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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Controversial Tax Bill Gets Final Approval On Capitol Hill; Warner: Firing Mueller Would be "Gross Abuse Of Power"; Collins Backs Tax Bill But GOP Doesn't Deliver On Promises; A Month Later, Questions About Deadly Border Incident; Sen. Franken To Resign January 2; Sexual Harassment Allegations On Capitol Hill; South Korean Military Fires Warning Shots at N. Korea Border Guards After N. Korea Solider Crosses DMZ. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 20, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:01:08] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right, topping the hour, the president takes a victory lap on the tax bill and, make no mistake, it's a major achievement for him and his party. David Axelrod, no fan of the president, calls it consequential, and there's no disputing that, cutting individual rates, tax cuts for 80 percent of Americans, cutting corporate rates, adding to the deficit and a whole string of provisions, a lot of special interests will no doubt like. It will have an effect and there is plenty to debate about all of it. What's not up for debate, at least not at the victory celebration today was President Trump is awesome. Just ask anyone.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you made the case for the tax bill, but it is been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump is a man of his word. He's a man of action. Thank you for your boundless faith in the American people. Thank you for keeping your promise to see this Congress delivery the largest tax cut in American history.
REP. DIANE BLACK (R), TENNESSEE: Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our president and to make America great again.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: You often think about it, this president hasn't been in office for a year. This bill could not have passed without you. You are living up to everything I thought you would.
This is one of the great privileges of my life to stand here on the White House Lawn with the president of the United States who I love and appreciate so much.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: People often ask when did you know tax reform could be achieved in America for the first time in 31 years, my answer is always the same, November 8th, when President Trump, you were elected president of the United States. But for your leadership, we would not be here today.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: During that campaign, you listened to voices no one else was listening to. We would not be standing here today if it wasn't for you.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you for getting us over to finish line. Thank you for getting us where we are.
BERMAN: Quite a display of affection there. CNN's Abby Phillip, at White House for us. Abby, a very, very big day for the president today. So when does this bill supposed to arrive on his desk? What do we know?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is waiting for a little bit of logistics to happen on the Hill side. First of all, the bill has to be enrolled, which is a formal process by which the bill -- identical copies are signed in the House and the Senate and then sent to the White House. But there's also the possibility that they have to wait until Congress passes what they call a CR which is going to fund the government. Once they do that the president is going to be able to sign the bill.
I'm told that's likely to happen after he leaves Washington and he goes back to Florida to Mar-a-Lago. The bill is likely going to be sent down to him where he'll sign it before the beginning of the year.
BERMAN: And Abby, does the president intend to -- continue to try to help sell the bill to try to make it more popular with the American people?
PHILLIP: Well, this is a huge question. This bill is pretty unpopular, about 33 percent of Americans according to a CNN poll say that they do not approve of this bill. And a majority of Americans also think it won't help the middle class. So the White House is aware of this.
And a White House adviser said today that they believe that this bill is going to speak for itself, meaning once people see the changes to their paychecks, they're going to be much happier with what this bill does for them. It remains to be seen whether the president is actually going to take this show on the road, he's going to try to sell the bills to Americans after it's passed. The White House is staying mum on that but they're open to the possibility.
BERMAN: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House tonight. Abby, thanks so much.
In our last hour, we spoke with a Congressman from Ohio, who is making some specially pointed allegations not just against the Russia investigation nor just Robert Mueller but also the FBI, and this, appearing on a Fox News radio show referring to those text messages between the two FBI agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
[21:05:09] Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan said this, "You had, I'm convinced now the FBI actively seeking with intent, actively trying to stop Donald Trump from being president of the United States." This is what some of the Congressman had to say tonight.
BERMAN: You say you believe there was a plot in the FBI to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. If that's true, was this not the worst plot ever? The FBI director days before the election reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Yes, because you got to remember the context at that time. Mr. Comey reopened it after he had done the exoneration letter, after he had with public -- with something that never before done -- after he made the decision, not Loretta Lynch, after Peter Strzok ran the entire investigation and change the exoneration from a criminal standard grossly negligent to a noncriminal standard extreme carelessness. After all that, remember the context when Mr. Comey does that. Everyone thought Clinton was going to win. This was like, no big deal. He can do this with Abedin and -- messages back and forth those e-mails. He could do that because he thought she was going to win. That she was going to win.
