Return to Transcripts main page


WAPO: Trump Continues To Reject Evidence On Russia, Has Never Held Cabinet Meeting On Russia; House and Senate Compromise Bill Faces Final Votes Next Week; What's in the GOP Compromise Tax Bill?; Omarosa Manigault Leaving the White House. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:25] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Republicans in Congress striking a deal on tax reform in what could be a huge win for President Trump. Do not, though, put a notch in the W column just yet.

BERMAN: No. The story this morning is numbers. Not the numbers in the bill, but the numbers on the floor. Can Republicans cobble together the votes in the Senate? It's not they don't have the support, it's that they can't get the people in the room. Two senators indisposed and now the vice president having to change his schedule. CNN's MJ Lee with the very latest for us on Capitol Hill -- MJ.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Hey, John and Poppy. This is about to be a really hectic couple of days for Republicans who are trying to get this tax reform bill across the finish line.

How quickly do they want to move? They would like to see this bill on President Trump's desk by Wednesday.

And, John, as you said, the Senate is a place wherever every vote counts right now because Republicans can only afford to lose two votes. Now they are preparing for a couple of potential complications and the first is that Senator John McCain is now at Walter Reed Hospital. He of course is being treated for brain cancer and we don't know when he's going to be back. His office said yesterday that he will try to be back as soon as possible.

The second member that we're watching is Senator Thad Cochran. We of course know that he had also had a set of health issues that he has been on and off, absent from the Senate. We don't know for sure if he will be back in time or if he will be here at all is sort of the issue here.

And then Senator Susan Collins, Senator Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, these are some of the names you hear, leadership sort of counts their votes to make sure that they have everyone behind this bill. They have made specific requests so unclear if they will actually end up getting to that firm yes.

And as we said, Vice President Mike Pence we have now learned is delaying his trip to Israel, and we haven't gotten official word if this is at all related to tax reform, but as you know, he, the vice president, ends up being the tie breaker vote in the Senate if things get close. And you can sort of read the tea leaves there.

And the hard reality sort of underlying this entire debate is the simple fact that this tax plan bill from Republicans is very, very unpopular. Take a look at this Quinnipiac poll, 26 percent of people, only 26 percent, say that they approve of this Republican tax plan bill and only -- or rather, 55 percent of people saying that they disapprove.

So a lot of Republicans are going to be weighing this hard reality as they try to get this bill through the finish line in the next couple of days -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: MJ Lee, thank you so much.

I would note 66 percent of Republicans in that poll liked this -- liked this bill. Very much down the party lines.

All right, for the politics, big, yes. The bottom line, the impact on you at home is big, important and complicated. Luckily for us, we have our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, here to break it all down.

So, Romans, what's your bottom line on this?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, details are really important here. You know, they've hammered out some big compromises, yes, but some of the biggest changes help corporations and the wealthy.

Here's what we know. The top individual rate slashed to 37 percent. That's lower than both previous bills. It is a concession to top earners in high tax states who are losing that state and local tax breaks. On mortgage interest, the compromise reads in the middle, filers can deduct the interest on mortgages up to $750,000, that is three times, by the way, the typical home in America. And the corporate rate is cut to 21 percent.

Now both bills promised 20 percent for the corporate rate, but cutting that rate 21 percent raises $100 billion in revenue helping to pay for tax cuts.

Now the GOP argues lower corporate rates will help everyday Americans but there's no guarantee that will add jobs or raise wages.

Now President Trump's closing argument is the bill is a giant middle class tax cut. In reality, it's less than advertised. We'll need to see the final bill but in past versions middle class tax cuts are modest and they have a short shelf life. In fact most middle class families pay more by the year 2027 under the Senate plan with the largest share helping up the top 1 percent along with a few other provisions, like doubling the estate tax exemption, raising the threshold for the individual alternative minimum tax, and reducing taxable income for pass-through businesses. Essentially lowering their tax rate.

Now a bright spot, a lot of people at every corner of the economy will feel this -- these deductions. The final bill retains the tax breaks for medical expenses, retain tax breaks for education, student loans, grad students and teach spending. It also repeals the Obamacare individual mandate. So there's a lot in here, guys.

BERMAN: There is one person, Christine Romans, a very important person who is looking at this and saying, though, people should be concerned about the deficit.

[09:05:05] ROMANS: The outgoing Fed chief, Janet Yellen, in her last press conference yesterday really going out on a high note. I mean, no one that has presided over a declining unemployment rate like Janet Yellen, she says the economy is doing well but she says she is concerned about adding to the debt. Listen.


JANET YELLEN, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRWOMAN: I am personally concerned about the U.S. debt situation, taking what is already a significant problem and making it worse is -- it is of concern to me.


