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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Trump Retweets Convicted Racist's Videos Bashing Muslims; President Trump Touts Tax Plan; North Korea Crisis; NBC Fires Matt Lauer; NYT: Trump Still Peddling Conspiracy Theories; New Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Matt Lauer; Trump Pushes Tax Plan After Sharing Hate Group's Videos. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 29, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: -- as new reports emerge about the conspiracy theories he refuses to let go.
Gone today. NBC News abruptly fires one of its biggest executives, Matt Lauer, just hours after a detailed complaint of inappropriate sexual behavior on the job. Tonight, a new report reveals specific allegations made by multiple women.
And plea deal soon? CNN has learned that the special counsel has delayed grand jury testimony linked to the investigation of Michael Flynn. Is it a new sign that the fired national security adviser is cooperating with Robert Mueller?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, urgent diplomacy and ugly insults in the North Korea crisis.
As the U.N. Security Council holds emergency talks, President Trump is mocking Kim Jong-un as little rocket man and a sick puppy, this just hours after Kim's regime launched its powerful and potentially most dangerous missile yet. Pyongyang now claiming it has the ability to attack the whole U.S. mainland, calling its missile test a gift for -- quote -- "the old lunatic Trump."
The president is promising major new sanctions as punishment.
Also tonight, as Mr. Trump has been promoting his tax plan in Missouri, he is being scolded by one of the United States' most important allies, after he retweeted a series of inflammatory anti- Muslim hate videos from a far-right hate group in Britain.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is condemning Mr. Trump's decision to share the videos. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is defending the president, suggesting it doesn't matter whether or not the violent videos are real or fake.
And new allegations of sexual misconduct by Matt Lauer emerging tonight after "The Today Show" host was abruptly fired by NBC News this morning. The network saying it took quick action after a detailed complaint about inappropriate sexual behavior the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games that allegedly continued after the Games.
Tonight, "Variety" and "The New York Times" are both reporting that multiple women have now accused Lauer of harassment.
We're covering all of that, much more this hour, with our guests, including Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. He's a member of the Judiciary and Budget Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, we heard from the president in Missouri just a little while ago. And he steered totally clear of the controversy over his shocking retweets.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The president traveled to the suburbs of Saint Louis today to promote his tax plan, and that is what many Republicans in Washington here wish he would stick to. But that message was largely overshadowed today when he used his presidential megaphone to promote the message, an anti-Muslim message from a known British hate group.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on the road tonight selling the Republican tax plan.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My accountants are going crazy right now. It's all right. Hey, look, I'm president. I don't care.
ZELENY: The president insisting the wealthiest Americans like him won't benefit from the tax bill moving through Congress, despite evidence to the contrary.
TRUMP: Actually, the rich people actually don't like me, which is sort of interesting. That's fine. You know what, I like that trade.
ZELENY: But the president's visit to Missouri overshadowed by another Twitter controversy, this time his tweets sparking by an international incident, after he shared videos depicting Muslims committing acts of violence.
The president retweeted three inflammatory videos from Jayda Fransen, the leader of a far-right ultra-nationalist neo-fascist hate group called Britain First. It is unclear whether the videos were authentic or staged, which promoted anti-Muslim content like "Muslim migrant beating up Dutch boy on crutches" and "Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president, saying it didn't matter if the anti-Muslim videos were real. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's a
real video, the threat is real.
ZELENY: Fransen, who has been found guilty in the U.K. of religiously aggravated harassment, reveled in the attention. "God bless you, Trump," she tweeted.
White supremacist David Duke also praising the attacks on Muslims, saying: "Thank God for Trump. That's why we love him."
The offensive messages drew widespread condemnation, including a rebuke came from British Prime Minister Theresa May. "It is wrong for the president to have done this," her spokesman said, then adding, "Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives, which peddle lies and stoke tensions."
The White House dismissed the extraordinary criticism that rained in from all sides of the political spectrum, saying the president was simply drawing attention to threats the U.S. is facing.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think his goal is to promote strong borders and strong national security.
ZELENY: It comes only a week before the third version of President Trump's travel ban faces scrutiny once again in the courts. Judges have ruled his previous ban as unconstitutional, in part for targeting Muslims.
Senator John Thune was among the Republicans wincing today at the president's latest tweets, telling CNN's Dana Bash that type of language was detrimental and dangerous.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think it is risky, yes. Doing things like that, using social media in that way, in light of what is going on in the world right now, the things we're trying to accomplish and the threats and the adversaries that we face, I think it's important that our leader, our commander in chief set the kind of tone that's measured.