BERMAN: All right. Hang on. Listen. Listen. Strzok was on the team that changed. We know that much. We don't know whether he was the actual one who changed it again. I say to you, so you are suggesting that part of this plot to keep Donald Trump from becoming president included James Comey reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton?
JORDAN: I'm not suggesting at all. I'm just saying he reopened it a few weeks before the election.
BERMAN: Wouldn't that be a lousy way to plot defeating Donald Trump to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails?
JORDAN: So back in October you guys -- before the election, you guys didn't like James Comey. Now you like him? I don't get the point. What I'm talking about is --
JORDAN: How about focus on the text messages last week?
BERMAN: Was James Comey part of a plot to keep Donald Trump from being president?
JORDAN: We'll find out. We'll find out. All I know is the text messages from Peter Strzok to Lisa Page sure points to that being -- being what looks like took place and that's -- BERMAN: You think James Comey was part of an effort? It went all the
way to the top of the FBI to keep Donald Trump from being president. Why then --
JORDAN: Here's what I know --
BERMAN: Hang on. If that's true -- if that's true -- if that's true, why, then, did he come out, again, and reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails and never even tell us before the election about the investigation into alleged Trump collusion if he was trying to keep Donald Trump from getting elected, don't you think he might tell voters that?
JORDAN: Yes, we'll have to find out.
BERMAN: This happened on the same day that Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, took to the floor and drew some red lines for the president. "Do not fire Mueller," he said and, "Do not pardon witnesses, do not interfere," he said, "or risk the constitutional crisis."
Joins us now Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's Former Special Assistant at the Department of Justice and CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, I want to start with you. What do you make of the comments from Jim Jordan today, you know, when asked about what committees and what he was basing his claims on, you know, he didn't have much of an answer.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No, he didn't. But I think rather than follow the ins and outs of his claims, which are, I think, largely frivolous, what he and his allies are doing both in Congress and in the news media are trying to create the impression that Robert Mueller is a controversial figure, that he is someone who is either part of or aligned with the Democratic Party even though that's true, so that either he can be fired, or if he comes out with a report or accusations or indictments that are damaging to President Trump, he can be discredited as part of the opposition. That's what I think is going on here. I think the specific claims which are really silly, are less important than the sort of overall impression that's meant to be.
BERMAN: You know, I asked him if he was coordinating his message with the White House he claims he wasn't getting talking points but he did seemed to say that he has talked to the White House about the Mueller investigation.
Michael Zeldin, the congressman said there was a plot to keep Donald Trump from the White House. And he wouldn't rule out the notion that James Comey was part of that plot. Your reaction? MICHAEL ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER'S FORMER ASSISTANT AT DOJ: Well, it's factually unsupported by the evidence. The polling data reflects that when Comey both exonerated Secretary Clinton and then reopened the investigation, it was terrible for her campaign. So, as you asked him in the question, that would be one of the worst ways in which to sabotage the Trump campaign by sabotaging the Clinton campaign. So it doesn't make any sense.
And to Jeffrey's point, I want to add one thing which is, yes, it's silly in many respects, but he uses language like coup d'etat and other things that are very, I think, scary words to hear from an elected member of Congress, to say that you have a coup d'etat in the works here to overthrow the duly elected president by investigating allegations of criminal behavior which have led so far to two guilty pleas and two indictment.
[21:10:17] BERMAN: I don't think that the congressman used the words coup d'etat, he used a word that were similar with Fox News that had the words coup d'etat up on the screen, but it certainly the same sentiment there.
Jeffrey, something I have heard from analysts, though, on both sides are, you know, it would be better perception wise if there weren't these issues on the Mueller team, if there were not all of the members of the Mueller team who had donated to Democratic causes if these text messages didn't exist, that the perception here is creating a problem.
