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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Trump Attacks Nordstrom; Republican Leader Silences Senator Elizabeth Warren; Senate GOP Silences Warren in Sessions Debate; WH: Trump Has "Every Right" to Slam Nordstrom. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I guess we know one department store where the president will not be shopping for Valentine's Day.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump throwing more jabs at judges, saying a high school kid could figure it out as they deliberate whether his travel ban should remain on the shelf.

A critic who spoke out against Vladimir Putin and ended up in the hospital possibly poisoned for a second time is now said to be at death's door. Today, his wife is pointing her finger right at the Kremlin.

Plus, President Trump blasting Nordstrom's for dropping his daughter Ivanka's clothing label. Is he just wearing his make parenting great again hat or is he using the bully pulpit inappropriately to seek revenge on behalf of his daughter?

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the field of psychology, it's known as Maslow's hammer. "I suppose it is tempting," psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote, "if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Today, as we wait for a ruling opt White House executive order on immigration and travel that could come tomorrow, President Trump is hammering away at the judiciary, accusing federal judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of playing politics if they rule against him.

A -- quote -- "bad high school student would know to decide in his favor," the president said today. And he warned the horrible, dangerous and wrong decision to pause his ban could prevent the U.S. from ever having the safety and security to which he said we are entitled, we are all entitled. Pretty tough stuff.

CNN senior white correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me.

Jeff, for the sake of discussion, let's forget for a second whether the president is right in his description of the judges. Forget about the merits of his case. The Trump administration's own lawyers must be hating that he is personally attacking the intelligence and integrity of the judges who are in the middle of deciding how to issue a ruling on his travel ban.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, privately, the lawyers here at the White House and at the Justice Department I'm told are cringing at those blistering words.

Now, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today when asked about the word disgraceful and whether it was appropriate or not to use that, he didn't answer that question. But I can tell you, the White House on edge tonight as it waits for that ruling that now will come as early as tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have learned a lot in the last two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand. But we're going to take care of it. We're going to win.

ZELENY (voice-over): Stark words today from President Trump raising the specter of terror threats as he takes legal challenges to his travel ban into the court of public opinion.

TRUMP: I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. It was disgraceful.

ZELENY: At a meeting of police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, the president lashing out against the judicial branch and the three-judge panel considering challenges to his immigration order.

TRUMP: I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it biased and we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political.

ZELENY: The president clearly souring at his first taste of checks and balances in the U.S. government after judges from the Ninth Circuit court of appeals raised sharp questions Tuesday night over the order restricting travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

JUDGE WILLIAM CANBY, NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: Could the president simply say in the order, we're not going to let any Muslims in?

ZELENY: Defending his action as a way to protect the nation's security, the president belittled the judges.

TRUMP: A bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this. Suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants.

ZELENY: For nearly two weeks the executive order on immigration has consumed Trump's new presidency. Yet for the first time, he said today he actually wanted to wait before signing it, but was warned against it. TRUMP: So, I wanted to give like a month. Then I said, well, what

about a week? They said, well, you're going to have a whole pile of people, perhaps, perhaps, with very evil intentions coming in before the restrictions.

ZELENY: Yet that's at odds with what he said on Twitter after signing the order. "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot six bad dudes out there."

Meantime, the president made clear he is still keeping an eye on his family's businesses, blasting the Nordstrom department store for dropping Ivanka Trump's clothing line. "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom," he tweeted. "She is a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: But the president definitely had that hearing on his mind throughout the day, sending out several messages, including this one right here.

[16:05:05]

Let's take a look at this. He said: "There's a big increase in traffic in our country from certain areas while our people are more vulnerable as we wait for what should be an easy D." Easy decision there, of course, he's talking about.

We asked the White House what areas he was talking about, Jake, and so far no answer from them yet.

TAPPER: I thought he was talking about the rap star Easy D. I'm glad he wasn't. Makes more sense your way.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

For more on this debate over President Trump's travel ban I want to bring in Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Before his election, he served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks, as always, for joining me.

Let's start with this -- what is going on in the Ninth Circuit right now. President Trump said even a bad high school student would rule in his favor on this executive order on immigration, just the latest in a stream of criticism and tough personal criticism of judges hearing this case.

Now, the vice president has called this kind of talk refreshing for people who know how the president really feels about things. Other Republicans have questioned the wisdom and the respect behind these personal attacks against judges. What do you think?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: So, I don't think you can attack the judiciary.

