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Trump vs. Australia; Trump Asks People to Pray for 'The Apprentice'; White House Defends Death of Navy SEAL in Yemen Raid. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour now. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Brooke Baldwin on this Thursday.

And we are following breaking news on multiple fronts.

First, President Trump speaking at the White House just a short time ago offering another dose of tough talk when it comes to provocations from Iran.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing is off the table. I haven't eased anything. I haven't eased anything.


BROWN: The president's comments on easing there may have also been referring to the news that the Treasury Department will allow some U.S. companies to do limited business with Russia's intelligence agency.

We're going to have more on that in just a moment, but let me bring in CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

This is all happening on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first day, Elise. Does President Trump's unconventional style make his job a little harder when it comes to diplomacy?


Listen, President Trump was elected with a very brash and unorthodox style that a large sector of the American public found refreshing and new.

But in diplomacy, kind of nuanced, context, statesmanship really matters. And so these world leaders are not really used to this kind of brash tone by specifically an American president. And it is making Rex Tillerson's job a lot harder as he starts today. He is supposed, on his first day in the job, maybe reach out to the Canadian, the Mexican foreign ministers, perhaps the Australian foreign minister and try to kind of smooth the way a little bit.

And when he arrived at the State Department today, he's also taking over a work force really in turmoil after that new immigration policy, up to about 1,000 diplomats offering their dissent in a scathing protest of that new immigration policy and the idea that he was -- that the State Department was left out of the loop.

So, today, I think he was trying to assuage fears that this new secretary of state has their back, but he did acknowledge it was a contested election and not everybody feels the same way, but everyone has to work together.

BROWN: As you reported earlier this week, he's also dealing with the fact that several top officials in the State Department I guess were fired, so there's a lot going on, on his first day on the job.

Let's get back to that news on Russia. Walk us through exactly what this change is in regards to the Russian intelligence agency and the White House response?

LABOTT: OK. If you remember, back in 2015, when all these kind of cyber-attacks by Russia were starting to take place, the Obama administration put a large executive order against Russia.

In its last few days in office, they named the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, to that order and prohibited basically business and any type of transaction with them. But what it did was kind of threw the baby out with the bath water. In addition to the kind of sanctions ban and those type of transactions, what it also did was have the unintended consequence of prohibiting normal non-sanctions business between the U.S. and Russia.

Among its other duties, the Russian intelligence, the FSB is in charge of taking some customs payments and also doing border checks. So when they cut off all business with the FSB, that wasn't able to take place. So I understand that this was being done in the last few days of the Obama administration, a kind of a technical course correction to allow this transaction -- these transactions to take place.

And, of course, this Trump administration very sensitive to the idea that it would be lifting sanctions against Russia. This isn't really quite that. What it is is a very minor easing of sanctions. We're talking about $5,000 in each year. So it's really just to allow those non-sanctioned technical transactions to take place.

BROWN: Very important perspective with that, because initially you see the headline and you think, oh, my goodness. So, that context super important there. Elise Labott, thank you very much.

Much to discuss now with my panel joining me, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Amy Pope, she used to deputy homeland security adviser at the National Security Council.

Dana, first to you. Is this any different than the Obama administration stance on Iran?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very different, particularly in the waning months and years of the Obama administration, because their whole M.O. was to try to get a nuclear deal.

And because of that, there were a lot of carrots that went out from the Obama administration. We had for the first time in recent history communication, direct communication between the leaders. And I think that if you would have -- if somebody would have asked President Obama are you putting military action, are you taking that off the table, if you would have put that direct question to him, he probably would have said no because that's what a good commander in chief does.


However, saying that in context to what General Flynn said yesterday, which was kind of a very general, very vague, but very provocative statement from the White House podium saying that the Iranian government is on notice, that it understandably sent the Iranians into a state of confusion about to do.

And that very well might be the entire strategy behind what the president and his team are trying to do.

BROWN: And I believe we have CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller with us as well.

