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FBI Chief Holds Mystery Meeting with Senators on Russia; Trump Tweets: "Fake" Media "Enemy of the American People"; Trump Dodges Question On Anti-Semitic Attacks; Unprecedented First Month; Growing Fears In Jewish Community. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:13] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

Tonight, closed doors, tight lips and potentially some very high stakes. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are entrusted to see and safeguard the country's deepest secrets, they got a briefing today from FBI Director James Comey.

The subject? Russia. The details? Not so easy to come by. And the context, one departed national security adviser reports on this network and others after an extensive contact between Trump campaign advisers and Russians and a cloud of suspicion that will not lift.

And in the middle of it all -- seemingly out of nowhere, the president late today returned to the subject of yesterday's combative press conference and the target of his ire, he tweeted, "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!" His initial tweet, which he deleted also had the word "sick" in all caps at the end.

Tomorrow, the president holds a campaign style rally in Melbourne, Florida. More on that tonight and his search for a new national security adviser. We begin, though, with the surprise late-afternoon intel briefing.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the capital.

Phil, what if anything do we know about this briefing from FBI Director Comey?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A limited amount, John. But the fact that it happened and when it happened is, kind of underscores the importance of what this moment actually was. Look, senators were done with the session. They were supposed to be heading home for recess.

And, John, you know as well as anybody, you never get in the way of a member of a lawmaker on his way home for recess. You also don't ever get in the way of a senator and a camera.

Jim Comey did both and really effectively. None of the members of the Senate Intelligence members coming out of the briefing were willing to say anything at all. And that's rare. While obviously they can't talk about classified information, usually, they'll give us an outline. If we sit outsides, stake out the meeting. They did none of that.

And, of course, also noting, this was when the Senate was out of session, they were willing to stay for this briefing. Now, why does this all matter? As you noted, we've been told by a source that this briefing was about Russia. And this is the committee that's doing probably the most important and likely most effective investigation into the Russian meddling into the 2016 election.

This is a bipartisan committee. One that the chair, a Republican, and the vice chair, a Democrat, say they have good relationships with, are committed to an in-depth investigation. One that includes not only contacts between campaign officials and looking into contacts between campaign officials and looking into contacts between campaign officials and Russian intelligence contacts, but also extending into the transition period.

And you know what that means, John. That means that Michael Flynn and his contacts with the Russian ambassador, that is also a part of the investigation. That's the broader context here and kind of underscores why this was an important moment today in the U.S. Senate.

BERMAN: As to how effective this committee is, Senator Marco Rubio, he was in the briefing today. He's on that committee. And I understand he wrote about it afterwards. What did he say?

MATTINGLY: Yes, a little bit cryptic, but kind of interesting, because Marco Rubio walked out, and like every other lawmaker refused to say anything at all, said no comment, walked away from us. And he's usually a pretty talkative individual, at least senators, at least willing to give us time in the hallways.

But a couple of hours later he tweeted out, "I'm now very confident the Senate Intel Committee I serve on will conduct a thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence." Again, a little bit cryptic.

But coming in the wake of this briefing, with FBI Director Jim Comey, and obviously, Marco Rubio very strong position repeatedly on Russia, including going after President Trump's secretary of state nominee, making very clear his distaste for some of president Trump's positions on Russian, that he is okay with how this investigation is going to move going forward is an important moment, because I think a lot of the questions -- we've heard it from Democrats and some Republicans alike is, is there an independent investigative body needed? Can a Republican-led committee actually conduct an independent investigation?

Senator Marco Rubio, obviously, a Republican himself, says yes. So does Mark Warner, the vice chairman and Democrat of the committee.

So, this is the committee to keep an eye on. These briefings, increasingly important as they get down to their work, John.

BERMAN: Indeed, the details in the briefing hard to come by. But what details there are, Phil, very interesting. Thanks so much for being with us. Let's go now to Athena Jones who's in Mar-a-Lago where the president

is spending his third consecutive weekend as president.

Athena, is there any reaction from the White House about this briefing?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, no reaction so far to that briefing from the FBI director. We do know, however, the president feels about this Russia story. We heard him say it yesterday at the long free-wheeling press conference. He thinks the Russia story is a ruse. He calls it fake news. It's not surprising to see that they're not eager to respond to this tonight -- John.

BERMAN: And the president has a pretty interesting schedule this weekend, Athena. What's ahead?

