Return to Transcripts main page


Flake Predicts "More People Stand Up" To Trump; White House Brushes Off GOP Senators' Scathing Rebukes; Flake On Trump: "You Have To Call Him Out"; Sources: GOP Lawmakers Worried Infighting Hurts Agenda; Source: Clinton Campaign And DNC Helped Fund Trump Dossier; Trump Fails To Sanction Russia Over Election Meddling. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. A sitting U.S. senator takes to the Senate floor to renounce the sitting president from his own party. That is the definition of historic. That is what happened yesterday in Washington, less than 24 hours ago. And the smoke hasn't yet cleared from Senator Jeff Flake's retirement announcement. And Flake is saying -- and Flake says today more is coming.


SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Privately, a number of my colleagues have expressed concerns about the direction of our politics and the behavior of the president. I think in the coming months, you'll have more people stand up.

I think the cumulative weight of all of this, there comes a tipping point where we realize we just can't continue to normalize this kind of behavior. So, I do think we'll have more people stand up in the coming months.


BOLDUAN: Well, the president essentially this morning saying, bring it on. Tweeting this, that his meeting with Republican senators yesterday outside of Flake and Corker, was a lovefest, with standing ovations and great ideas for USA.

And he also added this, "The reason Flake and Corker dropped out of the Senate race," according to another tweet, "is very simple. They had zero chance of being elected. Now act so hurt and wounded."

So, where does that leave the party right now? Where does that leave the president's agenda? Remember, Flake and Corker are still in the Senate for 14 more months and he needs those votes.

CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House. He's going to start us off today. Joe, what are you hearing over there? JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you've got free-wheeling personal criticism of the president from two prominent Republican senators, who are free to speak their minds, because they're not running for re-election, but at the White House, seemingly, at least publicly, it's all good, because they're focusing on the part about senators who are not running for re-election.

And on the idea that the president is getting establishment Republicans out, so he can put his people in, but this morning's tweets are very telling. People here at the White House have told me that they see the president's tweets in the morning as setting the agenda for good or for bad.

And this morning's tweets were all about isolating those two senators, criticizing them, responding to them, and trying to cut them apart from their colleagues, including this one referencing yesterday's meeting with all the Republican senators reads, "Jeff Flake with an 18 percent approval rating in Arizona said a lot of my colleagues have spoken out. Really, they just gave me a standing ovation."

Now truth is, some senators have spoken out. Think of John McCain, Lindsey Graham. You know, even in some instances, the senator from Maine on issues of health care. Nonetheless, the White House has called Corker and Flake's comments petty, but it's very interesting, Kate.

One thing they don't appear to be doing is backing off one bit or changing direction. A good example of that is despite the fact that Jeff Flake talked yesterday about the administration calling real things fake, and fake things real, they continue to stand by the claim that Senator Corker supported the Iran nuclear deal and that is just not true.

BOLDUAN: That is correct. He voted against the Iran nuclear deal. We'll continue to stick with that fact. Joe, great to see you. Thanks so much. Let's see what happens.

So that is from the White House, but has the dust settled yet on Capitol Hill, from what happened there yesterday? CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here with much more.

So, Dana, what are you hearing what about what Flake is saying, that others will be following suit. Are you hearing that more senators are going to be speaking out?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, you heard Senator Flake saying that he's having private conversations with people saying that they will. I haven't found any evidence that that is imminent.

Because the fact of the matter is that if you kind of take a step back, most Republican senators, I think pretty much all of them, at this point, those left in the Senate, would have preferred another Republican president, another Republican candidate during the campaign, and then ultimately, a president. But this is -- you know, this is the guy who was duly elected. So, I'm hearing this morning, Kate, some certainly similar feelings, similar sentiment to what we hear from Senator Flake in public. I hear it in private.

But the other thing I'm hearing is a real desire to focus on deliverables. People are talking about a political doomsday scenario if Republicans don't get tax reform passed. And the concern is that although Jeff Flake has a right, many people, most people say, to say what he wants, that by voicing that, it distracts from things like tax reform, and ultimately, to what end?

[11:05:04] If they're not willing to act, and I don't even know if the mechanisms are there, but willing to act on those concerns, what's the point of making them public? I'm just saying that this is what I'm hearing from a lot of Republicans this morning, sort of as they're digesting what Senator Flake said.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but on Senator Flake, are you hearing what the last straw was for him? I didn't hear, really, a clear answer yet.

BASH: Well, it's interesting. You know, he finally -- with Jake Tapper yesterday, when he gave his first interview after announcing, he said that he didn't see a clear path to re-election without fundamentally abandoning his principles. That would be in a Republican primary.

I'm told, Kate, that it was very bad in terms of his internal polling. That he had three consecutive polls that had him down in double digits, multiple times over. So, there was no clear path, at all.

And what's interesting is that as of yesterday, the race in Arizona to keep the Republican seat was Jeff Flake, the incumbent, versus Kelly Ward, his challenger. And most Republicans, I'm sure you've heard the same, do not think Kelly Ward could have won in November of 2018, which means that that seat could have gone to the Democrats.

And in a two-vote margin for the Republicans, that was a big deal. So, this opens up the possibility and really, probability that other probably more viable Republican candidates will run against Kelly Ward.

BOLDUAN: And different than Bob Corker. Bob Corker telling Manu Raju this morning, he said that everything he had, he was doing just fine if he had wanted to run for re-election again. But what are you hearing of the reaction to Bob Corker on the Hill?

