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Trump Hands Off to Justice Department; Mueller's Team Expands Like a Web. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired November 2, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news on Russia on about five different stories to do with Russia.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
The White House would like you to believe the Russia investigation is wrapping up, nothing to see here. But this is no nothing burger. Let me tell you this is a great big heaping serving of very uncomfortable questions for the president's inner circle.
There's a lot here, so you may want to get a pen and a piece of paper and take some notes. Remember way back in February when President Trump said this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How many times do I have to answer this question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you just answer...
TRUMP: Russia is a ruse. I know you have to get up and ask a question. So important. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, we have breaking news tonight. Just coming in to CNN to directly -- that directly contradicts what the president said there. More on that in a moment.
Plus, there is Trump as son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to the president under the magnifying glass right now.
CNN has learned investigators are asking in witness interviews about Kushner's role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Kushner has been turning over documents to Robert Mueller's team and then there's Attorney General Jeff Sessions who is not exactly at the top of the president's Christmas card list this year. His former colleagues on Capitol Hill want to know why he somehow
neglected to mention his role in discussions about a proposed meeting between candidate Trump and Vladimir Putin. Sessions reportedly rejected the meeting idea, but he never mentioned anything about it in multiple congressional hearings.
Then there is former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Are you keeping up with this? He spent almost seven hours today talking behind closed doors to a House Intel committee panel testifying he mentioned to Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: It was great to have this discussion and have the opportunity to testify, and I'm excited about the positive impact of this in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And there's more. There's President Trump's pick to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist, Sam Clovis, who withdrew his nomination today. There are plenty of good reasons for that including his history of racially charge and homophobic comments. Not to mention the fact that he is not actually, you know, a scientist.
But sources tell CNN that the real reason just might be his connections to, wait for it, the Russia investigation, which the president says he knows nothing about. All of that came out just today. And there is more.
President Trump still has that infamous Russia dossier on his mind, telling a radio show he thinks the FBI used the dossier for wire taps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, I think they did. I think they did because when Comey came up to see me, what he did is he showed me the dossier. That was what he was showing me. The thing he showed me was the dossier, so I think they did use it. And I think they shouldn't have been allowed to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So it's Thursday now and so let's not forget that it was only Monday, just a couple days ago, that we learned former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates are under indictment and former Trump campaign foreign policy officer George Papadopoulos pled guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about contacts with people connected with the Russian government.
So nothing burger? Not so much. Lots to discuss. Breaking news on multiple fronts in the Russia investigation. I'm going to bring in now Chris Cillizza, CNN politics editor at large, Jim Acosta, senior White House correspondent, Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter, and Evan Perez, CNN justice correspondent. As I said, there is a lot to discuss this evening. Good evening to all of you. Jim, you first. You have new reporting on George Papadopoulos, who just pled guilty to lying to the FBI. And a Trump campaign adviser contradicting what the White House told you. What do you know?
JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, Don. And you'll recall yesterday we were reporting that there were sources in this meeting with the president, then candidate Trump, Senator Jeff Sessions and George Papadopoulos, this former campaign adviser, who apparently during this meeting pitched this idea of a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That's that photograph we've been seeing time and again that was posted by the campaign.
You can see Donald Trump in the room. You can see George Papadopoulos there. Now, the person who is seated in between George Papadopoulos and Jeff Sessions at the end of that table, you can see it on screen now, J.D. Gordon. He's a former national security official with the Trump campaign. He now tells us, Don, on the record that then candidate Trump listened to George Papadopoulos's pitch for a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the words of J.D. Gordon, quote, "he heard him out."
[22:05:06] Now, from what we understand from our reporting, and my colleague Manu Raju has been on this as well, at the time Senator Jeff Sessions shut down that idea at the meeting, and it's believed according to our sources that at that point George Papadopoulos decided to go on his own and tried to set up some of these meetings, contacts between the campaign and the Russians.
I can tell you, Don, from talking to J.D. Gordon earlier this evening, he also wanted to put out something of a brief statement because there have been some questions about what Senator Jeff Sessions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions now, does or does not remember from that meeting.
J.D. Gordon telling me earlier this evening he doesn't fault Senator Sessions or Attorney General Sessions now for not recalling things because that meeting was so long ago, but J.D. Gordon telling us on the record tonight, Don, that then candidate Trump heard out George Papadopoulos as he made this pitch about a meeting with Vladimir Putin, Don.
LEMON: Jim Acosta, so many questions but I let you go now. Thank you very much.
