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Trump Actions Turn Campaign Rhetoric Into Reality; Senate Panel Voting on Secretary of State Nominee; Rep. Collins Defends Tom Price's Investment. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 23, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Executive action. President Trump orders the U.S. to withdraw from a major trade deal, freezes federal hiring and warns business leaders they'll pay a price if they move Manufacturing out of the United States.
International shift. The White House walks back Donald Trump's pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying no decisions have been made. And it doesn't rule out joint action with Russia against ISIS.
Nomination fight. The grillings continue, but the president is closer to getting his national security team confirmed. We're awaiting a Senate vote on the pick to head the CIA. And Marco Rubio and other Republicans roll over. They're dropping their opposition to the secretary of state nominee.
And alternative facts. After a bruising weekend lecture to the news media focused on the size of the inaugural crowd and full of misstatements, the White House press secretary holds his first briefing, vows not to lie and answers dozens of questions from reporters.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump gets down to work on his agenda, turning campaign rhetoric into reality. With the stroke of the pen, he pulls the United States out of the Transpacific Partnership, a trade deal inherited from the Obama administration, but never endorsed by Congress.
Other executive actions freeze federal hiring and pay raises, and bar U.S. funding for foreign organizations promoting abortion. At a business meeting with leaders from the business community, the president vowed to cut regulations by 75 percent but warned they'll face a major border tax for moving Manufacturing out of the United States. And the White House says that before taking office, Trump gave up his
own management role, as a document shows him resigning from, quote, "each and every office and position he held in more than 400 business entities."
After a rocky weekend, with sharp exchanges over the size of the inaugural crowd and misstatements the White House called "alternative facts," the first press briefing gets off on an even keel, with press secretary Sean Spicer taking questions from reporters and providing answers of substance, including -- this is just in -- that the U.S. will not be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at least not so any time soon.
And the Senate moves closer to confirming two Trump nominees: CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo, and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who's been picked to become the next secretary of state. Key Republicans have now dropped their opposition to that pick.
I'll speak with Republican Congressman Chris Collins. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with the first full working day at the White House. Our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, was at that news conference.
Jim, the president also made it clear today he's taking charge.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump tried to get back on message after a messy weekend that was focused on the size of his crowd on inauguration day. But even as the president turns to issues like taxes and trade, there are still plenty of distractions all around him.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Great thing for the American worker, what we just did.
ACOSTA: Sitting in the Oval Office, President Trump set his ambitious agenda into motion, signing executive orders on some of his key campaign promises withdrawing the U.S. from former President Obama's Transpacific trade deal, banning taxpayer money from promoting abortions overseas and freezing the hiring of federal workers with one caveat.
TRUMP: Except for the military.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Except for the military.
TRUMP: Except for the military.
ACOSTA: Meeting with U.S. business leaders, the president warned American companies will pay a new price if they ship jobs overseas.
TRUMP: They're going to have a tax to pay, a border tax, substantial border tax. Somebody say, "Trump is going to tax." I'm not going to tax. There is no tax. None whatsoever. And I just want to tell you, all you have to do is stay. Don't leave, don't fire your people in the United States.
ACOSTA: In return, Mr. Trump offered a carrot.
TRUMP: We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more.
ACOSTA: For the White House, this was a day to get back on the rails.
TRUMP: They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.
ACOSTA: After President Trump attacked the media over reports on the size of the crowd at his inauguration, an assault on the press that White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to back up with a number of falsehoods.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.
ACOSTA: An attempt at spin that backfired badly.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.
ACOSTA: At today's White House briefing, Spicer insisted he and the president were merely trying to correct an unfair media narrative.
[17:05:05] (on camera): Isn't that just part of the conversation that happens in Washington?
SPICER: No, it's not. I think...
ACOSTA: It comes with being president of the United States and working at the White House?
SPICER: No, no. Look, I've been doing this a long time. You've been doing this, too. I've never seen it like this. It's a little demoralizing. Because when you're sitting there and you're looking out, and you're in awe of just how awesome that view is and how many people are there. And you go back and you turn on the television, and you see shots of comparing this and that, and it's frustrating for not just him, but I think so many of us that are trying to work to get this message out.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Spicer did tackle matters of substance indicating the White House will not get in the way of any investigation into Russian hacking in the election.
And he appeared to tamp down expectations that the U.S. would immediately move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. White House officials are trying to put one other distraction behind them, saying Mr. Trump has resigned from his businesses, adding, "The transfer of assets and management was completed prior to or on January 20." One government watchdog, known as CREW (ph), says that's not good
enough, arguing in a lawsuit against the president that he is violating the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution that outlaws receiving payments from foreign governments, a lawsuit the new president dismissed in the Oval Office.
TRUMP: Without merit. Totally without merit.
ACOSTA: Now the White House is also extending an olive branch on immigration, trying to reassure the younger undocumented people in the U.S., the so-called DREAMers, that they are not the priority for deportations. Sean Spicer says the administration's policy will focus on criminals who are in the U.S. illegally, Wolf.
