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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Discusses Increased Military Spending on "USS Gerald R. Ford"; Trump Comments on Sessions/Russia Controversy. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 2, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He served this country with honor in the military, in Congress and in the White House.

[14:30:00]

The proud dignity of this ship is a fitting tribute to Gerald Ford, the man and the president.

Congratulations to all of the men and women who helped build it. This is American craftsmanship at its biggest, at its best, at its finest. American workers are the greatest anywhere in the world. This warship and all who serve on it should be a source of shared pride for our nation.

We're joined today -- better believe it, right?

(APPLAUSE)

Better believe it. Better believe it.

(APPLAUSE)

And by the way, we're going to soon have more coming.

(APPLAUSE)

We are joined today by General Mattis, now Secretary Mattis.

(APPLAUSE)

Where is he?

(APPLAUSE)

Who will be charged with overseeing this great rebuilding of our military might. We will give the men and women of America's armed services the resources you need to keep us safe. We will have the finest equipment in the world -- planes, ships, and everything else. We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing. You know what that is? Win. Win.

(APPLAUSE)

We're going to start winning again.

Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, is with us today as well. Great gentleman. Admiral, we're going to ensure our Navy has the resources, personnel, training, and equipment -- the kind of equipment that you need. So congratulations, Admiral, and a lot more is coming.

(APPLAUSE)

Let me congratulate Captain Richard McCormack, commanding officer of the Gerald R. Ford. This ship will make an extraordinary addition to the fleet, like no other, like no other. Anywhere in the world, there's nothing like this. It represents the future of naval aviation. I have no greater privilege than to serve as your commander in chief and the commander in chief of the men and women of the United States military. Great people. Great, great people.

(APPLAUSE)

I salute you, and I salute our sailors. I will always support you and your mission. I will never, ever let you down. And I also have to recognize Mike Petters, president and CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries, along with Matt Mulherin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding. They won't let you down either.

(APPLAUSE)

They're not going to let you down either.

(APPLAUSE)

To those who serve our nation in uniform, and to those who build the instruments of our defense, I thank you on behalf of our nation.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I agree. I agree.

(LAUGHTER)

Our carriers are the centerpiece of American military might overseas. We are standing today on 4.5 acres of combat power and sovereign U.S. territory, the likes of which there is nothing to compete. There is no competition to this ship.

It is a monument to American might that will provide the strength necessary to ensure peace. This ship will carry 4,500 personnel and 70 aircraft, and will be a vital component of our defense. This carrier and the new ships in the Ford Class will expand the ability of our nation to carry out vital missions on the oceans to project American power in distant lands.

[14:35:00]

Hopefully, it's power we don't have to use. But if we do, they're in big, big trouble.

(APPLAUSE)

This great aircraft carrier provides essential capabilities to keep us safe from terrorism and take the fight to the enemy for many years in the future.

The great Admiral Nimitz who commanded the U.S. Pacific fleet through the Second World War once said, "It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy, so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil." True.

(APPLAUSE)

And it was under Admiral Nimitz command 75 years ago this June that the Navy did just that, at the Battle of Midway. You've all known about the Battle of Midway, where the sailors of the U.S. Navy fought with a bravery that will be remembered throughout the ages. Storied bravery throughout the ages. The backbone of the American fleet at Midway was three beautiful aircraft carriers -- the Yorktown, the Enterprise and the Hornet. All three were built with American hands right here at the Newport News Shipyard.

(APPLAUSE)

At Midway, America was greatly outnumbered by -- I mean, a lot. And its fleet badly damaged, but the heroic deeds changed the course of history. Many brave Americans died that day. And through their sacrifice, they turned the tide of the Pacific War. It was a tough tide. It was a big tide. It was a vicious tide. And they turned it.

Countless other Americans in that war, some of them parents and grandparents to people in this room today, came home thanks to their very heroic deeds. The sailors at Midway are part of a long line of American heroes, an unbroken chain of patriots from each generation to the next, who rose to defend our flag and our freedom.

