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Angry Voters Erupt at Republican Town Hall; Tillerson in Mexico for Talks on Border, Immigration; Security Boosted at Malaysian Morgue after Break-in Attempt. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 17:00   ET



TAPPER: Saima Mohsin, thank you so much.

That's it for "THE LEAD." And I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, borderline. U.S. lawmakers inspect the area where the president wants to build a wall as the secretary of state and the homeland security chief go to Mexico to try to build a new relationship. But Mexico warns they won't take orders from the new administration.

Confronting Congress. Voters vent at Republican lawmakers during town halls. The White House suggests the confrontations are partly staged, but there is real anger out there. Where will it lead?

White House reset. President Trump says he'll soon reveal a plan to replace Obamacare and makes it clear budget cuts and tax cuts, they are coming.

And body snatchers? Security is boosted at the Malaysian morgue where the body of Kim Jong-un's half-brother is kept. Officials say there was an attempted break-in as they step up their investigation into North Korea's role in the apparent assassination.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Trump is pushing ahead with his campaign promises, saying a plan to replace Obamacare is moving along nicely and will be unveiled in the weeks ahead. And at a huddle on the budget, the president vowed to clean up the country's finances, indicating budget cuts and tax cuts are coming, saying we'll have more -- we'll have to do more with less.

But it looks like U.S. taxpayers may get the Bill to build the president's border wall, as congressional Republicans today visited the southern border. The secretaries of state and homeland security flew to Mexico, looking to rebuild the relationship. The White House calls that relationship phenomenal, but Mexico's foreign minister warns his country will not accept the Trump administration's new immigration policies. And as Republican lawmakers hold town halls across the country today,

furious voters are once again making themselves heard. President Trump dismisses them as so-called "angry crowds." The White House suggests some are professional protesters and that worried voters should be applauding plans to replace Obamacare.

I'll speak with Republican Congressman Mark Sanford. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our White House correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, the president is pushing ahead with his agenda today.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This was a key campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. And today President Trump insists he is forging ahead on it. But it's happening at a time when there is a lot of unease about some of the administration's other priorities, particularly when it comes to immigration.



MURRAY (voice-over): Today Donald Trump is going back to basics...

TRUMP: Health care is moving along nicely. It's being put into final forms.

MURRAY: ... revisiting his core campaign promises and announcing he'll reveal a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in early to mid- March.

After pledging on the campaign trail to slash spending, today Trump previewed his first presidential budget.

TRUMP: The finances of our country are a mess, but we're going to clean them up.

MURRAY: As the president turns to his legislative agenda, concerns continue to swirl about the administration's other priorities. Trump huddled with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly headed to Mexico today for meetings with the Mexican president and other officials.

The meetings come at a tense point in U.S.-Mexico relations. This week the Trump administration released new guidelines designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Mexican officials are already voicing concern about the new enforcement measures, not to mention the proposed border wall.

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted the relationship isn't under strain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this a clean-up job with the secretary of state? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I think that President

Pena Nieto and President Trump spoke again. The foreign ministers had several contacts with our staff.

I would argue that we have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials. And I think they would echo that same sentiment. President Pena Nieto has echoed that, as well. But I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now.

MURRAY: All of this as the administration finalizes the new executive order limiting immigration, after their first crack at a travel ban created chaos and was blocked by the courts. Trump's top policy advisor said on Tuesday the new executive action, expected later this week, will closely resemble the original.

STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: So these are mostly minor technical differences. Fundamentally, you're still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country.

MURRAY: The Trump administration is also diving into social issues today. The White House appears poised to reverse Obama administration directives that allowed transgender students to use whichever bathroom they choose.

[17:05:10] SPICER: I've made this clear, and the president has made it clear throughout the campaign, that he's a firm believer in states' rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level.


MURRAY: Now, we're still waiting for the White House today to issue their guidance on that bathroom issue for transgender students.

One of the things that Sean Spicer, though, did address today, he refuted reports out there that there were cabinet secretaries, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who were not on board with this, saying that the entire Trump administration is on the same page when it comes to this issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a sensitive issue indeed. All right. Sara, thanks very much.

