ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here’s what Congressman Nunes has said previously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEVIN NUNES, (R) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: There is some information in those documents that concern me in the reports that I read that I don’t think belong there. They would make me uncomfortable.
Some of it — I think it bothered me enough that I went over to the White House because I think the president needs to see these reports for himself.
I was concerned about Americans’ identities being either not masked properly or, in fact, being unmasked in intelligence reports.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: As you may remember, the Congressman also said that he would share what he saw with the other committee members. Well, he has.
Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto and Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju broke the story. Manu joins us now. What are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, tonight, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as aides who reviewed the same intelligence reports that Devin Nunes saw say that Obama administration’s — the reports that Devin Nunes said that had improperly requested names of U.S. individuals that had been redacted in the intelligence documents.
Now, these CNN sources say these lawmakers have now seen the same intelligence documents that Nunes saw last month and they tell CNN that they have see no evidence that the Obama administration did anything out of the ordinary or illegal.
Now, one congressional source described these requests, Anderson, as “normal and appropriate.” Much different than what Devin Nunes said just in the last couple of weeks, Anderson.
COOPER: So — I mean, you and Jim Sciutto, you talked to sources who’ve actually seen the documents. What are they telling you about there contents?
RAJU: Well, one source said that there’s actually absolutely no smoking gun in these reports. And, in fact, this person is even urging the White House to declassify them to make it clear that there was actually nothing alarming in them.
Now, a lot of questions have been surrounding the role of Susan Rice who, of course, is President Obama’s former national security adviser, in whether she acted legally in requesting the names of the Trump officials who were incidentally collected in these intelligence reports.
Now, President Trump has said that he believes that she may have broken the law. But, Anderson, those same sources on both sides who reviewed the documents that Nunes saw say finally they do not see what the president sees and that she may have broken the law.
Now, these appear to be routine requests and the president himself has not revealed what intelligence he is relying on to make that assertion that Rice broke the law and we’re still waiting to hear from the White House why he actually made that assertion.
COOPER: So even if the Obama administration acted properly, what are the rules for actually masking and granting these unmasking requests?
RAJU: Anderson, the rules were set by the intelligence committee and certain national security officials can certainly make these requests. The intelligence agencies, principally the national security agency, can decide whether to grant these requests. And typically, the requests of senior officials are rarely denied.
And now despite their judgment that Obama officials requests were within the law and regular, normal practice, some members of Congress continue to have concerns about the justifications given for some unmasking requests and the standards for the intelligence agencies to grant these requests. So, expect that to be looked at further by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
COOPER: So Nunes temporarily he says recused himself from the investigation is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because of his handling of the documents. What’s the status of that investigation?
RAJU: Well, it appears to be moving forward in the aftermath that Mr. Nunes deciding to recuse himself. Both Democrats and Republicans on the panel have agreed on a list of witnesses to interview, but there is a division on who they actually want to interview.
The Republicans are very interested in determining who may have leaked classified information. While the Democrats are looking for testimony between any ties that could show — any ties, whatsoever, between Russian officials and Trump associates, but they do plan to interview all of them and expect that one big name on the list, Anderson, to be Susan Rice.
So she will have to defend why she, in fact, did make those requests to reveal the identities of U.S. citizens in those intelligence reports, not only before the House panel, but also the Senate Intelligence Committee as well.
COOPER: Some related news breaking tonight in “The Washington Post.” The paper is reporting that Carter Page — kind of an adviser, unclear exactly how much of an adviser he really was to candidate Trump, though, he was named by candidate Trump as an adviser, was the target of a FISA intelligence court surveillance warrant.
According to “Washington Post” citing unnamed officials, the FBI and Justice Department convinced the court that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, namely Russia.
Just moments ago, Page gave this statement to Manu Raju. It reads, “There have been various reports about FISA docs FBI surveillance of him. But I was so happy to hear that further confirmation is now being revealed. It shows how low the Clinton/Obama regime went to destroy our democracy and suppress dissidents who did not fully support their failed foreign policy.”
The statement also went on to say, “It will be interesting to see what comes out when the unjustified basis for those FISA requests are more fully disclosed over time, including potentially the Dodgy Dossier, a document that clearly is false evidence, which could represent yet another potential crime.” That was Carter Page tonight.
The day, though, was dominated by a number of other stories, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologizing for his controversial comments about Hitler and the holocaust remarks he made as Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover.
