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President Trump Criticizes Leaks; Some Republican Congressmen Calling for Investigation into White House Leaks; Interview with Congressman Brian Mast; FBI Not Expected To File Charges Against Flynn; Defense Secretary: No Military Collaboration With Russia. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:08] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of Republicans are refusing a broad probe of this situation. In another bizarre twist, the president is now defending the very man he ousted, calling him a wonderful man and seeming to blame the media for why Flynn had to go.

This is not the only high-profile exit, by the way. Trump's labor nominee withdrawing his name because of ethical issues.

We are in day 28 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, there are continuing calls for a special investigation on Capitol Hill into the Trump campaign's contact with the Russians, but the president this morning focusing on people leaking information as well as defending the very adviser he just fired.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfair by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases.

JOHNS: President Trump defending the man he just fired, national security adviser Michael Flynn, and slamming the intelligence leaks that exposed Flynn's lies to Vice President Pence about communications with the Russian ambassador.

TRUMP: I think it's very unfair what 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.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Of course I'm concerned. All of us should be concerned.

JOHNS: But some Republicans are toeing 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 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 we need to ask questions first and find out whether the scope of that investigation needs to be expanded.

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


JOHNS: And President Trump tweeting this morning, quote, "The spotlight has finally been put on the lowlife leakers. They will be caught." Important to say that during the campaign candidate Trump essentially embraced leakers as performing a public service. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Join, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Brian Mast of Florida. He's a United States Army combat vet and a Purple Heart recipient. Good morning, congressman.

REP. BRIAN MAST (R), FLORIDA: Good morning. How are you doing? CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. Thanks so much for being here. Are you

worried about what you've seen thus far about the Trump team's ties to Russia?

MAST: I'm not worried about the ties I'm seeing there. And to tell you the truth, I think it's prudent that you not see the outspoken words from the president in front of the media on what he thinks should be done with Russia. I think it is prudent that some of these things happening behind closed doors, maybe with Rex Tillerson. We don't want to see a repeat of what happened with President Obama and the failed Syrian red line. If he puts something out there that we can't walk back from, that's not what we're looking for. So hopefully Tillerson is going to stick with the Russians and tell them, hey, if you mess with the bull, you're going to get the horns.

CUOMO: But given that Mr. Trump has used fairly mild rhetoric about Vladimir Putin and been complimentary in some things, as well as all of the reporting that there are top-level Trump advisers during the campaign who had what was described as constant or regular communication with Russian officials, does that cause you any concern?

MAST: I look at this situation, whether you're talking about any officials on the campaign side or General Flynn or any piece of this conversation, and I think it's absolutely fair for people to ask questions, for people to expect that we go through the process of intel and oversight, looking at all sides of these issues to say what is actually happening. That is a fair process. That is something that I think is OK for the American people to expect. I expect that out of my peers as well. So that's not something you're going to get any pushback from me on.

CAMEROTA: Then why do you think your colleague, Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the oversight committee, is looking into whether or not the leaks were illegal of possibly classified information, but not the substance of the allegations of the Trump ties to Russia?

MAST: I certainly encourage him to look at that piece of it. Whether the leaks were illegal, that's an important part of it, because that can undermine the workings of our national security. And that is something that is very important. But beyond that, yes, we absolutely have to move on and say the American people want to see an accounting for this and that's something we should give him.

CAMEROTA: So I hear you. You're saying you can do both. Why then do you think Jason Chaffetz and Bob Goodlatte are not doing that? They're just doing the leaks?

MAST: I couldn't begin to answer for either one of them. May this is just a case of them looking at one piece right now and planning on moving on to the next. I'm going to sit here and speak for their actions or what their plans are. They have to discuss them with you.

CAMEROTA: What questions do you have about the Trump administration's ties to Russia?

MAST: So the questions I have for the Trump administration are things I would want to ask and get answers behind closed doors. But I would want to ask them, what is your intention? How do you view Russia? Are you viewing them maybe not necessarily as an enemy but absolutely as a major aggressor on all fronts concerning the United States of America? How do you plan to address those things?

