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White House Says President Trump Not Racist; Steve Bannon Testifies in Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you never want to encroach too much upon your neighbors. You want to be friendly. But -- but something may be up.

What's your message to those people?

KIMBERLY MILLIGAN, NEIGHBOR: You know, I -- I say, try to be aware.

Maybe be more of a community than a neighborhood. I would suggest that. Try to see -- I mean, not everyone is a social person, but try to see and just maybe be a little bit more involved, a little bit more intuitive of what's going on.

That's kind of difficult to do when you don't see them that often.

BALDWIN: Yes. No, I'm sure we all are listening, and could take a dose of that advice.

Kimberly Milligan there for us in California, thank you so much.

MILLIGAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And we continue on. You are watching CNN, hour two. We continue on. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Just a short time from now, the White House -- at the White House, the doctor who saw the president last week at Walter Reed will be updating the White House press corps, live pictures there from that Briefing Room.

And as we wait for word from that M.D., the president's reported vulgar remarks against African nations is impeding major progress on talks to avoid a government shutdown Friday.

We all know the word I'm talking about. This is the profanity that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said that the president repeated multiple times during a meeting on immigration reform last week. More on that in just a second.

But, today, that Illinois senator got to question Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen on what she remembers. She too was in that room. Secretary Nielsen says that she doesn't remember President Trump using that expletive, but that she does admit to hearing a lot of -- she referred to it as tough language or curse words.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: You said on FOX News that the president used strong language. What was that strong language?


Strong language, there was -- apologies, I don't remember a specific word. What I was struck with, frankly, as I'm sure you were as well, was just the general profanity that was used in the room by almost everyone.

DURBIN: Did you hear me use profanity?

NIELSEN: No, sir. Neither did I.

DURBIN: Did you hear Senator Graham use profanity?

NIELSEN: I did hear tough language from Senator Graham, yes, sir.

DURBIN: But do you recall that the strong language he used repeated exactly what the president had said prior to that?

NIELSEN: I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members.

DURBIN: I'm not going to ask you to say those words here.


BALDWIN: Let's first start with CNN political analyst Brian Karem, who is also executive editor of Sentinel Newspapers.

Brian, we were talking. When I heard Secretary Nielsen saying essentially, I don't remember, I hearken back to just a couple of days ago and the Republican Senators Cotton and Perdue and the whole I don't recall.

And to me, I have said this before, it's like she's jumping on the I don't remember train.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't remember. Let's dance on the head of a pin. Was it S-this or an S-that?


KAREM: Or, look, what difference does it make at this point? The point is what the policy is.

And that, you can't dance around. And that is that they are holding DACA hostage and there's a looming government shutdown over it. These are people that need to be taken care of.

Now, Lindsey Graham came out today and said, don't worry, these people will be taken care of. But there is a lot to worry about. And there is a government shutdown looming. And the Republicans do run a House, the Senate and the White House, and they have to own this mess.

And instead of talking to us about scatological comments, and things of that nature, perhaps they should be more interested in governing. And that's the question we all have here is, what are you going to do, not what did you say, but what are you going to do? So far, we haven't seen much.

BALDWIN: Right. And they have just a couple of days.


BALDWIN: We know that Senator Graham also spoke today after -- or outside of the hearing. There was a huge scrum. And this is what he also said.



QUESTION: ... between Tuesday and Thursday, do you mean that the president got bad advice from someone on his staff?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes. I think somebody on his staff gave him really bad advice from 10:00 to 12:00 on Thursday.

I think the president I saw on Tuesday is the guy I play golf with. I actually like the guy. He's actually funny. I thought he commanded the room. And the conversation at 10:00 on Thursday was pretty consistent with the guy I saw Tuesday.

Something happened between 10:00 and 12:00. And I like Secretary Nielsen. She's a nice person. And we will get to the bottom of this. But here is what's going to matter. How does it end? How does it end? Does it end with the government shutting down? We should all be kicked out if that happens.

Does it end with the 700,000 kids being thrown to the wolves? No. Does it end without any effort to secure the border? No. So it's not going to end poorly. It's going to end well.




BALDWIN: So, what do you think? But did you think -- I mean, you're laughing, right?