Now, the apology from the man who speaks for President Trump who makes a point of rarely apologizing came just hours after Mr. Spicer said this about Bashar al-Assad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mean, look, we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a — you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to the — to using chemical weapons. So, you have to, if you are Russia, ask yourself is this a country that you and a regime that you want to align yourself with?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, reporters in the briefing room were quick to challenge his claim, pointing to the use of poison gas in concentration camps. When asked to clarify his remarks, here’s what Sean Spicer said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I think when you come to Sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean, there’s clearly — I understand. Well, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.
There was not in the — he brought them into the holocaust center and I understand that. Rather saying in a way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent into the middle of towns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Just to be clear, they were death camps he’s talking about, not holocaust centers where millions of Jews, as well (inaudible), gay men and others were murdered in gas chambers.
That clarification was then followed by a statement offering a further clarification and final hours later, an actual apology on “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week using chemical weapons and gas. Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the holocaust for which frankly there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Sean Spicer apologizing. Tonight, the panel is here, Ryan Lizza, Matt Lewis and Kirsten Powers.
You know, Ryan, I mean, there’s this yesterday it was three times talking about barrel bombs. It does seem when, you know, the spokesman isn’t supposed to end up being the story. It is supposed to kind of help inform reporters and voice things for the president, not become the story himself.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, to me there are two things here. One is the fact that he can’t get the facts right about Syria. Basic facts that you just pick up by reading the newspaper every day, about what barrel bombs are, what Syria’s use of chemical weapons are and historical information about World War II. So putting that aside, just the basic facts are incorrect.
What is the larger argument they’re trying to make? You’re trying to compare Assad to Hitler? What is that mean? That means the White House is going to do what, right? If you are laying the foundation for an argument that Assad is the worst monster, you know —
COOPER: Worse than Hitler I guess is the argument.
LIZZA: Worse than Hitler to think, you better have a policy that flows from that. And as far as I can tell, their policy so far was to toss 59 missiles into an air strip and nothing since then. So it doesn’t seem to me that they actually have a policy that recognizes Assad as someone as evil as Hitler.
And 11 days ago, Spicer was at that podium and he said that it is U.S. policy to accept Assad as the president of Syria. So we have gone in 11 days from Assad — we are accepting Assad as president to bombing him to comparing him to Hitler.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In fairness, though, I think John Kerry maybe compared him to Hitler and then Barack Obama didn’t do anything. I think I remember that. It was a few years ago.
But, I think here’s the problem with Sean Spicer. Chris Matthews made this exact same mistake in 2013, not that long ago, where he said Hitler — even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons. And there was a huge scandal around it, which Sean Spicer apparently missed. I think — when I heard it, I remembered that scandal.
I think part of the problem is most people who become press secretaries — we had Ari Fleischer here an hour ago, right? This is a guy who was spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee. He was press secretary for a prominent U.S. senator. He was Elizabeth Dole’s spokesperson on her presidential campaign. I think he was on George H.W. Bush’s ’92 campaign. And then he became on the campaign of George W. Bush before becoming George W. Bush’s press secretary.
Sean Spicer does not have that resume. This is a guy who was at the RNC. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a difficult job. I think he’s really been thrown into the deep end here. I don’t think he was prepared for the daily onslaught that he faces.
COOPER: Also, it seems like a lot of the onslaught may come from his boss. You know, there’s been a lot of articles about essentially his audience is an audience of one, which is President Trump, who is watching apparently, according to reporting, makes time to watch these daily briefings.
KIRSTEN POWER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, he’s obviously — yeah, there’s a lot of pressure with that. But to be fair, I mean — I think a lot of people who haven’t worked on the Hill and haven’t had all those jobs actually know that they wouldn’t have said what he said today about Hitler and Assad, making that comparison.
. . . you know, saying even Hitler didn’t — you know, I mean, it’s just isn’t something you need to have worked in all those places to know not to say.
And a positive theory here, 22 hours a day — 22 hours ago there was a story on Newsmax, the headline was Assad is worse than Hitler, according to a man who survived chemical attack in Syria. And I think we know that everyone in the White House looks at Newsmax. I mean, this is something that they look at and somehow he must have seen this or heard it.
COOPER: Which I believe actually came from an interview on Fox.
POWERS: Came actually from Fox, which then just raises all sorts of questions still why there isn’t more of an understanding, historical understanding that this probably isn’t a great analogy and then to bring in the chemical weapons aspect of it.
