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NEW DAY

Firing Special Counsel Mueller; FBI Deputy Director Grilled; Agent's Death Remains Mystery; A Little Wine Goes a Long Way; Obamacare Essentially Repealed. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm well.

So the president says he's not considering firing Robert Mueller. His attorney, Ty Cobb, says the president is not going to do this. He calls it a baseless rumor. So, do you believe him?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't rely on them at all because we've seen in the past that the president changes his mind on a dime, sometimes multiple times a day. And if next week he decided to start putting pressure on Mueller again and started tweeting at him, or potentially going after Rod Rosenstein so he could appoint someone more pliable to limit Bob Mueller's scope, then he would have some explanation for his change of heart.

So, no, I don't think we can rely on this at all. I do think Congress ought to take up legislation to protect Bob Mueller and the investigation. And the spectacle that we're seeing in the House, where members of the House Intelligence Committee and House Judiciary Committee are attacking the FBI, they're attacking Bob Mueller, they're calling the FBI corrupt, all of this, I think, is only encouragement to the president that he can act in ways that would be destructive of our system of justice and he'll have only too many quiescent partners in the House.

CAMEROTA: But maybe the plan is more subtle than what you think. I mean maybe it's not getting rid of Rod Rosenstein. Maybe it's not following Bob Mueller. Maybe it's what you're talking about there, that just, you know, chipping away at Bob Mueller's reputation by saying things about him so that he stays in place, but when his findings come out, they're tainted somehow?

SCHIFF: You know, that's unquestionably part of the strategy of some of the House Republicans and the White House and Steve Bannon and their allies. And, sadly, it is baring some fruit. The independence of the Justice Department is being eroded. And we saw that in the release of these private text messages by the Department of Justice, not the Congress, but they went to the press directly to give internal messages of FBI agents, during a pending inspector general investigation. That never happens.

So, why did it happen? I think it's the deputy attorney general is feeling the pressure. And this is, I think, deeply dangerous to the independence of Bob Mueller's investigation. He needs to be allowed to do his work and not be interfered with, not have the Department of Justice violate policies in ways that threaten his investigation. And he needs the make sure that the attorney general, deputy attorney general, needs to make sure that Bob Mueller has the scope to investigate with his charter, to protect the American people.

CAMEROTA: You wrote that you believe -- you wrote this week in an op- ed that you believe that the president is pressing House Republicans to stop their investigation. What's your evidence?

SCHIFF: Well, the -- look, he says it almost every day. We see that he intervened with the Senate Republicans, urging them to curtail their investigation. His proxies, like Steve Bannon, are out on TV saying we need to shut these investigations down.

They're not hiding their hand. They're being quite deliberate about it. And, unfortunately, it's having its desired effect.

We have scheduled no witnesses. The majority won't schedule any witnesses after January 1st. And there are dozens more that we need to bring in. They're scheduling interviews out of state while we're here voting on the tax bill. Taking a lot of otherwise inexplicable steps. Unless (ph) it looks like they are bending to the will of the White House and the president's allies.

CAMEROTA: Yesterday the deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, met for eight hours behind closed doors with your committee. Can you share with us what you learned?

SCHIFF: I can't go into any of the testimony before our committee. I can say more generally about Mr. McCabe, that I think he has been a dedicated public servant to the country for a great many years. The bureau that he represents, I've worked with for almost 30 years and have the finest agents I think of any law enforcement agency. And the attacks on his character and on the character of the hardworking people at the bureau I think is reprehensible. People calling for him to resign with no accusation, no proof of any wrongdoing on his part. It's grossly irresponsible.

And this is going to do lasting damage. There's already enough erosion of public confidence in the institutions of our government. But to now discredit the FBI and the department of Justice the way they're doing is just I think completely irresponsible.

CAMEROTA: As you know, his critics say that because his wife ran for office as a Democrat, and took money from Terry McAuliffe, that sort of disqualifies him. Do you think that, as Senator Chuck Grassley has suggested, that he will be fired?

SCHIFF: No, I don't think he'll be fired. And what's more, people who work for the federal government are not precluded from having their spouses either have a political career or express political views. And some of the suggestions, for example, for, you know, chairmen of the committees in the House and Senate that Bob Mueller should fire people on his team that contributed to a Democratic candidate, you can't ask people about their contributions. You can't discriminate against people that have participated in the political process and saying you are not going to be hiring -- or you're going to be fired because you engaged in lawful political activity.

[08:35:22] And it shocks me to hear people in responsible positions of power making these arguments. And they're all the more shocking when you consider that each of the pivotal people doing this investigation, in terms of Bob Mueller and Christopher Wray and our deputy attorney general, Rob Rosenstein, our attorney general, these are all Republicans and yet the GOP, at least in the House, is not satisfied with Republicans conducting an independent investigation of a Republican administration. It's just preposterous.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Bill.

BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: A grieving woman is demanding answers about what happened to her fiance at the U.S./Mexican border. Why are there still so many questions about a border patrol agent's death there? We will investigate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:40:09] WEIR: One month after a border patrol agent died and another was injured in west Texas, the FBI says they still do not have a clear answer about what exactly happened.

CNN's Scott McLean spoke with the deceased agent's fiance about what she has been told by authorities.

And Scott joins us live from El Paso, Texas, this morning.

Scott.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Bill.

When Angie Ochoa's fiance, Rogelio Martinez, was killed, she thought that answers would come quickly. They didn't.

What makes things especially difficult is that this happened late at night in a remote area, and FBI investigators don't have the benefit of body camera footage or dash camera footage or even a record that Martinez used his radio to call for help.

If the FBI has little to go on, Ochoa has even less. And the one potential witness has yet to reach out to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGIE OCHOA, ROGELIO MARTINEZ'S FIANCE: We talked about our future, what he planned. What we wanted to do. He always spoke about getting old together.

MCLEAN (voice-over): It's been a month since Angie Ochoa's fiance, 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's getting any answers just makes it even worse.

MCLEAN: 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 -- the last "I love you" note he left that night he left to work. It said, "I love you." And I found it the following morning when I was going through my makeup.

MCLEAN (on camera): How did that make you feel?

OCHOA: It tore me apart just to know that someone loved me that much. And now he's gone with no answers.

MCLEAN (voice-over): A second agent, Stephen 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 he's promised to build.

But the local sheriff, Oscar Carrillo, who responded to the scene that night, says it did not look like an attack to him. He suggested the agents may have fallen eight to ten feet to the bottom of the culvert. He told "The Dallas Morning News," it's even possible they were clipped by a passing tractor trailer. The union disagrees.

CHRIS CABERA, 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 -- it's plain to see that they were attacked.

MCLEAN: 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 illegally 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.

MCLEAN (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, sideswiped, 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.

MCLEAN (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 figured, you know, eventually, you know, he'll start remembering things and then they'll catch the ones that -- that did it. But now it's just -- it's -- it's become so hard to believe that he can't remember anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN: And for its part, the Border Patrol Union says that Garland suffered severe head trauma, that he wants to remember, he wants to get this out in the open and he wants for justice to be done.

And, Bill and Alisyn, one other important point to make, and that's that Angie Ochoa says she asked the FBI whether it's possible that Martinez was killed with rocks. The FBI told her there is simply no evidence to support that.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. Scott, it is so mysterious. And it only gets more so. And, obviously, Agent Garland holds the key and it is strange that he hasn't reached out to the family -- the Martinez family.

[08:45:05] WEIR: Right.

CAMEROTA: So there's just a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Scott, thank you very much.

All right, so President Trump incorrectly claims he did away with Obamacare. But the individual mandate was repealed. So what does that mean for everyday Americans? We get "The Bottom Line" with David Axelrod, next.

WEIR: And celebrating the holidays with a class of Vino (ph) may have some health benefits.

CAMEROTA: Oh, good.

WEIR: It won't necessarily expand your waist line.

CAMEROTA: Even better.

WEIR: CNN contributor Lisa Drayer explains in "Food as Fuel."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DRAYER, CNN HEALTH CONTRIBUTOR: Let's first establish what moderate drinking really means. For women, one five ounce serving of wine per day. And for men, up to two glasses per day.

Reduced calorie wines claim to save 20 to 30 calories per serving depending on the variety. Overall, that's not a huge calorie reduction. And based on the math, not enough to justify an extra glass. Besides, too many drinks can increase your risk of liver disease and some cancers.

Another selling point of some lower-calorie wines, virtually no sugar per serving. But one wine making expert I talked to says that's true for many high quality white wines and most reds already on the market. Nutritionists say what really matters when it comes to wine is your flavor preference and the food you're pairing it with. So whether it's low calorie or not, I recommend choosing the wine you like best, limiting your intake and savoring every sip.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:50:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We didn't want to bring it up. I tell people specifically, be quiet with the fake news media because I don't want them talking too much about it, because I didn't know how people would -- but now that it's approved, I can say, the individual mandate on health care, where you had to pay not to have insurance, OK, think of that one, you pay not to have insurance, the individual mandate has been repealed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: That is President Trump claiming, as you heard there, he has repealed Obamacare by hiding the ball. That new tax bill repeals the individual mandate. Parts of the Affordable Care Act, of course, live on. But can they live on forever?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" from CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod. Of course served as former President Barack Obama's senior adviser.

David, happy holidays. Great to see you.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Happy holidays to you, Bill. Good to see you.

WEIR: What did you think when you heard the president say that he coached people not to talk about the mandate?

