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Trump Still in Search of National Security Adviser; President Trump to Speak at Florida Rally; Border Officials to Push Trump for Fence Not Wall; Trump Holding Campaign Rally Four Weeks Into Term; Pence Reaffirms U.S. Unwavering Commitment to NATO; Aired 3-4a ET
Aired February 18, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:11] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Thanks for tuning in on this Saturday. Well, after four seemingly tumultuous weeks in the White House, President Trump is hitting rewind and revisiting the greatest hits of his campaign.
He has a big political rally planned just a short time from now in Florida at this airport hangar, and one thing is clear, the president feels the need to take his message directly to the American people.
He tweeted earlier today, "Don't believe the mainstream fake news media. The White House is running very well. I inherited a mess and I'm in the process of fixing it."
The one thing the president hasn't been able to fix yet finding a permanent replacement for his fired National Security advisor Michael Flynn. CNN learning one top candidate for the job bowed out because of the chaotic atmosphere at the White House, according to one source.
President Trump will meet with other candidates this weekend. The third straight he spent at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
And the president's round of interviews comes after a top name for that job took himself out of contention as we mentioned. A friend of retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward tells CNN Harward referred to the offer as a, quote, expletive sandwich. Though one Republican said Harward turned it down over concerns he wouldn't be able to bring in his own staff.
Joining me now to talk about all this, CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier and CNN intelligence security analyst Bob Baer, who's also a former CIA operative.
Thank you both for coming on.
Kim, I'm going to start with you here. Republican official telling CNN that Harward made it a condition of taking the job that he could form his own team and that in the end he did not feel that would be the case.
As the president conducts these new interviews, what does the White House need to do to attract topnotch national security advisors? KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Pam, I heard the
same thing from sources that what Harward wanted to do was possibly replace the deputy national security advisor, KT McFarland, but also go all through the staff and reevaluate everyone who've been hired. And the filing was there'd been enough turmoil at the NSC, they wanted someone who was willing to work with the people who'd already been vetted and brought on board.
Now there are three candidates who have a lot of experience, who are now being interviewed at some point this weekend for the job. But there are other candidates out there who have taken their name out of contention simply because they find there's too much chaos in their understanding of what's going on in the White House and they're also not clear about the mixed messages they see coming from Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence's office, and then other parts of the White House.
They don't know what sort of wild ride they might be signing themselves up for in a sort of a battle for who controls the message out of there.
BROWN: And Bob, let's take a look at some of the big names being floated right now. There's, of course, the current acting national security advisor, retired Army General Keith Kellogg, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, and Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster.
What do you think of those candidates?
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: They're all not bad candidates. They have experience. I mean, they would be good at the job but I think that the president -- what he needs at this point is somebody with some real, real weight. I mean, as Kimberly was saying, it's chaos.
I'm not sure who's in charge. Is it Tillerson, the secretary of State who has been notified of policy after he was on an airplane about the two-state solution with the Palestinians? You have Steve Bannon who sits on the National Security Council, is he in charged? The son-in- law Jared Kushner has been going around saying that he's in charge of the Middle East. So whoever takes that job is, you know, going to have a lot of work in front of them to take control of foreign policy, and right now there are a lot of big names very reluctant to take it.
BROWN: And of course, Donald Trump says that his administration is running like a fine tuned machine. But of those candidates that we just mentioned, Kim, which one do you think is sort of well suited to go in there and sort of juggle and handle some of the possible issues that Bob mentioned?
DOZIER: Well, Keith Kellogg would be a safe pair of hands. He's been part of the campaign. He's been acting as the national security advisor and he has the trust of the president. But President Trump is known as someone who's run his businesses where he has strong personalities that express their opinion and aren't afraid to battle each other. And John Bolton and H. R. McMaster are more in that category.
Of course, John Bolton has had strong opinions, calling for bombing Iran, calling for checking Russian power, which could be a bit of a conflict with some of Donald Trump's warm comments about Russia but then you have H. R. McMaster. If he is chosen, H. R. has known -- is known as someone who has never been afraid to speak truth to power.
