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Trump: U.S. Trade Deal with Mexico is "Unsustainable"; White House: No wrongdoing in FBI Conversations on Russia Reporting; Trump Addresses Conservative Conference. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: We've learned that Donald Trump is a counterpuncher, right? You punch him and he's going to punch a little back. So I'm not so sure that's the right approach for the Mexican government to take. I think we need to have a greater cooperation with the two countries, no question about it. I think Mexico is going to -- some parts of NAFTA, Poppy, are probably going to have to be renegotiated. I mean, Donald Trump ran on that and he won on that. So I don't think Mexico wants to do a little bit of saber-rattling there -

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

MOORE: Because I think it actually may disrupt the relationship. I want Mexico and the United States to have a great relationship. I want it to be both politically and economically beneficial to both countries.

HARLOW: Right. Stephen Moore, I'm sure we have to cut your time short, we'll have you back for a long segment -- very soon. Stephen Moore, thank you. Have a good weekend. The next hour of NEWSROOM begins right now.

Good morning, everyone. Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Poppy Harlow. It is 10:00 a.m. Eastern. John Berman is off. Thanks for joining us. Just minutes from now, President Trump takes a victory lap of sorts. He will speak at CPAC, the nation's largest annual gathering of conservative power brokers and activists.

He arrived just moments ago. It is a breath taking reversal from a year ago when then candidate Trump skipped out on this. He cancelled his appearance because of many conservatives refusing to embrace him. Look how times have changed. Our White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live for us at CPAC. What can we expect from the president this morning, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. You're absolutely right, a victory lap indeed. And while the Trump branded conservatives is certainly different than the brand of conservativism usually embraced here at this annual conference. The people that I talked to are simply happy that there is a Republican in the White House and there are Republican majorities in Congress, for the first time in more than a decade, Republicans controlling both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

And yes, Donald Trump isn't necessarily the first choice of some of these conservatives. A year ago, like you said, there were cries to try and stop him from winning the party's nomination. That is all ancient history. So he is going to be taking that victory lap, like you said. And I am told his speech is not going to be one filled with policy. It's not going to be the specifics that we heard in terms of the world view of Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist yesterday, who talked about economic nationalism, and how you know, this country must change the political world order.

But President Trump I'm told is going to simply thank these activists, and there --without a doubt will be plenty of media bashing, which of course has become central to his theme. But he is going to ask them for their help in driving his agenda. And that is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That is to change regulations, tax reform as well. But this is going to be more of a rally speech than a specific speech.

He is still, of course, working on his address, his speech he will give to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday night. That will be a chance for more specifics. But Poppy, here, this is a moment for celebration in his eyes. And look for a bit of media bashing, again, perhaps at the top of his speech on some of our reporting that we've had here on CNN about those FBI contacts with the White House and the FBI. Poppy?

HARLOW: It's a good point, Jeff, because he has not responded to the substance of CNN's reporting - exclusive reporting on this. He's only attacked the leakers on Twitter. Jeff Zeleny at CPAC, where we do expect to see the president really at any moment, before we do hear from the president though, I do want to get to this exclusive reporting from CNN and how the White House is pushing back this morning on it.

The reporting is about an unusual - an unusual eye raising request, eyebrow raising request from the Trump administration to the FBI. Sources telling us, multiple sources, that the Trump administration went to the FBI, wanting them to publicly dismiss reports of contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign advisers during the run- up to the election.

Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown has been working her sources, breaking this story. Our Joe Johns has spoken with senior officials at the White House about it. So, Pamela, let's start with you on the reporting that you have. What have we learned?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, CNN has learned that the FBI rejected this recent White House request to publicly knock down on media reports about communications during the 2016 campaign and Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. Intelligence. Now, but the White House officials said that their request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe all of the reporting was accurate. Multiple U.S. officials tell myself, tell my colleagues, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Shimon Prokupecz, that the White House stopped the help of the bureau, another HSC's investigate in the Russian matter. They say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contact, these officials said. The FBI director James Comey apparently, rejected this request flat out, according to our sources.

[10:05:01] And part because the alleged communications are the subject of an ongoing investigation. The White House spokesperson, Sean Spicer, responded to this, saying that basically, "We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth." The FBI declined to comment. Poppy?

HARLOW: This is anything from a typical request, Pamela, it is a typical. It is concerning. It is eyebrow-raising. How did it all begin?

BROWN: It is certainly eyebrow-raising. This began with the FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after these stories were published. A White House official says McCabe told Priebus -- took the initiative to tell Priebus that "The New York Times" story vastly overstated what the FBI knows about the contacts. A U.S. official says McCabe didn't discuss specific aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

Now, the White House official said that Priebus later reached out. And again, to McCabe and to FBI director James Comey along with other agencies, asking for them to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. The FBI refused. Poppy?

