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Did White House Lie to Public About Trump Tower Meeting?; North Korea Summit Preparations; Trump's Former White House Physician Under Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 4, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUESTION: What does the president think is his top foreign policy achievement of the first 500 days?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that there have been a number of major foreign policy achievements.
Certainly, I think the strengthening of relationships with a number of foreign leaders. I think that the conversation that we're looking forward to having here in the next couple weeks is certainly a step in the right direction.
Moving the embassy in Israel would certainly be on that list, being tough on Russia, being tough on trade, and making sure that countries that have engaged in unfair trade practices are held accountable. Those are just a few, but certainly I think the list of quite lengthy, and we would be happy to provide some more details.
QUESTION: Sarah, can you give us a little bit more background on the pardon process? Is there a process in place at this White House to review pardons, and how did those -- how did the pardon ideas of Rod Blagojevich and Martha Stewart come up?
Is it simply a matter of who can gain the president's ear in order to get a pardon process? Or is there an attorney here in the White House through which these requests are funneled through which eventually make their way up to the president?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, there are a number of attorneys here at the White House and they review these matters. But ultimately the president looks at each of these cases individually and makes that decision, as he has the right to do so.
Take one last question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
I wanted to ask you about the president's call today with Theresa May, the prime minister of Great Britain, who said that the president's tariffs on the E.U. were -- quote -- "unjustified and deeply disappointing," according to the British readout of their phone call today. That's what she said to the president.
How did the president respond to that?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president feels very confident in his decision and will continue to make sure that the unfair trade practices that have gone on for decades do not continue and that he is protecting the interests of American workers and American businesses.
Thanks, guys. We will see you tomorrow.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, I have got Caitlin Huey-Burns, Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger all standing by.
And I would love to know if anyone was counting how many times Sarah Sanders said the president hasn't done anything wrong.
Gloria, I want to start with you. And, listen, we don't know what the result of this Mueller investigation will be, but it's almost like, you know when someone says something over and over and over again, it's like you're trying to convince yourself or someone that what you're saying is true?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think she said it, first of all, more than a handful of times, I would have to guess, and it was her way of avoiding the question, the president saying he could pardon himself.
And she's saying, well, that's -- we wouldn't even need to go there, because there's no need, because the president is not guilty of anything.
On the question of the special counsel being unconstitutional, she said, well, we know that isn't needed also, because the president hasn't done anything wrong.
Is he above the law?
BORGER: Well, no one is above the law, but the president hasn't done anything wrong. So, that's the way the whole press conference went.
BALDWIN: So, Jeff Toobin.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, ma'am.
BALDWIN: If the president hasn't done anything wrong, I just want to go into the specifics on what we know, based upon this letter, and this is all -- I want to stay on the letter for a second. And this is all...
TOOBIN: you're talking about the letter that was in "The New York Times," the 20-page letter? Yes.
BALDWIN: The 20-page letter that was sent from the Trump lawyers to the special counsel, saying, yes, that the president, unlike what Sarah Sanders has said in the past, Jay Sekulow has said in the past, that the president did dictate that first misleading statement regarding that Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., who ultimately, we learned, wanted dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton.
Don Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in private testimony in September that he didn't speak to his father about the statement, that the president -- quote -- "may have commented through Hope Hicks."
If the president didn't do anything wrong, surely, he speaks to his son.
TOOBIN: I don't know.
I mean, the facts are murky. The only thing that's quite clear is that the letter and the statements by Sarah Sanders and Jay Sekulow are completely contradictory.
TOOBIN: She said -- and she used the exact words. She the president didn't dictate the letter, the response to the Trump Tower meeting.
TOOBIN: The 20-page letter says he did dictate it.
BALDWIN: He did.
TOOBIN: So, somebody's wrong. I don't know who's right and who's wrong.
The -- now, Hope Hicks has testified repeatedly before, I believe, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Mueller investigation. She was intimately involved in this. I would suspect her view would carry a lot of weight about how that statement came into being.
But as for -- I don't think we have anyway of knowing which one is telling the truth.
BALDWIN: Now, when Sarah Sanders was asked directly about how said that -- Caitlin, that she -- that Trump did not dictate, she kept -- Jim Acosta totally called it.
Our chief White House correspondent, he called it, because he said, the only way out of it is for her to say, I have to refer you to that outside counsel.
But my question is, if she was armed enough with information that original time to say he did not dictate, and it came out of her mouth, shouldn't she be in the position to respond on behalf of the White House to say -- to explain herself?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Exactly, and especially since you have had two days.
