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Secretary of State Rex Tillers and Saudi Foreign Minister Speak to Press; Trump: "Tremendous" First Day in Saudi Arabia; President to Address Muslim Leaders Tomorrow; Sources: White House Lawyers Research Impeachment. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired May 20, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: We expect that these investments over the next 10 years or so will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in both the United States and in Saudi Arabia.
[12:00:00] They will lead to a transfer of technology from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, enhance our economy, and also enhance the American investments in Saudi Arabia which already are the largest investments of anyone.
The custodians of the Two Holy Mosques and President Trump had a very, very good and very wide-ranging conversation. They discussed, of course, the challenges facing the region and the world.
They began by talking about the bilateral relationship and ways to enhance it and improve it in all areas. They discussed the scourge of terrorism, extremism, terror financing, and how we can work together to eradicate it.
They discussed the nefarious activities of Iran and the fact that action has to be taken in order to ensure that Iran does not continue with its aggressive policies in the region, and that Iran adhere to the letter by the agreement between made it and the P5+1 countries, that Iran ceases its support for terrorism, adhere to the U.N. Security Council resolutions with regard to ballistic missiles, and ceases its human rights violations, and its interference in the affairs of the country of the region.
They discussed the situation in Syria. They discussed the importance of working towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The custodian of the Two Holy Mosques expressed the kingdom's optimism that President Trump, with a new approach and determination, can bring a conclusion to this long conflict.
He certainly has the vision and we believe he has the strength and the decisiveness. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands prepared to work with the United States in order to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and Israelis and Arabs.
They also discussed the situation in Yemen. And, of course, they discussed trade and investment. It was a -- they had a great lunch where the conversation actually began before the meetings.
The visit, as I mentioned, is a truly historic visit. We're very honored that President Trump chose to come to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on his first visit. And we look forward tomorrow to hosting the U.S.-GCC summit in Saudi Arabia and the Arab-Islamic-American summit which is historic and unprecedented that brings together the Islamic world with the United States into a partnership and begins to change the conversation from one of enmity to one of partnership.
The president is to be commended for his foresight and his vision in taking this very bold and very historic step which has the potential of changing our world.
If we can change the conversation in the Islamic world from enmity towards the U.S. to partnership with the U.S., and if we can change the conversation in the U.S. and in the West from enmity towards the Islamic world to one of partnership, we will have truly changed our world and we will have truly drowned the voices of extremism, and we will have drained the swamps in which -- from which extremism and terrorism emanates. I cannot overstate the importance of such a gathering. And I believe after this visit the president will go to Israel and will go to the Vatican where he will essentially address the Jewish world and the Christian world and try to bring together the three major monotheistic religions in the world into a partnership so that we move from any discussion of a conflict of civilization and move towards a discussion of a partnership of civilization.
And I want to stop here and thank my friend Rex Tillerson for indulging me for taking up so much time.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Thank you for all your efforts. And congratulations on an extremely, extremely productive and historic visit.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, thank you.
And thank all of you for being here this evening. And in particular want to thank my longtime friend and colleague Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. Adel and I have known each other for many, many years when our facial features were much younger. We remember those days.
But we have remained friends for all these many years and now colleagues. And I'm really proud to be here today with him to talk about this new strengthening of the U.S.-Saudi partnership and relationship.
As Adel just described it, today truly is a historic moment in U.S.- Saudi relations. The United States of America, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are really dedicating ourselves to a new strategic partnership, new for the 21st Century, and charting a renewed path toward a peaceful Middle East where economic development, trade, diplomacy, are hallmarks of regional and global engagement, something that we will be working closely together on.
This growing partnership is really grounded in trust, trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives, cooperation and a shared interest.
The elements of this declaration that was signed today, the joint strategic vision, there are many, many elements. And there's a lot of work now to implement those elements and really put them into motion.
And so that is going to require significant ongoing engagement and dialog between our two nations. And so I think you will find that we will be meeting with a great deal of regularity in order to review how these things are progressing.
And that is only going to serve to further strengthen I think our cooperation, and also I think sends a very strong message to our common enemies. It strengthens the bonds between us and it does chart this new pathway forward and will guide our path forward.
You know, at the core of our expanding relationship really are our shared security interests. America's security at home is strengthened when Saudi Arabia's security is strong as well.
And the United States of America, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are embarking on a number of new initiatives to counter violent extremist messaging, as you just heard Foreign Minister Jubeir describe.
We're also going to be pursuing new approaches to disrupting financing of terrorism and advancing defense cooperation. Today, the United States and Saudi Arabia are conducting vital new expansions of security relationship that really spans over seven decades.
But I think one of the real hallmarks of today is the economic cooperation, and, you know, if you have strong economic engagement between two countries, that really is foundational to a strong security relationship as well.
