Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump vs. Media; Trump Attacks FBI; Kasich Meets With Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But he was also asked about sort of his evolving relationship with the president.

And the governor of Ohio compared it to being on an airplane, essentially saying, you want to root for the pilot. So, you want President Trump to be successful. But, again, whether that means that we're never going to hear criticism from John Kasich again, I think that's unlikely. Like I said, he's usually a pretty outspoken guy.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Sara, we have some live pictures now of President Trump. Who he's with? Is this the president of Peru?

MURRAY: Yes, president of Peru is arriving, I believe may have arrived just behind me. That's President Trump's afternoon meeting with the president of Peru. That's what he will be doing for part of this afternoon, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. OK.

But back to Governor Kasich, Sara, stay with me.

Maeve Reston, let me bring just you in, as just another voice. In listening, Sara explained it perfectly, again, no love loss between these two. The fact is, he cares very much about the great people in the state of Ohio and about their health care, but just the notion, to Sara's point, he's rooting for the pilot, rooting for the president in this case.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

So that was a good message for Kasich coming out of this meeting. it was interesting, because earlier this week, in some of the Ohio papers, there was a back and forth about who really asked for the meeting, was it Kasich, was it Trump?

But clearly John Kasich, who is thinking about another future presidential run, went in there with an agenda that we heard him talking about on camera. Obviously, in his state, he allowed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. And that became a huge controversial issue with him among Republicans when he ran for president.

But he's now trying to get Trump to take a look at his plans on Obamacare. And they obviously talked about other issues, but really interesting kind of the political dynamic here, because some people think John Kasich could well challenge Trump in 2020.

He put a political organization -- his allies have put a political organization together that got people kind of talking and a lot of people think he's just kind of watching to see how this Trump White House rolls out, keeping his options open, and today obviously going with a very congenial tone about his meeting with Trump.

BALDWIN: Maeve, thank you. Sara Murray at the White House.

Let's continue on and just sort of let you know we're going to begin with breaking news here. CNN and "The New York Times," "Los Angeles Times," Politico all blocked from attending today's White House gaggle with Press Secretary Spicer, while more conservative outlets such as Breitbart, "The Washington Times" and One America News Network were allowed in.

Sara Murray is still with me at the White House. I also have with me CNN media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

But, Sara, first to you. You were the one who showed up. You were set to attend the gaggle. You were blocked. Tell me what happened.

MURRAY: That's right.

As usual, we have many questions for the representatives of this administration. And so we were preparing for what they said was going to be an off-camera gaggle, expanded pool. A pool is when you have the smallest group of reporters that then represents all of the news outlets. They send their reporting around.

An expanded pool tends to be one representative from each news outlet, and in this case, the White House was hand-selecting the reporters they wanted to see in this gaggle and they were blocking the ones they did not want to see.

So we saw a couple outlets that are more favorable towards the president being let in, people like Breitbart, and then some other ones that the president has been more critical of, including CNN, "The New York Times" and Politico, were not allowed in.

CNN was the only major television network that was blocked from accessing this briefing. So far, the White House has not responded to why that would be the case. They just said this was pooled and it was up to them to expand the pool. They just sort of are saying they made the decision to expand it and went from there.

They have not addressed why they decided to hand-select or block specific news outlets, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK.

Brian, to you, noting, just again to Sara's point, those outlets who were allowed in, you were saying earlier you felt like the White House was stacking the deck.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, bring in these pro-Trump outlets, outlets that have a clear point of view that are not seeking to report all sides, the way an outlet like CNN or "The New York Times" or Politico does.

We're hearing from a lot of editors and leaders of news organizations about this already, Brooke. We will put on screen CNN's statement from the company, CNN saying: "This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently, this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don't like."

The statement from CNN ends, "We will keep reporting regardless."

Here's a statement from the executive editor of "The New York Times," Dean Baquet. He says: "Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administration of different parties. We strongly protest the exclusion of 'The New York Times' and the other news organization. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest."

[15:05:03]

"Washington Post" Marty Baron is calling this appalling. And Bret Baier of FOX News, one of CNN's chief rivals, is also standing with CNN on this issue.

I think the big picture here, Brooke, the reason why this matters, is because Sean Spicer and other Trump aides work for the American people. They are being paid with taxpayer money. So, they represent -- they are representing the White House publicly.

And journalists are there to get answers on behalf of our audiences, the American people. So when you see this kind of breakdown or this tension in the relationship, that's why it's concerning.

We have heard Trump and his aides attack the messenger time and time again. This comes a little bit closer toward trying to control the message. Only a single step in that direction. I don't think any of us should hyperventilate about it, but it is a troubling development when you see the White House trying to cherry-pick what outlets it's going to talk with in a briefing.

