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NEW DAY

Interview with Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] KELLI WARD, (R) ARIZONA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm so proud to have Senator Rand Paul on my team. I've also had endorsements from people like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And Steve Bannon.

WARD: And Steve Bannon, I don't know that I actually really got a full endorsement from Steve --

CAMEROTA: I think you were his candidate.

WARD: No, actually, I think that my message resonated with the things that Donald Trump said on the campaign trail, the America first agenda that actually began way back in 2010 with the Tea Party movement.

CAMEROTA: Hold on one second. I'm only looking at your press release where you say Ward has received national endorsements from Rand Paul, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Dick Morris, and Steve Bannon. So that's where I'm getting my information.

WARD: Yes, but he was never part of my campaign, he was never an adviser. He's not somebody that I've reached out and talked to in any way, shape, or form. So it's funny that you and especially the establishment would love to tie me to Steve Bannon --

CAMEROTA: Your press release ties you to Steve Bannon. But why are you distancing yourself now from Steve Bannon?

WARD: I am distancing myself from Steve Bannon. He's made some significant mistakes, significant gaffes that are unacceptable to me. I support the president. I support the president's family, and I support the will of the American people and the people of Arizona who want the America first policies to be put in place.

That's what I'm running on and that's why the people of Arizona are so excited to have a candidate like me. My campaign is strong. My team is amazing. My grassroots support across the state of Arizona is second to none. And that's why we're going to win this election in August, November, and then get to Washington and do the job.

CAMEROTA: Kelli Ward, thank you very much for laying all that out for us. Nice to have you on NEW DAY.

WARD: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's works.

CAMEROTA: As the president would say, welcome back to the studio.

CUOMO: Except this actually is a studio and not a briefing room.

CAMEROTA: Is it? All right, it's Thursday, January 11th, 8:00 in the east. President Trump is airing his grievances on the Russia investigation in public comments and in tweets. The president is refusing now to commit to giving an interview to special counsel Robert Mueller. Just last June the president said he would be 100 percent willing to tell Mueller under oath his reason for firing James Comey. The president also repeating his no collusion defense eight separate times yesterday.

CUOMO: Saying that it has been determined that there's no collusion. And that's just not true.

Meantime, 14 months after the election, the president can't stop talking or tweeting about Hillary Clinton. The president brought her name up three times during a White House news conference just yesterday and he's tweeting about her this morning. That said, a top White House aide is blaming us for forcing them to think and talk about Hillary Clinton. We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. The president clearly frustrated this morning, making contradictory assertions, suggesting an interview with the special counsel in the Russia investigation is an open question, while continuing to repeat his mantra that there was no collusion, raising questions of why he wouldn't want to sit down with the special counsel and answer questions if there's nothing there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: President Trump refusing to commit to a possible interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly I'll see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.

JOHNS: His remarks markedly different than this response last June after firing FBI Director James Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of events?

TRUMP: One-hundred percent.

JOHNS: The president again calling the Russia investigation a Democrat hoax and repeating this familiar defense eight times.

TRUMP: There has been no collusion. There's no collusion. I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion.

JOHNS: Mueller and congressional investigators have not reached any conclusions in their Russia probes, but Mueller has obtained guilty pleas from two former Trump campaign advisers for lying to the FBI about their conversations with Russians and two others have been indicted. Earlier in the day President Trump encouraging the GOP to take control of the investigation despite the fact that Republicans already are in control of all three Congressional probes and the Justice Department.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don't intend to have a discussion with the president on that point, and I hope he doesn't call me and tell me the same thing that you said he said.

JOHNS: It comes after the president criticized Senator Dianne Feinstein, calling her sneaky for releasing the transcript of the Judiciary Committee's interview with the head of Fusion GPS, the firm behind the now infamous Russian dossier, without telling her Republican counterpart.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) RANKING MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He tends to call people names very quickly, so I'm not alone. The one regret I have is that I should have spoken with Senator Grassley before.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump responding to negative media coverage by vowing to make it easier for people to sue news organizations.

