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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Meets with Airlines Executive; Jeff Sessions to Be Sworn in as Attorney General; Interview with Senator John Thune; Group Cancels Grammys Party to Protest Trump; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He's talking about oil, other things. Some of the things he repeats from meeting to meeting here just simply aren't reality in terms of U.S. taking the oil and other things. But as this meeting is still now happening, the cameras are out of it, it will be fascinating to find out if we can find out if any of these airline CEOs asked him questions or sort of voice concerns about the immigration travel ban, because that is something that impacted the airlines, it was something that they were not brought up to speed with.

I talked to one official this morning who's working with the airlines and this official said that they do not plan to bring it up because why agitate the president on this. But this is something that is concerning to these CEOs.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: You'd think that's the whole point of a meeting like this, is to bring up concerns like that.

ZELENY: Perhaps.

HARLOW: I mean, there were people who got on those planes, who landed at JFK here in New York and all over who -- you know, who weren't allowed into this country and had to go back.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: United -- yes.

HARLOW: So a lot wasn't communicated.

BERMAN: No. Now a United CEO did say it created quite a mess with them.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: They got to deal with it.

Jeff Zeleny in Washington, thank you so very much.

Busy, busy morning in the White House. Jeff Sessions, the senator, just moments away from becoming the attorney general. He will be sworn in in an official ceremony.

What does the Justice Department that he will walk into look like this morning? We'll take you there. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:35:46] HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. Bottom of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for being with us. Any moment now, the White House -- at the White House Senator Jeff Sessions will be sworn in as the nation's attorney general. He was confirmed overnight after a bitter fight waged by Democrats and mostly over his civil rights record.

HARLOW: Sessions will now lead a Justice Department that could be saddled with defending pretty controversial policies including the travel ban and he'll be reporting to a president who has made unprecedented attacks on the judiciary branch.

Our Sunlen Serfaty and our Evan Perez are joining us now with the many angles of this.

And Sunlen, let me begin with you. Many Democrats, and very loudly, Senator Elizabeth warren, saying very clearly their fight against him, despite him being confirmed at any moment, is far from over.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's very right, Poppy. You know, Democrats already signaling that they intend to keep the pressure up on him. Yes, indeed, they did lose this nomination fight up on Capitol Hill but they're promising and already adopting, really, a fighter's stance, wanting to hold his feet to the fire, so to speak, in his new role as attorney general. Immediately after he was confirmed last night, we saw a flurry of tweets coming from Senator Elizabeth Warren, essentially warning shots, saying, Senator Sessions, I will be watching you.

She says, if he turns into -- turns a blind eye to what Donald Trump does, if Trump violates the Constitution, he'll hear from us. And then she added in a tweet, quote, "And you better believe every senator who voted to put Jeff Sessions' radical hatred into the Justice Department will hear from us, too."

And we heard many of these complaints and criticisms from many Democratic senators throughout this confirmation process up here on Capitol Hill. One of the chief complaints was that he was one of the most early and loyal supporters to Donald Trump throughout the campaign. A lot of senators questioning whether he will go on to just be a rubber stamp in the Trump administration -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. He was the first sitting senator to come out and endorse the president.

BERMAN: He was. But it's not unusual -- it's unusual for people who endorse or support candidates to end up with Cabinet positions.

HARLOW: No. Of course.

BERMAN: I'm not sure that's a fair criticism, you know, from certain Democrats. Evan Perez, who of course cover the Justice Department for us. Evan,

there's going to be a welcome event for Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the DOJ, later today, you know, some hundred thousand employees. What kind of DOJ will be greeting him?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be interesting to see what kind of welcome he does receive, John. I think, certainly, I was there in 2009 when Eric Holder walked into the building and there was a raucous welcome with people lining the staircases and the hallways. And, you know, it was a very big welcome ceremony where, you know, on a very cold day in Washington where the attorney general kind of came in and was greeted with a hero's welcome. It's going to be -- probably a different welcome today simply because we're in a different place right now.

There is a lot of suspicion inside the building about Jeff Sessions because he was in the Senate and because he's been a critic of some of the interpretations of the law that the Justice Department has been making over the past eight years under President Obama's presidency. We're going to see a sharp right turn from this attorney general. He is going to take a different view on voter fraud, on policing issues, which, you know, the Obama administration has been pursuing a lot of investigations of police departments in how they handle their work in minority communities.

We know -- we expect that Jeff Sessions is going to take a different view on marijuana legalization and we're probably going to see a different interpretation of the law on transgender rights, which is something that the Justice Department right now is in court defending. So it's going to be a sharp right turn from this attorney general.

And I've got to tell you, this vote for Jeff Sessions yesterday, 52- 47, with only one Democrat supporting him, it's kind of a reflection of the times we're in, these highly politicized times. And also what this job has become. The last couple of attorney generals have ended up in hot water in different controversy, political controversy, even though this job is supposed to be above politics, and as Jeff Sessions has promised, he says he's not going to be a rubber stamp for this White House. And we'll see what kind of job he's going to be able to do. We know he's going to be very, very influential with Donald Trump.

