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FBI Refused White House Request to Knock Down Recent Trump- Russia Stories; Steve Bannon Vows President will Deliver on Promises; Trump to Address Conservative Conference Today. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 06:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The FBI rejected a White House request to knock down media reports about Trump's associates and Russians.

[05:58:42] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The request would appear to violate procedures.

STEVE BANNON, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: Is that the opposition party?

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite the best efforts of liberal activists in town halls, the American people know better.

SCIUTTO: The Trump White House seeking an intelligence report that will demonstrate the security threat in these seven countries is substantial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting gang members out. We're getting drug lords out. It's a military operation.

JOHN KELLY, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I repeat: there will be no use of military forces in immigration.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States will not yield its supremacy to anybody.

TRUMP: If countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 24, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off today. David Gregory joins me. Great to have you here.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here. Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Happy Friday.

GREGORY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: If only it weren't such a slow news day.


CAMEROTA: Kidding.

We begin with two CNN exclusives about the Trump White House. CNN has learned that the FBI rejected an unusual request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports that the Trump campaign was in constant contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

GREGORY: There is that and another CNN exclusive: growing concern in the intelligence community this morning about the steps the White House is taking to build the legal case to justify its travel ban. Is the Trump White House politicizing intelligence?

We are now at day 36 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She is part of that team that broke these exclusive stories.

Pamela, good morning.


CNN is told that the FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications during the 2016 presidential campaign between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

But a White House official said that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe some of the reporting to be accurate.

Now multiple U.S. officials tell CNN the White House sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russian matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the official said. FBI Director James Comey rejected that request, according to sources, in part because the alleged communications are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Now the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, told CNN last night, quote, "We didn't try to knock down the story. We asked them to tell the truth."

The FBI did not comment -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Pamala, obviously, this is not a typical request, so what's the time line here? How did all of this back and forth start?

BROWN: So this all began with the FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after those stories were published by CNN and "The New York Times." A White House official says McCabe told Priebus at that time that "The New York Times" story vastly overstated what the FBI knows about the contacts made during the election. But a law enforcement official says McCabe didn't discuss aspects -- specific aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

The White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey, asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. The FBI refused -- David.

GREGORY: Pamela, it's worth underlining that this is not a typical back and forth between the White House and the FBI.

BROWN: It's not typical for a reason. The communication between the White House and the FBI was unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. If McCabe said this to the White House, he may have overstepped. The request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations.

CAMEROTA: Pamela, is this investigation still ongoing?

BROWN: It is very much ongoing, Alisyn. The FBI's counterintelligence division is still investigating. Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees tell CNN that Congress is still investigating those alleged contacts. That has begun. And they're starting to collect documents and records. So very much underway right now.

GREGORY: Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about some of the reporting you've got on the revision now of the president's travel ban. What is that?

BROWN: Right. So my sources tell me and my Jake -- sources tell my colleague, Jake Tapper, that the White House made the request to the Department of Homeland Security to bolster its case for why the seven countries listed in the travel ban should remain. It made this request after it was blocked by the courts.

A senior White House official tells CNN the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and that the seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States. The situation has gotten more dangerous in recent years. And more broadly, the refugee program has been a major incubator for terrorism. So that is from a White House official.

Now, this report was requested in light of that 9th Circuit Court of Appeals conclusion that the Trump administration has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United states.

But CNN has learned that some current intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.

CAMEROTA: Why, Pamela? What are -- what are their concerns?

BROWN: So it's viewed by some at DHS and other agencies to politicize intelligence, an effort to politicize intelligence to fit a policy, rather than the other way around. And some officials disagree altogether with the Trump White House position on those seven countries being included in the travel ban.

Sources tell us that the Department of Homeland Security's in-house intelligence agency, the office of I&A, as it's known, has filed a report actually disagreeing with the White House view that blocking immigration temporarily from those seven countries is justified. They do not think nationality is the best indicator of potential terrorism.

Now, a spokeswoman from the Department of Homeland Security press secretary, Gillian Christiansen, confirmed this report to CNN, saying, "While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official robust document with thorough interagency vetting."

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security basically disparaged its own intelligence division's report, the spokeswoman saying, "The I&A report does not include data from other intelligence community sources." A DHS spokeswoman told CNN, "It is incomplete. Pointed internal discussion about intelligence products and whether they have sufficient supporting data from the merits of various intelligence products and whether they have sufficient supporting data from the broader intelligence community, is an integral part of developing any official DHS intelligence assessment."

Now, the White House says the new travel ban executive order will be signed next week. Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Pamela, thank you for sharing all of that reporting with us this morning. So you've given us a lot to discuss with our panel.

Let's bring in CNN contributor and reporter for the "Washington Examiner," Salina Zito; CNN political analyst and "New York Times" editor, Patrick Healy; CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogan.

