Return to Transcripts main page


Power Restored to Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport; Mueller Team Denies It Unlawfully Obtained Trump Transition E-mails. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:18] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It is Monday, December 18, 6 a.m. here in New York. And here's our starting line.

There's some good travel news. Power is back on at the world's busiest airport. Flights at Atlanta's Hartfield International are expected to resume at this hour. But you are urged to check with your airline. That's the bad news. More than 400 flights are already canceled today. It was an 11-hour outage that stranded tens of thousands of travelers Sunday inside the airport and on the tarmac. Now, Atlanta's mayor says a fire at an underground electrical facility was the cause. But what sparked that fire is not known.

And in Washington, President Trump says he is not considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which is a good thing, because he can't fire Mueller directly. Now, as for Mueller's team, taking the rare move of publicly defending themselves, denying allegations by attorneys for Trump's transition that they received unauthorized access to thousands of transition e-mails.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, the focus on Capitol Hill today is taxes. Republicans appear to have the votes for their long- awaited plan. It's considered a big win for businesses and for the rich. What it means for the middle class is still being debated. One Republican who will not be voting, Senator John McCain. He's back home in Arizona as he recovers from the side effects of chemo. Those close to the senator tell CNN the senator is exhausted but OK.

So we have it all covered for you, starting with Martin Savidge at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. What's the situation there, Martin?


The world's busiest airport going through a massive reboot this morning, as you point out. The good news is the power's back on, the lights are on. That happened around midnight last night. But the problems are far from over. Take a look.

It doesn't really look that bad. But the reason is most people have already had the bad news. They know that a lot of flights are already delayed or canceled, so they've stayed away. Many of these people are either the ones that are hopeful their early flight will go. But so far, we have not heard of a single flight taking off.

TSA is in place. The security lines are open and operating. Some of the stores. And you can see that there are people behind those computer terminals. There's a lot of patience being had by a lot of the people here who have spent the night not only in the main terminal but on all the other concourses. It's been a very rough go.

And let me just remind you what people went through. The power went off around 1 p.m. yesterday. It was off for 11 hours. More than 1,100 flights were canceled. And there are at least 400 flights that appear to be cancelled today. The good news is, the airlines think they will be back to normal with the flight schedule by late this afternoon. It's all because of that fire, which apparently was so intense it took out the backup electricity system, as well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: But Martin, let's talk about that. I mean, the backup system is the one that's supposed to work. So how concerned are officials about that one?

SAVIDGE: You know, this is a huge black eye, no doubt, for the city of Atlanta. And a major embarrassment for the mayor, who is now just leaving office, because the city has always touted that it has the world's busiest airport. And it's a transportation hub. And yet, when the lights go it can't seem to handle things well. Many passengers were complaining there appeared to be no emergency plan.

And what kind of redundant system do you have if it's taken out when the primary system is taken out? Experts would say you don't have a backup system at all. Where were the emergency generators? On and on and on. There are questions that are being asked about the training and also about the facility itself. And you can bet that the city is still starting that investigation. Right now, they're looking at Georgia Power, saying it was their problem to begin with.

CAMEROTA: Martin -- Martin, listen, we feel the pain of all the passengers who are stranded for hours, some on the plane, some on the tarmac. So what's the airport and airlines doing for them today?

SAVIDGE: You know, you have to remember what a power outage does in a major airport. It isn't just that you're sitting there in the dark. All the people that were in wheelchairs, they were immobilized, because the elevators and the escalators didn't work. You're essentially trapped. The restaurants closed down. The stores closed down. Access to food and water was only given out by the airlines themselves or organized by firefighters.

And then on top of that, what happens to the unaccompanied children? If you're a parent waiting for your child at the other end, and suddenly, they're lost in Atlanta overnight, on and on.

Then there's the baggage issue. There is a massive amount of baggage that's been disrupted. Where is it and when will you get it back? And remember, what happens in Atlanta doesn't stay in Atlanta. Ten to 20 percent of flights everywhere are impacted here -- Alisyn.

CUOMO: So Martin, it's like the opposite of Vegas. SAVIDGE: Yes.

CUOMO: Because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in Atlanta goes everywhere else. It's a very good distinguishing characteristic. We'll monitor the flights, see that people get going. This is not the time of year to have travel disrupted.

Martin, thank you very much, pal.

So President Trump insisting he is not considering firing Robert Mueller. Mueller's team is denying accusations of improperly obtained e-mails from the Trump transition team for his Russia investigation.