LEMON: Because I know you need to get ready for the big Asia trip tomorrow. Safe travel. Now to Evan Perez. CNN, Evan, is learning that Jared Kushner has learned -- has turned over documents relating to the firing of that FBI Director James Comey to special counsel Robert Mueller. What do we know about these documents?
EVAN PEREZ, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, just a brief correction here. The sources tell us that Kushner has voluntarily turned over documents that he had from the campaign and the transition and that these related to any contacts with Russia.
Now, the documents are similar to ones that Kushner gave to congressional investigators. And this comes as investigators have begun asking witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Now, we've heard different accounts from sources. Some say Kushner was the driver of the president's decision. Others say that he was, you know, he simply didn't oppose it and it was something that the president had already made his mind up about.
Now, sources close to the White House say that based on what they know, Don, Kushner is not a target of this investigation.
LEMON: All right. So Manu, I want to bring you in now. In addition to, Manu, Jeff Sessions' role in all of this has come back up because it seems like they may have been entirely truthful again -- may not have been entirely truthful again about his dealings with Russia. What do you know about that?
MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, a number of members on both sides of the aisle I've spoken to who sat on the Senate judiciary committee, Senate intelligence committee who had a chance to question Jeff Sessions about any Russia connections, any communications that have occurred between Trump officials and Russian associates during the campaign season.
When he did testify, you will recall, Don, he said that he didn't recall a lot of those conversation. He said that he denied having certain contacts. But now in light of this George Papadopoulos news in particular on Monday when this court documents were unsealed, showing that there was a pitch for this Putin/Trump meeting and Jeff Sessions we're told from a source in the room was there.
A number of lawmakers are saying, well, how come you didn't disclose that during your testimony? Particularly democrats, Don, of course are going after him, probably not surprisingly, pretty aggressively saying that he should amend his testimony, should come back and testify again under oath.
But even republicans, though, Don, are raising some questions as well. I talked to the Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley who said he's still getting briefed on the whole situation regarding Papadopoulos and what Sessions may have known and he said, quote, "I'm looking into it."
And Senator John Cornyn of Texas who sits on two of the key committees, the number two republican said it's a logical question to explore about exactly what Sessions said compared to what he said under oath before that committee.
So clearly these questions are not going away, Don, in light of what we now know from this week and what Jeff Sessions said under oath.
LEMON: Absolutely. So, Chris, I want to bring you in now. We just heard the president say in a radio interview that he believes that the Steele dossier is made up, fabricated and false. The fact is some of it has been substantiated. Some of it has not. And that he thinks the FBI used the dossier to order a FISA warrants. What's your reaction to that?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Well, I mean, he says a lot of things, most of which are either provably false or wind up being false. Some of which to his credit are more accurate than you might think in the moment.
But, again, I think what he's trying to do here, and I don't think this is any piece of particularly keen political insight, Don, I think it's pretty obvious he's trying to change the conversation. He tweeted tonight about why isn't the Justice Department looking into the revelations that Donna Brazile made in a piece in Politico about the DNC being sort of tilted in Hillary Clinton's favor.
[22:09:55] So he's going to try to move the conversation off of ground like what Manu, Jim, and Evan just outlined, which is nothing that happened today, with the exception of the Brazile story, but none of that as relates to the Russia investigation is any good at all for Donald Trump.
Whether or not as Evan noted, Jared Kushner not a target of the investigation according to sources, but still moving it closer to a person who can't simply be dismissed, right. That's been Trump as M.O., Carter Page, don't really know. Mike Flynn, lied to the vice president. Paul Manafort, he was just around to help us with delegates.
Well, Jared Kushner is his son-in-law. So it's hard to dismiss him. I think he is doing a classic shiny object, look over here. The real story is X when in fact -- and look, Bob Mueller will continue to pursue the legal course here. And I think that's the real story.
Trump is making a political response to what is Bob Mueller's remarks legally speaking forward. And everything will be determined on what Mueller finds. You know, the politics of what Trump is trying to do right now will be changed inevitably by what Mueller ultimately finds.
CILLIZZA: We're all sort of just waiting on that.
LEMON: I mean, deflection has been a tactic of even before it became the administration when they were...
CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, that's something he's done -- I mean, that is a tried and true -- look, it's not just Donald Trump. Candidates do it.
LEMON: This time it's on steroids. This time it's on steroids. So, Manu, CNN is also just learning that former foreign policy adviser Carter Page confirmed in closed door testimony that he did tell Jeff Sessions about a trip to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. This is what Sessions said about that just weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL FRANKEN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians. Is that what you're saying?
