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Trump to Address Joint Session of Congress; Trump Says Obama is Helping Organize Protests against GOP; House Intelligence Committee Agrees on Scope of Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired February 28, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a landmark event, a message to the world.
[05:58:40] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will address the American people and let them know that help is finally on the way.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Repealing and replacing Obamacare is fundamental in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
TRUMP: Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Yes, we've got a clue. It is very, very complicated.
TRUMP: I think that President Obama's behind it, because his people are certainly behind some of the leaks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The investigation is just beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still don't have any evidence of him talking to Russia.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What are the Republicans in Congress afraid of?
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, February 28, 6 a.m. here in New York City.
Up front, President Trump preparing for his first address before a joint session of Congress tonight. The White House says the president's speech will offer solutions for problems facing the American people.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump now blaming President Obama for the damaging leaks plaguing his administration, as lawmakers on both sides spar over investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia.
We are 40 days into the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
In his first address to Congress, it's an a opportunity for this president to rise above the internal swirl and the daily drama of the White House and take his message directly to the American public.
His allies are hoping he'll be able to do enough to sell his plans on Capitol Hill.
JOHNS (voice-over): The White House says President Trump's speech will lay out an optimistic vision and bold agenda. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle looking for the president to outline specifics on the many campaign promises that got him elected.
TRUMP: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget.
JOHNS: The president unveiling his budget outline Monday, which aims to boost defense spending by $54 billion...
MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars.
JOHNS: ... while slashing other government departments, like the EPA and State Department, with a big focus on cutting foreign aid.
TRUMP: We're going to do more with less and make the government lean.
JOHNS: Democrats say the president faces an uphill, nearly impossible battle.
SANDERS: The priorities they are pushing are way out of touch.
JOHNS: President Trump's budget outline doesn't touch Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which puts him at odds with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wants Congress to tackle entitlement programs.
The president also facing mounting pressure to deliver specifics on how he will repeal and replace Obamacare. But Mr. Trump now admits that it's unbelievably complex.
TRUMP: Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.
JOHNS: Meanwhile, President Trump is pointing the finger at his predecessor, without evidence, for White House leaks.
TRUMP: I think that President Obama's behind it, because his people are certainly behind it.
JOHNS: And for scenes like this...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do your job!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your job!
JOHNS: ... at town halls for Republican lawmakers across the country...
TRUMP: I also understand that's politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue.
JOHNS: Also in advance of the big speech today, the president is expected to sit down for lunch with anchors from the top TV networks, along with representatives of some of the smaller but more influential networks like Christian Broadcasting and Telemundo -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much for all of that.
Lots to discuss with our panel, so let's bring them in. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," David Drucker; and CNN contributor and reporter for "The Washington Examiner," Salena Zito. Great to see all of you.
Salena, before we get into the meat and potatoes of what the president is going to discuss in his speech, I was struck by what Joe reported about what the tone is expected to be. The White House says he's going to present an optimistic vision. That will be a departure.
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: From carnage.
CAMEROTA: From carnage. I mean that has not been a hallmark...
CAMEROTA: ... of his vision of America thus far.
ZITO: Yes. I mean, I think what he has wanted to do previously before he became president, to lay out this blueprint that, you know, there's problems. And before he got there, before he was the guy in charge, there was carnage.
Now he sees himself as the guy who wants to be aspirational, which is what people look for from a president. Right? They want you to take you [SIC] somewhere. Which -- that was sort of part of the "Make America great again," though, like that was like, "I'm going to take you to a better place."
And so I'm looking for him to have that kind of message this evening. He's going to talk about the things that he's done so far. He's going to talk about the things that he wants to do. And he's going to speak directly to the camera, to the people in front of Congress. It's an opportunity that he, you know, if all goes the way he wants it to, could be a really good moment for him.
CUOMO: Well, David, there's a little bit of psychology to these addresses, also. And often, when you're going to be asking for things, you want to be optimistic, because you link the two together: "Things can be good if I get this, this and this."
