Return to Transcripts main page


Reports Indicate Discussions Took Place Between General Michael Flynn and Russia Before Election Concerning U.S. Sanctions on Russia; Ninth Circuit Court Upholds Stay on President Trump's Travel Ban; Interview with Congressman Chris Collins. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 10, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] TOM FITTON, PRESIDENT, JUDICIAL WATCH: -- anywhere near that despite the screaming about it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so let's take a look at this, 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. And obviously the president knows that, which is why he did exactly what you're suggesting. He took steps to remove the projection of obvious conflict which he has. But those moves, when you look at them, fall on their face. The trust, he's the sole beneficiary. It's revocable. All those files filled with documents that he says he signs. We don't have proof yet that any of them were filed in the states where they need to be to show change of control. And then you have what Bookbinder is discussing, which is this outward and consistent combination of what is good for Donald Trump and what is good for the country. It's not just about the law, and you know that, Tom.

FITTON: It is about the law.

CUOMO: Not just about the law.

FITTON: It is about the law.

CUOMO: But not just about the law.

FITTON: OK. I'm going to finish my answer. He has taken steps to mitigate the involvement of the business in the White House.

CUOMO: How do you know that?

FITTON: Because the lawyers have stated it as such, and we're going to get that.

CUOMO: That's a fact?

FITTON: And we're going to get that in typical disclosures over time. And I would agree anything the president can do to reassure those who are concerned that the private interest takes precedent over the public interest in the Trump White House would be appropriate. I'm not against --

CUOMO: What disclosures are you assuming we'll get to see? FITTON: I would encourage disclosures describing generally in a way

that doesn't destroy his business or provide opportunities for those who want to destroy the presidency.

CUOMO: How about his taxes?

FITTON: I don't think he necessarily has to release all his taxes.

CUOMO: Has to or should?

FITTON: I don't know if he should either.


FITTON: Because the taxes are roadmap to his entire company, and it's not just like someone's normal tax return. It's a massive document, and it would essentially, in many ways, upend the ability of the company to function in theory. I think there's a real concern there.

And I'm not saying it wouldn't be smart politically or under transparency which we advocate it wouldn't be the best move, but it's not the end of the world that it hasn't happened. There's nothing like the situation we have with the president coming into the Oval Office. Under the standards being thrown around here, George Washington wouldn't be president. He had similar interests. He was about as wealthy as Trump is relatively speaking.

CUOMO: That's not even close to an analogy. Nobody is arguing the law.

FITTON: It's a political fight, Chris.

CUOMO: Nobody is arguing the law. I never said that it is about the law.

FITTON: You're not satisfied politically about what he's done.

CUOMO: I think there are obvious questions. You see it reflected in polls all the time. Noah, Bookbinder --

FITTON: I agree it's a political night.

CUOMO: But nobody is saying it isn't. I'm saying you're ignoring the reality of the politics.

FITTON: I'm saying this is not ethics we're talking about, it's politics.

CUOMO: Hold on one sec. Well, I think there's a melding, at least there should be, and they have become divorced and that's probably a problem. Noah Bookbinder, what I'm asking you is, Tom's assertion is that the taxes don't really matter because if you show them to people, you might destroy his business. I can't find a tax attorney whom I respect to echo that sentiment. What do you make of it?

FITTON: Chris, have you asked a tax attorney about that? CUOMO: Yes. Hold on a second, Noah. I've asked half a dozen why

can't he show them under audit. They give me the question. Why can't I know he's under audit? They gave me their answer. I said, what can't he show me the taxes? What could in there that would be to destructive to him? They say, well, I'd have to see the taxes, but in general I would be worried about you learning too little from taxes. I don't get why the president won't show them because they're not as elucidating as you people are assuming they are. That's what tax experts say to your answer. Now, Noah, what do you say?

