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White House Taking Over National Security Council?; Trump's Travel Ban Sparks Outrage; Acting Attorney General Tells Justice Department to Not Defend Trump Order. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 30, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour on the growing backlash against President Trump's new immigration crackdown.
Democrats in Congress are preparing a march from Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court. They are demanding the president roll back his executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. They say it's unconstitutional.
The travel ban sparking outrage and protest around the country and, indeed, around the world and confusion at international airports, as U.S. authorities raced to implement the ban over the weekend.
Sources telling CNN that GOP leaders and some key members of Trump's own team were kept in the dark about the details until the executive order was signed. The Trump White House is defending his actions, saying the president is doing what he said he would do. Mr. Trump insists that all is going well. He said he had to act fast on the travel ban, because -- quote -- "There are a lot of bad dudes out there."
Also tonight, the White House is denying there's been a major reorganization at the National Security Council amid new questions about the role of senior adviser Steve Bannon. An executive memo revealed Bannon will now be a regular member of the key NSC committee. Some critics calling that dangerous.
I will talk about the travel ban, much more but former U.S. Customs and Control Commissioner under President Obama Gil Kerlikowske. He's standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.
Up first, let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, as Democrats and others protest tonight, the White House is on the defensive. SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right,
And the Trump administration is vigorously defending this travel ban, but they are getting a lot of pushback on how they rolled it out, not only from officials in some of these government agencies that were caught off-guard about how to implement it, but also from members of Donald Trump's own Republican Party, who say they were taken by surprise as well.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump springing to the defense of his controversial travel ban, which caused chaos at airports in over the weekend and drew fire from both sides of the aisle.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not a Muslim ban, but we are thoroughly prepared. It's working out very nicely.
MURRAY: The president's executive order includes a 90-day ban on citizens coming to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries identified as countries of concern under the Obama administration. And it suspends the refugee program for 120 days.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Refugees are welcome here!
MURRAY: Over the weekend, it prompted protests in the streets and elicited a sharp response from Democratic leaders.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This executive order was mean-spirited and un-American.
MURRAY: And, today, a cutting rebuttal from the president.
TRUMP: I noticed that Chuck Schumer yesterday with fake tears. I'm going to ask him, who is his acting coach, because I know him very well. I don't see him as a crier.
MURRAY: But it's not just Democrats raising alarm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have an extreme vetting proposal that didn't get the vetting it should have had.
MURRAY: Trump administration officials, including senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and chief strategist Steve Bannon, quietly crafted the order with limited guidance from the administration's own agencies.
It caught the Department of Homeland Security, State Department and Customs and Border Patrol flat-footed, breeding confusion at airports over the weekend. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is defending the rollout and calling the criticism overblown.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If we announced it a lot earlier, it would have given people plenty of time to flood into the country who could have done us harm. That's not exactly a sound strategy. Right? So the people that needed to be kept in the loop were kept in the loop. The people that needed to be briefed were.
MURRAY: Trump also tweeting, "If the ban were announced with a one- week notice, the bad would rush into the country during the week. A lot of bad dudes out there."
But the refugee process often drags on for more than a year, and even visas can take weeks for approval. The uncertainty the administration unleashed drew a sharp rebuke from many Republicans.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham warned the travel ban could alienate Muslim allies, saying, "Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism."
Trump swiped back on Twitter, calling them weak on immigration and saying they're always looking to start World War III.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not trying to start a war. I'm trying to win the were we're in. And you're not going to win the war by lumping everybody into a big pot.
MURRAY: Now, former President Barack Obama may no longer be in the White House, but he's not sitting silently by and watching Donald Trump's travel ban.
He weighed in today through a spokesman, saying: "The president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion," a very strong statement from the newly departed president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it was, indeed. Thanks very much, Sara Murray, for that.
Tonight, dozens of career diplomats at the State Department are drafting a message to the Trump administration opposing the president's travel ban. That's not sitting well with the Trump White House.
Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, we're hearing a lot of criticism inside Washington and indeed from around the world.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
The world reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. There's just no shortage of confusion and criticism out there, with leaders, analysts, diplomats within the State Department worried about how this will affect the U.S.' relationships and even its influence in the world. Some feel even though the ban is temporary, there's still already damage being done.
The White House, though, fighting back.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The White House today had some surprising sharp words for dozens of career State Department diplomats who oppose the administration's travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries.
SPICER: I think they should either get with the program or they can go. Hold on, hold on. This is about the safety of America.
KOSINSKI: The State Department employees, though, who drafted a memo in a process designed to hear and accept internal dissent, say they believe not only will the travel ban not protect America from terrorism, it will hurt those efforts.
In a memo obtained by CNN, they warn it will immediately sour relations with important allies and partners in the fight against terrorism. It will dry up intelligence and resources, as well as spark anti-American sentiment.
The White House hit back with its own warning.
SPICER: If somebody has a problem with that agenda, then they should -- you know, then that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post or not.
KOSINSKI: But major protests are now happening far beyond Washington today in London, Toronto, Ottawa. Many of America's closest allies are voicing deep concerns.
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called the ban divisive, wrong.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: This is, of course, a highly controversial policy, which has caused unease, and I repeat that this is not an approach that this government would take.
KOSINSKI: Germany also not holding back.
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): The necessary and decisive fight against terrorism does in no way justify a general suspicion against people of certain beliefs. These actions according to my beliefs are against the core idea of international aid for refugees and international cooperation.
KOSINSKI: The world is trying to figure out how this will affect travelers, especially those with dual citizenship. Turkey and Canada both tweeted that people turned away from America are welcome in their country. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying: "Regardless of your faith, diversity is our strength. Welcome to Canada."
And for those nations directly affected by the ban, a sense of betrayal.
LUKMAN FAILY, FORMER IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Why are we having this common fight together? Why we have the soldiers' blood spilled together in the fight against ISIS? So to us, as Iraqis, it doesn't make sense.
