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Source: Anger Over Handling of U.S. Attorney Firings; Gen. Flynn a Foreign Agent: Who Knew?; Source: House Intel Committee Wants Wiretap Evidence By Monday. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here in for Anderson.

The economy added 235,000 jobs last month. Tonight, the Trump administration eliminated 44. U.S. attorneys, the country's most important federal prosecutors, all Obama appointees, told to quit.

Now, this and of itself is not unusual. These political appointees are often asked to resign during political transition. But tonight, some never even had the chance before they found out through media reports.

Speaking of the media, the administration acted just a day after a prominent right-wing talk show host loudly called for a purge.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has been working here sources on this. She joins us now.

Jessica, these U.S. attorney firings, what more are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we're just getting some new information, John. We know that the president has actually phoned two of those U.S. attorneys tonight, telling them he's declining to accept their resignation. Those are the two acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente and also Rod Rosenstein, who's up for deputy attorney general. We saw his confirmation hearings this week.

But as for the firings of the other 44, those came swiftly and abruptly. And the people I talked with (AUDIO GAP) that this happened so suddenly, no notice. Of course, it is normal for a new president to want his own U.S. attorney appointees.

But in this case, the remaining 44 U.S. attorneys who had been appointed by President Obama, they had no notice and some of them like you mentioned, they found out through media reports. Others just from a Department of Justice press release. In fact, one source saying this could not have been handled any worse. Another one saying, you don't just tell people to clean out their desks effective at midnight tonight, especially since some of those U.S. attorneys are traveling right now. And, of course, John, you did mention that right-wing talk show host

calling for the purge. Well, that was actually Sean Hannity last night, saying, in his words, "It's time now for the president to fire anyone and everyone who is actively working against him." And Sean Hannity even cited the fact that Bill Clinton had fired 93 U.S. attorneys when he took office.

But tonight, people are noting that those U.S. attorneys got a lot more notice than this time around. And, John, I did talk to a previous U.S. attorney who said that, you know, when President Obama came in, he was given eight months' notice and he se this is just bad for morale at the Department of Justice.

BERMAN: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that report.

Joining us now is Matthew Axelrod. He served as a deputy to acting Attorney General Sally Yates before she was fired.

Matt, first of all, let me start with your reaction to this news and how it was handled.

MATTHEW AXELROD, FORMER PRINCIPAL ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, John, it's both surprising and disappointing as to how this was handled. As Jessica mentioned, it's not unusual that the president would want their -- his own appointees in place and that's typical, and U.S. attorneys are typically asked to resign at some point in time. What's so unusual here is the timing and that people were asked to resign by the end of the day.

A lot of these women and men have been in department for 20 or even 30 years and that's how their service is now ending, being told to go by the end of the day. And that's what's so surprising here.

BERMAN: You know, and I do appreciate it may be difficult for these people and their staffs. But in the end, is this more than anything than just about feelings if they all knew this was coming eventually?

AXELROD: Yes, it is, John. These are the chief federal law enforcement officers in their districts and they spent years building relationship with state and local law enforcement leaders, with other federal law enforcement agency heads in their districts and those relationships are very important and important to the mission of the Department of Justice. Those relationships take time to transition and that time has been deprived because of the U.S. attorneys were asked to go by the end of the day.

BERMAN: What needs to happen in this transition from one U.S. attorney to another?

AXELROD: Well, typically what you'd expect is that there would be meetings with community leaders and with other law enforcement leaders so that the outgoing U.S. attorney could introduce the leaders to the incoming U.S. attorney who usually is and in this case will be career law enforcement professionals who are working in the office. But their work is mostly internally focused, whereas the U.S. attorney has been the public face of the office and working externally. And so, that's -- those transitions are very important.

BERMAN: Have you had a chance to talk to any of your former co- workers, these U.S. attorneys? Are they literally told to get a box and be out of the office by the end of the day?

AXELROD: I have had an opportunity to speak with some of them. And again, these are apolitical people. These are the chief federal law enforcement officers in their districts, many of them have served the department for many years, 20 years, 30 years, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. They are not ideologues. They are on the front lines every day prosecuting terrorists and child pornographers and violent criminals.

I don't think they were actually told to get a box and to clear out by the end of the day. But they were told that today would be their last day of work at the Department of Justice.

[20:05:02] BERMAN: And just quickly, do you or do they blame Sean Hannity for bringing this up yesterday and having it happen today?

