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China Slams U.S. Tariffs; First Lady Not Attending Davos Trip; Trump Declares Win; Kentucky School Shooting; Sessions Interviewed by Mueller. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 23, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:33:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, a fierce reaction from China to the U.S. plan for tariffs. New tariffs issued by the president on solar panels and washing machines. In a statement China expressed its strong dissatisfaction with the move and said the U.S. will not only hurt itself but global trade as well. Are these then the opening shots? Yes, I'll answer that question, in what appears to be a new trade war.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It does indeed. Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here.

And, Christine, as you note, I mean this has been going back and forth between the U.S. and China for a while and this is the president's latest move.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Sure. And this is a new sheriff in town, though. So for the first year we've been waiting to see what kind of tariffs this president is going to impose on these products and these product categories. He promised on the campaign trail that the U.S. was not getting a fair shake and that for too long American administrations had done nothing about it and he would.

So this is what the United States is doing, imposing these new tariffs on solar panels. A 30 percent tariff on solar panels. That's pretty much targeting China. That's the main source of the solar panels coming into the U.S. Thirty percent there. China says it's an abuse of trade rules and is angry about it.

And on washing machines up to 50 percent. These are large, residential washing machines. Think LG and Samsung. South Korea says it will complain - it will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. That is, of course, the international architecture to solve these disputes.

This is what the U.S. trade representative says is the reason the Trump administration is doing this now. The president's action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses.

Now, some of the trade folks that we've been talking to, trade watchers, say they don't expect a trade war over just this. China, in particular, has a lot to lose, more to lose than the U.S. in a trade war. So we'll watch carefully how the language evolves here.

But a couple of things the solar industry is saying in particular, they're worried that this will raise costs for American consumers of these goods, specifically solar. And we have so many jobs in the U.S. that's installing solar, not necessarily manufacturing, that's done in China, 154,000 solar installation jobs. Look at manufacturing, sales, product development. So they're a little worried about the cost- benefit analysis for American consumers on solar there.

[09:35:02] Coal jobs, by the way, 50,000 coal jobs in the United States. So that gives you a perspective of energy in the relative --

HARLOW: It's a third.

ROMANS: Right.

HARLOW: You know, it's a third.

ROMANS: Right.

HARLOW: That's a really great point.

Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: We appreciate it.

The president is heading to Switzerland, Davos, the World Economic Forum. The first lady, Melania Trump, was going to join him. Now she is not going to be there.

BERMAN: Yes, the White House cites scheduling and logistical issues. Ones that exist now but apparently didn't exist before. The news comes amid reports that the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid off an adult film actress to keep quiet about an alleged relationship.

Kate Bennett is in Washington for us following all of this.

Kate, what do you make of it?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think it's -- you know, you can take it at face value. Sure, scheduling logistics, it happens, right? But I think when you hear from -- you don't hear from a first lady, we haven't heard from her in a while, we're sort of forced to write our own narrative. And I think the clues she's given lately are sort of curious. Like, take, for example, the tweet that she put out on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of her husband. And it did not include anything to do with her husband. It sort of has a faceless military escort here. There -- she talks about the wonderful moments she's had during the year, but she doesn't say, you know, thank you, Mr. President, or it's been a great ride for us, et cetera.

So I think with this first lady she remains quite mysterious. However, she's also popular. She's the most popular member of the Trump family according to our new polling released. She's seven points higher than the president in terms of favorability from -- and up from a year ago. So her poll numbers continue to climb.

However, we don't hear from her. We see her watching back and forth to Marine One. In fact, she got on Marine One with the president to go to Mar-a-Lago on that same day that the Stormy Daniels story broke. And she spent the weekend down there and returned with him. But we still haven't heard from her. This trip to Davos was planned.

Again, she's very conscious of things like using resources for her own activities. It could very well have been something to do with getting back and forth from the World Economic Forum to any sort of solo event she wanted to do. Certainly, however, I didn't wake up this morning with an e-mail in my inbox from her office saying no, no, no, your reporting is incorrect or it's this or we want to push back. So I think we're left to infer that perhaps this could be because she's laying low.

