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Trump on Attack After Supreme Court Nominee Criticism; McCain Spars with White House on Yemen Raid; Interview with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri; Trump Aide Conway: "Go Buy Ivanka's Stuff". Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:09] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Just a few minutes ago, a new attack from President Trump on an American icon. New questions about just how big of a split there is with his own Supreme Court nominee.

And also, a new pitch from the White House to buy clothes and accessories.

HARLOW: This, as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch calls attacks on judges, quote, "disheartening and demoralizing." So what's he speaking specifically about the President's attack?

Also, just moments ago, President Trump jumping into this fight, hitting the Senator who went public with those comments from Gorsuch, tweeting, "Senator Richard Blumenthal who never fought in Vietnam when he said for years he had, major lie, now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?" Question mark. This, despite the Judge's own aide confirming the quotes, saying they are true.

We will hear from President Trump in just a few moments when he speaks before a White House meeting.

Let's begin our coverage, though, this morning at the White House with our Joe Johns. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The President is expected to meet shortly with the CEOs of major airlines in the United States, which could be a very interesting meeting given the pandemonium caused in airports recently over the President's travel ban, but that's another story.

Today, we are focusing on the question of the President's nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, and whether he was misrepresented in statements he made to a Democratic Senator on Capitol Hill. This, of course, is something that's gone back and forth.

As you said, the President tweeting about it earlier today, suggesting that the judge may have been misrepresented in his statements. However, I did ask presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway earlier this morning if the Judge had told the White House he'd been misrepresented. She said she would not comment on private conversations.

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Senator in question, the Democrat, has weighed in earlier today on "NEW DAY," and he stood by his story. Listen.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I absolutely accurately stated what Judge Gorsuch said to me as confirmed by his own spokesman, colleagues who heard the same thing in their private meetings. And I believe Judge Gorsuch, more than saying it behind closed doors, needs to publicly condemn the attack to the American people.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So how do you explain the President saying that you misrepresented him?

BLUMENTHAL: I am not about to try to explain the President's tweets.


JOHNS: And there's this from former Senator Kelly Ayotte, a statement out today, saying that, "Judge Gorsuch emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary. And while he made clear he was not referring to any specific case, he said that he finds any criticism of a judge's integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing." So more support for the notion that Judge Gorsuch apparently said what he said, despite the fact that the President is calling that into question.

We could get more on this today in these airline meetings with CEOs and the President. And there will be another opportunity to hear from the President on it when he attends the swearing in of his newly minted Attorney General. Back to you.

BERMAN: We'll wait to hear if the President speaks out loud this morning on these subjects, not just on Twitter. Joe Johns, thanks so much.

Let's talk about all this with our panel. We're joined by CNN political commentator, assistant editor at "The Washington Post," David Swerdlick; columnist for "The Daily Beast" and "Roll Call," Patricia Murphy; and CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, just a bit of housekeeping here, just so people know what we're talking about with Blumenthal.


BERMAN: He apologized in 2010 for statements he made about his own service during Vietnam. He had said he served in Vietnam. He didn't. He didn't. He was a Marine reserve -- JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But he did serve --

BERMAN: Let me finish that. He was in the military.

TOOBIN: He did serve in the military.

BERMAN: He did serve in the military.

TOOBIN: In the Marine reserves.

BERMAN: During --


BERMAN: During Vietnam.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: Right.

BERMAN: But he said a lot of ambiguous or misleading things about it over the years. He apologized for it. That's what the President is talking about.

TOOBIN: Right.

BERMAN: I'm not sure what that has to do with Judge Gorsuch's comments about judiciary and whether or not they should be attacked. And we've heard from, now, enough people to know that he did, apparently --

HARLOW: Republicans and Democrats.

BERMAN: -- Republicans and Democrats -- did say it behind closed doors, Jeffrey. Is it unusual for a Supreme Court nominee to say things that are this politically charged during a nomination process?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, I think we can overstate how politically charged this statement was. It's a pretty mild statement that, basically, any federal judge would make. I mean, they are all in the same profession, they all defend each other. They don't like to see their fraternity, their sorority attacked.

