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President Trump Held Meeting with Business Leaders This Morning; Sean Spicer's First Official White House Briefing; Investigation into Russian Efforts to Influence the U.S. Government. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired January 23, 2017 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it's going to be reversed. I think you are going to have a lot of companies coming back to our country. Companies that left are going to come back in our country. They are going to hire a lot of people. It's inconceivable to me that this was allowed to happen in the first place. And I'm not blaming President Obama for this. I'm blaming many, many years long beyond Obama. Believe me. This has been going on for decades. And it is a trend that we are going to stop cold. And we started today, which is --
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: That was a loud beep. Here is what you were just listening too. President Trump is sitting around the room. You saw his press secretary over his shoulder talking to union leaders, talking about jobs, talking about -- he mentioned that ridiculous trade deals.
David Chalian, I know I still have you on the other side of this. You know, you were just talking about TPP as an executive action he signed today -- let's go back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Renegotiate NAFTA?
TRUMP: At the appropriate time. OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President not a question, but just a statement.
BALDWIN: OK. Now we'll take it. David Chalian, I think I still have you with me?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You do.
BALDWIN: Let's talk - Let's talk about -- you were talking about TPP and how withdrawing the executive action that's what Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump all were at one on this and, you know, this notion of America first. Listen, the point he is making resonates with so many Americans?
CHALIAN: It does, Brooke. And we have seen through the expectations of the Trump presidency from the American people really are all in the economic bucket. And it is because of issues like this that they have high expectations that he is going to deliver on this economic components of what he campaigned on. That's sort of where the country expects him to deliver.
So that TPP was not -- I mean, listen, you and I both know we followed this progress through the hill. It was dead. It wasn't going anywhere. President Obama the sort of read the tea leaves and it never got pushed legislatively on the hill. But the symbolic and important removal of the United States from this partnership that it had sort of entered into is a significant first step for Donald Trump and a delivery on a campaign promise.
BALDWIN: What about, just quickly since I have you, you know, on the executive order reinstating the Mexico City policy on abortion?
CHALIAN: Yes. This is a policy that deals with NGOs, non- governmental organizations doing work in foreign countries. If they are doing anything to promote abortion services they will not get any U.S. funding. This is something that we have seen sort of Ping-Pong back and forth depending on whether Republicans are in control of the White House or Democrats.
George W. Bush had this rule in place. Barack Obama did away with it. Donald Trump is bringing it back. And then the other thing he did was put a total freeze on federal hiring. No federal employees are to be hired other than the military he said until they sort assess where their priorities are in terms of federal bureaucracy.
BALDWIN: Meeting with business leaders this morning. Just walked out of the meeting with union leaders. Meeting, day three of President Trump.
David Chalian, thank you very much.
CHALIAN: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, we do have more reaction from Sean Spicer's very first official White House briefing. We will talk live with President Bush's first press secretary, Ari Fleischer about Sean Spicer's performance.
Also ahead, breaking news involving an investigation over calls between a top Trump official and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Those details next.
[15:38:05] BALDWIN: We are back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
The new White House press secretary was just put to the test here in the first official press briefing of the Trump administration. Sean Spicer under fire for lamb basting reporters after they reported accurate crowd sizes at Donald Trump's inauguration. Spicer cited false details to back his claims at the event was the most watched inauguration event ever.
Then in his defense, top Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway says Spicer was using quote-unquote "using alternative facts." Today Sean Spicer addressed those issue when asked if it was his
intention to always tell the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. I believe that we have to honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss and we may not fully understand when we come out but our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In terms if the crowd size issue, why bring that up at the CIA? And why did you come out Saturday and you talked about that? Did he tell you Sean I'm upset about this? I want you to come --.
SPICER: No. I'm not going to get into conversations that I had with the president. But I will tell you that it's not just about a crowd size. It's about this constant, you know, he is not going to run. That if he runs he is going to drop out. Then if he runs he can't win. There is no way he can win Pennsylvania. There is no way he can win Michigan. Then if he won -- there is a constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Ari Fleisher is with me, served as the White House press secretary under President George W. Bush.
Ari, thank you so much for being with me. And because I can and it exists on tape, I just want to remind everyone, let's go back 16 years almost to the day to you, sir, in your first day at that briefing room podium of roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI FLEISHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So many of you. There must be something going on today.
[15:40:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the timing of the executive order. Is it coming today? Should we be on our toes and on alert for it sometime today?
FLEISHER: I think, Jean, you should always be on your toes on alert for things here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will we get it by email or do you want us to hang here.
FLEISHER: Do I want you all to hang here?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Does that bring back, you know, Herby Jebeles (ph) or is that the cool, calm, and collected Ari Fleisher that we know and love.
