Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Calls Papadopoulos a Liar; Bannon Urges Trump to Fight Back; House Unveils Tax Plan Tomorrow; Kelly on Civil War; FEMA Head to Testify. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:17] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning the president tweets that George Papadopoulos is a liar after a former campaign adviser this morning calls him a volunteer coffee boy.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But, for the most part, the House Republican leadership has stayed pretty quiet on the indictments. Paul Ryan, the speaker, told a Wisconsin radio station, he had nothing to add and his focus was on tax reform.

Joining us now is Congressman Leonard Lance, Republican of New Jersey.

Congressman, always great to see you and in person.

I wonder if we can get your response to the indictments. In your mind, is Robert Mueller doing his job?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: Robert Mueller is doing his job, and I think the president's well advised by his lawyers, Ty Cobb, and let the process continue.

HARLOW: So on that point, someone who doesn't think Ty Cobb is doing a very good job, or John Dowd (ph), on advising the president on this subject, Steve Bannon. And our reporting from Dana Bash and others is that he wants the president to go on attack mode against Mueller. Not, you know, fire him, but cut his funding, attack -- attack the delivery man in all of this, if you will. Would that be a mistake?

LANCE: I think that the president's well advanced by Ty Cobb. And I was the first member of the Congress on the Republican side to say that Attorney General Sessions should recuse himself in that matter. And that has led to the investigation. And let the investigation proceed.

BERMAN: When you see the president right this morning, as he did, calling George Papadopoulos a liar, is that letting the investigation proceed in your mind? And you are a lawyer. Is this something you would advise him to do? And as a Republican politician, is this something you're comfortable with in doing?

LANCE: I believe that there's been a guilty plea based upon not telling the truth to federal authorities and that's very unfortunate. And I certainly would advise any client of mine always to be truthful with the federal authorities. And that is why there has been the guilty plea.

HARLOW: I think the difference is the context in which the president's calling him a liar.


HARLOW: Because he's a cooperative witness now that could not be helpful to the administration.

[09:35:04] But we want to get you and move on, on taxes, OK. So we're going to get this tax bill tomorrow. Everyone wants to know what is in it. You hate --

BERMAN: I'm sure you want to know what's in it.

HARLOW: You hate -- I'm sure you want to know what's in it. You're ultimately going to have to vote on it. It seems like they're going to split the baby here on salt, on state and local taxes. They're going to allow the property tax deductions, but not allow the state tax deductions anymore. That could be a big deal for New Jersey, where those taxes are up to 9 percent. It could be a big hit for your constituents. If that is included as no longer being a deduction for folks, will you vote for this thing?

LANCE: I think we're moving in the right direction. I want to see salt retained in its entirety. And I think that a week ago there was a -- the fact that there would be no retention of salt at all, that was in the Senate version of the budget. And I didn't vote for the budget. There were 20 of us who didn't vote for it on the Republican side.

HARLOW: Right.

LANCE: And as I understand it, Chairman Brady of Ways and Means has said that perhaps it would be a continuation of the deductibility of property taxes and property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in the nation. But I am going to continue to fight for reduction of salt in its entirety. This is a work in progress and I haven't seen the work product, which will be unveiled tomorrow.

BERMAN: If the state tax deductions, though, are removed, could you vote for it? Is that a deal breaker? And your vote matters here. I mean the reason I think you need to go on the record here is your vote very much matters here.

LANCE: I am negotiating from a position that it should be retained in full. I will examine the proposal tomorrow. And I want to see the numbers run for constituents in the district I serve. And we don't have those numbers yet, John.

HARLOW: Here's another big picture about why we're asking. Because, as you know, some of your fellow Republicans have said, this is the demise of the Republican Party right now our control of Congress, et cetera, if we can't get this thing, if we can't get tax reform through, because the party failed on repealing and replacing Obamacare. So would you be willing to risk all of that in order to retain the state deductions? Would you vote against it if it means what they say?

LANCE: I'm still working on the health care issue. I'm a member of the Problem Solvers caucus and we put forth a proposal on health care and it's similar to the Alexander-Murray proposal and -- and also similar to what Senator Hatch and Chairman Brady of Ways and Means have suggested. And so I think that we can do two things at once. And so --

HARLOW: But, on this, are you willing to risk control of Congress?

