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CNN: Trump Expects Letter Of Exoneration From Mueller; Transition Atty: Mueller Improperly Obtained E-Mails; Today: 400 Plus Flights Canceled After Atlanta Blackout; Sen. Manchin: Franken "Definitely Shouldn't Resign"; WAPO: Trump Looking Forward To Campaigning Next Year

Aired December 18, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:02] SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now that's something that the President said just yesterday he's not considering doing, but Trump's legal team is meeting with Mueller and his legal team this week. That meeting could prove an important tipping point in one direction or the other.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And Sara, the Trump transition which, by the way, still exists as an entity, and separate from the White House and the Trump campaign, it is complaining that the Special Counsel obtained e-mails unlawfully. What's going on here?

MURRAY: That's right. Lawyers for Trump's transition team, that the period between when he was elected and before he was actually inaugurated and became President, lawyer to that transition team say Mueller team has unlawfully acquired thousands of e-mails that they say are protected by some kind of privilege. Now, they released this letter publicly, they didn't go to a judge and make their case, so that has some people eyeing it pretty weirdly saying this could just be a P.R. stunt.

Now, the Special Counsel's investigation actually in their office weighed in on this. They've been very quiet. But I want to read to you what Peter Carr, who's a spokesperson for Robert Mueller and the Special Counsel's investigation said. "When we have obtained e-mails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process."

So essentially the Special Counsel's office saying, look, we didn't do anything wrong here. Back to you guys.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Sara Murray with the reporting. Thank you, Sara, at the White House.

So to Capitol Hill where some of the biggest flash points from the election last year are due to come before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees this week before the Christmas break. Manu Raju has that for us. What is expected?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Very busy week in both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and Democrats raising concerns on the House side. This is all part of a strategic effort to wrap up the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation as soon as this week because of the way they're stacking some of the witnesses.

Today alone, three witnesses are coming through the House Intelligence Committee's doors including Rob Goldstone, who's a British publicist who set up the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. in which he's promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. Goldstone had met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff last week, today with the House Intelligence Committee. But also, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz also meeting with the House panel, former head of the Democratic National Committee who as we now know the DNC paid for that research that led to that Trump/Russia dossier compiled by the British agent Christopher Steele.

She said she had no knowledge of that dossier. She is meeting with the committee today as well as an attorney with the law firm Perkins Coie which is actually the firm that retained the services of Fusion GPS that opposition research firm behind the Trump/Russia dossier.

Now at the same time, the Senate Intelligence Committee is meeting with Bruce Ohr, who's a recently demoted official with the Justice Department amid the discovery that he did meet with Christopher Steele as well as his wife working with Fusion GPS. A lot of questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee which has not been able to meet with Christopher Steele himself. Perhaps they can learn some more by meeting with Bruce Ohr.

But the larger question here is exactly what point do these investigations wrap up, concerns around the House side that this could end as soon as this week. The Democrats say this is what the Republicans are moving towards. The Republicans are pushing back saying this is part of a deep dive investigation, it will be over as soon as it's over but they say can't go on forever. So signs of the partisan tension growing over right now over these investigations right before Christmas, guys.

BERMAN: Shocking the Republicans and Democrats don't agree. Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill. Manu, thanks so much.

Joining us now, CNN National Security and Legal Analyst Susan Hennessey. Susan, thanks so much for being with us. The CNN reporting just this morning is the President is telling associates he thinks he's getting a letter from Special Counsel Robert Mueller clearing him in the Russia probe.

I guess, there are two questions here. Does it work like that? And number two, from what we're seeing and hearing elsewhere in this investigation, does it seem likely that this is imminent?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so first of all it doesn't usually work like that. You know, the government usually doesn't issue a letter exonerating someone. Of course, there are some exceptions. James Comey simultaneously issued a public statement --

BERMAN: Right.

HENNESSEY: -- regarding -- not pursuing charges against Hillary Clinton. So unlikely, not usual but certainly, you know, anything is possible here.

You know, we know that the President's Attorney Ty Cobb, you know, from reporting has sort of set an expectation with the President that it's going to wrap up by the end of the year. You know, there really is not any indication of that and there's actually indication that the President's team is not all that well plugged into the Mueller investigation. They were clearly blindsided by the George Papadopoulos plea, surprised at the timing of the Paul Manafort indictment, the Flynn cooperation.

