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Did Trump Completely Upend GOP's Gun Agenda; NYT: Kushner Business Got $500 Million in Loans After White House Meetings; Putin Unveils New "Invincible" Missile System; Former U.S. Ambassador Claims Sexual Harassment Rampant at State Department; Nigeria and the Slave Trade. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired March 1, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Nobody knew what to think. That was the general reaction after an extraordinary meeting on guns between President Trump and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle yesterday. And it had to do with comments like this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified.
In your bill, what are you doing about the 18 to 21?
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: We didn't change that.
TRUMP: Are you going to leave that?
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: We didn't address it, Mr. President.
TRUMP: You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president certainly didn't stop there. Not only did he call out members of his own party on live television, he also appeared to side with Democrats at times during that meeting. Now listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Diane, if you could add what you have also, and I think you can, into the bill.
TRUMP: Joe, can you do that? Can you add some of the things?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Will you help?
TRUMP: No, I'll help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, of Tennessee.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
REP. STEVE COHEN, (D), TENNESSEE: You're welcome, Wolf. Nice to be on CNN.
BLITZER: I don't know -- thank you. I don't know if you had a chance to watch that one-hour live television presentation, but do you think the president sounded more like a Democrat in that meeting?
COHEN: He sounded like a Democrat yesterday and he sounded like a Democrat on occasion during the campaign when he said nice things about Planned Parenthood. And he sounded like a Democrat when he said nice things about the DREAMers. But when it comes to the law, he's a Republican. And really not a traditional Republican. He's a Trumper.
BLITZER: He was ready to challenge the NRA on some pretty sensitive issues. That, I assume, you welcome?
COHEN: I do welcome it, and I hope it bears fruition, and I hope he finishes through on it. But he doesn't get to the finish line. He's liable to stumble.
BLITZER: I want to play another moment from that meeting yesterday, a moment that got a lot of attention. Listen to this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Take the firearms first and then go to court, because that's another system. Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures, that you could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was talking about the mentally ill, and he thinks in some cases it's better for police to simply seize the weapons before allowing due process, legal rights, if you will. What do you think the reaction would have been, for example, if President Obama had suggested the same thing?
COHEN: Well, he'd have been against it entirely and said it was wrong and you deserve due process. We were trying to pass No Fly No Buy, and we're still trying to do it. The Republicans said it gave the people on the suspected terrorist list, it denied them due process. So they're providing due process for suspected terrorists, and now Trump is not for due process for people for weapons. And that's not going to go over well at all. It was astonishing to hear him say that. But I don't think he knows what due process is. I think he thinks maybe it's a beverage, like Mountain Dew. BLITZER: Do you think there is a chance that you and your colleagues
in the House and the Senate will pass some significant gun control legislation any time soon?
COHEN: Certainly, I would hope so. And I was pleased that Democrats went there, and they did what they needed to do to put the ideas forward on common-sense universal background checks and changing the age and for buying assault weapons and other proposals. But when it gets down to it, I doubt Republicans will put it on the open floor with an open bill to allow amendments, because things might pass that they wouldn't want to have happen. And when it gets time for Paul Ryan and the Rules Committee, the NRA will rule, and I don't think we'll have much to vote on. But I certainly hope we will. Trump sounded good yesterday. But getting Paul Ryan and the Republicans to have a vote will be much, much more difficult.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. As you know, the "New York Times" is now reporting that his family's real estate business secured more than $500 million in loans after Kushner held meetings at the White House with some of those lenders who participated. What's your reaction to that?
COHEN: What a coincidence. It's just amazing, you know, that these things could happen, that people could meet with Kushner, who is an owner of those companies, benefit the profits from it, and then they make these tremendous loans outside the ordinary. It's a conflict of interest. The White House should be beyond approach, like Caesar's wife, and they're not. They invite criticism. And it started with President Trump not divesting himself of profits from his Trump corporation.
One of the reason we filed our impeachment resolution was because of violations of Trump on the Emollients Clause, both domestic and foreign. Domestic, you're not supposed to earn more money than you do as the president. And foreign is you're supposed to go to Congress before earning money from foreign potentates. Trump did neither. He set the either low bar or low bar for members of his family and his administration to follow. And Kushner's followed directly in conflicts of interest.
