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Trump Tested by North Korean Missile Launch; Trump on launch: We stand behind Japan; National Security Adviser Flynn under Fire; Rocky Start for some White House Staffers. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 13, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The president uncharacteristically quiet in his response. Why the change of course? Let's begin this morning with our Joe Johns at the White House. Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. What we're told about Michael Flynn is that he has no plans to resign and no expectation that he will be fired, nonetheless he remains on thin ice. And the issue here really is about a conversation he had with the vice president, apparently telling the Vice President of the United States that he had not had discussions with the Russian ambassador about sanctions that had been imposed by the Obama administration. And then it turns out, it is learned later, I should say, that he did have such a discussion. So that's the problem.

Now, why is it a problem? It's a problem because of the unusual relationship between Donald Trump before and after the election with Russia, and concerns that some of that has to be investigated. Here is what the vice president later said about what he learned regarding the conversations with the Russian ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST "FACE OF THE NATION": So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. action --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So that's the Vice President of the United States relying on a representation from the National security adviser that he hadn't had a conversation with the Russian ambassador about these issues. Needless to say, there's a need to get to the bottom of it. Listen now to Chris Christie on "State of the Union."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm sure that there will be conversations between the vice president, the president and General Flynn to make sure that everybody gets the accurate story on this matter and that it's cleared up. And I think that's the obligation of General Flynn, his national security adviser, to have those type of candid conversations with the president and the vice president. And then they will act as they see fit, given all the circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: And we're not talking about just any adviser here at the White House. We're talking about the national security adviser. The President of the United States and the administration needs to have complete and total confidence about what this person is telling them and whether they believe it. Back to you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House this morning, where you're getting a sense there's a lot going on behind the doors, behind Joe right now. We should know that the Kremlin claims that while the conversation between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador did take place, they say the conversations took place but the Kremlin says they didn't discuss sanctions. That's not what our reporting says. That's not what the reporting here in the United States says. But I wanted to let you know.

HARLOW: David Chalian is with us, CNN political director. Lynn Sweet joins us, Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun-Times." And Adam Entous, a reporter for "The Washington Post" who co-wrote an article about all of this, the title is "As Flynn falls under growing pressure over Russia contacts, Trump remains silent," and that he did indeed.

Let me begin, Adam, with you since a lot of this is your reporting. Let me read part of it, "Privately, some administration officials said that Flynn's position has weakened and support for him has eroded largely because of a belief," you go on to say, "That he was disingenuous about Russia and therefore could not be fully trusted going forward. The knives are out for Flynn." Wow. I mean, how do you read that? What does that mean? Weeks, months, or is he secure?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, frankly, I don't think we know. I mean, the issue here is whether he misled the vice president and others in the administration about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. And that's something obviously that he now is talking to Vice President Pence, and they're trying to see whether or not there was a misrepresentation here and what the president himself decides to do about that in the end.

BERMAN: Well, it's clear that the White House at least internally is none too supportive publicly of General Flynn, because they had a chance to defend him publicly this weekend, David Chalian. Stephen Miller went on the Sunday show with Chuck Todd, and that was deafening silence, right? Deafening silence from him, you know, Chuck was begging him to say something you know even modestly reassuring for General Flynn, and he didn't. What did you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, and it wasn't just that show. It was a full round of Sunday shows, same question posed to him nearly everywhere, and that same deafening silence. So there's no doubt that, clearly, Stephen Miller understood that the White House was still figuring its past forward here and didn't want to get in the way of that. We know from sources inside the White House that we've reported that, you know, Mike Pence based that comment that you played earlier with Joe on the Sunday show, based solely on conversations with Flynn.

[10:05:03] Well, they made sure that was out there, because they wanted everyone to know and wanted Flynn to know that that was going to be in the public domain for consumption. Trump's silence continues on this. So it does beg the question of sort of is Flynn just sort of in purgatory right now, waiting for some sort of decision? You can't let somebody hang and twist in the wind too long before you look either indecisive or willing to accept some kind of incompetence or insubordination in your White House.

You got to remember, John and Poppy, we are only 3 1/2 weeks into this administration. A staff shake-up is sort of inevitable in any White House. Every White House goes through that, usually not 3 1/2 weeks in as you're still trying to get out of the gate.

