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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Is Trump Considering Torture, Reopening Black Sites; British P.M. to Meet with Republicans, Trump; Did Gold Bernhard Langer Give Vote Fraud Info to Trump; Trump's Final 4 Contenders for Supreme Court; Mexican President Cancels Meeting with Trump. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 26, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Bob, first to you.

You heard the president there speaking about torture. You also hear about this memo circulating where the president may be directing agencies to look into reopening black sites, look into the possibility of reinstituting enhanced interrogation techniques. Your reaction, Bob?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: John, it's not going to go over well at the CIA, for one, nor at the military. The CIA, the general consensus was, if you look at the inspector general's report, the Senate report, is that torture is not effective in getting information. The president didn't say what it was useful for. It's useful for intimidation. But I don't think that's what he meant. The black sites have caused the CIA an enormous amount of trouble all around the world. And it's unlikely a lot of these countries, now that it's all been exposed, will let us reopen these. This is a tall order, to go back into the torture business.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That is a key question, Bob.

Senator, just a little while ago, at the Republican retreat, Senator McConnell, Paul Ryan, were asked about this. Essentially, McConnell and Paul Ryan saying, we agree enhanced interrogation is not legal. Where are you on this?

RICK SANTORUM, SENIOR CNN COMMENTATOR & FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: I think what the president is doing is pretty rational, let's take another look at this, let's do an examination of whether these -- what other methods, if any other methods are necessary. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think the fact that he said he was going to defer to his -- to the people in charge of these operations at CIA and defense is another reasonable proposal. You can argue whether we should continue to do this. There certainly is a lot of evidence that waterboarding did work in the case of a couple of people from whom we needed key information. Whether we should continue it or not, it should be studied, and we should defer to experts as to whether it will enhance our national security or not.

BERMAN: Bob, what do you say to that? You head Mr. Santorum saying it did work in a couple of cases. President Trump said it flat-out does work. You've been out there to the front lines. Is it true? BAER: I do come with a bias, John. For instance, Jordan, which is

very good at getting information out of arrestees and terrorists, they never use torture. They re-indoctrinate these people. They've got a special facility for it in the bottom of a basement in GID headquarters in Amman. It works, the system works very well.

You take Egypt, who do use torture, waterboarding, unspeakable things, and they use it to intimidate their population. If the idea is to intimidate people, torture does that. But I don't think that's what the president has in mind. Frankly, I would go with General Mattis. He's against torture. He watched it being used by our military and the CIA in Iraq. The man knows what he's talking about. He's come out very strongly against torture. And I'm going to go with his judgment.

BOLDUAN: To that point, Senator -- and you brought this up -- when it comes to -- Donald Trump said two very different things, right? He said, I'm going to defer to my top guys like Mattis, but I also think absolutely it works. Shouldn't the president be the decider on this? Isn't the president the decider on this? You ran for president. If you were sitting there behind that desk, doesn't it matter what your opinion is?

SANTORUM: Sure, it does. But I think he was very clear that he's going to defer to the experts. That doesn't mean that he doesn't -- he has to give up his opinion. I think he certainly is -- a lot of very different opinions than others in his cabinet. But I think in most cases, he's said already very early in his administration that he'll defer to them.

BOLDUAN: Yeah.

SANTORUM: I mean, we have to contrast this whole discussion with the way the Obama administration dealt with folks that were potential valuable targets for us to capture and interrogate. They decided to kill them, to use drones. I'm not saying that's a bad thing or a good thing. I'm just saying, if you're talking about what is more inhumane, you had a policy of the prior administration, which is to drone attack them, these suspected people and their families, as opposed to try to conduct operations to capture them and gather intelligence from them and then question whether we should be torturing them or not.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Senator?

SANTORUM: We have to sort of put it in context of what the Trump administration is talking about.

BERMAN: Senator, by the way, we just saw some videotape of President Trump getting on Marine One for the first time, watching the president leave for the first time --

(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: But, Senator, on the flip side of what Kate was asking about, the secretary of defense, James Mattis, there are reports this morning that the secretary of defense was blindsided. So was the CIA director. Reports say he had no idea this memo was circulating or that the president was asking these questions about the possibility of reinstituting enhanced interrogation techniques or reopening black sites. What does it say about this administration that the people who may have to be implementing this don't know what the president's thinking about it?

[11:35:16] SANTORUM: Well, two things. Number one, he was asked in an interview, and Donald Trump is famous for coming up with things that are unexpected in interviews. So, I don't think that should shock anybody.

