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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bannon on Russia; Russia Helping North Korea Break Sanctions?; Can Republicans Get Budget Passed?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 17, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the hardest position for Democrats to defend.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right.

PHILLIP: And there are a lot of Democrats who say, if -- if you vote for a wall, then we are going to launch a sort of a left -- a leftist campaign against you.

That's a difficult position for Democrats to be in, but that's the reality for the caucus right now.

TAPPER: It seems to me -- and maybe I -- tell me if I'm wrong -- it seems to me the way to negotiate an immigration feel passes the Senate, where Republicans don't have 60 votes, so they need at least eight Democrats, or nine Democrats now, is center, from the center out. Right?

And President Trump is being told, no, build it from the right. But can a bill like that pass the Senate?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think everything Abby says is correct.

I think, in this case, it is not the White House taking the initiative to go build the big political coalitions that you need, especially in the House, to get this done. Instead, they're being counseled by those that are reflexively rejecting deals that are being brought up by the Senate.

Remember, I say this all the time, that in the House the motto is always the Democrats may be the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy. So that's a very real tension between the two bodies.

And so I think while Lindsey Graham may have been very confident that you can get the votes in the Senate for that deal, there just wasn't the votes in the Senate.

TAPPER: In the House.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: I'm sorry, in the House. TAPPER: Yes.

MADDEN: And it was premature to think that this was a deal that was already had.

TAPPER: Well, there are the votes in the House, except that Speaker Ryan would have to agree to bring it up, right, because you would get enough Democrats and enough Republicans. But the House rules are different, Kirsten.

So at the end of the day, Paul Ryan wouldn't bring it up because of the Hastert rule. They might want to get rid of that, based on the name of the guy, but the idea that...

MADDEN: The majority of majority.

TAPPER: The majority of majority.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes. It is a little hard to see how this gets done, when you look at all these factors.

I think the president is ultimately I think going to have to come around and do more of what you're talking about, doing something that is not just from the right, because I do think it is going to -- or just nothing will get done.

I don't know how they can -- they can decide to do absolutely nothing on immigration or they can try to get something that you can get Democrats on board with. But, yes, I don't think Democrats -- it is going to be very hard to bring Democrats around on the wall. I think Abby makes a really good point about that. That is something that has such opposition from the base and that is so unnecessary anyway.

PHILLIP: That's despite the fact the White House is trying to move on the wall. They're trying to say, well, we have compromised already. We've said it is just going to be partly a solid wall and partly border -- security funding. That's still not good enough for Democrats.

TAPPER: Don't go anywhere. We have a lot more to talk about.

President Trump is sitting down for a brand-new interview and accusing Russia of undercutting the United States when it comes to one of the most dangerous issues facing the country.

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:01]

TAPPER: And welcome back in today's world lead.

In a brand-new interview breaking this afternoon, President Trump is raising new questions about his next move with North Korea. In an interview with Reuters today, the president said Russia is helping North Korea get supplies and avoid international sanctions.

I want to get right to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, this is striking, President Trump accusing Russia of double- dealing on North Korea.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not just that, but going a step further and suggesting that Russia may be filling in the blanks, if you will, where the Chinese-led sanctions have had an impact.

Russia sending oil and other supplies to North Korea. Why are we seeing this sudden tough talk? Well, Mr. Trump is facing a situation where right now, as we go into the Olympics, up until now, there's been a rather soft tone to North Korea in the last several days. Discussion of having a good relationship with Kim. Discussion of even potentially sitting down and talking to him.

Now, in this latest interview, saying he's not so sure about that. Not sure sitting down would really solve anything.

Secretary of State Tillerson, very tough talk in Vancouver earlier on sanctions once again. Here's the problem Mr. Trump is facing with North Korea. They have reached out to the South. The South is talking to North Korea and the U.S. is on the sidelines.

There can be no question that there could even be a preemptive strike if for some reason the U.S. wanted to do one without South Korean support. And that support is not there right now.

Mr. Trump going into his second year in office with the very real possibility of having to acknowledge once and for all that North Korea is a nuclear state. The U.S. may not be able to denuclearize it. Kim has no intention of not giving up his weapons. The U.S. in the second year of the Trump administration may have to learn to live with North Korea as a nuclear state and figure out how to manage that problem -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara, also another curious part of this Reuters interview, the president refusing to say whether or not he has ever spoken with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

STARR: Well, indeed.

And I think there has been some reporting from our own Jim Sciutto that there's no indication he has. I think that it is fair to assume the national security leadership is most likely advising Mr. Trump to be very careful on this point, because Kim may come back out in public and have something to say about it, and we don't know what he would say.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

New reporting about what the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon did say and did not say while testifying to the House Intelligence Committee about the Russia probe. We will discuss that next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:46]

TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news in our politics lead.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told the House Intelligence Committee that he discussed Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 meetings with Russians at Trump Tower with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and with legal spokesman Mark Corallo. That's according to a new report in Axios.

