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Interview with Sen. Ben Sasse; Teaching Kids to be Adults; Trump Aides Talk Tax Reform; Ford Cutting Jobs; Sally Yates Breaks Silence on Flynn. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And you've written a very provocative book about who we are and, more importantly, who we are no longer. We want to talk about that book. Let's take a quick break. Thank you for being here.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: Stay with us. We're going to have more with Senator Ben Sasse. He says there is a new existential threat to the American way of life. It has to do with our kids. You see that book on your screen? We're going to talk about it. A worthy read, next.


CUOMO: All right, now so many of you reach out and talk about who we are as a people and what are our values. We got a great guest for you on that. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, he's got a new book out called "The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance." The book is out today. The senator is here right now.

What's the sell on the book? If you're a parent or if you're an American and you have your concerns, why is this the read?

SASSE: More and more of our kids are stuck in perpetual adolescence, and that's more on us than on them. We're failing to teach them that scar tissue is to be celebrated. Scar tissue is the foundation of future character. They can persevere, but we need to tell them that's a good thing. We want to free our kids up to find meaning in work. We don't want them to be free from work.

[08:35:06] CUOMO: All right, so, what do we hear all the time? That, ah, this is what all you parents always complain about with your kids. It's also been like that for every generation. Then you'll hear, well, no, not like this. This, every kid get a trophy and if you don't get the most rarefied existence, then you won't have a good existence. And being America these days means whatever you want it to mean. What are your concerns with those precepts?

SASSE: Yes, well said. So, first of all, there is no old man get off my lawn screaming in this book. It is -- it's one-third cultural analysis and stage-setting, but it's two-thirds constructive. And what's different is that our kids live at the richest time in the richest place in the richest nation in human history. Even our poor and our working class folks still have an extraordinary material existence. Our spiritual existence is a little bit impoverished, though, because we're not helping them learn the distinguish between needs and wants. My belly can yearn for limitless wants. That's not the same as an actual need. And ultimately there can be a cotton candy effect to simple consumption forevermore and we're not distinguishing between production and consumption, which gets at this exposure of our teens to work. Hard work makes you an adult in a way that all past generations knew and our kids are kind of insulated from that. Again, this isn't beating up millennials, this is more on us than them, not helping them have these coming of age, habit-forming moments.

CUOMO: The -- so from conceptual to practical, what are you seeing out there that you want addressed?

SASSE: Yes. When I travel Nebraska, it is amazing how often people don't want to talk politics and policy. They want to talk our kids and they want to talk parenting. They want to talk local community. I commute every week. I'm one of five senators, never been a politicians before, and I'm the only commuting dad in the Senate, I think, and my kids range from age six to 15 and we bring somebody with me back and forth to D.C. every week. And I tweet about being a dad and educating my kids on the road. And Nebraskans want to talk about that because they want to know, how can they help their kids get tough work ethic learning experiences. We shipped our 14-year-old off to a ranch last yet to help deliver baby cows for a month in the middle of, you know, late winter, early spring in Nebraska and she suffered and she loved it. And as I travel, people would say, how can my kids suffer, too? We want to toughen them up. Where can they get this experience? Where can they work hard?

CUOMO: Trying to get my kids to clean their room.

So when people come to you with a cultural dilemma and they say, we're not who we were anymore, Sasse. I don't like this idea of it's OK to love whoever you want and be whatever gender that you want to be and go wherever you want. That's not who we are. We're changing it. I don't like it. What is the line between preserving a core value and recognizing the expansion of existence?

SASSE: Great question. So, I think we're doing two things at once and they -- it leaves people really lonely and hallow and kind of scared. We're hallowing out local community and family and mediating institutions and we're politicizing our national conversation. Most of what draws us together as a people is not fundamentally politically or governmental. It's not fundamentally about power. Government exists to provide a framework for ordered liberty, but people should be pursuing the good, the true and the beautiful and loving their neighbors and serving their kids and trying to have a calling that's meaningful to benefit their local community in ways that are voluntarist and local. And people feel detached from that.

We need to celebrate together again our shared civic understanding of America as a place that believes in free speech, press, religion, assembly, protest, the right of redress and grievances and building better mouse traps and building the rotary club and the PTA, that's not fundamentally about national politics and people feel like there's no venue for that local dinner time neighborly conversation anymore. This book is trying to help advance those conversations.

CUOMO: Something you want more of in a daily existence level and something you want less of?

SASSE: I want more of our kids actually learning to read, not just functionally, but becoming addicted to the habit of knowledge acquisition. I want them to travel. I want them to work hard. I want them to go to the top of an actual mountain, not just see the top of a mountain on their friends' Instagram.

The digital moment for these digital natives has huge potential. Economic opportunities are going to go up, up in the world. But we don't want to impoverish our kids spiritually by having them believe that sedentary, inside, on a mobile device more than half of their waking hours is going to fulfill them, because it's like cotton candy. There's a dopamine hit at minute two and seven that I want more cotton candy, I want more video games, but two and seven hours later, I usually feel a little bit hung over from that and we want them to go and actually conquer the world.

CUOMO: So when are you coming to my house to tell my kids that they need to get off their devices?

SASSE: Let's -- let's take our kids together and go back to the ranch and deliver some baby cows.

CUOMO: Done. Senator, thank you.

SASSE: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

The book, Ben Sasse, "The Vanishing American Adult." It's out today. Find it at your leisure.

Thank you very much.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is great advice, even for my one year old. Thank you, senator, for that.

All right, coming up for us, amid the latest firestorm, the Trump administration is trying, trying to tackle the president's agenda, namely where do all those promises stand, like tax reform? Remember that?


[08:43:01] HARLOW: All right, welcome back to NEW DAY.

The president, this morning, is tweeting, but it is not about his policy agenda. Top administration officials, though, are headed to Capitol Hill to talk about one thing that corporate America cares a lot about.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center with more.

Good morning.


It's the news Wall Street has been waiting on, tax reform. And we should get more details very, very soon. Sources familiar with the matter tell us Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will huddle Wednesday with moderate Republicans to talk tax cuts. That's ahead of the first reform -- hearing on reform. This group will be crucial, of course, Poppy, in passing any tax package.

You know, Trump campaigned for the working class, but the promise of tax cuts has enriched the investor class. Companies stand to make a lot more money through tax cuts. The Trump rally has slowed lately, but stocks are still right here near highs. In fact, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 hit new records yesterday, helped along by the best earnings system since 2011.

Also breaking today, "The Wall Street Journal" reports Ford will cut 20,000 jobs. That's 10 percent of its workforce. Ford cutting costs after profits shrank 35 percent last quarter after two years of record auto sales. Signs the post-recession boom is cooling a bit, Chris.

CUOMO: The big demand. When will those wages start to rise in a real way? Christine Romans, thank you, as always.

Coming up, we've got a big CNN exclusive. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates speaking out to Anderson Cooper. What did she say about her firing and the resignation of General Michael Flynn? Anderson joins us, next.


[08:48:21] CUOMO: All right, we have a CNN exclusive for you. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates has given her first TV interview and it is to our Anderson Cooper. You'll remember, she was fired by President Trump. Yates then gave that very compelling testimony about her repeated warnings to the Trump White House about Michael Flynn. Here's a preview of what you get to watch in full tonight on "AC 360."


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": The underlying conduct itself was potentially a fireable offense.

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I can't speak to a fireable offense. It was up to the president to make that decision about what he was going to do. But we certainly felt like they needed to act.

COOPER: Don McGahn actually asked you at that first meeting whether or not you thought the national security advisor should be fired?

YATES: Uh-huh.

COOPER: What did you say?

YATES: I told him it wasn't our call.

COOPER: Was the underlying conduct illegal? Was illegality involved?

YATES: There's certainly a criminal statute that was implicated by his conduct.

COOPER: You wanted the White House to act?

YATES: Absolutely, yes.

COOPER: To -- to do something?

YATES: We expected the White House to act.

COOPER: Did you expect them to act quickly?


COOPER: There was urgency to -- to the information?


COOPER: I'm just wondering, just on a personal level, and I don't know if you can answer this or not, but, you know, you were in -- you're in government one week. You've been -- you get fired and now you're out and you're watching day after day after day go by and nothing seems to have happened to the national security advisor that you have informed the White House about. Just as a private citizen at that point, did it concern you?

YATES: Well, sure, I was concerned about it. But I didn't know if perhaps something else had been done that maybe I just wasn't aware of, but --

[08:50:01] COOPER: Maybe that they were keeping him away from certain classified information while they were investigating, something like that?

YATES: Maybe. I just didn't have any way of knowing what was going on at that point.

COOPER: Were you aware that he sat in on a -- even from media reports -- that he sat in on a phone call with Russia's president?

YATES: Just from media reports.

COOPER: Between the president and Russia's president. Did you find that surprising?

YATES: Well, sure. Absolutely that was surprising. COOPER: Sean Spicer said on the day after Michael Flynn resigned that

it was a trust issue that led to his resignation, not a legal issue. Do you agree there was no legal issue with Flynn's underlying behavior?

YATES: I don't know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue. It certainly wasn't from my discussion with them.

COOPER: Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired?

YATES: I think that this was a serious compromise situation, that the Russians had real leverage. He also had lied to the vice president of the United States. You know, whether he's fired or not is a decision for the president of the United States to make. But it doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the national security advisor position.

COOPER: Michael Flynn was let go after "The Washington Post" reported a story. Some Republicans have accused you of leaking it. Did you leak to "The Washington Post"?

YATES: Absolutely not. No.

COOPER: Did you authorize somebody to leak to "The Washington Post"?

YATES: Absolutely not. I did not and I would not leak classified information.

COOPER: Have you ever leaked information to them?


COOPER: The president seems to suggest that you were behind this "Washington Post" article. The morning before you testified he tweeted, "ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into newspapers soon after she explained it to White House Counsel." He does sound like he doesn't -- he seems to believe that you -- you're the leaker. Does that -- when you heard that, what did you think?

YATES: There have been a number of tweets that have given me pause.

COOPER: You want to elaborate on that?



CUOMO: Anderson Cooper joins us now.

We seem to be in this cycle of, here's what the White House says, here's what we have to go out and report now and show may or may not be true based on what the White House says. That's what this interview is all about. What was your take-away? COOPER: You know, I think she clearly wants to get her voice out

there. I think it's very strange for her, after having a 27 year career as -- working for the Department of Justice, to have her career defined by the last, you know, several days. I mean, you know, that's how people know who Sally Yates is. And she's had this extraordinary career before that. So I think she wanted people to kind of get a fuller picture of who she actually is, which is why I think she decided to do this interview. And I think clearly, you know, she wants to -- she's thinking about her next act and what it's going to be. Obviously there's rumors about an interest in politics. She denies that categorically at this point. But I think she just wants her voice out there.

HARLOW: This is someone who has served under Republican and Democratic administrations. She's been, you know, certainly lambasted in the past by Democrats as well. She's had criticism from both parties. Did she address, you know, the White House line that basically she was a Democratic hack?

COOPER: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, I put to her actually specific quotes here. The White House put out this lengthy position paper on her, basically going after her the day after she was fired. And I put to -- a lot of the criticisms to her directly to give her the opportunity to respond, which is really the first time she's been able to do that.


COOPER: And it's also the first time -- it's the only television interview she's going to be doing. She's going to be doing an interview with "The New Yorker" magazine that will come out in "The New Yorker" magazine. But I think she -- you know, when -- we've seen her testify in front of the Senate, you know, that's a very limited kind of interviewing process. And so I think this allows -- I think you get a much great essence of who she is as a person.

CUOMO: A couple things. Did your -- was your take-away that what the White House says about just a head's up and the president saying didn't really seem like something that was supposed to be acted on right away, in talking to her, how different is her reckoning of what her motive was, what her tone was?

COOPER: Clearly the idea that this was a head's up is something she denies out right. I mean she never used the term head's up. She -- I mean she was saying, look, when you -- it is a very unusual situation when you have the acting attorney general calling up the White House saying, I've got to talk to you, I've got to talk to you today about something that's so serious we can't even talk about it on the phone. We have to talk about it in a skiff at the White House. And then to go back the next day, have that same meeting again.

And another thing, you know, that we talked about is, if she hadn't been fired, I asked her, you know, there was 18 days before General Flynn was fired. I asked her, if she would still be acting attorney general during those 18 days, would she have done more had she seen the White House not moving, which is -- you know, there was no sign of visible movement. She said absolutely she would have gone knocking on the door of the White House to find out what was going on.

HARLOW: It is -- it wasn't just one conversation. This was three separate conversations with White House Counsel Don McGahn.

COOPER: Right. Two meetings and a phone call.

[08:55:04] HARLOW: And then 18 days go by and nothing. And would anything have happened if "The Washington Post" story didn't come out? I don't know. But does this White House confound her?

COOPER: You know, she is very careful in what she says about -- you know, she clearly doesn't want to set this up as a battle between her and President Trump. I mean she is a career -- career attorney for the Department of Justice. And I -- she takes that role very seriously. So she's very careful about -- she's not trying to -- it doesn't seem like she's trying to set herself up as a partisan going after the president. I --

HARLOW: You know, she sounded like she expected that they were going to let him go. She expected actions to be taken (ph).

COOPER: I think clearly she expected action sooner. I mean I think that she -- she considered this a very serious incident. Not only the underlying conduct. That's what she -- the term she always uses. I mean she can't say what the underlying conduct was, but you can surmise from the fact that the vice president lied -- you know, that -- was lied to about it that it was the Russian ambassador's conversation.

CUOMO: And you have this whole legal battle going on over the executive order that she helped precipitate.

COOPER: Right.

CUOMO: So this is a great interview. Anderson, thanks for coming through this morning for us.

COOPER: Thanks.

HARLOW: Look forward to seeing it, the full interview with Sally Yates, the only television interview she's done. You'll see it on "AC 360" tonight.

CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman picks up right after this.


[09:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.