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THE SITUATION ROOM

Vice President Heads to Europe; Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Trump Rally; EPA Chief Confirmed Before Court- Ordered Release of Emails; Trump Dodges Questions About Anti-Semitism; Suspect Thought Murder of Kim Jong Un's Brother a "Prank"; Russia Ridicules Trump Camp's Mixed Messages to Moscow; Trump: Media is 'The Enemy of the American People'. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The vice president travels to Europe to reassure allies who have jitters after watching what has been happening in the U.S. capital. Are Mike Pence and other top Trump officials sending a different message than the commander in chief?

Tense environment. Scott Pruitt wins confirmation to head the EPA just days before the court-ordered release of thousands of his e- mails. What will they reveal about Pruitt's ties to the oil and gas industry?

And poisonous prank? A surprise defense for a suspect in the killing of Kim Jong-un's half-brother. Did she attack the estranged relative of North Korea's strongman because she thought she was taking part in a reality show?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, after four rocky weeks in the White House, President Trump is revisiting the greatest hits of his campaign, returning to the kind of rallies and the America first message that got him elected. Mr. Trump talking jobs and facing friendly crowds at a Boeing plant in South Carolina, before he holds a big rally in Florida tomorrow.

We're told the president will spend part of his weekend in Florida reviewing his options to replace Mike Flynn as national security adviser, after retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward turned down the job. Sources tell CNN Harward was unable to get assurances that he could form his own team and he was concerned about the chaos in the White House.

Right now, Vice President Mike Pence is on a mission to reassure U.S. allies who are unsettled by what has been going on in Washington. Pence is set to meet with European leaders who have express concerns about President Trump's embrace of Russia and other early foreign policy moves.

Also tonight, Scott Pruitt is set to take charge of the Environmental Protection Agency he's promised to rein in. The Oklahoma attorney general winning Senate confirmation, despite Democratic opposition and just days before the court-ordered release of e-mails that could shed new light on his ties to the oil and gas industry.

I will talk about the state of the administration with a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We have Republican Congressman Ted Yoho standing by, along with our correspondents, analysts as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go to White House correspondent Sara Murray.

Sara, after that very contentious news conference yesterday, the president launched yet another attack on the media tonight after not mentioning them during his speech earlier.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna.

He managed to make it through that whole speech in South Carolina without going after the media. That was at least until he accessed his Twitter account. He actually sent out two tweets. He deleted the first one and sent this one instead.

"The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people."

The first tweet he deleted, he added some more news outlets to that, but subtracted the word "sick" at the end. Pretty clear he's still enjoying sparring with the press, even though he left it out of that first event today, Brianna.

KEILAR: And he was in South Carolina today. This was another campaign-style event. What was the message there?

MURRAY: It was a campaign-style event. But it was also an opportunity for the president to try to redirect attention onto what they believe is a strong part of their agenda, which is to create jobs and revive American manufacturing. Take a listen to what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When American workers win, America as a country, wins big league wins. That's my message here today. America is going to start winning again, winning like never, ever before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, in addition to that winning message, the president vowed that he would stop countries from moving jobs overseas, but he has not offered any details for how he would do that, Brianna.

KEILAR: I know you have been talking to your sources, Sara, and you have got some new information about the president's search for this all-important position, his national security adviser. What can you tell us?

MURRAY: That's right. He is spending the weekend, this weekend in Mar-a-Lago, but advisers say he will be working and one of the top priorities is to fill this job of national security adviser.

Of course, he fired Mike Flynn earlier this week. Then Vice Admiral Bob Harward said thanks, but no thanks on the job. He's going to be meeting though with three candidates, we're told, this weekend, Keith Kellogg, who is the acting national security director, John Bolton and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

It's possible maybe he will find a candidate that suits his liking by the end of the weekend. One thing that we saw certainly with his labor pick and now again with the NSA pick is they certainly want to move fast to fill these positions -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Hopefully we will learn soon then. Sara Murray at the White House, thank you so much.

The president is at his Florida home tonight. He is getting ready for his weekend in the Sunshine State tomorrow.

We have CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones with the president in Palm Beach.

