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White House Press Briefing; CIA Analyst Quits over Trump. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired February 21, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sara?
QUESTION: Hey Sean, the New York Times is reporting that Trump's budget director is preparing a budget that eliminates the Export- Import Bank. Several lawmakers, including Senator Heitkamp, have come out of private meetings with President Trump and said that in those private meetings, he expressed support for the Export (sic) Bank. So which is it? Does he support Ex-Im or does he support eliminating it?
SPICER: I can confirm that the OMB director, the budget director is working on a budget. Beyond that, I'm not going to get ahead of the OMB director right now. They are drafting a budget. They are talking to members of Congress and other interested parties about funding levels and such. But we're no at a position to go yet.
QUESTION: To square the circle on Alexis's question, since the DHS guidance did not eliminate DACA, does that mean that the program is remaining in place, that it's a settled matter, and it's not going away?
SPICER: No, Jordan. What it means is that this particular enforcement is tailored to what I've been referencing over and over again, that what we're talking about today is the implementation of those two executive orders, one specifically that's tasking the agencies under DHS to address a very specific problem of the million or so, plus-or-minus people that they have identified, that they have been adjudicated with having -- with already having gone through the process to be adjudicated and taken out of the country.
QUESTION: So that means that DACA...
SPICER: That's right. Exactly. It just means that that -- this -- what it means more than anything is that this order does not address that and it's very clear in the Q&A, and again I would refer you back to the DHS's website that has all of that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Two questions, please. One, it's been one month on the job for you and for the president. And you are already talk of the town around the globe. My two questions are, one...
SPICER: My wife would disagree with you.
It's not always positive, too.
QUESTION: It looks like, Sean, that the president's order is working, at least around the globe, because more than 60,000 Pakistanis have been deported by (inaudible) that they were illegals, and also they went back to the country. (inaudible) and also at the same time, Pakistani government is arresting hundreds of terrorists inside the country. Any presidential message?
SPICER: No. Look, I'm not going to -- there's nothing that I have in terms of an update of what's going on in Pakistan. I would refer you to the Department of State with respect to specific policies. But, you know, the broader point that you're making is I think each country needs to look at what they need to do to control the people that are entering their country and keep their people safe.
When you look at our laws in particular, and compare them to so many other countries around the globe, we actually tend to probably fall in the lower end of having -- of how tough our immigration policies are vis-a-vis someone else.
QUESTION: As far as illegal immigration is a concern in the U.S., millions of illegal immigrants (inaudible) waiting for the last eight or 10 years that they might see a light in the dark tunnel. And now they're hoping that President Trump will have a light for them. So what is the presidential message for them, who are in this country for five, 10, 15 or 20 years, but they're not -- they don't have any criminal records?
SPICER: Right. Well, look, the president has said before he's got a big heart. And I think that, as we continue to develop policy on immigration, it's going to be as we've talked about in the past, prioritized what we go after first, second, third. The president's been very clear. He understands that plight of some of those individuals. He's got a big heart. He understands the impact it has on many families in many communities.
But we will continue to develop policies that will address that. And again, today's focus is specifically on those two executive orders. And I'm going to limit it to that.
Yes? QUESTION: At the beginning -- at the beginning of the month, Senator John McCain sent a letter to the president requesting that the administration provide arms to Ukrainians fighting Russian separatists within their country. When will the president respond to Senator McCain's letter? And what is the administration's position on lethal aid to Ukrainians fighting Russian separatists?
SPICER: I don't have anything for you on that. I'll try to get back to you on that. I know that we we're very pleased to say -- watch Senator McCain praise the pick of General McMaster. That's (inaudible) so we will consult with. But we were pleased to see so much support for him.
QUESTION: Yes, on Russia. Critics of the president have said that at times he doesn't talk tough enough on the subject. General McMaster, though, has been labeled by a lot of people as being pretty hawkish.
I'm curious, what, if any, difference in tone or tenor or strategy we should expect now that they're working together?
