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Conway: Flynn Has 'Full Confidence' of Trump; Security Questions Over Trump's Patio Strategy Session; Sources: Lawyers Working on Possible New Travel Ban Order; Conflicting Statements on National Security Adviser. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 17:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Full confidence. Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway says embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn has the complete backing of the president. But sources tell CNN, quote, "The knives are out for Flynn" over his call with the Russian official that may have included an illegal discussion of sanctions.
[17:00:24] Intelligence course. President Trump talks about North Korea's missile test with Japan's prime minister on a restaurant patio at the president's Florida resort as diners look on. Aides provided lighting with their cellphones. Were the leaders looking at potentially sensitive documents?
Borderline. President Trump defends his travel ban during a White House news conference as the Canadian prime minister looks on. Justin Trudeau praises his country's acceptance of refugees but says he won't lecture Mr. Trump. Can the two leaders work around their ideological differences?
And lobbing soft balls. Questions about multiple controversies facing the administration were noticeably absent from the news conference. Is it part of the White House strategy?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is now saying that national security adviser Lieutenant General Michael Flynn enjoys the full confidence of President Trump.
Flynn has been under fire for a call to the Russian ambassador to Washington before Mr. Trump took office that may have included talk about U.S. sanctions against Moscow. Sources have told CNN -- and I'm quoting now -- "The knives are out for Flynn over the controversy."
And there's growing scrutiny of President Trump's patio strategy session with Japan's prime minister. The leaders discussed North Korea's missile test while dining at a restaurant at Mr. Trump's Mar- a-Lago resort while aides used cellphone flashlights to illuminate potentially sensitive documents as other diners looked on. Also, sources are telling CNN that government lawyers are now working
on language for a possible new executive order on travel. At the same time, the administration is asking a Seattle judge to postpone further proceedings in the challenge against the original travel ban while a larger panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to rehear the case.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He's the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, right now the future is uncertain, shall we say, for the president's national security adviser, or has that changed in the last few minutes?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It may be changing, Wolf. The White House is doing all it can to tamp down on the controversy swirling around national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In just the last hour, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Flynn does have the full confidence of the president; and a White House official tells me Flynn has apologized to Vice President Mike Flynn, who had said the national security adviser had not talked about sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador.
Now Flynn says that may have, in fact, happened.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump skated past reports that embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn is on thin ice. At a news conference with the Canadian prime minister, the president defended his agenda to keep the country safe.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm just doing what I said I would do.
ACOSTA: But following revelations that Flynn had conversations about sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador well before Mr. Trump took office, a potential violation of federal law, a senior administration official said the knives are out at the White House, where there are fears Washington is hunting for Flynn's scalp.
Flynn was at the president's side as top officials huddled over how to handle North Korea's weekend launch of a ballistic missile. A meeting held on an outdoors patio at the Trump Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where guests were watching as aides used cell phone flashlights to illuminate potentially sensitive documents, raising security questions.
But the White House was vague about Flynn's future when asked directly on the Sunday talk shows.
CHUCK TODD, HOST, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": Does the president still have confidence in his national security adviser?
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: That's a question that I think you should ask the president.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: General Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now he's saying that he doesn't remember whether he did or not. So that's a conversation he's going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up.
ACOSTA: White House senior advisor Stephen Miller also under scrutiny after his super-heated criticism of the federal appellate court freezing the administration's travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries.
MILLER: There's no such thing as judicial supremacy.
ACOSTA: Miller suggested the president's powers when it comes to national security should not be subjected to second guessing.
MILLER: Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
[17:05:10] SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: That is a simply stunning statement, the idea that a senior adviser to the president would go on camera and say the president's authority will not be questioned. It shows both a striking lack of understanding of the structure of our government.
ACOSTA: But the president loved the performance, tweeting, "Congratulations, great job."
Friends of the president are also beginning to point fingers at White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
CHRIS RUDDY, NEWSMAX MEDIA FOUNDER AND CEO: 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.
ACOSTA: A criticism the publisher of the conservative news outlet Newsmax later walked back.
RUDDY: There are my criticisms. I don't speak for the president.
