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Presidential Venting. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You pick the word.

We just watched a hastily called conference, lasted for more than an hour, amid the loss of his national security adviser, his first labor secretary pick, and his delayed travel ban.

The president took the time to fight back this cacophony of criticism that his administration is in chaos. He says, no, no, it's a finely tuned machine.

He also targeted mostly the media, but in his bashing of news reporters, the president finally took questions they have been clamoring to ask him directly, including this. Did the president instruct his former national security adviser, the newly resigned General Mike Flynn, to talk about sanctions with the Russian ambassador?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't.

QUESTION: ... prior to your...

TRUMP: No, I didn't.

QUESTION: ... inauguration.

TRUMP: No, I didn't.

QUESTION: And then fired him...

TRUMP: Excuse me.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him because that's his

job. And it came out that way. And, in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job. And I agreed with him. And since then, I've watched many other people say that.

No, I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: There was that, and then of course the other headline on Russia, the fact the president said nobody he knew of from his campaign talked to Russian officials.

Sara Murray is with me from the White House.

So much to go through, but first the backstory, right? We were all wondering how this press conference came to be. And thanks to our colleague Jeremy Diamond, apparently, the president walked in the Oval this morning and said, hey, let's have a press conference.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Border Patrol

My colleagues Jeremy Diamond, Elizabeth Landers and I have been digging into this, this morning. This was the president's idea. He did walk into the Oval Office and he said let's do this.

Remember, this is a man who truly believes he is his own best spokesman. And he's getting hammered. He's been getting hammered over the travel ban, over the fact that his first pick for labor secretary had to pull his name out of contention because Republicans wouldn't back him, and over staff turmoil in his White House.

This is where we really saw President Trump in what he believes is his element, what was his element on the campaign trail, him being out there, speaking for himself, sparring with reporters, holding press conference.

He did that regularly early on in the presidential campaign and really felt like -- and he said it again today -- that that was the key to his victory, being out there, defending himself, speaking off the cuff.

It's not usually what we will see from presidents in the East Room, but it certainly is what we are seeing from this president. Now on to the headlines. As you said, there was a lot of news in this press conference, but I think the big top lines were on Russia.

It was the president coming out saying that to the best of his knowledge during the presidential campaign, none of his top advisers were in contact with the Russian intelligence officials.

Now, that is not what multiple sources have been telling CNN. They have told CNN that there were top advisers, former advisers that are no longer in this White House who were in constant communication with Russian officials, and that that raised red flags.

But, Brooke, he also said something a little bit more forward-looking. He was asked about the fact that Russia has a spy ship parked off the coast of Connecticut, about the fact they buzzed a U.S. warship, about the fact that they launched a missile that could be in violation of a treaty.

And Trump said, hopefully, I will not have to do anything about this, but I'm not going to tell you if I do. And he continued to say he wants sort of better diplomatic relationships with Russia, even in the face of this sort of triple provocation.

BALDWIN: It's stunning. Sara, it's stunning. Thank you so much.

So much more to get through.

Let me bring in my voices here. I have got David Chalian. He is on, CNN political director. Maeve Reston is with us, CNN national political reporter. Mike Baker, former CIA, and CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, who also hosts "RELIABLE SOURCES."

OK, David Chalian, to me, I'm seeing this in two ways, right. You have the substance, you have the headlines and then you have the tone.

Let's go substance first. We just hit on some of the headlines from Sara on Russia and he says, to the best of his knowledge, no one from his campaign staff talked to Russia, which is totally in contrast from our own reporting the last 24 hours.

He mentioned the executive action, an executive action will be announced next week that will be tailor ordered to the court decision. One other note I had on DACA. He did say he will deal with DACA with his heart and it's tough, especially with kids.

What else?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let's add Obamacare to that list.

We learned from this press conference the president is going to submit his Obamacare repeal and replacement plan in March to Congress, he said, and that tax reform will then follow that. He said he needed to do that for budgetary reasons. I thought that was a big piece of news.

