Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Hesitant to Speak Out on Roy Moore; President Trump Asks for Thanks From Freed UCLA Basketball Players; Interview With Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 15:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, we hear the rumors, but there's nothing that is obvious in front of us. We don't have evidence.


CNN has delivered this evidence to the Libyan authorities, who have promised to launch an investigation, so that scenes like this are returned to the past.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: My God, I have no words. Nima and team. thank you for that extraordinary reporting.

In addition to alerting the Libyan authorities about what we uncovered, CNN has also passed our evidence on to the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.

All right, and we continue on. You are watching CNN. I am Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

President Trump is about to step in front of the camera, making a statement from the White House. The president now facing pressure from within his own party to break his silence on Roy Moore and the sexual assault allegations against him.

This is happening today as the top two Republicans in the Senate are also now calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to become this write-in candidate for the Senate race that is engulfed in scandal right now.

Let's start at the White House with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

And, so, Jeff Zeleny, since last we talked, you, sir, have some new reporting on exactly how President Trump is reacting to this whole Roy Moore situation behind the scenes. What are you hearing?


The president, I am told, is still not going to address this Roy Moore situation when he speaks shortly here at the White House. At least he's not expected. He's not expected to take questions either.

Of course, that could always change. But one thing I am told by people who have talked with the president as this day has unfolded here, as, of course, this is the big conversation in Republican circle here, one of the reasons the president is reluctant, I am told by people close to the White House to weigh in on this, he's reluctant because he does not want to have a whole conversation about his past accusers.

Of course, he was accused during the presidential campaign of sexual misconduct on a variety levels. So many people have sued him for that. He has always said that that simply did not happen.

I am told by people familiar with his thinking that that's one of his reasons to be reluctant to weigh in here. He believes some of his accusers were not exactly honest here and he's giving Roy Moore the benefit of the doubt on that in some of the cases as well, not all of the cases.

But, Brooke, I am told that's one of the reasons he does not want to weigh in here. That does not mean, though, that he's not eager for other Republicans to do so.

Sean Hannity, of course, who talks to this president all the time, the FOX News host, he's of course given Judge Moore some 24 hours to further explain himself. Republicans across Washington have urged him to either drop out or step aside here.

It's not that the president will not at some point have to talk about this. But, Brooke, as of now, I'm told he's not expected to talk about this, this afternoon.

BALDWIN: Wow. OK, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Let's take your reporting. And let's analyze it.

I have got Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst with me, Abby Phillip, CNN White House correspondent, and Joshua Green, CNN political analyst and national correspondent for "Bloomberg Businessweek" all sitting in New York. What a treat for me.

Before we hear from the president, what Jeff Zeleny just said was really significant. How I heard it was the president is reluctant to comment on this because he does not want to reopen a can of worms on his own personally past.


BORGER: Is that a good enough reason not to weigh in?


I don't -- look, I don't think so. He does not want to get "Access Hollywood"ed again. And you can certainly understand that from his point of view. But he's the president of the United States.

BALDWIN: Head of the Republican Party.

BORGER: Head of the Republican Party. A seat is at stake here, potentially majority. The values of the Republican Party are at stake here. But he's never been much of a team leader, as we know. He's about Donald Trump more than he is about the Republican Party.

And so it wouldn't surprise me -- I mean, far be it from me to predict what Donald Trump is going to do.


BORGER: I would never do that.


BORGER: But it would not surprise me if he decides not to jump into this.

Earlier today, we heard Senator Lindsey Graham come out and say, look, I think the president needs to say something on this. "The Wall Street Journal" today said it. I said it in a column. We have all -- this is sort of a moment for a president to say, we cannot do this, the Senate is not a court of law. It is not innocent until proven guilty.

It is, should we kind of send this kind of person with these questions about him to sit in the Senate?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, just to highlight another piece of Jeff's really excellent reporting, he indicated that the president is not 100 percent sure about whether he believes all of these women.

BALDWIN: He wants to give him the benefit of the doubt.

PHILLIP: He wants to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of these cases.




PHILLIP: There is not a total believe that that -- as others have said, as Mitch McConnell have said, these women, he believes what they have to say.

A lot of other Republicans have put it that way, that he -- that they trust what they have to say. And, second of all, I think that maybe this is a little bit for the president's self-awareness, that it is hard to come out and condemn Roy Moore, when you are facing the same allegations.

These cases against the president did not go away. Those women have not recanted their statements. They are still out there. And he denies all of them. And I think it is very difficult for him to come out and say to Roy Moore, oh, you must step out, when he actually to this day still holds it against many Republicans who did not stand by him when he was accused by these women or in the "Access Hollywood" case.

He still holds that against them.