TRUMP: We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws. Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace.

JOHNS: The president also insisting there will be no deal on the DREAMers without a wall after sending mixed messages the day before.

TRUMP: It's got to include the wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety. We need the wall for stopping the drugs from pouring in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And the president has spent some time this morning tweeting about the dossier and, in fact, on Capitol Hill, the fact that the House of Representatives is expected to vote on extending government surveillance powers in the FISA act. Here is the president's tweets, "House votes on controversial FISA Act today. This is the act that may have been used with the help of discredited and phony dossier to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by the previous investigation and others." Important because his administration supports passage of those FISA amendments today but the president sounds like he may be opposed, though it's not quite clear.

A second tweet this morning also referring to the dossier. It reads, "disproven and paid for by Democrats, dossier used to spy on Trump campaign, Did FBI use Intel tool to influence the election? Did Dems or Clinton also pay Russians? Where are hidden and smashed DNC servers? Where are crooked Hillary e-mails? What a mess."

And with that, Alisyn and Chris, I'll throw it back to you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for tossing that hot potato back in our lap, Joe. That will take a half-an-hour for us to fact check, OK, but thanks. We'll start right now.

Doing that, let's bring in reporter and editor at large for CNN politics Chris Cillizza and senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight Perry Bacon. Great to have both of you. So let's dispense for a moment with the factual errors that were in those different presidential tweets and let's just get to Perry first. The president brought up Hillary Clinton three times yesterday and he is tweeting about her this morning, and so obviously he's staging a diversion. And I guess the question is, is it working?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Just think about how many times president Obama brought up Mitt Romney in 2013 or George W. Bush brought up John Kerry in 2005. Almost never. This is a very unusual thing. I think the broader issue is this is a distraction. He's trying to argue essentially that Trump is being investigated by Mueller and by the media to some extent as well, and I think he just wants to say Hillary did it too, Hillary should be investigated too. That's the whole strategy here is to really suggest there's two scandals, a Hillary scandal and a Trump scandal as opposed to just their being one Russia scandal.

CUOMO: Perry, appreciate it. Let's get some context here for you, Chris Cillizza.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: OK.

CUOMO: We'll start with Trump. Here's President Trump yesterday and what he decided to speak about unsolicited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hillary, my opponent, Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn't sworn in. Hillary was not for a strong military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: He was not asked about Hillary Clinton. Why does that matter? Because of what Kellyanne says here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I was the campaign manager for the winning part of the campaign, and the idea that we would have to look any further than Hillary Clinton to beat Hillary Clinton itself is a fantasy. I didn't need to talk to anybody in Moscow. I was talking to people in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and in Macomb County, Michigan. There's no reason to have gone anywhere outside of Hillary Clinton and how unattractive her policies were, how lacking in vision and connective tissue with the forgotten men and forgotten women she was. We beat her fairly and squarely in this country through this democratic elective process. So many people still can't get over the election results.

CUOMO: Says my friend who can't keep Hillary Clinton's name out of her mouth.

CONWAY: Hold on. Excuse me. I'll make you a deal, Chris. I'll never talk about her again but then you can't talk about the 2016 election --

CUOMO: I'm not.

CONWAY: She lost that election.

CUOMO: I haven't mentioned the election once.

CONWAY: The reason she's talking about it --

CUOMO: I haven't mentioned the election once. And I never do, because Russian interference matters, and it doesn't delegitimize the president's victory. You guys are frozen in that moment. That's why you bring up Hillary Clinton.

CONWAY: That's just not true. We don't care about her. Nobody here talks about her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: I agree with me.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: And then Kellyanne tweeted this this morning just to put a finer point on it. Hey, when we are forced to think or talk about HRC it's because you and your colleagues can't let go of an election she/you lost. Sad.

