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Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration's Plan to End DACA Program; Trump Brings Transparency to Key Immigration Meeting; Top Trump Advisers and Staff Weigh in Whether to Leave Admin; Fifteen Killed, Hundreds Awaiting Rescue in Montecito, California; Feinstein Defies GOP, Releases Fusion GPS Testimony; Bannon Steps Down From Post Amid "Fire And Fury" Fallout. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The president sticks to a bottom line demand for a wall after oscillating a lot in that meeting yesterday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The judicial order came overnight throwing things into turmoil just after the president's 55- minute public display of competency.

So what feat of strength and stability are in store for today? CNN's Joe Johns at the White House lets us start with the reaction to this court ruling which really came as a surprise and the timing, fascinating.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is fascinating, John. And it certainly adds a level of uncertainty to the tug-of-war over the Dreamers. It is only temporary and, by the way, the Justice Department -- the Trump Justice Department is standing by its assertion that the order for DACA that was put in by President Obama was essentially a circumvention of the powers of the United States Congress, and they say they will continue to litigate over this issue.

Very interesting also that the executive branch in this case is advocating for the powers of the legislative branch, but that's where we are.

We've got more of that on a statement from this ruling from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders this morning. Here's what it says. "We find this decision to be outrageous, especially in light of the president's successful bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members at the White House on the same day. An issue of this magnitude," she says, "must go through the normal legislative process," and adds that the president is committed to the rule of law, is going to work with members of both parties to reach a permanent solution that corrects the unconstitutional actions taken by the last administration.

So this fight apparently is going to go on and the ruling from the West Coast is only temporary -- John.

BERMAN: You know, Joe, it's interesting, Sarah Sanders says this meeting yesterday was successful. Successful in what? Do we now know what the president wants on immigration?

JOHNS: No, it's very muddy, it's very murky right now. As you might remember the president did seem to back off a bit from his -- what he said on the campaign trail about a wall all the way along the southwest border, suggesting there will be places where it's not needed, then he came back and tweeted something completely different.

But what we do know are the administration's priorities, that's enhancing border security, ending chain migration, ending the diversity visa process that he's talked so much about, and also protecting the Dreamers. So a big part of all of that is protecting the Dreamers, the president says, which is something Democrats say they want as well. The wall seems to be the big sticking point -- John.

HARLOW: It absolutely is. Joe Johns at the White House, thank you for that.

With us now is our national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey.

A few things to get through here. In this judge's ruling, a federal judge from California, rescinding DACA essentially, rescinding the Trump move on DACA, calling it arbitrary and capricious, also talking about what this judge deemed injury to the plaintiffs saying it is broad, it is sweeping across the United States, it's not just northern California.

What does this then mean for DACA? I mean, legally where does this thing go?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So this is just a preliminary injunction so it's sort of a first step that basically prevents the U.S. government, the executive branch from rescinding DACA while those underlying legal issues are actually litigated. So it's more of a pause.

The government will almost certainly appeal that preliminary injunction, right, so they might get the -- that temporary pause reversed in the near future. They also might win on the merits. So this is sort of the -- the legal effect here is certainly temporary and then of course the entire sort of legal question might be mooted if the legislature reaches a solution in the interim.

BERMAN: You bring up the legislature, it's a more political question than a legal question here is, but you can make a case that this removes the urgency as long as this judge's order is in place, it removes the urgency for Congress to do much of anything, because protection for Dreamers exist as of this second?

HENNESSEY: So I think that's one way to think about it, right, that this does prevent some of that pressure. The alternative read is that this is going to keep it in the headlines, right, so if there's going to be ongoing litigation, just like we saw in that travel ban, that Muslim ban litigation, every single time a new order was issued that was headline news. It really did sort of push this narrative that maybe the president would rather not be sort of a headliner front page news so it is possible that this might actually have the sort of opposite effect and then keep this front and center in a way that mounts more pressure on wanting ultimately to get a legislative solution and a certainty, you know, for these many of hundreds of thousands of individuals.


BERMAN: All right. Susan Hennessey, don't go far, we're going to come back to you in just a moment for some more legal advice.

In the meantime, joining us, CNN contributor Bianna Golodryga, CNN political analyst Matt Viser and political reporter for the "Washington Post," Amber Phillips.

