Return to Transcripts main page


Pence: U.S. Will Hold Russia Accountable; Rubio "Confident" Of Probe Into Russian Interference; Senator McCain: No One Should Underestimate The U.S.; Trump Meets National Security Adviser Candidates This Weekend; NYT: Popular Domestic Programs on Budget Hit List; Border Barrier Could Cost Between $5B to $21B; Two Dead as Storm Rips Through South California. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Trump administration ruling out its top diplomats at the Munich security conference in an effort to alleviate concerns of U.S. allies overseas.

In a speech earlier today, Pence said the U.S. will support NATO and hold Russia accountable. This as Republican Senator Marco Rubio hints that an investigation into Russia's links to the U.S. election may be forthcoming.

Rubio tweeting this, "I am now very confident Senate Intel Com I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence," end quote.

All of this unfolding as President Trump works to fill the key position of national security adviser left vacant after he fired Michael Flynn. The president is expected to meet with at least three candidates for that position this weekend.

And we're also following all of this with CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson in Munich, and CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Let's begin with you, Nic, in Munich. The vice president, trying to reassure U.S. allies. So what is he saying in those meetings that world leaders feel that they haven't heard from President Trump overseas?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, one of the things, Fredricka, they've been really concerned about it, you know, would President Trump go over their heads, over their concerns in Europe, and make some kind of deal with President Putin in Moscow.

We certainly heard from Vice President Pence today that the United States would hold Russia to account on Ukraine. There is a big concern over the European parliaments here. Where they wanted to make sure they got sanctions in place on Russia for it to comply with or help, if you will, the situation in Ukraine, comply with the parties that comply with the Minsk agreement, which is a ceasefire, elections, proper border control for the Ukrainian government, all those things.

That that was very important for the Europeans, but really, the message was one of a common history and bond with the Europeans here. Vice President Pence thought going back 100 years to when the United States came into the First World War, supported forces in Europe to bring about democracy on this continent.

But the thing that got him perhaps the most applause was when he said that President Trump supports -- strongly supports NATO. This is how he put it.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance. The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.


ROBERTSON: Now, there were caveats with that, that the European members of NATO must also pay their way. They've got to up their defense spending for most of those countries, but that part of the message here warmly received -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so, given some of the disarray that we've seen, you know, from the White House, even though the White House says it's a well-oiled machine so to speak and the firing of Michael Flynn, is there a feeling that the vice president's word and even appearance is indeed reassuring enough instead of hearing from the president directly by being there?

ROBERTSON: You know, look, President Trump has said some pretty corrosive things about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, compared to Putin, said she's been soft an refugees. Said that Germany had to take this from the United States and Angela Merkel sort of had a push back on that today.

You know, President Trump had talked about there have been lots of German cars on 5th Avenue, which he said that a lot of iPhones in Germany and President Trump should be pleased about that.

There is a sense here that they really need to hear from the president. That these words coming from Vice President Pence, we've heard from Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Mattis this week, that these are all encouraging words.

But they really need to see it button up at the White House as well and what they will have seen today like so many other people is one of President Trump's tweets criticizing the media and the German chancellor here really spelled out for the Europeans, how they feel about the media, the role and their importance in democracy and the way that they're value here in Europe.

So, there's a real sense in Europe that this is a different president and they're not entirely sure if they're all in step with him. Even if Vice President Pence is here and is very convincing, if you will, on the issue of NATO and European units, even in the United States.

WHITFIELD: Nic, Robertson, in Munich, thank you so much. So, in the speech by Vice President Pence at that security conference, he took a harder line against Russia than we have seen from President Trump, and actually vowed the stand firm against Moscow.


[12:05:05]PENCE: And know this, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable. Even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found.


WHITFIELD: All right, Elise, any indication that what the vice president meant about what's being responded by Russia.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he didn't give any indication, Fred, but you've been hearing this line from not only the vice president, but Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson and particularly, the U.S. ambassador the U.N., Nikki Hailey, who's been talking about keeping sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea, so it gives back Crimea, if you will.

And that's something that, you know, the administration has been very coy about whether they're going to keep those sanctions on Russia. I think that's one of the things that the Europeans are looking for because they have their own sanctions on Russia for their actions in Ukraine.

They want to know that the U.S. and Europe are in lock step on that, but at the same time, the U.S. also wants Russia in cooperation on Syria. That is really an open question of what they're willing to do together.

