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Ryan to Speak About Bombshell; Republicans Nervous about Bombshells; Special Prosecutor for Trump Investigation; GOP Agenda at Risk; Schumer on Senate Floor. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:32:45] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the breaking news, this is interesting, folks. You're looking at the Dow Jones. The markets just opened two minutes ago, and already the market down 180 points in three minutes. Why? Well, investors are watching what is happening in Washington, the chaos in the White House. The questions now facing the president of the United States, did he try to stop the investigation into his former national security advisor Michael Flynn? Investors do not like chaos. They do not like volatility. Moreover, they don't like the idea that maybe some of the things that they were hoping for from the president's agenda, namely big tax cuts, they don't like the fact that they may be in jeopardy with all the chaos right now. We're going to watch the markets throughout the morning. That is very, very interesting, down 180 points, again, in three minutes.

Joining me now to discuss some of the political implications, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, political anchor at Spectrum News, Jeffrey Toobin back with us, Ron Brownstein, CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at "USA Today."

Susan, you are in Washington where, in a few minutes, we're going to hear from Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, who has been silent since this latest report yesterday that the president tried to influence James Comey, suggest that he lay off his investigation into Michael Flynn. Now, just as a warning, you know, Paul Ryan's going to talk about tax cuts. He knows the whole world is watching. We want to hear what he says about the investigation. He's going to talk about taxes first. But then he will be forced to talk about these questions. What do you expect him to say, Susan.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, we heard a hint from - last night when his spokesman, Ashley Strong (ph), supported Jason Chaffetz in his request for documents from the FBI about communications between President Trump and James Comey when he was the FBI director. She said it was the appropriate thing to do.

This is a big sign that the - that Jason Chaffetz, who, as you know, is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee is preparing to pursue an investigation into these allegations that President Trump asked the FBI director to lay off the fired national security advisor. And so we're - you know, Speaker Ryan, of course, will talk about what he wants to do on taxes and health care and other legislative initiatives. But the story of the day, and of the month, and maybe of the year is going to be something else entirely.

[09:35:01] BERMAN: And it is interesting, Errol Louis, you know, Jason Chaffetz, easy for him to say. He's not going to be in Congress maybe in days let alone months. It won't be his investigation. He's announced he's retiring. He won't run for re-election. Someone else will lead the investigation.

This morning, though, we are hearing from other Republicans who - I haven't heard any outright defending the president saying, oh, he didn't do anything. There is no problem at all that he asked James Comey to maybe stop the investigation. They're nervous right now. How do they navigate - forget the next week, the next few hours?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. Well, they should be nervous. This is a question - if you go back to some of the town hall meetings some of them had when they were recently back in their home districts, the most damaging chant from some of their constituents was, do your job, meaning, get to the bottom of this, not necessarily passing judgment on what they're going to find, but tell them to show some interest. Don't just kind of lay back and say, well, the White House says it's not a problem, so I'm not going to bother. I'm not going to call for an investigation. I'm not going to ask any questions. I'm not going to come back to the district with any insight or investigation that you couldn't pick up on your own on the Internet or by watching the news. So to the extent that they now feel that they have to do something, I think we're seeing some of the minimal kind of inquiries that we should have expected all along, right?

BERMAN: And, Ron Brownstein, the Republican backstop, as it were, seems to be getting smaller and smaller.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BERMAN: "The Wall Street Journal," owned by Rupert Murdoch, you know, ally of the president of the United States. The editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today said this. "If Mr. Trump can't discipline himself, then no Jim Baker ex machina will make much of a difference." In other words, you know, forget bringing someone into the White House to fix this.

BROWNSTEIN: (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: If the president doesn't shape up in and of himself, he's in real trouble.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, you know, in many ways the alliance between President Trump and Republicans in Congress is a marriage of convenience. There isn't deep personal loyalty on either side. President Trump, you know, criticized Republicans in Congress during the campaign. Very few of them feel any kind of personal connection to him. And what that means is that if he is not capable of advancing their agenda, which increasingly they are concerned about, it's not clear to me that the current circling of the wagons that you see is going to survive. And, in fact, you know, the assumption has been that what makes this different from scandals like Watergate in the 1970s is our politics is so much more tribal and Republicans have been so much less willing than they were in the '70s to show any independence or any oversight as Errol said.

