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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump: Nobody Believes The Media Anymore; Trump: We Are Looking Into "Criminal Leaks"; Trump: Smooth Travel Ban Roll-Out, Bad Court Decision; Trump: My Admin "Running Like A Fine-Tuned Machine"; Trump: "Nobody I Know of" Talked To Russia Before Election. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- correspondent association. Brian, tell us what surprised you the most about the president's attacks on the -- what he calls the "fake news media".

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is certainly a campaign trail press conference and Trump seemed to be enjoying it, relishing these battles with the media, perhaps he was encouraged by some of his own aides. But we can see that Trump is his own best press secretary. But, you know, he's living in a T. V. reality show of his own making and that may not be healthy for any of us.

I think it's far past time for the president to spend more time working and less time watching and reading all the coverage. Because he's -- he's reacting to all the coverage in instantaneous fashion, usually on Twitter and now at this briefing. That's why I thought the most important question was when Peter Alexander of NBC. He brought up the false statement about Trump's Electoral College win. He sighted the accurate data and he said, how can the American people trust what you're saying? And the president didn't have an answer. Now the only answer was the, quote, was "I was given the information."

So you got to wonder where he was given the information. Who gave it to him? But I think that was a distillation of the problem that all of us as viewers have while watching these press conferences.

BLITZER: What about you Jeff based on what was your reaction?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, I -- here are couples of things that I think were good at least from the point of view of, of a correspondent and the correspondents association. He took a lot of the questions. He took questions from a variety of different journalists including the mainstream media, including some reporters who might not be considered part of the mainstream media. Those are good things.

He stood there for an hour or 50 minutes. The tone was relatively respectful. He had a back and forth with several different reporters. Occasionally, he interrupted people but in general reporters had a chance to ask questions and he gave responses whether not those responses were lengthy or specific. It's a different thing to analyze but the press did have a chance to ask questions and that is a good thing.

STELTER: And I just add, I do think shutting down a question about the rise of anti-Semitism was uncomfortable and will come back up again and again. I though that was uncomfortable and then at the end April Ryan, I believe the only African-American journalist called on, I maybe wrong about that, has asked about inner cities, asked about the pledge to fix the inner cities, and then brought up the Congressional Black Caucus. And the president respond it by saying, are you friends with them? Can you set up a meeting for me? That was certainly an eye brow rising moment.

BLITZER: Is the relationship and you -- and put in you head as the president of White House Correspondents Association. Jeff, is the relationship now back to what it normally is during a presidential administration or there still problems?

MASON: It's hard for me to answer that. I think the beginning of a new administration there is always, there is always a certain level of tension and open questions. And this administration is still finding its footing in terms of how it deals with the press. This press conference is actually pretty good example of that. It was the president who said in a pool spray earlier today that he was going to have one. And then once the reporters went back and started asking his aides for details about it, they seemed as stunned by that announcement as the reporters were.

So, there's still sort of by the seat of your pants operation going on at the beginning of this administration. And that's probably true for a lot of new administrations so that has certainly affected the relationship with the press corp. But we are working hard on that relationship as we have for months and will continue to do so.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN Political Commentator Jeffrey Lord. Jeff, -- Jeffrey let's get your perspective as someone who all of our viewers know is a strong supporter of the president.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Guys, I have to tell you, I've been listening to you and I think we saw two different press conferences. From my perspective, I thought he was relaxed, he was funny, he was on point. He took the whole issue of the media and he had a very candid conversation. This is the kind of conversation and I personally had with him a couple years ago in which he said some version of this same thing that he said today, except he was more specific.

And I honestly think what you miss here is that out here in the country side as it were, he comes across as being very candid, very dedicated to the job, very in command and he's going to do what he can do to get his objectives accomplished.

So, I just, I just think that there's a misreading here. I can tell you this minute that Rush Limbaugh is exalting over this on conservative talk radio. And there will be a huge positive response there for the kind of things he said today.

BLITZER: And what about some of the, you know, the back and forth that he had with reporters? You used to work in the Reagan White House. I guess some of the criticisms will be, is that really presidential four weeks into a new term?

LORD: Well, I think this is going to be his presidential style. And, you know, every president brings to the office no matter who they are their own individual personal style. This is his. The American people have seen it on display for what, 18 month or whatever it was on that campaign and they voted for it. So now they're going to see it for four years and they're going see more and more than I think.

