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Travel Ban Fight; Russia's Role in Ukraine Fighting; Iran's Supreme Leader Comments; Mission in Yemen; Obama hits the Waves. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 7, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:51] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. John Berman, here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us.

In just a few hours, a major showdown over President Trump's travel ban. Three federal judges today set to rule on if the president's immigration order should remain suspended or if it should take effect again.

BERMAN: The administration argues that national security is at risk, but 16 state attorneys general have filed a brief saying they agree with Washington state and Minnesota. They argue that the president's ban is unconstitutional. One of these attorney generals - or attorneys general, I should say, Virginia's Mark Herring, who joins us right now.

General, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: So the White House says this is a matter of national security, and the administration argues that the law gives the president wide latitude to deal with immigration, to deal with issues of national security. U.S. Code 1182 from 1952 says he can, if he likes, you know, issue, impose bans on entry of aliens or any restrictions that he may deem to be appropriate. So how do you get past that?

HERRING: Well certainly in matters of national security and immigration, the president does have a lot of latitude and a lot of deference, but it's not absolute. There are limitations. And just because President Trump invokes national security doesn't mean you throw the Constitution out the window. And when we were in court in the Virginia case last Friday, the judge we had there recognized the very same thing, that those powers are not absolute, and the Constitution is still in play and courts can review that.

HARLOW: The Constitution is in play, sir, but the argument that you and these other states are making is that the Constitution applies to people who are not U.S. citizens, nor have ever set foot in the United States, such as a family from Somalia or Yemen or one of these seven countries. How are you going to battle that?

HERRING: Well, there are a lot of folks who are impacted. And one of the things that our brief focuses on is the real harm that is happening in the states as a result of the executive order. We've got students who were here and can't travel abroad for fear their visas will be cancelled. We had one student from a university in northern Virginia, George Mason University, who was traveling overseas to visit family and then got trapped, couldn't get back and was in Turkey for almost a week until she got back. There are businesses that have employees who are unable to travel. So it has real harm and real impact in states. And thousands and thousands of people are impacted by this.

BERMAN: What about the people, though, who have never been in the United States, whether it be refugees or people seeking visas? Because now the administration, in their brief to the 9th Circuit, suggested maybe they'd be willing to split the different. Yes, they'd be willing to, you know, come a little bit closer to where you are, and say people who have been in the United States, students here, maybe there wouldn't be restrictions on them, but refugees, that's another thing.

HERRING: Well, I think that points to another problem with this, and that is the administration's position is shifting all over the map. One minute it applies to lawful permanent residents and visa holders and students and workers. And then the next the administration comes in and says, well, maybe not lawful permanent residents. And then maybe lawful permanent residents if they haven't come here before and it is just a - constantly shifting. And I think that points to the real chaotic and hastily way this was put together and implemented. And it was real chaos when this executive order went into effect.

I was at Dulles Airport the Saturday after the Friday when this order went into effect. It was complete chaos. And I remember a woman grabbing me by the - by the coat begging and pleading for help because they had her five-year-old son and would give her no information about him.

HARLOW: Right.

HERRING: And so it was real chaos of what the administration is saying is, this temporary restraining order should be lifted in order to unleash that chaos all over again.

HARLOW: Well -

HERRING: The good news is, the temporary restraining order is in effect and it has brought some calm to this.

HARLOW: So, Mr. Attorney General, we do have this photo I'd like to bring up, and this is of you meeting with a student I believe from Libya, who was almost banned from attending her graduation. Tell us a little bit about her but also how you will make the argument - or how Washington state is making the argument - that this does irreparable harm to the state itself because individuals that are American citizens would have standing in the courts, no question. It's a more dicey argument to make to argue that - that the state has standing because the state itself has been harmed.

[09:35:27] HERRING: Well, the student is a 23-year-old student at George Mason University. She is a delightful, accomplished young woman and she was the one who was traveling overseas to visit family and couldn't get back in and was stranded. And, you know, it was so nice to be able to welcome her back, say welcome back, glad you're back at school, but it was heartbreaking to hear that while she had planned on getting a master's degree in this country, after what happened to her, she may not get it here now because of the experience she had. But I also think it's important to recognize that she sees the goodness in Americans who came out to support her and welcome her back.

So I think that's the example of the kind of harm that we're seeing. And it's not just on individuals and families being separated, but there's real economic harm being done all across the country, including here in Virginia. We've got students who are planning on attending and had to cancel - are withdrawing their applications. The governor, Governor McAuliffe, I heard him say the other day that there were a couple of businesses who were planning site visits are now canceling those. There are employees who - and students and scholars who were planning on going to conferences to present their work and now that's been canceled. If students from those countries are unable to attend universities here and the researchers are losing their grants and there's real concrete, tangible harm to the states, and that was one of the main points that we're making in the brief and why we're fighting so hard, as well as all of the harm that it causes families being separated from one another.