[15:05:02] And he wrote a book about the Vietnam War called "Dereliction of Duty" where he studied every single communication in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and also with the secretary of Defense, and he called on the secretary of Defense in that case, Robert McNamara, said that he had failed to tell the White House that the Pentagon thought the prospects for success in Vietnam were poor and would take a lot longer and many more troops than initially calculated. So H. R. is somebody, if he was chosen, who would not be afraid to tell Donald Trump exactly what he thought.
BROWN: And we're just taking a look here on the -- your screen showing protests right outside of the airport hangar where Donald Trump is expected to hold a campaign rally at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time there in Melbourne, Florida. And as all this is going on, Bon, FBI director James Comey held this closed door briefing on Russia with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And lawmakers coming out of that meeting would not say a word but Republican senator Marco Rubio did tweet this. He said, "I am now very confident Senate Intel Committee I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence."
Bob, what do you make of that tweet?
BAER: The Intel Committee's -- Pamela, you hide information there. You don't get the full story. They are meant to protect sources and methods. At this point, we need a bipartisan independent committee outside the Intelligence Committees. Possibly a special prosecutor, if indeed General Flynn did lie to the FBI. And we have to get to the bottom of these Russian contacts. It's very, very unusual for a campaign to have telephone or direct contacts with a foreign intelligence service and there's been multiple contacts and we need an explanation. And if the committees come out with a whitewash, which they have over the years, I for one -- satisfied.
BROWN: And just to be clear, CNN reporting, because I was part of this reporting with Jim Sciutto and my colleague Evan Perez, is that contact -- there were contacts between people within the Trump campaign and Russian officials on the U.S. radar. We have not been able to confirm that these were Russian intelligence officers and we were also told that sometimes there are contacts between foreign officials and campaigns. But this was so frequent that it did raise alarms.
And, Kim, I want to just go to you to get your thoughts on that.
DOZIER: Well, Pamela, just to say briefly I hear Bob's skepticism and I heard that from Democrats on Capitol Hill who want an independent committee but there are members of the Intelligence Committee like the Democratic Senator Angus King who has said they've already started to gather documents and if you look back at what the Senate Intelligence Committee did on the CIA's extraordinary interrogation -- harsh interrogation program, they uncovered a lot, they pushed to have it publicized. So there are moments when they can do work that bring abuses to the light of day. So this tussle is going to go forward.
BROWN: And I want to just ask you, Bob, as we wrap up, this Russian spy ship that is lurking 30 miles off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. What do you make of that?
BAER: I think the Russians are testing this administration, just as the North Koreans did with their missile launch, Pamela. They want to see how far he's going to push back and this is the time to do it. And I think the Russians enjoy the chaos in the Trump administration and they're going to make the most of it until this guy gets his sea legs which I hope he does soon.
BROWN: And what do you make about Donald Trump's posture now toward Russia? Can you see a change?
BAER: I think there's going to be a change. I think -- I think he's going to say, wait a minute, you know, he had wanted to reconcile with Putin but at this point while this cloud is hanging over his administration, I don't see how he could do it. He can't pull off sanctions over the invasion of Crimea. It's -- not now. And I think you're going to see this administration, especially General Mattis and the secretary of State pushing back against the Russians. They're going to push back hard and I think Putin is going to regret having hacked into this election.
BROWN: All right. I will leave it there. Kim Dozier, Bob Baer, thank you to you both. I appreciate it.
And coming up on this Saturday, protests over the president's immigration raids and his border wall. Our exclusive new details about what the wall could look like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do not worry. We are going to build the wall, OK? Don't worry. Don't even think about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And he's worth a fortune and that's what it's costing to protect President Trump and his family. We break down the numbers for you, the taxpayer, as the president spends a third straight weekend in Florida.
And speaking of Florida, we have some live pictures from Florida right here.