Republican lawmakers are holding a full slate of town halls today, and angry voters are again making their presence felt. But President Trump dismisses them as, quote, "so-called angry crowds," and the White House suggests the confrontations are at least partly staged.


SPICER: I think some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there. But there -- obviously, there are people that are upset. But I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, it is -- it is not a representation of a member's district or an incident. It is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something, in many cases for media attention. No offense. It's just -- I think that necessarily, just because they're loud doesn't necessarily mean that there are many.


BLITZER: Our national correspondent, Kyung Lah, is over at one of those upcoming town halls in New Jersey.

Kyung, you've been to these meetings. Is that what you're seeing right now?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in a word, no. Professional, no. Organized locally, yes. You know, small groups, no. These have been very large, Wolf.

And from the people we've met -- and it's not just us dipping into these town halls, looking at pictures or dropping by for a minute. We've actually sat down and tried to meet the people and listen to their concerns, try to figure out where they're coming from.

It's been a grandmother of a toddler who said, hey, she preferred to stay at home with her toddler. A nurse who's a new mom who says she wanted to become involved. These are people who live in the district who are truly concerned.

And comments like what they're hearing from Sean Spicer, we actually just stopped here and talked to somebody back here. She said, frankly, it's just making her more mad, that that is just not true.

I want to give you a look just at what we're seeing. We're two hours, Wolf, before this all kicks off. You can see there's a large police presence. There are already people who are gathered here. They've brought their signs. They're anticipating hundreds of people showing up here to the representative's town hall. And this is similar to a number of town halls that we're seeing. Bill Cassidy in Louisiana, it became quite heated over there, Wolf.

And all of this, this back and forth between the GOP and some of these local protesters, it's just adding to the crowds. It's adding to the passion in these town halls.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers, Kyung, some live pictures coming in from Louisiana. There's a town hall for Senator Bill Cassidy. Let's just listen in for a second.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I will absolutely get to questions, but we will address a lot of the questions if we can actually go through this.


CASSIDY: I will come back. I will come back. If all you want to do is vent, this will not be profitable. But if -- if we can go through this, we will start -- we will start answering questions that are on the cards. Now, I will get to you, but let me go right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please let her ask.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, I think that it might go easier -- and I hear what you're saying. When you speak that leads to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to ask a question. So, my question to you, which is simply as you go through, would you then give people an opportunity to ask questions contemporaneously with your presentation?


BLITZER: All right. So we get a little sampling of what's going on. This is, once again, Senator Bill Cassidy's town hall in Louisiana. That's underway right now. We'll continue to monitor it for you.

In the meantime, I want to bring in Republican Congressman, former Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. He's a member of the Budget and Oversight Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You held a town hall of your own over the weekend in South Carolina. Was that a productive event?

SANFORD: I think it was. It was spirited, and it lasted for a number of hours. But at the end of the day, I think people were able to convey some ideas that were awfully important to them.

[17:10:00] BLITZER: What was the primary concern you heard from some of your constituents who were angry?

SANFORD: I think more than anything else, Wolf, it was health care. I think I've gotten more e-mails, phone calls and letters on this issue of what comes next with regard to health care than any other issue since I've come back to Congress.

BLITZER: Were these people concerned they would lose health care if Obamacare is replaced and -- repealed and replaced?

SANFORD: Very much so. And, so, I think a lot of it is fear of the unknown, fear of the unplanned. At this point, there isn't a consensus around a Republican plan. I think that the amount of political heat, if you want to call it that, that has been generated across this country has moved from a debate on simply repeal to repeal and replace. I think that the two are coupled together.

And I think it's going to be incumbent upon all of us as Republicans to say, OK, here's where we think we ought to go next; and here's the way in which we think that this makes your health care ultimately more sustainable, more affordable, and more transparent. I go down the list, but particularly portable with regard to its ability to go with you.

BLITZER: Yes, there were about 20,000 -- 20 million Americans who received health care under Obamacare, and many of them are deeply worried that whatever you guys come up with on the Republican side, they might lose those health care benefits. And they're also worried about preexisting conditions. We're not going to get into all of that right now, but I understand there are concerns. I'm sure you do, as well.

