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Trump Back to Work, Attacks FBI & Clinton; Major Utah Paper Calls on Hatch to Not Seek Re-Election. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:05] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Don Lemon, in today for Brooke Baldwin. I hope you had a great Christmas. Christmas is over.

And the president said he is back to work. First order of business, though, unleashing several attacks via Twitter on the FBI, on Obamacare, and on Hillary Clinton. Then, it was of course off to the golf course.

CNN captured this video of President Trump golfing with Georgia Senator David Perdue and pro golfers Bryson DeChambau and also Dana Quigley. There is he there, his back to us, on the golf course.

Let's go right to CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

Abby, the president says he is back at work. I hope you had a great Christmas by the way. Back at work.

So, let's talk about the health care plan here. He is optimistic, he says, over the New Year, the working strategy of working out a fix. What's going on here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. Well, yes, the president this morning tweeting about health care and going back to a little bit of an old plan which is, working with Democrats, something that Republicans have not been able to do successfully. He sent out this tweet this morning talking about the individual mandate repeal that's in that tax bill. He says, based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate has been terminated as part of our tax cut bill which essentially repeals overtime Obamacare, the Democrats and Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new health care plan.

Now, it does not seem right at this moment that Democrats and Republicans are actually working on a new health care plan. However, in January, there is going to it be a bipartisan effort to shore up those health care marketplaces, that's one of the things that the Trump administration promised some moderate Republican senators in an effort to get this tax bill passed. That's one of the things that I think the White House expects some Democrats will get on board with in the New Year.

LEMON: And, Abby, then there's that infamous Russian dossier that's on the president's mind as well. He talks about it so much. He's called it garbage this time. Why is he bringing it up? PHILLIP: Well, I think we have to start here with Fox News which the

president was apparently watching this morning. When that topic came out, he tweeted out a message about the dossier, calling it bogus again and asking -- and saying, and they used this crooked Hillary pile of garbage as basis of going after the Trump campaign.

It seems pretty clear right now that President Trump is focused on this dossier. It's part of a broader effort to undermine the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And possible Trump campaign ties to that effort. The president and other Republicans, including some who appeared on Fox News this morning are talking about this dossier as part of a broader question about whether this investigation is tainted from the beginning, Don.

LEMON: Abby Phillip, thank you very much, Abby. Appreciate that.

Let's discuss this now. Scott Jennings is here, a CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Bakari Sellers, CNN commentator, attorney, and former South Carolina house member.

Hello. Did you guys have a good Christmas?



LEMON: Yes. Scott, thank for the Christmas card.

I'm waiting on yours, Bakari, by the way. But that's OK.

So, let's talk about -- I want to talk about this Russia dossier because the president keeps talking about that. He keeps bringing that up. And he keeps talking about that as somewhat I guess the basis of the Russia investigation.

And, clearly, if you listen to any of our former intelligence officers or current intelligence officers, they are saying that this suggestion that the dossier is the basis of the Russian investigation is just false. It's not even -- it's part of the investigation but it's not the whole investigation nor a big part of the investigation.

Why does he continue to bring it up, Bakari?

SELLERS: Well, I think that there are two parts to this. One is that I believe that as the FBI gets closer and closer to inner circle, he's already had more indictments in one year than his predecessor. He's already had people plead guilty in one year than his predecessor who served for eight years. So, as it gets closer and closer, he is beginning to lash out, and he's beginning to unravel. We've seen this throughout this year, where he gets unnerved, he unravels and he lashes out.

That's one part and that's concerning, because then he attacks our fundamental foundations of our government. He attacks law enforcement, FBI, the justice system. But the other part is something that is more nuance, that I think that Peter will actually admit is part of this as well, is that they are playing impeachment politics. That's something totally different. It's something that we haven't talked about a lot.

And when these processes go on, when these investigations go on, administrations, whether or not it's Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, they begin to play politics around the investigation as Clinton did with Starr, and now he's doing with Mueller, trying to discredit it from the very beginning, having allies discredit it from the beginning, and the reason being is because you don't want to get to a point where you lost an impeachment battle. So, you're playing those politics now.

LEMON: I have to ask you the same question, Scott. Why does he continue to bring it up when it's not the huge basis of the Russian investigation if any at all?

[14:05:03] No one who's been charged has been charged on any information from this dossier.

JENNINGS: Yes, I think it's one part of a larger effort to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation. Look, some information has come to light that would cause Americans and great many Republicans to wonder about the bias that could exist inside this investigation. And I actually agree with Bakari, this has a lot to do with impeachment. The grand jury that's working with Mueller is going to do whatever it's going to do.

