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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump a Threat to Europe?; Democrats Boycott Cabinet Votes; Furor Continues Over President Trump's Travel Ban; Dems Delay Vote on Sessions for Attorney General; Trump Announces Court Pick Tonight at 8 ET. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A European leader puts the Trump administration on a list of threats to the E.U., along with Russia, China, and ISIS.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: the head of the European Council listing the Trump administration as one of the external threats facing the 27 European nations. Is President Trump playing right into Vladimir Putin's hands?

Who will it be? We are just a few hours away from finding out President Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. Who are the top contenders? Where do they stand on the most charged issues? And how hard will the Democrats fight them?

Plus, a U.S. raid against terrorists where too many things did not go according to plan, leading to the first American combat death on President Trump's watch. Also among those killed, the 8-year-old daughter of a notorious American terrorist.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump's executive action temporarily banning visitors from several countries from entering the U.S., putting a hold on the refugee program and perhaps indefinitely halting the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. continues to create controversy and conflict.

Last night, President Trump finally brought the heft of the office to his trademark line, you're fired, calling the then acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama appointee, weak on immigration issues and accusing her of betraying the Department of Justice by refusing to stand behind the Trump executive order on immigration.

Chaos has of course rippled from Washington, D.C., to airports in foreign capital around the world. Today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was complaining that members of the media are unfairly using the term ban to describe the president's action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's also made very clear that this is not a Muslim ban. It's not a travel ban. It's a vetting system to keep America safe. That's it.

It can't be a ban if you're letting a million people in. If 325,000 people from another country can't come in, that is by nature not a ban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Not a ban, OK. But I could have sworn I heard somebody in the Trump administration using the term ban before. Was it possibly President Trump on Twitter?

Quote: "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there."

Now, Sean Spicer was in fact asked about the president's use of the word ban in that tweet today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: He is using the word that the media is using.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. So, though the president put bad and dudes in quotation in that tweet, and he didn't use quotations for ban, he was merely using the term that the media is unfairly using.

It seems odd, though, right? If you object to the term, you shouldn't use it, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: It's a 90-day ban to ensure that we have further vetting restrictions, so that we know who is coming to this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. But, to be fair, that was Sean Spicer on Sunday. Surely, he has not used the term ban since then, such as, I don't know, last night when he spoke at George Washington University.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Let me just walk through the ticktock. One, the ban deals with seven countries that the Obama administration previously identified as needing further travel restrictions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. Everybody clear now? Nobody should follow the lead of the biased media and call the executive action a ban. Instead, follow the lead of the White House and call it a ban. President Trump's actions in office have opened up a fissure between

the Washington establishment and the White House confident on going it alone as the president pushes through his agenda.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

Jeff, what are you learning about what is going on behind the scenes at the White House? It seems a bit chaotic from this view.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, behind the scenes, there is a lot of frustration, and much of which you saw play out right there in the press briefing today with Sean Spicer.

But whenever a press secretary is saying something like that, he likely is reflecting the mood of the principal, in this case the president, who I am told is frustrated and furious by all the criticism of this. But, Jake, what they're also frustrated by is the fact that Republicans on Capitol Hill won't come to their aid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is still trying to clean up the mess and clear up confusion across the government, from its executive order on immigration.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly coming out today in hopes of restoring order.

GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims.

ZELENY: Four days after President Trump signed an order closing the nation's borders to refugees and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the controversy threatened to escalate into a Washington crisis.

The president fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, after she stood in defiance of Trump's travel ban. The White House said she betrayed the Department of Justice and swore in a new acting attorney general.

[16:05:02]

As Democrats protested the substance of the order, Republicans were furious for not being consulted.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And so I think there was -- regrettably, the rollout was confusing, but on a go-forward basis, I'm confident that Secretary Kelly is going to make sure that this is done correctly, that they get a good review, and that we're going to make sure that we get this program up and running with the kind of vetting standards that we all want to see.

ZELENY: Secretary Kelly, who must implement the action at the Department of Homeland Security, did not directly say how much he knew about the order before it was signed. KELLY: I did know it was under development. I had an opportunity to

look at, at least two, as I recollect, drafts as it got closer to Friday.

