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President Trump Pushes Unity, Agenda in State of the Union Address; Trump Lawyers: Mueller Hasn't Met Threshold For Interview; WAPO: Deputy AG Asked White House To Reconsider Memo Release; Report: Nunes Won't Say If He Worked With White House On Memo. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:13] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


So in the wake of the State of the Union address is this some new grand moment of bipartisan togetherness? Or is it Wednesday? You might want to bet on Wednesday.

The president's speech, all 80 minutes of it, was well-received by those who watched, a more Republican audience. But whatever rested from partisanship and political brawls there was mighty be short lived as evidenced by the words the president said just after the speech.

HARLOW: All right. And you'll hear a lot of that in just a moment including that key exchange that Berman notes. But first, with his big speech behind him, the president could make this controversial memo public at any time, of course, about the FBI and alleged abuses of surveillance, et cetera.

This is despite fierce objections from the president's own Justice Department. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just on CNN said the decision-making process is still taking place. Listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I do know that we're going through that process. I know that it will be part of what's taking place at the White House today, and we'll certainly keep you guys posted, as I know you'll continue to ask until you hear the final answer on that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Has the president seen the memo yet?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I know he hadn't as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union.


HARLOW: Our Abby Phillip is at the White House with more. So walk us through the key moments last night. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, the

president tried to strike a conciliatory tone for a lot of that speech. Really a far cry from what we normally see from him. A more combative personality on social media. But the nearly 80-minute speech, which was quite long for a State of the Union address, he heralded this as a new American moment, yet at the same time the chamber seemed about as divided as it's been.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.

This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump striking a conciliatory tone urging lawmakers to move past the deep divisions that have defined his first year in office.

TRUMP: This, in fact, is our new American moment.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump also utilizing the same polarizing language that has fermented the divide.

TRUMP: Americans are dreamers, too.

PHILLIP: Appearing to draw a line from Dreamers to the dangerous MS- 13 gang members that killed two teenage girls. Their grieving parents guests in the audience.

TRUMP: For decades open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They've allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump pledging to work with both parties to strike a deal on immigration, but his plan to restrict a program that allows immigrants to bring their family members to the U.S. provoking boos from Democrats.

TRUMP: Under our plan --

PHILLIP: President Trump devoting much of his speech to touting his economic successes and signature legislative achievement.

TRUMP: Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.

PHILLIP: A claim a CNN reality check deems to be false.

Mr. Trump calling on Democrats to work with him on an ambitious list of agenda items including infrastructure, trade, opioid addiction, prison reform and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. While boasting about rolling back a number of Obama-era policies including the individual mandate and announcing plans to keep the controversial military prison in Guantanamo Bay open.

The president also revisiting another divisive issue he's been focused on this year. Taking an apparent swipe at NFL players while honoring 12-year-old Preston Sharp for his compassion toward veterans.

TRUMP: Preston's reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the "Pledge of Allegiance" and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

PHILLIP: Sharp was one of a number of emotional stories the president highlighted during his speech. Honoring guests like Otto Warmbier's parents, the American student who was held in prison in North Korea and died shortly after his release, along with a North Korean defector who lost his leg while fleeing the regime.

President Trump issuing a stark warning about the North Korean threat.

TRUMP: North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.

[09:05:02] PHILLIP: And calling on Congress to bolster U.S. defense.

TRUMP: As part of our defense we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.

PHILLIP: Mr. Trump made no mention of Russia's interference in the 2016 election but was overheard on camera with conservative Congressman Jeff Duncan talking about releasing a classified GOP memo that alleges surveillance abuses by the FBI, a move Democrats say is meant to undermine the Russia probe.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.

TRUMP: Don't worry. 100 percent.


PHILLIP: Well, John and Poppy, in his speech the president almost quite literally extended a hand to Democrats offering to work with them. But Democrats seemed very much unmoved by his remarks. Looking at some of the immigration comments that really were more of the same from him as he's been saying for the last several months, and also, typically, after these speeches, presidents go out into the country to sell their policies, to reinforce the message of the State of the Union address.

We are not expected to see President Trump doing that this week. It's a little bit unusual considering the difference between what he said in the speech and what he often presents on the public stage. I think the White House seems pretty satisfied with what he did last night and has no plans to go further than that. BERMAN: Abby Phillip, of course at the White House. So no plans to

go out and sell this speech.

HARLOW: No road show.

BERMAN: In fact he's going elsewhere in the White House to release this memo.

HARLOW: That's true.

BERMAN: You know, which will largely overshadow, perhaps, the words that he said in that speech last night.

Let's focus on the speech for a moment. Joining us now CNN political analysts, Alex Burns and Kirsten Powers, and CNN political commentator Errol Louis.