Look, we have separate but equal branches of government, Congress, president, and that's a political debate you can fight amongst yourselves on that. When it come to the judiciary, though, I may disagree with a decision that comes out of the Ninth Circuit. It is definitely a left-leaning circuit.

But I think it goes a bridge entirely too far to attack judges that first off haven't even made a ruling. And second off, we have to respect the fact that judges are there to rein in what they can perceive as an overstep by the government. And whether or not you agree with the decision, I think it's a wrong tack to start attacking judges whether it's Supreme Court, whether it's anything below.

TAPPER: And, Congressman, what do you think of the travel ban itself?

KINZINGER: So, I think the president has a right to say, hey, as any new president would, we need to take a look at how we're vetting. I thought the travel ban in and of itself, it's OK to look at, it's OK to do.

I thought the execution and how it was actually presented was terrible. You know, for instance, Iraq is on the travel ban. Well, Iraq has some of the most intense vetting procedures for people to get Iraqi passports.

They're also our chief ally right now in the war against ISIS. To put them in the same level as you're putting Syria and Somalia was, I think, an entirely big overstep. This was rolled out terribly. It was rolled out basically, instead of being explained on a Friday night, and I think it's gotten a little out of control on it.

But I think every president has a right to look at how we're vetting things and I would actually give him the levers to do that.

TAPPER: Service members I know, friends of mine who have served in Iraq have been in touch with fellow soldiers in Iraq, Iraqi soldiers, who seem very upset about this.

KINZINGER: Yes. Look, this sends -- I actually met with the Iraqi ambassador yesterday. And he said there are three messages coming out of Iraq because of this. He goes the most frightening one is there are some people that are cheering this because they have an interest in destroying the Iraqi-United States relationship.

And they think this is going to go -- a way to do it. The other thing is, look, when we have special forces embedded with Iraqi military and we're saying, we trust you to put your life on the line to destroy ISIS, but at the same time you're part of this ban, it sends an entirely wrong message.

So, I think, look, we're going to work through this. The courts are going to work through it. One of the things I'm focused on is ensuring that we can keep to, for instance, the Iraqi translators, the Afghan translators that work so hard with our troops, many of whom have died actually because they haven't been able to come here in time.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about this Amnesty International report which suggests that as many as 13,000 people were hanged at a Syrian prison in a crackdown by the Assad government. What more can you tell us about this?

KINZINGER: Look, it's not surprising. This is -- Assad has this brutal execution process, as his father did, too. They categorize victims. They write on them like similar to what you saw in Nazi Germany.

We know that 50 people were basically hung at a time, all of a sudden leading to about 15,000 to 13,000 dead people. Assad is an evil man. Russia backing him up is a very evil regime and they have no interest in human life, except Assad just simply wants to maintain power and he thought that hanging 50 people at a time would send a message. Maybe it did. But it's definitely an evil message to the world and something that needs to be called out.

TAPPER: According to several administration officials, the White House is considering designating both the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Muslim Brotherhood as foreign terrorist organizations. What do you make of that?

KINZINGER: I think I would be supportive of it.

It depends on -- look at what Iran is doing around the region, for instance, and they're meddling around the region, a chief sponsor of terror. You look at what they do with Hezbollah. You look at their involvement in Syria. They're playing a huge role in Syria in terms of the murder of half-a-million people, 50,000 children.

And that Muslim Brotherhood, to an extent that they are a political organization, like they had in Egypt, they ended up trying to seize power and take control for their cause. So, I think it's important to look at this in a broad way. I think it is important to be aggressive against Islamic jihadist terrorism, but I also think, at the same time, our best allies in this fight are Muslims. And we need to keep this in mind.

[16:10:08]

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much. Appreciate it, as always.

KINZINGER: You bet, Jake. Thanks.

TAPPER: She went tweet for tweet with Donald Trump during the campaign. But last night, Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor. Did Republicans just tee her up for 2020? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Sticking with politics now, in just moments from now, Republican

Senator Jeff Sessions is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. attorney general. This comes after a fierce partisan showdown on the Senate floor last night over his nomination.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was rebuked and silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as she read from statements by Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, and from statements by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, both of whom opposed Sessions for a federal judgeship in 1986.

McConnell argued that Warren was violating Senate rules against denigrating a colleague.