And tonight we're going to see a little bit of a novel challenge for our president, because he could wind up running afoul of the Tea Party; and they share the same constituency. They do not like tax cuts and all these things that don't get paid for dollar for dollar.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think this is really the early and important test of whether Republicans in Congress are going to stick by the president. He's got tremendous influence. He's got a lot of leverage in all of these key congressional districts that he won that are being represented by Republicans. So now we'll see whether they really see eye to eye on these things.
Whether it's not being able to fund priorities: paying for a wall with Mexico; not taking on the entitlements while slashing discretionary spending, these become big issues. I mean, this is a blueprint that he'll provide for a budget to Congress. Congress will take it up from here.
But will they hang with him?
You know, the important part of what Trump is doing is that he's really sticking to the script of his campaign. He is making good on the promises that he made. The issue is, can he get to the issue of creating jobs, getting people moving again with an infrastructure spend, tax reform, the kinds of things that the market has been so pleased with? Or does he -- does he start fighting with Republicans?
CAMEROTA: David, we've already seen a few rumblings in Congress on the Republican side that they don't get the math, and that it's not going to -- if you're going to have this massive spike in military spending, and you're not going to touch the entitlements of Social Security and Medicare, how is it going to work.
Yes, well, the math will work, if and when Trump picks up the phone and says, "The math will work. Vote for what I want." And so far he hasn't done that. And that has created, really, a lot of confusion for Republicans and made it harder for them to remove on their priorities, like tax reform and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
And so what I'm looking for this evening is does the president finally get specific? You know, his catch phrase -- he used this as a businessman, and he uses it now as president is, "We're going to do something very, very special." "Very, very special" doesn't reform health care, and will he provide those details tonight?
I think the other thing for us to look for is what the Democrats in the room, because there is such a push from their base. And every time I talk to Democrats in the past weeks is to not normalize Donald Trump, the president. They say that over and over. And, you know, when the president gives a State of the Union like speech -- this is a joint Sessions speech -- you shake his hand on the way in. You clap when he says, you know, bipartisan platitudes. Everybody gets clapped, Republican, Democrat. Are they going to treat him just like any other president would be treated by the opposition party or we're going to see more sitting on your hands than normal, or are we going to see some cat calling? Because this is a moment for Democrats. It's something for us to watch.
CUOMO: Interesting tonight. The response by the Democrats isn't coming from one of their big shots. It's coming from a former Kentucky governor Bashir. You say it's a smart move. Why?
ZITO: Absolutely. I think the Democrats need to convey that they're, like, part of the central part of the United States. They're part of middle America. Kentucky is the perfect example of that. It's a state that they have always held in the governor's offices.
CUOMO: McConnell's home state.
ZITO: McConnell's home state. It is -- they're just telling you, "Hey, you know what? We're out in middle America, and our message is coming from here." I think it's brilliant.
GREGORY: It's also a -- it's a place where there was a successful health care exchange under Obamacare. And so I'm sure he'll talk about that.
CAMEROTA: And so David Gregory, one more question to you. You know, obviously, we've seen anger at these town hall meetings across the country. Republican town hall meetings with lots of Democrats showing up saying, "Do your job." You know, "You owe us," basically.
And yesterday, President Trump sat down with the crew from "FOX & Friends," and Brian Kilmeade asked him, "Do you think that President Obama is behind some of this," because there are some PACs that have been working to first reelect him, then elect Hillary Clinton, and now they're sort of these advocacy progressive voter PACs, and they're trying to fill up some buses and send people to this. So let me play for you his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think that President Obama is behind it, because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they're very bad in terms of national security.
But I also understand that's politics and, in terms of him being behind things, that's politics. And it will probably continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So again, that was in response to a question. This wasn't sort of an original thought that he had. He was responding to Brian Kilmeade. But what do you think of this new line of argument?
GREGORY: Well, I guess it's a little bit surprising, given how the president has gone out of his way to say that he and former President Obama have such a good relationship.
But, you know, I don't know that there is any reason to believe that President Obama specifically is behind it, other than his call for civic engagement and active citizenship on his way out the door.
I mean, the reality is that the progressive base, as David was saying, certainly on Capitol Hill, but I think throughout the country, is engaged, is inflamed, is angry about Trump, is worried about Trump, is scared of Trump. And this is activism. It is -- appears to be organized, coordinated, but also appears to be quite real. And it's something that President Trump has to deal with.
