Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Expected to Withdraw from Paris Climate Deal; Trump Slams Russia Investigation as "Witch Hunt"; Poll: Many Americans Think GOP Plan will Cost More. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, the nuts and bolts, this was a landmark agreement.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

HARLOW: They couldn't reach it in Copenhagen in 2009. They did it in Paris in 2015. What does it mean to pull out?

LABOTT: Well, it's a big deal to pull out and the U.S. was really the leader of this agreement that was established in 2015 at the climate change conference in Paris. You had 147 countries that ratified this agreement. It aimed to limit the rise of global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius which is a big, significant drop and countries must submit emissions assessments every five years and requires countries to establish at least $100 billion in kind of climate-related financing to make sure that some of these regulations are met by 2020.

And the fact that the U.S. also the largest emitter of carbon emissions said -- was committing to 26 to 28 percent drop -- by 2025. That is huge. And so, this won't really roll back the whole agreement for all of the other countries, but it could have a real ripple effect to other countries who are only starting now to get serious about climate change that they might start to waffle on their commitments.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Many European leaders, you know, against the U.S. pulling out, many business leaders to get to, as well and also people within the president's own administration.

LABOTT: That's right. You have Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who even as the chairman of Exxon was for this agreement and also Defense Secretary Mattis all arguing that there are national security implications for this and not to mention the foreign policy implications. The U.S. was really a leader in this field and it's going to really be seen around the world that you've already seen in Europe. That people saying we can't count on the United States not only to lead, but to abide by its agreements. It's really consequential, I think, in terms of the president's diplomatic agenda.

HARLOW: They're already speaking out. Angela Merkel, before this decision, said it was very disappointing. Her climate talks with the president. Now, what she's going to say, that it does sound like he is pulling out. Thank you, Elise.

This Paris Climate Agreement is not the only thing -- by far not the only thing the president is tweeting about this morning. He also railed against what he's calling a witch hunt in terms of the Russian investigation that moves closer and closer to summon his inner circle.

A source confirming to CNN that fired national security adviser Michael Flynn has agreed to hand over a first round of documents that have been subpoenaed by Congress.

BERMAN: While that's happening, the president's personal attorney is slamming the investigation calling it a total fishing expedition and that's going on as the White House refuses to confirm or deny whether President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner pursued a secret back channel to Vladimir Putin.

I want to bring in CNN Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill or I guess in our Washington bureau. Phil, Congress pushing very, very hard here, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, guys. I think what's important about this week right now is you're starting to get a sense of the contours of the two, both the House Intelligence investigation and the Senate Intelligence investigation. Now, we've known they've been working behind the scenes for a number of months, but if you start with the House Intelligence Committee investigation, obviously, they had a lot of problems early on.

This week, we're starting to find out who they're reaching out to initially in the Trump orbit. As you noted, Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, said he received an inquiry from the committee. He rejected their request for answers to certain questions but later acknowledged through my colleague Gloria Borger, that were he subpoenaed he would be more than happy to come and speak because he, quote, "has nothing to hide." However, he noted that he believed that it was a total "fishing expedition." You also have Boris Epshteyn, who is a senior adviser during the campaign, also worked at the White House for a little bit. His lawyer says he has also been contacted.

An interesting element here, guys, is the president's tweet this morning about Carter Page saying that the Democrats don't want to talk to him. That's not necessarily what we've been hearing. Carter Page kind of floated his own testimony date which according to the people I was speaking to on the committee wasn't actually a confirmed testimony date. So, there's a little bit of confusion here about what he's actually talking about and even more confusion because the White House for the better part of the last six months has disavowed any knowledge or relationship with Carter Page whatsoever.

Now, one thing we do know from the House Intelligence Committee, guys, they have agreed on a witness list, the bipartisan witness list. So, expect to see more of these types of tidbits of news coming out in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, you switch over to the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I think this is probably the investigation that everybody's really got their eyes on right now and Michael Flynn, specifically. His rejection of a subpoena, an initial subpoena and his decision to take the Fifth Amendment and invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges has now been remedied a little bit. And here's the reason why.

The committee followed up after that initial rejection with two additional subpoenas seeking business records from two of Flynn's companies. What we are being told, according to a person familiar with the matter, is Michael Flynn will comply with those subpoenas and he will also start to provide some personal documents, as well. Now, what this means is he's essentially starting to head off a potential serious legal problem with him. Committee members have made very clear, if there was no cooperation they were, quote, "putting all options on the table and that included potential contempt of Congress."

The one wild card here, guys, is Jared Kushner. You mentioned, obviously, everything that's been going on with him.

