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Sources: White House Weighing New Executive Order on Travel; Report: Despite Denials, Flynn Talked Sanctions with Russia. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired February 10, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Evan and Jim, thanks so much. Keep it up. Appreciate it.

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

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. A new order? The Trump administration is weighing how to respond to the court decision upholding the freeze on the president's travel ban. CNN is learning that a revised order, possibly even a new one, is among the options being considered. What will the next move be?

Russia calling. The president's national security advisor, reportedly talked to the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions before Mr. Trump took office. Did General Michael Flynn mislead the administration and potentially violate the law?

And do your job. Chaos erupts at a town hall with House Oversight chairman Jason Chaffetz. The Republican congressman shouted down by the crowd. So what's behind the anger boiling over in solid Republican districts?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Sources inside the Trump administration are telling CNN the White House is considering issuing a revised or even a new executive order on travel. They say it would have more clarity and be more narrowly tailored than the order now frozen by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

There's growing concern, meanwhile, inside the White House over a report that national security advisor Michael Flynn discussed sanctions against Russia with the country's ambassador before Mr. Trump took office. Sources say Vice President Pence, who previously vouched for Flynn, was relying on Flynn's word that there was no talk of sanctions. Flynn now says he's unsure whether the topic was discussed.

And Republican lawmakers from two solidly red districts got an earful at town hall meetings from constituents voicing their anger. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the oversight committee, was shouted down by an anti-Trump crowd near Salt Lake City. And Congresswoman Diane Black of Tennessee was hounded over GOP plans to repeal Obamacare while so far offering no clear alternative. We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by. Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, what are you hearing about a possible new executive order?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House is considering a new executive order focusing on extreme vetting, or they are possibly considering revising the one signed just a couple weeks ago that has stirred so much unrest here.

But they are still working throughout the week, and I am told by one official they are going to go slower than they did initially, trying to get everything legally right with this.

But as White House lawyers and Justice Department lawyers worked throughout the weekend, the president was heading south to Florida with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I welcome you to the very famous White House.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump hosting his second official visit from a key American ally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But after the renewing the long-standing U.S. security commitment with Japan, the president talked again today about terror threats facing the country in the wake of his travel ban being blocked by a federal appeals court.

TRUMP: So, we'll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You'll be seeing that sometime next week.

ZELENY: A day after his immigration order was unanimously rejected by a three-judge panel, the president struck a confident tone, despite facing the first limits to his executive power.

TRUMP: In addition, we will continue to go through the court process, and ultimately, I have no doubt that we'll win that particular case.

ZELENY: CNN has learned the administration is considering writing a new order on immigration or tweaking the existing one, even as the White House explores taking the case to the Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the president's travel ban, closing the nation's borders to refugees and others from seven majority-Muslim countries. The judges wrote, "The government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in order has perpetrated a terror attack in the United States."

The president did not attack the judicial branch, as he's done throughout the week, but spoke in urgent tones about the threat facing the U.S.

TRUMP: I've learned tremendous things that you could only learn, frankly, if you were in a certain position, namely president. And there are tremendous threats to our country.

ZELENY: Abe is the second foreign leader to meet with the president at the White House during the first three weeks of his administration. British Prime Minister Theresa May visited late last month.

The president spoke confidently about the relationship going forward.

TRUMP: When I greeted him today at the car, I was saying -- I shook hands, but I grabbed him and hugged him, because that's the way we feel. We have a very, very good bond, very, very good chemistry. I'll let you know if it changes, but I don't think it will.

ZELENY: The two leaders and their wives left Washington for Mr. Trump's resort in Florida, where their weekend agenda includes a round or more of golf. The president offering a preview of the swing during an Oval Office session with the Japanese prime minister, following a 19-second longhand shake.

TRUMP: Strong hands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: The Trumps and The Abes also scheduled to have dinner tonight at Mar-a-Lago before that weekend of golf. And we saw the first lady there in those pictures, riding Air Force One for the first time. She flew here to join them for that trip to Florida.

Though, Wolf, as he spends the weekend there yet again, his White House is working on that executive order. Also answering questions about the national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and those Russian sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Now to the growing controversy over a report that President Trump's national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the country's ambassador here in Washington while President Obama was still in office.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is working the story for us. Elise, this is raising lots of concern inside and outside the White House.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Lots of concern.

