Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump in Saudi Arabia as Russia Controversy Swirls; Trump in Saudi Arabia as Russia Controversy Swirls; Experts: Obstruction of Justice is Hard to Prove; Trump Speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia Tomorrow; Saudi Deals Raise Questions of Trump Family Business Conflicts. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 20, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:10] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for being with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Five o'clock Eastern right now.

It's midnight in Riyadh Saudi Arabia, and the President likely sleeping at this hour after a long day of celebration, diplomacy and even dancing.

The President not the only one, look at this, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, they are dancing each with a saber on their shoulder. And even if top aid Steve Bannon was seen cracking somewhat of a smile in the crowd there. But while President Trump and his staff celebrates oversees, his lawyers are getting to work here at home. CNN has learned that attorneys inside the White House this week have begun researching impeachment.

This is according to two people breached on the discussions and a revelation comes after a week of absolutely explosive stories day after day after day.

And CNN crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz has been following every single story. And every last detail. Shimon lots to keep up with. I understand CNN's new reporting now is on the relationship between Russian officials and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and what was caught being said in some of the intercepted conversations among Russia officials. What can you tell us?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, that's right, Ana. Sources has described to us these conversations where indicated that Russia was bragging about their relationship with Flynn how they could possibly use him to get inside the Trump campaign to get their agenda across to the Trump. This was during the campaign. Remember there's also conversations after the campaign, post-election with Flynn and the Russian ambassador, which caused a lot of controversy as well, because it's really ultimately what led him to be fired.

But again this is just part of the whole investigation that the FBI is conducting into Flynn, they've subpoenaed his business records, they've talked to some of his business associates really trying to learn more about his background and about his relationship with the Russians. CABRERA: And the "New York Times" meantime in his reporting that

President Trump bragged to Russian officials about firing former FBI Director James Comey. What are you learning about that?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so this came out yesterday, and you know, it's quite a stunner, right? I mean, you have all of this information out there about the memos that Comey wrote after his meetings with Trump, which seem to be inappropriate based on what has been reported. So yesterday "The New York Times" published even more about a meeting that the President had with Russian officials in the Oval Office and in there Trump described the former FBI director as a nut job, saying, quote, "I just fired the head of the FBI, he was crazy, a real nut job. I face great pressure because of Russia, that's taken off."

Now, this is particularly interesting to folks certainly on the hill who now want to know was this sort of a sign that Trump was trying to interfere. A lot of speculation has been sort of made about whether or not Trump, during his meetings with the former FBI director was trying to end the Flynn investigation. And that's still not clear and obviously that's something, going forward that the investigators are going to look at.

CABRERA: Shimon, thanks for your reporting. Now, Trump is not the first president to be saddled by FBI investigations.

Let's talk it over with former White House Counsel to President, Nixon John Dean who testified in the Watergate hearings and spent four months in prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up. Also with us, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen.

John, I want to start with you. I want to discuss the legal and PAC on what we're learning. A former FBI Director James Comey's memo alleging that President Trump asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security adviser Michael Flynn. In your opinion, if President Trump asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, is that obstruction of justice and is that an impeachable offense?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It may or may not be. We don't really have enough fact ship but we have something that's certainly raises the issue. Obstruction of justice plays at two levels, one is the technical criminal statute that's involved, the other is an impeachment level. The criminal statute requires a corrupt intent, it requires a pending proceeding and we don't know if any of those facts are met by the current situation. The impeachment proceeding however, is much looser and a president can be charged without having that intent, being particularly evident. And there's much more latitude when you get into a political offense.

[17:05:15] CABRERA: John, how big of a deal is that this is now an investigation before a special prosecutor, does that up the anti?

DEAN: It does. It's a big deal. It's an albatross around any president to have that. And it's surprising that Mr. Trump did so many things that just invited the situation he now finds himself in. If he would have zipped his lip a little earlier he might not be in the problems he's in but he has certainly invited the kind of scrutiny he's now going to get.

