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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Regulation Rollback; President Trump Discusses Rising Anti-Semitism; Immigration Crackdown; Spicer: National Security Adviser Has "100 Percent Control" Over Staff; EPA Critic Takes Charge of Agency. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 21, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: After visiting new African American History Museum, he's now warning against bigotry and intolerance of all kinds. I will get reaction from the head of the NAACP.
McMaster of the House. The president's spokesman says the new national security adviser has 100 percent control over his staff. Will the general known for speaking truth to power try to push out any key Trump allies?
And regulation rollback. The new head of the EPA tells employees what to expect, signaling his intentions to rein in the agency. Which environmental protections will Scott Pruitt take aim at first?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, the Trump administration is giving the green light for a potentially huge increase in the number of undocumented immigrants who are detained or deported, the Department of Homeland Security releasing new guidelines on who will be targeted, as more aggressive steps are taken to enforce immigration laws.
DHS officials attempting to calm fears in immigrant communities, saying they are not aiming at mass deportations. And the newly released memos show the administration is leaving in place Obama era protections for the so-called dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Also tonight, President Trump responds to growing pressure to speak out against anti-Semitism after repeatedly deflecting questions on the subject. He's now calling a series of new threats targeting the Jewish community horrible and painful.
Mr. Trump says his visit today to the new African American History Museum here in Washington is a reminder of the need to fight all forms of bigotry, intolerance and hatred.
I'll get reaction from the NAACP president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks. He's standing by live. House Foreign Affairs Committee member Adam Kinzinger also standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories. First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, you have been poring over these new immigration enforcement guidelines. Tell our viewers what you're learning.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the new Homeland Security guidelines make nearly all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. subject to deportation, so people not targeted for deportation under the Obama administration could be targeted now, but the Trump administration says the sweeping changes do not impact the protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, the Department of Homeland Security releasing new guidelines that could massively expand the number of undocumented immigrants detained or deported from the U.S.
Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested more than 680 people in raids in just one week and said most of them were criminals.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time. The priority that the president has laid forward and the priority that ICE is putting forward through DHS' guidance is to make sure that the people who have committed a crime or pose a threat to our public safety are the priority of their efforts, first and foremost.
BROWN: Under President Obama, ICE focused on deportation in three categories, convicted criminals, public safety threats, and those who recently crossed the border illegally. Under the Trump administration, anyone who is even accused of a crime such as a DUI is eligible for deportation.
And the new memos make clear immigration agents now have broader discretion to decide who to round up. CNN rode along with ICE agents in 2015 when they targeted an undocumented criminal in this auto shop in criminal, when another undocumented immigrant working at the same shop took off running. He had no criminal background, so ICE let him go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good luck to you, man.
BROWN: But now, under the new guidelines, that same man could be detained and possibly deported.
GREISA MARTINEZ, UNITED WE DREAM: We're scared.
BROWN: Greisa Martinez brought to the U.S. from Mexico 20 years ago. The White House says people like Martinez, known as dreamers, will still be protected under DACA for now.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were brought here in such a way, it's a very, very tough subject. We're going to deal with DACA with heart. BROWN: But Martinez says she's still unsure what her future holds in
MARTINEZ: Is it that Donald Trump wants to have it both ways? Show mercy in public and then, in the middle of the night, pluck undocumented people from their beds?
BROWN: And the memos also end so-called catch and release, where people caught for being in the U.S. unlawfully are released while they wait to go before an immigration judge.
Instead, the memos call for more people to receive expedited removals and makes it harder for asylum seekers to stay in the U.S. while they wait for their proceedings -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting, thank you.
And now to the president's newly chosen national security adviser, and questions about how much authority he will have.
Let's bring in senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, you asked the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, about that today. Tell our viewers what he said.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We did, indeed, Wolf.
The key question here over the new national security adviser is how much authority he will have to sort of assign his own advisers and structure to this. We asked Sean Spicer specifically how full of authority that would actually be,.