Mike Flynn communicated with Russia's ambassador to Washington several times after the election before President Trump took office. He insisted those conversations did not include sanctions against Russia. But now he's backing away from that denial; and it's embarrassing for White House officials who stood by him and once again raising questions about his ties to Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight the White House says it's troubled over backpedaling by President Trump's security advisor, General Mike Flynn, who now says he is unsure whether he spoke to Moscow's ambassador to the U.S. about sanctions on Russia before President Trump even took office, including a conversation on the same day they were imposed by President Obama.

A serious problem for Vice President Mike Pence, seen shaking Flynn's hand today, one of several top officials who vouched for Flynn, including in this interview with CBS News last month.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

LABOTT: Now the vice president is claiming he was relying on Flynn's assurance that sanctions never came up. A close aide now says Flynn has, quote, "no recollection of discussing sanctions," but, quote, "couldn't be certain" that the topic never came up. And a senior White House advisor says Pence believes that's a problem.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: You've got different people saying different things, not knowing who they can trust within their own team, that heads to a very difficult place, too.

LABOTT: U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials told CNN last month investigators were monitoring calls between Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The content of those calls, captured during routine eavesdropping on Russian diplomats, was concerning.

At the same time the U.S. was conducting a broader investigation of Russian activities in the U.S. Officials who spoke to CNN at the time stressed no determination of wrongdoing on Flynn's part had been made, but a new "Washington Post" report cites nine current and former officials, confirming Flynn's communication with the Russian ambassador included discussion of sanctions.

The Kremlin denies reports Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak discussed sanctions, calling the information, quote, "incorrect."

A key question tonight: whether Flynn's communication with the ambassador influenced Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision not to retaliate after the new sanctions were imposed. The Obama administration also kicked out some 35 Russian diplomats out of the country in response to Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

BLINKEN: After the Obama administration went ahead with those sanctions, normally you would expect Russia to retaliate in kind. That's been past practice. And of course, President Putin said, "No, I'm not going to do that." And you have to wonder whether, in fact, he was told, "Hold off, don't do anything because when we, the Trump administration, get in, we're going to revisit this whole thing."

LABOTT: At the time, President-elect Trump cheered Russia's decision on twitter, writing, quote, "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And of course, another question is whether, during those phone calls Flynn signaled to the ambassador that President Trump would lift those sanctions against Russia once in office.

Now, U.S. and European officials say Flynn has been noncommittal in meetings about maintaining sanctions on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, and the message diplomats are getting from the White House are those sanctions and the one related to Russian cybermeddling in the election, Wolf, are on the table. Everything is under review.

BLITZER: Because Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., specifically said that the Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place.

[17:10:04] LABOTT: That's right. The diplomats saying they're getting mixed message. You hear one thing from Haley. And then, when the White House speaks, they're not being committal. So they really don't know what's going on. The Europeans also have to decide whether they're going to keep their sanctions on Russia.

BLITZER: Elise Labott, reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Great to be here, Wolf. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: All right. So I want to get to the national security advisor, Michael Flynn. But first the news the administration, at least sources telling CNN it's possible they could tweak the existing travel ban, that executive order against those seven Muslim-majority nations, or issue a brand-new executive order that would be more narrowly tailored. Which do you believe would be the better option?

YOHO: I think the one that's more specific, more narrowly tailored. And I think you'll see the administration go through.

And I also think you're going to see the ruling of those three judges in the 9th Circuit, that be looked at from a judicial standpoint. And if they overstep their boundaries, I think you'll see some ramifications from that also.

BLITZER: What kind of ramifications are you talking about? Because you know, this is a -- the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and I don't understand what kind of ramifications you're suggesting. YOHO: Well, did they follow the law? Did they follow the

Constitution? And if so, you know, so be it. But if not, you know, there needs to be some kind of recourse, if they've overstepped and put politics in there. You know, because the president clearly does, if you go back to the executive order that he wrote, it's very clear, it's very specific. It's not a ban; it's a pause--

BLITZER: But I just want to be precise. Congressman, the U.S. Supreme Court often overrules or has a different opinion than a court of appeals does. But that doesn't necessarily mean that there have to be ramifications. It sounds like they're going to be punished for coming to a different conclusion. Is that what you're suggesting?

YOHO: No, I'm not suggesting that. I'm just saying, you know, you go through the process, let the legal system work and then go from that, see what's determined from that.