CABRERA: And David, the President has called this witch-hunt but I'm hearing from John, he sounds like he brought some of this upon himself. Do you see it that way?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN AND CLINTON: Yes, of course. Listen, the series of thing that he had over the last couple of weeks, from firing Mr. Comey to, you know, all the way through his conversation with the Russians. There have been a series of things that he did bring on himself. And yes, I know there's a tendency to blame staff but, in this case the President was a prime mover and staff trying and been trying to figure out how to make things look better.

I must say that President Trump must be really relishing his opening hours in Saudi Arabia because it's such a break and he wants a relief. And he got off to a good start today impart because the President is not talking to the American press. He's not being peppered with the questions that reporters would like to ask. But I think -- I don't think he can entirely escape the coils of investigations around him even as he travels.

CABRERA: Earlier this week David, you said that President Trump is in impeachment territory. Several lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans say that's getting had of ourselves but now we have even more information that came out in the last 24 hours. The President what he said apparently to these Russian officials, talking about how getting rid of Comey eased some of the pressure when it comes to Russia. Does that harden your position when it comes to the idea of impeachment?

GERGEN: Well, I think I would agree that adds to the evidence that his opponents are trying to collect that he may have gone too far in interfering with the investigations that he crossed legal boundaries into what might be charged with obstruction of justice whether it's by the Congress or by the courts or by prosecutor. But I think the thing really, you know, I think confirmed that he's in impeachment territory is the fact that his own lawyers inside the White House are now investigating -- according to CNN reports they're investigating what the process of impeachment are all about. I mean, that sends a very clear signal that they may think it's way down the road.

But they think it's somewhere down the road that they may one into that. And that's what I was saying, we're in impeachment territory way too early to be talking about impeachment itself. But the conversations that are now occurring in Washington, especially behind closed doors and even among Republicans, go to the question of how will this ultimately end. And we don't know the answer to that question. The President certainly deserves his time in court, for his team to say things, a lot of leaks have been very anti-Trump of course or reveal him in the worst like, but I think you know, in fairness he deserves to have his day in court and then let's see where things are.

CABRERA: John, the Trump administration, and David kind of talked about this earlier in this international trip hoping this could be a reset for the President. How can the White House make the most of the President's time abroad and even, you know, with these controversies happening back home?

DEAN: Well, as David remembers well Nixon used foreign travel when he was in the impeachment grip as a way to divert public attention and to attract more favorable approval ratings. So, the presidents do have this big stage of the world that they can play on and they can ensurely divert public attention by doing it. Now, Trump so far has really largely being photo ops which are interesting, and we'll have to see how his speech comes off, that's going to be important given his anti-Muslim bans and his earlier campaign talk. So he can do some fence mending and probably help himself at home as well, because he has this great stage to play on.

CABRERA: If you were advising President Trump, go ahead, David.

GERGEN: Yes, let me --

CABRERA: Go ahead, David.

GERGEN: Yes. I was just going to add to what John was saying. I happen to go on President Nixon's last trip overseas and we started in Cairo, seven million Egyptians came out to welcome him, they were dancing on the streets and they were on top of our vans and our buses as we made our way in. It was unbelievable. He warmed, genuine welcome and many good things followed from that. But when the President went home he was once again engulfed, it didn't hold back the tide. It postponed things to give the President a sense of relief but everyone knows when he come home it's going to be rougher.

[17:10:27] And there's going to be one more thing. Next week, it's also going to be -- attentions going to be diverted back home. Because there are two things slated to happen in the next few days. One is, that the Congressional Budget Office is going to come up with the new estimates on how much the House healthcare reform bill, how much it may cost. And that may bring some great controversy. And secondly, the President's own budget is supposed to be revealed in the next few days, a major budget for next year. Major, major political story and that too will be controversy also. I don't see how he can, you know, I think he's going to have a very -- he's off to a very good start on his trip but you can't as I say it, escape entirely the coils.

CABRERA: Right. But he'll be overseas even when those other issues domestically come up that are such a big deal to Americans to your point.

GERGEN: Right.

