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McMaster: Trump Wants Military Options for North Korea Threat; Trump Promises 'Big Surprise' as Senate Struggles with Health Bill. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 28, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Immediate threats. President Trump's national security adviser warns the threat posed by North Korea is, quote, "much more immediate now." And he says the president has asked for military options to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons threats.
[17:00:22] A big surprise. A mysterious promise from President Trump on the GOP health care bill as senators face a Friday deadline to find a compromise behind the scenes. Some Democrats are complaining about the role the president is playing.
Saved many lives? The U.N. ambassador to the U.N. says the Trump administration saved, quote, "many innocent men, women and children" by warning Syria not to launch a chemical attack. Did the Bashar al- Assad regime really heed the president's threat?
And blaming Obama. After accusing the former president of spying on him and other criminal acts, President Trump's relationship with him has become so toxic, the two haven't spoken since inauguration day. It's the first time in decades a sitting president has shut out communication with his predecessor.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Deep concern inside the White House about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. The national security adviser general H.R. McMaster saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "The threat is much more immediate now." And he revealed that President Trump has asked for a range of options, including military action, to deal with the Kim Jong-un regime.
We're also following the scramble right now by Senate Republican leaders to overcome deep divisions inside the Republican Party over its bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. After postponing a vote on the measure, majority leader Mitch McConnell now trying to win over conservatives who think it doesn't go far enough and moderates who see it as too severe.
Also this hour, escalating hostility from the White House toward the news media. Once again today, the press secretary's office barred live TV coverage of the daily press briefing hours after President Trump launched new Twitter attacks on what he calls the fake news media.
And Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr told CNN he's asked the FBI for memos, memos detailing conversations between the fired FBI director, James Comey, and his confidantes. The documents detail Comey's conversations also with President Trump, including the president's request to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Jim Heinz of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin with the breaking news on North Korea. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is working this story for us.
Barbara, the administration clearly very concerned and issuing some stark warnings.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The warnings, the language is changing everywhere, Wolf. Good evening.
President Trump a couple of days ago said that North Korea might have to be dealt with rapidly. That's the president's words, and now we know why. Two officials are telling me that military options for North Korea have recently been updated and will be ready, are ready, to present to President Trump if needed.
Every North Korean missile test, the possibility of an underground nuclear test all being evaluated constantly to see if North Korea is making significant advances in its ability to field a missile and a nuclear warhead capable of attacking the United States.
Just a short time ago today, the national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, brought this all out into public view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The threat is much more immediate now. And so -- so it's clear that we can't repeat the same approach -- failed approach of the past. The president has directed us to not do that and to prepare a range of options, including a military option which nobody wants to take.
There's a recognition that there has to be more pressure on the regime. And I think what you'll see in coming days and weeks are efforts to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: General McMaster making it clear the administration still looking for a diplomatic solution. China pressuring North Korea.
But something has significantly changed in the military equation. A defense official tells me North Korea has made recent advances in its ability to disguise what it's doing, to be able to launch missiles, conduct an underground nuclear test very quickly, very rapidly without the U.S. having the kind of potential advance warning it might have had in the past.
[17:05:05] All of this, Wolf, tonight adding to the equation, adding to the worry that the Trump administration may be the U.S. administration that finally has to deal with North Korea.
BLITZER: Yes, and officials have told me now for several weeks that the North Korea threat isn't, for all practical purposes, the national security threat facing the United States right now, even more so than ISIS and other terror-related issues. Barbara Starr, we'll have a lot more on this coming up, reporting from the Pentagon.
Now the significant challenges facing the Senate Republican health care bill. Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's up on Capitol Hill with the very latest.
Ryan, this is clearly an uphill battle for the Senate Republican leadership.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good way to put it, Wolf. In many ways, the Senate Republicans are back to square one as they look for a path to passage for some form of health care reform.
And for Senate leadership, that means attempting to bring wayward Republicans back into the fold, but for Senate Republican moderates, it means opening the door to working with Democrats.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's message to his fellow Senate Republicans is clear. It is time to come together.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This should not be acceptable to anyone. Sitting on the sidelines and accepting the status quo won't bring help to anyone's constituents.
