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Secy. of State Tillerson Meets with Japanese PM; Trump Defends Wiretap Accusation Amid Doubts; March Madness Tips Off Today. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:24] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressing U.S. concerns about North Korea right now on his trip to Asia. He is meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Our Will Ripley is live in Tokyo with more.


We are certainly getting a sense of Secretary Tillerson's style. He likes things quick and concise. They had a working dinner, bilateral meetings with the Japanese prime minister and foreign minister. They got it all done in the building behind me, then the lights went off. And Secretary Tillerson moved on.

During the press conference, he talked about North Korea, saying that there needs to be a new approach -- that America needs a new approach after giving more than a billion dollars in food and energy aid over the last 20 years, only to see North Korea's nuclear arsenal and missile program develop. He said the diplomacy policy of the past three administrations has been a failure.

But yet, he didn't give any specifics about what the United States plans to do now. There is a reporting out of the State Department that perhaps the U.S. could sanction Chinese companies that do business in North Korea. There is also talk of an Iran style approach, expanding to a global approach towards North Korea, which would, of course, contradict everything that candidate Trump said on the company trail when he blasted the Iran deal.

He was asked about the massive State Department budget cuts. He said put on his CEO hat, Chris, saying that the State Department will just have to do more with fewer dollars and work more efficiently.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, the secretary of state not traveling with the ordinary press retinue, but Will Ripley on the scene, nonetheless.

Thank you very much.

So, President Trump got no satisfaction on his wiretapping claims from the people who would know, but he says it's not over. Another mysterious promise from the president two weeks -- wait until we see two weeks, next.


[06:37:32] CUOMO: President Trump doubling down on his claim of wiretapping by the Obama White House in a new interview. Take a listen to this.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: You're in charge of the agencies. Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of an agency. You know, we have enough problems.


CUOMO: A statement from the president that strains credulity. The new comments come as top lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, are openly casting doubt on the allegations saying there's just no proof.

Let's bring back our panel -- David Drucker, David Gregory, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey Toobin, there, obviously, just straight politics, the idea of the president saying "I don't want to hurt our government agencies," he's done little but that since he's been president, it's a part of his strategy it seems to delegitimize agencies of government that don't go along with him. But other than this mystery promise of in a couple of weeks, we heard that before when he's in a tight spot, what could come out that would somehow changes the position of these investigative agencies and these top lawmakers who were saying there is nothing there?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I don't even know how to address what he said, it's so bizarre. I mean, you know, no one has said there is any evidence for what he said. There is no evidence there was any wiretapping.

Now, he's trying to change. He says wiretap doesn't really mean wiretap. Well, in two weeks, mystery facts will come out.

There are no facts anywhere in the world that have come out so far that lend any credulity to what he said and, you know as you pointed out, Chris, you know, whenever he is caught, on one of these tall tales, he says two weeks, that's his magical time period. That's when -- that's when we'll know and then two weeks pass, and no one follows up. I mean, it's just ridiculous.

HARLOW: You know, we heard -- to your point, Jeffrey, we heard I think the most definitive statement yet from someone on a committee that's investigating this in the president's own party in the comments from Congressman Devin Nunes just yesterday. Listen.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: That evidence still remains the same, and we don't have any evidence that that took place. And, in fact, I don't believe just in the last week of time that the people I talked to, I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.

[06:40:01] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To date, I see no evidence that supports the claim that President Trump made that his predecessor had wiretapped he and his associates at Trump Tower. Thus far, we have seen no basis for that whatsoever.


HARLOW: Ranking members, Democrat and Republican, of the House Intelligence Committee that are investigating this -- we see no evidence. How much longer can the White House go with this without giving any answers, any evidence? Lindsey Graham saying yesterday to Chris, well, subpoena it, if you have to.

To you, David Gregory?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I don't know how much longer the president can go. I mean, you know, he has so many assertions that prove not to be true and we're waiting for follow up. I mean, where is the evidence about all these illegals voting in the election that he's promising this big investigation on them. I'm waiting for him to help OJ Simpson find the real killers.

You know, he goes on. And he worries about undercutting agencies, how about the presidency and his credibility and the word of the president of the United States?

All of this matters and it matters in terms of getting to the bottom of what exactly Russia was up to in trying to manipulate the election and what help, if any, there was from anyone within the Trump orbit in the course of the election? That's something that he has a responsible to worry about, not about under cutting his own legitimacy, but about whether it can happen again, whether it can happen in other countries, whether it can happen to a future candidate.

That what he is supposed to be safeguarding and his tweet I think strategically got us off that central focus, which is where investigators ought to be.

