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Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Prison Sentence; CNN Poll: Obama Leaves Office With 60 Percent Approval; Tom Price To Face Grilling Over Ethics Charges; Walmart, G.M. Announce New Jobs in the U.S.; U.S. Dollar Tumbles After Trump Says "It's Too Strong". Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 07:30   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is making headlines by signing 209 more commutations. Something he has done more in his term than the last 12 presidents combined. The commutation of former army soldier Chelsea Manning serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks is sparking controversy.

Why did he do it? We have the man to answer that question. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. This will be our last time doing one of these with you at the White House. It has been a good ride for you and we appreciate the access you've given us.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yeah, it's been a great run Chris and I appreciate the opportunity to be with you this morning one last time.

CUOMO: And you will get no pass. Why would you pardon -- not pardon, why would you commute the sentence of 35 years to six making it to seven? Why do that with someone who leaked 750,000 pages and videos of often very sensitive material with an administration that had been very hard line on leaks, leading the WikiLeaks and others. Why do this?

EARNEST: Yeah. Well, listen Chris, Chelsea Manning committed some serious crimes and she has served nearly seven years in prison to -- as punishment for those crimes. But it's also important to consider she took responsibility for committing those crimes, she expressed remorse for committing those crimes and she has served her time. The seven years sentence -- the seven years that she has served behind bars is consistent with the sentence that was handed down to other people who committed similar crimes but got less attention for committing them.

And the president believed that this was an appropriate punishment in part because she took responsibility for them and she expressed remorse for them. I think Chris, what I have a hard time swallowing and I think what most Americans have a hard time swallowing is criticism from Republicans who suggest that somehow what Chelsea Manning did is treasonous while -- because of her work with WikiLeaks and providing information to WikiLeaks while at the same time, those same Republicans endorsed a man for president who praised WikiLeaks, who gives the leader of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange more credit for having more integrity than the men and women of the United States intelligence community. The criticism that has put forward by Republicans on Capitol Hill for this action requires the American people to suspend belief and suspend their memory about all of the words that were spoken about WikiLeaks by the man that they endorsed for president of the United States. It's -- I would say Chris that it's astonishing, if it weren't part for the course when it comes to Republican election dishonesty.

[07:35:09] CUOMO: Well two points, one you say she served her time except there was a sentence through our justice system, military justice, 35 years so she hasn't served the time because 35 was what was given. And on the political side of it, part of the criticism has now -- will now Assange says you did the right thing with Chelsea Manning so maybe he'll surrender himself. He has never made good on those types of situations before. This is a unique situation.


CUOMO: And it makes people feel like well maybe you're going to cut him a deal as well. Has there been any communications with Assange, any indication that he's going to come now?

EARNEST: Yeah. Chris with regard to Chelsea Manning's sentence, I think anybody would be hard pressed to suggest that almost seven years behind bars at the Leavenworth Prison is going easy on her. She committed serious crimes and she got a serious punishment. She owned up to her crimes as she expressed remorse for committing them and this was a -- an appropriate punishment for those serious crimes.

CUOMO: What about Assange?

EARNEST: With regard to Mr. Assange, I don't understand why anybody would believe what he has to say. So, you know, we'll see what he chooses to do. I can't speak any conversations. I'm not aware of any conversations but, you know, when it comes to law enforcement obviously, that's the purview of the Department of Justice and any actions that they may take or any conversations that they may have is something they would do independently at the White House.

CUOMO: So no conversations with Assange, I'm taking that as your answer on that. How about Bowe Bergdahl, he could be up for any type of leniency?

EARNEST: Well, I don't have any comment on any decisions that the president hasn't made. There are a number of other people who applied for clemency but I don't have any news to make on that front. I think with regard to the -

CUOMO: But you can't say that Bowe Bergdahl is not getting commuted?

