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Trump Defends His Record, Unleashes on Critics. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press has become so dishonest. The press, honestly, is out of control.

[05:58:41] I want to find a friendly reporter.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Deflector in chief strikes again.

TRUMP: Russia is fake news. Put out by the media.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

TRUMP: The reporting is fake.

Mike was doing his job. I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him. But I didn't.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward taking a pass on the job of national security advisor.

TRUMP: This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we're in this back and forth, the world is getting more dangerous.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, February 17, 6 a.m. here in New York.

And up first, President Trump returned to the scorched-earth politics that got him elected. The president taking his fate in his own hands. No more press secretaries, no more spokespeople. Him, a podium and microphone against the reporters. An extraordinary hour-long news conference that gave us a lot to discuss and fact check.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So questions about Russia continue, though President Trump tried to dismiss those as a ruse. This as we learned that the president's top choice to replace Michael Flynn for national security advisor has turned down the job. Some people say chaos; Mr. Trump says it's a well-oiled machine.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, live on Capitol Hill -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn. This was a press conference that was originally meant for Donald Trump to announce his labor secretary pick, but it quickly devolved into bringing out vintage Donald Trump from the campaign trail.

A White House aide tells CNN that this was something the president was itching to do, especially amid all these headlines that the White House is in a state of chaos. And it could all be a warm-up act as Trump hits the road tomorrow to host his first -- his first post-White House campaign-style rally in Florida.


TRUMP: The press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.

SERFATY (voice-over): President Trump unloading on his critics.

TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

SERFATY: Blaming others instead of himself for what has been a rocky four weeks in the White House.

TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess.

SERFATY: Holding court for more than an hour, the president defending former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who he fired this week for lying about discussing sanctions with a Russian ambassador.

TRUMP: I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn't doing it.

SERFATY: And lashing out at the intelligence community.

TRUMP: What he did wasn't wrong. What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information. Because that was classified information. It was given illegally. That's the real problem.

SERFATY: The commander in chief sparring with the press about reporting on leaks.

TRUMP: The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake.

ACOSTA: If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake? TRUMP: The reporting is fake. The whole Russian thing, that's a

ruse. That's a ruse. And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia.

SERFATY: And defending his posture on Russia after a CNN report that his campaign aides had constant contact with Russian intelligence operatives.

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn't. I just have nobody to speak to.

SERFATY: Even joking about his response to recent Russian provocations.

TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, "Oh, it's so great." That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.

SERFATY: The president defending the rollout of his now-halted travel ban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the travel ban, would you accept that that was a good example of the smooth running of government?

TRUMP: Yes, I do. I do. Let me tell you about the -- wait, wait, wait.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any mistakes in that?

TRUMP: I know who you are. Just wait.

SERFATY: Insisting that it went smoothly and blasting federal judges again.

TRUMP: The only problem that we had is we had a bad court. The rollout was perfect.

SERFATY: The president also touting again a false claim about his electoral win margin.

TRUMP: We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never seen before. So that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.

SERFATY: President Trump raising eyebrows for asking a reporter to set up a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus.

TRUMP: Do you want to set up the meeting?


TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?

RYAN: I'm just a reporter. I know some of them. But I'm sure... TRUMP: Let's go set up a meeting. I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.

SERFATY: And again failing to condemn a rise in anti-Semitic attacks happening across the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we are concerned about it. And what we haven't really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is responding to take care of it.

TRUMP: I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.

Quiet, quiet, quiet.


SERFATY: And reaction to that remarkable press conference came pouring in here on Capitol Hill, including from one Republican senator who told CNN's John King he should do that with a therapist, not on live television.

And in that press conference, despite Donald Trump saying that he does have a good replacement potentially lined up to replace national security advisor Michael Flynn, hours after he made that statement, Bob Harward turned down Trump's offer to take that position. He cited his family and friends.

But sources also telling CNN that he was very reluctant to accept such a position with a White House in this state of chaos. Now meantime, the White House is readying to appoint a new communications director, potentially as early as today, Chris, to potentially take some heat off press secretary Sean Spicer.

[06:05:14] CUOMO: All right, Sunlen. Thank you.

"Quiet, quiet, quiet," said the president. He can control the bully pulpit, but he can't control the facts. Let's get to them. CNN political director David Chalian; former CNN bureau chief and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, Frank Sesno; and chief White House correspondent for the Associated Press and "INSIDE POLITICS" contributor Julie Pace. It is good to have you all here.

An important morning. Julie, let's start with you and play your exchange, at least in part, with the president yesterday.


JULIE PACE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Can you say you were aware that anyone that advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing. So that's one person. But he was dealing as he should have then. PACE: During the election?

