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Trump: New NAFTA Deal Could Lift Tariffs; Trump Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu; Kushner To Attend Trump-Netanyahu Meeting; Obama Aide: McConnell "Watered Down" Russia Warning; Trump: "Obama Did Nothing About Russian Meddling"; South Korea Delegation Meets With Kim Jong Un. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 5, 2018 - 11:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Over the weekend, top administration officials doubled down on upcoming tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and warned that even America's closest allies won't be spared.

This morning, the prospect of a presidential reprieve is dangled via Twitter, "We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for USA, massive relocation of companies and jobs. Tariffs on steel and aluminum will only come off if new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed.

Also, Canada must treat our farmers much better, highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying." The latest mixed message unlikely to tamp down the concerns of allies and even fellow Republicans.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House. So, Kaitlan, any clarity from officials over there about the president's latest tweets?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Not yet, Brianna. Another Twitter post we are seeing, another proposal made here with very few details. And this is certainly something that would be very significant, especially for Canada, which is one of the number one exporters of steel and aluminum to the United States.

And a few mixed messages actually coming with this tweet because around the same time that the president posted this tweet, his trade adviser, one of the chief architects of these tariff proposals was on another network saying something a little different.


PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: I understand if we get a great NAFTA agreement, and Ambassador Lighthizer is trying to do that. That would be a great thing for the American people. At this point in time, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum, no country exclusions, firm line in the sand.


COLLINS: So, there you see Peter Navarro saying it is a firm line in the sand and as far as a formal announcement, they say that we're supposed to expect that later this week but next week at the latest here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And next hour the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the White House. Tell us about this meeting.

COLLINS: Yes. They are arriving. Of course, you'll see Netanyahu likely tout the United States decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something that has been really big for the prime minister here.

But one thing you likely will not hear these two men talk about when they're not taking questions from the press is how they're both actually facing scandals here. The president with the investigation into Russia, and whether or not Trump officials colluded with Russia, of course, he's not personally accused of any wrongdoing.

But Netanyahu is also facing a scandal of his own as he's been accused by the Israeli police of bribery, breach, breach of trust and fraud as well. So, all of those things going on here today.

We do have some clarity on who will be in that meeting, and the White House is now saying that Jared Kushner, the senior adviser and the president's son-in-law will attend, will participate in those meetings today, with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

To what extent we do not know because, of course, Brianna, as you know, Jared Kushner was stripped of his top-secret security clearance, just last week. So, that has been the question on everyone's mind. This is certainly the first high profile visit that has included Kushner since he was stripped of that security clearance -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It will be very interesting. Kaitlan Collins live for us at the White House. Thank you so much.

I want to bring in our panel to discuss this. We have CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg, and David Sanger, a CNN political and national security analyst as well as national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

So, you have, David, the president now dangling this possibility of removing this tariff to gain leverage over Canada and Mexico when it comes to NAFTA renegotiations. Is that something that can work?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it might work in the broad sense. But what you have here is a president who is used to negotiating on buildings, real estate, doing what he did at times quite successfully then, when is bringing in all kinds of extraneous issues.

So, NAFTA is, of course, a free trade agreement within -- within North America. Steel and these tariffs, if he puts them on, would apply to far more than to Canada and Mexico, as you heard there are no exemptions being discussed today.

So, you have all of these other countries that deal with steel and aluminum to the United States that have no role in the NAFTA negotiation, no particular interest in the NAFTA negotiation, who suddenly has been wrapped up of you believe the president's tweet today in the outcome of the negotiation over which they have no control.

KEILAR: I see you nodding your head over there, Mark Preston.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, David is exactly spot on. I mean, the fact is what he's doing is he's creating these battle lines, not only to ourselves, but to our north, not only on NAFTA, but now you're talking about the importation of raw material that is needed for industry here in the U.S., whether that's cars or any kind of construction and what have you.

[11:05:05] But it is also affecting South Korea, which you know, is one of our top allies right now, and it is affecting Brazil, right? So, what we see from President Trump right now is he's negotiating by chaos, I think, in many ways.

I'm sure some of his folks are looking at him, his supporters are saying go get him. But there are ramifications that come along with every decision and everything he says, and I don't think that that has been thought as clearly through as it should be.

KEILAR: And speaking of, you seem to get that sense from the commerce secretary this weekend. Let's listen to what Wilbur Ross said about this plan, about the tariff plan.


WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen. What he's said he has said, if he says something different, it will be something different.


KEILAR: I mean, that is Jell-O. Try to pin that against the wall, Rebecca.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Clear as mud. I mean, Wilbur ross is obviously pushing for these tariffs. He along with Peter Navarro. They're the two main advisers to the president who support this decision. But on the other side, you have Gary Cohn, for example, arguing against this.

Potentially leaving the White House if the president moves forward with this according to some reports and so it is -- there is a split. And the president is hearing, you know, both sides, and so who will be the last person he listens to?

KEILAR: So, Wilbur Ross, even though he said that thing there which was whatever the president decides he will -- yes, of course. But he is, as you said, is leaning in favor of the tariffs. He also said he doesn't think the president is going to change his mind.

But who really knows? I mean, is it really just the last person the president talks to, Rebecca, who are the folks in the White House who really have his ear when it comes to influencing him on this?

BERG: Right, well, I think at the heart of this is, you know, Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro and they're lobbying the president, but also the president himself. He believes that this is going to be a proposal that resonates with his base, that resonates with people, for example, in steel country, in Pennsylvania, where there is a special election going on right now.

Near Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, formerly steel country, but a lot of plants closed there. Those types of voters are on the president's mind. How can he appeal to them? So, he wants to be a cheerleader for American manufacturing.

KEILAR: Let's talk about this meeting the president is going to have today with Bibi. Set the stage for us as we look toward them having this discussion.

SANGER: Well, complicated at several different levels. As Kaitlan pointed out, when she was reporting from the White House, Netanyahu has been a big supporter of Trump, Trump has been a big supporter of Netanyahu, both of them are immersed in their own big domestic problems.

Netanyahu will certainly celebrate the movement of the American embassy to Jerusalem whenever that happens. But the big issue that is up between the two of them right now is does the president essentially exit the Iran deal and the deadline for that is in May.

Netanyahu has been arguing for it, but much like the policy chaos that we have just discussed about steel and aluminum, inside Israel the military 2that reports up to Prime Minister Netanyahu said the deal has been in place for the past two years and has actually meant that Israel has not had to think about taking military action against Iran because there is no right now, no considerable nuclear threat.

And so, you got Netanyahu having to decide as he's pushing for this, how far out ahead of his generals he can get. That's pretty complicated.

KEILAR: So, Netanyahu's visiting, and there is not going to be the customary press conference with President Trump and Netanyahu that you would normally see. I remember when President Obama had Bibi to the White House and it was not very public.

I mean, I think we're going to see a photo-op in the oval office, but that's it. It was seen as President Obama spurning Bibi, but is this different? Is this Trump doing him a favor?

PRESTON: If it isn't Trump doing him a favor, he's doing a big favor. Back at home he's under investigation, several different investigations now for corruption and bribery. It could be very uncomfortable to see these two powerful world leaders getting questioned by the free press, which could undermine or at least help certainly those whether it be Iran or Iraq, whatever, to show that we're not as unified as we think and we have two embattled leaders now who are standing side by side, supposed to bring peace to the Middle East and we still haven't seen it yet.

KEILAR: And Jared Kushner, this question, Rebecca, how involved is he going to be in this meeting? Because he is supposed to be the White House envoy on Israeli-Palestinian -- on the peace process and his security clearance has been downgraded. He'll be in this meeting. What does that tell you?

[11:05:05] BERG: Right. Well, his role, you would imagine, is much diminished from what it would have been. If he's in a position where he can't even discuss classified information on this very volatile region. It really does put a question mark on whether he's able to fully do his job now.

Chief of Staff John Kelly has said he has no doubt that Jared will be able to fulfill his duties as adviser to the president without his security clearance. But I would say there is some doubt about that, especially when you're looking at regions like China, Israel, where you are dealing with a lot of classified information.

KEILAR: Thank you, guys, so much. Rebecca Berg, Mark Preston, David Sanger, really appreciate it.

Still ahead, meeting Kim Jong-un for the first time. South Korean officials are talking with the North Korean dictator today in Pyongyang. What does this mean, though, for talks between the U.S. and North Korea? 2 Plus, President Obama's former chief of staff pointing the finger at Mitch McConnell blaming the majority leader for what he calls a watered-down response to Russian election meddling. We'll have that next.



