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Tillerson on North Korean Talks; Anti-Trump Texts from FBI Officials; NYC Subway Suspected Arraigned Today; Trump Says He Knew Moore Would Lose; King Calls for Dumping Bannon. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:33:15] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, in a surprising departure from President Trump's tough talk on North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. will not set preconditions for negotiations with North Korea.

Take a listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've said from the diplomatic side, we're ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk. And we're ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Let's just meet.

It's not realistic to say we're only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They have too much invested in it. And the president's very realistic about that as well.


CUOMO: All right, now those are two very different things, Rex's analogy, the secretary of state, versus where the president is on this.

So let's discuss all the different facets with CNN national security analyst James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence.

Good to have you on the show, sir.


CUOMO: So, first, good idea, direct talks with North Korea, the idea of no preconditions? Is that a doable thing as well?

CLAPPER: Well, first, it is absolutely the right idea and maybe the only idea that I think is really viable with respect to any kind of diplomacy or negotiations.

When I engaged with the North Koreans three years ago, it became abundantly clear to me after about five minutes of dialogue, including translation time, that there is absolutely no way the North Koreans are going to denuclearize as a condition for further dialogue.

The North Koreans are stuck on their narrative and have been for a long time, as have we. The United States is by far the bigger partner. So if we're going to change this dance, only the United States can do that. So I am a strong supporter of what the secretary said in a very direct way to them. And I'm sure the North Koreans are mulling this over.

[06:35:06] CUOMO: All right. Now that's good news because of your perspective. However, there's a troubling counter to your own opinion, which is ironically coming from the White House. Let's put up their statement about this.

This is Sarah Sanders, right, I mean ostensibly the mouthpiece for the president. The president's views on North Korea have not changed. North Korea is acting in an unsafe way, not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.

Now, that is being taken as somewhat of a negation of where Rex Tillerson is on his position. Do you agree with that and what does it mean to you, if so?

CLAPPER: Well, I'm not sure exactly what she meant by the president's position has not changed, because I, you know, I guess I prefer to -- the messenger I prefer to listen to here is the secretary of state. And hopefully that's the message that will prevail. And I think he did a great, you know, a great thing here by saying -- by stating this in a very public forum.

I also think, by the way, that we do need to sustain -- I mean that's the carrot. And we also need to maintain the stick, meaning squeezing the North Koreans with sanctions. So when -- if and when we do talk that we've got some leverage to exert.

But I just hope that the president -- the secretary's credibility has not been undermined and that it won't further be undermined by a direct contravention of what he said because I think this is the only path ahead, the only viable path to help resolve this crisis.

And I also think this actually -- his statement will come as a relief in the region, particularly in Seoul and Tokyo. And I also think that this will gain us points with the Chinese, who have long implored us to dialogue with the North Koreans.

CUOMO: Well, look, I mean, but this has been very controversial. We actually had Democrats on this show pleading for this as a position in the throes of the president saying, you know, we may have to go after this guy and all the bombastic talk that he was using, now to see it as the main line from the administration. It raises the question of whether or not the White House will back up these efforts. We can't answer that today. We'll have to see.

Let me ask you about something else while I have you here.

CLAPPER: All right. CUOMO: There is another layer on the headline that members of

Mueller's team, FBI investigators, seem to have been showing an anti- Trump bias. First, you had the man, the FBI investigator, Strzok. He was removed from the team. Now you have more information about another investigator that he was speaking with, a member of the FBI, a woman named Lisa Page, texts where they were apparently calling Trump an idiot, saying that he and Bernie Sanders maybe canceled each other out.

First of all, how uncommon is it for FBI investigators to hold political opinions? And, two, is there an overarching concern for you about the legitimacy of the Mueller probe?

CLAPPER: Well, even people that work in the national security arena are entitled to their own political views. And I know for a fact that throughout the intelligence community there are very strongly held views about President Trump. And the issue is really whether that can be shut -- you know, that affects their work. And that's the case here.

So I -- you know, this is one special agent who was on the team. Special Counsel Mueller did exactly the right thing last July when he was made aware of these texts. And then in an abundance of caution, I think, to remove the special agent from the team. And I also -- I do question just how much one person can have an overall impact on this investigation. And I just think this needs to be -- you know, to play out.

As far as Special Counsel Mueller's character and integrity and does this cast doubt on the manner in which he's conducted this investigation, in my mind, absolutely not. I don't know of anyone better suited from the standpoint of his character to conduct this very delicate and very important in the history of our country investigation than Bob Mueller.

CUOMO: Mr. Clapper, as always, thank you very much for joining us. If I don't speak to you before then, Merry Christmas.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Chris. And the same to you and your family.

CUOMO: Yes, sir. Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Chris. The suspect in the New York City subway bombing taunting President Trump on FaceBook before police say he detonated a pipe bomb in a crowded tunnel. We have a live update for you, next.


