Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Trump Expected To Withdraw From Climate Deal; Midnight Typos To Unfilled Jobs, What's Going On At White House?; Sources: Trump's Lonely, "Emotionally Withdrawing"; Trump Urges Testimony From Ex-Aide Who White House Downplays; Spicer Won't Deny Kushner/Russia "Back Channel" Story. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 31, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, John. Thank you, Poppy. Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. The president is facing a moment of truth on the global stage. Will he stay or will he go?
When it comes to climate change, two senior government officials now tell CNN that the president plans to walk away from the Paris Accord and the nearly 200 nations that have signed on.
The president is still building up suspense, though, to his big moment tweeting this just a short time ago, "I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next two days. Make America great again."
Pulling out of the Paris agreement would mean a campaign promise fulfilled. Yes. It would also mark a major break from most of the world when it comes to dealing with climate change and another major break from the Obama administration.
So where do things stand right now? Let's get over to the White House. CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House following all of this. So Joe, what are you hearing right now?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been a very hard fought decision here at the White House, Kay, and there have been people all over the place on this issue and we picked up information just this last weekend that the president apparently had made.
This decision, though, it wasn't confirmed through sources in a reportable fashion until today and we also have to caution that according to sources the president could change his mind and he's been known to do that even after issues get floated in public sometimes by his communication so there's that caveat.
The way it breaks down here at the White House has been very complicated. Steve Bannon, one of the president's key advisers very much wanted the president to pull out of the Paris Accord and fulfill the campaign promise that he made because the president had always argued it was bad for business. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter had encouraged the president to look very carefully at every angle. Jared Kushner, we are told, was neutral on the issue. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was one of the people who did not want the president to pull the United States out of the Paris Accord.
So a big question, of course, in the long term is how he does that, whether he does it slow or fast and that could make a lot of difference to how other nations view it. Kate, back to you.
BOLDUAN: Yes, how he announces it. What method they decide to take and exactly, what exactly the president is going to announce, but it is leaking out drip by drip at least where the president is leaning at, at this hour at 11:02. Great to see you, Joe. Thank you very much. We really appreciate it.
So what is the impact if the president of the United States withdraws from the Paris climate deal? It's a big deal and there's someone who knows a lot about it, CNN digital columnist, John Sutter.
You spent years writing and reporting about climate change, John. This is your moment so you need to educate us. For those folks who know it as the Paris climate deal and haven't jumped into it, what is in the agreement?
JOHN SUTTER, CNN DIGITAL COLUMNIST: So the Paris agreement is really the guiding sort of north star for the world on the issue of climate change and it sets this one really specific goal, which is that we don't want warming to increase more than 2 degrees Celsius and that sounds sort of wonky and abstract, but it basically means an end to the fossil fuel era sometime this century.
So it's more of a goal and a promise to the world and a promise to future generations than an exact road map of how that happens. I've seen the Paris agreement described as a potluck dinner so each country brings its own plan to the table for how it's going to reduce the pollution.
But all the parties in the agreement are saying it is our shared goal and shared purpose to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid sort of the very most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Things like rising seas and drowned coastal cities and mass extinction in the animal world. It's serious stuff.
BOLDUAN: So how binding is it? Because I've kind of heard from a lot of folks that it's not so binding. It's voluntary.
SUTTER: It is a binding agreement in its whole, but the actual, those plans that all the countries brought forward, those are not legally binding. So there were a lot of people who are saying that the Trump administration really wouldn't have anything to lose by staying in this agreement. They could pursue whatever energy policies they wanted.
On the one hand, stay part of the Paris agreement, not meet the pledges that President Obama made as part of the Paris process and that they wouldn't be slapped a fine, for example, because of that. It's sort of like a good path agreement.
It does, you know, particular measures for re-upping commitments overtime or at least re-issuing them. It's basically trying to get all of its countries to work together towards ending the fossil fuel era slowly and overtime.
But it was palatable as an agreement to the global community in part because it didn't have these fines and levees for people that backtracked on the agreement.
BOLDUAN: A potluck dinner and quite a big one. Great to see you, John. Thank you very much. We really appreciate it. We will lean on you heavily as we continue to cover this.
Let's discuss the politics of this, though, which are heavy and everywhere. CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here and CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza is here as well.
