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President Trump Attacks Former Clinton Aide; White House Attempts to Defend Trump's Golf Outings; Protests in Iran. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 15:00   ET



QUESTION: Can you tell me the biggest single thing the president has accomplished for the American people during his time on the golf course?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it would certainly be developing deeper and better relationships with members of Congress, in which those relationships have helped push forward the president's agenda specifically when it comes to helping get the tax reform and tax cuts passed.

A lot of that, I think, and the success of that came from the strong relationships that president has, and he has played golf with a number of senators and used that time certainly to accomplish that.

QUESTION: If so much has been accomplished during this time, there seems to be a bit of transparency issue with his time on the golf course. We don't always get confirmation of what he's doing there, despite a lot of requests.

There was this incident with the box truck. Why does it seem as though the White House is a little self -- has some kind of issue about his time on the course?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it's the press that has an issue with his time on the course. The president is extremely proud of the accomplishments we had during 2017. I don't think anyone can argue it was probably one of the most successful first years in office, passed major legislation, reworked the court system, and got a Supreme Court justice nominated and approved and on the bench in the first year.

A booming economy. Massive gains against the war on ISIS. I think we have had extremely successful 2017. And some of that is due to the relationship-building that he was able to do there.

We will take one last question.



QUESTION: Is there a reason for no readout or confirmation when he's having these meetings on the course? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, we provide information when it's pertinent to

the day, and we will continue to do that.

Eamon (ph) go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

Earlier, the president tweeted about tax reform, saying: "Companies are giving big bonuses to their workers because of the tax cut bill. Really great."

Will the employees of the president's own companies be getting bonuses as a result of the tax cut bill this year?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's a question that you have to ask the Trump Organization. The president is not involved in that. And that's I would refer you to them.


QUESTION: ... companies can afford to pay bonuses this year as a result of the tax bill should do that for their workers?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry. I missed first part of your question.

QUESTION: Does the president feel that companies that can afford to pay bonuses should pay bonuses to their workers this year?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he certainly hopes that companies will either give bonuses to their employees or somehow reinvest and bring business back into this country. That was one of the big purposes and goals of the tax cut bill, which we certainly have seen play out over the last couple of weeks, and expect to see a lot more good news come from that.

Thanks so much, guys.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. You have been watching the White House press briefing, the first one of 2018, and the first really of the past couple of weeks or so.

So let's take a deep dive what we just heard.

CNN political director David Chalian, joining us, along with Amie Parnes and Errol Louis.

So, David, first I want to ask you about what we heard in terms of Senator Orrin Hatch, who is retiring. Of course, that news broke just before this White House press briefing this afternoon. And, of course, Sarah Sanders was asked about the impact of this and any response from the president.

What we heard her say was that they would be very sad to see Orrin Hatch leave, but she didn't really talk or want to go in any direction when it comes to who will be his replacement. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, right. She was asked

point-blank about Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee who now lives in Utah and is eying very much this Senate run if indeed Hatch had announced his retirement, as he did today.

So we expect Mitt Romney to be very eagerly involved in coming to a decision here about whether or not he's going to jump into this race now that this anticipated moment of Hatch's retirement is out there.

But you are right. Sarah Huckabee Sanders wanted to go nowhere near that. She just wanted to stick to the president's words praising Senator Hatch, both for the tax legislation that just passed that he oversaw in the Congress, and for his four-decade career up on Capitol Hill.

So she did not want to delve into the politics of the replacement. What is clear, as you know, Ana, is that Donald Trump and Mitt Romney are not best friends here, right? There's no love lost between these two.

Mitt Romney is one of his fiercest critics throughout 2015 and 2016 as the campaign was unfolding. There was that brief moment where they were sort of dating each other publicly around the idea of possibly having Romney join the Trump administration, secretary of state.

That fell apart pretty quickly. And thereafter, it's not that like these two have been close. So Donald Trump has made it pretty clear to friends and associates he's not all that interested and eager to see Mitt Romney in the United States Senate. Of course, that's not up to Donald Trump. That will be up to the people of Utah if he indeed Mitt Romney is a candidate.

CABRERA: Let's listen to what the president said about Orrin Hatch in recent weeks.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are a true fighter, Orrin. I have to say I have gotten to know him very well. I have gotten to know a lot of people very well.

You meet fighters and you meet people that you thought were fighters. But they are not so good at fighting. He's a fighter. We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.