FLEISHER: Well, Brooke, I'm glad the TV is off here. I couldn't see that. I think I was younger then and had hair.
BALDWIN: Let's get to the issue at hand. The briefing, Sean Spicer, how did he do?
FLEISHER: He did excellent today. Look. Today happy days are here again in terms of relationship between the press secretary and the press corps. I'm all for combat. I'm all for the press secretary and the press occasionally, having issues where they disagree with each other. Saturday made me uncomfortable. I don't think it was helpful to anybody. Today is the way it should be. There were tense moments in there. There were handled well by both sides. And it is a normal briefing. That's the way it should be.
BALDWIN: You know, listen. I'm all for bucking tradition and calling on different people. But the fact that Sean chose "the New York Post" as the very first to get the very first question, care to comment on that?
FLEISHER: look. I'm much more of an establishment traditional person. That's who I am. That's who I work for. Donald Trump is not. And I don't think anybody should be surprised if Donald Trump and his staff come to town and make changes. They are entitled to do that. Nothing is (INAUDIBLE). It is not written in stone. And it was fine briefing. Sean did an excellent job. He also displayed substantial knowledge of policy which I think is going to help him enormously. And a job that has a heavy policy role to it.
BALDWIN: We will got to some of that because some news was definitely made by, you know. And a piece of conversation, Ari, Sean Spicer complained of the media constantly trying to undermine at one point in time, candidate Trump, now president Trump. Why does he have an argument when Trump and the team so often mislead and tell falsehoods?
FLEISHER: Well, I think you have to separate those two. If you mislead and you tell falsehoods you should be called on it. And the press calls him on it. But Sean is right. And Brooke, I was a press secretary starting in 1983 on Capitol Hill. And there is a bias. It's anti-Republican bias. And it was particularly pronounced against Donald Trump, as a personal bias against Donald Trump on top of him being a Republican.
Ad so, I don't mine one bit Sean and Donald Trump pushing back. They have to be smart about purring back. What they are saying about the Martin Luther King bust, absolutely valid. What they said about the inaugural size, crowd size, who cares, that a mistake. But I like the idea of a Republican president pushing back. And Donald Trump has a moxie that I haven't seen in anybody that I have ever worked for. And I think he is going to change the rules of Washington and that's what he was elected to do.
BALDWIN: That's why the American people want him in that position.
But from this, Ari, a strategy point of view when you look at the week, and you know, I was on TV and we were all watching what happen at the CIA, specifically, the speech, standing in front of stars, going off on the media, saying the media was wrong about some sort of rift between him and the intelligence community. I mean, just -- it was a bit of a rocky start. Do you think that there are power battles playing out behind the scenes? Or is this just a learning curve?
FLEISHER: Listen, I think Donald Trump is authentic. He is who he is. For better or for worse. And you are going to hear it. You are going to cover it. I would much rather have somebody who is authentic like that than some of these picture perfect politician who know how to pucker their lips, and know the exact right things to say and don't do anything. This is what I think Donald Trump is motivated by.
BALDWIN: What about at the CIA on the hallowed ground as a president on day one.
FLEISHER: Look. I think what people are missing here about what Trump did and said and tweeted in that is he was talking about whoever it was to leaked something that was part of the classified briefing. It make him look bad. Yes he had a right to be mad about that. I wouldn't have said Nazi Germany. But he did.
He wasn't saying everybody at the CIA is a Nazi Germany. I think he can say, in one hand, tremendous respect and love for the people who work. But whoever leaked this information and make me look bad that is a horrible thing for who are whoever did it. And he used the words he used. But he -- I think you have to make the distinction between the leaker in that instance and the rest of the CIA. I don't think that's a leap at all.
BALDWIN: What about the news that was made at the briefing, you know. Spicer didn't rule out joint military action with the U.S. and Russia in Syria.
BALDWIN: What's your response to that?
FLEISHER: I think unless the president of the United States rules in or rules out military action the president secretary should never rule in or rule out military action. That is a presidential matter. And the press secretary should never talk about troop movements or anything else militarily.
BALDWIN: He seemed open to it.
FLEISHER: Unless the president said so -- pardon me?
BALDWIN: He seemed open to it.
FLEISHER: Look. I think we have got to stop with these games where if you don't say something it means you are for it. It means you are not going to talk about it and that leaves - you have various options until the president opens or closes those options. That's what a press secretary should do.
[15:45:05] BALDWIN: Also on the issue of the U.S. embassy and Israel, right. So President Trump has said that he wants to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but Sean seemed to walk that back a bit as well?