KOSINSKI: Today, the Iraqi parliament voted to unleash the same kind of extreme vetting on U.S. travelers to demand that the U.S. rescind the plan.
DANIEL BENJAMIN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: These are the people we rely on for intelligence, for operational assistance. And I think that the administration has put these relationships at risk in an unconscionable way.
KOSINSKI: Yemen and Iran saying the ban only supports terrorists.
BENJAMIN: It may be temporary, but the impact in the region will be significant and possibly lasting.
KOSINSKI: People here at the State Department described a sense of scrambling once they finally got a copy of the executive order, and then trying to figure out exactly what it meant.
Among those who have come out in support of it, though, Australia, its prime minister saying it's vital every nation have the ability to control who crosses its borders -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us, thank you.
We're seeing protesters, by the way, gathering on Capitol Hill right now. Looking at these pictures. Democratic lawmakers intend to walk from U.S. Capitol over to the Supreme Court to protest President Trump's travel ban.
As we start -- as we await the start of that demonstration, I want to bring in former U.S. customs and border protection commissioner under President Obama, Gil Kerlikowske.
Commissioner, thanks very much for joining us.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Of course.
BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor these protests up on Capitol Hill, the march from the Congress over to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But let's talk about some of the substance, the issues involved. You have doubts that the Homeland Security Department actually worked with the Trump administration on this executive order.
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, when I left a little over a week ago, I had no relationship, no meeting with the Trump transition team. Only a couple of people within Customs and Border Protection -- remember, that's the largest federal law enforcement agency, 60,000 people on the front lines protecting the borders. They only had two one-hour meetings with anybody and there was never a hint that there was going to be this kind of ban.
The last thing that you want with 60,000 people at 338 points of entry, a law enforcement agency, not a political organization, the last thing you want is for them not to have clarity and guidance.
BLITZER: Commissioner, you have also criticized the rollout of this order by the Trump White House, but the Trump administration argues that announcing the changes in advance would have given potential terrorists the opportunity to enter the United States before the order went into effect. Do you believe that's a fair point?
KERLIKOWSKE: No, I don't believe it's a fair point, because people that get visas, people that go through the systems to come into the country spend many, many, many months in advance wanting to come in.
They are not standing at the airport waiting within a 24-hour period to jump through the hoops to get through this country. So they have been in line, and they have been clearly vetted through a variety of systems for quite a period of time.
BLITZER: Many supporters of the order by the White House pointed to Europe's terror threat, Commissioner, where ISIS sympathizers have, in fact, entered through the refugee population. Does the U.S. face a similar threat and how would this order address that threat?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think there's always that threat. This is a very large country.
I think the comparisons with Europe are very, very different because they have something called the Schengen zone where those European nations have travel that is basically unrestricted. Once you get into one E.U. country, you can travel without papers, without authorities checking your documents through the others.
The United States is very, very different. Our borders are some of the most secure. And, remember, it's a very large country with a lot of land and a lot of water border.
BLITZER: Commissioner, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, is speaking at this rally at the Supreme Court. I want to listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Is the sound working?
I can hear you. Can you hear us?
Good evening, everyone. I'm very proud -- proud to stand with members of the House Democratic caucus soon to be joined by Senate Democrats as well.
It's not on? Is somebody going to deal with this?
Look at that moon. It's a new moon. Can you hear now?
Oh, much different.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
PELOSI: Good evening, everyone.
I'm very proud to stand here with the members of the House Democratic Caucus, soon to be joined by the Senate Democrats as well, sharing views in a bipartisan way with many of our Republican colleagues who agree that what the president did undermines our values and is not in support of the oath of office that we take to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Can't hear? Can you hear now? No, that doesn't do anything. Does this work better? No. Staff? Sound people? Shall we sing this land is your land again until they get the sound working?
BLITZER: All right, they are going to try to figure out the audio problems they are having over there. Looking at the Democratic members of the House of Representatives. They will soon be joined by Democratic members of the U.S. Senate.
They will be marching and protesting President Trump's actions on immigration and travel bands.
We're speaking with Gil Kerlikowske, a former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
As you point out, Commissioner, clearly no vetting system is perfect. We heard that from FBI director, director of national intelligence only a few years ago in discussing refugees coming into the United States, especially from a country like Syria, which is in a state of war.
So here is the question. If you were in the room, what steps would you recommend to the new president to improve the vetting process for refugees, specifically for refugees?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, the most important part always for Customs and Border Protection is to push the borders out. That's why we have things like pre-clearance in Abu Dhabi, where, if you're going to travel to the United States, you go through United States customs in Abu Dhabi.
And already we have denied entry in Abu Dhabi, thousands of miles away from our borders, to well over I think 2,000 people. That type of security is very important. Our liaisons and our attaches that work in airports, whether it's Frankfurt or many others and around the world, that cooperation and that trust with those law enforcement agencies in those governments is critical.
BLITZER: The Trump administration has also deflected criticism of the seven countries impacted by the order by saying the Obama administration had a similar list of those seven countries where there was a hotbed of terrorism and you have got to be careful. Are you familiar with that?
KERLIKOWSKE: I'm familiar with what Secretary Johnson took.
He took very strong actions, Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of homeland security. He took very strong actions on increased review and additional questions for people wanting to come from other countries, including the somewhat controversial asking people for their social media handles, et cetera, on a voluntary basis.
So there is no question that, under Secretary Johnson, and I think under my watch, too, that we increased the review at every level. And that includes our national targeting center.
BLITZER: All right, Commissioner, I want to go back to this rally at the Supreme Court. Chuck Schumer has just joined Nancy Pelosi. They seem to have gotten their technical issues fixed right now.
Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
PELOSI: ... of the importance of the words on the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
You know the rest. It's a statement of values of our country. It's a recognition that the strength of our country is in our diversity, that the revitalization constantly of America comes from our immigrant population.
