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Trump Returns to "Campaign Trail"; Trump's First 100 Days; Kremlin Denies It Meddled in U.S. Election; New Arrest in Death of Kim Jong-nam; Powerful Storm Brings Flooding to California; Make America Kittens Again. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 02:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president has a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, this man, Scott Pruitt, familiar with the organization because he sued the EPA over a dozen times.

But there's still a big hole to fill in the Trump team, the post of national security adviser. And there's new information on who is no longer in the running.

Plus a North Korean man is arrested in connection with the mysterious death of Kim Jong-un's half-brother.

Hi, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from Atlanta. And you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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VANIER: Coming off a rough first few weeks in the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump is returning to the campaign trail in a way and to a familiar message.

In the coming hours he headlines a rally in Melbourne, Florida; at a Boeing airplane plant in South Carolina Friday, Mr. Trump touted one of his big campaign themes, bringing jobs back to the U.S.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Munich, Germany, for a security summit, he's trying to reassure U.S. allies about the Trump administration's commitment to them. He's also trying to allay their concerns about Russia.

And all this is going on while the Trump administration still needs to fill the post of U.S. national security adviser. Sources tell CNN that two potential candidates, former CIA director David Petraeus and former Army General Stanley McChrystal, are now out of the running.

While the search for a new national security adviser continues, President Trump is making a promise to the American people. White House correspondent Sara Murray has more on that.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love South Carolina. I love it.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than a month into his presidency, Donald Trump is breaking out of the bubble and getting back into campaign mode.

TRUMP: This was going to be a place that was tough to win and we won in a landslide.

MURRAY (voice-over): Trump reliving his South Carolina primary win in a visit to a Boeing plant today, the president trying to get back to his sweet spot as he touted his goal to revive American manufacturing.

TRUMP: 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.

MURRAY (voice-over): With the administration under fire over its Russian connections, the botched travel ban and the ouster of Trump's national security adviser, Trump's allies say he has been feeling cooped up, so he jumped at the chance to get out of Washington and try to turn the focus to job creation instead.

TRUMP: My focus has been all about jobs. And jobs is one of the primary reasons I'm standing here today as your president. And I will never, ever disappoint you, believe me. I will not disappoint you.

MURRAY (voice-over): While Trump vowed to prevent jobs from moving overseas...

TRUMP: I don't want companies leaving our country, making their product, selling it back, no tax, no nothing, firing everybody in our country. We're not letting that happen anymore, folks, believe me.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- he offered few details about how he would do so, as Capitol Hill is still waiting to see the framework of a Trump tax plan. It's an item on the president's agenda this weekend, when he and top aides are slated to huddle with newly confirmed budget director, Mick Mulvaney, the president hitting the road today as a key White House position remains unfilled.

Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn earlier this week. And retired vice admiral Bob Harward also turned down the job. Now Trump says he has a handful of candidates on his short list, including acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg.

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VANIER: A day after a marathon news conference that was often combative, Mr. Trump is taking aim at the media again and he's not pulling his punches. On Twitter, he wrote, "The fake news media, failing 'New York Times,' NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy, it's the enemy of the American people. "

Reporters asked U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell about the president's tweets. The Republican says they aren't that important.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of yesterday's news conference, are you concerned the president is taking your party off message?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: 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, I can't --

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MCCONNELL: -- see much difference between what President Trump is doing and what they would have done.

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VANIER: I spoke a short time ago with CNN's senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, about President Trump's relationships with Republicans in Congress.

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RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is a transactional relationship on both sides. Donald Trump, in many ways, was an independent candidate, who ran under the Republican banner. He had less institutional support. He had more elected Republicans saying they would vote against him.

And any nominee, I believe, since William Howard Taft in 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt left the party and there was a fissure.

And on the other side, Donald Trump was as quick to criticize Republicans often as he was Democrats. He certainly did not shy from attacking Paul Ryan in particular over and over during the campaign.

I don't think there is a lot of deep personal bonding. What there is that holds them together, I think, are two things -- one, Mitch McConnell alluded to. There is a lot of policy where they overlap. I don't agree with him that it's exactly the same as it would have been under Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Maybe we can talk about that.

But there are areas where Donald Trump's agenda and the agenda the Republicans have been developing since 2010 do overlap, particularly on rolling back government.

