Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration Under Fire Over Flynn Controversy; Dave Chappelle Speaks Out on Local Politics; Does Trump Believe Job Report Numbers?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 15:00   ET




SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, it's not a question of raising a red flag, John.

It's a question of whether or not they gave them the advice that they're supposed to, which is, it's not up to them to make decisions as to what you need to do or not do.

As you know, there are certain activities that fall under each of these requirements, as far as what the threshold is, what activities, who the funding source was, et cetera, et cetera.

It is not up to, nor is it appropriate, nor is it legal for the government to start going into private citizens seeking advice and telling them what they have to register or not. That would be the equivalent of walking through someone's tax return and saying that's not a deduction that you should take, that is.

That's why when you contact these act agencies, they will tell you should seek counsel or professional advice or expertise in whatever matter it is. That is not up to them to determine, plain and simple.



QUESTION: Moving beyond the legal question, just to follow-up with John, moving beyond the legal question here, this is an issue of judgment about who you guys wanted in your administration.

If there were published reports that your potential national security adviser had dealings with the government of Turkey, a controversial regime at this moment in time, Congressman Cummings sent a letter to Mike Pence during the transition informing him of this and raising a red flag, Mr. Pence was on television, I believe yesterday,saying twice that he had no knowledge of that letter.

SPICER: That's right. No, no, that's not what he...

(CROSSTALK) SPICER: Hold on. Before you accuse the vice president of certain things, no, what he said he that he was not aware of the filing, just so we're clear. And he wasn't.

Thank you. Go on.

QUESTION: But just in terms of the larger question here, forget about filling out forms and the legalisms here.

What does this say about the transition team's judgment about still appointing him as national security adviser when you had knowledge of this information?

SPICER: No, no, but you're asking me forget about the legalisms. That's what we ask people to do, is follow the law. You can't forget about the legalisms. No, no, that's what you said. And what I'm saying is, that's what we did.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So let's start there.

We have Jessica Schneider standing by. She's been reporting on all this today for us also. And we have Jeff Zeleny standing by, CNN senior White House correspondent.

But, Jessica, first to you on Mike Flynn and his role with the Turkish government, what exactly was he doing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot to go really through, Brooke.

You saw right there the White House distancing itself from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's lobbying ties to Turkey. In fact, Sean Spicer saying that President Trump had no idea that his first national security adviser's company was working as a foreign agent.

I just want to break down first, though, a source does tell me that the White House counsel was well aware both before the inauguration and after General Flynn was named national security adviser, that the company was in fact planning to file a full agent disclosure form.

So, after that, I will back up and tell you exactly what's at issue here. At the height of the election, Michael Flynn's company, the Flynn Intel Group, it received a $530,000 contract with a consulting firm in the Netherlands. The project specifically was to improve U.S. business confidence in doing business with Turkey.

As late as September and October, right when retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was appearing at campaign rallies with then candidate Trump and advising him, Michael Flynn at the same time, he was also meeting with Turkish government officials in New York.

This was part of its disclosure that was filed this week. It does state that no fees were actually paid by a foreign government. It said it was just the Dutch consulting firm, but nevertheless Flynn did wait until just this week to file that mandated paperwork. And there are a lot of questions as to why exactly the White House brought on somebody like Flynn who did have these close ties to the Turkish government, meeting with them, Brooke, like I said, in September.

BALDWIN: Wouldn't that then, Jeff Zeleny, raise red flags and raise questions also just about the vetting process over at the White House?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Sure, and it also raises questions about judgment here.

But I think you have to look back at the moment in the campaign. Mike Flynn was someone who was very close to the Trump campaign from the very beginning. So we, of course, have had several conversations about General Flynn throughout these several weeks about his contacts with Russia and whatnot.

And it's clear that he did not receive the same kind of vetting that a new applicant might have. He was essentially part of the fabric here of the Trump campaign, for good or for bad, warts and all, potentially here.

So, I think that explains why vetting simply was not the same with him as it may have been with someone who is sort of just applying off the street, if you will.

BALDWIN: I'm going to come back to this with my panel in a second.

But let me ask you about the jobs numbers, the February jobs numbers out today, the first jobs report out under officially his full watch, 235,000 jobs -- 235,000 jobs, yes, added.