ZELENY: But across many agencies, the order came as a surprise. And chaos ensued in those early hours at airports and on airplanes.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued today the order could not be called a ban.

SPICER: It is by nature not a ban.

ZELENY: Yet a ban is precisely how the president described it on Saturday.

TRUMP: It's working out very nicely. And we are going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting.

ZELENY: Pressed whether it was or was not a ban, Spicer blasted the media today.

SPICER: No, I'm not confused. I think that the words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling this. He has been very clear that it is extreme vetting.

ZELENY: On Capitol Hill, Democrats are seizing on the confusion, holding up confirmation of some nominees to the president's Cabinet.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The level of incompetence of this administration already, only 10 days into the presidency, is staggering.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Of course, Democrats are likely to look for any opening here, and indeed they have found one. The question is, is it a short-term one or is it a long-term one? The implementation of any program is always so essential.

President Obama learned that with the health care act. But, Jake, what the White House is most concerned about, again, is that few Republicans on Capitol Hill, even though they have asked them, have not come to their aid on this. They are still working through, I would say, a few more kinks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's move now to these astounding comments from the head of the European Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, who says the Trump administration poses a -- quote -- "external threat" to Europe's stability. He is lumping the new president of the United States and his administration in with Russia and China as unpredictable, disruptive forces in a changing world.

In a letter to the 27 E.U. heads of state, Tusk warned European leaders that -- quote -- "Worrying declarations by President Trump are seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy."

In the declaration, Tusk also said the Trump administration is among "external threats to the E.U., along with an assertive China, especially on the seas, Russia's aggressive policy towards Ukraine and its neighbors, wars, terror, anarchy in the Middle East and in Africa, and radical Islam."

The context here is important. National security experts say Vladimir Putin would like nothing more than for NATO and the European Union to crumble and fall, making his job easier of hastening the collapse of Western democracies and regaining influence if not complete control in the Eastern Europe and beyond.

European leaders, national security experts say, are fearful as to how far President Trump's skepticism about NATO and the E.U. will go. They see a president who touts -- quote -- "America first" and whose campaign promises and actions could lead to destabilization and potentially open a door to increased Russian influence.

Let's bring in the former head of NSA and the CIA General Michael Hayden.

General, thanks so much for joining me, as always.

How concerned are you about the role President Trump may play in potentially destabilizing the E.U. and NATO?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, I'm very concerned if our European friends are as concerned as you just suggested.

Look, it's hard to figure right now whether the statements coming from the president are simply a negotiating position to get the Europeans to bear more of the burden, which I think all of us in the security community believe would be a very good thing, or is it the first step in disestablishing the national security structures that have kept the world a relatively safer place for the last 75 years?

And it remains to be seen in which direction this is going to go. Look, the president has made an awful lot about being unpredictable being a strategic advantage. But this seems to be drifting into a position where our friends think we're unreliable, and that's a dangerous space, Jake.

TAPPER: And the other thing that's interesting is you have -- on the one hand, you have people like Secretary of Defense retired General Mattis who is a big believer in preserving NATO, is a big believer in preserving stability in Europe through the E.U., and on the other hand, you have people like the president's top strategist, Steven Bannon, who is a self-described Leninist and very distrustful of institutions and has spoken very skeptically about the European Union and other such institutions.

[16:10:01]

And it's hard to know whose lead the president will follow. HAYDEN: Jake, that's exactly right.

I have never seen so much daylight between what the president has said, the people closest around him have said in the White House, and what his Cabinet nominees and agency head nominees have said.

I think that's a wonderfully strong team that he selected. And they said an awful lot of things inconsistent with some of the messages from the White House. So, now the question becomes, where is policy being made?

How much is the center of gravity in those 18 acres in downtown Washington, and how much of it is out there in the Cabinet-level departments and the agencies? That's another important issue that was reflected in another executive order over this past weekend.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the executive order on immigration and banning refugees temporarily from everywhere, banning refugees indefinitely from Syria, and then, of course, the travel ban from seven majority Muslim countries that have been pinpointed as national security concerns.

Do you think the executive order will make the United States safer?

HAYDEN: No.

In fact, Jake, I believe quite the opposite. It will make us less safe. Look, the executive order is based upon two, I think, very twisted pictures of reality, number one, that immigrants, visa holders and refugees were an imminent, almost apocalyptic threat to the United States, and, number two, that we had no procedures for vetting these individuals.

