Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson; Labor Secretary Nominee Under Scrutiny. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 16:30   ET



ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't happen to be the one that they actually issued, that they got this one out so quickly, that they probably left themselves more vulnerable than they needed to.


Just a week ago, the assistant attorney general, Sally Yates, was pushed out. And now you have, I think, 27 judges who have essentially sided with the argument that not only she is making, but former secretaries of state, former national security officials.

You may be right. There may be constitutional basis. I don't know. But this does feel un-American and it feels like it's violating the very democratic institutions we want to uphold.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Katrina, Charles and Alex, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

The president's pick to lead the Labor Department finally getting a hearing date. What has the holdup been? That story next.



TAPPER: Still more in politics.

New hurdles stacking up President Trump's pick to head the Labor Department. Those old racy Super Bowl ads not even the half of it for Andrew Puzder.

He defends his suggestive commercials to promotes his Hardee's and Carl's Jr. brands. But Puzder, the man picked to run the Labor Department, faces new questions about an undocumented immigrant who worked in his home, this as Puzder's spokesman now tells CNN after four cancellations, his hearing and confirmation date is finally set for next Monday and his necessary paperwork is finally i.

CNN's Jason Carroll takes a look at the other problems Puzder still faces.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The man tapped to lead the Labor Department now under scrutiny for his own hiring practices.

Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, says his wife employed a housekeeper for a few years, during which "I was unaware that she was not legally permitted to work in the U.S."

Puzder's spokesman says the housekeeper was hired about 10 years ago, and fired five years later when he found out she was undocumented. The spokesman says Puzder paid back taxes for her within the past few months.

SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The fact that a nominee for secretary of labor would have hired somebody who wasn't documented and who arguably shouldn't have been working again really calls into question his understanding of basic labor law.

CARROLL: If Puzder is confirmed, the Labor Department would be run by a secretary with a long record of opposing government regulation, coming out against proposals for a $15 minimum wage, required overtime pay, and the Affordable Care Act.

And with a slew of labor-related complaints at his company, current and former workers at Hardee's and Carl's Jr. announced last month they have filed dozens state and federal complaints, including allegations of wage theft, manipulated overtime, sexual harassment and unfair labor practices.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: A secretary of labor nominee whose whole profit model was how to squeeze the lowest-wage workers in America, how to get them to work off the clock?

CARROLL: Republican Senator Johnny Isakson would not say if he will support Puzder.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: I'm not prepared to make a definitive statement until I have seen all the facts.

CARROLL: But the Senate majority leader says he's firmly behind Puzder.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think Andy Puzder is an outstanding choice. I'm enthusiastically in support of him. We are always looking for nominees who have never made a mistake. Frequently, it's impossible to find nominees who have never made a mistake.

CARROLL: Former Republican Senator Jim Talent has known Puzder for 30 years and thinks he will be confirmed despite the housekeeper issue.

JIM TALENT (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He is an honest and humane person. So, I think when senators look at the episode and see the details of it, they will conclude that here was a guy who thought it was important to comply with the law.

CARROLL: In the past, Puzder has said a large number of his restaurant employees were in the country illegally. "It used to be that we'd have people in the restaurants, somebody would announce that ICE was coming and 40 percent of the employees wouldn't show up."

He made the statements while talking about the benefits of E-Verify, a database for businesses to check employee's citizenship. Puzder's spokesman saying the 40 percent figure was either a misquote or hyperbole and that he was showing the importance of E-Verify, which he says significantly reduced the number of inadvertently hired undocumented workers.

CARROLL: Hiring undocumented workers derailed past Cabinet nominees. George W. Bush's labor secretary pick forced to drop out and Bill Clinton's attorney general nominee withdrew in what some dubbed Nannygate.


CARROLL: A Republican source told CNN last month that Puzder had voiced second thoughts about his nomination because all of the criticism that he would be facing from Democrats, labor unions and other liberal groups.

Puzder pushed back against those reports, tweeting: "I am looking forward to my hearing."

And, Jake, once again, that hearing now scheduled for February 16, now that he has all his paperwork in.

TAPPER: All right, great, Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about this all, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia. He serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He's also chair of the Select Committee on Ethics.

Senator, always good to have you with us. Thank you so much.

ISAKSON: Thank you, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, I just want to start with actually some breaking news on a press call just now. Your colleague, Senator Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut who met today with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, said that Gorsuch used the words demoralizing and disheartening to describe President Trump's attacks on individual judges in the Ninth Circuit and out West.

This is according to Senator Blumenthal. But this is the president's Supreme Court nominee. What do you make of it?


ISAKSON: Well, I have to go by what you're saying is a quote from somebody else.

I'm surprised that he would repeat that if that was, in fact, what was said. But I can't deny because I wasn't there to hear it. TAPPER: Do you have any thoughts on whether it's appropriate for the

president to talk about judges the way he has been?

