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President Trump Gives Impromptu Interview to "New York Times" Reporter; President Trump Says He Believe Robert Mueller Will be Fair in Russia Investigation; Interview with Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania; Trump: "I Know More... Than Any President". Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump contradicting his supporters, saying he thinks special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's just a way of him trying to project that everything is fine, I have it under control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is mocking the idea of global warming in a new tweet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to remind him global warm is something that's causing very severe weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His supporters probably don't believe in global warming either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will rank us as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom texted my sister that they were trapped in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, December 29th, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off. Bill Weir joins me. It's almost the new year.


CAMEROTA: I know, but we have one more hour and a lot of news. So up first, President Trump tells "The New York Times" he thinks special counsel Robert Mueller will be fair to him, but he says the Russia investigation makes the U.S. look very bad. This is an impromptu interview, no White House aides were by the president's side. Mr. Trump insisted 16 times that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

WEIR: President Trump also telling "The Times" that he has, quote, "an absolute right to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department," and that the president also boasts about how much he knows the bills being passed by Congress, more than any CPA, when it comes to taxes. We have it all covered, but let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip live in West Palm Beach, Florida on this revealing interview. Abby, we're not going to get an end of the year press conference, so I guess this is the next best thing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I guess so. The president yesterday was fresh off of the golf course and apparently really interested in talking to a "New York Times" reporter. He went on for about 30 minutes talking about all kinds of things from the Russia investigation to his knowledge of the tax bill and of health care. But he said some interesting things in this interview about his view of the Mueller probe, which, as we know, has been going on and on for several months. The president and his lawyers, according to sources, believe the probe is wrapping up, and the president seems to think that Robert Mueller is going to give him a fair shake.

Let me read you a little bit of what he had to say to "The Times." He said "There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I will be treated fairly. Timing-wise, I just can't tell you, I just don't know, but I think we will be treated fairly." This is a little bit different from what we've been hearing from the president and his supporters up until this point. Many of them have been trying to undermine the Mueller probe, suggesting that the people carrying out this investigation are biased against the president. But perhaps President Trump is trying to project of Zen here on the situation.

And on another matter, he also talked a little bit about how he thinks this probe is affecting his ability to govern and the perception of the United States abroad. He said this, "The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it's a very bad thing for the country because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out the better."

We know that the president wants this probe to be wrapped up sooner rather than later. We also know that he has talked about how it has affected the view of other leaders towards him over the last several months. What is also interesting also about this interview is that the president did it completely solo. There were no White House aides around him at the time. Interesting to see how willing he is to talk about this ongoing investigation, something that is really very sensitive, without any sort of minders around him at his gulf club yesterday.

CAMEROTA: That is interesting, Abby, though it's hard to know if it would have changed a single word that he said if he had had any minders. It's not like they often control what he says. They might not have let it go on perhaps as long as it did. But Abby, thank you very much for breaking all of that down. Let's discuss it now and analyze it with Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics Chris Cillizza. Gentlemen, great to see you, happy almost new year's.


CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the really interesting interview from the "New York Times" got, and we'll just read a couple excerpts from it. This is what the president said about Bob Mueller, and the reason it's so interesting is because it's so different than what we have heard from some of his surrogates and some of the more rightwing Republicans lately. The president says "I hope that Bob Mueller is going to be fair. I think he is going to be fair. There has been no collusion, but I think he's going to be fair. Everybody knows the answer already, there was no collusion, none whatsoever." So Ron, that's just interesting that he is sounding a different tone, a more conciliatory tone than some of his surrogates.

[08:05:00] RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the tone may notably change. But the tone may notably change. Even in that same interview he talks about how members of Congress have been so strong in pointing out that this is a witch hunt, so there's a mixed message even below the headline.

Look, there's an element of working the ref there, right, in the sense of saying I believe he will be fair by which the president means I believe he will exonerate me and my campaign. I don't think anyone listening believes this is the last word from the president on the subject or that if in fact the special counsel's investigation finds reasons to move against others in the president's circle or the president himself that his verdict will be that Robert Mueller was fair.

