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Trump Meets Economic Advisory Council; Treasury Dept; Announces New Iran Sanctions; Trump Adviser Cites Non-Existent Massacre. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 3, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:02] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining me right now at the White House. Right now, at the White House, President Trump is meeting with his economic advisory panel and chief executive, and he will face some complaints. One CEO has already quit in protest of the Trump. And as he's put, he's not going to attend the meeting.

In the meantime, the President's foreign policy takes a more combative tone including a warning tweet that warns Iran that it's "playing with fire". It comes as we're learning that new sanctions against Iran could be coming at any moment.

Let's begin with CNN's Clarissa Ward now as she's live in London, good morning.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, Iran's foreign minister has fired back after that tweet that you just discussed from President Donald Trump. He has said, "Iran unmoved by threats as we derive our security from our people. We'll never initiate war but we can only rely on our own means of defense." And he went on again to reiterate, "We will never use our weapons against anyone."

The Iranians really saying here that this missile test was a purely defensive measure, that it is not in contravention of the agreements established by the Iran nuclear deal.

We have heard some rather less conciliatory rhetoric coming from other parts of the Iranian government. One adviser to the supreme leader told that President Trump not to "make a toy out of himself with his", "breathless ranting". And he also referred to NSA Director General Flynn as an inexperienced person who has made an illogical claim. That coming after General Flynn went into that briefing room on Monday and said Iran has been put on notice.

The question, Carol, is what does that mean? What is the next step if Iran does signal that it will test another missile, which it has indicated that it will, what does that mean, how will the U.S. respond?

We heard President Trump saying nothing is off the table, including a military response. It may be that President Trump has inadvertently kind of set himself a red line here, and I think everybody will be watching very closely to see how Iran responds. So far we're hearing a lot of saber-rattling but no one has yet talked about completely scrapping or doing away with that historic Iran nuclear deal that was brokered by the Obama administration. So a lot of rhetoric, Carol, but hard to see at this stage where it all leads.

COSTELLO: All right, Clarissa Ward reporting live from London. So let's head to the White House now, check in with Jeff Zeleny. So those sanctions are expected to be announce by the Treasury Department at any time now, sanctions against Iranian I mean. Can you tell us more about that, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. They will be announced and we're told in about 30 minutes or so, from the Treasury Department. Now, this is separate from the Iran nuclear deal. This is as Clarissa was just saying there. These sanctions are the latest step in this escalation really happening over the last couple of days.

But the President was up tweeting this morning early about a variety of topics, including Iran. Take a look at this. He said, "Iran is playing with fire. They don't appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me."

So the full scope of the sanctions and the specificity we do not yet have. We'll be alerting that shortly. But certainly Iran front and center here as the president is beginning his final workday of a second full week in office. But Carol, what he is doing now is meeting with a group of CEOs from top American companies to get advice on the economy. And he's also expected to get an earful from them on that immigration order. It has been so controversial in corporate America because of their employees, because of visa issues and other things. So the President has invited his Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly whose department is largely carrying out all of this, to be inside the room here, to take questions from him.

Now, we do know the Uber CEO decided not to come to this meeting. He called the President yesterday and said, "Look, I'm a coming to this because I don't want my presence to be an endorsement of this policy". Some other CEOs say they are coming to give advice here. But we also may hear from the President on the reaction and response to the jobs number that we saw earlier this morning as well here. So business taking it front and center seat on this Friday here at the White House, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jeff Zeleny, many thanks to you.

So I want to bring in my panel Aaron David Miller is here. He's a CNN Global Affairs Analyst. Colonel Cedric Leighton also joins me, a CNN Military Analyst and Air Force Colonel, welcome to both of you.

So there was a Twitter war of sorts going on between President Trump and some officials in Iran. And I'll just review so our viewers can completely understand. So this is the first tweet that came from Mr. Trump this morning. He said, quote, "Iran is playing with fire. They don't appreciate how kind President Obama was to them. Not me".

And then after that tweet went out, Iran's Foreign Minister responded, saying, "We will never use our weapons against anyone except in self- defense. Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement". What do you make of this, Aaron?

