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AT THIS HOUR
First White House Briefing in Weeks to Cover School Shooting, Mueller Probe, Alleged Trump Affairs; Trump Tweets on Rachel Crooks Allegation; Nikki Haley Unleashes on Palestinian President; Donald Jr.'s Trip to India Raises Ethical Questions; Mueller Expands Focus on Jared Kushner; Trump Attacks Obama over Russian Meddling. Aired 11:30- 12p ET
Aired February 20, 2018 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: But also, what is the White House's response to those 13 indictments of the Russians from the special counsel on Friday, as well as the question still surrounding the security clearance process here at the White House, not only the travel that has come under scrutiny of his -- some of his cabinet secretaries, including the EPA, but several things like that. Also the alleged payout to the porn star who said she had an affair with the president, as well as the allegation from a former Playboy playmate who said she also had an affair with the president. There will be a lot of questions today facing the press secretary -- Brianna?
CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. We have that list there, Kaitlan.
The president has been tweeting this morning. He is adding to some of the noise here. There is a tweet -- one of these tweets is about a "Washington Post" report on one of the 19 women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. Tell us about that.
COLLINS: That's right. The woman is Rachel Crooks. And the president tweeted about her today because her story -- this is not first time she told it, but it was on the front page of "The Washington Post." Her concern was her story wasn't getting enough attention. And now the president has tweeted about it because, this morning, he wrote, "A woman I don't know, and to the best of my knowledge never met, is on the front page of 'The Washington Post' saying I kissed her two minutes in the lobby of Trump Tower 12 years ago." He says it never happened. And he asked the question, "Who would do this in a public space with live security?"
Now, I should note that Rachel Crooks made this allegation against the president before that he forcefully kissed her. She said it was in the lobby in the 24th floor of Trump Tower, not in the general lobby. But the president is asking, who would do this in a public place with security footage.
But I should note that Rachel Crooks has called on the president to release the footage from that day, from the 24th floor, something he has not responded to.
And, Brianna, I would like to read a quote from the president where he's on tape in 2005 saying automatically attracted to beautiful women. "I just start kissing them. It is like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you to it. You can do anything."
Those are the words from the president's own mouth. And, Brianna, you can bet it is one more thing that the press secretary is going to be asked about at the briefing this afternoon.
KEILAR: Yes, we do expect that.
Kaitlan Collins, we know you'll be watching that. Thank you.
Joining me to discuss now, we have CNN political commentator and former senior communication adviser for the Trump campaign, Jason Miller, with us, and also CNN political commentator and former Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner.
I think we can all agree, it is going to be a really busy briefing and there is so much to cover.
I wonder, Jason, you know, if this were last week, there would have been certainly outstanding questions -- we may still see them today -- about Rob Porter, and security clearance, and John Kelly and Don McGahn and how all of this was handled. In light of the week we have had, how would you, if you were advising the Trump White House, how would you advise them to deal with those kinds of questions in light of talking about gun violence, and these other issues that we expect at the briefing today.
JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is very important that Sarah opens up the briefing, reminding everyone of the human tragedy from last week. Before the reporters take it down the angle of becoming too politicized, we have 17 young people and a coach killed, others in the hospital, I would always -- I would have the -- Sarah go out there and say, remind people the president went and met with first responders and victims. This is important because this will devolve into a political scrum -- that's the nicest way to go and say it -- to go and remind people of the message that the president wants to tell, to go through and talk about the small business confidence, the low unemployment rate, to push the positive economic numbers we're seeing now because it doesn't seem many people want to talk about that. That's an important message. If I were Sarah, I would start off on talking some of those. Once the questions open up, you won't get the opportunity to do much of that.
KEILAR: Talk about the economy before you talk -- before you get to the questions on gun violence?
MILLER: So I would start off at the very top.
KEILAR: Gun violence?
