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Andrew McCabe Testified with Congressional Committee; Devin Nunes Subpoenaed FBI Officials; Congress Avoids a Government Shutdown. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired December 21, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
Breaking news. What could the bombshell testimony by the FBI's deputy director? Sources say Andrew McCabe telling congressional investigators that he can back up James Comey's claim that President Trump asked the former FBI director for his loyalty which the president denies.
Also tonight, President Trump's constant slamming of the Russia investigation coming back to haunt him.
A brand-new CNN poll shows a clear majority of Americans feel his statements about the probe are mostly or completely false. Yet, nearly half of Americans approve of special counsel Robert Mueller's handling of the investigation.
And more breaking news to tell you about, Congress avoiding a government shutdown tomorrow night, approving short-term spending for federal agencies but not for long.
Now a new shutdown deadline looms over Washington.
We have a lot to get to tonight. But I want to begin with our breaking news. The FBI -- the FBI's deputy director's testimony today. And I want to bring in CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
Manu, good evening to you. I understand you have learned tonight what FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has been telling lawmakers behind closed doors. What can you tell us?
MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, that's right, he has met with multiple committees this week for two different investigations and one of the committees he met with this week was the house intelligence committee. In a private testimony earlier this week, he was asked about James Comey, his former boss of the FBI, before Comey, of course, was fired by President Trump.
And he was asked about conversations that occurred from Comey's telling with President Trump, where Trump apparently had asked James Comey for loyalty, had suggested they should back off on the investigation of Michael Flynn, and had said things that made Comey uncomfortable. This is according to Comey's own public testimony before the Senate
intelligence committee earlier this year. Now, when he testified before the Senate intelligence committee, Comey said that he had told some of the senior leadership about these conversations at the time.
Well, Don, now we have learned that one of the people that he told was Andrew McCabe. McCabe testified before the House intelligence committee that Comey in did, indeed, tell him about all these conversations soon after they occurred.
So that suggests, Don, that he could presumably be a witness. He can provide this contemporaneous account of what Comey had said occurred between him and Trump, and presumably dispute what the president said which is, of course, denying Comey's account saying he did not ask for loyalty, but McCabe says that's not what Comey said, Comey told him the opposite in their private conversation, Don.
LEMON: Well, Manu, McCabe, he's been, I mean, he's questioned for hours over the past couple of days. What else have lawmakers been grilling him on?
RAJU: Well, in large part today it was about the Clinton e-mail investigation. The -- two of the republican-led committees in the House have launched a separate investigation into FBI's decision- making during the 2016 campaign.
In a large part, about how they handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. A lot of republicans are not happy with the way they handled it. They believe there was some bias there. They believed that Hillary Clinton should have been charged with a crime and she should not have been exonerated. And they've questioned Comey's handling of it.
So when Andrew McCabe went behind closed doors today, Don, he was asked questions at length by republicans, in particular, about the Clinton e-mail investigation, and McCabe gave his answers about what happened, but I'm told that they provided e-mails and records and it, that republicans showed McCabe in an effort as undermine Comey, undermine the investigation.
And I can tell you, Don, afterwards, republicans that I talked to who are in that hearing said they felt pretty good about it. They felt that he actually reinforced their belief that Clinton, in their view, was treated favorably by the FBI, don.
LEMON: All right, Manu, I want you to stand by. Because I want to bring in now CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, CNN contributor John Dean, the former White House counsel for President Nixon, and legal analyst Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant to the Department of Justice.
Thank you, guys, for joining us. Welcome to the show. John, let's get right into it. What do you make of reporting from that you just heard from Manu?
JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, of course, it's hearsay at this point as far as Comey's testimony is concerned but it is a corroboration and it just makes Comey look more truthful. And so it's supportive in that regard.
LEMON: Yes. Michael, President Trump has previously disputed Comey's claim that he asked for a pledge of loyalty. Here's what Trump said when he was asked about Comey's account of the meeting, this is back in June.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So He said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give you version of these events?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One hundred percent. I didn't say under oath. I hardly know the man. I'm not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that?
