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Trump Slams Iran, Obama, DOJ, Kim Jong-un; Congress Returns to a Daunting Slate of Issues; Reports: At Least 21 Killed in Days of Unrest; Pakistan Holds Emergency Meeting after Trump's Tweet. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 2, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern. 7:00 a.m. Pacific. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
He has got pressing deadlines in Congress and a stack of new legislative hopes for the New Year but back for his first full day of work of 2018. The president is venting on a lot, on Iran, on President Obama, on his own Justice Department and yes, on the man he calls rocket man.
The president writes, "Sanctions and other pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for the first time. Perhaps that's good news, perhaps not. We will see."
Let's go to Joe Johns at the White House for all of this. So, that's his latest on North Korea. What about Iran?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: A lot to unpack, quite frankly, Poppy, on the president's tweet on Iran this morning. In that tweet, he restates some of the grievances he expressed on the campaign trail about assets of Iran that were unfrozen during the Obama administration.
Here's the tweet. "The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!"
Now, important to say there that there is no evidence that we know of that the money that was unfrozen was used for terrorism or was used to line the pockets of Iranian government officials. Poppy?
HARLOW: He's also taking on the U.S. Justice Department, a pretty long tweet here, but he's equating it to the deep state. What else is he saying?
JOHNS: Yes, right. This is another odd tweet the president repeating allegations that appear in a conservative media article, referencing Huma Abedin who was one of the closest aides of Hillary Clinton, suggesting that she should be jailed, even though she hasn't been charged with any crime. The tweet also refers to the FBI director that the president fired, James Comey, and refers to the president's own Justice Department run by his own attorney general, asserting that a deep state Justice Department must finally act. So this is a recurring theme the president going after his own Justice Department, Poppy.
HARLOW: OK. Joe Johns, it's a New Year, but some things aren't new. We appreciate it. Thank you.
Meantime, holiday break is over. Congress is heading back to work on the Hill. Lawmakers have a long list of things to try to tackle in the New Year.
Sunlen Serfaty joins me from Capitol Hill. So many things, where do we begin?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congress, Poppy, just does not have the luxury of easing into this New Year in any way. They have several big tickets, major items that are top on their plate that have to be attended to as soon as possible. Many of these issues left unresolved from last year.
First and foremost, they are, again, barreling towards the potential of a government shutdown. Circle January 19th on your calendar. That's the day they have to extend funding for the government. Also into their mix, the extension of the DACA for so-called DREAMERS, extension of children health insurance funding, dealing with parts of Obamacare, and there is some talk, at least from the House side, from Speaker Ryan, that he wants to potentially tackle entitlement reforms.
Adding into this mix, of course, this is now a mid-term election year. Things are not easy in an election year so that adds into this very complicated agenda that they have. Up here on the Hill tomorrow, White House aides will be up here meeting with top Congressional leadership trying to work towards that government potential shutdown showdown that we might have in a couple weeks and this weekend, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell, will be heading over to Camp David to meet with the president about the legislative agenda ahead.
HARLOW: Also changes in the Senate. You've got Al Franken, a Minnesota senator, stepping down today and then you've got all eyes on Utah's Republican Orrin Hatch, will he run for an eighth term? What are we expecting?
SERFATY: That's right. This is Franken's last official day. Tomorrow his replacement, Tina Smith, will be formally signed in. Of course, he steps down amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. So that officially ends his term here in Congress today.
And of course, Utah's Orrin Hatch, this is a big question mark, will he or will he not run for re-election? He has been in Congress for more than four decades, big decision that he has been personally lobbied by President Trump to stay in Congress. At this point we do not know, Poppy, we just know at some point between now and tomorrow we believe he will make his intentions known. Poppy?
[10:05:05] HARLOW: All right. We'll let you know when we know. Sunlen, appreciate the reporting on the Hill. Thank you.
Joining me now, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and CNN political commentators, Kevin Madden on the right, Brian Fallon on the left. Gentlemen, nice to have you here.