[15:10:02] The president about to rally his supporters but protesters as we see in this video also there.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Welcome back. You're looking at some live pictures out of Melbourne, Florida, where protesters have gathered across right there from President Trump's planned campaign rally.
He's been in office less than a month and hitting the campaign trail this early is a little unheard of, but so is the president's current approval rating. A brand new Gallup poll released today shows just four in 10 Americans like what they're seeing from the White House. That's lower than any other president so soon after being elected.
So let's talk about this. With me, Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and former Reagan White House political director. Also with us, Marc Lamont Hill, CNN political commentator and host of BET News.
Thank you both, gentlemen, for coming on.
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hello, Pamela.
BROWN: Jeffrey, I'm going to start with you. Is this campaign rally meant to boost Americans' morale or the president? Or both?
LORD: Well, first of all, it's not uncommon. I think President Obama went to Elkhart, Indiana, on February 9th of 2009 less than a month after he had been sworn in as president. So there are precedents for this kind of thing.
Frankly, the permanent campaign, as they call it, has been going on through the last several presidencies long after they're reelected, second-term presidents have been out there on the campaign trail raising money, et cetera. President Obama was no exception.
So, number one, there's nothing new about this. Number two, I think it's always good for presidents, this president in particular, to be in touch with the folks who voted for him, to be out there and make his case.
[15:15:04] I'm sure it's always a relief to get out of the White House as he's learning, and it's a good thing to do.
BROWN: So, Marc, on that point, does it help Mr. Trump to get out of White House and among the people?
MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It helps to shore up his base but there are some lingering questions that I don't think get resolved if you simply stay on the campaign trail.
Jeffrey is right. The doctrine of the permanent campaign is something that has existed when Karl Rove and George W. Bush were really pushy, but it's much more about how you promoted policy, how you engaged, not just your core base but you reached across the aisle.
Right now it seems as if Donald Trump is simply trying to yell at the media, bark back at people who challenge him, castigate anyone who's in disagreement with him, and really try to gloss over a really troubling rollout of his first 30 days. I'm sure this will strengthen his base but I don't think it does much
else for anyone else.
BROWN: OK. So on that point, Jeffrey, the president did tweet again this message he's been sort of putting out there time and time again saying the fake news media failing. "The New York Times," NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people. And then you have German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she responded this way this morning. Let's take a listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (Through Translator): I think a free and independent press is of the essence. I have great respect for journalists. We, at least here in Germany, have always done best when we show respect for each other, when we show mutual respect and whenever we differ, we talk about it openly but freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy and that is something that I think we all accept.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Jeffrey, what sounds more like the president of the United States to you?
LORD: Well, Pam, I think we have to have the full context of what President Trump said. I have a column that will be posted at NewsBusters later today which I took a look at what he said in this press conference and he called for an honest discussion with the news media, which I think is a very, very good thing. This is --
BROWN: That is a good thing. Having an honest discussion.
LORD: -- allegation of liberal bias in the media, Pamela, has been going on since about 1969 with then Vice President Spiro Agnew. The American people have -- do not have a lot of confidence in the media and I think it's a good thing to get it out there and have a discussion about it.
BROWN: But what does that do to democracy, Jeffrey, to come out and continually call the media fake news? You know, there is also the argument that's been made by people that whenever the checks and balances -- wherever he feels like the checks and balances are threatening him, he attacks them. You saw what he said about the judiciary when it put a halt on his travel ban. You see the way that he treats the media when we write stories or broadcast stories that he is not happy with. So what does it say to you? I mean, do you see that perspective as well? Do you see that argument as well, Jeffrey?
LORD: Well, sure. But he's a counterpuncher, number one, in terms of President Trump himself, but you have to say that, for context -- for example, this whole notion that the White House is in turmoil. I personally went back and took a look and found similar stories about the Obama White House, the Bush White House, the Clinton White House, the Reagan White House that I was in. And there was the media saying the same thing.