Errol, to you, our friend Van Jones said that the speech last night was like selling tweet-tasting candy with poison in it. A colorful metaphor. Right? But the question is, was this the unity that the president promised?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Unity is probably not the right word, although there were some interesting phrases that were in there. I mean, it didn't get a lot of attention and he certainly hasn't emphasized it. But he talked about job training programs, vocational schools, workforce development.

HARLOW: Paid leave. Paid family leave.

LOUIS: Paid family leave.

BERMAN: Paul Ryan didn't cheer.

LOUIS: And --

HARLOW: That's a good point.

LOUIS: And support for people coming out of prison. These are sort of trademark Democratic issues and they're in theory could be some way that they could kind of get along. But really more of it the four- point deal on immigration that he sort of launched from the podium last night really is sort of trademark Trump where he says let's unify behind my idea, right? Let's unify where you line up behind me and we go in my direction. That's not really the way it's going to end up. There's going to be a much tougher fight.

BERMAN: It's a good way to argue. Let's all agree I'm right.



BERMAN: Let's discuss this --

HARLOW: That sounds like the perfect argument in my house. I don't know about yours.

Kirsten, look, he did again push this pathway to citizenship for more than a million Dreamers and would-be Dreamers in this country and then he followed it by saying Americans are dreamers, too. So that was such -- I mean, that stood out to me one of the most things from last night.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And of course nobody ever said that Americans aren't dreamers, too. This is something that he's definitely getting for his base.

HARLOW: It was a context in the placement. Right? Yes.

POWERS: Well, it's something for his base. It's something that you hear from the white nationalists, David Duke praised him saying this, thanked him for saying this. This is something that you're hearing from his base.

It would be like saying because we call military -- members of the military heroes, nobody else is a hero. I mean, that's just silly. It just means, you know, these are people who came to the country and, you know, and have a dream of being part of the country.

Look, I think the idea that he said this is sort of a down-the-middle, you know, immigration plan just isn't really accurate. Essentially, as you were saying, it's like here is my plan and I'm going to give you one thing that you want. But meanwhile, there's all these other things in it that Democrats actually hate, whether it's the way he calls family reunification chain migration or building a wall or wanting to even cut legal immigration.

So there's one thing in there that Democrats like, that, by the way, everybody likes. It's like 80 percent of the country likes. So how is that, you know, down the middle?

BERMAN: You know, Alex, it was large on rhetoric and small on specifics which sometimes a lot of the State of the Union addresses are. I mean, sometimes you get very detailed policy proposals. And it also was backwards looking, too. It was a pat on the back and sometimes literally applause for himself, although he didn't talk about himself quite as much as he usually does in other ways. It wasn't quite as much I as you often get from the president. What's your take?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't. And in some respects it was the kind of speech that Republicans want the president to be giving throughout the next nine months of the midterm campaign, right? The selling the tax cuts, selling the economic growth, that we've seen, spending less time, you know, pursuing his own personal grievances. But look, the reality that this was a pretty narrow speech in terms of concrete policy reflects the reality of Washington. There's very, very limited bandwidth for them to get anything real done for the rest of the year, especially for as long as they can't get past that immigration issue.

HARLOW: Right. [09:10:06] BURNS: As long as the president and Democrats and

Republicans in Congress can't cut some deal to resolve the Dreamer issue, they really can't move on to anything else.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, when he said $1.5 trillion for infrastructure, I was sitting there like how? And what is this going to look like? You know, and then we were told leading up to this from sources that it would be eye-opening on North Korea, and we heard nothing new on North Korea, Errol.

The question this morning, as John rightly brought up, any moment this very controversial memo could be released. It completely divides Republicans and Democrats right down the middle. You saw how they voted in the House Intel Committee on releasing it. So -- I mean, when does the president step on his own message last night?

LOUIS: Yes. Well, you know, it's interesting, when you mentioned infrastructure, it was something that was supposed to be one of the first things that could bring everybody together.

HARLOW: I know.

LOUIS: And so the question has always been, why don't we look for some of the low-hanging fruit if there is any. Some of the points where there could be bipartisan agreement where you could actually get to a deal without a lot of fuss and fanfare. Instead we end up with the very hardest stuff, with things like immigration, with things like so-called sanctuary cities, which actually ended up killing infrastructure. A bunch of mayors came to meet to talk about infrastructure.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: And at the same time they put out a letter from the Department of Justice threatening those same -- many of those same cities with sanctions and loss of funding if they don't come up with the tougher policies to aid ICE, and the whole thing sort of fell apart. So on many of these things, including foreign policy, I think we're going to find one sort of cul-de-sac after another that the system for whatever reason keeps ending up in.

BERMAN: You know, there were five Democratic responses last night, Kirsten.