AXELROD: I think people are at a loss to understand why it happened today. This actually was an issue that was discussed with the -- during the transition and the transition team made a recommendation to the White House to keep the U.S. attorneys on for some period of time to allow for an orderly transition. I think people are just uncertain as to what changed so that now it happened in the manner that it did.

BERMAN: All right. Matt Axelrod, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate the discussion.

I want to bring in our panel right now. Former senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller, he's now a CNN political commentator. Also, CNN political analyst, "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman who had the story of these firings first. Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany is here, she's a contributor to "The Hill", CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers is with us as well. Also, former South Carolina Democratic legislator Bakari Sellers.

Maggie, you had the story first. You broke it. Exactly what's the controversy here if there is a controversy and is it fair?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Every president gets to clean house. They don't all do it in the same way, but they get to put in their own people and that is always the case. What was unusual again as we said earlier is the abrupt nature of which this took place. It was all done in sort of personal phone calls throughout the day, on a Friday, and be out by the end of the day, clean out your desk by the end of the day.

The one that is most interesting and this has not gotten much attention I think outside of New York but is a big story in New York is Preet Bharara, the southern district United States attorney who oversees a ton of corruption cases, including ones involving Governor Cuomo, one involving New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and who met personally with then President-elect Donald Trump who asked him to stay on. And Bharara went down and after meeting with Trump during the transition at Trump tower, told reporters he agreed to stay on. That Jeff sessions, the attorney general, had also asked him to.

So, I think that's the one that was the most surprising because he's not being exempted in this request for a resignation. What that means for those cases remains to be seen and again, in terms of the timing of why they did it now, I've heard from two White House officials who said they've been planning on this for a long time. But that as has often been the case with the Trump administration, it was not rolled out in a very smooth way.

BERMAN: Why was Bharara told he was going to stay on and then all of a sudden today --

HABERMAN: Right. Well, but as we often see with this president, he will say something and something different will happen with --

BERMAN: As we often see with this president, Jason Miller, we know he watches cable news of all varieties. We know he watches Sean Hannity. We know he's friends with Sean Hannity. It really doesn't feel like a coincidence that Hannity yesterday calls for a purge inside the Justice Department and today there is one.

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: This would have surprised me a little bit, certainly as you talked about in the lead-in, it's up to every president. They want to replace folks and put in who they want in that position. And certainly, you know, whether it's at the U.S. attorney level, whether we're talking ambassadors, the president should be able to put his own people in.

But today on Friday, the only thing we should be talking about are 235,000 jobs. This great jobs announcement. I felt it was stepped on. A little bit of a head scratcher. I know the president's probably in my opinion, one of the greatest geniuses of understanding the news cycles of anyone out there. It just -- it really surprised me this came out today and they moved like this.

BERMAN: So, Kirsten Powers, a former Trump communications guy says that the Trump White House just bungled the communications on this. Is that fair?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: I guess, unless they wanted to do it on a Friday and so they figured something they didn't want to necessarily get a lot of attention and typically that's when you do something like this. So, it could be that they thought by Monday, that this story will be over.

I think that, you know, I went back and looked at what Republicans said when Bill Clinton did this. He'd actually fired all 93.

BERMAN: Right.

POWERS: And they called it extreme and unprecedented.

BERMAN: The reason there weren't 93 today is so many had already left. It would have been 93 probably.

POWERS: Right. Yes, but it was extreme and unprecedented when Bill Clinton did it and he -- they were actually given time and people were held over until you had people to come in and take over for them. So, what's unusual about this is that there are ongoing investigations that people are handling, and if they're being told to clean out their desk and leave, then these investigations are just being left, you know, just in the middle of them with nobody for them to transition them to a new person. So, that is extreme.

BERMAN: Yes, there are legal considerations.

POWERS: I mean, there's no reason for it.

BERMAN: Kayleigh, what about that?

POWERS: We've seen these transitions before and they don't have to be this.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and as Kristen mentioned, you know, Bill Clinton fired 93. We know Reagan fired 89. This is not unusual.

People are saying this is unprecedented the way Trump did it -- well, what's also unprecedented and unusual is that this administration is being beset by leakers every day it seems, we get a new story leaking confidential information, people committing felonies, leaking informs about FISA warrants potentially, leaking all sorts of information. That's unusual. That's unprecedented.

I frankly am glad if Donald Trump took Sean Hannity's advice or anyone else's, I don't care where the advice came from.

[20:10:04] Communications-wise, Jason might be right, this might not have been the right to do it, but substantively speaking, getting rid of people who are leaking left and right, Obama holdout, is a very smart move.

