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Spicer to be Asked About Comey Replacement; Trump's Reception Overseas; Appeals Judges Weigh Decision on Travel Ban; White House Press Briefing. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:14] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

And at any moment now, the White House Press Briefing is going to go begin. This, of course, happening as the nation gets a rare look at the federal court hearing that will determine the fate of President Trump's revised travel ban.

And on top of that, the fallout from the firing of FBI Director James Comey is getting more intense. We're getting word that on Thursday now the deputy attorney general is going to hold a briefing for all senators about the president's decision to remove Comey. Many wondering whether the president made the move to hinder the investigation of the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. A leading voice of the intelligence community telling CNN that he feels the government system of checks and balances is eroding. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Our institutions are under assault internally.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Because he's firing the checks and balances?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that's under assault and is eroding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: We're waiting now for Press Secretary Sean Spicer to head up there to the podium in the White House Briefing Room.

As we do wait, I want to bring in CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. We also have CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash with us, and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates. I want to start with you, Jim. You're there in the briefing room.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

KEILAR: Tell us what we are expecting. There is so many outstanding questions when it comes to James Comey, when it comes to this challenge of the travel ban. There are many questions that are going to be asked today.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, Brianna, and I think Sean Spicer is going to be walking out here any moment, so I'll try to be as succinct as possible. We should point out, in just the last several minutes, the president was meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the Oval Office. He was asked by reporters during that Oval Office spray how the selection process was going for reselecting that replacement for James Comey over at the FBI. The president told reporters in the rom that the process is, quote, "moving along very rapidly." And so that is another indication as we heard from the president over the weekend that he may try to do this, he may try to tap that replacement for FBI Director James Comey by the end of this week before he heads off on that very long foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brussels and Italy and so on and so that will be certainly one of the questions that we'll hear in this briefing room because, over the weekend, obviously, there were a lot of voices heard on both sides of the aisle as to what the president should do.

KEILAR: Jim, I am so sorry to interrupt you. This is President Trump in the Oval Office just moments ago with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A man that I've known. Very special - a very special person. Highly respected. And loves his country, I can tell you that. Loves his country. And I think loves the United States, which to us is very important. Thank you very much.

(INAUDIBLE)

QUESTION: MR. President, how is the process for selecting a new FBI director (INAUDIBLE) -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you. Very good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to be shaking up your staff, Mr. President?

TRUMP: It's very good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, press.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, press.

TRUMP: Moving rapidly. (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Thank you all very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: This is part of a big week for President Trump when it comes to foreign policy. There he was with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He had talks, he had a working lunch with him. And it's also worth noting that he is the deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

I want to bring my panel in now to talk about this.

Let's touch upon that, if we can, Dana. This is a big week for Donald Trump to look outside of the U.S., which politically is a welcome idea for those around him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, first of all, you know, he'll have some more meetings with national - with international leaders, heads of state here, but then the big - the biggie is at the end of the week when he himself will travel on a pretty big international trip. He's going to go to Saudi Arabia. He's going to go to Israel. He's going to go to Brussels. And he's going to meet the pope at the Vatican. And it's going to be, you know, a lengthy trip and probably a very nice reprieve from kind of rattling around inside the White House where he has had, you know, difficulty after difficulty a lot of self-imposed crises, I should say, but it's going to be a completely different ball game.

And you've seen him already today try to pivot, not just with this important meeting that he had with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, but, you know, on a completely different note, speaking to police officers at the police officer memorial, looking and sounding so much more conventional and presidential than we have seen and heard him, particularly over the last week where it's been very rough.

[14:05:11] KEILAR: And we are, I should say, waiting for the White House briefing. It's actually running a little late - a little later than normal even, so that should begin any moment now.

But, Nia, I wonder what you think because Dana brought up this appearance before police officers today. President Trump was very welcome there. Going overseas, is he going to get that affirmation that it seems like folks who were in his corner feel like he really needs right now as he's under fire.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean it's hard to imagine that he'll get the kind of welcome that President Obama got when he had his first overseas trips. Even when he was a candidate, he was kind of greeted there at some big events, you know, like 1,000 people showing up at some of his events as he was campaigning. And you've already heard from some of these countries people wanting to protest, right? And you saw even when Donald Trump was elected, you saw sort of international protests. So it's hard to imagine that he'll be greeted in the way that President Obama was greeted. And this is a really high stakes trip for him. We heard from the White

House that he's prepping for it. He's got to be on his game. He's got to, obviously, study for the different events. It's not just about presentation and the way that some of them (INAUDIBLE) White House are. You know, I think you've got to be on sort of gaffe patrol in terms of looking to see what he's - how he's going to present himself and also what he's going to learn from these trips, right?

