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List for Flynn's Replacement; Flynn Resigns amid Firestorm; House Intel Chief Calls for Probe; Labor Secretary Nomination Trouble; Christie Meets President for Lunch. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:09] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good busy morning. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us. Bottom of the hour.

Retired General Michael Flynn is out and now three leading candidates are in to potentially become the next national security adviser.

BERMAN: The man you see right there in the middle, David Petraeus, will visit the White House today. He, perhaps, the most well-known.

CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with a closer look at the possible replacements.

Barbara, you know, there is one I understand who is right now very much in the lead.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that appears to be what's shaping up, John and Poppy. All three men very well known in military circles. All three are required senior military officers.

But the leading contender at the moment may be retired Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward. He is someone who is very close to Defense Secretary James Mattis. They have both served together. Harward has worked for him multiple times. He is a former Navy SEAL. He did serve to the National Security Council a few years back. He has also led detainee operations in Afghanistan. Said to be someone very sharp, very smart, someone that Mattis trusts.

I have interviewed him before. This is a guy who knows his business. Does he have the broad experience, management experience, for NSC, perhaps remains to be seen. But he's someone that Mattis trusts and don't discount that.

The other contenders, retired General Keith Kellogg. He is now the acting head of the NSC. A very decent guy, but served some years back, doesn't have a lot of current experience. Very well known, respected, a Vietnam veteran. But, again, somebody who is not readily in recent years dealt with ISIS and the current threats. So the leaves also retired General David Petraeus, who also, of

course, served as the CIA director. He's the one that may have that broad geopolitical management experience that the NSC needs to coordinate things given the current threats like North Korea and ISIS. But Petraeus comes with that baggage, that federal conviction, from mishandling classified information. He is scheduled to meet with the president today. We'll see how President Trumps reacts to all of this. What he's really looking for in a new national security adviser? Does he want another retired military officer?

[09:35:36] John. Poppy.

HARLOW: And - and, Barbara, just quickly, I mean he's been - the president's been so complimentary of Petraeus throughout, saying he got a much harsher punishment for doing what he says is 2 percent of what Clinton did with her e-mail server. But isn't Petraeus still under probation or something akin to that until April?

STARR: Indeed he is, for that federal conviction.


STARR: He is on federal probation until April. There will be the issue of whether he can get a security clearance. That is up to the national security community. And by all accounts, it is our understanding if he were to take this job before his probation is up in April, he would have to notify his probation officer.

HARLOW: Wow. All right, Barbara Starr, great reporting, at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

The president just out with a tweet a moment ago. "The real story here," he tweets, "is why there are so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington. Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera?"

Let's bring in CNN's senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

Nia, to you. Well, leaks are not illegal, and that's actually not the issue at all.

BERMAN: No. I mean yes and no.


HARLOW: This is a White House in disarray trying to control messaging, sending Kellyanne Conway on the morning shows to not answer the crux of the question, which is, what did the White House and the president know and when did they know it?

HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right. And you can see Kellyanne Conway, I think, giving us a sense of what we might see in this briefing. Sean Spicer's briefing that will be later this afternoon. They are clearly trying to contain the damage to Mike Flynn and essentially say this was about Mike Flynn being an unreliable narrator and possibly a dishonest narrator as well, and let's move on. You saw some Republican Congress folks, Chris Collins on with Chris Cuomo this morning, using that very phrase, it's time to move on.

What was also interesting in listening to Kellyanne Conway was that she described the Justice Department's warning to this White House about Mike Flynn possibly being the subject of blackmail. She described that as a Justice Department opinion.

HARLOW: Right.

HENDERSON: Not as an assessment. Not as in a warning, which is a really interesting phrase, right, this idea that it was just sort of - sort of their opinion that it wasn't actually a warning.

So we will see what Spicer says. I don't think they can continue to essentially say what Kellyanne Conway said this morning over and over again, that she wasn't aware of this, that she didn't know - she doesn't have enough information in terms of the president or that these were sensitive conversations that she couldn't divulge.

