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Trump Cites News Story for Confusing Sweden Claim; Sweden Bristles at Trump's "Inaccurate Info"; Pence & NATO Secretary General Make Comments. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:56] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the week off. We're so glad you're with us. Take a look at this, -- live look at Brussels, NATO headquarters there. We're waiting for the Vice President Mike Pence to come out and speak with the NATO's Secretary General in just moment. We will of course monitor that and bring you some when it begins.

Meantime, it is Presidents' Day, a holiday for many, no holiday though for the current office holder. Today, President Trump is facing social media backlash and backlash across the board from others about saying this at a rally this weekend in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


HARLOW: Sweden and many others are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what exactly he meant, because there was no attack or anything in particular that happened the night before, a lot of questions about what the president meant and where he's getting his information. The president pushing back just moments ago on Twitter tweeting, "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!"

Our Jeff Zeleny joins me from the White House with more. Look, Jeff, the president did come out on Twitter yesterday, saying his comments about Sweden were in response to this Fox News report the night before. But now he's saying, look, the news media has it wrong and this is a severe problem in Sweden. What more can you tell us?

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is indeed, Poppy. And this is something that Donald Trump said throughout the course of his campaign. Often talking about something he read somewhere or saw someplace. But this is yet another example, when you're the President of the United States. Your words are taken more seriously, differently. But he did say his comments were from that Fox report. Let's take a quick look at just a clip of that.


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 really -- it's confounding.


ZELENY: So that person you saw there was a filmmaker who made a film in Sweden. But the Swedish officials say, look, his numbers are wrong. They simply did not happen in that degree. So Donald Trump of course, is raising this to build support for his travel ban but it's currently underway and being blocked here by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals here. So, Poppy, another example of a cleanup that this White House is going to have to do, as he flies back from Florida where he's been spending the weekend here to the White House. Poppy?

HARLOW: And he did promise a new Executive Order coming this week. We'll be watching. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Thank you very much for that. Let's hop over the pond. Let's go to Stockholm, Sweden. That is where Ivan Watson joins us. Ivan, first, just the reaction in general from folks in Sweden to the president's comments and also, what are the facts actually show us?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's front page news here. One man I asked about it, I said, "Hey, did you hear about Donald Trump's comments on Sweden?" He said, "Yes. We were trying to figure out what he was talking about. And then we started making fun of it," saying, "hey, did somebody take all our Swedish meatballs?"

But there have been some serious reactions to it. The foreign minister of Sweden, the top diplomat here, just put out a statement basically, appreciating the clarification that the U.S. president laid or put out, saying that, he wasn't referring to one particular incident. He was referring in his speech on Saturday to something he watched on Fox News. The foreign minister then went on to say, quote, "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."

[10:05:03] Surprisingly, pointed words coming from a diplomat here to a very close ally of Sweden, that is the U.S., in response to this. Of course, there has been a lot of mockery, hashtag last night in Sweden, jokes about Abba being suspected terrorist to war, the Swedish chef from the Muppets. One tweet from an important politician here, the former Prime Minister Carl Bildt, 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, live for us in Stockholm. Thank you for the reporting. Let's talk about this with our panel. CNN contributor Salena Zito, she's a reporter at the "Washington Examiner," and a columnist at the "New York Post," Kevin Madden joins us, a CNN political commentator and a Republican strategist and Paul Singer, a Washington correspondent for "USA Today," nice to have you all with us.

Kevin Madden, to you, as a Republican strategist on this panel, it's not just this Sweden is confused about this in rebutting the reports with actual facts. It's the fact that words matter, especially from the president. Sweden is an important U.S. ally. What kind of damage do you believe that this does? Or is this a case of, as some Trump supporters have noted, you know, people and the media taking the president too literally? How do you see it?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think, first of all, the most important point is that this is emblematic of the fact that a president's words do matter and that not only can they cause confusion abroad but they also cause confusion at home. And I think the larger question is though, is how much of a distraction this is from -- some of the bigger issue agenda that the Trump administration may have.