NOBLES: McConnell's plea is directed at the growing list of Senate Republicans anxious about the direction of the health care bill. Concerns that are growing, depending on the member, are vastly different.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think it's very difficult, because while there is significant opposition to the health care bill here in the Senate, the opposition comes from various quarters and ideological spectrum is really wide.
NOBLES: For moderates like Maine's Susan Collins, issues like funding for Planned Parenthood, cuts to the Medicaid program, and increased cash for rural hospitals are important. But conservatives like Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky are looking for more market competition and less government regulation of health care.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We've given moderates in our caucus lots of money to keep spending. They get to keep the Obamacare subsidies. They get to keep the Obamacare regulations. If they want conservatives to be on board, they have to start talking about, "You know what? We promised to appeal." Why don't we make the bill look a little more like a repeal?
NOBLES: That divide has left moderates wondering if working with Democrats may be the better option.
(on camera): Do you see a way for the moderate wing and the conservative wing to come together with some sort of agreement on the health care bill? Can that be done?
COLLINS: It's going to be very difficult, but it's certainly worth a try. I think it would be even better if we involved some Democrats in the process and tried to make this bipartisan.
NOBLES (voice-over): But most Republicans still believe sticking together offers the best chance to get the 50 votes necessary for passage.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I personally think we'll get everybody together and be able to do this. We have to. If we don't do it, I mean, we're going to have socialized medicine.
NOBLES: Adding to the complexity of this debate, the decision of a pro-Trump super PAC to hit Nevada Senator Dean Heller with an ad campaign attacking his opposition to the bill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're opposed to this bill, we are opposed to you.
NOBLES: The ad has come down, but Heller personally confronted the president at the all-GOP senators meeting at the White House. This upheaval in the GOP has given Democrats an opening, and they are taking advantage of it by calling on Senate Republicans and President Trump to start over on health care and to vent in the process.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If my Republican friends abandon cuts to Medicaid, highly unpopular with the American people; abandon tax breaks for the wealthiest few, highly unpopular with the American people, we Democrats are more than willing to meet with them in the White House to talk about how to improve health care for the American people.
NOBLES: And the wheeling and dealing continues tonight for Senate Republicans behind closed doors, even though they know they won't get a vote this week. There is still some faint hope that the broad outlines of a plan can be agreed upon before they leave for the July Fourth recess on Friday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's going to be really, really tough. We'll see what they can do. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill. Thanks very much.
All of this clearly a major setback for President Trump, who campaigned extensively on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, for more.
Jim, there's a lot at stake in this whole issue for the president. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
And the president talked about a surprise today, but besides that, President Trump is not sounding so sure about victory in the health care debate as he conceded today getting a bill out of the Senate may be more difficult than he once thought. The White House said the president is not giving up on the effort, but of course, once again, officials expressed that confidence off camera.
ACOSTA (voice-over): After once promising Americans more winning than they could stand, President Trump appeared to be bracing for a potential defeat on health care.
[17:10:06] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we're going to get at least very close, and I think we're going to get it over the line.
ACOSTA: One day after Senate Republicans delayed a vote on their Obamacare repeal bill, the president defended his work on the issue, tweeting, "Some of the fake news media likes to say that I'm not totally engaged in health care. Wrong. I know the subject well, and I want victory for the U.S."
One big problem the president conceded: cobbling together a plan that pleases both moderate and conservative Republicans. A jarring reality he encountered in a meeting with GOP senators.
TRUMP: It's very tough. Every state is different. Every senator is different. But I have to tell you, the Republican senators had a really impressive meeting yesterday at the White House. We had close to 50 of them. We have 52. We need almost all of them.
ACOSTA: Later in the day, the president was ginning up some suspense on the issue without elaborating.
TRUMP: We could have a big surprise with a great health care package.
ACOSTA: During the campaign, then-candidate Trump insisted repealing Obamacare would be simple.
TRUMP: You're going to have great such health care at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it's going to be so easy.
ACOSTA: Now fellow Republicans visiting the White House are noting their opposition right outside the West Wing.
GOV. PAUL LEPAGE (R), MAINE: It doesn't go far enough to fix it. I'm on the conservative side of this bill, and I think we're going to work together to make it better.
ACOSTA: Adding to the problem, three new polls showing support for the Senate bill below 20 percent. Sensing they have the upper hand, Democrats are calling on the president to host both parties at the White House. SCHUMER: President Trump, I challenge you to invite us, all 100 of
us, Republican and Democrat, to Blair House to discuss a new bipartisan way forward on health care in front of all the American people.
