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First Lady Undergoes Kidney Procedure at Walter Reed; Giuliani Says Any Mueller Interview Only After Kim Summit; Trump Moves to Lift Sanctions on Struggling Chinese Cell Phone Company. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 14, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. First lady hospitalized. Melania Trump undergoes a procedure for what her office says is a kidney condition. She'll remain in the hospital through the week. The president is heading over there.
[17:00:25] Saving Chinese jobs. President Trump apparently wants to make China great again. He's pressing to lift crippling U.S. sanctions on a Chinese firm which violated trade restrictions on North Korea and Iran. Why is the president so eager to save Chinese jobs?
Embassy anger. The U.S. opens its embassy in Jerusalem, making good on the president's campaign pledge, but the move spurs violent protests at the Gaza border, where Israeli troops open fire on rioters, killing dozens of people and sparking an international outcry.
And Chairman Kim. The Trump administration changes the approach to Kim Jong-un. The dictator once called "Little Rocket Man" by President Trump is now being referred to as Chairman Kim. Is the U.S. prepared to shore up his brutal regime?
I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. Our medical experts are standing by, but I want to start with our CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett, who broke this story.
Kate, this is the first lady. She's in the hospital right now. Was this an emergency? Update our viewers on what we know.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So Wolf, from what we know, this wasn't necessarily an emergency. However, the first lady did enter Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She had a procedure that was called an embolization procedure to treat a benign kidney condition is what her office is saying. That operation was apparently successful. She is resting.
However, a statement from the first lady's office does say she will be in the hospital for the duration of the week. So clearly, this was something that was concerning enough that she's making this lengthy hospital stay and -- but she's expected to be OK. Her office also said the treatment was successful and that she will be
back working on behalf of children again soon. But again, a surprise announcement, a surprise situation here for the first lady.
BLITZER: We're told the president was at the White House while she was undergoing this procedure. But is he still at the White House? Has he gone over there yet? Is he waiting?
BENNETT: He is apparently on the way and close to being there. Her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's communications director, tells me that he is expected shortly.
Clearly, this is a first lady who's extremely private. She is not known to discuss her personal life in any way. She's extremely mysterious to a lot of people still. Clearly, the operation, whatever the procedure was today, she wanted to keep close to the vest.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by for a moment, Kate. I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta; along with Dr. Gregory Bernstein, a urologist, former military physician; and our CNN contributor Kate Anderson Brower, as well.
Sanjay, she's going to be in the hospital the rest of this week. It sounds pretty serious, if you're going to be spending all of that time in the hospital?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think that that's -- that's worth pointing out. I mean, I don't know if this is because she's the first lady, if this is because it's an abundance of caution.
But if you typically hear of someone having an embolization procedure, which basically is just threading a catheter into one of the blood vessels and then using that catheter to go to an area to stop blood flow to -- in this case part of the kidney, that can -- you know, maybe a night in the hospital, that's pretty typical. I don't know if there -- there were more concerned about something with her in particular.
But I think you're right, that that's something that I think, you know, there's still questions about why the longer hospital stay.
BLITZER: Well, let's ask Dr. Bernstein. You're a urologist. You're an expert in this area. What do you think?
DR. GREGORY BERNSTEIN, UROLOGIST: Yes, Wolf, I would agree with Sanjay. This procedure, although not, as Kate said, was not probably emergent, I think that staying over in the hospital for the course of the week, my guess is they're probably concerned that they want to watch out for any sort of complications. Sometimes after an embolization procedure, there could be some pain associated with the procedure. They may want to monitor her for pain, make sure her pain is well-controlled, and I'm sure they can do that a lot better at Walter Reed than they can do in the White House.
BLITZER: If one of your patients were going through this embolization treatment, would you normally expect your patient to be three, four, five days in the hospital?
BERNSTEIN: You know, I think it would depend on the situation. Not knowing or being involved with her care, I would -- I would certainly counsel my patient that that's certainly a possibility, depending on how the procedure went and give them the understanding that that's a possibility and certainly not out of the question.
BLITZER: And they keep saying this is benign, it was a benign treatment. They could take the results right away and determine it wasn't cancer?
BERNSTEIN: Great question. Again, not being part of the team, you know, my suspicion is that this was possibly discovered earlier, and they may have done a biopsy ahead of time to confirm whether it was benign or malignant, which would have then directed the therapy that they did today with the embolization.
[17:05:05] BLITZER: As they keep saying, fortunately, it was benign --
BLITZER: -- which is good news.
Sanjay, walk us through a little bit more of this procedure.
