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President Trump's Legal Team's Strategy Examined; RNC Begins Funding Roy Moore Campaign Again; Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor On GOP Tax Bill; RNC Joins Trump Backing Roy Moore In Alabama Senate Race. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The man wants this world to be better for his 150 grandchildren.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We are up against the top of the hour, so guys, thank you very much. We're following a lot of news. Let's get right to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suggestion that he can't be charged with obstruction of justice is a laughable proposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's decision to fire the director of the FBI cannot itself be an act obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: K.T. McFarland is emerging as a key actor.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel badly for General Flynn. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The RNC is actually going back to financially supporting Roy Moore. This is outrageous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Voters don't want to be told from Washington who to vote for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not know any of these women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like this was the first thing that I've seen that I know personally to be a lie.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. The one and only Poppy Harlow joining me.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The two and only.

CUOMO: The closest thing to heaven I can get is the baby and you. We can't wait for that to happen, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. We begin with a big legal question looming over the Trump presidency.

Did Donald Trump obstruct justice when he fired FBI director Jim Comey. The president's personal lawyer argues something that is controversial at the least, which is that the president is above the law and cannot obstruct justice. So why did the president resist firing Flynn for weeks after he learned that Flynn had lied to the FBI, a crime?

HARLOW: Also, the Republican National Committee, the RNC, overnight has opened up the financial spigot for embattled Senate nominee Roy Moore. Meantime Republicans are divided over the prospect that an accused child molester could be the next U.S. senator from Alabama. This comes as a woman says she dated Roy Moore as a teenager when he was twice her age. She is now sharing physical evidence of their relationship. We will hear from Moore's campaign ahead.

Let's begin though with our Joe Johns. He joins us at the White House this morning with our top story. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. You really can't overstate the significance of this, it's about rules, facts, and law, as the Russia investigation appears to be moving one step closer to the Oval Office. Congressional Democrats suggesting it's a question of obstruction of justice. The president's lawyers pushing back, but their legal theory is apparently still a work in progress.


JOHNS: White House lawyer Ty Cobb downplaying the obstruction of justice defense put together by President Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd, telling "The Washington Post" that while Dowd's assertion that a president cannot obstruct justice because he's the nation's top law enforcement officer is an interesting legal issue, it is not Mr. Trump's official legal strategy.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Frankly, the idea that our president is above the law, not only above the law but free to interfere with any investigation and act in ways that are an obstruction of justice is Nixonian, and I think unacceptable.

JOHNS: Dowd floating this controversial defense amid speculation whether this tweet from the president's account could lead to a potential obstruction of justice case. The tweet, which Dowd says he drafted, suggests the president knew his former national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the president and the FBI before he allegedly urged former FBI director James Comey to drop the bureau's investigation into Flynn.

A source now telling CNN that the president was told by White House counsel Don McGahn in January that Flynn misled the FBI about his contracts with Russians. McGahn reportedly telling the president Flynn should be fired after receiving a warning that Flynn might be compromised from then acting attorney general, Sally Yates.

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn't true.

JOHNS: Despite McGahn's recommendation, the president kept Flynn on the job for weeks with access to the nation's most classified information, Trump eventually caving to public pressure, firing Flynn but insisting he was a good man. The president now defending Flynn after he pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel badly for General Flynn. Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame.

JOHNS: Flynn's deputy K.T. McFarland also under scrutiny over apparent inconsistencies in her testimony about Flynn. McFarland told the Senate foreign relationship committee in July that she was not aware of any communications between Flynn and former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But unsealed documents from Friday's court filing showed that Flynn spoke to a senior transition official before meeting with Kislyak, although McFarland was not specifically mentioned, CNN has confirmed she was the referenced official.

[08:05:13] REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It certainly appears that was a directly false representation to the Senate.


JOHNS: In the midst of all of this, a big win in the courts for the president and the administration, a green light for the president's travel ban to be implemented even as challenges to that policy continue working their way through the courts. Chris and Poppy?