Good to see you, Aaron.

You have spent years involved in the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. You actually wrote an article about the Trump administration's tough stance on Iran in "The Wall Street Journal" today. Your response when you hear President Trump say military action against Iran is not off the table?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's a standard response, frankly.

The Obama administration echoed it as well. The difference here is I think you're in terra incognita with the Iranians right now. And while toughening up our policies against interdicting shipments to the Houthi enforcing the U.S. travel ban on Iranian figures like the head of the Revolutionary Guard, those sorts of things make sense, the problem is what's happened now -- and Mike Flynn has literally personalized this sort of mini-ultimatum by appearing in the Briefing Room and delivering it himself -- you're beginning to lay down what is a proverbial red line.

And one of the problem with red lines is that once the president articulates it, or the national security adviser, then if in fact the Iranians defy, which they will, the ultimatum with respect to testing now that they're "on notice," then the administration is put into the very difficult position literally, to be quite direct, of having to put up or shut up. And the problem is our options in the Gulf with respect to Yemen are

not very good. One other point to make, if you looked at the Flynn statement, there's a glaring omission there, which is Syria. They talk about Iranian provocative behavior in Yemen, in the Gulf supporting terrorism, but they do not refer at all to Iranian activities in Aleppo or in the support of the Iran regime.

And I suspect that's very willful, in an effort not to box Mr. Putin in and not to put the Trump administration in a position where they're waging a proxy war in Syria.

One additional point, Pam, the background briefing by a senior administration official made it quite clear -- and if you're the Iranians you're hearing this -- that the Trump administration is drawing a distinction between Iran's behavior outside of the four corners of the nuclear agreement, sending a distinct message that the administration is not interested right now in opening up the agreement or walking away from it.

So, that is going to further create ambiguity in the administration's position of strength and resolve.

BROWN: And let me bring in Amy, because, Amy, you have unique perspective here. You just recently left the National Security Council.

Iran has said in response to the White House that it's going to be continue to launch its missiles, and that the president should not "make a toy out of himself." What do you make of this escalating back and forth, Amy?

AMY POPE, FORMER DEPUTY HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: What I see that's missing is the process that's characterized not just the Obama administration's foreign policy, but also the foreign policy processes that preceded President Obama, and that's the process by which you get together members of the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense, even the Department of Homeland Security and Commerce and Treasury.

And you get together all of the experts in a room to come up with a reasoned foreign policy. And that's what seems to be missing here. It does not appear that there's the kind of considered process that takes into account the views of our multiple different agencies, of our multiple different equities around the world and in the United States.

And so that's what I would like to see more of here, so that we have a better sense of ultimately where we're headed, because right now their path forward is absolutely unclear.

BROWN: And let's talk about the phone call yesterday with Australia's leader.

Dana, to you on that. We're learning President Trump had a heated phone call about this deal that former President Obama had made about allowing 1,200 refugees to enter the U.S. The prime minister said the president told him the deal was still valid, but here was Trump just minutes ago.


TRUMP: We have a lot of respect for Australia. I love Australia as a country, but we had a problem where, for whatever reason, President Obama said that they were going to take probably well over 1,000 illegal immigrants who were in prisons and they were going to bring them and take them into this country.


And I just said, why? So we will see what happens. But a previous administration does something, you have to respect that, but you can also say, why are we doing this? That's why we're in the jams that we're in.


BROWN: Dana, clearly, he's not a fan of this deal. Is he obligated to follow it?

BASH: Is he obligated to follow it? I guess technically not, but this is one conventional thing that he seems to be doing, which is he is saying he is going to, not unlike something that's a lot more controversial, which, as we were talking and before, the Iran deal.

Even people in his administration who were adamantly against the Iran deal say we need to at least abide by it for now. But on this issue, I think what is so telling is, first of all, that he has been saying what he said today, what his press secretary said at the briefing today, which is we respect the people of Australia, we even respect this deal which would be to take in some refugees, but also the way that he spoke to the prime minister on the phone in private.

