Return to Transcripts main page


WH Official: Conway "Apologized" to Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 10, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us this Friday. This morning, a lot of news.

A sweeping repudiation of the President's travel ban and a stunning and detailed takedown of the White House's assertion of unreviewable power. Three federal judges refusing to reinstate the travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries. President Trump lashing out at the Court's unanimous decision against his executive order.

BERMAN: Now, his first reaction, unsurprisingly, was on Twitter, in all caps, "See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!" He had a brand new reaction, just minutes ago, also on Twitter, calling it, quote, "a disgraceful decision."

Now, in between tweets, he said actual words out loud.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a political decision and we will see them in court, and I look forward to doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you believe the judges made a political decision?

TRUMP: We have a situation where the security of our country is at stake. And it's a very, very serious situation, so we look forward -- as I just said -- to seeing them in court.


BERMAN: This is all part of a dizzying night at the White House with new reports that the national security adviser flat-out lied about contacts with Russia, and a major foreign policy retreat by the President three weeks into office.

First, the legal decision against the administration. Joining us is Justice Correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, this ruling was about as direct as it gets.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really was. This was a decisive rebuke to the Trump administration by a three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now, the 29-page order slaps away nearly every argument that the government made seeking to reinstate its temporary travel ban for people from seven Muslim majority countries.

Now, there's still a lot of legal battles ahead. This unanimous ruling only dealt with whether the government could reinstate the executive order, but here's some key takeaways from the ruling.

The court said that the government hasn't shown any national security concerns to justify the ban. One line from the ruling getting a lot of attention is that the government hasn't shown evidence of any one from these seven countries who carried out a terrorist attack in the United States. The court also said that the public has the right to freedom from discrimination. And the courts also found that the states of Washington and Minnesota have the right to sue because they've suffered injury from the President's executive order.

So what happens now? The Trump administration has several options. The government can appeal to the Supreme Court. It can go back and ask the 9th Circuit to rehear their case with a panel of 11 judges. The government could also just go back to the Seattle judge, who was the first to put a stop to the executive order nationwide.

And then there's also one option that many people think could happen, which is the White House can simply rewrite this executive order to fix the things that the courts have found wrong with it.

This morning, as you mentioned, President Trump is hitting back at the court, and he's doing it on Twitter, of course. He tweeted a line from the blog "Lawfare," which notes that the judges, in their decision last night, didn't even mention the federal law that gives the President sweeping powers over immigration.

The President quotes the blog saying, "Remarkably, the entire opinion, the panel did not even bother to cite this statute." And he adds, "a disgraceful decision."

Now, the funny thing about this, John and Poppy, is that I doubt that the President actually read the blog post over at "Lawfare" because it's actually very critical of his executive order. It supports the 9th Circuit's decision last night, and it does not support how the President's administration has handled this entire issue.

BERMAN: Maybe not an avid reader of the "Lawfare" blog like the rest of us.

PEREZ: Right.

BERMAN: Evan Perez in Washington, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss all of this -- and there is a lot of it, frankly -- Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst; David Gregory, CNN political analyst; Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst; and Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst. A full slate of analysts here. Paul Callan, you know, we've been chewing over the legalities of this

for the last 12 hours or so. I think, as we look forward, one thing is clear, which is the travel ban is not in place.


BERMAN: And it won't be for some time, it doesn't seem.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, it won't be because if it goes the route of a Supreme Court presentation, that's going to take time. I mean, the court could decide to accept the case next week or the week after. But by the time it gets briefed and submitted, you'll have a lot of time passing by.

And, you know, the other thing that I would add to the agenda of what Trump could do is he could go to Congress and try to convince the Congress to join him in drafting legislation incorporating the key provisions of the travel ban, and that would set up sort of a conflict between the judiciary and a united executive and Congress. So I don't know that Congress would do it, but it certainly would give him another strategy to pursue the ban.

HARLOW: And, David Gregory, the White House has a few options. They can take this to the Supreme Court. They could have a bigger panel of judges in the 9th Circuit hear it en banc. Or he could admit that he, perhaps, overstepped here and he could rewrite this executive order to be more narrow and in focus. That is something he could do.

[09:05:05] Is there any indication at all, to you, that he might even consider that, considering his tweet was, we'll see you in court?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In all caps, screaming on Twitter.