NOAH BOOKBINDER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: So I think that, first of all, he's the president. We need to know what his interests are and what may be motivating him. His taxes are going to shed some light on that. There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't have them. Richard Nixon gave up his tax returns when he was under audit. And if that standard isn't one that this president can meet, that's a little troubling. I also want to say the law is actually a factor here because the constitution says that he can't be taking payments from foreign governments.

CUOMO: The emoluments clause you're talking about. I'm saying specific ethics laws. Tom is right about that. You make a general point as well. But Noah, we have got to leave it there for time. This has been a good discussion with both sides. Noah Bookbinder, I appreciate it, Tom Fitton, as well, you're both always welcome to make the case here on NEW DAY. Thank you, fellas.

FITTON: Glad to be here.

CUOMO: All right, we're following a lot of news. Let's get right to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

[08:05:00] CUOMO: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. We've got a lot of breaking news overnight as President Trump begins just his third week in office. There are reports right now that the president's national security advisor Michael Flynn did, in fact, speak to Russia's ambassador, and about sanctions on that country, before President Trump took office.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also, President Trump spoke with the leader of China for the first time, reaffirming America's stance to honor the One China policy. And in a late night vote, the Senate confirming Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary. It is now his job to dismantle Obamacare.

CUOMO: All right, so all that news on your screen coming right after a federal appeals court gave us the big story, which was refusing to reinstate President Trump's controversial travel ban. Mr. Trump resolute, vowing to fight the decision and calling it, quote, "political."

CAMEROTA: All right, so how will the Trump administration appeal this ruling? We are in day 22 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns. He's live in the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The Trump administration weighing a number of options this morning, including whether to go for a hearing before 11 judges of the ninth circuit or to bring the case here to Washington, D.C. to the Supreme Court, tough choices after that embarrassing loss before the appellate court last night.


JOHNS: The Trump administration suffering a major blow, the ninth circuit court of appeals unanimously refusing to reinstate the president's controversial travel ban. The three-judge panel finding the administration failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify an urgent need for the executive order to be reinstated. The president immediately responding on Twitter, writing in all caps, "SEE YOU IN COURT. THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE," without specifying if that means the Supreme Court, and again questioning the impartiality of the appellate court.

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

JOHNS: Trump accusing the judges of being biased despite the fact that the ninth circuit judges were appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. The court also rejecting the administration's argument that the president can act without judicial review on issues of national security.

JUDGE MICHELLE FRIEDLAND, NINTH CIRCUIT: Are you arguing then that the president's decision in that regard is unreviewable?


JOHNS: But the battle over the travel ban is far from over.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We will get our day in court and have an opportunity to argue on the merits and we will prevail.

BOB FERGUSON, WASHINGTON STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have seen him in court twice, and we're two for two.

JOHNS: All this coming as Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, tells senators that attacks on the judiciary are disheartening and demoralizing. News of these comments prompted Trump to lash out at one Democratic senator who met with Gorsuch privately.

TRUMP: His comments were misrepresented. And what you should do is ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn't exist after years of saying it did.

JOHNS: The White House is not disputing the comments but claims they were not directed at Trump's attacks on federal judges.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The judge was very clear that he was not commenting on any specific matter. He literally went out of his way to say I'm not commenting on a specific instance.

JOHNS: Senator Blumenthal said he disagreed on Anderson Cooper last night.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was Gorsuch talking in general terms?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: Indisputably he was talking about President Trump's attacks on the judiciary.


JOHNS: A key player in that Senate nomination fight, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, expected here at the White House to meet with the president this morning, but the big event today is the visit of the Japanese prime minister before the president flies off to Mar-a-Lago. Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it.

Joining us now is Congressman Chris Collins of New York. He's a member of the executive committee of the Trump transition team. Good to see you, congressman.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS, (R) NEW YORK: Good morning, good morning.

CUOMO: So big decision from the court. There's a whole menu of options in front of the president. He seemed to suggest that he'll see them in court, meaning he'll continue the litigation. Is there any thought to taking the route of going back and either redrafting this executive order or maybe going to Congress and kind of pumping up the sufficiency of this policy and avoiding legal review?

