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Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 10, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It violates the Logan Act, and what does that mean?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, that's a matter of internal U.S. legislation and, clearly, a matter for the United States. But what can be said is that from this end, certainly the spokesman for President Putin, Dmitry Peskov, has, just like the Americans denied that the kind of substance was discussed in contact -- he does admit that Michael Flynn, national security adviser, did talk to the Russian ambassador in Washington but denied the substance of it.

And, of course, we do have to actually remember that there are two sets of sanctions that we're talking about. The one specifically that Mike Pence, vice president, seemed to be referring to were the ones put on Russia in response to the accusations of Russian hacking and other such material and activities during the election.

The other much more important, hugely significant sanctions are those that have been put against Russia for the last several years by the U.S., by the U.N., by the Western nations in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Eastern Crimea with its separatist people there.


AMANPOUR: So, there are two different issues we're talking about.

CAMEROTA: But, the one person not denying that this conversation could have happened is Michael Flynn's own spokesperson. Let me read you that statement, Christiane. He says, "Michael Flynn indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." So, what does this tell us about what the plan is moving forward, perhaps?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, obviously, that language has been, you know, specifically crafted to give a little wiggle room, perhaps we could say, but again, it is a matter of investigation. Apparently, it is under investigation in the states. But really, really is significant is what actually is going to happen as a result of this conversation or any other conversations.

And it's very, very vital to America's allies here in the West to know that the United States stands squarely behind defending the principles of international law, whether it's on the illegal tapping into the U.S. democratic system or, especially, whether it's about violating international borders with, as I said, Russian invasions into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

And to that end, we've been told over and again from the German chancellor's office, from all sorts of different centers of power here in Europe -- and you heard what Nikki Haley, the new U.S.-U.N. ambassador has said. These sanctions will not be removed until the Crimea situation is resolved.


AMANPOUR: But the other ones that have been put on, you know -- when we go back to those Obama administration sanctions that were put on Russia -- individuals and entities because of allegations of hacking -- most people believe, to be frank, they are not very meaningful sanctions, Alisyn -- they're just not. And they will not have a massive impact on those actions. But if they were to be lifted or discussion of them being lifted, that would affect and would concern the rest of world for sure --

CAMEROTA: Understood.

AMANPOUR: -- as well as presumably, you know -- yes.

CAMEROTA: Oh, but Christiane, I do want to get to other big news -- other big international news because the White House has reported that last night President Trump and the president of China had what they call a lengthy phone conversation in which President Trump agreed to honor the One China policy. As you know, that was in question after President-elect Trump had that sort of unusual conversation with the president of Taiwan before he went into the White House. So where are we now?

AMANPOUR: So, Alisyn, what you're identifying this morning are two of the major bilateral relationships that exist. So, we've just been talking about Putin and Trump, why this relationship is so important and why has Donald Trump never said boo about the Russian leader. That's very worrying to the rest of world, which goes to your questions about that.

The other major relationship, as you've just identified, is between the United States and China, the two biggest economies, the two biggest militaries in the world upon which much of the world's economic health depends. So, when President Trump appeared to defy and dismiss the very underpinning of American-Chinese relations for decades, which is the One China policy, that sent shockwaves all over, not least of course in Beijing.

I mean, we were told by former, even, Bush administration officials that President Trump chose to pick a fight with China on the one issue that China would actually go to war over, which is the One China policy. So this is massively significant, this call, and particularly the reaffirmation of America's commitment to the One China policy.

And significant also, the White House says in its readout that this was done at the request of President Xi Jinping of China because we were told by our Chinese officials and others who we'd been interviewing that no call was going to happen. Xi would not take a call unless he knew that the U.S. president was going to affirm this One China policy because -- and we've seen it written and we've heard it ourselves that the president of China did not want to be humiliated as they have watched the prime minister of Australia be humiliated and the president of Mexico.

[07:35:15] So they were very concerned about the parameters of this phone call before they even accepted a phone call, so very important.

CAMEROTA: Christiane, one more thing because there's an urgent news bulletin that I just want to bounce off you. I don't know if you've had a chance to see it but President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has just given an interview to "Yahoo News." He has made some news. He says that he supports President Trump's proposed travel ban and that he believes it would definitely stop terrorists. Your thoughts?

AMANPOUR: Look, I think we've learned enough to understand where President Bashar al-Assad comes from. This has been his raison d'etre from the beginning of this war in Syria. He has claimed that those people fighting against his regime, from the very beginning, were terrorists.

He created a self-fulfilling prophecy by opening his prisons, allowing all the Islamist prisoners and others who may have been taken in for various criminal reasons out, and to wage war against the opponents -- the ordinary civilians, men and women who came out, and children, at the height of the Arab Spring to demand just a little bit of normalcy for themselves. And then, of course, it turned into the rise of ISIS and all of it.

