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Gorsuch: Trump Attacks on Judiciary 'Demoralizing'; Warren Silenced in Hearing Over Jeff Sessions Nomination.; Trump Attacks Nordstrom for Dropping Ivanka's Line Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WATSON: So, again, they want to get the information out -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much.

That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Showing contempt. As an appeals court weighs what to do about the travel ban, President Trump calls the judicial hearing, quote, "disgraceful," calls the courts political, and suggests the judges will be responsible if there's a terror attack.

And breaking right now, the president's own Supreme Court nominee takes issue, calling the president's comments about the judiciary -- and I'm quoting him now -- "demoralizing and disheartening."

Attack on Ivanka. After Nordstrom department stores drop his daughter's Ivanka fashion line, President Trump tweets an angry response and then sends it out again on his official presidential Twitter account. Did he cross an ethical line?

She was warned. Chaos in the Senate, as Republicans silence Democrat Elizabeth Warren for reading aloud a 30-year-old letter critical of colleague Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee. Why were male senators allowed to read the same letter? After a bitter fight, the confirmation vote is due shortly.

And killer instincts? One after another, his critics have died under mysterious circumstances. Now one of Vladimir Putin's foes lies gravely ill, allegedly poisoned. Why many say the Russian president, the former KGB agent, is responsible.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the White House is defending the president's travel ban, but President Trump is on the attack, calling appeals court arguments disgraceful, suggesting the courts are political, and insisting that the travel ban order was perfectly written.

And just in, the president's own Supreme Court nominee takes a different view, calling his comments about the judiciary "demoralizing and disheartening."

All of that as the appeals court considers how to handle a lower court freeze on the president's ban.

In the middle of the immigration fight, President Trump sends out a tweet blasting Nordstrom department stores for treating his daughter Ivanka, quote, "so unfairly" by discontinuing her fashion line. The blast is then retweeted in the president's official White House account, generally reserved, until now, for government issues. The White House is defending the move, but critics say it's another ethical line crossed by the president.

And breaking right now, senators are about to vote on the nominee for attorney general, their colleague, Jeff Sessions. The confirmation fight has been extremely bitter with outnumbered Democrats engaging in a marathon debate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by the Republican majority for reading aloud a letter written 30 years ago by the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opposing the nomination of Sessions for a federal judgeship. But male colleagues were allowed to read the same letter.

I'll speak with the Republican Senator Tom Cotton. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with President Trump slamming the courts as he taps his foot, waiting for a decision on the travel ban. But first, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president's own pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, doesn't sound happy with the president's attacks on the judicial branch of the government.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is exactly right, Wolf. We're just learning about this. President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, said in a meeting with Senate Democrat Richard Blumenthal that the president's controversial comments on the judiciary are, quote, "demoralizing and disheartening."

This development comes as President Trump is once again criticizing the American judicial system as he awaits a decision on his embattled travel ban in court. The president is also changing his tune when it comes to the urgency of that travel ban, insisting he has always wanted to take his time implementing the restrictions that he was proposing; but that is not what the president was saying last week.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is making his case to the court of public opinion, thundering that, if there's a terrorist attack, the judges holding up his executive order imposing a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim nations will be to blame.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I think it's sad. I think it's a sad day. I think our security is at risk today.

I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. But courts seem to be so political. And it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right.

ACOSTA: The president warns the legal delay could have consequences, tweeting, "Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas while our people are far more vulnerable." But the president didn't offer any proof of his claims.

[17:05:16] TRUMP: A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this.


ACOSTA: In what seemed like a response to the images of chaos and confusion at the nation's airports, the president also tried to argue he never wanted his travel ban implemented immediately.

TRUMP: I said, "Let's give a one-month notice."

But the law enforcement people said to me, "Oh, you can't give a notice. Because if you give a notice that you're going to be really tough in one month from now, or in one week from now" -- I suggested a month, then I said, "What about a week?" They said, "No, you can't do that, because then people are going to pour in before the toughness goes..."

ACOSTA: But the president never mentioned his desire to wait until today. More than a week ago he tweeted, "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there." A sentiment echoed by press secretary Sean Spicer.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We don't know when the next bomb is going to go off. And the last thing that you want to do is to say, "Well, we could have done this Saturday, but we waited one more day." Or "We wanted to roll it out differently."