BERMAN: Well, just to be clear, I mean, President Trump himself sort of leaked the idea of FISA warrants. President Trump himself is the one who very publicly said he was being wiretapped right there. So, you know, it's not just leakers inside who are fomenting this.

But, Bakari, you know, Bill Clinton did fire 93 U.S. attorneys. I mean, he did. This does happen.

BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE MEMBER: Yes. I don't think -- I think politically speaking it's not that big of a story because it's something that has happened, just to contradict my friend, Kayleigh, slightly, the calls, the leaks, the sources are coming from within the house. And I don't think they're coming from these dedicated public servants who are now United States attorneys.

But political jousting has been going on for a long period of time. I mean, myself, for example, I was hoping to be one of the people considered to be the next United States attorney from South Carolina.

(CROSSTALK) SELLERS: I don't think I'm going to get the phone call for this president. However, I do understand that jousting has been going on for a very long period of time. I currently work for a former United States attorney, so I know this on its face is not that big of a story.

But what Kirsten was talking about is the problem is the problem with this Trump White House. I mean, it goes to Michael Flynn, it goes to a lot of things. The transition team, it was horrible.

With all due respect to my friend Jason who was on the transition team at that time, they failed to do their job and do it adequately, because now you get to a point you have cases which are open and you have people that are leaving today. And so, you have these day to day, we call them line attorneys that work every single day to make these cases on behalf of the federal government. And yes, they are trying to prosecute terrorism and, yes, they are trying to prosecute child sexual conduct, children sexual conduct and exploitations.

And now, they're left without any guide, any direction whatsoever? I mean, you have high-profile cases not just right here in New York, but throughout the country that are going on that these United States attorneys are leading that now they have no home.

BERMAN: All right. We'll find out perhaps in next few days what the Justice Department intend to do about those guys. Stick around, a lot more to discuss.

Next, late word on the president's wiretap allegations. We were just talking about them. A new big flashing sign that lawmakers investigating it may be losing their patience with the White House.

And later, today's jobs report, the kind that candidate Trump used to slam in this remarkable admission from the White House, they were phony then but now they're real. Really?


[20:15:44] BERMAN: Well, we have more breaking news tonight, plenty of it. We just learned that the House intelligence committee has in effect told the administration to put or shut up on President Trump's claim that President Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign. That is what the president tweeted last weekend.

Since then, lawmakers with access to classified materials have said one after the other, they have seen no evidence of what, if true, would be one of the dirtiest political tricks of all time. That pattern continued today.

And tonight, a White House source tells us that the president has not spoken to FBI Director James Comey about this or anything all week.

Also today, another Michael Flynn eruption. We learned that he was working as a foreign agent for another country during the campaign and getting paid for it, big-league and bigly. There are questions tonight about what that White House knew back then and later what he was vetted, if you could call it that at this point, for the national security job.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was President Trump aware his first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, was registered as a foreign agent to represent the government of Turkey?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just so we're clear, you wouldn't -- General Flynn filed with the Department of Justice two days ago.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn's lobbying business was private and took place before he joined the administration. Although at the same time he was advising the Trump campaign last year.

SPICER: That is not up for the government to determine. There are certain private citizens' activities that you conduct and you seek counsel on or professional advice.

ZELENY: Flynn's contract with the government of Turkey ended after the election. Spicer dismissed a series of questions about the lobbying disclosure.

SPICER: No, no, no.

REPORTER: The person who was in line to be the national security adviser may need to register as a foreign agent. And that doesn't raise a red flag?

SPICER: It's not a question of raising a red flag, John. It's a question of whether or not they gave him the advice that they're supposed to.

ZELENY: On day 50 of the Trump presidency, this was the latest distraction at the White House. It's been a full week now since President Trump leveled the explosive accusation that President Obama was spying on him at Trump Tower, but again, today, still no evidence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. And we're going to get to work.

ZELENY: Asked three times, the president wouldn't say whether he had any proof to back up his unsubstantiated charges. White House is now trying to keep its focus on health care.

TRUMP: And that's what people want, they want repeal and replace.

ZELENY: Yet Washington is consumed by Russia and the widening investigation into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

The congressional probe includes allegations of presidential wiretapping which no one seems to know about but Mr. Trump.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's Manu Raju today he's seen no evidence but suppose the question will come up when James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill later this month.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He's certainly prepared for the question and I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even welcome the opportunity.

ZELENY: The top Republican on the committee, Chairman Devin Nunes echoed his comment from earlier this week that he had not seen any proof to back up the president's claims.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: We want to find that out but at this point I don't have anything to tell you.