Now, I think because of the reporting of this, that's the other thing too, is that how much of this is being fought on social media is very interesting. But because of the reporting of this, this does shift the question back to a discussion about refugee policy and how that affects homeland security. Whether that's -- how it's affecting some of our allies abroad or how it's affecting us here.

But there is no doubt that when the president now makes remarks like this, and he has often been criticized for being careless with his words. It then sets in motion a chain of events, whether it's on the news coverage or the issue discussion that really does dominate the landscape.

HARLOW: It does come, though, Salena Zito, on a week where the president is going to come forward with a new Executive Order, something to replace that travel ban that was held up in the court system. Do you think he's accomplishing something here, sort of getting the public talking about this, again, ahead of that new Executive Order coming forward? Because you just wrote a new opinion piece on this. And you said Trump holding the rally in Florida was exactly the right move at the right time.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPORTER "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Right. I mean, it was - it was the right thing for him at the right time. Presidents need to get out of Washington as I noted in the story. You know, inside Washington, Presidents are like sort of caged animals at the zoo, right? But you put them outside, you know, among the people and they become magnificent again. They're in their natural habitat.

President Obama was you know -- he was so good at that. And this is also true for President Trump. I mean, I do believe, in the context of what he was saying, he was trying to get the conversation, talking again about his new immigration act. You know, this is very important to him. It's a hallmark of what he talked about. I don't know if he wanted to get off on this start. Maybe he did.

You know, this is the trap that all politicians fall into in this modern age of information, right? Where you just grasp a piece -- one clip here, one clip there, and you know, you don't know if it's a single sourced story or you know on sort of all the data. And he - it was really important for him to get it right this time on this new Executive Order. So, you know, we'll see what happens from today on.

HARLOW: So, Paul, to you, the president did tweet yesterday that his statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story broadcast on Fox News concerning immigrants and Sweden. And that's fine, that the president is watching cable news. -- We are cable news, right? However, is it problematic that he is apparently not fact checking or saying, I saw this and then here is the data to back it up, because a lot of people that go on Fox News are commentators or people with opinions, it's not just journalists reporting factually.

PAUL SINGER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT "USA TODAY": Well, and this was apparently a filmmaker who was discussing his film project. I think the danger for the president is one of public impression. That is, this story plays into a caricature of President Trump, which is that basically he doesn't talk to experts and doesn't care about facts but he takes his information from cable T.V. So whatever he hears or sees last is how we're making government policy.

[10:10:12] I don't believe that he's making government policy towards Sweden based on what he saw on Fox News the other night. But I do believe that this episode plays into this public perception of this president has not somebody who has really engaged in what is true and what is important. And what his advisers are telling him matter around the world. He's engaged with what is going on television at any given moment.

HARLOW: Kevin Madden, let me get your take on another story -- another development out of the White House, because the Senate Intel Committee has asked the White House, the Trump administration to preserve all of these records as they relate to Russia and the Russia investigation. And Lindsey Graham came out with some pretty strong words. I think we have that sound on what it would mean in Congress looking at Russia right now. Let's listen.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I'm aware of it and I think they're going to do their job. And they have to do that. Those are things that Richard Burr and that team have to do. And that doesn't mean there's anything there. It just means they need to do some things to satisfy their committee that they have looked into something and then they can have meetings behind closed doors that they always do in the Intel Committee and then they'll issue a report. And as long as they do their job and we -- and we cooperate with them, they'll issue a report and the report will say there's nothing there.


HARLOW: All right. That was Reince Priebus. Lindsey Graham basically said this is going to be a big year for Congressional investigations into Russia's meddling in the election. But Kevin, is this typical to have the Senate Intel Committee say look, preserve all your records, or is this something that should raise some eyebrows?

