Return to Transcripts main page


Debate Over Immigration Could Lead to Government Shutdown; CNN Sources: Trump Lawyers Anticipate Mueller Interview Request; North Korea, South Korea Hold Rare Talks; Administration Officials Come to Defense of Trump's Mental Fitness. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: You have Trump saying, "If I don't get my wall, we're not going to do the DREAMers Act."

[05:59:27] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that we should be trading the lives of DREAMers for a wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope the Democrats will be willing to compromise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one thinks Mueller will wrap up the obstruction of justice probe without an interview with the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously, his lawyers are going to do everything they can to try to control this and limit the scope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they can constrain this interview, then they should do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touchdown! Alabama wins!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fantastic night for the University of Alabama. Couldn't be prouder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable. I dreamed about this.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I know you lost money on the game last night, but don't be upset. You know it was great.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Was it football? I really don't even know if it was football.

CUOMO: It was. It was football, college football.


CUOMO: And we'll talk about it a little bit in the Bleacher Report, but amazing human interest story for you. CAMEROTA: Oh, good.

CUOMO: A real freshman comes into the game, and he had never started a game the whole rest of the season. He comes in. They're down at the half. He winds up winning the game, becomes the MVP. True freshman.

CAMEROTA: I love it.

CUOMO: First game.

CAMEROTA: I can't wait to hear more about it.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, January 9, 6 a.m. here in New York. So here's our starting line.

In just a few hours, President Trump will meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to decide the fate of DREAMers, these hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants brought here as minors.

But, of course, there's a sticking point, and it's a big one, and it threatens keeping the government open.

Also, lawyers for President Trump anticipate a request from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to interview the president. CNN has learned that Mr. Trump's legal team is discussing ways to potentially limit the scope of that questioning.

CUOMO: All right. And with all that going on, the White House is insisting on fanning the flames of controversy whipped up by Michael Wolff's damaging book, specifically questions about President Trump's fitness. This comes as Wolff insists to CNN that 100 percent of the people around the president believe he is unfit for office, but Wolff admits he did not talk to any cabinet heads or the vice president.

There's also breaking news overseas. North Korea and South Korea are sitting down for rare talks at the border. Could it lead to the North talking about nuclear weapons, negotiating, actually coming to the table?

We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House with our top story.

Joe, what choice of imagery do you want to describe what's going on behind you? Is it the fog of war? Is it the warming up of relations between left and right, or is it just something going on with lighting? That does highlight your tie in a very fetching way.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Thanks. Honestly, I don't know what you call it, but you can't see a thing, quite frankly, Chris.

Look, this situation here at the White House could not be more dramatic. Members of Congress from both sides of the Capitol and both parties headed here to the White House to try to get a deal with the president on immigration. Hanging in the balance, the future of thousands of young people brought here to this country through no fault of their own, and a government shutdown potentially looming.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want the wall. The wall's going to happen or we're not going to have DACA.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump insisting that funding for a border wall will be part of any deal to protect the so-called DREAMers, a demand that threatens to upend negotiations over the must- pass spending Bill.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: We can't support a wall. We're not going to support a wall across America.

JOHNS: One source directly involved in talks tells CNN negotiations are a mess, with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn accusing Democrats of holding the budget deal hostage.

And Democrats arguing that the long and broad immigration policy wish list, released by the White House last week, has made chances for a deal harder.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake telling CNN he's prepared to tell the president at today's meeting that the DREAMers deal needs to be narrowly focused in order to reach an agreement.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think this is really going to be the inflection point where we get some things done or we don't.

JOHNS: Negotiations are under way on Capitol Hill as President Trump's lawyers gear up for a possible request from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to speak directly with the president as part of the Russia investigation. Sources tell CNN the subject has been broached in a previous meeting but has not been officially discussed.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: My view is that it will probably happen sometime this year.

JOHNS: The president's legal team has been preparing for this possibility for months, weighing how to define the parameters of a potential interview in a way that would limit the president's exposure. Mr. Trump is eager for the investigation to come to an end, and a source tells CNN that the expectation is that Mueller would not wrap up the probe without speaking to the president.

KEN STARR, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: He needs to, in order to round out, complete his investigation to come to a decision, he needs to look the president in the eye and ask the appropriate questions.

JOHNS: The Russia probe looming large over this White House as the administration struggles to shake questions about the president's mental fitness.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": So, do you think he's, like, really smart and a stable genius?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think this. If he doesn't call himself a genius, nobody else will.

In my view, he is my president, and he's doing a really good job on multiple fronts.

JOHNS: The president's allies continuing to call Michael Wolff, the author of the tell-all book "Fire and Fury," a liar.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think that it's OK to question the fitness of a sitting president of the United States?

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": I think -- I think it would be irresponsible not to. Of course. You cannot listen to this man talk without -- without at least contemplating the possibility that something is grievously amiss.


JOHNS: This morning, in the midst of questions about the president's fitness to serve, word from doctors that the president's physical examination later this week will not include a psychiatric examination.

We do expect to see the president after his meeting with members of Congress today. He's expected to sign an executive order aimed at helping veterans.

Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, we'll check in with you throughout the program to see if things get less murky where you are.

Let's bring in our CNN political analysts to discuss this. We have David Gregory and associate director for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard.

Great to see both of you.

Let me just put up on the screen who will be in this meeting with the president a few hours from now. As we can see, it is a big group that is trying to figure out a solution for the DREAMers. There are, by our count, 12 Republicans, eight Democrats.

David Gregory, possibly too many cooks in the kitchen.


CAMEROTA: This is not the narrow scope that Jeff Flake was hoping for.

GREGORY: Yes, no, this is not where a deal gets made. This is where there's a lot of posturing and where lines are drawn.

And, you know, there's a lot to factor in to this stand-off over a spending Bill that could result in a government shutdown. The bottom line for both sides, the president wants his border wall. Well, he's also wanted some resolution on DACA for children of undocumented immigrants. He has come out in favor of that, as well.

Nevertheless, I think he's going to really dig in on the wall. It was a key campaign promise. It's something that he'd love to give Republicans to campaign on in their seats in a very tough election year.

Nobody wants the government to shut down. I think Republicans in the White House want it less, because I think there's so much more to lose for the governing party. And Republicans are already in so much trouble, the president's approval rating, the generic ballot -- who would you like to run Congress? -- is in the Democrats' favor. So there's really a lot to lose.

What I'm looking for here is how each side could define a compromise and victory differently than we might think today. In other words, could a border wall be a border wall in a way that's different than what Donald Trump is thinking about?

CUOMO: All right. So the numbers are impressive. He's got people from both parties, A.B. But what does that suggest about the ability to get a deal done? You know, how much go versus show is there in this?

A.B. STODDARD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, again, I want to emphasize that Republicans and Democrats have been working together on this issue for months, which I think is very promising.

The president has gotten in the way with a last-minute laundry list of things that he wants to be in, starting with the wall, and these are deal breakers. So while they're willing to get to reforms to chain migration, changes to that set-up; possibly the end to the lottery system; some things that they can call visa reforms; things that they can call border security that use other assets besides the physical wall, I think that they're -- Democrats are coming to the table on that. It's not fair to say that they're not willing to give on the legalization of DREAMers and come up with a compromise.

They're saying that the president promised Mexico would pay for a wall, and they're not going to pony up $18 billion for a wall. Privately, Republicans from border states like Texas and Arizona oppose a wall. Many fiscal conservatives in the Republican conference in the House and Senate oppose a wall. The president has made this demand so suddenly. I mean, it was an old demand, but then he told Democratic leaders a few months ago he didn't need it in a deal. Now it's a new demand.

Because the message from Bannon and others were this was going to be perceived by your base as amnesty and a sellout. You're going to lose more seats in the midterms, potentially even in the Senate.

So this is a huge political fight, because the president is making it so. But actually, Democrats and Republicans were much further along in coming to a consensus than people understand. So it's really now a question of whether or not they have to set off this deadline and move this fight later. I don't think they're going to make it by a week from Friday.

CAMEROTA: This is what's so vexing. I mean, this is what's so vexing. You both talked about it. That they both want this. OK? Both sides want this. And maybe it's a question of semantics; maybe it's a question of saving face. Call it a virtual wall or, you know, call it border protection. Do something else so that they can find their way together -- David.

GREGORY: Well, and look, the tax cut Bill became a tax cut Bill and a success -- we'll see what the results are, but it became a legislative success because Congress really rode on this. They were really out front on this. If the president -- so as A.B. said, there's been negotiations on immigration. If the president comes in now to revive this promise, he does two things. He makes the negotiations maybe impossible, or at least more difficult.

[06:10:09] He's going to invite, then, a real debate about whether the wall is effective. And if you start digging deeper into that, the reason why there are border-state Republicans who are opposed to it, because there's every reason to be. There's no -- there's no evidence to suggest that, in a complicated issue like immigration and illegal immigration, that the wall is the answer.