If this had happened on-camera, it would be very visible. But because it's happening behind closed doors, we can't show you how it happened. But suffice to say highly abnormal. We didn't see this from past Republican presidents or Democratic presidents.

BALDWIN: I have got the perfect person to respond to all of this.

Brian, thank you.

Ari Fleischer is with me, former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Ari, as always, great to see you.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you, Brooke. BALDWIN: All right. You just heard the reporting, and you heard

Brian Stelter's thoughts. You stood at that podium and you hosted many a gaggle. What are your thoughts?

FLEISCHER: There's a crucial distinction to be made here.

Press secretaries need to meet with all press. I think this is unwise and counterproductive for a press secretary to do, because your relationship and your obligation is to all the media.

But beyond that, face it, there's nothing unusual about presidents meeting self-selected reporters or selected reporters and White House staffs do it all the time too. Regularly, the staff would have meetings with conservative journalists. I'm sure in the Obama administrations, staff had meeting with liberal journalists.

So you have to separate the two. This is not a threat to the First Amendment. This is not the hyperventilation issue. Dean Baquet's statement from "The New York Times" that it's never been done before, maybe not by the press secretary, but it has been done regularly by White Houses.

BALDWIN: But there was no briefing today.

FLEISCHER: Sure, that's because the president made a major speech.

Any time the president makes a major speech, the press secretary does not brief. Now, they gaggled, which is an off-the-camera meeting in the press secretary's office.

And like I said, Brooke, I think, as the role of the press secretary, it is unwise and it would prove to be counterproductive to a press secretary to pick and choose what reporters they meet with. The press secretary should meet with all.

But stop making this as if some reporters have done it's a terrible violation of the First Amendment, because they have acquiesced already. The press used to regularly let Barack Obama hand-pick columnists to have meetings with. I don't remember them saying every columnist has to be in that meeting.

So there's no principle here that, a high ground principle saying White Houses can't pick who they meet with. Of course, White Houses can. I just think it's a personnel issue more than anything else. It's going to hinder the relationship between the press secretary and the press corps. And that's press secretaries have an obligation to everybody.

BALDWIN: I think the context though of what's happened is important.

You mentioned the president gave a speech. He did. He gave a huge speech at CPAC. And in that speech, Ari Fleischer, he doubled down when he called the media the enemy of the people, also saying the media doesn't represent the people.

Play the sound, and then we will talk. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few days ago, I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So part of what he said -- and I'm quoting him -- "The media doesn't represent the people, it never will, and we're going to do something about it."

BALDWIN: It's one thing...

FLEISCHER: Yes.

BALDWIN: It's one thing to complain, but do something about it. Do something about it.

FLEISCHER: Yes, but here is what the truth is with Donald Trump. The press is paying attention to what Donald Trump says and not what he does.

Donald Trump can speak in a very offensive, over-the-top, very tough manner about the press corps. But then look what he does. He has made the press corps interesting again.

BALDWIN: But words matter. He's the president of the United States.

[15:10:05]

FLEISCHER: Hold on, hold on, Brooke. Let me finish. He speaks in an offensive fashion. I get that. We all do.

But then he meets with the press corps almost more than anybody I can think of. He held a marathon news conference, open to everybody, took questions from everybody. He has done sit-down interviews with "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "The Today Show," "60 Minutes" "TIME" magazine. You name it. He is tremendously accessible to the -- he came back on Air Force One and did his own on-the-record meeting with reporters on Air Force One, almost unheard of.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I hear you, Ari, but let me just jump in.

But you would disagree with him in calling the media the enemy of the people, yes?

FLEISCHER: Oh, I already have. I already have. I tweeted that. I said it publicly. Yes, I think that's too hot. It's wrong. They're not the enemy of the people.

But my point here, Brooke, is the press has this tendency to think everybody is about themselves, to hyperventilate, the First Amendment is under threat, because of the things he says. But then they ignore all the things he does that are tremendous for the media.

He is making journalism interesting and great again. It's a fascinating time to be a journalist because he's such a fascinating story and he's giving the press so much access.

BALDWIN: Hey, I love my job, but I also do think that words matter. But hear you loud and clear.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: I agree. I agree.

BALDWIN: I know.

Let me move on to something that happened, what we were covering on this show and so many shows just over a year ago. We were talking about on the show about -- remember "The National Review"'s editorial where all these conservative minds came together and they agreed to come out against then candidate Trump, ahead of primary season.

This is a little over a year ago. I was talking to conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Worst of all, I think he will do long-term damage to the conservative brand.

Here is one of my basic points, Brooke, is, Donald Trump is a liberal's idea of what a conservative is, somebody with inherited wealth who has always been spoiled, who has always had it his way, who wants to protect his own advantages, who is mean-spirited, who is blustery, who is loud, who vulgar and who is a bully.

And that's the liberal view of a conservative. A conservative -- if you ask a conservative what's an example of a great conservative, no one would think Donald Trump. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So that was January of 2016.

