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Interview With California Senator Dianne Feinstein; Trump vs. Australia; Trump Asks People to Pray for 'The Apprentice'; Congress Rolling Back Regulations from Obama Era; GOP Changes Rules to Bypass Dem Cabinet Boycotts; U.S. to Add More Sanctions Against Iran. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: At the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, President Trump mockingly asked for prayers to God for Arnold Schwarzenegger's ratings. That really happened. That's not an Onion headline.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump's phone calls and tweets leaving key allies in different corners of the world dazed and confused.

The Trump administration now making a tweak to sanctions against Russia and its spies. Is the president starting to give Vladimir Putin a pass as Putin's allies begin to scorch Ukraine, or is this much ado about nothing?

Plus, violence erupting on campus at a place that was once a crucible for free speech, all to silence a far-right journalist.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with the world lead.

And it is a world turned upside down, as President Donald Trump talks tough with two of America's closest allies and says not one word to Russia, after pro-Putin separatists in Ukraine once again are exchanging fire with the Ukrainian government.

Today, Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the violence, saying that that sovereign, shrinking country provoked fighting against pro- Russian forces, only to draw United States into the fray.

Putin's accusations come as the Trump administration announced a tweak today to a U.S. sanction against Russia put in place by former President Obama. Today, the new White House was quick to say that the change is not about easing sanctions. It's only a routine technical fix.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Treasury Department, from what I understand, is a fairly common -- it's a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department after sanctions are put in place, to go back and to look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different either industries or products and services that need to be going back and forth.


TAPPER: Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.

Jim, what does this "technical fix," what does it actually change?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Trump administration is adjusting some of the sanctions on the Russian intelligence service known as the FSB that were put in place, as you said, by the Obama administration over Kremlin cyber-attacks on the U.S. that include the hacking that occurred during the 2016 election.

Now, we're told the tweak was necessary, officials say, to deal with some of the unintended consequences of those sanctions that were impacting U.S. businesses selling tech products in Russia. As you just played, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer characterized this move as -- quote -- "fairly common."

But, Jake, as you know, any modification of sanctions on Russia are sure to raise eyebrows here in Washington, and this especially after the Kremlin-backed hackers meddled in the election, an operation the U.S. intelligence services say helped President Trump win the election.

But the president earlier today said he is not easing back on Russia. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing is off the table. I haven't eased anything.


ACOSTA: So there you go. He says he hasn't eased anything.

But this move is being received well in Moscow, where one legislator hailed the sanction tweak as the "first step on the way to cooperation in the war on terror." That was from the TASS news agency, the Russian news agency.

So, Jake, even though the White House is insisting this is not an easing of sanctions, that is a signal that is being sent to some in Moscow -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you so much.

All this is happening, of course, as CNN and other outlets broke the news of President Trump fuming on a phone call with the Australian prime minister and using a little Spanglish with the president of Mexico.


TAPPER (voice-over): Quite the first day for incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.



TAPPER: America's new top diplomat begins just as President Trump doubles down on the confrontational tone he has taken with some U.S. allies, responding this morning to reports that his phone calls with leaders from Mexico and Australia were fraught with diplomatic missteps.

TRUMP: When you hear about the tough phone calls I'm having, don't worry about it. Just don't worry about it. They're tough. We have to be tough. It's time we're going to be a little tough, folks. We're taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It's not going to happen anymore.

TAPPER: Sources tell CNN that President Trump and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disagreed intensely over a refugee deal made under the Obama administration for the U.S. to accept some refugees from Australia, many originally from the seven nations now affected by a temporary U.S. travel ban.

President Trump repeatedly objected to the deal in a phone conversation. And Prime Minister Turnbull had to keep correcting him on the actual number of refugees, 1,250, not 2,000.

TRUMP: It could be 2,000, could be more than that. And I said, why? Why are you doing this? What's the purpose? So, we will see what happens.

TAPPER: Turnbull's assurance that the refugees would submit to U.S. screening measures apparently meant little to President Trump, who argued that Australia was sending him perhaps the next Boston bomber and that upholding the agreement would be bad for him politically.

The president, according to sources, abruptly ended the call. After reports emerged of the call, he then took to Twitter vowing -- quote -- "I will study this dumb deal."

