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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford; Trump Rally; Moscow Mocks Trump Administration; Trump's EPA Pick Scott Pruitt Confirmed; Trump: Getting Along with Russia a "Positive Thing". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:05]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It's now been four weeks since President Trump took office. Is he already thinking four more years?

THE LEAD starts right now.

One month into his presidency, President Trump holds what can only be described as a campaign rally as his new pick for national security adviser bows out.

Moscow mockery, the Kremlin saying it had better things to do than watch President Trump's news conference, as a Russian senator publicly mocked the different messages coming from different members of the Trump administration.

Plus, he's worth a fortune, and it turns out that protecting the president and the first family costs a fortune as well, but Mr. Trump jetting off to Florida again today, why it's more expensive than ever to keep him safe.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the politics lead. And you better watch out, lying Ted and crooked Hillary and low-energy Jeb. Candidate Trump is back. After a week that cost him his national security adviser and a Cabinet nominee, President Trump hit the road again today, making an appearance first at a Boeing plant in South Carolina, which he will follow up with a campaign rally. That's right, a campaign rally in Florida tomorrow.

All this as the help wanted signs continue to hang outside the Oval Office after the president's pick to replace Michael Flynn, that is Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned down the offer and questions continue to swirl about the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.

And this just in. This is exclusive video of FBI Director James Comey leaving a classified briefing on Capitol Hill with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a handful of other senators, and we are told that meeting was, listen to this, about Russia.

CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House.

Sara, the president heading out, while so many high-level positions in his Cabinet, they still sit empty.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. There are plenty of open jobs in the White House as well as, of course, the gaping one, that of national security adviser.

But Donald Trump wanted to get back on the road and today that is exactly what he did.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love South Carolina. I love it.

MURRAY (voice-over): Less than a month into his presidency, Donald Trump is breaking out of the bubble and getting back into campaign mode.

TRUMP: This was going to be a place that was tough to win, and we won in a landslide.

MURRAY: Trump reliving his South Carolina primary win in a visit to a Boeing plant today, the president trying to get back do his sweet spot as he touted his goal to revive American manufacturing.

TRUMP: When American workers win, America as a country wins, big league wins. That's my message here today. America's going to start winning again, winning like never, ever before.

MURRAY: With the administration under fire over its Russian connections, the botched travel ban and the ouster of Trump's national security adviser, Trump's allies say he's been feeling cooped up and itching for a chance to get out of Washington.

TRUMP: I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it.

MURRAY: So, the president is doing just that. He previewed a weekend campaign rally during his spontaneous press conference earlier this week.

TRUMP: Quiet, quiet, quiet.

MURRAY: It stretched for over an hour as Trump clearly relished his chance to spar with the press.

TRUMP: I will be in Melbourne, Friday, 5:00 on Saturday. And I heard -- just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there.

MURRAY: Relitigate campaign rivalries.

TRUMP: Does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump?

MURRAY: And make his case to the American public that the strife in the White House has been overblown. TRUMP: We have made incredible progress. I don't think there's ever

been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we have done.

MURRAY: With the president setting out on the campaign trail, Vice President Mike Pence is picking up the reins of diplomacy, jetting off to Europe this weekend to meet with world leaders and help calm allies' concerns about the tumultuous Trump administration, all of this as a key White House position remains unfilled.

Trump fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn earlier this week, and retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward also turned down the job. Now Trump says he has a handful of candidates on his short list, including acting National Security Adviser Keith Kellogg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, President Trump may be spending his weekend at his what has become known as his winter White House, but aides insist he will still be working and he may even interview a couple candidates for the national security adviser position -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray live at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. He's a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

[16:05:00]

Congressman Sanford, thanks very much for joining us today.

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: President Trump, as you know, visited your state today to talk about Boeing jobs.

His strategy with Boeing and other U.S. companies since he's taken office seems to be a combination of public pressure, plus even threats of tariffs to make companies move jobs back here to the U.S. In your view, is that an effective way to bring jobs back to America?

SANFORD: No, I think it's counterproductive.

