Return to Transcripts main page


George H.W. Bush Hospitalized; Growing Number of Lawmakers to Boycott Inauguration; President Obama Commutes Sentence of Chelsea Manning. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chelsea Manning is serving a sentence, and she will continue to serve that sentence.

[05:58:41] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you combine the excessive sentence with the humanitarian considerations, Obama thought it was just commuting her sentence.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of the celebrities are all saying, "I'm not going to see it." They never asked to see it. They were never invited.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's a shame these people don't want to be a part of the peaceful transfer of power.

TRUMP: What happens to their tickets? I hope they're going to give us their tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vladimir Putin says accusations of spying are only to undermine the incoming president-elect.

TRUMP: We're very proud of the cabinet members that we have put together.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I think there's a very good chance that he will not be confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't say definitively today that guns shouldn't be in schools?


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 18, 6 a.m. in New York.

We do begin with breaking news about America's oldest living former president. According to reports by "The Houston Chronicle" and the TV station KHOU at this hour, George H.W. Bush is in the hospital.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The 92-year-old is being treated at a Houston hospital after falling ill. There are no specific details about what that illness might be. The nation's 41st president has had several health issues in the last year.

Let's get to CNN's Athena Jones live at the White House with the breaking details. Right on the eve of the inauguration. What do we know?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Good morning, Chris. Well, we know from local reports that he -- his chief of staff tells "The Houston Chronicle" that George H.W. Bush is fine; he's doing really well. That same paper reports that doctors have a couple of theories about what may be causing his ailment. They say he is responding to treatment and that he is expected to be discharged in the next couple of days.

But as you mentioned, he's had a series of health issues over the last several years, and of course, it's always concerning when someone of such an advanced age is hospitalized. He was hospitalized twice in late 2012 for bronchitis, ended up spending two months in the hospital, being treated for that illness.

A couple years later, December 2014, he was hospitalized as a precaution, his aides said for shortness of breath. He spent about seven days in the hospital that time. And then in 2015, July of 2015, he fell at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and broke a vertebrae in his neck.

So he's had some health concerns. We should mention, he's also been incredibly active in other ways for someone of his advanced age. He's jumped out of -- helped celebrate his birthday several times over the last 20 years or so by jumping out of an airplane, parachuting out of an airplane.

But of course, there are concerns right now, and especially moving up to the inauguration on Friday. This could affect his son, Bush 43, George W. Bush's, plans to attend the inauguration, but we'll have to wait and see what develops over the next couple of days.

CUOMO: All right, Athena. Keep a watch on that for us.

Let's turn now to President-elect Donald Trump just two days away from the inauguration. The president-elect was in Washington last night, attending a black tie dinner for foreign diplomats and to meet members of his incoming administration.

This as the list of House Democrats who have decided not to attend the swearing in just keeps growing. CNN's Jason Carroll live at Trump Tower in New York with more.

What's the latest count?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, still president-elect, you know, when it comes to the inauguration, it's not all about pomp and circumstance. He's still at odds with a number of groups, including Democratic lawmakers and the intelligence community.


TRUMP: I know how safe this room is. Boy, oh boy. This is one -- this place is surrounded tonight.

CARROLL (voice-over): With just days now to go with his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump toasting a room of nearly 150 foreign diplomats and ambassadors.

TRUMP: I want to thank you all for being here. We have great respect for your countries.

CARROLL: Trump introducing the diplomats to his incoming administration, touting his pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson.

TRUMP: I think it's tougher than he thought. He goes into a country, take the oil, goes into another country. It's tough dealing with these politicians, right? He's going to be so incredible.

CARROLL: Trump's welcoming tone to the foreign leaders at the exclusive dinner coming just days after he criticized major European leaders and slammed NATO.

TRUMP: No. 1, it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago.

CARROLL: And now Russian President Vladimir Putin saying he is familiar with some of the unsubstantiated allegations about Trump contained in a dossier published by BuzzFeed last week. Putin defending the president-elect, denying any Russian involvement in spying and dismissing the notion as, quote, "rubbish." Putin claiming that the allegations of Russian intelligence having compromising material on Trump was fabricated in order to undermine Trump's legitimacy as president.