[22:05:00] Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean, think of it, I hardly know the man. It doesn't make sense. No, I didn't say that, and I didn't say the other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: How much of an impact would this new information have?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, if he does go under oath, and he does say that he never asked for Comey's loyalty, and he never asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, and now you have McCabe, Comey, and Comey's memos all saying the opposite, then you've got a tough decision as a prosecutor to determine whether or not the president has made a false statement under oath which is a chargeable crime or as in the case of Bill Clinton, something that can be reported to Congress for consideration of an article of impeachment.
So, it's a very important matter that is arising today if especially the president goes under oath. If he doesn't go under oath, then it lets Mueller make a decision independent of the lie part of it to determine whether or not the McCabe testimony supporting the Comey memo and the Comey testimony is enough to support an obstruction of justice inquiry.
LEMON: Yes. Juliette Kayyem, as we have learned from Manu, McCabe spent over eight hours in closed-door hearings today. Yesterday he answered questions for over eight hours as well.
What message are republicans trying to send by questioning Andrew McCabe and other prominent members of the FBI?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: I think that they will never let go of Hillary Clinton even though she is not president. It seems that they just want to use the opportunity to go back to a campaign that many people viewed Comey as somewhat responsible for Trump's victory. I mean, in other words, his release of re-opening the investigation
was what may have been a contributing factor to Trump's win. I think more importantly, though, just taking a step back, remember that the questions that McCabe is answering are about potential obstruction of justice questions about Michael Flynn. And whether he was compromised by the Russians.
So outside of the legal framework that we're talking about, there are major national security concerns which is Donald Trump seemed to be unconcerned that his national security adviser could have been compromised by the Russians, and then the question is, why was he unconcerned? And so I think that that gets to the heart of McCabe's relevancy about Jim Comey's firing.
LEMON: I want to bring Manu back in here. Manu, what are you hearing from democrats who participated in these hearings?
RAJU: Well, they are pushing back. They said that they believe that republicans today brought Andrew McCabe in as an effort to distract from the Russia investigation. They believe that one reason why they're focusing on the 2016 Clinton e-mail probe is because Donald Trump is feeling some pressure from Bob Mueller's investigation.
Now, Jerrold Nadler, who is a top democrat in the House judiciary committee, made this point earlier today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERROLD NADLER, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: This hearing is part of an ongoing republican attempt to divert attention. It's just an attempt to divert -- part of the attempt to divert attention away from the invest -- from the real investigation into the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And the subject matter is frivolous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Don, republicans, of course have a completely different view. I asked them about their -- the democratic concerns. They said, look, we are just trying to get the facts, trying to figure out exactly what happened here.
Now if there was anything improper or wrong that the FBI did, the public deserves to know particularly as these other major investigations are happening. So it just shows the two sides on completely different sides on such a key issue and a key investigation as we head into an election year, Don.
LEMON: John Dean, despite republicans' attempts to discredit Robert Mueller, this is what new polling is showing from CNN. That 47 percent of Americans approve of how Mueller is handling the investigation, while 34 percent disapprove of his handling of it.
At the same time approval for how President Trump has handled the Russia investigation has sunk two points from November to just 32 percent. Do you think these polling numbers might convince republicans to back off a little?
DEAN: Well, it should. They've certainly been hammering at this and trying to discredit the orchestrated effort at the House judiciary committee, recently the constant barrage by the conservative media trying to undercut the investigation. It's clearly not sticking, so they might be wise to recalibrate and try to get on the right side of this issue.
LEMON: Go ahead, Michael, is that Michael?
ZELDIN: I was going to say, Don, my recollection, and you'll know better than I, but my recollection from the polling numbers also is that 56 percent of the American people do not believe the president is being truthful when he talks about the Russian probe.
[22:10:05] LEMON: Right.
ZELDIN: If I'm correct about that number, that supports John Dean's position that this strategy may be working with republicans, but generally speaking, it's not working with Americans.
LEMON: Yes. Well, Juliette, Mueller -- go ahead, Juliette, what did you want to say?
KAYYEM: No, I was going to -- I mean, I agree with both of them because we are probably all coming from the belief that if you have nothing to hide, why would you have this strategy? The strategy by the Trump and the Trump White House and the republican supporters makes sense if the only other option is that Mueller is actually on some steady drum beat closer and closer to the Oval Office.