It would now be my time to introduce two very brave, determined, courageous, optimistic newcomers to our country, but first I'm going to introduce and yield to a champion for the principles embodied in the Statue of Liberty and fought for since our country began, including this weekend in airports throughout the country.
I thank all of you for coming. I ask all of you to welcome the distinguished leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, this order is against what we believe in, in America. The order will make us unsafe. The order will make us inhumane, and the order will make us less of America, because this order is what America is all about.
It will make us unsafe, because it will encourage those who are lone wolves as they get more and more isolated who are our greatest danger. It will make us unsafe because it makes our soldiers who are fighting overseas have fewer allies. And it will make us unsafe because the nations of the world will no longer look up to us.
But, most of all, it is against what America is all about. America for its history has been a shining beacon. And it has said, we welcome you if you are oppressed because of your religion, because of your political beliefs, because of who you are.
The lady in the harbor in the city in which I live holds a wonderful torch. That torch has stood for the greatness of America to all Americans and to the citizens of the world.
We will not let this evil order extinguish that great torch. We will not let this evil order make us less American. We will fight it with everything we have, and we will win this fight.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
PELOSI: Let us all hold our candles high as the Statue of Liberty. As the lady of liberty holds the torch high, our president has stooped low in this order.
We here tonight ask the president to withdraw this unconstitutional order.
And now it is my privilege, our privilege, to introduce Frara Amircamo (ph) and Omar al-Masdad (ph) with their stories, their courageous stories.
BLITZER: All right. They are going to figure out what's going on up there.
Strong words from Nancy Pelosi, from Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate.
I want to get some reaction from former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske, who is with us as well.
Do you see any advantages at all to what the president, President Trump, has now done?
KERLIKOWSKE: I think any program needs to be evaluated and looked at, and that includes refugee programs, the vetting programs, et cetera.
The difficulty is when you try to implement with 60,000 people an order that is done and signed at 4:43 on a Friday afternoon. You want to give that law enforcement agency, which CBP is, you want to give them the specificity of how to handle these problems.
This is big, and it's complex, and it's a lot of people. And it's 338 points of entry.
BLITZER: The Trump administration, Commissioner, is also saying back in 2011, President Obama did something similar with refugees, with individuals, not just refugees wanting to come to the United States from Iraq, imposing a much stricter not ban necessarily, stricter procedures in order to make sure that people don't smuggle into the United States with terrorist intentions posing as refugees, this after two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky, you probably remember this, were found to have committed allegedly acts of terror in Iraq.
But somehow they got through the refugee vetting process and wound up in Kentucky. And so they say what President Trump is doing now is almost exactly what President Obama did in 2011. You're familiar with what President Obama did then, right?
KERLIKOWSKE: You know, I'm not that familiar with what was enacted then in 2011.
What I do know is that, given the number of refugees in the country and the acts of -- or incidents that have occurred here, it's almost universal that these are homegrown, or, as the FBI director would say, the lone wolf kind of attacks, people that are either born here or came at a very, very young age, and for whatever reason became radicalized.
But, again, I think looking at any of these programs and making sure that they're thorough and complete as they can be, we all want the same thing. We all want a very safe country. It's just that you don't treat a large -- complex law enforcement agency with the disdain of not telling them much until the order is signed. You want these people involved early.
BLITZER: You were at Customs and Border Protection in 2015 in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terror attack, and we learned a lot more about one of the attackers, Tashfeen Malik, who apparently before she was given that fiancee visa to come to the United States from Pakistan had on her social media all sorts of what we would call rather disturbing information about her political intent.
You remember that, right?
KERLIKOWSKE: I do remember that.
And I think asking for people's social media handles or information can be very important. I think there's one very clear distinction, though, with her, and that is the information that she had was restricted to I think a few family, private members. It wasn't something that just anybody could look at on Facebook.
BLITZER: But don't you think with hindsight obviously there could have been a way to determine her intentions before granting her that visa to come live in the United States?
KERLIKOWSKE: She went through two interview processes in all of this.
And, remember, even before she lands -- I think the picture that is shown most often is with she and her husband when they landed at O'Hare Airport. So they are continuously vetted or checked against a variety of databases. So, I'm not sure that much more could have been done to actually prevent that.
BLITZER: I want to you stand by, Commissioner.
I want to go right to our reporter up at the Supreme Court, Manu Raju, who is watching all of this unfold.
Manu, set the scene a little bit for us, because this is a pretty dramatic rally the Democrats in the House and the Senate have put together.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. A pretty raucous scene here, several hundred protesters here demanding some action to rescind Donald Trump's order on travel, his travel ban from those predominantly Muslim nations.
Just to the left of me, in the front of the steps in front of the Supreme Court are House Democratic leaders, Senate Democratic leaders calling this order everything from un-American to unconstitutional. Strong words coming from the leadership.
Now, on the policy side just moments ago, Senate Democrats tried to push a bill that would actually have overturned that executive order, but Republicans objected on the floor for a quick vote led by Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who said this is just a temporary pause in allowing immigrants from those countries to enter the country.
And also Democrats pushing for a delay in the vote of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state until he answers questions about this executive order. But they failed in that regard. The nomination of Rex Tillerson advancing in the Senate just moments ago to a final confirmation vote later this week. But Democrats believe there's a lot of energy and angst about this executive order and they're obviously trying to tap into that right here on the steps in front of the Supreme Court, Wolf.
BLITZER: This legislation they are introducing in the House and the Senate, how serious is that? What are the prospects that it actually could get passed? If it were passed, it would have to be signed into law by the president. Clearly, he's not going to sign it.
RAJU: That's right.
They're going to need to get a veto-proof majority in both chambers. We just don't know the answer to that question yet, Wolf, because this legislation just coming out this afternoon. I had a chance to talk to one critic, Republican critic of that executive order, Jeff Flake of Arizona, asked him if he would sign onto that Democratic legislation. He said he hasn't seen it yet. He wants to reserve judgment. He doesn't know.