TOOBIN: You know, basically what you're saying is that we need a Sean Hannity standard. We need a standard so that -- Sean Hannity is happy that this is a fair investigation. And that's a mug's game. You're never going to have s standard -- you're never going to meet a standard like that. Peter Strzok exchanged some text messages before he worked on the Mueller investigation where he said, you know, he was opposed to Donald Trump. That is something that FBI agents are allowed to do, they are allowed to have political opinions. Not every member of the Mueller staff was a Democratic campaign contributor at least one was a Republican campaign contributor. All of them are allowed to do that.
The buck stops here with Mueller. Mueller will make the decisions about who gets prosecuted. Mueller is unassailable in terms of his integrity. If you want to look through the background of every single person and find something that indicates they supported one candidate or another in the 2016 election, you're going to find that because most people voted, most people had a candidate, but that is not a disqualifying factor to work in a criminal investigation.
ZELDIN: And John, can I just add --
BERMAN: -- one thing to that? Because Jeffrey is correct. And Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein testified exactly to that point. He said that there's a difference between having a political opinion and having a bias impact the outcome of your investigation. And I know having been an independent counsel and having worked on an independent counsel investigation with people who are registered Democrats and Republicans, that who one contributed to and what one's private political opinions were had never impacted our outcome and I expect the same is exactly true in the Mueller case.
BERMAN: Michael Zeldin, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much for being with us, guys. Appreciate it.
ZELDIN: My pleasure.
BERMAN: Next, Donald Trump Jr. adding his voice to the conspiracy theories and more pushback against from people with year decade of public service.
Later, new and troubling questions in a killing of a Texas border agent whose death became part of the president's push for a border wall. How this might not what we thought it was, ahead on "360".
[21:16:38] BERMAN: Before the break, you heard Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan accuse the FBI of plotting to keep Donald Trump from becoming president. And for weeks now we've all been hearing a drum beat (ph) of criticism of the bureau, of Director Chris Wray, former Director and Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Also as we mentioned, late today, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mike Warner warn that firing Mueller would be a red line and would trigger a constitutional crisis. And short, we heard a lot, including from the president's eldest son. Tom Foreman got more on that for us.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call it another chores for the conspiracy choir. This time led by Donald Trump Jr., who is once again suggesting there is a secret plot to take the president down.
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT'S SON: You know, my father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign and people are, what are you talking about? But it is. And you're seeing it.
FOREMAN: This is about the impeachment of the president.
At the center of the claim, the idea pushed by some of the president's supporters that the probe into possible collusion with Russian meddling in the election is actually just an effort to delegitimize the results of that vote.
TRUMP JR.: There is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America.
FOREMAN: For a former CIA director Michael Hayden.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: That is scary. I mean, that is an appeal to the heart of hypocrisy and challenging the patriotism of those folks who work in the United States government.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Say something. FOREMAN: But this is not the first time Donald Trump Jr. has embraced the idea of sinister forces trying to hurt his father and help his foes, especially Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. pushed a fake claim on Twitter that Clinton wore an ear piece during one debut for coaching during the back and forth.
TRUMP: If facts are known because the media won't report on them. The politicians won't talk about them.
FOREMAN: Like his father, he routinely accuses the media of pushing fake stories to hurt the president, stories often allegedly concocting by Democrats, tweeting journalists, "They couldn't care less about the truth."
He has routinely suggested Clinton broke laws and others covered her tracks, an advantage he claims his father never enjoyed.
TRUMP JR.: If he did the same things she did, he'd be in jail for 20 years.
FOREMAN: And he even resurrected all false claims linking the Clinton to the death of a White House aide.
FOREMAN: A common theme in all these conspiracy theories is the idea that there is a permanent clan destined group in D.C., a so-called deep state to resist populous movements for change. The irony? The Russia investigators are considering the possibility that there was a conspiracy at work, and team Trump, including Don Jr. might have been involved, John.
BERMAN: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.
Earlier tonight I spoke with a defender of the Russia probe, and a participant in it, California Democratic Eric Swalwell. He's on the House Intelligence Committee. As I said, we spoke earlier.
BERMAN: Congressman Swalwell, if someone -- who's committee has interviewed Donald Trump Jr., I know you can't talk about the specifics of what he said behind close doors. But what do you make of this conspiracy he's floating that the highest levels of American government are aligned essentially to destroy his father's presidency?