As far as this memo, my understanding is this was a memo that was circulated, it wasn't something that is going to signed or implemented, but it's something that's been put up. As you know, particularly early in an administration, there are lots of ideas out there floating around and suggestions as to what our policy positions should be, that probably have not been properly vetted but are sort of bubbling up from these teams that were put together in the transition.

So, I wouldn't take that as necessarily the way things are going to happen once we have cabinet secretaries and we have people properly vetting these things in the process.

BOLDUAN: When the president says he thinks we should fight fire with fire, I think stand by to find out exactly what he means and what that means in terms of putting in place policy.

Bob Baer, Senator, great to see you. Thank you.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, tomorrow, British Prime Minister Theresa May is meeting with President Trump at the White House. She'll be the first foreign leader to do so. What does the future hold for this special relationship? New details on the visit ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, new details on President Trump's baseless claims of wide-scale voter fraud, three to five million people voted illegally. Where did he get that idea? Maybe it came from this guy, a golfing buddy. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:41:04] BOLDUAN: Some people say John and I have a very special relationship. But that's not the special relationship we're talking about today.

Don't give me the eyebrow raise.

As the new British prime minister is set to address Republicans at their annual retreat in Philadelphia. The British Prime Minister Theresa May will address the group followed by a meeting between President Trump and the prime minister Friday at the White House.

They'll, no doubt, try to maintain, even strengthen that so-called special relationship, just as we have. But the prime minister says she's not afraid to speak frankly to the president on issues, including torture and climate change.

I want to bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

Nic, what will Theresa May be looking to get out of this trip?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: She'll be making reference to the historical nature of this special relationship. And it goes back further than we can say than the Kate and John relationship. But she'll be making reference to real history here. She'll say, look, Britain and the United States have won wars together, have essentially helped build the world together.

What she wants is to get support from President Trump for better trade with Britain as it pulls out of the European Union. She's under pressure back home, though, to hold President Trump's feet to the fire on issues such as torture and NATO and the European Union. There's a host of things. She's got to be a nimble diplomatic dance here, if you will. She wants things but she can't sort of tar Britain's image at the same time.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see how she reacts. And we just learned they will hold a joint press conference tomorrow, the president and prime minister. They'll both face questions and they both have to play to their constituencies when they answer those questions.

BOLDUAN: Talk about diplomatic dance, that will be on full display when they hold their press conference tomorrow.

Great to see you, Nic. Thank you.

So, those millions of illegal votes, Donald Trump says it happened, but has offered zero evidence for it. I think we've repeated that enough at this point. He's now called for a major investigation. But if there's no proof, then why? And where did he get this notion?

BERMAN: Could it have come from one of the world's top golfers? That's an obvious question, isn't it?

BOLDUAN: I mean, duh.

BERMAN: Congressional sources who were at a meeting on Monday at the White House say the president got the idea from German professional golfer, Bernhard Langer. That's what "The New York Times" is reporting.

We want to discuss this with CNN political analyst and "Times" political reporter, Alex Burns.

Alex, thanks so much for being here. ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be here.

BERMAN: Appreciate your time.

Bernhard Langer is a two-time Master's champion.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Which applies to this.

BERMAN: That's the thing. It doesn't. Does that make him an expert on voter fraud?

To recap the story, Donald Trump told congressional leaders that Bernhard Langer went to vote in Florida and was surrounded by people that he felt were not eligible to vote for some reason, and then told the story to the president. It turns out, the story the president told wasn't exactly accurate because Bernhard Langer's daughter says he's a German citizen and can't vote. But that aside, what does this whole story say to you.

BURNS: His daughter also told my colleague, who wrote this amazing story, that her father is actually not friends with Donald Trump, so there is no reason why he would be talking about this issue with the new American president.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: There is no Bernhard Langer, it turns out.

BOLDUAN: He doesn't exist.

There were three different people, confirmed this story to Glenn that were in the room. There weren't a lot of people in that room, too.

BURNS: No, there weren't. Look, there is a narrow thing here that makes people in Washington nervous, which is that Donald Trump is talking about this sort of conspiracy theory that's completely baseless and keeps bringing it up, and seems now to be taking federal action based on it, they don't particularly care for the narrow specifics of this situation.

The broader issue that it raises is, you know, the new president of the United States is processing and internalizing and acting on information that he's getting from really sketchy sources, right? Whether it was Langer himself or Langer's friend who was in line, this is not typically the way information filters up to the most powerful person in the country and the way policy is made.