BERMAN: All right. Jeff Zeleny joins us tonight.

And, Jeff, we're learning about a deadline to produce evidence, aren't we?

ZELENY: We are indeed, John. The House Intelligence Committee has given the Department of Justice a deadline. They say by next week on Monday, in fact, they want any relevant information on these wiretapping allegations.

Now, so far as you said, no one has said that they have seen anything, not a Democrat, not a Republican, no one here at the White House except the president, but he hasn't talked about it. But they are giving him a deadline on Monday.

Now, John, this is all building toward that first hearing on March 20th, a week from Monday. FBI Director James Comey, one of the first witnesses to be called -- John.

BERMAN: And the question is, how much will he say?

Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much for being with us.

Back now with the panel.

Jason Miller, FBI Director James Comey, the president hasn't spoken to him this week about this or anything. Does that seem odd to you?

MILLER: No, I don't think so. I think, you know, whether talking about this, the Russia stuff or whether the taps, this is going to go to the House Intel Committee. They're going to investigate it. They'll put forth their report. And they will take it from there.

[20:20:00] I'm certainly not going to get ahead of the White House here on this. But I think, one of the things I would point out is, there hasn't been any evidence that's been put forward saying that the Trump campaign, or anyone in Trump world was colluding with the Russians, but still seems okay to go and chase down that rabbit hole.

What we do know as a matter of fact is that there were people who are being tapped. We know there were two FISA court applications, one was rejected, one was accepted.

BERMAN: There were reports -- there were reports that there were those FISA applications, yes.

MILLER: But, John, they were talking about the fact there were specific conversations where they had transcripts of people's phone conversations. So, we know with mathematical certainty that there was tapping that was going on. Now, we'll leave it to the House Intel Committee to get to the bottom of it.

BERMAN: There were reports there was tapping going on. There's no evidence at all, according to anyone who's spoken, that President Obama ordered wiretapping of President Trump, which is a world away, a universe away from there being investigations on somebody maybe connected to Trump world and having there be wiretaps on them.

MILLER: I'd push back a little bit and say, we do know absolutely that the administration ordered it because otherwise, how would the phones be getting tapped and how would they be doing this?

BERMAN: The administration is a broad term here when you're talking about the entire Justice Department or intelligence services, because technically, they're all part of the administration. But I do understand your point.

MILLER: But phones were being tapped, I mean, to be clear. We know that. We read it in "The New York Times." So --

BERMAN: The Russian ambassador's phones --

HABERMAN: Right. What we write in "The New York Times" is there was routine surveillance on the Russian ambassador. I realize that people don't like the word "routine surveillance", you know, those two words together --

BERMAN: Especially if you're the Russian ambassador.

HABERMAN: Correct, and that's understandable.

But that is as we know it where those transcripts came from. Any broader suggestion there is no confirmation of the FISA court order report and certainly, there is nothing so far that we've heard that substantiates what President Trump said about his predecessor.

BERMAN: Kayleigh, Michael Flynn, the former -- the very briefly serving national security adviser -- the type of thing that maybe should have come um during the vetting process that he was working as a foreign agent for Turkey and getting paid a lot for it during the campaign?

MCENANY: Look, I think you're right, it should have come up in the vetting process, and particularly today, during the press briefing when, you know, Spicer was asked a question about you had the transition attorney who was informed about this and instead of addressing that, why didn't that information get disseminated to Trump himself for someone in the hiring process. He kind of didn't have an answer to that.

My inclination, I believe the White House didn't know about this. I believe that they didn't know he was considering registering as a foreign agent, but I think it was overlooked in the transition process. And my father always said if you've got to eat crow, eat crow now. And that's the Southern way of saying, sometimes you just got to own up to the fact we missed this one, it was overlooked in the process, and I think that's what Sean should have done today.

BERMAN: Bakari?

SELLERS: Well, that's not true because the White House did know about it and specifically the vice president knew about it because if I'm not mistaken, Elijah Cummings actually sending a letter directly to the vice president of the United States during the transition process letting him know that there were relationships between Michael Flynn and Turkey.

And so, when we're talking about what the White House knew and when they knew it, which is a famous phrase, from before I was born, if I may say, I do think that the ineptitude of the transition is something we keep coming back to. It's something that we talked about in the first segment, it's something we talk about now, and it's something we'll talk about in the future.

