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CNN NEWSROOM

Probe Into WikiLeaks Dump; White House Under Scrutiny; Trump- Obama Advisers Talk; Melania Trump's Favorability Up. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 9, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Just won an election on people who don't feel like they've seen a 250 percent return on their money over the past eight years.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And companies that are hoping he'll do what he said when he was running.

ROMANS: Yes.

HARLOW: Did you bring us some forks?

ROMANS: I have forks.

HARLOW: OK.

ROMANS: Here you go.

HARLOW: Cake time.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What did you wish for? What did you wish for when you blew out the candle?

ROMANS: Here you go.

Well, to be honest, we couldn't -

BERMAN: Because you've already got a new co-anchor. So you've already go what you really wanted.

ROMANS: I know, my dreams have come true.

HARLOW: Cake time.

ROMANS: Cake time.

HARLOW: Hey, drop the cake.

ROMANS: I - whoa, I won't drop the cake. There you go, everybody. Happy birthday bull market.

HARLOW: Happy birthday bull market. But -

ROMANS: Don't ever do that to me again stock market.

HARLOW: Important context. We've got many years to go still before this is a record bull run.

ROMANS: If you match the length, it would be four more years of a rally. So you might see more subdued gains from here on out, but no one's saying the bull market is over. Watch the Fed, how quickly it raises interest rates, and watch valuations. They're already kind of pricey at this point. Got to see if the legislative agenda really happens in Washington too.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: All right, we'll see you next year for the 9th birthday. Christine Romans, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks for the cake.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. That cake was good.

BERMAN: Not bad.

HARLOW: Thanks so much for joining us.

This morning a federal criminal investigation underway into the WikiLeaks document dump, detailing the CIA's ability to hack into devices. The FBI and the CIA now working together trying to figure out how on earth WikiLeaks obtained all of these documents and whether they were leaked by a mole, an insider.

BERMAN: Yes. The CIA is also trying to determine if there are any more documents that WikiLeaks might have. And this as WikiLeaks is hold a press conference, which is expected to start any minute. Now they jerk the public around sometimes with these announced news conferences, so we're watching that very, very closely.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: In the meantime, CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon right now following these developments.

Barbara, what's the latest on this investigation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy.

Where, here's where it all stands. Right now federal criminal investigation and intelligence investigation opened into all of this. The FBI will look at whether there's criminal activity here. The CIA trying to determine what it lost and how it lost it.

All possibilities on table. Could it have been an employee inside the CIA? Could it have been a contractor? Could it have been some outside hacker that somehow got in, a state actor. A lot of people speculating. Pure speculation. Could it have been Russia or another state actor, someone overseas?

Getting a lot of attention because this is all deals with the ability of the intelligence service to hack in to common devices that we all have, our phones, our computers, our televisions. The CIA not officially commenting on this, but, in fact, reminding people that it does have the legal authority to collect this kind of intelligence overseas against foreign targets. So that's - that's what they say their reason for doing all of this was.

But they have a lot of worries because if WikiLeaks takes the next step and posts the computers codes on how to actually undertake this kind of activity, there could really be disastrous disruptions oversea, maybe even in the United States, of those very devices, your phones, your TVs, your laptops.

HARLOW: Sure.

And, Barbara, you've got some lawmakers weighing in on this one. Republican Senator John McCain saying this is reminiscent of Edward Snowden and the NSA. Here's his quote. "It's going to cause a real fundamental evaluation of everything we do, including FISA," talking about those FISA courts. I mean where does this go from here?

STARR: Well, I think there's a couple of issues at hand. You can expect to have congressional hearing on this. The investigation will go forward. Now, the CIA does have the legal authority and has to get warrants or whatever it has to go through, but it has the authority to collect intelligence overseas. The Snowden documents suggest perhaps that the National Security Agency was spying perhaps other than overseas. So, you know, all of this will have to be sorted out. What was legal activity - illegal activity, but really underneath all of this, how one more time could there be such a leak of classified information.

HARLOW: Yes, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you, Barbara. We appreciate it.