[09:05:02] Obviously, in this context, President Trump's statements were so outrageous and so, I mean, just childish, you know, calling the judge in Washington a so-called judge. I don't even know what that means.

You know, there is not a precedent for statements like this from a President, so there's no precedent for Supreme Court nominees responding to such statements.

HARLOW: That's an important point. This is a new ball game. David Swerdlick, though, what confounded me this morning is why the President, after, you know, more than 12 hours --


HARLOW: -- after the judge's own spokesman came out and said, yep, indeed, he said those things. He called it disheartening and demoralizing. The President would come out and tweet that, you know, it's a misrepresentation of what he said, that he didn't really say that. Do you think the President knows or do you think that this is a strategy?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think it's consistent with President Trump and before that, candidate Donald Trump, not wanting or not being willing to let any criticism, however mild, of things he said or done go unanswered. And Twitter has been his medium for doing that.

I agree with Jeffrey that we're in a little bit of uncharted territory when you're talking about a president's own nominee criticizing him for talking about the profession that he belongs to and the branch of government that he belongs to. Let's also remember that President Trump's older sister is a federal judge, so he's sort of taking a broad swipe at the category of judges to which she belongs.

And also that, you know, right now at least, as Jeffrey pointed out, for all we know, those statements were completely accurate. Judge Gorsuch offered a mild criticism of President Trump's statement, not President Trump himself, and he still felt the need to take a shot back.

BERMAN: And, Patricia, you know, there's no reason to question whether or not Judge Gorsuch meant what he said. I'm sure he did. You know, a judge doesn't like the judiciary to be attacked, but there can also be an element of political expediency here.

Brian Walsh, a Republican operative, wrote overnight. He said, "Heartened to see so many Dems tonight highlighting the independent views of Judge Gorsuch. More confirmation he's a great SCOTUS nominee." So, you know, could this help Judge Gorsuch with some Democrats or at least public reception among progressives?

HARLOW: Right, because he needs eight of them.

PATRICIA MURPHY, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, I think it absolutely will. I certainly am not saying that that's why Judge Gorsuch said this to Senator Blumenthal. I thought it was so unusual that he also told Senator Blumenthal, that Blumenthal should feel free to tell people about it that he said this. These meetings are typically so quiet and so closely held.

We don't know what happens in these meetings. But now that we do know it, this will absolutely, I think, encourage Democrats, people who would be worried -- and this would come up anyway in his confirmation hearings. He would be asked about these statements.

For Democrats to know ahead of time that they and Judge Gorsuch are on the same page on judicial independence, it shouldn't really be a question. It's typically not a question, but because Donald Trump put it out there, they would want to know that this is where Gorsuch sits and stands on this issue. And now that he's told Blumenthal, it will make people feel a lot better. I think opposing him publicly on this basis will be much more difficult for Democrats as well.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Switching gears to what the President just tweeted, some consecutive tweets about Senator McCain. For background here, Senator McCain said, look, the White House shouldn't be calling this Yemen raid a success because one Navy SEAL died. There were other injuries.

The White House came out. Sean Spicer hitting him back again yesterday, saying, you know, you shouldn't be saying that, et cetera. Now, the President is saying this. I think we can pull the tweets up for you.

"Senator McCain should not be talking about the successes or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He's been losing so long, he doesn't know how to win anymore, just look at the mess our country is in, bogged down in conflicts over the place. Our hero Ryan died on a winning mission according to General Mattis, not a failure. Time for the U.S. to get smart and start winning."

Of course, he's talking about that Navy SEAL who was killed --

BERMAN: Ryan Owens.

HARLOW: -- killed in the attack, Ryan Owens. Also just for context here, you'll remember, David, that this is the President, who, as a candidate, said that John McCain, you know, he likes winners not people who are prisoners of war.

SWERDLICK: Right. So, I mean, first off, let's just say, the fact that Chief Petty Officer Owens died in combat is obviously not a failure. He died serving his country. That being said, Senator McCain, as a 30-year sitting senator, chair of the Armed Services Committee, certainly has the platform and the purview -- and a combat veteran has the purview to weigh in on this.

That the White House disagrees with his assessment is fine. But I do think that the White House has really gotten into this pattern, again, of pushing back on criticism for the fact that it's criticism itself rather than just simply stating that they take a different view of the results of that mission. And that, I think, is going to bog them down as we go forward.

