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Trump Explains Sweden Remark Amid Confusion; Mattis Makes First Trip To Baghdad As Pentagon Chief; Iraqi Forces Begin Liberation Of Western Mosul. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- the week off.

This morning, the President facing a big week ahead, promising a new executive order on immigration. This, as he tries to explain exactly what he meant when he said this at a campaign-style rally in Florida. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


HARLOW: That left Sweden and many others scratching their heads. What exactly was the President talking about?

Well, now, the administration is facing more questions on what the President meant and where he got that information. Let's begin this hour with Athena Jones who joins us at Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach where the President spent the weekend.

Good morning to you. What is the President saying he was referring to? How is he explaining this?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. You're right, that remark left a lot of people very, very confused. It kind of blew up on social media, people asking, what is he talking about?

Well, the White House later said that he was talking about a report he had seen. The President himself clarifying on Twitter yesterday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, saying that he had been watching a report on Fox that aired on Friday night.

Let's go ahead and play part of that clip and then talk about it on the other side.


AMI HOROWITZ, FILMMAKER: There was an absolute surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden once they began this open-door policy, so they know that this crime is happening. They can feel it.

The statistics are clear, but they would refer to what is the root cause behind it and say, oh, it's just more -- happening more violence. It's men who are raping people, not the refugees. They'll make excuses for it. The majority of the population in Sweden still want to have an open-door policy. It's confounding.


JONES: Now, Sweden takes issue with what was said in that report, this idea of a huge surge in crime rates. And a tweet from the Swedish embassy in response to the President, they put out a tweet, saying, "We look forward to informing the U.S. administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies." So come confusing moments over the weekend because of that off-hand remark the President made about Sweden.

And it shows, Poppy, two things. One, he is an avid watcher of cable news, something we already knew, and it appears that Fox is one of his favorite channels to get his information from. But also, that words matter. And his tendency, this lack of precision, his tendency to repeat things that he reads or heard without really checking into them causes problems. It did cause problems and questions -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Obviously, he has this on his plate, and he did tweet about it. The President is saying it did come from that Fox News report.

He's also got something huge on his plate, and that is naming a new national security adviser. One of the most important seats and a vacant seat right now in his cabinet. Any word on when that will come or who it may be?

JONES: No word yet on who it may be. We know this is a top priority for the White House. The President meeting yesterday with four, what we're told are the finalists, that he's choosing from for this post. That, of course, could change.

Those four finalists are former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg, who is also a retired lieutenant general, and also with Lieutenant General Robert Caslen who is the superintendent of West Point.

Now, we're told he could meet again with one or more of those same candidates, as well as additional candidates, today. But we know this is a decision that the White House is hoping the President will make in the very near future.

And I should say the President is going to head back to Washington where, this week, he is planning to unveil a new executive order on immigration. This, of course, after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put his previous travel ban on hold. So that's one big thing we're waiting for this week -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Athena Jones live for us in West Palm Beach. Thank you, Athena. In Sweden, reaction is somewhere between sort of baffled and bemused

to what the President said, sort of seeming to allude to some sort of attack in Sweden that never happened. There's also a simmering anger that he has used Sweden's liberal acceptance of refugees to justify just the opposite, an immigration crackdown.

Let's go to our Ivan Watson. He is in Stockholm with reaction there.

Obviously, we saw a lot of reaction from the embassy, from the former Prime Minister on Twitter. What's the sentiment, though, in Stockholm?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me first read you a statement that Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom just put out. She wrote, quote, "It's good that we received clarification yesterday of what President Trump meant when he mentioned Sweden in a speech. We maintain continuous diplomatic contacts with U.S. representatives."

[09:04:57] She went on to say, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sweden's embassies work continuously to disseminate an accurate and fair image of Sweden. Unfortunately, we are seeing a general upward trend in inaccurate information."

Again, that statement just coming out from Sweden's top diplomat. As far as reactions here, well, there's been a lot of mockery. Donald Trump's "last night in Sweden" statement on Saturday became a trending hashtag here, and it's been the result of a lot of jokes online.