[18:05:10]

What are you learning about the next move for the president and also the role of his key adviser, Stephen Bannon?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.

The president has a working weekend ahead, kicking off with tomorrow's rally. When it comes to his key strategist, Steve Bannon, this is one of the president's closest and most influential advisers, the man who is going to be responsible for helping to craft not just domestic policy, but also foreign policy through his seat on the National Security Council.

He also is a man who has encouraged the president's war with the media.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): President Trump back in Florida tonight, where he will hold a Orlando-Melbourne airport on Saturday, those rallies a signature of his presidential campaign, this after his first solo presidential press conference where he pushed back on reports of infighting of his staff.

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.

JONES: And scolds the press. TRUMP: Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by

the media. I know when you're telling the truth or when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things.

I'm having a good time doing it.

Tomorrow, they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But -- but I'm not ranting and raving. I love this.

JONES: Trump clearly back in campaign mode, encouraged by chief strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly said he very much enjoyed seeing Trump confront the press directly and return to stump speeches.

Sources say the chaotic pace in the first month of Trump's presidency is thanks to Bannon, who tends to favors disruption. "TIME" magazine has called him the second-most powerful man in the world, writing: "While other advisers have tried to change Trump, Bannon has urged him to step on the gas."

Bannon played a key role in Trump's controversial travel ban, which the president defended after losing a court battle in Ninth Court.

TRUMP: We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision.

JONES: And Trump has elevated Bannon to a role in the National Security Council. At a religious conference in 2014, Bannon shared his apocalyptic views on national security, saying we're threatened by a new barbarity of Islamic terrorism.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict.

JONES: After National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was ousted for misleading the vice president on his conversations with Russia over sanctions, Trump slammed the media for publishing the leaked information that he feels forced his hand.

TRUMP: How does the press get this information that's classified? How do they do it? You know why? Because it's an illegal process and the press should be ashamed of themselves.

JONES: Press criticism central to the Bannon playbook seen in Trump's campaign and his tenure so far at the White House. Last month, Bannon telling "The New York Times" the media here is the opposition party, which Trump echoed in an interview a day later.

TRUMP: I think the media is the opposition party in many ways.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, Brianna, I want to tell you about an incident the Secret Service is investigating, about a mile here in West Palm Beach. We're now apparently in Palm Beach, where it appears someone threw something at the motorcade.

Now, I want to stress it's not clear whether the object actually reached the motorcade. The Secret Service and local law enforcement are going around to the businesses at that intersection to get video, to talk to witnesses.

We have a video of a rock about the size of a baseball that was found lying in the grass not far from the edge of the road about six to eight feet from the road. That is a rock that crime scene investigators were paying special attention too.

I should mention earlier along the route there were both pro and anti- Trump, demonstrators with signs lining that motorcade route. We're going to be watching for further details on this investigation, but it certainly raises some security concerns because, of course, many people in this area know that the president is going to be coming down to Mar-a-Lago to spend many, many weekends and there are well-known routes to get here.

KEILAR: Yes, it's certainly a worry.

Athena Jones, thank you so much in Palm Beach, Florida, for us.

Joining me now to talk more about all the day's news is Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a vocal supporter of President Trump's.

I want to get your reaction to President Trump. Today, he gives this speech. He was incredibly focused on jobs. He talked a little bit about his election success, which has become his M.O.

[18:10:02]

But he talked about what I'm assuming you and other Republicans in his corner want him to talk about. But then he tweets. He says, "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people."

What do you make about him saying about that, when he won't say that about Russia and he's trying to, it seems, stay on topic about jobs?

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Brianna, number one, thanks for having me on.

KEILAR: Of course. Always.

YOHO: He has a certain style and people are getting used to that. And I'm glad to see him go back to the basics.

When things get kind of out of hand or the turmoil that you were talking about, when you see that, go back to the basics, and that's creating jobs in America, making America great again, putting America first, the competitiveness of our country, growing the economy, raising the middle income for the middle class.

Those are the things that he's focusing on and that's what I see him doing. And we had Mike Pence come in this week. And we had also Dr. Tom Price, who is now the new secretary for HHS. Both of them said that Mr. Trump is very focused, he's very good at making decisions, he will listen to stuff, and he makes a decision and he moves forward.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: Sorry about that.

