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Trump Speaks in Davos; Trump Touts American Economy; Trump Slams Free Press; U.S. Economy Grew in 2017; America First Doesn't Mean America Alone; Trump Attempted to Fire Mueller. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At making money. I'd buy some things that would fail, that would be failures, and I'd turn them around and try and get them for the right price and then I'd turn around and make them successful. And I've been good at it.

(PRESIDENT TRUMP SPEAKS AT DAVOS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for being with us. The World Economic Forum community who was assembled here will be certainly -- and I quote you from the last piece of your remarks -- would be certainly (ph) be among the hard working men and women who do their (ph) duty each and every day making this world a better place for everyone.

Thank you very much for being here, sir.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, so that was an interesting surprise. We weren't expecting a Q&A session there. And, you know, it's always so interesting. That was sort of vintage Donald Trump. I mean that -- the salesman, the showman talking about -- touting all of what he sees as his successes over the past year. And it was quite different in tone to the more measured, I guess, what's the word, sedated, some people say, when he's on prompter. So we got to see two different --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It was interesting to me -- and I think the crowd was eating up what he had to say because they're making a lot of money here, but they booed. When he brought up the issue of fake news, we heard boos.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but it was hard to tell, were they booing the press or were they booing him calling it fake news.

BERMAN: No, I -- it's an interesting question, I guess (ph).

CAMEROTA: All right, so we have, luckily, all sorts of experts to weigh in on this. Let's bring in CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, CNN senior economics analyst Stephen Moore, CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans, and CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who I've now cut off twice.

[08:35:12] So, Christiane, I -- we think that we are in the clear to now analyze what we've heard. Tell us what you heard in both of those moments.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, obviously, it was a much more subdued President Trump. He wasn't chest thumping in a way that was to the denigration of other countries, as sometimes he has done.

Of course he was cheerleading for the United States. Everybody expected him to do that. But in his scripted speech, he talked about the world "partnership" with the world. That has not really been a key part of his foreign policy and his vocabulary in speeches before. He thanked other countries for their help, whether it's in Afghanistan or the fight against ISIS and all the others.

He did bring up the issue of, as he called predatory trade and theft of intellectual and other properties. So he raised that whole protectionism and potentially more tariffs and trade, trade war. He raised that possibility. But he did try to reach out.

And you can see that Davos also laid out the red carpet, just like President Xi did in Beijing, who had the full red carpet, full state welcome for the president. We have never, ever, ever seen -- and we've been covering Davos for years -- a trumpet orchestra, a trumpet ovation opening the speech of any leader, even the president of the United States. And, obviously, President Trump is the first since Clinton back in 2000. But, nonetheless, that never happened before.

And that very, very soft questioning by Klaus Schwab, the founder of Davos, at the end elicited simply more Trump ability to blow his own trumpet, so to speak.

But, look, there's no doubt that the Davos crowd loves the corporate tax cuts, loves the stock market, loves the fact that the economy is doing well. Most will say that the U.S. economy is building on the Obama years, building out of where it was going since the financial crash. But, nonetheless, they love the economy and the facts and figures.

What they don't love and what he did not address was the idea of pulling out of multilateralism, the Paris climate accord, and all those other big things that the world needs America to act together with in order to solve.

BERMAN: We're getting some brand new economic figures in, which we'll get to in just a moment.

But, first, let's go to the room. Our Jim Acosta was inside that hall during the speech. You know, Jim, we saw it from our end and heard it from our end. But what was it like to be inside?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it was fascinating to be inside. And I think perhaps the most fascinating moment came at the very end there where the president went off script for a few moments and took a shot at the press and said how fake the press can be in the U.S. That's, obviously, some kind of reaction to this story in "The New York Times" that he referred to as fake news earlier this morning, the story that he tried to fire Robert Mueller in June of last year and his White House counsel, Don McGahn, almost resigned as a result of that.

Obviously the president feels like he's had a pretty good reception here in Davos. For somebody who railed against globalism as a candidate for president, he has been mixing and mingling with these fat cats and big wigs nonstop, ever since he's been on the ground here in Davos, and he's had a pretty friendly reception.

I will say, though, it was rather remarkable to hear the founder of this World Economic Forum also take jabs at the press and say that the president is the victim of biased interpretations and misconceptions. All in all, that was a fairly pitiful display, I think, to have so many business and global leaders here have those kinds of statements made with the president by his side and then nobody really take exception to that. But that is sort of the -- what we're living in. That's the environment we live in with President Trump.

