Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: Flynn a 'Wonderful Man' Treated 'Very Unfairly'; Republicans Push to Investigate Leaks, Not Russian Connection; Trump Moves Away from Two-State Solution in Mideast; Rex Tillerson in Russia. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn has been treated very, very unfairly by the fake media.

[05:58:41] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We need an investigation, and we need to have questions answered.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Paul Manafort and General Flynn must testify.

TRUMP: Papers are being leaked. Things are being leaked. It's criminal action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These leaks should be investigated, but they're being used as a misdirection.

TRUMP: Negotiate it.


TRUMP: I'm looking at two-state and one-state. I can live with either one.

NETANYAHU: Israel stands with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a pretty massive cloud hanging over Puzder's head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrew Puzder will not be the next labor secretary.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February 16, 6 a.m. here in New York.

Up first, the Trump administration dealing with the fallout of Michael Flynn's resignation. Two House Republicans now asking the inspector general to investigate leaks of classified information following the ousting of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

CUOMO: And yet the Republicans are refusing to a prod, probe or investigation of that Flynn situation that led to the leaks.

We have another bizarre twist, as well. The president is now defending the very man he forced out and fired, calling him a wonderful man whom he says was treated unfairly. This isn't the only high-profile exit. You also have Trump's labor nominee withdrawing his name because of ethical issues.

All this as President Trump has decided to break with decades of U.S. foreign policy on Mideast peace.

We're in day 28 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Joe Johns live at the White House. What is the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. You know, it has been just a brutal week for this new Trump administration over personnel issues, and it's not over yet. As you said, they are looking for a new labor secretary nominee right now. And they're still trying to finalize a name for the national security adviser who was fired.


TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media. As I call it, the fake media in many cases.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump defending the man he just fired, national security advisor Michael Flynn, and slamming the intelligence leaks that exposed Flynn's lies to Vice President Pence about his communications with a Russian ambassador.

TRUMP: I think it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally -- I stress that, illegally -- leaked.

JOHNS: One crisis after another frustrating the president's own party and now threatening to affect their agenda.

MCCAIN: Of course I'm concerned. All of us should be concerned.

JOHNS: But some Republicans are towing the president's line, showing more interest in the legality of the leaks rather than Flynn's ties to Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to find out who the leaking moles are.

JOHNS: The chairs of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees both demanding the inspector general launch, quote, "an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled."

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The Senate Intelligence Committee is undergoing -- we met again yesterday. There's going to be a bipartisan investigation. All of this is going to be in the context of that. And we're looking for facts; and we're looking for evidence; and we're looking for details.

JOHNS: Meanwhile, a small bipartisan group of the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling for an expanded investigation, asking the Department of Justice and the FBI for a briefing and the release of transcripts of Flynn's conversations with Russia, as Democrats call for a larger independent investigation.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The American people have a right to know.

JOHNS: But key Republicans continue to resist.

MCCAIN: On the Flynn issue, I think that we need to ask questions first and find out what is the scope of that before the investigation needs to be expanded.

JOHNS: The turmoil over Flynn's resignation also overshadowing the high-profile visit from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

JOHNS: The president breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy, abandoning a two-state solution to Middle East peace. Mr. Trump no longer insisting on the creation of a Palestinian state and making clear he isn't giving Netanyahu a blank check.

TRUMP: As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?

JOHNS: And in yet another blow for the Trump White House, the president's embattled pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrawing his nomination, a day before he was set to get a Senate hearing, over eroding support and because of his business record and personal character issues.


CAMEROTA: OK. We have lots to discuss.

CUOMO: We're already discussing it.

CAMEROTA: We're already discussing it, so join us, will you?

We have a panel. We want to bring in senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner" and host of the "Examining Politics" podcast, David Drucker; CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" reporter Abby Phillip; and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" editor Patrick Healy.

David, let's just pick up where we left off. So now, Jason Chaffetz, Bob Goodlatte, congressmen, say that they are going to investigate the leaks. Not the substance of the allegations as to whether or not there was inappropriate contact with the Russians; just the leaking.

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": So where Republicans are on the Hill is here. They are concerned, and House Intelligence Chairman Nunes was telling a group of us just a couple of days ago that they want to know how Michael Flynn, who is an American citizen, was wiretapped on American soil and how that leaked and...

CAMEROTA: But don't they just listen in on all communications from Russians?

DRUCKER: The way it's supposed to work -- first of all if you're an American citizen, which includes Michael Flynn, even though he is an incoming administration official at that point, is that the intelligence agencies that spy for us are not supposed to spy on American citizens. The FBI can get a warrant, and they can wiretap. Anything else that's caught up in wiretapping of foreign nationals, such as the Russian ambassador to the United States, is supposed to be washed out and done away with.