JONES: A lot ahead. A senior administration official making this clear this will be a working weekend. It kicks off with the campaign- style rally tomorrow at the Orlando, Melbourne International Airport.

This is something that the White House officials are describing as a campaign rally. It will be paid for by the campaign. This is something the president has made very clear he's looking forward to. It is aimed at getting around the filter of the media, talking directly to the people.

But it won't just be the rally that he's involved in this weekend. He's also going to be meeting with possible replacements for now former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He's slated to meet with former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the United Nations, John Bolton, with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and with the acting national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, who was retired lieutenant- general.

He also his top aides with him, folks like Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, Sean Spicer, Steven Miller, and Gary Cohen. And they're going to be joined by the newly confirmed Office of Management Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and HHS secretary, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, to talk about the next steps in repealing and replacing Obamacare and also about tax reform.

So, that senior administration official making it very clear that he's not going to be on vacation here at his vacation home.

BERMAN: It sounds like a full house at Mar-a-Lago. Not to mention a full plate ahead for the president and his staff.

Athena Jones, thanks so much.

BERMAN: So, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Like his Senate counterparts, there are certain things he simply cannot talk about. With that in mind, here's our conversation from earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Congressman Castro, we saw FBI Director James Comey go into the Senate. He apparently briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee for nearly three hours. It was about Russia, we are told.

Do you have any sense of any of the details that were discussed?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't. But I do hope that it's moving the investigation in the Senate forward. I hope whatever was discussed, will also be discussed with the House Intelligence Committee. It's important to have a full and fair investigation into what happened with the Russians and the 2016 presidential election. And really because Americans deserve an answer to one basic question -- did any Americans conspire with the Russian hackers who were responsible for interfering with our elections?

And if so, those Americans should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. No matter how high up the chain it goes.

BERMAN: Congressman, we do know CNN has learned from law enforcement sources that the FBI doesn't intend to pursue charges against Michael Flynn, against General Flynn for his conversation with the Russian ambassador. They don't think there was any law that was broken that is worth recommending charges for. In your mind, does that not mean that perhaps there isn't as much here?

CASTRO: Well, again, I've not been briefed on that it's hard to say. It is disturbing that he may have had based on public reports, these conversations with Russian, the Russian government, vis-a-vis the ambassador. The fact that reports came out that other campaign advisers of the Trump campaign were talking to either the Russian government or Russian intelligence agents.

So, all of that is quite disturbing I think for millions of Americans. We've got to have a full investigation to get to the bottom of it. Yes, it's important to resolve the issue with General Flynn and I said last week, this past week it was a step in the right direction for him to resign. But there's still unanswered questions that need to be answered.

BERMAN: Do you want to see the transcript of that conversation? And do you think it should be made public?

CASTRO: I absolutely want to see the transcript. And just like any other piece of evidence, I think as much as possible this stuff should be declassified because the American people should be able to see as much as possible.

BERMAN: So, Congressman, President Trump has made clear he doesn't think highly of the media. And tonight, he wrote, "The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!"

I wonder if I can get your reaction to that, Congressman.

CASTRO: That kind of talk is dangerous. What we've seen from President Trump and when he was a candidate also, is this eagerness to delegitimize major institutions in society.

So, when he talks about "so-called judges" or when the White House essentially questions the authority of courts, of the judiciary to make rulings about a president's executive order, when he talks about the press and keeps berating them, talks about how disliked they are during the campaign, when he would turn to his supporters and get them all riled up against all of the press in the press pen, he really is trying to aggrandize himself, paint himself as an American savior, as the only one who can save the country, and trying to belittle other institutions like the judiciary and like the press.

[20:10:08] And to me, it just seems dangerous.

BERMAN: Well, you know, people don't -- there are people out there who don't like the media. And a lot of his supporters don't think particularly highly of the media.

CASTRO: No, I think that's right. But I think it's more than just his analysis. You know, it's not like he's writing for the Columbia Journalism Review here, just an analysis about the press. He's doing it to strengthen his own hand so that people will be more reluctant to question his authority and his decisions, and for our American democracy, that's not a good thing.

BERMAN: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for being with us. Have a great weekend.

CASTRO: Thank you.


BERMAN: Well, whether it's the Russia question, the search for national security adviser, military challenges from Moscow, North Korea, Iran, you name it, there's plenty in front of the president this weekend and plenty right here tonight.