Now, this is all going on as the president's personal attorneys are prepared to meet with the special prosecutor this week.

CNN's Joe Johns has the latest -- Joe.


This has always been an adversarial process. But the president's legal team has continued to say they're cooperating with the special counsel. What's changed now is the amount of pushback as the White House, as well as some of the president's allies on Capitol Hill now, trying to discredit the special counsel, even though the president continues to say he's not planning on firing Mr. Mueller.


[06:05:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump denying that the White House is laying the groundwork to fire Special Counsel Mueller. One day after a lawyer for Mr. Trump's transition team accused Mueller's investigators of improperly obtaining thousands of e-mails.

TRUMP: Not looking good. It's quite sad to see that. My people are very upset about it. I can't imagine there's anything on them, frankly. Because as we've said, there's no collusion. There's no collusion whatsoever.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump's lawyer arguing in a letter to Congress that the documents provided to Mueller's team by the General Services Administration were their property and contained materials that should have been protected by attorney/client privilege.

Mueller's team denying wrongdoing in a rare statement saying, "When we've obtained e-mails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we've secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process." The dispute coming amid escalating rhetoric from the president's supporters against Mueller's probe.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT: This is an attack on the presidency at levels we've never seen before.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning.

JOHNS: Talk of firing the special counsel prompting bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that would be a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the White House afraid of? Let's let them finish the job and get the facts.

JOHNS: Rumors about Mueller's fate coming as Republicans appear to be on the brink of passing their nearly $1.5 trillion tax overhaul.

TRUMP: This is going to be one of the greatest gifts to the middle- income people of this country that they've ever gotten for Christmas.

JOHNS: Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill this Tuesday. Senator John McCain will not be in attendance. McCain returning home to Arizona Sunday after spending several days in the hospital due to side effects from his brain cancer treatment. McCain's doctor saying the senator continues to improve as McCain's office insists he looks forward to returning to Washington in January.

Meanwhile, President Trump speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin again Sunday, their second conversation since Thursday. The White House saying Putin called to thank Mr. Trump for CIA intelligence that helped foil an ISIS-inspired attack against targets in St. Petersburg. On Thursday, Mr. Trump called to thank Putin for complimenting him on his handling of the U.S. economy.


JOHNS: Now, this afternoon the president is expected to deliver a speech laying out his national security strategy. It's expected to focus on economic issues. And unlike the Obama administration, it is not expected to include climate change as a national security threat -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you for all of that news. Let's discuss it now.

Joining us are CNN political analysts John Avlon and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, I want to start with with you about the legal question. So the Trump transition team e-mails. The transition team and Mr. Trump's lawyers say that they were obtained by Robert Mueller in an unauthorized way. Mueller's team says it's totally lawful. Which one is it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The Mueller's people are right. I mean, this is not even a close call. These are government e-mails. The Mueller team obtained them from the General Services Administration. CAMEROTA: So they're dot gov addresses?

TOOBIN: Well, they're actually dot PTT, or PTT dot gov. That's right, yes, PTT dot gov. Presidential transition. And they are part of the government. And, you know, I think all of us understand that e-mails that, you know, are turner e-mails, they are not under the individual's control. They are under the control of the entity that supported -- you know, that created the -- the e-mail address. And this is just not even a close call.

CUOMO: Can any be privileged?

TOOBIN: No, I don't think so. Because, remember, there are not -- the attorney/client privilege does not apply in the government the way it applies in a private setting. And there is no issue of executive privilege, because Trump was not president yet. There's no -- there's no presidency.

CUOMO: The reason I bring that up is sometimes -- I know this is a common frustration for you, because you have a foot in both camps. You're a legal expert...

TOOBIN: Right.

CUOMO: ... and you're a journalist. Sometimes when the media reports on legal things, it does a little bit too much balancing, a little bit too much fairness. So somebody said, "Well, some of these could have been privileged. Well, you know, they could have gotten these the wrong way." And certain feel some type of responsibility to put that out there when it's B.S.

Similarly, this idea that, "Oh, wow, do you think he's going to fire Mueller?" People have to slow their roll on that. He can't fire Mueller directly. You have to do that whole chain of causation. Just have Rosenstein over there, saying, "I don't see any cause to remove him. If I were given that type of directive, I'd have to go back to the law. And the law is, if I don't see cause, I wouldn't follow it."

What more do you need to know? In terms of -- you know, if he makes a move on Mueller, that's fine. He can. But it's going to almost certainly go badly for him. Right?