HARLOW: He will indeed. Evan Perez, thank you so much. Sunlen, we appreciate the reporting.

[10:40:03] Still to come for us, the White House locked in a war of words with senators on both sides of the aisle. Why the president's Supreme Court pick and the raid in Yemen are both sparking a heated back and forth. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: A lot of confusion and questions this morning over Judge Neil Gorsuch, the president's pick to join the Supreme Court. All of this as his confirmation hearing has not even been scheduled yet. Gorsuch, who is making his case to senators from both parties on Capitol Hill this week, told some Republicans and some Democrats that he finds the attacks on the judiciary and judges personally, quote, "demoralizing and disheartening," of course those alluding to attacks one would think the president made on the judiciary.

[10:45:05] BERMAN: Now the president is also firing back at one of those lawmakers, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, saying he misrepresented Gorsuch's comment. So the Republican who has served as a spokesman for Gorsuch said it's all true. The president also at odds this morning with Senator John McCain over the raid in Yemen that left a U.S. Navy SEAL dead.

Joining us now, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. He is the chair of Senate Republican Conference.

Senator Thune, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Good morning, John and Poppy. Congratulations on the launch of the show.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you so much. I'm so impressed you guys all got the memo.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Listen -- listen, you are the chair of the Republican Conference and one of your senators in the is under attack by the White House this morning. I'm talking about Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. President Trump wrote this morning, "Senator McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media, only emboldens the enemy. He's been losing so long he doesn't know how to win anymore."

You're reaction to that, Senator.

THUNE: Well, look. I think the reaction to the mission, we lost a Navy SEAL, you can't call it 100 percent success any time that happens. But we did kill three al Qaeda -- AQAP operatives and also gathered some very valuable intelligence. So I think you could characterize it at least as a mixed bag and somewhat of a success. But it just shows how difficult these counterterrorism missions are. And hopefully we'll learn some lessons from this and be able to improve on our tactics for the next confrontation.

But with respect to the conversation that's going on about that, look, I think these are both people who have strong views, and I think that the president and Senator McCain obviously have different conclusions about what happened here. But I think the important thing is that we focus on the work of defending the country, making sure that we learn from this and do a better job next time.

HARLOW: I think everyone in this country is all for a heated and spirited debate between people in the same party or opposing parties. However, it's the personal attacks I think that John and I are trying to ask you what your opinion is about that, because as you know, this is a president who as a candidate said that John McCain was not a war hero. And now he's calling him someone who loses and going against him personally as well. Is that something you're comfortable with as a sitting Republican?

THUNE: John McCain is a hero. And a United States senator who speaks his mind and somebody that we all listen to, particularly when it comes to national security matters. So yes, I don't think it's -- it's probably not advisable for that line of discussion or that conversation to be going on publicly. I think the important thing is that there are things that we all agree on, things that we want to get done for the good of the country. And at some point the president is going to need senators, every Republican senator, because we only have a 52-vote majority here in the United States Senate, in order to accomplish his agenda.

So I hope everybody can kind of dial it down a bit and keep focused on the things that unite us and that's really getting the economy growing again, creating better paying jobs, and lessening the regulatory burden on businesses in this country, and looking at ways that we can strengthen our national security and keep Americans safe in what is increasingly a dangerous world.

BERMAN: And Senator, I'm also sure you want to get, you know, Gorsuch confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. You've spoken in glowing terms about Judge Gorsuch. You say he's the kind of judge who knows how to call balls and strikes. You sort of said that some of the president's recent comments about judges are off the plate in terms of balls and strikes.

I'm wondering if you agree with him that comments about the judiciary, criticism about specific judges, if you agree, if demoralizing and disheartening?

THUNE: Well, I think, John, that that -- those comments demonstrate that this is an independent judge and why it's important that we go about the process of confirming him. He clearly is somebody who has great respect for the court, great respect for the rule of law, someone who has been universally respected on both sides of the political aisle and has issued opinions as a judge on the Tenth Circuit that have drawn not only a lot of attention but a lot of praise.

I think this is somebody who ought to be able to go through a process, get fair consideration, obviously answer hard questions, but at the end of the day get an up and down vote. And I think the statements that he's making demonstrate to me his independence and his ability to judge with impartiality and to call balls and strikes, which is what I think most Americans look for when they think about the Supreme Court.

HARLOW: Some also see, Senator, Judge Gorsuch's willingness to go into these meetings with Republicans and Democrats lawmakers on the Hill this week, and say these things, alluding to the president's comments and call it disheartening, et cetera, and demoralizing to talk about the judiciary in that way. They see that as a play -- a very smart political tactic on his part to get the eight votes that he needs to get to 60 -- a Democrat he needs to get to 60 votes in the Senate for confirmation. But some are criticizing the fact that he's not willing to come out and say that publicly. How do you see that?

[10:50:03] THUNE: I think that he'll get that opportunity when he testifies in front of the Judiciary Committee here in the Senate and goes through the confirmation process. He'll get lots of questions. I'm sure many questions perhaps on this very issue. So he'll have a chance to answer on the record most of these meetings that he has with members of Congress. I think are by and large tend to be sort of private meetings, although this is obviously something that got leaked out into the public domain.