[11:05:06]So guys, on this, Dana, Joe Johns said it very well. They're all over the place on this when you look at the White House. There has been a whole lot of lead-up to this decision, warring factions within the White House on the agreement, even leaks of the factions are meeting to discuss where they stand on the agreement for weeks. What do you think this came down to?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If I were to guess, and I think this is an educated guess, it is the fact that at the end of the day President Trump, my understanding from sources, asks one important question which is, are we doing that would make the people who sent me here happy, the base, the Trump supporters at their core?
And at the end of the day, he tends to err on the side of I want to make sure that we dance with the people who brought me here, and it is so true that this has been the most intense debate inside the White House to date because -- and it's obvious because it's been delayed so many times and there have been very big differences.
On the one hand, you do have those who never mind the issue of climate change, just opposed to the idea of the U.S. being involved in such an international agreement, those who want to look inward and don't want to be tied up with other countries like that and that could affect this country economically.
And on the other side, you, of course, have people like his daughter, Ivanka Trump who has been -- particularly before her father ran for president in the beginning of the administration and the transition very open about the fact that she wanted to help push her father towards the more climate change position, the position that would have kept him in the Paris agreement. That didn't win out.
BOLDUAN: Yes. So, Chris, when it comes down to it does that mean the Ivanka Trump and the Gary Cohen and the Rex Tillerson and James Mattis of the White House, they lost.
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, candidly, but I think a lot of this, Kate, has to do with the fact that Donald Trump listens to people, but then he just does what he wants to do at the end of the day.
You know, I mean, he takes some opinions, but I do think Dana's point is the most important one. He wants to make sure the people who got him elected are the people he's thinking about first. Remember that image that we have of Steve Bannon's office in the White House.
That white board with all the campaign promises and there are a lot of them that Donald Trump made and Steve Bannon crossing off the ones that he had accomplished, believing the theory of the case being well, in four years if we can say we said we would do these things and we did them that enough people would say Donald Trump affected change. I'm going to be for him.
Well, assuming the reporting -- assuming Donald Trump doesn't change his mind, which is always possible. This is another thing that Steve Bannon can cross off the list and that appears to be the sort of defining final decision making thing that Donald Trump latches on to.
And I think you've seen that in a number of things, TPP, talk about building the wall, the Keystone pipeline, a lot of these major decisions where he's had some back and forth. He's chosen to side with what he knows the base wants and what he promised on the campaign trail.
BOLDUAN: So, Dan, more broadly, then. There are still big questions -- and this is included is what is going on within the White House right now. You've got continued rumors of a shake-up that's been happening for a while. Word that the president was going to be changing his Twitter practices, but clearly, that did not happen, as we saw overnight.
I was going to say "covfefe," we can fight that later -- and now less on-camera briefings from the White House and more cabinet officials will come out to act as spokespeople. What does this all add up to mean?
BASH: That the people around Donald Trump are trying. Donald Trump understands that there are problems and there are problems in the fact that they have been in a defensive crouch for the past, you know, month or two really since the sort of blip of success which is the Obamacare repeal passing the House and some other international stories. For the most part they've been in the defensive crouch because of the steady stream of stories coming out about Russia and the involvement.
BASH: And frankly, the fact that they haven't been forthcoming and it's made it worse. So this is -- certainly, there is an attempt to try to turn the ship. Look, you have to feel for these people who work in the White House, who understand what it takes to do it.
[11:10:04]But they're undermined when they have a president who has an impulse to tweet whether it is something that's unintelligible. Obviously it looked like he was trying to say coverage, but unintelligible at midnight.
I mean, it just kind of goes to show I think that is the ultimate illustration of how difficult it is for people in the White House, war room or not.
BOLDUAN: I mean, when you hear that line -- I mean, well, first, Chris, is it "covfefe" or "covfefe?" I mean, whose team are you on?
CILIZZA: I'm more of a "covfefe" guy.
BOLDUAN: I feel like -- I can't decide if that's elitist or not.
CILIZZA: Oh, interesting! Hadn't thought of it.
BOLDUAN: I'm kidding! You write about this kind of hysteria, and this tells you everything you need to know about Donald Trump. What exactly is that?
CILIZZA: Dana touched on it and I'll just make the point more broadly, which is that the president of the United States shouldn't be tweeting at 12:06 a.m. and back up at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. tweeting again.