CNN did not support the specifics of those claims.

All this as the number of Democrats boycotting Trump's inauguration grows to over a quarter of all Democrats in the House.

TRUMP: As far as other people not going, that's OK, because we need seats so badly. I hope they'll give me their tickets.

CARROLL: Many of those skipping out citing Trump's rebuke of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis after Lewis called his presidency illegitimate. Trump responding in a new interview.

TRUMP: We have to have a smooth transition. I think he just grandstanded, John Lewis.


CARROLL: And looking ahead to the inauguration, the count now stands at 54 Democrats who say they will not be going. And in terms of the president-elect himself. You'll remember, it was just last month he said that he would be writing his own inaugural address. And as it turns out, according to transition officials, he has done just that -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jason. You've given us a lot to talk about.

Thank you very much. Let's bring in our panel: Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times"; David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner"; and Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor of Time Warner Cable News.

Gentlemen, great to have you here.

All of us wish President Bush a speedy recovery, and hopefully, he will be out of the hospital within, hopefully, hours if not days. But if he's not, Alex, and President Bush 43, his son, can't go to the inauguration, along with these 54 Democrats who don't go to the inauguration, is that bad optics or will it be -- there will be just so much fanfare that that will be overlooked?

[06:05:14] ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think you take that and then add, you know, one more factor that is outside Trump's control, which is the weather. It's looking like a rainy Friday.

You do have the potential for a really kind of a dismal, deflating inauguration, and that would really ratchet up the pressure on Trump himself to deliver some kind of speech that lifts the mood of the moment. I do think, look, it's obviously nobody's fault if President Bush 41 can't attend the inauguration. I do think Trump is sort of pushing the Democrats away from him.

He is an incoming president who really does need the stamp of broad approval in government because of what we see in the polls and how many Americans are really anxious or distrustful of his leadership. And so the more people who don't show up is just -- you know, in the case of President Bush, it's nobody's fault, but it's really not helpful.

CUOMO: We know the rule with the Bush family: family first. You know, 92 years old. God bless him. I hope he's OK. Obviously, the president would probably defer to the health of his father and be there, and optics, I don't think, are going to be an issue.

But this growing list of Democrats is going to be an issue. Who -- what is the plus/minus on this, Errol, in terms of now 54 Democrats? That's, what, about 1 in 4 of the...

CAMEROTA: Yes. We have a list.

CUOMO: These are all the faces. What is the plus/minus on who wins and who loses in this deal?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what's important is the reasons that they're not going. And you have to kind of go member by member. I've talked several, and some of them are saying that what they heard in the intelligence briefing is what convinced them. That might, frankly, have convinced Representative Lewis that there's a real serious problem here and that we're not going to not pretend that we're not teetering toward a constitutional crisis. That's what some of them told me.

There were others who have said, "Look, given who my constituents are, the talk about a Muslim registry, the disrespect that was shown to Barack Obama, the kind of tone of the entire campaign is not something that I can be seen as approving. And so I need to do this for my local politics."

There are a lot of different reasons that people are staying away. I don't know that this is one consolidated movement to try to undermine the legitimacy of this incoming administration. But people have very good, very sound reasons, in some cases, even though they know that they have something to lose, that if somebody's keeping track on a list, their phone calls are not going to get returned Their grant requests ae going to be in danger.

CAMEROTA: And that's the question, David Drucker, is after the inauguration, for these 54 Democrats or whoever doesn't show up, then what?

DAVID DRUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, that's a good question. Look, I think that, in part, you could blame this on the tone that President-elect Trump has struck during the transition. Most presidents-elect will lie low during the transition. They will stop jabbing at their opposition, and that will help them sort of recover from the campaign and earn a lot of good will on their way in. Trump obviously decided to do it differently.