How are your fiscally conservative establishment Republicans who may not have all been sitting at CPAC today, how are they feeling about President Trump right now?

FLEISCHER: Donald Trump is splitting is Republican Party, there's no question about it.

I think Donald Trump is much less of conservative ideologue and much more a populist, a nationalist populist. And so there's a sense of Republicans hope that he can be successful, particularly on economic issues, in terms of increasing growth in the country, increasing wages in the country.

But I think the party is split. But they want him to have a chance to be successful. And that's why you see a group like CPAC welcome him today. We will see what happens in a year and what results he produces.

BALDWIN: Ari, thank you so much.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we will talk about CNN's exclusive reporting about these conversations between the White House and the FBI over this ongoing investigation. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And this is CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:34]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN.

President Trump once again slamming the intelligence community, but this time he is focusing on the FBI. He says in two tweets -- quote -- "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating affect on the U.S. Find now."

The harsh words after CNN first reported that the FBI rejected a request from the White House to publicly refute media reports about the Trump campaign ties to Russia.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez is part of the team here at CNN that broke the story wide open.

Evan, give me the details on what you have learned.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the White House certainly has been on the defensive today with senior administration officials holding an impromptu meeting with reporters in response to our exclusive reporting that the FBI had refused the White House request to knock down stories about Trump associates' contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign.

Two senior administration officials on Friday, today, earlier today, strongly argued that the White House acted appropriately in asking the FBI to publicly knock down those reports, because the FBI deputy director, Andy McCabe, was the first to actually make contact about it, asking -- he asked for a five-minute one-on-one last week with the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to say that the coverage was inaccurate.

And they say that, at that point, Priebus asked what could be done. The senior administration officials say after Priebus spoke to both McCabe and to the FBI director, James Comey, that the FBI declined to speak publicly, because -- quote -- "The FBI could not get into a position of making statements about every story."

But adding to the drama over this, Brooke, administration officials say that Director Comey actually gave the OK to Reince Priebus to go out and say that top intelligence officials told them that "The New York Times"' report on this was untrue.

I should add that the FBI has declined to comment for this story, Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about even just the fact that the White House and FBI were communicating, knowing this investigation was ongoing? How unusual is that back and forth?

PEREZ: Well, you see, that's the exact issue, right?

The communication between the White House and the FBI is unusual, because there's this decade-old restriction on having such contacts specifically that were laid out in two Justice Department memos.

[15:20:05]

Now, if McCabe said this to the White House, he may also have overstepped. We don't know exactly what happened there, because this is an ongoing investigation, not to mention this is an investigation that involves the president's associates and people in Russia.

Now, a U.S. official we spoke to said McCabe didn't actually discuss aspects of the case, but we don't actually know what McCabe told Priebus.

Now, the request from the White House is a clear violation of the procedures that would limit these type of communications with the FBI on pending investigations. As we mentioned, this is an ongoing matter that is being handled by the FBI's counterintelligence division, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And I have got two great voices on standby to talk about this, John Dean and Evan McMullin. Evan Perez, thank you.

But, quickly, we have some video just in from the White House, President Trump and the president of Peru.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. It's a great honor to have President Kuczynski with us from Peru.

Peru has been a fantastic neighbor. We have had great relationships, better now than ever before. And I have known him for quite a while through reading about the work that he's done. And I believe he's here to get an award at Princeton.

An award for what?

PEDRO PABLO KUCZYNSKI, PERUVIAN PRESIDENT: For being an alumnus who did OK, I guess.

Alex -- oh, my other daughter, Suzie, goes to Princeton.

TRUMP: Right. That's exactly right.

KUCZYNSKI: She wants to study medicine.

TRUMP: And I assume she's very proud of you.

KUCZYNSKI: And Alex went to Columbia.

TRUMP: That's great. Good students.

So, a very, very special man. And it's an honor to have him in Washington at the White House. And we're going to talk some business. I understand they are going to be buying a bit of our military -- some of our military vehicles. And they are great vehicles.

I just looked at it. We are approving it and they use them well, use them well. And if you would like to say something, Mr. President, please.

KUCZYNSKI: Well, I'm happy to be in Washington.

I lived here for a while. I lived in New York. We greatly respect the U.S. We have excellent relations. And Latin America needs to grow more. And we're going to talk about how to do that. Maybe you have a few ideas.

TRUMP: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

And we have a problem with Venezuela. They're doing very poorly.

And so we will be talking about a lot of different things.

And thank you all for being here. Thank you all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, this is in the wake of the Ohio governor meeting with the president. And there you just saw him sitting there with the president of Peru.

Back to the issue at hand, and Evan Perez and our great's team reporting here.

I have got John Dean with me, served as White House counsel for the Nixon administration, and Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer, former presidential candidate who launched a third-party bid against Trump.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me.

