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President Trump's Claims Trump Tower Wiretapped by President Obama Provoke Criticism; Interview with Tony Blinken. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired March 6, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: FBI asked the Justice Department to refute the president's assertion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just a distraction.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea's latest provocation is triggering a warning from the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These ballistic missiles, several of them came extremely close to the Japanese coast, putting 20 million people within striking range.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, March 6th, 8:00 in the east.
FBI Director James Comey calling on the Justice Department to public by deny President Trump's claim that President Obama had him wiretapped. Mr. Trump offering no evidence but still demanding Congress investigate his predecessor for what he calls, quote, "executive abuses."
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So did President Trump really call President Obama bad or sick without any basis? Democrats say yes, he did, that this is a toxic distraction from legit Russia questions. It is certainly distracting from a focus on jobs and taxes and even the travel ban that was said to be an urgent need. We haven't heard about it for weeks. Might that change today?
Day 46 of Donald Trump's presidency begins with senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. The White House this morning is not backing away from the president's wiretapping claim. The takeaway from here is that the president firmly believes it happened and that it needs to be tested and investigated, despite the fact it's been contradicted by a former director of national intelligence and the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: President Trump's unfounded claim that former President Obama ordered his phones to be wiretapped in the midst of last year's election coming under fire. Sources say the FBI is now asking the Justice Department to publicly refute the allegations, but so far the Justice Department has remained silent.
Such wiretapping of a U.S. citizen's phones would be illegal or require a court order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Former director of national intelligence James clapper who spearheaded the investigation into Russia's meddling in the election giving a firm no to any such claim of wiretapping.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.
JOHNS: Multiple former senior U.S. officials dismissing President Trump's allegation, calling it nonsense, and a spokesman for Mr. Obama says it's simply false. But without providing any evidence the White House is doubling down, calling for a congressional investigation to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's made very clear what he believes. I think the bigger story isn't who reported it but is it true.
JOHNS: White House officials say the president's sources on the incendiary claim come from conservative media, not from government sources. In fact, there are zero publicly known credible reports to back up Mr. Trump's claims. His allegations coming in a familiar form, a series of furious tweets early Saturday morning from his home in Florida in which he called former President Obama a "bad or sick guy." His top advisers far away in Washington. This is no the president's first time repeating unsubstantiated allegations. Just after his own inauguration Mr. Trump alleged millions of fraudulent votes were cast during the election without proof.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you look at the people that are registered, dead, illegal, in two states.
JOHNS: The president called for an investigation but one has yet to be conducted.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: I'm not sure what it is he is talking about.
JOHNS: This latest allegation of wiretapping leaving some Republicans confused as top Democrats called the Twitter outburst a complete distraction.
NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The president, you know, is the deflector-in-chief.
JOHNS: An intentional move to stir focus away from the deepening concerns over connections between a handful of the president's advisers and Russians.
SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D) MINNESOTA: I think this is just a distraction to distract from this very, very serious interference by a foreign power on our democracy, the question of whether Trump-world, his campaign, his business associates had anything to do with it.
JOHNS: The president did arrive back here at the White House last night after spending the weekend at his home in Mar-a-Lago. The president does have a busy day ahead of meeting with cabinet members. Chris, back to you.
CUOMO: Joe Johns, thank you very much.
The White House is also supposed to be bringing its controversial travel ban back any day now. Moments ago President Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said a new executive order will be signed today. What's it going to look like? Let's bring in CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett live from Washington. What have you got?
[08:05:09] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Chris, there are some pretty big changes in store for the president's new executive order. The most significant change is that legal permanent residents, green cardholders, so to speak, and current visa holders will be completely excluded from the order. So they will be able to travel as normal, just as it was before. But even with these changes, we are hearing from immigration lawyers that it's still safe to expect a flurry of action in the courts after this new order is signed, Chris.
CUOMO: All right, so you have one part of the legal challenge was whom does it effect. You have a couple other ones, which countries, and you have why it's need at all. But let's deal with the countries because there might be some news there, maybe a different list than the seven countries we saw before. How so?
JARRETT: That's right. So we've heard that several top members of the president's cabinet including the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, specifically wanted Iraq removed from the list of previously banned countries for diplomatic reasons, including Iraq's role in fighting ISIS. So we're going to have to look to see exactly how that's detailed in the new executive order.
