Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Thanks Military; Search for Missing Sailors Expands; Argentinian Sub Missing; Facebook Shows Russia Propaganda; Senate to Vote on Tax Plan; Sessions Orders Review. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York.

President Trump is spending his first Thanksgiving as president down in his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The winter White House, as he likes to call it. He and First Lady Melania spent part of their morning visiting a Coast Guard station in Riviera Beach. And earlier the president took part in the long held tradition for U.S. commanders in chief today, thanking troops abroad. But he also diverted a bit from tradition to talk about some of his achievements here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For each of you I know it's hard being away from home at this time of the year. We're doing well at home. The economy is doing really great. When you come back, you're going to see with the jobs and companies coming back into our country and the stock markets just hit a record high. Unemployment's the lowest it's been in 17 years. So you're fighting for something real. You're fighting for something good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss now, senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joining me from West Palm Beach, Florida, and CNN military and diplomat analyst John Kirby, live from Washington.

Good to see you both, gentlemen. Happy Thanksgiving.

All right, Jeff, you first. Tell us more about the president's message to the U.S. troops broadly.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, happy Thanksgiving, Fredricka.

President Trump was talking to members of the armed services, as you said, which is a presidential tradition. Other presidents in years past have actually gone to the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. The president doing it here via video conference, giving that message, thanking them for their service, of course. And he also visited a Coast Guard station not far from his resort at Mar-a-Lago. Right now he is -- he's at the Trump International Golf Course for a few hours. But before he arrived there, he did talk about how good the country is

doing, almost looking for people to give him thanks for his almost first year in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you folks are fighting so hard and working so hard. And it's nice that you're working for something that's really starting to work. We've cut back so much on regulation and all the waste and all the abuse. And the stock market on Friday hit the all-time high. The highest it's ever been, ever. In your whole long life, the stock market's as his as it has ever been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So the stock market at the highest ever, the president is saying. Which he is right about that.

Left out of that message a little bit is who takes responsibility for that. Of course this president inherited a strongly economy. No doubt the confidence in the market has continued and increased since he has been in office.

But, Fredricka, that could all hinge on that tax plan that's up for a vote in the Senate next week. But for today at least, a moment of giving thanks here. And the president, as of now, we're not scheduled to see him anymore today. But he, of course, will be having Thanksgiving dinner later with his family in Mar-a-Lago.

Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Maybe we'll get a photo or two of him on the links (ph) and see how he does today.

ZELENY: Right.

WHITFIELD: So, Admiral Kirby, what about you? What stood out to you about the president's remarks?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I'll tell you, one of things I really liked when I listened to him talk on that VTC was he specifically called about the family members of those men and women in uniform that are serving overseas. And that's really important and that's a very important message on Thanksgiving, to make sure that you recognize the service and sacrifice of the family members that are back home trying to keep things together and trying to get through this holiday knowing that there's going to be an empty chair at the table this year.

So I like that. I thought that was very appropriate and I was glad to hear that.

Look, I think, you know, the bragging about the economy, a little bit off message on a day like today. But I don't want to dwell on that. I think it was good that he reached out. I think it was good that he visited those coast guardsman and coast guardswomen and had that message.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Yes, the hopeful part that, you know, it's a real morale booster too, along with being a tradition for troops abroad and here at home to hear from the commander in chief.

KIRBY: Yes, it is. I mean it's a big deal. I mean these young men and women are far away from home and many of them are serving literally in harm's way. And they're facing a lot of risk and danger. And to know that their commander in chief cares enough to reach out and thank them on Thanksgiving Day, that's a big deal and I'm really glad to see him do it.

WHITFIELD: And does it matter that it's via teleconference when oftentimes it's on a Thanksgiving, as Jeff was underscoring, there might be a surprise visit from the president, you know, in person, or even the vice president, you know, in Afghanistan or Iraq?

KIRBY: Sure.

WHITFIELD: You know, particularly those places that are especially dangerous and tenuous?

KIRBY: You know, I think we should give him a pass on this.

WHITFIELD: OK.

KIRBY: I mean, who knows. He may want to go -- he may want to go over Christmas holidays and therefore didn't want to do it for Thanksgiving. And he's got many Thanksgivings ahead of him that he can do this.