And the context here is Steve Bannon, the chief strategist of the White House, who in the early days was added to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. Very unusual. So we asked the press secretary if he was included in this full authority.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: ... said that he has the full authority to structure his office as he sees fit. Does that extend to the Principals Committee as well? After he comes in, takes a look at the whole apparatus, if he advises the president that he would prefer not to have a chief strategist as a member of the Principals Committee, would the president...
SPICER: I think the president has made clear to him, as I said, he's got full authority to structure the national security team the way he wants.
Obviously, something like that, he would come to the president and make that recommendation, but the president would take that under high -- serious consideration. I don't want to go ahead with this person or that person or structure, but the president made it very clear with him and the other candidates that they had 100 percent control and authority over the national security committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, again, Wolf, Sean Spicer said that he would take full consideration of that. The president would.
Now, this whole structure was the setup back when General Michael Flynn was the national security adviser. But, as you know, he resigned last week, so it is still being worked out, the new structure of this. There's no reason to believe that the new national security adviser might have a problem with Stephen Bannon being on there.
But it's certainly interesting that Sean Spicer said tonight that the president would take that under consideration and he says that Mr. McMaster, General McMaster, gets his own team, Wolf.
BLITZER: When he gets his own team, those who are already there who have been appointed by Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, do they get to stay or does he only determine the new additions to the staff?
ZELENY: Wolf, that's a question we don't have an answer to tonight. It's clear there's going to be some overlap here. There were several people already brought on here, but, again, Sean Spicer was very clear, he said it repeatedly, that he gets his own team of people. He has full authority.
So like in many job changes at the White House, I would not be at all surprised to see some people reassigned or sent other places there because he does want his own set of advisers here. But, at this point, they just had their first meeting late this afternoon in the Situation Room. They are just getting this National Security Council set up, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jeff Zeleny over at the White House for us, thank you.
Let's talk about the president's national security immigration policy with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet.
BLITZER: All right.
So, General McMaster, the president's new national security adviser, as you know, he just arrived at the White House. The president considers immigration a key matter of national security. So should he have waited until General McMaster arrived, got in place, before putting out these new immigration memos?
KINZINGER: No, not necessarily.
This is a process that would have been, I'm sure, started to be discussed at the very beginning. This ultimately -- any decision that is made that comes from the White House is ultimately the president's. The national security adviser is just that. He's an adviser that comes in. Plays a very important role.
This is the person that wakes up the president in the event of an attack or something like that. So, but I think the president basically made this point. He made it during an election, which said, you know, immigration is going to play an important issue. And I think this is coming out at the timing he found appropriate.
And I don't think necessarily related to any shakeup on the NSC, which, by the way, I'm very excited about the new NSC and the new general. I think it's going to be good.
BLITZER: Yes, he's getting a lot of high marks not only from Republicans, but a lot of Democrats as well.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, would not call these new efforts mass deportation. How would you define them?
KINZINGER: I wouldn't call it mass deportation either, unless it actually leads to mass deportation.
I think what this is doing is clarifying a difference from the prior administration, which, again, this administration has the right to do. It's setting list of priorities. It's giving broader authority to ICE agents and to law enforcement to deport.
I think it's important to remember here we have to have compassion for obviously the humanity in all of this, and I do, but we have to remember that, you know, folks that are here illegally at no point have ever really been shielded from deportation, with the exception of the dreamers and DACA.
And that's being preserved in this case. So this is the president clarifying this. If this leads to, you know, trucks going down the street, rounding up anybody that may look like they're here illegally, you're going to hear a lot of outcry from that. But that's not what is happening now. This is a clarification of how this is going to work.
BLITZER: But it looked like he was talking about that back in August when he said this in Phoenix. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Within ICE, I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America who have evaded justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, at that point, you heard him talking about a new special deportation task force. Are you with him on that?
