Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Keeping FBI Director James Comey; President Trump Claims Massive Voter Fraud in His Election. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired January 24, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Busy day in Washington. We have been watching President Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, just out of that White House briefing, taking questions from reporters grilling him on everything from Mr. Trump's new executive actions on the Dakota Keystone pipelines, to the president claiming that his pick for the Supreme Court will be decided on this week.
But reporters in the room did not let up on President Trump's repeated and unfounded claim that million of people voted illegally in this historic presidential election, something he has not have a shred of evidence, a claim that he says cost him the popular vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Does the president believe that millions voted illegally in this election, and what evidence do you have of widespread voter fraud in this election if that's the case?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does believe that. He's stated that before. And I think he stated his concerns of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign and he continues to maintain that belief based on students and evidence that people have presented to him.
QUESTION: Exactly what evidence?
QUESTION: ... today said there is no evidence. The National Association of Secretaries of State say that they don't agree with the president's assessment.
What evidence do you have?
SPICER: As I said I think the president has believed that for a while based on studies and information he has.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That was the initial newsmaking exchange. Then, a couple of moments later, our own correspondent there in the Briefing Room, Jeff Zeleny, pushed Sean Spicer on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You said the president believes that there was voter fraud.
I wonder if you believe that. You were at the Republican National Committee at the time and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was the chairman of the RNC at the time. Do you believe there was widespread voter fraud?
ZELENY: How can he be comfortable with his win if he believes...
SPICER: He's very comfortable with his win.
ZELENY: ... there was three million votes. Maybe he didn't win it.
SPICER: No, he's very comfortable with his win.
It's an electoral-based system. He got 306 electoral votes; 33 of 50 states voted for him. I think, look, Jeff, I have asked and answered this question twice. He believes what he believes, based on the information he's been provided.
ZELENY: What does that mean for a democracy, though, Sean?
ZELENY: If he does believe that, what does that mean for democracy?
SPICER: It means that I have answered your question.
ZELENY: Have you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: He believes what he believes based upon the information provided.
I have got my panel, Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics.
Ladies, that was a big day in the Briefing Room.
Gloria Borger, let me just begin with you. If true, we're talking three to five million illegal votes cast. It would be a major, major story. Where's the evidence? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There isn't any
And there are a couple of things that are usually cited, one poll whose authors have said they were wrong and a Pew survey which basically said that the voter rolls have 1.8 million dead people on it, but that didn't say that those dead people actually voted.
So there really isn't any evidence, and you have to kind of ask yourself this question. Why is the president obsessing about this? I noted that Sean Spicer sort of did not answer the question about what he personally believes here.
He kept saying, well the president believes it. But the president seems to be alone in all of this. I don't think Republican leaders believe it. I don't think most people in the Congress believe it.
And so you have to ask the question, why is he continuing to raise this? Because it almost begs the question, well, if you think that's the case, wouldn't it delegitimize your own presidency?
BALDWIN: And down-ballot races, by the way?
BORGER: Right. Right, and down-ballot races.
And then shouldn't you have sort of a study on this? Don't we need to study this more, if in fact we have had a election in which millions of people voted illegally? Nobody has the proof for it.
It's just that Donald Trump, there is a number out there that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote very three million. And I think that sticks in his craw.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If may, Brooke, just add to why we're even talking about this, why this was even an issue brought up at the White House briefing today.
BASH: And the reason is because the president himself brought up this issue late yesterday, early evening with the bipartisan meeting he had, the very first one, with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle.
In that meeting, the president himself started talking about the fact that he still believes that millions of people voted illegally and started talking about voter fraud. And, apparently, according to a spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, she pushed back and said that's just not true.
We don't know much more about what happened, except that sources say that that conversation continued for five or 10 minutes. That's why we're talking about this.
And it is because President Trump took a claim which is not provable, that he was making on the campaign trail, on Twitter before he took the oath of office into the White House. And it was a topic with his leadership in the Republican and Democrats -- his very first meeting he had with them.
So that's the reason why this is even an issue, the reason why his spokesman was asked about it and clearly was not comfortable in answering it. One other thing I just want to add, Gloria was talking about some of the statistics.
