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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korea Murder Mystery; Town Hall Fury; Mission to Mexico; Bannon, Pence Deliver Mixed Messages to E.U.; Interview with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:12]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Remember the good old days, when presidents got criticized for not doing what they promised during the campaign?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Mission to Mexico. Donald Trump's top Cabinet secretaries head south of the border, as Mexico says President Trump's new plan to crack down on illegal immigration is not acceptable.

In their faces, angry voters getting louder at Republican town halls across the country, as President Trump writes them off as Democratic plants.

Plus, new details in the investigation into the murder of Kim Jong- un's half-brother. Does a new suspect connect to the killing to dear leader himself?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the politics lead today.

Today, one month, two days into the Trump administration, we are seeing that there may not be actually much daylight at all between what candidate Trump promised and what President Trump is trying to do, especially when it comes to his tough talk on illegal immigration.

Today, as a couple of President Trump's Cabinet secretaries head over the border and GOP leadership heads to the border to scope out the site and possible price tag of the wall, Mexico is challenging the president's plans for a crackdown on those in the U.S. illegally.

This comes after the administration laid out its plans for aggressive enforcement of the laws on the books, a plan that Democrats and advocates say will result in roundups and mass deportations.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski joins me now live from the State Department.

Michelle, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today the relationship with Mexico is, in his word, phenomenal. Does Mexico see it that way?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: In a word, Jake, no.

You have the secretary of state and the homeland security secretary on their way to Mexico trying to smooth over this relationship that's usually so benign you don't hear much about it. And even before they land, we're hearing a pretty hard line from Mexico, insisting again to CNN that they're not going to pay for any wall, that they're not going to accept deportees that are not Mexican nationals.

It is unclear how difficult that is going to make this trip that once again bears an element of damage control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Mexico City, where thousands of people have taken to the streets over the last month protesting Trump White House policies.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly arrive today with a tall order for their first neighborly visit, get the U.S./Mexico relationship back on track. Mexico has threatened boycotts. President Pena Nieto canceled his trip to the White House last month with the tensions and Trump tweets.

Today, from the White House:

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials and I think they would echo that same sentiment.

KOSINSKI: A Mexican official, though, involved in the bilateral relationship tells CNN their side goes into these talks with President Trump's promises...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will build a wall. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

KOSINSKI: ... a no-go. The official stating clearly, Mexico will not pay for a wall.

Also, with the new immigration order that could mean hundreds of thousands or even millions of people deported, Mexico says it does have an obligation to accept its own nationals, but not all the immigrants from Central America, the government official adding, Mexico needs to see the following in these meetings today, respect for the relationship that has been built over decades, acknowledgment that Mexico is an enormously important trading partner -- $1.5 billion a day in trade crosses the border -- and acknowledgment that the U.S. is lucky to have such a good neighbor in Mexico.

Such is the price now of moving forward after all the words from President Trump going back to the campaign trail.

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. We have some bad hombres here and we're going to get them out. KOSINSKI: He even used the phrase tough hombres on a phone call with

the Mexican president this month, offering to send U.S. troops down there to help.

Former Obama Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken says the strain between these neighbors across borders or fences could take far more than this visit to heal.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It helps, but it's not enough. It's turbulent because of all this talk of a wall and it's especially turbulent because of the various immigration executive orders. That's a conversation Mexico needs to be in on the takeoff, not on the landing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: The White House has floated out some potential ways of getting Mexico to pay for the wall, like taking a closer look at the amount of aid the U.S. sends to Mexico, or slapping potentially a huge tariff on goods coming across the border from Mexico.

[16:05:05]

But each of those could have repercussions. At this point, Mexico seems pretty willing to react, Jake.

TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us, thanks so much.

House Speaker Paul Ryan right now is leading a fact-finding mission with a group of fellow Republican lawmakers. They are on the U.S.- Mexico border.

CNN's Polo Sandoval joins me live from the border in South Texas.

Polo, what is on the agenda for this congressional delegation?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Jake, that is the question of the day. And finding an answer isn't very easy for us here on the ground or for our colleagues here in Washington in touch with the speaker's office.

