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Trump Adviser Makes Unsubstantiated Claim of Voter Fraud; Did Trump Break National Security Protocol?; Trump Meets With Canadian Prime Minister. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here is more from the president at the news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the prime minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms.
I would like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're actually taking people that are criminals, very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with -- which -- with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems. And we are getting them out.
And that's what I said I would do. I'm just doing what I said I would do, when we won by a very, very large Electoral College vote. And I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones.
We're getting them out. And that's exactly what we're doing. I think that, in the end, everyone is going to be extremely happy. And I will tell you right now, a lot of people are very, very happy, right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Jeremy Diamond is there at the White House for us.
Jeremy, let me just underscore the conversation we just heard. Equally as important as what was asked is what wasn't asked. You heard those reporters shouting other questions, maybe more pressing questions. But we didn't hear anything about Michael Flynn.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. The president was not asked to address this roiling controversy surrounding his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
But there was another delicate dance that was occurring today on full display, which was the relationship between Trump and Trudeau, where really the two leaders tried to avoid topics of disagreement, and really the prime minister of Canada saying it's not his role to lecture Trump. That came in particular in reference to a question on the immigration ban, which Prime Minister Trudeau disagrees with, but really the two men trying to focus on the commonalities between the two countries, both talking about shared values, military cooperation, and, of course, issues of trade and commerce.
But, you know, you did hear the president of the United States there making a very unapologetic defense of his immigration ban, while the Canadian prime minister really trying to say, listen, I don't want to get into this here today, but still reaffirming, you know, that that is different from how he is governing in his country, where he has really welcomed refugees with open arms.
BALDWIN: Jeremy, thank you.
We may not have heard about it in the news conference, but CNN is learning the national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, is on -- quote, unquote -- "thin ice." This is according to a senior adviser who also says -- quote -- "The knives are out" over reports that Flynn lied to top administration officials about whether he talked sanctions with Russia before he actually started the job, so, apparently, even suggesting that those sanctions will be revisited in the Trump presidency.
Let's talk about with Carol Lee, the White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," and Raymond Tanter, former National Security Council official under President Reagan.
I just want to welcome both of you.
Carol Lee, first up, you have been in those East Room mega-joint news conferences many, many times. Just quickly on this notion from some people that the press weren't asking the right questions, but it's also look at the people the White House and specifically the president called upon to ask the right question.
CAROL LEE, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right.
I mean, there is always -- when you have a two and two or a one and one with the president and a foreign leader, typically, the press corps has a question on its mind generally and that's what the reporters who are called on will generally ask about.
But President Trump, and we saw this before in his press conference on Friday with the Japanese prime minister, he called on -- they have chosen to call on outlets that are conservative. And they are asking questions that the president or the White House really want to be asked about, as opposed to some of the questions that other outlets may have asked about.
And what we have seen, which is interesting, is that the other countries' press corps is tending to ask some of the more aggressive questions. We saw that even with British Prime Minister May when she visited. There were some very tough question from that side, and today again.
But, look, if you are a reporter and you get a question, you are entirely within your right to ask whatever you want to.
Moving off of that and just on to the future of NSA Chief Michael Flynn, Raymond, here's my question for on that. And let me just play some sound first.
Our correspondent on Capitol Hill Manu Raju actually just talked Republican Senator of Maine Susan Collins specifically about General Flynn. Here is what the senator told him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If he was not being truthful, should he step down from that position?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: That's really a decision for the president to make. I know what my decision would be, but that's -a - that's really a decision for the president.
RAJU: Your decision would be to remove -- would your decision be to remove him?
COLLINS: It would be very difficult for me to continue to rely on someone in such a vital position if I found out that the person had not been truthful in describing his conversations with important foreign nationals prior to the appointment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: She's being very diplomatic.
But, Raymond, I mean, if this were happening under a Reagan administration, which you know, or others since, what do you think would happen to Michael Flynn?
RAYMOND TANTER, FORMER SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF MEMBER: Well, Brooke, the whole Michael Flynn episode reminds me of the -- what happened when Harry Truman was asked whether the unemployment rate would go up, whether it would go down. And Truman said -- and he brought in the economists, and the economists said -- some of them said it would go up. Some said it would go down.
