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Soon: House GOP Leaders Push Funding Fix; Bannon Strikes Deal to be Interviewed by Mueller's Team; House GOP Pushes Immigration-Free Funding Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


We are moments away from hearing something extraordinary on the Senate floor, but before that, we are moments away from a briefing by House Republican leaders on something that is potentially imminent. Just two days and 14 hours away is a potential government shutdown when it runs out of money that is unless lawmakers can get their act together and get us on a different path. For now, all eyes are on a plan from Speaker Paul Ryan with side step immigration entirely for now but still appeal the Democrats by re-upping funding for CHIP. The question mark is now, what happens?

BERMAN: Now, on the right-hand side of your screen right there, a very big moment about to occur on the Senate floor. In a few minutes Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona will take to that floor and deliver a pretty stern rebuke of President Trump, comparing his words and actions to those of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator. You're going to hear this speech from start to finish because as we said, it is highly unusual.

First though, we want to go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She'll give us information right now on the state of the spending in government funding discussion. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. It is a big scramble behind the scenes but Republican leaders as of this morning say that they are moving in the right direction they believe. Last night they presented the Republican conference over in the House with a spending bill to extend government funding at least keep the government funded for the next 28 days. It would -- the spending bill would be extended until February 16th.

Now, this new plan you see the details up there does not address DACA which is of course is what many Democrats wanted. It does though fund the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years, something that could woo many Democrats and it delays some key Obamacare taxes.

House Republicans, they are pushing ahead with this plan, a big wildcard which will be key in all this. Will conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus get on board? Republicans in the House, they will need to pass this with only Republican support. Then it gets kicked over to the Senate. If and only if, and that's a big if, it gets passed in the House. Of course, there Republicans need Democrats to support this as well. They need to get to that magic number 60.

And this puts a lot of Democrats in a tough spot, especially some red state Democrats ready for re-election, you see there. Senator Manchin say he will vote to keep the government open. Then you see Senator Booker. He says he won't vote for a CR if it does not include DACA, so big question mark as of this morning where this all stands at. That said, Republican leaders in the House say they are pushing forward a tepidly confident at this new plan but certainly a lot of gauging of support, the temperature of many members going on up here. They just met behind closed doors and we'll see a key press conference at this hour. Speaker Ryan to see where -- how he's feeling about all of this. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Another question, where does the White House stand? How do they feel about all of this? Chief of Staff John Kelly on Capitol Hill for a really interesting meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus which you have a sense doesn't like where the White House is right now on all of this -

HARLOW: It's a good sign. I think we've got a pretty good sense of that. Let's go to Abby Phillip. She joins us at the White House with more. What's the strategy here?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know this is an important meeting in part because the reporting that we've been doing has been that John Kelly was both in charge -- put in charge of the immigration issue and he was also one of the people telling the president that the Durbin Graham compromise proposal that they presented to the president in the Oval Office was not a good deal for him. So this is an opportunity for him to come back to the table with Democrats and perhaps restore that trust that seems too deteriorated over the course of the last week.

It's unclear however on the spending front which you were talking to Sunlen about where the White House is going with this. The White House said yesterday what they want is a two-year budget resolution but right now it seems very much like the only train that's leaving the station is a short term bill.

We're hearing this morning from White House legislative director Mark Short that it's likely that the White House is going to issue some kind of support for that effort soon in part because it may be the only thing they are able to do in the short term. Meanwhile, the president is on the Hill today this afternoon for a ceremony honoring Bob Dole and we're told that he's not scheduled to have any meetings at the moment. But you know we're going to keep our eye on that and see what happens here. There are clearly a lot of big issues on the Hill that he is central to and all of the big players will be right there. We'll keep you posted on whether he's going to do any side meetings at the end of the day today.

[10:05:07] HARLOW: OK, Abby Phillip at the White House. Keep us posted. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The breaking news is this. CNN has just learned that Steve Bannon has struck a deal with the special counsel.

Joining us now, CNN law and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, we know that Bannon was served with a subpoena last week to appear before a grand jury. Will he?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So now it appears - this comes from my colleague, Kara Scannell, who's talking to people close to Bannon. And now appears that he and Mueller -- Bannon and Mueller have struck some kind of deal where he will not have to appear before the grand jury, at least for now. It appears that the people -- attorneys for Bannon have been negotiating with Mueller's team and he will appear before Mueller - before Mueller's team and will answer questions voluntarily.

