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Angry Crowds Pack GOP Town Halls Across America; Is the Trump White House Politicizing Intelligence?; Bannon Repeatedly Calls Media "The Opposition Party". Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:06] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We do have some breaking news on this developing mystery. Malaysian investigators identifying the poison that killed the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong- un. They say the assassins used VX nerve agent, which is listed as a chemical weapon. Substance is internationally banned and classified by the U.N. as, quote, "a weapon of mass destruction."

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime here in the U.S., angry voters continue to unleash their fury on Republican lawmakers at these town hall events that led some to choose a path of a little less resistance, opting to hold telephone meeting or skip face-to-face meetings altogether.

CNN's Deb Feyerick is live in Covington, Kentucky, this morning with more on all of this.

Good morning.


Well, the bottom line is that politicians don't like to be yelled at. And people don't like to be ignored and for many of these people who are coming into town halls, they are very frustrated because they want their questions answered, and when there are no answers, things get pretty heated.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Republican lawmakers confronted by furious constituents in town halls across the country.

In Florida, rowdy crowds demanding answers from Congressman Matt Gaetz, about whether he will recall for the release of President Trump's tax returns.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Let me say right here right now, absolutely Donald Trump should release his tax returns.

FEYERICK: In Arizona, tempers flaring when Representative Martha McSally sidesteps questions about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just answer our questions?

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: You may not like the answers that I'm giving you --

FEYERICK: In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell avoiding scores of protesters outside this ticketed luncheon.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It's pretty clear what they're protesting and that's the outcome of last year's election.

FEYERICK: But when pressed by two constituents inside who paid up to $60 to make their voices heard --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are protesting the fact that to get in front of you, you have to pay dollars. Why won't you hold a town u town hall with your constituents that want to hear from you?

FEYERICK: Faced with public anger, some Republican lawmakers opting for telephone town halls or skipping the face-to-face meetings altogether.

Outraged voters holding empty chair town halls like this one in Ohio with cutouts of missing Senator Rob Portman. And in Florida, one constituent chasing down Marco Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But are you going to host a town hall?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Good to see you, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a constituent town hall today. We need to hear from you, Senator.


FEYERICK: Now, some politicians had decided security concerns, safety concerns as to why they're not going to these town hauls. The Texas Republican Louie Gohmert basically citing Gabby Giffords who was shot at a town hall, sort of a small constituent meeting back in 2011 by a man who was later diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

But Gabby Giffords quickly wrote back and she said, you know what? "I was shot on a Sunday, my office was opened on a Monday."

And she said to the congressman, "To the politicians who I have abandoned their civic duty, have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town hall meetings."

And yesterday, when I questioned Senator Mitch McConnell and said these people want to be heard, he essentially said they are being we heard. They have a fundamentally different view of where America should be going.

So, a lot of back and forth between people and the lawmakers and they want answers -- David. GREGORY: Yes, thanks very much.

Coming up next, another CNN exclusive: growing concerns from some intelligence officials that the White House is playing politics with intelligence to justify the travel ban.

[06:35:02] We're going to talk about that next.


CAMEROTA: The Trump administration now expected to roll out its revised travel ban next week. In a CNN exclusive, we are learning there are growing concerns from inside the intelligence community about White House efforts to get intelligence that builds their case to justify their travel ban.

Joining us now is retired U.S. naval commander, Kirk Lippold, and CNN terrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd.

Gentleman, thank you for being here to explain if this the normal.

Phil, is this how it usually works, the White House comes up with some policy and then goes to the intelligence community and says give me everyday and material to support that policy?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Can we just substitute in the word "Iraq", Alisyn? I lived that story, and I'm watching this and my first reaction early in the morning here in South Florida, it is better to watch a train wreck than live one, because we already lived this train wreck.

And let me tell you how this game works, and I don't -- in some ways, I think what we're seeing is a White House that's learning that the executive branch theoretically works for them.

[06:40:02] But when you get to the intel guys, their responsibility is to give you the story as they see it, not necessarily to support your narrative. The way this works is you ask the intel community, give me a picture of the terrorism from the seven countries, and we want to release some publicly.

What we may see happening in reverse from a White House that's not that experienced yet is a White House saying, we already got out in front of this story, claiming these seven countries are core to the problem of terrorism around the world, intel guys, can you back it up? And the intel guys are saying, I ain't living this train wreck, I've already seen this one 15 years ago.

CAMEROTA: Commander, is that how you see it? Shades of Iraq?

