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Trump To Tour South Carolina Boeing Plant, Talk Jobs; Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Role; No Charges Expected To Be Files Against Flynn; Senate GOP Leader Holds News Conference; Trump Fails To Condemn Rise In Anti-Semitic Attacks; House Democrats Demand Briefing On Flynn, Russia. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 11:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- right now going to North Charleston, South Carolina. He's at Joint Base Andrews right now, of course, about to take off for that trip. Soon he'll be speaking at the Boeing plant in South Carolina, talking jobs and helping to unveil the company's newest plane. We'll bring you those moments as they happen.

But we're also watching Capitol Hill and the reaction from lawmakers there to the president's doozy of a press conference yesterday. Don't forget about the latest talent search under way now for the president. The replacement national security adviser is out. So who is now next?

CNN's Jason Carroll is standing by in North Charleston, South Carolina. Pamela Brown is in Washington. Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Let's begin with Jason right now. So Jason, they're awaiting the president's arrival. What are you hearing there?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you know, I have to tell you, it wasn't that long ago the president was at odds with some of the folks here at Boeing after he balked at that $4 billion price tag for building two new Air Force Ones.

As you recall, Kate, he tweeted out, cancel the order, but shortly thereafter he had a meeting with the CEO, the head of Boeing, and they decided together that they would come up with an alternative plan for the cost of those Air Force Ones and give a break to taxpayers.

So right now, though, things are looking good in terms of how the president is expected to be received here at Boeing for the unveiling of the 787-10. He's expected to arrive here just at about 12 noon.

Just give to you a quick little tick tock on that, shortly after arriving, Kate, he's then expected to meet with the president and CEO of Boeing. After that, he'll tour the facility. He'll give some brief remarks. That's expected to be at 1:00. At 1:40, he'll get a tour of the new 787-10.

Shortly thereafter, at about 2:00, he's expected to depart. He'll then head down to South Florida, back to Mar-a-Lago. That will be his third trip to Mar-a-Lago as president.

And on Saturday, Kate, he's going to take another victory lap. He's going to be holding one of those rallies in Melbourne, Florida. You've already heard the president saying he's expecting huge crowds there.

In terms of the crowds here, I've had an opportunity to speak to a number of people here, some of those not entirely happy with his performance at the press conference yesterday. They liked the fact that he went after the media, but didn't like the fact that he didn't talk enough about economics.

I think that's why so many of the people that I spoke to here in the crowd today, Kate, are happy that he's here, talking about the 787-10, talking about building jobs, talking about keeping manufacturing companies like Boeing creating their products here in the United States instead of outsourcing it to overseas.

One supporter here, Trump supporter, telling me, he said, quote, "He should stay in his lane when it comes to economics, stop with all the other stuff," Kate.

BOLDUAN: Well, when you're president, they're all your lanes, when dealing with all this stuff. Is it supporters, is it employees, is it a mix?

CARROLL: Right now, what I'm seeing out here in the audience is a number of Boeing employees. This particular event is restricted to Boeing employees, at least that's what I'm being told tomorrow. On Saturday, that will be the opportunity for a number of his supporters to give their appreciation at that rally in Melbourne, Florida.

BOLDUAN: All right, Jason Carroll there for us. We'll come back to you, Jason. Thank you so much.

So meantime, back in Washington, law enforcement officials say the FBI is not planning to pursue charges against ousted national security adviser to the President Michael Flynn, barring a bombshell, of course.

One of Flynn's potential placements, retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward, said no thanks to the job. This all happening overnight. So who is now in line to take over this critical role?

The president tweeting this morning that General Keith Kellogg is in play, he's been kind of holding the job temporarily, along with three others.

CNN's justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is live in Washington following this bouncing ball. So Pamela, it almost seems like the president is now treating this search much like he did with his secretary of state search, it's like his latest reality show. He's in the running, other people are in the running. What are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, to come out and say the person acting at national security adviser is in the running, but so are three other people. We'll have to wait and see what happens now that Bob Harward apparently turned down the job because he's citing financial and family reasons.

All this is happening, Kate, as we're learning that President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, initially told FBI investigators sanctions were not discussed during an interview with the FBI back in January, but FBI agents challenged him on that, because they knew what the conversation was.

They knew the contents of it, asking him if he was certain that was his answer, and then according to our sources, he said he didn't remember. Now the FBI does not believe he was intentionally misleading them, according to officials, and he's not expected to pursue any charges against Flynn.

Of course, barring new information that changes what they know and as we all know officials say, you know, Flynn was fired by President Donald Trump earlier this week after it was revealed that he withheld information from Vice President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

[11:05:10]And then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates delayed notifying the White House until after Flynn was interviewed. And at that point, after the interview, FBI Director James Comey did not object.