COLLINS: Well, I don't see the role of Congress in this. If nothing else, I don't believe the Senate with a filibuster would ever go along, that we'd be able to get a bill on his desk. So many things, Chris, are coming down to pure politics. We're seeing it in hearings we're running now in Congress. The Democrats are just going to be saying no on all of his nominees. They're going to say no on legislation. So I would take the congressional piece off the table.

[08:10:00] I do suppose you could always rework it and try to get more exact details of what somebody found problematic, but I think that would only occur after this has gone up to either a broader review by the appellate court or the Supreme Court itself. Who knows? We could end up with a 4-4 ruling out of the Supreme Court if it moved quickly.

So I think there are a lot of options. The president's job is to keep America safe. It is his opinion that matters. The law is quite clear. So if there is some little piece of this that the courts are finding problematic, I suppose that could be reworked. So it's certainly an issue that's going to be fluid. And we haven't heard the end of it. So I guess stay tuned.

CUOMO: Just one thing, and then we'll move on to some other news of the day we have. The idea of what the president is the final word on came up and was really well dealt with. That's going to be subjective, whether you like the ruling or not. But I'm saying they took a lot of time to deal with the notion that only the constitution is absolute in its authority. And while the president is given broad discretion, especially in this area of national security and threat assessment, it's not unchecked authority.

COLLINS: Well, when you look at the language, parts of what he can do is, in fact, unchecked. When you realize that the law says -- I don't have the words right in front of me -- he is absolutely allowed to ban certain individuals, certain groups of individuals --

CUOMO: Right, subject to the constitutionality of those actions. You would agree on that, yes?


CUOMO: All right, so that's all I'm saying.

So let's move on to some other news of day because we don't know what the president is going to do on this. We'll see and then we'll discuss it. Michael Flynn, how big a hole do you think it is -- not so much the Logan Act. I know that's out there but we've never seen a successful prosecution of it. But this change in stance where he said no repeatedly about whether or not he discussed Russian sanctions with Russian officials before he came into office officially, or the president did, as well. Now he says he cannot recollect whether or not he did. How do you feel about that?

COLLINS: Well, I guess, as the national security adviser, I'm not sure what all the issues are. General Flynn, it's his job to advise the president on national security matters. He's well versed in them. What may have happened in a private phone conversation, while I don't know what it is, I wouldn't personally have concerns one way or the other. It wasn't in a policy making role when that phone call took place.

CUOMO: It wasn't just one phone call. We've heard from multiple sources now and we know that the FBI is looking at it as well, that there were multiple communications. And if, in fact, there was discussion about the sanctions that lent some type of credibility to the suggestion that they would change and maybe somehow coincided with what we saw from the Russian president not taking reciprocal action when the United States removed some of their suspected spies, does that bother you?

COLLINS: No, it doesn't bother me. I am thrilled that the team President Trump has put together. I know General Flynn personally, and he's a man of integrity who is always going to put our country first. So I'm just an individual that happens to know the players and trusts them implicitly and know they are always putting America's best interests first and only first.

CUOMO: Do you think removing sanctions from Russia would be in America's best interests?

COLLINS: Again, that's not my call. I think it has to be those discussions taken in context of everything from the Ukraine to nuclear missiles and other actions around the world. And that would be a negotiation or discussion between the president and his staff and Vladimir Putin and those advising him. So I would, again, trust what this president and his advisers suggest to move the whole world forward on a safer footing.

CUOMO: Kellyanne Conway in the crosshair, even of Jason Chaffetz and you have Elijah Cummings, they both sent this letter saying they want an ethical probe done of her actions for being on a morning show saying to buy Ivanka Trump's goods. How do you feel about that? Did she break the rule?

