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Trump: Obama, His People Behind Leaks, Angry Town Halls; Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress Tonight; Retired Generals: Don't Cut State Department Funding. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks, possibly, come from that group. Some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks because they're very bad in terms of national security. But I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Here with me now, Brian Fallon, CNN political commentator. He was press secretary of Hillary Clinton's political campaign. And Amanda Carpenter, CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz; and John Phillips, CNN political commentator is here, and political columnist for the "O.C. Register."

Thanks for coming in.

Brian Fallon, President Obama is behind the angry town halls. You may not agree with it. I see the look you're giving me right now. Could he be inspiring them?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Barack Obama is not out there trying to undermine Donald Trump. He's been out there kite surfing with Richard Branson. We've all seen the photos.

BOLDUAN: You can walk and chew gum at the same time.

FALLON: Were there some holdovers? Probably in the early days of the administration that were behind some of the stories. I think the initial "Washington Post" story that talked about national security adviser Flynn actually having spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador in late December. That was sourced to nine different current and former officials. Probably some Obama holdovers part of that story. We've had more leaks than you can point the finger to Obama or his administration officials for. The leaks were happening because, look, in general, people that go into government are good people. They have integrity. When Trump is going out there every day asking his people to go along with a lie for him, a lot of people just have too much integrity to do that. BOLDUAN: When it goes to the town halls, Amanda, and who is behind

it, why is President Trump even going this route? The groups that have helped organizing to teach people how to go to these town halls. They are inspired by the tea party.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is another example where an answer the questioner wanted him to give. The questioner asked, was Obama behind it?


CARPENTER: He thought about it. Are Obama supporters behind it? Probably. Is he not going to tell the truth about this? Why not in a more effective way. Pin it on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. President Obama isn't going away. His approval ratings are higher. Frame is in a way toward an enemy you will be facing that will be trying to stop you in Congress. I'm very curious about this resist movement. I'd love to see Donald Trump bring it up tonight because the Democrats have staked out such untenable ground saying they'll resist everything to stop Donald Trump. Donald Trump can say are you going to resist every funding bill? Are you going to resist every judicial nominee? Because it just isn't possible they can do this and keep up that kind of opposition. So I think Donald Trump should have more fun with this and pick a better enemy to pick on.

BOLDUAN: John Phillips, let's have fun with this one. From town halls to -- from town halls to leaky halls of the White House. Let's talk about this moment where the press secretary, Sean Spicer, gathered up his staff, brought them into his office and started -- and wanted to look through their phones to see if they've been talking secretly with reporters, essentially leaking information. President Trump was asked about it. And this is what he said.


TRUMP: Well, first of all, Sean Spicer is a fine human being. He's a fine person. I would have done it differently. I would have gone one on one with different people. And we don't have a major leak process here. We have a major leak process in government. But I would have handled it differently than Sean. But Sean handles it his way and I am OK with it.


BOLDUAN: What do you make of that commentary from President Trump right there about his press secretary? He didn't do it the way I would have done it, but I cool with the way he did it.

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He did find out there are a lot of them playing candy crush was quite interesting. Look --


BOLDUAN: You, too, John Phillips. Don't even knock it.

PHILLIPS: What President Trump said initially was that these leaks are coming from Obama holdovers, career government employees. Coming from the FBI. They are coming from the CIA. And people in the media have said, wait a minute. How do you know it's not coming prom your side of the White House, from the political people? How do you know it's not Sean Spicer and his allies, Kellyanne Conway or her allies leaking against Sean Spicer? It's incumbent on the political people at the White House to say we've looked at our people, conducted investigations and found out the leaks aren't coming from them. Now it's up to you, CIA. Now it's up to you, FBI, to take a look at your people and to make sure they are not the ones that are out there leaking sensitive information about national security in order to hurt the president.

BOLDUAN: Guys --


CARPENTER: I have a question. Why is Sean Spicer in charge of finding out where the leaks are? Doesn't he have a very important job delivering the message before a national audience every day? I question President Trump having Sean Spicer do this. To me, this would be handled by a chief of staff, someone else, maybe legal counsel. Sean Spicer needs to focus on message. If Trump thinks he has a C-plus in messaging, maybe he shouldn't be giving Sean Spicer so many jobs.

[11:35:06] BOLDUAN: Oh, Amanda.