ACOSTA: Now, once I hear at the White House that will be sure to get people talking: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is scheduled to have lunch here tomorrow. Christie was not offered a job in the administration despite being one of the top surrogates for the president out on the campaign trail. But with so many staff issues these days, Wolf, Christie may well be back in play. At least that's what everybody in Washington will be looking for tomorrow, Wolf. BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right. Thanks very much, Jim
Let's get some more now on the president's talks with Japan's prime minister about North Korea's most recent missile tests. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this part of the story for us.
Jim, it was, I guess, worrisome to a certain degree that the two leaders were having these sensitive conversations, reviewing documents while having dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the president's estate -- the resort in Palm Beach.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, at a minimum, it is curious and unnecessary.
They set up at Mar-a-Lago secure rooms for the president to have secure communications and discussions. It would have been very easy for him and his team to go there. So it was unnecessary to be there.
Then you get to the next level. Were those documents sensitive? We don't have a hard, direct answer from the White House. If they were, that would be, frankly, a gross violation.
I mean, even behind closed doors, there are very strict rules. I had a security clearance. They used to have Marines walk around the office to make sure they weren't left on your desk, let alone reviewed in the midst of a crowd, lit up by phones and those phones unsecure, as well. They're basically traveling cameras with the possibility, which is very possible, that they could be hacked. So all of that very strange and requires hard answers from the White House as to what exactly happened there and why.
In addition to having the discussions both on the phone and with a very close ally, Prime Minister Abe there, as they did that, we're seeing criticism, of course, coming from Democrats, the House majority leader -- minority leader, rather, I should say, Nancy Pelosi, tweeting just a short time ago this criticism, saying that, "There's no excuse for letting an traditional crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater. Fire Flynn." Of course, directing her attention to the responsibility there to the national security adviser, who would -- he's the national security advisor. Could have very easily said to the president, "Listen, let's go behind closed doors to have this very sensitive discussion."
BLITZER: You would think that that's what they would do. Now, remember, these sensitive conversations they were having eventually resulted in both leaders going before cameras, 10:30 at night Saturday night, and making brief statements.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And, again, those statements, actually, Donald Trump did not mention North Korea. He did talk about -- did talk about his closeness and the importance of the alliance with Japan. But that's an important public statement that they were discussing that also would presumably be in a private setting, as well. Meanwhile, plays out like dinner theater, as Nancy Pelosi said. BLITZER: Yes. All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very, very much for
We're getting new details out of the Pentagon about this hour's breaking news. I want to go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, right now.
Barbara, what are you finding out there about the national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president, according to Kellyanne Conway, may still have full confidence in Flynn, but people I am talking to say that does not mean that the ice under his feet is not growing thin.
STARR (voice-over): National security adviser Michael Flynn in the front row of today's press conference with President Trump and the Canadian prime minister. An appearance of business as usual, even as questions swirl around whether Flynn will stay on the job.
Revelations last week that U.S. intelligence intercepts show Flynn had discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador on the very day President Obama imposed new ones.
One U.S. official tells CNN there is a transcript of the discussion after the call was intercepted. But it does not show Flynn making any promises.
A source close to the president says Trump himself is irritated by the latest reports about his national security adviser, but White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says the president has full confidence in Flynn.
A former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden says Flynn's tenure will depend on how close he really is to Trump at this point.
[17:10:08] COLIN KAHL, FORMER BIDEN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Here I think you're caught between two tendencies that the president tends to have. One is he really hates people who make him look bad. You know, there's all the ridicule of the administration coming out of this.
On the other hand, he doesn't like to look weak. He doesn't like to look like he was forced to do something because of outside criticism.
STARR: Flynn had originally denied he discussed sanctions with Russia to Vice President Mike Pence, who went on national television to vouch for the national security adviser.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn yesterday. And the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia.
STARR: The two men were seen in an icy handshake after Flynn's turn- about became public.
An aide close to Flynn says the NSC adviser can no longer rule out that he spoke to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions imposed by the Obama administration after the U.S. intelligence community determined the Russians interfered in the U.S. election.
Flynn, the aide said, has no recollection of discussing sanctions, but added that the national security adviser couldn't be certain that the topic never came up. The Kremlin denied the two men talked about sanctions.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The reason Flynn is in such trouble right now and the reason why the Trump administration doesn't just label this as fake news is they know that, if there is a transcript, if there are recordings, that can't be dismissed.
