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Trump Travels to Boeing in South Carolina Today; Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Role; Trump: My Admin running like "Fine-Tuned Machine"; Trump: There's "No Chaos" in the White House. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman, great to see you this morning. The president is taking his show on the road. Moments from now, he leaves Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. You're looking at live pictures right there of Air Force One. And he is set to visit Boeing and meet with the CEO there and workers as well in a plant.

At the same time though, the White House is still without a permanent national security adviser this morning. And the White House is now pushing back against reports that the admiral they tapped for that key role wanted nothing to do with the chaos surrounding this administration. Of course, they also say there is no chaos surrounding this administration.

HARLOW: Nothing to see here folks. Also this morning, retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward citing family reasons for turning down the president's offer for him to serve. A friend, though, of Harward telling CNN that he actually thought the offer was a "sh** sandwich." But he didn't say blank, instead, he used the -- word that runs with lit.

Also this morning, we're learning that the FBI is not expected to pursue charges against fired national security adviser Michael Flynn over that controversial phone call with the Russian ambassador. More on that in a moment, first, let's go to our Brynn Gingras. She is live in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is a huge employer, Boeing. This is a company that the president has tweeted about today. He will talk to the workers and the CEO.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Poppy. And as you guys said, he's going to be leaving the White House momentarily and expected to be here in North Charleston by about 12:20 p.m. And when he touches down in Air Force One, he will be the first sitting president to visit this North Charleston facility. And it is a big visit.

He's here to unveil, also in addition to what you mentioned, Poppy, the 787 Dreamliner is Boeing's new plane. We actually drove by the plant just yesterday and we saw that enormous plane sitting right there waiting for him to welcome. He's going to take a tour of that plane and the tour of the entire facility. Talk to the workers and of course, talk to Boeing's CEO, which it's very possible they'll continue their talks about a replacement plane for Air Force One and the high cost of that, something he said about -- during his campaign. He was very critical about that during the time.

We also expect the president to make some comments and he tweeted just a few hours ago that he wants to talk about jobs here in North Charleston. Of course, that Dreamliner plane made exclusively here at this North Charleston plant. It was something Boeing used to attract business to this particular part of this state.

So we are expecting some comments from the president. But we will say, though, two miles from where he is visiting, where I am right now, we are also expecting a little bit of controversy, some protesters, about 200 or so, maybe even more expected to come out here and protest his visit. So certainly, he does come with some protesters following in tow.

We also know that after he visits, he is expected to head down to Mar- a-Lago for the weekend. And he is going to be having a big rally there that we've been talking about all morning, guys.

BERMAN: Brynn Gingras for us in South Carolina with the president arrives at Boeing in just a little bit. And this is the picture that the White House wants to send. This is what they wanted to be showing him doing all along. Talking about jobs, talking about manufacturers is what he promised he would do so it's an important picture.

However, there are still so many other questions going on right now, especially with the national security adviser, now that retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward has turned down that role. The White House needs to find someone to fill it. Let's bring in CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. You know, there is the picture that the president cannot show of him with the new national security adviser now that, a very respected Vice Admiral, retired Bob Harward, has turned the job down.

I think it's really important to point out that retired senior officers have a very strong ethos of not saying no to a sitting president. It's why you have Defense Secretary retired General Jim Mattis. Homeland Security Secretary retired General John Kelly. You just don't say no to a sitting president. That's the general proposition. But admiral Harward did. An issue pointed out. We have people telling us who are very familiar with his thinking. The public answer was family issues but privately the admiral was very concerned about the chaos in the administration.

Now, the president tweeted earlier this morning that -- indicating that nothing was the case like that. President Trump saying, pointing out one person he might have in mind, saying that "General Keith Kellogg, who I have known for a long time, is very much in play for NSA," national security adviser, "as are three others." General Kellogg, long retired, many years ago, worked in Iraq. He's been sort of now, working as the acting adviser, if you will, and the president mentioning three others.

But the bottom line is it indicates that really there is a hunt on. I think it's fair to say that he's thought admiral Harward would say yes, would he said no. Now starting over, getting that list out again and frankly, trying to get somebody to take the job. John, Poppy?

[10:05:09] HARLOW: All right. And who is that going to be, Barbara Starr great reporting. Thank you very much. Here to discuss all of it. Kirsten Powers, CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and contributing editor to "The American Spectator" and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times." Happy Friday to you all, nice to have you.