Let me begin with you, Jackie. So, -- I mean, there's a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot ahead this year. You've got DACA, which is overwhelmingly supported to get some deal for the so-called DREAMERS by the American people that, you know, likely issue number one for legislatures. We'll see. Paul Ryan wants to do entitlement reform. Mitch McConnell says not so fast. You've got Infrastructure, the bipartisanship there. Do they attack Obamacare again, where do they start?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, obviously keeping the government funded is going to be top of mind because that deadline is so soon.
KUCINICH: After that it does get tricky. When it comes to DACA, the other thing that is overhanging this entire thing, other than this deadline, is the 2018 midterms. Immigration has sunk Republican leaders in the past. What this deal will say is something that we just don't know yet because the House and the Senate aren't really communicating as well as they could be.
"The Daily Beast" had a report before the break that Carlos Carballo who is a Republican from the Miami area, who is someone that, obviously, supports DACA, didn't even know what Jeff Flake was talking to McConnell about. So, they need -- the Republicans need to get on the same page here before anything else can go forward.
HARLOW: Kevin, as a Republican strategist, you know, this is -- let's just not forget, the fact that the wall that the president is now demanding money for from Congress in exchange for a DACA deal, is the wall that he kept saying Mexico was going to pay for.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.
HARLOW: And to Jackie's point, immigration is hard to tackle any year. It's really hard to tackle in a midterm year. Because of what it looks like to your constituents. Are you going to get everything? Are you going to get comprehensive immigration reform? Will you just get a DACA deal and not give anything on the wall? How do Republicans thread this needle?
MADDEN: Well, on the politics of it. Look, you can't go into a 2018 election unless you have your base secured and locked down. So I think Republicans are -- the thinking here is that this is an issue that does play to their base. It is a fight that they believe they want to have. I think there are a great number of risks with it, though. As you -- if you look at some of the swing districts around the country, these suburban areas are areas where DACA is -- does have a high-level of favorability. And you do turn off voters if you get into a very tough immigration issue battle up on Capitol Hill. A lot of the suburban voters won't want to see that. There are, however, also risks for Democrats. While they -- locking in and to a fight with the president over an issue like immigration does animate their base. At the same time, there is a high level of support for dealing with border security, also known as the wall. So that is one of the things -- those are the political dynamics that are really going to drive this fight. I think what's going to happen eventually, Poppy, this is not going to be very easy. It's not going to happen quickly in the first quarter. It's going to be an issue that's fought all the way until the last minute.
HARLOW: The thing is you say - and Brian, I'll have you address this. Kevin says border security, also no funding for border security, also known as the wall. It's not really also known, because there are a number of Democrats who will support border security but won't fund a physical wall here. You do see Democrats like Dick Durbin of Illinois saying we have got a lot of leverage here because of the budget negotiations, because of that deadline that is so looming that Jackie pointed out. Do you think Democrats have a lot of leverage because of that, Brian?
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree that they have a lot of leverage and not only that. I think that they will actually start to face a lot of internal heat from progressive activists. If Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill do not assert that leverage in the upcoming negotiations around the spending bill to keep the government open.
Remember, Poppy, back last fall, you had a brief period where Republican leaders were throwing their hands up because Donald Trump was circumventing them cutting deals with Chuck and Nancy as he called it. That infamous deal he struck with Chuck and Nancy pertained to a solution to DACA and Chuck and Nancy sort of both held press conferences, sort of basking in the glow of having struck this deal with the president around the backs of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The president subsequently went back on his word on that.
And now, we've had two temporary extensions of the government funding without Democrats getting any relief for the DACA kids who remain in limbo. And so, now, the DACA kids, the activists are going around and they're holding Democrats' feet to the fire saying hold Donald Trump to his promise or else we will hold you, the Democrats, accountable. And so, just before Christmas, you saw I think it was 18 or 20 Democrats that voted with the Republicans to continue funding the government without any deal on DACA.
I think if those 18 to 20 Democrats again fall in line with the Republicans and don't take steps like Senator Kamala Harris of California and others that are running for president in 2020 have taken, which is to say my support is contingent on resolving the DACA issue.
[10:10:05] HARLOW: Right.
