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Soon: Trump at FBI National Academy, Tillerson at UN; Soon: Tillerson Addresses U.N. Security Council. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: News is breaking live in Quantico, Virginia, on your left and then on your right, U.N. Headquarters in New York, because some major speeches there today.

President Trump is headed to Quantico right now. He's about to address a graduating class of the FBI National Academy. These are local law enforcement officers who come to learn from the agency's best that train them. Of course the president has attacked the FBI at every turn recently. His relationship with the FBI has been, in a word, strained. Here was the president, moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a shame what's happened with the FBI, but we're going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents and how they've done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch. I will tell you that.


HARLOW: Loved it. All right, so the president is -- speaking a lot. He's making a lot of headlines heading to Quantico. We will bring you more of those in a moment. But also, as I said, a lot is going on here in New York at the U.N.

Meantime, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about to address the U.N. Security Council on North Korea. The world will be listening for more apparent disconnections potentially between what the president has said on North Korea and what his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said on North Korea.

Let's go through all of this. Abby Phillip is at the White House with more. Quite a busy Friday morning there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It definitely is. Bright and early, the president is heading out this morning for Quantico, but he's actually not meeting with FBI agents while he's out there. He's going to be speaking at the graduation ceremony for FBI Academy for state and local enforcement officials and on his way out the door. You just heard that he doubled down on this criticism of the FBI whose reputation he said was in tatters. All of this is about the investigation into him and his campaign that he called today a scam.

Now the president who was referring in that clip to these text messages sent by FBI agents involved in the investigation apparently disparaging him. And also we now know disparaging other officials from the Obama administration as well. But the president and his allies are seizing on those texts, calling the FBI basically not fair in their investigation of him and some of his allies even calling for them -- the president to fire the Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

So, you know, we're not sure exactly. He was asked today about whether he would take steps to, for example, to pardon Michael Flynn. He was his former national security adviser, charged with lying to the FBI. He said now is not the time to talk about that. It will be interesting to see what he says when he's in Quantico. He may not be talking to FBI agents but they will be basically right down the street from where he is and probably listening keenly to hear what more he has to say about that agency.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators Robby Mook and former Hillary Clinton campaign manager of course and with us, Margaret Hoover, former staffer in the George W. Bush White House and also CNN political analyst and political reporter at "The New York Times" Alex Burns. I don't think you've been sleeping lately. Because like every big story has your name in the by line. So thank you all for being here.

Who's of news this morning? Let's just listen to some of what the president said as he was headed to Marine One this morning. First, when he was asked about any potential pardon of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who admitted to lying to the FBI. Here's how the president responded.


TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see. I can say this, when you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.


HARLOW: All right. You know, it's just really direct question and it seems like he may be up for protecting Flynn here in any way he can.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the keyword there, obviously, was yet, right, that he didn't say. I don't want to talk about that period, or we're not doing that, period. You know you never quite know how to read between the lines of what the President is saying. But then he segued into what certainly sounded like a rationale for you know trying to dismiss out of hand the entire investigation. And for folks in Washington who were concerned about Robert Mueller's security in his position and the security of the entire investigation, and for folks who, you know, want to see him carry things through the way he wants to carry them through including making deals with people like Michael Flynn that's very troubling.

HARLOW: But I will say as you know Rosenstein testified this week no one has asked him to dismiss Bob Mueller on any grounds.

Margaret, to you, here's what the president said on collusion. Listen.


TRUMP: There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate or the House, everybody -- my worst enemies, they walk out, they say there is no collusion, but we'll continue to look. They're spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion. I didn't make a phone call to Russia.


[10:05:12] HARLOW: Your read?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, on the surface, what the president says appears to be where the direction of the investigation seems to be on how the individuals who are being investigated behaved after the campaign. And maybe some of Michael Flynn during the campaign, but, you know, increasingly, people who are looking at this, seem to think that perhaps there was not collusion with the president but perhaps there was also very bad behavior after the time he was inaugurated and come into the White House and maybe even after he was elected.

So it may be that the investigation becomes about how these individuals have acted since they have acquired power. He might be right there, but it doesn't undermine the process. He has to respect that there is an independent process to evaluate that and allow that to be served up transparently to the American people. And that's where his politicking and his sort of espousing that there's nothing to see here, folks, doesn't sit well.

