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Trump Focuses on Agenda after Combative Start; Ethics Lawyers to Sue Trump Over Foreign Payments; Senate to Vote on Secretary of State & CIA Nominees Today; 19 Dead in Tornado Outbreak in the South. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CUOMO: ... viewers. NEW DAY continues. Let's get after it right now.


[07:00:05] REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There is an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were nobody standing there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spicer went on to say Trump's swearing in was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. That is not true.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Sean Spicer gave alternative facts to that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be damned if I'm going backwards.

TRUMP: You have somebody coming on who is extraordinary.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This cabinet is very troubling.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: People are watching us. Don't be weak when it comes to Russia.

CONWAY: President Trump and his family are following all the ethical rules. He's not going to release his tax returns.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

After a combative first weekend in office, Donald Trump says he's ready to get work -- to work on his vision for America. Top advisors have been clashing with the media over the size of his inauguration crowd and the use of this wacky phrase "alternative facts" by the White House.

CAMEROTA: One top Trump advisor is stirring up a hornets' nest for claiming the president will never release his tax returns. This as the president gets hit with his first lawsuit as commander in chief, claiming his business conflicts violate the Constitution. We have it all covered, so let's begin with Athena Jones, live at the White House. What's the latest, Athena?


Well, the president has a jam-packed first Monday in office, starting with a breakfast and listening session with business leaders. He will later meet with union leaders and workers in the afternoon; and tonight he hosts congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle here at the White House. This after a busy and sometimes rocky first weekend.


JONES (voice-over): President Donald Trump has a lot on his plate this week: from getting his cabinet nominees confirmed to signing a series of new executive orders.

The president also prepping for his first meeting with a world leader at the White House, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, after setting up meetings with Mexico's president, Canada's prime minister and Israel's prime minister.

PRIEBUS: I've never seen anyone work harder and have more energy than -- than this president.

JONES: But the president and his senior staff distracting from his ambitious agenda by fixating on the size of his inauguration crowd. Side by side comparisons to former President Obama's inauguration in 2009 upsetting the new administration. In his signature campaign style, the president blasting the media.

TRUMP: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.

JONES: Former CIA director John Brennan and congressional Democrats criticizing the president over his visit to the spy agency's headquarters Saturday. At issue, his political comments, made while standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall honoring those killed in the line of service.

TRUMP: I made a speech. The field was -- it looked like a million, a million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.

JONES: Continuing the fight, Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, grossly exaggerating the inauguration crowds in a combative statement to the press.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

JONES: His claim, totally false.

CHUCK TODD, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS: Answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood.

JONES: The president's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, defending Spicer's fabrication.

CONWAY: Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What -- you're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point...

TODD: Wait. Alternative facts?

JONES: Conway also saying Trump will never release his tax returns.

CONWAY: He's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care.

JONES: Late Sunday walking back her comment, asserting the president is still under audit and has been advised not to release his taxes, but she still did not clarify whether they will ever be released.

This as a prominent liberal ethics group says they're going to sue the president. The conflict of interest lawsuit alleges Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution by receiving illegal payments from foreign governments.


JONES: Now President Trump also addressed the massive protests across the country on Saturday, but he sent mixed messages. This is on Twitter. He first tweeted, "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election. Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly."

Then an hour later, saying, "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the right of people to express their views."

And of course, we'll be watching to see what more he tweets today -- Alisyn, Chris.

[07:05:01] CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in the panel. CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish; and CNN political analyst and author of "How's Your Faith?", David Gregory.

So Jackie, we see what happens here. Kellyanne, we all know her. We know that she knows that there are facts and then everything else. But they were in spin mode, because Spicer came out and went strong and wrong. What is the message to the media? JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Really, this is a different

-- this is a different animal than I think we've ever had to deal with. Basically, we cannot cover this administration like we've covered other administrations, because on opening day, they showed a willingness just to blatantly tell us something that isn't true.

Now, if you've been around something long enough, someone will tell you something that is not true. But this was patently false. And -- and just a willingness to not really have a whole lot of judgment, you know, and just follow what -- and really, hold to Trump's lesser nature. The kind of thin-skinned person that we saw during the campaign. It's going to be an interesting four years if it continues.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, Seann Spicer, the new press secretary, will have his next press availability six hours from now. The regularly scheduled one at the White House. What's going to happen? Where do we go from here?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know. You know, there's been some arguments that maybe the press corps shouldn't show up if his credibility has been undermined this way. I suspect they will. And in fact, this will be a big showdown between the press secretary and the White House press corps and the wider media for no reason whatsoever.