BASH: That's the key.

HENDERSON: We've had this president, right, who in his meetings with foreign leaders will often come back and say -

KEILAR: He does seem to have a lesson learned.

HENDERSON: Yes, he's -

KEILAR: With the Chinese premier, for instance.

HENDERSON: Exactly. But you - exactly, with President Xi, that conversation taught him something in terms of his interaction with North Korea and how powerful China was. So that will be interesting to see how he - what he learns from these engagements.

KEILAR: It's a big week with his trip. A big week when it comes to the firing of James Comey. Were there tapes of their conversations? Were there not? We don't know. And then all of this happening as we wait for this White House briefing here, Laura Coates, as you have the government arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on President Trump's travel ban. Just catch us up on that because we're going to see some of that discussed in this briefing.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, remember, the Ninth Circuit is Trump's favorite circuit in all of the world. He's talked about it a great deal as being very credible. I'm being very facetious here.

BASH: I was just going to say, sarcasm clearly (ph).

COATES: And so very - very - sarcasm big and wide here.

HENDERSON: Right.

COATES: And what's happening out at the balancing act we've seen over the past couple months, whether or not the president's prerogative and right to enforce laws based on national security interests will override our concerns about religious freedom and establishment clause. And so the courts are always balancing this and saying, listen, is a rose by any other name? We believe it maybe be a Muslim ban based on your campaign rhetoric and things that were - we - we've reprieved.

KEILAR: But isn't - that's really the issue, right, is a judge found that you can see essentially the motive behind the travel ban. When you look at what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail, and we listened today to hear - to hear the government argue that that's really not something you can consider and they were trying to pull out case after case and try to argue, right?

COATES: And the reason for that is because it's a very slippery slope. How far back can you go. At which point you think the president's words are going to be used against him.

BASH: Yes.

COATES: And it - you know, this was a fate - the second time around was more facially neutral. It doesn't mention the same kind of pitfalls of religion they had in the first one. So the courts are saying, was that enough to sanitize it? Can you erase the trigger words and make it constitutionally sound? I think they made a stronger argument on the government side than they did the first time saying, listen, you've got to give the president deference on issues of national security. But, again, we've got the president's, you know, subordinates and everyone else kind of working against in that respect. When you have on the website still listed as a Muslim ban -

BASH: Until last week.

COATES: Until last week and it's mentioned to him outright, I mean talking about the trip abroad, they are going to be watching what we're watching internally in the United States, whether or not there is control over the courts in this country and control over entities that helps to investigate.

KEILAR: All right, you guys, we are standing by for the White House Press Briefing going to begin any moment. We'll be back with our panel in just a moment.

First, though, a quick programming note because tonight on CNN, Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic opposition in the House, Chris Cuomo will be moderating in live CNN town hall. Again, that is tonight at 9:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

And we are just minutes away now from the White House briefing, set to begin actually a while ago. So it should begin any moment now. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:13:31] KEILAR: All right, we are back now live watching the White House Briefing Room. This is expected to begin any moment now. It actually was supposed to start, well, almost an hour ago at this point. So something is delaying the press secretary here. I want to bring in our panel to talk about this.

One of the things that we're definitely going to be hearing about today, Dana, is the replacement for Jim Comey, the FBI director. And it seems like there are many names out there, but it's really unclear what's going to happen here.

BASH: Very unclear. You mentioned - you can see on the screen that the president, in that very brief meeting that he had with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was asked one quick question about the FBI director and he said the process is, quote, "moving rapidly." And on the screen you have the four candidates whom we understand actually were interviewed over the weekend.

And, you know, what's going to happen with that is a big question. Also a big question is how Democrats in the Senate are going to try - or if they're going to try to put up a fight. You know, you saw over the weekend the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, sort of agree with the notion that the Democrats should try to block the FBI director if the Republicans absolutely continue to refuse to put a special prosecutor up there. That's nice to say, but the reality is, because the Democrats changed the rules in the Senate, they don't have to vote.