The president and the White House say at least some of the outrage is manufactured. Did you get that sense at your town hall? Were these your constituents or are these people came in from outside your district, outside your state?

SANFORD: Nobody that I was aware of from outside the state. Certainly, some people from outside the district, some people who traveled down from Pauly's Island; some other folks who traveled down from Columbia. But the bulk of folks were local. They were from the district, and they were passionate about what they believed. This wasn't an artificial crowd. It wasn't manufactured. It was real people with real concerns in terms of what came next on health care.

And I think one of the points to your last point is what come next, part of what's generating this conversation and the tension is the plan that we have in place right now in South Carolina with the Affordable Care Act is not sustainable. Last year premiums went up by 29 percent. We've gone from three providers down to one just in the last 2 1/2 years. And so the question is where do we go from here? And it's going to be a big debate.

BLITZER: Easier said than done. I know there are a lot of different ideas that the Republicans have, and there's no consensus yet. And you're right in the middle of it. I know you're working closely with Senator Rand Paul, among others.

Would you encourage other Republican members of Congress to hold these kinds of town halls, knowing what they might -- what they might get?

SANFORD: Yes, I would. You know, I went to Virginia for business school, and there they believe in the case method. And it was sort of the Socratic process of argue an idea long enough and, hopefully, the truth fell out at the bottom. And so, I think that you learn a lot more from dissenting viewpoints, from viewpoints other than your own.

And, so, I think that the give and take that exists in any of these, however unpleasant they might be at the front end, at the end of the day you walk away thinking, "I'm hearing some thoughts." You know, we walked away with several legal sheets of different ideas that people had brought up, different concerns that they'd brought up. And it causes each congressional or senatorial office to act on those ideas.

BLITZER: As you know, Democrats faced some similar town halls, angry town halls back in 2009 while Congress was working on health care reform. Many people credit those town halls with galvanizing the conservative movement which eventually led to the Tea Party. Do you see similarities now?

SANFORD: Yes, I mean, you know, dissent is part and baked into the -- the American political system. That's a good thing. We want to have that.

And in fairness to the Republicans out there, and in fairness to Paul Ryan and leadership, this has been a bottom-up process. Unlike, with due respect to the Affordable Care Act, when it went in straight-line party vote, little debate and sort of read it and then you can discover what's in it approach, it's been approach of -- Senator Paul and I, for instance, have a plan. There are a number of different -- Cassidy I heard his voice just a moment ago on the programming, has a plan. There are a number of different plans out there.

But as a consequence of those different ideas and the contest of those different ideas, I think we're going to end up with something that really helps people.

BLITZER: A questioner at your town hall asked if you were proud to have Donald Trump as your president, and you answered -- this is the quote, according to "The Charleston Post and Courier," "I think we're all struggling with it."

Is that as sentiment widely shared among your Republican colleagues in the House?

SANFORD: I can't speak for other Republican colleagues. I'd say the obvious, though, in terms of the district that I represent. Many people are struggling with it. They applaud the Supreme Court appointment. They applaud many of the cabinet appointees. They applaud the way in which he's beginning to roll back on regulation.

But some of the weird stuff, standing up at the prayer breakfast and comparing your ratings in "The Apprentice" show to Schwarzenegger's is, indeed, weird. And people have said that does give them pause. It does give them concern, because he's got a big job. They want him to succeed. And they want him at times to let go of these fairly minor, chail-tasing [SIC] endeavors that he seems to engage on in a regular basis with Twitter and others.

BLITZER: Congressman, I want to you stand by. We're going to take a quick break. I also want to show our viewers these live pictures, once again, coming in from Louisiana. This is Senator Bill Cassidy's town hall. It's getting very lively over there, as we've been seeing all over the country. People asking tough questions, a lot of these Republican lawmakers, and then they -- we're just seeing this over and over and over again. We're going to continue to watch this.

Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.

CASSIDY: It does not stop at the state level but rather flows straight to patients. Now, under our plan...