And, in fact, when he said that at the time, I was critical and said that's not America, that's not how we act. And it seems like even since then, I can't remember the exact quotes, but I tend to believe they have walked back that idea of a deportation task force.
But I think, you know, look, again, the action is going to be what we have to judge on. And I think to say that, you know, people should be shielded from deportation that are here illegally, we did that with the dreamers, which is very important. I supported efforts to do that. And I will continue to support efforts to do that.
But I think when it comes down to folks in a different situation, especially recent arrivals, criminals and things like that, they always have known that they're subject to deportation. That's what happens in a country that has laws about immigration. And, frankly, I don't think that's going to change, with the exception of the execution.
BLITZER: And I know you will like his decision on the dreamers. This is -- and you voted in favor of keeping what's called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, the dreamers. You voted keeping them, allowing them to stay here in the United States.
But what about their parents? Should their parents be forced to go back to where they came from?
KINZINGER: Well, I think -- so I think this is a part of that whole discussion.
So, when you talk about the Trump administration, their new -- what they released today, they said, look, criminals, people that are deemed a threat, and then folks that are recent arrivals. So if you're a recent arrival, you're not going to have a child that's been here basically from birth for a long amount of time that's registered under the DACA program.
So, it comes down to the enforcement of that. These are all discussions I want to have, because, for me, I think the most important thing, we need to get border security, whatever that looks like. But then we have to go the next step and say we have people that are here illegally. You're not going to deport 15 million people. How do we have a comprehensive immigration reform package?
But that can only come realistically politically after the border is secure. And so that is why that's important to this administration.
BLITZER: Do you think, Congressman, there should be a special status for the parents who have been here 15, 20, 25 years, the parents of these dreamers? Should they get a special status, too, and let them stay, assuming, of course, they have committed no crimes?
KINZINGER: Well, I think, look, I think people that have been here for a very long amount of time that have made their lives here that, for all intents and purposes, are Americans, except on paper, then I think we do need to take that into consideration in a big way.
In terms of what special status, I'm not sure. But I think we do need to take that into consideration. But folks who have just come here -- and, again, in all this, we need to understand that these are human beings and there's humanity here, but as a sovereign nation, we do have laws.
And we have a right and a responsibility to enforce those laws, especially starting with lawbreakers from, you know, people that have follow-on crimes and things along that line.
So, look, I'm willing to discuss every option. I think Congress is, too. The thing that's most important to people and especially the folks that voted for Donald Trump is to have border security, whatever that looks like.
BLITZER: As far as the president's ill-favored travel ban, supposedly, later this week, coming up is what's being described as a streamline, tightened-up travel ban executive order.
If it exempts green card holders, people who are permanent residents, legal permanent residents of the United States, takes out religious preferences, and fix due process concerns, are you with the president?
KINZINGER: I think so.
I need to see what the final thing looks like, because I just don't know. We have always been surprised by some of these things. I think every new administration has a responsibility -- had Hillary Clinton won, she would have a responsibility, I think, to make sure that the vetting process correct, that this is being done correct.
Where we ran into huge problems is when people that were here legally were being tied up in the system, people that had translated from military members in Iraq and Afghanistan that were caught up in this. I actually wish that Iraq was not included on the travel ban -- I think it will be -- because Iraq is our closest ally right now in fighting ISIS.
And, frankly, their vetting standards are very tight, because, you know, we created them as a country. So I wish that wasn't the case. I want to see what the final thing is. But I do believe there is broad discretion to the president to determine what he feels is safe and right for this country.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for joining us.
KINZINGER: Any time. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, did the president's tour of the African American History Museum here in Washington give him any new perspective on racism and anti-Semitism? I will ask the NAACP president for his reaction to the president's visit and whether he expects action to follow comments like this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This tour is a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump has publicly denounced that increase in anti-Semitic threats after repeated calls for him to do so. But some critics are calling it too little, too late.
Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty
Sunlen, was this the first time for the president to do this?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf.
And scrutiny had been growing on President Trump to speak up about this. Today, during a tour of new African American Museum in D.C., the president finally did just that, breaking his silence on the issue, condemning the threats.
TRUMP: The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible.
SERFATY (voice-over): President Trump for the first time is speaking out on the rise of anti-Semitic incidents plaguing the country.
TRUMP: And are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.
SERFATY: Trump's condemnation coming after mounting pressure for him to do so. His former rival, Hillary Clinton, tweeting at the president for the first time since the election. "The uptick in threats are so troubling. Everyone must speak out, starting with POTUS."
Since January, there has been an eruption of anti-Semitic incidents and threats across the country. Just today, a bomb threat led to the evacuation of this Jewish community center in La Jolla, California, bringing the total number of incidents nationwide since January to 70 affecting Jewish community centers in 27 states and a rash of other targets, too, including damage at his historic Jewish cemetery in Missouri, a synagogue in Chicago earlier this month, and swastikas painted on this car in Boca Raton, Florida, last week. While all this has been unfolding across country, the president has
QUESTION: Since your election campaign, even after your victory, we have seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic -- anti-Semitic incidents across the United States.
SERFATY: Given two opportunities last week alone to denounce the rise in hate, he deflected both.
TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had, 306 Electoral College votes.
SERFATY: Switching the subject and berating the reporter for asking the question.
TRUMP: Quiet, quiet, quiet. See, he lied about -- he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media.
SERFATY: Rather than issuing a swift condemnation of the threat.
QUESTION: What we are concerned about it and what we haven't really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism.
SERFATY: Trump referenced his own views.
TRUMP: I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.
SERFATY: This was an issue that dogged him throughout the campaign. He was criticized for attacking his opponent using language evoking anti-Semitic themes.
TRUMP: In which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers.
SERFATY: Accused of pedaling a stereotype when he told a Jewish Republican group:
TRUMP: This room negotiates. I want to -- this room, perhaps more than any room I have ever spoken to. Maybe more.
SERFATY: Using anti-Semitic imagery, tweeting a graphic of a six- pointed star that looked like the Star of David, which he said in the aftermath was a sheriff's star, and not being forceful in his denunciation of the anti-Semitic backlash against a Jewish reporter.
BLITZER: These anti-Semitic...
TRUMP: I don't know about that. I don't know anything about that. But you're mentioning fans of mine.
SERFATY: And the criticism during the campaign leading his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to write an op-ed in Trump's defense about all this under the headline "The Donald Trump I Know."
And the White House press secretary today pushing back on all the new criticism Trump has received now as president, saying, no matter how many times he addresses it, it's just not good enough. And groups like the Anti-Defamation League say, no, it's not good enough to just speak out against anti-Semitism. They're still waiting to hear what the administration will do to address these threats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you, Sunlen Serfaty reporting for us.
The White House says the president was moved by what he saw at the new African American History Museum here in Washington. Mr. Trump suggested the visit left him with a greater appreciation for the challenges that people of color and other minorities continue to face.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about that and more with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
Cornell, thanks very much for joining us.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: The president said during his tour of the museum it was eye- opening, powerful. Are you encouraged by his visit there and what he said?
BROOKS: I think it's good that he went to the African American Museum, in that it represents a cathedral of memory and meaning.
But it's a cathedral in which the past cries out to the present and the future for us to rise to the challenges of our time. And I would note, in the museum, there is an exhibit on the NAACP. The NAACP was founded 108 years ago by African-Americans and Jews.
Our history speaks to the racism, the bigotry, the bias, the anti- Semitism of our time. And so for you to walk through the halls of that museum, to see the history of the NAACP, it means if you're inspired by what you see, you have to speak out against anti-Semitism.
Be clear about this. Where you have 11 Jewish centers targeted on a single day, children had to be evacuated because of the anti-Semitism of their fellow citizens.