CABRERA: But John, going back to the investigation we talk about the President's team, legal team now looking into impeachment, and what that process could entail. If you were advising President Trump, John, what would you tell him to do? Does he need to seek outside legal help at this point?

DEAN: Well, first of all the process is pretty simple. It starts in the House Judiciary Committee when the bill is referred to them after one or more bills are introduced into the House, bills of impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee then decide whether to take up the matter or not. And if they do take it up what kind of investigation or hearings they'll hold, then it can go to the House and a simple majority can vote it up or down as a bill of impeachment and send it on to the Senate for a trial and that takes a two-thirds vote.

So that process is pretty simple. What gets complex are first, the politics and the issues that are involved. So, what I would urge the President to do at this point is to try to minimize the damage and not compound his problems by any further efforts that even an appearance of obstructing this investigation. To the contrary, get out and welcome it. At one point, Richard Nixon did that. Bill Clinton certainly didn't try to fight the investigation. So, we do have some modern presidents that Mr. Trump should be looking at.

CABRERA: In the meantime David, we have the President calling this investigation divisive for country, calling it a witch-hunt and not exactly welcoming this special prosecutor in his role.

GERGEN: Which I think that was absolutely right, the President ought to shut down. I think he should lawyer up clearly. And I would assume efforts have been made in that direction but I think any lawyer, just as John would, would advise the President, would you please be quiet and don't see anything more about this. Let it go and let the process work. But don't continue there with grievances which only suggest and reinforce the notion you're trying to shut this down.

CABRERA: We'll leave it there David Gergen and John Dean, thank you both for joining us.

GERGEN: Thank you.

DEAN: Thank you.

CABRERA: The President is taking his first steps into diplomacy with his first trip overseas. But with investigators continuing to work on what's happening in the White House, with Russia, the investigation, could they actually put a damn on this trip and his message. We'll discuss much more live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:17:56] CABRERA: President Trump, the First Lady, nearly the entire senior Oval Office staff is overseas right now. The President here in Saudi Arabia short time ago, you saw him joining in on this traditional sword dance in the capital city of Riyadh earlier in the day. Some presidential business was done with the Saudi king. Here they are signing a staff of agreements. One of them approving $110 billion in arm sales to Saudi Arabia. There was another longer term deal worth $350 billion.

And our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with the President has been along for the many twists and turns today. The President visits lots of pomp and circumstance. Jim, what was the biggest take away from today's visit?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. CABRERA: Jim, what was the biggest take away from today's visit?

ACOSTA: Well, I think the biggest takeaway Ana, were those pictures that we've been seeing all day long. The President has not said very much today, by our account about 26 to 30 words that he's spoken in front of the cameras. He's called today a tremendous day. Then at one point, we just observed this in the press file he was talking about, you know, customs when it comes to taking a drink of coffee from somebody he said always with the right hand, always with the right hand. So trying to follow some local customs here in this part of the world.

But part of that is by design, Ana, they did not want the President out in front of the cameras taking questions from reporters about what's happening back in Washington, the mess that is swirling around his White House. Instead they wanted these pictures beamed out all over the world and they succeeded and that, you mentioned that $110 billion arms deal that were signed by the President and the Saudi King, King Suleiman.

I think that they are very pleased with that as well, and any time that the President can be out there sort of flexing his foreign policy mussels and projecting strength on the world stage, that is something he promised to do as a candidate, and I think that that's what they think they've accomplished today. Of course this is just the beginning of a trip that is just fraught with all sorts of diplomatic challenges for this president. Not only because it's a complicated part of the world but in large part because of many of the statements he's made in the past has come back to haunt him.

CABRERA: Right. And looking forward there's the huge speech tomorrow in which he plans to address the Muslim world and we know more than 50 Muslim leaders will be listening in. What can we anticipate especially when it comes to the free words, radical, Islamic, terrorism?

ACOSTA: You know, that is the big question, Ana. We've been talking about this all day. Will the President used that phrase, radical Islamic terrorism in that speech tomorrow. White House officials previewing that speech and telling reporters privately that no, that phrase is not in the speech, I tried to ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this evening whether or not those words were in the speech and he did not answer the question.