And I think one other very important thing happened at that briefing today when Sean Spicer said it was not his intention ever to lie to us. That is all we ask -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
The Senate, meanwhile, is moving closer and closer to confirming two of President Trump's key nominees this evening.
Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. He's up on the Hill. Manu, what's happening now?
MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is actually voting on Rex Tillerson's nomination to be secretary of state.
And we're expecting this vote to conclude any moment. We're expecting Mr. Tillerson to get approved by this committee, sending it to the full Senate floor, probably as early as next week for confirmation for Mr. Tillerson.
This coming after Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator, announcing today that he would support Mr. Tillerson's nomination. This despite raising significant concerns last -- over the last couple of weeks over Russia, over Mr. Tillerson's responses to his questions about whether or not Vladimir Putin, for instance, is a war criminal and Mr. Tillerson dodging that question in this confirmation proceeding.
But they've had private discussions between Tillerson and Rubio and White House officials, including Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, and Vice President Mike Pence. And alleviating some of those concerns, Marco Rubio announcing today that he would support -- to support Tillerson,, saying the president deserves some deference in his choices, so he's going to make that official.
Just momentarily before the full Senate votes and then tonight, Wolf, also, the CIA director nominee, Mike Pompeo, expected to be confirmed overwhelmingly. But Trump's national security team is starting to come together, but still a lot of other nominees are still waiting to be confirmed because of concerns from Democrats, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to come back to you shortly as soon as that vote occurs in the committee. Thanks very much, Manu, for that report.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. He served as congressional liaison for the Trump transition team.
Thanks so much, Congressman.
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.
Let's talk about the Transpacific Partnership.
BLITZER: You're a business guy. It's over with now, as far as the Trump administration is concerned. He signed that, saying no more TPP.
BLITZER: Here's the question. How's that going to make it easier to sell -- to get exports from the United States, for example, into Japan? A lot of companies want to sell stuff in Japan. It's a huge market. But with the TPP now history, it's going to be more difficult to export U.S. products to Japan. Those exports create jobs here in the United States.
COLLINS: Well, I have to disclose, with full disclosure, I led the fight against TPP in the Republican conference, so I've been opposed to it from the beginning, because no deal is better than a bad deal. This deal did not deal with intellectual property, currency manipulation, human rights and the environment. It was just a bad deal all around.
And it was not going to help our exporters. It was going to help the foreign countries get more products, steal more of our jobs. I think it was time to do what President Trump's now done.
BLITZER: Because they -- the argument, with the U.S. out of that Transpacific Partnership now, it's only going to get help China, this global economic power. They're going to move in where the U.S. has moved out, and it's going to -- it's going to help China.
COLLINS: Here's what I would point out to everyone. Maybe they're missing this.
China's economy depends on the U.S. consumer. If their factories respect aren't producing goods that are in our Wal-Mart stores and throughout our country, and we're 25 percent of the world's economy, they don't have an economy in China.
BLITZER: But leaving the TPP doesn't stop China from exporting all that kind of -- those kinds of goods to the United States. We're still going to be importing, from China, a ton of stuff.
[17:0:07] COLLINS: Sure. But the kind of things that China is selling around the world are not the kinds of things we make here when it comes to weapons systems, jet airplanes and the like. So it's consumer products that the Chinese economy depends on. They can depend on the U.S. consumer. They've been cheating for too long. And that's where Donald Trump as president can step in, protect, you know, the U.S. economy, get us going, because those jobs have been stolen. So...
BLITZER: And very quickly on trade, you want to end NAFTA?
COLLINS: I'd like to renegotiate NAFTA. Here's what I would point out, as well. Our relationship with Canada has nothing to do with our relationship with Mexico. They should not be mixed together.
Canadians pay the same wages. They treat their workers with respect. They respect the environment. And so when the auto going across the northern border, we should have a relationship, bilateral relationship with Canada.
Then let's go talk about our relationship with Mexico. Mexico and Canada have nothing similar when it comes to how...
BLITZER: So you don't want a NAFTA. You want a separate trade deal with Canada, which happens to be the largest trading partner that the United States has. And something very different with Mexico. Is that what you're saying?
COLLINS: That's my opinion. Not speaking for the administration.
BLITZER: What is the administration's position, as far as you know? Many I don't believe we've heard exactly what that is yet.
They say they want to renegotiate NAFTA. But I haven't heard them spell out all the details
If we do, the nuances with Mexico are totally different than the nuance with Canada.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about DACA, this program that the Obama administration had to protect the kids, the children who were brought here illegally by their parents. Most of them have grown up here in the United States. Many of them, they're in high school and college right now. It looks like the Trump administration is now saying, you know what, those kids, that's not a priority, criminals, the bad guys, that's a priority. You know, the -- they're not saying the DACA kids can stay, but they're suggesting that they're not going to focus in on that.
COLLINS: He's been saying that for months. I don't know it's been covered the way it should have been. We are a compassionate, generous country, certainly President Trump is, as well, individually. I don't think any of us -- I know I'm not, looking to deport somebody that came here as a 3-year-old and they're now grown. The DACA kids as we say. BLITZER: What about their parents? Should they be deported? If
their parents have been here 20 years, undocumented. So... but the kids have grown up here, you don't want to separate these kids from their moms and dads?
