Return to Transcripts main page


New Tax Law Has Americans Scrambling; North Korea's Biological Weapons?; Republicans Seeking to Discredit FBI. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 15:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hour two here. I'm Don Lemon, in today for Brooke Baldwin.

Republican criticism of the Russia investigation reaching a new level today, after a GOP lawmaker stands by his calls for a -- quote -- "purge" at the FBI and the Justice Department.

Florida Congressman Francis Rooney says he wants to see the FBI and the DOJ remove any agents with political bias after an internal probe turned up messages critical of President Donald Trump in an exchange between two FBI officials during the campaign.

He went on to call the Russia probe -- quote -- "off the rails" and the work of the -- quote -- "deep state."

Here's Congressman Rooney speaking with my colleague Brianna Keilar just a short while ago.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Are you sure you want to be throwing a word like purge around?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, it might be a pretty strong word. I'm not maybe the most nuanced political person in the world, coming from a career in business. But I'm pretty frustrated that all the things that have come out by the -- Strzok and Ohr and what may or may not have taken place in deputy general's -- McCabe.


KEILAR: Well, let me stop you there.

Strzok -- Mueller removed Strzok. Ohr was demoted. So, what is the evidence then that bias has impacted this investigation, when the very data points you're putting there, actually, action has been taken against those individuals?

ROONEY: As an American citizen, I'm nervous and discontent that people would have those kinds of lack of impartiality and bad animus as displayed in those e-mails and that they would have gone so far as to try use that -- possibly use that dossier to discredit the campaign. I think that's going beyond just having political views.

KEILAR: Why, if there is no evidence that this has infiltrated this investigation, would you be calling for a purge, which a word that -- an action that is more associated with authoritarian governments than democratic ones, like the one you are a part of?

ROONEY: Well, I think if you have 2 percent bad apples, like this Strzok guy and Ohr, I think it's incumbent to make sure...


KEILAR: But, again, one removed, one demoted. One was removed, one was demoted.

ROONEY: He's demoted, but he still has a lot of authority in the other job that he has. He is still just as -- just as -- lacks impartiality and is very aggressive in his views.


LEMON: Let's discuss now with CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller during his time at the Justice Department, and Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative.

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

And I should say Michael is joining us by the phone.

Listen, Congressman Rooney denied he was trying to discredit the investigation. But his comments do come just days after President Trump put out a series of tweets slamming the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Jessica, what are the politics at play here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of politics at play here, Don. We have seen this, Republicans running with these text messages.

Really, it's been their repeated rallying cry over the past several weeks. So it was really ever since those anti-Trump text messages were disclosed several weeks ago, that bias has been what the Republicans have been railing against.

So, Peter Strzok, he was removed from the Russia probe this summer after the text messages were revealed. And Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, he was asked about this in mid-December, just a few weeks ago, at the House Judiciary Committee hearing, and he said, look, he said, political views are different than political bias. And our agents, FBI agents, they can have political views. That's not the same as bias.

It doesn't necessarily impact the agent's work on investigations. But despite that, as we just heard a few minutes ago with that interview with Brianna, Republicans, congressmen, senators, they have used this as a way to say that the FBI is biased, that the top of the ranks there need to be purged, in his words.

And really they have taken this and they have run with it, despite the fact it is just one FBI agent corresponding with an FBI attorney. And, again, that was during the election, really before -- it was before FBI -- former director, FBI, now special counsel Robert Mueller's probe began -- Don.


Michael, I want to bring you in here, because I -- is this legit? Do you see this as another piece of a coordinated effort to undermine the U.S. intelligence and to discredit them in the Russia investigation?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very scary what we're hearing from a couple of congressmen.

We have this congressman using the word purge. And as Brianna indicated, that is a word that tends to be used in totalitarian governments. We have the congressman from the 1st District in Florida using the word coup d'etat in response to Mueller's probe here.


These are very anti-democratic words that are being used by elected representatives of the United States Congress.

So, for me, at a threshold level, this is unacceptable behavior. But when you get beyond that and you look at the substance, there really is no there there.

The people who are conducting this investigation on the Mueller team are not the special agent in the FBI who exercised his First Amendment rights who Mueller removed. They are not people who have shown any political bias in the operation of their investigation.

This is a lot of effort to discredit Mueller in a way that I think transcends anything that we saw in Watergate or in the Ken Starr investigation, some pretty vicious attacks on those guys.

But this one is beyond the pale. And I think these guys may have to step back from this. And Christopher Wray should step up and say something about this, I think, himself, because it is his agency now that they are attacking the credibility of. And it's he who has to defend them.

LEMON: Before I bring Bob in, I want to ask you one more question, Michael. What do the actions of the FBI agents have to do with the actions of Donald Trump or his campaign? What do they...


