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Trump Blasts Media Coverage Of His Presidency; Top Housing Official Fired;Beyond The Call Of Duty; President's Pick To Replace Flynn Turns Down Job. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Well, it was his first solo press conference as president but the issue that he hammered was not unfamiliar. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control. It's all fake news. It's all fake news. Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media.


CAMEROTA: So the eyebrow-raising performance prompting this "New York Post" headline, the "Wildest Show on Earth." Joining us to discuss the latest installment of Trump versus the press, we have Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic" and, CNN political director David Chalian.

So, he was playing the hits, Ron. I mean, this is --


CAMEROTA: -- you know, on one of his favorite topics. I think what's interesting -- look, from where we sit, I don't get the sense that his attacks on the media or the press are working. I mean, I have people -- strangers, now, come up to me and say like, you know, thank you for bringing us information. People, like, grab me by the shoulders and say your job is more important now. I don't -- it's not working, you know, to turn people off --


CAMEROTA: -- to the press.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, what it does is it sharpens the divisions, right? I mean, which is pretty much the story of everything about Donald Trump's presidency. I think there are two key points to understanding what we saw yesterday and what we've seen throughout the presidency. I think the first is that it's a mistake to view the attacks on the media in isolation. Yes, it loudest when aimed at the media. But,President Trump has been systematically criticizing and trying to delegitimize every institution that might be critical of him and stand to get him. He compared the Intelligence Community to Nazi Germany. He described a "so-called" judge. Yesterday in the press conference he said the Ninth Circuit was in chaos which, of course, had invalidated his executive order. And he's described Donald Trump -- he's described John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are perhaps his leading critics in the Senate, as agitating for World War Three.

And the second big mistake, and this is close to your point, Alisyn, is that it is a mistake to say that all of Donald Trump's base cheers what is happening. There's no question there's a portion of the Republican base, in particular, that is very skeptical of the media, that applauds every time he goes out and attacks the media. But the fact is that one-quarter -- over one-quarter of the voters who voted for him on Election Day said in the exit poll they didn't think he had the temperament to succeed as president. And over one-quarter said they weren't sure he was qualified to be president.

[07:35:05] They wanted change, they were willing to take the risk, but the rope they have -- they provide him is not infinite. And I think if you look at polling today a lot of those more casual voters are very uneasy about the way Donald Trump has approached the job in his first month in office.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: And look, there is bait in this, David, you know. You hear people talk about how they feel and what they think and that fine for the voters, but you hear it in the media as well. And the president yesterday provided an opportunity. He said the Russia thing is a ruse. What does that mean? A ruse is a trick. It's something that's artificial.

Let's put up the timeline of this Michael Flynn situation because I'm telling you, the more facts we get, the less this man being forced to resign makes sense, OK? So, this -- here, let's go all the way back, all right? So, you're in January there, OK? All right, we're in December. That's when the sanctions came out. Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador. He says he wasn't talking specifically about sanctions. He has stuck by that story.

What happens? Well, at some point, it seems that he misleads the vice president. What does that mean? Did he intentionally deceive him? There seems to be no proof to support that but the fact that Pence went out in front, Chalian, and got it wrong about the sanctions talk wound up being what is referred to by the president as why he resigned. But then, the president says he's a good man, Mike Flynn. It's the media that did him in which, of course, presents this ridiculous notion that the president, who calls us fake, listened to us and responded to our reporting so he forced someone to resign.

But how big a situation is this? The president said he was OK with Flynn talking about sanctions. That he would have ordered him to do it if he had known that he wasn't going to do it, whatever that means. The FBI says that Flynn wasn't misleading them, isn't going to pursue charges. So if it wasn't a big deal, we still don't know --


CUOMO: -- why was Flynn forced to go?

CHALIAN: Well, the president said yesterday -- I mean, he finally got on the same page as Sean Spicer a few days ago -- said that it was because he was not fully truthful with Mike Pence. But then he, of course, followed up by saying but there was no reason for him not to be truthful with Mike Pence because everything he did was fine.

CUOMO: And he now knows from the FBI that they believe, right -- FBI, DOJ, they work hand-in-hand, right, so he's getting it from the same universe of intelligence -- that they don't think that Mike Flynn was intentionally misleading. That wasn't good enough for the president to save a guy who he says is such a good man?