BERMAN: And, you know, it should be noted, the President saying Senator McCain shouldn't talk about the success or failure, the White House has been talking about the success or failure of this mission every day since it was public. They've been saying it's a success every day, so they have no problem themselves talking about it.

[09:10:05] Jeffrey Toobin, you're a constitutional scholar. You know about the separation of powers. And the Congress has a right to talk about foreign policy and U.S. military missions overseas. I mean, you're not going to expect the entire Senate not to comment on foreign policy.

TOOBIN: And also, you know, it's heartbreaking that we lost a soldier in the course of this battle, but the fact that a soldier died doesn't mean the attack was a success. I mean, isn't that pretty obvious? I mean, in fact, the death of the soldier certainly suggests at least something went wrong.

And, you know, I mean, there's so much history between McCain and Trump, it's kind of delicious to think about, I mean, just how much John McCain hates Donald Trump. I mean, just think about, like, the pure crystalline hatred there. It is something that's going to unfold over these four years and it's going to be fascinating to watch.

HARLOW: Before I let you guys go, Patricia, I want you to respond to this. Kellyanne Conway, one of the most senior advisers to the President, just went on Fox this morning. After the President, yesterday, tweeted angrily at Nordstrom for stopping carrying Ivanka's line of clothing, here is what Kellyanne Conway said.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're using the most prominent woman in Donald Trump's -- you know, most prominent --


CONWAY: -- his daughter, and they're using her, who's been a champion for women empowerment and women in the workplace, to get to him. So I think people can see through that.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: Just 30 seconds --

CONWAY: Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would say. I'm going to --

DOOCY: Well, and there's --

CONWAY: I hate shopping, but I'm going to go get some myself today.


HARLOW: "Go buy Ivanka's stuff." You know, this, as this administration has faced so much conflict and criticism over conflicts of interest when it comes to separating the business from the presidency. What do you make of it, Patricia?

MURPHY: Well, this is exactly why people had urged Donald Trump and his entire family to clearly separate themselves from their businesses. Ivanka Trump has said that she has separated herself from her business. But I think that getting into it with Nordstrom personally, the President doing this, and then Kellyanne, as a White House employee, a federal employee, hawking Ivanka Trump's wears on national television is totally bizarre, totally inappropriate.

And it's something that strikes me. It's not something that even Ivanka trump would want them to be doing.

HARLOW: Right.

MURPHY: And once they start pushing Nordstrom's further, I expect the next thing they will start to release the details of the falling sales. I think it will hurt her brand further. I just don't think they're helping Ivanka Trump or her business by doing this.

BERMAN: The White House is a nice backdrop for the Home Shopping Network.


BERMAN: He makes my morning every morning. David Swerdlick, Patricia Murphy, Jeff Toobin, thank you guys very much.

Still to come for us. The divide grows deeper in Washington as Democrats and Republicans dig in in the fight over President Trump's Cabinet picks. A member of the Senate Republican leadership team joins us in just minutes.

BERMAN: Plus wicked weather hitting the northeast. This looks like the most powerful snowstorm of the season.


[09:17:20] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Just moments ago, a big escalation in somewhat one-sided war of words between President Donald Trump and Senator John McCain. It's over the raid in Yemen. The White House calls it a success. Senator McCain says the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owen makes it hard to say that.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And now, the president is firing back, tweeting, "Senator McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission in the media, only emboldens the enemy. He's been losing so long, he doesn't know how to win anymore. Just look at the mess our country is in, bogged down in conflict all over the place. Our hero, Ryan Owen, died, winning a mission, according to general Mattis, not a failure. Time for the U.S. to get smart and start winning again."

Joining us now, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Nice to have you on the program, sir.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Nice to be here. Congratulations to the two of you for starting this week.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: We're glad you're with us.

There's a lot of news to get to this morning. Let's start with the clash between your Republican colleague and the president. Do you stand by your fellow Republican, Senator John McCain, or is the president right in this one?

