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National Security Adviser Search Continues; Republicans Investigating Hillary Clinton; President Trump Holding Rally. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 15:00   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: There you go, Brooke. Any time they asked Westbrook about Durant, he talked fashion. I tried to ask him about fashion, hoping he would talk about Durant. Didn't work.

No one wanted to talk about this drama that is going on in the Western Conference locker room. We will have to see how it plays out on Sunday.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Enjoy it. Enjoy New Orleans. Go tell our friends at the Black Cat that we say hello, although I don't know if they will let my friend Don Lemon back in the door. We will see.


BALDWIN: Thank you. Thanks.

SCHOLES: All right.

You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Exactly one month into his administration, President Trump is hearkening back to the good old campaign trail days. He just gave this big speech in front of big crowds focused on what a lot of people say was the reason he landed the presidency, the economy and jobs.

Today, the president became the very first sitting president to visit Boeing's campus there in North Charleston, South Carolina. The president helped to unveil new Boeing's 787-10 Dreamliner airplane. There the president praised the corporation that he once accused of overcharging the government. Remember that tweet from a couple months ago about Air Force One cost too much?

Here was the president moments ago before a crowd of employees at Boeing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My focus has been all about jobs. And jobs is one of the primary reasons I'm standing here today as your president. And I will never, ever disappoint you., believe me. I will not

disappoint you. I campaigned on the promise that I will do everything in my power to bring the jobs back into America. You have heard me say it before, and I will say it again. From now on, it's going to be to be America first. That's my message here today.

America is going to start winning again, winning like never, ever before. We're not going to let our country be taken advantage of anymore in any way, shape, or form. We love America, and we are going to protect America. We love our workers, and we are going to protect our workers.

We're going to fight for our jobs. We're going to fight for our families. And we are going to fight to get more jobs and better- paying jobs for the loyal citizens of our country.


BALDWIN: While President Trump is applauding Boeing, he himself is having a tougher-than-expected time filling two of the top jobs in his inner circle, namely national security adviser, which that's a position that sits empty because of the news this week that he tendered the resignation of General Michael Flynn.

The White House, though, is pushing back on any reports of why retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward rejected the job. And we will get into that in just a second.

But, first, let's go to Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent.

Jim, I was talking to Ana Navarro last hour. I think this was meant as a compliment, but in watching the president in South Carolina, she said forget the wall with Mexico. Build a wall around the White House so Trump can't go back because of how well he does on the road. How did you think he did?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's a really good point. This was the president trying to hit the reset button a little bit I think down in South Carolina, going back to what works.

It almost felt like a campaign event, although this was a presidential event down at that Boeing plant down in South Carolina. You know, he was not going after the company the way he did in that tweet you showed a few moments ago. As a matter of fact, Brooke, at the end of the speech, he said God bless America and God bless Boeing.

BALDWIN: God bless Boeing.

ACOSTA: You can't pay for that kind of advertising. I'm sure the folks at the corporate headquarters at Boeing are very happy about that endorsement from the president of the United States.

But having said that, yes. And if you look at his speech, he was much more restrained than what we saw at that wild and woolly news conference here at the White House yesterday. There were no references to the fake news media, no attacks on the news media.

And he really stuck to the teleprompters and stayed on message. And so my guess is inside his inner circle they are very pleased about the performance and they are going to try to continue this throughout the weekend. He is going to be in Melbourne, Florida, tomorrow for an actual campaign event.

This is not a White House event, they say. This is a campaign event, although you can imagine there are going to be some White House and taxpayer-funded resources brought to bear to make this event happen. It's the campaign Web site, it's the campaign e-mail system that is blasting out advisories for this.

And this is once again an attempt, as we saw yesterday to some extent when he was going after the news media, they know that's what works for him, to get the president out of the White House, away from all of these problems and potentially back to a fresh start after what has been a very turbulent first four weeks in office.


You mentioned the national security job. The help wanted hanging outside that office in the West Wing. But a senior administration official tells us, Brooke, the president is expected to meet with some of the candidates for that position down at Mar-a-Lago this weekend.

BALDWIN: OK. All right. Good. Jim Acosta, thank you very much there for us at the White House.

Let's have a bigger conversation on everything Jim just hit on.