CHALIAN: Right. Well, because he thought that it had become such a distraction in the press. What is amazing to me about this, Chris, is that he went out there yesterday -- Flynn was obviously a big part of this, the Puzder nomination, the overall Russia story that swirls around him, the travel ban. He goes yesterday to try and clean this up himself. I am tired of the clouds over this. I'm going to go out there and fix this. He was going to roll out a new Labor secretary nominee and he was going to get this back on course.

He complains about these reports of chaos. What happens after this press conference aimed at totally distracting from these headlines? He can't replace his national security adviser because the guy says that it's -- it is a dysfunctional place over there, basically, and that he can't build his own team and so this military man says no to his commander-in-chief. I'm not going to go serve in that role. What is that but chaos if you can't -- if you can't start filling your national security adviser role that you just made vacant?

CAMEROTA: In fact, Harward likened it to a type of sandwich.

CHALIAN: I was trying to keep it clean here for you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I know, I saw you dancing around that.

CUOMO: You love to play up to the edge, don't you?

CAMEROTA: It is not tasty -- not a tasty sandwich. That is what he likened the idea of taking that job would be.

BROWNSTEIN: And, Alisyn, it really kind of goes to the funny -- look, it is the prerogative of every president to go out in front of the press and say things are better than you think. The risk, of course, is if you -- if you act on and believe it is true because the evidence is -- you know, is substantial on the other side, that there are a lot of things that are unfolding very far from normal, whether it is the rejection of this job or being forced to fire your national security adviser three weeks into the administration, or having a legal reversal of the magnitude that he faced in the Ninth Circuit.

Or the difficulties that have quickly emerged on probably the two centerpiece domestic policy agendas on healthcare and tax reform. Republicans are deeply divided, in part, because they're waiting for any guidance from a White House that, so far, has provided very little. He says that's changing -- we'll see.

CAMEROTA: Ron, David, thank you for your guidance this morning. Great to talk to you.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, more insight into what's happening in the administration. An aide to HUD secretary nominee Dr. Ben Carson fired. What he did during the campaign that led to his dismissal. We have facts ahead.


[07:43:30] CAMEROTA: A new Trump administration speed bump to tell you about. A top aide to HUD secretary nominee Ben Carson has been fired after an article that he wrote criticizing Donald Trump has surfaced. CNN's Rene Marsh is live in Washington with more. What does it say, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn. This is 26-year-old Shermichael Singleton. He worked on several campaigns and was working as a top aide to Ben Carson, Donald Trump's pick for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now, the young conservative is one of the few African- Americans in the Trump administration, but as of Wednesday, HUD confirms Singleton was no longer an employee.

A source close to the situation tells CNN he was fired and escorted out of the building because of what he wrote in an article published in "The Hill" last October. He criticized Trump for taking the GOP to a "new moral low" due to comments like the Muslim ban, as well as rhetoric about the black community.

Part of that op-ed read, "As an African-American, like so many of my peers, I am concerned about police brutality, the lack of economic and educational opportunities for urban cities, and the complete disregard for criminal justice reform. Hearing the nominee of my party ignore these harsh truths and opt for words like 'law and order' sounds like a coded message from an era in our history that should stay in the past." He goes on to say a Republican asks aren't we morally obligated to stand up to Trump? Of course, that was written in October, before Trump was elected.

[07:45:10] I spoke with several in the African-American community who say that comment was actually very reflective of how many in the community feel perhaps Trump may have learned from this individual instead of firing. That's the opinion amongst many in the African- American community I spoke with. Back to you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Good reason, no reason, bad reason. Those are the guidelines when someone's going to lose a job in government. If it's for bad reason, this may not be the end of it. Our thanks to Rene Marsh. Dramatic video captured on a police body camera shows a Washington State police officer going beyond the call of duty. The officer using his baton to shatter a car window and free a woman from her burning car. CNN's Dan Simon has the story.


(Tim Schwering shattering window with his baton).

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The heart-pounding rescue captured on the officer's body cam.

TIM SCHWERING, SPOKANE POLICE OFFICER: We get there and all you see is this car on fire.

