Kellyanne Conway on Trump’s voter fraud claims, Mexico and the media

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now for a view from inside the White House of the Trump administration’s first days in office, I’m joined by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president.

Kellyanne Conway, welcome back to the program.

I’m going to start with the fact that this administration is not even a week old, and, already, the president of Mexico has canceled a visit he was going to make next week, saying he’s not going to pay for this border wall.

Is this the way the president wanted to have a relationship between the U.S. and Mexico as his administration gets under way?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump Senior Adviser: As President Trump said today in Philadelphia when he addressed the House Senate Republican Conference at their retreat, Judy, it was a mutual decision to postpone this trip.

And I think that when these two leaders are ready to sit down and talk about a wide range of issues, they will do that. But let’s look at the rest of the week. I mean, this has been a pretty remarkable week in just four work days. We have had wage-boosting, job-creating measures. We have had manufacturing CEOs from all over the country here, really premier job creators, hearkening the — really heeding the president’s call to try to have an explosion in manufacturing in our nation.

And then on the very same day, we had the labor union leaders, along with laborers themselves here at the White House, talking about what it means for them be a carpenter, a pipe fitter, a plumber, a steelworker, like the many men I grew up with in South Jersey outside of Philadelphia.

And they said that they had never been invited to the White House before, Democratic or Republican. They felt so included that they’re part of the national conversation.

The president has issued executive orders withdrawing from the TPP, so that we have bilateral trade agreements in the future that benefit the United States and its workers and its allies and its interests.

So, it’s been a very busy week. We’re very happy to have our first foreign leader tomorrow, Prime Minister Theresa May, here, meeting with President Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Kellyanne, let me — if I may interrupt.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: And we’re very happy about that.


I do want to ask you about some of these things, but sticking with the Mexico story, because the president of Mexico said it was his decision not to come.

But what I want to ask you about is the border wall and paying for it. You had the White House press secretary tell reporters today that it was going to be paid for with a 20 percent tax imposed on Mexican goods coming into the U.S.

Now, later, the White House said that was just one idea.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What is it? Which is it?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: That’s right. That is one of the many methods by which to pay for the wall.

It is one proposal on the table. Certainly, there are others. And, Judy, when you consider the price tag for this wall, which will be a physical wall constructed on the southern border, let’s contrast that to the billions and billions that we spend on benefits for and accommodating illegal immigrants.

So, we — this country spends billions of dollars protecting the borders of other countries around the world. It’s high time we start protecting our own. We’re a sovereign nation. And as President Trump has said all along, made a centerpiece of his campaign from day one, we have to stop the flow of people and drugs over our borders.

What he also did, by the way, these executive orders this week, in terms of building the wall, was, he has expanded the tools and the resources that our law enforcement officials and our brave men and women who are protecting that border. They need tools and resources and they should be respected.

The detention areas will be larger to accommodate those and stop this catch and release, stop the sanctuary city funding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If I can just interrupt, because — and I hate to do that, but I — because I have a number of things I want to ask you about. We did report on all that last night.

But the other thing the president did yesterday, in addition to make the announcement you just discussed, is he talked about the sanctuary cities, so-called sanctuary cities, where undocumented immigrants are given a different, a fairer treatment in the eyes of many.

Today, we have seen 100 American mayors say they are not going to go along with what the president said. With that kind of pushback, how is the president going to force these mayors, who are saying this is an inhumane way to treat people who are here in this country as visitors?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: This issue of sanctuary cities goes to the heart of how Donald Trump himself has changed the whole way many Americans look at illegal immigration.

For years, the question of fairness in illegal immigration went to one issue: What’s fair to the illegal immigrant? And now people are asking, what’s fair to the rest us of us? What’s fair to the American worker? What’s fair to the safety and sanctity of people who live in some of these sanctuary cities? What’s fair to Kate Steinle?

That woman should be a household name. She should be known as a national treasure, this woman who was murdered in cold blood in front of her father in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times, Judy. That’s humane treatment of whom? Kate Steinle?