HARLOW: Right.

GREGORY: No, I don't think the President is willing to admit error or that he overstepped by taking this back and trying to do it again a little better. The members of his Cabinet, including the Homeland Security Secretary, have said that this was botched in the way that it was rolled out and briefed and organized. So there are a lot of ways they could do this better.

But look, first of all, there are his attacks on the judiciary, which are intemperate, to say the least, when he calls this a political decision, a disgraceful decision. That should be worrisome enough to people who are watching all of this.

If he disagrees, that's fine. And he could get legal advice, as he presumably is, about how to continue to appeal this. And we should remember this was a preliminary ruling about the question of the stay, not on the merits of the case itself, although they were forward leaning.

The thing that I really zero in on is this argument that the President is making, that it's a political decision because there's this imminent threat. Where is the evidence of that? That's what the court found. And they said, look, there's no supporting evidence that there's some immediate threat.

The President is arguing in a way to stoke fear in America, the way he did during the campaign, which is that America faces a threat basically like Europe, and that there are migrants, immigrants, coming in who mean to do us harm. We have different precautions and different vetting processes that are unlike Europe, which goes to the same point, which is, what is the threat that you're specifically trying to address?

BERMAN: You know, Ron Brownstein, I suppose, even bigger picture, if you look at yesterday, President Trump was checked by the judiciary. He was checked by the legislative branch when Kellyanne Conway made the comments about selling Ivanka Trump's goods. Is he learning, do you think, or is he witnessing the limits of his power?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's witnessing more than learning. I mean, there are a number of reports about how frustrated he is, how different this is in the business world, where you kind of give an order and it radiates down the chain of command. There are other centers of power.

Look, the public reaction to this debate really fits into the overall story of what we are seeing of the Trump presidency in its first few weeks, which is that, if the 2016 campaign accelerated and intensified all the divides that we have seen in American politics over the last 20 years, the Trump presidency is further intensifying and further widening those divides.

I mean, you look at the reaction to this executive order. You see positive support from Republicans, non-college Whites, people who live in rural areas. You see intense opposition from millennials, from minorities, from college-educated Whites, the same groups that were resistant to Trump. And majority opposition overall just as he is facing majority job disapproval overall, much faster than any previous newly elected president.

So, you know, the thought that, I think, Paul, that they could get 60 votes in the Congress to go along with this seems, to me, utterly implausible. And that it kind of fits in with a general trajectory of his presidency that is widening all of these divides in a way that Republicans on Capitol Hill have to decide whether they believe is a winning hand.

HARLOW: And remember how quiet a lot of leading Republicans were on this, like Mitch McConnell saying, basically, like, we're going to stay out of it. He didn't have this big wave of support coming from his Republican colleagues, at least not vocally.

Guys, I want to switch gears here. And, Kimberly, to you, a major headline out of "The Washington Post" this morning, a stunning story, about the national security adviser, General Michael Flynn.

They argue, according to nine different sources in U.S. law enforcement and intelligence, that he had conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was part of the team, before the administration was in place, about sanctions and implying that, perhaps, the Trump administration would be much more lenient, would lift some of these sanctions.

That would be in violation of the Logan Act, but it would also mean that the administration lied. Here is what the Vice President said on CBS about exactly that question. Listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Actually, it was initiated when, on Christmas Day, he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place.

It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.

But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing, whatsoever, to do with those sanctions.


HARLOW: Kimberly Dozier, I mean, this is an area you cover very closely with all of your intelligence connections. How do you see it?

[09:09:58] KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, and now we're hearing that Flynn's spokesman is walking back what he may or may not have spoken about with the Russian contact.

You're seeing Mike Flynn being besieged on many sides. I hear from people in the intelligence community, who are literally taking bets on how long he is going to last in the job, which is unfair, as he's trying to lay out a new policy, including writing some of these executive orders.

What I hear from people close to him is that he resents being under this type of microscope. But now that these reports have come out, he's going to have to find some way to knock them on the head, be it a public statement, be it testifying behind closed doors at Congress.

There was a lot of this controversy swirling last week, but then he came out and made that statement on Iran, putting Iran on notice after its ballistic missile test, and that seemed to change the channel a while. But now this has come back to haunt him again.