[17:20:56] BLITZER: All right. It's getting lively over there in Metairie, Louisiana. Senator Cassidy's town hall. There have been angry, angry citizens there, complaining about some of his proposed policies. Let's listen in again. CASSIDY: Please. Now, under our plan, the 30 million that are

currently uninsured under the ACA would be insured. And the state would continue to receive the dollars that currently come for the Medicaid expansion. And they would also -- and they would also receive the dollars for those who are currently on the exchanges. It's my bill. I'm going to tell you the truth.


CASSIDY: It is my Bill. I can promise you that is how the bill is written. Well, if you don't believe me, it's because you haven't read the bill. In that case...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have read the bill. We've read your bill.

CASSIDY: In that case, if you've read my bill, then what you will see is that we actually have the potential to have more folks covered in Louisiana than we do now. And, in fact, more potential...


CASSIDY: Well -- so -- so, what we also hope to do is give the patient the power. We give the patient the power by requiring price transparency.


CASSIDY: So if somebody...

BLITZER: You can hear the heckling that's going on, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, his town hall. There are angry citizens there, complaining about various policies. A few of them were just escorted out by local police. You can see that one individual holding the sign, "You're Not Answering Our Questions." We'll continue to watch this.

I want to bring back Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Very quickly, your reaction to what your Republican colleague is -- has to endure right now at that town hall.

SANFORD: Empathy. Again, we had a 3-1/2-hour town hall meeting on Saturday morning; and there was a little energy at the front end, but it became clear that I wasn't going anywhere. I was going to stay for the duration, hear people's points of view. It began to calm.

And I think that, fundamentally, it's a reminder on the degree to which people want to be heard. And there's a certain level of respect that simply allows folks in being heard.

I think it also underscores the amount of energy that's behind this issue. I mean, when you talk about something as personal as people's health care, people really care about it. It's not an academic debate. This goes to the heart of, at times, life and death decisions. So, it's something that they really care about.

And finally, I'd make this point. I think it was Newton that said for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. And I think that we need to be careful here, because some of what, to a degree, Donald Trump has unleashed in the way he can be crass and cutting, at times hard-edged, we see now at the congressional side, wherein, "OK, if he can say that kind of stuff, well, then I can, too, in a town hall meeting." I think we all need to be awfully careful about that phenomenon.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is your Republican colleagues should not necessarily follow the president's lead in terms of his reaction to the criticism? Is that what I'm hearing?

SANFORD: Yes, I think people want to be heard. At the end of the day, we are representatives of 750,000 people, in the case of congressional district, and obviously the case of a lot -- a number of much higher in the case of a Senate seat.

And, you know, the president has broken every conventional political rule out there on things that one could say, and I think that, to a degree, has given people what they perceive to be license to be awfully rough and at times maybe crossing the line with regard to rudeness in some of these town hall meetings and people that ultimately represent them in Washington.

BLITZER: Do you think it's going to change people's minds? Did your town hall change your mind on some specific issues?

SANFORD: Yes, I've said that this stuff is already having an effect. I mean, I think baked into the cake in any Republican proposal that comes out is, for instance, you know, somebody staying on their plan, their parents' plan, until the age of 26. I think that's baked into the cake. That was a part of the Affordable Care Act.

[17:25:07] I think that, similarly, this whole notion of preexisting conditions. We may come up with different ways of dealing with it, as for instance, the plan that Senator Paul and I offered does. But baked into the cake is this notion of dealing with preexisting conditions. I don't think you can see any Republican plan that doesn't do that at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Very quickly, I want to get your reaction to another issue that has come up in the last few days, this escalated rise of anti- Semitic incidents, including a desecration of a Jewish synagogue in Missouri. The vice president, Mike Pence, was out there. He went to that Jewish cemetery today. I want it play a clip of what he had to say.


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti- Semitism. I must tell you, the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri, and I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is really all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Welcome words by the Jewish community and a whole bunch of other people, as well. I know you have an old historic wonderful Jewish community in South Carolina. When you hear what's going on, when you see this rise in the desecration. There you see the vice president help to clean up that Jewish cemetery, where tombstones were desecrated over these past few days. When you see swastikas painted, you see angry, angry threats to Jewish community centers all over the country, I want your reaction to this.