MADDEN: No, it's a - I think a standard part of their oversight. I think what's more interesting about it is, look, over the last eight years, one of the central criticisms that Congressional Republicans had of the Obama administration, which is that they were too accommodating on their policies, national security and foreign policy policies towards Russia. That Russia is essentially a geopolitical threat around the globe that we need to take very seriously.

So what you're seeing, I think, is an emerging flashpoint between Congressional Republicans and this White House. There is a lot of uneasiness about some of the statements that had been made and some of the allegations that had been made about this administration's contacts with potential contacts or alleged contacts with Russian officials.

So I think this is going to emerge as a key flashpoint between Congressional Republicans and the administration. They're aligned on a lot of issues. They're aligned on border security. They're aligned on wanting to get tax reform done, and repeal health care - sort of repeal Obamacare. But this is an issue where there is a lot of tension between the White House's allies on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: All right and guys, we're just watching in Brussels right now, Vice President Mike Pence about to make statements along with NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. Let's take a moment and listen in.


JEN STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Just a few days after your great speech in Munich where you so clearly declared the strong commitment and the unwavering support of the United States to the Transatlantic Bond.

And we welcome that, because we see the strong commitment of the United States to the Transatlantic bond not only in words, but also in deeds.

These days, the United States is deploying new forces, additional forces to Europe, which is of great importance for the security of Europe and which demonstrates the strong Transatlantic commitment of the United States. And we are very grateful for this commitment.

You also stressed that just as the U.S. stood with Europe, Europe stood tall with the United States. And we have to remember that the only time that the alliance has invoked our collective defense force, Article Five, was after an attack on the United States. And this was more than just a gesture, several hundred thousand Canadian and European troops have served in Afghanistan and more than thousand (ph) have paid the ultimate price.

The bond between the United States and NATO (inaudible) the United States and Europe emboldened (ph) in the NATO alliance, is very important today because we live in times of turmoil and instability, and we need a strong alliance more than ever. And we are stronger when we stand together.

STOLTENBERG: During our meeting, we discussed our progress in the fight against terrorism. NATO continues to train security forces in Afghanistan, we have started to train security forces and officers in Iraq and we support the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL with AWACS surveillance planes. But we agree that the alliance can and should do more in the fight against terrorism.

We also agree on the importance of higher defense spending and fair burden sharing in NATO. This has been my top priority since I took office. Europeans cannot ask the United States to commit to Europe's defense if they are not willing to commit more themselves, and they are committing more. In 2016, after many years of cuts, we turned a corner. Defense spending increased across Europe and Canada by 3.8 percent in returns, or $10 billion.

But we still have a long way to go, so all allies must speed up their efforts to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. This will be an import point when allied leaders meet here in Brussels.

So, Mr. Vice President, thank (inaudible) our excellent discussion. We agree that NATO is the most successful alliance in history because NATO has been able to adapt and change when the world is changing. And we agree that we must continue to change to keep our people safe. U.S. leadership remains indispensable. So, I really look forward to working with you and to welcoming President Trump in Brussels in May.

So, please, you have the floor.

PENCE: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. It is a -- a privilege to meet with you today to bring greetings on behalf of President Donald Trump and also to have the opportunity for a thorough and substantive discussion of the issues facing NATO and our historic alliance.

It's been a busy weekend for me. As I prepare to head back to the United States, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to speak on Saturday about our shared security issues at the Munich Security Conference and appreciate your encouraging words about the message of the United States at that conference. I also was pleased to be able to hold a series of productive bilateral meetings with leaders from all across the world.

It was also -- it was also deeply moving for me and my family to return to Dachau, the very first concentration camp, and to be accompanied by a survivor by the name of Abe Nare (ph). I had first visited that camp in 1977. I wanted my daughter to see it. And we went there and -- and walked through that historic memorial.

Abe (ph) told me that he arrived at Dachau as a 17-year-old boy. He told me of the nightmarish existence that he experienced there, but then he spoke words that resonate with our alliance. He said, and I quote, "Then the Americans came." Those words touched my heart and they speak volumes about the history importance of the North Atlantic...