CUOMO: We heard that from several sources, that there was a lot of umbrage on the Iraqi part, that they felt this was disrespectful. So in terms of the delay and what that means in our arguing the need, the urgent need, the imminent threat need, how is that playing out right now with your sources?
JARRETT: It's going to be fascinating just to see how this actually plays out in court because to the extent that the administration took over a month to rewrite this travel ban to comply with a court order, that judge in Seattle who put a temporary hold on it, no one is going to blame them for trying to get it right legally. But if, in fact, they delayed the rollout for some other political reason having to do with the speech or otherwise, then that could come back to bite them the minute a government lawyer starts using words like "emergency" or "urgency" or the like in court again, Chris.
CUOMO: Thank you very much. Appreciate the reporting. Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, let's dive deeper. Joining us now is CNN global affairs analyst Tony Blinken. He is the former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under President Obama. Good morning, Tony.
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Good morning, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Do you think there was a FISA warrant to wiretap candidate Trump's computer servers in Trump Tower or some of his advisers?
BLINKEN: Look, I don't know and I couldn't know precisely because there is a very clear line between those at the White House or the state department where I worked and the Justice Department and the FBI pursuing the investigation and asking for a warrant. So we couldn't know and wouldn't know.
But here is what we do know, one of two things -- either the president made a totally unfounded charge against his predecessor, President Obama, and there was no wiretap, or if there was a wiretap, as you've been reporting, it had to come pursuant to a warrant issued by a court, and for that warrant to be issued there has to be probable cause that the target of the wiretap either committed a crime or is a foreign agent. So either way this doesn't play well for President Trump.
CAMEROTA: Let's dive into the first suggestion there, and that is that he did go after President Obama in a very harsh way. He said he's either a very bad guy or very sick guy to have done this. Now, what we heard previously is President Trump speak highly of President Obama since the inauguration and it seemed they had a good working relationship. What does this mean that he's now going after him?
BLINKEN: Look, I'm not going to dignify the comment about President Obama with any further comment other than to say that when it comes to integrity, when it comes to decency, when it comes to dignity, President Obama set the standard in office. And I hope his successor, President Trump, would try to emulate that.
CAMEROTA: OK, so let's talk about the second part of your statement. And that is if there were a FISA warrant, it actually spells bad things. So for the Democrats who believe this is all a distraction, this is a red herring, President Trump is trying to distract from Jeff Sessions' refusal because Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador, on what planet does it help distract from talking about Russia to then suggest that there was some evidence of suspicious activity on your computer server of dealing with Russian banks and that's why the Department of Justice would have need a FISA warrant?
BLINKEN: Alisyn, that's a great question and one I've been asking myself all weekend. It's hard to figure.
Here is what I think is going on. Unfortunately President Trump seems to have become the leading consumer and purveyor of fake news and conspiracy theories. He should be setting the standard, not diminishing the standard. But if he's going to become a prisoner of these reports that he reads in fake news and then goes ahead using the bully pulpit and the highest office in the land as president, we're heading to a very bad place.
[08:10:07] So I hope that he regroups, thinks hard about this. He's made a charge with zero evidence, and now he's asked for an investigation based on that charge. Again, we're not heading to a good place. So we need to get beyond this.
But this comes back to something we've been talking about for weeks now. No one knows what happened, if anything, with regard to connections between the Russians and the Trump campaign. There may be nothing there. But continuously over the last few weeks we keep hearing that conversations that various Trump associates say never happened did happen. Meetings that never happened apparently did happen. And again, there may be nothing there. But had they put everything on the table on day one, put it all out there, they could have probably gotten beyond this. At this point we really need a credible independent investigation of some sort just to clear the air and try to move forward.
CAMEROTA: You mean by a special prosecutor?
BLINKEN: That's right.
CAMEROTA: One of the ironies of all of this is it does end up eclipsing and distracting from the actual policy news that we believe President Trump would like to be making. For instance, today they will be rolling out their revised version of President Trump's travel ban, what we understand this is what it will look like as far as we know, we don't have definitives on the specifics. Legal permanent residents, green cardholders will be exempt. Visa holders will be exempt, unlike the last time around. They will avoid prioritizing religious minorities, unlike last time. There will be a phase-in period. It won't happen overnight, unlike last time. And Iraq, the country of Iraq, may be excluded from this travel ban. If all that were to be true, then do you think it would pass legal muster?
