tv CNN Tonight With Don Lemon CNN February 24, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm PST
thanks for watching. hope you have a great weekend. hand things over to don lemon. "cnn tonight" starts right now. beat the press. the white house pushes back hard on cnn's exclusive reporting denying any wrongdoing and asking the fbi to speak out against reports of contacts between the trump campaign and russians. this is "cnn tonight." as we look at live pictures from the white house, i'm don lemon, thanks for joining us. administration confirming it did speak to the fbi about communications with russians but took unprecedented step of blocking cnn and other major news organizations from a white house press briefing. got a lot to get to tonight.
start with evan perez, sara murray and alan dershowitz. we're going to start with you evan. great reporting from the team in washington and we appreciate it. american people do as well. part of the team that broke this story last night. what is the latest? >> today is a day the white house is on the defensive. wanted to make the point they did nothing wrong in the contacts between the white house chief of staff reince priebus and deputy director of the fbi andrew mccabe. if you recall all began last week after cnn and "new york times" reported there were contacts between people with the trump campaign and people in russia known by u.s. intelligence sources and suspected of being perhaps agents of the russian government. those contacts were all happening while russians were trying to interfere in the u.s. election. after that report happened, according to the white house
today, they said that andy mccabe, deputy director of the fbi approached reince priebus and said something to the effect that the "new york times" story in particular was quote bs. so they say only after that contact from the deputy director of the fbi that reince priebus asked for the fbi to try to intervene, refute the stories. because according to them they were getting crushed. it was their way of explaining these contacts which as we described last night, go counter to the rules supposed to reduce the contacts between the white house and the fbi don. >> and just to be clear, multiple conversations between the white house and fbi. >> that's right. one of the things they were focusing on is they say andrew mccabe reached out and initiated contact but after that initial contact they kept calling the
fbi, trying to in essence pressure to try to refute the stories. and didn't stop with the deputy director of the fbi. they also had contact with the director of the fbi, james comey, and burning up the phones here in washington, calling intelligence agencies, trying to get their help to try to refute these stories. trying to get these people to talk to journalists at least on background to tell them to say the stories were false. >> interesting. sara, you have new reporting from frustration from the white house specifically about evan's reporting. what can you tell us? >> even though seeing the white house downplay this today insisting the communications between reince priebus and fbi officials were nothing wrong, perfectly fine, allowed. we're hearing from a course close to the president there's consternation from the white house, a little bit of heartburn about the conversations.
source told me this is a distraction for the president at time when he really doesn't need one, when hoping to focus on his own agenda items and certainly when he's grown frustrated with the negative coverage of this white house, particularly as it pertains to staff. there's a certain irony in all of this of course because the white house has been using a lot of senior administration officials, officials on background to push back on this reporting and comes at time when the president himself has said sources should be on the record. listen to what he said at cpac today. >> i'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. they shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. let their name be put out there. let their name be put out. a source says that donald trump is a horrible, horrible human being. let them say it to my face.
>> department of you just can't make this up. just this morning the white house held a briefing with senior administration officials that refused to be named on the record. they would only go on background. >> oh, boy. alan, house minority leader nancy pelosi put out a statement. white house has been caught trying to pressure the fbi into undermining a vital national security investigation in violation of justice department rules and may also be illegal. >> no. i think political not legal problem. big picture. president of the united states is executive. fbi is part of the execute. congress has no power to tell the president how to run the executive. he's free to make whatever decisions he wants within the executive. but the justice department and fbi have regulations that have been on the books for a long time. these practices violate those
regulations. wrong and should be condemned. in the end no legal issue. this is not nixon calling cia and telling them to fabricate a cover story. this is using the fbi to try to get good press. should condemn it but not go to court of law. >> what would happen if this was in a hillary clinton administration? >> get so much pushback. hypocrisy is the homage that puts pay to virtue. none of that in this administration. say one thing and do other, be completely hypocritical and republican party and many americans seem to let them get away with it. not losing political value in his base, although numbers going down but analyze and attack from political perspective. we need reform.