FLEISHER: Well, I think here we have to just follow the leader. See what the president does and what the timing is. This is not a new issue. Presidents historically have won on saying it. And then they often talk about the process of doing as opposed to doing it. None of them have ever done it. I will be curious to see what President Obama does. Is he actually going to move it? And will he do it, you know, soon? Sounds like Donald Trump is more open to actually doing it than any of his predecessors.
BALDWIN: Any last advice, last question, to Sean Spicer. You stood on those shoes.
FLEISHER: Enjoy the job. Love the job. The only thing I would say about his briefing todays don't use the word I and we so much. Always use the word the president. It's not I think this treaty is this or that. The president thinks the treaty is this or that. Other than that Sean really nailed it. It was a strong briefing, a good briefing. And I think he is off to a good started after Saturday.
BALDWIN: Ari, thank you. Ari Fleisher. Always a pleasure. Your perspective.
We do have, and we mention Russia and U.S. let's move on. Because we have this reporting regarding the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the U.S. government and scrutiny of calls between a top Trump official and the Russian ambassador. This was addressed in the briefing.
Let's go to our justice correspondent Evan Perez, covering this breaking developments for us.
What more have we learned between those communications between these two?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we have learned that the U.S. investigators are scrutinizing late December calls between Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump's national security adviser and the Russian ambassador of the United States as part of a broader counter-intelligence investigation of Russian activities in the United States. This is according to law enforcement and intelligence officials that we have talked to.
The calls were captured by routine U.S. eavesdropping that was targeting the Russian diplomats according to the intelligence and law enforcement officials that we have talked to. But the official say that some of the content of the conversations drew enough potential concerns that investigators are still looking into discussions amid a broader concern about the Russian intelligence gathering activities here in the United States. And the officials also stressed, Brooke, that so far there has been no determination of wrongdoing.
BALDWIN: Why was the U.S. monitoring these calls?
PEREZ: Well the calls were heard in the course of monitoring of communications of Russian diplomats according to the officials we talked to. They -- the intelligence agencies routinely capture these communications of senior foreign officials including those based in the United States. And we know that the FBI and the intelligence agencies briefed members of Obama White House team before President Obama left office about these calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.
In a statement Sunday night the spokesman for the president said that the White House quote "has absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation." You heard Sean Spicer earlier during the briefing say that President Trump has no intention of out something down any investigations dealing with Russia.
BALDWIN: Evan, do we know anything about these calls, why they are getting this attention?
PEREZ: Well, among the communications that are bog scrutinized are calls between the Russian ambassador and Flynn on December 29th. That call came the same day as the U.S. was announcing sanctions against Russia and expanding a group of 35 Russian diplomats that the U.S. was accusing of spying. And we also heard from Sean in the last hour, Sean Spicer, that he said there were a couple of calls. And they were mostly setting up a possible call between president Putin and president Trump and, you know, pleasantries and holiday greeting as well as some discussions about cooperating on talking about ISIS, Brooke.
BALDWIN: All right. Evan, thank you.
BALDWIN: All right, coming up on CNN, hear President Trump tells business leaders he plans to keep his promise to impose a border tax if they decide to leave the U.S. What will that mean for U.S. companies and prices you pay here at home?
Also, two former White House ethics advisory join a lawsuit sued against the president claiming his foreign ties violate the U.S. constitution. Hear how the president responded to them today.
[15:50:50] BALDWIN: President Donald Trump gathering the CEOs of several U.S. companies and to their faces basically putting them on notice, move your operations overseas and you suffer the consequences back here at home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A company that wants to fire all of its people in the United States and build some factories someplace else and then thinks that that product is just going to flow across the border into the United States, that's not going to happen. They are going to have a tax to pay, a border tax. Substantial border tax. Now, some people would say that's not free trade, but we don't have free trade now. Because we are the only one that makes it easy to come into the country. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Shelby Holliday, "Wall Street Journal" business and politics reporter, and also with us, CNN contributor Larry Noble. He is also the general counsel at the government watchdog group campaign legal center and he is the former general counsel for the federal elections commission.
So, great to have both of you on.
And Shelby, let me just turn to you what we just heard about the border tax. Here Trump was sitting around the round table talking directly to the CEOs saying you try to do this, border tax. How that resonate with them?
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it was interesting because some of the CEOs came out and said we are just going to trust the Donald Trump won't do anything to threaten the competiveness of the United States. And the fact of the matter is that border tax really concerns a lot of business leaders and economists.
HOLLIDAY: For a number of reason. It is not just the threat of the border tax, itself, but also a great deal of uncertainty surrounding it. You have the who, what, when, where, why? For example, who decides what this border tax is? Trump used the word selective to describe it. And that mean the executive branch could have a great deal of influence deciding what products are taxed. That kind of ushers in a deal based capitalism, companies that curry favor with Trump get better deals, companies that aren't on his good side might not.