Now, when this will happen? We don't know. We don't know what this means for this grand jury subpoena that they served on him. However, a significant deal here, a significant progress here and that Bannon has now it appears has agreed to at least voluntarily appear before a special counsel investigators.

HARLOW: All right, Shimon, we appreciate the breaking news very, very much. We're going to get more on that in just a moment. But we're just minutes away from something remarkable set to play out on Senate floor and that is that sitting Republican, Senator Jeff Flake will condemn the president.

BERMAN: Suzanne Malveaux has a preview for us. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All eyes on the Senate floor, this is just 10 minutes away when it's expected that Senator Flake will deliver these remarks. It is widely anticipated and highly unusual, the president himself in a preemptive move, if you will, tweeting, criticizing Senator Flake saying that he's weak on border security among other things.

But a lot of people are going to be watching this. He clearly doesn't have a re-election bid this year so he feels untethered, unbridled, if you will, by the requirements of another campaign. He's become a really ferocious critic of the president. And here's just a little bit of what he's going to address.

It is largely dealing with the president's critiques and criticism of the media. He's going to say to the president of the Senate, "Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase, 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader." Now, there has been some pushback on this. Critics say, look, how you can possibly compare President Trump with Joseph Stalin, saying that under his regime that there were millions of those in the Soviet Union who were killed by famine, deportation, torture, all of that. Even our own CNN's Christiane Amanpour pushing back, saying that how could you make such a comparison, Flake, ahead of the speech, addressing that criticism saying, look, he understands that Stalin was a killer, that President Trump is not. But that using those words so loaded with such meaning and malice, "enemy of the state," that puts in danger reporters around the world, American journalists around the world and he feels it's necessary to bring this forward.

BERMAN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us, thank you so much.

Joining us now, CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, CNN political reporter Rebecca Berg and CNN political director, David Chalian, four people, an array of titles but fantastic each and every one.

David Chalian, first the breaking news, CNN just learning moments ago that Steve Bannon will not appear before the grand jury though striking a deal with a Special Counsel's Office he will submit to question. A substantive difference there is, he will likely have a lawyer in the room as opposed to before a grand jury when he would. But look, if he lies, he's still in big, big trouble. What are the political implications here?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. There's nothing not serious about sitting down for an interview with the special prosecutor. You're completely right about that. Do you remember back it was not that long ago when Steve Bannon was publicly saying I don't need a lawyer? I'm not part of this thing at all. That's not the case anymore.

And clearly what was reported in the Michael Wolff book and the public comments from Steve Bannon thereafter have raised enough questions about precisely what Steve Bannon knows. He was a key part of the transition and key part of -- in the White House in exactly the time frame that Bob Mueller and his team were looking at that the special prosecutor Bob Mueller and his team want to speak with him. And I think that they were indicating how important this is for Steve Bannon to take this quite seriously.

[10:10:04] By the way they went about doing this. First having the subpoena out there and then cutting his deal with the lawyer for the interview. I think they set the tone of how seriously they take this information.

HARLOW: Errol Louis, to you, he won't be able to claim executive privilege in this conversation, this very important interview with Bob Mueller. I wonder why the political dance then with the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. I mean, why -- if he's going to answer these questions, which our Dana Bash has reported he will fully to Mueller's team, then why did he do -- not do so to such a great extent yesterday for 10 hours? ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, interestingly, I -- my sense of it from reading about Bannon, reading his words, watching his interviews is that he has such contempt for Congress and for the political class. He wasn't going to give them an inch. This is going to be a different kind of conversation very much so because if you, just as John say, if you lie to these prosecutors under these circumstances, independent of everything else, you've committed a crime and the dirty little secret is frankly, it's actually a little bit easier for them. You know try to unravel what you might have done seven months ago and what Russian influence might have been there is really kind of tough. But if I have a fact and you lie about it to me face to face as we're recording it, well, then you can just move forward with a prosecution and make no mistake, that's what this is. This is not some sort of random abstract investigation. This is Robert Mueller looking for people who may have committed a crime.

