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Trump Signs Executive Order Shrinking 2 National Monuments in Utah; Is Trump Urging Orrin Hatch to Run Again; FBI Silent on Trump's Attacks on Agency; Mueller Drops Top Investigator after Anti-Trump Text Messages; Trump Lawyer Claims President "Cannot Obstruct Justice". Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired December 4, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I called Senator Mike Lee, who loves Utah and loves the people of Utah. I called your governor. I called my original -- where is he? There he is. And I called all of the friends I have in Utah. I said, what do you think? I said, will this be good for our country and will it be good for your state? They said this would be incredible for our country. It would be incredible for Utah. Finally, you'd be giving people back their access to the land they know, to the land they understand, and most importantly, to the land that they love. I also said, would it be at all controversial? They all told me no.
How did that happen? I don't think it is controversial, actually. I think it is so sensible.
Therefore, today, on the recommendation of the secretary, and with the wise counsel of Senator Hatch, Senator Lee and the many others, I will sign two presidential proclamations. These actions will modify the national monuments designations of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
TRUMP: As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest, necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standard, and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control. These abuses of the Antiquities Act give limited power to far-away bureaucrats at the expense of the people when live and work here and make this place their home. This is where they raise their children. This is the place they love. For example, the previous administration designated more than half a billion acres, including Bears Ears. It did so over the loud objections of the people of this state and their elected representatives.
The results have been very bad and very predictable. Here we have watched unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economic development. We have seen grazing restrictions prevent ranching families from passing their businesses and beloved heritage on to the children, the children that they love. We've seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities. And the fact that they've done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington. We have seen needed improvements like infrastructure upgrades and road maintenance impeded and foreclosed. We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions.
TRUMP: These abuses of the Antiquities Act have not only threatened your very way of life, they've threatened your hearts.
Our precious natural treasures will be protected and they, from now on, will be protected.
TRUMP: Under my administration, we will advance that protection through a truly representative process, one who listens to the communities that knows the land the best and that cherishes the land the most.
[14:35:21] TRUMP: With the action I'm taking today, we will not only give back your voice over the use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment. Public lands will once again be for public use.
TRUMP: Because we know that people who are free to use their land and enjoy their land are the people most determined to conserve their land.
One values the splendor of Utah more than -- I'll tell you what. There's nobody out there. I just came in and I'm looking around with Orrin and with Mike and with the governor and with everybody, and I'm just saying, what a beautiful picture it is. But no one values the splendor of Utah more than you do. And no one knows better how do use it. With your help in treating our natural bounty with respect, gratitude and love, we will put our nation's treasures to great and wonderful use. Families will hunt and hike on land they've known for generations and they will preserve it for generations to come. Cattle will graze along the open range. Sweeping landscapes will inspire young Americans to dream beyond the horizon. And the world will stand in awe of the artistry God has worked right here in your great state.
Together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth, liberty and law, and patriotism and pride all across this great land.
Thank you to the wonderful people of Utah. May God bless you and may God bless America. Thank you very much.
TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much.
TRUMP: Thank you.
TRUMP: And in your honor, I will now, with your representatives, sign this very, very important proclamation.
Thank you very much, everyone. Thank you.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump there in Salt Lake City. A resounding applause as he is about to sign what is a rollback of national monument designations, essentially shrinking to a large scale the perimeters of two national monuments, Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, two beautiful federal monuments there in Utah. And you can see a lot of support that he's had there certainly from within the Republican Party where a lot of people view this as a federal land grab. Bears Ears was designated by President Barack Obama. Grand Staircase-Escalante designated by former President Bill Clinton. So this has been, certainly, a back and forth.
And I want to bring in Bill Weir who is there at this site.
Bill, just put into context for us how significant this is what the president is doing. He's shrinking Bears Ears, by what, almost 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by almost half.
BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's about in total. If you think about it in land mass about 2,000 square miles of national monument that is protected between the two parks. And you've got to understand San Juan County, where Bears Ears is, in particular, this is a county the size of New Jersey with 15,000 residents. So this is very much considered here as a win for the little guy. Not unlike coal miners in a Appalachia. The folks who opposed this monument, who had it as their own backyard since the first wagon trains rolled in, they bristle at the idea of bureaucrats in Washington telling them how to manage that land.