COLLINS: No, I don't. But let's also remember what President Trump said. He's said he's going to get rid of the criminal element, supported by all of us. He's going to secure the border. We all support that.
And then he said again and again, once the border is secure, once the criminal element is gone, we will then, deal with those who are currently abiding by our laws. They've been here, they're family folks. We will deal with them on a compassionate basis. Many of those are the dairy farm workers up in western New York I know well and I'm confident we will as a Republican party and President Trump as well will deal with that in a compassionate basis.
BLITZER: And let them stay here in the United States, find a pathway to legal status?
COLLINS: Legal work status.
BLITZER: For the kids and their parents?
COLLINS: But not citizenship.
BLITZER: Eventually after a number of years, presumably, they would be eligible to apply for citizenship.
COLLINS: No, that could be very clear. If they came here illegally, and they have legal work papers, there's no reason they would ever have citizenship.
And speaking with them, because they're throughout my district in western New York, they're not looking for citizenship. They want legal work papers. They can go back and visit their families and come and go. What they're after and that would be a victory for them.
BLITZER: But I suspect a lot of those people would like eventually to become U.S. citizens. These kids have grown up here in the United States. Most of them have never been, you know, whether IN Central American or South America.
BLITZER: They've grow up here. They would like to be full U.S. citizen
COLLINS: The discussion on the kids is different than the parents. I'm open to that personally, yes
BLITZER: Letting the parents, no. But letting the parents stay?
COLLIN: Legal work papers, legal work status. BLITZER: What did you think of -- a different subject, of the
president's speech at the CIA, at that hallowed ground, the memorial wall, on Saturday?
COLLINS: I actually liked his speech. I watched that speech. I think it was very telling. His first major speech was at the CIA, where the press was trying to drive a wedge between President Trump and the intelligence community. He was there. He...
BLITZER: The press -- the press wasn't trying to drive a wedge. It was the president, then the president-elect, who, himself, was smearing the intelligence community. You heard him, for example, on two occasions say that what the intelligence community was doing was similar to what Nazi Germany was doing. The press didn't say that. The press didn't make the comparison to Nazi Germany. It was Donald Trump who twice made the comparison to the U.S. intelligence community and Nazi Germany.
COLLINS: So let's call this a reset then. A reset that was so important that he said he is standing with the intelligence community. They're going to work together to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. He praised all the men and women that were in that room. He certainly had Mike Pompeo was there, General Flynn was there. But...
BLITZER: Shouldn't he -- shouldn't he have said to the men and women in the U.S. intelligence community, so many of whom risked their lives to protect all of us, they really go out -- shouldn't he have said to them, "You know what? I made a mistake. I should have never compared what you're doing to Nazi Germany? I'm sorry. Please forgive me"? Wouldn't that have been, at that hallowed ground, an important statement to make to the men and women, the thousands of them, who risk their lives to help all of us?
COLLINS: I think his message was clear, Wolf. He said, "I respect you. You serve this country. We're going to defeat radical Islamic terrorism together. I understand the sacrifices you are making. I respect you, and you're going to have a great leader."
BLITZER: He said -- he said that, but I think maybe he should have gone a little bit further and apologized for that statement.
By the way, there was a lot of other stuff he was talking about at that -- in the lobby over there. And you don't -- I don't know if you've been there, but I've been there at the CIA headquarters. That had nothing to do with the CIA. He was talking about, you know, how big the crowds were. He was talking about his uncle at M.I.T., how smart he was, all that kind of stuff. He seemed to be rambling at times. Whereas it could have been a very focused thank you to the CIA, the men and women of the U.S. intelligence community.
COLLINS: I think it was a focused thank you, but he does digress. That's part of his charm, if you will, that he does, you know, go down some other tangential paths; and makes him who he is, President Trump. And he did some of that.
But I think there wasn't a single CIA agent or employee that didn't walk away from that saying, "I feel good about President Trump and his feeling toward me. We're going to work together. We can't wait to get Mike Pompeo," which hopefully is today confirmed. I think they came away with a very positive feeling.
BLITZER: Well, there were about 300 people there, but there's been a lot of negative reaction. But we'll leave it on that point. I want you to stay with us.
BLITZER: We have more to discuss. We'll take a quick break. There's more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We'll be right back.
[17:21:21] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump is starting to make good on campaign promises with a series of executive actions today, including pulling out of the transpacific trade deal and freezing the hiring of federal workers.
We're back with Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York.
Congressman, as you know, your name came up during the confirmation hearings.
BLITZER: Congressman Tom Price, friend of yours, colleague, nominated to become secretary of Health and Human Services. He was facing some serious questions, ethics questions, after acting on a stock tip from you. This is what all came up in the hearing. Did you encourage him to buy stock in this company called Innate Immunotherapeutics?