[10:05:12] AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST. I think its part of the pattern of this administration. I mean off-the-cuff remarks, tweets, certainly not a substitute for policy, but designed to draw a reaction, and it will draw a reaction. What a president says or what a president doesn't say on the cuff or off-the-cuff really matters. And I think it is part of a pattern which if not remedied or at least not better structured, could lead to some serious complications in our foreign policy. So yeah, I mean, I think we are on the verge, maybe not on the verge, too strong, but I think we could be entering an escalatory cycle with respect to Iran. And I don't see the clear purpose, goal, or end state right now.

COSTELLO: So, Colonel, we have navy vessels in that region near Iran. There are already tensions between American warships and Iranian vessels. So does this exacerbate things for them?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Potentially it does, carol, absolutely. And you know we already had that incident where the navy vessel was captured by the Iranians a few months ago, and that caused quite a stir. And, you know, of course those sailors were released. But this is just the beginning of these kinds of tensions.

And I think we can see that the Iranians are going to try to do things like swarming tactics where they take a lot of their small boats out and go after larger U.S. vessels. That becomes a very difficult thing for the navy to defend against, and the Iranians know that. So they will do various things like that to not only exacerbate tensions but keep things at a medium boil, basically, throughout the Persian Gulf region.

COSTELLO: So, Aaron, how likely is it that Iran will go ahead and fire off another test missile?

MILLER: I think it's virtually guaranteed. And look, the Trump administration is right I think to toughen up some of our policies with respect to Iran. The Iranians maintain the largest single inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, thousand short, medium range, and if the Iranians decide to push through, give up their nuclear weapon as a delivery system. The question, though, Carol, is this. If you go out and say that Iran is going to be held to account --

COSTELLO: Put on notice.

MILLER: -- you really-- or put to the -- right, so you say put on notice then, you have to define, what does that mean? What does it mean to put on notice? And if and when, in my judgment when the Iranians launch again. The question is what does the Trump administration do? We've been down the sorry path of a red line. You define a red line, in my judgment, having worked for Republicans and Democrat, Democratic administration, when in fact you are prepared to act on it. And the red line must be perceived to be vital because if you don't enforce, then your credibility is undermined. And what the Trump administration wants to do, which is send an unmistakable message of toughness, ends up turning into a either a message of humiliation or weakness. And I think that's the problem with starting down this road. And I think we have to be very careful, very careful.

COSTELLO: So, Colonel, was any of this vitally necessary? I mean, was it, I mean, what's putting Iran on notice necessary just because -- and I don't want to say, just because, because it's serious for Iran to fire off a missile, although nothing prevents them from doing so.

LEIGHTON: That's right. And the nuclear agreement does not do anything about does cover anything about these types ballistic missiles. So, the basic idea here is that there was a political calculation within the White House that they needed to assuage their base and make sure that people understood that Trump was going to get tough on Iran. And that's why that statement came out from the national security adviser, General Flynn, to in essence tell not only Iran but also the people here at home that things are going to get more serious with the Iranians.

But Aaron David Miller is absolutely right. You have to have something to back up this kind of rhetoric. And if you don't do that, you risk going into really dangerous waters, waters of unpreparedness, waters of basically being weaker than you need to be when you're facing an adversary like the Iranians.

COSTELLO: All right I have to leave it there. Aaron David Miller, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks to both of you.

President Trump foreign policy move coming fast and furious. We're on top of all of the latest development points.

[10:09:51] I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Donald Trump's travel ban sparked confusion for travelers. Those living in the seven local majorities countries suspected and apparently one of his top aides. And I'm talking about Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser defended the ban with a lie.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP ADVISOR: These are nations very narrowly described (ph) and also a temporary.


CONWAY: I bet there was very little coverage. I bet it is brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized. And they were the master minds behind the Bowling Green massacre. And let's give another because it didn't get covered.


COSTELLO: Well, the so-called Bowling Green massacre didn't get covered because it actually never happened. So, let's talk about this. With me now is Rebecca Burke, CNN Political Analyst, and Larry Sabato, Director of the University Of Virginia Center Of Politics, Brian Stelter is also here, CNN's Senior Media Correspondent.

And I've been thinking all of you maybe Kellyanne Conway was just presenting to the public what she likes to term -- well, let's just hear it from Kellyanne Conway herself.


[10:15:06] CONWAY: Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You're saying it's a falsehood and they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But, the point really --

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.


COSTELLO: So, Brian, do you supposed that Kellyanne Conway just misspoke?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: She's implying that she did just misspeak that she meant to say the Bowling Green terrorists, that's one way these two Iraqi men were referred back in 2011. Here briefly are the facts about these case just to be clear what actually did happen, a number of years ago. This was more than six years ago.