How do you explain to a morally confused and ethically befuddled child that the reason you're being evacuated is because your fellow citizens have lost their minds and their souls in terms of this kind of bigotry?
We have seen it during the course of the campaign, this uptick in anti-Semitism and bigotry, Islamophobia. We have seen cemeteries targeted. We have seen people called out of their names, called anti- Semitic remarks.
And we've seen the president seemingly mumble and stumble in response to this. The president is commander in chief under the Constitution. The president, when there is a disaster, is consoler in chief. And when there is a rise in anti-Semitism and racism, he must be the tone- setter in chief.
And that means speaking out clearly, strongly, forcefully, saying that he condemns anti-Semitism and racism and then talking about what he's going to do about it. And that means a Justice Department that is staffed in terms of the Civil Rights Division and vigorously prosecutes.
You cannot have people toppling over gravestones. You can't have people calling up Jewish centers and having children being evacuated. We need a Justice Department that understands that these are crimes. They're not -- anti-Semitism is not some kind of impolite idiosyncrasy.
It is dangerous. And we have far too much of it and more of it. And we need a president who understands that.
BLITZER: There clearly seems to have been an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. So far, at least based on all the information we have, no one has been arrested yet. Why do you think this is -- this anti- Semitic trend has escalated so dramatically over these past few weeks?
BROOKS: Well, if we note the tone and tenor of the campaign, the ADL did a study where they found a majority of those polled believed that the campaign rhetoric has something to do with exacerbating racial and ethnic tensions in this country.
And so where we see a kind of blessing and a condoning of racism and anti-Semitism -- and I have to note here, when Steve Bannon occupies a West Wing office of legitimacy for alt-right white nationalism, it's a problem. It's a problem.
The president can't condemn anti-Semitism and have the chief architect of the alt-right in his West Wing.
BLITZER: Has there been an increase in racism that you have detected as well, or it's just anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, hatred of Muslims, if you will?
BROOKS: All across the board. The FBI's latest hate crimes survey showed a rise in hate crimes
against African-Americans, against Jews, against folks who are Muslim. So we have seen this. We have seen it in the numbers of the Southern Poverty Law Center, literally thousands of hate crimes, but perpetrated not in bars, in streets, but in our schools.
So, be clear about this. This is a serious, serious problem where we have seen our fellow citizens hurt. Now, we have not seen that many arrests, which may speak to the need for more vigorous prosecution, more resources devoted to the challenge. But it also means that literally the president has got to step up and man up and speak out and speak out forcefully and do something about it as a matter of policy.
BLITZER: I always ask you this question, very quickly. Has anyone from the White House yet reached out to you and said let's work together on this?
BROOKS: Not yet. And representing the oldest and largest civil rights organization in country, I find that rather surprising.
BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks, thanks very much for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the new guidelines for carrying out the president's immigration crackdown. If it's not a mass deportation force, what is it exactly? Our political and security experts, they are standing by.
BLITZER: New guidelines out tonight from the Department of Homeland Security detailing the Trump administration's plans to step up enforcement of immigration laws and significantly increase the number of deportations. But there's no change to the program that protects young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
[18:34:23] Let's discuss with our analysts. Gloria, these are called the DREAMers, as they've been called. It looks like what President Obama decided to do as far as allowing these children of undocumented immigrants, children who have grown up here in the United States, they can stay.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. For now. You know, we don't know what's going to happen sometime down the road, but you remember in an ABC interview in January, the president said -- and I'm quoting here -- "They," meaning the DREAMers, "shouldn't be very worried. I have a big heart." So they were kind of exempt from this for now.
But Sean Spicer went out of his way to say everybody here illegally is subject to being removed. Does that mean their parents? If their parents have committed a criminal act? Does it -- you know, we don't know what will happen sometime -- sometime down the road. BLITZER: The political -- David Swerdlick, the political
implications, ramifications from all this potentially could be very significant, even though the administration is still refusing to say they're creating a new, quote, "deportation force."