The most important thing to remember, and this is vital, is that neither President Assad nor Russia nor Iran, which have dominated the scene in Syria, have been fighting ISIS as their principal target. They have not been doing it which is why ISIS continues in Syria.


AMANPOUR: So all of this nonsense that President Bashar is now saying to "Yahoo News" is not based in fact. The fact that poor Syrian refugees who have been fleeing the very terrorism that Bashar is talking about cannot get into the United States --


AMANPOUR: -- is neither here nor there. It's not -- they're not the terrorists, you know. The terrorists are the ones who are not being fought against at this precise moment. And so that also poses a challenge going forward when we ask what is the Trump administration's policy towards ISIS and how will it be enacted if you're going to go into alliance with Russia and, frankly, de facto, Iran is on that side as well.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Christiane Amanpour, thank you. We always appreciate all of the international context from you. We'll talk to you soon.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Interesting in assessing what Assad said to Christiane's point. He said the travel ban is a good thing, but he said the safe zones -- the idea of those in Syria are unpractical -- hmm. All right, so the president says his ban is needed because of our national security. Does the former director of National Intelligence, who just left office three weeks ago, agree? He gave an interview. What does he say? We have it, next.


[07:41:20] CUOMO: So, we just heard the first interview of James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, since he stepped down just a few weeks ago, and he gave it to CNN. He was talking about the state of national security, specifically in the context of what President Trump is arguing that the U.S. now faces. CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto live in Washington with this exclusive. The timing is perfect.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you know, I've spoken to Director Clapper a number of times. He's a straight talker. He's not shy about sharing his very direct analysis on issues and on the issue of the travel ban here, he's differing with the president. You've heard the president say he knows something that makes this travel ban necessary. Director Clapper, who's seen all the intelligence right up to less than three weeks ago, says there is no intelligence to necessitate banning all travelers from these seven countries. Have a listen.



SCUITTO: In his first interview since stepping down, the nation's top spy, until just three weeks ago, told us he is aware of no intelligence necessitating the president's travel ban and, in fact, finds the ban damaging.

Does the terror threat necessitate the ban on these seven countries?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't believe we, the I.C., were aware of any extraordinary threats that we weren't already dealing with and we're using, I think, some very rigorous vetting processes which we constantly improved on.

SCUITTO: Does a ban like this, in your view, has it damaged U.S. image but also counterterror partnership?

CLAPPER: Yes. I do worry about those countries in question with whom we do deal and who are reliable partners. I also worry about this creating a recruiting tool for the extremists. That they -- that this -- they will point to this proof that there is, in fact, a war on all Muslims.

SCUITTO: And you're confident in the vetting that the U.S. is already doing for travelers from this country?

CLAPPER: I am, and we have improved that process as we've gone and --

SCUITTO: Retired Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, commenting for the first time on the decision to brief then-President- elect Trump on a dossier alleging that Russia has compromising information on him, which CNN was first to report.

CLAPPER: We thought that it was important that he know about it. That was the main point. Not to comment on the veracity.

SCUITTO: In the wake of the dossier's revelation, Mr. Trump publicly criticized the Intelligence Community, even comparing it to Nazi Germany which prompted a phone call from Director Clapper to Trump.

CLAPPER: I was very concerned and, as many in the Intelligence Community, quite upset about the inference that -- of likening the Intelligence Community to the Nazis. I felt obliged to call the president-elect and appeal to his higher instincts and to make sure he understood what our motives were. What our -- what impelled the Intelligence Community is support to the commander-in-chief and to keep him as informed as possible, particularly if it involved some jeopardy to him.

SCUITTO: Were you successful?

[07:45:00] CLAPPER: Well, he took the call very well. First, he took the call and was very affable and solicitous and soI thought it was a successful -- it was a constructive engagement.

SCUITTO: Director Clapper emphasized that Russia remains a clear and present danger, warning that it will continue to attack U.S. elections perhaps even more aggressively.

Is there any reason to believe that Russia is not, right now, today, continuing to attempt to or to infiltrate U.S. political organizations, individuals, et cetera?

CLAPPER: Oh, I'm quite sure they are. As I say, I think it's in their DNA whether during the Soviet era or now.

SCUITTO: Is it a reasonable judgment that they would try to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections, whether they're mid-term or presidential?

CLAPPER: I certainly wouldn't put it past them. If they thought it was -- it would be to their advantage to influence a national election or a congressional election they would.

SCUITTO: Would it remain in the realm of information op or the possibility of actually vote counting.

CLAPPER: Again, I wouldn't put it past them.

SCUITTO: After nearly five decades in intelligence, Director Clapper said he left with genuine concerns about its future. CLAPPER: Particularly, the last six and one-half years as DNI, not exactly stress-free. And so, I think the overriding feeling I had at 12:01 on the 20th of January was a sense of relief.