ACOSTA: Democrats contend the White House is missing the point.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: None of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the United States since 9/11 have been undertaken by refugees or immigrants from the seven countries that are named in the executive order.

ACOSTA: The president maintains he's right about the terror threat because of the intelligence he's receiving as commander in chief.

TRUMP: A tremendous threat, far greater than people in our country understand. Believe me. I've learned a lot in the last two weeks. And terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.

ACOSTA: But shortly after the scheduled start of his daily intelligence briefing at 10:30 a.m., the president was tweeting that his daughter Ivanka had been treated unfairly by Nordstrom. The White House says Mr. Trump was free at the time the tweet was posted.

The department store recently decided to stop selling Ivanka Trump's products, citing the brand's performance, drawing this ferocious response from the White House.

SPICER: I think this was less about his family business and an attack on his daughter. And for someone to take out their concern with his policies on a family member of his is just -- is not acceptable.


ACOSTA: Now, despite all of the tough talk on terrorism, the White House acknowledged the nation may not be facing an imminent threat today. Press secretary Sean Spicer said administration officials don't know when the next threat will come.

But Wolf, that's exactly the same place we've been in terms of our way of life here in the U.S. for the last 16 years.

Getting back to what Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said up on Capitol Hill, that it was disheartening and demoralizing to hear the president talk about the judiciary the way he's been talking about it in recent days.

We should point out we did ask the White House if they would confirm whether or not Neil Gorsuch made those remarks. They confirmed, yes, the judge did make those remarks.

So, it's pretty striking, Wolf, a very big development that his own Supreme Court pick is differing from the president whether it comes to these comments about the judiciary. Just goes to show you a businessman, he can order people around in private life, but when you go into the White House, you have to deal with two separate co-equal branches of government, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the Supreme Court nominee, Judge Gorsuch, would never say anything like that about his fellow federal judges.

All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

As federal appeals judges weigh a ruling on the president's travel ban, President Trump is sharply critical of the entire process, suggesting the federal courts are political.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, can the president's attacks on these judges, on the system, if you will, backfire from his perspective?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, anything he says right now could potentially backfire and hurt his case, essentially, because he's a party to this lawsuit.

And what's interesting is that he admitted today for the first time that he actually wanted to delay the implementation of the executive order, that he wanted there to be a grace period but that he was advised by law enforcement people he was speaking with that that was not a good idea, because that could let the bad guys in.

And, so, ostensibly, the states could use that in his argument that this was a hastily put together executive order. The states have already made that argument in briefs, saying that there were a dizzying number of changes after the executive order was signed. So they could use those comments potentially to bolster their argument that this was not well-thought-out.

Of course, Wolf, as you know, the government could say, "The reason why this was done is because we have access to classified information, and we felt this as an urgency to make this happen very quickly."

But what's interesting: in the oral hearings yesterday, the idea that this was all moving very quickly was brought up on several occasions and, so, one option could be the circuit court decides to bring it back down to the district court to sort of add more to the record.

[17:05:03] BLITZER: Pamela Brown with the latest on that front. Pamela, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Hey, Wolf, good to be on with you, as always.

BLITZER: Thank you. A pretty shocking development. The Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge himself, uses the words "demoralizing and disheartening" to describe President Trump's attacks on the judiciary. I want you to react. Do you agree with Judge Gorsuch?

COTTON: Well, Wolf, I just heard the reports, the first I've heard of it. I don't want to comment on what he may have said in a private meeting with another senator. I will say I think it's best not to personalize these disputes between the branches, whether it's the executive branch or the judicial branch.

You can look at the four corners of the district judge's ruling out in Washington state and see that he didn't offer a single legal reason or any analysis for why he stayed President Trump's order.

I think on further review, once you get into the law, it will be clear that President Trump, like any president, has a lot of discretion under federal immigration law to bar entry, certainly in a temporary way, into our country for a security review. I hope that's what the 9th Circuit holds, and I expect that's what they will, if they follow the law.

BLITZER: But -- but as an administration official who was there, who knows exactly what Judge Gorsuch was saying, confirms to CNN that, in that meeting had he with Senator Blumenthal, he did say, he did use the words "demoralizing and disheartening" to describe the president's attacks on the judiciary -- speaking about a so-called federal judge, a "so-called judge," saying the process was political.

Also what he heard last night, that one-hour oral arguments hearing, it was -- it was disgraceful, the president said.

