carter Page.

So really, Poppy, a lot of questions emerging here since Carter Page said he told Jeff Sessions back in 2016 that he was going to Russia and now members of Congress want some clarification because they say that Jeff Sessions has just not been forthcoming enough or perhaps truthful enough about what exactly he knew about the connections with the Trump campaign and Russian officials or travels to Russia. Poppy?

HARLOW: Jessica Schneider thank you very much for the reporting for us.

Joining me now, Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, he of course sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which has many, many questions still around the Russia investigation. Thank you for being with us, sir.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good morning, Poppy. HARLOW: Good morning to you. Just first your reaction to what Jessica just described and went through for us on new questions that, you know, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and in the House have for Attorney General Sessions this morning, what are your questions given this new reporting?

QUIGLEY: I think it's not that he has a problem with the truth. I think it's easier to say that he's perjured himself at least three times. He said that he has not met with the Russians. Then he acknowledged the first time. And then the second time at the Mayflower Hotel. Then obvious -- it was obvious from yesterday's testimony, from Mr. Page, that Mr. Conway seemed to acknowledge took place, it did, that he has perjured himself a third time. To me, Mr. Sessions deserves time in the chair again before the House and Senate committees to answer these questions once and for all.

HARLOW: So he has not testified before your committee yet. He has testified before your counterparts in Senate Judiciary and Senate Intel but he were as your Democratic colleague in the Senate, Al Franken, suggested last night he should come, answer some more questions. What is your most pressing question for him at this point given that you've now accused him of perjuring himself on three occasions?

QUIGLEY: When exactly did you meet and communicate with Russians and what was the extent of that conversation? What exactly were you talking about? What had to do with the campaign and the incoming Trump presidency?

HARLOW: To be clear, you have said that you have seen, sir, quote, "clear evidence of intent" to collude on the part of the Trump team. By whom and what is the evidence?

QUIGLEY: Yes. I think we're now talking about six different people who are Trump associates. Let's just remember the president's son acknowledged that he wanted to meet with the Russians and, quote, "if that's what it is I love it," let's plan it for late August. We just talked about Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Kushner, after the election, trying to set up a back-channel meeting. At this point in time you actually need a list. Peter Schmidt, George Papadopoulos, so the list goes on. At some point in time the Trump administration should stop calling this a witch hunt because after all, the first witches were bagged earlier this week. Tell us exactly what took place.

HARLOW: Congressman, if you didn't hear the president this morning as he was departing the White House heading on his trip to Asia. Let me read you the last bit of what he said when talking to reporters because he slammed his own Department of Justice for not going after his political enemies, his political foes.

[10:10:07] And he said they should be looking at those things, talking about the Democrats, talking about John Podesta, et cetera. And he said, quote, "A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me." What is your reaction to that?

QUIGLEY: I think a lot of people means those sitting in the White House right now. The president has failed to take responsibility for anything that has gone wrong in the campaign, and during this presidency. I look back to the Yemen raid, the first commander in chief I've ever witnessed blame his generals for that. Have someone name me a single instance in which the president said hey, this was my fault. He doesn't like the way this is going, so he blames someone else. He has done everything he can to deflect, delay, and distract this investigation. And there are elements of obstruction including the time in which he said that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and oh, by the way, firing Comey for, as he said, that Russian thing. It's a clear record. He can't take responsibility anything that goes wrong, has to be someone else's fault.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about something else. As you have probably read this morning, the former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile has some pretty stunning accusations in her new book including that the Clinton campaign signed this agreement with the DNC before the election that essentially allowed them to operate the DNC, to control funding, et cetera. This is before she was a Democratic nominee.

And Senator Elizabeth Warren told our Jake Tapper last night when he asked her, do you believe that it was rigged and the notion that it was rigged as a result of this on the Democratic side, she said yes. So here's what the president does. He goes after Senator Elizabeth Warren this morning. Here's what he writes, "Pocahontas," that's what he calls her, "just stated that the Democrats, led by legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the primaries. Let's go FBI and Justice Department." OK?

Now, here's how Elizabeth Warren just responded. "You might think your tweets are cute, realDonaldTrump, but they won't stop Mueller's investigation or keep people out of jail." And she also wrote, "I understand your desperation to change the subject. Your campaign manager was just indicted for conspiracy against the United States." Your take on all of that?

QUIGLEY: It is, indeed, a distraction. And it's just one more example of insulting the American public. Look at this shiny object instead of the most important investigation in our country's history since Watergate. The allegations that she talks about in the book are well worth investigating. The Democratic Party needs to look at itself long and hard to make sure our process is appropriate. But it is by no means comparable to what's taking place in the Mueller investigation.

HARLOW: But let's separate it because you do bring up -- as a Democrat, though, you bring up an important point that this does bear the Donna Brazile's allegations do bear investigation, do bear looking into, that the Democratic party needs to look at itself pretty hard here. Do you agree with Senator Warren and the notion that if this is the case, if Donna Brazile's allegations are true, that it is rigged, that the process was rigged against Bernie Sanders?