one of the only countries in the world where prosecution is done by the department of justice. in britain and others, department not beholden to the president. need to change the rules. >> in petty -- cnn and others blocked from attending white house media briefing today. you weren't on the list. what happened? >> certainly a bizarre instance. normally if the white house press secretary is going to have a briefing, holds in briefing room on the on camera. and had offcamera gaggle and decided that cnn, politico, buzzfeed, "new york times" among others not welcome. made it odd, cherry picking the outlets they didn't want. every other television network in but not cnn.
other major newspapers but "new york times" was not and outlets that are more conservative leaning and given more favorable coverage were. not standard under previous administrations of democrats or republicans. i contacted them about why made the decision and have not answered the question. >> of course they didn't. i said right on because i heard you talking to wolf about bright shiny objects. what do you think is happening here? >> what happened today including to sara where they tried to block cnn and other news outlets is wanted to change the subject. one of the things is throwing andy mccabe the number two at fbi under the bus. they know the fbi is not commenting or able to defend themselves, number two can't defend himself. what they tried to do is
certainly change the subject and make people focus on those things. in so doing what they do was draw more attention to the reporting. certainly drew more attention to "new york times" and cnn reporting from last week. now other news outlets have confirmed 95% of the story. so now you have additional stories coming out. president i'm sure is watching. he likes to say unflattering things about your program but know he watches it. when we wrapped up with you don last night, heard again from the white house trying to get additional information into their story. we know they watch and president ought to know what the press office is doing is drawing more negative attention to the stories. that's what happened today. >> alan, want to weigh in? drawing more attention to story that may not have gotten this much. >> doesn't seem to matter to them. he's appealing to his base.
speech today was for that. and perfectly prepared to say he doesn't like sourceless information and they make up sources and then have background sources -- >> he himself has been a background sources. people speaking out against it are background sources. what i would say to the white house and reince priebus and president, have you ever been off-the-record source, then say so, if you have, reveal the sources and we'll check them to see if they pan out. >> when oliver north was a background source and then denied it, they broke confidentiality and released that it was north who said it. criticism and controversy. but when the president says publicly doesn't believe in background sources i think it's appropriate to reveal when he himself was a background source. not sure the hypocrisy hurts him
with his pace but maybe with other americans. >> and maybe release the confidentiality of others as well. maybe do that when saying that background sources not worth the paper they're written on or television set they're played on. >> worth thinking of. just ahead, calling for investigation into the conversations between white house officials and the fbi. is that likely to happen? talk about this next. m capital . with it, i earn unlimited 2% cash back on all of my purchasing. and that unlimited 2% cash back from spark means thousands of dollars each year going back into my business... which adds fuel to my bottom line. what's in your wallet? the whole country booking on choice hotels.com. four words, badda book. badda boom...
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appropriately in conversations with the white house, bring in cnn's political analyst kirsten powers. douglas brinkley, and republican strategist ron nehring, former national spokesman for ted cruz for president. douglas start with you. get your reaction to evan perez's reporting. white house denying any wrongdoing and asking fbi to speak out against reports of contacts between the trump campaign and russians. what do you think? >> i said a long time ago i think donald trump is either legal or illegal. you had alan dershowitz saying not going to courts, uncomfortable moment but will blow away. russia seems to not disappear as a story. people still scratching their heads trying to understand what is going on between the trump
administration and russia. i would recommend the white house decide a move forward meeting with putin as quickly as possible. maybe late spring or something, just to start getting clarity on what is this relationship and why russia has been dominating national conversation for the past year. >> ron, house minority leader nancy pelosi asking for investigation, wants a doj probe. should that happen? >> that's part of nancy pelosi's job as minority job to call for investigation for literally everything. i worked closely with reince priebus, a wisconsin republican party chairman when i was party chairman. worked closely together. he's honest guy doing a tough job. if there were any contacts that crossed a line by someone's definition, i'm sure innocent one and not deliberately designed to cross any lines or established policies. this is a new team.
