Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Returns to "Campaign Trail"; Trump's First 100 Days; New Arrest in Death of Kim Jong-nam; Powerful Storm Brings Flooding to California. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired February 18, 2017 - 00:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Back to what worked during the campaign. President Trump touts his abilities to improve the U.S. economy as he makes a visit to Boeing.

And the president has a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Scott Pruitt who's familiar with the organization for having sued it over a dozen times.

Plus a North Korean man is arrested in connection with the mysterious death of Kim Jong-un's half-brother.

Hi, everyone, thanks a lot for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from Atlanta, and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


VANIER: So U.S. President Donald Trump is capping a tumultuous first few weeks in office by heading back to the campaign trail. Saturday he headlines a rally in Melbourne, Florida. He got a head start on Friday at a Boeing airplane plant in South Carolina, where he touted one of his big campaign themes: bringing jobs back to the U.S.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Munich, Germany, for a security summit. He's trying to reassure U.S. allies about the Trump administration's commitment to them. He's also trying to allay their concerns about Russia. And all this of course is happening while the Trump administration still needs to fill the post of U.S. national security adviser.

Sources tell CNN that two potential candidates, former CIA director David Petraeus and former Army general Stanley McChrystal, are no longer in the running for that position.

And while the search continues, President Trump is making a promise to the American people. White House correspondent Sara Murray has more on that.



SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than a month into his presidency, Donald Trump is breaking out of the bubble and getting back into campaign mode.

TRUMP: This was going to be a place that was tough to win and we won in a landslide.

MURRAY (voice-over): Trump reliving his South Carolina primary win in a visit to a Boeing plant today, the president trying to get back to his sweet spot as he touted his goal to revive American manufacturing.

TRUMP: When American workers win, America as a country wins, big league wins. That's my message here today. America is going to start winning again, winning like never, ever before.

MURRAY (voice-over): With the administration under fire over its Russian connections, the botched travel ban and the ouster of Trump's national security adviser, Trump's allies say he has been feeling cooped up, so he jumped at the chance to get out of Washington and try to turn the focus to job creation instead.

TRUMP: 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.

MURRAY (voice-over): While Trump vowed to prevent jobs from moving overseas...

TRUMP: I don't want companies leaving our country, making their product, selling it back, no tax, no nothing, firing everybody in our country. We're not letting that happen anymore, folks, believe me.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- he offered few details about how he would do so, as Capitol Hill is still waiting to see the framework of a Trump tax plan. It's an item on the president's agenda this weekend, when he and top aides are slated to huddle with newly confirmed budget director, Mick Mulvaney, the president hitting the road today as a key White House position remains unfilled.

Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn earlier this week. And retired vice admiral Bob Harward also turned down the job. Now Trump says he has a handful of candidates on his short list, including acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg.


VANIER: A day after a marathon news conference that was often combative, Mr. Trump is tweeting the media again with a little punch. He says the fake news, failing "New York Times," NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN -- we're in there -- is not my enemy, it's the enemy of the American people.

Reporters asked U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell about the president's tweets. The Republican says they aren't that important.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of yesterday's news conference, are you concerned the president is taking your party off message?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I've been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I'm not a great fan of daily tweets. What I am a fan of is what he's 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.


VANIER: So I spoke a short time ago with CNN --


VANIER: -- senior political analyst Ron Brownstein about President Trump's relationship with Republicans, including that one, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is a transactional relationship on both sides. Donald Trump, in many ways, was an independent candidate, who ran under the Republican banner. He had less institutional support. He had more elected Republicans saying they would vote against him.

And any nominee, I believe, since William Howard Taft in 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt left the party and there was a fissure.

And on the other side, Donald Trump was as quick to criticize Republicans often as he was Democrats. He certainly did not shy from attacking Paul Ryan in particular over and over during the campaign.

I don't think there is a lot of deep personal bonding. What there is that holds them together, I think, are two things -- one, Mitch McConnell alluded to. There is a lot of policy where they overlap. I don't agree with him that it's exactly the same as it would have been under Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Maybe we can talk about that.

But there are areas where Donald Trump's agenda and the agenda the Republicans have been developing since 2010 do overlap, particularly on rolling back government.

And the other thing that keeps them together is that Donald Trump is very popular with the Republican base; even as he is facing by far lower approval ratings than any newly elected president ever one month into his tenure, over 80 percent of Republicans still say they support what he is doing and that is a constraining factor on the ability of congressional Republicans to break from him.

VANIER: What about the point Mitch McConnell was making, that essentially Donald Trump is pushing the same agenda any mainstream Republican president would have been pushing?

If you look beyond the tweets and the personality, I mean, is Trump just like any other Republican president?

