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THE SITUATION ROOM
Cummings: Trump Made Up Story About Me; Trump "Would Have Directed Flynn" To Talk To Russia; Trump: "Nobody Hate" His "Exciting News Conference"; Trump: "The Leaks Are Absolutely Real, The News Is Fake"; Trump Calls Himself The "Least Anti-Semitic Person"; Trump: My Admin "Running Like A Fine-Tuned Machine"; Trump: Would Be Great To Get Along With Russia. Aired 5-6 p.m. ET
Aired February 16, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will say, "Donald Trump rants and raves at the press." I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you, you know, you're dishonest people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:00:19] BLITZER: Ranting and raving at an unprecedented rambling news conference. President Trump touts what he calls incredible progress under his administration, then spends more than an hour excoriating the news media.
Russian ruse. Mr. Trump says he has nothing to do with Russia and that he wasn't aware of contacts by his campaign aides with Russia, dismissing the story as fake news. Is it making it harder for him to deal with Moscow?
Basic facts. Even as the president accuses the news media of lying he makes false statements about his Electoral College victory, his poll numbers and more. Where is the president getting his information?
And rolling back the ban. President Trump promises a new executive order on travel while the Justice Department asks courts to stop action on the previous ban, which targeted people from seven Muslim- majority nations. How will the president's new order differ?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. An extraordinary White House news conference by President Donald Trump. He started by defending his first weeks in office saying he inherited what he called a mess and claiming to have accomplished more than any new president.
Then he spent more than an hour unleashing his anger at the news media and detailing his grievances with coverage of his administration. The president was questioned repeatedly about contacts between his campaign aides and Russian officials. He dismissed the reports as a joke, but he also defended fired national security advisor Michael Flynn, who lied about improperly discussing sanctions with Russia. Mr. Trump said Flynn was just doing his job and that, quote, "the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake."
President Trump also announced the new executive order on immigration. He says it will be tailored to the federal court decisions that froze his previous ban preventing refugees and people from seven mostly Muslim nations from entering the United States.
We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Congressman Matt Thornberry, and Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. He says President Trump made up a story about him at today's news conference. Our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.
Let's get straight to the White House. CNN's White House correspondent Sara Murray has the very latest for us. Sara, the president insists everything is simply fine over there. He says the problem is the news media.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We really saw vintage Trump today. He truly believes he is his own best spokesman. And after a rough couple of weeks in the White House, he came out swinging today, slamming the news media and even taking aim at political opponents like Hillary Clinton, people he is no longer running against. For over an hour he went at this in the East Room. Certainly not the kind of press conference we're used to seeing from a president.
MURRAY (voice-over): Today an embattled president is dismissing the notion that his administration is in turmoil.
TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos, chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved.
MURRAY: But controversy continues to haunt the West Wing.
TRUMP: The whole Russian thing, that's a ruse. That's a ruse. And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia.
MURRAY: The administration still facing scrutiny over its Russian connection. Today President Trump said he was not aware of any campaign advisors being in touch with Russian intelligence officers during the presidential campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?
TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of.
MURRAY: And insisted he has no personal ties to Moscow. TRUMP: Speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans
in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.
MURRAY: That comes after sources told CNN former top advisors for Trump's presidential campaign were in constant contact with suspected Russian operatives before the president took office. Today Trump kept up his rosy view of Russia, saying he'd love to have better diplomatic relations.
TRUMP: Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They're a very powerful nuclear country, and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that's a good thing.
MURRAY: That's in spite of recent provocations from Moscow. Russia has buzzed a U.S. war ship, placed a spy ship 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut, and deployed a cruise missile in an apparent treaty violation. For now, the White House appears unlikely to respond.
TRUMP: But hopefully, I won't have to do anything, but I'm not going to tell you.
MURRAY: In a winding and wild press conference that stretched for over an hour, the president aired a list of grievances.
TRUMP: I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad. A mess.
MURRAY: Insisted he would take a compassionate approach to children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
TRUMP: We're going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me.
MURRAY: And leapt to the defense of his travel ban, which is currently being blocked by the courts.
TRUMP: We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. I think that circuit is -- that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is, frankly, in turmoil.