So that is important to note because there was some reporting out saying that he did object. It was only the fact that he wanted the interview to happen with Flynn first before the White House is notified.

BOLDUAN: More of that timeline very important, the details, filling that out, getting more and more important by the day. Pamela, thank you.

All right, so any moment now, Senator Mitch McConnell, top Republican in the Senate, Senate majority leader, will be holding a news conference on Capitol Hill.

CNN's senior Congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is there with much more on this. Manu, Senator McConnell speaking before they all head for the exits for the recess. What are we expecting to hear from him?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I think you're going to hear a mix of things. He's going to talk about the agenda, what they hope to achieve when they get back. He's going to criticize Democrats for slow walking a number of Donald Trump's nominees.

And he's probably going to talk about the president himself and some of the comments the president has been making that McConnell believes has been distracting from the agenda on Capitol Hill.

Actually he's been telling magazine, newspaper reporters over the last couple of days that some of Donald Trump's tweets have not been helpful, have distracted from the message, have, quote, "made it harder to achieve what you want to achieve," an effort to prod this president to be more message-disciplined and be aligned with what they're trying to do on Capitol Hill.

So it will be interesting to see how McConnell reacts to that news conference that the president had yesterday and whether he was concerned that the president is taking his party off-message.

And also McConnell is a Russia hawk, someone who wants a much more hard line on Russia than Donald Trump does. We'll see how he differentiates himself from the president on that key issue. So a lot of the things for the majority leader to deal with in just a few minutes -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Looks like he's actually walking in right now, Manu. Let's all stand by and listen to Mitch McConnell taking to the lectern.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: This ought to be a good time for us to get together, going into the recess, and we'll take a look at what was done so far. We passed a budget resolution that gives us the opportunity to repeal and begin the process of replacing Obamacare.

We put three Congressional review acts on the president's desk. Two have been signed into law and we've confirmed 13 cabinet nominations. Some of them have been quite challenging, as the Democrats have engaged in what I would consider -- would call a futile gesture, taking as much time as possible, but knowing full well at the end of the time they've required us to burn, it has no impact on the outcome.

I hope at some point here the other side will accept the results of last year's election, allow the administration to get fully staffed and ready to go. But the desire I guess to play to the far left has been a consuming passion for them so far.

We'll go back at it after the recess and when we finish the cabinet, we'll go back to Congressional review actions here in the senate. The House is sending more over on a weekly basis.

And I'll say with regard to that, I think the overregulation of the economy over the last eight years is one of the most damaging things the president did to prevent us from having a single year of 3 percent growth throughout the Obama years.

So we're directly attacking the overregulation issue, thanks to the Congressional Review Act, and plan to take as many of these job- killing regulations off the books as possible. I was particularly pleased that the first one was the so-called strained buffer rule, one of the most devastating blows to coal country across America. So with that, let me throw it open and see what you would like to talk about -- Manu.

RAJU: In the last couple of days, you raised concerns about some of the president's tweets and comments, you said that some of the things he's been saying have been, quote, "making it harder to achieve what you want to achieve." I wonder if you can expand on that, especially in light of yesterday's news conference, concerns that the president is taking your party off-message.

MCCONNELL: Well, I've been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I'm not a great fan of daily tweets. What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing. As I look at what we might have expected from a President Mitt Romney or a President Marco Rubio or a President Jeb Bush at the beginning of their tenures in office.

[11:10:07]I can't see much difference between what President Trump is doing and what they would have done. The cabinet is outstanding, one of the most conservative cabinets since I've been here, and I've served under other Republican presidents.

I just mentioned getting as many regulations as possible off the books. I like what he's doing. I've not been a fan of the extra discussion that he likes to engage in, but we're going to soldier on. We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McConnell, you have a lot of big-ticket items ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obamacare, tax reform, getting a Supreme Court justice done. Considering how difficult it's been to get the cabinet confirmed, how troubled are you about the road ahead?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's clear that in the early months it's going to be a Republicans-only exercise. We don't expect any Democratic cooperation on the replacement of Obamacare. We don't expect any Democratic cooperation on tax reform.

I had just gotten here and I was a back bencher here still trying to figure my way around when we did tax reform the last time. Very different environment. Democratic House, Republican Senate, Republican president, a bipartisan agreement on revenue neutrality as the government, and the leader of the effort on the Democratic side of the Senate was Bill Bradley.

So you know, clearly this is not one of those bipartisan kumbaya moments, and so we as Republicans expect that both of those issues will be -- which are very big issues, will have to be tackled Republican only.

I know all of you would like for us to try to predict the outcome of one issue or another. What I can tell you that we're 100 percent committed as a team to repeal and replace Obamacare and to do comprehensive tax reform.

