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Interview with Representative Tom Cole; Top Seven Justice Stories of 2017. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- Republican colleagues in Congress are not seeking reelection next year . That's compared to 15 Democrats. Your outlook for the party in our own words is this, "They're running with the wind in their face. It is not a normal breeze. It is a hurricane force wind."

So what could turn things around for them in the midterms?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I think first of all we took a giant step in the right direction by passing tax reform. When the American people give you a majority, the control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, they expect you to do something with it, and while I think we had a lot of, you know, sort of minor wins, maybe not minor but important wins on things like veterans health care and things like human trafficking that were bipartisan, deregulation, the courts, we needed a really big win and I think we got one in December.

And I think over time that will help us a great deal but look. No one's had a good midterm since 2002 and --

HARLOW: Right.

COLE: -- I think you're whistling past the political graveyard if you think you're going to escape that --

HARLOW: Well --

COLE: You know, challenging environment.

HARLOW: And also, just look at, you know, President Obama. And just look at getting Obamacare through, Dodd-Frank stimulus through, you know, and that -- those sort of legislative wins did not produce electoral wins for Democrats in the midterms following.

You said if you need a wake-up call after Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, you are really deep asleep. A message to your own party.

COLE: Yes. Probably should have said you're in a coma because --


HARLOW: OK. There you go. You just said it. But do you think the president could help?

COLE: Well, look, I don't think -- HARLOW: I mean, could the president help, though?

COLE: Yes, I do.

HARLOW: So what does he need to do?

COLE: No, I think that look. Well, first of all, I think the president has helped. I think the fact that he's celebrating Republican victories at the end of the year --

HARLOW: You do?

COLE: Yes, I do. I think that's very important. And we have to help ourselves. Look, we failed on Obamacare. The president didn't. We -- you know, we literally fumbled on the one yard line in the United States Senate so we got to keep racking up victories. We've got to convince -- the other side is already mobilized and energized. Not much you can do to change that. So you have to give your own people incentive to go out and vote. I think we did that in December. But we need to continue on that track and frankly then we need to work with the Democrats where we can on things like infrastructure.

HARLOW: And we'll get to that in just a moment but just to be clear here. I mean, you say we as a party failed on Obamacare. The president said in just past few days, you know, his words, you won on Obamacare. He calls this a full repeal of Obamacare, what's included in tax reform for which it is not. It's just repealing, you know, the individual mandate forcing people to buy it. But he thinks he won. Is he wrong?

COLE: Well -- well, I would say we had a partial victory in the sense of getting rid of the individual mandate which, frankly, mostly falls on people who make less than $50,000 a year being fined because they don't want to buy a product that they can't afford and don't -- you know, think --

HARLOW: Yes. It also drives premiums up 10 percent, though. You know that.

COLE: Well, you really want to -- well, look, I think people ought to have the choice to buy the products that they want to. I think that's an onerous use of governmental power in a case like this. So let's let individuals make that decision. We didn't take anything away from anybody who's getting a subsidy. They still will continue to do that.

But again, it's still a partial repeal. It's not a full repeal. And it was pretty high profile when we failed in the United States Senate so I think we undid some of that toward the end of the year. I think we're in a good place now but look. I don't underestimate what that cost us. We've run on that issue for three election cycles.


COLE: That has been very good for us. When we had a chance to fix it, we didn't get it done. HARLOW: So, on infrastructure, you say you're open to working with

Democrats on infrastructure. This should be, if you look at it sort of from a bird's eye view, something where Democrats and Republicans can come together. The real devil is in the details and that's in how you're going to pay for it, how much money is going to be put forward. You don't like adding to the national debt. You were clear about that even voting for tax reform.

Any way you slice it, infrastructure spending is going to add even more to the national debt. Can you stomach that?

COLE: Well, it depends on whether or not -- well, look. We have to see the plan first. The president is going to release his plan by about mid-January, maybe a little bit sooner. I think that's where you start but if you want to negotiate on infrastructure, then you need to leave it open for the other side to put other ideas on the table and see where you can incorporate them. I think that's --

HARLOW: But more debt is OK?

COLE: -- very doable.

HARLOW: I mean, I thought the Republican Party --

COLE: No, I think --

HARLOW: -- was the party of let's not add to the debt and deficit in this country.

COLE: Well, it depends on, frankly -- look. There will be measures to pay for at least part of this. And sort of like when you buy your house. You go into debt when you buy a house but you have the house. You know, when you're purchasing infrastructure, you have something for it that has a long life span. We're still using interstate highway system that was built essentially in the 1950s and '60s so -- and it's paid off for America. That was a great investment.

But again let's wait and see what's there and let's see how open the two sides are to working with one another in an election year.

