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Pence: "Disappointed To Learn" Flynn Misled Me; Trump To Hold More Interviews In NSA Search; Senators Want Russia-Related Material Preserved; Trump, Pence Send Mixed Messages On NATO; Trump To Unveil New Executive Action On Immigration This Week; Pence Met With Open Skepticism By European Allies; Trump Doubles Down On Claim Of Violent Migrants In Sweden. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 11:00   ET



MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the facts that had been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate, but we honor General Flynn's long service to the United States of America. And I fully support the president's decision to ask for his resignation. It was the proper decision, it was handled properly, and in a timely way. And I have great confidence in the national security team of this administration going forward.


ANA CABRERA, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Meantime, President Trump is working to fill that top job left by Flynn. The White House says President Trump will hold a new round of interviews for the NSA position. He met yesterday with these four finalists, former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, acting national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, superintendent of West Point, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, an Army strategist.

CNN White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, and CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, are with us now. I want to start with you, Jeff, do we know who the president is planning to meet with today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we do not know who he's meeting with today. He's still in Mar-a-Lago, his retreat in Florida. He'll have a few staff meetings and then flying back here later today to the White House. So we do not believe a decision will be made on who his national security adviser is until later in the week, no earlier than tomorrow.

But the chief of staff of the White House, Reince Priebus, was asked over the weekend about, you know, the difficulty of finding someone to fill this position, which certainly is weighing on most of the president's advisers here in the wake of General Flynn's resignation. Let's listen.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president has said very clearly that the new NSA director will have total and complete say over the makeup of the NSC and all of the components of the NSC. And there is no demand made by President Trump on any candidate for NSA director at all.


ZELENY: So that of course is the central question here, will people be able to hire their own assistants, their own aides on the National Security Council. It is something that the chief of staff said they would be able to, but there are some questions among some people being considered if they actually believe that.

Because throughout the government, Ana, it is clear that people have not been hired for positions if they have spoken out against the president before. So there is sort of a vetting that's going on to see if people's views align with the president. That's something definitely going on with the national security adviser as well, Ana.

CABRERA: No worries, you've been going since early this morning, I know, Jeff. I'm wondering how the current dynamics inside the White House may be impacting their ability to fill this role at the NSA.

ZELENY: It's a good question. We certainly have seen, as we're entering the second month of this presidency, there has been a lot of dysfunction out there. Yes, we saw the president say last week things are running as a fine tuned machine, but when you look at the resignation abruptly of the national security adviser and others, people are, quite frankly, concerned about taking some positions here.

All of those four finalists certainly are long time experts, are people who are dedicated to this field here. So if they have the assurances from the president that they can hire their own people and have their own sort of core team around them, I have no doubt that it will be filled. But certainly the unease inside the west wing here makes this more complicated. Again, we're at the beginning of week five -- Ana.

CABRERA: Evan, we're hearing that the White House is now planning to roll out a new executive order pertaining to the proposed travel ban in the next day or two. What are you hearing about what's going to be in this new order?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Ana, there's a lot of different changes they're trying to make in this executive order to make it survive court challenges. Tal Kopan, our reporter in CNN Politics, obtained some guidance memos from inside the Homeland Security Department that laid out some of the changes that they are trying to make.

Including perhaps, you know, making sure that they remove any reference to religious discrimination, any religious test for immigrants and refugees who are being allowed into the country.

We also know part of this is to make sure that the executive order is at least rolled out to the agencies that are going to have to enforce it. We know that General Kelly was in Munich this weekend, at the Munich security conference.

And one of the things he finally admitted was that the last rollout was chaotic, and frankly he wants to make sure his officers have more time to be able to carry this out. We expect that this order is going to be released perhaps in the next few days.

Over the weekend it was still being written. So we expect that whatever it is, they want to make sure that it's tightened, that it's more focused on these seven countries, perhaps, and to make sure that it can survive some of the legal challenges that are going to be coming.

CABRERA: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you. Evan, I want you to stay with me to talk about DHS guidelines pertaining to undocumented immigrants. So we'll get to that in a moment.

[11:05:11]But first, to questions about Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee now requesting organizations and individuals preserve all records related to Russian tampering in the 2016 elections.

Let's bring in CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Phil, Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, seemed to brush off suggestions that the administration has something to hide. Here is what he said on "Meet The Press" yesterday.


PRIEBUS: Those are things that Richard Burr and his team have to do. It doesn't mean anything is there. It just means they need to do some things to satisfy their committee that they've looked into something and then they can have meetings behind closed doors, that they always do in the intel committee, and they'll issue a report. As long as they do their job and we cooperate with them, they'll issue a report and the report will say there's nothing there.


