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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Pushes Tax Plan after Sharing Hate Group's Videos; U.N. Security Council Meets on North Korea Missile Launch; White House Defends Trump Sharing Anti-Muslim Videos; Reports: Trump Won't Give Up Conspiracy Theories; New Sex Accusations Against Matt Lauer. Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired November 29, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Pushing conspiracies. President Trump publicly promotes the GOP tax bill while he's said to be -- he's said to be privately reviving speculation about President Obama's birthplace, illegal voting and whether the infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape is real. Why is the president once again embracing alternative facts?
[17:00:31] Most powerful missile. President Trump calls Kim Jong-un Little Rocket Man and a sick puppy. And vows even more sanctions in response to North Korea's launch of its most powerful missile so far. Can it strike anywhere in the U.S.?
Lauer outage. "Today Show" viewers are shocked as NBC News fires longtime host Matt Lauer after an accusation of sexual harassment. His colleagues visibly stunned by the sudden dismissal as more allegations surface.
And back on the Hill. Donald Trump Jr. agrees to meet with the House Intelligence Committee as soon as next week to answer questions about his contacts with Russians. At the same time, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is delaying grand jury testimony linked to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. Is it a sign of a plea deal. A plea deal, potentially, could it be imminent?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A controversial series of tweets by President Trump derailing White House attempts to focus in on the GOP tax bill. The president himself stayed mostly on message at an event in Missouri that just wrapped up, but the White House is facing a barrage of questions right now about Mr. Trump's retweets of anti-Muslim videos put out by a British hate group. At least one of those videos has been debunked, but press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president, saying it doesn't matter if the videos are real.
Also breaking right now, an emergency meeting in the United Nations Security Council after North Korea's launch of its most powerful missile yet. One U.N. official says the North Korean threat has changed dramatically in scope and scale. President Trump says the U.S. will slap even more sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime in response to the latest launch.
And we're also learning new details right now about allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior that led to the sudden firing of "Today Show" host Matt Lauer. NBC News says the move was prompted by a complaint about a single incident, but new allegations are already surfacing. A source tells CNN that Lauer's accuser said the harassment and misconduct happened while they were in Russia covering the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including senator Cory Gardner of the Budget and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin with the controversy sparked by President Trump's retweet of a British hate group's anti-Muslim videos. Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us with the latest.
Jeff, the president didn't mention the uproar in his speech promoting the GOP tax bill.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was no mention of the uproar, but an uproar, indeed, it was. The president once again sparking another outrage over a race. Essentially giving his blessing to a hate group's anti-Muslim message, giving his 44 million Twitter followers access to this fringe group.
(MUSIC: LEE GREENWOOD'S "I'M PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN")
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on the road tonight, selling the Republican tax plan.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My accountants are going crazy right now. It's all right. Hey, look, I'm president. I don't care.
ZELENY: The president insisting the wealthiest Americans like him won't benefit from the tax bill moving through Congress, despite evidence to the contrary.
TRUMP: Actually, the rich people actually don't like me, which is sort of interesting. And that's fine. You know what? I like that trade.
ZELENY: But the president's visit to Missouri overshadowed by another Twitter controversy. This time his tweets sparking an international incident after she shared videos depicting Muslims committing acts of violence.
The president retweeted three inflammatory videos from Jayda Fransen, the leader of a far-right ultra-nationalist neo-fascist hate group called Britain First. It's unclear whether the videos were authentic or staged, which promoted anti-Muslim content like "Muslim migrant beating up Dutch boy on crutches." And "Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary."
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president, saying it didn't matter if the analyst Muslim videos were real.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real.
ZELENY: Fransen, who's been found guilty in the U.K. of religiously aggravated harassment, reveled in the attention. "God bless you, Trump," she tweeted.
[17:05:00] White supremacist David Duke also praising the attacks on Muslims, saying, "Thank God for Trump. That's why we love him."
The offensive messages drew widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May. "It is wrong for the president to have done this," her spokesman said, then adding, "Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives while pedal lies and stoke tensions."
The White House dismissed the extraordinary criticism that rained in from all sides of the political spectrum, saying the president was simply drawing attention to threats the U.S. is facing.
SANDERS: I think his goal is to promote strong borders and strong national security.
