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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Signs Russia Sanctions Bill; North Korea Missile Flew Within Miles Of Passenger Jet Flight Path; Graham Slammed For North Korea Comments; Pentagon Still Waiting For More Info On Transgender Ban; Mexican President And Boy Scout Leaders: We Didn't Call Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: -- that courtroom sketch from deflategate, well, we wanted to show you that wax figure, John, because you can now say for the first time in your life, you are better looking than Tom Brady. I mean, that wax figure was -- I know you love that because you love Tom Brady.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No one is better looking than Tom Brady. All right, Coy Wire --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Man or woman.

BERMAN: -- thanks very, very much. We appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thank you, Coy, and thank you all for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. We are following breaking news. This morning, President Trump signing the Russia sanctions bill just a short time ago.

The sanctions slaps Moscow for the meddling in the 2016 election further, of course, ratcheting up the tension with the kremlin. Now remember, the sanctions were approved with overwhelming support by both chambers of Congress.

There was some question, though, after that, what the president actually was going to do here. Well, now we have the answer. He signed the bill. Just moments from now we will be hearing from the president live.

He is expected to talk about another campaign pledge that he's hoping to fulfil, reforming the U.S. immigration system. We are not talking about illegal immigration this time, rather, the president expected to roll out a new bill targeting legal immigration. We will have that announcement for you live.

But let's get over to the White House right now now. Kaitlan Collins is there for more on this breaking news. So Kaitlan, the president signed the sanctions bill we're told a short time ago. Is there a statement from the president? Why no photo op?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We haven't seen a statement from the president yet, Kate. We are told there's a photo of him signing the bill, but we have not gotten that yet. White House officials have confirmed that he had signed this bill and that we will get a statement on it shortly.

But this bill has been on his desk since Friday. It's one of the first major pieces of legislation that the president is signing. But as you know, Kate, it passed through Congress with veto-proof majority.

So even if it president hadn't signed it, Congress would have been able to override his veto here. We've heard from the White House officials since Friday saying that the president would sign it, he would sign it, and today, he finally has.

Now you've already known that we have seen some response from Russia before President Trump even signed this bill. Russian President Vladimir Putin told the U.S. they would have to cut their diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people. He also seized two diplomatic compounds.

So, we have already seen a Russian response to these sanctions that are in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as their military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. So, we have already seen that response from Russia before this bill was even signed today.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. So, there's that breaking news. What else are we going to be hearing from the president later this hour?

COLLINS: So, the president and two conservative senators here at the White House any minute now are expected to unveil some new legislation on legal immigration. They are looking to cut those numbers in half.

Now as you know, Kate, this is something the president talked about multiple times on the campaign trail. He voiced concerns about jobs for American workers. So, we're likely to hear more from him on that here soon.

BOLDUAN: All right, a lot of questions around that as well. Let's see what kind of response it gets from Capitol Hill. Kaitlan, great to see you. Thank you so much.

COLLINS: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We are also following breaking news with regard to North Korea. Its recent missile tests not just posing a hypothetical threat to the United States, but a very real and immediate threat in this regard.

CNN is learning the missile that the regime launched Friday came alarmingly close to a commercial passenger jet. CNN's Barbara Starr has details on this for us. Barbara, what do we know about how close of a call this really was?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it wasn't anything like a near miss or a super close call. But it is something that was very unsettling, because the North Koreans are firing these missiles off into the sea off the coast of Japan.

And this is an area that is very heavily trafficked by commercial airliners and commercial shipping. The problem is, North Koreans are not notifying aircraft or mariners that they are doing this. That would be standard practice.

So, there's a lot of concern that they are just coming too close. What has been learned -- we want to say ABC News was the first to report this -- that an Air France flight actually passed through the very area quite close to where the missile impacted about seven to nine minutes before the impact.

So, seven to nine minutes the aircraft was well beyond the missile impact zone when it hit. A little too close for people to be super comfortable about it. In fact, Air France putting out a statement perhaps to reassure aviation customers.

Air France saying about this flight, quote, "North Korea's missile test zones do not interfere in any way with Air France flight paths. We constantly analyze potentially dangerous fly over zones and adapt our flight plans accordingly."

So, airliners making the extraordinary effort to actually say they can stay safe from North Korean missiles flying overhead, but not something that an airliner expects to even have to deal with.

[11:05:10] So, a lot of concern about all of this -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Unsettling nonetheless. Barbara, great to see you. Thank you so very much.

Joining me now to discuss all of this is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, thanks for the time.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So, first let's start with North Korea. This news that Barbara was telling us about, a commercial jet passing within miles of the North Korean missile test, what do you say about that?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think there's an upside to North Korea having an ICBM for anybody, including Air France. For 20 years, Kate, we have threatened the North Koreans, we have sanctioned them, we have sent Madeleine Albright to dance with Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader. Nothing has worked.

The garbage is piling up regarding North Korea. President Trump has drawn a red line when it comes to North Korea. He has said very directly to me and others and publicly he will not allow them to get an ICBM that would be nuclear tipped to hit the American homeland. He would use military force to stop it. That's where we are headed if they don't stop.

BOLDUAN: Well, when discussing this yesterday, you took some heat for your comments that basically a war with North Korea is inevitable if they continue with trying to enhance the missile program. Retired General Spider marks, a CNN contributor, he called your comments unfortunate. Senator Diane Feinstein, she said this to MSNBC. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My reaction is that Lindsey Graham should get a classified briefing like the ones I have had and sit down with Secretary Mattis, which I have done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Senator Graham, do you stand by your assessment here?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. I like the general a lot. He's a fine man. Feinstein is a terrific senator. But it's their kind of thinking that has gotten us to here. For 20 years, it's this kind of thinking that allows North Korea to have dozens of nuclear weapons, not just one.

They're going to have dozens of missiles if somebody doesn't stop them. They will have a hydrogen bomb one day if somebody doesn't stop them. I like Secretary Tillerson. His job is to find a diplomatic solution. I hope he can.

But when he says North Korea is not our enemy, tell that to Otto Warmbier's family. I think this whole approach that they're talking about has failed. It's time for a new approach. We need to let China know that we will pick our homeland defense over regional stability.

If we have to choose between an ICBM in the hands of the North Koreans and a conflict in the region, we're going to choose the conflict to protect the American homeland. Quite frankly, President Trump has no other choice. Everybody before him has failed.

BOLDUAN: But have you heard a clear message on this from --

GRAHAM: No.

BOLDUAN: -- from the administration? You cite Rex Tillerson, and then you have the president, the commander-in-chief, which is unclear over there.

GRAHAM: So, I've heard a clear message from the president. Secretary Mattis, you have a clip when I asked him is it the policy of the Trump administration to deny North Korea an ICBM capability to hit the homeland, he said it was.

Not to contain the threat but to deny it. Secretary Tillerson is trying to convince the Chinese and the North Koreans that we don't want regime change. We are not trying to unify the peninsula, I get that. But if John Kerry had said what he said, we would be all over him. So, I think it was unartful. We need to send a clear message to North Korea --

BOLDUAN: I think what Tillerson said was unartful?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think we should have a clear message that this threat is not going to mature to the point that it can hit America with a nuclear tipped ICBM. That if we have to use military force, we will. I don't believe North Korea will ever change until they believe America is serious about the military option.

The military option would be devastating. The last president who drew a red line against a dictator was Obama against Assad, 400,000 people have died when he refused to enforce it.

So, I think president Trump has no other choice. He has got to pick homeland security over regional stability. The way to end this is to have China convince the North Koreans to stop their missile program, which is a direct threat to us.

BOLDUAN: Can you do that with trade restrictions?

GRAHAM: I think let's do everything short of war that we can. The military option should be the last option, but here is what I do believe --

BOLDUAN: How close are we to the military option?

GRAHAM: I don't know. I know this that Trump will do it if he has to. No president can allow this guy, Kim Jong-un, to get a missile to hit America with a nuclear weapon on top. That would be incredibly irresponsible.

Let's try sanctions on china. Let's do whatever we can. Madeleine Albright went over to dance with the guy that didn't work. Dennis Rodman, that didn't work. Sanctions haven't worked.

he only thing that will work is if they believe this president will use military force to protect America. If they believe that, I think we will get a different outcome.

It's up to president Trump to deliver a very firm, unequivocal message to North Korea and China.

[11:10:03] And Secretary Tillerson's job is to find a diplomatic solution. I would suggest that what he said about North Korea was at best unartful.

BOLDUAN: At best, what is it at worst?

GRAHAM: I think it gives mixed messages and they continue to believe we're not serious. I know what a military attack would look like in North Korea. It would be horrible. It would be devastating.

At the end of the day, that may be the only option left to protect the American homeland. I want to create two bad options for China. One option China has is to deal with this nut on their border, which is unpleasant.

The other option is to deal with a massive U.S. attack to protect the American homeland, which would be even more unpleasant. They need to have bad options, not just us.

BOLDUAN: Senator, let me also ask you about this, another international issue, Russia. The president, we've learned this morning, signed the Russia sanctions bill. He has made a big show of signing even executive orders in the past ever since taking office. This was signed, no notice, no cameras as far as I can see and no fanfare. What does that tell you?

GRAHAM: I think, one, I'm glad he signed the bill. We would override the veto if he hadn't signed it so I'm glad he did. I want to complement him for that. Secretary Tillerson said some things about Russia that are unnerving.

He basically says it's a mistake to sanction Russia. It hurts his ability to reengage Russia. I can only tell you that the Congress -- President Putin has done something that nobody else in America could do, unite the Congress.

So, the fact he does this kind of quietly I think reinforces the narrative that the Trump administration is not really serious about pushing back on Russia. I think that is a mistake too because Putin will see this as a sign of weakness.

BOLDUAN: On the Russia investigation, the White House is now confirmed that the president weighed in on the initial statement that was put out by Don Jr. about that meeting with the Russian lawyer.

Yesterday before all that was confirmed, you said if it was true, it would be a really bad decision by the president. You said, when you get caught in a lie, it makes it harder to let the other stuff go. How problematic is it now that it's confirmed it's true?

GRAHAM: Well, if he in fact was involved in drafting the statement on Saturday, which was completely misleading about the actual meeting, then he has reinforced the narrative you have to look harder when he speaks about Russia.

If he knew the e-mail existed, which clearly was an offer by an intermediary to have the Russia government help the Trump campaign, it really wasn't about adoption, if he knew that existed and he was part of drafting the statement, then that was incredibly misleading to the American public.

I think it put his son in jeopardy. It sends yet another signal that when it comes to Trump and Russia, that he is not resolved to deal with them. At the end of the day, Russia sees all this as a sign of weakness. The Congress is united, we're strong. If President Trump got firm in his response to Russia, we would see change. Here's what's odd -- BOLDUAN: One more thing about Russia that we're just learning about

this morning. "Politico" is reporting that speaking of Secretary Tillerson, he is resisting pleas.

Maybe it's threatening to not use -- to stop using, to cut off like $80 million basically worth of money that was allocated by Congress to combat Russian disinformation and terrorist propaganda. This is something you were really involved in. What's your reaction to that if it's true?

GRAHAM: Well, one, I will write him a letter. I'm not going to base my decision on a news article. Senator Leahy, the ranking Democrat and I will write to Secretary Tillerson. I created this account.

It's an account to allow frontline states like the Baltic states, Georgia, Ukraine to fight back against Russian interference in their economy and their democracy. They are under siege by Russia.

We are trying to help our allies. If the secretary of state says I don't want to use this money, then that's just yet another sign that when it comes to Russia, we're incredibly weak. I can't figure this out. Maybe the article is wrong.

BOLDUAN: What does it add up to? What does this all add up to?

GRAHAM: It makes one wonder why the Trump administration is so different than everybody else on Russia. That's what it adds up to me. The president is right on North Korea to draw a red line so our homeland can never be attacked with a nuclear-tipped missile.

He is right to rebuild the military. He is doing a lot of things right as commander-in-chief. But when it comes to Russia, I'm glad he signed the legislation, but what Tillerson is saying about the sanctions.

This idea I may not use money to help Democratic states under siege by Russia, adds up to a signal that we are not serious in the Trump administration of dealing with Russian interference in our home, here in our backyard and abroad. That invites more aggression.

BOLDUAN: You served on the Armed Services Committee, a big supporter of the military. The president announced the ban on all transgender people from serving in the military exactly a week ago today.

[11:15:06] The Pentagon has yet to receive any formal policy memo from the White House on exactly what he means. Do you think members of the military deserves some guidance on what their commander-in-chief is talking about here?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think we should not act until we get a report back from the Department of Defense.

BOLDUAN: Do you think he will draw it back? I think Mattis said it wasn't going to be ready until December. Do you think Trump should retract it? GRAHAM: Well, I will leave that up to the president. I know Congress is not going to act until we get information. I don't know why he sent out the tweet. I don't know why you would tweet something like that until you first talked to the military.

All I can say is that General Kelly as chief of staff was a great choice by President Trump. I want to help President Trump deal with North Korea, rebuild the military, cut taxes and try to find a way to fix health care.

BOLDUAN: General Kelly is not going to stop the president from tweeting.

GRAHAM: Well, all I'm saying is that General Kelly has been a calming influence. I'm looking forward not backward. We're not going to change transgender policy based on a tweet.

If there's a change, it will be based on facts and circumstances and recommendations from the Department of Defense. We're going to be very professional. I think thousands of transgender military service members, we're not going to pull the rug out from under them. We're not going to do that this way.

BOLDUAN: A lot of news we didn't even get to with all of that. Senator, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the president says his Mexican counterpart called him to talk about what a great job he has been doing on border security. One hiccup in that, Mexico's president says that call never happened. That's not the only call people are questioning today. Details on that ahead.

Also, this, is the Trump administration preparing to sue colleges over affirmative action? A new report says the Justice Department is now looking to fight what they say is discrimination against white applicants. Details on that coming up.

Any moment now, President Trump is set to endorse a new plan that would significantly curb legal immigration. We're going to bring you that announcement live. Stick with us. A lot we will pack in in one hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:03]

BOLDUAN: Now a story of President Trump and phone calls. On Monday, he said Mexico's president called him to talk about what a great job the White House has done to secure the border. One problem there, Mexico's president now says that call did not happen.

That's not the only call in question. An official with the Boy Scouts says the organization is not aware of any leadership of the Boy Scouts calling President Trump to praise his recent speech at their National Jamboree as the president claimed that they did in a "Wall Street Journal" interview.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins back at the White House for a little bit more on this. What is it, the president, the calls, who is right, who is wrong, Kaitlan? Tell me.

COLLINS: Well, that's a great question. We haven't figured out the answer yet. But yes, what you are referencing, that comment from the Mexican president that Trump says happened occurred during his first cabinet meeting with his new Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday.

Just minutes after he had been sworn in, they were in the cabinet room and Trump was praising John Kelly and he made a comment about Mexico. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So as you know, the border was a tremendous problem. Now close to 80 percent stoppage. Even the president of Mexico called me. They said their southern border very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So Kate, that might have been the ultimate compliment for Donald Trump, but it also might not have happened. The president of Mexico released a statement today saying that he has not spoken to Donald Trump recently over the phone. We will put his statement up on the screen.

But we know that the last time they met was at the G20 summit on July 7th in Germany. Mexico is saying that they have not spoken to Donald Trump since then. So, we've reached out to the White House for more clarity on this, but they haven't gotten back to us on when the last time they spoke.

If they didn't speak as Mexico says they didn't, then we're not sure where this comment came from that Trump said on Monday. All of this is part of a larger looming problem of White House credibility.

As you mentioned earlier, the president also said that the head of the Boy Scouts called him to tell him that the speech he gave to a group of boy scouts last week was the greatest they had ever had.

The head of the Boy Scouts said that as far as he is aware, no one has spoken to the White House. Then also yesterday, we saw that there's a changing narrative on how Donald Trump Jr.'s statement about that meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower last summer was crafted.

So, there's a lot of changing narratives and changing stories that are coming out of the White House right now.

BOLDUAN: It appears so. Kaitlan, thank you so much. Joining me right now, CNN political commentators, Angela Rye, Mary Katherine Hamm. Her book is being released. Kirsten Powers is here, a "USA Today" columnist, and CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston is here.

Mark said to me just today -- he called me. He said, Kate, you are the smartest person I have ever met on television.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ever is what I said.

BOLDUAN: One problem, you would never have made that phone call to me.

PRESTON: I would have done it in person.

BOLDUAN: There you go. Good save. When do you believe what the president says?

PRESTON: At this time, I don't think you can. The credibility problem is much bigger than telling fibs or white lies. You are talking about world leaders who are looking inward at the United States when you are talking about trade deals or NATO or Russia or North Korea, Iran, Iraq.

The fact of the matter is, if these world leaders are watching these lies take place now, over these little things in some ways, they have to start to wonder, is he going to lie to us on the bigger issues?

