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Trump Greets Supporters As He Arrives for Florida Holiday; Pence Back in U.S. After Secret Visit to Afghanistan; CNN: Deputy FBI Director Could Back Up Comey's "Loyalty" Claim. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:25] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. You are watching CNN. Live pictures of West Palm Beach, Florida. I'm Brooke Baldwin on this Friday before Christmas here.

And for the first time in 15 years, the president of the United States held no end of the year news conference, although he is certainly enjoying taking pictures and shaking some hands, as he's about to get R&R for his holiday with his family. Actually mentioned moments ago, obviously, the president landed there in West Palm Beach to spend the Christmas holiday at Mar-a-Lago.

The president did take a couple questions in the Oval Office just before leaving Washington. It happened while he signed into law his historic tax cuts. This is the most substantial set of tax reforms in 31 years. And the president says he doesn't plan on trying to sell them to the American people. He says no need.

This despite the fact that the majority of people CNN polled opposed the tax reductions, which will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the course of the next 10 years.

Here was the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we're going to have to do much selling. I think the corporations that are giving billions and billions of dollars away to their workers and many more are coming, I think that's really what's selling this maybe better than anybody could, including myself. But I think come February, when they open their checks, and they see, wow, what happened? I have a lot more money in here. I think that's really going to be something very special.


BALDWIN: And with me now, CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins.

And so, Kaitlan, it was certainly of note how the president said, I listened, I was planning on signing this, you know, at the beginning of January, but decided to scrap that once I realized that people on TV were saying he's not following through with his promise so he said, I'm doing it right now. Talk to me more about that, and then what his plans are for the top of the year. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it was a little

unclear this morning, Brooke, because there was no signing ceremony on the president's schedule even though several White House officials said yesterday that he was likely to sign that bill today. A lot of people questioning why the president wouldn't do so in a public statement with one of his biggest legislative victories of his first year in office.

But they then did have reporters come into the Oval Office as he signed this sweeping $1.5 trillion tax bill. And the president reveling in that accomplishment, his promise to get tax reform passed by Christmas which he did. As he spoke to reporters saying he's hot worried about this bill which has 33 percent approval rating because he, frankly, thinks it's going to have -- it's going to sell itself and he's not going to have to travel to sell this bill.

But, Brooke, looking ahead to 2018, the president was talking about how this bill had no Democratic support, but he thinks that's going to change in the New Year.

BALDWIN: And just looking at the president, obviously, enjoying saying hello to supporters as he's heading off to Mar-a-Lago to be with his family, do we know what his plan is for the next couple of days?

COLLINS: Well, he said today in the Oval Office that he's going to continue to work over the Christmas break while he's in Mar-a-Lago through the New Year before he gets back to the White House. We know he has a few staffers with him but certainly he'll be spending sometime. We know the first lady and his Barron Trump have already been down in Mar-a-Lago.

But today in the Oval Office, he said he's going to continue to work. And we know that that first week back here in Washington, the White House is already planning to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to talk about those 2018 legislative priority including things like infrastructure.

BALDWIN: OK. And then one more for you, Kaitlan, before I bring in my panel, that is, we saw him tweeting a couple of hours ago, and then reinforcing this as he did answer a couple of questions talking about how he's predicting, he said, I predict essentially that we will work with Democrats next year, and he was saying his next priority is entitlements -- infrastructure, rather. Infrastructure.

COLLINS: Yes, that's right. They are looking at considering welfare reform as something to look at in the New Year. But infrastructure is the next big thing that the White House is considering. And as you know, they did not get health care passed earlier this year, that was quite a jumble that the White House experienced. They're much more strategic with tax reform.

And today, the president was asked in the Oval Office by my colleague Jeff Zeleny if he thinks it will be easier to get infrastructure passed, and here's what he had to say.

BALDWIN: OK. Kaitlan Collins.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- started with infrastructure at the beginning of this year --

TRUMP: Yes, well, we're going to get infrastructure. Infrastructure is the easiest of all. Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it, Democrats and Republicans, we're going to have tremendous support in infrastructure as you know.

