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Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Reportedly Criticized President's Comments on Judiciary; Interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal; Jeff Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General; Massive Winter Storm Slams Northeast; Blumenthal: Gorsuch "Needs to Make Statements Publicly". Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: -- New York, Boston, Philly, they canceled school preemptively. More than 2,800 flights are down. We're going to have much more on the storm throughout the morning. Again, 40 million people in the path.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But first, President Trump responding to news that his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is calling the president's attacks on federal judges, quote, "disheartening and demoralizing."

CUOMO: Mr. Trump questioning the credibility of Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. That's the senator whom Gorsuch was talking to when he made his comments. The president tweeting that the senator misrepresented those comments. CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more. Joe, controversy.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely controversy. And the question about misrepresentation was followed by a question mark. We'll get to that in just a minute. But either way the president's nominee for the Supreme Court this morning apparently caught between a rock and a hard place, between his loyalty to the president who tapped him for the court and his loyalty to the branch of government he serves.


JOHNS: Judge Neil Gorsuch denouncing President Trump's recent attacks against the federal judging weighing his travel ban.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: After some back and forth, he did say that he found them to be disheartening and demoralizing.

JOHNS: In a private meeting with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, the president's nominee to the Supreme Court slamming Mr. Trump's biting criticism of the federal judge in Seattle who halted his order. Some Republicans praising Judge Gorsuch's comments.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE AND GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: It sounds like Neil Gorsuch might be a darn good judge. He's not going to be politically swayed on one side or the other.

JOHNS: But Democrats -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a step in the right direction.

JOHNS: -- including Blumenthal himself are still skeptical of the nomination.

BLUMENTHAL: He has to come to the defense of the American judiciary, strongly and explicitly and unequivocally. Maybe he's moving in that direction, but it has to be much stronger and more direct.

JOHNS: This as the president continues to lash out at the judiciary.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased, and we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political.

JOHNS: Belittling the three-judge panel set to rule any day on his immigration order.

TRUMP: A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this. Suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants --

JOHNS: Mr. Trump also claiming he initially wanted to delay implementing the ban.

TRUMP: I wanted to give like a month. Then I said what about a week? They said, well, then you're going to have a whole pile of people, perhaps, perhaps, with very evil intentions coming in before the restrictions.

JOHNS: The president is stoking fears about terrorism as he awaits the appellate court ruling.

TRUMP: Believe me, I've learned a lot in the last two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.

JOHNS: His startling comment a departure from the messaging of past presidents who urged Americans to be vigilant and not afraid.

Meantime the president making it clear, despite pledges to the contrary, he's still looking out for the family business. Mr. Trump blasting upscale retailer Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka's clothing line, tweeting "The company treated her unfairly," and re- tweeting it from his official government account.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For someone to take out their concern with his policies on a family member of his is not acceptable. And the president has every right as a father to stand up for them.

JOHNS: But Nordstrom is pushing back, saying their decision was an economic one, solely based on performance, citing declining sales over the past year.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: Now, more on that controversy over Judge Gorsuch and what he said or didn't say. The president tweeting out this morning, "Senator Richard Blumenthal, who never fought in Vietnam when he said he had for years, major lie, now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?" with a question mark, this obviously trying to bring into question the credibility of Senator Blumenthal.

So this morning I did ask presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway whether the judge had told the White House that his words had been misrepresented. She said she would not comment on private conversations. Back to you.

CUOMO: But the president is apparently, Joe. So let's go directly to the source, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. Senator, good to have you on NEW DAY as always.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

CUOMO: All right, so first we have a credibility attack and then an attack on the facts. What is your response to the president of the United States saying you should not be believed because you misrepresented your military record in the past?

[08:05:00] BLUMENTHAL: There's no question that Judge Gorsuch said to me that he found these attacks on the judiciary by the president to be disheartening and demoralizing. In fact, his spokesperson after the meeting confirmed it. He made the statement more than once. In fact, he has made that same statement to a number of my colleagues including Senator Schumer.

