Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Conservatives Hammer Trump Over Immigration Proposal; UN Ambassador Nikki Haley: Affair Rumors "Absolutely Not True"; Conan Travels To Haiti After Trump's Explosive Comments. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: And second, I think it's been a long time since June. And it's possible that the first time around that the president attempted to want to fire Mueller, at the time, the groundwork had not been laid by the White House's allies to make it a politically palatable thing to do, setting legal concerns aside.

[16:30:02] Now, we're many months later, you've seen a sustain attack on Robert Mueller coming from conservative media, from folks on the hill. It's possible that the president is feeling fidgety and feeling more like he might really want to pull the trigger this time, and this is an attempt to get the president to see the gravity of his situation, not just legally, but politically and publicly.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: M.J., do you think if he fired Mueller there would be that much of a repercussion? Do you think people on Capitol Hill would do anything? Do you think Republicans would appoint Mueller as a special counsel empanelled by the Congress? I mean, is there really that much of a risk?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: I think that if President Trump had fired Mueller, if he had gone through with that initial desire to do so, yes, there would be chaos and there would be a lot of political backlash. As you were saying, I think Don McGahn, it would be understandable if he felt look I want this out there, this narrative out there that I was the person who stopped him from doing something so reckless.

Look, I think as we have these conversations today about this new reporting, it's new reporting for us but I don't believe that it's new for Mueller, who probably has known this maybe for a while. I think that the question of whether the president obstructed justice, we're just not going to know the answer to that until this investigation is over, but I do think what we do know for sure is that there is a sliding scale.

On one end is where it is less likely that Mueller is going to come to the conclusion that the president obstructed justice and on the other end of the scale, of course, it is more likely he comes to that conclusion. I think there is no question the president's desire and ordering someone close to him to fire Mueller skews the scale in one direction. TAPPER: Karine, one of the things we haven't talked about much since

the top of the show but just the waterfall cascading of lies. I mean, it is unbelievable how often the White House has denied what we now know to be true, that the president has not only contemplated but had tried to act on it.

Do you this all these aides didn't know or do you think they just lied?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER & NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, MOVEON.ORG: I think they just lied. I think it's surprising that they lied for so long. I mean, this story came out, apparently, it happened seven months ago, June, a month after Robert Mueller, special prosecutor, was hired. And I'm surprised that it hadn't yet gotten out.

But I think with the question of Don McGahn, I think the buck stops with the president of the United States. Clearly, Donald Trump is not acting like an innocent person. He is abusing his power nearly every day. You know, you had the question about how will -- what will be the political backlash. I can tell you this because I looked this up before I got here, which for move on we put out like a pledge for people to come out in case Mueller gets fired, will you take the streets and we have 884,000 people who have signed up to do about 733 political events on the streets.

TAPPER: All right, everybody. Stick around. We got lots more to talk about.

It's not just Democrats upset about the White House immigration proposal. Did President Trump just alienate his own base? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:05] TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

Both conservatives and progressives are outraged at the White House proposal to reform the immigration system. The proposal would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, including the nearly 700,000 Dreamers, $25 billion for border security. The proposal would also end the visa lottery program and severely curtail various forms of legal immigration.

My panel is back with me.

Kristen, let me start with you.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter, I will cite her as one of many examples, she tweeted: amnesty in exchange for wall is a crap deal, impeachable if wall isn't built and dedicated first with speeches and balloons. I could go into more policy-oriented tweets, but you get the point. A lot of people in the president's base are very mad at this proposal.

ANDERSON: A lot of folks who have prominent platforms, sell a lot of books, go on radio shows. Take someone like Steve Bannon, for instance, who would clash with the president over stuff like this.

In the end, Donald Trump wins in those kinds of clashes. Now, this is testing limits of that perhaps. But I think Trump's base is Trump's base, and if he comes out and says an immigration deal is good, I like it, this is good for America, I think a lot of these pundits on the far right who oppose this deal kind of underestimate the extent to which their elevation and support of Trump over the last few years has created this monster that owns their base far more than they do.

TAPPER: Karine, a lot of Democrats are mad about this bill as well, including a lot of Dreamer groups and immigration progressives.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. I mean, what this outline of this immigration plan does is it holds Dreamers hostage in order for Donald Trump to push his really hard line stance on immigration. And also if you look at it, what we have thus far is that it actually cuts the legal part of immigration by 50 percent. So, this is incredibly dangerous.

And what I think too is that, you know, we already know where Donald Trump stands on immigration. He made that very clear two weeks ago.

TAPPER: We do? He didn't know that. He seems all over the map.

JEAN-PIERRE: Two weeks ago when it was reported he said those all awful things about the African nations and people from Haiti, he made it very clear and that was off the record in a room when nobody was around and he said those things. And I think what we see in this plan, it's just been articulated.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you, MJ, if the fact that far right and progressives are both mad and upset about this plan, does that mean that they're actually might be room to make it work and pass?