I mean, he's appointed in May, by early October he has indictments. By late October, he's got Manafort. By late November, he's got Flynn. This is as close to the Oval Office as you can imagine, so in some ways, I see what's happening as sort of potentially a last resort. There's really no other -- no other explanation than that hay perceive they have no other option at this stage.
LEMON: All right, Manu, thank you very much.
DEAN: Don, can I...
LEMON: Everyone else stay with me. John, you'll get a chance when we come back.
Up next, a key republican congressman turning up the heat on the Justice Department and the FBI and issuing subpoenas. What's really going on here?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: A key republican in the House turning up the heat on the justice department and the FBI.
Back with me, Juliette Kayyem, John Dean, and Michael Zeldin. John, you wanted to make a point before the break?
DEAN: No, I was agreeing with...
DEAN: ... their analysis, what I was agreeing with.
LEMON: All right. Fair enough. So, Michael, this is for you. So, CNN has also learned today that republican Congressman Devin Nunes has issued subpoenas to senior Justice Department of FBI officials in an attempt to get information on what the FBI used on that infamous Trump dossier, what they used it for.
Nunes told CNN, quote, "It's not a secret we have an investigation into DOJ."
So, John, help me make sense of this. Is Nunes allowed to just launch his own little parallel investigation?
DEAN: Well, Don, when I read about that, what was described as a rogue investigation, my first reaction was that, they've got to be very careful. While there is a clause in the article 1 of the Constitution called the speech and debate clause, which gives them a lot of latitude for activity for so-called legislative activity in the interest of separation of powers, they, too, could be guilty of obstruction of justice if they push the limits too far.
And this doesn't sound like it was in the norm of legislative activity, so in fact, tweeted on that to call it to their attention.
LEMON: Michael, what do you think of that, is he allowed to launch his own little parallel investigation?
ZELDIN: Well, he's the chairman of the committee, though he's supposed to be recused, but he doesn't seem to remember that. But he's the chairman of the committee and I believe that he has the authority to issue subpoenas. Whether he does or...
LEMON: Enough by running over to the White House and...
ZELDIN: Right. Right.
LEMON: Sort of being a lackey for the administration. Don't you think he embarrassed himself enough?
ZELDIN: Well, that's a political point you're free to make, but I'm not.
LEMON: I think it's true.
ZELDIN: And Senator Grassley specifically asked Attorney General Sessions would he steer clear to be recused from anything that has to do with the Clinton Foundation, and yet, we learned today, too, that he has ordered the FBI and the Justice Department to start looking into this same matter.
So you got two recused politicians sort of running this parallel investigation which is sort of scary in a sense because it fits into the narrative of the president that the Justice Department and the FBI are in tatters and can't be trusted.
And to have the chief executive officer of the United States, and the attorney general and the chairman of the committee sort of all running down that same path I just think is not healthy for us. Whether or not there's anything there, whether or not the Steele dossier was part of the intelligence that the FBI used to put together a request before the FISA court to get a warrant, well, we can look into that and Juliette can tell us all about that.
But there's nothing untoward about using sources of information once verified to support a warrant which has to be given to a judge and a probable cause finding has to be issued. So I don't believe there's much there, there, in the end.
ZELDIN: I think it's their prerogative to look into it but it's a distraction.
LEMON: So, Juliette, what is the goal of Nunes here? Is this all to make the FBI and the DOJ look bad?
KAYYEM: Yes. I mean, so, Nunes -- what animates him, it's just hard to tell at this stage. Whether it's love for Trump and the Trump White House or something more nefarious regarding Russia, but he has been slightly unhinged. That's not political, I think if anyone who knows sort of what has happened over the last year in terms of him jumping out of cars to go meet with the White House...
KAYYEM: ... giving a press statement, and so his goal. And I think all of their goals is this, they are greasing the runway. They are, you know, prepping the battlefield. Whatever you want to call it.
For enough sort of tension enough sort of undermining of all the investigations that when the truth comes out, whether it's through Mueller, whether it's through one of these state attorney general investigations, whether it's through, you know, pictures, who knows what it's going to be, that they have sort of undermined the fact finder.