But I think that telling me that he finds these attacks to be demoralizing or disheartening behind closed doors is not enough. He needs to make that statement publicly and condemn this attack on the independence of the judiciary and show the American people that he will be independent.

CUOMO: Is that putting a political parameter on somebody who is supposed to stay separate from that type of discussion?

BLUMENTHAL: I said to Judge Gorsuch, and I believe that ordinary a Supreme Court nominee would not be expected to comment on issues or political matters or cases to come before the court. But we're in a very unusual situation. We're careening, literally, towards a constitutional crisis. And he's been nominated by a president who has repeatedly and relentlessly attacked the American judiciary on three separate occasions, their credibility and trust is in question. And he's established a litmus test for his nominee to be prolife, to be pro Second Amendment, to be conservative.

CUOMO: Did the judge disagree with your assessment to any degree, and did he agree to say something about this publicly or during his confirmation hearings?

BLUMENTHAL: He declined to be more specific. I think he has to be specific, direct, explicit. And I will be pressing him during his confirmation hearings.

CUOMO: He declined to be more specific in terms of what you were alleging about a constitutional crisis, or did he decline to say something about it outside of closed doors in public?

BLUMENTHAL: My hope is that he will, in fact, on reflection, condemn these attacks on the American judiciary, which are unprecedented for a president to make, and that he will be more explicit because he has to show the American people that he's not only disappointed in President Trump's attacks but that, in fact, he condemns them because they endanger the independence. And he has to show the American people that he'll be more than a rubber stamp for Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Did you get into where he is in terms of different issues that may come before the court, for instance, the travel ban?

BLUMENTHAL: I made clear that I had certain concerns about privacy rights and women' health care, about worker and consumer protection, and about, for example, adherence to precedence that protects people, individual rights as above the interest of corporations. But he declined to be more specific at this point except to say he would adhere generally to precedent.

CUOMO: Did he say anything to you that gave you any confidence that he could win your vote?

BLUMENTHAL: I still have serious concerns. I have reached no conclusion. But this vote ought to be by a 60-vote margin, more than just a razor thin majority, because it is about a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court.

CUOMO: So in terms of the -- you say it should be 60 votes. Do you think that's the way it's going to go?

BLUMENTHAL: I believe that the Republican colleagues as well as Democrats will come together and insist on a 60-vote majority. If they invoke the nuclear option and go to a razor-thin majority, it will like the kind of consensus and real support on a bipartisan basis that it needs.

CUOMO: So just to be clear, when the president says you misrepresented Judge Gorsuch's views, is he telling the truth?

BLUMENTHAL: I absolutely accurately stated what Judge Gorsuch said to me as confirmed by his own spokesman, colleagues who heard the same things in their private meetings. And I believe Judge Gorsuch, more than just saying it behind closed doors, needs to publicly condemn these attacks on the American judiciary.

CUOMO: So how do you explain the president saying you misrepresented him?

BLUMENTHAL: I am not about to try to explain the president's tweets.

CUOMO: What did you make of the president saying that the reason they didn't give more notice, they weren't more deliberate about the travel ban, was because he was told -- he said "they said" -- we don't know who "they" are -- that, if you gave notice, you'd have a flood of bad guys get into the country. Does that square with your reckoning of the current security status of our vetting?

BLUMENTHAL: We may need to improve the vetting and screening of people coming into this country, but the travel ban with a religious test that imposes a ban on Muslims and expresses preference for other religious groups certainly involves very grave constitutional questions.

[08:10:11] I can't predict how the courts will decide today or tomorrow. But in my view, there are very severe constitutional questions. In fact, I think some parts of this order are unconstitutional. And I think President Trump needs to hear from Judge Gorsuch about exactly what he is saying to myself and Senate colleagues. Maybe he simply hasn't been informed and that's the reason for his tweet.

CUOMO: Do you think that the Democrats are doing the right thing by stalling the confirmations of so many nominees?