SANFORD: Horrifying, troubling, and it's something that needs to be snuffed out immediately. This is a cancer that cannot grow in our republic. And I think that the vice president's words were spot on.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Always good to have you here on our show. Appreciate it.

SANFORD: Yes, sir, thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, the latest surprising twist as investigators look into the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong- un's half-brother, including an attempted break-in at the morgue where Malaysian authorities are holding the body.


BLITZER: We're watching Republican lawmakers confronted by angry crowds as they hold town halls back in their district.

[17:31:52] Right now you can see live pictures, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana taking questions from an angry group of folks just outside New Orleans. He's been getting a lot of tough questions on health care. He happens to be a physician himself, Senator Cassidy. And folks want to know what's going to happen to their health care if they repeal and replace Obamacare. Let's listen in again a little bit.

CASSIDY: Do not make that a condition of, OK, you don't get federal aid unless you do what we say. We try to move -- we try to move...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seventy-thousand from it?

CASSIDY: We tried -- we tried to move the power over child education back to...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Budgets are not good.

CASSIDY: Most folks would think that charter schools have been a good development.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! CASSIDY: So I will tell you my perspective. My perspective is that the person who should have the most control over where a child gets educated -- is the child's parents.

BLITZER: All right. You get a flavor of what's going on not only there in Metairie, Louisiana, but all over the country Republican lawmakers facing some angry citizens on various issues, including health care and the repeal, they want the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Let's bring in our political and legal experts to discuss this. Mike Rogers, you served, what, 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. You did a bunch of town halls back in your home state of Michigan. Did you ever get anger like this directed at you, people screaming to you, "Do your job, answer the question," tough stuff like that?

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN : Never exactly toward me in that way, but I've had where half the room is screaming at other half the room. There are -- different kind of people show up. The bigger the town hall you have tells you the bigger the issue; and no one shows up to tell you you're doing a great job.

Those are the folks who are motivated to come, because they're angry about something. Either they think they're going to lose something or gain something in the political process. So, they're there for a very serious reason.

So, you also get political activists. So, the people who are shouting and interrupting, a lot of those people came there with a political objective of disruption. I had it in my district. Every congressman, Republican or Democrat, likely gets that along the way somewhere.

And then you have this group in the middle who are very passionate and can get angry and get worked up about it. And some of that I see directed to the senator. I'll just say I think he's doing a masterful job. You can't get upset in these things. You have to let it work its way out, to continue to talk about your position, which I think he's doing.

[17:35:09]: And at least he's facing these citizens, answering their questions, even if they're tough and there's a lot of anger there. He's doing it. And some other lawmakers, they're now resisting. They don't want to do these town halls, and they're not showing up.

Ron Brownstein, a lot of people are comparing what's going on now to the emergence of the Tea Party back in 2009 when President Obama was pushing health care reform. You see a similarity going on right now?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I do. I mean, I think, you know, health care is a quagmire. It was a quagmire for President Obama. It's going to be a quagmire for President Trump. There's a reason why every president from Harry Truman through Bill Clinton who tried to reform health care could not; and Obama was the only one to get it even to the floor, much less through to passage. Because it is a very complex interconnected system. And when you make changes, you affect a lot of people and have the law of unintended consequences, to a great degree.

You know, one of the things, one of the core divides here is you see from Republicans like Paul Ryan and what he tweeted yesterday that Republicans want to give people more freedom, more choice. And that may be attractive to some younger healthier people with less health care needs.

The problem is that all of their principle mechanisms for increasing that choice-- ending the individual mandate, reducing the mandatory minimum benefits and so forth -- has the effect of raising costs on older people with greater health needs at a time when a majority of Republican votes come from whites over 45.

So, the complexities are not yet all worked out, to use Congressman Rogers' phrase, and I think as they go through this, this could get even hairier for Republicans as more of their own constituents realize the implications of their plans.