This is another example of the White House not having its story straight and being caught for it. Sarah Sanders is evading accountability here consistently by referring things to outside counsel. Now, in some cases, that's right, right?
In some cases this is outside her purview. In this particular case, this is a question, and it was asked repeatedly by persistent reporters a number of different ways, how her statement from the podium could be referred to outside counsel, because this is going to something that she directly said.
And so you can see this letter is all about the president's legal team trying to trying to figure out ways for the president not to sit down with special counsel. You can see why nobody thinks it's a good idea for the president to sit down.
BALDWIN: But if the president hasn't done anything wrong, then why not sit down with Bob Mueller?
HUEY-BURNS: Well, that's...
TOOBIN: To me, the most amazing thing about this whole -- the latest version of this controversy is, Rudy Giuliani said over the weekend, well, he can't sit down, because we keep remembering new things.
BORGER: Right. Right.
BALDWIN: Right. Right.
TOOBIN: You know what? If you tell the truth, you don't have to worry about new things coming out.
BALDWIN: Gloria, hang on.
Go ahead, Gloria.
And then I want to go to Jim Sciutto.
BORGER: He can't sit down because the stories keep changing.
BORGER: And maybe the president's recollections keep changing.
But whatever it is, there isn't a straight story about a lot of things, whether it's the Don Jr. issue, the Trump Tower meeting.
BALDWIN: Oh. Oh. Hopefully, we can get Gloria back up. Sorry about technicalities sometimes in live TV.
I think we have Jim Sciutto, although, guys -- I'm talking to the control room -- I would love to get Jim Acosta up as well.
But, Jim Sciutto, take us through how much of this story has evolved and now reporter suspicions that have been confirmed by the president and his words.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I would say evolved is a friendly term, because story has outright changed.
And it's changed so many times, that it's difficult to keep up. So, we're going to help you keep up by running through the series of, frankly, contradictory statements about this Trump Tower meeting and the explanation drafted for after the fact.
Let's take you back to July last year. This is the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow asked about the drafting of this misleading statement about the purpose of that Trump Tower meeting.
He said, in the simplest terms, "The president didn't sign off on anything." Fairly comprehensive in that answer.
If that's not clear enough, later that same day on CNN's air, he said very similar. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, not involved at all, nor was the president involved at all.
Let's go forward one month following that. So, in August of last year, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, has a different take on this, didn't necessarily -- the president outright wrote the letter, but he was, contradicting Jay Sekulow from the month before, involved.
Have a listen .
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate, but he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So, remember, a month before, Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, said not involved at all. Those were the exact words. A month after that, the White House press secretary says, in fact, he was. He weighed in, like any father would do.
So, let's go to what the -- we saw in "The New York Times" over the weekend. This is the memo from the president's lawyers saying now, in fact, the president dictated a short, but accurate statement. We will get to accurate in a moment. But now it's dictated.
So, a year later, went from no involvement to the president weighed in, to the president dictated the statement word for word. That is the implication there.
Now, is there an explanation for that? I know you were referencing this earlier with Jeff and Gloria, Brooke, but let's play what the president's now personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said to explain all of these changes -- changing stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: This is the reason you don't let the president testify, if every -- our recollection keeps changing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: "Our recollection keeps changing."
I just want to go back to this point, short, but accurate statement, because the fact is, the statement was not accurate. It was never accurate whether or not the president was involved.
And we now know he was, because we know from e-mails that in Trump Tower in June 16 was taken on the expectation, taken by Don Jr. on the expectation that the Russians in that meeting were going to bring dirt on Hillary Clinton.
You remember the e-mail, Brooke. He said, I love it, I love the idea, when it was presented to him. That was the primary function of the meeting.
So, the idea, as this statement claimed, that this was all about Russian adoptions, was misleading from the beginning, whether or not the president was involved.
Now we know that the president dictated a misleading explanation for that statement. It really is remarkable. And you have to go back through it to keep track. And it's a fairly damning account when you do. BALDWIN: Yes. No, absolutely. And I think, to everyone's points,
there is inconsistency, lies, whatever the word is that you want to use. That has certainly happened with this latest iteration of the story.
Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
Gloria Borger, what say you?
BORGER: Well, I -- look, Jim plays it out there.
And then, you know, this isn't that recollections keep changing. This is that stories keep changing, not recollections. And the question that of course I believe Mueller would want to ask the president is, why were you -- what was your intent? Why were you so involved in the changing of this story?
I mean, don't forget, with -- when they were on this airplane, there was already a much more valid statement that had been drafted by attorneys before.
And then the president gets on the plane, returning from the summit. Clearly, he sees the statement that had been drafted by attorneys. And he decides to chuck it, and instead write what he wants, which was false and misleading.