ISAKSON: Donald Trump has taken it on himself to talk about anything he wants to within 140 characters and I don't think judges would be off limits, according to him.

TAPPER: All right.

Let's move to the topic of his labor secretary nominee. Puzder is by far not the first nominee to learn he had hired an undocumented worker. But others in the past, including Linda Chavez and Zoe Baird, they have withdrawn their nominations. Do you think that Mr. Puzder needs to do the same?

ISAKSON: I think we need to get all the totality of the evidence in and the statements that have been made. And certainly he will have a decision to make if he wants to stay in. And if he does, we will have a decision to make as to whether or not he's the secretary that's confirmed.

But that will all be coming up next week. I think the hearing is set for Monday.

TAPPER: It is interesting, though, if one were to have a secretary of labor who had employed an illegal immigrant, an undocumented immigrant, especially for President Trump, who has made illegal immigration and combating it such a big issue.

Now, Mr. Puzder says once he found out that his housekeeper was an undocumented immigrant, he ended her employment and paid the IRS back taxes. What more do you need know about that?

ISAKSON: Well, I just need to know the sequence of when those events took place, if in fact he did pay it back promptly when he found out. I think we are going to have a hearing -- a meeting later tonight to get some of that evidence. And I'm looking forward to seeing the preponderance of all the evidence to turn out what is true and what is not, make a conscientious decision for the people of America.

TAPPER: As you know, often what happens is nominees find out about these things during the vetting process and then they try to rectify them before appearing before senators such as yourself.

If he only rectified this recently, as opposed to when it happened, will that be a problem for you?

ISAKSON: Well, again, you weigh the totality of the evidence that comes out at the hearing we're going to have next Monday and the responses that he's given.

Obviously, the more -- the weight of the circumstances adds as you get one in. I will take in the totality of all the answers and I will make a decision then.

TAPPER: Back when Puzder was announced in December, you said this in part -- quote -- "I am pleased to see that the president-elect is drawing from his own experience in business to nominate a qualified successful businessman and job creator to become our next labor secretary."

But I guess the question is, would -- if this undocumented worker or the abuse claims that have now been rebutted from his ex-wife or even the complaints from staff at his fast-food companies, would any of that be enough to take away from the good things you see in his nomination?

ISAKSON: I think the most significant of those claims is the one where he hired an illegal alien in the United States of America and she worked for him for five years before she was asked to leave, before he found out.

Finding out the timing on when he found out and how he found out, that's important. The employees who have made statements about how they were treated, the other things he's talked about, that's all hearsay at best and really wouldn't be a consideration.

TAPPER: Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, it's always great to have you on. Thank you so much, sir.

ISAKSON: You too, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: More fallout from the deadly U.S. special ops raid in Yemen that cost a Navy SEAL his life. Officials in Yemen are now saying stay out of our country to the U.S., but the Pentagon is saying, not so fast.

Then, a critic of Vladimir Putin remains in the hospital in grave condition after possibly being poisoned again. The Kremlin is denying a role, but the critic's wife, she has a different story.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: We're back with our "WORLD LEAD". The U.S. defense official tells CNN that there are no changes to U.S. counter-terror efforts in Yemen. That's a push back on what Yemeni official said hours ago. They said that Yemen now wants the U.S. to ask for permission for any future anti-terror ground operations. The same U.S. official said Yemen was notified of the January 29th raid. That raid, of course, killed a U.S. navy seal and more than 20 Yemeni civilians despite the Yemeni official saying their country did not know about it. Let's bring in CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. And Jim, the U.S. and Yemen, they're telling very different stories about what Yemen knew ahead of time and what the U.S. can do now. Who is giving accurate information here?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, Jake, some Yemeni officials and leaders were upset with the results of this raid. It's natural. There were a number, perhaps as many as two dozen civilian casualties, some of them were children. The images of the civilian casualties circulating across the internet and their country and around the world, so they have understandable political pressure at home to complain about this, but we're told that they have not suspended any operations or programs, counter-terror programs with the U.S, though perhaps they are reminding their U.S. partners that they need to be consulted in advance.


SCIUTTO: Tonight, Yemen condemning the deadly U.S. raid on an AQAP compound last month. Yemeni official tells CNN it is now requesting that all future U.S. operations come only with the approval of the Yemeni government.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It has a government that has cooperated with us in the sharing of intelligence, allowing missions to come in, drone strikes by the United States in their country so that we could help them and help us minimize the terror threat. And that is a cooperation that is now at risk.

SCIUTTO: A U.S. defense official tells CNN that, quote, "Nothing has changed in the relationship, and that Yemen officials were notified ahead of the January 29th raid." The assault left U.S. Navy Seal William Ryan Owens and some two dozen Yemeni civilians dead. Among them, an eight-year-old girl who was the daughter of an American-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.