BLITZER: You heard the White House suggest, the press secretary, Nia, a lot of these are just outside agitators, professionals. The president tweeted something along those lines, as well. Don't take it, necessarily, all that seriously.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and obviously, if you're a congressperson or a senator going back to your district, you have to take it seriously, because you've got to figure out what kind of answers that you're going to give to these folks who are asking questions about what's going to happen to their health care.

I think one of the problems they're having at this point is there is really no plan yet from the Republicans. At some point they'll have that.

We are seeing this also happen much earlier than it did with the Tea Party. Those Tea Party town halls happened in the summer of 2009. This is certainly much earlier on the president's watch. And it's being fueled by Facebook and social media. And they can sort of dismiss it as, you know, Astroturf protesters, but they still have to deal with it.

Tom Cotton, for instance, had to change the location of his town hall two or three times, because the crowd was going to be so massive. He's going to have one tonight in Arkansas; and I think 1,100 people have signed up on Facebook.

BLITZER: Yes. Back in 2009, 2010, the White House press secretary in the Obama White House, Robert Gibbs, he said this wasn't really grassroots people coming up, as Nia says; they were Astroturf. He sort of dismissed this whole thing. But it did lead to the Tea Party, and it did lead to the Republicans becoming the majority in the House.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And the Democrats, especially activists, have very intentionally imitated the Tea Party. A group of congressional aides created a group called "Indivisible," which has basically created a blueprint for how to go to town halls. And, you know, the president says, you know, these are -- these are

liberal activists. Well, that's right, and that's called political organizing; and that's what political conservatives did under Obama, and that's what liberals are doing now. The question is can they sustain it? And can they win elections, especially in congressional districts that are gerrymandered very much to favor the Republican incumbent.

BLITZER: Yes, Senator Bill Cassidy in Louisiana, his town hall -- you're looking at live pictures -- he clearly has his hands full. We're going to continue to watch that town hall.

Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:43:33] BLITZER: There is more breaking news. Just moments ago, look at these pictures. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, arrived in Mexico City. He's there to talk about the border, as well as the Trump administration's new immigration policies. We're going to monitor these developments.

There he is shaking hands with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson. She's a career diplomat, so she stays in her post, at least for the time being.

We're back with our panel. Also joining us, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. Elise, you're getting some new information about mixed messages coming from the Trump administration to European leaders about U.S. policy. That's causing a lot of confusion. This is a story first reported by the Reuters news agency.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, you heard -- you saw Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis, others in Europe last week. And when Defense -- when Vice President Pence went to Brussels, he spoke about this very cooperative relationship between the U.S. and the E.U. He said, "President Trump sent me here to talk about deepening our political and economic cooperation."

Well, we just found out, as you said, just reported -- first reported by Reuters that a few days before that, Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist to President Trump, had a meeting with the German ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, in which he was, you know, speaking a very derogatory message about the E.U., calling it a flawed organization, saying the U.S. preferred to have bilateral relationships with these countries. And kind of along the lines of what he has said before and a little bit about what President Trump has said on the campaign, that you look at what's happening in Europe, these populist nationalist movements. They're not really into this kind of European Union experiment where they're dealing with multi- lateralism.

So, you know, European diplomats, very nervous. They're getting these mixed messages. They don't know where to turn. Rex Tillerson, as you just said, about some career diplomats, there are very few left at the State Department, so they don't know who to talk to.

And you have elections coming up throughout Europe -- in the Netherlands, in France, and in Germany. And they're very worried that the U.S. is going to start to support these anti-E.U. right wing movements. A lot of anxiety in Europe.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But the President himself has said he wants bilateral trade deals with the United States and individual countries. He doesn't like those multi-lateral trade deals like with NAFTA or, you know, any of these other international trade deals. And that was presumably the message that Bannon was sending to the German ambassador.

Well, I mean, the German ambassador, we understand, kind of gave as good as he got. He gave a passionate defense of why Europe is important. You know, diplomats are telling me, we don't even that this administration understands what the Europeans do, that they don't understand how important they are. And that's fine, but they need to respect that this is the way Europe wants to go. And they're saying, don't tread in our front lawn.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by.