[10:05:00] He has made very clear as has his lawyer that he's more than willing to come and speak to anybody that's investigating this on the Hill. The Senate Intelligence Committee has made it very clear that they want to speak with him. The timeline for that, when it will happen and what the format will be, those are still unanswered questions, guys.

BERMAN: Yes, big questions. All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much for being with us.

I want to talk more about all of this. Joining us, Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator, Washington Correspondent for "The New Yorker," David Chalian, CNN's political director and Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's senior political reporter.

David Chalian, first to you, on the big news of this morning, two White House officials -- two U.S. officials saying the president is expected to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Look, he ran on this. This is something that many people who voted for him took him at his word and he's following up on what was a campaign promise.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Without a doubt and running a foul of his base right now would be a really bad idea -- politically because you know his approval ratings are not great for this stage of the presidency and what you need more than anything to rehabilitate, if you're Donald Trump, is an energized base. So, to completely disenchant your base on something like this that you note, John, he promised would be politically problematic.

However, from a policy point of view, a great majority of the country actually does want to see some sort of action on climate change. So, while he is playing to his base here and while the Bannon wing of the White House clearly may win out on this argument, how he threads the needle with doing something that is potentially, very problematic with close allies that you'll need on other issues and not where a majority of the country is overall. That is work he's still going to have to do even if he's keeping his base onboard. HARLOW: Look, members of his own party have been critical about this. No question, Mitch McConnell will love this and other Republicans, but Nia, Lindsey Graham warned about it when he was on CNN on Sunday and here's his reaction to it now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But if he does withdraw, that would be a definitive statement by the president that he believes climate change is a hoax. Stay in the deal. Make it a better deal would be my advice.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And so, if he pulls out, what does that mean to you?

GRAHAM: It means that the leader of the Republican Party is in a different spot than the rest of the world. It would be taken as a statement that climate change is not a problem, not real. That would be bad for the party, bad for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You're not missing things. That was Sunday. But he said it again today Nia, he said, you know, the president thinks climate change is a hoax. So, what does the president do? He pulls out of this and then what? Does he try to negotiate a better deal? Does he just stay out?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's what's unclear, right? I mean, he's been teasing this decision really for weeks now that he was going to likely pull out. What that actually means in terms of the framework or the mechanism is really unclear. Is something else in place? It's just really unclear.

I think we do know, as David said, this is something that a good amount of people in the Republican Party, particularly the base very much wanted. They see it as a rejection, pulling out as a rejection of globalism, you know, which they see as Obama's approach to the world and too many people's approach to the world, the elite's approach to the world.

So, in that way, Donald Trump is certainly pleasing them and again, I think underscoring some of the things that he said on the campaign trail. He did say at some point that he thought that maybe a climate change was a hoax propagated by the Chinese to make American businesses less competitive, -- a lot of American businesses at this point, really want to comply with some of these emission standards and they see it as good business and they want America to be a leader in terms of this.

So, you know at some point we'll hear from the president, what he thinks about this. Sean Spicer was asked yesterday in that press conference of whether, you know, what he believed that the president's thoughts were in terms of climate change or whether or not he thought it was a hoax or believed in it. And Sean Spicer said that he didn't know. He hadn't had this conversation with the president. BERMAN: It was part of the long list of things he's never discussed with the President of the United States.

Ryan Lizza, David Chalian brings up the point that the president needs his base which may be part of the reasons he's making the decision on climate change, maybe not. But one of the reasons he needs this base is because of the Russian investigation, which at least in terms of the number of people that investigators in Congress or maybe the special counsel wants to talk to, it's getting wider and wider.

You have Boris Epshteyn. You have Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer. You have the son-in-law. You have the former campaign chairman. You have his national security adviser. It is nearly every aspect of the president's life there. You have people that investigators either want documents or to interview. What does that tell you?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT "THE NEW YORKER": It tells you that the conventional wisdom about these constant investigations is absolutely correct. Once they start, they don't stop and they tend to grow and grow.

The famous example is Whitewater. It started as a land deal in Arkansas. It ended with Monica Lewinsky's relationship with President Clinton. So, these investigations, once you have prosecutors and FBI agents combing through records, witnesses appearing before Congress you never know what thread is going to be pulled and that's why it's a mortal danger to the White House. --

[10:10:09] HARLOW: A mortal danger to the White House.

LIZZA: Yes, just the tentacles of this thing as John points out just keep growing and growing and growing.

And one thing I want to point out on the climate if this was accurate that they are going to pull out. This was a massive debate in the White House. It pitted Steve Bannon, one of his top political advisers, against Jivanka, you know, Jared and Ivanka. And you can't help but think that Jared Kushner has sort of weakened position with this investigation may have weakened him in this big policy debate.