ACOSTA: Asked about that, the president did not knock down the idea.
TRUMP: I need to find out if he's serious. He hasn't been serious.
ACOSTA: The president will try to rally his supporters at a private fundraiser at the Trump Hotel in Washington, a sign that, yes, he is running in 2020.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Of course he's running for reelection.
ACOSTA: Even if the White House didn't want to comment on the optics of the event.
Isn't a fundraiser at the hotel rather swamp-like, Sarah?
ACOSTA: The White House did try to have it both ways today on its continued practice of holding briefings off camera. Deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders complained that reporters would not have covered the immigration officials at today's briefing had the White House not invited them to the briefing room.
But of course, because the White House is keeping up with this policy of no cameras being on during those briefings, those officials ended up receiving less coverage -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly did.
Very quickly, the president is heading tonight down the street from the White House over to the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue for, what, a campaign fundraiser for his own reelection? Is that right?
ACOSTA: That's right. And they're saying that this is, in part, because they want to make sure that there are no challengers going after the president in 2020, which is amazing that they're thinking about this five or six months into office.
But Wolf, one thing we should point out earlier today, the White House was insisting that this fundraiser would be off camera, not open to reporters at all, and then later on in the day, perhaps yielding to some of this pressure we've been bringing on this White House. They agreed that pool coverage will be allowed of this fundraiser tonight, so at least we'll get to hear or get some sort of sense of what the president is saying tonight.
But make no mistake: This is obviously a very big problem from an optics standpoint for the president. Just a few blocks away from the White House, he's holding a fundraiser at his own hotel. That's certainly going to raise a lot of questions in this town from people who think that he's already not putting enough separation between himself, the White House and his hotel here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting, that he's already thinking about the reelection, what, three and a half years to go.
All right. Thanks very much. We're going to have a lot more on all of these stories.
We're also standing by to speak live with an influential member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Jim Himes will be joining us right after this.
[17:18:25] BLITZER: Breaking news. The president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, speaking only moments ago, calling the threat posed by North Korea -- and I'm quoting him now -- "much more immediate now."
McMaster revealed President Trump has asked for a range of options, including military action, to deal with the Kim Jong-un regime.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: You agree with General McMasters' assessment about this threat from North Korea, requiring the president now to consider various options, including potentially military action?
HIMES: Well, it's not entirely clear to me what is different now than a year ago or a month ago. You know, for years now North Korea has been a rogue state. They have ignored the world community in its demand that they stop their work to develop nuclear weapons and more importantly, the ability to deliver those weapons. They keep testing missiles. So I don't know why today is so important.
North Korea is a very, very serious threat, but I've got to tell you, though, the sort of -- the martial drumbeat here makes me very nervous for a bunch of reasons.
No. 1, you know, we've got an awful lot of troops on the ground in Korea. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans in Korea and, of course, there are millions of South Koreans in the greater Seoul area.
So this is a very complicated game, and it makes me nervous when you hear rhetoric beginning to be ratcheted up, and the person who is hearing that rhetoric is not necessarily stable and calm.
[17:20:02] So this is -- I'm not quite sure what the White House's game here is, but I hope they know what they're doing.
BLITZER: Well, do you believe the president is equipped to handle a major North Korean crisis while avoiding dangerous escalation, as you point out?
HIMES: It won't surprise you to know that I am not a big believer in President Trump's extensive, deep, and nuanced knowledge of the situation in North Korea or Asia generally. I am heartened by the fact that H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis and other very, very experienced hands are around the president in this moment.
And I also have to say, Wolf, you know, whenever somebody rattles the sabre that way -- and of course, the president rattled the sabre last week with respect to Syria -- he and his people need to know that the Constitution of the United States is very, very clear that any military activity that is not responding to a direct attack on the United States or our forces has got to be debated and approved by the United States Congress. That's really, really important.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about Syria for a moment, because the White House is now warning that Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, could be planning another chemical weapons attack against civilians, including children. In a statement, the White House said the Bashar al-Assad regime would pay a heavy price if another chemical attack took place.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said the warning prevented an attack. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I can tell you that, due to the president's actions, we did not see an incident. What we did see before was all of the same activity that we had seen prior for the April 4 chemical weapons attack.