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What else do we know about Carter Page's six-hour testimony?
RAJU: Well, he was asked about a trip that he took to Russia back in July of 2016, and this is a speech -- a trip that he took to give a speech in Moscow. He said it was unrelated to his efforts on the campaign. But he was asked if he told anybody about that trip to Russia, and it turns out he did tell Jeff Sessions.
They had -- they were -- he was at a dinner of the Trump national security team in which Jeff Sessions headed, and towards the end of that dinner Carter Page went up to him and he informed him that the next month he was going to Russia.
Now, Carter Page says this was just in passing. He told me later that, you know, he just mentioned it to him once and that was the only time they discussed the issue. But it really is, again, once again, Don, raising questions about why didn't Jeff Sessions disclose this when he was asked repeatedly under oath about his various Russian contacts. Did he just forget this as well?
The Justice Department declined to comment about that, but clearly this is one of the two things that come up of the last couple of days that Sessions will have to answer for, Don.
LEMON: Evan, the president was just asked in another interview about why the Justice Department isn't going after a prosecution of Hillary Clinton. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The saddest thing is that because of the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing, and I'm very frustrated by it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Evan, what do you think this says about the president's understanding of the relationship between the president and the Justice Department? PEREZ: Look, it's got to be very tough, right. This is a man who used
to run a company and he's not being used to -- he's not used to being told that, you know, you can look at the cookie jar but you can't touch it, right.
And so that's what's happening here. And I -- look, I can get that kind of frustration, but he does. He has to stay out of this stuff. He tweeted today about demanding a death penalty for the suspect in the New York terrorist attack this week and that's just want something you do as president.
Because you know what? The defense lawyers are going to bring that up and it's going to make it harder for you to get what you say you want, which is the death penalty.
So, look, the problem for the president is that he does have to stay out of the way of the Justice Department. They have to figure out what they're going to find. And, you know, he made a huge mistake by firing James Comey because we wouldn't be here without any of that.
LEMON: Thank you.
CILLIZZA: And Don, just very quickly to Evan's point.
LEMON: I've got to go.
CILLIZZA: Just remember, think of Trump as a conservative pundit as much as you think of him as a politician.
LEMON: Of course.
CILLIZZA: He says and does things driven by sort of punditry, what he says on television, he reads and reacts to them. He says controversial stuff and doesn't feel he needs to back it up. To Evan's point, it gets him -- it's gotten him into trouble a million times but on things like this alleged terrorist should be given the death penalty. He just doesn't -- he says stuff and then lets other people who work for him try to figure out what it means like...
[22:15:06] LEMON: He sees stuff...
CILLIZZA: ... he didn't do this.
LEMON: He sees stuff on television, but he doesn't actually do his homework about what the actual facts are.
CILLIZZA: That's right. That's right.
LEMON: Thank you very much. When we come back lots of uncomfortable questions tonight for team Trump, will more members of the president's inner circle be caught in the Russia web and how close is investigation getting to the president himself. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: You've heard President Trump say it over and over, Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. That's a quote from him. But an increasing number of people who work or worked for him are contradicting that assertion.
Here to discuss, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN legal commentator, Ken Cuccinelli, John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York.
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER NEW YORK CITY FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good evening.
LEMON: Ken, I have to get to the commercial, so tonight don't get into a fight with these guys and then take us to, you know...
KEN CUCCINELLI, LEGAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Me, I never -- I never get in a fight.
LEMON: So, Laura, President Trump continues to say the -- good evening by the way to all of you. President Trump continues to say the Russia probe has nothing to do with him and yet a lot of people in the president's orbit are under scrutiny.
I want to through the players here. CNN is learning that Jared Kushner has turned over documents to Mueller's team. This comes as investigators are asking about Kushner's role in firing Comey. Is an obstruction of justice case in the works here?
LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: I think you'll seeing they're really beginning stages of when you actually know that Mueller's team is saying look, we don't buy there's nothing to see here, folks.
[22:20:02] And in fact, it would be really almost negligent of him if he did not look into these issues because a lot of issues they're really self-inflicted wound by the president of the United States.
Remember, Mueller's charge was actually to look at things related to the collusion in the campaign, but you've got the post campaign actions by the president and members of his team, perhaps, that have engaged in behavior that makes Mueller's team suspicious.