This comes as CNN has learned that Bannon entered into a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's team in which Bannon has agreed to be interviewed by federal prosecutors and for now avoid having to testify before the grand jury.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now.

And, Jim, why is Bannon's conversations -- why are his conversations about this meeting at Trump Tower, why might that be significant?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple things.

One, just the simple point that Bannon refused to answer any other questions about his time either in the transition or in the White House, but he did answer a question, whether it was a slip-up or not, about this Trump Tower meeting. That's one.

But, more importantly, remember, in the Wolff book, Bannon described this meeting as treasonous, if we're to believe Wolff's account of that, this meeting in Trump Tower.

And then, even more important than that, we know that the Trump Tower meeting is a focus of Robert Mueller's investigation. Whether he derived anything from that, we don't know. But it's a focus, as is the false statement about what was behind that meeting in Trump Tower.

One -- that meeting, that famous meeting on Air Force One with president present, where they described this as being a meeting about adoptions when it was, in fact, it was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. I should just note that Mark Corallo who you mention was also in this meeting according to Bannon. He resigned from his position as the legal spokesman because he felt that they were verging into the -- into the range of obstruction of justice.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And today the White House says Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the report that Bannon's attorney was communicating with the White House during yesterday's interview of Bannon by the House Intelligence Committee.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's interesting because it's CNN's reporting that indeed he was. During that time, it's our reporting that this took place during breaks, that there were phone calls made during breaks. There were two breaks during his testimony where there was an opportunity for his lawyer to reach back to the White House, but Sarah Sanders pressed about this today, she didn't pull punches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: It's the same process that is typically followed. Sometimes they actually have a White House attorney present in the room. This time it was something that was relayed via phone and again was following standard procedure for an instance like this and something that will likely happen again on any other number of occasions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: And she's right there that it's not particularly unusual to have contact with the White House. We knew that prior to that, his legal team had contact with the White House including part of that was to say, by the way, you cannot talk about the transition or your time in the administration. We are told that however when Bannon goes to Mueller, the Special Counsel, he's not going to be invoking any claim to executive privilege. He's going to answer the questions directly and he really doesn't have a choice. He cannot claim it in that context.

TAPPER: Not with the grand jury or with the federal prosecutor. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Let's bring back the panel. And Kirsten, let me start with you. What's the significance do you think potentially of Bannon cooperating with Mueller?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, so on the one hand, the question is, is this show that it is intensifying or it's just something they're doing as a negotiating tactic. But you know, on the other hand, I feel like, of course, they're going to talk to Steve Bannon, right? It's not that surprising but it's meaningful considering the things that he said in this book, the Fire, and Fury book, that he has some pretty real opinions about some of the things that happened that imply, in particular, something that they're looking at in this meeting that happens at Trump Tower. It would imply that he has secondhand knowledge about what happened. He wasn't in the meeting but he could provide them with some secondhand knowledge which they can then put against any firsthand accounts that they get and see if they add up.

TAPPER: And the White House really -- President Trump specifically, burned the relationship with Steve Bannon, you would think, the way that the President personally attacked him. They seemed to have really exerted pressure to get him fired from Breitbart. And yet --

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And yet --

TAPPER: And yet his attorneys are cooperating with the White House.

PHILLIP: That's right. I think that it kind of tells you that the burning of the bridges may be just between Bannon and the President. But the White House and the President's lawyers perhaps have an interest in keeping Bannon close in this environment. And perhaps it's smart of then not allow those two universes to bleed. The person that the President excises does not necessarily need to be the person that from a legal strategy is going to be on the outs. I think it's also interesting -- this story about Bannon and what he accidentally said in the Congressional Committee is particularly interesting because it shows the perils for Bannon of talking to congressional lawmakers. Because the things that he says could incriminate himself in the legal environment which is the Mueller probe. So he has to talk to Mueller. He can't exert executive privilege in that -- in that world. But the risk is that when he talks to Congress, he says something that puts him in jeopardy in the Mueller probe.

TAPPER: I want to turn back to immigration for one second because CNN has learned from a source in the room that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Democratic lawmakers at a meeting earlier today, that the President was "just not fully informed about the wall when he originally made the promise that there would be a wall that would separate the United States from Mexico." Obviously, the President's position on this has evolved quite a bit. He said last week that it doesn't have to be a wall for all of it. It can be a fence for some of it. There are mountains, there are lakes, et cetera. Is this something Kevin do you think that the base will object to if he doesn't actually build a 2,000-mile wall?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. The base, I've come to calling them Fifth Avenue Republicans because you know, the President promised that if he ever walked out and shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, he know he wouldn't pay any price. And I think the base defers to Donald Trump on what a wall is. They take him at his word on it. So I think the one guarantee I would have offered out of any of these negotiations related to DACA or a comprehensive immigration bill was that the President was always going to declare victory on the wall and that his base would support him on that.