This is someone who has grown increasingly isolated in the White House. So I think he was isolated from the start. Remember Donald Trump's inner circle has always been his family. His sons are walled off of him because of conflict of interest concerns.
Ivanka and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, are members of the White House, but also, you know, established themselves in Washington. They have three young children. Melania Trump and Barron, his son, do not live in Washington at the moment, though, they are moving. So he's always been someone who is isolated, but he's even more isolated.
What does he do like, I always return to that "New York Times" piece by Maggie Haberman and Glen Trush a few months ago. The image of Donald Trump in his bathrobe sort of puttering around his house, the White House, watching television and tweeting.
Now that's not dissimilar to the Chris Cilliza nightly plan, but I'm not the president of the United States --
BASH: We don't need that information, Chris.
CILIZZA: That's the point. The point is this is the president of the United States. Dana's right. There are members of his staff who absolutely have told him you should not tweet as much. You should put the phone down. Don't tweet every time you see something on cable you like or don't like. He doesn't listen.
That's why all of this talk about a staff shake-up. The problem with the White House right now has a name, Donald John Trump. It's not Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. Those are all people around him. He is the central player here and he doesn't want to change. BOLDUAN: And that's why while it is an unsatisfactory answer when it comes from the White House briefing room, the tweet speaks for itself is about as much as Sean Spicer can say most of the time when you think about all of this in context. Great to see you guys. Now I have an image of Chris Cilizza's bathrobe. Thanks, guys.
New report that President Trump is giving world leaders his personal cell phone number which could be a major security breach or security risk at the very least. A former CIA operative joining me to discuss.
Plus a very awkward moment at the State Department, what stumped a State Department spokesman? What actually happened here? We have insight and how he reacted, what the question was, what it means? We'll discuss that a little bit.
And breaking news, a man has been arrested inside the Trump International Hotel in Washington with two guns, 90 rounds of ammunition, that's according to authorities. And we're getting word he may have been discussing and may have been plotting something of an assassination. We have details coming in from police. That's ahead.
BOLDUAN: New developments this morning in the Russian investigation. Many from the president's orbit are now cooperating. Others, however, not so much.
Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn now says that he is willing to cooperate with Senate investigators giving them documents that were sought after they sent over two subpoenas to his offices.
But the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has long worked with has declined an invitation from Congress to talk about what he knows saying that the ask was overly broad and was sent to him from congressional investigators.
CNN's M.J. Lee is joining me now with more details. That's just two. There's more now as well, M.J.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Kate. This investigation is so expansive and so fast moving that it is hard to keep track of exactly who is who and to what extent they're cooperating.
At the moment, as you know, the Justice Department as well as the House and the Senate are looking into whether there was potential inappropriate contact between Russians and members of Trump's inner orbit.
Now let's just walk through some of the key people who have come under scrutiny and to what extent they're cooperating with this investigation.
First we have Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and top adviser. He is eager to cooperate. That is according to a White House official. We also have Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. He has already turned over some documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Roger Stone, a former campaign adviser and longtime Trump friend, he is also cooperating, and Michael Flynn, Trump's ex-national security adviser, who is really at the center of these investigations.
He initially said that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, but now he is expected to turn over some documents to Senate intel. Now others have also been a little more reluctant and less forthcoming in cooperating with this investigation and that includes Michael Cohen, as you mentioned, Trump's personal lawyer.
He has said that he will not cooperate with the House and the Senate although he did say to CNN earlier this week that if Congress issues a subpoena he will cooperate and Carter Page, this is a man who advised Donald Trump on the issue of foreign policy.
He said that he would testify before the House Intel Committee, but the committee itself has not said whether he would testify. So unclear right now if and when he actually will do that.
Speaking of Carter Page, one big question right now is how much involvement did he actually have with the Trump campaign? Of course, Page himself has said that he did not have much of a role and White House officials have gone as far as to say that President Trump didn't even know the person, but take a look at this tweet from Donald Trump earlier today.
I'll just read it out loud. He wrote, quote, "So now it is reported that the Democrats who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia don't want him to testify.
[11:20:08]He blows away their case against him and now wants to clear his name by showing, quote, "The false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan, a witch hunt."