[09:05:05] This meeting yesterday, it was remarkable. It was a victory for transparency. It was great to have cameras there. Let's have cameras in the Supreme Court soon. I'd love to see that.

HARLOW: Fifty-four minutes of cameras.

BERMAN: Beyond that, though, there are two key questions, right? What did it accomplish legislatively and what does it prove?

So, Bianna, let me start with you. What did it accomplish in terms of hammering out a deal for Dreamers? Are we any closer to a deal?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think one could argue that we're not. If anything, you see how far apart the two sides are. I think what you do see is a lot of ambiguity as to where the president stands. The president comes to the table saying I'll do anything for a deal. We'll make it work. And at times seems to align himself more with Democrats as we saw that exchange between him and Senator Feinstein.

And then you see Kevin McCarthy saying, no, no, you don't understand, I don't think, Mr. President, what Senator Feinstein is saying, she wants a clean DACA bill, he says, oh no, no, I do understand what she's saying.


GOLODRYGA: So I think the takeaway was a bit more confusion but you see the president obviously wanting to show that he is mentally sound, I think. The timing can't be ignored. But also the fact that the president really wants a deal.

HARLOW: Let's listen to that exchange. Let's play it.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'd like to ask a question, what about a clean DACA bill now with the commitment that we go into a comprehensive immigration reform procedure?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's basically what Dick is saying. We're going to come up with DACA. We're going to do DACA. And then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive --


TRUMP: Yes, I would like -- I would like that.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, you need to be clear, though. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACA, we don't want to be back here two years later. You have to have security as the secretary would tell you.

TRUMP: But I think that's what she said.


MCCARTHY: No, no, no, I think she's saying something different.


HARLOW: Matt, to you, I mean, Kevin McCarthy said, you need to be clear here, Mr. President, and we know from our Jeff Zeleny's reporting that the goal of this meeting was, of course, getting something done legislatively, but also according to our Jeff Zeleny for the president to grab the microphone and also for him to clearly display his competency, grasp of the issue after his mental fitness was called into question by Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury."

Did he do that?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and you could see that on display right there. You know, this idea of the president kind of being on different sides. And we should note, too, that a portion of that was not included in the White House transcript of that meeting.

BERMAN: Right.

VISER: So, which, you know, kudos to them for opening this up and giving us a window into how President Trump operates, but they should also be honest in sort of how they distribute transcripts. But you could see on display President Trump and his lack of knowledge on some of the policy details and some of the intricacies of immigration policy, which these senators and members of Congress have been involved with for a long time.

So you saw them sort of Republicans step in, but everybody left the meeting unclear of where President Trump actually is on this, which is kind of what the whole meeting was about, was to get some clarity on how to proceed particularly on the more imminent question of the DACA situation and they left the meeting with more muddle over how to proceed.

BERMAN: It's no small thing, right? The clean DACA question is no small thing. It's not an ancillary part of the discussion.

HARLOW: Huge thing. BERMAN: It's the central part of the discussion, Amber. And the

president, you know, he had to have Kevin McCarthy basically tell him what he thought, no, no, Mr. President, that's not what you think. This is what you actually think on that issue here. It was a remarkable moment and maybe counter to what the White House was trying to display.

The other theme that Matt gets to here, Amber, though, is the idea that the president, you know, expressed that he has no view on any of it. He said I'll sign what you all bring to me in this room even if I don't love it. That, too, a very interesting stance.

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, interesting and also a problem for Congress and for the president who wants to pass his agenda. The prevailing wisdom among members of Congress is that the president will say -- when you are in a meeting with him -- what he thinks you want to hear and then days or a couple of weeks later take renege on that on Twitter. He did that with Lamar Alexander on Obamacare compromise. He did that with Democrats when they dined with them last fall to talk about Dreamers.

And the bottom line is, a year into his presidency Trump doesn't really have a working relationship with Congress. They have had to figure out how to work around him and not with him. And I think yesterday's meeting demonstrated why, is he doesn't have a grasp on the issues or know what he wants from those issues even if he understood him. I don't see how the president tries to leverage Congress to get what he wants going forward if they can't trust his word.

HARLOW: Let's switch gears here, guys, because our reporting -- some new reporting is that White House aides and some really high-ranking folks inside the Cabinet, inside the White House have been told to make your decision by the end of the month about whether you're going to stay this year or you're going to leave.

