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Trump Says North Korea Called Up Seeking Talks; Trump Praises Chinese President for Ending Term Limits; South Korean Team to Try to Broker U.S.-Pyongyang Talks; Trump Owns the Boardroom But Congress Won't Budge; Ben Carson Cancels $31K Dining Room Set Amid Ethics Questions; Mueller Probes Possible UAE Effort to Buy Influence; March 5th Deadline Nears Still No DACA Deal. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired March 4, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- for life.
(LAUGHTER AND CHEERS)
TRUMP: President for life. No, he's great, and look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day. To Beijing in a moment, but first, to our nation's capital and CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez live outside the White House.
Boris, what more can you tell us about the president's remarks?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ana. Yes. So there were two separate instances, that remark that he made about President Xi was made at a fundraiser, a victory reception gala at his Mar-a-Lago estate yesterday before he then flew to D.C. and made more joking comments at the Gridiron Dinner. It's an annual, as you said, black tie event where journalists take shots at politicians and then politicians get their chance to roast journalists.
It's not often that news breaks at this event. It's really a lighthearted affair, but some of the president's comments on North Korea are raising eyebrows and creating a kind of muddy the situation when it comes to what the president is planning on doing with the North Korean regime.
I want to read to you the president's comments now. At one point during his speech he said, quote, "I will not rule out direct talks with Kim Jong-un, I just won't. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that's his problem, not mine."
The president obviously joking, but it's what he says next you that we want you to pay attention to. He says, "By the way, a couple of days ago, they said we would like to talk, and I said, so would we, but you have to denuke, you have to denuke. So let's see what happens, maybe positive things are happening, I hope that's true. We will be meeting, and we'll see if anything positive happens."
That line, we will be meeting, is a major development, if, in fact, the United States and North Korea are meeting one-on-one to discuss potential denuclearization. The North Korea Foreign Ministry insists that is not the case. They heard the president's remarks and put out a statement of their own.
It reads in part, quote, "The United States that was terrified at the rapid development of our nuclear force has had continued to knock on the door of dialogue, now feigns an indifference and advances this or that precondition. Not being content with it, it insists that it will have dialogue only for making the DPRK abandon nuclear weapons and persists in maximum pressure until complete denuclearization is realized. That is really more than ridiculous."
The North Koreans saying it would be ridiculous to have any sort of preconditions specifically when it comes to denuclearization in order to sit down with the U.S. government.
We've asked the White House for clarify on the president's remarks because they noted it led to a lot of questions. They have yet to respond, though, Ana.
CABRERA: Boris, quickly, we are supposed to get some more details this week about the tariffs the president announced the end of last week. I'm told the president just tweeted about it, what's he saying?
SANCHEZ: Yes, the president has tweeted multiple times this weekend about these tariffs. 25 percent on imported steel, 10 percent on imported aluminum. The top trade adviser for the president, Peter Navarro, was on CNN earlier today saying that we could see these tariffs enacted before the end of the week, and the president tweeted just about an hour ago writing, quote, "We are on the losing side of almost all trade deals. Our friends and enemies have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years. Our steel and aluminum industries are dead. Sorry, it's time for a change. Make America great again."
So, though we've heard a number of Republican lawmakers and even some of the president's closest advisers advise against this idea of tariffs, the president appears to be digging in his heels -- Ana.
CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you.
Let's talk more about how President Trump is reacting to the bold move by China's president to end term limits.
I want to go to CNN's Will Ripley live in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Will, first, talk to us about today's big event there.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is just massive in scope, Ana. This is just one of many rows of busses carrying almost 3,000 delegates who are going to be entering the building over here. This is the Great Hall of the People where China's National People's Congress is set to get underway.
You can see it's obviously a colorful event. You see these women in their regional costumes. There's a lot of -- it's almost like a carnival-like atmosphere here. But one thing that they're not really talking about in the Chinese state-controlled media or on social media because it's being censored, as well as CNN, our broadcast being censored, is the fact that in the coming days in this building they're going to make a massive and controversial change to China's presidential term limits.
