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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Illinois Senator Richard Durbin; Nationwide Protests; President Trump Lashes Out; Trump: My Admin Running Like "Fine-Tuned" Machine. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 4:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:04]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It was apparently Festivus at the White House today. Boy, did we hear an airing of grievances.

THE LEAD starts now.

President Trump on a tear, ripping the media, intelligence leaks, not to mention those who questioned his completely messed-up math on his election margins, while totally disregarding anything having to do with Russia.

Stores close, students skipping school, thousands across the United States taking part in what's called a day without immigrants, trying to send a message to the president who wants to build a wall and the millions of Americans who support it.

Plus, on the lookout for fireworks from North Korea, the kind that happen with a missile launch, as the nation celebrates the birthday of its departed dear leader.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

Let's take a listen right now. We're getting some footage in from President Trump signing a bill.

Jim Acosta, what are we looking at here?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, you're seeing the president there in the Oval Office meeting with some coal miners, and actually some prominent lawmakers there, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky and others.

And this is essentially an event where the president is announcing that they are rolling back some Obama era regulations that were aimed at going after coal mine pollution. And the president, from what I understand, talked about that news conference.

TAPPER: Let's listen in, Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, all of the wonderful politicians, especially the miners.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: This is our second bill signing this week.

And we continue to work for the American people. This is H.J. Resolution 38. And that will eliminate another terrible job-killing rule, saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines, which I have been promising you.

The mines are a big deal. I get support from some of you folks right from the very beginning, and I won't forget it. I went to West Virginia and I -- we had 17,000, 18,000 people, and they couldn't get it in the big arena, right? And there were a few of them. That was some day, some night.

I want to thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop.

Thank you, Rob.

And Representative Bill Johnson, who worked very hard on this bill. They really did. They worked very hard. This was a tough one.

I also want to thank the great members of Congress who have joined us today. We have a lot of them.

In eliminating this rule, I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations that do nothing, absolutely nothing, but slow down the economy, hamstring companies, push jobs to other countries, which is happening all over, although I must tell you, we have stopped it.

You have seen all the factories, all the plants that are moving back. They're going back to a lot of places. So, you know that, right, fellows? They're moving back fast.

Ford, General Motors, Fiat, so many, very happy. Compliance costs for this rule would be over $50 million a year for the coal industry alone. It's unnecessary.

I want to also thank the incredible coal miners who are with us today. I think we can maybe thank them the most, right, to the political leaders?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump at an event in the White House talking to coal miners and supporters talking about rolling back Obama era regulations on coal, part of his campaign promise, he said, to roll back regulations.

At the beginning of his remarks, you may not have heard because the audio was spotty. The president said -- quote -- "We had an interesting news conference, didn't we?"

We did indeed. Today, President Trump held a news conference in which he stressed that his administration is not in chaos, and is, in fact, running like a -- quote -- "fine-tuned machine."

He listed any number of accomplishments that he said the media is not covering. Most of the president's remarks were focused on that, in fact, not on the accomplishments, but on the media.

In a wild and some would say an unhinged riff, the president seemed rather focused on journalists and what we say about him and what we write about him.

Now, if you were not a journalist, if you were, say, a soldier in harm's way, or a hungry child in Appalachia or the inner city, or one of those laid-off factory workers in the hollow shell of a steel town, you might be forgiven if you listened to the president's press conference and wondered just how focused the president is on you, instead of focused on what is said and written about him.

[16:05:10]

The president did make some news today. He will introduce a new executive order on immigration and travel next week. An Obamacare replacement should come in early March.

But it's clear the passion in his remarks, the passion was unquestionably focused on attacking the fourth estate and also repeatedly the Democrat he defeated almost four months ago, Hillary Clinton.

The press conference was purportedly about his new pick for labor secretary, former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta.

But he actually spoke much more about our own Jim Acosta, who joins us now from the White House.

Jim, I have no doubt that Trump supporters loved watching him insult the media for an hour, but a bigger question. Is this going to help him pursue his agenda and solve the many problems facing this nation?