The president did say that the monument status unfairly restricts grazing and hunting for local people. That is not true. That's -- all of that is still allowed in this monument. The only thing it prevents is new drilling and mining and fracking interests. And the biggest push for this monument status came from the five tribes, the Navajo, the Hopi and the Ute Mountain nations who came together. They set aside centuries of tribal differences and came together to lobby the government of the seven chapter houses in the Utah Navajo nation. They voted and took a vote. The vote was 163-3 to keep the monument as it is, with 12 abstentions. But of those couple that agree with the president, a few are here today, and joining in on the signing ceremony.
This will go maybe to the Supreme Court because nobody has ever taken, challenged the Antiquities Act. National parks are created by Congress. National monuments are created by presidents. This would be a watershed. And you have Patagonia and REI and big outfitters and environmentalists and recreationalists and the Native Americans who are going to band together and sue this move into oblivion. So the fight is just beginning.
[14:41:14] KEILAR: The first modern president to shrink a national monument using the Antiquities Act.
Thank you so much for that very important fact check. Bill Weir for us there on location in Salt Lake City, where the president just made this announcement.
One of the other things that I want to bring in Mark Preston to talk about this, and he is here in studio with us.
What a glowing appraisal he gave of Senator Orrin Hatch who just, to remind our viewers, is an 83-year-old, several-term Senator, who we figured would be retiring. And then the expectation was that Mitt Romney, who clearly the president doesn't like, was going to be seeking that Senate seat. And yet, now you wonder if it seems like the president is pushing Hatch to run again.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What we do know is he's been encouraging Senator Hatch to run again, and Hatch has, in many ways, surprisingly in many ways, has been an ally of Orrin Hatch. You might think he would be from the establishment and the old guard who might not necessarily see eye to eye with Donald Trump. We see him there and he's happy with what has happened in his own state with the national monuments. And he has to by his side and you have to wonder if that extra push from the president will actually increase the odds that Orrin Hatch will seek re-election.
KEILAR: Can we talk about the music we're listening to? This is not "Hail to the Chief." This is the president's campaign song.
PRESTON: Music, and for someone who loves the song and loves the rolling stones, it's overplayed at this point. I never understood why they used this music, by the way. It's kind of a dower song.
KEILAR: Exactly. What does that say to you that this is a campaign song that he played at this event. Are you reading into that at all?
PRESTON: It's interesting, too, because if you look at the situation, this is where the president really shines. And this is where the Republican Party as a whole is happy with the president, rolling back regulations and undoing what previous Democrat administrations has done. However, it's all been clouded by Russia and that's all been clouded by the tour defeat and it's all been clouded by his failure to get legislative achievements by Congress into the tax bill and what we're seeing right now is very important to the Republican Party because this is what we want to see from President Trump.
KEILAR: As Bill Weir did tell us, this is going to be tied up in court, is what we would expect. Much more ahead on this.
Mark Preston, thank you very much for that.
CNN learning that the White House counsel actually told President Trump in January that Michael Flynn had misled the FBI. And this is raising new questions about what Trump knew when he urged Comey to drop the investigation, to just drop this look into Flynn. And you know, why is Trump's lawyer now claiming that the president cannot obstruct justice? Not that he didn't obstruct justice, but that he is not capable of doing so. We'll be back in a moment to discuss that.
[14:48:28] KEILAR: The president has been attacking both the FBI and the Justice Department in the middle of the Russia investigation that has so far produced two indictments and two guilty pleas involving members of the president's campaign and White House. In one tweet the president called an FBI agent, quote, "tainted, and very dishonest." Trump declared in another tweet, "After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation and more, running the FBI, its reputation is in tatters. Worst in history. Fear not, we will bring it back to greatness."
I want to bring in law professor and former associate deputy attorney general, Rory Little.
And for transparency, you also know Robert Mueller. That's key. And you can shed some light on your impressions on how things are going there.
First, I want to bring in your reaction to the president tweeting these roads about the FBI, that it's in tatters in terms of morale and the worst in history. What do you think?
RORY LITTLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's very unfortunate that the president does this. And some people are criticizing Christopher Wray for not responding. It doesn't do any good to take the president on in a public forum. It's better to sit there silently and do your job and that's what the women and men of the FBI and the Department of Justice are doing. They're career employees that have a lot of integrity and survive all kinds of political ups and downs and they just do their job. They are quietly doing their job. You haven't heard Bob Mueller come out in public and say anything. He's well known for not talking publicly and just doing the job, and that's what I think you see happening now.