By all accounts, that is Donald Trump the businessman. That is Donald Trump the bulldozing negotiator who dresses down people in order to feel like he has and probably in most cases successfully got to the point where he wanted to. That's his negotiating tactic.

And it's the first window that we have gotten into that tactic being used in something that's so different, which is diplomacy, which is always -- not always, but usually very scripted, you know, a lot of phrases that are used over and over again, which are winks and nods to say a certain thing. That was out the window in this conversation, which I think is so fascinating.

BROWN: And it just -- my first question was, why would the administration, why did this leak, how did this leak? Was there something behind the leak? Was there an intention behind that?

Aaron, I just want to just kind of look back the past 12 days -- I think it's 12 days. What can we assess about Trump's diplomacy? Could he keep this tactic long term?

MILLER: That's the great debate, isn't it? And I have been basically wrong about everything associated with his campaign over the course of the last 15 months.

You can read this two ways. Number one, this is a guy who doesn't have a whole lot of experience in government or diplomacy, and there are a lot of call them bumps in the road. I think that's an understatement. But in the face of reality, maybe a failure to -- and wise advisers, people like Tillerson and Mattis -- that Mr. Trump will eventually come around.

The alternative view is, there's new normal, that in fact you have a perfect storm. You have a persona that's not going to change at the age of 70, someone who values toughness, pushing back harder than when you're pushed. You have domestic politics, a guy who consistently refers not just to the size of his electoral victory, but is driven by some core commitments particularly with respect to immigration and imposing a sort of fee for service rubric on American allies, the Australians included.

This may well be the new normal. I worked for R's and D's. I voted for R's and D's. And, frankly, I think it's safe to say that we're really not in Kansas anymore. And I suspect that's why I'm going to come out. Two weeks in, it's an extraordinary amount of broken crockery on the diplomatic side. And it's not going to be easy to repair.

BROWN: All right, Dana, Aaron, thank you. Amy, stand by. We have more to discuss coming up.

And up next, more breaking news, this involving the U.S. deadly raid in which a Navy SEAL was killed. We now know when President Trump approved this operation.

Plus, violence erupting at U.C. Berkeley hours before a controversial commentator is scheduled to speak. We're going to discuss the debate there.

And the moment the president asked the room to pray for the ratings for TV's "Apprentice."

Stay with us. We will be right back.



BROWN: We just heard from Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was very careful to explain why the raid which killed a U.S. Navy SEAL was characterized by the president as a success.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's hard to ever call something a complete success when you have a loss of life or people injured.

But I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people and our institutions and probably throughout the world in terms of what some of these individuals could have done, I think it is a successful operation by all standards.


BROWN: Amy Pope is back with me, former deputy homeland security adviser, also Ryan Browne, CNN national security reporter, and Brandon Webb, former Navy SEAL and author of "Among Heroes: A U.S. Navy SEAL's True Story of Friendship, Heroism, and the Ultimate Sacrifice."

Ryan, to start with you, what more are you learning about the details of this raid and the number of civilian casualties?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We're starting to learn that the raid itself was actually recommended back in November by General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

And the goal of the raid was called a site exploitation, attempting to gather as much information on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as responsible.

Now, they scheduled the raid on a moonless evening in order to prove a little additional concealment. Unfortunately, for the group of Navy SEALs and UAE special forces, they were detected by al Qaeda fighters. An immense gun battle broke out involving small arms fire, heavy weapons, grenades and close air strikes.


And it was during that period that it looks like one of the buildings that the al Qaeda members were using was hit by an airstrike. And apparently there were also civilians in that building. The military says it now likely that civilian casualties did occur, including potentially some children.

Now, there are reports from officials on the ground, local reports from the ground in Yemen saying that the number of civilians killed is a significant number, as many as a dozen, potentially higher.

