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Trump Defends His Record, Unleashes on Critics; Trump News Conference Shocks Members of Congress. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired February 17, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia.
[07:00:03] SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Controversy continues to haunt the West Wing.
TRUMP: I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet, it is the exact opposite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward turning down the job of national security adviser.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to see the transcript. The American public deserves to get the answers.
TRUMP: The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the information that has leaked, you would probably only know if you were in his inner circle.
TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess, at home and abroad.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Mr. President, it was one thing to campaign. It's now time to govern.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump's 77-minute-long press conference was quite the spectacle and one for the history books. He defended his record. He aired his many grievances. President Trump fielding questions about Russia, which he dismissed as fake news and a ruse.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Word of the day, it was a ballyhoo. Was it effective for the president? He did address what is really a main issue right now of scrutiny. Why he fired his national security adviser. The more we learn about the time line and the facts, the less sense the resignation makes.
We also have news that the man they wanted to take over for Flynn has turned down the job. The question: can the president reset after the chaos of the first four weeks of his presidency?
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House. What do you know?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, an amazing news conference, yes, but a familiar Trump tactic. The president using antics on live TV to distract from the controversies surrounding him and his administration. Very similar to things he did during the campaign.
TRUMP: The press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump unloading on his critics.
TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.
JOHNS: Blaming others instead of himself for what has been a rocky four weeks in the White House.
TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess.
JOHNS: Holding court for more than an hour, the president defending former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who he fired this week for lying about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador.
TRUMP: I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it.
JOHNS: And lashing out at the intelligence community over leaks.
TRUMP: What he did wasn't wrong. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information. Because that was classified information. It was given illegally. That's the real problem.
JOHNS: The commander in chief sparring with the press about reporting on leaks.
TRUMP: The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?
TRUMP: No, the reporting is fake. The whole Russian thing, that's a ruse. That's a ruse.
JOHNS: And defending his posture on Russia after a CNN report that his campaign aides had constant contact with Russian intelligence operatives.
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn't. I just have nobody to speak to.
JOHNS: Even joking about his response to recent Russian provocations.
TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, "Oh, it's so great." That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.
SERFATY: The president defending the rollout of his now-halted travel ban.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the travel ban, would you accept that that was a good example of the smooth running of government?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. I do. Let me tell you about the -- wait, wait, wait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any mistakes in that?
TRUMP: I know who you are. Just wait.
JOHNS: Insisting that it went smoothly and blasting federal judges again.
TRUMP: The only problem that we had is we had a bad court. The rollout was perfect.
JOHNS: The president also touting again a false claim about his electoral win margin.
TRUMP: We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never seen before. So that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.
JOHNS: President Trump raising eyebrows for asking a reporter to set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus.
TRUMP: Do you want to set up the meeting?
APRIL RYAN, JOURNALIST: No, no, no. I...
TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?
RYAN: I'm just a reporter. I know some of them. But I'm sure...
TRUMP: Let's go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.
JOHNS: And again failing to condemn a rise in anti-Semitic attacks happening across the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we are concerned about it. And what we haven't really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is responding to take care of it.
TRUMP: I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.
Quiet, quiet, quiet.
(END VIDEOTAPE) [07:05:30] JOHNS: Make no mistake. Even after that news conference the controversy has not gone away. Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward turning down an opportunity to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser, citing his family as the reason, though friends say he didn't want to get involved in all that was going on here at the White House.
The president flies out to Charleston today to tour a Boeing plant and after that tomorrow a big rally in Florida.
Back to you.
CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much.
Let's get analysis of the president's presser from CNN political commentator and former White House communications director Jen Psaki; Jack Kingston...
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: Good morning. Great to see you.
Jack Kingston, former senior adviser to the Trump campaign and a former Georgia congressman; and CNN political commentator Ana Navarro. Great to see all of you.
There were many things that were eyebrow raising or certainly got a lot of attention during this 77-minute presser. So let's start, Jack, with the moment where -- we just heard it -- but I think it bears repeating, where President Trump talked about the Russian spy ship off the coast of Connecticut. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The greatest thing that I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, "Oh, it's so great." That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Congressman, who in the country would say, "Oh, that's so great"?
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think what he -- he talked about Russia here and there throughout the press conference. And what he was kind of saying is a little bit darned if he does and darned if he doesn't at this point. Because no matter what he does, somebody is going to say, "OH, he's being soft on Putin."
He had also pointed out earlier that Hillary had the reset. He did not mention, but we have heard it in the past that Bush said he looked into the soul of Putin.