And so I think that, by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that, while they choose to back Assad, that this was something we were not going to put up with. So I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is she right, Congressman? Did the statement from the White House prevent another chemical attack?
HIMES: Well, I guess I'm where she is, which is I would like to think that U.S. action forestalled a chemical attack. Obviously, we'll never know that for sure. We are not inside Bashar al-Assad's head.
But again, when you step away from this particular incident -- and remember, you know, years ago Bashar al-Assad did not abide by the threat of military action by a United States president to stop his atrocities. If you step back, the really critical issue here is we are effectively at war in Syria today. We've got hundreds of troops on the ground. They are exposed to capture and other things there. And, of course, we shot down a Syrian plane.
And, you know, we are effectively at war without a clear mission. It's not clear. You heard the sabre rattling against Assad there; and the White House is saying this is really about ISIS. Not a clear mission and no debate and authority granted for this military mission by the United States Congress. And again, that's a big deal.
BLITZER: Let me shift gears, Congressman. As you know, President Trump has accused former President Obama of failing to act on Russian election meddling. But as CNN's Sara Murray and Dana Bash are both reporting tonight, the president's own advisors are really struggling to convince him that Russia poses a threat. Why can't they persuade the president to take this Russian threat seriously?
HIMES: Well, I tell you, I'm not sure I can answer that question on why you can't persuade the president of the United States to take this threat seriously.
We heard in Jeff Sessions', the attorney general's, testimony, that the chief law enforcement officer of the United States had not received a briefing on this issue.
The reality is this administration is not taking the Russia threat at all seriously. Perhaps it's because this president happens to have a soft spot for Russia. That's certainly -- there's plenty of evidence for that to be true.
He clearly regards any talk of Russia as, you know, undermining his claim to the presidency of the United States, and that's why he's called this a hoax. This is why he has slandered people like Jim Comey, the media who report on this. This is a very, very sensitive topic for the president. But it continues.
And by the way, I don't disagree with the president that our last president, President Obama -- he did not do nothing, he did a lot -- but he didn't do enough. He didn't do enough to cause Vladimir Putin to know that this sort of attack on the United States will be met by painful retribution. So Trump is right in that regard, but meanwhile, he's saying let's lift the sanctions; let's return the diplomatic facilities; and "By the way, I'm not taking this seriously." So boy, what a strange message they're getting in the Kremlin today.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman. Thanks so much for joining us.
HIMES: OK, thank you.
BLITZER: Former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, by the way, he testified before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday about Russia's election interference. He'll be among our guests tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Coming up, the toxic relationship between President Trump and his predecessor. Why has he shut down communications with the former president, Barack Obama?
[17:29:32] BLITZER: We're closely watching developments on Capitol Hill and over at the White House. President Trump this afternoon predicting a big surprise is coming on health care. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has been meeting with individual Republican senators in an all-out effort to try to come up with a bill that could attract enough votes to move forward.
Let's bring in our political specialists. Why is it so difficult, Gloria, for the Republicans to get 50 votes? That's what they need to pass this legislation.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, where to start? OK, where to start? First of all, to go back in history for recent history, they've never had to write a bill, Wolf. They've only been against Obamacare. They've been talking about repeal and replace for years, but they've never had to write one.
Secondly, they've done a bill now that the popularity is somewhere between 13 and 17 percent in the country. They have a huge ideological chasm among Republicans about how involved government should be in health care. And so it's very difficult to bridge that divide when you're dealing with an unpopular bill. And oh, by the way, they also don't have a clear and concise message about how their version of health care reform would help average Americans.
Other than that, it's easy.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It's good.
BLITZER: Chris, a lot of us remember the former Republican House speaker, John Boehner, saying they're not going to be able to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Republicans, because they're not going to be able to get their act together on new -- new legislation.
Is Mitch McConnell learning the John Boehner lesson?
CILLIZZA: Yes. I feel like during John Boehner's speakership, the story was always this. John Boehner would propose something that tried to split the middle of the conservative wing of the House conference and the sort of centrist wing. Conservatives would refuse to sign up for it. Boehner would say, "If you don't sign onto this, we're going to have to use Democratic votes, and it won't be nearly as conservative." Conservatives still wouldn't sign up for it, and that's what happened.