Ever since 1982, China has limited presidential terms two to five-year terms, but now Xi Jinping, the current authoritarian president, perhaps the most powerful ruler in China since Mao Zedong, he is eliminating term limits which essentially means that he might be able to rule for life. And anybody in China who has voiced their opposition to this on social media, well, their voices are silenced. Terms are banned from the Internet.
[20:05:01] The government blacking out CNN signal, even security officers stopping us earlier as we were reporting from Tiananmen Square about this topic. And so you see, obviously, there's a celebratory mood here, Ana. But this is an authoritarian, heavy- handed country that is now apparently getting the backing of President Trump.
President Trump saying that he thinks it's a great thing that Xi Jinping will not be handing over power peacefully, but instead grabbing on to power for life, even saying that it's something he might want to do. Whether it's a joke or not, people listening around the world take the words of the president of the United States very seriously, and obviously it's a shot in the arm for the Communist Party to get that kind of positive message from President Trump and incredibly disheartening for the people here in China who would want to see a move towards more democracy, not a move towards strong handed authoritarian dictatorship.
CABRERA: Will Ripley, thank you so much for that report. Again, live in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Now some breaking news, the North Korean and South Korean area. The South Korea special delegation to visit North Korea tomorrow, according to reports, to try to broker talks or dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. Now this is all according to North Korea's state-run media. This weekend, President Trump says North Korea, quote, "called up and would like to talk with the U.S." but that the rogue nation would have to denuke first as Boris Sanchez reported.
Let's talk it over with Josh Rogin, a "Washington Post" columnist and CNN political analyst.
Josh, what are you hearing about this South Korean delegation? Will they meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So these are reports coming out of the South Korean press, a top level delegation led by a special envoy for President Moon. It's set to go to Pyongyang and direct flights it's very rare. It's unknown whether or not they're going to meet with Kim Jong-un, but what they've said is that after they go to Pyongyang, they're going to come to Washington to meet with the Trump administration to tell them what happened and to see if they can't get U.S.-North Korea talks together.
Now this is not the first time we've talked about that. I was with Mike Pence, the vice president, when he was in Pyeongchang and he almost met with the North Koreans, but the North Koreans pulled out at the last minute.
This may be what President Trump was talking about. He might have gotten North Korea mixed up with South Korea. It's really impossible to know because he says a lot of crazy stuff that doesn't make any sense, but if this is what he means when he says they called up and we will be meeting soon, he could be referring to a meeting with the South Korean's president envoy who's on its way to Pyongyang tomorrow.
CABRERA: And the president says, but no meeting, no talks without denuclearization. He knows North Korea will not give up their nuclear arsenal. So why even signal openness to dialogue?
ROGIN: Yes, it's kind of strange because I got a lot of more information from, like, the North Korean Foreign Ministry's statement on this than I did from the White House this weekend, and what they said is that the White House is trying to put a precondition on talks, and that precondition is that those talks must be about denuclearization.
This is not a new position for the White House. It actually makes a lot of sense when the North Koreans say that, so when the president says, oh, they have to denuke, that's probably, again, maybe what he's talking about, but Vice President Pence was willing to meet with the North Koreans to have talks about talks, no preconditions.
They can talk about the weather, according to Security of State Rex Tillerson. These talks can happen. Eventually they're going to have to get to the issue of denuclearization. That's where the problem is. But just to sit down, just to have talks about talks without preconditions, I think that's something both sides can agree on if they can make it happen.
CABRERA: I mean, this is a very far cry from the fire and fury rhetoric we heard from President Trump last year. Why the shift?
ROGIN: I mean, he goes back and forth and back and forth. It was only two weeks ago that he said, standing next to the Australian prime minister, that if they don't strike a deal, we're going to have to go to phase two and he made it pretty clear that phase two means a preemptive strike or preventive strike on North Korea by the U.S. military which, you know, is a crazy catastrophic move that would probably throw the region, if not the world into horrendous disaster, so he's giving both messages.
He's open to talk and he's open to bombing them, all right, and the only thing we can really say for sure is that he hasn't made a decision. He might talk with them, he might be bomb them. There's a lot of people in the administration working on either side of that to make sure that he does one or the another.
