Return to Transcripts main page


Mattis: "Very Little Doubt" Russia Interfered In Elections; Mattis: "Not In Position" To Work With Russia's Military; Mattis: Russia's Aggressive Actions Are "Destabilizing"; Tillerson: U.S. Will Consider Working With Russia; Pentagon Considers Sending Troops To Syria; Stocks on 5-day Streak Of Record Highs; Investors Optimistic About Tax Reform; "Boss Files" Podcast Debuts Today; Trump Takes Aim At Leakers; Mother Takes Refuge From Deportation In Church. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:06] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. That is what they say in "The Wizard of Oz." This morning, it is also what they're saying in the White House and some parts of Capitol Hill. Pay no attention to the CNN reports that Trump campaign advisers were in constant contact with Russian officials during the election season. Pay no attention to what said between former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

HARLOW: Instead, some, who you see there, some leading House Republicans want to know who exposed this information. The chairman of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committee say it is the leaks, the leaks not the secretive conversations, that are the real national security concern.

They say the Flynn matter is already resolved. Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.

Getting to the bottom of all of those leaks, also a priority shared by the President, who, this morning, tweeted, "The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!"

Let's begin this morning at the White House with our Joe Johns. Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The chairman of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees writing a letter requesting an investigation citing numerous news reports that refer to things that are supposed to be secret like, among other things, the foreign intelligence surveillance court, the monitoring of Michael Flynn's telephone conversations with the Russian ambassador.

And so they write a letter to the Inspector General of the Justice Department. We have some quotes, "We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information -- federal laws, and the constitution, distinguish law enforcement investigation from intelligence collection for good reason -- the release of classified national security information can, by definition, have grave effects on national security."

Meanwhile, over on the Senate side, a bit more of a focus on the substance. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat who is the ranking member on this committee, asking for transcripts of intercepted calls as well as a briefing from Justice Department officials and FBI officials on what led up to Michael Flynn's resignations.

And they say in their letter, "Media reports raise substantial questions about the content and context of Mr. Flynn's discussions with Russian officials, the conclusions reached by the Justice Department, and the actions it took as well as possible leaks of classified information by current and former government employees."

So that's the status, a little bit of one thing on the House side, a little bit of something else over on the Senate side.


JOHNS: Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns at the White House.

With us right now, CNN's Senior Washington Correspondent Brianna Keilar; Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst; and Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, senior columnist for "The Daily Beast."

Matt, I want to start with you because I watch you on T.V. and you've been saying that a risk for the Trump White House is, it doesn't have a lot of loyalty on Capitol Hill among Republicans there. But if you look at the House of Representatives right now --


BERMAN: -- when you see Jason Chaffetz, you see Bob Goodlatte, you see Devin Nunes on Intel, none of them seem to be launching investigations into the substance of the reports about the Russian contacts. So is President Trump winning the first round here, Matt?

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, yes. Look, I think that the Senate is very different. Senators, for one thing, are elected every six years, so they're insulated from the Republican base that still loves Donald Trump. They have more leeway, so I think that the House may be a lagging indicator.

Having said that, I do think the members of the House who were worried about intel leaks have a point. Now, they should also be worried about what's happening with Donald Trump and Mike Flynn, but the intel leaks are very serious. I think it's worrisome that we could have a shadow government or a deep state that selectively leaks information and takes down people that it doesn't like.

So I think that whether it's Chaffetz or whoever and the House, you know, they should be focused on looking into Trump and Flynn, yes, but I'm also worried about these leaks which I think are criminal.

HARLOW: For our viewers, here's is a look at what the House Oversight Committee, what they want to investigate and what they don't want to investigate. They want to investigate the leaks. They want to investigate security protocols at Mar-a-Lago when the President talked in public at the country club last weekend about the North Korean missile launch test. And they want to investigate Kellyanne Conway hawking Ivanka Trump's goods on national television from the White House.

What they say is already resolved, done, nothing to see here, is the Russia contact with the Trump team.

[09:04:59] Brianna, to you, what's critical here, as well as the discussion of the leaks, is the fact that they're just not answering CNN's questions. Listen.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, are you answering questions about your continued contacts with the Russians during the campaign?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Do you have comment on the report that there was contact between your senior advisers and suspected Russian operatives during the campaign, Mr. Trump?