Well, we're not there yet in terms of Democrats getting involved. Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly Democrats have no interest in this. We're going to go it alone.
They will go it alone until they can't go it alone anymore.
Nothing that I've seen in the last 24 hours -- and I defer to Dana on this, because she's been doing great reporting up there on it, but nothing I've seen from the nine folks who have said they aren't going to be for or weren't going to be for that version that McConnell wanted to vote on this week, leads me to believe that they have any wiggle room.
It seems to me Rand Paul is almost certainly a no under -- you know, Rand Paul is essentially, "If you change it 100 percent to reflect what I want, I'll be for it." OK.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The most honest in that, I think, is Susan Collins basically saying she is not.
CILLIZZA: And that's what I was going to say. And Susan Collins is sort of...
BLITZER: Given the 52-48 majority the Republicans have, they lose three, it's over. They can lose two; they can't lose three.
BORGER: They can't.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, you and Sara Murray have been doing some terrific reporting on what's going on in another sensitive issue inside the White House. Officials, you've learned they're trying to work very hard to convince the president that Russian election meddling represents a major threat.
BASH: That's right, and Sara Murray and I have been told that the fact of the matter is it's not an easy task, if you are in the administration, to convince the president of the United States to focus on Russia, not just that the intelligence was accurate in terms of meddling, but what do you do about it to prevent it in the future?
And one official told Sara Murray that there's no evidence to show Trump is actively engaging on the issue, that there are -- there's nothing on the schedule in terms of paper trail. Readouts or briefing documents, nothing to indicate the president is convening meetings or roundtables on it.
And separately, I was told that the NSA director, Admiral Mike Rogers, when he was behind closed doors a few weeks ago on Capitol Hill, he expressed his frustration to Congress that he can't convince the president that this actually happened, that the intelligence backing up the Russian meddling in the United States election was but a leak.
CILLIZZA: The FBI, the CIA, I mean, James Clapper. I mean, this is not like some people say this and some people say that. It's -- it's conclusive. And all those people, as Dana and Sara report, have all said this is not going to be an isolated incident. The Russians aren't going to say, "OK, that was a good run."
BORGER: And you did reporting on this, too.
CILLIZZA: "We're going to do more." Right.
BORGER: But Dana, isn't that because, and you know, some people I've talked to, isn't that because the president just takes this as an affront to his legitimacy, as opposed to separating that personal affront that he sees...
BORGER: Apart from the real issues that could involve him and other politicians in the future? BASH: That's exactly right. I was told the same thing, that it's
very difficult for him to separate this notion of the accusations of collusion with the reality of Russia meddling.
BLITZER: Good reporting. Everybody stand by. There's a lot more coming up.
And a very important note to all of our viewers out there. This is what you need to do. You can read and subscribe to Chris Cillizza's political analysis. It's a brand-new newsletter, just starting tonight. It's called "The Point." Go to CNN.com/ThePoint. Subscribe, and you'll get it every weekday night.
Good work, Chris.
Coming up, a close look at the Trump administration's increasingly antagonistic -- antagonistic relationship, I should say, with the news media. From the president's Twitter rants to banning live TV coverage of the daily White House briefings.
BLITZER: We're following some concerning developments over at the White House. For the second time in three days, live TV coverage of the daily press briefing was not allowed. Also today, the president once again took to Twitter to attack the news media.
[17:40:00] Let's get insight from some White House correspondents, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration. We've got a good panel.
Jim Acosta, you're our White House correspondent. Let me start with you.
The president tweeting today, expanding his criticism, this one this morning. "The failing 'New York Times' writes false story after false story about me. They don't even call to verify the facts of the story. A fake news joke. Some of the fake news media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in health care. Wrong. I know the subject well and want victory for U.S."
Apparently, that was a response to a story from "The Times" which claimed that at least one Republican senator came away from the meeting with the president with doubts about his grasp of the policy details in the Senate Republican health care bill. What do you make of the president's reflexive cry of "fake news" whenever he doesn't like a story about him?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the president has himself been peddling fake news for some time now. He is one of the founding fathers of birtherism, which alleged falsely that President Obama was born in another country, when he was born in Hawaii.
He, coming into office, boasted of having inauguration crowd sizes that were larger than Obama's. That was also false. He alleged that millions of undocumented people were voting in the election, and that threw the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. That was also fake news, Wolf.