KEILAR: No, no, worries. I know that earpieces sometimes get squirrely.

Why is he saying this? Why is he saying that the news media is the enemy, when you have Russia meddling and trying to affect a U.S. election? Why is he saying that and he will not say that Russia is the enemy?

Is Russia the enemy or do you think the news media is the enemy?

YOHO: You're going to have to ask him. I think part of that...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I'm asking you. I'm not asking you what he thinks. I'm actually asking you what you think about that.

YOHO: Well, I don't want anybody to be my enemy.

And as Mark Twain says, don't take a fight with a man with an ink pen. And I have learned that.

KEILAR: I like that.

YOHO: So what we have to do is, he's got his style. Do I think Russia is my enemy? No. Am I cautious of Russia? Absolutely. And our goal is to make sure that we have strong foreign affairs relationships with all nations.

We have got to have a reset on our foreign policy, and it's not just over the last eight years. I'm going to say over the last 20 or 30 years. Our foreign policy is leading us in a direction that's, you know, it's created a lot of where we're at.

And, of course, there is different players in the world than there was 20 or 30 years ago, but we need to reset our foreign policy, and we need to have strong alliances with all people around the nation. I was fortunate to become the chairman of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs in the House.

And we have been sitting down with people in that region talking to them about realigning our relationship, and focus on trade, economy, national security. And I also sit on the Western Hemisphere, and Jeff Duncan, the chairman of that committee, he's doing the same thing with our partners in the Western Hemisphere.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: Go ahead.

KEILAR: Why do you think he would say that, to go back to this tweet, though, because it's just so puzzling?

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: I think it's his style.

KEILAR: I know you said he has a certain style, but he's using a phrase, the media is the enemy of the American people.

I mean, every president deals with the media.

YOHO: Everybody does. And there's times they have been favorable to presidents and sometimes they're not.

I think look at the stories, look at the facts and your job in the media -- or not just you, but all media, is to report accurately. I could bring up examples in my own case or in my own races where people, they took context and cut the whole context out and used just a headline.

You know, and this is something that misleads a lot of people because today so many people are reading the headlines or they're looking at a tweet and not reading the whole story and most time if you read the whole stair, you're going to get the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

It's just a different world that we're in today. And you have got a different executive on the world platform as they're not used to seeing this. But things will adjust. And I think when I hear him talk -- and when he talked the other day about the direction of the country, getting the economy going, repealing and replacing Obamacare, getting tax reform and growing our economy and changing our trade policies, and look at those and renegotiate those, so that they're fair and more equitable.

And that's what I see him doing and he's very focused on that. And so I think he's right on track.

KEILAR: He's also trying right now to find a national security adviser after firing Michael Flynn.

YOHO: True.

KEILAR: This is normally such a coveted role. How concerned are you that Vice Admiral Bob Harward turned it down? A lot of people really wanted him as the national security adviser.

[18:15:02]

YOHO: Well, without trying to inflame you or anybody else in the media, I heard the story that said that he turned -- Admiral Flynn turned this down -- or not Admiral Flynn -- Harward, he turned this down because he wanted to pick his own Cabinet, he didn't like the...

KEILAR: No, no, that's true. We reported that out. That's actually -- that's true.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: He said that to a friend.

YOHO: Well, he also said that he didn't want to take time away from his family and he was worried about his connections with some of the military contractors. And so he thought that played in there.

And I didn't read anything about...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: He also said it was an 'expletive sandwich.' That is what he said. That is what he said to a friend. I'm just telling you, this is what he said.

YOHO: Welcome to politics. It's not a clean business. And I'm glad I'm a large animal veterinarian that has dealt with a lot of that stuff.

KEILAR: I see how that prepares you.

YOHO: Sorry about that.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Yoho, stay with me.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: Wolf won't let us back on.

KEILAR: No. Well, actually, we're going to have you right back on after the break.

Much more ahead in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:28]

KEILAR: We're back now with Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Stay with us, because we have a report that we want to show first, Congressman.

Tonight, even the Russians are questioning whether the members of the trump administration are on the same page about relations with the Kremlin.

