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Legal Showdown Erupts Over Trump's Travel Ban; Trump Rips Judge Who Can't Publicly Defend Himself; Trump: If Something Happens, Blame the Judge; Sources: Infighting, Rivalries Brew Among Trump Staff; Trump Defends Putin: "You Think Our Country's So Innocent"; Trump: All "Negative Polls Are Fake News" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 6, 2017 - 11:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with the great Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Moments from now, addressing the troops, President Donald Trump will be landing in MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the headquarters for U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.

After the president received a briefing, he's going to have lunch with service members, and then deliver a speech. We will bring you those remarks live. It could be very important day for the president there.

But at the same very time, we're keeping our eye on the courts, the legal face-off over the president's travel ban and immigration order, escalating by the day, sometimes by the hour.

Right now the clock is ticking for the Justice Department to respond, up against a 6:00 p.m. deadline to submit their argument to a federal appeals court, this after a judge's order in Washington State put a nationwide hold on the president's travel ban for seven Muslim majority countries.

Now joining the fight, almost a hundred companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, who filed briefs with the court, calling the president's actions unconstitutional. Add to that, ten former top government officials including John Kerry, Madeleine Albright, Leon Panetta, to name a few, submitted a different brief to the court, calling the ban unnecessary, saying that it could do long term damage to our national security interests. Those are their words.

CNN's justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, joining me now with much more on this. A whole lot happened over the weekend with regard to this, Laura. Where exactly do things stand right now?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, that's right, Kate. So early this morning, attorneys for the states, Washington and Minnesota, filed a brief urging the Court of Appeals to keep the suspension on the travel ban in place. They say to do otherwise would essentially unleash chaos for travelers. They've got support, as you mentioned, from former senior officials from both the Obama and Clinton administrations. Those people are saying, look, this ban makes us less safe.

It's also interesting to see how the states are using Trump's earlier talk of a Muslim ban from the campaign now as proof in court that religious bias is at the heart of the ban.

Now we haven't seen the government's reply brief yet. That will come later tonight. But we know from their earlier filings they will say that the district court judge does not have the power to second-guess the president on matters of national security like this.

BOLDUAN: So that's where things stand at the very moment right now, Laura. Is this guaranteed to be heading to the Supreme Court? Is that a foregone conclusion at this point?

JARRETT: Well, that's certainly on everybody's mind. Once the government's brief is in later tonight, then it's first in the hands of the Ninth Circuit to decide. They can either uphold Judge Robart's ruling, the Seattle judge, keeping the suspension of the executive order in place, or reverse, which means the travel ban is back on again.

But either way, I think we can safely expect the Supreme Court review is just around the corner here, given how high the stakes are. If the Supreme Court splits down the middle, as it only has eight justices right now, then whatever the Ninth Circuit says is the law of the land.

BOLDUAN: That too. Thank you so much, Laura. Great to see you. Appreciate it.

JARRETT: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So what is President Trump doing about all of this? Not sitting by silently, not just attacking the decision but attacking the judge handling the case. Feel a little bit like deja vu?

We are talking right now about Judge James Robart. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He's been on the bench since 2004. But President Trump doesn't seem to believe it, calling him on Twitter a "so-called judge."

And writing this about Judge Robart, "if something happens," and he means because the ban is lifted, "blame him" is what the president wrote on Twitter.

Joining me now to discuss is Mike McKay. He is a former U.S. attorney who's known Judge Robart for years and actually was part of the committee that recommended Robart to the Bush administration. Mike, thanks so much for joining me.

You worked with Judge Robart. You vetted him for the Bush administration. Is Judge Robart a "so-called judge"? MICHAEL MCKAY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, WASHINGTON STATE: Judge Robart is a superb judge, and one of the best that we have, and I think he's one of the better judges in the country. I've known Jim for 35 years. He was a superb trial lawyer. We're very lucky to have him as a federal judge in Seattle. He certainly is a judge. He was nominated by President George W. Bush, supported by our two Democratic U.S. senators, and confirmed by the United States Senate 99-0.

BOLDUAN: I'm so glad that we've cleared up that bit of fake news, the "so-called judge" bit, he's a real judge, serving on the real federal appeals court. That's very good that we've cleared that up. In your view, Mike, you've known him for a long time, is he political?