LIZZA: And it’s just so jarring, because throughout the entire campaign and up until this chemical gas attack by Assad, Trump’s policy was essentially to accept Assad as a fact on the ground.
COOPER: Right, repeated tweets during — as a — when he was a citizen against President Obama.
LIZZA: Yeah. To argue that Assad is not the real problem in the region, it’s ISIS, so we’re going to go after ISIS, and if that makes us as a tacit ally even of Assad, then so be it. So it’s just so jarring that in a few days they have turned it around in this way.
COOPER: Do you — you know, I asked question to Paul Begala whether he thought Sean Spicer was going to continue on in the position, can he survive this. Paul said he thinks he will be gone by 100 days. Ari Fleischer does not agree with that. He thinks, yes, he will survive. Any —
LEWIS: I think he’ll survive because, look, this — he may not survive, but it won’t be because of this. I don’t that this is an unpardonable sin for Donald Trump. And I would also say, and I think we would probably all agree, this wasn’t malicious. This wasn’t, you know, the timing is horrible with Passover and it’s a horrific sort of gaff to make. But I don’t think anyone thinks this was malicious. This was just incompetence.
LIZZA: Yeah, it is not. And I saw some — see some commentary that this suggests anti-Semitism on the part of the White House. I don’t think this is anti-Semitism. I think this is just —
LEWIS: That would get in fire. I mean, that would be the firing offense.
POWERS: I think, it also probably not likely to be fired because he’s probably not the only person who was saying this, for this Newsmax thing.
POWERS: I mean, it’s probably not —
LIZZA: Who are they going to replace him with? That’s the question.
COOPER: Let’s see — yeah, another question.
LIZZA: Kellyanne Conway could step into that role. I don’t know how many other, you know, spokespeople out there are dying for that job, to be honest.
COOPER: Today, Sean Spicer’s Passover holocaust foul-up caps a very busy day, a very real crisis for the Trump administration. The White House level charges of — at Russia of helping Syria cover up a chemical attack. Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke out on camera for the first time since Thursday’s cruise missile strike. North Korea made a nuclear threat and more.
Our Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us tonight joins us. Now, do we get further clarity from the White House today as to whether or not they believe Russia was, in fact, complicit in the chemical weapons attack?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the White House stopped short of saying that Russia knew about the chemical attack in advance, knew before it happened last week. But they were very blunt, in fact, as blunt as we have heard senior administration officials talk about the fact they believe that Russia is involved in a cover up using their words to help the Syrian regime mask the fact that they still have chemical weapons on the ground there.
But in repeated briefings both here at the White House as well at the Pentagon, the administration still does not believe it has enough intelligence to say that Russia knew about the attack. But they were raising the question for the first time on the record here, so they’re getting more evidence to that effect. They stopped just short of that today, Anderson.
COOPER: And is Tillerson planning to bring this up during his visit to Russia? Do we know?
ZELENY: I mean, he certainly has used very harsh language, much harsher than the president has against Vladimir Putin, so we do expect him to carry that message. And he has been saying that, you know, Assad regime has to go here.
So, the message the State Department has been saying here, the Pentagon has been saying here, we do expect him to carry this message. It’s an open question still though if he will have a one on one meeting with Vladimir Putin.
It’s not on the schedule. It’s still open to the possibility of that. So if they do have that meeting, unknown if he will say it directly to his face here, of course. He does have a relationship with the Russian president here. So, tomorrow that meeting so important, all of his meetings so important, but we’ll to see exactly what words he uses, Anderson.
COOPER: I also understand some of the words he used earlier in Italy are raising eyebrows that he asked why U.S. taxpayers should be interested in what’s happening in Ukraine.
ZELENY: Anderson, that was really sort of eye popping, if you will. This is before he was leaving Italy today at a meeting with other European foreign ministers. And he apparently asked this question, Bloomberg news is reporting, you know, why should American taxpayers be interested in this.
Well, that, you know, it sent sort of a shiver and some worries down some others — some of his other counterparts there because there is a concern about this America first agenda, the U.S. not having as much of an outward influence.
But, his spokesman said it was a rhetorical devise that he was using, but simple raising the question why should Americans be — American taxpayers be worried about Ukraine certainly is unsettling to many of his counterparts of the G7 today. We’re not exactly sure if he got the answer he was looking for, Anderson.