most of the people in the white house right now not people who have served in government capacity before, so i think we should really balance, look at these type of things from balanced perspective. pelosi is going to call for an investigation every time someone does the most minor thing. that's her job and we understand that. but we should not be doing that. >> couple of things there. nancy pelosi is going to call for investigation for any old thing and then -- she will. >> and then said cut them slack. can you do that when charged with running the free world kierstin and is this any other thing? >> you can cut people slack. don't think people should be oud to get them necessarily and i don't think that's going on now. there is a difference between the original story of the white house reaching out to fbi to ask them to do something and white house version is much less
alarming if it really was that the fbi came to them, said this and then they said can you do anything about it. it's inappropriate and improper but not as alarming as other example which more like strong arming. >> but before you move on, saying not our intention to influence the fbi and had we known this was inappropriate would have done something differently but fbi reached out to us. my bad. not necessarily in those terms. >> yeah. that's not really how this white house operates unfortunately. so yeah. if the response was a little different, defensive and less accusatory in going after the media. i do agree if it was just a simple misunderstanding that reince priebus didn't know he shouldn't be doing this -- it's hard to believe he doesn't know he shouldn't be doing this but
all that said, i do think as they reported it's less concerning than what was originally reported. we just don't know which it is. >> ron, i have to ask you this, democrats and republicans have like what are they thinking? in the campaign republicans had a field day when bill clinton and then attorney general loretta lynch chatted under a tarp when hillary clinton under investigation over e-mail serve. do different rules apply? democrats saying hurting her, never should have done this. republicans saying it was collusion. are there different rules with which white house? >> in both cases this is a distraction. loretta lynch later admitted it was a mistake. >> but this white house is not
admitting a mistake speaking to contacts with russia or the fbi. >> but it's cheerily a distraction. so what we see for every minute focused on this, not advancing any of the good policy proposals that the president has. talking about this inside the beltway issue. that's not what the american people are primarily focused on. >> you mean it's distraction from the media or the white house? they created the story. >> right. and they need to stop doing that. because the president has good solid policy proposals he needs to spend his time advocating on behalf of. instead going down a cull dide e sack with the war with the media and so forth. as long as the distractions continue, just as clinton campaign distracted by lynch/clinton meeting, similar
distractions created here and not advancing conservative public policy. on the communication side needs to be tightened up. everyone working for the president needs to serve his interest in advancing his ideas and not generating distractions from that. that's difficult to do as we can do. >> mr. brinkley, the president is focused on leaks. tweeted this. said the fbi is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that permeated the government for a long time. can't even find the leakers within the fbi itself. devastating effect on u.s. find now. reaction? >> it's very unusual for a president to keep beating up the u.s. government. it's basically saying the fbi don't know how to do their job. how are you going to solve major crimes if you can't stop a leak. previously trashed cia and then tried to make up with them.
could go on and on. seemed to be attack on the government and next week he gets to talk before a joint session of congress, president trump. and i hope can be a unifying message, uplifting about what we're doing right in the united states but he's at heart a movement people and wants to see the trump revolution take over. doesn't mind swipes to fbi. obviously leaks going on but why make a big deal telling everybody how dysfunctional everything in washington is all the time. it's disheartening for people who work in the bureaucracy of d.c., people that work for the federal agencies. >> and doesn't -- it's not good for him because the buck stops with him. quickly. i have to get to the break. >> it doesn't make sense. claims everything reading in the newspaper isn't true, all fake news. on the other hand people need to
be ferreted out because leaking classified important information. which is it? >> your guess -- you know what it is kirsten. everybody stay with me. next, president vowing to replace obamacare. is that what americans want? done! you gotta shake it! i shake it! glad i had a v8. the original way to fuel your day. for every social occasion.