You know, as a columnist, I've argued in the "Washington Post" repeatedly that we should talk to them, not bomb them, but President Trump doesn't seem particularly committed to one or the other. He's going to see how it plays out and he's definitely leaving both options open to himself.
CABRERA: Do you think the Winter Olympics in South Korea was a turning point?
ROGIN: It was, it was. Because, you know, you have the North Korea and you have the United States, and in between them, you have South Koreans. The South Korean president has been working very hard to make something happen to avoid war and get some sort of talks going, and he did at the Olympics. That was his opportunity, and he saw an opening and he took it.
Now we're in the aftermath of that opening to see if he can take that Olympic engagement and turn it into something real. We don't know yet. He's trying very hard, right? It's going to take a lot of delicate diplomacy, it's going to take a lot of willingness to show a little bit of flexibility on both sides, both by the North Koreans and by the United States.
[20:10:06] It might not work out, right? What doesn't help is for the president of the United States to be threatening to bomb them or putting up, saying things that don't make any sense and scaring everybody or just saying that he's open to talk about it, explaining what he means. It's a delegate dance that the three sides are doing, and the president is simply not delicate and it's making everything a lot more difficult and that's a big problem.
CABRERA: Not delicate, that's a very nice --
ROGIN: I should mention that our top diplomat who deals with this resigned last week. We don't have an ambassador to South Korea, we don't have a secretary for Asia.
ROGIN: So this whole thing which would take a lot of very smart people to do, much less do right, is hampered by the fact that on Asia policy the Trump al administration is missing in action. That's a fact.
CABRERA: Josh Rogin, thank you.
ROGIN: Any time.
CABRERA: Just ahead, a remarkable bipartisan meeting at the White House this week leaving plenty in Washington scratching their heads. But this isn't the first time President Trump has sounded, well, like a Democrat.
So will his words become action this time? We'll discuss live in the CNN NEWSROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[20:15:19] CABRERA: If you're a fan of "The Apprentice," you might have seen a familiar scene play out in Washington this week. I'm talking about this bipartisan roundtable meeting President Trump held on gun control. In it the president stunned Republican lawmakers when he seemed to side with Democrats more than his own party. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: And so just doing something on this background check issue and using that as a base and then I would like to add some of these other things we've talked about, I think would make a major difference --
TRUMP: So if you just add that to this bill, that would be great. Dianne, if you could add what you have also -- and I think you can -- into the bill.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Joe, are you ready --
TRUMP: So can you do that? Joe, can you do that? Can you add some of the things? You're not going to agree with --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You help.
TRUMP: You know, I'll help, but can you add what Amy and what Dianne have -- can we add to them? And I know you can add what John --
KLOBUCHAR: Yes. I have another domestic violence bill that's very narrow and it's about dating partners and number of states have just enacted it.
TRUMP: I would say this, we're going to get it passed. We're going to get it passed. If you can add domestic violence paragraphs, pages into this bill, I'm all for it. I think it's terrific if you can do it. It can be done. That can be done, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: What do you think? Sounds familiar? Maybe you remember this similar "Apprentice"-style meeting on immigration legislation in January?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital because this should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love, truly. It should be a bill of love and we can do that. We do this properly, DACA, you're not so far away from comprehensive immigration reform, and if you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I'll take all the heat you want to give me.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: With me now, CNN political analyst, David Drucker, Karoun Demerjian and April Ryan. David is a senior political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Karoun is a congressional reporter for the "Washington Post," and April is a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.
David, these bipartisan meetings kind of play out like Trump's boardroom meetings with "The Apprentice," but at the end of the day, nothing has actually come of them. Are they nothing more than a show just like "The Apprentice"?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that they are a nice big show, and I think Trump likes to put on a show. Look, I think, and if you talk to people that have been in private meetings with Trump over the years, what they will tell you is that he's unfailingly polite, he's agreeable, and I almost think that if one of the Democrats in this meeting had asked for deed to Trump Tower, he might have said, he'll look into it.