My point is that there's no context given in these White House in turmoil stories because according to the media they've all been in turmoil. So you know that I think --
BROWN: Right. But so then why -- so then why wouldn't the administration say -- so then, Marc, I want to bring you in to weigh in on this, you know, when it comes to his travel ban, he said at his press conference, it was a smooth rollout. It was not a smooth rollout. There are facts to back up why it wasn't. There were green card holders that were detained and it wasn't until two days later that was clarified. So why not just say look, we're just starting now, every other administration has had some chaos in the beginning as we try to kind of get our sea legs? Why not just acknowledge that, Jeffrey?
LORD: Well, I think when he says -- I mean, he made a mistake, for example, on the electoral college numbers. So that's fine, but I think he really does believe and frankly, he's not alone. I mean, this has been gospel among conservatives and Republicans for decades now that the media is liberal. That they go out of their way -- I mean, that President Obama, for example, was hailed, as one columnist, I think it was Joe Scarborough actually from another network who called him -- was treated like a black Jesus.
I myself had done a column on "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year when it was President Obama after he won the election in 2008 and he was just fabulous. And then they put President Trump on as President- elect Trump on the cover for the same thing, and called him president of the divided states of America. Well, America was divided in 2008, too. But they didn't really care about that. That's the double standard that I think drives Republicans crazy.
BROWN: OK, Marc, and I want you to jump in here to be -- to respond to this.
HILL: So Donald Trump said this administration is running --
HILL: Yes. The first I will say is --
BROWN: Go ahead.
[15:20:03] HILL: Absolutely. Newspapers report all the time that administrations are in turmoil. It doesn't mean, however, that no administration is in turmoil. The difference, though, is not what the media said but how the candidate or how the president responds.
He's the first person to go all out into war with the media through Twitter or any other means. Obviously, tweets when he could have done it through other means. He's the first one to do this and so again it's an odd position to be placed in. And not only castigates the media, it makes Americans not only feel uneasy about the media but also about the president himself. Yes, President Obama had a -- was hailed as a hero in 2008 and some of
it was unreasonable. I mean, I think winning the Nobel Peace Prize while prosecuting a war was probably a troublesome designation. At the same time there is a difference between Trump's America and Obama's America. The nation is more divided than it was in 2008. The polls suggest, the people suggested, the media reports suggest that. And if Trump wants to not have the media fact checks all the time, then Trump should articulate the facts as they are.
But when you offer misrepresentations of your margin of victory, when you talk about how many people were in D.C., when you talk about how your smooth policy initiatives are when there's trouble all over the place, when you attack judges and all the other checks and balances in the world, you're going to get a response at some point. President Trump needs to stop campaigning, stop fighting and stop having tantrums and instead just try to govern.
BROWN: Let me just ask you this. I mean, you know, if the majority of Americans didn't think our country was a mess, would Mr. Trump have won this election? I mean, you know, do they really care about this infighting about, you know, fake news and the media, what we're talking about, about turmoil in the administration or do they want to know more about, you know, what's being done to give them jobs?
I mean, clearly, Americans put Mr. Trump in the White House for a reason, Marc.
HILL: Absolutely. I mean, but they're not competing claims. Americans can want jobs and still be concerned about the news. Americans can want the economic situation to improve, at the same time, they can be very skeptical of a president that goes to war with the media. I mean, you look at President Trump's numbers, from -- you look at the demographics of people who elected him, those numbers are also shrinking. White college educated men, non-college graduates among white men. People who are part of a core base, they're shrinking. His poll numbers are among the lowest in American history this recently after an inauguration. That suggested even the people who gave him their trust are now raising questions. It doesn't mean that it's going to be a disaster. I think it will be, but it doesn't necessarily mean that but what it does mean is that Donald Trump has some work to do and it can't happen on Twitter.
BROWN: All right. Jeffrey Lord, Marc Lamont Hill. This discussion no doubt will continue. Thank you, gentlemen.
LORD: Thank you, Pamela. Thank you, Marc.
BROWN: And coming up, Trump's great wall. Is it actually more of a fence? Exclusive new details on what it really could look like.
