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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Congressman Adam Kinzinger; New Travel Ban Coming; Trump Names New National Security Adviser; Pence Expects Allies to "Keep Word" on Spending; Interview with Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired February 20, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Today, we celebrate President's Day with another quiet reflection on the role of the presidency. Just kidding.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news: After Michael Flynn's sudden firing, President Trump picks his new national security adviser. Who is General H.R. McMaster and why did the president hire him?
Take two, President Trump expected to sign an updated travel ban this week. Will the same seven mostly Muslim countries be on the list and will this one, crucially, survive the courts?
Plus, an assassination caught on tape -- the new video that shows Kim Jong-un's half-brother being taken out in an extremely bizarre way.
Welcome to THE LEAD, I'm Jim Sciutto, in again for Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news in our politics lead.
After the very early dismissal of General Michael Flynn, President Trump this afternoon took us by surprise, announcing from his resort in Florida that Army Lieutenant General, that is three stars, H.R. McMaster is his new national security adviser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience. I watched and read a lot over the last few days. He is highly respected by everybody in the military. And we are very honored to have him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: General McMaster is a career Army officer who commanded troops in the Gulf War, also in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading a successful counterinsurgency offensive at one of the lowest points of the Iraq War, this a little more than a decade ago.
Right now, Mr. Trump is preparing to leave Florida and return to the White House. That is Air Force One there out on the runway, this after a weekend of campaigning that led to even more confusion with another close U.S. ally.
CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he joins me now from the White House.
A bit of a surprise announcement here, a quick decision to get a new national security adviser into place.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed it was, Jim.
The president will be flying back here to Washington with his new national security adviser in tow. He's trying to move one beyond one of the biggest controversies of his first month of office as he gets ready for his second.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump naming a new national security adviser tonight, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.
TRUMP: He's a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience. I watched and read a lot over the last few days. He is highly respected by everybody in the military. And we are very honored to have him.
ZELENY: The president making the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago resort, McMaster to replace General Michael Flynn, forced to resign after misleading the vice president over his calls with the Russian ambassador.
McMaster, a distinguished soldier, rising through the ranks to become a chief army strategist.
H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I'm grateful to you for that opportunity, and I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people.
ZELENY: The president filling a key position in his national security team before heading back to the White House after a long President's Day weekend in Florida.
TRUMP: A great spirit of optimism is sweeping, and you see that, it's sweeping all across the country.
ZELENY: Returning to the campaign trail for the first time as president, his words now carrying more weight, enough to spark another diplomatic dustup, this time with Sweden.
TRUMP: You look at what is happening last night in Sweden, Sweden, who would believe this, Sweden, they took in large numbers. They are having problems like they never thought possible.
ZELENY: The president later saying he saw a report on FOX News, which incorrectly said immigrants are causing a spike in crime in Sweden.
A former Swedish prime minister firing back on Twitter ;"Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound." In Brussels today, Vice President Pence speaking about Flynn's resignation for the first time.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would tell you that I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate.
ZELENY: The vice president expressing a commitment to NATO, even as he sought reassurances from U.S. allies.
QUESTION: Who should leaders listen to you, you or President Trump? And can they be certain that what you say, the assurances you give won't be contradicted in a tweet or a statement in a press conference tomorrow?
PENCE: As I said today, through many leaders, we look forward to working across the channel with all parties in the years ahead on behalf of peace and prosperity.
ZELENY: The president's divisive criticism of the media, which he called the enemy of the American people, also reverberating around the world.
PENCE: Rest assured both the president and I strongly support a free and independent press. But you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts.
ZELENY: Across the country, as protests against the president break out on President's Day, Mr. Trump remained secluded at Mar-a-Lago before flying back to Washington.
While he once criticized President Obama for golfing...
TRUMP: I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.
ZELENY: ... it's the third straight weekend he has been on the links in the Florida sunshine, making time for his own rounds of golf.