BLUMENTHAL: We're not stalling nominees. We're scrutinizing them. And --

CUOMO: What you're doing with these overnight chat Sessions, that's a delay tactic. That's not just about vetting. This is a process, it's a tactic, just to be honest about it.

BLUMENTHAL: It is airing and making the public aware of the very serious flaws of these nominees, about their financial conflicts of interest, about their lack of preparation and knowledge of the issues and the agencies that they're supposed to lead, and, in fact, their hostility in the cases of some of them toward the very mission and agency that they are supposed to handle.

CUOMO: What do you think about the rule 19, something that now every American knows, being used on Elizabeth Warren? Was she out of order after being warned? Was she grandstanding, or was this just a naked political play by the GOP to shut her down?

BLUMENTHAL: Certainly it was very selective enforcement because other colleagues after she was silenced and shut down went to the floor of the United States Senate, read the same letter from Coretta Scott King, an icon of the civil rights movement, and they were never silenced. So I think it was very unfortunate and unwise and unwarranted for the Republican leadership to shut her down. Silencing her really was very much contradictory of the traditions of the United States Senate where there ought to be free speech. And what she said reading a letter from Coretta Scott King was certainly in order.

CUOMO: Can you give me any hope in this interview today that anything positive will come out of the Senate going forward? Because everyone is saying, oh, this is it, this is the indication that they're just going to lock down just like the House does. Can you give me any hope that that's not true? BLUMENTHAL: I can give you a lot of hope because I truly believe that

once we are past these distractions we will come together on a bipartisan basis to do a major infrastructure program, rebuilding our roads and bridges and airports and schools and electric grid. I truly believe that we will come together on our national defense and strengthen our military forces around the world. I think we will do more to lower the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, which are skyrocketing out of control in their charges and health care costs to the American people, and other areas where I think we can improve health care. Those areas are just somewhere we ought to enhance what is a growing bipartisan consensus that we need to do more to rebuild America and make America even greater.

CUOMO: All right, Senator Blumenthal, you're in the political crosshairs. It's good to have you making the case on NEW DAY for yourself. Thank you, sir.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: New Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be sworn in just a few hours, capping a bitter confirmation battle. One of his top critics, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, is vowing not to stay silent. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill. What is the latest, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump, Alisyn, will be in the room today later this morning for the swearing in of his new attorney general. The White House can now put this fight behind them, but the fallout from his brutal nomination process up here on Capitol Hill continues, especially for Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Immediately after Senator Sessions was confirmed last night, Warren fired off a series of warning shots about Senator Sessions, essentially warning him, I'll be watching you, Warren tweeting, quote, "Consider this my warning. We won't be silent. We will speak out and we will persist."

And there has been a lot of pushback from Republicans up here on Capitol Hill for all the attention that Senator Warren has received, questioning her intentions, her political motives for elevating this fight.

Meantime yesterday on the Senate floor we saw Senator Tim Scott who is the only African-American Republican senator, talk about the criticism he's received just for supporting Senator Sessions, reading a series of mean tweets and hate mail, one telling him that he is a disgrace to the black race.

[08:15:00] Now, today, the Senate will move on to another controversial nominee, that of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He could be confirmed either very, very late tonight or early tomorrow morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Sunlen, thank you very much. Big story right now, the snow and lots of it falling in several states

in the Northeast, a powerful winter storm forcing schools closed, already thousands of flights canceled.

We have our man, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, live in New York Central Park with the latest.

And, boy, has the scene changed from when we started talking to you this morning.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And we knew that was going to happen. We knew 8:00, 9:00 was bullseye time for the low to develop in the ocean just off New Jersey. That's what's happening now.

This is now Columbus Circle. This is the roadway. At least four to five inches were on the road. Chris, look up Broadway, look up the Canyon, you should be able to see lights from Times Square. You can't see one block. It's just coming down. It's wave after wave of snow.