And so where Republicans are going to go on this, not all of them. Some of them want to know everything, and we've seen them talk about, especially in the Senate, "We want to talk about the leaks, and we want to talk about what Flynn was up to and the president's Russia contacts." But what they're going to ask -- and you're going to hear a lot about this -- is why was Flynn wiretapped? Was it against the law? Did the FBI have a warrant? And was this a rogue element of the intelligence community trying to undo Trump?

[06:05:12] CUOMO: All right, facts. Do we know that Mike Flynn was wiretapped?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I don't think we know that he was wiretapped in the sense that people are discussing it. We have routine surveillance of foreign nationals, especially diplomats.

CUOMO: That's what has been reported so far from the official sources. They were monitoring the foreign sources, not that they had wiretapped Flynn.

PHILLIP: Standard practice is to redact and closely hold the identities of the American individuals who are on the other -- who might be on the other end of that. The question here is at what point was the identity of Michael Flynn revealed in the warrant?

The part of this -- the other part of this equation is the ongoing investigation into the overall picture here. One of the reasons that the FBI was concerned about revealing this issue, this discrepancy to the White House was the ongoing investigation. They did not want to interfere with an investigation that was very active within the FBI. And so...

CUOMO: So they're reporting that Jim Comey, when the intelligence officials came to him, the DOJ came to him and said, "Let's go to the White House," he said no.

PHILLIP: And he said no because his people are working on things. So the question is, not so much does the existence of a wiretap on a foreign national on a U.S. official, is that unusual? No. Is it unusual that we would know who that U.S. person is? That's unusual, and I think that that's the degree to which an investigation into this is perhaps warranted, but it doesn't get at the underlying issue. What is the state of the FBI investigation into the situation right now? We don't know that.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the Trump administration is sort of -- is sort of picking the thing he wants to focus on, which is -- which is the leak. I mean, that's what they want to very much sort of make politics of this. You know, and sort of the larger conversation, which is not that, you know, necessarily President Trump or then-President-elect Trump was focused on figuring out sanctions and talking about sanctions, basically before he should have.

CAMEROTA: So Donald Trump hates leaks now. Can't stand them once that somebody prosecuted; but during the campaign, he liked leaks. Let me play for you this montage.


TRUMP: This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You've 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 may not read it to you, but the hell with me. Trust me, it's real bad stuff.

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

WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.


CAMEROTA: All right. So Chris has pointed out that there is a distinction between WikiLeaks hacking into somebody's e-mail, which is illegal but that's not classified information, I suppose, and the leaking of classified information, which is where we are now.

DRUCKER: Right. But this all gets back, I think, to the root of the poisonous fruit here when it comes to hacking and Russia for the president of the United States. I think the president could do a lot to undo his problems, vis-a-vis Russia if he would simply get tough with Russia and stop excusing Vladimir Putin's bad behavior.

CUOMO: So context for that, we've got a spy ship off the coast. We have Russian planes buzzing U.S. ships. We have a missile launch that may offend a treaty and not a word about any of it from our president.

DRUCKER: Correct. And this is the kind of thing he used to criticize his predecessor for.

I also think that this is the problem of having FBI, the FBI constantly and other law enforcement intelligence agencies constantly investigating politics. And Trump liked it when it worked for him against Hillary Clinton. Now he is the establishment, and as he sees it, it's working against him.

But he's the guy that can actually do something about this as the leader from the executive branch by trying to make peace with the intel community and telling them we have to stop criminalizing politics. This is something he has not wanted to do. He simply wants to attack.

CUOMO: But this curious relationship with Russia may very well exceed politics. It's hard to know, because the president ducks questions about this at every turn. David made an interesting point, what the executive branch can do. You know what the executive branch can do in almost every case? They can declassify information.

Where is the transcript of the call? Redact what you want and put it out. Let everybody see what Mike Flynn said to this ambassador. Because I've got to tell you,, people close to Mike Flynn, everybody is capable of lying. All right? We see it every day, maybe every second. They insist he broke no law. He made no promise about sanctions.

And if that's true, one, it explains why the FBI is not investigating Mike Flynn, which came out yesterday and was kept very sotto voce by the administration. That means they -- he must not have lied to them, and if his story is consistent, which is I broke no law. I made no deal on sanctions. Thus, he did not lie to the FBI. That thus, they are not investigating. The administration has got a lot of explaining to do, and that transcript could hold a lot of important non- information.