And whether that gets their polling above 50 percent which it won't or keeps their 30 percent behind them. That seems to be the goal.
For me, as I look at what's happening, I've long been saying on this show, I think the firing of Mueller is really risky. I'm nervous about it, as someone who cares about our democracy, but it does also seem that the sort of noise about Mueller might be just to, sort of prepare the American public for potential pardons.
KAYYEM: That if this gets close to Jared Kushner or Don Jr., that that, is, in fact, the sort of hand that they will play. Who knows in the next couple of weeks.
[22:20:02] But we all, I think everyone is tense because something big seems to be about to happen.
LEMON: So, John Warner -- Senator Mark Warner, I should say, John, made a statement on the Senate floor yesterday saying that the firing of Robert Mueller would be a red line for democrats. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was asked about it earlier tonight. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I don't have any particular inclination as to why Senator Warner chose this time. I suspect it's a response to this increasing cacophony of criticism that is being set up that looks like it's the precursor to some kind of an effort.
It reminds me a little bit of the battlefield scenes where the artillery softens up the beach before the invasion. This is the public relations artillery designed to soften up the beach before they do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you make of the senator's comments, John?
DEAN: Well, it didn't strike me as we're at the same point where Nixon fired Cox, for example, the special prosecutor. But Warner seems to sense that the rumors have more to them than we might otherwise think of rumors. So he thought it good cause to go to the floor of the Senate and put out there that this, indeed, was a red line and he and his colleagues would take action.
He's worried I think about the fact, that something I guess happening over the holidays when nobody's in Washington. So he was trying to alert people that they were still going to be watching even though it was the holiday recess.
ZELDIN: Don, one point, though, to be made for sure, is that Ty Cobb, the White House counsel, has said categorically, again, that there is no plan to fire Mueller. So he's trying to push back and say, you know, stay calm here, and we'll see, but it is, as others have said on this program and before, that the firing of Robert Mueller, one, won't end the investigation. You'll just get a new prosecutor.
ZELDIN: And, two, will potentially take us to that next level of abuse of office that John Dean knows so well because that was the predicate for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. LEMON: You know what stands out to me, Michael, the one thing that
jumps out, is that all the mud that's being thrown around, is the guy at the center of this other than the president hasn't said a single word about it. That's Robert Mueller. You used to work for Mueller. When you hear people claiming bias coming from him or his team, how is that likely going to go over with him?
ZELDIN: I honestly don't think he's going to pay attention to this. I think he's more in the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein theory of this, which is people have an entitlement of their own political opinion, and as long as that political opinion doesn't implicate any sort of bias or impact on the analysis of evidence, he's just going to go about his job and let those people who are making noise about this make noise.
There's an adage that we used to say as defense lawyers when I was one of those long ago, which is if the laws on your side, are you the law? If you don't have the law, are you the facts? And if you don't have the facts, create a distraction.
And I think that's where we are now. They have no law, they have no facts. They're creating a distraction. I think Mueller understands that that's what this is about. And he's just going to go about his business looking at the law and looking at the facts and making a decision on that basis.
LEMON: Absolutely. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.
When we come back, the tax bill passed. The government won't shut down tomorrow. And the president visited troops at Walter Reed. But there is one thing that isn't going to happen before President Trump heads to Florida for Christmas. I'm going to tell you what that is, and that's next.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Tonight Congress comes in just under the wire as both Houses pass a stop gap funding measure to avoid a government shutdown. Tomorrow President Trump signs a sweeping tax bill passed by Congress this week. Then he's off to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays. I'm sorry, for Christmas. We can say Christmas now.
Joining me now, CNN political analyst, Kirsten Powers, CNN political commentators, David Swerdlick, and Matt Lewis. So we can say it again. So Merry Christmas, you all. I'm so happy.
KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Merry Christmas, Don.
DAVID SWERDLICK, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Merry Christmas.
LEMON: Man. So, Matt, the New York Times has new reporting out tonight detailing tensions between the president's current advisers and his former campaign team at the Oval Office meeting yesterday.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski lashed out at a political director, Bill Stepien, for being too insular. Saying the White House is coming up short in outreach to republicans. Do you think that is a fair criticism?