TOOBIN: It will go badly -- I'm sorry, go ahead, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, obviously, the precedent people have in mind is the Saturday night massacre, when you got that chain.

CUOMO: It's not a great precedent.

AVLON: It didn't work out well for Nixon at the end of the day, and it wouldn't work out well for Trump.

The question is, is he constrained by advice or is he impulsive? And he sort of has an admiring relationship with Nixon. There is an overall effort we've seen to delegitimize an attack the Mueller investigation by the president's surrogates.

CUOMO: That's demonstrably true.

AVLON: That's demonstrably true. And that has been ratcheting up in recent weeks and days. So that's putting the back drop that people are concerned about. The latest skirmish over the e-mails, look, you've been -- you've worked in government. You know your e-mails aren't your own particular property. And if you're in the presidential transition, you know, executive order arguably may not hold. But that's government property. You need to watch what you say. You need to be thoughtful about it.

CUOMO: I'm just saying the hype behind will he fire him, won't he fire him? It at least oversimplifies it.

TOOBIN: It oversimplifies it, Chris. But I think we have to recognize Donald Trump is not constrained. He has shown he is not constrained by the norms that -- that many other presidents have felt constrained by.

Yes, it's true, he cannot fire Mueller directly. He has to instruct the Justice Department, whoever winds up in charge of it if people end up resigning.

But you know, also Richard Nixon. If it had just been the Saturday night massacre, that didn't cause his resignation. So he might feel that he can brazen it out. And the fact that he said he's not considering Mueller -- firing Mueller yesterday, I don't think that binds him for all time, by any means.

CAMEROTA: OK. Now to the next installment from bizarro world, and that is the way right-wing media is casting the FBI at the moment and the criminal justice system. So Jeanine Pirro who has, you know, a commentary show on FOX News, is just all in. I mean, you know, loaded for barrel. Here's what she said on Saturday night.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: I doubt in American presidential election history that there has been as great a crime or as large a stain on our democracy than that committed by a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice, who think they know better than we who our president should be.


CUOMO: It rhymes.

TOOBIN: It does. It does.

CAMEROTA: That's not a news show. OK, I mean, that's not a news show. She doesn't have to adhere to any of the rules. She can say whatever she wants to on that show.

CUOMO: And a lot of people agree with her.


CUOMO: Not in terms of it being the worse crime in history and all that. That's hyperbolic. But there are people who feel that the FBI wasn't doing its job with a clean hand. Whether they're right or not, is up to the inspector general.

TOOBIN: Her audience includes Donald Trump. He has met with her. He has retweeted stuff that she said. So, you know, people can say what they want. But the fact is, he has -- she has a serious audience in the Oval Office, which, you know, matters.

AVLON: Here whole rationale sounded like a transcript of his deepest desires to hear from her. That's the problem. You get this confirmation bias coming through from FOX News surrogates, primarily. And we've seen it. And the drumbeat, comparing the FBI to the KGB, which several circuits have done, is just beyond historically ignorant. It's deeply odious and deeply disrespectful to the people, the men and women of the FBI.

But it's part of an overall effort to delegitimize this investigation. People who are advocating -- or are advocating on behalf of or are part of the administration are acting like the administration itself is not only only under attack but the constitutional system is, it is, you know, when the Chiron on FOX this weekend said, or when Kellyanne Conway was on, "a coup in America." And the senior adviser to the president is on, that's chilling. That's just Orwellian, kind of just asking questions and stuff that we need to pay close attention to because of the fact pattern.

CUOMO: At the end of the day, you only know what you show. And all of this is just political hype. Either you'll see what the inspector general comes out. You can make a case about what Comey was doing. You can show that political bias or jaundice was something more than what we've seen always at play with human beings during investigations. Or it will just fade into their next credit.

TOOBIN: Yes, but I mean, when you do have, you know, the president's network, FOX, I mean, talking constantly about how much -- how corrupt and politically motivated the FBI is, you know, this starts to have an impact.

CAMEROTA: It plants a seed. We know this.

TOOBIN: I don't think it -- I don't think you can dismiss it that easily.

CUOMO: I'm not dismiss -- it's not about whether I dismiss it or not. This is what they do. This is what happens. It happens in waves every time that something comes up that's sensitive to the president. You get a reflection of where it is -- and what you see on state TV.