But getting back to the substance of this speech, and I think Christiane was touching on this a few moments ago, he was taking credit for this booing U.S. economy over the last year. Obviously the president can take credit for that. He's the president of the United States. But as Christiane was saying, some of this is building on what was happening during the Obama years. And as the president was acknowledging during his remarks, we still have to find out what happens in the coming months as to whether or not these massive tax cuts that predominantly went to corporations and wealthy individuals will have an effect and will actually trickle down to everybody across society in the United States.

That is, obviously, one of the big questions. That may be a driving factor as we head toward the midterm elections, if the president can get out of -- you know, if people give him such high marks on his handling of the economy and how well the economy is doing, that that hasn't translated to helping his poll numbers a great deal. I think that will be one of the determining factors heading into the midterms this year.

But, all in all, it was fascinating to watch the president get this reception here at Davos. Not what I expected having covered this president and hear him rail against globalism and free trade and so on.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ACOSTA: He certainly tailored his message to this crowd here and they seem to enjoy it.

[08:40:03] CAMEROTA: All right, enter Christine Romans, who was furiously taking notes during all of this.

So is there anything that needs to be fact checked?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, a lot of these numbers he's telling you about the stock market and the economy are right. The stock market is up really big over the past year. Job creation has been very good. It is a 17-year low in unemployment. Many of these numbers he didn't believe during the Obama administration, right, and he believes and takes credit for now.

And he even goes this time one step further. The president says he knows what the stock market would have done if Hillary Clinton were elected president. It would be down up to 50 percent. That's a crystal ball I don't think anybody has. But it is sort of vintage President Trump, that he even goes further than the numbers in front of him, you know, to try to sort of exaggerate how well things are doing here.

The tax cuts were really important. For everyone in those rooms, they love those tax cuts. And there are some who worry privately and publicly that it will exacerbate income inequality, that most of those tax cuts will go to the top 1 percent and to companies. But at least public relations-wise, you are seeing all of these other companies saying they're going to give bonuses. And that's something the president is taking credit for and says that they did not really anticipate.

ACOSTA (ph): (INAUDIBLE), I'm on the air.

ROMANS: We just got some GDP numbers, by the way, 2.6 percent is what fourth quarter GDP was. That's a little weaker than expected. That's not in line with some of the really robust expectations that President Trump and his team would like to see. But we'll continue to watch to see if those numbers go in the right direction.

ACOSTA: Right.

BERMAN: And, by and large, where it was during the Obama years. Job creation, by the way, is where it was in the Obama years. In some cases a little bit less.

ROMANS: A little less. But you could argue -- and you could argue that at this stage in economic recovery, it's really hard to create 200,000 jobs.

BERMAN: Yes.

ROMANS: And we need workers. We really need workers in this country. And that's going to hold back job creation, maybe.

BERMAN: And so, Stephen Moore, you know, the stock market is booming. The president liked to emphasize that. He didn't talk about many of the issues that would be most controversial to that audience. And, in fact, when he talked about trade, as a president who has removed the country from a lot of trade negotiations and whatnot, he actually emphasized that he'd like to get back into TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, under the right circumstances. That was interesting to hear.

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Yes, that was music to my ears.

Look, I was in Davos last year. And I think there's a perception that, you know, these global financiers are, you know, Trump's people. But when I was there last year, I mean truly these people thought that the United States had just elected Adolf Hitler. I mean they believed that he was, you know, going to destroy the world economy. I mean what a difference a world makes.

And, by the way, just to do some fact checking, you know, the American economy wasn't accelerating at the end of the Obama administration. It was decelerating. It grew at 1.5 percent GDP, which is barely out of recession. And now we've seen this incredible, you know, doubling of the economy to, you know, 3 percent over the last three quarters, which is a great performance.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

MOORE: Look, I think the one thing -- look, all of the -- every signal on the economy is very positive right now. Trump took a victory lap here. He basically said, do what we're doing in the United States and you will prosper, too.

The one thing that does concern me about the Trump agenda is trade, and whether we're going to see, you know, a new wave of protectionism, which is the way I liked the speech because it was not a protectionism speech. It said, I am for free trade, but it has to be fair trade. That -- I think that's a good line. I hope he sticks with that message because, you know, if you continue with free trade with the tax cut deregulation, I think we're going to see a lot of prosperity here and around the world.

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, what did you hear?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Sort of a very traditional presidential speech on the global stage, candidly. That is a speech -- you know, obviously tone and what he focused on may not have been the speech Barack Obama would have given, but not fundamentally different. America is growing. America is great. We want your business. We need your business. Come give us your business.

You know, I mean, very tonally -- Christiane talked about this -- tonally very different than his more off the cuff remarks. Generally speaking, more measured. A message that was tailored, quite clearly, to that audience. I mean these are the things that we expect a more traditional president to do.

I don't want to say the speech was boring, but it was sort of very, very traditional in a way we don't expect Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Right. But the Q&A then was different.

CILLIZZA: The Q&A more --

CAMEROTA: I mean the Q&A was more the vintage Trump that we -- that we know. CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, yes, he's -- that is more -- I think the Q&A is

more who he really is. But I -- even in that, yes, he talked about -- he used the words fake news.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Yes, there was some booing. But he pivots. He says, you know, I'm not going to spend time on that.

BERMAN: Right.

CILLIZZA: I mean this was not a -- he doesn't have to go deeply into it.

So pretty measured I think overall for him. I would assume his advisers would be happy with that speech, stuck to the teleprompter, gave the speech they wanted him to give.

[08:45:06] CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: And I think was -- you know, I'm not in the room, but seemed to be relatively well received.

BERMAN: And it was directed at the people in the room, but also at the people in the United States. I mean one of the first sentences he spoke was, I'm here to represent the interests of the American people, which was, I think, a message -- a clear message to his voters. And he veered into politics a little bit more when he made claims about what would have happened had a Democrat won. Listen to this.

CILLIZZA: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had the opposing party to me won, some of whom you backed, some of the people in the room, instead of being up almost 50 percent, the stock market is up since my election almost 50 percent. Rather than that, I believe the stock market, from that level, the initial level, would have been down close to 50 percent. That's where we were headed. I really believe that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He may believe it, Jim Acosta. I don't think there's any economic reason to think that would be true.

But, Jim, you've been to a lot of these speeches. And while he went after the Democrats there, you know, he really did it with some pulled punches. Normally he'd be mentioning Hillary Clinton left, right and center. There he didn't mention her name out loud.

ACOSTA: Yes, but it is sort of a rhetorical crutch, John, and it's a political crutch for this president. And you have to wonder, at what point during his presidency, we're now more than a year in, at what point during his presidency does he give up on Hillary Clinton? He keeps coming back to her and he's trying to make this claim that, well, if Hillary Clinton were in charge of the U.S. economy, things would be going down the tubes.

I -- you know, I don't know where he is getting that from. Where that economic data comes from. Obviously the Democrats are going to disagree with that. And I think there's probably a case to be made, and you'd have to find a group of economists to weigh in on this, that obviously if Hillary Clinton had continued some of the economic policies that President Obama had put in place, that perhaps things wouldn't be roaring along where they are right now, but that the stock market would continue to do well and the economy would do well. President Obama was seeing economic gains there on the same level as President Trump during this last year in terms of job growth and so on.

So it seems that the president is hanging his hat a lot on the stock market. But, remember, during the campaign, John, you follow this all very closely, as everybody who's commenting here, the president at many times during the campaign would call the stock market a bubble. He would say that it was in the middle of a bubble when he was running for president. So that was his way of denigrating the economic recovery under President Obama. And now he's touting that very same roaring stock market now that he's president of the United States.

The other thing I thought was interesting was when he gave that shout- out to his cabinet secretaries in the audience here and talked about his generals. We haven't seen a whole lot of American generals circling around here. We know that one general, John Kelly, the chief of staff, stayed behind to work on the immigration debate back in Washington. But, all in all, we talked to a senior administration official earlier this morning who was saying they feel very good about this trip and they claim that this cloud of the Robert Mueller story, the investigation is not hanging over them as they depart Davos.

CAMEROTA: So, Christiane, what will change as a --

MOORE: And this story (INAUDIBLE) --

CAMEROTA: Hold on, Stephen. I just want to know from Christiane --

MOORE: (INAUDIBLE). OK.

CAMEROTA: What will -- what will change as a result? I mean he said that the United States is open for business. As you said, the crowd seemed to be receptive to this. So in terms of policy and relationships, do you think that this changes the president's image on the world stage and relationships?

AMANPOUR: I don't know about image. I think what the world has done is factored in President Trump. Now, we're talking about all the sort of people who are in the room there. But, remember, I've been speaking to African leaders and others who were horrified by the comments he allegedly made during the whole immigration debate and who have said that, you know, we need to be respected. We need President Trump to look at us and engage with us as a, you know, respected partnership as we've always had with the United States. So it's not all Kumbaya out there. And I think what's really important too, President Trump threw out a

little dig by saying a lot of you probably hope that my opponent would have won in 2016. Well, the fact of the matter is, that President Trump had betted on the opponent of, for instance, President Macron, his new world leader best friend. You remember that he strongly backed the extremist, racist, right wing Maureen La Pen of the National Front, who, thank goodness, lost.

And now we have Macron back. So Europe's message this week at Davos has been that we're back and that we want a respectful partnership with the United States. But the populist wave we believe is potentially on the way out. Our economy is growing well as well. And we want an engagement, not a take it or leave it relationship with the United States, not a dictatorship from the United States. We want an engagement. Yes, the economy's great, but we also need to talk about climate change and how to really solve, as President Trump said, de- nuke the Korean peninsula, how to really get that organized. They don't like it when President Trump stirs up the Iran nuclear deal and at the same time says we have to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon. Well, that's what the nuclear deal is all about. So there's a lot of issues out there that still need to be finessed.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

[08:50:06] BERMAN: Stephen Moore, we have 20 seconds left. You wanted to respond.

MOORE: I just wanted to say, I think one of the reasons Trump said that about the stock market is that when I was there last year, just to emphasize this point, everyone believed that Trump was going to crash the world economy --

BERMAN: Yes.

MOORE: And crash the stock market and just the opposite is happened. And I think he was sort of putting a little finger into the eye of people who said my agenda won't work.

BERMAN: Which is all true. What you said is true. But it's different than saying the stock market will be down 50 percent, which I know you do not think would be --

MOORE: Who knows?

BERMAN: You don't think that's the case.

AMANPOUR: But it's because (INAUDIBLE) trade more (ph).

(CROSS TALK)

ROMANS: It's unknown.

MOORE: But it wouldn't be up 50 percent.

CAMEROTA: All right.

AMANPOUR: And he has not started a trade war like he threatened.

MOORE: That's true. Yes.

CAMEROTA: OK.

MOORE: Thank goodness.

CAMEROTA: On that -- on that --

MOORE: Thank goodness.

CAMEROTA: There you go. On that point, "Hollywood Squares," thank you all very much, of experts. Great to have all of you.

We'll have much more of President Trump's speech in Davos amid reports that he wanted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and, in fact, tried to. So we will have Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: President Trump touting American economic policy in Davos just moments ago, amid reports back here at home that President Trump wanted and, in fact, tried to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June.

Joining us now to talk about all of it, we have Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. He's on the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Great to have you in studio with us.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Oh, so good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: I know you didn't get to see all of the president's speech, but the highlights, particularly in the Q&A session afterwards, that he really wanted to get out are what he thinks are -- have been his major accomplishments. Tax reform, he said, hasn't been done in 40 years. He was able to do it. He touted all of the bonuses that AT&T and so many other companies are now giving out to their employees because of the tax reform. He said there's been 84 record stock market highs on his watch. I mean these are indisputable points, yes?

MERKLEY: Well, and he said he was really fighting for the forgotten people. But nothing could be further from the truth. He spent the first half of the year fighting for a health bill, to wipe out health care for 30 million Americans, working Americans, struggling Americans, and then he did a tax bill that isn't tax reform. It's a rip-off of the federal treasury for the wealthiest Americans. And the stock market, how many ordinary people have very much in the stock market? Not much. I mean this is really a huge, huge increase in income inequality and certainly in wealth inequality.

[08:55:10] BERMAN: What he would say though is he would say unemployment is down. You know, job creation is up. And look at all these companies giving thousand dollar bonuses to their employees. MERKLEY: Yes. And if you add those up, it amounts to a very tiny fraction of -- there were a trillion dollars that went to the best (INAUDIBLE) in this tax bill. So a few bonuses as a public relations gesture. Nice thing. There's a big coordination to try to sell this tax bill to America. The middle class isn't going to be fooled by it.

CAMEROTA: Are you sure? Because $1,000 in a bonus is a big deal. It is a big deal.

MERKLEY: Yes, it is a big deal.

CAMEROTA: And so maybe when somebody gives you that, you say, things are looking up.

MERKLEY: Yes. And for -- look, AT&T gave $1,000. Wonderful. But what did Wells Fargo do? they said we're taking the money and we're firing people. What did Kimberly Clark do? We're taking the money and we're firing people. Other companies are saying stock buy-backs. That means they're going to make their management very, very wealthy by increasing the value of the stock. Not going to help ordinary American.

BERMAN: We're looking at live pictures, by the way, right now, of Marine One getting ready to depart Davos. The president is done there after giving this speech. Of course, the trip, in some ways, I don't know if it was overshadowed, but mired by the new reports that came out overnight, first by "The New York Times," then matched by CNN, that the president said he wanted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Tried I guess to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But Don McGahn, the White House counsel, said, I will quit if you do that.

So is this a good news story? Is this a good news story the president didn't do it and the staff stopped him?

MERKLEY: Well, it really reflects the fact that the president has been obstructing justice all throughout his first year in office. He took on manipulation of three FBI directors. Now we find out that he ordered his special counsel to fire the special prosecutor. What we see is on every piece of information, the president is absolutely panicked over the truth coming out about his team's collaboration with the Russians.

CAMEROTA: But how can you say that so definitively? I mean we've had our legal experts on today that say it's all about intent. And so we don't -- we can't be in the president's mind. It's actually his prerogative if he wants to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He can do it. It isn't necessarily obstruction of justice.

MERKLEY: Listen, if he had nothing to hide, he wouldn't be up at night worried about what was going to come out and plotting to how he can control this investigation. He would be focused on other things. But he's clearly spending so much time worried, panicked over the information that will come out. And a lot of information has come out. And it shows a pattern of contact. I mean we'll have to wait for the special prosecutor to say, does this meet the standard of criminal obstruction? We don't know that. But we're -- but certainly what we're seeing is the president is obsessed with suppressing this investigation.

BERMAN: So not firing Robert Mueller can't be obstruction, right? Something you don't do can't be used, you know, as evidence of obstruction in and of itself. But what you're saying is the mindset, if this comes out of the testimony before Robert Mueller, the mindset that he had when he wanted to do that, it sheds light on other moments over the last year?

MERKLEY: Yes. You mentioned intent. And certainly when you order your special -- your counsel, your White House counsel, to fire someone, clearly that goes to intent, whether it was accomplished or not.

CAMEROTA: So you believe -- I mean I am assuming -- that because we now hear that the special counsel is going to be -- is interested in interviewing President Trump soon, and that the people closest to him, the highest up, have already been interviewed, or they're certainly on the docket to be interviewed. So do you think that we're going to have an answer to this in a couple of months?

MERKLEY: Well, it never seems to progress as fast as we expect. For these very deliberate type of investigations, there's going to be a lot of follow-up to whatever comes out of those interviews. And certainly depending on how the president responds and his team responds, there might be an additional follow up. I wouldn't hold my breath at any one moment it's going to be wrapped up. I know all this year the counselors in the White House said it's almost done, it's almost done. I think we're seeing the highest level of professional investigation. And I think it's probably a couple months out yet.

BERMAN: Do you feel there needs to be some kind of legislative protection for the special counsel's office? There was talk. There were bipartisan proposals months ago.

MERKLEY: Yes.

BERMAN: Those seem to have disappeared.

MERKLEY: My Republican colleagues are concerned that this president is trying to obstruct justice. That's why they were supportive of this. I'd like to see that on the floor. I don't think Mitch McConnell is going to -- the majority leader of the Senate, is going to allow that to happen.

But I do think that the special prosecutor needs protection. We should all recognize. This is -- this is a man with the best credentials to be found to fill this role.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Merkley, great to get your perspective on all of this. Thanks so much for being here in studio with us.

MERKLEY: You're welcome. Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: All right, our coverage continues with CNN "NEWSROOM" right now with Poppy Harlow. Great to have you here with us today.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE). CAMEROTA: Have a great one.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

There is no shortage of news this morning.

The president just delivered a major economic speech on the world stage. He is leaving Davos, Switzerland, right now. You see him there in Marine One as he heads for Air Force One.

[09:00:07] Here at home, though, a firestorm over new headlines on the Russia investigation.