That legacy continues today as American warriors protect our people from the threat of terrorism.

On Tuesday, in my address to a joint session of Congress, I asked Congress to eliminate the defense sequester and to support my request for a great rebuilding of the United States military and the United States Navy.

(APPLAUSE)

After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history. And by eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future and thus to control costs and get the best deals for the taxpayer which, of course, is very important. Right? Got to get a good deal.

(APPLAUSE)

We don't make a good deal, we're not doing our job. The same boat for less money. The same ship for less money. The same airplanes for less money. That's what we're doing. That's what we're doing. Means we're going to get more of them, and we can use them.

Our military requires sustained, stable funding to meet the growing needs placed on our defense. Right now our aging front line strike and strike fighters, the whole aircraft, many, many aircraft, are often more likely to be down for maintenance than they are to be up in the sky. Our Navy is now the smallest it's been since, believe or not, World War I. Don't worry.

TRUMP: It's going to soon be the largest it's been. Don't worry.

(APPLAUSE)

Think of that. Think of that. In these troubled times, our Navy is the smallest it's been since World War I. That's a long time ago.

[14:40:00]

In fact, I just spoke with Navy and industry leaders and have discussed my plans to undertake a major expansion of our entire Navy fleet, including having the 12-carrier Navy we need.

(APPLAUSE)

We also need more aircraft to modernize capabilities, and greater force levels. Additionally, we must vastly improve our cyber capabilities. This great rebuilding effort will create many jobs in Virginia and all across America. And it will also spur new technology and new innovation.

America has always been the country that boldly leads the world into the future. And my budget will ensure we do so and continue to do exactly that. American ships will sail the seas. American planes will soar the skies. American workers will build our fleets.

(APPLAUSE)

And America's military will ensure that even though the darkest nights and throughout, a bright and glowing sun will always shine on our nation and on our people. Our Navy is great. Our Navy is great. Our people are great, great.

(APPLAUSE)

Our republic will meet any challenge, defeat any danger, face any threat, and always seek true and lasting peace.

May God bless our military. May God bless our Navy. May God bless the wonderful Gerald Ford family. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

[14:42:21] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You just heard President Trump speak on his plan to increase defense spending after visiting the "USS Gerald R. Ford" aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia.

I want to bring in CNN political director, David Chalian; CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; and CNN military analyst, Colonel Cedric Leighton, who is also a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

David Chalian, what stood out to you listening to that speech?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That this wasn't the context in which the president had hoped to be delivering this speech. Remember, this is part of what has become a tradition Democratic and Republican administrations to take the State of the Union or in this case, the speech to the joint session of Congress and then sell it out in the country. And he was taking one slice of it, his call to increase military spending. Get the rid of the sequester that cut military budgets and help that, and take it out to a military crowd and make these claims there and tout this initiative. It's happening as the Trump administration is back on the focus of Russia, Brianna. So while that was clearly the intended focus of the speech, I don't know that it will consume all the news out of today the way that the administration had hoped.

KEILAR: Certainly not. And President Trump was asked about Sessions and he said he has total confidence in him. This was aboard this aircraft carrier. We're getting that tape to show it to you, the viewers.

Gloria, this was a rather short address that we heard from him. And it does come still while there's some issues when it comes to his defense spending proposals, and that being that he wants to spend what some people say is a lot of money. But some Republicans say is not enough and then wants to cut from the budget but even that sort of disagreement is being, as David said, really overshadowed by what is going on with Jeff Sessions. What is your read right now on where this stands? And also, a lot of people look at Donald Trump saying he has total confidence in Sessions and say didn't he say that about Michael Flynn?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he did. Look, I think right now you have got a firestorm on Capitol Hill, you have got lots of Republicans saying at the very least that the attorney general ought to recuse himself on anything that has to do with the Russia investigation. And I think at some point it has to come to a head and wouldn't surprise me and I have no knowledge of this but it wouldn't surprise me if, at some point, Jeff Sessions who's been around Washington for a while would come out and speak about it and kind of tell the American public what happened, when he met with the Russian ambassador, and why he didn't disclose it at the time of his confirmation. And try and sort of get this behind him and perhaps at that same moment he could recuse himself because it is at this point the path of least resistance for him so that would not surprise me in the least.