Will he deal with that at all tonight? I don't know. In his striving to be more optimistic, will he deal with all the, you know, desecration of Jewish cemeteries and threats of violence against a Jewish community centers around the country? Will he deal with the targeting of immigrants as was the case in Missouri, Kansas City? Will he speak to the fears and some of the darker underbelly of what's happening in the country that is part of this, you know, the political climate we're in.
CUOMO: Salena, another question is should he have said this at all? You know, he's got a big speech teed up tonight. He wants to be on message. He wants to be optimistic.
And then this is, by most definitions, a distraction. He can't show any connection to Obama. He's not going to show any kind of organized connection to anything, but he's going to get the media on him, because it's another potentially baseless accusation right when he needs them to be focusing on what he wants.
ZITO: Right and -- right, it's a needless distraction. It's also his -- we've talked about this so many times. His different use of words. He doesn't value words the same way we do. So he's answering this off the cuff. He's like, "Yes, you know, they're doing politics. You know, Obama, their friends are probably involved."
Yes, that's -- you know, that's politics. And he gets -- he names names that he shouldn't probably name. Of these people that are affiliated with Obama in terms of like were they supportive of him, did they work on former campaigns? Absolutely. But to put the president's name in it, you know, probably shouldn't have done that.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. Stick around. We have many more questions for you.
CUOMO: All right. And look, there are a lot of legitimate questions that are being asked and investigations into who's doing what that's wrong. You have lawmakers trying to bridge the political divide over these congressional investigations of the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. You've got the House intel committee agreeing on the scope of a probe as Republicans and Democrats differ very widely on the subject itself.
So let's try to explain what is going on here a little bit. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, live on Capitol Hill. This is complicated. There's so many people trying to talk about what to look for.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. There is a lot of talk. And there is some action. The contours of this investigation up here on Capitol Hill. It is starting to come together.
You have the members of the House intel committee finally signing off on a plan to examine the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
But going into this, you have a fundamental split between the top Democrat on the committee and a top Republican on the committee who are leading this probe. Going into it, they are both giving contradictory views on what this evidence has found so far.
SERFATY (voice-over): Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says there is no evidence of contacts between President Trump's campaign and Russia during the 2016 race.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Right now I don't have any evidence that would -- of any phone calls.
SERFATY: But the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, calls that verdict premature.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have I think reached no conclusion, nor could we in terms of issues of collusion, because we haven't called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue as of yet.
SERFATY: One thing the committee agrees upon, investigating any connection between Trump's campaign and Russian officials and leaks coming from government and intelligence officials.
NUNES: No one is focusing on major leaks that have occurred here. We can't run a government like this.
SERFATY: As calls grow for an independent prosecutor to investigate potential ties to Russia.
SCHIFF: If we get to the point where there a criminal referral, yes, I think the attorney general has to recuse himself.
SERFATY: Republican congressman and Trump supporter Darrell Issa joining those who say Jeff Sessions can't lead the probe.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: You're going to need to use the special prosecutor's statute.
SERFATY: Issa doubling down in a new statement, saying, quote, "Right now we have speculation and assumptions, but not clarity and fact. Any review conducted must have the full confidence of the American people."
The president dismissing questions about a special prosecutor.
TRUMP: I haven't called Russia in ten years.
SERFATY: A bizarre response, considering Mr. Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin just a few weeks ago.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How many people have to say that there's nothing there before you realize there's nothing there?
SERFATY: White House press secretary Sean Spicer zealously defending the president, Spicer even leading the White House crackdown on internal leaks. Sources telling CNN that the president signed off on checking aides' cell phones to make certain they weren't texting reporters or using encrypted apps occurring during an emergency meeting last week.
But Spicer denies the president was involved in that decision. And attorney general Jeff Sessions for the first time now saying that he will recuse himself from the Russia probe if need be. Sessions telling reporters last night, quote, "I will recuse myself from anything I should recuse myself from" -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: That's an interesting development. Sunlen, thank you very much and stay with CNN for President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress tonight. Our live coverage begins at 8 p.m. Eastern on CNN.