TRUMP: No. Nobody that I know of.

PACE: So you're not aware of my contacts during the course of the election?

TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I know you have to get up and a question, so important. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


CUOMO: All right. So Julie, the president used the word there, "ruse." That's something that's artificial. That's something that's fake. What are the facts that back up the need for you to ask about what he knows?

PACE: Well, I think it's important to note that I was the fourth reporter that was trying to get a simple yes or no answer to this question about whether he was aware that there were contacts between his campaign officials and Russian intelligence agencies, as CNN and "The New York Times" have reported. And it took deep into the news conference when I was asking that question to get him to at least say, "Nobody that I'm aware of."

And I think that's an important statement to get on the record from the president. Because you do have this reporting out there that intelligence officials are aware that there were these multiple contacts from different people who both were advising -- who were on the campaign, in the case of Paul Manafort, and then were advising the campaign from the outside.

CAMEROTA: David, beyond the spectacle, right, we can talk about the style of this press conference and the spectacle that it was, and there's lots of conversation about that this morning, and we will. But in terms of the substance, you as a policy wonk type, you know, there was -- he made a lot of news. I mean, he talked -- he gave a date for when there would be a replacement for Obamacare. He talked about tax reform, infrastructure. What jumped out at you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Actually, all three of those things as sort of the big legislative priorities, but hearing that in March, he will submit an Obamacare repeal and replacement plan. We know that the Hill is working on one. I think the question that we're trying to sort of sort out now is, does that mean the White House is going to submit something different or not? Because that's the way President Trump portrayed it.

But knowing that that was March and knowing that that was going to come before tax reform, he said, for budgetary reasons, that sort of put a time line together. And then I think the other big piece of substance that came out of it was the executive order that he's going to reissue next week on the travel ban that is going to be, as he said, sort of more in accordance with what the courts would approve of.

CUOMO: Frank, I want to bring you in on this. I want to play something else from the president yesterday that goes not to his style but the substance of what he was trying to relay yesterday.


TRUMP: We had a very smooth roll out of the travel ban, but we had a bad court. We had a bad decision. We had a court that's been overturned, again maybe wrong, but I think it's 80 percent of the time. A lot. We had a bad decision. We're going to keep going with that decision. We're going to put in a new -- a new executive order next week sometime.

You had Delta with a massive -- a massive problem with their computer system at the airports. You had some people that were put out there by very nice buses, and they're put out at various locations. The rollout was perfect.


CUOMO: Now, Frank, you cautioned me months ago not to get caught up in judging the president's style. Leave that to points of opinion. Deal with what he says; what's true, what's not.

In that one statement there, there were several things that were demonstrably false. If you look at the timing, the Delta computer problems did not motivate what went wrong at the airports. It came afterwards. You had the homeland security secretary, Kelly, say that the rollout was a mistake. It was a consensus of opinion of those in the White House and those involved in it.

So what did you see yesterday in terms of the president's ability to deal with the truth?

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It's a challenge, so we say. And this is the problem, and there's a lot of focus on the president picking on the media and the war with the media. And that's happening, but that's off the point.

The president talked about coming to Washington, draining the swamp. He should be filling the reservoir right now. There should be a honeymoon period, a reservoir of good will, alliances he's going to need. And instead, by citing falsehoods like this, several of them in the news conference, that becomes the conversation instead of a focused news conference that the president could have had.

[06:10:14] He had a new labor secretary. We haven't even spoken about that yet. That was actually a pretty quick replacement. Who is this person?

CUOMO: A Latino.

SESNO: Right. He's qualified. Or so it seems. There should be focus on that. The president has had a series of very high-level meetings. We could be talking about that. As David pointed out, the president's role -- going to roll out another immigration executive order and other things. News conference, presidents use news conferences, especially early on, to tee up their team and to tee up their priorities so that that is what people are talking about, not all these side shows.

He's hurting himself now and in the longer run by having this distracted narrative about all those falsehoods and vendettas of these guys against others, whom he's blaming for his problems.

CAMEROTA: Julie, he did talk about immigration. We've seen a couple of high-profile cases over the past week of women who have been here in the country for years, decades; who have children here and have been deported. So he talked again about the so-called DREAMers brought here as children through no choice of their own and what his policy will be towards the DACA program. Listen to this.


TRUMP: We're going to show great heart. DACA is a very difficult subject for me. I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have. Because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases, they're having DACA, and they're gang members and they're drug dealers, too.

But you have some absolutely incredible kids. I would say mostly they were brought here in such a way -- it's a very, very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart.


CAMEROTA: What did you hear there, Julie?

