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Trump Fires Acting A.G., Interview with Rep. Chris Collins; Set to Pick SCOTUS Nominee; Inside the DOJ Following Shake-up; Interview with Sen. Angus King. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They should either get with the program, or they can go.

[07:00:04] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Sally Yates' abrupt firing muddies the water between justice and politics.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually had a very good day in terms of homeland security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a Muslim ban. This is about public safety.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: It will make us less safe. Not more safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would you implement this travel ban without having your attorney general in place?

TRUMP: Democrats are acting deliberately slow. They're not behaving well at all.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Steve Bannon driving decision on Trump's agenda.

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: In those meetings, we were purely observers. Steve Bannon is going to be a principal at the table.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We begin with a breathtaking 12 hours in Donald Trump's presidency. There was drama and intrigue in the nation's capital.

The president sending a hand-delivered letter to the acting attorney general, firing her for refusing to defend his travel ban. Then a new acting A.G. was sworn in right away, who promised to, quote, defend the lawful orders of our president. The Trump administration also naming a new acting ICE director as confusion over the travel ban persists at U.S. airports.

CUOMO: And today comes the next big move and potential from the problems of the last big move. Tonight's big primetime live announcement is going to reveal the president's pick for the Supreme Court. The media is going to eat it up, but Democrats may be waiting in the weeds to pounce.

We're just in day 12 of the Trump White House. We've got every angle covered. Let's start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, live at the White House -- Jeff.

ZELENY: Chris, it was an extraordinary series of events here at the White House just overnight, as the Trump administration is shaken by that executive order he signed on Friday.

Now, set the Democratic criticism aside, this White House is hearing Republican criticism from many of his own cabinet nominees, who wonder, A, why weren't informed or helped participate in implementing all of this.

All of this is now threatening to consume his young presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): In an extraordinary move, President Trump firing acting attorney general Sally Yates. Her dismissal coming via hand- delivered letter, only hours after she stood in defiance of the president's travel ban. Yates writing in a letter she is not convinced the executive order is lawful, citing that the solemn obligation of the Department of Justice is to always seek justice and stand for what is right.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We had a Monday night massacre. Sally Yates, a person of great integrity, who follows the law, was fired.

ZELENY: The White House attacking the career prosecutor, claiming Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice" and is "weak on borders," after she instructed the Justice Department not to defend the president's executive order on immigration and refugees. Immediately following, the swearing in of new acting attorney general Dana Boente. Yates's replacement rescinding her guidance right away, directing the Department of Justice to, quote, "defend the lawful orders of our president."

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I want to make sure I have the law and the facts.

ZELENY: Appointed by President Obama, Yates garnering major bipartisan support in 2015. Senator Jeff Sessions, who's currently awaiting confirmation as attorney general, seen her asking her if she'd bend to political pressure from then-President Obama.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general, or the deputy attorney general say no? YATES: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy

attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.

ZELENY: In yet another swift move Monday night, President Trump naming Thomas Homan as the new acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, demoting Dan Ragsdale to his previous position of deputy director.

Meantime, the president's travel ban met with growing outrage in Washington.

GRAHAM: Your executive order was too broad. You didn't vet it.

ZELENY: And across the country.

Only ten days after leaving office, former President Obama weighing in. A spokesman saying, "The protests are exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake."

Trump's White House slamming any opposition, telling dissenting State Department officials to quit their posts if they disagree with the policy.

SPICER: I think that they should either get with the program or they can go.

ZELENY: All this as President Trump moves up his Supreme Court nomination announcement by two days, scheduling a primetime address tonight.

TRUMP: I think you will be very impressed with this person.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, the president has met personally with at least three contenders for that first Supreme Court nomination, of course, to replace the seat of the former justice, Antonin Scalia.

CNN has learned that the leading candidates for this position are Neil Gorsuch. He's a federal appellate judge in Colorado, 49 years old, and Thomas Hardiman. He's on the federal bench in Pittsburgh. He is 51 years old. Of course, this is a lifetime appointment here.

[07:05:13] But whoever is announced tonight, the confirmation hearing certainly will be embroiled by this legal fight over immigration, as will the Senate vote today in the Judiciary Committee for Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Some Democratic senators are asking for more time, more questions to ask him about this immigration order. He is expected to be confirmed, but again not without a fight over this immigration executive order.

CAMEROTA: OK. It's going to be a very interesting day. Thank you for that, Jeff. Well, Sally Yates' abrupt firing and the naming of an immediate replacement for the acting attorney general is all playing out inside the Justice Department. How?