BERMAN: All right, Kate Bennett for us. Kate, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, we do have breaking news to tell you. A high school shooting we're just learning about. This is a shooting at Marshall County High School. This is located in Benton, Kentucky, a town of about 4,500 people. Two hours northwest of Nashville. This is according to Benton City Clerk Beth Cooper speaking to CNN. We know the police department there is located inside of city hall. Officers have gone to the high school already. You're talking about a high school of 1,300 students at the school.

BERMAN: Yes, 1,300 students, about 74 teachers. No word yet on casualties or injuries. We'll get you the very latest when we can. Much more ahead. Stay with us.


[09:42:15] BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news out of Benton, Kentucky. We just told you about a shooting at a high school there. We are getting an update. We are told that it is no longer an active shooter situation, indicating either the shooter is in custody or has been neutralized. We are also hearing that there are injuries reported. We do not yet know how many. But, again, we are getting more information as we speak. We will bring it to you when it comes in.

HARLOW: Of course we will.

In the meantime, we have some more political news. New this morning, Republicans are joining the president in declaring victory over this shutdown, the end of the shutdown. Is it too early to claim a big win? What does it mean for the midterms? Major battles still underway for the next 16 days.

Joining us now is Steven Law, the president and CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund, a former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell, so he knows the brain of the man in the middle of all of this better than a lot of us do.

Thank you for being here this morning.

Republicans are claiming victory. They're saying this the Schumer shutdown. They're saying we won. What now? Because you just heard Mick Mulvaney, who was in charge of this whole shutdown, from the White House saying we'll see if we get a DACA deal. What do we get in return? What do we get in terms of a wall? Where does this go?

STEVEN LAW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SENATE LEADERSHIP FUND: Well, first of all, I think the Democrats have had a pretty bad month. The tax bill they opposed has turned out to be great for the economy and resulting in bonuses for hundreds of thousands of workers. Republicans are moving back up in the polls. And now the -- the shutdown that has ended up in such a terrible disaster has created a lot of divisions within the Democrats' ranks. So I don't know if that's a trend, but I'll take it.

BERMAN: But what are Republicans going to do now?

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: What do you think they should do now, because you have another shutdown three weeks away looming, or at last the possibility for it. You still have the issue of dreamers sitting out there. And let me just say, you know, you've had a number of jobs in your a gust career. But one of them was working for the Chamber of Commerce, which is incredibly supportive of protection for dreamers.

HARLOW: Yes, of dreamers.

BERMAN: Here's one quote we found on their webpage, to withdraw the right of these individuals to study and work, to deport them to countries they do not know is contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of America.

So the question, what needs to happen and what do Republicans need to make happen in the next three weeks?

LAW: Sure. Well, I think there are a lot of Republicans who are -- who are very supportive of a deal to provide relief to the dreamers, but they're not going to want to just simply give it away without Democrats giving something in return with respect to border security.

And, again, I think this is where we're going to start to see some of the ideological fissures in the Democratic Party play out. You have a segment of the Democratic Party, which is basically an open borders party. They don't want any controls or restrictions on immigration. There are others who I think are more mainstream liberals who would like to cut a deal. But I think it's going to be just as difficult, if not more so, for the Democratic Party to be able to come to an agreement on what a deal should look like on DACA as it would be for the Republicans.

[09:45:05] HARLOW: Let me ask you this, though. I mean you've got demands from the White House. Sarah Sanders just reiterated them yesterday. In order to have a deal for dreamers, the four sort of pillars of what they want on immigration reform, is a solution to DACA, an end to what they call, a lot of Republicans call in the White House chain migration, an end totally to the visa lottery system and border security that in her words certainly includes a wall. I mean do you see Democrats giving on all that?

LAW: Well, I think that's the point of negotiation that needs to play out. I think chain migration is a very serious issue that's been elevated in the last few months that the vast majority of Republicans -- not just Republicans, but also voters in general favor a solution to. And, again, it comes down to the point that I think Republicans want to get a deal to provide relief to dreamers, but they're going to need to get something from the Democrats. And the question is, are Democrats going to be able to work internally with their own ideological fissures and factions to be able to come to the table with something that's reasonable.