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. They want to sort of have it both ways. They want to make good on their promise to Trump's core supporters that they're taking decisive action on immigration without seeming like they're overbearing or that they're ogres or that they have no sensitivity to keeping families together as you were talking about, whether it's the DREAMers or their parents.
It's very hard politically to take action to remove DACA, because the DREAMers are these folks that, for all intents and purposes, are Americans. And yet, Trump has a core base of support that basically says, you know, "Let's do something more drastic on it."
BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, you've done a lot of reporting on this. How do you see these new orders moving forward right now? Because as we've been pointing out, there are a lot of nervous people in the United States awaiting a decision.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we have to wait and see how it's enforced. The language of the orders basically gives DHS, you know, wide, wide discretion to do what they want with the 11 million people who are here illegally. So that is a big break from the Bush administration, from the Obama administration, where the policy was to try and come up with a legislative solution to deport the hardest cases, the most hardened criminals who were here illegally, but have some kind of other options for cases that, you know, most people agreed were worthy of -- of having a track for citizenship.
So this is a big, big policy break. Not surprising. Exactly what Donald Trump campaigned on. But I think we have to -- I think, if you are a non -- if you are an unauthorized immigrant in this country right now, you have serious concern tonight because of the language of this order. But we won't know until we start seeing the actual enforcement on the ground.
BLITZER: The other order we're waiting for, Phil Mudd, is the travel ban, the revised new travel ban that's going to effectively deal with who can come into the United States, who can't.
The assumption is those seven majority Muslim countries, people from those countries, they're going to, at least for the time being, be banned, maybe Syrian refugees permanently or indefinitely banned right now.
Remember the last time before the ill-fated executive order went into effect, the president said they had to move quickly, forget about due process, because a lot of bad dudes would be coming into the United States if they had a new deadline, if you will. Have you -- based on everything you've heard and seen, are a lot of bad dudes streaming into the United States right now until this new executive order is implemented?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, who the heck are these bad dudes? Let me give you a couple fact points. I witnessed maybe 2,000, 2,000 classified threat briefings. Maybe more. I've forgotten half of them. The bottom line is the fundamental problem we had was a 16-, 17-, 20-year-old American citizen, native born or a convert, also individuals who had been here 15, 20 years who decided to convert based on maybe something they heard from a friend or saw from social media. It wasn't some moron who came here from Sudan.
The second and final point I'd make is you look at the seven countries, they were not fundamental problems when we did threat information at the table. That is, the individuals from those countries were not, in my recollection, front and center. How about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia was a key country that sent foreign fighters into Iraq. I'm not suggesting we ban people from Tunisia, but I didn't see the logic of the ban. I don't understand this, Wolf. It was not -- the countries named were not huge problems for counterterrorism practitioners.
BLITZER: But this was, Gloria, as you know, a major campaign commitment on the part of the president. He was going to secure the borders and prevent these so-called bad dudes from getting in.
BORGER: It was a major campaign promise, as was the question of immigration, what he would do with undocumented workers living in this country. So these are two major promises the president has made that he would say he is keeping his promises on.
I would raise one question about the immigration issue we heard today, which is the president has said, the White House has said they're going to hire 10,000 new immigration and customs agents. Where's the money for that? I haven't seen it in the budget. I don't know -- we haven't -- we haven't seen how they're going to pay for this. We know they're going to pay for a wall. We now have 10,000 new agents that are going to be hired.
And we also understand that people are -- can be deported immediately if they commit a crime. How do you define a crime? Is it a traffic violation such as speeding? Or is it robbing a bank? Or is it tax evasion? We -- there are these details that we don't know, and as Ryan was saying, the discretion is very much left up to the border...
[18:40:16] BLITZER: There will be a lot of discretion, yes.
BORGER: And the police.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Ryan.