BALDWIN: But, seriously, the whole notion that he's putting -- to me, he's putting it a little bit off on the president's staff. And I'm wondering if that's a little bit of a punt from the Republican senator, who, we understand, he has his own -- I'm sure -- political calculations and motivations. But does that pass the buck off a little bit as he's talking about the


KAREM: Well, yes. You have to realize this is a president who has hesitated to throw no one under the bus.

So, anybody on the staff that can be thrown will be thrown. The funny guy, that kind -- the affable guy, I haven't seen. The guy that we usually see in the press corps is the guy who shouted at Jim Acosta "Out!" to get out of the room like he was in a movie. That's what we see.

I couldn't even get him to answer a question about Bannon on the North Lawn today or anything about immigration. He poked his head out of the North Lawn, saying goodbye to the leader of Kazakstan, but wouldn't take any questions then. That's what we're used to seeing.

So, it's very easy to blame the staff when you don't come forward and you're not very transparent in your activities before the press and the American people.

What we get are tweets. What we get are threats. The cordial, affable guy, I haven't seen too much. Wouldn't mind seeing him if he's around, but would also like to see someone who is capable of making a decision that doesn't hold DACA and these dreamers.

And that's even Lindsey Graham -- and most of Congress is behind this, Brooke. Most of them do not want to see these people held hostage. But the question is, how are they going to make a deal so everyone saves face? And they're running out of time to do it, and they need the president to sign it.

And it remains to be seen as to whether or not he will. His tweets say one thing. His actions probably speak another. I don't think there's much that you can take that he tweets or that he says as being gospel. I think he will change his mind if it suits him. And he wants a win. And if the Republicans bring him something to sign, I think he will sign it.

BALDWIN: Well, let's remember, it was a week ago today when the president said, send me whatever. I will sign it.


BALDWIN: And, my goodness, what a difference seven days has made.

Brian Karem, thank you so much.

KAREM: Seven days? Two minutes.


BALDWIN: Seven days.

You know, Brian mentioned two important words, decision and deal. And that's really where I want to go next. But I want to play sound from Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. He

talked at length to Jake Tapper, not only detailing that the president -- he heard -- the language that he heard the president use in that room, but also defending his own account, an account that has been disputed by several Republican lawmakers who were in the room.

So, just here is a clip between Senator Durbin and Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What did the president say? What did you hear him say?

DURBIN: He said many things. It went on for probably half-an-hour.

The most outrageous comment, obviously, was in reference to countries overseas that might send immigrants to the United States. And the president has used the vulgar term which has been repeated over and over again.

But it was a long, far-ranging meeting about immigration in general. Negative things were said about Haitians coming to the United States. The president was talking -- and I think this is a tell, if you will -- "We need more people from Norway," he said. "Norway. They don't even take refugees in Norway," he said.

And I just met with the Norwegian prime minister. "We need more Europeans. We need" -- it was pretty clear to me what the president's message was in that meeting.

TAPPER: And just to clear it up, when he said S-hole countries, he was referring to Africa?

DURBIN: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: Now, Senators Cotton and Perdue have challenged the notion that he said S-hole. And I believe there's some reporting out there that White House officials say that Perdue and Cotton think that he said S-house countries, as opposed to S-hole countries.

DURBIN: Let me say they're wrong. I can tell you explicitly they're wrong.

And let me also say, is that their defense, that s-house is acceptable, s-hole, he would never say?

Come on. To think that the president of the United States would refer to any country on Earth as an S-house country, for goodness' sakes, what does that say?

TAPPER: The president said in a tweet that you are to blame for the breakdown of immigration talks. He said -- quote -- "Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can't get made when there is no trust. Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our military."

What is your response to that?

DURBIN: Two. Two things I would like to say.

Yesterday may be one of the most bizarre weeks I have ever experienced in Washington. And I have been here a few years.

To be invited by the president on Tuesday to sit next to him, literally next to him, in a meeting of 26 members of the Congress, and talk about immigration, and hear the president say, "You send me a bill and I will sign it. I will take the political heat. Now get down to work. You need a Cabinet room, you can have a Cabinet room. Let's get it done."

Then we call him two days later, Senator Graham and I, and say, we have done it. We met your criteria. We have a bipartisan bill. We're ready to go.