The president has set up a situation where there is this showdown over his press secretary's credibility; his, the president's credibility. And what they're not talking about is the president's agenda. That's what matters.

"The Wall Street Journal" calling the president's performance in the CIA, where he talked about the war on the press is unpresidential. And the president is saying that not only does he have this war with the media but that the media is going to pay a tremendous price. What does that mean?

President Trump needs to leave the country and focus on problems and not sweat the small stuff. And the fact that he's obsessed with issues that are so small, like how many people showed up to the inauguration, I think is going to be troubling to his supporters and to the public at large.

CUOMO: Keep hearing he's got to learn to be the biggest man in the room, because he is the biggest man in the room now.

Michael, are we making too much of what happened at Langley? Are we caught up with the imagery of him standing in front of that memorial wall, and each of those stars meaning someone who gave their lives in services, and he's complaining about the biggest enemy being the media and talking about the size of his crowd?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think that we are, as long as we realize that we're in our own silo here and, in some segments of the country, I think that the speech that he delivered played very, very well. I couldn't help but flip the dial during the course of Saturday while

the march was taking place, one day after the inauguration. Of course, I was fixated on the crowds that CNN was showing. And yet, Chris, when I went over FOX News, I couldn't find the story.

So, you know, Donald Trump is playing to the 46 percent responsible for his election, not the 73 million who voted for someone else. And I'm sure the combativeness against the media suits those folks just fine. Don't overlook that.

CUOMO: I think Michael's right, and I think it's worth pointing out something that I think is important, which is one, the press can't keep taking the bait on this stuff. We've got to focus on accountability and vigilance and, yes, I mean, hold the White House press secretary accountable. As a former White House correspondent, I believe that every day of the week.

But at the same time, we have to recognize what Smerconish is alluding to. I think the divisions in this country are social more than they are political. That's what Donald Trump is tapping into, and that's what the campaign is about. And that's really something to be very cautious about as we move forward.

CAMEROTA: So Jackie, let's start focusing on accountability right now. There's a lawsuit that is filed today by a group of former White House attorneys, ethics lawyers who say that, at the moment that Mr. Trump took the oath of office, he began violating the Constitution, because his businesses do accept money from foreign governments and foreign interests.

KUCINICH: Now, what the Trump administration will say is that money is going, donating that money to the U.S. Treasury. That said, we have talked about this, I think, as long as Donald Trump has decided not to release his tax return. This is going to continue to haunt him throughout his presidency, because there is this unknown. There is this question mark.

And yes, he technically transferred that over to his sons. That said again...

CAMEROTA: He didn't divest.

KUCINICH: Exactly. He didn't divest.

And so that is the "what if" is going to be out there. You know, until we know what -- what he has and what he doesn't.

[07:10:07] CUOMO: It's also, look, I'm a lawyer. It's interesting to me, because this has never been tested and litigated. It will be interesting to see what a payment is versus what's fair trade. You know, "my room for your money." So -- but nobody cares about that.

This is to David Gregory's point. Michael Smerconish, is this something where the 46 percent are just fine with it, because they know he's a big businessman or is a core and uniting principle among Americans. We don't want to be cheated. We want things on the up and up. We want to see his taxes, even if I'm going to vote for him anyway.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me first say, like you, I reach for my copy of Black's Law Dictionary for the first time in several years, and I am not convinced that this is an emolument like the Founding Fathers had in mind.

CUOMO: It's a legit question.

SMERCONISH: Emolument, as it's defined, seems to be fee for a service tied to your capacity in office. Not a hotel bill or some of the others.

But I think here's something to keep an eye on. I don't know whether the lawsuit moves forward. I don't know whether the litigants will have standing. I don't know whether they've suffered an injury. But entirely possible is that this litigation could force him to release his tax return, because if they get through an initial hurdle or two, I think they can fairly argue that, to understand his tentacles and the emoluments reach here, they need to see where he's deriving income.

CAMEROTA: Really? David Gregory, do you agree that there is somebody that could force President Trump to release his tax returns? Since we heard this weekend that is not in the plan.

GREGORY: I would not counter Justice Smerconish there. I don't know, but I actually think it's really -- it's an incisive point, because we could be in a situation where some lawsuit forces his hand to release part or all of those tax returns.

I think this issue of the tax returns is something that the media has got to keep a lot. We have got to fight for more transparency, understand a huge businessman's ties financially around the world. It is relevant. He is the country's president. And the fact that we still don't know keeps the public in the dark. You know what? People can say, "Oh, we knew about that. We don't care." They care when they care, if there's a reason to care; and that's why information is important.