TAPPER: That's why I just come back to this topic because I still don't understand why the White House isn't -- although maybe they're just posturing and maybe there is a deal. But in terms of the immigration position, it seems like -- it seems like an obvious deal. You get -- you get money for the wall and then you declare victory. You've already pointed out Abby, Democrats don't -- a lot of Democrats don't want to give victory on the wall. They think that the idea of the wall is racist and they don't want to give the President a political victory. You do that, you make some changes to immigration and it would seem --

[16:50:16] POWERS: Because it seems like the hardliners are pushing back against it. I mean, I don't know. I mean, Kevin, you probably know better but that's what it seems like what's going on. He's getting pulled by the hard line here's don't want to have any, they don't want any kind of -- first of all they don't want the DREAMers to stay in the country. And you know, I think they would like to pile more things on top of the bill as well. You know, the chain migration stuff and the other issues that they're concerned about. So -- but I don't know the inner workings necessarily of what's going on with something but --

PHILLIPS: (INAUDIBLE) that the battleground is shifting on this. And it isn't so much the wall anymore. The White House has pretty much caved on the wall. Mitch McConnell has been saying for a year and a half, there will not be a wall from sea to shining sea. But the battleground is shifting. What the hardliners really want is the changes to legal immigration. Those -- they want some fairly sweeping changes and that's the other part of why it is so hard to get a deal.

TAPPER: Don't go anywhere. We're going to take a look at President Trump's first year in office and how one of the bluest states in the nation is trying to stand up to him. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And we're back with the "POLITICS LEAD." This week as we lead up to the one year anniversary of President Trump inauguration, CNN is taking a looking at how different segments of the population feel about the Presidency so far. Today we'll take a look at the wall of resistance building in one key state, California. From immigration to taxes, the environment, even marijuana. Leaders in the bright blue state are constantly pushing back the President's conservative agenda. CNN's Miguel Marquez is looking into what is driving their opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMERICAN CROWD: Not my president! Not my president!

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The California Republic versus President Trump.

CHERYL CONTEE, DIGITAL ACTIVIST: The resistance is legion.

MARQUEZ: One year into his administration --

JEREMY ZIMMER, CEO, UNITED TALENT AGENCY: Trump is a wake-up call.

MARQUEZ: The world's sixth largest economy fighting Trump administration policies on everything from legal marijuana to taxes to the environment.

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: California is not waiting for trump. We're not waiting for all the deniers.

MARQUEZ: And the escalating fight over immigration.

LYDIA AVILA, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, CALIFORNIA CALLS: We're going to fight and we're going to win.

MARQUEZ: California now, an immigrant sanctuary state. A new law limiting cooperation between local state and federal law enforcements, prank road signs welcomed drivers to seemingly another country. The land of illegals.

THOMAS HOMAN, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: If the politicians in California don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will. MARQUEZ: The Acting Head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Fox News said California politicians who made the law should be held personally accountable. Politicos here aren't worried.

MARQUEZ: Have you ever seen the enmity between California and D.C. like it is today?

BROWN: I wouldn't call it enmity. There are certain policies that are radical departures from the norm and California will fight those.

MARQUEZ: The immigrant community finding its voice in the era of Trump.

AVILA: We're actually working hard and galvanizing more people.

MARQUEZ: A daughter of Mexican immigrants, East L.A. Activist Lydia Avila says the President, his rhetoric and policies have only emboldened her community.

AVILA: This is a movement that's not going to be stopped. The President cannot win. He may be there now but he's not going to be there forever. We're going to win.

MARQUEZ: Equally galvanized, the entertainment industry with its deep pockets and powerful voice.

ZIMMER: The power of an idea to change the way people think and change way people feel is really what's important. That's really what we're fighting for.

MARQUEZ: Jeremy Zimmer, CEO of United Talent Agency, one of the world's largest, says Trump represents a threat to the idea of America.

ZIMMER: We all see that the freedoms and the life we assume we have, the incredible privileges we have to be raised in this country, to live in this country. We all see that you know, how fragile it can be.

CONTEE: Allison, hi.

MARQUEZ: Cheryl Contee, an activist in the tech community says it is a fight over principles.

CONTEE: I think that you're going to find Californians to be completely unapologetic about, you know, fighting for what we see as California values.

MARQUEZ: Working from home on her pedal desk, one-foot soldier among millions across the Golden State countering, resisting Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Let me give you a sense of just where the relationship is between President and California. He's the first president since Eisenhower, the 1950s, not to visit California in his first year and all the activists that we spoke to says all their money and technical skills, not just California but across the country, is going to go toward winning back the Democratic House seats in the House and the Senate in those mid-term elections. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez in California, thanks so much. I appreciate it. Join me this Friday night for a CNN "SPECIAL REPORT," Trump's First Year, Reign of Chaos. We're going to go beyond the noise to see what really happened this first year in office. That's this Friday night at 10:00 Eastern here on CNN. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he's just a feet away in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.