As you heard Foreign Minister Jubeir mention, today we announced 23 foreign investment export licenses leading to upwards of more than $350 billion of historic direct investment, $109 billion of that is in arms sales to bolster the security of our Saudi partners.
These are going to result in literally hundreds of thousands of American jobs created by these direct investments in purchases of American goods, American equipment, American technology, but also, investment into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.
And I think it's important to note that this is an indication of the confidence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has in the United States's investment climate. And I think as they evaluate the future investment climate of the United States, what they are seeing already are the positive impacts of President Trump's actions to improve the business climate in the U.S. for investment and job creation, and they intend to be a part of that with these investments.
Similar to this is a great vote of confidence in the United States in the business environment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as they continue to advance in their own reforms and seek new opportunities for their own people to create jobs as well.
So strong economic relationships are the foundation for strong security relationships as well.
The intended sales of the defense packages in particular fall into five broad categories, border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, cyber security, and communications upgrades.
And I think you can surely identify in all of these, the importance that all of those areas haves to U.S. national security as well.
Obviously, along with this will go a lot of training and support to strengthen our partnership with the Saudi armed forces as well which just further strengths our mil-to-mil relationship.
The package of defense equipment and services supports the long- term security of Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region, in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia's borders on all sides.
Additionally it bolsters the kingdom's ability to provide for its own security and continuing -- contributing to counterterrorism operations across the region. And the important part of this is this huge arms sales package reduces the burden on the United States to provide this same equipment to our own military forces and will strengthen Saudi security forces for the future so that Saudi Arabia is more capable of carrying a greater share of the burden of their own security which, as I indicated, is important to the U.S. national security as well.
So it lowers the demands on our own military, but it also lowers the cost to the American people of providing security in this region. So extremely important to the future of the relationship, but also, to the cost of providing security for American citizens in this region.
It does commit the -- it does demonstrate the commitment to our partnership with Saudi Arabia, as I indicated, expanding hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
I think the other important announcement, which Adel just mentioned, was the new counterterrorism initiative, the new global center for combating extremist ideology, which will be opened in Riyadh, will be a Saudi-led hub for defeating extremism in the information space.
As you've heard us say often, we have to defeat ISIS on the battlefield, but we really have to defeat ISIS in the cyber space. This is their recruiting tool. This is how they message to lone wolves around the world.
And this center is going to concentrate heavily on how to enter that space from the standpoint of experts that live in this part of the world and understand how to message to those who might be influenced by radical messaging.
Our partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, will be signing a new agreement tomorrow to close gaps in many of these areas, including the financial infrastructure, which terrorists can exploit, and we commend them for refusing to let terrorists conduct financial operations in their countries.
We are calling on all countries to crack down on the way financing and funds reach terrorist organizations. All of these new initiatives will bolster our joint efforts to deter regional threats from Iran in Syria, Iran in Yemen, and on Saudi Arabia's borders, as I mentioned. These new steps forward will serve the national security interest of the American people and the kingdom both.
We're very proud of this relationship that we're embarking upon with the kingdom and are very appreciative of the leadership of his royal highness King Salman in putting these initiatives forward. We've had a really productive day today, a truly historic day in this relationship. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for just a few questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Secretary Tillerson. My question is, "together we prevail" is the slogan of this summit as a shared character in both King Salman's character and President Trump.
Now you just said earlier in your briefing that Saudi Arabia and the United States share some objectives. Having said that, are there any crucial and solid actions that will be announced you're taking towards Iran policy of expanding in the region?
TILLERSON: Well, we are closely coordinating our efforts in terms of how to counter Iran's extremism and its export of extremism, in particular its support for foreign fighters, its payment of foreign fighters, its support of militia, that are operating not just in Yemen, but in Iraq and in Syria.
We are coordinating carefully around how we view the nuclear agreement, the JCPOA to be used in containing Iran's nuclear aspirations.
It's not just between ourselves and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but as you're well aware, we have a group of like-minded that is focused on Yemen, a group of like-minded that is a coalition of countries focused on Syria.
So I think the leadership really starts here in the kingdom with the strong leadership of his royal highness, as well as the crown prince, the deputy crown prince, and certainly the foreign minister.
They have been wonderful and very strong conveners of others who are like-minded in terms of this fight against terrorism broadly, but specifically Iran's role in supporting extremist organizations.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary -- and I have a question for you, (INAUDIBLE).
Secretary Tillerson, two questions. Will you ever pick up the phone and call Iran's foreign minister? Have you ruled out diplomacy with Iran? And secondly, on Yemen, how does pouring in more weapons via Saudi Arabia actually hasten an end to that brutal war?