[15:05:05]

A detail on the Russia thing also, there also seemed to be a full understanding from Donald Trump that, despite his desire perhaps to have better relations with Russia, that the cloud of the Russia controversy over his administration at the moment might make that impossible, that the politics of this -- he couldn't believe he was calling himself a politician in the moment -- but that the politics may prove so difficult and that Putin may see that and be aware that Donald Trump with this cloud overhead may not be able to be the partner they are looking for. BALDWIN: Maeve, I want to come to you next.

But let me just play a little bit more sound. This was a point he made. And Jim Acosta rightfully pushed him on it. He said, these leaks, right, that he wants investigated, the leaks are real, the news is fake, and here we was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The leaks are real. You're the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real.

The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do -- and I hope we can correct it. Because there's nobody I have more respect for -- well, maybe a little bit but the reporters, good reporters.

It's very important to me and especially in this position. It's very important. I don't mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody, as long as it's true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Maeve, talk about the point he's making there. The other piece from Jim's great question was on when we have sound from then candidate Trump talking about WikiLeaks and bring on the leaks, especially when it came to Hillary Clinton and her campaign, but these are the kind of leaks he doesn't seem to like.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

He certainly seems to have a double standard on this subject. And I think Jim and other reporters rightfully pushed him on the fact that he is undercutting the credibility of the news media by constantly saying this is fake news, when demonstrably that is not true.

It was interesting. He was complaining that his press conference would be framed as him ranting against the press. And he did rant against the press for quite some time in a very measured tone.

But a lot of complaints about his press conference, that was very much the mode he was in, as opposed to addressing some of the pressing concerns of the country. And it's just interesting he still seems kind of locked in this election mentality when he's talking about how big his win was, when there are so many other things he could be focused on.

BALDWIN: Let me, Brian, just turn to you. Maeve brought up the media. We will take the shift here too. David Chalian made the great point he felt untethered, right?

But I think you and I agree one of the best questions was asked by Peter Alexander over at NBC, because out of the gate, you have the president saying, I had the biggest electoral win since Ronald Reagan. False. It's false. When peter Alexander got -- actually, we have the sound. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President...

TRUMP: You OK?

QUESTION: I just want to get on tape, very simple. You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan with 306 electoral votes.

In fact, President Obama got 332.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: President Obama, 332 and George H.W. Bush 426 when he won as president.

So, why should Americans trust you...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, I was told -- I was given that information. I don't know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.

QUESTION: I guess my question is, why should Americans trust you when you have accused the information they've received of being fake, when you're providing information that is fake?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given -- actually, I've seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?

QUESTION: You're the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: It's a great question. Take we the media out of it. Peter's question is, why should the public trust you when you're giving out the wrong information?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And he says why should the American public trust you? And that's a question we keep coming back to on all these stories. It's the implicit question underlying all of these issues about Russia, about whether the president's statements do add up or not.

We just showed the graphic on screen. The president did have a substantial Electoral College victory, to have the data there -- 306, that is a big number, but it's not nearly as high as President Obama's numbers. And you can see them there for yourself on screen.

So, my question is, who gave him the data? Where is he getting this false information from? He seems he is continuing to consume a lot of news coverage about himself in ways that may actually be hurting his presidency.

If he's so focused on the coverage, as he calls, fake, when in fact it's accurate coverage, it seems to be undermining him. He talked about the leaks he says he will have investigated, said they will find the leakers. Earlier in the day, he said the leakers will pay a very heavy price.

He also said he thinks the leaks will stop, as his people get put into office. I have a message for the president. The leaks are not going to stop.

[15:10:05]

There will continue to be leaks from throughout the government from people who have a wide variety of reasons for wanting to share information. Some are petty, some can be heroic. It can be a wide variety of reasons why people leak throughout the government.

But some of the leaks are coming from right with inside the White House, from his own aides who are concerned by his own conduct. That's not going to change if we continue to see these wild press conferences.

Brooke, normally, the soap opera is on at 1:00 in the afternoon. This was better than any soap opera, because we're seeing him try to figure out this relationship with the media, with reporters there trying to hold him accountable, Jim Acosta and others asking repeated questions trying to get the answers.

I do wonder if he's going to do this more often, because he did seem to be enjoying himself.

