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Trump Tries to Explain Sweden Remark Amid Confusion; U.S. Secretary of Defense Arrives in Baghdad. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CUOMO: ... meant by, quote, "last night in Sweden." He was tweeting that the non-existent terror incident that he seemed to be suggesting was from something he saw on TV.

[07:00:20] BALDWIN: So all of this as the Senate Intelligence Committee asks federal agencies to keep all their records related to Russia for their hacking investigation.

Meanwhile, the president continues his search for a new national security adviser.

We are 32 days into the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage this morning with CNN's Athena Jones, who is live in West Palm Beach, Florida. Athena, good morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brooke.

The president had a busy weekend at Mar-a-Lago, but he took a break between meetings and golf outings to have that campaign-style rally in Melbourne, and it is there that he made an offhand remark about Sweden that left a lot of people scratching their heads.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): President Donald Trump doing damage control after seemingly suggesting a terror incident occurred in Sweden during his campaign-style rally in Florida.

DONALD TRUMP (R), 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.

JONES: The comments sparking confusion worldwide.

The president later explaining it was something he saw on TV, tweeting, "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on FOX News concerning immigrants and Sweden." That FOX News report, an interview with a conservative filmmaker who accused the Swedish government of covering up violent crimes committed by refugees, aired the night before the president's rally.

AMI HOROWITZ, FILMMAKER: There was an absolute surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden... TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Yes.

HOROWITZ: ... once they began this open-door policy.

JONES: Swedish officials outraged, the Swedish embassy tweeting, "We look forward to informing the U.S. administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies."

The White House telling reporters the president was "talking about rising crime in general and not referring to a specific incident." Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence trying to reassure European allies of the U.S.'s support for NATO.

This as the Senate Intelligence Committee tells the Trump administration to preserve all records related to Russia as they investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I'm afraid they're going to destroy the documents.

JONES: FBI Director James Comey holding a classified briefing on Russia with senators on Friday. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denying any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives before the election and knocking down reports that Trump aides were in constant contact with Russians.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate but it's grossly overstated; and it was wrong.

JONES: All as President Trump is still searching for a new national security adviser after firing Michael Flynn for misleading the vice president about his communications with Russian officials. The president meeting with several candidates for the job over the weekend. Amid stories of dysfunction and chaos in the first month of his administration, President Trump escalating his war with the media.

TRUMP: I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news.

JONES: Suggesting on Twitter that the media is the enemy of the American people. The president's incessant attacks on the free press drawing sharp rebuke from politicians on both sides.

MCCAIN: If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and, many times, adversarial press. That's how dictators get started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now the president may have more meetings with potential national security advisors here before heading back to Washington, where later this week he plans to unveil a new executive order on immigration. This as questions remain about some of his other big campaign promises for day one, like repealing and replacing Obamacare -- Chris. CUOMO: It will be interesting to see if this reiteration of the order

involves new procedures, or is extreme vetting still going to remain a slogan. Thank you very much. We'll check back with you in a little bit, my friend.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Scott Taylor. He's from Virginia, former Navy SEAL and an Iraq War veteran.

Always good to see you, Congressman. How are you?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Good morning, sir. Good to be on with you.

CUOMO: All right. So the V.P. is talking and addressing the European Union. He said something that's really important about the United States' disposition towards what's happening in Ukraine. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With regard to Ukraine, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that Russia honor the Minsk agreements, beginning by deescalating the violence in Eastern Ukraine. While the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, at President Trump's direction, we will also search in new ways for new common ground with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[07:05:10] CUOMO: How do you understand the apparent disconnect between what the vice president just said, which is what we hear from most rational leaders around the world, right, is that you've got to check Russia and Ukraine -- they can't just keep doing whatever they want to do -- with what our president said about a week or so ago, where he said, "I'm not sure about a connection between Russia and the separatists." How do you understand that difference?

TAYLOR: Well, listen, I think the vice president is correct when he says that we need to hold Russia accountable, of course. But there are opportunities for us to work together. I think that the president -- and I'm not speaking for him, of course, but you're right. He has certainly talked about getting with Russia, having friendly relations with Russia. Russia is a frenemy, of course, at times. We've worked with Russian over the -- for a long time in many things, but also, they've also been an enemy. Right?