ZELENY: It comes only a week before the third version of President Trump's travel ban faces scrutiny once again in the courts. Judges have ruled his previous bans as unconstitutional, in part for targeting Muslims. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said the president's statements were disturbing and dangerous.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It has all kinds of ripple effects, both in terms of perhaps inciting or encouraging anti-Muslim violence and, as well, causes, I think, our friends and allies around the world to wonder about the judgement of the president of the United States.
ZELENY: All this as the nuclear threat from North Korea intensified. A day after the regime fired a ballistic missile that flew higher and longer than ever before. After belittling Kim Jong-un earlier this year...
TRUMP: And we can't have mad men out there shooting rockets all over the place.
ZELENY: ... the president responded today with restraint, saying on Twitter, "Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. The situation will be handled." But it was unclear just how it would be handled.
On stage in Missouri, he revived his attack on the North Korean dictator.
TRUMP: Little Rocket Man. Rocket fuel for the American economy. He is a sick puppy.
ZELENY: But today it was a tale of two presidents, with Mr. Trump standing before Christmas trees in the suburbs of St. Louis, not mentioning his tweets that stirred controversy around the world.
TRUMP: I will tell you this in a non-braggadocios way -- there has never been a ten-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That I can tell you.
ZELENY: But missing from that list of accomplishments, Wolf, is any single legislative achievement. Now, that could change this week. The House, of course, has already passed the tax plan. The Senate is working on it. Several Republicans are still skeptical, but it certainly is moving in the direction towards passage, but that is just half the way there. They still have to reconcile the differences between the House and the Senate.
So for all of the president's talk about a successful first year in office, they are still eluding a big accomplishment. They're hoping that changes before the year end -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Jeff, all of this, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump privately is still embracing conspiracy theories, some old, some new, right?
ZELENY: No question. "The New York Times" is reporting that the president seems consumed and obsessed, indeed, by that "Access Hollywood" videotape, given all the news of sexual harassment. He has told several people, according to the newspaper, that that was not him on the video.
Now, we asked Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, about this earlier this week, if he has changed his position. She said he has not changed his position on this, that he sticks with that. Of course, he acknowledged that last year, that it was his voice on the video. And in fact, he apologized for it, something he rarely does.
But "The New York Times" is reporting he is still sort of consumed by this and talking about it. But Wolf, also the birther controversy. This is something that, of course, he started years ago, some five years ago, questioning where President Obama was, indeed, born.
It has been a stipulated fact that he was born here in the U.S., in Hawaii, of course, but "The New York Times" is reporting that the president has still in private conversations talked about this.
Of course, during the campaign this was something that he said it was asked and answered. The president was, indeed, born in Hawaii.
So, Wolf, it gives you a window, at least, into what the president is thinking here. We don't know why, of course. One theory here among Republicans I've talked to, that this Russia investigation hanging over everything is potentially rattling him.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, that's a major theory we're hearing all the time. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
We're also following the fallout from North Korea's launch of its most powerful missile so far, and it's prompted an emergency meeting at the United Nations Security Council.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's working the story for us. So Brian, the latest launch raising serious concerns about what North Korea may be up to.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed, Wolf. Intelligence agencies are combing through the data of this missile launch tonight as are outside weapons experts. Some of whom are saying it is possible that this launch did demonstrate a capability for North Korean missiles to hit the continental United States.
This launch has emboldened Kim Jong-un tonight and push President Trump into an agonizing predicament.
TODD: Pushed and provoked by Kim Jong-un's most powerful missile test yet, which the North Koreans say Kim personally supervised, President Trump vows to retaliate with tougher sanctions.
[17:10:08] MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's not, in my view, going to be enough to get the North Koreans to stop where they're heading, which is deploying an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. They're so close to that goal, they may have achieved it with this test.
TODD: Tonight, Kim's regime is emboldened, a North Korean official telling CNN they are not interested in diplomacy with the U.S. until they have demonstrated their full nuclear capabilities. Analysts say Kim will likely never put his nuclear weapons on the negotiating table and instead may try to shake the U.S. down.
GREEN: They'll come to the table and they'll negotiate about how much we pay them to not transfer that capability to a third country. How much we pay them to not threaten us with conventional forces backed by nuclear weapons. They will use this as blackmail.
TODD: Tonight, we're learning new details of the North Korean long- range missile test. A U.S. official telling CNN this ICBM shows significant improvements since their last long-range test in July, flying much higher and longer. North Korea now claims all of the U.S. mainland is in range.
Can Kim really hit Washington, D.C., already?