CABRERA: So obviously he really wanted Orrin Hatch to stick around with him.

Errol, we know Romney won Utah 73-25 against President Obama back in 2012. Of course, that was his home state. But that was like the widest margin that Romney across the country when it came to that election, right.

He's very popular in Utah. If he gets in the race, knowing the history between he and the president, could that potentially be a problem? Could he be a thorn in the president's side?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He could be. He could possibly a rallying point for conservatives who don't like Trump, who think that Trump has been a problem for American conservatism, both in the style and the manner in which he carries himself, the vulgarity, the obscenities, the pettiness, the insults, all of the Twitter garbage.

That is something that Mitt Romney as presidential candidate said he's not going to do that. Right? And he carried himself with a certain amount of dignity, with a certain amount of sort of tradition. That's really what all of that represents.

This is somebody who was the governor of Massachusetts, but still has deep family roots both in Michigan and in Utah, helped rescue the Olympics in Salt Lake City, is considered essentially a favored son of the state, and could go back and become again sort of a conservative rallying point, so that people associated, say, with "The National Review," cultural conservatives who don't like and never liked what Trump represented can say, look, we have Mitt Romney.

We voted for him in big numbers before. He is going to possibly stand up to the president, not just rhetorically, but from a standpoint of actual power in Washington. It's an interesting and sort of tantalizing proposition for those who feel that they want to try and rescue the Republican Party from its current leader, Donald Trump.

CABRERA: The Republican Party as is in Congress and in the Senate right now, Amie, has a lot of challenge ahead in this upcoming year. It's an election year and there are a number of things on their agenda.

Sarah Sanders was asked about all these agenda items, everything from DACA, to infrastructure, to, of course, the budget and the spending cap. So she was asked about it. She said kind of like they're take a shotgun approach, it sounded like.

Did you get a clear idea what their strategy is?


And I think that's why they are kind of meeting up this weekend at Camp David to kind of formulate how to go forward. You will recall that Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump don't get along or haven't gotten along in the past.

Paul Ryan is sort of more aligned with Donald Trump. So they kind of all need to get on the same page and formulate some kind of plan going forward, because the party is so splintered and so factioned. They need to be on the same page going forward.

And I think when it comes to DACA, when it comes to all these spending issues, there are major splinters in the party. Like we talked about earlier, a lot of the spending guys don't want to spend anymore. A lot of these fiscal people don't want to spend anymore.

So there's going to be a little bit of a push-pull there. And they are going to need to weigh their differences and see where they spend up.

CABRERA: David Chalian, if you were to pick just one item, if you were this administration, what is the most realistic agenda item they might be able to accomplish in the upcoming months?

CHALIAN: It is the split between where the administration is and Congress is that needs to sort of -- you have to find where that common ground will be.

The president clearly thinks his best shot at getting something done is on infrastructure in terms of the bigger ticket items that he's mentioned he's interested in doing. You know, clearly, the Democrats are eager to play ball on DACA, but the president insists that his border wall be a part of that, and that is going to complicate those negotiations.

You know, call me a little skeptical in these times that we are going to see a ton of legislative action in an election year. I just don't envision all that much taking place. But the president has certainly, as I said, marked infrastructure as a place he hopes to work with Democrats.

And Mitch McConnell has made clear that if anything is going to get done in the United States Senate, just by the math that exists in a 51-49 Senate, it is going to have to be done with Democratic votes.

CABRERA: And maybe he will invite some of those Democrats to the golf course with him, because he was obviously asked about golfing and that he accomplished a lot on the golf course in terms of building relationships, helping to accomplish the tax reform package that ended the year for this White House and the Republican Party.

Thank you to everyone for weighing in, for your thoughts.

The White House also weighing in on the uprising in Iran. And we're getting a clearer picture now just how deadly these anti-government protests have become here, just as access to the Internet is reportedly being strangled off by the government there.


Just within the last couple of hours, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley praising the uprising. Watch this.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: By the thousands, Iranian citizens are taking to the streets to protest the oppression of their own government. It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth. So we applaud the tremendous courage of the Iranian people.


CABRERA: There are reports now at least 21 people have been killed. But accounts from the ground are trickling out on social media and paint a much more dire picture, really.

Social media is the only distress call these protesters have and they're giving us a glimpse into this unprecedented revolt. Videos showing thousands of demonstrators shouting death to the Rouhani and death to Khamenei, the country's top two leaders. This video showing hundreds cheering as a picture of Iran's supreme leader is torn.

