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House Oversight Committee Chair Calls Out Ethics Chief; Paying for the Wall; Troop Movement. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 13, 2017 - 16:30   ET


CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think when that is going to move anything else, really provoke Trump.

[16:30:04] You know, part of the reason why he has picked this fight with the intelligence community is because he feels under siege that all of this is designed to undermine what he feels was a very legitimate movement that he had and it let him to win the White House.

And, so, but you can also see Democrat really wanting to kind of needle him because that's what they do. But Lewis' comment, he seemed to be a little -- he was very heart felt about that, but obviously other Democrats aren't doing that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think calling into question his legitimacy ultimately helps Donald Trump?

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure who it helps. I know what it does not help do, which is bring those Democrats who voted for Trump back into your fold, to say that this was not a legitimate election. There are -- the Russian hacking story is a real story. Democrats acting as if, and by the way sending the message the vote totals were hacked you see in polling Democrats believing is not helpful. If it's --

TAPPER: Fudging the language, calling it an election hack. It's not true.

HAM: Yes, it's not helping for the democracy, I don't think it helps you earn back any of those voters if you're acting like they're not real people who didn't have an impact.

TAPPER: Zeke, take a listen to President Obama doing this exit interview with "60 Minutes". He weighed in on his successor.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, he is an unconventional candidate. I don't think there is anybody who has run a campaign like his successfully in modern history, not that I can think of. And as a consequence, because he didn't have the supports of many of the establishment in his own party, because he ran sort of an improvisational campaign --

INTERVIEWER: Can you run an improvisational presidency? OBAMA: I don't think so. And, so, now he's in the process of

building up an organization, and we'll have to see how that works and it will be a test.


TAPPER: Your take?

ZEKE MILLER, POLITICAL REPORTER, TIME: The president is exactly right here. We don't know how Donald Trump will govern, how the team that he has assembled will work. They're at the White House now having the sort of tabletop simulation of how to manage and respond to crises around the world. That will be the earliest test. But you know what? On January 20th, there won't be a simulation any more and we just don't know the answer yet.

TAPPER: All right. Carol, Zeke, Mary Katharine Ham, thank you so much. Love to have you here all three of you.

Be sure to tune in to CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. My guest will be Republican Senator Rand Paul and we'll have an exclusive exit interview with the outgoing White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

Coming up, a Republican congressman threatening to investigate the guy who investigates ethics after he expressed doubts about how Donald Trump is handling things. We'll explain it. Stay with us.


[16:37:04] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing with politics in our regular segment, conflict of interest watch. The chief of the Office of Government Ethics has made it clear that he is not satisfied with President-elect Trump's proposal to try to separate himself in some way from his global business empire.

But Walter Shaub's public comments may soon lead to him testifying before Congress. The Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz just basically threatened to investigate Shaub's office. He summoned him to answer questions from committee members.

Let's bring in CNN's Cristina Alesci who regularly covers conflict of interest watch for us.

Cristina, the ethics office designed to prevent and resolved conflicts of interest. It says so under the mission page on the website.

But Chaffetz says that the office has gone too far. How?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jake, let's just put it out there. It's political battle like this that can distract from the real issue, which is, Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest. Here's what's going on here. Walter Shaub, who heads the ethics office, is a civil servant. He's not a career politician and they typically don't make statements to the press.

But he broke with that tradition. He called Trump's plan to break away from his business, quote-unquote, "wholly inadequate." Why would a career civil servant take this dramatic step?

Well, because Trump isn't divesting. He's not selling. Yes, the Trump Organization won't do any new foreign deals, the new U.S. deals will face review from ethics lawyers.

But when he takes office, Trump will know exactly what assets he owns, who his business partners are, and that leaves him open to criticism or even allegations that he's making policy decisions to line his own pockets, to enrich himself. So, that is the chief problem here.

And the ethics chief's decision to come out so harshly and slam Trump's plan to did not sit with Jason Chaffetz who wrote a letter demanding that Shaub appear in front of the oversight committee. This is from the letter itself, quote-unquote, "to help the committee understand how you perceive OGE's rule among other things, please make yourself available to a transcribed interview with the committee staff as soon as possible."

But no later than January 31st, like stop, doesn't have anything else to do before January 31st. He's pretty busy.

TAPPER: Let's put it out there, though. What are Democrats on the oversight committee saying? Are they with Chaffetz or are they with Shaub?

ALESCI: Look, the Democrats are playing into this fight. We just spoke with Congressman Connolly of Virginia, and he blasted Chaffetz.


REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D), HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOV'T REFORM CMTE: I think it's really taking a double standard to a new level. This is the same chairman who promised oversight no matter who occupied the White House, and here he is backtracking profoundly, and actually now trying to make an example out of the head of the Office of Government Ethics for doing his job.


[16:40:07] ALESCI: Here's the danger, Jake. The politics, that is what makes Americans disengage from these important issues. There is, however, an important point of contention that we have to pay attention to between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats want the hearing to happen in an open setting with cameras, and the Republicans want something more private, a transcribed interview which is being billed as a meeting behind closed doors -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Richard Painter. He's the former White House lawyer under George W. Bush, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota. Sir, thanks so much for joining us.

So, Congressman Chaffetz appeared on this show yesterday saying it's too early in his year to criticize President Trump's business separation plan. Take a listen.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I thought it was very premature the Office of Government of Ethics to essentially be in the spin room saying I hate this when he hasn't even actually looked at it or reviewed it. This is an Obama donor who was very supportive of Hillary Clinton in some of the actions that he took and I think that the ethics office is supposed to be impartial and seems to have a partial bent to it right now.


TAPPER: So, let's divide that in half. One, is it premature given that he hasn't actually looked at it? And two, isn't the fact that Shaub did give $250 to President Obama's reelection campaign, does that not taint his decisions?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS COUNSEL UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, that was not premature. The president is going to take office next Friday and we have an enormous financial enterprise, real estate enterprise all over the world that he owns. We definitely have money coming in from foreign governments. This is a serious problem and Walter Shaub has announced a position that is the same as mine and many other experts in the field, that the president need to divest.

And the fact that Walter Shaub gave $250 to Democrats, that's irrelevant. Every civil servant has the First Amendment right to donate to political campaigns just as apparently the Koch brothers have a right to assemble enormous super PACs and that is what is going on in our system. And those small donors have every right to participate.

Speaking of super PAC, we had a super PAC just a few days ago attack the Office of Government Ethics. I have never seen a director of the Office of Government Ethics attacked by a super PAC. That must mean that he is definitely doing his job.

I have been active in Republican Party politics for almost 30 years and supported Republicans. This is embarrassing. Just over a week ago, we had an attempt to undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics which watches over the House of Representatives. That got snuffed out. Now, we've got super PACs attacking the Office of Government Ethics.

We have a threat to de fund the Office of Government Ethics. That letter sent by the chairman of Oversight House Committee threatened to pull the money if they don't toe the line with not only respect to the president, but also the president's nominees. That's another issue here. They want to jam through nominees without going through their financial holdings and coming up with an ethics agreement. They do not want to do it the way we did in the bush administration

when I was in the Bush White House. And I worked with Walter Shaub when I was with the Bush White House. He was a very, very good man.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you just in terms of focusing on this one issue. Congressman Chaffetz, his opposition, his objection as written in his letter, is that, quote, "your agency's mission is to provide clear ethics guidance not engage in public relations." In an interview with, former chief officer for the Export Import Bank agreed, saying, quote, "I've never seen OGE, or Office of Government Ethics, act this politically."

Is that a fair criticism to be so out there that he risks appearing as though he is -- he has a political agenda, not just an agenda in terms of enforcing ethics rules?

PAINTER: There's nothing political about this. The head of the Office of Government Ethics is stating clearly what the position of the agency is. That is what heads of agencies do. And they have a responsibility to state publicly what the position of the agency is.

And if they believe that the president of the United States will have an unworkable conflict in about a week's time, one week's time exactly, they need to say that publicly. That is their job. And we should not have a system where the only person who has a Twitter account is the president using at 3:00 in the morning. If we're going to talk about these issues on Twitter, that's not my preferred mode of communication. But if that's the way it's done these days, OK.

The head of the Office of Government Ethics has an obligation to say what is ethical and what is not. And that is what he's done. And he should not be subjected to this type of investigation by Congress. This is the very same committee that took that FBI letter from Director Comey and put it up on the Internet a week before the election. This committee is all about partisan investigations, and it has been for years. And it is an embarrassment to our country that congressional investigations are undertaken in this way. This is irresponsible leadership from the House of Representatives.

TAPPER: Richard Painter, thank you so much. As always, we appreciate your time. Coming up, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. But who will pay for that wall? Donald Trump still says Mexico will, but the Mexican President is saying, no, no. Then, U.S. troops moving into new positions in Poland. How is the Kremlin responding? That's next.


TAPPER: Turning to our "WORLD LEAD" now. From Russia with loathing, thousands of U.S. troops are neighboring Poland in a direct response to Russian actions against NATO as well as their incursions into other neighboring countries. Russia is calling this a threat to its own security.