This is at least one, maybe two inches of snow per hour. Even if this only lasts for three or four more hours, this really adds up to the numbers we were anticipating, somewhere in that 12 to maybe 10-inch range across parts of the city, maybe a little more toward Connecticut and Boston. It will continue to do that all day long, 40 million people in warnings.

We still have 3,000 flights canceled. That number still going up and all major schools closed because of this. You can't get kids to school in this because you might not get them home.

ROMANS: That's right, Chad. Our children are at home right now, not in school, we assume watching. So, kids, do some homework right now. Thank you. Thanks, Chad.

So, you just heard Senator Blumenthal there. He stood by his words and still calling for Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch to make a public comment about Donald Trump's words. What will the president do next? We get "The Bottom Line."


[08:20:33] CAMEROTA: OK, just to catch you up. President Donald Trump says Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal misrepresented what the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch told him in a closed door meeting. However, Senator Blumenthal is standing by his words as is Judge Gorsuch's spokesperson, and that is Judge Gorsuch said that President Trump's criticism of federal judges was, quote, "demoralizing and disheartening."

Now, Senator Blumenthal wants the Supreme Court nominee to say this publicly.


BLUMENTHAL: I think that telling me he finds these attacks are demoralizing or disheartening behind closed doors is not enough. He needs to make that statement publicly and condemn the attack on the American judiciary and show the American people that he will be independent.


CAMEROTA: Let's get to the bottom line with CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Hi, David.


CAMEROTA: Hard to know where to begin with this.

Judge Gorsuch isn't going to speak out publicly against President Trump. I mean, I know that's what Senator Blumenthal wants.

CUOMO: He could be forced to address it in the confirmation hearings.

CAMEROTA: Sure, in the confirmation hearings, yes. But I mean, judges, as you know, David, are notoriously discrete and judicious, if I may. But at what point do they start defending their branch of government?

GREGORY: Well, I think as Chris alluded to, certainly in the hearing. This is going to come up.

And I think as Michael Smerconish mentioned earlier in the program, this was very deft on the part of Judge Gorsuch who understands the politics at play, number one. He understands that Democrats are going to be rightly concerned about this.

But how about the fact that he's a judge who believes in the independence of the judiciary, who has every responsibility to stand up when a president of the United States impugns the integrity of -- it's so ironic we're worried about senators hurting each other's feelings. How about an assault on the judiciary of our country by the president of the United States who accuses someone who rules against him as being a, quote, "so-called judge", who calls a circuit court debate on the law disgraceful and talks about the judiciary being political?

I mean, members of Congress, the Senate and Congress should be alarmed by this and should speak out against it. They have an obligation to do so. And certainly someone who wants to serve on the Supreme Court should do so as well. Now, a nominee like this is not going to hold a press conference, but he made it very clear he'd speak his mind when asked about it. This will no doubt come up again on his hearings.

CAMEROTA: So, we have a new tweet.

CUOMO: All right.

CAMEROTA: Can I do the honors?

GREGORY: Stand by, tweet alert. CAMEROTA: Here's a tweet alert from --

CUOMO: It matters because it's about me.

CAMEROTA: Chris is going to read it now.

CUOMO: "Chris Cuomo in his interview with Senator Blumenthal never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave service in Vietnam. Fake news." Let's just please show the top of the interview.


CUOMO: The president of the United States saying you should not be believed because you misrepresented your military record in the past.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There's no question that judge Gorsuch said to me that he found these attacks on the judiciary by the president --


CUOMO: Really, the first point that I made in the interview. The president, with all due respect, is once again off on the facts. That's not something that any of us have any desire to say on a regular basis, but it keeps being true.

Fake news is the worst thing you can call a journalist. It's like an ethnic disparagement. We all have these ugly words for people. That's the one for journalists.

David, he just keeps doubling down when the facts don't favor his position. He just said you never asked him about it. I did. He ducked it, and that's OK. Politicians duck things all the time.