MICHAEL ELLEMAN, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: If they fly with the same payload that they used yesterday and they flatten the trajectory out, it could reach most of the United States, if not all of the mainland U.S. However, if they put a 500- or 600-kilogram real warhead on it, then
its range reduces to about 8,000 kilometers, maybe 8,500, which is barely enough to reach the West Coast of the United States.
TODD: The latest test putting President Trump under even more pressure tonight, with fewer options to counter Kim's threat. Experts say diplomacy is unlikely to get Kim to trade away his weapons.
Recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state is likely not an option. A military strike could prompt heavy retaliation against South Korea and possibly millions of casualties. What's the most realistic course?
GREEN: At the end of the day, I think that the administration will choose none of these options and will be forced into a place where North Korea has this capability but we deter them, we pressure them, we constrict their ability to get technology and money.
TODD: What the U.S. is also worried about and may not be completely prepared for, is the possibility that Kim Jong-un's nuclear capability will be sold to the highest bidder, possibly a sinister bidder. Possibly a terror group looking to strike the U.S.
Wolf, the North Koreans are big players on the black market, and that is a real possibility.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a major, major fear. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado is joining us. He's a key member of both the Budget and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: I want to get to North Korea in just a few moments, but, first, do you think it is appropriate for the president of the United States to be retweeting those anti-Muslim videos to his 44 million followers?
GARDNER: You know, I've said before with you on the show that I disagree with the president at times and will continue to express that, but I'm here to talk about North Korea. I'm here to talk about taxes. And one of the things I think we have to focus on is I've not been focusing on what the president's tweets are today. I've read about them in the news, but I haven't seen them.
BLITZER: Senator, you're a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and there are enormous potential foreign relation implications of what the president is doing. The woman, for example, who initially tweeted those anti-Muslim videos, as you know, she leads an extremist group that targets Muslims in their places of worship. She's actually been convicted of hate crimes in the U.K. And the question is why would the president of the United States give
a platform to this type of hate that potentially can impact the United States around the world?
GARDNER: You know, we've talked about it before. I don't agree with the president on this. I don't agree with the president at times. But what we -- what I'm focusing on today is what you've been talking about, and that's North Korea and making sure that we are prepared to address what is a very alarming threat on the Korean Peninsula.
BLITZER: We're going to get to North Korea. But I want to just follow up on this, because it is so outrageous what's going on. I know you and your colleagues are upset about it.
The Dutch government, for example, corrected President Trump for the video purporting to show a Muslim immigrant attacking a Dutch boy, tweeting this: "@RealDonaldTrump, facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law."
And the British Prime Minister Theresa may, a close U.S. ally, one of the closest, says President Trump was wrong to retweet those videos.
Is the president damaging relationships with important American-NATO allies?
GARDNER: Well, I think our relationships with NATO allies, our relationships around the globe are stronger than any Twitter feed.
I've said before, I've disagreed with this. I will continue to express that disagreement. But I've also said that perhaps one of the best ways we can address the president's Twitter feed is to develop some kind of software where you hit send once, it doesn't send. You get a little bit of time, and you send again and then it sends.
So perhaps we need to find a new software tool available to make sure that we think about some of these things before we send them.
BLITZER: Yes, but the White House itself says that it's not just Twitter. It's not just tweets. These are official statements from the president of the United States. Statements that clearly are irritating a lot of people out there, Senator.
Do you worry that his retweets, for example -- and you would think that before he would retweet these kinds of videos, he would have his national security advisers check out the videos to make sure they're authentic, not fake, which apparently at least one of them is totally fake right there. You would think he would want to check this before alienating so many Muslim-majority allies in the fight against terror.
GARDNER: Well, again, that's a conversation to have with the White House. What I'm going to focus today on is not a Twitter feed, but the fact that we have a very serious crisis on the Korean Peninsula that the American people expect us to deal with. We have a tax reform bill on the floor of the United States Senate that I'm going to make sure benefits the people of Colorado and across this country. And I'm going to continue to express my disagreements with the president, and I'll continue to do that today.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about your disagreements with the president. Your disagreements with the White House, the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She's arguing it doesn't really matter if the videos that the president retweeted were real, because the president is addressing a real threat.
Do you think it matters whether or not the president sends out, to millions of people here in the United States and around the world, fake videos?