KINGSTON: And he talked about it would be a good thing to get along with Russia. They're a nuclear power. CAMEROTA: Right. What does it mean that bombing the ship, shooting
down the ship off the coast would be so great? What is that?
KINGSTON: Well, I think it -- what he's saying is some people who are very anti-Russian now, and they're kind of doing some sword rattling, they would be placated by such a move. I don't think he literally meant it. I think he was just being sarcastic, that there are those who say, "OK, we can't stand Russia, and we want to do something bad, get this ship off our coast."
But he -- you know, he was saying, "I do want to get along with Russia." But he was also saying, "I don't have property there. I've never done deals over there. I don't even know Putin except for the two phone calls: one about the inauguration and one about the election itself."
So I think he was on the offensive about Russia. He came clean about his campaign workers had nothing to do with Russia. They weren't interacting with them.
KINGSTON: And he did not run from the Russian topic in any way.
CAMEROTA: OK. I want to bring in Jen Psaki, because you have been around the State Department and the White House. What did you hear in that comment?
PSAKI: I heard he may have been saying it offhand, but I think this is a concerning trend of sort of not reassuring the public. The person to do -- the reason to do a press conference, I should say, is to announce something new to further your agenda.
And all we're talking about now is the emotional roller coaster and what he may or may not have meant. When you're president of the United States, you want to be clear and definitive about what you mean, what message you're sending because believe me, there are leaders around the world, there are embassies around the world who are reading his comments and saying, "What did he mean? I'm confused by that." And that's not the message you want to send.
CAMEROTA: Ana, Congressman Kingston says, you know, he was just joking. Don't take him literally about that.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there were parts of that press conference where he was joking. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you said there were so many eyebrow-raising moments. That's exactly what he wanted to do. That's why he was out there for 77 minutes. I thought they were going to need a hook to get him off the stage. He was having so much fun. He's not trying to advance an agenda. What he's trying to do is get
us off topic. The day before, we were laser-focused on the issue of Trump world and the ties with Russia. Today we are here having to unpack 77 minutes of unraveling, unhinged, unfiltered, unplugged, crazy, funny at times, substantive nuggets at times.
I mean, I never thought it was possible to get whiplash from watching TV. But yesterday I got whiplash from watching TV.
[07:10:06] We were supposed to listen in a press conference announcing a new labor secretary, who by the way, is a guy from Miami and a very solid pick...
NAVARRO: ... whose name he couldn't remember halfway through the press conference.
NAVARRO: Instead he was there to distract those people. He's playing us again and again and again.
CAMEROTA: OK. Let me play for you another moment where he talked about the mess that he inherited from President Obama. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad. A mess. I just want to let you know. I inherited a mess. ISIS has spread like cancer. Another mess I inherited.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Jen, as part of the previous administration, do you want to take a crack at that?
PSAKI: Look, I think he may -- he's been having problems with the English language. Maybe he's confusing "created" and "inherited" here. There are some issues that are ongoing that every president who comes into office deals with. There's no question that the battle to defeat ISIL was continuing when he took office.
But the reality is he also took over where there had been the longest period of job growth in history.
PSAKI: More than 20 million people had health care. So, you know, I think this -- the troubling trend I saw in the press conference -- and this is a perfect example of it -- is this belief that if he says something, then it's true. And the irony is that's a page out of the Putin playbook. That's exactly what state-run media -- governments where there are state-run media do. And people should be concerned about that. CAMEROTA: Congressman, you know, Jen, I think is being too modest.
Because we have graphs that show he did not inherit a mess. Certainly when it comes to jobs and the economy, he inherited a gift. I mean, here's the unemployment rate. Look at how far down it is from where President Obama, who inherited a mess, came into office there, where you see the peak of it. And now it's done nothing but go down. So how do you explain Mr. Trump's view?
KINGSTON: Well, No. 1, I think he absolutely did inherit a mess.
CAMEROTA: In what way?
KINGSTON: ISIS, for example, did not exist when President Obama came to office. ISIS happened under his watch. The demise of Iraq. The deal with -- the nuclear deal of Iran. The president of the Philippines calling Obama the son of a prostitute. To clean it up, in fact.
In terms of the economy, 95 million Americans underemployed. This -- the household income fallen from 57,000 to 53,000. Forty-three million people on Food Stamps. I would call that a mess. And that's what the election was all about. It was about people who said, "We want change. We want an outsider. We want somebody from the business community who can turn this thing around."
Our immigration, there's no immigration security.