MILLER: Again, addressing the human tragedy that we saw. I think this is also an opportunity in the beginning to talk about what the administration might do, whether there is a commission or a group they put together to look at background checks. We saw the comments from the vice president a couple of days ago saying this would be a major priority for the administration. And I think this is also something where the administration can lead on this issue because, again, there were some massive red flags here that the FBI missed, the DCF missed in Florida, and we can't have all these red flags going off and no one doing anything about it.
KEILAR: Nina, there were still questions when it comes to Rob Porter, what the White House knew, whether they should have taken action, why he was allowed a security clearance. But when you're looking at this from your perspective, would you like the White House talking about that or do you want to see a focus more on guns, and gun violence and how to deal with solving what is almost -- which is a very difficult problem in the wake of the shooting.
[11:35:01] NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They definitely need to focus on the tragedy that happened in Parkland, Florida, no doubt about it. This is not -- I think Jason is giving some sage advice to Sarah. For me, it would be just primarily to focus in on that and show the political leadership and the courage that is necessary to deal with this and not to be -- to have your officials quoted even though it was off the record, saying this is a welcome reprieve. They say the same thing about the shooting that happened in Las Vegas. We have children in this country, we have teenagers in this country showing more leadership than the White House has shown on this issue. And it is not just this current White House, even in the past the Congress has lacked the moral courage, the intestinal fortitude to do what is necessary to have common sense gun legislation that is strong enough to help ameliorate, we know it can't stop every single one, but to help ameliorate. The Congress can run, but they can't hide. Too many of them are bought, lock stock with the NRA and the Second Amendment has become the absolute amendment that is greater and more important than all other amendments. And it doesn't matter if it is Columbine, doesn't matter if it is Parkland, doesn't matter if it is Sandy Hook, it doesn't matter if it is happening in urban communities, the NRA gets what they want and --
KEILAR: Can you respond, Jason, to something Nina said, which is the "Washington Post" reporting a quote from inside the White House of someone who said in a way that this took the pressure off of some of those -- of the Russia investigation, of some of the other difficult topics for the White House when this shooting happened.
MILLER: That's obviously something you never want to say, whether that be on the record or off the record. I think --
KEILAR: Or think it, right?
MILLER: Or even think it.
KEILAR: It is ridiculous.
MILLER: I think whoever said that is probably kicking themselves really bad now. I doubt they genuinely view it as a reprieve. They're coming off of getting hit all the time and it slows down. I think it was just something that they shouldn't have said.
I want to go back to something the Senator said a moment ago, too. We talk about the overall issue of background checks and what we do about this increase in violence. You're absolutely right, it is not just the tragedy that we saw in Parkland, what we see in our urban centers. There are kids getting killed, the city of Chicago, every single day. But we're not talking about it enough in the media for what is going on. That's where I would like to see more of a comprehensive approach, especially -- I think this is something that the vice president really can probably lead on, and say, OK, we got to make sure we're keeping guns out of the hands of bad people, doing bad things, because too many innocents are being killed and hurt.
TURNER: Close the gun show loophole is one thing they can do. And also, Brianna, just really coming to grips with why the NRA has such a stranglehold on our elected officials in this country that no amount of death and carnage can prevent.
MILLER: And --
TURNER: And stop the stranglehold.
MILLER: And one other thing too, I think, you know, I've said this before, I think there is some societal things going on as well.
TURNER: No doubt about it.
MILLER: We look at, say, the A.R.-15, a gun that has been around since 1964. There haven't been major technological advances with this gun, but we only have seen it in recent years where it is being used. I think we talk about the impact of things like video games in society, these first-person shooter games, we look at the way that social media has changed the way kids are being brought up, chat rooms and people getting value from tweets and likes and all these kids not being able to --
MILLER: -- that's something that's going on with kids today that I think -
TURNER: A 19-year-old should never be able to -- we need to look at that. If you can't buy alcohol until you're 21 --
KEILAR: We're out of time. But it is going to be interesting because Florida is looking at that very issue.