EARNEST: What I can say is that, you know, if we have news on this and that's news that President Obama will make. But I do also think Chris, it's important to -- when you take a look at the president's clemency record, the vast majority of the 13, 1,400 people that President Obama has offered clemency to, are men and women who had served time in our criminal justice system for many cases, drug crimes that did involved violence. These are men and women who if they were sentenced today under the current sentencing guidelines would not have faced the kind of sentence that they previously faced.

And so, this is actually about bringing some fairness and justice to our criminal justice system. Many of these people are getting a new lease on life, they're getting a second chance. Almost 500 of them are people who have previously been sentenced to life in prison. They never thought that they would get out of jail and see and have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to their community, to be reunited with their family. So, this is an opportunity for many Americans to get a second chance. And I think that's consistent with a lot of the religious values that many of us subscribed to and it's certainly consistently with the basic principles of the American justice.

CUOMO: The inequities of the justice system are well-known especially where drug offenses were involved, people who compromise the American military like Bergdahl and Manning are different category. One other question and I will transition to a different set of topics.

The dossier that was provided as a synopsis and briefed to the president and the president- elect, the president-elect is upset about it. Some of his supporters even Bob Wood would have said it shouldn't have been in there. That this thing is like a "gotcha" move. Did the administration know that that was going to be included in those briefings and was it a pay back move to Trump?

EARNEST: The content of those briefings was determined entirely by the men and women of the United States intelligence community and that is as it should be. That was not subject to any sort of political interference by anybody here at the White House or anywhere else. The content of that report, the briefings that were provided to the president, to the president-elect and to members of Congress, the content of the unclassified report that was released to the public, the timing of releasing that report, the president set a deadline for January 20th but the precise day in which it was released, all of that was determined entirely by the men and women of the United States intelligence community.

These are men and women who served their country without regard to their own personal, political or ideological views. And they're mandated, they followed (inaudible) was to provide as much information as possible to the president of the United States, to the incoming president, and to the men and women of the United States Congress so they can make smart decisions about the best way to safe guard our country.

And the truth of the matter is, the incoming president and the incoming Congress are going to have to make some difficult decisions to figure out what we can do to push back against our adversaries in Russia that took specific strategic steps to try to undermine public confidence in our democracy. That's serious and President Obama mobilized the force for response but how to guard against their future interventions in upcoming elections is something that the incoming administration and incoming Congress are going to have to grapple with.

[07:40:03] CUOMO: So this election was seen in part as a referendum on the Obama administration. Donald Trump reeled against President Obama and his policies, wins the election, he's at 40 percent heading in the office. The CNN poll has President Obama at 60 percent as he exits. How is that going to play into the message that we get from the president today in his final briefing to the American people?

EARNEST: There are -- there's still a lot of analysis about the election that has to be done particularly if you look at the poll suggesting and as conducted. The American people by a strong majority actually feel good about the policies that President Obama has put in place and about the impact that it's had on the country. But yet at the same time, the American people have voted to try something different, to try a different way and to elect somebody as president who has a very different leadership style, a very different communication style, and a different policy agenda.

And we're going to have an opportunity to see whether or not this alternative approach produces the same kind of results that President Obama's policies have produced. And frankly Chris, we welcome that comparison. The president feels good about the progress that we've made over the last eight years. And the way that our system works as the American people get to decide what kind of agenda we want to move forward with and obviously we're going to try a different way. And there's a benchmark that's been set. And after four years, we'll have an opportunity to compare the progress of this country is made under President Trump's leadership and we'll just see whose way works better.

In the meantime, I think where you can expect the president to say today in the news conference, is to talk a little bit of those benchmarks, to talk about his vision for the country, but also to talk about the commitment that this administration has shown to working closely with the incoming administration, to give them a chance to get off to a running start. That's what we owe the American people, that's the president's institutional responsibility. And that's our responsibility that we upheld despite our profound political differences.