FALLON: You're going to see the DACA activists really starts showing up at Democratic senator's offices to complain. HARLOW; It's a very interesting point. I mean, Jackie, the handful of Democrats in Congress I've had on in the last few days, none of them have said they'll give a cent to funding a wall. But they also won't give up, you know, anything on DACA. So where is that going to leave them? Do Democrats need to be -- need to bend a little bit here and be willing to give a little bit towards the wall, border security, you name it, in order to not fail on the DACA promise?
KUCINICH: I feel like border security and the wall are two different things.
KUCINICH: Because even Republicans -- they're going to have trouble getting Republicans on the same page as the wall. And funding for that because you do have some Republicans in the southwest in particular who aren't really crazy about the border wall. So, yes, but I think on border security, you can see them bending on that.
But as Brian said, if they start funding the wall, they're going to hear from their base and Hispanic activists -- remember how angry they were during President Obama's term about what they saw as not enough attention to their issues. If Democrats cave on some of these things that are fundamental and important, they're going to have some very interesting midterms and you know, perhaps, 2020 issues to contend with.
HARLOW: Kevin Madden, what about some -- first entitlement reform, Paul Ryan, big win for him on taxes. Now, you know, he would love to see entitlement reform. Mitch McConnell does not seem on board because he knows Democrats aren't on board. And then Obamacare, I mean, trying it again on Obamacare, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican, says we're crazy if we don't try this thing again. Where do you see Republicans going on those huge issues?
MADDEN: Yes, Poppy. This reminds me when I worked in the House, we used to say that the Democrats were the opposition but the Senate was the enemy. There is always going to be these tensions between those two Houses. I think that Paul Ryan, two things he's always wanted to do, and he's using this leadership to do it. The first was tax reform, he's conquered that. The second now is entitlement reform. He believes it's fundamental to the long-term economic health of the country. So I believe he will try to move forward on that.
The window, though, again, on the legislation like that, that's very difficult to do and does require some level of bipartisanship, is very, very short because in a midterm election year like we're about to head into, ultimately the gravitational pull is for both parties to start showing where their contrasts are, what their differences are. So if we don't see some sort of movement towards entitlement reform in the first quarter I don't see how we get it done over the long calendar of the year.
HARLOW: Brian Fallon, final word?
FALLON: Yes, I think Mitch McConnell is a realist and the idea that some kind of big cut slashing of Medicare and Medicaid is going to make it ways through both chambers would be really pushing Republicans politically to the limit. You saw Susan Collins really stretched to vote in favor of the tax package a couple of weeks ago, really hear it from her constituents back home in Maine. They just lost a Senate seat in Alabama. They're going to have a new Democrat sworn in, so we're going to have a one-seat majority.
We're already -- Democrats are already going to run on entitlement cuts based on what the tax bill will likely mean for those programs. If they actually make it even more plain by putting a bill on the floor that would seek to voucher Medicare or anything on the line, so what Paul Ryan has proposed in the past, it will just send a lot more Republicans to their doom in the mid-terms this year.
HARLOW: And you have to see, how much will Susan Collins trust, you know, McConnell after all that this time around.
HARLOW: Thank you all very much. Jackie, Kevin, Brian, nice to have you.
So the unrest will end soon. That is what Iranian leadership is saying this morning after we're in the midst of a sixth day of this anti- government protest. Not so sure the protesters see it that way. We're following the latest developments in Iran for you.
Also, the president facing a laundry list of items he would like to accomplish this year. Can he convince Democrats to get on board with any of it? We're going to ask one of them.
And time's up. Some of Hollywood's biggest stars are launching a new plan to combat sexual harassment, sexual assault, not just in Hollywood, but in workplaces across this country. You see some of them there, a report ahead.
[10:18:07] HARLOW: The new leadership of Iran now says these nationwide protests that have claimed more than 20 lives over the last six days are the work of outside enemies and will be over soon. As for the drumbeat of President Trump, Iran's foreign ministry says the president's recent tweet about Iran is useless and offensive. They went on to say that the president should focus on domestic policy here in the United States, rather than on Iran.
Our Nick Paton Walsh is covering it all from London. Look, that's the take of Rouhani and his regime saying this is going to be over soon. All will be back to normal. It certainly doesn't seem that way on the streets of Iran.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Particularly, though, if you look at the troubling developments over last night in which they went from 12 dead to 21, granted of those nine new deaths, six were at a police station in Isfahan province. But still, more worryingly I think for those observing, the perpetual decades long standoff in Iran between its moderate branch of government and the hardline clerics and security forces, often backing them up. Today more disturbingly is the change in rhetoric in which hardliners have begun to blame outside influences, trying to cast the protests on the street which they say themselves are about the economy, about political repression, about unemployment trying to cause them as the work of foreign outside destabilizing agents.
Particularly the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, he said today, quote, "The enemy is waiting for an opportunity for a floor through which they can enter," going on a paraphrase here, to blame those with money, politics, weapons and intelligence for fomenting this particular protest.
Now we are in its sixth day. It's been geographically wider and more enduring, more intense, than I think many thought entirely itself it was anticipated. There had been social unrest across Iran quite regularly but not of this veracity since 2009 where it's fair to say actually police and security forces were much more repressive and much more lethal in the response they took.
[10:20:04] But given the increased focus now of the rising death toll, the duration we're seeing and the blame being put on foreigners. The big question is how do you negotiate calm? The protest movement that seems pretty spontaneous at this point lacks a clear leader in manifesto, potentially turbulent times ahead. Poppy?
HARLOW: Nick Paton Walsh for us in London with that reporting. Thank you Nick, we appreciate it.
Meantime there are protests that have erupted in Pakistan as officials there have held emergency meetings today over President Trump's latest tweet. You have crowds chanting, holding these signs with President Trump's face x'ed just hours after he tweeted that the country has given the U.S., quote, "Nothing but lies and deceit"
CNN has also learned in that emergency meeting, Pakistan's prime minister and a host of other top military advisors. And the White House now says that it will continue to withhold over $250 million in aid promised to Pakistan.
This morning, the president is weighing in also on the proposed talks potentially between North and South Korea. Here's what he writes. "Sanctions and other pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for the first time. Perhaps that's good news, perhaps not. We will see!" South Korea has sort of extended this saying they want to talk at the DMZ with North Korea as early as next week. They are waiting for a response from North Korea.
With us now is Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea. This would be monumental, very significant if indeed this meeting did happen next week.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Poppy. And if South Korea has anything to do with it, then it will happen. There really is a flurry of positive statements from different ministries here in South Korea. The president, Moon Jae-in, certainly has said consistently that he wants negotiations, dialog, engagement with North Korea at some point. It's the ticket that he ran on to gain the presidency. And he's also said that he wants North Korea to be part of the Winter Olympics which start next month. So, this is really what this is focused on at this point, the potential that sports could help the politics.
Now the unification ministry here has suggested next Tuesday, so January 9th, at the DMZ at the border village, which is in North Korea and in South Korea, right on the border. As you say they haven't had a response yet from North Korea, but they have also said if North Korea disagrees with those details, we can change the date, we can change the time, we can change the format. Really trying to bend over backwards to make sure that they can have these talks.
Now they say it's important to have high-level talks at such an early date because the Olympics are so close. Kim Jong-un has said that he's willing to send a delegation to the Pyongyang Olympics. South Korea wants North Korea there. But they have to hurry they say if they want to iron out the details. So it is potentially a significant development, but we will have to wait and see what North Korea makes of that offer. Poppy?
HARLOW: Whether they will come to the DMZ and actually have these talks next week, Paula Hancocks, thank you.
Joining me now, CNN military analyst and retired Air Force colonel Cedric Leighton and CNN national security analyst Gayle Tzemach- Lemmon. It's nice to have you both here. And Colonel, let me just begin with you on these talks. If they happen there, incredibly significant between North Korea and South Korea, and the president has been actually pretty clear on this tweet, they could be good for the U.S. or they could be bad for the U.S. It could be good for the U.S. in saving off, you know, nuclear acceleration of the program, any potential for nuclear war. They could be bad for the U.S., right, because they could drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea and China, for example. Right?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. Poppy, it's a clear indication that Kim Jong-un is probably trying to, at the very least, drive a wedge between all of the parties that you mentioned there. But on the other hand, this is also an opportunity -- I think that you know one of the historical analogies that we can potentially look at here is the relationship that West Germany crafted with East Germany and the Soviet Union back in the early 1970s. They had this thing called politics of the east, and that kind of thing is precisely what President Moon of South Korea wants to do and he may have an opening to do that. This is one of those carrot and stick approaches. Right now we're into carrots and we'll see how far that goes.