Kirsten, let me begin with you. What do you think it says that this White House has not only had to fire their national security adviser, but now the man widely respected as Barbara said on both sides of the aisle, very decorated admiral, has said no, and the reporting CNN has, his official line is it was his family and the time he couldn't commit. CNN's reporting is that he saw chaos in this White House. How do you see it?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND COLUMNIST "USA TODAY": Well, I mean, it's pretty amazing, actually. And the White House is claiming it's not chaotic. Of course, the president saying that basically, it's a well-oiled machine. And it just makes you wonder what their definition of chaos is. Because from the outside it certainly looks chaotic and says a lot, as Barbara Starr was just saying, that you have somebody who normally would feel really compelled to, out of a sense of duty, to answer the call of a president to take a job, and he didn't.

And based on, you know, reports that he saw it as being too chaotic and didn't feel like he would necessarily be able to do his job well in that environment. And so, you know, if you're the Trump administration, you know, you don't have to listen to the media. You don't have to listen to the Democrats. But you might want to listen to this. You might want to pay attention to the fact that somebody like this would turn down a job -- and not serve the president because of concerns of what's going on in the White House.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, isn't this exactly the kind of guy that you would want in any White House? And if he had concerns about the chaos there or if he had concerns about the staffing there isn't he the kind of guy you would want to defer to, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONTRIBUTING EDITOR "THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR": Well, sure you want to have somebody like this. But John, I have to say, I went back and took a look. And I found stories exactly like this about the Obama administration, the Obama White House, the Bush 43 White House, the Clinton White House, and heavens, horrors, the Reagan White House. And they all said, fill in the blank White House in turmoil. Ronald Reagan had six national security advisers and he fired two of them, the first and the fifth. He's judged today by a lot of people including yours truly as a great president. I would just suggest this is a personnel matter, it will be resolved and they'll move on. BERMAN: You don't see any signs, Jeffrey, of chaos or concern from in the White House or any signs of concern -- from admiral Harward himself who, again, maybe wanted to do things differently?

LORD: Well, that's disputed by the administration. But as I say, this is a typical Washington story that's been run with the last several presidents. So, you know, things work as they do. And I just think this is you know the Washington story of the moment and I'm not sure that there's any truth to it.

HARLOW: Lynn, is that how you see it? Is that the - Is this the Washington story of the moment, nothing to see here, folks, no chaos, and this is just how every transition, the first sort of month in, has been?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, thank you for the question. Let me reflect. I think let's not do for the moment comparisons and just look at the first almost month of the Trump White House. And if you take away that Flynn was fired, the labor secretary had to drop out because of incomplete vetting. And the long stream of consciousness press conference yesterday, where the president himself, said things that were counter to facts and people's experiences.

I think that's the story that we see. And I think the conversation gets harder when we start putting these labels on it. It's chaotic, it's this, it's that. We see what it is and what this is, I think, is a president who is taking a longer time at getting his cabinet appointments made and his Senate -- confirmable positions made. And that is part of what you're seeing here, OK?

The undersecretary appointments haven't even been made in the slew of appointments. It's not so much that you're missing one national security adviser. This is a big country. The president will find someone. The issue is we're a month for national security adviser. The issue is we're a month in and there are so many positions still unfilled.

BERMAN: Kirsten, you wanted to jump in.

POWERS: Well, I was just going to say, Jeffrey is right to the certain extent at least on the Clinton administration was very chaotic. I don't know that I would put it quite in the same category as what's going on now. But it was very chaotic. And you know President Clinton had to hire -- his boyhood friend to be the Chief of Staff, Mack McLarty, who really didn't know his way around Washington. But the point is they paid a price for that. That it's not sort of go back and say, well, you know it happened in another administration. Well, when it happens, that actually causes - it really impacts their ability to govern.

[10:10:05] So, you know, I think that lessons should be learned, frankly, rather than just saying, well, it happened in other administrations. And you know, to look -- the fact that they don't -- the Trump administration really doesn't have enough, I think, seasoned hands is one of the problems, which was a problem with the Clinton administration. He also hired a lot of loyalists from his campaign, much the way Trump has done, who didn't have the necessary experience and didn't know their way around Washington. And Washington -- kind of crushed them, frankly.

HARLOW: Jeffrey Lord, to you, one of the things that struck me, and frankly did trouble me from the press conference yesterday, was so glad to see the president taking so many questions. But what troubled me was thinking about the people that have bet so much on him. And the people that are not making enough money to get by. And the people that can't afford to get health care who are banking on the president to change things for the better for them. Did you see this president talking to them directly yesterday saying what he will do, -- committing to things that will make their lives better? And if so, what were those answers?

