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WH: Trump Knew for Weeks Flynn Withheld Truth; Trump Signs 1st Bill on 56,000 Rules Made without Congressional Oversight; Democrats Call for Independent Probe into Flynn, Trump; Russian Involvement in Elections; Office of Government Ethics Calls for Investigation of Conway over Ivanka "Commercial"; Christie Being Eyed for Role in White House. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And you heard Sean Spicer today talk about DOJs' role in all this, actually pointing a finger, in a sense, to the Department of Justice, even though it wasn't until nearly three weeks later that Donald Trump asked for Michael Flynn's resignation, last night, because of eroding trust.

Here is what Sean Spicer had to say.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's important to understand something very, very important. This idea of why did it take so long, I think the first question should be, where was the Department of Justice in this? They were aware of this. We were making statements based on what General Flynn was telling us starting on January 13th. The vice president went out January 15th, right? They didn't notify the White House Counsel's office until January 26th. At that time, the president was immediately informed of that and then ask the White House Counsel to conduct a very, very thorough review.


BROWN: So, Brooke, it's unclear why there was this delay between the phone calls in late December and the Department of Justice going to the White House to tell them what was going on in the conversations. But also, it's interesting to note, between the time when President Trump and last night, nothing really changed in terms of the fact of what he was told about what Flynn was misleading them, other than the "Washington Post" yesterday breaking the news this this happened. So, there's still a lot to learn here -- Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And "The Washington Post" piece from a week ago, with all the sources, initially, on this phone call. It's incredible. Had there not been these leeks we would be having a very different conversation today.

Pamela Brown, thank you for setting it all up.

We'll have a bigger conversation. Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Obama administration, is with us; David Zurawik is back, a media critic with the "Baltimore Sun"; and David Chalian, CNN political editor.

So, great to have all of you with me.

And, David Chalian, to me, listening to you with Wolf, you hit the nail on the head. When Sean Spicer talks about this being a trust issue, you raised the right question. If President Trump had been made aware of this at the end of January, what about it being a trust issue then?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Right. Again, Sean Spicer was clear that when the president, as Pamela just took you through the timeline, immediately learned from the White House Counsel's office that DOJ was aware that sanctions was, indeed, a topic of discussion on the call, he knew immediately in that briefing that Flynn had lied to Pence and Spicer and others. So, Sean Spicer said, well, hang on, there needs to be due process, there was an exhaustive investigation by the council. I don't know what you need more. If the whole notion is the trust was eroded because he wasn't truthful to the vice president, that fact was learned on the 26th. And there was no new data point that Spicer presented today that suggested any other piece of information came in between the 26th and yesterday, other than that "The Washington Post" made it public that, indeed, Mike Flynn's story was changing.

BALDWIN: Let's take it a step further. Wendy, here's my question. Then knowing that General Flynn had not been truthful, had lied -- let's just say, had lied, to the vice president. The vice president went out on Sunday shows weeks ago, and said no, no, they didn't talk at all about Russian sanctions, that was wrong, fast forward for the last month, this national security adviser has been by Trump's side all the way through the day yesterday until he tendered his resignation. Why?

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT UNDERSCRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: This is of great concern. It was interesting that Sean Spicer was more about deflection, more caring about leaks than about the security of the United States. The vice president is due to go to the Munich Security Conference later this week, as am I. Europeans will wonder, what is the truth here. Can they trust not Michael Flynn, but can they trust the word of the president of the United States, can they trust that we have the interest of our national security and the world's national security behind us? It was very curious today that Sean Spicer did the first -- his first indictment of Russia. Yes, there are places we have worked together. We certainly worked together on the Iran deal.


BALDWIN: Excuse me, Wendy. I have to interrupt. Forgive me. Let me come back to this.

We do need to show these pictures. President Trump signing a bill from the White House. Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank Speaker Paul Ryan for being here. He's been tremendous. Jeb Hensarling, very, very important and really worked hard. Representative Bill Hulzenga, and all of the friends, Peter, all of my friends are up here and we really appreciate it.

This is one of many that we have signed but we have many left. We're bringing jobs, big league. We've bringing them back at the plant level, we're bringing them back at the mine level, the energy jobs are coming back. And it's -- you can see what's going on with the stock market. They know that we know what we are doing. So, it's going up at record clips.

So, I think what I'm going to do, if I might, can I ask you to say a few words?

BILL HULZENGA: My pleasure, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Mr. Bill Hulzenga?

[14:35:01] HULZENGA: And, yeah, so this is the first CRA signed by the president. I'm very pleased to be the author of House Joint Resolution 41. For over 20 years there's been 56,000 rules that have been put in place with very little legislative input or oversight, and it's time that changed. And I'm very thankful to the president, the speaker, our chairman, Hensarling, for being able to make this happen. And we think this is a very good first step.