[15:26:28] BROWN: A major battle may be brewing between President Trump and the people actually responsible for planning and building the wall that he wants on the border with Mexico. If those officials have it their way, the wall wouldn't be a wall at all, but a fence. Senior -- CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin reports.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is 18 feet tall made of steel with a cement base. Call it what you want, but the government planners, security experts and Homeland Security officials, who will be in-charge of building it, call this a fence.
This is the most recently built barrier between the United States and Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. And CNN has been told by multiple sources within the agencies involved in building, paying for and enforcing this barrier, that this is what President Trump's wall may look like.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is planning to present the plan for border security to its bosses possibly this week and CNN has learned new details. First, they say the wall should not be a wall. It should be a fence. And that could become a sticky situation for a president who insists otherwise.
TRUMP: On the fence. It's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.
GRIFFIN: Sources tell CNN the biggest job in moving forward is convincing the president that the fence is more secure. And it will be up to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, sources say, who must find a way to allow the White House to spin the promise of a wall into a fence. Secretary Kelly seems to have already begun in testimony to Congress repeatedly referring to the board of fortification as a barrier.
JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, there are many, many places that we need some type of physical barrier right now, backed up by men and women of border protection.
GRIFFIN: Why would President Trump agree to a fence instead of a beautiful wall, as he says? Security and commonsense. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials on the ground and in charge of actually securing the border tells CNN a fence actually offers more security than a solid wall.
One source telling CNN, "You never want to have a barrier in place that will obstruct your vision. That prevents you from seeing the other side of the border." Another saying, "I'm not calling it a wall because we are talking about a fence that we can look through. That's what we need."
It's more secure for border agents, it eliminates many environmental factors like drainage and its costs will be significantly lower. If the current plan is approved, it will look like this bollard style fencing, the steel slats, secured six feet below ground and standing 18 feet above. The slats reinforced with rebar and cement.
Another part of the proposal, according to sources, it will not go coast to coast. This is the current fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico with large gaps in between for a total of 654 miles. The latest plans involve adding 177 new miles of fencing and replacing 272 miles of already built fence according to one high level source with knowledge of the project.
That means the total barrier between the United States and Mexico would cover 831 total miles of a nearly 2,000 mile border. Still not even half according to these sources.
BROWN: Drew Griffin, thank you so much for that report.
Well, coming up, the campaign is long over, but we're about to see another big Trump rally and of course, we'll bring it to you live when it happens.
[15:33:12] BROWN: Well, in just a short time from now, we'll see President Trump back in campaign mode at a rally in Florida.
CNN's Athena Jones is there. So, Athena, set the stage for us.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pamela. It's very, very loud here. So forgive me if I have problems hearing. I got to tell you, this rally is something that the president has said he is very much looking to and as he describes it this is all about getting around the media filter and speaking directly to the people, his fans.
This is -- the rally stage is a place where he's been very, very comfortable. Something that has energized him on the campaign trail and so that is why he was looking toward to today and if you combine today's rally with that press conference on Thursday, this is something of a chance for a reset for the president and for the White House. He's facing sagging approval numbers. I believe we have the latest Gallup Daily Tracking Poll of his job approval ratings. We can put up on the screen. It shows that he is underwater. More people disapproving. That's 55 percent of the job he's doing as president than approving. That approval number at 40 percent.
So this rally is coming at a time when the president is hoping to be able to reset and to show his followers that everything is fine at the White House. So we expect him to highlight what he views as his administration's accomplishments over the course of the first month in office -- Pamela.
BROWN: And I know you mentioned, Athena, it's very, very loud there, so I'm not sure if you can hear the follow-up question and that's fine if you can't. But of course, this is all happening as the president is trying to find a replacement for the national security advisor job. Is there a front-runner?
JONES: That's right. There is a frontrunner. We know that during this weekend, what the White House is calling -- a senior administration official has called a working weekend, the president is meeting with several possible replacements for the now former national security advisor Michael Flynn and rising to the top of the list we're told is the former ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton.