GUPTA: Well, in this case, and it is a procedure versus surgery, first of all. I think that those terms are important here. It involves a -- basically, putting a catheter in one of the blood vessels and then threading that -- that catheter up to the area that's in question here. An area inside, looks like, or by one of her kidneys. And then basically injecting a substance -- a glue-like substance or something to stop blood flow to that particular area.
If you stop blood flow to whatever it was that was being treated, and we don't really know the answer to what was actually being treated yet, but whatever it was that was being treated, if you stop the blood flow, it will cause it to start to shrink. It will prevent it from bleeding down the road. Preventing a complication like that.
So this is what an embolization procedure is. As Dr. Bernstein was mentioning, you know, sometimes it can be associated with some pain. There's a concern sometimes of infection after it.
I should put out that you don't -- you're not actually looking at the mass. This isn't a surgery so you're not actually removing the mass and looking at it. You're basically just trying to stop the blood flow to it.
BLITZER: What are the -- Dr. Bernstein, the normal conditions that would lead a patient and a urologist, a doctor, to conclude this kind of procedure is necessary? In other words, what are the symptoms that would justify the first lady saying, "I've got a problem"?
BERNSTEIN: So it's possible she may have had some pain ahead of time. Again, not knowing the nature of the lesion that they found, this benign condition. She may have had some symptoms. She may have had some pain which may have prompted some additional testing to try to determine what the cause of the symptoms were. And they may have then discovered this lesion in her kidney and then determined that was the cause and then had made some recommendations on treatment options, with the embolization being probably the one that was recommended.
BLITZER: So let's say she was going through some pain.
BLITZER: And so how do you determine whether or not this is a kidney- related procedure?
BERNSTEIN: So she probably would have had some imaging done, possibly with an ultrasound or a CT scan or possibly even an MRI or a combination of all those three to help make that determination.
BLITZER: And then -- then all of a sudden, they say, "You know what? You've got to go to the hospital and get this procedure"?
BERNSTEIN: Not necessarily. I think they would have looked at the imaging. They would have talked to her, talked about the diagnosis, talked about the pros and cons of some of the treatment options that are available and then worked with her to make a shared decision about what the best course of action would be.
BLITZER: And would you regard this as an emergency procedure?
BERNSTEIN: It's difficult to answer that question, Wolf, not knowing the nature of the condition. It sounds like, if it's a benign condition, a benign lesion in her kidney, I would argue it's probably not an emergent condition, probably something that was planned.
BLITZER: And that she would go -- because last week, as you remember, Kate, she had a big event at the White House, the "Be Best" event. She looked great. She sounded great. Was there any indication at all that there was a medical problem?
BENNETT: No. So the irony, sort of, of this -- of this news today is that we've seen more of the first lady in the past couple of weeks than perhaps we've seen in quite some time, quite a few months. She hosted the state dinner for France. We saw her in that white hat that day. We watched her host in the evening.
We saw her again at Be Best in the Rose Garden, giving a very long 11- minute speech, which for her is her longest public speaking engagement.
And then even on Friday, we saw her at the West Wing at the military mothers and spouses event, where she was with the president once again. She was delivering remarks.
So certainly today's news with what we've seen of her lately, don't exactly go hand in hand. However, as the doctor said, we don't know behind the scenes whether she was experiencing pain and sort or grinning through it or whether she wanted to make sure her initiative came first and announced that beforehand or what the circumstances were. But we've seen her quite a bit the last few weeks.
BLITZER: So as far as we know, she went over to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this morning for this procedure, right?
BENNETT: Sure. I think -- we don't know that for certain. I think we can speculate that her doctor probably either said arrive last night, get you prepped or early this morning, get you prepped.
What we do know is this afternoon when the statement was released, her office was saying things did go well with the procedure.
BLITZER: The president did not go over there, right?
BENNETT: He did not go over there. And I think, you know, covering the first lady as I have and knowing her and how she operates, she's very private. I think it's somewhat remarkable that her office in the East Wing had zero leaks. I mean, here's the first lady of the United States checking into a hospital for a procedure. No one knew a thing about it until after it happened.
Juxtapose with what we're hearing this week about the West Wing and how that operation goes on. It's a very different scenario. I'm not surprised the president wasn't there. I would have imagined that was the first lady's doing. She likes to -- with him comes more hubbub, more motorcade, more security, more press pool. Certainly, knowing what we know about her, she's not one to sort of, you know, try to have a lot of attention or want a lot of attention. And I would imagine this was her.