You're a graduate of Harvard Law School. You're a lawyer. Do you agree that those words that the president uttered about the federal judiciary system are, as Judge Gorsuch says, demoralizing and disheartening?

COTTON: Wolf, I was such a bad lawyer I had to quit and become an infantryman. So I'm not sure you want my legal advice.

I would say, you know, Judge Robart, like every other judge in the federal system, is confirmed by the Senate after having been appointed by the president, is a judge. He's not a so-called judge. I would say he wrote a so-called opinion that didn't offer any single legal reason for his conclusion. And again, I think it's best not to personalize these disputes. I understand the president is frustrated that this judge in Seattle has stayed his order. I don't think that was the right decision.

But I would probably focus on the merits of the case itself and have confidence in his victory on appeal, because I think he should have confidence on his victory.

BLITZER: But does it trouble you? The president said he watched on TV that one hour the oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last night. We had it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that entire hour. And the president this morning said that what he heard this appeals court hearing was disgraceful.

Should the president use a word like that to discuss a one-hour oral argument hearing before the federal courts?

COTTON: Wolf, it's not the way I would characterize it. I didn't listen to the oral arguments. I don't know what's happened. I'm sure the president is frustrated right now that his order has been stayed, in my opinion, without a sound legal basis. And also that people are bringing in extrajudicial statements the president has made, as opposed to looking at the simple text of his executive order as well as immigration law. If they would do that, they would see that he has the authority to take these sensible temporary measures to keep the country safe.

BLITZER: You can make all those arguments, and they're certainly valid arguments, the arguments you make. But you don't have to demean what is an equal branch of the federal government, the judicial branch, just like the legislative branch, an equal branch.

Do you think the president understands that there are three branches of government; they're all equal; and they're meant to offer checks and balances?

COTTON: Well, I think, Wolf, it's clear that he does. I won't always be responding to every single thing that President Trump tweets or says, as I didn't with Barack Obama. I know that he's disappointed with the ruling in Seattle, but he is

following the ruling. His government has said that they are upholding that ruling, that they are not implementing the executive order; and at root that's what matters most, that he respects the judgments of the courts.

Look, in politics emotions can run high, and we can lose our temper sometime. It's understandable. Happened on the Senate floor last night. In general, though, it's best to try to keep these disagreements impersonal and focus on the merits and just have a debate.

BLITZER: Yes, I would point out it's not just one time. There's now a history of the president demeaning federal judges, going back to during the campaign. A federal judge who was involved in looking at that Trump University case of Mexican heritage, born in Indiana. He really went after him, saying he was not qualified, really, to deal with that case.

Now this other federal judge and now demeaning this entire process. It's a serious problem right now, and I wonder if you had a chance -- you've just recently met with the president. If you met with him again, what would you say to him about his language and the judiciary?

[17:15:09] COTTON: Well, I would say simply that it's, I think, as I've said, it's best to keep these disputes at a level of policy and legal analysis. It's best not to personalize them. Again, in particular when you have as strong a case as I believe the president does on his travel order. You know, when you get into the personal disputes, again as we saw on the Senate floor last night, oftentimes that sidetracks what is a serious policy or legal argument.

BLITZER: You're on the Intelligence Committee. President Trump has suggested he needed to enact the travel ban immediately, because there was intelligence that there was an immediate threat, that if he waited a week or waited a month, there would be terror, if you will. A lot of awful people would be coming into the United States. Have you seen that kind of intelligence?

COTTON: Wolf, I don't want to comment on specific classified intelligence reports. I will say that I share the president's concern that, if he felt that he needed some kind of temporary pause to review security procedures, that waiting for a week or waiting for a month really would have invited the potential for terrorists to come into our country, if they were planning to come in in two months or three months or what have you. I understand why he wanted to move quickly on this and implement the temporary pause on entry from these seven countries and through the refugee program, if that was, in fact, his intent.

BLITZER: Was there an immediate threat, Senator?

COTTON: I don't want to comment on particular threat streams, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about another tweet from the president today. He tweeted this. I'll put it up on the screen. "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person. Always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

He tweeted that. Is it appropriate and ethical for the president to be commenting on his -- on his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account, but also retweeting it on the POTUS official White House presidential Twitter account? Is it appropriate for him to be commenting about his daughter's businesses -- business like this?