OK, Patrick, let's start with what Pamela first reported there, and that is that CNN and "The New York Times" has this reporting that there were repeated contacts before President Trump was in the White House between his campaign and Russia. The White House now says that the FBI expressed to them that they had doubts in "The New York Times" reporting. And the White House said to the FBI, "Well, if you have doubts, please publicly state that."

OK. So if we take them at face value, and if the FBI did, in fact, say that to the White House, is it understandable or even realistic for the White House to expect the FBI to say so publicly?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As Pamela pointed out, it is crossing a pretty bright line for the White House to go to the FBI and say, "Hey, talk to some reporters on background to knock this story -- seems like sort of knock this story down or sort of talk it back." Yes, intelligence sources and reporters have conversations all of the time.

But the concern is that the White House is to essentially sort of operationalize the FBI and intelligence community's sources to talk to the media to essentially advance its own policy aims. This is a bright line that is not supposed to be crossed. There are -- there has been decades old regulations beyond this. And again, while these communications happened, while this is part of the reporting back and forth, President Trump is in a strange situation here. He's talked about leaks being such a problem, and how much he doesn't want his White House to leak.

Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, has talked about how officials are supposed to talk on the record. No -- you know, none of these anonymous sources to put out information. And it seems like they were saying to the intelligence community, hey, you know, if you think the story is false go sort of do our bidding on this, which raises a lot of conflict.

GREGORY: Not only that bright line, but Salena Zito, you also have,, if we remember in the campaign, the justifiable outrage on the part of Trump folks, others in the media, about former President Clinton walking over to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and having a casual conversation while there was an ongoing FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton with regard to the e-mail server.

So here you have this potential interference that would go against their own criticism of the campaign.

SALENA ZITO, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right. It's definitely smart to -- to try to get officials to talk on background and brief them on what's going on.

On the other hand, you know, as he said, it goes against decades of procedure. And that sort of kind of interaction. And that was the kind of interaction that, as you said, the right sort of went crazy about when Clinton was talking to the...

GREGORY: And the FBI rebuked them. That's the thing, Josh, is that the FBI director said, "No, this is not going to happen."

JOSH ROGAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. So not only do you have the potential politicization of intelligence, which goes all the way back to the Iraq War. Remember, this is an administration that criticized that throughout the campaign. Not only do you have hypocrisy on leaking; you have this war that's going on between the Trump White House and the intelligence community. And then they get in a jam, and they turn to the intelligence community, like, "Hey, could you help us out of this jam? Could you say what we want on background to reporters?"

They say no, and then the White House chief of staff goes on TV and says, "Oh, I have been approved. Intelligence officials told me I can say nothing to see here." I mean, it's just, like, sort of rank hypocrisy and shines a light on sort of how they -- their whole approach as "Do as we say, not as we do."

CAMEROTA: You know, Salina, so often you come on our program, and you basically school us on this is not what the heartland cares about. You have your finger on the pulse of sort of the regular people around Ohio and Pittsburgh. And this is not what they care about. Not in this case.

I mean, I just had -- did a panel in Columbus, Ohio, of Trump supporters and Trump critics. People actually do care a lot about whether or not Russia is somehow infiltrating the U.S. and whether or not these communications happened. This is one the public does want the answers to.

ZITO: Right. I mean, we grew up with Russia is the bad guy, right? Russia is the one to be afraid of. They're sneaky. They -- you know, they do all kinds of nefarious things. And I think that it's the best thing for the Trump administration, is to get whatever is going on behind them. Because they will -- they will hold the confidence of the people that placed them in office.

[06:10:22] But Russia is never going to be a popular issue among regular voters.

GREGORY: I think it's also worth mentioning a couple of things. First of all, the White House is stung by the leaks that came out...

ZITO: Yes.

GREGORY: ... with regard to these stories they say are not true. Sean Spicer saying they just wanted them to tell the truth. But there's a broader context here, and that is Russia is involved in European elections, spreading this information. It's not just about the Trump administration or about the 2016 election.

ROGAN: That's right. It's a national security issue. It goes to the core of how our democracy functions. In fairness to the White House, it's complicated. OK? And a lot of the reporting is piecemeal and they don't have a real forum to defend themselves...


ROGAN: ... because it's all sort of classified information. So I get why they're frustrated about this. I think they have reason to be frustrated about this. But I don't think this is the most effective way to go about dealing with that frustration, because it actually kind of makes it worse.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about the other reporting the panel has shared with us, and that is how the White House is trying to put back together the travel ban that, of course, was blocked by the 9th Circuit Court, as well as other -- another court.

So now it sounds as if they're going to the intelligence community or to the Department of Homeland Security and saying, "OK, can you give us some materials, give us some evidence that we can now hinge our travel ban on?" People say that it's backwards, this system. The process that they're using.

