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GOP Senators Speak After Meeting Trump Amid Corker Feud; Democrats No Fan of GOP Tax Plan; Trump's Attorney Has "Contentious Hearing" before House Intelligence Committee' New Details on Niger Ambush Investigation. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R-NC), CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Things like the power structure that would have raised utility bills, the so-called Clean Power Rule, the Waters of the U.S. that would require the EPA to be involved in so much of the economy. And these were huge overreaches and a step back from that. And on taxes the president said in his two principle observations, what our members are saying on the floor, and in all of their comments, this is about tax cuts for working individuals and hardworking families. And at the other end of the spectrum, it's about creating opportunities for our country to be more competitive so that the jobs people have are better than the jobs available now. Not very complicated. If we stay with those two principles, we'll see this economy grow and we'll see families and individuals who work hard for a living benefit from it. And that's clearly where the president is and where the Republicans in the Senate are.

SEN. CORY GARDNER, (R), COLORADO: Over 1.7 million jobs have been created in this job since last November. That's what the president talked about. We witnessed great enthusiasm for a tax relief to American families to help make sure that people are able to keep more dollars in their own pockets. And 25 percent of the people in this country don't have emergency access to $100. Economists like Kevin Hassett have talked about the tax reform, the work that we're doing, would give $4,000 in new average income to the average middle-class family in this country. This weekend, for the first time in 25 years, we witnessed a shutout of the Denver Broncos. It's been longer than that since this country witnessed tax reform, 31 years ago. In 1986, "Top Gun" was the number-one movie at the box office. In 1986, Mitch McConnell was rocking out to "Walk Like an Egyptian."

(LAUGHTER)

In 1986, IBM unveiled its very first laptop, the P.C. Convertible. It weighed 13 pounds. And we're still dealing with that 1986 tax code. We can do better. We can put money in the American peoples' pockets. We can grow this economy.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This morning, Senator Corker said that the president had trouble with the truth. (INAUDIBLE).

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Look, I don't have any observation about that. We're here to try to accomplish things for the American people. We're all on the same page on the issues that I've mentioned. And, of course, front and center is comprehensive tax reform, as my colleagues have described. Trying to get the country going again and growing again and that's what we're going to work on.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you and the president talk about it? Was there some concern there about what happened and someone getting in here improperly or abusing a credential? You didn't even flinch. Did it scare you?

(LAUGHTER)

Did the president talk about it? Was there some concern there about that happened and someone getting in there improperly and potentially abusing a credential?

MCCONNELL: You guys were hollering so loud that I didn't even notice. We didn't comment on it. We just walked into my office.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did the president say anything more about it?

MCCONNELL: No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you unite your party when top Republicans and the president continue to have these feuds?

MCCONNELL: If there's anything all Republicans think are important to the country and to our party, it's comprehensive tax reform. The issue itself brings about great unity among our members. And so we're concentrating on the agenda for the American people. The president shares that agenda. He's going to do a good job, I think, promoting that agenda. And we intend to achieve what we set out to achieve before the end of the year.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). At what point do you have an obligation of the leader of this party to weigh in on these very serious criticisms of the president?

MCCONNELL: What I have an obligation to do is to try to achieve the greatest cohesion I can among 52 Republicans, to try to achieve for the American people the agenda that we set out to achieve. And tax reform is what we are about. If there's anything that unifies Republicans, it's tax reform. We've been looking for the opportunity to do this literally for years. We now have a president who will sign it, who believes in what we're trying to do and we're going to concentrate on what our agenda is and not any of these other distractions that you all may be interested in.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Leader, but what is driving the news today? Think about it. What is driving the news today? The president's feud with Senator Corker. He's feuded with you. I'll give you a whole list if you like, but McCain, Heller --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCONNELL: I don't know how many times I have to say the whole thing. There's a lot of noise out there. We have a First Amendment in this country. Everybody gets to express themselves.