KEILAR: You don't need 60 votes. You need a simple majority now.

BASH: They have the - they have the votes to use the tools of the Senate to delay it, but not fully block it. So that only would last so long.

[14:15:09] And a lot of the - whether or not they would do that depends on who the nominee is.

KEILAR: Yes.

BASH: If the nominee is somebody who is, you know, hard to block and relatively acceptable and impeachable in terms of character and, you know, political objectivity, it would be hard to do that.

HENDERSON: Yes, you saw Lindsey Graham say -

BASH: (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: You know, say that it would be great if they could have somebody like that who is not kind of a partisan and a politician even. And, of course, some of the people that Donald Trump has been talking to have been politicians, have been from the Senate. John Cornyn, for instance. Can you image that he might be seen as too political for some Democrats? But like Dana said, they just - they've got a lot of kind of bluster but not a lot of real power in the Senate at this point to block anyone.

BASH: We've been given the two-minute warning. So we're keeping an eye there. This White House press briefing should begin very soon.

I want to ask you, Laura, about this briefing we are expecting. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein - oh, here we go. Sean Spicer at the podium. Let's listen in.

[14:16:08] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.

Before we get started, I want to bring Homeland Security Tom Bossert back up here to discuss the administration's response to the ransomware hacking and then I'll go on with the events of today and answer your questions.

Without further ado, Tom.

THOMAS BOSSERT, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY AND COUNTERTERRORISM: Thanks, Sean. Thank you.

Good afternoon. I'm Tom Bossert. I'm the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

And if I could, I'd like to start today by acknowledging the fallen police officers that the president and vice president acknowledged today. They are the front lines of our homeland security and the event today was an honor for me to attend.

On cyber-security, as the president's homeland security adviser, part of my responsibility is to coordinate U.S. government cyber- security efforts. I want to give you an update today on the ransomware attack that's been known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt.

We continue closely monitoring the situation around the clock at the highest levels of government. We're bringing all of the capabilities of the U.S. government to bear on this issue and are working side-by- side with our partners in the private sector and our international partners.

I spoke moments ago with my counterpart in Great Britain and learned an update from them that they have a feeling of control over this ransomware event, and that as their affected computers seem to have been tied to the fact that their health care system is so large and networked, they are painfully aware, though, of the fact that this is a global attack, as are we.

As of this morning, it has reached approximately 150 countries and infected more than 300,000 machines. The good news is the infection rates have slowed over the weekend. We had been concerned about that when last we talked.

The ransomware has disrupted telecommunications companies, hospitals and other organizations. The U.K. National Health Care Service announced 48 of its organizations were affected and that resulted in inaccessible computers and telephone service, but an extremely minimal effect on and disruption to patient care. That was something quite evident in my conversation.

Computers at the Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica were compromised and we had a small number of affected parties in the U.S., including FedEx.

Secretary Kelly at Department of Homeland Security continues to lead operations in public-private coordination. His team is issuing twice- daily situation reports, is holding multiple calls per day among experts and operation centers managing our response. As of today, no federal systems are affected.

Overall, the U.S. infection rate has been lower than many parts of the world, but we may still see significant impacts in additional networks as these malware attacks morph and change.

Despite appearing to be criminal activity intended to raise money, it appears that less than $70,000 has been paid in ransoms and we are not aware of payments that have led to any data recovery. The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center is also keeping us informed of the classified insights concerning the investigation into these hacks.

Let me talk about now briefly the way ahead. Sorry about that.

(CROSSTALK)

BOSSERT: It's important for our business and individuals to know that three variants of this ransomware are reported to have emerged using similar techniques. We had talked last -- I was here about variants of this malware. If you follow the mitigation advice published by DHS, the FBI and Microsoft and have patched your systems, you are protected against all these variants.

It's also important to know that pirated, stolen or otherwise unlicensed versions of affected software often will not receive patches, so it is important to not use that unlicensed software. If you do, you will be subject to extraordinarily susceptible infection.

While it would be satisfying to hold accountable those responsible for this hack, something that we are working on quite seriously, the worm is in the wild, so to speak, at this point and patching is the most important message as a result.