It's still front-page news here, Monday, in Sweden, his statements and his image on the frontpages of newspapers. And a lot of the jokes, Poppy, frankly having to do with the Swedish pop band Abba and the Swedish chef from "The Muppets," some suggestions that maybe they could've been behind some imaginary violent attack that did not take place -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And I'm just looking here, Ivan, because we've just gotten in a statement from Sweden's Foreign Minister saying they're glad that they received clarification on all of this and what the President meant, but they maintain continuous diplomatic contact with the U.S. They're basically asking for an accurate and fair image of Sweden to be painted, Ivan.

Do we have a sense of what the crime numbers are in Sweden overall? Obviously, the connection was being made by that guest on Fox News to refugees coming into the country and crime. But just over all the crime numbers, do we have a real sense of what they are?

WATSON: Yes. The U.S. State Department put out a statement. It does an annual report on crime here for travelers. And it says that the crime rate, certainly, in 2015 was lower than in the U.S., that there had been an increase in crime from 2014 to 2015 of some 4 percent, but most of that had to do with computer fraud. OK?

There is a political issue here having to do with more than 100,000 asylum seekers who have come into this country, Poppy, and that is not popular in some circles, that large influx in recent years. And it's helped give rise to a right wing party here that has some anti- immigrant views.

But let me just read you one tweet that's come from Carl Bildt, the former Prime Minister and foreign minister here. He tweeted, quote, "Last year there were approximately 50 percent more murders only in Orlando, Orange, in Florida where Trump spoke the other day than in all of Sweden. Bad!" Poppy.

HARLOW: Ivan Watson, thank you very much for the facts and the reporting on that. We appreciate it.

Let's discuss with my panel. CNN Political Commentator Mary Katharine Ham is with us. David Swerdlick joins us, CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post." And Juliette Kayyem, CNN's national security analyst.

Nice to have you all. And, Juliette, let me just begin with you.

I mean, the statement just coming out from Sweden's foreign ministers saying, "We are seeing a general upward trend in inaccurate information." Ivan just walked through the crime numbers. This is a U.S. ally, Sweden, and words do matter. How do you see it?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I see that, at least, Sweden is accusing Trump of fake news. And I think Sweden was right to get so aggressive so quickly because I think that's probably what had Trump get, you know, on tweets and explain what happened.

So it's all funny and we're being laughed at. That's not exactly funny, but I want to make clear the irony of what is going on. Donald Trump has an apparatus available to him as President of the United States, an intelligence apparatus that can get him the data and the facts. He is, instead, choosing a Tucker Carlson.

It's humorous and a little bit disconcerting, but the rest of the world is looking at that and basically, I mean, laughing at us in the best instance, but basically not taking us seriously. At some stage, Trump is going to have to be taken seriously.

We will have a crisis. And all of this drama leading up to nothingness, right? I mean, there has been no crisis yet. When the real stuff happens, a war, a missile, a terrorist attack, a hurricane, whatever it is, no one is going to believe him. And that is the need and the necessity of everyone to demand honesty and truth out of this President.

HARLOW: So, Mary Katharine, I wonder if you agree with that assessment, just the danger in this, right? Because, as we know, this is a president who consumes a lot of cable news, and that's fine. You know, we're cable news. There's nothing wrong with it. We want people watching us.

However, he's someone who's also said, back during the campaign, you know, he gets a lot of his information from the generals on cable news. Should there be reason for concern here, in your opinion, not just for the fact of where he got the information, but that it wasn't, you know, thoroughly vetted?

[09:10:07] There are a lot of things said by a lot of people with a lot of opinions on cable news. Those aren't always matched by the facts. And if you're President of the United States, should he have come out and said, and here are the facts and here is what we know?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and this is like part of his unorthodox style, right, is that he brings in all these information. He has these round tables. He watches T.V., and he synthesizes all these information then he just starts talking about it.

I would prefer that the President were at least as, if not more, careful with his facts than I am when I come on any cable news segment. That is not always the case. But I will say, also, I think there's danger on two sides here.

When the President communicates something in the most careless way possible and is unclear as he was with the Sweden comment the other night, it is important for us to be very clear and not careless about what he actually said. And a lot of the coverage of this turned into he is making up a fake terrorist incident.