Still to come for us, Sean Spicer has a tough job, right? Any White House press secretary does. Right now he's facing a lot of hurdles when it comes to White House messaging and strategy (INAUDIBLE) under intense scrutiny, he certainly is, on everything from health care to Russia. How is the Trump administration doing on this front? We're going to have a man who stood behind that same lectern not that long ago. Ari Fleischer will join us with his thoughts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:38:53] HARLOW: So right now you're looking at live pictures of some pretty tired lawmakers. These are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They have been awake going over this House Obamacare repeal and replace bill for 23 hours now. I hope someone has brought them some Domino's and some Dunkin' Donuts.

BERMAN: This might be what they look like when they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

HARLOW: Yes, it might be.

BERMAN: This may be their like energetic look for all we know.

HARLOW: I mean their ties are still on.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: So, all right. So that's what's going on. We're monitoring this, of course.

Meantime, let's take you to what's going on at the White House. Quite a back flip in the course of one press conference. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked if the president is the target of a counterintelligence inquiry. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's what we need to find out. There's obviously a lot of concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: But then later, after he was handed a note from staff, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just want to be really clear on one point, which is, there is no reason that we should - that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, joining us is a man who knows what it's like to stand behind that lectern, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary under George W. Bush.

[09:40:01] Ari, great to have you with us.

Look, I mean, to change your story in the middle of one press conference is unusual. I mean does Sean need to get his story straight here?

ARI FLEITCHER, WH PRESS SECRETARY UNDER PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Look, I think as anybody who's ever stood at that podium will tell you, it's one of the hardest jobs and you have to stay on top of 25 different topics every different day. And I think Sean is doing a very good job. If you say something that needs to be corrected, you correct it. That's what a press secretary should do.

HARLOW: It was a pretty straightforward question, though. This wasn't about, you know, military strategy or this event. It was like, is the president the focus of an investigation.

FLEITCHER: Well, I think what happens is, when you're the press secretary, your first instinct is to defend your boss, protect your boss, particularly in this amped up, hyped up anti-Trump atmosphere. And I think that was reflected in what Sean did. But then you also have to realize that when you are dealing with government investigations, the White House needs to bucket (ph) to the investigators. The White House has to resist the temptation to always defend and allow the investigators to do their job, and that was his second answer.

BERMAN: You talk about this urge to always defend the president. Our friend Jake Tapper has sort of commented on this in regards to the wiretap allegations, in regards to, you know, crowd size claims, you know, whether it be leaked claims and the like. And Jake said the people around President Trump who are enabling this nonsense, the ones who know better, ask yourselves this question, are you really serving the president? Are you really serving the American people?

FLEITCHER: Well, John, here's the shame of what happened this week. President Trump had his best night ever with his address to the joint sessions of Congress and he learned tremendously as the accolades poured in that this is the route to future governing. And I think he takes that to heart because he likes the feedback.

And then you had the Attorney General Sessions nonsense where people accused him of perjury, which was laughably wrong. And then you had his tweets on Saturday. What I hope the president realizes is he did indeed goes too far and he needs to do more of what he did, the normal, calm down governance, like his speech to Congress, and less of the aggressive criminalization tweets that he put out Saturday. This starts at the top with the president figuring out how best to do this job, and then that then will make its way through the staff.

HARLOW: But to John's question, everyone, no matter how high up they are, no matter if they're the commander-in-chief, the leader of the free world, they need that person on their shoulder helping them do that, right? Every president has had that. I wonder, to what - to what Jake's point was, does this president need someone else around him to help him do that? Because it doesn't seem like Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are taking that phone away.

FLEITCHER: Poppy, I can't answer that because you have to really be privy to what are the conversations with the president. How do you be effective with Donald Trump? With George W. Bush, I could just bluntly and directly say something to him. He'd take it or leave it. It was constructive, well received, or he wouldn't listen.