I have got Alex Burns with me, national political reporter for "The New York Times," CNN political commentator Matt Lewis, who is a senior columnist for The Daily Beast, and CNN political commentator Symone Sanders, who served as national press secretary for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

Happy Friday to all of you. Welcome.

And, Alex, let me just turn to you first, just a quick note on watching the president down in South Carolina. This is like his special place, right? Standing front of crowds. This is the oxygen, the people, the enthusiasm. And also on this whole message, which is part of the reason why he won of hire American, buy American. This is great news.

Is it as simple as it seems?

ALEX BURNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think for a lot of folks who have sort of watched him with apprehension over the last month, this event today was sort of a glimpse of the road he hasn't taken so far, which is if he were just to go back to the White House and focus basically exclusively on issues related to job creation and manufacturing and really sort of middle-of-the-road national security rhetoric, I think Democrats would be terrified by that development and I think Republicans would be enormously reassured. (CROSSTALK)

BURNS: We obviously haven't seen him approach that so far.

But the template he used today, if he were to back away from some of the really controversial stuff he's done and really just hammer away on the buy American, hire American, that would be a really formidable message for his opponents to go up against.

BALDWIN: Symone, just quickly to you and then I want to move on to the other news, the help wanted sign. But you heard what I said Ana Navarro said about building a wall around the White House, right? Because she thought he looked quite presidential. He's been praised for what he said there at Boeing. What do you think?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the rhetoric, clearly, Donald Trump has used out there on the campaign trail and now as president back out on the presidential trail, I guess, if that's what we're going to call it, is effective.

People want to talk about good-paying jobs. They want to know what you're going to do to help them put more money in their pockets. The problem is, Donald Trump is not a candidate anymore. He's actually the president of the United States.

And he has to deliver on these campaign promises. It's not just manufacturing and jobs. He's also talked about Medicare and Medicaid. So, again, I think these rallies, they will pacify some folks that were at the Boeing place for just a second. But people across America, the real people, real voters, they want Donald Trump to deliver on those promises, and he hasn't delivered just yet.

BALDWIN: You're precisely right on the follow-through, although it sounds like he wants to, right, from being in a place like Boeing?


SANDERS: And I want to be a size six, Brooke. I want to be a size six.


BALDWIN: Don't we all?

Matt, to you on the help wanted sign that is hanging in the West Wing. Retired Vice Admiral Harward, he turns down the national security adviser job. A friend says it's because the White House seems so chaotic. The White House says, no, no, that is not the story, saying it was about, according to his statement, about committing to his family first.

Just first 30,000-foot view, how rare is it to turn the White House down?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If it happens, we don't know about it. BALDWIN: Yes.

LEWIS: You don't offer the job unless you know that it will be accepted. The conversations are had, if the president offers you this job, will you accept it?

This played out in the media. It was sort of like give me a day or two to think about it. So the optics were horrible. You have to wonder how tough a gig is that a former Navy SEAL thinks maybe it's too heavy of a lift. I'm not up to it.

They're pretty tough. Ultimately, I think the problem here is that you have these guys coming in and ladies coming in, but they don't get to pick their own people, their own aides and their own staffers. So I think that was -- nobody wants to spend more time with their family. I have a family. I love my family. That's always a bogus argument, right?


BALDWIN: The candor on this panel. I'm overwhelmed.


BALDWIN: I don't want to spend time with my family.

Alex, what do you have?

No, but, Alex, let me just ask you. Do you think that is -- is any piece of what we witnessed yesterday in the East Room, according to you and your wonderful newspaper, are you hearing that had anything to do with his decision to say thanks but no thanks?

BURNS: I don't think it was the East Room performance specifically.

But, sure, the larger backdrop of this administration being run in a really idiosyncratic way, with the president as this mercurial, unpredictable, sort of outsized personality, if you are someone who has spent your whole life in uniform working your way up through a very sort of disciplined and rigid and unconventional system in a lot of ways, I think it's not difficult to see why that would be daunting and off-putting, and if you're somebody who has a reputation of your own to protect, why it would be a risky bet.



BALDWIN: OK. So it's not Flynn. It is not Harward.

The question now is, who is it going to be? Let me just play some sound because Manu Raju is excellent and grabbed some sound from Senator Ted Cruz, who has this idea to be the president's national security adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: One person I think would be very, very strong is John Bolton. John is someone who is very well known here on the Hill. Republicans and Democrats know John Bolton well.