[14:05:03] I could have started with infrastructure, I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So, we'll be having that done pretty quickly.


COLLINS: So, Brooke, no doubt that 2018 is going to be a very busy legislative year for Republicans. But right now, the president is leaving Washington on a high note.

BALDWIN: Merry Trumpness the poster board reads there.

Kaitlan, thank you.

Staying on the president here during his chat with reporters earlier today, the president repeatedly pushed, as we were discussing, infrastructure as Washington's chance to do something both sides of the aisle want unlike tax cuts.


TRUMP: I really do believe, and I said on social media today, I really do believe we are going to have a lot of bipartisan work done and maybe we start with infrastructure because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.


BALDWIN: With me now, CNN political commentator Jason Miller, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, and CNN political commentator, Keith Boykin, a Democratic strategist and former aide during President Clinton's administration.

Gentlemen, welcome. Happy holidays. Thanks for coming by on this Friday afternoon.

Jason, let me begin with you. I think back to the point I was making a second ago, I think the president earlier today was really honest when he was saying, you know, to the press, listen, I was watching the news this morning, and it bugged me that people didn't think I was going to keep my promise, you know, signing the tax bill into law before Christmas. So what did I do? I signed it today.

My question for you, though, is, was this a missed opportunity? An opportunity for the president to go into the country, maybe to go to a business, sign it, make it more about the people?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Brooke, you hit the nail on the head earlier when you called the tax cuts historic, I would add once in a generation, this is a huge bill signing, something Republicans have been trying to do for decades.

But I think what we're seeing today is actually remarkable message discipline coming from the White House. The White House has had great news for these tax cuts over the last couple of days and I think the president handled it just perfectly today. Bring folks in from the press corps, give a couple of brief remarks, go ahead and sign the bill, then you know what, head out for Christmas like what most people are going to be doing when they get off work today, they're going to shut down and think about spending time with their families and such. And I think the president handled it great.

BALDWIN: So, perfectly says Jason.

Keith, how do you view it? Because president, you know, obviously, he did it alone, no Republicans around him as we saw, obviously, we saw in droves a couple of days ago, president added he's not giving another credit for what he considers a big year in office?

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think Jason and a lot of people are grading the president on a curve. You know, George W. Bush once referred to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

We have such low expectations for Donald Trump and if he can sit still for five minutes and not tweet, we're all excited about it. So, I think that's what we are seeing today. He's acting a little bit more presidential, for a moment.

But the policies he's pushing forward are still backward. He's still proposing this tax bill still very unpopular. It's less popular than Obamacare was at lowest point. It's less popular than even Bill Clinton's tax increase in 1993.

How do you make a tax cut less popular than a tax increase? You do it by skewing the benefits to the wealthy which is what this bill does with this new law does. And unfortunately a few years from now the American people will pay the price.

MILLER: I disagree with you, Keith, once people start seeing larger paychecks coming in February, I think they're going to be a lot happier about it. You know, one of the things to go to polling for a moment, these polls are saying, they say, you know, do you support President Trump on the following, and it puts things immediately into ideological camps.

But if you ask people would you like to keep more of the money that you went and earned, then, of course, they're going to say yes. But there's something that no one has been talking about this morning that's really important to point out, and that's the fact that this isn't just the $2,000 a year that the proverbial family of four making $75,000 is going to see, in additional money that they're keeping. This is keeping the U.S. much more competitive with China, with India, with all these international competitors in the long range here.


BALDWIN: Sure, sure, but let me jump, I think there is a risk of oversimplification. And, obviously, if you want to tell anyone, hey, do you want to get more money in your paycheck, they'll say yes, but I think there is way more to this, far more nuanced and specificity that is why we are hearing the criticism from Democrats. Obviously, you hear the president and he is proud of this bill. But the fact he said this morning he doesn't feel the need to go out and sell it.

But I think to Keith's point on the riskiness, I want you to listen to the difference how the president put it and the Senate majority leader, a Republican, two days ago.


TRUMP: I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it's selling itself.

[14:10:00] It's becoming very popular. But I think it will really -- you'll see something on February 1st when they open up the paycheck.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: My view is if we can't sell this to the American people we need to go into another line of work.