TURNER: Yes. KEILAR: It seems like it might be something taken up at the state.
Nina Turner, Jason Miller, thank you to both of you. Appreciate this discussion.
Moments ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, spoke at the Security Council meeting, unleashed some biting remarks towards Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We are fully prepared to look to a future of prosperity and co-existence. We welcome you as the leader of the Palestinian people here today. But I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator. I will not shut up. Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths.
The Palestinian leadership has a choice to make between two different paths. There is the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric and incitement to violence. That path has led and will continue to lead to nothing but hardship for the Palestinian people. Or there is the path of negotiation and compromise. History has shown that path to be successful for Egypt and Jordan, including the transfer of territory. That path remains open to the Palestinian leadership, if only it is courageous enough to take it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: And there, the audience, apparently, that it was meant for,
Richard Roth at the U.N. for us.
What do you make of this speech by U.N. Ambassador Haley, Richard?
[11:40:17] RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: If you had any doubt where the relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinians stand, there you go. President Abbas of the Palestinians had left the chamber. He was not there to hear Ambassador Haley's remarks, which said, in effect, turn to President Abbas and have these words for him. He also left before the Israeli ambassador.
Look, the U.S. and the Palestinians have had bad relations at times, things get patched up. But right now, the president, the Palestinians came to the U.N. looking for help, saying, look, the U.S. is not the honest broker, they want to move their capital to Jerusalem, they're cutting the funding to help the Palestinian refugees. So it is still tough talk from the United States against the Palestinians, trying to force them into peace talks and dialogue. However, the Palestinian president in his remarks said the U.S. committed an unlawful act moving the capital, things seem to be at a standstill. The Israeli ambassador said, look, there he goes, he's running out, President Abbas, he talks nicely at international chamber at the U.N., but riles up his people with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric.
Here at the United Nations, the Middle East has been on the agenda for decades with still no solution in sight -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Richard Roth, at the U.N., thank you so much, sir.
Still ahead, the president's eldest son visiting India to promote the Trump family business and gives a speech on foreign policy. Why critics are raising ethical concerns.
[11:45:48] KEILAR: Jared Kushner is not the only Trump family member facing some new scrutiny today. Donald Trump Jr, the president's eldest son, set to meet with investors and officials in India. Don Jr arriving there today using the Trump brand to sell new luxury apartments. Newspaper ads in the country touting, "Trump has arrived, have you?" Don Jr is also set to speak at a business summit in New Delhi this week, raising ethical questions about conflicts of interest.
Joining me now, we have Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
And, sir, thank you for joining us.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.
KEILAR: So the president's son now runs the Trump Organization, which has this license property in India, and it had this before the election. Now he's trying to sell those condos. You to see an issue here?
GARAMENDI: Absolutely. It is not just this. This goes on and on. This entire family is using the presidency to promote its personal business interests. We're seeing this all around the world. Last April, the president of China in Mar-a-Lago. That same evening, Ivanka gets free trademarks given to her, very valuable to her by the Chinese government. And now off to India, mixing policy with business. That is a very clear word, called corruption. Have we seen the president's tax returns yet? I don't think so. Do we know what his business interests are? We do know that he put it into a trust, and there is one sole beneficiary of that trust, and its name is Donald J. Trump, president of the United States. So the mixing of business with politics, with presidency, is rampant. And it is wrong. And it is corrupt.