GARDNER: Well, I've not seen these videos. And so you'd have to take that up with the press secretary, Mrs. Sanders, and you'd have to take that up with the White House. I've not seen the videos.
One thing that I think is important to recognize, that our relationships around the globe are much stronger than any Twitter feed from any member of the Senate or the president. What we have to realize is we face very serious threats around the globe, that we need those partners now more than ever.
And so I will disagree with the president on this, as I have today. I will agree with the president on our maximum-pressure doctrine toward North Korea, the real threat that we ought to be talking about today. And making sure that we strengthen our defenses and our national security to address what needs to be talked about. And we're not talking about it enough on this show or across the country. And that's the real threat from North Korea.
BLITZER: We're going to be talking a lot about North Korea. We do every single day. We talk a lot about North Korea. We're going to talk about North Korea. We're going to talk about other issues.
Stand by, Senator. We're taking a quick break. We'll resume our interview right after this.
GARDNER: Thank you.
[17:21:56] BLITZER: Trump went back to calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "Little Rocket Man," going on to call him also a sick puppy. This comes just after the North Koreans tested what appears to be their most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
We're back with Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. He's a member of both the Budget and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, how close is North Korea to actually threatening the United States with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
GARDNER: I think from what we know so far about this most recent launch, yesterday's launch, this is a very significant step in their progress. There are sort of conflicting information out there right now about whether the missile may have broken up on reentry, what the capacity or trajectory would have been like if you had a hear missile payload on such a device. So we've got a little bit more that we have to learn about is it, but certainly it's an alarming situation and an alarming condition, and the fact that it showed yesterday that missile as it was equipped could reach the homeland of the United States, not just the West Coast, but looks like it could have further reach.
We have to learn more but a very alarming situation that cannot just be dealt with by the United States. That cannot just be dealt with by South Korea and Japan, but must be dealt with by the global community, including a more responsible acting China.
BLITZER: Yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM, your Republican colleague Lindsey Graham told me, and I'm quoting him now, "If we have to go to war to stop this, we will". It's quite a statement given the enormous number of casualties that could erupt. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands on the Korean Peninsula, maybe millions. Do you think that's really a serious proposal?
GARDNER: Look, we don't have 30,000 U.S. men and women in uniform on the Korean Peninsula to set up picnics with South Korea. We have them there for the protection of the South Korean people, for Japan, the United States' interests. We know that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to prevent Kim Jong-un from attacking the United States using his nuclear arsenal against us.
But what we also have to recognize is that any kind of armed conflict would be catastrophic. There are 25 million-plus people who live within 35 miles of the DMZ, of the North Korea line. Any kind of armed conflict would result in casualties that are unimaginable.
And that's why I am convinced that we must adhere and remain very strong in our position, that our No. 1 goal must be the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That's where the United States must remain, and we have more diplomatic tools at our disposal to achieve that goal.
BLITZER: Not just nearly 30,000 U.S. military personnel close to the DMZ, but another 200,000 U.S. citizens who are in Seoul.
GARDNER: That's right.
BLITZER: And in that area, let alone the millions of South Koreans who are there.
The president today called Kim Jong-un "Little Rocket" Man, also called him "a sick puppy." Previously called him short and fat. What's the impact of those kinds of comments? Do you believe that the president is doing everything he can to foster a diplomatic solution?
GARDNER: I think a diplomatic solution is going to be achieved when everybody around the globe realizes that we have to have a solution. And I don't know that we're there yet.
And what I mean by that is China. Let's just look at China for example. Over 5,000 businesses in China continue to do business with North Korea today. We know that China put in place economic retaliation measures against South Korea for the deployment of a missile defense system there that cost the South Korean economy close to $12 billion. And yet, most recent trade numbers between China and North Korea show that they're still doing $5 to $6 billion worth of business with North Korea.
[17:25:21] If China would have just been as tough on North Korea as they have been on South Korea, they could have stopped all of their trade. And that's what we have to do.
You know, yesterday we had the chance to meet with one of the appointments, nominees for State Department nonproliferation efforts. And it was clear in that conversation that China has yet to agree to a goal of complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean Peninsula. That's our goal. I hope it's a global goal. And we need to make sure that nations like China that are bordering states, responsible for 90 percent of North Korea's economy, also agree with that same peaceful denuclearization goal.
BLITZER: I know you're working hard on this area. It's a critically important area. Maybe the most dangerous national security facing the United States right now.
Senator Gardner, thanks so much for joining us.