SPICER: Well, I think, as I mentioned a couple of times, I think there is widespread praise for General McMaster and his understanding and command of national security matters, foreign policy matters. He's gonna be a great asset to the president's national security team.
But ultimately, the President's always been the decider, whether it's Russia or any other issue, and I think you're right. He's -- he has made it very clear that if he can get a deal with Russia, something that the last several administrations have tried to do, that he's going to do it. And if he can't, he won't. But he is going to try, and I think his success as a business man and a negotiator should be seen as a positive sign for him to be able to do that.
But he understands that if he can find common ground on defeating ISIS and combating terrorism, growing the economy where we can find areas of economic interest, then we're going to do it. But that's -- that's where we're going to continue to work with Russia. If we can. He'll get a deal if he can, he won't if he won't. But he's going to try. And I think where others have failed, he's going to make sure that he does everything possible to make sure that -- if it's in the interest of the United States, he will get a deal.
QUESTION: Another question on General McMaster. So how much leeway is he going to get to restructure, to bring on his own people? There were some reports that admiral Harward was not allowed to or others as well, so can you address that?
SPICER: Yes, thank you, I can. He will have 100 percent. The President has been very clear with that. He is a national security adviser, and he will have whatever he needs to implement a successful team.
But with respect to Admiral Harward that you brought up -- Admiral Harward made it very, very clear that he wanted this job. He would love to take it. He was impressed with the team. But during the course of discussions, he came up and he said, before I continue with this discussion, I need to address some financial and family concerns. He went back, he came back to us and said, I am unable to continue the discussions because of some financial concerns and some family issues that we have.
I spent 40 years serving this country in the United States Navy. I talked to him again Saturday night. He said if there's another opening in a year or two, I would be honored. I am so impressed with the team that's there.
And I would urge people to actually talk to him. He was so excited about being part of the team. He was available to as many reporters as he could take. We gave out his information, his contact information. And he's been very clear. He wrote a letter to the president prior to, first thing Tuesday morning, he was in the UAE. He sent the letter over, we had it first thing in the morning where he said, because of family concerns, because of some financial constraints, having served this nation for 40 years, I can't take this job. But I am unbelievably impressed...
All of the rumors about the discretion that he would have over staff or any other thing were 100 percent false. He's made it clear that he would love to serve in the future, that he was impressed with the team, that he wanted to do this -- there were just some constraints, financially and family wise, that come with, or after having served 40 years in the military and some sacrifices both financially and family wise that he had had to make.
But I talked to him several times, and the team has talked to him. But ultimately, the president was very, very impressed with General McMaster. He'd always been one of the individuals that he was -- thought stood above some of the other folks. He was impressed with the entire list, John Bolton and others. But he -- he -- so many people had spoken to him. General Mattis, Tom Cotton, other senators, really praised General McMaster's command of the issues, his management, his style, his understanding of the geopolitical landscape, and I think that's why you saw such amazing widespread bipartisan praise for him and why he will be such an asset to the national security team.
So ultimately, we've been up with the best choice. And I think that's going to benefit not just this administration but our entire nation.
QUESTION: ... any senior people at the NSC? Can we expect that he may replace...
SPICER: I can't be any clearer. I think that we've got an amazing team. He's been impressed with them. But the president has -- as he did with other candidates, told them that they would lead the team and that he would have the discretion.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on that. You said that he ahs the full authority to structure his office as he sees fit. Does that extend to the principals committee as well? After he comes in (inaudible) the whole apparatus, if he advises the president that he would prefer not to have the (inaudible) the president...
SPICER: I think the president has made clear to him, as I said to Vivian (ph), he's got full authority to structure the National Security team the way he wants. Obviously with something like that, he would come to the president and make that recommendation. But the president would take that under serious consideration. I don't want to go ahead with this person or that person or structure, but the president made it very clear with him and the other candidates that they had 100 percent control and authority over the National Security Committee.