QUIGLEY: Look, I think rigged is a really strong word, but I have no personal knowledge of how that process works. I have never been a part of it. But it doesn't mean I don't care about it and I'm for a full and open process, Democrats looking at this, and again making sure that the process works for the American people and the Democratic Party.

HARLOW: Well, Congressman, you choose a word then. You know other than rigged how does it sit with you knowing what you know this morning?

QUIGLEY: I know only what I've seen in the press at this point in time. I haven't read her book. But I'm open and willing to listen to anything and find out exactly what took place. And what we need to do. I'm just stressing, look, this is a distraction. The president of the United States is being investigated and his associates for conspiring with the Russians to attack our Democratic process. This is a desperate president who would do anything it took to get power and he needs to explain his willingness to do absolutely anything to retain that.

HARLOW: On your point just quickly because as you said the president is being investigated. Now your committee gets a lot of intelligence that we the public don't get, there are things that you can't share, the president pushes back on that. The White House keeps saying over and over he is not under investigation. Now if you look at all of the documents, et cetera that have been pulled and requested by the Mueller team every indication they are looking into the president and many people around the president as we know. At this point, have you seen any evidence that point you directly to collusion on the part of the president or his team?

QUIGLEY: Let me put it in a larger context, when I say Trump I'm talking about Trump administration. I have no idea who the Mueller investigation is targeting, so to be fair, when I'm talking about Trump, I'm talking about the Trump administration and its campaign apparatus.

[10:15:07] HARLOW: Congressman, we appreciate you being here, thank you.

QUIGLEY: Thank you, any time.

HARLOW: President Trump has just departed on a significant trip to Asia. He will visit five countries over 12 days, attend multiple summits. This as we just discussed with the Congressman, the cloud of this Russia investigation looms. Much more ahead, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:19:50] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

There you're looking at the president and the first lady departing just moments ago on this high-stakes trip to Asia. They will spend 12 days across five different countries in Asia, some really critical meetings.

[10:20:04] Let's discuss what's ahead with our political analyst Molly Ball, political commentator Errol Louis and Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics," nice to have you all here. Really important meetings ahead, Molly, he's going to Pearl Harbor first. He's going to meet with Shinzo Abe. He called Japan interestingly last night a warrior nation. But we know that this president can be very effective in these one-on-one situations, in these one-on-one meetings and they are so important right now with the backdrop of the tension with North Korea.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, he needs a lot of things from the leaders that he's going to meet in Asia, right? He is still trying to get more assistance from China for the North Korea problem as well as Japan and South Korea where he has been somewhat successful. He's looking for ways to restructure our trading relationships with a lot of these countries.

And frankly, he doesn't have a lot of leverage. He's seen as being in a pretty weak position domestically unlike a lot of foreign leaders, particularly President Xi. And he's coming to them asking for things. And so, it is really going to be a test of whether he can get them to make some agreements and he has had a pretty mixed record so far. This is a president who didn't come in with a lot of foreign policy experience or understanding and in other trips, you know, he has alarmed some of our allies on some of his foreign trips so far and believe this is the longest one to date.

HARLOW: It's the longest one to date, especially with NATO comments or what he has not said about our allegiance to Article V, et cetera, took him a while on that. Let's see what he does in this trip. Would you agree that his most critical meeting is potentially with President Xi?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: For sure, in China. We have to keep in mind the president campaigned on a platform that included reversing almost everything that was done by his predecessor especially in this field. So where the transpacific partnership was supposed to provide kind of a framework for a regional approach to trade relations, the president has said he's going to do away with it. One of the first things he did.

And now he's going to get some bilateral deals going with China and other nations and China most of all. Of course we have the biggest trading relation with them. So we'll see whether or not he can get something out of it, but, you know, at the same time he is trying to get security guarantees, he has always said perhaps a little bit inaccurate that China has complete control over North Korea which is simply not the case, right? Their rockets can reach the west coast of the United States. They can certainly reach China, which is -

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: So look, TPP did not include China and not having TPP does give China much more power, much more leverage on those trade relationships in the region. What is interesting, he's also, Caitlin, Xi is coming from a position of real strength right now because of the most recent elections in his country. He is emboldened and yet the president goes into these meetings with a, you know, mid-30s approval rating.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REAL CLEAR POLITICS": Right. HARLOW: And the Russia cloud hanging over him. He can dismiss it all he wants but the Mueller investigation is very much there. The House and Senate investigations are very much there. So what's interesting to see the different positions these two men meet under.