Earlier this week, however, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration would honor the agreement.

SPICER: There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them.

TAPPER: Prime Minister Turnbull today added his view of the discussion in a radio interview.


MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I'm very disappointed that there has been a leak of purported details of the call in Washington. The call ended courteously. And as far as the nature of the discussion, it was very frank and forthright.

TAPPER: Though Democratic Senator Tim Kaine had a different F-word in mind.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: To have a contentious conversation and name-call a country or the prime minister of a country that's one of our greatest allies in Asia is foolish. He's doing kind of amateur hour stuff on matters of significant national importance.

TAPPER: The day before that call, President Trump spoke with president Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. It's a relationship already strained by their disagreements over the border wall.

According to an excerpt of the transcript obtained by CNN, President Trump told the Mexican president -- quote -- "You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big league, but they have to be knocked out. And you have not done a good job knocking them out."

A government official familiar with the call says President Trump's interactions with foreign leaders at this stage are -- quote -- "naive," and that "he keeps suggesting we will have the best relationship ever with a broad departure of countries, but there is no substance to back it up. When he encounters a policy challenge like with Turnbull, he responds with a tantrum."


TAPPER: Joining now is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining me.

Let me first play back what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today about this change in sanctions against the FSB, the successor to the KGB.


QUESTION: Why is the administration easing sanctions against Russia?

SPICER: Not easing sanctions. The Treasury Department, from what I understand, is a fairly common -- it's a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department after sanctions are put in place, to go back and to look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different either industries or products and services that need to be going back and forth.

But I would refer you back to the Treasury Department on that one.


TAPPER: So, Senator, is this just a technical adjustment, or might there be more to this? SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think the thing, Jake,

is, we don't know.

You heard Sean Spicer, what he said, and that is that Treasury is going to take a look at it and see if any carve-outs are necessary. The rumor that I heard is that this would be for United States nondefense products like cell phones.

Now, I don't know whether that's good or bad on the face of it. I would not be for weakening these sanctions which involve the intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, who have been ribalding, ribaldry, into American political campaigns.

So, I would hope the president would be very careful before any changes were made. Now, it may well be that there is one thing here that doesn't need to be in that sanctions list, and that's a different story. It's hard for me to tell right now.

TAPPER: President Trump and the Australian prime minister, as you no doubt know, got into a heated discussion on the phone a few days ago about the admission into the U.S. of 1,250 refugees from Australia, as President Obama had agreed to. Do you have any reaction reading about this dust-up with this close American ally?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, my reaction is one of sorrow.

Australia has been just great to the United States. Australia has been with us, it's almost like jump, how high, on every single thing. And it is a treasured relationship.

With respect to Mexico -- and I come from California, and the Mexican- California relationship is a very big thing. You know, I did not vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, for some of the very reasons that have been put forward.

But I think, on the question of sensitivity of the wall and how to pay for it and threats that go back and forth, this is not helpful. We have a huge drug problem, and we need Mexico's cooperation. And this Mexican president has been cooperating and doing his level best, and I would hope that would continue.

So, I -- some of these conversations, I think they're fine for a president to pick up a phone and say hello, I want you to know I look forward to working with you, and maybe having -- but I think negotiating over a telephone on something that can be easily misunderstood is not necessarily the smartest thing in the world.

TAPPER: President Trump said this morning at the prayer breakfast that people shouldn't worry about the tough talk. He's just standing up and fighting for the United States.

FEINSTEIN: Well, there's been a lot of tough talk.


We have had 16 memos and executive orders full of tough talk, and we have had one thing after another. And you have got hundreds and thousands of Americans out on the streets protesting.

And I think this nation needs to settle down. I hope this president will go out of his way to say, look, I represent all of you. I want to bring this nation together. He can bring this nation together and do what he wants to do with respect to job development. Everybody would support that.

But it's doing other things, and it's setting people one on the other that isn't helpful, and particularly immigration order, which now has three federal stays against it, including one by federal Judge Birotte in Los Angeles which I gather applies through the whole United States.