And then to be called into the president's office to explain it to him and find that we have been sandbagged. General Kelly and Steve Miller, as I understand it, invited five other members of Congress who are not in favor of immigration reform, or in a very harsh sense.


And they were there to refute any assertions we made that this was a good policy.

So, you ask me where we are today, I will tell you where we are. We are finding that more Republicans are willing to step up now, distancing themselves from those outrageous comments by the president, and, really, I hope join us in a bipartisan effort to solve this problem.

TAPPER: What do you think of the nickname Dicky Durbin?

DURBIN: I guess it's something I should wear with honor. He has said a lot of negative things about a lot of people. And like I said earlier, this is not an easy business.

It's not beanbag. It's a tough business. And if the president wants to throw adolescent rants at me, that's his business.


BALDWIN: All right.

Dana Bash is with me here. She's our CNN chief political correspondent.

It's so good to see you, as always.


BALDWIN: Quickly, Mia Love, Republican congresswoman, has just spoken up. She's spoken up about the president's language. And I just want to let you all know that she put out a statement. I just want to read part of it. She met with the president this morning in the Oval Office. This is what she tweeted out.

And she says: "The meeting was substantive and productive." She said, "We discussed the importance and urgency of finding a solution for DACA recipients," talks about border security, implementing reform. "I will work with both parties," she says, "in Congress, as well as the White House, to make sure we reach an agreement."

But she's talking about substance, right?

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: Like, there's been all of this about s-house and s-hole. Let's cut through the B.S. and on to, what are they going to come up with?

BASH: Well, I think what Dick Durbin said at the end of the clip you just played from his interview with Jake is really important to understand the dynamics, apart from the foul language, vulgarities and the sentiment of that particular dispute about where those people should come from and the lottery system and all that.

And that is that Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, who have been working hand in glove for years on bipartisan immigration issues, particularly dealing with the dreamers, thought that they were going into a meeting with the president where they were going to go through their proposal.

And the word that he used was sandbagged. And it, to me, is the ultimate illustration of the fact that even someone like Lindsey Graham, who kind of threw it all to the wayside -- he decided that he was going to...

BALDWIN: Get on board.

BASH: Get on board and golf and do what he needed to do, to use the fact that this guy is in the White House, and hopefully he could get legislation that he has been pushing for years through.

And he learned a hard lesson, because what happened was the people around the president who are hard-core, for lack of a better way to say it, conservatives, Stephen Miller, who wants nothing to do with any of this, but particularly when it comes to, from his perspective, going easy on people that broke the law, even though in this case they were just children, the fact that he decided to, along with the chief of staff, to bring in Republicans, and they were in the room already, who were going to push back on this bipartisan solution is very, very telling.

And it just goes to show that, as hard as people Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin were working to try to get the president on board, they were undermined by the reality of how the president was elected. And that is with Stephen Miller's help, with the help of people who believe in what Stephen Miller believes, which is, never mind the wall, but that any allowance of anybody who came into this country illegally is amnesty.

And that is what they rubbed up against. If you throw all the -- again, the vulgarities, and the cursing and specifics even about the policy aside, that is what happened in the Oval Office. And that is why, you know, a week later, we are where we are. And they're running up against the deadline to fund the government, and this is all tied in.

And it is a mess because of that reality.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the Trump reinforcements, so just turning the page a little bit, think of -- which that's a whole other conversation than whether they're on the same page anymore or not.

I'm going -- I'm talking about Steve Bannon, right? So, Steve Bannon was the chief strategist there in the White House. And so we have learned today that he has been subpoenaed by the special counsel to testify before this grand jury.

And I'm wondering, do you think this all came because of the Michael Wolff book and the word treasonous talking about the Trump Tower meeting and June 16? And where did this...

BASH: I think it would be malpractice for Robert Mueller and his team to not want to talk to Steve Bannon after he said the things that he said in the book.


I am of the belief that some of it, maybe most of it, maybe all of it, was Steve Bannon just riffing and giving his analysis and being kind of an armchair pundit, rather than saying that because he actually knows things that lead to him to believe that there was treason, which is obviously a very specific term, which couldn't be applied here anyway for a number of reasons.