CNN's Evan Perez is live from Washington with more. What have you learned, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, well, all weekend Sally Yates wrestled with what to do about an executive order that the Trump White House simply did not consult her on. She was among several top lawyers in the department who didn't feel that they could defend the order, which bans most travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The chaotic -- chaotic weekend roll-out led to emergency court hearings that showed how ill-prepared government lawyers were to defend the executive order.

White House officials were anticipating on Monday that Yates might resign, but instead she wrote a memo ordering Justice Department lawyers not to defend the executive order. And her memo essentially invited the president to fire her. She said, quote, "For as long as I'm the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order." She was fired about four hours later.

Dana Boente, the new acting attorney general, like Yates is also an Obama appointee, and she -- and he has now rescinded her memo. But by defying President Trump and getting fired, Yates became a big hero to many inside the department.

Meanwhile, other Justice Department lawyers are uncomfortable about the showdown. They think Yates should have just resigned without instructing subordinates not to defend the executive order -- Chris.

CUOMO: Except that's exactly what they took an oath to do, which was to give her own independent counsel to the president on matters of the law.

PEREZ: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Evan, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Republican congressman from New York Chris Collins. He's co-chair of the House Leadership Committee.

Hey, Congressman, it's good to have you on the show. So you feel good about what you signed up for so far in terms of this ban. Do you like this ban?

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: I do. Donald Trump, President Trump is doing exactly what he promised he would do: keeping America safe, putting America first. And the liberal media is trying to make something out of this, as well as certainly, Senator Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, trying to call it some kind of ban on Muslims, which it's not. It's just putting America first as we get the Department of Homeland Security and the others involved with making sure that we're vetting those coming into our country. We know who they are.

So it is putting America first and making America safe. It's not this ban on Muslims that they're trying to make it into.

CUOMO: Well, I hear you, but you're basically defending it with a slogan, saying, "It's America first." It is not about changing the procedures, because you've changed nothing. You did the ban first. You guys tell us not to call it a ban. The president calls it a ban.

COLLINS: Oh, it's a ban.

CUOMO: And, in fact, during -- well, yesterday, you had surrogates on here saying, "Don't call it that. It's only a moratorium. It's just like Obama's policy in 2011," which you know is poppycock. It's nothing like the 2011 situation. And so you didn't change your vetting. You did a ban, and he called it a Muslim ban during the campaign. So how are we wrong to describe it that way?

COLLINS: Well, it's a 120-day pause on refugees coming in from any country, and certainly, those seven countries that, for the next 90 days, we're not going to let foreign nationals in from are the same seven countries that last year, with Obama as president, were identified as those countries that had terrorism...

CUOMO: Except Obama identified them as places where you need to watch who traveled in and out of those places and make select judgments on those people. Not just someone's nationality, which is what you're doing now. So again, what are we getting wrong?

COLLINS: It's a temporary moratorium. It's a temporary ban.

CUOMO: That's a ban.

COLLINS: It's a temporary ban.

CUOMO: It's still a ban. The president calls it a ban. How -- what are we saying that's wrong? I haven't heard anything yet.

COLLINS: Because we want to know who's coming in the country. He is going to err on the side of safety for Americans. He is going to get his arms around, with his team, the issues of vetting these individuals. And I've heard a lot of folks, Democrats included, that say a 90-day, 120-day pause, there's nothing wrong as he's putting his administration together. If the Democrats would approve his cabinet appointees a little quicker.

CUOMO: One issue at a time. We'll get to the appointees. I get that criticism. One thing at a time.

[07:10:03] One, the Constitution doesn't distinguish in duration. So a ban of one day is the same as of a thousand days. Putting a 120 -- you know, a stoppage on refugees. They are the most vetted individuals that come into our country.

So if you want to stop liabilities in our immigration system, theoretically, you would stop everything else first, other than the refugees, because nobody is as vetted as well as they are. But you're not doing that. And you're only picking these seven countries and not the ones where the 9/11 attackers came from, which doesn't make any sense to people if what your concern is, is protecting us from the threat, because there are no statistics you can point to that show refugees as a threat in this country.

COLLINS: Well, no, the temporary ban is on all countries. Not just these seven.

CUOMO: It's on refugees.

COLLINS: It's a 120-day ban on refugees from any country.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: Not just those seven.

CUOMO: Right. But what I'm saying is you can't show me a threat assessment or a metric that proves that refugees are a threat to you and me, where we live in this country.