CUOMO: We have never seen a measurement of whether or not people want him to release his taxes that did not show convincingly people want the transparency.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. Great to talk to all of you.

President Trump begins his first week in office with only two cabinet secretaries. The president is hoping that will change today, but the Senate votes on the confirmation of secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson and CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill. What have you learned, Sunlen?


It's very likely that President Trump, by the end of the day today will see his third cabinet nominee confirmed here on the Senate. The Senate is -- will have six hours of debate, and then will hold a vote on Mike Pompeo to be CIA director. And it's expected that he will pass later tonight.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is focusing on Rex Tillerson, the controversial nominee for secretary of state. Still TBD, undecided at this point, is key Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He has not said how he will vote, yes or no, on Rex Tillerson; but regardless of how that committee votes, regardless of how Senator Rubio votes, leaders have indicated that they will bring Tillerson before a vote in front of the full Senate.

And that's very important, because we just heard some support by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator John McCain. Both of them were skeptical of Rex Tillerson. They are now saying that they will, indeed, vote for him before the full Senate, so this paves the way for him likely to be approved, eventually -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much.

We want to talk to you about these tornadoes that are going on right now. They're just carving a path of destruction in the south. Nineteen people have lost their lives in just 48 hours. Fifteen of them in Georgia.

CNN's Polo Sandoval in live in hard-hit Adele, Georgia, with more. What's the situation there and what is coming?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, seven of those 15 deaths, according to officials, have been in the neighborhood that you may be able to make out behind me. The Sunshine Acres mobile home park which is still closed off, still sealed off as those recovery efforts continue. They were hampered by yesterday's -- some severe weather, but today they are expected to resume.

Let's take you behind this police line with some of the daytime photos that give you a better picture of the damage and the devastation that was left behind here. People, again, losing more than just their property, with well over half a dozen deaths reported here in southern Georgia alone. We're also hearing these remarkable stories of survival.

I spoke to a young, 24-year-old father and husband who grabbed his wife and toddler and then basically rode out the storm in the bathtub yesterday in this neighborhood as the storm swept through. Certainly, after that happened he then went outside and joined in some of the rescue efforts. Several people pulled from the rubble.

[07:15:09] Today he will return back to the neighborhood, hoping that he'll finally be able to make his way in there to find out what, if anything, was left behind. There's obviously some frustration there that after 24 hours as the storm went through, the survivors still can't get back into the neighborhood. Of course, the concern is that, when they start going through the rubble, Alisyn, they could perhaps find more than just their belongings.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Polo. Please keep us posted on all of that.

Meanwhile, United Airlines is back up and running after a computer glitch grounded nearly all their domestic flights on Sunday night. Sources tell CNN the problem centered on the communication system that transmits information from the plane. This only affected planes that had not yet departed. United says planes that were in the air were in no danger. The airline is waiving fees for flights rescheduled between now and Wednesday.

CUOMO: All right. A good Samaritan killed in an armed robbery at a San Antonio shopping mall. Police say two people tried to rob a jewelry store Sunday. The victim tried to intervene and was fatally shot. Another customer inside the store had a gun and shot one of the robbers. The other suspect fled, shooting six people as he ran through the mall. He was later arrested. The wounded suspect was not.

CAMEROTA: A quick-thinking police officer in Spokane, Washington, doing whatever it takes to pull a woman from her burning car over the weekend. You can check out this dramatic video. Officer Tim Schwering smashing his baton into the driver's side window. But when he could not force open the lock, well, he had to remove the entire window. And with a neighbor's help, he completed the rescue. We are happy to say that the woman is getting out here. The officer and even the neighbor are OK after being treated for minor injuries.

CUOMO: Again, I love these examples. One, because everybody turned out OK, but two, the car is on fire. Everything in your human instinct base is saying go away. Run away. This man stands there, because there's a woman who needs help, and that is who he is.

CAMEROTA: They do God's work, and we are happy to show it to you whenever we can.

All right. Up next, debate and confirm. Critical approvals expected today for two of President Trump's top cabinet picks, Mike Pompeo and Rex Tillerson. So we will talk to a Democratic senator about whether he s on board, next.


[07:21:30] CAMEROTA: Two of President Trump's cabinet picks sworn in already, but Democrats are using Senate procedural rules to force debate on some of the nominees. Both on the president's nominees for secretary of state and CIA director are expected this afternoon.

Let's discuss it with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. He's a member of the all-important Foreign Relations Committee.