HARLOW: There are a few things that we know about this president. And we know that he is incredibly loyal so perhaps he'll be more loyal to someone like Flynn than other presidents. We know Flynn spoke at least twice with the vice president after all of this erupted on Friday. Lynn, let me get your take on this because here is how Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota put it to Jake Tapper on this network just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: He was lying about not having discussed that or he forgot.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't believe the for -- your smile says you don't believe that he forgot.

FRANKEN: I don't think you want a guy who would forget that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Lynn, it's a very important point that he makes. How do you think the president will walk this line between loyalty and perhaps not wanting a huge shake-up, you know a month in, and also sending a message that you can't do this kind of stuff?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, he might do the default position in the very short term in the next few days of doing nothing. But here are just a few things to watch for. In just a few hours today, Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau are going to have a press conference where I would bet even if Trump takes only two questions, sometimes in these bilateral pressers there's only two questions from each reporter from each nation, it's high likely it would come up. Trump could also volunteer to say anything, something, perhaps, in an opening statement. But the person to watch really here is Vice President Pence. I would look at him far more than President Trump, because this is an area where Pence can assert himself maybe even independent of the president, because after all, there is only going to be one vice president for four years. You have other people who could be head of the National Security Council.

BERMAN: You make a great point. We'll watch that news conference later today. The president will certainly be asked about it. He dodged it on Friday when he was on the plane.

HARLOW: He actually said, what report, I don't know about this report.

BERMAN: He's not going to be able to do that today when he is certainly asked about it. I want to bring up a point about loyalty, you know, -- we do say the president is loyal to his staff. He had three campaign managers. He went through you know, three separate campaign managers, so the guy isn't afraid to shuffle things up.

And Adam, it's not just General Flynn right now who's under fire, right? There's a lot of talk all of a sudden, even not all of a sudden but even before the inauguration about whether or not the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is truly safe. Chris Ruddy of "Newsmax," he is friends with Donald Trump, came on this network and said he doesn't think Priebus is doing a good job. It seems to your message to the president right there, in your reporting, where you don't know whether Flynn is safe, do you think Reince Priebus is safe?

ENTOUS: Yes, I think at this point, it's really hard to tell. I mean, clearly there are factions. There's a balkanization that's taking place -- within the White House or around the president, where it seems like the knives are out for Flynn, and the knives are out for others too. And so, you know, there is a power struggle, apparently, inside. And we're not sure how it's going to be decided. We're waiting, obviously, for the president to decide how to decide -- this contest that seems to be going on over these key positions.

HARLOW: David Chalian, some new reporting just into us as well and it has to do with the president's use of social media and Twitter, to be exact. A senior administration official telling CNN the White House is going to hire new staffers to work with the president on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. What do you make of that?

CHALIAN: Can you imagine being that young new staffer that gets hired to work with the president -

HARLOW: Can you imagine the interview questions for that one?

CHALIAN: -- who has sort of dominated social media? I don't know that anyone is more expert on how to use those tools than the president, is himself. But clearly the White House wanting to beef up that operation so it's not wholly reliant just on the president's --

HARLOW: So you don't see read it as a way to sort of calm the president or -- make his fast fingers a little less fast on Twitter? CHALIAN: I see it as a more traditional beefing up of what is really going to be a really important communications realm for this White House.

BERMAN: You know, I guess, the question is, are they working with the president or for the president. My hunch is for the president, right? It's like maybe retweeting things or finding you know research for him or actually there to give him tips on you know on hashtags and the like, but we'll see.

But Lynn, you know, today is a remarkable day in social media history for this administration, right? This is the first day that he hasn't tweeted -

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Before -

[10:10:00] BERMAN: Before 8:00 a.m. -you know he hasn't still tweeted this morning --

HARLOW: Before 8:15 a.m. - now it's 10:00 a.m.

BERMAN: -- So he wasn't up early. He slept in, apparently.

SWEET: Right. And I've been checking, because his morning tweets now are very important. He's the president. And you're hearing from the president himself, unvarnished, each morning about what's on his mind. You know, yesterday morning it was Mark Cuban who he was slamming, because he didn't like some comments he made to a Texas newspaper.

But -- so when we talk about this social media strategy of the president, let's separate out how he might use other platforms, in which case he might just to be schooled, or whether or not he uses it in the way that the Obama administration did. But no matter what the staff is, he still -- he has the morning Twitter, which I think is just another matter to separate out, which is his sole decision right now if he wants to continue that route.