He said send me a one-handed economist. Well, Brooke, in this situation, you have two sides of the issue. Carol Lee, in "The Wall Street Journal," reports that the FBI said that transcripts indicate that Michael Flynn had not discussed sanctions.
On the other hand, you have "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" asserting that the intelligence community finds that General Flynn had spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador. So, I would say let the situation play out.
Let the president decide very slowly. And given the fact that there are these conflicting intelligence estimates, the FBI is an intelligence service.
BALDWIN: Right, right.
Carol Lee, let me ask you, we want to talk to you because you are a reporter with "The Wall Street Journal." What do you know?
LEE: What we reported actually was that sanctions were discussed in the conversations between the national security adviser, Flynn, before he was national security adviser and the Russian ambassador.
But what the FBI -- what our understanding is, is that there wasn't an explicit promise made, which is a difference. But this is -- so there is the action, and then there is the reaction. And right now, what folks inside the White House say is that it's the fact that Flynn was not forthcoming about this, that he misled not just the vice president, but also the chief of staff of the White House and the press secretary and others who spoke very confidently saying no sanctions ever came up in his exchanges with the Russian ambassador.
And, in fact, when he was really pressed on this week, he said, well, I don't really remember. And then you look at the transcripts and it's right in there.
BALDWIN: He goes up to the media on Friday. This is a man who watches a lot of TV and reads and tweets.
Raymond, just Carol's point to you that on Friday afternoon, the president said he knew nothing about this story whatsoever.
TANTER: I saw that on Air Force One when the president made that statement. If that had happened in the Reagan administration, which you asked me about before...
TANTER: ... I think that President Reagan would have said something in a very similar fashion, that he didn't know anything about it, until he could work out with his staff.
And there is an investigation, as you well know, Brooke, going on inside the White House run by, I gather the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on the issue of whether or not -- who knew what, when, and how much was revealed by what kinds of transcripts.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Carol.
LEE: One of the things, what they want to figure out is where everyone is headed, who thinks he should go, and who thinks that he shouldn't, and they're really -- that's an active discussion.
BALDWIN: Right. Right.
Carol Lee, we will look for your paper. I know you are reporting for that next chapter. Raymond Tanter, thank you so much as well.
TANTER: Thank you.
BALDWIN: There is that.
We are also learning fascinating new details about the power struggle within the president's inner circle beyond General Michael Flynn. Sources tell our Jamie Gangel that the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer are also feeling the heat.
I have got Jamie with me here in New York. And Randy Evans is with us, a member of the RNC from Georgia.
Jamie, first to you on your reporting. The knives are out?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are.
And, you know, when someone uses that expression in Washington, D.C., it's not good. It's also not good, and whether this is General Flynn or the chief of staff or Sean Spicer, when the president doesn't come out and say that he has someone's back, their support. Then you have to worry about them.
BALDWIN: He has been so silent on this.
And, as we all know, Donald Trump is not often silent. So, this past weekend, he tweeted that Stephen Miller did a good job out there. We have not heard anything about these other people.
I think the way to put this is, "House of Cards" has nothing on house of Trump. And we are seeing a jockeying for power here. And the person that I'm told is first among equals is Steve Bannon...
BALDWIN: Steve Bannon.
GANGEL: ... who is the chief strategist. He has done something that I think is very interesting. He makes alliances.
So he may make an alliance with son-in-law Jared Kushner on one thing, with Reince Priebus on the other. But at the end of the day, he is the one that I'm told, team Bannon, with Steve Miller, who is really in the best shape.
BALDWIN: He has his ear before he goes to bed. But my question is, who stands up to President Trump? Who says, no, it might not be a good idea?
GANGEL: I think we have learned that nobody does. BALDWIN: Nobody?
GANGEL: I mean, people will to a certain point. But I have even been told even that his children will only go so far. You have to remember you have some people in there who are loyalists. They have been with him forever. He says jump, they say how high?
That's just his personality and their work. And then people like Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, these are people that the Republican establishment were hoping would get in there and discipline him.
It doesn't work that way. And they are trying to feel their way. But as a result, we see a lot of chaos and confusion.