You remember the Obama administration in theory, want that cooperation, but didn't think that Russia's actions on the ground really warranted that close military and intelligence cooperation.

So I think there are a lot of open questions as to what the administration are willing to do. Vice President Pence didn't offer many specifics and people are hungry for more.

WHITFIELD: Pentagon officials, meantime, are now saying that Russian actions are a quote, "Test of the new administration." These actions include Moscow recently firing off a cruise missile and the sending of a spy ship just off the Connecticut coast. What more about this?

LABOTT: Well, both defense officials and experts saying it's not surprising that Russia is really testing this new administration. They're kind of doing a lot of different things, mixing it up. Although that spy ship, some think might have been planned, you know, before President Trump took office, but definitely want to see how far they can go.

See how their aggressiveness will be met by this new administration. They heard a lot of, you know, messages on the campaign trail by President Trump, but now, you see it's a very mixed message, and so I think they're going see how far they can push it to see how President Trump will push back.

You remember, they continued to push President Obama particularly in Syria, and President Obama really did not push back against Russian aggressiveness. You know, Ukraine, he did impose sanctions.

So I think that's another open question of how much of a fight President Trump is willing to pick and I think you'll probably see President Putin go right up to the line to see how far he can push this president.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Labott, thanks so much in Washington.

So on Capitol Hill, FBI Director James Comey, met with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee apparently to discuss an investigation into Russia's meddling into the U.S. election.

And later, Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, quote, "I am now very confident Senate Intel Committee I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of #putininterference and influence."

I want to talk this over now with Julian Zelizer, a professor and historian at Princeton University, and Salena Zito is a CNN contributor and a "New York Post" columnist. All right, good to see all of you.

So, Rubio, you know, intimating that there is enough there to further investigate. Why would he reveal that, Julian?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think a lot of Republicans in the Senate are starting to feel pressure, to show that they are open to an investigation. There was a question if they would look into this at all. Certain people like Senator McCain has been more vocal.

We don't know what Comey said, but clearly, it's enough to lead some other Republicans like Rubio, to send a signal via Twitter that Republicans are taking this seriously.

This is the first scandal that I think has really shaken the White House and it's more importantly, shaken that Republican unity on Capitol Hill.

WHITFIELD: And so, Salena, what is the motivation in your view, that Rubio would tweet, you know, no other senator has really talked about this meeting and Rubio has not been a big Twitter?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, well, and he just had dinner at the White House the other night if I remember correctly. Look, when the senators came out of that meeting, nobody on both sides of aisles talked to any of the press, they just sort scurried out of the way, but it was clear then that this was likely planned that Rubio placed that out there.

And he doesn't place that out there without reasoning. If I were the White House, I would welcome this situation to get behind them. It has clouded their message in the past three weeks. It's placed doubts out there.

[12:10:04]WHITFIELD: This doesn't seem like this is a signal that it would get behind the White House. Instead, it's going to be picking up steam.

ZITO: No, no. What I was saying was that this is important for the Senate to do this independent investigation and they have broadened their scope of looking at this, including Michael Flynn and I believe they are going to have him testify in front of the Senate. It's unclear if the House Intelligence Committee is going to do the same thing. What I'm saying is that the White House should welcome that this happens and gets it behind them.

You know, I think that's important for them because it has sort of tainted their first three weeks. Just get the investigation done and whatever, wherever the chips may fall, but get it behind them so they can move forward and talk about the things that they want to accomplish.

WHITFIELD: So, Julian, Senator John McCain also said in Germany, that despite the disarray, no one should underestimate the U.S. This is his point of view.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Make no mistake, my friends, these are dangerous time, but you should not count America out and you should not -- and we should not count each other out. We must be prudent, but cannot wring our hands and wallow in self-doubts.

We must appreciate the limits of our power, but we cannot allow ourselves to question the rightness and goodness of the west. We must understand and learn from our mistakes, but we cannot be paralyzed by fear. We cannot give up on ourselves and on each other.

That is the definition of decadence and that's how world orders really do decline and fail. That is exactly what our adversaries want. This is their goal. They have no meaningful allies so they seek to sew dissent among us and divide us from each other.