CUOMO: He, again, we keep using all this expression, hoisted on his own petard, you know, the bomb he set up for somebody else is going up on him, instead. But he likes this dynamic, David Drucker. He likes this. He likes to test --

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. CUOMO: -- that which he has criticized about, he did it with, we'll see, there's going to be something that comes out about the Russian hacks, and he wound up like quoting Julian Assange, you know, saying it wasn't the Russians. He has fallen short on this several times and, yet, there is a good chance that something will come out about surveillance, in general, and how they got Flynn while they were surveilling the Russian ambassador and he can say that's what I meant.

Will that be enough?

DRUCKER: Well, I think for his domestic politics, that will be enough in that these kind of episodes I think the president uses to strengthen his connection to the base and keep them doubting critics. And so, if everybody is always after him, then you can't trust people who are critical of his policies, I think he uses situations like that to do that, and it's a pretty good effect.

Now, as David Gregory has pointed out, what people around the world see is another matter, and that is problematic, because the word of the president of the United States is supposed to matter. And other countries and foreign leaders could use this against him overtime, saying, look, you can't trust what the president says, but he says all sorts of things.

And I think that gets us to the Republicans and the people he is looking to, to defend him. What I have noticed in talking to them over the past month or so is they've really gotten used to his Twitter tirades and to him being unconventional as we say. But they are concerned about his credibility and the Twitter, the tweet storm about the wiretapping did concern them.

And if there is anybody that's going to go, that is not looking to undermine him, I mean, people might look at Lindsey Graham and say, look, he's never liked the president. But Devin Nunes, he's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, advised Trump's transition and was a big fan of General Flynn.

CUOMO: Did you see his face, Devin Nunes? You know, this is a guy that came out into the beginning of this, hey, we will investigate. Let's see what it is. Did you see his face yesterday? He -- I mean, basically, the thought bubble was, why do I have to deal with this?

DRUCKER: Right. It's not something he wants to deal with.

I do think, however, we should continue to watch his investigation because they have, for weeks, been looking into how General Flynn's comments and discussion with the Russian ambassador ended up in public. They think it might have been swept up in surveillance of the Russians and illegally leaked to the public.

CUOMO: What do you think of David Gregory's tie while we let them go? Are those dog paws and basketball?

GREGORY: This is my son's Cardigan Mountain School basketball tie. Go Cougars. My son played varsity basketball there. I am proud to wear it. HARLOW: Good dad. Are you wearing a special tie of your kids this


CUOMO: No, I wear black, because I'm in mourning on a regular basis.


HARLOW: Guys, thank you all very much.

Coming up, in our next hour, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, will join us to discuss this and more.

CUOMO: The tournament field is set, perfect segue from a basketball tie. In just a few hours, March Madness will be in full effect. "The Bleacher Report" is next.


[06:48:29] CUOMO: March Madness finally upon us -- no, I'm not talking politics, I'm talking about the first round of the NCAA tournament starting in about five and a half hours. But who's counting?

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report."

This is a good one. Who do you have winning? And who do you like in the first round?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I picked Arizona to win it all, Chris, going out on a limb a little bit.

CUOMO: Ambitious.

SCHOLES: But I'll tell you what, the first round of NCAA tournament, it's really the best two days in sports, at least for me. You got 16 games today, 16 games tomorrow. Everyone is into it with their bracket. And according to Wallet Hub, companies across the country lose $4 billion during the tournament due to unproductive employees.

Now, last night, we had a good one. USC and Providence battling it out to advance to the first round. The Trojans were down by 17 in the second half of this one. They've mounted a come back for the ages, though. USC would win 75-17, avenging last season's tournament lost to the Friars. They're going to move on to play MSU on Friday.

All the action, of course, is getting started later today. 12:15 Eastern, we got Princeton and Notre Dame on CBS. And it's UNC Wilmington against Virginia at 12:40 on truTV. Winthrop takes on Butler at 1:30 on TNT, and South Dakota State tries to knock off top- seeded Gonzaga on TBS. Those are your early games.

Former President Obama may no longer be in office, but he is still filling out his March Madness brackets. He released his picks on Twitter yesterday via the Obama Foundation. He picked North Carolina to win it all, beating Duke for the championship. He also has Arizona and Kansas in his final four.

[06:50:01] President Trump respectfully declined to fill out a bracket this year.

And if you think you can pick a better bracket than all of us here at CNN, go to and make sure to play with us.

You got a little less than five hours to fill out those brackets, Poppy. So, get to it.

HARLOW: I mean, you know who I pick? This is no -- this is no joke. Go first, Minnesota.

SCHOLES: That is going out on a limb.

HARLOW: Yes, yes, yes. I know, I know, I know. T

Thank you, Andy.

Coming up, the president's own words, could they affect his travel ban's future? That's what we're looking at this morning. Two federal judges arguing what he said before he was president matters a lot. That's next.


HARLOW: President Trump's own words, on the company trail coming back to haunt him. Two federal judges overnight citing the president's own comments. Some of them here on CNN while he was campaigning, making the case against his revised travel ban and their new rulings this morning.