MATT LEWIS, COMMENTATOR, CNN: No, but it doesn't surprise me. I think these sorts of things always happen. There's the old regime who wants to look let Trump be Trump, there may be sour grapes involved, somebody who at one point was Donald Trump's right-hand man on the campaign is now on the outside looking in.
I think maybe there's a little jealousy involved. Look, Donald Trump, for the crazy year that it's been, and there have been a lot of chaos and, you know, Charlottesville and the Russia investigation -- you go through the litany of the erosion of norms that we've experienced this year, but Donald Trump's finishing on a pretty strong note right now with the tax reform thing.
So, you know, I think this is the kind of Washington parlor game that it's not unique to the Donald Trump administration.
LEMON: I don't know about that, but, David, I mean, outlandish, crazy, unorthodox. You can call all that. David, it is unusual. Is it unusual that Corey Lewandowski who officially left the White House back in June still has this much access and pull with the president?
SWERDLICK: Don, I think it's a little unusual and I think it's a little unusual that they're still roping him in in some of these discussions.
[22:30:00] But I agree with Matt in the sense that, you know, it is an extension of this establishment versus outsider discussion that's been going on since Trump was running for office. You know, Lewandowski is, as Matt said, on that let Trump be Trump school of thought, and you have other political pros inside the White House who are taking a slightly different course. The president is finishing the year with a big legislative win.
He has some smaller wins that he can tout. On the other hand, he has dismal approval ratings. He's at 35 percent in today's Gallup approval rating and that's, you know, not good for Republicans overall going into the midterms.
It suggests that he doesn't have great coattails. That's also the implication from the Virginia and New Jersey elections as well as the Alabama Senate race that we were all watching the last couple weeks.
That being said, if there are Republicans panicking that they're going to lose the House, I'm a little more skeptical of that. They have a 40-something-seat advantage. This idea that there should be this internal wrestling over what Republican should so, you know, I think we're a little premature before we see what's really going on...
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Kirsten...
SWERDLICK: ... next year.
LEMON: The president is getting all the mouths he can out of the GOP tax bill getting enough votes. He posted, this is a slickly produced video, changed his sort of background picture to show lawmakers about to lavish praise on him.
He set to sign narratives. He is set to sign the tax bill tomorrow before heading to Florida. Do you think the president deserves praise for scoring this win?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess if you want to look at just some purely political term, yes, it is a win in the short term. I don't know if it's a win the long term because it's -- I don't think it's very good policy.
And so, you know, we will wait and see. Many in the very short term, you will see people getting, you know, a little more money in their pay checks. Though, you know, we can have a much longer discussion about how a lot of people, it's going to be just a wash because of some of the changes they made in terms of being able to deduct your local taxes.
So kind of depends on where you live. Also the fact that these taxes for the very wealthier permanent but not for the middle class. So, over the long term, if the policies isn't successful, then it won't be a political win.
But I guess, if you want to say right now, yes, congratulations, he got a -- you know, something passed in Congress, then he -- yes, it's a political win.
LEMON: Yes. So, but President Trump, Kirsten, is also fore goring the traditional end of year press conference presidents often hold. Is he missing an opportunity or are you think avoiding a possible pitfall here?
POWERS: Probably avoiding a possible pitfall. He seems to be more comfortable doing, you know, what he did when he announced that the tax bill was passing.
Which is just sort of surrounds him with people -- himself with people who praise him and tell him how great he is versus having to actually, you know, talk to reporters who he doesn't make any secret of absolutely detesting.
LEMON: Yes. But no sooner than this bill had passed that Congress had to deal with the impasse over the budget -- over the budget, David. The president put blame for that on Democrats, of course, he's tweeting out that here's what he tweeted.
House Democrats want a popular -- House Democrats want a shutdown for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular just passed tax cuts. House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the CR today and get our government open. Is the House Democrat problem when Republicans control the majority, is this a problem?