So, very pleased. Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Let me have that, I'll sign it.

We may have to give him the pen. What do you think?


HULZENGA: Somebody is going to have to fight me for it.

TRUMP: Pence has gotten too many, right?


TRUMP: Congratulations. Great job.

HULZENGA: Thank you.

TRUMP: You've done a fantastic job.

All right. A lot of people going back to work now.


BALDWIN: All right. So, we needed to go to that. This is the very first bill that the president has signed there. So, there you have that.

Let's get back to this story. Jovial atmosphere there in the Oval but the issue -- and David Zurawik, let me bring in you for this. Is that, thus far, President Trump has been 100 percent silent on this

issue of, you know, his now former NSA advisor, Michael Flynn. Although, he did tweet this, quote, "The real story is why are there so many illegal leeks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera?"

He's not focusing on Flynn lying to the vice president. He's focusing on the leaks. And by the way, it's the leaks and great journalism that led to what we're talking about.

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Yeah, that's exactly it, Brooke. From a media critic's standpoint, that's the part of this story that's really interesting. Sean Spicer spent a lot of time talking about the leaks.

I think this administration should have studied the history of the government and the press a little more closely, especially Watergate. There are people in the government who feel this information has to get out. Good journalists make contact with those people and help get this information out. This is not going to go away. This is going to continue to happen.

And it's a real wakeup call, I think, to this administration to find out someone is always listening to their calls and some of the people in the government, who have they have denounced as losers during the campaign, are the same people who can get access to some of that information and get it out. And I think that's what we're seeing.

In honesty, we should be fair, part of this is a dance with the intelligence community. You know, a lot of presidents have learned, don't mess with the intelligence community, because this is the kind of stuff they can put out there. So some of it is coming to the press. But the press is also going out, making those contacts, working those long-standing relationships, getting the message. And the responsible journalistic out lets like the "Washington Post," "The New York Times" and CNN are vetting that information before they put it out there. This is what journalism is.

And he should have looked maybe back to Watergate and beyond to maybe understand how this works.

BALDWIN: Members of Congress are seizing upon this, Democrats in particular. Let's listen quickly. We have Democratic minority leader, Chuck Schumer, Senator Schumer talking now.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The White House Counsel cannot lead this investigation. And the new attorney general cannot be -- Jeff Sessions cannot be the person to lead that investigation. Department of Justice regulations specifically prohibit individuals with political ties to the subjects of an investigation from leading that investigation.

I want to read you the regulations from DOJ website. Quote, "No Department of Justice employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution or who would be directly affected by the outcome."

The regulations --


BALDWIN: Wendy Sherman, so to you.

Senator Schumer saying it must be an independent investigation of what's happened here with Flynn. In your opinion, how should it play out?

SHERMAN: I absolutely think there should be an independent investigation. I think it's very significant that Senator Blunt, a Republican, Senator Cornyn, number-two in the Republican leadership in the Senate, have said there needs to be a serious investigation of this. This is becoming more bipartisan every day.

You know, our future, the future of our country, the integrity of our country, the trust of our country and our national security is at stake here, so I'm very glad to hear Senator Schumer join with Republican leaders, as well, to ensure that there is a bipartisan investigation, whether that is on the Hill, whether that is a special council, whether that is a select committee, whether that's a 9/11- type commission, I will leave for the leaders to think through. But although the intelligence committee are looking at this, it's not going to be sufficient.

And what happened during the election with the Russian hacking of our democracy was really a fundamental assault on American democracy. That should be of concern to every American citizen. And it's critical to find out what really went on.

[14:40:48] BALDWIN: You're absolutely right. And I'm wondering, does President Trump publicly address this? When, and how for now?

Thank you, Wendy, David and David. Thank you all.


BALDWIN: Coming up next, so much more on this, of course, this breaking news. Plus, as all this is happening, breaking news, "The New York Times" reports Russia has secretly deployed a missile which violates a treaty. We'll look into that.

And news just in, the government ethics chief calling for the White House to investigation Kellyanne Conway and punish her for her commercial from the White House.

Stay with me. You're watching CNN.


[14:45:51] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BALDWIN: Back with the breaking news here, the White House contends an "erosion of trust," to quote the press secretary, led to Michael Flynn's resignation, the national security adviser. You have Democrats on Capitol Hill saying there's a heck of a lot more to this story and it doesn't just end with Flynn. We just played from sound from Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, calling for an independent investigation. And by the way, a number of others are also calling for a full classified briefing by the Department of Justice and the FBI within the next couple of days.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMIMGS, (D), MARYLAND: Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero.