SCUITTO: But you've also described foreboding?

CLAPPER: Well, I worry, you know. I'm not there anymore, so I -- and I have a lot personally invested in the U.S Intelligence Community. It's been a 50-year passion of mine -- a professional passion of mine and so I have a lot invested in it and yes, I do worry about it.


CUOMO: Boy, Jim, this is spot-on, just in terms of fact analysis. You know, we heard from the president. They said the president told us -- told the country that if we gave notice of this ban that there might have been a rush of bad guys flooding into the country. And he said he knows something about the threat. And now we hear, with you and Clapper, he does not see in the facts, in the intel, a legitimate basis for imminent threat that comes from any of these areas being targeted. Your take?

SCUITTO: No, he does not. You know, the president has said if you knew what I knew -- what I've learned just in these past couple of weeks you would understand. Spicer -- Sean Spicer, from the podium at the White House, had hinted at intelligence. When pressed, he didn't give any details, but Director Clapper has certainly seen the intelligence. And it echoes what I've heard, Chris, from others in the national security and counterterror space. You don't hear a lot of urgency for this. They're not saying listen, these are countries -- yes, we've got to slam the door today. That's a very different analysis than what you're hearing from the president.

CUOMO: And again, just from a fact analysis perspective we do have to remember that the president did say I know something about these Russian hacks. It turned out to be, I think, Julian Assange -- such a different take from Clapper.

And that segues us into Flynn, OK? Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser. How compromised do you think he is after changing his story about whether or not he discussed Russian sanctions before he took office? He had said no repeatedly. Now, the official word is he doesn't recollect whether he discussed sanctions.

SCUITTO: Listen, this is a real potential problem here. I mean, you know, you're a lawyer, you know more than me. The Logan Act is thrown out there. I mean, this dates back to the 18th century, sort of similar to treason, I imagine. But there haven't been -- I think maybe there's been one successful prosecution on that. But short of something in that category you have the idea of lying to Vice President Pence, possibly, if you believe what the vice president has said about this or even, possibly, to investigators asking questions about that that's real, beyond the idea of lying to the public, so that's a real question.

Then, short of that, it becomes a confidence issue with the president. Does the president make a judgment? This is a distraction. I mean, remember during the campaign when Paul Manafort, his campaign adviser, got caught up in Russia ties he ended that relationship. I'm not saying this is the same. This is his national security adviser, but it's a question.

CUOMO: It's a question, and the real question -- forget about the law, I don't think it goes that way -- what is true and can you trust what you're being told as fact from the administration? Jim Scuitto, boy, did you help us out --

SCUITTO: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- with Clapper this morning. Appreciate it.

SCUITTO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Well White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway plugged Ivanka Trump's clothing in a T.V. interview. Now, a bipartisan congressional committee wants to investigate her for violating ethics regulations. It is a debate you don't want to miss, next.


[07:53:35] CUOMO: All right. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway under fire for promoting Ivanka Trump's clothing line in an interview on "Fox News." Here's what actually happened.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Go buy Ivanka's stuff is what I would tell you. I'm going to -- I'm going to -- I hate shopping. I'm going to go some for myself today. It's a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully -- I'm going to just give -- I'm going to five a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.


CUOMO: She says she was joking but now a bipartisan congressional committee says they don't think it was funny. They want her investigated for violating ethics regulations. Is there any there, there? Let's debate this. President of "Judicial Watch" Tom Fitton, and executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Noah Bookbinder. I want to talk to you guys about the overall ethical and conflicts of interest picture here, but let's get to the news of the day.

I'll start with you, Noah Bookbinder. You put in a complaint on this. Make the case for why what Kellyanne did is actionable as an ethics violation and not just a joke.

NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: Sure. Well, the ethics rules are really clear that if you're a government official you cannot use your official position to plug a private business interest. That's exactly what Kellyanne Conway did. It's hard to imagine a clearer instance of that. That's why you had a bipartisan -- the bipartisan leadership of the House Oversight Committee calling for action here.

[07:55:03] And moreover, it comes against the backdrop of a pattern of this administration and this president using the White House to plug the president's family business interests, his supporters' business interest, and he's continuing to hold ownership in his companies. So you have to wonder if he's going to -- if he's going to benefit from a lot of things that he does.

CUOMO: All right. Tom Fitton, counterargument to you. We will discuss the larger context of what Bookbinder is arguing there, but is it fair to apply it to this instance? Kellyanne had a smile on her face. She has said multiple times she didn't mean it as a business solicitation. It is brought up as fact well, she did apologize. She didn't apologize for what she said, she apologized for drawing attention to herself. The president did not see this as an issue. He does not like the world counsel being used. They don't think she did anything wrong. Your say?