MURRAY: Now Trump says the administration is crafting a new executive order based on the court's decision.
TRUMP: We can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways more, but we're tailoring it now to the decision.
MURRAY: But while the administration faces pressing priorities, Trump, who once professed his love of WikiLeaks...
TRUMP: This just came out.
WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.
MURRAY: ... is now preoccupied with cracking down on them.
TRUMP: I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks.
MURRAY: President Trump spent much of his time criticizing the press.
TRUMP: The press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
I'm changing it from fake news, though.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Doesn't that...
TRUMP: Very fake news.
The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake.
MURRAY: Yet, even as he called the media dishonest, the president repeatedly made false claims.
TRUMP: Got 306 Electoral College votes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Obama 332, George H.W. Bush, 426 when he won as president. Why should Americans trust you when you've accused the information they receive as being fake when you're providing information that's...
TRUMP: Well, no, I was told -- I was given that information.
MURRAY: Now, of course, one of the big things irking this White House and President Trump in particular has been these leaks. He did water down in this press conference, though, the notion that he would bring in someone from the outside, a private equity individual to take aim at these leaks and overhaul intelligence agency. Instead, he said he hoped to do that internally once all of his cabinet secretaries are confirmed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Sara Murray over at the White House. Let's get some more on the president's truly remarkable news conference. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us.
Jim, you asked the president several questions about his praise of WikiLeaks during the campaign, also about his treatment of the news media. Tell us how he responded specifically to what you asked.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. I mean, this is something that Donald Trump talked about repeatedly during the campaign. He said that he loved WikiLeaks. At one point at a news conference, he encouraged Russia to find Hillary Clinton's missing -- 33,000 missing e-mails.
So, it was worth asking him why he had such a big problem with leaks now when he seemed to be benefiting and encouraging it during the campaign.
And there was also this notion that he was putting forward to us today, Wolf, that the stories that are out there in the news media are fake news, but he acknowledged that the leaks coming out of his administration are real. So, I asked him about those contradictions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don't understand. It seems that there is a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?
TRUMP: The reporting is fake.
ACOSTA: And if I may ask -- I just want to ask one other...
TRUMP: You know what it is? Here's the thing. The public isn't -- you know, they read newspapers. They see television. They watch. They don't know if it's true or false, because they're not involved. I'm involved. I've been involved with this stuff all my life. But I'm involved. So, I know when you're telling the truth or when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things.
And I'll tell you what else I see, I see tone. You know, the word tone. The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such -- I do get good ratings, you have to admit that. The tone is such hatred.
I watched this morning a couple of the networks and I have to say, "FOX & Friends" in the morning, they're very honorable people. They're very -- not because they're good, because they hit me also when I do something wrong. But they have the most honest morning show. That's all I can say. It's the most honest.
But the tone, Jim, if you look, the hatred. Now, they'll take this news conference -- I'm actually having a very good time, OK? But they'll take this news conference shall -- don't forget; that's the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a
speech, which was like every day. OK? No, that's how I won. I won with a news conference and probably speeches. I certainly didn't win by people listening to you people; that's for sure. But I'm having a good time.
[17:10:13] Tomorrow they will say, "Donald Trump rants and raves at the press." I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you, you know, you're dishonest people. But -- but I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow the headlines are going to be "Donald Trump rants and raves." I'm not ranting and raving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Wolf, it sounded just like we were back in the campaign, with the president going off on what he calls the dishonest news media and fake news and so forth.
But what you heard, I think, today from the president was just somebody who is very, very frustrated and disappointed in his first four weeks in office. And he blames us for all of that. Not himself, Wolf.
BLITZER: You also pressed the president, Jim, on people's faith in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Talk a little bit about that.
ACOSTA: Right. I think this is something that we dealt with during the campaign. He called the news media "the dishonest news media." He called us liars and scum and thieves and criminals and so forth and so on. And, you know, it's interesting, because he tried to remind us during this news conference that, well, the crowds at all of his rallies would, you know, go after a CNN and so forth.