Evan, let me begin with you, and I realize you're former CIA. We're talking FBI here. But you know the intel community, you know the rules. I think Evan Perez perfectly lined it out with regard to they shouldn't be talking, White House and FBI, given this ongoing investigation, violating decades-old restrictions.

When you first heard the story, what did you think?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was just shocked by how inappropriate those kinds of communications are.

Now, we're only hearing about the discussion from the White House perspective, so I imagine there's a lot we don't know. But I will say that this kind of conversation highlights exactly why I believe that we need more transparency into the investigation, whatever investigations are happening into Russian influence of our election and the Trump campaign's contact with Russian officials during that time.

The American people deserve greater transparency here. I think we need an independent investigation. And these kinds of discussions between the FBI and the subject of their investigation are absolutely inappropriate, regardless of what the rules say.

BALDWIN: And I should point out the reason why we're hearing nothing from the FBI's side is because this is an ongoing investigation, therefore, they're not commenting.

Mr. Dean, to you. From what I have read, you take it a step further and you're saying this straight up a cover-up by the White House?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Indeed, it is.

I come from the Watergate era, of course, where the White House leaned heavily on the FBI. The regulations that are now in place are a direct result of Watergate. When a White House leans on the FBI, they're in a cover-up mode.

[15:25:01]

There are three FBI investigations going on right now. One goes into what happened pre-election. What was the influence or connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians? The other one is the interim between the election and the inauguration.

We're trying to figure out exactly who Flynn was talking to and who else was involved. Was Trump involved in really undercutting the Obama administration sanctions?

And the third investigation is looking at the dossier that was produced by the MI6 former intelligence agent Mr. Steele to see if there's some validity to some of those things that he outlined in that dossier.

So there's a lot of FBI investigations, but the White House is not cooperating in any of this. And when the chief of staff even talks about this with the number two man in the FBI, he's sending signals.

BALDWIN: Let me give another example, because, you know, we remember during the campaign and former President Bill Clinton was sitting on the plane on the tarmac and brought on then Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and I know some people could say that's apples and wheelbarrows, as a former FBI guest I had on said, but at the same time, Republicans had a field day with that, calling that was wrong, including at the time then candidate Trump.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Oh, gee, there's the attorney general. Oh, let me go say hello. Plane is on the runway. Let me go say hello to the attorney general.

Oh, they met 39 minutes. Remember, he said we talked golf and we talked about our grandchildren. Three minutes for the grandchildren, two minutes for the golf.

Then they sat there and they twiddled their thumbs. No, I believe they talked about her remaining in her position under a crooked Hillary Clinton administration. That's what I believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, Evan, flash-forward to the issue at hand we're discussing. If this were a Democrat in the White House, what do you think would happen?

MCMULLIN: Well, there's absolutely no question there would be more Republican leadership uproar -- or there would be that uproar, period.

But, again, this underscores one of the underlying problems here, which is that there's a conflict of interest in the investigation that we're told is happening in Congress, where you have Republican-led Intelligence Committees investigating what happened and potential, as far as we know, ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

But the problem is, is that they have an inherent interest in not having their president implicated in involvement in a foreign adversary scheme to undermine our democracy. So across the board, whether you're talking about the FBI -- and I have a lot of respect for the FBI -- I have a lot of friends there -- or you're talking about Republicans in Congress -- we have these investigations happening that, by design and for some part good reasons, there's not a lot of transparency to the American people now.

But this situation is so grave, this issue is so important, that I believe we do need an independent investigation that can offer more transparency to the American people.

And, then, lastly I would just like to underscore how dangerous these kind of conversations between the FBI and the administration can be. Through these conversations, the administration can derive information about what the FBI knows and what it doesn't know.

And that can help the administration and Trump's team protect itself. That's why these conversations just can never happen, no matter how brief or incidental they may be.

BALDWIN: OK.

Evan, I know you have got to go, so I'm going to let you go. But, John Dean, stick with me, because, to Evan's point, using the word dangerous on these communications -- and I should also point out, President Trump tweeted about this, essentially through the tweet confirming that it happened.

But what he's fixated on through the tweet is the leaks, right, finding the leakers.

My question to you, sir, is so now what? What about any potential repercussions for either side?

DEAN: There's no question that the FBI leaks.

Bob Woodward's famous source during Watergate when he was one of the cub and lead reporters of that event, it turned out later we learned his principal source was named at the time Deep Throat. And Deep Throat was the number two man in the FBI. And he was leaking.

And leaks are also wrong. About 50 percent of what Woodward got from Mark Felt, the number two man, was not accurate information. And the place to correct that sort of thing, and what did happen -- what's happened in post-Watergate presidencies is, when there's been FBI inquiries and what have you, it's been done in the press room, very openly, very transparently, and not trying to send --