ZELENY: All this as the nuclear threat from North Korea intensified a day after the regime fired a ballistic missile that flew higher and longer than ever before.
After belittling Kim Jong-un earlier this year...
TRUMP: And we can't have madmen out there shooting rockets all over the place.
ZELENY: -- the president responded today with restraint, saying on Twitter: "Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. The situation will be handled."
But it was unclear just how it would be handled. On stage in Missouri, he revived his attack on the North Korean dictator. TRUMP: Little rocket man, rocket fuel for the American economy. He
is a sick puppy.
ZELENY: But today it was a tale of two presidents, with Mr. Trump standing before Christmas trees in the suburbs of Saint Louis, not mentioning his tweets that stirred controversy all around the world.
TRUMP: I will tell you this in a non-braggadocios way. There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That, I can tell you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZELENY: Now, missing from that long list of accomplishments is a major legislative achievement.
The could change this week when that tax plan is moving through the Senate. It still has to be reconciled with the House version of that. But Republicans are feeling more optimistic about that.
But, Wolf, every senator we talk to say, they wish the president would simply stay on message. This was the first time he's traveled out into the country somewhere to sell that plan since October 11. It's been about seven weeks since he did so. That message overshadowed today by those tweets.
BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Jeff, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump privately is still embracing some conspiracy theories, some old ones, even some new ones.
ZELENY: They are indeed, Wolf.
And we all know that President Trump and then candidate Trump and businessman Trump has embraced conspiracy theories for years.
His famous one, of course, is about Barack Obama, that he was not born in the U.S. and he was not a U.S. citizen. He clung to that for so long. But "The New York Times" is reporting that the president is again reviving that story.
Now, the aides here I speak with are downplaying that, say the president is not talking about this. But more questions are also coming up about that "Access Hollywood" tape that of course have been revived in all this conversation about sexual harassment and misconduct.
Again, the president reportedly telling people he didn't say those words on that tape. Wolf, that would be extraordinary because, of course, he admitted and apologized for that.
All of this goes to the state of mind of the president. What is rattling him so? Some Republicans and supporters of the president quietly wonder if it's the Russia investigation that caused him to be so agitated about so many things -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny over at the White House, thanks very much for
Now to the threat from North Korea and the international reaction to that powerful missile launch. Over at the United Nations tonight, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley is warning that it could lead to war.
If it does, Kim Jong-un's regime will be -- quote -- "utterly destroyed," her words.
CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now from the Korean Peninsula. He's joining us from Seoul, South Korea, right now.
Will, you have many sources inside North Korea. You have been there 17 times over the past few years. After your extensive reporting there, what are you now learning?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that those comments from Ambassador Nikki Haley just within the last half-hour are likely to...
BLITZER: I think we just lost our connection with Seoul, South Korea. We're going to try to reconnect with Will Ripley. But he did file this piece just a little while ago.
RIPLEY (voice-over): North Korea pushing President Trump closer than ever to the most agonizing foreign policy choice facing his administration, try to stop Kim Jong-un's menacing nuclear advance with maximum pressure or military muscle.
In South Korea, a precision missile strike drill, trying to prove U.S. allied forces have the ability to shoot down North Korea's most dangerous intercontinental ballistic missile yet.
The Hwasong-15 blasted through the Earth's upper atmosphere, 10 times higher than the International Space Station, theoretically putting it within striking range of the entire U.S. East Coast, including New York and Washington.
North Korean state media releasing the first images of the overnight launch and their supreme leader celebrating with top military officers.
North Korean state media boasting: "Kim Jong-un declared the pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force," also claiming the 23rd missile test of the Trump presidency "reconfirmed the safety of the warhead in the atmospheric reentry environment."
TRUMP: It is a situation that we will handle.
RIPLEY: President Trump tweeting Wednesday: "Just spoke to President Xi Jinping of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled."
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I see the president's response -- at least I hope to see it as a sign that he's stepping in line, more in line with his national security team.
RIPLEY: But China's leader giving no indication he's willing to take any actions that would destabilize Kim Jong-un's government, recently sending a special envoy and even a gift to the North Korean leader.
A North Korean official telling CNN diplomacy with the U.S. is off the table for now, until Pyongyang fully demonstrates its nuclear capabilities, including a possible above-ground thermonuclear test, a threat first made by North Korea's foreign minister in September, reiterated by a senior diplomat in Pyongyang last month.