CABRERA: So Phil, it kind of sounds like he's saying bring it on, but there seems to be dissent among lawmakers about how best to go about an investigation. Why is that?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, there's no unanimity on Capitol Hill as far as the direction forward as lawmakers trying to figure out how to look into what happened in the 2016 election, which specifically Russian meddling.

Now you heard Chief of Staff Priebus referencing the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, that's one of three that are going on Capitol Hill. But Ana, you also have a number of lawmakers, including some Republicans, a few Republicans kind of agitating for an independent investigation, a special prosecutor, a number of different entities that Republican leadership on Capitol Hill says will not happen.

So what do you actually have right now? You have the Senate Intelligence Committee, they have an investigation. The House Intelligence Committee, they have an investigation. You also have a subcommittee that's looking into this on the Senate Judiciary.

I think the big question now, Ana, is do any of these panels have teeth. As you heard Reince Priebus refer to, the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to be the one investigation that really has teeth.

It's bipartisan, not only you have Richard Burr, a Republican, who is the chairman, you also have Mark Warner, a Democrat, is the vice chairman. Both have made very clear, they want to be aggressive in the investigation.

They plan to look specifically into things like contacts between Russian officials and campaign officials. And also they have said already they have expanded the investigation to include a look into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

That's the investigation everybody is looking to right now as the most serious. As you note, Ana, there's no kind of clear pathway forward here as lawmakers trying to get their heads around what's happened over the last couple of months.

CABRERA: You talk about these three different paths and the one that seems most likely. To be clear, what is actually happening? Has an investigation begun or is it a matter of figuring out how to go about the investigation?

MATTINGLY: I think it's a little bit of both. But if you want to look at the Senate Intelligence Committee, it's very clear that at least in talking to the members of the committee, they obviously can't talk a lot about what they're doing, but there's no doubt it.

They have started the investigation in earnest. They have expanded the investigation. Ana, one of the most interesting elements of what's happened over the last couple of days, on Friday, as senators were all leaving to go home, Congress is on recess right now, all of the senators in that committee were meeting behind closed doors with Jim Comey.

This was not a publicized meeting. No one would talk about the meetings afterwards. On that same day, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent letters to more than a dozen agencies, groups, and individuals requiring them to hold onto any documentation of anything that could relate to this investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This so far, at least from everything I've been told on Capitol Hill from both aides and lawmakers, is the most serious investigation. Obviously Reince Priebus himself acknowledged this investigation. The big question is, what will come out of this investigation?

One thing to keep in mind, Ana, they have subpoena power. They have made very clear they plan to use it. That means individuals like Mike Flynn, former intelligence officials in the Obama administration are expected to be called to testify. What they say, if it's released publicly, could have a major impact on the direction of things going forward -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Phil Mattingly, we know you'll keep us posted, thanks.

Let's discuss further, CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston is with us. CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, also a political anchor for Spectrum News, CNN politics reporter, Eugene Scott here with me in New York, and CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez back with us.

Mark, I'll start with you. We just played that clip from Trump's chief of staff saying, nothing to hide when it comes to Russia. Why are some Republicans then resisting a full-fledged investigation into the contacts between Trump aides and Russian operatives?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ana, as Phil just pointed out, we've certainly seen more leadership from the Senate, particularly Senate Republicans, when it comes to ties if any that Donald Trump and his campaign have had with Russia.

We have seen from the House side, though, that they were looking into leakers. They wanted to find out who leaked this information and they plan to investigate.

[11:10:00]We did see, though, at the end of last week, a letter from Jason Chaffetz, the Republican, and Congressman Cummings, Elijah Cummings, the Democrat, who control the Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives.

They did send a letter to the speaker's bureau to try to find out more information about why General Flynn attended an event with RT, which is the Russian-owned television station, last year, find out more details about that.

But there is going to be an incredible amount of pressure on the House of Representatives specifically, because we're seeing it on the Senate side, to actually do a full investigation into what if any leaks there exist between Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government.

CABRERA: Errol, I want to pivot to the vice president, he's in Europe. He's been working to reassure allies about U.S. positions, including support of NATO. But he and the president are still saying slightly different things on this issue. Let's listen to what each man said just in the past 48 hours.


PENCE: 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We're fighting battles that other people aren't treating us fairly in the fight. I'm a NATO fan, but many of the countries in NATO, many of the countries that we protect, many of these countries are very rich countries. They're not paying their bills.


CABRERA: So Errol, we're hearing slightly different tones out of these two men. Is it like good cop/bad cop? What are U.S. allies to make of all this?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you've got to feel a little bit for the vice president who essentially sent now to NATO in the form of a bill collector, to make clear to them that their share of GDP that they devote to the NATO alliance is supposed to increase.