But that is my sense. Having said that, if Robert Mueller is going down the road of obstruction of justice, Steve Bannon is somebody he would want to talk to, because the whole question is the firing of James Comey. What was the motivation behind that? Bannon was there. He was in the White House. He was part of those conversations.

So, even if the Wolff book had never happened and Mueller was looking at obstruction of justice, Bannon would be somebody he would want to talk to, I would think.

BALDWIN: Just makes you wonder what the president is thinking, knowing that this was a guy who was in the -- right in the center of his universe for quite a chunk of time.

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: Dana, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks. Good to see you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Dana Bash.

BALDWIN: We are minutes away from a live White House briefing there. We are going to hear from the president's doctor on the physical that he received.

Also ahead, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stepping to the cameras to say that it is outrageous, her word, to call President Trump a racist, this just before New Jersey Senator Cory Booker gave an impassioned speech to argue the opposite.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: The commander in chief speaks or refuses to speak. Those words just don't dissipate like midst in the air. They fester. They become poison. They give license to bigotry and hate in our country.




BALDWIN: Emotions running high in a contentious hearing over President Trump's racist and vulgar remarks about countries in Africa.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen getting grilled today before lawmakers over what she did or doesn't quite remember hearing the president say in the Oval Office.

You had Democratic Senator Cory Booker calling Secretary Nielsen complicit for saying she doesn't recall the specifics of what the president said or didn't say.


BOOKER: I hurt. When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about his experience in that meeting.

And for you not to feel that hurt and that pain, and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues, saying, "I have already answered that line of questions," when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because of what they're worried about what happened in the White House, that's unacceptable to me.

There are threats in this country, people plotting. I receive enough death threats to know the reality. Kamala receives enough death threats to know the reality. Mazie receives enough death threats to know the reality.

And I have got a president of the United States, whose office I respect, who talks about the countries of origins of my fellow citizens in the most despicable of manner.

You don't remember, you can't remember the words of your commander in chief. I find that unacceptable. Mr. Chairman, I'm grateful to be on this committee. I'm more than

ever today happy I'm here.

Thank you.


BALDWIN: The White House today saying any notion suggesting President Trump is a racist is outrageous.

Here is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying, just ask NBC and Democrats.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that is an outrageous claim. And, frankly, I think if the critics of the president were who he said he was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV?

Why did Chuck Schumer and all of his colleagues come and beg Donald Trump for money? If they are who they want to try to portray him as, why did they want to be, you know, with him for years and years in various activities, whether it was events and fund-raisers and other things?

I think it's just an outrageous and ludicrous excuse. And they need to get on board and start actually doing what they were elected to do.


BALDWIN: Stephen Moore knows the president, CNN senior economics analyst and former Trump campaign economic adviser, and Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Good to have both of you.

And, Stephen, just right -- jumping right in, just given this whole controversy involving race and the president and the president's past, things he has said, is it not fair to ask that question?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, look, I have been in meetings with Donald Trump many times in the last two years.

And I have never once heard him say anything disparaging. And these were meetings, by the way, Brooke, where there was no Democrat or no one who might leak something to the press, and I have never heard that kind of language.

I think the point that Sarah Huckabee was making is a good one, is that you look at his record and what he has done in terms of his business accomplishments, the fact that he has hired thousands of blacks and Hispanics.

BALDWIN: But, Stephen, I just have to jump in, because you don't have to be in a meeting with this man to hear some of these comments he has made, the Pocahontas reference, his comments after Charlottesville, the Central Park Five.

What am I missing? Judge Curiel some months ago. Is that not a fair question to be asking, based upon what the president has said very publicly?


MOORE: Brooke, Brooke, I think what you're missing and I think a lot your colleagues at CNN are missing is the fact that you have to look at his guy's record when it comes to civil rights, not necessarily what he says or what he allegedly said.


And when you look at this man's record in the White House, it's been astounding in terms of black economic progress, with the increase in jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, the increase in incomes and so on.

That's all a very positive thing. And, Brooke, if this man is a racist, why is it that his approval rating among blacks has increased while he has been president? It's because of his record, not what he says.

BALDWIN: Stephen, I have approval ratings. Our latest CNN poll -- this is from December -- showing approval of Trump among black Americans at 3 percent.