[11:45:15] BOLDUAN: And the fact that as the report plays out, he would tell this story as proof of what -- you know, of these illegal votes, to congressional leaders, in a meeting with congressional leaders. And according to the report, the story was met by silence. What does that tell you?

BURNS: It tells you that the Donald Trump we saw during the campaign and, frankly, the Donald Trump we saw prior to the campaign, is the same guy who is now in the White House. This illusion he was going to become a much more sober and disciplined and conventional figure --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Should he have been surprised at all that it was met by silence by leaders in Congress?

BURNS: I don't think it's any surprise that that was the reaction. Glenn did paint this I think pretty vivid portrait of Reince Priebus and John Cornyn, the number-two Republican in the Senate, trying to nudge President Trump past this issue and onto some other subject. But what we've seen over and over is when Trump laches on to something, it's hard for his even advisors to get him to let it go.

BERMAN: And Rory McIlroy is going to work on reforming Obamacare.

BOLDUAN: Stop.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: But the more serious questions is we're talking about the Republican leadership here. Now they're dealing with a lot as they meet in Philadelphia. They're waiting for the president to arrive and speak to him. They've already been asking questions today about what the president has said on various issues, including baiting the president of Mexico, including dropping the notion that he's considering torture, reinstituting enhanced interrogation techniques. What's going on behind closed doors do we think at that caucus? What's the conversation among Republicans?

BURNS: I've spoken to a couple of since the weekend, who say, look, at least for the time, being they are going to simply have to kind of roll with this, right, and not necessarily rebuke or affirm everything the president says, but to try to kind of talk past it. I don't know, and they don't know, how long that's sustainable. When it comes to an issue like voter fraud, where the president, it's not really clear that he's going to be taking intensive policy actions based on his conspiracy theories, it's one thing for congressional leaders to look the other way. When they're in the middle of a budget negotiation or a negotiation over reforming health care, the president is out there making these shocking pronouncements based on sketchy information, that's much more difficult.

BOLDUAN: That's why a lot of Republicans say, wait to see the policy moves.

BERMAN: We'll have to see what Bubba Watson has to say about the debt ceiling.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Alex Burns, thanks so much. Appreciate your being with us.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Alex.

Alex does not golf. We asked him.

BERMAN: President Trump has narrowed down his choices to the Supreme Court to four potential nominees. We do not know if they golf. Who are they? And what do the Democrats say about the finalists? Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:51:58] BERMAN: All right. Just revealed, President Trump's final four contenders to fill the Supreme Court. The president said he will announce his nominee just one week from today, kicking off what is certain to be a fierce battle on Capitol Hill.

BOLDUAN: Joan Biskupic is a CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer. She joins us now to discuss.

Joan, a lot of folks look at this list and say we've never heard of them. If you're amongst legal circles, you definitely have. You got this final list. We just had them on the screen. Of this list, who is most likely?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST & SUPREME COURT BIOGRAPHER: I think those first two that you have up there, Neil Gorsuch and Tom Hardiman, right now seem like they'd be the most attractive candidates for President Trump. They are almost opposites in some ways.

Neil Gorsuch is a four-generation Coloradan but a Beltway insider down in his core. His mother was the EPA administrator under Ronald Reagan, Anne Gorsuch. He grew up in Washington, was a Senate page. Went to Harvard Law School and was a Marshall scholar at Oxford. He sits right now on a federal appeals court in Colorado. He writes a lot like Scalia. He's got a very polished presence that I think would serve him well before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, I think he could be a leading candidate for the president.

And then sort of an opposite individual right now in this last four group would be Thomas Hardiman. He's based on a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. But he came up, kind of scrapped his way up. The first person in his family to go to college. He comes from a family that ran a taxicab business, and he earned money on the side when he was at Georgetown Law School driving a taxi. He speaks Spanish. He's done a lot of work with the Big Sisters, Big Brothers group. He's helped immigrants and people seeking political asylum with pro bono cases. But going to what Donald Trump wants, he's a conservative and he has vouched for, I believe, by home state -- former home state Senator Rick Santorum. So, he's -- they all have conservative credentials. It's just a matter of how they might be pitched to the American public, which is so much a part of how the president rolls out a nominee.

The other two on that list --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Go ahead.

BISKUPIC: Pardon me?

BERMAN: Go ahead. Sorry.

BISKUPIC: That's OK.

The other two on that list are two individuals who President Trump had mentioned during the campaign --

BOLDUAN: Right.

