Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump White House Faces Test With North Korea Missile Launch; Trump Hosts Trudeau, Netanyahu At White House This Week. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] ALISYN MCCARTHY, CNN ANCHOR: -- Melissa McCarthy pretty much do anything all day long. Right?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: She's funny. Who is going to play Berman? We're giving the show over to them now. There's a lot news. What do you think, Colin Jost?

CAMEROTA: Oh, I don't know. I was thinking, you know --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: George Clooney.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Colin Jost.

CUOMO: George Clooney?

BERMAN: George Clooney. The Rock plays me. It's in my contract.

CUOMO: The Rock, Dwayne Johnson?

BERMAN: It's in my contract. Clooney is the only one who can play me.

HARLOW: Guys, I keep saying, it's clear who the diva is on this program, right?

BERMAN: Clooney.

CUOMO: Oh, yes.

CAMEROTA: We see it.

BERMAN: All right.

CUOMO: And tell him to stop sitting on that pillow.

CAMEROTA: Oh my god.

BERMAN: Lou Ferrigno, Alisyn, thank you very much. NEWSROOM starts now.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us. Hope you had a

great weekend.

We have a lot of news to get to, namely a senior White House official telling CNN the knives are out, talking about President Trump's embattled national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who would counsel the President in times of peace or war, is accused of betraying the trust of the administration, all the way up to the Vice President.

White House officials no longer believing Flynn's claim that he did not discuss sanctions with Russia before the administration took over. The denials repeated by a very trusting Vice President Mike Pence on CBS last month. Whether Flynn stays or goes may not be his decision alone.

BERMAN: Now, one place you might want a national security adviser who every one trusts, when a rogue nation with an unpredictable dictator stages a missile launch to taunt you. That's just what happened with North Korea, so that is on the President's plate, too.

Let's begin at the White House with CNN's Joe Johns. And that White House, Joe, leaking like a sieve over the weekend.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think you can say that, John. And what we are told is that Michael Flynn has no plans to resign, no expectation he'll be fired, but it's pretty clear he also remains on thin ice.

And when you look at the situation in its totality, the fact of the matter is, the President has to have complete and total trust and confidence in his national security adviser, or there could be problems. And we got some sense of the state of play here at the White House over the weekend when the White House senior policy adviser appeared on some of the Sunday morning shows.

And just listen to how he talked about Flynn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The White House did not give you anything to say other than that on --

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They did not give me --

TODD: -- on General Flynn?

MILLER: They did not give anything to say, sure.

TODD: So you cannot say whether or not --

MILLER: Asked and answered, Chuck.

TODD: -- the President still has confidence in his national security adviser?

MILLER: It's not for me to tell you what's in the President's mind. That's a question for the President.

TODD: Well, let me --

MILLER: It's a question for our Chief of Staff. Asked and answered, Chuck.

TODD: Let me ask --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So kind of a non-answer on Flynn there. And that would appear to be exactly the message the President and this administration wanted to send, because the President also tweeted out later that he was congratulating Stephen Miller for his performance on the Sunday morning shows, adding, "Great job!"

We haven't heard so much from the President today. In fact, uncharacteristically, he hasn't tweeted this morning. What we do know is that, later today, he's going to hold something of an Africa day on the telephone. He'll be speaking to the leaders of both Nigeria as well as South Africa, after that meeting here at the White House with the Canadian Prime Minister -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Joe Johns, thank you so much, reporting for us live from the White House.

And while Michael Flynn is no longer denying those claims, that he talked about whether or not the Trump administration would soften those sanctions on Russia in that phone call with the ambassador, just this morning, the Kremlin is repeating, no, there was no talk of sanctions on the phone before the Trump administration took over. Very different stories from some in the White House and from Russia.

Our Matthew Chance is in Moscow with more.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right, Poppy. The Kremlin appears to have gone off script a little bit in the sense that it's sticking to the line that it's been adopting all the time, in the sense that it's been acknowledging that these conversations took place between the Russian ambassador to Washington in December and Mike Flynn, the Trump national security adviser.