PACE: That to me was one of the most fascinating answers in this news conference, and it showed just how Southwest Airlines how difficult this issue has been for Republicans to deal with. Because it is true. When you hear these stories of these people who were brought to the United States as children, who were, you know, brought here by their parents or brought here by others, that had no control over their circumstances and now have gone to school here. In some cases have joined the military here. It's really hard to envision how you kick them out.

At the same time, the president is splitting from some of his own advisors who take a very tough line on immigration, who say that even these children who are brought here under those circumstances should not be allowed to stay.

He hasn't clarified how he is going to address this, other than saying in that press conference that he's going to deal with it with heart. But this is just one of the most difficult early issues that I think he's going to have to deal with. And it's on his plate. This is -- this is something he can do through executive action to either stick with what President Obama put in place in terms of the deportation policy or to change that. That's on him right now. CUOMO: But, you know what? That's the job. It is difficult. It's

not just as simple as a matter of law. It's about what you enforce and how, and you don't. And he is right, the president. It is difficult. Families are going to be destroyed, depending on how you deal with DACA. So at least he was correctly identifying the struggle.

That wasn't the case all the way through this press conference. On anti-Semitism, David Chalian, he didn't want to address the reality. He tried to blame it on the reporter. He tried to blame it on the other side. He ignored the facts. On Russia also, he was trying to deny a reality. Let's play it.


TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore right out of the water. Everyone in this country is going to say, "Oh, it's so great." That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia.


CUOMO: Objectively, David, that is not the best thing that the president could do. It would probably be one of the worst things that he could do. However, he brought it up and said something strong because he had said nothing. A president who roundly criticized President Obama for being weak said this is the era of strength. There has been a chain reaction of obvious provocations by his supposed new friend in Russia, and he had ignored it until then. What did you make of his response?

CHALIAN: And he said not good to each of the provocations when they were listed to him, so we learned that he doesn't think those things are good.

I actually thought that sound you just played, Chris, was one of the most stunning things he said throughout that entire hour and seventeen minute press conference, because imagine you're in the Pentagon or you're serving this country in uniform. And you just heard the commander in chief say that he thinks the best thing he could do politically for himself is to actually launch an attack. That would be extraordinarily unsettling if you're in uniform, waiting for your instructions from the commander in chief.

Does that mean he -- he views military action solely through political lens of what's good and what's not good for his political reputation? I thought it was really alarming when he said that. And as you said, I also think it misreads how the country responds to a president when they take on military action.

[06:15:13] CAMEROTA: Right. And of course, he should, of all people should know that, since he railed against the Iraq War as he was campaigning. Stick around.

Panel, stick around, please. We have many more questions for you. CUOMO: All right. President Trump pretty much launched his most

fierce attack, I would say, on the media yet. Ripping into reporters, calling our stories dishonest and out of control. Important to note: He had no facts or proof that reporting has been wrong. What is behind the president's war with the media? Is it working for him? Next.



TRUMP: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact I can't get my cabinet approved.


[06:20:07] CAMEROTA: That was President Trump. During the press conference he intensified his attacks on the media, sparring with reporters for 77 minutes.

Let's bring back our panel to discuss this: David Chalian, Frank Sesno, and Julie Pace.

Frank, let me start with you. He doesn't see it as chaos. You know, people watching or the media might call it a spectacle. They might call it chaos. I think that that was sort of insightful. This is his style. He doesn't -- he's enjoying it, he said a couple of times. This isn't, to him, chaos. What did you hear?

SESNO: Well, I think the president needs to be very careful here, because first of all, what he says needs to conform with what other people see or he's going to have a credibility problem when he comes back on something that really matters in the middle of a crisis.

Look, the media didn't fire Michael Flynn. The media didn't convince six senators to go south on his previous labor secretary. The media didn't roll back the travel ban. The media didn't create a situation where Kellyanne Conway goes out and says one thing, and an hour later, Sean Spicer says another. If that's a fine-tuned machine, and in 35 years of watching White House of both parties, I need to go back to the shop and figure out how these things get put together.

There are problems in paradise. George W. Bush would have acknowledged that. Barack Obama would have acknowledged that. There would have been no problem for Donald Trump to acknowledge that.

So this is about several things. One, it's about how he sees the media and how he sees himself being portrayed. Two and more importantly, it's about his own credibility. These things matter, and he's going to need to come back to the American public and to the United States Congress and to the media themselves when it really matters. And these details are going to factor in whether people believe him and are able to rally around him. So what I saw yesterday was a string of unreality tied together by attacks on the media and other institutions whom he blames for this. And if he's going to have the long-term credibility and stability that he needs to govern, he's going to need to move off of that.

CUOMO: Also because Julie, when you make it about what is real and what is not real, what you can show as fact and what you can't. He's creating a very high bar for himself. And it's clear that fake to the president of the United States means what he does not like.