And Minister al-Jubeir, can I get your reaction to the election -- re- election of Hassan Rouhani and what (INAUDIBLE) the Trump administration about whether to stick by what they have seen as a flawed nuclear agreement?
TILLERSON: Well, in terms of whether I would ever pick the phone up, I've never shut off the phone to anyone that wants to talk or have a productive conversation.
At this point, I have no plans to call my counterpart in Iran, although in all likelihood we will talk at the right time.
In terms of the situation in Yemen, our emphasis is on finding a political solution. We view it as a tragic situation, obviously millions of people on the brink of starvation because of the impact of the fighting.
But we also think it's important to put the pressure on parties to come to the table and talk.
So I want to make it clear that we have efforts under way on both fronts. I think the rebels in Yemen, those that have taken over the government in Yemen, have overthrown the government, have to know they cannot sustain this fight.
They have to know that they will never prevail militarily. But they're only going to feel that when they feel the resistance militarily. So it's important we keep the pressure on them.
And many of the armaments we're providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes. But it's important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen.
At the same time, we are actively engaged with others in the region to see if we can now advance a process by which we can bring this thing to a halt politically. We have a lot of work ahead of us in that regard.
AL-JUBEIR: Thank you. Margaret (ph), with regard to the re- election of Rouhani, this is an internal Iranian matter, who they choose for their president is their business, as it should be.
From our perspective we judge Iran by its actions not by its words. The Iranians have in the past have said some things and done something else.
They want to have better relations with us, but then they attack our embassies and assassinate our diplomats. They plant terror cells in my country and in countries allied to us. They supply militias that want to destabilize countries, like Hezbollah and like the Houthis and others in Syria with weapons.
They intervene and meddle in the affairs of Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. They support terrorism. They created the world's foremost terrorist organization, Hezbollah. They provide comfort and support for al Qaeda with many of the al Qaeda leaders living in Iran for now more than 15 years. They are -- they have a relationship with the Taliban that destabilizes Afghanistan. And so when Iran does all of these things, when they execute terrorist attacks in my country, in 1996, Khobar Tower bombings, where the Iranian military attache behind Brigadier General Sharifi, he was the control officer, with the heads of the plot escaped and fled to Iran and have been living in Iran ever since.
This is the not the behavior of good neighborliness, and this is not the behavior of a country that wants others to treat it with respect. This is the behavior of a state sponsor of terrorism who deservedly is on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and who deservedly is sanctioned by the international community for this behavior.
So if Iran wants to be a normal country and wants others to treat it like a normal country, it has to act in accord with international law and the values and the mores of the international system that have existed for centuries.
We welcome an Iran that is open to the world. We welcome an Iran that lives at peace with its neighbor. We welcome an Iran that doesn't interfere in the affairs of other countries.
But this is not the Iran we see. So when you come back to your question of what do we think about the re-election of Rouhani, we want to see deeds, not words. And we will continue to judge Iran based on its deeds. And we will continue to base our policy vis-a-vis Iran based on Iran's deeds.
If I may say something, Mr. Secretary, about Yemen. The perception is that we are fighting in Yemen for a reason or that we have no objective or no goals. The perception is that this was an aggressive war. It was not.
People forget how this started. Saudi Arabia and the GCC worked together to come up with a GCC initiative which created the transition from President Saleh to President Hadi.
Yemen was in a transitional period. The Yemenis set up what they call their national dialog which includes elements of all walks of Yemeni life and all regions of Yemen, women, students, tribal people, different religious sects.
And they came up with a blueprint, a vision for what Yemen should look like going forward, a federal system, rights for everyone, and on and on and on. And then they were going to codify that into a constitution.
Then the Houthis staged their coup. They attacked the city. They seized the government. And they took total control of a country that is critically important to the security of the region. Now we have radical militia, allied with Iran and Hezbollah, in possession of ballistic missiles and an air force that has taken over a friendly government. Friendly government asks for support, we intervened. From day one we have said, there is no military solution. The solution is political. The Houthis have to go back to the negotiating table and implement the outcomes of the national dialog in Yemen.
The Houthis are less than 50,000 in a country of 28 million. It is unacceptable that they would be allowed to seize power and get away with it. And so we and a coalition of countries have been fighting to restore the legitimate government of Yemen, which now is in control of 80 percent of the territory.
We have made mistakes and we have acknowledged those and we have investigated those. But we have been charged with things that we didn't do.
We were supposed to have attacked a wedding that never happened. We were supposed to have bombed the Old City Sana'a, which never took place. We are supposed to have destroyed cranes at Hudaydah port, which we didn't do, the Houthis did it from the ground up.
