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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump to Hold Campaign-Style Rally in Florida; Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job; McConnell Talks Trump; Trump Deletes Tweet Calling Media "Enemy Of American People"; Both Parties Ramp Up Social Media Strategy; Dems Use Social Media To Protest Trump Picks; Dems, GOP Use Social Media To Engage Supporters. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 17, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:33:11] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: We're back now with the national lead.

And the coordinated effort to move President Trump from Washington, D.C. to South Carolina earlier today, and now to Palm Beach, Florida. But unlike the last two weekends, President Trump won't be kicking back inside his Mar-a-Lago estate. He'll be kicking off what looks to be like campaign 2020.

CNN's Athena Jones joins me live from Palm Beach.

Athena, tomorrow, President Trump will hold a rally, campaign-style very much. Do we know what his message is?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.

This is interesting. The White House hasn't previewed any specific policy proposals they expect the president to tout tomorrow and said they are focusing on this idea that he wants to be back with the people. He relishes being on the stage. This is a part of the whole campaigning, that he really clearly enjoyed, and he wants to get around the filter of the media. That's why he had that long free wheeling press conference yesterday and why he's having the rally tomorrow.

So, I expect we'll hear a lot of the same things we've been hearing from him for the last year and a half or so. He's likely to talk about repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the border wall along the border with Mexico, talk about getting rid of regulation and like. So, a lot of the same campaign talking points we've been hearing. He, of course, did not run on specific intricate policy details.

And it is noteworthy he isn't selling something here, a specific policy, this -- it's not uncommon to see presidents travel early in their presidencies. I covered the early days of the Obama administration and he spent time on the road very, very early in his White House, and, in fact, it was on this day eight years ago that President Obama signed the Recovery Act, that stimulus package, $788 billion stimulus package that he saw in many ways emergency legislation that was necessary to save the economy to prevent it from falling into another Great Depression.

[16:35:07] So, it's an example of the kind of very specific policy proposals being touted on the road by past presidents, in this case, the president is really just going back out for campaign rally in which we expect him to cover a variety of topics, but not necessarily get into the nitty-gritty -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Maybe bask in the glow of victory as well.

Athena Jones, thanks very much.

The president's weekend trips are costing you as a taxpayer money, lots of it. Secret service is protecting multiple sites at one time. White House north in New York, White House south in Florida, and the actual White House back here in Washington. Not to mention a very big first family, often scattered around the country, even at times around the world, for business and for pleasure. Each family member with their own Secret Service detail.

And one former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow says securing them all is getting to be overwhelming for the service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Jonathan Wackrow is also a CNN law enforcement analyst and he joins me now.

Jonathan, thanks for taking the time here.

I wonder if you could explain to our viewers, you know this very well, you protected the president. I mean, this is a money issue, but in your view it's also a manpower, man and woman power issue. You think resources are stretched too thin?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, I think if you look at this administration between the Trump family and the Pence family combined, there are 22 permanent protectees. And the dynamics of these protectees are now spread up and down the East Coast of the United States between the first lady being in New York City, the president residing at the White House in Washington, D.C., and now the weekends in Mar-a-Lago.

So, from the Secret Service standpoint, manpower is stretched significantly thin between those three locations.

SCIUTTO: Now, in your experience, of course other presidents have vacationed. They've had their natural home as well as the White House. Have you ever seen anything like this where there is a White House north, a White House south, there's a property in New Jersey, the president visits regularly, plus his wife living most of the time in New York? Is there a precedent for that many home bases?

WACKROW: Well, there is always a precedent for the president to go to different locations around for vacation. You know, President Bush went to Crawford, Texas. Senior Bush went to Kennebunkport, Maine. So, there is precedent in that regard.

What we're seeing now is a permanent protective structure set up around these locations. These aren't temporarily -- the president is not temporarily going to one of these locations. He is going there systematically. The first lady actually resides in New York City. They are traveling to Mar-a-Lago on the weekends. So, that's a permanent protective methodology that's being stood up by the Secret Service. So, in that regard, it's unprecedented.