He is someone who understands the world. He understands the threats of radical Islamic terrorism. He understands the threats of an overaggressive Putin.

And at the same time, I think he has demonstrated an understanding that we should be reluctant to use military force, that we should do so only when absolutely necessary. And so I think there are lots of good people that are being considered. But I think someone like John Bolton would be a terrific choice.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Your friend Rand Paul has a lot of concerns with John Bolton. Don't you think that this could divide your party, particularly some of your libertarian- learning friends?

CRUZ: Well, listen, Rand is a good friend. And I like and respect him. We work together on a whole lot of issues. When it comes to foreign policy, Rand and I do not see eye to eye.

I share Rand's concern that we should not be overeager to engage in military conflict. That's exactly right. And actually I think John Bolton agrees with that proposition as well.


BALDWIN: OK. So that's one possibility from the senator from Texas.

Let me add one more layer to this and then, Matt, I'm coming to you, because then you also have President Trump weighing in on Twitter publicly saying, "General Keith Kellogg, who I have known for a long time, is very much in play for NSA, as are three others."

A, what do you think of the John Bolton idea? B, what do you think of this sort of trial balloon potentially floated out from the president on Twitter?

LEWIS: So I don't think it's going to be Ambassador Bolton. He does have a constituency. Our friend Hugh Hewitt was pushing him the other day on the radio. A lot of people like him. I don't think that's going to be the case.

I really like General Petraeus. I think he's underrated in the sense that, man, America was really having a hard time in Iraq, and then the surge came along. I think he deserved so much credit for that. Obviously, there's so much baggage, though, associated with General Petraeus, especially when you run a campaign against Hillary Clinton the way that Donald Trump had to do.

So maybe this tweet, General Kellogg, I think that's maybe where the smart money is right now.

BALDWIN: Who knows. Symone, final thought to you. But I was saying this last hour. It's almost like remember we were all watching the Trump lobby to see who would be coming and going and what that might mean for potential Cabinet jobs. This could be a way that the president is -- it's like a trial balloon.

SANDERS: Look, this is how the president conducts his business. He is a reality TV show star. Never forget, folks.

He thinks this is the presidential version of "The Apprentice." Again, I personally do not think the national security and the really, really important jobs in our country should be played out in an "Apprentice"-like fashion on national television. But here we are.

I would hope that the White House gets their house in order and understands that they have been through an enormous amount of trials and tribulations. And it has only been one month. It feels like it's been six months. It's only been one month. And there is business to attend to, and real, real, real national security, real-life implications for what they're doing over there.

BALDWIN: One month as of today.

Symone, Matt, Alex, thanks to all of you very much.

Still ahead here on CNN, a former Secret Service agent calls President Trump's weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago -- quote -- "a logistical nightmare." We will dig into what you, the taxpayer, are paying for these trips and also just the headache for locals in Florida.

Plus, the chair of the House Oversight Committee declining to investigate President Trump's potential conflicts of interest. But Congressman Chaffetz still has time for Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Details on the request he has just made to the attorney general.



BALDWIN: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz is rejecting repeated pleas to look into the relationship between Russia and the current administration and is instead continuing to focus on Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

His latest move, asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to convene a grand jury. Why? Bring charges against the former Clinton aide who helped set up her private e-mail server.

Let's go back to Capitol Hill to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

And on this House Oversight notion, this investigation, does this even stand a chance of going anywhere?

RAJU: We don't know yet. It is a decision that the attorney general will have to make. And it all stems from Bryan Pagliano, the man who did set up that private e-mail server for Hillary Clinton, his decision last year and last Congress not to appear before his committee, despite two subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee.

And Chaffetz now wanting to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Pagliano. And that is something that is raising some eyebrows particularly among Democrats who believe that the House Oversight Committee should be going after, focusing on Donald Trump, should be focusing on potential conflicts of interests with Trump and his businesses and actions that the government is taking.

So far, Chaffetz is steering clear of that at the moment, though he is looking at a couple of matters, including sending an e-mail to the White House asking if Donald Trump talked about classified information during that Mar-a-Lago meeting with the Japanese leader at a time right after that North Korean missile launch.