HARLOW: So Robby, to you, as a Democrat and also someone who led the Hillary Clinton campaign, he brought this answer all the way around full circle saying, and by the way, this was always a hoax from the Democrats. Now, he does have some legitimate gripes to point to, as you know, in the last two weeks, right? These text messages from the top FBI agent on the Clinton e-mail investigation showing an anti- Trump bias, he was also critical of Clinton in some of those texts, and then also the language change that we know in Comey's statement - public statement on the conclusion of the e-mail investigation that language being changed from saying it was reasonably likely that hackers got into Clinton's e-mail server to it was possible that that happened.

What's your read on all of this? I mean, is the president really -- does he get a boon from that? Does he get a boost from that to say things like this?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that's what he's trying to do. You know, he and his administration are coming up with any possible fact that they can turn into, you know, the idea that this is somehow a witch hunt against him. And I think, you know, as others have said, he's really digging the hole deeper for himself. I think the harder he pushes back, the more he denies that any of this is true when his associates and in fact his former national security adviser comes out and admits he lied to the FBI about conversations with the Russians. His own son is pleading the Fifth Amendment and won't talk about conversations he had with his father as it relates to meetings with the Russians. They just look guiltier and guiltier.

So look, the Republicans clearly have crafted a strategy here to try to either have a false equivalence, you know, to point to things on the other side, or to discredit law enforcement. But look as you said in the texts, you know, they were disparaging people in the Obama administration and frankly, the notion that the FBI was somehow in the tank for Hillary Clinton when they came out just days before the election, you know, insinuating things about her, that just doesn't carry water at all.

HARLOW: We are on the other side of our screen - Robby, thank you. And stay with me, panel, we're looking at the president here along with a big team there at the FBI National Academy in Quantico where these law enforcement officers from around the country have gone through 10 weeks of training from some of the FBI's best.

And Laura Jarrett our justice reporter is with us also, looks like they're taking the pledge of allegiance or listening to the national anthem. We can't tell. We don't have the sound yet. But I mean this comes, you know, as the president is about to address this group on the heels of him saying they're the worst in history and they're in tatters.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, Poppy, and what we've seen over the course of the last week or two, especially on Fox News, is that defenders of the president in the media and on Capitol Hill, are saying, we need to turn inside the Justice Department, turn our gaze in there and look at what's happening. You've seen the president tweet about the Justice Department calling it the deep state at one point for refusing to turn over documents in his view to the House Intelligence Committee.

And now once again we also see a renewed interest in this draft statement for the -- from the former FBI director James Comey and the change from calling her handling of classified material from, quote, "grossly negligent to extremely careless." And the change was a significant one that had legal ramifications because grossly negligent is, in fact, the standard but it makes sense he would make the change since he was going to clear her anyway. But the fact that Peter Strzok, this FBI agent, who is in the counterintelligence division and leading the investigation is now involved given his text messages. I think you see a renewed interest in how that investigation was handled. Poppy?

[10:10:00] HARLOW: All right. And we're going to continue to watch this and as soon as the president does begin to speak. Of course, you will hear it here live. There are a lot of other headlines including - Margaret Hoover, to you, Omarosa, from the White House. You worked in the White House, although you didn't have so many headlines when you left the White House as she does, she's speaking. She just spoke to "Nightline" last night and she talked about race and race relations within the White House? Listen to her.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Donald Trump is racial. He is not a racist. The things that he says, the types of pushback that he gives involve people of color and so these are racial exchanges. Yes, I will acknowledge, many of the exchanges particularly in the last six months have been racially charged. Do we then just stop and label him as a racist? No.


HARLOW: What do you make of that?

HOOVER: Look, I think there's a publicity tour and campaign going on by a staffer who is trying to make a life for herself after unceremoniously losing a position that she probably shouldn't have had in the first place and as an African-American woman who served in the White House where a president absolutely morally compromised himself and the integrity of the office in a way that lost African-Americans like Tim Scott, a Republican African-American in the Senate, probably forever. She's got a lot of work to do and she's got a lot of explaining to do about why she stood by that president and didn't say anything while she was there -- while in a position of influence with the president.