[10:00:06] CAMEROTA: I think she had a ghostwriter for the "sad."

CUOMO: That word has been ruined, by the way. "Proven further by after a 30 minute interview about policy and accomplishments, HRC is all you and others can say." I never brought up Hillary Clinton. I never brought up the election. There is an intentional conflation by the White House. Cillizza, the question for you is, where does it get them? Look, they can abuse the truth all they want. I don't know how that helps them but how does this distraction help them?

CILLIZZA: I don't think it does. Again, I always return to this. I think our tendency because other presidencies have operated under a strategic and narrative arc is to assume that this presidency is like those. I just don't see any evidence of it. Why is he talking about Hillary Clinton today? Because he is. I mean, I know that that's sort of obvious, but I don't know that there's anything beyond what he thinks and says and tweets at that moment and the reaction within the White House as they try to justify it. The logical fallacy on display between the Norwegian prime minister press conference, Kellyanne's interview with a handsome Italian man last night, and then Donald Trump's tweets this morning, huh? Huh? I mean, it doesn't -- it does not compute.

CAMEROTA: I feel bad for people transcribing this show.

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: It just doesn't compute, and that's the problem. I think our tendency always, always, always is to assume that there's a strategy here, and I think there is a person at the center who says and does things, and then the whole rest of that White House and us react to it. There is no good reason other than maybe firing up his base, but I think they're already with him to talk about Hillary Clinton.

CAMEROTA: Perry, listen, what they want us to talk about, and we know this from Kellyanne's tweets, she wants us to talk about the tax cuts. Obviously we've devoted hours and hours and hours to the Republican tax plan. We talked about it all the time as it was happening and being voted on. She wants us to talk about --

CUOMO: The interdict plan to fight opioids which we did talk about last night. We talk about opioids often.

CAMEROTA: OK, good. I think we should do a segment on that. Let's do that tomorrow.

CUOMO: Sure.

CAMEROTA: She wants us to talk about -- oh, the stock market. And we have Christine Romans on all the time to talk about the stock market and the jobs reports and everything. But today in the news is that President Trump yesterday changed his course and no longer said that he would 100 percent be interviewed by Bob Mueller. So this week the news is that Bob Mueller -- the president's lawyers are preparing for an interview for the president with Bob Mueller, and then yesterday the president says something to the effect of, I'm not so sure that I'm going to do that. So that's what -- the news is that we are talking about it, Perry.

BACON: And this is big news because Donald Trump said I will talk to Mueller back in July I think. And that seemed to be an indication that he had nothing to hide. Now as we get closer to Mueller actually wanting to talk to him, Donald Trump is like, no, no, no, no. And that does not make him look particularly innocent.

So to think about this two ways, legally it makes a lot of sense not to want to talk to a special prosecutor who may be looking at and investigating you for a crime, but politically this kind of flip-flop is going to only heighten the Russia investigation and make people think that Trump has something to hide, isn't telling the truth, he doesn't want to be candid. I think this is a really challenging political moment for him on an issue that already has dogged his presidency.

CUOMO: Look, it's also him getting in his own way on a very important issue, Chris Cillizza. It is inherently by definition and intention divisive. When you attack the truth, when you try to say it's not about him, it's about Hillary Clinton, this is political, Fusion GPS, the dossier, Mueller, the FBI, the DOJ, they're all set up against him, you are dividing this country. And doesn't it defeat his ability to turn around or any of his supporters or counselors and say he wants to unify. How, when everything he seems to be doing on these issues is calculated to do the opposite?

CILLIZZA: So look at that Tuesday immigration meeting which I think he was rightly praised for at least doing, right, a 55-minute open press conversation.

CUOMO: Great move.

CILLIZZA: There were some contradictions in there, but by and large he presented himself as I think the best possible outcome for a Donald Trump presidency which is sort of a non-ideological dealmaker, someone who just wants people to find a way to find common ground.