The White House is obviously taking the victory lap on this. But what happens -- specifically, he was asked about this and he knew he was expecting the question and he quoted the president in saying they have been phony in the past, as the president has called them phony in the past, but it's very reel now.

What did you make of that?

ZELENY: I thought that was quite a statement. I thought that that was something that the secretary was laughing when he said that.

Sean Spicer literally had a visible laugh about that. Oh, they were phony in the past, he's accepting them now. That's not a serious answer for what is a very serious topic.

Brooke, we have heard for months and longer than that actually about the unemployment number is not accurate. Donald Trump has thrown out wildly inaccurate figures about how many people are employed in this country here.

But he received about the same jobs report that happened February last year and the February before that. It's a good jobs report, no question at all. But he has consistently discredited that report. So, now I think Sean Spicer was trying to laugh it off. I'm not sure how that played. Perhaps in the West Wing, I played out fine. I thought it did not sound very serious, Brooke.

BALDWIN: He delivered it as a laugh line. In case everyone missed it, here it was.

ZELENY: Sure. Right.


QUESTION: In the past, the president has referred to particular job reports as phony or totally fiction. Does the president believe that this jobs report was accurate and a fair way to measure the economy?

SPICER: Yes, I talked to the 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.



BALDWIN: We will come back to that. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much.

ZELENY: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: But let's look back -- thank you.

Let's look back at what the reporter was referencing there, some of President Trump's past thoughts on jobs reports.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time it comes out, I hear 5.3 percent unemployment.

That's the biggest joke there is. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction.

If you look for a job for six months and then you give up, they consider you statistically employed. It's not that way.


BALDWIN: Joining me now, Domenico Montanaro, the lead political editor for National Public Radio. CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee is with us, and CNN military analyst retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

So great to have all of you.

Let me just begin, Domenico, with you. You heard the past. We played the mash-up. That was precisely what Sean was asked about in the briefing. All right, then just Donald Trump was saying it was a hoax, it was phony. And now the number, they're doing the victory lap and it gets laugh from all of this. Is this sort of hypocrisy funny?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, POLITICAL EDITOR, NPR: It's not funny in the sense that of course the numbers should be taken seriously, but we shouldn't be surprised that Donald Trump would feel this way or that we knew that that was what it was like all along.

I think it's a good day for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and going forward good, this means, good, we can trust the BLS numbers when they come out and everything that Donald Trump said on the campaign trail, well, now he's president and so he has to believe those numbers.

So it's always going to be this way with Donald Trump, whether it's polling or unemployment numbers, that he believes them when they're good for him and he doesn't them when they're bad.

BALDWIN: M.J., what do you think?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I think that was certainly a moment of levity in the White House briefing, but as Jeff Zeleny was saying earlier, I don't know how that would necessarily play to people who were just listening in.

I think this is a very good point, that this is a stylistic thing for President Trump. He has been in these kind of situations before where he has been asked about comments he's made in the past maybe on the trail during the campaign, and he will just shrug them off.

He's not bothered by the fact there may have been inconsistencies in things he has said. As long it works for him, as long as the message bolsters whatever it is he's trying to do, that's fine for him.

BALDWIN: A lot of questions on the economy, but a huge chunk of that briefing was on what had happened, what did the White House know with regard to General Flynn.

So, Colonel, let me ask you. And I thought Glenn Thrush really hit on it and Athena Jones followed up on this question about judgment. Whether or not this was a legal, lawyer issue with regard to General Flynn, is this not a judgment issue that, if he had been making money by working with the Turkish government, and then this was someone they wanted as the national security adviser, do you question that?



I think one of the key things here is the fact that they seemed to have known this, at least part of the transition team, and they still went through with not only hiring General Flynn, but also with letting him serve even for a very brief period.

And what it shows to me is that they are failing to understand the main law of government around here, which is this. If you have got something that you think may even potentially be questionable, rule number one is to get it out there so people can understand what you're doing and can advise you on whether or not to divest yourself of that particular interest.

BALDWIN: I was listening, Domenico, to also Jeff Zeleny's point, and he covered the campaign so closely. And he was saying, look, General Flynn was really a fabric of the team and perhaps he didn't receive quite the strength of the vetting that perhaps other candidates did for other positions.

