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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy; Trump Defending Putin; Travel Ban Likely Heading to Supreme Court; WH Tries Reboot, But is President Trump on Board?; Trump Alleges Media Won't Report Terror Attacks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 6, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Anyone who posted or tweeted a meme mocking Tom Brady in the first half of the game, this is totally on you.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump goes after a federal judge and tells America anything negative about him is fake, but a very real little battle is exploding over his travel ban.

President Trump off-script, the West Wing staff spent. Sources telling CNN that President Trump's White House staff is all over the place, but that might be exactly how he wants it.

Plus, ISIS calling its shots through cyberspace, scary new information about the group is getting to would-be terrorists. And President Trump's travel ban would likely not do anything to stop it.

Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump's tweets are windows into his soul, unfiltered and often seemingly unmoored. This weekend, we all got to take quite a gander of Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush-appointed federal judge who temporarily suspended the president's travel and immigration ban.

President Trump attacked him as a -- quote -- "so-called judge," seeming to question the judge's legitimacy and competence. Mr. Trump went on: "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad."

Of the many polls suggesting that a majority of the American public opposes the travel ban, the president wrote -- quote -- "Any negative polls are fake news, just like CNN, NBC, ABC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting."

Let me read that one part of that again: "Any negative polls are fake news."

You got that? Any polling suggesting anything negative about the president or his policies is not, in his view, real. Of well-sourced stories reporting the president didn't know the extent

to which his putting senior strategist Steve Bannon on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council would be unprecedented and controversial, President Trump seemed to agree. He opined -- quote -- "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data. And everyone knows it. Some fake news media, in order to marginalize, lies."

All right, to sum up, if a judge rules against the president, he is a so-called judge. If a poll shows that a majority of you disagrees with his policies, the poll is fake. If a well-sourced news story reflects something unflattering about him, that story is fake.

So the judicial branch of government and the free press, two fundamental pillars of our democracy, if we take actions he does not like, we are not legitimate.

OK. What about a known geopolitical foe of the United States like, say, I don't know, Russian President Vladimir Putin? Well, coincidentally, the president was asked about Putin during yesterday's Super Bowl interview with Bill O'Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It's possible that I won't.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: He is a killer, though. Putin is a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers. We have got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Whoa. So, as long as we all know where we stand, I suppose.

But let's focus right now on the legal battle erupting over the president's travel ban.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is following the story.

Pamela, yesterday morning, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Robart's temporary suspension of the ban. The Ninth Circuit is widely considered to be a fairly liberal circuit. It looks like this is going to end up in front of the Supreme Court.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It very well could, sooner, rather than later, Jake.

But right now as we speak the Justice Department only has two more hours to file its brief with the Ninth Circuit Court. And then the world will have to just wait and see what the court decides as the legal showdown ensues. People who were banned from entering the U.S. just a few days ago are now rushing to get in under the wire in fear of the ban going back into effect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): An emotional reunion at Dulles International Airport as a Somali mother with a valid U.S. immigrant visa and her children are reunited with their father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am feeling excited about my family coming to me here and living with me. It has been a very difficult week. But I am happy that it ended happily.

BROWN: His family was turned away from coming to the U.S. last week because of President Trump's travel ban, but Friday a surprise window opened up when a Washington State federal judge temporarily halted the ban nationwide.

BROWN: District Judge James Robart ruled the plaintiffs, Washington State and Minnesota, demonstrated immediate and irreparable injury from the executive order in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel.

And that order set off an immediate chain of events around the world and prompted the president to fire off angry tweets even attacking the judge -- quote -- "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned and -- quote -- "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens, blame him and court system."

Speaking to a military crowd in Tampa this afternoon, Trump is confident he will win the court battle.

TRUMP: We have been seeing what's been going on over the last few days. We need strong programs, so that people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in, not people that want to destroy us and destroy our country.

[16:05:13]

BROWN: But even people in Trump's own party say the system of checks and balances is working as it should.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: We don't have so-called judges. We don't have so-called senators. We don't have so-called presidents. We have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We all want to try to keep terrorists out of the United States, but we can't shut down travel.