But there's a self-reinforcing cycle here, which is, as you see some begin to break away, that could begin to erode the president's standing with his own voters. You're beginning to see more criticism in conservative media. And the process could accelerate of distancing much faster than I think many people now seem to think is possible.

BERMAN: And, look, and that's why we have that little box, you know, right underneath me on the screen right now. Paul Ryan speaks in 23 minutes. We are waiting to see not just what he says but how he says it, right? If he's going to offer some defense of the president as more luke warm than it's been in the past.

Jeffrey Toobin, senior legal analyst, I'm glad you stuck around because we are starting to hear more Republicans, not tons, not a title wave, but Adam Kinzinger just this morning said, you know what, maybe we need a special prosecutor now. What would that mean, though? Does that really change everything? A special prosecutor would be appointed by the president's Justice Department, correct?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Correct. I - you know, I think it's important to explain some of the nomenclature, some of the words we're using because I think there can be some confusion about that. It is possible to have a select committee in Congress that is specially designated by the House and/or the Senate just to investigate one subject. That was done in Iran Contra. It was done by the Senate in Watergate, a special committee.

That's different from a special prosecutor, an independent counsel, a special counsel. There is no longer a law that mandates the use of an independent counsel, an independent prosecutor, but the Justice Department still has the discretion, and here it would be the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, because the attorney general is recused. He could appoint a special counsel, an outsider who would be effectively in charge of the criminal investigation instead of the Justice Department. Rod Rosenstein so far as not said he's going to do that, but that is a possibility under current law.

BERMAN: Correct. I think it could buy the White House time. You know, in the short term, it may make their lives easier.

Ron Brownstein, a quick last word.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. I mean I - exactly right. More to the point of Congress buying them time. I mean in the long run, a special counsel would increase the risk to President Trump, but it would take the issue off the plate of Congress and allow them to basically say, we can't deal with this while someone else is. You could see that as an interim step that many of them may find more attractive, if the Comey memos, in practice, are as bad as they seem to be in the reports.

BERMAN: Well, we'll know what's in the Comey memos, I think, you know, one way or another and very soon, either in a hearing or because they will be leaked, let's be honest.

Jeffrey Toobin, Errol Louis, Ron Brownstein, Susan Page, thank you very, very much.

Again, we are waiting to hear from Paul Ryan. What will he say about this? I bet he does not call for a special select committee, as Jeffrey Toobin was just musing that, you know, could happen. He doesn't think it's going to happen. Neither do i.

[09:40:07] Meanwhile, John Kasich has advice for both Republicans and Democrats. Will they take it?

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BERMAN: All right, the Dow Jones down 164 points, 14 minutes after the opening bell. The markets very jittery following the reports overnight that the president asked the FBI director, James Comey, to back off his investigation of Michael Flynn. Investors do not like uncertainty. Investors do not like the notion that perhaps the president's agenda is in jeopardy, including tax cuts, which they're very enthusiastic for.

On that subject, and really much more, I'm joined by Stephen Moore, CNN's senior economics analyst and former Trump campaign senior economic advisor.

Stephen, you're a good sport for coming in because I'm sure you'd rather be here talking about tax cuts or entitlement reform or the NBA draft, frankly, that in a lot of -

[09:45:02] STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Any of those things, right?

BERMAN: Any of those things more than what we're talking about now because there are serious questions surrounding the Trump presidency. How does this affect the ability of the White House to achieve anything?

MOORE: Well, I think you're exactly right, that the stock market is really jittery right now because, look, the stock market wants this tax cut to happen.

BERMAN: Stephen - I'm so sorry, Stephen. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is speaking on the Senate floor.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Transcripts that corroborate his story. But if he fails to release them, the American public will justifiably tend to side with Mr. Comey, not what the president had to say, particularly in light of so much backtracking, backsliding, factual fabrication in this White House.

