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Sources Indication Contentious Phone Call between President Trump and Australian Prime Minister; White House Foreign Policy Examined; Trump Phone Calls With Foreign Leaders Raise Alarm; High Drama On Capitol Hill Over Trump Cabinet. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump creating tension with Mexico's president, telling him he wasn't doing a good job knocking out, quote, "tough hombres."

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump administration also calling out Iran for testing a ballistic missile. National Security adviser Michael Flynn putting Tehran, quote, "on notice." No word on what that means.

It's day 14 of the Trump presidency. Our coverage begins with CNN's Jeff Zeleny live at the White House. What's the latest, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. President Trump's tough talk on the campaign trail is now getting its test on the world stage. But some of those first calls with foreign leaders intended to be courtesy calls are actually confrontational.


ZELENY: New tension between President Trump and a major U.S. ally. Sources say the president grew angry during a phone call with Australia's prime minister last Saturday. President Trump calling the Australian refugee agreement a very bad deal. That resettlement deal reached by the Obama administration will transfer refugees currently living in detention centers on islands off Australia to the U.S.

MALCOLM TURNBALL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to comment on the conversation.

ZELENY: Prime Minister Turnbull repeating to President Trump that according to the deal nearly 1,300 refugees have to pass U.S. screening requirements. But sources say Mr. Trump kept insisting it was a very bad deal, remarking one of these refugees will be the next Boston bomber.

TURNBALL: I always stand up for Australia in every forum.

ZELENY: The prime minister saying the conversation ended courteously. But a source says President Trump abruptly ended the call. Notably the readout of the call provided by the White House on Saturday showed no sign of a contentious meeting, instead saying both leaders emphasize the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship. As news of the contentious call broke on Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted "I will study this dumb deal," in the same tweet calling the refugees "illegal immigrants."

White House Secretary Sean Spicer confirming the deal will ultimately go through.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president in accordance with that deal to honor what had been agreed upon by the United States government in ensuring that that vetting will take place in the same manner we're doing it now, will go forward.

ZELENY: And more on yet another diplomatic dust-up with a U.S. ally after the Mexican president canceled their in-person meeting. CNN is learning President Trump offered to help Mexican President Pena Nieto with drug cartels in Mexico during their Friday phone call. According to an excerpt of the transcript provided to CNN, Mr. Trump said, "You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with. We are willing to help with that big league, but they have to be knocked out, and you have not done a good job knocking them out."

Meantime, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn offering a stark warning to Iran after their recent ballistic missile test launch.

MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today we are officially putting Iran on notice.

ZELENY: "On notice" has some lawmakers worried the administration will dismantle the Iran nuclear deal.

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: I hope that it doesn't include trying to undue the nuclear deal. I think that would be a grave mistake. But we'll have to just wait and see what General Flynn meant.

ZELENY: As others call for a collaboration on policies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Trump administration needs to work with Congress.


ZELENY: So if you talk to senior administration officials, they say tough talk is exactly what the president intended to do. It was not a mistake at all. But there's no question, Chris and Alisyn, that this tough talk that worked here in the campaign stage may have to be interpreted more on the foreign stage.

CUOMO: Jeff, stay with us. We're waiting for President Trump to actually take the podium at the National Prayer Breakfast. You see in that little screen within your screen that he is now at the dais. There will be introductions before he actually gets up to address, and we look forward to see what kind of ecumenical, larger conciliatory message he gives that the National Prayer Breakfast demands.

While we're waiting for that, let's talk about the news of day. We have U.S. senior Congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner" David Drucker. This call with Australian prime minister matters for several reasons. The two that I'll suggest to you right now is, one, the White House put out a readout on it that seems in direct contradiction to what the realities are from sources at "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and CNN has. Why do that? Why do something they had to expect would come out and show that they weren't telling us the truth?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, look, I think that any administration, but apparently even this administration, is sensitive to the idea that the president is blowing up an alliance that is very important to U.S. interests in Asia and around the world. Australia has fought with us in almost every theater and every war. They're geographically big, but they're not the biggest geopolitical player. But they've always been with us. They're an important ally when it comes to intelligence gathering, one of our closest in that regard.

And so I think the administration is fine. I think the president is fine with redirecting how these alliances work. I don't think they like the idea that they're not in control and that these things aren't being handled in a controlled fashion.

[08:05:12] CAMEROTA: So Rex Tillerson is now secretary of state. He's not a career diplomat. He's a businessman. So what changes when -- I mean in terms of, this is different than how we've seen diplomacy done for decades. Does Rex Tillerson come in and change it yet again?

DRUCKER: I think -- look, they're either going to be successful on the diplomatic front or they're not. First of all, as the last administration found out, diplomacy without the threat of credible military force, without letting our adversaries know that there's a consequence to not working with us is useless. So it's not just a matter of knowing how to talk to people and establishing relationships. It's having leverage with the people we're dealing with.

I think it's also -- as Republicans said throughout Obama's eight years, reestablishing relationships with our allies, I think that's where this dust-up with Australia is very curious because Republicans in general and even President Trump was critical of Obama for not working better with our friends in addition to letting our adversaries run roughshod over us.

So I think with Rex Tillerson, the question is simply is this administration going to put policies in place that reinvigorate our alliances so we have support and also so our adversaries know that there are consequences to not working with us.

CUOMO: That raises the question, why would you bash someone who has been an unalloyed ally in Australia? Jeff Zeleny, what is your take and your sourcing on the notion that this call went off the rails, that Trump wound up freelancing and getting angry and being hostile and ending the call early and saying inflammatory things, but that that wasn't the plan and that's why they tried to spin the readout on the call?

ZELENY: It wasn't the plan, of course. One thing we're learning, I talked to one administration official who said look at the context of his schedule of his day. He talked to five world leaders on Saturday, last Saturday at the end of a long week in the White House, and they said simply by the time he got to the Australian phone call he was a little fatigued. And I think also you can probably say not perhaps up to speed enough on the issues for that phone call.

But it is extraordinary that, for one, it's one of the phone calls, it's an English-speaking phone call. So there's no translation going on which is often the case in most of these calls. It was supposed to be an hour-long call. It only went 25 minutes. That's pretty extraordinary.

But again, the aides are not backing away from his tough talk. They like that image of tough talk. I am not sure who leaked this initially to "The Washington Post." I don't know if it was someone inside Trump's orbit. It would seem risky to do that. But they like the idea the tough talk is out there. But now this has set off a bit of a diplomatic firestorm with our friends. We have to remember these are our allies here. What about the adversaries once we get to that?

CAMEROTA: David, let's talk about that leaking because CNN has a source that knows the content of that call, as does "The New York Times," "The Washington Post." So what does it tell you that 11 days, two weeks in, that there's a serious leak happening?

DRUCKER: So there's either one of two things going on. And I'm loathed to argue with Phil Mudd who really knows his stuff. So either someone is trying to put the president on notice that this isn't a good idea, we're going to leak this to try to rein you in. We've seen this happen with presidents Republican and Democrats over the years because you have career officials working in administrations that run through each president, and they have their own agenda. Or the administration doesn't necessarily have a problem with the contents of the call and people knowing, as Jeff said, that this is a tough talking president.

This call, in fact, sounds exactly like what the president said he would do. It could be that they're just sensitive to the blowback and the criticism, and because of that, I just can't totally make up my mind that they're necessarily that upset with how it went. They might just be sensitive to the criticism, and they may not have been prepared. I've often wondered if this president is prepared for the fact that allies he thinks have been freeloading off of the United States, even if the president is right intellectually, they're going to look at it differently. They're going to look at a call like this, a country like Australia, as though the U.S. is trying to bully them. We've already heard that coming from the Australian prime minister. And they're not going to put up with us simply because they "need us," quote-unquote. They're going to look for other allies and ways to counter us because the Australian prime minister and the Australian government have voters, too.

CUOMO: And by the way, Turnbull is not known as a weak guy, by the way. So now he may have to posture. But Jeff, I still don't get it. Why put out a readout that is so wrong if you really want people to know what happened in the substance of the call? [08:10:07] ZELENY: And it's a great question. I wish I had an answer

to it. That's something I'm going to be trying and getting an answer. I think, though, the readout came in the moment. The readout came on Saturday. And, as you all know, these readouts from these phone calls are pretty pro forma. You can almost insert "name of country here," "phone call went diplomatically well." There's not much substance in that readout.

So what has happened between Saturday and now? There have been a lot of other issues inside the White House and on the world stage. So I think whoever decided to start talking about this did it after the fact of Saturday, obviously. So those readouts are basically useless when it comes to the substance of the call as now we're finding out. So it's just one of many things here. We often don't have the truth in the moment. It comes sometimes several days after, sometimes years later here.

But I also would say, this White House is still getting set up. And one thing when you even drive around Washington or certainly walk around agencies, talk to people inside agencies, there are empty offices across this government. We talked about the cabinet secretaries a lot. But what about the number two, the number three, the number four positions? This government is still not up and functioning as it will be obviously.

But I think the people, as David mentioned, who are here are the career people, people who worked in the government. So a lot of those folks across agencies do not like what is going on necessarily. So that is one way to sort of reflect that by shedding light on this. That's something to keep in mind on all this stuff.

The government is not fully functioning in a lot of agencies. And it's something as we head into these coming weeks we're going to have to have our eye on that to see how quickly they get up to speed.

CAMEROTA: That's a good perspective, good reminder for all of us. Jeff, thank you.