HARLOW: Let me get some clarity from you. You did an interview recently on MSNBC and you talked about Russia and the Russian election meddling, and you know, on the one hand you were very supportive of the sanctions that were passed against Russia back in August that the president sort of begrudgingly signed.

[10:35:09] But then you also said this recently about Russia's election meddling. You called it pretty, quote, "routine" and you said that we should not, quote, "hyperventilate" over this. Really? I mean, not too concerned.

COLE: Well, look, people -- yes. People have been -- no. I'm always concerned. But people have been intervening in American elections since the 1790s. The first people that did it with the French. And if we think the Russians haven't tried to influence American elections in the past we're naive. And frankly, if we think we don't try to influence transfers of power in other countries we're pretty naive. So it's part of international relations. The real question is, did it have much impact? I don't think so. I think really, you know, what happens --


HARLOW: Wait. Why is that the real question? Hold on.

COLE: Well --

HARLOW: It seems like you're saying this is par for the course, this is OK. Is that what you're saying?

COLE: I didn't say it's not OK. It is par for the course. You think other countries don't try to influence what we do in elections? President Obama --


HARLOW: I think according to a --

COLE: President Obama went to Great Britain and told them they were going to the back of the line if they pass Brexit. So again, I think you've got to be realistic about this. People try to do it but I think this system is very difficult to influence from the outside. It's open, it's transparent, involves tens of millions of people. We should study this --

HARLOW: Well, there was a widespread disinformation campaign, as you know, Congressman, on many fronts, social media, et cetera. Something that was so concerning to the U.S. intelligence community that it sparked that January 6th intelligence report from a year ago that I know you read, as well.

COLE: I have. And --

HARLOW: That does not seem like par for the course.

COLE: Well, look. There are new techniques but if you -- again, the Russians always try to impact American elections. We try to impact what happens in other countries. President Obama did that. So it's not unusual in international affairs. Countries have an interest in the outcome of elections in other countries so, again, I think you accept it, you guard against it, you deal with it.


COLE: I don't have any problem with ringing the alarm bell about it but I don't see any evidence that it changed the outcome of the American election.

HARLOW: I'm not sure it is analogous to Brexit. Your Obama comparison. But we do have to leave it there. You'll be back.

Congressman, appreciate it. And enjoy the New Year.

COLE: Hey, thank you. You do the same.

HARLOW: All right. Quick break. We're back in a moment.


[10:41:28] HARLOW: President Trump's attacks on his own attorney general just one of the top justice stories of the year.

Our Laura Jarrett counts us down.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: From tackling violent crime to Russian meddling in a presidential election, to immigration, civil rights, presidential tweets and everything in between. The attorney general has had his hands full this year.

Here are the top seven Justice related stories in 2017.

Number seven, tough on crime makes a comeback. Once former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions was sworn in as attorney general, he set out to make his mark on the criminal justice system.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A new era of justice begins. And it begins right now.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: What a difference a year makes. Elections really do have consequences.

JARRETT: In May, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to pursue the stiffest possible charge in all criminal cases.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This could severely change the sentencing procedures in the United States.

JARRETT: Upending an Obama era push to phase out long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

SESSIONS: We know that drugs and crime go hand in hand. They just do. The facts prove that so.

JARRETT: Number six, immigration crackdown. Sessions also zeroed in on immigration laws taking direct aim at so-called sanctuary cities, going after undocumented immigrants nationwide and linking hotly debated immigration policies to recent acts of terrorism.

SESSIONS: As yesterday's New York events showed, in the starkest terms, the failures of our immigration system are also a national security issue.

JARRETT: Number five, transgender rights. Sessions directed his civil rights division to focus on prosecuting hate crimes against those who target transgender victims but at the same time the attorney general reversed an Obama-era rule that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom matching that gender identity while also defending in court a new policy that Trump announced in a series of tweets. BERMAN: He just took a major stance saying that he will ban

transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.

JARRETT: A policy several federal judges have blocked from taking effect for now, one calling the tweets capricious and arbitrary.

Number four, when tweets haunt the president in court, Trump hits back. Federal judges across the country pointed to the president's tweets when sizing up his travel ban restricting people from several Muslim majority countries.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Coming back to haunt him, the president's tweet costing him in court.

JARRETT: As the Justice Department tried to defend the ban in court on national security grounds, the first version caused fierce protests and was almost immediately blocked.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The judge ordering a temporary halt to President Trump's travel ban.

JARRETT: Who Trump then called "a so-called judge and later tweeted if something happens blame him and the court system. People pouring in, bad."

Number three, reshaping the courts. Aside from tweets, President Trump's impact on the federal courts will far outlast his presidency.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The president has been enormously successful in filling vacancies on the federal bench with lifetime appointments, people who are very conservative on the courts of appeals and, you know, these people are going to serve long after Donald Trump is gone from the presidency.