So Sunlen just gave us a test of this web of investigations that are going on. You have five different congressional committees investigating Russia. Did you know that? You also have the FBI doing it.
So you have all these politicians crossing swords. We're going to break down who is looking at what and what seems to be the competing agendas, next.
[06:18:44] CUOMO: All right. So here is one key fact as we discuss all the hacking and the Russia investigations. The idea that we don't know if Russia was behind the hacks is just wrong. The quote was "with high confidence." That's what the intel said to qualify its conclusion that Russia was behind the hacks. OK?
The question is, did Trump and/or his team know about or collaborate with Russia in those efforts? Let's walk through exactly who is investigating that question in what ways.
There are currently five congressional committees looking into various aspects of the Trump/Russia connection. You've got the intelligence community's investigation into the hacking that is it ongoing, as well. So is the FBI. Now, the FBI hasn't commented publicly, but CNN has reported that the FBI is also looking into, quote, "constant communication" between Trump advisors and known Russians in the U.S. intelligence community.
So the FBI has also interviewed General Michael Flynn about his phone call with a Russian ambassador. Officials are not expected to pursue charges. And that is a key fact, because we're still trying to figure out why Flynn was forced to resign.
So in the Senate, you've got bipartisan members of the intel committee have vowed aggressive inquiries into Russian election meddling and potential ties to Trump's campaign, saying they expect to call General Flynn to testify, and we are told Flynn is eager to do so.
[06:20:08] However, Chairman Richard Burr currently facing criticism. Why? Well, because he was apparently working with the White House to counter reports about Trump/Russia ties. Is that what he's supposed to be doing if he's also supposed to be investigating those ties?
The Judiciary Committee also investigating focusing specifically on Flynn with Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein requesting a briefing from the Justice Department and transcripts of Flynn's calls. Remember how important those transcripts could be.
The three House investigations appear much more political in nature. Not to be critical. You judge for yourself. The intel committee has agreed to look into both the hacking and the connections between Trump's campaign, but there's a heavy emphasis and sharp divide within this committee about the necessity of that probe. And you have Chairman Devin Nunes is also pledging to investigate the leaks. You're going to hear a lot about that on the House side. The leaks are just as important as the substance of those leaks.
The chairmen of both the judicial and oversight committees are looking at leaks, as well, the judicial only saying that they'll look into the broad issue of improper interference in the election. We don't even know what that means. Chairman Jason Chaffetz has said that he doesn't intend to investigate the Trump/Russia investigation or Flynn's communications with a Russian ambassador. But he did join with Representative Julian Cummings in requesting information about Flynn's attendance at a gala in Moscow.
All of these driving calls for one special investigative committee. Alisyn, the point is you've got so many people looking. Maybe it would be better to have just one.
CAMEROTA: That's really helpful, Chris, because I didn't know just how many different committees were looking until you just spelled it out. I mean, that is really helpful.
So David Drucker, this is continuing on. But as you know, there are already some of the heads of those committees, Nunes and Burr, who have said nothing to see here. We don't think that it's anything. So can they truly do an independent investigation?
DRUCKER: Well, I don't think anything on Capitol Hill is ever truly independent to begin with. I mean, there's always politics in play. The Democratic chairman that Obama had his first two years weren't spending all of their time looking into his administration and providing oversight.
And I don't think you're going to see Republicans going out of their way to get in a fight with the president while they have all of these domestic priorities like healthcare reform and tax reform that they want to move through Congress in a really big list.
CAMEROTA: So maybe they do need a special prosecutor.
DRUCKER: And so let's say, academically speaking, an independent investigation by a special prosecutor or some select committee would be a better way to go.
You then have to deal with the fact that chairmen are jealous of their power, and they didn't become chairmen so they could give all of the power to do what they want to do with the committees. And, in a sense, to prevent their political allies from, in their view, being unduly investigated for things that aren't real.
CUOMO: Well, that's it. That's the real point, right? I mean, all the Republicans are in charge of the committees. They want to keep control on this. We all know what happens when you put a special prosecutor in. You know where they start. You have no idea where they'll end up, and history tells that story many times over.
But how can this end well, Salena? If you have one committee that comes up and says, "Wow, look what we found." You could have three, four other committees who say, "We didn't see that. We don't agree with that."