But if you do get into the situation where Congress impeaches the president, which I do believe is highly unlikely if the Democrats get control of the House come November, then you're really not in a court of law the way we know it. You're in the court of political opinion. And so, they want to be able to call into question the investigation, the information that came from it.

So, I think Bakari is right on this, that tainting the investigation with allegations of bias and malpractice is all about the future, not really about the present.

LEMON: All right. Let's talk about Obamacare now because the president is also tweeting, he's saying that the individual mandate in Obamacare is gone. Republicans and Democrats will work on a bipartisan agreement on health care.

Bakari, should the Democrats put their frustration aside, help the GOP work on a fix now? Is that likely you think?

SELLERS: No, that's already happening. I mean, what most people don't know about is, you know, Lamar Alexander and Pat Murray are already working on a piece of legislation to fix Obamacare. From the very beginning, even Barack Obama himself said if someone comes to him with a fix to the program, we will go out in a full frontal effort to make sure we can sell it to the American people and fix Obamacare.

What we will not do is repeal Obamacare. What we will not do is help the Republican Party dig themselves out of a dish because they had eight years where they were -- well, nine years now, chanting repeal and replace, and they have no idea how to fundamentally fix our health system in this country. Any Democrat will look you in the eye, if they don't then they are lying to you, and say that we need to fix this.

But we're not going to strip away health care for millions of Americans. And just one final point, the president of the United States, go figure, he lied. The individual mandate and the repeal of such is only 3 percent of the over all cost of Obamacare.

Obamacare is here to stay. He needs to wrap his head around that instead of wrapping his golf club around trees in the wilderness.

LEMON: That's an interesting way of putting it.

Listen, I've got to ask you, Scott, and I want to play this for you, because the president -- he is optimistic, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees a glass of not half full but as half empty. Listen to what he said. He told NPR this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with 52-48 Senate. We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues.


LEMON: So, the leaders of the party are at odds. Where does the fight over Obamacare go from here -- if the president is optimistic, but the leaders of the Senate are, no, not so much?

JENNINGS: Well, I'm interested in what Bakari has to say downplaying the importance of repealing the individual mandate. I mean, on the floor of the Senate, Ron Wyden, the senator from Oregon, said this puts dagger in the heart of Obamacare.

So I think the president's messaging that they largely repealed and replaced the heart of Obamacare is correct. I think the Murray- Alexander plan is a good one because it replaces Obama's illegal executive order with something lawful. So, that will also be a great step to help stabilize the market. And I think that bill has a good chance to pass in the first quarter, although the president has some work to do with the House Republicans. I think the Senate is ready to do it.

I think at the end of the day, the president wanted to make a credible argument that they did meaningfully tried to and at least in part repealed Obamacare. They've done that on the individual mandate. They can fix this executive order with Murray-Alexander. I think he needs to call it a win and move forward with the rest of the agenda.

LEMON: Do you want to respond to that, Bakari? SELLERS: Well, I mean there are many other parts and aspects to

Obamacare. Like I quoted earlier, it's only 3 percent of the over all costs. But if we are going to talk about the millions of Americans who get their health care not only on state exchanges like Kentucky, but also of the national and federal exchanges, like many other states, then that is the fundamental heartbeat of Obamacare.

Obamacare is not the individual mandate. It's more than that. It's making sure that insurance companies actually take care of the needs of the individual who are paying these premiums.

And these premiums we are talking about, if the president wants to do something, he can help make sure that we stabilize these markets, work in a bipartisan effort so that we don't have to worry about the uncertainty thereof.

LEMON: According to the facts checks, it does not repeal Obamacare now or overtime because many major parts of Obamacare are still in place, protections of people with pre-existing conditions, tax credits for people who buy their own insurance expansions of Medicare. Let's move on now. The president is also complaining that his legislative achievements aren't enough -- getting enough coverage since he took coverage.

Let's look at this. The stock market is up. GOP growth is up. He passed tax reform.

[14:10:01] He secured tough sanctions on North Korea and more.

Does President Trump deserve credit for these achievements, Bakari?

SELLERS: I think that the president in his first year probably had one of the more tainted, one of the more clumsy, one of the more first year where he just had the most difficulty in moving the ball along and the reason that you have to say this is because you have to juxtapose this against the fact that he had a Republican House, a Republican Senate and still cannot get anything done.