[14:45:39] KEILAR: And we're going to be talking about Jeff Sessions in a moment.

But, Colonel, I want to talk about defense spending and why Donald Trump was there. This is very important. We're talking about billions of dollars here. One of the promises he made is that soon the Navy is going to be the largest that it's been and said you got to get a good deal, same boats or planes for less money. But he's standing on an aircraft carrier that's a budget buster.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. Not only is it a budget buster, but also delayed multiple times because of equipment issues and other issues that deal with the acquisition process. So one of the things he really should do is actually reform the acquisition process within the Pentagon. And that is probably a very tough thing and you won't see that in a budget document and one of the key challenges I think he will face.

KEILAR: Those are some of the devil in details there.

I want to get back to Jeff Sessions.

David Chalian, I know you have been looking at the reports. The "Washington Post" broke this, CNN has been looking into this. But there were two discussions, but one that was a particular concern because it was a private meeting with the Russian ambassador in Jeff session's office. His spokesperson, at first, at least according to the "Wall Street Journal," at first, she said the meeting was on the phone, then turned out the meeting was actually in person, she clarified. And then, according to the "Washington Post," he doesn't recall what he said and, yet, at the same time, he said before Congress he was -- he said when he said -- before Congress, that he did not talk to the ambassador, did not have contacts, it wasn't because he was doing so as a surrogate. These facts are all over the place.

CHALIAN: Yes, and Jeff Sessions clarified without saying, I'm clarifying, this morning, trying to clean this up a little bit, saying but we weren't talking about the campaign at that meeting, which I also find hard to believe that the campaign at all didn't come up, because in early September, I don't know any conversations in Washington that somehow weren't intentionally connected to the campaign.

So this is all part of the call you're hearing from some Republicans as well, not just Democrats, for him to clarify his comments in addition to whole call for recusal.

Brianna, I want to know one thing, having just watched President Trump at the ship there, at the "USS Gerald Ford." I didn't anticipate he was going to address this from that venue, but it was also interesting that he seems to be keeping with the notion of not going off on Twitter in the last couple of days, not take this opportunity for yet another Russia tie to the Trump world story out there, to slam the news media about fake news or to discredit. He just ignored it and really tried to stay focused on what he was there to talk about. We have not always seen that kind of discipline with President Trump.

KEILAR: And the question is, Gloria, can he put day after day of that together because he's shown, in the past, he cannot do that. So it seems the expectation of many people believe just wait a moment, right, just wait until he does chime in.

BORGER: Right. He received a lot of applause for the way he conducted himself during his address to the joint session of Congress. The questions is whether he can take that tone and continue it. There are a lot of the people saying he can't. And today, I think the discipline that David is talking about, he really did exhibit. He stuck to the script. One reason is because they wanted him to, his staff wanted him to. It was not the venue to discuss Jeff Sessions.

At some point, though, I think you're going to hear the president talk about it. But there may be some kind of choreography going on in which the president lets Jeff Sessions speak for himself, which, I would argue, is as it should be. And in order to answer all of these questions, I think he needs to.

And don't forget, these are questions coming from both sides of the aisle here. And while the Republicans are not calling for his head, they are calling for clarification. And I think when you have a ground swell of Republicans starting to call for clarification, there's only one person who can do it, and that's the attorney general himself.

[11:50:31] KEILAR: Colonel, what's your impression as someone, obviously, who's been very involved in government. What is your impression of what you are watching unfold here in this controversy, where Donald Trump was enjoying some very positive headlines, and now this has totally turned around?