BLITZER: We're also just now, in fact -- I'm going to report this, because I'm just getting it. You're just getting it.

YOHO: Yes.

BLITZER: CNN is learning that the U.S. government will not -- repeat, not -- appeal the travel ban decision to the U.S. Supreme Court right now. Do you agree with that decision by the White House?

YOHO: I think it's probably a smarter way to go. I would rather just start with a new one and then come out with that and continue the process that President Trump laid out.

And, I mean, Wolf, this is about national security. And this is something that I would think every American -- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal -- everybody would want to get this one right. We don't want to repeat what happened in Brussels, Germany, France. This is about national security. It is not anti-Muslim or anti-Islam. It's anti-terrorism, 100 percent.

And the No. 1 task of our government is to provide for the national security, to provide for the common defense of this nation. And I commend Donald Trump for having the leadership to stand up and do something that we haven't.

And he's following the footprint of President Obama, as far as those seven countries. And you know, I think there's some hypocrisy in here, because President Obama, via executive order, removed the wet foot-dry foot policy that we've had with Cuba. Not one person spoke up about that. And so, I think let this play out and let's put national security above politics.

BLITZER: National security critically important. As you know--

YOHO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- the president, President Trump said his travel ban executive order was issued quickly, immediately, because of what he described as a pressing national security issue. YOHO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So here's the question. Why is he now waiting, at least until next week, to unveil new security measures? Because people are coming in routinely as they were before the executive order was even announced.

YOHO: Well, I think you said it very succinctly in the beginning. You have to move rapidly on this. And I commend President Obama for doing what he did on the wet foot-dry foot. And I commend President Trump doing what he did. You know, the signal has been sent out that it's not the same -- same old, same old in America. We are going to be harder on these. We are going to vet these things.

So, I think we've got a little bit of time to get it right, because people are on notice that they better have all their papers where they can be verified. And, you know, sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we know those seven countries, they're war-torn. They do not have the I.T. system set up to go back and do a background check.

BLITZER: All right. I just -- very quickly, so your recommendation to the president, to the White House is, you know what? Forget about the executive order that was announced and rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier, the district court, as well, and go ahead and start from scratch, come up with a new executive order and sort of acknowledge the first one was a blunder?

YOHO: I'm not going to go down there, but I think instead of fighting this in court, absolutely. Go on to the new one is what I would do. And then it just takes that off the table, the argument, the lawsuit, the waste of American taxpayers' dollars. So let's start anew and get it right and move it on as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: Yes. The president just said, "I'll see you in court" in his initial tweet after the decision was announced last night. Maybe that may not necessarily happen.

Let's get to the national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

YOHO: Sure.

BLITZER: If, in fact, he did speak in December to the Russian ambassador here in Washington, Sergey Kislyak, and discuss the issue of sanctions, U.S. sanctions against Russia before President Trump took office, did he break any law, and did he subsequently lie about that?

YOHO: That's a great question. Did he break any laws? And you know, what did they talk about? Yes, we got sanctions, you know, let's get the news and let's let this play out in the investigation or the -- the inquiry into it to see what exactly was said. And I wouldn't put a lot of media time on it. Let it play out and let it go from there.

BLITZER: The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, he put out a statement. I'll read it to you. He said, "If he, Flynn, did so, and then he and other administrations officials misled the American people, his conduct would be all the more pernicious; and he should no longer serve in this administration or any other."

And Schiff is not alone. You're getting a lot of statements like that right now. So as much as you would like this story to go away, it clearly is not going away, Congressman.

YOHO: No, we've got a 24/hour, 7-day-a-week news cycle. And Adam Schiff is a great guy. And, you know, if there was intent, and there was lying, and it was perjured, I mean, that will lead down a certain path.

But if it's casual conversations, if there's no laws prohibiting that, I don't see a problem at this point. Let's let more information come out on it before we can jump to conclusions.

BLITZER: And forget about legal ramifications. But if he certainly lied to the vice president of the United States and said, you know, "The issue of sanctions never came up. I never spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions." And then the vice president, Mike Pence, went on "face the nation" on CBS, and he said there was no discussion of sanctions, that's a serious problem in and of itself, if, in fact, he was lying.

YOHO: They'll have to work that out between them, you know. And I'm not going to jump in that and conjecture one way or the other. That's between Vice President Pence and General Flynn.