And although it was unclear, if we could have clarified with the White House fairly quickly that he was referencing the Tucker Carlson show and that segment, even though it's not ideal, it would have made the coverage clearer. And I do think that is an important part.

He was talking about a general problem in Sweden and he pivoted into making fairly clear, after the initial comment. And that is a problem, with assimilation and how everyone deal with these refugees. He could do it much better, but other people could do better as well.

HARLOW: You're making a --

HAM: I think there's danger on two sides.

HARLOW: Look, you make an interesting point. And, David Swerdlick, if we could -- and let's just have the team replay. Let's just take a moment to relisten to what it is exactly, the words that the President chose to use in the rally on Saturday about Sweden. Listen.


TRUMP: We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany. 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. You look at what's happening in Brussels.

You look at what's happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: So he didn't say "the attack," OK? He said look what happened in Sweden last night. And I think many jumped and made the conclusion he meant an attack.

Do you agree with Mary Katharine Ham, that perhaps this wasn't covered fairly, fully, accurately?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I agree with Mary Katharine that we in the media have to be accurate about how we report on whatever is said. That being said, I do think that unorthodox, the way Mary Katharine described style, is very charitable.

HAM: Yes.

SWERDLICK: The other way you could say it is sloppy, right? He is no longer one of 17 Republican candidates, the upstart billionaire running against the establishment. He now is the establishment.

He's the President of the United States. He is supposed to be the leader of the free world, and so it's incumbent upon him to be precise.

When he says look at what happened last night in Sweden, that's fairly specific. That doesn't leave the person at the rally or watching on T.V. to think that it was just a discussion on a cable news show about an ongoing crime problem in Sweden, whether or not that crime problem is more or less severe than he wants to portray it.

And I think that's the problem for the President of the United States, his lack of precision, not the substance of the issue in Sweden as we know it.

HARLOW: All right. Before we go, I do want to get your take, guys, on the Senate Intelligence Committee coming out after that meeting on Friday with FBI Director James Comey asking for the Trump administration to preserve records on Russia. Senator Lindsey Graham coming out and saying 2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russia in the ass in congress.

Is this, Juliette, a typical thing that we would see, asking for this records preservation? Is this a formality, or is this something that should raise eyebrows?

KAYYEM: It's a formality. It's typical if the investigation is going forward. So I do think it was a trigger, that whatever the Senate Intelligence Committee heard from Comey -- they met with Comey on Friday -- means that the investigation will be on going.

I have been saying on air for a long time, this is where our focus should be, not on the leaks but on the Senate Intelligence investigation. It is the real deal and will unearth, I think, a lot of information that has only been hinted at so far. So this investigation is going forward, and I should say, the White House can't stop this one. In other words, the questions about whether Sessions will stop any of

the FBI investigations, Attorney General Sessions, does not apply to the Senate. So this one is going forward, regardless.

HARLOW: All right. Guys, thank you very much. Mary Katharine Ham, David Swerdlick, Juliette Kayyem -- nice to have you all on.

Still to come for us. Defense Secretary James Mattis making a surprise trip to Iraq and taking a major departure away from one of the President's more controversial stances and comments. We'll hear what he had to say. We head to Baghdad next.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Secretary of Defense James Mattis making his first trip to Iraq. Mattis touched down obviously in his current position -- in his current position I should note. Mattis touched down in Baghdad earlier today.

His goal, evaluate the situation on the ground, have some of those critical meetings including one with coalition leaders and also with the Iraqi defense minister. All of this as Iraqi forces launch a new offensive in Western Mosul to try to drive out ISIS.

Let's bring in CNN senior correspondent, Ben Wedeman. He joins us live from Istanbul. Let's begin with the timing of this trip. Why did Mattis decide to take this trip right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly because the launch of the operation to drive ISIS out of Western Mosul that began yesterday morning at 7:00 a.m. Baghdad time. The U.S. has a lot involved in this fight. There are more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel in the country supporting Iraqi forces in the battle for Western Mosul and U.S.-led coalition aircraft are also hitting ISIS targets according to a statement put out yesterday.