He, for the last six weeks, held out this hint that he had recordings of his conversations with Jim Comey when he probably knew all along there were never any such conversations. He could have ended that controversy weeks ago. He elected not to do that, and so he perpetuated fake news in that sense.
And so I think we have to put this in the same prism that we put up many of the president's false statements. They're just not -- they're just not true.
My understanding about that "New York Times" story, I believe Glen Thrush tweeted this earlier today that, "No, Mr. President, that's not the case." Reporters at "The Times" did talk to people at the White House. Just as we do that. We talk to people at the White House before we put a story out. Our Sara Murray has an excellent story out right now about administration officials being frustrated with the president over this Russia investigation.
Well, we talked to administration officials about that. And you know, they cry over here, Wolf, about us using unnamed sources, but of course, the White House speaks to us anonymously all the time.
So I think the press just has to understand that not only is the president playing games here when he goes on Twitter, he's playing games with the facts.
BLITZER: Yes. He's attacking not only "The New York Times" but of course, CNN. And he attacked "The Washington Post" today in a tweet. Let me put that one up on the screen. The hashtag "#Amazon Washington Post, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying Internet taxes, which they should, is fake news."
That tweet, April Ryan, was presumably in response to a story from the "Washington Post" which documented fake "TIME Magazine" covers featuring Trump at several of his golf clubs. He seems to be threatening, at least in that tweet, the owner of "The Washington Post," Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, with higher taxes for coverage he doesn't like. Is that potentially a dangerous signal to send?
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: It's a dangerous signal to send. It's dangerous, period, all over.
Wolf, we have a president who wants to try to diminish the press, try to diminish people who are writing the facts, whether he wants to color them another way, we may color them a different way, and he wants to go against them and hit people at the heart of where they live and breathe and their pocketbook, as well.
It's a dangerous road to go down. It's a sad commentary when this is happening between the press and the president. And Wolf, we covered the White House together years ago, and this relationship with the press and president has been going on for years, and now it has come to this. It's a very sad commentary, but we have to see how it continues to play out.
BLITZER: Jeff Mason, you're the White House correspondent. You're also president of the White House Correspondents' Association. I know you're trying to fix these problems, working with the White House press staff. How is that going? Because it doesn't seem like you're making a whole lot of progress.
JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' ASSOCIATION: Well, the progress has been slow, that's for sure, and we're frustrated by that. We're frustrated by the fact that, honestly, the access for journalists under the Trump administration for the first several months of President Trump's tenure was very good.
I feel like there's been a definite setback in that in the last few weeks, maybe kicking off with his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, and Israel and Europe, in which he did not hold a press conference, and of course with the more recent developments here at the White House where the briefings have been not televised, or at least not televised as regularly as they used to be.
So it's a huge cause of concern for the press and the journalists that my association, our association, represents. And we're working hard every day to push for that to change.
BLITZER: Matt Schlapp, you're the president of the American Conservative Union.
You know, a lot of people are wondering, if President Obama, during his eight years in the White House, had tweeted these kinds of attacks on conservative news outlets, a lot of people would have been outraged in the conservative movement.
What do you think about the way the President, President Trump, is dealing with the mainstream news media as it's called?
MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Well, as you know, President Obama wasn't that kind to some of your competitors and kind of froze them out for a period of time.
I think what Ari Fleisher and Mike McCurry said in their letter rings very true to what my point of view is, which is the White House and the administration gets to set the rules as to how they want to engage the press on the White House compound. And the press has the right to be able to say and cover those types of policies as they wish.
You know, Wolf, it won't come as a surprise to you that, for decades now, conservatives have seen proof that there is a left wing tilt to the national media and to a lot of local media, and we just kind of take it in stride.
And I tell you, when I worked for President Bush, a lot of your friends who were in the press shop, when the cameras weren't rolling, they complained to high heaven about the bias in the press, but they were somewhat restrained when it came to doing that on air and on camera. And President Trump has decided that he is going to call it like he sees it. And there is a lot of conservatives across this country who are saying
it's high time that we called people out when they don't report things accurately.
BLITZER: Well, what about that, Jeff mason? Put on your hat as the president of the White House Correspondents' Association and respond to Matt.