HARLOW: That's a really good point. Stick around, guys, because at any moment we're going to hear from the president. Also the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will address the United Nations Security Council today about the escalating tension with North Korea and we are also expecting to have some rare remarks from North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations today as well, still waiting for all of that to happen. The president spoke about North Korea and his call with President Putin moments ago. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: The primary point was to talk about North Korea because we would love to have his help on North Korea. China is helping, Russia is not helping. We would like to have Russia's help, very important.


HARLOW: And he also said as we bring in our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, he also said China is helping. Russia is not on North Korea.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well China has a lot more sway over North Korea, but it's clear that the president and the State Department would like to see many other countries do more. So yes, these countries continue to trade with North Korea. There's a lot of illicit trade in that part of the world. So we expect Tillerson today, Secretary of State, to keep applying that pressure to the rest of the world to get them to do more.

What's going to be truly remarkable, though, Poppy, is if this happens, as we expect it to, to have the Secretary of State there. At the U.N. Security Council and then have a representative from North Korea who is expected to speak last, deliver whatever speech there's going to be and whatever rhetoric is going to be included in that before this council. And this is the first time we'll see this in 10 years' time.

So, obviously, there is a lot going on here. There's a lot that could come out of things from the Secretary of State, maybe we'll hear some more clarity on what exactly he has meant over the last few days by saying that he would be willing to sit down with North Korea with no preconditions and that they should just come to the table. And we'll hear how North Korea responds to that. I mean, obviously, there's been plenty of confusion here to go around as well as what some see as a real rift between not the State Department and the White House necessarily, but Secretary Tillerson himself and the White House, Poppy.

HARLOW: Exactly, we a lot more to talk about. Michelle, as we wait for Tillerson to make the remarks and these rare remark from the North Korean side as well we are going to get a quick break in, much more ahead as we await the president at the FBI academy. Stay with us.


[10:18:25] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. There is a lot going on. On the left-hand side of your screen, you see FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia, where the president is about to address law enforcement officers at the place, where, well, frankly, he's been incredibly critical of law enforcement intelligence and the FBI. On the other side of your screen, you see members being seated of the national security -- excuse me of the U.N. Security Council there. Rex Tillerson, you see the Secretary of State, I believe right there in the middle, he will be making remarks followed by some rare remarks from the North Korean side. We're waiting for both.

Back with me is Robby Mook, Margaret Hoover and Alex Burns. We're awaiting both of these. And let's talk also, guys, about this call that the president just had with Vladimir Putin. He just talked about it to reporters. Part of it largely was - Alex, about North Korea and he said China is being helpful on North Korea and Russia not being helpful on North Korea. He said they, Putin, said some negative things. You would think about the North Korea strategy they disagree with the U.S. on that. He said Putin also complimented him on the economy.

BURNS: We don't know a whole lot of the details though, what was said about North Korea, just that they did discuss North Korea -

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: But you know Poppy, I would sort of group this with a number of moments during the year including on Syria over the summer where the president's whole foreign policy premise of needing a closer, warmer relationship with Russia is really going to be put to the test. That it's very clear that the president has sought out a more positive relationship, that other members of his administration have sought out a more constructive relationship with Russia, often facing serious criticism from their own party in doing so.

[10:20:04] And this is when that approach really gets put to the test, that if you give on Russia in a number of ways, if you say nice things about Vladimir Putin -

HARLOW: What do you get back?

BURNS: What do you get in return?

HARLOW: And clearly he's not getting what he wants on North Korea. Putin this week called it counterproductive, the U.S. strategy on North Korea.

Robby, to you, what's your read on this? I mean, Clinton you know famously a Secretary of State worked towards a reset with Russia, something that the president sort of laughed at, but this is his attempt at a reset with Russia and will it pay off and what will the dividend be, if any?

MOOK: Obviously, Russia has confounded, you know, our national foreign policy for decades now. I think Alex is right that this is going to be a really critical test. We don't know a lot about that call. I thought it was interesting that one real detail we seem to get out was that the president thanked Putin for praising him, although Putin just recently insulted the Congress in his remarks at a press conference.