LEE: I mean, maybe it is a sign, maybe that, you know, when you come to the negotiating table and everyone is unhappy, yes, sometimes that is a sign that there's something -- a potential for a deal.

I will say, you know, you were saying we do know where the president stands on immigration. I'm not really sure where he stands. And you think back to that meeting where he met with lawmakers at the White House, you could tell that he --

TAPPER: The one on camera.

LEE: The one on camera, right.

(CROSSTALK)

LEE: Because he was willing to be swayed, he was wanting to win over the different factions. And by the way, this White House plan came out on the eve of President Trump traveling overseas.

[16:40:03] I'm sorry but I'm not willing to call this the Trump immigration plan until we physically see him owning this, lobbying members and saying this is exactly what I want.

TAPPER: And articulating for it. But you're talking about the Trump meeting with lawmakers that was off camera.

JEAN-PIERRE: With the senators, that was off camera, nobody was watching and we heard what he said.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around, we have a lot more to talk about.

He's a friend of President Trump's. He's the finance chair of the Republican National Committee and now, "The Wall Street Journal" reports sexual misconduct claims against casino mogul Steve Wynn. How will the Republican Party responds?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN CLIP)

[16:45:00] NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: At every point in my life I've noticed that if you speak your mind and you're strong about it and you say what you believe, there is a small percentage of people that resent that, and the way they deal with it is to try and throw arrows, lies or not, to diminish you.

(END CLIP)

TAPPER: That was U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley responding to completely unfounded rumors that she's having an affair with the President. The speculation started after Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury teased a section of the book that he thought readers had not picked up on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a woman thing?

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE AND FURY: I did not have the blue dress. You just have to read between the lines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That bit of shameless book promotion led some, many, to jump to the conclusion with zero evidence that Ambassador Haley was romantically involved with the President, rumors of course that she strongly denies and for which there's zero, zero evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY: It is absolutely not true. It is highly offensive and it disgusting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I'm joined again by my political panel. Kristen, I know you're fired up about this. He seems to be trying to do -- Wolff seems to be trying to this to boost sales. Although he admits that he didn't have enough evidence -- not that that stopped him and the rest of the book, but he didn't have enough evidence to put this in the book, but he's saying that he heard it and he's suggesting it.

ANDERSON: It's disgusting. There have been enough other things that were actually written in the book that have been proven to be -- they're shoddily sourced somewhat untrue, to then on and make sort of salacious allegations, a little bit of a wink here and there, oh, go find out who in the Trump administration is trying to sleep their way to the top. It's disgusting. It infuriates me. And my hope is that even though Nikki Haley, she's a Republican, she's a conservative, and she's a part of the Trump administration, that folks who consider themselves feminist regardless of political affiliation will come out and condemn this disgusting episode.

TAPPER: Well, it's also -- she says, M.J., that she's doing this coming out and talking about this, that the inclination would be to not talk about it. But to come in and talk about it to blaze a trail for other women in the future so they don't have to face this. But it really is bizarre. To be completely candid, I never even heard this rumor until she came out and denied it. So I wonder if there's a risk in doing it this way.

LEE: First of all, I agree with you that this is totally disgusting. The fact that this author/journalist was saying he was absolutely sure this affair happened, is that not enough to mention it in the book except than now while his promoting the book. He goes on national television, talks about it and sort of goads the audience to look for the person he is sort of suggesting that, I think all of that is terrible and I think this is hurtful and awful for two kind of women. One is the kind of woman that Nikki Haley is.

She's in this position because she worked hard and she, you know, climbed her way up in whatever she did through her political career, got this position, and now she's having to address these terrible rumors that are based on nothing. And then for someone like Eliana Johnson of Politico, I was on the panel with her earlier, she is trying to do her job as a reporter and you know, got this great get. This is a good interview for her, and she's having to spend her time asking her this question, asking Nikki Haley this question because it was brought up and you kind of can't ignore it.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about one slightly different topic, which is the Wall Street Journal reporting serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn. He's a friend of President Trump. He's the Finance Chair of the Republican National Committee. You might remember the RNC pushing Democrats, pushing the DNC to return the Harvey Weinstein money. They have a problem too now it would seem by that same standard.

JEAN-PIERRE: Right. Well, they should follow the standard that they set and we should all do that regardless on what side of the isle you sit on, which is he should resign and they should -- you know, they should give back the money that he -- that he gave. And I think it's really awful. This should not be allowed. This is -- sexual harassment, sexual assault, should not be allowed anywhere in the workplace in society period.

TAPPER: And I mean, you would agree, I'm sure, that this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's used as a partisan issue all the time but somebody is accused of this credibly. The Wall Street Journal story is incredibly sourced and detailed and just absolutely vile. How can Steve Wynn still even be on the finance -- be the Finance Chair of the RNC right now?