You saw Pete Alexander get up from NBC and very simply just lay out obvious math and history to the president about his electoral win and what has happened in history. The president said it's the highest since Reagan. It's just demonstrably untrue. He calls that fake. What does that set up as a constant back and forth with the media?

PACE: It creates a situation where, if he disagrees with the approach of a story, not just even the facts of it, just the approach of it, he will declare it fake news. And he does it because he knows that we can all acknowledge this. There is a lot of mistrust in the media, and for his supporters, the media is a ripe target. He knows that they will back him every time he gets out there and bashes us.

CUOMO: And there's also mistrust, sorry, of the media, and that's fine, as long as you point it out with fact each time. If you say, you know, Cuomo got it wrong, he said six, the answer is eight, you win. He doesn't do that. He didn't do it once yesterday.

PACE: Exactly. And we have a responsibility in the press when we make a mistake to own it. And what you saw, though, was a president who is going through a rough month by any standards. When you have your major policy rollout get stopped in the courts and you lose your national security advisor, because they misled the vice president multiple times, that is a rough start to the administration.

And whether the president acknowledges it publicly, I don't know if it is really a question. It's whether he can acknowledge this privately and make the changes that he needs. Because he has not faced a real crisis right now, and he will, pretty quickly, probably, as president.

And if he can't get these behind-the-scenes problems fixed, it raises a lot of questions about how he'll be able to deal with something that we can't even imagine right now that will land on his desk as president.

CAMEROTA: David, there was a window into how Mr. Trump processes these things. He does see any critical coverage as fake. And he thinks that, unless it's sort of glowing, if the tone is bad, he had an exchange with Jim Acosta. He's had a few contentious exchanges with CNN's Jim Acosta.

So let me play this one for you, yesterday.


ACOSTA: You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don't understand. It seems that there's a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake.

TRUMP: The reporting is fake. Look -- look...

ACOSTA: I just want to...

ACOSTA: Jim, you know what it is? Here's the thing. The public isn't -- you know, they read newspapers. They see television. They watch. They don't know if it's true or false, because they're not involved. I'm involved.

[06:25:04] And I'll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word "tone." The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such -- I do get good ratings. You have to admit that. The tone is such hatred.


CAMEROTA: Those asides -- "I do get good ratings; I'm not a bad person" -- those were telling.

CHALIAN: God, Alisyn. Without a doubt. I am so torn about this conversation. So much of the coverage of the press conference has been about his relationship with the media. And I think, for the large part, the country really doesn't care about that. They don't -- the country doesn't care if he calls us fake news or not. We do care. And it's important, as Chris is saying, facts do matter.

So I'm always -- I get concerned when we get too much sort of talking about ourselves in this. But on the other hand, if we are doing proper analysis and assessment of this person who's serving as president of the United States of America, it is somebody who is completely obsessed and consumed by media coverage. His media coverage. It is clearly one of his motivating life forces, is his own media coverage. And so it is -- it is hard not to make that a central point, because it is so central to his world view.

CUOMO: Frank, let's end this reckoning in terms of what the consequences are here. Clearly for the president, this is about popularity. He wants people to like him. He wants to be respected. And the paradox is that what will give him that respect and like is telling people the truth and getting things done. And he's getting in his way on both of those.

The case in point is yesterday, he spent, what, 11 different instances mentioning Hillary Clinton and kind of reflecting back on her as some kind of proof of why this was being done to him. That it was actually about her and her failings. And now he's being blamed for beating her.

Where does this get all of us collectively going forward?

SESNO: It gets us unfocused. And that's the problem that the president is confronting. And in a way the problem that the country is confronting. The president ran on jobs, on immigration, on trade, on globalization,

on big issues. And the difficulty that we're having in this conversation -- and I completely agree with David Chalian. I mean, this conversation is awkward for us. We shouldn't be talking about the media. We don't like talking about ourselves. We don't -- the media shouldn't be the story.

But what should be the story is the story. What should be the story is the people. What should be the story are the issues that these folks ran on. What any communications director in a White House does, any chief of staff does is focus the boss. Focus the message of the day. It is the bully pulpit. That's where they set the agenda.

And when the agenda is scattered all over like this, then the media and the political class and members on the Hill and everywhere else are all over the joint. And that's what's happening right now. They need focus at the White House.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: One of the big situations that has to be resolved is what happened with General Mike Flynn? There's another piece of evidence that you have to look at. The FBI met with Flynn, interviewed him. He said nothing happened with the sanctions. They pressed him. He said, "Well, look, I don't remember." That's been called misleading. Not to the FBI.

We're going to get into why they are not pursuing criminal charges and what it means for what we still don't know about what led to this man's resignation.