Return to Transcripts main page
ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump Lawyers Set For Key Meeting With Special Counsel; Trump Sets Up Attacks On FBI Says "We'll See" About Flynn Pardon; Top Dem "Increasingly Worried" GOP Will Shut Down House Investigation On Russia By End Of Month; GOP Reveals Final Tax Bill, Rubio And Corker To Vote "Yes"; Interview with Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana; Omarosa: Trump Admin Has "Lack of Diversity". Aired on 7-8p ET
Aired December 15, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:15] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next, breaking news. President Trump's lawyers set for a key meeting with Robert Mueller as the President doesn't rule out pardoning Michael Flynn and a top Dem says Republicans could be trying to shut down the Russia investigation.
Plus more breaking news, late changes to the tax bill. It is the biggest changes to taxes in decades and we are just learning the details tonight and who is the biggest winner. And Trump's judicial nominee stumped senator who grilled him a Republican is my guest. Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, breaking news. CNN learning tonight, the President Trump's personal lawyers are scheduled to sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team as early as next week. Sources familiar with the matter say the meeting is coming at a critical time. They say that because it is coming after all the interviews Mueller requested with White House personnel have been completed.
But this is all coming on a day of major developments in the Russia investigation. The President faced with the question of whether he would pardon his Former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, today, playing coy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happened. Let's see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Let's see. Well, Flynn of course pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He is now fully cooperating with Mueller's investigators. But that's not all the President said today. He then went on to attack both the FBI and the DOJ.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Disgraceful. Well, Trump appears of course to be afraid of text messages from one of the FBI agents on the Russia investigation. Those text messages of course were critical to the President. Mueller removed the agent from the investigation when he learned of the texts, but that has not stopped Trump from slamming the FBI in its entirety and questioning its credibility.
Also breaking tonight, a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says he's increasingly concerned Republicans are rushing the shut down the Russia investigation in the House by the end of the month.
Congressman Adam Schiff firing off a series of tweets, putting this. "Republicans have scheduled no witnesses after next Friday and none in 2017. We have dozens of outstanding witnesses on key aspects of our investigation that they refuse to contact and many document requests that they continue to sit on." Obviously, it means 2018 there. It appears Republicans want to conduct just enough interviews to give the impression of a serious investigation.
These are, obviously, a lot of breaking developments to cover tonight. I want to begin with Pamela Brown, who is breaking so much of this. And Pamela, I want to start with your reporting on the President's lawyers meeting with the Special Counsel. What are you learning at this hour?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, sources tell us that the President's lawyers are planning to meet with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team and we're told that this could happen as soon as next week. But what the President's lawyers' hope will be a chance to find out the next steps in the Mueller investigation. They view this meeting as key, Erin.
And the Trump legal team led by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow is hoping that they can see signs that the end is near in Mueller's investigation. They've had other meetings. But here's why this one is viewed as so significant. The White House says everyone who works there and who Mueller asked to interview, has now gone in for an interview.
Last to happen actually earlier this week when White House Counsel Don McGahn sat down for his interview. The White House is also finished turning over the documents requested by the Special Counsel. There has been no request to interview the President or Vice President. Now, of course, they know that Mueller could still come back to ask for more interviews and for more documents.
And it's important to note here, Erin, that there's no requirement for Mueller to give them any information. But they're hoping he is going to show his cards. There is a chance he won't do that as we know. But the bottom line here, Erin, is that the President and Republicans, they are getting impatient and want this cloud of the investigation lifted.
BURNETT: So from your perspective, Pam, not that their wishful thinking maybe but the reality of your reporting. Is there a sense of how quickly this investigation is moving and where we are?
BROWN: So, Erin, the Mueller investigation is actually moving relatively quickly compared to the typical white collar criminal investigation that often struck (ph) us into years. You know, he's only been on the job thinking about it seven months or so since May and already Mueller has brought charges against four people, including two who have pleaded guilty of making false statements to the FBI. But other lawyers representing people involved in the case don't see signs this is wrapping up soon.
As sources tell us the questions being asked by investigators deal with firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the details of the White House handling of that 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. set up with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, we know that some members of Mueller's team are assigned specifically on the issue of obstruction of justice.
[19:05:15] And we don't know what else Mueller is still digging into. It's basically and in someway, it's just sort of a dark hole, Erin. You just don't know what else is going on there.
BURNETT: And that's the thing. I mean, to their credit, obviously, that there are some things have come out, but when the charges come out, that has never been leaked in advance. Thank you so very much, Pamela Brown.
And of course, you know when we found out that people had been cooperating, we've found out they had been cooperating months after they started doing so. No leak.
