Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Refused White House Request to Knock down Recent Trump- Russia Stories; Trump to Address Conservative Conference. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 07:00   ET


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

[07:00:05] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off this morning and David Gregory joins me. Happy Friday.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Happy to be here on a big news day. Another big news day.

CAMEROTA: It always is. They seem to come fast and furiously.

So we begin with two CNN exclusives for you this morning. CNN learning that the FBI rejected an unusual request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports that aides on the Trump campaign were in constant contact with Russian official during the 2016 race.

GREGORY: That and another CNN exclusive. Growing concern now in the intelligence community, about the steps the White House is taking to build a legal case to justify its travel ban. Is the White House politicizing intelligence?

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

Pamela, good morning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, David.

CNN is told that the FBI rejected a 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 says that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe all of the reporting is accurate. And multiple U.S. officials telling 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, these officials say.

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 spokesperson said, "We did not try to knock down

the story. We asked them to tell the truth." That coming from Sean Spicer. The FBI did not comment -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Pamela, obviously, this is not a typical request. How did this start?

BROWN: So this began with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after the stories were published. A White House official says McCabe told Priebus that "The New York Times" story was vastly overstated what the FBI knows about the contacts. A U.S. official says McCabe didn't discuss specific aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

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

GREGORY: And it's worth underlining why they did that. It is not typical to have this kind of back and forth between the White House between the White House and the FBI when you've got an ongoing investigation.

BROWN: Right. It's not typical for a reason, David. The communication between the White House and the FBI was unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. If McCabe sent this to the White House he may have overstepped, since this is an ongoing investigation. Not to mention an investigation involving the president's associates and Russia. The request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations. There are specific language in Department of Justice memos from 2007-2009 limiting this communication -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So, Pamela, what is the status of this investigation? Is it still ongoing?

BROWN: It is. The FBI's counterintelligence division is still investigating. Several members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees tell CNN that Congress is investigating those alleged contacts. That has begun. And they are starting to collect documents, as well as records. So the investigations are in full swing.

GREGORY: So panel, let's switch gears a little bit. You've also got reporting on the revision of the president's travel ban. What is that?

BROWN: Right. So sources tell my colleague, Jake Tapper, and I 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 after it was blocked by the courts.

Now, 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 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.

Now, this report was requested in light of that 9th Circuit Court of Appeals conclusion that the Trump administration had pointed to no evidence about why the citizens from those seven countries pose a threat. But CNN has learned that some current rank-and-file intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment.

CAMEROTA: Like what? What are their concerns, Pamela?

BROWN: So it's viewed by some at DHS as an attempt to politicize intelligence to fit a policy, rather than the other way around. And some officials disagree with the Trump White House position on the seven countries. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's in- house intelligence agency, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis or I&A, has followed a report disagreeing with the White House view that blocking immigration from all seven countries is justified, according to our sources. They do not think nationality is the best indicator of potential terrorism.

[07:05:06] Now a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security 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 with thorough interagency vetting."

Our sources say the new head of I&A, David Glawe, may also be trying to politicize intelligence. He initially objected to his division's assessment that was at odds with the White House assessment. The DHS spokeswoman says that notion that any intelligence within the agency is being politicized is absurd and factually inaccurate.

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

CAMEROTA: All right. Pamela, thank you very much for breaking down all of your new reporting for us.

OK. We want to bring in our political panel now to discuss it all. We have CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogan.

Nia-Malika, I want to start with you, because I'm about to ask about CNN's reporting and "The New York Times'" reporting. I am always inclined to go with CNN's reporting, because I know what goes into the level of fact checking. And sometimes it's hard to side with the White House when we know that they have gotten their facts wrong on, say, the Bowling Green massacre or "last night in Sweden." I could go on.

However, let's say that the White House is right on this one. Let's say that there was this deputy director of the FBI who shared with Reince Priebus, "Hey, I don't think 'The New York Times' and CNN is getting their reporting right on these contacts and the number of contacts with Russia." Then of course, the White House wants the FBI to speak out about it. But it's not their place to tell the intelligence community what to tell reporters.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, they don't work in the P.R. office on the FBI. Nor are they supposed to direct the FBI and the folks who work on the com shop there to do anything like that.

And again, this is Reince Priebus, who of course, has been saying, "Listen, you shouldn't go on background. You should put your name to quotes in newspapers," instructing folks from the FBI to do just what he said they should do.

So this is very, you know, odd. I think the big picture is that these investigations are ongoing. And the White House is troubled by these investigations. And they are obviously trying to get their side of the story out. I mean, on the one hand, they're trying to say that the news media shouldn't be believed, these are fake news stories, that none of this is accurate. And then they're trying to work the rest there with the FBI and trying to really manage what they're saying against the other backdrop of this, which is that they had these ongoing difficult relationships with the intelligence agencies in calling them, you know, so-called intelligence.

So yes, this is -- it's sort of a drip, drip, drip, drop for this -- this White House in terms of this story; and no one knows where it's going. They obviously have some...