We got you.

SIMON: Spokane police officer Tim Schwering using his baton to break a window, trying to free a woman from a burning car.

KIM NOVAK, RESCUED FROM BURNING CAR: It was so helpless. It's just absolutely helpless.

SIMON: Kim Novak had just come from the grocery store when she says her car hit an ice bump and lost all power.

NOVAK: They're electronic and I can't get out.

SIMON: She couldn't open the windows and even the manual door locks would not budge.

911 DISPATCH: What's on fire?

NOVAK: My car.

911 DISPATCH: Where in the car?

NOVAK: In the hood. Under the hood. I can smell it burning. Oh, dear God, please get me out. Please. Please hurry, I'm kicking, I'm kicking. Oh, God.

SIMON: Unable to kick her way out, there is little time before the smoke will render her unconscious.

SCHWERING: I just heard it on the radio and just said I'm going to go to that. So Ijust surveyed the scene and it was basically where you have to punch this window out to be able to get her out of here.

SIMON: After several strikes, a small opening for Kim to climb out.


SIMON: And you created just a big enough hole for her to climb through.

SCHWERING: Yes, so she was able to make it out of there and so I instructed her, you know, let's go.

Come on, come on.

I grabbed an arm, the neighbor grabs an arm.

NOVAK: Hold me. OK.

SCHWERING: And we pull her out of the car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you OK? You went over the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the medics here?

NOVAK: I was just at the -- at the mercy of whoever was going to come and save me. It happened to be Tim and thank God. Thank God for that.

SIMON: Because she knows that without his initiative and grit --


SIMON: -- she likely would have died in the smoke-filled car.

SCHWERING: How you doing? Good to see you.

SIMON: Dan Simon, CNN, Spokane, Washington.


CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, that's beautiful. They do God's work every day, every hour of the day, you know, and we don't always get a chance to profile it, but I'm so glad we did here.

CUOMO: It bears reminding and thanks.

CAMEROTA: President Trump declaring a war on leaks and leakers. What he plans to do to the Intelligence Community, next.


[07:52:25] CAMEROTA: President Trump's top choice to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser has rejected the job offer. Robert Harward said in a statement that he could not give the commitment and focus that position requires. This, as President Trump calls on the Justice Department to investigate leaks from the Intelligence Community.

Let's discuss this with Steve Hall. He's a CNN national security analyst and a retired CIA chief of Russia operations. You're the perfect person to talk to today. And, Evan McMullin. He is a former CIA officer and a former chief policy director of the Republican House Conference. He launched a third-party run against President Trump. You're also the perfect person to speak to about all of this.

Steve, let me start with you. What do you think of Mr. Trump's tension, maybe all-out fight, with the Intel Community? STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Well, the problem with it is, of course, is that it takes -- it takes a toll on the relationship, obviously, between the White House and the Intelligence Community when you start talking about things like perhaps the need to reorganize or to pursue leakers.

I think former DNI Jim Clapper got it perfectly right in his recent statement, which is if you're going to go after leakers you need to do it in a way that doesn't, you know, negatively affect the capacities of your Intelligence Community because if you do that, either because of moral issues or anything else that might come with that, it's eventually going to come back to bite the administration by not having as much production and as good production out of the Intelligence Community as you really need.

Morale is important and it's - they're a resilient group in CIA and other places but there does come a tipping point after you've been called, you know -- when you're compared to Nazis and when your professionalism has been questioned, so you've got to be really careful on that balance.

CAMEROTA: So, Evan, is that why you think that they have been leaking?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OFFICER, FORMER CHIEF POLICY DIRECTOR OF Republican HOUSE CONFERENCE; FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think people have been leaking for a number of reasons. I would mention, Alisyn, that I think this says more about Donald Trump's leadership and more about some of this activities than anything else. If you're the President of the United States and you decide that you're going to pit senior aides against senior aides, and if you're unable to get buy-in from the rest of the Executive Branch on the direction of your -- of your leadership, then you're setting up a situation in which it's possible for there to be leaks.