And one of the National Security officials traveling with the secretary said, well we're in the process of drafting this speech. But keep in mind, the person who was really crafting the speech is Steven Miller, the President's chief domestic policy adviser, a speechwriter, who is just as hawkish as the President is on these issues and help draft that travel ban that ill-fated travel ban that got tied up in the courts. So, today was the pomp and circumstance, tomorrow is the meet of this trip to Saudi Arabia. And we're going to find out in short order when that speech is delivered just the tone the President is setting for this trip.

CABRERA: We know Saudi Arabia has invested interest in trying to forge more of an alliance against Iran with the U.S., did Iran come up at all today?

ACOSTA: It did come up today. We should point out Russia very briefly came up, it was posed to the question to the Secretary of State and he just dodged the question. But Iran did come up today with the re-election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about, what are your plans for dealing with Iranian counterpart, the foreign minister in Iran. And he said, well, I have no plans to shut off my phone.

My guess is that we'll be talking in the near future. And so, that was I think the bit of news coming from this administration because they have been very tough on Tehran since coming into office. It's very critical of the Iran nuclear deal. Not to the extent they would throw that nuclear detail away but the subject of Iran really puts this administration, puts this president on the same page as the Saudis. The Saudis, they very much want a check Iran's influence in this part of the world. That's part of the reason why they were eager to sign that arms deal.

[17:22:24] They're going to be using some of that military fire power to go after the Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. And so, this is one area where, you know, a lot of people might say, well, the President, he said all of these things about Islam and banning Muslims from coming into the U.S., he's just going to have a terrible time over here, when he chose Saudi Arabia to come for this very first part of the foreign trip, he chose a country where this kingdom is very much on the same page when it comes to several of this foreign policy challenges taking the fight to ISIS, taking on Iran and try to check their influence in the region.

It's no surprise that they decided to stop here in Saudi Arabia first as part of this foreign trip. But still a lot of diplomatic land mines to go. He still has to go to Israel after this and that is going to be even more challenging with the Israeli Palestinian crises that still a problem in that part of the world and a challenge for this administration.

CABRERA: Jim Acosta, thank you so much for your reporting and we hope you get some rest too. Well earned.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CABRERA: We have heard legal analyst and Democrats use the term obstruction of justice a lot this week, but if anyone plans to prosecute the President for firing the FBI director, it could be a long road ahead.

Much more in the CNN NEWSROOM.

But first, how much do you know about Muslim communities in America? This week on "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," W. Kamau Bell travels to an Arab-American mecca outside of Detroit to have some uncontrollable conversations about the Muslim faith in this country. Tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's this rhetoric of a standard of Muslimness and that's dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of the misunderstandings of Islam has to do with what the Muslims are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your taking my religion and killing people as a devout Muslim, that's not what my God told me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't support homosexuality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In our religion, it is forbidden.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": How was it to grow up in the Muslim faith and be gay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that you can be gay and Muslim at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's part of our beliefs to always have hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- always been part of the American fabric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will just continue to strive as citizens of this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what the mosque is all about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People need to wake up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is who we are and this is what we stand for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:03] CABRERA: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy sent a message to President Trump. (audio gap) Russian diplomats with the message, this is what obstruction looked like. And Leahy included a quote, from "The New York Times" report about the President allegedly telling the Russians, I faced great pressure because of Russia, that's taken off.

Some legal analyst agree with Leahy that this could be obstruction. But as CNN's Brian Todd reports, there's a long grinding process to prove it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump admitted he had something on his mind when he fired his FBI Director James Comey.

DONALD TRUMP (R), UNITED STATES: In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. [17:30:00] TODD (voice-over): The troubling question following those

remarks to NBC News, coupled with the revelation, according to sources, that the president asked Comey to end the FBI's investigation into Michael Flynn. Was it obstruction of justice?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I think what Mr. Trump said was an admission, and we ought to credit that as being the motivating reason why he fired Mr. Comey.