ROMANS: The idea here that when the economy is growing and things are doing well in the economy, is that the time to be adding to deficits and debt? That's actually the time to be cutting deficits, right, and addressing the debt situation. It's something she said that families should be concerned about.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, Patrick Healy, a CNN political analyst, and Mary Katharine Ham, CNN political commentator.

Look, I don't think there's any question, Patrick, that the Republicans have the support they need in Congress to get this through. But it is getting very complicated, particularly in the Senate right now. John McCain in Walter Reed right now. We don't really know how he's doing right now. Obviously everyone concerned about his health. So Mike Pence staying home. I mean, this just goes to show the razor thin margin here.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, this is -- this is looking like a nail-biter. And as we know, Bob Corker was against this when it came up for a vote in the Senate before, so you could presume, and he's sending signals, that he's still, you know, probably a no right now.

HARLOW: Yes. HEALY: So they're one vote away. You've got John McCain, you've got

Thad Cochran, you've got Susan Collins who is sending sort of mixed signals it seems right now.

BERMAN: Like Susan Collins does.

HEALY: As she does. And you have Mike Pence basically saying, you know, I'm going to stay home. So as much as President Trump is going to be tweeting about what a big win this could be for Republicans, you may find yourself with a calendar next week where they simply don't have the senators in place to vote, and then they're looking at a real problem, which is the Doug Jones problem.

If for some reason the calendar doesn't work for the Senate --


HEALY: -- and they need to kick, you know, this past Christmas, they're looking at Alabama certifying Doug Jones' victory and that seat flipping from Republican to Democrat, which, you know, creates even a bigger math problem.

HARLOW: Mary Katharine, the president just a few days ago called this a giant tax cut for Christmas. Giant tax cut for corporations, for sure, even a tax cut for the richest, which the president said would not happen, it is happening.

And yes, middle class Americans, poor Americans will get a tax cut to an extent, but when you do look at the polling that MJ Lee pointed out, you've got more than half of Americans thinking this is kind of a big lump of coal for Christmas for me.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, probably does, because all we talk about is the corporate side of this and the wealthy side of this, and the argument seems to be from opponents that you can't help the middle class if you're also going to help these people, even though, by the way, President Barack Obama advocated lowering the corporate tax rate.

The fact is that in the House bill and I think in what we will see in the final is that when you double the standard deduction for everyone, everyone double that was protected from taxes before will be protected now, and they will actually see that in their paychecks so they might be confused if they haven't heard that message and then they see it in their paychecks later.

Look, I think the GOP has felt much better about what the numbers were on this than on health care.


HAM: This is much less thorny, but the practical reality is that you have to get everyone there and the margins are thin. But if you have like a Murkowski and a Collins and a McCain feeling pretty good about this, as long as you can get them in the room, I think you are fine. HEALY: Well, part of the reason why this is unpopular is that a lot

of the deductions that's supposedly the middle class is getting, they're already have. I mean, the point is this tax bill keeps a lot of those deductions in place and that's being presented as some kind of big win.

HARLOW: Medical, et cetera.

HEALY: Medical, et cetera, student benefits, you know, graduate student deduction. But the reality is that the gains here, the real gains, are coming for corporations.

BERMAN: More of the gains.

HAM: Seventy percent of Americans do not itemize.

HEALY: Right.

HAM: And those are just normal Americans. High income Americans itemize, 70 percent don't. You double the standard deduction, you widen that to 90 percent of American taxpayers who don't have to itemize --


HEALY: But the wages are being framed as a middle class tax cut. I mean, the reality is that corporate tax --

HAM: Because that is actually a tax cut to the middle class and so that's true.

HEALY: But corporate tax is going down from 35 percent to 21 percent. And high-income earners going conceivably from a 37 percent -- you know, a 39 percent range to a 37 -- that's real significant money. That's many, many billions of dollars.

HAM: Right. So was Obama incorrect that we should lower the corporate tax rate so we can make ourselves more competitive? Was he incorrect about that?

HEALY: No, but I think --

HAM: Because I think he was correct.

HEALY: I think this is the bill that you're dealing with, though, and those are the -- I'm just saying the way this is --


HAM: The idea is the same, is it not?

HEALY: The way this is being framed is a middle class tax cut.

BERMAN: Mary Katharine, declaring --

HAM: The fact that it does lower taxes for the middle class. BERMAN: Declaring her fealty for President Obama's economic policy

right now.

HAM: That particular part, yes.

BERMAN: OK. I want to move on from taxes right now. We're going to have a few days to talk about this. We'll see where the votes go.

Omarosa who is still sort of employed by the White House right now but is leaving by January 20th.