Joining us, CNN political analysts Kirsten Powers and Maggie Haberman. Maggie covers the White House for "The New York Times." Also, Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former senior CIA official, Philip Mudd, and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord. Jeff is a contributing editor at the "American Spectator".

Phil, I want to start with you, because we obviously don't know, and may never know, what exactly Director Comey told the American intelligence today. But, typically, what kind of information is shared in those meetings? How much information is shared about an ongoing investigation?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I think there's an easy solution here when you look at this on the surface. You might think that that solution is a conversation about General Flynn's contacts with the Russians. I doubt that's what FBI Director Comey spoke about.

General Flynn is now gone and I think the question is broader. Going back to the fall President Obama ordered a study on Russian intervention in the elections, that study has been done. We have more information now on involvement, not only in the elections, but with senior political officials, including General Flynn.

I think the question, and the conversation between Comey and the Congress is straightforward. To the FBI, what do you know about Russia involvement in American politics before and after the election? Number two, how confident are you I the information you've acquired?

And something finally we haven't talked about, John. I think the conversation eventually has to shift to, even within two years where we'll go to another election cycle, what is the government's responsibility to protect politicians in the future so that this doesn't happen again?

BERMAN: Well, will it get into as much detail as yeah there were talks between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials? Will it get into that granular detail?

MUDD: I think it should involve that detail. Remember, this conversation is not about American citizens and American officials. The conversation starts with this is what the Russians are doing, this is how they're trying to influence the election. This is who they're talking to. It's not about an investigation into General Flynn. It's about an investigation into the Russians.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, you heard Phil Mattingly report on Marco Rubio, what he wrote about this meeting, he sits on the Intelligence Committee, and Rubio afterwards said, "I'm now very confident that the committee I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation."

It does seem like the Senate Intelligence Committee as of now is ground zero for the collection and the investigation of what went on.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right. And I think that it is something that the White House is very aware of. You had Marco Rubio have dinner with the president this week. Watching that relationship I think is going to be important.

There's a lot to your point, we may never know. But this is where you're going to see the most public aspect of this happen. And I think particularly, if you see General Flynn get called to testify for instance, you are seeing right now the White House praise General Flynn say repeatedly he was a wonderful man. All that he did wrong was just not tell the truth to Mike Pence.

There's a real sort of effort at a mutually assured calm between the White House and Flynn. I think that they both want to maintain a peace as this goes forward. But you will be testifying under oath this is going to be a very heavily watched scenario. And I think that when you see what you are playing earlier with the president's tweet about the fake media and the enemy of the people, he does those things when there is something else that is going on and he throws some chum in the water.

This is not a great story line for the White House. We don't know exactly what it is, but this is not helpful.

BERMAN: All right, guys. We take a quick break and pick up with the rest of the panel, when we come back.

And later tonight, after four weeks of a Republican in the White House, where does that leave Republican lawmakers? Is it helping or hurting that the Republican president in question is Donald Trump?


[20:18:25] BERMAN: With all that's going on in Washington and the world, the concerns growing about how few bodies are in place to handle a crisis, President Trump is said to be spending the weekend finding a national security adviser, which doesn't mean he's not also tweeting with pride about his press conference.

His latest? "One of the most effective press conferences I've ever seen says Rush Limbaugh, many agree, yet fake media calls it differently. Dishonest."

Back now with our panel.

Jeffrey Lord, I want to start with you here. I know -- I know because you were actually basically doing live commentary of Rush Limbaugh's radio show yesterday and today, as he was reviewing the president's press conference. I'm sure you agree with him. I'm sure that Donald Trump supporters, many of them most of them probably agree with it.

But what about the people who are not ardent Donald Trump supporters? What does this do --


JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They're not going to agree, John. I mean, I think we've seen very effectively here things are divided now. Over time, I mean, again, not to mention the "RR" word, there are people who didn't like him, either. President Reagan and eventually, they came around.

There's four years in play here. So, we've got a long, long way to go. We will see, but at the moment, we are still in that sort of divided state where the Trump supporters think he was just fabulous, and the other folks just can't stand him.

BERMAN: But is he doing anything to play, to address the people who can't stand him, Jeffrey?

LORD: Yes. By being himself. If he were phony, that would be a problem. That would be definitely be a problem. He'd lose people on his own side.

He's himself. That is exactly what people want to see. That's what his supporters want to see. That's what he's doing.