HEALY: Right. I mean, you're finding that President Trump is not in a situation where he has to come forward with, you know, executive order two, sort of the cleaned-up order. And it feels like -- feels like he's trying to get a lot of ducks in a row right now. And again, going to the sort of intelligence community and saying, "Supply me with information to sort of support my policy."

I mean, it's interesting. I remember interviewing him last summer right during the James Comey -- right before the James Comey press conference, regarding (ph) Hillary Clinton, the report. And he -- the way he described the intelligence community, it felt like sort of -- it was very much sort of an arm of the executive branch, in the sense that, you know, the president or the White House would put out a request for information or sort of be saying these are our priorities. These are our concerns. And that the intelligence community would sort of feedback to him. And it seemed to be, at least in terms of policy, a kind of a lack of understanding about what they're supposed to be doing.

GREGORY: Look, there's always -- there's challenging intelligence community about what they have found, what the conditions are in the world. There's also trying to politicize it or manipulate it, which becomes a big issue.

We're going to leave it there. This will be a broader conversation that will continue. Thank you all very much.

The news keeps rolling today. At the CPAC conference in just a few hours, President Trump is going to address this nation's biggest conservatives conference in the Washington area. The president's remarks coming a day after a rare public appearance by his chief strategist and media attack dog, to put it mildly, Steve Bannon.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns, live at the White House this morning with more.

Joe, good morning.


The president is expected to take a victory lap at CPAC today. A year ago as a candidate, he was so spurned by many conservatives he didn't even bother to show up at the conference. Today, he's at the center of attention.


JOHNS (voice-over): In a rare public appearance, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon assuring skeptical conservatives President Trump will deliver.

BANNON: Every day in the Oval Office, he tells Reince and I, "I committed this to the American people. I promised this when I ran. And I'm going to deliver on this."

JOHNS (voice-over): Bannon calling the presidency "the deconstruction of the administrative state, committed to massive deregulation."

BANNON: If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason.

JOHNS: Bannon's rhetoric full of nationalist and populist ideology.

BANNON: We're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders. But we're a nation with a culture and a reason for being.

JOHNS: The president's chief strategist vowing the president's war with the media is going to get worse.

BANNON: If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day -- every day, it is going to be a fight.

JOHNS: White House chief of staff Reince Priebus joining Bannon, a pairing perhaps aimed at countering reports that the two men don't get along.

BANNON: I can run a little hot on occasions. And -- and Reince is indefatigable.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can't be stopped.

BANNON: Vice President Mike Pence speaking later in the evening.

PENCE: This is our time.

JOHNS: Vowing, despite sharp differences among Republicans, health care reform is coming.

[06:15:05] PENCE: Obamacare has failed, and Obamacare must go.

JOHNS: In a new interview with Reuters, President Trump reiterating his call for nuclear supremacy.

TRUMP: If countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.

JOHNS: The president also comparing his crack-down on undocumented immigrants to a military operation.

TRUMP: We're getting really bad dudes out of this country. It's a military operation.

JOHNS: The White House later attempting to clarify, saying Trump was speaking metaphorically. In Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly trying to tap down on fears.

KELLY: No, repeat no use of military force in immigration operations. None.


JOHNS: Today the president is expected to sign an executive action on regulatory reform around noon Eastern Time. Also scheduled to meet with the president of Peru.

And a very interesting meeting on the schedule today. He's supposed to meet with Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was not exactly a Trump promoter during the election.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: To be a fly on the wall there. Joe, thank you very much.

So up next, what will President Trump say to conservatives when he speaks at CPAC just a few hours from now? We're going to look for clues in his past speeches, next.


[06:20:26] CAMEROTA: Just a few hours from now, President Donald Trump will address the conservative political action conference. What will he say? Well, here are some clues from his first address at CPAC in 2011.


TRUMP: America today is missing quality leadership; and foreign countries have quickly realized this. It's for this reason that the United States is becoming the laughingstock of the world.

Our current president came out of nowhere. No record. Nothing to criticize. He didn't go in wars. He didn't go in battles. He didn't beat this one, that one, have enemies all over the place. Nobody knew who the hell he was. He's now our president.


CAMEROTA: Hmm. Let's bring back our panel to discuss this. Salena Zito, Patrick Healy and Josh Rogan. So Patrick, this is back when he was using the "blame America first" theme that -- chances are we will not hear from him today. What do we think he's going to say today?

HEALY: Right. Well, I mean, talking about sort of wars and battles, it's a little bit sort of disconcerting, you know, in terms of what he may go after.

But no, I think today what you're going to hear is him try to sort of say that this is the first 100 days. This is a roll out of an agenda, that it's going very well. If only the media wasn't causing him trouble. If only these leakers weren't from -- I mean, he -- you know, I think from his point of view, talking about one adviser yesterday, from his point of view this is all going quite well. You know, he's focusing on the issues that he campaigned on, particularly the travel ban, the wall, making America safe again. NO, not at all. CAMEROTA: The ongoing negotiation.