And then you also have questions about, you know, what products would be taxed. If Ford decides to make all of their cars in the United States but they use few car parts from China or Mexico, do those parts get taxed? Does the car get taxed?
You also have all these unintended consequences. What happens to prices? How do other countries retaliate or respond to this? And also would this accelerate automation in the U.S.? As companies try to onshore jobs and they don't want to pay expensive U.S. labor, would they just --
BALDWIN: Meaning robots.
HOLLIDAY: -- automatically jump do automation? And that would sort of defeat the purpose here.
BALDWIN: OK. So all kinds of questions still on this notion of a border tax.
Now let's move, though, to this lawsuit, Larry, and this is my question for you. So you have the citizens for responsibility and ethics in D.C., right. So, they filed the suit essentially the grounds, they are saying the president is violating, you know, the U.S. constitution, which says elected officials, you know, like the president can't take money and gifts from foreign governments, and that, you know, the fact that Trump is owning his business, continuing to get money then from those foreign groups. Do you think that lawsuit has legs?
LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do think the lawsuit has legs. The underlying allegation which is he is violating the emoluments clause I think is a very serious allegation. And I think there's strong evidence of that. That he has businesses that are doing business with foreign countries that are getting money from foreign countries and that would seem to violate the emoluments clause.
So I think the suit does have legs and it's an important issue. It's a really important issue because it goes to the credibility of the decisions he makes. It goes to concerns about whether or not he is going to be influenced by what a foreign country may want to do with one of his businesses, whether they are going to do more business with him, whether they are going to how - they are going to deal with loans with banks that are owned by foreign countries. So it's a really important issue.
BALDWIN: I realize that's a concern. But then Shelby, the White House in the meantime is saying, hang on a second, Mr. Trump has resigned from those businesses. There shouldn't be a problem.
HOLLIDAY: Well, the White House, that's the White House's line. And they have also said that the fact of the matter is, he can't divest himself from his businesses because his name is attached to all of these buildings. He is involved so deeply in all of this properties. It wouldn't make sense for him to sell these assets. He would be criticized, anyway, for perhaps telling them for many money to somebody who might want to try to curry favor with him.
But the fact of the matter is Donald Trump is not selling his ownership stakes. He is handing off control to his sons and he will still get reports on his businesses. Maybe not as detailed as he used to. But he is not necessarily separating himself from his business.
[15:55:02] BALDWIN: How do we get, then, Larry, proof of that? How could Donald Trump say here, see, I'm not getting money. I resigned from my businesses. That's the line from the White House. And might that entail tax returns?
NOBLE: Well, yes, it might -- very well would entail tax returns. We don't know, actually, the extent that his businesses are involved with foreign countries. We don't know how much he's getting because he hasn't been very transparent about this. So the first thing we need is really transparency. Beyond that, we also need to know the specifics of what he's doing. Obviously the -- what he should be doing is divesting himself of business, putting money in a blind trust and having it reinvested. He said he is not going to do that. But he keeps making statements about how he is going to turn everything over to his sons --
BALDWIN: Adult children. NOBLE: How he's going to separate himself. But we don't see the
details of it. We don't really see how that's going to be done. And he also -- is he not going to have communications with his sons about these businesses? Do we believe that? So I think there are a lot of issues that he still has to answer and we can't be satisfied with just a statement, trust me, I'm going to separate myself from the businesses.
BALDWIN: You want the proof. You want the proof.
Larry Noble, Shelby Holliday, thank you, both.
Coming up, will Rex Tillerson be approved as Donald Trump's next secretary of state? A key vote is just moments away.
[15:58:57] BALDWIN: The Oscars are still a month away. But one of the darlings of the Hollywood crowd is happening right now in Park City, Utah, the Sundance film festival.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is there and talked to one of the stars of the acclaimed Indi film "Marjorie Prime."
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, "Marjorie Prime" is a movie about how artificial intelligence helps a woman in her senior years remember key moments from her life. And I just sat down and spoke with Louis Smith, Gina Davis and Jon Hamm about their film. And we talked a little bit about how technology impacts our life. This is what Jon Hamm had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON HAMM, ACTOR, MARJORIE PRIME: I think that 100 percent of our technology in our lives and the generations to follow, it's all meant to make our lives easier. It's all meant to make our lives better. It's all meant to be progressive and yet the actual use of it is often regressive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: And "Marjorie Prime" premieres tonight at the Sundance Film Festival, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Have fun, Stephanie. Thank you.
And thank you so much for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York. Let's send it down to Washington.
Jake Tapper in "THE LEAD" start now.