Senator Jeff Merkley is OutFront. He's a Democrat in the Foreign Relations Committee. I appreciate your time as always, sir. So, let me just start with the breaking news that Pamela was just reporting.
We're learning Trump's private lawyers who meet with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller next week. And obviously as they're saying, the timing of this is very significant because he has wrapped up his meetings with others in the White House. How significant is this to you?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, certainly the White House wants to be able to have the story that they've met with them, that the President's off the hook. Things are going to wrap up quickly. I don't think there's going to get that story next week, though.
This type of investigation has many, many threads that have to be fully explored and Mueller with his professional background is not going to leave stones unturned. So we'll see how the meeting comes out. But I think the White House is looking for a way to portray it as the President can move forward. The shadow was removed. I don't think that's going to be the case.
BURNETT: So, you know, the President did not rule out a pardon for Michael Flynn today. And look, you just heard that sound by but, you know, it was a sort of we'll see what happens, right? Do you think he's sending a signal to Flynn to still dangle the possibility of that pardon out there?
MERKLEY: Well, it does seem inappropriate. I mean, to talk about a pardon for somebody who was in the middle of working with the FBI, cooperating with the FBI on an investigation of ones self really is just wrong. And so, it's -- that may be what the present intended. But I think the FBI has the type of arrangement with Flynn where his ability to gain from the agreement that they have made with the -- that he's made with the FBI, depends upon his full cooperation. So I think the FBI is probably in a good place to keep Flynn from being tempted to -- well, bail out if you will.
BURNETT: Yes. So, Senator, you know, obviously Congressman Adam Schiff, if I was sharing some of his tweets on health intel. He is worried the Republicans are trying to shut down the House investigation by the end of the month. He's saying, you know, they're not, you know, scheduling any interviews for next week.
Another thing he tweeted, he said, "By shutting down the congressional investigations when they continue to discover new and important evidence, the White House can exert tremendous pressure to end or curtail Mueller's investigation or cast down on it. We cannot let that happen."
My question to you, this is a deeply important question, an important to not be political about at all. Do you believe that there truly is a concerted effort right now, by Republicans to wrap up this House investigation prematurely?
MERKLEY: Well, I don't serve on the House side, so I can't give you a front row seat. But my impression is -- the answer is yes. That you've had a House leadership that has gone very slowly all the way. The fact that they have no meetings lined up and/or lined up for 2018, the fact that they are not proceeding with the subpoenas.
It's just they are trying to show -- they're doing a little kind of bit, but not much. They're trying to protect the President at every turn.
BURNETT: So Senator, you know, if that's your perception, let me ask you this, about Mueller himself. Congressman Schiff also tweeted, "Beyond our investigation, here's what really has me concerned." The attacks on Mueller, DOJ and FBI this week make it clear they plan to go after Mueller's investigation. Aggressively and soon." This then, the other crucial question. Do you believe there is any serious move to get rid of Mueller himself?
MERKLEY: They certainly -- the White House team is infuriated that Mueller is in this position and he's such a professional. He's assembled such a team of confident investigators and they're terrified. And they're trying to look at every possible angle to prevent him from proceeding.
I think that there would be enormous pushback if they were to fire Mueller. So I find it hard to believe that they really are entertaining that particular option, but they're applying pressure from every direction.
BURNETT: All right, I appreciate your time. Senator Merkley, your honest assessment of how you see things. Thank you.
And I want to go to now to our Political Director David Chalian and Former White House Ethics Lawyer under President George W. Bush, Richard Painter, both OutFront. You know, look, you just heard -- David, I think an honest assessment there from Senator Merkley and want to jump and want to go too far on Mueller, but obviously deeply concerned.
[19:10:08] That there is a possibility Republicans are tying to get rid of him and justify this. You know when you look at these FBI texts, as just one example. What's you're reaction and your reporting from what you're hearing about how real this risk is?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Well something shifted into high gear this week and it is the political side of this legal investigation. Everyone trying to form their own narrative. We've seen this before from both sides of the aisle quite frankly, Erin, when a president is under investigation. The President's team tries to define that investigator in some way that muddies the water. That somehow makes them discredited in some way.
It seems to me that Republicans are going to have a very hard time doing that successfully with Mueller simply because he's a Republican in his past. And he is sort of beloved by people on either side of the aisle. I understand right now there's an concerted effort in the conservative media inside the Trump White House with strong allies on Capitol Hill to make that not so. But it defies the historic understanding of Mueller's standing in the world.
BURNETT: I mean, Richard, you know, that is the big question. You know, there was a time they were talking about legislation to protect Mueller. And then all that stopped. Because it just seemed so absurd and ludicrous that anybody would actually entertain the concept and now all a sudden, it is being discussed.
