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White House Blames Obama Administration For Flynn Vetting; Reporters Talk About Their Presidential Interviews; Trump Skipping White House Correspondents' Dinner. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Appreciate you being on NEW DAY, as always.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right, Chris. Who is to blame for the vetting process for Michael Flynn? The Trump White House says it is the Obama administration's fault. Members from both sides debate next.


CAMEROTA: Who is responsible for not better vetting Michael Flynn? Press Secretary Sean Spicer pointing the finger at the Obama administration for not thoroughly vetting one of President Trump's -- well, actually, President Trump's former national security adviser. Listen to Spicer.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His clearance was last reissued by the Obama administration in 2016 with full knowledge of his activities that occurred in 2015, as you point out. You know, obviously, there's an issue that, as you point out, the Department of Defense inspector general is looking into. We welcome that. But all of that clearance was made by the Obama -- during the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's debate this. Joining us now to discuss is Jason Miller. He's President Trump's former campaign communications adviser. And, Jennifer Psaki, former President Obama White House communications director. Great to have both of you here.


CAMEROTA: Jen, let me pull up for everyone the timeline, OK, and the moment that is in contention because it was on President Obama's watch if you, you know, look at Sean Spicer's logic. April 2014, that is when Flynn is forced out by the Obama administration. They had concerns about him. In October of 2014, he is warned by government officials against accepting foreign payments from, say, Russia. In December 2015, he goes to Russia and is paid to speak at a Russian T.V. event -- there's video of that. Here is the moment that Sean Spicer is hanging his hat on. Spring 2016, Michael Flynn's security clearance is renewed. So, Jen, just explain to us why isn't that on the Obama administration?

PSAKI: Well, first of all, Alisyn, I think it's important for people to remember that Michael Flynn was fired by President Obama for doing a terrible job at DIA, and then later on, the nominee -- President Trump, when he was the nominee, considered him as a vice presidential running mate. So to go back to the fact that how security clearances work, though, this is not done by political appointees. It's done by career officials at agencies. What we don't know is whether his security clearance was actually revoked when he left his job and whether it was, you know starting from scratch.

CAMEROTA: But either way, in spring of 2016 his security clearance is renewed, and that's when President Obama was still in the White House. So if they knew that he had gone to Russia and that he'd made this paid speech, why was it renewed?

PSAKI: Well, Alisyn, I don't think we knew what he disclosed at that time in any way, shape or form, and these decisions are not made by political appointees like myself. They're made by career officials --


PSAKI: -- who serve through decades of different administrations --


PSAKI: -- with different presidents at the helm. So this is kind of an absurd blame game here. The vetting is -- the responsibility in vetting belongs on the incoming administration.

CAMEROTA: OK, there you go.

PSAKI: Clearly, that wasn't done.

CAMEROTA: OK. So on the flip side, Jason, there were enough red flags about Michael Flynn by the time President Trump chose him as his National Security adviser and the Trump campaign should have vetted him themselves.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, taking a step back and toning down the hyperbole just a moment here, I don't think that this is a blame game. I didn't view what Sean said yesterday as blaming anybody. I viewed it as --

CAMEROTA: But he's saying it was under the Obama administration.

MILLER: That's a statement of fact. That's absolutely a statement of fact. He left his job in 2014. Now, he makes the trip overseas in 2015. His security clearance, as you just point out, is renewed in 2016. I mean, that's a statement of fact. I didn't see that as a blame game. Look, when you have top secret clearance, you have that top secret clearance until there's a reason to go and revoke it. When you encounter foreign officials or you make an overseas trip, then you have to go back and report it.


MILLER: That's the only reason why the DOD knew that the general had done it. But look, here's the bottom line.


MILLER: Here's where, ultimately, the responsibility lies --

CAMEROTA: Yes, where?

MILLER: -- is with Gen. Flynn to go and report all that information. Clearly, he reported the fact that he had made the trip. He did not report the fact that he had taken money to go and speak at this event. That's on Gen. Flynn, that's not on the administration. You have the former head of the DIA --


MILLER: -- a retired general. That's up to him to go and make that --

CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, Jason, obviously the irony is that President Trump believes in extreme vetting, just not for his own cabinet and staff. I mean, it wouldn't have been that hard to find out these things --

MILLER: But here's the thing.