[20:20:01] BERMAN: Jonathan? JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, what you saw yesterday, this isn't Jeff, my friend Jeff, a question of whether you like him or not. It's what Jake Tapper said yesterday after the press conference what you saw was an unhinged and I'll add deranged individual, and that's I think what's unsettling to people.

I think to then hook in the question about his attack on the press which your interview with Joaquin Castro was quite interesting when he called the press the enemy of the people, that is an attack on the institutions of the United States in the same way that he's attacked the appeals court, and I think it goes to the thing that happened throughout the whole week. And really from the beginning of his administration, which is this man is incompetent. He can't run the government. And instead, what he does is he turns and attacks the press and the enemy of the people. The press should be criticized, but they're not the enemy of the people.

BERMAN: It's a Rorschach test. Hang on one second.

TASINI: It's clearly out of control.

BERMAN: You know, it is a Rorschach test because Jeffrey and the people who support president Trump are going to love what he did Jonathan and the people he don't obviously don't like what they saw. They use words like "deranged" there, Jonathan.

But, Kirsten, the question is, when the president does call the press the enemy of the people -- you know what do you think that does?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very destructive, because it is, it's one thing to criticize media coverage thaw don't like. It's another thing to delegitimize an entire institution of the media and to really cast them as being someone, being a group of people who are out to get people, which is clearly not what's going on, just because, just because he doesn't like the coverage.

And look, people I was very critical of President Obama when he tried to delegitimize FOX News, that's the word that was used by the White House they're not a legitimate news organization. Conservatives were very angry about that as well. The same conservatives, including Jeffrey, who were critical of that now sit by and act like this is okay and it's on a completely different level.

I mean, President Obama never said FOX News was the enemy of the Americans. I mean, Donald Trump has gone from the fake news, I think would put a little worse than not legitimate slightly worse. This is on a different level, the enemy of the American people? I mean I don't understand Jeffrey, what how you could have criticized President Obama for what he did and not criticize this.

BERMAN: Jeffrey?

LORD: Well, let me just say, Kirsten. You may be surprised to know that I have a column coming out in "NewsBusters" tomorrow , titled "The Media Versus America." But I talk about what he said in that press conference. And it's quite clear to me if you read it and I highlighted it in the column. That he holds an olive branch out to the American media and says -- in essence, let's talk about this. Let's have a conversation.


POWERS: But we're talking about the tweet calling people, calling the media the enemy of the American people. That's what I'm talking about.

LORD: (INAUDIBLE) in a China fashion, he is exactly the kind of president who can make the media versus government situation better. So, they're not hostile enemies or perceived that way by the American people.

BERMAN: You said he's trying to help us.


BERMAN: Hang on, Jeffrey. Hang on, Jonathan.

So, what Jeffrey was just saying there is that Donald Trump is trying to help us. He also brought up Richard Nixon, who also happened to use language much like we hear from Donald Trump where he said the media is the enemy of the people.

Maggie, you want to get in?

HABERMAN: And the inside voice. Next, we have to weigh my colleague Alex Burns pointed out on Twitter either today or yesterday, we had to wait decades to hear that on a released tape the Nixon said that this is the outside voice on Twitter where Trump is saying it.

I think to Kirsten's point when that happened with FOX News, with Obama, not only were conservatives upset about it justifiably, the rest of the media rallied around FOX News and said essentially you can't do that. Trump's incredibly good at dividing and conquering the media. That is I think part of what you're seeing in the destructive value of this.

So, you're not seeing what you would have seen in decades past, is everybody uniting and pushing back on this. He's very good at getting everybody to respond and jump on each other, which is equally problematic. But to say that the media is the enemy of the people is, even if you think it as a president, is a pretty dangerous statement.

BERMAN: All right. Maggie, Jonathan, Phil, thanks so much. Jeff, stick around.

When we come back what the reporter you're about to see thinks of his moment in the White House spotlight, also a deeper discussion of the very serious problem behind the question that produced this highly charged moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not, not a simple question, not a fair question. Sit down, I understand the rest of your question. So here's the --



[20:28:22] BERMAN: So, if today's tweet calling the news media enemies of the American people did not already convinced you, President Trump made it clear during his press conference how little regard he has for all but the friendliest reporters. He even managed to interpret a non-confrontational question about a problem that predates his administration as a personal attack and he took umbrage at it.