There's a difference between meeting Trump and rally and Twitter Trump. And so in these settings, Trump is going to be very agreeable and say all sorts of things, and then what you're going to find is that his administration is going to assess and reassess and the president is going to land on these big difficult issues, more or less where he was before the meeting, and I think that's something that Republicans need to start taking into account before they agree to more meetings like this because he ends up putting them in a very difficult spot when it comes to messaging because he -- you've seen Republicans in these meetings try and get the president back to where the party is.
And it's fine if the president wants to follow through. At least you end up having a deal and you have a piece of legislation. Otherwise, what you've done is cut a bunch of ads for the Republicans' Democratic opponents, and so this sort of thing doesn't help them and it doesn't hurt the Democrats because if Trump says he's going to work with them, that's great, and if he doesn't they can say, see, he didn't want to work with us.
CABRERA: But, Karoun, who's to say the president won't follow through? The lawmakers haven't given him anything to call his bluff or not.
KAROUN DEMERJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, look this does -- uniquely, the gun control package and immigration are two things that have to happen in Congress but do need the president's buy-in to, like he was saying in that immigration meeting, take the heat off, to give Republicans some cover to go against what has been this pretty well-carved out party position for several years at this point.
With the gun control legislation, there is a debate ongoing right now, could they get to those four any sort of Manchin-Toomey style expansion of background checks, universal background checks, where they include an increase of the age. The president has also said he might endorse, even though the NRA is opposed, and his spokesperson said, you know, well, the president means that generally speaking, but maybe not specifically when we're talking about these bills.
A lot of that really does depend on this kind of -- this handshake happening between the Senate and the White House that there's an opening at that meeting that could happen, but like David was saying, we don't know that Trump is going to stick to his guns, to use a poorly chosen phrase for this conversation. Sorry.
CABRERA: No pun intended.
[20:20:02] DEMERJIAN: No pun intended. Exactly. But we don't know that he's actually going to be consistent from one week to the next. He has certainly been focusing much more strongly on trade policies since that meeting happened, and when we come back to the issue of gun control, will the president still be where he seemed to be in that meeting or will he have been pulled back by the other influences in this party?
And in his White House that remains to be seen, and that's hugely relevant when you are talking about people that might be willing to cross the aisle. This is -- you only need a few more votes to actually make some of these background check bills pass, but people don't take those votes if they feel like the president is going to campaign against them for doing so.
CABRERA: Now we know Mitch McConnell has already said we're not doing gun control in terms of putting anything on the floor for a vote this week. They're moving on to banking this week because he doesn't feel like there's not enough teeth to any kind of legislation that people can agree on.
April, the former chief of staff Reince Priebus shed a little light on how President Trump makes decisions. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He puts rivals around him intellectually. You have people like Wilbur Ross, who's going to be on your show, and Gary Cohn. And he puts those two guys in front of him and says, OK, fight out tariffs in front of me. And they fight it out. The media covers the fight, but ultimately the decision is made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: That seems very "Apprentice"-like, doesn't it?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Fighting it out in front of me. He wants to see which I guess dragon slayer wins the war. The problem is, is that when you have someone who's not in governance and who doesn't understand policy, doesn't understand legislation, and he's going to say fight it out this front of me and the best one wins?
I mean, who is to say that he knows what the best piece is or the real piece, what's real or not, versus the fake information that he's getting or what have you. The bottom line is, this president -- you know, this president is very thin when it comes to issues of legislation. This president is very thin when it comes on issues of staffing his White House. This president now is at the watershed mark where he has to figure out what to do. He has to figure out who to bring in, who really can carry the water and not play this "Apprentice"-like style game that you just said.
This is about the American people. It's not about a TV show. It's not about the studio which he like to call it now, the White House, when he has these transparent meetings. It's about the American public who need and deserve to have people there who understand the issues, even if the president may not, that can bring him information and also not only bring him information, but carry it and make a win legislatively on the Hill.
So right now this president is in a watershed mark legislatively and staff-wise, and he's got to put up or shut up.
CABRERA: David, does this fight it out mentality breed the chaos we've been seeing in the White House?