Finally, the events of this past week only heighten the need for a special prosecutor, who is truly independent, to run the Department of Justice's investigations into the potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The American people must have faith in the integrity and impartiality of this investigation. We have learned if the reporting is accurate that the president is willing to directly interfere with an active investigation. Whether it breaks the law or not is not the point here. The point is, he was trying to interfere with an investigation.

How can anyone trust someone in the president's chain of command, someone who the president has appointed, after those actions? The only way out is a special prosecutor. It's the right thing to do. We know the president is willing to fire an FBI director because of this investigation, in his own words. It makes all the sense in the world to have a special prosecutor who can only be fired for cause to lead the Russia investigation. That would help protect the integrity of the investigation by insulating it from a White House which, at the very minimum, is overreaching.

Given the circumstances, these requests are reasonable. They're modest. I hope, I really pray, that my friends on the other side of the aisle will see that now is the time to put party considerations aside and do what is right for our country.

I know that several of my colleagues, senators from Maine, Tennessee, Arizona, have expressed concerns. A few have gone further and endorsed some of the acts I have mentioned. It's a good first step, but it is not enough. In the past 24 hours, there has been more movement among Republicans in the House than here in the Senate. The Senate, by its traditions, should be leading this effort, not following. More of my Republican friends should join the senators from Maine and Tennessee and Arizona in speaking out about these events first, but far more importantly, helping us get to the bottom of them in an impartial, trusted and respected way.

To my friends on the other side of the aisle, America needs you. America needs you now. America needs you to help pressure the deputy attorney general to name a special prosecutor, to compel this White House to turn over the transcripts and tapes to Congress, to demonstrate that Congress, that the American people elected, Democrats and Republicans, can come together to do the right thing when it matters most.

I repeat to all of my colleagues, history is watching. This is not a casual or usual time. As great as the desire would be to repeal Obamacare or do tax reform, the very faith in the institutions of government now are being tested. They've been tested in the past. It's not the first time in American history they have been tested. But in the past there have been people who rose above party, rose above an immediate interest to defend the needs of the republic. Is it going to happen now?

BERMAN: All right, I'm joined again by Stephen Moore, from the Heritage Foundation, a former senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst, with me here as well.

[09:49:57] Stephen Moore, I was talking to you about the White House agenda before we had to cut you off because we were hearing from the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer. In a way he sort of answered the question. I mean the minority leader is on the floor of the Senate right now talking about a special prosecutor, calling on Republicans to stand up and do something. Hard to get anything done in this environment.

MOORE: It is. By the way, I just have to make a political point, which is, for Chuck Schumer to talk about people rising above party, wow, that's the guy who's maybe the most partisan majority leader - or minority leader in a long time in the Senate.

But back to the point about the economic agenda, there's no question about it, that it has been blindsided by - by the events over the last week and a half or two weeks. And I do think that's one of the reasons that investors are getting nervous. You've seen a very jittery stock market. The markets, workers and employers do want this tax cut. They do want a resolution on the health care. And I do think it's bad for the economy when you get this kind of scandal-ridden White House.

BERMAN: You know, those are serious comments coming from a guy who was the senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign. Stephen, I don't know if you're still advising the White House. If you are, I'm sure it's on economics. But if you were advising them on how to get their act together, what would you tell them right now?

MOORE: Get back to talking about tax cuts, about health care reform, about pro - you know, pro-growth energy policies. Change the subject. For the last ten days it's only been about Russia, it's only been about Comey. Trump has to find a way to change the subject, getting back to the kind of ideas that got him elected in the first place.

BERMAN: But, Stephen, do you trust this White House anymore given what's happened in the last week and some of their explanations from things that have turned out to be, in some cases, contradictory? Do you trust them as much?

MOORE: Well, look, you know what, I don't really - frankly, I don't follow this stuff very closely because it's not my area of expertise, but I will say this, I do trust him on his economic ideas. I think that's what got him elected. Those are very popular ideas. When I go around the country, you know, it's interesting, people around the country want - that I meet are not really talking about the Russia situation or Comey. They're talking a little bit about it. But they're still talking about, when is Trump going to get this tax bill done? When are we going to get a resolution on health care?

BERMAN: Right.