BLITZER: We're getting -- the tweets are coming in. The speaker, Paul Ryan, quote, "So pleased her procedure was successful. Wishing FLOTUS" -- the first lady of the United States -- "a full and speedy recovery."
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, "Just heard news that FLOTUS underwent surgery today. Sincere wishes for her speedy recovery."
[17:10:04] Has the president tweeted about this yet?
BENNETT: The president has not tweeted about his wife yet. He's tweeted about other topics since we've heard the news of his wife, but he has not yet tweeted.
BLITZER: Momentarily, just in the last moment or two, we're getting a tweet. We're going to put that up on the screen in a moment. And Kate, you're the expert on first ladies. What do you think of the way, first of all, this has been handled?
KATE ANDERSON BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as Kate said, I think it's surprising how private she has been and then to get this sort of sudden news coming out that she had this procedure. This is not the first lady to undergo a procedure in the White House. Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy in 1987. Laura Bush had surgery for a pinched nerve. This seems slightly more serious than surgery for a pinched nerve, certainly. But she has a young son. I'm sure that this was a nerve-wracking
situation to be in. And of course, they're human like everyone else. They have surgeries and medical procedures that happen during their time in the White House.
BLITZER: He just tweeted, the president of the United States, "Heading over to the Walter Reed Medical Center to see our great first lady, Melania. Successful procedure. She is in good spirits. Thanks -- thank you to all of the well-wishers." The president just tweeted that.
What is the normal recovery time, Dr. Bernstein, as for as -- she's going to be several days in the hospital now. But what about after that?
BERNSTEIN: So again, as Sanjay alluded to, this is a procedure, not a surgery so I expect she's going to have a full recovery. I think once they get her through the initial perioperative or peri-procedure period, her pain becomes more well-controlled, she'll start to probably engage back in regular activities over the course of the next week or two would be my expectations. And that's how I would counsel my patients.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by for a moment. We're told the president is now wheels up, Marine One taking the president from the South Lawn of the White House over to Bethesda, the U.S. Army -- the medical facility, the military medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland, in suburban Washington.
Joe Johns is on the scene for us over there. Joe, update our viewers on what you're seeing and what you're hearing.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is the usual security when the president of the United States comes here to Walter Reed.
The street here on Joan Bridge Road has been blocked off by police as they await the arrival of the president. Of course, he did solve the puzzle for us. There was some question about the president as he turned to travel through the sometimes legendary Washington, D.C., traffic and now clear that the has decided to fly over by helicopter.
Of course, we do know that it's been a very closely guarded secret here until a statement came out this afternoon about the first lady's medical procedure.
And interesting also, Wolf, just to note, the truth of it, it is not just because of a VIP here receiving surgery. There are also strong rules at what has been called the flagship of military medicine about HIPAA, those privacy rules that guard electronic records of patients. So they are very much treating the first lady like a lot of the other people here at Walter Reed get treated: a lot of secrecy and very carefully, of course, as the president makes his way here to Walter Reed.
BLITZER: Kate Anderson Brower, you're an expert in this area. How much information, medical information would they normally release about a first lady who undergoes a procedure like this?
Brower: Well, usually, it is very private. But Betty Ford kind of paved the way when she come out with a release of her mastectomy which she had in 1970, back when breast cancer was not something that people regularly discussed.
Usually, it is very private. But eventually, they do have to release something.
When Nancy Reagan came back from her surgery, she stood in her bathrobe, and the resident staff all clapped for her. It's very emotional, because everyone feels an affinity for the first lady. And I think looking at her poll numbers that were released in the CNN poll last week, she's, I think, 57 percent. So she is well-liked, especially compared to her husband's kind of divisive nature. And I think, as Kate said, she's been out there a lot recently, which makes this specifically kind of surprising.
BLITZER: Is it unusual that the president was not there at the Walter Reed Medical Center with her during this procedure so he could be with her immediately afterwards?
BROWER: Well, often the president is there, but George W. Bush was flying back from an overseas trip when Laura Bush was having an operation on a pinched nerve.
I mean, I think it depends on the severity of the operation. I mean, how serious it is. Obviously, a pinched nerve is not as serious seemingly as this. But I think it is -- it's also indicative of the way their relationship is. They are not as sort of tight-knit as maybe the Reagans had been.
BLITZER: Well, talk a little bit, Kate, about that relationship.
BENNETT: I just think to Kate's point, he didn't go to Jerusalem. We didn't see -- he sent -- Ivanka and Jared were there and Secretary Mnuchin instead. That might be an indicator that he wanted to be near home.