[16:15:00] Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is what it said, "They are mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President --

WARREN: They are --

MCCONNELL: Mr. President --

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R), MONTANA: The majority leader?

MCCONNELL: The senator's impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair.

I call the senator to order under the provision of Rule 19.

WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.

DAINES: The senator will take her seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Senator Warren did get to finish her remarks. She took to Facebook and streamed it to millions of viewers.

CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju joins me now live in Capitol Hill.

Manu, Senator Warren addressed the developments today even as her colleagues read the same letter on the Senate floor today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. And actually, Republicans did not object when their colleagues read that letter. But I also had a chance to talk to Senator Warren who defended her decision to move forward with her arguments last night, even as she was warned repeatedly not to make those remarks. In particular, one line had infuriated Republicans, a line from Coretta Scott King's letter saying that Jeff Sessions as a U.S. attorney used his office to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. I asked Warren specifically, do you think as attorney general, Sessions would also frighten and intimidate elderly black voters? And she said yes.

And all this, Jake, is also renewing talk of her possibly being a candidate for 2020. I asked her about that as well. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: What do you think some of your critics would think you are doing this to help position yourself for a possible run in 2020?

WARREN: I say I'm doing my job.

RAJU: Is that something, though, you're open to right now thinking about 2020?

WARREN: I am open to doing my job, and that is to debate whether or not Jeff Sessions should be attorney general of the United States. And that's why I wanted the opportunity to read Coretta Scott King's letter. It is a powerful letter. I urge everyone to go and read it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And, Jake, Warren also acknowledging that the votes are probably there not just for Jeff Sessions tonight, but for other trump nominees, but saying she wants to make her points very clear on the floor even if it means Republican attempts to silence her, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Manu, beyond the controversy of what happened to Senator Elizabeth Warren last night, has the White House in any way addressed the substance of Coretta Scott King's criticism of Sessions from 1986?

RAJU: Yes, actually, Sean Spicer today at the press briefing was asked specifically about it. And he believes that King, if she were alive today, she would have a different view of Jeff Sessions. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can only hope that if she were still with us today, that after getting to know him and to see his record and his commitment to voting and civil rights, that she would share the same view that Senator Specter did where he said, although I voted against him getting to know the man that is now, I regret that vote. And I would hope that if she was still with us today that she would share that sentiment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And, Jake, that last remark referring to the late Arlen Specter, who actually told me in 2009 that the one vote that he regretted through his entire career was voting against Jeff Sessions. And Republicans have been trying to make that case to Democrats since Sessions was nominated but really falling on deaf ears, Jake. We're expecting only one Democratic senator to vote in favor of Jeff Sessions tonight, that's Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But still, enough votes to get him confirmed to the post in just a couple of hours, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Nordstrom's decides to drop Ivanka Trump's clothing line. And President Trump takes to Twitter to respond. Should the president of the United States really be tweeting from his official presidential account about his daughter's business? The White House says yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:21] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Our money lead now. A new tweet from President Trump is the subject of today's conflict of interest watch. Last week, the department store chain Nordstrom announced it is dropping the clothing and shoes line of the first daughter Ivanka Trump, citing declining sales that came after boycotts such as the "grab your wallet" campaign which asks consumers to avoid brands owned by the Trump family.

Today, Nordstrom repeated this was strictly a business decision. The product wasn't selling.

Earlier today, however, the president tweeted from his own account and then retweeted from the official POTUS account that you pay for, quote, "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person. Always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

Let us place to the side for a second the president of the United States has now spent more time dressing down a clothing retailer than he has Vladimir Putin. Several ethics experts worry about President Trump using the power of his office to go after any company that made a fiduciary decision simply because it impacted his daughter and he doesn't think it's fair because she's a great person.

Today, the White House responded saying the president had every right to slam Nordstrom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: This was less about his family business and attack on his daughter. For someone to take out their concern with his policies on a family member of his is just -- is not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Even though the brand still carries her name, Ivanka last month announced she is taking a leave of absence from her apparel and accessories brand and the Trump organization. Oh, and by the way, Nordstrom stock today was up 4 percent.

So, let's talk about this all with our panel. Alex, let me start with you. The White House said President Trump had

every right to do this. I suppose in the sense of the First Amendment he does. But there are certainly ethical concerns here.