But these charges were leveled at the kingdom and the coalition and they were not correct. But the image prevailed that we were waging an aggressive war against the country and the Houthis were made to look like they're victims when it was they who started this and it was they who lobbed more than 40 ballistic missiles at our country's towns and cities.
It is they who have violated thousands of times cease-fire arrangements that were put in place. It is they who have made 70 agreements and reneged on -- more than 70 and reneged on every single one of them, not the coalition, not the legitimate government.
When it comes to assistance, Saudi Arabia has been by far the largest provider of humanitarian assist to Yemen.
The areas under government control have no problem distributing aid. The areas that the Houthis control, they steal the aid and they sell it to fund their war machine. The starvation that exists in Yemen exists because the Houthis laid siege on towns and villages and will not allow humanitarian supplies to get in.
That's why people are starving, not because of the bombing. The starvation is because the Houthis steal ships coming in to Hudaydah, and like I said, sell the products to fund their war machine.
We have distributed aid to every area of Yemen that we can. We are running the largest hospital inside there, incidentally, the Houthi capital, that the hospital that the kingdom built 30 years or so ago, and has been operating ever since in order to help the Yemenis.
This hospital has been operating even through the hostilities because we have no enmity against any enemy, but we will not allow Iran (sic) to fall prey to a radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah. We know what that ends up looking like when we look at the past in our region. And so we appreciate the position of the Trump administration in terms of providing support for our efforts in Yemen, both diplomatically, logistically, and so forth.
We appreciate their understanding of what's at stake here. And we appreciate and we believe that because of this support we will be able to put enough pressure on the Houthi (INAUDIBLE) to bring them to the negotiating table and to make an agreement based on the GCC initiative, the outcomes of the Yemeni national dialog, and U.N. Security Council 2216.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any others?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) will you please elaborate more on the Saudi-U.S. vision that was signed today, especially on the technology and the education?
AL-JUBEIR: The vision that was signed today is, as we both mentioned earlier, truly historic, because it's unprecedented. We have the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and president of the United States signing an agreement on a -- signing a declaration that outlines a vision for how we want to elevate an already strategic relationship to an even higher level, that we want to intensify the consultation, we want to intensify the cooperation, whether it's in counterterrorism, whether it's in defense, whether it's in technology transfer, whether it's in education, whether it's in trade, whether it's investment.
And we want to create a mechanism that is headed by both the custodians of the Two Holy Mosques and the president or whoever they designate that would be a group that would meet periodically in order to see how we can implement a lot of the visions or the strategies or the initiatives that we have.
The expectation is that -- well, the United States, as I mentioned earlier, is the largest investor -- foreign investor in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And incidentally, Exxon Mobil, the secretary's former company, is the largest single investor in Saudi Arabia.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a good home for American investments. And American companies have been good partners who have transferred technology to the kingdom, who have provided jobs to Saudis, and who have also helped, most importantly, small- and mid- sized businesses gain work and gain technology and gain jobs.
So this is very good. The vision and the economic agreements that were signed that Rex spoke about earlier will increase American investment in Saudi Arabia tremendously and will provide more opportunity for Saudi individuals and for Saudi small- and medium- sized businesses to benefit from those investments, including the technology transfer.
As in reverse, American -- the American people will benefit from Saudi investments in the United States which will, again, provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. So I have -- like I said, this is a truly historic summit. This is a turning point in the relationship that will take it from a strategic relationship and partnership towards a truly strategic relationship and partnership.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take our last question. Jen Jacobs (ph). We'll take our last question from Jen.
QUESTION: Two questions. Can you say if the election today of Rouhani will change anything in Iran?
And also, Secretary Tillerson, would you able to say, does the White House know who this person of interest is that's being investigated in the Russia investigation?
TILLERSON: Let me -- I'm going to answer both of those as well and then turn it to the foreign minister.
I do not have any information or knowledge regarding the person of interest that has been referenced.
I might comment on the Iranian elections as well, that what we hope, what I would hope, is that Rouhani now has a new term and that he use that term to begin a process of dismantling Iran's network of terrorism, dismantling its financing of the terrorist network, dismantling the manning and the logistics and everything that they provide to these destabilizing forces that exist in this region.
That's what we hope he does. We also hope that he puts an end to their ballistic missile testing. We also hope that he restores the rights of Iranians to freedom of speech, to freedom of organization so that Iranians can live the life that they deserve. That's what we hope this election will bring.
I'm not going to comment on my expectation, but we hope, if Rouhani wanted to change Iran's relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do.
AL-JUBEIR: As a sign of how truly strategic our partnership is, I agree with what Rex said.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time. FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, there in Riyadh,
wrapping up a briefing there with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi's Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir. And you heard Rex Tillerson there making reference to the Iranian election, reelection of President Rouhani there. And he said his hope is -- he wouldn't reveal any expectations -- his hope would be that it would put an end, that country would an end to ballistic missile testing, and restore the rights of Iranians.