That's because they have released very little, if any, details regarding what is the first trip for Paul Ryan to the border as speaker of the House. But here's what we could observe from a distance here. We watched as Speaker Ryan arrived at a border park in Mission, Texas, which is a very common stop for visiting officials here and what is one of the busiest border crossings also for undocumented people as well.

This is where the so-called fact-finding mission began where he was able to get an up-close look at some of the terrain here, the geography that would potentially have to be the site of this proposed border wall for Donald Trump.

Shortly after his visit at this park, he then hopped aboard a boat for a boat tour, and then is now, according to several officials, visiting with local elected officials, as well as a immigrant processing center. We expect he will eventually before the end of the day be wheels up, then possibly heading back to Washington.

Believe it or not, while he was here, there was even some time for a little bit of horseplay. From our vantage point, we could see the speaker of the House saddle up and rode with The horses. It was part of the Border Patrol mounted unit. Again, this was during a very short meeting with some local officials. Now people here in these border committees hope he's able to take all of this back to Washington as that debate continues -- Jake.

TAPPER: Polo Sandoval along the Mexico-U.S. border, Polo, thank you so much.

Let's go live now to some pictures we're getting of Vice President Mike Pence and the governor of Missouri. They're at the Jewish cemetery near Saint Louis that was vandalized over the weekend. Governor Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, as it would happen, is speaking right now.

Let's take a listen.

GOV. ERIC GREITENS (R), MISSOURI: We're going to come together in shared service.

Now, you might notice I'm here with one of my friends, Vice President Pence.

(APPLAUSE)

GREITENS: And earlier today, you should know the president of the United States called me, and he asked me on his behalf to personally thank all of you. Thank you for standing up in the fight against anti-Semitism.

(APPLAUSE)

GREITENS: And he said thank you for showing the people of the world that what happened here the other night is not who America is. It's not who Missouri is. This is who Missouri is. This is who America is.

(APPLAUSE)

GREITENS: Anita, we are honored to be here to support you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to thank each and every one of you for coming. And I want to thank the organizations that have reached out to us. Can you hear me now? Hello? Hello?

I just want to thank each and every one of you for coming out to volunteer and to help us today. In the Jewish tradition, we take utmost care to give respect to our deceased. And by you coming out here today, you are helping to, once again, give respect to all of the deceased here. (APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you to all of the organizations that have reached out to us, to the governor, to the vice president, to the federation, to the ADL, to the entire community. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm Mike Pence. I'm the vice president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: I spoke words earlier today in Saint Louis that were from the heart.

There is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism.

[16:10:02]

I must tell you, the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri, and I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is really all about.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: I also want to thank Anita for her great leadership. To walk in to see that the headstones that were vandalized are already repaired is evidence of your love and your care for the heritage and the history and those that are cherished here to the federation and to all of you. But let me also say I just want to thank your new governor, your new governor.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: Thank you, Governor Greitens.

And on behalf of the president of the United States, let me just say thank you to all of you for coming out and showing the heart of this state and the heart of this nation in this place. You make us all proud. God bless you all.

(APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: That's Vice President Mike Pence along with the governor of Missouri, Greitens, who you may not know he is a former Navy seal. He won a Bronze Star and is also the first Jewish governor of Missouri.

President Trump spoke today about some major campaign promises and continued to press the notion that he inherited not only Obamacare from President Obama, but also a financial mess.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now. Jeff, you just heard that President Trump called the governor of

Missouri to offer an affirming statement against anti-Semitism, what happened. But before the cameras earlier, he was talking much more about the budget and saying that the government will have to do much more with less.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He said exactly that, Jake. And, of course, that's a standard refrain from all presidents and most politicians, saying they will have to do more with less.

But that becomes much more difficult when you factor in all the presidential wish lists that includes that $15 billion border wall in Mexico.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: The finances of our country are a mess, but we're going to clean them up.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump meeting today with his new budget director as he prepares to submit his first spending plan to Congress on March 13. The president and his team still grappling with how to make good on campaign pledges like tax reform and overhauling the Affordable Care Act.