I want to bring in CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

The president's news conference yesterday may have only added to some of this confusion about his Russia policy, it seems, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Right.

For all the words this week, what we did actually finally get was a coherent statement on what Russia policy could look like, but it did not come from the president. In fact, there have been so many mixed messages, including from the president himself, that the Russians are ridiculing him. If this relationship ever seemed to be heading in the direction of a bromance, that time is not now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Tonight, this Russian spy ship lurks off the American East Coast. U.S. defense officials telling CNN the Kremlin is testing the new administration to see how it will react.

That's different from what President Trump believes is Moscow's motivation, blaming the press.

TRUMP: The false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia.

And probably Putin said, you know -- he's sitting behind his desk, and he's saying, you know, I see what's going on in the United States. I follow it closely. It's going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he's got with this fake story, OK?

And that's a shame.

KOSINSKI: But at his epic news conference Thursday, Trump said he still thinks he can work with Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: 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.

KOSINSKI: He didn't dismiss Russia's provocation.

QUESTION: The spy vessel off the coast of the United States.

TRUMP: Not good.

QUESTION: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpret as a violation of an agreement between the two countries; and a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.

TRUMP: Not good. Not good.

KOSINSKI: At the same time, though, Defense Secretary James Mattis now meeting with NATO counterparts in Germany is taking a much more definitive line. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are not in a position

right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward. Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing.

KOSINSKI: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson isn't letting Russia off the hook.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States will consider working with Russia. Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and our allies. As we search for new common ground, we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de- escalate the violence in the Ukraine.

KOSINSKI: Russia would not comment on President Trump's unexpected words, saying they had more important things to do than watch his news conference. But a prominent Russian lawmakers himself had some pointed tweets aimed at the White House.

"Trump hopes to make a deal with Russia. Mattis thinks in vain that he can put pressure from a position of strength. Tillerson is playing a second carry. Three lines from one administration."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: You heard the secretary of state there. He didn't say we would love to do a deal with Russia. He said the U.S. would consider working with Russia if certain conditions are met.

So, what we've been seeing lately, a harder line coming from both sides, a kind of backing away. Analysts now wonder, is that simply reality intruding in the original optimism or is it because of the politics right now?

Russia says it's too early to tell what this relationship will be. But they say they're still working on setting up a day and time for President Trump to meet in person with President Putin -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very interesting. Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thank you so much.

We're back now with Congressman Ted Yoho.

And you are a supporter, a vociferous supporter of Donald Trump, of the president. You hear what is going on. You see what is going on. You get briefings. There is this spy ship off the coast, I think it was 19 miles off of Norfolk and 30 miles off of Connecticut. And you have the launching of a missile that violates a treaty.

[18:25:00]

YOHO: Right. Correct.

KEILAR: Does it concern you that President Trump, who you support, is more willing to go after Nordstrom and "Saturday Night Live" than Vladimir Putin?

YOHO: No. It doesn't concern me.

KEILAR: Why?

YOHO: Because he's got a team in place that's going to negotiate with Russia. I'm 61 years old and, heck, my whole life, we have never had a great relationship with Russia.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: You're saying his team is responsible for it. Is he not responsible for taking on Vladimir Putin when we're seeing what we're seeing?

YOHO: He is the quarterback. Go back to the previous administration and go back to that conversation that Barack Obama had with Medvedev and says, after the election, I'll have more flexibility. What did that mean? And look what Russia did going into Crimea. And they annexed that.

And the United States didn't do a thing about that. We did some sanctions, light sanctions, but America over the last 15 to 20 years...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: We are talking about how this president relates to Vladimir Putin.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: It builds on that, Brianna.

KEILAR: You say he's the quarterback.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: If we're going to use that analogy, isn't he more the coach? Isn't he the one who is supposed to show the utmost leadership on this issue?

YOHO: I agree. I agree. And his style is different, as we talked about.

But this is something that over the last 15 to 20 years, you have seen us back up on our foreign policy, you have seen us back up and pivot. And in the last eight years, you can't deny it. There has been a vacuum that has been created.

