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Trump Adds Bannon to National Security Council Meetings; Iraqi May Act "Reciprocally" Against Travel Ban; White House Press Conference on Travel Ban. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 30, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:29:51] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What does that mean exactly?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST& FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: You got a table in the situation room, the White House situation room. Around the table, behind it, are seats for folks who are not usually directly participating in the deliberations of the conversation. That's where they were.


BLITZER: Do you have a problem with Steve Bannon, top strategist, a top advisor to the president, participating in these National Security Council meetings?

BLINKEN: I think it sends exactly the wrong message to have the president's top political strategist be made a permanent member. President Bush was very careful and very deliberate about not having Karl Rove be a member of the NSC. And he was very clear about why he didn't want that. He thought it would send a message that he was politicizing national security decisions. We did the same thing. We did not have any of President Obama's top political strategists formally part of the National Security Council. And indeed, they were rarely, rarely present over the eight years that I took part in those meetings.

BLITZER: Tony, we have more to discuss. I want you to stay with us.

We have a special guest joining us. I want to bring in Dr. Mowaffak al Rubaie, a member of Iraq's parliament, a former Iraqi national security advisor.

Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. al Rubaie.

I quickly want to get your answer to what is going on with these new executive orders. Lawmakers in Iraq -- in Iraq, when lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament heard what the U.S. was doing, there was a resolution to move reciprocally against the United States. First of all, do you support that? Should the Iraqi government do to American citizens what the U.S. government is doing to Iraqi citizens? What is that exactly mean?

DR. MOWAFFAK AL RUBAIE, IRAQ PARLIAMENT MEMBER & FORMER IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It could be quite honest with you, it's disgusting and disgrace, this ban. It's a humiliating. It's like spitting in the face of the Iraqis. We thought that we are a strategic ally to the United States of America. Now we have signed with the U.S. strategic framework agreement a few years ago. Unfortunately, Obama administration did not do anything to implement that strategic framework agreement, and now we are having this slap on the face by the senior administration.

We were hoping this administration would sit down with Iraqis and work out how to implement -- it's an action plan to implement the strategic framework agreement. Now, what do we have? Is it we have this ban. It's totally irrational. Totally -- well, not reasonable decision. It's going to increase the anti-American sentiment, whether in the country in Iraq or in the region in general. And I think the decision of the Council of Representatives today in Iraq has decided that the government of Iraq should retaliate and should make -- while the ban on the Americans to come to this country. There are hundreds of Americans in this country living peacefully, doing a lot of business and a lot of money and there are several thousand, 6,000-plus, of military troops that are doing fantastic job in helping Iraqis in defeating ISIS in the north of the country and in the west. Now, I don't know what's their position is going to be. It's going to be untenable for the military, Americans who are doing a very good job in this country. But, unfortunately, this ban -- this executive order is going to make life extremely difficult for them.

BLITZER: So, Doctor Rubaie, do you want -- and Tony Blinken, the former deputy secretary of state is with us as well. He is going to participate in our conversation.

But do you want -- if this U.S. ban at least the temporary ban on Iraqis coming to the United States stays in effect, do you want those 6,000 American troops who are currently serving in Iraq. Do you want them out?

RUBAEI: Show me -- before I answer your question, Wolf, how many Iraqis has committed a terrorist act, crime in the U.S. in the last 10 or 20 years? I can tell you. Zilch. Big, fat zero. So I don't think this ban, this executive order can be justified. And they're leaving -- the unimaginable thing is they're leaving the Saudi, they're leaving, the Americans, out of this group. Now, 11 out of 19, for those who have committed 9/11 a few years ago, are from Saudi Arabia, and two or three from United Arab Emirates. Now, these two countries have sent their citizen all over the Middle East doing with the car bombs, doing suicide bombs and road mines, and all sorts of killing over the last 14 years in my country at least.

Now, I think this is going to make life extremely difficult. And for those that are people, like myself, who defended and wanted the American to help the Iraqis in defeating ISIS in this country, were going to make -- our lives going to be difficult to defend the cause of the reason behind the Americans - the American troops staying in this country.

[13:35:49] BLITZER: Doctor Mowaffak al Rubaie, thank you so much for joining us. I know we're going to continue our conversations.

RUBAEI: Thank you. BLITZER: You'll be in Baghdad. I'll be here in Washington.

Thanks so much for joining us.

BLITZER: The former Iraqi national security advisor, Tony Blinken, is still with us, our CNN global affairs analyst, former deputy secretary of state.

You heard what he said. I'm sure he represents a wide group of Iraqis right now who are deeply worried about the state of U.S.-Iraqi relations in the aftermath of President Trump's executive orders.

