Return to Transcripts main page
New Homeland Security Report Finds Most Foreign-Born Violent Extremists Do Not Arrive in the US Radicalized; New Fallout over Jeff Sessions Meetings with a Russian Diplomat; Trump Fires at Sen. Chuck Schumer on Twitter; A Look at Secretary Tillerson's Transition From The World Of Business to Politics. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired March 3, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:03] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar and thank you for joining me. President Trump right now visiting a Catholic school in Orlando to push school choice. And this is happening as his administration is getting a schooling itself with a new homeland security assessment casting doubt on the need for a travel ban.
Homeland Security found after examining 88 cases of terrorism that most foreign-born violent extremists do not arrive in the US radicalized. The report concluded they become radicalized after living in the United States for several years. And we should note, this report is based on open source and unsealed information, not unclassified data.
It is the second homeland security document to undermine the ban. Another one reportedly concluded that citizenship is "an unreliable threat indicator."
I want to turn now to senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. So, Jeff, how is the White House responding to this?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the White House is responding to this with virtual silence. Another week has gone by with the president not signing the second version of the travel ban.
And, of course, you'll remember back to when he said this is so urgent. It is urgently needed to protect the security of this country. It's one of the reasons that his advisors explained during the first week of his presidency that he wanted to sign it by that first Friday, the fifth day that he was in office.
But now they have been going back to the drawing board, if you will, because of the illegal challenges, of course, but also because of the specifics of the ban. And, yet again, we were advised he would sign it this week. He still has not.
And a White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, as they were flying down to Florida, she said this, we don't have an announcement on this; we'll let you know when we're ready to roll that out. So, they're not even promising next week.
But as far as the substance of that Homeland Security report, the White House has not yet commented on that, Brianna.
KEILAR: You can't help but notice, Jeff, that there have been days of no negative tweets and then President Trump just tweeted about Democratic senator and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
ZELENY: He did indeed. Of course, questions over Russia have been hanging over this administration for the last several days or so, with the news of the attorney general yesterday as well. But look at what the president sent as he was flying down to Florida. He sent this.
He said, "we should start an immediate investigation into Senator Schumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite."
Of course, that's a 2003 picture, we're told, of a picture of a senator there while Mr. Putin was visiting New York. A short time after that, Senator Schumer fired back like this. He said, I'm happy to talk re my contact with Mr. Putin and his associates that took place in '03 in full view of the press and under public oath. Would you and your team?
So, the reality here, talking to people in Senator Schumer's office that they are happy to keep talking about this. They believe that this administration has still not been forthcoming about all of their meetings with Russia.
So, Brianna, that is one thing that they are really working to try and get a hold of more answers to because, without a doubt, it has consumed their week, which started as an otherwise - a pretty positive week for this president here at the White House, Brianna.
KEILAR: It sure did. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.
And there is some new fallout over Jeff Sessions meetings with a Russian diplomat. Despite recusing himself from any investigations pertaining to this, Democrats say they need to hear more. This includes a possible appearance, they say, before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Manu Raju, our CNN senior congressional correspondent, is in Washington. And, Manu, you have some new reporting on this, what have you learned?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. First, Jeff Sessions is expected to amend his testimony later today, either with a letter through to the two top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to explain why he did not disclose those meetings when he was asked specifically about any contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. He will say that in a letter probably later today, explain the meetings that he did have with the Russian ambassador.
But Democrats are saying that is not enough. They want him to actually appear before the committee and have them answer their questions about why he did not disclose it and what exactly he talked to the Russian ambassador about.
I had a chance to talk to one of those Democrats, Sheldon Whitehouse. This is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: There's a lot of explaining that needs to be done to evaluate how serious this false statement was. Without that context, it's impossible to know.
The only hesitation that I have about saying that he absolutely ought to come before the committee is that he is now a witness into any legitimate investigation about connections between the Russian election influence operation and the Trump campaign.