They know that their power and influence are inferior to ours so they seek to subvert us and erode our resolve to resist and terrorize us into passivity. They know they have little to offer the world beyond selfishness and fear. So they seek to undermine our confidence and in ourselves and our belief in our own values.


WHITFIELD: So, Julian, do the words of John McCain carry more weight than Vice President Pence in that audience?

ZELIZER: Well, I think he's sending two messages. One is about the U.S. and its role and he is trying to compete with Vice President Pence, who many people still don't have confidence in because he does speak for the administration, but he's also sending a message to president Trump.

That's as much a speech about the kind of politics that's been practiced here and many of the statements about the U.S. withdrawing from alliances in questioning NATO and this tension between McCain and President Trump, which played out in that speech.

I think the one of the big political stories of the last few weeks and do I think McCain carries some weight given his record both in the Senate and military.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and listening to the applause, it sounds as though McCain's words were rather comforting to many there. Arty, Julian, Salena, stick around. We're going to take a short break. We'll have you back.

Coming up, Donald Trump's top aides work on reassuring Europe that the U.S. is on solid ground. The top post for national security is still vacant. Up next, who's on the president's short list for national security adviser?



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The White House moving quickly to fill a big hole in President Trump's inner circle, the national security adviser position. President Trump will hold meetings with three potential candidates this weekend, Retired Lt. General Keith Kellogg, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

Mr. Trump tweeted this, "On Friday, General Keith Kellogg, who I have known for a long time is very much in play for NSA as are three others. Kellogg became the acting national security adviser after Michael Flynn was forced out for misleading the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward, who was offered the position after Flynn was fired, turned it down (inaudible) this latest search. CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles is joining us live now.

So, Ryan, among the top picks, John Bolton is getting a boost of support from Trump staffers. What more are you learning?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, it's looking more and more like the former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is emerging as the frontrunner now in this search that President Trump desperately wants to get right after everything that happened with Michael Flynn. Bolton has a distinguished record. As we already said, the former U.N. ambassador, an extensive career and understanding of the United States national security community and intelligence community, a former U.S. assistant attorney general.

He does come with some baggage though, he did support the Iraq war, which President Trump has often talked about being opposed to and he is not someone that is liked by Democrats so you could expect them to push back as well.

But as you mentioned, Fredricka, there are people inside the Trump administration who are strongly pushing for Bolton in this role, primarily because he is seen as someone who bridges this gap, someone who is outside the Washington establishment, but at the same time, understands how D.C. works.

So it's someone that would fit that mold that Donald Trump is looking for. You did mention the two other candidates, Keith Kellogg, who is currently in the job on an interim basis. He said that he wants that job, but Trump is continuing his deliberation.

[12:20:02]He's going to have Kellogg and one other candidate, H.R. McMaster, come to Mar-a-Lago this weekend to talk to Trump one-on-one. The other name perhaps you saw, Trump said three names in addition to Kellogg, may have been David Petraeus, but we're told now that Petraeus is out of the running. He and another candidate who came with extensive baggage for this particular position.

WHITFIELD: Right and still on probation, by the way. OK, so Ryan, President Trump returning to his comfort zone now. In addition to those meetings that he's going to be having today, he'll also hold a rally in Melbourne, Florida. What do we expect?

NOBLES: Well, you know, this is going to be a kind of a throwback, Fredricka, to just a couple of months ago where Donald Trump was in his comfort zone on the campaign trail. This is going to be the site of one of his biggest rallies during the campaign and really look for this to be an effort for Donald Trump to kind of talk past us in the media and speak directly to the American people.

Specifically those American people that very much support his work so far as president, he's going to tout what he calls his promise keeping initiative. Continuing to make good on those promises he made during the campaign and also, Fredricka, push back a little bit on this idea that his administration is in chaos.

As we saw on Thursday, he believes it is running like a finely tuned machine and he's going the make that case to his supporters today at that rally just outside Orlando.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ryan Nobles, of course, we'll be watching. Thanks so much.

All right, let's discuss some of this with our panel that's back, a CNN contributor, Salena Zito, and historian, Julian Zelizer. All right, so, let's talk again about this tweet, you know, and these four possible contenders, Salena.

You know, the president saying three others in his tweet, we've learned from a senior administration official that it's not former CIA Director David Petraeus nor Army Agent Stanley McChrystal. They are not under consideration right now.

In your view, might he have been talking about one of these two and they're no longer in the running or might there be a fourth in your view?