SCIUTTO: Now, I know it's hard to calculate the dollars, the cost of this. We've asked the Secret Service. They said it's difficult, but we know New York state has asked the government, federal government, for $35 million to cover their portion of the cost of protecting Trump Tower. Palm Beach has made a similar request.

Why is it so hard to put a dollar figure on this for the whole cost?

WACKROW: Well, there's two parts to that. The first part you just spoke to is the direct law enforcement support cost, both by law enforcement agencies in Florida and New York. I mean, again, to go back to what I said before, we've seen the president travel around the United States to different locations. However, what we haven't seen is this permanent protection. So, those municipalities are asking for reimbursement for the utilization of the law enforcement partners that are working in conjunction with the Secret Service. So, that's one side of it.

But when you start talking about trying to abrogate a total cost for presidential travel, it's very hard. There are two parts to, you know, traveling with the president. There is the -- the open and disclose side we see, the Secret Service, the limo, the cars, it's that optic that news agencies report on all the time.

There is also a classified element that goes on. It's really surrounds the continuity of operations to the United States government, how we're going to react in an emergency. And that really, you know, starts bringing military assets into the picture.

So, when you start trying to calculate, you know, moving the continuity of operation programs out of Washington, D.C. and putting them in Mar-a-Lago or New York City, the cost, you know, it significant. But unfortunately we're never going to get a true optic of it because those are classified programs.

SCIUTTO: I should say it was New York City, not New York state that's asked for that $35 million.

Let me ask you this because it seems part of your point is not only it's more expensive. Clearly, it's more expensive, hard to say how much, but clearly it's more expensive. You're saying more difficult to do the job, that those Secret Service agents, the resources are stretched to cover so many people in so many places.

WACKROW: Absolutely. Listen, the Secret Service at the end of the day can never waver on their protective methodology. [16:40:03] The way by which they protect the president of the United

States can't differentiate between Washington, D.C., Mar-a-Lago, and New York. There has to be a very high level of security at all of those locations. So, when you're operating, you know, at three locations at the highest level, you're starting to stretch your manpower, your resources, you're wearing thin your ability to rely on local law enforcement partners. It becomes more taxing every single day that they have to run three high-level concurrent security operations.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know it's hard work. We wish your former colleagues and you well. Thanks, Jonathan Wackrow, for taking the time.

WACKROW: Thanks, Jim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Just a quick note. Earlier we said the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Munich for security conference with Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis. He's actually in Bonn, Germany, for the G20 meeting. We wanted to make that clear.

Now, more in our politics lead, we'll tell you how Democrats are trying to mount a come back and to do so, they're turning to social media. That's right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Staying with politics now, lots to talk about with the panel. Wes, if I could begin with you, Bob Harward Vice Admiral -- retired Vice Admiral, former Navy SEAL, he turned down which is arguably one of the most prestigious jobs in the National Security establishment, to be the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. I spoke to people who know him well, and they say, they use a term I can't use on a family program, to describe his view with the White House. Let's just say an unappetizing sandwich. How big of a blow is this for the administration?

WESLEY LOWERY, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL REPORTER AND CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of course, and I think it's a blow on two fronts. First of all, we go another day, perhaps through another weekend, without a National Security Advisor for the President of the United States. You know, in the times in the world which we live in, that's a problem.

SCIUTTO: Right.

LOWERY: But at top of that, it further perpetuates to this perception of the White House and of the Trump administration. This exact perception which was the reason he turned down this potential gig. The idea that it's off the rails, right. Here you have this -- what's happening on the same day that we find out via reporting that Michael Flynn, the outgoing National Security Advisor perhaps committed a felony in terms of his interviews with the FBI, the same day that the labor secretary nominee has to pull out, and Donald Trump has to nominate someone else. And so, again, what we're seeing here is the Trump administration insisting that, "No, things aren't chaotic," and most of the available evidence suggesting that, in fact, they're pretty chaotic.

SCIUTTO: Mary Katharine Ham, there is a different view as we know in Washington that he's not getting credit for all the other stuff that he's moving on. Is it? Tell us where you stand on it.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST SENIOR WRITER AND CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, here's the -- it is chaos. The question is, is it chaos that serves him or chaos that does not? And I think there is a fine line there, because I think he operates in chaos pretty well and has done so throughout his entire career. So, I think we can misunderstand that easily. Actually, I think yesterday during the press conference, he was fighting on turf that he wanted to fight on. He was fighting with the media, he was feeling very comfortable with that. And --

SCIUTTO: He seemed to have made the decision himself to come out and said, "You know, forget you, Sean Spicer, I'm going to go head to head."