[14:35:09] BLITZER: So you think there's going to be more of these kinds of news conferences with what we call the mainstream news media actually allowed to ask questions?

LORD: I notice -- I mean, notice his dealing with our friend Jim Acosta. I mean, he didn't ignore him. He took his questions, he answered them, he answered them honestly, there was a back and forth. That's all to the good. That's not bad, that's to the good.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable with the way he attacks the mainstream media? You heard that one question about the fundamental role of the news media in a democracy.

LORD: Yes. I mean. I believe he is doing that -- Wolf, I don't think it's any -- I mean, and he touched on this to some degree that the ratings of the media in general are very low. And I think since I had a column about this at NewsBusters on Saturday. Since Spero Agnes sort of brought this problem out back in -- I think it was November of 1969 with a speech going after television commentators that the role of the media has drowned increasing criticism out here in America for the last what, 50 years. So I think that to have this conversation now is a good thing. Discuss it, have the president himself discuss it with reporters right there on air for all the American people to see and then all the rest of us will chime in over time.

So I think that's a good thing. Launch (ph) the boil as it were, don't let the resentments pile up on each side and that sort of thing. Get it out there. That's a healthy thing.

(OFF-MIC)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jeffrey, Jake Tapper here.

LORD: Yes.

TAPPER: Obviously, you're a strong supporter of the president, you have been for years. Obviously, I don't doubt for one second that Rush Limbaugh is extolling him. They have similar targets, the mainstream media and others. And I don't doubt that those who supported President Trump whether enthusiastically or somewhat ambivalently even, like what they saw, like what they heard.

But what about the majority of the country, the majority of the electorate that did not vote for President Trump? Isn't it a better idea to reach out to those people in some way and reassure them that he is their president as well and have a different kind of message than the one that he -- with which he won the presidency and the Republican nomination?

LORD: Jake, my experience with this kind of thing just in general is these people are not going to be supportive of him no matter what he says. If you did everything you suggested and more they would have contempt for him, they don't like him.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: George W. Bush lost the electoral -- but George W. Bush won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote in 2000 and then in 2004 he won both. There is a way to bring people who did not vote for you once before on board to reach out for them -- to reach out to them, to behave in a way that maybe is not off-putting.

LORD: And give him time, give him time. I mean, he's been there, what, less than, less than a month. I mean, people are going to have to get the people who don't like him are going to have to get used to his style. And he is a very charming guy, he is a very persuasive person. People like him and the best thing he can do is just be himself and be open and have more encounters like he did today.

TAPPER: Let me ask you also Jeffrey, there was a moment where President Trump claimed that he had won the biggest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan. You are a student of history, so I know that you know that that was not true when he said it, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Obama, Obama, five others --

LORD: (Inaudible) about Republicans. In fairness I do think he was talking about Republicans.

TAPPER: Well, even with Republicans, George H. W. Bush had a bigger one.

LORD: Right.

TAPPER: But the larger point that the reporter from NBC brought up was, you're calling us fake news and yet you are saying things that are not true. How do you have the credibility to call us fake news?

LORD: I think it was a simple mistake. And Jake, again in fairness, I think this is the problem that so many people had with the news media, is that they will zero in on some little nitpicking thing like that and make a major event out of it. I had somebody here locally say to me during the campaign, you know, they recognized me and they came over and they said -- it was a comment about CNN which I'll be happy to make on air here, just so you know. And they said if Donald Trump (inaudible), CNN would spend four days talking about his damage to the environment.

That's the kind of perception not just about CNN but about the media with (ph) large and that's the kind of feeling that he addresses and what you're talking about there I think is a good example of it.

BLITZER: Jeff, hold on for a moment. Our Political Director --

LORD: Yes. BLITZER: -- David Chalian is with us as well. And talk a little bit about this very different impression that people are getting from the hour and 15 minute news conference of the president of the United States just had. Jeffrey makes a very good point, there's supporters out there I'm sure were loving it, his critics were not.

[14:40:11] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I don't think -- I think Jeffrey is right about these two sides of the country are never going to come together on Donald Trump's style. I think -- I think that's true. I think this is -- this is exactly the Donald Trump that 46 percent of the country kind of fell in love with throughout the election season. There's no doubt about that.

But I do wonder what about governing and accomplishing what you set out to govern. How do you do that? How do you -- beyond the style, now on the substance, how do you go about as president, as the leader to accomplish all of these things that you have promised on the campaign trail to govern the country as a whole and get those accomplishments without broadening your appeal?