The various episodes, the chapters from the beginning to end, in my view, from my perspective, are not worth talking about, because we don't know exactly what it's going to look like at the end.

There are a lot of internal discussions on tax reform already that you all are following, what's the best way to get the rates down. But what we have is a pretty overwhelming desire to do that.

And if we do that, if we change this awful health care law, and if we do the first comprehensive tax reform since 1986, those will have been really big lists, and we're committed to doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that the Trump administration is doing well by Vice President Mike Pence?

MCCONNELL: What about Pence?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they doing right by him? He was misled by senior advisers.

MCCONNELL: The president is in charge of White House staff. He made a decision on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has he been treated well? Is it a problem for you, he's taken such a lead on coordinating with the White House on these big-ticket items?

MCCONNELL: Mike Pence has been the indispensable player. Yes, he is a huge value-added for us. We all know him. He has a very different kind of personality from the president. He's in the middle of everything. It's been great. I think he's been terrific. I also -- you know, I also think -- I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't concern you that he was cut out in this way?

MCCONNELL: It obviously concerned the president. That's why he announced he made a change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats continue to request (inaudible). Do you have any chance to do so? (Inaudible).

MCCONNELL: You all are following what's going on here. If it wasn't one thing, it would be another. The effort has been to delay the nominations that they have made controversial as long as possible in order to play to their left wing base, which will not accept the results of the election.

Pruitt was given ample time for hearings. He ended up having to get out of committee without any Democrats there because they refused to do their job and show up at the committee. We had the same problem with Mnuchin over in finance.

It's pretty clear to all of you here, regardless of what the argument is on any given nominee, it's pretty clear what's happening. They want to move them as slowly as possible, and on the ones they have deemed controversial, they want to give their left wing agitators enough time to get up and get organized.

[11:15:10] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that (inaudible)? There have been large crowds at town hall meetings, Republicans are writing them off as agitators. Are Republicans concerned about the criticism?

MCCONNELL: I can only speak for myself, I'm not afraid of protesters. This is an open country. People have an opportunity to come express themselves. I don't go down to Lafayette Park every day, but I'm told there's somebody there protesting something on any given day.

Remember the famous Claude Raines line in "Casablanca," demonstrations in America, it doesn't bother me. Everybody has a right to express themselves. As long as they do it peacefully, I have no problem with it.

BOLDUAN: You're listening to the Senate majority leader, top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell taking questions from reporters. A couple of interesting things, Manu Raju, asking him to respond to daily tweets coming from the president, and he said he's not a fan of the extra discussions he engages in, but also he likes what he sees the president is doing, maybe not what the president is saying.

And Mitch McConnell saying that Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, if they were president, he can't see much difference in what Trump is doing than what they would have done. Fascinating.

Joining me is Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. He's on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in. Mitch McConnell in his own way saying he doesn't like the tweets. He wants the president to stop. What do you think about it?

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: I think it's important to be able to focus as much on substantive policy as possible. The president, he certainly has a whole other level and way of communicating with the American public that a lot of politicians in Washington and elsewhere, the media, American public, a lot are just not used to. So I think what might be an advantage of the tweets could be when you're trying to get a substantive legislative package across the finish line, a few months from now --

BOLDUAN: But right now is it distracting from the focus where you guys would like to have it?

ZELDIN: Yes, some of the tweets he puts out are substantive, and they're helpful, and others may not be. I certainly haven't anointed myself as a referee of each individual tweet. I haven't read every single tweet he does put out.

What I've trying to do is focus my time and efforts just on the substance, the policy of what we're putting out in the House and the Senate and working with the president and with the American public.

So it's a tool that he has -- that actually could be beneficial if used the right way. It's a great way to communicate with the American public. He just has to use it --

BOLDUAN: But is he using it the right way?

ZELDIN: I've seen some tweets that he's put out that I've liked.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, I recommend you read that Twitter feed because that's setting the agenda for you guys pretty much every day. That's what makes Mitch McConnell has a problem with right now. Let's talk about that press conference yesterday. So much came out of that press conference yesterday.

There was a very important moment that I think you're uniquely positioned that I would like you to answer to. You're the co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus.

A reporter in the press conference asked the president very directly about a rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the country. Here is the president's response, Congressman.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least ant anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person. In fact we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican -- quiet, quiet.

See, he lied about -- he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media, but let me just tell you something that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.

I hate even the question, because people that know me, and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday, did you hear him, Bebe, he said, I've known Donald Trump for a long time, and then he said, forget it. So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.


BOLDUAN: Congressman, the reporter made very clear he was not accusing the president of being anti-Semitic in any way, he actually went out of his way to say he was not making that accusation. It couldn't have been any more clear to anyone who is listening to the question.