CUOMO: A reasonable and open minded Josh Earnest. Different from the Josh Earnest captured in one moment of tonight's CNN presentation of the end inside the last days of the Obama White House. I want to play a little excerpt of what's going to air tonight on CNN of you going to the president after having to process the loss of this election and the victory of Donald Trump. Here's a clip.


EARNEST: All of the questions centered on the painful outcome of the election.

I know it's been less than 24 hours but obviously the Trump message resonated with the majority of the voters. What happened last night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president feel that the results were some sort of a rejection of him? This is now real. Surely the president must have some real concerns right now.

EARNEST: Listen, I want to be real clear about this, the election is over. Those briefings were difficult for me and my staff. This isn't just a job. This isn't just a nine to five gig to pay the mortgage. A lot of this work is something that people feel called to do.


CUOMO: What a ride. You're a lifer. You've been there just about 10 years with President Obama. What has it been like for you through the course of this journey and what was it like for it to end with the election of Donald Trump?

EARNEST: Well Chris, I'll tell you that the last 10 years of taking me to places and introduced me to people that I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to see. And I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to stand here in conversations with you, at this place but also to stand at that White House podium and advocate for a president and fight for an agenda that I deeply believe in. And it's never been about just punching the clock from 9:00 to 5:00.

I'm speaking with conviction about a vision for the country that resonates with me. I have been inspired by President Obama and his commitments to a set of values and a constellation of policies that I believe have moved the country in the right direction. And like a lot of people who worked here at the White House and who've dedicated a significant portion of our lives to fighting for that agenda. I was profoundly disappointed by the outcome of the election. There's no sugar coating that and I never have.

But this also is a -- an opportunity for Democrats to spend some time doing some soul searching but also to make sure that we don't lose sight of those core values and lose hope that somehow those values aren't worth fighting for anymore. Those values have never been more important and our commitment to fighting for those values has never been more important. And the role of journalist in our democracy is also never been more important. And that's been my role here at the White House for the last eight years. Is to facilitate the relationship between the White House press core and the White House.

And there's not been a friendly relationship, you know, we've had an opportunity to engage in some debates and that's how it should be. The White House press core has responsibility to hold people in power accountable and to ask tough questions. And that can be uncomfortable even for people who are doing the right thing for the right reasons. But it's necessary for democracy and in many ways for the next four years, the job of journalists who work here everyday has never been more important.

So we're going to be counting on all of you to keep asking those tough questions. And keep pressing those who are in the positions of authority and positions of responsibilities to understand exactly what they're doing, why they're doing it, what their motivation is? And to hold them accountable of the American people for following through on the promises that they have made. [07:45:03] CUOMO: Well I tell you this, I've dealt with you on camera, I've dealt with the off camera. It wasn't always easy but you always held disagreement with decency. And for that, you should be respected. Josh Earnest, good luck to you in whatever comes next.

EARNEST: Thank you Chris. I appreciate that very much.

CUOMO: All right. "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House". It airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. It is a really good look at inner workings.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN "NEW DAY" ANCHOR: Man, that is not an easy job. Sean Spicer is heading into a tough job. John Earnest has a tough job. That is a tough one that's ever --

CUOMO: And to make it that long as he has. Let me tell you, that ain't easy either.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Well, back to the news, Congressman Tom Price, the nominee for the next health secretary will be in the hot seat today. He wants to repeal ObamaCare. What is his plan for replacement? We have a live report, next.


CAMEROTA: President-elect Trump's pick for health secretary is expected to face a grilling over ethics charges at his confirmation hearing. CNN reports that Congressman Tom Price bought stock in a medical company then introduced legislation that would have directly benefitted that company. Senator Chuck Schumer now calling for a probe into this case. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live in Washington with the latest. Hi Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning Alisyn. Yeah. That's going to be obviously a big topic of discussion today at these hearings. But also the fact that Dr. Price, Congressman Price has been releasing his own version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act for the last several years. That's going to be a big topic as well. We wanted to dive more deeply into these topics and also talk to people who've known him the longest.