ZELENY: And as the president prepares to fly back right now, we see pictures there, he will be coming back here to the White House where there are protests indeed happening on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A few hundred people or so have been protesting throughout the day, talking about immigration, other things here. So, just a sign, Jim, that as week five begins of the Trump presidency, he has that key hole in his national security team filled, but still so many controversies left, including that immigration order that we expect later this week -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you. Joining me now with more on President Trump's pick for national
security adviser, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, H.R. McMaster, beyond being a commander, one of the most famous tank battles of the Gulf War, a real success in counterinsurgency in the Iraq War as well. Stellar reputation, would you say?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, very well-known in Pentagon circles. As you pointed out, Jim, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Multiple tours of duty. Knows Germany, knows Europe.
One of the things he may have to come up to speed on is North Korea, and the Pacific, not a lot of field experience out there, but a guy with very capable management skills. Expected to bring some calm to the process.
SCIUTTO: This has been a difficult post for the White House to fill. We know that Vice Admiral Harward, he turned it down earlier in the week ostensibly for personal reasons. We heard of other concerns he had about chaos in the White House.
How do you expect McMaster to work alongside this president in this administration?
STARR: Well, first of all, of course, he's a currently serving military officer. He does not have the option to say no to his commander in chief. He had to take the job.
So he will have to work a bit harder, I suppose, to carve out his territory. And people I'm already talking to say the key thing will be how he interacts with Steve Bannon, President Trump's very close adviser, very ideological, with unexpectedly a permanent seat on the National Security Council.
Will those two jockey for power or will General McMaster be able to take firm command of the process, Jim?
SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, thank you very much.
I want to bring in Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He also served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congressman, thanks for joining us on this holiday.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet.
SCIUTTO: So, tell us about McMaster. I know you didn't serve together. But you know his reputation. What is your reaction to this pick?
KINZINGER: Oh, I think it's a great pick.
One of the great things about our country is there are so many good people to choose from. And he's one of them. So, as you mentioned, he was in the largest tank battle since World War II, the Battle of 73 Easting, did a great job in terms of counterinsurgency.
But one of the actual kind of unsaid things is he wrote a book called "Dereliction of Duty," where talked about in essence the military's responsibility to talk to civilian leaders, to challenge the status quo.
And I think that is what we need in the White House, that is what we need in the Pentagon and the national security branch, is somebody that is willing to speak out and say we can't keep doing things like we are doing. We need to challenge the status quo. He seems like the guy to do it.
SCIUTTO: You bring up "Dereliction of Duty." A big message in that was that political leaders kind of trumped the advice of military commanders in Vietnam.
Of course, one criticism in the White House is what is the chain of command, right? That was one of the reasons we understood that Harward took his name out. What will be key for General McMaster to be a successful national security adviser, in your view?
KINZINGER: Well, he obviously has to understand he works for the president. And you see in the eight years of President Obama, the eight years of President Bush prior, ultimately, the president makes the decision.
President Bush went against the advice of some of his generals and did the surge in Iraq, which was right. So he has to understand that his role is to be an adviser to the president, to give him the best advice he can, but ultimately he has to do what the president says.
But I think he has the kind of pedigree and I think he has the kind of reputation to be able to challenge President Trump. And I think that's what President Trump frankly wants as he tries to get his NSC in order.
SCIUTTO: We had President Trump in effect picking a fight with an ally, a public fight with an ally over the weekend, quoting what seemed to be false, possibly or at least exaggerated reports of migrant problems in Europe, and Sweden specifically.
We have had other cases of this with Australia and elsewhere, these public spats over meaningless things.
From your perspective, how damaging are these things? And they're often dismissed by some Republicans, well, listen, watch what he does, rather than listen to what he says. But these seem to be having a real affect on these relationships.
KINZINGER: I think words have an impact.
And I think where the impact can be is people looking at this saying, where did that come from? It kind of came out of left field. The former prime minister with his tweet. I think it's more of an embarrassment that this happened. I don't
think this is the kind of thing that is going to destroy the diplomatic relationship with Sweden. But, as we have said, when you get in campaign rallies, I have done campaign rallies, sometimes, you get in front of yourself and you say things that you look back and say I shouldn't have said them.
I think this was a mistake, it was an embarrassment, but at the end of the day, look, our relationship with Sweden is fine. Again, the people around the president are very good. I just think he needs to be a little more conscious in caging his words in terms of when he talks about allies and things along that line.
SCIUTTO: Diplomatically put, Congressman Kinzinger.