GREGORY: It is -- it is notable if -- and I think further reporting will bear out whether the FBI, in any fashion, reached out to White House officials and say, you know, all this reporting is off-base and then a conversation ensued.

But Josh, it's the hypocrisy of all of this. The Trump campaign justifiably was outraged when former President Clinton approached the attorney general on the tarmac when she -- when his wife was under active investigation. He should have known better. Any White House official should know better. You don't interfere when the FBI is investigating.

JOSH ROGAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, because it's not just about politicizing intelligence. It's about the appearance of impropriety and keeping up a level of distance that assures people that this investigation is not receiving political pressure. And that's what they felt that they do.

So even if they didn't mean to press the FBI to leak to reporters that "The New York Times" is wrong, and then Reince Priebus goes out on FOX News and says, "Oh, the intelligence community approved me telling you, nothing to see here." Even if he didn't mean to skew their views, he shouldn't have even gone there. Because it...

GREGORY: And it's a sure sign of this -- the fact that this is not just about Donald Trump. It's not just about 2016 and meddling by Russian. In 2017, there are elections throughout Europe, and this propaganda campaign, or worst by the Russians, goes on, and this is deeply worrisome to U.S. intelligence officials, to national security. That probe has to go on.

HENDERSON: It does. And you've heard people like Lindsey Graham go to Europe and talk about this plague from Russia meddling in different elections, in upcoming elections in different countries like France. And the worry that they have in terms of whether or not this is going to go on. And even Marris saying overseas, yes, he believes that Russia has -- has tried to meddle in democratic elections. So this is -- it's a real problem.

And I think one of the things you're starting to see, too, is that some of this is -- is really, I think, filtering down to some of those town halls, with questions from people in those town halls about Russia. What's going on with Russia, with these contacts? I mean, it is a real problem, I think, for this White House not to mention that these FBI investigations are going on in the Senate and in both houses.

[07:10:16] And we have seen, I think, from this White House, for instance, Donald Trump talking about the leaks and wanting to investigate the leakers and essentially saying that he is going to call on the DOJ to do some of that.

And again, it's not typical that you would have a president direct the DOJ to investigate what he perceives to be his political enemies. So, you know, there's a learning curve, I think, for this White House; but my goodness, I mean, I think they should have known the appearance of impropriety here and this idea that these agencies are sort of an arm of the White House is just not -- it's just incorrect.

ROGAN: Yes, I mean, the Russia interference in the U.S. democracy story is the biggest story in the world. It cuts the fundamental functioning of our democracy, and it has to be sorted out. And I think both sides need to take a step back from any overreporting the story, which is a risk when you're relying on imperfect information or, B, trying to pretend that the story isn't a real story. It's somewhere between we need to let the FBI do their work.

Let them figure out what happened and then tell us we should wait for the evidence and then draw...

CAMEROTA: OK. There's also a real-life consequence that we're seeing now between -- with the tension between the Trump White House and the intel community. They now, the Trump White House now needs the intel community...


CAMEROTA: ... to support their travel ban. So their original travel ban was shot down as not being constitutional, so now they need the material. They need the supporting evidence that these seven countries really do pose a grave danger to the United States so they can institute their travel ban. So now they're going to the intel community, Josh, and saying what have you got for us? ROGAN: Well, it's worse than that. I mean, the tell is in that White

House official quote to Jake Tapper where he says, "The intelligence report will show 'X,' 'Y,' and 'Z.'" Unless that White House official is like the Amazing Kreskin, how does he know what the intelligence report will show, OK? You're supposed to -- the intelligence should inform the policy, not the other way around. That's how this works. That's how it happens.

GREGORY: And there's a specter of Iraq here in pushing the intelligence agencies...


GREGORY: ... to develop intelligence that supports...

ROGAN: And the Iranian nuclear weapons. There are lots of example where the White House goes shopping for intelligence. It always ends up bad.

CAMEROTA: Josh, Nia-Malika, thank you very much.

So in just three hours, President Trump will key note the nation's biggest conservatives conference, CPAC. The president's remarks after coming after his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, talked about the first month in office and repeatedly attacked the media.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is live at the White House with more. What have you learned, Joe?


I think this could have a conquering hero feel to it. A year ago, candidate Donald Trump was spurned by so many conservatives that, more or less, he just decided he wasn't going to show up at the conference. Now he's at the center of attention with his lieutenants promising he's going to stick to his agenda.


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

STEVE BANNON, TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: 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 this 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 -- 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.


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

PENCE: Obamacare has failed, and Obamacare must go.

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

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

[07:15:06] TRUMP: We're getting really bad dudes out in 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 tamp down on fears.

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


JOHNS: An interesting day on tap for the president today. Besides CPAC, he's also expected to sign an executive action on regulatory reform, meet with the president of Peru, and perhaps the most interesting meeting on the agenda today, with Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was a big Trump critic about a year ago this time -- David.

GREGORY: Joe, thanks so much.

Really an example of President Trump having taken over the Republican Party. And we'll hear all of that today when he is in front of conservatives.