Take a listen to the question from Jake Turx of the orthodox Jewish weekly "Ami" and President Trump's answer.


JAKE TURX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMI MAGAZINE: What we haven't heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There's been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to.

TRUMP: You see, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question and it's not. Not a simple question, not a fair question.

OK, sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

So here's the story, folks. Number one, 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 get up and ask a straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.


BERMAN: And with that, Jake Turk became part of the story and the conversation tonight. However, because Mr. Turks observes the Sabbath, we spoke to him before air time and before sundown.


BERMAN: Jake, you never got a chance to finish your question to President Trump. What is it that you wanted to ask him?

TURX: Simply put, I'd like to know and get clarification on what is it that his administration's position is that the executive branch of the federal government of the United States --

[20:30:03] JAKE TURX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMI MAGAZINE: Simply put, I'd like to know, I get clarification on what is it that his administration's position is that the executive branch of the federal government of the United States can and would be doing to try to curb Anti-Semitism and try to address that issue and work together with leaders of the community.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: And you worked pretty hard to craft the question and make it clear that you were not asking him if he was an Anti-Semite.

TURX: Right, and perhaps sometimes when you over prepare you end up doing yourself a disservice. So it could be that that's what that was. I don't know -- we'll ever know.

BERMAN: Were you surprised that he cut you off before you were finished?

TURX: We're professional reporters. We're trained to not have any kind of emotional attachment if they try to not allow any kinds of feelings interfere with our jobs, so surprise is something I'm supposed to not be and yet here I am admitting on national television that I was somewhat surprised.

BERMAN: He says you were being unfair. He actually said you lied, the preface of your question you said it was going to be nice and you lied about that when in fact you work hard to make sure you were quite fair in asking it.

TURX: Right. And one of the very interesting things is the fact that for the past two years I've had a very good relationship with him and just a day earlier, less than 24 hours earlier when he escorted Prime Minister Netanyahu out of the White House.

I got a chance to just shoot a question at him and it was very simple, what is his message about, how the meetings went and what does he want the Orthodox Jewish community to know and he was very friendly and he said, you know, went over very well.

BERMAN: And again, the reason you asked this question is there's been a rise in reporting of Anti-Semitic incidents, and there have been Jewish Centers around the country reporting bomb threats ...

TURX: That's right.

BERMAN: ... or threats to their security. And, in fact, this was the second day in a row that the president was asked a question or at least ...

TURX: Right.

BERMAN: ... attempted to be asked a question about the rise in Anti- Semitic incidents around the country. When he was with the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a reporter asked, we've seep a sharp rise in Anti-Semitic incidents across the country and I wonder what you say to those to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing the xenophobia and maybe racist tones. His answer to that, he talked about his Electoral College win and he talked about the fact that his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.

But two days in a row he didn't answer the question what will the administration do or what does the administration think about the rise in reporting of anti-Semitic incidents.

TURX: Yes. So, actually I'm going to take the opportunity to give plug rate now to a network called CNN, I hope (inaudible) hear that, because according to your own reporting there have been 48 documented incidents of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers around the country in the past couple weeks.

BERMAN: But he hasn't, to my knowledge, answered the question yet about what he thinks about the rise in reporting of those incidents, has he?

TURX: But here's why I remain so hopeful though. Because, fact to the matter is, the Trump campaign and transition and now administration have been extremely forthcoming in reaching out to the Orthodox Jewish Community and I remain extremely confident that they are going to sit down and meet with the community leaders and figure out what it is that can be addressed and what is the best the most efficient way to address them.

BERMAN: All right, Jake Turx, great to have you with us. Thank you so much. And good luck at future press conferences.

So what exactly are the facts behind the questions of rising Anti- Semitism? We'll look at that coming up.

And we're right at the one-month mark of the Trump presidency. Fair to say, we never seen four weeks quite like this. We'll take stock with the panel of what we've seen and where we and he might be going.


[20:37:52] BERMAN: Before the break you heard from Jake Tukx, who had that contentious Q&A with Pres. Trump. What you did not hear was the back drop to his question which exists and is raising tension in Jewish communities across the country. More on that from 360, Gary Tuchman.


RICHARD SPENCER, ALT-RIGHT LEADER: Hail, Trump, hail our people, hail victory!

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hail victory, translated into German, Sieg Heil. The surreal scene happened just days after the presidential election. And just steps from the White House a gathering of a so called Alt-Right group cheering Donald Trump's victory with Nazi salutes.

After an uproar, Donald Trump's transition team released a statement two days after the incident denouncing racism. When the president- elect himself was pressed on it by "The New York Times" the day after that statement, he said he disavowed the group.

Back then, many people wished he'd sent a stronger message against hate.

In the three months since, a rash of Anti-Semitic threats. One such bomb threat against the Jewish Community Center caught on audiotape, the caller using voice masking technology.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel.

TUCHMAN: Just this past January, nearly 60 bomb threats were called in to 48 Jewish Community Centers across 26 states that according to the JCCA, an association of the centers.

CHIEF RICH WALLACE, AMBERLEY VILLAGE, OHIO POLICE & FIRE: There's been a number of threats at Jewish Community Centers throughout the United States. It is unfortunately. It's what we're dealing with now today, you know, in the world.

TUCHMAN: The FBI and Department of Justice are currently investigating beyond the threats Anti-Semitic vandalism across the country. This Nazi swastika spray-painted on a car in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That symbol is a symbol of hatred, that symbol a sign of Anti-Semitism, which is violent and awful, despicable, and deplorable.

TUCHMAN: And while none of the incidents has led to physical violence, a community is on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are scared they're saying what is next, what is this about?

TUCHMAN: The FBI which tracks hate crimes does not yet have national statistics for the time period since the election, but we do know Pres. Trump hometown of New York City according to an NYPD report has seen a dramatic rise of hate crimes against Jews so far this year. That was the backdrop for this testy exchange for Pres. Trump's news conference yesterday.

[20:40:16] TRUMP: Fair question, OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. TUCHMAN: And why even some of his most ardent supporters wish that Pres. Trump would be clearer and unequivocal in condemning bigotry. Gary Tuchman, CNN Los Angeles.


BERMAN: So that's the background. Here's the conversation. (Inaudible) I talked to Rabbi Marvin Hier who spoke at Pres. Trump's inauguration. He's Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also Jeffrey Lord, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.


Jonathan, you wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" today and you called Pres. Trump's non answer on Anti-Semitism startling and saying it's, "only the latest episode in a troubling pattern." Explain what you mean.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE, CEO: Well, John, it's nice to be here and I can explain that over the course of the last 12 months from the campaign to the election to now. We've seen a surge of Anti-Semitic incidences that have been troubling. And many moments of the course to that time whether it was tweets that were sourced from Anti-Semitic websites, statements by white supremacists, or bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country where we've been looking for moral leadership from our president.

Yesterday was a moment where we would have hoped he would have spoken out clearly against the Anti-Semitism, for some reason that didn't happen. We want to know why.

BERMAN: The sentiment that because the president's daughter and son- in-law, also hi grandchildren are Jewish, that that should be a statement enough, in off itself, that alone should speak to his commitment to the Jewish people and his stance on Anti-Semitism. Is that something you agree with that?

RABBI MARVIN HIER, SIMON WIESENTHAL, DEAN AND FOUNDER: Well, let me say this. Of course, the president should speak out against Anti- Semitism. But we shouldn't select the venue for him. Maybe we should say to the president at a time that he's comfortable in the very near future. He should address Anti-Semitism and bigotry. But let's be very clear, Anti-Semitism and bigotry preceded Pres. Trump.

BERMAN: Jeff, Peter Beinartm, a CNN contributor and really no fan of Pres. Trump. He wrote a piece in the Atlantic in which he argue that the best way to understand the president's answers to the questions about Anti-Semitism is, "as the product of narcissism so epic that it crowds out moral concern." What do you say to that? Because, again, yesterday and even the day before with Netanyahu when he was asked a question about Anti-Semitism he made the answers about himself rather than about the issue of the Anti-Semitic incidents.

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, I think the rabbi is right here. And I think what goes on in the president's mind here is that knowing his own record on this, knowing that he has Jewish family members, knowing as you heard the other day from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who's known him for years and vouched for him quite specifically on this subject, I think frankly that he takes offense that what he sees as suggestions that he ran an Anti-Semitic campaign or that there were Anti-Semites ...

BERMAN: But Jeffrey.

LORD: ... involved in his campaign.

BERMAN: But Jeffrey.

LORD: I think he really gets to take offense at it. So, ...