COTTON: Wolf, I have to confess until just a few months ago I didn't know that Ivanka had a line of handbags or purses or anything else at Nordstrom. So it all came as a surprise to me.

It's understandable that this president would take offense that what he thinks is mistreatment of his daughter. I think Harry Truman once threatened to punch a critic in the nose for criticizing his daughter, as did Bill Clinton with Bill Safire and criticism of his wife. People are very protective of their families, so I can understand the emotions.

But I would tell the president we've got a lot of work to do right now in the Congress and that we should try to keep our focus on that work. Getting his cabinet confirmed, repealing Obamacare, advancing his immigration agenda, and keeping this country safe.

BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the president was responding to what he called a direct attack on his policies from Nordstrom and an attack on her name. Do you agree?

COTTON: Wolf, I haven't followed the dispute between Nordstrom and Ivanka and the president all that closely, I have to confess. I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart and Dillard's in Arkansas. Again, I understand why people are protective of their families. I'm very protective of mine. So I'll just leave it at that.

BLITZER: Everybody can understand that. But he's been attacking an American business, Nordstrom department stores all over the country. Is that -- is that really appropriate for a president?

COTTON: Well, I would just say that there is probably more productive uses of all of our time, given the great and weighty responsibilities we've been entrusted with here in Washington.

BLITZER: Senator, we have more to discuss. I want to take a quick break. We'll resume our conversation right after this.

COTTON: Sure, Wolf.


[17:23:08] BLITZER: We're following several breaking stories right now.

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, just told a U.S. senator the president's attacks on the judiciary are "demoralizing and disheartening."

Also breaking, U.S. senators will vote shortly on the confirmation of President Trump's nominee for attorney general, their colleague Senator Jeff Sessions. We're talking about that and more with Senator Tom Cotton. He's up on Capitol Hill.

But first I want to go to our congressional reporter, Manu Raju. Manu, it's been a knock-down, drag-out fight up there.

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The fight over Senator Jeff Sessions's nomination to be attorney general, turning deeply personal as Republicans move to defend a long- time ally and friend. Even going to the length of silencing a Democratic senator because they believe she broke rules of Senate decorum.

All showing how passions are running high in the early days of the Trump White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your hand, please.

RAJU (voice-over): Tonight Senator Jeff Sessions on his way to becoming the nation's next attorney general. But not before the Senate broke out into bedlam.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: A violation of Senate rules? It was certainly not in 1986.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator will take her seat.

RAJU: In an extremely rare move, the GOP-led chamber silenced Elizabeth Warren for violating the rules of decorum by attacking a fellow senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator is warned.

RAJU: Warren tried to read a 1986 letter from Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King, who objected to Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship, accusing the Republican of trying to, quote, "intimidate and frighten elderly black voters" when he was a U.S. attorney.

Republicans strongly objected.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

RAJU: But Warren sensed an opening, railing on the GOP for invoking a rule that is rarely enforced.

(on camera): If you knew it was potentially a violation when they warned you, why not just move on?

[17:25:07] WARREN: I was moving on. I was moving on to talk about the facts of what Jeff Sessions had done when he prosecuted civil rights workers who were trying to help black citizens vote. And I thought quoting Coretta Scott King's letter to the United States Senate about that was absolutely relevant.

RAJU: Democrats used the fight as a rallying cry, taking their colleague's case to the floor and reading from the letter directly. But the GOP did not stop them.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: This is from Coretta Scott King.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: "He chilled the free exercise of vote by black citizens."

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: "I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation."

RAJU (voice-over): Republicans insisted they did not have second thoughts about silencing Warren, saying Democrats were engaged in efforts to tarnish the image of a respected senator.

(on camera): Didn't you give her some ammunition that she otherwise and the Democrats otherwise would not have had?

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: You know, in the short term, I think she was probably tickled to death. But in the long term, I think we have to maintain the rules of decorum.

RAJU (voice-over): But Warren's latest battle already renewing talk that she could be the opponent Democrats want to face off against Trump in three years.

(on camera): What do you say to some of your critics who think that you are doing this to help position yourself for a possible run in 2020?