BLITZER: Congressman, there's more to discuss. I'm going to ask you to stick around. We'll continue our conversation right after this.

YOHO: OK.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:48] BLITZER: President-elect Donald Trump ruffled feathers in Beijing by talking to Taiwan's president back in December. Now as president of the United States, he's suddenly affirming the U.S. commitment to what's called the one-China policy, which acknowledges Taiwan being part of China.

We're back with the Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, the president expressing his support for this one-China policy. It seems to be a bit of a shift from the position he took earlier when he took that phone call from the president of Taiwan that caused a big stir. Do you have any idea if he got something from the Chinese in exchange for this shift?

YOHO: You know, we don't know that yet. I read the report, and the person they asked said no comment on that. and I'm going to be that way, too.

But I think this was a brilliant strategy. You know, he accepted that call from the president of Taiwan to let them know that we're going to stand strong with them, as we have since the '70s, and continue what we are doing.

In addition, he's talked to Mr. Abe out of Japan, talking about the same thing, to stand strong with Taiwan. In the same moment talking to China about the one-China policy. And, you know, when we have good diplomacy, good trade negotiations, the world is a safer place. It's calmer, and that's what I look forward to coming out of his negotiations. And I'm excited about his negotiations skills, and it's going to be interesting to see how this turns out. And I know it will turn out good for everybody.

BLITZER: There's another apparent shift that's unfolding over the past 24/48 hours or so. The European Union's representative, she's been here in Washington over the past few days, met with top Trump administration officials.

She now says that after those meetings at the White House and the State Department, the U.S., the Trump administration is committed to what she calls the full implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. As you well remember during the campaign, President Trump often said his No. 1 priority was to dismantle that Iran deal. He said it was the worst deal ever. But now there seems to be a full commitment to see it implemented.

Is that a shift; you're with him on that?

YOHO: No, I think that -- I know the Iran deal was a terrible deal. I was there. We were there with the negotiations and, you know, we really got nothing out of this.

I know everybody says it's put Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Iran is going to continue to do what they've done for the last 30 years. Ambassador Bolton's book, "Surrender is Not an Option," has a great critique of Iran the last 35 years.

You know, we know they're complicit in buying parts through China via -- or from Germany through Chinese negotiators, buying parts for ballistic missiles. We know they have broken the U.N. security resolutions. And we also know they're funding terrorists around the globe from the Middle East to the western hemisphere andSsouth America. We know they supplied the Houthis in Yemen with ballistic missiles.

And so, they're a bad actor, and they're going to overstep in the agreement. My bet is the agreement will put more sanctions on Iran; and I think you'll see the rest of the world come with that, the other partners.

[17:25:09] BLITZER: Congressman Ted Yoho, thanks very much for joining us.

YOHO: Yes, sir, you take care.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. But when we come back, we'll have more on the breaking news we're following. The U.S. government, the Trump administration has decided not -- repeat, not -- to appeal the travel ban decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court. More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This hour, the breaking news, CNN has learned the Trump administration will not appeal the travel ban decision to the United States Supreme Court right now. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is here. We've got our other experts with us, as well.

The breaking news, what are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, that, you -- the Trump administration, as well as the Department of Justice, has been weighing the options and we have learned from sources that the Department of Justice will not immediately appeal the travel ban ruling to the Supreme Court. As of now, the White House apparently doesn't want to take the risk of losing an appeal on the temporary restraining order because of the fear of a 4-4 split at the Supreme Court, which would leave the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling in place. That ruling kept the travel ban on hold. Of course, as you know, that came down yesterday. But they're still considering issue in a new reworked executive order. The source I spoke with, cautioned though, but a new order risk making the current lawsuit moot, which the administration may not want to do because it believes it could ultimately win the case on the merits.

But also, a new executive order could be appealing as one legal analyst -- legal analyst I spoke to, Paul Callan said, it may be a way to avoid the president from being subpoenaed on the matter about his discussions regarding a Muslim ban. You've already heard the state say that they're in discovery. They're going to put in those requests, and so the White House may not want to enter into a subpoena and have to talk about those kinds of things. And, so, the executive order would be a way around that. But as one source I spoke to said, this is a bit of a Rubik's Cube. You have to consider the timing of Gorsuch's potential confirmation of the Supreme Court and the progression of this case. The source I spoke with cautioned, as with everything, things can change, Wolf. But as of now, they don't want to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court. Another option is to let -- fill out the record in the district court, bolster their case in the district court. So, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Wolf?

BLITZER: Pamela, stand by. Laura Coates, you're our CNN Legal Analyst. If the Trump administration has decided, at least for now, not to go before the eight-member, the eight justices of United States Supreme Court, what are the other legal options? Because yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted right after the decision was released, "See you in court."

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, those words may come back to haunt him, but it still is accurate. Remember, this case does not go away. It now goes back to district court. Going -- not going to Supreme Court does not mean the case is over. It just means that now they can develop the record, they're going to be able to figure out whether or not they have a strong enough case to ultimately hold out for that Ninth justice. They are planning a strategy here and their strategy is to figure out are the other cases around the nation going to have an outcome similar to what happened in the Ninth Circuit, or there would be other circuits around that may have the opposite and more like the Massachusetts' decision. This is a legal strategy that finally sounds like it makes sense and he's actually getting guidance. But either way a new executive order, they've laid out a road map for what it needs to look like in order to pass constitutional muster, and what the Washington State or Minnesota or any other state, has to prove in order to be successful.

BLITZER: It sounds, David Chalian, like that would be the best answer for the president right now. Forget about the earlier executive order, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found unconstitutional. But go ahead, get rid of that, and rewrite, start from scratch, and write a new executive order that might be more acceptable. The problem is, a political problem, if you do that, the president basically is acknowledging his original order was a mistake.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, yes, it is. Although if you're crafting another path to victory, one couldn't get in Donald Trump's head for a moment, and say if he can accomplish the same goals by tweaking the order or drafting a new order of his national security goals, that could be a path to victory for him. I don't think it's the same as what would happen if he appealed this, and lost again at the courts and appealed them. That is defeat that I don't think Donald Trump can stomach at all, a guy who promises constant winning and victory. But to regroup and tweak, or just rewrite the executive order so that it's within the bounds and that it can accomplish the goals he's looking for, I think it's going to be a victory for the White House if he can get there.

BLITZER: You know, everybody stand by for a moment because we're just getting word that the president of the United States aboard Air Force One on the flight -- on the flight from Washington to West Palm Beach. He's spending the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his estate there. He spoke to reporters. We're going to have that for you. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:00] BLITZER: All right. With more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, President Donald Trump took questions from reporters aboard Air Force One on the flight from Washington to West Palm Beach. Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, we have a detailed pool of report from the reporters who spoke to the president. What are we learning?

ZELENY: We do, indeed, Wolf, and that includes our own Athena Jones, who is the television pool reporter on that flight. They are, of course, going down to Palm Beach, Florida. But the president came back to the press cabinet of the plane with his wife, Melania, her first time on the plane, and he talked about that executive order that we talked about earlier in this broadcast. And he did indeed say he is considering signing what he says "a brand new executive order" on immigration. He said he has not decided that yet, but that is one of the options.

Other administration officials here are saying that he is considering a new order altogether or making changes in the old order. But the president went on to say this as well, reading here now, he said, quote, "We will win that battle. The unfortunate part is that it takes time, but we will win that battle," he says. "We also have a lot of other options including filing that brand-new order."

[17:40:12] Now, he said, you know, again, he has not made that decision. That's why we were told earlier, Wolf, that lawyers here at the White House and the White House counsel's office and at the Justice Department, will be making these determinations this weekend as he is down in Florida. But we do expect to see the president and hear the president in his own words. We believe we have videotape of this once they land right there. You see them landing. As soon as we can get that--the comments, we'll bring them to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there's Air Force One landing in that West Palm Beach, Florida. The president will get off that plane, the Japanese Prime Minister Abe is aboard as well, and their wives. So, they'll spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, having dinner tonight and then playing some golf. The president also spoke -- was asked about the reports that General Michael Flynn, the president's National Security Advisor, actually discussed the issue of sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States back in December, even though he denied that to the vice president and other officials. What did the president say when he -- in response to questions about this latest uproar?