BALDWIN: So, obviously, Mitch McConnell, Jason, is saying, we do need to sell it. He does realize that it was a risky move. Which do you think it is? Are you on the side of the president, no need to sell? Or the side of Senate majority leader and you need to sell it?

MILLER: Well, I think they are saying the same thing. That was probably the most animated I've seen Senator McConnell, so I think you got to -- remember, we are talking about two different person amount personalities here. But there's a difference between needing to sell it and actually going out and celebrating it.

And you can believe that President Trump having just signed it into law is going to be out there celebrating this tax cut and benefits it's going to have for people every day, as we head into next year. But there's a big difference between that and needing to sell it. And I think we need to be looking at it as such as Republicans, this isn't something we need to defend, this is something that we need to promote and talk about how it's going to benefit people around the country. So, that might be a little bit of phraseology there.

BOYKIN: But I think the Republicans will need to defend this, because I mean the primary benefits of this go to the millionaires and billionaires. Yes, they threw little scraps at the ordinary people, like myself, and other people who are working people, but billionaires and millionaires are the ones who are getting the bulk of the benefit, and the result of this, we're cutting a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit. The Republicans were so concerned about when Obama was president for

eight years, suddenly they don't care about it anymore, which means that the next step they're gong to push for is something called entitlement reform, which means they're going to have to cut Social Security, they're going to have to cut Medicare and they're going to have to cut Medicaid to pay for the tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires, and that's when the American people will really be outraged.

MILLER: Keith, you're not going to give your tax cutback, are you? You're going to keep your tax cut, right?

BOYKIN: I don't know if I'm going to get a tax cut, Jason.

MILLER: But you're going to keep it. You're not going to give it back to the Treasury, you'll be glad to get that?

BOYKIN: Jason, that's funny, you can try and make a joke out of it but a lot of working people will not get tax cuts. And some will see theirs increase, including the poorest people. And all the tax cuts for the low income people will expire eventually unlike the tax cuts for the wealthy. So don't try to sell this as something like everybody is going to benefit, when the reality is the rich people will benefit the most.

MILLER: We are always seeing companies big out bigger bonuses, to raise minimum wages within the company. I mean, this is already starting to take an impact. And on top of this, keep in mind, there's not just the tax cut implication, but also because we are at the 4.1 percent rate on unemployment rate right now and it's a tighter labor pool, that means there are going to be more opportunities for people, with higher paying jobs. So, we're going to see the average wages for household go up between $4,000 and $9,000 a year. This is going to have a great benefit for people.

BALDWIN: Quickly, Keith, respond. I want to move on.

BOYKIN: There is no evidence to support. The last time we tried tax reform in 1996, wages actually fell. It did not increase. And there was increase in terms of jobs market at that point, too.

MILLER: That's just wrong. It was a great decade-long boom. You are wrong there, Keith.

BOYKIN: No, if you look at the numbers in 1986 tax reform bill, decrease in wages, and decrease in job growth. So, I mean there is no evidence this is going to produce a different result from what happened before.

BALDWIN: OK, this is exactly emblematic how various folks in this country feel about this now tax law, as we now know has the president's autograph. At the end of the year, this is what I want to end it, we have a lot to be grateful for. And thanks to this ad by a pro-Trump PAC, a lot of Americans are thinking President Trump. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for putting America first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for supporting Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As veterans, thank you for reminding us to stand for our national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Thank you, President Trump, for letting us to say "Merry Christmas" again.


BALDWIN: All right. Gentlemen, quickly from both of you, Jason, starting with you, regard to your former boss, what are you thankful for?

MILLER: I'm thankful for a president who is keeping his word, giving us tax cuts, giving us restored prominence on the world stage, and a president who I think is going to bring us a whole lot of great things this next year. And I would just urge the president don't take the pedal, put the pedal to the metal, don't slow down at all, let's go over some big bold things in the year two, and we can -- I'm really excited to where the country is going.

BALDWIN: Keith. Thankful?