ACOSTA: Well, Jake, the president thinks it's the gift that keeps on giving in terms of his attacks on the news media.

President Trump finally took the hard questions about his campaign's dealings with Russia. But as he was dishing it out, he was taking it on just as much and dishing it back at us just as much as he could. He once again attacked the news media as fake news.

But he seemed to concede that the leaks coming out of his administration these days were real, something that we pressed him about on during this very wild news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess at home and abroad. A mess.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump launched into his first full news conference of his administration ready for combat with his favorite adversary, the news media, as he battled back against reports that his team had contacts with the Russians during the campaign.

TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there. I have no anything.

ACOSTA: It took a few tries, but the president finally stated that he's not aware of any aides who were in touch with Russian operatives.

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

ACOSTA: The president also acknowledged the mistakes made by foreign National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced out for misleading the administration about his calls with the Russian ambassador before Mr. Trump was sworn into office.

TRUMP: The thing is, he didn't tell our vice president properly and then he said he didn't remember. So, either way, it wasn't very satisfactory to me. And I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position.

ACOSTA: He repeatedly called the reports about his campaign's contacts with the Russians fake news, while conceding the leaks were real.

TAPPER: The leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake.

ACOSTA: A contradiction we tried to clarify.

(on camera): It sounds as though you do not have much credibility here when it comes to leaking, if that is something that you encouraged during the campaign...

TRUMP: OK, fair question. Ready?

ACOSTA: Well, if I may ask you that...

TRUMP: No -- no, but let me do one at a time.

ACOSTA: If I may ask a follow-up.

TRUMP: Do you mind?

ACOSTA: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: All right.

So, in one case, you're talking about highly classified information. In the other case, you're talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss. ACOSTA (voice-over): This from a president who once said as a

candidate that he loved leaks.

TRUMP: WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

ACOSTA (on camera): It seems that there's a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

TRUMP: The reporting is fake. Look, look...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You know what it is? Here's the thing. The public isn't -- you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don't know if it's true or false because they're not involved. I'm involved.

I've been involved with this stuff all my life. But I'm involved. So I know when you're telling the truth and when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president repeated that he's determined to repeal Obamacare, but on immigration, a shift, as he indicated a willingness to allow the children of undocumented immigrants to be able to stay in the country.

But one area where the president said he's not changing, media critic in chief.

(on camera): Aren't you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people's faith in the First Amendment, freedom of the press, the press in this country, when you call stories you don't like fake news? Why not just say it's a story I don't like?

TRUMP: I do that. No, I do that. No, no.

ACOSTA: When you call it fake news, you're undermining confidence in our news media.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Here's the thing. OK. I understand what you're -- and you're right about that, except this. See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad. And, sometimes, I will say, wow, that's going to be a great story. And I will get killed.

I know what's good and bad. I'd be a pretty good reporter, not as good as you. But I know what's good. I know what's bad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Asked why he held that news conference today, which was hastily arranged, almost at the last minute, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this is what Mr. Trump enjoys doing. The president's view is that sparring with the press is what helped him win the election and perhaps it can help get his presidency back on track, Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thanks so much.

[16:10:00]

CNN's Michelle Kosinski joins me live from the State Department.

Michelle, picking through the media criticism, there were actual bits of news here and there.

President Trump, for example, was asked by CBS News' Major Garrett about various Russian provocations in recent days, including that Russian spy ship making its way up the East Coast.

What did the president have to say?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, right.

Just as it's been very, very hard to discern what exactly Trump's stance is towards Russia, it's appeared to be everything from a bromance with Vladimir Putin to a hopeful working relationship to now a contentious one -- I mean, this week, a much harder line and even a battle of tweets.

So today were his responses all over the place. At one point, he did blame the press for a bad relationship with Russia, saying that he believes Vladimir Putin is watching press coverage and thinking he can no longer make deals with the U.S. because Trump is under pressure by the media and it wouldn't be politically a good time.

He seemed to be blaming recent and continued Russian provocations for the same thing, as well as saying this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that's 30 miles off shore right out of the water.