[06:44:15] CAMEROTA: The New York City subway bombing suspect expected to appear before a judge today. He is now facing terrorism charges following that botched suicide bombing on Monday in a crowded subway tunnel.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in New York's Times Square with more.

What's the late on the investigation, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, now that those federal charges are filed, we're learning more about the investigation, including the fact that Ullah made two FaceBook posts right before carrying out this attack. One of those he said, quote, Trump, you failed to protect your nation. And in the second post he pledges his allegiance to ISIS. So this really speaks to his motivation for carrying out this attack.

We know that he was radicalized beginning in 2014. Investigators say he would pay attention to ISIS-related videos, propaganda, one of which was posted on an ISIS-related website depicting Santa Claus flying over Times Square with language encouraging an attack around this holiday season.

[06:45:13] We also know from the criminal complaint that he started researching how to make a bomb about a year ago. Investigators say through search warrants they actually found some of the bomb parts in his home, also with some handwritten messages. One said, oh, America, die in your rage.

And, finally, before I send it back to you guys, we've learned that he actually spoke to his wife, who is in his home country, 30 minutes before carrying out this attack. She told investigators she had no idea that this was about to happen. But we've learned through a source the other family members that are here in the United States, Chris, they're not helping -- they're not helping with the investigation at all.


CUOMO: Investigators will tell you that there is always somebody around the perpetrator who knew something and they will continue to dig.

Brynn, thank you for being out there. I know it's cold. Appreciate it.

President Trump went all in for Roy Moore, but now he's saying he knew he'd lose. So, what are the lessons, what is the fallout from Moore's stunning defeat in Alabama? Remember, the president may have known he'd lose. They hadn't elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years. Maggie Haberman has new reporting. She joins us next.


[06:50:53] CUOMO: OK. So how is Doug Jones's huge upset victory in Alabama playing in the White House this morning? "The New York Times" reports that President Trump's aides are bracing for the fallout. So this morning the president is already tweeting that he knew that Roy Moore would not win the election.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times" Maggie Haberman. Maggie, what is happening in the White House this morning?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're waiting to see what the president's mood weathervane is looking like. What we've seen so far from the tweet he has posted. I suspect it won't be the last is, he is putting -- he's making himself look prescient. So I had predicted that Moore couldn't win. That's why I was with Luther Strange. He --

CAMEROTA: But he hadn't predicted that publically.

HABERMAN: Right. One of the things we've seen with this president for the last three years is, when you are on all sides of an issue, you can claim that you have been right at different points. And that's what's happening here.

Look, he is -- there are a couple of likely targets, right? He is going -- he is -- his relationship with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is not good. McConnell had been the person who had wanted him to endorse Luther Strange. McConnell had urged him not to back Roy Moore repeatedly over the last couple weeks. The president refused to budge off of it.

The president, who has a paralytic fear of losing his base, heard Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, in his ear and publicly saying, you know, your movement is marching on without you.

A lot of White House aides are hoping that he will blame Bannon. And he might blame Bannon for a time. I think he fears Bannon to some extent. There are fingers being pointed at the White House political operation led by Bill Stepien, who does have some allies within the West Wing. But John Kelly has been complaining about that shop (ph) for a while.

There's plenty of blame to go around. There are a million factors that led to this.

CUOMO: So if we look at his tweet, his most recent tweet here, Luther -- I endorsed Luther Strange and his numbers went up mightily. Luther Strange got whooped by Roy Moore, OK, so there's the first mistake he makes in the tweet.


CUOMO: I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right. Most people thought Moore should win this race because Alabama hasn't elected a Democrat in 25 years. Moore has been rewarded statewide for his controversial, to put it mildly, before.

CAMEROTA: Right, but when did the president ever say he wasn't going to win?

CUOMO: Never. But -- and Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him. Alabama couldn't have been better set up for Roy Moore.


CUOMO: So, he doesn't have the facts straight, but that's not unusual. The problem for his people is, he's looking to distance himself from what happened last night. HABERMAN: Correct. Correct.

CUOMO: And in order to do that, Maggie, that means somebody else is going to have to take the fall. Is it Bannon?

HABERMAN: I think Bannon will be one of the people. I think that you will see some blame being pointed still toward Mitch McConnell because he's very frustrated. I think that is not going to help his relationship with Jeff Sessions, whose seat this was. And the president has had a very difficult relationship with his attorney general this year because of the recusal in the Russia-related probes.

I think it's too soon to say exactly where it's going to go. I think there are people inside the White House who are going to urge him to stop listening to Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon has remained a very influential figure outside the West Wing and --

CUOMO: And he just took a shot at Trump's daughter.

HABERMAN: Well, Trump had shared that view, that he was frustrated with Ivanka Trump for having gone out and said the special place in hell line. The president felt like it boxed him in. She is seen as speaking for him and having his proxy in a way that aides just are not.

However, there is some sense from some in the West Wing that Bannon, at his rallies, and he did two rallies for Moore himself. The one on Monday night, it became about everybody else. It was Mitt Romney, it was Ivanka Trump, it was all over the place, and it was, let's focus on what the issues were at hand for voters in Alabama. I think that gives people a hook.