So, you know, there's certainly no other indication of the Mueller investigation that this is going to wrap up quickly. All evidence to the contrary, that this is going to be a long and ongoing investigation. And at the same time, quite a bit of evidence that the Trump team doesn't seem to know quite as much as they think they do and quite as much as they appear to be representing to the President that they do.

[10:05:07] HARLOW: What about this complaint, this public letter complaining to Congress, not to the court system but to Congress, that Mueller's team unlawfully obtained all of these Trump transition team e-mails? You're an attorney. They have a .gov return address, right? These are, you would think, not private property but they're arguing you unlawfully obtained these. Is there any legal ground for them to stand on?

HENNESSEY: So sort of even assuming, you know, that these e-mails are in facts covered by an MOU, a memorandum of understanding with the transition and GSA, the Government Services Administration would have entered into. You know, even assuming, you know, that the clauses, you know, that that did cover these e-mails, you know, there really doesn't appear to be any legal underpinning here. You know, they sort of use the vague terms unlawful. You know, the idea that these are a Fourth Amendment protected material, you know, information that's stored with a third party is not Fourth Amendment protected material. That's sort of a first principle of the issue here.

You know, and the executive agencies don't actually, you know -- you don't even need a subpoena or warrant necessarily to get information then they also sort of float and we talked in the past about kind of vague privilege claims. You know, the Trump transition is trying to have it both ways. Two of the privileges they're claiming on presidential communications and deliberative process, those are government privileges at the same time they're claiming that they were a private entity, not part of the government and that's why it was so outrageous the these e-mails were turned over.

Well, you're either part of the government, you're not part of the government --

BERMAN: Right. HENNESSEY: -- so you can't have it both ways. So that's make any sense. The third privilege, this notion of attorney-general client privilege, it really doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny but they also haven't articulated really what their legal argument. The ultimate tell here is that they're making this case to Congress and not to the courts. You know, I think that pretty shows that the talking point, it's a P.R. strategy.

BERMAN: On the both sides front here, it does strike me as odd the same day that the President's team is leaking the fact. He feels so good about this. He thinks he's getting a letter exonerating him. We're hearing that. But we're also hearing these consistent attacks on the Special Counsel's office.

Those two things they don't match. I mean, either the investigation is going in the way the White House likes, and he's going to get cleared or the whole thing is some evil witch hunt?

HENNESSEY: Yes. I think that those -- certainly there is a little bit of contradiction. You know, it's not -- there might be a way to reconcile it. You know, the sort of a good cop/bad cop here, right? So that inner circle, you know, Ty Cobb, the President's own team has been really clear and strong that, you know, hey, we're fully cooperating with this investigation. We aren't calling for Mueller to be fired. You know, we are all-in on cooperating here.

And then we've seen sort of surrogates further out trying to sort of lay some of the groundwork for that delegitimization, you know, undercutting the integrity or credibility of Mueller's investigation. You know, so maybe there are different groups that aren't necessarily speaking to one another. At the same time you can also see why it would be advantageous for the groups closest to the President to be able to sort of maintain plausible deniability, hey, hey, you know, we're really cooperating here while at the same time being quite comfortable with what looks like a pretty wide coordinated effort to try to undermine the credibility of the investigation more broadly.

HARLOW: Susan Hennessey, thank you for the analysis. The legal expertise. We appreciate it.

All right. So, to the biggest busiest airport in the world, where the lights were not on last night. They are back on this morning. Some flights finally leaving Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, 11 hours the airport was without power. The ripple effects are from far over.

BERMAN: Four-hundred flights canceled for today. This on top of 1,000 flights canceled yesterday. And this comes at a bad time, right? I mean, there were hundreds of thousands of people trying to get home for the holidays and outside Atlanta, they will be affected as well.

Our Martin Savidge at the airport this morning to give us a sense of how this recovery is going, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is going. I guess you could say that. The power is on, they've got, you know, people behind the counters and people are checking in and they've got long lines. We should point that out.

Even the priority lines have long lines of people in them and that's not good for the airlines. They don't like that, because those are the customers that shouldn't have to wait. Then on top of that, you take a look at the security lines. Very, very long waits there.

Airplanes are taking off. Not necessarily on time. There are significant number of delays. But there are other flights that are leaving on time. So it's clear that they have begun this process of trying to get back to a rhythm again. I won't go all wait to normal. The problem was, of course, the fire that knocked out the electricity.

To that end, there's been a lot of criticism about how did that fire happen and why was it so bad? Well, Georgia power has released photographs now that show us this kind of utility tunnels. And what they're saying is that here's the very tight space, this is where that fire occurred and it's also appearing (ph) where the backup line runs.

[10:10:03] So you have the primary and the backup line running very close together and the work space there, it took a long time to ventilate it to make it safe for the workers to get down there and make the repairs that were necessarily. All of this is apparently a way to try to explain why the world's busiest airport became the world's biggest waiting room for 11 hours. And that's what most people can't understand. Eleven hours. No backup generators.

But right now, people are having a positive attitude doing the best they can. They're even spreading doughnuts amidst the delays to try to cheer people up. They've got a good spirit.

HARLOW: Doughnut or a flight that you need to get on to get home. I mean, I get --

BERMAN: I would take both.

HARLOW: I know you would.

BERMAN: I would take both. Doughnuts make everything better as does Martin Savidge. Martin, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks, Martin.

BERMAN: We appreciate it.

So is an unresignation in the works? A prominent Democratic senator says Al Franken should not step down and now Senate leadership is weighing in.

HARLOW: Plus, America first, will be front and center today. The President is set to make a major national security speech this afternoon. What will he say about Russia after the two calls with Vladimir Putin in the past four days and scrutinized for speaking out. Employees at the EPA say their e-mails are being monitored because they've been publicly critical of the Trump administration's policies. We're going to have the reporter on who broke that story. Stay with us.


[10:15:42] HARLOW: A very big week on Capitol Hill. This morning Republican aides are predicting that the GOP's tax reform plan will be on the President's desk by Wednesday. The House and Senate expected to pass the tax overhaul soon. Notably missing from the vote on the Senate side, though, will be Senator John McCain. He is home in Arizona recovering from his cancer treatment.

BERMAN: Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Sunlen, what is the latest on the timeline of the votes?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Republican leaders are on track to pass this by midweek and they're very close to making this officially a done deal. Here's where we stand with the timeline of all of this. Likely on Tuesday, the House will vote and then potentially either later that evening or Wednesday, the Senate will vote. Then it moves to the President's desk for a potential final passage, final signature, making this tax bill into law.

And Republican leaders up here on Capitol Hill are certainly confident and also very confident barring any sort of unforeseen, last-minute circumstances popping up, that they can pass this without the help of Senator John McCain. As we've been talking about in the recent days, issues about his health, he returned over the weekend to Arizona, leaving Walter Reed Medical Center here in Washington, D.C., and he returned -- he was, of course, recovering from the side effects of chemotherapy that he's undergoing due to his brain tumor.

His position over the weekend issuing a statement saying, "Senator McCain has responded well to treatment received at Walter Reed Medical Center for a viral infection and continues to improve. An evaluation of his underlying cancer shows he is responding positively to ongoing treatment."

And sources tell CNN of course unlikely that McCain returns to Washington any time this year. He is, of course, going to be spending the holiday with his family. One source telling CNN his ability to get on a plane to leave Walter Reed here in Washington, return to Arizona, is certainly a good sign. John and Poppy.

BERMAN: That is nice to hear. All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, thanks so much.

Also new this morning, a call from some Democrats there for Senator Al Franken to reconsider his resignation.

HARLOW: That's West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, saying that Franken was, in his words, railroaded by their fellow Democrats, that he deserves an Ethics Committee investigation before he resigns. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. 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 and it just made me sick. It really did. They know how I feel. My caucus know I'm very upset with this process, or a lack of a process.


HARLOW: All right. MJ Lee following the story joining us from Capitol Hill. Surprising?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, this certainly has created some new chatter about whether Senator Franken should resign. Now this is a little puzzling, of course, because he announced days ago, earlier this month, that he will be leaving the Senate after multiple allegations of inappropriate touching and inappropriate conduct and after the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate called on him to leave.

Now he took to the Senate floor as you remember to reluctantly say that even though some of the allegations against him were not true, that he would be leaving office. Now it's notable, though, that as of today there was no date set for when Franken would leave office, even throw tough the governor of Minnesota had already appointed someone to fill his vacancy.

Now, Senator Joe Manchin saying this morning on CNN that he does not believe Franken should resign and that he is sick at the fact that his colleague, his Democratic colleagues have called on Franken to resign to the raising questions about whether there's any possibility that Franken may not resign. But I will tell you that there's no sort of turning of the tide moment that we're able to see right now.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, has not changed his mind on whether Franken should resign. A Senate Democratic leader aide saying Schumer and the vast majority of the caucus like Senator Franken and will miss him but did what they felt was best and stand by it. And an aide to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also saying that she has not changed her mind either.

Now, one thing I do want to point out from Manchin's interview on "NEW DAY" this morning is when he was asked whether he believed there should be an investigation into President Trump and the very sexual misconduct allegations against the President. Take a listen to what he said.


[10:20:08] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY HOST: Do you think that President Trump should be investigated for the accusations of sexual misconduct against him?

MANCHIN: I'm not going to make that determination because he went through an election process with all this in the open. CAMEROTA: Right, but that's different than an investigation.

MANCHIN: Well, then that's -- you know, if people feel that to be done, I think we have other things to be done too, other things. And I think women ought to have a right to come forward. They feel strong very strong about this. They should be protected, it can't be retaliated on.

CAMEROTA: So, yes, the investigation for the President or no, you've moved on?

MANCHIN: I've moved on. I really have moved on.


LEE: Now no surprise a lot of Democrats, this is not going to sit well with them because so many of them actually would like President Trump to resign. Or at the very least, they are calling for a congressional investigation into President Trump and the various allegations against him. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill. MJ, thanks so much.

Joining us now, CNN Political Commentators Hilary Rosen and Alice Stewart and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein. Poppy you showed me some new CNN reporting from our Jeff Zeleny that Tina Smith, who is Lieutenant Governor, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota who has been tapped to be the next senator is apparently in Washington today.

HARLOW: For an event that the other Senator from Minnesota Klobuchar is throwing for her.

BERMAN: So, it would seem odd for anyone to be discussing unresignation process, Hilary Rosen. So does this mere discussion by Joe Manchin -- there was an article in Politico that has other Democratic senators raising the possibility as well. What's going on here and does this hurt the argument that most Democrats have been making?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Al Franken, by all reports, has said he's going forward with this resignation, he is welcoming Tina Smith to come and be the senator and he has apologized for his behavior. Something we've not seen President Trump do, by the way.

So I think the real problem that many Democrats are facing is that, you know, it's come to light that several of these women were encouraged to speak out by, you know, political operative roger stone. So I think that it eats away at you in terms of the turning this into such a nasty political strategy. But I think as a practical matter, look, no member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, can hold moral authority over any other institution in government unless they hold themselves to the same standard. I think Al Franken was doing that? HARLOW: Let me ask you this, Ron Brownstein, do you think that Joe Manchin, with the two answers you heard from MJ to Alisyn's question this morning, is playing a little bit of dangerous game for Democrats here in that he's saying sort of he's done with the President and the 15 women that have come forward against him. And by the way, Al Franken should not have resigned, could it be construed as we don't believe these women?

ROD BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I look at those things as separate, the two different answers. I think that Joe Manchin answer, like the Doug Jones answer, yesterday, to Jake and others, is reflecting the reality that they are running in states that Donald Trump won by a lot. And if you watch Steve Bannon's rally for Roy Moore the night before the election, his argument was, they're not trying to silence Roy Moore or Donald Trump. They're trying to silence you.

And clearly, Republicans in states like West Virginia or Alabama or any of the nine other Democrats running in states that Donald Trump carried, would portray any effort, I think, to re-litigate this issue as an attempt not to go after Trump but to go after his voters in those states. So I think it is very hard for Democrats on those places to, in effect, embrace the idea of reassessing the decision of the voters.

Now there are a lot of Democrats from other places who may be very enthusiastic about that. But I don't see the Democrats on those places really endorsing anything that would put them in the position before the 2018 election of seeming to want to overturn the will of their own voters.

BERMAN: Alice, shifting gears to Russia if I can for a moment right now, because this weekend the Trump transition team sending a letter to Congress saying the Trump transition e-mails were unlawfully obtained, pushing back hard on some evidence that apparently the Special Counsel's investigation has obtained over the last several months. Smart strategy to wage this fight?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I've said from the very beginning if the administration truly believes what they say, repeatedly, is that there was no Russian collusion. They did not coordinate with Russia with regard to this election. Then they should fully embrace the investigation and let it run its course and let's get to the bottom of this and let's find the truth.

Unfortunately, I think this latest maneuver is an obstruction, and not in a legal term, but just a technical obstruction to what Mueller is doing. Look, if there's nothing to find out, then let Mueller do his investigation.