KIRK LIPPOLD (RET.), U.S. NAVY COMMANDER: Absolutely not. I mean, there may be some shades, we have lived through two administrations that politicized intelligence. I mean, clearly, the narrative that the Obama administration put out with respect to al Qaeda being on its heels and ISIS being a jayvee team shows that they developed a narrative and then wanted the intelligence committee supporting it. CAMEROTA: OK. Is that what you are seeing again?

LIPPOLD: No, what you see with the Trump administration is they want to put down a large footprint from countries that fall into three categories: failed states, state sponsors of terrorism or safe havens for terrorists operating. Taking a cautious approach, if they say let's put the foot print down to make sure that we do, in fact, have the process and the procedures in place to ensure that we are vetting people, coming from those countries, whether it is for immigration or otherwise, is a prudent and common sense step that they should be taking.

CAMEROTA: Unless it's based on a false narrative. Here's the White House statement, Commander, Phil, let me read it to you.

"DHS and DOJ are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and this these 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," Phil. No, it hasn't, not in the U.S., there has been no refugee checked to a deadly terrorist attack in the United States.

MUDD: Well, I got a few comments for you, the White House is saying, we have asked them to put together a report that says there is a tremendous threat from these countries. Isn't that the White House saying we know what the answer is?

Secondly, you've got the wrong agencies working on this. There's one agency that puts together intelligence analysis for the U.S. That's called the National Counterterrorism Center, and that includes officials from Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

Third on this ridiculous comment this is about a foot print to prevent terrorism because some countries that govern their own territory potentially have people traveling in the United States. OK. Where is the U.S. ally of Egypt? Where are the countries in North Africa that were allies of America that sent foreign fighters to Iraq? Where is Pakistan? Where is Afghanistan where the authors of 9/11 came from?

That is goofy that proposition that this is based on people saying these countries are the core threat to America.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Commander.

LIPPOLD: Alisyn, I can't help but laugh at that comment, because the reality is, I lived through an intelligence failure with the attack on USS Cole. We do not want to be on the wrong side of the bang to react to a problem that might be developing.

And to sit and say it's a funny prep situation, clearly, you got an intelligence officer who maybe contributed to a part of that problem. We are living in a time today where the terrorist threat coming from the Middle East, at some point, you have to say, do we have the process and procedures in place? CAMEROTA: Yes.

LIPPOLD: We've already seen the problems that have happened in Europe because of the refugee problem there. And that's not putting up a foot print on all refugees. But by the same token, we need to make sure we don't let our guard down so we have the bang and react it to. That's what he's asked for.

I lived through it. I'm not going to do it again.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Phil.

MUDD: Well, look, again, my question is, if you lived through it, why didn't you sit down at a threat briefing for the past 15 years and ask a professional before you make a decision from the White House, how many cases you saw where a Sudanese individual, that's one of the countries on the list, came to this country and caused a tremendous problem in America?

I sat at the table for 2,000-plus press briefings. I don't remember Sudan coming up. My question is, why doe the White House pick seven countries, instead of going to the practitioners who have to work in the field across 325 million Americans in 50 states and ask a simple question, what countries potentially are sending people to the United States were a threat? And why don't we work on limiting access to America from those countries? It ain't that difficult.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Commander. What's the answer?

LIPPOLD: Well, I think they do take a look at it. I think that when you look at it, we have to trust the intelligence community to be doing the assessments of these countries. I don't think they were picked willy-nilly. I think there was a purpose behind them. There is a methodology behind them.

There might be a push to get a certain narrative, but the intelligence community I think is full of professional men and women that are going to draw the correct conclusions based on the information and the analysis they are doing.

[06:45:03] CAMEROTA: Look, on that, you both agree, Commander, Phil obviously agrees with that. He's on the side of the intelligence community. But it sounds like what Phil is saying is that they put the cart before the horse, they didn't wait for the intelligence community to present some evidence that people from Sudan or wherever are planning an attack. They decided that it should be these seven countries and then they went to the intel community and said, what have you got for us?

LIPPOLD: Well, I would disagree with that. I think that in many ways, when you look at the countries, you have to look what's also happening overseas. For example, Yemen, home of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran, state sponsor of terrorism that has killed hundreds of Americans, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You have to look at what is happening in these countries, overseas, how they're targeting Americans and the fact that we already have intelligence to say we have cells in America sitting today waiting for that call.

Again, I don't want to wait for the bang to react to it. We need to look at it now.

