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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump's Travel Ban Faces Legal Showdown; Trump to Address Troops at Central Command Today; Trump on Putin: U.S. has Killers Too. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 6, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHUCK CAUDILL, GENERAL MANAGER BEATTYVILLE ENTERPRISE NEWSPAPER: For the majority of the people here, the stock market is something interesting to look at.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It is factories like this one where Melissa and hundreds more made a decent living. That President Trump has promised to resurrect. It's a promise so many here are holding onto tightly.

HARLOW (on camera): What gets you by every day?

MELISSA ALLEN, SINGLE MOTHER LIVING ON MINIMUM WAGE: Hayden.

HARLOW: Do you believe Hayden can have a different life?

ALLEN: I hope he does. I really do. -- Like I said, I don't want him to struggle like I do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us this Monday morning. We begin with politics and the White House gearing up for a legal showdown. President Trump's controversial travel ban front and center today, the fate of that ban, for now, live in the hands of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as it weighs whether or not to keep this suspension in place.

BERMAN: The Justice Department is facing a 6:00 p.m. deadline to defend the ban. This is a battle that is very likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Also happening this hour, President Trump is expected to leave Mar-a-Lago. He's going to head across the State of Florida for a visit to U.S. Central Command.

You're looking at live pictures, right there, of Air Force One getting ready to depart West Palm Beach. We are covering every angle with our team of reporters. We want to go first CNN's Dan Simon. He is in San Francisco outside the Ninth Circuit Court where this legal fight, we're right in the middle of it, Dan, one side is filed, we're waiting for the next side to weigh in.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right here and the Ninth Circuit, their job is to determine if in fact this suspension should remain in place. The next step in the process is for both sides to file their briefs. We know that attorneys for Minnesota and Washington have already done so. And the federal government has until 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time to make its position known.

In the meantime, we also have a lot of other voices joining in the chorus as it relates to this immigration ban. You have 97 technology companies filing an amicus brief, saying that what this immigration ban does is its bad for business and it's discriminatory towards immigrants and their families.

We also have a lot of former federal government officials ranging from John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, saying that they're not aware of a specific threat anywhere in the world that could justify this kind of ban. Ninth Circuit, you have a three-judge panel. This could be a hearing, either in person or by phone or by video, or there could be no hearing. They could simply just issue their ruling based on briefs. But whatever happens here, the conventional wisdom is that ultimately this going to go to the Supreme Court. Poppy and John?

BERMAN: Just the beginning. Dan Simon thanks so much.

HARLOW: As you heard, just the beginning of this legal fight that is taking shape. Today, President Trump heads to Tampa to address the troops and meet with officials at U.S. Central Command. Let's get straight to the White House. That's where we find Sara Murray. Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That's right. Donald Trump does have a busy day ahead of him. He's heading over to Central Command and Air Force Base. We're expecting him to potentially give some remarks there. And then afterwards he's going to be having lunch with some enlisted personnel. He's also going to be getting a briefing while he is at Central Command. All of this before he heads back to the White House later today.

BERMAN: And Sara, there is a lot of back and forth right now, if you're reading the papers, about the inner workings of what's going on in the White House or what's not working, depending on how you look at it, with what's going on in the White House. Power struggles between Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. You've got some reporting on this.

MURRAY: There is a lot of fascination about sort of the palace intrigue of what's going on inside the White House. And I think what we saw is the Trump administration really took a beating about the sloppy rollout of this travel ban. The fact that members of Congress didn't know what was going on. The fact that the government agencies who are supposed implement this didn't know what was going on. And so, they're recalibrating a little bit.

Last week, they decided that Reince Priebus, and Donald Trump decided this himself, would become the point person, to ensure that these things are moving in an orderly fashion. That everyone who needs to know about them will. And they're really trying to downplay the notion that there is any kind of staff infighting.

Now, our sources tell me and my White House colleagues here at CNN that that's not exactly the case. There are still tensions between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon and different wings of the White House. But that doesn't necessarily bother Trump. This is sort of how he has always managed the people around him. And just because there is staff infighting, it doesn't really impact him day to day.

He's perfectly happy to have that continuing. What he does not like is when he is getting hammered in the press over something that was really a chorus tone of his presidential campaign and a policy priority he wanted to move very quickly on when he got to the White House.

HARLOW: The realities of the presidency certainly upon him as they are every new president. Sara Murray, thank you.

Joining us now, former U.S. Attorney General and former counsel to President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, he's currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law and he's also the author of "True Faith and Allegiance," nice to have you on the program.

[10:05:03] ALBERTON GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning.

HARLOW: We have a lot to get to with you.

BERMAN: Yes. Mr. Attorney General, you know there's a back and forth now between, the President of the United States at least from his side and the judiciary, right? He wrote just over the weekend about this federal judge who made the order to put a pause on his travel ban. He said, "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" He says. Should the United States be talking like this about someone on the federal bench?

GONZALES: You know our founding fathers gave life tenure to federal judges precisely to help them make tough decisions and face criticism. Having said that, however, I don't believe that this is something that under the Bush administration -- this is not the manner in which we would have responded. I think generally, we would simply say, we disagree. We respectfully disagree with the judge's decision and we intend to appeal. Obviously, there are many instances during the Bush administration where we vigorously disagreed with the decisions -- by a judge. And so, you know, we would have done it I think a little differently.

HARLOW: So -- but beyond that, because I've heard a lot of supporters of the president and members of Congress say, including the vice president say, this is just how the president talks, basically you have to get used to it and those who voted for him expect it. I just wonder if you think that it undermines our equal branches of government, if it undermines, you know, the judiciary branch, and if it is dangerous in that way. GONZALES: Listen, I think if we've put the right people in place on the federal bench, they're not going to be affected by this criticism, even if it comes from the President of the United States. -

HARLOW: What I'm asking though is the American public's perception though. -- Is it dangerous because of what it does to the American public's perception of these separate but equal branches of government?

GONZALES: Potentially. You know, obviously, you have to be careful about constant criticism of a branch of government. And so, that's something that I would be concerned about. But again, with respect to the federal judiciary, they should be immune from this kind of criticism even though it comes from the President of the United States. But because it may undermine public confidence, I think everyone in the government should be careful about comments they make about a particular judge or the work of a particular judge.

BERMAN: What's your assessment, Mr. Attorney General, of this White House and this president, how he's handling this separation of powers? And I ask because John Yoo, who worked with you in the Bush administration, he wrote in "The New York Times" this morning. He said, "I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump's uses of presidential power. During the campaign, Mr. Trump gave little sign that he understood the constitutional roles of the three branches." So, from the outside looking in, what's your observation?

GONZALES: Well, I think we need to be mindful of his experience with these kinds of issues and these kinds of constraints. You know, he doesn't have that experience. This is very much a learning period for Donald Trump. And it may take him some time to understand the checks and balances that our founding fathers wisely put into our system of government.

So, you know, it's a learning period, not only for Donald Trump but also for the staff. Your previous reporting talked about the tensions within the White House. It takes a period of time to figure out everyone's role within a particular White House. So, that period is still - you know, that's still ongoing with respect to this White House. And they're dealing with some very difficult issues, high profile issues. And so, it's not surprising that we've got tension. We've got some mistakes that have been made. And hopefully, these things will get straightened out over a period of time.

BERMAN: -- Mr. Attorney General, you were White House counsel under George W. Bush also. One of the things we read in "The New York Times" this morning was that, according to "The Times," President Trump did not know the contents of one of the Executive Orders that he was signing. He didn't know that he was putting Steve Bannon and giving him a permanent seat on the National Security Council. During your time with George W. Bush, did he ever sign an Executive Order where he didn't know the contents?

GONZALES: Not to my knowledge, particularly one that's high profile likely generates some level of criticism or controversy. I view that as a failure of the staffing. You know, there's a staffing process that exists within the White House to make sure that all appropriate personnel within the White House and within the affected agencies comment on an Executive Order, and then of course, the Chief of Staff, the counsel or the staff secretary, their job is to make sure the president understands fully the contents of the Executive Order.

Oftentimes, it's included within the president's briefing book that's given to him the night before. And so, that he does have the opportunity to look at it and to ask questions if he has any questions.

HARLOW: So, let me just ask you, your legal take on this legal showdown that will likely go to the Supreme Court on the ban because you have argued and you're quoted in "The New York Times" arguing that you think that the president and the administration would have a stronger case on their travel ban if they could point to a terror attack in the United States that was carried out by a refugee or individual from one of these seven nations.

[10:10:02] GONZALES: Well, again, the Congress has a great deal of authority with respect to the issue of immigration. That authority has been delegated to the president, to the Executive Branch. And the courts have been very clear in saying, with respect to foreign policy, national security and immigration, the president does enjoy a great deal of plenary power to deal with these kinds of issues.

Nonetheless, again, if you're talking about an existing threat, an actual attack from someone from these countries that puts the president in a much stronger position. It would make me much more comfortable. I'm not suggesting the president doesn't have the authority to do what he's done, because there is statutory authority given to him by Congress to take actions that are similar to this. But, you know, as counsel to the president, you always try to put the president in the strongest legal position possible.

HARLOW: Mr. Attorney General, nice to have you on, thank you.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right. Still to come for us, President Trump gets a face- to-face briefing from senior officials at U.S. Central Command this morning. You can see live pictures from West Palm Beach, Air Force One getting ready to take off for Tampa.

HARLOW: But first, "think our country is so innocent," those words from the president seemingly in defense of Vladimir Putin. We'll dig into that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:31] BERMAN: All right. In just a few minutes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will hold a press conference to highlight what Democrats are calling President Trump's "anti-worker" agenda. You can see the live pictures of this right now. Some empty seats there. They'll probably wait for those to fill up. And then, Minority Leader will get start up, we're going to watch it, if there's any news. HARLOW: Also, we heard it on the campaign trail and now, the president is once again expressing his respect for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BERMAN: He did an interview, a Super Bowl interview with Bill O'Reilly and he seemed to create this moral equivalence between the Russian leader and the United States. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, HOST FOX NEWS: Do you respect Putin?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do respect him but -

O'REILLY: Do you? Why?

TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world -- that's a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O'REILLY: But he's a killer though. Putin's a killer.

TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think -- our country's so innocent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. I want to discuss this right now, with us Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator, former senior advisor to President Obama, Mike Shields, a CNN political commentator, a Republican, and Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic." Mike, to you, I'm asking you because you are the resident Republican on the panel right here, and Republicans not exactly jumping to the defense of President Trump for these comments. Listen to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and Ben Sasse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: Putin's a former KGB agent. He's a thug. The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and messed around in our elections. No, I don't think there's any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.

SEN. BEN SASSE, (R) NEBRASKA: Let's be clear, has the U.S. ever made any mistakes? Of course. Is the U.S. at all like Putin's regime? Not at all. There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin's defense of his cronyism.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So, Mike Shields, not a lot of support from the Republican Party on those comments.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yes. Look, they have to say those things. I mean, the president is taking a different tack. I mean, let's look at the bigger picture here. We just had eight years of weakness in foreign policy from the Obama administration. We had his Secretary of State hit a reset button. And then what do we watch? We watched Russia invade Crimea. We watched them attack the Ukraine. -

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: But Mike, I understand that. That's not what President Trump was talking about. President Trump said, you know -

SHIELDS: But I'm getting to that, John. --

BERMAN: He said we're killers too.

SHIELDS: Right. But my point is that he is trying to reset his relationship with a leader of another state, potentially to push them, potentially to get things from them, potentially to engage them so that we can have a better relationship that benefits the United States.

HARLOW: By basically, Mike, saying, it's okay to allegedly poison or help your political opponents -

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Well, but - now you're putting words in his mouth.

HARLOW: -- be wiped off the face of the map?

SHIELDS: President Trump did not say that. -- It's very hard for the person who was criticized for having an "America First" --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: But he knows -- OK, but he's the President of the United States. He knows the background of Vladimir Putin and he knows all the controversy that comes with him.

SHIELDS: Right, look. It's very difficult. The president was criticized by people in this town, in the media, for his "America First" inaugural address. It's very hard to criticize that person, saying that he doesn't put America first and doesn't think of America in a different way than Russia. You're taking one statement and saying he extrapolates from that, that he's OK with poisoning people. That is frankly absurd. The fact is, look at the president's actions versus his words. He's speaking to Putin through the television and speaking to the Russian people through the television to put himself in a better negotiating position.

In the meantime, he had a conversation with the Secretary General of NATO over the weekend where he reaffirmed NATO's position on the Ukraine. And so, his actions are right in line with probably what those senators you had on would want. But in the meantime, he is publicly trying to put himself in a position to negotiate better. And I think we have to wait until we've seen the full picture before we spend every day criticizing the different things that he's saying. Although, I understand that's what my Democrat friends are going to do.

BERMAN: Again, these weren't Democrats. This is Mitch McConnell, who is the Senate Republican leader. --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Here is what Marco Rubio tweeted.

SHIELDS: I was -- teeing up Dan, is what I was saying. --

BERMAN: We'll get to Dan in a second. But Ron, to the point, you know these are Republicans who feel the need to comment on this.

[10:20:01] Yes, Mitch McConnell was asked about it, Senator Sasse was asked about it. But Marco Rubio went on Twitter. I think we have that tweet and he proactively said, "When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP, or vice-versa? We are not the same as #Putin. MR" which is Senator Rubio's way of saying he wrote that one, himself, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND SENIOR EDITOR "THE ATLANTIC": Yes. Well, first of all, it is nice to be here on your opening day, always good to be penciled into the opening day lineup. So, congratulations.

But yes, look, I think that on you know, -- the praise for Putin and the desire to kind of look away from all of the unsavory aspects of the Putin administration is the bridge too far for almost all Congressional Republicans. Donald Trump has done a lot of things since taking office that makes Republicans uneasy, criticizing individual companies over investment decisions, attacking federal judges individually. They're mostly biting their lip on that. When it comes to Russia, it is simply too much. And I would say that the defense of Putin is completely outside of the American political kind of spectrum at this point. There really is no constituency for this either in the Republican or Democratic Party. But it's not unheard of elsewhere.

And in fact, it is a signal kind of element of the populist nationalist agenda as we've seen moving forward in Europe, where many of those countries, which Steve Bannon has talked about himself in his 2014 speech on the Vatican, view Putin both as kind of a bulwark against globalization and has kind of someone's standing up for traditional Christian values - you know, in terms of social issues. And there is a kind of grudging admiration for him. So, I mean, from that lens this looks less unusual than it does through the lens of kind of the American political debate where at this moment, Donald Trump is, as someone said yesterday, an island unto himself.

HARLOW: So, Dan, as you know, this administration and many Republicans will point to what they see as failure over the last eight years of the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton when she was Secretary of State to get a better deal with Russia, to get the United States on a better page with Russia. The best pushback to that is, you believe, at this point?