We have no idea why Flynn was doing all of this and why he was trying desperately to help Russia. And I know he's now resigned, but he's not going to get off that's easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions. But the obvious questions are, what did the president know, and when did he know it?


BALDWIN: Some Republican Senators are echoing the concerns of Democrats. You have Republican Senator Roy Blunt saying that Michael Flynn could be asked to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee.


SEN. ROY BLUNT, (R), MISSOURI: The Intel Committee is looking at what the Obama administration left on the table about Russia and our elections. Chairman Burr and Senator Warner, will decide who comes before that committee. But I think it's likely that General Flynn will be, at some point, asked to come and talk to the committee about post-election activities and any other activities that he would be aware of.


BALDWIN: And Republican Senator, from Arizona, John McCain saying Flynn's resignation is, and I'm quoting, "a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus."

With me now, Senator Gary Peters, who, like McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. Senator Peters has called for a bipartisan investigation into Russian's involvement in our election and into Michael Flynn.

Senator, welcome.

SEN. GARY PETERS, (D), MICHIGAN: Great to be with you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: My goodness, where in the world to begin? Let's being with the sound from Senator Blunt, the sound from Senator Schumer. I expect you stand behind having this bipartisan investigation into figuring out what the heck happened.

PETERS: Absolutely. This should not be a bipartisan issue. This is a basic American issue. When you have a foreign government interfering with an American election, and then you see this trail of other activity that raises all sorts of questions. It certainly doesn't end with the resignation of General Flynn. To me, that poses more questions. This should be bipartisan or have an independent commission. The American people need to know. This is an incredibly serious issue, potentially, and we need to know the facts, and we have to take the politics out of it because it is much, much too serious.

BALDWIN: We just learned from the White House briefing that President Trump found out about all this last month, January 26th, so why do you think it took him 19 days to lose trust in Michael Flynn?

PETERS: I can't explain it. To think that you have a senior advisor who lied to the vice president, put the vice president on national television to say something that turned out not to be true. Of course, we don't know exactly what he told the president. I think those are questions, did the president know more, did he know it earlier, how much did he know? That's why this independent investigation is so important. We are seeing a lot of smoke, and my experience has been, particularly on an issue like this, when you start to see smoke and more and more smoke, there tends to be a lot of flame behind that. And that's what we need to be looking at.

[14:50:08] BALDWIN: Let me exactly about the smoke. Now you have three former Trump advisors, Mike Flynn being the third, they're right now all under investigation into some sort of ties to Russia. You have both sides calling for an independent investigation, a bipartisan investigation. There's a lot of smoke.

PETERS: There is.

BALDWIN: We haven't seen flames, Senator.

PETERS: Right.

BALDWIN: But are you suspicious of President Trump?

PETERS: I think we all are. I think the American people need to be, especially when you start putting these actions together. We know during the Trump campaign, his senior advisor, Mr. Manafort, was involved with Russia, had strong Russian ties. Then you see the Russians engage in election activities, and very clear they tried to manipulate and influence the election. And then you don't see President Trump talking tough on Putin. In fact, he embraces Mr. Putin, even though Russia continues to engage in illegal activities in Ukraine and --


BALDWIN: Senator, I'm hearing your examples and suspicion. So, do you trust President Trump in getting intelligence briefings?

PETERS: I think that's a real concern. And you might be seeing intelligence officials who are patriots, care deeply about this country, are afraid that some information they are collecting may not be used in an inappropriate way. That's a very difficult position for a commander-in-chief to be in.


BALDWIN: Are you hearing that directly, sir?

PETERS: I think you are seeing that by some of the information that's coming out, that you have people certainly raising some very serious questions within these agencies.

BALDWIN: What about Jason Chaffetz, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the House Oversight Committee chairman? He just now announced this investigation into the handling of classified information down at Palm Beach at the club Mar-a-Lago. You know the story.

PETERS: Yes, right.

BALDWIN: And I'm sure you have seen all the pictures of Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. And President Trump, through lights from eye phones, reading classified documents at a dinner party.


BALDWIN: You're response to this call for this investigation?

PETERS: It's just outrageous. That's why we have to have these investigations. We're going to be facing some -- really very serious issues going forward. In fact, I'm heading to Munich to talk with European leaders about security in Europe. We've got a story that broke today in "The New York Times" about intermediate nuclear missiles that are actually a violation of prior treaties. How is the president going to react? He needs to be tough and he needs to push back on Russia. We have no seen that. And there maybe a reason why we're not seeing that. And that's why we need to find out.