BLINKEN: Alisyn, we obviously have to see the details. And without them it's hard to say whether it would. Everything you've suggested sounds like a real improvement. But again, take a step back. What's the problem that they're actually trying to solve? And it seems to me they continue to take a sledgehammer to the wrong problem.
Not a single American has been killed by a refugee or someone coming from one of the original seven countries in the first travel order. So that's not where the problem is. Where the problem is when it comes to terrorism in this country are individuals who get radicalized. And one of the ways they get radicalized is by these extreme groups, terrorist groups using propaganda to try to convince them that somehow we are at war with Islam.
So when we take steps that create that impression we're feeding propaganda to the recruiters and making the problem worse, not better. So let's see what the details are. I hope it's an improvement, but it has to pass legal muster. And again it should be focusing on the real problem, not the wrong problem.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but, Tony, from your experience, if you wanted to focus on the real problem of people becoming radicalized once they get here, what's the solution for that?
BLINKEN: That requires a huge effort which has been under way for years now, particularly working with communities in the United States, closely, with the police, FBI, with community leaders, building trust, not tearing it down. And of course, it also requires doing exactly what we're doing in Iraq and Syria, which is taking down the core of the Islamic State. That narrative that they have that they created a state is their best recruiting tool. As we take that down, as we defeat it, which we're doing, that removes one of the biggest propaganda bonuses they have.
CAMEROTA: Tony Blinken, thanks so much for all of the information.
BLINKEN: Thanks, Alisyn, good to be with you.
CUOMO: All right, another byproduct of this latest accusation from our president is that he's once again at odds with the intelligence community. The FBI reporting suggests is asking the Justice Department to reject Trump's wiretapping claims. How is this going to play out? Next.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Once again we have the president on one side and our intelligence community on the other. The FBI reportedly asking the Justice Department to publicly reject President Trump's accusations that President Obama ordered wiretaps at Trump Tower during last year's campaign.
Joining us, CNN national security analyst and retired CIA chief of Russia Operations, Steve Hall, and CNN national security commentator and former House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, also a former FBI special agent.
I've told you fellas I'd be having to bring you back soon for more help on what to understand. Here we are, Mike. You had a colorful line this morning about the president throwing a couple of coins into the conspiracy machine.
What do you make of this notion -- let's set aside the ugliness of the personal attack on President Obama, but the substance of it?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, I think it is highly unlikely that there was a FISA order on anything related to the Trump campaign going into the election. I think this is a very, very easy thing to solve.
The investigation should last about a half an hour. They can go over to the FBI, talk to the FBI director, talk to the relevant special agent in charge of that section, and you'll have your answer very, very quickly. And they ought to probably do that to get over it. Now two things happened this weekend that I thought was important, one, that the former director of National Intelligence said there was no collusion. He was appointed by Obama, served all eight years of the Obama administration. That should, I hope, lower the angst in this from the Democrat perspective.
From the president's point of view and candidly the FBI should not have engaged in any effort to refute anything. That's not their job, not their mission. They ought to stay out of the politics of this.
But the president needs to start to begin to focus on the things he can do to change the country, and all of this will I think go away. They're going to have investigations. The Senate is under way and has been.
We ought to let that investigation take hold and have the president focus on things that he can do for the country versus this -- candidly this is not going to help him. He just bought himself another two weeks on a story probably not helpful to him.
CUOMO: Steve Hall, you said before, but we need to reset with our audience this morning. Do you believe that there are legitimate questions to be investigated that involve what Russia did during the election and contacts with members, staff, advisers of Donald Trump?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely. Mike is right. Jim Clapper did say that the intelligence report that came out did not indicate any collusion between the Trump campaign, Trump team and the Russians.
[08:20:10]That, of course, leaves open semantically the idea that because there's no evidence that the intelligence community was able to report on it, doesn't mean it wasn't there. There are still many answers that need to be gotten.
The other thing Clapper said, he said things may have happened since the conclusion of that investigation or the collection that the intelligence community did. So when you've got something that's this critical, when you've got something where there's so much smoke, so many questions about the Trump campaign.
And what we know -- the other thing Clapper said, all 17 members of the intelligence community said the Russians were certainly tempting to skew the election. When you have all that together, you can't simply say, yes, we're probably good here.
You've got to go a little further and do some sort of independent investigation as to what was happening. If it's one thing the Russian intelligence services were really good at, it's clandestinely and covert nature of things.