We're hearing that from a number of Republicans. They are withholding judgment right now. But if they were to actually sign onto that bill, this bill, if the Trump administration does not revise this order, perhaps there can be a groundswell of opposition from Republicans. But that's going to take a little bit of time, Wolf. We will see how this plays out. Republicans for certain want to see
how this plays out before they really buck the president from the their party -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The other thing on the secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, I take it the vote now has been moved forward through all the procedural processes. It's going to take place, what, on Wednesday. Is that right, Manu?
RAJU: Yes, that's right.
And actually just breaking a Democratic filibuster moments ago by 56- 43 vote in the Senate, meaning that there's actually going to be a final confirmation vote as late as Wednesday. Several Democrats actually broke ranks to vote to advance that nomination, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Angus King, who is an independent and caucuses with Democrats.
And, interestingly, Heitkamp and Manchin in two potentially difficult reelection races in 2018 in states Donald Trump won overwhelmingly, them joining ranks on the Tillerson vote and Republicans, too, uniformly pushing that vote forward. But other problems are still awaiting Donald Trump's nominees, including several who have been delayed, because Democrats using the rules of the Senate to delay a final confirmation vote.
Donald Trump may have to wait a little while to get the rest of his Cabinet confirmed.
BLITZER: Yes. It does look like Tillerson, though, will be confirmed presumably on Wednesday. Manu, I want to you stand by.
We're getting some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
Evan, you're learning new details on procedures under way at the Justice Department now to deal with the legal challenges to the president's orders.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
At this moment, the attorney general is Sally Yates. She's the acting attorney general. She was appointed by Barack Obama. And she has just instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the executive order that was issued by President Trump last Friday dealing with immigration and refugees.
She has just told her lawyers, essentially, that this is a law that is -- an executive order that she doesn't believe is legally defensible by the Justice Department. This has the effect of basically grounding this executive order at least for the next few days that Sally Yates is in office as the acting attorney general. As you know, Jeff Sessions is the nominee by President Trump and he's
awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
I will read you a part of an order she issued to her lawyers today, which says: "My responsibility is to ensure
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[16:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARNEY THOMPSON GALLAGHER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: -- go back five and six election cycles, people come and ask for your vote and whose policies have furthered your community? I just find that he's been consistent. So from the day he started campaigning, until this morning, his message is the same.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.
GALAGHER: Is he really going to fulfill these promises? Give the man a chance and take a breath and see. Give him a chance. He is the president. And I'm very-- more optimistic than I've been in my whole entire adult life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: I was talking to folks who came from all over the country to be witness to the inauguration of Donald Trump this weekend. Still to come, an invitation to Washington, President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could sit down for a meeting next month. Details on that next.
WHITFIELD: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the nation's capital this inaugural weekend. So President Donald Trump and his Israeli counterpart may soon meet face to face. After their phone call this afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr. Trump invited him to visit Washington, a visit that could come next month. CNN's Oren Lieberman is live for us down in Jerusalem with more on the story. Oren, what do you know?
OREN LIBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, we're learning a bit more about this conversation. President Donald Trump characterized it as a very nice call and it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said it was a very warm conversation. Here's what they've talked about, this coming from the Prime Minister's office.
It says the two leaders discussed the nuclear deal with Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians and other issues. As you said, President Trump invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to Washington to meet him in February. A final days for the visit will be set in the days ahead. So we know these two leaders will meet according to the Prime Minister's office here. [16:35:00] We knew what it was that Netanyahu wanted to talk about. He
made that clear in his weekly cabinet meeting this morning. He said top on his mind is the Iran deal. He was the most vocal critic even travelling to Washington to lobby against the deal before Congress. So now we know although he was quiet in the final months of the Obama administration, he sees Trump as a new opportunity to roll back in some way the deal.
He's also said he wants to talk about the U.N. Security Council resolution and other ways these two countries can work together. We know Netanyahu is excited. That's become evident over the last weeks, even the last months I might say to work with a new president, somebody who's not President Obama. A fresh start and it seems that start is off to a very quick start here with his phone conversation and we'll find out just how soon that meeting is happening for Netanyahu to travel to Washington to meet Trump.
WHITFIELD: All right, Oren Lieberman, thank you so much from Jerusalem. Appreciate that.
All right. Also coming up, the president versus the press. On his first full day in office, Trump blasted the media, calling the press dishonest in inauguration coverage, and it's not just the president directly. The message is also coming from Trump's team, that's next.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Washington, D.C. Team Trump has entered a fresh new war of words with the media since taking office. On the campaign trail, Trump loved to complain about what he called then dishonest media. Well now that he has taken the presidency, he has upped the ante, calling it a "running war" and members of his administration appear to be in battle mode.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings out there.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
[16:40:00] TRUMP: Right? And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you're number stop is exactly the opposite.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is committed to unifying our country and that was the focus of his inaugural address. This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging, the brining about our nation together is making it more difficult. There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable and I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways. We're going to hold the press accountable as well.
REINCE PREIBUS, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: I'm saying there's an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president. And we're not going to sit around and let it happen. We're going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So let's discuss this tense relationship and what the media's role is in covering a Trump presidency. Joining me now is Frank Sesno who is director of the school of media and political affairs at George Mason University and George Condon who is a White House correspondent for the National Journal and he's formerly been the president of the White House Correspondents Association, and Brian Stelter who is CNN's senior media correspondent and host of ""Reliable Sources."
All right, good to see all of you gentlemen. OK, so you spent Brian a good portion of your show this morning on "Reliable Sources" talking about what the road ahead is going to look like for those who are covering this White House. And everyone is in agreement that it is going to be a tough road ahead and it means working even harder to be diligent and to be dogged as a journalist.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Treacherous road but also we're covering the world's best story right now and we that even in the second full day of this administration. Tomorrow, Sean Spicer will meet the press. He's expected to actually take questions from the press. We'll learn a lot tomorrow about his tone, about his approach and about his accuracy.
