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AT THIS HOUR

White House: Trump, Putin Discussed Meeting At White House; Soldier Killed In Syria Was On ISIS "Catch Or Kill" Mission; Teachers Hold Massive Walkouts In Oklahoma And Kentucky; Trump Declares "DACA Is Dead," Blames Democrats. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 2, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Andy Scholes, thank you. Thanks for bringing that to us. Have a great day. Thank you for joining me today. I'm Ana Cabrera. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news -- an aide to Vladimir Putin says President Trump invited the Russian leader to meet at the White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us. So, Kaitlan, we know that this is all unfolding as we speak. What can you tell us at this point?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, we actually just got a statement from the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders after multiple inquiries were made about this potential meeting and I'm going to read it to you in full.

She said that, "As the president himself confirmed on March 20th, after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the, quote, "not too distant future" at a number of potential venues including the White House." She adds, "We have nothing further to add at this time."

So, two things there, she is saying that they did discuss that meeting, at the same time when President Trump said after that March 20th phone call they could be meeting soon. She said a venue has not been selected yet. She said they have not spoken since that call. So, no further developments have been made on this.

But, Brianna, to remind our viewers that was the very contentious phone call in the headlines for days afterwards. Because during that phone call that was when President Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin on his election victory even though his national security team had advised him not to do so.

And of course, he faced several severe blowbacks on that call. And doing that from senator -- people like Senator John McCain, who says that President Trump should not be congratulating a dictator on a sham election victory. And it was also during that call when the president did not raise Russian meddling in the American election with Putin and also did not raise the poisoning of that former British spy, something that also has been in the headlines several times.

So, a very contentious phone call, but for right now, the meeting between Trump and Putin seems to be something that the president has floated, the two of them have discussed. But there is nothing definitive yet, but it certainly does seem to be on the table here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Let's get the story now from Moscow where we have CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance joining us live. Matthew, what is the Kremlin saying about this potential White House meeting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it is increasingly difficult to get a straight answer out of the Kremlin, even though the issue was as simple as this. We started off with the Kremlin statement that first announced that the content of this conversation was raised, that there would be a meeting or meeting had been proposed between Trump and Putin at the White House.

It was the first time the suggestion has been made that the meeting take place in the U.S. capitol. I then approached the spokesperson for the Kremlin and said, look what is all this about a meeting at the White House, can you confirm this to me?

He said, hi, no, nothing specific yet. Contacts on this issue are yet to start, if ever. He cut off communication and refused to answer any follow-up questions that I had. So, it seems that the Kremlin went out there and said, look, yes, this issue, we're meeting at the White House was raised.

But subsequently in that contact I had with Dmitry Peskov, he seemed to play down the idea that the offer of that meeting was being taken seriously by the Kremlin at this stage. And, of course, it is understandable why not.

There's been a lot happened. A lot of water under the bridge since the offer was made if it was made, not least the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the United States over the spy scandal.

KEILAR: Matthew Chance, thank you so much in Moscow.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst and former communications director for U.S. National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, and CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich with us.

Shawn, what do you make of this news, and we should be considering, of course, that as Matthew just reported, the Kremlin is sort of all over the map on this. But the White House is acting like, no, no, Trump said this 2was what was going to happen, even though, it was certainly not to this degree that we understood what he was saying. SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, you know, I think that the fact that the president invited Vladimir Putin to the White House on a call that he made where he was not supposed to congratulate him on the election, but he did. I think that's not terribly surprising for this president.

We have seen him kind of shoot from the hip and make kind of off the cuff invitations. I think as Matthew pointed out, what really matters here is what has happened since he extended that invitation.

I mean, the fact that the administration took a very strong position on Russia last week when we made the decision to expel 60 diplomats and the fact that some 24, 23, 24 countries have done the same thing, sends a very strong message that this administration will push back on some of Russia's behavior.

So, if this invitation goes forward and if Vladimir Putin does come to the White House, then one of the things that is still very confusing is exactly where this president stands on Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin and our attitudes toward their behavior.

[11:05:02] KEILAR: Sure. But how do you make sense of this, Jackie? If it is just the president sort of blowing smoke in a way where he's congratulating Putin and then at the time, we know that there were discussions under way for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S., the closing of a facility. How do you make heads or tails of what seems to be an offer for an invite and then we'll unpack exactly if that meeting actually happened, what it would look like?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the other thing that was reported out of that call is the president was supposed to say something about the poisoning of the former Russian spy and he didn't. So, the fact that then president seems to go out of his way to avoid offending Vladimir Putin to his face and then on the other side of this call, there was the expulsion of the diplomats.