WEIR: I guess it depends on what your definition of fair is. Chris, from the president's point of view, that probably means exoneration. From anyone's else's view it might be holding an American leader in power, that is unique to our country. He talked about Jeff Sessions, expressing his disappointed. "It's too bad that Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but it's too bad he recused himself. I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will say this, Eric Holder protected President Obama, totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the gun for whatever," probably the Fast and Furious thing he's referencing, "these were real problems and Holder protected the president, and I have great respect for that. I'll be honest, I have great respect for that." What does that say about his understanding of the relationship between the White House and the DOJ?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: First of all, I love the "I'm not going to get into it" construction. I'm not going to say who my favorite host is of NEW DAY, but it's Alisyn.


WEIR: Everything before "but" is a lie, right?

CILLIZZA: Yes. I'm not going to talk about that, let me now talk about it.

Look, we know his view on Jeff Sessions. And remember, I will go back to a previous interview where Trump talked about Sessions and the Justice Department in which he said he put me in a very bad place. Trump views everyone, including the head of the Justice Department, as working for him. I put Republican senators and Congressmen in that group. He has been bewildered in the past, although not as much in this tax debate, about the fact that they just simply won't be for him because he's the president and they work for it.

They of course don't work for him due to the separation of powers, but he doesn't see that. He views this as the way a CEO views it, that these are all underlings. They were hired because of him, they can be fired at a moment's notice because of him. There's truth in it. He's not wrong when he says I have an absolute right to do what I want at the Justice Department. He could theoretically fire Jeff Sessions, get rid of the special counsel, fire anyone who refused to not move up to be attorney general. We saw Nixon do that. But the terminology of I have an absolute right will rankle many people, I think rightfully so.

CAMEROTA: Just let me read just to put a finer point on it. Here's exactly what he says. "I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, but for the purposes of hopefully thinking I am going to be treated fairly I have stayed uninvolved with this particularly matter." That's also open for debate. He fired James Comey.

WEIR: But I think that was in reference to a question about a Clinton investigation for the DOJ.

CAMEROTA: Oh, that's good to know.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And look that's why I think in every modern midterm election is a referendum on the president, but I think this election will turn more than ever on that question. Do you want -- do you or do you not believe there should be greater constraints, limits on Donald Trump? I think that will be the central question in this campaign, whether candidates address it directly or not, but as you see in that, his view, to go to Chris's point about looking at this as a CEO, his view is the president is essentially unconstrained by any of the traditional or informal boundaries that have limited the exercise of presidential power in the past that have caused other presidents to keep their distance from ongoing investigations at the Justice Department.

President Trump doesn't accept those boundaries. I don't think it's that he doesn't see those boundaries. He doesn't accept those boundaries. And the Republicans in Congress after initially being somewhat divided over how much to resist him have essentially thrown in the towel and said as long as you are willing to sign the legislation that embodies our long term ideological priorities, we're not really going to confront you on that stuff. I think that is going to be their greatest vulnerability in the 2018 election among voters, especially among voters who are disappointed in President Trump. I would just point out that in the last CNN poll, roughly 85 percent of the people who said they disapproved of President Trump's job performance said they intended to vote Democratic for Congress. That's what we have seen over the long term. That's what we saw in Virginia. We saw it at an even higher percentage in Alabama, and that's why comments like these I think drive that perception among voters in making that such a critical issue.

[08:10:10] WEIR: This just in, the tweeter in chief has fired off a new one this morning. Let's read it in real time. "Why is the United States post office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year while charging Amazon and others show little to deliver their packages, making amazon richer and the post office dumber and poorer? Should be charging much more," in all caps.

CAMEROTA: What is the answer to that, Chris?

CILLIZZA: Interesting. I didn't know he would go with a post office tweet --


WEIR: Whoever had that in the pool.

CILLIZZA: If you asked me what are the top 100 topics Donald Trump might tweet about while I'm on television, the post office and Amazon wouldn't be one of them.

Amazon, I know this from having worked at "The Washington Post" which Jeff Bezos owns though Amazon doesn't own, Amazon is a regular target for Donald Trump. He has accused Jeff Bezos of buying the "Washington Post" to protect him from some tax, unclear tax allegation, tax cut allegation -- I don't know what it really is.

Bill, we were talking about this in the previous hour. This goes to me the only strategy is there's no strategy theory of Donald Trump, which is he probably saw something about Amazon, likely candidly on FOX News, about why the postal service is not charging Amazon more and fired off a tweet. If the past is prologue, that's what he does. He sort of live tweets the morning shows, and frankly lots of cable television.

CAMEROTA: I'm looking to see what they are covering now.