[14:05:05] So, whatever the FBI is doing in this area, they now have him as an extremely logical witness to ask the same questions that we would want to ask in the committee. There are factual contexts about what the conversation was with the Russian ambassador, about whether there were related conversations with the Trump campaign, and about what the substance was of any such communications with the Trump campaign, and those need to be answered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, interesting to hear, Sen. Whitehouse talk about the possibility of Sessions being a witness in this investigation, the FBI inquiry into Russia because Whitehouse just met with FBI Director James Comey in a private meeting yesterday.
Him and Lindsey Graham discussed the issue of their own Russia investigation that they're having in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on this very issue.
But one thing we do know, Brianna, is that the FBI Director has not been forthcoming on some of the details with at least some members of Congress. House Democrats were not pleased with what they heard from the FBI Director yesterday during a meeting with the House Intelligence Committee. They thought he should have given more details about what exactly he knows about Russia and connections between the Trump campaign allegedly and Russian officials.
So, we'll see if Jeff Sessions eventually comes before the committee, which he may do because of the oversight role of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At that point, we'll see what he has to say. Brianna?
KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju for us. Thank you so much.
I want to talk more now about President Trump week of highs and lows now with Brian Stelter. He's CNN senior media correspondent. He's also the host of Reliable Sources here on CNN. And Carol Lee, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal".
OK, Brian, you saw the president's tweet, Senator Schumer firing back, hey, I am happy to talk about my contact with Putin in 2003 in front of the media. He was having a pretty disciplined week on Twitter. No media attacks. This isn't a media attack. But, now, it seems like maybe it's not quite as disciplined. BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It's still - if you consider this entire week, we've seen a very toned-down President Trump on Twitter. You're right, one of the indications of that is a lack of attacks against the press on Twitter. No complaints about fake news.
I think what we're seeing, Brianna, is President Trump following up on what he said a few days ago on Fox. He said, I give myself an A for achievement, but only a C for messaging. He seems to be aware that all of these, what we would call, self-inflicted wounds, whether it's on Twitter or elsewhere, have hurt his presidency and he's trying something new.
Now, I think he can't resist something like Schumer, though. That image was the lead on the Drudge Report before Trump posted it. He seems to be grabbing that from conservative media and point it on over to Twitter, so everyone will see it.
But by Trump's standards, which is, of course, its own standard, he's had a very disciplined week.
KEILAR: What, Carol, do you think might have been the catalyst for this? Surely, a week of message control from the commander-in-chief is not something that happens by accident.
CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": No, it is not. Look, I think the president has set himself. He's been frustrated and privately his aides will tell you that he's expressed real frustration with the way his message is being communicated.
He has, at times, blamed others for not communicating in the way that he thinks is effective. It's why we saw him do that remarkable news conference a week ago.
And I think it's why you're seeing him start to try to stick to some message because they know that when he is talking about the issues that got him elected, particularly on the economy, he is strongest, and that is a message that plays well, much more broadly, than, say, an attack on the fake news media or engaging in fights with a Hollywood actress or whatever he's been doing that we've seen since he took office.
And so, you're seeing them coalesce around a little bit more of a disciplined strategy and he's played along for now at least.
STELTER: I do think we should be sensitive not to lower the bar too much, so - there's a lot of lowering the bar we've seen this week with regards to the joint address. The president brought up a conspiracy theory involving the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries in private earlier this week.
There have been things this week that have been shocking by any other standards.
KEILAR: He said that maybe this was being done by someone to make someone else look bad, right? STELTER: No, no, if we were to have the bar up where the bar usually is for a president, that would be astonishing, but because there's been a more disciplined approach this week, he's getting a lot of credit. And I think that some of the credit is deserved, but I just think we should be sensitive in the press not to lower the bar too, too low.
KEILAR: If you were, though, Carol, to compare Donald Trump just to Donald Trump, right, this was a pretty good week and he had that speech in his joint address, arguably one of the better, if not the best day so far, of his presidency, things were going well for him and then he gets blindsided by this Jeff Sessions story.
He says he didn't know about it. He must have been so frustrated to be heading for this big photo op yesterday on an aircraft carrier and then that's what's taking all the attention.
[14:10:11] LEE: Yes. But frustrated with the coverage. He's not frustrated with his attorney general per se.