BALDWIN: He took the questions.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: And I wonder if this is going to be a new format for the president.

BALDWIN: Let's play a little sound.

This was our correspondent, Jim Acosta, asking the president a couple of questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said earlier that WikiLeaks was revealing information about the Hillary Clinton campaign during the election cycle. You welcomed that. At one campaign rally...

TRUMP: I was OK with it.

ACOSTA: ... you said -- you said you loved WikiLeaks. At another campaign press conference, you called on the Russians to find the missing 30,000 e-mails. I'm wondering, sir, if you...

TRUMP: Well, she was actually missing 33 and then that got extended with a pile after that.

ACOSTA: Maybe my numbers are off a little bit too.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, no, but I did say 30. But it was actually higher than that.

ACOSTA: If -- if I may ask you, sir, it sounds as though you do not have much credibility here when it comes to leaking, if that is something that you encouraged during the campaign...

TRUMP: OK, fair question. Ready?

ACOSTA: Well, if I may ask you that...

TRUMP: No -- no, but let me do one at a time.

ACOSTA: If I may as a follow-up.

TRUMP: Do you mind?

ACOSTA: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: All right.

So, in one case, you're talking about highly classified information. In the other case, you're talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss. I will say this. If John Podesta said that about me and he was working for me, I would have fired him so fast your head would have spun.

He said terrible things about her. But it wasn't classified information.

But in one case, you're talking about classified -- regardless, if you look at the RNC, we had a very strong -- at my suggestion -- and I give Reince great credit for this -- at my suggestion, because I know something about this world, I said I want a very strong defensive mechanism.

I don't want to be hacked. And we did that. And you have seen that they tried to hack us and they failed. The DNC did not do that. And if they did it, they could not have been hacked.

But they were hacked and terrible things came in. And, you know, the only thing that I do think is unfair is some of the things were so -- they were -- when I heard some of those things, I picked up the papers the next morning and said, oh, this is going to be front page. It wasn't even in the papers.

Again, if I had that happen to me, it would be the biggest story in the history of publishing or the head of newspapers. I would have been the headline in every newspaper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Mike Baker, I want to come to you here, because all these points on leaks. It's true. If it is classified, it is an illegal leak.

And that's not OK. But, Mike, let me play one more sound bite specifically on Russia. And then I want to bring you in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If we could get along with Russia, that's a positive thing.

We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who's going to be meeting with them shortly. And I told him. I said I know politically it's probably not good for me. The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles off shore right out of the water.

Everyone in this country's going to say, oh, it's so great. That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: You are former CIA. We have been talking a heck a lot about the intelligence community lately, and Russia and leaks. What did you make of that?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: Well, there's a lot here to deal with.

BALDWIN: A lot.

BAKER: Exactly. That was an understatement, wasn't it?

On one hand, yes, of course, it would be great if we could get along well. Who doesn't want that? It would be great if we could get along well with North Korea, with China. Of course. That's sort of a statement of the obvious.

But that's not the way the world works. It's fine to engage in diplomacy. The previous administration did it. All other administrations have done it. We engage in the diplomacy. We try to find those moments when our interests, what's best for us here in the U.S., when that may intersect with what's best for Russia and then we can cooperate, or find ways to cooperate.

But I will tell you this. In the real world, those points of intersection don't occur very often. So, we need to deal with them in a very pragmatic way. This vessel that we're talking about now that was off the coast, this is not the first time that a Russian ship or from other nations have been in international waters off the coast of the U.S. with intercept capabilities, with surveillance capabilities.

[15:15:00] BAKER: So, this is not -- people should not think this unprecedented and it's the first time it's happened.

But we have to deal with it, because nothing happens in a bubble. Russia is doing what Iran is doing, what North Korea with their missile launch just did, what China is doing. They're all testing this administration right now, because they see the same things that we see.

They what appears to be a chaotic beginning, a lack of discipline in messaging. And they're probing. They're doing what's in their best interest. And so that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

BALDWIN: We've walked through some of the headlines, some of the substance, some of these questions.