The Republican Congress right now is fundamentally broken. And there are a lot of Americans who don't lay that blame on the lap of the president of the United States and that actually does have some merit. However, if we are looking at this overall scheme, the president deserves credit for pushing through Gorsuch, which satisfies many, many Republicans, terrifies many people like myself, but he also deserves credit for tax bill, which I think is going to widen the gap between the have and have-notes and build more economic inequality in this country. We can have that policy debate, but he has passed those two. Compared to his predecessors though, he ain't done much, Don.

LEMON: Scott?

JENNINGS: You know, I love to listen to these Democrats try to describe President Trump's first year. On the one hand, you've got Nancy Pelosi and others saying that everything the Republicans did, including tax reform, is going to bring about the end times and death in the streets. And then you've got people like Bakari saying, well, nothing at all happened.

The fact they can't get their act together on the message tells us all we need to know, and that's the Republicans are doing what they said they would do, reform the tax cut, drilling in the Arctic, confirming conservative judges, the Supreme Court, ISIS is on the run.

Donald Trump had a fine first year. I think in some cases, his behavior and communications habits kept his job approval down. But from policy perspective, this was standard conservative Republican stuff that they ran on. These are promises made and promises kept.

LEMON: Scott Jennings, Bakari Sellers --

SELLERS: But, Don --

LEMON: Yes, quickly, Bakari, if you can.

SELLERS: Quickly, I also wanted to add to the list of things he did. He had four indictments and two convictions. You can't forget that.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it.

Up next, as the first year of the Trump White House winds down, the president is taking aim at one of his favorite targets, and that is the FBI. Trump's legal team also standing by their prediction that special counsel Mueller investigation will be wrapping up soon. We're going to discuss that next.

Also, amid a nuclear stand off with North Korea, Russia is now offering to get involved and diffuse the situation. This as North Korea declares the latest round of sanctions an act of war. We're going to take you live to the Pentagon.

And it's been a fixture at the White House lawn, look at that. Since the 1800s, the story behind an iconic tree that is now scheduled to be cut down and removed.


[14:16:37] LEMON: President Trump tweeting today that he is back at work after the Christmas holiday. His first order of business, going after the FBI again and blasting the Russia dossier on Twitter.

Let's get more on this from CNN's Jessica Schneider, our correspondent.

Jessica, hello to you. Hope you had a merry Christmas.


LEMON: What can you tell us about this dossier? Break it down for us. What do you know?

Well, we saw on Twitter, the president claiming that the dossier is, quote, bogus. But really, that's not entirely accurate. So, it is true that the most salacious contain in the dossier, those have not been verified.

But the broad assertion in the dossier that Russia waged a campaign to interfere in the U.S. election in 2016, that is now accepted as fact by the U.S. intelligence community. And it is important to note that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials, they did their own work, separate from the dossier to support those findings that Russia tried to meddle in favor of Trump.

Plus, we know CNN reported earlier this year that other aspects of the dossier, like communications between senior Russian officials and other Russians mentioned in those memos, those as well did take place. And the FBI last year, it used the dossier as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. Sources familiar do they say that the dossier was cited in the application to monitor Page.

So, Don, despite the fact that the president has tweeted that this dossier is bogus, we do know that parts of it have been corroborated -- Don.

LEMON: Jessica Schneider, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

And analysis now, I want to turn now to Tom Fuentes, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director, and Jennifer Taub, the professor of law at Vermont Law School.

Hello to both of you.

Jennifer, what's your reaction to the president blasting this dossier?

JENNIFER TAUB, PROFESSOR, VERMONT LAW SCHOOL: Well, you know, I think this time of year, folks who are down in Florida are mostly relaxing by the pool. But president is back to his stressed tweeting. He's obviously very nervous about the Mueller investigation and the FBI, you know, as the rest of that tweet, Don, also attack on FBI.

And I think he should follow the advice of Sarah Sanders from her tweet last November where she wrote, you know, if you are attacking FBI agents while you're under criminal investigation, you are probably losing.

LEMON: Yes, I have to say it is pretty surprising, considering yesterday was Christmas, I mean, he didn't tweet this, but he also tweeted about the Russia investigation yesterday. And I think most of America was surprised that he woke up with that on his mind.

TAUB: It's true. And it should be on his mind. You know, as one of your last guests mentioned, two members of the Trump campaign, one of who worked at the White House, have been convicted of federal criminal offenses. Michael Flynn was convicted by a guilty plea of a crime that he committed while he was working at the White House, and that crime involved lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.

Similarly, George Papadopoulos who was a foreign adviser to the Trump campaign was also convicted for lying to the FBI, and his case about attempts to set up meetings between Donald Trump and Russian officials. So, there is a lot to be seriously worried about. And what's significant, as both of those indictments and pleas, came as a surprise, apparently, to the Trump legal counsel.

