Return to Transcripts main page


Watchdog: Missing Texts Recovered from FBI Devices; "Breitbart" Calls Trump "Amnesty Don" after DACA Comments; Trump Speaks at Davos Dinner; Sources: "Secret Society" Text Reference Was a Joke; Trump Threatens Palestinian Aid over Peace Talks; First Lady's Unannounced Trip to Mar-a-Lago; Inside Syria as Turkey Launches Offensive on U.S. Allies. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 25, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] RAJ SHAH, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We'd like to see what's in them. We'd like to understand what level of political bias may have influenced this investigation.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: But it's clear now that those text messages were not deleted by these two FBI officials because there were a lot of other cell phones that didn't have a similar amount of text messages during that same period. There was some sort of technical glitch that they've worked to repair. They've got it. So, it's not as if there was a deliberate conspiracy to hide those text messages, which was the upshot of what the president seemed to be suggesting over the past few days, not only publicly but in some of these tweets.

SHAH: Yes, and the president talked about a lot of issues at the FBI and he has been. He's talked about how the deputy director may have shown political bias. He's talked about how other agents involved in various matters may have shown political bias. The handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe we think may have shown some political bias, the way and the manner which she was treated and how her situation was handled. So, there are a lot of questions that have been raised, some by members of Congress, some by the president and by others, about the FBI, about how they handled some of these matters, and about the senior leadership that the previous FBI director, James Comey, had brought under his wing.

BLITZER: Does the president trust the FBI?

SHAH: He has tremendous confidence in Chris Wray, who is a man of tremendous integrity, who we believe can clean up the FBI. The FBI has tens of thousands of agencies who make the best law enforcement agency in the world, and we want to see it restore its reputation beyond any questions of impropriety.

BLITZER: All right, Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary, traveling with the president in Davos, Switzerland.

I know you've got a lot going over there, Raj. Thanks so much for the time.

SHAH: Thanks for having me on. BLITZER: Up next, a pathway to citizenship. The president seems to

pivot on immigration, sparking some outcry from conservatives in Washington. We'll update you on the latest when we come back.


BLITZER: The president at a dinner in Davos, getting ready for a dinner. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTOF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Well, he didn't say anything except thank you very much. He's heading to a dinner with business leaders in Davos. He's at the economic forum there, but it's a significant forum, indeed. We're going to get back and cue up that tape, see if we missed something earlier. But that's the president of the United States in Davos at the World Economic Forum.

In other news, a potential breakthrough in immigration talks that shut the federal government here in Washington down last weekend. For the first time, President Trump says he's now open, very open, to giving young, undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, a pathway to eventual citizenship here in the United States, just as long as he still gets the money for his border wall with Mexico. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): Do you want citizenship for DREAMers?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): We're going to -- we're going to morph into it. It's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What does that mean?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Morph into it, what's that mean?

TRUMP: Over a period of 10 to 12 years, somebody does a great job, they've worked hard. It gives incentive to do a great job. But they've worked hard, they've done terrifically, whether they have a little company or whether they work or whatever they're doing, if they do a great job. I think it's a nice thing to have the incentive of after a period of years being able to become a citizen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): By March 5th, are you going to protect them, extend the deadline?

TRUMP: Yes, I might do that. I might do that. I'm not guaranteeing it because I want to do -- I want to put a little bit of a -- (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But I certainly have the right to do that if I want.


[13:35:03] BLITZER: I want to bring in our panel to assess, CNN politics reporter, Tal Kopan, associate editor and columnist for "Real Clear Politics," A.B. Stoddard. And our political correspondent, Dana Bash, is still with us as well.

Dana, the president's comments about a pathway to citizenship, he said maybe over the next 10 to 12 years, assuming they're honest and they're doing the right thing, paying taxes, have a good job, they could get a pathway to citizenship. It's caused a lot of heartburn among some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate and House.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And let's just be clear, this is exactly what was on the table before the shutdown, before it blew up. So it is not a surprise that if the president is re-engaging, which he clearly is, on the idea of some sort of border security for some sort of legislative fix to the issue of the DREAMers being here and keeping them here legally that a pathway to citizenship is possible. Hearing him say that, hearing it out of his own mouth is new and is a whole different ball game, and that is why he's getting the title Amnesty Don from the --


BLITZER: From "Breitbart."

BASH: From the "Breitbart" publication that in whose eyes he could generally do no wrong. It's a shot across the bow. We have seen kind of the toing and froing, where he says something, conservatives go after him and then he backs down. So let's see if he backs down on this, because every time he takes a baby step towards compromise, he pulls himself back or he gets pulled back by his base, who goes crazy about this, because they do consider that amnesty.