And I asked him the question, well, perhaps there are people out there who don't trust the news media because he has spent so much of his time undermining the freedom of the press, undermining the news media. And so I posed that question to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: But aren't you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people's faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country, when you call stories you don't like fake news? Why not just say, "It's a story I don't like"?
TRUMP: I do that. No, I do that.
ACOSTA: When you call it fake news, you're undermining confidence in our news media.
TRUMP: Here's the thing. OK.
ACOSTA: Isn't that important?
TRUMP: I understand what you're -- and you're right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And sometimes I'll say, "Wow, that's going to be a great story, and I'll get killed." I know what's good and bad. I'd be a pretty good reporter, not as good as you. But I know what's good. I know what's bad.
And when they change it and make it really bad, something that should be positive, sometimes something that should be very positive, they'll make OK. They'll even make it negative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And, Wolf, there was one moment during the news conference when he referred to us at CNN as "very fake news," and I said, "No, Mr. President, we are real news."
And we should point out he talked about FOX News and "FOX & Friends" being a show that he likes. Well, he should know that this afternoon on FOX News, Shepard Smith defended us here at CNN for doing our jobs, Wolf. BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. All right, Jim Acosta reporting.
Jim Acosta is our White House correspondent. Good questions at this news conference today. Glad he called on you and other mainstream journalists. That's the right thing to do.
Let's get some more on all of this. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry of Texas is joining us. Thanks, Mr. Chairman, for joining us.
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, are you comfortable with the president's attacks on the news media, members of Congress, and the intelligence community?
THORNBERRY: Well, I think there's a lot of turmoil on this back and forth between the White House and the media and so forth. What I'm not comfortable with, however, is what's happening in the real world.
And one of your reporters mentioned what Russia has done, violating an IMF treaty, buzzed -- its planes buzzing our ships, a spy ship off the coast of Connecticut, or North Korea sending missiles, assassinating political opponents. So, while we're all in this back and forth here at home, the world moves on; and the world is getting more dangerous.
BLITZER: Yes, you know you make excellent points, Mr. Chairman. Why doesn't the president speak about this publicly? He has time on his Twitter feed and the statements to condemn all sorts of things, especially the news media. You don't hear him say anything really negative about Russia; and these provocative moves in recent days are very disturbing.
THORNBERRY: Well, he'll talk about the subjects he chooses to talk about. What matters more for Russia is what we do.
And, so, I think in the coming days, the White House has promised to send Congress, for example, an extra defense spending bill, which will go a long way to show that we're willing to stand up for ourselves and rebuild our military, partly to counter what the Russians and others have been doing.
BLITZER: Well, when they have a spy ship 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut, when they buzz a U.S. ship, a very, very dangerous maneuver. When they launch a missile in violation of an arms agreement with the United States, do you want the president, the administration to take specific steps to counter those provocative moves?
THORNBERRY: Yes, but it's OK if he doesn't announce them all publicly.
[17:15:07] And I should say, especially on the deployment of this new missile, Congress was calling it to President Obama's attention as early as 2012. And I have repeatedly myself written to President Obama, urged their administration to take action, and they did very little. So, what happens, it continues to get worse. So, that's the same
lesson for this administration. If you don't stand up to provocation and aggression, it will get worse. And that's true, whether we're talking about Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or terrorists.
BLITZER: Yes, I want to move on, but I agree. They're -- but the only thing that's strange about all of this, he doesn't have to announce what the military moves might be. I think you make a good point. He shouldn't announce those.
But the silence, the thunderous silence from the president as a candidate, as a president-elect, and now as president, in terms of anything critical, saying anything critical of Russia and Putin, that's just very, very disturbing.
But let's talk about the news conference. Did you think that hour and 15 news conference today was the right thing to do?
THORNBERRY: Oh, I'm not going to pass judgment on how the president spends his time or what he says or what subjects he talks about. You know, that's a the great thing about being in Congress. We're a separate branch of government. Our job is not to provide commentary and analysis. Our job is to uphold our oath to the Constitution the way we see fit.
And for me in particular, it's about defending the country and in a world that is getting increasingly more dangerous. And our focus is to make sure that the men and women who serve our country have everything they need. And I want to work with the administration and anybody else who will help achieve that goal.