BERMAN: And, Ron Brownstein, I mean, if my reading of "The Washington Post" article is right, you know, Michael Flynn either lied in public or Mike Pence lied or Mike Flynn lied to Mike Pence.

I mean, if the post is right, someone was telling lies to the American people. It was during the transition when they weren't in office, but that's a tough message to send.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And I think, you know, Vice President Pence's office said that the Vice President, in his comments, relied on the representations that were made to him by the national security adviser about the nature of the call. So he is not exactly, you know, standing shoulder to shoulder there.

Look, we have very rarely, I think, either never, or Alan Dershowitz, I heard earlier this morning say once in history, have we ever prosecuted anybody under the Logan Act, which bars individuals, private citizens, from conducting foreign policy. So that doesn't seem to be the risk.

BERMAN: Ron --

BROWNSTEIN: The risk, of course, is credibility.

HARLOW: Ron, let's --

BERMAN: Ron, let's --

HARLOW: Go ahead.

BERMAN: Let's interrupt because we just got some new reporting just in just on what you were saying, and it's important to read it. A Senior White House adviser tells CNN that Vice President Pence did not know that Flynn may have spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador pre-inauguration, and also said, this source to CNN, it's a problem.


HARLOW: The source went on --

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely, yes.

HARLOW: I mean, the source went on to say that the Vice President's office isn't so much worried this morning, but they're trying to get to the bottom of it. I mean, this is --

CALLAN: You know --

HARLOW: Go ahead.

CALLAN: I was going to say, Poppy, the last time -- it's interesting. The last time this happened, I think, was in the Nixon administration when Nixon was running against Johnson, and he tried to sabotage the peace talks, the Vietnamese War peace talks. And that was an unauthorized approach by an unelected, unauthorized U.S. citizen. It was, of course, covered up at the time but later revealed by historians, so it's a serious offense.

GREGORY: Can I just --

HARLOW: Yes. GREGORY: There's a larger point here, and I think Ron was alluding to

it. You have someone who is not a politician, who is now President of the United States, who comes out of the business world, who is now learning a couple of things.

One of those things is that the government pushes back, even when you're head of the government. The judiciary pushes back, and the judiciary pushed back here.

There are investigative agencies that push back as well. I'm sure Mike Flynn is a little bit more sensitive about those darn FBI leaks than he was when it was happening to candidate Hillary Clinton because now, he's on the other end of it.

And in this case there's also, frankly, incompetence within the administration. That statement you just read from a spokesman for the Vice President is not exactly rallying the troops behind the NSC adviser.

BERMAN: True. Exactly.


GREGORY: Everybody is trying to say, look, you know, let me be clean here, and let me protect myself. And there's been a lot of that going on. You've had the Homeland Security Secretary admitting that the rollout of the executive order was botched.

HARLOW: It was botched.

GREGORY: So there's a lot of disparate pieces that, I think, are going on.

HARLOW: Very quickly to Kimberly and we have to wrap up. I mean, General Flynn is not new to this, right? He was Director of National Intelligence. He would know that phone calls like this are being very closely monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.

DOZIER: He would know. And one has to wonder, if he did discuss the sanctions, perhaps in his former military and intelligence role, he didn't understand that discussing something like that before he actually took office would be off limits.

HARLOW: Yes. It's just surprising given the scrutiny over Russia and this, you know, administration before --

BERMAN: And by the way, even if he --

HARLOW: -- was the administration, all the way back to Paul Manafort.

BERMAN: Even if he didn't understand that, that wouldn't explain why he would then lie about it either to the Vice President or in public when asked about directly.




HARLOW: All right, guys. Thank you very much, Ron Brownstein, David Gregory, Kimberly Dozier, and Paul Callan. A lot of news this Friday.

Coming up for us here, bipartisan backlash after Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to the President, tells people to buy his daughter's clothes. We have new reporting on the President's reaction.


[09:18:47] BERMAN: This morning, fresh fallout from the words "go buy Ivanka's stuff". Senior counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, is being hit with criticism for seeming to pitch clothes and accessories during an interview from the White House. Now, we're getting new information about what happened between Conway and President Trump after the comment.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty in Washington for us with some new details.