BERMAN: Steve Bannon, like the president, likes to brag that he uses hyperbole. Hyperbole is not the type of thing you want to do when sitting down with an interview with the special counsel. Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter is here with us as well, helping us explain this story.

Shimon, one other key here, this is something CNN reported overnight, is unlike with the interview with Congress, he will answer everything before the special counsel, his legal team says there. Do you have any sense of what the areas of interest are that the special counsel has with Steve Bannon?

PROKUPECZ: Well, I certainly - you know anything to do with the transition and his time at the White House. They are still investigating the campaign. You know we have to think about Michael Wolff's book, I think. That is no doubt a factor in all of these because you have to assume these prosecutors and these investigators on the team probably read through this book and probably some questions came to their mind.

His comments about money laundering in the book, his comments about the Comey firing, those are the types of things no doubt those investigators and prosecutors are going to want to know about and who was behind the Comey firing. What was the thinking at the White House? So, certainly all of those things will probably come up. Also, you know, whatever he says isn't necessarily -- whatever Bannon may tell investigators isn't necessarily going to be used as evidence in a potential prosecution. It could also be for intelligence purposes. They may want to know what was going on at the White House during all of this. And who better probably right now than Steve Bannon to ask those questions.

HARLOW: Right. Yes.

Right, I mean you bring up the Trump Tower meeting. He's called that treasonous in his interview with Michael Wolff and then told "60 Minutes" that it was the biggest political mistake ever. Not just for this president but pretty much ever to fire Comey the way he did. Let's move on to what is about to happen in minutes and that is sitting Republican Senator Jeff Flake will take to the Senate floor and condemn sitting of Republican president.

Rebecca Berg, to you, this is a big moment. The question is what is the lasting impact of it? Because remember it wasn't that long ago that Flake took to the Senate floor to also make what some thought might be a monumental speech and we're not talking about it today.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. So clearly a different setting, a more austere setting and some of the Republican criticisms we've heard of the president and that elevates it certainly in its importance and of course this comes just as John McCain published an op-ed today and opinion piece also defending the role of the media, defending the role of the free press in the United States of America.

But the problem with this administration and this presidency in terms of these sorts of criticisms having a lasting impact is you know tomorrow we'll be onto the next controversy, onto the next tweet and there's still the fact remains most Republicans still support President Trump, his approval rating among Republican voters still is positive and so Jeff Flake is in a position where he is as Suzanne Malveaux said in her report, untethered from any sort of political considerations. He has the freedom to make these criticisms.

But I think this only really starts to have an impact when you reach a critical mass of Republicans, saying what Jeff Flake is saying. And so, it's sending an important message but it's not necessarily going to affect any sort of change unless you start to see Republicans enemas echoing what he's going to say today.

BERMAN: You know it's not Republicans enemas but it's also not Jeff Flake on an island either, right? Because Senator John McCain, his colleague from Arizona, wrote an op-ed clearly designed to support what Jeff Flake is doing today, one of the quotes, "Whether Trump knows it or not, these efforts are being closely watched by foreign leaders," he's talking about taps on the press on the use of fake news, "foreign leaders who are already using words as cover as they silence and shudder one of the key pillars of democracy."

[10:15:18] You know Brian Stelter, it's a message we've heard from Jeff Flake. It's a message we've heard from John McCain and it's a message we hear from the committee to protect journalists, that there's a real concern now around the world.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is a situation that's getting worse because of rhetoric from leaders like President Trump. I think Flake since he's not running for re-election, he's certainly trying to get some of his fellow GOP senators on board, trying to convert some of them and convince some of them to speak out as publicly as he is. We've heard reports for the past 12 months almost since inauguration day that other GOP senators privately feel the way Flake and McCain do and aren't as willing to say it publicly.

So, I think the speech we're about to see is partly directed at his fellow GOP senators trying to convert them. I think it's also an important moment because Flake is trying to get people to focus on what the impact is of the daily drip, drip, drip of Trump's poisonous words about the media. Here's a part we can put on screen of what Flake is expected to say. This quote was shared ahead of time and it really stood out to me and Flake is going to say, "When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him 'fake news,' it is that person that should be the figure of suspicion, not the press."