BERMAN: I can understand. I can understand why anyone would take offense being called an Anti-Semi. But at the news conference yesterday specifically that wasn't the question. The reporter we just talked to them ...

LORD: I think he ...

BERMAN: ... made a huge effort. He made a huge effort to say I'm not calling you Anti-Semite. I'm asking about these incidents ...

LORD: Yeah.

BERMAN: ... and the president chose to talk about himself.

LORD: Well, I think you got a couple things merging here. I think his belief as he talked that length about the media in general not being honest, of sentiment that he's expressed personally to me combined with that question and I think that he went off on that area because I think he's very sensitive about this. I think it makes him very angry.

BERMAN: Jonathan, what would you like to hear the president ...

GREENBLATT: I find this startling. I can't think of a more convenient or easy venue than the east room, whether real question is asked by a friendly journalist who's obviously Jewish or I can't think of an easier opportunity than holocaust remembrance day when the White House issued a statement that inexplicably omitted the 6 million Jews.

Look, let's be clear. This is a moment for moral leadership. And I understand that the president is angry. I am angry that a man was arraigned in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, yesterday, for plotting to blow up a synagogue.

I am angry that there are millions of Anti-Semitic tweets circulating over social media. And it is not because of the president that these are happening but it should be because of the president to say enough, dayenu, no to Anti-Semitism and we're going to stop it.

[20:45:01] BERMAN: And Rabbi Hier, you know, it should be noted, the president just tonight is tweeting about the media. He has plenty of time to talk about his complaints about the media. Could he take some of that time and say, hey, these Anti-Semitic incidents around the country are bad?

HIER: Yes, absolutely, but I don't think he should be tweeting or giving one or two sentences about a serious subject like Anti- Semitism.

And let me remind you there are so many people who are saying that Pres. Trump is an Anti-Semite. But I remember when the center was criticized why we didn't call Pres. Obama an Anti-Semite when he sat for 20 years in Reverend Wright's synagogue. We refused to call him an Anti-Semite because he isn't, and neither is Pres. Trump.

GREENBLATT: Look, I have such respect for Rabbi Hier who has been at this work for so long and done so much service for the Jewish community and for all marginalized people. But let's be clear, the question is whether or not Pres. Trump is an Anti-Semi, I don't think he is, the question is will he stand up as forcefully to Anti-Semitism as he does to the, "fake news" or as he does to "Saturday Night Live" or the morning shows.

Guys, there will be hard moments for this president. This one is easy and he should not knock it out of the park. So the question is why doesn't he?

BERMAN: Jeffrey, last word.

LORD: Well, you know, he's been there three weeks. Give him a chance. Give him a chance.

BERMAN: All right, guys, an important discussion. I appreciate the time. Jeffrey Lord, Rabbi Hier, Jonathan Greenblatt, thank you so much.

GREENBLATT: Thank you.

HIER: Thank you.

LORD: Thank you.


BERMAN: So here we are four weeks into the Trump presidency, our already (ph) a presidency like no other. But is that a good thing for the Republican Party? We'll check the state of the GOP next.


[20:50:37] BERMAN: So believe it or not, it's only been four weeks since Pres. Trump took the oath of office. Since then there've been multiple huge protest, the (inaudible) rule out of the travel ban, it is now been has been blocked by a court.

A (inaudible) of other executive orders and controversy now over the president and his team potential ties to Russia, and controversy not going away, but what's the state of the Republican Party, his party, four weeks into the presidency?

Let's talk about that with three of our GOP political commentators, Republican Strategist, Kevin Madden, Conservative Review Contributing Editor, Amanda Carpenter, back with us American Spectator Contributing Editor, Jeffrey Lord.

Amanda, I want to start with you because Mitch McConnell today said something fascinating, the Republican leader in the Senate. He said, that four weeks in, you know, if we had a Pres. Rubio or Pres. Jeb Bush or a Pres. Romney it essentially be the same thing as we're seeing right now with Pres. Trump. Do you agree with that?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CONSERVATIVE REVIEW, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: I do. I mean, there's so much focus on Trump. I think they're missing the story what comes down to a bottom line for Republicans in Congress. What Trump says rhetorically has little or nothing to do with what they're going to be doing legislatively in the next 100, 200 days.

Trump can take all the focus, start a fake fight with a fake news media. It has nothing to do with the way the Republican are going to repeal Obamacare, or get tax reform done.