On another issue, on the travel ban, CNN's reporting is that the president will likely this week release a modified executive order, among other things, exempting green card holders, which is one of the issues here. I know that that in the past you had expressed your reservations about the first executive order. Will a change like that be enough for you to support this measure?
KINZINGER: Well, it depends.
I want to see what it finally looks like. As I have said, every president, every new administration I think has a responsibility to ensure that the vetting process is correct, and everything else. I think obviously the way the last one was rolled out was bad when you have, in essence, green card holders, permanent citizens, people that worked with us as translators in Iraq that were caught up in that.
Hopefully, that doesn't happen in this next one. I think it's within his authority to do it. But the other thing -- the only other kind of concern I have is if, and it sounds like they are, if Iraq is included.
Iraq right now is our chief ally in fighting the war on terror against ISIS. I think it doesn't send a great message. In fact, we actually basically created the vetting standards in Iraq. And they have very tight vetting standards who gets an Iraqi passport.
But I do think this is within the president's purview. And if this new executive order cleans up what the Ninth District Circuit overturned, it may stand.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks very much.
KINZINGER: As always, thanks.
SCIUTTO: A top European leader offered a stunning rebuke to U.S. leadership, and he did it standing on stage next to the vice president, Mike Pence. We will have more on that right after this.
[16:16:19] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. President Trump has called NATO obsolete. Today, in what has become
of his critical roles in this administration, Vice President Pence delivered a friendlier, even contradictory message to NATO, perhaps the most critical U.S. alliance ever formed. This is just the latest example of a disconnect between the president and his inner circle on full display on the world stage.
CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is live at the State Department today.
Michelle, did the vice president clear up any questions on the president's foreign policy in Russia?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.
Yes, I have been trying to figure out the details of how exactly President Trump views and will handle major foreign policy issues isn't necessarily any easier today. What we do have are the top members of his cabinet going out there, meeting with allies, at times delivering different, stronger messages, and in some cases doing damage control for the president of the United States.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The fight against ISIS in Iraq enters a new offensive. Defense Secretary James Mattis in Baghdad to meet with leaders feels it's necessary to adds this .
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil.
KOSINSKI: The reason why? The president.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should have kept the oil, but OK, maybe we'll have another chance.
KOSINSKI: And as Russia flexes its muscle, Eastern Europe, as well as recent provocations against the United States, the vice president is in Europe, making sure to state clearly.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our alliance will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk agreements, beginning with deescalating violence in Eastern Ukraine.
KOSINSKI: But after all the statements by President Trump while he was campaigning, calling the NATO alliance obsolete, implying NATO allies might want to have to defend themselves or this, Trump's rally two days ago.
TRUMP: Many of the countries that we protect, they're not paying their bills. They're not paying their bills.
KOSINSKI: It is now Vice President Pence trying to clear up any misunderstanding. PENCE: It is my privilege here at the NATO headquarters to express
the strong support of President Trump and the United States of America for NATO and our transatlantic alliance.
KOSINSKI: The results on NATO, Russia, Iran, some of the world's biggest problems, even on phone calls with allies has been to many foreign policy experts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confused, chaotic, contradictory. Look, there is a lot of whip lash doing on here because we are seeing very conflicting statements come out from one day to the next.
KOSINSKI: Some Republicans, too, including Ohio Governor John Kasich at the Munich security conference with Mike Pence raising concerns about how allies view this.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: What they're saying is we can hear from the vice president, we can hear from General Mattis, we can hear from General Kelly, but we're not sure about the president. And it is vital that the administration be on the same page.
KOSINSKI: And at home.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You know, it's really confusing to me. My hope is it's just a president right now that is hoping to make some kind of a big deal or a grand bargain.
KOSINSKI: So, we see the vice president there in Europe. We don't see the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. In fact, the problem has seen very little of him. There are still several top positions here in the State Department that haven't been filled. There has not been a single press briefing, which was a daily occurrence, and no indication of when there will be one.
Also, whenever you reach out to the State Department and ask them about whatever is going on, and getting some detail on that, the most common response is for them to simply refer you right back to the White House -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department -- thanks very much.
The Trump administration is tweaking the president's executive order on immigration.
[16:20:00] What will the new version look like?