[16:50:00] Nearly 4,000 U.S. troops have arrived in Poland this week along with U.S. tanks, armored vehicles, artillery -- all in support of NATO's Operation Atlantic Resolve. This is the biggest U.S. Military deployment in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Atika Shubert is there on the ground. Atika, different reactions are coming from two neighboring Eastern European nations. Tell us what you're seeing in Poland.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRRESPONDENT: Well, it's quite impressive build-up here that crossed over from Germany yesterday. The Polish Prime Minister will be welcoming the troops in a ceremony tomorrow. And what we're seeing here is about 4,000 soldiers in all, as you point out, those tanks, this is all part of the third armored brigade from the fourth infantry division, which is usually based out of Fort Carson, Colorado. There are rotational forces. They will be rotated every nine months. This is all part of a NATO agreement that was made last year and it's exactly what countries like Poland and other Eastern European allies in NATO have been asking for. You know, they watched in horror as Russia conducted its not-so-covert aggression in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea. And so, this is a welcome move for Poland, certainly. Jake?

JAKE: And Atika, President-elect Trump has said nice things about Russia, but his cabinet nominees haven't necessarily. Any reaction from Russia about their comments during their hearings against Russia?

SHUBERT: Yes, I mean, the Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was the first person to react to this saying basically that this was a threat to Russia, to see this sort of a military increase so near to Russia's borders. Well, just to be clear, where I'm standing now in Jigan is more than a thousand kilometres away from the nearest Russian border. Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine all stand between Poland and Russia. But it's very clear that as far as Russia is concerned, they do not like this military build-up one bit, but they may wait to react until President-elect Donald Trump is officially inaugurated next week.

TAPPER: All right. Atika Shubert, thank you so much. Also today, Mexico announced it's sending a new ambassador to the United States as both countries dispute who's going to pay for that border wall. This week we heard President-elect Trump reiterate that the U.S. will not ultimately foot the bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Mexico in some form, and there are many different forms, will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen.


TAPPER: The Mexican president fired back insisting that his country will not pay for the wall. And soon, the new Mexican diplomat will be in Washington to personally push back against Trump's plan. Let's go to CNN's Leyla Santiago now with the response the Ambassador is intending to bring with him from Mexico City.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we have seen uncertainty, prompt fear and insecurity among the people here in Mexico City. You know, since Trump's election, the Mexican peso has plunged against the U.S. dollar. Add to that, the Mexican government's decision to raise gas prices has sent thousands of protesters into the street, and others to church.


SANTIAGO: In Mexico's holiest shrine where thousands go to pray, the hope is that a higher power is listening. Concerns, worries, fears can be left behind. Ramon Hernandez worries about the future, his family, the economy. When Ford backed out of plans to build this new factory, his hometown lost potential jobs. And the same administration that calls this a victory says Mexico will eventually pay for a new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

He tells me the idea sounds crazy and he's not alone. Pedro Arellano says President-elect Trump is better off paying for a wall to be built around his own home, making Mexicans pay for the wall along the border, he says, it's just a threat. Consul General Carlos Garcia acknowledges his job as one of Mexico's top diplomat -- the U.S. has changed.

Will Mexico pay for that wall?

CARLOS GARCIA, MEXICO, CONSUL GENERAL: No way. The President of Mexico, President Pena Nieto and the entire government of Mexico again and again have repeated Mexico won't pay the wall.

SANTIAGO: Garcia calls the relationship between the two countries one of the most complex in the world.

TRUMP: I respect the government of Mexico. I respect the people of Mexico. I love the people of Mexico.

SANTIAGO: Does that improve anything?

GARCIA: Well, it doesn't fix, but it helps. We need to change language. It's time now to start speaking with respect.

[16:55:08] SANTIAGO: And Pedro adds, the respect must go both ways. But even he and a lot of his fellow Mexicans recognize this may take an intervention -- perhaps from the divine.


SANTIAGO: You know, we talked to about 20 Mexicans from across this very vibrant city, all echoing very similar sentiments. The words that were repeated, humiliation, racism and let's wait and see. There seems to be a sense of calm, but I couldn't find one person who actually believed Mexico will eventually pay for the wall. Jake?

TAPPER: Leyla Santiago in Mexico City for us, thank you so much. He says he opposes President-elect Trump's pick for attorney general, but what about President-elect Trump's choice to run the pentagon? What about him? Senator Richard Blumenthal visits CNN next. Stay with us.