Listen, you listened to the president of the United States. By the way, just a reminder, this press conference was entirely his idea. He talked for more than an hour and he answered lots and lots of questions, and the bullseye was on the media.

We have so much more to get through. We also want reaction of course from members of Congress. How do they take this on, both Republicans and Democrats? We're going to talk to a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. That was brought up in that news conference.

Don't move a muscle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:05]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my Cabinet approved.

And they're outstanding people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Not according to reports of infighting from members of President Trump's staff.

But that was President Trump really unfiltered standing in front of members of the media there, speaking from the East Room of the White House for at least an hour, talking about the administration, talking about Russia, so much, many, many reporters got a chance to ask some of the tougher questions.

But a huge bullseye was on the media, but one of the questions we've been wanting answered is, how are members of Congress responding to what all just witnessed?

So, let me bring in our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, who is up on the Hill.

Manu, I understand it was in the House gym, members of Congress were glued to the television.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. There were some members who saw it in the gym.

But even on the Senate side, there were actually, Brooke, not many members who were watching it, Republicans who were watching it at the time because they were having their daily lunch in a closed-door setting where there are no TV screens played. So they had to get reports from reporters like me asking them questions about it afterwards.

But I can tell you the response I got was rather mixed with some of the things Donald Trump was saying in there, including his travel ban was rolled out perfectly and was done very smoothly, as he said in that press conference.

I talked to Rob Portman of Ohio. I said, do you agree this was done smoothly? And he said no. He said that that needed to be vetted in a much better fashion, it was not done well as it rolled out, it needs to be revised substantially.

So even the things he was trying to assert himself on, he was getting some pushback. And, Brooke, also I had a chance today to talk to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee about the leaks that Donald Trump wants to go after. The chairman of the committee says he doesn't want his committee to go after them. He wants -- this is an issue for the administration.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The investigation of leaks is squarely in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And my understanding is the crimes referrals have already been made.

So it's their responsibility to chase this down. I have made all the appropriate requests that need to be made. But the committee will continue to do our oversight investigation, as is normal for the committee. But as it relates to Russia's involvement in elections, that is a concentrated effort and we will continue on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Brooke, that is a different approach than a lot of House Republicans want to take, including House Speaker Paul Ryan today at his press conference was asked about the leaks that Donald Trump is so concerned about.

He said he is concerned about it. He thinks there should be a criminal investigation. He believes that the House Intelligence Committee should also look into it. So you're seeing some division, some disagreement within the Republican ranks about exactly how to go look into the Russian issue and whether to go after the leakers the way the president wants to so aggressively -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let me add just one other line of color, and I'm going to have to bleep myself.

This is from a member of Congress from our Tom LoBianco. One House Republican said most people in Congress see Trump's pressers like this as -- quote -- "the new normal. We're just trying to manage this 'bleep.'"

And there you have it.

RAJU: There you have it.

I think that's a daily occurrence. One thing that actually Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said to a couple of newspapers this past day is they want to move forward on their agenda, but they continue to get distracted by some of Donald Trump's tweets in particular. He thinks he wants him to tweet a lot less.

And after watching today's press conference, some may want him to speak a lot less, because when he says things, it distracts from the things they're doing up here, if he doesn't stay on message. So it's not a surprise to hear that sentiment being said to our colleague Tom.

BALDWIN: I have a feeling one of my next guests with disagree with them, though.

Manu, thank you so much.

I have CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and Kayleigh McEnany.

Kayleigh, let me just -- you're up to bat first here. Listen, you were on CNN for months and months and months all through the campaign championing Donald Trump. You heard this whole thing. What did you make of it?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I heard Donald Trump in the primary again, and to me that's a good thing.

In the primary, Donald Trump gave more interviews to hostile news organizations, friendly news organizations. He ran the gamut, giving interviews to everyone. He wasn't afraid of press conferences and he wasn't afraid to field the hard questions.

[15:25:05]

And I loved that at that time about candidate Trump, that he was open and willing to address anything. And I think it was brilliant of him today to come in and say get me in front of that microphone and let me answer about this Flynn controversy.