SWERDLICK: So there's two things President Trump sort of likes to pretend that he doesn't understand. One is that his party controls both Houses of Congress and when that's the case, they can avoid a shutdown on their own without any help from Democrats. So this idea that if there were to be a shutdown, it would be on
Democrats, it just simply doesn't hold water. The other idea is that you know, the president has this core support among 35 percent, maybe 40 percent of the public.
He sometimes acts as if Democrats don't have their own core supporters, their own base, their own constituencies that want different things. So Democratic districts, Democratic house members, senators, their voters don't want them to vote with the president on the tax bill.
So if they're going to, you know, not help the president get the budget passed, that's one thing. But the idea of the Democrat should just fall in line because it's popular with certain people ignores the fact it's not popular with just as many other people if not more.
LEMON: Matt, let's talk about the fix here. The fix Congress came up with a short-term fix for a longer-term problem. Funding for victims of hurricanes and wildfires was signed off on as were temporary extensions to chip, which provides health insurance to impoverished kids and pregnant women. But the deep-seeded problems over funding, they do remain. How will this play out, you think?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we just kicked the can down the road and I expect that, you know, in January, or whenever, this short-term funding runs out. There's going to be some more tense negotiations.
And, of course, Republicans have this problem where they have the majority and, yet, there's going to be people in the freedom caucus who have concerns about budgets and things like that.
[22:35:00] And well-founded concerns about deficits. But look, I would just say I think Republicans really are -- Donald Trump, that tweet -- may be ill advised to send out a tweet. But he was absolutely right in terms of his strategy.
I mean Republicans and Donald Trump that are finishing this year astonishingly on an up note -- on a positive note, and then they could have immediately lost all that momentum, and the worst possible way by not funding taking care of sick kids and disaster relief.
I mean, you want to talk about Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas time, this could have been a horrible story and as much as I'm happy that it got resolved, I do wonder from the Democrats' perspective, I commend them for not playing politics on this.
And I think we will all be -- we're all happy to be able to maybe rest a little bit here at Christmas time. But I wonder -- there must have been a temptation for the Democrats to really push this to the brink and to make Republicans, you know, look like -- you know, essentially they could have killed all the momentum from that tax cut yesterday.
LEMON: And make them look like the Grinch. Thank you, I appreciate it. Merry Christmas. Seriously, merry Christmas. When we come back, what's behind Vice President Mike Pence's lavish praise for his boss? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congratulations and thank you. I want to thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Using words like fawning, obsequious, sycophant, to describe Vice President Pence and his over the top praise for President Trump's accomplishments this year. Here to discuss, Bill Kristol, the Editor at Large of the Weekly Standard and CNN Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley. Hello, gentlemen.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, WEEKLY Standard: Hey.
LEMON: Bill, according to the Washington Post's analysis, Vice President Pence praised President Trump once every 12.5 seconds for three minutes. Here's some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Thank you for seeing through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country. You've restored American credibility on the world stage.
You signed more bills rolling back federal red tape than any president in American history. You've unleashed American energy. You've spurred an optimism in this country that's setting records.
I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Oh, boy. Dictionary.com tweeted today, there is a word for a person who would praise someone every 12 seconds, sycophant. Do you agree with that, Bill?
KRISTOL: Yes, especially when that person's your boss. I mean, what's -- ironic, of course, is the Vice President Pence is uniquely positioned not to have to do that. Trump can't fire him.
He could, I suppose, not ask him to be on the ticket again in three years, but Pence in a way, if he had any -- I don't know, something, would not have to bend over backwards as much as you can understand staff people who want to stay good with Trump.
He said he could do good for the country by, you know, saying his good graces, it's still difficult. But, Pence, the degree of sycophantsy by Vice President Pence and those clips you just played are really shocking. I mean, you could just see -- you could just say something like we,
you know, Mr. President, under your leadership, we've accomplished this, we, the cabinet, around this table. But instead, it's you, you, you, personal.
LEMON: Yes. So why is he doing it?
KRISTOL: Why's he doing it?
KRISTOL: Trump likes it.
LEMON: Interesting. Doug, you say that any U.S. president would have fired a V.P. for acting that way. Why is that?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I mean, most serious people as, Bill, knows whether it's Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, name any recent presidents.