I heard a congressman quoted in the paper this morning, talking about this is a 13th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. So that's what is going to be invited in this debate, is real scrutiny about whether the wall is actually going to work.

CUOMO: A.B., when you say everybody has been working on it, you know, reading through the list of all the different plans that are on the table -- there's so many. And that's always a little troubling. Because people start to get ownership of what the situation should look like.

But what are you getting in terms of the urgency of how many human lives are going to be affected here? We barely even talk about TPS. You know, you have 200,000 El Salvadorans who have just been told their life is going to have to change. They work; they own homes. They work in communities. They've had kids here. You know, we're not really talking about the human cost here, but how real is it in Washington, D.C.?

STODDARD: Oh, no. Listen, lawmakers in both parties, Chris, understand that this -- this news that 200,000 Salvadorans have lost protected status as of this week is actually just going to add to the urgency. And while you heard Republicans even days ago, definitely weeks ago before they went home for Christmas, saying, "We don't need to do a DACA deal with the spending Bill in January. We can push it off till March 5. It's not urgent. We have other matters to solve." They're not saying that anymore. Because this makes it all the more compelling and all the more urgent.

And that's why Democrats are now going to push this into the shutdown fight, and Republicans want this to go away. They do not want this issue on the table. They want to resolve it as soon as possible.

Yes, as you're right, there are many different proposals and coalitions, but they're all pretty much, you know, similar proposals; and they're going to get to a consensus if we can get past this wall question.

But definitely, the news of these Salvadorans who have been here since 2001, now facing deportation, is going to be a dramatic narrative that the Democrats are going to use throughout these negotiations, whether it's before next Friday or extending past next Friday. But I don't think Republicans want to push this off until March anymore.

CAMEROTA: OK, David. Next topic. All this obviously said against Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia. So CNN is reporting that President Trump's lawyers are expecting him to be called, of course, obviously, by Robert Mueller's team. We don't know when. But there's a whole bunch of negotiations in terms of what will that testimony look like? Will it be taped? Will it be under oath? Where will it happen? What will the scope of it be? So all of those things are already kind of being negotiated.

GREGORY: Right. And so if you're a lawyer for the president, the obvious thing is you want a narrow scope. And I think...

CUOMO: You want it not under oath.


CUOMO: That's what you want most.

CAMEROTA: Doesn't it have to be under oath?

CUOMO: There's no "have to." You know, Mueller could have him in just to have an advisory conversation with his investigators.


CUOMO: There are a lot of different ways to look at it. Technically, can't lie to the feds. It's a crime. But the closer to where you get towards where Bill Clinton wound up, in front of a grand jury, you know, which is obviously under oath, that starts to bring with it legal predicaments. So you want to avoid as much legality as possible in the interest of disclosure.

Sorry, David.

GREGORY: And President Clinton was actually subpoenaed, right? -- so by the grand jury...

CUOMO: Right.

GREGORY: ... which was the first time that that had happened. And that's not the case here.

But if you're representing President Trump, you want to know as much about what the questions are going to be. And I think there's real questions about how far afield, from their point of view, this might go. Would there be questions about the president's decision making, with regard to firing the FBI chief? We know that's going to be an area. All these contacts and meetings. What about financial transactions? What about things that have not really been a centerpiece, at least publicly, to this investigation? That would be your obvious worry here.

And from -- from the special prosecutor's point of view, what do you get out of this Trump interview? Is this the -- is this the end point or are there other witnesses to be interviewed?

When President Bush met with the special counsel in the Valerie Plame investigation, who was the CIA officer whose identity was revealed, there were witnesses after he spoke voluntarily to -- to the special prosecutor. So I think these are some of the issues at play now.

CAMEROTA: All right, guys. Stick around. We have many more questions for you on other topics. We'll be right back with it.

CUOMO: We have breaking news this morning. There's been a breakthrough in talks between North and South Korea, the North agreeing to send athletes and a high-level delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Will Ripley is live near the Korean DMZ. Will, high-level delegation. Could that, in any stretch of the imagination, mean the leader, Kim Jong-un?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. That's very unlikely to happen. Because to get Kim Jong-un to South Korea is a whole other matter, something that would likely happen way down the road if there were ever a presidential summit between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong- un.

But what you are going to see are athletes, a cheering squad, a Tae Kwon Do demonstration group, a performing arts corps, a visitors' group and even North Korea's sending its own press corps to cover the Olympics, so a sizeable delegation.

There have been four rounds of talks today. The fourth and final round is actually under way right now, just a few minutes from where we are here near the Demilitarized Zone that separates the North and the South.