COLLINS: No, absolutely not. There was nothing done that was insider trading or unethical. I've been involved with Innate Immunotherapeutics in New Zealand and Australia for almost 15 years. I'm the largest shareholder, and I talk it all the time, just like you would talk about your children.
We're bringing to market at some point the only drug that could treat secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, the most debilitating disease there is, with no treatment today. It's probably what I am most proud of. I talk about it at breakfast, lunch and dinner like I do my kids and my wife. And so certainly, many folks, I've talked about it.
He was one of the few who then went and -- because it's a public company in Australia -- researched it, liked what he saw, and decided on his own to make an investment.
BLITZER: Did he buy the stock at the regular -- what was available to everybody?
COLLINS: That's correct.
BLITZER: Or did he get special access discount? That was the allegation that you heard during the committee hearing.
COLLINS: Right. Sure. Because the stock was offered to every shareholder at a 10 percent discount of the average closing price for the prior 30 days. That's what you do with a major fund-raising round. It was made to every shareholder in Australia and New Zealand. Six hundred out of 850 took place, too advantage of that.
BLITZER: Was he a shareholder eligible for that kind of 10 percent discount?
COLLINS: We also did a private placement, because we're not in the SEC in the U.S. We did a private placement that was open to current U.S. shareholders and new investors. He was a new investor. Several joined in on it.
BLITZER: The allegation is you -- you encouraged him to get involved in what some would call a sweetheart deal.
COLLINS: Which was never the case. Same price as everyone. Widely distributed. Private placement. He's a sophisticated, accredited investor. Did his own research, made the decision.
BLITZER: How much money did he make on that? Do you have any idea?
COLLINS: Well, the stock has gone up. You know, it's basically quadrupled. But much of that is because of the -- what Chuck Schumer did, shining a light. It's doubled in the last 30 days. But that's because of Senator Schumer letting people know about it. So it has gone up.
BLITZER: So just to be clear, you encouraged him, you offered him this opportunity to learn about it and then buy it at a reduced rate?
COLLINS: No, he didn't get it at a reduced rate.
BLITZER: You said 10 percent, he could get 10 -- 10 percent less.
COLLINS: That was to all shareholders. That's how you raise money.
BLITZER: He became a shareholder, and then he was eligible to buy at 10 percent reduction.
COLLINS: No. Every shareholder was given the same offer.
BLITZER: Yes. But for new investors, as well?
BLITZER: If he was a new investor, he wasn't a shareholder.
COLLINS: Everyone had the same price: 18 cents in the U.S., 25 cents in Australia, 27 cents in New Zealand because of the exchange rate. It was given to all individuals, no special deal.
I was not touting the stock. I was basically talking about my involvement with the company, bringing a secondary progressive M.S. drug forward in this world. Currently, we're in Australia, New Zealand. We're not in the U.S. So, yes, there was...
BLITZER: I guess the question is, did you or Congressman Price ever push for specific legislation that could benefit this -- this company?
[17:25:01] COLLINS: No, absolutely not. The company is not in the U.S. We're not in front of the FDA. We're regulated by New Zealand and Australia. It's a big stretch for what Senator Schumer and others have said.
Someday maybe somebody, because we intend to sell off this program the end of this year, somebody might bring this drug to market in the U.S.
BLITZER: His hearing resumes tomorrow. I'm sure this is going to come up, as well. Were you telling other constituents, friends of yours, to go ahead, this is a great stock, go buy it?
COLLINS: I never said to buy it or it's a great stock. I talked to them about the great work this company's doing, the market for secondary progressive M.S. And, yes, there are many hundreds, you know, 50, 100 people, from western New York, friends, family and so forth, who decided on their own this was a pretty darn good investment, and it certainly turned out to be so.
BLITZER: Because you saw the stories in Politico, the "Washington Post," saying that you were bragging to your friends how many millionaires emerged from this company.
COLLINS: Well, I wouldn't use the word "bragging." It was kind of a factual -- somebody called. I got off the House floor. I was speaking to him on the phone. He was talking about the price of the stock and how many of our good friends, I mean, 50 good friends, all investors, for 11 years. This is not like...
BLITZER: And they all became millionaires as a result of this one stock?
COLLINS: Many of them did. Because they were buying it at 15 cents, and it was trading at $1.10. So that -- that was a big return.
BLITZER: They could make some pretty good money. You presumably made a lot of money on the stock, as well.
COLLINS: Well, that's public knowledge. So it's...
BLITZER: But you understand why, to the average person out there, there's something sort of smelly in all of this. You understand why people are complaining and why it seems a little sloppy, if you will, why the Democrats, a lot of Democrats are going after Congressman Price and threatening his confirmation over this one issue.
COLLINS: Oh, they're -- it's just so absurd. I mean, again, I've been in -- the major shareholder since 2005. Four times I've bailed the company out when it was ready to close its doors, lent money for payroll, been involved in private placements.
So my involvement goes back 15 years and 11 years as a major investor; and most of my friends have been in it since 2005. So this is 11 years, well before I was in public office here in Congress.
BLITZER: And as a member of Congress you don't have to sell that stock.