Let's talk about tonight. Brian Fallon, big speech tonight for President Trump. One thing we've just hearing from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Nancy Pelosi warning Democrats and Paul Ryan warning Republicans, keep it calm, keep it classy. Don't take photos. Don't shout. Be dignified tonight. Do you think we'll have a "you lie" moment?

FALLON: I don't think so. They'll try to follow Michelle Obama's adage, they go low, you go high. We want the focus as Democrats to be on Donald Trump and the struggles he's had getting his agenda moving on Capitol Hill. You have seen that the Republicans came in and they had a plan. The first couple of months they were going to enact repeal of Obamacare and parlay that into tax reform. They need to do that in that order. Because of the delays on Obamacare, that's now threatening the tax proposal that Paul Ryan wants to push down the Democrats' throats. This is overall a good thing to defend against these priorities from being advanced. But if you are Republicans that are right now going along with all these distractions, you are tolerating them from Donald Trump because you think at the end of the day you'll get tax reform. You'll get Obamacare repeal. And so far, he's put no points on the board.

BOLDUAN: A lot of Republicans, we were just talking to one at the top of the hour, they are looking to hear from the president on how he's going to lead on that front.

Guys, thank you for joining me. A lot to discuss, especially after tonight. Coming up next, the father of the Navy SEAL killed in the raid in

Yemen says the mission was, in his words, "stupid." Now, President Trump is responding to the father. That's coming up.


[11:41:03] BOLDUAN: President Trump is preparing for his first address before a joint session of Congress, a huge moment and a huge opportunity. Likely his biggest audience since his inauguration address when he painted a bleak picture about fixing what he called American carnage. Tonight, though, the White House says the president is looking to be optimistic.

Joining me now is a man who knows a thing or two about a big speech like this one, senior political commentator, David Axelrod.

Great to see you.


BOLDUAN: So if this is a chance for the president after a rocky start to his presidency to reset, can he do it in one speech?

AXELROD: Well, look, you'll have a huge audience. There's nothing like a speech to a joint session of Congress because it commands tens and tens and tens of millions of Americans. And so, it is a chance for him to try and reset the narrative, to shift it from chaos to accomplishment. And he seems intent on that theme. You can hear it in the interviews that he's done.

The second thing that he needs to do is try and rally the members in that room, particularly in his own party around his agenda. He's released details of his budget. There's a great deal of dissent among his own troops on some elements of what has already been released.

And then, of course, there tangled up around the issue of the Affordable Care Act. And so, he's going to want to try and rally the country and through the country using the country support, rally his troops to get behind some sort of unified approach to these issues. And I think he's got a lot of work ahead of him in that regard.

BOLDUAN: So with that, who is the audience tonight?

AXELROD: I think it's, again, I think it's the country because if you rally people, you can fortify members of Congress. Generally, presidents improve after the speeches. We always used to see a bump in the president's standing before these speeches to Congress. If the president and his programs are more popular, you get a little more energy in the those programs. But he also has to speak to members in that room and try and get them on board for these fundamental initiatives, this very dramatic budget shift he's talking about, much increased defense spending, deep cuts in domestic spending. No cuts in Social Security and Medicare. There's a lot of dissension about different elements of that plan.

And the ACA. They haven't arrived at a unified position on how to actually repeal and then replace the Affordable Care Act, and this is a major impediment in terms of the rest of his legislative agenda. He needs to try to fortify his own troops tonight, too.

BOLDUAN: President Obama gave a similarly timed speech very early on in his presidency in February of 2009. Can you -- take us behind the scenes. What was the preparation like? What was the conversation now at 11:45 in the morning on the day of a big speech like that when you were there?

AXELROD: There's a fundamental difference between these two speeches because when he spoke to a joint session of Congress, back in February of 2009, the economy was in near free-fall. So he wanted to reassure the country that there were steps in place and more would be taken to get us to -- out of the hole that we were in. President Trump doesn't face that same situation, although he seems inclined to tell the country that he inherited that kind of a mess. But there isn't that same sense of concern about where we are right now. But in either case, what happens in the White House is drafts are passed around. Drafts are commented on.

In our White House, the president would go through the speech a few times. Sometimes I watch President Trump and it seems as if he's reading copy for the first time. He comments on a line. He'll read a line and say that's very true. As if he had just heard it. But on this kind of speech, it pays to practice because there will be such a big audience and we did do that. And the president would make -- and it's while he was going through those run-throughs.

So it was a rigorous day at the White House before a joint session like this, and particularly the first time when it's new to everybody.