QUESTION: Should the world prepare for North Korea to detonate a nuclear device above ground?
RI YONG-HO, NORTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally.
RIPLEY: Analysts have accused North Korea of bluster, saying the nation risks absolute destruction if it goes to war with the U.S.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham telling Wolf this:
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we have to go to war to stop this, we will.
RIPLEY: Each provocation turns Trump closer to one of the most critical presidential decisions since the end of World War II, accept North Korea as a nuclear power or take action that risk triggering a military conflict, with potentially unthinkable consequences.
RIPLEY: Tonight, no immediate response to those words from Ambassador Haley at the U.N. saying that if war were to happen, the North Korean regime would be utterly destroyed.
But I can tell you from repeated discussions with officials in Pyongyang that is certain to infuriate the North Koreas. After President Trump made similar remarks, North Korea threatened an above- ground nuclear detonation.
Ambassador Haley also calling on China to cut off the flow of oil to North Korea, ominously saying that is China is unwilling to do so, the U.S. will take that matter in their own hands, a rapidly escalating situation, tensions very high and getting higher tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed.
Will Ripley reporting from Seoul, South Korea, for us. Thank you, Will.
Let's talk a little bit more about all of this.
Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary and Budget Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure.
BLITZER: I want to start by asking you about President Trump's retweeting today of these anti-Muslim videos.
Some are suggesting it amounts to an incitement to violence against American Muslims. Do you agree with that assessment?
WHITEHOUSE: I think it's -- remember for a minute that he holds the office that was held by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and that the prime minister holds the office that was once held by Winston Churchill.
So, think of the history back in World War II between Prime Minister Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Think of the maturity, the determination and the courage of those people.
And now think of an American president who is retweeting what are probably false and certainly racist tweets from a foreign extremist group, drawing a rebuke from the U.K. Prime Minister.
The degree to which this relationship and our leadership has been degraded against what we saw in the days of World War II is just really unthinkable and unfathomable.
So, whatever his intentions were or whatever the effect is, when you think of the United States as a place that is supposed to represent to the world a city on a Hill -- that was from John Winthrop all the way up through Ronald Reagan -- now we have a president who seems to be either deeply into his own head or deeply into his own Twitter feed, and is paying almost no attention to the responsibilities of America as an international leader. It's astounding.
BLITZER: I spoke with Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado in the last hour. He dismissed these tweets as merely distractions.
What message does that send to the president?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think that the president ought to be accountable for his personal tweets.
And I think that if you begin to take things that the president of the United States says, and when members of his own party are dismissing them, that's not a great place for the United States to be either.
Usually, we're supposed to speak softly, but carry a lot of weight when we speak. And if the new Republican theory of the presidency is that the world can and should disregard a lot of what the president of the United States says, that's not right. That's not where America wants to be. That's bad for American leadership.
BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, defended President Trump, arguing that it doesn't really matter if the videos that he was retweeting to his 44 million followers are real, because the president is addressing, she says, real threats.
How concerning is that to you?
WHITEHOUSE: For a long time, America's credibility has depended on the fact that we do a very good job of trying to make sure we give out accurate and real information.
So, giving out false information, giving out fake information, and then saying that that's OK because the general issue is still an important one, again, it degrades American leadership in very, very significant ways.
Remember the embarrassing episode with Colin Powell in the run-up to the Iraq War at the United Nations, when he was given false information. Well, that was embarrassing then, and this is embarrassing now.
BLITZER: "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump continues to question the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate. He still argues he lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes, widespread voter fraud. He's also hinting that the "Access Hollywood" videotape is fake.
Is it appropriate for the president to put forth these kinds of conspiracy theories?
WHITEHOUSE: Not only is it concerning, Wolf, but it raises a concern that something is going wrong over in the White House.
If all he is entertaining himself and his circle with conspiracy theories, that is pretty bad. But, conceivably, this is a good deal worse.
Conceivably, what is happening is that, under the pressure of his falling poll numbers, falling approval, the investigation closing in on him, he's starting to turn into a very insular mind-set, in which he is starting to believe imaginary things that tie him to this very small extremist base that remains loyal to him.
And the quality of decision-making that be can be expected of somebody in that mind-set is not consistent with what the responsibilities of the president of the United States entail.
BLITZER: Senator, I need you to stand by.