But, again, the president really doesn't like closing the door on a lot of people permanently. I think Bannon will probably remain in that category.

The other issue is that Bannon has an instinctive feel for Trump's base that Trump himself does not always have while he's inside (INAUDIBLE) in the White House. So, we'll see.

CAMEROTA: There are people outside of the White House who are calling for Bannon to be ousted.



HABERMAN: He's already been ousted. I mean (INAUDIBLE) --


CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean I guess -- I guess -- that's the wrong word.


CAMEROTA: I guess ostracized. I mean I guess sort of put out to pasture.

HABERMAN: They're hoping for him -- they're hoping for him to not be listened to anymore. And I think that that might be true for a while. I doubt it will be true forever.

CAMEROTA: Here's what Congressman Peter King just tweeted. After Alabama disaster, GOP must do the right thing and dump Steve Bannon. His act is tired, inane and morally vacuous. If we are to make America great again for all Americans, Bannon must go and go now.

[06:55:11] Here's "The Wall Street Journal" on the same topic today. The Alabama result shows that Mr. Bannon cares less about conservative policy victories than he does personal king-making. GOP voters, take note, Mr. Bannon is for losers.


I mean, look, he -- "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page tends to be channeling the view of Rupert Murdoch, it's owner.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: Rupert Murdoch has disliked Steve Bannon for quite --

CUOMO: Another member of the establishment, according to Bannon.


CUOMO: As is Peter King.

HABERMAN: But another person, Rupert Murdoch, who the president has on speed dial.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: And who the president does listen to.

CUOMO: The Gillibrand tweet, we had it here during the show is when it happened and it was hard to not look at it as having something to do --

HABERMAN: Impossible.

CUOMO: With, you know, a feminine aspect to it because of what he said about Megyn Kelly, what he said on the "Access Hollywood" tape, what he says about women so many different times, and yet the White House says our minds are in the gutter. What's the play here?

HABERMAN: They said our minds were in the gutter about Megyn Kelly too. I mean this is the play that we have seen him do over and over, which is he walks right up to a line, he doesn't overtly cross it. He basically sticks his head out over the line. He looks around. Everyone can see it. Then he falls back and he says, look at all of you saying this. How can you say this? And his supporters yell, fake news overreacts. And if you guys just keep overreacting, this is the problem here. This is all on you, media. And, look, you know, there have definitely been criticisms of Kirsten

Gillibrand for being politically flexible over the years. Certainly when she got that Senate seat, she changed a lot of positions. She has not --

CUOMO: Well, she was a Republican. Then she became a Democrat.

HABERMAN: And she -- and she was representing a pretty conservative district when she was in Congress. And she has now because sort of -- tried to reposition herself to be a liberal in a lot of --

CUOMO: Right. She was very pro-Clinton --


CUOMO: But now she is calling out the allegations against him.

HABERMAN: She's suddenly become very anti-Wall Street and so forth and so on. So there is something that you can understand what he's pointing to. But, again, it is the language that he uses that is extremely provocative and that, of course, is going to be taken by most people as being about something --

CUOMO: If it were a man, would he have said it the same way?

HABERMAN: That's the question.

CAMEROTA: That's what Sarah Sanders claims.


CAMEROTA: But there's just -- I think there's just no other way to hear it. I mean, you know --


CAMEROTA: What -- she was willing to do anything for it.

HABERMAN: What most people do in a situation like that where it sounds like a double entendre is, they don't say it.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: The president, of course, just says it over and over and say it's all on you. And one of the things that I think has been difficult, especially for the press, but really for his critics, for everybody, is, because he does not follow any rules, everybody else is then forced to play a more perfect game, right? And that's, I think -- this is an example of that.

CUOMO: Really, if you just put begging, which he puts in quotes, if he put that in parentheses and he had put, and would do anything for them, in quotes, then he would have gotten the benefit of a double entendre.

HABERMAN: I don't know that it's just a better edit or that he (INAUDIBLE).

CUOMO: He's just a Strunk and White away. He's just a Strunk and White away.

CAMEROTA: But I don't understand what begging in quotes means. Anyway --

HABERMAN: It's -- it's --

CAMEROTA: All right.

HABERMAN: At a certain pointed you've got to just move on.

CAMEROTA: All right, let's do that.

Maggie, thank you very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Stick around. We have more questions for you momentarily.

CUOMO: Not me. I never --

CAMEROTA: I have more questions.

CUOMO: I stay on the tweets. I think that they are a reflection of his mind.

HABERMAN: You know -- you know who else doesn't clearly move on? The president does not move on that easily.

CUOMO: Well, we grew up in the same place.

HABERMAN: That is true.

CUOMO: Maggie, thank you very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alabama voters, doing something they haven't done in 25 years. They put a Democrat in the Senate. But, Roy Moore not conceding. He's leaving it up to God, he says. We're going to discuss the national implications of this race, next.