Do you believe in the big picture here, what Berkley did say in terms of the House, he does have the impression that Republicans are trying to wrap this up. Do you think Mueller himself is near the end here? He's interviewed everyone he wants to interview at the White House and he's now going to meet with the attorneys, the personal attorneys for the President.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER W.H. ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well I think Bob Mueller is going to set his own schedule. He knows what he's doing and I don't want to guess when he's going to end this investigation. There are those on Capitol Hill who do not like Robert Mueller, because they don't like the investigation. Some of them may themselves have issues with Russia. We don't know.
But Congress needs to conduct its own investigation as to what happened with respect to Russia interference in our election. Whether it's in the presidential race or congressional campaigns, they should be conducting an investigation and they should let Robert Mueller conduct his or they're going to get themselves in very serious hot water.
BURNETT: David, do you have concern about how political this has become or do you think that it is fair of Congressman Schiff right now, you know, who's been very honest through all of this. But he is now coming out and being very directive, very aggressive in saying that Republicans are trying to shut this down and trying to finish this, right? I mean, is there a concern in your view, I think that politicization is a problem.
CHALIAN: It is clearly a problem. But not -- we don't know how necessarily great a problem it is. It is also clearly inevitable. I mean, these investigations are inherently political in nature when you're talking about the President of the United States. So I don't think there's any way around that.
What I -- you know, I read Adam Schiff's tweet storm today. He provided some data points.
CHALIAN: But we will see. If indeed the Republicans are going to shut that down. I don't think that is clear yet. I think Adam Schiff is throwing this out there to try to lay a predicate in case that is the reality. I don't think he has actual hard proof the indeed the House Republicans are ready to shut it down.
BURNETT: And Richard, before we go, there's a lot of similarity. We know the President watches a lot of TV. But very specific similarly between what the President is saying, the allegations that he is making and what we are hearing from the news anchors on Fox.
Let me just play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a shame what's happened with the FBI, but we're going to rebuild the FBI. It will be better 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.
JEANINE PIRRO, HOST, FOX NEWS: There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of justice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Troubling questions about the political motivations of the leadership at the FBI. SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: The FBI and from Robert Mueller's merry band of democratic donors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Robert Mueller of course is a Republican. Richard, who is echoing whom?
PAINTER: Well, the President of the United States is watching Fox News and that's just a bunch of garbage. It's clearly contradicted by the testimony of Director Wray of the FBI who was appointed by President Trump. Who testified before Congress that the FBI is in very good shape and is not a politicized organization at all.
And this is also contradicted by testimony of the Deputy Attorney General, Mr. Rod Rosenstein, who is also an appointee of President Trump. So he's not listening to his own people. He's sitting around listening to Fox News. And that's just all a lot of ravish. If he wants to be president, he ought to listen at least to the people that he has appointed to his administration to contradict all of that.
[19:15:08] CHALIAN: Erin, can I just say --
BURNETT: CIA Director -- yes, go ahead.
CHALIAN: Sorry. This is a President who's sitting at 32 percent in the polls right now. This is somebody who is clearly -- that's not a persuasion strategy to try to broaden that appeal out in the country. He is purely trying to appeal to the base and has shown no desire to go beyond that at the moment.
BURNETT: No. And even in Alabama where he was at 48 percent rate significantly higher than the average, still lost. (INAUDIBLE) circumstances but a significant point there for him.
Next breaking news, we are learning much more. The just released tax bill is coming out. We got the details. Two GOP senators who felt fault with the plan are now, guess what, a yes. It's happening. Plus, the White House standing by this Trump judicial nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?
MATTHEW PETERSEN, NOMINEE FOR THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: I have not.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: He was honest. Well, the senator in the question there is a Republican. He is my guest.
And Omarosa says she's had rationally charged conversations with the President, stopping just short of calling him a racist.
BURNETT: Breaking news. We have the details of the Republican tax bill. It's 503 pages. Among the changes, the corporate alternative minimum tax is gone, but for individuals, it's still there.
[19:20:05] Narrowed eligibility but it's still there. It doubles the estate tax exemption to $11 million, which will save 3,200 Americans. Those are people impact by this. It's going to save them a whole lot of money. That's a massive tax break paid for by other Americans. And the first $10,000 worth of state and local sales income property taxes can be deducted, but not more than that which means plenty of people are going to pay more.
House Speaker Paul Ryan says his chamber will vote on the bill Tuesday and the Senate, it looks like this is in the bag. They are going to pass it. Marco Rubio, Bob Corker are a vote yes. Corker was really the short no and even he's on board.