JUDY WOODRUFF: No, and I hear you. And the president has spoken of her often.

But how will the president force mayors who are saying they are going to take care of undocumented immigrants if they come into their cities, because, frankly, they say the idea that most immigrants are committing crimes is just not true?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, that is not what the president said.

You’re — now we’re conflating two different things. No one said that in terms of the sanctuary cities defunding. The — I guess those mayors will have to find money somewhere else, because they love when the money flows from the federal government here in Washington.

So, if they want to continue to flout and flagrantly violate the law and brag about it today publicly, then they should go ahead. But they’re going to have it find their own money in doing so. And perhaps if they are violating the law, then we will see what happens in the future. But…


KELLYANNE CONWAY: … until then — you know, but, Judy, this is — I hear undocumented immigrants and I hear about say — again, what is fair to everyone, the people, the legal people, the American citizens who live there, our law enforcement who feels like they don’t have all the resources and tools they need, and then, of course, our employment base where people are saying…


JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m going to …

KELLYANNE CONWAY: People are tired of hearing that …


KELLYANNE CONWAY: … here to do the jobs Americans don’t want to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m going to interrupt you again. I’m sorry. I apologize for continuing to interrupt, but I do want to move on.

Syria, the president said in an interview yesterday he wants to create safe zones for the people living in Syria. Wouldn’t this require U.S. troops? And has he discussed it with the senior national security members of his administration?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: He has discussed Syria in that regard with his national security team.

But his national security and intelligence teams are being — still being formed, as you know. General Mattis will be, we hope, confirmed or sworn in — excuse me — sworn in on the next day or so. And, of course, we have Secretary Kelly now and the CIA director also.

But the thing is, he will meet with them. But he has been — just President Trump has been very public about the fact that Aleppo is a humanitarian crisis that’s been all but ignored by this country for far long. And he will meet with them and he will make final decisions, but he’s been very public, including on a different network last night, Judy, about what options are very much on the table.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — but not exactly in connection with that, but the president has also spoken about the prospect of torture, of enhanced interrogation. He said that it’s something that he likes.

We also saw yesterday, Kellyanne Conway, a draft executive order reported on that raises the prospect of reviving these CIA so-called black site prisons, where we know terrorism suspects were once detained and tortured.

Now, I want to ask you about a story in The New York Times today, because the press secretary, Sean Spicer, said this is not — this draft order didn’t come from the United — from the White House. But The New York Times quotes three different individuals who say that it did come from the White House, from the National Security Council office.

So, I guess my question is, why doesn’t the White House simply acknowledge that this is where it came from?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Because it didn’t. That is not an official White House document, period, as I have been told.

And if it came if it came from the NSC, if it came from others who are leaking documents, it certainly is not — that is not a White House document that has been discussed internally. So, what the press secretary has said is true, as far as I have been briefed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, both …

KELLYANNE CONWAY: On the broader issue of torture, though, it’s important, because I think you said that the president said he likes it.

What he said is that he has been informed by people very recently that it is a possible — a possibility that works. You have other people, like his incoming secretary of defense, who said that he doesn’t believe it works, that there are other tactics…


KELLYANNE CONWAY: … that could work just as well. So he will meet with his team and make a final decision on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And both the defense secretary and the CIA director said that they had never seen this draft order, until it was reported in the press.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, that’s why. And if it were a White House document, they certainly would have, because they are the secretary of — his secretary of defense and his CIA director. So that helps answer the question as well.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: We know there are lots of leaks everywhere. There’s nothing we can do about that, except not leak ourselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A very few quick questions I’m just going to ask you one right after the other.

This investigation into what the president calls widespread voter fraud, no credible evidence of this. Has anyone on the White House staff tried to talk the president out of doing this?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, I won’t reveal private conversations with the president, Judy, but I will tell you that what the president is talking about is registration and voter rolls.