CAMEROTA: Phil, go ahead.

MUDD: This is a Disneyworld conversation. If you want to say that they looked at these countries and determined that they are threats, the White House orders is issued within a couple weeks of coming into office. You want to tell me they went to the intel community and said, what are the threats to America? And we're going to write an executive order based on those threats?

That is complete nonsense. They decided, we want to start with countries based on our own personal views. Some of those countries in my view from four and a half years at the FBI were never threats.

And now, they're asking the intel community to back them up. This ain't difficult. There is Disneyworld.

CAMEROTA: Commander, is it possible they are doing it backwards?

LIPPOLD: There is a possibility they are doing backwards. However, I think they had intelligence beforehand. They are looking now at getting the more robust one, clearly so they can meet the court requirement to demonstrate to the Ninth Circuit or other courts that there, in fact, is a threat here. The intelligence community has that.

Every administration looks at intelligence that they get and tailors it so that they know what they can release to the American public. I don't think you are seeing politicization, if anything, you are seeing less politicization with the Trump administration than we've seen again with the previous two administrations.

You can call it Disneyland conversation. It's not. It's reality for the American people because their lives are the ones that are going to be at stake if there is a problem.

CAMEROTA: Commander Lippold, Phil Mudd, thank you very much for the debate.

MUDD: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to both of you.


GREGORY: How about a little sports break right now? We'll get the "Bleacher Report."

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston coming under fire for comments he made at an elementary school on Wednesday.

Andy Scholes has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.


Jameis Winston, he is giving an inspirational speech to 3rd and 5th grade at a Florida school. What he said, well, it did not go over well. Winston told all the boys to stand up the girls to sit down, he went on to say, quote, "But the ladies, they're supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men are supposed to be strong."

That was the comment that drew plenty of criticism. Winston later said he used poor choice, he was just trying to motivate a certain male student without singling him out. Winston was accused of sexual assault in 2012, but he was never charged and in December, settle a federal lawsuit with his accuser.

All right. Charles Oakley was back from a Knicks game, but this team, he was watching them in Cleveland. Oakley was a Cleveland native, was sitting with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Now, Oakley was arrested and banned from Madison Square Garden after an altercation earlier this month.

The ban has been lifted, but Oakley told ESPN he does not know when he will attend another game at the Garden.


CAMEROTA: All right, Andy. Thank you very much.

Do you have a sports comment you'd like to weigh in?

GREGORY: No, I'm going to -- I'm going to keep it to myself. Honestly.


Steve Bannon repeatedly calls the media the opposition and vows that President Trump's war with the press will only get worse. Our media experts have a lot of thoughts on this. They'll weigh in, next.


[06:52:42] CAMEROTA: White House chief strategist Steve Bannon making a rare public appearance. He was at CPAC, repeatedly slamming the media.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you look at, you know, the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition, now that they're portraying the administration, it's always wrong.


CAMEROTA: Bannon also vowing that president Trump's war with the media will get worse. Oh, goodie.

GREGORY: Yes, right, right. It's not bad enough yet.

We're going to discuss with CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter, and CNN media analyst Bill Carter.

Good morning to both of you.

Brian, let's start with you down in Atlanta.

I mean, what I keep coming back to is Steve Bannon, just constant references to the opposition party, this is -- everybody rails against the media. But here it seems to me there is such an effort to delegitimize a major institution so that accountability won't ever come back to bite the White House if they failed to make good on their promises.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does operate from the assumption that all media is politically agenda driven. And our real agenda is to get people to watch and inform people what's going on. There is not this insidious political agenda infused throughout all of the national media.

But that is what he seems to believe and says again and again. I was thinking about this in the context of CPAC. Every single year, there are panels about media bias. Media bias is a perennial complaint at CPAC.

But media bias is an attempt to identify a problem and propose solutions, to try to improve news coverage from the perspective of conservatives. What's now being talked, what's replaced the term "media bias" is the term fake news. The term fake news is much more insidious because the term fake news rejects the notion of the news being real, it rejects the notion of real reporting altogether.

So, it's a much more sinister idea. Of course, it's coming from the top. It's coming from President Trump.

CAMEROTA: Well, here's the good news, Brian and Bill, it's not working. So while that's become a household term, it's not working. And there are polls now that show that, in fact, CNN brand is certainly as strong as it has ever been. People still trust CNN.