It is why -- if there is a Russia doctrine coming out of this White House, it is very confusing what it is. They drag their feet obviously implementing the sanctions that were eventually implemented for sure. So, it is hard to make heads or tails of it to your point. What to think here about the relationship between the president and Vladimir Putin.

KEILAR: So, Sean, it is unclear to you if this meeting would actually take place, right? Because so much, as Matthew said, there is so much water under the bridge since that phone call and we know this president likes to adlib. It is very hard to understand whether a meeting might actually happen.

TURNER: It is. One thing that I think is certain is that the president's national security team, national security advisers, will almost certainly advise against a bilateral meeting with have Vladimir Putin. Now that doesn't mean that the president won't go forward with the meeting.

But one of the things that we need to be really concerned about is what that meeting looks like if it does go forward. We know that the president tends to like to go off script in these sorts of meetings and to engage in a way that is not always consistent with the best interests of our national security.

So, I think that, you know, this really will come down to whether or not the president is actually going to listen to his national security team. And I think also -- it is the case that because he's got some new members like Bolton and others coming on board that it is a little unclear to us too exactly what that advice will be.

But it is certainly the case that if you are a Russia expert, if you are someone who works in this space, you know that right now is not a good time for a meeting between the president of the United States and Vladimir Putin.

KEILAR: Is it hard for you, Jackie, to imagine a scenario where this would go forward?

KUCINICH: It is -- I mean, it is hard for me to predict what this White House is going to do. This is all so after the president -- Vladimir Putin had a presentation that showed a missile hitting Florida, which is where President Trump, of course, has a home.

So, again, it is hard to say because the president shows so -- it is so different when he's in front of a leader, a world leader. Look at what happened with President Xi in China, when talking about trade, he's very bullish.

But when he's talking about President Xi, he says they have a great relationship. So, again, it is hard to really predict what the president says to someone's face versus the policies that come out of the White House.

KEILAR: This written statement that came from the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, keeping in mind that -- after the president met -- or sorry, after he spoke on the phone to Vladimir Putin, he's in the -- he has a live availability and he talks in an adlib style about what happened and he says he congratulated -- he said that out loud, I congratulated him.

He also said we will probably be meeting in the not too distant future. That's what he said. That's the quote. Sarah Sanders today saying, "As the president himself confirmed on March 20th, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the not too distant future at a number of potential venues including the White House."

That is sort of something she added because the president did not tell us that at the time. Keeping that in mind, Jackie, I mean, what do you think about the disconnect between the communications and what is really going on with the president? How hard is this for that office to deal with?

KUCINICH: They can't predict, even the communications office has trouble keeping up with the president sometimes. We have seen that on a range of issues, which is why that shop -- there is no communications director right now because Hope Hicks has left.

This is why that job in particular is very hard and why Sarah Sanders has a hard job because they are trying to sort of blur the line here of what the president actually said or what the president actually meant. It is hard to anticipate that, which is why the president ends up being his best spokesperson for knowing what he means.

I mean, we have seen this when it comes to someone like Nikki Haley. She comes out very bullish against Russia and then the president will say something different. Same thing with Rex Tillerson, you know, may he rest in Texas, so it really is -- it does make their job difficult. You have to go to the president at the end of the day to find out what he actually means.

KEILAR: Jackie and Shawn, thank you so much to both of you.

Some breaking news out of the Pentagon this morning, we are learning some new information about the American and British soldiers who were killed last week in Syria. CNN's Barbara Starr has details on this. Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are now just able to confirm that when a U.S. and British soldier were killed on Friday in Northern Syria, they were not on any kind of patrol. In fact, they were on a classified mission, looking for a so-called high value target, looking for an ISIS operative.

[11:10:07] Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar of the United States Army and Sergeant Matt Tenrow, a British soldier, were both killed on this mission, five others injured when they were hit by an IED blast in Northern Syria.

Why this is so significant, of course, is because for one reason President Trump talking about pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and that the ISIS mission is nearing its end. These two soldiers killed on Friday virtually the same day the president is talking about all of this.

Talking about it at the same time killed going after an ISIS operative. Manbridge is an area in northern Syria where basically U.S. troops have largely publicly been focused on going on patrols and showing that they are there.