CAMEROTA: -- but he wasembarrassed, you know, 20 days later in having to fire him.

MILLER: But that was regarding his not being completely forthright with Vice President Pence.

CAMEROTA: About this type of stuff.

MILLER: But again -- but going back to it, you've got to keep in mind his -- Gen. Flynn's top secret authorization was renewed after he made this overseas trip. And so, look, it's not as though people didn't know that he had made this trip, he just wasn't completely forthright with all the details. I think Gen. Flynn needs to come forward and explain the full story behind that. But I don't think you can put this on the current administration. I think that's a --

CAMEROTA: You don't think that they should have known more about the person they named to their National Security adviser?

MILLER: No. He had top secret clearance in good standing.

CAMEROTA: That's all you need to know? MILLER: I think that's a -- look, if we can't -- if we can't trust the DOD to go and get this right on the top secret authorization, then what are White House lawyers going to find out that DOD and Intelligence Community doesn't know?

CAMEROTA: Jen, your thoughts?

PSAKI: Look, believe me, there was no secret meeting at the White House when I was there when we thought Gen. Flynn was the right choice for National Security adviser. There's a lot that has been public about troubling -- his troubling handling of positions, so it's concerning that there's a passing of the buck here when it was the current president who chose him, the current president and his team who didn't vet him. And frankly, what I recall from that period is a loosey-goosey approach to handling classified documents and information. So those are the issues I think the American public --

MILLER: Well, but Jen, Jen why was --

PSAKI: -- should care about and should be focused on.

MILLER: Why was his top secret authorization renewed --

PSAKI: Well --

[07:40:00] MILLER: -- and why didn't your former boss, President Obama -- why didn't the administration go and stop that then if this was -- if this was such a problem.

PSAKI: Jason -- Jason, first of all, this is a troubling trend from Trump officials and Trump supporters of trying to pass the buck onto the last administration. The fact is that was done by career employees. We don't know all the details of what information they had. But right now we should be talking about why the current White House isn't providing all of the information that they're being asked for about Flynn. Why they're not providing information --


PSAKI: -- to the committees on the Hill. That's what we should be focused on right now.

MILLER: But they haven't -- they haven't invoked any -- that have not invoked any executive privilege. And look --

CAMEROTA: But, hold on. The last word, Jason. Don't you think that they should provide whatever the investigators are looking for now -- the White House?

MILLER: And they have. I mean, it's ultimately --

CAMEROTA: They've provided everything that congressional investigators are looking for?

MILLER: Yes. They've provided -- look, for what's come to them. Obviously, is there's a question about the speakers' bureau that Gen. Flynn was at, that's going to come from the speakers' bureau.


MILLER: If there is a question from the DOD, that's going to come from the DOD. But look, when we started the interview I made the comment that we shouldn't be playing the blame game. It should be a matter of fact that it's up to Gen. Flynn to come forward and make sure these details --


MILLER: -- are forwarded. And so, look, that's where I think it needs to be. I think the White House has been compliant.

CAMEROTA: OK, there you go. Jen, Jason, thank you very much.

PSAKI: Great to be here, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CUOMO: All right. So, we've seen that President Trump has had a string of realizations now that he is in office and we see a new and very significant reveal on the eve of his 100th day. We have two reporters who spoke to the president and he told them something that was very surprising, next.


[07:45:25] CUOMO: President Trump making big headlines this morning in a series of new interviews with "Reuters" and "The Washington Post" ahead of his 100-day milestone tomorrow. Joining us now, two of the reporters who spoke with the president. Phillip Rucker, the White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post" and Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent with "Reuters."

Jeff Mason, set the scene for us. You're in the Oval Office. What was the atmosphere? What was the dynamic? What did you perceive in the president's demeanor?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: Well, it was a very relaxed atmosphere. The interview was conducted by two of my colleagues and myself, Steve Holland and Steve Adler. And we walked into the Oval Office and there were a couple of friends of his already seated there in front of the desk and he invited us just to visit with them for a while. So we sat down and visited with them for about 10-15, maybe 20 minutes, and then they departed and we started the interview.

And he was confident, he was relaxed, he was straightforward. We had a couple of other people come in during that interview. Vice President Pence walked in, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus walked in, so it was formal but also had sort of a casual element to it insofar as people just kind of came in.