So, the military is still assessing that, still investigating it. And, of course, they also lost the MV-22 aircraft that they had to destroy in an airstrike to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

But the military does say they are already getting intelligence from some of the hard drives they recovered that might help them prevent future terror plots down the road.

BROWN: Brandon, it struck me. I was reading a "New York Times" article about this. And it said that there were intercepted coms about five minutes away -- when from the SEALs were five minutes away from actually executing the raid in which they knew the people on the ground there in Yemen were aware of this operation and were kind of readying for it.

But yet the proceeded on. Kind of bring us into an operation like this, why that would be, why they would carry on with the operation and whatever else you're learning from your sources about it?

BRANDON WEBB, FORMER U.S. NAVY SEAL: I think what's not being reported yet, there were it looks like two original al Qaeda A.P. commanders on the target, as well as Asim al-Riminian (ph).

So those are extremely high-value targets. So when you're committed to an operation like that, oftentimes, these guys expect a little bit of resistance. And I just think it speaks to the courage of the guys on Gold Squadron at SEAL Team Six to go ahead and continue with the raid.

BROWN: Right.

And, Amy, again, you recently left the National Security Council. What we have learned about how this played out was that it approved over a dinner meeting in the first week, as we know, of Donald Trump's presidency. How are these types of decisions typically made? Just curious.

POPE: Obviously, I can't speak to how this particular decision was made.

But, in general, what we saw with President Obama -- and this was consistent with President Bush as well -- is you pull together all of the senior advisers, all the Cabinet officials, and you get them around the table and you debate the pros and the cons of what's at stake.

And obviously there's always high risk when you're going in for an operation like this, but you want to make sure that every single equity is under consideration, that you have put it on the table, that you have considered the good and bad, and that ultimately when the president moves forward, he has all of the information that he could have, so that he can make a decision that's in the best interest of the United States.

BROWN: Brandon, local tribes are now telling CNN that they no longer trust the U.S. and are -- quote -- "united in their hatred and condemnation of this incident." As we reported, several civilians died.

How do these raids impact the war of ideas?

WEBB: I think it speaks to the bigger picture of U.S. foreign policy strategy as a whole. Throughout the Bush and Obama administration, we have kind of this schizophrenic foreign policy in places like North Africa and the Middle East.

The U.S. has contributed to a lot of destabilization. And you're seeing the effects play out in the Middle East and North Africa right now. And we can't kill our way to victory in the war on terror. We also need to look at ideology and other ways to combat radical Islamism. And I think you're just -- that's just seeing it play out right now.

BROWN: All right, Brandon Webb, Amy Pope, thank you both. POPE: Thank you.

BROWN: And up next on this Thursday: Violent protests erupt at U.C. Berkeley after a known alt-right leader was invited to speak. We will discuss whether this is about more than free speech.

Plus, President Trump jokes about praying for ratings for TV's "Apprentice" during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Hear how Arnold Schwarzenegger is responding.



BROWN: Breaking news.

We told you that President Trump says he won't take military action off the table against Iran after it carried out a missile test.

And we have just learned that the administration is expected to impose additional sanctions on Iranian entities under an existing executive order that predates Trump. And we're told that these sanctions will not impact the nuclear deal. More on this coming up, of course.

And President Trump keeping his "Apprentice" boardroom skills pretty sharp. While speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, he took a swipe at his successor, the Terminator, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


TRUMP: They hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take my place. And we know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It's been a total disaster.

And Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings, OK?


BROWN: The former California governor quickly plopped back on Twitter.



Why don't we switch jobs? You take over TV, because you're such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job. And then people can finally sleep comfortably again, hmm?


BROWN: A little back and forth there.

Joining me now to discuss all this, Marc Lamont Hill, CNN political commentator and Morehouse College professor, and Ben Ferguson, CNN political commentator.

All right, gentlemen, is the Prayer Breakfast the right place to comment on TV ratings?

Marc, to you first.


Historically, this has been a kind of ecumenical, open, apolitical, as much as anything can be, event. It's not the right time to stroke your own ego