For example, the different versions of what happened or the reason why Trump decided to fire Comey, was it because of a memo, was it of his own volition. You have the Lester Holt interview. And now you a question of, look, all the things the president has done to try to dissuade the public into believing that he is involved somehow has pointed those fingers at him. I don't know if it's going to pan out ultimately, but it's very difficult for Mueller to ignore it.
LEMON: Yes. To be clear, John, all right, so sources close to the White House say Kushner is not the target of the investigation. He's voluntarily turning documents over. What does that say to you about the direction of the probe?
FLANNERY: Well, there are a couple of definitions in the Justice Department and it distinguishes between a subject and a target. A target is someone you have enough information to indict. A subject is a person under investigation. And I think I'd be more likely to levitate if he's not a subject of the investigation given what Mr. Trump, his son and his son-in-law have all done at various times in connection with those disclosures we have.
So, I think he's certainly the subject of investigation and I doubt his counsel is telling him that he's free and clear.
LEMON: Yes. So, Ken, the New York Times had reporting a couple months ago about Mueller having obtained an early draft letter by President Trump and Stephen Miller about the reasons for Comey's firing. It was never sent. But it was given to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Given what we're learning about Kushner, do you think other top aides are being looked at too? I mean, the web appears to be getting bigger.
CUCCINELLI: Well, you know, I mean, the point Laura made is a good one and that is that as a simple matter of thoroughness for Mueller, this is a process he needs to go through, right, given what is out there publicly.
I don't think there's any surprise that these documents were requested. I don't think there's any surprise they were turned over voluntarily. And I think you will see more requests like that simply to fill out the information that they feel they need to make a decision.
Could it ultimately lead to charges related to this information? Of course it could. But it also could eliminate the prospect of going down that path. And Mueller has to do that too. As most prosecutors make their prosecutorial decisions and it's over.
That is not going to be the case here. Every decision to proceed or not proceed, whether it's to get information or to advance charges, will be second-guessed after the fact and he knows, Mueller knows that he has to run this information to ground. So I would have been shocked if he didn't request this material.
LEMON: All right. Stick around, every one. When we come right back, President Trump says he's frustrated he can't be more involved with the Justice Department and the FBI. In fact, he thinks it's sad. Will the president ever learn? And wait until you hear the story of what and who was behind an 11-minute shut down of President Trump's Twitter account today.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: In the midst of so much Russia news, none of it good for the administration, President Trump is talking about Hillary Clinton.
Back now with my legal panel. So, John, President Trump is in a new interview tonight and was asked why the Justice Department hasn't done more on leaks and Hillary Clinton. Here is his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing, and I'm very frustrated by it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So he said he is frustrated that he can't interfere more with the Justice Department and the FBI. I mean...
CUCCINELLI: There's a balanced way to present it, right.
FLANNERY: Well, that's what he said. His friends are -- his friends are the heads of Turkey and Russia and he has the ambition every despot has which is to interfere with prosecutions, to pick out the people that are compromising his life...
CUCCINELLI: Come on, John.
FLANNERY: ... even for the misconduct that he's done. Ken has this voluptuous view of what prosecutors do like a check list despite the fact that we have the indictments and plea that we have and we have a hydro headed monster in which every time we have an allegation something else comes out that tells us more about the misconduct of the White House and its underlings.
LEMON: OK. So, listen, just because Ken, I know you take issue with it. Let's just play it again and let the viewer decide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The saddest thing is that because I'm president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing, and I'm very frustrated by it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK. So Ken...
FLANNERY: So he's frustrated by it. What's wrong with that? The Justice Department isn't like any other cabinet office. It has deposited discretion that the president can't interfere with. And he can't touch. And he's frustrated by that. But that obviously states that he understands there's a difference here than everywhere else in the government.
That strikes me as the kind of acknowledgment you'd like to see, even if it's phrased in his unique President Trump way.
CUCCINELLI: That's outrageous.
LEMON: What's wrong with that?
FLANNERY: Nixon felt that way.
COATES: Your interpretation, Ken, is generous and certainly does a very benign interpretation of what he said. But I think the irony here is that while the president of the United States is frustrated, that frustration is certainly not acted as a muzzle or a type to sensor him in any way.
CUCCINELLI: That's true.
[22:30:01] COATES: And although he may be frustrated, he oftentimes speaks about issues in a way that I think undermines the public's trust and confidence in the justice system and also really blurs the line between what the government really intends to have, which is those three coequal branches of government.