So look, I just don't trust the president to be tough on Russia. He never has been. It's bizarre the way he's willing to say pretty aggressive and antagonistic things to our allies but when it comes to Vladimir Putin he's just never said anything critical as far as I can tell. You know, with other adversaries like North Korea and Iran he's been incredibly tough. So, it will be just interesting to see where this goes. And I would wager he wasn't very tough with Putin on that call and that's why nothing like that has been read out to us.

HARLOW: It's interesting, Robby, to hear your comments juxtapose with where the president is right now. He's sitting next to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI. He's also there, two people he's been - Margaret Hoover, very critical of. And to Robby's point, not critical of Putin, not critical of Russia, hoping for some, you know, payoff for that benefits Americans and the United States, but so critical of our intelligence?

HOOVER: I am very grateful that we're looking at a president, a picture of the president at Quantico right now with the FBI next to the attorney general because if actions speak louder than words this is an incredibly powerful and important signal to send to the American people that you have faith in the top law enforcement agency of this country. That is critical in a country where we believe and we depend on the rule of law, not authoritarian dictatorships and the rule of thugs or an FBI -- I'm sorry a KGB. And what's been disconcerting and uncomfortable about the last couple weeks is this consistent undermining of the FBI and undermining of the chief law enforcement mechanisms that create and sustain a country that is based on the rule of law. So this image, I think in some ways powerfully undermines the words the president said.

HARLOW: Does it, though?

HOOVER: To me this is a very, very important shot.

HARLOW: Walking to the helicopter to get here.

HOOVER: Literally -

HARLOW: He said, it is a shame what has happened with the FBI. We will, you know, restore it.

HOOVER: I think this is an effort to repair some of those words. I mean, I would suspect that John Kelly, a four-star general, I would suspect that McMaster, I would suspect that Attorney General Sessions and all of the axis of adults around the president probably put this on his schedule for precisely this reason.

HARLOW: I think you just coined a new phrase "axis of adults." Alex? What's your phrase?

BURNS: I have no witty coinage for you, Poppy, but look the president has a habit of doing these kinds of set piece events and finding a way to say something to undermine the premise of the event. We saw it a few weeks ago when he used the racially charged epithet for Elizabeth Warren at an event that was supposed to honor the Navajo Code Talkers, right?

So let's wait to see what he actually says at the event and let's not, you know, move past quickly what he previously said this morning. I will say, Poppy, and this is just sort of a personal observation, just having come back from Alabama yesterday, I would give anything to, you know, to have a wire on the conversation between the president and Jeff Sessions today.


BURNS: I would love to know what's being said about Roy Moore.

HARLOW: Well, the president did say publicly just moments ago, Roy Moore should concede. But he hasn't yet. We'll see. Alex, Margaret, thank you very much, Robby, thank you.

Stay with us. We have a lot ahead. We're waiting for the president to speak in Quantico. We're waiting for the Secretary of State to speak here in New York at the United Nations and, by the way, we're waiting in moments we could get the draft, the final draft, of the Republican tax reform billion. What is it? Stay with us.


[10:28:50] HARLOW: All right. As we await remarks from the president at Quantico at the FBI Academy and remarks from the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson there at the United Nations Security Council, let's talk about another huge thing happening in Washington right now and that is tax reform. Can the Republicans pull this thing off?

Our Sunlen Serfaty is on the Hill. Dana Bash also joins me from Washington. And Sunlen, to you first, you know three days ago this was like a shoo-in for Republicans, and now I don't know?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think that you can say that there have been a lot of unexpected hurdles as they reach the final stretch with all of this. Here's where we are. These next few hours or so key for Republicans this morning as they push towards holding a final vote on this next week. At noon, by noon, the tax conferees will have to put their signature on a report which in essence walks in the legislative language here. They have a final bill, President Trump this morning even saying they have a final bill.

So right now between the time of right now and noon, they have to make sure that they have all the support that they need to lock in that legislative language. Now as we have been talking about in recent days there are these hurdles, these wild cards that have popped up. You have Marco Rubio saying he wants more generous child tax credit and Mike Lee, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, all still TBDs then you have of course, Bob Corker. They've never really relied on his support. He voted against it the first time.