BLITZER: And amnesty is a poisonous word as far as they're concerned. These people came here, even though they were little kids, illegally, brought by their parents. They've grown up here, but even they see this as amnesty.

The president's views on this sensitive issue, they've gone through various forms since he was a candidate. We've put together some clips. Watch this.


TRUMP: I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration. Immediately.

What about our children? Why can't our children that are in the country, why can't they be the dreamer? Nobody ever talks about that.

We're always talking about DREAMers for other people. I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be dreamers also.


TRUMP: We love the DREAMers. We love everybody.

Well, I have a great heart for the folks we're talking about, a great love for them.

It should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love, truly, it should be a bill of love, and we can do that.


BLITZER: So, this most recent statement in this gaggle with reporters last night at the White House, A.B., a lot of Democrats now are sort of skeptical.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. The problem is the president has taken every position on immigration more than once. So every time something like this happens, it just affirms the description that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer gave last week, which is that this is negotiating with Jell-O. His own conservative Republican allies know this. So, you have a camp of more than 20 bipartisan Senators working very hard. They came up with a plan. They succeed in closing down the shutdown, reopening the government.

They're working hard on some kind of immigration solution. And you see members of that common-sense caucus, coalition, Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Lindsey Graham, jumping up at this news of his comments, saying this is presidential leadership, trying to lock him into that position. Meanwhile, Senator Cotton, the news everyone's concerned about in that bipartisan caucus is that they've gotten Senator Marco Rubio to join forces with them. Senator Cotton and Senator Perdue and others see any legalization of the DREAMers as a promotion of amnesty for future DREAMers, and that's why they're going to work very hard to bring the president right back.

BLITZER: Even if it just leads to, let's say, legal status as opposed to full citizenship?

STODDARD: They think it's a forgiveness of amnesty and it will lead to the same problem again.

BLITZER: Tal, you've been doing a lot of excellent reporting on this for CNN. The president's going to apparently be -- he said, at least the White House said on Monday they were going to be releasing a whole new policy on immigration, he's going to spell out precisely where he stands. Do we know precisely where he stands?




BLITZER: Hold on, the president's speaking. Let's listen in.

TRUMP: There's been a lot of warmth, a lot of respect for our country. And a lot of my billions and billions of dollars is coming into the U.S. And people are very happy with what we've done, not only on the tax bill, but also cutting of regulations. And I think also being a cheerleader for our country. If you're not a cheerleader for your company or for your country, no matter what happens, it's not going to work. And that's what I've been and that's what my whole group has been.

So, perhaps I'll start on my left, and you can go around and here's one of the very big, powerful businesspeople of the world, and just say a few words about your company and whatever you'd like to do.

Go ahead. Thank you very much.

[13:40:06] JOE KAESER, PRESIDENT & CEO, SIEMENS: Yes, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for inviting me today.

TRUMP: Thank you.

KAESER: Obviously, I work for Siemens. We've got 56,000 people working in the United States, $34 billion in revenues.

So, congratulations on your tax reform. You said this is what you were going to do. You build it and we will come.

TRUMP: We said it. Right?


TRUMP: By the way, when he says he works for Siemens, he's the president of Siemens, but that's OK.


That's a good way of seeing it.

But go ahead.

KAESER: But don't you work for your country?

TRUMP: We work for our country, same thing.

And Siemens is doing good?

KAESER: Doing really well, excellent, as a matter of fact. We've been investing quite a lot into the country, and since the tax reform, we have decided to develop the next generation of gas turbines in the United States.

TRUMP: Oh, that's a big thing. That's very big.

KAESER: It is.

TRUMP: Where will that be developed? KAESER: Charlotte.

TRUMP: In Charlotte, great. That's fantastic. Well, thank you. On behalf of Charlotte, thank you very much. And our country.

KAESER: My pleasure. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor this dinner that the president's having with major business leaders in Davos, Switzerland. We'll, of course, monitor it for any major news.

But, Tal, just wrap up. What are you hearing about this immigration proposal the president's going to put forward on Monday when he gets back to Washington?

KOPEN: Well, I think to the point that we've been making here and to A.B.'s point, I just came from the Hill where Heidi Heitkamp was saying she was encouraged by the president's words, but we will see what happens today, which is to say this framework they put out Monday will be a strong indicator of who is actually running the show.

If it looks like what the president was describing in the conversation with reporters, it may be something manageable, but if we see things in there that expand on the notion of border security from a wall to aggressive interior enforcement to cracking down on sanctuary cities to a number of issues that are going to be poison pills to Democrats that are going to be necessary to pass a bill in the Senate, it's going to look like his staff got involved again, and it's going to continue to erode trust that lawmakers already have doubts, again, negotiating with Jell-O.

So, really this framework they put out on Monday and the level of specifics and the number of poison pills you see in it are going to be strongly indicative of where this negotiation is going to go next.