ANDERSON: I think that is something that needs to come to a close pretty quickly. I mean, this Wall Street Journal piece, it is not just a one-off he said, she said. This is -- this is a well-sourced with many sort of credible looking accusations. I think the RNC needs to figure this out and fast, especially given how vocal they were and I think rightly so about the Harvey Weinstein issue.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all for being here. I really appreciate it. President Trump said he doesn't want immigrants from Haiti coming to this country, so what do Haitians have to say about that? What do they have to say to President Trump? Conan O'Brien took his show to find -- to their country to find out and he joins me live next. Hey Conan!

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, TBS: Hey, how are you, Jake?

TAPPER: Coming up after this.

O'BRIEN: All right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: A little politics in our "POP CULTURE LEAD" today. When President Trump called African countries s-holes and said he did not want people from Haiti immigrating from the U.S., it sparked outrage from not only nations around the world but also from late night talk show Host Conan O'Brien who decided to film a special in Haiti to showcase its natural beauty and its people. Joining me now is the host of TBS' Conan, Conan O'Brien. Thanks for being here Conan.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So you let some Haitians take a jab back to at President Trump. Let's take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

[16:55:12] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But more seriously, how did you find Haitians reacted to the President's comments.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, I encountered the same thing I encountered when we took our show to Mexico City last year, which is that they are human beings. They get their feelings hurt. And I think when you -- when you go there and you meet the people, that you find out that, yes, they're sensitive. And when they hear comments like that, they're upset by them. The Haitians are a very strong people with a lot of dignity, and they have a lot of resilience obviously so they bounce back. But you could sense that they wanted to talk. They wanted to tell -- they wanted to react and they wanted a forum, and they wanted to be able to show there's a lot of positive things about Haiti that never get much media attention. So we gave them a chance to do that.

TAPPER: And they also seemed that they wanted to talk about and education the American people as to part of the reason why Haiti isn't the best Haiti it could be because of a century worth of colonization and exploitation by France and then the United States.

O'BRIEN: Yes. They've -- Haiti, as we say in the special has been dealt one of the words hands in the western hemisphere. It's a beautiful country and it is a country that has an amazing people. They have an incredible -- I mean, they're artists, they have a great sense of humor, they have incredible talent and their country has been exploited. We've done a lot of damage to Haiti. And so have the other countries that colonized them. And they've been robbed of a lot of their riches. And so I spoke to children in Haiti who said, oh, you're from the United States, you're here to take stuff from us. And I had to assure them that, no, I'm not going to do that and that maybe more Americans are going to be willing to give some stuff back to Haiti and help out a little bit.

TAPPER: Now, you've done eight of these international adventure shows in three years in places such as Cuba and Israel. Tell us what might be different about this episode given the current political climate.

O'BRIEN: You know, this is the fastest episode we've turned around. Usually, we have a little more time to plan these episodes. The President's comments came out on a Thursday night. I decided on a Saturday, let's go to Haiti. Sunday we announced it and then we left on Wednesday and we were back the following Sunday and we turned this around in just a few days. And so this is the fastest we've ever done a show. So that's very quick. The other thing that makes Haiti very different from a lot of the places I've been is there a lot of countries that have problems.

And in our last special when I was in the Middle East, I looked into the Syrian border and they have so many intractable problems in Syria, countries that are torn apart. What's incredible about Haiti is the problems seem fixable. I think there's a lot of -- they need some infrastructure, they need some help and they insist they can do it on their own but, you know, you look at Haiti and you think this country could be very different in 20 years because the people are there, the natural resources are there, the beauty is there. This can -- Haiti can be much better off very quickly, I believe.

TAPPER: People ask me all the time what's the biggest challenge being a journalist in the age of Trump. What's the biggest challenge being a comedian in the age of Trump?

O'BRIEN: Comedians usually in a normal era are supposed to take these sort of serious situations and find the comedy in them and stretch them a little bit. In the Trump area, we're essentially dealing with -- I mean, every day there is such a mother lode of, I don't know, I don't know how else to say it, surreal news, that it can be very hard to find a joke that's more absurd than what's actually happening. Do you know what I mean? It's really hard to take what's really happening right now and make it somehow more absurd than it really is. So it's a challenge for comics. People think it's easy but it's actually a little more difficult I think right now.

TAPPER: Well, the President works broad. He does a lot of broad work.

O'BRIEN: He does a lot -- you know, he works blue, he works broad and just trying to keep up with him. I mean, that's the other thing is for any other president, the s-hole comment would have resonated for a couple of weeks. He's on a two-day cycle. It's very hard to keep up with him. It's exhausting.

TAPPER: Conan O'Brien, thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Thanks a lot.

TAPPER: "Conan Without Borders, Haiti" will premiere this Saturday on TBS at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks, Conan, I appreciate it. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning after you watch Conan show for CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virgina. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Sunday --