BLUNT: Well, both John McCain and President Trump are pretty inclined to engage if somebody else wants to have a fight. I do think it's unfortunate that we're evaluating success and failure of missions here publicly. But the more unfortunate thing is the person serving us, defending us, lost his life, others were injured, equipment was lost.

This is the first 20 days of the administration. I think everybody is going to move beyond this kind of activity and hopefully have a better way to analyze how we're doing as we move forward.

BERMAN: Senator, surely the nation dowels mourn the loss of Ryan Owen. I don't think there's any doubt about that. But also, you're not suggesting that a sitting senator on the Armed Services Committee, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, John McCain, doesn't have a right to weigh in on the success or failure of a military mission, particularly with his own service career. Certainly, it's his right as a senator to do that.

BLUNT: I'm a big admirer of Senator McCain. He does a great job arguing for those who defend us. He's been the leading advocate for building the military and a better way to defend us. And, actually, his ultimate partner in that is probably going to be President Trump. So, I wouldn't argue that neither one of them have the right to say whatever they want to say. I don't know that we particularly benefit from either of them continuing this discussion.

There are plenty of problems to be solved. There are plenty of arguments we ought to be having about how we defend the country, about the age of our ships, the age of our planes, the best material and training we can possibly have.

[09:20:02] And, frankly, they're both on the same side of that argument. And John McCain has been leading that without a president who agreed with him for a long time. I think they're going to find more to agree on than disagree on and, hopefully, sooner than later.

HARLOW: I'd like you to weigh in obviously on the back and forth over the president's pick for Supreme Court, Judge Gorsuch. You said that he's a well-respected jurist with the experience and qualifications to serve on the nation's highest court.

So, when he said the president's comments are demoralizing and disheartening about the judiciary, do you agree with him? Do you side with him and respect that?

BLUNT: Well, I think, what Judge Gorsuch is showing is his independent character, the fact that as a judge, he's going to call them as he sees them. I think he's going to be a great addition to the court. I believe he will be confirmed. And my guess is that three months from today he's on the Supreme Court and will be there for a long time.

BERMAN: Do you agree attacks on the judiciary are disheartening and demoralizing?

BLUNT: I think any time you get into a fight about the judge themselves rather than the decision they make, that's not the best thing to do but, you know, you don't --


HARLOW: Senator, with all due respect, is it a little more than not the best thing to do when you're attacking an equal branch of our government?

BLUNT: No, I think there's plenty of back and forth between the various branches of the government, and the president has every right in the world to disagree with an opinion that eventually will be decided not --


HARLOW: That's not all he did. He attacked the judges themselves. He said so-called justice.

BLUNT: Well, the president communicates differently than I do or a lot of other people do. We'll see how that goes.

I think taking a lot of time focusing on whether it's a so-called justice or a so-called judge is not the best use of anybody's time including the president's.

BERMAN: We're focused -- including the president's. I appreciate that. We're focused on the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice, what I think is a good use of everyone's time.

BLUNT: I do, too.

BERMAN: You're very careful with the taxpayer's money, a deficit hawk. Do you think it's a good use of taxpayer money to have a White House employee, Kellyanne Conway, pitching close for Ivanka Trump, saying, "go buy Ivanka Trump"? Is that what a White House employee should be doing on television?

BLUNT: You know, I haven't seen the context of that. Nobody's asked me about that but you, so, I have no idea. I do think Kellyanne Conway does a great job of defending the president's policies and the changes that need to happen in the country. And I don't know what question she was asked and I don't know what the answer would have been.

HARLOW: She was defending Ivanka Trump and Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump's line in this interview with Fox News. I understand why you didn't see it because it just happened. But I can tell you that she said, "Go buy Ivanka stuff. I hate shopping. I will get some myself." That's what she said.

I think, you know, with all the issues of conflicts of interest surrounding this administration, the business tie, is it appropriate?

BLUNT: Well, Poppy, I don't know what question she was asked. Based on the answer, it sounds like somebody just asked her that question and she answered the question. If you're going to criticize her for the questions she answers, don't ask them.

HARLOW: She wasn't asked are you going to buy Ivanka Trump's -- BLUNT: Was she asked about the issue?

BERMAN: Yes, she was asked about the general issue.

BLUNT: She responded.