TODD: Legal analysts say that's close to what the law defines as obstruction of justice. But the bar for proving that in a criminal case is high, especially if it's a "he said/he said" dispute. You'd have to prove intent.

ROBERT PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS ATTORNEY: The mental state of mind is very important. What you'd have to establish in this case would be that the president not only expressed a desire for the Flynn investigation be put to rest, but sought to apply pressure to the FBI director to end the Flynn investigation.

TODD: Experts say, based on the evidence made to the public so far, it's very unlikely Mr. Trump will be prosecuted while in office. He may be exempt from charges stemming from his acts as president while serving.

But that's not the only way to try the president for obstruction. Congress could attempt to impeach him. The House would have to investigate, draw up charges and vote on articles of impeachment. It would resemble a criminal trial.

STEPHEN VLADECK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERITY OF TEXAS LAW SCHOOL: The House of Representatives serves a function as grand jury. It's their job to indict or impeachment president and then it's the Senate that is the usual jury and judge. It's their job to hold the trial, to call witnesses.

TODD: Then, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to impeach the president. Experts say all this could take several months if not years to play out.

(on camera): A huge question now is whether Congress, with both Houses led by Republicans, is going to have the political will to establish a commission to investigate the president, or to push impeachment or obstruction proceedings in the months ahead. Political analysts say that's going to depend heavily on what James Comey may say in testimony to Congress, what evidence he presents, and how he presents it.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: The president chose a Muslim-majority country for the first stop on his overseas trip. Does this turn a corner from his campaign rhetoric? How will his message in Saudi Arabia be received by the Muslim world? We'll discuss ahead. But first, two sisters were determined to finish a half marathon at

Disneyland, and then one of them was diagnosed with cancer, but they promised to finish it anyway.

Here's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sisters Jackie and Karla Solano are training for a half marathon at Disneyland.

KARLA SOLANO, MARATHON RUNNER: We are big Disney fans. We forget that we're adults. We hold hands and we skip into the park because we're excited.

GUPTA: The sisters bond through running. Having raced dozens of events through the years, yet the next race is different.

JACKIE SOLANO, CANCER PATIENT & MARATHON RUNNER: Hearing the words that I have cancer was probably the hardest thing I've had to hear.

GUPTA: Last October 31-year-old Jackie Solano was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She's gone through three rounds of chemotherapy limiting her strength and immune system but she's determined to finish the race with her sister.

JACKIE SOLANO: Right now, I'm halfway through treatments, I want to feel normal.

KARLA SOLANO: Cancer, that's not what defiance my sister.

JACKIE SOLANO: Cancer is definitely not stopping me from running. Not at all.

GUPTA: This "Star Wars"-themed Disneyland half marathon takes a run through the Magic Kingdom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Runners, set, go.

(CHEERING)

GUPTA: Five miles in, the strain on her body is wearing her down, but her team was there to help her.

(CHEERING)

GUPTA: By mile 12, she got up, to finish on foot.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go. Finish it strong.

JACKIE SOLANO: Really emotional crossing that finish line.

KARLA SOLANO: That's just one finish line she will be crossing. Once she is cancer-free, that's another finish line that she'll cross.

[17:34:12] JACKIE SOLANO: Cancer or no cancer, I finished the race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: President Trump is on his first trip outside the United States since Election Day. It's an ambitious nine-day agenda that started today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The business part of the trip first. The president and Saudi king signed a few agreements, including a 10-yeaar $350 billion package of economic and defense investments, including a $110 billion arms deal that takes effect immediately. And tomorrow, of course, is the big address, the president's speech on Islam.

I want to talk to Democratic strategist and former consultant to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Mustafa Tameez.

Mustafa, thanks for joining us.

Looking ahead to this big speech tomorrow, we know the president will be addressing 50 Islamic leaders to outline his vision for U.S./Muslims relations. This is a president, let me remind everybody, who, as a candidate, called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. What do you think his audience is expecting to hear tomorrow?