Sunlen Serfaty is OutFront today on Capitol Hill. So Sunlen, 503 pages, what else is in it?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well let me take you through some of the top headlines of this, Erin. First on the tax brackets, the number of tax brackets stays the same at seven brackets as it currently is. And the lowest rate stays at 10 percent.
But check out the differences among the other tax bracket. It lowers the rate for most of them. Especially check out the top individual rate. That drops from 39.6 percent to now 37 percent. On the corporate tax rate, it drops from 35 percent to 21 percent. That's significantly -- is lightly higher than the 20 percent that was proposed in the House and Senate bill and that would start up in 2018.
Very significantly, the bill does include an elimination of the Obamacare individual mandate penalty. That's significant because that was first something that was in the Senate bill, something that wasn't in the House bill. Certainly, there is a considerable more in the 503 pages of this tax bill just released up here on Capitol Hill tonight, Erin.
But Republican leaders are confident. They are pushing ahead. Certainly a big win for them to get Marco Rubio and Bob Corker on board in the yes column tonight and we're also hearing from some wild cards, Susan Collins, Mike Lee. They haven't said officially yes yet, but they have said that they are pleased on the contours of this bill.
So going into that vote next week, Republicans feeling very good, they will have a vote in the House on Tuesday. Push it to a vote in the Senate after that with the potential to get on the President's desk by Wednesday.
BURNETT: Fastest major change in tax reform to move through ever.
OutFront now, Former Senior Economic Adviser to the Trump campaign, Stephen Moore, who played an important role in advising Trump on the tax bill that you are now seeing tonight, and Former Labor Secretary in the President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich. His new movie "Saving Capitalism" is on Netflix now.
So, Stephen, break out the champagne. You've got to be overjoyed.
STEPHEN MOORE, FMR. SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: I'm pretty happy camper today, and you would not want to see me yesterday because I was in a bit of a panic. But, look, it looks like the 50 votes are there. They may actually get every Republican and lose every Democrat.
This is an historic occasion. I believe I know Robert Reich disagrees with me, but I believe this will be very powerfully pro-growth. I think it's good for businesses, I think it's good for workers, I think it's good for families.
You know, one of the announcements this week, Erin, was that their withholding tables will start changing right at the beginning of the year. So, Americans will learn when they see their paychecks that the media hasn't told them the truth about this. Because the vast, vast majority of people in the middle class are going to get a pretty sizeable tax cut.
BURNETT: Robert, is there anything in this bill that you like? Especially when Steve points things out like an increase in the deductions? Child care?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Erin, there are a little things that I think are better than they were like the child tax credit.
REICH: Refundable and I think Marco Rubio got that in. But overall, the bill is in many ways, worse than it was. That is you now have the highest rates going down from their 39.6 percent down to 37 percent. You've got rid of the corporate alternative minimum tax altogether.
I mean, this is a huge give away. A trillion dollars to corporations when corporations don't need it, don't want it, don't -- are not going to spend it on investment. This is not pro-growth at all. Steven Moore, there's no relationship between a tax cut like this and growth. And we know that from just history.
This is, in some sense, immoral. And I think I'm using the word morality advisedly, Erin, because you are, you're getting rid of -- in this bill, you're getting rid of the health care individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office itself says is going to mean that 13 million Americans are going to lose their coverage. Why? So you can give more tax breaks to people who have never been as rich in their lives, people at the top and also big corporations that already are flooded with profits.
BURNETT: Bob, does it make you feel any better? I mean, some of these people at the top especially in the blue states who voted Hillary Clinton are going to pay more. Right? They're getting a federal tax cut that they're losing their state and local deduction.
REICH: No, because all the studies showed, and it's going to be the middle class in California, and New York and New Jersey and that gets really hit badly. This is where a lot of the American middle class is going to really, really come out much worse than they were before.
[19:25:08] BURNETT: You know, to the point of how to pay for this, right, OK. So the decision's been made. This is about a corporate tax cut and the belief that it's going to reduce the economy, OK. So the whole thing -- we've had this discussion so many times, right?
Companies are going to bring their money home from overseas. That cash by the way is going to get taxed at 15.5 percent. That's a rate that pretty much any American would salivate to have at the W2 but that' not the way it works. Labor is going to be taxed at a higher rate than that.
The Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says that the company with the single most money overseas, Apple, is going to lead the charge, but a new report from a research firm CFRA says Apple is going the use that money mostly for things like stock buybacks. Share points are going to go higher. Investors are going to do better. How is Apple juicing up its stock price going to help the average American and deliver on Trump's promise of a $4,000 raise for regular Americans?
REICH: Well, Erin, if you're asking me, I will tell you.
BURNETT: No, I will let Steve first and I'll give you a chance to respond, Bob.