[09:10:08] And our Jeff Zeleny is reporting that that includes two big names, General McMaster and also Don McGahn, the White House counsel. Now he's not saying that they are going to leave but that it is at least an open question at this point in time.

Bianna, if they left, what impact would that be and just the fact that General Kelly, chief of staff, has to say tell me by the end of the month if you're staying?

GOLODRYGA: Well, Don McGahn has been mired in the Russia investigation since Flynn left office so the early days of this administration so I'm not sure how much weight he actually carries now or how much he brings to the table as far as getting past the Russia investigation, which clearly the presidents wants to do.

McMaster is a different element. McMaster is a huge part of this administration's foreign policy initiative. For better or worse, he's held on to some of the conventional foreign policy views this country has had towards North Korea and towards Iran what have you. And aside from just these big names leaving, I think a bigger question is the vacuum that it holds because you don't have a huge bench who is going to come in and fill these spots.

I haven't heard a name that could replace General McMaster. He and the president haven't seen eye to eye on many issues, but for better or worse he's held on to at least some stability when it comes to this nation's foreign policy.

BERMAN: It's an interesting point. You use the word vacuum. And there are those making the case that a vacuum already exists in the White House because there are jobs that are not filled, that they can't fill.

HARLOW: That's true.

BERMAN: All right, Doug Heye, our friend Doug Heye who worked for Republicans for a long time said there are still a lot of people who have said they're unwilling to work in the White House and there are a lot of people in the White House is unwilling to have come in.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: So, Matt, is there anything that could change that problem?

VISER: I mean, I think that is the question, is how do you fill these types of positions when there's been such turnover and turmoil in this first year. You think about the cast of characters that were around the president at the start of the administration and most of those people have left. And so I think heading into this second year, and into a pretty important year ahead of the midterms, how they fill those positions, because as Doug eludes to and as we hear all around Washington, people being approached and declining.

They don't want -- they're not interested in working for the White House, so how they fill those positions that open up and those that are still vacant, there's a lot of vacancies as John eluded to, not only in the White House but in the State Department and other various aspects of government that they are having trouble recruiting for.


GOLODRYGA: And that itself -- I don't mean to interrupt -- is stunning. I mean, what other White House would you actually see it as a liability to take a job for?

HARLOW: That's a great point.

GOLODRYGA: In fact that would be a great thing to add to your resume, right? You would have job offers from anybody outside of the White House after you serve this administration. Here people view it as a true liability.

HARLOW: Final though, Amber.

PHILLIPS: Yes. I think like any job you weigh the pros and cons, and the Trump administration right now has a lot of cons for working for them. According to Republicans who've been approached not considering it. It's in turmoil, it's historically unpopular, they don't seem to know where they're going, and the additional legal and financial implications if you work for this White House and Robert Mueller wants to talk to you. You've got to lawyer up and pay that out of your own pocket. Right now the cons are outweighing a lot of pros for Republicans.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you. Amber, Bianna, Matt, we appreciate it.

BERMAN: We have breaking news to report. Hundreds of people waiting to be rescued this morning in California. The deadly mudslides, the flash floods. They've already killed 15 people. Remarkable images. Three hundred people are stuck in their homes and rescuers cannot get to them. It is so bad officials say they have no idea how many people might be missing.

Paul Vercammen in Montecito. Paul, what can you tell us? What's the latest?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you pointed out, they don't know how many people are missing so there's active search and rescue still going on. This is what they are reckoning with. An unimaginable in some ways debris flow.

Look behind me. Wood mixed with trees, mixed with parts of windows, brick, houses, sofa. These houses side by side about a mile north of the ocean here in Montecito.

As you pointed out, John, in another part to the northeast of me is Romero Canyon, and first responders saying that these people sheltered in place because nobody could get to them because of enormous boulders.

And as we've seen time and time again, these trees that just seem to cause huge barriers, walls, if you will, so when that sun comes up they are going to start at daybreak rescuing or taking out people via helicopter.

It's been an amazing thing to see in person, not far from me is the major artery, the 101 Freeway. It's completely shut down. Mud, cars stopped, surf boards, everything mixed together here.

Just a little bit to the north of me, this water came cascading off the ashy denuded hillsides.

[09:15:00] It was almost as if it hit a slip and slide straight down and over ran a creek and then turned streets into rivers. A little further up the road, houses completely ripped off their foundation and that's some of what we are seeing right here. Back to you now, John, Poppy.