Other countries are going in there. And that's why you saw an aggressive Russia. That's why you see China doing what they're doing in the South China Sea and Iran being emboldened.

And so there is some jockeying. There's new kids in the sandbox or a new quarterback on the field. And they will work this out. I have the utmost confidence in people like Mr. Tillerson that they're going to go ahead and they are going to have strong foreign policy and America's allies will know that we're back and they will know exactly where we stand.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Donald Trump is embracing Vladimir Putin, so do you support that?

YOHO: I support creating a dialogue where you can talk. You know, I wasn't a proponent of what President Obama did with Castro and Cuba.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: So when he tweets on the day that the Obama administration puts in place new sanctions, this is shortly before Donald Trump became president, and Putin says he's not going to retaliate, and he says, "Great move on delay by Vladimir Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

Look at that. He's calling Vladimir Putin very smart. But let's put up a graphic of the entities and the people that he has taken on. He has taken on just recently Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, Senator Blumenthal, Judge Robart, Nordstrom, "The New York Times" NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Mark Cuban, CNN, "The Washington Post," CBS, as well as the National Security Agency.

So does that concern you that he is at one hand -- and I should also -- we also have a graphic of someone just to make a point that he has not criticized. Let's put that up as well. Vladimir Putin, he's not targeted him on Twitter, as he has these others.

Is that appropriate?

YOHO: He hasn't? Well, again, it's style. But look what he has targeted.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: How is that style? Just explain to me, how is that style and not substance?

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: Because it's rhetoric. It's rhetoric. And look what he has focused on.

We have got $20 trillion in debt. We've got a failed health care policy from the last administration. Our tax code needs to be fixed.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I hear you on that, Congressman.

(CROSSTALK)

YOHO: And he's focused on that. I think that's a good thing.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Let's talk about relations with Russia, because I understand, if you want to say that is style and that is not substance, because it's rhetoric, then how is it -- how is it -- when we're talking about Russia, we're not talking about economic issues or domestic issues.

Why is that OK for him to do that and on -- explain to me how that is not substantive on Russia?

YOHO: Well, you would have to ask President Trump. I think it's his style.

He likes to be combative. He likes to go out after that. But I have no doubt...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: But he's not being combative with Vladimir Putin. He's being complimentary to him.

YOHO: Well, I thought that was a pretty good move on Vladimir Putin, not to retaliate, myself. And I didn't tweet that out. I don't tweet. I don't think it was a bad thing that he did, because it leaves an opening for this administration, the new one coming in, to start off on a better footing and go from there and build from there.

We met with some ambassadors from around the nation these last two weeks. And some of them, we don't have the best relationship. My goal is to make better relationships, and that's what he's going to do.

And I don't see him buddying up and having him up for Thanksgiving dinner. If he did, that would be great, if we got to that point. What we have to focus on is national security, Russia, China, and Iran, and Syria. We have all got a common enemy in what is going on in the world.

[18:30:09] Let's partner up with the people we can and work with the things that we can and then air our differences, and let's work to improve those. Because fighting each other on -- in today's -- with today's military capacity, this is not a good way for humanity. And I feel confident that when we get through and we get...

KEILAR: Congressman...

YOHO: ... into the end of the first quarter to the second quarter, you're going to see a well-moving foreign policy and things concentrating on getting our debt under control.

KEILAR: Well, I am out of time, so I'm going to have to leave it there. He already says it's a well-oiled machine, I will add that. but Congressman Ted Yoho, thank you so much for being with us.

YOHO: We have different definitions, I guess. KEILAR: I guess so. Thank you.

Now just ahead, President Trump calls the media the enemy of the American people. Is he trying to reframe his feud with reporters?

And the stunning reports that the suspect in the killing of Kim Jong- un's half-brother murder thought she was taking part in a prank.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:45] KEILAR: Tonight President Trump is following up his contentious news conference with a new attack on the media, labeling journalists "the enemy of the American people."

Let's bring in our political and legal experts to talk about this.