WARREN: I say I'm doing my job. It is my constitutional responsibility to debate Jeff Sessions as attorney general.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, in a sign of how rarely used this rule is, I talked to Senator Orin Hatch, who has served in the Senate since 1977. He could not remember a single time when the Senate has enforced the rules of decorum to silence a fellow senator, even though in 2015 he wanted Republicans to move forward to silence Ted Cruz for calling Mitch McConnell a liar.

But at that time, Wolf, McConnell did not want to go that route, because he thought it would give Cruz a platform. But in a twist, that's the platform that Elizabeth Warren is using today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating history. Thanks very much, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill.

Let's stay there with the Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Senator, was it a miscalculation for the Republican leadership, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to silence a U.S. senator, Senator Elizabeth Warren, charging her with violating Senate rules? As you know, after that, Bernie Sanders and a few other Democratic senators, all men, they read the full Coretta Scott King letter. They were not silenced.

COTTON: Well, Wolf, the whole episode was unfortunate. Senator Warren did more than just read that single letter. She read other -- another letter and made other statements.

BLITZER: She read another letter from Senate -- the late Senator Kennedy.

COTTON: But she made other statements, as well. And she was the first one to do that.

I think, you know, in the heat of the moment, she may have gotten away from herself. I knew Senator Warren when she was Professor Warren in law school. She was always tough, but fair, as well. I think we have to uphold the standards of the Senate, but I think it's time that we move on from this, as well.

BLITZER: You just put out an immigration bill with Senator Purdue of Georgia. Your bill would admit only immediate family members of immigrants. Critics including Republican senator, your colleague John McCain, and a whole bunch of Democrats say this could hurt the U.S. economically; it could hurt families. I want you to respond.

COTTON: Now, Wolf, this legislation is actually designed to help people who work with their feet and work with their hands. Over the last several decades, people with a high school degree or less have seen their wages fall. If you got college or advance degree you're doing just fine.

At the same time, we've also seen record high numbers of immigration. Almost all of those immigrants are coming here without regard to their language abilities or their job skills, training and education.

So, I want it refocus our immigration system towards a system like Canada or Australia that focuses on job skills, language, training, demonstrated economic need.

This bill is a first step in trying to get a handle on record high numbers of immigration by focusing on immediate family reunification and moving to a system where we're going to reward people who feel demonstrated needs here in America. That will help blue-collar worker wages increase. It will also be better for our economy in the long run.

BLITZER: Senator Cotton, thanks for joining us.

COTTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, a critic of Vladimir Putin is gravely ill tonight. Was he poisoned for a second time? And was it on orders of the Russian leader?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following breaking news and some very surprising new fallout from President Trump's criticism of federal judges. The president's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, now telling U.S. senators such attacks by the president of the United States are "demoralizing and disheartening."

[17:34:15] Let's bring in our political and legal experts. Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you.

How extraordinary is it that Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge, nominated by the president of the United States to be the next United States Supreme Court justice, brands the president's attacks on the judiciary as, quote, "demoralizing and disheartening" in meetings with U.S. senators?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's really speaking like a judge. Judges don't like it when other judges are attacked, especially, you know, in this sort of schoolyard way that Trump has done, you know, calling the judge a "so-called judge." You know, so, I think it's both striking and it's also very good politics on Gorsuch's part, because one of the issues, especially now with his nomination, is how independent will he be as a justice of the man who appointed him. And here he is, telling the senators he disagrees with Trump on a pretty high-profile issue.

BLITZER: It is pretty extraordinary. You've covered the courts, Jeffrey, for a long time. To hear a president demean federal judges and indeed the whole process, if you will, of oral arguments before an appellate court like we heard last night as demoralizing. Whatever words he uses.

TOOBIN: Yes, it is unusual. But I have to say, I am somewhat with President Trump on this one. You know, judges are very powerful people who are accountable to no one. So, I think criticism of judges is perfectly appropriate. Barack Obama criticized the Citizens Union [SIC] decision in his State of the Union address. Franklin Roosevelt attacked the Supreme Court.

What's different about Donald Trump is the sort of childish way he's been attacking the judges, you know, calling them "so-called judges," you know, saying that any high school student could decide this case.