Both of those are untrue. So, we take this very dramatic step, which I think would be justified only in emergency circumstances. And what we have done, Jake -- and this is really important. There is a civil war going on within Islam. That's the center of gravity of this current struggle.

It's not yet a war between civilizations. It's a war within this great monotheism. And when we do the kinds of things we did this last weekend, we strengthen the forces within Islam who want this to be a war between Islam and the West, between Islam and modernity. What we have done, Jake, to those folks who are helping us, those who are yet undecided, we have done things that make our enemies within Islam's narrative seem to be true.

That's going to motivate more people to oppose us and our friends, might even motivate some people to take up arms against us there, and, I deeply fear, here.

TAPPER: The big concern obviously being homegrown terrorists. Most of the terrorist attacks that have happened within the United States in the last 10, 15 years since 9/11 have been from individuals who have citizenship or were even born in the United States. Let me ask you another question, General. White House Press Secretary

Sean Spicer said that the White House has not made any substantial changes to the National Security Council on its Principals Committee.

But, of course, you know that Steve Bannon has been elevated, given a seat on the Principals Committee. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, unlike the way it was in the Obama administration, they now can -- they shall come when they're addressing an area of their expertise, but they are no longer on the Principals Committee.

Is that a big deal? Is that something that concerns you?

HAYDEN: It does concern me.

Now, with regard to the chairman and the director of national intelligence not being guaranteed a seat all the time, that can be managed, and I hope it is. General Dick Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, just said on your network that he thinks they should be there for all the meetings.

But the one that really concerns me is the presence of Steve Bannon there. Now, we can object to the personality and some of the things he believes in, but structurally I just think that's a bad idea.

Let me cut to the bottom line, Jake. Karl Rove was never in a meeting that I cared about while I was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I think that's the right formula.

TAPPER: General Hayden, it's always good to have you on the show. Thank you so much, sir.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We turn now to Capitol Hill. President Trump's nominees for attorney general, health and human services secretary and treasury secretary have all been delayed by Democrats.

How the president's Cabinet confirmations were brought to a standstill today -- that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:04] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're sticking with politics now, because we are just under four hours away from President Trump announcing his Supreme Court pick. But even before we get to that likely contentious debate, there was a genuine Senate showdown over his cabinet nominees today. Senate Democrats are boycotting committee votes on Congressman Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary and Steve Mnuchin to run the Treasury Department. Late today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer postponed until tomorrow a judiciary committee vote on Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

At this point in the Obama presidency, at least 12 cabinet or cabinet level nominees had been confirmed by the Senate. President Trump, he's had five confirmations. Secretary Defense Mattis, General John Kelly at Homeland Security, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and this afternoon, Elaine Chao at the Department of Transportation.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, why was the vote on Senator Sessions delayed?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, simply put, Democrats do not want him to be attorney general and they don't have the vote to stop him from being confirmed. So, they want to make the process as difficult as possible for Donald Trump.

Now, this came after a rather contentious hearing today. Several hours of a back and forth between Republicans and Democrats about whether or not Sessions deserved to be confirmed as attorney general. Here is a little bit from today's hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IOWA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Because we know him to be a man of his word. We know that he will uphold and enforce all laws equally without regard to person just as he pledged.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEI (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He's been a staunch campaign partisan for the president. He has reinforced and supported the Trump mission, style, rhetoric and views. He was the first senator to endorse. He has attended at least 45 Trump campaign events.

[16:20:00] He wore the hat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Jake, what Democrats did was they objected on the floor of the Senate to prevent committees from meeting for longer than two hours when the Senate is in session. That is something that is rarely done, but Democrats have done now for two consecutive days as they try to make things as difficult as possible for Donald Trump.

But tomorrow, the Judiciary Committee will have a vote on Jeff Sessions, expected to be approved on a party line vote in committee, and full Senate expected to confirm him by the end of the week, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. And, Manu, tell us about the boycott by Democrats on the confirmation votes of Steve Mnuchin for Treasury and Congressman Price for Health and Human Services.