Sean Spicer said something along the lines of...
BALDWIN: We have it. Let me just -- let me play the sound bite, because they keep going back to this 14 percent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Is the White House going to formally ask for a probe into this alleged voter fraud?
SPICER: I think he won very handily, with 306 electoral votes, 33 states. He's very comfortable with his win.
QUESTION: ... trouble him if he's bringing it up.
SPICER: I think he was having a discussion with some folks and mentioned something in passing, which has been a longstanding belief that he's maintained. This isn't the first time that you have heard this concern of him.
QUESTION: But I think it's worth clarifying whether illegal ballots or illegal immigrants...
SPICER: And think there has been studies. There was one that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed 14 percent of people who voted were non-citizens.
There's other studies that have been presented to him. It is a belief he maintains.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) counted improperly, as Dick Durbin says the president personally told him last night. It was the people...
(CROSSTALK) SPICER: I think I have asked and answered it. It's a belief that he has maintained for a while, a concern that he has about voter fraud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, again, that's the 14 percent, Dana, not to totally read your mind, but I think you're about to make the point that was in 2008. A 2010 study didn't -- it was refuted by the people who actually gathered the data.
BASH: Well, not just that. You're right, but not just that.
Our Janet Jesta (ph) send a note sent around to all of us, because she was watching this, noting that what the report actually said was that 14 percent of people who are not citizens claimed to be registered to vote.
Claim to be registered to vote is far different from 14 percent of voters are not citizens.
BORGER: And it was not a Pew poll. The Pew poll was something completely different. So, he was conflating the two things.
And what the Pew poll did was say, the voters rolls are a shambles, they need to be fixed. It didn't claim there was any fraud in voting.
BALDWIN: How do many of Congress feel about all of this?
Gloria, you touched on that a second ago.
A.B., I just want to play some sound. This is from our own Manu Raju talked to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who essentially said Mr. Trump needs to stop peddling conspiracy theories.
Here's the sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If the president of the United States is claiming that three to 3.5 million people voted illegally, that shakes confidence in our democracy.
He needs to disclose why he believes that. I don't believe that. It is the most inappropriate thing for the president to say without proof.
Al Gore walked away based on 500 or 600 votes. Richard Nixon lost a very close election. We're talking about a man who won the election and seems to be obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud.
So, I would urge the president to knock this off. This is the greatest democracy on earth. You're the leader of the free world. And people are going to start doubting you as a person if you keep making accusations against our electoral system without justification. This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: A.B., A, that is significant because you have a Republican senator, right, who is saying this undermines your presidency. P.S., you won.
How many other Republicans feel the same way?
A.B. STODDARD, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, that's the problem, Brooke, is if this panic is much more widespread than it seems, because the only members of Congress in the Republican Party who speak bluntly about this are John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
So, you heard what he told Manu. And then John McCain was asked the other day would he express confidence for the 800th time in all of the national security picks that Trump had made, all of the people that John McCain respects very much, and he expressed once again his confidence in them.
And when he asked do you have confidence in the president, this was before this voter fraud comment last night, but just about the fact -- it was after the fact that Trump had gone to the Central Intelligence Agency and lied to them that it was our fault in the media that he actually had seen between one million and 1.5 million people on the Mall, and we were lying about it.
When pressed, McCain couldn't said he had confidence in President Trump because so many "contradictory statements" had been made.
And what you see in Congress is everyone is on the mute button, with the exception of Graham and McCain. They want to give him a happy honeymoon, but they don't like him calling up companies and bullying them. They don't like him getting out of TPP.
They don't like the fact that he didn't actually sell off his companies, he just left them to his sons, and that that is going to be a continuous stream of questions about conflicts of interest. There is a lot they don't like. There's a lot they can't answer for.
But it seems right now that there are only a few people who are voicing that concern.
BASH: Brooke, A.B. is exactly right. I have talked to Republican leaders who say, look -- look, we know the Republican leadership was not enthralled and excited about Donald Trump as their nominee, never mind frankly the president of the United States.
They have accepted that and they are quite happy about the notion of them being able to pass long-stalled Republican policy and legislation, because they have a Republican in the White House, which is why for the most part, as A.B. said, we're not hearing Republicans say publicly the things that Lindsey Graham or John McCain.