CUOMO: Appreciate it, Joe.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Joshua Green, and associate editor for "Real Clear Politics" A.B. Stoddard. A.B., what is the take down there in D.C. about this convulsive defense from the president's legal team that he can't be guilty of obstruction of justice?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: You heard the Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr basically say he disagrees with that assessment. I'm not a lawyer, and different experts were weighing in yesterday about whether or not you can indicted in the legal system -- excuse me, you can be charged with obstruction in the legal system versus the political of an impeachment by the House.

That aside, there's the fact that we are even talking about this really shows that they think he faces some legal exposure, and that alone is bad. We don't know yet actually whether or not this tweet was real about the president knowing that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. With the discrepancy in K.T. McFarland testimony, with all these different lies, basically, we need to find out whether or not it was actually only a Logan Act, a potential Logan Act violation --

CUOMO: The private citizen representing the interests of the United States.

STODDARD: Basically Flynn conducting foreign policy before an official administration was sworn into office, one president at a time. No one has ever been prosecuted for this. Would he actually lie to the FBI over that? Would Sally Yates actually run up to the White House and say he's potentially compromised with the Russians and vulnerable to blackmail over a discussion about how Trump really doesn't like sanctions, something we all knew was on every page of every paper.

So I think we don't know yet the full story of when the president knew about Michael Flynn's discussion with the FBI, whether he lied to them, and what he might have lied about. And so until we know what that full transcript shows and what more could have been happening with K.T. and Michael Flynn and Trump, I think that he looks like he could be in much more legal peril than it seems on the face of it.

HARLOW: Josh, two questions. What about the fact that the legal team is arguing over legal strategy rather than the facts here, and the fact that the legal team inside the White House is divided on this? John Dowd said that yesterday which caused the hubbub, and then Ty Cobb Comes out late last night and tries to reverse course.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a pattern we have seen among Trump's lawyers. There seems to be disagreement within his own legal team, and that's spilled out a various point over the last couple of months. There was the famous lunch where they were overheard talking by a "New York Times" reporter fighting and disagreeing over a legal strategy. Here it doesn't seem to have their ducks in a row about what they want to say publicly about what Trump might face and what they might do.

But I think the biggest significance of what Dowd said yesterday was you don't come out and make this kind of statement if you don't have some inkling your client is very like to be charged with objection of justice. So I think it was a tell in a sense.

CUOMO: It's very unlikely he would be charged with obstruction of justice. Why? Because there is a discrepancy about whether or not a sitting president can be indicted, and there's a very good chance that Mueller would make this a political process anyway, and then all these questions go away because impeachment is a political debate. They'll sue legal terms, and there are vote standards and stuff, but it's about whether or not you have the votes, high crime and misdemeanor, it doesn't mean anything. It means what the lawmakers want it to mean in their context of discussion.

But what we are seeing, A.B, is all about tactics. One, question the premise. He's not under investigation. Comey said he's not. Then question the basis. The facts don't line up on this, there's nothing that leads to the president. There's no collusion. Then question the standard. He can't be charged with any of this stuff anyway, he's the president of the United States. And the last one is Trump's strongest suit, I would argue, which is attack the people involved, and that's what will come next. The question is if we get to that, would a president named Trump move on Bob Mueller? STODDARD: I think there's very much concern among congressional

Republicans dating back to June that he might.

CUOMO: If he has people telling him you can do this, you can do this, he has no right to be there if you don't want him there?

STODDARD: That's a discussion Republicans have been having all along. What do we do if this moment comes and we swore an oath to the constitution like this president? And that's going to be really interested if the goal posts move for them following the passage of tax reform.

[08:10:03] If that is signed into law and they have gotten through their big threshold moment, how much does this tweet, it seems self- incriminating, it was supposed to be written by John Dowd, but maybe it was really written by Trump, and all of these discussions about what Flynn might be offering to Mueller, does that begin to change the minds of congressional Republicans in whose the hands impeachment would lie? And so that's really the problem is he's still speaking to his base and trying to muddy the waters and blame other people and distract and attack the messenger, but at the same time he still has to answer to congressional Republicans. So far they've had no spine. What if they get one in four months?