MASON: Well, I think, A, any good reporter is reporting the facts. And I also think any good reporter or good news organization, when they do get it wrong, issues a correction. And if they don't do that, then there is absolute room for criticism, and that would be well founded.
But the news organizations largely represented here in the White House press corps do just that. If they get something wrong, they correct it. When they don't, then I'll be the first to agree with the President or anyone else who says that they should do that.
That is not the same as calling every story or television package or radio package that you don't like fake news. It's just not the same. And so I would push back against that assertion.
BLITZER: Well, let me let Matt respond to that. Go ahead, Matt.
SCHLAPP: Yes. Look, I'm not trying to indict every reporter. I have a lot of friends that work for CNN who are on this show right now as well. But what I am trying to say is we all have to acknowledge that, you know, the Chyron on the screen says Trump's war with the press.
A lot of conservatives and Republicans believe that the national media has been at war with their values for decades.
And when we have had to watch story after story after story about this investigation, about things that actually weren't that accurate about the Russia investigation, the fact that they don't think Trump is a legitimate president, the fact that they're looking for every way to drive negative coverage.
You look at that Harvard study, Wolf, and it's hard for you to -- put yourself in a conservative's shoes. When you look at the coverage, the overwhelming majority of coverage is anti-Trump.
He deserves some of that coverage. They've made mistakes. I think they have to own up to those mistakes.
But after a while, the American people want to go to a place ono the dial where they can simply get the straight facts without all this coloring, without all this opinion, without all this shading. I think the American people deserve that.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Jim Acosta to respond. Go ahead, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think that -- and I asked this question of the President when he was running to win the White House, can you withstand the scrutiny that comes with being President of the United States? And he didn't like that question.
He snapped at me during that news conference. It was May of last year. And, you know, I think that there are moments when this President is just really sensitive to criticism, and he lashes out in this fashion.
I think Matt is right to some extent that, yes, the coverage can get a little too negative sometimes. And that happens during the Obama administration. That happens during other administrations.
Coverage of the president is tough. That's the territory that we're in right now. But I think to paint everybody with a broad brush is just not the right thing.
And, Wolf, what we're witnessing right now is just this erosion of our freedoms in terms of covering the President of the United States. The President has only held one full news conference since the beginning of his administration. That was in February. That's way behind the average of other presidents in modern times.
This issue of turning off the cameras in the briefing rooms. Wolf, I could hold up my phone tomorrow and live stream that press briefing with Sean Spicer or Sarah Sanders, whoever comes in there, and that is just where technology is right now.
SCHLAPP: Can I --
ACOSTA: And so to think that we're going backwards and not having things on camera, to me, is just preposterous.
BLITZER: All right. Matt, go ahead.
SCHLAPP: Yes, can I respond? Look, I really think the bipartisan letter from Ari Fleisher and Mike McCurry kind of captures the moment.
[17:50:00] I don't think it's helping politics in America to have these daily briefings. I actually think they've been a bit of a sideshow.
And I think a lot of us look at them and say, what are the American people learning? What really is the press learning?
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Wolf --
SCHLAPP: Jim, I can understand that you want as much access as you can get, but your freedoms are not being denied when the White House determines the method by which --
BLITZER: All right.
SCHLAPP: -- they want to brief the press. That is --
ACOSTA: Well, Matt, I honestly --
SCHLAPP: That is their First Amendment -- ACOSTA: If I may say --
RYAN: Wolf --
SCHLAPP: That is their First Amendment right.
ACOSTA: They're our cameras and we should be able to turn them on.
BLITZER: April, go ahead.
ACOSTA: And the White House is saying we can't turn them on.
RYAN: Matt -- Matt Schlapp, with all due respect, when we do not hear the voice of the President, the briefing is needed. And that comes not from the press, but from someone who has authored a book about managing the press, managing the President's message, and working with the press. Her name is Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar.
And presidents, not just former President Obama, but former President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, they have listened to her numbers to find out the importance of what it means to deal with the press, for that interaction, that critical interaction to happen.
Matt, it is very, very important for not just the press to get it, but mostly important for the American people to hear what the President has to say. I learned a long time ago it's not just the voice, it's looking at the body language, seeing what the President says, how he says it, what he feels. It's not just --
BLITZER: All right.
RYAN: -- a joke or just a -- what people might think is meaningless push. This is real.
BLITZER: All right. Matt, go ahead.