So, in the first back text screen, Obama did not ban Iraqi refugee -- this Iraqi refugee program, the way that Conway said. Two Iraqis were living in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They were arrested in 2011 on terror charges. Two men were monitored by federal authorities but they were never planning any active terror on U.S soil.

The indication was they were trying to help get weapons to al-Qaeda in Iraq. They were working -- they didn't know but they were working with a FBI informant. The two men did not kill anyone in Bowling Green of anywhere else in United States. So, the idea that there was massacre that they were the masterminds is simply made up. Why is she believed this, whether she believed this, I'm hoping we'll hear more on that from Conway or from Sean Spicer at the briefing later today.

This is a pattern from Conway, another Trump aide, stating things that aren't true. It's hard to know sometimes if it's intentional or that's accidental. But what she's doing here is so in fear about refugees as opposed they're actually providing data, they would have to dissipate that fear.

COSTELLO: But here's the thing though, Larry. You know what, they're going to think -- you know what Sean Spicer is going to say, right? He's going to attack CNN. He's going to bring up the subject of fake news, and deflect from what Kellyanne Conway actually said. LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER OF POLITICS: Well, you're absolutely right, Carol. By the way, I want to wish you the very best in your new venture, we all love you.

COSTELLO: We love you too, Larry.

SABATO: But back to the subject.

COSTELLO: Thank you.

SABATO: Thank you Carol. As far as Kellyanne is concern, I like her. I respect her. I've known her for many years. Maybe she did just make a mistake. But, my personal theory is the reason that so many of the Trump people, including President Trump himself, tell so many falsehoods is because they spend so much time on Twitter and other social media.

And I've been on there for many years and I'll tell you, I never believe anything I read on Twitter until I check it, because the lies and the falsehoods never go away, even if they're disproved. They just keep popping back up and people retweet them, and they send them to you.

Great example being President Trump's ridiculous, absolutely false assertion that there are 3 million to 5 million illegal votes in the last election which explains why he lost the popular vote so substantially, absolutely false. I'm sure he believes it to this day. And a lot of his followers do. I still hear from them.

COSTELLO: Oh yeah. I hear from them as well. Well, Rebecca, here's the thing though Kellyanne Conway is in charge of messaging Mr. Trump's, you know, announcements to the public. She's in charge of doing that. And it's a concern when she says an absolute falsehood and then 13 days later, admits, oh, maybe I misspoke.

REBECCA BURKE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's absolutely a concern, Carol. I agree with you, because, you know, we can talk about the potential motives here, whether this was intentional or whether it was just an honest mistake on Kellyanne's part. And that's I think a separate conversation. But, when it comes to the White House and the message that they are projecting publicly to the American people, whether it's Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer or President Trump himself.

We expect a certain level of credibility from the White House, that what they're saying is at least they think it is true, that they are trying to give us the best information they possibly can. But we haven't seen that so far with this White House, that sort of attention to the truth and attention to detail. And it's important because over time this sort of thing will erode their credibility and I think to an extent, it already has.

And so then, you wonder, do they start to lose trust among the American people? Certainly, we in the media have been I think asking them tougher questions and been more skeptical since that first press briefing with Sean Spicer about the inaugural crowd.

COSTELLO: Here is the thing and this is something, it's a challenge for a journalist, right, Brian, because you can hear what Trump's supporters are going to say. You know the media makes mistakes all the time, they lie too.

STELTTER: I don't think we lie. But, we do make a mistake that's for sure.

COSTELLO: But we do correct our mistakes.

STELTER: There was an example on inauguration day, Zeke Miller of "Time Magazine" made a mistake inside the oval office. He didn't see the MLK bust. He believes that have been moved, it hadn't been moved. He apologized 30 minutes later. Conway waited 13 hours to correct the record on this.

COSTELLO: Thirteen days.

STELTER: Thirteen hours and she hasn't actually apologized for this. She's only said she meant something else.

[10:20:00] Rebecca Burke made a key point. Kelleyanne Conway is paid the by taxpayers. She's paid by us. We all expect not just journalist but normal people watches our program. Expect a certain level of attention to detail, and attention to the facts. And I think ultimately, it's not about journalists who are just bothered by this, it's about all the people online. On that social media that, that Larry was talking about. Who look at this and laugh, but there's something more than laughter too. She's so in fear. She's creating fear and confusion. And that's not a helpful when we're talking about a controversial policy.