Good morning, senator.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: It's good to be with you, thank you. CAMEROTA: How will you be voting on secretary of state nominee Rex


CARDIN: I will not be supporting his confirmation for secretary of state. During the confirmation hearings, he raised, to me, many questions as to whether his business interests would compromise his ability to speak out for U.S. leadership on human rights and good governance. And particularly as it relates to Russia, he was very indefinite about additional sanctions against Russia for their activities against the United States.

CAMEROTA: So you will not be voting to support him as secretary of state. Do you have a sense of whether or not your other colleagues will be?

CARDIN: Well, each senator has to make their own judgment. Many have already announced their position. So we'll find out this afternoon when the committee is scheduled to take a vote. But each member has to make their own judgments. I've come to my conclusions.

I think many members are troubled by the fact that Mr. Tillerson refused to comment as to whether Russia's activities should be considered war crimes, what they've done in Aleppo, or what happened with extrajudicial killings in the Philippines was a gross violation of human rights. I think his lack of clarity on those points are troubling many members of our committee.

CAMEROTA: Have you talked to any of your Democratic colleagues who planned to not vote for him?

CARDIN: Several of my colleagues have already announced their position about not supporting him. And some have announced that they're going to be supporting him on the Republican side. But it will be up to each senator to make their own judgment.

CAMEROTA: So that was the deal breaker for you, that you felt that he was, what, too cozy with Russia, not strong enough?

CARDIN: I thought that his business background and the way that he responded to questions, that he would allow the business interests to have too much influence on whether we need to lead -- America needs to lead on human rights, good governance, our basic core values. I was concerned that he would compromise that for other issues.

And secretary of state, he has to be the principle leader for American values globally.

There are other issues. As I said, Russia, we are concerned about maintaining sanctions and strengthening sanctions against Russia. One last point that had me concerned several times, when we talked about events going around the world, including for example, the South China Sea, he talked more about a military response than using diplomacy. And a military response should always be the last option. I was concerned as to whether he understood the importance to the administration for him to advocate for diplomacy, or will use force.

CAMEROTA: Senator, how about Congressman Mike Pompeo, CIA director? How will you vote on him?

CARDIN: I'll be listening to the debate this afternoon. I am troubled by many previous statements about collecting information about -- individual information about Americans, the -- the what we call bulk data issues have me concerned about invading the privacy of Americans. I'm concerned about some of his other positions that he's taken previously. so I'm going to listen to debate this afternoon, and obviously, we'll be voting this evening.

[07:25:03] CAMEROTA: Senator, there's also today a lawsuit being filed by a group of former White House attorneys. They were ethics lawyers, are ethics lawyers. And they are filing a lawsuit against Donald Trump, because they believe that, at the moment that he took the oath of office, he began violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign countries to some of his businesses. What do you think is going to happen there?

CARDIN: Well, I've been cautioning about this. I think that Mr. Trump should have followed the precedent of every other former president and either divest of his potential conflicts or set up a blind trust. He didn't do that.

So there is a question, because he has so many foreign interests, as to whether he's getting favors or that countries are trying to give favors to his business enterprises in order to curry favor with the Trump administration. You've already seen some statements made from foreign leaders about using the Trump hotel.

So I think that is very troublesome; and the Constitution is pretty clear that you cannot accept any gifts from foreign governments. So yes, I do think he's putting himself and our country at risk by the way that he is managing his personal wealth.

CAMEROTA: I know that you introduced, in fact, legislation or a bill, at least, about this. So what's going to happen in terms of how this will be handled in Congress or legally?

CARDIN: I think it's too early to tell. We still are hopeful that Mr. Trump will recognize the vulnerability here and take additional steps to divest or set up a blind trust. We'll see how this plays out.

I just saw that he's not going to release his tax returns. To me, that's outrageous. You expect transparency from the president of the United States. We need to understand this.

So to a large extent, we don't know whether he is accepting gifts or not. It's possible to believe that, by allowing his children to run his business, that it's truly independent from their father. So it raises serious conflict issues. Real conflicts, the appearance of conflicts. And the president of the United States needs to put our country first and needs to divest or set up a blind trust. Anything short of that, there are going to be these questions raised, and he could very well be violating the Constitution.

CAMEROTA: Senator Ben Cardin, thank you for breaking the news of your vote here on NEW DAY. Nice to talk to you this morning.

Let's get to Chris.

CARDIN: Thank you.

CUOMO: President Trump definitely taking heat over his political speech at the CIA headquarters. Critics calling it a, quote, "display of self-aggrandizement." How will the president improve his rocky relationship with the intel community? That's next.