And you also have to factor in, when the president travels to meet the troops in the field, he brings a lot of infrastructure and burden with him when he does that. I mean it impacts, you know, their daily operations for the time that he's there. So, in a sense, you know, he actually -- this made it easier on the troops. All he did was dial in by VTC and I think, you know, it was convenient for them as well to not have to have that extra footprint when he comes. So I don't think we should beat him up too much over doing this VTC at all.

[12:05:11] And, frankly, look, I mean you -- I loved that he had the press in the room for him to do that. I thought that was really good. And it was a joint audience.

WHITFIELD: Because that is unusual. Yes.

KIRBY: It was and it was a joint audience. He had sailors. He had soldiers. He had Marines. He had airman. And then he went to go visit the Coastguard. You know, I think -- I think he did OK today.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And, Jeff, he had those multiple screen on that teleconference which really underscores, you know, the reach. He was able to be at many places simultaneously. And perhaps, you know, that is especially remarkable.

ZELENY: Sure. No question about it. And he was reaching out to all of the armed services. And it is important to point out, he is just back from a long trip, you know, earlier this month to five countries, China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. So one thing that's notable about the president's vacation here, there's not a lot of senior staff with him. It is largely a vacation for his staff as well, getting a much needed break after this first year in office, almost a first year in office here, of course.

So -- but there are, of course, several (ph) military commanders here briefing the president as usual. But again, for the rest of the day, we believe the president will be spending it with his family and, of course, out on the golf course.

One thing the White House will never confirm, though, Fredricka, if the president's actually golfing on that golf course.

WHITFIELD: OK. A day of leisure, whichever way they want to slice it, but we also know that it is a 24/7 job, so --

ZELENY: (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's always a working vacation for any president.

ZELENY: Right. No doubt.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeff Zeleny, Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving, gentlemen.

KIRBY: You too.

WHITFIELD: All right, meantime, search and rescue efforts are expanding now for three missing American sailors after a Navy plane crashed into the ocean southeast of Japan. American and Japanese ships and planes are relentlessly hunting for these missing three. Eight people have been rescued and are in good condition. They were all onboard a transport plane carrying 11 crew and passengers when it crashed into the Philippine Sea on Wednesday afternoon.

CNN's Barbara Starr joining me now live from the Pentagon.

What do you know about this search?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the search remains ongoing. U.S. and Japanese forces in the air and on the water out there in the Philippine Sea on this Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. aircrews, U.S. ship crews looking urgently for any sign of wreckage, trying to recover the other three who are missing.

What the Navy tells us is the three missing are officially now listed as duty status, whereabouts unknown. They will try and recover whoever, whatever they can, including the wreckage of the plane, of course, because that may give them some clues as to what went wrong here, what made the plane crash.

As time goes on, they are adjusting the search pattern, of course, due to the ocean current. But right now all hands, too, on this thing to try and recover the three missing. Their families have been notified. They know the status of everything that is going on. And we in the public may learn their names in the coming hours. Traditionally, procedure is, they give the families anywhere from 24 to 72 hours in situations like this to maintain their privacy before any names are officially released.

Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, of course, we all remain prayerful for them. Thank you so much, Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

All right, we're also following a potentially heartbreaking development in the search for a missing Argentine submarine and it's 44 crew members. The Argentine may be revealing today that a noise detected near the sub's last known location is, quote, consistent with an explosion.

I want to bring in journalist Stephano Posivan (ph). He is in Mar del Plata, Argentina, where this submarine was supposed to arrive before it went missing.

Stephano, for eight days now family members have been holding out hope that their loved ones may still be alive, but how is this news now, you know, circulating?

STEPHANO POSIVAN, JOURNALIST: Well, Fredericka, certainly the last glimmer of hope is what is left for these people have been hoping and generally believing that they would have seen their relatives fairly soon up until this morning.

What happened today when the confirmed existence of these noise that could have implied an explosion on that fatalic (ph) morning on the 15th of November when the San Juan last made contact with the home base here in Mar del Plata (ph) today changed completely. The narrative many of the relatives for what we have been able to --

WHITFIELD: All right, our apologies. A terrible connection. But that really does give you an idea of just how difficult it is for the search in that area. There are rough seas and all assets are there trying to locate by sound, perhaps even by any physical evidence of that missing submarine. We'll keep you posted.

[12:10:16] All right, meantime, up next, Facebook wants you to know whether you may have been fooled last year by Russian propaganda. We'll tell you how to find out, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, if you liked or followed any Russia-linked Facebook pages during the 2016 campaign? Facebook says it wants you to know. The company announced a new tool to let users check whether they were interacting with pages connected to Russia's internet research agency before they were shutdown. In a company blog post Facebook wrote, quote, it is important that people understand how foreign actors try to sew division and mistrust using Facebook before and after the 2016 election, end quote.