But they're categorically saying that the issue of sanctions did not come up in any of the conversations that were had between those two men. They're also rejecting the idea, and this has been an allegation leveled at the Kremlin, that Vladimir Putin's response or lack of response to the expulsion in December by President Obama, in the final few weeks of his administration, of 35 Russian diplomats, as well as other sanctions against Russia over allegations of Russian hacking.

Well, that non-response by Vladimir Putin came out of the conversations between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to Washington as well, but the Kremlin, categorically denying that.

Now, if there are transcripts of these conversations and if they are released, we're going to get a better picture, obviously a very clear picture, of what was actually discussed, whether the Kremlin is telling the truth or not on this issue.

[09:05:06] BERMAN: Matthew Chance for us in Moscow. No, there seems to be wide agreement here in the United States, at least from the reporting from "The Washington Post" and others, that sanctions were, at a minimum, discussed. So thank you for that, Matthew. Appreciate it.

Joining us now, Margaret Talev, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News; Jim Walsh, international security analyst; and Paul Singer, Washington correspondent for "USA Today."

Margaret, I have to say, yesterday, the Sunday shows, when Stephen Miller went out and, with deafening silence, refused to defend Michael Flynn, I haven't seen that level of silence, I think, anywhere. Why? Why cut him off at the knees like that?

MARGARET TALEV, CONTRIBUTOR, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Right. And during sort of what you will consider like a traditional administration, everybody would read that as a sign that the person in question had lost the President's confidence. But the difference is that, this administration, in its early weeks, what we have seen is that, sometimes, it's just sort of like a lack of planning or preparation that's leading to the thing that, in another administration, would seem like a really big deal or a clear signal.

So what's not entirely clear is whether Stephen Miller said what he said because he didn't expect the question and wasn't sure how to answer it, or whether he said what he said because that's what he was told to say when he went out on those shows.

There's a couple of clues, that I think are really important, that sort of undercut the idea that Stephen Miller was trying to send a clear signal. One is that Michael Flynn was on Air Force One in Florida for the entire weekend with President Trump in Mar-a-Lago. And the other is that General Flynn is slated to be a full participant in both Trudeau's meeting, the Canadian leader's meeting, and Bibi Netanyahu's meeting later this week with the President.

But these things turn very quickly. Hill Republicans have been gone or are coming back. We know a lot of Democrats want to investigate General Flynn or perhaps to have him step aside, but we haven't heard that clamoring yet from Republicans in Congress. And that, to some extent, may play a role.

But right now, it does seem that President Trump, himself, is standing by his national security adviser. And that's the most important factor on which to judge this.

HARLOW: Although, I think that tweet is very telling, lauding the performance of Stephen Miller on the Sunday shows.

Paul, to you. I mean, we're, what, four weeks or so in now, and you've got White House officials telling our own Jim Acosta, the knives are out.

Also, you have Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush tweeting this, this morning, "Lack of candor about conversations with the Russians. He'd be gone by now if it were in the Bush White House."

How much time do you think Flynn has?

PAUL SINGER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, you know, part of the problem for this administration is that they have never been big fans of protocol and process. This is the whole thing during the campaign, the same thing. They like to upend the apple cart.

Well, in this case, protocol and process is you don't talk about sanctions with your opponent, that is, your adversary country, when you're not the President of the United States. And this is what Mr. Flynn may have done.

Also, Mr. Flynn has been long time sort of a font of conspiracy theories. Now, it's coming back to bite him. He had said all kinds of things that he wanted to be investigated amongst the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

Now, the conspiracy theory involves him. This is all sort of coming back to haunt this administration. This is why we have process and protocol, is to keep you out of these kind of problems.

BERMAN: And you know, you say they don't mind upsetting the apple cart. Well, now, they are the apple cart --

SINGER: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- that they are upsetting right now, so there are repercussions there.

You know, Jim Walsh, to you. On the issue of national security here and the effect that this has, "The New York Times" has a really interesting sentence in its report today. It says, "Three weeks into the Trump administration, national security council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump's Twitter post, and struggle to make policy to fit them."