AVLON: Which is creepy. Which is not the way we've done things traditionally in America. And part of Pirro's rift that we didn't play is lock them up, basically. It's have them -- people in the investigation marched out in handcuffs. TOOBIN: And she named them. I mean, she named them -- and these are

really honorable public servants. I mean, you know, I've worked with the FBI for several years.

[06:15:07] I mean, these are people who really care about their job. The vast, vast majority of them have no political interests. These are people who are really good people. And it -- and it's painful to hear the entire agency dismiss it.

CUOMO: Well, maybe that's why it doesn't bother me as much. I mean, Comey made his own bed. I mean, he has some issues that are going to live with him for a while.

But with Mueller, they're all on record saying that he is one of the best Americans in history. And maybe that's why it's not affecting it the same way. Because poor Newt Gingrich, you know. Newt Gingrich went from being on and saying, "Bob Mueller, he's a great choice. This guy is -- you know, he's just the best of the best. I mean, his integrity is unassailable. It's great." And then the politics changes, and he starts taking shots at Mueller.

Maybe that's why it doesn't affect me as profoundly as it has some in the media, because this is their guy. This is a lifelong GOP guy whose integrity has always been unassailable. And whenever you get to their case, you know, like Congressman Gates who came on, they have no case. They just don't like what's happening. So maybe I'm overstating the lack of impact.

CAMEROTA: All right.

TOOBIN: I was doing the math there. You're right. Whatever you said is right.

CUOMO: It sounded good. It's compelling.

CAMEROTA: That's beautiful. Thank you, gentlemen.

CUOMO: So let's leave. We'll leave it there until tonight's show.

Republicans making plans to vote on their tax bill this week. Now, this is a big and definite move. They want to sign it. They want to vote on it so the president can sign it. And then you get what the president keeps calling the best Christmas gift of your life. What is in this plan for you? How will it affect a lot of Americans in different categories? Facts ahead.


CAMEROTA: Republicans poised to vote on their historic tax bill this week, but Senator John McCain will not be there. He's returned home to Arizona to recover from brain cancer treatments. Let's discuss what's expected this week. We welcome back John Avlon, and joining us is A.B. Stoddard, associate editor, RealClearPolitics.

A.B., great to see you. Let me start with you. Here's what we know so far. Let me just put it up for everybody of what is in this Republican tax bill. It keeps changing. So I think it's good to check in everyday with what's in it. The corporate tax rate. This is the big one that they've been wanting.

OK. Here, there's actually seven different tax breaks.

CUOMO: These are the individual brackets.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the individual brackets. So it still stays at seven. It was going to be, at one point, three. Here's what's in it.

The corporate tax rate goes down to 21 percent in 2018. Ends AMT for corporations. It boosts individual AMT. There's an exemption now up to a million for families. Sets the top tax rate at 37. As you know, that's down from 39.6. Standard deduction is doubled. So they say that will cut with itemizing. It will cut down on -- from 30 percent of people now who itemize to 6 percent.

Repeals the individual mandate. Of course, that's gotten a lot of headlines. Twenty percent deduction for pass-through income. Keeps the estate tax but doubles the exemption. Sets up the interest cap at the $750,00. Child tax credit will be $2,000.

So A.B., this is not what Paul Ryan promised, that you'd be able to understand your taxes on a postcard and do your taxes on a postcard. It's still complicated.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Yes. It was unfortunate they actually provided the visual and had the prop of the postcard. Because that was a big promise. And that's going to be something Democrats remind them of in the campaign next year when people are still going through the process of a complicated tax return in April.

There's also obviously been other overpromising. I mean, this was described as the president, but the president is a middle-class miracle. He said last week that the middle class and working class get a tremendous benefit. People are going to feel that in the summer of 2018 when -- when decisions, people are hardening their opinions of who they're going to vote for in Congress or they're not.

If we're at 6 percent growth and the gamble that this bill made on corporations, turning all of these changes into new hiring and stronger and better wages, if that's all come true, that is going to be a great boon for Republicans, and it's a win on the board.

That that's the gamble they took, and it might not turn out that way.

CUOMO: It's a great word that A.B. uses. It is a gamble. Because you can have ten economists, and they'll give you eight and a half different opinions about what the ramifications of growth are when you -- you give corporations more money and more freedom.

One of the important things is the reason you can't do the postcard tax thing, you can if you don't itemize. You know, then it's going to be easier for certain families. But they didn't get rid of the corporate loopholes. AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: The loopholes that businesses use thickened out that tax policy again. Because again, this is -- the mistake will be the political calculation. As A.B. says, if the rising tide is that great, everything's always gravy in politics. But this keeps being sold, you know, as much as yesterday.