STODDARD: Can I add one thing to that? When the president said last night to reporters that he was open to maybe extending it on his own, even people who are in that room working on this in a bipartisan way on the Republican side say that that would be horrendous, because the line even from very pro-immigration reform Republicans has been what President Obama did with DACA was illegal and that even President Trump doesn't have the legal justification to do that on his own. It has to be done legislatively.

BLITZER: And the deadline is so important to the sense of urgency among lawmakers as well. That comment, that equivocation is exactly the unhelpful type of stuff we've been hearing.

We're getting more confirmation on this other major development. I want all of you, Dana, to weigh in on this as well, this notion of a secret society within the FBI that Ron Johnson, the Senator from Wisconsin, and other Republicans seem to be taking very, very seriously. Now it's coming out in pretty specific form that it was a gag, they were just joking, these two FBI officials, amongst themselves. They were also joking about these Putin-themed calendars that they had ready to go, early stage of the Russia investigation. One source is telling our folks that the calendar joke seemed less funny to them the day after Trump won. But the sources are saying the message was simply an attempt at humor when they were feeling down, these two individuals, after the election with one source calling it a tongue in cheek reference.

So, the secret society within the FBI apparently a joke.

BASH: Right, a joke. Look, but you were talking earlier about the fact that you expect and hope that those who came out and said that this is real will recant. The fact that along with that reporting by Jeremy Herb (ph) and Laura Jarrett, they say the reason they were making the joke is because they were upset about Trump winning still feeds the Republican idea that the FBI is anti-Trump and pro Hillary Clinton and that there is some kind of conspiracy against Donald Trump there.

BLITZER: Yes, and the FBI official who was involved, once they discovered his anti-Trump feelings, he was let go.

BASH: Precisely. Important point.

[13:44:31] BLITZER: He was removed from the entire investigation.

Stand by.

There is more news we're following. Look at the live pictures from West Palm Beach, first lady, Melania Trump has made an unannounced trip there. We have some new details. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The Trump administration publicly criticizing the Palestinian leadership on the world stage today. Earlier, in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian people unless their leaders sit down for peace talks with Israel. The president made the comments while seated next to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Then just a little while later, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this. Watch.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States remains deeply committed to helping the Israelis and the Palestinians reach a historic peace agreement that brings a better future to both peoples, just as we did successfully with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. But we will not chase after a Palestinian leadership that lacks what is needed to achieve peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) All right, let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst, Tony Blinken, here with us right now. Tony Blinken's a former deputy secretary of state, former deputy national security advisor. Kate Bennett is with us as well, our White House reporter.

Kate, I'll get to you in a minute.

Tony, what do you think of this new tough stance that Nikki Haley, President Trump are dealing to the Palestinians? You snub the president, won't sit down with him when he was in Jerusalem, would have gone to Bethlehem to meet with Mahmoud Abbas but you refuse to meet with him or other U.S. officials. The president is now threatening to suspend aid to the Palestinians.

[13:50:39] TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It makes the already bleak prospects for peace that much bleaker. The president unilaterally decided Jerusalem's future against the interests of the Palestinians and then he expects them to say, thank you, sir, please, can we have some more? So this is a little bit kicking them when they're down, threatening to cut off aid after he has unilaterally decided Jerusalem. Because it makes the prospect for peace even dimmer, what that really means is never mind whether you talk about a one-state solution or two-state solution, the idea of a Jewish Democratic Israel is on the table and now may be off the table because absent a two-state solution, Israel can't be both Jewish and Democratic. Either it has to keep the Palestinians down or it respects their rights. So, President Trump is presiding over the demise of the dream of a Jewish Democratic capital.

BLITZER: Those are strong words from Tony Blinken coming in.

So, what does President Trump need to do right now? Because Mike Pence, the vice president, he was there. He did go to Egypt. He met with el Sisi didn't like the Jerusalem decision. Met with el Sisi, the leader of Egypt. Went to Jordan, met with King Abdullah. King Abdullah didn't like the decision either, but he showed respect, met with the vice president of the United States. The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided he wasn't even going to talk to the vice president.

BLINKEN: This will require some cooling off. It will require some concrete steps on the ground to make lives a little better for Palestinians, give them more confidence that they can engage in a process and maybe get somewhere. But, you know, having given the Israelis what they want in Jerusalem and getting nothing in return from the Palestinians, at least not embedding in some kind of larger strategy, it's awful hard to be that one sided.

Look, Jerusalem is Israel's capital. It's been Israel's capital. It's going to remain Israel's capital. The Palestinians also have a claim.