COLLINS: President Trump and his -- his cabinet, his security advisers, are going to get their arms around what's going to be best for America as he's just taking office. A 120-day pause is not that outrageous, as the Democrats are saying. He is getting his arms around it. He is saying he's going to make sure they know what's going on, and I think America supports the 120-day pause.

CUOMO: I don't know that they support it. Certainly, I see protests all over the country. You see federal courts acting out against it. You had an acting attorney general saying she couldn't defend it. But I think the larger question is the way they did it.

OK, whether or not it was legal will be decided by the courts, not by us here today, but why wouldn't you, common sense dictates, go to the agencies who are involved, figure out what they do now, figure out how to do it better, and then go do that? Why would you just stop everything as it is, put lives in peril, send an ugly message to the rest of the world, when it -- you're not even ready to do anything differently yet?

COLLINS: Well, primarily, because he is going -- President Trump is going to make sure, if he's going to err, it's on the side of keeping America safe. And so this temporary pause for 120 days, allowing the president and his team to understand what these other agencies are doing, understand in the past we had catch-and-release, a porous border. We had refugees coming in that we don't believe were properly vetted. That Obama folks can say otherwise. But we're going from the mindset of porous borders to truly clamping down on who's coming in this country.

CUOMO: Just saying the numbers suggest -- the numbers suggest you're in pretty good shape right now when it comes to attacks -- attacks on domestic soil and where they come from. Refugees have not been our major risk right now. You've got a better chance of getting hit in the head by a dresser than you do of getting killed by a refugee. Let's talk about Steve Bannon. Are you comfortable with him having a

seat on the NSC?

COLLINS: Yes, I am. I'm comfortable with the president of the United States putting anyone on any agency that he thinks will give him advice he needs that may have a counter in debates as to what the proper action is to take. You don't need "yes men." You need people who still stand up to the president and say, "Mr. President, I disagree with this person or that person." That is someone like Steve Bannon, who's known the president a very long time, who will say to him, at times, "I don't agree with that," talk him into potentially changing his mind, as there's 6, 8, 10 people debating an issue. So I support this president surrounding himself with those people whose advice he implicitly trusts and he knows will give him the straight talk.

CUOMO: Well, there's no question that Bannon has influence with the president. When you say that his opinion should be valued, on what basis? What is his pedigree to put him in the room with our intelligence and military leaders as a self-described Leninist who wants to destroy the state?

COLLINS: Well, I think it comes down to just the fundamental strengths of someone like a Steve Bannon, who can listen to differing opinions, can sometimes very succinctly bring those back into the proper points and not go, you know, off on tangents.

I just think he's a brilliant strategist who, you know, is going to be one more voice in the president's ear. He's not going to be calling the shots. That's the job of the president of the United States. The president wants someone that's by his side he knows he can trust, and that is Steve Bannon, so I have absolutely no problems with it.

CUOMO: Chris Collins, appreciate you making the case for the administration, as always.

COLLINS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: You're always welcome on NEW DAY. Be well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Blowback from the Trump travel ban, will it affect the confirmation of any cabinet nominees?

[07:15:05] Senator Angus King joins us with his take, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: President Trump firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who defied him by refusing to enforce his travel ban. Our next guest believes the travel ban is dangerous. Independent Senator Angus King tweeted, "Unfortunately, President Trump has taken the bait, and the fight against ISIS just got a lot harder."

Senator King is a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. He joins us now.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: President Trump says the travel ban will make America safer. Why do you disagree?

KING: It will make America much more dangerous. I think, Alisyn, this is probably the worst foreign policy decision since the invasion of Iraq. What it's done is played right into ISIS's hands.

I've spent probably 50, 60 percent of my time around here on foreign policy and on terrorism, both on Intelligence and Armed Services. They want us to turn this into a war of the west against Islam. They have explicitly said they want to drive a wedge between peaceful, non- violent Muslims and the west, particularly America. We just played right into their hands.

[07:20:02] Over the weekend, there were all kinds of excited communications from ISIS about what a great thing Donald Trump had done for them. And we've got troops in Iraq fighting alongside Muslim troops. And -- and what does it do to that situation? What kind of danger does it -- does it raise? There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and we don't want a war with all of them. We don't need a war with all of them. We're not opposed to all of them. There's a relatively small group.

But this blunderbuss approach that this ban represents is a signal to those people in the country and out of the country that "We don't want them; we don't want to deal with them."

And then the final piece is, on intelligence, a great deal of the intelligence that we get about terrorism here and abroad comes from Muslims, comes from people within the Muslim community who say, "There's something going awry here." That's where the tips come from. And something like this just makes it harder for those people to have confidence in our government.