Thank you, guys. I'll see you tomorrow.
QUESTION: Will McMaster retire (ph)?
SPICER: No. He will stay on - he will stay on active duty.
QUESTION: Does that require Senate confirmation then?
SPICER: No. He will stay on - he will stay on active duty. That was the case in - with Powell and I think some other folks, so.
QUESTION: One more clarification just before you go. So, when the new EO comes out, you won't rescind the original one, you'll leave it in place?
SPICER: That's correct. Yes. Thank you, guys.
QUESTION: Are you referring those attacks to the Justice Department, the anti-Semitic attacks?
(NO AUDIBLE ANSWER)
[14:40:37] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Trying to get every last question in they possibly can to Sean Spicer there, the White House press secretary.
Let me start with the last bit. That was our correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, just as this time yesterday on a three-star general, H.R. McMaster, the fact that he's the president's now national security adviser and following up Spicer said he will have 100 percent power on selecting who is sitting around the table. And the question is, will that include kicking Steve Bannon essentially out of that. And that's sort of I think what Jeff was getting at we'll follow-up with that in a second. The DHS memo enforcing immigration policies. Also the news made this morning the president swinging by the African-American slavery museum and this anti-Semitic threats at some 24 states across the country.
So let me bring in a lot of voices to me chew at that.
Gloria Borger, let me again with you, specifically on what the president said this morning at the museum and the fact that this was his third -- he has any opportunity as a president to speak about this. Of course, he was asked about this at the news conference last week and did not directly condemn them, he was asked about this when he was standing next the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now this morning he has, how did he do?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, he finally said something, so you have to give him credit for that. But I think it was a moment when he was sort of backed into a corner. He spoke first of all from a speech and he could say it in a speech. It needs to be said. It needs to be said multiple times. And I think when you're at the African-American history museum it's really an opportune moment to talk about things such as racism and anti-Semitism of course. I know there are some who are asking the president to ask the justice department or asking Jeff Sessions to appoint a special task force to investigate these -- this rash of anti-Semitism and I don't think the president has said anything on that nor was Sean Spicer asked about it but he said no matter how many times he's asked about it, it isn't enough. Well, he really hasn't answered it until today.
BALDWIN: Also as part of the conversation, the Anne Frank Center, the statement from the Anne Frank Center, which said, "The president's sudden acknowledge is a Band-Aid of cancer on anti-Semitic that has infected his own administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflect anti-Semitism, yet day after day, have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake it is the worst we have ever seen from any administration."
David, is that a tad harsh. Sean Spicer said he talked about unifying the country.
DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: I think that statement is harsh, I think the prior statement on the Holocaust where they didn't single out the Jewish people which they were very, very upset about. There are also allegations about Steve Bannon that continue to swirl that people are basically labelling him, but I think Ivanka Trump has as a lot of influence on this as well. She converted to Judaism. I think she might have some influence on President Trump, but I also think if you're President Trump to be in his circumstances, do you want to send your time responding to every critique every day? I think it came to a boil that he finally had to respond to it but it's an important part of a president's job what to ignore and what to respond to.
[14:45:16] BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny is now available. He was just in that briefing.
Jeff, you asked a great question. I'm not totally sure whether we got the full answer, whether General McMaster wants to do away with Steve Bannon can he, what was the sense you got from Sean? JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, that was the
question, if this new national security adviser will be able to have his own team in place and Sean Spicer said several times he will have the full authority to create his own set of advisors here within the national security council but I was asking specifically about the principal's committee we talked about that several weeks ago, and that includes Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, essentially a political advisor and policy advisor. And I heard Sean Spicer leave the door open to that, he said I don't want to get ahead of that, or say that's something that will happen but wouldn't close to door to that possibility. He said that would be a decision that general McMaster would have with the president. I think that's an essential question of the national security council. It certainly is one of the things that was weighing this whole matter down for the last few weeks or so, so he is just getting himself in place and will put his own team in place, we'll see in the principal's committee actually changes or stays the same though, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Jeff, thank you.