BLITZER: You can continue. It doesn't have to go into a blind trust or anything like that?
COLLINS: Fully disclosed to ethics. I do sit on the board of directors. That was fully disclosed and discussed with Ethics prior to me taking office. Clean bill of health. Cleared on everything. I'm not compensated for any role that I play.
When I bought the stock, as Mr. Price did in the July/August timeframe, we -- personal financial disclosure. That's how people knew we bought it, under the Stock Act. All rules, all ethics fully adhered to. It's just that the trial is coming to an end in two, three months. People see the potential. They've on their own decided, much to the thanks of Chuck Schumer, who's now put a spotlight on it.
BLITZER: It's getting a lot of publicity as a result of that.
COLLINS: It is. So the volume is up. Yes.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Congressman.
There's some breaking news. We're getting in video right now of President Trump meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership over at the White House. Let's watch.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to try to listen closely to hear what they are saying. But there you see the president with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate; Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. We saw Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, the minority leader in the House. Kevin McCarthy. Senator Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate.
It's -- this is in the Blue Room over at the White House. They let reporters and photographers in just to get a little video of this. They're going to have a little private meeting that's going to be taking place. We're going to listen closely.
On the left you see Jared Kushner, the -- Donald Trump's son-in-law, who's emerging as a senior adviser to the president in the White House, as well. Actually, this is the state dining room, I'm now told. Not the Blue Room over at the White House. The state dining room.
All right. So we'll listen in. We'll hear what they have to say. But big smiles on Chuck Schumer's face, Nancy Pelosi's face. Very, very interesting, indeed. A busy day for the new president of the United States.
A lot of breaking news happening on this day. We'll update you right after a quick break.
[17:35:03] BLITZER: We're here with our correspondents and experts following multiple breaking stories as President Donald Trump gets down to work.
Let's start with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
You've been doing some important reporting on this investigation into conversations that the president's national security adviser, General Flynn, had with the Russian ambassador here in the United States.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. U.S. investigators scrutinizing late December phone calls between Mike Flynn, his national security adviser, and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. This is part of a broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian activities here in the U.S. This according to law enforcement and intelligence officials.
The calls, captured by what is routine eavesdropping targeting Russian diplomats. But this is what's key, Wolf, is one, that this probe is continuing, but two, that investigators are looking at the content of this conversation, as well as the simple fact that the conversations took place. And that's key, because this point we heard Sean Spicer say earlier today that he spoke to General Flynn about these calls and that Flynn told him they were purely about scheduling things: scheduling a call between Putin and Trump, exchanging holiday greetings, expressing condolences for a plane crash that took place and killed a number of Russian military personnel.
But the fact is, investigators consider the calls significant, potentially, and the content of those calls significant; and their probe of those conversations continues.
BLITZER: But there's no evidence, at least yet, of any wrongdoing, right?
SCIUTTO: No. And we should make that clear. There's no evident yet -- evidence yet of any wrongdoing, although they are taking the step of looking into these calls. And I should also note that the existence of these calls and the existence of this investigation was reported first by the "Wall Street Journal."
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what the president did today. He signed some executive actions, whatever we want to call it, from trade to abortion. What does it say to you that, on this first full day, working day, he was taking these actions?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he obviously wanted to send signals that he is keeping his campaign promises. And first and foremost, when it comes to the campaign, it was all about populism. It was all about getting jobs back in the United States, saying that he was going to get rid of this -- the TPP, but also rip up trade deals, because he says he can do better deals for Americans and for American workers.
So it is not a surprise that this particular executive order, his first major executive order, was withdrawing from the TPP.
On the other issue regarding abortion, this is one of those issues that if, when there is a Democrat in the White House, when President Obama took office just a few days after he was in, he changed the law to allow NGOs, nongovernment organizations, that get federal funds to still allow abortions. And now -- because that was illegal before under the Republican President Bush. Donald Trump changed that back.
This is a big issue for a lot of conservatives. They think it is anathema. They just cannot understand at all the idea of any federal funding being allowed do go toward any kind of abortion anywhere on the planet; and that's why they really wanted Donald Trump to do this.
BLITZER: It was very interesting.
Mark Preston, what a difference two days makes from Saturday to today, as far as Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary is concerned. Went in Saturday, went in the briefing room, made a very angry, tough statement, refused to answer reporters' questions.
Today he spent an hour and 15 minutes answering reporters' questions and was much more pleasant in the process.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, you know, in many ways I take a different route than a lot of reporters does when it comes to assessment of what happened on Saturday, although we get to the same point.
I don't think it's so much about the press secretary, Sean Spicer, going out and doing it. It is the fact that Donald Trump is directing his press secretary to go out and do it.
And let's not forget, just a couple of hours before that news conference, you had Donald Trump standing at the CIA, talking about this running war with the media. So oftentimes we see Donald Trump out there. We saw it during the campaign. We've seen it during the transition. We're now see it in administration, that he is trying to pick a fight with the media, hoping in many ways, I think, to try to galvanize his base that helped get him elected.