SCHLAPP: Yes. Well, I just don't know why we're -- you know, Mike McCurry was Bill Clinton's press secretary.
SCHLAPP: He is the one who decided to televise these daily, and what he is saying is, is that this is actually not helping us to get the stories we need.
Now, look, I agree with you, the President should do press conferences. I agree with you that an administration that's not as open as the press would like has to suffer the consequences of reporters who are anxious about the fact that they're not getting their questions answered.
But it is perfectly legitimate for a White House to determine how they will brief the press.
BLITZER: All right.
SCHLAPP: And the American people across this country, I guarantee you -- April, I love you and respect you, but the American people are not staying up at night worried about whether CNN or MSNBC or Fox can get one more question televised.
RYAN: But, Matt, there is a reason why the press was baked into the constitution, why there is a First Amendment. It's not about us. It's about the American public.
It's about the people to find out what's happening in their house, from the leader of the free world, from the man that they elected. It's not about us.
We are just the conveyors. We are the go between. We are the first line of questioning an American president. The American people have the right to see --
BLITZER: Let me get Jeff --
SCHLAPP: But, April --
BLITZER: Hold on a second. I want to get Jeff Mason back into this conversation. You're the president of the White House Correspondents' Association. You've met with Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You're meeting with the White House communications team.
Have you raised the concern that all of us in the news media have about the President calling all of us enemies of the American people? Because that is a very, very harsh statement and potentially very dangerous.
MASON: Well, that's -- that type of rhetoric is something that we have spoken out about since he first said that. And many of you probably were at or watched the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and I addressed that then as well.
That is rhetoric that we reject, and it's just not something that I think is helpful to the public discourse. And it's not -- again, it's just not something that's true.
I'd also like to just jump in on the issue, again, of briefings being televised. Respectfully, despite the position of Mr. McCurry and Mr. Fleischer, it's 2017. And it is not only in the interest of the members of the White House Correspondents' Association who cover television and radio.
Television and radio correspondents need sound and need pictures to be able to tell the stories of this administration. That's one reason why we're fighting for that.
But also, it is in the interest of transparency and it's in the public's interest to be able to watch back and forth between reporters and the administration and the elected leaders that they have put into office.
BLITZER: And, Matt, I know --I know you agree, Matt, that the news media, that American journalists are not the enemies of the American people, right?
SCHLAPP: Well, many of them are some of my closest friends, Wolf. No, I don't think they're enemies, but -- but you all have to own something else.
Look, I'm not a journalist. This is going to be easier for me to say. But you have to accept the fact that, in poll after poll after poll, the American people believe that major news organizations are biased to the left.
And I think you would do the American people a lot of good if you look at not just Trump's polls, but your own poll numbers. You're suffering credibility because they feel like you have it against this President and against conservatives. And we should all stop that.
ACOSTA: Matt, isn't part of the reason why -- isn't part of the reason why that -- those numbers are being driven down is that the President is driving them down? When you tell us half the country --
SCHLAPP: No, Jim, you have to own it yourself.
ACOSTA: When you tell --
SCHLAPP: You have to own your own actions.
ACOSTA: When he tells half the country -- when he tells half the country --
BLITZER: All right.
ACOSTA: -- that we're enemies of the people, how can you stand by that? Why have you --
SCHLAPP: I don't. I don't.
ACOSTA: -- as a Republican leader in this country --
SCHLAPP: I don't stand by that.
ACOSTA: -- have not --
[17:55:00] SCHLAPP: Jim, I don't --
ACOSTA: -- have not shouted from the top (ph) --
SCHLAPP: You're not my enemy --
ACOSTA: -- that this is wrong?
SCHLAPP: -- but this is why it doesn't work because we're shouting at each other. Look, I think you're a good man. I think you're trying to do your
job. I think the President is a good man. He has the right to set the rules by which he briefs the press. That's part of his First Amendment rights.
SCHLAPP: Let's all start respecting each other.
BLITZER: All right. On that note, we're going to leave this conversation, but I'm sure there will be many more down the road. Good conversation, guys. Thanks very, very much.
There is more breaking news we're following. President Trump asking for military options to use against North Korea. Tonight, this national security adviser is warning of an immediate threat.
[18:00:00] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.
Urgent threat. A new warning tonight that the danger posed by North Korea is much more immediate.