CILLIZZA: I don't think this will begin a push to raise rates at the postal service by the Trump administration.

WEIR: This is a real problem at the post office. They are talking about getting rid of Saturday delivery.

CILLIZZA: Sure, but I don't think that's what this is about.

WEIR: But this is not about forming new policy about how to save our mail carriers. We have to run. Chris, Ron Brownstein, thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys. BROWNSTEIN: Happy New Year, guys.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

When president Trump says he beliefs the special counsel will be fair to him, now he does contradict some of his allies and members of his own party. So we'll talk about it with a Republican congressman next.


[08:15:58] CAMEROTA: OK. So, during that wide-ranging interview with "The New York Times", President Trump talked about the Russia investigation saying he thinks it's bad for the country. How do other Republicans feel?

Joining us now is Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Good morning, Alisyn. Great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

Let me read you just a little excerpt of this pretty revealing interview that the president gave "The New York Times" he says about the Russia investigation: I think it's bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it's a very bad thing for the country because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad and puts the country in a very bad position, and so the sooner it's worked out the better for the country. But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party.

So, do you think the Russia investigations, the Mueller and the congressional ones are making the U.S. look bad?

DENT: No, I don't. I believe the Russia investigation, you know, speaks to our transparency in many ways. The fact is the Russians meddled in our elections, we all know. We didn't only meddle here. They meddled throughout the world, and it's important that this be investigated both by Congress and by Director Mueller.

I think Director Mueller has been he's a man of integrity. He's been fair. And we ought to let him do his work and let's see what he finds before we all jump to conclusions.

CAMEROTA: So, what did you think when your colleague, Francis Rooney, said, he's of Florida, said this about the FBI and Department of Justice. Listen to this.


REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: I am very concerned the DOJ and FBI, whatever you want to call, deep state or what, are kind off the rails. I don't want to discredit them, I just -- I would like to see the directors of those agencies purge it.


CAMEROTA: Later on CNN, he was asked about purge, which many saw as eyebrow-raising and inflammatory and he said, you know, maybe I went overboard. He said, I'm paraphrasing, but he said something to the affect it was maybe over the top but he sticks by thinking that there should be maybe sort of an overhaul of the FBI.

What did you think of those comments?

DENT: Well, first, let me say, I think Congressman Rooney did walk back the purge statement, which I disagree with that statement.

But on the broader issue of the FBI, I believe it's important as Republicans that we traditionally have been the party of law enforcement, not just at the federal level but state and local level as well, and I don't think it's not helpful for Republicans to stand up and say things that could potentially undermine the ability of the FBI to operate as they should. So, I think that's mistaken for us to be declaring war on the FBI and the Justice Department.

And, by the way, this is a Republican administration the last time I checked. At the top level appointees at the FBI, Mr. Wray and at the Justice Department, Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, are appointees of the president. So, it's really -- it is our Justice Department and FBI at this point. So, I don't think it helps to undermine their ability to operate.

CAMEROTA: So, listen, when you hear your Republican colleagues and you hear lots of right-wing media now saying this, I mean, this is becoming its own echo chamber of, you know, undermining the criminal justice system and FBI. What are they doing? What is that about?

DENT: Well, we will rue the day because of this. You know, I think it's important that these types of institutions, whether they'd be at the Justice Department or the FBI, or intelligence services, I strongly support their mission and their work. And I don't think they should be dealt with in such an overtly political fashion.

Of course, there are people in these intelligence services and the FBI who have political opinions, and as we witness, too, those political opinions should be kept to themselves, and Director Mueller, when he discovered the text messages from two of those agents involved with the investigation, well, those two individuals, I believe they were removed or demoted.

[08:20:01] So, Director Mueller behaved appropriately. So, I should point out that Director Mueller too is a Republican.

So, I just don't think it's in anyone's interest to try to overly politicize our intelligence services and our law enforcement.

CAMEROTA: But do you feel that some Republicans --

(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, listen, if you tune into Sean Hannity's program at night, you will hear this dichotomy. Do you think that some Republicans feel that they have to choose between the Department of Justice and the president?

DENT: Maybe some do, but I think all of us should not be susceptible to these types of conspiracy theories. You know, people are talking about deep state and everybody has an agenda.