And if you think about this, it's pretty remarkable what has transpired here. Twenty-four hours ago, very few people would have guessed that, in the span of just one day of discussions, North Korea would agree to send this delegation to the Olympics. They would float around the idea of possibly restarting the family reunions, the divided families on the Korean Peninsula. That could happen as soon as next month. And they reactivated a long dormant military hotline.

All of this seems to indicate that North Korea came to the table ready to make a deal, and in the short term it's certainly a win for them and a win for South Korea, which hopefully will get the peaceful Olympics that they're hoping for, without a North Korean provocation, such as a ballistic missile launch or a nuclear test.

But what's really important to keep in mind here is what's going to happen after the Olympics? Because just today, North Korean state media put out an article, saying that the United States needs to accept North Korea as a full-fledged nuclear power or face ruin. So despite all these warm and fuzzies, the nuclear issue persists, and it's not going to change any time soon, given the rhetoric from North Korea, despite these talks today -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Right. So many questions still, Will. It's great to have you there in the region. We'll check back.

The White House trying to silence the growing questions about President Trump's mental fitness. What is the White House now saying? We discuss that, next.



[06:20:26] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No one questions the mental stability of the president.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I've never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to question his mental fitness.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: President Trump is extremely capable.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The reality is, the president is a political genius.


CUOMO: All right. The Trump administration struggling to shake questions over the president's mental fitness. These concerns coming after the author of that bombshell book, "Fire and Fury," tells CNN that 100 percent of the people around the president believe he's unfit for office.

Discuss. We have David Gregory and A.B. Stoddard again. David, an important qualification on Michael Wolff's notion, is that he didn't speak to the people that we were just showing speaking now. The heads of the government, the heads of the cabinet, the vice president. Does that change the depth of the analysis?

GREGORY: Well, it certainly is worth knowing. And it impacts it. But there was widespread cooperation with Michael Wolff. And he says he's got the tapes to prove it.

CUOMO: And we know that from...


GREGORY: Right. And even Gorka is making it very clear that -- that people say cooperate. Nobody would have done that if the president wasn't on board. And again, I go back to the point that they're trashing Michael Wolff.

This is very much the swamp that Donald Trump, the citizen, swam in in New York, in tabloid journalism and all the rest. So I have no doubt that he invited Wolff in to capture the brilliance of the first year of his presidency and doesn't like some of what he's finding now.

Again, you can't -- Steve Bannon had scores to settle. We've said this every day. But he was a senior adviser to the president who was right there and was driving a lot of this policy. So, there's just no getting away from this.

And there is a united front now to say that he is mentally fit. But people can make up their own mind in terms of how the leader of the country behaves, how he reacts, particularly to criticism. And it tells you a lot, short of having to make some kind of clinical diagnosis.

CAMEROTA: Hey, A.B., I think it's an important distinction. I think it's important for readers and all of us to know that he's not counting cabinet heads when he says 100 percent of the people around the president whom he spoke to think that -- question the president's fitness. I think that that is important. That means White House staffers. Right? So they have, maybe, a different experience with the president than his cabinet heads and vice president. I think that's important.

But then you also -- there was a moment last night with Don Lemon -- Michael Wolff was on his show -- where Don Lemon said, "Then why are they all saying that they didn't invite you in? Why are they all saying you didn't have access?" Here's his answer.


MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": Bannon told people to cooperate. Sean Spicer told people to cooperate. Kellyanne Conway told people to cooperate. Hope Hicks.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So why are they saying it's fake?

WOLFF: Because they're liars. This is -- what are you talking about? This is Donald Trump. This is what he does. Day after day after day after day, incident after incident after incident, he doesn't tell the truth, because he doesn't know what the truth is.


CUOMO: So much for Michael Wolff, "Don't be so hard on the president."

CAMEROTA: That was what he used to say.

CUOMO: When he wanted access.

CAMEROTA: Right. Now, he's burnt the bridge.

CUOMO: Now that he got the access... CAMEROTA: Just threw, like, a grenade on the bridge behind him.

CUOMO: But proof of what you're -- you're proposing here is...


(SPEAKING NORMALLY) And I will give you his line. What does he call Michael Wolff? Gorka wrote this op-ed, where he basically admitted that he had been told to work with Michael Wolff, to give him access, which is exactly what Wolff says.

CAMEROTA: But he didn't want to, Sebastian Gorka says. Because he found, in his first meeting with Wolff, him to be an oleaginous scribe. Discuss.

STODDARD: Well, I think that -- I think it is telling that Gorka actually has revealed that they were required to talk to Michael Wolff. And there's the only homework of this -- the only consistency in this administration is inconsistency. People have said anecdotally, we learn that the president often will task someone with doing something and then later on, berate them for doing it.