STARR: After the Obama administration imposed sanctions, many experts were surprised Russia did not retaliate.
STARR: A senior administration official tonight says Flynn has no plans to resign and no expectation that he's about to be fired -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is joining us. He's the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Hello, Wolf.
BLITZER: If Michael Flynn did, in fact, do this, in other words, have this conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States, discuss sanctions, basically passed along word, don't worry so much about the sanctions because once President Trump takes office there's going to be a new era in U.S./Russian relations, all this happening during the tail end of the Obama administration, do you think he does need to step down?
JOHNSON: Well, Wolf, that's an awful lot of if's. You're aware, of course, his position is not a Senate confirmable position. I have not been privy to any of those conversations. And all I really know is what I've heard in news reports. And so from my standpoint, this is really a matter within the administration. This is a decision for the president to make, not me.
BLITZER: We just got a statement literally this minute from the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. Let me read it to you: "The president is evaluating the situation." The statement says, "He's speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is, our national security." That doesn't sound like a complete vote of confidence as we heard from
Kellyanne Conway just a little while ago. Does it to you?
JOHNSON: Well, again, I'm sure he's trying to find out what General Flynn told the vice president, what really General Flynn's recollections were. He wasn't privy to those conversations either, so he's probably gathering the facts. I've always thought that telling the truth is the best policy.
BLITZER: Because it's very strange. And I wonder if you'd get into this a little bit with me. Just within the past hour the counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, says the president has full confidence in Michael Flynn. And then, within an hour, the White House press secretary comes out once again with this statement, saying the president is evaluating the situation. Those are two very different statements. What does that say to you?
JOHNSON: Probably the same thing it says to you. Again, I'm not privy to the conversations. It's really not my role to advise and consent on this particular position, so I'll leave that up to the president. He'll get to the bottom of it, and he'll make his determination.
BLITZER: As the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I assume this is a subject of interest.
JOHNSON: Well, what I'm primarily concerned is the actual substance of, for example, what North Korea is doing, the slaughter in Syria, Russian aggression in Ukraine. So I'm more concerned about that, as opposed to the palace intrigues occurring right now in the Trump administration. So I'm happy to discuss the real problem that, for example, North Korea poses in Asia and potentially in our homeland eventually.
BLITZER: Yes, well, I think we're going to get to that. But the only point I'm making is that the national security adviser to the president advises the president on all of these most sensitive national security issues. So you want to make sure that that person is responsible, doing the right thing, not giving false information, for example, to the vice president of the United States, who then goes on television and repeats false information. But let's talk...
[17:15:13] JOHNSON: Let me tell you what I also want to do, is I want to make sure that President Trump gets his cabinet confirmed. Right now, this is probably the slowest confirmation process in U.S. history in terms of the president being able to establish his governing cabinet. And that's something we really need to do. He needs to get his advisers in place. And Democrats, of course, are obstructing that process.
BLITZER: I think you raised some legitimate questions. Look, these issues that have been coming up waste a lot of critically important time, especially when there are critical national security issues on the agenda right now. Let's talk about North Korea for a moment. You heard our report, Jim
Sciutto reporting, that when the president was briefed Saturday night on this ballistic missile firing by the North Koreans, he was having dinner with the visiting Japanese prime minister. And then they began reviewing sensitive documents, you see with flashlights from portable -- with -- and cellphones, and they were -- and they discussing all these issues. There were servers going by, guests going by.
Is that a source of concern to you, that they would be discussing North Korea, which arguably is the most important -- the greatest national security risk facing the United States right now, in the middle of all of this?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure that anything came out of that. Let's face it. The president of the United States is the final authority in terms of what is classified and what needs to be revealed publicly. So again, that would be his determination.
But again, I'm highly concerned about North Korea. We held a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and just laid out the basic facts for a number of administrations. Literally for decades nobody has been able to bring North Korea to heel. Nobody has been able to modify their march toward becoming a nuclear power and then gaining the missile capabilities of actually delivering a weapon, potentially, in the near future, to our homeland. So that is something we need to be concerned about.
The conclusion of our hearing, by the way, at least from my standpoint, was diplomacy has not worked, probably won't work. There are a number of high-level defections or there are beginning to be some high-level defections from Korea. We need to encourage those. We need to provide safe haven for those individuals. Hopefully, that regime will eventually collapse or we need to seriously consider taking kinetic action against some of these ballistic missile tests.