I think in a company like Boeing, where he visited earlier today and it's right here in my district, you know, they have an amazing export business. If you think about BMW, they do an amazing job of exporting the cars that they produce around the world. And, so, I think that it's imperative that we keep trade barriers down and world trade up and going.

I mean, the Smoot-Hawley tariffs are a testament to how disastrous tariffs can be. So, I think it's wrong. And I think this notion of Twittering companies to death, frightening them is not the way in which you attract jobs or capital here in the country.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. President Trump, as you know, angrily rejected the notion that there is chaos inside his White House in this press conference yesterday, says his administration, in his words, runs like a finely tuned machine.

In an interview with "Politico" magazine, you delivered what is rare public criticism from a GOP lawmaker. You described the president as misleading, even unprepared for the office of president. Tell us why.

SANFORD: I don't know what that reference was and I don't know what I was referring to there, because, you know, you take a page worth of stuff and boil it down to a phrase. I'm not sure what was before or after.

But I guess what I was getting at was that I think that some of the bluster and some of the hyperbole is distracting. I mean, we have a republic that's ultimately based on reason, this idea of comparing ideas back and forth.

And people may have different perspectives from left or the right, from Republicans, from Democrats. But it's important that, if we're going to have a real debate, that it actually be based on facts.

And so I think I may have been alluding to some of the ways in which he's at times been a little bit loose with some of the facts.

SCIUTTO: And you're saying -- and I remember -- read the interview -- quite strong. You talk about the republic being based on reason.

Are you saying that he's not leading the country in a way that is based on reason?

SANFORD: No, I'm not saying that.

I'm saying I would give anybody the benefit of the doubt. And he's a couple weeks into this process. And I think there's learning that comes, particularly in being new to the world of politics and the way that your word reverberates maybe in ways that you didn't have -- you never would have imagined and certainly didn't have as the case when you were in private business.

So, I'm not making a suggestion as to what he is or isn't doing. I'm just saying that it's imperative for all of us, irregardless of our political perspective, to base our arguments on reason, based on real facts.

SCIUTTO: You did criticize some of the your Republican colleagues, including Paul Ryan, for failing to stand up to some of the president's mistakes. You said that radio silence, in your words, is not sustainable to being true to yourself.

In your view, are members of your party failing in their duty?

SANFORD: I would absolutely not condemn any member of my party or other legislative colleagues from the opposite party. I think that everybody has to walk their walk, and everybody

calibrates for themselves what they believe to be a mountain worth fighting on and which ones aren't. And you can't fight every fight.

What I did say about Speaker Ryan was, I really admired the way in he had spoken up during the campaign, which I thought he did forcefully. And there's been a bit of reserve since the president has come in place, but I think that that's the deference due any administration over what is normally something of a honeymoon period, and hasn't exactly been that for President Trump here the last few weeks.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk, if we can, again about Jason Chaffetz. He is, as you know, the Republican head of the Oversight Committee, of which you're a member.

He is now seeking new charges related to Hillary Clinton's e-mails. He's seeking an investigation into leaks of classified intelligence.

Let me ask you this. Do you think the committee should also be investigating evidence of Trump advisers' contacts with Russia during the campaign? It's CNN's own reporting that there were repeated contacts, constant communications, officials described it to us, between senior members of the Trump campaign with Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

Should that be investigated?

SANFORD: Sure, it absolutely should. And the question is how.

I think that what's taking place over on the Senate side makes a lot of sense. I don't think that -- I don't know if she's a junior or senior senator from California, but I don't think that, you know, she would, as a Democrat, be espousing what they have laid out on the Senate side in terms of intelligence beginning to route this -- I guess Burr is actually head of the committee on the Senate side.

But I guess it's Barbara Feinstein that said what's taking place here actually makes sense. So, I think that that approach that they're taking on the Senate side probably makes sense.

[16:10:02]

On the House side, there's been reluctance. Chairman Nunes has said, I don't want to do this. It may come to Judiciary. It may come to Government Reform to investigate.