In this case, it's particularly pronounced because Donald Trump has an unhealthy, to say the least, relationship with the Russian government, according to press reports, according to CNN, according to "The New York Times," the very foreign adversary that undermined our election and influenced our election on his behalf. And that is a built-in -- that causes built-in tension between him and the Intelligence Community and that's what we're seeing and I don't expect it to go away.

[07:55:15] I don't think Donald Trump does either. That's why I think he threatens to reorganize and what I think is code for weaken the Intelligence Community in response because he knows as long as he has the issues he has with Russia, the Intelligence Community and he are not going to get along.

CAMEROTA: So let's talk about Russia. Steve, you are the former CIA chief of Russia operations. How do you see what this administration's take on Russia is and their possible ties?

HALL: Well, I don't think it's -- I don't think there's very much good news, especially after we saw the press conference that President Trump conducted yesterday. He said things like well, it wouldn't be so bad, to paraphrase here, if we had some sort of good relationship with Russia.

And to paraphrase again, my old boss who was my ambassador in Moscow, Mike McFaul, having -- attempting to have just a good relationship with Russia is not a policy. You need to identify what U.S. interests are. You need to identify firmly what Russian interests are and fully understand that, and then try to find that very slim part of the venn diagram as to where there might be cooperation.

But I have to tell you, when you have a country like Russia and a man like Vladimir Putin whose goal is to undermine liberal democracies in the West and to drive wedges in NATO, it's awfully difficult to find that kind of common ground. So, it's going to be tough but we need to develop a realistic, open-eyed policy towards Russia and I don't think we've seen that yet out of -- out of this administration.

CAMEROTA: Evan, you feel so strongly about this you've written an op- ed in "The New York Times" today. Why do you think what you've heard is dangerous?

MCMULLIN: Well, we have a foreign adversary, just as Steve said, that is undermining liberal democracy across Europe and, now, in the United States. We have, also, a President of the United States that has connections to that government. According to most recent reports from CNN and "New York Times" and others, his campaign maintained contacts -- regular contacts with intelligence -- senior intelligence officers of that foreign adversary -- Russia, of course. That is a grave, grave set of facts. It is a threat to our national security.

My concern here is that we hear this and many Americans maybe don't understand how unusual and alarming this is and, therefore, becomes sort of normalized and we stop holding Trump -- President Trump accountable. But this is a grave situation and it's hard to overstate just how serious this is.

CAMEROTA: Evan, I want to stick with you for one more second because why, then, don't you hear Republicans in the House whom you have worked with as a policy director -- why don't you hear them speaking out more forcefully?

MCMULLIN: Well, there -- it's a complicated situation, the answer is, but a couple of factors are the following. Number one is that for Republicans who have been waiting to advance conservative policy agenda items for a long time and been quite frustrated at their inability to do that, they now have an opportunity to potentially do that with Donald Trump. So, that's sort of the shiny thing that can be distracting when we've got a deeper problem here with Russia and President Trump.

The other issue is that I think many Republican leaders may not understand how serious this -- they understand how serious it is or they understand that it's serious, but they don't come from an intelligence background. They haven't seen this sort of thing play out internationally. So they recognize it as being a problem but maybe aren't as alarmed by it as they should be. And so, it's complicated but those are some of the factors.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Steve, just to end it, do you -- it sounds like what Evan is saying is that Republicans in the House are acting in self-interest. We understand they have an agenda that they want to see happen, but not in national security interests.

HALL: Yes, I would -- I would really agree with the statement that you cannot overstate the seriousness of this. And one of the insidious parts of this is that Russia understands so well our sort of -- the West and the United States' optimistic outlook, you know. Isn't there something that can be done with Russia? Can't we -- you know, can't we just work with them like other countries?

And I think that this -- that view, you know, permeates, you know, some of our -- some of our politicians, as well, who haven't up, front seen, and are not constantly reminded of some of the horrific things that Russia has done. So it's very -- it's a very -- it's dangerous ground.

CAMEROTA: Steve Hall, Evan McMullin, thank you very much for being here.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news so let's get right to it.


TRUMP: The press has become so dishonest. The press, honestly, is out of control.

I want to find a friendly reporter.

CUOMO: He can control the bully pulpit but he can't control the facts.

TRUMP: Russia is fake news put out by the media.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR 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.