LIZZA: Wolf, can I add one point, that I just want to follow up on what Phil said, because every counterterrorism expert that you can find is just puzzled about the travel ban, right?
So the security threat that's being used to justify the travel ban is not something that most counterterrorism officials believe is significant. On the immigration issue, if you look at what the administration put
out today, they are talking about Americans being subject to a wave of crime by undocumented immigrants. What we know about that is that native-born Americans are -- have a higher crime rate than immigrants.
So you have two cases here: travel ban and immigration enforcement, where the underlying argument just doesn't jive with the facts in terms of what the security threat is. And I think it's fair to ask if that's -- if it's not really a security threat, is it something else? What is the reason that we have a travel ban against Muslims from these Muslim-majority countries, and we're kicking out a lot of unauthorized immigrants? And I think that's a fair question and one that is worth exploring.
BLITZER: The administration argues those seven countries that really are, you know, not real governments there to do some serious vetting of these individuals. That's why they want to have special considerations.
Everyone, stand by. President Trump is also condemning rising attacks on Jewish institutions across the United States. But is it too little, too late, as his critics suggest?
[18:46:30] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House says President Trump's new national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, can build his own team. Will it include one of the National Security Council's most controversial members?
Phil Mudd, we're talking about Steve Bannon, who is one of the top strategists in the White House. He's got a seat on the National Security Council Principals Committee right now. Do you think General McMaster should get rid of him from that principals committee?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Wolf, no, no, and no. Let's step through clearly why because this is as backwards and Sean Spicer was making an offering to the new national security adviser. He actually gave him a tremendous problem.
When you sit around that table with heavy hitters and the president has recruited heavy hitters as secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, they've got to discuss sensitive issues like the Iran nuclear deal. Like Chinese incursions into the South China Sea.
Without determining what the political consequences of the recommendations are. They've got to give the president options. They sit around the table, they look around the corner, and who do they see? The political commissar, Steve Bannon. You want to tell me that's not going to put a freeze on conversations in the room?
Let me tell you something, these guys show up in town and tell me they don't like political correctness and, all of a sudden, they put this guy in to enforce political correctness in the principals committee. I've never seen that among Republicans or Democrats. Bottom line, the president should say Bannon is gone. He shouldn't
force the national security adviser to ask for it.
BLITZER: Ryan, what do you think?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, the argument for him being there from defenders of this idea is that it's transparent, right? That rather than secretly having him at meetings, he's actually on the principals committee, there's a public document that explains that this is his role.
The argument against it is the one, frankly, that George W. Bush made in his administration when he was very careful not to have his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, sit in and participate in National Security Council meetings. And that is that he didn't want either the public or his military and foreign policy advisers to think that he was making decisions based on politics.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
LIZZA: As far as my understanding, unless things have drastically changed, Steve Bannon's role is to get Donald Trump re-elected in 2020. He ran his campaign. And the guy running his campaign also making national security strategy at NSC, that is a dangerous combination and totally unique.
BORGER: You know, I spoke with a former high-ranking official of President Obama's national security group and he said to me, look, the president many times said to me, what -- these decisions are not politically palatable but it's what we all in that room decided we needed to do. And the president knew that certain things weren't politically palatable but did it, anyway. The last thing you need in that room is somebody getting political advice about very important geopolitical and geostrategic decisions. It seems kind of inappropriate.
He also said to me that everybody in that room represents a constituency and Steve Bannon doesn't represent any constituency except for the president's political interests and that's inappropriate.
BLITZER: Let's talk, David, for a moment about these town halls. Congress is in recess right now.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
BLITZER: A lot of people are having town halls, members of the House and Senate.
[18:50:00] I got some video I'm going to show you our viewers, town hall held by Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. She's a Republican. You can hear people chanting "your last term, your last term", a lot of them specifically worried about repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Is this going to continue now based on everything you're hearing? SWERDLICK: I think it is going to continue. Whether Democrats or those opposing the Republican members of Congress and the president and keep it up until the 2018 election cycle begins in earnest, I don't know.