BOYKIN: I'm thankful for Robert Mueller. I'm thankful I'll never have to watch an ad where Donald Trump takes credit for letting people say the pledge of allegiance or stand for the national anthem, and to say merry Christmas. None of which he has control over. So I'm thankful for that.

BALDWIN: Keith Boykin and Jason Miller, thankful for both of you. Thank you so much for coming up. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas to both of you.

BOYKIN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Just in to us here at CNN, Vice President Mike Pence is now back on U.S. soil, touching down moments after a surprise visit to visit our troops from Afghanistan where he rallied our men and women over there and discussed how to end the 16-year conflict.

[14:15:10] So with me now, Jeremy Diamond who actually accompanied the vice president on this highly secretive trip.

Jeremy Diamond, tell me everything.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, we just touched down in Washington about an hour ago. And the vice president there, you know, making a trip to see the troops, greet the troops over the holiday season. But he also met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and that visit was, you know, a little bit cloak and dagger, if you will.

You know, the whole time we were on the ground in Afghanistan until about an hour before the vice president and the reporters and the staff traveling with him were scheduled to lift off, that visit was kept secret for about six hours of time, including a helicopter trip from Bagram Airfield where we first landed and where the vice president greeted troops into the heart of Kabul, to the presidential palace there where the vice president met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.

And so, this trip, Brooke, this is how it is, after 16 years of war in Afghanistan, the vice president still needs to sneak into the largest U.S. military base in the country. And that's very much a testament to the ongoing instability in that country. Of course, the vice president's trip came just days after the latest streak of violence hitting even Kabul with -- you know, there have been suicide bombers in Kabul in recent weeks.

And so, obviously, this trip, a little bit of secrecy there but now we are back on U.S. soil.

BALDWIN: Looking at those men and women in uniform, none of whom get to be with their families over the holidays. We are so, so, grateful for them. Jeremy Diamond, thank so much for hopping over to Afghanistan with the vice president and coming back. Thank you for that.

Coming up next, was there a loyalty request? A major development emerging after hours of testimony behind closed doors, what the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is revealing to lawmakers about a very specific conversation between the president and the former FBI Director James Comey.

Also, save the date. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are sending out invitations for an event to thank all the countries who stood with the United States during that controversial Jerusalem vote. So, what happens to the 128 nations who did not vote with the U.S.?

And, our first look at President Trump's official Christmas card. Who received it? And you notice something here, guess what, it is four times larger than any other Christmas card you will see this holiday season.

We'll be right back.


[14:22:04] BALDWIN: And we're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A major development in the closed door FBI testimony on Capitol Hill. Three House committees grilling FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for a whopping 16 hours. Multiple sources from both parties tell CNN that McCabe may have just corroborated testimony from the fired FBI Director James Comey when Comey claimed President Trump asked for the president's loyalty. Just a quick refresher. This is what Comey said back in June and then

how the president responded.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay. But my common sense told me what's going on here is he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.

TRUMP: I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question.

I hardly know the man. I'm not going to say, I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that?


BALDWIN: Let's go to our CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju in Washington.

And so, Manu, what did your sources tell you about McCabe's testimony?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, earlier this week when he met with the House Intelligence Committee, and that session lasted about roughly eight hours, he was asked a lot about his former boss, James Comey, who was director when he was deputy director and who was asked about those conversations that Comey had with President Trump. And what McCabe testified to was the fact that Comey did tell him about those conversations soon after they happened with the president.

He said that on each of those occasions when the president did have a conversation with Comey, allegedly, according to Comey's testimony, Comey, asked him to back off the investigation of Michael Flynn. He had asked for a pledge of loyalty, according to Comey.

But Comey apparently told that to Andrew McCabe as well. Now, Comey has said in his own public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he did brief his senior leadership team about these conversations. He has never said Andrew McCabe himself heard this.

But now that McCabe has told the House Intelligence Committee that he did in fact hear this from Comey, he could presumably corroborate Comey's account, he heard this contemporaneously from Comey, and if Bob Mueller is investigating this, he could possibly ask Andrew McCabe about what Comey told him at the time. So, perhaps Comey has some back up here despite the president's own denial, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.