GARDNER: Thanks for having me on. Thank you.
BLITZER: Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Coming up, more on the outrage here in the United States and around the world after President Trump shares anti-Muslim videos on his Twitter feed.
Plus, there's breaking news about the fired NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer. New sex accusations coming out this afternoon. Stand by. We have details.
BLITZER: We're following the dramatic aftershocks after today's tweets of anti-Muslim videos by President Trump. The White House keeps insisting the president did it to raise the issue of safety and public security, and it doesn't matter whether the videos the president retweeted to his 44 million followers around the world from a British far-right leader are accurate or not.
[17:31:25] Let's bring in our political and diplomatic specialists.
And Dana, the White House brushing this off. Sarah Sanders saying it's not important whether the videos are real, what's important is the message the president was trying to deliver. Is this appropriate for the president of the United States to be doing this?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Of course not. I don't think there's anybody who is of sane mind who is -- has the sort of the morality and the ethics and the approach towards American democracy, that they should have, would think that. Sarah Huckabee Sanders found herself in the very familiar position of
having to defend the indefensible today. I don't know how she does it, but, you know, she did what she need to do. And there wasn't a whole lot else she could say, I think, except maybe if she wanted to quit.
But at the end of the day, there's a lot of concern, not just about what this means about the president's behavior, but what this signals to people abroad, both friends and, most importantly, foes.
I was on Capitol Hill today talking to -- I talked to Senator John Thune, a member of the Senate Republican -- the leadership but also the chairman of the Republican conference who said he was concerned. He said that this kind of behavior is risky. He was careful when I pressed him on whether it was risky in terms of national security to say, "Well, I'm not so sure."
But clearly there is nobody on Capitol Hill and probably not a lot of people in the White House who are comfortable with this.
BLITZER: Well, John Kirby, you used to be the spokesman for the State Department and the Pentagon during the Obama administration. What's the impact, the impact of all of this that it's having on American allies? And speak to us as a 30-year veteran, a retired rear admiral of the U.S. Navy.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Well, to pick up off Dana's point, which is really good, it will feed -- this feeds into the narrative of ISIS. They see this as a clash -- a clash of cultures between the east and west, between Islam and Christianity and Judaism, and this feeds right into it. So it's going to -- it's going to probably encourage, if not incite, more violence by some of these extremist groups.
And it also is going to make the battle of our allies and partners that much more difficult. And don't forget, some of those allies are major Muslim countries that we need to rely on for the fight against ISIS in Iraq, and in Syria and, in Afghanistan. So this makes it hard for them, too.
And I think it's extraordinary that the prime minister of Great Britain had to come out today and say it was wrong for the president of the United States to send a tweet. Just think about that for a second. Our closest ally has had to come out and say it's wrong for the president to be tweeting something like this. Because it's obviously hitting them right at home.
BLITZER: Yes, they're very upset about it in the U.K. And it is extraordinary that the spokesperson for the British prime minister, Theresa May, has to basically criticize the president of the United States for doing this.
KIRBY: While our spokesman defends it.
BLITZER: Yes. Not important if the videos are real. What's important is the message, that's what she said, Sarah Sanders. You know, Nia, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a
statement saying this: "These are actions one would expect to see on virulent anti-Muslim hate sites, not on the Twitter feed of the president of the United States. Trump's posts amount to incitement to violence against American Muslims." That's a very strong statement.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. And he's likely not wrong, right? I mean, if you think about, if you're a Muslim American -- maybe you're a 10-year-old and you're going off to school today with your little Dora the Explorer backpack. What are you thinking? What conversations are you having with your parents and folks in your communities when the president is saying things about your faith, essentially suggesting that you're a danger because of the way you believe and the way you practice your religion. It's a real problem.
[17:35:09] And we can see that David Duke, you talk about people who are embracing this. It's David Duke, right? He is a -- he was a grand wizard in the KKK, and he is praising this president. I mean, this is a real, I think, sad moment for a lot of people.
A real dangerous, I think, trend that we've seen from this president. Demonizing people who he thinks aren't exactly American, aren't entitled to the same sort of respect as other Americans.
BLITZER: When I saw those anti-Muslim tweets this morning, I quickly, at least in my mind, went back to what the president said about Islam during the campaign. This is what he told our own Anderson Cooper in March of last year. Listen to this, Mark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Islam hates us. There's something -- there's something there that -- there's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Yes, so there's some context of where he's coming from.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So let's put this in perspective on the global stage and here at home.