And I think this gets back to why the leaks are happening. I mean when you have a president who on Friday says that he doesn't know anything about the whole Flynn situation, that is why you've got people leaking. And let's be honest, I mean, some of these leaks are coming from his own White House, not necessarily the stories around Flynn and what happened on those calls with the Russian ambassador, but the portrait of chaos that we've been reading about, that we've been reporting on our air, that is coming from people who work in that White House.

BERMAN: And, let's remember, Donald Trump, as a candidate, was someone who used to read from WikiLeaks during the campaign -


BERMAN: And said things like -


BERMAN: I love WikiLeaks during the campaign. This isn't about the leaks. This is about the fact that, you know, that General Flynn apparently lied to Mike Pence and that the White House was told about all of this. Whether it was an opinion or not, they were told about this more than two weeks ago and we still do not know what was done with it in that time.

Nia-Malika Henderson, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we have some new problems for one of President Trump's nominees. We're talking about the nominee for labor secretary.


BERMAN: Now four Republicans are on the fence. More than enough to derail this nomination. That's next.


[09:43:32] BERMAN: All right, we have more breaking news surrounding the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. The Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee just said that he wants an investigation into the issues surrounding this, but not - not what you think.

Let's bring in our senior Capitol Hill reporter Manu Raju for more details on this.

David Nunez, what does he want to investigate, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he just told reporters that he's very concerned about the leaks that have been surrounding the calls between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador. And he says that is something that he wants to look into. He's very concerned about the leaks.

Now, I had a chance to just ask him, well, what about the discussions between president-elect, at the time, Donald Trump and Michael Flynn about Russia and whether - did the president-elect at the time instruct Michael Flynn to discuss the issue of sanctions or discuss anything with the Russian ambassador. And Mr. Nunez said, well, that is actually something that could be covered by executive privilege. In other words, something that he does not think that Congress would be able to look into. So that is one issue. There is a lot of questions about what exactly the president of the United States knew, and whether or not he told his national security adviser, incoming national security adviser, to discuss the issue of Russia's sanctions as they were come into power. But that's not something that the Congress, at least this committee, the House Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russian meddling in the elections, plans to look into.

[09:45:02] Now, I did speak to another member of that committee, Peter King of New York, the congressman, the Republican congressman, said that he thinks that Donald Trump should - should actually detail to the public exactly what he said to Michael Flynn at that time, should divulge it. And I said, well, do you think that if he does not there should be an investigation into this by Congress? He said - he didn't really go that far. But he said that he does think it's incumbent on the president to detail those conversations. Now this all comes, John and Poppy, as Democrats are coming for a full independent investigation about what happened, but Republicans in Congress believe it can be done through the existing committees to look into this issue of Russia, Russia hacking. But, of course, there's disagreement with - about the scope of the investigation with Mr. Nunez suggesting that it will not look into the issue of Donald Trump's discussions with Michael Flynn.

HARLOW: But it's just pretty incredible when you think about what the public has the right to know and what the public should know. And it echoes what the president - what the president just tweeted -

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: Saying, this is about illegal leaks coming out of Washington, not about the issue that the vice president was lied to or the national security advisor just forgot.

BERMAN: And it is notable, by the way, that the statement from the chairman, the Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee -

HARLOW: Echoes -

BERMAN: Comes within the same 10-minute period -


BERMAN: That President Trump tweeted. We don't know if, in fact, those are coordinated messages, but they're coincidental to say the least.

HARLOW: Absolutely. On some other important news, and that is the president's pick for labor secretary. Someone who's been controversial from the moment he was chosen by the president, Andrew Puzder, former CEO of a big fast-food restaurant chain, under fire now, not just from Democrats, but from four Republican senators who say we're going to wait until we support him. We want to hear what he has to say at the confirmation hearings. This is notable, Manu.