ZELENY: Well, Wolf, this is what the president said. He said -- I'm quoting here -- he says, "I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look into that." Now, Wolf, that is virtually impossible to believe that the president, at this late hour in the day, had not seen that report. A, we know he is a reader of newspapers and, of course, a careful watcher of television news, and it was on the front page of today's Washington Post. It has been talked about all day long. His White House has in fact confirmed that report, and the vice president is concerned about that and was troubled by that. So, this is something that is virtually impossible to believe that president did not have a comment on it, but he did not answer those questions about his national security advisor.

But Wolf, he did go on to explain a little bit more as we're reading this pool report here about the executive order on immigration. He said, he wants, quote, "new security measures. We have very strong vetting, he wants extreme vetting. We're going to go strong on security." So, the question here is, for his lawyers to figure out and reconcile this, how to craft an executive order that meets his campaign pledge, and what he tried to do in that order signed two weeks ago that will stand up to legal challenges, Wolf. Because that ruling yesterday from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also addressed the merits of this, and it was specific on these seven countries that he was talking about here. So, that's what his lawyers and the, you know, here at justice -- here at the White House and at the Justice Department, have to figure out if they can draw in a more narrow way here, Wolf. But the president, of course, wants this, but he's getting his first taste this week of the limits at times of executive power.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to get the tape once everyone --

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: -- emerges from Air Force One. You're looking at live pictures on the tarmac there. The president, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be coming down the stairs momentarily. We'll also get the tape of the Q & A with the president aboard the plane. One other thing, I'm just reading the pool report, president was asked about the Iranian President Rouhani's comments, that any nation that threatens Iran will, quote, "regret it." The president responded, quote, "He better be careful." We're going to get that tape and play it for our viewers as soon as it comes in.

But David Chalian, let me get that to you right now, get your reaction. He says, maybe Monday or Tuesday, there will be a legal response to what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did. We will win that battle. The unfortunate part is that it takes time. What's your reaction to the president's latest comments on this decision? He's obviously very disappointed with the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt about that. He's made that clear. I think he's sort of taking the path that we were just discussing before we learned of what he told reporters, which is trying to retrench a bit, retool, and get back out there, and largely because of the clock. Remember when he was at the national prayer breakfast, I believe it was where he -- where -- and perhaps it was a different venue this week -- where he said that his own advisors, he was trying to push to not do that executive order he said for a month or so into his administration. But his own advisors said, "No, no, no. That's too much time. Bad guys will come in." This is when he decided, "We have to do that executive order right away." This is what short circuited the inter-agency review process, the briefing of Capitol Hill, all the normal procedures you would go through to sign an executive order.

So, once he presented to the American people that the clock was running on this, and that he felt for national security reasons this had to happen quickly, I think running that up against the judicial clock of how long they would be battling this in court -- in court, those two things didn't square up. I think that's why you're seeing the administration and the president, feel the political pressure now to solve this much more quickly than the courts would allow.

[17:44:57] BLITZER: And Peter Bergen, the president keeps saying -- he said it today, he said it over the past -- they got to move quickly because, in his words, as David -- "bad dudes," they're going to be flooding into this country until you get that executive order in place. And he says, "In the past three weeks, since becoming president, receiving these highly classified national intelligence briefings," he says, "it's awful out there, the threat to the United States. People don't appreciate." He does because he gets these briefings. He painted a very dire picture of the potential terror threat facing the country.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we've talked about the constitutional issues. I thought what's interesting the court was saying, was the evidence that these -- there are countries you're potentially banning travel from are producing terrorists. And in fact, there is very little evidence. In fact, every lethal terrorist attack in the United States has been conducted by an American citizen or legal permanent resident. And the White House itself released, on Monday, and I recall, 78 terrorist attacks around the world against western targets, and I did an analysis of who were doing these attacks. And it turns out that it was French citizens are the number one, followed by the United States, followed by Belgians. So, this gets into very arbitrary nature of this order, which really is not supported by the evidence or the facts. And clearly, the idea that bad guys are going to rush in, when we know it takes two years to become a -- to get into this country if you're a Syrian refugee, none of that makes any sense.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, the president said that there are legal options. The next steps, he's still considering them. But he also said this. We also have a lot of other options including just filing a brand new order. Meaning, start from scratch and come up with new language that might be acceptable to the courts.