BLITZER: Do you think the president, the Trump administration has -- they're going to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem next year. The president said there will be a short, small U.S. embassy. I think the current consulate building in west Jerusalem will be turned into the U.S. embassy. But they're not necessarily ruling out the possibility that a future Palestinian state, if it were to emerge, this two-state solution, which everyone seems to support, except for some hardliners --


BLITZER: -- that there could be Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem. Has the Trump administration, from your perspective, eliminated that possibility?

BLINKEN: Look, it's been very ambiguous on the point. When the president first announced the Jerusalem decision, he did leave open that prospect if you read between the lines of what he said.


BLITZER: Not determining the final status.

BLINKEN: That's right.

BLITZER: He seemed to be leaving open that possibility.

BLINKEN: As he did today.

BLITZER: Is he still leaving open that possibility for a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem?

BLINKEN: Today, it sounded like he was shutting the door on that, because he said he had taken Jerusalem off the table. You can read that how you want but it sounds like he considers the matter resolved. That's not the recipe for getting back to peace talks.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens on that front. These are sensitive times in that part of the world.

Kate is with us as well.

News on the first lady of the United States, a very different subject we're talking about. She went earlier in the day to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and, all of a sudden, we see her plane landing in West Palm Beach getting ready to go to Mar-a- Lago.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Melania Trump continues her mysterious first lady wave. This morning, she showed up at the Holocaust Museum unannounced and did a tour, celebrating -- Holocaust Remembrance Day is this Saturday. A plane in Mar-a-Lago. We have confirmed it is, indeed, the first lady's plane, an unannounced trip that we didn't know about, that a lot of people didn't know about. She is now in Florida. We see her plane here. We had pictures of her motorcade. And law enforcement forces saying she did, indeed, get off the plane.

BLITZER: She was originally, correct me if I'm wrong, supposed to be in Davos with her husband. BENNETT: Originally, she was supposed to go to Davos. Monday night,

we got word that she canceled her trip due to schedule and logistical issues and no longer was headed to Switzerland. Her week's plans have changed on a dime a couple of times this week.

[13:55:07] BLITZER: All of a sudden, she's there.

What else did you want to report?

BENNETT: I think this is a difficult time for the first lady. Her husband has been in the headlines lately with the Stormy Daniels news. She has not commented. We saw her tweet last saturday, inauguration tweet, anniversary, with no picture of the president in it. Monday, they celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary. No acknowledgement from the White House of an anniversary. There's no comment coming from the White House this vacuum sort of leaves a place where people are filling in the blanks in the story and now she's off to Mar-a- Lago.

BLITZER: At least for the weekend.

All right, thanks very much. Good reporting from Kate.

Tony Blinken, thanks to you.

Another important story we're following right now, a dispute over what was said in phone conversations is adding tension between two NATO allies. The White House says President Trump told Turkey to deescalate its military operations in Syria, but Ankara says the president didn't express that concern at all. The U.S. backs the Kurdish YPG fighters, regarding them as key fighters in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers that same group to be considered terrorists and trying to drive them out of the town of Afrin.

In a CNN exclusive, our Arwa Damon and her team have been reporting live from northern Syria, the only international network team to do so.

Arwa is joining us now. She's back in neighboring Turkey.

Arwa, you were there in that flashpoint city in Syria. Tell our viewers around the world what you saw.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we did manage to get up to what is considered to be the outer perimeter of the territory that is controlled by the rebel Free Syrian Army units that Turkey backs. From there you can see a hilltop where we were told are some key YPG positions, sniper positions. They do have an advantage in this particular area, given that they do hold this higher ground.

When you drive through this terrain, you get an idea of just how potentially challenging this is. It's very rural. The communities there are quite widespread.

There are also a number of makeshift refugee encampments that do exist as well. A lot of the civilians we were talking to in the area, children have grown so accustomed to sounds of artillery, they don't even flinch. There are also growing concerns. These are people that have been displaced time and time and time again, that they could potentially fall victim to perhaps a stray mortar round.

And, of course, the Turks say they're very aware of the need to lower civilian casualties. This is something, according to the White House, is part of their readout. They say President Trump not only asked Turkey to deescalate but to limit its military actions and try to avoid civilian casualties.

Wolf, as you were mentioning earlier, the reaction to the White House readout from Ankara has been perhaps surprise and shock, saying that's not exactly how the conversation between both leaders unfolded. They're saying they did broadly talk about this operation and did share their views on some shared concerns. We actually heard from Turkey's foreign minister, who said that Erdogan specifically told President Trump that he should withdraw the small U.S. military force and the YPG fighters that exist, not just in Afrin but also in Manbij -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, reporting for us, as she always does. Thank you so much for that report.

Coming up, the Department of Justice in Washington says it has recovered missing text messages sent by two FBI agents under scrutiny for comments about President Trump. We have details. New information right after this.