A lot other thing -- lots of other things were talked about too in terms of the -- what's being described as a productive and historic visit, according to the foreign minister there. And they talked about both strengthening partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as it pertains to economic deals, military deals, and strengthening existing relations between the two countries.
And he said they signed a declaration -- the president and the -- the President of the United States and the King of Saudi Arabia signing a declaration to elevate a strategic relationship.
All right, meantime, now let's get a peek into the meeting, bilateral meeting, that took place between the President of the United States and the crow prince of Saudi Arabia. Let's watch and listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was a tremendous day. I just want o thank everybody, but tremendous investments in the United States and our military community is very happy and we want to thank you and Saudi Arabia. But hundreds of billions of dollars of investment sent to the United States, and jobs, jobs, jobs.
So I would like to thank all of you, people of Saudi Arabia, and I would also like to thank Rex (ph). And Rex is going to go now with you folks and have a news conference. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, that was happening just prior to what you saw live here, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson along with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia there.
[12:30:05] The President of the United States with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Nayef there. The president in his words saying it's been a tremendous trip and he talked about this strategic deal, this declaration and it will result in jobs, jobs, jobs.
All right, let's bring in my panel to discuss what we heard. I have CNN Investigative Reporter for International Affairs Michael Weiss, CNN Contributor Salena Zito who is a reporter with the Washington Examiner and has a show on SiriusXM, and Haroon Moghul, a senior fellow and development director at the Center for Global Policy. All right, good that all of you could be with me.
All right, so Michael, your view of what just transpired, particularly of the president's very optimistic view, it's been tremendous, it will result in jobs, jobs, jobs. And you heard the foreign minister and the secretary of state say, this simply elevates an already in place relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: I think revitalizes is the better word than elevates. I -- watching this press conference particularly that's a long litany of complaints by the Saudi foreign minister against Iran as a patron state of terrorism including Al Qaeda. This is Saudi Arabia getting its licks in after it what perceives to be -- have been eight years of the Obama administration sort of acting as defense council for Iran. The strategic objective in foreign policy in the last eight years was we want the nuclear deal but also to use it as a kind of rider or a vehicle toward (inaudible) which is why there are so many hopes in President Rouhani who's now been reelected in Iran.
But I saw this is less about Saudi Arabia and more about the Trump administration signaling to the Sunni Arab world. Look, America's old -- the old policy is Pax American is back. We are looking to contain Iran, we are going to, you know, increase sanctions against designated terrorist entities affiliated with the IRGC and Hezbollah. We're going to counter a ballistic missile program. And also Fredricka, it's very interesting that this is taking place 48 hours after the United States, for the second time only in the history of the Syria conflict, went after not really even pro-Assad proxies but Iranian built Shia militias in Southern Syria who are waging a rather bold raid against a Special Forces' base called (inaudible).
This -- that sorte if you like was an exercise in hard power and everything we just saw here was a kind of a reemphasis of what America is planning to do in the coming years now.
WHITFIELD: So then Salena, in your view, does this meeting -- does this, you know, language between the two countries help put the U.S. in a better position particularly as Donald Trump tries to take a stand on Syria, make a bigger imprint of his administration on the global stage?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that everything that was said about Saudi Arabia today, it is even -- to a larger point and to Mr. Trump's pledge during the campaign to take on ISIS. Saudi Arabia is crucial in that sort of, you know, mix, in that, you know, the plan is to sort of starve out ISIS and fund the ability and strengthen the military over there within Saudi Arabia and also building ships for them in Saudi Arabia. I think to me this is a lot about ISIS and a lot about sending a message to them that the U.S. is here, it's making relationships and Tillerson kept stressing sort of political relationships over there. And I also think that was incredibly important. They're also sending a message, look, we're all working together and, you know, ISIS, we have your number.
WHITFIELD: And Haroon, you were very critical prior to listening to the secretary of state and prior to the tape that we just received from President Trump. You said that Trump's visit overall really makes matters worse in the Middle Eastern region. And you were not much of a fan of Saudi Arabia's importance either, saying that this was Saudi Arabia sucking up. So after listening to the views now, do you still feel that way?
HAROON MOGHUL, SENIOR FELLOW AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR GLOBAL POLICY: Absolutely. I mean, I think the most amazing part of that press conference was when Rex Tillerson standing next to the Saudi foreign minister so that he hopes Iran gives its people the right to free speech and freedom of organization, and Adel al-Jubeir agreed with him. This is the most politically regressive (inaudible) calling out Iran for lack of freedom of speech and, you know, just a larger point I think on how media covers Islam and the Muslim world and this is -- you know, in the press conference the easiest question to ask and the most important question to ask would have been to ask the foreign minister and Rex Tillerson, our secretary of state, how do you define extremism.