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president trump talking about his administration's priorities during an address to the conservative political action conference today, cpac. back with me my panel. douglas, also in the white house, media briefing comes as president continues -- i don't want to spend this much time on the story. it's distraction from your really good reporting but i do want to talk about it. important enough that people know what is going on. today at cpac, watch this. >> we're fighting the fake news. phony, fake. a few days ago i called fake news the enemy of the people and they are. they are the enemy of the
people. because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none. >> douglas, blocking and attacking the media, why do you think this is happening? >> because donald trump just got a lot of cheers and it's something that's unifying the trump coalition. for a long time if you listen to right-wing talk radio, rush limbaugh and the rest been hammering on the mainstream media, sara palin, it's lamestream media. donald trump tracked with it before to some degree and carried over in his presidency. it's important for him to paint cnn, "new york times" and others as tools of the democratic party or of the left. and create this divide.
media as liberal media. it's unusual attempt. saw nixon and agnew try to do that and fail and see him again could have spoken about anything in front of cpac and went the fake news route. and does create distractions. when he has a bad day or story coming out, take initiative, be wolverine fierce and rip at press. he seems to be feeling he's getting mileage out of it, i'm not convinced he is. >> my nieces would tell my dad, we've heard that story before. heard it so many times. this is a bright shiny object right? >> a little bit. but think it's less about distraction and more about delegitimizing the media so he's not held accountable, so he ultimately doesn't have to answer questions, doesn't have to respond to bad stories, just dismiss them with this is the
fake media, out to get me. broad strategy of ultimately completely delegitimize an institution that holds him accountable, same way go after judiciary, the other organization to hold him accountable. congress isn't going to do it right now. >> ron don't you think it's wishful thinking, not going to happen, maybe a small amount of people in his base believe that but otherwise speaking to shrinking number of people who don't necessarily think the media is the enemy of the american people. >> two things, donald trump is clearly continuing to solidify his base. that base which is represented by thousands of people at cpac are firmly behind president trump and many of those activists if not a strong majority have a skepticism towards mainstream media. however the most important message i think the white house
needs to be conveying is making case for the policy proposals they need to get through congress. very soon the window will be closing to get major legislation through, have the budget dominate and midterms up soon. at this point eight years ago, stimulus package had been already passed and likewise we have an opportunity to move forward. tax reform requires congress to enact legislation, repeal of obamacare, meaningful reform is strengthening the southern border so it's safe clean and modern. that's where the message should be aimed, momentum going forward sto republican members of congress are his back and get the major accomplishments done before the midterms come in and everything slows down. this is an opportunity he needs to seize. >> get back on message and stop talking about the distraction or
delegitimizing the media but obamacare, repealing and replacing. on obamacare today. take a listen. >> we also inherited a failed health care law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe. now i've been watching and nobody says it but obamacare doesn't work folks. i could say, i could talk, it doesn't work. and now people are starting to develop little -- but people you're watching, they're not you. and bottom line, we're changing it. going to make it much better. make it less expensive. going to make it much better. >> so ron, here's the reality of it, if he talk to republicans and even trump supporters, won't say it on camera but as soon as the cameras go off they'll say
not going to be as easy to replace or repeal obamacare, maybe just tweak it to fix what is wrong with it. president keeps talking about it. also concerned about the lack of legislation from the republican senate and congress. not much come yet. and also pushback, opposition across the country at gop town halls. are republicans still full steam ahead on this issue? >> i lose count of how many democratically elected officials have lost re-election attempts since obamacare was passed. this thing is a turkey. at ballot box, i love having this issue that republicans can campaign on. now republicans have to govern. if we have the presidency, house and senate, big margin in the house and can't repeal obamacare after campaigning on it cycle after cycle since it was elected, we don't deserve to be the majority in congress.