[14:50:06] KEILAR: And I think we've been hearing that increasingly from people saying, don't criticize Christopher Wray. When he testified and was asked point-blank, before Congress about morale at the FBI, he said -- what did he say? He said, no, that's not the case. This evaluation of President Trump that had been so terrible under Comey, but there was this assessment by many folks who said the right thing to do is keep your head down and not engage in something like this, not give fuel to the fire. And I'm assuming, obviously, that's the impression that you are sharing with us there.
LITTLE: Well, I certainly agree with that. You know, if everybody with integrity gets fired then who will be running the show? You don't want to give the president an opportunity to fire you while you're trying to do your job Christopher Wray thought he was wrong to that he would abide by the rule of law and it does no good and you can do your job more effectively and most of these people could make more money than if they resigned and went somewhere else, but they're public servants and they're doing the right thing by serving the public quietly and moving on.
KEILAR: What does it do to people at FBI who are working hard doing such important work to hear stuff like this coming from the president?
KEILAR: You know, I have to say that most of them just slough it off. Most people who work for the FBI and they watch it go back and north and up and down and they say that's just politics and we're interested in that. It doesn't help morale. It's particularly unfortunate that the president, in a sense, is describing his point of view on criminal cases and pending investigations. That doesn't help at all, but I think for the most part it just rolls off their back and they say this is one more political current and we will continue on. I've seen Department of Justice employees and FBI employees from both sides of the aisle and they may have different political views and they really put those aside.
KEILAR: OK. I want to ask you about something that we now know Mueller did, which was get rid of a top investigator, someone who helped lead the Clinton e-mail investigation, and then was playing a key role in this Russia investigation, as we have been reporting. There is -- what we understand some text messages that were sent by this investigator, one of the top counterintelligence investigators in the FBI that were anti-Trump and back in the summer when Mueller learned of this, he got rid of this guy, shifting him off to the side and getting rid of him during the investigation. What do you think of this?
LITTLE: I don't know anything about the details, of course. We don't know what was really happening there and we don't know about this personnel matter and it seems pretty clear that Bob Mueller doesn't want anybody on his team who could later be used to sort of impeach whatever he does in the end. And so, you know, anybody who is sending out those kind of messages, if they're critical of any target of an investigation or supportive of the target, for that matter, you know, Bob Mueller is the kind of guy who doesn't have a hard time shunting you to the side and saying we need team players who will keep their eye on the ball and not engage in partisan views one way or the other. So it's unsurprising if this is true, and he didn't do it with any fanfare, and it apparently happened many months ago. It seems totally characteristic and probably the right decision. KEILAR: I want to ask you about our breaking news story. Our Kara
Scannell reporting that White House counsel, the top lawyer at the White House, Don McGahn, actually told President Trump that Michael Flynn had misled the FBI. This predates Trump saying to Comey as Comey has said that would he please drop the Flynn investigation. What do you think about this? Because you have some people who are saying, this is obstruction. What do you think?
LITTLE: Well, it's part of an obstruction case and the White House lawyer now would be saying the president can't obstruct justice. Obviously, the president can obstruct justice. We've impeached presidents on both sides of the aisle in the past, President Clinton and President Nixon. And President Trump is perfectly capable of obstructing justice. And whether this tweet is enough to direct someone. It never is, it requires full contextual analysis of intent and mens rea. And it's something Bob Mueller takes notice of. Every time President Trump tweets he sort of hurts his legal standing. And it's too bad that he's been critical of courts and critical of the courts and critical of the rule of law. I don't think this tweet makes the case, but I don't think it hurts.
[14:55:13] KEILAR: Rory Little, thank you very much for your analysis. We appreciate it.
Coming up, President Trump calling Alabama Senate candidate and accused child molester, Roy Moore, from Air Force One, telling him, "Go get 'em, Roy," as other Republican leader, who once opposed Moore, are now having a change of heart. We'll discuss that.
Also, an ominous warning from one Senator who says it is time to start moving the families of U.S. military out of South Korea as the nuclear standoff there intensifies. We are back in a moment.
[15:00:10] KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar. And we have a critical new development in the Russia investigation that is --