I do think, though, for these Democrats, strategically, even though Errol is right in that they're answering to their base who really want to see them protest, that over the long-term strategically, they're better off being bigger than Trump, if you will, showing up at the inauguration, saying that they want to work with the new president in any way they can and then, inevitably, when of course, they can. When they reach irreconcilable differences on major policies, they can say, "Look, I did everything I could, and it just didn't work." And I think that globally for Democrats, that would put them in a better position to oppose Trump and gain public support for doing so.

CUOMO: David, let me stay with you for a second, because from Democrats, we're hearing that, when he goes low, we go high. Not anymore. And that's part of the fuel of this boycott. They want to set a very harsh tone themselves in opposition of what they see as right. But that's one battle.

Another battle that seems to be bubbling up more and more is the president-elect's battle within his own party over this first big, bold move, the repeal and replace of Obamacare. When he came out and said everybody is going to be covered, even Duffy, the Wisconsin congressman who's on his transition committee said, "I have no idea what he's talking about." What is the state of play there right now?

DRUCKER: Well, I think Republicans on the Hill really do, Chris, have no idea what Trump wants when it comes to Obamacare. And I think, you know, in fairness, sometimes Trump talks like a liberal and he means it; and other times he talks like a liberal, but that's just his way of talking about a Republican or conservative policy that he's eventually going to embrace. And I think they're looking for a signal from him as to what he wants in this regard.

And look, one thing to remember here, Trump does have a lot of political capital with his own party on the Hill, even though his numbers broadly are horrible. And that's going to allow him to get a lot of things done and push them to the left on healthcare, at least somewhat, if he wants to.

CAMEROTA: So Alex, you know, Mr. Trump sat down with the new political news outlet called Axios and gave them one of the first interviews. And here's what he said about Obamacare and healthcare going forward. This might be a little bit of insight into what he's thinking.

[06:10:12] He says, you know, "There are many people talking about many forms of healthcare where people with no money are not covered. We can't have that." So that's all we know.

BURNS: Yes, and I think if you -- if you take a long view of the way Trump has talked about health care, he's always been critical of Obamacare. That word, Obamacare.

But going back to the first time he sort of toyed with running for president, back in the 90s, he was talking about a single payer, and he praised single payer, you know, an actual government takeover of the healthcare system. He praised that during his presidential campaign in 2016.

I don't think anyone expects him to propose, you know, European-style healthcare as president of the United States. But if you are Paul Ryan and you have been telling yourself for seven months now that, "Well, I don't love this guy, but we get unified conservative control of Washington. I can pass the policies I want." Every time Trump opens his mouth about health care, or at least every time he has this week, it should have been a sort of bracing warning that that's not how it's going to play out.

CUOMO: Well, you know, look, everybody on the panel, please speak up. But Errol, directly to you. I think it's seeming very, very real that they really don't have a plan. I mean, Tom Price has his punch points. He's got his own problems right now in his confirmation hearing.

But they keep throwing out ideas. And it seems like they really are going to repeal this thing and have to just delay any phase-in, because they don't know how to cover the people who are covered right now and pay for it, unless they use the mechanism that's there right now, which they've rejected.

LOUIS: That's right. I mean, it's not so much repeal and replace as defund and delay, right? So the easiest thing that they can do, where they're not going to need any help from the Democrats, is just defend -- defund it. Take down the Medicaid expansion.

CUOMO: If you do that, you have a risk of people losing their care or having a cost burst.

LOUIS: Well, that's right. That's right. I mean, so they're in a very tricky position.

But I think it's not quite right to say that they don't have a plan. It's that they have not agreed on a plan. They have a lot of different things that they can do. They can try and recreate some of these high-risk pools, state by state. It's going to take a long time. But they are getting cornered, and they're being pushed by the White House.

CAMEROTA: David, sorry. Hold that thought. We're going to ask you guys to stick around all hour. We're going to need your help and input, but we do want to get to other news right now

CUOMO: All these big pressing issues, and it hasn't even started yet. Two days from now, Alisyn and I will be standing in the rain at the parade at the inauguration.


Cuomo: That's when it is going TO begin. So we're still two days away.