It's a disaster from the point of view of national security.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

KING: And it's also a disaster from the point of view of how they did it. They didn't consult with Homeland Security. They didn't consult with their new secretary of defense, their new secretary of Homeland Security. As far -- they didn't consult with the Justice Department. This was done in the dark of night at the White House. No consultation with anybody. And a terrible process, terrible result.

CAMEROTA: So, Senator, you feel very strongly about this. What can you do about it?

KING: Well, I think, you know, we -- we can talk about it. We can look at it. We can look. We can hold hearings. We can call people to account. For me, it -- it -- it sort of settled my mind over the week on two appointments. One, I'm going to vote for Rex Tillerson, in spite of some significant

reservations about ExxonMobil and about his ties to Russia, because I think he'll give the president the kind of independent advice that he needs; and he's a guy that doesn't need the job. I suspect right now he probably wonders if he wants the job. But I think he will be an independent voice.

I've decided, on the other hand, not to vote for Jeff Sessions as attorney general for sort of the opposite reasons. And I like Jeff. He's a friend. I've worked with him here. We really have gotten along very well.

But I'm not voting to confirm a friend. I'm voting to confirm somebody who I think has to stand up to the president and say, "This is wrong," just like that clip you played earlier today. The question is, how will Jeff answer that question? And I'm just, in my gut, because of his relationship with Mr. Trump and his history. I'm just not sure he would give the kind of independent advice that this president desperately needs.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that Jeff Sessions' nomination is in danger?

KING: I don't, because I don't think any of his Republican colleagues are going to vote against him, and they have the votes. They -- they have 52 votes. Now, there may be some who are privately thinking about this and uncomfortable about it, but I'd be very surprised. I mean I'm just -- I'm giving you a prediction here. I'd be very surprised if any of those votes changed.

And I -- this is one of the most difficult ones that I've had to deal with on this series of nominations. But, in the end, as I say, I think the crucial -- in this particular case, where this president, you know, he listens to a very narrow group of people, and as we've learned this weekend, can make some very bad decisions. I think he really needs -- we need to get some people around him as quickly as possible who can rein in those impulses like what we saw this weekend.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, the White House says that Sally Yates was weak on border security, and she was weak on immigration. And if she's not going to carry out the president's executive orders, then she has no business being in the Justice Department under President Trump. I mean, that's what Senator Sessions will say, as well. If you don't share the president's world view, you start to hear the White House saying this, then maybe you shouldn't be there.

KING: Well, Sally Yates, she -- she did what she thought was right. The president has a right to do what he did. I don't question that.

But I question whether -- I mean, at some point, as a leader, you have to learn to listen to people who may not agree with you, who may not affirm what you want to do. And if you don't do that, you're going to make some big mistakes, which I think was made on Friday.

So, sure, he has a right to pick people. I'm a former governor. I've wanted to pick my cabinet and people that I want to work with. But I think there are some outside limits. And in this case, you know, we've never -- as everybody keeps saying, we've never experienced anything like this.

And the fact that they did this order without consultation -- as near as I can tell. I mean, there may have been some behind the scenes, but as near as I can tell, nobody in Congress, Republicans or Democrats, nobody at the Justice Department, Homeland Security, State Department, Defense Department had input to this. And that's a terrible way to make a decision that I believe can impact negatively this country for generations.

CAMEROTA: Senator, before we let you go, I just want to get your take on the Supreme -- the possible Supreme Court nominees that Mr. Trump will be announcing. He'll be choosing one of them tonight in prime time, 8 p.m.

[07:25:08] So here are -- according to our CNN reporting, here are the top two contenders. We have Judge Gorsuch, and we have Judge Hardiman. Interestingly, President Trump's sister sits on the court with Judge Hardiman. We understand that she knows him and likes him. Who do you think Mr. Trump will be naming tonight?

KING: I have no idea. I'm going to do what I've done throughout this process. I'm going to listen to the hearings. I will probably go to the Judiciary Committee hearings, even though I'm not a member. I did that with Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions, for example. I'm going to listen. I don't know these two gentlemen. I don't know their judicial temperament and record. And I'm going to make an independent judgment, based upon whether I believe they're going to interpret the law according to the Constitution and the -- and existing law and not try to make law. That's -- that's -- that's my criteria.

CAMEROTA: Senator Angus King, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

KING: Thank you.

CUOMO: President Trump's travel ban has sparked a global uproar. What do his supporters think? Are they standing by their man? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)