But what we're concentrating on is the agenda that the American people need. I think there's great cohesion among Republicans of all persuasions to achieve this goal before the end of the year.

Thanks a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:35:03] BALDWIN: All right. So you heard from a couple of different Senators.

The Bengals reference I was not expecting, talking tax reform.

Let me bring my panel back.

Gloria, back out to you.

The reporters were asking for the majority leader to comment on this back and forth between the president and feuding with Corker today, and Mitch McConnell before, Heller, et cetera, he would not go there. It was all about cohesion, unified front, tax reform.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, as expected. As expected. They are not going to engage on that because it doesn't help them. He doesn't want to engage in these fights the president's having, even when it concerns him. He's been where Corker is, waking up in the morning to hear the president, to see the president tweet about him. And the men you saw standing there don't want to talk about the elephant in the room.

BALDWIN: Uh-huh.

BORGER: They want to talk about their agenda. And that is the reason they're not talking about Donald Trump in any other way, because he can help them. And when you look at someone like Senator Barrasso, Steve Bannon has said maybe we'll get somebody to primary him in his re-election. He wants to be on the president's side in all of this. And I think, you know, McConnell speaks the truth when he says that there's nothing that unites Republicans like taxes, because unlike repeal and replace, they have ideas about what they would like to do when it comes to reforming the tax code. So they want to get on with their business and kind of sweep the rest of it under the rug.

BALDWIN: So, Scott, you talked about how you wanted to see this united front among Republicans coming out of the meeting, and I think you got what you wanted. Were you at all disappointed that the president didn't hang around and address this issue with fellow Republicans?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not disappointed. The Republicans showed a united front. Senator McConnell has recently delivered a big win on this issue of the president by getting the budget passed, which, of course, unlocked reconciliation. Now we're moving forward with negotiation on what is going to be in the tax reform package. I heard a very hopeful, optimistic and unified Republicans there. As Gloria mentioned, they do have extremely specific ideas on how to make the tax code better. At the end of the day, they ran on this. And if they can deliver to the American people a simpler tax code and lower rates, that's a huge win to run a political campaign for the 2018 midterm.

BALDWIN: Yes.

Scott, thank you.

Sir Michael, Gloria, good to see all of you.

We've got to talk about Niger. Breaking news, a major development on investigation into the ambush there that killed the four Americans. Why they were there in the first place, and who specifically they were chasing. We'll take you live to the Pentagon for that, coming up.

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SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: By Senator Corker as untruths and Corker was being kind.

Let's just review what the president says. It's just totally divorced. What the president says and what the Republican plan does are polar opposites. For instance, the president said this is not a plan for the rich. Blatantly untrue. Untruth number one that this plan is not a plan for the rich. It repeals the estate tax, which benefits the 11,000 wealthiest estates in the country. Each one has to be more than $5 million. It lowers the top rate. Untruth number two. Allowing hedge fund donors and big law firms to take advantage. Three, it provides a pass-through so very wealthy people can pay a lower rate than average Americans. So it's totally untruth, shall we say, that this is not a plan for the rich, which the president has stated. Then he says, at the heart of our plan is a tax cut for every-day working Americans. Untruth number two. Just wrong. Tax Policy Center, a third of middle class families would pay more and very few get much of a break. When they talk about getting state and local deductibility, limiting 401(K)s and limiting the mortgage deduction, those are all aimed at making the middle class pay more so the rich can get a bigger tax break. That's not what America needs or wants. And that's not what is in the plans put together by our Republican leadership in the House and Senate. That's an untruth. And then the president claims this will not increase the deficit. Absurd. No one believes that this will lower the deficit. And "The Washington Post" fact-checker called this claim a fantasy. No one believes it.

So it's untruth after untruth after untruth, as Bob Corker put it when he talks about the Republican tax plan. Untruth one, it's aimed at helping the middle class. Untruth two, it's not a plan for the rich. Untruth three, it lowers the deficit. This plan is a disaster for America. It's no wonder our Republican colleagues want to rush it through in the dark of night because the more it's exposed to sunlight, the more rotten it smells, and the American people will know that.