incumbent with that, we have to put forward reforms. but anyone who says should leave it there or just tweak it, what a terrible message. sends message that republicans only in it as campaign issue and not governing issue. lots of good republican ideas that will improve the health care sector and bring down costs andin crease access. those need to come forward and republicans take ownership. those two things need to happen. >> developing news right now. "new york times" is reporting that h.r. mcmaster is breaking with president and not calling terrorists radical islamists and signaling a more moderate approach to the islamic world. heard for so many years while the former president in office got to call it what it is and now mcmaster is not according to
president's supporters. what do you make of this? >> doesn't surprise me. spoken when mcmaster was chosen. he's a strategist of the globe of the first order. beloved by armed forces. and there's danger of trying to inflame people of islamic faith around the world. so we have a professional now in the white house. i think history is going to show the flushing of general flynn, when he had to leave and replacement of mcmaster was decisive moment in early trump history. because now you really have a foreign policy establishment team in place. and donald trump in some way is an island with steve bannon amongst his own administration, meaning, mattis -- mcmaster working together to be careful not to say things that are
inflammatory to allies or enemies and not over inflate. >> may be red meat to say islamic terrorism to base and to some, but i think as it's showing, mcmaster, according to "new york times" is thinking that's not helpful when it comes to fighting terrorism. >> but this is on the right. this has been the sort of drum beat for as long as i can remember frankly. president obama, he doesn't understand the fight we're up against because he can't even properly name it. always been the argument and not even a far right argument, just one you hear constantly from anybody who is right basically. something that president obama in his administration explained they found it was alienating, heard from muslim allies it was alienating and not helping in any way to advance our interest in the region. now you have somebody who i
think is a real thinker. and it's going to be interesting to see -- and has real on the ground experience with this. be interesting to see how president trump responds to this. he's been one of those people saying if you can't call it that, you don't understand the problem. >> how is it going to play to the base and trump supporters? >> the base is firmly behind donald trump. i don't think this one story is going to impact that whatsoever. i do think that this was a very strong choice and you have understanding that people like king of jordan and president of egypt are our allies. they have problems within their own country with radicals and terrorism and the like and we have to work together with those people and not making it easier for isis to recruit or justifying any of their propaganda. i agree with my colleague, will
be seen as very sharp move in terms of the new national security adviser. >> thank you all. "new york times" reporting that mcmaster is breaking with the president, not calling terrorists radical islamists and signaling more moderate approach. coming up, cpac gathering next. new moisture bomb from garnier skinactive. with antioxidant rich goji berry and pomegranate, it strengthens skin's moisture barrier. ...to keep hydration where it belongs, in my skin. new moisture bomb. garnier skinactive. modern life deserves a and we'll end up in venice. oh..venice... let's get the check. nope! i got it. you can use it online and what's with this one? and on your phone. taking care of the check. it's all masterpassed. first impressions. priceless thank you so where to now? well we're thinking shoe shopping.
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president trump taking a victory lap today with conservative audience, outing america first mantra. jack kingston, maria cardona, karen jean-pierre and michael singleton fired last week over op-ed piece he wrote in the campaign critical of then candidate donald trump. he's been on this show and we're going to make you into a star. >> thanks don. >> get your reaction. "new york times" reporting that national security adviser h.r.
mcmaster breaking with the president and not calling terrorists radical islamists and signaling a more moderate approach. what is your reaction? >> is the president going to listen to him? seen recently that people have gotten whiplash and have this confused syndrome because the president says one and then his cabinet secretaries and advisers are out across the globe saying something else, trying to do cleanup. we saw it with dhs secretary kelly saying will be no military operation after donald trump said would be a military operation rounding up undocumented immigrants. so who knows? president of the united states is the one who sets policy doesn't he? >> what do you make of this? >> think it's a delicate balance. as you saw under the obama administration, there's a reason that we changed the terms.
perception is everything attempting to win over the hearts of those in the middle east and continuing to combat terrorism. i hope the president will take direction, listen on this issue. >> i think that's right. perception is everything but perceptions that the secretaries, secretary of state and dhs, are not actually speaking for the president but themselves. leaders, world leaders have said they can come talk to us but they don't represent the president. that is the problem. i'm glad the new nsa person was able to say, hey this is where we should go, shouldn't be a target here. but on the other side of things, we know that the president just does what he wants to do. >> right. >> okay. mr. kingston, i really want to hear from you on this. >> i think confusion to the enemy.