It's not a very good strategy. At some point, he's going it have to try to be more truthful with the facts. And sending out your senior staff to say things that is very uncharacteristic of people like that is not a good strategy.
BLITZER: What did you think, Jim?
SCIUTTO: Listen, you know, it was a friendlier face to the press; and he took questions for an hour and 15 minutes. He did pull back some of his more outlandish claims, for instance, on the crowd, the inauguration crowd, famously.
But he did not pull back -- and you speak about the CIA, you know, a falsehood that Donald Trump told at the CIA, that the media had created this war with the intelligence community when, in fact, it was Donald Trump's repeated public comments, both via Twitter and at rallies, et cetera, accusing the intelligence agencies of politicizing intelligence. So he didn't...
BLITZER: Behaving like -- and behaving like Nazi Germany.
[17:35:00] SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly. I mean, the one thing he did say is, listen, there was a standing ovation there, which wasn't entirely true. But that doesn't answer the question. You know, did -- was Donald Trump selling a falsehood when he said the media created this disagreement? The fact is yes. Sean Spicer didn't address that today.
PRESTON: But the problem is, is that the press secretary, whether it's for Donald Trump or for any other administration, has multiple audiences that he is speaking to. Not only speaking to the American people and the world; you're also speaking to the president.
So could you imagine going out there and correcting what the president says and then having to walk back through that door and face that president?
BLITZER: David is here with us, as well, David Fahrenthold of the "Washington Post," our newest CNN contributor. Welcome to CNN, David.
Tell us a little bit about this lawsuit that was filed that -- by ethics folks who say Donald Trump is violating the Constitution by continuing to allow his hotels and other businesses to get revenue from foreign sources.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. This is very dusty corner of the Constitution, not used very often. But the Constitution. It's called the Emoluments Clause. The Constitution says the president, or any federal officer, can't get a payment, a present, a gift, or an emolument from a foreign government.
So the point of this lawsuit is to say Donald Trump's businesses, the businesses he owns, his hotels, other places take money in from foreign governments. They take in rent at Trump Tower. They take in ballroom fees at the Trump Hotel. He's violating the Constitution.
I talked to a lot of legal experts who think that this lawsuit doesn't have a great chance of success. For one thing, the watchdog group that's suing Trump doesn't seem to have a great chance of being ruled to have standing to sue him in this case.
But it may go far enough to produce some discovery, to produce something like Trump's tax returns. I think that's sort of the actual hope here, is to use this as a way to get some documents detailing Trump's business dealings with foreign governments while he's president.
BLITZER: But the White House today, David, said he has resigned from all 400 businesses that he was involved in. Isn't that good enough?
FAHRENTHOLD: In this case, it wouldn't be, because he owns these businesses. He's not managing these businesses, but he still owns them. And if the idea is that the money paid to the Trump Hotel was money paid to Donald Trump, that would still, under the theory put forward in this case, it would still violate the Constitution.
BLITZER: And he still has interest in it. I've actually been doing some reporting on this. You said it's a dusty corner of the Constitution. It's actually never been tested ever in the courts. And so that's why -- one of the reasons why this group of lawyers wanted to try to test it.
But I agree with you. It's unclear if the plaintiff that they have in this case, which is a liberal-leaning watchdog, is even going to be able to get a hears with the federal judge. You know, if that doesn't happen, I'm sure that they'll find another plaintiff that potentially has more legal standing.
BLITZER: Because they need to have legal standing.
BLITZER: Meaning they have suffered as a result of something. And it's going to be hard to show that they have suffered, right?
BASH: Exactly. And they also make the point that, you know, even if he did resign, which CNN has reported today -- we got the documents. We have the signature dated the day before the inauguration, January 19, that Donald J. Trump did resign from his 400-plus businesses within the Trump Organization, and that, even though that is true, that -- oh, there you go. There it is right there. That even though that is true, he did what he said he was going to do, it doesn't -- it doesn't mean there aren't still conflicts of interest.
BLITZER: David, would it make the lawsuit stronger if, let's say, a hotel down the street from the Trump International Hotel here in Washington, if they were part of the lawsuit and saying, "We're -- we're paying a price for that"?
FAHRENTHOLD: Right. That would be a much better plaintiff. I'm not sure it would actually work, but it would probably have a better chance of being ruled to have standing.
The question is who can get somebody who owns a multinational giant hotel chain to take on the president of the United States?
One interesting question here is that the D.C. government, a very Democratic-leaning government, they own the land on a number of very prominent hotels in D.C., which could make the argument they lost business.
BLITZER: All right. We're getting -- we're getting some breaking news. And Dana, I want you to weigh in. We are just being told that Rex Tillerson has been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next secretary of state. The vote, 11-10. And Dana, it's very significant. There are 11 Republicans on this
committee. There are 10 Democrats. Everyone voted strictly along party lines.
BASH: Absolutely. Right along party lines. Very different from the kind of vote that we saw last week for the defense secretary, for General Mattis, now Secretary Mattis, where it was very, very bipartisan. That is absolutely not the case with this man who has been the CEO of Exxon.