BALDWIN: Three percent.

MOORE: Well, you're looking at a different poll than I am, because the latest polls show Trump's approval rating with black males at about 25, 26 percent, which is a substantial improvement over what it was on Election Day.

And even among black females, which is his toughest demographic, his approval rating has gone up. So, his approval rating with blacks has not gone down. It's gone up.


Angela, thoughts?


I'm so glad that Stephen wants to talk about Donald Trump's record, so let's. Let's talk about how he said that he preferred a man with yarmulkes to count his money over a man who is black, because they're lazy, he has a lazy gene.

Let's talk about Donald Trump's record where he accused the Central Park Five, as Brooke just brought up, of raping a woman that -- it had been disproven, and he took out not one, not two, but three full-page ads calling for the death penalty of five young brown and black boys.

Let's talk about Donald Trump's record, where he historically used not only racist language, but he's also done very bigoted things. It didn't take the presidency for us to see that Donald Trump is a racist.

We know that Donald Trump's daddy was a racist. We know that he was at a KKK rally, according to the press. This is something that is in his DNA.

I have said it on air. I was laughed at when I told everyone that Donald Trump was a racist, just based on all of the evidence presented before us. And I'm not backing away from it now. I don't care if he was elected to this office or not.

He is a racist. And this country has to atone for the fact that it has put a racist in office. I'm not talking about racially charged language. I'm not talking about someone who might accidentally say something that could potentially be prejudiced or discriminatory.

I'm talking about an all-out racist person in the White House. He has to atone for it. That is why there are members of Congress who are introducing a censure resolution for this purpose. Donald Trump has to atone for what he's doing.

BALDWIN: I want to have Stephen respond.

Stephen, go ahead.

MOORE: Look, I think there are times when Donald Trump uses language that I strongly disapprove of, Brooke.

And on that, I agree. But my point is, you look at this man's record and what he has done for black Americans.

RYE: He has not done anything.

MOORE: I have always believed in civil rights issues.

Pardon me?

RYE: He has not done a single thing for black America. You keep talking about civil rights. You tell me -- you tell me what civil rights issue Donald Trump has pushed.

Let me show you how Donald Trump has made it harder for people to vote.


MOORE: Let me answer that.

RYE: Please answer it.

MOORE: Let me answer that question.

He has -- the rate of new job creation for black Americans is twice per month.


RYE: What is a civil rights issue, Stephen?


BALDWIN: Hang on. Hang on. Let him finish on the economics of it, because, specifically -- and that is correct.


BALDWIN: And let me just -- let me come in behind you, because, specifically, it's the lowest African-American unemployment rate in decades. It is something that Stephen brought up.


MOORE: Right. But there's two points here, Brooke. Number one is economic opportunity, I think, is one of the most important civil rights issues for blacks. And the second is a first-rate education.

And Donald Trump wants to give millions of black and Hispanic Americans who are stuck in really terrible schools a scholarship program where they can go to good schools. And that is one of the best things you could do to provide black children with an opportunity to succeed in life.

RYE: Stephen?

MOORE: And those are two things that I think are important.


RYE: I hear you.

But here is the difference between a civil rights accomplishment and a desire, right? I can absolutely agree with you that school conditions for black and brown kids all over this country is not where they should be.

But, Stephen, Donald Trump's desire to improve said conditions is not, in fact, an accomplishment. If you want to talk Donald Trump's civil rights record, let's talk about how he talked about HBCUs are unconstitutional.

If you want to talk about Donald Trump's record on civil rights, let's talk about how he has made it harder to vote and he's called for voter I.D. and voter suppression measures on Twitter.

This is someone who is not standing up for voting rights, for civil rights, to make things fair and with parity in this country. You want to talk about civil rights, let's talk about what he tried to do with transgendered military folks.

This is not someone who is a champion of civil rights. This is the day after Dr. King's day, and I'm definitely not going to start lying on Donald Trump's behalf today because it makes him feel better. He's still a racist today.

MOORE: Well, look...

BALDWIN: Stephen?

MOORE: ... I talk to so many black Americans myself.

And they say what they like about Donald Trump, those who -- who approve of his policies, because they --