PHILLIP: I do think we know that the transcripts is a certain amount of ambiguity in the transcripts. The sources that reveal the existence of the transcripts basically said you can read it both ways. You can read what he said to kind of imply some sort of reevaluation but no hard line on what are we going to do.

CUOMO: Why did they fire him?

PHILLIP: But at the same time remember, when Sean Spicer did on Tuesday afternoon, when he explained the administration's rationale was that he took the question of the legality of what Michael Flynn did off the table. That is not the reason that we fired this guy. We fired him, because he misled the vice president.

CAMEROTA: Why was he misleading the vice president? He was innocuous.

He just said we'll talk about that later.

PHILLIP: It's an unanswered question, but the administration. It's very important that they took that off the table, meaning that they didn't want to make this about whether Michael Flynn did or did not do something wrong in that call. They wanted to make it about his behavior after the call. So there's a discrepancy here between the seriousness of what he did and the seriousness of the lie.

CUOMO: They wouldn't even let him defend himself. You know what I mean? Who's ever heard of that before? When the guy says, "I can explain this," they say no, no, no. We'll take care of it, and then they throw him...

HEALY: You're in a situation where you've essentially misled the vice president.

CUOMO: If that's true.

HEALY: If that's true. At least, because maybe you talked about sanctions for 30 seconds on a phone call; and you said you didn't do it and then you're faced with a situation where the administration isn't even keeping the vice president in the loop about whether he was misled, what he did or didn't know.

But here's the thing. The bigger problem is just stepping back. President Trump never ran as a transparency kind of guy. That is not how he leads.

So the idea that he's going to put up the transcript, to answer your questions, just like he was going to put out his tax returns, or put out his...

CUOMO: But he wants to say the man was unfairly treated by the media, of all people. If it weren't for us, nobody would even know about this.

HEALY: The idea that he's going to come forward to the media and say, "Here's what's going to satisfy you. That is not how he thinks. He led his business for years with Don Junior, with Eric, with Ivanka, the tightly-held family, a few long-term lawyers who are around him. And that was it. The idea of sort of adjusting to staff and how to deal with Michael Flynn, totally new for him and not someone who's comfortable with transparency.

CAMEROTA: All right, panel. Thank you very much. Stick around. We have many more questions.

CUOMO: So President Trump is breaking with decades of U.S. foreign policy. How? He's saying he's OK with a one-state solution or a two state solution as an avenue to Middle East peace. What does that mean? Our panel discusses, next.


[06:17:10] CUOMO: President Trump announcing a major change in the U.S. foreign policy during a White House conference, with the Israeli prime minister. Take a listen.


TRUMP: A two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.


CUOMO: All right. Let's bring back our political panel. David Drucker, Abby Phillip, Patrick Healy.

Patrick Healy, that sounds right: "You two are negotiating. Whatever you guys want, I'm good. I'm here to keep you two talking." But that is, to many ears, a naive assessment of why the two-state solution existed in the first place.

HEALY: Naive. Absolutely naive but sort of making it up as you go along. This is someone who has not been -- who hasn't been taking briefings, we know sort of step back from the usual briefing schedule. That was not diplomatic speak. That was not someone getting up there, articulating administration principles in the usual formulaic way.

This is a deal maker. Exactly. This is how he operates. And this is like, you know, "Whatever you two want, because you two don't talk to each other about it, I'm going to be happy."

CUOMO: Sounds good, but then what's Plan B? What are the consequences of this?

HEALY: The disturbing thing is that you have the president of the United States, who's supposed to at least represent continuity of leadership on foreign policy on national security, you know, who at least, if he's going to be articulating new policy isn't going to be doing it on the fly to try to make Benjamin Netanyahu laugh and kind of go along with him. It's -- for a lot of, I think, foreign policy hands, you know, Washington had probably been disturbed for weeks. This was kind of yet another moment of, like, is he just making it up while he goes along.

CAMEROTA: But Abby, what's the one-state solution? What is that?

PHILLIP: There is not a one-state solution. I mean, I think when you talk to people that know a lot about this issue; and people in Washington and around the world have been trying to resolve this very thorny problem for decades. They know that ultimately, if there's going to be any sort of semblance of peace, there has to be an Israeli state and some kind of Palestinian state.

You can throw out a one-state solution as a talking point. And even as a negotiating strategy, but I think when push comes to shove, a lot of folks think it's going to be hard to come up with a solution that does not allow both states to exist side by side, independent of each other.

CUOMO: So let's talk about the political reality. Because I think you can make a fair case, that if you were going to do a test in college on what to do with the Mideast peace process, Trump is getting a bad grade based on what we heard yesterday. That's not the score card. The report card is how do the American people feel about what he's doing. Mideast peace, whether it's a two-state solution or some alternative, has all turned out to be illusory to this point. How much does he matter what he says about this, as long as he doesn't start a war?