BERMAN: We will see if the 9th Circuit, if those three judges agree with you. Again, those arguments come tonight. We could get a decision overnight or tomorrow morning.


BERMAN: Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia, thanks so much for being with us.

HERRING: Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: All right, still to come for us, fighting in eastern Ukraine. So was Russia involved? President Trump not so sure.


[09:41:31] HARLOW: President Trump says he's not so sure that Russia has anything to do with backing separatist that are fighting right now in eastern Ukraine. Here's how he put it.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Within 24 hours of you on the phone with the Russian leader, the pro-Russian forces step up the violence in Ukraine.


O'REILLY: Did you take that as an insult?

TRUMP: No, I didn't because we don't really know exactly what that is. They're pro forces. We don't know, are they uncontrollable, are they uncontrol (ph). That happens also. We're going to find out. I would be surprised, but we'll see.


BERMAN: All right, we don't know if they're controlled, or are they uncontrolled.

Joining us now from Moscow, CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson.

Now, Ivan, that is the type of language that we have heard from Russia when it comes to Ukraine. Hey, these aren't our guys there. But it's very different language than we've heard from the United States until now.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I man the State Department in the past has published satellite imagery of what they say are heavy weapons crossing the Russian border into eastern Ukraine presumably to support the separatist there. I myself have reported on senior separatist commanders in east Ukraine who happen to be Russian citizens. Russia makes no secret about the fact that it, at the very least, sympathizes with the separatists, but insists that it is not sending its own troops or weapons across that border, even though some Russian soldiers have actually been captured in eastern Ukraine. But at that time, Moscow said that they had taken a wrong turn and accidentally ended up there. So this statement by the U.S. president will probably come as a bit of a concern to the government in Ukraine, which is looking to western countries to protect it from what it claims is Russian intervention and invasion in its territories in the east of the country.


HARLOW: But one other thing - one other thing, Ivan, that the president said in a statement about this is that he noted that, of course, the United States is willing to work with - with Kiev (ph) and work with Moscow to try to, quote, restore peace along the border. The issue with that is that it begs the question, you know, does he have a full understanding of where the conflict is taking place. And this is not along the border, it's in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

WATSON: That's right. And we're getting slightly mixed messages from the Trump administration because it's very clear that President Trump is going out of his way to try to avoid offending or angering Russia on the Ukrainian issue, but his new ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, she came out very strongly last week condemning Russia and saying that sanctions will not be lifted from Russia until it ends what she described as the occupation and Russian invasion of that Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which has been formally annexed to Russia. So there's slightly conflicting messages coming out of the Trump administration that are leading some here in Russia and certainly in Ukraine to wonder what exactly is going to be the Trump policy towards this ongoing conflict.

HARLOW: Yes. Ivan Watson, thank you very much for the reporting from Moscow for us.

A lot to discuss. With us now, CNN military analyst and retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Nice to have you on.


HARLOW: What do you make of that, both the fact that he sort of indicates that the fighting is in a place where it's not, and the fact that he says, we don't know what these -


HARLOW: Pro-Russian forces are doing, or who - you know, if they're really backed by Russia?

[09:45:04] HERTLING: When I heard that interview, Poppy, I about fell out of the chair because there are reams of intelligence data that shows that this fight has been ongoing for over a year. And that Russia is supporting, not only with troops on the ground, but across - I mean you talk about artillery fire across the border. There actually have been incidents and radar tracks of Russian artillery firing across the Russian border into Ukraine in a standback (ph). There - as Ivan said, there are vehicles moving back and forth across the border. There are photographs of that. So the intelligence community certainly knows. And just like the president was at CENTCOM yesterday, eventually he will go to European Command, and the commander of European Command, General (INAUDIBLE), will show him all the data we have that shows that, in fact, Russia is supporting the separatists.

BERMAN: And, look, he may have seen that data already. It's just the choice of language he used -


BERMAN: Is language that means something very specific on the diplomatic community when you're talking about the conflict in Ukraine.

Speaking of language, so the supreme leader of Iran issued a statement about the president, you know, poking fun at the president in a way, a harsh, if you want to interpret it that way. It says, "we thank this new guy in the White House since he largely did the job we've been trying to do in the past decade, to divulge the true face of the United States." Now, the supreme leader of Iran often says things that are provocative -


BERMAN: And are meant to stick a finger in the eye of the United States. The question is, when does it go from that to something that's dangerous? HERTLING: Well, I think you've seen that. As you said, John, that's

happened over the decades where the supreme leader will say something about our president that is not very complimentary. So no big surprise there.