KEILAR: President Trump taking to Twitter this morning to accuse the Obama administration of trying to discredit his presidential campaign back in 2016, "Why did the Obama administration start an investigation into the Trump campaign with zero proof of wrongdoing, long before the election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented, bigger than Watergate. Plus, Obama did nothing about Russian meddling."

CNN's Manu Raju joining me now. So, Manu, Trump says Obama did nothing about Russian meddling, but a former official in the Obama White House is turning that blame towards the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Tell us about this.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, this back and forth, Brianna, has been going on for some time about what the Obama administration did and didn't do in 2016 as the intelligence community was learning more and more about efforts by the Russians to interfere in the elections.

Recall that time that then Candidate Trump was raising concerns about a, quote, "rigged system," saying over and over again, the system was rigged. Well, then the Obama administration was nervous about making a statement just along party lines to say that the Russians were in fact trying to interfere with the elections.

They wanted a bipartisan response to what they are viewing from the intelligence reports. Now, according to Denis McDonough, the former White House chief of staff under President Obama, suggested that they would have put out a much stronger worded statement in September of 2016 but got push back from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


DENIS MCDONOUGH, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president asked the four leaders in a bipartisan meeting in the oval office to join him in asking the states to work with us on this question. It took over three weeks to get that statement worked out. It was dramatically watered down. You can ask Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi even the speaker --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was watered down on the insistence of Mitch McConnell?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And nobody else?



RAJU: Now, Brianna, these echo concerns that former Vice President Joe Biden has also raised saying that McConnell tried to undercut this statement going forward. But McConnell's office is pushing back, they're actually pointing to an op-ed that McDonough himself wrote last year.

Suggesting that that statement that they put out was, actually, in the words of McDonough, was quote ultimately successful, saying that by election date, 33 states and 36 counties and cities had used Homeland Security tools to scan or strengthen their systems.

So, this blame game, Brianna, going back and forth about whether the Obama administration did enough, some Democrats themselves believe that the Obama administration did not do enough, should have taken a more aggressive approach to point the finger at Russia during the elections.

But they were worried about those political concerns and, Brianna, overshadowing all of this, of course, is what is going to be done in 2018 to prevent the Russians from doing this again? The blame game taking place over 2016, but no real clear strategy to deal with this in 2018 when we know from the intelligence community leaders that this is already occurring, the efforts by the Russians to manipulate the elections -- Brianna.

KEILAR: That's right. It's an ongoing threat as we speak. Manu Raju on the Hill for us, thank you.

I want talk more about these latest developments with defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Seth Waxman, and CNN national security analyst and former communications director for the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, with us.

OK. So, you observed the Obama White House and their response to Russian meddling. I think maybe we divided up a little bit too, before the election, where there were clearly sensitivities about looking like they were going to put their finger on the scale for Hillary Clinton and then after the election. But just fact check that for us, Donald Trump saying that nothing was done by the Obama administration on Russian meddling.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Once again, simply not true. I mean, when you take a look at what the Obama administration did, first, I think it is important to point out that the Obama administration was extremely measured in decision-making.

But it was the case that when there was indisputable evidence that Russia was meddling in the election here in the United States, the Obama administration did take some very direct steps. I mean, we know that the Obama administration ejected some Russian officials, we know that President Obama confronted Vladimir Putin himself very directly.

And then after January, we know the administration put out an intelligence community assessment. There were things that were done after that evidence was presented. What we also know is that it has been more and a year now and we know that Russia is doing the exact same thing again and nothing is being done to prevent them from meddling in the 2018 midterm election.

KEILAR: Seth, you get the sense that the internal response of the intelligence community, certainly law enforcement is, when it comes to this criticism. Because we have seen the intel chiefs on the Hill, they seem exasperated they're not being given really the push to go ahead and tackle this problem that it hasn't resolved, still very much ongoing.

[11:20:11] SETH WAXMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, I think that's exactly what you're hearing. Shawn's point about what happened during the Obama administration pre-election, I think it is entirely correct. But we're facing a real live current problem now, leading up in the coming months to the 2018 election.

So, what is happening today to fix this issue. And we heard just on the Hill most recently the NSA director telling Congress that he hasn't been given an order bit president to dig into this issue.