[08:15:02] So, yesterday, he calls a U.S. senator "sneaky" and he doesn't answer the question about Mueller and he talks about Hillary Clinton and in the course of one answer, he uses the phrase "no collusion" seven times, and not any collusion once.

Again, day to day presidency, what he says today is not indicative of tomorrow. What he said yesterday does not tell us about today.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The irony, he is protected by the same standard he wants to attack right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: In terms of libel.

CUOMO: Reckless disregard of the truth.

CILLIZZA: The truth.

CUOMO: That is a standard the president should pay attention to.

CAMEROTA: OK. Perry, Chris Cillizza, Perry Bacon, thank you both very much for being here.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So, in other news, the president is urging Republicans to take control of the Russia investigations. What does that mean, because the GOP already by definition does control all of the investigations, so what does he mean?

We're going to ask a Republican senator, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: President Trump telling Republicans to take control of the Russia investigation most recently in a tweet.

The single greatest witch hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion. Everybody, including the Dems knows there was no collusion, and yet on and on it goes. Russia and the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control.

[08:20:00] Just for the sake of fact, Republicans are in control of every aspect of Congress's Russia investigation and the special counsel and the Department of Justice.

Let's discuss this and many other important issues. Republican Senator Rob Portman, he serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Portman, I haven't seen you since the New Year. Happy New Year, sir. Blessings to you and your family.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Chris, happy New Year to you. And congratulations on your show last night. I thought you did a great job in being objective talking about some of the issues.

CUOMO: Oh, thank you, Senator.

You're dealing with some really big issues yourself, Sex Trafficking Awareness Day is today, integral to your agenda. Opioids, the (INAUDIBLE) program with the president, you're battling on your own state, big issues. We will discuss.

Help me check some of the politics boxes here for us as well. Republicans should take control of the investigation, what does the president mean?

PORTMAN: You have to ask him.

I do think we have a serious and bipartisan investigation here on the Hill that's going to be successful to getting to the bottom of what happened. That's in the Senate Intelligence Committee. I know less about the House Intelligence Committee investigation.

I'm confident that Chairman Richard Burr and Ranking Member Mark Warner are doing a good job. I've had an opportunity to speak with them about their ongoing work. And I think we got to let Mueller get to the bottom of it, too.

As you know, you mentioned I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee for years. I've been concerned about Russia's interference, particularly in democracies around the world and meddling in our own election. It's not new. They've been doing it for a while. They did it before Donald Trump. They'll be doing it after Donald Trump unless we make some changes.

So, I think it's a serious issue. There was a report issued this week about some of the meddling in European elections, in Eastern European countries. It's trying to increase uncertainty and instability in these democracies and it needs to be addressed. CUOMO: Are you concerned that the president seems to disagree with

you, thinks it's not serious, thinks it's a witch hunt and now says he doesn't know if he'll sit down with Bob Mueller?

PORTMAN: Well, I think he's focused more on the issue of his campaign and the issue of collusion. I don't think he disagrees with the fact that the Russians have been meddling --

CUOMO: Do you know that?

PORTMAN: -- not just in our elections but in other elections as well.

CUOMO: Because he doesn't say it. That's why I asked you for clarification.

PORTMAN: Well, look, I think the facts are pretty clear and I think they're very clear in fact, and I know that he and his team are concerned about what the Russians are doing -- again, not just in this country but in other countries.

CUOMO: OK. Let me ask you something else. Immigration, very important issue. We need to see if there could be a compromise. Both sides are digging in. The wall is a big issue.

Do you know what the president means by a wall?

PORTMAN: I think I do. And if you look at his latest proposal he sent to Congress just a week or so ago, it included some additional fencing and wall. It also included more border security in terms of personnel and technology, all of which I think is appropriate and I think most Democrats do as well.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: But there's confusion though because you hear so many Democrats and some Republicans saying, yes, that's what he means, what you just said. That wall is now a metaphor. It means the type of security you need based on a context and condition.