There is more we need to discuss. There are other developments breaking right now.
We will resume our interview right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're back with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
We're following more breaking news.
CNN has learned that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has just postponed grand jury testimony linked to his investigation of President Trump's fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
And this comes amid growing indications that Flynn may be in talks for a possible plea deal.
Senator, you're the former attorney general of Rhode Island. In your experience, does that delayed testimony indicate a possible deal is in the works?
WHITEHOUSE: It certainly could.
I have thought for a long time now that General Flynn might already be cooperating, because I think that they had him dead to rights on the Kislyak statement, false statement.
And in the context of his position and that statement, that was probably a prison offense. And if you're a retired United States general, you would rather cooperate than go to prison.
So, I'm mildly surprised that he's not cooperating already, but this would be consistent with finalizing a cooperation agreement or a plea agreement.
BLITZER: Senator, Dianne Feinstein, she's the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee -- you're on that committee as well -- is asking for more documents from Trump campaign official Carter Page and documents and interviews with Sam Clovis, Walid Phares, J.D. Gordon on contact with Russia and pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.
What new information merits these requests?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, this is, I think, a bit delayed.
As you will recall, we tried to work in a bipartisan fashion with Chairman Grassley in order to try to get a full committee effort going. And Senator Grassley declined to cooperate with us.
So, Senator Grassley has -- Senator Feinstein has had to go off on her own with these requests. Unfortunately, that puts us a little bit behind the eight-ball in terms of time.
But they do tend to focus in on an early Trump deliverable to the Russians, which was getting the Republican Party's tough position on Ukraine out of the party platform. And if that was an early deliverable to the Russians, then that's
worth exploring further. In general, the Judiciary Committee needs to look at how we can, with legislation, prevent these kinds of future attacks and understand the obstruction of justice that may have taken place.
And so we're working towards that again. We have been a bit hobbled by the inability of the majority to find a way to work with us on all of this. They seem to prefer to go off and investigate things that relate to Secretary Clinton.
BLITZER: Yes, Senator Grassley is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Whitehouse, thanks so much for joining us.
WHITEHOUSE: Thank you. Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead: Matt Lauer fired by NBC News after a detailed allegation of sexual misconduct. And a new report tonight reveals multiple women are making accusations against the former "Today Show" host. We are following the fallout, as the nation confronts the harsh reality of harassment.
And how dangerous is President Trump's behavior, as he retweets violent anti-Muslim videos and embraces conspiracy theories?
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the sexual misconduct complaint that got Matt Lauer fired from NBC News apparently was not an isolated incident. There are now new reports out this hour from "Variety" and "The New York Times" detailing additional allegations by multiple women.
And this morning NBC announced it fired Lauer after a detailed complaint received Monday night about inappropriate sexual behavior that took place during the 2014 Sochi Olympic games and afterward.
Lauer's "Today Show" co-anchor Savannah Guthrie broke the news on air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": All we can say is that we are heartbroken. I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend Matt and my partner, and he is beloved by many, many people. And I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.
And we are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tonight NBC is responding to reports of additional allegations against Lauer, the network saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "We can say unequivocally that prior to Monday night current NBC News management was never made aware of any complaints about Matt Lauer's conduct."
Let's talk about Matt Lauer, as well as the allegations of harassment hanging over members of Congress right now, as well. We're joined by our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash; our CNN correspondent Sara Ganim; and CNN reporter Hadas Gold.
Hadas, NBC, they acted very quickly. They said they just found out Monday night. He was fired Tuesday night. They made the announcement this morning. But there seems to have been other new organizations working this story, as well.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are other news organizations working the story for quite a few weeks, including "The New York Times" and "Variety." And -- but what we saw that was different about this case and in some of the other cases, is that there was a formal complaint made to NBC News HR. This woman and her lawyer went to NBC's headquarters in Manhattan on Monday night, sat down with them for several hours, and talked about these allegations, and clearly provided enough evidence that led NBC News to investigate further and then decide to fire him within 30 hours.
BLITZER: Is Lauer now bracing for more accusers to come forward?
GOLD: We are expecting, in fact. The "New York Times" today reported that at least two more women have come forward to NBC News to say that they also had allegations, and we're expecting more stories to drop, because as we know, there were several other news organizations that were looking into this.
BLITZER: Sara, you've been doing a lot of reporting in Congress, and we know that members of Congress have been facing similar accusations, but there are these nondisclosure agreements preventing some victims from actually coming forward. What are you learning about that?