BLITZER: Don't you agree, though, Senator, that if for example, you were at a dinner and your staff said, "There's sensitive information involving North Korea. We need to discuss this. It's best that you leave that table where there are a lot of guests, a lot of servers walking around. Let's go into a secure room and discuss this"? Shouldn't the president have done that?
JOHNSON: Again, I'm not going to second-guess the president. I don't know exactly what the sensitive information was. I don't think anything has come out of that that was overly sensitive. We know what North Korea did. And we ought to be discussing the substance and the danger of North Korea progressing down this path of having missile systems that could deliver a nuclear weapon to our homeland. That's what we really ought to be discussing. It's a real danger.
BLITZER: So what should the president do about this North Korean threat?
JOHNSON: Well, again, I think we need to encourage more defections from that regime, certainly offer safe haven for people who are willing to defect. And I think we need to put ourselves in position to strengthen defenses of, certainly, South Korea, Japan. And we ought to seriously consider, from my standpoint, drawing a red line and saying anytime North Korea engages another ballistic missile test, we're going to fire -- we're going to knock it down.
BLITZER: Senator, we have more to discuss, including there are new developments involving the president's travel ban. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:23:05] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of the White House. An hour or so ago Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, goes on television, speaks with reporters and says President Trump has, quote, "full confidence" in the national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Now, within the last few minutes, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, puts out a separate statement, very, very different, saying this, quote, "The president is evaluating the situation. He's speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is, our national security."
So all of a sudden, two top officials at the White House go from full confidence to evaluating the situation. We're going to find out what happened in the past hour. We're going to do some serious reporting on this and update you.
In the meantime, we're back with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He's the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Mr. Chairman, we want to talk a little bit about the president's travel ban, now frozen by that federal appeals court. But first I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's got some new developments to share with our viewers.
What are you learning, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Today the federal government filed a brief with Judge Robart, the judge in Washington state, asking for a delay in the proceedings, because it wants to let things play out in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals with the possibility of a larger panel looking at the case.
The government did not provide any new information on what it plans to do next; but this is yet another signal that the administration will not seek an immediate stay with the Supreme Court as you reported last Friday.
And sources are telling myself and my colleague, Ariane de Vogue, that top lawyers at the Department of Justice and the administration, Wolf, are huddling right now to figure out the next step forward after that stinging loss last week that keeps the travel ban on hold. Right now officials are crafting language for a potential new
executive order that would make clear legal permanent residents and visa holders have due process rights. There was even a possibility of more than one order being issued, so that if one is challenged, the others could remain in effect.
[17:25:08] At this point, we're told the administration wants to continue to fight the lower court opinion but add new language that could clarify their position. As one source told me today, there is a lot of lawyering going on right now to figure out how to make all of this work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume there is. All right. Thanks very much.
Let's bring back Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
Senator, the president told reporters he will, quote, "win the battle," talking about the travel ban executive order. Then said they were looking at all sorts of options, including a brand-new order. But if there is such an imminent threat right now that, in his words, bad dudes are rushing into the United States, should he just rewrite it and get on with it?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I think the travel ban was a reasonable precaution. And, you know, the president has vast powers when it comes to refugees.
For example, President Obama decide decided to let in 10,000 Syrian refugees just by consulting with the Congress. He made the decision, consults with Congress. Nobody challenged him. We might have said whether we thought it was wise or not, but we thought he had the legal authority to do so. Presidents are certainly charged with the legal authority to keep the nation safe.
So I think we have to run this process up. We have to establish it's very important or any president has this power and authority. And so I'm a little concerned about what's happening right now through the legal system. But that's why I would certainly support a better crafted executive order, probably better implemented, because we have to establish, really, the president has to have this authority.
BLITZER: Let me follow up. Because as you know, the president, he cites what he calls tremendous threats to the country right now. He said -- and I'm quoting him -- "We need speed for reasons of security." You are the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Is he citing new specific threats?
JOHNSON: I know of no specific threat. But let's face it, Wolf, the threat of Islamic terror is real; it's growing. It's metastasizing and evolving.