A lot of the Democrats said it's not just because of the fact that he comes from big oil, which a lot of Democrats don't like, but because they are concerned about his world view. The fact that he has done a lot of business with Vladimir Putin, for example.
On the Republican side, the big story today was Marco Rubio, who at that hearing that you're showing there, was really out front, maybe even more than a lot of the Democrats, really pressuring Rex Tillerson on questions of Russia. Didn't seem to get answers. And yet today he said, and he followed through, that he was going to vote for him in committee. He had a lot of pressure on him by Republicans...
BLITZER: Lindsey Graham and John McCain...
BASH: Also, yes.
BLITZER: ... they were -- also expressed reservations, but they announced yesterday they would support Rex Tillerson. So it's a done deal now.
BASH: Done deal.
BLITZER: He will be confirmed by the United States Senate, whether they vote tonight or next week.
BASH: Yes. Absolutely. There's no question now, unless something remarkable happens between now and we learn something that we didn't know -- now and the Senate floor vote -- that he will become the next Secretary of State.
And for those Republicans who were skeptical of him, whether it's Rubio or John McCain or Lindsey Graham, they made the calculation that Rex Tillerson is not a bad guy, they could do a lot worse. And they want to put the focus on Russia policy and trying to deal with enacting tougher sanctions on Russia and not necessarily focusing on Rex Tillerson, the man.
BLITZER: You'll be interested, all of you will be interested, our viewers will be interested as well. We showed some video earlier of the President meeting with Democratic leaders and Republican leaders from the House and Senate. They have been continuing that, and we're getting some more tape in now.
Here's the President meeting with Democrats and Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How's the meeting going, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very good, and we have a fantastic relationship with everybody at the table. It's totally just a beautiful, beautiful relationship.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice meeting you.
TRUMP: Nice seeing you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That's the tape right there. And, Dana, you're raising your hand. We were having trouble --
BASH: I'm just (inaudible).
SCIUTTO: Beautiful, beautiful. It's beautiful, yes.
BLITZER: I heard something about a beautiful relationship.
BASH: Yes. I think that was --
BLITZER: I couldn't really make out --
BLITZER: -- what he was saying. But he was sitting at the head of the table.
BLITZER: And you saw Nancy Pelosi. You saw Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House. Mitch McConnell.
BLITZER: Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate. What was your reaction when you see that kind of meeting going on, on this the first full working day for the new President?
BASH: Listen, I mean, this is a very good and very important message for any new President to send, that he's going to bring the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of the United States Congress to the White House and start to have a discussion.
There are many, many, many, more issues that they disagree on than they agree on, but you got to start somewhere. And having a meeting with your new senior staff -- you saw Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, there. You saw Steve Bannon and others.
BLITZER: You saw Reince Priebus.
BASH: And Reince Priebus. You know, this is setting the table, literally and figuratively, for the working relationship that they're going to have. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He walks into
the room there, and it was sort of somewhat similar to the CIA, right, where there have been some nasty words exchanged between Donald Trump and some of the people in the room, not even just the Democrats present but some of the Republicans during the campaign.
And to have that kind of effusive rhetoric, you know, we're going have a beautiful relationship -- when he went to the CIA, he said I love the CIA, no one loves the CIA more than me --
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: More than me.
SCIUTTO: -- you know, in light of that, so it's becoming somewhat of a standard Donald Trump message when we goes, perhaps, into places where the words haven't been so kind.
BLITZER: And he's doing, Mark, a lot of these photo opportunities on this first full working day at the White House. Let's the T.V. pool, the T.V. reporters, the camera crews come in, shoot a little bit. Reporters will shout a question. He may answer or may not answer the question.
We don't normally show all this. They put this on the first full day. And to see the President meet not just with the Republican House and Senate leadership but the Democratic House and Senate leadership, that's newsy.
PRESTON: Yes, no doubt. It's certainly strategic on his part to send a message out across the nation that he is trying to work with Democrats and Congressional Republicans.
You know, but at the same time, let's give this an hour. When Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer walked out of that meeting, you're not going to see any testiness, of course, when you have that pool camera go in and take a quick picture. But I guarantee you, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, will walk out of that meeting, they'll have some choice words to say about what they expect out of Donald Trump.
We saw that on the day he was inaugurated. There was a lot of backslapping at the luncheon right after he took the oath. You gave it a couple hours afterwards, Chuck Schumer went to the Senate floor, and he blasted Donald Trump.
So, look, it's good that they're actually agreeing to meet. Question is, how far can that go?
BLITZER: He's had a longstanding relationship, the President, with Chuck Schumer, his own home state Senator for a long time. They seem to have had a decent relationship. And there are some areas, David, where they can work together, for example, infrastructure, rebuilding roads, bridges, airports. Democrats want to do that as well.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. They may not want to do it the way Trump wants to do it. I mean, Trump, I think, wants a big infrastructure program that's paid for with tax credits, not with government funding, the way that the Democrats might. The interesting thing about this is Trump is somebody who likes to be
liked whatever room he's in. Contrary to his appearance on "The Celebrity Appearance" where he tells people, you're fired, he's not somebody who likes to sort of talk, you know, to confront people aggressively in their face.
