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Interview with Representative Adam Schiff; U.S.-Backed Iraqi Forces Storm Western Mosul; Trump Administration Economic Forecast Raises Questions; Magic Johnson Gets New Role in LA Lakers. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Just to be clear.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, well, at the same time, GOP members and GOP commentators are suggesting that -- still that these are paid activists, paid protesters. And if he really thinks that any organization has the capacity to turn out these millions of people, I'd like to meet the leaders of that organization. It would be very impressive. But the reality is this is entirely organic. It is not being organized by the Democratic Party or the Republican Party or any wealthy philanthropist.

These are people who are I think desperately concerned about the direction of the country. I share that concern. And who are turning out and activated in a way I've never seen before. And I think eclipsed anything I've seen before. And look, because it's organic, it's a challenge I think for members of both parties.

I've had a number of town halls and coffees since the election. And they're challenging because people are very upset and they are desperately concerned about which way the country is going. But I think the best thing representatives can do is hear people out. And what we hope to accomplish is to have that energy turn productively into changing governance in the country. And the challenge will be, can it be maintained for the next almost two years?

HARLOW: Yes. Right. I mean, you want it to help you in the 2018 in the mid-terms, and you're right, the challenge is how do you maintain it and get it to go from words to action.

I want to get your take on the new executive order we're expecting from the White House this week. Basically a new travel ban. You said to Politico earlier this week that the original travel ban, quote, "is already affecting our intelligence partnerships in other parts of the world."

How specifically has it done that? What intelligence do you have to point to that?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I was in Munich at the National Security Conference and talking with leaders from other parts of the world, the president of Afghanistan, the president of Iraq. And clearly this has been kind of a body blow to our cooperation. They're still working with us. But it just got a lot more difficult. And you can imagine, if we're trying to recruit sources, we're trying

to gather intelligence, and people that we're working with or hope to work with, their last, you know, chance if they are discovered is the hope that they can emigrate, that they can find protection in the United States. If we can't offer that anymore, if that's suddenly in question, or more broadly, people don't want to work with us because they think our country is hostile to Islam or hostile to people from their country, it just makes the job that much more difficult.

HARLOW: All right. So the White House has said repeatedly this is not a Muslim ban. Obviously you and others have a different take on that. But you were just in Iraq three weeks ago, Congressman. And you say, look, when you're on the ground in Iraq what you see is that the United States is competing for influence in Iraq with Iran namely. And Adam Kinzinger, your congressman, a Republican, made this assessment about what he hopes is not included in the new travel ban from the White House just yesterday with Wolf Blitzer.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I actually wish that Iraq was not included on the travel ban. I think it will be because Iraq is our closest ally right now in fighting ISIS and frankly they're vetting standards are very tight because, you know, we created them as a country so I wish that wasn't the case.


HARLOW: He says Iraq shouldn't be included. I assume you agree with him and just what your assessment is from the ground there as to why.

SCHIFF: Well, I do agree. But frankly, beyond that, I don't think we ought to be singling out these countries, in particular Iraq, Adam is right, because we are competing for influence with Iran. We need to be able to work with Iraqis. We're, you know, shoulder-to-shoulder with them right now in the fight in Mosul to try to take back that city from ISIS. But even more broadly than that, even if you carve Iraq out, as long as this is perceived as the president has said is his intention that this is really designed to ban Muslims from coming into the country, it's going to hurt us in Iraq, whether they're included or not. It's going to hurt us in the entire Muslim world.

King Abdullah of Jordan was recently in Washington. You can imagine how much more difficult it is. And he's already walking a balancing wire, given the challenges within Jordan, with his neighbors. But how does he explain to his people cooperation with a country that would ban essentially people coming with the faith that most of his countrymen practice?

There's just no way to sugarcoat that. And this new ban is going to look a lot like the old ban and it's going to be tainted by the same, I think, intention all along, which is to give effect to his campaign promise of banning Muslims.

HARLOW: Really quickly, Congressman. It might and it might not. I just have to point you back to comments that were made by FBI director James Comey who said, "I can't make absolute assurances that there are no risks associated with refugees coming into this country," et cetera. And also the former head of the DNI saying that there are -- he said there is a concern about ISIS trying to infiltrate operatives among these refugees. Both in 2015. Is there any additional vetting or ban that you could live with that you think we should see as a country?

[10:35:05] SCHIFF: You know, there's always room for improvement in terms of how we vet people coming into the country. But if we're going to be honest about this the greater threat the country faces isn't coming from these countries. It's coming from Europe. It's people that have gone from Europe to Iraq and Syria to fight, have come back to Europe, and now can travel to the U.S. with no visa at all. Now we don't want to look at that because we're dependent for tourism and travel. The whole travel industry on people coming from Europe. But if we're serious about looking at where the vulnerabilities are, that's where they come from.