PENCE: But I thank you again for your hospitality in this historic place at this important time.

I was also grateful today to meet with the leadership of the European Union. And on behalf of President Trump, I expressed the commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the E.U. While we have our differences on some issues, I reiterated this point in all of my meetings with the E.U. leadership and appreciated the cordial and substantive discussions that we had.

But on Saturday, as the secretary general mentioned, at the Munich Security Conference, I brought a message from President Trump. The message is the same one I bring to you today. It is my privilege here at the NATO headquarters to express the strong support of President Trump and the United States of America for NATO and our Transatlantic alliance.

The United States has been a proud and faithful member of NATO since its founding in 1949. This alliance plays a crucial role in promoting peace and prosperity in the North Atlantic, and frankly, in the entire world. The United States' commitment to NATO is clear. As we speak, President Trump and our administration are -- are developing plans to ensure that the strongest military in the world in the United States becomes stronger still.

Let me assure, Mr. Secretary, that in the United States, we're about -- we're about the process of strengthening our military and restoring the arsenal of democracy. Working with members of Congress, we intend to increase military funding to make it possible for us to provide for the common defense for the people of the United States, but also meet the obligations that we have with our treaty allies, including in this historic treaty.

PENCE: America, therefore, I can say with confidence, America will do our part.

But Europe's defense requires Europe's commitment as much as ours. At the Wales Summit in 2014, all 28 members of the NATO alliance declared their intention to move towards a minimum security investment of two percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. As a candidate for office, President Trump actually called attention repeatedly to the fact that for too long, for too many, this burden has not been shared fairly among our NATO allies and that must come to an end.

At this moment, the United States and only four other NATO members meet this basic standard, and while we commend the few nations that are on track and have met the obligation, the truth is that many others, including some of our largest allies, still lack a clear and credible path to meet this minimum goal.

So let me say again what I said this last weekend in Munich. The president of the United States and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense and the president expects real progress by the end of 2017. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis said here in Belgium just a few short days ago, if you're a nation that meets the two percent target, we need your help encouraging other nations to do likewise. IF you're -- if you have a plan to get there, as he said, our alliance needs you to accelerate it. And if you don't yet have a plan, these are my words, not his, get one.

It is time for actions, not words. And let me thank specifically the secretary general for your outspoken leadership on this issue. As you and I discussed privately and you've discussed with the president, the world needs NATO's strength and leadership now more than ever before. And we are grateful, Mr. Secretary General, that you join us in calling for immediate and steady progress on all of our NATO allies' commitment to our common defense.

The truth is, the rise of adversaries new and old demands a strong response from this alliance. In the east, NATO has embarked on improvement in its deterrent posture by stationing four combat-read multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic states. And as I assured the secretary general in our meeting today, in the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force, the United States will continue its leadership role in the enhanced forward presence initiative and other critical joint actions. With regard to Ukraine, as I said before, our alliance will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning with de-escalating violence in eastern Ukraine. For the sake of peace and for the sake of innocent human lives, we urge both sides to abide by the cease-fire that began today and we pray for peace in Ukraine. Be assured, the United States as well will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which President Trump firmly believes can be found.

As I said in Munich, though, NATO's continued leadership is also necessary in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. This, another item that as a candidate for office, President Trump first raised. As a candidate a year ago, he called on NATO to evolve by expanding counterterrorism operations and we're encouraged to see under your leadership, NATO is in the process of doing just that. It's hard to speak of these issues in the abstract, as I stand here in Brussels.

Just -- now almost a year ago, and that three horrific suicide bombings occurred, 33 innocent victims, including four Americans, hundreds more injured. I just want to assure the people of Brussels and all the people of Europe that your pain is our pain, your loss is our loss. And it's precisely why the president believes it's essential that NATO continue on this new path of evolving and expanding its mission to be more effective in counterterrorism. We work tirelessly with our NATO allies to ensure security in our country and yours.