So, you can see why Mueller would want to ask him why, particularly since the president has always said that he really had no knowledge about this meeting beforehand or didn't know anything about it.
So, you know, I think there are legitimate questions that Mueller might want to ask the president about that.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Jeff.
TOOBIN: And if I can just...
TOOBIN: One question I think we always need to ask is, well, why should we care about this? Why do these details matter?
TOOBIN: The reason why these details matter is that, if the president thought there was nothing wrong with his staff meeting with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, then why was he putting out a false story about it?
TOOBIN: Why didn't he just say, well, we were meeting to get dirt?
(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Yes.
TOOBIN: Instead, it deals with what lawyers call consciousness of guilt, the idea that when you come up with a false explanation for something, that suggests that the truth is incriminating to you.
And that's something that in white-collar crime comes up all the time.
BALDWIN: Final thought.
HUEY-BURNS: And that's why the question to Sarah Sanders was so simple, right? You said one thing at the time.
HUEY-BURNS: And do you agree with that or not at this time, right? That's something that they haven't been able and refuse to answer.
BALDWIN: Which she didn't answer. Which she didn't answer.
Caitlin and Jeff and Gloria, thank you all so very much for that.
Coming up next here: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un replacing three military leaders just a week away from a potential summit with President Trump. We're learning fascinating details about the logistics of that meeting, everything from who sits where to who picks up the tab.
And, later, the widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan joins me live to share the story behind these stunning photos of the little girl that her husband never got a chance to meet.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We have some breaking now about the president's one-time personal White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson. He is under investigation by the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General. They're going to be looking into allegations made against him.
So let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, for more on this.
What are some of the allegations, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, here's where it stands.
Up until now, the inspector general had simply been looking into allegations. Now we know that, in the last month, they have opened a formal investigation. The allegations have included everything from poor management of the White House Medical Office to potentially drinking while on the job, not getting along with others in the office, and freely dispensing prescription drugs, as well as allegations that he may have violated the medical privacy of Karen Pence, of course, the wife of the vice president
All of these are allegations, nothing proving yet by the I.G. Innocent, until proven otherwise, but this is a very significant step, because the I.G. had been reviewing, if you will, all of this for some weeks since Admiral Jackson's nomination to be veterans affairs secretary had been withdrawn earlier in the year, in the face of these allegations.
So they were reviewing them. Now they have opened a formal investigation. They are interviewing people, talking to people who may know about all of this, not saying whether it's a criminal or administrative investigation, but this could determine the next steps for Admiral Jackson.
He is nominated for a second star in the U.S. Navy. Unlikely at this point he would readily get that, certainly not until all of this is resolved. And he could find himself retiring rather suddenly at a lower grade -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: A lot of this coming to light when he was nominated to become the next veterans affairs secretary.
Barbara Starr, thank you so much.
BALDWIN: I want to go back to what we were just discussing, what we heard in that White House press briefing.
This is what Sarah Sanders when asked about why her initial account of that 2016 Trump Tower meeting does not exactly go along with what we're learning now, the President Trump did indeed dictate the statement about the substance of that meeting.
Here she was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You said last August that the president did not dictate the statement about the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign.
But the lawyers wrote to the special counsel that the president did dictate that statement. What's the reason for that discrepancy?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Like you said, this is from a letter from the outside counsel. And I would direct you to them to answer that question.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, you're referencing a letter that came directly from outside counsel. And I would refer you to them to answer that question. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me, CNN political commentator Tara Setmayer, a former Republican communications director, and Jeff Ballabon, a member of Donald Trump's advisory board.
So, great to have you both on.
And, Jeff, just starting with you, why can't Sarah Sanders answer the simple question on why she said the president didn't dictate, when we have learned he did?
JEFF BALLABON, TRUMP ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: Well, I mean, you may call it a simple question, but, obviously, it's a very loaded question.
And even now, I hear on television people referring to discussions about recollection as lying, as though it's clear that there must be some intent here, some negative intent. So I think she's right to say this is a question for the lawyers. They wrote the letter. It's really up to them.
BALDWIN: But if she had the information to answer the original question regarding that Trump Tower meeting, and said he did not dictate, why is that not on her? Why is she referring to outside counsel? Why can't she answer the question?
BALLABON: Well, there are two things.
The question was about the letter, and the answer about -- and she said, talk to them about the letter. In terms of the overall question about the events that happened, look, it's a bunch of political neophytes taking a meeting that has turned into this colossal game of gotcha many months later or a couple years later that -- and I think that Rudy Giuliani's made the case and made the point very clearly that things happened at the time that a couple years later people didn't really think were so important at the moment that they happened.