MCKAY: Well, he was an active Republican before he took the bench. However, for all of us who have been in public service, once you accept that position, you leave your politics at the door and Judge Robart has done that.

[11:05:13]But he was an active Republican here in Washington State, he's what we call a mainstream Republican, a moderate Republican. Again, that stopped when he took the bench in 2004. He is a good, solid judge, a mainstream jurist, and we're lucky to have him.

BOLDUAN: The president's response to this ruling attacking Judge Robart, I mean, I said it off the top, but I want to get your take, him saying on Twitter over the weekend "if something happens, blame him," blame the judge, what do you say to that, Mike?

MCKAY: It is disappointing and disrespectful, and it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the three branches of our government. The judicial branch is a co-equal branch and he was called upon to do his job, and he's done it well. I don't know if his decision was right or wrong.

I think your reporter indicated correctly, this is going to be up to the Ninth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. But he did his duty last Friday and the kind of attack that the president rendered on him was really inappropriate and disrespectful of the important role that judges play in our society.

BOLDUAN: You obviously talk to Judge Robart. How do you think he's handling all of this? All of this attention kind of thrust on him so quickly like this.

MCKAY: He is one of the most soft-spoken and even-tempered people I know, judge or not. He also has a backbone that's steel-like. So I'm confident he understands his important role as a judge. He's not able to respond to the president but the rest of us can.

And he's playing his role that he's supposed to play and let his decisions speak for themselves. I think the president needs to recognize his appropriate role.

But the rest of us I think are in place to support not necessarily Judge Robart's decision, I don't know if it's right or wrong, but to support him in playing the very important role imposed upon him by our Constitution.

BOLDUAN: Mike McKay, great to have you, really appreciate this. This is going to -- there's going to be a lot more focus on him for a while now so we appreciate your time laying out who is the Judge Robart that you know.

So let's discuss this a little bit more. Joining me right now, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, political anchor for "Spectrum News," and David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent at "The Washington Examiner." Great to have you guys here.

So you just heard from someone who knows Judge Robart who says he can't defend himself, and so we're here to defend him as well. Doesn't this sound like deja vu? This was the same situation that we are in during the campaign when then-Candidate Donald Trump attacked Judge Curiel, another judge who could not defend himself.

But we have also for a long time so this is Candidate Trump did this, Republicans for a long time have talked about activist judges that they don't like. Is this something different this time?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is different, because now this statement, this lashing out, this ad hominem attack is coming from the oval office. It's coming from the president of the United States. It implies there's something going on between the executive branch and the judicial branch in a way that you wouldn't necessarily think up on the campaign trail when you give candidates a little bit of leeway.

This is something that, you know, let's keep in mind, the attack on Judge Curiel signaled one of the low points of the campaign where his approval ratings fell, where even close allies were kind of stepping back from some of the rhetoric.

He may I think get a similar blowback. We heard Mitch McConnell and others sort of saying, whatever else you may think about the merits of this decision, the personal attack is not warranted.

BOLDUAN: What do you make of this, David? Where is the advantage for President Trump in this? How does this help him win this case?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, I don't know if he's quite looking at it like that.

BOLDUAN: It might have nothing to do with it.

DRUCKER: He might be looking for political advantage. I mean, look, let's step back for a minute and understand that this is not the first president to criticize a judge or a judicial decision that he did not like.

President Obama during his State of the Union address called out members of the Supreme Court directly, Republicans were pretty upset about that, George W. Bush complained about --

BOLDUAN: That led to some Supreme Court members not showing up for those addresses anymore.

DRUCKER: Correct, because they didn't want to be in the middle of a political firestorm. I think the issue here is what the judge's job is and whether or not the president understands that. And he might, but be choosing to go this route anyway.

As Neil Gorsuch, the president's nominee to be on the Supreme Court, said last week, a good judge is a judge that does not like every decision he renders.

So it's possible that Robart and other judges are going to be ruling on national security matters and think to themselves, wow, what if this does make us less safe? But the constitution requires that I rule in this way.