Reaction from Democrats about allegations regarding Tom Price's stock purchase was swift.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: I'm extremely troubled and he's got a steep mountain to climb. I'll wait to see what he says at the hearing but it's going to be awfully hard for him to dig himself out of this hole.

GUPTA: A Trump transition spokesman called the allegations, quote, junk, adding, "Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false." This isn't the first time Price's relationship with the health care industry has come under scrutiny. In December, "The Wall Street Journal" reported Price made 40 health care pharmaceutical and biotechnology stock trades since 2012, totaling more than $300,000 all while he sat on a powerful ways and means committee and helping overseeing Medicare.

This month, an investigation by the Kaiser Family Foundation found Price, quote, sought special treatment from the FDA for industry donors on 38 different occasions. Price declined our request for an interview and through a spokesman he said he will, quote, comply fully with the recommendations put forward by the ethics office. The statement included a reference to a previous government investigation that found Price to be compliant with congressional disclosure rules. As for Price's personal history, a search by CNN found no court, criminal or bankruptcy filings and no medical malpractice complaints against him.

Dr. Dan Barrow is the chairman of Neurosurgery at Emory University. He's my boss and he's also helped raise campaign funds for Price. When he started his residency nearly 40 years ago in 1979, Price was one of his fellow interns.

[07:50:04] DR. DAN BARROW, CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: There are a couple of circumstances in life where you really see what people are like. One is when they don't think anybody is watching them. And the other is when you're under some kind of stress.

GUPTA: Where do Tom Price fit in all that for you?

BARROW: I think he's one of the best that I dealt with.

GUPTA: Price got his medical degree from the University of Michigan. It was during his orthopedic surgery residency at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University in Atlanta, Price met his wife, Elizabeth Betty, an anesthesiologist and current Georgia State representative. Together they have one son, Robert, 26, who graduated from Vanderbilt. After eight years in Georgia State Senate, Price was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004.

REP. TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES NOMINEE: Our liberty and our freedom comes from God almighty.

GUPTA: Guided by strongly held religious beliefs, Price is staunchly against abortion, getting a zero rating from Planned Parenthood and a 100 from National Right to Life.

SENATOR SAM ZAMARRIPA, (D) GEORGIA STATE: Tom believes in public policy.

GUPTA: Sam Zamarripa served as a state senator with Tom Price.

ZAMARRIPA: This guy is a born legislature with a lot of skill.

GUPTA: Skill, he's pledged to use to repeal ObamaCare, something he's been trying to do for years.

PRICE: We want to repeal this law and we want to replace it with positive, common sense, patient-centered solutions that put patients and families and doctors in charge of health care, not Washington, D.C.

GUPTA: If Price is confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services, he would oversee 11 agencies including the CDC, FDA, National Institutes of Health and 80,000 employees. He'd be just the third physician ever appointed to this role.


And I can tell you something else. When it comes to major physician groups, medical groups around the country, they have been very supportive of Dr. Tom Price as I pointed out, only the third physician to hold this role. We'll see what happens today. There are more support from -- for him from doctor organizations than the Affordable Care Act itself, Chris.

CUOMO: All right Sanjay. Thank you very much. Appreciate that insight needed at this time.

President-elect Trump says he's going to bring jobs back to America. In fact, he says he already has. Is that true? What we saw with Ford, G.M., Lockheed. The president-elect is tweeting right now saying it was because of him, our business experts weigh in, next.


CAMEROTA: On Tuesday, president-elect Trump tweeted, "Thanks to General Motors and Walmart for", quote, starting the big jobs push back into the U.S. Are those companies reacting to the president- elect's call for new jobs in America? Let's bring in CNN chief business correspondent and CNN anchor of

"Early Start", Christine Romans and CNN I-business correspondent, host of "Quest Means Business", Richard Quest with a winter wonderland backdrop.


