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White House Offering 'Alternative Facts'?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 16:30   ET




DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On Saturday, the president sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to the White House Briefing Room to make several patently false claims to the public.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the first time in our nation's history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing.

TAPPER: Wrong. Ground coverings were used on the Mall as recently as 2013.

And it went on from there, but the bigger question, why? Why the desperate need to prove a lie, thus trotting out even more falsehoods to serve it, about an issue of no importance?

Well, past is prologue. Folks who worked on NBC's "The Apprentice" know well the president is someone who does not let facts get in the way of claims.

TRUMP: Anybody here knows, because you're all in the television business, "The Apprentice" is the number one show on NBC. The ratings are through the roof.

TAPPER: "The Apprentice" was spectacularly rated for the first few seasons, but then viewership began to drop and the show's former publicist said Trump never was willing to recognize that change. He even tried to influence those who published the ratings.

"He would want to make sure I called all those 10 people and told them number one show on television, won its time slot. And I'm looking at the numbers and at that point, say, season five, for example, we were number 72. I can't tell that to him. I can't say that."

A former supervising editor on "The Apprentice" told "The Journal of the Motion Picture Editors Guild" -- quote -- "Trump would just take numbers and throw them around. I mean, from season one to season two, he said his net worth tripled. He just made stuff up." For years, it's clear President Trump has been surrounded by enablers in showbiz and elsewhere who would not push back on these falsehoods. And he would attack those who told the truth. In his Trump biography "TrumpNation," author Tim O'Brien wrote about the mogul's fluid estimates of his own worth.

Trump sued O'Brien for libel, accusing him of lowballing Trump's wealth. Trump lost. He then appealed. He lost again.

TIM O'BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMPNATION": He is very conscious and shrewd about the image he presents to the American people and to American viewers, which is the notion that he is America's most rich guy, he's a can-do businessman, he's an adept deal maker. But when you dig into the track record on any of those things, it turns out the emperor really has no clothes.

TAPPER: So the big question for us, what happens when the facts are more consequential than crowd estimates? Will our president be truthful about the size of a terrorist cell? The number of troops in harm's way? Or the strength of our economy? Will his enablers serve his ego or the nation?


TAPPER: A busy day at the White House today, including President Trump's warning to business leaders. What is he warning them about? That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to stick with politics.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters in the briefing today his intention is -- quote -- "never to lie to you" -- unquote. This comes after the administration blasted the fourth estate for reporting accurately on the size of the inaugural crowd on Friday.

My political panel joins me now.

And, Bill, it seemed like a fairly nice press conference. But there are some fundamental issues from this weekend, whether it's what Sean Spicer said on Saturday or President Trump's appearance at the CIA that remain out there and unresolved.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Jake, my intention is never to lie to you, period, period.



No, I think Sean Spicer, as press secretary, fine, it was a pretty disastrous Saturday. Did better today. But the White House press corps has been kind of nice to him. I think they're going to have to deal with him for a long time.

And there's a certain -- first day, don't beat him up. Just like to get access to White House staff for interviews, to the president, himself.

But what the president did Saturday at the CIA, I happened to talk to a lot of -- run into a lot of people who have been in previous administrations. And I guess you can therefore dismiss this as this was the old way to doing it.

But for a president, a sitting president of the United States, not a candidate, not a spokesman, goes to the CIA, stands in front of that wall, and makes the kind of rambling and inappropriate comments that this president made, people were seriously worried.

I talked to serious people who were not unfriendly to the Trump administration who thought, oh, my God.

TAPPER: And, Ann, Sean Spicer did better today, but I think it's fairly clear that the facts that were presented on Saturday are not facts. They are untruths. And while he tried to spin it today, there are simple things that are just not true.

I mean, there were more people at Barack Obama's inauguration than there were at President Trump's inauguration, Obama's 2009 inauguration. You can't look at photos of the two, if you have eyes, and come to any conclusion other than that.


You're entitled to your opinion and you're entitled to a different interpretation of facts. You're not entitled to different facts. Facts are facts. And they have a clear, you know, chip on their shoulder and an issue that Spicer had laid out, I thought, quite, you know, specifically, and eloquently, even, today, where he basically said, look, every day you all come at us, every day you punch us in the mouth.

And there's a cost for that. What he didn't say explicitly is the second part of that, and you're paying that now.

TAPPER: Right.

I have heard that speech before about how unfair we are in the media, how negative we are, how we -- you know, we don't cover the planes that land on time. I have heard that before from every single press secretary I know on Capitol Hill and at the White House, but always behind closed doors, never on the dais during a televised briefing.


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, "USA TODAY": Well, it's part of the strategy as well, what we have seen from the beginning of the Trump campaign, which is now transferring over to the Trump White House, is to kind of delegitimize the media.

But I think where they really stepped in it over the weekend was when Kellyanne Conway introduced this moniker or what will be used as a moniker of alternative facts. Never before had we seen during the campaign someone of that high up in the campaign structure or -- and now in the administration, take some of these comments by lower-level people, well, facts, you know, are no longer relevant and it depends on your interpretation, that this is now kind of being institutionalized as a tactic.