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: And that might be his best option if what he wants to do is have something that is in place immediately. This process could take a very long time. He's already indicated that he's impatient with the judicial process. And there's a risk, as Laura pointed out earlier, that the whole thing could get struck down, which would hamstring him essentially for the foreseeable future. I don't think Trump or his advisors want to risk the possibility that he might be facing a limited scope in terms of the ability of him to put in -- put in immigration remedies for whatever problems he sees fit. This is a key pillar of his campaign rhetoric. It's really critical to what he wants to do going in to his re-election. We know he's very focused on that. So, the risk is -- I think a little bit too great to put it all on the court system. I think they can go back and redraft it.

BLITZER: Air Force One now on the ground in West Palm Beach. The president and his wife, Melania, they'll be walking down those stairs momentarily, along with their special guests Shinzo Abe and his wife, spending a weekend over at the Mar-a-Lago. We'll have that, get the tape of what the president told reporters on Air Force One. Also, coming up, republican lawmakers in districts across the country, they're facing angry voters and demonstrations at town halls that just -- really just spontaneous, but the result in some very careful organization. We have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:00] BLITZER: I've got some breaking news. Moments ago, President Trump, the First Lady, and the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe and his wife, they arrive for their weekend in Florida. The president spoke with the reporters, by the way, on Air Force One. I want to -- we're going to be playing some of that for you shortly. So stand by. Meanwhile, the nation's deep partisan divide isn't just apparent here in Washington, it also is showing up when the lawmakers hold town halls in their home districts. Our National Correspondent Kyung Lah is in Utah for us. Kyung Lah, the Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, he faced a pretty rowdy crowd.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rowdy, it was bruising, it was brutal, and at times, Wolf, it was flat-out hostile. Voters feeling that rage, fear and frustration since the election, even in red state of Utah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Hold on. Hold on.

LAH: The town hall welcome for Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

Jeered, drowned out.

CHAFFETZ: I'm trying to be as representative as I can for you --

LAH: A crowd of 1,000, viscerally tired of D.C. blather.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why aren't you checking out your own president right now.

LAH: Another 1,000 people say police outside.

CROWD: You work for us. You work for us.

LAH: Congressman Chaffetz seeing firsthand the national tide of angry voters. In California, protesters swarmed this town hall chasing out the congressman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you let us in?

LAH: From Nebraska, to Pennsylvania, to Indiana, knocking on district doors, sitting in uninvited, channeling post-election anger, a progressive movement called Indivisible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will have two simple targets, your two U.S. senators and representative.

LAH: Indivisible was founded by former congressional staffers who saw firsthand the power of the 2009 Tea Party to stall President Obama's agenda. Indivisible now claims 3,000 groups and 100,000 members spread across every congressional districts.

DONALD AGUIRRE, INDIVISIBLE UTAH MEMBER: These are the things that we need to ask Jason Chaffetz.

LAH: It's organized (INAUDIBLE) live streaming, and action plan to Indivisible Utah, 24 hours before Congressman Chaffetz's town hall.

This is directly in response to the election?

[17:54:54] AGUIRRE: 100 percent, I would say so. From one Donald to another, I'm not going anywhere, and there are millions of people like me that are going nowhere. And for the next four years, we will be at everybody's door steps.

LAH: The new administration is noticing. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed these protesters as professional.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, the Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very pave astroturf-type movement.

LAH: Are you a political operative?

COURTNEY MARDEN, INDIVISIBLE UTAH FOUNDER: Absolutely not. I'm a nurse, I'm a mom.

LAH: Courtney Marden founded Indivisible Utah. Once a registered republican and now a self-declared anti-Trump progressive, in the Chaffetz town hall crowd with Donald Aguirre, declaring victory. Congressman Chaffetz cutting off his town hall 45 minutes early.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, credit where credit is due, the congressman did stay for an hour and 15 minutes, though it was scheduled to run two hours, the police did tell us that they felt this was relatively peaceful, though loud, they only had to detain one person. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Kyung, thank you. Kyung Lah reporting. There's breaking news, CNN has learned that Trump administration won't appeal the travel ban decision to the U.S. Supreme Court at least not now. So, what is the next step?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Russian Intercepts: We have new information about an investigation into allegations about Russia in the 2016 election. We're going to tell you what CNN is learning. No Immediate Apeal: We're learning that the Trump administration won't take its legal battle over the travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court, at least not right now. This, as sources reveal that some changes to the president's executive order may be in the works. Flynn Under Fire: The president's National Security Adviser faces serious new questions about his talks with Russia before Inauguration Day.

END