COSTELLO: OK. So, I'm going to correct a, a minor mistake. I just made it 13 hours, not 13 days.

STELER: And that's what we do.

COSTELLO: That's what we do, right?

STELER: And we correct our mistakes. And in this case, you sit and wonder, what is their accountability at all? Will she actually apologize for this? Will she address in any more detail? Or as you were saying, will Spicer just blame the media?

COSTELLO: Well, to think. I did have a thought Larry about, you know, you bring up Mr. Trump believes that there are all these fraudulent votes, right. And he was going to launch this big investigation. We haven't really heard much about that. He seems to be backing away from that. So, is he now discovering that, you know, the American people aren't quite so gullible any longer?

SABATO: No, I doubt that's the explanation. But give him time, Carol, give him time. They'll probably have some kind of investigation or commission that will find. Oh, I don't know a couple of thousand fraudulent votes in the country. 137 million people voted for president last November. They'll find a couple of thousand and that will be enough for many of the Trump followers. But the important thing here is there is a pattern among the Trump people and President Trump himself.

It's intimidation. It's intimidation of the press, intimidation of the commentators, intimidation of those who would question what the administration is saying and it may work for a while. But every administration has loads of crises, where they depend upon having credibility with the American public. They're destroying their credibility bit by bit by bit, or they're reducing it to their base. And their base is no more than the 46 percent he got. And according to the latest surveys, if you can believe them. It's more like 40 percent. That's not enough to sustain a presidency.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Brian Steler, Rebecca Burke, Larry Sabato, thanks to all of you.

Coming up on the "Newsroom" the Treasury Department announcing new sanctions against Iraq. We're covering that from every angle-- Oh did I say of Iraq? See. I'm tired because I was -- I won't tell you what I was doing last night. I'll tell you later. But I guess you can probably guess since this is my last day on CNN. I'll catch you after the break.


[10:25:00] COSTELLO: And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. We do begin with breaking news this half hour. The U.S. Treasury Department has followed through and has imposed sanctions on Iran, after Iran launched that test missile last week. These sanctions have to do with companies or persons connected to Iran's missile program.

I just got this hot off the presses. So, I'm looking at this for the first time. It appears these sanctions affect 13 individuals and also 12 different companies, and then one entity down there. It's very complicated and hard to understand. But we're going to try to make sense of it for you this morning.

Let's head to the White House and check in with Jeff Zeleny. What more can you tell us, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. We are just getting this, just literally moments ago here. So, we are still going through this, but basically it is this. The Trump administration is continuing the practice of the Obama administration in cracking down on any companies or individuals who are in any way connected to missiles.

Now, this is coming directly in response to the testing of those ballistic missiles that started on Sunday. Now, this is something that the Trump administration is going very hard after them on. But this is a quote from someone at the Treasury Department. Let me read this to you, Carol. It says, "Iran's continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile system poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the U.S. So, today's action is part of the Treasury's ongoing efforts to counter Iranian nuclear activity."

So, this is not part of the nuclear deal we talked about so much in the Obama administration but this is in direct response to the testing of those missiles. And, Carol, this is a test for the Trump administration as well here, as they put these sanctions in. And the president was up early this morning, sending out a variety of messages on a variety of topics. But his one tweet on Iran certainly was interesting. He said this, if we have it for you, he said -- actually I don't have it in front of me. I'm sorry, we have the sanctions here. But he said was that, he would go hard after Iran. He would not be as kind to Iran as the Obama administration has been.

So these sanctions, Carol, just one small part of that. But the president right now is meeting with CEOs from across the country. There we have it right there, "Iran is playing with fire, they don't appreciate how kind president Obama was to them. Not me." Again, we expect the President to address this, possibly as he meets with CEOs happening right now inside the White House, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, you stand by, Jeff Zeleny, many thanks.

I want to head to London now and check in with Clarissa Ward. She is covering things from the Iranian angle. So Iranian officials and President Trump have been trading tweets, I guess, all morning long, earlier this morning. What do you think the reaction will be to these imposed sanctions?

[10:30:08] CLARISSA WARD, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have been trading tweets. This seems to be the new means of doing diplomacy in the digital age.