BLUNT: You know, you're not going to be successful with this program or others if you ask people constantly to comment on a question that somebody else in the news just asked somebody else. I think she's doing -- I think Kellyanne is doing a good job. She's going to continue to do that and hopefully she'll do a lot of that on CNN and other networks, and I suspect she'll answer the questions that she's asked.

BERMAN: We understand. We were just asking again, as your role as a senator with oversight over the White House. I understand you didn't hear it.

But, Senator, I appreciate your time and thank you for coming on our very first show -- very first week.

HARLOW: Thank you, Senator.

BLUNT: Good to be with you this week. Good luck with the show.

HARLOW: Thank you.

Let's get right to our Christine Romans, CNN Money's chief business correspondent, to weigh in on all of this.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN MONEY CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's so much buzz about this this morning, Kellyanne Conway sitting there in her position as a counselor to the president endorsing a product, a product endorsement. CNN Money, we are looking into whether that violates any rules of a public person, a person in public life who works for the people endorsing a private industry.

We know Ivanka's business is privately held. We know that Nordstrom dropped the line. They said they were going to drop it. They told her in January, this was because of business purposes.

[09:25:03] And this is what Kellyanne Conway said on "Fox and Friends". Listen to the moment.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: They're using the most prominent woman in Donald Trump's -- you know, most prominent and using her who's been a champion for women in power, and women in the workplace to get to him. So, I think people can see through that.

Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I hate shopping and I'm going to go get some on myself today.


ROMANS: "Go buy Ivanka stuff," from the White House. This after the president using the POTUS Twitter account from the White House presumably, you know, slamming Nordstrom for dropping that line.

Here's what Nordstrom says here. They said they made this decision based on performance. This is a business decision. As we know, retailers are not exactly rolling in the dough right now, these traditional retailers. If a line is doing very well, they keep it.

They say, "Over the past year, particularly in the last half of 2016 sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn't make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now." That is the statement there and the company said they had told Ivanka this in January.

So, the question is, is where is Ivanka Trump in all this? Did her dad get defensive and mad and think he was supporting his daughter and fires off this tweet? And then now you got --

HARLOW: Someone retweeted it from the POTUS account.

ROMANS: Yes, it retweeted from the POTUS account from his original account. You know, would Ivanka Trump endorse this for her father? She seems to usually be the brakes, not the accelerator in the relationship. So, we just don't know.

BERMAN: Look, Senator Blunt was just upset that we even asked him that question yet, and he hadn't heard it yet. But it's not happening in a vacuum. The reason it's an important subject is because there are questions about the president's business interests.

HARLOW: Well, exactly, one of the top advisers to the president.

BERMAN: The president himself was tweeting about Nordstrom and now his adviser --

ROMANS: This is exactly what ethics advisers have been worried about, about not being a wall between his business and the White House. In this case, there clearly is not a wall between the White House and the family's interests in his named businesses.

HARLOW: Before we let you go, how are stocks looking?

ROMANS: You know, we've got kind of a stall going on in the stock market. You know, they really want to see a pivot toward pro-growth policies and away from immigration battles. And that seems to be what is the mood there. We're watching a lot of earnings.

Twitter is probably going to be down. It had a disappointed earnings number.

So, airline CEOs go to Washington this morning, maybe conflicting priorities.

BERMAN: Some of them are very critical. ROMANS: Absolutely, they have been. But they need to work with

Elaine Chao on infrastructure and transportation issues. So, that's going to be, that's going to be interesting. I think the most fascinating time for the CEO must be in the corporate suite with the advisers before you go to the White House, deciding what your tone will be with the president of the United States.

BERMAN: In a cordial, gracious kind.

ROMANS: I am making jobs in America, this is how much we're spending in America.

BERMAN: The regulation policy, tax policy, most --

ROMANS: Critical.

BERMAN: Very excited about, very excited about. They don't want distractions.

ROMANS: They want a front line seat for that.

HARLOW: And they're grappling with the travel ban and how they're going to deal with that. We're going to talk about that a lot of a little bit later. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: Bye, guys.

HARLOW: Appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. Still to come for us, some serious weather hitting the Northeast right now. The most powerful storm of the season. We're going to tell you about what to expect and how much is headed your way.