There is an influence, and you can buy influence in this White House, and that notice has been put out. Manafort took the job running the campaign and said he didn't want any money. He needed influence and the money he could get through the oligarchs' and I'm sure that was responsible for the Republican platform to allow weapons for the Ukraine government, defensive weapons and taking that out, was something he got paid for. Same thing for Kushner.
The salary is chicken feed. It's what you can make out of the job. It's called a grifter. There was a movie about it, Melanie Griffith, great movie. Sad story. We have grifters in the White House today.
[13:35:50] BLITZER: The president points out is son-in-law, Jared Kushner, doesn't take a federal government salary in his job as the president's senior adviser. Just a little nugget there. Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you for joining us.
COHEN: You're welcome, Wolf. Have a good one.
BLITZER: You, too.
Coming up, a retired U.S. ambassador calls out the State Department, vowing sexual harassment has been running rampant there for years.
Plus, a show of nuclear force today in Russia as President Putin develops a nuclear missile that he claims is capable of hitting anyplace on the planet.
[13:40:33] BLITZER: President Vladimir Putin is boasting that Russia has created a new, quote, "invincible missile system." Putin showed this demo of his new weapons during his annual address today. He said the missiles can reach anywhere in the world, are able to evade air defense systems and will render NATO completely useless. President Trump hasn't commented yet, but a U.S. official says there is considerable doubt about Putin's claims.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, who is joining us live from Moscow.
Matthew, what is Putin's goal in making this assertion?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting because the video you just played sounded like it was from the 1990s and the rhetoric sounded like he was from the 1980s. It's being interpreted like that, of course, from over where you are.
But you have to remember that this is a political season in Russia, that Vladimir Putin in 17 days from now, is going to the electorate, and he wants to show himself as a strong candidate who cares about the Russian military, much like President Trump does in the United States. I think the interpretation here is this was primarily directed at a domestic audience, to say, look, we are mighty again, once again, on the nuclear stage and on the international stage.
But of course, there were other messaging in this as well. He was criticizing the United States. It was also intended to be a sort of warning to the United States not to further encroach on Russia's interests on the international arena. I think that was probably heard loud and clear in the United States as well.
And those missiles that he was talking about, extraordinary stuff. High hypersonic missiles, which travel 20 times the speed of sound. An underwater drone that was capable of carrying a nuclear device. Another cruise type missile that he said had no range limitations that could quite literally go on forever until it hit its target. It's science fiction stuff that Vladimir Putin was talking about. Military analysts have suggested that it might or might not be ready for deployment right now, to say the least. But nevertheless, the messaging was loud and clear -- Wolf? BLITZER: Certainly, was.
Thank you, Matthew, very much. Matthew Chance, in Moscow.
We also have brand new reporting on CNN. The reporting includes a now retired U.S. ambassador who is calling out what she describes as persistent sexual harassment over at the State Department.
Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She broke the story.
Elise, tell us more about the person making these accusations and what exactly they entail.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're talking about recently retired ambassador, Leslie Bassett, who writes a very damning article for the State Department's "Foreign Service Journal." That's the union of State Department employees. In their journal, a very damning story about a culture of what she says is permissiveness and persistent sexual harassment over her decades-long career at the State Department.
Just one anecdote that she writes and talks to CNN about, talking about early in her career where she rebuffs a male superior. I want to quote from the story she told us. He, quote, "showed up uninvited at my home on his birthday, unexpectedly stuck his tongue in my mouth, and assumed we would have sex as his present. When I declined, I was excluded from meetings and professional opportunities as he very publicly shunned me at both official and private events. I told no one."
And, Wolf, Ambassador Bassett goes on to talk about several instances in her career where she faced advances by her superior. She was rebuffed and felt like that hurt her career.
Inspired by the "Me Too" movement, she looked at what she calls a persistent culture at the State Department of sexual harassment. More than 225 cases reported last year here at the State Department. And it's something that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has taken personal attention, Wolf, in trying to change the culture. He's making sure that every case comes to his desk. he wants to be informed about it and wants to increase training here at the State Department. He says he has zero tolerance policy -- Wolf?
[13:44:58] BLITZER: Elise, thank you very much. Elise Labott with that reporting for us. A very disturbing story.