TOM FITTON, PRESIDENT, "JUDICIAL WATCH": Well, I don't think she did anything wrong in the moral sense of the word. She did something wrong in terms of violating the regulation that applies to using your public office to promote a product.

CUOMO: Even if you're joking about it?

FITTON: Even if --

CUOMO: What if your intent isn't to promote, it's to joke about promoting.

FITTON: Right, and you're -- and you're-- and it may be a -- and it may be a violation. And she -- and I think the appropriate response is the consequence that's been reported, is that someone in the White House reminded her of the rules -- maybe the president did. And I hope it's a signal to the White House to generally remind folks, especially those talking to the public, that when defending the president's family from attacks that they don't take it as an opportunity in their honor and support of the president to promote specific products in the company.

CUOMO: Right.

FITTON: I think a lot -- I think they can walk the line. Kelly stepped over it. Listen, if this is the biggest ethics problem out of the Trump White House, you know, that's --

CUOMO: Right.

FITTON: -- not a big deal for me.

CUOMO: Right, and I think the larger point is it isn't. Back to you, Noah Bookbinder, to your larger point. You don't like what's happening with Kellyanne and, as specific, but you like it even less in the general because you see this as a pattern of behavior and kind of an outward ignoring of the standards of ethics when it comes to conflicts of interest. And to be clear, we don't really have any proof at this point that the president has done anything in any real way to separate himself from his business interests. Is that true or false?

BOOKBINDER: That is true. I mean, we saw his sons who are now apparently running his businesses who were up on stage at the announcement of the Supreme Court nominee. But that doesn't even really matter because regardless of who's running the businesses day- to-day, Donald Trump still owns the businesses. He still benefits from them. He knows what their interests are. He knows what kind of tax policies and regulatory policies and foreign policies are going to help his businesses, and we don't have any indication that that's not motivating him on a daily -- day-to-day basis.

And the kind of cavalier mixing of government interests --

CUOMO: Right.

BOOKBINDER: -- and private business interests that Kellyanne Conway's comments seem to indicate certainly doesn't give us any confidence.

CUOMO: Back to you, Tom Fitton. You can't get into the man's head and that's not going to be a productive place to be in making this case legally, even politically, but you can look at the facts. Well, he created a trust, so that's what people usually do.

FITTON: Hold on. Hold on a second.


FITTON: The facts are the conflict of interest laws don't apply to the president. He's not required to do anything that is being suggested here. He's taking steps to announce, by his lawyer --

CUOMO: Right.

FITTON: -- and there should be more transparency about, perhaps, what those steps are -- to disengage from the business. But he's not required to destroy his business to become President of the United States.

CUOMO: Right.

FITTON: And there's no way he could engage in a billion-dollar fire sale that wouldn't raise additional ethics questions.

CUOMO: Right, right. No, no, I accept that point.

FITTON: And so this is going to be a burden for him during the -- during his --

CUOMO: Right.

FITTON: -- White House stay, but let's be clear. The law doesn't require him --

CUOMO: Right. FITTON: -- and to do this, and the American people knew what they were getting when they put him office.


FITTON: And he was hired, in part, because of his success in the business --

CUOMO: Some assumptions there --

FITTON: -- and the idea that he --

CUOMO: -- to unpack, real quickly.

FITTON: -- has to destroy his family business is not -- is not required by law. So, let's not pretend --


FITTON: -- there are these rules that he has to follow --

CUOMO: But you are pretending.

FITTON: -- that are being violated.

CUOMO: But you are pretending because while you are right that there is no law, you are pretending that there is no other standard, and we both know that that is absurd on its face. There are ethical -- considerations --

FITTON: Well, because you --

CUOMO: -- about what this --

FITTON: -- seem to know what you think you know. What's absurd on its face is a demand that president destroy a billion-dollar business --

CUOMO: No. Who's asking him to do that?

FITTON: -- and the Lord knows how, in order to be President of the United States.

CUOMO: Who's asking him to do that?

FITTON: And that will solve all the ethics concerns.

BOOKBINDER: What's really crucial is that the president be making his decisions based on what's in the interest of the American people --


BOOKBINDER: -- not based on what's in the interest of his businesses. He has done less than nothing to assure us that that is the --

CUOMO: But that's the larger point. FITTON: That's right, and there's a check in place for that. It's called the ballot box --

CUOMO: No, that's not the only check.

FITTON: -- and an impeachment if he really violates the rules of common sense in that regard.

CUOMO: All right. So, we're --

FITTON: Short of that, we're not -- we're not anywhere near that despite the screaming about it.

CUOMO: All right, so let's take a look at this, though, Tom, because it's not a combative principle. I'm saying, of course, it's not about the law, but you know that's not the only standard.