BERMAN: You've heard your former boss, Mitch McConnell, say that he was going to bring up the issue of immigration on a level playing field on the senate floor, allow an amendment, if the gang of six bill comes to the floor or something similar to it, close to it, you know, with some adjustments here or there, do you think that has enough votes on a level playing field to pass the Senate?

LAW: It's really hard for me to say. We haven't done a vote count on that yet. You know, there's some provisions of it that would be acceptable to either side, and some that would be an anathema to either side. I don't think something quite exactly like that --

BERMAN: But you know immigration reform -- immigration reform, you know, you know, comprehensive immigration reform passed the Senate in 2013 with situations that are not dissimilar to this. I mean it passed once. It could pass the Senate again. I think that's the frustration from some moderates here is that they feel -- from both sides, Republicans and Democrats.

LAW: Right.

BERMAN: You say, if you vote on what we're actually talking about, it would pass.

LAW: Well, you'd also have to get it through the House. The House is going to be somewhat more conservative. But I think the national thinking on this issue has also changed. I think people have started to look a little bit more deeply into these issues. I think there's rising concern, as I said, about chain migration, that was not even a topic of discussion some time earlier.

And so I think, you know, the Senate process is going to have to work its will. There are obviously Republicans who are going to be more conservative than that gang of six product, but there are also going to be Democrats who are much more liberal who really aren't going to want to deal, certainly not a deal that includes any kind of restriction at all on immigration.

HARLOW: Steven Law, we appreciate it. We have to cut it short because we do have to get back to this -- this breaking news on this school shooting. Thank you. Again, this high school shooting out of Kentucky. We're getting some more information. Our Alison Kosik is standing by with that.

What else are you learning?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning some new information, Poppy, from Matt Bevin, that's the governor of Kentucky, about this high school shooting that happened such a short time ago. He says that there has been one person confirmed dead, multiple others have been wounded. The shooter is in custody.

Once again, was there an active shooting that began this morning. It seems like it began right around the time school started or was just getting started at Marshall County High School. That's located in Benton, Kentucky. And you see the tweet there from Governor Matt Bevin saying, tragic shooting at Marshall County High School. Shooter is in custody. One confirmed fatality, multiple others wounded. Much yet unknown.

Interesting tidbit though from Benton City Clerk Beth Cooper telling CNN that the Benton County Police Department is located inside city hall. And when the call went out about this active shooting happening at Marshall County High School, the entire police department, all of the members of the police force, left the building and went to the high school where they are on scene right now. Marshall County Sheriff's officers are also on the scene.

John and Poppy.


BERMAN: All right, Alison Kosik, thanks so much for that report.

We also have breaking news. A major development potentially in the Russia investigation.


BERMAN: "The New York Times" reporting that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week.

HARLOW: It's a -- it's very big considering this is someone in the president's inner circle currently working with the administration. And, again, "The Times" just breaking this news that he was questioned several hours by the special counsel, Bob Mueller, in the Russia probe.

BERMAN: Notable, a spokesperson for the Justice Department did confirm to "The Times" that this interview happened.

HARLOW: Happened.

BERMAN: So "The Times" seems to have this completely solid.

We're going to get much more information on this as we can.

I will note, what is fascinating about Jeff Sessions is in his testimony --


BERMAN: In his testimony to Congress before, he claimed he did not remember or would not answer questions based on the possibility of privilege down the road.

HARLOW: Right. Which doesn't work with Bob Mueller.

BERMAN: Exactly. Would he use that with Bob Mueller? What would Bob Mueller try to get from him that he would not give to Congress?

HARLOW: And of course you'll remember Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything having to do with the Russia probe back, you know, a year ago or so, infuriating the president. The president who didn't think he needed to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Sessions himself, at the risk of losing his job, did feel like he needed to. He did that and now he has sat down for hours with Bob Mueller.