DRUCKER: No, I don't think so. I mean, look, this is hardly the first --
DRUCKER: This is hardly -- this is hardly the first president, in my view, this is hardly the first president to bring in teams of people that have disagreements on issues to have them argue in front of him, and then for him to make a decision. I mean, this is often how presidential decision making goes. The reason we have chaos in the White House is because Trump breeds chaos because he does not act in a very planned strategic manner where they go through the proper steps, and then they -- you know, if you're going to roll out tariffs, whatever anybody thinks about tariffs, so you conduct all the paperwork and then you roll out a whole program.
DRUCKER: And you let everybody what's going on, and then Trump also --
RYAN: You also need experts there as well, though.
DRUCKER: Yes, well, Trump has experts.
RYAN: You also need experts there as well to be able to --
DRUCKER: He has Wilbur Ross and he has Peter Navarro, two people who believe very strongly in Trump's long held view, and it's like the only thing he actually believes for 40 years.
RYAN: Two people, yes, OK.
DRUCKER: But these are people --
CABRERA: But then there's Gary Cohn who completely doesn't agree with the tariffs. DRUCKER: Right.
CABRERA: And people like Steve --
DRUCKER: Steve Moore who is an economic adviser during the campaign, saying, what is he thinking?
DRUCKER: And if you look at how the tax bill ended up, it ended up in a very traditional Republican manner, ala, Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, and everybody else. All of a sudden Trump pivots to trade and everybody shocked, but they shouldn't be because he campaigned on this.
DEMERJIAN: He campaigned on trade, he campaigned on immigration this way. We're in the realm of the issues that he cares about, that he's defined himself on, and the truth is that, look, teams of rives like David was saying have been around -- it's a good way of stress testing a policy if you're actually going to use that as an actual process that you're paying attention to, and also, in the past, it's been divorced from the age of Twitter.
We're getting like intermittent interruptions of where the president actually stands on this whole process before it's over in addition where others stand on it, too, that are supposedly advising him so it's a very fits and starts sort of process or would be if it read and followed to the letter the way David was just laying out there.
CABRERA: April, I want to ask you about something interesting --
RYAN: But the question is this team of rivals, though?
RYAN: Is this -- yes.
CABRERA: Yes. Go ahead, finish your thought.
[20:25:02] RYAN: The question is, is this really a team -- yes, the question is, is this really a team of rivals or people who are feeling their way? Over a year in. This is not a team of rivals that we've seen in other administrations. These are people who are trying to find their way at the expense of the American public and globally as well.
So, I mean, I understand we're trying to put the polish on it from before, the textbook. This is not textbook. This is totally different. So I -- I totally disagree with that. I'm sorry.
CABRERA: Given what we heard on guns, given what we heard on immigration in the roundtable studio settings, I want to ask about something interesting. One of the president's close friends, Chris Ruddy, said this week, and he told the "Financial Times" this, quote, "If the Democrats win the House, Trump might find more of his inner Democrat. There's a lot he agrees with them about."
April, could you see President Trump running as a Democrat in 2020?
RYAN: Well, he was a Democrat until how long ago?
RYAN: There's a vast majority of people in this White House were Democrats. You know, this president -- we saw with the gun situation, he played more Democrat, and said later for the NRA, even though they were great patriots and his friends, than he did a conservative. So this president is going by kneejerk reactions and his gut more so -- when it first hits and when he hears people at the table fighting it out, if you will, but when it comes down to figuring out who supported him, he starts peeling back and saying OK, going back into the conservative mode, like with the NRA saying, look, this is what we did for you and for this party, so we'll have to see how it plays out.
But this president, I want to see how this plays out. If the conservatives will stay with him, if the Republican Party will totally stay with him because he is unraveling and he's doing things against the party. Yes, he's talking certain things that they like, but guns is one thing, but he's kind of pulled away from. He talks about marriage. He talks about issues of abortion. He talks about no new taxes. But guns is also part of that equation. He kind of peeled away from the Republican philosophy, so if he does try to go as a Democrat, I wouldn't be surprised because anything goes with this administration.
CABRERA: April Ryan, Karoun Demerjian, David Drucker, thanks, guys. Have a great week ahead.
DRUCKER: Thank you.
DEMERJIAN: Thank you.