They don't want somebody like that around who every minute is groveling in front of them, that's going on -- you know, that was being filmed. It's embarrassing. It's sort of like an episode of The Apprentice when you don't like the guy -- Vice President Pence's behavior.
I mean it turns people off. Nobody wants somebody that much of a lackey. However, you know, Vice President Pence is in Afghanistan tonight. He's showing a kind of loyalty to Donald Trump.
He's still plan B for a lot of people if there's impeachment of Trump or if he's forced to resign. But I think his star as, Don, dimmed. At the beginning of the year he was seen as maybe representing conservative fundamentalists.
And by the end of the year here, his ratings really should be in the tank. If Trump's at 35 percent approval rating, I would think Pence is even worse. And the turning point was that the Indianapolis Colts game when -- on Trump's cue, he left the game. You know, that started this sort of decline of Pence few months.
LEMON: Yes, I think people -- you know, people saw right through that. I don't think that they realized that. I got to ask you, Bill, if Pence is doing this, because he wants to be the successor to President Trump, isn't the irony that the way he acts could not be any more different than Trump?
KRISTOL: Yes, that's funny, but that's not surprising. I mean, Trump likes himself acting in a certain way, and then everyone else acting in a different way towards him. I just think -- I've talked to people in the White House and around the White House.
I think the degree of pressure -- the degree to which, you know, I don't know. Look, everyone wants to get along with the president. There's always a certain amount of sycophantsy in White Houses and to presidents, and no one is exempt from that obviously. Look at Lyndon Johnson at the tapes, what, Doug, knows more about this
than I do. Let's start with the Richard Nixon. There's always -- you know, look at someone like Kissinger, very serious person.
Thos private conversations with Richard Nixon are very cringe-inducing but not in public. In the public, it's the president of the Unites States.
[22:45:00] And you're vice president, or you're the secretary of state, or you're a cabinet member, and you behave with dignity and appropriate diffidence to the president.
But there's a kind of third world banana republic quality to the way Pence is personally -- I think the personalization is what gets me. I think it's inappropriate for an institutional republic.
This is an administration. This is not a one-man rule where everything depends on his brilliance and his ability to do this and his being in touch with the American people.
It's quite appropriate to say we're proud of what our administration has done under your leadership, Mr. President. It's not appropriate to say you, Mr. President, have done all these things, we're here grateful to be around the table with you.
LEMON: Yes, Doug, have you ever seen this kind of relationship between the president and vice president?
BRINKLEY: No, not when you have a vice president, as Bill is rightfully saying is kind of -- all he does is kiss the ring of the president. He does it in public. It's not a whisper in the hallway, you're doing great, Mr. President.
It's embarrassing. And after the end of his first year, he doesn't stand for anything, Don. What does Pence stand for? I mean, somebody like Al Gore had the environment that he was fighting for as vice president.
And Lyndon Johnson under Kennedy was pushing NASA in the moon shot. I mean, Nixon was trying to do foreign affairs with Eisenhower.
The point being what at the end of the year has Pence done, and even according to the New Yorker, Trump makes fun of Pence behind his back to people all the time, mocking him, belittling him. So it's a -- it was a smart move, I think, Donald Trump, picking Pence.
He did a good job for him on the campaign and he's kind of doing a kind of, I guess, adequate job as V.P. right now, but these sorts of scenes just diminish him when he does that sort of sick sycophantsy.
LEMON: Stay with me. When we come right back, Vice President Pence made a surprise trip to the troops in the war zone instead of the president, himself. Is that unusual?
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: We know praise is the way to President Trump's heart at home, but what happens when he wants loyalty from other countries?
Well judging by today's vote at the U.N., 128 including some of our closest allies voted against his stand on Jerusalem. And the administration is threatening retaliation.
Back with me now, Bill Kristol and Douglas Brinkley. Doug, you first. Tonight, the former CIA director, John Brennan, weighing in on the Trump administration's response of the U.N.'s rebuke of its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he tweeted this.
Trump administration threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in the U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond that radius, shows at Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone.
Qualities unusually found in narcissistic or usually I should say found a narcissistic vengeful autocrats. Wow that's a lot coming from John Brennan, does he have a point?