So it seems even beyond whether or not people trust Michael Flynn. There are deeper issues here.

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I agree, John. And that's why I think something is going to happen. Mr. Flynn may be attending these meetings. He's obliged to attend some of these meetings with leadership states or on the national security council, but when you step back, there are two big storms brewing.

One is sort of the rocky rollout of the Trump administration in these early weeks, things that they themselves said they wish they had done differently, and a lack of coordination with their own party, with foreign leaders and -- so just problems, problems in the basic administration of the White House.

And you have this ongoing, though quiet but bubbling story about Russia. You'll remember that CNN reported exclusively that that dossier by that private investigator, parts of it -- parts, not all of it -- had been confirmed by the intelligence agency. So there's still questions, an ongoing story, about what is the Russian-Trump relationship and stories about, you know, is this the gang that can't shoot straight?

You put those together, and I think change is going to come. And whether it's the Chief of Staff or the national security adviser or someone, it's an adjustment that presidents make when they try to, you know, get back in the game and make the process run more smoothly.

[09:10:02] HARLOW: On your point of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, I mean, a lot of people questioned whether or not he would be the pick, whether he would get the job. Ultimately, it's sort of, you know, the President who sort of split the baby between the establishment, and many of them wanted Reince Priebus to be the Chief of Staff. And then he also has Steve Bannon as one of his top advisers.

Here is what the CEO of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy, said to our Brian Stelter on "RELIABLE SOURCES" on this network. Some context here, this is someone who is very close, buddy-buddy, with the President. Here is what he said about Reince Priebus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPER RUDDY, FOUNDER AND CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of the Chief of Staff. I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work.

And I do think the President is not getting the backup he needs in the operation of the White House and, sometimes, the pushback that he needs, which you would have with a stronger White House counsel -- White House Chief of Staff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Margaret, I mean, this is someone who -- it's not someone that doesn't talk to the President. This is someone who knows the President. He didn't say where he's getting that or if that's just his own opinion, but what do you make of it and what it means for Reince going forward?

TALEV: I think it certainly reflects that there are sort of multiple channels of influence into the White House, and that there is sort of a column of power and networking that doesn't want Reince Priebus to be the Chief of Staff.

But, strategically, Reince Priebus both reflects establishment and reflects sort of order, and he reflects relationships with congressional Republicans. And those are all three very important levers for President Trump as he seeks to do some of these other things outside the box, to be able to keep that sort of friendly line of communication with the establishment and with congressional Republicans.

So this is a question of a real chess move, as is the situation with General Flynn at the national security council. If he were to go, who would step in? The notion that there would be nobody ready to step in is almost unimaginable. So among the other factors that may be under consideration is that very basic question on both of those fronts.

Many of these situations where chaos has been attributed to the White House have been not the doing of Reince Priebus so much as the doing around Reince Priebus. And when Priebus has stepped in, there has been an attempt to dial that back and come up with more pecking orders. So I do think this reflects the fact that there are folks who don't want to see Mr. Priebus as Chief of Staff, but it may not reflect precisely what's going on.

BERMAN: So Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser, he's in the middle of all of this, seemingly. You know, whether there's a discussion about these executive orders or anything else on T.V. yesterday, he's in the middle of it.

And of course, yesterday, he was mixing it up, again, on the issue of alleged voter fraud, unsubstantiated claims without evidence. He made more of them. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: President Trump, again, this week, suggested in a meeting with Senators that thousands of illegal voters were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. Do you have that evidence?

MILLER: I have actually, having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who's worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It's very serious.

This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence, but I can tell you this, voter fraud is a serious problem in this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Just for the record, you have provided absolutely no evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Paul, there is no evidence of this, right?

SINGER: Nope.

BERMAN: These are unsubstantiated claims without evidence. You know, I've covered New Hampshire a lot. I've never seen any evidence of it myself, so let's leave that aside. The question is why does he keep saying it? What use does this serve for the White House?

SINGER: Yes, they're not unsubstantiated claims. They're fake claims. There's nothing to it. I don't know what it serves for the White House.