One point eight billion Muslims around the world. They are a quarter of the population right now. What we saw from the president putting out to his tens of millions of followers right now, basically spit in their face.
Here at home, you're looking at about 3.5 million Muslims here in the United States. As Nia was saying, we're spitting in their face. Totally inappropriate for what he did.
And let me just say this: I think it's ridiculous when people say that the media overreacts when we look at his tweets. Is it any different that he puts this out from his stream of consciousness on Twitter or if he puts it out in a statement from the White House? To me it's the same thing.
BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot more going on, including some conspiracy theories that the president seems to be reviving right now. Let's take a quick break, resume our special coverage right after this.
[17:41:43] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. And, Dana, "The New York Times," as you know, is now reporting that the president continues to question the authenticity -- the authenticity -- of President Obama's birth certificate. He's still raising questions about why he lost the popular vote. Maybe there are millions of illegal votes here in the United States. And he's also hinting -- get this -- that the "Access Hollywood" videotape is really not authentic. Your reaction?
BASH: He's a conspiracy theorist. I mean, you know this. How many times did you interview Donald Trump, the businessman? Many times. And -- and over the years, obviously the most egregious and famous, infamous conspiracy theory was that Barack Obama was not born in this country. And he won't let it go. There's something about his personality, there is something about his brain that will not let that go.
I think if there's an upside -- and this is a stretch here, but I'm just going to try to at least find a silver lining -- he's not tweeting about that yet. So I think that's -- that's the good news.
The bad news is that it is still on his mind and he is still saying this to people in private, because it's just his personality. And it's not going to change at age 71 just because he's president, unfortunately.
PRESTON: Doesn't that just send up a bunch of red flags that he is in charge of the nuclear arsenal? He's the leader of the free world.
BASH: But people knew this about him when they voted for him.
PRESTON: I know. But his -- his behavior is disturbing at best. I mean, we talk about it in many ways -- I'm very guilty of this -- in ways of like, oh, he's over there, but the fact of the matter, he's not over there; he's in all of our lives. And he very much can affect what's going to happen not only to us but people around the world. And that in itself is scary.
HENDERSON: And it's sort of a division, oh, he's over there. Or his tweets are there. That's something that John Kelly, you know, has tried to suggest. That, oh, he tells the staffers not to pay attention to his tweets. He's the president of the United States. And he, as Dana said, he's a conspiracy theorist; and I think he will likely spout off more conspiracy theories. He hasn't necessarily talked about Obama's birth certificate. You said yet. Maybe he'll go back to that.
BLITZER: Apparently in private conversations...
HENDERSON: In private conversations he does, yes.
BLITZER: ... according to "The New York Times" he's suggesting that.
HENDERSON: Yes. And even with this whole idea that there is all this illegal voting, that led to setting up a commission to look into a Donald Trump conspiracy theory. I mean, that's a problem.
BLITZER: What does it say about where he's getting his information?
KIRBY: I'd like to know personally if "The National Enquirer" is being delivered in print form at the White House or whether he's just going on the website. Because I can't see any other way he continues to believe and proffer this stuff.
I mean, he is the commander in chief. He has access to pretty much whatever he wants: really good intelligence, really good analysis from competent agencies around the government. And he should be focusing on that and not these ridiculous, unbelievable conspiracy theories.
BLITZER: But is he appealing to a certain base? What's his motivation politically, Dana?
BASH: Well, because it's private I think it's even -- it's much deeper than that and much more innate than that. And it's -- it's his -- it's something about the way he has to think and articulate things clearly to make him feel better.
I am a reporter. I'm not a psychoanalyst, so who knows? But -- but I think the fact that it's something that -- I don't know that it's information that he consumes. It seems as though it's information that he creates.
HENDERSON: Right, yes.
PRESTON: Doesn't it say something, though, that nobody can stop him? So the question is, like, why does he do it? Because he can do it and he wants to do that. And he's done that his whole life. But nobody can stop him. He's now president of the United States.
[17:45:00] Who can stop the President of the United States? I don't know.
We all thought Ivanka Trump. That his daughter, his late 30 or early 40-year-old daughter would do that. Apparently, she can't.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Or even John Kelly, right?
PRESTON: Or John Kelly, right.