It creates a great deal of dissonance because unwavering means unwavering and obsolete means obsolete. We've heard both from this administration. Until and unless it gets its doctrine together, and frankly this dovetails with the investigation into what Russia wants, since Russia seems to have had a vital interest in the outcome of this election.

Until they get that together, the European members of NATO have every reason to be concerned, not just for financial reasons but because the basic stability of the alliance and the commitments of the United States are now thrown into question.

CABRERA: So Mark, should allies be reassured after this reassurance tour of sorts?

PRESTON: You know, they might be calmed down a little bit, but I do think the unpredictability of this White House and Donald Trump changing his mind, you know, by the second, let alone by the minute, should probably cause them to have some more concern.

In the end, the buck stops with Donald Trump, not with Vice President Pence. It seems that Vice President Pence is having to go over there to try to clean up some of the things that Donald Trump has said. But in the end, Donald Trump is going to make that decision.

So if you are a NATO ally, despite hearing from Vice President Pence, despite hearing from General Mattis, who was over there doing the same thing recently as well, I do think you probably have to be concerned over what the U.S.' role is going to be.

CABRERA: Back at home, Evan, Secretary Kelly expected to release new guidance on cracking down on illegal immigration, specifically concerning asylum-seekers also involved in all of this. What can you tell us about some new guidance from DHS when it pertains to undocumented immigrants?

PEREZ: It's not surprising, I suppose, but it does appear that the Homeland Security Department will tighten the way it enforces the law with regard to refugees and to people who are seeking asylum, making asylum claims, people who are here illegally in this country, including kids, people who come here as unaccompanied minors. We know that the guidance that they're putting together, which

is not final, but which should be forthcoming in the coming days, raises the bar for people to prove asylum claims. It allows for quicker removal of illegal immigrants who can't prove that they've been in this country for a couple of years.

We also expect it's going to lay out for more reliance on local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. And as a result of all this, we expect the immigration services are going to end up detaining a lot of immigrants, a lot more immigrants while they process their claims instead of allowing them to be out on parole.

All of this means that we're going to see a lot more tougher enforcement of immigration, which is something that Donald Trump had promised us. So it's not exactly a surprise that he's doing this.

CABRERA: Right. Eugene, as Evan points out, this gets back to some of those campaign promises, some of his rhetoric on the campaign trail. Let's take a look at what the president has accomplished based on his promises in the first hundred days.

We're about a month in now. I think we have the full screen here to show, he has made good on the hiring freeze. He's nominated a Supreme Court justice to be voted on by the Senate.

[11:15:11]He's withdrawn from the Transpacific Partnership. But there is a whole lot he hasn't gotten to, tax reform, the border wall, Obamacare. Is he on track to meet his goals?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: His base certainly thinks so. I mean, they will repeatedly tell you that he has done more within the first few days than any president that has come before him. Whether or not that's true or not, it's not quite clear.

What is clear is that he said he would have a replacement for Obamacare by now and he doesn't, and so whether or not he's going to be able to retain that support remains to be seen.

We have seen many lawmakers go back to their districts in the last month and they're facing voters who are really upset, who were expecting to see a solution by now that they have yet to see.

CABRERA: Errol, real quick, to you one more time, a spokesman for the Trump campaign is commenting on another staff shake-up of sorts. We know that they have reassigned a national security councilor of sorts, on the council, he spoke out against the Trump administration.

And now the administration spokesperson saying, well, if he's supposed to be carrying out the president's agenda, he shouldn't be speaking against that agenda. Is it unusual for someone within the administration to publicly voice criticism?

LOUIS: In the past it has been -- there has been a pretty wide range of opinions that were not only tolerated but welcomed. This administration, however, the vetting it seems to be doing is not about some of the background issues that has killed some of their nominations but more along ideological adherence or I guess caution in speaking out against the president.

If they can get behind that, they'll have a broader pool of people to speak to and possibly nominate. Keep in mind, there are hundreds and hundreds of vital positions below the rank of secretary that have gone unfilled. This is an example of why.

If you have to go back and look at a guy that was running against the establishment and try and find anybody who ever said they didn't think it was a good idea to attack the establishment, you'd left out a whole large pool of people that are really at this point vitally need it.

CABRERA: All right, Errol Louis, Mark Preston, Eugene Scott, and Evan Perez, our thanks to all of you.

Still ahead, Sweden's government pushing back on what they're calling inaccurate information from President Trump. We go to Stockholm for a live report, next.

And Vice President Mike Pence wraps up his trip to Brussels where he reassured American European allies while also trying to stick to the policies laid out by President Trump on the campaign trail. We have more details.