BERMAN: But one official one from Joe Kennedy from Massachusetts who gave the speech from Fall Rivers, 37 years old. There's a discussion about whether he is the right messenger for the Democratic response right now. White, male, child of privilege, you know, just the demographic boxes there. Is that the image that the Democrats want to be putting out?

POWERS: Well, I don't think that, like you said, there wasn't just one response.

BERMAN: Right.

POWERS: There were lots of different responses. And I think it does reflect that there is a lot of division in the -- I mean, in the Democratic Party or, as the Democrats would like to say, they're a big tent and they just have all these different people. It just sort of depends on how you look at it.

And I just think sometimes you can over think these things. Like the -- you know, people would say about Biden, well, he's too old. Well, he's the same age as Donald Trump. You know, who thought that Donald Trump would become president? Pretty much nobody. So I think, you know, it's such an individual thing when it comes to the person who ends up sort of being a spokesperson for the party.


POWERS: And it's often not who you would predict. Nobody predicted Barack Obama, you know, even four years before. So I think it's sort of an open field.

BERMAN: But, Alex, speaking about Obama, what we did see last night is the president touted a lot of -- the stock market obviously, jobs, et cetera. A lot of economic facts that are facts and that we fact- checked as true. Some of the things were not factual like wage growth. I mean, he said basically this year we are finally seeing wages rise. Well, they rose as much in the last year as they did the previous year, and by the way, they're nowhere near the 3.5 percent the fed wants to see. That is important.

That aside for a moment, was he and is he a better cheerleader for this economy than President Obama was from what we saw and a very similar economy and rise for the stock market?

BURNS: Well, I think the Obama administration and, you know, President Obama were always very, very cautious about appearing overly sunny about the economy. That they had this sense that if you tell people that things are great and they feel like things are only OK, they will punish us for being overly optimistic.

HARLOW: They don't want the fundamentals of the economy are strong at the moment.

BURNS: Exactly. And Trump is all about the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: In fact, they're the best they have ever been, right?



BURNS: And I think, you know, look, that approach appears to be working for him more or less. But when you look at the polling, and I've seen prior Republican polling just this morning about his approval rating and approval of the economy, you have never seen divergence between those two numbers like we're seeing right now.

HARLOW: Right.

BURNS: Typically they track at least somewhat. And approval of the economy is just going through the roof. And his job approval is stable at best.

HARLOW: That's a good point.

Thank you, guys. We appreciate it very much.

All right. A lot ahead. 100 percent. Those words out of the president's mouth. He's overheard them last night after the State of the Union address talking about will he release that controversial FBI memo. And it could happen any moment, this despite reports that his own deputy attorney general is pleading with him and the White House not to.

BERMAN: And the president tells the people of Puerto Rico we are with you as FEMA ends food and water aid to the island.

Plus adult film star Stormy Daniels now appearing to deny the denial of this alleged affair with Donald Trump. What's going on here? What message honestly is she trying to send?



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A major question today, in fact, a major question this moment is will President Trump release a highly controversial memo that alleges FBI surveillance abuse all around the Russia investigation. So, last night, as the president is leaving the state of the union, some really key words he said in response to a question from a Congressman, those words, 100 percent.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't think the question is will he. The question is, when will he, and the answer is probably soon. All this is happening as the president's lawyers say that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller has not done enough to prove that the president has to do a sit-down interview with investigators.

We're joined now by CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, first, let's start off with what the president's lawyers are now saying. No testimony?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, you know, according to sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations between Special Counsel Bob Mueller and the president's lawyers, what we're being told is right now the lawyers intend -- the president's lawyers intend to push back and argue that the special counsel has not met the threshold they believe is needed to interview a president.

[09:20:04] Now, as we all know, the president himself have said he would love to meet with Mueller but has always maintained that he was waiting for his lawyers to tell him what to do. As with everything, this is an ongoing negotiation, and with the White House, anything can change. But, John, ultimately the question becomes what does Mueller do if the president says I'm not doing it?

HARLOW: Right. He has some legal options there, so does the president. There's also word that firing Mueller, despite all these denials from the White House, from Republicans saying Mueller doesn't need protection because nobody is thinking about firing him. That's not our reporting in terms of what's in the president's head right now or what he's mulling over with Mueller.

PROKUPECZ: Right. I mean, look, this comes from our Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta who is hearing the president is still contemplating, thinking about, talking about possibly firing Mueller. This is something that he, the president has told people close to him.

I think this is a constant frustration for the president that this investigation is still on going. But, you know, we are talking about this memo today which could, once it's released, set up some wild scenarios that could put some of this in play.

BERMAN: Finally, Shimon, "The Washington Post" has a story out now about what the Department of Justice inspector general might be focused on when it comes to former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. What are they saying?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. "The Washington Post" is reporting, and we have done some reporting on this ourselves, that the inspector general has been looking into whether or not Andrew McCabe delayed the Hillary Clinton investigation when it came up during the Weiner investigation.