We are keeping an eye there on that little box. That's the National Prayer Breakfast where we expect President Trump to begin speaking very shortly. So we're going to take a quick break and we're going to go back to that as soon as we can. Also, we're going to tell you what Democrats are saying about all these diplomatic issues. We're going to be speaking with Senator Tim Kaine.

CUOMO: All right, when the president gets up there, we'll get to it.


[08:15:57] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump in a heated phone conversation with the Australian prime minister. And that's not what the White House said about the call. They said it was good and reflected the collaboration between the two countries. But sources have leaked about it.

And then, the president talking with the president of Mexico and talking about tough hombres that Mexico has failed to take care of. What does this language mean? What are these actions mean? Let's discuss this with Democratic senator from Virginia and of course former Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine. Senator --


CUOMO: -- from the president's perspective, this deal stinks with Australia. He called them the next generation of Boston bombers. He called them illegal immigrants which is of course untrue. They are refugees --

KAINE: Right.

CUOMO: -- not illegal immigrants. But he doesn't like the deal. He has a right not to like the deal. The question is why did you cut the deal within the Obama administration, the Democrats included? Why?

KAINE: Well, look, I -- this is not a deal that I was involved with when the Obama administration was doing it. So, I'm not going to answer why the Obama administration did it. They thought it was in the best interest of the country, they were careful about it. If he doesn't like the deal, that's his right.

But to have a contentious conversation and name call, a country or the prime minister of a country that's one of our greatest allies in Asia, is foolish, to suggest to the president of Mexico, we may have to send U.S. troops into Mexico is foolish. And some of the statements that the president is making about Iraq and Iran are foolish. He's doing kind of immature hour stuff on matters of significant national importance.

CUOMO: All right. So, you're using the word foolish. But, let's open it up for a second, OK. President Trump did very well with the fly over states by giving people certainty that he won't be weak, which is how he characterized the Obama administration.

I'm going to talk to these allies and our opponents and tell them the real deal. We're doing too much, they're doing too little, and it's going to change now. Tough talk, that's what he promised. That's what he's delivering.

KAINE: You know, what I mean. I'm going to take issue with you, Chris. That is what he promised. But, let's use Iran as an example. Iran fired off an anti ballistic missile. And we ought to be pursuing sanctions against them in the U.N. for doing that. I've supported sanctions against Iran in the past for doing that, as the previous administration did.

So, on that, we're together. But here is what President Trump is saying. He's complaining that Iran is gaining too much influence in Iraq and wants to be tough about it. But what is he doing? He said we should go in and take Iraq's oil and he's banned Iraqi citizens, even those who have worked with our American military from coming into the United States.

Anybody who knows the region knows that strengthens Iran's hand. Iran is in Iraq basically saying you can't trust the U.S. You need to trust us. And when the president of the United States says we should steal Iraq's oil and Iraqis aren't good enough, even those who helped our military, to come in United States. Donald Trump is making Iran's case for them every day. So, you're right, he's talking tough. But his actions are strengthening Iran's hand, not weakening it.

CUOMO: He says you gave him a weak hand with Iran. You cut that terrible deal with them which they are abusing gave them all this money that now they're using to make even more bad things. And he has to set a new tone and that's why Flynn came out and put them on notice, do you think that can be a positive step?

KAINE: We ought to put them on notice for the anti-ballistic missile. And look, I've supported that in the past.

CUOMO: But what is that mean on notice? What do you mean by on notice? What are you going to do to Iran?

KAINE: I have no idea what he means. What we've done in Congress in the past, is we've passed sanction statutes and encouraged the U.N. also to sanction Iran for violating the U.N. resolution dealing with anti-ballistic missiles. That's what we should do. But, what we shouldn't do is strengthen Iran's hands by telling Iraqis that we're going to steal their oil or by telling that they can't come into the country.

[08:20:00] Chris, you know this. The Iraqi prime minister has already been called in to parliament to have to defend. What are we doing with the U.S. when the new president is talking about taking Iraqi oil? There's nothing that will strengthen Iran's hand more in the region than the kind of foolish actions that the administration has taken in first two weeks on.

CUOMO: Fair point. And we have to see how the president and the new administration clean that up. The war at home, to turn the phrase, is about the cabinet nominees. Jeff Sessions is getting his vote. Will you support him?

KAINE: No. I've come out against Sessions. I support -- I voted to support five of the nominees. And I've either publicly opposed or voted against six of the nominees. But, I'm going to oppose Jeff Sessions for two principle reasons. First, I was a civil rights lawyer for 17 years. And I don't think his commitment to the nation's civil rights laws are such that he should be attorney general.

And second, I strongly oppose the use of torture. Senator McCain on the Armed Services Committee where I serve, we put together a resolution to make clear that the army's anti-torture rules apply to every agency, including the CIA.

