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Senator Jeff Flake Slams President Trump for Using Stalin's Term on Media; Paul Ryan Hopes Cool Heads will Prevail to Prevent Government Shutdown; DHS Voters Support Trump Despite Difficult First Year. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 17, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: To be very clear, to call the Russian matter a hoax as the president has done so many times is a falsehood. We know the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security.

It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter wherever the investigation leads. Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to future attacks.

We are told by our intelligence agencies that these attacks are ongoing. Yet it is recently been reported that there has not been a single Cabinet level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one.

What might seem like a casual and routine untruth, so casual and routine that it has now become the white noise of Washington, is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

Mr. President, let us be clear, the impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign, they have the effective eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark. For it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps the people free.

Between the mighty and the modest, truth is a great leveler. And so respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports. But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm, reading from the story quote, "In February, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed in one of his military prisons by saying, you can forge anything these days. We're living in a fake news era."

In the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being demonized by fake news. Last month, the report continues, with our president, quote, "laughing by his side, Duterte called reporters spies." In July, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet that the world media has spread lots of false versions, lots of lies about his country, adding, "This is what we call fake news today, isn't it? "

There are more. The state official in Myanmar recently said there's no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news. He was referring to the persecuted ethnic group. Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised fake news legislation in the next year. And on and on and on.

This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press but it seems he has now in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. That is reprehensible.

We are not in a fake news era as Bashar al-Assad says. We are rather in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself to challenge free people and free societies everywhere. In our own country from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be the cause for profound alarm and spur to action.

Add to that the by now predictable habit of calling true things false and false things true. And we have a recipe for disaster. George Orwell warned, the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.

Any of us who have spent time in public life had endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions to deploy even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put, it is the press's obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people's right to criticize their government and it is our job to take it.

What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America was eloquent in answer to that question. We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values.

[10:35:10] For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation afraid of its people.

Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democracy institutions.

We are a mature democracy. It is past time to stop excusing or ignoring or, worse, endorsing these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise a truth to the sake of our politics, we are lost. I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I'll

close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith and I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques and as a young missionary in England, he contemplated the question, what is truth? His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with titled, "Oh, Say What is Truth."

It ends as follows. "Then say what is truth it is the last and the first. For the limits of time it steps or, though the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst, truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst. Eternal, unchanged ever more."

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator from Minnesota.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, I rise today --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Republican senator of Arizona, Jeff Flake, condemning Republican sitting president, President Trump, for his assaults on the truth. Clearly explaining the danger to our democracy in so many ways.

There's a lot to get to. Let's bring back in our panel to talk about all of it.

David Chalian, to you first, he began by saying that last year was the year that saw truth more battered and abused than any other in the history of this nation at the hands of the most powerful person in our government, the president. What were you left with?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. And he said some of those untruths were trivial in nature, like lying about the crowd size at the inauguration but he ticked through some really important untruths that had been part of Donald Trump's past and present. Of course the lie about Barack Obama not being born in the United States. The lie about massive voter fraud across the country calling into question the very institution that our democracy relies on to be able to have a people governed by elected representatives.

And of course saying that the Russia investigation by Bob Mueller is a hoax.


CHALIAN: Jeff Flake portrayed that as one of the greatest lies that Donald Trump has told over the last year.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm sure if the president was watching that would be the part that would jump out at him.

CHALIAN: Of course. Yes.

BERMAN: And bother him the most. Again this wasn't a defense of the press as we thought it might be going in.


BERMAN: This was a defense of truth.

HARLOW: It exactly is.

BERMAN: This was the president versus truth. Jeff Flake standing up for truth. And you know --

CHALIAN: And the need -- sorry. The -- not just defense of the truth but the need for a shared truth.


CHALIAN: For shared facts across the country from elected representatives to the people that they represent because that's the only way you can move forward in a democracy.

BERMAN: And what struck me, Rebecca Berg, I want you in this conversation right now, is he was telling the people inside that Senate, it's on us.


BERMAN: To deal with it and shame on us if we don't. He said this alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. Interesting.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Absolutely interesting, a call to arms and this sort of thing which you don't typically hear a sitting senator used to describe his colleagues, use to sort of point at them and say this is on us, this is on you. And it especially has resonance because Jeff Flake isn't going to be here after this Congress because he's retiring from Congress, not running for re- election.

But the other senators who he was speaking to, many of them will be here into the future, into the final two years of the presidency's first term and potentially for a second term. And so he's telling them this is going to be their issue to have to address. And I think it's important to remember that politically, I mean, this does have consequences, this idea of a fact-free presidency.

And then have political consequences because David Chalian alluded to this, if you don't have sort of a shared truth that you're starting from, that you're starting debates from, how can you possibly have a debate, how can you possibly communicate to people on the other side of the aisle and reach these compromises that lawmakers need to reach.