I think, interestingly, we've seen -- not only seen the first lady a lot these past four weeks. We've seen her with the president the past few weeks. We've seen a few of those sort of awkward hugs and hand holding moments, but certainly, they've been together more.
[17:15:06] She spoke first at Be Best before he came up to give his remarks. She spoke first at the military mothers and spouses event in the East Room. He got up there and said people love Melania, love Melania Trump.
We've watched them together engaging more in the past few weeks than we have this past few months with all of the salacious headlines surrounding the president.
I think there is maybe something there we can look at concerning that he must have known this is -- she's experiencing a medical condition, something they kept private. But maybe perhaps it, you know, helped him support her more or bonded more. We don't know. But certainly, this relationship feels in the past week or so a bit more cordial, friendly and cohesive than we've seen it.
BLITZER: You know, Dr. Bernstein, every procedure has complications, potentially. We wish her, of course, a speedy recovery only the west. But what -- the doctors have to say there are potential, some side effects or some procedures. But go ahead and explain. We're going to show some -- while you're talking, the president boarding Marine One moments ago. He's already on his way to Bethesda Medical Center. But here he is leaving the South Lawn of the White House. What are the potential complications?
BERNSTEIN: So as Sanjay alluded to, what they did is they threaded a little catheter into a blood vessel. So obviously, the access to the blood vessel, there's a chance for bleeding at that site. There's a chance of pain at that site. And so that's probably the biggest complication. That's probably where she would have the most discomfort, is in the groin area, assuming they went in through the groin, which is the most common area.
And then she'd also have some pain or discomfort from the site of where the embolization, where they -- where they stopped the blood supply to that particular part of the kidney.
Other than that, there's chances of potential bleeding, sometimes infection could develop afterwards, as well. And those are probably the reasons they want to keep her in the hospital and monitor her.
BLITZER: Yes. So that might be why, Sanjay, they want to keep her in the hospital for a few days, just to be on the safe side. She is the first lady, after all, of the United States.
GUPTA: Yes. No, I think that's very fair. And you know, I mean, I think call it an abundance of caution or call it because she is the first lady. I think -- I think the only point that I think that should also be made is that when these -- these type of procedures are done, there is sort of a normal course of hospitalization.
And I think as Dr. Bernstein mentions, I think -- and if you look at the data, most people -- this could even sometimes, these type of procedures, even be done on what's called an outpatient basis, meaning you could go home -- come in and go home the same day.
A lot of times patients are kept in the hospital overnight to be monitored for those very reasons. To make sure pain is well- controlled and make sure the embolization did the job that they thought it was going to do. Make sure there's no signs of any problems or infection.
Just three or four days seems longer. It seems longer than normal, seems quite a bit longer than -- than normal. But there could be a variety of reasons for that.
Clearly, in the statement, they said everything went smoothly. So there's -- I don't think there's anything more, it sounds like, from their standpoint, to worry about. BLITZER: Yes, but usually, if you could get out of the hospital as
quickly as possible, Sanjay -- you know this and Dr. Bernstein, you know this -- you don't want the patients to be in the hospital, because there's potential for infection and there's a lot of germs in a hospital. You want that patient out of the hospital as quickly as possible, right?
GUPTA: Yes, no, absolutely. And the -- as Dr. Bernstein knows, as well, hospital is where people often get sick, because there's a lot of, you know, patients who have infectious diseases, things like that. So you don't want patients to stay in the hospital any longer than necessary.
But again, I don't want to read too much into this. It sounds like, from the statement, things went smoothly. She is the first lady. Maybe, you know, going back and forth, it's -- if she has to come back in for follow-up appointments, it could be too much. I don't know.
I will say, as I think we all agree, that three or four days or whatever -- four days until Friday, seems like a long time for this sort of procedure. But this is an unusual circumstance, it sounds like, given who the patient is in this case.
BLITZER: What about the credibility issue? Because you were there at the medical briefing when the president's health was discussed by his White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson. The White House says everything is smooth. Everything is great. She's going to spend a few days in the hospital and then going home. Should we just take that for granted?
GUPTA: That's a good question, Wolf. I think, you know -- I think there is -- sometimes I'm not suggesting anything is inaccurate here, even with the press briefing with Dr. Jackson. I think it was more a question sometimes of not getting all the information. So more sins of omission, if you will, with the press briefing and Dr. Jackson.
It became clear afterwards that President Trump had had several tests to investigate the status of his heart. While we got all kinds of lab results about the president, most of them very normal, this pretty significant test, we weren't even told that he had that done. I happened to know that he had it done from other sources, and that's why I asked about it.