HARLOW: Well, he does, though, Josh, the president in his attacks on the FBI this week and substantiated attacks because of Peter Strzok, because the agent who ran the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and was the top dog on Meuller's Russia probe until he was let go from it because of his political persuasion leaning towards Hillary Clinton, this gives the president some ammunition, does it not?

GREEN: It does. If you look at the president's I would call it zigzagging political strategy on how you deal with Mueller and this investigation, and if you go back to May, and you had people like Steve Bannon was still in the White House, and as I wrote in an excerpt from my book, put together this legal team and was ready to throw haymakers, that was Bannon's quote, at Bob Mueller. If you remember they started spreading around to reporters the idea that people on Mueller's team had donated to Democrats, they were basically trying to impugn the character of Bob Mueller and his investigators.

And Ty Cobb and John Dowd came in and short-circuited that process. And what we have heard over the past couple of weeks speaking to people in and around the White House, is that Dowd in particular has been telling the president, listen, this is all going to be over soon. You are not in any kind of jeopardy, probably going to be done by Christmas, now I think he's saying January, giving him a lot of happy talk to settle him down and keep him from going after Mueller. If the investigation doesn't end in January, will Trump be able to contain himself? I am not sure we know yet.

CUOMO: We have a little time left. I want to take it to Roy Moore. I want to play this piece of sound from one of his representatives explaining why Roy Moore is being falsely criticized. Can we play that sound?


DEAN YOUNG, CHIEF POLITICAL STRATEGIST FOR ROY MOORE: If he did date a teenager, he didn't know about it. So I can't tell you how many times I have been on a date and asked a girl how old she were, especially after I asked her mama if I could date them.


CUOMO: Forget about the fact that that answer is right out of "Saturday Night Live," it is a window into what's going on here, and people have to be culturally sensitive. It is wrong to condescend to the people of Alabama about what they accept or what they don't accept. But this is the state of play for Republicans. That man is the representative of Roy Moore. That's the defense to behavior that is being questioned about him. We are seeing the Republicans move toward Moore, not away. Has this been party over morality? Put it to bed.

STODDARD: I was really, I knew the day that they started saying that he should be expelled if he gets to the Senate that they would never expel him, but I was really surprised to see actually the Republican National Committee pull tent and reengage and start giving him money again as of yesterday just because the president endorsed him. This is going to be something they answer to, every Republican Senate and House and probably all around the country between now and November of 2018.

GREEN: Just in terms of the Moore defense, that's the goofiest defense I've heard yet of Moore because we have examples of him signing high school yearbooks of these girls. You're not 25 years old if you're a high school senior. He was signing their yearbooks. Of course he knew they were teenagers.

HARLOW: Of course they question the legitimacy of the handwriting in that. But then you have --

GREEN: There's a second one.

HARLOW: A woman who said here's the card he gave me at my graduation party.

CUOMO: But assuming it is all legal, the idea that the state of play is that your representative comes out and says I can't tell you how many times I have been on a date and I didn't even know how old the girl was. It's just a very, very interesting play for Republicans on that field.

HARLOW: We're going to have a spokeswoman for the Roy Moore campaign with us in just a few minutes. We'll ask her about all that.

CUOMO: But right now we have some breaking news. Take a look at the aerials, a fast-moving and deadly wildfire exploding in southern California. And 27,000 people are being forced to evacuate. You see all the lights on the other side of that ridge, right? Ventura County's fire department saying one evacuee died in a rollover crash trying to escape. One firefighter has already been injured. Ventura and Santa Paula bracing for the worst. Powerful Santa Ana winds, you're going to be hearing a lot about that, because they are going to turbo charge flames and direct them east. And 150 structures have been destroyed, 31,000 acres burned, 260,000 customers, no power.

HARLOW: We will keep a very close eye on all of this for you as it develops.

Meantime, Republicans rushing through a major tax overhaul, but are they really acting in the best interest of the American taxpayer or just focused on scoring a big win for the president before the end of the year?