[15:35:06] He is someone who has the support of people like Texas Senator Ted Cruz who said that he would make a very, very strong national security advisor because he understands the threat from radical Islamic terrorism.
We understand Bolton is also a strong favorite among the political staffers on the National Security Council. His supporters believe that he brings a mix of sort of an anti-establishment approach to all of this, which would fit -- be in line with the president's own political temperament but also combines that with knowledge of Washington and of the way the foreign policy process works. So that is the latest we're hearing on the several names up for discussion for that post -- Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Athena Jones, thanks so much for breaking it down for us.
And coming up on this Saturday, you can call it the reassurance tour, if you want. Vice President Pence face-to-face with European allies, unnerved by his boss' statements on Russia and NATO. So what was his message?
BROWN: Vice President Mike Pence is making his first trip abroad this weekend since taking office. Pence is in Munich, Germany, attending the Annual Global Security Summit there. The vice president told NATO alliance members that despite comments made by President Trump during the campaign, the U.S. commitment to the European partnership is strong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance.
[15:40:03] The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Elise Labott is our global affairs correspondent.
So, Elise, Russian officials are clearly not happy with the vice president's firm stance with NATO which as you know is an alliance to face off against the Soviet Union so many decades ago. What has the Russian response been?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Pamela, you had Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov essentially saying that actually it was NATO expansion that really has created the tension in the region and if you think about it from Russia's point of view, these great expansion of NATO, the addition of several Eastern European countries on its backyard. That, you know, got Russia back up and sees that as an affront on its sphere of influence in Europe. And so that's what it says has created all of this tension and essentially saying, like, you're forcing us to go into Ukraine, you're forcing us to do this because we're feeling a threat.
I mean, obviously, the Europeans don't see it that way, but you heard Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov today essentially saying that the post-Cold War order is over. And, you know, Russia needs to be considered a super power once again.
BROWN: All right, So are European and foreign leaders concerned at all that the U.S. security structure is not in place? I mean, how is the new Trump administration being viewed abroad in general?
LABOTT: I think that European leaders don't know what to expect. I mean, clearly, Vice President Pence today said a lot of encouraging words about the commitment to the alliance. I think they would have liked to hear something more about the European Union. You know, President Trump hasn't been all that keen on the idea of this -- of the European Union, wants to have more bilateral relationships.
I think there's a lot of concern about what they see going on in the White House, that there's no national security advisor. I mean, I think, you know, the whole chaos regarding Mike Flynn and the issue of the Russia, you know, issue and intelligence and meddling in the election and those communications is one thing but they don't really have a lot of interlocutors at the White House right now. And if they -- if there's a crisis I think they're concerned that who do they reach in the White House right now?
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just standing up his team so there's just not a lot of people to talk to, to get answers not only about, you know, specific policies that might be coming down the pipe but who do they talk to right now in a crisis?
BROWN: And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, you mentioned him. He was forced to stay at a sanitarium 30 minutes away from other world leaders. G-20 meeting is a major event. Does that speak to a lack of coordination within the administration? What's sort of your view on this and what has the reaction been internally?
LABOTT: Well, it's actually kind of like a health spa. You know, apparently when he was getting in and out of his car, there were like, you know, kind of elderly people going to get their, you know, kind of salt bath treatments or something. I think what it is like Secretary Tillerson came into the game a little bit late. You know, he's just been on the job for about 10 days. He does not have a lot of people at the State Department. It's really a bare bones staff. Right now you have some people in the administration quit, you have before he came on, a lot of people -- you know, they typically offer their resignations but a lot of times, those resignations are not -- you know, the White House asked these people to stay on to get, you know, the administration going.
And so I think it's this backlog of staff, this really working, you know, bare bones in a gorilla operation right now at the State Department, and I think it's just that he didn't have enough time and enough, you know, planning by people on the State Department to get his delegation on the ground in a hotel. Usually these reservations are made weeks if not months in advance.