BALDWIN: It is still personal, still personal for the president.

But I'm looking at you, having written the book on Steve Bannon. I'm wondering, of the Steve Bannon world, and, again, apparently, he is saying, no, no, the headline on Drudge is wrong. I, Steve Bannon, according to sources, stand by Roy Moore still.

But you have conservative meeting and even Sean Hannity, right, who is saying, hang on, Judge. I am going to give you 24 hours to explain yourself.

Do you think now that the president is -- the cobwebs and the jet-lag are hopefully going away, and how much is he listening to the conservative media, I guess is what I'm getting at?


BALDWIN: How much is Trump listening to Bannon or conservative media?

GREEN: I don't know. That's a good question.

I think Bannon's calculation is, do I knuckle under the Mitch McConnell and the liberal mainstream media and abandon this guy or do I stick with him the way I stuck with Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape?


GREEN: It's a big point of pride for Bannon that he did that and that they saw it through and he won.

I was in South Carolina on Friday night where Bannon gave a speech at the Citadel. And part of his I guess you could call it a stump speech was, he recounts what he called Billy Bush weekend, where the "Access Hollywood" tape came out.

And he made the point that Politics is about us vs. them and everybody fled and didn't support Trump. I stuck around. Other people stuck around. Now we are doing that with Judge Moore.

Bannon had also implied at the speech that there was some kind of collusions going on that he knew about, that this was a smear, and he suggested that story would be coming out. That was I think five days ago now and it has not.

I think there are other factors at play with Bannon besides just is Sean Hannity going to bail on him and have other conservative media outlets done so?

BALDWIN: OK. Then there is -- listening to Lindsey Graham earlier. He was saying, well, Alabama Republicans also should speak up.

And someone else made a great point, saying Jeff Sessions should speak up. But there is the whole Jeff Sessions conflict of interest issue, right, because Jeff Sessions -- this is the whole -- the whole reason we're having this conversation about Alabama is because Jeff Sessions is now the A.G.

And you have Mitch McConnell and others on the Hill saying, well, maybe a great idea, Gloria, would be to have him being the write-in candidate. Easier to spell than Murkowski, and that went well for her.

BORGER: Right. She had months. She had months.

BALDWIN: And this is weeks.

BORGER: Right. And this is weeks.

By the way, Jeff Sessions, by all accounts, is not interested in going back to the future and trying that out.

BALDWIN: What about for the goodwill will of the party?


BORGER: We don't know if the president asks you something to do something, if you do it.

But then again, when you talk about all the dominoes, what would happen if Jeff Sessions were to leave? Play this out a little bit.

OK. The president -- who's going to be the next attorney general? Do they want a fight, have another confirmation fight? Who would be the acting attorney general. Could that person then fire Bob Mueller?

You have all of these kinds of questions. Remember, Jeff Sessions, the reason he's on the bad side of the president is because he recused himself from the Russia investigation.


BORGER: How would this affect the Russia investigation and on and on and on?

It is not just Moore trolling malls 30 years ago looking for teenage girls. It is control of the United States' Senate. It is the question of who should become the next attorney general if in fact they convince Sessions to do this and if in fact he were to win.

But then again, if Sessions were to run and Moore's name cannot be removed from the ballot, there is a school of thought that says they would split the Republican vote and hand it to the Democrats.

GREEN: Sessions could wind up with nothing if he does that.

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIP: Yes. I think that that highlights how many bad options are available to Republicans right now.

They either lose an attorney general or they lose a seat or both. I think that -- but I do think that the Sessions idea is probably the one that has the best path of having any sort of traction, just because, you know, if you are Mitch McConnell and you are trying to convince the president to push Roy Moore out, the best way to do that is to have an alternative for him and an alternative that's satisfactory.


BALDWIN: You keep the Republican.


You have an opportunity, maybe a slim opportunity, but potential opportunity to keep the seat. I think Trump is very, very concerned about getting his tax reform bill. He does not want to lose that seat and then have to fight for another one, maybe a Democrat.

BALDWIN: Quickly, to just close this out, do you think if the president of the United States were to go to Jeff Sessions and say, Jeff, I need you to get on board for this write-in situation, what does the A.G. say?

GREEN: I think he says yes, because Sessions has been willing to do Trump's bidding in every time that it's been expressed publicly or privately, including into looking appointing a special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton's involvement with Russia, if there was any.


GREEN: Jeff Sessions seems to have a problem saying no to Donald Trump.

BORGER: And there is a thought also that because Donald Trump has been so angry at Jeff Sessions that he wanted to fire him anyway, well, this is a way...

GREEN: There you go.

BORGER: This is a way not to fire him, but fire him, and ask him to take this other job.

But then again, there are all these other issues.