I want to bring in Arwa Damon, CNN senior international correspondent.

Arwa, are you able to clarify for us the mixed messages we are hearing on the death count and the social media blockages?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's phenomenally difficult to get accurate information simply because access for international media is pretty heavily restricted.

But what we do know so far is that at least 21 people have been confirmed dead. Six of those deaths happening in the center of the country when protesters attacked a police station. The others happening over the course of different parts of Iran over the last few days.

As for social media, the government did say it was restricting access to some sites over the weekend, but then we did see people who were able to get their messages out, trying to show just how heavily restricted some of these social media apps that are really central to try to spread the word within Iran about where the protests are happening, exactly what is taking place, what kinds of crackdowns are taking place, being heavily restricted as well.

This is not entirely uncommon. And there are all sorts of fiery rhetoric that is taking place on all sides of the aisle. You were mentioning some of the chants that the protesters were shouting, such as death to the dictator, and we don't want an Islamic republic.

Well, when it comes to government's reaction, Ana, we have been hearing a lot of public statements from the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, where on the one hand he is interestingly acknowledging the economic grievances that were really what sparked these demonstrations, but at the same time warning protesters against causing riots and violence.

We heard from the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, for the first time today. And he was saying that it was the sworn enemies that had banded together that were trying to incite these protests, these riots, trying to make them violent, saying the enemy is waiting for opportunity for a flaw through which they can enter.

We heard other leaders within Iran specifically pointing the blame at the United States, the United Kingdom, and, of course, Iran regional's archenemy, Saudi Arabia. But what's also interesting perhaps is that one of Iran's main reformist groups actually at the forefront of the 2009 demonstrations came out also accusing the United States, also criticizing the United States for supporting these protesters, saying that the sworn enemies of the nations of Iran with the U.S. at the top came to support the rioters and their violent actions.

Now, despite saying that, this pro-reform group also criticized the government to a certain degree and also called on the government to recognize the legitimate rights of the protesters. But when it comes to this protest movement, having U.S. support is perhaps a double- edged sword, given America's standing within Iran and within the region at this stage.

CABRERA: All right. Arwa Damon there in Istanbul covering these protests that are ongoing right now in Iran. Sarah Sanders also asked about this, saying they're keeping all options on the table at this point in terms of the U.S. response. Thank you, Arwa.

Up next, why President Trump is taking aim at a former Hillary Clinton aide, saying Huma Abedin should be jailed, all while slamming his own Justice Department in the process. What the House had to say about this moments ago.

Also, amid rising tensions with the U.S., North Korea is now reaching out to South Korea. Kim Jong-un considering whether to send his athletes to the Olympics in South Korea next month.



CABRERA: Groundbreaking talks could be about to take place between North Korea and South Korea.

Kim Jong-un saying he wouldn't rule out sending his athletes to the Olympic Games, which are being hosted by South Korea next month.

And now South Korea has eagerly responded with a resounding yes to potential talks, using the opportunity to push for dialogue.

Now, President Trump chiming in on Twitter, saying 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 first time. Perhaps that is good news. Perhaps not. We will see."

I want to bring in my panel, Kelly Magsamen, CNN national security analyst, and Peter Brookes, senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

So, guys, on the heels of North Korea and South Korea saying let's talk, you have the president tweeting about rocket man. And he says the fact that North Korea now wants to talk to South Korea is perhaps good news, perhaps not.

Kelly, do you see this as good or bad, that the North and South have this open channel of communication now?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it could be two things. I think the president could be right. The pressure campaign could be working, which is why Kim Jong-un has made this offer.


But also it could be an opportunity for Kim Jong-un to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, which is why I think it's really important for the Trump administration to get on the same page with South Korea with respect to these talks.

I don't think the talks themselves are necessarily good or bad. I think we will see and find out if they actually occur and what the scope of the talks are. But I definitely think that any sort of engagement at this point is probably a positive thing.

CABRERA: Peter, Kelly pointed out the possibility that North Korea might be seeing an opening to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea.

Do you think that's the strategy behind Kim Jong-un's outreach to South Korea?

PETER BROOKES, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I largely agree with what Kelly said. Of course, we don't know what the future holds.

But, yes, this is a charm offensive. North Korea comes around on this every once in a while, usually when they need something. And I think one of the things is that the pressure from the sanctions may be making it very difficult during the long, hard North Korea winter. It can be very tough up there. The country has a very hard time feeding itself even in the best of times. And it may be looking for some humanitarian aid.