I still believe when we have people in these agencies, they tend to be professional. Yes, they have political opinions. The question is, do their opinions impede their ability to conduct their jobs thoroughly, fairly and honestly. And I think for the most part, the answer is no, they don't. They're able to do their jobs.

These people can -- they can do their jobs fairly. That said, if we discover bias, we should deal with it. But I think a lot of my colleagues ought to take a deep breath and let Director Mueller and his team do their work, and let's see what they find.

The president said repeatedly there's no collusion. OK, well, let Director Mueller do his work and we'll find out.

CAMEROTA: All right. Congressman Charlie Dent, thank you very much for joining us with your perspective this morning.

DENT: Thank you, Alisyn. Great to be with you. Happy New Year.

CAMEROTA: You, too.


WEIR: Happy New Year, Congressman.

Well, President Trump boasts he knows about bills more than any president that's ever been in office. How do we measure that, really? We'll ask former GOP Senator Rick Santorum about his topic and others, next.


[08:25:44] WEIR: As he is often prone to do, President Trump is once again comparing himself to his predecessors in a revealing and impromptu interview with "The New York Times" yesterday.

The president saying, quote, number one, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of Republican congressmen and senators. I love them and they love me. Number two, I know more about the big bills than any president that has ever been in office, whether it's health care and taxes, especially taxes. I could not have persuaded 100 congressmen to go along with the bill and I was a great student in all of this stuff, and he doesn't know the details, whoever says that, those are sick people.

Let's discuss now with CNN political commentator, former U.S. senator, Rick Santorum. Early happy New Year to you, Senator.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you. Happy New Year to you, to everybody out there.

WEIR: You were in the room as you talked about the Obamacare repeal and replace. How would you characterize President Trump's grasp of policy?

SANTORUM: Well, I think it all depends. I think on the issue of taxes, I wouldn't doubt that the president has a pretty good grasp of the tax code and how that tax code would affect particularly the business community. I think that's something he is familiar with. And, you know, I couldn't argue with the fact he understood that re- write pretty well.

On the issue of health care, probably less so. I mean, I just think that's just not his wheelhouse. I think he understands the principal effort that it was tried to get accomplished last year, excuse me, earlier this year on Graham/Cassidy. I think he continues to push for it, which is to try to get the money out of Washington and back to the states and to give the states a flexibility to be laboratories where we can better serve people and get prices down and quality up. So, you know, I think it all depends on the area of what the bells are concerned with when it comes to any president.

WEIR: In terms of working with Democrats, he touched on this a little bit and then a recent tweet. Let's start with him saying they should come to me on infrastructure, them being Democrats. They have come to me on DACA. We are trying to do something about it, and they should come to me on health care, because we can do bipartisan health care. We can bipartisan infrastructure and we can bipartisan DACA. That sounds inviting.

But moments ago, Rick, he tweeted the Democrats have been told and fully understand there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the southern border, and an end to the horrible chain migration and ridiculous lottery system of immigration, et cetera. We must protect our country at all costs.

Just one fast check in real time, and the lottery system doesn't mean that whoever wins can waltz in, there's still vetting that goes into people who are chosen via lottery. But all of that aside, how can on one hand say, yes, work with us, and then on the other side bring up the wall which he knows is a nonstarter for every Democrat.

SANTORUM: Yes, the three things he brought up, the lottery, chain migration and the wall, two of the three are actually most Democrats agree with. I mean, even in the Schumer bill they get rid of the visa lottery. I think most people see that as not a particularly good way of bringing people into this country. So, that's number one.

Number two, on the issue of chain migration, I think Democrats, there's an effort to narrow that, that should not be the principal way that most people come into the country and that's increasingly the case. So, two of the three, I think the president has some areas to

negotiate. Obviously, the wall -- look, Democrats realize if they are going to get DACA, they have to do something on the wall. That was the president's biggest immigration talking point and he's not going to walk away from it and it's part of "The Art of the Deal", if you will, to be able to negotiate those things.

So, I don't think the president laid out markers that were sort of way out of bounds on immigration, and I think his broader point is something that I think Democrats have really missed. There's a real opportunity for Democrats to work with this president. This president is not an ideologue. This president is not someone who's been stiff and conservative policies for his entire adult life. He's someone who's been a Democrat, he's been an independent, he's been Republican, he's been all over the place. And the only reason why I think Democrats are not taking advantage of the opportunity of the Donald Trump presidency is because their base hates him so much.