HARLOW: Well guys, and let's remember, "The New York Times" reporting this morning says, "Three weeks in the Trump's administration council staff members of the NSC, get up in the morning, read the president's Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them." This morning, so far, they haven't had to do that.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: David Chalian, Lynn Sweet, Adam Entous, great reporting. Thank you very much.

Still to come for us, President Trump faces his first big test on foreign policy with North Korea, this after the missile launch over the weekend. The president very quiet about it, why is that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:15:18] HARLOW: The U.N. Security Council today planning an emergency meeting, of course, this after North Korea successfully launched a new ballistic missile over the weekend.

BERMAN: The launch was condemned by Russia and China, both. And this is what President Trump said about it, Saturday night, when he was with the Prime Minister of Japan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, that short statement, very short statement, struck a very different tone than we had heard from the president just last month. This is what he wrote then, he said, "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!"

Joining us live from London right now is our dream team of international reporters, CNN diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson and Clarissa Ward, CNN's senior international correspondent. And Clarissa, this is a striking difference in tone from President Trump over the weekend. He was standing by the Prime Minister of Japan, he was a little bit tougher but still, -- he didn't exactly go hard after Kim Jong-un.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, certainly, this was a much more pragmatic, much more presidential tone. And I think we have seen a real shift, particularly with regards to foreign policy in President Trump's rhetoric, in his attitude on Israel, on Iran, and on China and now on North Korea. And it's very important with North Korea that the president does take a slightly more cautious tone, partially because we know very well that the North Korea leader Kim Jong-un is a highly irascible, erratic, irrational and volatile figurehead. He is not somebody who you want to bait into provocation.

But I also think that this may well have been something of a test for President Trump. We've seen Kim Jong-un and his father Kim Jong-il before him, do this over and over again, where essentially, doing something very provocative, very dangerous, inviting a kind of frenzied response from the international community, forcing everybody to the negotiating table with the hopes of then, extracting some kind of economic concessions out of that in return for not engaging in nuclear warfare.

So I do think this was -- a very important test for President Trump and I do think it shows some kind of maturity and some shift in foreign policy that we saw this tone, this much more measured tone. Moreover, the key partner who will deal with North Korea with the U.S. or who can help the U.S. to deal with North Korea is not going to be Japan, it is going to be China. Because China is the one who has the interconnected economy and political connections to North Korea. They have the most leverage over. And so, perhaps, that's why we've seen President Trump take a more conciliatory tone with China as well.

HARLOW: Exactly. And Nic, to Clarissa's point and bigger picture. Berman and I were talking about this morning, not just the fact that all of the sudden the president, at the end of last week, did a complete reversal of course on the One-China policy, saying, OK, it can remain as it is. He also was very, very mute on North Korea in those words with the Japanese Prime Minister. He didn't even mention - he didn't even say North Korea, he just said "We stand by Japan." And then, as John noted, you know on Israeli settlements, saying perhaps not the best path to peace, or to say solution to continue on those, not making an emphasis on a quick move of the embassy to Jerusalem. All of this shows as a very different side of the president when it comes to diplomacy.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And it's going to be, you know, interesting, to say the very least, for the interlocutors, Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow when he arrives in the White House. What will he find behind the closed doors? The candidate and the pre-inaugural president, if you will, who was robust on moving the embassy to Jerusalem, or will he find one who is going to sort of perhaps curtail him and his ambitions -- to certainly give ground to his political right that is feeling heat from back home.

I mean, just before getting on the plane to go to the United States, Netanyahu was very clear not to sort of misstate this new White House -- for a clean sheet, if you will, an opportunity to do things that they couldn't do under President Obama. That was a political message for back home. So what will he find when he goes through the door? And certainly, what we're hearing at the moment is one that's going to caution him against further expansion of settlements, one who is going to caution him that that's not in the best interests of peace. You know, when you look, however, you know what the president has said and what he wants to achieve -- in terms of his policy towards China, now sort of backtracking and saying that he supports China's -- the One- China policy.