It's not intended to be one fluid government where the president can dibble and dabble. There are directives or each branch of government. And while it's frustrating he certainly should not diminish that or undermine that particularly delineation.
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER NEW YORK CITY FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's a confession that his impulses to be lawless.
CUCCINELLI: Look, all he's talking about is executive authority.
FLANNERY: No, he's not.
CUCCINELLI: These are all in the boundaries of executive authority. So, you know, it's not like he's trying on usurp courts or the legislature. He's expressed great frustration with the legislature which is something reported on heavily here.
FLANNERY: That's not what he's talking about. He fired him. He fired James Comey.
DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: But doesn't it talking about -- I mean, OK. Listen, but doesn't it sound like if you heard that, it doesn't sound like he wants to be able to do what you're saying.
FLANNERY: He wants to determine if they can investigate him. That's number one. Or his friends. And that's why he fired the prosecutor in New York. Why he fired Yates when she came and talked about Flynn. Why he fired Comey when Comey was investigating him.
CUCCINELLI: The Obama -- the acting attorney general?
FLANNERY: Excuse me? Obama? I think you're trying to confuse the issue like Mr. Trump.
CUCCINELLI: Sally Yates is not a Trump hire.
FLANNERY: And so he should be able to fire her because she's not.
FLANNERY: And it didn't have anything to do with the fact that she said Flynn was dirty. And then he had to resign later that same month.
FLANNERY: And he did it the day after she briefed the White House.
COATES: Well, more precisely he also fired...
CUCCINELLI: I wish we saw this sort of indignation when every U.S. attorney was fired...
COATES: Well, hold on, excuse me.
FLANNERY: I think you see it in Mueller.
LEMON: Go ahead, Laura.
COATES: Gentlemen, gentlemen, if I may. There is an adult in the room. If I can say this to you, he also fired Yates, not simply because of Michael Flynn. He fired Yates because she refused to back an executive order, which is really many people argue those can be used her patience of legislative authority, Ken, and the idea that the executive order was unconstitutional in her mind about the travel ban which ultimately never actually saw full implementation. So, to say and conflate...
CUCCINELLI: Right, which was totally out of line on her part.
COATES: Well, let -- that may be your interpretation, but your statement was that the president of the United States in his executive prerogative can do what he will and that his frustration is somehow never trickling down into anything. And that's the truth of the matter, so...
CUCCINELLI: Well, that isn't what I said either.
COATES: Well, I'm not going to quote you verbatim, but the gist of what you were saying is in fact that. But I think the larger point we all can agree the president of the United States certainly does have executive prerogative to do a lot of things but what you cannot do is usurp the authority or try to undermine the confidence in the system that he is supposed to be leading.
LEMON: OK. Let Ken respond. Go ahead and respond, Ken.
CUCCINELLI: Yes, look, Sally Yates didn't defend a defensible legal position that the president wanted to take. That is not a position an attorney general can properly take. Having been one, I had to defend things I didn't like. It's part of the job. If it -- the only way you can do that is literally...
FLANNERY: Even if it's unconstitutional.
CUCCINELLI: ... is literally if there is no argument that can be made in favor of it and then your option is the U.S. attorney general is to resign. That what she did. She didn't do the honorable thing.
FLANNERY: The honorable thing.
CUCCINELLI: She's tried -- she's stayed and played politics and forced the president's hand.
FLANNERY: Some of us think -- some of us think...
LEMON: John, I'll give you the last word. Go ahead.
FLANNERY: Thank you. Some of us think that that was a cover story, her not prosecuting the Muslim ban just as it was a cover story when they fired Comey and they said it was about how he handled the Hillary investigation. In both cases the president wanted them gone because he didn't like what they had to say and what they were doing. And that I bet you is what the special counsel...
CUCCINELLI: He wouldn't a thing a priority of the president that was defensible.
LEMON: I've got to go.
CUCCINELLI: That's a good reason to fire somebody. LEMON: Thank you all. I can't go long tonight even though Ken did
last night. I appreciate it. When we come back, we'll go inside the GOP's tax plan and tell you what impact it could have on your bottom line. We'll be right back.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: House republican leaders releasing their long-awaited tax reform bill today and there is a lot in it that could affect you.
I want to talk about it with Grover Norquist, the president for Americans for Tax Reform, and Gene Sperling, former director of National Economic Council for Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Good to both of you. Thank you for coming on. Grover, you first. The plan is out and so are the knives. So let's go over a couple of the highlights here. The corporate tax rate is slashed from 35 percent to 20 percent, a very expensive cut. And the plan also cuts tax rates for individuals, reducing seven brackets to four. What's your response to the criticism and that this is a gift for -- to corporations disguised as a cut for the middle class?
GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Well, first of all, when you don't take money from somebody, you didn't give it to them. You actually let them keep the money they earned. And there's not a cost to tax cuts. A tax cut is a pay increase. So you have to decide whether you're standing in the feet of the government or the American people.
And lower taxes are better for the American people because they get to keep the money that they earn. The President Obama said he was going to bring the corporate rate down because he realized that we're at 35 percent. Socialist China is at 25 percent and we wonder why we have trouble competing with China. Fifteen percent in Canada, 18 percent in Britain. European average around low 20s.
We're taking our corporate rate from 35 down to 20. Of course, many states have corporate rates so that takes it up to about 25 on average. This makes us competitive with the rest of the world. If we don't bring the corporate rate down, we'll continue to hemorrhage companies that get bought up by other companies as Burger King was bought by a Canadian company.
So this is a very important competitive question, it's a very important job creation issue. And if you're asking for, you know, how we deal with the middle class, the most important thing we can do is create more people in the middle class who have jobs who for the last eight years didn't have jobs because our taxes were too high.
[22:40:06] The growth was at 2 percent, which is pathetic for American standards since World War II.
We need to have stronger economic growth, and the corporate rate bringing it down.
LEMON: OK. NORQUIST: Not taking as much money is important.
LEMON: OK. All right. So listen, not pointing anything else particularly...
NORQUIST: Even Obama admitted that.
LEMON: .. to either. But brevity because I have at lot of questions to get to.
LEMON: When it comes to this. So, Gene, I want to bring in. The bracket for the richest Americans stayed the same, 39.6 percent. A concession to critics who said that the rich don't need a tax cut but it also ends the estate tax in six years, it repeals the alternative minimum tax. So is this still a plan for the rich?
GENE SPERLING, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: There's no question, Don. I mean, you look at, you take the estate tax alone, this is a remarkable tax cut. They're going to spend almost $200 billion. Every single penny is going to go to people with a couple with estate over $11 million. That's not quite middle class.
They're going to have a special carve out rate for real estate partners and others they're going to call a pass through rate. It's going to go perhaps 88 percent to the top 1 percent.
And then let's look about how the middle class is actually doing, Don. A family of four making 28,000, two full time minimum wage jobs gets zero. Today you'll see in the New York Times 13 million families are estimated to face a tax increase in year one.
And what's really remarkable is that the typical textbook case that Paul Ryan put out today of the $59,000 family who he said would get a $1,000 in tax relief the analysis of their plan by David Kamin reported in the New York Times shows that by the time their plan is phased in, their textbook $59,000 family of four will actually have a tax increase.
SPERLING: Now, that is hard to sell when you're giving the kind of major tax relief we see through...
LEMON: All right.
SPERLING: ... a special pass through rate through state tax repeal and over a trillion dollars...
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: I said brevity.
SPERLING: ... to the largest major companies.
LEMON: I know it's a complicated issue, but I'm trying to get as many in as possible so please don't take me as being rude.
So, Grover, there are a couple of real sticking points in this tax plan and two of them are opposed by a lot of republicans in affluent blue states like New York, New Jersey and California. The state and local tax deduction, meaning writing off what you pay to the state so you pay less in federal taxes and mortgages interest tax reduction both of those will now be cap. Why should those taxpayers and homeowners give up their tax write offs so that corporations can pay 15 less in taxes?
NORQUIST: Well, what you have in terms of the personal income tax, getting rid of the deduction of allowing people to deduct California's 13 percent tax increase on individual earners or high property taxes and incompetently run and corrupt cities, why other people in competently run cities and competently run states should be subsidizing incompetence and corruption strikes me as the answer is no.
Every city and every state should say to their citizens we're going to stay your money and you're going to pay us for it. Not Uncle Sam is going to take money from other states and subsidies your high taxes in your state.
So what we're saying is we're not going to have taxpayers in one city or one state subsidies high taxes in corruption in other cities and states. It's just not happening anymore and it's a popular position, frankly.
LEMON: OK. Gene, I want to ask you this and this one is completely selfish and it's for a military friend, OK, a veteran. And he says if you talk to any experts or any republicans who are proposing this plan you should tell them that capping the mortgage interest deduction will hurt veterans and their families who live in high cost areas who under the V.A. funding rules can take out loans of up to $636,000. What do you say to that, Gene? Is he correct?