MOORE: Look, I think the number one aim of this bill is to make America number one. We're in a global economy, Erin, you know it. We all know it. We're competing against China. We're competing against Russia. We're competing against Canada and Mexico. And the rest of the world has been laughing at us behind our back for the last 20 years as we impose the highest taxes on our businesses and literally --
BURNETT: I mean, we have a very high standard of living. So maybe our companies don't have the lowest tax rate but --
BURNETT: -- people around the world envy the way that we live.
BURNETT: So giving the breaks that the companies maybe not going to help that. MOORE: I know, Erin. But one of the reasons Donald Trump won this election, I traveled around the country with him, because Americans were getting pretty infuriated that so many factories were leaving. They were -- you got a lot of jobs that we're leaving the country for China and Mexico and other countries.
And our point is, look, let's bring them back. Let's go from having the worst corporate tax system. And by the way, it's not just corporations. There's 27 million small businesses in this country whose tax rate will go from 40 percent to 30 percent.
Robert Reich, the reason we want to cut that highest income tax rate is because that's the rate most of the small businesses are paying and most jobs come from small businesses. What's wrong with being pro- American business?
BURNETT: This is analyses that have been done. But I want -- Robert, I want to give you a chance to respond to Steve's point. Are those factories going to come back? Are we going to see those factors come back?
REICH: No. Look at this. This is a case of collective Republican right wing amnesia. If there is -- unless it's just paying off the donor class, I think a lot of this ping of the donor class. We know in 2004, hello, Steve Moore, this was tried. The George W. Bush administration did exactly this. They said, OK, we're going to have a tax holiday.
Bring all of your foreign profits home and hopefully we're going to have all these new jobs, all these new investments. And what happened? Zero. We got nothing except stock buybacks and we got executive pay increases. That is it. That's all we're going to get.
BURNETT: All right, I'll leave it there. Thank you, both.
REICH: We didn't cut the corporate rate though. Yes.
BURNETT: I think that that was a one-time thing and this is a longer term.
REICH: Oh come on.
BURNETT: All right, thank you both very much.
And next, the Trump judicial nominee fails legal pop quiz one-on-one. The Republican Senator who stumped him just asking some basic questions. You're going to see this entire exchange that something ouch. You've got to see it. he's up next.
And Sarah Sanders said the White House has a really diverse team. Well not according to the most senior and in fact, the only senior African-American who was on that team, Omarosa.
My next guest is going to talk about Omarosa. He's going to tell you what she's saying tonight.
[19:31:13] BURNETT: Tonight, one of President Trump's judicial nominees going viral for the wrong reasons as Trump comes under fire for his nominee's qualifications. Two of them withdrawn, one nominee failing to answer basic legal questions and admitting to a stunning lack of experience as well.
Here's Matthew Spencer Peterson. He is a nominee at this moment to be a judge for life on a district court in Washington, D.C.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?
Mr. Petersen? Have you ever tried a jury trial?
MATTHEW SPENCER PETERSEN, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE NOMINEE: I have not.
KENNEDY: State or federal court?
PETERSEN: I have not.
KENNEDY: Have you ever tried taken a deposition by yourself?
PETERSEN: I believe, no.
KENNEDY: OK. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?
PETERSEN: I have not.
KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?
KENNEDY: Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?
PETERSEN: Senator Kennedy, I don't have that readily at my disposal.
KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?
PETERSEN: Yes, I'm again, my background is not in litigation as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley. I haven't had to again, do a deep dive and I understand and appreciate this line of questioning.
KENNEDY: Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?
PETERSEN: I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.
KENNEDY: OK. Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?
PETERSEN: I've heard of it, but I -- again.
KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention document? You'll see that a lot in federal court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. That really happened. And now the man on the other end of the exchange, you saw him there, Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. He is a lawyer.
Senator, I appreciate your time tonight.
What was going through your head during that questioning?
KENNEDY: Well, nobody has a better voting record than I do, Erin, with President Trump. But I have to do my job. I sit on the Judiciary Committee and I don't think that the first time that you've ever stepped foot in a federal courtroom ought to be as a federal judge.
I read Mr. Petersen's FBI background check. I feel badly for him. His background check is voluminous. You can stand on the thing and paint the ceiling.
Everybody in his background says that Mr. Petersen is smart and honest, and capable, but experience matters. And my job under our separation of powers doctrine inspired by Madison is to sort of be a check --
KENNEDY: -- on nominees.
The president doesn't interview these folks. He interviews folks for the U.S. Supreme Court, but he doesn't interview these nominees below the Supreme Court. He has staff to do that and others. And sometimes, mistakes were made and we're supposed to catch them and that's my job.