[17:20:06] Here, you know -- I'm not suggesting anything is inaccurate here. I would -- I think it would be nice to know what exactly the first lady was having treated in this case. We're just told a benign kidney condition, which is good information to have. Benign, obviously, very important to know. What was it that was being treated? How -- was she having symptoms beforehand? What sort of prompted this?
As Kate was saying, we don't think this was an emergency. This was probably planned. But those are the things that we still don't know.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Dr. Bernstein, you worked at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Tell us about how good the -- because she could have gone to any hospital here in Washington. There are excellent hospitals: George Washington University, Georgetown University, Sibley, plenty of good Washington hospitals. She could have gone to New York. She's probably familiar with doctors in New York. Why Walter Reed?
BERNSTEIN: Well, as alluded to, it is the flag ship of military medicine. I think that they have -- probably one of the reasons is they have the secure VIP ward up there where they can take care of the first lady. You know, she's not in a regular hospital room. She's in a very, I'm sure, nice suite. She's being well-attended to. The security is excellent there. The medical staff is excellent, the nursing care is excellent.
And so, you know, staying in the hospital a couple of extra days is probably not what you would imagine staying in a regular hospital room is for her. And so for convenience, for privacy, for security reasons, I think it makes a lot of sense.
BLITZER: I'm sure she has a single room. She doesn't have a double room or anything like that. We wish her, of course, only the best.
We're standing by. The president's about to arrive at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. We'll have live coverage. Stick around. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on the breaking news. The first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, she's now recovering from a kidney procedure at the Walter Reed military medical center. President Trump, we're told, has now landed there. He flew aboard Marine One from the White House over to Bethesda, Maryland, to Walter Reed.
Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is also on the scene for us.
Joe, the aircraft -- the helicopter has landed. What's the latest?
JOHNS: Well, you know those signature green and white helicopters that are designated as Air Force [SIC] One, we in fact, saw two of them hit the land here on the L.Z. and depart just a few minutes ago.
Also, the pool reporting that the president has arrived here at Walter Reed. We also know the traffic on this busy thoroughfare outside of Washington, D.C., in Bethesda has now been restored. So the president apparently inside the hospital here to meet and greet his wife Melania, who underwent that procedure earlier today, Wolf.
BLITZER: Joe Johns, we'll get back to you. And Dr. Bernstein, the vice president just tweeted this: "Second lady and I are relieved that our dear friend, FLOTUS" -- first lady of the United States -- "medical procedure was successful and are praying for her swift recovery. Grateful to the great medical team at the Walter Reed Bethesda Medical Center and look forward to her full recovery and return to work on behalf of America's children. #getwellsoon"
The difference between a procedure and surgery?
BERNSTEIN: A procedure is a, as Sanjay alluded to earlier, is just a catheterization where they thread a little catheter into a blood vessel. Surgery would involve either making an incision, a large incision where they would go in, either laparoscopically with telescopes or open, to make a big incision to take care of the problem.
So procedure sort of suggests more of a minor aspect or a less invasive aspect to this.
BLITZER: And Sanjay, do you want to elaborate on that?
GUPTA: Yes. You know, a lot of times, people do use these terms interchangeably, but when you're -- when you're performing an operation, it does involve, usually, trying to access that particular area, in this case the kidneys. So using an incision, getting to the kidney directly, being able to look at what -- whatever it is that's being treated.
Here you are doing things in a more minimally invasive way. It's just a -- it's basically a large -- think of it like a large I.V., essentially in your -- and through that I.V., you basically thread this little catheter into the blood vessels. And that's what goes up in and near the kidney to try and inject something to stop the blood flow to that area of the kidney.
So it's -- it's more than semantics. I think, you know, procedure is definitely a less invasive thing. If she had had surgery, I think that would be a -- obviously, something that would be of more concern and have a longer recovery period. All of the -- all of the things that go with a bigger operation versus something more minor.
BLITZER: But she would still need anesthesiology, right? She would be asleep, she would be out during this procedure.
GUPTA: Well, that's a good question. You know, when we talk about anesthesia, you know, there's general anesthesia, which basically means the person who is receiving this cannot breathe on their own. The medications would prevent them from breathing on their own, so they've to put in a breathing tube. Versus more sedation where you're giving medications to make someone sleepy and also medications to control their pain. We don't know specifically what she had. Dr. Bernstein -- because he does these types of procedures, involved with them, I think my guess is typically, it's more the latter with something like this, more sedation and not true general anesthesia.