[10:20:11] The optics of the weekend, however, in Mar-a-Lago were far different. I mean, this was a very, very big statement of an intent to develop economic relations with Japan, to put Japan perhaps in the forefront in the region, and at the same time later today, he'll have to turn to a look at the U.N. Security Council where he will be, as Clarissa was saying, looking to China for support. China is going to want more than you know the United States supports the One-China policy, to get the kind of leverage that perhaps President Trump wants to see over North Korea. China has said that -- it sees North Korea testing these ballistic missiles as an issue more between North Korea, South Korea and the United States, than one that necessarily involves China.

And I think we have the same inclinations from Russia who have also condemned that missile launch but are looking to see how policy - you know, President Trump's policy towards them is going to develop on Ukraine, on Syria, on a number of issues.

HARLOW: Nic Robertson, Clarissa Ward, guys, thank you both very much, live from London for us. Still to come for us, a handful of administration staffers off to a rocky start, Flynn, Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, are we in for a major shake-up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:58] HARLOW: Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for being with us this morning. National security adviser Michael Flynn is on thin ice this morning. That's according to a White House senior adviser who also says, "The knives are out." This adviser also, apparently likes metaphors. This is all over General Flynn's inability to deny he spoke about sanctions with Russia. Senior counsel Kellyanne Conway, she faces criticism over her use of the term "alternative facts." And a friend of the president is now publicly questioning whether the chief of staff Reince Priebus can do his job.

HARLOW: This as the White House's senior policy adviser Stephen Miller made the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows, making certainly a lot of headlines and not speaking up at all for Michael Flynn, that's for sure. The president taking to Twitter, to congratulate his performance, tweeting, "Congratulations Stephen Miller on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!"

Let's talk about all of this, CNN's senior political analyst, Mark Preston and CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. Good morning to you both. Dana, let's begin with the fact that Stephen Miller completely sort of, without having to say anything, gave zero support to -- zero support to Michael Flynn. What do you read into that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That he's in trouble, that Michael Flynn is clearly in a lot of trouble. My sense is that that is not overstated, in talking to some sources in and around the White House this morning. The question then becomes who then, who is going to be the National security adviser if not Michael Flynn? But if you take a step back and kind of think about why we're in this position, not specifically about the content of what General Flynn may or may not have said to the Russians about sanctions, and the fact that that was clearly inappropriate, and the fact that he seemed to have misled the Vice President of the United States.

But beyond all that, why is Michael Flynn in this job to begin with? And the answer is loyalty. That we have to remember the big picture here is that President Trump does reward loyalty. He does so and did so by making Michael Flynn the national security adviser because Michael Flynn along with Steve Bannon were kind of the merry band of brothers and a couple of sisters on his campaign. They were with him a lot, for hours and hours and hours, on his plane, at rallies, for better or worse. And those two men, and Steve Bannon -- excuse me, Stephen Miller, the president is very happy with and still is, Michael Flynn maybe not so much. But the reason he was given this job is because it's what General Flynn wanted and the president said, well, he's been loyal so I'll give him a job. BERMAN: Mark Preston, you've covered many administrations, going back to the Coolidge years. The number of leaks coming from this White House seemingly deliberate -- you know from different factions, is it you know unusual? Is it something that is revealing about what's going on behind closed doors?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's not unusual in a sense that there's always going to be factions within the White House, certainly, in a new White House. It's just we don't see it this early and we don't see the dysfunctions of the inner workings this early. Now, supporters of Donald Trump will say, dysfunction, what are you talking about, he is issuing all these Executive Orders, he's getting things done. At some point though, there is the end of the line, John, where Executive Orders you can no longer govern by. You need to work with Capitol Hill. You need to work with Congress.

And when you talk about Reince Priebus, for instance, while you know some say he maybe on thin ice and perhaps he is, depending on the whims of Donald Trump at that moment in time. That would be a big blow to his connection to Capitol Hill. And it's not as if all the leaders on Capitol Hill are enamored with Reince Priebus, even though he is close to Paul Ryan. But he is stable. He's a bit of stability in the White House that they can trust. So if you're worried to see a shakeup for instance in that position, I think there would be a lot of consternation amongst Republicans here in Washington.

HARLOW: Dana, let's take a moment to listen to something else that Stephen Miller said on the Sunday talk shows, not getting perhaps as many headlines as him not backing up Flynn at all, but he did talk about the power of the judiciary and raised questions about you know how far things that can go. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think that it's been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power --