And the other thing that keeps them together is that Donald Trump is very popular with the Republican base; even as he is facing by far lower approval ratings than any newly elected president ever one month into his tenure, over 80 percent of Republicans still say they support what he is doing and that is a constraining factor on the ability of congressional Republicans to break from him. VANIER: What about the point Mitch McConnell was making, that essentially Donald Trump is pushing the same agenda any mainstream Republican president would have been pushing?

If you look beyond the tweets and the personality, I mean, is Trump just like any other Republican president?

BROWNSTEIN: Nom I don't think that is exactly right. I mean, I think the way to think about this and have often said is that there are two Venn diagrams, there is the Donald Trump agenda and the agenda of kind of mainstream Republicans.

And these do overlap in some places: repealing ObamaCare, rolling back federal regulations; with the confirmation of Scott Pruitt at the EPA, we're going to see a big push in the environment. Cutting taxes, there are areas where they overlap.

There are big areas, though, where they don't overlap, where you see Donald Trump is a more protectionist. He is pushing harder on immigration than I think we would certainly have seen from Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both in terms of entry to the country and in deportation from within the country.

And obviously his views on foreign policy, attitude toward Russia, attitude toward NATO, I could care less -- an exact quote -- whether the E.U. dissolves, is not something you would really see from I think any other possible Republican president.

VANIER: But Ron, specifically, Mitch McConnell said his priority was tax reform and health care reform. And to pass that in the Senate, more than likely, he is going to need more than the majority he's got.

Let's show our viewers the numbers in the Senate, it's 52-48 in favor of the Republicans. That means they're probably going to need more Democrats, a supermajority, 60 votes in the Senate, to pass those big ticket items.

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VANIER: Donald Trump's style of governance making it easy for him to achieve that ultimately.

BROWNSTEIN: Clearly making it harder. I mean, as I mentioned, Donald Trump has an over 80 percent approval rating among Republicans. His disapproval rating among Democrats is over 80 percent, which is unprecedented in the history of polling, going back to 1953.

Gallup has polled every new president. No new president has ever faced the level of opposition from the opposite party that Donald Trump has. And that obviously makes it tougher for Democrats to work with him.

But he has got a bigger problem, which is that while he is busy raging at the media and tweeting and fighting with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin and "Saturday Night Live," Republicans in the House and Senate have run quickly into the quagmire, dividing over what to do about tax reform.

The version that Paul Ryan wants to pursue is a -- almost a complete non-starter in the Senate. They are struggling to repeal ObamaCare conversely because there are so many Senate Republicans who are saying they will not repeal until they know what they have to replace it. And that effort has been kind of stuck in the mud as well.

Without a clear sense of policy guidance from the White House, the legislative agenda that Mitch McConnell prizes is also running aground at this point. And they -- and that's why I think you're seeing the kind of plea that you hear in that press conference today.

VANIER: All right, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

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VANIER: The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Trump's controversial pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Democrats and environmentalists have called Scott Pruitt a climate change denier but Republicans say he will put a stop to years of bureaucratic overreach that has killed jobs.

The head of one energy industry group said, "We expect the EPA to return to sensible policies that both protect the environment and recognize the need for reliable and affordable coal-based electricity."

U.S. President Donald Trump has dismissed allegations of Russian contacts with his administration --

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VANIER: -- as "a ruse" and "fake news." But Russian interference in U.S. politics is being taken seriously on Capitol Hill.

FBI director James Comey on Friday briefed U.S. senators in a closed door meeting about what Russia has been up to. At least three official investigations are expected.

One Democratic senator said the Senate Intelligence Community has already put safeguards in place to ensure the White House does not destroy any relevant documents.

For Russian reaction, let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Clare, the Kremlin, Moscow in general, has been front and center of Trump's almost first month in the White House, whether it likes it or not. And there have been a lot of accusations over Trump campaign team involvement with Russian operatives.

Are we learning anything from Moscow?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officially, Cyril, it's interesting because the response from the Kremlin sounded very much like the response from Mr. Trump when asked about the contacts between the Trump campaign team and Russian operatives.

The Kremlin spokesman earlier this week said don't trust anonymous sources. He said it's difficult to distinguish fake news from real news. But, on the other hand, he didn't deny that contacts took place.

This is something we've heard from the Russians before. But certainly, I will say that, in political circles here in Moscow, there is some growing concern that Russia is becoming Trump's Achilles heel essentially, that his critics are using it essentially as a stick to beat him with.