Business and government have responded with upgrades and patches, defensive mitigations, and this has dramatically reduced the vulnerable population over the last three days. So this needs to continue to be our focus.

BOSSERT: Let me finish be repeating advice that all organizations be vigilant in updating their software and that the only computers that can be compromised by the WannaCry or WannaCrypt virus are ones that do not have the latest security patches available from Microsoft.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: So, this is one episode of -- of malware or ransomware. Do you know if -- from the documents and other cyber hacking tools were stolen from NSA, if there's potentially more out there?

BOSSERT: So, there's a little bit of a double question there. Part of that has to do with the underlying vulnerability exploit here used.

I think if I could, I'd rather, instead of directly answering that and can't speak to how we do or don't do our business as a government in that regard, I'd like to instead point out that this was a vulnerability exploit as one part of a much larger tool that was put together by the culpable parties and not by the U.S. government.

So this was not a -- a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data. This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals or foreign nation-states, that have put it together in such a way so that they deliver it with phishing e-mails, put it into embedded documents, and cause infection, encryption and locking. So the provenance, I think I said this morning, of the underlying vulnerability is something that is a little bit less of a direct point for me.

QUESTION: I guess a shorter way to put it would be, is there more out there that you're worried about could lead to more attacks in the future?

BOSSERT: I actually think that the United States more than probably any other country is extremely careful with their processes about how they handle any vulnerabilities that they're aware of. That's something that we do when we know of the vulnerability, not when we know we lost the vulnerability.

I think that's a key distinction between us and other countries and other adversaries that don't provide any such consideration to their people, customers or industry. QUESTION: You mentioned your British counterparts are feeling a sense of control. Was there any times, as you monitored this here in the States, where you felt there was any lack of control or this could get out of hand here?

And if not, what is it about what was here that was protected that didn't exist, for example, in Europe or other parts that have obviously taken a much bigger hit?

BOSSERT: Yeah, no comparative lack of control. But my conversation today led me to believe that he felt quite comfortable and my counterparts felt quite comfortable with where they stood today, not compared...

QUESTION: Right, (inaudible), but was there any time that you felt here that things could spiral out of control?

BOSSERT: Well, as we were gaining and gathering more information, it was important for us to determine the parameters of this.

Once we got our hands around the parameters of the malware -- that's, of course, in the beginning moments what you're trying to get a hold of, get malware, analyze it, determine what's happening. In that timeframe, you don't feel entirely in control but you're searching for information.

Once we got it and realized what the situation was, we realized there were patches available and had been available since March, and so from that point, operation centers and communications become the key and they're imperative to how we handle this response.

And from the British perspective, I thought it was important to pass along from them two points: one, that they thought it was an extremely small number of patients that might have been inconvenienced, not necessarily a disruption to their clinical care, as opposed to their administrative processes; and two, that they felt that some of those reports might have been misstated or overblown, given how they've gotten themselves into a position of patching.

So we'll have to do the analysis and the investigation later as to why certain organizations, systems or sectors were more greatly affected than others. So that's the point I'd like to elaborate.

(CROSSTALK)

BOSSERT: One more here.

QUESTION: Just bottom line it for the average consumer? And what are you going to do going forward to make sure that it doesn't get out in the open and affect us any more?

BOSSERT: Bottom line for the consumer is patch your software, provide automated patch support if you can, turn that automated on. Make sure your I.T. service providers or -- or I.T. folks within your organizations are patching your software. That's the bottom line. And this particular malware and the three reported variants that we've seen since are all fixable with patch. And that's something that you can get from Microsoft. So that's our bottom line.

And I don't want to encroach too much here into Mr. Spicer's time, but if I could, with that, maybe one more question -- Sean, OK?

QUESTION: Who did it?

BOSSERT: We don't know.

That's the attribution that we're after right now. It will be very satisfying for me and for all of our viewers I think that if we find them that we bring them to justice. I think that's something that sometimes eludes us.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BOSSERT: Attribution can be difficult here. I don't want to say we have no clues. As I stand here today, I feel that the best and brightest are working on that.

So, thank you very much. I'll let you know. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Thanks, Tom.

The president was pleased to see this morning the National Association of Homebuilders and Wells Fargo announce earlier that recent reports show that U.S. homebuilder confidence continues to rise, with numbers now at their strongest since the housing bust. According to the NH -- NABH's chairman, quote, "This report shows that builders' optimism in the housing market is solidifying."