The fact of the matter is the Senate immigration studies did show that there are more than 70 people involved and certainly charged with, some of them convicted of basically fomenting terrorist activity here in the United States from those seven countries. So yes, this is a danger.
We certainly need to continue reviewing our vetting process in terms of refugees, visa waiver program. But from my standpoint, if I'm concerned about ISIS operatives coming into America, I'm still concerned primarily about them coming through our very poor southern border, which also needs to be secured.
BLITZER: What about the northern border with Canada? There's a -- what, a 3,000-mile frontier between the U.S. and Canada.
JOHNSON: Well, it's certainly of the reasons we held a hearing on Prime Minister Trudeau's acceptance under very rough circumstances for exactly the same reason. But our primary concern is our very southern -- porous southern border.
BLITZER: President Trump described these latest ICE raids. In his word, he called it a crackdown, saying today -- he said today at the news conference -- he said, "We will get the bad ones," but Democrats are concerned, as you know.
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein put out this statement: "These reports show the serious consequences of the president's executive order, which allows all undocumented immigrants to be categorized as criminals and requires increased enforcement in communities, rather than prioritizing dangerous criminals." Is that the case?
Are all undocumented immigrants right now being categorizing as criminals and could be picked up and deported?
JOHNSON: No, I believe the Trump administration, under the leadership of Secretary Kelly now is, again, still prioritizing gang members, drug dealers, human traffickers, criminals. They are still prioritizing that. But they're just stepping up enforcement activity. I don't think the Obama administration did adequate enforced our immigration laws. This administration will.
BLITZER: Senator Johnson, thanks very much for joining us.
JOHNSON: Have a great day.
BLITZER: Coming up, members of President Trump's team make new claims of voter fraud, but do they have any proof? We're checking the facts.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, within the past hour conflicting statements from the White House on the national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
[17:33:41] A statement from the press secretary, Sean Spicer, says President Trump is, quote, "evaluating the situation." This comes shortly after presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters over at the White House that Flynn has the president's full confidence. Her words. Full confidence. Sources inside the White House tell CNN there's a lot of unhappiness
over Flynn's walking back earlier denials he spoke about U.S. sanctions during a pre-inauguration phone call with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
When asked about Flynn's future, one White House official said, quote, "the knives are out."
Let's bring in our political and counterterrorism experts. And Phil Mudd, let me start with you. If, in fact, Flynn did discuss the issue of sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the United States before the election [SIC] and then lied about that to the vice president, who went on national television, repeated what Flynn told him, should he offer his resignation?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He should. He's about done. Look, we've had judgements all along about judgment and temperament. It seems like he's in the news every week for some question about judgment.
Let's be clear about the transition here. This is not about judgment and temperament. This is now about integrity.
The other thing I'd say as a national security professional is there's something missing here, Wolf. He's saying he doesn't remember what was said during that conversation. I don't know whether the government is or is not intercepting the Russian ambassador's phone calls. If they are, there is a transcript. I don't know how you, as a national security professional, can say, "I don't remember what happened that call," because all you've got to do is look around and say, "Who's got the transcript? Let's compare what I told the vice president to what happened in that transcript." And you've got the answer.
Somebody knows what happened here. And if there is the air gap between what he told the ambassador and what he told the vice president, his days are numbered.
[18:35:24] BLITZER: I spoke with Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman from California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, earlier in the day. He raised the possibility -- he said he didn't know for sure, but he raised the possibility that what if, in addition to a phone conversation, there were separate encrypted conversations going on between Flynn and the Russian ambassador?
MUDD: I think you've got to step back if you look at encrypted conversations. Go back to that transcript and, as I said earlier, see what it actually says.
But I don't think this is as minor as what happened in one single conversation. This goes back, from a national security professional's angle, to a national security adviser participating in "lock her up" on the campaign trail. You can't do that.
Bringing his son potentially into the White House when his son was tweeting stuff about fake news, and then having the vice president apologize a month or two ago? There are too many repeated instances of bad judgment that leads somebody to say the president is three weeks in. He doesn't want to do this, because it's embarrassing. You don't want to remove one of your senior advisers, but enough is enough.
BLITZER: Kellyanne Conway at 4 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than an hour or so ago, tells reporters the president has full confidence in Flynn. Now, within the past few minutes, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, says the president is evaluating the situation. Wow! What a remarkable change.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that clears it up. It's all clear now, Wolf.