But this underscores there is a classified mission in that area of Syria. We now know that U.S. Army Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar was assigned to the U.S. Army's very elite, very secretive Delta Force, that he was part of a Delta Force mission along with the others that day to go look for an ISIS operative in Northern Syria when they were killed in combat.

Very tough business, of course, for the Army, and for the British. Their families in deep mourning. They are expected to be laid to rest in the coming days -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much for that. Coming up, China strikes back after the country slaps new trade penalties on the U.S. overnight. We'll tell you where they could hit American companies and workers the hardest.

Plus, live pictures coming to us right now from Oklahoma. That's where tens of thousands of teachers and state workers are walking out demanding pay raises. We'll have a live report from the rally coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:04]

KEILAR: Right now, teachers are staging massive walkouts, shutting down schools in two states. They're rallying in the capitals of Oklahoma and Kentucky. Oklahoma teachers are pressuring lawmakers for better wages and more funding for their classrooms.

Kentucky teachers are marching over a controversial pension reform measure that passed in their state last week.

CNN correspondent, Nick Valencia is in Oklahoma City. We have CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval in Frankfurt, Kentucky. Nick, I do want to start with you. Tell us why Oklahoma teachers are rallying, even though they got a pay raise last week.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, simply put, Brianna, it is because they didn't get what they wanted, and they thought what they were asking for was pretty reasonable. They were asking for $10,000 increase for the average teacher salary. What they got was about $6,100 increase.

They identified in their proposal about $900 million in additional revenue to be appropriated towards education, what they got in this legislative bill was half that, about $447 million.

Speaking to teachers here they don't just see a financially viable future as an educator in this state, not least as an educator in America. They say it is among the worst here in Oklahoma, teachers ranking average salary, 49 out of 50, with only Mississippi being worse.

Average funding per pupil is also near the bottom. I spoke with a group of teachers who say it is getting more and more difficult to be a teacher in this state every day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE LANE, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: We're asking Secretary DeVos to come to Oklahoma, see how badly needed funding is for our classrooms. We're doing this for the kids today. It is not about us. It is about the kids. Funding our classrooms, getting adequate textbooks, getting qualified, highly qualified teachers in the classroom, and the resources that enable us to do our job more effectively.

JESSICA JERNEGAN, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER: It is extremely frustrating. We would rather be in our classrooms teaching today, but the truth is I need to be here fighting for them because those in this building seem to have a hard time getting them exactly what they need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: It has gotten so difficult in some of these school districts in the state, they have gone to four-day workweeks, because simply they can't keep the lights on in some of the classrooms. Other teachers are saying they have to work second, third jobs to pay the bills.

On top of that, there is a teacher shortage across the state, about 25 percent of the teachers in Oklahoma left the profession after 2017. They haven't gotten a pay raise here in ten years, and we saw what happened in West Virginia, took nine days for them to get that they wanted eventually. And they say here the teachers, they have the resolve and commitment to get going as long as necessary -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It does seem like you're seeing that trickle-down effect from West Virginia teachers. And Polo, in Kentucky, with this pension reform measure that has upset teachers so much, how is that affecting them to the point where they're saying enough?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Brianna, that pension reform bill is really what brought teachers here to the steps of the capitol. What is keeping them here is this issue of funding. Right now, there is legislators in that building, essentially, debating and discussing the next budget for the state's public school system for the next couple of years.

So, the teachers who I have been speaking to out here today are genuinely concerned that that could mean cuts in the education system. Perhaps for textbooks, transportation, or maybe even the hiring of teachers, including Diane Young, who is a first year teacher, Brianna, as you're about to hear from her.

You were telling me a little while ago, this is more than just about the pension, it is about funding. You started as an educator. What concerns you right now?

DIANE YOUNG, TEACHER: It is an outright assault on public education. Community, states need public education. Instead of finding logical sources for funding, they just want to cut and take away and it is awful because our kids deserve better. Our state deserves better.

SANDOVAL: What do you think should be the message for legislators, with the pension reform behind now, and the budget ahead, where are you right now in terms of messaging for lawmakers?

YOUNG: They need to find funding. They don't need to take away. I'm a first year teacher. I've spent a couple of thousand dollars on my classroom taking care of my kids. If I can do it, they can find funding.

SANDOVAL: Do you think this will drag on to next month, next week, possibly? [11:20:05] YOUNG: If they don't do the right thing, absolutely. I absolutely see it in the long-term protest because as teachers, we care about our pension, obviously, but we care a lot more about our kids and we care about the future of Kentucky and it seems like we're the only ones.