David Axelrod, to you first. I wonder what your insights is, as someone who spent so much time close to a president, to president Obama. When Donald Trump has a speech, like he did today, where he stayed on message about jobs, then he turns around and frames, in very inflammatory language, enemy of the American people is the media. Is that just a distraction, or is he also spending capital that he could really use to -- with the time to do something?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think this has to be exasperating to the people who work for him. There is this -- I've said this before. There is this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Twitter quality to Donald Trump. And he goes out there. He's got the teleprompter. He does well. It was a well-crafted message today, and they wanted that to be the story, all about jobs.

And then you put out this incredibly inflammatory tweet tonight, and it just hijacks the story. Here we are, talking about it,; others will be talking about it. And at some level, he must know. He's savvy in the ways of the media. He must know that, when he puts a tweet like that out, it is going to eclipse everything out.

So I'm sure it's a source of great frustration to people who are trying to keep him on message, trying to craft a message that's on the thing that works for him, which is jobs and the economy.

KEILAR: Ryan, why does -- go on.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. I disagree with Ax a little bit. Because I have a couple pieces up at NewYorker.com, where I've been reporting about this.

And there was a debate in the White House; and a senior White House official last week posed this question to me. We're talking about the struggles that the White House has had. And this person said, who is the enemy? Who is our opponent? Is it Chuck Schumer and the Democrats? Is it Elizabeth Warren? Is it the media? Is it elites? So they were sort of struggling with this question.

KEILAR: Who did they decide it was? LIZZA: Well, I think yesterday we got our answer, right? The answer

is us. The enemy is the media. And this person was also saying that was Steve Bannon's solution to brand the media the enemy. But I think they have struggled since the campaign, when they had this clarity. There was one person who was their enemy, Hillary Clinton. She's gone. And I think they've struggled to find someone to replace her.

KEILAR: So they need a new foil? I mean, is it really that thought- out or is he just that frustrated, Jackie?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think I agree with Ryan on this, although I will say he can blame the media for, you know, everything from if it rains during one of his rallies to, you know, the fact that his message isn't getting out. At the end of the day, what is -- this is going to come down to is what he can get done for people who voted for him.

They want jobs. If he can't deliver, if he overpromises and underperforms, and that he's not bringing in the things that he said, that's what's going to matter at the end of the day. The people that voted for him already don't like the media. This is just -- it's regalvanizing them. But at the end of the day, what he has done for them?

KEILAR: And just -- sorry, go on.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, can we just talk about what it means to call, like, the entire news media enemies of the American people?

AXELROD: Yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, I'm not unduly idealistic about what we do, and I realize we're a business, and -- you know, our shareholders are trying to make money. But you know, the press is an important part of the United States. And the idea that the president of the United States would call the entire news media the enemy of the American people, I find that chilling. I'm sorry. Maybe I'm naive or you know -- but it's really highly unusual.

LIZZA: You're 100 percent right. And we should point that out before we get into the politics of it.

KEILAR: We have an amendment, you know.

LIZZA: Look, and it's always -- when he attacks someone it's always the issue of, for us in the press, how much attention to give it. Right? Because there's a shock value to this, and he wants to set off a creation.

But someone is going to get hurt. When the president of the United States brands an entire class of journalists as enemies.

I was just looking through Donald Trump's Twitter feed. The only people he calls the enemy are ISIS, occasionally China, our adversaries. Someone in this country is going to do something stupid, because Donald Trump has branded us the enemy.

[18:40:08] KEILAR: That's a chilling -- it's a chilling...

AXELROD: Can I -- can I just -- can I...

KEILAR: Unfortunately -- Ax, go ahead.

AXELROD: Go ahead. Go ahead, Brianna.

KEILAR: Please go ahead.

AXELROD: I just wanted to say that he -- I think that you get to a point. I don't think most Americans, they don't -- they may not like the media. They don't think of themselves as the enemy of the media. And what he's saying is, "If you oppose me, you're an enemy of the people." And I think people will think that's a -- a bridge too far. I don't think he helps himself with this. I don't care what Steve Bannon thinks. They would have been better off with a jobs story today.

KEILAR: Yes. Very good point. All right. David, Jeff, Ryan and Jackie, stand by for me now.