KINGSTON: Nobody quite knows where -- what our immigration policy is.
CAMEROTA: I do want to get to that in a minute, but Ana, how do you see it?
NAVARRO: I'll tell you what was a mess. Was this last week in Donald Trump's presidency. Right?
We had his national security adviser be fired or resign -- God knows what? -- in a scandal. We have a senior advisor who's being cited for ethical breaches. We have, you know, so many different thing. White House being investigated for security breaches at Mar-a-Lago. His labor secretary, who had to withdraw.
And so by telling us this and having us dissect whether it's true or not, he is distracting us from his mess. From his week from hell. We are here on TV arguing on whether he inherited a mess or not, because we are not talking about the incredible mess that has been the last 30 days under his presidency. A White House that leaks like a sieve, backstabbing. I mean, it's crazy what's going on there, but we're not talking about that.
I want to give you the last word. We're almost out of time, but what's your response to that? Did some people see Mr. Trump's month as chaotic and messy?
KINGSTON: I absolutely don't think so. I think he hit the ground running. He has done a lot. He's worked through executive orders. He's reestablished a great relationship on the Hill. He has gotten his -- most of his nominees through the confirmation process, despite absolute positive Democrat obstruction. Democrats not even going to the committee meetings. Democrats not even going to the swearing in.
I think he's worked through a remarkable denial on the left who are saying they don't like the election results. Donald Trump is persevering, and he's going a a great job. So you're going to have some bumps. There's nothing wrong with that.
In fat, I'm in Chicago. I was with David Axelrod last night and had dinner with him. And participated in program that he hosted. And he talked about the early days of the Obama administration, the early days of Bush, the early days of Clinton. There's always going to be a few bumps in the road.
But this is the presidency and this is a White House that does have a plan and agenda to make America great again and it's going to happen.
CAMEROTA: We'll have to get David Axelrod on to see how he characterized, if he thinks that the beginning days of...
NAVARRO: He must have drunk too much.
PSAKI: I doubt a straight comparison.
CAMEROTA: ... were just like this, but we like the bipartisan dinner.
KINGSTON: Alisyn, we had a great time in the Windy City.
CAMEROTA: Tat is beautiful. That's a nice job.
Jen, Jack, Ana, thank you very much. Chris.
CUOMO: All right. Well, here is something that we do know, is that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are having a hard time getting their footing. And the president's news conference didn't make anything easier. The word "stunned" keeps coming up.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill with more. What are you hearing?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it quickly turned into must-see TV up here on Capitol Hill. A number of House Republicans, in fact, were working out in the House gym at the time of this press conference, all glued to their television screens; and sources describing their reactions as varying levels of shock and dismay. A Republican senator telling CNN's John King that this something that should have been done in front of a therapist, not on national live television.
And then there was this reaction coming from a Republican lawmaker who said, quote, "We're just trying to manage this bleep. 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 in Congress. Which is that's just the new normal. That's just the bleep that happens. I don't know how else to manage it."
And that really speaking to the great sense of frustration up here on Capitol Hill. The fact that they do have this ambitious agenda. They have the big-ticket items of tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare which Paul Ryan and President Trump both recently indicated that they want to move forward on in the next couple of weeks.
But there is this worry and concern, will any of this get delayed with the daily deluge of these distractions coming from the White House -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Sunlen, thank you for all of that.
Well, President Trump talked about Hillary Clinton 11 times during his press conference. What does her former campaign manager think that was about? He's here, next.
[07:21:21] CUOMO: All right. President Trump made a lot of things known yesterday. One of them is that he believes that the criticism he's getting right now is fallout from the campaign and efforts to try to help his rival, Hillary Clinton. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks?
Does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russian than Donald Trump?
you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all a, you know, fake news, fabricated deal to try to make up for the loss of the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: The president calls all the reporting on Russia fake news. Offered not one fact to disprove any of the reporting we've done thus far.
All right. So let's bring in somebody who actually does believe exactly what the president just alleged. Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and certainly thinks she would be doing a better job.
All right. So let's take a look at what the allegation is from the president, which is that he inherited a mess that was made by your candidate. ISIS didn't exist. The administration called it the JV team, and now they are the scourge of the planet.
The economy, all of these underperforming jobs. People not fully integrated into the work force. It's all on you, and he has to clean it up. Your take, sir? ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, Chris, I mean,
obviously, I think your reporting on this was very good. This is all an attempt to distract from the incredible problems that President Trump has had in his first few weeks in office. It's amazing that it's been less than a month. We've already had the national security adviser re-sign in disgrace. We've had a nominee that's had to drop out. His own advisers are embroiled in ethics allegations. You know, the list goes on and on.