Everyone in this country's going to say, oh, it's so great.

That's not great. That's not great. I would love to be able to get along with Russia. Now, you've had a lot of presidents that haven't taken that tack. Look where we are now. Look where we are now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: One thing he did repeatedly say was that having a good relationship with Russia would be a good thing. He said that he's been briefed, and one thing he's allowed to say out of that briefing is that nuclear holocaust would be a terrible thing -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, minority whip, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators, thanks for joining us.

What did you make of the president's news conference today?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: It was certainly hard to follow.

There were so many different things that he said. It clearly was a spur-of-the-moment decision. And what I think, frankly, we should reflect on is, we're dealing with some extremely serious questions; 17 different intelligence agencies tell us that the Russians did a cyber- attack on the American electoral system during the course of this campaign.

And the president dismissed it as a ruse. He had to accept the resignation of his national security adviser for a conversation with the Russian ambassador. And he seems to dismiss that as some sort of creation by the press and some illegal leak.

The president would have been well-advised to sit down for five minutes with his legal counsel before that press conference and get a few things straight before he made these statements.

TAPPER: Just to be clear, when you talk about a hack on the electoral system, you're not referring to the voting machines. You're talking about the information campaign.

DURBIN: No, that's exactly right. There's no evidence of any attempts to change votes or the counting of votes.

But there was a clear evidence of the Russians trying to invade our space when it came to our election and to influence the outcome of that election.

TAPPER: One of the things that President Trump said today that was intriguing was that he fired Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, not because he thought there was anything inappropriate about General Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador to the United States and, according to government sources, suggesting something along the lines of don't worry about these sanctions that President Obama is imposing right now in response to your interference in the election, we can revisit those later.

That wasn't the issue that President Trump had with Michael Flynn did. It was his misrepresenting that phone call to the vice president. Does that bother you?

DURBIN: Of course it does.

And there's much more to the story. General Flynn, this wasn't his first rodeo. This is a man who had to understand that when he got on the telephone with the ambassador from Russia, these conversations were going to be monitored and transcribed, every single word of them. And yet he deliberately misrepresented those conversations, at least at best we know now, to the vice president and maybe beyond in the White House. Who else was involved in that decision? Who else knew what was

actually said in that conversation? These are critical questions. And we need an independent, transparent investigation of the involvement of Russia in what just happened with the resignation of the national security adviser within the first four weeks of this administration.

TAPPER: There are, of course, a lot of questions about the relationship between President Trump and people in Russia. Listen to what President Trump had to say about that subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election.

He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all other countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your response, Senator?

DURBIN: Mr. President, please show us your tax returns. How long are you going to keep the same position that the American people have no right to know what every other presidential candidate has been forced to disclose in modern times?

[16:15:00] You tell us, "Oh, there's nothing to worry about." Please show us the tax returns. We will know once and for all what the truth is.

TAPPER: President Trump seemed very focused today, as many of your Republican colleagues, especially those in the House, are, as well, with the leaks from the intelligence community instead of what they were leaking about. I understand that you're concerned about what they're looking about and the allegations about Russia and ties with members of the Trump team.

But does the president not have a point about all of these leaks and the fact that they are classified, if not of higher marking?

DURBIN: Of course he does. No president likes a leak unless it's in his favor. And in this situation, they clearly were not in favor of the Trump presidency.

I don't know the source of the leaks, don't know where they came from, whether they came from within the White House or within the intelligence community.

But let's be very frank about this. We know from the transcript, we know from the conversation the national security advisor was forced to resign. It wasn't the leak that caused his resignation. It was the substance of the conversation he had misrepresented to the president and vice president.

TAPPER: Have you seen the transcript?

DURBIN: No, I have not.

TAPPER: Just from the reports about that?

DURBIN: That's right.

TAPPER: When you say that you want there to be an independent counsel to investigate the allegations about the Trump team and Russia, you don't think the Senate Intelligence Committee on its own can do a good enough report?