BROWN: Today, Department of Justice lawyers are trying to get an appeals court to reinstate the ban, arguing the president, not the courts, should be making national security decisions, in part because courts do not have access to classified information about the threat posed by terrorist organizations operating in particular nations.

But 10 high-ranking former national security officials, including CIA directors and secretaries of state, have told the appeals court the ban would undermine the national security of the United States, endanger U.S. troops, and help ISIS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And the court has also heard from 97 tech companies like Google and Apple who depend on foreign-born labor and oppose the ban.

So right now all eyes are on the Ninth Circuit Court, which will decide whether or not to reinstate the ban, as the appeals process moves its way through the court system, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democrat.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to play something for you that the president said this afternoon at CENTCOM. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have seen what happened in Paris and Nice, all over Europe. It's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Senator, I know you're not a spokesman for the Trump White House, but I am just wondering, do you have any idea what he's talking about?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I have no idea.

And I think I'm going to go back and read George Orwell. This kind of doublespeak makes no sense at all.

Look what the president has done. He has made it very clear he doesn't want Muslims in our country. He issues an executive order that is so broad on its face, we could be blocking people from virtually any country, including just tourists coming into the United States.

He tells a federal judge or tells the country this federal judge disagrees with me, he is obviously not a valid federal judge. He said the same thing about another judge who found that he had been involved in business dealings he should not have been involved in.

In other words, if you agree with him, you're valid. If you disagree with him, you're invalid. And then he doubled down this weekend, basically equating Putin's Russia as a moral equivalency with the United States of America. I don't know how anybody, Republican or Democrat, could accept that.

The -- Bill O'Reilly, to his credit, raised Putin and what he does, a man who has ordered assassinations, has had members of the press assassinated, political rivals assassinated, has stolen tens of billions of dollars from his country.

And he says that's equivalent to the United States?

No, it is not.

TAPPER: The tweet about Judge Robart in which he called him a so- called judge, I have talked to people who defend Trump and say, look, this is just him insulting a judge. It's no big deal.

You disagree?

LEAHY: Oh, it's a huge deal. To use his words, it's a huge deal.

And I tell you why. We have three branches of government. One of the reasons our democracy is now the oldest existing democracy in the world is because we have checks and balances between the legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch.

Every single president -- and I have been here since President Ford -- whether they agree or disagree with a court order, they say, OK, it's got to be upheld. That's what we do. We have never had a president, of either party, try to undercut and lower the moral authority of our federal courts.

It's just never been done. And I have had a lot of Republican senators say, this goes beyond the pale.

TAPPER: So, many Trump voters might say that this is exactly why they voted for him, to send him to Washington to shake things up, to take on these out-of-control judges, et cetera. What would your response be to them?

[16:10:00]

LEAHY: My response would be, he took an oath, a very solemn oath, to uphold the Constitution.

You don't uphold the Constitution by saying the courts are not valid. You are not upholding the Constitution when you say the murders and the bribery in Putin's Russia are the moral equivalent of the United States of America. That -- I can't imagine anybody who would vote for a president to do that.

TAPPER: So you say you're not voting for President Trump's nominee to be attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions. He was a state attorney general. He has been a colleague of yours in the U.S. Senate for years.

Surely, you don't think he lacks the qualifications to be attorney general?

LEAHY: I think part of the qualifications is what, will you do with -- the attorney general?

Remember, he was a man who voted against a very simple resolution that says we don't have a religious test in the United States. I was certainly brought up to believe that. I thought everybody was.

He voted against the Violence Against Women Act because we included Native Americans and immigrants and the LGBT community, as well as the sexual trafficking of children. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and the House. He thought it went too far.

TAPPER: What do you want to hear from President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who seems to have supporters, both Democrats and Republicans?

LEAHY: I will sit down and talk with him. I want to know how independent he would be. I was worried about the way he was announced. The president did it like it was some kind of a game show. I'm flying in the two final contestants, and now open the door and here is the one I picked.