[08:15:08] CUOMO: Can it be true? Will big Baller be in the House? LaVar Ball, father of the former, now UCLA basketball player, LiAngelo Ball, why did he pull him out of school? What has been the aftermath of his feud with Trump? And what does he have to say to me today? I'm going to talk to him about it all, coming up.


CUOMO: Republicans are moving their tax bills through Congress with remarkable speed. A lot of intentionality for good reason and reason that should be scrutinized. The House version is on its way to a conference committee, the Senate is set to follow suit this week. Are Republicans moving too fast on something that affects every American?

Let's discuss someone who knows this process as well as anyone. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, now the Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Moelis. How do you say that, M-O-E-L-I-S?


CUOMO: Moelis, M-O-E-L-I-S. So, good to have you, sir. Best to you and your family for the holidays.

CANTOR: And to you. Great to be here.

CUOMO: How happy are you that you are not involved in the GOP processes right now?

CANTOR: You know, listen now, if things happen in life you really don't realize the reasons for it when they happened. And seem like not a good thing. I'm now three years out. I'm just delighted and really energized where I am now and in the private sector, as you said, at Moelis & Company, so.

[08:20:03] CUOMO: Look, we'll get to the taxes. I need you expertise on that. But just to check a couple of boxes. The idea that the preferred defense right now from White House counsel, personal counsel for the President is you can't talk about obstruction of justice. The President is above the law, he can't obstruct justice. What do you make of that?

CANTOR: Not a great message from the White House. And, honestly, you know, it is -- leaders are elected with the trust placed in them by the voters. And obviously I know that, you know, President Trump and his team want to make sure that that trust is intact. Certainly, as far as the American people are concerned, he's got to be concerned as things unfold that that trust is in place.

So, again, I trust in our law enforcement Director Mueller and the conduct of this investigation. I think the majority of my former colleagues would be in the same place.

CUOMO: Mueller, you know him, man of integrity and you trust him.

CANTOR: Absolutely.

CUOMO: The President is not above the law.

CANTOR: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: Roy Moore, the idea that the party is clearly moving back toward him. Does that bother you?

CANTOR: Yes, it bothers me. I think he deserves to lose. And I -- when I was in office as majority leader, I had the policy of zero tolerance for any of this kind of stuff and I just think that when people elect folks to public office, they expect their leaders to live to a much higher standard and that's what ought to be maintained.

CUOMO: Quick counter argument is, this is about Alabama voters and not what the big shots in Washington D.C. would think about it and we don't have any proof that he is guilty of these things beyond a reasonal doubt. There's no criminal investigation, there's no trial, there's no due process.

CANTOR: No question, it's up to the Alabama voters. So, again, it's what I think and that's fine. But the Alabama voters will decide. I'm just -- you asked what I feel about it, does it bother me? Absolutely it bothers me. And I think that we ought to maintain that moral standard that I believe our party is about.

CUOMO: Taxes. All right, and thank you for fielding those other questions.

Process matters. When you rush something through that is very important, you're asking for trouble. You lived it and criticized it openly and roundly when it came to the ACA. But by comparison, the ACA was debated to death compared to what we're dealing with with this last couple of big bills? Should they be forcing this through this way?

CANTOR: Listen, this is not an unusual process as you suggest, working its way to Congress. And there will be -- and this is why I believe that Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy and others in the House. Steve Scalise insisted on there being a conference committee between the House and the Senate. I think members expect that kind of procedures.

So, to allow the further vetting. I mean, there are some provisions both in the House and Senate bill which are in conflict and there are some controversial provisions in both. And I think this process will play out, but I do think it is a huge win for Republicans when this passes. It's a huge win for the American economy. And I think we're going to see a lot of growth and that will continue to result from these panels.

CUOMO: Now, you don't headline it by saying huge win for the middle class. Part of the political problem is that the President, at least, and certainly early on build it as this would be the best tax cut for the middle class that we have seen.