Look, anyone that has ever worked in government or been part of a campaign or been part of the political environment should know that if you're operating and sending e-mails on a government server, with a .gov domain, you should understand that there is the likelihood that they could be reviewed, they could be obtained for some type of investigation. [10:25:11] So for them at this point to say that they have a problem with that, I think is a little late in the game. And if they really felt that there was some kind of a legal problem with this, they would have taken it up in the court and not with Congress and in the court of public opinion.

In my view, if they really think that this is -- there's no there there, let Mueller complete his investigation and let's find out truly if they say there's nothing to see, I'd be the first one to love to see that.

HARLOW: Hilary Rosen, you're laughing, why?

ROSEN: Well, because it's just so beyond shameless. I just don't know how Republicans get on. And good for Alice for saying that. But how do Republicans do this kind of stuff with a straight face? How can Donald Trump attack Hillary Clinton over e-mails and, you know, cheer on WikiLeaks and cheer on the Russians for getting access to her e-mails for a year, and then complain when his team's e-mails are accessed lawfully.

I mean, it's just -- it's just beyond belief to me that they do that. See, I -- like this is why Democrats lose this kind of stuff because we don't have the chutzpah that Republicans show in these instances.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, who I know has the chutzpah to talk about polls, any kind of polls at any time. Look, there's a new polling out in the congressional generic ballots showing the Democrats with a big advantage right now, of course have 11 points, which is the type of advantage that you can see in a wave-type election. What do you see 11 months out in the polling right now that either should encourage Democrats or not?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, it's really striking is that the 2016 election was such a surprise to so many people that we are having kind of a post-traumatic in the polling world reluctance to accept the evidence that is accumulating in front of our face because the polling is very consistent with what we are seeing in the actual election results in the key elections of Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama. And you're seeing a couple things. First, you're seeing a differential in engagement.

Democrats are more engaged. The Democratic candidates in these races and even in the House special elections that the President tweeted about today are holding a bigger share of Hillary Clinton's 2016 vote than Republicans are holding of Donald Trump's 2016 vote. And that is exactly what you would expect when you a situation where the President's strong disapproval is double the share of people who strongly approve.

And the second thing we are seeing -- so you're seeing strong engagement by African-Americans above all, but also among millennials who have turned sharply away from Donald Trump and the Republicans in this poll. And the other thing we are seeing consistently in this poll and in the actual elections is a movement away from Republicans among suburban white collar, white voters, especially but not exclusively women.

College educated white women moved sharply in Virginia and Alabama. There's a 30-point lead for Democrats among college educated white women in this generic ballot poll. And that alone I think is a kind of political death sentence for some of those Republicans in the white collar districts especially around the big metro areas.

I would just add that those are the places that still face great risk in this tax bill as being voted on this year, this week. New Jersey, New York, California, Illinois, Minnesota, places like that, Republicans in suburban districts where a lot of voters could see their taxes go up, combine that with that suburban what we've seen that's a pretty toxic cocktail.

STEWART: Let me just --

HARLOW: Alice -- yes.

STEWART: If I can. Look, it's clear based on -- as Ron indicated what we saw in Virginia and Alabama, while Trump has a very solid hard-core base, what we have witnessed in the last couple elections is that he has done tremendous gains with regard to organizing Democrats. Clearly, a lot of people support the President, but Democrats come out stronger against him. And I think that is something we need to make sure and try to turn the tide on that.

But, look, I'm going to be optimistic if this tax reform is successful, coupled with the deregulation we've seen a lot with this administration, if that turns the economy into a more stronger vibrant economy and creating jobs and helping people in their standard of living, it's the economy stupid. And if the economy is strong come the midterm elections that will be a good sign for Republicans.

BROWNSTEIN: The paradox, real quick is that Republicans are struggling more in the places that are doing well than in the places that are lagging. It is a --

HARLOW: I got to --

BROWNSTEIN: -- personal and cultural --

STEWART: Those other issues tend to be more important -- cultural becomes more important when the economy is better.

HARLOW: Dow 25,000 is what we're headed towards.

BERMAN: Dow 25,000.

HARLOW: Remarkable.

BERMAN: Big round number.

HARLOW: Half of Americans own money in it. That is important to note. But still, it's incredible to see. Hillary, thank you. Alice, Ron, we appreciate it. BERMAN: All right, very shortly, the President will lay out his vision he says for keeping the United States secure. What does America first mean for China and Russia?