They're biting their tongue, most likely saying it in private...
BASH: What they call the noise to try to stay focused on the legislative agenda.
The question is how long that's going to last, when you have issues of this magnitude that the president brings up in meetings with them that could, as Senator Graham said, shake the core of democracy.
BORGER: And they're also worried that -- I was talking to one Republican senator yesterday -- they are worried they are heading into a buzz saw on repealing and replacing Obamacare, because they don't have a plan in place.
And they're worried that the American public will react negatively to it, because they don't want to lose anything that they have already got, like insurance for preexisting conditions.
So they have got a very tough job ahead of them. And they have to stay on message if they're going to get it done. But when the president of the United States keeps diverting to how many votes he actually got in the election, or how he spoke in front of the CIA last weekend, it gives them agita. They worry about it. And their job is hard enough.
BALDWIN: No extra agita needed.
BORGER: Yes. Exactly.
BALDWIN: I got you.
BALDWIN: Gloria, Dana, A.B., thank you all very much from Washington.
Coming up here, President Trump's Cabinet nominees facing tough questions on Capitol Hill today. One in particular got a very visual question, speaking of crowd sizes at the inauguration, why that came up today.
Also ahead, will James Comey remain at his post as the chief of the FBI after he came under fire for his investigation into Hillary Clinton's private server? We have huge news on that.
Also ahead, millions and millions of women and men marched around the world this past Saturday for this women's march. So, now that that has happened, what comes of it? What's the next move? We're on it. I'm Brooke Baldwin and you're watching CNN.
BALDWIN: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Now to the men and women who will help President Trump lead this country.
Two of the point's Cabinet nominees getting grilled on the Hill today happen to know its halls quite well, Congressmen Tom Price, Mr. Trump's pick to lead Health and Human Services, and Congressman Mick Mulvaney, the nominee to run OMB, Office of Management and Budget.
Congressman Price made a huge promise on Obamacare replacement, while Mulvaney had to talk numbers, not only about the budget, but also about the inauguration and crowd size.
So, to help me explain all of this, I have CNN's M.J. Lee and Phil Mattingly.
M.J., ladies first. Talk to me about Dr. Tom Price, orthopedic surgeon from Georgia. We know Democrats in particular peppering him about questions about President Trump's executive action on Obamacare.
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Keep in mind this was is the first time that we were seeing Tom Price in public since Donald Trump was sworn in as president, and certainly the first time that we were hearing from him since Trump signed that executive order.
This was an executive order that Trump signed into law literally within hours of becoming president. And it had some broad and sweeping language essentially giving permission to certain agencies, allowing them to interpret Obamacare essentially as loosely as possible, so that individuals and others can avoid the burdens, this executive order said, of Obamacare.
And I think a lot of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans included, are looking for guidance from Tom Price on how exactly he intends to uphold this executive order if he is confirmed as secretary of HHS.
I want to play a little sound from this exchange that Tom Price had with the top Democratic senator on the Senate Finance Committee. These are the first comments that Tom Price has made about this executive order.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Under the executive order, will you commit that no one will be worse off?
REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA), HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY NOMINEE: What I commit to, Senator, is working with you and every single member of Congress to make certain that we have the highest-quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage.
WYDEN: That is not what I asked. I asked, will you commit that no one will be worse off under the executive order? You ducked the question. Will you guarantee that no one will lose coverage under the executive order?
PRICE: I guarantee you that the individuals that lost coverage under the Affordable Care Act, we will commit to making certain that they don't lose coverage under whatever replacement plan comes forward. That's the commitment that I provide to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: Now, what you didn't hear in this exchange is Senator Wyden again expressing his frustration and essentially saying that Tom Price did not answer his question.
Obviously, a lot of Democrats in Congress right now are very worried about the effects of this executive order and I think were hoping to get a little more details from Price on exactly what it would entail.