AXELROD: You know, what was surprising to me was that he stepped on his own story. They were celebrating this passage of this tax bill and he just couldn't help himself. He's so frustrated by the fact that he hasn't been able to end Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act because there's a lot of public support for it. It's helping millions and millions of people. So he -- but he went forward anyway.

And why you'd want to be the Grinch who stole health care on the eve of Christmas, I don't know.

CAMEROTA: But doesn't it --

AXELROD: I don't think it was very good politics. I'm sure if I were his aides, I looked at -- they looked at each other and say, why did he have to introduce that into this discussion today.

But, you know, I think he felt embarrassed by the fact that he hasn't been able to achieve that goal and he wants to insist that somehow he has snuck the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, this pill in the applesauce of this tax bill, and so he said what he said.

CAMEROTA: Well, there were a couple of interesting things. First of all he was saying that he didn't want the information -- he didn't want lawmakers to give the information to the press because he didn't want the public to have it. So he was trying to keep that information from the public because he didn't know that they would respond positively.

But having gotten rid of the individual mandate, doesn't that go a long way towards helping Obamacare collapse?

AXELROD: I don't think it will collapse Obamacare, but it will cost -- according to the Congressional Budget Office -- 13 million people their health care over time. That's a significant blow.

And the fact is that for health reform to work, you need everybody in the system. That's how you lower costs and spread risk. And so, in that sense, it's a damaging thing.

But, you know, look, the Affordable Care Act is really embedded. There are tens of millions of people who have health care today because of it. There's a lot of public support for it. That's the reason why Congress has had such a hard time repealing it.

And, you know, I think by touting the fact that he had this element in the -- in this law, the president has just made an unpopular tax bill even more unpopular. So it wasn't very wise on his part.

WEIR: Let's play a little bit of yesterday's master class in buttering up the boss. We've been sort of talking about how the optics and the arrangement of this shot is sort of reminiscent of "The Apprentice." But here is Vice President Mike Pence letting the big man know what he thinks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here. Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of leadership in the Congress of the United States, you're delivering on that middle class miracle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: It went on for a while -- for a while after that.

CAMEROTA: We had to bail out of that.

AXELROD: It did.

WEIR: And, of course, we remember Joe Biden, lead into President Obama saying, this is a big f'ing deal. So a little bit different form of praise. But --

AXELROD: Well, he got to the point quicker, I'll say that.

WEIR: He got to the point.

CAMEROTA: David, how much time did you spend in the White House lavishing praise on President Obama?

AXELROD: Well, we had -- we reserved 10 minutes a day for fawning on the president, and then we got on with the business of the country.

You know, if we had done what -- if we had done that, if this had been a public session of lavishing praise on the boss, he would have -- he would have laughed for about ten seconds and cut it off.

It's -- you know, but, obviously, the president needs that. He wants it. Mike Pence knows that the way to the president's heart is to praise him. But, you know, it is -- it was -- it shouldn't have been humbling. It was a little humiliating to have to go through all of that in front of the cameras. But that's the way this administration rolls.

CAMEROTA: I just wanted to see the thought bubbles of John Kelly, chief of staff, and Rex Tillerson, who were flanking the president, because John Kelly was sort of shifting in his seat, like how long is this going to go on?

[08:55:02] WEIR: Yes. But it is a good lesson too, as some of our panels have pointed out this morning, if you are a Republican with a pet agenda and you need the president's help, just like all good cooks know, add more butter, because he responds. He'll get behind you.

AXELROD: Well, there's no -- there's no -- there's no doubt about it. And I think all of these Republicans have mastered the art of playing the president and manipulating him. And the way to his heart is through lavish praise. So, you know, we hear a lot of it. And you heard a lot of it at that session.

WEIR: Yes.

AXELROD: Have great holidays, you guys.

CAMEROTA: You, too, David.

WEIR: You, too, David. Thank you, sir.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here.

AXELROD: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, "The Good Stuff," that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WEIR: Time for "The Good Stuff," as our friend Chris Cuomo would stay.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he would. Just like that. WEIR: A third grader in Spanish Springs, Nevada, got a jump-start on her holiday giving this year. See, back in September, Adaline Tremble (ph) began a collection drive at her school for the homeless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt really good because some people don't get the stuff we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: Out of the mouths of babes, right? Those socks and hats and toothbrushes, granola bars filling hundreds of care bags about to be distributed. Last year, Adaline coordinated a book and clothing drive, even scoring corporate backing.

[09:00:03] CAMEROTA: Wow.

WEIR: She is using the grant money she was awarded to buy even more supplies. Way to go.

CAMEROTA: That's awesome. Future business leader.

WEIR: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: Right on.

WEIR: Exactly. Spreading the love.

Thank you so much for spending this morning