BLINKEN: Wolf, this is exactly why it's so important, when decisions like this are made, that all of the experts in the government, all of the stakeholders in the decision are part of the decision. The State Department could have told the White House that this reaction was likely in Iraq. To have this happen at the very time when we have the Islamic State on its heels in Iraq, the Iraqis, with our support, the international coalition that we built, on the verge of taking back Mosul, to now sow these seeds of doubt in the minds of Iraqis about the relationship with the United States.

BLITZER: Do you think the Iraqis are going to start kicking out Americans?

BLINKEN: I certainly hope that doesn't happen. And it's profoundly in their interest and in our interest that we continue the successful campaign against the Islamic State. But this puts seeds of doubt into everyone's mind. And it also creates political challenges for the Iraqi leadership. It's a very vibrant place, politically. You'll have people standing up at the Council of Representatives denouncing the United States at the same time when we're working together to defeat the Islamic State.

BLITZER: Tony, stick around.

There's more coming up. Any minute now, we're going to hear from the Trump administration. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer getting ready to brief reporters, answer questions. We'll have live coverage.


[13:41:18] BLITZER: Any minute, we're going to be hearing from Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary. In fact, here he is right now.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Welcome back. Great to see everybody. Thank you all for coming. It's great to see the interest is still there.

I want to start off by noting that the president got off the phone just a short time ago with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to discuss the vicious attack on a Quebec City mosque last night. The president offered his condolences as well as his thoughts and prayers to the victims and their family and to all Canadians. This is another senseless act of violence that cannot be tolerated. The president also pledged to support the Canadian police and intelligence service in any way necessary. Prime Minister Trudeau was extremely appreciative and he was also cautious to draw conclusions on the motives at this stage in the investigation and the president shared those thoughts.

Canadian law enforcement officials are actively investigating this matter. We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation's safety and security. We're of course praying for those injured in the attack and are keeping close contact with officials in Quebec and Canada.

We're moving into a -- and then moving into a quick recap of the events of the past few days. As you all know, the president had an extremely busy weekend. He followed up on a week -- his first week of action with a weekend of action. On Saturday and Sunday alone, the president spoke with eight foreign leaders. He signed executive orders delivering on some of the biggest campaign promise that he made to the American people and he met with staff to continue to plan another busy week.

Also over this weekend, we carried out a very successful raid against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which resulted in the death of an estimate 14 AQAP members and the capture of important intelligence that will better enable us to counter and prevent future terrorist plots. Tragically, during this raid the life of a brave service member was taken and four were wounded. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the family of this fallen American hero and we also pray for the speedy recovery and complete recovery of those service members who sustained injuries.

As a quick recap, on Friday, you saw the president's enthusiastic reception at the Department of Defense for the ceremonial swearing-in of Secretary Mattis as our secretary of defense. While at the Pentagon, the president also signed two executive actions to protect America from those who wish to do us harm. This focus on securing our borders and our homeland was obviously a major part of what the president campaigned on. And now, he's doing exactly what the -- he's doing exactly what he told the American people he would do.

The president will always put the safety and prosperity of our country first and foremost. We kicked off Saturday by launching the weekly address which debuted for the first time on Facebook live. Nearly 11 million people were reached by the address online. Over 1.1 million people engaged with the post via comments, likes and other interactions. And as of this morning, the video had been viewed almost five million times.

And just as he did throughout the campaign, this is another example of the president being able to take his message directly to the American people. On Saturday, the president signed three executive actions on issues ranging from government ethics to national security. As part of the president's plan to drain the swamp in Washington and return power to the American people, he signed an executive order imposing strict post-employment rules on all federal political appointees, including a five-year lobbying ban and a lifetime ban for foreign government lobbying, among other restrictions.

The president continues to make it very, very clear that if you want to be part of a Trump administration, you're gonna be putting -- serving the country, not yourself.

SPICER: The president also signed a memorandum modernizing the structure of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. There's been a lot of misreporting this week about what this memo does and does not do. So let me walk you through this real quick. There's two issues at hand. One is the makeup of the NSC and the other is the makeup of the principles committee. The principle committee is merely the NSC minus the president.

The idea is that the chairman or (ph) the Joint Chiefs of Staff and DNA are being downgraded or removed is utter nonsense. They're at - they are at every NSC meeting and are welcome to attend the principles meetings as well. To be clear the memo lays out that if there's a principles meeting that is outside their scope, a homeland - a domestic issue that doesn't pertain to the military, they're not required but certainly welcome to be in attendance.

We recognize that certain homeland security issues may not be military issues and it would not be in the best interest of the joint chief's valuable time to be at these meetings. Just yesterday we called several outlets who were severely misreporting this topic to better inform them about what this memo means. Let me just walk though this real quick. This is 2001 NSC stand up memo, this is the 2009 memo, and then this one is the - I've got the '13 here as well - or the 2017 rather right here.