[10:45:08] JARRETT: Trump's election win secured the appointment of a relatively young, conservative judge named Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: This without question is going to be the biggest accomplishment at least so far of his first 100 days in office.

JARRETT: But the president also tackled the lower courts adding a slew of conservative, young and primarily white nominees to the courts at a breakneck pace.

TRUMP: The judge's story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it but when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out. Depending on the age of the judge.

JARRETT: Number two, the president's attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI. The president's frustration with Attorney General Sessions was palpable.

TRUMP: A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.

JARRETT: But he caught some by surprise when he slammed the FBI.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The president launching an extraordinary attack on the nation's top law enforcement agency saying its reputation is in tatters.

JARRETT: Since Watergate, the Justice Department has tried to keep politics out of prosecutions but Trump often demands via tweet that the Justice Department investigate Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: The saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it.

JARRETT: Number one, the firing of FBI director James Comey and the appointment of a special counsel. In March, Attorney General Sessions stepped aside from all investigations related to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

SESSIONS: My staff recommended recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign I should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluations. I believe those recommendations are right and just.

JARRETT: Two months later the president fired FBI director James Comey with the Russia investigation on his mind.

TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

JARRETT: Former FBI director Robert Mueller was soon appointed special counsel for the Russia probe, an investigation the president says is a waste of time.

TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: When now the most senior White House official that we know cooperating with Mueller and he is the fourth member of the Trump's campaign to be charged as part of the Russia probe.

JARRETT: Democrats charged that Trump may have obstructed justice but the ball for now is in Mueller's court as the first criminal charges have trickled in with no end in sight.


HARLOW: Laura Jarrett, thank you very much. Ahead, "Bleacher Report," it sounds like there might be some bad blood

between some Steelers players and one of their former teammates. We'll tell you why, next.


[10:52:46] HARLOW: Multiple members of the Pittsburgh Steelers blasting their former teammate James Harrison for joining their rivals, the Patriots. To be expected. But it's a little more nuanced than that.

Andy Scholes has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy, you know, I really hope the Steelers and Patriots end up playing in the AFC championship game because James Harrison has really taken this rivalry to a whole another level.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

Now after being released by the Steelers, Harrison joining the Patriots on Tuesday and Harrison always been a fan favorite in Pittsburgh for years, winning two Super Bowls, going to five pro bowls and joining the rival Patriots really got to hurt for Pittsburgh fans. Harrison can now, you know, give the Patriots some vital info on how the Steelers do things.

And Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey really thinks Harrison has just ruined his Steelers' legacy by forcing his way to New England.


MAURKICE POUNCEY, STEELERS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: When he erased himself, he erased his own legacy here. Let's be serious. If you don't want to be here, just come out and say it. Don't make it look like the team, like it's the team's fault, the organization. You think the organization want to get rid of James Harrison? Let's be serious. Come on now.


SCHOLES: All right. The NBA came out and said that LeBron was fouled three times by Kevin Durant in that Christmas Day matchup and all three of the fouls went uncalled. Now LeBron said, you know, he'd be more understanding about the whole thing if the refs would just tell him, yes, I missed that one.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: For me the worst thing is when I had to go and talk to the ref and they say it was nothing. Like, I go over. You didn't see that? No. I didn't think it was nothing. There was no call. There's no foul. Like that's the worst for me.


SCHOLES: And Iowa and Boston College at the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. And get this, they were so cold and the field was so frozen that Boston College's players they couldn't wear their normal cleats. They were slipping and sliding all over the field, so midway through the game many of the players ended up changing out of their cleats into basketball sneakers to try to get more traction on the field. Despite the change, Iowa still beat Boston College 27-20.

All right. And the always entertaining Foster Farms Bowl in California, Purdue had the ball right before the half and they're in kneel down formation but instead of kneeling it they end up handing the ball off to 5'7" running back DJ Knox. A little trick play here. He ends up going 30 yards before Arizona finally tackles him.

[10:55:05] Boiler makers will get a field goal out of that one. They end up winning the game with a great catch by Anthony Mahungu with under two minutes to go. So take another look. Amazing that he was able to grab this ball and Mahungu is actually from France. Fell in love with football after watching the Super Bowl years ago. Purdue with the win on that one, 38-35 over Arizona.

But how about that, Poppy, you go from being a kid in France to end up winning a bowl game for Purdue years later.

HARLOW: I love that. Quite a catch.

Andy Scholes, my friend, thank you. We'll see you tomorrow.

SCHOLES: All right.

HARLOW: All right. So ahead, Roy Moore and his campaign not accepting defeat in Alabama. Suing now for new special election. Now his Democratic competitor in the race, the winner of the race is weighing in. Our Ana Cabrera has more next.