Now this sounds like a pretty sympathetic thing to say about someone he doesn't know and of course, this ongoing investigation could reveal the extent of Trump's relationship with Carter Page -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: You expect that would be definitely part of that investigation that could come out in the end. Great to see you, M.J. Thank you so much for laying it out. A lot of moving parts and a lot of people to be tracking at this point with the Russian investigation.
Meantime, the Russian investigation is reaching closer to the oval office, specifically to the desk of the president's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The White House so far is not confirming or denying whether Kushner sought to establish a back channel to the kremlin during the transition as has been reported. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president discuss it, though? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss. What your question assumes is a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything, but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he approve of that action?
SPICER: You're asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action. That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that in general terms back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So does the White House dispute that that happened?
SPICER: I'm not going to get into it, but your question presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: With me now is Lindsay Moran, a former CIA operative and author of "Blowing My Cover: My Life As A Cia Spy." Lindsay, thanks so much for coming in.
LINDSAY MORAN, FORMER UNDERCOVER CIA OPERATIVE: Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: On this topic of back channels, the White House as you heard from Sean Spicer, they say back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy and they have happened throughout many presidencies. On the most basic level, how important are they? What can back channels do that regular channels simply can't, Lindsay?
MORAN: Back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy, but they are generally handled by intelligence agencies and intelligence operatives, so it is concerning to hear of Jared Kushner kind of unilaterally creating his own back channel line of communication.
At its core, back channel communication is an espionage term. What we're trying to recruit a source we sometimes tell them that we are exactly the back channel line of communication that can get their secret information to Washington policymakers. So that's why I think it is so concerning.
What's also concerning is that Jared Kushner has not disclosed contacts, unofficial contacts with Russians which is actually a complete breach of security protocol.
BOLDUAN: So on a different type of communication, I guess, let me ask you about this, the president has apparently been handing out his cell phone number to world leaders. We are told that he offered it to the French president last week during his travels and the "Associated Press" has reported that he did the same with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.
It is not strange for you and me, of course, to exchange phone numbers. Why is this something still today in this day and age, why is this something that world leaders do not do?
MORAN: Sure. I mean, at its most benign level, again, it's a breach of diplomatic protocol, but at a more alarming level, it shows a complete disregard for security. Cell phones are incredibly vulnerable. There's a reason why we don't discuss sensitive information or secret information over cell phones.
There's a reason why we don't take cell phones into skiffs or other secure areas. So by doling out his cell phone number to whoever, it makes the president vulnerable and it in turn makes our country vulnerable. How do we know what he's talking about on his cell phone?
The cell phone can be used to locate the president. It can be used to figure out who he's talking to. It comes across as not only reckless, but just stupid.
BOLDUAN: If and when President Trump makes a call from his cell phone, who could be listening?
MORAN: Anyone could be listening. Certainly his cell phone could be vulnerable to foreign adversaries and any intelligence agency if we have the cell phone of an enemy, even of an ally. We saw what happened with Angela Merkel.
MORAN: We're going to want to exploit that and so our enemies, likewise, will want to exploit a vulnerable cell phone. The president has made his cell phone vulnerable by handing it out to other world leaders.
BOLDUAN: We will see what happens with that cell phone number and see if a repeat of the election of him and Lindsay Graham happens with those world leaders. I doubt it, but we'll see. Great to see you, Lindsay. Thank you very much for coming in. I appreciate it.
MORAN: Thanks so much.
BOLDUAN: So it was an awkward moment that went viral yesterday involving one of the president's State Department spokespeople. Hear what question seemed to stump him and also what really happened here? What was the reaction?
[11:25:01]Plus as President Trump gets ready to decide on how many troops to keep in Afghanistan, does he want to add additional troops to Afghanistan? That's a big question just as a major attack happens near one of the world's embassies there. Dozens and dozens are dead and hundreds injured. We'll take you there.
BOLDUAN: We have breaking news coming out of Afghanistan. CNN is learning that at least seven Americans were among the nearly 400 people hurt in a suicide bombing this morning in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The blast was just massive, one of the deadliest attacks in the Afghan capital in years. At least 80 people were killed and it seems the death toll is rising. It happened in a part of the city where all the foreign embassies are and of course, it was during the busy rush hour.
Let's get over to the Pentagon. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr is there. She has more details.