ZITO: With Donald Trump, you really never know, right? But it could have been Petraeus, he's had a relationship with him. He's met with him on previous -- in previous settings. So, neither man is unknown to each other.

I mean, I guess we'll never know unless that person emerges as the sort of you know, surprise pick, but all of these men have excellent credentials and qualifications. This is a very important rule. This is someone that the president needs to feel comfortable with and confident of and to have that trust that is needed for a very serious you know, position on a very serious matter.

And so, I think everyone is looking with to see with confidence who he picks, who he picks after what happened, especially with General Flynn and sort of Retired General Flynn and the circumstances surrounding his demise.

WHITFIELD: Julian, what would be the message, you know, sent, since the White House apparently, there are a lot of fans of John Bolton. They consider him an outsider even though he was a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He knows the inner workings of Washington. Why is there this affinity for him? Why would it potentially be a good pick for Donald Trump?

ZELIZER: Well, I think part of it is that, so someone with experience and someone who knows politics, and so, you send a signal at a moment many people are not confident that the administration has a grasp on governance that they can govern, but he's also very hawkish.

I mean, he's known as one of the most hawkish voices in foreign policy including on the issue of Iran. So this is a message to conservatives in the GOP, hawkish conservatives that the administration won't totally withdraw from the world and is willing to use force. Bolton is a very well-known figure for those issues. So, I think it's also a signal to the right to stay with this president.

WHITFIELD: And then Julian, how bruising is it for the White House that you know, President Trump would mention Harward out loud then come to find out, he's like, no thank you.

ZELIZER: Well, it is damaging, obviously, this week, it suggests that there's a lack of confidence in joining this administration. That said, President Trump loves this drama. He makes a drama of these picks with the tweet and even with that, and so in a certain sense, it works and that it keeps attention on what he's going to announce next. WHITFIELD: So, in comparison to other administrations, take a look at where the Trump administration stands in comparison. I know the latest nominee to be confirmed for this administration, Scott Pruitt, for Environmental Protection Agency, several holes remain. You know, the White House is claiming that there's a lot of obstruction taking place on Capitol Hill, Salena. That his confirmations are not taking place as quickly as they should, but is that the issue, obstruction?

[12:25:12]ZITO: Well, I mean, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said that's what he was going to do and so have other members of the --

WHITFIELD: But the Dems are on the minority.

ZITO: It doesn't matter. They can stall it. You know, they can't -- I mean, that's sort of how the reporting on this has been. They're going to instruct. They realize and acknowledge that they can't stop it, but that's what they're going to do because they want to get this message of no and that they're strong against this president.

It's pretty much Politics 101. It's not shocking. It hasn't caused anyone to not get through, you know, get through the process -- on a vote. We did have the one take his name out, the labor secretary nominee, but you know, that's what happens.

I mean, it is rare that someone goes to a vote and doesn't become a cabinet member. They realize the vote's not going to happen and they're going to get out and you know, you have to remember, for Barack Obama, he did not have his CIA chief until I believe it was mid-February 2009.

Michael Hayton (ph) was the acting CIA chief, so none of -- this whole thing is not unprecedented. Some things move smoother, some things do not.

WHITFIELD: All right, Salena Zito, Julian Zelizer, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, the pledge to trim the nation's debt and wrangle and spending that was at the center of Trump's winning campaign. Now, his Budget Office is getting to work on putting that promise into action. Next, which domestic programs might be on the chopping board, the hit list?



WHITFIELD: Here in New Orleans, it's Mardi Gras, the All-Star weekend and I've got Steve Smith here and we've got our all access at the NBA All-Star Weekend. Coming up at 2:30 Eastern Time, why is it this weekend, no matter what city, it's become a real cultural event.

STEVE SMITH, ESPN HOST: It is because you get a chance to celebrate all our stars in the game. You get a chance to have guys come and have a fun weekend and everybody gets a chance to watch basketball at its highest level. You had Mardi Gras in the city of New Orleans, this is going to be a big party.

WHITFIELD: And already, this is a festive city. You can hear the traffic here. It's an exciting place. So, there are many reasons to come to New Orleans this weekend.

SMITH: Yes, it is. Like I said, you get a chance to see fabulous basketball. You get a chance to celebrate Mardi Gras and for me, it's the food and the music. I'm excited.