[09:20:07]Since the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the war against ISIS, the U.S. has launched more than 10,000 combat sorties against ISIS targets. So definitely he wants to come here -- territory he's quite familiar with, it must be stressed, and see firsthand how the fight is progressing -- Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, it's interesting. I should note the fact, Ben, that the president has been adamant about not detailing any plans that the administration has on how it will combat ISIS, yet Central Command came out with pretty detailed information about this push in Western Mosul, correct?

WEDEMAN: Yes. They talked about the number of people involved. As I said, that number, 10,000 strikes, air sorties, did come from them as well. In this modern age communications and the form we have it, it's hard to keep these things under wraps even in Iraq -- Poppy.

HARLOW: In January, the president made some controversial comments about Iraq and Iraq's oil. Let's listen to what he told ABC.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We should have taken the oil. Had we taken the oil, we wouldn't have ISIS because they fuel themselves with the oil, that's where they got the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you believe we can go in and take the oil?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We should have taken the oil. You wouldn't have ISIS if we took the oil.


HARLOW: General Mattis was asked about exactly that. What did he say?

WEDEMAN: This was before he actually landed in Baghdad. He essentially said that the United States has no designs on Iraqi oil. This is what he said.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future. We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil.


WEDEMAN: And what's interesting is that when the president went to CIA headquarters the day after inauguration, he wasn't talking in the past tense. He said maybe we will seize it in the future. That kind of statement did not go down well in Baghdad. Secretary Mattis perhaps smoothing some ruffles feathers in Iraq today.

HARLOW: To say the least. Ben Wedeman live for us in Istanbul, thank you.

The U.S.-backed defensive to liberate Western Mosul announced just days after President Trump said he would not detail or tell ISIS when, where or how the United States was coming. Just listen to the president.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response. I don't say I'm going into Mosul in four months. We are going to attack Mosul in four months. Then three months later, we're going to attack Mosul in one month. Next week we are going to attack Mosul.


HARLOW: Barbara Starr is live for us at the Pentagon. He said that throughout the campaign. He's criticized his political opponents for talking so much about strategy when it comes to defeating ISIS. Why is Central Command coming out with pretty detailed information? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, no surprise. I'm going to agree with my colleague, Ben Wedeman, detailed information but not all that detailed and not that much of a surprise. The battle for Mosul has been going on for months now. Iraqi forces well known, well documented in East Mosul, so they are now moving west.

This statement is exactly what you would expect that the Central Command put out. They put it out obviously with the coordination of the Iraqi government. There's a point on the battlefield at which you want the enemy to know you're coming. You unsettle them. They begin to move around, show vulnerabilities.

Makes it potentially easier for you to attack them. All of this is very calculated. But Central Command, the U.S. military is not giving you that fine granular intelligence, where they're exactly going to launch an air strike and when. That's the kind of thing they're not putting out there.

Whether this statement annoys President Trump and he sort of lands on the Pentagon leadership and says stop putting all this out remains to be seen. In terms of sending a signal to ISIS and sending a signal to the Iraqi people that their military is in the battle trying to push ISIS out, perhaps not so unexpected -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara, just to be clear, you don't see this move by CENTCOM as necessarily ascetical to what the president has been saying all along?

STARR: Well, you know, it may well be in opposition to what President Trump is saying, to what he wants to see happen. We'll see. But I think militarily on the ground, there are probably very valid reasons for putting this out.

[09:25:07]One, again, it's in coordination with Iraqis which are leaving the mission. This statement would not come out unless the Iraqi government wanted it out there and wanted to show that their military is leading the fight and is in the fight. And it does not have, again, that granular intelligence, the time, date and place of where the strikes are happening -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you, Barbara.

Still to come for us, after this, Vice President Pence overseas continuing to reassure allies. Next up, an organization that's long been a target of the president, NATO. In moments, the vice president will speak alongside NATO secretary general, and we will speak live with the former NATO allied commander, General Wesley Clark straight ahead.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. Today, Vice President Pence is meeting with the secretary general of NATO --