MUDD: Clear as mud.
BORGER: I think this is, you know, Exhibit A as to the problems this White House is having getting its message straight, getting its factions straight, and trying to figure out exactly what the president wants.
And I think the major issue here may be that the president has not fully decided yet or may be changing his mind. Maybe at 4 p.m., he told Kellyanne Conway, "I have full confidence in Flynn." Then maybe he spoke to Vice President Pence -- I'm just making this up. Who knows? Maybe he had another conversation with somebody which made him take it back. I mean, that's a perfectly plausible explanation. And it also gives you a window into why this White House is having such a -- such a difficult time. I think it goes right to the top.
BLITZER: There's almost, like, a thunderous silence from the president himself. He didn't take any questions about it at Friday's news conference or today's news conference. When he was asked aboard Air Force One about Flynn, "Oh, I don't know anything about it. I'll look into it. Blah, blah, blah."
I don't hear him saying, "I have full confidence." Certainly hasn't tweeted his support for General Flynn.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: This is where he's actually acting like a politician, allowing his aides to step in front and really take the arrows.
And to Gloria's point right now, I think it just goes to show you the dysfunctionality right now within the White House, certainly within the West Wing, of trying to please the president, always trying to get out in front of thinking what he wants best.
And to Gloria's point, as well, there's a good chance that he said, "Go out and say something, Kellyanne," and then he decided, "You know, I can't." And there's a big question of loyalty, too. We always say that, you know, that Donald Trump is loyal, and he wouldn't fire Michael Flynn. Well, how about this? How about being loyal to your vice president, who feels that he was wronged? And there's that in the works. BORGER: And I was told one other issue at play here is the people at
the White House are reluctant to start firing people, because it looks like they're disorganized and they're having a shakeup really early, three weeks in. And they don't -- you know, they're reluctant to do that.
BLITZER: In this case, they may have no choice right now.
All right. Everybody stand by. We're going to get back to this important conversation. More information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
[17:43:29] BLITZER: We're back with our panel. There are new developments happening right now. Very confusing elements, and Rebecca Berg, let me just update our viewers on the breaking news.
About an hour and a half or so ago, almost two hours ago, Kellyanne Conway tells reporters, goes on national television and says President Trump has full confidence in his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Then within the past half hour or so, we get a statement from Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, the president is evaluating the situation. No repeat of the full confidence.
Now we're getting word from our Sara Murray, our White House correspondent, an administration official says the statement -- this latest statement about evaluating the situation, no word of full confidence, an administration official says the statement is a product of a meeting just concluded between President Trump; Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff; and the press secretary, Sean Spicer. So this is the sentiment, evaluating the situation, clearly coming from the president of the United States, basically withdrawing the Kellyanne Conway statement that the president has full confidence in national security adviser Michael Flynn.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a very interesting piece of information, Wolf. It suggests to me, at least, that the president learned some news in that meeting or learned a new piece of information that maybe shifted his perception of Michael Flynn and his involvement in this case.
But it's really difficult for us to know, because the president still has not spoken out publicly himself on this matter. Reporters have been given the chance to ask him about it at a couple of press conferences and haven't, maybe because they were friendly news outlets to the president, to the White House. But this really isn't going to be settled until we hear it from the mouth of the president himself, whether that's on Twitter, whether that's in a question. And that's going to be really important because, right now, we're kind of unsure of where Michael Flynn stands in the White House.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And he dodged that question when he was asked on Air Force One on Friday. So the Kellyanne Conway statement about full confidence, no longer operative. Puts her in a very, very awkward position. MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: A very awkward position.
And right now, you have to wonder, are they sitting in Sean Spicer's office or in some press office watching CNN? Which, surely they are, because they're looking at how this is falling out.
And this is the type of thing why Flynn is probably going to have to leave because he has now become a distraction. There's mixed messaging. And this early right now in an administration, you don't need this type of distraction.
BERG: But there has been plenty of distractions in this administration.
BERG: Let's not kid ourselves. And they just move ahead. They forge ahead no matter what it is.
PRESTON: Correct. But we have seen the President not answer a question on this for 72 hours.
BLITZER: Very quickly, while I got you, Phil.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes.