MCENANY: But the vice president never got that specifically and that letter by the way was sent the day he was hired. So, it never made it into the vice president's --

SELLERS: I mean, the fact that the vice president during a transition period never got a letter that informed him from a ranking member of a House committee that there were nefarious relationships or at least relationships he should be aware of just shows the flaws in the transition process. I think that's all I'm saying.

I'm saying that this transition process did not live up to the standards and for anyone to say what the White House didn't know about it is willful ignorance at best.

BERMAN: So, Kirsten, I want to talk about another series of data points that we got over the last 48 hours as people are looking at and going, hmm, that's odd.

So, Nigel Farage, you know, from Great Britain who is friends with Donald Trump and was pushing the Brexit, met with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in London, had a meeting with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks, as we know, released all that stuff hacked during the election -- you know, it's one of these things where I don't know if you can connect the dots but there are a lot of dots here.

POWERS: There are a lot. But I do think we have to be careful about speculating about things that we don't know. So, there are things that look bad. It doesn't mean we necessarily know that somehow that was connected to things that were happening with Donald Trump.

So, I'm a little -- you know, I like to wait and see and get more facts before I start making accusations.

But can we go back to this FISA stuff --


POWERS: -- and what Jason was saying?

I mean, if you're saying that we know people were being tapped, if you want to accept that, then that actually is more of an indictment of the Trump people than anybody else, because if that happened, that means a FISA court had reason to believe that they were doing something nefarious.

[20:25:03] So, that's what's sort of ironic about this accusation is that indirectly Donald Trump is sort of saying that they were doing something wrong. Unless you believe the FISA court just lets them go and taps whoever they want.

The other thing I was going to say is, why doesn't he declassify this? I mean, if this is true, why doesn't he declassify the information around it and release it and let everybody see it?

MILLER: Yes, I'd push back and say what we saw with this previous administration so, many aspects of the federal government becoming politicized, whether it's the IRS targeting people, certainly the folks of the Clinton campaign would take issue with the way that the certain aspects of law enforcement was run, particularly during this past year. And I think Bakari would probably agree with me on that one.

SELLERS: That's the height of irony for you to invoke Director Comey in your defense was.

BERMAN: Quickly, Jason.

MILLER: But, look, I think the fact we've seen so much of this happen before -- I mean, we don't know the details on it. Clearly, it was rejected one time, it was gone with another time, but all this really is is a big chase down the rabbit hole to try to essentially smear president and say there's some sort of foreign involvement that made him win when the fact of the matter was he ran a better campaign --

BERMAN: Again, the president may have dug this rabbit hole himself with that tweet last week. We'll find out more in next eight days. Guys --

MILLER: I mean, we know from "The New York Times", they were recording conversations --

BERMAN: Recording someone else's conversations. We don't know whose and we don't know why yet. SELLERS: They did not tap Donald Trump. And if you can't say that,

then that's the ultimate rabbit hole that's being chased.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Up next, President Trump and the White House press secretary, they are praising the new jobs report, the same kind of report candidate Trump used to call phony. We're keeping them honest on that, coming up.


[20:30:34] BERMAN: The White House is touting today's better than expected job report, the first spam of full month of the Trump presidency.

According to the labor department the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent after the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs last month.

Again, the Trump team is taking credit for the good numbers, but keeping them honest on the campaign trail including back last February when 237,000 jobs were added, that is more than last month, and back to last may, when the unemployment rate first hit 4.7 percent, then candidate Trump had a darker view of the numbers even suggesting the Obama administration was cooking the books. Take a look.


TRUMP: The unemployment number as you know is totally fictional.

The five percent figure is one of biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.

It is such a phony number.

Don't believe those phony numbers.

That number, 5.2 percent, is such a phony number.

We have a statistic, five percent, doesn't exist.

That number was put to make presidents and politicians look good. OK? It's not a real number.

The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent.

We probably have a 25 percent unemployment number.

When you hear 4.9 percent and five percent unemployment, the number's probably 28 percent, 29 percent, as high as 35 percent.

I hear 5.3 percent unemployment! That is the biggest joke there is in this country.


BERMAN: All right. So are the numbers phony or are they real? White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he knew he would get that question today and he did have an answer.


SPICER: I talked to president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past but it's very real now.


BERMAN: A lot to discuss. Joining us is Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, professor at UC, Berkeley, and author of "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few". Also with us, Steven Moore, who is a Senior Economic Adviser to the Trump campaign, he's now CNN Senior Economics Analyst.

Steven, I want to start with you, because you are supportive of the president's policies, not always his words. And the words today from the White House on these job numbers, somewhere between rank hypocrisy and admission that during the campaign you just sort of make stuff up.

STEVEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, John, you're burying the lead a little bit there with that question because the main point is that it was a good jobs report, some kind of --

BERMAN: We'll get to that. I promise. I promise we're going to get to that.

MOORE: But anyways, look, I know that on the campaign trail that, you know, Donald Trump was saying things like you can't believe these numbers, they're made up and so on. I never believed that. I don't think that's exactly what Donald Trump meant. I think what he meant was that the statistic on what the unemployment rate is true today and true a year or two or three years ago about, you know, less than five percent unemployment just isn't true.

We have so many people that can't find a full-time job. We have so many people that have exited the workforce for one reason or another that we're not anywhere near full employment in my opinion. I don't know if Robert Reich would agree with that. But, you know, we've still got a lot of the work to do to rebuild this labor market.

BERMAN: Look, I mean that isn't -- that maybe what he meant, it's not what he said during the campaign or today.

MOORE: Well, you know --

BERMAN: I understand. I understand.


MOORE: -- take it literally.

BERMAN: Well, look, what he said today is that my jobs are real and the jobs before weren't. That's what he said. Secretary, want to weigh in. ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: You know, I think Steve Moore is absolutely right, don't take Donald Trump literally about anything. What he said during the campaign, what he says now, I want to side with Steve a little bit on the substance here, and that is that we do have in this country a continuing big problem with labor participation, that is the percentage of people who are of working age and who are not in the workforce for one reason or another, many who are too discouraged to look for work. That is a big and continuing problem.

Today's labor market jobs report is good news, but it's not particularly better than it was February of February 2016 or February of 2015, about the same number. It's a continuation of a recovery, a jobs recovery, that started about seven years ago and it's good news. I'm glad it's continuing. Donald Trump cannot take any credit for this at all, even his own head of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohen said that he's not -- you know, it's too early for Donald Trump to take any credit for these numbers.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

MOORE: -- with that. I mean, look, the economy really turned around and the stock market really turned around on a dime on November 7th of 2016. We saw the rocketing forward of the stock market, we saw in previous months, Bob, the highest rate of consumer confidence and investor confidence that we've seen in 25 years.

[20:35:13] I mean there's something going on here, John, in my opinion, and I think there's a new bounce in the step of the economy. Now, Bob is right it's you can't judge an economy by one or two months' jobs report, but everything that has happened since the election has really been very positive. You can't point to much negative that's happened since the election in terms of --

REICH: I don't know. I don't want to -- I'm not pointing to anything negative, Steve. I'm just simply saying this is a direct continuation of what we had before. The only thing that happened -- wait a minute, wait a minute. The only thing that happened on Election Day and nearby Election Day, soon after Election Day, was the stock market took off.

Now, we're talking about jobs today. This is a jobs report. The stock market reflects expectations of investors --

MOORE: That's true.

REICH: -- about future profits.

And obviously they expect a huge corporate tax cut and a lot of regulations being slashed and that's going to improve corporate profits, but it says nothing about jobs.

BERMAN: And Jamie -- hang on one second, Steven, because Jamie Dimon says that one thing Donald Trump has done is awakened the animal instincts in the market and the business community, as disturbing as that imagery might be on one hand, you know, does he have a point? I mean we talk to CEOs all the time who tell us that because of the tax cuts you're talking about, Mr. Secretary, because of the regulation cuts, they are more optimistic and perhaps more willing to invest in their own companies.

REICH: Wait a minute. There's no sign that they are investing more. In fact, what we've seen is that they are buying up their own stocks, yes. They are doing more acquisitions. Yes. But there's no sign they're investing more in jobs here in the United States.

MOORE: I see it very differently, Bob. I mean, look at what happened with factory orders in January, they're very positive. The preliminary results for February very positive. In fact, a really good announcement numbers. That means companies are spending.

Look, you're right, but you can't read too much into three or four months, we're in agreement on that, but so far -- you got to feel pretty good right now about the way this economy is moving. It's not great but it's pretty good.

BERMAN: Steven Moore, secretary --

REICH: I feel pretty good about how it's looked over the last six or seven months period.

BERMAN: I feel pretty good about --

MOORE: Will you give Donald Trump credit?

BERMAN: I feel good about this discussion.


BERMAN: If I had economics teachers like you guys I might be in business right now. Steven Moore, Sec. Reich thanks so much for being with us.

REICH: Thanks.

Just ahead, is that an icy chill blowing through the State Department or just your imagination? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is holed up in his cone of silence even as evidence mounts he may be being sidelined.


[20:41:38] BERMAN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Asian next week for key meeting in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo. And a major break with tradition, he will not be traveling with the press corps. It's just the latest in a string of surprises coming out of the State Department, starting with the cone of silence that Sec. Tillerson has kept since taking the helm, radio silence that is fueling rumors that the Secretary is being sidelined. Michelle Kosinski reports.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with Iraq's Oil Minister but once again taking no questions from the press. Many questions here lately conspicuously unanswered. Like the State Department press office not even being told that Mexico's foreign minister eventually Sec. Tillerson's equivalent, was in D.C. to meet not with Tillerson but with White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and two other officials.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take that and get back to you. I was unaware that he was -- foreign minister was in town.


KOSINSKI: It turns out according to a Mexican official that the foreign minister did talk to Rex Tillerson by phone just before his trip and they randomly bumped into each other at a restaurant Wednesday night where they did briefly talk face-to-face.

The official says the Kushner meeting was more a casual gathering, just a continuation of progress in an important relationship that has been repeatedly rattled by Pres. Trump's tweets and statements.

But it's not only the Mexican foreign minister meeting that Rex Tillerson has not been a party to. Diplomatic sources say there have been other meetings with foreign officials and, again, Jared Kushner. One source says the Chinese ambassador now feels he need to deal primarily with, yes, Kushner.

A former top state department official say diplomats want to see Rex Tillerson succeed but many feel that's not happening right now. They feel Jared Kushner is essentially acting as Secretary of State and they wonder why Tillerson would want to take a job where he might appear sidelined. And even if that was just an appearance, it still matters the influence you have when you do meet with world leaders.

Top positions at state remain unfilled, press briefings just started this week, and Tillerson has resisted bringing a press corps with him on trips, even the extremely important visit days from now to China, South Korea, and Japan. Prompting Sen. Ed Markey to call on Tillerson to allow better access, saying he is sending a dangerous signal to other countries about the U.S. commitment to a vibrant media.

"The decision to exclude reporters from your trip falls into a broader pattern of efforts by the Trump administration to sideline and undermine the press." The White House says Tillerson's just trying to save money by not bringing along a press corps, an odd response considering journalists pay for their own travel. The State Department says it's still being worked out, from Tillerson himself, though, no comment. Michelle Kosinski, CNN at the State Department.


BERMAN: Joining me now, CNN Global Affairs Analyst Tony Blinken who served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. Tony, how concerning is it the fact that the State Department wasn't even aware by this visit from the foreign minister and the fact that the minister met not with his counterpart, the Secretary of State but rather Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: John, it is concerning and it seems to be not an isolated event but part of a series. What I've heard from former colleagues at state is that a whole series of foreign leaders have come to town not met with the department or the Secretary of State but have met with Mr. Kushner. It is concerning because it does seem to take state out of the foreign policy loop when it in fact is supposed to be at the forefront of what we're doing.

[20:45:18] BERMAN: So two questions. Is this intentional? Do you think the administration is trying to take the State Department out of the foreign policy loop? And from the other side, if you're coming here from China or Mexico, why do you make the decision or allow yourself to be pushed toward White House official rather than State Department?

BLINKEN: Look, I don't know what's behind this. I think a few things are going on, though. First, look, Mr. Tillerson got off to a really good start when he came to the department the first day. Spoke to the entire team. Made a very good first impression, but since then, he has not been front and center. Apparently not been in a lot of meetings that are important at the White House, abroad, and as I said hasn't met with a number of senior foreign leaders coming to town, that tends to diminish your influence, and so when foreign leaders are coming, they want to go to the place where they think they can have the biggest impact. And it starts to feed on itself. So the more word gets around that Mr. Kushner is the guy who's taking these meetings, the more foreign leaders will hook to meet with him.

BERMAN: Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, was asked today about this notion of a deep state, whether he thinks there are people inside the government working against the administration. Listen to his answer.


SPICER: I think that there's no question when you have eight years of one party in office that there are people who stay in government or affiliated with, you know -- joined and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration. So, I don't think it should come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and, you know, may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone.


BERMAN: Again, as someone who has worked in the State Department, Tony, do you think in there's any merit to what he says?

BLINKEN: John, I totally disagree. Certainly not been my experience. I've worked in government for 24 years through three administrations, two Democratic, one Republican. During the Republican administration I was in the Senate, on the Hill. But I work closely with career foreign service officers and civil servants throughout that period. And I can tell you almost to a person they are professionals, they're not ideologues, they're not partisans. They go to work every day trying to advance the interests of the United States.

BERMAN: Tony Blinken, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

BLINKEN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Just ahead, America uncovered, a collision of faith and politics in the heartland. Muslims who support Pres. Trump and even his revised travel ban. They talk about what their views have cost them.


[20:51:25] BERMAN: Some late breaking news on Pres. Trump's revised travel ban, the U.S. district court judge who put the first one on hold wants fresh written arguments on this one. The revised executive order bans people from six mainly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Iraq is no longer on the list.

As for the reception its getting critics and supporters are not always who you might expect. In our segment, America uncovered, we tried to get away from the talking heads and see how all the rhetoric affects real people. Martin Savidge did that tonight for us with some Muslim Americans in a Chicago suburb.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Talat Rashid and Dr. Waqas Khan faced an anger and ugliness they never seen before. Thanks to Donald Trump.

TALAT RASHID, TRUMP VOTER: I have some of my close friends that turn their back on me.

SAVIDGE: Pakistani Americans and Muslim, the backlash wasn't against their faith, but their politics.

DR. WAQAS KHAN, TRUMP VOTER: I supported Donald Trump.

SAVIDGE: Rashid campaigned for Trump and twice got to meet him. Khan and Rashid even went to Trump's inauguration. All of which earned them scorn from fellow Muslims.

KHAN: I had to receive comments like I never knew you were racist. You're anti-Islamic. You're traitor, a brown guy trying to be white, browny, all these slurs.

SAVIDGE: Trump's campaign rhetoric particularly about Muslims bothered many people, including Saleem Sheikh, he's friends with Rashid, attends the same Bolingbrook mosque and he's a lifelong Republican who voted for Hillary Clinton.

SALEEM SHEIKH, CLINTON VOTER: I was concerned about some of Mr. Trump's statement at the time.

TRUMP: Total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

SAVIDGE: How could you support a man who seemed to be so anti-Muslim?

KHAN: Then the statement about the Muslim ban came out. I was kind of offended to be very honest. But then, I took a deep breathe and I looked at the message behind the statement.

SAVIDGE: The message Rasheed and Khan heard wasn't of discrimination. Instead they heard Trump identifying a problem they see in their own faith. One they say, American leaders and even many Muslims up until now have an openly faced. Violate radical extremism.

KHAN: The main war is between -- is within Islam. It's not outside of Islam. And the first war that we have to win is the war that the reformist or the modern (ph) Muslims have to win against the radicals.

SAVIDGE: Terrorism, then say, is a byproduct of that war. And Trump is taking action against some Muslims, to protect all Americans. Still they admit the first travel ban was a mistake.

RASHID: I think that was too much. I mean I did not agree with him in the beginning.

SAVIDGE: You think it's better now?

RASHID: It's a little better now. It is, but again, you know, his message is he is not -- it's not -- he's hating all the Muslims. He's just trying to protect this country as a president. That's his job.

SAVIDGE: Saleem, disagrees. Saying the best way to protect America is not by shutting people out.

SHEIKH: I'm a very proud American citizen so I want to look and see America as being number one in the world, but I think it can do that by reaching out to the people.

SAVIDGE: Like many of Donald Trump's supporters, Rashid and Khan say that kind of thinking is too idealistic in today's frightening world.

KHAN: American's National Security should be beyond any politics, should be beyond any religion. That should be a top priority being an American.


[20:54:58] BERMAN: That was Martin Savidge reporting.

A reminder, at the top of the hour, there's the CNN's Special Report, "Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady" from here early years in Slovenia all the way to a special role in the White House. We'll have a preview in just a moment.


BERMAN: Coming up here on CNN just about 90 seconds, the CNN's Special Report, "Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady". In the hour ahead, Randi Kaye takes a look at our incredible journey from Slovenia to Trump Tower to the White House. Here's a quick preview of Randi's report.


CARL SFERRAZZA ANTHONY, NATIONAL FIRST LADIES' LIBRARY, HISTORIAN: Melania Trump is, to my imagination, emerging as rather a Mona Lisa of the first ladies. Because it is by her appearance and her posture that she seems to signal a strong impression. It's a centered quality. It's a independent quality.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An independent quality that adds to the mystery of Melania Trump.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP" AUTHOR: I see in some way is the same expression on her face at every moment. I know that she's hiding from us. And to some degree, I feel great empathy for her because it would be hard to be the one who's the subject of so much attention and who knows that everyone is trying to figure out what's going on inside of you. When all you really want is to be a private person.


[21:00:01] BERMAN: Now here's the full CNN Special Report, "Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady".