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CNN: Trump Confident He'll Be Cleared In Russia Probe; Trump: I'm Not Considering Firing Mueller; Republicans Poised To Pass Historic Tax Bill This Week. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 9:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It was fixed all five times he won.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It was not fixed.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

On a serious note this morning, we do begin with breaking news. Quite a headache for so many people trying to fly in and out of the world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International. After being in the dark for nearly 11 hours, we still have hundreds of flights canceled, 400 to be exact. This morning many more delayed. The headaches far from over.

BERMAN: That's right. A thousand flights canceled yesterday and the problems could last through the week, as hundreds of thousands of people try to head home for the holidays.

Our Martin Savidge right in the middle of it all at Hartsfield- Jackson. How do things look this morning, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the lights are on. And as you can probably see, they have got things moving again and planes are taking off and landing. However, not at the frequency that you would expect of the world's busiest airport. And the headaches, you described it, well, it is a massive, massive hangover they're dealing with here because maybe about 50,000 people got hung up yesterday, in other words, didn't go anywhere because of that power outage they run into.

275,000 other passengers who are just doing their regular Monday commute or holiday travel, try to squeeze all those people on to planes that were already really full. It's a logistics nightmare. Crew rest, baggage, other things come into play. And remember, it won't be just Atlanta. What happens here unfortunately is felt elsewhere in the effects of maybe 10 percent to 15 percent to 20 percent of flights in other airports.

Let me bring in Roy Ziegler because there are many stories that could have been told. But, Roy, you've got a heartbreaking one. First, your plans for

Christmas Day were what?

ROY ZIEGLER, STRANDED TRAVELER: We were headed to Tanzania, Africa, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, summiting on Christmas Day.

SAVIDGE: And where does that stand now?

ZIEGLER: Highly unlikely. We're hoping to get out later today. If we make that flight, then we'll make the excursion. If not, we'll be pushed and most likely won't make the trip.

SAVIDGE: What was the attitudes of people?

ZIEGLER: Frustrated and I would say nervous. Yesterday was very hectic, trying to get bags, trying to make our way bag to baggage claim was difficult in and of itself. We came in from Columbus and landed at terminal C and had to find our way through some dark spots, some light spots, shuttling up on an elevator of all things, which was working with the backup generator, and it's been a long day and night.

SAVIDGE: We're very sorry for what you've been through. We're glad you're safe and sound. We hope you can resurrect some part of that trip.

ZIEGLER: Appreciate it. Yes. Thanks so much.

SAVIDGE: Thank you very much.

That is just one story. There are tens of thousands of them, of people overnighting here. And they do say it was scary. Safety was maintained. That's the most important thing, getting people to where they want to be, that's step two. The airlines hope to have their schedules back to normal by the end of the day. That doesn't mean they expect to have everybody where they want to be by then.


BERMAN: Yes. All right, Martin Savidge in Atlanta, thanks so much. Our heart goes out to Roy. Hope he does get to where he wants to go.

HARLOW: Kilimanjaro.

BERMAN: At least he's safe.



BERMAN: All right. New exclusive reporting from CNN this morning. The president thinks he is getting the best Christmas card ever. He's telling associates he will soon get a letter from the exponential counsel clearing him in the Russia probe.

HARLOW: That doesn't usually happen that way.


HARLOW: But that's what the president thinks. People close to him tell CNN he's convinced he now has little to fear from the Russia investigation. The special counsel's team is expected to sit down with the president's private lawyers as soon as this week.

Our Sara Murray has the exclusive reporting, she joins us now.

It's fascinating, he's feeling good about this.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's certainly feeling less agitated about it and he has become convinced he's going to be cleared in this investigation, the special counsel investigation, and that he's even going to get some kind of letter of exoneration, something in writing from Mueller's team to clear him of any wrongdoing.

Now this is partly because Trump's lawyers have painted a pretty optimistic timeline both publicly and privately for him of when this could wrap up, saying essentially it could be early in the next year, anytime in the coming months. But, you know, people who are involved in this investigation, lawyers with other clients involved in the Mueller probe, legal experts, say there's little indication that Mueller is wrapping up his investigation.

That of course has some of Trump's allies worried that if this deadline comes and goes, the president could end up even more furious and perhaps take some rash action.

BERMAN: And Sara, what more are we learning about this letter from the Trump transition team complaining about the special counsel's investigation?

MURRAY: Well, what we've seen from the Trump transition team is this public letter saying, look, Mueller obtained these e-mails that he did not obtain through proper legal channels. Now this is a letter they put out publicly. It's not something they went to a judge with. So take that for what it's worth. But it is an indication that at least Trump's political advisers, these folks are trying to turn up the heat on Mueller, take aim at the way he's conducting this investigation.

We've also seen him go after some of his investigators. Trump talked to reporters yesterday, though, and he insisted, at least for now, he's not put any stock into the notion of firing Mueller. This is what he said.


[09:05:05] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?



MURRAY: That's the tone now. We will see how the president and his team feel after Trump's lawyers have had a chance to sit down with Mueller and his team. We expect that to come this week.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray at the White House, thanks so much. Up on Capitol Hill, the work continues in the various Russia investigations. Manu Raju watching that for us.

Some new witnesses this week -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a very busy week on Capitol Hill, as Democrats, particularly on the House Intelligence Committee, are raising concerns that this is part of an effort by Republicans to stack witnesses, move through them very quickly, end the Russia investigation in the House as soon as this week.

Now today alone, in the House Intelligence Committee, three witnesses are coming through the doors, including Rod Goldstone, who's that British publicist who set up that June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russians after Goldstone said that dirt could be given to the Trump campaign on the Clinton campaign.

Goldstone has previously met with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff. Now in addition to that, the House Intelligence Committee are going meet with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the congresswoman from Florida and the former head of the Democratic National Committee. Of course, we now know that the DNC did pay for this Steele dossier drafted by that British agent, Christopher Steele, containing allegations of coordination and the like with Trump and Russia.

Some of those have been corroborated. Some of those have not been substantiated in that dossier. As well as their meeting with a lawyer from the law firm, Perkins Coie, that was actually retained and paid for that research that led to the trump dossier.

Now, on the Senate side, the Intelligence Committee is meeting with Bruce Ohr, who was recently demoted Justice Department official, who acknowledged meeting with Christopher Steele, the British agent, and also acknowledged that his wife also works with that firm.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has not been able to meet with Christopher Steele, so they'll probably get some intelligence perhaps from Bruce Ohr about exactly what he knows about that dossier.

Now as I mentioned, the concern among the House Democrats is that this is part of a push by the Republicans to end this investigation this week. The staff is traveling up to New York this week to meet with Rhona Graff, who is one of President Trump's old associates, a former personal assistant. Concern among these members on the Democratic side that why not bring them here to Washington when we can all meet with them. The concern is that this is going to be an effort to end this investigation this week.

The Republicans push back, saying that Democrats are concerned about that, they're merely on a witch hunt right now. They say that this is a deep dive investigation. So some of the partisan tensions that linger in this investigation as we head into Christmas here, guys. HARLOW: All right, Manu Raju on the Hill, thank you for the


Joining us now is CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Ranggapa.

A lot to go through with you this morning. But let's just start with this belief from the president that, you know, things will go his way on the Russia investigation. But that in a fascinating tidbit from Sara's reporting that he will get a letter from the special counsel's office exonerating him. It's not typically what happens, is it?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, that's not typically what happens. And it's really unlikely at this point that even, you know, if he weren't under investigation, that that would be forthcoming at this stage because we know that Mueller is still really in the midst of the investigation. We know that he not very long ago received tens of thousands of e-mails regarding the transition team's communications before the inauguration. So it seems to me that we're still a ways off before any major conclusions can be drawn. And that this investigation is still ongoing.

BERMAN: You brought up the transition e-mails. So let's ask you about that right now. Obviously the transition team is complaining that they were unlawfully obtained. Now these are e-mails with a dot gov, you know, return address. Any legal argument to that case, that these should not be available to the special counsel?

RANGAPPA: John, the tell here is that the letter from the Trump team's lawyers went to Congress, not to a court because if you really have a legal leg to stand on you're going to go and argue it in court. So, exactly as you said, when there is a dot gov ending to an e-mail address, you're on notice that those communications belong to the government. More importantly here, in agreeing to use that server, those e-mail addresses, the devices that they were using from the GSA, they actually agreed to waive any reasonable expectation of privacy.

And that's important because that is the Fourth Amendment standard. So basically they agreed that they have no Fourth Amendment claim in these communications.

[09:10:04] So they, you know, effectively, have basically -- Mueller could just get these simply through a request to GSA, since this was an internal government investigation.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Mueller can also get these communications with the consent of an account owner. So -- at least some portion of them. And we know that at least one member of the transition team, Michael Flynn, is cooperating with him. So, you know, with his consent, at least some large portion of those presumably could have been obtained regardless. So legally speaking, this is a too bad, so sad, situation. Politically, perhaps it has some benefit to him.

HARLOW: So what about Mueller? Because the president was asked directly, this weekend, do you have any intention of firing Bob Mueller, special counsel. He said, no, I do not. But the reporting is that -- from "The Washington Post" and elsewhere, that his ire is now directed at the deputy attorney general, who's actually Mueller's boss, Rod Rosenstein. And you see a lot there.

RANGAPPA: I do see a lot. I wrote a Twitter thread about this over the weekend because I think his role in the Mueller investigation is kind of underestimated by the general public. So, you know, the Russia investigation really existed outside of Mueller. It was ongoing before Mueller even came on the scene. Mueller is really there as kind of an insulation for what was already an ongoing investigation.

But Rosenstein appointed Mueller. And also he generally oversees Mueller. So not day to day, but Mueller has to come to Rosenstein every 90 days, report on the progress of his investigation, get his permission to, say, bring charges or take major steps, expand the scope of the investigation, and Rosenstein has been agreeing to all of this. If he hadn't, he would have had to report to Congress.

So, Trump, theoretically, could remove Rosenstein and put someone else in the place of him that may not be as willing to facilitate Mueller's investigation. And he could do that without removing Mueller at all. So I think that, you know, is something to consider. And it's a way that would not draw as much political ire or backlash because he appointed Rosenstein, he could theoretically take him out, you know, for not doing a good job.

BERMAN: Yes. And "The Washington Post" reporting, he's mocking him behind closed doors right now.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Which is sometimes a sign of things to come.

Asha Rangappa, great to have you with us, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: So the president may think the Russia investigation is going to wrap up soon, but what do the actual congressional investigators think? We'll ask next.

HARLOW: And Republicans ready for a legislative win. The tax vote could happen as early as tomorrow. Senator John McCain, though, is not expected to be there. We have the latest on his health ahead.

Also, this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a whole fleet of them. We're coming SA.


HARLOW: All right. A real-life X files? The Pentagon admits it's spent tens of millions of dollars on a program to investigate UFOs. The man who ran the program says we need it for national security.

BERMAN: The truth is out there.



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We do have breaking news this morning. Puerto Rico's governor is ordering a recount of deaths that could be related to Hurricane Maria. Right now, the official death toll is 64, but an in-depth investigation by Leyla Santiago and our CNN team show that number, the death toll, could actually be a lot higher.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Much higher. Very interesting to find out what this official recount or reassessment reveals.

Also new this morning, President Trump, apparently, he says he's expecting a letter that would clear him in the Russia investigation.

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, he's on the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Now, we don't know where the president is getting this information, but if -- if he receives some letter or verbal exoneration from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the coming weeks, which is what the president's team is apparently leaking right now, would you still consider the special counsel's investigation a worthy endeavor?

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I think, of course, I think it's a worthy endeavor. I mean, there have been two people indicted, two people have pled guilty. I think the investigation is not over. I think this, again, is a useful spin for the White House, maybe that's what they're hoping for.

But I think it's very clear that Robert Mueller and his team are doing very serious work. They are not, I think, anywhere near done. I think what we have to ensure is that they have the resources they need to do this job completely and thoroughly.

And that they're protected, most importantly, from my political interference or anyone attempting to impede or in any way influence the outcome of this investigation.

HARLOW: Your fellow Democrat in Congress, Jackie Speier, said over the weekend, these are her words, that, "On December 22nd, on Friday, when we are out of D.C., he, being the president, was going to fire Bob Mueller." She says that. You hear this line a lot from Democrats.

And the president, himself, is asked, are you going to fire Bob Mueller yesterday, he said no. Rod Rosenstein was asked, have you got any indication that the president will try to fire Mueller through you? He said no. You know, what about those that say this is Democrats just playing politics here? CICILLINE: Well, look, I don't know the basis of Jackie Speier's assertion, but the reality is that Bob Mueller and the FBI and this investigation had been under attack almost since the beginning. You see the Republicans on the House, particularly on the Judiciary Committee, attacking the professionals at the FBI, undermining the integrity of Robert Mueller.

When he was appointed, he was praised universally, Republicans, Democrats, independents. He's a man of impeccable integrity, appointed by a Republican president, is a Republican himself.

[09:20:09] And despite that, we now see the Republicans attacking Robert Mueller, attacking the investigation, attacking the men and women of the FBI. And you have to wonder, why? What's changed?

Well, I think what's changed is you've had two indictments, two pleas, one of them, right inside the White House was Michael Flynn. And I think the Republicans, sadly, are preparing, laying the groundwork, either for the firing of Robert Mueller, or to undermine the findings and conclusions of this investigation. Either one of them is a terrible mistake and does a real disservice to the American people.

BERMAN: I will say, again, right now the once talking about the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, that's the Democrats right now. So, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the administration or a serious Republican saying --

CICILLINE: No, I think what Democrats are saying is the president must not fire Robert Mueller. Let's remember, this is a president who reached out to senators and tried to get them to stop their investigation. That was reported.

This is a person who fired the FBI director because he wouldn't drop the investigation. So, the apprehension in what the president might do has a basis. And what we want to make clear is we need to protect the integrity of this investigation, protect Robert Mueller.

We have legislation that would only allow him to be fired for cause. The Republicans refuse to bring that to the floor. So, there are reasons that people should be correspond, based on the past conduct of this president.

BERMAN: Can I ask you this? You think the Republicans are right to muddy the waters here when it comes to Robert Mueller. Do you think their attempts are working?

CICILLINE: I hope not. I sit on the Judiciary Committee. I watched with my own eyes as people who have praised Robert Mueller and have traditionally praised the FBI began this relentless attack. I hope it doesn't work because they're undermining rule of law in this country, the important institutions which hold people accountable.

The men and women of the FBI are professionals. They risk their lives at places all around this country to keep us safe and it's very disappointing to see them attacked in the way that they are. Again, the only thing that's changed is that the investigation is making real progress and getting closer and closer to, you know, the inner circle of the Trump organization. And we've got to protect this -- the American people have a right to see this investigation to its conclusion, wherever those facts might lead.

HARLOW: All right. I would say that there have been these bipartisan proposals, two of them, you know, Republicans like Senator Tillis and Senator Graham, putting forward legislation to make it harder to fire Bob Mueller. Those are Republican and Democratic bipartisan efforts. Let us ask you about --

CICILLINE: Well, sadly in the House, they aren't Republican efforts. Sadly, that bill has not been brought to the floor. There's not any serious interest in protecting --

BERMAN: We're running out of time. We have an important question --

HARLOW: We really want to get you on this. Your fellow Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia just came on CNN, on "NEW DAY," and said, you know, Senator Al Franken should not resign. Listen to this.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I definitely think he should not resign. I think he should submit himself, which he has willingly done and offered to do, and go through this complete process of an extensive ethics review. I've seen a person that his own caucus has turned on. It just made me sick. It really did and I've said this. They know how I feel. My caucus knows I'm upset with this process or a lack of a process.


HARLOW: Do you agree? Is he right? Should Franken not resign?

CICILLINE: Look, I think -- I watched Senator Franken deliver his remarks to the floor. That was a very painful moment for him. But I think, you know, we really can't tell another member that they should undo a resignation. He did what he thought was right for his state and for his service.

I have the pleasure of having worked with Senator Franken on a number of issues and know the contributions he's made, but I wouldn't second- guess his own decision. I think we should respect that.

BERMAN: So, he should resign?

CICILLINE: No, no, I think he's already resigned. I think that's a decision he gets to make. I don't get to make that decision for him.

HARLOW: All right, Congressman, we appreciate your time. If we don't see you, have a nice holiday. Thank you.

CICILLINE: Thanks, you too. HARLOW: Full steam ahead for the Republican tax plan, but a key Republican senator will not be there. We'll have an update on Senator John McCain's health, ahead.

BERMAN: Just moments away now from the opening bell. Dow futures high this morning. Why? It is all because of the big vote on taxes expected as early as tomorrow. Stocks are up big this year. The Dow now inching close to the 25,000 mark.




BERMAN: A huge week on Capitol Hill, the House and Senate both expected to pass the tax overhaul, really, in the coming days.

HARLOW: They look like they have the votes. Notably missing, though, will be Senator John McCain. He is heading home to Arizona where he will spend the holidays and undergo some more treatment and recovery for his brain cancer.

Suzanne Malveaux is on CAPITOL HILL. Suzanne, I mean, things have changed a lot since late last week. Before we get to McCain and his condition, we want the latest on that. But the numbers look really good for Republicans on these votes.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It looks like they're on the verge of a legislative victory before the New Year, essentially, what the president had promised, and very, very close, strictly along partisan lines here. But they are looking at House Speaker Paul Ryan saying, potentially, tomorrow, the House members would vote for this bill.

And then, on the Senate side, that would happen shortly afterwards, potentially getting to the president's desk by Wednesday, to sign into law.