BISKUPIC: -- William Pryor and Diane Sykes. William Pryor has a law degree from Tulane. He was an attorney general from Alabama and took a lot of controversial positions that I'm sure will be difficult to defend in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

And then Diane Sykes, who has a law degree from Marquette in Wisconsin. She'd been a state court judge. She's also someone who has been around for a long time, who the conservatives with the Federalist Society are boosting.

But one thing I want to add, real quickly, is they run the gamut in terms of age, too. Diane Sykes is 59. A little older than what Republicans like. And Neil Gorsuch is only 49.

[11:55:17] BOLDUAN: And that is -- age is an important thing when you're talking about a lifetime term.

Joan, thank you. Appreciate you laying it out for us.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: A lot more to come on that.

BERMAN: Just now, we are getting some breaking news involving the standoff between Mexico, the Mexican president, and the U.S. President Donald Trump. The Mexican leader was supposed to meet here in the United States with President Trump next week at the White House. But now?

Let's go live to Leyla Santiago in Mexico City.

Leyla, what are you learning?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just five minutes ago, the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, has tweeted essentially saying that he is not going to be meet with President Donald Trump on the 31st as scheduled.

And I want to sort of read to you exactly what he says. I'm translating as I read here. He said, "This morning, we informed the White House that I will not be attending the reunion, the work for next Tuesday to meet with POTUS," the president of the United States. He then tweeted one minute later, "Mexico reiterates it does want to work with the United States to come to an agreement that can be mutually beneficial."

All of this happening in just the last six minutes.

But let's go beyond the six minutes on what actually led up to this. You see yesterday there was a group of Mexican Senators who actually called for president Pena Nieto to cancel this meeting after President Trump signed the executive orders to move forward with building the wall, even though Mexico says they will not pay for it. Donald Trump says they will, in some form, reimburse.

And so, he now, President Pena Nieto, has his delegation of the foreign minister as well as the economic minister right now in D.C. They were scheduled to have some meetings. I understand there were some meetings, but we're not sure exactly where they stand on it. They'll be leaving early or not.

But the big takeaway, the big news right now in Mexico City is that the Mexican president has said he will not be meeting with Donald Trump next week.

BOLDUAN: That is some very big news. And also, amazing. This is all playing out on social media. Pena Nieto announcing, Leyla. First to know on his Twitter feed.

Leyla, thank you.

Still with us for a second.

We're going to get over to Philadelphia where Jim Acosta is right now.

Jim, this is big news, and all comes on the heels of Donald Trump essentially baiting the president of Mexico with his tweet this morning saying if Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly need wall, it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're getting an early preview of Trump diplomacy and Twitter diplomacy. You're right, President Trump did tweet earlier this morning, "If Mexico is not going to pay for this wall, there's no sense in having this meeting." So, Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican president, just tweeted in the last several minutes that they informed the White House that he is not going to be attending that visit with President Trump at the White House.

And so already within 24 hours, after the president announced his plans to build that wall on the Mexican border, this is now off. And so, we now have basically the first diplomatic rift between the United States and Mexico that I can recall in some time. It's unclear as to where this heads from here. I've pinged White House officials to get their reaction to this. We should mention that they are aboard Air Force One right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Looks like they're landing right now, John.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We're seeing live pictures right next to you.

ACOSTA: -- here to Philadelphia for a GOP retreat.

BERMAN: And, Jim, again, Air Force One landing right now in Philadelphia where the president will be speaking to Republican members of Congress in a few minutes. And I imagine will face some questions about this. Now facing the real possibility that our relationship with a key ally and our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has been damaged.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I mean, usually, the U.S. president meets very early on with the Mexican leader. And now, Jim, we've got about 30 seconds left, he may meet with Vladimir Putin before he meets with Mexico.

ACOSTA: Well, he's going to meet with the British Prime Minister Theresa May tomorrow at the White House. And we are getting word there is going to be a news conference. So, he'll certainly get asked about that tomorrow.

But I would imagine the GOP members will be asking about this today. And as Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, said earlier this morning, this is an unconventional presidency. We're all prepared for that. And they'll be deal with that. But Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said they are going to be looking at ways to pay for this wall and President Trump will have to deal with the diplomatic fallout on this. And that's exactly the spot he's in right now.

BOLDUAN: And fallout, just beginning. It has not even begun to see what the fallout is from this.

Jim Acosta, great to see you, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Our special coverage will continue in a just moment with John King.