Is that perhaps part of it and does that excuse it?

MONTANARO: No, it doesn't excuse it, but I would say also this is a different situation with Mike Flynn than it is for, say, someone like Carter Page, who was also listed as a foreign policy adviser and who has been shown to have some ties to Russia.

This is Michael Flynn. He had been there very early on as somebody who was in Donald Trump's ear, was something of an inspirational leader on foreign policy who Donald Trump listened to. So you have to question not only what Flynn was doing, but what Donald Trump was believing as far as his foreign policy goes.

Now, he's president when it comes to Turkey, when it comes to Russia because of what Michael Flynn's relationships were, who was paying him, who he was meeting with at those times. So all of those things come into play.

And I would say one other thing about Sean Spicer's reaction to this, which I found a bit confounding, because Glenn Thrush from "The New York Times" was trying to get past the legal issue, and not say let's just about legal -- let's talk about the ethical issues behind this.

And I find that to be a bit hypocritical in saying, no, let's just talk about the legal issues, when that's something that Republicans had always been upset with Hillary Clinton and the Clintons for being too legalistic.

BALDWIN: That's an interesting point. It seemed to me he was just trying to deflect and kept coming back to the legal issue and not the judgment issue, which Glenn kept bringing up.

What about, M.J., this question about the deep state? Let me play the question and then we will talk on the other side.


QUESTION: Does the White House believe there's such a thing as the deep state that's actively working to undermine the president?

SPICER: I think there's no question when you have eight years of one party in office that there are people who stay in government who are affiliated with, 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 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.

QUESTION: Will the director of the CIA or the DNI have a presidential mandate to seek these people out and fire them or purge them from government?

SPICER: The CIA does not -- that's not part of the CIA's mandate under any circumstances.


BALDWIN: M.J., I wanted to ask you about this, but, Colonel, actually, let me start with you. I think this phrase deep state has been hijacked as -- used as a political term now both I think on the left and the right. But actually the origins of deep state is what?

LEIGHTON: The basic origins, Brooke, are that it was designed to showcase, in essence, a rogue government within the government, people that would make things work that were following the rules of the intelligence community, whatever those might be, and actually running policy without regard to who was being elected either president or as a member of Congress or the Senate.

It's absolutely false. There is no such thing as a deep state, but it's something that has gotten a lot of play, like you just said, on both the left and the right.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. It has now. It certainly has.

Colonel Leighton, thank you so much. Domenico and also M.J., appreciate all of you very much.

We do have breaking news. So, I'm going to move along, breaking news from Capitol Hill. The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee says there's still absolutely no evidence that the Obama administration bugged Trump Tower -- those details next.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news here, nearly a week now after President Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping him, one ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee says he is still waiting to see evidence to back up that claim.

Let's go to our CNN senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, on the Hill.

Manu, what did Adam Schiff tell you? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he told me that he's still waiting for evidence to back up the president's claims that President Obama at the time, during the presidential election, spied on him.

Those were stunning accusations of course that the president infamously made on that Saturday morning tweet. But no one has seen evidence on Capitol Hill, this even after FBI Director James Comey came and briefed top members on the Senate and House Intelligence Committee and top leaders in both chambers. Still, members are looking for answers, not just Adam Schiff, but also Devin Nunes, who is the Republican chairman of the committee.

Take a listen.


RAJU: Is there any evidence to substantiate what he's been saying about President Obama spying on him?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I haven't seen any evidence whatsoever to substantiate that.

And I think, when Sean Spicer isn't even willing to talk about it, you know there is a real problem.

RAJU: Do you think that at March 20, at that hearing, Comey is going to be prepared to talk about this issue?

SCHIFF: He's certainly prepared for the question. And I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even the opportunity.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm very anxious to know any Americans that were either unmasked or if there were any FISA requests that went in. We want to find that out.

But, at this point, I just don't have anything to tell you new.

RAJU: On Monday, you said that you had seen no evidence yet of wiretapping. Does that comment still stand, when you say I will let my comments stand for...

NUNES: Yes, same as I told you on Monday or whenever that was.