TRUMP: Health care is moving along nicely. It's being put into final forms.

ZELENY: Republicans on Capitol Hill still not clear whether they or the White House will take the lead crafting the legislation. And across the country, members of Congress are getting an earful this week in boisterous town hall meetings.

At the White House today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer downplaying the outbursts, saying some of the protesters are simply seeking media attention.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think some people are clearly upset, but there's a bit of professional protester manufactured base in there.

But obviously there are people that are upset. Just because there are loud doesn't necessarily mean that there are many.

ZELENY: The administration is also trying to weed out dissent within its own ranks. CNN has learned several agencies and Cabinet secretaries have expressed concern for not being able to make their own hiring choices, particularly those who have spoken out against Mr. Trump.

Spicer defended the hands-on role the White House is taking.

SPICER: It would almost be malpractice not to do that, to allow people to fill a job, a political appointee job who don't share the vision and agenda of the president of the United States. ZELENY: The administration is putting the finishing touches on its

travel ban, still expected this week after a federal court blocked the president's initial order affecting visitors from seven majority Muslim countries, the White House also defending the president's harder line on illegal immigration by enforcing existing laws.

SPICER: We have got to look at it from a priority level. Right now, there's millions of people in this country that are in the country illegally.

ZELENY: The White House is also set to weigh in on protections for transgender students in public schools, reversing directives put in place last year by President Obama, allowing students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

SPICER: The president made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer in states' rights and that certain issues like this are best not dealt with at the federal level.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, today, first daughter Ivanka Trump spotted at the Supreme Court attending an argument as a guest of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Walking down the steps with her daughter, Arabella, later saying she was teaching her about the judicial system in our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Jake, we are still expecting that executive order on the travel ban, perhaps tomorrow, definitely by Friday, we're told.

And the White House is saying that they are fine-tuning that.

[16:15:00] They hope this time it passes legal challenges here -- one of the many things going on. But, Jake, all this will be wrapped up by next Tuesday when the president gives hiss first primetime address to a joint session of Congress in the House chambers -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

An entire continent left shrugging its shoulders after the vice president says one thing, but President Trump's chief advisor says something quite different. Where does the boss stand? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with the politics lead now, and another possible disconnect at the highest levels of the administration. Sources are now telling us, before Vice President Pence pledged a steadfast commitment to the European Union, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said something to a key European ambassador that seemed to be quite the opposite of a steadfast commitment about how the U.S. will be dealing with European nations.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott joins me now.

And, Elise, Vice President Pence delivered the message did he about the importance of the E.U., but in an interview just a few weeks ago, President Trump gave a quote in which he told "The Times of London", "Look, the E.U. was formed partially to beat the United States on trade, OK? So, I don't really care whether it's separate or together. To me, it doesn't matter."

[16:20:00] I mean, talk about mixed messages.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's definitely a mixed message, Jake. And diplomats are telling me days before Vice President Mike Pence was in Brussels telling the E.U. that he and President Trump both want to deepen the U.S. political and economic partnership, Steve Bannon met with Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the United States, and described the E.U. in this meeting as a flawed institution, said the U.S. favored strengthening ties with individual countries on a bilateral basis, described as a very combative conversation.

The sources said that Bannon spelled out a nationalist world view, citing a wave of anti-E.U. populist movements, a similar to the refrain to the one he had previously articulated as the chief of the right wing website Breitbart News. Now, both Wittig and the German government declined to comment, citing the private nature of the talks. The White House downplaying the account of the meeting as inaccurate, they're just calling it a quick hello.

But the conversation reflected general concern about the Trump administration's policy towards the E.U. and diplomats say that Pence's message of reassurance fell flat on the diplomats who were hearing a mixed message from the White House about the future relationship, Jake. They believe that nobody in this administration really understands what the E.U. does and they were hoping that Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were going to provide more of a moderating influence.

But one of the problems is that Secretary Tillerson doesn't have anybody on his staff right now. So, they're only really able to talk to the White House about this message and it's very concerning.

TAPPER: How do the Europeans plan to respond, if at all?