HEALY: And he's had a complicated relationship with conservatives, you know, over the last two years. But I think he's very much sort of going to go in and, I think, expect their support for the agenda that he's laying out. So I think it's rallying the troops.

GREGORY: Josh and Salena, I want to talk about the other big headline, and that was Steve Bannon speaking at CPAC yesterday, this gathering of conservatives. We really haven't heard from him. He is this secretive force in the White House. He certainly doesn't like the news media. He runs pretty hot, he says, in the course of this gathering.

But he really does have an impact on President Trump's world view, and he spoke with pretty highly-charged language about this economic world view. This kind of economic nationalism. Let's play a bit of that.


BANNON: There's a new political order that -- that's being formed out of this, and it's still being formed. I think the center core of what we believe, that we're a nation with an economy. Not an economy just on some global marketplace with open borders, but we're a nation with a culture and a -- and a reason for being. And I think that's what unites us, and I think that that is what is going to unite this movement going forward.


GREGORY: There's a lot there, Josh...

ROGAN: Sure.

GREGORY: ... that we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.

Richard Spencer, who's this outspoken white nationalist who got expelled from CPAC because he was so controversial, said something similar about his conservative beliefs that he's a deep conservative in that he says he cares about people and defending a culture.

ROGAN: Right.

GREGORY: What does Steve Bannon mean?

ROGAN: Right. So this gets to the core of what does it mean to be an American? And what is America. And there are two basic schools of thought. One is that we're unified by our values, principles, democracy, freedom, human rights, the lifting of people out of bad situations all over the world, free-market capitalism.

And the other is that we have sort of an ethno-culture that makes up the people in our country, and that's what we should define ourselves as. And Steve Bannon, and coincidentally, Richard Spencer happen to believe in that ladder theory. That doesn't mean they agree on everything. That doesn't mean that Bannon supports the -- some of Spencer's more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) views.

It just means that the way they define America and the -- the frame that they use to make policy within that definition is a radical alteration from what we've seen in past presidencies. It explains a lot of what they're doing, and it helps us understand why they're doing it.

GREGORY: So Salena, why shouldn't these people hear that language and say this is this belief in the greatness of America and fear of the others, you know, fear of the immigrant, fear of outsiders?

ZITO: Well, you know, I guess people hear different things when they hear people talk. You know, there are a lot of people all -- I was at CPAC all day yesterday; and there was a lot of talking about, you know, talking about celebrating the American culture and celebrating diversity and celebrating what that means and so...

CAMEROTA: And what does it mean at CPAC? I mean, what does diversity mean to them?

[06:25:04] ZITO: Well, I mean, there were people of all shapes, sizes and colors there and, you know, a lot of it goes to the heart of American exceptionalism. That is important to the people that attend CPAC. We're talking about grass-root conservatives and also sort of people that are part of the political process. And -- and they're very, you know, proud of all of the sort of accomplishments. There were transgender people there. There were, you know -- there were just -- there were libertarians.

GREGORY: In this context, we're talking about -- he's talking about the U.S. being separate from a kind of global order that it needs.

HEALY: Right. He didn't say "cultures." He is saying "culture." He is talking about one specific world view that he is sort of focusing in on. And this is, I think, from their point of view very much the -- you know, the coastal elites, have HBO and have girls and have these shows that they watch and things that they consume.

And then there is sort of the rest of America that he feels...


HEALY: ... he's felt for a long time has been overlooked, that Breitbart felt was sort of pushed to a side by sort of a liberal...

GREGORY: But look who he has around him. You've got former Goldman Sachs folks.

CAMEROTA: Steve Bannon.

GREGORY: And Reince Priebus. These guys are not only part of the establishment. They are part of the globally connected...

CAMEROTA: Elitist.

GREGORY: ... a liberal culture. (CROSSTALK)

HEALY: ... vanguards of a liberal culture, as Steve Bannon would. And these are also people who are loyal to President Trump. He is a loyalist, first and foremost. The culture will be as they have defined it.

ROGAN: When Bannon says it's going to be a fight every day, I think he's right about that. And he's not just fighting the corporate globalist media, right? Because we're not at war. We're at work, right?

But who he's fighting is all of these forces in his own party, in Congress, the institutions. He wants to deconstruct the administrative state. That's a big project, OK, and it's not going to be easy. But that's what he's trying to do.

GREGORY: Panel, we're going to leave it here. This is going to be a debate that keeps going, as well. Thank you all very much.

So voter anger on display. We've been talking about it all week at these town halls across the country. How one Republican congressman who's under fire responded to a demand for President Trump to release his taxes. May be a surprising response to you. That's coming up.