We've seen senior politicians here in Russia tweet about, put this on their Facebook page in this week. And I think that might explain partly why we're seeing the coverage of Trump slightly reduced in the Russian media.

The Kremlin's responses to questions from us about where this relationship is going have been fairly muted, leaving the door open but not saying anything too specific.

I know one political analyst said to me this week here that perhaps they're staying quiet because they don't want to provide President Trump's critics with any new ammunition to use against him. So that does seem to be the strategy here at the moment -- Cyril.

VANIER: This new U.S.-Russia relationship, that may or may not be shaping up, is still in its infancy right now.

Are you getting a clearer picture of where it's headed?

SEBASTIAN: Well, that's the million-dollar question, isn't it?

I think everyone, certainly here and in Washington, are searching for clues about that. We may get more today. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to speak at the Munich Security Conference. We may get a sense where he sees Russia's position in the world and its future relationship with the U.S. and NATO.

Last year, of course you'll remember Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev addressed that same conference and said that, given how unfriendly NATO's policy towards Russia is, we may be sliding back into a new Cold War.

And I think certainly it's becoming clear here in Moscow that the mere fact of having a U.S. president, who said he wants closer ties with Russia, does not simplify matters.

There are still major sticking points: the issue of Ukraine, President Trump tweeting earlier this week that Crimea was taken by Russia, suggesting that the Obama administration was too soft on Russia.

That certainly caused concern here in Moscow, where Crimea is seen as a closed issue.

And it's still unclear, Cyril, how the two sides will cooperate in theory, particularly given Russia's close alliance with Iran there. So certainly no clear picture as yet. But I think it's clear there are major complications going forward.

VANIER: Yes, a lot of issues that still need to be resolved. Clare Sebastian reporting live from Moscow, thank you very much.

Also coming up on the show after this break, investigating the mysterious death of the North Korean leader's half-brother. A new arrest in the case of Kim Jong-nam. That's ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.

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VANIER: Welcome back.

We continue to follow developing news this hour out of Malaysia. Authorities there say they have arrested a fourth suspect in the suspicious death of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. This latest suspect is reportedly North Korean.

Let's see what Saima Mohsin in Malaysia has been able to find out.

Saima, what's the latest?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Cyril, apparently a North Korean citizen, according to a document found on his possession, which is an ICAD, now that's a document that allows foreigners to work in Malaysia, he's been named on that document as Ri Jong Chol and a North Korean citizen, born in 1970.

Now we've also spoken to police independently to verify all this information and they told him that they arrested him at an apartment building here and they have now remanded him in custody for further questioning.

Of course, that's in addition to the two female suspects arrested, one from -- well, apparently from Indonesia. She has an Indonesian passport on her and the Indonesian government did confirm to CNN that she is indeed an Indonesian citizen and apparently from Vietnam.

We have yet to receive confirmation from the Vietnamese government if she is indeed a Vietnamese citizen and of course the Malaysian man who led police to the Indonesian woman. So four suspects now in custody for questioning -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, Saima, there's still a lot we don't know in this investigation but we have now had, for the first time since this happened on Monday, reaction from North Korea. MOHSIN: Yes, it was a bit of a surprise statement; we had heard nothing from North Korea, not least from Pyongyang or the embassy here. We do know, of course, I was there when they arrived in several cars at the mortuary and spent the day there Wednesday local time.

And we then found out that they had formally identified the body there. Then late Friday night, a car rolled up to the mortuary. The ambassador got out, read out a statement, handed out the documents and off he went.

And that is apparently a style of North Korean officials. That's their way of doing business and making announcements. Now this statement, we -- CNN has also obtained a copy of it.

It basically says that the Malaysian government carried out this postmortem examination without the permission of the North Korean embassy or the North Korean government and they will therefore categorically reject any results from the postmortem examination when they come out.

They also named the North Korean citizen, which we now know is Kim Jong-nam, as holding a diplomatic passport as well. So this seems to getting more and more complicated as this Asia-wide murder mystery continues -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, Saima Mohsin, thank you very much, reporting live from Kuala Lumpur. Thanks a lot.

And this week North Korea celebrated what would have been the 75th birthday of late leader Kim Jong-il. The festival included fireworks, dancing and concerts to show off the nation's prosperity. But North Korea doesn't really have that much to celebrate.