And, Jake, I got to say, when Sean Spicer came out there and did what he did...

TAPPER: Saturday.


PRZYBYLA: Saturday -- and took no questions, to me, we have to question ourselves as journalists, if that wasn't a deliberate attempt to deceive, because then you take no questions to clarify what he is now clarifying today, which is that, you know, we wanted to count the YouTube audience.

I mean, I think it's still not a fact, but to then take no questions, that was purely using the media to kind of...

GEARAN: As a prop.

PRZYBYLA: Yes, a prop.

TAPPER: To discredit the media.


KRISTOL: But think on this. Why was Spicer having this discussion? Because Donald Trump had raised the issue, right, at the CIA.

It wasn't -- if it's a quarrel between the press secretary and the press corps, fine. And even if the press secretary is being deceiving a little, the democracy will survive that.

Donald Trump went to the Central Intelligence Agency to -- on the first day, first full day of his presidency, and raised the question of whether the media was being unfair in describing the crowd he had at the inauguration. And then he treated it as a prep rally. And then his press secretary said, and those CIA people were rooting for the president, were cheering for the president.

That's also totally inappropriate. Those are intelligence professionals. They respect the president of the United States. They're not...

TAPPER: Let me ask you, somebody close to the Trump team called me and basically said that this was all genius, so, because we're no longer talking about the -- maybe one of the biggest marches in the history of the United States and the world simultaneously in cities all the way down to Australia, of all -- I mean, as Aziz Ansari said, an entire gender protesting Donald Trump.

And we're not really talking about it and we're not talking about the issues that were raised at that briefing. We're talking about crowd counts and maybe we're being beclowned.

GEARAN: And I think some of the newspaper headlines can be a testament to that, ours included, because then we had to cover Sean Spicer's statement.

And the story I had done and that many journalists had done about the actual march and the record-breaking numbers was papered over by that statement. And that's why I think the scary part for a lot of journalists is that there's already being some parallels drawn to the strategy that essentially the Kremlin uses, which is that you put something out there, you know that one-third of the public, no matter what you say, is going to believe you.

And if you can just sow doubt among the other third or the rest of the public, then you have accomplished your mission and you have changed the subject.

TAPPER: I think it's -- I mean, there are people saying that there were more people who attended the march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday than attended the inaugural on Friday.

There are no official numbers anymore because the Million Man March people sued the Park Service back in the '90s, so I have no way of knowing, but there certainly were a lot of people out there, Anne.

GEARAN: There certainly were an awful lot of people.

What we have to go by are inexact things like Metro ins and outs, and subway card in and out, and photographs. But, for sure, the size, the sort of amount of real estate taken up by the crowd on -- for the march appeared larger.

And it, you know, whatever it was, as long as it was anything close to, or larger than, the inauguration crowd, that's going to stick in Donald Trump's craw.

TAPPER: You had some harsh things to say about Sean Spicer over the weekend, I have to say, on Twitter.

KRISTOL: Me, harsh? Couldn't be.


KRISTOL: But getting back to what Trump's strategy is here, I do think, you had a good interview with Senator Barrasso about TPP. It's not a trivial thing.


TAPPER: No, it's a big deal.

KRISTOL: He promised he would do it, so it's fine. He's doing what he said he would do in the campaign, getting us out of a trade deal that was negotiated through, what, a couple of preceding administrations, that had support from both -- leaders of both parties until this year.

But that's a serious matter. And if you raise it, though -- I found this -- I was on the Hill last week with Republicans. They say, aren't we -- don't you think this is kind of a problem geopolitically, Japan, Australia, et cetera? Oh, this is -- it's Trump's era. We don't think that way anymore.

People really -- and I think they have been pretty successful in intimidating a certain number of Republicans and conservatives at least, and maybe some of the media as well, to say, all those old rules, that kind of conventional view that you maybe should have trade deals with your allies, and not leave them -- walk away from something that these governments have put their neck on the line to negotiate, and leave them then to -- alone to deal with the Chinese, that's just old-fashioned thinking.

That doesn't hold anymore.

PRZYBYLA: You have to wonder how much of it is optics, then.


PRZYBYLA: Do they think that he's actually going to act on it?

TAPPER: He is somebody who...

GEARAN: And what would they have said if -- if it was Hillary Clinton lifting it as she promised to do?

TAPPER: All right. Anne, Bill, Heidi, thank you so much one and all, appreciate it.

President Trump has only been in office three and a half days, he's already being sued. What the president had to say about the new lawsuit, coming up.


TAPPER: Turning now to our "MONEY LEAD". An ethics group is suing President Trump, accusing him of violating the U.S. constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments through his global business empire. This as CNN obtained a letter signed by President Trump saying that he has resigned from every position he held in more than 400 businesses. It's part of today's installment of conflict of interest watch. And we're taking a closer look today into President Trump's laundry list of potential ethics concerns. Let's bring in CNNMoney Correspondent, Cristina Alesci. Cristina, President Trump said this morning that the federal lawsuit is, quote, "without merit," is he right? Does this lawsuit have any chance?