President Trump, no comment on that?


HARLOW: I mean, Brianna, presidents have sort of walked away from questions they don't want to answer, but this seems different.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and also, I think Joe Johns as well. So kudos to Joe, Sara, and Jim for just repeatedly asking these questions yesterday.

I think you have to look at this as a couple of different things. One, you see presidents do this when the answer is not good. A lot of times you also see them doing this when they're getting all of their ducks in a row.

And you have to consider that Donald Trump said before there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials. Sean Spicer, just this week, said nothing had changed that would make him conclude any different.

You've had Mike Pence who has said not only did that not happen, but he said it gave credence to bizarre rumors. So he had gone as far to say that this was inspiring conspiracy theories about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. So I don't think that Mike Pence or that Sean Spicer or even Donald Trump would have said these things if they didn't think that they were being honest.

So now they're seeing these reports. They're realizing there's information -- there was this unknown unknown, as Donald Rumsfeld would have said, and they're trying, maybe, to figure out what's going on.

It could also be the answer isn't good, and also they don't know what the answer is because when they don't know all the facts, you have officials like this really putting their credibility on the line by going out there and asserting something that isn't true.

BERMAN: Playing for time would be that theory, right there, in that case.


BERMAN: The attacks on the leaks, though, may be something completely different. And just to read you, again, what Donald Trump has been writing about this.

This morning, he says, "The spotlight has finally been put on the low- life leakers! They will be caught!" "Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing 'New York Times' and others must apologize!"

Paul Callan, counselor, please tell us what is legal and illegal when it comes to leaking?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's a very difficult and interesting question. Most of the provisions of law come out of the 1917 Espionage Act. And essentially, you have to have something that's classified information, and you have to usually be leaking it to a foreign power or putting it in a position where someone could get access to the detriment of the United States.

They're very difficult statutes to enforce because we're an open country. We encourage communication between people in government and the press because we like open government. And I think the irony here, to me, is that the President is now the government.

And when he's talking about going after low-life leakers, he's talking about going after his own government now. He's almost talking about the government like somebody else is running it. He's running it, so essentially, this can be handled internally by the administration. People who leak information can be fired. You don't really need outside authorities to handle that.

It's very difficult, though, to prove criminal cases under the Espionage Act of 1917. He's going to have a very difficult, uphill battle there.

HARLOW: Let us remind our viewers that this President did not always hate leaks.

BERMAN: On the contrary.

HARLOW: He seemed to like them, relish in them during the campaign. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You got to read it.

Through WikiLeaks today, it's just been shown that this is, as I've been saying, a rigged system.

WikiLeaks, some new stuff. Some brutal stuff. I mean, I'd read it to you but the hell with it. Just trust me. It's real bad stuff.

So today, I guess, WikiLeaks, it sounds like it's going to be dropping some more.

WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.


HARLOW: Matt Lewis, when it was beneficial to the President, he loved them.

LEWIS: Yes. He is guilty of rank hypocrisy, no doubt. I think he was wrong then, but that doesn't mean that what's happening now is OK.

Look, I think we have to ask ourselves, what kind of country do we want? Do we want a country where the American public gets to elect officials, but really, there are intelligence operatives and sort of a shadow government who can monitor all of their conversations and then selectively leak things to embarrass them, make them look bad, and actually pull the strings and the levers of what happens in government? I think that's incredibly dangerous.

[09:10:11] And what if Donald Trump were to go on a witch-hunt and start trying to oust career bureaucrats, you know, and intelligence officials? I suspect the media would be up in arms about, you know, some McCarthyite tactics or what not. So this is a serious problem.

It was wrong when WikiLeaks did it. It is wrong what is happening now. This is not to distract from the Mike Flynn, Donald Trump, Russia story which I think is legitimate. This is another problem that we ought to take seriously.

BERMAN: But, Matt, when you say it's not to distract from that, do you believe that to be the case in the White House and with Republican leadership in Congress as well? Because they do not seem to be jumping up and down to investigate the conversations for what they are, only the leaks.