TAPPER: I want to play for you a comment made by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today. She was talking about Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon. Take a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The stunning thing that a white supremacist, Bannon, would be a permanent member of the National Security Council and dismissing chairman of Joint Chiefs and the director of national security -- national intelligence as permanent members.


TAPPER: Steve Bannon denies being a white supremacist. And I know there are a lot of Republican colleagues you have who are very upset with what Minority Leader Pelosi had to say. What do you make of it?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I make of it this.

He certainly not -- is not a technical adviser. He's a political adviser. And the NSC shouldn't be about political advice. It should be about very practical military and civilian advice on questions of national security.

We're talking about whether this country goes to war, whether we initiate some kind of an attack, whether there is a probability of attack on this country, and what should be done.

And I think those are decisions that should be made by the people that are skilled in it. As a matter of fact, I just signed on to a bill that Mark Warner, who is the ranking member -- excuse me -- vice chairman of intelligence now, has authored that would preclude this. And I hope other members would sign on it as well.

TAPPER: Do you think your fellow California Democrat Leader Pelosi went too far calling Steve Bannon a white supremacist?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I don't know whether he's a white -- I don't want to get into that, because I just don't know.

I know that he's a populist political adviser, and sometimes, in these decisions, it's not the politics. It's the rightness or wrongness based on the need to protect the nation's security. And it's how you do it, and it's the strategy, and it's the tactics that go into it.

And it calls for intelligence, and it calls for military. It doesn't call for political advice, I think.

TAPPER: Senator Dianne Feinstein, always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Jumping through scheduling hoops to make sure President Trump's nominees get confirmed. Which Cabinet picks are in jeopardy and which Republican senators and what Republican senators are doing to avoid rejection -- that story next.


[16:17:24] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Sticking with our politics lead -- a big victory for the coal industry today. Moments ago, the U.S. Senate voted today repeal an Obama era regulation that the industry calls burdensome.

CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now.

Rene, obviously, there were environmentalists who were very upset about this. What exactly did the measure do?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So, the whole idea behind this is to protect streams from any sort of pollution that could come from coal and the mining industry. Essentially, it required these companies to do checks, data checks to see how many chemicals, what's the level of chemical within these streams, that may be a byproduct from the coal industry, the mining industry.

We do know that, yesterday, the House voted to repeal it, and the Senate just a short time ago vote today repeal this regulation. So, environmentalists obviously are very concerned. They're saying, well, if you're not collecting the data and you're not monitoring the chemicals in the stream, how will you know what the environmental impact will be from mining and the coal industry? So, that's the concern there.

But on the other side, you have the coal industry saying this was too burdensome, it was a financial burden. You know, it was killing jobs within the industry. So, really today, the repealing of this vote, Jake, is seen as a very big win for the coal industry.

TAPPER: The first of many Obama era environmental regulations to go, likely.

Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Only six of President Trump's cabinet or cabinet level nominees have been confirmed, according to a stud by ABC News. President Trump with 11 unconfirmed cabinet nominees has more unconfirmed nominees two weeks into a tenure than every previous U.S. president combined. Now, Democrats are gumming up the works even further boycotting committee hearings that would advance nominees to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senior congressional reporter Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, Republicans are taking a number of unusual maneuvers to get these picks onto the Senate floor where they can be confirmed.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, indeed, Jake. And even to get some of them confirmed like Betsy DeVos, his education secretary, in order to get her across the Senate finish line, they need to keep Senator Jeff Sessions in the Senate a little while longer before getting affirmed as attorney general so he can vote to save her nomination and bring in Vice President Mike Pence early next week to break a tie on her nomination. This after Mitch McConnell today set up votes for next week on Tom Price's nomination to head HHS and as well as Steve Mnuchin to head treasury, but not without some controversy.


RAJU (voice-over): Senate Republicans are playing hardball, taking unprecedented steps to confirm President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees.

[16:20:02] After Democrats boycotted a committee vote today on Scott Pruitt's nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans pushed forward without them, suspending the committee rules that require Democrats to be present for a vote and sending the nomination to the full Senate.

Republicans defended the move.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Well, it's obviously a concerted effort by the entire Democratic Party. It's not just Scott Pruitt. It's so many of these. It is absolutely meant to obstruct. We're not going to allow that to happen today.