MOORE: That's what Americans, I think, actually care more about than some of these things that, you know, the networks like CNN have been hyper obsessed with for the last week and a half.

BERMAN: Well, look, we also - we covered health care extensively which, you know, which is a policy issue.

MOORE: Sure. You did. Right.

BERMAN: You know, we cover the events at hand. And this is - this is not insignificant. Quite a - this is very, very significant, you know, Stephen Moore. You signed on or you were involved with the campaign early on. Is this - is this going the way you thought it would?

MOORE: You know, Trump is a disrupter. There's no question about it. He is a different kind - he's a non-politician. Has he made mistakes? Absolutely. Are they the kind of mistakes that have made people flee from him? No. I mean I think that poll that CNN reported a week and a half ago, that 97 percent of the people who voted for Donald Trump still would vote for him today.

I get a lot of people around the country who say, you know, Trump is doing the right thing. He's disrupting Washington. And I hate to tell you this, but, John, a lot of people don't trust the media. They don't really trust the coverage of this whole event. And that's what I'm hearing from people when I talk to them around the country. I was in Tennessee, I was in California, I was in Kansas last week and it was the same everywhere I went.

BERMAN: No, you know, I mean obviously what you're saying is true. I will say that there are senators, including from Tennessee, Bob Corker, who has said that this White House is in a downward spiral and he is a Republican. So there are people concerned about this, you know, really everywhere.

Jeffrey Toobin, you have been listening to Stephen Moore here. We heard from Chuck Schumer. We've heard from both sides of the aisle right now. Chuck Schumer wants a special prosecutor. Stephen Moore to an extent says this is overblown, although I think Stephen admits that this is damaging to the White House agenda right now. Ultimately, the power is not in Chuck Schumer's hands.

TOOBIN: No. Chuck - I mean, you know, this is one party rule in Washington now. You have a Republican president, a Republican House, a Republican Senate and they are going to have to decide how to deal with this. I mean, you know, Stephen is right, they would all prefer to be spending their time on tax cuts, on health care. But when the president of the United States, out of the blue, fires the FBI director, that's going to be news, and that's news for us to cover. And when the White House changes its explanation for why he was fired, that's going to be news. And, you know, their - no one forced the president to fire the FBI director. He chose to do it.

MOORE: Right.

TOOBIN: And we chose correctly to cover it.

BERMAN: And, Stephen Moore, last point here. And, again, I get your - I get your point.

MOORE: (INAUDIBLE) -

BERMAN: Hang on. Hang on, Stephen, let me ask the question and then you can answer it how you want. I get your point that you trust the president on his economic agenda. The question is, do you trust him in general? If he asked the FBI director to back off the investigation into Michael Flynn, does that concern you?

MOORE: I'm not - look, I'm honestly not qualified to answer that because I'm just not an expert on it.

BERMAN: Well -

MOORE: But I will simply say this, though, that -

BERMAN: But you're a voter. You're a voter.

MOORE: Of course I am. And, you know, look, but my opinion on that really doesn't matter because you brought me on to talk about economics. I would only say that , to Jeff Toobin, that, look, of course the media is going to cover this, but it's all of - all that the media has been talking about for the last two weeks. Almost nothing else but this. Whereas, you know, if you look all of the economic news, we've had some really good economic news over the last couple weeks. We have record housing sales. We've got increase in consumer confidence. We've got - there's a new report about, you know, increasing growth for the second quarter of the economy. Those are the things I think ultimately that matter. And I would make the case to you that a year from now, and especially three years from now, what people are going to be focused on when they look at the re-election of Donald Trump is, did he deliver on the economy. That's - that's, I think, does he deliver on jobs. That's what's going to matter.

[09:55:43] BERMAN: And you might be right, but in your own words, you know, the economic agenda has been blindsided -

MOORE: That's true.

BERMAN: By the events of the last week. So it has been effective.

Stephen Moore, really appreciate you being with us. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you again for sticking around.

MOORE: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Any moment we will hear from the House speaker, Paul Ryan. What will he say about this? We have not heard from him since the news came out that the president of the United States reportedly asked the FBI director to back off the investigation into Michael Flynn. We'll be right back.

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