SPERLING: You know, Don, I think the problem is that when you have tax reform where you're taking the resources and devoting it to middle class families or you're taking resources and devoting it to jobs and infrastructure and things that could help that family, you can talk about tax reform.
But when you're asking upper middle class families, middle class families to pay essentially what Grover is proposing talking about in the state and local deduction would actually raise their state taxes effectively by 25 to 40 percent.
When you're asking people in the middle class to take those types of hits or people who have high medical expenses or are relying on deducting their interest for student loans, you're telling them to take the hit. And you realize that you don't need to do this. It's not directed to middle class families. It's being done to fund...
SPERLING: ... a tax cut that goes overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent. And to the largest companies in our country and the most aggressive at planning to pay as little taxes as possible.
[22:45:02] LEMON: Gene and Grover, thank you very much. It's got to be the last word. I'll see you soon. When we come back, the former interim chair of the DNC coming out with scathing accusations about her own organization's ties to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Her bombshell accusations of rigging in the democratic primary. That's next.
LEMON: A former allegations from the former interim head of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile and the forthcoming book says the system was rigged just like Bernie Sanders said. She charges that an unethical agreement between Clinton's campaign and the DNC to keep the party up close financially.
She writes the agreement specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC. Hillary would control the party's finances and strategies and all the money raises. Brazile also write that she promised Bernie Sanders that as the head of the DNC she will investigate allegations at the party's nomination process that was rigged against him.
And here's the quote. She said, "I have to keep my promise to Bernie, I was in agony as I doubt him, hello, Senator, I have completed my review of the DNC and I did find the cancer, I said, but I will not kill the patient." End quote.
[22:49:57] So I want to talk with our CNN political commentators Scott Jennings, Nina Turner, and Hilary Rosen.
Good evening to all of you. Nina, you work for the Bernie Sanders campaign, what's your reaction of this news?
NINA TURNER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, stunning, Don. Not surprising because I and others from the Bernie world, from Senator Sanders campaign was saying that something was wrong all along. But take note, no great pleasure in this.
You know, the fact that you have someone like Donna Brazile who is the first African-American woman to run a national campaign, a presidential campaign, ran Al Gore's -- vice president Al Gore's campaign, 30 years relationship with the DNC and also the Clintons.
And whether people agree with what she's done professionally in her life at certain point the fact that she's pointing this out means that this is serious and that there is absolutely a crisis in the city. And this is not just about an emotional crisis between the Sanders camp and the Clinton's camp. But this is really about the economics and the revelation that one campaign the Clinton was about to control all of the economics within that, within the DNC.
And furthermore, not just even controlling, but she also reflected on the fact that the DNC has been suffocated for the last eight years. We don't just lose 11,000 candidates for no reason. And so, this is not just about the Bernie side or the Clinton side. But this is about who have been let down knowing that this has been going on for a long time.
LEMON: So, here is what's interesting, when I heard it, I said is that really a big revelation? Did we talk about this during the campaign and wasn't it, didn't everybody come to determination that the DNC did skew towards Hillary Clinton and in her book she said, the DNC, she was surprised the DNC had no money, it had no data operation, she had to pour money into DNC. Are Hillary and Donna Brazile basically saying the same thing but using different words?
HILARY ROSEN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, there are.
LEMON: Go ahead.
ROSEN: First of all, I have to say for democrats to spend a second relitigating this primary fight, could not be stupider. I just -- I don't think democrats across the country want to talk about it...
LEMON: But it doesn't change the fact that it happened. I mean, Donna Brazile says...
ROSEN: Wait. I know. Let me just say my ppoint.
LEMON: She said it was difficult to learn but it's not illegal by the way. But go on.
ROSEN: Wait, wait, wait. Let me just say when you have the conversation we just had five minutes ago about this tax bill and where this country is going, that's what democrats need to focus on and how we are going to help working people going forward.
If we are going to take Donna out of words then we have to read the whole excerpt. Because what the excerpt said is Hillary Clinton bailed out the DNC financially and control the staffing of the DNC. But Donna also said in that exert, Nina and Don, that she went door-to-door at the DNC and could not find a single shred of evidence that the actual results of the primary were tilted one way or another.
And so, if we're going to comment on the book we ought to go all the way and says that Donna said that she found no proof and no evidence at all that the system was rigged. She just said that Hillary Clinton's...