I think he received some blowback yesterday when he only fielding questions from friendly reporters. And today to have this stark contrast, to have the President Trump who I know was transparent during the primary and open, to have that President Trump back, I think is a winning strategy going forward. BALDWIN: I love hearing your opinion, but I just have to push you on

this teeny-tiny thing, which is when he came out initially and said I have had the biggest electoral win since Ronald Reagan, which is false -- and, guys, throw the graphic up again.

You can see Clinton, Obama and H.W. Bush all surpassed his numbers. And so when he was pressed later by Peter Alexander over at NBC, he was essentially like, Mr. President, how can the public trust you when you're giving the public bad, wrong, erroneous information, how would you answer that, Kayleigh?

MCENANY: Look, I think it was very good he did not follow in that incorrect line of I guess information when it was presented to him.

I think sometimes he hears information. Like, for instance, he did have a historic victory in winning Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, states not won by any Republican since Reagan. That's an accurate fact.

But I think sometimes he hears that and perhaps gets it wrong or messes up on the nuance or the specificity of the facts when he presents them. I don't think it's an intentional lie.

BALDWIN: He admitted he was given the information and that's what he read.

MCENANY: Sure. Sure. I think he got it wrong. I think the fact that admitted that and he didn't continue down that line of information was a very good thing.

BALDWIN: OK.

Ana Navarro, what say you?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think we just saw brilliance in action.

You know what the guy did right now? He guy gave us a one hour and 15 minute performance to distract us. And he did. In fact, he knew he was doing it to a level that he even told us, I'm going to go on TV, I'm going to go watch TV and there's going to be people saying that I was ranting and I was raving and I was unhinged.

He was performing. We're talking about the Electoral College vote again. You know what we're not talking about? The explosive report from yesterday that there were campaign aides of his allegedly colluding with Russia.

BALDWIN: Yes, we have, my friend.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: But what we're concentrating on is unpacking the whiplash that we have all just suffered from watching this hour and 15 minutes, right? Electoral College. Look, Brooke, he's always going to be the guy that always tells you I caught a fish this big, even if it was a minnow. This is just who he is. And he knows we chase it. We chase those shiny objects.

He baited us. He told us this was going to be a press conference about his new labor secretary. Who? The guy wasn't even there. He's a wonderful human being whom I know, Alex Acosta.

But Donald Trump at one point even seemed to struggle with remembering his first name when he was joking with Jim Acosta about whether they were related or not.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And Alex Acosta.

NAVARRO: So he got us there under that pretense. And then for an hour and 15 minutes, he played us like a fine-tuned violin and is distracting us.

He is practicing for his rally tomorrow. He rehashed the campaign over and over again. He was fascinating at times. He was comical at others. He was terrifying at others.

We just saw a one hour, 15 minute episode of the latest reality show of Trump's presidency.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: The reason I was going to jump is because, if the president was trying to distract us, I don't think he succeeded, because the journalists in the room from NBC and CBS and ABC and the other networks were asking tough questions about Russia and about Flynn.

I don't think he succeeded. I think the headlines tomorrow morning and the headlines right now are about Russia. But the through-line of this was popularity. And I totally agree with you, Ana. This was a warmup for Saturday's rally, this Saturday afternoon rally in Florida.

Trump talked about his ratings. He talked about his poll numbers and his Electoral College victory. And the through-line of all of that is about popularity. He wants to feel that popularity he felt in September and in October before Election Day.

And so he's going back, as Kayleigh said, to primary press conferences and to his general election rallies.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: And there's no doubt there was a level of -- it was fascinating to watch, because there's no doubt there was a level of catharsis, therapy to this.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Some of us have to go and pay a therapist. This guy can use us.

Instead of going to a therapist's couch, he goes in front of the presidential seal and gives this performance.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Anna, I don't think it was about performing, though. I think, for President Trump, he's heard these stories, many of which we have a gap in the facts. None of us have seen the Flynn transcript, for instance.

BALDWIN: Correct. Correct.

MCENANY: None of us know who -- if there were -- was anyone on the campaign who contacted, who these people are.

We actually do know Manafort was one of the people listed. But we don't know the content --