LORD: Yes. Yes, I mean, he talked about tax reform. I think he talked about health care. You know, where he's going with these things. But let's remember, Poppy, this is a press conference. He says whatever he's going to say in the very beginning but then the press conference is based on questions from the press. So he --

HARLOW: No, but Jeffrey Lord, he went on. It was a soliloquy for quite a long time.

LORD: Yes, but Poppy, look, I do think our friend, Selena Ito (ph), whom you quoted this morning accurately has this. There is a parallel universe. People in Washington thought that press conference was a disaster. People out here thought he was fabulous, they really loved it, thought he was terrific, including taking the press on directly and our friend Jim Acosta, as a Reagan person, this reminds me of Ronald Reagan's duets with Sam Donaldson of "ABC" which got to be a creature of this press conferences.

So, I think, he did extremely well. People know he's working on these things. They know what the schedule is. They have complete confidence in him. - That said people that don't like him are not going to like him.

BERMAN: Lynn Sweet, I just want to ask you in closing here, you know that press conference happened. Today is a new day. Did it change anything, is today a different day for this presidency because of that news conference?

SWEET: No. No. It's not even a speed bump. It is historic and there's plenty of -- there's plenty of material to Talmudic (ph) dissect, OK? But I don't think the trajectory, this early in, is going to be changed. But that doesn't mean it's not important. We shouldn't pay attention to it and we shouldn't report on it. We should.

BERMAN: Kirsten Powers, Jeffrey Lord, Lynn Sweet, we will all keep on reporting on it. Thank you so much. Jeffrey has an Op-Ed in the "New York Daily News" today that's worth reading as well.

Still to come for us, chaos or a finely-tuned machine? We're going to talk to a man who spent years inside an administration. He'll give us his opinion of what's really going on. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:06] BERMAN: This morning, we are hearing from some lawmakers saying they are stunned after the president's press conference. A Republican Senator told CNN "He should do that with therapist, not on live television."

HARLOW: Another Republican lawmaker called it "the new normal," adding, "We're just trying to manage this s***." CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty joins us now live from Capitol Hill with more on the response. Those aren't the only two Republicans reacting that way.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. The Republicans were responding fast and furiously to the president's press conference yesterday. You know sources describe the Republican lawmakers watching this rather remarkable press conference unfold with varying levels of shock and dismay.

But it was really that one bombshell statement from that one Republican lawmaker that really stood out, where they said, quote, "We're just trying to manage this s***. The people that love him will love him more. The people that hate him will hate him more and the people in the middle probably will look at it the way we look at it here in Congress, which is, that's just the new normal. That's just the s*** that happens. I don't know how else to manage it."

And Senator Marco Rubio perhaps with a little less colorful language basically spoke to the heart of what many people up on Capitol Hill are feeling. He told CNN, quote, "It's been four weeks so it's not like we're talking about four months -- I know it might feel like four months -- but it has been just four weeks."

And that's really getting to the heart of some of the frustration up here. That they are now a month in to this new administration and it does feel like they have a lot of distractions going on right now. You have this very ambitious agenda that Republicans has set tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and there is this concern and frustration and worry that these -- sort of daily distractions coming from a White House still in its infancy potentially could take the eye off the ball - on many of these big-ticket items that they want to get through. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill. You're hearing from one Republican Congressman there, clearly has a potty mouth. We won't repeat that word again. But different words you are hearing this morning are chaos, turmoil surrounding this administration. This is what the president had to say about that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I turn on the T.V., 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.


HARLOW: Our next guest spent years working inside and behind the scenes at the White House. Joining us now is Craig Fuller. He's the former co-chair of President Bush's transition team. He served as Chief of Staff for Vice President George H.W. Bush. Welcome sir, nice to have you.


[10:20:00] HARLOW: Let's begin with the big headline this morning which is the fact that Admiral Harward has said no to the president, something that our Barbara Starr reports almost never happens. Sources close to him, telling CNN, this is because he basically saw chaos, a "s*** sandwich" inside of the White House. What message does this send to the president's team, is this a - a note they should take to heart?