WHITFIELD: And so Frank, you know you say that President Trump, Sean Spicer his press secretary, they are wasting precious time and credibility for both the president and for the press secretary is really on the line especially when they come out throwing, you know, punches the way we saw on display yesterday. But today was a decidedly different tone from the president.
FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: It's remarkable from the coverage I have done of White Houses from all different angles and elsewhere. They want the message of the day, they talk about that. They talk about the story, the news they're trying to make. Does the administration really want us talking about this and the controversy on the second day? Well maybe they do.
They say they want to push back. Fair enough. They should push back. They should hold the media accountable just as everybody else should. But what the conversation is about today is their war with the media and whether they're making up facts or not about the size of the inaugural crowd.
WHITFIELD: Is it a potential distraction --
SESNO: Really? Really?
WHITFIELD: -- that only two cabinet members have been, you know, confirmed. Might this be a distraction from getting business done?
STELTER: -- some of these aides wanted this.
SESNO: Some of the do.
STELTER: Even want the crowd size fight (ph) because they don't want the protest coveted.
SESNO: But they can also be talking about where their nominees are, who their nominees are, the executive orders that Donald Trump has signed. He's already taking the lead on certain things. There's a tone to his administration, they're talking about taking apart Obamacare.
They're delivering on their promises. Why wouldn't you want the focus on the delivering on your promises and starting to govern the way you campaigned rather than a food fight with a bunch of spitballs in Washington.
WHITFIELD: And as a former, yes, as a former White House correspondent you know about that battle that will always be endured when covering any administration and George, you've been doing it for a very long time too.
You have seen now 20 press secretaries as a White House correspondent. And so are you taking note of a different demeanor? Is the stage -- is the ground work being a little different? The battleground, are you seeing it unfolding quite differently from previous administrations?
GEORGE, CONDON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, I mean, it's important to keep it in perspective and not go crazy based on one day. I mean it was a very rocky start for this press secretary. And they didn't do much better on TV.
WHITFIELD: Meaning what we saw unfold yesterday, the statement?
CONDON: Yes. You don't want to do that to your credibility on the first day. But let's not act like this is the first time we've run into this. The first day of the Clinton administration, they locked us out of upper press and it was an absolute war and George Stephanopoulus's first briefing was an unmitigated disaster, trying to defend Zoe Baird and he didn't have any facts and he said things that he shouldn't have said.
FDR ordered reporters to stand in the corner wearing a dunce cap. He presented one reporter with an iron cross, suggesting he was a traitor. No president loves us, no administration loves us.
WHITFIELD: But over time, there was a sense of respect that was built and a standard set between the White House Press Corps and The White House, press secretaries, the staff. Are you seeing an erosion of that?
[16:45:08] CONDON: There was definitely more professionalism in the past. But, again, I'm going to be a little cautious and wait because they clearly were not ready to get this government up. They clearly aren't sure what they're doing. They clearly haven't thought about a lot of these things. They didn't even appoint their deputy press secretaries until the day before the inauguration. They're going to make a lot of mistakes, and we can't overreact to every single one. We have to still just do our job. SESNO: There's an important word that you said, Fred (ph), which is
respect. And the relationship that should be between these two sides is respect but adversarial. It's both of those.
WHITFIELD: Right. We're not supposed to be friends here.
SESNO: We're not friends. We shouldn't be hanging out.
WHITFIELD: We're inquiring.
SESNO: -- going to barbecues together and they can push back and should and do because they want to get their message out.
WHITFIELD: And that's expected of both sides.
SESNO: That's right. And if the press gets it wrong, they should pound the heck out of everybody who gets it wrong. But the job is to get it right. And the job is to report what the president said or did and when there've been flips and flops or whatever. And that goes with the territory.
I think they'll get it, you know. No one has repealed the laws of human nature or politics here and Donald Trump is going to need allies and coalitions and he's going to need to build, you know, alliances as everybody else did and he's going to need the mainstream media to do it because it's going to be part of how he gets his message out.
STELTER: You're pretty optimistic. I'm really pessimistic.
SESNON: I'm realistic. I'm realistic. He can tweet and they can do all and they --
STELTER: He can also use the power of the government --
WHITFIELD: So in other words, he can start that --
STELTER: -- against the press. I mean he can audit journalist. He can investigate leaks.
SESNO: Well, I expect he will do that and that will make it -- so did the Obama administration. The Obama administration want to throw people in jail, but they still needed the mainstream media. The mainstream media still reported to work every day and filed.
WHITFIELD: All right, go ahead George.
CONDON: There's one other thing that always happens after you win a campaign. First off, you don't want to listen to anybody else's advice because you won it despite their advice in the campaign. And secondly, they really are slow learners that there's a difference between campaigning and governance.
STELTER: Is there though?
CONDON: Well, there is.
WHITFIELD: There should be, right?
STELTER: Who's campaigning?
CONDON: We want to know -- if you outline a program, we want to know how many Americans does it affect. What's it going to cause? How are you going to pass it? And new administrations often are flustered by that. They're treating how do we spin it, and this group clearly hasn't made this --
SESNO: And the American people watch and they judge based on what you do. All right, that's the difference. When you're campaigning, you say what you're going to do. When you're the president of the United States or governor or mayor, you're judged on what you do do. And people will watch and read and listen. They'll judge from their own perspective and experience and then they will judge (INAUDIBLE.)
WHITFIELD: And then Brian, so unclear, you and I both spoke with White House Press Association president Jeff Mason, who said there's been continuous conversations about whether the White House Press Corps will remain in the White House, as is.
It's really a day by day thing. He didn't reveal all of the conversations taking place with the Trump administration. But it's still is not completely clear is it yet, that the White House Press Corps might have, may be forced to move.