But that's not what this is about. This is not about security. Because it's alienating our allies, it's focusing on countries that have not been the source of the problem. This is about politics. This is about catering to that base that supported Donald Trump, living up to his promise of a Muslim ban.

If he was really doing this for national security reasons, he would be looking where the vulnerability is, and that is European foreign fighters.

HARLOW: Congressman, we have to leave it there. I appreciate you joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Coming up tonight on CNN, a big question, a big debate. Who will lead the Democratic Party in the era of Trump? The Democratic Leadership Debate, tonight, moderated by our Dana Bash and Chris Cuomo, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here.

Coming up for us, Iraqi forces beginning the final phase of their push into western Mosul trying to liberate that city from ISIS. We'll have a live report on the ground there.

Also, we're going to talk about the Trump administration, their rosy economic outlook, and where they say some of these numbers are going to come from and how they will be calculated. Why is that all matters for you? Straight ahead.


[10:41:04] HARLOW: The battle to retake western Mosul under way right now in its final and most difficult offensive. Iraqi forces have been pounding ISIS strongholds there. Militants, though, retaliating, activating some of their sleeper cells. Meantime, nearly 750,000 civilians are trapped in the middle including children with no easy escape.

Our Ben Wedeman is in Irbil, Iraq following all the developments for us.

Tell us more about how they are retaliating with these sleeper cells that they're activating and these surprise attacks.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now what's going on, Poppy, is that in eastern Mosul, which actually has been liberated, they left behind a lot of sleeper cells, which have set off a series of bombings, suicide bombings, car bombings that have really sort of spread terror in a population that was beginning to return to the city.

In fact now some of the residents of eastern Mosul are leaving because of the uncertain security situation. We also understand these ISIS sleeper cells are distributing leaflets warning anybody that if they cooperate with the Iraq authorities, they will be killed -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Ben, also we know that a man who carried out a suicide bombing on Monday, we've learned, has been identified as a British former detainee of Guantanamo Bay. What have we learned?

WEDEMAN: Yes, this is Ronald Fiddler. He's a -- he was a 50-year-old British national from Manchester. Now he was somebody who in 2001 was picked up by U.S. forces in Pakistan, sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was released in 2004. Afterwards he claimed to have been tortured. The British government paid him one million pounds in compensation for that. However, we understand that in 2014, he traveled through Turkey into Syria, joined ISIS. He took on his name, ISIS name was Jamal al- Harith.

And three days ago he -- basically was a suicide car bomber, killed himself trying to -- right outside of an Iraqi army base southwest of Mosul. We understand that between Iraq and Syria, there are about 400 British nationals fighting on the side of ISIS -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed. Ben Wedeman, live for us in Irbil, Iraq. Thank you, Ben, for all that reporting.

Coming up for us, the White House at odds with some of their key economic agencies over just how to measure how much this economy is growing, how good the jobs numbers really are. Remember, this is a president who said all those pretty strong jobs reports, well, they weren't really what was going on.

We're going to dig into what the administration was looking at in terms of reporting key economic data ahead and why it really matters for you, next.


[10:48:29] HARLOW: Is the White House trying to paint a rosier picture about the economy than actually exists? The Trump administration reportedly ordering staffers of the Council of Economic Advisers to predict that the U.S. economy will grow between 3 percent and 3.5 percent over the next decade. Some economists, though, say hold on, that's a little too optimistic. At the same time a new "Wall Street Journal" report says the

administration is considering a change to how it calculates a really important number, especially for this president, and that is the U.S. trade deficit.

CNN's Cristina Alesci is here with more on why we should care.

People might think this is wonky. You should really care about this. What is the administration saying and why does this matter to average folks?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's an excellent question. It matters because politicians usually use data to make decisions.


ALESCI: If you go to the other way around and you make decisions and then use data to support those decisions, it raises all sorts of credibility issues.


ALESCI: And it also raises concerns that you can't trust government data, that it's just politically expedient.

Now, in your example you pointed to growth numbers. Well, why would President Trump want to look -- want to make the economy or forecast that the economy will grow at a much stronger rate than most mainstream economists? Well, this would put him on further ground to say the U.S. can carry more debt.

HARLOW: We can spend more.

ALESCI: We can spend more and we can cut taxes. The Republicans that he's going to be facing on this would want him to reduce spending in order to cut those taxes.

HARLOW: Right.

ALESCI: So this would put him on firmer ground to say, hey, we're going to grow at this incredible rate, we can handle more debt.

[10:50:03] HARLOW: Yes, we can do that.