It's a simple question. If extremism is the suffocation of alternate points of view, of the use of violence to enforce religion, that's the Saudi government.
[12:35:02] WHITFIELD: It's a way -- is there a way in which President Trump would be able to address that in his expected speech tomorrow?
MOGHUL: No. Because you can't sell weapons to a regime that is a primary driver of extremism. Michael is right that Iran has played a damaging role in the region but so has Saudi Arabia. So this is not the case of, you know, one good party and one bad party. It's a case of two bad parties and selling them tens of billions of dollars of weaponry is not going to make the problem any better, it's going to make the problem worse
WHITFIELD: And so Salena, how does this visit and what we've heard thus far from the president and the secretary of state perhaps try to clear some of the cloud hanging over the White House as it pertains to the ongoing investigations involving Russia, more details reportedly of James Comey's firing and the sentiments that the president had calling him a nut job, you know, according to the "New York Times" reporting, and even now, a greater breadth of space for the new special counsel, Bob Mueller?
ZITO: Well, I was exhausted after you said all that, so I suspect he was probably really happy to just fly off away from D.C. as far away from behind him as possible. You know -- I mean, this is an opportunity and you have to be careful when you're in foreign governments especially when you have a tendency to say things that aren't within protocol or that you don't speak the way former presidents have, you know, you can get in trouble. But, you know, if -- it's also an opportunity to have him appear presidential, to have him appear to be working with foreign governments and getting things done and optically for the people that voted for him, that's a good thing. And for the people who are unsure about him, that's also, you know, something to pay attention to. It's a sort of the first 100 days of nothing but negative news, especially the last 10 days.
WHITFIELD: And so David, for now there may be a particular avoidance that President Trump or even Secretary Tillerson may want to take in terms of not commenting, giving any further detail about the ongoing investigations and the constant questions about, you know, all the minutia of what's taking place in Washington. But how long can that go on, on an eight-day journey, five-nation visit?
WEISS: Well, it's interesting, you know, the president rather in artfully said several months ago that Russia is fake news. He's been desperate to make this story go away and yet every way in which he reacts to the latest story in the New York Times or the Washington Post is bringing Russia back to the core of the conversation. In a way I would argue he's destroying his presidency attempting to protect Russia and those in his administration that are now deemed to have been too close to Moscow. So even if there wasn't any impropriety while he was running for president, the improprieties are being committed time and time again while he is in office and a way a master of his own misfortune in that respect.
WHITFIELD: All right, let me interrupt. I apologize for that. Let me bring in Jim Acosta, he's traveling with the president from Riyadh right now. Jim is able to join us right now. So Jim, expound on what we have just heard from the secretary of state and a little bit that we heard from Donald Trump who says, it's been a, you know, tremendous trip thus far?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you heard the secretary of state and the Saudi foreign minister go a great lengths to tout the new relationship between the U.S. and the Saudis which is on better footing than it was under President Obama. That is because President Trump and the Saudi kingdom see much more eye to eye when it comes to issues like Iran. The Saudi government was not in favor and had misgivings about that Iranian nuclear deal that was cut between the government of Iran and the p5 plus 1 countries including the United States. And so it's not surprising that they are more, you know, in tune with one another when it comes to some of these issues.
I will tell you, Fredricka, as the secretary and the Saudi foreign minister were leaving this news conference, reporters were throwing a few questions at them and they were asked -- because it wasn't asked during that news conference, you know, what we should expect to hear in the president's speech tomorrow to the Muslim world, that speech in which he's expected to call on the Muslim world to do more in the fight against terrorism. And all the Saudi foreign minister and the secretary of state would say is that they expect it to be, quote, a very positive speech.
I did ask the secretary whether he thought the term radical Islamic terrorism would appear in the president's speech because there's been sort of some back and forth as to whether or not that term will be used in the speech and he did not respond to the question. And so I think that is, perhaps, going to be one of the big questions heading into this speech tomorrow is whether or not President Trump uses that term. He used it in his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this year and the early weeks of his administration. And so the question becomes, does the president say overseas what he says back home for a more domestic-oriented audience, i think that remains to be seen.
[12:40:02] But I think in terms of what you heard during that news conference you heard the Saudi foreign minister go to great lengths in explaining and defending the actions of the Saudi kingdom and Saudi military when it comes to battling the Houthis in Yemen. A big part of that defense arms deal that was cut today between the U.S. and the Saudi government will continue to fuel that fight that the Saudi government is fighting down in Yemen against those Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. And so I thought that was very interesting and then, you know, when they were commenting on the state affairs with Iran, you heard the secretary of state say that he would talk to the Iranian foreign minister, that he would not shut off his phone to the Iranian foreign minister.