Just ahead, the killing of Kim Jong-un's brother gets even more bizarre as the suspect claims she thought it was all part of a reality show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:30] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is preparing to take the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency after finally winning confirmation. The Senate vote coming just days before the court-ordered release of emails, of his e-mails that could shed light on Pruitt's ties and some new light on his ties to the oil and gas industry.

And to talk more about this is CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Democrats were trying to delay this and they weren't successful.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: They did. And was Mitch McConnell said today, it was a futile gesture. Despite all of that, Scott Pruitt was confirmed, but we should expect more drama. He's now facing that court order to release e-mail communications with the energy industry. His opponents are looking for potential conflicts of interest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nomination is confirmed.

MARSH (voice-over): Scott Pruitt confirmed to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the same agency he fought against as Oklahoma's attorney general.

LISA GRAVES, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: The American people have a right to know what Scott Pruitt is hiding.

MARSH: Pruitt's confirmation Friday comes as he faces a new court order. A watchdog group filed a lawsuit to get access to Pruitt's e- mail communications with the fossil fuel industry. Thursday, an Oklahoma district judge ruled Pruitt must turnover 3,000 e-mails by next Tuesday.

Democrats and environmental group accuse him of being cozy with the industry.

GRAVES: He has been hiding information from the Senate and from the American people about the true extent of that relationship, how deep his ties go to the industries that he would be basically charged with regulating.

MARSH: He's filed at least a dozen lawsuits against the EPA, the agency he will now lead.

In his confirmation hearing, senators revealed Pruitt used Oklahoma state stationery and signed his name to letters drafted by energy lobbyists. Those letters were then sent to federal agencies criticizing environmental regulations.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our plan will end the EPA.

MARSH: Pruitt's track record makes him attractive to Trump and Republicans who are desperate to rein in an agency they say is wasting taxpayer dollars.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: The EPA needs to be reformed and modernized. Oklahoma Senator Scott Pruitt is the right person for the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, Pruitt was confirmed on a largely party line vote. But there were some crossovers. Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both who represent energy-producing states voted for him, while moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted against him.

KEILAR: Those are interesting to note and the two Democrats facing re-election.

MARSH: That's right.

KEILAR: So, this is a serious issue for them in energy states.

Rene Marsh, thank you so much for that.

Now to an unanswered question from President Trump's hour-plus news press conference yesterday when he was repeatedly asked about a rise in anti-Semitism. The president's responses left some Americans confused, many other angry.

And CNN's Sara Ganim has been looking into this.

Sara, tell us about this.

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, critics say the president intentionally not denouncing a spike in anti-Semitic incidents across the country because he does not want to alienate fringe groups who backed him, supporters, including a prime minister of Israel the Jewish people have no greater friend than in Mr. Trump.

But tonight, Brianna, the president himself has still not addressed the issue head on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I'm here following --

GANIM (voice-over): It's one question the president seems either unwilling or unable to answer.

REPORTER: What we are concerned about it and what we haven't really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism.

GANIM: For two days.

REPORTER: We've seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic -- anti-Semitic incident.

GANIM: Reporters have fret Mr. Trump --

REPORTER: Some of it by supporters in your name.

GANIM: -- about a spike in Nazi-related vandalism, online memes with known anti-Semitic tones and threats made against Jewish-Americans, including 60 bomb threats called into 48 Jewish centers since January. A rise in hate the president has yet to denounce.

It began on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

REPORTER: We've seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic -- anti-Semitic incident.

GANIM: Trump's response? A defense of his election.

TRUMP: We are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had, 306 Electoral College votes.

[18:50:06] GANIM: Then on Thursday, an even more bizarre exchange.

TRUMP: I want to find a friendly reporter.

GANIM: When a reporter from "Ami Magazine", a Jewish publication, told the president he didn't believe he was anti-Semitic but was concerned.

JAKE TURX, REPORTER, AMI MAGAZINE: I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or any of -- anyone of your staff of being anti-Semitic. What we are concerned about, and what we haven't really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism.

GANIM: Trump suggested the question was a personal attack.

TRUMP: He said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it's not. It's not. Not a simple question. Not a fair question.

OK. Sit down. I understand the rest of your question.

GANIM: When reporters followed up, Trump lashed out.