SANDOVAL: Diane, thank you so much for talking to us. Brianna, I think what we have seen now is obviously a movement that perhaps West Virginia, we were there, and now has been seen in several states including here in Kentucky.

Important to point out that a majority of the districts or counties in Kentucky were already scheduled to have school closures today because of spring break. However, the concern here is if these teachers don't feel like they're getting anything from the legislators, or the governor, then perhaps it could drag into next week when school is back in session.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be watching. That is stunning, I will say, first year teacher who spent a couple of thousand dollars on her classroom, really bringing it home there. Polo Sandoval, thank you. Nick Valencia, we appreciate your report as well.

Still ahead, President Trump launches a new Twitter attack this morning on immigration and declares that DACA is dead. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, just asked him about it. We're going to show you what President Trump said next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:24]

KEILAR: This morning, President Trump sending a new jolt to the 700,000 immigrants known as DREAMers, saying that there won't be a deal to protect them from deportation. The president firing off this angry post-holiday tweet, "DACA is dead, because the Democrats didn't care or act. And now everyone wants to get on to the DACA bandwagon. No longer works. Must build wall and secure our borders with proper border legislation. Democrats want no borders, hence drugs and crime."

The presidential blast coming in a burst of tweets attacking Democrats, immigration laws, Mexico and the caravans of Central American migrants heading toward the U.S./Mexico border railing against current immigration laws.

He went so far to say, quote, "Our country is being stolen. Just moments ago at the White House Easter Egg Roll, the president spoke to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Democrats have really let them down. They have really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It is a shame. Now people are taking advantage of DACA and that's a shame. It should have never happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I want to bring in our panel, Jason Miller, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, and Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist with us.

Jason, it is Easter. What the heck? Why is he talking about -- the message and the tone does not fit this holiday weekend, which continues today.

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, this is one of the president's big priorities, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. He ran his entire 2016 campaign on immigration, trade, taxes, and defeating radical Islamic terrorism. So, for him to continue talking about the need to secure our southern border, I think that fits right in the --

KEILAR: With Easter? That was my question.

MILLER: He's the president. So, take advantage of every opportunity that you have and go and push your message. He also put out a strong Easter message, strong Passover message.

KEILAR: But what is he talking about? Because he's creating this -- the country's being stolen, he says, and yet border crossings in 2017 down by half. I mean, the specifics do not match reality.

MILLER: But it is still a massive problem. I think the president is exactly spot on when he points out the fact that Democrats walked away from putting together some sort of DACA deal. And this -- Democrats would rather have this be a 2018 midterm issue rather than actually going and solving it.

I mean, look, the president has said very clearly, he wants to build a wall, and chain migration, get rid of the visa lottery and come up with a real plan to fix DACA. In fact, he said not just the 690,000, he would have gone up to 1.8 million. The fact that Democrats wouldn't take that deal shows they don't care about this issue.

KEILAR: Maria, what is your reaction?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That the president doesn't only not care about this issue, he's completely clueless when it comes to facts regarding immigration policy. He doesn't care about these kids. He never has.

He's only there to use them as pawns. He talked about them during the campaign many times, I agree with you on this, it has been a priority for this president, but he's talked about deporting them and building a wall.

This was never about having a bill that was full of heart, the way that he talked about. He's always been about using these kids to placate his anti-immigrant base. What he did this weekend was I think just completely heartless, which, again, goes to what his personality really is.

He had dinner apparently with Sean Hannity and he's been listening to Ann Coulter who has been bashing him because she's criticizing him on being weak on immigration. That's what he's responding to. He's not responding to the facts.

You're absolutely right, Brianna, border crossings are down, and immigration has been net negative, not just now, since Trump has taken office, but it has been net negative for the last four years of the Obama administration.

KEILAR: I want to listen to Sarah Sanders talking about this. She said that this was a political ploy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it is because we're getting close to an election, they don't want to see the president continue to win like he has for the last year and a half, and they're going to do everything they can even if it means hurting people across the country, if they think it takes a hit at the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: I mean, this is an issue, Jason, to be clear, that most Americans back. A large percentage of Americans say that there should be protection for young people who are brought to the U.S. by no fault of their own.

But here they are, and the only country they have ever known, for all intents and purposes are Americans, even though they're undocumented. It is going to be an issue. Clearly, President Trump is, you know, he's got a hold on his base.