So I'm obviously on the vice president's side there in terms of what he's saying literally, because I believe that we should hold Russia accountable, but at the same time, we should find ways in the international community to work together with them.

CUOMO: Do you see a problem with the president? Not just looking for common ground. You should always look for common ground, right? That's what we hope from our leaders, to keep men and women like you out of harm's way instead of fighting, you know, over the words of politicians.

But his saying, you know, "I don't know whether or not Russia was behind the hacks. I don't know what the deal is with Russia and separatists." That's more than seeking common ground. That's hiding from the facts. Is there a problem with that?

TAYLOR: Well, I think that there -- words matter, there's no doubt about that. And I think that this president is new. He's certainly not a politician. He doesn't -- he's learning on the job. I'm not taking up for him, just telling you that's a fact. But words do matter, and he must be more careful and cautious in a lot of things. I mean, you're playing this in the opening segment before I came in, and there was talking about his words. And yes, the president absolutely has to be more careful, because the world is paying attention. They're listening to everything that he's saying. They're trying to figure out how to interpret him. So it is important. So your point is well taken, that he should be cautious and careful with his words.

CUOMO: When they come out with new language on the travel ban this week, as anticipated, right. We're not sure, but they say they're going to come out in something. Do you think it's a mistake if they don't have new procedures in place to explain and institute what they call extreme vetting?

TAYLOR: Well, from the way that I understand it, is part of this pause is to figure out what the new procedures are and take a look at what we're already doing, because this administration believes the previous administration was a little bit loose with the way that they were handling things. They were exponentially growing and expediting, bringing folks in here.

So I think that's -- that, to me, is reasonable for an administration. They believe that. To take a pause, look at it, figure out what they need to do moving forward, if anything at all.

I do believe that the new order, if he comes out with one, will have had subject matter experts look at it. The language will be tightened up. The implementation, they probably learned a lot from the implementation, or the lake thereof, if you will, with the folks who actually have to implement it, the department heads and such.

So, you know, I imagine the language will be tightened up. I imagine it will still be looking to further vet refugees that come into this country which, again, I don't think is unreasonable, having spent a lot of time in some of these countries. But that being said, I think that they learned a lot from the first rollout.

CUOMO: Are you happy with the pace of progress of the administration so far?

TAYLOR: Well, it depends on what you're talking about. I mean, he's certainly taken some action very, very quickly. And some good action, as well, too. In Congress, on Capitol Hill, we're kind of on schedule, what we talked about a couple months ago. We're -- we're right around where we should be, schedule-wise. Sure, there are some things that I'd like to see happen a lot faster.

Some of that's in his control. Some of that is not. Some of it's out of his control, like getting these cabinet secretaries through and doing their jobs. Look, and we've talked about this a lot, actually. Getting the intelligence community, getting the NSA guy there and together on the same page so that we can better protect Americans. That's in the best interests of all of us, no matter what side of the aisle you're on.

But yes, there are some things I'd like to see move faster, and at the same time, there are things that have moved very fast with this president.

CUOMO: There is some talk -- didn't get that much attention, but it's going to get more -- about whether or not the United States should put a significant number of troops on the ground in Syria. What do you want people to know about what that means for what will -- where Americans will be and what the situation will be and what should be expected?

TAYLOR: That's an excellent question. Look, I spent my Christmas vacation on the Syrian border. Not this Christmas but last one. And there are some big issues there, some huge humanitarian problems.

I believe that we should have been engaged with Syria much before now. Foreign policy, international relations is like a chess game. As soon as one move happens, the whole board changes, of course.

In terms of, if we put troops in there, I will tell you I represent an area that has more military and veterans than any congressional district in the nation that were part of that zero -- you know, less than 1 percent of the nation that's gone over and over again. So anywhere in the world, something happens, our people are there.

I'd like to see, if that is on the table, I want to know what it's about, what the goals are, what they'll be doing there, whether I would tell you that I would support that or not. But the whole game in Syria has changed, and the way that we approach it would certainly have to be a different one than it was five years ago.

CUOMO: There's a perception that, well, if they're on the ground just to make sure they're safe zones, it will be OK. If they're there just to be advisers to people who are engaged in combat in Mosul, they'll be all right. Isn't that naive and arguably deceptive? If you're on the ground in harm's way where it's going on, you might as well be a combatant; and we're going to see a loss of American life.