BROWNSTEIN: Nom I don't think that is exactly right. I mean, I think the way to think about this and have often said is that there are two Venn diagrams, there is the Donald Trump agenda and the agenda of kind of mainstream Republicans.

And these do overlap in some places: repealing ObamaCare, rolling back federal regulations; with the confirmation of Scott Pruitt at the EPA, we're going to see a big push in the environment. Cutting taxes, there are areas where they overlap.

There are big areas, though, where they don't overlap, where you see Donald Trump is a more protectionist. He is pushing harder on immigration than I think we would certainly have seen from Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both in terms of entry to the country and in deportation from within the country.

And obviously his views on foreign policy, attitude toward Russia, attitude toward NATO, I could care less -- an exact quote -- whether the E.U. dissolves, is not something you would really see from I think any other possible Republican president.

VANIER: But Ron, specifically, Mitch McConnell said his priority was tax reform and health care reform. And to pass that in the Senate, more than likely, he is going to need more than the majority he's got.

Let's show our viewers the numbers in the Senate, it's 52-48 in favor of the Republicans. That means they're probably going to need more Democrats, a supermajority, 60 votes in the Senate, to pass those big ticket items.


VANIER: Donald Trump's style of governance making it easy for him to achieve that ultimately.

BROWNSTEIN: Clearly making it harder. I mean, as I mentioned, Donald Trump has an over 80 percent approval rating among Republicans. His disapproval rating among Democrats is over 80 percent, which is unprecedented in the history of polling, going back to 1953.

Gallup has polled every new president. No new president has ever faced the level of opposition from the opposite party that Donald Trump has. And that obviously makes it tougher for Democrats to work with him.

But he has got a bigger problem, which is that while he is busy raging at the media and tweeting and fighting with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin and "Saturday Night Live," Republicans in the House and Senate have run quickly into the quagmire, dividing over what to do about tax reform.

The version that Paul Ryan wants to pursue is a -- almost a complete non-starter in the Senate. They are struggling to repeal ObamaCare conversely because there are so many Senate Republicans who are saying they will not repeal until they know what they have to replace it. And that effort has been kind of stuck in the mud as well.

Without a clear sense of policy guidance from the White House, the legislative agenda that Mitch McConnell prizes is also running aground at this point. And they -- and that's why I think you're seeing the kind of plea that you hear in that press conference today.

VANIER: All right, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.


VANIER: U.S. President Donald Trump has dismissed allegations of Russian contacts with his administration as "a ruse" and "fake news." But Russian interference in U.S. politics is being taken seriously on Capitol Hill.

FBI director James Comey on Friday briefed U.S. senators in a closed door meeting about what Russia had been up to. At least three official investigations are expected. One Democratic senator says the Senate Intelligence Community has already put safeguards in place to ensure that the White House does not destroy any relevant documents.

For the Russian reaction, let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian in Moscow.

Clare, first of all, Russia being front and center of Donald Trump's troubles, be it the alleged ties between his campaign and Russian operatives or --


VANIER: -- the fact that his now ex-national security adviser didn't disclose everything he told the Russian ambassador to the American vice president, all of that, what's the reaction in Moscow?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Cyril, well, the Kremlin have really been trying to kind of stay out of all this on the issue of the departure of now former national security adviser Flynn. They said that this is a U.S. domestic issue.

On their reports about the constant contacts between Russian operatives and members of the Trump team, the Kremlin spokesman saying earlier this week, you know, don't read your morning newspapers, it's difficult to distinguish real news from fake news and saying essentially that they shouldn't be trusted because it's from anonymous sources.

Having said that, they haven't denied that contacts took place.

In fact, we heard from the deputy foreign minister just two days after the election in the U.S. in an interview he gave to Russian news agency Interfax, saying, yes, there were contacts. He didn't suggest there was anything out of the ordinary and he hoped they would continue.

But I think, you know, certainly the Kremlin is trying to keep a lid on this. There are some politicians who are concerned that there are certain forces in the U.S. that might want to use Trump's pro-Russia stance against him and that it might turn out to be eventually more politically expedient for him to kind of turn away from Russia. So certainly there is a concern here about that -- Cyril.

VANIER: And what's the general perception of Donald Trump and the Trump-led administration almost a month into his tenure?

SEBASTIAN: Well, it's certainly changed, I think, over the course of this month. I think it's fair to say the original euphoria we saw about this president is definitely waning. There's significantly less media coverage around it.

In fact, we saw a small protest in Moscow earlier this week, a group of pro-Putin kind of nationalists, saying that there was too much coverage of Trump and it was drowning out domestic issues.

The Kremlin saying in a call with journalists yesterday, we never wore any rose-tinted glasses about how this relationship would develop. We asked them if they watched Trump's press conference on Thursday. They said, you know, we have got more important things to do. There are domestic issues we need to focus on.