[10:40:01] HARLOW: And not only did he make the comparison to Joseph Stalin using the phrase "enemy of the people," which this president has to describe the press, but, Brian Stelter, he also talked extensively about how this president he believes has opened the door to dictators around the world, like the president of the Philippines, Duterte, to use the phrase fake news when standing beside a laughing President Trump, you remember that trip, and also Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who just brushed off a report about the tens of thousands of innocent people killed by calling it fake news.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: In the United States President Trump's anti-media attacks are just words, they are not backed up usually by actions but in other countries, these kinds of words used by dictators, by authoritarian leaders are backed up by actions. Like imprisonment of journalists. And there's been a worrisome trend for years pre-dating Trump's inauguration.

But in the past years since President Trump was inaugurated, he's used the word fake almost 400 times. Usually to diminish the news media, to legitimize real news, calling polls and stories and journalists fake. That has a poisonous effect over time. And I think What Jeff Flake is trying to say here is that the culmination of all those insults and slurs, the accumulation of all of it, does damage --

HARLOW: Is actual danger. Is actual danger.

STELTER: Does damage to the democracy.


STELTER: And I think he's articulating what a lot Americans feel, maybe not many loyal Trump supporters who feel the media is out to get their president but what the rest of the country feels right now. He also focused on checks and balances and that was my main takeaway.

John, you were point out as well, the idea that Congress has to stand up when there was an assault on the truth.

BERMAN: And you're not seeing it. Right? We have this debate on hole versus house, right?

HARLOW: It's a good point.

BERMAN: You have the Homeland Security secretary, Errol Louis, under oath saying she did not know whether Norway was predominantly white. This is a committed public servant with a decorated record who said that out loud.


BERMAN: In front of the Senate committee right now and you see what Jeff Flake is saying, you're seeing that the assault on the truth is poisonous, in some ways infectious.

LOUIS: In so many ways, at so many times, and so many situations, the Trump presidency has been like a character test for the collective U.S. institutions of democracy as well as for individuals. Individuals have to make a decision. If you look at somebody like Lindsey Graham, do you play golf with the president and do you flatter him constantly? Do you stand up and speak the truth about what happened in a private meeting?

Do you try to push against his policies? How do you make all of that work? And I think Jeff Flake unfortunately I think some of his political colleagues will dismiss him and say, well, it's easy for you to stand in the well and make a brave speech, you're not running for re-election. We've got -- we've got different problems --

HARLOW: That actually looks really bad for them.


HARLOW: That actually looks really bad for them to admit publicly we won't say what we think because we want to be elected again.

LOUIS: It's extraordinary. When you see that people who were in the meeting are sort of splitting hair, well, it was house and not hole, and I didn't hear it or maybe he said it, and maybe he didn't. People who were sworn to sort of uphold the Constitution to do that, I mean, Jeff Flake is telling us.

And look, this is unfortunately, I hate to be pessimistic but this strikes me as one more in a long line of warnings that were a staple of the Republican debates in 2015 and 2016. We were told over and over and over again that chaos would follow if we continue to turn a blind eye to some of the negative characteristics of Donald Trump's history, his political style, his rhetoric, his vulgarity, the falsehoods, the obscenity.

And you know, he pulled the sword out of the stone and he's the president. And so when we hear one more speech saying, you know, it's almost kind of like an I told you so speech, that in the guise of trying to sort of warn us one more time. The question is for everyone watching this broadcast right now. The question is for all of us to decide what we're going to do.

HARLOW: Let's bring in Patti Solis-Doyle and Alice Stewart. They've been patiently waiting, listening to the speech there also with us.

And let me begin with you, Alice, actually just on Errol's point about sort of what the response is going to be from Republican colleagues. You're a Republican strategist, former communications director for Republican Senator Ted Cruz. We heard Jeff Flake call this a move to prevent further, in his words, moral vandalism. He said, "Together we have it within us to turn back the attacks."

Is this a moment of that where there is more coming together and more of those running again but also running behind Jeff Flake to support him? Or is Errol right, that they may not?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it will be difficult for Flake to get a lot of Republicans behind him, given that he's outgoing and the president is here to stay and Republicans need to work with him.

Look, the reality of this entire fake news dialogue is that the president really believes that, he really believes fake news happens, and large part of the media is responsible for that. And he goes out and speaks to his base and it energizes him. The media is the foil and the enemy. The problem of that from a communications standpoint, if there is fake

news or if there's a story that is factually incorrect, you ask for a correction, if it is an unconvenient or uncomfortable truth, you suck it up and you take it.