[21:19:58] REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, John. Well, what Donald Trump Jr. said, you know, just this week is in line with what his father has said about calling the investigation a hoax, what my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee have said to Rod Rosenstein and the FBI director, Chris Wray. I think it's a concerted effort, frankly, it's an ominous tone here in Washington that has us all fearful that the Mueller investigation is going to be shut down unless we do something to preserve it. BERMAN: You're talking about your colleagues, some of things they said, Congressman Jim Jordan who was on the House Judiciary. He's flat out said there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Your reaction to that?
SWALWELL: I really hate to hear that because the men and women at the FBI deserve to be treated with respect. There's no evidence at all to support that. It has to be demoralizing for them to hear that. But, you know, the willingness to just torch the whole FBI building to advance this narrative is very troubling. It goes to the rule of law in this country. You know, hopefully we can -- in a bipartisan way preserve Bob Mueller's role and protect him against being fired.
BERMAN: Congressman Jordan's message is that these texts that went between Peter Strzok and others; are somehow an indictment of the entire investigation. Strzok said that they needed some kind of insurance policies against the election of Donald Trump. You're not as concerned as he is about that?
SWALWELL: Well, this was one individual who was immediately removed once his perceived bias against Donald Trump was shown. There were a number of people working on this investigation.
Look, I'm troubled by what that agent was saying, but there is corroborating evidence about Donald Trump and his family and the role and the contacts that they had with the Russians that show that there's a lot to be investigating here.
And John, let me just contrast what Bob Mueller and the FBI did once they found out about this agent's perceived bias. They removed him immediately from the team. Contrast that was Donald Trump, he found out that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI, kept him on for 18 more days until it became a public relations and nightmare. I'll take the Bob Mueller team any day.
BERMAN: We heard Senator Mark Warner, the Ranking Member on Senate Intelligence, gave a speech on the Senate floor today raising red flag about this coordinated effort that you see as well to discredit the investigation. But he also talked about his fears that the president would fire the special counsel. What evidence does he see, do you see today that that's an imminent threat?
SWALWELL: First, he's a man who knows. He sees the classified and unclassified intelligence. And so he's worried that this investigation could be shut down, but what I see is from conservative voices in the media who are getting an audience with the president to the president's family to my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee.
And John, I mentioned them because for a long time many have thought the House Judiciary Committee would be a deterrent for the president because many have expressed that firing Bob Mueller would be obstruction of justice and therefore be referred to the House Judiciary Committee. But if you listen to Republicans on that committee they would probably take credit for firing Bob Mueller because they expressed that they'd like to see him go. BERMAN: Look, you absolutely hear the effort to discredit the investigation right now and discredit the FBI. You heard it from allies of the White House. You heard it in from Republican those in Congress. He heard it in certain television stations to be sure. But the one suggesting that he might fire Robert Mueller, they're all Democrat. And the fact that Mark Warren did it today on the day that the tax bill was passed, you know, I could see people seeing that as unusual and intentional timing.
SWALWELL: Well, it just feels like we're leading up to a crescendo, you know, with people being able to get an audience with the president and suggest that Bob Mueller should be fired, the president's friends like Roger Stone are also publicly expressing that. And we know that he has aligned to the president. You know this is in the president's ear, and hopefully it's public sentiment and even better than that, you know, putting it legislatively and concrete to protect Bob Mueller. So I think it's -- send of a signal flare, a warning shot.
BERMAN: Republicans do seem to be slow walking any possible legislation on that at least in the Senate. Congressman Swalwell, we know you have to run. Thanks so much for your time.
SWALWELL: Of course, my pleasure.
BERMAN: But there is one person conspicuous absent from the tax bill celebration at the White House today, Senator Susan Collins, even though she voted for it. Now we're learning about the promises that got her to "yes," promises made and broken. The details, next.
[21:28:01] BERMAN: As we mentioned earlier, President Trump and the Republicans are celebrating their first major legislative victory with the passage of the tax bill. Republican lawmakers joined the president at the White House for a victory lap speech filled with plenty of praise for the president. Noticeably absent from that celebration, though, Republican Senator Susan Collins even though she voted for the bill. We're now learning new breaking details about the promises Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made her about up coming Obamacare legislation, promises that are falling through.
CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now from Capitol Hill with more.
Phil, take us through what's actually in the final bill.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, $1.5 trillion proposal and no shortage of major, major components. Let's start on the corporate side. This is one side that Republicans acknowledge they're most proud of. They believe this is what's going to lead to the economic growth that will lead to the wage growth, that will produce what they think will actually happen with this bill. Start with the corporate rate. There's a dramatic cut there, 35 percent down to 21 percent, businesses already responding to what that may mean going forward. Then you have past-through entities, these are small business entities like S corps -- or partnership, things to that nature. Then you will get a 20 percent deduction. They can apply to their tax rates. These are companies that paid their tax rates through individual side. That is a major tax cut.
Also, the repeal of the corporate alternate minimum tax, something that a lot of companies have been pushing for simplicity reasons, that will be done as well.
John, shift over to the individual side. Now Democrats have been attacking on the individual side a lot saying it doesn't do nearly enough. Here's what the bill actually does. Across the board the rates are actually cut, including the top rate, dropping from 39.6 percent down to 37 percent. Republicans also touting the doubling of the standard deduction, big component that they believe will help a lot of taxpayers as well. There's also a doubling of the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000.
Then you have to look at some things that they've shifted on large part to save to pay for this bill. The state and local tax deduction, it's a huge issue for New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, and part of the reason Republicans voted against this in the House, 12 in total. That will now be capped at $10,000.
[21:30:04] You also have when you look through this proposal issues with mortgages, the mortgage interest deduction, that currently sits at $1 million. That will now drop to $750,000.
John, when you look through this entire proposal. You see in the newer term there are absolutely benefits on the individual side, particularly in 2019. If you go through the numbers, 48 percent of households will receive a cut of $500 or more in 2019, according to the Joint Committee on taxation, and those middle class taxpayers, whatever body touts as being the big winners of this on the Republican side of the aisle. In total, 23 percent of all cuts will hit those middle income earners in 2019. Key component of that, 23 percent of all cuts will also hit the top one percent. It is tilted, there's no question about it. The Republicans today, this is the plan that will provide the growth and the success that they've been touting and predicting for months.
BERMAN: Now on the subject of promises made and maybe promises not kept, a key senator, Susan Collins who voted for this was not at the ceremony today at the White House. Why?
MATTINGLY: Yes, here's what we know about Senator Susan Collins. For the last couple days she's been increasingly frustrated about one key issue. Remember, she was a big vote for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. One that some Republican weren't sure that they could actually get, why did they get her to "yes" because of a specific promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that not just some tax provisions that she wanted would get into the bill, but after the tax bill, two specific health care bills would also move forward. One that dealt with the cost sharing reduction subsidies that President Trump ended earlier this year, that that would pass through. There's also another one for $15 billion for reinsurance fund. She was told that by the end of this year those bills will be acted into law. Today we find out that will not be the case because of the government shutdown negotiations that are going on. Because of the short term spending bill that it looks like they're going to settle on. Those bills will not be addressed.
Now Senator Collins said that she's going to try again in January. They're going to try and attach it to a longer term spending bill. But there's one thing you can definitely kind of sense here, Collins is frustrated. She's been frustrated with the process over the last couple days. She got a lot of promises, and this one in particular is falling through, John.
BERMAN: All right, Phil Mattingly. Thanks so much.
So today we sent "360" Randi Kaye to Staten Island to a diner there to see how voters feel about this tax plan. This is what she found out.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): At Mike's Unicorn Diner on Staten Island, they were serving up hot coffee and some heated conversation about the brand-new tax plan.
SHELLY SCHWARTZ, STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: I don't like it. I'm very nervous about it.
RALPH CASELLA, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think it's something that he promised during his campaign. And I think he's delivered on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zero on every count. No, no, no and no.
KAYE: Many here in Staten Island, New York backed Donald Trump's bid for the White House. And despite the fact the new tax plan will mean that many will now not be able to deduct their property taxes in high tax states like New York and New Jersey, his supporters here still think it's a solid plan.