And so, I actually think there are some Republicans who are relieved that Trump draws all the drama his way because they can quietly get to work and hopefully have some victories to brag to the constituents about the summer.

BERMAN: OK, the man is -- it getting done. We are a month in. And we hear about road blocks or stumbling blocks on Obamacare. Tax reform, there seem to be some disagreement ...


BERMAN: ... within the Republican Party about what to do. You know, is the way the president is behaving helping advance the cause?

MADDEN: Well, look. I think there's two ways to look at this. The first is on the issue said, there is a great deal of agreement. I think that's the message that Mitch McConnell is trying to get across.

There are issues, you know, Republicans on the Hill and the White House are relying on issues. They, you know, they want to focus on repealing Obamacare, they want to focus on border security, and though there are details that still have to be hashed out about tax reform, tax reform as a priority is still there.

I think where they have not been aligned is on the process. And the process is really important when you're running, you know, one of the three branches of government.

So I think where they have to get more in sync and this is where I think Sen. McConnell and others on the Hill are trying to send the message, and there are also voices inside the White House that sort to get it is, they need to do a better job on congressional outreach, they need to do a better job of communicating what their priorities are and being more disciplined about talking about those priorities. And, on those two issues which is the alignment on issues and the process, the process is much harder to fix. So, the fact that they are aligned on a lot of the issues, some of the big work is already done.

BERMAN: So, Jeffrey Lord, another thing that Mitch McConnell basically said is that the tweets aren't helping. That he doesn't like the distraction that they cause on Capitol Hill. And you can imagine that Mitch McConnell didn't say it that out loud, but that maybe parts of the press conference weren't exactly as helpful either and also might be a distraction. So I know you think that the tweet, the news conference, and everything that Donald Trump does is good for him and helpful for him. But do you think it is helping the Republican Party?

LORD: Yes. And let me just tell you, a writer by the name of Ray Di Lorenzo (ph) over the Town Hall listed, an analyst list of things that Donald Trump have accomplished. I'm just going to read five here to get us back in the perspective.

BERMAN: Quickly.

LORD: One, he's nominated a conservative Supreme Court justice. Two, he's now saying the phrase Islamic radical. Three, his recapitulation (ph) with Israel. Four, he's nominated -- he's got somebody a school choice advocate as Secretary of Education. And five, trade policies are being revised. And that's before you get to Obamacare and tax reform.

So we need not to lose sight that things are being accomplished and sometimes we're just not paying attention to the fact that they are.

BERMAN: That's true. And those are all Republican priorities there to be sure. You know, Amanda Carpenter, you're a communications expert. You saw the president deliver that news conference yesterday. He clearly enjoyed it. You know, if you were giving advice to him, would you tell him to do it again?

LORD: All set.

CAPENTER: Of course not, but this is -- I mean, Donald Trump makes himself the ultimate shiny object and that's why I actually see a productive dynamic between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

[20:55:4] No one is accusing Paul Ryan of pushing granny off the ledge right now because he's working on a tax bill. They're looking at Donald Trump wild and crazy antic.

I'm sorry, Donald Trump laid out the bait for the media and they all took it. He wanted to have a debate about the state of American news media. That's what -- many people, because they are selfish, who said want to do in the media now.

Meanwhile, everyone else is getting a free pass on the issues on the Hill for Obamacarae, for a budget reconciliation, for a tax reform. And, you know what, as a Republican who believes in seeing results, wants to see those accomplish, I'm just fine with that for now.

BERMAN: Kevin, I'm going to put you on the spot here.


BERMAN: Your former boss, Gov. Mitt Romney, do you think he's looking at the first month of the Trump administration and feeling glad he's not in it?

MADDEN: Well, f you go back to your earlier question about what Mitch McConnell said, there's no way it would be the exact same if there's a Pres. Romney. I think we'd ll be trying to purposely bore you right now.

But I think one of the things that many Republicans, even the so- called establishment Republicans what they want to see is a little bit more of an emphasis put on the policy and to Jeffrey's point, you know, every day, finding a way to advance those policy goals ...

LORD: Right.

MADDEN: ... rather than sort of create these distractions that sometimes hinder some of the progress.

BERMAN: Amanda Carpenter, Kevin Madden, and Jeffrey Lord, our Republican surrogate (ph) thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: We'll be right back.


BERMAN: Thanks for watching AC 360; A special edition of Smerconish starts now.