That I don't -- that to me is the part that is going to confound his presidency if all he's doing is appealing to the stylistic enjoyment that his supporters had for him throughout the campaign and certainly still do.

BLITZER: Go ahead Jeff.

LORD: I would suggest that the president himself showed, you know, how he does this. When April Ryan stood up and gave that question about the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, he immediately said, well, go set up the meeting. And she said, she is reporter and I understand all of that. But in other words he's willingness to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus telegraphs right there that he's willing to sit down with people who oppose him and have a conversation and try and find some area of agreement and move forward. I mean that's exactly the kind of person he is.

You know, there he is during the transition meeting with Al Gore for heaven sakes. You know, he is not afraid to sit down with people who oppose him. So -- I mean, that is the first way you get to the substance, to get accomplishment is you sit down with other people. And let's remember that when President Obama summoned I think it was the House Republican leadership early on his administration and they're trying to talk to him about ideas, he looked across the table at them and said well I won.

Well, I don't know that that was particularly helpful but I mean Donald Trump is going to have people in the room that disagree with them and he's going to talk and try to find common ground. That does not mean that he will yield in what he thinks his principle. He will stick with principle just like Ronald Reagan did, or in fairness President Obama when he felt he was right on principle and he wanted to stick with something.

So, I think he's doing it and I think that answer to April on the CBC is a small indication of exactly how this works. BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Jeff. But what does it say to you that April Ryan who was a reporter, longtime reporter at the White House, I've known her for many years, a terrific woman. The president of the United States asks her to try to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus leadership. Apparently, his staff or at least the Congressional Black Caucus they don't want to deal directly with him. I don't know what answer is, I'm going to be speaking later today in the "Situation Room" with Congressman Elijah Cummings. But what does that say to you that the president can't get a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus organized?

LORD: Well, it sounds to me from what he said that Congressman Cummings didn't want to meet him because he was -- he was afraid of the political criticism he get at home. And there are people like this. I mean, all you have to do is watch these Hollywood celebrities who tentatively voice the opinion that well maybe they should give the president a chance or they say something, you know, nice about him and their dissented on by people. And I have no doubt that's probably happening to Congressman Cummings. And this is where as a political leader you got to have the courage to stand up and say yes, I'm going to go meet with the president of the United States. Yes I'm going to do that. And I have no doubt --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: David, let me ask you about the topic of leaks which President Trump was very focused on in saying -- I think he said at one point that he's asked the Justice Department to look into these leaks. He's issued many warnings to leakers and used the word "criminal" and used the word "illegal" to describe it. It escapes no one's notice really that President Trump relied upon leaks quite a bit. Now, he differentiated with the WikiLeaks because he said those were not classified -- that information was not classified whether it was the DNC or John Podesta's e-mails.

But, there's also the matter of the FBI and others in the government providing lots of information about Hillary Clinton and her private e- mail server. That was information that President Trump talked about quite a bit. In fact the reporter who broke the story of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server and concerns other people had, Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times" was also one of the people that broke to story in "The New York Times" the other day about these questions that intelligence officials have about campaigns' advisors to President Trump and contacts with Russians familiar to U. S. intelligence.

[14:45:10] What does it say to you David Chalian about his different standard? Is it just a question of now he's president, he understands how serious this is or is it just if leaks help me good, if leaks are bad for me, bad?

CHALIAN: Well, probably, the latter Jake, a little bit. And remember, part of the leaks that he was sort of encouraging when he was saying, hey Russia, go and get the 30,000 e-mails that we don't have from Hillary Clinton. There was a lot of talk and presumption at that time that some of those e-mails could have been classified or later up-classified in the process.

So, it's not quite as clean of a line that he only advocated for leaks that were completely about unclassified material. There was a lot of suggestion from Republicans, from the oversight Congress that, perhaps, she did have classified e-mails on her server, right? So, I don't think it's quite as clean aligned of classified versus non- classified as he may.

But what he is doing here -- I mean, let's just be clear. He is just trying to move the story from Russia to leaks. He said it four times at press conferences that that's not the story, that's a ruse, this is the story. Donald Trump is not the first president to complain about leaks. George W. Bush, Barack Obama, presidents of both parties going back do not like leaks coming out of their administration, there's no doubt about it.