Let's discuss with CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", Brian Stelter, and CNN media analyst and author of "The War for Late Night," Bill Carter.

[06:55:02] Brian Stelter, let me begin with you, those words when he said to Anderson Cooper, "I think Islam hates us," those words and many more coming back to haunt him in these rulings.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he has been cited by the judges. We've also seen recent interviews from Trump aides cited by the judges, for example, Stephen Miller's interview. He was on the certificate a few Sunday morning, back, Trump praised Miller for his performance on the Sunday morning shows. But it's been Miller's words also used against the Trump administration in these court briefs.

CUOMO: Look, legally, this is going to get stick, because this an extension of legislative intent. But a counterargument is going to be, so, if this executive order had been written by President Obama, it would be OK, but because it's written by Trump it ain't. So, legally, that's going to be something.

But is there a lesson in the messaging strategy of saying anything, it's OK, all is forgiven with Trump, is this a lesson and well, sometimes, the words can come back?

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I think it is, I think he's stayed in campaign mode the whole time. Now, he's president. Now, the words do matter. The words are being parsed, being followed. And, clearly, they have impact.

I don't know that he can control it, though. You don't see him modifying himself very much. Certainly, the thing with the Trump Tower thing is an indication that got him in trouble. So, I don't think he can pull back with this. This isn't in his makeup.

HARLOW: He may have hurt himself, though, more last night in a rally when he said this order that was blocked was a watered down version of the first order, and that wasn't while he was a candidate.

I want your guys take on this interview, he's done very few, but he's done, you know, the ones he has been done have been with friendly outlets. Here's what he told Tucker Carlson on Fox just last night about, you know, how he talks to the American people. Listen.


TRUMP: I think that maybe I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Twitter because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press. I mean, if you look and I'm not including FOX because I think FOX has been fair to me. But if you look at CNN and if you look at these other networks, NBC, I made a fortune for NBC with "The Apprentice." I was very good to NBC and they are despicable, they're despicable in their coverage. CBS, ABC, you take a look at what's going on, I call it the fake press, the fake media. It is a disgrace what's happening.


HARLOW: Let me get this straight, Brian Stelter, if one makes money for a network, that entity should not objectively cover that said person who happens to be commander-in-chief, what kind of logic is that?

STELER: It seems he thinks NBC is on the hook with him forever. It's reflection of his business mindset, his business relationship. This is a president that uses language differently than other presidents. But now, as Bill was saying, that is coming back to haunt him in various ways.

There's even moments where President Trump tries to parse language when it benefits him. He said to Tucker Carlson, when I was talking about wiretapping, I used the word wiretap in quotes, so it could mean different things. Well, actually in his tweets, he did quote the word wiretap once, didn't quote it twice, two other times.

So, he was trying to use a sort of predictable presidential parsing of language when it benefits him. But at other times, he is so loose with words. I noticed at his rally last night what he's doing is saying, we will do, we will do, this still acting, still talking like he's campaigning. CUOMO: Right. Look. He didn't get chased about this last night. No

surprise there. But he didn't put wiretap in quotes all the time as Brian is saying

CARTER: Right, right.

CUOMO: He is using another device that will see if it pays for him politically. I think, you know, again, he's limiting himself to basically a third of the country with these moves, but a couple of weeks.

CARTER: Yes, a couple of weeks.

CUOMO: In a couple of weeks, stuff is going to come out.

CARTER: That's exactly like --

CUOMO: I won't get involved with government agencies. A couple of weeks --

CARTER: A couple weeks turn out --

CUOMO: I won't reach out to the agencies, which I could do and declassify the information I learn more quickly than anybody else can, because I don't want to hurt the government agencies. That's straining credulity, because he's done nothing but attack government.

CARTER: And what he's doing really is he keeps pushing the decision further down thinking in between, something will happen to distract you from that first thing and usually, he throws up something to happen. I think we can anticipate that, something else will be thrown up to try to push us off thing.

I think the tax thing was thrown up to try to push us off the health care thing and this, I think that's his strategy all along, two weeks, something will happen. I'll be able to come up with something.

CUOMO: There is no proof he had anything to do with tax --


CARTER: No proof, no.

CUOMO: What did you say, Brian?

STELTER: And there is a through line for all of these stories, whether it's Rex Tillerson traveling without his traveling press corps, experts in diplomacy who cover it for a living, there's a through line when we see in a few minutes the budget alarms on the White House cutting all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, if Congress goes along with it. That would hurt PBS and NPR. There is a through line when he doesn't seek out information from his intelligence agencies. The through line is a rejection of expertise.

HARLOW: Brian Stelter, Bill Carter, thank you guys very much. And thank you to all of our international viewers for joining us this morning. For you, CNN "NEWSROOM" is next.

For our viewers here in the United States, our breaking news coverage on the second time that Trump has tried to implement this travel ban being shut down, that continues right now.