[06:20:08] DRUCKER: I don't know that what he said yesterday was all that problematic when you really look at it. I mean, I think there are questions that need to be answered. First of all, does Trump plan for the U.S. to be engaged in the Middle East and influential? President Obama had really sort of pulled this back by trying to raise...

CUOMO: He checks that box. He's saying, "I'm involved."

DRUCKER: Maybe, maybe not. There's talk, and there's action. Russia is very influential now because of Syria. So what is the president going to do about that? That is an issue that he hasn't answered. And as Patrick said, it's fine to say whatever he said yesterday, but he needs, you know, what's next and what's next. Is there a strategy?

But let's understand where we are with the Israelis and the Palestinians. Until they accept the right of Israel to exist as a majority Jewish state and renounce the right of return, no president of any party, regardless of any strategy, will ever be ever able to deliver a Middle East peace deal. And so it's all noise.

And so for Trump to basically try and reset it and say, look, what we've been doing isn't working. Maybe I'll just step away and say, "You guys try and figure it out." I think that approach has merit, and I think we should watch it play out and see what happens.

CAMEROTA: There was an interesting moment where I believe an Israeli reporter asked President Trump about the rise of anti-Semitic violence and incidents and how he felt about it. Here's his response.


TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had, 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right?

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now. A son-in-law. And three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you're going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you're going to see a lot of love. You're going to see a lot of love.


CAMEROTA: Sounded like maybe his advisers hadn't briefed him on that one.

HEALY: Right. This doesn't sound like a president of the United States that knows about the rise in ant anti-Semitic graffiti, you know, at different temples and college campuses on just a subway car in New York City that had been scrawled with swastikas.

CAMEROTA: And at Jewish centers.

HEALY: It's so -- it's certainly not reassuring in any way that this is, you know, a White House that is on top of the way that some parts of, it seems like the American public is sort of expressing itself. And, you know, getting up there and sort of going to his go-tos which is, you know, seeing Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in the audience and sort of pointing to them and getting in the sort of campaign mode that, like, "I care about, you know, American Jews." That isn't what he's talking about. The sense is, you know, does he have a handle on behavior and on problems is really disconcerting.

CUOMO: So Abby, let's take the analogy from David that you have what he says and what he does. I think at this point you have to fairly assume -- I might upset a big part of our audience -- that he basically says whatever he wants to say. And it doesn't affect him the way it would anybody else, especially in the negative.

But what he does -- so now we're seeing his administration of the White House. You've got his labor secretary stepping down. He's got unprecedented votes against some of his own nominees by his own party. We're seeing things where his actions, to David's point, are not meeting expectations. How important is that at this point?

PHILLIP: I think we're getting to the point very quickly when the White House is starting to realize that the rhetoric of the first couple of weeks, which was we're doing all of the stuff here and all the executive actions is fading away, and it's receding behind a new narrative. This place is chaos.

And I think that the president is very concerned about that, because as we now know, he is incredibly focused on his popularity, on his prospects for re-election. He already has a campaign event scheduled for Saturday. He wants things to get done, and he understands that things are not getting done. There is a real effort underway within the White House to rectify some of the organizational problems. But it can't ever be rectified unless the interpersonal disputes between senior aides are also dealt with.

CUOMO: What's right is right. The rally is a smart move. For him to get back to where he's most comfortable and most adored and to reassure that there are people who put me here, and they're happy.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Panel, thank you very much.

So with the spotlight on the Trump administrations ties to Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Germany for talks with his Russian counterparts. We have a live report on this high-stakes meeting, next.


[06:28:49] CAMEROTA: In just hours, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet face-to-face for the first time with his Russian counterpart at the G-20 summit. This comes amid a series of Russian military provocations and questions about the administration's ties to the Kremlin.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robinson, is live on Bonn, Germany, with more. What's the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, the stakes on this meeting just went up in the past hour or so. We've heard from the Kremlin that the defense minister there pushed back on what U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis told NATO leaders just yesterday. He said that the United States diplomats need to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. The Russian defense minister said just in the past hour or so, that that will be fruitless. So that's the tone that the United States' top diplomat is going into the room with, with Sergey Lavrov in a couple of hours.

They're expected to discuss things of common interest. Tackling ISIS as President Trump has been very clear that, potentially, Russia is an ally in this, tackling counterterrorism, as well. Will be one of the themes for the State Department, being very clear here, is saying that part of Tillerson's message here will be to reassure transatlantic partners that the United States stands behind them on sanctions on Russia over Russia's involvement in Ukraine.