But I think that there's probably a quieter way to do it. It's very complex. You're dealing with what in some cases are classified pieces of information in uncovering this. And, therefore, I think it's probably best done through law enforcement or intel before you go to a public forum, which is what a committee hearing would entail.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you finally about health care. You along with Senator Rand Paul unveiled your Obamacare replacement bill this week. We have seen some pretty angry town halls across the country, even Trump supporters who worry that they will lose their coverage. A lot of colleagues now canceling their town halls, but you're hosting one with one of the very groups behind much of these Obamacare protests. Why are you willing to still face those protests as you seek a replacement?

SANFORD: Well, we had one last Saturday, and it went fine.

And, you know, this group Indivisible, which is sort of a grassroots group, more from the left than from the right certainly, but they have got a viewpoint. And I think that that viewpoint needs to be heard. They were incredibly civil last week, when people who 180 percent disagreed with one another were sitting across tables from one another.

We're going to try to again this Saturday. And we have consistently tried to look for ways of hearing other people's viewpoints. I think that it's the squeaky wheels that get greased in the world of politics. And, again, our republic was based on this notion of debate.

And so we will have something to debate, you know, a conversation and a contest of ideas come tomorrow morning.

SCIUTTO: Some of your colleagues, Chaffetz included, even the president, have hinted that these protesters are paid protesters. Do you think that's a fair criticism?

SANFORD: I can't speak to other parts of the country, but that's absolutely not the case here at home.

And, again, I would commend folks. Maybe it's the spirit of Charleston. We had a real tragedy here awhile ago at Mother Emanuel AME Church. And in its way, people forgave one another.

There is an image up on the wall of my office in Washington that still gives me goose bumps where hands holding each other, black, white, a sea of different hands holding each other, American flag in the background and Charleston Harbor behind that.

And so maybe it's something in the water here in Charleston. I don't know what it is, but I have seen no suggestion that there are paid protesters. It's just people with a strong idea, at times 180 degrees difference than mine, but their voice needs to be heard.

SCIUTTO: Well, good for you taking those questions.

Congressman Sanford, thanks very much.

SANFORD: Yes, sir. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The newest member of President Trump's administration now the head of a department where many employees fiercely opposed his nomination. We have that story right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:42] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics now. Scott Pruitt, President Trump's pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency has now been confirmed. That marks the 14th nominee in the Trump administration to be approved by the Senate -- almost as many confirmations as President Obama had over the same span back in 2009.

In a last ditch protest, Senate Democrats took to the floor, railing against the former Oklahoma attorney general's ties to the oil and gas industry and his prior lawsuits against the very agency he now leads.

CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh joins me now live.

So, Rene, a district judge in Oklahoma, he's ordering Pruitt to hand over thousands of communications with oil and gas companies while he was attorney general. What are they looking for?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, despite his confirmation that just happened a few hours ago, we real should I expect even more drama. His opponents say he was often an advocate for the energy industry and now a watch dog group's request for his e-mail communication. Well, that happened some two years ago. And when that request was not granted, the Center for Media and Democracy filed a lawsuit. They believe the e-mails will reveal potential conflict of interest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nomination is confirmed.

MARSH (voice-over): Scott Pruitt confirmed to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the same agency he fought against as Oklahoma's attorney general. The confirmation coming as Pruitt faces a new court order.

LISA GRAVES, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: The American people have a right to know what Scott Pruitt is hiding.

MARSH: A watch dog group filed a lawsuit to get access to Pruitt's e- mail communications with the fossil fuel industry. Thursday, an Oklahoma district judge ruled Pruitt must turnover 3,000 e-mails by next Tuesday.

GRAVES: He has been hiding information from the Senate and from the American people about the true extent of that relationship, how deep his ties go to the industries that he would be basically charged with regulating.

MARSH: He's filed at least a dozen lawsuits against the EPA and in his confirmation hearing, senators revealed Pruitt used Oklahoma state stationery and signed his name to letters drafted by energy lobbyists. Those letters were then sent to federal agencies criticizing environmental regulations. Democrats pushed to delay Pruitt's confirmation vote to allow time to review the e-mails.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It's not the worst thing in the world to take a few extra days to properly vet someone who will have immense power.