BALDWIN: Randy Evans, let me ask you here about this conversation, adding on to Jamie, the conversation that Brian Stelter had here on CNN over the weekend with Newsmax executive Christopher Ruddy, who is apparently a good friend of Donald Trump's. He told Brian essentially that Reince Priebus is in over his head.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of chief of staff. I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well- intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work.
But 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)
BALDWIN: Randy, you know Reince well. Let me add in some of our reporting, too, that Reince Priebus is having to follow the president around, be part of the conversations, listen, instead of actually doing his chief of staff duties. Is there a risk of Reince Priebus not then getting to do his job?
RANDY EVANS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE MEMBER: I don't think so at all. I think Reince is actually doing a pretty phenomenal job.
It reminds me so much, Brooke, of the first hundred days whenever Speaker Gingrich took over in 1995, which is, it's a lot. You first have got three dynamics at play. One is you have the Peter Principle, which is everybody wants the bring their people up. But congressional staffers don't always work so well in the speaker's office and staffers at the RNC don't always work so well in the White House.
Second of all, what you have is a constant battle for turf, a constant battle for this kind of building alliances. And I thought that it was a great comment to say, yes, that's what's going on. But, finally, you also have a little battle fatigue going on, because it is a lot in 24 days. This presidency, you have to agree with me, Brooke, seems like it's a
lot longer than just three weeks.
BALDWIN: That's -- thank you. That's, Randy, what I was going to say, is that we are just 23 days in. I mean, I understand the turf issues, and the loyalty factor and every administration has personal shakeups. But it's just been 23 days.
EVANS: That's right. And so I am actually rather surprised that there haven't been more miscues, more broken eggs, and a more little bit open turf battles going on. And I think a large part of that...
BALDWIN: But how do you explain the leaks, Randy?
EVANS: Well, the leaks literally are new people. To be candid with you, the more new people you bring in -- remember, President Trump's first rule of thumb is, I don't want the Washington establishment. I want new people coming in.
Well, when you have new people coming in, you bring in leaks, because as you and I know, the people who know the most say the least. And the people who know the least say the most.
BALDWIN: Want to talk.
EVANS: No, that's exactly right. They want to prove how important they are. And we always see that in a new administration. We saw that in the first 100 days of the Congress.
I'm just astonished that Reince has been able to keep everything pretty well under control. I think it's a skill set he developed as being the chairman of the RNC, where we had everything from Ted Cruz to Rand Paul to Jeb Bush to Lindsey Graham. We had them all at one time, 17 of them, on the stage, trying to compete.
And he kept the party together. He is taking that skill set and now he is using it in the White House to kind of keep it together when the pressure cooker, the pressure cooker of action is the greatest. I don't know. I think he is doing a pretty good job.
BALDWIN: You heard Randy, Jamie. Lay in. Last thought.
GANGEL: Look, Reince Priebus is a great guy. I did a big profile on him.
BALDWIN: It was an amazing interview.
GANGEL: We spent a lot of time behind the scenes with him.
But he has never done this particular job before. And I don't think we have ever had a president, fair to say, like Donald Trump before. So I think the challenges here are beyond what anyone could imagine. BALDWIN: Imagine.
Jamie, Randy, thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
EVANS: Brooke, thank you for having me.
BALDWIN: Coming up here, when North Korea launched its missile over the weekend, the president openly discussed strategy in a crowded dining room of his home down in Palm Beach, which is certainly raising some eyebrows. We will discuss all these details coming up next.
Also ahead, the president's adviser handles peddles claims of voter fraud in New Hampshire with absolutely zero evidence. So, a prominent New Hampshire Republican -- he will join me live -- he is actually offering cash to anyone who can prove this. We will ask him about that.
Also, fears growing over Trump's deportation raids. Is there a spike or is this business as usual? Let's look into that. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Moments ago, President Trump named North Korea as one of the biggest security threats facing the United States. Saturday night, the regime launched a missile at the same time President Trump was eating dinner in a crowded dining room in his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida with the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.
CNN reports the president takes the call in the crowd and then afterward discusses the strategy openly as his iceberg salad sat on the table. His aides even held up the camera lights from their iPhones to the sensitive documents so the president could read them over the candlelit dinner table.
All these details from Kevin Liptak over at the White House for us. Now, the evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, his decision-making on full view to anyone in the private club.