But Donald Trump is in this precarious position of having sort of encouraged this kind of leaking in the fall, and then also now in this bind that you were discussing before of the leaks being validated enough to have his concern that this information which he must being truthful is out there and yet calling the reports based on that information fake.

BLITZER: John King, you've been getting a lot of reaction. I see you're there on your iPhone. Folks are reacting in major ways. Share a little bit of that one.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. I want to circle back in the minute to what Jeffrey just said because I think it's important about the president's clinical strategy but it's interesting. I shared with you earlier a text I got from a Republican senator. Now I'll be honest, this is a Republican senator who from day one has not been a fan of President Trump who said in the text, he should do that with a therapist not on live television.

I've been trying to get other reaction from Republicans and it's slow to come in and that tells you something too. Republican's responding less quickly than they might in normal circumstance because most of them don't want to say anything critical to the president. I did get one text from a Republican House member who said he did not like what the president said about the so-called "dreamers". The president say, he wants to show heart and acknowledging.

I mean, quite candidly, how difficult it is to get some conservative politicians to come around to his view that you shouldn't punish these children who were brought in by their parents before they were too old to understand they were crossing the border illegally? That's it so far.

But to Jeffrey's point, we need to think sometimes that he is different. This president is different in every way and we keep waiting for this moment. You made the point. When is he going to reach out to Hillary Clinton voters? When is he going to reach out to people who have doubts about him? When does he will be going to talk to some people who voted for him but reluctantly, because they didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton but they still have reservations about Donald Trump.

But this is trademark Trump. This is what he does. Every time in the campaign, entering the transition when these difficult moments have come up, he rallies the base. And Jeffery made a key point that my brain clicked a bit when he talked about Rush Limbaugh. Remember what has happened just in the last few days. A voices like Bob Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying, let's have a very aggressive investigation on Russia. And maybe, I'm not willing to put rule in and out but let's not rule out an independent investigation if it gets to that point.

The president says Russia is a ruse. Serious members of his own party don't believe that. They want to proceed with an investigation. He had to announce a new labor secretary today. He barely dwelt on it but he had to announce a new labor secretary. Why? Because at least six and as many as 12 Republicans were prepared to vote, no.

So the president has a problem with his own base. His political problem at the moment is a little bit of queasiness and a little bit might be kind with his own base. So, by giving a rally to base, rally to support to support a press conference here, attack the media, I'll go back to trademark Trump fight outsider to hear that it won't let me change Washington fight. It's actually -- we've seen this in the past for him and it has worked for him.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

KING: So we may question some of this but the way he operates through his grievances, through his past history, is this has worked in the past? And I think that's what we saw today.

BLITZER: You know Nia we're getting this in from Jeremy Diamond, one of our White House reporters, a senior administration official tells him that the president walk into the Oval Office this morning and told his top aides, quote, let's do a press conference today. The official said the press conference was the president's idea, 100 percent. He just wanted to do it, the official said that the press (inaudible) whether the flow of leaks and controversial news reports pushed Trump to want to address these issues in a news conference.

So, clearly, it worked for him often during the presidential campaign. And I suspect the president thought it would work for him at this critical moment, four weeks into his new adminis - as his new presidency.

HENDERSON: Yes. I think that's right. And at one point, after he kind of gave that laundry list of what he thought his accomplishments were and he was duking it back and forth with the members of the press there. He said that he was having a good time, he loves the exchanges

[14:50:12] It definitely had that feel of like an impromptu press conferences because typically of the president knows who he's going to call on, even the reporters going to have a sense of whether or not they're going to be called on. And you saw there, people just standing up and raising their hands. I do want to get back to -- I know we talked about this before of the Congressional Black Caucus him saying, sure, April Ryan, you should go out and set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Not really sure why he would think that she would do that. We got a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus and this is coming from our reporter Ashley Killough and this person said that Donald Trump hasn't reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus. That in fact, the Congressional Black Caucus had sent a letter a few weeks ago requesting a meeting but they haven't heard that from him or his teams.

So it's sort of, I think undermines what Jeffrey was saying this idea he could -- he wants to meet with anyone. Apparently, the CBC has reached and haven't heard back. They also haven't heard back on -- he's apparently going to have meetings with the heads of historically black colleges. They haven't been invited to join that either.