It is hard to justify that on all of the objective analyses that have come down, every time -- come out. Every time you show a graph, the middle class doesn't do as well as the top tier.

CANTOR: It depends on what your definition of the middle class is. If you're a middle class, an average family of four making in the $50,000 a year range up to $100 or a little over that, you are doing very well under this tax bill. Because as you know they're doubling the standard deduction, which basically takes a lot of people out of paying taxes to begin with other than the payroll taxes.

And I think that what you saw in my State of Virginia about a month ago is you saw suburban voters in the upper middle class saying, hey, wait a minute, I'm not so sure that I like what's going on in Washington in general and I'm a little bit concerned obviously about what that means in this tax bill. Because there's a lot of people who end up -- will end up paying more at the higher end at the upper middle and upper ends of the income. And, again, these voters, at least in the suburbs of the country, have been traditional Republican voters.

So I do think that what this bill will provide to them is more economic growth. And hopefully we'll have enough time once the bill passes to see this economy lifted, to see wages and jobs lifted so that those suburban voters feel that they're going to be able to see a benefit from this.

CUOMO: Growth is a function of an economic argument that we could have all day. I could know at least five sides to it now about what lower taxes means in terms of overall stimulation, a little bit better if it's business side but just to double down on one point. Which is over time you see the middle class that there's a claw back on these. And they get a bit harder than those at the top.

The provisions in some of the bills are going to have to match them up. But what they're doing with tuition allowances for people, what they're doing with deductibility student loans pulling the mandate. Those suburban voters who are up into their 50s who don't make much money, they're not rich, they're going to see premiums go up in their insurance and that mandate goes away.

[08:25:14] Those are costs also and they're being put on the middle class. Why if your intention was to help them most of all, which is what the President promised.

CANTOR: Listen, you know, as far as the mandate is concern -- I mean, the reason why you're saying the numbers that you're seeing on that is because a lot of people who are buying insurance because they have to not because they want to. And so that's, again, the reason why you're seeing the drop in the number of coverage.

But as far as price is concerned, it's always been a Republican position that if we lift the kind of prescriptive measures that were in place under the ACA, under Obamacare, then you're going to see a market that will compete for peoples' business in health insurance. And you're going to bring down price. And that's always been the problem under the ACA is somehow or another, affordability left the equation.

CUOMO: It doesn't get better if you take healthy people out of the equation though.

CANTOR: Well, I mean, but listen, if you lift the prescriptions of the mandated benefits and say let's let people have more skin in the game, let's give them catastrophic coverage. So no one goes bankrupt from health care.

CUOMO: But if you reduce what the companies have to provide, they will provide less, people will get caught --

CANTOR: But if there's a sensible minimum to allow for catastrophic coverage so no one has to go bankrupt for paying for health care, I think that's where we start. But, again, on the taxes issue and the distribution of wealth and income and the rest, I am always one who believes if you get an economy who grows, there will be more money to go around in terms of helping peoples' wages go up, helping more jobs opportunities.

Now, you talk about a lot of the provisions that are on the table for being slashed and that is targeted tax expenditures is what they're called to assist those especially in the area of higher education. And how are you going to take away that kind of assist.

Well, I think if you look at the higher education authorization bill that was recently introduced on the Republican side, there is a lot more reform needed in that arena instead of just trying to put band- aids on the problems. And I think this is sort of the disconnect that's going on. There's a lot of problems right now to be dealt with. But let's get the economy going again and that's what this bill is about.

CUOMO: We'll see if a tax cut gets the economy going again, but we know for sure you don't let people deduct the interest on the student loans if they got trouble. But Eric Cantor, you are a mind that we need in this situations, you are always welcome here sir and the best for that for the holidays.

CANTOR: Thank you. You too as well.

CUOMO: All right, be well (ph) here. Poppy?

HARLOW: All right. So ahead for us, in battle Senate nominee Roy Moore getting President Trump's full support and now full funding from the RNC. So how does his campaign feel now one week before this high- stakes election. His campaign spokeswoman joins us next live. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)