But the idea that judges can't be criticized, that they are like, you know, "Oh, you have to clutch your pearls every time a judge is attacked," you know, I don't really buy that.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Mark Preston, you've got your -- you're doing a lot of reporting, getting a lot of reaction. This uproar that we've now seen over the president's words involving federal judges, how is it going to impact the president himself? Will it sort of reign in some of the -- will he cut back on some of his own attacks? Because you know how the president reacts.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: No way. And I'm going to tell you, his allies and his enemies on Capitol Hill don't believe that he's going to change either. You know, what he has done to Gorsuch in this situation is that

Gorsuch is in a no-man's land right now. He needs to try to get confirmed. He has been nominated by the president. So, he needs to come out and, as Jeffrey says, he needs to come out and express his views. But what we've seen is that Trump is putting people that he has in positions of power in very uncomfortable positions. We see it every day with Sean Spicer, who has to go out and back up the ludicrous statements that President Trump says. We saw Kellyanne Conway say it yesterday on our air. And now we have, you know, very likely the next Supreme Court justice having to do the same thing.

BLITZER: Yes, but I can only imagine how the president, President Trump, is reacting to Judge Gorsuch's words, when he hears his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court brand what the president has said about these judges "demoralizing and disheartening." I can only imagine how Trump is reacting.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in some ways maybe he should be used to this by now, because as we saw a lot of the nominees go before Congress, and they, too, had to distance themselves from Donald Trump. We've seen this over and over again. Tillerson, for instance, had to distance himself from Donald Trump in terms of Russia and sanctions. So, by now he probably is used to this.

But I agree that, you know, the situation that these folks are in -- I mean, you saw Spicer -- all of these folks have having to go on clean- up duty. Mike Pence, too. I mean, he has to go on clean-up duty and sort of be the Trump explainer all the time and explain his words away, or put them in a better context.

But I don't think there's any sense -- we had this big debate over and over about whether or not Trump was going to change, he was going to be more presidential, he wasn't going to tweet. I think after three weeks, I think we have our answer in terms of how he's going to conduct himself as president.

BLITZER: Yes, Friday will be three weeks.

HENDERSON: Three weeks, yes.

BLITZER: It's not even three weeks yet.

You think he fully understands that the executive branch of the government, the presidency, if you will, is an equal branch with the legislative and judicial branch -- branches of the government? There are three co-equal branches of the U.S. government?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If not he's going to get a crash course in short order. I mean, one of differences between Gorsuch and some of his other nominees is Gorsuch doesn't work for him. Once he's in the court, he's an independent person. That's a lifetime appointment. He will -- Gorsuch will see many presidents, likely, after Trump, as opposed to someone like Secretary Kelly, who had to go in front of Congress and take one for the team yesterday and take responsibility for Trump's travel ban and how -- and the botched implementation of that. Gorsuch doesn't have to do that. That ship has sailed. He is the

nominee. And as Mark said, he has to get himself confirmed.

BLITZER: But President Trump could remove him as the nominee if he wants to. If he doesn't like what he's saying about him in these private meetings with senators.

KUCINICH: Wouldn't that be interesting?

PRESTON: Hence the no-man's land. He has put this nominee in this really, really bad place.

TOOBIN: Oh, come on. I mean, you know, if I had to rank all the people in the world that I feel sorry for, Judge Gorsuch would be, like, very low. This guy's going to be on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years. That's a pretty good gig. So, he has a little awkwardness. I mean, big deal.

HENDERSON: Big deal.

PRESTON: Jeffrey Toobin's at the top of my list of people I feel sorry for.

HENDERSON: Yes. And he certainly was prepped for this, right? I mean...

KUCINICH: Totally.

HENDERSON: I mean, they knew going in that these were going to be the questions. I talked to some folks who were kind of shepherding him through this process. They were prepared for this question. They knew it was going to come from both Democrats and Republicans, the idea of a separation between the branches of government. So, I mean, he's a smart guy.

[17:40:15] BLITZER: Yes, Jeffrey, he's only 49 years old. Could be 40 years, could be 50 years. This is a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let's talk a little bit about this other issue that has come up today, the tweet involving Ivanka Trump, his daughter and Nordstrom. I'll put it up on the screen: "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

Is that appropriate for the president of the United States to be tweeting about his daughter's business relationship with Nordstrom, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: Me? No, it's not. I mean, you know, the whole fiction that Donald Trump is divorcing himself from his family business has -- it's just never happened, and it's never going to happen. And he doesn't even really pretend that it's going to happen. You know, he is a businessman. He's still involved in his family business. And, you know, yes, he's defending his daughter, and Harry Truman threatened to punch a music critic. But this is a different thing. This affects Nordstrom. It affects

any companies that are considering doing business with the Trump family. He is not just the president. He's also still a businessman.