With Donald Trump, what I understand is, the staff, it's not a direct way to approach him. He's a billionaire, used to doing things his way. He'll just do it his way. So it's a different style than a politician who's been coached for many years by staff. And so I think the president himself has to take these lessons to heart and learn them. And, frankly, I think he will. He is a man who does learn as he goes along. I think he wants to be successful in this new field of politics. And particularly when he gets hammered one day and praised the next, he's smart enough to say, I want more praise and less hammering. BERMAN: So we understand that President Trump and President Obama

haven't spoken since Inauguration Day. I'm not sure how usual or unusual that is. But our reporting - Jeff Zeleny is reporting that recently, after these wiretap accusations, there have been conversations between Reince Priebus and Denis McDonough, the two chiefs of staff - the two most recent chiefs of staff.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, your insight as to what the nature of those conversations might be and how they usually go with administrations?

FLEISCHER: Yes, and that doesn't surprise me. That was true in the early years of the Bush administration, we were in touch with top Clinton people and then it kind of fades as you settle into your job. But, you know, my suspicion now is, because of the tweet Saturday, if that's what they discussed, and I have no idea -

HARLOW: That is the reporting, that that's when these conversations started.

FLEISCHER: Well, then I'm sure there was exasperation by the Obama people saying, how could he say that. And I suspect that Reince and others said, we're not sure. And they probably didn't say it as directly as that because they've got to mind their words.

BERMAN: That's a hell of an answer, though, if they're saying that.

FLEISCHER: But I think that's obviously. I mean when the - when Donald Trump accuses Barack Obama of criminalization, everybody knows he went too far. There's a nugget of truth to what you're saying, as "The New York Times" reported on January 19th, there was wiretapping. It was reported. And the wiretapping was shared with the Obama White House. That doesn't mean Barack Obama authorized it.

HARLOW: Right, but, as you know, it doesn't - it doesn't - right.

FLEISCHER: That Barack Obama was criminal. That's where Donald Trump went too far. And this is my point. There was a nugget of truth and Donald Trump covered up the nugget of truth with a ridiculous accusation of criminalization against Barack Obama. How much more successful could Donald Trump have been if he stuck to the nugget? This is where Donald Trump needs to pull it back, calm it down. Staff can't do that for him. Donald Trump has to learn that lesson himself. I think he is learning those lessons -

HARLOW: Could you - just before we go -

FLEISCHER: But it's going to take time.

HARLOW: What gives you that hope? You say you think he's learning a lesson.

FLEISCHER: Yes.

HARLOW: Ari, what have you seen that has shown you a change in behavior?

FLEISCHER: Because I think he's the type of person who feeds off of the response he gets. He loved the response he justifiably got and deserved from his joint speech to Congress. When he gets hammered on a day like this and he realizes there was wiretapping, it's publicly acknowledged, but it doesn't mean Barack Obama ordered it, directed it or that it was criminal. He realizes he missed an opportunity to communicate better. He gave himself a c plus in communications.

[09:45:07] HARLOW: He did.

BERMAN: Ari Fleischer, "a" plus for this appearance. Thanks for being with us. We really appreciate it, Ari.

FLEISCHER: (INAUDIBLE), a "d."

HARLOW: Stop. Stop.

BERMAN: All of a sudden a "d" on this appearance.

HARLOW: Thank you, Ari Fleischer.

Still to come for us, the Marines team up with a U.S. - with U.S.- backed forces in Syria ahead of what is a major offensive to retake Raqqa. What this all means for those U.S. men and women on the ground now in northern Syria in this battle against ISIS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:50:00] BERMAN: All right, just in to CNN, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is dismissing the idea that Mexico will pay for President Trump's proposed border wall. This is how he responded just last hour when he was asked about this promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There are some places along the border where that's probably not the best way to secure the border. But I think General Kelly knows what he's doing. I think the president picked an outstanding person to be in charge of homeland security and my suspicion is that we will take his advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Mexico will pay for it?

MCCONNELL: Umm, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: No. No.

HARLOW: Definitive answer.

BERMAN: Interesting. So Congress, Mitch McConnell will have to appropriate that money.