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They definitely are preventing people from coming forward, and they're the women who were brave enough to come forward before we were all talking about this. They went, they pressed through this arduous process. To get justice, they had to sign an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement.
And at least one of them is now saying, you know, she wishes she could participate in the movement, the "#MeToo" movement. She wished she could tell the very important story that she has to tell, but she can't because she signed this document.
And lawyers who I've spoken to who have handled these cases both on the Hill and in the private sector say the ones on Capitol Hill are really very broad, much more restrictive to the victim than in any other cases that you might see in the private sector.
For example, they can't talk to even their therapist in many of these cases, which really restricts them from healing. And contrast that to what the accused can talk about. I mean, we saw at least one instance this week where Congressman John Conyers, his attorney was speaking and defending him in a case that involved an NDA. The victim can't talk, but he is getting his denial out there.
BLITZER: Dana, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, as well. What other factors are hindering accountability in Congress?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sara was just talking about, the whole process, which was intended in the '90s to address, for the first time, allegations in the wake of the Bob Packwood scandal, the scandal about the senator from Oregon who, of course, was accused of sexual harassment and then ended up resigning because of it.
[18:35:07] But the way that the process is, it's kind of -- especially in today's day and age, it's mind-blowing.
First, you have to have counseling. Then you have to go to -- for mediation, and then you can face your accuser. And then, I mean, yes, look at all of that. I mean, this is, for somebody who is saying that she or he was -- you know, there was sexual misconduct, there was sexual assault, there was sexual -- I mean, it's ridiculous what they have to go through.
And I think it really does speak to the fact that members of Congress historically have been -- have felt that they were above the laws that they are making. It's just the bottom line.
And, more importantly, Congress has been a boys' club. And I really believe with my heart of hearts that the fact that there are more women there, Republicans and Democrats, and it is, of course, the women right now who are -- Jackie Speier of California who are pushing to change this process, which is arduous and ridiculous, to make it more in line with the private sector, it's because there are more women.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a serious problem, guys. Thanks very much for that. We're going to continue to watch this story develop.
Also ahead, President Trump reportedly reviving speculation about President Obama's birthplace, illegal voting and whether the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape is real.
Plus, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigators delayed grand jury testimony linked to fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. Is it a sign a plea deal is imminent?
[18:41:42] We're back with our political team. As President Trump returns home from a trip to promote the Republican
tax Bill, ignoring the controversy that's a huge controversy over the anti-Muslim videos he retweeted to his 44 million followers earlier today.
Dana, this is causing a lot of outrage right now, the retweet of these videos from this far-right hate group in Britain. Even the Britain prime minister is strongly condemning what the president has done. What's going to be the reaction?
BASH: Well, we're seeing it. It's global.
And look, I mean, I think I said this just a couple days ago, that it's important to not be immune to this, just because the president likes to send errant tweets.
This takes the cake, because both in terms of the content and the source. The content meaning anti-Muslim, and the source, meaning really anti-Muslim, bigoted, racist woman, not just accused but convicted of a hate crime in Great Britain against a woman walking with her, a Muslim woman walking with her four children. I mean, it's really outrageous.
And the notion that we should just ignore this and focus on the fact that the White House says the president just wants to talk about the problem of immigration, it just makes no sense at all when you're talking about the president of the United States.
I mean, remember what George W. Bush, who certainly had his problems during his presidency, what he did after 9/11. One of the first things he did, he went to a mosque to make the exact opposite point than this president did in his tweets today.
BLITZER: Yes, and the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, Rebecca, as you know, defended the president's retweets, saying it
doesn't really matter if those anti-Muslim videos are genuine or real. What matters, she said: the threat was real.
So that kind of response from the official press secretary for the president of the United States is also causing a lot of outrage.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and you could see why, Wolf, because essentially, she's suggesting that the president's official statements, which his tweets are, according to the White House, don't matter, aren't meant to be taken literally, and that's just ridiculous on its face. It's the president of the United States we're talking about, not some random person on the street tweeting this, and so it does matter.
But Sarah Sanders excused her rationalization for what the president did and what we should take that to mean. It's really trying to rationalize something that was unplanned. It was spontaneous by the president. This wasn't some grand strategy that the White House planned out, and we see this time and again from this White House and this president. He tweets something out unexpectedly. His staff has to scramble to respond and explain it, and there isn't always an explanation that makes a lot of sense.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think -- I don't think she thought about the legal implications of what she said. The president has taken pains to say, "Forget about what I said on the campaign trail. What I'm trying to do in terms of immigration is not a Muslim ban."