Late today I spoke with someone who has seen his share of global crisis in the case of Sean Spicer, and possibly Secretary Tillerson as well, self-inflicted wounds. Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff, former Defense Secretary and form CIA Director.
COOPER: Secretary Panetta, when Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russians tomorrow, what message does he need to be delivering to them and with what level of kind of forcefulness in your opinion?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think it needs to be a very tough message. We are the ones who have shown that we’re willing to back up our word with actions, so with that targeted attack. Secondly, we have the high moral ground in terms of what Assad did with these chemical weapons. Thirdly, we have the evidence that he was directly involved in the attack with these chemical weapons. And we know that Russia had responsibility here.
They’re the ones to put together the agreement. They were the ones who should have confirmed that Syria no longer had chemical weapons. So, I think we’ve got the leverage. And my recommendation to the secretary would be to be very tough with the Russians in demanding that they do everything possible to make sure that this does not happen again in Syria.
COOPER: You know, it’s interesting, you said that the strike gives the U.S. leverage in their discussions with Russia now in a way that they didn’t have it before. President Trump said in an interview release today that the U.S. is not going to Syria but that, “what I did should have been done with the Obama administration long before I did it. I think Syria would be a lot better off than it has been.” Is he right?
PANETTA: Well, you know, we really don’t know the answer to that in terms of would it have made a difference. I mean, I thought that President Obama should have acted at that time, because we drew a red line and they violated that red line.
I think it would be far better for the president to take credit for what he did. He is President of the United States and I think the less he takes time to attack President Obama, I think the better off he will be.
COOPER: You know, I was talking to a number of people who were in various administrations last night. They all said that they believe the greatest threat facing the United States right now is North Korea. That’s what concerns them most. I’m wondering, do you agree with that?
PANETTA: You know, we’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time with regards to a number of threats that we’re facing the world. I have never seen, Anderson, this many flashpoints confronting our country since probably World War II.
PANETTA: Whether it’s, you know, whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s this failed states like Syria, whether it’s having to confront ISIS and defeat them, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s China, whether it’s this whole battlefield of the future in cyber, all of these are threats that face the United States.
And I don’t know that, you know, president and this administration can kind of pick and choose, you know, what’s more important at this point. I think you got to be prepared to deal with all of those crises because they can all represent threats to our national security.
COOPER: You have spoken about your own red line when it comes to North Korea. I’m wondering what is that red line for you.
PANETTA: Well, I guess my biggest concern, and it’s always been my concern when I was Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, is that they would use a missile, an intercontinental ballistic missile and put a miniaturized nuclear weapon on top of that missile.
And if we had intelligence to that effect, the problem is they might very well just be testing it, but we don’t know the answer to that. They could very well be using that kind of intercontinental ballistic missile to conduct an attack. And I think that would represent the kind of red line that would require action on our part.
COOPER: Before I let you go, I have to ask you about Sean Spicer’s comments today about Hitler. You know, his — this comes — I mean, yesterday he talked about barrel bombs as being also something that the administration might act against. He said that three times and then basically have to kind of — that was walked back later on, you know.
Other comments he made today, you know, mispronouncing Bashar al- Assad, which I think he did as well yesterday. At what point does he cease being a messenger for the White House? And we should say he is apologized for the Hitler comments — and become an actual distraction for the White House.
PANETTA: Well, Anderson, you know, as Chief of Staff I used to have a very close relationship with our press secretary, Mike McCurry. And my advice to Mike was, “When you are doing these briefings, just answer the questions. Don’t embellish. Don’t go off and try to, you know, do more than you have to do in responding to the questions because you always wind up getting in trouble when you do that.”
And I think Sean Spicer is learning that, you know, he’s got to just answer the questions and not make these kinds of side comments that immediately detract from what the White House should be focusing on. And he’s just got to be careful about doing that if he is going to be press secretary.
COOPER: Well, the breaking news we have been following, the Trump administration accusing Russia of helping to covering up the poison gas attack on Syrian civilians are charged level.
The Secretary of State Tillerson arrived in Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting, obviously, coming at a crucial moment with tensions rising between the two countries, fueled by the Syria crisis.
Joining us now is Garry Kasparov, the Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, a Russian Pro-Democracy leader. He’s also, of course, a former world chess champion and author of “Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped.”
Also, here is Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at New York University as well as Princeton.