All right, well that's going on. We have some new information about illegal immigration over the border. According to the Department of Homeland Security, illegal border crossings are down by 40 percent this year. Officials say this drop is unprecedented. Normally the agency sees an uptick in the number of illegal border crossings between January and February. A lot of people are wondering, is this because of the rhetoric from President Trump. Experts do say it maybe is premature. There could be other reasons, seasonal economic trends could be at play, as well as the impact of a prior administration's efforts to try and curb illegal immigration. But there are plenty of people who also say that the - that the environment that the - rhetorical environment can make a difference for people thinking about coming to the United States.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. (INAUDIBLE) as the economy gets better, there's more opportunity and jobs. They have lots of reason to come here. I think that's at play too.

BERMAN: Yes.

HARLOW: Also this, U.S. Marines now on the ground in northern Syria. Their mission, help local forces there try to retake Raqqa. That is what ISIS has declared themselves as their capital. Two officials tell CNN the Marines will be providing artillery support. The Marine Corps has not, though, confirmed these details, of course, because of security concerns. About a hundred Army rangers have already been deployed to an area northwest of Raqqa.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman. He joins us from Irbil, Iraq.

And, Ben, given the years-long debate over boots on the ground in Syria or not, talk to us about how significant this move is in northern Syria and what if any indication it gives us about the Trump administration's policy there moving forward.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand from Washington that, in fact, this was a plan that was in place before the Trump administration took office. But it's definitely more boots on the ground are - as in addition to those hundred who are in Munbig (ph), which is about 85 miles northwest of Raqqa. It's an artillery - a Marine artillery unit. They will have 155 millimeters howitzers, which have a range of about 20 miles. Their focus will be the city of Raqqa, where we're hearing the offensive to retake that city will happen sometime in the coming weeks.

Now, this comes at the same time that there are reports that ISIS leaders are fleeing from Raqqa in anticipation of that attack. At the same time, we're hearing that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the Islamic State, has shaved off his beard and has left Mosul as well. The expectation is that they'll all end up in the town of Derizor (ph), which is down the Euphrates River in Syria, which may be ISIS' last stand when that happens.

Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Ben Wedeman for us in Irbil. Thanks so much, Ben. Appreciate it. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, he is

promising to fight and defeat what he now calls Trumpcare. In a few minutes, we will hear from him. What does he say now that there are Republicans fighting this bill as well?

Plus, one member of the Trump family whose poll numbers are skyrocketing. Here's a hint, her name rhymes with zelania.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:58: 01] HARLOW: All right, one member of the Trump family, their approval rating soaring.

BERMAN: Yes, unfortunately for the White House it's not Donald Trump's, it's Melania Trump's. CNN's Jeanne Moos has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hail to the chief? Hail to the chief's wife!

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Melania!

MOOS: She's doing better than the chief in the polls. Of course she's less visible, although she hosted an International Women's Day luncheon. The White House wouldn't let the press stay for her speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right this way, guys.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

M. TRUMP: Your excellencies, esteemed representatives (ph) -

MOOS: Melania Trump is now held in high esteem by 52 percent of those polled by CNN/ORC. That's compared to only 36 percent before the inauguration. Tweeted one fan, "she has given class, elegance and a reverence for God back to this country."

Grumbled a critic, "easy to have a great approval rating when no one ever sees you or hears you speak."

M. TRUMP: Our Father who art in Heaven.

MOOS: Though we've heard her pray and read Dr. Seuss to kids at a New York hospital.

M. TRUMP: Your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet.

MOOS: We hear a lot about shoes full of Melania's feet. As a former model, she's under a fashion microscope. "Oh, no, she didn't! Melania Trump wears one dress two days in a row." Even her body language with her husband is micro-analyzed, leading to calls to "free Melania," "blink twice if you want us to save you." TREVOR NOAH, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH": You know who I always

look at for like the truth? Not Melania, but I look at her eyes. Look at her eyes. And you can see in her eyes, she's like, you guys don't know what he's capable of.

[09:59:45] MOOS: Comedians take their shots. So do cartoonists. "I will now be the first lady instead of the third wife." But her approval still jumps 16 points. Turns out men favor her more than women, 58 to 46 percent. Tweeted one guy, "this just in, old white Republican dudes approve of ex-model wives." But Melania is climbing in the polls, her way.

Jeanne Moos, CNN