HARLOW: Why -- just dive into a little bit more, Pamela, why this is not a typical back and forth between the White House and the FBI. I mean, there are rules. There are regulations that have been longstanding to block exactly this from happening.

BROWN: It's written in Department of Justice memos, this communication between the White House and the FBI is limited and decade-old restrictions on such contact, specifically, as I pointed out, laid out in two Department of Justice memos. So, if the deputy director of the FBI talked about this to the White House, he may have overstepped, since it is an ongoing investigation, not to mention an investigation involving the president's associates and Russia.

And the request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations. Basically, these memos say specifically, make it clear that the Chief of Staff to the president and the FBI's deputy director should not be talking to one another about a pending investigation, which is what this "New York Times" article was. Poppy?

HARLOW: And the key phrase there, "pending investigation," I mean, this is an investigation that is still ongoing.

BROWN: It is still ongoing. The FBI's Counterintelligence Division is still investigating. Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees tell CNN that Congress is still investigating those alleged contacts. So that has begun. And they're starting to collect documents as well as records. So the investigations are in full swing. Poppy?

HARLOW: Pamela Brown, great reporting. Thank you very much. Let's go over to the White House now because senior White House officials on background spoke to reporters about CNN's exclusive reporting moments ago. Joe Johns is at the White House. What was the takeaway? What's their message?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The first takeaway from the White House is that they've done nothing wrong, plain and simple. And as to the question of trying to talk to the FBI during a pending investigation, the senior administration officials told reporters this morning that Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, was not talking to the FBI in the first place about the investigation. He was talking to the FBI about a news story in "The New York Times" about constant contacts or communication with Russia, which he said, Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, had initiated a conversation over to tell Priebus, to tell the White House, that it was an incorrect story, that the story was, quote, "BS."

And as this conversation went on, apparently, Priebus asked the FBI deputy director what can you do, is there anything you can do to correct the story. The takeaway from the FBI was that they really could not make a public statement about the, quote unquote, "erroneous report" in "The New York Times." Because if they started doing that, all they would end up doing all the time was trying to correct stories that had been written about them.

Later, a conversation apparently with the director of the FBI, Comey, and the takeaway from that was that it would be okay for Priebus to go out public and say he had been briefed and that the story was incorrect. So, I think those are the high points. The most important point is they say it is incorrect. They say, CNN has been trying to create something nefarious in its reporting about this when it wasn't nefarious at all. Poppy?

HARLOW: Not creating anything, just reporting the facts. Joe Johns, I appreciate those -- that reporting coming from the White House. A lot to talk about as we await the president who is about to speak live here at CPAC. My panel is here.

[10:10:00] Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, Nia-Malika Henderson, our senior political reporter, Ron Brownstein, our senior political analyst, and Amanda Carpenter, a CNN political commentator, as well as Brian Fallon, also a CNN political commentator. An all-star panel so much news to talk about this Friday morning.

Let me begin with Gloria Borger, because you're with me in New York, which is so nice to have you, you're usually in Washington. So the president comes out and talks about this this morning, but not about the substance of the reporting. He tweaks about the leakers and in all caps writes, find now, you must find the leakers now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it's important to say that it's not discrediting our story at all. And the White House is saying they did nothing wrong in asking the FBI. What's interesting to me about the president, in watching him over the past month, is that he is obsessed with the leaks. If you go back and you look at Donald Trump's career. He is used to people, signing nondisclosure agreements, who do business with him and they can't talk. -

HARLOW: Doesn't work to run the government.

BORGER: And it doesn't - they can't talk. And so, he's used to doing deals or doing his business and having it kept private. Well, that's not the case here. And he can't plug every hole. And I think it's an immense frustration to him as president that he doesn't have complete control over the entire government.

And what also seems to be the case, is that the divisions that are strong and important between the White House and the FBI, which should never be talking to each other about ongoing investigations. There should always be a wall there. That that also seems to be something that is not yet understood by the White House and it is so important. So, there is a period of adjustment here, particularly for the president who is not used to not controlling everything.

HARLOW: Right, right. So, to you, Amanda, do you think it is a misstep by the president to not go after, once again, the substance of the reporting, to not come out on Twitter and instead of attacking the leakers, which frankly, this is part and parcel of being in government, this happens, to go after the substance of the reporting. If he wants to knock it down, then say that. Is this a misstep by him?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he wants to question the story but doesn't necessarily have the footing to knock it down. Here's how I see it. If you believe the line trotted out by a lot of Trump supporters, is that the Trump administration is under attack by the deep state and possibly these Obama holdovers hiding out in these departments.

Maybe I'm open to that if they could prove it. More likely, I interpret many of these leaks as a cry for help from employees who don't want to see the president fail. People in these positions wouldn't be leaking to the media if they weren't very uncomfortable with what was going on.