[14:20:06] So what most of us are wondering is what's next. And if we are wondering that, I surely think that the president as well.

LEMON: Yes, interesting.

Tom, I want to bring you in here but I want to play something for you and listen to Democratic California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, what she had to say about the president's tweet today. Listen to this.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let's be really clear. This president does not respect the rule of law nor does he respect the various agencies -- excuse me -- that are charged with the responsibility of protecting us in terms of law enforcement, in terms of the CIA, the FBI, and the judiciary. So I think that if you see the pattern, if you think about the pattern over the last year, he has constantly putting down the very institutions that keep us free.


LEMON: Doesn't respect the rule of law and institutions that keep us free, Tom. What do you say to that?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think in a way, I have to agree with her because he is putting down the FBI. He has put down the CIA and other organizations that are involved in national security for a while, for more than a year.

But particularly lately with the FBI, you know, he hasn't differentiated between the very upper management, including Comey, the Deputy Director McCabe, an agent with the signature role in recent investigations, Strzok, and he hasn't separated that from the rank and file, the rest of the tens of thousands of FBI agents, analysts and support employees around the world that are keeping us safe every day, honoring the rule of law, doing it with integrity.

But, you know, for example, look at the citizens in San Francisco that could have faced a major terror attack on Christmas Day at Pier 39. A major tourist attractions at Fishermen's Wharf, and it was thwarted.

LEMON: Should he be attacking the FBI this way, Tom?

FUENTES: Pardon?

LEMON: Should he be attacking the FBI this way?

FUENTES: No, he should not. And I think, as I said, if he wants to attack a couple of individuals that were at the top and, no question about it, brought shame on the FBI, it should not be attached to the entire FBI.


LEMON: How should they respond? If they do, how should they?

FUENTES: The public needs to have confidence in the FBI. And you look at situations even in this country when there are riots in Ferguson or Baltimore or Charlotte, what calmed the communities down was the word that the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation and on their way to figure out what happened. The public has confidence that the FBI will be fair, thorough, effective, efficient and come to the truth in those matters. And it matters that the public believe that.


FUENTES: I ran FBI international operations my last five years in the bureau, was on the board of Interpol, I could tell you that our reputation around the world, or the FBI's reputation and America's reputation really matters in terms of gaining cooperation from foreign services, governments, intel services, militaries, and the general public in those countries.

And so, to just disparage the FBI without differentiating between the few senior executives that no question about it I think brought shame on the bureau, but that's not the whole FBI. And you just ought to be a little more articulate about what he's complaining about.

LEMON: Tom, on Skype, sorry about the crosstalk there. Tom, thank you. Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate both of you.

Next, scathing words for Utah senior senator. Editorial board for the largest newspaper in the state calling on Orrin Hatch to end his career or suggesting voters do it for him. I'm going to talk to a member of the editorial board, and that's next.


[14:28:03] LEMON: Orrin Hatch is Utah's senior senator and he is a target of a scathing new editorial from the state's largest newspaper, "The Salt Lake City Tribune", calling out Hatch for his role in President Trump's decision to shrink national monuments in Utah and for supporting the GOP tax cut plan.

Hatch praised Trump at the White House while celebrating the tax bill's passage.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Now, Mr. President, I have to say that you are living up to everything I thought you would. You're one heck of a leader and we're all benefiting from it. This bill could not have passed without you. We're going to keep fighting and we're going to make this the greatest presidency that we have seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Well, now, "The Tribune" is calling on Senator Hatch not to seek re-election. The editorial board you see up there, writing, quote, it would be good for Utah if Hatch having finally caught the great white whale of tax reform were to call it a career. If he doesn't, the voters should end it for him. Pretty strong words and direct.

Joining me now is George Pyle, editorial page editor at "The Salt Lake Tribune".

Thank you, sir, for joining us. So why write this?

GEORGE PYLE, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Well, it was part of our annual exercise that we called Utahan of the Year. It's the one time of the year, when the newsroom and the editorial board kind of look over the wall that separates us and picks someone that has been prime news maker, the most influential person or the person that had the most effect on Utah over the previous year.

We came to the conclusion that Senator Hatch met the requirements, had had the most impact on Utah and over the previous year we named him Utahan of the Year. With that, we wrote a pretty editorial as you've mentioned that indicated that this was not necessarily in praise of the senator, that this was noting his influence, which was substantial, mostly in three issues, the rollback of the national monuments. We disagree with the senator on that.