KAYE (on camera): So what do you say to those who look at it as -- this is offering major cuts for corporations, huge tax cuts for the wealthy? What about me, what about the little guy? What do you say to those men?
CASELLA: It's going to have a trickle-down effect because when corporations make more money, the economy gets stronger, the economy gets stronger, wages go up.
KAYE (voice-over): This waitress agrees.
TINA MAZARAKIS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: You know what, the wealthy and the corporate America are creating jobs in this country.
KAYE: This, despite the fact she will be paying more to Uncle Sam.
MAZARAKIS: I have a daughter in college. I'm a single mom. I have my own home. I have no problem paying if it's going to make this country stronger. KAYE: This man who also voted Trump did not want to show his face but did use the CNN tax calculator to do some quick tax math. As of 2018, his taxes will go down, and his after tax income will go up by 7.3 percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in New Jersey, any reduction I get there, I'll more than lose by not being able to deduct the property taxes which I spend now currently about $40,000.
KAYE (on camera): And you're OK with this plan hitting these high tax states?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overall for the country, I think it will definitely be a plus.
KAYE (voice-over): Even with some deductions being capped at $10,000 in high tax states, Trump supporters here say bring it on.
(on camera): If deductions are capped at state and local property taxes and real estate taxes are capped at $10,000, you don't think that's not going to hurt the middle class?
CASELLA: It will hurt -- but again, if you look at it just from the standpoint of the tax, that may be the case. But the overall effect of the tax bill I think it will more than make up for that.
KAYE (voice-over): In this diner full of Trump supporters, Shelly Schwartz wasn't afraid to say she thinks the tax plan is a disaster.
(on camera): So you feel like you be paying more in tax --
SCHWARTZ: Yes, we will.
KAYE: So what about the promise from President Trump when he was running that he was looking out for the little guy and going to help the middle class? How do you feel about that?
[21:35:00] SCHWARTZ: I think he lied.
KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Staten Island, New York.
BERMAN: Coming up for us when the president used the death of a Texas border agent and the injury of another to push for his border wall, the details of that incident were anything but clear. Now more than a month later, an update on what we know.
BERMAN: A little over month ago a border patrol agent died and another was injured in a mysterious incident in West Texas. The next day President Trump tweeted, "Border patrol officer killed at southern border, another badly hurt. We will seek out bring to justice those responsible. We will and must build the wall." So while the president tried to use the incident as a way to justify his border wall, at that time, he had no idea what happened, no one did. And now more than a month later there are still a lot of questions about what happened. CNN' Scott McClain investigates.
[21:39:59] ANGIE OCHOA, FIANCEE OF ROGELIO MARTINEZ: We talked about our future, what he planned. What we wanted to do. He always spoke about getting old together.
SCOTT MCCLAIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been a month since Angie Ochoa's Fiancee Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez was killed on duty. A month wondering what happened.
OCHOA: The whole thing is very confusing, you know, and just the fact that nobody is getting any answers just makes it even worse.
MCCLAIN: On the night of November 18th, Martinez was working alone, checking culverts along the interstate near Van Horn, Texas about 30 miles from the Mexican border. Whatever happened next left Martinez badly injured and unconscious. He never regained consciousness and later died in the hospital from head injuries.
OCHOA: I still have the last I love you note he left that night he left to work. He said I love you, and I found it the following morning when I was going through my makeup.
MCCLAIN (on camera): How did that make you feel?
OCHOA: Tore me apart just to know that someone loved me that much. And now he's gone with no answers.
MCCLAIN (voice-over): A second agent, Steven Michael Garland was also found injured in the same area, but survived. The border patrol union was quick to label it an attack. Texas Governor Greg Abbott called it murder, and on Twitter the president used the incident to promote the southern border wall while he's promised to build. But a local sheriff, Oscar Coreo (ph), who responded to the scene that night says it did not look like an attack to him. He suggested the agents might have fallen 8 to 10 feet to the bottom of the culvert and told the Dallas Morning News it's even possible they were clipped by a passing tractor-trailer. The union disagrees.
CHRIS CABRERA, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL SPOKESMAN: These agents didn't get clipped by a truck. They didn't get clipped by a car. They were attacked. It's just plain to see that they were attacked.