CUOMO: The president is saying the middle-class families, this is going to be one of your best Christmases ever. He's rolling the dice.

AVLON: He is rolling the dice, because that rhetoric doesn't match the reality, but that never constrained him before. You point out this basic fact that the corporate tax, you know, being cut is the gamble A.B. said. Does it spur enormous rallying in America? But what we know for a fact, what's not a gamble, is that this blows up the deficit and the debt.

Something that senators like Bob Corker, who now say is going to vote for the bill, have always said there's the greatest national security threat facing the United States.

By not making the tough decisions of closing those loopholes, you guaranteed that. Even President Obama wanted to lower the corporate rate, if you close the loopholes so it didn't blow a major hole in the deficit and the debt. That's one of the real problems.

The Republicans seems to have just decided that that zero sum politics is worth whatever contradictions on principle. There -- this bill is better than what was originally proposed. It addressed a lot of the pain points that were really politically indefensible. But there's still going to be some folks who see their taxes raised if you live in a high-tax state, potentially, or region.

So it's going to have a whole cascading series of effects. What's not debatable is this. If you're a Republican and say you care about the deficit and the debt, this makes that problem worse.

CAMEROTA: So A.B., theoretically they're going to vote on this or have it on the -- sorry, have it on the president's desk by Christmas. And it seems as though they are going to be able to do it without Senator John McCain. I want to give everybody an update from his doctor. This is what he says.

[06:25:03] "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's responding positively to ongoing treatment."

That's the best news that we've had in days. I mean, that's an optimistic outlook from his doctor.

STODDARD: Yes, that was looking very difficult, because obviously, we know that the consequences of cancer treatments, chemotherapy and other treatments can be very severe. And he was -- the fact that he can get on a plane and go home and be home for Christmas is, I think, really a wonderful thing. And we all wish him the best.

But they have secured the votes so that he can go home and not return. And that's obviously the best thing for him and his family. And they're confident that they're going to be able to pull this out. And they wouldn't be saying so if they weren't. It will -- it will be done on on time.

CUOMO: A.B., what's the simple math? Without McCain voting, what is the margin of error. What has to happen for it to pass?

STODDARD: Well, Cochran has said that he can come for the vote. So they would be down to 51 minus McCain. And then, you know, if some -- I guess they have a buffer of one. Because if they lose one, a president -- Vice President Pence coming to break the tie.

CAMEROTA: But nobody wants to be that one now.

AVLON: And that's been part of the political calculus. I mean, the senators who normally would have stood up: Corker, Collins and Cohn, they really don't want to be the Republican who doomed tax cuts.

CUOMO: One of the beauties of politics. Everyone wants to be brave when they have governed. If you're going to have to actually stand for something, you'll probably take a back seat.

CUOMO: Yes, that's right.

CAMEROTA: So back to -- well, let's talk about this now. Now that I see Putin on the screen, so interestingly, A.B., Vladimir Putin called the president, President Trump. They've spoken now, I think, twice in something like three days. And they called him to thank him for a tip from -- about terrorist attack. So what are we to make of this?

STODDARD: There's been a lot of thanking going on. This is -- I can't remember a time when the U.S. and Russian governments have gotten along so well. And actually, listening to the things that Vladimir Putin said at his year-end press conference last week, the way that he spoke about Trump's leadership and everything going gang busters in the stock market and everything going over so well here and Americans shouldn't believe that there was any collusion, shouldn't question their own system and their own government and everything.

I absolutely found those comments staggering. I cannot believe that we are at a place where Vladimir Putin would be talking about us that way. But apparently, they have a great working relationship.

CUOMO: Yes, I mean, Putin's comments really worked out of White House talking points. They're almost designed to appeal to Trump's self- image. That said, from a people to people level, it's great if U.S. intelligence can stop a terrorist attack in Russia and stop innocent civilians from being slaughtered, that's -- that's a wonderful thing for the world. What you'd like to see, though, is if the two leaders are cozying up there was actually a bit of truth telling about their truth telling, influence our election, which apparently is not on the menu.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, A.B. Stoddard, thank you very much.

So listen to this story. The White House telling the CDC, apparently, not to use seven specific words in its budget documents. Words like "fetus" and "transgender." Now the administration claims that directive is being mischaracterized. So we will sort it all out next.