And I think it's clear that there are some kind of foreign policy issues developing between Russia and the U.S. that could stand in the way of closer ties, certainly Ukraine.

We have seen President Trump's stance on this harden somewhat in the last few days. He tweeted earlier this week Crimea was taken by Russia, suggesting that perhaps the Obama administration was too soft on Russia. And that is a very important issue here in Russia. They say that Crimea is now Russian territory; the issue is closed. So that could really be a sticking point going forward -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Clare Sebastian, reporting live from Moscow, thank you very much.

The U.S. Senate has approved one of Donald Trump's most controversial nominees. Why activists say it's a major setback in the fight against climate change.

Also, who killed the half-brother of North Korea's leader?

A new arrest in the death of Kim Jong-nam -- ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.





VANIER: The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Trump's controversial pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Democrats and environmentalists call Scott Pruitt a climate change denier. Republicans say he will put a stop to years of bureaucratic overreach that has killed jobs.

The head of one energy industry group said, "We expect the EPA to return to sensible policies that both protect the environment and recognize the need for reliable and affordable coal-based electricity."


VANIER: We're joined now by Emma Ruby-Sachs, deputy director of Avaaz, a global activist movement coordinated mostly online.

One of the issues that matters most to your members is climate change. You are currently campaigning to, quote, "end public subsidiaries to dirty energy, keep fossil fuels in the ground and push for investment in renewable energy."

You cannot be happy about Scott Pruitt being confirmed as head of the EPA in the U.S.

EMMA RUBY-SACHS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, AVAAZ: You know, in some ways it is not surprising. These are the promises that Trump made on the campaign trail.

But this guy, I mean, he smells of corruption. He has got really close ties to the fossil fuel industry. He questions whether climate change is real. He wants to roll back -- he's actually sued the EPA, I think, five times --


VANIER: It's more than that, I think it's at least a dozen times.

RUBY-SACHS: OK, well, you have got the numbers. It is not a good situation. This guy, he's going to try and dismantle the EPA from the inside out, is our best bet. But this is not a new thing. This is what Donald Trump has promised and it is a call to Americans and to the world to step up and fill the gap.

VANIER: What specifically are you worried about?

RUBY-SACHS: We had this incredible moment in Paris a couple of years ago. You know, I was there. And it was unbelievable to see every country in the world sign onto a path to 100 percent clean energy.

And undermining that, pulling out of that, eliminating the United States from the global progress towards renewables, that's the worry I have.

And, honestly, I feel like, as Americans, we're scared of being left out of the global economy because the swoop towards renewable energies is happening anyways and we're going to be left behind if we don't act now.

VANIER: So you have got an environmental concern and actually a business, economic concern?

RUBY-SACHS: I think that's pretty clear. You know, there was an article that came out, a study that showed that renewable energies in the U.S. are creating double the number of jobs as the fossil fuel industry. That alone should make us worry.

But we've got China right now about to launch a whole carbon pricing system. And India is promising to get itself off of coal by 2050. These are major economies as well as major governments that are moving towards renewables really fast.

VANIER: But, you know, on the economic impact of this, there's at least one person who would disagree with you and that's the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell here in the U.S.

He was instrumental in pushing through the confirmation of Scott Pruitt. This is what he said and why he lauded Scott Pruitt as new head of the EPA. He said that Mr. Pruitt understands balance, the need for balance, when it comes to environmental action.

And by that he meant balance between protecting the environment but also helping the economy. He comes from a coal-rich state, where the economy depends on the coal industry.

Do you understand that argument and the need for balance?

RUBY-SACHS: You know what I do understand is that there is a whole world of people out there in the U.S. and around the world who are worried about how to feed their kids now. And for what they know and what we've seen in immediate impact, they're not sure that climate will have the same right-now effect on their ability to survive.

And what the economics are showing us and what the science is showing us is that renewable energy can lift them up, too, and they can be part of an economic future that's sustainable, that has growth. And that fossil fuels aren't going to help their children in the next 30 to 50 years. That fear, that very real fear --


VANIER: But you know, Mr. Mitch McConnell comes from Kentucky, those people, a lot of them make a living from coal.

So I guess you can't answer those people specifically, right?

Your answer is more global, if I understand correctly?

RUBY-SACHS: Well, it is definitely what is happening in the global economy. But if you look at India, for example, that was set to build 1,000 coal plants and now is shifting solely to renewables, they've made this bet, this transition, that says that their people will find more jobs and cheaper electricity if they move to renewables now. And that's the same for the U.S. states. There's a transition time,

there always is. But that immediate fear about jobs, that's not going to be solved by relying on an industry that is set to die globally. It will be solved by moving with the future --


RUBY-SACHS: -- and pushing renewables.