[12:15:16] U.S. -- CNN Money business and technology correspondent Samuel Burke joining me live now from London.

Good to see you, Sam. Happy Thanksgiving across the pond.

So Facebook is admitting that this new tool won't help everyone who was exposed to the ads, but they feel like it is proactive?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN MONEY BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Happy Thanksgiving, Fredericka.

This has left a lot of people scratching our heads because on the surface you look at this tool and you think, great, we'll be able to know if we were served up Russia-linked content on Facebook. But if you read between the lines, Facebook is only going to show this to the people who clicked "like" or followed these Russia-linked accounts.

But you don't have to like or follow these accounts to have been served up these ads. I certainly didn't click like on any of these types of pages, but I may have been one of the 150 million Americans who were exposed to these ads on Facebook. And, Fredericka, that is larger than the entire U.S. electorate. Keep in mind, we also know that the ads were being served up other places, like here in the U.K. for Brexit.

So a lot of people asking, why isn't Facebook making this tool available for everybody in the U.S., both sides of the pond, and just this small group that may have clicked "like" on this Russia-linked accounts.

WHITFIELD: And then, you know, will this tool also flag fake accounts that pop up perhaps in the future?

BURKE: And this is what's really troubling because basically if you talk to these social networks, they say, we've taken down these accounts that were from St. Petersburg. So they say that this tool is only going to show you ads that you saw between July 2015 and August 2017.

But, listen, at the end of the day, these accounts, based in St. Petersburg, figured out how to get their way into the election. What makes us think that they couldn't try and circumnavigate the systems that allowed these social networks (INAUDIBLE) in place.

Adam Schiff, who's the ranking member of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, says this is a positive step, but these social networks need no do more to be more transparent so that we have the full picture of what Russia did in elections all around the world.

WHITFIELD: All right, CNN Money's Samuel Burke in London, thanks so much.

All right, joining me right now is Natasha Bertrand, she is a political correspondent for "Business Insider," Elaina Plott, staff writer for "Washingtonian Magazine," and Patrick Healy, he is "The New York Times" deputy cultural editor and a CNN political analyst.

Good to see all of you. Happy Thanksgiving. All right, Natasha, you first.

Facebook, you know, it's trying to show that it is taking this very seriously. But too little too late, especially since it doesn't appear as through there are plans in place ahead of the next round of elections?

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "BUSINESS INSIDER": Right. So this is essentially a major PR win for Facebook. They released this information, you know, the day before Thanksgiving in the hopes that this would maybe appease a lot of the people who were worried that they had seen this Russian propaganda on Facebook and that they could maybe prevent it from happening again in the future.

But there are a lot of problems with it, namely that it only deals with accounts that were operated out of the St. Petersburg troll factory, the Russian -- the internet research agency, when there are actually dozens other troll factories out there who were producing this Russian propaganda on Facebook, on Twitter, on all sorts of social media platforms.

Another problem with it is that, you know, this is not going to allow everyone who was, you know, exposed to this Russian propaganda on Facebook to see whether or not they were actually engaging with it. Only the people who followed the accounts, who liked them, will be able to then go to this tool. And that's another thing, not everyone's actually going to proactively go and use this tool to see.

So this is essentially a big PR effort by Facebook. And it's going to, you know, make a lot of people scratch their heads and wonder, well how will I know if I didn't actually engage with this content that I was exposed to it?

WHITFIELD: Right.

So, Patrick, Congress grilled executives from Facebook and other tech companies about Russia, you know, social media trolls. But is the anything else that lawmakers can do?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Fred, what they need to do is focus on the -- you know, the inquiries going on into Russia interference in the American election. Facebook is just one small part of it. And the reality is that Congress is trying to look like it's doing something in response to this, especially Republicans in Congress, because they don't want the onus, the focus falling on President Trump. So they're trying to sort of push Facebook onto the defensive.

And the reality is, you know, you know, Facebook is sort of putting out this kind of, you know, this olive branch from trying to show some accountability. But the truth is, is that, you know, Facebook was only one small part of it. I mean these troll factories in Russia were part of what our intelligence agencies says was a clear effort to undermine the election. And what Congress needs to figure out is, you know, whether it and, you know, whether else in the (INAUDIBLE) is going to sort of take on in the Republican White House, you know, and others in the -- in Donald Trump's campaign who may have known these things. Facebook is really only a part of it.