So you can't really just say, OK, we're done here. You have to look really hard at it. There is a counterintelligence issue.
CUOMO: Mike, one of the reasons it may need to be independent is because if there is no other effect, the president is killing credibility when it comes to the intelligence organizations. Don't you think that's something that has to be called out?
ROGERS: Well, yes, clearly they need to stop this feud. I don't know why they think this is important or why they think it helps the cause. He owns these intelligence agencies. They'll go out and do work on behalf of the United States government and the president of the United States.
I think the sooner he adjusts to that role, the better off we're all going to be. Listen, nobody is saying walk away from this. I do think that the Senate is doing an investigation that most people including former officials of the Obama administration say is bipartisan and fair. We have that institution.
They have the clearances. They are doing it, it's underway. My argument is we ought to stop talking about it and let that investigation go ahead and move forward. Again, none of this is helpful and none of it is helpful to our intelligence services who are overseas trying to get people to cooperate with us so they can get information to policymakers to make good decisions.
I don't think any of this is helpful candidly. By the way, that investigation also like to focus on the fact that DOJ according to leaked e-mails from the Podesta account was leaking information to them. This thing is far from over and will get messy before it gets cleared up.
CUOMO: Mike, as we all know, leaks are nothing new, from the White House, from the other agencies as part of business. It's been made part of the distraction now because irony is if you trace back where the president seems to be getting his information from, as you suggested, he's a phone call away from figuring out the real truth.
But he's listening to sources that go on unnamed sources and on the other hand they're attacking unnamed sources, but that all gets you calling out the distraction, Mike. Don't you think that needs to happen?
That you need to see Ryan, McConnell, the GOP big shots get up and say to the president stop saying things that aren't true, stop undermining our intelligence committees. You're not helping us?
ROGERS: Candidly I wouldn't do it publicly. My advice to them would be to sit down with the president, the communication shop, the chief of staff, Bannon and all the other decision makers in the White House and say it's time to apply a little discipline here as we move forward.
CUOMO: But you know that they're an echo, Mike. Look what we're seeing this morning, he has a surrogate out there saying, yes, I guess, the president is saying he doesn't agree with Jim Comey. Our reporting isn't that Comey asked the DOJ anything that it's just coming from the FBI. But to have your surrogate on TV say, he doesn't agree with him, the president, this goes beyond messaging.
ROGERS: I don't think any of this is helpful. None of it is helpful. Again, as I said yesterday, it's time for discipline at the White House, both on messaging and what they're focusing their time on. Think how much time they're going to waste trying to message through this mess for the next two weeks.
The North Koreans firing missiles again, the Russians trying to move missiles into Collin Grad or already (inaudible) to deal with that. So my argument to them is I agree with you, Chris, but don't do it publicly.
They need to have a meeting of the minds saying here are the things we'll focus on. We'll stop talking about the other things. We're going to engage our intelligence community to the purpose to which they are intended to give you, Mr. President, the best information that you can have to make the best decisions on some really trying and troubling times.
Again, a public spat over this isn't helpful. I do think that we ought to let the Senate committee do its work before we call for an independent investigation. That takes years. It's very distracting to the future of the country. Let them do it. If they can't find it, let's do it then.
CUOMO: Steve, the last question to you. On the political side, this falls clearly into the category of don't want none, don't start none. When the president puts this stuff out, we're going to pick up on it.
[08:25:04]It's of vital interest to the American people if President Obama is a bad or sick man when he was sitting there going after our new president. So the idea that Mike just suggested, Congress can do this, do you share his confidence?
HALL: I wish I could say I was as confident. Mike has great experience on the oversight committees. In my previous job I also worked with him. The Intelligence Oversight Committees do have the capability to do this.
My concern though is this has become so polarizing and the issues are so -- it hits at the bedrock of the whole democratic process, the election, I'm just not sure politically it's possible to do that.
The only persons that I would argue this does actually help, this whole situation does help are the Russians. The Russians must be amazed at the success they have with what started as an influence campaign and now successfully tied this administration and parts of the U.S. government in knots. That's got to be good for Moscow.
CUOMO: Gentlemen, thank you. I will be seeing you again shortly -- Alisyn.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chris, another top story we're following, North Korea firing ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, dangerously close to the Japanese coast. How will be the U.S. respond? We have a live report from the Pentagon next.