STELTER: That's why -- certainly Spicer interested in looking at a new location, a new space. There was a report from "Esquire" a week ago quoting an anonymous Trump source saying the media is the opposition party, I want them out of the building.
Now we don't know who that was quoted as saying that. Clearly some Trump source saying it. Clearly, Donald Trump does not want journalist living in his West Wing. We will see a year or two, three or four years from now if he adapts to that or not, but what Jeff Mason can't say is that a lot of White House correspondents are very anxious right now. No idea what's to come in the weeks to come.
WHITFIELD: And you're formerly president of the White House Correspondents Association so you know what those conversations --
CONDON: Well, actually I've been through that very fight because the Clinton administration very much wanted to throw us out of the West Wing. They were looking at spots to move us to. And we had to deal with that and we did it quietly. And there have been other battles -- three weeks ago, we were fighting whether or not the pool system would survive, where you know, a small group of reporters -- there is a pool system, we will be on Air Force One. He will not leave the campus without us (ph).
WHITFIELD: Hopefully the plane won't leave without Frank.
STELTER: -- on accountability.
CONDON: So, one battle at a time.
WHITFIELD: Yes. All right, Brian Stelter, George Condon and Frank Sesno, thank you gentlemen. I appreciate it.
All right, coming up, next the governor of Georgia has issued a state of emergency in seven counties after 12 people were killed in strong storms. A look at the major damage left behind, next.
[16:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHBANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chelsea Chandler and Charlize Theron led the Women's March here at the Sundance Film Festival and despite the snow and treacherous roads, men, women and children packed on to Main Street for the march that culminated in a rally. John Legend was one of those people who participated in the march. He said he feels compelled to speak out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEGEND, SINGER: And I think sometimes you get complacent and you don't think you can lose an election, you don't think progress can be rolled back. But now it's become abundantly clear to people that progress really can be rolled back. And that's the rights of people fought for for years, voting rights, woman's rights, reproductive rights for women.
All these things that we thought were settled issues, they're back in play again and everybody realizes it now and they realize they can't sit on the sidelines and let it happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Many in Hollywood have not shied away from talking about President Trump. That trend continues here at the Sundance Film Festival. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Park City, Utah.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: More than 40 million people are at risk for severe weather today as a deadly storm sweeps across the southeast. The Georgia governor has declared a state of emergency for seven counties. The same storm system battered that area overnight leveling homes and killing 12 people. President Donald Trump says he has spoken to state officials about the destruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just spoke with Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia -- great state, great people. Florida affected, Alabama affected by the tornado (INAUDIBLE) expressed our sincere condolences for the lives taken. Tornadoes were vicious and powerful and strong and they suffered greatly so, we'll be helping out the state of Georgia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN correspondent Paulo Sandoval is live for us at one of the hardest hit areas. Paulo, what are you seeing there? PAULO SANDOVAL, CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, we were trying to get
a lot closer to what is the center of the devastation here, which is about three miles outside of this small city of Adel. However, at one point, emergency officials telling us to seek shelter so as a result, we had to drive into town as a large cell made its way through the area, but I can tell you that a bulk of the devastation is in a mobile home park just outside of this region.
[16:55:09] At least about seven people confirmed dead and unfortunately that number is likely to rise, according to one emergency official that I spoke to. In fact, they are still in the middle of a recovery. But what's interesting here Fred is we begin to hear some of those stories of survival here from some of the people who actually made it through that storm including one individual who we met at a shelter here. Dee Williams, you were in this park yesterday, this mobile home park yesterday, in the middle of the night when everything as you described just -- the weather just started getting worse. What was that like?
DEE WILLIAMS, STORM VICTIM: It was like, I mean, a nightmare on Elm Street. I mean it's like you're waking up from a dream that really came true.
SANDOVAL: Now that we understand that about seven people in that mobile home park that you were in unfortunately died overnight, does that bring it home for you? How close you were to the devastation?
WILLIAMS: It was scary, I mean it was like, I mean I wish I could help everybody, but I mean you can only help yourself because I mean, it happened within seconds.
SANDOVAL: And finally, what did you see when you looked out the window, when the storm was going through your home?
WILLIAMS: Pitch black and no trailer park. It was just demolished.
SANDOVAL: Where will you spend tonight?
WILLIAMS: I will spend tonight at the shelter at the First Baptist Church.
SANDOVAL: Dee Williams, again, just one of several survivors that we've spoken to. We're at this Baptist church that is now home for about a dozen people, and again, people here are still very weary of the weather situation outside. It's amazing, Fred, only about 20 minutes ago the skies were dark. There were high winds and now the skies are blue. It's clearing, but there is a state of uncertainty as the death toll possibly rises here in Southern Georgia, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right folks, definitely have to heed those warnings. We wish the best to everyone there. Thank you so much Paulo Sandoval. Appreciate it. Thanks so much for being with me today here from the nation's capital. The next hour of the "CNN Newsroom" continues right after this.
[17:00:00] (COMMERCAIL BREAK) DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The people who created and wrote this executive order, they might not have known what they were doing in terms of how you implement policy --
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's clear they didn't.
BASH: Right. But they did know what they were doing in terms of wanting to shake things up and rock the boat because they feel that this is why Donald Trump was elected president and they wanted to see how far it can go.
[18:45:03] There's no question.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You can imagine meetings going on at the White House right now, how to deal with this crisis. It's a real crisis.
Mark Kimmitt, you're a retired U.S. Army general. You served in the State Department, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. How is the rest of the world taking a look at the United States right now and seeing this?
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL-MILITARY AFFAIRS: Well, I think in the case of Iraq, I just returned from Iraq a few days ago. I think it's a combination of they feel betrayed. They feel humiliated and disappointed.