MARSH: But Senate Republicans refused to delay.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's pretty clear what's happening. They want to move them as slowly as possible and on the ones they have deemed controversial, they want to give their left wing agitators enough time to get up and get organized.

MARSH: Democrats accuse Pruitt of being pro-industry.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our plan will end the EPA.

MARSH: Pruitt's track record makes him attractive to Trump and Republicans who are desperate to rein in an agency they say is wasting taxpayer dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get no joy being one of those states at the end of America's tail pipe.

MARSH: From an all nighter on the Senate floor to protests outside the EPA and a union urging its EPA members to tell their senators to vote no.

Despite the resistance, a fresh tweet from the agency for the first time in weeks, welcoming Scott Pruitt.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:20:03] MARSH: Pruitt was confirmed on a largely party line vote, but there were some crossovers. Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both who represent producing states, voted for him while moderate Republican Susan Collins voted against him.

SCIUTTO: Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

If you don't think Russia is watching President Trump's every move, you're wrong. Today, Moscow is trying to needle him with a new taunt.

And the president is spending another weekend working from his Mar-a- Lago resort. Guess who is footing the bill for his security? That would be you and me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:04] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

We're back with our world lead now. Germany delivered a blunt warning to its NATO ally, the United States today, urging the Trump administration to stay wary of Russia. This comes just hours after President Trump once again reiterated that he would, quote, "love to get along with Russia."

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis are singing a very different tune. That at the Munich security conference in Germany, Vice President Mike Pence will also speak there tomorrow.

I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He's in Moscow.

So, Ivan, there are conflicting messages coming out of Washington. Does Russia believe President Trump's more friendly words and comments or his more hawkish advisors?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the Russians are trying to figure this out just like you and I and everybody else is right now because there do seem to be kind of different messages coming from different officials. And, in fact, a senior lawmaker here, Alexey Pushkov, he put out a tweet today saying, suggesting it sounds like there are three completely different lines coming from the Trump administration depending on who you listen to.

For example, the new secretary of defense, he's been quite aggressive. He's accused Russia of basically being destabilizing and suggesting that Russia is the biggest threat that the NATO military alliance really faces. You've had many comments by the president himself, Donald Trump, being very positive and complimentary of Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart. And in his phone conversation with Putin, the two leaders promised to try to fix ruptured relations between Washington and Moscow.

But I think that Russians are starting to get a sense now that amid the political firestorm where you are, Jim, and all the controversy swirling around alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, that the Russians are starting to realize it will be quite difficult probably to try to fix these tense relations that have historically been in place between Moscow and Washington, at least in this climate in the near future -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Oddly enough, Russia has been more consistent because it has stayed as arguably even more confrontational with the U.S. since Trump's election. You had the deployment of a new cruise missile, you have flybys of U.S. ships, more military activity in Ukraine. I mean, has there been a change in Russia's opinion towards the president even since the election?

WATSON: Well, the rhetoric has been incredibly complimentary coming from the Kremlin-run media here, from government officials as well. I mean, there was euphoria when Donald Trump was elected. People were very -- anti-American politicians were literally toasting with champagne after that happened. And the coverage was reflected in the state media.

I think in recent days, it's been remarkable. The amount of Trump coverage has declined somewhat on the front pages of newspapers, on state media as well. There was even a small protest outside one of the TV headquarters here where people were saying, "We're tired of Trump mania. We want less Trump coverage". And that does seem to be starting to happen now.

And, again, we're starting to get more critical tones in some of these statements coming out of government officials. The defense -- minister of defense here, Jim, responded to something said by our Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and said, if you think you can deal with Russia from a position of strength, you're not going to get anywhere -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Rapprochement didn't last long. Ivan Watson, thanks very much.

President Trump in Florida, the first lady in New York, and the first sons on a trip to the Middle East. Just how much does it cost to protect the first family? That's right aft, this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)