BLITZER: Dr. Bernstein.
BERNSTEIN: Yes, I would agree with that. It's probably still administered by an anesthesiologist that's there doing the case, providing the anesthesia. Or probably more likely a sedation with medications administered through an I.V. into the veins, as opposed to putting her to sleep and having a breathing tube help her breath.
BLITZER: Kate, you're getting some more reporting, as well. BENNETT: That's right. So we've learned that the first lady is
apparently in good spirits according to her communications director, Stephanie Grisham. She's doing quite well is what she told the press pool.
[17:30:08] We also heard that the president spoke on the phone with the first lady right before she had this procedure done. They spoke extensively, and -that he also spoke to her doctor afterward it was completed. So certainly, the president not there in person while this was happening but very much checking in via the phone with his wife and with her -- her physician.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think, Kate, based on history, there will be a full briefing by her physicians now?
KATE ANDERSON BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I would highly doubt it. I mean, after Nancy Reagan's breast cancer surgery, there was no briefing for reporters. Her prognosis was not revealed. That was a much more, seemingly, serious procedure than this. Typically, they don't do briefings. The East Wing is very, very private. And so getting information on the East Wing is always very difficult, and that's why I'm impressed that they were so forthcoming with details today. It's actually a very good sign, I think.
BENNETT: I wanted to add, the note about Stephanie Grisham coming out and saying she was in good spirits. Stephanie Grisham was dressed head to toe in blue hospital scrubs. This is the East Wing communications director. Clearly had been in the room with the first lady, was there during the day, that she's wearing these hospital scrubs.
BLITZER: We know the president is now at Walter Reed himself, and we wish, of course -- I speak for all of us -- only, only a speedy recovery, only the best for the first lady.
Guys, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story. We're going to also follow other news, including this. The candidate Donald Trump, he vowed he'd stand up to China and protect American jobs, but President Trump is now pledging to save jobs in China. We have details. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:36:21] BLITZER: Candidate Donald Trump vowed he'd stand up to China and protect American jobs, but President Trump is now pledging to save jobs in China. He's pushing to lift crippling U.S. sanctions imposed on Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which violated trade restrictions on North Korea and Iran.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has got details. Jim, Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies, they've had some significant problems with this Chinese company.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. I think a lot of folks at home don't know what ZTE is, but ZTE makes the fourth best-selling brand of cell phone here here in the U.S. A lot of folks at home have ZTE phones and don't realize that they do.
And it has two -- not just one but two -- major national security strikes against it. The first is that every U.S. intel agency has said that ZTE phones, made by a Chinese company, close to the Chinese government, are at risk of surveillance, back doors, electronic back doors by the Chinese government, Chinese surveillance agencies. Listen to Hill testimony earlier this year when the intelligence chiefs were asked about ZTE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Will you please raise your hand if you would use products from Huawei or ZTE? None of you would. Raise your hand if you would recommend that private American citizens use Huawei or ZTE services. None of you, again, are raising your hand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Pretty damning indictment. Again, all those are Trump appointees there, asked that question. But that's just the first security problem.
The second is that ZTE, this company, violated U.S. sanctions against both Iran and North Korea and lied about violating those sanctions. And that's what led to a second restriction from the U.S. The U.S. is no longer allowed, U.S. companies, to sell hardware to ZTE, which is necessary to make those cell phones.
And Wolf, I spoke to someone in the administration today who said that what they're trying to handle here is to allow -- or at least have the possibility of allowing U.S. companies to sell those components to ZTE again, because without them, ZTE basically goes out of business. This is a major ask from the Chinese government. And then presumably, the U.S. would get something in return.
They would not stop warning Americans not to buy these phones, but remarkably, they would, if there's a quid pro quo here, allow U.S. firms to ship those components out there again. So it's a remarkable company for President Trump to, in effect, throw a life line to.
BLITZER: Yes. And he's been tweeting about it, saying that he's going to try to help them get their jobs back in China.
BLITZER: Which is pretty extraordinary. Thanks very much for that, Jim Sciutto.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, is this company, ZTE, a threat to U.S. national security?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, it's absolutely a threat to U.S. national security, and as was pointed out, it appears that Americans who utilize ZTE products are at risk of back-door surveillance by the Chinese or other malignant foreign actors. That, in and of itself, is a problem.
But this whole extraordinary episode illustrates, Wolf, one of the things that has been most challenging about the Trump administration and the president himself. He says one thing, and then he does another.
He promised, for instance, that the tax cut bill would not benefit the wealthy and the well off. And then he enacts a bill where 83 percent of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the country.
He promised that he would not support cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And then a few months ago turned around and introduced a budget that would cut at least a trillion dollars from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And of course, the president promised that he was going to focus on good-paying American jobs, and then he turns around and publicly indicates that he's directing his administration to focus on saving jobs overseas in China. It's shocking.
[17:40:17] BLITZER: Yes, he tweeted -- he tweeted this yesterday: "President Xi of China and I are working together to give ZTE a way to get back into business fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done."
So what do you make of this? Does it look like a concession from the U.S. to China ahead of the North Korea talks?
JEFFRIES: That's certainly possible, but the problem is, it's a concession on the backs of working families, middle-class folks, blue- collar Americans who Donald Trump and this administration and all of us are, quite frankly, in the United States Congress should be focused on helping out.
We as a country, and certainly the president, should be focused on good-paying American jobs, promoting strong economic growth here. The president should be focused on dealing with our under-employment problem. Yes, unemployment is relatively low. But you have a lot of Americans who are working in dead-end retail jobs that don't provide a meaningful pathway into the middle class. And part of the problem is that many of those jobs have been shipped overseas to China.
Let's focus on bringing them back. Apparently, the president is in a totally different place.
BLITZER: Let's get to some other issues while I have you, Congressman. The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a man you know, the former mayor, is using the upcoming North Korea summit as a reason to push back the timeline of any potential interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Giuliani says the interview should come after the president's meeting with Kim Jong-un. That's scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. He says that would be -- that meeting is far, far more important. Does that sound like a legitimate excuse to delay any such conversation?
JEFFRIES: Well, certainly, I think that we all would like to see progress made in North Korea. It remains to be seen whether that will be brought about or not.
But Rudolph Giuliani is totally out of control. Nobody can trust what he's saying. It's unclear. He was a failed mayor toward the end of his second term. He's a failed attorney on behalf of the president of the United States right now.
It's not even clear whether he's speaking for the president. The president has publicly admonished him. I think -- listen, at the end of the day, the special prosecutor Bob Mueller is a war hero. He was a former well-respected FBI director. He's a Republican. He's somebody that both sides of the aisle have long respected in Washington, D.C.
We should just let Bob Mueller do his job and, in part, that is going to involve making sure that there is a thorough interview or engagement with the president of the United States to get to the bottom of what happened in the 2016 election where it appears there was some form of conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russian spies who were hacking in to our election.
BLITZER: Giuliani isn't ruling out the possibility that the president could assert his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to do an interview with Mueller. Can the special counsel get to the bottom of this entire Russia investigation without the president's input?
JEFFRIES: Well, I think the president's information is going to be particularly important. He's a hands-on individual. That's the way that he had been for the 70-plus years of his life prior to assuming the presidency. There's no reason to believe that he was anything other than hands on with respect to his campaign. And therefore, he's a very important witness at minimum in terms of what may have unfolded.
Ultimately we'll see. The Supreme Court may weigh in one way or the other if the president refuses to cooperate. But let's take the president at his own words.
During the campaign trail, he repeatedly said if somebody takes the Fifth Amendment, it suggests that they are guilty, that they have something to hide. So I have reason to believe that the president is going to follow his own advice and would cooperate with Bob Mueller unless he is hiding something from the American people.
BLITZER: Congressman Jeffries, thanks for joining us.
Thank you, work.
BLITZER: Still ahead, more on this hour's breaking news. The first lady lady, Melania Trump, hospitalized after a kidney procedure today. The president is with her right now.
[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour's breaking news, the first lady Melania Trump is over at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, recovering from a kidney procedure. Let's bring in our analysts.
And, Dana Bash, what do you think? We don't have a lot of details, but they're saying she's doing fine.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, look, let's hope so, obviously, that she is doing fine.
There is a lot that we don't know, but, look, she is the first lady. She's not the President. She is, as Kate Bennett reminds us all of the time, about the most private first lady that we've seen in some time.
And it is no secret that, you know, there have been reasons, at least recently, why she has been, you know, private in doing her own thing. Recently until the past three weeks or so where she has been much more upfront in public.
[17:49:57] We'll see if we learn more about what exactly the condition is. It's sort of a hard issue to penetrate if it's her medical condition. They don't want to give a lot of details, obviously. And, you know, we just, at this point, need to wish her well and hope that everything went OK.