Now, I should also point out that Price also came under fire for the various ethics concerns that have been raised about his financial investments. Remember, this morning, CNN had some new reporting on inconsistencies that were raised in his financial disclosure forms
But Price once again, as he did last week at his first confirmation hearing, he said that everything he did was ethical, legal and transparent -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: From HHS to OMB, government acronyms, Phil, let's talk about this Congressman Mulvaney confirmation talking about budget. I understand this was sort of apparently the context of this question about crowd size? Walk us through that?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
No, it was an unexpected twist I think on a hearing that at least up to that point, Brooke, has been really two hours of wonkishness. There were charts. There were numbers. There were a lot of talks about entitlement reforms and the future of entitlements.
And then there were photos of the 2009 inauguration and the 2017 inauguration. But there was a point.
Here, take a listen to the exchange between Senator Jeff Merkley and Mick Mulvaney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: I have behind me two pictures that were taken at about the same time of day in 2009 and 2017. Which crowd is larger, the 2009 crowd or the 2017 crowds?
REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Senator, if you would allow me to give the disclaimer that I'm not really sure how this ties to OMB, I will be happy to answer your question, which was, from that picture, it does appear that the crowd on the lefthand side is bigger than the crowd on the righthand side. MERKLEY: Thank you.
The president disagreed about this in a news report. He said: "It's a lie. We caught them. We caught them in a beauty," referring to the press reporting. He says: "It looked like a million, a million-and-a- half people."
The reason I'm raising this is because budget often contain buried deceptions. You and I talked about in my office about the magic asterisks.
This is an example of where the president's team on something very simple and straightforward wants to embrace a fantasy, rather than the reality.
In fact, it's come up a lot because Sean Spicer, the press secretary, said that the photographers framed their photos to minimize the enormous support on the Mall, in other words, a conspiracy thesis, and went on to say: "It was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period."
I gather you would disagree with the press secretary, with your caveat.
MULVANEY: Again, I'm happy to comment on the photograph. I'm not familiar with the statements. I do agree that the photographs were as you represented them.
MERKLEY: Thank you.
Chuck Todd noted in his conversation with Kellyanne Curray (sic) that you just had a press secretary at the start of his time in office present a falsehood to the press and to the American people.
And Kellyanne Conway responded: "You're saying it's a falsehood. Sean Spicer gave alternative facts."
Are you comfortable, as you proceed as a key budget adviser, presenting falsehoods as simply an alternative fact?
MULVANEY: As you and I discussed in your office, I have every intent and believe that I have shown up unto this point in my time in Congress that I am deadly serious about giving you hard numbers. And I intend to follow through on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And, Brooke, I can confirm that all of us who were buried in our computers kind of working through our stories, where we wanted to go with the hearing, immediately perked up when these photos were shown, when this debate came up.
It was obviously unexpected. And it's clear that crowd size, the ridiculous crowd size debate has infiltrated every element of Washington at this point. But I do want to underscore, there was a point there, as you noted,
both on the budget side of things, using kind of gimmicks try and get around the true cost of a lot of items here in Washington. That's a kind of tried-and-true tradition. That was the kind of top-line point that the senator was trying to make, but also on kind of a more secondary point.
And this is why it's so relevant to Mick Mulvaney's nomination. He throughout his time in Congress had taken a very hard-line stance on entitlements, on Social Security, on Medicare, on Medicaid, advocating for reforms and cuts, the same reforms and cuts that's President Trump throughout the course of his campaign made very clear he would not make, that he disagreed with thoroughly.
That is an issue that the Democrats really tried to hit Mick Mulvaney on. And kind of to his credit, he did not back off what his position was throughout, unlike what we've seen from a number of nominees up to point, said he's going to give this president his advice and his counsel as he's seen it fit throughout the course of his career, and it's up to the president to decide what he wants to do from there, Brooke.
Phil, thank you so much from Capitol Hill on that hearing.
Next, President Trump decides to keep FBI Director James Comey on board even as his agency is investigating his national security adviser's communications with Russia. We will talk about that next.
BALDWIN: FBI Director James Comey will not be losing or leaving his job.
A law enforcement source tells CNN President Trump has asked the embattled agency's leader to stick around. He did give Comey a warm welcome at the White House just Sunday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's become more famous than me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Comey had come under fire for his role during the presidential election that some Democrats believe was to blame ultimately for Hillary Clinton's loss.
With me now, our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.