This is the language that is in - the language that consists of the national security team, the director of the central intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ask (ph) statutory advisors to the NSC shall also attend NSC meetings. That is the identical language in 2017 as it was in 2009 when Obama drafted his, verbatim identical. The makeup of the principles committee of 2017 is exactly as it was in both 2017 as it was in 2001. 100 percent identical except we add the word also.

I think it's pretty clear that if you look at all three of these, that's what it does. To be clear the memo - just yesterday we called that out, starting with the membership of the NSC as you can see the language that's part of the presidents memo is identical to the language for Presidents Bush's 2001. The only thing that's changed in this is the addition of the Director of National Intelligence as a position that didn't exist in 2001. For what it's worth, it's the same as Obama's, save (ph) for (ph) the word also.

In terms of the principles committee, as you can see from the various language here, and this is - I'll give you 2017 on the principles committee. This is the principles committee in 2017 and this is the 2001 principles committee, it is literally 100 percent the same. 2001 and 2017 are identical, so this idea that there's been a change or a downgrade is utter nonsense. With respect to the joint chiefs in particular the president holds Chairman Dunford in the highest regard. The suggestion that he would downgrade the important role that the chairman plays in matters of national security reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the tremendous respect that the president holds for both the chairman himself and the joint chiefs as a hold. For the record, I know someone tweeted out, where was the CIA in this? The CIA hasn't been part of the NSC since the DNI was sworn in for the first time in 2005.

That being said, the president has such respect for Director Pompeo and the men and women of the CIA that today the president is announcing that he will amend the memo to add CIA back into the NSC. So I know that there was tweet yesterday from the former national security advisor that said, where is the CIA out of everything?

Well I'd like to remind the former national security advisor that when the memo was drafted in 2009, I don't see the Obama administration including the CIA in theirs. It is President Trump that is including the CIA, not the former administration. So - so just to be clear when it comes to the CIA, as you know, number one it wasn't part of the restructuring of the NSC after the DNI was named and sworn in 2005.

And we are the administration that's adding it back into the NSC and amending it in. It was the Obama administration that didn't have it in, so to answer the former national security advisors tweet, the CIA is in (ph) our and it wasn't in theirs. With respect to - over - hold on one second. Moving on, the president also signed another memo when he was at the Department of Defense instructing the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the next 30 days to deliver to him a plan to defeat ISIS.

SPICER: This comprehensive strategy and plan must include a recommendation to changes to any rules of engagement and other policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use (ph) of ISIS; public diplomacy, information operations and cyber strategies to isolate and delegitimatize ISIS and its radical Islamist ideology; identification of new coalition partners in the fight against ISIS and policies to empower coalition partners to fight ISIS and its affiliates; mechanisms to cut off ISIS financial support, including financial transfers, money laundering, oil revenue, human trafficking, the sales of looted art, historical facts (sic) and other revenue sources; and a detailed strategy to robustly fund the plan.

This presidential memorandum is a profound statement that the president's clear objective is to defeat and destroy ISIS and that we're going to do it systematically. This is not only a necessary step for America's national security, it is also a humanitarian imperative. If ISIS is left in power, the threat it poses only grows. We know it has attempted to develop chemical weapons capabilities. It maintains a goal of recruiting home-grown terrorists and its attacks against our allies and partners continue to mount.

The United States must take decisive action, and the president is taking the necessary steps.

Over the weekend, the president also held constructive phone calls with the heads of government from Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. During the calls, the president reaffirmed our partnerships and discussed strengthening our mutual defenses and interests throughout the world.

The safety of the American people and the security of American homeland continue to be the president's top priority. His outreach to these leaders is a critical step in turning the page on the failed foreign policies of the past eight years. Notably, he did all this in the face of extreme obstructionism from Democrats in the Senate who are holding up 17 of his department or agency leads that require Senate confirmation. In contrast, 10 days into his term, President Obama only had seven people in these positions awaiting confirmation. President Bush had all but four confirmed.

If Senate Democrats think that voters are gonna be OK with them continuing business as usual, dragging their heels and confirming qualified nominees, they sorely misunderstood the message this November. The truth is these Cabinet members are unbelievably qualified and will all be confirmed by the Senate, and Democrats know this so it's time to stop playing political games with the core functions of our government.

This morning, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative sent 12 letters officially notifying the nations to (sic) the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the U.S. has withdrawn from the agreement; the next step in fulfilling the president's campaign promise to get our country out of unacceptable trade deals that don't put America's interests first. The president will continue to negotiate new, better trade agreements that will bring jobs back, increase American wages and reduce our trade deficit.