brilliant strategy to keep the enemies a little bit confused. wondering what is going on. >> general mcmasters? >> confusion to enemies overseas. who are saying what are they saying? right now the world is waiting to see what is the trump administration going to do, what campaign promises follow through on. for example repeatedly spoke against the nuclear treaty with iran but during his confirmation treaty mattis said we signed it, can't back out. got to keep our word, european allies have signed on. >> there's a lot of that going on but specifically on this. on the campaign trail, heard you got to call it what it is, can't fight it, you have to let the american people know what it is. all like the build the wall thing. now he's saying not going to do
it. >> i still think mr. trump and mr. pence will say radical jihadists, still be out there. >> there you go. >> just confirmed. >> answered the question. >> confirmed your point. >> to you now, president trump gave quite a speech at cpac. what was your reaction? >> i had hoped the tone of the speech would have been a little different. i understand that the president has to appease his base but at this point he's the president of all americans and at some point should be the expectation that the president reaches out to individuals that did not vote for him. keep in mind there are factions within the republican party not completely on board with the president. in this speech would have hoped he would begin to bridge that divide. >> this moment stuck out to me. what do you all think about it? >> i'm hear today to tell you
what this movement means to the future of the republican party and for the future of america. first we need to define what this great, great, unprecedented movement is, and what it actually represents. the core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that put and will put its own citizens first. for too long we've traded away our jobs to other countries. so terrible. we've defended other nation's borders while leaving ours wide open. anybody can come in. >> nationalism by anyone's account. does it sound like the president is channelling steve bannon? >> well the thing that i found really odd is cpac used to be a place of ideas. right? and while i don't agree with any
of the ideas, at least go there and get some real policies that the conservative movement truly believed in. all we heard was attacks. nationalist, really right-wing speech and just continues. what he's doing is not reaching to the people who didn't vote for him, just doubling down on the same folks who supported him. it's incredibly troubling from every speech, every town hall, every tweet, it is the same thing. in a time when we are so divided he continues to be the divider in chief. >> i'm sure jack agrees with everything you just said, won't get to hear until the other side of the break. by making every dollar count. that's why i have the spark cash card from capital one. with it, i earn unlimited 2% cash back on all of my purchasing. and that unlimited 2% cash back from spark means thousands of dollars each year going back into my business...
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won the straw poll and trump in third place. now saying this is us and we're together. this is a moment. then went on to say i'm fighting for you, but one thing all democrats should look too, say gop will also become the party of the american worker. i think so much of the election was about the rust belt worker out there without the factory in his home town anymore and listen to what he's talking about pipeline and building things and getting economy moving again, a pretty strong message to people not necessarily traditionally republican. >> is president redefining the republican party? last year not invited. lot didn't like him but caught on because he won, that's important to the republicans? or people opposed to him don't have backbone or just how
politics work? >> i don't think that what you're witnessing is a paradigm shift within the republican party but this is very interesting and perhaps temporary political phenomenon. republicans will coalesce around the president and give him opportunity and support him by and large. but disagree with jack, quite a few notable and moderate republicans not completely on board with the president or the president's agenda. looked at various reports with reporters speaking to attendees asking whether or not the president was conservative, many couldn't answer that question. that's very revealing. >> think part of this is not so much that he's converted republican party. i think he's cooped it. and i think a lot of them will be happy warriors but probably feel more like hostages.
for one reason or another feel they can't go against him. some with own agendas. paul ryan is happy he's there even though no love lost there, he wants legislative agenda passed so republican president in the white house, republican in name, who he knows will sign whatever they pass in the house. >> jack you'll be next. but put this out first. may have been hit at cpac but approval ratings continue to drop. quinn pea yak poll, 38% approve, 55% disapprove. >> i will never say the term fake news but one of the examples he brings up is polling that was never right in the election. >> wait. national -- >> there was one that was right, and remington was always right. but in terms of the agenda,
talked about immigration security, repealing and replacing obamacare and tougher on trade and get -- taking job killing regulations off, building pipelines, peace through strength. all republican bedrock principles, don't see any discomfort at this point with the conservatives in the republican party. >> wanted to talk about the united talent agency that held rally today with very big people. this on top of all the rallies happening around the country here. they happened to donate $250,000 to the american civil liberties union. discuss that and more with the panel in the next hour.
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it is a distraction that president trump does not need right now. this is "cnn tonight," that word from a source close to the president, telling cnn there is frustration within the white house about chief of staff reince priebus asking the fbi to speak out against reports of contacts between the trump campaign and russians. still the administration is pushing back hard on cnn's exclusive reporting, denying any