CABRERA: Coming up, furniture furor. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, he's under fire. He had a $31,000 dining room set purchased. It was ordered for his office on the taxpayers' dime. More on the fallout next.
[20:32:11] CABRERA: As his agency faces billions in budget cuts, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development is cancelling a pricey order amid allegations of excessive spending.
Here's just some of the mahogany furniture purchased for Ben Carson's office suite. Final tally for all of these items, a whopping $31,000. This led the chair of the House Oversight Committee who is a Republican, by the way, to launch an investigation.
CNN's Rene Marsh reports.
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mahogany table and chairs, adorned with blue velvet, just some of the items in the $31,000 dining set HUD purchased for Secretary Ben Carson's office suite. Now Carson wants the purchase cancelled.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They're looking for another option that's much more responsible with taxpayer dollars.
MARSH: The set HUD picked out with input from Candy Carson includes a table and two base pedestals adorned with a hand applied bellflower pattern. It costs more than $4,000. Ten stately dining chairs with rich exposed wood and sculpted legs cost more than $10,000. The mahogany side board and brake front cost more than $13,000. Throw in shipping and delivery for a total $31,000 taxpayer dollars.
HELEN FOSTER, HUD WHISTLEBLOWER: $31,000 in my mind for a dining table for an agency that's cutting billions away from poor people is, you know, poor judgment no matter who made it.
MARSH: The agency's spending on decor and furniture came to light after HUD employee Helen Foster filed the sworn complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Long before the dining set debacle, Foster says she was demoted when she told her bosses the law limits Carson's redecorating budget.
FOSTER: My sense is that it was coming from Mrs. Carson's desire to, you know, have the ability to redecorate the suite.
MARSH: In a new statement Thursday, Carson called the decades' old furniture worn and unsafe, but he said he was, quote, "as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered." Carson reveals his wife, quote, "asked if used furniture was an option," and that she wanted to be sure that the color of the chair fabric of any set that was chosen matched the rest of the decor.
When the story first broke, a HUD spokesman told CNN Miss Carson knew nothing about a dining table being purchased.
Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.
CABRERA: Coming up, new reports revealing the Mueller investigation is now looking into a possible Middle East connection.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:39:02] CABRERA: Welcome back. The Russia investigation may be expanding beyond Russia to the Middle East. The "New York Times" reports Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are pressing witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the United Arab Emirates to gain political influence by funneling money to support Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
Joining us now, Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, and now a corporate law professor at the University of Minnesota.
So, Richard, do you think Mueller is at risk of overreach here?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: I don't think so. His focus is presently on the Russian interference in the election. But the problem here is that foreign countries are seeking to gain influence inside the United States over our political system illegally through computer hacking, through funneling money into our country to influence politicians, and other illegal means.
[20:40:02] It's critically important that we get to the bottom of this. This is not just a Trump problem. This is an American problem. Our country is getting a reputation that our politicians can easy be played by foreign powers. It's pay-to-play USA, and that's not safe for the American people. It's not safe for our national security, our foreign policy, or economic policy at risk. So I think if Bob Mueller goes in this direction, he finds something, that's certainly within his mandate.
I don't think he ought to spend the majority of his time on Middle Eastern countries. Obviously Russia is the principal culprit.
PAINTER: But if he finds other countries interfering at our election illegally, he needs to get to the bottom of it.
CABRERA: Does this "New York Times" on the UAE raise any ethical concerns with Trump's Middle East policy? The president we know did weigh in last summer on that dispute between UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt and Qatar.
PAINTER: Well, yes, it does. Because President Trump took sides, and the question is, was that influenced by business deals, being done either by the Trump Organization or Jared Kushner, and if so, what was the influence? If this is a quid pro quo, that's bribery, that's criminal, but that's the kind of thing that prosecutors need to look into.
But once again, these Middle Eastern countries have been trying to influence the United States for a long time, trying to throw a lot of money around, and it's critically important to our democracy that we, you know, look at situations like this and find out if there's criminal conduct, and push back on it because our independence is at stake here.
CABRERA: Let me pivot to this week as the president spends the 100th day in office visiting one of his golf courses, a course that bears his name. Is the Russia probe overshadowing do you think any ethics concerns on
President Trump and perhaps the publicity for his golf properties?