COLLINS: No. I saw that interview. That was, call it a little bit of frustration, but she was smiling, she was laughing, she was speaking about herself, she's going to go buy some of the jewelry or other items. It was -- somebody is making a mountain out of a molehill here. I'd say get a life. This is not anything other than her commenting to the news of the day in a lighthearted fashion, and I certainly took it that way. And I'm just amazed that others seem to be, you know, trying to roll out the legal legal issues.

CUOMO: Well, let's look at why, right?

COLLINS: I would never go down that road.

CUOMO: Let's look at why. Let's say you're right. Let's say Kellyanne was doing this in jest. She didn't have any intent to break this ethical rule, OK.

But get a life is a little dismissive in the face of a pattern of apparent conflicts of interest with his administration that I think is probably raising suspicion.

COLLINS: I don't see the pattern.

CUOMO: Well, it's hard not to see the pattern because you have constant commingling of family business and the public business here, right? You've got the sons who have a foot in both camps. You've got a daughter with a foot in both camps. You have the president making proclamations from his official Twitter account about business relationships with his daughter.

We have files that we weren't allowed to examine that say created all the necessary separation. We don't know of any documents have been filed. We've never seen his taxes.

All of that fuels suspicion and leads to this type of scrutiny.

COLLINS: Well, it fuels suspicion by those that don't like Donald Trump. Let's remember he filled out a personal financial disclosure form that shows more details than a tax return will ever show. Somehow that never comes up.

CUOMO: Because it's not really true. It's not really true.

COLLINS: What isn't? That is -- CUOMO: I look at the FEC offering. Here's why. The FEC offering is

everything he wants to tell you, right? The tax return is what he's compelled to tell you.

COLLINS: No, he's required.

CUOMO: No, the FEC is volitional. I mean, you have to put the information in. The information is not scrutinized. It's not vetted. It doesn't come from anywhere else. It's his own reckoning of a private business. Remember, all of his holdings are private, they're not public. That's part of the issue.

COLLINS: Well, he's affirming and signing his name.

CUOMO: True.

COLLINS: He's signing his name to a legal document. So no, that is extraordinarily important. The questions do come back and forth.

That is the requirement of the law. Tax returns are not required. Tax returns, these folks who say I want to see who he owes money to and this and that, that's not even on his tax returns.

I've yet to find anything that anyone would say is on a tax return that isn't on his personal financial disclosure form which is more intrusive than a tax return. So, again, I've always said he shouldn't report his taxes. I don't think any elected official should.

CUOMO: Interesting take. Chris Collins, appreciate you being on NEW DAY and making the case. Have a good weekend.

COLLINS: Always good to be with you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Did President Trump's national security adviser discuss U.S. sanctions with a Russian ambassador before President Trump took office? Senator Angus King here on that and more.


CAMEROTA: President Trump tweeting moments ago, he's quoting a legal blog called Law Fair. His tweet says, "Remarkably in the entire opinion the panel didn't bother even to cite this, a statute.

[08:20:03] A disgraceful decision."

He's talking about the Ninth Circuit Court's decision on his travel ban.

Joining us now is Senator Angus King. He's an independent but he caucuses with the Democrats.

Senator, great to have you here.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: You have a long night. I know that you voted at 1:00 a.m.

KING: Oh, it was more like after 2:00. I was in time to get the 3:15 train from Washington to New York. Here I am.

CAMEROTA: That is commitment to NEW DAY, that you took a 3:15 a.m. train. Thank you for being here.

KING: Sure.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, let's talk about the news last night that the ninth circuit court did not reinstate the president's travel ban. What's your reaction?

KING: Well, I think we have to be careful not to read too much into it, and not to understand it's pretty important. The essential ruling was that the actions of the president in this situation are reviewable. I think what really stuck in the craw of the court, if you read the opinion was that the president's counsel said it's not reviewable, the courts can't have any role.

CAMEROTA: Meaning the president does not have ultimate authority when it comes to national security, that the court wanted to know the evidence for changing this.