And at a weekend rally, President Trump decried what is happening in Sweden. Is something actually happening in Sweden? That's ahead.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And sticking with politics now, the Trump administration is expected to modify the travel ban affecting seven majority Muslim countries, which has been put on hold in a series of really dramatic decisions by federal judges.
CNN has learned that the new executive order drafted by the White House council will likely exempt existing green card holders from this temporary ban, and try to address concerns about religious discrimination, specifically language in that order giving preference to Christian refugees over Muslims.
[16:25:15] New guidance also expected this week from the Department of Homeland Security on immigration enforcement here at home, which could result in sweeping changes to the way undocumented immigrants are dealt with here.
According to signed memos obtained by CNN, the action would make it easier to remove unauthorized immigrants. It would tighten laws on asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors entering the country and increase judges and detention facilities. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been taken into custody in recent ICE raids across the country.
Joining me now is the Democratic governor of Virginia, he's Terry McAuliffe. He's spoken out against these raids and will meet with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly this year.
Governor McAuliffe, thanks for joining us on the holiday.
GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: Jim, thank you for being with us. Honored to be here.
SCIUTTO: Governor, the White House says it is focusing its raids on criminal illegal immigrants. Tell us why you oppose the way these raids are being done.
MCAULIFFE: Well, first of all, I have a concern as governor of the commonwealth of Virginia or any governor of their state. We have reports in our office that last week, ICE officials stopped individuals coming out of a church from a hypothermia center that had been called the night before and randomly stopped people and started asking them questions. In fact, the first gentleman they stopped was a legal resident. So, therefore, they had no right to stop this individual.
We have reports, they've gone into homes looking for individuals, and have tried to do collateral interviews with other people in the home. We have had reports of stopping people on the street, asking them if they had seen this person in the picture, and then asking them questions.
So my concern is, and I wrote to General Kelly, who I have tremendous respect, four-star general in the Marine Corps, I have a son in the Marines, we love the Marine Corps, but I do want to know as governor what is the standard we are now using to stop individuals without any due process, why are they stopping individuals, and I've requested of General Kelly a meeting and I want to thank him.
We are going to have a meeting this week with ICE officials to explain to me what is the new procedure. Are we now randomly just going to stop individuals without any reason, any due process, because of the way they may look, without any reason for stopping them? If that's the case, I just want to know that, because I now have individuals in Virginia who have been stopped with no reason for them being stopped. As I say, legal residents of the United States of America, and this would be a dramatic turn for our country.
And I want to know what the procedures are going forward because, Jim, at the end of the day, this is not making us safer. ICE enforcement should be doing their job and I have tremendous respect for them to make sure we continue to keep our community safe. But what you can do is have a chilling effect, drive people under ground. If you hit someone with a communicable disease, they are not going to come out and get treatment. You are going to have individuals who will not come out and work with law enforcement. And it can have a crippling on our economy.
I have already lost two site visits to Virginia of people who said, you know what? It's just not the time to come visit America. I'm trying to create jobs here and I'm worried about the overextension of what we are doing with law enforcement when we don't have rights to stop people and they are doing it and it will have a chilling effect on this country.
SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this, because the president seemed to offer an opening on children, the children known as DREAMers. Have a listen to his comments on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects, because you have these incredible kids.
We have to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians and I have to convince them that what I'm saying is right, and I appreciate your understanding of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Do you believe the president was signaling there that he will allow DREAMers to stay in the country?
MCAULIFFE: I do think so and I'm encouraged by what I heard the president say there.
I think what's happened with some of these policies, they've rolled them out very quickly. They haven't done the due diligence they have needed. People haven't had the right instructions on how to deal with what these executive orders are doing. As we say, at Dulles Airport, you know, I went out immediately when I heard there was a family at Dulles Airport with two children, with U.S. passports who were detained for hours without access to due process. Jim, this is not the United States of America that we know. We are a
land of immigrants. We all want to keep our nation secure and safe. Every governor wants to keep their state safe, but there is a very fine line between keeping our community safe and taking away basic protections that have made us the greatest nation on earth.
Randomly stopping individuals without any reason is not the United States of America. If you start there, where do you stop? And I just think this is a very difficult line.
And that's what we really, all of us want to get together, all the governors will be meeting this weekend in Washington for three days of meetings, and this will be part of our discussion. We all want to work together to keep our communities safe.