[11:45:36] BOLDUAN: Yeah, and a huge moment and huge opportunity for this president as he is about to walk into the halls of Congress to make this big speech.

David, great to see you. Thank you.

AXELROD: Good to see you. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thanks.

Coming up for us, the father of a fallen Navy SEAL says the mission that killed his son was, in his words," stupid." Now President Trump is responding to that father, claiming the mission started before he became commander-in-chief. We'll have more details on that ahead.

Plus, a hero's dramatic encounter with a killer as he carried out a potential hate crime. When a gunman stormed into a bar and started shooting, he waited for his time to act. Now he's speaking out as he recovers from his own wounds. His story is next.


[11:50:40] BOLDUAN: President Trump responding to the father of a fallen Navy SEAL who was killed during a mission in Yemen last month. William Ryan became the first combat death under the Trump presidency. His father, speaking out for the first time in an interview, called for an investigation into that raid. The president was asked about it this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: His father has said that he didn't want to talk to you. Your reaction to that?

TRUMP: This is a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was -- you know, they wanted to do and they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals. They are very respected. My generals are the most respected we've had in many decades, I believe, and they lost Ryan. And I was at the airport when the casket came in, the body came in. It was sad with the family. It's a great family, incredible wife and children. I've met most of the family. And I can understand people saying that. What's worse. But again, this is something they were looking at for a long time doing, and according to General Mattis, it was a very successful mission. They got tremendous amounts of information.


BOLDUAN: There's that. And also this. The president is facing fresh criticism today from more than 120 retired top military brass. This is over his budget plans to boost military aid at the expense of State Department funding, foreign aid. These retired generals and admirals, they penned a letter to leaders in Congress to tell them to stand up and fight and keep foreign aid spending in place.

One of those is retired General Daniel Christman. He joins me now.

General, thanks so much for coming in.

LT. GEN. DANIEL CHRISTMAN (RET.): Thanks very much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: The president, with his budget, essentially said that funding the Pentagon is more a priority than funding for foreign aid. You say that's dangerous in this letter. Why?

CHRISTMAN: In the first place, those of us who signed the letter all of us have worked side by side with development experts and diplomats throughout our career and we find the synergy and the power that is created when you have boots next to those American voices and American faces that help secure stability in countries and prevent the rise of instability around the globe. The concern that we have Kate, is that this is a savage cut, 30 percent, for the so-called Function 150 account, the account that handles American diplomats and American development assistance. And we just find especially since 9/11 when this funding cut would take us back to that level. The growth and instability around the globe requires troops to be working side by side with diplomats and development experts. And that's the concern that we have. A cut of this magnitude can be a severe threat to the security in out years.

BOLDUAN: That's my question. You say it can be a severe threat. What is the president missing, general? If he moves ahead and Congress is approving this funding, what do you fear is going to happen?

CHRISTMAN: In the first place, you would see a cut in the U.S. diplomatic presence. I used to be the military adviser to the secretary of state in the mid '90s. We used to travel to dozens and dozens of embassies around the globe to see the power that American diplomats and American development experts in areas that are on the periphery of zones of persistent conflict, in the Middle East and Africa, to see cuts in the areas that would preclude the American presidents and assistants, for example, for hunger, for aids assistance. Each of these areas, if left unfunded, can create enormous areas of instability requiring eventually boots on the ground. What we want to see is boots on the ground as a last resort, not a first option. That's why funding of this particular account for diplomats and development assistance is so critical.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting because the president wants to boost funding to save -- funding for the penalty gone because he thinks American lives are at risk. He wants to protect Americans. Do you think if he provides cuts in this area, it is putting Americans' lives at risk?

CHRISTMAN: Those were precisely the arguments made by former Secretary of State Gates, with Condi Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Those two made the argument that you need to fully fund the diplomats and other development experts because it threatens America's security with a rise in instability in parts of globe that are so vital to American interests. And I think nothing is more powerful than to see secretaries of defense and secretaries of state side by side making the argument about the very account that's now at risk with this roughly 30 percent budget cut.

[11:55:43] BOLDUAN: More than 120 of you have sent this letter to top leaders in Congress. We'll see if they heed your warning and listen to your warning.

General, thank you so much for your time and your service, of course.

CHRISTMAN: Thanks very much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up, inside the epic mistake at the Oscars. How this man with a backstage twee with Emma Stone sparked one of the biggest mix-ups in award-show history, and how his own company has called him out.