BERMAN: Why would it be an either/or, Matt?

LEWIS: Well, look, I think that Donald Trump is trying to distract. He wants this to be all about leaks and nothing about, you know, Flynn and Russia. By the way, let's release the transcripts. And, you know, we can

redact anything that's super sensitive, but let's just release the transcripts. That solves the problem. Either it was an innocuous conversation, or there was something really, you know, troubling and pernicious.

But, yes, let's be honest. Donald Trump doesn't want to talk about the Story A. He wants to talk about Story B, the leaks.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Two things can be true. There could be a legitimate story with Flynn and Trump and Russia, and another legitimate story about a deep state that is acting illegally and releasing, you know, things that could be dangerous.

HARLOW: And, Brianna --

KEILAR: If I could?


KEILAR: When you look back to the WikiLeaks example, though, and this was to the great frustration of the Clinton campaign, they would say the story should be how this information was acquired, not the content of it. I mean, I think we know how that played out and past is prologue. You'll see that play out here.

The content was the big part of the story, and it did come with this caveat that this is how this information was obtained And then it was much farther down the line where, then, that was the concern more so about, OK, well, what does this really say about Russia's involvement here? And that took over obviously the substance of what was in the information, but that's not going away.

The substance of what is being leaked is not going away. And also, people who are leaking this, you have to consider there are many different motivations. And certainly, as journalists, you know, this is what a lot of journalists thrive on. Leakers consider oftentimes, are they trying to damage somebody? Are they trying to affect policy?

Also in some of these cases here, you have some people who are considering, obviously, is this something -- you know, you can make the case for Edward Snowden. He said, ultimately, he felt he was doing this for the betterment of the country. Now, that was hugely at debate.

But these are the different things that leakers are considering. And for them, that is whether that motivation overcomes the threshold of the illegality of what they're doing.

HARLOW: Brianna, thank you so much. Matt Lewis, to you, Paul Callan, as well.

As we await, still, any answer from the White House about the contact with Russia and CNN's reporting on it, Defense Secretary James Mattis says there is very little doubt that Moscow interfered in a number of elections. BERMAN: And up next, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee

joins us. The Intelligence Committee is investigating the contacts, they say, between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Who do they want to hear from? Will they subpoena Michael Flynn?


[09:15:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: All right. With a flurry of reports, the key Trump campaign advisers were in constant contact with Russia. Moments ago, there was a pretty notable comments from the Defense Secretary James Mattis who's traveling overseas. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe that the Russians interfered in the U.S. elections?

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES DEFENSE SECRETARY: Right now, I would just say there's a very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: That was Secretary Mattis speaking just moments ago, after this NATO conference wrapped up in Brussels. And also, just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on officials in his country to, quote, "Restore dialog with U.S. intelligence agencies". Let's go to our Barbara Starr, she who joins us now at the Pentagon. A lot of headlines out of what Mattis said.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Really, there were. Good morning. And this is one of his very first candid, public, on-camera interactions with the news media. He hasn't really done very much of that yet in terms of taking questions. And this morning in Brussels, it was a biggie. Not only did he differ with the White House about the presidential elections and Russia's interference, but he pretty much put a sock, a full stop in any notion that the U.S. would engage in new military cooperation with the Russians. Have a listen to more of what he had to say.


MATTIS: We do not -- are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground. But Russia is going to have to prove itself first and live up to the commitments they have made in the Russia-NATO agreement.


[09:19:29] STARR: Russia is going to have to prove itself. That is not really something we're hearing from the White House. Mattis, I think it is very fair to say, is beginning to rapidly shape up as a somewhat independent voice from the White House political etiology wing. He is out there saying what he thinks of something he's always done. Observers say "Don't expect to see him change." This is a guy who is really staking out his own ground in the Trump administration. We'll see how long it lasts. We'll see how it works now with Mike Flynn gone from the NSC, some etiology left in the Trump White House to be sure. But will a new NSC adviser take over and start trying to micromanage Jim Mattis, try to get him to change his mind and not say what he thinks. I think most observers think, "Good luck with that. Mattis is Mattis."