Sunlen, what are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a senior administration official says Kellyanne Conway sat down with the president about this incident and apologized to him directly. During that meeting, the president said that he backed her up completely according to this senior administration official.

And that was something we saw Kellyanne Conway emphasize over Twitter this morning saying about this incident, "POTUS supports me." But this has done precious little to stop the criticism up here on Capitol Hill. You have a bipartisan call for an investigation, questions over the ethics of all this, what she said from the White House briefing room.

Republican Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and the ranking Democrat on that committee, sending out a letter to the Office of Government Ethics basically calling the White House out on this.

[09:20:03] They say in part, quote, "Conway's statements clearly violate the ethical principles for federal employees and are unacceptable. We also ask you to report back to the committee with your recommendation for disciplinary action if warranted."

Now, Kellyanne Conway in an interview, she says this is something they are reviewing internally at the White House.


TV ANCHOR: What about the letter that has come from Chaffetz and Cummings in the house that has gone to the government ethics board, and they say they consider that to be a very serious -- potentially a serious violation of the government ethics code? KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We're aware of the letter and we're reviewing it internally. I'm just really happy that I spent an awful lot of time with the president of the United States this afternoon and that he supports me 100 percent.

TV ANCHOR: So you spoke about that matter and he is not -- doesn't have any intention to suspend you?

CONWAY: We spoke about a range of matters and he supports me 100 percent. In fact, it was a very heartening moment. All I can say to America's women is, at some point in your life, you ought to have a boss who treated me the way the president of the United States treated me today.


SERFATY: So, clearly, a lot of cleanup coming from the White House on all this.

It should be noted, though, with initial pushback we saw from the White House yesterday about this incident was coming from Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman. He said that Kellyanne Conway has been counseled about this incident. That word choice not sitting well the President Trump. A senior administration official says he hated that word choice that Sean Spicer used talking about this specific incident -- John and Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Sunlen, great reporting. Thank you very much.

Let's talk about this. Joining us now is our panel: Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan and a CNN senior political commentator, and Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and contributing editor at "American Spectator."

Nice to have you both on.

Let me begin with you, Jeffrey.


HARLOW: Good morning. Good Friday morning. Lots of news.

LORD: Yes.

HARLOW: Do you think, Jeffrey, that Kellyanne Conway owed an apology to the president for that?

LORD: I'm sure she probably felt that way. To be candid, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. And it goes to the broader point here.

HARLOW: Why is it ridiculous, Jeffrey? Jason Chaffetz, a Republican along with Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to the Government Ethics Office saying this is a clear violation of the ethics code. LORD: I understand. Poppy, this is emblematic of an anti private

sector feeling that has control of Washington, sometimes frankly in both parties.

What about the politicians who use their office for political profit to run for another office? Why don't we start looking at how the political system works here instead of the private sector?

HARLOW: Jeffrey Lord, that's not okay, does it make it okay for Kellyanne Conway to use time paid for by the American taxpayer to hawk clothing of the president's daughter and tell people they should buy that? Does that make any sense?

LORD: Kellyanne did not profit from this, period. She's not Ivanka Trump. This is not like Ivanka was secretary of state and stood up there and said buy my stuff.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, just to be clear, Kellyanne Conway is being paid with taxpayer dollars. Is it okay for our taxpayer daughters to be paying a senior adviser to the president to be selling clothes and accessories from the White House?

LORD: John, no one cares, unless they have something politically to profit from it. No one cares out here in America. We've got ISIS, we've got the economy. We've got all these things. This is exactly the kind of things that is emblematic with what's wrong with how Washington operates.

HARLOW: So, that begs the question why would she say it in the first place. I reread the entire transcript. She was not asked about whether or not people should support the president's daughter by going out and buying clothes. She pivoted to that.


BERMAN: So, Governor, let's bring you into this discussion.


BERMAN: Governor, I think one of the open questions has been will Republicans in Congress -- would they exert any kind of oversight or checks to the White House. Jason Chaffetz up until this point hasn't in the House Oversight Committee. But this time, he chose to step in.

Is that significant to you, or do you think that's a sign of what may be to come?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's hope that's not the end of it. I mean, there is a list of conflicts that this administration has undertaken or at least been involved with that is being put up on "The Atlantic" magazine. There's 30 of them so far.