MUSTAFA TAMEEZ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT CONSULTANT: Well, first, his audience is Muslim world leaders and not the Muslim world in itself. So the challenge is when President Obama went out, he spoke to the aspirations of the young people at Cairo University. The president is speaking in front of Muslim leaders who are mostly dictators, monarchs and authoritarians, and he's leading with a $110 million arms deal. That I think is problematic in itself.

[17:40:03] CABRERA: Why is that problematic?

TAMEEZ: Well, look, rather than exporting democracy, we're exporting weapons. We are adding fuel to a war to Iran and Saudi Arabia. And we're militarizing one side while we're trying to do diplomacy and take off nuclear weapons from Iran, which was done in the last administration. So this is -- we've been known in the world in terms of a moral high ground, and now we're exported weapons and we're bragging about the fact that we're sending $110 billion worth of weapons.

CABRERA: The president says this is about creating more American jobs and American companies. Do you see the positive of that?

TAMEEZ: I think it is positive to create jobs in our country but by selling weapons to one side is not going to create peace. We should be known as peacemakers rather than exporters of weapons. And to that scale, let me give you an example, to an average Saudi citizen, a $110 billion would a quarter of their Saudi salaries. If we want to create less radicalism in the region, it's not by selling weapons to one country in the Middle East.

CABRERA: We heard our colleague, Jim Acosta, ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" would be in the president's speech tomorrow. We know that's something that has caused trouble among those who disagree it's effective in fighting terrorism itself. The president didn't answer the question whether the words would be in the speech. Those words got a lot of applause during the campaign for the president. But what do you say if he decides to use that phrase when he's face to face with Islamic leaders?

TAMEEZ: Well, he's got a lot of applause from his base when he used those words, by all national security experts in the United States and around the world thought that it was a bad idea to do so. Now if he stands in front of Muslim world leaders and uses those words, it's not how they react to it, it's the reaction of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That's more important. And if those Muslim leaders embrace him and he's using those words, it creates destabilization in those Muslim countries.

CABRERA: Just really quickly, the fact that he chose Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world as part of his first trip abroad, much different than past presidents, does that give him a little bit of endearment to people who practice the Islamic faith?

TAMEEZ: Well, look, he's embracing a monarchy that's been supporting extremism around the world, that's the second-most export after oil. It's not that he's embracing the Muslim communities around the world. He's latching himself on to the leadership, which is not elected in most of those countries. That is a big distinction. Whereas, President Obama went to speak at Cairo University, talked to the aspirations of young Muslims around the world. President Trump is speaking to Muslim leaders and making the largest arms deal that he's made with Muslims, so that is the distinction of which we should be conscious. We should be appealing to the broader public, Muslims that live in that country rather than the leadership.

CABRERA: Mustafa Tameez, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

TAMEEZ: Thank you.

CABRERA: The president is no stranger to "The Art of the Deal." In fact, he's had many business dealing in the Middle East and in Saudi Arabia. Why some of today's defense contracts are already raising concerns.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:48:15] CABRERA: President Trump is hoping his deal-making skills will take some of sting out of the devastating headlines back home. Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman inked billions of dollars in business investments in defense deals today at an elaborate signing ceremony in Riyadh. Speaking of deals, the foreign trip has raised questions about potential business conflicts for the Trump family. CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, is joining us.

M.J., Trump was bragging about being a deal maker. He even bragged about his businesses in Saudi Arabia on the campaign prior to this.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And at the very least raises some optics issues here. Donald Trump has been a businessman for the entirety of his life, and now that he's president, when he goes on foreign trips like this, even if he has back away from the Trump Organization, he is going to have to constantly fight off the perception that anything he does in a diplomatic sense might benefit his family's company.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEE (voice-over): Donald Trump arriving in Saudi Arabia today, the first stop in his inaugural foreign trip as president. Trump, hoping to use the nine-day tour to reset his tumultuous presidency at home as questions about his campaign's ties to Russia continue to swirl.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to get back to running this country really, really well.

LEE: But the president's highly anticipated visit again raising questions about potential business conflicts in the region where Trump has a long history of real estate investments.