And to me, it's another example of the United States' retreat from the world, retreat from international agreements under Trump. And you're right he did promise this to his base. But frankly, I don't think his base would care one way or another on his. I think this is something Trump could sell to his base if he actually believed in it. But this is a victory for the isolationist wing of the White House.

HARLOW: Jivanka. I knew someone was going to say Jivanka on this.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: I didn't make that up. Someone has used that before.

HARLOW: Did you make up Brangelina, too? David Chalian, in all seriousness to you, I mean, you know, Ryan talked about how big this is, how many tentacles there are now for the Russia investigation and he's right and you've got people complying now more. Michael Flynn, we learned overnight, he's going to handover these documents from his business but also, some personal documents.

How long can this White House sustain, in your opinion, answers to the tune of this is just all a witch hunt and there is no there, there, nothing to see here, folks?

CHALIAN: I mean, -- I think they can sustain that kind of posture as long as they want. I think it is at the risk of derailing the rest of their agenda. And so, I think part of - you know we've talked about staff shaking up or putting together a war room inside the White House. Part of what would help the White House, I believe, is sort of having the rapid response operation wall up because as Ryan points out, this is just -- I don't even know if this is the end of the beginning. Maybe it is the end of the beginning.

But this is -- this story, this investigation is going to be with them in daily headlines and press coverage for the better part of this year well into next year, perhaps. And so, they've got to come up with some plan to deal with that in a way that doesn't allow them to be completely consumed by it with regard to the rest of their agenda and I think that is their biggest on structural challenge right now.

BERMAN: Look, you know, Jared Kushner hasn't spoken publicly ever as far as we know, but hasn't answered questions on this. James Comey hasn't testified about the memos. That hasn't happened yet. So, your note about whether this is, you know, the end of the beginning you know is well taken, David. There's a lot more to come here.

You know, Nia, specifically on Jared Kushner, specifically this week. That seems like a primary area of focus when you have some who happens to be a senior adviser to the president who is also his son-in-law. Who is - you know, people want to talk to him about these key meetings, that the White House doesn't even begin to comment on it. Does this get beyond legal and just more of senior U.S. official needs to give an explanation to the American people about what he did in these meetings?

HENDERSON: You would think and he has said that he is certainly willing to folks, who are interested in talking to him while on the Senate side of this, but a very odd kind of position for Jared Kushner to be in, the focus of this FBI investigation, the Mueller investigation. And also, you know, typically with White House aides Americans are sort of familiar with him.

They've become familiar with him through campaigns. You think about David Axelrod. You think about people like -- very much present on television and in interviews and with Jared Kushner at this point, people are familiar with him from pictures of him in the White House often looking shell shocked and boyish and sort of wide-eyed in many of those pictures.

And so, at some point you imagine that he's obviously going to talk to folks on the Senate who are looking into his role in these meetings that he apparently had about establishing back channels with the Russian government. We don't know what that will look like. Will it be public? Will it some point he want to sit down with someone else? You know a journalist and talk about this? It's certainly something we haven't seen and a lot of people are obviously interested in it.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Thank you very much, Nia-Malika Henderson, David Chalian and Ryan Lizza.

We have a lot ahead this hour, this morning. The GOP, push for a health care overhaul. Do Americans want it? There is a fascinating new study that brings that all into question. Also --

BERMAN: A bomb rips through Kabul this morning during the rush, killing at least 80 people, hundreds more injured. We'll have the latest there.

And comedienne Kathy Griffin apologizing after facing fierce backlash over an incredibly in poor taste tweet and video that she filmed. And this morning, the president is responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:18:59] BERMAN: All right. It's a phrase that the president used again and again on the campaign trail, "America First." And this morning, you are seeing signs of what he meant by it.

HARLOW: After scolding U.S. allies during his first trip overseas. National security adviser H.R. McMaster and national economic council director Gary Cohn coming to his defense in an op-ed this morning in "The Wall Street Journal," writing, "America First does not mean America alone. The world is not a global community but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength."

Let's talk about that and a lot more. Joining us now is Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It's nice to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

REP. GERRY CONNOLY (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Great to be with you this morning.

HARLOW: Before we get to that opinion piece in "The Wall Street Journal," let me just get your reaction to our reporting from two U.S. officials who say indeed the president has decided to pull this country out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

[10:20:02] CONNOLLY: I think it's a tragic retreat. You don't make America great again by retreating. And you know, consensus is one thing, but essentially we now stand with two countries, Nicaragua and Syria in pulling out of the Paris Agreement. We've almost never had the kind of near-universal scientific consensus and political consensus in the history of humanity on the issue of global warming and climate change. And for the United States to pull out, jeopardizes relations in terms of our allies, confounds the world in terms of whether we're a faithful signatory to an agreement. And frankly, from a science point of view, it's going to do a lot of damage in pretending climate change isn't real and the consequences that follow up from that are very real.