You see that at the CIA. You see that in meetings with Congressional people. You saw it right after the inauguration. He gives this very fiery, confrontational speech -- everybody behind me is terrible, I'm the only one who's any good -- then he goes straight to the Capitol and has this very chummy signing ceremony with a bunch of the Congressional leadership.
So I'll be really interested to see how the relationship we just --
FAHRENTHOLD: -- how that group works together.
BASH: And to that point, you know, the one thing that we have seen on this first full day of Donald Trump's presidency workday is, he is a showman. And he understands the power of an image and the power of where the camera is.
[17:50:13] And the fact that he had cameras in the Oval Office, in this room, in this Cabinet room in when the leadership arrived and with the business leaders and so forth, I mean, at the end of the day, clearly, what he wants is for people to say, Donald Trump is working very hard. He's got meetings across the board and he's going to get stuff done.
But to your point, David, images are one thing. It's a nice start. We'll see if it actually happens.
BLITZER: Let's see if they actually can deliver. Everybody stay with me. Don't go too far away.
The President also had a lot of people doing a double take this weekend when he talked about the spoils of war and Iraq's oil. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The old expression, to the victor belong the spoils. You remember, I always used to say, keep the oil. I wasn't a fan of Iraq. I don't want to go into Iraq.
But I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. And I always said, in addition to that, keep the oil.
Now, I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because that's where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil. But OK. (LAUGHTER)
TRUMP: Maybe you'll have another chance. But the fact is, we should have kept the oil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, a lot of questions about what the President meant when he said "maybe you'll have another chance" to take the oil, talking about those huge oil fields in Iraq. What are you hearing?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it's fair to say there's a lot of raised eyebrows because U.S. military, at this point, has no idea what Donald Trump is talking about when he says that.
And to the victor goes the spoils, that's called pillaging. And that is something the U.S. military does not do. It's against military law. It's against international law.
And today did not go any length to try and straighten that out at the White House. The new Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked about it. Have a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Too often, the United States is going in with a lot of money, a lot of manpower, and in many cases, losing both loss of life. And we want to make sure that our interests are protected.
And so if we're going into a country for a cause, I think he wants to make sure that America is getting something out of it for the commitment and the sacrifice it were making.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you unequivocally state that this administration will not send more troops into Iraq to, as the President has put it, take the oil?
SPICER: I'm not going to talk about what we may or may not do. I think the President's been very clear that he doesn't telegraph forward what -- taking options off the table, that's not a good negotiating skill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: And the new Defense Secretary, James Mattis, today is his first full day at work. He is meeting with his senior staff. He's talking about everything on his plate. And I can tell you, I think, wholesale, the opinion is, James Mattis is not going to endorse taking the oil. Secretary Mattis, already, beginning to stake out some very independent positions, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know the President Trump will be visiting where you are, the Pentagon, on Friday. We'll have extensive coverage, of course, of that.
You know, Jim Sciutto, what's your reaction to this whole notion about taking the oil and keeping the oil? You know, as Barbara said, that could potentially violate international law.
SCIUTTO: It does. I mean, we have to have throw your hands up in the air moment. I mean, it violates international law. It violates U.S. law. It violates U.S. policy for decades.
I mean, World War II, you know, was the payback for the U.S. helping Europe fight off the Nazis is that we took away art, you know, from there or -- I don't know, you know, whatever. It's just ridiculous.
And it was a ridiculous statement at the CIA. And for the Press Secretary to not be able to walk that back, I mean, is he suggesting that you go back, send your soldiers, and take the oil away from our allies, the Iraqis? I mean, these are Iraqi natural resources that feed the Iraqi people, right?
SCIUTTO: It's --
BASH: And to your point, I mean, you're talking about the law, and the law seems to be pretty clear. And then there's the moral idea of it.
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. America --
BASH: Is that an American principle?
PRESTON: Well, yes --
BASH: I mean, not that I know, and not that I know of.
SCIUTTO: Of course not. Of course not.
BASH: I mean, it shouldn't be, at least. You know, I think that the United States has spent a lot of time trying to make amends for things like that in the past at certain states.
BLITZER: Yes. And he said, there may be another opportunity to keep the oil, if you will.
SCIUTTO: It's nuts.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys. We're going to move on from this right now.
BLITZER: There's a lot of other breaking news we're following. After a bruising weekend, lecturing to the news media, focused on the size of the inaugural crowd and some false statements, the White House Press Secretary vows not to lie, but suggests media criticism brought President Trump and his team to a boiling point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:54:59] SPICER: There is this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has. And I think it's just unbelievably frustrating, when you're continually told, it's not big enough, it's not good enough, you can't win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:59:46] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Work day. President Trump tackles domestic and international policies, taking action on issues including trade, taxes, and abortion.
After a rough first weekend, is the Trump White House getting back on track?
Listening in? CNN learns U.S. investigators are scrutinizing calls last month between the new national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., part of a broader counter intelligence investigation.
Why are the calls being --