But then the president comes out and says, no, it's a wall. We have to build the wall. And that was obviously his signature promise. So do you think it is no longer this 30-foot-tall bricks and mortar border that he can build in one year for a certain budget of certain billions of dollars, do you think it's actually changed? Or is it still unclear?

PORTMAN: I think it's what he talked about the other day --

CUOMO: OK.

PORTMAN: -- you know, when he brought the media in for a 45-minute discussion with Republicans and Democrats alike, and he talked about the need to extend existing fences and walls.

As I looked at the map, Chris, it's about 350 additional miles of additional fencing or wall over 2,000-mile border. This would be mostly in suburban and urban areas where you do have a big issue, not just with immigration but obviously, one of the issues I care a lot about is the drug issue. We do have very little enforcement right now along the border in terms of stopping heroin and increasingly fentanyl, much which comes from China but then it comes over from Mexico.

CUOMO: But you know that's a wall -- I don't have to tell you this. Everybody should know Senator Portman is as read in on anyone when it comes to opioids and what we're dealing with and why.

You do know that we are not a wall away in any form from stopping the movement of drugs. Most of it is coming through legitimate points of entry. It's coming through tunnels --

PORTMAN: That's correct.

CUOMO: -- with fentanyl. This is high grade pharmaceuticals. It's coming by cargo carrier. We're not a wall away from stopping that problem.

PORTMAN: No, but it would help. It also actually would help in terms of the other issue we're going to talk about in a moment which is trafficking.

CUOMO: Yes.

PORTMAN: And this is something that we're focusing on this month, the Human Trafficking Month. Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. So, it would help.

I think that's where we're headed as a country, is a way to have a more secure border. If you just have a wall and don't have the personnel to respond when it's breached, it's not very effective. In some areas, as you say, it's more effective to have technology.

[08:25:04] I think it's a combination of those things. But I think the commitment the president made in the campaign, which I think most Americans agree with is you got to have a secure border, particularly our southern border.

CUOMO: Well, his commitment was an actual wall and Mexico would pay for it and clearly he doesn't mean that anymore. Hopefully, it's not a reflection on credibility in general.

Let's take this opportunity on sex trafficking, I direct people to go online, HLN, we did a documentary on sex trafficking in this country. It's a problem people don't understand. When they hear it, they'll say yes, I know sex trafficking, women -- young women, girls, even from abroad, it's a foreign problem, sometimes they get brought here. But that's not the reality.

What are you dealing with, Senator?

PORTMAN: It's not the reality. And I told you this before, I appreciate the fact that you have raised awareness on the issue. Sadly, Chris, in this country, in this century, we see an increase in sex trafficking, substantial increase if you look at the data from some of the experts, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

And mostly, the experts mostly relate it to one thing, which is the growth of selling people online, women and children, through the Internet. And this is where the focus of our legislation is, is to take away a current immunity, unbelievably if you're an organization online, selling people online, knowingly selling girls under age as an example, you have in effect an immunity under a federal law, called the Communications Decency Act.

We want to change that. We did this in a very narrow, targeted way to ensure freedom of the Internet but also to ensure that this kind of horrific behavior wouldn't continue. And our legislation now have 64 co-sponsors. We want to get it to the floor for a vote and begin to help change this incredible dynamic which is so tragic in my view, which is an increase in human trafficking here in this country.

CUOMO: Well, Senator, as I've said before, you have the number, you know how to get us. Please keep us informed about what happens with the process of passage on this, what happens with the process of passage on opioid reforms. Let us know who's standing in the way so we can ask them and hold them to account for why they are being resistant to these real problems.

Thank you, Senator Portman. Appreciate you on the show as always.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Chris. Take care.

CUOMO: All right. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK. So, lawmakers as you know are working to try to find the solution for the fate of DREAMers. So, how will that federal judge's injunction impact these hundreds of thousands of people? We asked Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer about that and the interesting meeting with the president next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)