BLITZER: Were you surprised to hear the president say he doesn't think his former national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, did anything wrong by talking to the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions?
THORNBERRY: Well, I didn't hear what the president said. You know, to me, just -- I would expect an incoming national security advisor to have conversations with foreign ambassadors. Exactly what was said, I don't know. I've seen no transcript. I suspect there is an investigation going on about those things.
I know that, in both the House and the Senate the Intelligence Committees are investigating all of the connections related to Russia and influence and connections with the campaign, and that's the way it should be. But we can't let all of that distract us from what the Russians are doing, including the missile, the fly by our ships, et cetera.
BLITZER: If General Flynn, the fired national security advisor, did nothing wrong, why did the Defense Intelligence Agency, an agency he used to run over at the Pentagon, which you oversee, why have they suspended his classified information, his security clearances?
THORNBERRY: Well, I don't know. My guess is, if you had the Justice Department go to the White House and tell them about some conversations that General Flynn had, there's probably an investigation, and it is not unusual to suspend clearances while an investigation goes forward.
You know, I have confidence that we'll get to the bottom of that through the investigations, either in Congress, the investigations at the Justice Department. We just can't lose sight of what's happening in the rest of the world as we do that.
BLITZER: The president also said at the news conference that, if General Flynn had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador here in Washington, he would have actually directed Flynn to do so. Do you believe that would have been appropriate?
THORNBERRY: Well, it all depends on who said what. And it's really hard for you or I to analyze, not knowing those things.
I think once a president-elect is chosen, some interaction with foreign governments is natural and to be expected. Now, obviously, the question is exactly what those interactions consist of; were promises made? None of that we know.
BLITZER: Do you agree with the president that the reporting on his staff's connections with Russia during the campaign, in his words, are a ruse; there's nothing here to investigate?
THORNBERRY: Again, my answer is I don't know. There is an investigation going on in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to find out what those connections were, as well as to deal with Russia's attempts to influence our elections. You know, I think that's appropriate, as well as whatever investigations may be happening otherwise. So, they ought to proceed. And the rest of us have a job to do, and we ought to do it.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: Mac Thornberry is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
[17:20:00] The breaking news continues. We're going to get the Democrats' perspective. Elijah Cummings is standing by. He says the president made up a story about him at today's news conference.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news. Truly remarkable rambling White House news conference by President Trump, defending himself, slamming the news media for over an hour. He also singled out Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking government reform committee. Congressman Cummings is joining us live from Capitol Hill.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you. BLITZER: All right. We have a lot to talk about. But first, I want
to ask you about the president's bringing up your name at the news conference. Let me play the exchange that he had with one of the journalists there, April Ryan. Listen to this.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
APRIL RYAN, JOURNALIST, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Mr. President...
TRUMP: Yes. This is going to be a bad question, but that's OK.
RYAN: No, it's not going to be a bad question.
TRUMP: Because I enjoy watching you on television. Go ahead.
RYAN: Well, thank you so much. Mr. President, I need to find out from you -- you said something as it relates to inner cities. That was one of your platforms during your campaign.
TRUMP: Fix the inner cities, yes.
RYAN: Fixing the inner cities. What will be that fix. And your urban agenda, as well as your HBCU executive order that's coming out this afternoon. See, it wasn't bad, was it?
TRUMP: That was very professional and very good.
RYAN: I'm very professional.
TRUMP: We'll be announcing the order in a little while. And I'd rather let the order speak for itself, but it will be something, I think, that will be very good for everybody concerned. But we'll talk to you about that after we do the announcement.
As far as the inner cities, as you know, I was very strong on the inner cities during the campaign. I think it's probably what got me a much higher percentage of the African-American vote than a lot of people thought I was going to get. We did, you know, much higher than people thought I was going to get. And I was honored by that, including the Hispanic vote, which was also much higher, and by the way, if I might add, including the women's vote which was much higher than people thought I was going to get.
So, we are going to be working very hard on the inner cities having to do with education, having to do with crime. We're going to try and fix as quickly as possible -- you know, it takes a long time. It's taken 100 years and more for some of these places to evolve; and they evolved, many of them, very badly.