I would just add -- if my children are watching, I'm not advocating this. They're not even good liars. He's not a good liar about it. If you are a really good liar, I might have some respect for you. Wow, you were really good at lying. They haven't been.

BOLDUAN: I was going to make a joke. I will keep moving on. I can't believe you ate that wheel of cheese. I'm impressed.

[11:25:04] Kirsten, why make this up? Why make -- they seem to small in the grand scheme of what the president is tasked with and what we ask of the president and what we want to hear from the president. Just talking about being -- border security and how great your speech was, why make this stuff up?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, my question with him is, is he lying or does he have a distorted reality and he believes these things are happening? Which is even more concerning, frankly. Maybe somebody else said this and he transposes it into that this was sudden to him.

I had this experience when I interviewed him, and had written some things that he said to me multiple times on tape, and then complained to somebody and said, why did she say I said that, I never said that. And it was on tape two times.

You know, so he -- but it wasn't like he was angry. He was mystified, right. It was sort of like he didn't have a memory of saying it. I have always wondered where this comes from. Does he know he is lying? Does he believe these things happened?

It does seem strange. It's so easily verifiable. When that Boy Scout -- when he said that about the Boy Scouts I was like, that never happened. You know it never happened. Yet -- he knows we can find out that it never happened, but he still says it.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He wants to hear these things about himself -- so then he says them so he can hear them. The thing that strikes me as you were saying about the incompetence of this, which is you think a boy scout will not blow up your spot?

They are boy scouts. He will be -- he will tell the truth. People will have a choice to believe the head of the boy scouts or Donald Trump. They will probably side with the boy scout on this one.

BOLDUAN: Marsha Blackburn, she made the case to me when we were speaking about the Russia investigation yesterday. You know what, Kate, you can talk about this, but folks home in Tennessee, they don't care about these statements that come from the president. They care about getting health care through. They care how great the economy is doing.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You do. You don't just hear it from Republicans. You hear it from Democrats too. There are Democrats that say we should be focusing on these normal national policy issues.

I understand. But I think it's very important for us -- those of us that appear on the news that are supposed to be talking about what's happening with the country on a national and international stage to ensure people know what's going on.

To the point of Donald Trump lying, I don't know if it's a lie or to your point if he's delusional. I will stop doing that. I think it's so, so important for us to understand. This is the reason why there should be legislation to ensure that a presidential candidate gets a psychological evaluation.

BOLDUAN: Angela, Angela, Angela --

RYE: That's keeping it real.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: This is -- legislative. We can high five on that.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk --

PRESTON: I would not pass that psychological evaluation myself.

RYE: I think you would be OK.

BOLDUAN: Bring it in. Focus it in. "The New York Times" is reporting that the Justice Department is looking to target affirmative action in school admissions. It's investigating and they're looking into investigating and suing universities with policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.

This is Angela, if you see it, it's a move towards the conservative wing. Looks like it would be done in the area of the Department of Justice where there are political appointees. What's your reaction to it?

RYE: It's maddening and here's why. We are in an era where tech companies, Fortune 500 companies across the board have made the case that diversity impacts your bottom line. Why would we reverse the course when it comes to education where people can be in environments where they are learning not just from a diverse group of experiences but also diverse bits of people.

The Supreme Court has ruled that race conscious policies in admissions practices are fair, are right, are the right things to do and are constitutional. Furthermore, I don't understand why this is the push when Civil Rights Division was set up to address groups that have suffered oppression in this country.

Deal with that instead of trying to reverse. If we know that folks are race conscience especially in this era, we're going in the wrong way.

BOLDUAN: But this is Jeff Session's Department of Justice now.

HAM: Right. Some of this strikes me as the normal transition from one ideology to another in the Justice Department. I like the fact that it's actually an inquiry that is sort of formal instead of a tweet.

Look, we have decided that the Supreme Court has ruled that race conscious admissions are a form of racial discrimination that's OK. But you have to walk a line and there's a lot of shady stuff -- hold on.

Like quotas are not allowed but certain other things are, but you have to walk a line. There are violations at times. You actually have to police that line. So, investigating that is a form of protecting people from discrimination.

RYE: I would be careful with the wording. They did not rule that race conscious policies are a good form of racial discrimination, righ.