[10:45:08] Free press is valuable to our democracy. It is important to have truth to power. And just because you don't like a news story that comes out, you cannot push back and paint the entire press as the enemy of the people.

And I think that is where he crosses the line repeatedly. And I think John McCain wrote a great piece in the "Washington Post" this morning and that the president's criticism of the media is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst because he himself sometimes uses alternative facts and sometimes if it's a positive news story, he loves to talk about it. If it is not positive, he likes to question it and call it fake.

BERMAN: You know, Patti Solis-Doyle, you know, Alice notes that Jeff Flake is not going to get much support from the Republican side here. I often hear Democrats or progressives criticize people like Jeff Flake for taking a stand like this, making a big public speech on the floor of the Senate like this, coming out against the president for his assault on truth, but then, you know, voting with him more than 90 percent of the time.

You know, he's in the Senate for another year basically.


BERMAN: Is it enough to speak on the floor of the Senate in your mind if he continues to vote with the president?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think Senator Flake's speech today was very powerful. Particularly in the backdrop of the last two days where we have Republican senators and our, you know, DHS secretary basically lying about what happened in the Oval Office two days ago. But I think when he said that it doesn't go as far as what other countries have done in terms of making the press the enemy of the state, I think he's wrong there in that the president comes pretty close to that line.

I mean, certainly he's not killing anybody but, you know, he has taken credentials away. He has kicked reporters out of press avails. He picks and chooses who he wants to be in a press avail. He has kicked, you know, reporters out of the Oval Office. He has threatened to take away licenses of the media.

These are all things that go right up to that line and it's a scary place because the press is the core to our democracy. It keeps our government and our elected officials honest. And the president has decided for whatever reason he is not going to be honest. And the way to get away with not being honest is to discredit that check, the press, in terms of their own honesty.

HARLOW: Rebecca Berg, I think we were all struck hearing Senator Jeff Flake saying and the perhaps the biggest, you know, mistruth of them all, the most vexing untruth, his words, is the president calling the Russian investigation, Bob Mueller's investigation a hoax.

To hear that from a sitting Republican senator, a day after Steve Bannon basically played Congress for 10 hours not answering any of these questions that they had pertaining to the Russia probe. What did you make of that?

BERG: It is such an important remark, Poppy, because if you look at some of the polling of public opinion of the Russia probe, public opinion of Bob Mueller, you see that Republicans over time have come to distrust the probe and come to distrust Bob Mueller.


BERG: And now something north of 70 percent of Republicans believe that the point of the probe is not to look at possible collusion, it's not to look at Russian interference, these very serious issues, but instead it's an effort to undermine the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

And so it's important for Republicans like Jeff Flake to say, wait a minute, what the president is saying that this is a political witch hunt, it just isn't true because -- and I think this goes back to why Jeff Flake made these comments in the first place because the president has a megaphone in his position that gives his statements more credibility than maybe they warrant.

And so if he says something like that, that the probe is a political witch hunt, people do believe it, not everyone, but some people and especially his supporters. And so that's why Jeff Flake is calling on his colleagues to take the president on and challenge him on these things.

BERMAN: Look, and I was surprised, he didn't have to bring up the Russian investigation right now.


BERMAN: The speech would have been the same without it. But he chose to, one might wonder whether or not it was a political statement to draw the attention of the president.

Guys, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: A fascinating moment to see. We'll be right back.


[10:53:39] BERMAN: All right. Moments ago House Speaker Paul Ryan speaking just days before what could be a government shutdown. Manu Raju was in the room.


say if they had the votes in order to keep the government open until mid February, which is the proposal that is on the table, saying that it's something that they're still looking at determining whether they have the votes to pass, they've not whipped it, which is a terminology here on Capitol Hill to make sure that they have enough votes.

But he tried to put the pressure on Democrats in the House who are resisting this along with some conservatives in the House who are also resisting this because he's pointing to language in the bill that would extend the Children's Health Insurance Program, funding for that program that's about to lapse as well. That authorization about to lapse.

This is how Paul Ryan put it in trying to urge Democrats to vote for this bill later this week.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I feel that it makes no sense for Democrats to try and bring us to a shutdown, to try and cut off CHIP funding for the states that are running out of money like Minnesota and Washington and Kentucky and other states. So I think cool heads hopefully will prevail in this thing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have the Republican votes?

RYAN: We haven't even whipped it yet.


RAJU: Now the Democrats have been insisting that there should be a fix to deal with those undocumented immigrants who came in here at young ages and get that language on the so-called Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program, the DACA program, by this deadline by Friday, this shutdown deadline.

[10:55:10] But this is not going to happen this week. So the questions for Democrats is whether or not they're going to fight this tooth and nail, not give the Republicans any votes because Republicans themselves do not appear to have the votes in order to get this through based on separate opposition from conservatives in the House, the Freedom Caucus.