HAM: Can I say great?

BERMAN: Right. She resigned or was fired yesterday. Look, she did an interview on "Good Morning America" this morning, talked about why she left, how she left, but she said something fascinating that I think -- I mean, everyone sit up in their chair.

[09:10:08] She was asked about Charlottesville. How she felt about the president's sort of reaction to Charlottesville. Listen to what she said.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS AIDE: When I have a chance to tell my story, Michael, quite a story to tell. As the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, it has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story it is a profound story that I know the world would want to hear.


BERMAN: Mary Katharine, do that thing you just did. Right there.

HAM: Get ready for the Omarosa heel turn. I mean, she is --

HARLOW: Yes. Book deal, anyone?

HEALY: Book deal. Book deal, right? Nice story.

HAM: The question was always like, who's going to be the Scott McClellan who writes the tell-all about this administration. It's not going to be Sean Spicer.

HEALY: Not Sean.

HAM: He's writing the more pro-Trump book. Omarosa started as a reality show villain. She knows how to play this role. She knows how to turn when it suits her and she may be the tell-all girl.

BERMAN: Might there be some substance, Patrick Healy, in what she has to say here? I mean, she knows she was the only African-American at the table a lot of the time. She watched the president's response to Charlottesville --

HARLOW: Highest ranking African-American woman.

BERMAN: And she doesn't seem happy about it.

HEALY: No --

BERMAN: She won't say it there but she doesn't seem happy about it.

HEALY: I think the biggest substance that anyone can say is revealing what the president actually says behind closed doors. I mean, about Charlottesville, about sort of black voters generally. I mean, the way he deals with race but especially what happened around Charlottesville and afterwards. If she's willing to go there, I'm very -- I mean, like Mary Katharine, she knows how to play kind of the -- sort of the villain role in things and I think she's looking to sell a good book as opposed to --


HAM: But he also probably gave her material so yes.

HEALY: We'll see if she uses it.

BERMAN: Patrick Healy, Mary Katharine Ham, go Ducks, thanks so much for being with us.

HAM: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Still rejecting evidence that Russia meddled and refusing to accept that Russia poses a threat in the future, a new "Washington Post" story gives an inside look at the president's mindset.

HARLOW: And a report on that. One year later we go back to Beattyville, Kentucky, a town where more than half of the folks live below the poverty line, they bet everything on President Trump. Has he come through for them?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not the man I thought he was. He's not. He's not. He's just -- he's overburdened and he's not getting nothing done.

HARLOW: But he says he's accomplished more than any president --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has not. He talks a good talk, but he can't walk the walk.



[09:16:47] BERMAN: All right. This morning, an in-depth new report in the "Washington Post" finds that President Trump still refuses to accept the fact that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. These denials apparently creating some tension within the White House.

National security officials tell "The Post" they have to tiptoe around the issue of Russian intelligence and structure the president's daily briefings to avoid upsetting him.

HARLOW: There's also the fallout, one administration official says the president is insulted by the idea that Putin helped put him in office and his denials, quote, "have impaired the government's response to a national security threat."

Let's talk about it all with one of the reporters who broke the story, with Greg Miller of the "Washington Post," and Steve Hall is also with us, national security analyst and retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

Let's begin with you, Greg. There's so much that stands out here, but that last part the concern that this is affecting national security operations. What more can you tell us?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": I mean, that, to us, was the organizing principle for our reporting. We wanted to understand what are the real implications across the government of this position that Trump has taken on election interference, on his refusal to accept it, and it radiates across the government.

It affects every agency that interacts with Russia or has to do with national security. It affects the CIA, the State Department, the FBI, and all of the others as well in two ways, really.

One, as you said, they have to tiptoe around this and can't talk to the president about it, so they have to find work arounds to make things happen. But also the administration largely because of Trump's impulses have tried to undo some of the punishments that the Obama administration put in place before it left office.

Trying to -- exploring for over a period of months a plan to try to give back to Russia two compounds, for example, that were in the United States that the Obama administration had confiscated and seized from Russia.

So, I mean, our story attempts to be a comprehensive look at the implications across the government of the president's own personal insecurities.

BERMAN: So, Steve Hall, you worked inside the intelligence community. What is the impact of the fact that people giving the president his intelligence briefings, his daily briefings, feel like they can't bring up Russian meddling? What is the impact when advisers feel like they can't walk that last five and a half feet into the oval office to tell the presidents things about Russian meddling, what is the impact there?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, I think it's absolutely the required reading, the work that Greg and his colleagues at "The Post" have done, it's an excellent (inaudible). It really provides a good understanding of a lot of the issues that you just raised was really the most chilling for me when I read about this.