CAMEROTA: OK. And Jeff, beyond the atmospherics what surprised you? What was the headline to you? MASON: Well, there were a few different headlines. Certainly, I think the biggest news that came out of it was -- were his comments about North Korea and saying that there was a possibility of a major conflict with North Korea. Also, him signaling that the United States would be tearing up or terminating the Free Trade Agreement with South Korea, and his comments about Taiwan as well, in relationship to relations with China and the friendship that he has developed with President Xi. We asked him if he would have another direct phone conversation with the president of Taiwan and he basically said no, he didn't want to mess things up with President Xi. So all of those things were interesting.

It was also very interesting when we asked him about the 100 days and what he missed about his previous life.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that is --

MASON: He said he missed driving.

CAMEROTA: Oh, he misses driving?

MASON: He missed driving


MASON: -- and he made this sort of remarkable comment that this job was more work --


MASON: -- and harder than he expected.

CUOMO: Yes, let's play that, Jeff. We have the sound. We'll play it.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I loved my -- I loved my previous life. I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. I actually -- this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a -- I'm a details-oriented person -- I think you would say that -- but I do miss my old life. This -- I like to work so that's not a problem, but this is actually more work.


CUOMO: It's very interesting. OK, let me pivot over to you, Phillip, because this was something that you both wound up experiencing in different ways in your interviews. For Jeff, it was about the disposition of this is harder than I thought it was going to be. And for you, it was issues specific on NAFTA that, once again, we see with the president, like with health care, like with the situation with China and North Korea, and now with NAFTA, oh, this is a little bit more complicated and different than I thought it was.

PHILLIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's exactly right. We really -- in my interview with the presidentI really wanted to understand why he changed on NAFTA. It had been a signature campaign promise of his to get rid of NAFTA -- to terminate NAFTA.

He thought it was a bad deal for years, going back decades, and yet, he's decided here to renegotiate with Canada and Mexico -- to sort of hit the pause button. And that was a sudden shift in his thinking in the White House and he said that he was ready to terminate the deal -- he looked forward to terminating NAFTA and to do so on the 100th day -- on Saturday. He was going to make a big splash and decided not to because he had these phone calls with the Canadian prime minister and the Mexican president and felt like doing so would really basically set off a bomb on their relationship. That they would -- they would such have tension between them that he couldn't do it.

CAMEROTA: That is fascinating, Phillip -- I mean, just to hear his thought process. And, you know, it's been said that he sometimes is susceptible to the last person he talks to --


CAMEROTA: -- and certainly with the NAFTA illustration that you've given us in your reporting that holds true. But, Jeff, I want to get back to you for a second because the president gave you something. It was a prop, I guess, to prove a point and you have it. What was it that he showed you?

MASON: It wasn't so much a prop. It was just interesting how we were talking, as I mentioned earlier, about President Xi and that relationship, and then he sort of interrupted himself and handed out this map of the Electoral College and said that these were the latest figures of the areas in the country that he had won in 2016. And there were three of us in the interview, as I said, and he had a copy for each of us. And so it was just clear that the election -- even five months later after he's been in office -- nearly 100 days and gone through the transition -- remains very much on his mind.

[07:50:20] CUOMO: Was it about his feeling of success or did you feel that he still feels he has to prove that he won because there's so much cynicism?

MASON: I think that's a good question and it's hard for me to answer that. I think he just wanted to relish in the fact that this map looks good for him. And he said, you know, the red is obviously us, and the red are the areas in the country that he won, so he's just very proud of it. And whether that's rooted in a sense that he still has to prove that he won or that he's upset that the media got it wrong in terms of the predictions ahead of time it's hard for me to say, but he certainly wants people to know and he really enjoys looking at that map, himself, and sharing it with others.

CUOMO: The map was big for you, too, Phillip, right? I mean, wasn't his -- RUCKER: Yes.

CUOMO: -- change in NAFTA a function of what someone showed him on a map about where these millions and millions of jobs are and what will be lost?