KEILAR: I want to also ask you about Robert Mueller expanding his focus on Jared Kushner, to include Kushner's efforts to secure financing from China and Qatari, from Qatar, from investors in those countries. This is while he was working for the Trump transition. You called these meetings a conflict of interest. It is important to note the talks did collapse. It is important to note that if you asked observers of the president's policy, when it comes to Qatar and China, they'll say he's been pretty tough. Even so, what do you think about this? Do you think it is illegal or is this something that considering the president's foreign policy objectives in this area maybe doesn't bother you as much? GARAMENDI: Well, what does bother me is there is no bright line of
differentiation. They merge. They go back and forth. Yes, there were discussions with China. One of the major insurance companies in China that I believe is government run or at least has a very significant stake by the Chinese government. We also know that in Trump Tower is a government, Chinese government bank. We know these things. We don't know all of it. The problem is there is no bright line between the family's business operations and the government operations. There is a very important issue with regard to Qatar and the relationships between that country and the UAE and the time frame of the breakdown of the negotiations for the 666 building in New York City. We don't know all of those details. But what we do know is that the general appearance of conflict of interest is rampant within this administration. And we do know that the ethical standards are not very high. We do know that more than 2,000 times over the very first year of his presidency the president either spoke untruths or facts that simply were not accurate. So where is the truth here? Where is the line? There is no bright line differentiation. There must be.
GARAMENDI: And by the way, there is a constitutional clause that is called the Emoluments Clause.
[11:49:59] KEILAR: I do want to ask you about clearance when it comes to Jared Kushner.
KEILAR: Because John Kelly, the chief of staff, said those who have had their security clearance pending since last June will have their current clearance revoked. But Kushner's lawyer said that doesn't apply to him. Do you think it should?
GARAMENDI: Absolutely, it should. I get classified clearance information all the time on the House Armed Services Committee. That information is extremely important to the nation's security, but it also has extraordinary economic value because it looks to the future. And you can trade on that value. You can trade on that information. You could use that information to make your investments. And all of -- many -- I guess all of these international investments that the Trump Organization has, which, by the way, have not been totally listed, rely upon the goodwill and often the licenses from those countries. You said that right at the outset of this discussion, that it was a license, either from the local government, the state government or the national government of India, that allowed Trump to go forward with his facility, I believe, it's in Calcutta or New Delhi, either place. The question is, is this president using his position, is the president's family using the administration, the position of the president, to further their economic activities? The answer seems to me to be very clear. It's a yes, and it's happening in India right now. That is called corruption. In any other country -- (CROSSTALK)
KEILAR: Congressman, I'm so sorry, we're out of time. I'm going to have to leave it there.
Congressman Garamendi, thank you so much, sir, for being with us.
GARAMENDI: Thank you.
KEILAR: This morning, the president claiming he's been tougher on Russia than President Obama, but that's not true. We'll have the facts first, next.
[11:54:55] KEILAR: This morning, President Trump unleashed another round of attacks on President Obama over the previous administration's handling of Russia interference in the 2016 election. This morning the president tweeted, "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts."
Let's look at the facts, then. The White House has not taken Russia to task for its efforts to interfere in the election and the Russians have not admitted to doing anything wrong. President Obama personally warned Russian President Putin against interfering in the elections. Obama imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities. It also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two of the Kremlin's compounds in the U.S. The current administration refuses to condemn the interference and has not imposed Russian sanctions overwhelmingly approved by Congress. They just didn't impose those.
Joining me to discuss all of this is CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd. She served as a senior adviser to President Obama's national security advisor.
You served on the NSC under President Obama. What is your response to President Trump where he says that President Obama didn't do as much as he has?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's obviously completely untrue. And I think he's purposely conflating several different things. Brianna, we should have a discussion about when President Obama and the intelligence community knew about Russia's ongoing attacks. We know from the Department of Justice that that started way back in 2014. We should talk about that. We should talk about what President Obama did privately. And we should also talk about when President Obama chose to make this information public. But President Trump is purposefully lumping all of these different threats together, and in doing so, is making Russia's job a lot easier because he's sowing divisions, he's creating confusion, and he's not focusing on the ongoing live attacks.
KEILAR: All right, Samantha Vinogard, thank you for your perspective on that.
Thank you for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after a quick break.
[11:59:57] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.
A new charge from the Russia special counsel sends a message: If you lie, you will be hauled into court. Plus, your president at work.