So that is a sign that despite some of the tough talk coming out of the White House, tough talk coming from this president when it comes to Iran, the secretary of state is saying, despite all their problems with the Iranian government and the reelection of Hassan Rouhani in Tehran today, that the secretary of state, the Trump administration, will continue to keep the lines of communication open, at least at the foreign minister level with that government. I thought that was also an interesting bit of news to come out of that press conference.
WHITFIELD: Absolutely. And Jim, real quick, before I let you go too, you know, the president has quite of contingent traveling with him. Alongside him, you know, his wife Melania Trump, his daughter, you know, son-in-law are there, Reince Priebus is there, chief of staff, Steve Bannon, and then you mentioned, you know, Steve Miller who is part of this, you know, crafting of the speech tomorrow. Can you -- help explain the kind of dynamics of those who have the -- you know, their fingerprints on his material? Does he have a, you know, host of speech writers, but also alongside the speech writers are some -- you know, his chief strategic, you know, adviser such as a Bannon or even, you know, Steve Miller? I mean, how does this work in the crafting of his messaging particularly on this trip?
ACOSTA: I think it's a fascinating question, Fredricka, because here you have Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, two of the most hawkish advisers on the president's staff when it comes to dealing with this issue of Islamist extremism in the Muslim world and how it fuels terrorism and inspires, you know, attacks carried out by ISIS and so forth. Whether some of that language is used in its most extreme form in the president's speech that he's going to be delivering to the Arab and Muslim world tomorrow or is it toned down. We do know that in recent days and weeks there has been sort of this tug of war going on behind the scenes as to how much the president should tweet, what he should be saying.
For example, in a statement the other night, about the appointment of Robert Mueller to be the special counsel, that was a very toned down statement about Robert Mueller. And the next morning he tweets all of these sorts of aggressive things saying he's the subject of a witch hunt and so forth. So the sort of a back and forth and ebbing and flowing that goes back and forth among his advisors and what the president tweets and so forth. So I think the outcome of the speech tomorrow is going to be fascinating to watch because it's going to tell us where things stand inside this White House right now when it comes to who is sort of winning the day when it comes to the president's rhetoric.
Does he come out and give a red meat speech that is really aimed at more of a domestic audience back home in the U.S? Or does he take a more diplomatic approach and tone down some of this tough talk? After all, he is the president who as a candidate proposed banning Muslim travel and immigration into the United States. And yet today you had the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Saudi foreign minister walking out of this meeting today saying that they expect tomorrow's speech to be very positive.
ACOSTA: So I think the outcome of that speech tomorrow is going to tell us a lot and tell us in terms of where things stand.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jim, thank you so much. Salena as well, Haroon and Michael Weiss. Now, I should get glasses, shouldn't I Mike because I called you David earlier thinking David Rohde.
WEISS: No, I figured it out. It's OK.
WHITFIELD: Thank you. I'm glad you could read my mind. All right, appreciate it to all of you. Thanks so much. We'll be right back.
[12:48:22] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right, days before President Trump took off for Saudi Arabia, White House lawyers were preparing for the worst case scenario for him here at home. Impeachment. Sources are telling CNN the lawyers are researching the legal procedures involved, even though they believe they still have the backing of GOP leaders in Congress, making impeachment unlikely. Joining us now to talk about all of this, Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush and Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department.
Good to see both of you.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning.
WHITFIELD: And also late in the day we heard the White House denying that their attorneys or that Donald Trump's attorneys were looking into preparing for any possible scenario of impeachment. So, Michael, if indeed, you know, Trump's attorneys are to the looking into or researching impeachment or even if they were, what would be some of the discoveries they're trying to make? What would be some of the answers they're trying to get as they probe?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, they have to figure out first what acts the president undertook that could give rise to an article of impeachment in Congress. So was he aware of or did he in any way collude with the Russians? Did he in any way obstruct or endeavor to obstruct justice? Those are the sort of crimes, if you will, that they'll be looking into to say, what are the facts that give rise to a crime like that. And if there is a factual predicate for that, what are the impeachment articles that could be drafted and what might we do to defend ourselves against it? [12:50:05] WHITFIELD: And Richard, the New York Times reported that Trump told the Russians that he is not being investigated, this in that Oval Office. And that New York Times says they got documentation of -- you know, a transcription of what was said. And even Donald Trump himself has said in the past that he didn't believe he was investigated because his attorneys hadn't been, you know, talked to and it would also entail providing documents. He hasn't provided any documents as far as he knows. But can't you be investigated and perhaps you don't even know it, Richard?