The Supreme Court is not a reality show. It's the U.S. Supreme Court. And you get especially troubled when he says that he picked the name from vetting done by right-wing organizations, many of them lobbying organizations, that they would tell the president who he could pick. That's not the way we do it.

I voted for a lot of judicial nominees of both Republicans and Democrats, from the Supreme Court down through. I voted for them thinking they would be independent, not beholden to some special lobbying group.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir.

LEAHY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Now into the third week of his presidency, Donald Trump says he is calling the shots, but what's really going on behind the scenes at the White House? Sources say there is chaos and there's tension. What's the truth?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:25] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

This is the start of the third week of President Trump's term and his managing by conflict style that we saw during the campaign appears to be firmly in place at the White House. Not everybody considers that a success. But many do.

What does President Trump think about how things are going?

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is live for us. And, Sara, the Trump White House can point to a seamless Supreme Court

nominee rollout and also a very messy travel ban executive order to say nothing of these tweets. What's going on behind the scenes?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, by all accounts, the Trump administration can point to a very busy, very active first two weeks in the White House. But Donald Trump pulled those off while there were turf wars playing out among his staffers and while he was causing heartburn for official Washington. Now, some of the Trump administration insisted that they're changing course, but those who are hoping Donald Trump will change may come up disappointed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's top aides are taking pains to insist everything is going smoothly in the West Wing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We're a very tight group. You know, we all live in the fox hole together.

MURRAY: In a whirlwind two weeks, Trump has delivered on many of his campaign promises.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll begin immediate construction of a border wall.

(APPLAUSE)

MURRAY: But he's done so with chaos churning in the background. The president faced backlash for putting chief strategist Steve Bannon on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.

And the rocky rollout of Trump's travel ban was panned even by close allies, who say he wasn't well served by his advisers.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The president has a structure inside the White House with three folks who are predominantly in charge of operations at the White House, Mr. Bannon, Mr. Kushner and Mr. Priebus. I think anyone who look at this knows that it could have been and should have been done better.

MURRAY: While Vice President Mike Pence acknowledge there were some missteps --

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll concede that sometimes the usual Washington niceties of informing members of Congress were not, you know, fully implemented.

MURRAY: -- it's all part of a learning curve for Trump and his team. Advisers say the president didn't realize how controversial it would be to put Bannon on the Principals Committee. And with the travel ban now embroiled in legal challenges, Trump has tasked Priebus with ensuring future agenda items are implemented smoothly.

TRUMP: Reince is fantastic. MURRAY: But sources tell CNN the Trump administration is putting more energy into downplaying reports of staff fighting than actually solving tensions that persist between Priebus, Bannon and others in the West Wing. Those tensions may put Trump's GOP allies in Washington on edge. But there is little sign they bother the president.

This weekend he tweeted, "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it."

Trump is often the driving force behind the cycles of chaos and then calm, that were all too common in his presidential campaign.

The big challenge for his team: moderating the impulse to act first and deal with the fallout later.

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Donald Trump doesn't have the filter that Barack Obama or George W. Bush had. That can be a strength to communicate his message directly to voters. It obviously also causes a great deal of concern amongst White House aides and the press operation. That's where they need to do the job of cleanup on aisle five.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, President Trump thrives in a tumultuous environment but that's not necessarily true of everyone he surrounds himself with. Sources tell me a number of former campaign staffers, in fact, are opting for jobs in government agencies even as slots remain unfilled in the West Wing because they just cannot bear to be this close to what one person described to me as the west wing circus -- Jake.

[16:20:11] TAPPER: Chaos theory. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Our panel is here to discuss what we've just heard. But, first, President Trump just hours ago suggested that Paris and Nice-type attacks are happening all over Europe and the press isn't reporting it. What on earth is he talking about?

Think it over. We'll have that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

In a speech at U.S. CentCom headquarters today in Florida, President Trump said the radical Islamic terrorists are committing atrocities across the world and are determined to strike within the United States.