Senator Cardin?

[13:41:30] SEN. CARDIN, (D), MARYLAND: Thank you, Senator Schumer.

The more we're learning about the tax proposal that the Republicans --

BALDWIN: So I just wanted to be able to hear the Democratic response about the tax plan, tax restructuring. In a nutshell, they are not fans.

Let's go over the specifics of President Trump's tax plan. It reduces the amount of taxes and number of tax brackets so instead of seven there are three with middle income-taxers taxed 25 percent. While everyone will pay less in taxes, the wealthiest, those making more than $730,000 a year would do much better than the rest, keeping $130,000 more of their income. The bottom 20 percent of earners would see about $60 more a year after taxes. Middle, $660 and the top 20 percent, those earning $150,000 or more, would have about $8500 more in their pockets. Also, standardized deductions would be doubled so individuals would not be taxed on the first $12,000 they make. Married couples, the first $24,000 would be tax-free. Those are some of the details of this Republican tax plan.

Back to this breaking news, we've been teasing this Niger story. A major development in the investigation of the attack in Niger. Why these Americans were there in the first place and new details on the target. Specifically, who they were there chasing. We'll take you live to the Pentagon, coming up.

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[14:47:33] BALDWIN: Just in here, one of the president's long-time attorneys appearing before the House Intelligence Committee in what's being described as a, quote, "contentious hearing."

Let's go to Manu Raju, our senior congressional correspondent, on Capitol Hill.

Contentious? What happened?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Remember, this is President Trump's personal attorney. He has come under security from investigators because his name appeared in that 35-page dossier that the British agent, Christopher Steele, wrote about in the Trump campaign, Russian officials and he and Mr. Cohen pursued a Moscow project. And during the time of the campaign, he turned over e-mails and talking about that project and tried to get support for that project. He reached out to senior levels of the Kremlin to try to get support for that proposal. Behind closed doors today, at the House Intelligence Committee, he was

asked about all of that. I'm told that he dismissed a lot of those questions, saying the proposal, in particular, was just a proposal for the Trump Tower project. It didn't go anywhere. He really criticized this dossier for saying that he had traveled to Prague to meet with the Russians, saying that never actually happened either.

But on top of that, a number of questions both Cohen and his attorney said were not pertinent to the investigation. They would not answer some questions from the Democrats, which led to a contentious hearing, according to sources in the room.

Now, on top of that, we're now learning that Michael Cohen, in fact, came in today under a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee. Two sources have told me the committee did issue a subpoena to compel Michael Cohen to appear before this committee.

And Cohen, tomorrow, is going to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff behind closed doors. This, after the committee canceled a public hearing that was initially scheduled for tomorrow.

So Cohen has denied, Brooke, that he was involved in any collusion whatsoever. He made that case firmly today. He said there's nothing there and wants to clear his name. But one of the most high-profile witnesses to come before this investigation, someone who is very close to the president -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you, on Capitol Hill.

Let's get to Niger and more on our breaking news. This is a major development in this deadly Niger attack where four U.S. soldiers were killed. Two military officials are saying that the Army team was in Niger specifically collecting intelligence on a terror leader when they were ambushed.

So let's go to the Pentagon and our reporter there, Ryan Browne.

Tell me more about the reasoning and this leader.

[14:50:11] RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Brooke, we're learning a bit about what this team was doing. They are part of an advise-and-assist mission. They were accompanying about 30 Nigerian troops. They were tasked with several things. One was to help advise this group of Nigeran troops. And one of the reports was that they were given an additional mission to try and gather some additional intelligence about a potential high-value target working with extremist groups in Niger. That's one thing we're learning.

We're also learning that this team was relatively new to Niger. They had actually only been in the country for a matter of weeks, we're being told by several officials. This might have been their first or second mission. And also that despite the fact that U.S. military officials have said publicly that this unit, this task force had performed this mission many, many times, these actual 12 U.S. soldiers on the ground had only been there for a matter of weeks, raising questions about how familiar they were with the terrain and some of the surrounding villages that they were engaging in.