So, if I'm in the intelligence community, that's more Shawn's spot than mine, but you have to feel frustrated. You say to yourself, I'm watching this train wreck happen in real time in front of me and my hands are tied if not one hand but two. KEILAR: The "New York Times," Seth, reporting that Robert Mueller's team, the special counsel, has questioned a Lebanese-American businessman, adviser to the United Arab Emirates, George Nader. When you learned this, what does that tell you about where the scope of the investigation is?

WAXMAN: I think it is where it always has been, a bribery charge. You have this quid pro quo, the idea the Russians giving dirt on Hillary or the UAE giving favorable business transactions to Jared Kushner or anything else that is being given to this administration in exchange for official acts.

That's a definition of bribery. When President Trump was sworn in on January 20th, 2017, he became subject to that law. But what he also became subject to is that same law six months earlier because if you look at the federal bribery statute, it applies not only to people who have been sworn into office, but also people who have been nominated for office. And that's in the summer of 2016, right where Bob Mueller is focusing a lot of his attention.

TURNER: Yes. There's also a significant potential national security nexus to this. If you recall last year, President Trump kind of broke with law and the U.S. policy and sided with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and a blockade of Qatar that was peculiar to a lot of us in the national security space.

Why was the president suddenly siding with the UAE and this instance, something we have never done before? And in hindsight, now there is some legitimate question as to whether or not there is a nexus between political -- potential political influence and that decision that he made last year.

KEILAR: And that's what the UAE would want with the Trump administration, with those close to him. Thank you so much. Seth Waxman and Shawn Turner, really appreciate it.

Nuclear tensions percolating on the Korean peninsula as diplomats seize on progress made during the Olympics. We'll tell you about today's historic meeting North Korea's Kim Jong-un and the delegation from the South.



KEILAR: This morning, a landmark meeting on the Korean Peninsula where tensions spiked last year mid nuclear tests and bellicose rhetoric. Just hours ago, North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un met with a high-ranking delegation from South Korea. It is believed to be the first such meeting since taking power more than six years ago.

CNN's Andrew Stevens is in the South Korean capital, Seoul, for us. Do we know what they discussed? Do we know what happened here?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, we know what they were supposed to discuss. What we know is that the -- this delegation is a delegation from South Korea, had a meeting with Kim Kong-un and then was also had dinner, host of a dinner of the delegation as well.

A letter handwritten letter by the South Korean president was handed to Mr. Kim, we don't know the contents of that. What I can tell you is just before the delegation left Seoul, a very brief news conference in which they said that they were going to talk about denuclearization, which is obviously the key issue here.

They were going to talk about intra-relations between the two Koreas, developing relations further which is need, given these two sit on either side of the most heavily fortified military zone in the world.

And thirdly, they were going to talk about North Korea having more dialogue with the international community, particularly the U.S. and that, of course, is the key to this global at least. Can North Korea and the U.S. sit down across the table and talk to each other?

KEILAR: Very good question. Andrew Stevens for us in Seoul. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is Ian Bremer, president of the global risk consulting firm, Eurasia Group. Ian, thanks for being with us. What does it mean that these talks are happening right now without U.S. involvement?

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: One small disagreement is that it is not clear just how critical it is that the Americans and North Koreans sit down. In the sense that South Korea and North Korea are engaging at the highest levels right now.

And it is quite possible that South Korea will decide that they want to move more in their own way. I mean, if we end up with the possibility that the South Koreans saying they would be willing to stop their joint military exercises with the United States, if the North Koreans are willing to stop testing.

Even if the Trump administration doesn't want to talk with them, the international community and actually the Chinese who are critical in all of this, the most critical player, would consider that a major diplomatic breakthrough and what is otherwise been pure escalation between both sides. I think this is very important, but the U.S. is very much on the sidelines right now.

KEILAR: Let's talk about this tariff on steel and aluminum that is being put in place by the Trump administration, you wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post," Trump is so obsessed with winning that he might make America lose.

In it, you argue that Trump seems to believe that as you put it, quote, "U.S. interests rise only at the expense of others." I think of that description of seeing the U.S. position and the world as zero- sum game, it is the same description used for authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin.

BREMMER: That's right. Certainly, if the United States on the security side with the soviets or with the Russians and the Chinese, there is a lot of we win, you lose, we build more military capacity, that makes us stronger, makes you weaker, you can see the North Korean negotiations, militarily, denuclearization. They'll be much less secure, but we'll be more secure. We're stronger, we can force them. But on issues like --