CAMEROTA: All right. So, there are, all of these different companies, we started with Carrier Air Conditioning obviously Christine, then there's been General Motors, there's been Walmart, there's been Ford. There's a handful that since Mr. Trump has been elected have announced that they are keeping jobs or adding jobs here in the U.S. Is this the Trump effect, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the Trump effect and that they've completely changed their P.R. Many of these companies, their public relations, they want to demonstrate to this president-elect that they are creating jobs in this country, have been, have been investing in this country. They want to de-emphasize their growth overseas. And they want to re-emphasize that hey, we've always been growing here along. Amazon announcing big jobs growth, right? Well Amazon already was growing very strongly. You look at Walmart, emphasizing big job initiatives.

CAMEROTA: It already has. It's been adding jobs.

ROMANS: And now (inaudible) touting it in a way they didn't a year ago.


ROMANS: They're saying, oh yes, America first, Mr. President.

CUOMO: But what does that mean though in terms of -- Richard, let's bring you in on this, the president-elect tweeting this morning, attacking another media outlet that they're saying it's -- he's saying it's fake news if you report that these companies aren't keeping jobs here or making jobs here because of him. Is it because of him, or is that spin now that he's playing into?

QUEST: It is a bit of both. And the president-elect will love what I'm about to say to you. Less than 15 minutes ago, standing next to me was Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault-Nissan. And I asked him exactly this question, how -- was he changing his plans as a result of Donald Trump. And he said yes, we are taking into account the fact that though there maybe tariffs from imported vehicles that the president-elect wants to create more jobs.

So I said to him, well, you haven't announced anything yet Mr. Ghosn. When are you going to? And he said, we will, we will he said. There is no question in his mind that they are going to adapt their business strategy to account for the new reality in Washington. And what Christine says is absolutely correct. All the other companies have done who haven't had a chance to formulate a plan, is they've adopted the P.R. strategy and shoved it to the top.

ROMANS: Look, they want to be at the -- they want to seat at the table when there's tax reform, right? When there's infrastructure spending. They want to be in the good (inaudible) of this administration because they know things are coming. I mean, you've got for the first time in 10 years a Republican in the White House and both houses of Congress. So they think something is going to happen.

What I'm not clear about is what tax reform is going to look like. Everybody wants it. These companies want a big corporate tax rate cut, right? They're worried about outright tariffs. But they would like to see a big top line rate cut.

CUOMO: But they already pay a rate of about 12 percent, 14 percent.

ROMANS: Right, right --

CUOMO: I mean the nominal rate is higher than that but the effective rate is much lower.

ROMANS: That's why they want to have a seat at the table, right? And so there's something that's called the border adjustment tax that you've heard, the house ways and means, a better way of plan has. Donald Trump has suggested the "Wall Street Journal" doesn't like that way. We don't know what it's going to be look like. It is going to be a border adjustment tax which would disincentivize moving production overseas. It changes how the tax treatment of imports and exports. Would it be just an overall tariff something business do not want a big tariff?

You know, they want to have a voice in that discussion. That's why they're letting the president know, we're going to promote our jobs in the U.S. right now Mr. President.

CAMEROTA: Richard, his words have had another ripple effect. He has told the "Wall Street Journal" in a recent interview, our dollar is too strong. And sure enough, we have a graph, the dollar is dropping. Do you believe this is the Trump effect?

QUEST: Yes, yes and a big yes after that. Christine and I could stay in our sleep a famous phrase, a strong dollar is in the best interest of the United States. We've heard it every G7, G8, G20, every statement from the Treasury secretary for our entire careers.

[08:00:04] I was talking to Larry Summers, former Treasury secretary a short while ago. And I asked Sec. Summers, I said look, what do you make of Donald Trump saying a weaker dollar would be better? He's sort of -- there's a slight gasp and he sort of says, it's --