WHITFIELD: It's all about the food. All right, thanks so much, Steve Smith, 2:30 Eastern Time. We've got you covered for 30 minutes, All- Star Weekend.



[12:32:10] WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, lots of work for the Trump administration particularly for the Trump administration budget office. It's now moving into higher gear. Now that Mick Mulvaney has been confirmed as budget director, and the White House has reportedly drafted a list of popular domestic programs to cut in an effort to trim spending.

According to the "New York Times," the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorp and the Legal Services Corporation are just some on the agencies on the chopping block. CNN's Senior Economic Analyst Stephen Moore joining us live now from Washington. He is also a former senior economic adviser for the Trump campaign. All right, good to see you.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONIMICS ANALYST: Hi Fredricka. By the way, I don't -- I think Mick Mulvaney has a very tough job. I don't envy him because it's a difficult thing. He's just been confirmed and now he has to come forward with this huge, you know, federal budget in terms to how to trim a $4 trillion budget. So it would be interesting to see as this unrolls over the next couple of weeks.

WHITFIELD: Right. It's a big job and that means there's going to be a lot of scrutiny over what may be on this, you know, so called hit list. So, we're talking about, you know, the corporation of public broadcasting. We're also, you know, talking about this legal counseling and we're talking about programs that would have something like $500 million annually in terms of budgets. You know, they're often target, but somehow, they also survive. Is it different this time?

MOORE: We will see. You know, I go back to the Reagan years and a lot of these programs, by the way, on the list, Fredricka, are programs that Reagan wanted to get rid of in the '80s and then Newt Gingrich wanted to get rid of in the '90s. And some of them Bill Clinton even wanted to get rid off. And, you know, Ronald Reagan once said that the closest thing to immortality on this earth is a federal government program. Because, you know, they build these political constituencies and even when their mission is long over, we still spend a lot of money on them.

So, I think it's going to be very interesting to see whether Trump can succeed where others have failed. I'll just give you one example. And we spend 100 billion -- it's a 100 billion with the B, on corporate welfare programs. They give money to American corporations. We don't need to spending money to subsidize American corporations.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, you know, that's all disputable, isn't it? I mean, that's what's going to bring, you know, some real consternation there inside the beltway.

Meantime, you know, Trump has been very vocal this week about inheriting "a mess." And tweeting, in fact, this morning, don't believe the mainstream, you know, fake news media of the White House is running very well. I inherited a mess. And I'm in the process of fixing it. This is what the country's unemployment rate, you know, has looked like over the past eight years. You know, and it's remarkably low. People have been celebrating these very low numbers. So, what is the mess that he's talking about?

[12:35:06] MOORE: Well, first of all, that unemployment rate number is a little bit misleading. I think most Americans have kind of quad on. Because what's happened over the last eight years is that you've had a huge number of people, Fredricka, just drop out of the workforce because they've become discouraged, they can't find the job they want.

Look, the way I put it is if you want --

WHITFIELD: So is that the mess that he's talking about? What is the mess?

MOORE: Well, OK, I'll give you some examples. So, when you include people who don't have a full time job and people who dropped out, the real unemployment rate is closer about 10 percent. Then you get -- and you want to talk about a mess, we have a $20 trillion national debt that was just doubled over the last -- during the last presidency. We have 45 million people on food stamps in the eighth year of what's supposed to be a recovery. By average a worker in America for 15 years now has not had a pay raise. That goes back to the beginning of the Bush years.

So, you know, when I was out there on the campaign trail, working with Mr. Trump and you talk to people in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and they just said, look, there's no recovery here. Our towns and our cities haven't seen the kind of boom that happened in Washington, D.C. and New York.

WHITFIELD: Well, except that when the labor numbers came out, Donald Trump tried to take credit for that. When it was the proceeding, you know, administration that is responsible for that. And there has been, you know, steady job creation taking place as well. And --


WHITFIELD: -- the president tried to take credit for some of that, too.

MOORE: That's true.

WHITFIELD: So, you know, I mean I guess it is sending some very confusing messages --

MOORE: Yes. Well, Fredricka, let me say this.

WHITFIELD: --- when we talk about the mess.