TRUMP: Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me, they spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

[17:50:04] LEE: Trump's vast empire spans the globe, including apartment buildings, hotels and golf courses. According to a 2016 financial disclosure, Trump had 144 registered companies with dealings in more than two dozen companies, eight of them were Saudi companies, all recently dissolved or canceled. He's been taking steps to distance himself from the family business, turning over control to his sons.

TRUMP: Don and Eric are going to be running the company. They're going to be running it in a very professional manner. They're not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don't have to do this. They're not going to discuss it with me.

LEE: But Trump's critics are not convinced he has severed himself completely from his business empire. A group of Democratic Senators sending a letter this week to the Trump Organization about its continued ties to the president. The Senators writing, "This continuing financial relationship raises serious concerns about whether the Trump Organization is effectively a pass-through for income that violates the Constitution's two Emoluments Clauses."

Trump's second stop will be Israel, where he also has had business interests through the years.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LEE: I did reach out to the organization to confirm whether the company still has any footprint in Saudi Arabia, and the top attorney for the organization saying in an email to me, "None, we have no interest in Saudi Arabia."

CABRERA: So what about Jared Kushner and his involvement with this $110 billion arms deal?

LEE: It's so interesting. We've known for a while, obviously, that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, has a lot of weight in the White House, but I think this trip is showing for the first time in detail how much of an influence he has in the diplomatic decisions that are being made by the Trump White House. We learned a fascinating detail about this defense deal that Trump signed earlier today in Saudi Arabia. A source telling that you Kushner actually personally made a call to the CEO of Lockheed Martin to ask whether she could lower of price of a missile system. We don't know if that one phone call had an effect of lowering the price, but just goes to show he was very that involved and very hands-on.

CABRERA: Very hands-on.

LEE: Right, very hands-on. Personally making that call. Of course, this is a deal that the administration is certainly going to want to tout as an important development and an important accomplishment. You know, I'm going to have to bet that Kushner is probably going to get a lot of credit for helping to get to that deal.

CABRERA: We'll see.

Thanks so much, M.J. Lee.

Still ahead, scary times for passengers aboard a flight to Honolulu. The whole ordeal involving the FBI. We'll have much more when we come back.

Frist, as a Marine Corps medic in Vietnam, this week's "CNN Hero" has put his life on the line for his men in some of the war's toughest battles. When he returned home, he endured another fight, struggling for years with alcohol, drugs and PTSD. When Bob Adams got his life together, he realized many of his fellow vets still needed his help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB ADAMS, CNN HERO: I began to see vet advance on the street. Marines do not leave anyone behind. We take our dead and our wounded with us, or we don't go. And that pledge means the world to any one of the us. So to see that code being broken shocked me into action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: If you want to see more of Bob's work to help his fellow veterans, go to CNNheroes.com, where you can also nominate a "CNN Hero."

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:58:30] CABRERA: A big day for President Trump, kicking off his first international trip in Saudi Arabia. Meantime, the country's neighbor, Iran, went to the polls. They reelected their president for a second term. This was an election, of course, the U.S. was watching closely. President Hassan Rouhani beat out his more conservative opponent by a comfortable margin. Rouhani was a key architect in that controversial nuclear deal with the U.S. back in 2015, one that President Trump has repeatedly criticized. In a speech after his win, Rouhani says he hopes to improve relation with the U.S. and the rest of the world.

We're learning more now about the man who caused quite a scare on a flight from L.A. to Honolulu. This is video, shot by a passenger, showing the man being escorted off this American Airlines flight when it landed in Hawaii. The passenger, we have learned, is a Turkish national, and he will now likely face federal charges. Passengers say the suspect had to be subdued after he tried to head toward the cockpit. Flight attendants reportedly used a drink cart to keep him from entering the front of the plane and were successful. He was subdued and then passengers say the man was duct-taped to his seat until the plane landed safely. Fortunately, no reports of any injuries.

I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thanks so much for spending some time with me. I'll see you back here in an hour, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

"SMERCONISH" is next.