And Defense Secretary Mattis made an unannounced trip to Baghdad to show his support for coalition forces there in the fight against ISIS.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To look at what the map looked like eight months ago where ISIS was where they are today and the attack gets underway here. It's very heartening to come back at this point in my new capacity.




CABRERA: Moments ago, Vice President Mike Pence spoke alongside the NATO secretary general in Brussels. Two takeaways, he's working to reassure America's European allies while also calling for a larger financial commitment from NATO members. Listen.


PENCE: I think it's a demonstration of President Trump's leadership that before taking office, he was speaking about the fact that the United States provides more than 70 percent of the cost of NATO today, and we are committed to continue to do our part, but that the time has come for our NATO allies to step forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live in Brussels for us. Erin, Vice President Pence has been on a European tour with the goal of reassuring our European allies. What has the response been to him?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, E.U. and NATO leaders seemed to be fairly reassured, E.U. officials telling me they see this as a good sign that the U.S. vice president would choose to come to Brussels to visit so early on in the administration.

At the same time, there is a sense of wariness, given some of the things that U.S. President Donald Trump has said in the past, that wariness perhaps reflected in what the European Council President Donald Tusk had to say earlier in his remarks today. Take a listen.


DONALD TUSK, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Too much has happened over the past months, in your country, in the E.U. Too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced over this time about our relations, and about our common security for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be.


MCLAUGHLIN: A sense of wariness perhaps also reinforced by what President Trump had to say at a rally in Florida over the weekend in which he seems to praise Brexit, the U.K.'s departure from the European Union. That kind of rhetoric people here in Brussels see as promoting the fragmentation of the European Union.

I asked E.U. officials how do you account for this apparent contradiction between what the vice president is saying here today in Brussels and what the president had to say over the weekend?

And the E.U. officials telling me that they are sticking with what the vice president had to say here in Brussels today, reassuring of the U.S. commitment to both the European Union as well as NATO -- Ana.

CABRERA: Interesting. Erin McLaughlin, thanks for filling us in.

President Trump now doubling down, though, on his claims of violence tied to immigrants in Sweden.

[11:25:05]The president tweeted just a short time ago, quote, "Give the public a break. The fake news media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. Not."

That follows comments President Trump made at the campaign style rally in Florida over the weekend when he appeared to reference an attack that never happened. Take a look.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.


CABRERA: So what was the president talking about? Let's go live to the Swedish capital of Stockholm, CNN's senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is there for us. How are the Swedish people reacting, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, the question last night in Sweden became a bit of a meme here online, a big newspaper here publishing a police blotter of incidents that took place Friday night, as Swedes tried to figure out what exactly Donald Trump was talking about, listing that there was a car chase in Stockholm with an inebriated driver.

There was an incident involving a moose getting very intimate with a wooden moose somewhere upcountry. But nothing that really seemed to fit a pattern of some kind of Islamist jihadi inspired terrorism. In fact this country hasn't seen an attack like that in years and years.

If anything, there have been reports of kind of Neo-Nazi-style attacks on immigrants here. This is a country that has taken in more than 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees in recent years. It is a topic of political debate here, and it's contributed to a rise of a right wing party in recent years here, as in other parts of Europe.

But this has serious ramifications. It's not just hashtags like #lastnightinsweden. The Swedish Embassy in Washington reached out to the U.S. State Department on Sunday trying to get clarification.

The foreign minister of this country has appreciated that Donald Trump has since published a tweet saying he was talking not about something that happened in Sweden Friday night in his speech on Saturday, but he was talking about something he saw on Fox News.

She went on to write, quote, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sweden's Embassy work continuously to disseminate an accurate and fair image of Sweden. Unfortunately, we are seeing a general upward trend in inaccurate info."

Suggestions that there has been a spike in crime here, the latest U.S. State Department report says between 2014 and 2015 crime went up 4 percent, but it was mostly computer fraud, and that national crime statistics here in Sweden are lower than the national statistics in the U.S.

And that brings me to a tweet from a former foreign minister here, Karl Bilt, who wrote on Twitter today, quote, "Last year there were approximately 50 percent more murders only in Orlando and Orange in Florida where Trump spoke the other day than in all of Sweden. Bad" -- Ana.

CABRERA: Bad. I wonder what that's in reference to. Thank you so much, Ivan Watson, we really appreciate your reporting. Also coming up here at this hour, Defense Secretary Mattis says

the U.S. is not in Iraq to seize Iraq's oil, a different message than the president delivered to the CIA just last month.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: If we kept the oil, you probably wouldn't have ISIS because that's where they made their money in the first place. We should have kept the oil but OK. Maybe we'll have another chance.