BALDWIN: A lot of bad options and a lot of rabbit holes. They have a couple weeks to figure it out. And we will be following every single twist and turns.

Josh and Abby and Gloria, thank you all so much.

We wait for the president. Again, he's speaking from the White House this afternoon. We are of course going to take that live.

Also ahead, the tax fight, right? The tax fight on Capitol Hill, that is intensifying, as Senate Republicans plan to tie this key piece of Obamacare into their tax plan. How does that help or hurt the middle class? Do Republicans even have enough support to get that version passed?

We will talk to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. He joins us live next.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I am Brooke Baldwin.

The pressure on Republicans to pass this tax plan has really led to this curveball up on the Hill. Senate Republicans have added this repeal to Obamacare individual mandate to their plan.

The mandate requires a person either to get health insurance or pay a fine. And repealing this, according to CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, would save the government $338 billion over the course of the next 10 years. That is because it would mean a lot fewer people would be on federally subsidized policies.

But the CBO predicts premiums would go up and that 13 million fewer people would actually have health coverage come 2027. And we are now hearing in this new poll from Americans finding that most people, you see, 55 percent actually want the individual mandate gone.

But then, when those polled were told why the mandate should stay, including how premiums would go up if it went away, opposition to eliminating mandate rose to 60 percent, with support dropping there to 34.

Lets go to the guy who has been in the thick of everything. He's CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly standing by with a very special guest.

Phil, the floor is yours.


Probably the most important man right now on Capitol Hill as the House prepares to vote, the House majority whip, Steve Scalise.

Thanks very much for your time.


MATTINGLY: I guess start with the most important question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said earlier today, not only do you guys have the votes to pass the tax plan, you had them last night. Is he right? SCALISE: Chairman Brady have been working very closely with a lot of our members who had really good smart questions about specific parts of the bill. So, we have more.

Even today, we have more meetings with members who are working to get to yes and who ultimately will vote for the bill. So, we're going to pass the bill. And it's going to be a strong vote tomorrow. And it's going to send a strong message that we want to cut taxes, put more money in the pockets of families and create jobs.

MATTINGLY: So, digging in on the bill a little bit, look, the analysis is very clear.

Across every income bracket, on average, there's a tax reduction. But if you dig in a little bit, there will be people that see their taxes go up that number in the millions, which, in the grand scope of things, might not seem huge, but to those people it's very important.

Is this accomplishing, this bill accomplishing what you guys set out to do, the promises you made?

SCALISE: The basic things we have always wanted to accomplish was, number one, to cut every tax rate across the board. And we do that in this bill.

Every income tax rate goes down. We are putting more money in the pockets of families. The main thing is to grow the economy and create jobs. We have seen so many, tens of thousands of high-paying jobs leave America because we're not competitive. We change that in this bill.

We actually make our country competitive again, lowering the corporate rate, which directly relates to those middle-class jobs coming back to America, so we can actually increase wages.

A lot of families across the country have seen stagnant wages, slow growth. Under our bill, that changes. You actually get maybe, instead of 2 percent growth, 4 percent growth. What that means is about $4,000 more in the paychecks of workers.

That's going to be a big deal, a big win for working families.

MATTINGLY: There's been economic questions about the $4,000 number.

And, look, if you look at what's being done on the corporate side, clear benefits. If you look at what is being done on the individual side, clear targeted cuts, but maybe not to the extent on the corporate side.

You guys are relying a lot on economic growth and wage growth. That's very difficult to show, at least now. How do you prove that?

SCALISE: The good news is, you just look at history.

You go back to when John F. Kennedy cut taxes, you go back to the last time we transformed our tax code, 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president. You can go to the Clinton years. Every time we have cut taxes, you have seen the economy takes off.

In this massive tax reform, simplification is important, too. Over 90 percent of families under our bill will actually be able to do their own taxes on a postcard. That's even more money in their pockets if they are paying somebody else.

So, if you look at history, every time this has been done, it has worked. Why not do it again, especially when you have got a slow economy? Let's get the economy moving again. Make America competitive. Create more jobs. And put more money in the pockets of workers.


MATTINGLY: I want to talk about something Brooke brought up.

Obviously, the Senate taking a different path on several areas, staying within the framework, the general framework, but on several areas. One of those is adding the individual mandate, which they chose to do last night.

You guys have not done that yet. Will you commit that the House will try and keep that in when you guys conference and try and reconcile the bills?

SCALISE: I'm glad the Senate has taken it up.

Look, we passed many, many times a repeal of individual mandate, full repeal of Obamacare. And we did a repeal and replace bill that we passed out on the House. The Senate was not able to get the votes.