The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has been hard at work making sure that all lines of communication are open at all levels of government throughout the country. As of today, the White House has made contact with all governors office in every state and territory and deeper dive conversations on a range of issues have already taken place with 32 governors or their offices. Outreach efforts have touched 22 of 50 state attorney generals, 32 of 50 states' secretaries of stake, 16 speakers of the House, the leaders of the 10 largest federally recognized tribes and the leaders of some of the country's largest counties and municipalities.

All have expressed enthusiasm about working with the White House on issues impacting their local communities and families. The Intergovernmental Affairs Office is also preparing the -- is preparing for the National Governors Association meeting in Washington at the end of February, at which the president plans to host a dinner.

Today, the president started his day with a breakfast and listening session with small business leaders. A list of attendees is available if you're interested. The meeting comes on the heels of similar listening sessions that the president held last week with some of the country's top business and union leaders and frontline workers.

He's made it clear in his first week in office through numerous executive actions, meetings and listening sessions that he's fully committed to fighting on behalf of American workers and small businesses.

This morning, the vice president hosted a breakfast with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Naval Observatory and the president expects to greet the king this Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast. The vice president thanked the king for his efforts in advancing peace and stability in the Middle East and reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Jordan's security and economic development. The two leaders discussed events in the region, including ways to accelerate the coalition's efforts to defeat ISIS and promote a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

SPICER: The vice president welcomes the king's views on potential changes involving the U.S. embassy in Israel and reiterated the United States is at the early stages of this decision-making process.

The two leaders also discussed how to best make progress towards a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The vice president and King Abdullah agreed on the importance of continuing to strengthen U.S.-Jordan relationship and pledged to stay in close contact about events in the region. Also this morning, the president signed an executive order reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs.

The order instructs the director of office of management budget to issue guidelines that for every one new regulation, two existing regulations in an agency be eliminated. We're calling it one in, two out. Additionally, the order states that the cost of all new regulations finalized in fiscal 2017 must be no greater than zero for each agency. And beginning in 2018, each agency will have an incremental cost cap set by the director of OMB beyond which it cannot issue regulations.

This executive order is the first step in the president delivering on his promise to slash bureaucratic red tape that is choking our nation's small businesses. Under the president's leadership, the federal government will no longer punish Americans for working and doing business in the United States. Every year, over- regulation costs our economy billions of dollars and reduces the wealth of every American household.

This executive order will help get the economy back on track and is part of the president's bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade. It's worth noting that this order is perhaps the most significant administrative action in the world of regulatory reform since President Reagan created the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in 1981.

Finally, a few administrative notes. I'm pleased to announce that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel will visit the United States on February 15. Our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is crucial to the security of both our nations and the president looks forward to discussing continued strategic, technological, military, and intelligence cooperation with the prime minister.

As you know, tomorrow at 8:00 p.m., the president will announce who he intends to nominate for the Supreme Court. And for a party preaching tolerance, it's interesting to see some Democrats have already come out against this unnamed individual. So with that, I'd be glad to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, President Trump requested that the kind of Saudi Arabia join him by supporting safe zones in Syria.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: What type of support does President Trump intend to provide and when can Syrian civilians expect to receive this support?

SPICER: Well, I think it came up in several of his calls and that's an important note, that there is such strong agreement with how we address this problem and you're seeing it from across the spectrum. It's important that we have stability in the region and I think that the idea that this was an area of mutual discussion and agreement is important to talk - when we talk about stability in the region and so we'll have continued discussions on it but I think that first step of getting both sides on the first page was a huge step forward.

QUESTION: The president said today in that on-camera session with the business leaders about how - talked about how the market has run up during his - over the last couple months. I want to ask you a question related to that. Today, coincidentally happens to be the biggest market drop since October and one of the uncertainties for investors is that tax reform might not get done this year.

So my question to you is, can the administration commit to major tax reform in 2017?

SPICER: Well, that's a two way street. And I think that you've seen a commitment from the president to fight on behalf of small businesses. That's what this regulation thing was today. I mean, it really can't underscore how important it is. Since 1981, we haven't seen anything of this magnitude to address the regulation - the regulatory impact that small businesses face.

We're going to continue to work with both houses of Congress, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee to develop a comprehensive tax plan. And I think that there's eagerness on behalf of Congress to do that as well so that - that is a very promising thing. But I would also note that when you look not just at the ups and downs of a market, but you look at consumer confidence and a lot of the other market indicators, this - a Trump presidency brought a lot of confidence back to traders, to investors, more importantly to job creators.

And you look at the number of individuals, the small businesses, the large businesses, the automakers, all coming in and saying to the president "I want to be part of your effort, your agenda to make the country better, to grow jobs here, to bring jobs back here." I think it's a positive sign not just on the ups and downs of one day's market fluctuation but the overall commitment that businesses have to want to work with this administration to add jobs,

[14:00:00] to create better jobs, to add benefits, to find out how the president can ease the regulatory burden they face.