But we're going to be working very hard on health and healthcare, very, very hard on education. And also, we're going to be working in a stringent way and a very good way on crime.
You go to some of these inner-city places; and it's so sad when you look at the crime. You have people -- and I've seen this, and I've sort of witnessed it -- in fact, in two cases I have actually witnessed it. They lock themselves into apartments, petrified to even leave in the middle of the day. They're living in hell. We can't let that happen. So we're going to be very, very strong.
It's a great question and it's a very -- it's a very difficult situation, because it's been many, many years. It's been festering for many, many years. But we have places in this country that we have to fix. We have to help African-American people that, for the most part, are stuck there. Hispanic-American people. We have Hispanic- American people that are in the inner cities, and they're living in hell.
I mean, you look at the numbers in Chicago -- there are two Chicagos, as you know. There's one Chicago that's incredible, luxurious, and all, and safe. There's another Chicago that's worse than almost any of the places in the Middle East that we talk about and that you talk about every night on the newscasts. So, we're going to do a lot of work on the inner cities. I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities, OK?
RYAN: When you say -- when you say the inner cities, are you going to -- are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as...
TRUMP: Am I going to include who?
RYAN: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the congressional...
TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?
RYAN: No, no, no.
TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?
RYAN: I'm just a reporter.
TRUMP: You want to set up the meeting?
RYAN: I know some of them, but I'm sure...
TRUMP: Let's go, set up the meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus, I think it's great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it's great.
I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings, and he was all excited. And then he said, "Oh, I can't move. It might be bad for me politically. I can't have that meeting." I was all set to have that meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy. RYAN: I hear he wanted that meeting with you, as well.
TRUMP: He wanted it. But we called, called, called, called. They can't make a meeting with him. Every day I walk in, I say, "I would like to meet with him," because I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight -- he was probably told he was probably told -- he was probably told, don't meet with Trump. It's bad politics. And that's part of the problem in this country.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, was the president telling the truth about your cancelling the meeting he wanted so desperately to have with you?
CUMMINGS: OK, OK. No, I'm still excited about meeting with the president. I think, basically, his staff gave him some incorrect information, because they know that we have been wanting to meet with him with regard to the high prices of prescription drugs. And that's what our meeting is going to be about.
They also know that I've been working very closely for the last three or four years with Senator Bernie Sanders on those issues. We have a proposal that we're putting together. We haven't finished yet. And I wanted to merely finish with that proposal so that, when I walked into that office, I could present it to the president and say, "Mr. President, I want you to help us get this passed so that people will not have to be paying these unreasonable prices for prescription drugs."
So -- so the meeting was never set. We didn't get all of these calls that he talked about. As a matter of fact, I'm still looking forward to meeting with the president.
BLITZER: So, if you get a call from the White House, you would go over there ASAP and have this meeting? I know you want to speak about drugs. You want to speak about that specific issue. But he clearly wants to have a broader conversation, not just with you, but with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Would you recommend to the Congressional Black Caucus that the leadership go over with you to the White House and have this kind of meeting with the president?
CUMMINGS: Yes, I would. But keep in mind, one thing he did not say is that on January 19th, Cedric Richmond, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to the president asking for a meeting and they have gotten no response to date. And so, maybe the president will give him a call tomorrow. But I'm happy to meet with the president. Keep in mind, this is my president, this is your president for the next four years. And I've said it many times, Wolf, those things that we can work together on, social security, making sure that people's children can get into college and be able to afford it, jobs, infrastructure, I'm with him. But if where our values clash, then that's a whole another issue.
BLITZER: I know that you didn't boycott the inauguration. You went --
CUMMINGS: No, I was sitting right there.
BLITZER: -- to the inauguration, even though a lot of your colleagues decided they wanted to boycott the inauguration. Did you get political grief for going to the president's inauguration on January 20th?
CUMMINGS: No, I did not. Wolf, when you've been in politics as long as I have, a congress for 21 years and 14 years in the state legislature, I think my constituents trust me. They also know what my concerns are. They know that I am there to represent them. And no matter who is president, doesn't matter, I've got to work with that person to get done what I can for my constituents. I can't just let four years go by and watch the children in my district not get the money they need for education or the adults, the money that they need for health care, and things of that nature. So, I have to work with him, and we will work with him, but again, there are much -- there are many things that we probably will be able to work together on, but there are other things that we won't. So, I'm looking forward to it. And as a matter of fact, I'm kind of excited about meeting with him.