When you have a situation, where the president, who is at the end of the day the final, most important consumer of intelligence by the U.S. intelligence community, when you have a situation where those who are briefing the president begin to become gun shy or concerned about what it is they need to present to the president.

As opposed to simply speaking truth to power, which is sort of (inaudible) unwritten rules of the intelligence community and the director of National Intelligence and all those who brief the president live by.

[09:20:04] When that happens, I think it's a very, very bad sign. It's trickles down somewhat. My experience is in CI, you know, you would begin to hear anecdotal information about well, you know, someone doesn't want to hear this, that's going to be a difficult conversation to have, you know, downtown.

If you're working level, you know, intelligence collection continues regardless as to who is president and regardless as to what the reception is. The folks who are working in the field, whether it's the human intelligence or signals intelligence, whatever the disciplines of intelligence, the working professional officers will continue to do their jobs.

It's a really bad harbinger when you have a situation where you the commander-in-chief might not be willing to listen to some of the most important parts, especially with Russia, one of our key adversaries.

HARLOW: Greg, the piece ends with a quote that you guys got from a senior White House official who says, "We were looking to create some sort of bargain that would help us negotiate a very dangerous world, but if we do anything Congress and the media would stream bloody murder." From all your reporting, fair assessment from this White House?

MILLER: Well, I think that's part of a larger factor at work here, which is that -- I mean, the president is tugging and pulling in a very different direction than even many in his own administration. This is part of the problem. It creates a great deal of confusion.

His impulse is pursuit of a friendship of a bond with Putin and Russia is at odds with undercuts his own secretary of state and undercuts the FBI. It's at odds with many members of his own party on Capitol Hill who forced him and gave him no choice but to sign legislation adding additional sanctions.

I want to follow-up on something Steve said. I think he is right that the intelligence collections does continue and one of the details we report on our story is that the CIA has continued to see a stream of intelligence out of Moscow indicating that the kremlin sees its operation last year, election interference effort as an enormous success for all of the reasons that we are talking about.

BERMAN: All right. I want to talk much more about that coming up. Greg Miller, Steve Hall, thanks so much for being with us. Also in the story, a fascinating nugget, the president has never convened a cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference. What does Congress think about that? We will ask a key member coming up.

HARLOW: Also, we are, of course, watching the markets, just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street after a record close yesterday.

Plus, a huge deal on the business world, an earthquake in the entertainment industry, Disney buying up most of 21st Century Fox. What does this actually mean for you at home, ahead.



HARLOW: All right. Now more on that new reporting out of the "Washington Post" on the president and his handling, of all things, Russia and the interference in the U.S. election. Sources tell the "Washington Post" that the president refuses to accept the claims that Russia meddled in the election. We've seen that firsthand from the president. Really importantly, he has never held a cabinet meeting, cabinet-level meeting on this issue.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us to discuss Democratic Representative Eliot Engle of New York, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has skin in this game to be sure. Congressman, the fact that the president has never convened a cabinet-level meeting on Russian meddling, what does that tell you?

REP. ELIOT ENGLE (D), NEW YORK: Well, it tells me that he's not serious about trying to find out what the Russians did or didn't do in the election, and also not serious about confronting Russia. It just makes me scratch my head.

I mean, you don't have to be a scholar to understand that the Russians interfered with our democracy. They try it with not only the United States but with our allies in Great Britain and France and Germany, and only the president denies. Everybody else knows it's true.

HARLOW: OK. But the devil's advocate, the White House did not revoke the sanctions that were passed almost unanimously by Congress against Russia, and Nikki Haley said, in fact, they have already been implemented.

The White House has not handed back those two big diplomatic compounds in the northeast that we took from Russia at the end of the Obama administration. You could make the case, sir, whatever the president thinks, his actions are not reflecting that. Fair?

ENGEL: No, I think it's not fair because I think that we need to look at this in a much more serious way. It's not a matter of giving penalties back to the Russians, it's a matter of finding out what really happened. The president is in denial. He's in complete denial. He was in denial from day one. He likes Putin and he thinks Putin is a great guy. Putin, I don't have to tell everybody, and everybody knows Putin invade Crimea and Ukraine and tried to disrupt the NATO alliance in the European Union

Putin is not a friend of the country, but the president is in denial because Putin smiles at him and he thinks he's a friend. I think it's ridiculous. I think we need to investigate and let the chips fall where they may, but we can't do that if the president keeps to deny it.

BERMAN: If I can, I want to ask you a little bit about the investigation right now into Russian meddling, and it's not part of that investigation directly, but it has to do with these text messages sent by Special Agent Peter Strzok, who was fired from the Mueller investigation, removed from it and reassigned.