[16:20:04] True. But then he added this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Joining me now to talk about it, my political panel, we have with us, Republican strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis-Andersen, "Washington Post" columnist and associate editor, David Ignatius, and White House correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal," Carol Lee.

David, he is alleging that the media doesn't cover terror attacks in Europe and that we don't want to. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?

DAVID IGNATIUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: No, and I have to be honest, as a journalist I'm really troubled by that. We have brave colleagues who everyday are taking big risks to cover these stories. Look at the "New York Times" which the president demonizes often. "The New York Times" this weekend had an outstanding piece of reporting about how ISIS has been reaching out, is more involved in some attacks in Europe and abroad --

TAPPER: We're doing a version of that story later in the show with that reporter from "The Times." Yes.

IGNATIUS: It's particularly inappropriate when we have colleagues who are doing everything they can to bring this story to America. For the president to suggest we don't take the story seriously, you know, I'd love to sit down with him. I have about a hundred examples I'd like to show him.

TAPPER: I don't even understand it.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think a lot of it has to do with Donald Trump views himself as being the voice of people who are very scared. When people sort of feel like -- well, there are all these things happening in Europe and Donald Trump says that they're happening, Donald Trump validates that I should be afraid. I think that's a big piece of why this is -- in his message, this is why over the weekend, he said, if there's an attack in the United States as a result of this judge saying that my travel ban can't go into place, it will be the judge's fault.

That for him, a population that is afraid, that is deeply concerned about threats coming in from overseas, people causing attacks here in the United States, that benefits him, he thinks, and I think that's why he seeks to stoke this.

TAPPER: You know, it just occurred to me, when you were saying that as to what this also might be, which is the Germans are very upset about the fact that there are all these fake news reports in Germany and throughout Europe of immigrants, refugees attacking European women and carrying out terrorist attacks. Clearly, first of all, let me just say, there are legitimate ones that happen.

But there are a lot of fake ones and that it explodes in social media and by the time the police and national security apparatus investigate nothing happened, but the hysteria already got out there. Maybe he is talking about the fake news stories.

CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Potentially, I've asked the White House for some examples. So, I'll let you know when they get back to me with some examples. I don't know what he is talking about.

But this is another way in which -- I know we're only several weeks into this administration. This is so dramatically different from the Obama administration, which would say that journalists over-cover these things and hype up the terrorists.

TAPPER: Right.

LEE: And so, it's just -- it's kind of a little bit of whiplash. I don't know what he is referring to, but I do know that any news organization, when there is any kind of attack, we are all over that. And --

TAPPER: Yes. In fact, let me just read this. The White House spin -- Sean Spicer, the press secretary, was on Air Force One. He was asked about this crazy quote and he said there are certain terror events, quote, "that aren't exactly covered to a degree on which they should be." That that was the president meant, which, of course, is not what the president said.

One thing I want to ask about also is what President Trump said to Bill O'Reilly about Putin. He was -- O'Reilly said Putin is a killer, he said, "There are a lot of killers. You think our country is so innocent."

And, David, here's what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told me about that quote yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I'm trying to imagine your response if President Obama had defended the murderous reign of Putin by saying, you think our country is so innocent?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Look, I'm not going to critique the president's every utterance, but I do think America is exceptional, America is different. We don't operate in any way the way the Russians do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Retired General Barry McCaffrey today called the comment by President Trump about Putin, comparing it favorably, or at least equally with the United States, un-American.

IGNATIUS: Senator McConnell's comment and McCaffrey's also suggests that Donald Trump is running out of runway with comments like this. These are so upsetting, so offensive to people in his own party. I think that, more and more of my focus as I try to cover this story of this presidency is on Republicans in Congress. They're the people who are going to have to draw clear lines, say this is unacceptable, this is not -- this does not speak for our party, for our country, and to the extent they do that, I think there is some protection. If they don't, I am worried.

TAPPER: I want to ask you because you're pollster. And President Trump said today, any negative poll is fake news.