And various judges have said, as you know, Wolf, "Actually, your words do count. When you talk about banning Muslims on the campaign trail, and then you institute these kinds of immigration regulations, it's a Muslim ban."
What did Sarah Sanders just say? Effectively, today, when I listened to her, she said, "The president is tweeting anti-Muslim videos. And these represent some of his concerns about immigration."
[18:45:03] That's a Muslim ban. If I were a judge looking at the next objection to some of the immigration regulations from the Trump team, I'd say, well, he said it again. He wants to ban Muslims from the United States. That's illegal.
BLITZER: And remember last year, during the campaign, he told Anderson Cooper, Islam hates us.
BLITZER: So there is a context here that's going on. But what does it do, David, to the relationship that the United States is trying to promote with friendly Muslim majority countries? King Abdullah of Jordan, for example, a great friend of the United States, he was here in Washington all of this week, didn't get a chance to meet with the president, he should have, in my opinion, met with the vice president, the secretary of state.
But he's a Muslim. What does it say to him when he hears this kind of rhetoric, when he sees these anti-Muslim videos sent by the president to all these millions of people?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, I think it moves the conversation backward instead of forward. You know, in 2016, we litigated what people think of when they think of a president? Is it someone who is more like a regular person, someone who's more reserved?
No one, though, said they wanted a president who is indiscriminate, but that's what we have here. A president with these tweets, with some other tweets this week, sort of going indiscriminately, you know, going top of mind, with un-researched retweets to drive a conversation that we've been having since at least 9/11.
I think that's why he's been criticized by so many people, up to and including Prime Minister May, you know, who is our staunchest ally and, you know, his direct counterpart on the world stage.
BLITZER: Yes, the prime minister of Britain. You know, Phil, let me tell you of additional concern that's being
generated out there, the reaction that we're getting. Brendan Cox, the husband of the murdered member of parliament, Jo Cox, was killed last year. Her killer shouted "Britain first", spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper earlier today. I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What was going through your mind when you read this retweet from President Trump this morning?
BRENDAN COX, HUSBAND OF MURDERED BRITISH MP: I think we probably got used to a degree of absurdity of outrageous retweets and tweets from the president. But I think this felt like it was in different order.
Here he was retweeting a felon, you know, somebody who was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment of an organization that is a hate-driven organization on the extreme fringes, the far, far right of British politics. This is like the president retweeting the Ku Klux Klan. You know, this is not a mainstream organization.
And for the president of the United States, our greatest ally as a country, to be retweeting, to be providing a microphone to those voices, I think, everybody -- no matter what your political persuasion in the U.K., I think it's being shocked by that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction to what he said?
MUDD: This is painfully simple. This country has dealt with this kind of issue for 150 years. We discriminated with bigotry against blacks and we fought a civil war up to the civil rights movement and today. We see this in the NFL. We discriminated against Japanese in World War II, against Chinese in the early 20th century, we refuse to give women the right to vote in this country. We refuse to give gay people the right to marry.
What the president has done in a country that was built on accepting people who are escaping bigotry is he's given a defense to white supremacists to say, bigotry is acceptable in America. This is not about terrorism. This is about Muslims, that we're saying a religion is not acceptable in this country.
That's out and out bigotry and when he's given his validation for people to say, he's right. I hate Muslims.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we need to discuss. And, by the way, you can also hear much more of Anderson cooper's interview with Brendan Cox, the powerful interaction to President Trump's anti-Muslim retweets. So, that's later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "AC360".
Much more on the breaking news right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:53:59] BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking stories.
And, Dana, our Jim Acosta over at the White House is now reporting, and I'll be precise what he's a reporting. A source close to the White House says President Trump has questioned the politics of his decision to finally acknowledge Barack Obama was born in the United States as he did late in the campaign last year.
The source said shortly after he made that statement, finally acknowledging that President Obama was born in the United States. The President Trump told aides that they would have done better in the polls had he continue to stand his ground on the birth certificate issue. He apparently is not walking away from that.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, and I actually, truly with my heart of hearts believe that he really believes that.
The thing about that denunciation of the conspiracy theory that he was peddling for years is that remember it was pretty halfhearted. He held this big press conference where he was or wasn't going to do it and he had like 200 people speaking before he got to say it, then he said, I believe that President Obama was born in the United States.