KING: That's right, and that nobody is above the law and the Constitution. It cited some cases I haven't seen since law school, Ex parte Milligan, right after the civil war, the president and the government have to follow the Constitution even in the time of war.

Now, there's a long road on this. This is a temporary restraining order. If there are no further appeals, it will go back to the district court in Washington where there will be a hearing and evidence and briefs next week or they'll be a further appeal to an en banc of the Ninth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

CAMEROTA: President Trump said we'll see you in court. What does that mean to you?

KING: Well, it could be one of three places. They could request an all judge ruling from the Ninth Circuit, or they could try to take an appeal to the Supreme Court. That would be tough because they need five votes to even get there, or they could go ahead and litigate the case in the district court in the state of Washington.

So, they have some options, and I don't think people should say, well, Trump lost and this case is over, there's still a lot of deference, and the court mentioned this. There's a lot of deference to the president in the areas of national security, but it's not unlimited. That's what this case was all about.

CAMEROTA: What did you make of Supreme Court nominee Judge Gorsuch saying behind closed doors to a Democratic senator that he found President Trump's words about judges and the court disheartening and demoralizing? KING: I couldn't agree more. You can disagree with a court's decision. You know, that's why they invented law reviews. There are articles about court's decisions criticizing, but when you criticize the institution itself, so-called judge. He's not a so-called judge. He's a federal judge, nominated by a president of the United States, approved by the United States Senate.

"So-called judge", remember the tweet with the intelligence community in quotes? That is delegitimizing one of the coequal branches of our government. And it's really offensive and it's particularly offensive to somebody like Judge Gorsuch who spent his whole life in the courtroom.

And we've got to respect the institutions. If you delegitimize all your opponents, that ultimately is very destructive.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about -- we've had so much breaking news this morning that we have to cover a lot of things. Let's get to another breaking news story. That is, "the New York Times" and "The Washington Post" have sources that say that the NSA director, now, Michael Flynn, spoke to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Donald Trump was installed as president in the White House. He spoke to him about U.S. sanctions.

The suggestion is, is that somehow maybe General Flynn suggested that they would be sympathetic towards lifting sanctions. If that happened, because other people have denied it, including Vice President Pence -- if that conversation happened before Mr. Trump was in the White House, what does that mean?

KING: Well, there's an old law that goes back to the late 1700s called the Logan Act where private citizens are not supposed to conduct foreign policy. But I don't think it's even been enforce.

It's of concern, though, and I think it's also of concern what Michael Flynn said. Apparently at one point, he said these discussions never took place. And now, he's saying, well, maybe they did.

CAMEROTA: His spokesperson is saying that he can't remember nor can he confirm they did not take place.

KING: That's different. He was pretty categorical I think several weeks ago. And the timing -- as I recall, these conversations took place within a day or so of President Obama imposing the sanctions for the election hacking. Putin then tweeted that night or the next day, he's not going to react and then, President-elect Trump tweeted Putin is smart not to react.

[08:25:00] CAMEROTA: So, do you see all those as being interconnected?

KING: I don't know. But that's the time frame. And it is a concern.

You know, you shouldn't be conducting foreign policy and discussing these kinds of things until you're in office. This is important diplomacy. CAMEROTA: So, what do you do about it?

KING: Well, I think we have to continue to look into it. Now, I'm on the Intelligence Committee, and we're going to be conducting the congressional investigation into the Russian hacking and what went on and why those sanctions were put on in the first place and whether there were contacts between the Russian government and members of one or the other of the political parties, one or the other of the campaigns.

I think that's very important information. As far as where this issue goes with Michael Flynn, I don't see it as necessarily something that's a crime or anything, but it does go to questions of credibility and judgment, frankly.

CAMEROTA: Senator Angus King, thank you for making the herculean effort to be here in studio this morning -- great to see you.

KING: Glad to be here.

CAMEROTA: All right. The appeals court judges unanimously refusing to reinstate President Trump's travel ban. What will the Trump administration do now? Our all-star legal and political panel discusses that, next.