PAINTER: Well, we might be better off if he just plays golf rather than commenting on the Russian investigation because every time he tweets a comment on the Russia investigation, he digs himself deeper into the obstruction of justice hole, and we don't need that for our president. Obviously, he should be focusing on his job. He shouldn't be playing golf all the time. He should be thinking about what it takes to be an effective president, but I have to say that what he's been doing in the White House and his comments on his political opponents and his comments about the Russia investigation are very, very destructive, and if he can't be constructive, he ought to just go out there and hit the golf ball around a few times and try to relax.
CABRERA: Do you have any problem with him, though, bringing all of the attention to properties bearing his name?
PAINTER: Oh, yes, of course he's trying to make money being in the White House. He's been doing that for quite -- you know, since the beginning. He's been promoting the Trump properties, the golf courses, Mar-a-Lago. They raised the initiation fee at Mar-a-Lago I think from $100,000 to $200,000 as soon as he was elected. They're having all the big parties over at the Trump Hotel including all the bankers there meeting with the top regulators today, tomorrow, the next day. Is that the party this week? So he's making a lot of money off the pay-to-play game, that's for sure.
CABRERA: Richard Painter, thank you, sir.
PAINTER: Thank you.
CABRERA: A couple legal victories for DACA this week as lawmakers in Washington have yet to act on immigration reform. So how do Dreamers and others living in a border town see all of this? We'll take you to El Paso, Texas, next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:48:10] FEINSTEIN: What about a clean DACA bill now with a commitment that we go in to a comprehensive immigration reform procedure?
TRUMP: We're going to do DACA and then we can start immediately on the phase two which would be comprehensive.
FEINSTEIN: Would you be agreeable to that?
TRUMP: Yes. I would like -- I would like to. I think a lot of people would like to see that, but I think we have to do DACA first.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you need to be clear, though. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACA, we don't want to be back here two years later. You have to have security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Remember that? Back in January, that bipartisan White House meeting when President Trump said he is definitely open to a clean bill aimed at protecting the children of undocumented immigrants, the so-called Dreamers?
Well, here it is, already into March. There's no such bill yet. The White House blames Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're still hopeful that something happens on this and that Congress will actually do its job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Congress tried to do its job with bipartisan DACA bills introduced to the House and the Senate last month. They both failed. So I put Washington far behind me to talk to people whose lives are directly impacted by the outcome of this debate in a border town, El Paso, Texas.
CABRERA: Does it upset you, Victor, personally, that Congress has not taken action on immigration?
VICTOR ERRVES, DACA RECIPIENT: It does not upset me. I actually do agree that there needs to be some security in some areas because some lives are in danger. But I come from the perspective that, you know, our parents came in here with permission. And we just overstayed. So we didn't cause any harm. We didn't threaten anybody. So we just came here in search for a better future, and that was it.
HANS SASSENFELD, EL PASO, TEXAS RESIDENT: My father-in-law came to the United States as part of the Prosero program. He is a farmer. He helped out in the farms. OK, so he did it the right way. And he tells a story about where he kept his money until he got $300, $400. He paid a lawyer in El Paso.
[20:50:03] They flew him to Mexico City. He got his green card and he came over. And that's how my wife came over. But they did it the right way.
CONNIE VASQUEZ, EL PASO, TEXAS RESIDENT: And I understand that. But for the Dreamers, they didn't have a choice. You know, you have to follow your parents, and you have no say so whatsoever. You just have to follow your parents and that's it. And you're stuck with the situation whether you like it or not. And that's your case, correct?
V. ERRVES: Absolutely. CABRERA: So should your parents still be here? I know they have
recently gotten citizenship because you were able to sponsor them.
LAURA ERRVES, EL PASO, TEXAS RESIDENT: Of course, yes.
CABRERA: For a lot of people who are on the other side of the issue say that may not have been fair.
L. ERRVES: Well, I mean, my parents -- I mean, I'm sure you guys are aware, they are disabled. They are deaf. So it all goes back. They came to the United States because Mexico wasn't offering deaf people what they offer here in the United States as far as interpreters, free education for them. My parents came to America not knowing how to read or write because Mexico didn't offer that to them, you know.