MCCLAIN: According to a Department of Justice official with knowledge of the investigation, the FBI was investigating several possibilities, including an accident, an attack, or a dispute between the two agents.
In the weeks after the incident, the FBI set its sights on two brothers who had crossed the border illegal according to a search warrant mistakenly filed in open court. Investigators searched the vehicle they were in for evidence that might tie them to the scene. The FBI has since indicated it's no longer looking in that direction.
MCCLAIN (on camera): You had the opportunity to actually go out to that scene. What did that tell you?
OCHOA: I find it very hard that a fall could have caused all the damage that he had. And as far as him being, you know, side swiped, it couldn't have happened either because he was not off the freeway. He was actually on the side road. From the damages to his face, I mean there's no way. There's no way.
MCCLAIN (voice-over): The one person who might have answers, Agent Garland, says he doesn't remember anything after arriving at work that day. Garland has so far not responded to interview requests and Ochoa says he's also not reached out to her family to offer condolences.
OCHOA: And I just figure eventually, you know, he'll start remembering things and they'll catch the ones that did it. But now it's just -- it's become so hard to believe that he can't remember anything.
MCCLAIN: For its part, the Border Patrol Union says that Garland suffered severe head trauma. That he wants to remember what happened. He wants to get it out in the open and ultimately he wants justice to be done, John.
BERMAN: Scott, these two agents, what do we know about their relationship?
MCCLAIN: Well, the Border Patrol Unions insists that Garland and Martinez were actually friends. But Angie Ochoa said that her fiancee had no friends at work. Before he worked at Van Horn station he was stationed at a different border patrol post in South Texas. He had plenty of friends from work there. In fact, many of them trekked across the state to attend his funeral. But Ochoa told us that Martinez' experience in Van Horn was different. He wasn't close with his colleagues. He didn't feel like he was being treated fairly by his supervisors and ultimately he wanted to transfer to a station closer to El Paso.
And one other important thing to point out, John, and that's that Angie Ochoa tells us that she asked the FBI whether it's possible that Martinez was killed with rocks. The FBI told her that there simply is no evidence to support that.
BERMAN: All right, Scott McClain, thank you very much.
Coming up, we know when Senator Al Franken will officially resign or at least when he says he will. He's one of several lawmakers who will either resigning or not seeking re-election because of sexual harassment allegations after Representative Jackie Speier said last month that there are two sitting members of Congress who have engaged in sexual harassment. We called their offices, 537 of them. What we found out next.
[21:49:08] BERMAN: So we now know when Senator Al Franken will officially resign from the Senate after allegations of sexual harassment. According to a spokesman, the senator will resign on January 2nd. Senator designate Tina Smith, who is the current lieutenant governor of Minnesota, is scheduled to be sworn in the next day, January 3rd.
This has been called a moment of reckoning. The "me too" movement in an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations against men in entertainment, news, politics, the restaurant world, every corner of American life, every type of workplace. There have been consequences, in many cases, including Senator Franken's. But when it comes to other elected officials, something Representative Jackie Speier said last month caught our attention. Here's what she said to a House panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: In fact, there are two members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, right now, who serve, who have been subject to review or not have been subject to review, but have engaged in sexual harassment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[21:50:07] BERMAN: Two sitting members of Congress, because of confidentiality agreements, govern much of the official complaint process in Congress, there is secrecy surrounding who has been accused. So, we simply decided to ask.
We called the office of every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate who hasn't been publicly accused and asked three questions. If they were one of the two members of Congress to whom Representative Speier was referring, if the senator or representative had ever been accused of sexual harassment while in office, and if the senator or representative had ever been accused of sexual harassment in general.
So those are the questions we asked to 537 Congressional offices. The overwhelming majority of lawmakers' offices said they had never been accused of sexual harassment, both in office and before they served. Two lawmakers' offices said they had no comment, the office of these two, Congressman G.K. Butterfield and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. They were told that it would be noted that they had no comment, they understood that, and didn't change their answers.
Now we got no response from 15 senators, despite multiple efforts. You see the senators who's offices didn't respond right there. Also no response from 50 U.S. representatives. These are the names you see right there. Same as with the Senate office, that we didn't get an answer, we tried multiple times.