HAM: Yes, and had Harward, a very highly qualified guy taken that position on the same day. I think he would have turned a bit of a corner on what was a very tough week. But this is where the chaos works against you because the SEAL Ethos is very different than a Trump White House Ethos. And Harward looked at that and he was like, "I'm not sure that I can hang in that environment." And having highly qualified people in that position is necessary, and if you can't get them, then that's where it starts working against him.

SCIUTTO: Susan, I wonder, the other part of the SEAL Ethos and many branches of the military, of the services, is duty. It's very hard for a military man or woman to turn down the president in this space, and I just wonder if this gives license to others to say no.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, it's clear that he had concerns about the chaos level. Trump likes chaos, military people don't, a lot of people with government experience do not like chaos. Also questions about who he would have been allowed today hire, whether he would have been able to put his own people in there. But for Trump, the contrast yesterday with today, you know, yesterday was a day that raised questions about his temperament and about his control of his administration, his grasp with the facts. And today he was out talking about the economy in an effective way and able to take credit, for instance, for the market surge we saw today.

SCIUTTO: Right. Right.

PAGE: So, for republicans who want to be his allies, I think, why can't we see more of the Friday Trump and less of the Thursday Trump?

SCIUTTO: Well, let me play what Senator Mitch McConnell said about his description of what these first few days of the Trump presidency looked like. Have a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM KENTUCKY: I've been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I'm not a great fan of daily tweets. What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing. As I look at what we might have expected from a President Mitt Romney, or President Marco Rubio, or President Jeb Bush, at the beginning of their tenures in office, I can't see much difference between what President Trump is doing than what they would have done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Is that fair, Wes, Mary Katharine? I mean, of in terms policy news, forget the press conference. Let's talk about policy news.

HAM: Well, without a value judgment, the drop off in entertainment from a Trump press conference to McConnell press conference, is really, really steep. But look, I think that the stylistic stuff matters. I think that's where Trump often really does diverge from what you would have seen in like a President Rubio, for instance. And that stuff matters and it matters to how people perceive, people like Harward, for instance, might perceive things. And there are still these big riffs on something like trade, for instance, and that's not going to go away.

SCIUTTO: So, let me give another example of a divergence. This is a tweet that came from the President's Twitter account, just a few minutes ago, it was deleted, but then it was just reposted and let's read it. "The fake news media, failing New York Times, CNN, NBC News and many more, is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people. SICK!" Let me just say I'm an American and so I'm part of the American people, as are my many journalist colleagues, just put that out there. Respond?

[16:49:52] PAGE: You know, the -- why do we cover government and politics? Why did we get into journalism? It's not because we're the enemy of the American people. It's because we see a role, a constitutional role envisioned by the founders for a free press that would be critical and at times adversarial. We are part of the system and we -- I think the journalists I know, they are pretty patriotic about the work they do.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I'm going to speak for myself again. I work pretty hard at this. I know you guys work pretty hard at what you do, we try to get it right. This tweet, I should note, has been reposted with one edit. That word "SICK!" taken out. So, we are only the enemy of the people, we are not sick. I mean, the distinction, frankly, without a difference, I would say, what's happening here? Why do this?

HAM: Let me say as -- and I cop to being part of the media as well, but there is a gap in trust between the media that's Inside the Beltway and often reads things differently than voters do. I think, for instance, we put a lot more emphasis on something like the press conference and the palace intrigue of the White House than regular voters do. As compared to something --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: I will -- I take one issue with that. I know the trust in the media is low along with trust in many American institutions. And that's -- it's a -- that's a problem. But let's be -- on some things, when my colleagues go to wars and cover soldiers in action, when we cover terror attacks, right, I mean, I'm sorry, there are some things where people still -- and our ratings are up there and The New York Times is getting more subscribers. So, you know, on some things yet, but not on -- yes, but not on all things.