There is more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, including some bizarre new twists in the killing of the North Korean leader Kim Jong- un's half-brother. Someone tried to break into the morgue where his body is waiting to be claimed. Could the killing have an impact on President Trump's North Korean policy?


[17:51:13] BLITZER: A very bizarre new twist tonight in the investigation into the murder of Kim Jong-un's half-brother, including an apparent break-in attempt at the morgue where the body is being held. CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating.

What else are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the intrigue surrounding this case is only deepening tonight. Police say they're looking for more suspects. They have new information on the training of the female suspects, and they find themselves guarding against someone either trying to steal or tamper with the body of Kim Jong-nam.


TODD (voice-over): Stepped up security at the morgue in Kuala Lumpur where the body of Kim Jong-un's half-brother is being kept. A top Malaysian police official says someone tried to break into the mortuary. He wouldn't say whether the suspects were North Korean.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: It would look like North Koreans, but we don't know that.

TODD (on camera): What would they want to do with the body? FUENTES: That's a good question. I don't know at this point what

they would do with it other than ship it somewhere else and then possibly cremate it and destroy it, and then argue that the evidence was untrue.

TODD (voice-over): It's another bizarre twist in a case that, tonight, is again boiling with intrigue. Malaysian police say the excuse offered by one of the female suspects, that she thought she was participating in an innocent reality stunt when she rubbed something in Kim Jong-nam's face is not true.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, INSPECTOR GENERAL, ROYAL MALAYSIA POLICE: These two ladies were trained to swab deceased's face to -- you know, before that, the four suspects will give them the liquid, will put the liquid on their hands. They're supposed to wipe it over the deceased's face. And after that, they went away. They were instructed to clean their hands. And they know it is toxic.

TODD (voice-over): South Korean officials say Kim Jong-un's regime ordered the hit on his half-brother. The North Koreans deny the accusation, calling it defamation. But experts say the North Koreans have used this tactic before.

GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: The means of delivery might differ, but North Korean agents are known for having used poison, liquid poison, to assassinate defectors, dissidents, and Christian missionaries.

TODD (voice-over): In 2011, North Korean spies were thwarted when they allegedly tried to assassinate a well-known defector in Seoul. A South Korean official showed CNN a weapon they claimed was intended to be used in the attack, a poisoned needle inside a ballpoint pen.

Tonight, indications of a broader conspiracy in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian police say they want to question two additional North Korean suspects who they say are in Malaysia, a worker at North Korea's embassy and an employee of a North Korean airline.

The assassination in broad daylight could complicate how the Trump administration will deal with Kim Jong-un's regime. An early indicator could come soon with a decision on whether to approve visas for a North Korean delegation to come to New York City. "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" report informal talks are proposed for next month between North Korean officials and former U.S. officials.

Joel Wit has attended similar talks.

JOEL WIT, SENIOR FELLOW, US-KOREA INSTITUTE OF JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: It sounds weird but you can brainstorm with North Koreans if you know them and they know you. In that context, we've had very productive discussions about the future of U.S.-North Korean relations and also about their nuclear weapons and missile programs.


TODD: Now, analysts say, while any talks with North Korea might provide a positive opening, they warn not to expect too much. Experts point out North Korea has often reneged on agreements in the past. And they say Kim Jong-un's regime should never be expected to completely give up its nuclear weapons program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, you're also picking up some other important new information on the investigation tonight. What are you learning?

[17:54:59] TODD: More and more twists, Wolf. The Malaysian police's Inspector General says the two women who allegedly attacked Kim Jong- nam had poison on their bare hands, and they swiped his face with those bare hands. Police say the four North Korean male suspects who escaped back to Pyongyang, they say they poured that liquid.

Also, investigator say the two women carried out trial runs for the attack at two malls in Kuala Lumpur. Of course, again, kind of refuting their claim that this was all an innocent stunt that they were duped into doing.

BLITZER: Yes, the investigation continues. Brian Todd, on the story for us, thank you.

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