[12:20:19] WHITFIELD: All right, let's shift gears and talk about something also very immediate.

Elaina, the Senate is expected to vote on the GOP tax plan next week. President Trump said this week that he thinks it can be done by the end of the year, a Christmas present, if you will. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas. Hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Elaina, are Republicans in Congress as optimistic as the president?

ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, "WASHINGTONIAN MAGAZINE": Absolutely, especially on the Senate side. I think when this bill was introduced in the Senate, the inclusion of the repeal of the individual mandate and Obamacare was going to be seen as a stickler for many, such as Susan Collins. She's a definitive "no" on the bill.

But my sources in the Senate tell me that absolutely by the second week of December this bill will get through. I don't think that means it's a done deal, though. I think once this bill goes back to the House with the repeal of this individual mandate included, you know, it's going to be worth watching people like Charlie Dent, the chairman of the Tuesday Group, as to whether they're OK with accepting this. So, you know, it would be a great Christmas present for the Republicans, but I don't think the bow is tied yet.

(INAUDIBLE) beyond tax reform, though, you know, we still don't have a deal for spending caps in Congress. So I think that's something that, you know, if Congress can't get a good omnibus (ph) through, which is not ideal in the first place, that could take away any glimmer that the tax reform package has, if it does indeed go through.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and, Patrick, that brings me to, you know, that other big priority in Washington, avoiding yet another shutdown. The government does run out of money in just two weeks and a lot of Democrats are saying they will insist on protection for dreamers as part of any deal. Might that work?

HEALY: December is going to be huge, Fred. I mean there's so many legislative items that are coming up, but President Trump says he's going to be meeting with the Republican leadership in Congress next week to kind of go over. But Democrats have a lot of leverage here. And dealing with dreamers is a huge priority for them. You know, but also, in terms of tax cuts, in terms of (INAUDIBLE), in terms of spending, I mean they basically do have a lot of leverage with these deadlines, you know, coming up in December. So President Trump and the Republicans in Congress have very little to show for this first year of the Trump presidency. And it's going to be interesting to watch how Donald Trump, who sees himself as the consummate dealmaker, you know, whether as the clock is ticking down is going to start making some deals with Democrats on dreamers, on spending, even on taxes to try to be able to end the year, to end year one of the Trump presidency with some kind of accomplishments and certainly to try to avoid a government shutdown, which would really be, you know, a black eye for a government that's run entirely by Republicans.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we've seen that pledge of deal making, but we have yet to actually see evidence of any deal making now in, what, ten months in office.

All right, thanks to all of you, Natasha Bertrand, Elaina Plott, Patrick Healy, happy Thanksgiving. Have a great day.

HEALY: Happy Thanksgiving.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up for us, CNN takes a ride in a fighter jet to see how American troops are preparing for potential war with North Korea. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:08] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

It's been almost three weeks since the horrific mass shooting at a Texas church, and now the U.S. attorney general wants to ensure another gunman does not slip through the cracks. CNN has learned that Jeff Sessions has directed the heads of the ATF and FBI to begin a comprehensive review of the national database that houses gun background checks. The directive comes after we learned the lone gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, should never have been able to buy a gun in the first place due to his domestic abuse conviction. But the U.S. Air Force failed to enter that into the database.

I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz.

So, Shimon, the system includes tens and millions of records. What is the AG specifically asking to be reviewed?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, you know, this all comes to light, as you said, after the shooting at the church. And from what we know is the -- and the Air Force has admitted this -- that they did not report a domestic violence conviction that the shooter received after an assault against his wife, his ex-wife, and a child. And so that conviction that he was court-martialed was not reported to this system.

It's the National Instant Criminal Background Check system which gun store owners use. It's an instant check they use when someone comes in to buy a gun, to do a background, to see if there's any reason why this person should not buy a gun. That conviction was not entered into that system by the Air Force. It would have to share that information with the FBI, who then enters it. It did not. So, as a result. the attorney general has ordered this review.

And there seems to be a problem with -- on the military side perhaps with the way they are reporting some of these domestic violence cases. There seems to be some issues there. And so now the attorney general has ordered this review.

[12:30:05] WHITFIELD: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much, from D.C., and, happy Thanksgiving.

PROKUPECZ: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, turning now to North Korea.