HARLOW: Paul Vercammen, thank you. Those images are stunning. Please bring us more as the sun comes up.

We have a lot ahead, including the president sending a message on DACA, making it clear that they are going to take this up to the higher courts. Also, the president, he will take your website, radio show and your tv gig you didn't have yet, that is certainly how it seems as Steve Bannon is out now at Breitbart. What message does it send to anyone who might cross the president?

Also, did the congressional investigations into Russian meddling just implode. New questions this morning. A new outrage over the release of a closed-door testimony -- ten hours of testimony about that dossier.

BERMAN: Does protecting the environment only matter in red states? The White House says it's OK to drill for oil off the U.S. coast, just not the Florida coast after the Republican governor of Florida cries foul.



HARLOW: New this morning, the president's personal lawyer is suing over the Trump Russia dossier. Michael Cohen is arguing that "Buzzfeed," which published that entire dossier and Fusion GPS, the group that commissioned it defamed him.

BERMAN: The lawsuit comes just hours after the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Diane Feinstein, she defied the committee chair released the transcript, the entire transcript of the Fusion GPS co- founder's testimony.

CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill. And that release fell like a ton of bricks up there where you are -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, it infuriated Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the committee, who said by doing this it would undermine the investigation going forward.

Now according to this transcript from this August with Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of that firm, Fusion GPS, he discussed and defended his decision to hire that British agent, former British spy, Christopher Steele, to investigate then-Candidate Trump's business background.

And according to Mr. Simpson, Mr. Steele was so alarmed of what he found out about contacts between Russia and Trump associates and all the like that he had to go to the FBI to inform the FBI about what he found back in the summer of 2016.

According to this transcript, Simpson says this, "Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat, and he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in the government, in our government about this information.

He thought from his perspective there was a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed." Now, in addition to this, Simpson also testified that someone in the FBI had essentially believed what Steele was saying because of an inside source, a Trump campaign source, who had been giving them similar information.

Now we have since learned that that source referred to how an Australian diplomat passed information about that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, and discussions that he was having with the Russians.

And of course, Papadopoulos since then has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those contacts with the Russians. Now, at the same time, both Republicans and Democrats on the committee are reacting to the release of this transcript with one Democrat, Chris Coons, telling me yesterday that this could effectively end this bipartisan investigation going forward.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think it's really unfortunate that the majority and minority on the Judiciary Committee really have come to an impasse in terms of being able to make progress. I think in some ways this is the signal the end of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate Judiciary Committee.


RAJU: Now Democrats were also concerned, though, of the (inaudible) decision by the Republican grassroots to go after Christopher Steele. Steele according to two senior Republicans on that committee may have lied to the FBI about his contacts with the news media back in 2016, and they are asking the Justice Department to investigate that.

HARLOW: Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks for the reporting. We appreciate it.

Susan Hennessey back with us. Susan, as you have gone through this transcript, what is your main takeaway in terms of what open questions does it leave, and what holes, what blanks does it fill in?

HENNESSEY: Right. So, we should keep in mind that any of the substantive representations about what Glenn Simpson said about what people told him, that's all hearsay, it's kind of like the dossier itself.

It's (inaudible) rumors so there is not much in terms of new information. What is pretty apparent and sort of strikingly apparent in those transcripts is the extent to which the congressional committees are really -- sort of conducting two entirely separate investigations.

Sort of whenever Senator Coons points to that sort of lack of bipartisan consensus. That really is born out into two entirely different lines of questioning, but the Democrats really focused on the substantive issues and the Republicans more concerned about the use of this dossier and potential misuse by the FBI.

BERMAN: Yes. And Simpson tries to make clear that his mind was that Christopher Steele went to the FBI only after he had concerns from the investigation that he had uncovered. Susan, you bring up the congressional committees. Are they broken right now?

We heard Senator Coons of Delaware say the Judiciary Committee investigation he thinks is basically done because the committee chair and the ranking member are at an impasse. We know House Intel is in a mess. Where does that leave the state of Congress caring about Russian meddling?

HENNESSEY: Yes. So, really, what we have seen one by one is that in various committees, in both of the House and the Senate, initially there was bipartisan commitments to have an investigation sort of to get to the bottom of things.

We saw that sort of in early January and February. One by one they sort of have fallen apart. So, we've seen tremendous part of (inaudible). That doesn't occur to be a tremendously functional investigation may be coming to a close soon.