HAM: Yes, but that's fine. That's the world. Like you can be criticized on certain fronts and not other fronts, and that's a perfectly rational position. I think Trump certainly seems to be -- if he thinks that the press is losing credibility, seems to be wanting to race them in that endeavor, and I don't think that build -- that doesn't fix the trust gap. But occasionally, yes, large mistakes from the press do make that worse and he wants to drive that wedge.

SCIUTTO: No question, all right. This is clearly a discussion we're going to continue to have whether we like it or not. Thanks very much to all of you for coming on today. Enjoy the holiday weekend. Democrats are trying to take one of President Trump's favorite tools and use it against him. Social media, imagine that. That story is right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back, and more in our "POLITICS LEAD". Democrats may be done licking their wounds from the devastating general election loss. After losing the White House, the senate and the house, they are plotting their comeback using a tool more familiar with the president, perhaps, social media. CNN's Brian Stelter takes a look at the Democratic Party's online plans for revenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me ask you, should I keep the Twitter going or not? Keep it going?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has been lining up feather ruffling tweets since his inauguration. But on Capitol Hill, the democrats have been flocking to social media, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join me by calling your congress person.

STELTER: Upping their aptitude for a new era of political communication.

ADAM CONNER, FACEBOOK FORMER PUBLIC POLICY MANAGER: The tools are more limited per se the minority party right now. The more attention they can draw to something, the more likely it is they are able to get some sort of victory out of it.

STELTER: Adam Connor helped open Facebook's first Washington office. For years now, he's been helping members of congress learn how to use social media.

CONNER: Donald Trump has demonstrated that social media is a tool that can have power and authenticity and, you know, it is something that they can no longer ignore.

STELTER: Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is overhauling the democratic media center in implementing a broad new strategy.

CHUCK SCHUMER, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM NEW YORK: We are reaching the American people where they are, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. Hi, everybody.

STELTER: It's just in time for controversial confirmation hearings that most constituents didn't watch live. What many did see were short shareable snippets, meant to sway their opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that a yes or a no?

BETSY DEVOS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: That's a -- I support accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you not want to answer my question?

STELTER: This clip of then Education Secretary Nominee Betsy DeVos, received more than 25 million views on Senator Schumer's Facebook page. In response to EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt, Senator Cory Booker posted its floor speech.

CORY BOOKER, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM NEW JERSEY: May I have the floor?

STELTER: And Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz posted this series of hash- tagged memes, touting the EPA's importance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was warned.

STELTER: Earlier this month, republicans stopped Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren from presenting an opposing view of then Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions from Coretta Scott King.

ELIZABETH WARREN, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM MASSACHUSETTS: I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.

STELTER: So, she logged on to Facebook live.

WARREN: I just want to read the letter.

CONNER: It used to just be the moment on the day of the hearing was when people paid attention to it. But now you have this after effect. It's the memes, it's the unflattering clips. And so, it really is a full cycle that is what the nominees have to kind of weather.

STELTER: After President Obama's inauguration in 2009, republicans stepped up their social media game as well, beginning a years-long messaging competition with the White House. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president made an outstanding choice.

STELTER: Now, both parties are seeing more followers. They're sharing talking points on more platforms than ever. But also adding to the plethora of false information.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM MARYLAND: Just this morning, Flynn tweeted, and this is a quote, "scapegoat".

STELTER: Congressman Elijah Cummings and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

NANCY PELOSI, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES MINORITY LEADER: It's not scapegoat, it's stone wall, and that's exactly what the republicans in congress are doing.

STELTER: Vested by a fake account for ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STELTER: Oh, what a tangled web Washington can weave. Those kind of hoax Twitter accounts are a bipartisan problem. Pelosi and Cummings later acknowledged the mistake, but more broadly, the democrats here trying to tap into the same social media tools that President Trump has harnessed. They can't point to a lot of success yet. Certainly not with confirmation battles, but the democrats are deepening connection with their voters in the same way the president does. Jim?

SCIUTTO: All right. Thanks, Brian Stelter. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jakes Tapper. I turn you now over to Brianna Keilar, she is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: Happening now, boot and rally, after another frustrating and contentious week, including the --