ROSEN: ... money was holding up the DNC and she found out that overwhelmingly offensive. Bernie Sanders didn't contribute money to the DNC.
TURNER: Money that was -- money that was...
ROSEN: That did not change the results of the election.
TURNER: But saying that...
TURNER: ... fundraising. I mean, since you want to go there, this is really about a DNC that lacks accountability and transparency. Period.
ROSEN: Yes. Maybe but that's not the...
TURNER: And we can deal with more than one thing at a time.
ROSEN: That's not about rigging an election.
TURNER: We have to restore -- we have to restore the faith and credibility of the Democratic Party and statements like you are making doesn't help. People are hurt by this revelation and this does not help so to cover it up doesn't help so don't go there with that.
The fact the matter remains is that, the way that that system was conducted, the DNC did not follow its own bylaws. And so we are going to have some truth talks here. Let's talk about reform and unity.
ROSEN: Listen, I'm with you there.
TURNER: But we got to talk about reform, but reform the Democratic Party.
LEMON: Scott, you are sitting there and you're...
ROSEN: Wait, wait, let me respond because she just characterized what I said differently.
I am all for reform and transparency 100 percent, I have been all along. What I will object to until the day we go out is that the voters in the primary chose Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders and they had nothing to do with any staff person at the DNC.
And let's just move on and not keep relitigating this fight. Let's do what we need to do for democrats together.
LEMON: Hilary, that kind of sounds like the Russia argument that republicans are using on the other side.
TURNER: But how are we going to do that?
ROSEN: No, it doesn't -- I'm just saying what Donna said is the truth.
LEMON: OK. Scott, I know you want to get in here but before you respond, here is a counterpoint here.
The Sanders campaign sign the exact same agreement that Clinton campaign signed which is the same agreement that the Obama campaign sign. Clinton fund raised with the DNC, gave them the financial lifeline they needed. But Sanders didn't raise money for the party. So was it rigged if both candidates signed the same agreement?
[22:55:03] TURNER: Go ahead, I am going to let him go. Go ahead.
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Look, no, I cannot believe I am going to say this out loud on national television. I am going to stand up for Hillary Clinton a little bit here and just say that it is amazing to me that no one is pointing out that the President of the United States at the time, Barack Obama, left his Democratic National Committee in such a shambles that not only was Hillary Clinton had to fight off Bernie Sanders, but she knew that if she were to get the nomination, she had to simultaneously bail out the DNC so it can be viable entity for the general election.
And this really to me, falls at the feet of Barack Obama whose half of destruction to the Democratic Party for eight years is completed by these Brazile revelations. I have to also say, Don, I cannot stop laughing that the democrats are self-emulating and fighting among themselves a mere handful of days before the Virginia gubernatorial race. They are doing it nationally. The democrats in Virginia are eating each other alive today over Northam. This is amazing. Republicans are all laughing hard today.
LEMON: Well, and the criticism that democrats will tell you, off camera because we often talk what republicans will say off camera what they won't say on television. Democrats will tell you that they believe Barack Obama didn't leave any room for anybody else in the party that's why the bench is so weak right now because it was Barack Obama's party. Much as it's Donald Trump's party, the Republican Party right now.
But here is my question, I have to go to the break. But many people say that Bernie Sanders wasn't a real democrat that he was not really a democrat and so, that's why he may not have gotten the support of DNC, I will ask Nina about that.
ROSEN: I don't think that matters.
LEMON: I will wait until we come back. We'll be right back.
LEMON: All right, back with my panel. Nina, you want to respond to what I said that Bernie Sanders wasn't really a democrat that he ran for senator as an independent, he voted as an independent socialist and not really part of the Democratic Party and now he expects the party to get behind him for when he runs for president?
TURNER: Don, come on, what is it going to take? I mean, Senator Sanders' caucuses with the democrats, Senator Schumer and others of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate have given him in the leadership role to be out there for democrats. What does it mean? Is it simply about the D behind your name or is it standing up for the people in this country who are suffering.
You know, I've traveled the last 60 days the 12 states in this country talking to the people on the ground, and they are hurt. So this is really about restoring the faith in American democracy whether you're a democrat or republican. And I just reject people saying it's not the time, when is it going to be the time to have some transparency and some accountability in this country coming from both political parties.
And we cannot continue to brush this under the rug. We have to be big enough to say that something was wrong, and that it will be corrected so we can win back people to this party but this blanket is not the time, it's not going to work.
[23:00:03] LEMON: Hilary, what do you say about that? And is it about having a D behind your name?