FULLER: I think they have to take it to heart. You know people in the military tend to salute, and jump into any situation. And the fact that authorities are still in question, this having gone through the entire transition and now three weeks into the administration. I think does give people pause, trying to understand where the power centers are is not at all clear. And for a position as sensitive and as important as national security adviser, you don't want to take a position like that when there's doubt. It appears to me there's still a good deal of doubt over what the authority would have been had he taken the position.

BERMAN: So the president says it's a fine-tuned machine. Is it?

FULLER: I heard that line. I thought, well, that's only true if we're talking about some kind of a carnival ride. This is like a roller coaster. Here's the challenge. There were 73 days from Election Day to the swearing-in. There's a lot to be done during that transition. But they had that time to get ready for the months ahead for sure.

This doesn't get easier. More things come at the White House. The president has an address to the joint session of Congress. He has a budget. Pretty soon he'll have a summit of the developing countries - developed countries. Lots of challenges come into that White House. And they're stressed over the very things that they should have prepared for during this transition period.

HARLOW: Also at the press conference yesterday, it was certainly history making, I think. Do you see any strategic value in what the president did up there? Did he gain any new supporters?

FULLER: You know, Poppy, you're asking I think one of the most important questions, and I heard you raise it earlier with regard to the rally in Florida, the same can be said of yesterday. What was the strategic intent? It seems to me that to have the kind of governing majority he needs, he has to build well beyond his base. 30 percent of eligible voters voted for him. 40 percent in polls approve his performance. Those are not numbers that are going to help him drive a very comprehensive, complex agenda through Congress, neither yesterday nor today with a rally makes a whole lot of sense in terms of trying to broaden that base. And I think that's something the White House is going to have to contend with going forward.

BERMAN: You know, he will point to the -- the White House will point to the enormous support he has among Republican voters. -

HARLOW: 84 percent.

BERMAN: 84 percent. On Capitol Hill, you sort of see a little bit of that as well. There are Republicans that say, hey, this president is popular with our base so we want to be careful here. But you've got to add to that if you want to get things done.

FULLER: You have to add if you want to get things done and you also have to ask whether this continued kind of theater, let's call it, is going to really serve his purposes. Or is it going to put in question elections around the country. Pretty soon as it gets into this year, -- if the initiatives that he promised the electorate he would pursue aren't in fact being enacted, members of Congress are going to get very nervous about their - on reelection. And in this town, job security tends to get their attention in a pretty dramatic way.

HARLOW: You know, generally, press conferences with the president don't get called an hour before they happen, right? So the White House had to scramble to make this happen, but all right, so maybe that's the style of this White House. That aside, do you see this as a president who actually - he took a lot of questions, which is great. Do you see him as answering any of them?

FULLER: You know, the press conferences that I was involved in, and there were a number of them, were carefully thought through, both with respect to timing, with respect to the messaging they wanted to come out, with respect to the opening statement, rehearsing and reviewing questions that were likely to be answered.

They're very important events. It is important for a president to stand in front of the press and take questions and be able to be heard by the American people directly. But a president has a great deal of power. However, just saying something doesn't make it true. And when things are said that are in such conflict with what the facts seem to be, I think that hurts credibility.

And when it comes to statements people have made, eventually, you know, Congress is going to be investigating probably General Flynn. Some of the questions will have to be answered under oath. And so when you get into a discussion about those kinds of complexities, which he did yesterday over the firing of an individual, you're opening a whole new ground for investigation. And that just keeps that story going, again, to your good question. I don't see how he benefits by doing that.

[10:25:00] BERMAN: Last question, about leaks, you've been inside a White House before, you know that they happen. Are they happening in your view at a different or more dangerous level now?

FULLER: They're happening, in my view, in a dramatic way. But here is the thing. The president doesn't have to tell people leaking classified confidential information is illegal. They know that. The fact is they're so concerned about the circumstances they see. They're willing to break the law to release the information. It's also not just one person. There are many, many people throughout Washington that have access to some of this information. And good reporters are sharing it.

I always thought that there needed to be a very constructive relationship between those of us serving on the White House staff and those in the White House press corps. Most Americans learn what they know about what happens inside that White House through the media. And to have this combative relationship, I really think does not serve the White House well. I don't think it serves the public well either.

HARLOW: Craig Fuller, thanks to have you on, have a good weekend.

Still to come for us, Republican Congressman Peter King on his warning for lawmakers who are demanding that transcript -- of the call between the former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia. Why he says that's a "dangerous precedent." Obviously, also his reaction to the press conference and this news that Admiral Harward has said no thank you to the job, that's next.