HARLOW: At the same time he hasn't named anyone to his Council of Economic Advisers, something that is somewhat of a stopgap, that is an independent body that comes to the president and says, hey, here are the real economic numbers. He hasn't named anyone to that. This is a guy who didn't believe the economic numbers under Obama were real.

ALESCI: Yes. It's an important point, Poppy, and in fact not only has he not named anyone to that council but he's also demoted that council. So under the Obama -- under the Obama administration, the council -- the head of that council was on the Cabinet.


ALESCI: That was a Cabinet position. Now it is not.


ALESCI: So that is also another development that's concerning.

HARLOW: I didn't even know that.

ALESCI: The --


HARLOW: On that point, though, let's listen to what the president has said over the last year or so about the jobs numbers that have been getting better and better and better. Play it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time it comes out, I hear, 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 percent and 5 percent unemployment. The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction.


ALESCI: So, Poppy, there's a lot of debate around the way -- the headline number, and whether the headline number of unemployment really reflects the true picture of the labor market in the U.S.

HARLOW: But it's not 30 percent like he said.

ALESCI: Right. And, you know, the Labor Department does calculate other measures as well. The problem is that you have these kind of messages that suggest that the government statisticians are not doing their jobs and people shouldn't believe in them entirely. And in fact the Treasury -- the new Treasury secretary has alluded to sort of the same point.

HARLOW: Really?

ALESCI: Take a listen.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The unemployment rate is not real. The average American worker has gone nowhere. And president-elect is committed, as am I, as his economic adviser, to work for the American people.


ALESCI: So could we use a different headline number possibly? But the Bureau of Labor Statistics does include marginally attached workers, those workers that are not looking for work actively in another measure. It's just not the headline number that we use.

HARLOW: All right. So real news, real facts, what would it be then? Like around 9 percent, 10 percent?

ALESCI: Nine percent, 10 percent.

HARLOW: OK. Not 20, not 30, not 40.

ALESCI: Yes. If we want to get really wonky we'll just call it what it is which is the U-6 but.

HARLOW: Oh god.


HARLOW: U-6, folks. They're listening now. Thank you. Important fact check for us this morning. We appreciate it, Cristina.

Still to come for us, we're going to talk a little sports. He's back. Magic Johnson coming off the bench to save his beloved Los Angeles Lakers. Hines Ward explains next.


[10:56:53] HARLOW: A legendary NBA franchise calling upon a legendary former player to try to right the ship. Hines Ward has more on the magic touch.

Good morning.


HINES WARD, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That's right, Magic Johnson is taking over as president of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Now they're one of the NBA's most successful franchises in history and they miss the playoffs three years in a row. Well, yesterday, Magic said that he has his sights set on the future.


EARVIN MAGIC JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF BASKETBALL OPERATION, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: It's not about the old, what I did when I played, what Kobe did when he played. It's about this new. And I'm not going to come in telling them old stories about Showtime and all that. It's not about that. It's about them, the new Lakers. It's about having a clear direction and a clear strategy.


WARD: You've got to love that. Magic called his new role a dream job. Get this, he's won five NBA championships and he played his entire hall of fame career for the Showtime Lakers, Poppy.

HARLOW: Now he gets to be the boss. What role does the Lakers team president Jeanie Buss play in all this?

WARD: Well, get this. She's cleaning house. She actually had to fire her own brother, Jim Buss, within that role before Magic. But his relationship with his sister had grown rocky over the past two years. She also fired general manager, (INAUDIBLE), for years. The speculation had been that her longtime boyfriend Phil Jackson will one day be the president of Basketball Operations.

Well, get this, the two broke up a couple of months ago and now that Magic is taking over, that seems to end all speculation. So hopefully Magic can turn things around in La La Land.

And according to multiple reports, Major League Baseball is getting rid of the four-pitch intention walks starting this season. No longer will pitchers allowed four pitches in the catcher. Now the manager will signal from the dugout to the umpire to purposely walk a batter.

Major League Baseball looking into different ways to improve the pace of play. The new rule should save about a minute. But Poppy, I know they want to speed up the game, but come on, baseball is supposed to be a relaxing sport, right?

HARLOW: Yes, I suppose it certainly is. Hines Ward, keep an eye on the Lakers for us and how they do under Magic, will you?

WARD: Will do. Will do.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you so much, nice to have you on, my friend.

Thank you all for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" begins right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan.

And as the immigration debate heats up across the country, we are keeping our eye on the southern border where top Republicans are set to meet with Texas border officials just a short time from now.

Live pictures coming to you now from Texas. They will be assessing the cost of fulfilling one of President Trump's most prized campaign promises, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.