He knows there are dead people registered, there are illegal people registered, and he wants to get to the bottom of that without an election on the horizon. Usually, people get all exercised about electoral reform after something goes wrong or ballot integrity when we’re about to have an election.

So, it’s great that, right after a successful election that he had, unexpected to most in the media, that he is looking at ballot integrity, one person, one vote, really the bedrock of our democracy. And that’s what he’s talking about. I have discussed with him as recently as today.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Again, pardon me.

If there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, couldn’t this end up just like President Trump’s longtime claim that President Obama was born outside the United States?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No, I can’t imagine why that would ever be raised on the same plane.

But let me say this. Were those same words used by anyone to describe Jill Stein and her fantasy of a recount based on — quote — “voter fraud” that she detected in Wisconsin and Michigan that ended up getting her millions of dollars in taxpayer — taxpayer dollars and a lot of platform by the media, perhaps even on your network?

Somehow, that was a great idea by Jill Stein for 70,000 votes, because they didn’t want to accept the election results that they didn’t expect, and they wouldn’t accept.

So, I just have to say the president is talking about registration and voter rolls. And I don’t think anybody can deny that there are people who are registered to vote, there are people registered to vote in different states, there are people who are ineligible to vote either because they’re dead and shouldn’t vote or they are illegal and shouldn’t be registered to vote.


JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the media. We know the president has been engaged in, I don’t know of any other way to put it, than a long-running battle with the media, has been very critical of much, if not most of the news media.

And, today, in The New York Times, it’s running a story, your colleague the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said — told The New York Times last night, he said the media is — quote — in his words, “the opposition party,” and that it should — quote — “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

Does the president share that view?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, there are other things Steve Bannon said in that interview in The New York Times, very rare interview.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about that quote?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, what — what — let’s talk about what he meant there.

What he is saying there is, there’s no evidence that anybody in the media learned anything from this election. There’s no head that’s rolled. There’s no division that said, wow, we really screwed this up by stating as fact that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and that she was going to take the House and the Senate with her.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in all fairness, Kellyanne Conway, most people we know in the Republican and Democratic parties looked at the public opinion polls, and thought that that was going to be the outcome.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, not in the Trump campaign, or we wouldn’t have been sending him to Michigan, Wisconsin, certainly back to North Carolina, Pennsylvania.

I had him in Pennsylvania three times a week. So, we must have seen something that allowed to us influence the calendar where we were deploying our two greatest assets, Mike Pence and Donald Trump.

But, apart from that, there is no evidence that — you know, we — when I look up at the screen on most stations, Judy — and I’m like the most open press person here, I would think — I look up at the screen and I see no difference between the way candidate Trump, president-elect Trump, and President Trump is being treated by many outlets.


JUDY WOODRUFF: So, should the media shut up and listen for a while, as Steve Bannon said?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I think that we should all — I think we should all learn to listen more to America.

And that’s probably Steve Bannon’s central point, is that Donald Trump proved that he understood America in the way that those who say they’re informing America simply did not.

And it really takes listening. I was a professional pollster for 28 years. My job was to listen to people and take advice from them. Some of the best advice and insights I have ever received in my professional life have come from — most of them have come from people, by listening to them, by getting out of the bubble, by getting out of our coastal media centers.

And this is just said with, you know, a great deal of — I have tried on many different networks now — it doesn’t get covered. People cherry-pick one or two words, but I have tried many times now on different networks to say, I would like us to have an open relationship and a fair and free press.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: But with a free press comes a responsibility.

And that responsibility comes in allowing to us ask the questions, like what are we missing about America? As I like to say, we, the Trump administration, and the media, are — have to co-parent this country, have joint custody of the country for the next eight years probably.

Let’s find a way to mutually coexist. But calling the president names, going on Twitter and saying snarky things about him, the president of the United States, that would never pass editorial muster on a network or in the papers really should be rethought.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re — it’s a big, big conversation. And it’s early in the administration.

And I know we’re going to have opportunities to come back to that.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I’m happy to have it with you, Judy. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kellyanne Conway, thanks.

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