Flake trying to turn that fake news slur around on President Trump. Trying to get people to think about what the impact of the words are. And I think trying to in a way defend the press and talk about the role of the press in democracy, pretty unusual to see in this era of attacks against the media. So, it will be notable to see it on the Senate floor.

HARLOW: All right. We're looking at live pictures. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer there. We're going to bring you Flake's entire address as soon as he begins. Let's move on to keeping the government open. Shall we?

BERMAN: Small issue.

HARLOW: This morning the small issue at hand. Look, Errol Louis, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just made some remarks, very interesting. Let me just read some of the highlights. He said, it's nuts to do defense spending now and DACA later. Do them now both. He also said that Republican's stance in the DACA negotiations is naive saying how naive can you be. This after he made many headlines yesterday with his remarks as well.

LOUIS: Yes. That's right. The effort by Lindsey Graham to sort of get some kind of compromise here is - it harkens back to an older time -


LOUIS: Well, listen, kicking this issue down the road, kicking this can down the road has gotten nobody anywhere.


HARLOW: What's in February 19?

LOUIS: Nothing is going to change in two months except frankly there will be more people who are subject to the possibility of deportation. He also I think senses politically what more of his colleagues will probably realize later on, which is that this is going to be a potent issue driving the Democratic wave that we see building. All of the polls suggested that the Democrats have an advantage.

This is one of them, they are finding in district after district these heartbreaking cases of people who came here of DACA recipients who are you know, they want to enlist in the army. They are honor students. They've done this. They've done that and charitable and part of their communities. It's going to be really an important political issue.

So, for a lot of different reasons, including the 2018 elections Lindsey Graham I think is going to come to be seen as somebody who is on a leading edge of where this debate needs to go. The hard liners who just want to kind of shut it down and try to find hundreds of thousands of people and deport them, that's going to be a very tough position to sustain through the elections.

BERMAN: Guys, if you will, stick around for one moment. We have a whole lot of live events we're watching right now that could have a huge impact. Jeff Flake is about to speak on the right on the Senate floor attacking the president, comparing him in his words to Joseph Stalin. On the left you see the House Republican leadership, how do they plan to get the votes on it temporary spending measure? Do they think they are there? Well, some smiles, maybe that's an indication. We'll be right back.


[10:21:25] HARLOW: House Speaker Paul Ryan speaking in the midst of this spending debate. Let's listen in.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: In respect, look, after hearing the good news in recent weeks, there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is the tax reform is boosting America's economic confidence. Company after company has been announcing that we're having increased bonuses, increased wages, renewed investment in America, all because of tax reform.

I was at my son's basketball game on Sunday, and a UAW worker from the Chrysler plant in Belvidere came up to me and said this is going to get me $4,000 in my paycheck. I thought this was only for the rich. I guess that's me now.

I mean, this is working. It's just the beginning. At the heart of this law is really a lower tax burden for American families who are going to start seeing this relief very, very soon. Last week the Treasury Department announced that it has adjusted the amount the IRS takes out of people's paychecks to account for this new law. It's estimated that 90 percent of wage earners in America will experience an increase in their take home pay starting as soon as February. Let me just say that one more time. 90 percent of -

BERMAN: All right. That is Paul Ryan on the left, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona on your right. Talking about this free press and the president.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan's proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and the truth relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last. 2017 was a year which saw the truth -- objective, empirical, evidence- based truth -- more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine alternative facts into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be simple called old-fashioned falsehoods. It was a year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free speech was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. "The enemy of the people," was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase "enemy of the people," that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of quote, "annihilating such individuals," unquote, who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward -- despotism is the enemy of the people.

[10:25:09] The free press is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of fake news are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on false news charges.

Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president's time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful -- in fact, we question the powerful most ardently -- to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship -- and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don't.

No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism -- who must constantly deflect and distort and distract -- who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

Now, we are told via Twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the quote, "most corrupt and dishonest" media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth -- and not partners in its destruction.

It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial -- such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year's inaugural.

But some untruths are not at all trivial -- such as the seminal untruth of the president's political career - the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also, not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate -- to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all -- the supposed hoax at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a "hoax" -- as the president has many times -- is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real -