HUEY-BURNS: Absolutely. And he, in fact, praised the Chinese president for kind of consolidating all that power which is really interesting. I think when it pertains to the Russia investigation this is certainly a cloud over everything going on in Congress right now, right? They're trying to pass a tax bill and everything in the news is surrounding these indictments and this guilty plea. And when you look at this new survey by "The Washington Post/" ABC, that shows that 49 percent of Americans, almost half of Americans, think that Trump was involved in some kind of criminal activity.

HARLOW: Right.

HUEY-BURNS: And interestingly enough, about 60 percent, I think 58 percent say that they trust Mueller's investigation.

HARLOW: That's right.

HUEY-BURNS: So the president has been over and over again trying to discredit this whole entire thing and the public isn't really buying that right now.

HARLOW: You're right, 58 percent think that this Mueller investigation, the handling, is totally legitimate. Errol, to that point, the president comes out today and answers multiple questions from reporters before he headed on this Asia trip and he attacked his own Justice Department. He said many people are disappointed in the Justice Department, as am I, sort of like Sessions' nine lives. I mean, this guy running the Justice Department is still kicking.

LOUIS: Yes.

HARLOW: But, he deflected and he said why aren't they looking into the Democrats? Why aren't they looking into Uranium One? Why aren't they looking into John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman? Why aren't they looking into these new allegations from Donna Brazile's book? It doesn't change the fact -- as Caitlin said, almost half of Americans think he committed a crime.

LOUIS: Yes. I don't think this is -- this particular strategy of distraction, which is by the way being echoed all across right wing media. I mean, they turn on talk shows, if you look at the other channel, they're talking nonstop about why isn't Mueller and the Justice Department and the attorney general, why aren't they going great guns after this non-president who lost the last election, whose ties have been examined already in unbelievable sort of detail.

[10:25:04] I don't think anybody is going to buy it. Because the reality is, there's only one person who is president of the United States. There's only one president whose campaign manager is under federal indictment and under House arrest. There's only one person here who had a guilty plea in connection with his campaign, lying about this very topic. They're going to need a different cover story if they seriously want people to start thinking that there's nothing to this investigation.

HARLOW: So then, Molly, why -- I mean politically expedient with his base, but he's dealing with some very low approval ratings right now, why keep up this drumbeat?

BALL: I actually don't think it's strategic. I think it's just a coping mechanism on his part. But I think it doesn't actually matter what the American people think of this investigation because Robert Mueller has a job to do that he's going to do whether 49 percent or 58 percent or 75 percent or 10 percent of the American people think he's doing the right thing. This is a prosecutor with his own sense of the law, his own sense of right and wrong, and a political distraction does not affect him and the course of his investigation. That's the whole point of having an independent or a special counsel and having him be separate from the president and his apparatus and the executive branch.

And so, this is -- this investigation is going on no matter what Donald Trump says. There is the possibility that he could try to do something extraordinary to try to stop it, but so far, all we've heard are these shots across the bow seem like an attempt to intimidate Jeff Sessions but he's actually not doing anything. And, in fact, he said in that radio interview that he knows he's not allowed to and I think that was very significant. He was frustrated, he said he wishes he could, but he knows he is not allowed to.

HARLOW: Right. And the White House has reiterated this week he has no intention of trying to do anything that would fire Bob Mueller. Caitlin, how do you think or do you think that this affects his ability to negotiate in these meetings overseas in Asia, some very critical meetings across five countries. Does this cloud whether the president wants it to or not? Does it hamper his negotiating ability because our sources said right after the indictments came down and that guilty plea, that they were really worried, he was worried, that this would hamstring him?

HUEY-BURNS: Right. Well, it certainly could. I mean it depends -- the president does operate better one-on-one. He kind of relishes that opportunity to do that. But when you're trying to work with, you know, China, for example, which also wants to be the world power, right? This, if you're coming under a cloud of scrutiny like you are, your approval ratings are low back home. And you have lots of questions surrounding people that are associated with you and your own memory as it pertains to conversations that happened during the campaign, the people that you hired during the campaign. I think that this all speaks to questions about whether the president does, in fact, have leverage here.

Now, it could be that this doesn't necessarily directly affect it, but it certainly is hanging over. And Molly made a great point during the commercial break, which is that the president won't have Twitter in China and so -

HARLOW: Oh. HUEY-BURNS: -- See what his responses are while he's over there.

HARLOW: Interesting point.

HUEY-BURNS: Republican lawmakers are probably happy that he is out of the country right now for the time being so they can kind of focus on this legislation that they have on taxes.

HARLOW: Yes, on tax reform. Gosh. I mean, it's like barely been mentioned this morning, given all of the other things that are going on, critically important, certainly to the American people. Thank you all. Have a good weekend. 36 hours, Molly, without Twitter in China.

BALL: Can you imagine?

HARLOW: I can't. But it's going to be interesting. Thank you all very much.

Ahead, ISIS is now claiming the New York City attacker is a soldier of the caliphate. Before that, though, another title, he was an Uber driver. Up next, what one of his recent passengers says about him?