PAINTER: Well, absolutely, yes. And one of the things I did at the Bush White House in ethics briefings is discuss with the White House staff how you will handle investigations and how to avoid being accused of obstruction of justice. And I have to say, what happened in the Oval Office, was very close to being a confession by the president of the United States of obstruction of justice --
WHITFIELD: What were the trigger words in your view?
PAINTER: The key is that he said that a -- he fired Comey and that he now was relieved that this -- about this investigation of the Russia matter. It's very, very clear that he fired Comey in order to obstruct the investigation of Trump/Russia collusion and he said this with high-ranking government officials from Russia, who are also subjects of the investigation because Russia engaged in a criminal activity in the United States. This is a confession --
WHITFIELD: Yes. Let me just quote from the New York Times. It says in the document that they obtained it says, "I just fired the head of the FBI." And then he went on to say, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." So go ahead with your thought, Richard.
PRESSURE: Well, the pressure is taken off, he thought because he fired the FBI director. He fired the FBI director to take the pressure off the Russia investigation. It's not going to work out that way. Obstruction of justice usually doesn't work. But that is a confession to obstruction of justice. Pure and simple.
And it's right there in the room with a high ranking Russian government officials who are themselves subject of the investigation. Co-conspirators with whoever in the United States collaborated with the Russians. We don't know who that is yet. But we do know that the president of the United States engaged in obstruction of justice. That is what happened in that room and this is not a partisan issue.
I've been working with the Republicans for 30 years. I strongly support the Republican Party but collaboration with the Russians and conducting espionage inside the United States is not a partisan issue and neither is obstruction of justice and that is clearly what happened. There's no other explanation for what is reported to have been said in the Oval Office.
WHITFIELD: And Michael, those words are one thing and the documentation the New York Times obtained, but then the other is that private meeting would take place under those circumstances and that apparently U.S. -- you know, press would not be allowed in but instead Russian press would, that there was some documentation of words that were said. Is that in and of itself enough to raise the flag that, you know, the investigation needs to widen, obstruction of justice, we had up on the list, among those things, treason, as to, you know, raise suspicion about whether something untoward is taking place here?
ZEDLIN: Well, the independence counsel, the special counsel Mueller has a pretty broad mandate from the deputy attorney general. And the collusion with Russia and the Russia attempt to interfere with our elections and the obstruction of justice are all on the table as part of the mandate. I'm not at this point able to say that we have the facts that give rise to obstruction. I think we have a lot of smoke and red flags and matters that Bob Mueller will investigate. But I can't go as far as Richard to say that this is a confession of obstruction of justice.
I also think, though, that you're asking in the second question, a political question which is, what are the optics of the president meeting with the Russians, talking in the way he was talking about Comey activities and Comey himself personally and then leaving the U.S. press out of it. All of that is a political matter which is well beyond my expertise. It doesn't sit well with me. But as a lawyer, looking at these legal analyses, I think there are just red flags still, but not yet an obstruction case that's viable.
WHITFIELD: And then Richard, we have seen other administrations have to endure investigations, whether it was, you know, Reagan years or Clinton years, but at the same time they governed. Or they demonstrated they were able to be investigated and governed. Do you see that happening in the Trump White House?
[12:55:04] PAINTER: Well, it's not happening thus far. And all I can say is what I told the White House staff, is that if you fire or reassign or threaten to fire or reassign an official that's conducting an investigation in order to stop that investigation, or to slow that investigation, that is obstruction of justice. That's what I see here. I don't see any other explanation.
But that is an abuse of power. The president has the power to do it. But it's an abuse of power and obstruction of justice, if that's the reason why he did it. The Justice Department wrote up a memo explaining other reasons, to give him cover. But then he very, very quickly confessed both to the American media and to the Russians his true motive for firing James Comey.
And to me, I don't see any other explanation for that other than obstruction of justice. We'll see what transpires in the investigation.
WHITFIELD: All right. Richard painter, Michael Zeldin -- OK, you have a quick point, Michael?
ZEDLIN: Well, I'll just say, the obstruction of justice here is two things potentially. One is, did he try to obstruct the investigation into Flynn, because the first meeting he says, you know, can you back off Flynn. And then the second one, he's saying, essentially, can you back off me or I am firing him because of the pressure on me.
I don't think those things are exactly the same. And that's why I say about Richard's comment that we still need to gather some more facts and segregate what is being said with respect to what before we can reach the conclusion that this is a viable obstruction of justice case.
WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there --
PAINTER: Yes, but Flynn was going to cause states evidence on Russia.
ZEDLIN: Well, that's what we'll see.
WHITFIELD: All right. We'll have a part five because we've already had two, three, and four. We'll do this again. Richard Painter, Michael Zeldin, thank you so much. And we'll be right back.