DURBIN: I'm skeptical. I trust Mark Warner completely, but he has to work with the Republican senator who may not be as enthusiastic about this. I served on the Intelligence Committee. We met for hour after weary hour behind closed doors.

We need a public hearing on what happened here with the Russian involvement in this election and since. And finally, when there is a report coming out of the Senate Intelligence Committee, trust me, it will be heavily censored and redacted and the only way to get that information declassified is with the permission of the White House. Imagine, if you will, something about President Trump and they have to a grow to disclose it to the American people. We should have an independent, transparent and open hearing on this whole question.

TAPPER: Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from the land of Lincoln -- thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

DURBIN: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: An unusual presidential news conference by just about any standard, president Trump spend morgue than an hour, largely airing his grievances from media coverage to his Electoral College victory, which none of you appreciate enough, to his firing of Michael Flynn, our panel is here to discuss it all, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:21:14] TAPPER: Welcome back to lead.

Sticking with politics. President Trump insisting at a news conference today that his administration is running like a, quote, "fine tuned machine." And that the level of dishonesty from the media is, quote, "out of control."

Let's dive right in with my panel.

Ryan, let me start with you.

So, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president made the decision this morning to have a press conference. Quote, "This is what he enjoys doing. He recognizes this is why he won."

What did you think?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: I think that part of it is, yes, he -- I don't think he won because he was attacking the media. I think he won because he had -- he won for a lot of reasons. But I think the question they have been grappling with over there is who is the enemy?

Last week, a senior White House official reported this in "The New Yorker" last week, was musing on the phone with me and this person said, "In the campaign, it was so simple. The enemy was Hillary Clinton."

TAPPER: Right.

LIZZA: Everything was really clear. Now -- and this person went on to say, who is the enemy? Is it Chuck Schumer and the Democrats? Is it Elizabeth Warren? Is it the media? Is it the elites?

I think today we have the answer to that White House official's question. It is the media more than his political opposition. In Congress, this amorphous elites, it is us, right? He went on for half hour attacking the media and then he took questions from the media, and most of the time between the banter and the asides, it was attacks. And I think that's something that all Washington has to grapple with who the White House sees as the enemy.

TAPPER: Alice, I don't doubt for one second that Trump fans, Trump enthusiasts loved it. I don't doubt that for one second. What about people who voted for Trump that are ambivalent about Trump, what about people who didn't vote for Trump? In other words, what about the majority of the country?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Clearly, this was his attempt to point the finger at the media as the bad guy, and not him or his administration. And look, from the standpoint, from a communications standpoint, I think it's not a grand idea to attack the media and call them fake news when you're pointing out -- today, one of the key points was the leaks are real, the reporting is fake. That clearly doesn't make sense. It doesn't -- it defies reality.

With all of that being said, I would grade his event today as an A- plus-plus for what he wants to do.

TAPPER: Which is?

STEWART: He wants to distract from the media coverage. This morning, looking at the top newspapers in the green room today, the headlines were, White House in crisis mode. Flynn facing FBI probe.

Those were the stories leading into this press conference. Now going to all this be websites, it is Trump blasts the media, and he inherited the mess. He would certainly be much rather be talking about those issues, than what we're talking about this morning. So, from that standpoint, it was an A-plus.

TAPPER: And that -- (CROSSTALK)

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I want to be in Alice's class.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCUS: That is not -- I'm not going to grade, because it would just be dishonest press grading. That's not the grade that I would give it.

Yes, it distracted attention, but it distracted attention by setting off this whole other fire and I just don't think even if you were at work and didn't witness the whole event, when you come home from work and you turn on your news, you turn on your CNN, you see the clip, you're going to say, whoa, what is this guy talking about? I think that distracting people from your problems by suggesting that you're -- I think I heard the word unhinged on this network.

TAPPER: Somebody said it.

MARCUS: Somebody said that, yes -- is not probably the best strategy.

TAPPER: Ryan, take --

LIZZA: Yes, not just people on this network. I was e-mailing Republicans to find out what Republicans in Washington thought of this, right? I mean, Republicans on the Hill have an agenda, right? The bargain here was traditional conservatives up on the Hill, yes, they got Trump but he's going to sign their issues into law.