BERMAN: We said conservative commentator Matt Lewis on this, who noted, he doesn't think it's a good deal. The president thinks he can get a better deal. Do you think it's possible? He can get a better deal for the United States?

CONNOLLY: With whom would he negotiate? Our allies are absolutely apoplectic about this, you know win about the Neanderthal wing of the White House in turning their backs in science. Why would they want to sit down and negotiate a better deal? What is a better deal? A better deal, apparently from their point of view, seems to be let's deny that global warming is happening in the first place. Nobody is going to agree to that.

HARLOW: So what about the assessment? There are different assessments about this agreement and what it would mean for U.S. jobs, but there is one that conservatives point to, that our Christine Romans reported on early this morning, that does say -- what is outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement would cost 6 million U.S. jobs.

Again, that is one economist's perspective on this, but this is something the president ran on and he ran especially in states that rely on these energy jobs. He said this was going to happen all along and the argument conservatives make is that there has to be a better deal that doesn't cost the United States so many jobs. Do you see any merit in that argument?

CONNOLLY: I really don't. I think that's fake news at its very essence.

HARLOW: What's fake news about that, Congressman?

CONNOLLY: Promising to bring back, for example, coal jobs. He can't deliver on that. There's no market for it. The world is turning to alternative sources of energy on its own. Gas prices are low. Renewable energy has enormous promise in terms of job growth. We already have more jobs than wind power in America than we do in the coal industry.

So, what are they talking about? We are actually creating jobs, as we try to embrace the concept of climate change in a positive way. This just sets us back, you know, for at least this four-year period and no good comes out of it and that's a false promise if there ever was one.

BERMAN: Can I shift gears with you, Congressman, and talk to you in your role as a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee and talk to you about Thomas Ricks who is just a terrific reporter and writer about military and foreign policy issues.

He is someone that H.R. McMaster, General McMaster actually talked to before accepting the national security adviser role in the White House and Thomas Ricks was originally supportive, saying it would help to have someone of General McMaster's caliber inside. Now, Thomas Ricks is saying, he doesn't think he should stay there.

Let me read you what he wrote. -

CONNOLLY: Right.

BERMAN: He said, "I no longer believe in the adults in the room theory of containing President Trump. I worry that having people like McMaster around Trump simply enables Trump. So I think that McMaster should step down-not just for his own good, but for the good of the country."

How do you feel about that?

CONNOLLY: I read that piece and I have read -- I think all of Thomas Ricks' books and he is a very respected journalist when it comes to the military, the American military. I have to take that piece very seriously.

I do think people like McMaster's are risking their solid reputation for integrity and credibility every day they stay in this White House because this president is an unstable force who is more than willing to pull the rug out from underneath you calling into question your integrity. And I think that's a real problem. I think that's what Ricks is getting at.

HARLOW: He's getting at two things. Aside from what it does to McMaster's own reputation, he also says, here an important part of this is that he says, it's actually better for the country not to have sort of the protective shield of someone with a lot of credibility like McMaster around him. That gives the president a little bit more leverage and credibility when dealing with our allies and adversaries.

Do you agree with Ricks' assessment that it's better for the country as a whole if McMaster and some of those others were to leave?

CONNOLLY: I think that would suggest a level of cynicism I don't subscribe to. Remember how McMaster got there. He was replacing a far worse alternative and that was a General Michael Flynn who apparently was colluding with the Russians and lying about it.

So, I think we needed a McMaster. I'm glad he's there and I certainly don't want to see people of integrity with great experience and I hope sound judgment leaving the administration, so that people of questionable character and judgment like Michael Flynn replace him.

[10:25:14] BERMAN: Michael Flynn apparently lied about his conversations with the Russians --

CONNOLLY: That's right.

BERMAN: -- to Mike Pence whether or not it was collusion. That's a discussion for many, many future shows. Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, thank you so much. HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: We really do appreciate your time.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: All right. President Trump, he promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. The problem is, the new polls says that most Americans think that the Republican health care plan as it stands right now will leave them worse off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right. This morning, the president on Twitter urging Republicans to pass a new health care bill, but a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that more and more people are not that optimistic about the House version of the bill that was passed. 49 percent view Obamacare favorably compared to 31 percent who view the House bill favorably. Only 16 percent think the cost will be better under the GOP health care bill.