Now, the outgoing president, Obama, making a controversial decision, commuting the 35-year sentence, the harshest one ever given for leaking; it was delivered to Chelsea Manning. He just commuted that sentence. The transgender former Army private convicted of leaking -- leaking 750,000 pages of sensitive documents and videos is going to be free in months. About 7 years into her sentence.

CNN's Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon with more. A lot of eyebrows are up this morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed they are Chris. Good morning. It was one of the stiffest sentences ever for a violation of the Espionage Act, but now Chelsea Manning is getting out of jail.



STARR (voice-over): In a stunning move, President Obama commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence soldier convicted of leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks. Manning now set to be released in May after serving 7 years of a 35- year sentence.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I have serious concerns about equivocating sentences when national security is at stake.

STARR: The controversial decision going against the objections of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and sending shockwaves through Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the president, especially a president who's made so much recently about the danger that WikiLeaks has posed to our national security, to commute Private Manning's sentence I just think is very disappointing.

STARR: Manning, a transgender woman formerly known as Bradley, stole hundreds of thousands of classified military files, including videos of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq that sparked concerns over human rights violations, and embarrassing diplomatic cables, a leak credited with putting WikiLeaks on the map.

Manning pled guilty, convicted of multiple charges, including violating the Espionage Act.

Serving time in For Leavenworth, a men's military prison, Manning struggled with gender identity issues, twice trying to commit suicide after requests to be transferred to a civilian prison were denied.

WikiLeaks celebrating the news, hailing Manning's clemency as a victory.

But Obama did not exonerate another famous leaker, NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary. Chelsea Manning is somebody who was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing.


STARR: Now WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has indicated in the past he would agree to an extradition request to the U.S. if Manning was free. No word on how that idea is progressing. And as for Edward Snowden, the Russians have just agreed he can stay in Russia at least until 2020 -- Chris, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Barbara. So many twists and turns to explore here with that story, and we'll be doing that throughout the program. Thank you for the reporting.

As Barbara just said, President Obama shocked many in the Pentagon and the intelligence community by commuting the sentence of Manning. Why did the president do it? We discuss that, next.


CUOMO: President Obama making headlines by signing 209 more commutations, reductions in penalties for people, something he has done more on his term than the last 12 presidents combined.

But it is the commutation of former Army soldier Chelsea Manning. She's serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified materials and videos to WikiLeaks, sparking controversy.

[06:20:03] Let's bring back our panel: Alex Burns, David Drucker, Errol Louis.

Errol Louis, make the case. Why did President Obama do this? Why is this OK? LOUIS: Well, I don't know about whether it's OK. That's in the eye

of the beholder. But I can tell you that there's a political and legal philosophy that runs, like, a pretty consistent line throughout the Obama presidency of proportionality. Which is one of those principles that Americans don't talk about, you know, when he talked about crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing disparities.

The idea that you can commit, essentially, the same crime, equivalent amounts of cocaine but one was in cooked form and powder form. And one would be 100 times worse of a sentence, literally 100 years...

CUOMO: Right.

LOUIS: ... as opposed to one year.

CUOMO: Drug crimes, we get that system. We get when justice is not truly fairness under the law. This is high treason. And people often used to get shot for, you know, treason.

LOUIS: I wasn't going to say it wasn't convicted of treason. If you're convicted of treason, yes. That's the end for you.

In this case, though, look, you can commit, you know, intentional murder -- you can commit manslaughter and serve 25 years. He's serving -- she's serving 35 years. So I think there was that.

And there's also the political side of it, which is that, to the extent that she was having issues that may have been related to her gender reassignment questions, for her to try suicide twice, to end up possibly dying in federal custody as a martyr to lack of understanding of transgender rights, not something he wanted on his record.

CAMEROTA: And David Drucker, let's not forget she's in Leavenworth, an all men's prison. How much do you think her transgender status and her suicide attempts played into President Obama's decision?

DRUCKER: Well, it's a theory, and it's a theory that, I guess, could make sense. I just think that, given the damage that the leaks did to national security exposing private cables, and it, you know, leads to a lack of trust and when you're talking in the United States and whether or not things can be kept secret.

