Return to Transcripts main page


White House Daily Briefing; Trump Meets with Democrats on Tax Reform, DACA; New Details in Flynn/Russia Investigation; Huckabee Sanders: Clinton Book Selling False Narrative; Bernie Sanders Introduces Medicare-For-All Legislation. Tim Scott to Meet with Trump over Charlottesville Response; DOJ Blocking Interviews of FBI Agents on Comey Firing; People in Florida Keys Being Turned Away from Going Home. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I haven't had a conversation to him about that, but I'd refer you to outside counsel on it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A comment that Hillary Clinton made this morning. She said she wished that President Trump was the president of for all Americans. Do you have any reaction to the president's role in the White House?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that type of misunderstanding of who this president is and frankly a misunderstanding of what he's been doing is exactly one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton is not the president and is instead pushing a book with a lot of false narratives and a lot of, I think, false accusations and placing blame on a lot of other people instead of accepting it herself.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. A little over a week ago the Canada, U.S. And Mexico second round of negotiations on NAFTA. Next round in ten days in on the oh with a. Has the president been briefed on the second round? Is he happy with the result, if he was briefed and is he still considering canceling the entire agreement?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Those negotiations are still ongoing and a final decision hasn't been made. And they're going to continue to push forward to make sure that the best deal possible for Americans and American workers happens.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two questions. The last time the president --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure. I'm not aware of any conversation that's taken place in quite a long time, so.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And I also want to ask about tonight's dinner. Why not also invite Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, you've got the leader of the Republican Party sitting at the table. This is the president's opportunity to have a very open and honest conversation with members of the Senate, and I think anybody that tries to distort it into and other than that is just misunderstanding what the purpose is. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I don't want to get it wrong either. Are you

saying that if Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan were there then that conversation would be distorted?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that if anybody thinks that a Republican viewpoint isn't being represented is completely miss p understanding that the president is the leader of the Republican Party.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So is the president negotiating on behalf of the Republican leadership on the Hill in this meeting or is he --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is negotiating on behalf of the American people exactly what he was elected to do. And the idea that you guys keep trying to distort this into a bad thing is I think exactly why this president was elected. They were sick and tired of business as usual. They wanted somebody who would break up the status quo, that would bring people from both sides of the table together to have conversations. This president has done more for bipartisan in the last eight days than Obama did in eight years.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, Tim Scott meeting, what other topics were on the table with the president beyond Charlottesville with Tim Scott?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: They talked about tax reform. They talked about moving to a -- looking at different ways to bring the country together and about continuing ongoing conversations, making sure that they stayed in constant contact with one another and having a pretty open and regular conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were there conversations about HBCU --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sources were saying that there was a conversation about a request from black Republicans to have a high ranking black Republican within this administration who knows issues and understands how washington up and down Pennsylvania works. Was that a conversation in this meeting?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: There were certainly conversations about adding additional personnel that can tap into the African-American community that did come up, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So where did that go? What did the president say --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: A commitment to absolutely work with Senator Scott to do exactly that and for the two of them to continue to have those conversations for his viewpoints to continue to be expressed directly to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did they speak of certain issues or certain people as it related to that topic about bringing new --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Specific people didn't come up.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let me bring you back to taxes and a couple questions there. The PPD contained on a corporate tax rate although Steve Mnuchin said -- the president is prepared to move for as low a rate as we can get. Mick Mulvaney said he was adamant about a 15 percent rate. Is the official position from the administration that hits 15 percent rate needs to happen or that all this is subject to negotiation?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The 15 percent has been the goal. It's always been the goal. We're going to continue pushing for that. That certainly hasn't changed.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And secondly, with working with or at least talking tonight with Pelosi and Schumer, one of the things that they want is not one penny of their campaign to the wealthiest Americans. That is a marker that they have drawn in the sand. At this point is the president open to not having tax cuts as deep as one thought for the wealthiest Americans.

[14:35:00] HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, the president's focus has never been on the wealthiest Americans. It's been on tax cuts for the middle class and tax reform as a whole. Had that's been his priority.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. Two questions, if I may. One is just since you raised the issue of Mrs. Clinton's book having a false narrative and false accusations, could you point us to a couple specific accusations in the book that you believe are factually incorrect?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think probably the biggest one is any place within the book where she lays blame for the loss on anyone but herself.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. Can I ask just a follow-up? The president issued a strong statement the other day on Myanmar. I know that topic came up in his meeting yesterday with the Malaysia. I wonder if the president feels that the leader of that country should be more forthright in condemning what's happening in that part of her country?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think anytime anyone seize something like that taking place, public condemnation is certainly appropriate. We're going to continue working with our allies and partners to be part of the process in whatever way we can moving forward.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. You mentioned a couple times today sort of emphasized diversity in the West Wing and you talked about the president being very clear after Charlottesville. I just want to read a comment from ESPN yesterday who said Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself and other white supremacists as a direct result. He's unqualified and fit to be president. Why do you think -- do you have a reaction to that and is the president aware of --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure he's aware, but I think that's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly is a fireable offense.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why do you think null African-American figures are saying things --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to speak for that individual, but I know that the president has met, again, with people like Senator Scott, who are highly respected leaders in the African-American community. He's committed to working with them to bring the country together. I think that's where we need to be focused, not on outrageous statements like that one.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the president --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. You said before the president has done more for bipartisanship in the last eight days than President Obama did in the last eight years. Are you basing that off of meetings that he's held with the Democrats here at the White House?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm basing that on the fact that he's actually willing to sit down with members of the opts party, does that President Obama rarely did and certainly didn't listen to members of the opposite party. Thank of a single time where he made a deal with anybody from the opposite side, from anybody beyond the Democrat party. And again, this president is committed to doing that. He hasn't just done it once, but he's continuing to do that as we move into one of the most ambitious legislative agenda we've had in a long time. And we're committed to working with Democrats. He's both stated that publicly and in these meetings that he's going to continue to have.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does the president believe there's a mistake not to have invested more time and energy in the Schumer/Pelosi relationship at an earlier stage in his term?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think so. I think right now we're at a critical time where we have some big things on the agenda, tax reform, responsible immigration reform. He's committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to push those through, and hopes that they'll come on board to do that.

Thanks so much, guys. The president will be having an event here just momentarily. Thank you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's get to it.

Chris Cillizza, you can help me out on this one, our CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Let's walk through some of the headlines, beginning with a lot of those questions about this big dinner tonight. You know, at the White House with the top two Democrats in Congress, both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, both of whom he has referred to in previous months as losers or clowns. And now they're coming to dinner. And, you know, some criticism from Republicans that there are worries that he could bow to Democratic wants, and the response from Sarah Sanders was that, no, no, no, that would be entirely disingenuous. He's the head of the Republican Party.

Do you think that that's a fair worry?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. I think it's a worry based on everything we know about Donald Trump, Brooke. Remember, this is not someone who was a Republican up until a few years ago. I would say during the campaign and even after the campaign in the White House, he is not a down the Hill ideologically Republican or Democrat. No. That's part of his appeal, frankly.


To people that he is willing to have dinner with, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Candidly, while I think a lot of people, particularly Democrats, might roll their eyes at the Sarah Sanders quote that Donald Trump has done more for bipartisanship in eight days than Barack Obama did for eight years, there's a decent chunk of the country that won't disagree with that. I think and there was a follow-up question, rightly so. I'm not sure having dinner with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer is sort of the height of bipartisanship. But he did cut a deal with them. So he's doing things, I think, that will make Republicans very uneasy, but might sort of help do the thing that people thought he might do, which is be so unorthodox --

[14:40:30] BALDWIN: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- that he shakes things up.

BALDWIN: Yes. How about staying on the Democratic theme, listening to Sarah Sanders talk about this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad plan. I'm speaking in hyperbole. She referred to Bernie Sanders' Medicare-For-All plan as horrible. We know he's unveiling it this hour. And this notion of the single-payor system, and she was saying, hey, America objected, didn't like it. They didn't put him in the Oval Office. Also keeping in mind, a lot of potential Democratic contenders are supporting said plan. What do you think of all that happening today?

CILLIZZA: Yes. Five to my count signed on as -- 5 potential 2020 Democrats signed on to the Bernie Sanders plan, as well as him who is mentioned. Look, I think there's a reason, Brooke, that you see people like Nancy Pelosi, Chris Murphy, the Senator from Connecticut, being a little bit skeptical of it. This is a -- when I say it, I mean the Medicare-For-All plan. This is a sea change. In January 2016, Hillary Clinton essentially said that Bernie Sanders pushing single-payor was a sure-fire way to complicate her attempts in the Democratic Party's attempts to shore up the Affordable Care Act and her quote was it will never happen in terms of single-payor. You know, less than two years later here we are with every major con tender, short of Joe Biden signed onto it. I think it is -- I think that Sarah Sanders quote is indicative of what you'll see if Democrats do choose someone who is in favor of single-payor. The if the government is going to assume all responsibility for coverage and cost for coverage for everyone in America, it's going to require a lot of money. Where is that money going to come from? Taxes. Much higher taxes. There's a reason that Democrats have been fearful of this for years. I think the liberal base wants it. I don't know if it sells in a general election.


You mentioned Hillary Clinton. Just let me end with the fact that, you know, we all know Hillary Clinton's book came out yesterday and she was asked about this yesterday.

You laugh because you know where I'm going.

Because the question was Sarah Sanders has said that the book is selling a false negative and the question today was what specifically was false and she, paraphrasing, said any scenario in which Hillary Clinton doesn't blame anyone but herself on her loss. That's the false narrative.

CILLIZZA: I mean, that's not -- that idea of a false narrative is in and of itself false. I have written many things critical of Hillary Clinton and the campaign that she ran and her sometimes tendency to blame other people. But it is 100 -- it is not false that there are a lot of reasons that she lost, some of much were well beyond her control, including the Russians attempted meddling in the election and the e-mail releases through WikiLeaks, including James Comey, 10 days before the election, coming out and reopening the e-mail investigation. There's a lot going on there. Is Hillary Clinton the name on the ballot? Yes. Is it her campaign in that she's ultimately responsible for it. Yes. But it's not false for her to say that there were a lot of factors of which many deserve blame for her losing. So that, frankly, a little bit of fake news from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. If you want to put something specific that Hillary Clinton said that is not true or not accurate, that's not what she did? That press conference.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Hey, let me bring in April Ryan, who just asked an excellent question of Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

One thing we hadn't talked about was this really important meeting at the White House today with the only black Republican Senator, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. And we've gotten a little bit of a read out and we heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders tell you guys that the conversation was about the busy legislative agenda, but also about Charlottesville a little bit.

And you asked a question, and I heard your sources saying that maybe they would add additional folks within the administration who would have a deeper connection with the black community. Will that be happening? Tell me what you know about this meeting.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what I know from my sources is that the president listened. He wasn't necessarily always happy with what Senator Scott had to say when it came to issues of race, but he listened, nonetheless, but he's taken a beating. He knows he's taken a beating on this. And he listened. Tim Scott brought up issues of Charlottesville, but he also brought up issues of the fact that this administration does not have certain times of African Americans in leadership. When I say certain types, Republicans, high ranking Republicans who know how to work washington, who know how to work both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And they feel that's missing and that's some of the problem here, you know, because some of the legislative pieces that would be in place like, you know, poverty issues, criminal justice reform are just not happening, and they're very concerned about this. It's not just Tim Scott but other Republicans. I talked to former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts a few hours ago. So this has been reiterated throughout the black Republican community. There is a major concern about issues that are just not happening in this White House, and they're concerned that there are not the people here to be able to move those issues forward.

[14:45:51] BALDWIN: And just to, quickly, the fact that it was Senator Scott, I think it's the White House -- it was the White House that requested this meeting, according to Senator Scott's chief of staff. Just the fact that it was Senator Scott and we know what he said, questioning the president's moral authority. He had strong criticism in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville. What do you make of the fact that it was this specific Senator who said we've got to chat?

RYAN: Well, first of all, when you look at the Republican Party, there is -- and when you look at black Republicans, Charlottesville was huge for all America. But when it came to African Americans with the Confederate states and the alleged impetus for what happened in Charlottesville and hear the president go back four, five times, you can take away everything, but when you get to the base of it, he is a Senator who happens to be black. So that checked the core of this Senator as well as others, and they're very concerned with these five conversations the president had that, you know, if he had the teleprompter he spoke about what they told him to speak with, but when he did not have the teleprompter he spoke from the heart and when he spoke from the heart, sometimes that ruffled the feathers and it made you wonder. It made many people question his moral authority. Tim Scott being a van guard leader, have a few still like J.C. Watts, even Michael Steele (ph), you have these black leaders who are very concerned. It's important for the president to talk to someone who is on the Hill, who can help him get things through even though it's tough right now.

BALDWIN: April Ryan, thank you so much. Good to see you again.

RYAN: Thanks, Brooke. You, too.

BALDWIN: And just a quick reminder to all of you, tonight, here on CNN, Hillary Clinton talks to Anderson Cooper about what happened in the 2016 presidential race and so much more. The A.C. 360 Hillary Clinton interview airs tonight, 8:00 eastern, here on CNN.

Coming up next, sources just telling CNN the Justice Department is preventing Senate investigators from interviewing two top officials from the firing of James Comey. Also just in, we have some video of people down in the Florida Keys

being turned away as they try to return home. We will take you back down to Florida in just a moment.


[14:51:42] BALDWIN: Back to this CNN exclusive on the Russia investigation. This is essentially the Department of Justice Department versus Senate investigators.

Sources are telling CNN, and our own congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, that the Justice Department is preventing the Senate Judiciary Committee there interviewing two top FBI officials about the firing of now former FBI Director James Comey.

I've got John Dean with me, former White House counsel for President Nixon. And Manu Raju, who broke this whole thing.

Manu, just beginning with you, why are they not allowing these guys to talk?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, they're siting the special counsel's investigation. What we know is the special counsel is interested in this of course Russia collusion aspect of it, any crime, although, that was involved with Trump associates and Russia associates. If appears to be looking into the issue or the possibility of any obstruction of justice. Now, the reason why this is such an interesting and key development was the Senate Judiciary Committee wanted to talk to these two senior FBI officials as part of its own investigation into FBI interference. And what they want to know specifically is did they have any firsthand information about the circumstances around James Comey's firing, about what they got in response was that this could be part of the special counsel's investigation, so they did not want to allow them to sit down for a transcribed interview. To in response the committee said lights want talk about the investigation at all.

Let's just talk about the Comey firing. And I am told that the Justice Department has not been cooperative in letting these two individuals be come over for a transcribed interview, a real sign that this is possibly an area that special counsel, Bob Mueller, is exploring as part of this investigation.

I just had a chance to talk to Dianne Feinstein about what they're going to do next. She doesn't know yet. Just another sign of the escalating tensions between these various investigations that are moving forward right now.

BALDWIN: John Dean, wouldn't all this suggest that they're getting close to something? That who they're looking into might be one of the main focuses of the probe, thus the denial for her allowing these two to talk?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Brooke, that's very possible. But I must also put this in a bigger context. It's not unusual for this to happen. This is sort of standard procedure. These are two separate branches of government with different goals, different aims, different processes. And I can site many examples of this happening from Watergate to Iran-Contra to countless just bread and butter investigations where the Department of Justice has refused the Senate or House request to probe in and get inside their investigative body. So I don't find this as particularly startling. It just does show the investigation is moving forward on several fronts.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me switch and ask you, Manu, about your other reporting on Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and how you're learning that House Democrats are saying he failed to disclose something else he did overseas.

[14:55:02] RAJU: Yes. That's right. A Mideast trip that he took back in 2015 as part of an effort for a major $100 billion project that would involve 16 new nuclear power plants with Saudi Arabia as well as the purchase of military hardware with Russia. Now, why this is significant is the fact that he came back after this meeting in the Mideast and did not disclose the fact that he did go there on a security clearance forms. As we know, Brooke, is that that is required by federal law. And knowingly falsifying or concealing any information on the forms is a violation of federal law and it's another example of him failing to disclose some foreign trips. Of course, this comes as Michael Flynn's legal problems really are piling up. Mueller looking into a number of issues, including his communications with the former ambassador to Russia. But I should say I tried to reach out to Michael Flynn's attorney for a comment on this latest development, but the House Democrats say they have found and no comment yet from Michael Flynn's attorney.

BALDWIN: So, John Dean, what's the story on -- what are the rules on disclosures on security forms? Because I think it was Jared Kushner, there were some revisions with his own previous disclosures. And why can't Flynn just do the same?

DEAN: The Trump administration has a deep amnesia problem with the fs-86 form. It's a complex form. It's got lots of questions. It's done on a computer today and it takes a long time to do it. It keeps warning you, however, when you do the process that failure to disclose is a federal crime. And it also makes you acknowledge you've read that particular warning. I think they're in a lot of trouble over this. The thing is this is seldom prosecuted, but it can certainly be used as leverage if there are other crimes involved to get people to talk about things they might not want to talk about.

BALDWIN: Well, I don't think after that cuts it in the eyes of the law. As you well know, John Dean.

Thank you so much for your analysis as always.

Manu breaking all the stories as always. Thank you so much.

Let's go back down to Florida here, the Florida Keys, to be precise. People there are apparently being turned away from going home.

Brian Todd is in the thick of this in the Keys.

Bryan, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this check point here has become kind of a de facto refugee camp. We can come and go as we please through this check point. The media is being let in, but local residents are being told they cannot get through. Sheriff's deputies are turning people back here. And it's really causing a lot of frayed nerves. A lot of people very upset with this. People told us that they were told in homestead by sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement that they could come here, that they could get home today, and then when they get to this check point several miles down on U.S. 1, they're being told they can't go back.

So we've talked to some people who are very upset. One guy says, look, I've got 20 miles to go. I know my home is in good shape. They're teasing me. He's very upset.

One woman was afraid that her home is going to be looted. They're basically at the end of their rope, Brooke.

One gentleman who was on a motorcycle, we just witnessed a confrontation. He came up on his motorcycle to a sheriff's deputy. He held a bottle of medication, looked like an empty bottle of medication, as if to say, you know, I need to go and get some, or I need to give it to somebody, and the guy -- the sheriff's deputy refused him. The guy tried to make an end-run around the sheriff's deputy, the deputy jumped in front of his motorcycle, screamed at the guy, and the guy finally turned around. So there is a lot of high tension.

What we're told by sheriff's deputies is we cannot let them go back yet because if we let them go in there, there's no cell phone, there's no landline, there's no power. If they go in there and they try to get in their home and they get hurt somehow, then there's no way for them to call us, that's why they're not letting them back. But there are a lot of frustrated people here.

BALDWIN: So what are they to do if they're turned around in the immediate future? Where do they go?

TODD: Well, a lot of them have stayed right here. There are some cars over here, some over here on my right. They're just kind of camping out.

And by the way, the weather is playing a huge factor in this, just like everything for the last week and a half down here in south Florida. It is a south Florida September scorcher. It's 90-plus degrees here. There is no breeze. These poor people are sitting here in hot cars. A lot of them are saying, I'm going to stay here in my car, I don't care, I just want to get past that checkpoint.

And we asked a sheriff's deputy just when the timetable is for them to let people though and he said, I have no idea, they're not telling us anything.

Some people are heading back up north, but a lot of them, Brooke, are staying right here and they're miserable.