LEIGHTON: Brianna, I think what you're looking at here is, you know, the president trying to do one message. As a government person, you always look to the commander-in-chief or the boss, as the president, to give you that direction, to give you that way forward. You're kind of waiting for, for lack of a better term, a New Deal moment, like FDR would have. And when you don't get that, or if that message is subsumed by other things, such as the issue with Attorney General Sessions, you get a mixed message but you also have difficulty carrying out the mission you're entrusted with because you don't get the clear direction you're looking for.

KEILAR: You see this as a test in leadership or as an opportunity for him to demonstrate some, and the jury is still out?

LEIGHTON: Exactly right. And if this test is going to be passed by the president, he's going to have to stay on message, and take it to the next level, not only rebuild the Navy, rebuild the rest of the military, but have a vision for the future of the country that he continually pursues, and that's something he's going to be competing for air time with. You have the Sessions issue. You had the Flynn issue before. And those are the kinds that are going to happen. And if he can stay on message and disciplined, like Dave and Gloria mentioned, that will be the key of him being successful.

KEILAR: Colonel, David, Gloria, stick around with me if you would.

A top Democrat says the FBI is not cooperating and refusing to answer questions on the investigation into Trump's ties with Russia. This is a pretty explosive claim. We're going to discuss it.

Plus, new information about the controversial raid in Yemen. We are now hearing what kind of intelligence was found.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED NAVAL OFFICER: Come on, guys.

We have some other stuff we would like to take you back to, so if you would follow here.

(CROSSTALK).

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President should Sessions recuse himself with regard to the investigations of Russia?

TRUMP: I don't think so at all.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When were you aware he spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When did you find out?

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: All right. That was fascinating, David Chalian, Gloria Borger.

It's a little hard to hear because they're in the hallway, sort of in the interior of the aircraft carrier.

But, David, what I heard him say was that he thought he may have told the truth, that was sort of what I heard near the end but also said he didn't know he had spoken to the ambassador.

CHALIAN: That's right. And, Brianna, the White House said they had not learned of this until the "Washington Post" report specifically emerged last night, which I also find quite surprising because, as you know, this team went through this with Michael Flynn with this particular Russian ambassador. And one might think, in mid january, they would have to learn all that contact between the Russian ambassador, that perhaps they would have tried to broaden their scope with any contact any one of their nominees had with this Russian ambassador. But it seems they didn't because they didn't know of this as part of Sessions' confirmation hearing prep or as part of the nomination process overall.

KEILAR: Gloria, Michael Flynn, he spoke to the Russian ambassador. He later said and relayed to the vice president he did not talk about sanctions. Turns out, actually, he did talk about sanctions so he misled the vice president, he did interfere with foreign policy when his guy was in the White House, he ends up having to resign. How is this any different? The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting there's been an FBI investigation into this, and it has to do with the guy who is over the FBI. How does this end differently? Do you think it does?

BORGER: Look, it's hard to play this out right now. The question I think right now before the Congress is, did Jeff Sessions, no matter what occurred in those meetings, did Jeff Sessions intentionally lie to the Congress or mislead the Congress, choose whatever word you want to choose. And that is the question that they need to get to the bottom of. You know, it's not as if -- if you misspeak during a confirmation hearing, there is ample opportunity to go back and correct the record, particularly given the fact that you also submit answers to questions in --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: A written questionnaire.

BORGER: That's right. So if something is wrong, you can go back and say, oops, I made a mistake, I checked my calendar, I checked my records, yes, I met with the ambassador briefly once at the convention and we discussed general things, but, you know, nothing in particular, it was a "get to know you" kind of session, who knows. So there was opportunity to correct it. It was not corrected.

And I think this is where the rubber meets the road as far as Congress is concerned, because you're under oath. And they want to know if this was an oversight. He didn't remember. Or whether this was something more nefarious. And they're going to demand questions to that because, when you serve on a congressional committee, when you vote to confirm someone in the president's cabinet, you have to presume that what they're telling you is true, since you're under oath. And this has been a large issue. So I think that the first thing that needs to get resolved.