And look at this, who do you trust? All the public, this is a Quinnipiac University poll. Who do you trust to tell the truth? The media gets a much higher rating, 52 percent, than the Trump White House, 37 percent.

[06:55:05] BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Right. But do you think that the people that Bannon is speaking to are in agreement with that? Because I think Bannon is --

CAMEROTA: No, CPAC, I think, he's sentiment are felt --

CARTER: I think --

CAMEROTA: Not universally.

CARTER: No, but his broad strategy I think is to speak to that group that they don't believe in objective facts. I mean, I don't want to say this too harshly, but there is a lot of ignorance out there, OK? This is a group that doesn't believe in climate change, who doesn't believe in vaccines, who doesn't believe in evolution. And he's right.

I think he is basically saying, don't believe those objective facts the media is saying about us.

GREGORY: Right, also --

CARTER: Voter fraud is real, even though there is no evidence, they pound out these things that are not objectively true.

GREGORY: I have a problem with the poll writ large and that I think the media has become so splintered, and consumers of the media are so splintered --

CARTER: That's right.

GREGORY: -- that the world views collide in a way where you can't agree on a basic set of facts.

But there is another piece of this, Brian. Here is Bannon talking about what the media gets wrong. Listen to this.


BANNON: That's what the mainstream media won't report, just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the campaign, and just like they were dead wrong in the chaos of the transition, they're absolutely dead wrong about what's going on today because we have a team that's just grinding it through on what President Donald Trump promised the American people.

And the mainstream media better understand something -- all of those promises are going to be implemented.


GREGORY: I mean, what's funny about that is that it's demonstrably false, because this is the most covered president in the history of the world. And so, his promises, his falsehoods, broken promises, all of this gets thoroughly vetted. And so, this is again something that will be able to be tested over time. Bannon may have picked a fight. We can test this overtime based on results.

STELTER: People can dine at the Trump buffet. There's so many options for news coverage, positive, more skeptical, more opinionated, just the facts. Everyone has those options.

When Bannon says the media got it wrong, didn't see Trump coming, this is a narrative they are trying to put in place. It's very frustrating. GREGORY: But the one thing I would say --

STELTER: Trump's own aides had a lot of doubts and did not think he was going to win on Election Day.

GREGORY: That's true. Bannon is right about one thing in that sound byte. I think the media at large refused to see what was right in front of it, which is an incredibly close election and that he was on the precipice of winning, and there was a belief that there is no way Republicans would come home. There's no way that this coalition that voted for Obama will not come out strongly for her. That part I think he's right on.

CARTER: It turns out, that was what eventuated in terms of the Electoral College. It did kind of tip in the popular vote the way people thought it was going to be.

But his view that the chaos isn't real, those -- the information is coming from inside the White House about. That it's not being made up by the media.

CAMEROTA: I think a part is maybe he doesn't see his cast. This is how he deals.

CARTER: I think he likes chaos. I think they like that. Yes.

CAMEROTA: Also, Brian, it's just interesting to hear from Steve Bannon, because he's this shadowy, mysterious figure. You know, if you want to sort of cultivate an air of mystery, stop talking. And that's what he's done for all these weeks.

CARTER: He's going for that Darth Vader thing that he's been described as.

And, you know, according to "The Washington Post", he even changed out of his suit and tie and put on an all black ensemble for this on stage appearance. Afterwards, Kellyanne Conway said, you and Reince Priebus should be on TV more often.

But I doubt Bannon would be on TV very often. You know, what he said about the corporate globalist media, that's straight out of the left wing critique of media until recently. Now, it's been appropriated by the right.

And I do think we should acknowledge, in the Quinnipiac poll, it does show something is broken in American. That most Republicans trust the president more than the media, that there is a deep, deep divide in trust between Republicans and both Democrats and independents.

So there are problems in terms of the press trying to reach all Americans and convincing Americans that we are reporting the truth. But that problem exists mostly on the right today.

CAMEROTA: If you want to effect a sinister look, I don't know if you should wear the khaki.

CARTER: That's right.

CAMEROTA: That's the one thing that doesn't bring sinister looking. Bill, Brian, thank you very much.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI rejected a White House request to knock down media reports about Trump's associates and Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The press would appear to violate procedures.

BANNON: It's going to get worse every day.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting really bad dudes out of this country. It's a military operation.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I repeat. There will be no use of military forces in immigration.

CAMEROTA: The Trump White House seeking an intelligence report justifying it's travel ban.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's our job to protect students.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's an issue left in the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not be silent.

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