BALDWIN: Ryan, thank you.

I'll start where you ended on that high-value target.

I've got Karen Attiah with me, a global opinions editor for "The Washington Post." And with me, national security analyst, Michael Weiss, co-author of "ISIS, Inside the Army of Terror."

Michael Weiss, to you first.

The reasoning now why they were in the region, to find, to seek out this terror leader?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No. He's a mysterious guy although he has ties both to al Qaeda and ISIS, which used to be one in the same but split apart in 2013. This is a problem we've seen, particularly in Africa. These groups are very interchangeable. An example, Muhammad Jimwazi (ph), Jihadi John, remember him?

BOLDUAN: Yes.

WEISS: Before he joined ISIS he went off and joined ISIS, he was the head lopper, par excellence, of all Western hostages, he was on MI-6's radar because he went to Somali to try to join al Shabab, which is now loyal to al Qaeda. It's very difficult sometimes. You have one player operating under multiple banners or they switch and move. In this case, it seems that they were out to do just reconnaissance. They were not trying to capture or kill this guy.

BALDWIN: Just get intel on this guy?

WEISS: And they may have gotten an order or some incredible intelligence that he was in the area, so they stayed out longer, and it turned out they got into a combat situation.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

WEISS: We don't know all of the details. It's very murky.

Also, I would be very, very surprised if within the village that these communities were embedded in that there were not sympathizers who were sort of complicit in this operation.

BOLDUAN: I was wondering if the locals would have helped any of the bad guys in Niger.

WEISS: Absolutely. Uh-huh.

Karen, is the other huge -- there are multiple questions without answers so far. We know Sergeant La David Johnson's body was found 48 hours later nearly a mile away from the central scene of that ambush. That's according to several CNN sources. When we heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, briefing the press yesterday, he said he couldn't confirm that. But why would his body be so far away? KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: These are

some of the questions that people are looking for answers to. It's important to note and interesting to learn that the U.S. troops had just rotated in. Someone considered for a post in Trump's national security team for Africa has actually said before that Niger is a very difficult post for Americans, particularly because we don't always have the best relations and intelligence gathering capabilities within the Nigerian local population. So I would be very curious to see if this will lead to a different strategy or approach when it comes to how we rotate in our soldiers and how we're communicating with the local Nigerian population and how the capabilities are being done and also the French. You know, the French have been there for a long time. We were there by Obama to help support the French against extremists coming in from Mali. And I'm wondering if this is going to lead to any strategic changes in how we engage in the region.

BALDWIN: Karen, let me ask you what I asked Michael, which is, what do you make of the fact that, the CNN reporting, that this team was in there trying to gather intel on this terror recruiter?

ATTIAH: So, you know, obviously, this is a reminder that, particularly Mali and Chad, there are groups where some claim to have relationships with the Islamic State, others are traffickers, others are militants, others are insurgents. The borders are extremely porous. And it's an extremely difficult region and terrain to operate in. And it's a region where the threats are becoming more and more complex and are morphing. Again, I think this really -- we've been here for a long time. It's only now, due to Trump's handling of the condolence calls with Sergeant Johnson's widow, that we're now waking up to it. But, frankly, this has been a threat for a long time.

[14:55:30] BALDWIN: That was the point Michael was making when he was being seated, so much focus has been on Iraq and Syria. Cannot take your eye off what's been happening in Africa.

We're out of time, Michael.

Thank you so much.

And, Karen, thank you as well.

Coming up, the White House briefing is set to begin shortly here. Live pictures inside of that room. A lot to discuss today, including the president's high-profile lunch with Republicans on Capitol Hill. That wrapped just a couple of minutes ago. And you know Sarah Sanders will be asked about this feud today between the president and Senator Bob Corker. We'll take it live.

You're watching CNN.

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