SPICER: We've already seen tremendous response in the economy in the wake of the president's pro-growth agenda.

The unemployment rate is at the lowest it's been in a decade. Manufacturing job openings are higher than they've ever been since 2006. And by nearly every measure of economic confidence, the future of the American economy looks very bright.

The president is also sad -- glad to see businesses once again making significant investments in America.

From Intel to General Motors to Walmart to Apple, who specifically just announced earlier this month they will start a $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing jobs here in the United States.

And it's not just the president's domestic economic policies that are generating optimism. Just last week we announced the first 10 agreements as part of the 100-day action plan initiated by President Trump during his meeting at Mar-a-Lago with President Xi of China.

As I noted last week, these arrangements are major wins for American companies across many different industries and sectors, from natural gas, to beef exporters, to financial services, who will all now have access to the massive Chinese market.

And, of course, those negotiations continue between our representatives. We look forward to sharing future developments with you as this process continues to unfold.

This morning, the president and the vice president joined tens of thousands of officers and friends of law enforcement at the annual Peace Officers Memorial service at the United States Capitol.

This is the 36th year that the Fraternal Order of Police has honored the memory of the brave men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty with this service and ceremony.

In the vice presidents opening remarks, he reiterated the Trump administration's commitment to standing with the men and women of law enforcement, quote, "without apology."

And the president said that these men and women are, quote, "the thin blue line between civilization and chaos. Words cannot express the depth of our gratitude," end quote. But he hopes that the actions of this administration will show our men and women in blue, quote, "how deeply we are and how strongly we feel about protecting those who protect us all," end quote.

Earlier today the president had the honor of meeting with officers and guests from police departments that recently suffered the loss of a police officer from Alstead County Sheriff's Department, Phoenix Police Department and the New Jersey State Troopers.

He also signed a proclamation in honor of Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week.

The president was honored to just welcome recently, in the last few minutes, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to the White House for an official visit. His Highness is a strong partner of the United States and a leader in the Middle East on a number of important topics, including defense cooperation, regional security and counter- terrorism.

The United States and the UAE recently concluded a defense cooperation agreement that will allow us to work more closely together to address common security threats. The president hopes to work together even more closely to resolve regional conflicts that raged across the region for too long.

This is the president and His Highness's first meeting. And they have a lot to discuss, including bilateral trade and investment, as well as regional security issues.

At the conclusion of the meeting, we will make sure to have a readout.

Later this afternoon, the vice president will swear in Robert Lighthizer as the United States trade representative. Ambassador Lighthizer has spent decades working at the highest levels of American trade policy, including as deputy U.S. trade representative under President Reagan.

The president was glad to finally have an unquestionably qualified individual in place as we fight for better trade deals that will put the American worker first.

And now that he's officially on board this afternoon, Ambassador Lighthizer is getting straight to work. Tomorrow he will have a -- he will have a series of meetings on Capitol Hill. And on Thursday he will travel to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

With Ambassador Lighthizer's swearing in, after a historic show of obstructionism by the Senate Democrats, the president will now finally have his entire Cabinet in place, able to fully implement the president's America-first agenda across the entire spectrum of the federal government.

In other Cabinet news, Secretary Chao kicked off Infrastructure Week with an event with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this morning, noting the newly reopened I-85 bridge in Atlanta as an example of what can be better accomplished with federal, state and local governments working together. Secretary Chao will be traveling to Atlanta on Thursday for the ceremonial ribbon cutting.

Secretary Perry is in Texas today as part of V.A. Research Week to announce the Vets Project, a joint effort between the Veterans Administration and the Department of Energy to help data-map veteran's health records and solve health-related issues for veterans.

This partnership, part of the Trump administration's commitment to modernizing the systems we use to care for our nations heroes, brings together the V.A.'s unparalleled health care and genetic data from its Million Veteran Program with the Department of Energy's world-class technology to improve health care and quality of life for our veterans.

[14:29:56] Secretary Shulkin of the VA will also be traveling this week to commemorate VA Research Week, speaking at the Brain Trust Pathways event in Boston on Wednesday. This event brings together public and private experts in research, treatment and prosthetics, IT and other specialties to focus on new and innovative ways to support veterans coping with the effects --