HARLOW: Gayle, let's turn to Iran. You're well versed in this issue and this is nothing new. This is an explosion of pent up anger and resentment that many in Iran, many youth in Iran, you've got unemployment there up to 40 percent, many of them feel as though this regime, this more moderate Rouhani regime, is not working for them. Talk about the significance of what we're seeing in the streets of Iran and the downplaying of it by the Rouhani regime this morning.
GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. I think you see in some ways domestically they're trying to play it down while abroad everybody is trying to figure out how do we react in a way that doesn't look like we are speaking for the protests from international capitals, Washington and Berlin.
[10:25:08] And what you really see is years of an austerity budget that has not led to job creation in a way that a country with half the population age 30 or under in a region where it's 65 percent age 30 or under is really struggling to find a footing. And I don't think anybody saw these protests coming outside the country but a lot has changed since 2009. Whatsapp, Telegram, right, smartphones, all of these did not exist in 2009 in the same way to really spread communication and spread video in the same way.
And so, I think you see the world really watching as economic discontent in the form of people upset about the economy and opportunity and grievances, about governance and generational change, really come right into the fore and on your television screen.
HARLOW: What kind of opportunity, Colonel, is this for the Trump administration, for President Trump, who is not a fan of the nuclear deal, who wants to fully pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran? Lindsey Graham said just few days ago this is a perfect opportunity for the president to make a big address and to say this is why the Iranian nuclear deal isn't working, the sanctions being lifted is not trickling down economically to the youth in Iran, is that a wise move? Is this helpful to him on that front?
LEIGHTON: Well, I think it's helpful in this sense, Poppy. It is good that the president has basically said that we stand with the protesters. What is needed, though, in this particular case is a strategy, an overarching framework, in which we, the United States, along with our partners, this is something that has to be done with other nations, really recognize what is going on in Iran and can be helpful, but we're helpful indirectly. This has to be an Iranian revolution, if it is, in fact, a revolution. It has to be something the Iranians do themselves and we have to be very careful that our hands are not seen to be mixing too this at all.
HARLOW: On Pakistan, Gayle, this is an incredibly complex issue, incredibly complex and very strategically important relationship for the United States and the region. The Trump administration applauding Pakistan for helping get that North American family out of the hands of the Taliban-linked group in October. Now slamming Pakistan for what he calls deceit and lies, withholding $255 million in foreign aid from Pakistan until they do more to fight terrorism and more to help the U.S. in the fight in Afghanistan. How do you see this playing out?
LEMMON: This is a long, simmering debate that has exploded on social media. I mean, Twitter has become the diplomatic cable of this moment. Things that might have been said in private among folks either between allies or among folks within the same national government are now playing out in a very public and very global town square and what you see is what Afghan officials have said for years, what many inside the United States administrations, including the Obama administration, have said for years, about not enough support coming from the Pakistani side. But I don't think anybody quite expected to see it play out on Twitter, all of the grievances put into one place in 280 characters.
HARLOW: How do you see it, finally, Colonel, because you do have a very important strategically but also nuclear power?
LEIGHTON: Absolutely. Pakistan is a key element there and one of the things that we have to be very careful of, although the president is right in one sense in that the Pakistanis have actually absconded with a lot of U.S. aid to their country, on the other hand they have also helped us in many, many ways, including the capture of back in 2001 of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -
LEIGHTON: So they have done many big things for us, and we have to be careful to balance that because if we don't the Chinese will come in and other players will come in and they will create problems not only for us but for India and other nations in the region and we want to be very careful to keep a lid on that pot before it boils over.
HARLOW: Colonel Leighton, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. It's nice to have you both. Thank you so much.
HARLOW: So White House officials are set to meet with top leadership from both parties in Congress. Moments ago, the president slammed Democrats. Is that a way to get them on board? Ahead.