Up next, an exclusive look at Nigeria's slave trade. CNN takes all of us inside one man's journey to freedom, and why the fight for survival is far from over.
BLITZER: Men and women bought and sold. It may be hard to believe, but modern-day slavery exists. Last year, our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, and her team uncovered a slave market in Libya. Now they have traveled to Nigeria. For many, it is the first stop on a hellish trafficking trip to Europe. Nima introduces us to a man saved from the slave trade only to return to a life where every day is a struggle.
[13:50:13] NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This town in Nigeria is the trafficking capital of the country. It is one of the most trafficked from departure points in the whole continent. It is where tens of thousands of young people, men and women, head off for their dream of Europe. It is also where tens of thousands of them are returned to with that dream shattered. And today, we're hoping to meet one of those returnees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ELBAGIR (voice-over): The last time we saw Victory, he was lying on the floor of a Libyan detention center, just rescued from slavery, begging to be sent back home. Now he is back in Nigeria. But has he found his happy ending?
(on camera): How do you feel coming back here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people lost their lives over there. So I am happy that I didn't lose my life. I am back home now so I can also take another step, so I'm happy.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Victory is responsible for his mother and three younger siblings.
His mother says she is too embarrassed to show her face on camera, too embarrassed to admit her family was desperate enough that her son risked everything to try and make his way to Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also have the children to take care of so just to see what I can do for myself. Even where I am working now, if I get three thousand Naira a day, I have to split it into three. When I go to work, I don't even eat. If I eat from that money, there will be nothing left for me. Maybe if I want to eat dinner, maybe once, that should be in the evening. So that is just it. If I was to come here and eat with them when there is no much food to eat, so I just have to face everything on my own. So left me see what I can do for myself. So I'm happy at work, even though the pay is not good.
ELBAGIR: Victory is homeless, afraid to burden his mother with his presence, another mouth for her to feed.
If anything, Victory says their life now is worse since his return from Libya. But that doesn't mean he is giving up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because everything I do is because of them. I believe that I have to be somebody tomorrow. I have to do something with my life, things will go my way. Just move on with my life, that's it.
ELBAGIR (on camera): After we did interview with you in Libya, a lot of people said they thought you were a hero for having survived what you survived. Do you feel like you're a hero?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am happy that I am alive today to face tomorrow see what I can get for myself.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): How many more like Victory will attempt the journey to Europe? Thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. Many returning to a poverty they say is even more dehumanizing than the horrors they faced down in Libya.
Victory is convinced that his will be a happy ending. That, like he did in Libya, he will again find the strength to survive.
BLITZER: Nima is joining us live from London.
Nima, that is a heart-wrenching report. What is being done to stop human trafficking in Nigeria?
ELBAGIR: In Nigeria, what the government is trying to do is essentially create livelihoods. And that is extraordinarily difficult because, while there is exploitation, the system has to have something to feed off. So when these brokers send out representatives, essentially, almost like touting for trade, into these communities, and they say we can get you to Europe, we can get you a better life, what the Nigerian government are attempting to do is to give them a reason to turn around and say, no, I have a good enough life here. But you saw what Victory has returned home to. Right now, that is not people's reality on the ground, Wolf. And it is a heartbreaking, heartbreaking situation.
BLITZER: And there are many just like him, right?
[13:55:00] ELBAGIR: Yes. The Nigerian authorities are actually reached out to us since that report went out to say that they are trying hard to work with Victory, to give him a livelihood, to train him. But everyone wants more. Every kid wants more. They want to be able to dream, they want to think that they can have a big future, and that is not what is available to him.
And I think it is really important to remind our viewers that, right now, it is not just people like Victory who are suffering. Inside Libya, right now, what we showed you back in November, that is still happening. The slave trade, the exploitation, that is all still happening.
BLITZER: Nima, thanks so much for your outstanding reporting.
And congratulations on winning the prestigious Royal Television Society Award --
ELBAGIR: Thank you.
BLITZER: -- for scoop of the year for your incredible reporting on slave trafficking in Libya, another outstanding award.
Nima Elbagir, thank you so much.
More news coming up here on CNN. As chaos ensues at the White House, we're on standby for a White House press briefing.
Our breaking news coverage continue right after a quick break.