And you look at everything that's been going on with WikiLeaks over the past several months and, more recently, the sparring between Trump and Democrats over whether or not WikiLeaks can be trusted and whether or not it's damaging to rely on them as a source, this just doesn't make a lot of sense.

And I think politically, Errol's right. There are -- there are questions about paroles and commutations that are legitimate. But politically, I think this works to undermine arguments Democrats have been making that WikiLeaks is a damaging organization and that the U.S. needs to do something about it.

CUOMO: Obviously, look, making the case with Errol, people will see this as someone who's getting excused for high treason, the worst of crimes against the state. That's not what then he and now she was convicted of. C

But it does seem a little bit opposite world, because the Democrats are the ones who are so heated up, and Obama is the one who's been so heated up about WikiLeaks and how terrible it is, and leaking has to be punished. It was a big signature of the administration. Now this. Why send this message on the way out after what just happened in the campaign?

BURNS: Well, and sort of looking back to before the campaign, Chris, this administration has been so aggressive about prosecuting people who leak classified information, not just folks on the military side or to WikiLeaks, but people who have spoken to the American -- institution of the American press.

And then at the last minute, not only do you have the Manning commutation. You have General Cartwright, who was prosecuted for leaking classified information, receiving a pardon. And, you know, looking back earlier than that, you had David Petraeus who leaked classified information to his biographer, really walking away with a slap on the wrist. And now he works at a great job in midtown Manhattan.

So it is this weird sort of tension between cracking down in a way that probably has had or may have had a chilling effect on the willingness of whistleblowers or leakers to come forward, and then on the other hand, sort of pulling back on the punishment at the back end of that process.

CAMEROTA: Do we have any idea, Errol, what this means for the two other high-profile leakers, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who had promised via Twitter that he would come back here to face justice if Chelsea Manning's sentence were commuted. So I guess that he says he's going to stick to that now.

LOUIS: Snowden is fundamentally different. Never acknowledged anything wrong. Ran off to Russia. Still trying to sort of do damage to the United States, in many people's opinion. He's not going to get any kind of consideration.

Assange, I think you know -- I think the problems that he made may have had sort of a timing problem involved in it, because you know, if he'd enough time to maybe walk out of that embassy, go through some process in Sweden, perhaps end up in the United States and still have President Obama there to sort of figure out what to do with him, that's one scenario. I don't know if he wants to take his chances with a President Trump.

CUOMO: Why? Why couldn't you string out, David Drucker. This is a better situation for him. You've got a new president who openly advertised what WikiLeaks did. Asked them to hack. Put the hacks out there and told people to read it. Why wouldn't he be in as good a situation?

[06:25:06] DRUCKER: Yes, look, I mean, I don't think we should trust anything Julian Assange says. You know, according to the reporting, he has said a whole host of things and never followed through. I think this is something he probably didn't expect to happen, given such a high-profile case, and it really makes no sense on the merits, given how damaging the leaks were.

So yes, you know what? He likes Donald Trump. He seems to think Donald Trump is a better president than Clinton would have been. So why not roll the dice, Chris. I think you're exactly right. I don't expect it to happen, because I don't think that this guy has shown that he ever keeps his word.

CAMEROTA: Panel, I'm sorry, you cannot leave yet. We have more questions for you. Stand by please.

Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy Devos, drilled on Capitol Hill. Democratic senators asking for some very tough questions. Some not having to do with education. How did she do? We have a live report, next.


CAMEROTA: Four of President-elect Trump's cabinet nominees face Senate confirmations today, including health and humans services nominee Congressman Tom Price. This comes after a contentious hearing late yesterday for education secretary nominee Betty Devos.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has it all. She's live on Capitol Hill for us.

Hi, Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Alisyn. Yes, Betsy Devos really facing a tough and at times very contentious confirmation hearing up here on Capitol Hill. She is certainly one of Trump's most controversial cabinet picks. And that was really reflected in the sharp line of questioning that we saw from Democrats last night, bringing up her support for school choice and the voucher program, and even her political past, being a major Republican donor behind the scenes.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?