But separately, Poppy and John, those -- the immigration talks are going to continue today for key members who are going to sit down behind closed doors, try to hash out a separate compromise that they could get going but that still will not be done in time for Friday talks. At the end of the day the question is, what do Democrats do, what do some of those conservatives in the House do when that vote comes later this week, guys.

HARLOW: Yes. Who blinks. Manu, thank you. We appreciate it.

So President Trump as you know often casts himself as the outsider shaking up things in Washington saying he will bring jobs back. BERMAN: Now it's just days away from the one-year anniversary of the

inauguration, CNN's Martin Savidge went to Youngstown, Ohio, to ask Trump supporters how they believe he's doing so far.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anywhere you look in Youngstown reminders of what's been lost -- factories, jobs. The city's population is down by almost two thirds from the 1950s. The economy wasn't just disappearing here, so was a way of life.

RICK GREEN, IRON WORKER: And I realized that the core foundation of our country is slipping away.

ANNA PARA, RETIRED, MOTHER OF FOUR: I mean, it got to a point where I did not like the direction that my country was going.

SAVIDGE: The answer for many was Donald Trump. In 2016 according to the Mahoning County Board of Elections, approximately 7,000 registered Democrats switched parties to become Republicans.

DERRICK ANDERSON, PASTOR: He said he's going to make America first and he's going to bring jobs back.

GENO DIFABIO, MACHINE SHOP WORKER: Donald Trump says you're in lousy trade deals, we fix that, the job will come back.

JUSTIS HARRISON, STUDENT: Something that he said that really sticks with me is that he wants to give the power back to the American people and that's something that I can certainly get behind.

SAVIDGE: I'm with a pastor, a stay-at-home mom, a student, a machine shop worker, and a union member. Democrats who were raised in Democrat families who crossed over to vote Trump.

(On camera): We're one year. One year in. How is he doing?

GREEN: Fantastic.


PARA: Better than I ever would have dreamt. I mean that sincerely.

SAVIDGE: Really?

PARA: Yes.

SAVIDGE: Derrick?

ANDERSON: Yes, I agree.

PARA: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: He's doing wonderful, he's staying on task.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): We start with a hot button topic of the moment. (On camera): How big an issue to all of you is immigration?


PARA: Huge.

SAVIDGE: Really?

PARA: Absolutely.

SAVIDGE: In Youngstown, Ohio?

GREEN: Absolutely. And as far as I'm concerned, they're stealing jobs of rightful citizens.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): It's also about something else Trump voters say is important, rules and respect.

HARRISON: I mean, I feel like when people come here illegally that's just very disrespectful. You don't respect our laws and you shouldn't be able to come here free-wheeling like that.

SAVIDGE: A year later they all still want the wall. As for the president's inflammatory tweets and speech, Geno says he used to cringe, not any more.

(On camera): So you don't cringe anymore because you've grown numb to it or --

DIFABIO: No, not numb at all. I know what he's done. And I'm starting to get an inkling why he uses Twitter in the way he does. Because if all he had to rely on is what people say about him, my god, I might not like the guy. But I love the guy. I love the job he's doing.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Justis met Trump at a rally and says he's not a racist.

HARRISON: He was just the nicest person and honestly if he was a racist as everyone paints him out to be, he could have just walked right past me and not even said a word.

SAVIDGE: What about the lies?

(On camera): Well, let me ask you this. Do I think he is a liar?

DIFABIO: Do I think he's lied? No. But I think he's fallen short in some of his goals. We all do.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Economically they say things are getting better. The stock market and their home values are up.

GREEN: Industries are booming, everywhere I've seen.

SAVIDGE (on camera): I look around here. I don't see a boom.

GREEN: Well, in this area, no, but I feel like there's small businesses that are starting to pick up.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Derrick says Trump's tax reform will fuel the recovery.

ANDERSON: You expand your business in the city so then my community will benefit from this tax cut.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Do you think the media gives the president a fair shake?

PARA: I don't think so at all.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): One year later, these voters couldn't be happier. They see achievement, most of all they see a president like them.

PARA: He's like tenacious sometimes and says stuff off the cuff like we do, like real Americans do. You know, we're not perfect. I'm tired of suave. I'm tired of polished. I'm tired of the teleprompter, you know, I am. I want my country back.

SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, CNN, Youngtown, Ohio.


HARLOW: Appreciate the reporting, Marty. And thank you all for being with us today. Quite a day. A lot of news.

BERMAN: A whole lot going on and so much more to come. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Kate Bolduan. It is 11:00 a.m. on Capitol Hill but it's looking a lot like high noon in the showdown over government funding. Right now the threat of a shutdown Friday night looms larger than ever. Hard line --