There's two possibilities. Ron Brownstein was on your air a while ago talking about the possibility that they are trying to lay the basis for states to advance voter I.D. bills, a further restriction of voting rights using this as an argument.

The other possibility is they prefer to talk about this rather than talking about General Flynn, rather than talking about contact with Russia. That this is a topic they know that reporters can engage in, and they can get into this back and forth over and that we seem to find fascinating.

The fact of the matter is, I think it was Michigan, did a review of the ballots and found 31 people voted twice. They voted absentee, and then they voted in person. Thirty-one. That is not enough to get you to 3 million.

HARLOW: We're out of time here, but not to mention the fact that, you know, one of the things that he claims -- that back and forth went on for minutes -- he said, you know, on the issue of people being registered in two states, some of the President's closest advisers, Steve Mnuchin, some of the other ones, up for Treasury Secretary, also registered in both states.

BERMAN: And perhaps --

HARLOW: It's just not the same thing.

BERMAN: And perhaps children as well. It happens.

HARLOW: Yes, it's not the same thing. Guys, thank you very much, Margaret, Jim, and Paul.

TALEV: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come for us, the President's foreign policy is squarely in focus this morning as North Korea claims a successful missile launch over the weekend. Also, two high profile foreign leaders are headed to the White House.

[09:15:02] BERMAN: And a huge evacuation in California. Nearly 200,000 people on the move this morning due to fears about the integrity of the nation's tallest dam.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, this morning, North Korea is clearly testing President Trump, claiming that it, quote, "successfully launched a medium-range ballistic missile over the weekend." This happened as the president was meeting with the Japanese prime minister. The president pledged to stand beside Japan, but didn't say much else. It seemed a deliberately limited response.

HARLOW: This is all ahead of two very high profile visits from foreign leaders to the White House this week. Today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will meet with the President. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel will be there. There's a lot to talk about. David Wilkins is with us, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, and Christopher Hill, former ambassador to South Korea and Iraq. Thanks to have you both with us. Let me begin on the issue of North Korea, and Ambassador Hill to you.

[09:20:02]I mean, when you look at the response or lack of response, the 23 words that the president spoke over the weekend about North Korea, just saying we're staying behind Japan responding to this missile launch, what do you make of it?

It is uncharacteristic of the president to say the least because back in January he tweeted, North Korea just stated that it's in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen. He spoke out then, not now. Why?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA AND IRAQ: Well, first of all, I think we're in a better place than we were a short time ago. We have the visit of Secretary of Defense Mattis to South Korea and to Japan. I think that was very reassuring to allies all around the world.

I think the visit with Donald Trump that Abe made was also very reassuring. The question is why was it so terse? I think the problem is they didn't have time to analyze what they wanted to say so they said what was very essential, that we stand behind Japan 100 percent that is an ally.

I wish they had added something about South Korea. Be that as it may, I think it was basically the right thing to say. Gone is the stuff about Japan not paying enough for its defense or these ideas about giving everyone nuclear weapons, and I think we're in to reality.

Was it a crisis? You know, I think North Korea is a crisis, but maybe not just over the weekend. So think of it as a dress rehearsal for a crisis surely to come.

BERMAN: If it was a dress rehearsal, it's designed to send messages perhaps to different audiences. One of them is North Korea, Kim Jong- un. Another key audience here is China. What did those audiences take from the president's response, Ambassador Hill?

HILL: Well, first of all, I think it was very important that President Trump reached out to President Xi Jinping just a day or so before the Abe visit to assure the "One China" policy. I mean, the idea that you could play around with that or put that on the table, et cetera, is not going to work.

And I think it was very important that he kind of walk that back. So I think again we are in a better place with China. Obviously it has to be followed up with some serious diplomacy. One does worry that we have a home alone crowd right now, not enough nominees in place yet.

But I think they've got to go to China. They've got to really try to work that deal with China, because ultimately, we cannot outsource this problem to China, nor can we solve it on our own or solve it against China's interests. So there needs to be a much more serious China dimension to this overall strategy. Let's hope they get going on that. I think in terms of Japan, he did the right thing.