BURNETT: So, I mean, my question to you, I mean, obviously, it's pretty embarrassing, OK, that anybody questioning him and ended up putting someone in that --
KENNEDY: It was painful, and I feel badly -- I feel very badly for Mr. Petersen. I think he's probably a very nice guy. But that's my job.
BURNETT: Well, that's not what this is about either. As you pointed out, right? This is about federal judge.
[19:35:00] So my question to you is did you, Senator, have any idea this was going to be this painful or did you literally come up with those questions because he kept saying no? Have you done a jury trial, a civil trial, a criminal trial, taken a deposition by yourself, state or federal court? I mean, were you coming in ready with that or did that just happen because you were so shocked with his response?
KENNEDY: Well, I prepare -- every senator prepares differently, Erin. I spend a lot of time reading the resume. I try to read the background check for every nominee. Now I can't do it for all of them, but I do it for as many as quick and I have kind of a general idea.
Some senators have their staffs prepare questions.
KENNEDY: I don't generally do that. I do my own questioning and my job is to try to understand whether this man or woman has the integrity and experience to be appointed federal judge for life with all of the power, the immense power of the United States government behind him.
BURNETT: So, Senator, let me -- let me ask you, you point out, you've noted that the president, you point out, you know, he hasn't interviewed every one of these judicial nominees. I'm not saying you were trying to excuse him, but you were saying and people who work for him did these interviews to pick this guy. They put out a statement actually about the criticism of Petersen, the Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley.
And in part, it says this, I want to read it straight to you, Senator. It's no surprise the president's opponents keep trying to distract from the record-setting success the president has had on judicial nominations, which includes a Supreme Court justice and 12 outstanding circuit judges in his first year.
Do you consider yourself an opponent of President Trump as this statement seems to refer?
KENNEDY: Oh, no. I'm not. I enthusiastically supported President Trump for president of the United States. I still support him. I do not consider myself --
BURNETT: So, should they withdraw this nomination? I mean, they're standing by it. They're trying to say everyone who's criticizing is trying to distract.
KENNEDY: Well, the executive branch has its job to do. And I've been pretty supportive. I'm very fond of the president. I think he's a very bright guy. I know some disagree with that, but this is America. You're entitled to your opinion.
I do think but nobody's perfect. And the president, these aren't the, these are the president's nominees. But he didn't pick them. He didn't do the interviewing and I -- nobody's perfect. And I think --
BURNETT: Right, but should he now step up and say to his team, don't put out statements like that. This is embarrassing. This guy is not ready. Withdraw the nomination, right? I mean, ultimately --
KENNEDY: I don't know -- I'm a -- I don't know how the White House works. I'm a brand new senator. The only time I get to go to the White House is to take a tour. So, I don't know how the internal White House works.
I will say that I did raise objections on two of the president's other nominees. Once again, they're done in his name, but I don't believe for a second President Trump interviewed him. One of his nominees, for example, didn't tell us he was. It was revealed by the press. One of his nominees was caught blogging in support of the early Ku Klux Klan.
And again, this is America. You can do what you want. But I can do what I want and I said I'm not going to vote for him and they pulled him down.
KENNEDY: I'm hoping that the White House will pull down Mr. Petersen. I don't want to -- I mean I don't want to see him suffer. He's a nice guy and I think he's whip smart, probably.
BURNETT: But again, it's not about that.
KENNEDY: You can't just walk -- you can't just walk in to a federal courthouse for the very first time and say, here I am, I think I'm going to be a judge. It just doesn't work that way, especially not the D.C. circuit. The D.C. Circuit and the Southern District of New York are probably the most important district courts and you've got really experienced lawyers going at each over hammer and tong, and you're supposed to be the referee and you've got to know what the Daubert Doctrine is and you got to know what a motion in limine is, and you have read the federal rules of evidence and of civil procedure, and there are just certain minimum level of requirements.
I don't care how smart you are. I mean, I think the president's smart, but if he were to asked to go transplant a kidney in the morning, he couldn't it, neither could I. I think you're smart, but you couldn't go do brain surgery in the morning. Experience matters.
BURNETT: I couldn't agree more with that. I'd leave that to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
You made yourself clear. You're hoping they'll pull that nomination. Thank you very much, Senator.
KENNEDY: Dr. Gupta probably could.
BURNETT: Oh, yes, he can and he does.
KENNEDY: OK. Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And thank you, sir.
And next, the White House claims it's a diverse workplace. Tonight though, Omarosa says that is not true. My next guest just spoke with her and he's going to tell you about that conversation.
And polls show the tax bill is the least popular bill in the last three decades. Well, what are middle class Trump supporters saying about it?