But anytime you open up other countries to say these kinds of things for either good or bad purposes, it's not a very good issue. And that's what Mr. Trump has been doing by saying some of the statements. It gives more fodder for these kinds of dictators, in this case the supreme leader, to say these kind of things. And that's why you've got to be careful with political language.

HARLOW: We also have some new reporting on that raid in Yemen. Obviously one U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in that, and also it was an intelligence gathering mission. But our Jim Sciutto reporting - who's very well sourced on this, said that the mission from the White House was also, in addition to getting intelligence, was also to try to kill the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Rimi, not the sole mission but part of it. The fact that that wasn't known is not odd, right? The administration wouldn't come out and say we tried but we didn't - we didn't succeed in this. But what do you make of that information, that it was indeed trying to get the head of AQAP?

HERTLING: Yes, this was a high-risk mission. And missions and special ops are categorized as low, medium and high. This was a high risk mission. They were going for kill/capture. That was made known that - as they sent this team in. And you - and if you have any experience with these, you can see the size of the force that went in was certainly a high-risk mission, that it was more than just capturing a minor player. But those kind of things evolve over the months. You determine patterns of life, patter of movement, and that's exactly what they were doing with Qassim al-Rimi. This would have been a big target. But again, as you say, should they have announced the name? No.

HARLOW: Right.

HERTLING: But what we're seeing now is the reflection from al-Rimi saying this is what -

HARLOW: Well now he's taunting the United States in this audio message.

HERTLING: Right. Right.

BERMAN: But this is the kind of guy you do want to go after.

HERTLING: Absolutely.

BERMAN: If you can get him, you get him.


HARLOW: Of course.

Thank you. It's nice to have you here in person. HERTLING: Yes, it's great.

BERMAN: Thank you, general.

HERTLING: Yes, thank you. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Appreciate it.

Still to come for us, foreign policy and cabinet confirmations probably not on former President Obama's mind as he catches waves. His competition with Virgin mogul Richard Branson is next.


[09:53:02] HARLOW: Work hard, then play hard. That appears to be President Obama's new mantra as he is out of the Oval Office.


BERMAN: So apparently that means work hard for eight years as president and then go kite surfing with Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands.

HARLOW: On a private island.

BERMAN: On a private island (INAUDIBLE). Invite only to there with Richard Branson, but that was the president of the United States. There's Richard Branson right there. This is pretty remarkable video. Alison Kosik joins us right now. Not every day you see a former president kite surfing.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not every day. You know, when you see this, it really makes you realize that he was able to really leave those political tensions of Washington behind and say hello paradise. Not such a hard move to make when you're invited to Sir Richard Branson's private island right in the Virgin Islands. And you are looking at the video there.

We just learned of this visit on a blog that Branson wrote about saying that at the end of January, President Obama arrived. This is after, of course, he went to Palm Springs after President Trump was inaugurated. And he arrived telling him a story that just before he took office, he was surfing in Hawaii and made a dangerous - and had a dangerous wave and, obviously, almost got into trouble and his security detail says, Mr. President, that's going to be the last time for the next eight years that you're going to serve. So during his time in office, President Obama didn't get a chance to go out and do these extreme water sports, let alone surfing.

HARLOW: Right.

KOSIK: So now that he's had the chance, he went ahead and, once again, was invited by Branson to his private island and they kind of had a friendly wager. You know we had President Obama wanting to take up kite surfing and Branson wanted to take up something called foil boarding, which is what you saw him kind of above the wave there. And then they figured, at the end of his trip, they would kind of see who can go the farthest. And guess who won?

[09:55:02] HARLOW: Well, I think, you know, Sir Branson might have given the president a pass. You usually let the president win?

KOSIK: Perhaps, but it looks like President Obama went farther than Branson on their new extreme water sport activity.

HARLOW: What about the first lady? She was getting down, too, right?

KOSIK: I don't know. She's not in this video. Doesn't mean that she didn't get into it.


HARLOW: I think we have some - we might have some photos of that.

BERMAN: I have to say, like, that's a first world problem, if you're choosing between kite surfing and foil boarding, whatever it is. What is it called?

KOSIK: You know - foil boarding. It's when you - it's when you're above the water. You're kind of on this hydrofoil below the water so the board can actually leave the surface of the water. In my opinion, foil boarding is like surfing on steroids.

BERMAN: All right.

KOSIK: Kite boarding, I don't know (ph).

BERMAN: You know what he's not thinking about there? The debt ceiling.

KOSIK: He's not thinking about Trump (ph).

BERMAN: He's not thinking about budgets.

KOSIK: He's not thinking about (INAUDIBLE).


BERMAN: He's not thinking about - thinking about anything, other than kite surfing.


BERMAN: Alison Kosik, remarkable pictures, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

KOSIK: Thanks.

BERMAN: The next hour of NEWSROOM begins after a quick break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)