So, if Donald Trump really wants to stop these leaks, he needs to get his staff in order. And they will stop these leaks if they quit doing questionable things. What Reince Priebus did was questionable. Other people were uncomfortable. White House officials are talking to the press about it. And so, this is completely within Trump's control. And he should look at himself. But yes, I understand why he's questioning the leaks publicly, to try to distract from his own failings.

HARLOW: So, again, we're waiting for the president to speak. I tend to think he'll address this at the top of his remarks at CPAC, but we'll watch. Brian Fallon, to you, I can't help but think about the campaign and the comments from the Trump team and other opponents of yours. Obviously, you worked with Hillary Clinton's team, about, you know, that moment when former President Bill Clinton walked on the plane on the tarmac in Arizona and spoke with Loretta Lynch. And she had to, you know recuse herself from anything having to do with the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton and the server. They were very critical of that. And now, this is a conversation, they're not saying the conversation didn't take place between Reince Priebus and the deputy at the FBI.

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right, Poppy. And that conversation that took place on that airport tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona, back during the summer, was regrettable, only because it raised an appearance issue. But I think a lot of their criticisms that ensued after that meeting took place, some of it was justified, because there was an appearance issue there. But at the very least you did not have any actual conversation about the ongoing case. Here, by the White House's own admission, you have a conversation that was directly about a matter where the White House is itself under investigation. And so the explanation --

HARLOW: So, Brian, did they say -- I just want your take. They say, the White House says their response this morning to reporters on background, it wasn't about the substance. It was about the news reporting of it, the PR side of it. What do you make of that?

FALLON: Well, those two things can't be disentangled, because the nature of "The New York Times" report was a suggestion that the FBI had uncovered communications that were happening during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian government officials.

[10:15:04] So, if Reince Priebus is asking the FBI to say that the report is not true and to discredit the report, he's essentially trying to get to the bottom of the facts the FBI may have uncovered. And regardless of who would have initiated the conversation, whether it was the deputy director of the FBI, Mr. McCabe, or Reince Priebus.

Under no circumstances, whoever is initiating it -- under no circumstances that the White House Chief of Staff be receiving a briefing about what's true, what's not about a matter of - under act in investigation. And that's why you need an independent special counsel that is running this investigation. At the end of the day, when the FBI has gathered all the facts, they will present it to the sitting attorney general, who is Jeff Sessions, who is an advisor to the Trump campaign. He can't possibly be trusted to make an independent judgement. And you've seen now from this incident that's been reported by CNN, that this White House considers the FBI an arm of its own administration rather than an entity that is independently conducting an investigation. That can't be. They need a special prosecutor.

HARLOW: All right, guys, stay with me. I got to get a break in here. We have much more coming up. Of course, we're waiting for the president to make these live remarks this morning, there at CPAC. We'll be back in just a moment after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:18:42] HARLOW: All right. We want to take you live to CPAC, where Matt Schlapp, who runs CPAC and as well as his wife, Mercedes, are about to introduce the president. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, REPUBLICAN OPERATIVE: An amazing leader who has become the voice of the forgotten men and women of this country.

(APPLAUSE)

Ladies and gentlemen, you are no longer forgotten.

MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: And you know what I'm learning is how good it feels to have somebody lead our country who knows how to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. We're going to keep monitoring them. They're speaking, saying they're about to introduce the president, saying this is the man who stood up for you, the forgotten. They made a joke to one another as they came out, saying Mr. and Ms. deplorable, harkening back to that line we will never forget from the election.

Let's bring back in my panel as we await the president. And Ron Brownstein, let me go to you. Gloria made a great point to me during the break. You know, it's not just the fact that the White House shouldn't have been having these conversations. The FBI - the deputy director of the FBI should not have been having these you know sideline conversations with the White House either. That is not how our government is set up to work, especially when there's an ongoing investigation.

[10:20:04] RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Certainly, if you're asking the FBI to kind of publicly disparage these stories, you are committing them to a conclusion about the investigation before the investigation is over. I mean, there is no way to separate what you are asking them to say publicly from, you know, the process of the investigation. And this is one of many moments where it's kind of easy to imagine the alternate reality of a Hillary Clinton president having any kind of contact like this with the FBI. What would be happening on Capitol Hill this morning? - What would Jason Chaffetz be doing?

HARLOW: All right, guys -- I have to interrupt. The music is playing. There you see the President of the United States, Donald Trump, as he comes out. He will make remarks. Not clear exactly what he will say, but I would expect that he will likely address the CNN reporting that he's been tweeting about this morning. Let's just listen in to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody, so great to be with you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Great to be back at CPAC. It's a place I have really -

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!

TRUMP: I love this place.