HARLOW: Ambassador Wilkins, we'll get to you in a moment on Canada. But to follow up with you, Ambassador Hill, on China. How much more could China do? Because you say we can't outsource it to China, but a lot of critics say China hasn't done enough on this front. They could do a lot more when it comes to really pressuring North Korea especially in their financial sector. What could they do? What should this administration expect from Xi Jinping?

HILL: I think there's some very legitimate criticism of China, and I think you put your finger on it. Part of it is this financial issue. There are a lot of trade flows, energy flows that need to be interdicted and a tightening up of various U.N. sanctions.

They'll have a discussion about this in New York today on sanctions and whether more can be done. I think in that way China can work more with us. It's very important we need to have a deep dive with the Chinese, what our interest are, what their interests are and make sure we can overcome this, let me call it, strategic mistrust that we've had with China.

China has not been an easy customer to deal with. Obviously we're having problems with China, but I think we need to set some priorities, and I for one would put North Korea right at the top.

BERMAN: Ambassador Wilkins, let's move on to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coming to the United States to meet with President Trump. Trudeau and former President Obama, they had a little bromance going, gushed over each other any chance they got.

And Prime Minister Trudeau has been, you know, fairly critical, sometimes veiled, sometimes not so much so when it comes to President Trump about his immigration policies and whatnot.

What's that meeting going to be like today? First of all, they're very different generations, very different world views. What should Prime Minister Trudeau expect?

DAVID WILKINS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA: First off, good morning to you. I think this meeting today is critically important, but I think it also will be very productive and positive. We have so many successes to build on, the largest trade relationship the world has ever known.

No Iran which is the best defense pact in the history of mankind. So I think the emphasis will be on job creation, something that our president has talked about time and time again.

Trade is the key ingredient between our two countries. I think trade and job creation will be what the main emphasis will be on. I think it will be very professional, very productive meeting, and bodes well for both countries. [09:25:02]HARLOW: Ambassador Wilkins, Ambassador Hill, we ran out of time, but we thank you both. Please come back and let's build on that trade issue that was just mentioned because Christine Romans is here, chief business correspondent.

Christine, when you look at what a big trading partner of the United States, Canada is, it's huge. It's the second biggest trading partner.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's $545 billion a year in trade.

HARLOW: The countries need each other, but Trudeau has been very clear about his disdain for things like the travel ban.

ROMANS: He's very careful though to criticize Donald Trump, the president in particular because he has to work with this president. There are so many differences between these two world leaders, quite frankly. Ideologically they're very different. John, you're right, different generations. But listen to the common ground that Justin Trudeau was trying to highlight when he talked about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We both got elected on commitments to strengthen the middle class and supporting those and that's what we'll be focused on in these meetings, making sure the millions of good middle class jobs on both side of our borders, dependent on the smooth flow of goods and services and people back and forth across our border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So the future of NAFTA here. Also maybe they'll talk about this border adjustment tax. It's something that's been hotly debated and contested in the U.S. among business groups about how that's going to work with some corporate tax reform. But it's so interesting how different these two people are, but together they're going to forge what is the most important trade relationship in the world moving forward here.

BERMAN: They don't have a choice. All right, markets, how are we looking before the opening bell?

ROMANS: Maybe records again all across the board.

BERMAN: I don't want maybe. Why? The Trump rally seemed to stall. Last week he talked about a two to three-week time frame for tax reform. People love that. Investors love that. Rolling back regulations. Many of these people he's picking for his cabinet secretaries, they look like people who will help him roll back regulations and pretty fiercely, and that's something that Wall Street likes.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, star of "EARLY START," thanks so much for being here this morning. Appreciate it. HARLOW: All right, still to come, thousands of people are ordered to evacuate their homes in Northern California as officials try to stop a catastrophe from happening at the tallest dam in the country.

BERMAN: Hundreds arrested in a new round of immigration enforcement raids. Officials say they're targeting criminals, but critics say perhaps they're going too far.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)