So, with that, I have CNN's Fareed Zakaria joining me, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
Always great to see you.
Before we get into actual options, right, that President Trump has, what do you make of all those details that I just read?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, everything President Trump does is unorthodox. I don't think it is a big deal.
I think this could have happened if they had been out in a restaurant. The one thing that is worth noting is that people keep calling, as you did, Mar-a-Lago , his estate. It's actually not his estate. It's a private club, actually quite public. Anyone can rent public rooms there for weddings. You can stay -- I have stayed at Mar-a-Lago several times. It is a nice hotel.
So it is a very public space. So if the president is going to be spending that much time there, I would probably would be fairly complicated for the Secret Service to create the kind of secure location that they have turned Camp David into, the White House, obviously.
BALDWIN: They wouldn't have a separate room?
ZAKARIA: I think they could, but, you know, if you go there, you will see that the president is eating or meeting with public, these are all public rooms. These are all places where I think legally members of the club have the right to be in all these places.
That's what I mean. It's actually not his estate. It is a commercial public space.
BALDWIN: Club, sure.
ZAKARIA: That he happens -- he perhaps has a suite there or something like that. But it's not like he uses all hundred rooms in the place.
BALDWIN: The U.N. Security Council less than two hours away from this emergency meeting over North Korea. What are the president's options?
ZAKARIA: It's very tough. It is a very tough challenge. And I don't think people should -- people have been faulting the president for not responding immediately.
I don't think you should respond immediately. I don't think you should fall for the bait. The biggest problem we face is we don't have much leverage with North Korea. The United States, Europe, we don't sell them much, we don't buy anything from them. Banks don't do business with them. China is really the only serious economic power with regard to North Korea.
I think China provides 90 percent of North Korea's energy and 50 percent of its food. So, the question is, can you get China to get serious about North Korea? They issued a statement saying they condemned the test. So there is a possibility here that you would be able to get them to go further.
The Chinese have always worried, however, that if they push North Korea too hard, the regime will collapse and then they are stuck with millions of refugees, the unification of North Korea. The only strategy here that will make sense is one that involves China centrally, because China is the only one that has any kind of pressure they can apply on North Korea.
BALDWIN: And also before we get to Senator Graham's sound, the fact that he was with the Japanese prime minister, that was not a coincidence that North Korea decided to do this. ZAKARIA: No. Almost certainly, the North Koreans decided to do this
on the eve of the Prime Minister Abe's visit as a way of showing their defiance.
They have done this in the past. And the truth is no administration so far has found a really effective path in. The Obama administration came closest. They got the Chinese to condemn it and they got them to put some sanction on. I think that's the path you need to go down, but more. You need the Chinese to really push.
BALDWIN: Just finally, this is the president's first huge test. We have heard from Senator Lindsey Graham multiple times, very critical of the president. He actually says the president is up for handling this particular task. Here is Senator Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm convinced that President Trump is going to have a better chance of changing North Korea's behavior than President Obama. President Obama looked weak in the eyes of North Korea. And the only way you will get North Korea to stop their missile program is if they believe the American president would use military force if he had to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: He says better than Obama. What do you think?
ZAKARIA: I think everything will depend on his strategy with China.
I don't agree with Senator Graham, in that the North Koreans would welcome a couple of strikes. It would unify the country about them. This is a regime that forced two million of its people to die because they, in effect, forced a famine onto the country.
They couldn't care less if they have some casualties. It will strengthen nationalism. It will strengthen the regime.
The only thing that would work is if the Chinese get tough on them. They have only one patron in the world. And we have to figure a way in. And that's why I'm very glad that President Trump stopped with the Taiwan overture, because...
BALDWIN: Got on the phone with the president of China.
ZAKARIA: Got on the phone with the president of China, because that's your path in. That's the only path in.
BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much.
Coming up next here on CNN, the Trump administration doubling down on claims that President Trump only lost New Hampshire because thousands of voters were bussed in from Massachusetts,and, by the way, saying this without providing any evidence. So, we will talk to the former Republican chair of New Hampshire. He
is calling him out. He has actually gone as far as offering $1,000 to anyone who can prove it. We will talk to him live coming up.