And again, I think what it represents, however, is in these meetings that he's having with members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, he has been willing to express an independence and that's something we're all looking for. When it comes to the judiciary and our constitutional democracy, an independent judiciary is absolutely foundational to our success. And I frankly like the fact that the judge is speaking his mind.

HARLOW: One thing that I found was interesting, if you do have one more moment is that when he was questioned by the Senate in 2006, when he was being questioned by Senator Lindsey Graham for his Tenth Circuit nomination, he was asked by Lindsey Graham, the best you can, describe what you think an ideologue would be and why it would be bad. Here's what he said, "Someone who is not willing to do what I just talked about, someone who is not willing to listen with an open mind to the arguments of counsel to his colleagues, to precedent, and someone who is willing to just willy-nilly disregard those things to the effect of his own personal views."

It was interesting to hear those words from him years ago in contrast to what the president said this week, yesterday, about the Ninth Circuit and, you know, going in the wrong direction, and that a high school graduate could decide this. How do you see it?

THUNE: Again, I think the reason that he got overwhelmingly and unanimously confirmed when he was up for the Tenth Circuit a decade ago was for that very reason. I think people saw in him the qualities that they want to see in members of the bench. You know, the decision that is percolating now through the courts in the Ninth Circuit, the Ninth Circuit has been overturned by the Supremes about 90 percent of the time.

But I think that, you know, you -- the courts and all around the country, we know where the sort of left of center courts are, right of center courts are. But they have a job to do, and it's a job that is necessary in our system of checks and balances, and I think we have to respect that role. And I think Judge Gorsuch does, which is why, again, I think he's getting reviews on both sides of the aisle up here, as someone who will be an independent, impartial judge, and ultimately somebody who I hope will benefit from an up and down vote and be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: All right. Senator John Thune from South Dakota, thank you so much for joining us on our premier week. Really appreciate it, sir.

THUNE: Thanks, guys. Great to be with you.

BERMAN: All right. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:56:45] HARLOW: The Grammys are Sunday. And in the wake of President Trump's travel ban and the court fight about it right now, one group is now throwing a protest instead of a party. Instead of hosting their annual Grammys party, the United Talent Agency or UTA is holding a rally and donating $250,000 to the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee.

BERMAN: This is taking place outside the Grammys. Inside the show, top artists will be facing off.

Here is Stephanie Elam with a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From Adele to Beyonce. The Grammy Awards honor the biggest names in music and 2017 is no exception.

JEM ASWAD, SENIOR EDITOR, BILLBOARD MAGAZINE: It is the Vatican, sort of, of the music business and music entertainment. There really isn't any bigger award to win.

ELAM: Beyonce leads the charge with nine nominations, including Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and the night's most competitive prize, Album of the Year.

The singer's latest collection, "Lemonade," faces off against Adele's "25," Justin Bieber's "Purpose," Drake's "Views," and Sturgill Simpson's "A Sailor's Guide to Earth."

ASWAD: This year even though it seems like it's going to be a big face-off between Adele and Beyonce, kind of all bets are off.

ELAM: The Grammys are also known for creating household names. Best New Artist contenders Kelsea Ballerini. the Chainsmokers, Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, and Anderson Paak may become the evening's major success stories.

ASWAD: There's any number of artists who can have a big night and, you know, enjoy a big bump in sales, in attention, in strength, due to their performance.

ELAM: Awards aren't the only thing on deck at the Grammys. Expect some big collaborations. Lady Gaga with Metallica and The Weekend with Daft Punk are just a few of the duets set to hit the stage.

JAMES CORDEN, GRAMMY AWARDS HOST: Pop-pop, it's show time.

ELAM: Late-night host James Corden will handle emcee duties. The "Carpool Karaoke" star will likely provide some musical entertainment, too. ASWAD: With James Corden you're getting more of what Billy Crystal

was to the Oscars or at least potentially that, because he can sing and dance and he's a comedian.

ELAM: Expect enough music and mayhem to uphold the Grammy's expectation as music's biggest night.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Stephanie, thank you.

Are you as excited for this Sunday night and the Grammys as you were for last Sunday night and the Pats?

BERMAN: Take a guess how many of the songs nominated I've heard before.

HARLOW: None.

BERMAN: Zero.

HARLOW: Because you listen to Bob Marley or classical music.

BERMAN: Not nominated this year for a Grammy. I usually like the songs that are like a year and a half old. I never understand the Grammys.

HARLOW: No. Last -- yesterday we ended the show, they're still looking for Brady's jersey and Andy Scholes thought that's why you had the day off, hiding it?

BERMAN: That was because I was hiding. I was running away.

HARLOW: Running in Central Park with it.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you all for joining us this morning. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. As the world waits for the imminent ruling of President Trump's travel -- unprecedented travel ban, any moment Donald Trump will swear in his new attorney general. The now former Alabama senator emerging --