RAJU: Yes, look, we'll see if they actually vote no. That is the big question. Right now they're saying they do want to hear some of the - his positions on key issues, but also some of the controversies from his past, most notably his hiring of an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper, later paying back taxes, but also messy issues involving his divorce from three decades ago and allegations that he faced at the time of domestic abuse. Something that actually his ex-wife at the time has since withdrawn, but also has become back into the spotlight because she appeared in disguise in the mid '80s after that divorce on "The Oprah Winfrey" show to discuss these issues.

Now, senators on that committee have actually reviewed that "Oprah Winfrey" tape, that episode, in which she appeared on that tape. We have not seen that publically. But expect senators on that committee to ask Mr. Puzder about that at this hearing on Thursday. But Republicans, the leadership, big business groups are pushing very hard for his confirmation. They think it could be among the hardest, if not the hardest of Donald Trump's nominees to get confirmed. But they need to make sure they limit those defections to no more than two Republican senators because if it's three or more then he's not going to get the job.

Poppy and John.

BERMAN: And, Manu, a quick question here. You know Paul Ryan, the House speaker, the House leadership, they're going to hold a briefing momentarily and Paul Ryan will be put in one of those situations that he just loves.

HARLOW: Right. BERMAN: He's going to face questions about President Trump and issues no doubt surrounding the resignation of Michael Flynn. Any sense how the speaker will address this?

RAJU: It remains to be seen. I think that he probably will support what the president has done so far. He will probably say it's up to the president to choose his own national security team. You're not hearing a lot of criticism from the House speaker towards the president of the United States since this - since Donald Trump won the election. I don't think you'll probably hear much of that today. You do hear some disagreement about the issue of Russia, but it's done in a more gentle way, not in a way to provoke a fight between the White House and the House Republican leadership. So watch him to be pretty gentle in that regard.

BERMAN: Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill, where the news is breaking as well. Thanks so much, Manu.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie picked a heck of a day to go to Washington and have lunch with the president. He will be at the White House in a little bit. I wonder what they're going to talk about today? Mr. President, what's new in your life?


[09:53:28] BERMAN: In the midst of everything happening in Washington today at the White House with the resignation of Michael Flynn, the president is going to have a lunch guest.


BERMAN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie headed to a White House meeting with the president.

HARLOW: This sit-down comes on what a day. What do you think they're going to talk about?

BERMAN: I have no idea.

HARLOW: What a day. It comes amid speculation that President Trump is not just a little unhappy, but pretty unhappy with folks that are leaking from the white House, as he just divulged on this tweet.

For more on what we just discussed, let's go to Joe Johns at the White House.

So, Chris Christie sitting down with the president today. What do we know?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know it's very interesting. I mean, think about it, he was passed over for vice president, passed over for attorney general. He was demoted during the transition. And now he and his wife have been invited here to the White House to have lunch with the president. Chris Christie says he has no idea why he's been invited. He also says he doesn't expect to be offered a job. Listen to what he had to say on "State of the Union." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I have absolutely no intention, nor any understanding that I'll be asked to be in the administration in the years to come. My view is I've got a job to do as governor and then my intention is to go off to the private sector and to help support my family.


JOHNS: So what else do we know? Well, this administration has been through a very tumultuous period, these first few weeks of the Trump administration, and they've had some problems from the roll-out of the travel ban, which created pandemonium and ended up in a court battle, to just last night the resignation of the national security adviser after less than a month on the job.

[09:55:13] So the question is, what would the president ask of Chris Christie? Not sure at all. We do know Chris Christie has been a reliable surrogate, if you will, for the president, even after he was elected. But as far as what he's doing here, anybody's guess.

Back to you.

BERMAN: It is notable. It is notable, Chris Christie was pushed out, as Joe said, leading the transition.


BERMAN: And the problems with Michael Flynn and those conversations happened after that during the transition under different management at the time.

Joe Johns, great to have you with us at the White House. Thanks so much.

The next hour of NEWSROOM begins after a really quick break.


[10:00:04] HARLOW: Good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The breaking news this morning, any moment now we will hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan.