Return to Transcripts main page


Source: Clinton Camp, DNC Helped Bankroll Trump Dossier; Soldiers Were Gathering Intel On Terrorist When Killed; Flake: More Republicans Will Rebuke Trump; More Republicans Rebuke Trump; GOP Reached Tipping Point; Bankroll Behind Trump Dossier. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Because right now that is basically a fairytale ending for people trying to get out of that place. It's still very hard.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank goodness he made the wedding. That is a great "Good Stuff."

CUOMO: Good for him. Good for him.

CAMEROTA: All right, time now for CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to see you guys this morning. Thanks so much.

It's been a busy 24 hours, hasn't it?


BERMAN: So let's get to it.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

New this morning, the president calls his relationship with Senate Republicans a lovefest. But to quote the famous Republican strategist Inigo Montoya, that word "lovefest," I don't think it means what you think it means.

HARLOW: Every morning.

Case in point, Senator Jeff Flake, fresh off his public repudiation of the president, predicts this morning that more Republicans will follow. Listen.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: A lot of my colleagues share the concerns that I raised on the floor yesterday. And I believe that more of them will speak out in the future. I hope that we've reached a tipping point of some type where we don't continue to normalize by being silent the kind of behavior that we've seen. That's why I felt it was important to give the speech and I hope that we move in a different direction.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, the president says Senator Flake and his colleague, Bob Corker, are just sore losers. Here's what he writes. The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race is very simple, they had zero chance of being elected, now act so hurt and wounded.

This is continuing clearly this morning. Our Joe Johns is at the White House with the latest.

Flake says more Republicans are going to speak out, not naming any, but, intriguing.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Definitely intriguing, Poppy, and that is the big question. What does it all mean? Where is this all headed? And he did say, yes, he wants -- or thinks a number of other senators will speak out.

Some senators have already spoken out. John McCain of Arizona, which is interesting, like Jeff Flake, along with Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsay Graham has raised some issues. So there are a handful out there who said a few things.

But the president really scoffing at the idea, referring to his meeting with all of the Republican senators on Capitol Hill yesterday tweeting, Jeff Flake, with an 18 percent approval rating in Arizona said a lot of my colleagues have spoken out. Really, they just gave me a standing o. So standing ovation notwithstanding.

The question is whether the apple cart could be upset through all of this, especially when the president's biggest signature item, the thing he campaigned on the most, a big tax cut and tax reform is coming down the pike on Capitol Hill. There are concerns it could create a lot more deficit spending. Jeff Flake, for example, has always been a big deficit hawk on Capitol Hill, going all the way back to his days in the House of Representatives. But when asked this morning about it, he really didn't show any signs of backing down or bucking the president and his own party on the issue of tax cuts and tax reform. Listen.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: If we don't get some kind of tax reform, not just tax cuts, but tax reform, there's going to be great disappointment out there and people will saying, all right, you can no longer just blame the Congress.

There's always a honeymoon period that an administration enjoys and people give a little slack, but we're coming to a point now where we've got to get some big things done.


JOHNS: So Senator Bob Corker, the other senator who really went after the president yesterday, has also said he'd like to see a tax plan go through as well, but he is very critical and very concerned about the possibility of increased deficit spending.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. Thanks very much.

A lot to discuss this morning. Joining us, CNN senior political analyst, former adviser to four presidents, David Gergen, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast," Betsy Woodruff, and White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," Michael Bender.

David, I want to start with you. We've all used a lot of adjectives over the last 24 hours, stunning, remarkable, unprecedented. But as we sit here this morning, after all of this, what's really changed?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what's changed, John, and it is significant, is that two senators have broken in a very, very complete way which invites commentary and more criticism of the president, both within the Senate and, frankly, among conservatives and conservative pundits around the country.

I think the real issue, though, is whether Corker and Flake have moved from fairly reliable to unreliable allies for the president as he pursues his agenda. As you know, the Trump White House can't lose more than two votes in the Senate in order to get something through. And you now you have Corker, Flake, McCain, Sasse, Susan Collins all in this sort of -- do you have them or not, you know? And so it could give -- it could give the descenters more leverage going into the negotiations ahead over tax reform, which is always -- and tax cuts, which are -- you know, those are always contentious anyway.

[09:05:13] HARLOW: It's a good point, David Gergen, but the question becomes that the -- will they actually vote against something they believe in, right? So Corker has a lot of power when it comes to taxes, but would you expect he, McCain, you know, a third Republican senator to actually vote against tax reform because they don't like the man, the president, personally?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": I think that's very unlikely. I would be quite surprised to see members like Flake and Corker vote against the tax reform package just to spite the president.

That said, it's really important not to understate the extent to which these senator's frustration with President Trump is deeply personal. And my understanding is that in the cases both of Senator Flake and Senator Corker, much of this goes back to Charlottesville when Corker first started really vocally speaking out against the president. I spoke with a number of folks familiar with his thinking and One thing I was told was that a major tipping point for him was the way the president responded to the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. And, of course, in an opt-ed that Senator Flake wrote for "The Washington Post" that just ran, he specifically mentioned the president's response to Charlottesville as one of the key indicators that he could not be -- be part of the same party, part of the same overall project as President Trump.

So, although news cycles tend to move on past events like that, on Capitol Hill, among the president's necessary allies, that memory is still very fresh and very powerful.

BERMAN: You know, Michael Bender, your piece in "The Wall Street Journal," though, you have discussion of what some see as a tipping point, but it's the forces of Steve Bannon who think that things are tipping their way. You quote Steve Bannon saying, our movement will defeat you in primaries or force you to retire. The days of establishment Republicans who oppose the peoples' America first agenda are numbered.

Any way to argue that Steve Bannon is not winning the battle for the Republican Party right now?

MICHAEL C. BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I don't think so. That's a good public service announcement from Steve Bannon to the rest of the party. But for -- I think, though, what we saw yesterday is for all the drama inside the U.S. Capitol, and it was a stunning day. You went through the list of adjectives earlier. All the momentum seems to be for the folks outside of the Capitol, the Steve Bannons of the world who are checking off, you know, a list of their victories here starting with Alabama. You know, they -- he and their -- his allies were looking at challenging Corker not too long ago. Corker is retiring. Now Flake. You know, so they, from outside the Capitol, they see this as the momentum is on their side and that they're winning this fight.

HARLOW: David Gergen, Flake, fascinating what he said to Alisyn Camerota this morning on "NEW DAY," that he thinks other Republicans will speak out soon on this, meaning they have essentially told him in private that they feel the same way. Who would you have your eye on to do that, because he didn't name names?

GERGEN: That's an interesting question. I don't know the individuals well enough to know exactly who would break, but I would assume some of the moderates are under a lot of pressure internally. Other -- I think the Susan Collins of the world are under some pressure to take a firmer stand.

And one of the thing that happens when senators break like this, I don't think the dam is going to break and there are going to be a whole lot of senators, but there may be one, two, three. And, in that case, those are significant numbers when you have such a modest majority. And if -- you know, let's see what the -- the Republicans are going to have to make some tough calls here on this budget in the next few weeks, and that is, how are they going to get the spending down so they get those deficits down? Corker has said, yes, he wants to pass a bill. He also said he has a limit on how much deficit spending he will accept.

HARLOW: Yes. GERGEN: And then he's off the train. Now, the -- that gives him some bargaining power in terms of saying, you want my vote, here's what I said earlier and I'm not backing down on that.

HARLOW: All right, stay with --

BENDER: Poppy --

HARLOW: Yes, very quickly.

BENDER: Well, can I just make a quick suggestion here that -- that I would watch for the momentum to go the other way. I mean what we saw yesterday was Roger Wicker, the incumbent senator from Mississippi --


BENDER: Being critical of Bob Corker, not Trump.

HARLOW: Of Corker.

BENDER: So as we get closer to the elections and these Republicans who need the base's support, I mean I think the pressure is going to grow on Corker and Flake, not -- not any more on Trump.

HARLOW: It's a really good point. He said it to John on this show.

Everyone, stay with us, because, of course, we want you to weigh in on this big reporting out of "The Washington Post," new information about who helped bank roll that explosive dossier about then candidate Donald Trump and alleged ties to Russia, to the campaign. A source confirming also to CNN that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the DNC funded part of that research.

BERMAN: The source said the Clinton camp hired an intelligence firm in April of last year. A research firm in April of last year. The same firm retained to do research for some anti-Trump Republicans during the Republican primary.

[09:10:12] CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us from Washington with all the details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John and Poppy, of course that now infamous dossier of salacious allegations about President Trump, it became public in January. It was after FBI Director James Comey personally briefed the president on its contents.

But now we're learning from a source that it was, in fact, the Clinton campaign and the DNC that initially funded the research. They retained research firm Fusion GPS and the contract for research services began in April of 2016, just as Donald Trump was taking the lead in the primaries.

Now, CNN previously reported that the anti-Trump research was initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans during the GOP primaries and then the Democrats took over.

Now, Brian Fallon was the Clinton campaign's national press secretary. He tweeted about this when it came out last night saying he was not aware of the connection between the campaign and the dossier. He tweeted this. He said, I regret I didn't know about Christopher Steele's hiring pre-election. If I had, I would have volunteered to go to Europe and to try to help him.

And we've also heard from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. She tweeted as well last night. She said, the real Russian scandal, Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier, then lied about it and covered it up.

Of course sources have told CNN that Special Council Mueller's investigative team did meet with dossier author Christopher Steele over the summer. That was all part of the Russia investigation.

And also the latest news in this, John and Poppy, is that Fusion GPS, that research service, well, they have been subpoenaed by House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes. Devin Nunes actually wants the bank records from Fusion GPS. That might lead to even more information about what was discovered, who else funded this, who else might have been involved in this.

They're now in court playing this out, Fusion GPS, saying that this is First Amendment issue, that they shouldn't have to hand over their bank records. A court date is scheduled for that tomorrow. So this could continue to develop here about this dossier.

John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring the panel back to discuss this.

And, Betsy Woodruff, you've done your own reporting on this subject for "The Daily Beast," and what you've found is this is exactly the subject that Republicans would like to focus on, particularly the House Intelligence Committee. They've been pushing this.

WOODRUFF: Right. Exactly. Devin Nunes is the chair of the House Intelligence committee. There were some speculation, indication, conversation that he'd recused himself from the Russia probe after his now notorious midnight visit to the White House back in April.

In reality, however, Nunes is very much a driving force behind the work that Republican staffers on the intelligence committee are doing related to these broader Russia questions. For all practical purposes, the House Intel Committee is running two separate investigations. There's the work that's going on that's more public, interviews that are taking place in a secure facility in the basement of the Capitol, but then simultaneously there's the work that Nunes and some of his top staffers are doing. And much of that work is focused on trying to discredit the dossier and the work that Fusion GPS did during the election. The fact that we now know that Clinton campaign and the DNC helped funded the work of Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS is something that's incredibly useful to Nunes as he engages in that project.

Additionally, the reason we know about this, according to reporting, is because of a letter that was released as part of the back and forth in court over Nunes' subpoena. It's certainly plausible that if Nunes hadn't subpoenaed Fusion GPS' bank, then we wouldn't know about the DNC and Hillary Clinton's funding of Fusion GPS, at least not as soon as we do know about it. So his work is certainly having an impact.

HARLOW: Well, and, Betsy, exactly, I mean to that point, Mike Bender, if you ask Ken Vogel of "The New York Times," who has been reporting on this, tried to report on this earlier, he says that the Clinton campaign lawyer lied to him. That Marc Elias lied to him. And here's what he writes. When I tried to report this story, Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias pushed back vigorously saying, you or your sources are wrong. We haven't heard any response saying that that is incorrect. How big of a deal is it if the Clinton campaign lawyer lied to him about it?

BENDER: Well, yes, I'm not sure what Ken's reporting was. I don't know -- have any reason to doubt it. But you're well aware of the game here in Washington where, you know, the truth is -- it comes in shades, and lawyers and PR folks shade it in order to push their own version of the truth here.

[09:14:50] And I think in this case, we're in a -- the facts that we know now, we're in a situation here where -- this sort of rare situation where the spin from both sides here, from Trump world and Clinton world looks to be right. I mean, you showed Fallon's tweet earlier, and you know, based on what we know now that there's nothing wrong with opposition research, and it looks like this went through the normal channels to do so.

And you know, inside the White House, this backs up their argument that this is politically driven, and has roots going back to Clinton, if not, you know, establishment Republicans who were trying to keep Trump out of the race.

BERMAN: And we should note, we will speak to Brian Fallon, who was a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign. And David Gergen, he should also note, the intelligence community whatever and whoever funded this dossier, and we know it was people associated with the Clinton campaign and DNC, the intelligence community has corroborated parts of it, some of it. So, you know, the Mueller investigation goes on no matter who funded this dossier?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. It's like your very big aircraft carrier, it just keeps moving through the water while we have spats on the side. I do think that, yes, it is true that campaigns do a lot of opposition research and sometimes pay for it, so there's nothing earth shaking about that.

What I do think about this (inaudible) to find that the Clinton campaign and the DNC have been paying for this, has an unsavory quality about it, and it looks like the Democrats really were trying to, you know, frame Trump in some way.

And the dossier has -- loses of its credibility if you think it has been paid for by the Democrats. So, I think overall this is one of those things -- it's from that the Republican standpoint and the Trump standpoint, it's a bit of a gift that they have because they can really muddy the waters with it.

BERMAN: We will see how they use --

HARLOW: We'll see what Brian Fallon says.

BERMAN: We will indeed. All right, guys, David Gergen, Betsy Woodruff, Mike Bender, thanks so much.

Senator Jeff Flake says get ready for more Republican senators to speak out against the president. Where are they and what does that mean for the agenda?

Plus, new information about what the U.S. troops were doing in Niger just before they were ambushed?

HARLOW: Also this morning, how does a tiny and I mean, tiny Montana power company land a huge $300 million contract in Puerto Rico to rebuild? New questions this morning about potential ties to the Trump administration, ahead.



BERMAN: President Trump taking new shots at members of his own party this morning.

HARLOW: With tax reform on the agenda, the midterms around the corner, can he afford a fight within his own party? Here to talk about that and more, Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

Sir, let's begin with your position on those committees and something of great substance and importance and that is the investigation to what happened in Niger. I know that the briefings that you have gotten a lot of is classified.

But is there anything more you can share with us this morning? Because we have learned that these men were on a mission to hunt down information on suspected terrorists. Anything else you know?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, as you pointed out, this stuff is all classified at this point. There will be an investigation. Look, we do and review in an investigative fashion a look through of everything that's happened whenever we have an event like this, or for that matter whenever we do an operation, a counter intelligence operation anywhere in the world.

Whether it turns out well as here where it didn't turn out quite as well. Always looking to make things better. It will be looked at very closely and critically and I expect that at some point, there will be more information available on this.

BERMAN: We look forward to hearing from you after you get that briefing whatever you can disclose, sir. The last 24 hours have been pretty remarkable politically speaking particularly for the Republican Party.

We have heard from Senator Jeff Flake on the floor of the Senate. We heard from Bob Corker repudiating the president of the United States. Do any of their criticisms strike a chord with you?

RISCH: Well, first of all, I know Bob Corker very well. I sit next to him and have for some time on the Foreign Relationships Committee. He's a good friend. He's a great senator, and very competent. I feel the exact same way about Jeff Flake. Great guy, good senator.

But, look, they have individual issues with the president. These things are all personality driven, and it's unfortunate that this leaked out over into the public, and they are going to have to resolve those issues between themselves.

But look, I look at this probably a little differently than you do. It has only been a little over a year and a half ago where we had 17 people running for the Republican nomination. It was a very robust discussion amongst them.

There were personality clashes there, in fact, so many and so often, few people in the national media had trouble keeping up with it. So, this isn't a lot different now than it was then except that the field is narrower. You always hope these things can be resolved, but they are always personality driven and these are.

HARLOW: Senator, the thing is they would say it's not personality driven. This is driven by things of great importance like comments that Mexicans are rapists, or equating white supremacists with those who are protesting against their evil beliefs.

That is what these fellow members of Congress are saying, and you see them now not running, and Chaffetz vowing out. Do you fear that this hurts the party overall? Does this weaken the Republican Party?

RISCH: Well, obviously when you have these kinds of things going on, there's going to be pockets of dissolution. There's no question about that. You always hope to pull it together.

[09:25:10] But Poppy, you know, my first election was 1970. I have been doing this for almost half a century. I have been a member of the Republican Party all that period of time. I have seen ups and downs. I have seen the clashes, and we get through these things.

Obviously, you wish they would come out better. It should be obvious to everyone by now that we have a president, who has a very unique personality, very different than what we've ever seen in a president before. He communicates differently. He handles issues differently, and it causes some grief with some people.

But look, we are Americans, we get through it, and in my positions, I deal with the Europeans all the time, and they are really wringing their hands over this. I say, look, we are Americans. We have been through a revolution, civil wars and world wars.

We've been through a depression. We are going to be standing when this is over. We'll get through this. We were founded in revolution. We were founded in discord and it's probably going to go on as long as the nation stands.

BERMAN: Well, let's talk about it. You bring up foreign countries here and you say this is all personal between these two senators, but Bob Corker is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he says, "I think world leaders are very aware that much of what the president says is untrue." That feels like more personal. That feels like there's a policy implication in the eyes of the chairman?

RISCH: Well, certainly, that's his view on it. The leaders that I deal with are concerned about our commitment to our allies. I can tell you that was tamped down tremendously when the president pulled the trigger twice, once in Afghanistan, and once in Syria.

They were very glad to see that America was going to stand up and that America was back again, particularly for our allies, particularly, for instance, the NATO countries. They were very interested that America was going to stand by them.

And we all assured them that we were going to be -- continue to be a robust member of NATO. The president picked out one part of NATO that was giving us a little bit of grief, and that was the financial aspects of it. He's actually turned that around.

HARLOW: Senator, I'm interested in what your bar is for calling out the president because you have refuse to do so thus far on anything really since he has been president? You say this is all personal, but in October of last year right before the election, your words that you were, quote, "disgusted by the vulgar and indefensible revelations relating to the Republican nominee's character."

You were talking about then-Candidate Donald Trump. If it was so important for you to call him out then when he was not even president, why hesitate to do it now when he is president?

RISCH: Well, two things, first of all, I stand by those remarks that I made then, and it was right after the revelations of that now infamous tape that was revealed by NBC, the talk that was -- the banter that was going back between the two gentlemen, I don't think anybody had any use for that.

The man now is president of the United States, and I know there's a lot of people that reject that fact, but he is the president of the United States. It's in the interests of every single American to see that the president is successful. I want to see the president successful.

I suspect you want to see the president successful. If he is, America will be successful. So, we need to work with him. Look, I have had disagreements with the president of the United States. I had disagreements with him before he was president.

I've had disagreements now, but you sit down and resolve those as fast as you can, and going public with name calling and that sort of thing is not a good way to handle these things. I prefer to handle the issues that I have personally as opposed to going on Twitter or tv or what have you and doing it that way.

BERMAN: Well, thanks for coming on tv with us, Senator. We do appreciate it --

RISCH: You bet, thank you.

BERMAN: -- sharing your view. Jim Risch of Idaho, thanks so much.

Big win for Wall Street this morning. The Senate narrowly voted to kill a rule that makes it easier for Americans to band together to sue banks and credit card companies.

HARLOW: Christine Romans, chief business correspondent, is here. This is all about arbitration, what they can do (inaudible).

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is. You know, when you have a credit card or a bank account or you're doing any kind of business with the bank, the fine print is these rules, these clauses, that keep you out of court, basically.

Meaning you have to go to arbitration if you have a dispute with your credit card company, which, of course, (inaudible) the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He and the CFPB had put together this new rule just went into effect July 1st that would have allowed you to band together with others aggrieved customers of your credit card company or your bank and sue them, do class action lawsuits.

The White House didn't like that. They thought it was an overreach. Senate Republicans thought it was overreach and so yesterday, this was struck down, very narrowly struck down, so this protection is now gone. A lot of folks have said, look, in (inaudible) Wells Fargo.