So the idea that he probably invited Michael Wolff in, has now turned on everyone he encouraged to help Michael Wolff, whether it's Kellyanne Conway, or Sean Spicer or anybody else, and they're all getting upset, you know, pretending that they didn't actually really give him the access that they did makes perfect sense.

The other thing I would say is that the people in the West Wing spend far more intimate time with the president, many, many hours and close proximity to his decision making than the cabinet. I would make an exception for Vice President Pence there, who spends a lot of time with him. But I don't think the HUD secretary is really hanging out with him...


STODDARD: ... the way that other close advisers are.

CAMEROTA: That's interesting. So in other words, you think that their assessment of his mental fitness is actually more relevant than had Wolff spoken to cabinet members?

GERGEN: Well, right, but it's also who is spending the most time with him? you know, I mean Rex Tillerson has this arm's length relationship with him. He deals mostly with Jim Mattis and with the national security team. And he's -- he's called the president an expletive moron before.

So you've already seen these cracks out of the administration that give you insight into what people really think about the president. Now you have a book. Maybe it's overwritten. Maybe there's exaggeration. There could absolutely be things that are not true here.

But we know there was cooperation. You wouldn't have had him inside, doing these interviews without that. And in this White House, that only comes from the top. I guarantee it.

And you also then get confirmation of other things people say. So people who are with the president every day are making observations about him. I think all this talk about the 25th Amendment and his mental stability, that gets overwrought. Let's focus on -- on, you know, decision making, on how erratic he is, on how impulsive he is. That's the part of the impression that I think is most relevant, is most fact-based.

CUOMO: And you have something that cuts both ways. You have Rex Tillerson and the big shots. They're on record. They have to own what they say.

When you're being anonymous, that can lead to more honesty. It can also lead to dishonesty, because you know it's hard to track you, and you're trusting that journalist not to give you up.

But people who work day in, day out, who aren't worried about being exposed may well have the best insight. But David, I'll let A.B. finish on this point that David made. The idea that he is competent in capacity fitness, I don't know where that leads.

But the idea that there's a fact at play here that is just as important -- the president makes choices every day about what to engage in, what to make important. And very often, more often than not, I would suggest, they are in the interests of only himself, not of the agenda that he promised the American people, those who need help the most.

GERGEN: Yes, I mean, there's no question about it. I mean, I can't recall getting the president talking about that he's like a genius. First of all, using the word "like" superfluously is bothersome.

CUOMO: Showing some humility.

GERGEN: Yes, right. But you know, I mean, going on about his academic credentials, I mean, it's really -- it's really beyond the pale. Which goes to your point just how thin-skinned and obsessive he is.

CUOMO: A.B., last word to you.

STODDARD: Yes, I think that we don't have to weigh in on whether or not the president has some mental illness or not, people have already decided in 2015 that he didn't have the qualifications for this very stressful job of commander in chief. People expect the president of the United States to be focused, to be measured, to be judicious, to be statesman-like, to be empathetic and to be really curious and interested in this policy and in these crises he has to manage all the time.

The fact that the president has shown this erratic behavior and impulsive behavior and not interest and not focus in these matters have made people so concerned. So it's not really about whether or not he can remember stories. It's about whether or not he has the actual qualifications to focus on the job. CUOMO: I mean, look. Look at the wall. The wall matters to the

president. It was a signature of the campaign. It was a promise. Nobody who's doing this deal right now. All these bipartisan different plans they have, nobody else sees the wall as a precondition to improve them. Hundreds of thousands of lives on the line with DACA, hundreds of thousands of families and lives in line with TPS, but he wants that wall, and he'll hold everything up to get it. How's that about the American people?

CAMEROTA: Well, his base likes the wall. I mean, you know.

CUOMO: They like it, but do they see it as so important that their leader should put it before all those hundreds of thousands of lives? That's a political decision. It doesn't mean that you're insane. It's just what choices you make.


CUOMO: So anyway, starting tonight, "Cuomo Prime Time" returns at 9 p.m. Eastern. We're going to talk with former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. This is part of CNN's New Year's special programming. So we'll get after it, and I'll see you in the morning.

CAMEROTA: That will be very interesting to watch, I predict. Meanwhile...

CUOMO: I have a pillow right here.

CAMEROTA: OK. An epic finish in college football's national championship game that Chris promises I will love. Alabama staging a thrilling comeback in overtime, bringing home the title again. "The Bleacher Report," next.