VANIER: All right, Emma Ruby-Sachs, deputy director of Avaaz, thank you so much for your time today.

RUBY-SACHS: Thanks a lot for having me.


VANIER: We have breaking news this hour out of Malaysia, authorities there say they arrested a fourth suspect in the suspicious death of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

This latest suspect is reportedly North Korean. Our Saima Mohsin is in Malaysia and joins us now.

Saima, what is the latest on the investigation?

What do we know about this arrest?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yet one more arrest, the fourth suspect has been named, Cyril, as Ri Jong Chol. And Malaysian police say that they believe he has some kind of connection to the death and murder of Kim Jong-nam.

They say that they got his name from an ICAD, which is basically a kind of ID card that gives you permission to work here in Malaysia. And that's how they've identified him as a citizen of North Korea.

Now that is the fourth arrest. Of course previously there have been two women arrested, identified as a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman and a man, a Malaysian man, who actually led them to the Indonesian woman who happens to be his girlfriend. This all according to police.

This extraordinary murder mystery gets more and more entangled and embroiled and bizarre, frankly, each time we get an update. Now this fourth suspect has been arrested also overnight, Cyril.

We've had word from an Indonesian police official, who says he believes the Indonesian woman was duped into being involved in some kind of prank.

And so in carrying out this -- in allegedly carrying out this attack on Kim Jong-nam, she was duped into doing so. Of course there was no confirmation she was involved directly in this attack. No charges have been brought.

But this Indonesian police official believes this is what has happened. But he didn't say why he believes that.

Is this something that came out of the interrogation or not?

We're not clear on that, either. Four suspects in custody and the North Korean ambassador making a shock and surprise statement outside the mortuary late Friday night local time, unusual to hear from the North Korean embassy in this way.

He came out, he arrived at the mortuary, stepped out and read out a statement, effectively condemning Malaysian government's treatment of this investigation, saying they reject any post-mortem examination results, as they were conducted without the North Korean embassy's permission -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Saima Mohsin, reporting live from Kuala Lumpur, thank you very much.

Also coming up in the show, a deadly storm and floods threaten Southern California. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the latest when we come back.




VANIER: All right. A powerful winter storm has turned deadly after slamming the California coast on Friday. We're joined by meteorologist Derek Van Dam from the CNN Weather Center.

Derek, what's going on?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Probably one of the more powerful storms in recent memory. Unfortunately, two fatalities already, lightning strike --


VAN DAM: -- and also a fatality from a flooded vehicle. Look at the damage left over from the brunt of this storm. This is unbelievable, cutting down 100-year-old trees because they were toppled over by the winds that were over 150 kilometers per hour in some instances.

Check the next video. This is astounding, they actually captured a landslide on camera. This is coming out of San Bernardino National Forest in California. There are already reports of 8 inches in Santa Barbara, Ventura Counties, we've got 83,000 people without power; Santa Barbara airport closed with flooded runways.

LAX has had 470 delayed flights and 130 cancelled already. So this storm means business. Let's get to the details, what's happening. That landslide video you just saw a moment ago all comes down to that extremely heavy rain soaking into the soil; eventually gravity wins and takes the soil and ground along with it. Look at the monster of the storm. This is a drought buster and at the

moment we have over 20 million people under some sort of flash flood watch or warning. And you can see the shades of red just outside of Los Angeles County where they have flash flood warnings ongoing.

On top of the rain threat, you go higher in elevation we cool the temperature and we start to see the liquid change over to the frozen variety. Snowfall will be measured in feet. Good news for the ski resorts. Bad news for people trying to travel across the region.

On top of that, you've got wind gusts over 150 kilometers per hour, as I mentioned, toppling trees, knocking down people's power lines down and that's why we have the wind advisories and warnings coming out of the greater Los Angeles region.

I mean, check this out. Grapevine in Curran County, 108 miles an hour for international viewers. That is 173 kilometer per hour wind gusts. That is a strong wind. That is equivalent to a category 2 hurricane.

Look at this storm system moving through; the rain has not ended and the big story this week has been the threatened Lake Oroville Dam that has already seen major, major damage to it.

Will it withstand this second test with the next storm moving through as we speak?

Still more rain for that region with an additional 100 to 150 millimeters on top of what has already fallen. So time will tell. There are still over 100,000 people with evacuation advisories. So they need to be prepared downstream from this dam to evacuate at a moment's notice just in case we have a second failure.

VANIER: All right, Derek Van Dam, thank you so much, good to have you back, by the way.

VAN DAM: Good to be here.

VANIER: And thank you very much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'm back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.