RUCKER: That's exactly right. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Wilbur Ross, the Commerce secretary, presented a map to President Trump to show that so many of the red states, if you will -- the Trump country -- the places he won would have an adverse impact if he were to terminate NAFTA. But I have to laugh at the map that Jeff just held up because he -- the president gave me the same map and encouraged me to take it home to "The Washington Post," show all my colleagues, and make sure it runs on the front page of the newspaper to show the American people how big his victory really was.

CAMEROTA: And is it on the front page today, Phillip?

RUCKER: It is not (laughs).

CAMEROTA: Because some of your colleagues knew about the Electoral College.

RUCKER: We ran plenty of maps back in November. I think everybody knows how red the map turned out.

CAMEROTA: And so, Phillip, last, I mean, what surprised you? You know, obviously, you've done other interviews with him so what surprised you with this one, beyond his flip on NAFTA?

RUCKER: You know, I think just the ease with which he is comfortable being flexible on these issues. A lot of politicians fear the label 'flip-flop.' They feel like they have to be ideologically pure. That if they promise something in a policy, the voters expect that they're going to follow through with it. And for Trump, it's the opposite. It's a point of pride. I mean, he feels like it's one of his strongest attributes that he's flexible on these issues. That he can weigh the current dynamic and the current atmosphere around a policy and determine what he thinks is best in that moment, and it's a real difference from the other politicians that we deal with.

CUOMO: Well, and also -- I mean, look, there's also a little bit of a reckoning that's going to come to pass about things that he's said and miscasting a lot of issues that now he's having to reverse because --

RUCKER: Yes, that's exactly right.

CUOMO: -- he must deal with the reality of these issues. Jeff, tomorrow night is 'Nerd Prom.' It's the White House Correspondent's' dinner.

MASON: We don't call it that.

CUOMO: I know. That's because you're the head of the Association. But the president's not going to be there and how do you kind of reconcile him doing more interviews, seemingly, to reach out a little bit more to press? He's not calling us fake and insulting us as much. But with him not showing up, having his own rally, kind of then -- kind of making us take a choice. Do we cover the rally, do we go on to the Correspondents' dinner? What's your take?

MASON: It's just a really interesting dichotomy. I mean, this president has said very, very negative things about the press. He called the press the enemy of the American people which is certainly something that we, now with my White House Correspondent's' Association hat on, reject completely. But he has also been very accessible and those are things that -- those are things that we want for White House correspondents. We're happy to see him taking questions in several press conferences and letting the press in to see him govern with his aides.


MASON: So it's just a kind of interesting dichotomy and I can't explain it. I think the signals that he chooses to send are signals that only he can speak to. We do look forward to having the dinner on Saturday night and we'll be celebrating the First Amendment and lifting up our scholarship awardees, and with or without the President of the United States, those values are the ones that we will -- that we will project.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Phillip, Jeff, thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us.

RUCKER: Thank you.

MASON: A pleasure.

CUOMO: All right. Now, in that interview with "Reuters," the president outspoken and provocative about North Korea, even further than he has. Now, was that planned or is it something that the White House is going to have to walk back? We're going to get after that right after the break. Stay with NEW DAY.


[07:58:40] CAMEROTA: Break out the shorts. It's getting hot, in the Northeast at least, this weekend. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray has our forecast. What are you seeing, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, Alisyn, we are going to see some warm temperatures. D.C. could hit 92 degrees tomorrow. In fact, we're going to be close to 90 degrees -- or 80 degrees, rather, in Boston. New York City hitting 83 by Saturday. Those temperatures, though, will come down just a little bit on Sunday with some rainfall, but that heat is really building across much of the south and the east.

We do still have that flood threat, though, across portions of Arkansas, Missouri, and spilling into the Ohio Valley. You can see those rainfall totals. We could see additional six to 10 inches of rainfall across some of these places through Sunday, so flooding is going to be a huge concern, as well as the severe threat for today for large hail, damaging winds, and isolated tornadoes, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, appreciate it. We'll take warm when it comes but we don't want to see that extreme weather.

All right, we're following a lot of news, including a live interview here on NEW DAY with Sen. Bernie Sanders. What do the Democrats need to do? Let's get to it.


TRUMP: We could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Chinese informed the regime that if they did conduct further nuclear tests, China would be taking sanctions actions on their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is front and center on our national security radar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All scenarios are on the table, so it really is all up to North Korea.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to health care, once again, Republicans have fallen short.