They found on his -- Anthony Weiner on his computer that he had at his home e-mails from Huma Abedin, his wife, that they were concerned about. These were FBI agents in New York who were doing the investigation into Anthony Weiner for texting with a minor, sending e- mails and photos of himself.

During that investigation, they discovered e-mails on a laptop that they believe may have contained classified information as it related to the Hillary e-mail server. During that time, there was frustration from the FBI in the New York Field Office that Washington, the headquarters, was sort of taking its time, not helping them, not moving fast enough and investigating and looking at those e-mails.

And what "The Washington Post" is now reporting, as part of the inspector general's investigation into the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, they are looking into whether or not Andrew McCabe somehow delayed this, obviously political reasons come to mind, but really right now I don't think there's anything to suggest that that is why Andrew McCabe left the FBI.

HARLOW: We appreciate the reporting, Shimon. Thank you very much. Even more reporting to get to, this also from "The Washington Post." A last-ditch effort by the Department of Justice, top ranking officials to try to change the president's mind about releasing that memo. Josh Dawsey broke this story and another he broke, he joins us now with more. This is about a Monday meeting at the White House with Chief of Staff John Kelly, the head of the FBI, Wray, Deputy General Rosenstein in there. They're pleading with him.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. So, what we're hearing is that yesterday Mr. Rod Rosenstein, deputy ag met with John Kelly and said it would be deleterious to the country to release this memo. They believe it contains classified info. They believed this matter doesn't accurately depict their investigations and they think it sets a bad precedent, was the argument they made to John Kelly.

In return, John Kelly said about the president's predilection was to release a memo, there would be a national security process. There would be a process by the Counsel's Office, but the president intended to release it.

We heard last night the president talking to Jeff Duncan as we he's walking out of the chambers saying 100 percent we're going to release it, even as the White House has been trying to argue the decision has not been officially made. It looks like we're leaning closer to releasing the memo even as some DOJ officials say they disagree with the decision.

BERMAN: So, on the memo, "The Daily Beast" reported a conversation where Devin Nunes did not deny that perhaps his staff had had contact with the White House in drafting the memo. A short time ago here on CNN, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders didn't deny it either. Listen.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He wouldn't answer that question.

SANDERS: Right. I just don't know the answer. I don't know of anyone that he did, and I haven't had a chance --

CUOMO: He has worked with the White House before when it comes to intelligence and the Russia investigation.

SANDERS: Look, we have certainly coordinated with members of Congress as is appropriate, as to specifics on this, I just don't know the answer. I'm not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.


[09:25:08] BERMAN: She says she does not know if the staff of Devin Nunes had contacts with the White House. That should be a simple yes or no answer, either by Devin Nunes or the White House, yet no answer, Josh. I'm sure you've been trying to look into this. Any answers yet? DAWSEY: No. We don't know exactly. We do know the congressman has worked closely with the White House on other issues. We know that he came to the White House last year to provide intel that was briefed to the president. We know he is seen as a top Trump ally on the House Intel Committee. It's going to sew some divisions.

Joe Manchin was on earlier obviously talking about some of the concerns with the House Intel Committee. So, for the president, we know Devin Nunes has worked on this memo hard. We've heard repeatedly the president wants this memo released, a reason he can possibly make some changes at DOJ.

We don't know if there's been work between the two folks. Obviously "The Daily Beast" has reported that. I have not corroborated that independently.

HARLOW: We know from the White House as of last night before the state of the union, the president has not read the memo. To say I'm going to release it 100 percent he was saying that without having read it. Can you explain why it matters so much if Nunes or his team worked with the White House on this memo at all. Connect the dots for everyone.

DAWSEY: I mean, there should be obviously a separation of powers. What the Congress Intel Committee is doing with classified info, looking into whether a FISA warrant was approved, how it was approved. What officials were doing it. That's something you expect there to be some division there.

If he worked with them, it's clearly the White House trying to discredit this investigation or trying to throw a cajole against this investigation if they are working together.

I mean, we certainly see now the president is inclined to release it. He's watched I'm told countless hours of tv about this memo, has talked to allies about the memo, sees it as a benefit to him.

But if he worked together with the House Intel Committee, it could be seen by some, particularly Trump critics as a coordinated move to undermine the special counsel's investigation.

BERMAN: Josh Dawsey, always great to have you. Great reporting as usual. There are a veritable bevy of legal questions to ask about all these developments.

When we come back, do the president's lawyers have ground to stand on when they say the special counsel has not met the legal standard. Is Andy McCabe perahaps in trouble by this Justice Department inspector general report? What more will we learn about the memo? Stay with us.