[09:25:06] Now, we are seeing the Senate Judiciary investigation also sort of falling by the way -- sort of that partisanship. You know, really the last man standing here is the SSCI. They continue to sort of try their best to maintain that sort of partisan cooperation in a sense of hey, look, our job is to get to the bottom of this to inform the American people, you know.

We will see what happens if these other -- it appears the partisanship and the other committees has actually unified the SSCI and they are sort of committed to trying to have the last man standing here. You know, clearly, if these two investigations in the House and the Judiciary Committee go away, whether or not the SSCI will start to show cracks as well.

BERMAN: The Senate Select Committee on the intelligence is the SSCI just so our viewers know.

HARLOW: But Susan, do you think there's merit to Chairman Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to his argument that, you know, a big reason why he didn't want this transcript of Glenn Simpson's testimony released because he said that will make it more difficult to bring other witnesses, maybe key witnesses like Jared Kushner, before the committee voluntarily?

HENNESSEY: It's certainly unusual for a vice chairman like Dianne Feinstein to unilaterally make a transcript public. That said, Grassley sort of objections here don't really ring true. It is possible for a witness to decide in advance that they want the transcript to be made public.

That was a condition that Carter Page made, Eric Prince before his series of interviews. So, in this case, Simpson was actually calling for the transcripts to be released and he was doing so after he felt like the majority had mischaracterized the nature of that engagement and his statements.

So, whenever Grassley says this is going to make it harder to bring in witnesses in the future, usually we do have those kinds of concerns. The idea being if you agree to keep something private and then release the transcripts over a witness's objection, what future witness is going to come in and cooperate voluntarily.

In this case, the witness himself is actually asking for the transcript to be made public. So, how that would affect somebody like Jared Kushner thinking moving forward, it's pretty difficult to understand the logic.

BERMAN: Quickly, Susan, Michael Cohen suing "Buzzfeed" for releasing the dossier. Does he have any legal ground to stand on here? In fact, does he have a pretty high burden to disprove all of the claims inside the dossier?

HENNESSEY: Well, certainly, the New York state does impose that actual malice standard that is an overwhelmingly high standard so it's going to be a difficult case. That said, you know, "Buzzfeed" did make a decision that most other media organizations -- all other media organizations decided not to, right?

There was a reason why lots and lots of news outlets had that dossier and decided not to publish it. Concerns about potentially facing defamation suits were certainly part of that. So, this is a very high standard, however, that was a really controversial decision to publish this dossier and we will see what happens.

One of the most interesting things will be that now "Buzzfeed" actually gets discovery. So, Michael Cohen is going to have to produce documentation, potentially communications with the president.

BERMAN: If it goes that far. Susan Hennessey, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

New developments in morning in the ongoing odyssey of Steve Bannon. The president's one-time chief strategist -- that feels like a long time ago, pushed out, stepped down from his post at Breitbart after the very public feud, the rift with the president.

HARLOW: The relationship has been unraveling for a while, but it really unraveled last week with the release of the book "Fire and Fury." In it, Bannon is quoted as saying he lost it, about the president, and taking aim at the president's family members.

Our Oliver Darcy is in Washington with more. Look, I mean, this shows us, right, what happens, can happen when you cross the president.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right. I don't think that Bannon quite realized exactly what he had done when he made those comments to Wolff, but he certainly orchestrated his demise quite nicely. I told you last week that there were three things Bannon had going for him, and one was his proximity to the president, he lost that.

The other one was the backing of the mercer family, mega donors, who were funding his endeavors and he lost that, and now the one thing he had remaining was a perch at Breitbart News, which he could use as a vessel to really get his message out to the American people, and he's now lost that. So, it's really unclear exactly, you know, what he has going forward to stay relevant in politics, actually.

BERMAN: It's even more than that. My understanding, Oliver, right, is that Sirius XM cancelled his radio show, and Fox News puts out a statement saying we are not going to hire Steve Bannon as if, you know, anyone asked them, just to prove the point that he's persona non-grata right there. So, what does a Steve Bannon, without a home do, what does he do?

DARCY: That's really just not clear. I think he -- people talking to him might say that, you know, he is still going to articulate his message and try fighting some stuff on immigration moving forward, but it's not clear what he is going to do and I think this is also a big change for Breitbart, right? Breitbart over the last years has been defined by --