RAJU: It was a rather dramatic scene, a move that is rarely seen in the Senate where senators do not show up for a key committee vote. In the Senate Finance Committee, Democrats were very concerned about those two choices, Tom Price for HHS, Steven Mnuchin to head Treasury, saying they misled the committee on some of the key questions and answers during their sworn testimony, dramatically deciding not to show up at that vote today. Under the rules of that committee, you need to have at least one

Democrat present in order to have that committee vote.

I had a chance to talk to Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the committee who did not hide his frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: They already is. Anybody to do something like that, it's just complete breach of decorum. It's a complete breach of committee rules. It's a complete breach of just getting along around here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, hatch is weighing whether or not to have another vote tomorrow, try to have a vote tomorrow in his committee, force Democrats to show up. If they don't show up, the question is what happens next. That could mean that the only way Donald Trump can get these nominees into his cabinet is through a recess appointment because the Senate rules require that the committee actually approve it before the whole full Senate actually votes.

So, that could be the first step that could be a pretty dramatic step for Donald Trump. It actually can limit how long they can serve in office if the Senate does not confirm them to the post, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Manu, lastly if you could, CNN has also confirmed this "Washington Post" story, Betsy DeVos, President Trump's choice to run Department of education, appears to have actually plagiarize some of her answers to questions submitted by senators who voted on her confirmation. So, is that possible that the United States is going to have a secretary of education who plagiarized?

RAJU: It's very possible, Jake. In her questions and answers to Senator Patty Murray, who's a top Democrat on the committee, she was asked about the bullying of LGBT students. And she almost directly quoted Vanita Gupta, who's the former top Obama civil rights official at the Justice Department, saying every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where this can learn, thrive and grow -- as you can see from the screen there, word for word, saying those same things. Today she was approved by that committee on a party line vote. The question is will she get approved in the full Senate. We'll see in just a matter of days, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Be sure to tune into CNN for a special event. I'll be hosting a town hall with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. She will answer my questions and questions from the audience. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

One will go home hat in hand. The other will be one step closer to the lifetime appointments to the highest court in the land. The president is inviting his final two Supreme Court choices to the White House tonight. Which one will he pick? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:57] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Politics now -- barring a sudden change of heart which we know is entirely possible, President Trump has settled on his Supreme Court nominee and tonight, we will find out who it is. During the campaign, President Trump touted a list of 21 potential picks. It was a list drafted by conservative think tank. In the last couple weeks, that list dwindled down to four, then down to three this week, and overnight, two names emerge as top contenders, according to sources close to the process.

There's Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Denver, with Ivy League credentials who rose up as a Senate page. His mother was the first female administrator of the EPA under President Reagan, Anne Gorsuch.

Bachelor number two is Thomas Hardiman, a federal appeals court judge in Pittsburgh raised by blue collar parents who drove a cab while at Georgetown Law School.

CNN Supreme Court correspondent Pamela Brown has been in touch with her sources all day.

Pamela, you're going to give me a name? What are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, increasing indications are that Judge Gorsuch will be the pick. But as you pointed out, President Trump could have a change of heart and the White House is taking extraordinary measures to conceal the top pick, even summoning the two top finalists to the Supreme Court to Washington, D.C., adding to this building suspense before tonight's announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Just hours before the president's big primetime announcement, CNN caught up with one of his two top contenders, Judge Thomas Hardiman on his way to Washington, stopping to gas up in Bedford, Pennsylvania.

REPORTER: Can I ask about your trip to D.C.? Are you the potential Supreme Court pick?

BROWN: And while Judge Hardiman was heading to the capital --

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, POTENTIAL SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: It's lovely to be here.

BROWN: -- sources tell CNN increasing indications are that Trump's pick is Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado, and that he is already in D.C. His judicial philosophy aligns with the conservative icon he could replace, Justice Antonin Scalia. And he believes, as Scalia did, in the literal interpretation of the Constitution.

The two men seen here fly fishing in Colorado were said to be close friends.

GORSUCH: The world suffered a seismic shock with the loss of Justice Scalia.

BROWN: Judge Gorsuch's legal opinions on religious liberty attracted the attention of those helping Trump make his pick.

In the Hobby Lobby case, he sided with the corporations who claimed the so-called "contraceptive mandate" in Obamacare violated their religious beliefs.