BROWN: Right. And as you point out, he's only been on the job for 10 days.
So, Elise Labott, thank you so much. We'll put it all in perspective.
Well, coming up right here on this Saturday in the NEWSROOM, the price of protecting a jet setting president from trips to Mar-a-Lago to properties in New York and New Jersey. Is the Secret Service not to mention the American taxpayer feeling the strain?
And no, this isn't a campaign flashback. President Trump is back on the trail today essentially with a big rally planned in Florida. We are standing by and we'll be right back.
[15:48:09] BROWN: Welcome back. You're taking a look at split screens here. One side inside an airport hangar full of Donald Trump supporters there. They're to see him arrive for a campaign rally at 5:00 p.m. Eastern and then on the other side you see a group of protesters that are gathered outside that hangar.
And again Donald Trump just tweeted about 20 minutes ago that he will be on his way soon and is expected to begin at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Clearly, the president back in campaign mode as he goes to Melbourne, Florida, to speak to the crowd there. And right now the president is spending his third straight weekend in Florida, Palm Beach, Florida. Trips that are costing you, the taxpayer, money. Lots of it.
Not only does the Secret Service have to protect multiple sites at one time, White House North in New York, Trump Tower of course, White House South in Florida and the actual White House here in Washington. And there's also the matter of protecting a very big first family.
Here's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cost of protecting the jet setting first family could be epic starting with the president, vice president, their wives, confidantes, children and grandkids, over to 20 people from the get-go.
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: That's unprecedented. It's not unattainable to protect them all, it's just unprecedented.
FOREMAN: CNN security analyst, Jonathan Wackrow, says the equation is complicated by the Trump family working out of so many places. The White House, the Mar-A-Lago Club in Florida, several private residences in and out of D.C., and Trump Tower in New York which the first lady calls home.
Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy.
JOSEPH CLANCY, SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: When I go into Trump Tower, the restaurant is full, the Starbucks is full of people. So the challenge is to allow those businesses to continue to operate, but in a secure manner.
FOREMAN: In the works, permanently hiring out a whole floor for security operations.
(On camera): To give you a sense, that would be 13,000 square feet of prime New York real estate at a four-year market value of $6 million. Although the president could give his team a deal.
[15:50:12] (Voice-over): Another worry? Most of Trump's children are grown and involved in business meaning lots of travel. "The Washington Post" put the Secret Service hotel bill for his son's trip to South America at $100,000. And two sons are opening a golf course in Dubai this weekend.
CLANCY: I would say the most challenging trips for us are the foreign trips.
FOREMAN: Every time a president takes off up to 300 people go along, teams for personal security, counterassault, intelligence, surveillance, emergency response, military support, transportation, communication, staffing, and more.
The price tag is hard to pin down, but a government study found a three-day trip by President Obama in 2013 cost taxpayers $3.6 million. So will the total security bill be tens of millions, hundreds?
WACKROW: It's very hard to forecast what the cost is going to be.
FOREMAN: Other presidents have raised security challenges with their lifestyles and travel -- Bill Clinton's vacations in Martha's Vineyard, George Bush's retreats to Texas, Barack Obama's holidays in Hawaii. And CNN is told just protecting Vice President Biden's family took nearly 50 agents.
BROWN: Our thanks to Tom Foreman.
And let's talk it over with former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino, author of "Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From It All."
Dan, first question to you. Do you think President Trump should consider Camp David, the presidential retreat, just a short helicopter right away from the White House, as a weekend location, instead of Mar-a-Lago in Florida?
DAN BONGINO, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Well, I don't see any benefit to doing that for him. I mean, he's the president, he's clearly more comfortable being in down at Mar-a-Lago, where he's been going to for years. It's not unprecedented or overwhelming.
You know, I like John Wackrow. I know John. But I don't know where he's getting this from. There's nothing difficult about securing Mar- a-Lago. There's some logistical hurdles, getting hotel rooms in the area. But the thing is, if you're the president of the United States, and this was whether under Barack Obama or President George W. Bush, it's obviously a very stressful job. If he's more comfortable at Mar- a-Lago, rather than Camp David which is more isolated.