BALDWIN: Senator Gary Peters, Democrat from Michigan, thank you much, sir, for your time.

PETERS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Good luck with all of this.

PETERS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Breaking news also here, just into CNN, the Office of Government Ethics just sent a letter to the White House calling on it to investigate Kellyanne Conway. The government ethics watchdog says the White House should consider disciplinary action against Conway after she promoted Ivanka Trump's clothing line from the briefing room at the White House on FOX News last week.

David Zurawik is back with me, with "The Baltimore Sun."

And the investigations are piling up, David. ZURAWIK: Yeah, they are. How are you going to govern when you -- you

know, it's amazing, because look how long it took us to get in Watergate before there were so many investigations that Richard Nixon's presidency was paralyzed. It took years. Here, we're 25 days in, and their starting to pile up. You almost can't keep track of them.

But I think, with Kellyanne Conway, I think partisans who are supportive of President Trump want to say, oh, this was a minor thing, it's an investigation, it's partisan, it's an attack. But here is what I think is part of the problem. Conway was an effective spokeswoman during the campaign, a campaign that sort of trench fighting, and it takes a certain kind of -- you're allowed a certain latitude. Now they're governing, and you don't joke about ethics, and you don't sort of go in your face with the ethics, say, not only am I going to be questioned about this, I'm going to use this time to say go buy her products. That's an insult to anyone in government, anyone everywhere who takes ethics seriously.

Now, in Washington, there might be a lot of hypocrisy about ethics. There is. But you don't do it that way from the White House. And almost not even make fun. Almost mock ethics by doing that. And so, I think they should investigate her for it.

And I think this entire administration has to learn how to speak to the American people, not just in a campaign mode, but in a governing mode.

[14:55:06] BALDWIN: We shall see what happens now that they're looking into this, and perhaps more than being counseled.

David Zurawik, thank you so much.

We have more news just in. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the man hired and then booted off the president's transition team, met with President Trump at the White House today. We are being told President Trump may be eyeing him for a role within the White House, that he needs someone to keep him in line.

So, we know Governor Christie and his wife were invited to lunch by the president. Here they are walking into the West Wing about an hour before that meeting.

With me now, Matt Arco, political reporter with the "Star Ledger" and, who has covered the governor extensively.

Welcome back. Nice to see you.


BALDWIN: We know Governor Christie has been very, very critical of Michael Flynn. Why do you think he's really there? Is he there perhaps to give advice how to restore order at this White House?

ARCO: Look, the governor said last night and he's been saying for a little bit, it's just a social meeting, don't read too much into it. We know the meeting was scheduled, the lunch between Governor Christie and the First Lady Mary Pat, was scheduled before the drama of last night, before "Breitbart News" started reporting stories that maybe Reince Priebus is in trouble as well. The meeting was scheduled before then.

And we had heard from sources on both ends, me and a colleague, that opioid and drug addiction was going to be one of the mains things they would be talking about.


ARCO: But they expected other points of business to come up as well. That's what Sean Spicer said today, they talked about opioid addiction. But I found it hard to believe --

BALDWIN: Do you believe there's more to it?

ARCO: I think it's strange that they're probably talking about family and that one subject, yes.

BALDWIN: OK, that's a yes.

We know Governor Christie was on with Jake Tapper on "State of the Union," and he reacted this way when asked about a job in the White House.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has been my friend and Mary Pat's friend for the last 15 years. And whenever he calls or I call him and we have conversations, I'm always willing, if he asks, to give my opinion on things. But 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.


BALDWIN: That's what he told Jake. But he's been dropping these comments recently. A president deserves better. The rollout of the travel ban was botched. Now, this lunch today. If he had his druthers, what job do you think he wants?

ARCO: Candidly, the governor said as much recently in a New Jersey interview that if he would have been offered the attorney general's spot that would have been hard to say no to. He's also said the Trump administration and President Trump has offered him, while not getting into specifics of what the jobs are, had offered him positions, and that he didn't think of those were worth resigning early and going to Washington, because he would be separated from his family, because First Lady Mary Pat would be staying in New Jersey.

But, look, the governor's intentions are sort of clear, he's not criticizing the president, and he's been going on national interviews about a week and a half just criticizing the top advisors. Maybe, because he was so unceremoniously dumped during the transition as transition chairman, that maybe he has a bone to pick with one person or another. He's not throwing anybody under the bus publicly, but he's certainly sending a clear message when he says, look, I agree with the president, but the president has been ill-served by some folks around him.

BALDWIN: Matt, thank you.

Matt Arco, on his lunch with Governor Christie and his wife.

More breaking news coming up next. You have three investigations, all breaking in the past few minutes involving President Trump's White House. Stay right here.