BLITZER: Was it odd that the president asked White House Correspondent April Ryan to set up a meeting between himself and the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus?
CUMMINGS: Yes, I thought that was a little different, but I imagine what happened is he saw an African-American woman connected with the Congressional Black Caucus and said maybe they're friends. So, I mean, you know, I mean, that's one of the things that I wish the president would do. Every time he talks, by the way, about the inner city, he has negative things to say. Wolf, I wish he could walk into some of the areas that I live in and where people are doing extremely well, taking very good care of their families, and he needs to have a bigger picture of the African American communities and our cities. Our cities are thriving places and it should not always be said in a negative tone. And -- but, I am glad that he recommitted himself to helping with issues like education and health care and things of that nature.
And I would say to the president, because I'm sure he may be watching, Mr. President, you know, it was one thing to campaign. It's now time to govern. People need you to be the president that you said you would be during your inaugural address. You said that you would make sure that the power was given back to the people. Well, there are people in my district that want you to succeed, but, Mr. President, what -- how they define success is you lifting up their lives. And by the way, make sure that you talk to your fellow republicans in all of these states and tell them to stop trying to stop African Americans, Hispanics and others, from being able to vote.
BLITZER: Let -- quickly on General Flynn, the resignation, the forced resignation, the firing of the President's National Security Advisor, you heard the president today defend Flynn's decision of discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, President Trump said if Flynn hadn't done that on his own, he would have directed Flynn to do so. Do you believe that was appropriate?
[17:34:35] CUMMINGS: I'm not sure, Wolf, because I think he may have -- I listened to that very carefully, and as a lawyer, I can tell you he may have been telling General Flynn to go out and commit a crime. So clearly, I don't think that that was the appropriate thing to say. The other thing that I found interesting is when he talks about the -- that he didn't have any knowledge of anybody talking to the Russians from his campaign at -- to certain points. I found that very interesting, too. And, Wolf, that's why we need a -- to pass this bill that Congressman Swalwell and I have, where we set up an independent commission, no senators, no members of congress, but an independent mission, much like the 9/11 Commission, to have findings with regard to what happened, with regard to the relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign, and then come up with recommendations so that we don't have these things happening again.
BLITZER: Congressman Elijah Cummings, I just want to remind our viewers, you represent Baltimore, Maryland. Thanks so much for joining us.
CUMMINGS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have much more on the surprising, sometimes unsubstantiated claims made today during President Trump's extraordinary news conference.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess, at home and abroad, a mess.
[17:40:00] BLITZER: We're following the "BREAKING NEWS", President Trump is describing this afternoon's news conference as exciting, adding, and I'm quoting him now, "Nobody hated it." But it left us with plenty to talk over with our political and counter-terrorism experts. Let's go to Phil Mudd. First of all, it was interesting, Phil, to put it mildly, that the President said, if General Flynn as his National Security Advisor had discussed the issue of sanctions during the transition with the Russian ambassador to Washington, he would have instructed him to do so. What did you make of that?
PHILIP MUDD: CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST AND FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Wolf, I mean, you used the word interesting. Grandma Mudd taught me about this. "I may be dumb," she used to say, "but I'm not stupid." That was not interesting. Let me give you two questions we got to ask here. If he's so comfortable with General Flynn talking about sanctions with the Russians, why does the general come back and feel like he has to mislead the Vice President about those conversations? That's a why question, Wolf.
Let me give you another simple one. Three senior officials who served republicans and democrats, that's the acting attorney general, that's the former director of National Intelligence, and that's the former CIA director, feel so compelled to speak about this and to speak about what they saw in the intelligence that they had to approach the White House counsel about concerns that the general could be blackmailed, and you want to tell me that's interesting and perfectly appropriate? I may be dumb, Wolf, but I ain't stupid. That's what Grandma Mudd taught me.
BLITZER: Mark Preston, what did you think?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A, you know, a couple things. One is, as far as the news conference goes as a whole, he really was unbecoming of the office that he holds as the president. I mean, the way that he delivered and the way he discussed certain items, the way he attacked people's character personally, it was reckless. And in many ways, I just have to wonder, and maybe Phil can answer this as well, what are world leaders thinking right now when they see Donald Trump come out at the last minute, do a news conference, and then in that news conference, appear all over the place, say really critical things of people, and not seem like he's totally in tune with what he needs to be doing?
BLITZER: Well, let's ask Phil. What do you think?
MUDD: I think they're uncomfortable and we've already seen evidence of that. This is not my speculation. You have General Mattis in Europe this week. He's got to reassure the Europeans about our commitment to NATO, because the president, I think unthinkingly, went out and attacked NATO. You have the CIA director, according to press reports, out talking to the Palestinians in the Palestinian territories. Why do you think he's there? The president sat with Prime Minister Netanyahu talking about a one-state solution for Israel. What do you think the Palestinians are saying? They're saying, "We can't believe this. I think people are nervous because they see words that don't reflect thoughtfulness." It's as simple as that.
BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, I want to you weigh in as well.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND THE DAILY BEAST WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: You know what? This reminded me of the campaign. This reminded me of what we --
BLITZER: Of the news conference he used to have.
KUCINICH: The news conference. This could have been a news conference several months ago, where he's firing back at reporters and blaming the media for the rain and everything else in between. It really, it's just -- for anyone who has any illusions out there that the office is going to change the man, the man is changing the office right now and it doesn't seem like it's for the better.
BLITZER: He said the leaks are real, but the news is fake. What does it -- what does he mean by that?
KUCINICH: I don't know. It's like a fortune cookie, isn't? It's just it's a really strange thing to say at this point. But, no, he's trying to deflect. He's trying to deflect and say this is about leaks, it's about this, it's about that. No, it's about General Flynn who he fired. We have nothing to do with the fact that he was fired. He was not truthful with the vice president, it was Trump said today, and that's why he was let go. And they got caught. That's what happened. That's the role that the news media play and that's the job.
PRESTON: You know, he talked about it being a divided nation before he came in, and he was absolutely right. OK. So, he's absolutely right about that point. But he's the leader of the free world. He's the president of the United States. You have to lead by example. And what we saw today was not leadership, it was anger. He went on to say that he likes when people give him easy questions. He goes on to say that --
KUCINICH: Maybe he doesn't.
PRESTON: Well, I mean, of course. I mean, who doesn't like that? He talks about fake news. He said she -- he's having a good time fighting and sparring with reporters. Well, guess what? That's not the job of being the president of the United States. You know, but the one positive thing I will say out of all this, he did take questions, right.
KUCINICH: He did.
PRESTON: He did take questions. It's just how he took them was a little unsettling.
[17:44:59] BLITZER: But Trump supporters, will -- like what they heard from the president today, right, Mark?
PRESTON: They will.
KUCINICH: Except the DACA.
PRESTON: They will -- they will to an extent, OK? And this is what I think. He is legislating by executive order. Basically, you are a king. Everyone has to do what you say. At some point those executive orders will stop. Then, he has to start working with congress. And it's not the democrats he has to work with. It's the republican who are going to have trouble with how he's getting things done.
BLITZER: Quickly, what won't they, Trump supporters?
KUCINICH: Particularly, one of the better questions that he was asked and answered, actually answered the question was on DACA, he was saying it's a really tough issue for him. He seemed to be being very honest there and his supporters want DACA ended. And it's something that they -- I'm sorry the -- with the --
BLITZER: DACA -- the children of undocumented immigrants who are basically raised and lived their whole lives here in the United States.
BLITZER: Should they be kicked out as well. KUCINICH: Exactly, that's what they expect it and it has not happened.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. We've got more ground to cover including the president's claim that his administration is running like a, quote, "fine-tuned machine".
[17:50:00] BLITZER: We're back with our political and counterterrorism experts. We're looking at the many headlines generated by President Trump's remarkable news conference earlier today. Phil, for the second day in a row, he was asked about an increase in anti-Semitic incidents going out in the United States last month that Jewish community centers anti-Semitic threats, if you will. Listen to how he responded today.
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TRUMP: I am the least anti-semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a republican. Quiet, quiet, quiet. So, he lied about -- he was going to (INAUDIBLE) very simple question. So, you know, so welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive, I hate even the question.
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BLITZER: He cut off that Jewish reporter who asked him that question. What did you think of that response?
MUDD: I look at that and say, you know, we have a president who elsewhere in that conversation talked about his victory in the Electoral College, and his presentation was simply not factual. Repeatedly during that time - during that hour and 10 minutes, or whatever it was, he's laying out information that suggests he doesn't know the facts, so when I see him answer this question, for example, on the level of anti-Semitism in the United States, my judgment is going into that press briefing, he's not preparing himself with sufficient facts to answer the question head-on so he diverts with what he does always, I'm not a racist, I'm not an anti-Semite, instead of saying, 'Here's the facts, here's what's going on in America and here's my policy to do something about it." It's a way to dodge the fact that I don't think he knows what the answer is.
BLITZER: Second day in a row, you know, he's been asked that question and he really doesn't directly respond, Mark.
PRESTON: Yes. No, he doesn't directly respond. I don't necessarily telling anybody here saying that we - I think that it's anti-Semitic or racist or anything like that. But it's the qualifying words that he puts on it that have you ever seen in your entire life. And we've seen him do this qualification on many other things. He's the smartest, he's the fastest, he's the strongest, he's the savviest, he's the best dealmaker ever in your whole entire life. Who talks like that? I mean, that's just so strange.
KUCINICH: It's like a verbal tic it doesn't mind.
PRESTON: I guess.
BLITZER: When he says, Jackie, that his administration is running like a fine-tune machined, we're approaching the end of the first month right now. Is it running, like, a fine-tuned machine based on all your reporting?
KUCINICH: Based on my knowledge of finely tuned machines, I don't think so. It does -- there is - there is a lot of chaos. And some of it -- some of it is all about starting up a new administration. Not everything goes right. That happens. That said, a lot of things have gone wrong, starting - or maybe not even starting with that executive order -- but that executive order where the non-Muslim ban Muslim ban was a total mess, and it just - it almost seems like he's living in his own world at this point and won't even admit these mistakes that are so clear on so many levels.
BLITZER: How do you explain, Phil that he still refuses to say anything really negative about Putin or Russia?
MUDD: I look at the characteristics of his comments on foreign policy, whether you're talking about his conversations about Israel, about the Iran nuclear deal, about NATO, about NAFTA, about TPP, that is the trade deal, every single time I see a commentary, it's the last guys get it wrong and I'll get it right. Inner cities are a mess, I'll get it right. The CIA was a mess, my guy, Mike Pompeo will fix it. So, some of this, I look out and say, "If you portray the last guys as wrong and you have any success whatsoever, you can say I'm a genius just by virtue of the that you've now said every single thing they did in eight years was wrong. So, I think somehow this is just removing himself from the policy of the past and pretending that he's got a solution for everything today.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We have more to assess. We're following the "BREAKING NEWS". We'll also dig deeper into President Trump's extraordinary news conference with a former CIA Director, former Defense Secretary, former White House Chief of Staff. We're talking about Leon Panetta, he's standing by live. Also, the president's defense of the National Security Adviser he fired for lying about his discussion with a Russian official.
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TRUMP: Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries, and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it. I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him because that's his job.
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[17:55:00] BLITZER: Happening now, "BREAKING NEWS".
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TRUMP: I inherited a mess. It's a mess. The leaks are absolutely real, the news is fake. This administration is running like a fine- tuned machine.
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BLITZER: Airing of grievances, President Trump holds a surprising and rambling news conference, finally taking extensive questions from reporters. But his defense of his administration and his attacks on the media dominated the hour plus exchange. We're covering all angles.
Russian connection? The president dismisses new reports about his campaign's contacts with Russia as a joke as he tries to distance himself from the Kremlin. Is he ready to pushback at Vladimir Putin's new provocations?
Refusing to answer: Mr. Trump took multiple detours when asked about sensitive issues like -