But adapting to these new and ever-shifting challenges must remain a central focus of our collaboration and cooperation. Our alliance needs to intensify efforts to cut off terrorist funding and increase cyber capabilities. We must be, as I said before, we must be as dominant in the digital world as we are in the physical world. And the United States is committed to continuing to work with our NATO allies to achieve that objective for the security of all the nations in our alliance.

PENCE: By building on tactics from the last century with these new century -- new century opportunities and challenges, NATO will be better prepared to confront and overcome the new adversaries of the 21st century. Under President Trump's leadership, the United States I can assure you is fully committed to NATO's noble mission and we are grateful for your leadership, Mr. Secretary General. And I know the president looks forward to working closely with you to advance our shared objections (sic).

A stronger NATO means a safer world and the United States of America looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in NATO to achieve just that. So Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your hospitality and for your leadership. Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: We have time for a few questions.

We'll start the BBC, Damian Grammaticas over there.

QUESTION: Vice President, you've given your assurances today here in Brussels to European leaders that the U.S. is committed to working with Europe. President Trump has said very different things. He's said that the E.U. is a vehicle for Germany, that the U.K. was smart to get out and he expected other countries to follow.

Who should European leaders listen to, you or President Trump? And can they be certain that what you say, the assurances you give, won't be contradicted in a tweet or a statement at a press conference tomorrow?

And Secretary General, who do you listen to? And are you concerned about differences in what you hear?

PENCE: Well, thank you for the question.

Let me say, it is my great privilege to serve as vice president for the 45th president of the United States. And the president directed me to go to Munich and to come here to Brussels with a very specific message, to go to Munich, to -- to the Munich Security Conference and make it very clear, as I do so again today here at NATO's headquarters, that the United States is expressing strong support for NATO. Even as -- even as we challenge NATO and challenge our allies, to evolve to the new and widening challenges and further meet their responsibilities in this ever-changing, ever -- ever- complicated world of threats.

But with regard to the E.U., the president also directed me to come here to Brussels and I had the great privilege of meeting with leaders of the European Union throughout the morning and to express the -- the desire of the United States to continue, continue cooperation and partnership with the European Union. We -- we respect the determination of the people of Great Britain, as manifested in Brexit and we respect the judgment of the peoples of Europe in the European Union.

And as I said today, through many leaders, we look forward to working across the channel with all parties in the years ahead on behalf of peace and prosperity.

STOLTENBERG: I've heard exactly the same firm message from the president of United States in two phone calls, from the vice president in meetings today and -- and in Munich and from Secretary Mattis, Tillerson and Kelly. They have all conveyed the same message, that the United States is firmly committed to the Transatlantic partnership and have an wavering support for the NATO alliance.

And I welcome that very much, both very clear statements from all leaders in the new administration, but also the fact that this is not only something we see in words, but you also see it in deeds. For the first time in many years, we see an increase of U.S. military presence in Europe and we are deploying new battle groups; the U.S. is deploying a new brigade. And we see on the ground more U.S. presence in Europe. So this is a commitment in words, but also in deeds.

When it comes to the European Union, I would like to underline the importance of their enhanced cooperation between NATO and the European Union. We have actually been able to bring that to a new level, implementing many different issues or measures and we signed a joint declaration between the president, President Tusk, President Juncker and me in Warsaw and we're now following up on implementing that.

We are working closer on hybrid, on cyber, on -- on addressing how to build the capacity in our neighborhood and how to stabilize our neighborhood as we work together with the European Union. And I think actually the NATO-E.U. cooperation is even more important now, because we live in times with turmoil and unpredictability and then we need a strong cooperation between NATO and the European Union and welcome the very strong U.S. support for that approach.

MODERATOR: Next question, Ken Thomas with the Associated Press.