[19:43:38] BURNETT: Outgoing White House senior adviser, Omarosa, blasting the White House for, quote, racially charged exchanges inside the West Wing. And tonight, despite the White House saying it has a diverse team, Omarosa is insisting that is not the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I worked with 30 assistants to the president and I would like to my left and to my right and the only people who were there were folks that didn't look like you and I. There was lack of diversity that I will acknowledge, and at times, it was very lonely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Pastor Mark Burns. He's a member of Donald Trump's evangelical council. He's also friends with Omarosa Manigault Newman.
And appreciate you tonight, Pastor Burns. Good to have you back on the program.
Look, I know you just had a chance to speak --
PASTOR MARK BURNS, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S EVANGELICAL COUNCIL: Happy to be here, Erin.
BURNETT: Good to have you.
I know you had a chance to speak with Omarosa. You just spoke to her. How is she doing?
BURNS: She's doing great. You know, she's still a strong, strong supporter of the United States. She's a fighter for minorities in our country.
You know, again, if you've ever known her, she is a staunch supporter of Donald J. Trump and she is going to continue to still be
BURNETT: So, let me ask you about this issue of race in the White House that she's now being very often about. She flat-out said there was no one at the table that looked like her.
[19:45:01] Here's a picture. This is Trump's senior staff being sworn in.
You can see it as well as I can see it, right? It's a whole lot of white men, a couple of white women and Omarosa.
You were just at the White House. And again, you know, you look at this picture. And, you know, there's a whole lot of white guys. And a few women and then there's you behind the president.
Does this White House have a diversity problem, Pastor?
BURNS: Well, I don't think the White House is the issue. I think it's what the institution, the institution especially within -- and I'm going to challenge the Republican Party itself. Again, I think the challenge and Omarosa is absolutely right. There has to be more diversity within the Republican Party. I think that Roy Moore losing --
BURNETT: She was the only African-American in the senior staff. Just asking you, do you think that's an issue?
BURNS: Absolutely. Without question, I think there should be more diversity within the White House. Again, I've declared it around the world. I've said it at the Republican National Convention and I'm saying it right now, that under Donald Trump, Donald Trump will be a president for all races and the Republican Party and everyone cheered and they chanted it, but now, we've got to put some action behind the excitement.
I just believe without question that the president of the United States who himself loves all America. Let's get that clear. This is not a reflection on Donald J. Trump. I think it's a reflection on the institution that's larger than Donald Trump.
BURNETT: And that's -- and I hear your point, but I also think, I also think when you're talking about the White House, the buck stops with the person who runs the White House and that person is President Trump.
When Omarosa spoke about this, she's absolutely concerned here, that's her words, absolutely concerned her when President Trump called the neo-Nazis marching with torches, and you heard the words, I heard the words, every American heard them, it said some of them are very fine people, in quotes. That's what she said.
Does that concern you as well? I mean, you know, she may still support him, but she's admitting that that absolutely concerned here.
BURNS: Well, it's concerning that, again, when you look at the White House and again, because America is made up of Latinos, America is made of African-Americans and or I just refer as black Americans, America is made up of Asian-Americans, we're a diverse melting point. The White House is the backbone and center of our America. We called the United States of America.
BURNS: So, without question, to me, if I was president, I would have -- you know, I would clearly be surrounded even more around people of color of all races that symbolizes America. You know, it's a challenge --
BURNETT: So, he needs to do better. With your honest answer, it sounds like you're saying, is he the president needs to do better? You supported him many ways, but you are saying he needs to do better on this issue.
BURNS: Well, I think, it's got to go beyond just the White House. I mean, you got to understand, you know, black people --
BURNETT: But let's start there, because that's where Omarosa was. Are you admitting he needs to do better because it sounds like you are?
BURNS: Without question, the White House, without question, needs to be surrounded around diversified people that looks like America. I mean, again, I stand behind the president 100 percent. But I can tell you that there's an institution larger than the president. We call it a deep state, that's larger than just Donald J. Trump and I want to tell you, there are people who obviously don't want the White House and don't want, you know, America and high leadership to look like the rest of America.
And I agree with what Omarosa wholeheartedly. You know, we have -- if we're going to be truly representative in the government, then yes, without question, it shouldn't be more black people roaming the halls of the high echelon of the White House because they're still, you know, African-Americans in the White House -- in our country. There should be more Latinos. There should be more, you known, minorities just within the echelons of the White House. So, I agree with Omarosa in that regard.
BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Pastor Burns. Thank you very much. Really make the president has that within his full control.
And next, Trump supporters reveal how they really feel about the president's tax bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it's OK for -- you know, it's not a huge savings, but it's a saving.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: And Jeanne M on the president's go to phrase used today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens.
We'll see what happens.