RAJU: Republicans already made the same move for two other nominees. Tom Price to lead Health and Human Services, and Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think they're pretty desperate to get these hugely ethically challenged nominees through the process before the American people get a good look at what they're up to.

RAJU: Just six Trump nominees have been confirmed so far, four of them cabinet secretaries, compared to 11 cabinet secretaries who were approved at this point when President Obama first came into office.

(on camera): Is this frustration from the elections?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: No, it's a frustration, I would say, about particular cabinet members.

RAJU (voice-over): On Friday, Republicans were poised to break a filibuster of Betsy DeVos' nomination to lead the Education Department, but only after two Republican senators announced their opposition, which will prompt Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie, and delay the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general so he can cast a vote to save DeVos' nomination.

The cabinet drama is distracting from the GOP's ambitious legislative agenda, including the push to repeal and replace Obamacare. The GOP is divided over how to proceed.

(on camera): But even in Obamacare you don't have agreement in your own party right now.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Because it is so complex. The problem with talking about repeal is we don't have the votes to repeal the entire law.

RAJU (voice-over): Facing Democratic opposition and internal GOP division, Republicans are now stressing that their plans will repair the law rather than an outright repeal.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan denies that his party is lowering expectations.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is just some miscommunication or a misinterpretation of what we're trying to say. Our job is to repair the American health care system and rescue it from the collapse that it's in.


RAJU: Now, Jake, today, Paul Ryan once again reiterating he wants to move on Obamacare replacement legislation in the first quarter of this year, but Republicans in the Senate tell me that they're skeptical that they can move so quickly. Also, they're not planning on one big bill. They want to do it piece by piece, but doing so would require bipartisan support and a lot of those areas. And as we know, this is such a polar idolizing issue, one reason why some want to scale back their ambitions -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill.

At today's National Prayer Breakfast in his opening remarks in a roomful of religious leaders, President Trump said the following about rehiring the Senate chaplain.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is that an appointed position? I don't know if you're Democrat or if you're Republican, but I'm appointing you for another year.


TAPPER: Seconds later, President Trump responded to his introduction, famed TV show producer Mark Burnett shared how the two created "The Apprentice" together. Then, President Trump took the podium and he made a special request for his successor on the show, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


TRUMP: The ratings went right down the tubes. It's been a total disaster. And mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can for those ratings, OK?


TAPPER: This is at an event, of course, intended to foster fellowship and prayer with congressional leaders and invited dignitaries.

Former Governor Schwarzenegger got wind of the comments. He almost immediately posted this on Instagram.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, HOST, "THE NEW CELEBRITY APPRENTICE": Hey, Donald, I have a great idea. Why don't we switch jobs? You take over TV because you're such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job and then people can finally sleep comfortably again. Huh?


TAPPER: Schwarzenegger took over as host on "The Apprentice" in September 2015, shortly after President Trump decided to run for president.

Be sure to tune in to CNN next Tuesday night. CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and I will monitor a town hall debate with Senator Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on the future of Obamacare. It all starts Tuesday, February 7th, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And that's only on CNN.

Quote, "Nothing is off the table." That's what President Trump said when it comes to dealing with Iran after they test fired a missile and they say they won't stop doing so. That story next.


[16:29:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking news in our world lead today, CNN has learned that the Trump administration is expected to impose additional sanctions against Iran for Sunday's missile launch. This comes just hours after President Trump declared all options are on the table in response to the country's provocative actions. Iranian leaders have called the White House warnings, quote, "empty threats" and vowed to vigorously march ahead on its missile program which they claim is not a violation of nuclear deal.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski joins me now from the State Department.

And, Michelle, what do we know about these additional sanctions? MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean,

after all that was said the last couple days, there was little doubt that they were going to do something. But this appears to be coming very soon and sources are telling CNN that it will be in the form of additional sanctions against certain Iranian entities.

This is a response to the ballistic missile launch on Sunday. But it falls under prior executive orders. So, they didn't really have to craft a new framework to impose these sanctions. Also, this is separate from the Iran nuclear deal. Doesn't mean, though, that Iran won't react in some way -- angrily, possibly even with more provocation.