LEMON: If you're investigating the actions of Donald Trump, does his change his actions?

ZELDIN: Well, no, actually, the e-mails do not reflect anything that has to do with the Mueller investigation.

They reflect the private views of an FBI agent with another person from the FBI with respect to several people who are political figures, Trump being one, Eric Holder, the Democrat attorney general, being a second, and others that were pilloried by these texts.

They have nothing to do substantively with whether anyone in the Trump campaign violated the law. And that's why it's a red herring and it's a dangerous one, because of the language that they are using.

LEMON: Well, that's what I was going to say . The facts will take us where the facts will take us. And no text message will change any of that.

If the president did nothing, if people in his campaign did nothing, anyone associated with him did nothing, then the evidence will show they did nothing, regardless of what FBI agents are texting each other. So that's my point. And I agree with you.


ZELDIN: And that's exactly right. And that's exactly right.

And the thing that we have talked about before, Don, on your show, is that Mueller is the type of prosecutor who, if there is no evidence of wrongdoing, will say so.


ZELDIN: And they should be very happy to have a guy like Mueller, with his integrity, should there be no evidence of wrongdoing.

LEMON: All right. Thank you.

Now, Bob, listen, my colleague Brianna Keilar also asked Congressman Rooney about how his comments impact rank-and-file men and women at the FBI. Listen to this.


KEILAR: Do you worry about maligning the agency as a whole when we are talking about the men and women who are working very hard to keep Americans like you, like me safe? We're talking about the organization that foiled a terrorist attack, a terrorist plot recently in San Francisco. Do you worry about the effects of that?

ROONEY: Well, what I worry about is the debilitating impact of people like Strzok and possibly McCabe on the institution itself and on the importance that institution has on our country.


LEMON: Bob, do you agree? What do you think the feeling is at the agency?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I know what it is, Don. It's demoralizing. The FBI is under attack. Since 9/11, it's been working around the clock against terrorism. It's been working against the Russians. And 99.9 percent of FBI agents are very conservative. Most of them are Republican.

And to attack the legitimacy like that, I think it's disloyal on the part of this congressman. It's just not true. It's ludicrous. It's political. It reminds me of Joe McCarthy. This is just craziness, Don.

There is no substance.

LEMON: Why do you think they are doing it?

ROONEY: Because they know what Mueller is going to find.

Mueller is going to come out with a damning report at the end of this of money laundering, collusion and the rest of it. It's not going to look good. And the only way the hard right can get around this is to undercut the legitimacy of the FBI, which effectively supports Russia, and crime-break it, you know, criminal activity.


SCHNEIDER: And, you know, Don, what's interesting to note here is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he was appointed by President Trump. He's overseeing the special counsel here.

And he's been very forthright, especially just two weeks ago, talking in that committee hearing, saying, you know, being very staunch about it, saying our FBI -- or the FBI agents, they can have opinions like this.


It doesn't always -- it doesn't ever effect the investigation. So, he has repeatedly defended the FBI in this entire probe.

LEMON: I wish we had more time, but that's all. Unfortunately, we are out of time right now. Thank you, Jessica. Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Michael, as well. I appreciate it.

Up next: new fears that North Korea could be harboring not just nuclear, but biological weapons -- how South Korea is preparing to defend against an anthrax attack.

Plus, long lines people of trying to prepay their property taxes before the new year. We're going to explain whether you should be doing the same thing.

And President Trump planning to make a big push to repair America's roads and bridges. We will discuss how much that could cost, and whether he can really get a bipartisan deal this time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: A new report today that anthrax antibodies have been

discovered in one of the four North Korea defectors, suggesting that he was either vaccinated against anthrax or exposed to it.

South Korea's national intelligence service told CNN it could not confirm that report. But it comes on the heels of South Korea buying up 1,000 doses of anthrax vaccines and a denial that one of those was used on the president.


Joining me now, Balbina Hwang, a former senior adviser for the State Department.

Balbina, thank you so much for joining us.

What do you make of this anthrax report?

BALBINA HWANG, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, it is both quite alarming, but also at the same time, for those of us who have been watching North Korea for years, it's really not surprising at all.

And, in fact, North Korea, we know, probably has stored and probably is developing far more dangerous and scary biological and chemical weapons.

LEMON: So, you remember when Kim Jong-un's brother -- half-brother died at an airport.

HWANG: That's right.

LEMON: So there has been a lot of attention, renewed attention on this, North Korea's chemical and biological weapons program, this year.

He was killed with the nerve agent, what is it, V.X.?

HWANG: That's right.


What do we know about Pyongyang's research in stockpiling biochemical agents?

HWANG: Well, we do know that North Korea probably has the largest cache of chemical and biological weapons, which may be shocking to some, but it's because many of the other countries have dramatically drawn down or eliminated many of their programs. But North Korea has not.