[11:10:02]And so if the president is that concerned, and I do believe he is, and you take him at his word, they should immediately go through Congress. Because if you can get something from Congress, the courts are much less likely to strike something down or mess with it when it has the backing of law as opposed to an executive order.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. But also, if you got a problem that you need to fix, you want to go through Congress to do it. You first have to acknowledge that there's been any kind of a problem, other than what we are seeing right now is a legal problem. Here is President Trump over the weekend talking about the rollout of the travel ban. He said it was going very smoothly. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think it was very smooth. You had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't do anything differently if you had to do it over again? Some of your people didn't really know what the order was.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, that's not what General Kelly said. General Kelly, who is now Secretary Kelly, he said he totally knew, he was aware of it and it was very smooth. It was 109 people.


BOLDUAN: So everything's great. Everything's going great with it?

LOUIS: Of course, it's not 109 people.

BOLDUAN: Add to that then what Donald Trump is saying about the poll numbers. He's been one that's hesitant to use poll numbers after this election, but when you look at poll numbers on where people are on the ban, just the CNN poll says that 53 percent of people oppose it, and Donald Trump is attacking those polls saying you can't listen to those polls, it's fake news. Can he keep this up?

LOUIS: We'll see if he's going to keep it up, but he'll get sort of pushback at every step of the way. Bill O'Reilly and Fox News generally are about the most friendly audience you can get for a Donald Trump, and even there he was pushing back.

The real number, by the way, is not 109. There were 60,000 visas that were cancelled, right? So it's at least 60,109 people we're talking about.

Secondly, if he wants to pick a fight with everybody, that it's the pollsters and the pundits and Congress and the establishment and the donor class and the courts and the judges, you know, at some point you start to find that all of those people that you have sort of said have all gotten all of this stuff wrong actually have some credibility with the public.

We can't all be. Paypal and Google and Facebook and all these companies now coming forward, all of them clearly have some credibility with the public. So I think the president is setting himself up for a much bigger fight than maybe he really initially expected.

BOLDUAN: Other than the companies, you have other people weighing in, bold faced names from the national security world, Democratic administrations from Kerry to Albright, so on and so forth. How does that play into this? As you said, Donald Trump is speaking out, looking for political gains. How does this impact the situation?

DRUCKER: I think the question here has to be for the administration, how do at the try and implement a policy they clearly believe in? If you talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, there's a lot of support for the underlying substance of what the Trump administration is trying to do, which is focus on areas of the world where they do not believe we can properly vet people because the rule of law in those countries is broken down.

So how do you get access to documents, who do you actually interview, who has credibility there? But in order to be effective, you have to actually present this in a way that the American people understand it.

Because they rushed this through and because the president continues to fight on this, it may work for him with his political base and clearly his party is going to stick with him for now, for the most part. I think over time they may find themselves having a more difficult time winning the argument than is actually necessary.

Because if you talk to most Americans and say, do we want to make sure there's extra vetting so you don't have members of ISIS using a refugee program, people will agree with that and I think they should focus on that and not so much on the critics and what their critics are saying.

BOLDUAN: So it continues. Great to see you, guys, thanks so much.

All right, so new details are just in involving Donald Trump's controversial move to put his political adviser on the National Security Council. Apparently, President Trump was caught off-guard by the backlash. Hear why. Plus, Russia wants an apology from Bill O'Reilly of Fox News after the Fox News host called Vladimir Putin a killer. I'll leave you to wonder if that will ever happen. But also wonder this, why does it seem President Trump is still defending Putin?

And moments from now, President Trump will arrive at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, his first big address to the troops since becoming commander-in-chief. We'll bring it to you live.



BOLDUAN: The court orders, the protests, the pushback, the poll numbers, the parodies, are they all already starting to wear on this new White House? Lots of talk of infighting going on behind the scenes amongst the president's top staff in these early days.

White House correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining me now with more on this. Sara, is there anything to this palace intrigue? What are you hearing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the White House is taking pains to say there is nothing to see here. Everyone is getting along. Things are going to move more smoothly. The reality is that Donald Trump was not very happy with the way his travel ban was implemented.

He tapped his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to be the point person to ensure things are moved in an orderly fashion going forward. This does not mean that everyone is suddenly getting along. There are still multiple power centers within the White House.

There is still infighting. But the question is, does it really matter to Donald Trump? He's sort of always operated like this and people say that's probably not going to change.

BOLDUAN: So also the other big news today, Sara, what is the White House saying this morning if anything about the president's interview last night in talking about Putin and when posed with a question, Vladimir Putin is a killer, he basically said, you think our country is so innocent.

MURRAY: Exactly. He's already catching some heat from that from Democrats on the Hill. It will be interesting to see how Republicans on the Hill start to weigh in. Listen to what he said, though, essentially saying maybe America is not so much better than Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you respect Putin?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you? Why? PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with them. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a killer, though. Putin is a killer.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers. Why you think our country is so innocent?


[11:20:00]MURRAY: This is one of the interesting conundrums of Donald Trump. He's been so reluctant to criticize Russia, even when we saw, other than the administration, we saw Nikki Haley out there taking a much sharper tone with Russia. The U.N. ambassador last week, than we've seen from Donald Trump.

He's going to be headed to CENTCOM today. He's going to be making some remarks there, meeting with enlisted personnel. So we'll see if this is the kind of thing that might come up there today -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: We will see, Sara. Great to see you. And Sara, no briefing, right? The next briefing is tomorrow?

MURRAY: No briefing today, no.

BOLDUAN: OK. We'll hold for that one tomorrow. Great to see you. Here with me now to discuss, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, former Navy SEAL and now chairman of the George Washington Leadership Foundation, Carl Higbie, CNN political commentator, former communications director for the RNC, Doug Heye, and former Hillary Clinton campaign official, Jess McIntosh.

All right, friends, first up, the National Security Council shake-up. Donald Trump from our reporting as you heard from Sara Murray, Donald Trump knew the shake-up was happening, but -- he knew what he was signing, what he was signing. He didn't know what a big deal it was, how unprecedented it was, how much impact it would have. Big deal or no big deal?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Big deal. The president should know what he's signing, he should know the impact of it because he should think these things through. This is part of the challenge that congressional Republicans are having right now.

They like so much of what Donald Trump is doing but there's so much that makes them very nervous, whether it's the travel ban, whether it's this. There's a real ying/yang happening within the party right now.

BOLDUAN: And even talk about it, clearly Donald Trump cares about, tweeting, of course, Ana, the first thing you look at in the morning when he tweets, "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data and everyone knows it." Big deal or no big deal? ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, when you feel it necessary to say you call your own shots and everyone knows it, it's probably because you don't call your own shots, and everybody knows it. I think it's very self-evident there, a little bit of insecurity on that front.

Congressional Republicans are going to have to get used to the fact that they can commend him when he does something good, but they need to confront him and come out as a separate voice then he does something they don't agree with.

They need to forge their own individuality and personality in this. I understand it, Republicans in Congress are like the little puppies when the owner comes home. They've been in political exile for eight years, they're so excited.

Their little tails are wagging at the idea of a Republican president, even if it is Donald Trump. But they have got to stand up to him when he does crazy things like defend Putin.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's because they broadly want to stick with him because they see a light at the end of the tunnel or do you think they're scared of him?

NAVARRO: I think it's because he won big, a lot of them won thanks to him. I think it's because they're excited to be able to get some things done. It's only been two weeks, it's like dog years. It feels like 12 years, not two weeks.

BOLDUAN: We're the dogs in this scenario, I guess.

NAVARRO: I don't know who let the dogs in.

HEYE: It's also polling in their congressional districts. If you look at Republican Congressional districts, Donald Trump remains overwhelmingly popular in those districts. That matters.

BOLDUAN: So listen to those fake news polls when it comes to your congressional district? Got it. Carl, when it comes to the National Security Council, are you comfortable with the president signing onto something when he didn't fully understand what it meant?

CARL HIGBIE, GEORGE WASHINGTON LEADERSHIP FOUNDATION: I want to correct that statement, I spoke to somebody who is very close to Steve Bannon. He said this is not something Donald Trump haphazardly did on a whim. He knew what was happening. What he's shocked about is there is so much outrage.