BLITZER: We certainly do wish her well. The President is over there at Walter Reed right now, Chris. He tweeted -- heading over to Walter Reed Medical Center to see our great first lady, Melania. Successful procedure. She is in good spirits. Thank you to all of the well- wishers.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: And tweeted just before that about his view on leaks, so he, obviously, is able to keep two thoughts in mind.
She is, according to our polling, significantly more popular than he is. This is not new. First ladies are almost always are.
But two things struck me. One, it is amazing. This is, I think, the leakiest White House we've ever covered just in terms of the amount of information coming out every day.
Her operation -- and Kate Bennett mentioned this. Her operation is remarkably small, and they do a good job of keeping this stuff out of the news. We only heard about it after the procedure.
The other thing is that I think that she will -- she helps round him out. The more of her on the campaign trail, the better always for Donald Trump because she warms him up.
She gives him some sort of backstory that is not just I'm a guy who you see on television. So he needs her quite literally from a political perspective as well as, you know, all the -- their relationship. She helps him, without question.
BLITZER: And as Chris points out, Mark, she's a private person. She doesn't go out there a lot. She was out there last week on her Be Best Program. But look at our CNN poll -- our recent CNN poll, early May, 57 percent
favorable, 27 percent unfavorable. She's doing a lot better than her husband.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and that's surprising. When you think of Melania Trump, you don't think of Donald Trump and Melania Trump.
PRESTON: Much like you would think of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. You don't have that same connection.
I still think a lot of people, when they're thinking about Melania Trump and trying to form an opinion, they're very sympathetic to the fact that -- I think that they look and say, wow, you have a lot to handle, right?
I mean, the fact is that she has to deal with somebody who as aggressive as he is, as opinionated as he is, and she has been able to be very careful about what she says.
Now, she does have a young son. They have a young son. And I'm not surprised that we haven't heard much about this, up to this point. We eventually will, but there is something to her privacy, I think, that --
BASH: Yes. And I think --
PRESTON: -- that we should, you know, respect.
BASH: No, I think that's -- I think you're exactly right. And unlike recent first ladies, Michelle Obama, and even Laura Bush, we heard a lot from them, more as their terms went on -- their husband's terms went on. But one of the reasons why I think Melania is so intriguing to many Americans is because she's a little mysterious.
BASH: Because she doesn't give speeches. It's not her thing for a lot of reasons.
BASH: And the fact that this news is breaking, clearly, I'm sure she's very uncomfortable with it, but it sort of adds to the mystique and the mystery.
BLITZER: Joey, let me get to a legal question while I have you.
The President's personal attorney, you know, Rudy Giuliani, he says to the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, don't even think about interviewing the President before his June 12th summit with Kim Jong- un in Singapore. He's way too busy for any kind of conversation like that. What does that say to you? JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's interesting,
Wolf, because, on the one hand, we have to get this thing down. We have to close it down. We've got to do it yesterday. But on the other hand, let's not think about it until after the summit.
I'm one that believes -- now, to be clear and to be fair, the cause of world peace is very significant. I think the meeting represents a lot, right? Nobody wants a nuclear disaster. It would be the first time a sitting U.S. president met with the leader of North Korea since the Korean War, right, 65 years ago.
Having said that, you can run, but you can't hide. The investigation is not going away. I don't believe, ever, there will be a sit-down with Mueller, notwithstanding what the President says about the mob and Fifth Amendment, et cetera, et cetera, because there are political realities and there are legal realities.
And the political realities are what they are, right? The President -- well, if you're not guilty, why don't you sit down? That's all nice political theater. But the legal realities are, if you sit down, you have to tell the truth. And we all know and understand, right, not being derogatory, but this president has a problem telling the truth.
And so I don't think it would be in his interest at all, as much as it might help investigators, for the President to sit down. I think his personal lawyer knows it, notwithstanding the missteps on Stormy Daniels, the missteps with, oh, he was denying the merger with Time Warner. He had nothing to do with the merger.
Notwithstanding those missteps, I think Rudy Giuliani understands a very significant thing. And that is, let's push it off, let's change the President's mind.
And remember, Wolf, lastly, the President could also say, hey, I always wanted to sit down with the Special Counsel. I always told you I wanted to sit down with him, but my lawyers say I can't do it so I'm sorry. That gives him political cover. Legally, he can't do it.
[17:55:09] BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around, there's a lot more news we're following, including the breaking news, the latest on the first lady, Melania Trump, who underwent a procedure for what her office says is a kidney condition.
She may remain in the hospital through the rest of this week as President Trump pays a visit.
[18:00:05] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. First lady health scare. A surprise White House announcement that Melania Trump is hospitalized after undergoing a kidney procedure.