A couple questions we were asked about the Department of Homeland Security memos released today. This is guidance on enforcement of immigration laws by the Trump administration. And in essence, according to this call with reporters, they're reaffirming there will be no mass deportation.
Layla Santiago, let me bring you in, in Mexico.
In accordance with policies in place that predates the Trump administration and one is the DACA, or Dreamer Program, will stay in place or intact.
LAYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Brooke, we're not getting much reaction from government officials when it comes from the office of the foreign minister, but I did talk to one Mexican Senator he says he's hardening his stance and he's doing this because of some of the legal challenges, because of legal hurdles he's faced with these executive orders.
And one of the interesting things is some people see this as a crackdown on immigration. We were on the border a few days ago. I spoke to people who had plans to cross the border illegally. And I want you to hear even after these executive orders have been signed, I want you to hear what they told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: SPEAKING FORIEGN LANGUAGE)
He's saying that a border wall would not stop him from going back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) SANTIAGO: He said Donald Trump can put four or five walls and that
won't keep him from migrating up to the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SANTIAGO: Because he wants to find a way to be with his family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: And his name was Moyset (ph). He was Tijuana. He says he won't be deported because his bond with his family is stronger. He's been deported three times, once under the Obama administration twice under the Trump administration and he was one of several we talked about that very same issue.
So while the Trump administration may be I think a stricter policy or certainly taking a stance on immigration, I'm not sure that it's reaching everyone wanting to cross that border illegally.
BALDWIN: I'm so glad you talked to him. We should be hearing from these voices.
Layla, thank you.
Gil Kerlikowski once led Customs and Border Protection.
You're familiar with this memo that went out today. Again, Sean Spicer saying this is about criminals, about priorities, essentially, that the president has a big heart when it comes to these specific issues. What did you hear? What jumps out at you from this DHS memo?
[14:49:58] GIL KERLIKOWSKI, FORMER DIRECTOR, CUSTOMS AND BORDEDR PROTECTION: A couple of things. And one is trying to get state and local law enforcement officials to become immigration officials, that's been tried well over a decade. There's 17,000 local police departments only a handful that engage in this, and one reason is of course they're pretty busy already enforcing state and local laws. Number two, they want to make sure they don't put their department -- they have a fiduciary responsibility as chief and sheriff not to put their departments in the middle of a lot of protracted civil litigation involving racial profiling and also not a chilling effect for the oath they took to protect. Quite frankly, they need the trust of the people.
BALDWIN: The trust of the people. And again, on this phone call with DHS with the White House, these reporters again, with Sean Spicer trying to reassure there's no imminent mass deportation, again, reaffirming that the Dreamers are safe.
On catch and release quickly, Gil, it says catch and release will end. Is that a change?
KERLIKOWSKI: No, it's not really a change. You can only hold people that have come into the country illegally, crossed illegally for so long before either a federal judge is going to tell you they have to be released. When I left office on January 20th there were well over 40,000 people in detention, so you only have so much room at the inn so you're going to have to release people or the surge that sounded pretty positive in all this is to have significantly more immigration judges that will hold the hearings in a timely manner so whether the person is returned or granted some type of protection that can be made.
BALDWIN: What about, Laura Coates, bringing in a legal brain the constitutionality of detaining people?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The biggest problem that you have with these new orders is the amount of discretion given to these ICE officers not only to decide who is prior to but who is suspected of a crime, this is who has a criminal background but that allows them whether or not they should be charged with a crime which moves them to the front of the line on priority, the Supreme Court is hearing a case people who are in the United States facing very similar issues of what kind of rights do we extend people who are over our border under our jurisdiction, when you give discretion to an agency to decide whether or not somebody is suspected of a crime making them equate to a criminal you're going to have constitutional issues and that's not going to go away by these two bans, unlike the two previous administrations who dealt with a backlog on the immigration courts being released back to their families now you will continue to have a backlog not only of those people but those who are even suspected of a crime.