HENDERSON: This general would come in and --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So I was told today that, believe it or not, John Kelly has done more than anybody realizes. That it could be a whole lot worse had John Kelly not intervened on a number of occasions that we don't even know about. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And some intelligence officials, James
Clapper, John Brennan, former director of the CIA, even raised questions about his fitness for office.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I know. And those are -- it's troubling to have experts like that come forward with those kinds of concerns. Nobody wants to think that the President of the United States is unfit to actually hold the office.
And I'm certainly not going to -- I'm not in a position to judge one way or the other, but I can tell you, as a former naval officer and working at the State Department, what you want out of that Oval Office is you want solidity, right? You want firmness. You want an openness to different ideas and to transparency. And we're getting none of that.
I mean, think of about what's coming out of the Oval Office just this week in terms of the anti-Muslim retweets that we've talked about and spewing hatred when you're trying to honor code talkers from World War II. All of those things came from the Oval Office of the United States, and that's why it's astounding to me.
BASH: And he's his own worst enemy, Wolf, because he had a really good meeting with fellow Republicans yesterday. And I talked to many Senate Republicans who said that they believed that the President, personally, was successful in having this private dialogue with a lot of the senators on the fence and is pushing the process along. You couldn't say that about him on a lot of issues.
BLITZER: Yes. But then you ask questions, why is he --
BLITZER: -- you know, stepping on his own messages with these tweets?
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, guys. There's a lot more breaking news we're following, including new allegations against longtime "TODAY SHOW" host Matt Lauer, who was fired today for what NBC calls inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.
[17:51:53] BLITZER: Breaking news. New details and new accusations in the wake of this morning's firing of NBC "TODAY SHOW" anchor Matt Lauer.
NBC says Lauer was let go for, quote, inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.
Let's get some more from our senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.
Brian, tell our viewers what you're learning. BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: The proximate cause of
this firing was a complaint filed with H.R. on Monday night, Wolf. This was a complaint from a current NBC employee who said that Lauer harassed her and engaged in sexual misconduct.
That was investigated on Tuesday. And by Tuesday night, Lauer had been fired. Here is how Savannah Guthrie broke the news this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: For the moment, all we can say is that we are heartbroken.
I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner, and he is beloved by many, many people here. And I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.
And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Those are almost the same exact words Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell spoke on CBS this time last week when Charlie Rose was fired amid allegations against him.
Now, two of the three anchor spots on the big broadcast morning shows are empty, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. That's a challenge for the networks. But more importantly, this is a historic tipping point for women.
And we've been talking about this for two months now. First, with Harvey Weinstein, then with many other men since then. Women coming forward, making accusations, and being taken seriously, being heard.
But, Wolf, there is more to come on this story. "Variety" and "The New York Times" say there are other accusations against Lauer in his past, some dating back decades. Of course, that raises the question of who at NBC might have known, and what did they do about it?
BLITZER: Well, that raises the question, you're right, what did NBC management know about this alleged behavior?
STELTER: According to "The New York Times," there were two new complaints actually filed today. We don't know the details about those, and CNN has not corroborated those independently. But here is what NBC says about the questions involving who knew what, when.
According to the company -- we can say, unequivocally, that prior to Monday night, current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer's conduct.
So the company there indicating that when that woman contacted H.R. on Monday and made her complaint, that was the first time it had been raised. But the truth is, these rumors had been swirling for weeks that "The New York Times" and "Variety" were looking into Lauer's past. So it seems the company was trying to get ahead of these embarrassing stories by firing Lauer overnight.
BLITZER: What an amazing development, indeed.
All right. Brian Stelter, reporting for us, thank you very, very much.
STELTER: You bet.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump talking tax reform while the White House faces a barrage of questions over his retweet of a hate group's anti-Muslim videos.
Tonight, the White House defense is only fueling the controversy.
[17:54:53] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Sick puppy. President Trump once again resorts to calling Kim Jong-un names just hours after North Korea launched its most powerful missile yet. As the U.N. Security Council holds emergency talks, Kim's regime claims it's now capable of attacking the whole U.S. mainland.
Hasty retweets. Mr. Trump shares violent anti-Muslim videos from the leader of a far-right hate group in Britain causing an international incident. The White House offering a stunning defense of the President's actions as new reports emerge about the conspiracy theories he refuses to let go.
[18:00:08] Gone today. NBC News abruptly fires one of its biggest stars, Matt Lauer, just hours after a detailed --