Steve Bannon was a naval officer. He was on a submarine, which means he required a security clearance. This is a guy who has been successful in everything he's done including in the military. Why is it such a bad thing to put him on national security?

NAVARRO: Because he's a political operative, he looks at everything from the political lens. It is his job to get Donald Trump reelected and to keep Donald Trump from -- HIGBIE: Nobody on the NSC can be in politics?

NAVARRO: That's why they're not.

BOLDUAN: Usually they're not.

NAVARRO: That's why political operatives in the White House have not been --

HIGBIE: He was considered for vice president.

BOLDUAN: Being considered for vice president is something very different than actually getting the post. Let's move to Russia. The small elephant in the room, I guess we could call it. The president's comments on Putin over the weekend, I call this the latest installment of things Donald Trump says. But in a very serious way, is it actions or words that matter more? Things he says, you can react to, but the Obama era sanctions against Russia, they're still in place.

JESS MCINTOSH, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: I think that words absolutely matter. We're talking about international diplomacy here. That is largely a game of words and tell it is a game of action. The fact that he was unwilling to suggest that America didn't murder their political opponents is so far out of the realm of normalcy for a president.

[11:25:03]It's almost shocking to be sitting around the table talking about it like we would any other political topic. This is not normal. This is not normal for a president. This is not normal for foreign relations. This is not normal for diplomacy.

It is a pattern of not being normal when it comes to Russia. He wouldn't release his tax returns, which has never happened before, because we don't know what kind of ties he has to Russia. That seems to be --

BOLDUAN: He says --

HIGBIE: You don't know that. You don't make that allegation. We don't have a sliver of proof.

MCINTOSH: That is a sticking point, he is unwilling to answer that question. There are other questions --

HIGBIE: Do you have any proof to make that allegation?

MCINTOSH: The president has to release his tax returns to see what kind of ties he has to foreign adversaries.

BOLDUAN: The evidence the president offered, not talking about tax returns, the evidence offered in this interview, we've got our own problems, we kill a lot of people, we've done bad things too, are you comfortable with the president making the comparison, the decision to go into the Iraq war by George W. Bush is on par with actions by Vladimir Putin?

HIGBIE: I am not comfortable with that statement and I'm sure you guys at CNN are jumping up and down with me saying that.

BOLDUAN: No. I want to hear your opinion.

HEYE: The issue here is, look, I support Donald Trump almost unequivocally. That said, I do think he is trying to bridge a gap, have some sort of relationship with Putin. I remember back during the Romney/Obama election, Obama was hailed by the left for saying, hey, the cold war called, they want their foreign policy back in regards to Russia. Now Trump is out there trying to bridge that gap, trying to have some sort of relationship with Russia, doesn't want to condemn them on national TV.

BOLDUAN: You think he went too far on this?

HIGBIE: I don't think he said the right thing.

NAVARRO: What makes me uncomfortable as a Republican to hear the majority leader in the Senate say, which I agree with, that Putin is a thug, but yet refuse to appoint a Select Committee to investigate Russian hacking. Forget these discussions on semantics and on Donald Trump's foot in mouth disease and the stuff he says.

Let's focus on the very important stuff that there is a lot of evidence and a lot of people, including in Congress, like John McCain, like Lindsey Graham, who believe there should be investigations about the Russian hacking of the elections.

That is so crucial to our democracy. You know, they may have helped Republicans this time. They may come after Republicans next time. And that's something that I would like to see our Republican leadership focus on, other than, you know, argue semantics with Donald Trump.

HIGBIE: But Senate intel is going to look at it.

NAVARRO: McConnell has refused to name a select committee.

BOLDUAN: Lindsey Graham is pushing for investigations as well. This is actually, this point on Russia, no matter where Donald Trump lands on it, this could be the collision course the Republicans could be on, because there are big name Republicans who are going to stand up to Donald Trump when it comes to his position towards Russia. At least to this point. Thanks, guys. Great to have you.

All right. They may have just pulled off the greatest Super Bowl victory ever, ever. But at least one Patriots player saying he's not taking part in the traditional White House visit. His reasons, next.

Plus, the White House press secretary responding to his new found (inaudible), the "SNL" parody that went wild. Does this fit into the category of the joke they love? That's ahead.