I don't necessary expect you to, as I said before, say them in front of the media because we don't want to get ourselves into a situation that we cannot walk back from by saying, this is what we're going to do, Russia, if you do this and we get ourselves into an escalation, a force situation with Russia, that's not what we want to get into.

But yes, I want to hear the answers on how they view Russia and what it is they plan to do in response to Russia putting a ship off our coast, what it is they plan to do in response to Russia trying to participate in anything having to do with our elections or any other way that they're trying to manipulate anything having to do with the United States of America.

CAMEROTA: As you point out, as we speak, there's a Russian spy ship off the coast of Connecticut. That's the farthest north that spy ship has ever been. Do you think the Trump administration has been strong enough in condemning that?

MAST: I think this is exactly why you're going to see the secretary of state speaking with Russians. I suspect he's going to be behind closed doors giving them some sort of ultimatum about it, and making sure that they know this is not something that's going to be allowed to continue. And either they rectify the situation or they're going to pay the price.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about some other news we've learned this morning. And that is that the Pentagon is considering sending combat troops, ground troops to Syria to fight ISIS. You are in the perfect position to share your thoughts on this. You're a Purple Heart recipient. You encountered an IED in combat. You lost both legs. What do you think about the idea that U.S. troops will be going to Syria?

MAST: It's never an easy idea to send U.S. troops anywhere. The reality of that sort of situation is that there is going to be a loss of life. There is going to be a loss of limbs. Those are my peers, those are my friends. I take that very, very seriously.

I think one of the biggest missing pieces as we talk about what's going on in Syria is that we forget about our own heritage. We're Americans. We're very familiar with what a revolution is. And you have a crumbling nation there where there are literally over a million refugees scattered throughout the region that should be being trained to come back into their nation and fight for their communities, fight for a way to return to their area. I think they should be looked at as what should be the brunt of that fighting force because that is what a revolution looks like. If they want their community, their home back, they need to fight for it.

And this is something that's been going on for six years. There's a lot of training that could have been done in that period of time to get people to be very capable fighters and go in there and fight to take back their own country. And that's something that would make them a great people and give them a great history that they could look back on for generations to come. And if they don't do that, they're missing an opportunity.

And it's not an easy thing to say, obviously. I know the consequences of war. I know what I'm asking of those refugees. I know what would happen to those individuals.

[08:10:00] But I would say, hey, you would have our support if you're willing to go there and act in this way and fight for your own country, you're going to have our support. We're going to have your back.

CAMEROTA: When you say our support and our back, are you suggesting that the U.S. should just send weapons to the rebels as opposed to sending ground troops?

MAST: Absolutely not. I had a conversation with Congressman Rohrabacher recently, and if you don't know his background, he actually went and served with the Mujahedeen. And he said something important about his time serving with them, that he doesn't think it's prudent or right to give somebody weapons and then simply leave them on their own. You have to find a way to go out there, to help them, to train them, to potentially lead them. And he and I were literally having the conversation that we would go over there and lead those refugees into battle if that was something that was asked of us. That's just how much we believe in making sure that these people have their own vested interest in taking back their own country.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Brian Mast, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY. Thank you for your service to the country.

MAST: You're welcome.


CUOMO: All right, so what do Democrats want to know about the ties between President Trump's advisers and Russia? You just heard from a Republican congressman. We're now going to ask a senator on the intelligence committee next.


CUOMO: All right, President Trump says leaks and the media are to blame apparently for former national security adviser Michael Flynn's no longer being part of his administration. The Senate Judiciary Committee is taking a closer look at Flynn's communications with Russia.

[08:15:00] Joining us now is democratic Senator Mark Warner from Virginia. He is the vice-chairman of the select committee on intelligence. What do you want to know?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Chris, what we want to know is what kind of contacts Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. We want to see the transcript. Clearly, what happened was Flynn who at that point was a private citizen. He, in effect, what appears was trying to undermine the existing policy of the United States since President Obama had put sanctions in place because of the unprecedented Russian intervention in our elections. This is troubling on a whole host of areas. We've got to look into where -- how the Russians interfered with false information, with selective leaks, with this kind of contact between Trump officials and Russians before the election.

We still don't know, you know, what was the extent of the financial remuneration between Trump -- I'm sorry -- between Flynn and RT News. Why was Flynn, you know, all buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin during this meeting in Moscow. And one of the things that is particularly troubling is that we've heard now that Flynn's security clearance has been removed by defense intelligence agency. You do not get your security clearance removed unless there's a very serious item. So, the president's comments, you know, about somehow this is leak's fault is so far off the mark that I frankly don't even think it's credible, some of those comments.

CUOMO: Well, what do you make of one of the new facts in this situation, was that apparently, the FBI says it's not going to prosecute Mike Flynn. Now, without knowing that much about the situation, we do know that the most likely cause for the FBI to prosecute would be lying to them, right? That's the difference between the FBI and regular police. You know, if you lie to the FBI, it's a felony. So, it does suggest that Flynn did not lie to them. And if that means that his story has been consistent, it may not be that this transcript shows what you're suggesting, which is that Mike Flynn compromise the U.S. position on sanctions. And if that's true, it just raises more questions about why he was forced out, doesn't it?

WARNER: Well, Chris, you know, we can clear this up. Let's get a look at the transcript.

CUOMO: Why can't you get it, by the way? Why haven't you gotten it already?


WARNER: Chris, that is a great, great question, and something that I and Chairman Burr, the Intelligence Committee has made that request. We expect to get that transcript. This is happening so fast there doesn't seem to be another day that doesn't go by where there's not some, again, outrageous news story. Here's what we know for facts, General Flynn said there was a very innocent conversation. We then know a few days later, General Flynn changes his story, says it wasn't an innocent conversation. We don't know what the president knows, we don't know what he told the vice president. It appears that he left the vice president, in effect, hanging out to dry as the vice president, put his credibility on the line, vouching for Flynn.

We also know as a fact that Flynn has resigned, asked for that resignation by the president, because the president has lost faith in Flynn, and then we also know Flynn -- and then we also know that Defense Intelligence Agency has removed General Flynn's security clearance. Which is -- which is -- CUOMO: But why wouldn't they do that if he's out? If he's out or if he resigns, why wouldn't that happen automatically?

WARNER: You tell me, Chris, why this series of events, where clearly General Flynn misrepresented at least at first to the president and who knows who else, what he said to the Russian ambassador? We'll get that transcript, we'll clear this up. But let me be very clear. There are people that leave the intelligence service and still maintain for a period of time their security clearance. You do not lightly lose your security clearance. And the fact that the DIA acted in this case, to me, raises huge concerns. And no matter how often the president tries to place the blame on somebody else, place the blame on you guys on the media, you know, we need to get the answers, the American public deserves to get the answers. And that's why this investigation in terms of unprecedented Russian interference -- we've got to get to the bottom of it.

[08:20:01] CUOMO: Right. Look, I mean, it's more important than ever, that facts drive the discussion, because the partisanship is just unmovable, it's intractable. We're not going to make this --

WARNER: Except, Chris, on this one, it's actually not partisan. You've got Richard Burr --

CUOMO: Well, how is it not? Jason Chaffetz wants to look into the leaks but not the substance of the matter. You got Jim Jordan who is part of, you know, the Benghazi movement, 33 hearings, $7 million saying, "Well, let's go at it deliberately and see what's going on." Even with these allegations and questions we have, it doesn't speak to an urgency that's bipartisan.

WARNER: Well, Chris, I can't say grace over the house. All I know in the senate is we have the chair and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee who jointly in a bipartisan way want to get the facts. We have in the senate, we have senators like Senator McCain, we have Senator Graham, we have Senator Rubio who are all saying, "Hey, we've got to be careful in terms of Russian interference on this item at least." You know, this is one bright spot of bipartisanship that we know that Russia is an adversary, we know we want to get to the bottom of what happened.

And frankly, when the American people understand how extensive Russian interference was, I'm not sure all your viewers realize, there were literally a thousand Russian trolls, these Russian internet manipulators who were trying to manipulate our news for a number of months, so people didn't read about, you know, what was happening, Clinton versus Trump. They were reading fake news that was being propagated by organs like RT News, which is nothing but a propaganda machine of the Russian government.

CUOMO: Well, Senator Warner, forgive my skepticism. I hope you're right, and it becomes a bipartisan effort. If the (AUDIO GAP) is so worried about leaks, he can declassify those transcripts of the calls with Flynn himself. It's an executive operation. He could do it. And then, everybody would know the truth or at least --


WARNER: Amen, amen. Let's get it --

CUOMO: But we'll see what happens. Senator Warner --

WARNER: Let's get it declassified.

CUOMO: That starts with you. Let me know how it goes and thank you for making the case on NEW DAY.

WARNER: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Well, Defense Secretary James Mattis speaking out about Russia's role in the U.S. election. We'll tell you what he just said moments ago, next.



[08:25:00] CUOMO: We are following BREAKING NEWS. Defense Secretary James Mattis appears to be closing the door on military cooperation with Russia. We've been looking for this, to see how the cabinet members might take a different path than the president. Mattis speaking moments ago at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon with the breaking detail. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. If anybody had any doubt that Jim Mattis is an independent thinker, don't doubt it anymore after this morning. Mattis shaping up rapidly as someone with a voice, perhaps very independent from the political ideology of the Trump White House. Mattis speaking a short time ago about those -- that issue of cooperation with the Russian military and did Russia hack the elections. Have a listen.


JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We will engage politically. We do not -- or not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level. But our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward, where Russia living up to its commitments. Right now, I would say there is very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.


STARR: So, Mattis leaving really, no doubt, he believes Russia was involved in interfering with the election, and for now, at least, shutting the door to cooperation with the Russian military, which is something Russia wants from the United States, especially in Syria. Mattis is an independent thinker, and clearly, he is expressing that. What we are being told by sources at the Pentagon is there is much less oversight, even before Mike Flynn left the NSC, that the Pentagon under Mattis will have much less of the micromanagement. Mattis will have much more runway room, if you will, to express his views and his thoughts. We will see, of course, how long it all lasts. Chris, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Barbara, thank you for all of that BREAKING NEWS. Let's get the bottom line on it now with Fareed Zakaria, he is the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS". So Fareed, what do you make of Mattis using quite different language than President Trump has about whether or not to cooperate militarily at least with Russia?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": It's startling. It is a direct contradiction of -- on both issues of what Trump has said. Trump's basic argument about why he wanted to be nice to Russia was, "We're going to get together and we're going to go after ISIS." The clear implication and occasionally more than implication was the United States and Russia are going to have military cooperation against ISIS. Mattis clearly saying that is not going to happen.

And on the issue of interference, as we note, Donald Trump has very often said that he doesn't believe it; he thinks the intelligence is bad; these are the same guys who said Iraq had nuclear weapons. So, you know, you're seeing a White House and an administration with the kind of -- the whole structure, just from the point of view of functions is very strange. You have all these centers of power in the -- in the White House, from Steve Bannon, to Jared Kushner, to now you have a Defense Secretary who's flatly contradicting the Commander-in- Chief, and you have a Secretary of State who's AWOL through this whole thing. Rex Tillerson seems to be in the Witness Protection Program right now.

CAMEROTA: Well, obviously he's at the G20 meetings.

ZAKARIA: Yes. There were, you know, many, many ways Secretaries of State that give statements, give interviews, be at important meetings, I don't know. He doesn't need my advice. He's a CEO of one of the most powerful company in the world. But in Washington, proximity is power. You don't want to be, you know, constantly away from the president and the center of decision making. You want to find a way to do both, and if it means you have to travel a little bit faster and more, that's what you're going to do.

CUOMO: But except with Tillerson, we may have a sensitivity at play, right? I mean, part of the scrutiny with Tillerson was his relationship with Russia.