Today, Senator John McCain who chairs the senate armed services committee raised hard questions about the raid. Saying in a statement, quote, "While many of the objectives of the recent raid in Yemen were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success." White House Spokesman Sean Spicer immediately demanded an apology from McCain.

[16:50:02] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's absolutely a success, and I think anyone who would suggest it's not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.

SCIUTTO: Though, just last week, he seemed to echo Senator McCain's words.

SPICER: You never want to call something a success 100 percent when someone is hurt or killed, and that was the case here.

SCIUTTO: AQAP's leader Qasim al-Raymi, now is taunting the U.S. in a new audio recording.

QASIM AL-RAYMI, AQAP LEADER (through translator): The new fool of the White House received a painful slap across his face by your own hands and upon your own land.

SCIUTTO: Yemen's criticism of the raid comes as the country is included on a list of countries whose people are temporarily banned from entering the United States, with potentially damaging effects on a key U.S. counter-terror partnership.

KAYYEM: Between the executive order and then 24 hours later, a failed raid in Yemen. It just became unsustainable for the country to essentially cooperate with the United States any more. And that's a long-term impact of the executive order whether it survives in court or not.


SCIUTTO: Keep in mind that many Yemeni officials -- government officials might have visas themselves, their family members, visas to the U.S., dual nationality in the U.S., et cetera, so that there's a personal element to this peak at this travel ban being included on this travel ban list. And Jake, I know you've heard it, I've heard it as well, this has been one of the concerns you hear from military commanders in the region, diplomats, counter-terror officials, about how the ban might affect those key relationships in the region as you are trying to jointly fight these terror groups.

TAPPER: That's right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

A deadly ambush against humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan. The Red Cross says armed men ambushed five field officers and three drivers who were on their way to deliver much needed livestock materials in their clearly marked Red Cross vehicle in northern Afghanistan. At least six workers were killed, two others still missing. No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility. This as Afghanistan is still reeling from another horrific attack that had happened just hours before, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside Afghanistan Supreme Court in Kabul, killing at least 20 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.

He's been an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and for the second time, he's in the hospital fighting for his life after a suspected poisoning. Now, his wife says she knows who's behind her husband's illness. We'll hear from her next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with more on today's "WORLD LEAD". The Kremlin is denying any connection to the poisoning of a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A lawyer for Vladimir Kara-Murza says his client has been in grave condition for nearly a week now. Poisoned for the second time in two years. Doctors treating him say that a toxic substance is to blame and now Kara-Murza wife tells CNN she believes the Russian government is responsible for her husband's condition. Let's go to CNN's Ivan Watson, he's in Moscow. And Ivan, you spoke with this wife, does she have proof that the Russian government was behind the poisoning of her husband?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, she does not have proof, and we cannot confirm it either. What we do know is that her husband, Vladimir Kara-Murza, got very, very sick, Jake, two years ago, had sudden and massive organ failure, and very unusual for a man in his age, in his 30s, and it took months to recover from that. And now, suddenly, he has fallen ill yet again. Now, we spoke with him last year. He claimed that he was poisoned for his outspoken criticism of the Kremlin, and now that he has fallen sick again, so suddenly and is quite literally fighting for his life, his wife is also saying it appears that he has once again been poisoned. Doctors saying that he has suffered acute intoxication with an unknown substance. The Kremlin says, trying to tie this all to the Russian government, is pure nonsense. Take a listen to an excerpt from what his wife, Evgenia, had to tell me.


EVGENIA KARA-MURZA, WIFE OF RUSSIAN ACTIVIST: The Russian government and President Putin are responsible for what happened to my husband two years ago, and now, one way or another. I'm not saying that they are the ones who did that, but they created such a climate in our country that actually encourages this kind of behavior.


WATSON: And I do have to bring up to date on his health. He woke from a medically induced coma, but is still too weak and ill to even speak right now, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ivan, obviously the context here is important. A lot of Putin's critics, whether they're politicians or journalists have a curious habit of ending up dead. Does she fear retribution for making the accusation she's making?

WATSON: You know, she said that every time - and she lives with their three children in Virginia, by the way. She said that every time he would come back to Russia to do opposition work, she was absolutely terrified, but she said that he was a Russian patriot, he was absolutely committed to his cause. As for her personal safety, she really wants to get the message out right now about what was going on, and what she thinks happened to her husband. It's important to note that Vladimir Kara-Murza, he was here in Russia promoting a film about the murder, the assassination of a well-known opposition leader named Boris Nemtsov. He was a close friend of Kara-Murza's. He was gunned down two years ago within a couple hundred yards of the walls of the Kremlin itself, and he was traveling around the country promoting this documentary, trying to educate people about what happened. Kara-Murza himself called for a criminal investigation into his own previous illness what he claimed was a poisoning in 2015. Nothing happened as a result, so again, they want to get the information out, Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf -