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AT THIS HOUR
Violent Protests Erupt In Gaza After Deadliest Day In Four Years; WH: Hamas To Blame For Gaza Deaths, Not Israel; Soon: Trump To Speak During Visit To Capitol Hill; WH Fights To Enforce Personal Phone Ban In West Wing; Trump May Face Angry GOP Senators Over McCain Treatment; Trump: "Leakers Are Traitors And Cowards"; Top GOP Senators To Questions Trump On ZTE, Chinese Jobs. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 15, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. At any minute, we expect to hear from President Donald Trump. He's on Capitol Hill, attending a ceremony for law enforcement officers killed or wounded in the line of duty. We're going to bring you his remarks live when they begin.
But we do need to start, though, with breaking news. Another day of violent protests in the Gaza strip is under way as we speak. This round of outrage erupting over the Trump administration's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
At least 60 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces including now an 8-month-old baby girl who died from inhaling tear gas. That's according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Israel is facing international condemnation right now for its use of force against the protesters. From the Trump administration, a strong statement of support, the White House saying that Hamas is squarely responsible for the deaths and Israel has a right to defend itself. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley weighed in on this just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Those who suggest that the Gaza violence has anything to do with the location of the American embassy are sorely mistaken. Rather the violence comes from those who reject the existence of the state of Israel in any location.
Such a motivation, the destruction of a United Nations member state, is so illegitimate, as to not be worth our time in the security council other than the time it takes to denounce it.
Yesterday's opening of our embassy in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for the American people. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is now live for us along the edge of the protests in Gaza. Ben is joining me right now. Ben, what are you seeing there right now?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, today, Kate, it seems to be a smaller crowd, I'm going to step out of the way, so you get a better look, much smaller crowd than yesterday. What you're seeing in the background is burning tires.
There have been regular overflights by Israeli drones that are dropping tear gas canisters on the crowd, but by and large, much smaller. We did hear reports earlier today of one 50-year-old Palestinian dying, but apparently, that was from gunshots yesterday.
I think after yesterday's death toll of at least 60 people, there is more focus on the funerals that took place last night and this morning, then on coming out to protest. Today, of course, is what the Palestinians called Nakba Day, which is the day where they mark -- Nakba meaning catastrophe in Arabic, where they mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.
It is important to keep in mind that Hamas didn't exist back then and the grievances that drive the people here predate Hamas. Hamas certainly has played a role in encouraging people to come out and demonstrate.
But given that this is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, regardless of whether the U.S. Embassy was inaugurated yesterday in Jerusalem or not, there would have been protests probably of this size in this period, in this month of May.
BOLDUAN: Ben, you've been covering this conflict for decades. Does this round, does this moment seem different?
WEDEMAN: Well, I think it is different in that we are now in a situation where the Palestinians issue, the Palestinian cause has largely been sidelined. The Saudis, for instance, who traditionally were supporters of the Palestinian cause have made it clear that their main concern in the region is Iran.
Other Arab countries are too busy with their own wars, economic woes, political instability to really provide any even lip service. That's really much of what it has been over the last decades for the Palestinian cause.
Palestinians do feel they have been abandoned. You have an administration in Washington that has come down very clearly on the side of Israel. And many feel that this is the only way to remind the world that this issue has yet to be resolved.
Since 1967, there has been a military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that Gaza is essentially surrounded by Israel, sealed off, some people call it an open Arab prison.
And therefore, the grievances are deeply felt, and the feeling is among many Palestinians is that the world has forgotten them. [11:05:05] Traditional allies have abandoned them, and they have nothing else to do but what you see behind me -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Ben Wedeman, great to see you. Ben, thank you so much.
Joining me right now to continue the discussion, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, served as spokesman for both the State and Defense Departments under President Obama. John, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
Let's talk about the U.S. response here. President's Democratic and Republicans alike, they have supported Israel's rights to defend itself. Do you think the response in the White House this time around, what be heard from the White House yesterday and continuous is different?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I do. I mean, I think to Ben's point, they have clearly come down very, very hard on the side of Israel, every administration as you rightly pointed out agrees that Israel does have a right to defend itself.
In fact, we helped them defend themselves and with good reason. It is a dangerous neighborhood that they live in, no question about that. But this time around, we have so heavily put our thumb on the scale in favor of Israel and this conflict that I think we removed ourselves now from any credible position of trying to help negotiate or be an arbiter for some sort of solution going forward.
And Ben is right, the Palestinians have long felt that they have been completely ignored now and maybe through the protests they'll try to advance some visibility here, but it is very hard to see how we get anywhere closer to a two-state solution based on what the Trump administration has decided to do with respect to Israel.
BOLDUAN: Well, then where -- the White House putting all of the blame squarely on Hamas, their words, where do you think that leaves Palestinians from here?
KIRBY: I think it probably further alienates the Palestinians. Look, there is no question Hamas has an interest here and although I haven't seen the intelligence, I would absolutely have no problem believing that Hamas was helping to at least inspire or organize some of this protest activity, certainly within their wheel house and said what they believe their interests are.
But we have done -- we, the international community, have done nothing to necessarily try to stem that this angst, these grievances by the Palestinians who have tried to really successfully bring to a close the tension between Israel and Palestine.
And I do believe that Israel has a special responsibility to protect its citizens, but also, Kate, has a special responsibility to restrain itself and use minimal force when trying to deal with the threats that they face because they are clearly the most powerful nation in that part of the world. BOLDUAN: And that's where the U.K. and France have landed on this. They have been particularly critical of Israel's use of -- and U.K. calling for an independent investigation, independent investigation here. I mean, is that just lip service because -- is that likely to go anywhere considering where the U.S. lands on this?
KIRBY: I doubt it seriously that it will go anywhere, certainly if they use the U.N. to try to get there, the United States will be -- no doubt about that. Remember 2014, Gaza war, and how aggressively the Israelis went after people living in Gaza, under the guise, the community condemned them for that and further isolated Israel.
If they're not careful, Kate, in these protests here, what we're seeing now, they could be marching down that exact same road. The only difference would be that the United States would not be among the international community in terms of condemning them and further isolates even the U.S. from the rest of the world.
BOLDUAN: And these are not easy times. Not -- the understatement of the year saying that this is not an easy conversation because, of course, in 2014, they also said that Hamas was hiding among the population, specifically trying to -- even hiding weapons and hospitals and schools in order to put themselves where the civilians were.
KIRBY: That's exactly right.
BOLDUAN: None of this is an easy conversation, but an important one as we watch the protests play out again. Great to see you, John. Thanks for coming in.
KIRBY: Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we will hear from President Trump during a rare trip to Capitol Hill. That's to begin any moment now. We're going to bring you those remarks live as soon as they begin from the president. The president walking in to this very important memorial ceremony that is happening on the front of the capitol.
Also, this, we're watching at this moment, First Lady Melania Trump recovering from a kidney procedure. The president tweets out when she may be released from the hospital. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to be joining us with the very latest on this.
BOLDUAN: If you follow Donald Trump during the campaign at all, you knew at least one thing, he was obsessed with polls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Fantastic polls. Highly respected polls. The polls have been fantastic. We're leading in so many polls, he can't tell you, I don't know where to begin. I love polls when I'm winning. I don't believe the polls anymore. I don't believe them. It is a rigged system. They put out phony polls. I don't like being second. Second is terrible, to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That's right. He loved the polls when he was up, hated the polls when he was down and now Donald Trump feels it turns up exactly the same, it appears, about leaks. Happy to tout them when they help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: This just came out, Wikileaks, I love Wikileaks. Another one came in today, this Wikileaks is look a treasure trove. I will tell you this, Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: But then just as happy to trash and discount them when they don't help him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think it is very, very unfair what has happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally, I stress that, illegally, leaked, very, very unfair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And now to the president's tweet du jour. It is like a mixed metaphor wrapped up in a walking contradiction. "The so-called leaks out of the White House are a massive over-exaggeration put out by the fake news media in order to make us look as bad as possible. With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are."
[11:15:09] In summary, he's going to hunt down the very people behind the leaks even though what they're leaking is not real. We have got it. So, where do they go from here?
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is joining me from the White House. Kaitlan, you have some new reporting on this very issue and how it happens in the White House, leaks.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Kate. The White House is trying to frame this McCain remark as a leaking problem inside the White House. But as we have reported, extensively over the last 16 months, the Trump administration has gone to great lengths to stop these leaks from happening to no avail.
One of those efforts is from the Chief of Staff John Kelly who instituted this personal cell phone ban back in January. In a memo, letting staffers know about this ban, John Kelly said this was not to prevent them from speaking to reporters, but to -- for the national security reasons, of course, most staffers inside this White House did not see it this way.
The way they're carrying out this ban is they have installed lockers at entrances into the west wing where staffers put their phone in a locker, lock it up and leave it there, for the remainder of the day.
Sources inside the White House tell me you can often see staffers huddled around the lockers, checking their phones and when the staffers aren't there, these lockers are constantly buzzing and chirping with all these alerts from the staffers' cell phones.
But this is not a ban based on the honor system. They have two men dressed in suits who periodically will go throughout west wing, conducting a sweep to find unauthorized nongovernment issued phones throughout the west wing.
These devices, that these men have going from room to room to room have been described to me as largely accurate and Kate, they can even detect what kind of cell phone it is in the room, whether it's an Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, whatever.
That is how they're trying to find people who have their personal phones throughout west wing because they think it is going to be a way to tamp down on these leaks. But, of course, as is evidence by Kelly Sadler's remark, the stopping the use of personal cell phones in the west wing is not stopping staffers from telling reporters what is going on behind closed doors.
Now, this has been a source of great frustration lately here in the White House. Of course, the president tweeting yesterday he believes leakers are traitors and Kellyanne Conway saying that she believes people will be fired over this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Some leaks exist to hurt, I guess, colleagues. Some leaks exist because they disagree with the policies that are being put forth, but none of them are helpful. It is not so much leaking as using the media to shiv each other.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you expect personnel changes as a result?
CONWAY: I do. Actually, yes, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So, Kate, the White House is framing this as a leaking problem. But the bottom line is dozens of senior White House officials who work in this White House behind me talked to reporters throughout the day. The president himself even talks to reporters and it is a way that reporters find out what's going on behind closed doors in the west wing to tell the American people.
BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, great reporting, thank you so much. Keep your cell phone close. We're going to remind everyone, we are keeping our eye on Capitol Hill. President Trump is set to speak at a ceremony any minute now. The president will -- after this ceremony, that we'll be bringing you his remarks live.
After that, he'll be walking, making the short walk into the capitol, staying there to have lunch with Senate Republicans. When he does, Republicans, it sounds like, have a lot to say. It has been six days since the White House staffer mocked their Senate colleague, Senator John McCain, over his health and six days with the White House refusing a public apology.
Sunlen Serfaty is following all this for us from Capitol Hill. She joins me now. So, Sunlen, some Republicans aren't mincing words at this point when it comes to how the White House handled all of this.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. They're not happy and they're being very vocal in their criticism of the White House over this. The fact this is a longtime colleague of theirs, that they're fiercely loyal of someone who is notably battling brain cancer.
So many coming to John McCain's defense and offering up some pretty fierce criticism of the White House. You have multiple senators, notable, many members of the Senate Republican leadership, openly saying that the White House should make sure that President Trump apologized, saying this language is appropriate, Senator Thune is saying that.
It would have been nice if the White House really nipped this earlier and it came out and offered a public apology rather than essentially letting this fester for now. Six days we heard from Senator Collins, who talked to my colleague, Manu Raju this morning, he said -- she said, look, the responsibility here is on President Trump.
He should come out and say this is not acceptable rather than just criticizing the leaker as Kaitlan said there, a lot of emphasis from the White House, and the fallout over this controversy has been on the leaks and not over the specifics of the criticism.
Now this meeting today, Kate, is behind closed doors. It will be interesting to see how forceful these Republicans call out President Trump when he's actually in the room with them. I think a lot of the sentiment we will hear today from those Republicans is, like -- is, look, this is someone who deserves our respect.
[11:20:04] And despite differences you may have with him, we should make that clear. So, it will be interesting to see if that solicit any changes from the White House.
BOLDUAN: And also, you're also reporting that Republicans plan to push the president on another issue, what he really means when he tweets out that he wants to help the Chinese company, ZTE, get back into business. What are you hearing about that?
SERFATY: That's right. A lot of questions and concerns about the presidential tweets. A lot of senators demanding to know more about what exactly President Trump means when he's tweeting about these easing of restrictions.
We heard from Senator Cornyn yesterday who said I'll ask about this at the lunch meeting today. You heard from many senators the abruptness of this change in policy saying they were not aware of it.
They want clarity and a lot of ratcheting up the alarms from Senator Rubio saying it would be a mistake and he says this runs counter to every conversation he's ever had with President Trump about this. So, clearly a lot of questions from the president's own party today -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: That's for sure. Thank you so much, Sunlen. We'll be watching that and bring it to you when it begins.
Joining us right now, CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times." Chris, let's begin with a little Shakespeare, shall we? What is in a leak? A leak by any other name would smell so sweet. Traitor, my friend.
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I don't remember that going that way in my English class, but we'll roll with it, Kate. Yes, look, you had it exactly right at the top, which is leaks that work for President Trump are good, leaks that make him look bad or he thinks don't accurately portray the White House, he hates.
It is a classic double standard, not new for this White House, Donald Trump has double standards on lots of things. I would argue this, if you want to know why there is a leaking culture in the White House, look at the guy who sits in the oval office.
Donald Trump is someone I'll remind people in the 1980s, made up a PR executive named John Miller, who allegedly worked in the Trump Organization and called the gossip tabloids in New York to talk about how virile, how sexually attractive, successful Donald Trump was. It was Donald Trump.
BOLDUAN: Don't you get his name wrong. Wasn't it like John Barron or something?
CILIZZA: No, this one was John Miller. He also went by John Barron. It is hard to keep the president's aliases together, but the point is that that doesn't stop, Kate, that sense of trying to manipulate the media, doing selective leaking of information to make you look better. He does this. There is a culture of it, and he gets mad at it, but he's the cause.
BOLDUAN: Let's be really -- let's be honest and real here. You've covered the Hill and Washington for years. You know that he if anyone is leaking, Congress is leaking like a sieve, that's the best branding they could ask for. Does that mean they're all traitors? Trump is talking about, calling them traitors, his own staff in this tweet.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The tweet is sort of, like, you know that typical, the food in this restaurant is horrible and the portions are so small. He's complaining about this phenomenon while he's also trying to disprove what's being said.
So, if it is not true, if you know the material that folks are telling reporters and we're all putting in the paper and on tv isn't right, it is not really a leak, right? It is a lie. He's not saying that.
He's basically saying what Chris and you were both alluding to, that, you know, this is damaging to him, he doesn't like it. If it helps him, he does like it. I do think that, you know, when Kellyanne Conway gave some of the reasons for the leaks, she's right. People are trying to shiv each other.
People are trying to get their agendas out there, but it's also the case that this is not really something that a president can control. My colleagues and I did some reporting earlier this week -- earlier this year about nondisclosure agreements.
It doesn't fly when you're dealing with government. So, you have to set up a culture where people think there are consequences and that clearly doesn't exist in this White House.
BOLDUAN: I'm hoping for some leaks o of the Senate lunch today if I could hope for one thing today. Republicans, they say they have had a lot of questions for Donald Trump especially in his position on the Chinese telecon company, ZTE.
Just today, a top intelligence official just testified this morning about continued national security concerns, asked if he would use a ZTE phone, he said he would not. How can the president then say he wants to help ZTE get up and running?
CILIZZA: The way he does a lot of things, Kate, which is just say it, facts be damned, that's just the case. How can he say he had the largest inauguration crowd ever? Same reason. You can just say it and there is a certain number of people who believe it.
I don't think he differentiates. The thing I think will be interesting is what we have seen a lot of out of Congressional Republicans is a tut-tut, I wish he wouldn't do that, whether that's Kelly Sadler, ZTE, the millions of other things s he's said that they have taken issue with, but there's been no follow through.
[11:25:08] Right. It's a I wouldn't have done it if I were him or I want to know more about why he made this tweet about -- there is no next step. The president said this, and I feel satisfied or the president didn't and we're going to take x, y or z legislative action.
Remember, Congress is a co-equal branch of the government. Republicans run Congress. They don't act like it, though they talk as though they're going to be a check on Donald Trump.
BOLDUAN: Julie, on this issue, so you got the intel community undermining the president's tweet and then there is his own chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, telling "Axios" this morning that ZTE in his view is divorced from the trade issue, the trade story. Then Kudlow is undermining the other element of how the president is kind of making out this ZTE issue. So, what now?
DAVIS: Well, it is head spinning. I think one of the reasons you hear the concern that you're hearing from Capitol Hill is, I mean, this is not some sort of, you know, question in people's mind, if this is a good company or bad company. This company violated sanctions.
This is a company whose products the Pentagon will not allow to be sold on their sites anymore. I mean, the president's tweets seem to come out of nowhere as so many of his tweets do. People are starting to wonder.
And this is different than the McCain comment situation, they may talk a lot but not do much, I do think that lawmakers will start to put their foot down and say, you know this is -- what is the reason that he's changing his position on this, if there is some development that is going on in the talks between American officials and Chinese officials, we need to know what that is.
BOLDUAN: Chris, Julie, it's great to see you, guys. Thank you.
CILIZZA: Thank you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the White House says Melania Trump will spend the rest of the week in the hospital recovering from her procedure, benign kidney condition. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us next to discuss.