We will see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:52:21] BURNETT: Breaking news: Republicans on the verge of passing their sweeping tax reform plan. The final version of the bill is written. Republicans Bob Corker and Marco Rubio both flipped. They were noes, and are now yes.
Now, it's going to pass, but it will have the lowest level of public support for any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades. A recent "USA Today"/Suffolk poll finds just 32 percent of Americans support it.
Now, we all know when it actually happens, that could be wrong. People may love it. But what right now do Trump supporters think of the plan?
Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Motor City, I'm reunited with Trump voters talking taxes.
(on camera): How many of you like the tax plan that you're hearing?
(voice-over): Things start low.
(on camera): I got one.
DAVID BIELAT, AUTOWORKER: I guess it's OK for -- you know, It's not a huge savings, but it's a savings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a savings. Everyone is going to get a savings.
SAVIDGE: Personally --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know about me personally, but for the country as a whole it's going to be a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I agree it's going to be good, too.
SAVIDGE: What are you going to save?
BIELAT: I'm going to say between probably $1,000, maybe $2,000 a year.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): That might sound OK, but --
(on camera): It's not a big thing when you spread it over a year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It doesn't move the needle.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): I remind them what candidate Trump promised, breaking from his so-called contract with Americans.
(on camera): A middle class family with two children will get 35 percent tax cut. That is not what you're getting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think they're going to achieve that, too.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): The others disagree, citing all kinds of numbers, especially the standard family deduction which is expected to double.
VIRGIL IGNA, AUTOWORKER: That's huge. Actually, yuge.
SAVIDGE: Amy, David's wife, isn't an autoworker. She's a teacher, and she didn't vote for Trump. She doesn't like the tax plan, worrying for those who aren't rich or even middle class.
AMY BIELAT, TEACHER: Who I believe are going to be hit hardest with this, too. I think we're kind of ignoring that population.
SAVIDGE: These factory workers realize the companies they work for will benefit the most, and that's OK by them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hoping in good faith that they use that money to reinvest in their people, to hire more people, to expand their businesses.
SAVIDGE (on camera): So the thinking is, if the company does better, you all will do better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It brings everybody up, from the bottom up.
SAVIDGE: Virgil, do you believe that?
IGNA: I believe that strongly, yes.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): What about the deficit, I asked, which experts say under this plan will balloon by at least a trillion dollars or more.
(on camera): Is this fiscally responsible?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe not short term, but I'm hoping a long-term.
SAVIDGE: You're taking a risk. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sure am. I took a risk when I voted for Donald
SAVIDGE: That exchange led to one last question, which was, how do the men feel about Trump?
[19:55:02] And they said, well, they wish he wouldn't tweet so much. You hear that a lot. They also said they would like him to be more of a uniter and less of a divider, but they say it's not all just him. They blame the country as a whole as being more partisan and polarized.
But every man said they support Trump even more strongly today than they did when they voted for him -- Erin.
BURNETT: That is a crucial thing to say. Marty, thank you so very much for that report.
And next, president Trump's favorite tease.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We'll see. We'll see. We're going to see. We'll see. We will see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Need an easy answer to a tough question? Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure makes predictions about passing the tax bill less taxing.
TRUMP: I think we're doing very well on the tax. We'll see what happens.
MOOS: And you can't help but pardon the president for relying on it.
TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens.
MOOS: When in doubt --
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens. So, we'll see what happens.
MOOS: It is the president's favorite answer deployed at the U.N.
TRUMP: As far as North Korea is concerned, I think most of you know how I feel. We'll see what happens. MOOS: That was in September, three months later we're still seeing.
TRUMP: We're going to see what happens with North Korea.
MOOS: From hurricanes --
TRUMP: We'll see what happens.
MOOS: To health care.
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. No particular rush.
MOOS: It's perfect to fill time when the president's in no particular rush to answer. Or maybe he wants to build suspense.
TRUMP: Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We'll see what happens.
MOOS: As one critic tweeted, it's like he thinks every question is a chance for a teaser heading into a commercial break.
The phrase is so beloved by the president, that he's used it three times in a mere five-second answer. Again, on the subject of North Korea.
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens. It's not our first choice, but we'll see what happens.
MOOS: Now, in a few cases, we've actually seen what happened.
TRUMP: We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.
MOOS: Three days later, Mr. Bannon went bye-bye.
As for then FBI Director James Comey --
TRUMP: I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.
MOOS: Comey was fired less than a month later.
So, when the president mentions seeing what happens --
TRUMP: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general. But we will see what happens.
MOOS: Beware, your job could be eclipsed or, if you're lucky, you could get pardoned.
TRUMP: We'll see what happens. Let's see.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: And thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.
"AC360" begins right now.