Garry, today we saw Russia’s president compared the United States’ chemical weapons claims in Syria to the U.S. claims about WMDs in Iraq. What do you think Putin is trying to do here?
GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: He’s trying to mud the water. He doesn’t care what he says. You know, everybody knows that he used to lie all the time and maybe later on he will, you know, confess that it was wrong information. But it’s very important for him actually to attack the United States and to step up this confrontation.
COOPER: Stephen, do you agree with that?
STEPHEN COHEN, PROFESSOR EMIRITUS OF RUSSIAN STUDIES AND POLITICS, NYU AND PRINCETON: No, I don’t. I would have to say what I said earlier today on CNN, excuse me. I have been doing this, studying American- Russian relations as a professor and sometimes inside for 40 years.
I think this is the most dangerous moment in our relationship since the Cuban missile crisis. We’ve got Cold War Fronts fought with hot war in the Baltics, Ukraine and Syria.
The Russians thought because of what candidate Trump said that cooperation in Syria might be a way of ending this very dangerous Cold War, the opposite is happening. Russia said today, we’ve crossed their red line, Anderson. They mean by red lines what we mean by red lines. So, this is exceedingly dangerous and when Tillerson gets to Moscow, he is going to get an earful.
COOPER: Garry, what do you think Tillerson, the message he should be bringing to Moscow?
KASPAROV: First of all, I’m sick and tired listening to this false narrative. I know Cold War and the Baltics, yes. NATO is building out because Russia attacked Ukraine, Russia attacked Republic of Georgia, Putin is committing war crimes in Syria. So, it’s Putin’s hand made crisis and he needs confrontation because that’s how Russian propaganda works.
Stephen can, you know, listen this in Russian and he knows that for many years, even during Obama years. Russian propaganda made anti- American bias as the core element of, you know, of brainwashing. And I think Secretary Tillerson should, you know, should hold his ground and make it very clear that Russia was complicit, because there’s no way that Russians on the ground were not aware about this attack.
Assad’s regime was on the life support of with Russian — the Iranians. Iranians are responsible for ground operations, but everything that happens in the Syrian air is conducted, you know, under direct supervision of Russians.
COOPER: Stephen, to Garry’s point about that this is basically Vladimir Putin’s fault. I mean, going into Crimea, the situation in Syria.
COHEN: Yeah. Well, that’s not my view. I’m with Ronald Reagan when he said that the Cold War, it takes two to tango. Both sides are complicit.
What’s interesting about Tillerson, if you are interested in that question, Anderson, is the Russians know him very well and they admire him. He worked with them six or seven years on one of the largest undersea oil deals when he was head of Exxon Mobil.
They know him to be a very serious, reliable and honorable man or they would not have signed with him billions of dollars worth of investment in Russia. He knows Putin and he knows Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, personally.
But, he is coming back now in a very different situation and they have questions. And I think they expect him to be candid with them. And the first question is going to be, is American policy toward Russia going to be made on narratives for which there are no facts yet? The Russians need to know that.
And the second thing is, is the proposal for American-Russian cooperation military in Syria, which Trump proposed and which the Russians want, is it caput because of what’s happened in Washington?
COOPER: So, Stephen —
COHEN: And the ultimate question is, did this — I don’t know the answer. But they are going to ask Tillerson, did Trump unleash 50 tomahawk missiles on a theory because he wanted to get Kremlin gate off his back? That’s what they need to know. In other words, who is making policy in Washington?
COOPER: Well, Stephen, you are saying there’s no fact? You just, frankly, you don’t believe Secretary — Defense Secretary Mattis when he says they have the absolute proof that this is a Syrian operation, that Syria did this?
COHEN: You know, Anderson, I’m going to disadvantage. I’m a scholar. My whole reputation based — my books I write on getting the facts right. I have not been shown the facts. That four-page document that the White House released today hangs its argument on social media and forensic evidence at the scene which American intelligence itself did not do. Somebody else did that forensic investigation. Show us the actual facts. Then you and I as rational people will make a decision. But you don’t go to war with Russia based on a narrative that has no facts for it.
KASPAROV: How many Syrian kids, you know, should die before you will be satisfied, Stephen? You know, it’s — from the very first day, Putin is in office, we have dead bodies all over the place, you know, in Russia, in Chechnya, in Republic of Georgia, in Ukraine. And this whole coincidence, coincidence, coincidence and we hear the same story. By the way, it’s a classical Kremlin line, prove it. Prove it and then you have more dead bodies. You know, I believe in coincidences, but I also believe in KGB.