[16:25:04] Paul Ryan today was talking about tax reform. Earlier in the week, House Republicans were talking about repealing Obamacare. It's hard to see how this press conference advances the legislative agenda. One house aide said to me this press conference was bizarre and borderline unhinged. That's a view from your allies.

TAPPER: That's a Republican.

LIZZA: That's a Republican House aide.

TAPPER: Here's the thing, Alice. I don't doubt you for one second about this is going to -- this changed the subject. I don't know what the headlines are going to be tomorrow morning, the day after that, the day after that. And there are people out there who voted for Trump, or even if they didn't vote for Trump, who want him to be working to help them. On those things that he talked about on the campaign all the time.

STEWART: Right, right.

TAPPER: Immigration, jobs, trade, counterterrorism, draining the swamp. Do you think it would have been nice to have seen some passion about those issues instead of Don Lemon's ratings, which by the way are pretty good? STEWART: I think, I think clearly the way he executed what he did

today, that's not something I would recommend. But clearly, it works for him. He did that throughout the campaign. He's doing that in the administration and while I understand campaigning is different from governing, he has seen that as a way that is successful for him.

And we did get some positive news out of this today. We learned -- by the way, the news conference was about his new labor secretary, Alex Acosta, that was the driving headline. We'll see more about that. --

TAPPER: That was not the driving headline.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He mentioned Jim Acosta more than Alex Acosta.

STEWART: That was the reason for the news conference. But also, we had news on the new executive order on the travel ban to come out.

TAPPER: Next week, absolutely.

STEWART: He will have more details on Obamacare in March.

So, the news moving the ball down the field voters want to see is happening slow and sure. But just the style is much different than anyone has ever seen before and anyone who thinks it's going to change is sadly mistaken.

LIZZA: Just one more thing on the policy news. He sounded extremely sympathetic to DACA.

TAPPER: To the DREAMers. Absolutely.

LIZZA: And leaving them in place. And basically, he, in a sort of rambling, was saying he's sympathetic to this. He just has to convince the immigration hard liners. I think that's what I read --

TAPPER: Like his attorney general.

(LAUGHTER)

MARCUS: Good luck with that.

You know what I thought was one of the most interesting moments, you know, they used to say, don't pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. Don't pick a fight with people who have Google on their smartphones because he just completely folded when Peter Alexander challenged him on his magnificent Electoral College landslide. And it was as if -- and he kept going back to Peter at various points. Is that OK, Peter, is that OK, Peter?

I thought it was actually a really interesting lesson for us in the media in the future in terms of being able to challenge him. You have to have the information right there to say that. You've done this at times. To say that's not right, because sometimes when confronted with facts, he just disputes them. But this one he just backed down. LIZZA: I agree, that was an extraordinary moment.

TAPPER: It's a great demonstration why people in the media need to rise to this moment and make sure we have our facts right when we make reports and when we're at press conferences.

MARCUS: You know, I used to cover the Clinton administration in the early days and it was a very bumpy moment and actually it was very quite contentious between the administration and the press. And I used to say then you had to question them as if you were taking a deposition and that's at least as true now. When you take a deposition you have your papers in front of you.

TAPPER: All right.

STEWART: And one quick thing in term of the media holding his feet to the fire, the one question they wanted answered was about did any members of his campaign communicate with Russia during the campaign. They never really got an answer on that.

TAPPER: It was not as far as I know, basically.

MARCUS: But they kept in defense of everybody who was in that room, they really did keep going at it and realized.

TAPPER: That was great moment of media solidarity there.

Ryan, Ruth, Alice, thank you so much to all of you.

President Trump is heading to Florida this weekend to hold what Sean Spicer called a campaign rally. Campaign rally? What's he campaigning for?

Plus, the Republican timeline for repealing and replacing Obamacare keeps changing. Is that because the Republicans still don't know what they're going to do next? We'll have more on that as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)