[18:55:03] But it's all Hillary Clinton's fault.
So, it wasn't exactly a real mea culpa when he did it, and I think that when he said it's all Hillary Clinton's fault, he was trying to send a signal to the people who were his supporters that he's still with him -- with them on this conspiracy theory.
BLITZER: And, Rebecca, Jim Acosta is also reporting, as far as those reports of "The New York Times," that President Trump is doubting whether that is in fact his voice on that "Access Hollywood" video. Two White House officials are telling Jim Acosta that there have been discussions about the story behind the scenes. One aide described whispers among officials, apparently heard President Trump questioning the authenticity of that "Access Hollywood" videotape.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It's amazing, Wolf, that a president who is so obsessed with fake news has such a loose relationship with the truth ultimately and he does seem to have this habit of not only using these conspiracy theories in the first place for political reasons, and perhaps they start out as a strategy, but ultimately believing them himself.
And it's problematic because the president makes decisions based on facts that are presented to him. And if he believes to use a Kellyanne Conway term, an alternative set of facts that aren't based in reality, that could have real life consequences.
BLITZER: I'm anxious to get your reaction.
MUDD: I think it actually works with one asterisk. If you want to maintain 36 percent, 38 percent support and you're not worried about getting over a bump in two years, three years, you sit there and say, every time I make one of these comments, those 36-38 who say the swamp is against me, they're going to come after me on every one of these issues, the swamp is wrong, they're just trying to cripple me. I want tax reform. I want to give you money back.
I think it supports a narrative that says there's a whole universe of people in that horrible beltway city of Washington, D.C. that are coming out to get me. So, he -- I do believe there's a strategy. He's saying this was he knows people are going to come back 36 percent, 38 percent. Yes, it's those bad boys again. They're here on CNN, coming after him, trying to cripple him. That's what I think is going on.
BASH: Except when you're the president of the United States, you're supposed to be the president of everybody and you're supposed to be trying to expand beyond the base that elected you and trying to, you know, reach out.
You know, not every president, Democrat or Republican, tried successfully or tried really earnestly, but that's kind of the goal of the office.
BLITZER: You know, David, there's been speculation, speculation only, that he is so concerned apparently, the president, about the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller, the special counsel's investigation and that Michael Flynn may be copping a plea, maybe cooperating. We've seen all those reports. That that's fuelling some of this behavior in recent days by the president, including those retweets.
SWERDLICK: Yes, Wolf, I mean, I think the president at a minimum is sort of flooding the zone, right? There's so much going on right now. The tax bill fight, the Russia investigation, the president's controversial tweets, that it may very well be that he thinks just muddying the water so that we in the media, that the American public don't just focus on one thing, like the possibility that is starting to bubble up, that General Flynn might be copping a plea, doesn't, we don't all focus on that. And that perhaps he thinks helps him in the long run to sort of string this whole controversy.
BLITZER: You think a plea deal with Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser may be in the works?
MUDD: I do. Remember, we've got to couple this with the fact that we saw a break in the relationship between the Flynn team and White House lawyers. You put those together and I think what happened is there's a game of chicken.
The prosecutor said, or the special counsel said that judgment day is coming up. Are you going to plea? Are you going to plea? Are you going to plea? And, finally somebody on the Flynn team said, OK, we'll break. That's what we might have here.
BLITZER: Because we also learned today that the grand jury testimony that had been scheduled has now been --
BLITZER: -- delayed and that seems to be an indication that maybe something isn't working.
MUDD: That's right. I was coupling that with the break, again, the break between the legal team from Flynn and the White House. I think the Flynn team has finally said that this game's over. We got to plea. We got to cop a plea.
BLITZER: He only has was the national security adviser, Dana, as we know for less than a month, but he was a key player during the campaign, including during the transition.
BASH: Not just a key player during the campaign, he was at the president's side non-stop. He was his airplane buddy. For you know, the last several months of the campaign. So he was present for a lot.
And if he is working on a deal with the special counsel's office, Preet Bharara, who is now former U.S. attorney fired by the president, one of our analysts, said to me the other day, in his experience in doing that kind of thing, if you are on the, if you are Michael Flynn in this scenario, you are required to give every single thing that you know no matter what and if there's any indication you're not -- no deal.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a dramatic developments unfolding. We'll watch it every step of the way.
Guys, thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.