[16:25:03] ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There sure are. And, Jake, actually, this is sort of the rare Trump action where you can't say this is exactly what he said he would do during the campaign. That's what the White House has defended virtually everything he's done since taking office, is that the voters knew what they were getting. This is what he promised them.

He actually promised them over and over on the campaign trail, if I become the president, my business, my family's business, that is all peanuts by comparison to what I want to do for the country. And so, the shift there, I think it's really alarming both to ethics experts and to people in his own party who do just see this as an ongoing source of tension and drama that will just drive them away from the policy goals that they want to move on.

TAPPER: Charles?

CHARLES COOKE, EDITOR, THE NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I agree with all of that. And it does show that he's as petty as he ever was. I think I dislike it more than anything else is just the ongoing politicization of everything. I really wanted a president after Obama who was a little quieter, a Calvin Coolidge type, just so that we could calm down a few years.

But now, we're dragging every single pop culture, every single business question into politics. It seems to be getting worse, not better.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, THE NATION: I mean, I think there is a serious issue of conflict of interest here. He walked into the administration a walking conflict of interest. We've learned about the Emoluments Clause and he's in violation of the Constitution. But what saddens me is less what Charles said.

But this country has serious problems. We're looking at a world aflame. We may go to war with Iran. You know, we may have a new Cold War. You know, this -- an escalating arms race. We need jobs, we need health care.

And instead he's spending time doing something by the way which I guess his daughter has separated from her own business. But why can't a woman stand up for herself? Why does her father need to do that?

So, I think it's a politicization in a terrible way which distracts us from the real politics.

TAPPER: One of the things that every president says is the moment they start getting the national security briefings as the nominee of their party, and even more so when they become the president, you find out about a whole bunch of things that you can't even imagine. You couldn't have even imagined how great the threat is in terms of terrorism. President Trump addressed that today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Believe me, I've learned a lot in the last two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, he's using this, Katrina, to make the argument that his travel ban on seven countries as well as the refugee ban and on Syria are all needed and necessary.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Right. And he's also using it to, again, delegitimize the media and saying that the media has not given adequate coverage to terrorist incidents, which is ludicrous. In fact, one could argue that the media has overplayed terrorism.

TAPPER: That's what we always used to get, yes.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Which is the saturation coverage. And as you pointed out the other day, this administration had no use for the white supremacist incident of terrorism in Canada. But I think this is an administration that unlike Roosevelt and we're in the first 100 days, thrives on fear. So, they have everything to fear if fear declines.

But the delegitimization of the media, Jake, I think is a very serious issue and, of course, he's doing this preemptively, as you said, to justify a travel ban which is in fact alienating allies, possibly hurting our very fight of counterterrorism fight which should be recalibrated anyway.

TAPPER: I've heard, Charles, that a lot of legal experts think the president's lawyers have a pretty good case to make, that he actually might have the authority to impose this travel ban given especially that the longest one in it -- well, except for the Syrians -- is 120 days.

COOKE: I think there may be a good case. I mean, constitutionally, Congress, the executive branch, has been given plenary power over immigration. There is a statutory question. Is he acting within the laws from 1965? And I think it was 1952. I'm not quite sold on that, but I'm open to being so.

And today, he stood up and read the law out which was I thought quite a good move. He's quite the show man. Unfortunately, he's accompanied that with attack being judges, with criticizing the court.

Now, Obama criticized the court, too. He was no angel in this way. I think Trump went a little further because he singled out the judge and essentially said he was incompetent. To me, that was a mistake. The idea that this is prima facie illegal is not convincing to me at all.

TAPPER: And you heard Jeff Zeleny earlier in the show saying the president's own lawyers both in the White House and at the Justice Department are cringing when he does this because this doesn't help him win the case.

BURNS: No. And we've seen this sort of over and over again with Trump. I was talking to one of the state attorney generals who is suing him over this ban and they were saying, look, the last time he attacked a judge he paid $25 million for the privilege in that Trump University case.

TAPPER: Right.

BURNS: This is not -- no lawyer would advise someone who is a party to litigation to behave this way towards the judiciary, let alone the president of the United States, let alone on an issue like this.

And to Charles' point, I've certainly spoken to lawyers who said there is probably a version of this ban, a version of this order that would, you know, pretty quickly stand up to scrutiny. It doesn't happen to be the one that they actually issued. That they got this one out so quickly they probably left themselves more vulnerable than they needed to.