Return to Transcripts main page
Report: Trump Takes Questions Alongside Baltic Leaders; Trump Says Military Will Guard Border with Mexico; Trump Says "I Want to Get Out" of Syria; Trump Says Nobody Has Been Tougher on Russia Than Himself. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 3, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] PRESIDENT RAIMONDS VEJONIS, LATVIA: And the United States acknowledged the need to continue the successful existing cooperation we have encountered in modern day security threats such as terrorism, cyber and informational warfare and nuclear proliferation, today all of us committed to placing greater emphasis on advancing our economic and trade and investment relationship. We recognize great potentially in areas of innovation, modern technologies and the digital economy.
And we will explore possibilities for forging new partnerships. I am particularly proud of successes of Latvian companies that generated more than 2,000 jobs in the U.S., in Georgia, in North Carolina, on California. It shows how important this economic cooperation. And finally, the Baltic states and as the United States agreed to continue promoting closer people to people contacts because these contacts are very important for every member of our society. And let me stress that president Trump was an outstanding host today. Thanks for hosting us. For us in this very important event when we celebrate 100 years anniversary of our statehood. Thanks.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
PRESIDENT KERSTI KALJULAID, ESTONIA: President Trump, journalists, I would like to thank President Trump and his administration for his political leadership in our region and for the commitment which has been demonstrated through a number of high level visits to our region. This year we do celebrate our centennial anniversary. Of these 100 years, for 50 we were occupied by the Soviet Union and people in our country got up every morning knowing that there are democratic countries led by United States who have never recognized the occupation of the Baltic states.
Our national flag, the blue, black and white, was waving here in America throughout these years. It couldn't have been done at that time in Estonia. It was heartwarming, it was true sign of friendship. We knew it back then and we remember it and we are still grateful for it and will be forever. Today we agree that the declaration also reminding us about the foundations of our relations. My friends here spoke a lot about what to do. It is always worth to remind why we do this. We believe that peace, security and prosperity depend on strong sovereign nations that respect the citizens at home and cooperation to promote peace abroad. Our partnership is based on principles of democracy and individual
liberty and the rule of law. These things are extremely important. Today we stand together like-minded partners and allies. Baltic states are quite small, but they are important because of their location. Because of what we do as contributing partners to the global security, we find it very important to contribute in the counter terrorism fight. We find it important since 2011 to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. We find it extremely important to remember that we stand together, and we form something which we call an axis of good.
This is an axis of good. Yes, Estonia and the United States are very different by the size of their economy. But when we are speaking about economics, it didn't matter anymore. Estonia is one of the world's leading nations of digital governments and our companies are working with companies in your country to make sure that people elsewhere could benefit. This cannot come without cybersecurity. There is a need to have excellence on cybersecurity in Estonia because we have been attacked on cyber long before anybody else. We still work together, we contribute, and we hope that we are really helpful to all of our partners.
[14:05:00] Yes, we have also more connection of trade which we do together. People in Walmart going for the packages in a couple years will see them delivered by Estonia package delivery robots. We are proud of this and also proud of inviting business to try to test new ideas in our place which is tiny and then upscale when it maims more sense to upscale. This way we work together both on defense matters, economic matters and always stand on a common value base. This is the foundation of our relations. Thank you to making this possible, this axis of good.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. I will take a few questions. We will also have questions specifically for the Baltics. Steve. Reuters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Some of your military advisers are urging you to keep a contingent of U.S. troops in Syria to ensure the defeat of ISIS. What is your current thinking on this subject? Do you still want them out and could you clarify what you meant about having U.S. military guard the U.S. border along with Mexico? Thank you, sir.
TRUMP: First of all, the border. The Mexican border is very unprotected by our laws. We have horrible and very unsafe laws in the United States and we'll be able to do something about that hopefully soon. Hopefully congress will get their act together and get in and create some very powerful laws like Mexico and Canada and almost all countries have. We don't have laws. We have catch and release. You catch, and you immediately release, and people come back years later for a court case except they virtually never come back.
So, we are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it is something that we have to do. The caravan which is over 1,000 people coming in from Honduras thought they were just going to walk through Mexico and right through the border. As you know, NAFTA is a phenomenal deal for Mexico. It's been a horrible deal for the United States. We're renegotiating it now. But it's been a horrible deal. This should have been terminated or renegotiated many years ago.
We have a trade deficit with Mexico of over $100 billion a year. And I told Mexico yesterday that because of the fact that their laws are so strong, they can do things about it that hard to believe the United States can't. I said I hope you're going to that he will caravan not to get up to the border. And I think that they are doing that because as of 12 minutes ago, it was all being broken up. We'll see what happens. But we have to have strong borders. We need the wall. We've started building the wall. We have $1.6 billion toward building the wall and fixing existing wall that is falling down or was never appropriate in the first place. And that is very important.
As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of is. We've almost completed that task. And we'll be making a decision very quickly in coordination with others in the area as to what we'll do. Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, well, you know, you want us to stay maybe you'll have to pay. But we do a lot of things in this country, we do them for -- we do them for a lot of reasons. But it is very costly for our country. And it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us. So, we're going to be making a decision. We've had a tremendous military success against ISIS as you know. It is close 100 percent as I just said. And we'll be making a decision as to what we do in the very near future. We'll be consulting also with the groups of our people and groups of our allies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you inclined to pull the troops out?
TRUMP: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have as of three months ago $7 trillion in the Middle East the last seven years. We get nothing out of it. Nothing. And as you remember in civilian life for years I said keep the oil. I was always saying keep the oil. We didn't keep the on oil. Who got the oil?
[14:10:00] It was ISIS that got the oil. A lot of it. That's what funded their campaigns. They took a lot of the oil and it was largely responsible for funding. We should have kept the oil then. We didn't keep the oil. So, I want to get back and rebuild our nation. Think of it. $7 trillion over 17-year period, we have nothing. Nothing except death and destruction. It's a horrible thing. So, it is time. It is time. We didn't keep the oil. So, I want to get back and rebuild our nation. It's a horrible thing. So, it is time. It is time. We were very successful against is. We'll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it is time to come back home. And we're thinking about that very seriously. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lithuanian television. Mr. President, a lot about getting out, but getting in. The joint declaration mentions the periodic American deployments in the Baltic countries. What specifically can you commit to having heard the requests and wishes of the Baltic states and president, you have mentioned Russia as a terrorist state. Did you have a meeting of minds here as to the threat that Russia poses to the neighboring countries? Thank you.
TRUMP: Well, we have a very strong relationship as the presidents will tell you with the Baltic states. And we are with them. We're friends and we're allies. And we are going to have a long term very fine relationship. In addition, we do business on trade. We work very hard on security together. Surprisingly large numbers of trade, and these are very industrious nations. You are from there, so you know exactly what I'm talking about. These are tremendous people and very industrious. We do a lot of business on trade. Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT DALIA GRYBAUSKAITE, LITHUANIA: The second part of your question of course interesting especially because we didn't talk in that way about the rival especially on our border. But that country becomes aggressively, threatens we have a nuclear missiles on your border, of course you sometimes call this country not very friendly. That is why we are investing in our defense, we are investing into our security, we are investing into reforming NATO. And we would like to see strong NATO. Strong alliance. And that is what we are going to do together.
TRUMP: Thank you. Would you like to choose somebody?
GRYBAUSKAITE: Your turn. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Trump, speaking about economy, about economic cooperation with my country, with Latvia, what is your message for investors in Latvia and what is your opinion about investment in Latvia?
TRUMP: I think all three would be great places to invest. The stable governments, incredible people, hard working industrious people. I think that they would be great places to invest. I would have no problem with it, although I think as president of the United States, they would call it a slight conflict of interest perhaps. You might be hearing from these people. No, I think it would be a great place. I think all three would be a great place to invest.
GRYBAUSKAITE: Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First a question to President Trump. As said the concern of the Baltic states is Russia. And before the press conference, you also said that at the same time good relationship with Russia is not bad, but how are you going to deal with president Vladimir Putin, as your enemy or someone that you can have dialogue with? And the second question is to our president, is the defense of the Baltic states enough or should there be something more? For example, defense systems. Thank you.
TRUMP: Well, I think we'll be able to have great dialogue I hope. And if we can't, you'll be the first to know about it. Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have, and I know that you are nodding yes because everyone agrees when they think about it. Strong energy, the United States. My opponent was into other forms of energy like windmills. We're very strong on energy.
[14:15:00] We're essentially now energy independent. We're an exporter of energy. That is not a positive for Russia. But it's certainly a positive for the United States.
We just passed a $700 billion military budget, next year $716 billion the largest ever passed. We are going to have a military stronger than he would we've ever had before by far. That is not exactly a great thing for Russia. But that is the way it is. And NATO is delinquent. They were not paying their bills. They were not paying a lot of states as we discussed. They were not paying what they should be paying. Since I came in, many, many billions of dollars additional have been paying by countries who weren't paying and now they are paying. And they will have to pay more frankly. They will have to pay more.
So, there are many things that I've done and not only the 60 diplomats, Germany did four, France did four, we did 60. There is nobody been tougher on Russia. And with that being said, I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin. I think. It's possible I won't. And you will know about it believe me, this room will know about it before I know about it. It's a real possibility that I could have a good relationship. And remember this, getting along with Russia is a good thing. Getting along with China is a good thing. Getting along with other countries including your three countries is a good thing, not a bad thing. So, I think I could have a very good relationship with Russia. And with President Putin. And if I did, that would be a great thing. And there is also great possibility that that won't happen. Who knows. OK? Thank you.
GRYBAUSKAITE: If I may, I would also like to contribute a little bit to your first question. As I reminded you all, we could trust the judgment of United States administrations and people even while we were occupied. We could trust your judgment when we regained independence and seek membership of NATO for example. We could because we are on a common foundation, you can walk around the mall and read. It is all written there, this foundation and therefore I trust the judgment of President Trump and his administration on that matter too.
Now on your question on defense, yes, we did discuss the deterrence capacity necessary to make sure that our deterrence is believable to everybody who might want to question it. But you know equal partners don't come to talk to each other this way. I come here to Washington to ask for visa freedom, to say support me for this or for that. We find the solutions together which will work for us all together. We contribute equal contributors according to our size to this process of guaranteeing our security. Thank you.
VEJONIS: Maybe I will add that today during our summit, we discussed our security issues in our region with President Trump. And I'm sure that this discussion will help a lot to continue any political dialogue with our eastern neighbor Russia.
TRUMP: Pick a reporter, please. You can pick a reporter. A Baltic reporter ideally. Real news, not fake news, do you want to pick? Do we have enough? Go ahead. Mr. President, pick a reporter from the Baltics. Not the same man. He was very tough. Go ahead. Pick a reporter. Go ahead, yes. Please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm from Latvia. So, I have a question for our president from Latvia. You are going for San Francisco after your meeting here in Washington. And you're meeting some people who are making business connections from Latvia and U.S. do you see any certain outcomes out of that? Thank you.
[14:20:00] VEJONIS: First of all, during our summit, I will repeat again that we discussed how we can strengthen our economic cooperation between Baltic states and the U.S. and of course, my visit to California to Silicon Valley will give I think good basis for better understanding what our business people need to be presented here and what I can help -- how I can help them to be here because anyway I think all this cooperation between Baltic states business people and the U.S. business people is very important for our societies, for our business societies. And as I said, we are seeing not only both investments in our country and we are trying to make better environment for investments in our country, but also our businesspeople are invested here. And I think it is important for only both investments in our country and we are trying to make better environment for investments in our country, but also our businesspeople are invested here. And I think it is important for both countries, for Latvia and for the U.S.
TRUMP: I just want to conclude by saying that I'm very impressed with these three great Baltic nations and these three great presidents. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you, everybody. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The President of the United States and leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia walking out of the east room following a joint news conference. There was news on several fronts including the president doubling down on what he said earlier, that he wants to deploy U.S. military troops to the U.S. border with Mexico. The president also doubling down on Syria once again suggesting that he wants all U.S. troops out of Syria, out of that region in fact as quickly as possible. He said the $7 trillion that the United States has spent in the middle east over these past 17 years, he says we have nothing for that except death and destruction. It is time to get out. The president also saying that he wants to have a good relationship with Russian President Putin, but he will find out fairly soon whether or not that is going to happen. Serious news there, Gloria.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the president made a lot of headlines. We're not sure what the result is going to be. He will have a meeting with his military leaders to see exactly what they will be able to do at the border. We do know on Syria that his presidential envoy about ISIS Brett McGurk has said, and let me quote here, that the mission in Syria isn't over.
He said in terms of our campaign in Syria, we are in Syria to fight ISIS. And he tweeted over the weekend that the fight over ISIS is not over. So, we have to kind of find out what the president means by that. And in terms of his relationship with Putin, he made the point that, well, there is a possibility I could have a very good relationship, but always a possibility that may not happen. But again, when asked a question about Putin, he refused to kind of go into any detail about Russia as an enemy.
BLITZER: He said nobody has been tougher on are Russia than I have been, and he pointed out that the U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats, Germany expelled four, France expelled four, took a little swipe at those NATO allies as well. Jim Acosta is there. Jim, I take it you are in the east room over at the White House?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it was a pretty remarkable exchange as you saw there at the very end, the president was egging on the president of Latvia to call on a Baltic reporter, not one of the U.S. reporters who were all clamoring to get that final question.
BLITZER: Looks like we just lost our connection with Jim Acosta at the White House. But he was making a point, John Kirby, that the president sort of jokingly when he said get one of the reporters from the Baltic nations, he said fake news, real news. Once again, a little surprising that in front of these foreign leaders who have come to the United States he is attacking the mainstream American news media.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Really disappointing. And these are vibrant democracies and they are living at the door step literally of Russia. So, the concerns that they brought with them to Washington are real. And I think it is disconcerting and frankly disappointing that our commander in chief would insult the media there in front of them like that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about his decision, he says he will meet with his Secretary of Defense General Mattis soon to deploy U.S. military personnel to the border.
[14:25:00] You are retired U.S. Admiral, you know something about what the laws about dispatching U.S. military troops on U.S. soil to the border.
KIRBY: Can be done. Has been done. President Bush did it for a little bit for a time and President Obama did it. But there are real legal constraints on what active duty troops or even National Guard troops can do on the border in terms of participating in domestic law enforcement and immigration activities. They are not allowed to do that.
What they have done in the past is provide intelligence surveillance support, they can build physical structures, they can do training, advise and assist, but they can't be involved in actual interdiction of immigrants coming across. They can bolster a presence and maybe act as a determent, but that is it. It has been done before. So, we will see how they fashion it and who will pay for it and whether it is national guard and-or active troops. We will have to see how that shakes out.
BLITZER: And he said it is a horrible situation along the U.S. - Mexican border right now. He said we don't have laws, we have catch and release and we have to secure our border. That's something we have to do. I think we've re-established communications with Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent. Jim, you're making a point when all of a sudden, we lost that connection. Go ahead.
ACOSTA: That's right. We will read into water lost connection there just a few moments ago. I do think what Gloria was saying is right in terms of the news out of this press conference. The president trying once again mightily to make this case that nobody has been tougher on Russia, nobody has been tougher on Vladimir Putin than he has.
Other U.S. presidents may beg to differ. People like John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan might make the case that they were tougher on Russia. But you did not hear an expression of great doubt from the Baltic presidents as to whether or not the United States would have their backs in the face ever Russian aggression should that occur. Although the ultimate question of whether or not the U.S. would uphold Article Five of the NATO charter which an attack on one is an attack on all, in a common defense article, whether or not the president of the United States would uphold that, that we did not get an answer to.
But the president was asked from Steve Holland at Reuters about Syria, the president once again saying that he is inclined to pull the troops out of Syria, although another point during the press conference in his prepared remarks you remember he said that we're not going to stop the fight against ISIS, that we will continue the fight against ISIS until essentially, they are crushed. And so, the president speaking out of both sides of his mouth on that issue.
But on the issue of immigration, the president doubling down on this intent on his part to put U.S. troops on the border with Mexico. That is not an all-together new thing. President Obama did it, president bush did it in the past. So, if President Trump decides to do it, that is not a radical new idea although coming from this president giving his rhetoric on immigration in the past, that is obviously very, very news worthy. But of course, what we should point out when he talks about this caravan of people coming up through Latin America, through Mexico, that is not something -- that is not a new phenomenon, that is almost a peaceful protest that has been happening over the years. That has been hosted by the group, a human rights march in some sense in that it brings -- sheds light on the plight of people in central America, the very difficult conditions that they are going through. And some of those people will try to appeal for asylum in the United States when they reach the border with the U.S. that is I guess some context the president overlooks when he is harping on that issue. But the president of course using that as a context for this week ramping up his rhetoric on immigration once again, a road that he has been down many times before.
BLITZER: All right. Jim, stand by over there at the White House. April, you cover the White House as well. What jumped out at you from this news conference?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there were several nuances. One, the president and the Baltic leaders gave each other support saying we're there for each other. But at the same time, what really struck me, he could not call them by their names and he just motioned with his hand and in some countries that is considered disrespect. Also. Stormy Daniels is still on topic for many of the reporters who he is calling fake from America because the last question as the president was walking out, we heard someone scream out Stormy Daniels, a question about Stormy Daniels.
[14:30:00] But when it came to the issues in that press conference, when the president talked about Mexico and going back to what Jim just said about the Honduran caravan that the president calls, he never explained the emergent issue why he is sending military personnel to the border. He was talking about how Mexico has strong immigration laws, but he never -- and how they are breaking it up. But he never talked about the issue of why.
He is sending the troops or possibly wants to send military troops there and then also you brought up the issue about posse comitatus, which is a real issue. Does he really understand what the troops can do if they go to the border? Then that piece where the president said nothing happened over the last 17 years with $7 trillion. Well, in the Middle East, that is not true. When this country began fighting the wars in the Middle East, in the last 17 years, it was not about government to government.
It was about the United States trying to root out terrorism that came and hit us here in the United States after 9/11. And part of the problem is that it was never going to be a traditional war that was going to be won. So that is one thing. What happened was al Qaeda has been diminished. They are trying to reconstitute. They have not reconstituted.
He says almost 100 percent diminishment of ISIS. That may be true, but the issue is trying to prevent them from reconstituting or even cutting down their territory. So those are the things that jumped out at me.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. A lot more coming up. We've been told also the Mexican government asked the state department for clarification on what the president means when he says that he will deploy U.S. military troops to the border with Mexico. A lot more on that coming up. Much more on the other breaking news --