So coming here, you know, they knew that there were all these benefits for people with disabilities. So then luckily, I was born, you know, and they thought, this is our daughter, this is our only hope. So as soon as I turned 21, that's when I petitioned for both of them. And I feel like it's fair because they -- I feel like they deserve it. My dad always paid taxes. You know, he always did the right thing. He never was in jail. He was never doing anything crazy.
You know, and I'm speaking for my family, you know. I can't speak for the rest of the families, but I feel like as far as my parents, I was happy to petition for them because you deserve it. You were acting -- you were here as a Mexican, but we are acting like an American.
V. ERRVES: Yes.
L. ERRVES: With American dreams.
CABRERA: And so now in your family, you are the only person who doesn't have citizenship?
V. ERRVES: Right.
CABRERA: Why couldn't you sponsor him?
V. ERRVES: Well, see, so she can. So that I fall in a different priority group. Like we are here, we all agree, we're a nation of laws. And I'm a law-abiding citizen in my own way. I'm going to school. I have no social assistance. I'm paying out of my own pocket. I have an occupation as a sign language interpreter. I pay taxes. From the day I started working to as we speak, present day, I have been giving back.
VASQUEZ: How many immigrants are paying taxes and then they're not going to see the benefits of it if you just deport them and that's it. You know, that's not fair either.
CABRERA: What about that, Hans?
H. SASSENFELD: Well, I think if they pay taxes, they should be able to reap some of that, but they have to become citizens first. CABRERA: There's a lot of people, though, who are now in this space
where they are paying taxes, but they have been here and been undocumented. And so they don't have a pathway into the legal immigration system at this point. What are they to do?
SASSENFELD: They always have a pathway into the legal system by applying. But as long as they don't apply, then they are going to be on the outside.
CABRERA: But the truth is, it's not that simple.
SASSENFELD: No, it's not simple. I'm just saying, you can't --
CABRERA: We know that is not as simple as starting an application.
V. ERRVES: If that were true, DACA wouldn't be in this moment a topic. If there was an application for us young, you know, Americans to come in and become a U.S. citizen, we would have done it. We have exhausted all resources, trust me. We are not just people who twiddle our thumbs and wait for Congress to do something.
CABRERA: What is going to happen with DACA? Nobody knows. The president made a self-imposed deadline of March 5th, which --
L. ERRVES: Already here, basically.
V. ERRVES: A couple of days. Yes. You know what, so it comes back to that. My future is uncertain. But this is why I'm here. I lay my voice to the politicians. And I tell them, you know, whether it be immigration or what stance you have, you know, have some sympathy towards children who were brought here. That's all I ask. This is all we know.
[20:58:18] CABRERA: Mr. Magoo, a trade war and an about-face on guns. This week in Washington gave "Saturday Night Live" plenty to work with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Guess what? I announced the steel and aluminum tariffs this week. People are going nuts about it. I brought back the steel industry by destroying the auto industry and tanking the stock market. Impressive.
Look at that. Both sides hated it. I don't care. I said I was going to run this country like a business. That business is a waffle house at 2:00 a.m.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) BALDWIN: Crazies everywhere, staff walking out of the middle of their shift, managers taking money out of the cash register to pay off the Russian mob. Maybe we do just take all the guns away. That got her attention. She love it. She's looking at me like a cartoon pork chop. OK. She's great. All the people here are great except Jeff Sessions. He needs to go. I call him Mr. Magoo. Everyone loves it. People around here in the White House say stop, I'm laughing so hard, I can't take it anymore. I resign.
KATE MCKINNON, ACTRESS: That's very funny, Mr. President. But I'm not going anywhere. I'm like skunk stink on a bird dog, sir. I linger. And I just had dinner with all your friends at the Department of Justice and, wow, your name popped up more than a weasel in a pumpkin patch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I hope I made you smile.
I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for spending part of your weekend with us. And "ANTHONY BOURDAIN, PARTS UNKNOWN" marathon starts now. Good night.