We're going to take a break here. When we come back, more of our CNN exclusive, growing concerns in the intelligence community about how the White House is trying to justify the president's travel ban. Reaction from the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is coming up next.


[06:20:05] GREGORY: We are back. As we've been reporting all morning, CNN is breaking exclusive stories this morning. The FBI rejected a White House request to publicly announce media reports about contacts between his campaign aides and Russian officials during the 2016 race.

And growing concern now in the intelligence community about the steps the White House is taking to build the case legally to justify its travel ban.

Joining me now is Senator Ben Cardin, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, good morning.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Dave it's good to be with you. Thank you.

You remember back in the campaign, then-president -- now then- president but former President Bill Clinton got in so much trouble, justifiably so, for approaching the attorney general and having a casual conversation while there was an ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.

Now you have this White House having conversations about the FBI knocking down these stories, or telling the truth, as press secretary Sean Spicer says about the context between campaign officials during the 2016 campaign and Russian officials. Your reaction to this is what?

CARDIN: Well, it's very troublesome. The president has not come forward. He hasn't released his tax returns. He hasn't cooperated, as far as his current assets are concerned. He still has control over it. It raises a lot of questions.

So there are investigations that are going on, and these investigations must find out exactly what Russia was doing in the United States. It was an attack on our democratic system. And we know that they'll try to do this again. We need to protect ourselves. So we need a complete investigation, and we certainly don't want the

White House at all involved in trying to influence that investigation.

GREGORY: Well, why wouldn't you be equally as concerned, as the president is, about national security leaks coming from the intelligence community that are spelling all of this out? The Democrats were outraged, were they not, when the FBI was leaking, you know, information from interviews related to the Hillary Clinton investigation. And now you've got the same thing going on as the intelligence community probes these contacts.

CARDIN: Well, we don't want leaks, but let's not be distracted from -- from the issue here. The issue here was Russia attacked the United States. They attacked our free democratic election system. It's likely that they'll be involved in Europe in the 2017 elections. It's very possible that they'll get involved again in an American election. They have an agenda. We need to understand that and protect ourselves and take action against Russia.

GREGORY: The other big story that we're reporting this morning has to do with the legal justification for a new travel ban, which is what the White House is working on.

And as our colleagues have been reporting, there's an effort by the administration to enlist the intelligence community to bolster their case, with the intelligence of the threat coming from the seven countries on the travel ban. Look, as you would, I can imagine, argue, it's not inappropriate to challenge the intelligence community about what information they have, what threats are that's real. This is going over the line in your view?

CARDIN: Again, they're trying to justify a policy that can't be justified. When you set up a policy that's interpreted by the international community as being a religious test on who can come to America, a ban on Muslims, that's going to make America less safe. That's the facts. Countries will not cooperate with us.

It's a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations. It targets Americans who are traveling abroad. It adds to self-radicalization. That's the facts. Now, the president may try to use his own interpretation of facts, but the intelligence community, their reputation is such they're going to make sure that they tell the facts here.

And so I'm confident that this policy cannot be supported in regards to the intelligence community.

GREGORY: Let me move on to the issue of national security between the U.S. and Mexico and the immigration issue. Here was President Trump talking about a policy of deportations that will be more robust under his administration. Listen to this.


TRUMP: We're getting really bad dudes out of this country and at a rate that nobody has ever seen before. And they're the bad ones, and it's a military operation.

JOHN KELLY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: No, repeat no use of military force in immigration operations. I repeat: there will be no use of military forces in immigration. At least half of you try to get that right, because it continually comes up in the reporting.


GREGORY: Maybe it comes up in the reporting because the president used the language that -- that he used.

That was Secretary Kelly of homeland security. You heard from the president talking about this. His colleague, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was also down meeting with Mexican officials.

You wrote a letter related to all of this in which you said President Trump's commentary both during the campaign and since the inauguration is damaging this critical bilateral relationship and endangering U.S. national security. How so?

[06:25:05] CARDIN: Well, I think Secretary Kelly and Secretary Tillerson heard from Mexican officials what I heard from them last weekend when I was in Mexico City talking to my counterparts in Mexican government.

Our relationship between Mexico and the United States has been badly damaged by President Trump. By the language he uses, by the policies he's announced, including the wall, and trying to say the Mexicans are going to pay for it. That has damaged our relationship.

Why should we be concerned about it? If we're going to stop illegal drugs from coming into the United States, if we want Mexico to stop trafficking on their southern border so it doesn't reach our border, we need the cooperation of Mexico. And that relationship's been damaged by what the president has said.

The use of military. He said that. I understand Secretary Kelly has denounced that, but President Trump's still talking about a wall and Mexico paying for it. That damages our relationship. It won't make us safer. We need their help.

GREGORY: Senator Cardin, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much.

CARDIN: My pleasure, thank you.

GREGORY: Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: All right, David.

Under fire from voters at a Florida town hall, one conservative lawmaker calls on President Trump to do something that President Trump doesn't want to do. We tell you what, next.