I think he should focus on being the president and worry about that, and not so much the logistics of the Secret Service getting a few hotel rooms.
BROWN: Right. But I think when it comes to --
BONGINO: But this isn't unprecedented at all.
BROWN: You know, the price tag -- exactly. I mean, presidents, as Tom pointed out, you know, you had Bill Clinton going to Mar-a-Lago. You had, you know, President Bush going to Kennebunkport and so forth. But every weekend, you know, when it comes to taxpayer dollars can you just kind of give us perspective on this?
BROWN: Going to Mar-a-Lago, rather than a camp David, you know?
BONGINO: Yes. Well, you know, taxpayer dollars, we should always be concerned about. The issue came up obviously with Barack Obama and President Bush as well. And it should always come up, it's our money. But it's really not that overwhelming for the Secret Service, nor is it going to be in the long run that expensive. And let me tell you why. The Secret Service can preposition assets. We don't have to protect Mar-a-Lago. But if we have a reasonable idea about how many times the president is going to go down, if it's twice a month, three times a month, you can preposition a lot of assets and it saves a lot of the costs of moving people around back and forth.
You can also fortify the field office with some agents so you don't have to constantly fly people back and forth. So is it going to cost money? Sure. Should taxpayers be concerned? They should always be concerned. But is this unprecedented or overwhelming? I mean, that's hyperbolic to say the least. I don't know -- I'm not hearing that from anyone in the Secret Service who I talked to at all.
BROWN: Right. And I actually -- I interviewed the former head of the Secret Service, Joseph Clancy, who is now retiring. And he said look, this is -- this is what we do. With every president it's a different set of circumstances and we adjust. But how do you feel about the price tag for Secret Service protecting Eric and Donald Trump Junior when they go abroad on official business for the Trump Organization. Like this weekend's grand opening of a Trump brand golf resort at the Beverly Hills of Dubai? Should taxpayers foot that bill? Or should the Trump Organization step in and pick up the security tab? What do you think?
BONGINO: Well, listen, they don't really have the choice. I mean, as the law is written now, Title 18, United States Code 3056, the president's children will get Secret Service protection. Until lawmakers say otherwise, I think it would be foolish to give up the most elite protection force in the world. And it's -- for me it's not a matter of cost. It's a matter of keeping them alive. I mean, does the United States -- think about this.
Does the average citizen in the United States, god forbid, want one of the president's kids taken hostage or hurt overseas because we were worried about the cost of them traveling? I mean, listen, we should always be concerned about the cost.
BROWN: But it's a matter -- we're not --
BROWN: I'm not asking whether Secret Service should protect them overseas. It's a matter of who should foot the bill.
[15:55:04] BONGINO: Well, yes, we do protect the president's kids. I mean, that's what -- we've elected representatives in Congress who voted on laws and that's what we do. And I think we should. I mean, the Secret Service does it better than anyone else. And frankly, I would be very uncomfortable leaving the president's children prime targets for any terror group open to private security.
I know they do a great job, but the Secret Service has a very specific way of operating, a very specific way of working with the United States military. And I'd be very be hesitant to turn that over to anybody else. I think there's a reason we delegate that job to the Secret Service for the president's family.
BROWN: All right. Dan Bongino, thank you very much.
Coming up on this Saturday, crowds gathering to welcome President Trump at a mega rally in Florida. What will the president say after a tumultuous first month in office? We'll bring it to you live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
BROWN: Well, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington on this Saturday.
Welcome back to 2016 or at least what certainly feels like it. Just a few days short of marking one moth in office, President Donald Trump is already hitting the campaign trail. He's set to hold a major rally in Florida shortly and a small crowd of protesters have already gathered outside. And on the other side of your screen, you see all the people there to see Trump inside that airport hangar.
Now while it's unclear exactly what Mr. Trump is campaigning for, two things are understood. President is in need of a serious boost.