LABOTT: Well, I'm told they're kind of planning for the worst case scenario, but hoping for the best. I mean, in the best case scenario, the U.S. essentially deals with President Trump on a more pragmatic basis. He wants to deal with countries bilaterally.

But the worst case scenario is a more ideologically-driven policy on Russia and the E.U., that source said Germany doesn't need Trump to understand or even appreciate the E.U., but they need to understand how important it is, Jake, to Germany and one diplomat telling me, listen, the U.S. is now treading on its front lawn. You have elections in Europe this year, in the Netherlands and France and in Germany, and after President Trump's comments, you know, supporting Brexit and maybe support for some of these other movements, there is a lot of concern right now.

TAPPER: There is nothing that Vladimir Putin wants more than for the E.U. and NATO to dissolve.

LABOTT: That's right.

TAPPER: Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Markey, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

TAPPER: So, are you concerned at all that the nations, European allies seem to be hearing two distinct and contradictory messages from the Trump administration when it comes to the E.U. and when it comes to NATO?

MARKEY: Yes, these distinct and different messages are very dangerous.

Right now, the Russians are in violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty. That threatens Europe.

Right now, the Russians are having an incursion into the Ukraine. That threatens Europe.

Right now, we know that Russians are trying to compromise the elections in France, in Germany, in the Netherlands. That is dangerous to Europe.

And, so, really since the end of World War II, the foundational protection of the planet has been this alliance between the European nations and the United States. We have created a global economy. We have provided the policing for the planet as well.

And the one ambition that Vladimir Putin would have is to break this relationship apart. That would be key to him, once again from his perspective, being able to reassert a Russian role that is significant on our planet and the only way to counter it is to keep the E.U. and the United States together on the same page.

And these messages from Bannon as opposed to other people in the Trump administration just aim towards the undermining of that partnership.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Mexico, if we can. As you know, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will be arriving in Mexico later today. You recently returned from Mexico. What are the biggest concerns that the Mexican leaders have right now when it comes to their relationship with the United States? And do you think this relationship has been damaged in the long term?

MARKEY: Without question. The Mexican leadership really does believe that the vilification of their country, of their police, of their army, of their negotiators is something that has undermined the relationship between our two countries.

[16:25:01] And the Mexicans say quite clearly that we need them in order to provide security for the border. We need them in order to keep fentanyl and heroin out of our country. We need them if we're going to have a full and fair trade relationship with the Mexicans.

And everything that they're doing -- that is the Trump administration -- so far, has undermined the relationship which we need, not making us more safe but less safe, not pointing towards a direction of partnership, but towards one which is adversarial. And that ultimately is not good for the United States.

TAPPER: Senator, we're hearing a lot of talk from Democrats about the United States no longer being a country of inspiration, instead, it's being a -- it's turning into a country of deportation. But as you know, the Obama administration deported more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. That compares to slightly more than 2 million under President Bush and fewer than a million under President Clinton. Many immigrant rights groups refer to him as deporter-in- chief.

What is President Trump doing that is not an extension of the Obama policy?

MARKEY: Well, it's very clear what President Trump is doing is saying that he is now going to hire an army of 10,000 agents inside of the United States. That is fundamentally different than Barack Obama. And what he's done is he's saying to families all across America, children and families who have parents who have committed no crimes, that they should start to worry about whether or not their mother or father should be concerned that they could be deported and have to take the children with them.

And all I can say to President Trump is, for God's sake, just say to those families they don't have to worry. If no serious crime has been committed by any member of the family, that they don't have to worry. He's putting a cloud over every single family who is an immigrant in our country and it's wrong.

And this announcement of a 10,000-person deportation army is just something that just hearkens back to an era in our country's history that we really should not be revisiting. And only the president can now give comfort to these families. From his heart, please, Mr. President, tell them they don't have to worry.

TAPPER: Senator Ed Markey, thank you so much. I appreciate your time, sir.

MARKEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Angrier than an old man trying to send back soup in a deli, town hall participants yelling at Republican members of Congress, demanding answers. But today, the White House said these protesters, they are professionals. Stay with us.

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