BALDWIN: So I think we should be crystal clear, DHS memos, but also the executive order. I know you mentioned the ban. I don't want to conflate the two.
I think that's was Gloria who wanted to jump in.
Gloria, did you want to jump in?
BORGER: Yeah, they're moving along parallel tracks according to Sean Spicer, still defending the Bannon -- I think what's most interesting here to me is that Sean Spicer said, everybody here legally is subject to removal, OK. So we know that. He said Dreamers not for now. He just answered that in a way where that could be reopened but not for now. I think the question is and of course he said there has to be a system of prior to. What's the system of priority? People convicted of a crime. My question is what's a crime? There are different levels of crime, is it getting stopped for a traffic ticket? Is it tax evasion? Is it a criminal act? And are the crimes put in different order, OK? We don't know the answer to that right now, so if you're here illegally and say you're the parent of a Dreamer and you get stopped for a traffic ticket --
BALDWIN: Does that mean you're kicked out?
COATES: I absolutely agree with you. And if I said ban I said it inadvertent. If you have discretion given to the ICE Officers to decide even what is a crime you're going to have a backlog of people who shouldn't be included in that, perhaps being in the country illegally is -- in and of itself, but it is giving them room to abuse that power. And that's one of the biggest issues of these orders and why you're not only going to have to have more ICE judges and officers, to determine whether they are being treated fairly. And if you're in the United States, you do have some rights and those have to be honored.
[14:55:49] BALDWIN: I want to go to, David.
I want to go to David.
Quick, final big picture question. He now has his new national security adviser, CPAC is in town. Final thought from you on all of this?
CATANESE: I think Immigration is going to drive the week again.
BALDWIN: You do?
CATANESE: Yeah. Once they're dropped the biggest take away from Spicer's briefing is the huge amount of wiggle room he's leaving. It looks like Trump wants to go against one of his campaign pledges which was to rescind DACA, by the Obama administration, one of those with children brought here illegally, looks like Trump wants to move away from that but not completely, because Spicer is saying we're going to prioritize this. A lot of wiggle room, we'll see if any CPAC, conservatives getting upset that Trump hasn't done what he promised on DACA, on the immigration front.
BALDWIN: President Trump himself last week said we're going to deal with DACA with heart. Great point.
Thank you all so much here, coming out of the big daily briefing, the day after President's Day.
Coming up next, an 11-year veteran from the CIA announces his resignation from the intelligence agency. Why he says he's quitting because of President Trump. That's next.
BALDWIN: We're going to talk about this 11-year CIA veteran who says he's quitting because of multiple reasons under this new Trump era.
Two voices to talk about that.
But to just to reiterate, Jeff Zeleny, on the national security committee, the key question is, with this now official national security adviser, General McMaster, what Sean Spicer saying, quoting, "100 percent whatever he wants to have a team," might that include doing away with chief strategist, Steve Bannon, at the head of the table? Steve Paul is with me, retired CIA chief of Russia operations. Phil
Mudd is with me, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official.
Gentlemen, good to see both of you.
We'll get to this other story in a second.
But, Phil, you know, what did you hear when you heard Sean Spicer's answer when you here 100percent whatever he needs to implement a team, is that wiggle room to say thanks but no thanks to Steve Bannon?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, that's ass backward. You don't have political commissars that sit on National Security Council meetings. Steve Bannon is not there because of his expertise on national security. He's there as a commissar. He's there to make sure the people tow the party line. What do you think the CIA director, national security director, Brooke, if they express an opinion that's different than what the president believes? It's not whether the new national security adviser has the authority to remove somebody. The White House should say Bannon is not welcome in the Principles Committee. Don't put the onus on the new national security advisor.
BALDWIN: Ass backwards, that's a first --
MUDD: Ass backwards.
BALDWIN: Phil Mudd, stay with me.