[09:50:20] BERMAN: And, again, the things -- the questions that Jeff Sessions could answer deal with the two issues that seem to be of some interest to the special counsel, alleged collusion and alleged obstruction of justice. On the issue of collusion, Jeff Sessions was at these meetings, the meetings with George Papadopoulos. Jeff Sessions also had his own meeting with Russians. At that meeting with George Papadopoulos, by the way, it was raised, does Donald Trump -- candidate Donald Trump want to meet with Russian officials.

HARLOW: With Russians.

BERMAN: You know, Jeff Sessions later denied that.

On issues of obstruction, again, you know, Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, but then how involved was he or wasn't he in the firing of James Comey?

HARLOW: Also, you'll remember that Jeff Sessions didn't remember, according to him at the time, that he had these meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, and then apparently he remembered them again. There had to be all of these changes to his FS-86 disclosure form.

We're going to have much more of this significant breaking news. Again, the attorney general sat down last week for hours with the special counsel, Bob Mueller, in the Russia probe. Much more on this ahead.


[09:55:48] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HARLOW: We have significant breaking news to report to you. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, sat down last week for hours, we have learned, with Bob Mueller's team. This is the special counsel leading the Russia probe. This is the first time that a current cabinet member of the Trump administration has been interviewed in this probe by Mueller's team.

BERMAN: Yes, we understand there was no subpoena issued. He went in and voluntarily answered questions, again, for several hours. No doubt those discussions covered Jeff Sessions' own meeting with the Russian ambassador, Jeff Sessions' own role in meetings during the Trump campaign that involved George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying about meetings and discussions he had with Russians.

But also the issue of obstruction of justice. What does Jeff Sessions know about how, why and when the FBI Director James Comey was fired?

Let's get right to our justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, for the very latest on this.

Shimon, what are you learning?


So this interview apparently took place last Wednesday. And, as you said, it went on for hours.

Now what's important here is that Sessions has been part of probably two of the central issues in this investigation. That is the Russia contacts. His -- also he was running the foreign policy team during the campaign and we know that much of that team is now under scrutiny. Some on that team, George Papadopoulos, have pleaded guilty and are now cooperating with the FBI.

He was also in on the Comey firing, helped draft a memo that ultimately was used as justification to fire the FBI director. So there are two central issues here that presumably Sessions would have been questioned about. So the fact that he went in without a subpoena is not that kind of -- like it's normal for that to happen. He is the attorney general still. And certainly Mueller has had a lot of questions and has been looking into a lot of the issues that Sessions has been part of.

HARLOW: Shimon, thank you very much for the reporting. Stay with us, if you would.

Let's go to the White House. Our Kaitlan Collins is there.

Look, the Department of Justice, you know, confirmed, yes, this happened. Is the White House saying anything at this point?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: The White House has not responded at this point, John and Poppy. We've reached out for a request for comment on what they have to say about this incredibly significant move that the first person in the president's cabinet has been interviewed. And we'll let you know as soon as we hear back from the White House.

But this really puts the spotlight on this troubled relationship between the president and his attorney general that we've seen go on since Jeff Sessions first recused himself from anything relating to the Russia investigation into the 2016 campaign and whether or not Trump officials colluded with Russia. We've seen the president publicly go after Jeff Sessions, not only on Twitter, but in interviews, especially that one with "The New York Times" where he said he would not have picked Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself.

So this certainly could cause some problems, could bring up that fight between the president and Jeff Sessions because it has been dormant for quite some time now. The president still gets frustrated with Jeff Sessions, but he does so only privately talking to old friends and allies. And he has not gone after him publicly in recent months. But we could see that get brought up again here, John and Poppy. But we will let you know as soon as the White House responds to this reporting.


BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House.

Let's bring in Susan Hennessey, our CNN national security and legal analyst, and Steve Moore, CNN law enforcement contributor.

You know, Susan, first to you. Again, just learning this information, the attorney general of the United States interviewed in the special counsel's probe into Russian meddling, the first cabinet official, certainly the person closest or the most senior ranking official interviewed yet in this investigation. What's significant to you here?

[09:59:51] SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, one of the things that's been significant sort of at -- over the past week really is the ramping up these attacks against the FBI, coming from the House Intelligence Committee, this memo from Devin Nunes, Trump's -- President Trump's tweet this morning regarding a series of text messages that were not preserved.