BLITZER: When the President was told on Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago, at his resort there in Palm Beach, that North Korea launched a ballistic missile, he was having dinner with the Japanese Prime Minister. They were reviewing documents, cell phone flashlights. They were on the phone.
Was that appropriate to be discussing North Korea ballistic missiles in front of a lot of guests, a lot of servers, and other people who do not have an ability to see classified information?
MUDD: Well, let me give you a surprise on this one, Wolf. I'm going to give the President a pass, three weeks in. There's a couple reasons why.
Number one, that quickly into an event, you're not going to know exactly what happened. It's going to take hours, a day or two, to determine exactly what the picture is.
Number two, with an event of this significance, that is a missile launch, you cannot authorize some sort of counter action that immediately. So it wasn't like the President was going to go into a room and say, this is what we're going to do.
Finally and quickly, Wolf, you can't, every time there is a national security blip on the radar, have the President suggesting to the American people that it's a disaster. You got to pick which ones you're going to react to.
In this, I'd say they're going to learn, but I give them the pass.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There is more information coming in. We got some new claims of voter fraud, massive voter fraud, by top members of President Trump's team. But is there any proof to back up what they're saying?
[17:51:51] BLITZER: President Donald Trump and some of his top advisers are now making new claims of major voter fraud, pointing to individual states. Brian Todd has been following up.
Is there any truth to any of these allegations?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is still no evidence to support any of the claims of voter fraud that the President and his aides are making. But, tonight, they have still forced officials from one key battleground state, Republicans and Democrats, to come out and deny those allegations.
TODD (voice-over): It's a conspiracy theory that President Trump believes and one of his key advisers was willing to fight over it on national T.V.
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.
TODD (voice-over): Stephen Miller, the President's senior policy adviser, went on ABC's "This Week" to repeat President Trump's claim that people were bused in from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote illegally in November's election.
MILLER: That is a scandal. We should stop the presses. And as a country, we should be aghast about the fact that you have people who have no right to vote in this country, register to vote, canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country.
That's the story we should be talking about. And I'm prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it, and say the President of the United States is correct 100 percent.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You just repeated -- you just made those declarations, but for the record, you provided zero evidence.
TODD (voice-over): Despite never presenting evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire, Miller got a tweet from his boss, saying, "Great job!"
We contacted current and former officials in New Hampshire, Republicans and Democrats. They say there's no evidence of significant voter fraud there. The Republican former attorney general of New Hampshire is disgusted.
THOMAS RATH (R), FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the statements are inaccurate. They are based on rumor. There is no basis in fact. And they do a disservice both to the state of New Hampshire and to the person who makes those statements.
TODD (voice-over): The former state Republican chair in New Hampshire is so upset by the claim, he's offering $1,000 to anyone to show evidence. No one's taken him up on it.
FERGUS CULLEN, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN STATE CHAIRMAN: The idea that people are coming to New Hampshire to commit fraud on a massive scale like this is just preposterous.
TODD (voice-over): A Democratic member of the Federal Elections Commission, the FEC, has called on President Trump to substantiate the claim of fraud in New Hampshire.
President Trump has repeatedly claimed 3 to 5 million people across the country committed voter fraud in the November election. Fact checking by CNN and other outlets has shown some voter rolls are outdated, but there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. Why you does the President persist?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: It's possible that some of President Trump's followers believe that he's right, that there is massive voter fraud even though there is no evidence of that. And it also may be important to President Trump because, I think, it sticks in his crow that he lost the popular vote.
TODD: Now, if the President really was concerned about voter fraud in New Hampshire, he could have asked for a recount there and paid a $500 processing fee. He didn't.
The President promised an executive order to investigate voter fraud. He hasn't issued that yet. And he's promised that Vice President Pence would lead a commission to investigate all of this, but we haven't heard anything since he made that promise eight days ago.
[17:55:04] And today, the White House has not yet responded to our inquiries about any evidence they might have to back up the voter fraud claim -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Coming up, security concerns over President Trump's discussion of North Korea's missile test on a restaurant patio where he and Japan's Prime Minister, looking at classified documents.
[17:59:53] BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Flynn fallout? The White House Press Secretary says the President is evaluating the controversy surrounding his national security adviser and his contacts with Russia, but another White House aide claims Michael Flynn has the President's full confidence. So what is really going on behind closed doors?