HARLOW: Yes. "Mad Dog Mattis".

BERMAN: Yes. I don't think he can manage -- you do not manage, you know, General Mattis. Thank you, Barbara Starr. Appreciate you being with us.

Let's discuss more with CNN Military Analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. General, thanks for being with us. Look, there's a big question about the status --


BERMAN: -- of the relationship between the United States and Russia right now. Where do things stand? This, you know, the Russians (INAUDIBLE) cruise missile that abrogates the treaty. There's a Russian spy ship, you know, not far off the coast. There's military action in Ukraine. And General Mattis talked about the nature of some of these actions just moments ago. Let's listen to what he said.


MATTIS: Our community of nations is under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of insecurity builds on NATO's periphery and beyond. We thoroughly discussed the increased threats facing our alliance and unified by the threats to our democracies, I found strong alliance resolved to address these growing threats. Russia's aggressive actions have violated international law and are destabilizing. Terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa is a direct and immediate threat to Europe and to us all.


BERMAN: General Mattis there says the Russian actions are destabilizing. Where are the results of this thawing in the relationship that we were supposed to get between the Trump administration and Vladimir Putin's Russia?

MARKS: Yes, I don't think we see a thawing right now, nor should we. Russia's activities are recidivist. Where -- certainly I would say, Secretary Mattis would say, he's not surprised by this activity. Russia will always push where it can. Understand, also, that NATO is not simply -- and we understand this -- is not simply focused on its own security in Europe, but has a very broad reach and has been involved in coalition operations, especially in the Middle East. Individual countries from NATO have done that in the past. What we see right now is really destabilizing on what's known as the "near abroad". That is the border country or the border region with Russia. They've always historically done this. This goes back to Czarist Russia. Soviet Union just not exclusively did this because when the world pays attention to the borders of Russia, it doesn't pay attention to what's happening inside of Russia. And that's clearly what Putin is looking for. So, what we see in terms of collection -- intelligence collection off the coast of the United States, that's kind of normal activity. That is the normal sparring we're going to see, but we have to be very, very focused on some of these more aggressive activities.

HARLOW: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just had his first meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Obviously, a lot of context here is the fact that this is the guy who had a lot of contact with Russia in his business role as the CEO at ExxonMobil. A lot of controversy around that with his confirmation, but he had this meeting he said, "We're open to working with Russia." What do you expect -- I mean, should the American people really expect a different chapter in U.S.-Russia relations, given that it's Tillerson and not Kerry. What's really going to change here?

MARKS: No, I think there should be little change that we would see immediately. What we can't afford, Poppy, is to see daylight between what the Secretary of State is trying to achieve and what Secretary of Defense Mattis is trying to achieve. So, Tillerson and Mattis, clearly are going to be on the same page. They need to be on the same page, and we should take comfort with that. But --

HARLOW: But even if they're on a different page -- even if they're on a different page than the president, because they're much more critical of Russia than the president is.

MARKS: Yes, now, that's the next point. You got it. You're absolutely on it. The concern is will -- as Barbara Starr indicated -- will Secretary Mattis be able to continue to call it as he sees it? I would hope that he would. That's been his track record and that's the type of gentleman he is. What we're going to see with Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis has to be an alignment. And I can guarantee you that there will be a divide that will occur at some point with the White House. You can't simply have the president of the United States espousing one thing and moving in a certain direction, when the policies and the arms of governance, secretary, you know, the state department and the defense department doing something that's not aligned.

BERMAN: Spider, we want to ask you about another report. You know, CNN has learned that the Pentagon is going to put in front of the president a plan to perhaps put ground troops, conventional ground troops, a certain number on the ground in Syria, beyond -- just a special operation force, the very limited number of special operation forces working there right now. What would that look like? What would that change? It's just an option. We're not saying the president is going to do this, but what would that strategy be?

[09:25:05] MARKS: Well, the strategy has to be aligned against an objective. So, clearly it starts with a definition of what do we want to try to achieve with this additional application of force. And that's what it's all about, whether it's air power, ground power, it's increased intelligence support et cetera. So, the options really could look like shoring up our relationship with Turkey. Turkey has got a very volatile border with Syria, as you know, and that toxic mix inside of Syria with Kurds, you got Turkish forces that across the border, you got anti-Assad forces, you have regime forces. I mean, this is really a cat's breakfast of activity going on. We've got to not allow any application of force get too broad. We have to narrowly define it. And it needs to be pressure applied toward the defeat -- and that's going to take some time -- the defeat of ISIS.

That other stuff is going to have to play itself out. There may be some residual advantages. But that's going to have to play itself out. We've got to go after ISIS. And we can start on both ends, too. We certainly have seen some success up in Mosul with the Iraqi forces, we should plea -- and we should also see some successes along the Turkish border. So that's how this has to work, but there will be a lot of risk mitigation, risk assessments and mitigations that have to take -- have to take place, because you're going to have logistics, you're going to have medical support, you're going to have to have air support, et cetera. It increases the posture, it increases the risk associated with it.

BERMAN: General, General "Spider" Marks, always great to have you with us. Thanks, it's the first time you've been on the new show. We like seeing you here.

HARLOW: Thank you for coming.

MARKS: Oh, thank you very much, Poppy and John. You guys are doing great. Thanks.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. We're just moments away, we should say from the opening bell on Wall Street. There's a lot going on around the country, and in Washington. But Wall Street seems to, you know, like it all. Or at least be unfazed by --

HARLOW: Brush it off. Brush it off.

BERMAN: -- five consecutive days, five consecutive of gains. CNN's Cristina Alesci is here for a market preview.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN AND CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's quite incredible. You know, we could see a pullback today because futures are slightly down. But as you said, winning streaks for stocks, all three indexes hit highs for five straight days in a row. That is the first time that's happened --

HARLOW: Amazing.

ALESCI: -- in 25 years. And Trump, this morning, of course, taking credit on Twitter, tweeting that, "Stocks hit -- hits new highs with longest winning streak in decades. Great level of confidence and optimism even before the tax plan rollout." Look, at this point, the way that I'm seeing the market, it's like a laid back parent watching their teenage son or daughter go through a phase. It's shrugging off to court challenges to the immigration ban, the controversy over Flynn, and a failed nomination process for his labor secretary, because it has its eye on the prize, which is lower taxes.

And yesterday, President Trump dangled some red meat in front of the market. He came out of that meeting with the retail CEOs saying like, "Hey, this tax plan is coming," right? So, he's saying all the right things. What he risks now is execution.

HARLOW: Right.

ALESCI: There is execution risk and that will make the market nervous.

HARLOW: Any argument could be make, Cristina, right, that he's already priced -- the market has already priced in the tax plans coming. And if he can't get through every single thing he's promised through congress, it may pull back a little bit.

ALESCI: You've got the gravy now and you got to deliver.


BERMAN: Great to have you with us, Cristina.

ALESCI: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. Obviously, having a new show with me -- not enough for Poppy Harlow. No, not satisfied with just television, because apparently you felt the need to launch this podcast.

HARLOW: You know what it is? Because when you do television interviews, it's great. But you know how they cut them way down?

BERMAN: I'm familiar with that.

HARLOW: We want people to be able to hear these full interviews. So, we're going to bring you -- we have 13 new episodes on "Boss Files. And we're going to bring you full interviews with Warren Buffett, Melinda Gates, U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach, Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks. We talk, of course, we talk politics, we talk business and all of that. You can subscribe on iTunes, on Stitcher and Android (INAUDIBLE). My producer apparently set it to her echo and it worked.


BERMAN: That's great. And no co-anchor, the other advantage is that --

HARLOW: Well, no co-anchor, that's true. But it's called "Boss Files." You're the boss, clearly. You want to come on the program?

BERMAN: I'm the boss of nothing and nowhere. Listen, it's a great podcast and there are fascinating interviews, you should all listen.

HARLOW: All right. Coming up, President Trump ripping the leakers but not the information they leaked. We're going to talk to an Intel Committee Member, Senator James Rich. That's next.

BERMAN: And a mother of four, seeking refuge in a Denver church this morning. She is an undocumented immigrant. And federal agents want to deport her right now. They call her a priority. Why? That's next.