BLITZER: And as you know, Mark, Nordstrom says they did this in early January for business reasons, nothing to do with his foreign policy or travel ban issues or anything along those lines. They decided to drop that brand for business reasons.

PRESTON: Right. And they should have the -- have the right to do so. And look, this just goes to show you where the lines are not even blurred. They have just crossed in so many different ways.

And the fact of the matter is what's even more egregious than him doing it, which by the way, is like, to the limit, is that he retweeted it from his government Twitter account. So, like what is he thinking when he does that?

I mean, the bottom line, it just goes to show you that his words matter, and we did see that stock drop once he put that tweet out.

HENDERSON: It went up. In fact, it went up.

PRESTON: It had enough time to rebound, no question. What if that had happened at 3:50 p.m. in the afternoon? That stock wouldn't have had time to rebound.

HENDERSON: Yes. And then you saw Spicer in the briefing today frame it -- basically say that Nordstrom did this, because they don't like his policies. You know, framing -- putting it in politics. So that, I think, was odd and gave the story a little bit more legs.

I'm not sure Spicer did his boss much good today in putting it in those terms, because Nordstrom hasn't said that. They basically said this was a business decision. These dresses or skirts or whatever they are weren't selling.

KUCINICH: And he tried to also frame it as being a father. Well, I'm sorry, you're also -- you're the leader of the free world, and she's an adult.

HENDERSON: Yes. This isn't like she's 14 or something.

KUCINICH: She is a part of the administration in a lot of ways. So, you're -- you're Republican. In theory, you should be for the free market. And so again, it's very -- there's a lot of dissonance going on.

BLITZER: Mark raised -- he initially tweeted it on his @RealDonaldTrump account...


BLITZER: ... which has millions and millions of followers. But then he retweeted it on the official White House presidential account, @POTUS. I mean, you know, you follow all that social media stuff. So, is that appropriate?

KUCINICH: No, it's not appropriate, not at all. That -- you know, it's a federal resource. You don't use that. And it's also -- it looks like he's promoting his family's businesses.

HENDERSON: And his time, too, is a federal resource. Like the president sitting down there tweeting and wondering about whether or not Nordstrom is selling his daughter's purses. I mean, this is the best way he can find...

PRESTON: Making attacks on Macy's.

HENDERSON: Nothing else to fix?

BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, it's interesting. I'm going to put the tweet back up on the screen one more time. Let me read it: "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom." Listen to this. "She is a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing."

So, what do you think he means by that when he's [SIC] pushing him to do the right thing?

TOOBIN: Well, actually I think, you know, saying a nice thing about your daughter, there's nothing wrong with that, that she's a good person and she's pushing him to try to be a better person and a better dad. I mean, I don't see any problem with that. The problem is promoting her businesses.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people are suggesting, Mark, that she is obviously very influential with her dad.

HENDERSON: Is she? I mean, I don't -- I think that's sort of the idea. I'm not sure what we see in practice.

PRESTON: I think when she steps in and tries to moderate her father from what we're told secondhand, that she is a moderating influence. Although we're also told that she's not sitting next to him minute by minute, day by day.

BLITZER: Because all these reports are out there that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, they convinced him to not change the LGBT restrictions, if you will, that are out there, to let what President Obama did on the LGBT issues go forward. She was instrumental of that.

On women's issues she's been very instrumental, supposedly, in making sure her dad is doing the right thing. You've seen all those reports.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt. And we saw it during the campaign. And as far as the women's issues component goes, he's been very vocal about that, saying she's going to be the one who helps me formulate the policy that we're going to move forward with. You know, look, if she is the moderating factor that we think she is, let's see a lot more of her.


HENDERSON: I think that idea that she's the moderating force is also about her, right?

PRESTON: And we don't mean politics or on policy --

HENDERSON: I mean, it's also her brand.

PRESTON: -- just on how he acts.


JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean, I can 't imagine, though, that she would want what he did today.

HENDERSON: Yes. But it's also, I think, about her brand. She is trying to cultivate her own brand that's separate from her father, and I think this tweet makes it difficult.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. There is more coming up.