COHEN: We have as individuals in our personal lives and our professional lives, and if we’re policy makers, we only have facts to guide us. If the facts are wrong, it’s going to be a catastrophe.
We’re talking about two nuclear powers. Let me ask you a question, Anderson. I don’t know the answer. Maybe you know. What was the big rush to send the tomahawks with the Chinese leader who was deeply humiliated sitting at Mar-a-Lago? Why didn’t they wait? Or why didn’t they do what the procedure is?
Send it to the investigating branch of the United Nations and let them reach a determination? What was the rush? Why did that night they have to let those missiles fly? Something was going on and the Russians want to know what it was.
COOPER: Garry, I want you to give your thoughts on —
KASPAROV: I think the question should be ask, you know, what Russians knew, you know, because it’s absolutely clear. There’s no doubt they were — if not conducting this operation, they knew exactly what Syrians would believe. Russians are there. They control Syrian air. Assad’s power based entirely on Russian support and Iranian support, of course.
COOPER: The bill for President Trump going back and forth to Mar-a-Lago is an estimated $20 million so far. That puts him on track to cost the taxpayers, you, more money in one year of his presidency than President Obama spent on travel in his entire eight years in office.
And as is often the case, there are multiple citizen Trump tweets that are now germane to the conversation. For instance, in December 2011 he tweeted, “The habitual vacation of Barack Obama is now in Hawaii. This vacation is costing taxpayers $4 million plus while there’s 20 percent unemployment.”
Also in Kanuary 2012 Trump tweeted, “President Barack Obama’s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Unbelievable.” It costs a lot for presidents, any president to travel and they all do it, but never has a current president attacked the former president for his costly travel and then gone on to cost taxpayers even more money. Sunlen Serfaty has more.
SPICER: The president plans to spend the Easter holiday in Florida.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Since becoming president, Trump has spent six weekends, 21 days at his club in Florida, what he’s dubbed the Southern White House. With an estimated total price tag to taxpayers a whopping $21.6 million. That puts the president on pace in his first year to surpass former President Obama’s spending on travel for his entire eight years.
SPICER: The president’s always travel.
SERFATY (voice over): Pushing the White House on the defensive.
SPICER: The president, wherever he goes, he carries the apparatus of the White House with us. That is just something that happens.
SERFATY (voice over): Then there’s the White House North. While Trump has not traveled to New York City as president yet, it’s still Melania Trump and their son Baron’s primary residence, costing them between $127,000 and $146,000 a day to protect them according to New York City officials.
Meantime, Trump’s adult children have pushed the logistical and financial needs even more. From Vancouver to Dubai, Uruguay and Aspen, Colorado they are on the go. Vacationing, working for the Trump organization and bringing with them their own secret service contingents. Such a large family combined with the typical key White House staff amounts to a doubling of those protected under the Trump administration.
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That’s unprecedented. It’s not unattainable to protect them all, it’s just unprecedented.
SERFATY: The Secret Service is feeling the strain and is pulling dozens of agents from around the country from their normal criminal investigations to work for two week rotations to protect members of the Trump family. [21:45:11] In a statement to CNN, the Secret Service says, “Regardless of the number of protectees or where the assignment takes us, the Secret Service remains an expeditionary law enforcement agency that continues to adapt and evolve based on the mission at hand.” But on Capitol Hill last week —
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: I’m concerned the Secret Service is being stretched to its breaking point.
SERFATY (voice over): The Homeland Security Secretary admitting the burden.
JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: But they need a lot more agents, not just because of the Trump era, if you will, although that is additional because he’s got a lot of children, grandchildren.
SERFATY (voice over): Forcing him to request additional funding from Congress soon.
KELLY: We need a larger Secret Service because we need to get some of these people a little bit of time at home with their families.
SERFATY: And also in the category of unusual security setup in this new administration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is receiving U.S. Marshal Service protection that’s costing taxpayers $34,000 a day. That’s over a million dollars a month. Officials say this is due to an existing threat, but they would not detail the nature of that threat to CNN.
DeVos did start getting added protection the days after protesters blocked her from entering a middle school in D.C. in February. Other cabinet officials do not have this level of security. And as of now, hers will last until at least September. Anderson?
COOPER: Well, Sunlen, thanks very much.