RAJU: That last comment significant, because Devin Nunes talked to us earlier this week. He said he hadn't seen evidence then and he hasn't seen evidence now.

What he is doing is sending letters to the intelligence community asking for a bunch of information related to the larger investigation into Russia, Russia meddling in the elections, and the questions about whether there were any improper contacts between the Trump campaign, Trump associates and people tied to the Kremlin.

They're hoping for information to come back, Brooke, by next week, ahead of a March 20 hearing in which James Comey and others will testify in a public setting.

And interesting too, Adam Schiff noting to me that Comey will be ready to answer questions about this, this after we've been hearing that he had been privately grumbling that the president had made those wiretapping accusations, wanting the Justice Department to knock that down.

We will see if James Comey himself knocks that down when he's asked about that in that public hearing, Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's a big week in Washington, between that and the Neil Gorsuch hearings.

Manu, thank you so much, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us.

Coming up next, comedian Dave Chappelle takes the mike at a city council meeting in a town in Ohio to speak up, not just police reform, but about just really the importance of local politics in this era of President Trump. We will talk to two people who were in the room and get their reaction.



BALDWIN: Comedian Dave Chappelle, he has laid low over the last 10 years, only recently reemerging to host "Saturday Night Live" and for a couple performances.

But, surprise, this past Monday, he brought some star power to his local city council meeting in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Chappelle, who live there with his family, talked about a local incident that made national headlines, when people unsuccessfully deployed a Taser into a crowd on New Year's Eve.

Chappelle says, when he was a kid, he used to know the local police officers by name, and he says the problem today is a lack of community policing.

Here he was.


DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I got to be honest.

Me, personally, the police have been actually sensitive to my situation. I know of at least two occasions where they protected my own well-being, my personal well-being, unsolicited from me. So, I appreciate that.

Huge gaffe New Year's Eve. "The New York Times" and everything, I think that you laid the point of the night. Given the national (OFF- MIKE) and given what the culture of our town is like, that the council has a tremendous opportunity to be like a leader in progressive law enforcement.

One of the reasons that you were on the front page of "The New York Times" is because their travel editor is a woman that I went to school with here in Yellow Springs. At that time, we all knew officer Grove (ph), because his sister was my music teacher.


CHAPPELLE: We all knew officer Banner's (ph) children. We all knew officer Litman's (ph) children.

And now we're being policed by what feels like an alien force. But what I did want to know is, what is this pool of law enforcement that you can pull a chief out of that is special enough to police this town, which is wildly needed?

So I would beseech the council to look deeply and to look hard, because, I mean, we have got -- I mean, this is a golden opportunity, literally could kill the game.

In this Trump era, this is an opportunity to show everybody that local politics reigns supreme. We can make our corner of the world outstanding.

So I'm just begging you to find a candidate that matches the culture of this town, which is incredibly unique, which is renowned for being incredibly unique. That's all I'm saying.




BALDWIN: Dave Chappelle.

Let's talk to two people who were in the room, two city council members, Karen Wintrow and Brian Housh.

Nice to have both of you on.

Karen, I understand Dave Chappelle lives in the town. You see him grabbing some coffee, no big deal. But the fact that he showed up, he spoke his mind at your city council meeting, what was your reaction to that?


He went up into the balcony of the room. And then he came down. And one of our facilitators, he got their attention, so -- and let them know that he did want to speak.

So, I was really pleased that he did. He obviously brings a great perspective. He is a beloved community member.

And I do want to clarify we're a village, not a city. And we're very proud of that.

BALDWIN: Forgive me, village, village of Yellow Springs. I stand corrected.



BALDWIN: I stand corrected.

Let me ask, though, Brian, to you, and just hearing some of the -- what it was like and seeing him walk in and speak his mind. And we have talked a lot about community policing, given various stories we've covered here on CNN.

I think this was an issue that different villages and cities have dealt with. Can you talk a little bit about what -- the challenges you all face there?


Well, I think one of the things important to us about local policing is responding to, as Karen said, that village culture that we have. And I thought it was interesting that Dave highlighted that a couple times.

Some of the challenges that we have are not incredibly different from things that we're seeing on a national level. We are certainly trying to work on training and community relations in a strong way.


HOUSH: But I do think some of the advantages we have are that we are a creative culture.