I hope the Senate gets the vote, 50 votes on the Senate floor, to repeal the individual mandate. It is good policy. Some of those numbers you heard were wrong. You actually give freedom to people. So nobody loses anything. So, the $13 million -- the 13 million number of people losing health care is not true.

It just lets people, families make their own decision. If they don't want to buy government-approved health care, they don't have to. You will see premiums go down.

I hope the Senate puts it in on the Senate floor. If they do, I think there is a good chance that the House would take that as well, because it is the right thing to do and will lower premiums for families.

MATTINGLY: You know your members as well as anybody. Will that create problems over here to getting to 218, if it comes back and it's in the bill?

SCALISE: I think, in the end, there is such a sharp focus in our conference, amongst Republicans, of cutting taxes, getting the economy moving again, and creating jobs.

You're going to see that on the House floor tomorrow. And then, ultimately, when the two sides work out the differences and they have a conference report that comes back, maybe sometime in December, I think you will see a strong vote to put that bill on the president's desk.

President Trump wants to sign this bill. Let's get the economy moving again.

MATTINGLY: We talked a little bit about the differences from the Senate bill.

What commitments can you afford to make to your conference that the Senate will actually get this done? I don't have to tell you that there is not a lot of trust in your conference with their colleagues over a couple hundred feet away from us in the Senate.

SCALISE: Look, I have high conference the Senate is going pass this bill.

I know the House is going to pass this bill. I'm one of those people who believes failure is not an option. We have got to get this done. And we will get it done and get a bill on the president's desk, and it will get our economy moving again.

MATTINGLY: Before the end of the year?

SCALISE: Yes, before the end of the year.

MATTINGLY: Congressman Scalise, thank you very much. Always great to see you back in the Capitol.

SCALISE: Great to be with you.

MATTINGLY: Brooke, back to you.

BALDWIN: Failure is not an option, so says the congressman.

Great to see him back as well. Please, our best wishes to him.

And we will see how this thing goes, both on the House and the Senate side.

Phil, thank you so much.

Again, just a reminder, we are moments away from President Trump speaking there from the White House, issuing some sort of a statement. We are told he won't take questions. You know questions will be shouted at him. So, we will take the whole thing live.

Also ahead, President Trump asked for their praise and these three UCLA basketball players now released by China sat down today in front of a lot of cameras to apologize and thank President Trump for his help.

More on what they said next.



BALDWIN: All right, we have got this breaking news out of Los Angeles today, where you have these three UCLA basketball players.

They have now come forward. They're apologizing for shoplifting in China and thanking President Trump for his role in securing their release.

Cody Riley, Jalen Hill and LiAngelo Ball are back home after being questioned for shoplifting sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in China.

This whole thing happened while the president happened to be in Beijing, two-day state visit to Beijing. President Trump says he asked the Chinese president, President Xi, for help. And then earlier today, the president took to Twitter now that he is also back home.

The question he posed: "Do you think these three UCLA basketball players will say, thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail."

Paul Vercammen is live in L.A., where those players talked just a little while ago.

Full-throated apology, scripted apology, but I heard a lot of, I'm sorry, and, thank you, Mr. President.


And you also heard that I am ashamed, I'm embarrassed. The players -- as you said, they were contrite. They were not sugarcoating this in any way. And they also repeatedly thank the police in China for being kind to them in so many ways.

Let's take a listen.


LIANGELO BALL, UCLA STUDENT: I would like to start off by saying sorry for stealing from the stores in China. I did not exercise my best judgment and I was wrong for that.

I would also like to thank President Trump and the United States government for the help that they provided as well. I am grateful to be back home. And I will never make a mistake like this again.

CODY RILEY, UCLA STUDENT: To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf. We really appreciate you helping us out.

JALEN HILL, UCLA STUDENT: Thank you to the PAC-12 and the whole UCLA committee that helped us the whole way. And thank you to the United States government and President Trump for your efforts to bring us home.


VERCAMMEN: As far as the basketball team goes, those UCLA players are suspended indefinitely. That means they don't travel with the team or suit up during game days.

Now, there is an office of student conduct that still has to weigh in on all of this, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Paul, thank you.

Let me bring my panel back in on -- again, let's dial it back to the president's tweet. "Do you think the three UCLA basketball players will say, thank you, President Trump," again referencing himself in the third person.

Abby, do you think he was watching TV and was like, you are welcome, you are welcome?


BALDWIN: Serious.

PHILLIP: This is -- so, early this morning, he had just gotten back.

BALDWIN: Asian jet-lag is not fun.

PHILLIP: And also, in context of this trip, the president really wants to get more credit for what he accomplished on this trip.

And there has been some commentary that there haven't been as many deliverables in terms of trade deals and so on and so forth immediately after the trip.