I think the fact of the matter is, Trump is in charge now. That's something he didn't have on the campaign. You know, there was a desire from the electorate for change. I've run elections where you're the change candidate, and it's a pretty easy message.
It's a lot harder when you're in charge and you're accountable for what's happening every day. And I think we all need to keep the focus, as you are doing, on holding the president accountable, because that's what matters. What matters is what he's doing in our foreign policy. What matters is our national security and whether he's delivering on the promises of his campaign.
CUOMO: One more beat on this. What proof do you have that the situation that Trump inherited wasn't a mess?
MOOK: I mean, look, you had the chart earlier on your program. Unemployment went down. We've had successive years of economic growth under the Obama administration.
Our foreign policy was really in turmoil when President Obama came in, and Hillary Clinton and President Obama worked very hard to repair that.
But again, Chris, I just want to underscore: the point right now, in my mind, is not to talk about the last four years or the last 8 years. The point is to talk about right now and where we go as a country.
And what's very troubling is that it's come out that -- not just that there were contacts recently between Trump's administration and the Russians, telling them that the sanctions may -- you know, may be taken away against them, in contravention of the law. But also that during the campaign, that his advisers were actively talking to the Russians. And there are now real questions on the table about whether they were...
MOOK: ... potentially coordinating on the theft of the DNC documents.
[07:25:13] CUOMO: And look, we're digging on that. The time line on Flynn is beguiling. It becomes less and less clear why the man was forced to resign.
But the president made a point yesterday. He said, you know, "Hillary Clinton tried the Russian reset. Nobody was mad at her for that. I'm trying to get along with Russia, and all of you are making it a conspiracy." How is what's going on with Flynn and maybe others reaching out to
Russian counterparts to try to create a better situation than the one right now, any different than what you did?
MOOK: Well, Hillary Clinton did try to create a reset with Russia. Vladimir Putin continued to commit human rights abuses; and she held the line. And, in fact, Vladimir Putin accused her of creating a lot of the protests that were happening in Russia; and it's become apparent that he tried to punish her for resisting him on human rights through the theft of DNC documents that were put out and the theft of private e-mail accounts -- John Podesta's -- to hurt her and help Donald Trump win.
But again, the point is where we are right now. And what has come to light is that Donald Trump's associates were speaking frequently, we're told, with Russian intelligence officials. You know, the whole reason we know about this is the NSA apparently regularly taps the phone calls of intelligence officials. That's how this came to light. At the same time that Russian intelligence was stealing documents at the DNC.
MOOK: That's incredibly troubling.
CUOMO: Right. I mean, look, we do not have any proof that Mike Flynn was the subject of a wiretap. We do have proof that he got picked up on a wiretapped conversation...
MOOK: That's right.
CUOMO: ... of a Russian ambassador.
Let me ask you. I want your take on two other things. One, what is your take on what the Democrats are doing right now? Are they opposing too much? Give me your take on that first.
MOOK: Well, I think -- I think part of the problem is that many of these nominees that President Trump is bringing forward are either unqualified or, in my mind, unacceptable. And obviously, we saw the Republicans rejected one just the other day, and he -- and he had to step away.
But I think what matters here -- and we have to always give President Trump the benefit of a doubt. He's our president. We want our country to be successful. The test here is whether he is doing the right thing on foreign policy and he's helping people's lives get better here in this country: creating jobs, raising wages.
What's disturbing is if these connections with Russia are true and, in fact, he is somehow beholden to Russia for helping him get elected. That's not in our country's interests. And potentially, a crime was committed there. We've got to get to the bottom of that.
And secondly, did we hear him talking about creating jobs, raising wages yesterday? You know, people in this country are angry; they're hurting. And all we're hearing about is stripping away regulations for Wall Street. He's put Goldman Sachs in charge at their Treasury Department. More tax cuts for corporations.
I don't see what he's doing to help that family in Appalachia, you know, who's really struggling right now. And I think Democrats need to stay focused on that and what the president is doing for working people in this country.
CUOMO: Well, we are waiting to see when that pivot happens back to the agenda he promised to the people who put him there.
Robby Mook, you answered both my questions in one answer. Appreciate it. Thank you for being on the show.
MOOK: Thanks so much.
CAMEROTA: Chris, President Trump versus the media. His continued attacks do not appear to be hurting the press, only energizing them. So why is he still doing that? Is he sending a message to his own press secretary perhaps? That's next.