The president in South Korea, President Moon, has had a much softer approach towards North Korea before the most recent uptick in tensions. So they may be trying to play on this. And, of course, the new year always offers new opportunities for turning the page.

And North Korea may be reaching out. We will have to see what these talks -- what happens out of these talks. But North Korea certainly wants things. Also, I forgot to mention the fact they probably want us to stop military exercises, and there are some planned military exercises around the time of the Olympics.

South Korea has said that they would like that we do not hold those exercises. But the U.S. and South Korea have not made a final decision on that. So, North Korea has a lot of things they want. And this charm offensive may be part of that.

CABRERA: Kelly, Trump says sanctions and other pressures are having an impact on North Korea. You say perhaps that's true, perhaps that's what we are seeing here. But if these talk happen without the U.S. as part of the talks, is there any risk in that? MAGSAMEN: I mean, there is it always risk, but I think we are in

charge of our own diplomacy. So the important thing right now is to be having discussions with the South Korean government, discussing with them how we are going to approach the talks as an alliance.

And that's going to be the most important thing that we can do in this period of time.

CABRERA: Peter, former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said over the weekend that the U.S. is closer to a nuclear war with North Korea than ever, his words. Can you see a scenario where nuclear war breaks out? Do you agree with him too about just how possible this really is?

BROOKES: Well, if you parse this a little bit, we had a big crisis with North Korea back in 1994 during the Clinton administration over their nuclear program and there was a possibility of war then. You can read the memoirs of Bill Clinton and Bill Perry, who was secretary of defense at the time.

When he says nuclear war, that's the case now because of the fact that North Korea has a rudimentary nuclear capability that may be able to reach out and touch the United States. So, in many cases, depending on what the chairman meant exactly, he could certainly be right.

Tensions are there. I think it's important that we maintain and stick to the fundamentals, that we have a strong conventional and nuclear deterrent. We make sure our declaratory policy is such. And you can quibble over style, but I think the president's message has been clear, that North Korea, if you start a fight with the United States, it's going to end badly for you and they need to understand that.

And I think that they do. And even part of that rhetoric could be one of the reasons they are coming to the table, although I don't expect they are going to give up on their nuclear or ballistic missile programs.

CABRERA: Peter Brookes and Kelly Magsamen, thank you both. I appreciate it.

Coming up, new year, same Trump. The president takes to Twitter suggesting that a former Hillary Clinton aide should be jailed. And he slams his own Justice Department in the process. Now, the White House was asked about this and responded. We will have new reporting next.



CABRERA: It may be a new year, but some of President Trump's latest tweets are targeting old enemies.

Former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin getting the latest Trump tweet treatment, so to speak. Remember her? She worked for Clinton's presidential campaign. She's also the ex-wife of disgraced former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.

And in a tweet fired off this morning, President Trump appears to call for Abedin to go to jail.

Here's the tweet. "Crooked Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put classified passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors' pictures on submarine? Jail. Deep state Justice Department must finally act, also on Comey and others."

Now, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the president calling out his DOJ as part of the deep state. Listen.


QUESTION: Does he believe the entire Justice Department and its more than 100,000 employees are part of this deep state?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that.

You know, one of the things that the president has done is appoint Christopher Wray at the FBI because he wants to change the culture of that agency and he thinks he's the right person to do that.


CABRERA: I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

So, Jessica, the president calling for Abedin to be jailed, but in that tweet, he also called his own Justice Department part of the deep state. So, help us make sense of all of this.


But really it's sort of simple. The president is starting the new year much the same way that he ended 2017. He's prodding the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and also lodging attacks against his own law enforcement agencies.

And with that tweet, he's also calling out Hillary Clinton former top aide Huma Abedin. And in that tweet, the president really pointing to a document dump of e-mails that was released by the State Department over the weekend.

So these are e-mails that were found on Huma Abedin's estranged husband Anthony Weiner's computer just weeks before the election.

And one in particular is one from August 2009. I think we have a graphic of it. Abedin actually forwarded a message from her State Department e-mail to her Yahoo! account. And you can see there it listed the passwords to log into her government-issued laptop.

So, that was in 2009. So, about four years later, in 2013, all Yahoo! e-mail accounts were hacked. That was disclosed just a few months ago. And investigators do believe that it was...