The country's per capita GDP ranks 211th in the world. It's known to have widespread malnutrition and starvation. It's estimated that fresh sanctions imposed last year will cost the country $800 million per year. But that isn't clear on the streets of Pyongyang, as CNN's Will Ripley reports from inside North Korea.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a mocha, a cafe mocha.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They sip designer coffee, send text messages to friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did it turn out?

RIPLEY (voice-over): Even take selfies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it looks good.

RIPLEY (voice-over): This could be any coffee shop in any city, not what you'd expect in Pyongyang.

"Even here in North Korea, during holidays or on weekends, we sit with friends, talk --

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RIPLEY (voice-over): -- "about work and life," says Ri Jyong Yee (ph), a commercial manager. North Korea watchers say this is light years away from how most people live in one of the poorest countries in the world.

RIPLEY: What do you think is the biggest difference between your life here in North Korea and the rest of the outside world?

"We're a socialist country. I think that's the main difference," says researcher Yun Sol Mi, a socialist country with a high end department store, selling everything from gourmet groceries to flat screen TVs, all despite unprecedented sanctions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Outside observers say this is not the norm, that life is vastly different in other parts of North Korea. The U.N. World Food Programme says millions face serious food shortages and many suffer chronic malnutrition.

"Pyongyang is the capital, the face of our country," says economist Ri Gi Song (ph).

"So it's true Pyongyang develops faster but our state policy is to grow both urban and rural areas simultaneously."

The nation's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, promised to strengthen the military and economy at the same time. In the showpiece capital, we do see plenty of construction, new high-rise apartments, more cars on the streets.

RIPLEY: We see people with smartphones, with new clothes, new sneakers. The West would call these people middle class.

"Our society doesn't have a so-called middle class," he says.

"But in the near future, we hope to have everyone living above the middle class."

Ri says North Korea will never embrace capitalism. But in recent years, some private enterprise has been allowed in. Markets supplement what the state distributes. But Ri says some day those markets will disappear because the government will provide everything people need.

We don't know how the rest of North Korea lives. Those are places and people we're not allowed to see -- Will Ripley, CNN, Pyongyang.

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VANIER: All right. Fantastic reporting there from Will in Pyongyang.

Coming up after the break, a powerful storm turns deadly in California. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the latest when we come back.

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VANIER: Derek Van Dam from the CNN Weather Center has joined us. A powerful storm has turned deadly after slamming the California coast on Friday.

Derek, what's the latest?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, there's already been two fatalities, one from a woman being stuck in a vehicle in a flooded roadway and also a strong wind gust toppling power lines landing on a vehicle. Unfortunately, a fatality issue there.

Look at the aftermath of this storm. It's actually still ongoing. This is actually just some of the visuals coming into CNN. Trees that have been standing for over 100 years toppled over like they were twigs.

We also had a dramatic landslide captured on video in the San Bernardino National Forest. I mean, this is amazing to actually see this. One exceptional piece of footage after another coming in. And there are reports of over 200 millimeters of rain just in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties outside of Los Angeles. There was --

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VAN DAM: -- large sinkholes being reported in and around the L.A. region.

Just since noon, the fire department responded to 150 calls of downed power lines; 83,000 customers without power, as we speak. And we continue to talk about the potential for more rain and flooding.

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VAN DAM: The other big story this week has certainly been Lake Oroville, the spillway or the dam that has ultimately failed over the past week. Well, it's going to be tested once again with the storm system and the filtering water coming in. There is still an additional 100 millimeters of rain on top of that for the Lake Oroville region. So we'll be monitoring the wires and keeping you abreast of all the latest information.

VANIER: All right, thank you very much. Always appreciate it, Derek Van Dam from the CNN Weather Center. Thanks a lot.

VAN DAM: Thanks.

If you're getting a little bit too much Trump in your news, you can add several extensions to your Google Chrome browser to modify your view of the Web. The Make America Kittens Again extension will take any images of

President Trump on your favorite news website -- it's got to be cnn.com, right -- and turn them into kittens. Here's how it looks on our site.

"The Daily Show" came up with another extension. It's called Make Trump Tweets Eight Again. It makes the president's tweets appear as if handwritten by 8-year olds.

These extensions, by the way, free, so just Google them.

All right. Thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "IN 24 HOURS" is next. But first I'm back with the headlines.

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