But clearly, it's sort of an imitation of what Republicans did in the first two years of the Obama administration going out and frontally confronting these members of Congress to try to get a point across and it was fairly effective. It was the beginnings of the Tea Party.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Ryan, I want you to weigh in. The president just tweeted this, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually in numerous cases planned out by liberal activists. Sad," exclamation point. Do you buy that?
LIZZA: Well, I mean, to an extent he's right. Yes, liberal activists are organizing some of these things. That's the way -- that's the way it works. In 2009, 2010, when there was the beginnings of the tea party, there were conservative activists who helped organize it.
That's exactly how politics in America works. Activists go and organize. So I don't really -- I don't think he's -- I don't think he's wrong there. It's a little -- he's the first president to get aggravated and offended by normal political activities of people opposing his party.
You know, usually presidents were privately frustrated by that, but at least, publicly they make some show of talking about how this is what makes democracy great, is people's rights to go and petition their representatives when they don't like how things are going.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by.
Just ahead, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency a dozen times. Now, he's in charge. We have details of his plan for a drastic overhaul. That's next.
[18:56:31] BLITZER: Day one on the job for the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, formerly one of its sharpest critics.
CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh has details.
Rene, Scott Pruitt, he tried to reassure some anxious staff members.
RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He tried to do that, as well as focusing on overhauling the agency. Meantime, thousands of his e-mails between himself and the energy industry when it he was Oklahoma's attorney general were just released. A judge ordered the release and at this hour, political watchdog groups are searching through the emails for evidence of potential conflicts of interest with the industry he will now oversee.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARSH (voice-over): EPA administrator Scott Pruitt stood before employees at an agency he sued at least a dozen times as Oklahoma's attorney general. His first day on the job, he set the tone for what's to come.
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: We need to be open and transparent and objective in how we do rule-making and make sure that we follow the letter of the law as we do so.
MARSH: Pruitt, who has promised to promote fossil fuels and drastically overhaul the EPA, put a strong emphasis on preventing overreach at the agency.
PRUITT: It needs to be tethered to the statute. We need to respect that.
MARSH: Absent from Pruitt's comments, any mention of the EPA's two most prominent enforcement tasks, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Also no mention of climate change.
Outside groups already speculating on what's to come. Environmental groups and conservative think tanks agree first set of environmental laws that could be targeted are the clean power plant that limits greenhouse gases from power plants, and the waters of the United States rule that allows the federal government to police the water ways to keep them pollution-free.
JEREMY SYMONS, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND: When you go to turn on tap water and pour a glass of water for your kids or where you send them outside to it play, you know the Environmental Protection Agency has been on the job with one goal, which is to keep them safe, to protect the air they breath and the water they drink. Now, we're not so sure.
MARSH: The Trump administration and Congress is taking an aggressive approach in targeting key environmental laws to fundamentally change the country's climate policies that Republicans and the energy industry say are burdensome and expensive to comply with. As early as this week, the White House could sign executive orders intended to weaken EPA regulations.
NICK LORIS, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think it's a return to the proper role of the federal government versus the right role of the states and private industry and making sure that we have sensible environmental regulations that do protect air quality and water quality, but not having this federal government regulatory overreach.
MARSH: Just last week, Trump signed legislation that would roll back an Obama era rule aimed at stopping the coal mining industry from dumping waste into nearby waterways.
SYMONS: We're going to fight them in the court of law, and we'll fight them in the court of public opinion, because we know that law is on our side and we know that the public wants strong protections with the air we breathe and that water we drink.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MARSH: So, why target these regulations? Well, Republicans, the energy industry and in some cases, the farming community, see the regulations as the federal government overreaching its authority over land that farmers, even coal miners depend on for their livelihood.
BLITZER: Rene Marsh, thanks for that report. Good work.
That's it for it me. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.