LEE: He is - what we saw from the president - if you look at the way that this White House handled the fallout after revelations of Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, it's been much different.
There's a much stronger backing by the president, specifically of the attorney general, and that's a difference that we're seeing here. And I think that's because he's going to dig in on this one a little bit more and they're also really trying to downplay this. I think that's why you see the tweet with Chuck Schumer and they're trying to kind of make it seem a lot smaller and not such of a big deal.
But the fact is that it potentially could be a big deal and there's still going to be continuous stories about Russia and the president's potential ties to Russia.
KEILAR: Very interesting, Carol Lee. Frustrated with the coverage, not with his attorney general. Carol Lee with The Wall Street Journal, Brian Stelter, thank you so much.
The vice president blasted Hillary Clinton over her private emails, but new today we're learning something about his email use that is raising eyebrows.
Plus, why is it that no one can seem to remember their conversations with this guy, the Russian Ambassador?
And a bizarre scene on Capitol Hill. One senator literally goes on a scavenger hunt to find the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, while another lawmaker talks to a statue. We'll have details ahead.
KEILAR: Welcome back. I'm Brianna Keilar. Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes one of at least five former Trump campaign members to have met with a Russian official. The others include his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the president's senior advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner, and two more advisers to the campaign, JD Gordon and Carter Page.
All of the meetings happened after June of 2016. This was when the first reports came out about Russian government hackers trying to meddle in the US election. That's a very key detail there. And joining me now to discuss is James Gagliano. He served as an FBI special agent. He was the chief of staff for the second-in-command at the FBI's New York office.
So, James, when you look at this and you see, from Donald Trump's associates, that these roads lead back to Russia and only Russia. We don't seem to see them talking to officials in China or other specific countries. What does that tell you?
JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, Brianna, first of all, good to be with you. I certainly couldn't speak to what the transition team, who they would've been speaking to. I'm sure they speak to a whole host of different nations in regards to preparing for the new president to take over.
What I can surmise from this in regards to the - there seems to be a lot of drumbeat about this, these contacts with Russia, it's been a long time since we've ever pursued a Logan Act investigation. The FBI has been around a long time as well. And I know that in, its over 100-year history, I don't think they've ever pursued that.
As long as those contacts were related to the transition team coming in and establishing rapport and relations, I don't think anybody would argue or speculate that those were inappropriate.
Where they could go off the rail is if the judiciary committee or if the intelligence committee calls the attorney general back or calls into their session some of the staffers that might've been in those meetings with the Russian diplomats and whatever the attorney general said when he was asked the questions by Sen. Franken during his confirmation hearings, if they're in contrast with each other, then you're looking at potential perjury charges.
KEILAR: And it's important to note that June - all of these happened after June and that was when we were first hearing reports that this could happen. That was also around the time where it becomes clear, right, that Donald Trump is going to be the nominee. OK, so that's important for us to note as well.
You don't really have issue with the discussions - that there were discussions, but what about this idea that no one can really seem to remember their conversations? Should they have made notes? Should they have gone in with a clear agenda or with clear items that they knew to avoid?
GAGLIANO: Sure. It's conjecture as far as how those meetings would have transpired. I'm certain that there probably were some notes taken and those can be subpoenaed. And keep in mind, if anybody's found guilty of perjury, if they're appearing in front of a congressional subcommittee and they perjure themselves, that's a five-year hit. If you lie to an FBI agent who is conducting the investigation into these meetings, that's a five-year sentence or exposure.
So, it's certainly something to be concerned with. Again, I do not think that the meetings or the contacts were inappropriate. I think every presidential administration on their way in does that. I don't think that that's - the smoke is indicative of fire there.
I'm more concerned about if there was any lying to the investigators or if there was leaving out - there's lies of commission and lies of omission, leaving out some facts that might have been pertinent, that's when we could run into some trouble.
KEILAR: When people say I don't recall, and that's something that Hillary Clinton was hit for, for saying dozens of times in her FBI interview. Republicans jumped all over that. But is there a reason to do that? Is there a reason to say I do not recall?