So, Chaffetz taking these steps, raising some eyebrows. There's also a lot not surprised, given after his aggressive campaign against the Clintons and the e-mail server in the last Congress.


While I have you, Manu, we were talking 24 hours ago, after the president's news conference, and we were talking about initial reaction. A lot of senators were in a meeting without a television. A lot of members in the House were in the gym glued to the TV watching the president.

And 24 hours later, now what are you really hearing from members of Congress?

RAJU: Well, a lot of folks are concerned about the message discipline coming from this president. That is a concern that they've been echoing through the campaign season as well.

One of those senators is Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. He said clearly, and very clearly today, that some of Donald Trump's tweets and comments are making it harder for his party to stay on message. Take a listen.


RAJU: Yesterday's new conference, are you concerned the president is taking your party off message?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I have been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I'm not a fan of daily tweets.

What I'm a fan of is what he has been actually doing. As I look at what we might have expected from a President Mitt Romney or a President Marco Rubio or a President Jeb Bush at the beginning of their tenures in office, I can't see much difference between what President Trump is doing and what they would have done. I like what he's doing. I have not been a fan of the extra discussion

that he likes to engage in. But we're going to soldier on. We like his positions.


RAJU: So he's not the only ones who has some concerns, Brooke.

I also talked to Jeff Flake of Arizona, an Arizona Republican, said some of those things are a "distraction" for the party. A real hope that after next week's recess, when they come back into town, the party can align itself and Donald Trump can start talking about the agenda.

But, of course, they have been hoping he would do that for a while and also he hasn't really followed their advice, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you, on Capitol Hill.

BURNS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, help wanted in the West Wing. A former deputy national security adviser will join me live to talk about what could be happening behind the scenes right now as the president is trying to fill this critical post of national security adviser no longer -- now vacated by General Flynn.



BALDWIN: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

While we are learning a bit more about who could take the spot as national security adviser that is now vacant after General Michael Flynn was fired or tendered his resignation earlier this week, CNN is finding out why retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward didn't want it.

So, friends of his tell us he turned down the role offered to him by the president because the White House seemed too chaotic. But a Republican official told CNN Harward got the impression he wouldn't be given the latitude to form his own team.

I think that's a crucial piece here. The White House pushed back on that, though. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reiterated the retired vice admiral's statement that says his family was not on board for this 24/7 commitment.

So I have with me here in New York CNN global affairs analyst Tony Blinken. He was deputy national adviser and later deputy security -- secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Tony Blinken, it's always wonderful to have you on. Thank you so much.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thanks, Brooke. Great to be here.

BALDWIN: First, you know the retired vice admiral well. You haven't spoken with him. But given all of these different pieces of explanations of why or why he didn't take the job, what is your interpretation of this?

BLINKEN: Brooke, he's a terrific public servant.

And I'm, frankly, disappointed...

BALDWIN: You are?

BLINKEN: ... that he didn't do it, because I thought he would been very, very good in the role.

Now, I don't know exactly what happened. We have heard conflicting stories. But I do know this. If I had been in his position, being offered what is really the top job in national security, a job that anyone in that profession would want, I would want to make sure that I had control over the staff and that the National Security Council wasn't being influenced by the president's political advisers.

BALDWIN: Because we know that Steve Bannon has that role within that National Security Council, which a lot of people thought, how the heck do you have a political operative sitting in that circle? Never been done before.

BLINKEN: That's exactly right. It hasn't been done before.

The fact that Mr. Bannon has a seat at the table, the Principals Committee table, making him equal to the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, that puts politics right in the heart of the Situation Room, exactly where it doesn't belong.

So, I suspect that Bob Harward, in looking at this job, looking at this possibility, would have said, yes, but that has to stop. And if he didn't get those assurances, he's probably right not to do it.

BALDWIN: So he's out. He says thanks, but no thanks. He is a Navy SEAL. And for his family -- to say 24/7 commitment, it just makes you wonder if it is more to the story.

So, then you have other names being floated. We just heard the sound from Senator Ted Cruz with Manu Raju saying, hey, maybe he thinks it should be Ambassador John Bolton, although he and the president didn't see eye to eye on Iraq. You have the president tweeting General Keith Kellogg, who I have known for a long time, is in very much play for NSA, as are three others.

General David Petraeus is someone who, a stellar resume, but, you know, baggage. Of all of those people, who might say yes?