We had nearly 80 votes in the Senate for that Chris. But, Senator Sessions was one who voted no. And I don't want an attorney general advising the president who is equivocal about whether torture is OK. I want somebody who knows it's not OK.

CUOMO: All right. So, that's you -- those are your point on him. What about Betsy DeVos, do you guys think you can get a Republicans? Some of them iffy, on DeVos, she certainly had some hurdles in her process. Do you think you can get another vote or do you think Mike Pence is going to come in as the V.P. break the tie and she's in?

KAINE: Yeah. As you know, Chris, it's 50/50 right now because Democrats are opposing DeVos. I'm on the Health Committee. I participated in her examination. She will not be a champion for public schools. She does not understand the law respecting students with disabilities, and she does not think that schools receiving taxpayer dollars should be held equally accountable on important matters about student outcomes. So, I'm opposing her.

As you pointed out, two Republicans have also come out against her. So, right now, it's sort of 50/50. Will there be another Republican vote? I don't know. So, the V.P. might be coming in to have to do a tiebreaker. But I think the more people see that hearing, the more questions they have. And I'll say this. In four years in the Senate, I have never had the volume of letters and calls about anything, including the government shutdown, as I have about the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education.

CUOMO: What has President Trump done in these first 14 days that you like?

KAINE: Well, look, I think General Mattis was a great pick to be Secretary of Defense. I voted for him, even though it was a little bit unusual, as you know, because he had been recently in the military. We had to do a waiver for him. But I think he -- it's very important because I've frankly and really concerned about other members of the president's national security team, General Flynn and Steve Bannon, you have to have somebody good like General Mattis, General Kelly for DHS.

So I have supported some of the cabinet nominees. And look, I do agree on this point yesterday about Iran's test of anti-ballistic missiles when they fired missiles in the fall of 2015. I joined together with Republicans to suggest that should be activity that should lead to sanctions. Even though I supported the Iran nuclear deal, ballistic missiles is something different.

And when you violate a U.N. rule on that, there needs to be a consequence. So, I can see some items where, look, I can say I would do the same thing. But this Muslim ban, we're going to be voting on a ridiculous thing pushed by the administration in the GOP today to roll back a regulation that requires our oil companies to report payments to foreign governments.

It's an anti corruption and transparency measure. But for some reason the president and GOP, the day after they approve the ExxonMobil CEO to be secretary of state, they now want to take out an anti-corruption rule affecting our oil companies. This isn't helping people get jobs. It's a give-back to big oil. I can't understand why they're doing it. I'm going to fight against it.

CUOMO: But, you know why they say that they're doing it, right? What do you make of their argument in favor of the move? KAINE: Look, it's a foolish argument. They say, well, look, American companies have to be able to pay foreign governments and keep it secret to have a level playing field. But, Canada, the E.U. and the U.K. after the U.S adopted our rule. They adopted rules as well.

We've established a global standard that virtually every company now has to comply with. If the U.S. pulls out of that leadership position, other nations will, too. There's no reason to allow corruption in high transparency of these payments to foreign governments. They should be in the open.

CUOMO: Do you believe Rex Tillerson that this is a reflection assuming he knows about it, that he's going to have a hard time not putting corporate interests first as secretary of state?

[08:25:04] KAINE: Chris, that's why I voted against him. You know, I would have voted for him for secretary of commerce. I probably would have voted or considered voting for him for secretary of energy. But as secretary of state, he has to have an independence from his 41-year career at ExxonMobil.

So I asked him questions in the hearing to see if he was independent enough of Russia. He didn't satisfy me. Will he be independent enough of ExxonMobil's history to press for appropriate climate change like enforcing the Paris climate accord? He didn't satisfy me. And when I asked him about ExxonMobil's commitment to transparency around these payment issues to countries, he gave me a good answer. But then I see Congress gutting the very protection that is put in place to make sure that the oil companies do behave in a transparent manner. It's deeply, deeply concerning.

CUOMO: Now, to be fair, Rex Tillerson has nothing to do with promulgating, you know, this reg or anything of that stuff. This is all done by other agencies. But, you know, just to be fair.

KAINE: Well, it is true. But ExxonMobil and other organizations lobbied very hard against the regulation when it was originally put in place through the American Petroleum Institute and others. They really didn't like it.

CUOMO: Right.

KAINE: And that was when he was CEO. And now one day after he's approved there's an effort to gut this transparency rule. We need to fight against that.

CUOMO: Fair point. We have to go now because we're monitoring the national prayer breakfast. But we will revisit on another day. A very important debate subject for you all down there, the authorization for the use of military force, it's going to be more relevant than ever. We'll come back to you on that, senator. Be well.

KAINE: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chris, we've been reporting all morning about this phone call between President Trump and the leader of Australia. Is that kind of contentious exchange, what we can expect in foreign policy? We're going to get to the bottom line with David Axelrod, next.