[11:20:05]He wanted to know his response to the rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the country. What you heard from the president, is that a satisfactory answer?

ZELDIN: It certainly seems like an answer to a different question than what was asked. I am greatly concerned with the rise of anti- Semitism. The BDS Movement on college campuses all across our country, foreign countries, foreign companies talking about the boycott, the investment sanctions, movement that's taking place or the JCCs, the Jewish Community Centers all across our country that are receiving bomb threats.


ZELDIN: I think that was a more pointed question. I don't know what happened there with hearing the question and choosing how to answer, but it sounded like an answer to a different question.

BOLDUAN: It sure did. But this also, you have to take this in conjunction with two days in a row, Congressman. This marks at least the third time in two days that the president has been offered a very easy opportunity to denounce anti-Semitism and he has not. Benjamin Netanyahu had to clean up for him two days ago about it. Why can't he? ZELDIN: He certainly has taken positions that are combating the anti- Semitic movement. He's been outspoken, for example, with regards to U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed a couple of months back, which essentially would ethnically cleanse Judean and Samaria in East Jerusalem.

BOLDUAN: That's why this is so confusing to a lot of people.

ZELDIN: Well, you know, in reflecting on this particular issue and how to handle it going forward, I think it's going to be important for him, you know, the next opportunity that he has, to talk about what's happening on our college campuses across our country, to talk about the anti-Semitism that's rising all across the entire world, the next time that a statement is put out for a holocaust remembrance day, I think it's important to reference the Jews.

I was outspoken on that, when the statement omitted that part of it. So it's certainly hard to expect a president coming into office to be perfect. What's most important is that when there are lessons to be learned from things that you could possibly handle differently.

Four years really is a long time, where you get many opportunities to get things right. So hopefully he learns these lessons and is a stronger president for it.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, we have a lot more to discuss. Mitch McConnell cut into our time. Please come back, thank you.

ZELDIN: OK, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

All right, coming up, Democrats want briefings on what Michael Flynn told the FBI. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill to talk to Senator Gary Peters. Have him weigh in.

And also this, President Trump wants to relive the old days of the campaign trail. He'll be holding his first rally paid for by the campaign since taking office. This weekend in Florida, some thousand- plus days until the 2020 election.

And Vice President Pence is on his way to a security conference in Germany where he and other members of the Trump administration will face questions about Russia from America's allies. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Democrats right now on Capitol Hill demanding briefings on Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian officials. The top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, is accusing her Republican colleagues essentially of a cover-up. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The American people have a right to know the full extent of the financial, personal, and political ties and the grip that the Russians have on President Trump. And the Republican Congress needs to stop stonewalling and helping him cover up.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, he sits on the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. Senator, thank you so much for your time.

I want to get to that conversation in just one second, but we did just hear from Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, and he had some words for you Democrats about Donald Trump's cabinet picks. He said you are engaged in a futile gesture to try to stop his cabinet picks. Then he said this, please listen, Senator.


MCCONNELL: On any given nominee, it's pretty clear what's happening. They want to move them as slowly as possible and on the ones they have deemed controversial, they want to give their left wing agitators enough time to get up and get organized.


BOLDUAN: He also said at another point, Senator, they want to delay it as long as possible to play to the left wing base just because they cannot accept the outcome of the election. Is that what's going on?

SENATOR GARY PETERS (D), MICHIGAN: No, not at all. It's not about re-litigating an election. It's about making sure that we have qualified people in these positions. It's a constitutional duty of the United States Senate to provide advice and consent. That's the process we're going through.

We're holding hearings, asking questions. The American people have a right to have these questions asked and to hear the answers. We supported some nominees. I voted for some nominees, General Mattis, for example, for secretary of defense. I think he's going to do an outstanding job.

But there are others that I have issues with as a result of the answers that they have provided. It is important. The American people have engaged and we saw a secretary of labor that basically withdrew because he simply didn't have the support, because he didn't have positions that the American people could accept.

BOLDUAN: That all of course came out before he had a confirmation hearing, before he could have seen a delay in terms of Democrats pushing for a delay. Do you acknowledge at least when it comes to the nuts and bolts of how all this works in the Senate that it is a futile gesture to try to slow it down, because Republicans have the votes, especially when it comes to Scott Pruitt, the latest target for Democrats? PETERS: Well, I don't think it's ever a futile gesture to bring transparency to the process. This is about making sure folks are answering questions and we understand what we are getting. These are people that are going to have a big impact on the country. The American people should have them fully vetted.

This is part of the vetting process. This is why we wish with Mr. Pruitt we could take a look at e-mails that are going to be coming out next week. But Mr. McConnell wants to jam it through today because he doesn't want to see those e-mails. I think they're very fearful of what's going to be in those e-mails, which is why they're --