This is only day 23, let's hope this is the beginning of a series of looks at what this president and his family have been doing in the private sector, yes, but that could actually pose a danger potentially, certainly a conflict with international relations.

And just to Jeffrey's point, this anti-private sector mentality that he refers to -- you know, it is so hard, I am sure, to have been in business for almost 50 years, like Donald Trump has, and for his children their whole life.

[09:25:11] Every day they wake up, understandably in a capitalist system to wonder how they're going to make more money, how they're going to fatten their wallets. That's what you do, how to expand their brand.

For 45 years or more, he has done that every day of his life. Now, he's in a totally different position and he's going to have to wake up every day figuring out not how to enrich himself, not how to make his brand better, not how to profit for his family, but how to make us better.

That's a huge flip. But you know what? He ran for office to do just that. So, if he really doesn't want his message to be distracted, as Jeffrey says, he was elected to do other things, then he should divest himself of his business. He's not going to want to do that because his whole life has been bound in it.

But that's what you do when you're president.

HARLOW: I need you to get you, Jeffrey Lord, to weigh in on this, because you're the one who said American people don't care about this discussion. So, let's move on to something American people do care a lot about and that is China and U.S. trade policy with China. Here is how the president put it back in December which is a complete reversal of course he had yesterday with President Xi where he said he and the president agreed at the request of President Xi to honor the one China policy. Back in December the president said, why should it just be one China policy unless we get a great deal.

Why the reversal of course?

LORD: I don't know why the reversal of course. You know, Poppy, again, when you're president of the United States, you're going to say a whole series of things on the campaign trail that you doubtless mean at that moment.

HARLOW: Jeffrey Lord -- guys, can we get the sound? This wasn't on the campaign trail. It was December 11th after he was elected on "FOX News Sunday".

LORD: He wasn't president then.

HARLOW: He was the president-elect, Jeffrey.

LORD: He was not president. He was not president. And so, therefore, I am suggesting that president Trump or any other president who said one thing before they took office sometimes are confronted with circumstances where they have to reverse themselves. It happens all the time. BERMAN: Jeffrey, I think you're one of the people who convinced me

that maybe there was a strategy and it was a good thing to reconsider the one China policy which President-elect Trump seemed willing to do. The question is, Jeffrey, is this a retreat? I mean --

HARLOW: And what's the better deal? What do the American people get from it?

LORD: Look, I think the president has a view that he's giving people a clean slate here until he has reason to think otherwise. So, we will have to see here. But I don't think he would have a hesitation of reversing this if he felt there was a need to do so.

BERMAN: Governor Granholm, you want to weigh in? First of all, do you support the one China policy?

GRANHOLM: No, I don't. I mean, I think the one China policy is an important thing, it's an important thing for the nation obviously. I mean, that's not -- my point on this is, yeah, he continues to flip as he realizes as he's governing the realities of the situation.

We need China as an ally. Of course, he's got to abide by that and of course, all his national security advisers have told him that was a stupid thing to say, right? So the bottom line is, though, this issue of him flip-flopping from what he said on the campaign or what he said before he was elected, it is a series of betrayals really to those who elected him. Not so much the China thing because that was after he was elected, but all these other things including releasing his tax returns which he said he would do.

But a series of actions, if he is going to keep the people that elected him -- if they don't want to feel like they have been betrayed, then all the stuff that he is doing related to his personal -- the Ivanka thing, Melania is trying to profit off of being first lady, all that stuff, it's all a huge distraction, and it will be detrimental to him being able to be re-elected if people don't feel like he is doing what he said he was going to do on the economy, on getting jobs in America, not just these one-off press conferences about somebody who said they were going to expand which was previously planned, but what is he going to two on the trade issue relative to China, relative to NAFTA? What's he going to do to bring jobs here?

All this other stuff is distracting from that message, and that's what his followers want to see.

LORD: John, I will say --

BERMAN: Ten seconds or left, Jeffrey.

LORD: Yes, I will say I think Governor Granholm has a point here. I would point the finger at the Republicans and Congress. If they don't get their act together and start acting, there is going to be a problem with the base.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Lord, Governor Granholm, you both have your act together today. Thank you So much for being with us. Appreciate it guys.

GRANHOLM: You bet.

BERMAN: So, still to come, we're going to talk about what looks like a retreat from President Trump on this one China policy.