TAPPER: Do you know who's other -- was another -- you just reminded me, there was a moment when he were talking about a "Wall Street Journal" report yesterday suggesting that there are people in the intelligence agencies who don't want to share information with the Trump White House because they fear that it could be leaked to Russia or it will not be kept secure. We did report on this Monday on my show. It's not a crazy idea. But in any case, President Trump said that the CIA Director Mike Pompeo put out a statement saying, it's not true which you would expect the CIA director to do.

And that also, he didn't understand why the "Wall Street Journal" didn't call him. Why the "Wall Street Journal" didn't call him? The fourth paragraph of the story in the "Wall Street Journal" was a denial by the White House if the story was true, they did reach out to the White House. Now, did they call the president? I doubt it.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That doesn't typically happen, right?

HENDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: Yes, I'm sure they don't have his number. I thought that was very odd. I also wondered -- I really do wonder what his people around him are telling him?

HENDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: Did somebody say there's a story and -- but nobody even called you. I mean, I don't -- he blames bad information for his false claim about the Electoral College vote. Who are these people around him and what are they telling him?

HENDERSON: Yes. And is he doing his homework? I mean, we often read that he isn't too keen on briefings. He is sort of like short briefing notes. He doesn't necessarily read very widely. And I think sometimes in these press conferences, it comes up -- at the beginning of this press conference, he said that he was all about unification. He's willing to unify all the party, he want to unify the country. At some point, he even said that he wanted to sort of reset the relations with the press and he felt like going forward maybe other relationship could be better. And then you saw all the next hour of him berating all the press. And even on the question about anti-Semitism which keeps coming up in these press conferences, he didn't answer it. He only said that he's the least anti-Semitic person.

KING: And he went back to his grievances.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: He went back to his grievances and saying that some of those signs you're seeing are clearly put out there by my opponent.

HENDERSON: Right. Sort of a conspiracy theory around this.

KING: And without getting instances, it's a moment for a president to say, if anyone is speaking like it's Jews against half Americans, against Latinos. If anyone is practicing hate or (inaudible) in my name, I denounce it and I urge all Americans to come -- there was a chance to -- for a presidential moment there and his answer was, you know, these are my opponents trying to somehow smear me by doing this.

BROWN: And I just want to -- on the heels of what you were saying about being briefed and so forth would stock out to me as a reporter who's been covering the Russian connections and the fact that people within his campaign were talking to people known to U.S. intelligence in Russia according to multiple sources across the board. He was pressed repeatedly on, did anyone in your campaign yes or no? Did anyone on your campaign speak to anyone in Russia? And then finally, as we know, he said nobody I know of.

But my colleague Evan Perez and I were told that he actually was briefed about this. That he was briefed about the fact that some people within his campaign were talking in this intercept communications to people in Russia have known to U.S. intelligence. So that sort of stuck in my mind well he was briefed about this but yet he still saying, nobody he knows of talked to Russia during the campaign.

TAPPER: Although he mentioned -- he brought up Paul Manafort, his former campaign chair who obviously has had some dealings in Russia and Ukraine and in the surrounding area. And Manafort was fired as his campaign manager. He brought that up, mentioned that Manafort, you know, have been fired. And then when press said, all I can tell you is what Paul told me.

BROWN: Yes, that's right.

TAPPER: And Paul says no.

BROWN: Right.

TAPPER: Which is not really a denial that maybe -- he's saying, well, Paul says no.

HENDERSON: Right.

BROWN: Paul says no, and then it went to, well I didn't and then --

BLITZER: The reporting that we've had is that some of his campaign aides were in, quote, constant communication with Russian intelligence officials or at least officials --

[14:55:10] BROWN: Not intelligence, Russian officials that --

BLITZER: With Russian officials that were --

TAPPER: Known by U.S. intelligence.

BROWN: Known by U.S. intelligence. And, frankly, they could be Russian intelligence officials but we have not specifically been told intelligence officials. We've been told Russian officials known to the U.S. government. And what we have been told is due to the frequency of these communications that really sort of raised red flags among U.S. intelligence officials and law enforcement.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There are certainly a lot to discuss, a lot to absorb.

By the way, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, she'll be a live guest here on CNN. That's coming up. She's obviously a key member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She'll react to the president's news conference. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Pick it up from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN BREAKING NEWS.

Moments ago, the nation witnessed an unprecedented vetting -- venting by the president of the United States. Call it a rant, whining, reset, you pick the word, we just watch. A hastily called press conference lasted for more than hour. It made the lost of his national security adviser, his first labor secretary pick and his delayed travel ban.