MOORE: Yes. Let me say this. It was the economy a mess that he inherited, no, that's probably an exaggeration. But it wasn't in sound, financial shape, clearly. Americans were very concerned about their own current financial situation. I think that's the reason that Donald Trump won. So, maybe this was a bit of an exaggeration. But it wasn't a rosy or wonderful economy that he inherited either. There are some big problems that need to be addressed, starting with the $20 trillion debt. The fact that we have a tax code that hasn't been fixed in 30 years, the fact that we have 94 million Americans over the age of 16 --

WHITFIELD: But it's pretty rosy in comparison to eight years ago.

MOORE: Well that's for sure. It couldn't have been worse. It couldn't have been worse.

WHITFIELD: You know, a leading plan from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is noting that, you know, that border wall. And of course, you know, has been the center piece of Donald Trump's campaign. That the fencing around that would cost something like $5 billion, but other plans of building an actual wall could cost up to $21 billion. We heard Donald Trump say just a couple of weeks ago that, you know, he hasn't been the one to really get out the plan and he knows he can get the numbers down. You know, how convincing is that argument that he is willing to make since nobody has actually seen any kind of blueprint, any plan?

MOORE: Well, look, I think the number one priority of the America -- United States federal government is to keep America safe in terms of our national security and keep our borders secure. It's something the American voters sure wanted to see. I mean, the wall was one of the most popular, you know, lines that Donald Trump use during the campaign.

So, if the American people want to secure border and want a wall, we should build it and I hope we can keep the cost down. I'm with you on that. And by the way, I don't see why it should cost $20 billion to build a wall. We should be able to do it as a much lower cost.

And by the way, one of the reasons I support a wall is once I think we have the wall and have a secured border, then, Fredricka, I think we can really modernize our immigration system and let in the people who are great contributors. I'm very pro-immigration, but I think people want the feeling that our border is secure, that drug runners and terrorists can't just run across the border --

WHITFIELD: Well, and by using tunnels and sometimes on top of trains, too. So I don't know --

MOORE: That's true. They get in all sorts of ways.

WHITFIELD: They're getting migrate and build a wall. It will be the answer on that.

MOORE: No, it's not the only answer, that's for sure. You've got to have internal security. You've got to do things to, you know, at the workplace to make sure that illegal immigrants are not, you know, illegally into the country. But I think a wall is something most Americans like the idea of keeping out illegal immigrants.

And again, if we can get illegal immigration under control, we can start letting in, you know, more of the productive people who make our country great. I'm very pro-immigration.

WHITFIELD: All right, Stephen Moore, thanks so much. Good to see you.

MOORE: Thank you. Take care.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, details over the financial and logistical realities of President Trump's proposed border wall. After the break, the latest red flags some officials are raising.


[12:43:24] WHITFIELD: All right, this is just in to CNN, president officials in North Carolina's say convicted world trade center bomber Omar Abdel-Rahman has died. The blind Egyptian clerk was serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 attack which killed six people and wounded more than 1,000 others.

Prison's spokesman says Abdel-Rahman died early this morning of natural causes. He was 78 years old. Officials say he had been battling complications from diabetes and coronary heart disease.

One issue at the top of President Trump's agenda, building a wall along the border of Mexico, but due to costs, timing and safety, several officials are advising or border fence instead. Here's CNN's Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is 18 feet tall made of steel with a cement base, call it what you want, but the government planners, security experts and Homeland Security officials who will be in-charge of building it, call this a fence.

This is the most recently built barrier between the United States and Mexico near Brownsville, Texas. And CNN has been told by multiple sources within the agencies involved in building, paying for and enforcing this barrier, that this is what President Trump's wall may look like.

U.S. Customs and Border patrol is planning to present the plan for border security to its bosses possibly this week and CNN has learned new details. First, they say, the wall should not be a wall. It should be a fence. And that could become a sticky situation for a President who insists otherwise.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the fence. It's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.

[12:45:04] GRIFFIN: Sources tell CNN the biggest job in moving forward is convincing the President that the fence is more secure. And it will be up to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly sources say, who must find a way to allow the White House to spend the promise of a wall into a fence. Secretary Kelly seems to have already begun in testimony to congress, repeatedly referring to the board of fortification as a barrier.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, there are many, many places that we need some type of physical barrier right now backed up by men and women of border protection.

GRIFFIN: Why would President Trump agree to a fence instead of a beautiful wall, as he says? Security and common sense U.S customs and border patrol officials on the ground and in charge of actually securing the border tells CNN a fence actually offers more security than a solid wall.