And the presumption that there's some kind of a guilt and there's some kind of intent to mislead is not necessarily something you can conclude from whether someone has a different recollection.
BALDWIN: But, Jeff, they misled the public in that initial statement.
I just -- I just need to stay with you, because they said initially it was about adoptions, when that wasn't true. So I hear you. They're political neophytes. Why not just tell the truth from the...
BALLABON: I'm sorry. Has it been established that's not true, that they weren't talking about options, as well as they met somebody who said that she might have information which they realized as useless and walked away from?
They walked away from the meeting in disgust, and it wasn't a big deal. It's only a big deal playing gotcha years later.
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK.
Paul Manafort has been in politics for probably longer than I have been alive, so -- and I'm over 40.
BALDWIN: So, he's not a neophyte.
SETMAYER: Yes, he's not a neophyte. He's been around a very long time.
So -- and he was in meeting, in that Trump Tower meeting. So to make that assumption is absurd, number one.
Number two, the -- what precipitated that meeting was an e-mail to Donald Trump Jr. from one of his friends who is a -- who is Russian who said, hey, we have got some dirt on Hillary Clinton. And Donald Trump was like, great.
So they went into that meeting anticipating getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians. So just because that there may have been a bait and switch or maybe it was a Russian agent intelligence op, we don't know.
But the fact that the adoptions was some small part of it, that is B.S. That is not what the intent of that meeting was. And we all know that. And that's been well-established now. Donald Trump Jr. released his e-mails that showed that.
So, this is craziness. What's happening is, they're deflecting, because they lied about this, because, for whatever reason, it seems as though they have something to hide.
Trey Gowdy said, if you innocent, act like it.
BALDWIN: Act like it.
SETMAYER: These are not the actions, the behaviors, the words of people who are innocent with nothing to hide. When you have nothing to hide, you don't need to have different recollections of what's going on.
BALLABON: All right, so it's precisely this kind of spin, it's precisely this kind of an assumption -- you have no idea, Tara. You have no idea what they did know or what the intention is.
You're claiming that it's lying.
(CROSSTALK) SETMAYER: I know what his e-mail said.
BALLABON: It's precisely because of this that this turned into a big game of gotcha. That's exactly the point.
SETMAYER: No, it's the other side, it's what you guys are doing that's trying to strain credibility of people who are watching this objectively, thinking that we're supposed to believe that no one knew anything about anything, that it was all just innocent mistakes, when the evidence keeps piling up that they were not truthful.
There was a reason why. If it was just about adoptions, and that was it, then why did the president need to get involved? Why did they have to have this whole big confab on Air Force One to come up with a statement to cover what was really going on in this meeting?
Maybe because the meeting was supposed to be about getting dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton, which is what Donald Trump Jr.'s own e-mail said.
But, look, it's even bigger than this. What's going on with the president of the United States going on these tweetstorms of -- are really concerning, talking about that he can pardon himself, but why would he if he didn't do anything wrong, and this constant drumbeat of trying to undermine the rule of law.
Every American should be concerned about this. The president of the United States is demagoguing this issue...
SETMAYER: The president of the United States is demagoguing this issue in a way that our founding fathers wouldn't...
SETMAYER: ... even concerned about.
BALDWIN: OK. OK.
BALLABON: The fact is, he started off the day talking about incredible -- no, he started off the day talking about the incredible accomplishments he's had as president, which he has.
And, instead, the media wants to make it a drumbeat about something else.
BALDWIN: Don't -- no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
BALDWIN: Don't the media. Don't the media this. (CROSSTALK)
BALLABON: ... the media because that is where this is playing out. That's all it's playing out. That's all you want to talk about.
SETMAYER: Nice try.
BALLABON: It's a constant drumbeat. It's not a nice try. It's the reality.
BALDWIN: No, no, it matters. It matters. The truth matters. We need to function in the realm of the truth.
Jeff Ballabon, stop talking please, just for a second.
Jeff Ballabon, Tara Setmayer, we're going to leave it there.
Facts matter, who said what, what they were discussing. The end of this entire Mueller investigation, we don't have the answers here. It will become clear in time. We do have some of the answers.
And, according to this letter from the Trump lawyers to the special counsel, he did dictate that, which was not previously indicated.
SETMAYER: And he's not above the law.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
SETMAYER: He's -- they're implying that the president is above the law. And he's not.
BALDWIN: Thank you both.
Coming up here on CNN: Do not call it a summit -- what the president is now saying about his upcoming meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong- un.