LEMON: But is this just the beginning of something? Because I said anthrax, and your reaction was?

HWANG: It's not a surprise at all. And, in fact, what is shocking is that, if it's true that South Korea

has not been prepared, then I don't know what the government has been doing, because these threats have been around for decades. And this is something we should have been preparing for, for a long time.

LEMON: Balbina Hwang, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

HWANG: Thank you.

LEMON: Up next: The new tax law has people across the country lining up to prepay their taxes. We're going to explain why and whether you should be doing the same thing.



LEMON: Let's talk about this new GOP tax bill.

Ignited quite the stampede among property owners scrambling to prepay their 2018 tax bill now, long lines at county tax offices like this one. This was in California. Popping up around the country, particularly in high-tax states. That's because, come Monday, many homeowners won't be able to deduct their local, state and property taxes in full.

The new law caps the deduction at $10,000.


JOHN PANDIS, H&R BLOCK: If are you in a 25 percent tax category, and you deduct $10,000 of real estate taxes, then that's going to save you $2,500 on taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know we're going to get it in this year and we can write it off, but not sure about next year.


LEMON: Oh, boy.

And take a look at this. The three counties with the highest median tax bills in the country are all in New York, Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester Counties.

But is prepaying the smart thing to do?

I certainly want to know about this, and I'm sure most of you at home want to know about as well.

Let's get the answer to that very question from Greg Jenner. He's a former acting assistant secretary of the treasury for tax policy.

Thank you, sir, for joining us.


POLICY: Well, itemizers.

First of all, if you don't itemize, don't worry about it. There's nothing you can do. But if you itemize your deduction, and you possibly can hit $10,000 cap, you should definitely go down to your property tax office and prepay, if you possibly can.

Remember, though, it's not just property taxes that are capped. It's all state and local taxes, including income taxes.

So if you think that the combination of property and income taxes will push you over that cap next year, you are definitely better off prepaying your property taxes this year.

LEMON: OK. What if you don't live in a high-tax state? Should you still prepay?

JENNER: Well, maybe.

You certainly could be in a lower tax bracket next year, so there will be some advantage to prepaying this year. But, remember, it may not be just because you are in a high-tax state. You could have high enough income. You could have a valuable piece of property, and it's that combination of income taxes and property taxes that can push you over the cap.

So just don't think you are safe just because you are not in California or New York.


So I asked my guy about paying taxes, my accountant, and he said, you should prepay it. You should mail it in, even if you put the lot number and the tax identification number on the check. Good or bad advice?

JENNER: Well, if that's only way that you can do it, yes, good advice.

The danger with that approach is that they may not cash the check until after the 1st of the year, or they may not even receive it until after the 1st of the year. And in that case, if you happen to get audited, the deduction could be disallowed in 2017.

LEMON: So, even if you do it like, what you do on April 15, when you make sure you get the mail, the postage mark on it of 2017, it doesn't matter?

JENNER: It may not. Exactly right.

That's the mailbox rule, and that's specific to the tax code. There may be rules in place that say, no, it doesn't count because you haven't really paid it, it hasn't been received. Just writing a check doesn't necessarily do you any good.

I would walk it down there if you have the chance.


So, but I'm wondering, though, because there are so many people that are going to have so many questions. Might they be a bit lenient on folks, because even I think the IRS and tax preparers, they're still scrambling trying to get their acts together with the changes as well, correct?

JENNER: Yes, everybody is scrambling to get their acts together.

This is a tough one for the end of the year. Whether the IRS will be lenient or not, one would hope, particularly if they want taxpayers to get the benefits -- all the benefits of the tax bill.


Of course, this is one where you're trying to take advantage of the old system, not the new system.


Greg Jenner, thank you very much for answering all of those questions. I'm sure folks learned a lot. We appreciate it.

JENNER: My pleasure, Don.

LEMON: Up next: President Trump sets his sights on a new goal, hundreds of billions of dollars to repair America's crumbling roads and bridges.

I'm going to speak to experts who say the U.S. can't wait another minute to get it done.


LEMON: We have some breaking news. This is just in to CNN.

It's the happiest place on earth. It's supposed to be. Experiencing a bit of a nightmare right now, a power outrage affecting parts of Disneyland in California, leaving some tourists stuck on rides, others forced to be escorted off.

You're looking at pictures now from our affiliate KABC.

If you are familiar with the Southern California park, power is completely out to Mickey's Toontown and partially out to -- in Fantasyland. A park spokesman says that it's a transformer issue, and right now, there's no estimate on when the power will be restored.

This week is considered a peak week at the park, packed with tourists visiting during the holidays, of course.

Let's get to the phone now. Geoffrey Fienberg is joining us.

Geoffrey, what do you know?