(APPLAUSE)

Love you people. So thank you -- thank you very much. First of all, I want to thank Matt Schlapp and his very, very incredible wife, and boss, Mercedes, who have been fantastic friends and supporters and so great. When I watch them on television defending me, nobody has a chance. So I want to thank Matt and Mercedes.

(APPLAUSE)

And when Matt called and asked, I said, "Absolutely I'll be there with you." I mean, the real reason I said it, I didn't want him to go against me because that -

(LAUGHTER)

That one you can't beat. So I said absolutely. And it really is an honor to be here. I wouldn't miss a chance to talk to my friends. These are my friends.

(APPLAUSE)

And we'll see you again next year and the year after that and I'll be doing this --

(APPLAUSE)

I'll be doing this with CPAC whenever I can and I'll make sure that we're here a lot.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You can do it!

TRUMP: You know if you remember my first major speech -- sit down everybody. Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

You know the dishonest media they'll say, "He didn't get a standing ovation." You know why?

(LAUGHTER)

No -- you know why? Because everybody stood and nobody sat. So they will say, "He never got a standing ovation," right?

(APPLAUSE)

They are the worst.

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!

TRUMP: So -- sit down.

(LAUGHTER)

"Donald Trump did not get a standing ovation."

(LAUGHTER)

They leave out the part, "They never sat down." They leave that out. So I just want to thank -- but you know my first major speak was at CPAC and -- probably five or six years ago. First major political speech. And you were there. And it was -- I loved it. I loved the people. I loved the commotion. And then they did these polls were I went through the roof and I wasn't even running, right?

(LAUGHTER)

But it gave me an idea. And I got a little bit concerned when I saw what was happening in the country. And I said, "Let's go to it." So, it was very exciting. I walked the stage on CPAC. I'll never forget it, really. I had very little notes and even less preparation. So when you have practically no notes and no preparation and then you leave and everybody was thrilled, I said, "I think I like this business."

(LAUGHTER)

I would've come last year but I was worried that I would be, at that time, too controversial. We wanted border security. We wanted very, very strong military. We wanted all of the things that we're going to get -

[10:25:03] (APPLAUSE)

-- and people consider that controversial but you didn't consider it controversial.

(APPLAUSE)

So, I've been with CPAC for a long time. All of these years we've been together. And now you finally have a president, finally. Took you a long time.

(APPLAUSE)

Took you a long time.

(APPLAUSE)

And it's patriots like you that made it happen, believe me. Believe me. You did it because you love your country, because you want a better future for your children and because you want to make America great again.

(APPLAUSE)

The media didn't think we would win.

(LAUGHER)

TRUMP: The pundits -- you're right. They had an idea. The pundits didn't think we'd win. The consultants that suck up all that money -- oh, they suck it up. They're so good.

(LAUGHTER)

They're not good at politics, but they're really good at sucking up people's money. Especially my opponents, because I kept them down to a minimum. But the consultants didn't think we would win. But they all underestimated the power of the people: You. And the people proved them totally wrong. Never -- and -- and this is so true. And this is what's been happening. Never underestimate the people. Never. I don't think it'll ever happen again.

(APPLAUSE)

And I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake.

(APPLAUSE)

A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people.

(APPLAUSE)

Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none. I saw one story recently where they said, "Nine people have confirmed." There're no nine people. I don't believe there was one or two people. Nine people. And I said, "Give me a break." Because I know the people, I know who they talk to. There were no nine people. But they say "nine people." And somebody reads it and they think, "Oh, nine people. They have nine sources." They make up sources.

They're very dishonest people. In fact, in covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news. They dropped off the word "fake." And all of a sudden the story became the media is the enemy. They take the word "fake" out. And now I'm saying, "Oh no, this is no good." But that's the way they are. So I'm not against the media, I'm not against the press. I don't mind bad stories if I deserve them. And I tell you, I love good stories, but we don't go.

(LAUGHTER)

I don't get too many of them. But I am only against the fake news, media or press. Fake, fake. They have to leave that word. I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out.

(APPLAUSE)

"A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being." Let them say it to my face.

(APPLAUSE)

Let there be no more sources. And remember this -- and in not -- in all cases. I mean, I had a story written yesterday about me in "Reuters" by a very honorable man. It was a very fair story. There are some great reporters around. They're talented, they're honest as the day is long. They're great.

But there are some terrible dishonest people and they do a tremendous disservice to our country and to our people. A tremendous disservice. They are very dishonest people. And they shouldn't use sources. They should put the name of the person. You will see stories dry up like you've never seen before.

So you have no idea how bad it is, because if you are not part of the story -- and I put myself in your position sometimes. Because many of you, you're not part of the story. And if you're not part of the story, you know, then you, sort of, know -- if you are part of the story, you know what they're saying is true or not.

So when they make it up -- and they make up something else, and you saw that before the election, polls, polls, the polls.