GAGLIANO: Well, there's two separate things. If you're speaking on the record or you're sworn, if you're under oath, you've got to be very careful in how you speak. And I think that a lot of times people that will be appearing in court or in front of a congressional hearing are very careful with their words.
[14:20:14] Now, for some of these folks in this age of immediate access to video clips and YouTube uploads, sometimes they'll misspeak or sometimes they'll want to be extra careful. I imagine that if the attorney general is called back to the intelligence committee or the judiciary committee or if the investigation that - I understand - is going on within the FBI right now into this, I imagine there's going to be some very specific and pointed questions where no one is going to be able to say, well, he was able to answer it without really answering it.
KEILAR: All right. James Gagliano, thank you so much.
And next, the tale of two Tillersons. Only a month into his tenure as America's top diplomat, what we're learning about Rex Tillerson's role and reputation at home and abroad and who is emerging as his shadow secretary of state within the White House.
Plus, we'll take you inside the chaotic scavenger hunt on Capitol Hill for the new healthcare bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sen. Paul, are you concerned that the bill is going to flop through.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sen. Paul, are you -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:25:26] KEILAR: It's been nearly a month since Rex Tillerson took the reins of the State Department, the former Exxon Mobil CEO was supposed to be a panacea for those concerned about President Trump's lack of foreign policy experience and unpredictability.
But with other members of the Trump White House making their marks on US foreign policy, it has some wondering out loud how the nation's top diplomat is transitioning from the hierarchical business world to politics in Washington.
And to talk about that, we have CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott who has dug into this topic for us and she is joining me now from our Washington Bureau.
So, Elise, you cite the Chief Political Strategist Steve Bannon and the president's son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner as emerging as this foreign-policy shadow power in the White House.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, look, Jared Kushner, very close to the president and has this file of the Middle East peace process. You know President Trump has said he wants his son-in-law to negotiate Mid-East peace and we've also seen Steve Bannon's hand on some of these other issues.
With Rex Tillerson at the State Department, he doesn't have a whole lot of staff right now. The State Department isn't really able to be equipped to provide that comprehensive policy guidance. I think a lot of people are looking to Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, the White House and certainly now the new National Security Advisor Gen. McMaster for that type of information about the policy deliberations going inside.
And that could provide a challenge for Secretary Tillerson, who is really supposed to be America's top diplomat, and should be really in on all these meetings.
KEILAR: Yes. Is there a culture issue to this idea of going from managing - being at a CEO level and then governing because there have been folks in the Trump administration, who make the case that you can actually bring a certain skillset to this, but has this been a difficulty for Tillerson?
LABOTT: Well, I think he's trying to determine what type of public presence versus kind of private influence he wants to have. We really have not seen that much from Secretary Tillerson.
A perfect example is today, the annual human rights report is being rolled out by the State Department. Usually, the Secretary of State makes a big public address to roll that out, to send a signal about how important human rights is to the United States. Instead, the State Department had a conference call, and so we haven't really heard that much from Secretary Tillerson.
My understanding, from talking to some of his aides, is he wants to kind of hunker down, assess the State Department, the bureaucracy he inherited, see where there are issues that he feels needs to be fixed, working on kind of getting up to speed on some of these issues and a lot of people say that he's smart to do that as he builds his credibility with the president and with the White House.
But a lot of times, we've seen some of the optics of not being public have consequences. For instance, he hasn't been in a lot of the meetings with President Bush and world leaders and said he's sending a deputy. And some people are saying, look, you know, that's fine when you're a CEO, you don't need to be at the table.
But you're essentially there to provide guidance to the president and you're not the top dog anymore, he really needs to get in there and kind of show that - in Washington, it's all about power and influence, and Secretary Tillerson doesn't really seem to be very interested in that.
So, there have been some questions about whether he's really kind of equipped to get into those Washington power battles, which we know a lot of it is about public diplomacy and optics.
KEILAR: All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much for that reporting.
Coming up, is it travel ban revenge? Could US travelers visiting Europe soon be required to obtain a visa. The new policy that's now under consideration.
Plus, email irony. Democrats slamming the vice president after a new report says Mike Pence used a personal email account for state business when he was governor and that account really was hacked. We have more on that next.