TRUMP: Some of it written by our opponents. You do know that. Do you understand that?

GANIM: So why not denounce anti-Semitism? Experts say it may be a political calculation.

BRIAN LEVIN, PROFESSOR, UCSB: President Trump views loyal supporters as people to give the benefit of the doubt to, but there are times when his moral position is being eroded by his failure to throw overboard people --

GANIM: Brian Levin studies hate groups and the radical right. He says, whether he wants it or not, Trump has garnered the support of neo-Nazis and others.

LEVIN: We are beyond the point of abstract concern. We had Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorated without even mentioning the Jews. And at the same time, he puts in his immigration restrictions. By the same token, he had opportunities to address these questions head on and instead tells an orthodox Jew to sit down.

GANIM: Tonight, the Interfaith Alliance says Trump's repeated avoidance of the question can no longer be tolerated. The Anti- Defamation League called it mind-boggling. The American Jewish Committee said it was worrisome and puzzling.

But the orthodox Jewish reporter who Mr. Trump told to set down was defending the president.

TURX: I was actually very hopeful because it shows someone -- a president who is so committed against this problem of anti-Semitism that it bothers him on a personal level -- on a deep personal level and it makes me very hopeful that he will work together with the community.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GANIM: Brianna, CNN asked the White House again today about why the president has not denounced these incidents head on. So far, we have not gotten a response.

KEILAR: Sara Ganim, thank you for that report.

Just ahead, she claims she thought she was involved in a harmless prank and then the half brother of North Korean strong man Kim Jong-un wound up dead. The strange new twist in a murder mystery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57"11] KEILAR: Tonight, the death of Kim Jong-un's half brother is even more bizarre than we realized.

Our Brian Todd has been following the story.

Fill us in. This is -- this is fascinating and disturbing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brianna. This is stuff you cannot make up in a movie screenplay. There have been bizarre twists in this investigation every day since Kim Jong-un's brother was killed this week.

And tonight, the family of one of the suspects says she was duped, tricked by someone into thinking this was a stunt for a reality TV show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A murder case so bizarre that a suspect was captured on surveillance wearing a white shirt with "LOL" emblazoned across the front. Tonight, another strange twist in the killing of Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

According to Agence France Presse, one of the suspects, an Indonesian woman, told police she thought she was taking part in a harmless prank as part of a reality TV show. That suspect's mother told "Reuters" about her daughter being tricked.

BENAH, MOTHER OF KIM JONG NAM MURDER SUSPECT (through translator): She said she wanted to go to Malaysia for filming on a show to make people surprised by spraying perfume on somebody else.

TODD: According to AFP, an Indonesian police official says at least one of the female suspects in the murder had been paid before to spray a substance in people's faces in public. But this time, he says, there were dangerous materials in the sprayer. Kim Jong-nam got sick while at the airport in Kuala Lumpur this week.

Malaysian police told "Reuters" he felt like someone grabbed or held his face from behind, that he got dizzy and asked for help at a counter. He died on the way to the hospital. South Korean officials have called it murder and say he was poisoned.

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA ANALYST: This perhaps may have been the target of opportunity. He was in Malaysia for a week. He was flying back to Macau. They may have just thought this was the opportunity they had.

TODD: Tonight, a key question remains -- did Kim Jong-un order the murder of his half brother? A South Korean intelligence official told lawmakers that the North Korean regime did kill Kim Jong-nam. But he didn't explain how he knew it. MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It could

be, you know, part of a pattern of paranoia and executions that have characterized Kim Jong-un's leadership.

TODD: North Korea's ambassador says Malaysian officials told him Kim Jong-nam died of a heart attack. In another strange twist tonight, Malaysia says it won't release the body to North Korea or release the autopsy report without DNA from the Kim family.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: There's no word if North Korean officials will supply that DNA, but North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia has demanded the immediate release of the body. North Korea also says it will reject the results of what it calls the forced autopsy which it says was not witnessed by North Korean officials.

Brianna, who knows if the North Korean will ever get that body back or what that autopsy will say about the cause of death for Kim's brother.

KEILAR: All right. Brian Todd, thank you for that report.

I'm Brianna Keilar.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.