TAYLOR: You are a combatant. That's why it was very frustrating, like you said, deceptive of the last administration, talking about no combat boots on the ground. Let me tell you: anyone that's over there is a combat boot on the ground, for sure. So there's no doubt about it. If you're over there, you're in harm's way potentially. There's no doubt about that.

So yes, I think it was very deceptive, the last administration talking about that. And that being said, whether I suppose this or not, ground troops on there, I want to know what they're doing, what the goal is. So I agree with you, it shouldn't be deceptive. We should know exactly what the goal is and why our folks are there in harm's way.

The safe zones, I actually agree with that. I think that we do have a duty to the international community, not just the west in general but also the Gulf nations, to help those folks that are over there.

But I can tell you right now, we can help a hell of a lot more people over there than we can trying to resettle them here.

CUOMO: You know, it's interesting. You've already lived the difficult part of the political process. You're the one who put your life at risk, you and your fighting brothers and sisters who went over there. Now you're on the other side of the equation, where you're going to have to make it clear to the American people, we're asking people like you to do, and risking your own life.

Congressman, thank you for joining us. Scott Taylor from Virginia, you're always welcome on NEW DAY to talk about what matters, sir.

TAYLOR: Thank you, sir. It's a pleasure.

CUOMO: All right. Be well, and thank you for your service -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Chris, thank you.

We have some breaking news this morning. Secretary of Defense James Mattis makes an unannounced trip to Iraq, General Mattis breaking with President Trump on the idea that the U.S. should take the oil there. Let's go to our CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, live in Istanbul with the breaking details.

Ben, good morning.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brooke.

Yesterday, the secretary arrived at Baghdad International Airport a few hours ago, flew a helicopter from there to the Green Zone, where he met officers in the international coalition against ISIS and will be meeting later with senior Iraqi officials.

Obviously, top of the agenda is the current operation in Mosul: the second phase of that operation, the effort to drive ISIS out of the western city, western part of this city began yesterday at 7 a.m. local time. We understand so far Iraqi forces are almost to the edge of the airport in the south of the city, so making good progress so far.

Now General, rather Secretary Mattis, who does have a lot of experience here in Iraq, also knows that it's important to sort of address local sensitivities. One of them was, of course, this question of President Trump saying he wanted to seize Iraqi oil. The secretary stressing that the United States has no designs on that oil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: And, of course, the Iraqis were also annoyed by the executive order to travel ban, which included their country. a key ally in the fight against ISIS. That -- it was one of those seven countries -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Ben. Thank you very much. Please keep us apprised of the situation there.

President Trump now explaining the Sweden comment that baffled the world. We'll look at what has become diplomatic fallout from this. We have a veteran of the world stage, Bill Richardson. Everybody says words matter. Why? He'll tell us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:18:23] BALDWIN: The Swedish government baffled and concerned by President Trump falsely suggesting there was an immigration-related security event in Sweden. The president saying Sunday his comment was based upon a TV segment he watched over on FOX News. So how is all of this playing out diplomatically?

Joining me now, Bill Richardson, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, former ambassador to the United Nations and former energy secretary.

Mr. Ambassador, great to see you. Good morning.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So let's get right to exactly what the president said over the weekend that has caused this entire kerfuffle. Here it was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So that was Saturday. Let's pass forward to the Trump tweet. This is what he says, quote, "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on FOX News concerning immigrants in Sweden."

Now Mr. Ambassador, you could make the argument there is a connection between refugee intake and a crime uptick. Do you think that it's a question of interpretation here, or do you think the president was playing loose with his facts?

RICHARDSON: Well, I believe the president was playing loose with his facts and, most disturbingly, he's getting his information from late- night television instead of from his national security team intelligence briefing. I mean, this was factually wrong.

There have been no terrorist incidents in Sweden since 2013, when Sweden opened up its borders to refugees and asylum seekers. And this is another country that we've now insulted, joining Australia, Mexico, Canada, the 11 countries that -- the Transpacific Partnership that we abolished the treaty with them, the president in executive order. And now probably, General Mattis, who's doing a good job, is going around trying to clean up some of the messes that we're creating.