[16:49:55] CRISTINA ALESCI, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really debatable because the plaintiffs in this lawsuit have to show that they are somehow harmed by President Trump violating the so-called "Emoluments Clause" in the constitution, and that's really difficult to pull off. Essentially, think about it this way, you're standing on a street corner, two cars collide, and you bring a suit because you're late to work. I mean, the person that is bringing the suit has to be damaged in some kind of way. And when I spoke to constitutional lawyers about this today, they said it's going to be really hard for this group to show standing. But here's the deal, Jake. Winning the lawsuit may not be the end game, in fact, the plaintiffs may be thinking that they could get a judge to force Trump to release important information as a result of this lawsuit like his tax returns. Take a listen to Norm Eisen on our air today.


NORMAN EISEN, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC AND CO-FOUNDER OF CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: The constitution is being nakedly violated here. The judicial branch is going to step up, and if they order him to release his taxes to us, in discovery, he's going to have to do it.


ALESCI: So lawsuits at the end of the day, either this one or others to come, may be the only way that we will get to see Trump's tax returns, and that may be the strategy here, Jake.

TAPPER: And there's been a lot of talk in Washington about diplomats and others coming to Washington, staying at the new Trump Hotel, which opened in Washington, D.C., just weeks before Election Day. Are there any new developments that could add to these ethics issues?

ALESCI: Well, the hotel has become really an emblem, a symbol of all the problems that Donald Trump is going to face while he -- while he has relinquished control, he is keeping ownership of his businesses. So, the hotel just stands as a symbol of that. And while we were talking about the emoluments clause with the lawsuit today, there's also a problem with the lease of the hotel because Donald Trump is leasing the land from the federal government. Now, one term in that lease says that an elected official cannot be party to it. Why? Because the government doesn't want elected officials profiting off of this federal lease.

Now, the democrats are making a big issue of this. They sent a letter today requesting that the agency that oversees this lease, the government services -- the General Services Administration, they wanted to step in and say Donald Trump violated the terms of the lease and they think that his numbers, his profit figures, may have gone through the roof since the election, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

In our "POP CULTURE LEAD" today, a story that might suggest to some that the United States now holds our comedy writers to a higher standard than we do our leaders. Katie Rich, a writer for Saturday Night Live, has been suspended after tweeting an inappropriate joke about President Trump's 10-year-old son, Barron. Katie Rich deleted the tweet, deactivated her Twitter account and apologized after backlash from the post.

From deadly tornadoes to dangerous mudslides, devastating storms strike across the country and Mother Nature is not done. What part of the country could get hit next? Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We got some bad weather in our "NATIONAL LEAD". Violent and destructive weather slamming parts of the U.S. over the weekend killing at least 22 people. Powerful tornadoes and thunderstorms striking the southeast, ravaging neighborhoods, tearing down houses, breaking down trees. A one mobile home park in -- mobile park home in Georgia, the damage is so devastating a local official said it looked as though it had been a bombing scene. The death toll there, seven, accounts for almost half the state's total of 15.

Also, intense storms and heavy flooding are pounding California. Two people were killed and two others are missing after being swept out to sea. Let's bring in CNN's Meteorologist Jennifer Gray. And Jennifer, the worst may not be over. Millions of Americans in other parts of the country could be facing disastrous storms now?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: You're right, especially in the northeast. This is going to morph into a nor'easter, and it is going to bring powerful winds to that part of the country. We had 41 tornadoes throughout the weekend and this is a month we typically don't see a lot of tornadoes. Since January 1st, though, we have seen 94 tornadoes. Normally, we only see 36 in January. We had more tornado deaths this month, alone, than we saw all year last year.

So, the numbers are really staggering. Where is this going now? Well, it's heading to the northeast. This is going to become a nor'easter and it is going to pound some of our major cities. Already raining in Philly, New York, even seeing a little bit of rain and snow outside of Boston. The winds will be the main threat with this as it continues to push to the northeast. It's going to be pretty warm so we do think coastal areas, all of our major cities, it will be rain. We will see snow, and there's interior sections, but the wind is going to be the huge concern with this, especially between now and midnight.

As we go through the next six hours or so, we are going to see those winds anywhere from 35 to 40-mile-per-hour wind gusts, even higher. We could see up to 60-mile-per-hour winds in places like New York City. And then when you have that funneling effect to the buildings, it could feel even stronger. So those winds are going to push off. It could be another 24 hours before parts of the northeast start to feel some relief. We could see even hurricane-force winds just offshore of Long Island as well, so we have those watches of warnings in place. Here's your rainfall forecast. Could see two to four inches of rainfall, snow for the interior, especially in those higher elevations. And, Jake, still raining across the west coast and it will do so for the next day or so.

TAPPER: Jennifer Gray, thanks so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".