One source telling CNN, "You never want to have a barrier in place that will obstruct your vision. That prevents you from seeing the other side of the border." Another saying "I'm not calling it a wall because we are talking about a fence that we can look through. That's what we need."

It's more secure for border agents, it eliminates many environmental factors like drainage and its costs will be significantly lower. If the current plan is approved, it will look like this bollard style fencing, steel slats, secured six feet below ground and standing 18 feet above. The slats reinforced with rebar and cement.

Another part of the proposal according to sources, it will not go coast to coast. This is the current fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico with large gaps in between for a total of 654 miles. The latest plans involve adding 177 new miles of fencing and replacing 272 miles of already built fence according to one high level source with knowledge of the project.

That means the total barrier between the United States and Mexico would cover 831 total miles of a nearly 2,000 mile border. Still, not even half according to these sources.


WHITFIELD: All right. Drew Griffin, thanks so much. All right. Coming up, flash flood warnings and power outages and mandatory evacuations, that's the scene right now in parts of Southern California after a deadly storm hit the state. We're live on the ground after the break.


[12:51:43] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. At least two people were dead after a deadly storm hit Southern California. The rain was so heavy. A parking garage in Los Angeles turned into a water fall. A flash flood warnings are in effect. CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're seeing stuff falling right now. There you go, that have been (inaudible) just now. There goes a car.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEROLOGIST (voice-over): A giant sinkhole swallows a car. Stunning picture out of Southern California after a monster storm brings heavy rains and powerful winds to the region leaving at least two people dead.

In San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles, rescue officials on one victim inside a submerged car and a downed power line is being blamed for an electrocution death in Sherman, Oaks.

The LAPD says, the identified man was walking near by and somehow came in contact with either the electrified lines or charged water.

And in one Santa Barbara neighborhood, two giant trees came down smashing into cars. And a home, one woman narrowly escaped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just thankful that I was alive and it didn't come this way. I'm super scary. I'm still pretty shaken up about it.

CHINCHAR: Flash flood warnings were issued in several counties. The rain is so furious that a parking garage was turned into a water fall.


CHINCHAR: The nasty weather has closed dozens of roads in the area and more than 100,000 people have lost power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, here goes the tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They go strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole mountain was sliding.

CHINCHAR: And check out this awesome display of nature's power. A landslide, the size of three football fields comes crashing down in the San Bernardino mountains taking with it trees and boulders into the valley below.


WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much Allison Chinchar. There's so much more straight ahead in the news room. Stay with us.



[12:57:54] RYAN SPEEDO GREEN, OPERA SINGER: I'm Ryan Speedo Green, opera singer. When I was younger, I don't think I liked myself as a person or my home life. I lived in low income housing. My mom pretty much raised me. Between 9:00 to 11:00, I was put in a class with 67 of the worst kids in my district. This class was taught by Elizabeth Hughes and the way that I introduce my self to her was I threw my desk at her, but she never gave up on me.

Soon after I left her class, I reverted back to my old ways. I threatened my mom's life and my brother's life at 12 years old. I remember being taken away in a cop car and driven to a juvenile detention center where I spent two months. It was probably the lowest point of my life. I just didn't want to end up back there again.

I auditioned for Governor's School for the Arts when I was in ninth grade. That is when I met one of the second most important teacher is Robert Brown. He became almost like a father figure to me. When I was 15, I saw my first opera. That's when Mr. Brown I know what I want to do with my life. I want to sing up on that and that's the first time I ever, you know, had a dream. And Mr. Brown told me, you know, I have everything enlist for you to do it. Slowly, I sort of checked off everything on that list.

My last performance was that from Metropolitan Opera singing Colline in La Boheme by Puccini. The last two years alone, I probably in about 20 operas.

Opera has been a true blessing for me to have a dream and pursue it.


WHITFIELD: Powerful story. So much more straight ahead this hour. Thank you so much for being back with me now, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. In just a few short hours, President Donald Trump will hold a rally in Melbourne, Florida. Trump taking a break from the White House to talk to his many supporters going back to his comfort zone of being at rallies and on the campaign trail now as sitting President. This as he revisits his options for national security adviser as well after firing General Michael Flynn with expect his potential picks. Mean while in an effort to east concerns abroad, Vice President Mike Pence is in Germany with a message to world leaders.