Since we started making our calls on November 29th, independent of our effort, a number of Congress members have said they are either stepping down or not running for re-election in the wake of allegations. They include Congressman John Conyers, Senator Al Franken, who as we mentioned is resigning January 2nd, or says he has, Congressman Trent Franks, Congressman Ruben Kihuen, and Congressman Blake Farenthold.
Last Friday, a woman who had a fellowship working in the office of Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia accused him of sexual misconduct, which he vehemently denied. There is no indication yet that the Ethics Committee isn't investigating these allegations against Congressman Scott. I spoke earlier with Representative Jackie Speier about all of this.
BERMAN: What's your reaction to our reporting here all the phone calls we made and the responses we got? Do you think the American people are any closer to finding out what's going on here?
SPEIER: Well, not only are they close to finding out what's going on, they're close to having a system in place that they can have confidence in. That those who serve on the Hill, who become victims of sexual harassment will have a system in place that protects them and allows for a speedy process to move forward. It also will prevent members from using either taxpayer funds or their members' accounts to pay for sexual harassment settlements. This has been a bipartisan effort now over the last two months and I'm happy to say from the speaker on down, there has been a coming together of both Democrats and Republicans to reform this system.
BERMAN: Do you think we'll ever find out who these two members are that you were referring to?
SPEIER: Well, you know, time will tell. But, again, I haven't outed them, because I'm more concerned about the victims.
BERMAN: And we had that discussion before. And I understand that you respect the confidentiality agreement. Excuse me, I mispronounced that. In some cases, because it is the desire of the victims in these cases and I do understand that. You and some of your colleagues wrote a bipartisan letter this week demanding answer from the office of compliance that is handling the sexual harassment cases, specifically each settlement including the type of allegation made and the amount for which the claim was resolved. Do you expect to get any answers?
SPEIER: Well, we certainly would like to get answers, but they have been reluctant to give us answers, because they say that the Congressional Accountability Act that was passed in 1995 precludes them from responding to our questions. But those are the kinds of questions that will be answered as we take up this legislation that will be introduced this week and probably taken up in January.
BERMAN: How is the legislation being received by your fellow members right now? Do you expect to get that vote in January?
SPEIER: I do expect that we'll get a vote. In fact, it's a bipartisan measure. It's being crafted right now by the chair of the House Administration Committee, Mr. Harper. They're taking most of the elements, in fact, all of the elements of the "me too" Congress act that I introduced a couple of weeks ago and enhancing it somewhat. And I think it will be a very sound proposal that will pass the House and move to the Senate and hopefully be passed there. And we'll have a much better system that protects the victims.
BERMAN: All right, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thanks for your time.
SPEIER: Thank you.
BERMAN: There is breaking news on perhaps the most dangerous and volatile strip of land on earth, the border between North and South Korea. Well, things just got hotter there. Details, next.
[21:58:30] BERMAN: We do have breaking news tonight from a place where you really don't want breaking news, certainly not gunfire. Talking about the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas North and South, shots were, indeed, fired there, just a short time ago, which is early morning local time. We're getting this information in just now.
A North Korean soldier defected, and we just learned that South Korean troops fired about 20 warning shots as their North Korean counterparts approached the actual line of demarcation. That's a red line, if there ever was one. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff went on to say that South Korea heard gunshots on two occasions at 10:13 a.m. and 10:16 a.m. local time coming from the North Korean side, but there have been no signs of the shots landing in the South. And so far, no report of any injuries, thank goodness.
Now, back in November, you will remember this video. A North Korean defector was shot a number of times while trying to escape. You can see this remarkable video right there. The North Koreans pursuing the defector as that, as that person made a mad dash for safety. That defector now, the one you're seeing in the video, is in South Korea custody, has been for some time, as is the one tonight, safely now apparently over the border and in the custody of South Koreans. A lot of people, though, understandably on edge in the Korean Peninsula.
Again, the breaking news, gunshots on the Korean border.
Thanks so much for watching "360". I'm John Berman. Time now for "CNN Tonight" and Don Lemon.