LANCE: I want -- I want tax reform. And I think that we can get tax reform. But I am fighting for salt.

BERMAN: Congressman Leonard Lance, when you know the details of this tax bill, please, tell us. We're all waiting. Because they (ph) matter, right?

LANCE: The details matter. And, of course, what we do in the House is not necessarily what the finance committee is going to do in the Senate.


BERMAN: Congressman, great to have you with us. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

LANCE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you.

Tonight, stay up late. Jake Tapper hosting a CNN special report on the Russian investigation, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

BERMAN: All right, so what caused this civil war? You think that is a settled issue. Well, the White House chief of staff says lack of compromise.


[09:42:35] BERMAN: All right, new this morning, The White House chief of staff, General John Kelly, facing criticism for comments he made overnight about this civil war. Listen to this.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it's different today. But the -- the lack of an ability to compromise led to the civil war. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand with their conscience, had them make their stand.


HARLOW: Kelly also called confederate General Robert E. Lee, quote, an honorable man.

There's a lot to discuss. Let bring in Ben Ferguson, our CNN political commentator, host of "The Ben Ferguson Show," and Perry Bacon Jr., a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Gentlemen, nice to have you here.

Let's just begin with the part that we heard there.


HARLOW: Perry, to you, a lack of compromise led to the civil war. Your thoughts?

PERRY BACON JR., SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: You know, that comment is -- A, is inaccurate in terms of history, if you think about history. From the Constitution, which had the three-fifths clauses, to the time of the Civil War, there were actually a lot of attempts to compromise. Many, many different policies intended to like sort of adjudicate between the slave states and the free states. And so the idea that there was a lack of compromise between the two sides, there's a huge difference, obviously, over slavery and that led to the Civil War.

In terms of Kelly, I was more broadly surprised that he was talking about this issue at all. It just seemed like something that's kind of not really the place where you want the chief of staff to go. They're talking about trying to get tax reform passed this week. I was surprised he sort of jumped into this debate on confederate symbols and monuments at this point right now.


FERGUSON: I don't think he was jumping in on the confederate statues. I think he was talking about the history of this country. And we know that many generals and those in the military study these issues and they study them in school. It's part of what they do. And I think the point he was making was is clearly you had three quarters of a million people die. It's very obvious in the Civil War there was not compromise. There were a lot of people that said, I'm going to stick with my state. It was issues over slavery and lack of a compromise on slavery. It was a lack of a compromise on taxes. It was a lack of a compromise on representation in the capital.

BERMAN: Right.

FERGUSON: This is history and it shouldn't always be controversial to have a conversation on history. It scares me in this country now that we can't even discuss the Civil War without someone screaming that this is racially insensitive or that's not exactly what you should be talking about or somehow the civil war and the history of the Civil War from a general is off limits when they actually spend years in school studying these wars and studying the civil war. This is something that he should always be able to talk about. In fact, any American should be able to talk about this.

[09:45:23] BERMAN: A lot of people study the civil war in school, Ben, not just generals. And the issue here -- the --

FERGUSON: No, but I'm saying -- studying the war and why it happened and how it happened and how battles were won and how battles were lost and the states' rights and Robert E. Lee and what he was doing for Virginia.

BERMAN: Well, states' rights is a different issue than how battles were won and lost. States' rights and the idea about whether or not there was a compromise to be made on slavery, what should the North have given? I mean I think that's the question here. The way that John Kelly said it was, you know, they couldn't work it out. They couldn't figure out a way to let the South keep some slavery. That's why the Civil War happened. I think that's what some people took from the comments that John Kelly made.

FERGUSON: Well, and I'm fine with them looking at it and taking it that way. But you also have to look at the historical context with what the general was saying. And when you look at Robert E. Lee and his actual quotes, he said that he was willing to give it all for his state, including death, if he could have had slavery end so that there wouldn't have been such bloodshed. He talked about that after the war and how he was willing to give all of his possessions and all of his belongs. People like to leave that out in this historical conversation.

So when he says that he referred to Robert E. Lee as an honorable man at the time, when you say you're willing to give up everything, if this wouldn't have happened to your state, and that you are willing to have -- and you're saying that you wanted the -- the slaves to be freed so that this would not have happened, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that. I don't think there's anything racially divisive about saying that. In fact, that's part of the context of history that people need to understand.

BERMAN: All right.

HARLOW: Let's get -- let's get Perry back in here. Perry, one part that you didn't hear -- that people didn't hear in that -- that bit that we played at the top is when he finished his thought, General Kelly, and he said, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand. It was interesting, given all that was made of the president's use of the term both sides following the violence in Charlottesville, that Kelly, someone who many saw as coming into the White House to reign in the president, used the same words.

BACON: Yes, I was very struck. Like I said, you know, one side of the Civil War was obviously defending the institution of slavery and the other side was not. And so we can debate this history of the Civil War. But -- and I'm not saying Kelly should not be able to talk about it. I would argue his comments, if you looked at them carefully, were inaccurate. And a lot of historians have said the last couple of days that the idea there was no attempt at compromise before the Civil War is just not historically accurate.

So I think, again, Kelly's interview, like I said, and his comments, also, if you saw them about Congresswoman Wilson, where he -- where he again defended his comments --

BERMAN: Right. BACON: Were at times just inaccurate. I'm more focused on the fact that he's saying things that don't seem to be true, than necessarily his right to say them.

BERMAN: And, again, just the last point, Perry, some people are looking at this, whether you agree with it or not, saying, you know, General Kelly was supposed to be someone who moderated or kept the president in line. We're now learning perhaps that many of General Kelly's views --

HARLOW: Reflect.

BERMAN: Reflect the president or they share them. And if they're -- you know, if you think there was a need for a moderating force or something, it probably is not General Kelly.

Ben Ferguson, Perry Bacon, thank you very, very much for that.


BERMAN: All right, we're waiting for the head of FEMA to face lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The issue will be the federal response to the hurricane. Seventy percent of Puerto Rico still without power. How will he address those issues?


[09:53:058] BERMAN: This morning, 70 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Seventy percent. Well, sources tell CNN, the FBI is now investigating that controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy.

HARLOW: Both of those facts mean that the FEMA director, Brock Long, is likely in for a grilling when he takes a seat on Capitol Hill in just moments. The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding this hearing on the federal response to hurricanes that battered millions of Americans this year.

Our Rene Marsh has been all over this, especially the Whitefish deal. She joins us now.

That's got to be the focus this morning, right?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, you can bet that they are going to get that question. I mean the focus of this hearing is going to be that federal response, did anyone drop the ball? If so, who? We know that the head of FEMA will be there, Brock Long, as well as top officials from the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.

But back to that headline off the top there, the FBI, CNN has learned, has now opened a preliminary inquiry into the $300 million Whitefish energy contract which was secured by Puerto Rico's electric power authority. Now, the energy firm was contracted to build -- rebuild parts of the electrical grid. If the FBI's inquiry develops into a full-blown investigation, it would join several other inquiries that are underway.

It wasn't immediately clear at this point exactly what aspect of the deal that the FBI is going to be looking into, but we do know that members of Congress have raised concerns about the process. There was no bidding process and FEMA itself has also raised concerns over whether the amount of money awarded for the contract was even reasonable.

Now, critics started asking lots of questions when it became apparent that this company is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the CEO of the company is an acquaintance of Zinke. We also know that one of the investors in the firm was a major donor for the Trump campaign as well.

[09:55:07] However, it is worth pointing out, through all of this, the company, Secretary Zinke, as well as the White House and the power authority in Puerto Rico have all denied any wrongdoing.

So in just a matter of minutes, we expect that hearing on Capitol Hill to get underway. And, again, brock Long from FEMA, the head of FEMA, will be on the hot seat.

BERMAN: All right. We will watch that very closely. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

President Trump once called George Papadopoulos an excellent guy. This morning he says, ah, no one knows him and called him a liar. What is going on here? A new strategy, attack strategy, from the White House on the man who might be the most important person right now in the special counsel's investigation.


[10:00:6] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. Top of the hour.

The president on the attack this morning. On the attack after a man who was one of his own not long ago.