The truth of the matter asserted is about whether or not this judge says what Blumenthal says he said. His own coms guy says. Nobody denies it except the president of the United States and once again he doubles down when he's wrong.

GREGORY: Right. Well, you know, President Trump seems to actually be -- I think we should pay attention to what he does and not what he says, because he's certainly a dedicated viewer of CNN as a source of news and information and a global leader in that department. So, apparently, that's what he does, as opposed to what he says.

[08:25:03] So, it shows you what he really believes about how, in fact, trustworthy CNN is.

Look, we're in the going to get into the mind of why Donald Trump as our president takes on these issues that are not based in fact. What is a reality here is that he is now creating an additional layer of difficulty for his Supreme Court nominee, someone who is highly qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. What I heard --

CAMEROTA: But wait a minute, David. Hold on one second. Why is it a level of difficulty when what we've heard is this actually sort of elevates Judge Gorsuch to it illustrates that he is truly independent. He's willing to say something against the very president who nominated him and Democrats might like that.

CUOMO: Did Trump a favor in a way, because he showed Trump is willing to pick a man who will be his own man and that will be one of the big rubs on the choice, kind of did him a favor until the president rejected it.

GREGORY: I agree with all that. And I made that point earlier, and I agree with you. To me, the extra level of difficulty is that despite that, he's putting Democrats in a position to make this fight over Judge Gorsuch about their fight with President Trump.

That's reminiscent of what they did to Judge Merrick Garland. It was never about Judge Garland. It was about their fight with President Obama naming someone when he did.

In this case, whether it's the travel ban, whether it's the independence of the judiciary, you heard Senator Blumenthal saying we want him to speak out about this publicly. I think Democrats who are dug in, who will make this a proxy fight with the president on other grounds, are going to find a way to deepen their opposition to Gorsuch. That's what I mean when I say there's difficulty.

You know, look, if you're President Trump, you can say, look, I said what I said and I stand by it. But my guy who I nominate to the Supreme Court is an umpire, he calls it like he sees it. That's why I nominated him.

Oh, wait, he didn't say that, he didn't tweet that. That's apparently not his position and that's the pattern we're seeing over and over again with this president.

CUOMO: Well, look, I mean, the man got elected because of a lot of factors. One of them was certainly his ability to handle the media. I don't understand -- I really don't, it's not like a rhetorical device, I don't understand this insistence with saying the media is fake news when it's so insulting without basis.

CAMEROTA: Because it delegitimizes anything you hear and it makes people who are inclined to think that wonder about every single thing we say and every fact that comes out.

CUOMO: I hear you about that, but I've got to tell you. Look at our ratings. You know, look at the increase in empowerment the president has had. When the president gifted the media with making what is true the main measure of political assessment because it usually isn't. It's usually this competitive banter and all these things -- he played right into what the biggest strength of, not just what the media does, but what this show does.

CAMEROTA: Well, yes, I mean, people are looking for facts and information.

GREGORY: And let me just say, I think it's important that we don't always take the bait. I mean, we've got to do what we do and do it reliably and with credibility like we do on a daily basis and let those, whether it's the president or other people work with him engage in propaganda which is what it is and try to delegitimize the news media.

CUOMO: When he intentionally and deceptively misrepresents what happens on the show and calls me out in doing so, he kind of forces the hand of the show.

GREGORY: No doubt.

CUOMO: He could have given fair criticism that Cuomo should have chased after Blumenthal about his war record the way he does about blah, blah, blah. He could have said that, but that's not what he said. He says it was never mentioned and it's just false.

CAMEROTA: Right. But that wasn't the angle of the segment.

Anyway, that's bottom line.

David Gregory, thank you very much.

GREGORY: See you.

CUOMO: I like when you criticize me for criticizing myself, by the way, I want you to know.


CUOMO: Senator Elizabeth Warren vowing not the stay silent in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' confirmation. Did silencing her backfire on the GOP? We're going to ask the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, former Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski is next.