How do you get consensus? And none of these committees have any criminal mandate or jurisdiction. So they can't really do anything about anything they find.
ZITO: And that's the key question: how do you get consensus? I don't know that you can.
I think this is chaotic, and I think there's going to be egos fighting over -- over sort of ownership of this. And -- and it creates a lot of noise, a lot of confusion. And I think that you don't get to the bottom line of, you know, what were the ties, if there were any. And I think that both Congress and the president and the American people want an answer and want it behind them, because they want to move forward.
CAMEROTA: David Gregory, your thoughts?
GREGORY: Look, central question here. To what extent did Russia try to interfere with and manipulate our election. In 2016? To what extent did Trump or people close to him coordinate with the Russians? And are the Russians up to this elsewhere in Europe, in 2017, all over the European map, where they're trying to interfere and manipulate it in a similar way.
These are big questions. They're bigger than Donald Trump. They're bigger than the 2016 campaign. But I come back to the central point of the morning for me with the president speaking tonight. Where are Republicans and this president? Are they behind him, or are they going to challenge him?
You have so many different committees. You have different spheres of influence. Ultimately, it's Republicans who run Capitol Hill who are going to decide how much pressure to put on this investigation. The FBI will do its part. But otherwise, this byzantine maze that you outlined, Chris, is not going to be resolved until and unless Republicans say, "We really want to get to the bottom of this. We'll lean in with a select committee or a special prosecutor."
[06:25:12] Right now, you've got people all over the place, and you've got a number of Republicans also turning against the intelligence community, which tends to throw cold water on what has been suggested in the first place. So where are the Republicans? How much pressure. That's what it comes down to.
CAMEROTA: So David Drucker, you said, I read, the administration still doesn't have its story straight on this. What does that mean?
DRUCKER: Well, I think that we've been hearing different things out of different areas of the different sectors of the administration. I mean, the White House on the one hand says it's fake news. On the other hand, stop the leaks.
So if there's no information to leak, then, you know, which is it? Either -- either we're getting leaks of valid newsworthy information or there's nothing to talk about. And I think that the administration has never quite gotten the message straight. And I think that ultimately, all of this has also been fueled by the fact that the president treats Russia and Vladimir Putin different than he treats just about every other country, friend or foe. He beats up on China, and I think justifiably so at times.
He beats up on our allies. People can make up their own mind on that. But he never beats up on Putin. He never beats up on Russia. He always apologizes for them and their bad behavior. And I think a lot of this would look a lot different if his approach to the Russians and Putin was different.
CUOMO: I think it's going to be very interesting to see how much Michael Flynn winds up influencing this entire situation. They have put a lot of hope in his desire to take one for the team.
You had the FBI uncharacteristically -- I mean, anybody who deals with the FBI, they almost never tell you that an investigation is even over, let alone quickly coming out and saying, "We're not charging him, and we didn't find him misleading."
So if you had that cover at the White House, why would you force the man to resign unless he was just a political scapegoat and people didn't like him? And then you have even more pressure on Flynn to back up an administration that went bad on him.
ZITO: Well, I think that Flynn's resignation is complicated. I think a lot of it has to do with did he lie to the vice president?
CUOMO: But do we know that? If the FBI heard the same story from Flynn, and they say we don't find him misleading, how is it lying when it goes to the vice president...
ZITO: Nothing was more telling than right before his press conference when -- or the Gorsuch press conference. And did you see that where Flynn went over to shake the vice president's hand, and he did the back thing and just kept going the other way. I mean, body language is everything.
CAMEROTA: Got it. All right, panel...
CUOMO: Boy, oh, boy. That's right up your alley. I couldn't put less faith in body language.
CAMEROTA: ... body language segment as we speak, panel. Thank you very much for all the insight.
We have a quick programming note for you. CNN will host a town hall tomorrow with Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Dana Bash will moderate the conversation on what they think the key issues facing the country are and what they plan to do about it. Join us tomorrow night, 9 p.m. Eastern.
CUOMO: All right. So tombstones were vandalized again. More schools, more community centers threatened. What is being done to stop a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism? Is the reality that nothing can be done? Next.