Is it fair to call the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, a killer? We're going to take a closer look at the record, including the latest case of a critic of the Russian leader who has fallen gravely ill.


[17:50:44] BLITZER: A critic of the Russian President Vladimir Putin is gravely ill, fighting for his life, allegedly the victim of poisoning. It's not the first time a Putin foe has been put in that situation. And he's not the only Putin foe to come down with a baffling or deadly ailment.

Our Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this President Trump has been reluctant to label Vladimir Putin a killer. But there is a long history of suspicious attacks that many linked to the Russian President, including one of a political opponent who, tonight, may be on his deathbed.


TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Kara-Murza could be dying. He's a political opponent of Vladimir Putin, and he's in grave condition according to his wife who is sitting at his bedside in a Moscow hospital. This comes nearly two years after he says he was poisoned and almost died.

According to his lawyer, doctors say a toxic substance is to blame for this latest illness. Kara-Murza's wife says, there is someone to blame.

EVGENIA KARA-MURZA, WIFE OF VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA: The Russian government and President Putin are responsible for what happened to my husband two years ago and now, one way or another. I'm not saying that they are the ones who did that, but they created such a climate in our country that actually encourages this kind of behavior.

TODD (voice-over): On the Senate floor, speaking about Kara-Murza's case, Senator John McCain flat out called the Russian President killer.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That butcher and thug and KGB colonel --

TODD (voice-over): Putin's spokesman tells CNN, it's, quote, "pure nonsense" to make any connections between Kara-Murza's illness and Putin.

But Kara-Murza had worked closely with Boris Nemtsov, another prominent opponent of Putin's who was gunned down near Red Square two years ago.

SARAH MENDELSON, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL: This was literally steps from the Kremlin. There are security cameras all over the place. So the idea that you couldn't walk across that bridge and actually be safe is, I think, a signal to everyone that you've got to watch your back.

TODD (voice-over): Putin condemned the killing and five people were arrested. An investigative committee said at the time, it was a contract murder committed by an organized group.

We asked former State Department official Sarah Mendelson and other Russia experts the question on many mind this week -- is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

MENDELSON: He doesn't necessarily pull the trigger. He has enabled a system where opponents, journalists, activists have been killed.

TODD (voice-over): In 2006, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was digging up information on Russian war crimes in Chechnya when she was shot and killed in her Moscow apartment complex. The accused killers were convicted, but the mastermind never was caught.

The closest anyone has come to tracing a political murder to Vladimir Putin? The 2006 death of former Russian intelligence agent, Alexander Litvinenko. He had also been digging up information damaging to the Kremlin. In a Cold War-style operation, someone slipped a radioactive substance, polonium, into Litvinenko's tea in London. The British investigated.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: There were old ties represented. There were tons of evidence. And on the basis of that evidence, a British judge found that Mr. Putin is likely to have ordered this killing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: The Kremlin vehemently denied any role in Alexander Litvinenko's death. Will there ever be consequences for Vladimir Putin in any of these killings? Analysts say don't hold your breath. They say he's created a culture of impunity where he controls the media and answers to no one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Who typically, Brian, does get the blame in these killings?

TODD: One group of usual suspects, Wolf, are Chechens and others from the Caucasus. The journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, she had been digging up information on Russian abuses in Chechnya. Some Chechens were rounded up and later convicted of her murder. The same with the murder of Boris Nemtsov. The five people now on trial for his killing, well, they are all from the Caucasus.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

[17:54:37] Coming up, breaking news. As President Trump slams judges and federal courts, the President's own U.S. Supreme Court nominee takes issue, calling the President's comments, and I'm quoting now, "demoralizing" and "disheartening."


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Demoralizing. Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee reacts to the President's latest attack on judges, also calling Mr. Trump's remarks, quote, "disheartening." How is the White House defending the President's words?

Brand slam. A national department store chain draws the President's ire for Ivanka Trump's clothing line, prompting an accusatory tweet from Mr. Trump. Is it a conflict of interest?

Heated sessions. Decorum crumbles in the U.S. Senate on the debate over Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. Republicans silencing one of the sharpest critics with a rarely used rule. We're standing by for a confirmation vote this hour.

[18:00:00] And shaming critics. The White House demands an apology for questions about the success of a deadly raid on al Qaeda. Press Secretary Sean Spicer calling criticism a disservice to a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in the mission. Is he ruling out any criticism --