[07:20:28] I mean, this is very disturbing because Sweden is also a great ally of the United States. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Nordic countries, they participate in international peace keeping and climate change. You know, so this is a major blunder and a bad thing to happen, for our president to be doing this.

BALDWIN: I want you to explain to me, as you are a veteran in the world of diplomacy. You tell me why words matter.

RICHARDSON: Well, words matter, first of all, because it's the president of the United States. You know, the president is the leader of the free world, technically the leader of NATO. The European Union is a partner to the United States. We have a lot of cooperative relationships with Nordic countries.

And you know, when the president says something, it matters. As a candidate it matters less, but now he's saying it as president. And the danger is that the president seems to just be speaking to his narrow base, the base that elected him. The 38 percent approval rating that he has. But now he's president of all the people, but he's also the leader of the free world, of the international community. So words matter.

Look what's going to happen to tourism in Sweden. Look what's going to happen to that country, explaining that this is just something that never occurred. And this is something that, right now, the former prime minister, Carl Bildt, who I know, a foreign minister also...

BALDWIN: Right. "What is he smoking?" was his tweet.

RICHARDSON: No better friend of the United States. Yes, I mean, he's a man that has a great background. Pro-U.S. You know, so this is very, very disturbing.

BALDWIN: OK. You mentioned -- you mentioned Secretary Mattis in Iraq, and your word was something to the effect of, you know, doing clean-up. You know, the vice president has been in Munich for this Munich security conference in Germany, and his job, in part, there was to assure our European allies. This is what the vice president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has been faithful to Europe for generations. And we will keep the faith that drove our forefathers to sacrifice so much in defense of our shared heritage.

We share a past. And after all we've been through, we share a future. Today, tomorrow, and every day hence, be confident that the United States is now and will always be your greatest ally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: How'd he do, Mr. Ambassador? How reassuring was he for our friends over there?

RICHARDSON: Well, he was partially reassuring. And I think the vice president is doing a good job reassuring that we are going to be active with NATO.

But what he did not say was what about the European Union? There are 28 countries there. We say to Britain, "Good that you got out of the European Union." He said nothing about still working with the European Union. Twenty-eight countries, mainly economic issues, integration issues. So Europe is still wondering where we are.

What does it mean also with NATO? Are we not going to be active with NATO if NATO doesn't pay the 2 percent which they should? Each NATO country like Germany. They're at 1.3 percent. They should pay 2.

And then lastly, what are we going to do about Russia? I mean, are we going to keep the sanctions on, the European sanctions? Are we going to loosen them? What are we going to do in Ukraine?

BALDWIN: Right.

RICHARDSON: So the Europeans are partially reassured, but they're still wondering where we stand with them. Are we with Europe or not?

BALDWIN: So -- sure. Partial reassurance is not an entire reassurance. I hear you loud and clear.

Before I let you go, I just had to ask, just with your knowledge of North Korea. This death investigation, you know, in Malaysia, the estranged half-brother of the leader of North Korea. We know that Kim Jong-un had his uncle taken out a year ago; and now all these questions swirling: did he put a hit on his half-brother? What do you think?

RICHARDSON: Well, it looks like it, but you can't confirm anything. I think that is a pattern in North Korea: Go after your enemies in a very -- in a very deathly way.

But at the same time, there is a little bit of good news. China seems to be cancelling imports of coal from North Korea. I mean, that is -- if they do do that -- they announced it -- that is serious, because there were some loopholes, and we need China. [07:25:00] My last point on North Korea: I've been trying to get the

White House to listen to me on working together to get this kid, Otto Warmbier, out of North Korea. An American detained there. And you know, I call the White House. Nobody answers; nobody responds. They don't want to see me. Maybe because I'm a Democrat. But this is a humanitarian issue that could open up a relationship with North Korea that we don't have, so that they stop some of these ballistic missile tests and nuclear weapons tests.

BALDWIN: OK. Well, let us know when they pick up the phone, and we'll be in touch with you. Ambassador Bill Richardson, always a pleasure. Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate it.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Chris.

CUOMO: All right. The Swedes are not amused by President Trump's terror comments. So what is the actual refugee situation inside Sweden? Lots of opinions. Analysis has been a little fact-poor. You're going to benefit from the facts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Is that true? A question many are asking following President Trump's suggestion that a non-existent attack may have occurred in the Scandinavian country. The...