Let's begin with this here. Let me bring in, Jeffrey Toobin, our CNN chief legal analyst.

And so, here's my question for you, sir, is when we -- once we're talking about this Comey versus Trump story, it was the whole he said/he said and how would anyone ever know.

Now with the McCabe testimony, does that elevate what Comey said?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It does, it does. And just broader picture, why does this matter? I mean, that's I think people might --

[14:25:01] BALDWIN: Sure.

TOOBIN: And the reason it matters is one of the probes of his investigation is obstruction of justice, and one of the questions is, did President Trump demand loyalty from Comey? And when he didn't get it or felt he didn't get it fire him, with I could be seen as obstruction of justice. So, this issue of whether the president asked for loyalty is part of the obstruction of justice investigation.

BALDWIN: Perfectly laid out.

TOOBIN: OK. Now, so you have a complete contradiction between Trump and Comey about what went on in this conversation. Now, we have Comey corroborated not only by his deputy director's testimony that just happened in Congress, but remember he said he took notes immediately afterwards, which we haven't seen, but certainly the congressional committees and certainly the Mueller staff would have seen.

So, you know, all of which seems to argue in favor of Comey's credibility versus Trump's. Now, it doesn't mean that Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice but it is certainly a building block for a case that might be made.

BALDWIN: Now, on the Trump side, and you very well know this.


BALDWIN: But I think also big picture, he has targeted McCabe in the past saying he took money from Hillary Clinton for -- it was McCabe's wife who was running for a state seat in Virginia.

TOOBIN: Right.

BALDWIN: We know it was actually the Governor Terry McAuliffe and his super PAC that gave his wife money. But do you think any of that will undermine, you know, from the White House will undermine McCabe in all this?

TOOBIN: Well, it certainly is a political talking point against McCabe. I don't think it is a legitimate questioning. I mean, the guy's wife --

BALDWIN: Was running for office.

TOOBIN: -- ran for office. People have independent careers. She was running for Virginia state office as a Democrat. Not surprising that Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia, would support her. But, you know, it is part of the broader attempt by Republicans, by

their allies in the news media to discredit anything that might come out of the Mueller investigation that's critical of the president and attacking Andrew McCabe is one part of that.

BALDWIN: OK, the question looming over all of this, whether President Trump could either directly or via his subordinates in the DOJ try to get rid of McCabe or perhaps even get rid of Mueller, Senator Corker, Republican, said, quote, there would be an uprising and revolt if Trump fires Mueller. Here you go.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think, John, there would be an uprising and a revolt. I think that's beyond the pale. I don't think it's being considered. I get no indication from those at the White House that this is something they are even thinking about. But there would be an uprising. That would be something that would not be tolerated, period.


BALDWIN: What do you think?

TOOBIN: Maybe. I think maybe. You know, the Republicans in Congress have been very loyal to the president. You know, Bob Corker has been somewhat critical. Jeff Flake has been somewhat critical. Both of them are on their way out.


TOOBIN: The Republicans who are actually running for re-election have been loyal to the president. Personally, I don't think the president would be impeached if he fired Mueller. And, you know, it is true that everyone in the White House at this red hot moment is saying Mueller is not going to be fired. But I didn't think that is necessarily the last word we have heard on this subject. The president has been extremely critical of Mueller. You know, he keeps calling this investigation a farce, unfair.

BALDWIN: But says he's not firing him.

TOOBIN: He says he's not firing him. And that may be true today. I mean, it is true today, Mueller hasn't been fired today.


TOOBIN: But I don't think the issue is closed for all time.

BALDWIN: OK. Jeff Toobin, thank you.

TOOBIN: Merry Christmas.

BALDWIN: Merry Christmas to you, my friend.

Coming up here, a CNN exclusive, involving a Texas congressman already under investigation for alleged sexual harassment when an inquiry into his actions is now expanding.

Plus, U.S. -- U.N. ambassador to the U.S. Nikki Haley throwing a sort of friendship party, and if you voted against the president's Jerusalem decision, guess what? You are not on the list. The potential fallout, next.