Overwhelmingly, the officials over inside of Iraq were pro-Trump. They were looking for President Trump to ramp up the counter-ISIL campaign. And, frankly, they see the power of this message to work against their efforts. President Trump says in his plan to defeat ISIL, he wants to have a counter-narrative campaign. Well, if that's the case, this instance has just -- you just lost the first battle.
BLITZER: Shadi Hamid is with us as well from the Brookings Institute. You're an expert on Islamic exceptionalism, that's the title of your book, in fact. How is the Islamic community worldwide seeing this?
SHADI HAMID, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I think, first of all, I mean, ISIS wants to portray Americans as being at war with Islam and Muslims. And now, we're feeding into this narrative of a clash of civilizations. And -- I mean, one other thing, too, here, is that ISIS is pretty good at propaganda.
And now, we have the U.S. president who is basically feeding ISIS propaganda that they can use. And we already have reports of pro-ISIS accounts on social media calling this Trump executive order a blessing, something that will benefit them. And they are excited about this. So, we're essentially playing into ISIS's hands and we often fall into this trap.
And just more generally, I mean, as an American-Muslim myself, I mean, this targets very clearly Muslims. It's right there in the text that there's an exemption for religious minorities who are not of the majority religion. The majority religion is what? Muslims. And the last thing I will say is that three of the countries that are
targeted, not just Iraq but also Syria and Libya, it's the nationals of these three countries who are on the front lines, Muslims fighting ISIS and risking their lives. What message does that send to a Syrian national or Libyan national who is actually hates ISIS and wants to fight them and they are seeing the U.S. send this message?
BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to the breaking news we're following first reported by CNN. Evan Perez reporting, the acting attorney general of the United States, Sally Yates, has told Justice Department lawyers not -- repeat -- not make legal arguments defending the president's executive order on immigration and refugees.
I want to bring in Steve Vladeck. He's a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law. He's a constitutional scholar. He's joining us on the phone.
All right. So, give us your reaction.
STEVE VLADECK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW (via telephone): Well, Wolf, I think it's a pretty powerful statement by Sally Yates, who is, as you said, acting attorney general, that she at least believes that the executive order handed down by President Trump last Friday is, indeed, unlawful and unconstitutional, and is not going to instruct line attorneys, senior Justice Department officials to defend the order in court.
BLITZER: So, what happens next?
VLADECK: So, we already have a ballot, half a dozen pending lawsuits, you know, including some of the cases that come up this weekend and a pair of new cases that were filed today in which folks of different shapes and sizes are challenging the executive order. You know, if the Justice Department isn't going to defend it, that's going to make it pretty easy, at least for the plaintiffs in these cases to get temporary relief.
I think the real question, Wolf, is what happens with Sally Yates. She answers to the president. You know, the president's nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, pending in the Senate. We're going to see a lot of noise from the White House to speed up the confirmation of Senator Sessions and perhaps to not even let Sally Yates hang around long enough to watch that happen.
Until that happens, though, Wolf, we're going to have a bit of a vacuum, where you have these lawsuits going forward without the Justice Department necessarily responding and trying to argue that the executive order is indeed lawful.
BLITZER: The president could fire Sally Yates in a moment and bring in somebody else, right?
VLADECK: He absolutely could, and, you know, this harkens back to the so-called Saturday night massacre during Nixon administration where President Nixon basically kept firing senior Justice Department officials until he found someone who would fire the special prosecutor.
So, you know, I think with he could see that with Sally Yates being fired and see if there's anyone in the upper echelons of the Justice Department right now who's willing to actually reverse this directive. Or the scene is going to shift to Capitol Hill and to expedite confirmation of Senator Sessions as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: Sally Yates, a career Justice Department official. She was the deputy attorney general under Loretta Lynch, the Obama administration attorney general.
If they fire -- if the president fires her, would they have to go down to the number three person, if you will?
VLADECK: Yes. I mean, Wolf, that's basically could go -- you know, the Justice Department, like every federal agency, has a hierarchy chart where you have folks basically top to bottom who they take over in an acting capacity when there's no one above them. But, you know, Wolf, this is going to be a problem. Eventually, he's going to run out of people to fire if it really is true that the entire senior leadership of the Justice Department is opposed to defending this ban in court.
And then the question becomes, will the Trump administration be able to get Senator Sessions confirmed or will the executive order now create a reason for senators to actually reset that nomination and perhaps to reopen the hearing?
BLITZER: What do you think is going to happen?
VLADECK: I suspect that Senator Sessions, because he was in the Senate, will probably have enough friends among the Republican caucus in the Senate that that's going to go through. That he's going to get an up and down vote and probably have confirmation. And then this will be moot, right? Then I think we'll very much see the Trump Justice Department led by Attorney General Sessions defend this executive order pretty vigorously and then, Wolf, it's going to be up to the courts.
BLITZER: Let me bring back the former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske, who is still with us as well.
You pointed out you know Sally Yates. You would not be surprised though to see her fired.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: You know, I'm not sure what would happen. I just know her as a prosecutor, as a U.S. attorney, as the deputy attorney general. And she's got a solid, solid reputation with law enforcement. So I wish I knew, but, you know, I'm not going to prognosticate.
BLITZER: Do you think this is a constitutional crisis?
KERLIKOWSKE: You know, this is as serious as it gets, and I go back to what your reporter mentioned, the midnight or Saturday night massacre of firing people. You know, I think it also tells you something very clearly, and that is why wasn't this order thoroughly vetted and reviewed by not just operational people who have to implement it, but by the people that are going to be charged with looking at it and defending it.
So, a piece in the "Wall Street Journal" today that mentions that the secretary of defense did not have the opportunity to see the final order. You know, these things are very complex and it really needs to be done in a way in which the operational people and the legal people are all involved.
BLITZER: Evan, do we know if Justice Department lawyers were consulted on these orders, that they reviewed the legality of the orders, that they signed off on them?
PEREZ: Well, the White House says that they did consult the Office of Legal Counsel, which is the part of the Justice Department that reviews executive orders to make sure they're on the face of it lawful. What that office doesn't do is look at -- the policy implications of these orders, Wolf.
And here's one of the more interesting parts of what the conundrum as Dana points out that Trump is in. Sally Yates is the highest ranking Senate confirmed official at the Justice Department, and as such, her job is to sign foreign surveillance warrants. That's one of the most important jobs. If they need go to wiretap on someone who -- a foreign terrorist, for instance, she is the one that signs that order because she is right now the highest ranking Senate confirmed lawyer at the Justice Department.
If they fire her, they don't have anybody else who is Senate confirmed inside the Justice Department, so it leaves them in a bit of a bind. You cannot -- that's one reason why she has stayed on because you need someone who is Senate confirmed -- that's the law -- Senate confirmed lawyer has to be the one that signs off on these foreign surveillance warrants and she is the one that's doing it right now. At least until Jeff Sessions -- until the new attorney general takes office.
So, if they fire her, they don't have anyone to sign off on the things at least until they get someone in.
BLITZER: That could take a few more days for Jeff Sessions to be confirmed.
PEREZ: It's not a place you want to be.
BASH: No. I can't remember who brought it up, but it was an important point that already he was -- Jeff Sessions was going for -- heading towards likely a pretty partisan vote. That, you know, he would probably get confirmed just by a few votes with maybe one Democrat, maybe one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Now considering the backlash among Republicans -- senior Republicans even though that Jeff Sessions current colleagues in the Senate, you've got to wonder the votes are going to change, because we have seen that kind of thing happen before where members of Congress frankly get spooked, when a real world example of how important a job is lands on their lap, like this, you never know what's going to happen.
[18:55:01] PEREZ: And it really underscores how much of a political disaster the rollout of this executive order was, because what they didn't do is consult members of Congress who would naturally be out their allies, who would be out there defending this.
They don't have all of the important key members of the committees that have to do with immigration and refugee issues, Wolf, who have now come out and said, we weren't consulted. We wish they had done that. We would have told them special -- especially on the green card issue, on the larger test issue, perhaps you might have done it a different way.
You've seen several of them call for changes to the executive order. The Trump White House says it's not going to happen. But now, they're going to put in a bind as to whether or not they support the next attorney general, given all those issues.
BLITZER: Let me bring back Steve Vladeck, he's on the phone. He's a professor of law at the University of Texas Law School. He's a constitutional scholar.
Steve, the question I keep coming back to -- are we on the verge of a constitutional crisis right now?
VLADECK: So, Wolf, I don't think we're there yet. I think constitutional crisis is a term we should reserve for, you know, when the rubber really hits the road. I think the constitutional crisis would be if you get federal courts, you know, enjoining the executive order and you get the Trump administration refusing to follow that injunction. That to me is a constitutional crisis.
Where we might be heading in that direction, but having a Justice Department lawyer like Sally Yates disagreeing with the president, I don't think we're there yet. The real question now is how does President Trump react, how does the Senate reacts, and where do we go from there?
BLITZER: Well, the other question, Steve, is how do officials, lawyers and others, career officials, especially at the Department of Justice react? I assume many of them are going to say Sally Yates is doing the right thing.
VLADECK: I think that's right. I mean, the Justice Department, you know, even though it's part of the executive branch, there's a strong tradition of independence and of taking seriously their obligation to uphold the Constitution, first and foremost. I think that's what you're seeing today in Sally Yates' decision.
I suspect she has a lot of support within the rank-and-file of the Justice Department, which is only going to complicate matters for President Trump if he decides that even before Jeff Sessions is confirmed, he wants to fire her and promote somebody else into the acting attorney general position. BLITZER: Laura Coates is still with us, our legal analyst.
Laura, you were a former U.S. assistant attorney. You're a trial attorney at the Department of Justice, in the civil rights decision. You know a lot of these officials. How do you think they're going to react to the extraordinary news we're covering right now?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): I think they're extraordinarily relieved. They have some direction and guidance at how not to proceed, because I think most people were trying -- were scrambling, as most were, on Friday and Saturday at the airports, as well as bureaucrats at DOJ and the other places trying to figure out what their role should be in this.
And you think about whether or not this is a constitutional crisis. Well, we have been talking about the idea at the new Supreme Court pick and talking about abortion as being the biggest issue of the day and whether that was guided. Realistically, it will now be trying to find somebody who could give the insight in these sorts of ambiguous areas of whether or not, there's a conflict between executive power and what other agencies and other branches can do.
And so, this is going to be a relief for many people to figure out, look, I have now got guidance. It's more than just a stay -- a stay for the -- for the detainees in the airports and et cetera, it's also a time of reflection to figure out where can we go from here and can we defend the position of the executive order?
BLITZER: Dana, a lot of people are wondering now, how this extraordinary development is going to impact the confirmation of Senator Sessions to be the attorney general. There are 52 Republicans in the Senate, 48 Democrats. It looks pretty much along party lines. The only way he isn't confirmed if there are some Republican senators who bolt and I wonder if this crisis that we're seeing right now is going to impact them.
BASH: Right. As you were just talking to the other guest, I was just trying to text with some Republicans to try to get the answer to that question. I think people are digesting this news as they have been over the past couple of days, but particularly with this latest news that Evan broke.
You know, if you think about the raw numbers, you know, they -- the Republicans only have 52 seat majority, 53 if you count the vice president. That's not a very big margin to work with. If there are enough Republicans or even a handful of Republicans I should say that are concerned enough about their current colleague, Jeff Sessions, becoming the attorney general to implement something that somebody who is a long-time career Justice Department attorney says is unconstitutional.
BLITZER: In the meantime, the attorney general, the Justice Department, not going to defend President Trump and all the lawsuits pending in Virginia and New York, Massachusetts and Washington state and California.
Evan, excellent reporting. Thanks so much for breaking the news.
Our breaking news coverage continues right now on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".