BRINKLEY: Yes, I was a little surprised how sharp-tongued that was. But the word narcissist has been applied to Donald Trump all year. Long any well from last few years. We're just getting normalized by it.
But I think it's not a matter -- the peace process has been pretty broken. One can argue about Trump's move going -- moving the embassy to Jerusalem or not.
I don't think it was wise to do what Nikki Haley did today at the United Nations to do a kind of blackmail threat. If you're going to move it to Jerusalem, do it and save some of that kind of diplomacy for behind closed doors.
But to start just, you know, really pounding away at our allies all the time and becoming just disdained around the world which Donald Trump is right now, I don't see how that helps America's interest.
He is just threatening to kind of slash the budget and tie it to one event like the Jerusalem move. It seems to me just another Trump miscue.
LEMON: Hey' Bill, let's talk about that because today's threat at the U.N. came from Nikki Haley. Do you think that she's in favor of taking names of country who voted against the U.S. or she said -- or is she like others just playing to President Trump.
KRISTOL: I don't think it's a bad thing. I mean I was in first Bush administration and we wanted to repeal the Zionism was raise and resolution. Vice President Quayle worked a lot of that. Others in the State Department were (Inaudible).
And we told countries, this was an important vote for us and we would just be part of our whole relationship but if they could see their way to voting with or withstanding, we would appreciate it.
And Haley did it. It was the way the Trump administration does it with a little more -- a little more bravado. But I think Pence is wildly overreacting. He doesn't like Trump. I don't like Trump.
There's plenty to criticize of Trump's handling of allies and of opponent. You know, I'm worried about alliance around the world but this is the least of I think the sins.
And I rather like what Nikki Haley said today, we moved our -- we said we wanted to move our embassy to Jerusalem, that's really something the U.N. has to get involve in. I mean that's a little -- I'm still with Nikki Haley on this.
I think she actually -- she's pretty eloquent today and has been a good U.N. ambassador and when she deserves the Trump administration in 2019, and the challenges Donald Trump in the primaries that's going to be fantastic, Don.
That's going to team -- great fate entertainment and then she'll be the republican nominee and the first woman president that will be exciting.
LEMON: You just got her in trouble because you know, he watches this show, right?
KRISTOL: I hope. Haley, 2020, I'm on board.
LEMON: You said that this idea that people need to praise an American president belittles our democracy, why do you say that.
BRINKLEY: Because I think, Bill, said it so effectively. We're not a banana republic and it's what Brennan is saying, we don't have to be autocratic. But you know, we want a president that represents our best.
Has some sense of humility, civility, generosity, doesn't always have to be about themselves. I mean that's what you expect of what kind of dictator or something. We just haven't had something like that.
I mean, look at the recent presidents, I mean, Harry Truman, Eisenhower, just march them down. These were all by in large with perhaps the exception of Nixon, fine public spirited men.
[22:50:00] That don't have to be constantly taking all of the credit for things. I mean there was mention of George Herbert Walker Bush and Baker, and all, I mean anyone could have claimed that the Berlin wall came down because of me.
I broke up the Soviet Union. I did German reunification but instead, he demurred and he cared more about the international situation and our alliances, and a way to behaved as a gentleman but Trump has none of that. He is just constantly devoid and carried his own China shop around with him.
LEMON: Before we go, I want to get your take, Doug, on Vice President Pence' surprise visit to Afghanistan today. How unusual is it for a vice president to go to a war zone before a president.
BRINKLEY: I believe, you know, back in -- you know, think there have been moments when Lyndon and Johnson started going into Vietnam during the Kennedy period. So it's pretty unusually.
I thought Donald Trump would have gone already to sort of see the troops. He did speak obviously to our academies and thanksgiving to coast guard. But look, Pence is there with our troops wishing them Merry Christmas, happy holidays.
That's a good thing. And let's hope Donald Trump gets the time to visit Afghanistan and Iraq down the line. I am sure the security precautions for him in those tense zones have to be unbelievable.
LEMON: Thank you gentlemen, I appreciate it. Tonight we have an incredible story for you about one adopted family. Two babies in race in America. You don't want to miss this.