BASH: You know, again, people have a lot of respect for Bob Corker. He came here as a sort of citizen politician. He was a business guy who vowed to stay for two terms and says what he's doing by leaving is just keeping that vow.

But there is some, as one senior Republican source said to me this morning, Kate, some palpable frustration with Corker. Again, it goes back to the issues. It goes back to deliverables for Republican voters and for constituents in general. That there they were yesterday, on the eve of the president coming to Capitol Hill, and that Bob Corker went out on the morning shows, you know, said his piece, then, of course, as we would expect, the president went after him, and it was a back and forth that was really, really intense.

And you know, I've heard more than one Republican source, some of the senator's colleagues saying, you know what, you have a right to say what you want, but let's just tone it down because their question again is, to what end? To what end are we doing this criticism?

If you're going to say it and just get it out there, you know, that's fine, but, you know, at some point, they are concerned that it will ultimately hurt their ability to get something done. You know, we'll see. Things might change.

But at the end of the day, they don't see that there is a way, most Republicans, to remove this president. I mean, he was duly elected and so, they just feel that they have to work within the confines of the reality that is before them.

BOLDUAN: And even Jeff Flake saying that he doesn't see, he doesn't see grounds for impeachment. He doesn't see reasons for any of that, as this discussion continues.

BASH: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Dana.

BASH: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what today brings.

BASH: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN political commentator, senior columnist for "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis is here. Ned Ryun is founder and CEO of conservative grassroots group, American Majority, and CNN political commentator, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, Alice Stewart.

Someone who gets a lot of -- speaking of Ted Cruz, someone who often is the brunt of a lot of frustration amongst his colleagues, he's getting a bit of a respite right now, because the frustration is going elsewhere.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. He's not the target of ire in Washington. Look, it's always a bad thing when there's infighting within a party. It's best to unify in order to get things done, and as Dana said, we need some deliverables.

But we have sort of a shirts and skins game going on now in Washington. Those with the shirts on are not up for re-election, they don't have anything to lose, they're going to say their mind. And the ones with skin in the game are up for reelection and they realized they have to work together. BOLDUAN: OK. But on that, shirts and skins, I think we are talking about the skins now, is it in abdication of responsibility? Jeff Flake says they should speak up when the president is wrong. Is it an abdication of responsibility or is it just a simple reality that no matter what, it's a means to an end? Donald Trump is the only person who can sign a bill into law, as Mitch McConnell says.

STEWART: The reality is, I think a lot of Republicans, we all agree on the substance of when we want to get done. We may not agree with the style that the current administration is doing it, but we agree on the substance. We want tax reform and health care reform and strong national security.

But at the end of the day, they realized, we have to unify behind this president to get things done or become Flake news and go home. So, at this stage of the game, they're saying, we need to focus on the issues.

[11:10:07] We need to have legislative accomplishments, all of these are up for re-election in 2018, we're not going to be re-elected.

BOLDUAN: Matt, is this confirmation of what Donald Trump and his allies have been saying that they have the momentum of the base. They are the direction the Republican Party is headed so get on or get off?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. You know, the Republican base to conservative base is with Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. They're not with Jeff Flake and you know, Jeff Flake, in many ways, was a great conservative. I think he had like 100 percent club for growth rating, as a congressman.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he's no rhino. I mean, like (inaudible).

LEWIS: Out of touch, though, with today's Republican party. And I actually think that Donald Trump is playing a different game. I mean, we've always known that he was a paradigm shifting politician, but I think we're starting to see just how much.

If you've ever seen the movie "Moneyball" or read the book "Moneyball," basically, the way that we used to judge the criteria for judging baseball players, some of the statistics had no correlation to winning or losing.

We just thought -- if you have a great earned run average, it means something if you're a baseball bat. I think in the case of Donald Trump, all of us who have been around politics for a long time, we're looking at, you know, is he accomplishing legislative victories?

Is he passing tax reform? Is he putting point on the board? Is he repealing health care? But I think Donald Trump has shifted the paradigm. His voters, I don't think they really care if he does anything legislatively. I think --

BOLDUAN: How can they not? Isn't that --

LEWIS: -- they want to fight the culture war. BOLDUAN: That's what Alice just said, there has to be deliverables.

LEWIS: He has deliverables. His deliverables are, Jeff Flake not running for re-election, taking on the NFL. Those are the new deliverables.


BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Ned.

RYUN: It's more than that. I mean, look at Gorsuch, look at the lower level judges, look at some of the things he's been able to do with the executive orders, look at all the regulations that he's rolled back. Where he is able to, Donald Trump, has posted real victories.

But we have a real fact here in America, the executive branch does not make legislation. He needs the legislators to actually step up. And you know, I'm reminded, Kate, of McConnell's words recently, in which winners make policy, and losers go home.

So, I guess I would encourage Republican senators, you know what, here's your chance to be winners, and if you can't win, go home. But the thing is, Kate, these guys are out of touch --

BOLDUAN: I think (inaudible) a little differently, but keep going.

RYUN: No, to reiterate what Matt's saying --

BOLDUAN: I know that you're saying these guys are out of touch, but here's the question.

RYUN: They are.

BOLDUAN: I know you were very fine that Jeff Flake is leaving, and he is not running for re-election, but is there no place in the party for a conservative who has the audacity to speak up when he thinks that the president is saying something offensive?

RYUN: But here's the fact, Kate. We're not asking these guys to do anything that they haven't already promised and promised for years, health care reform, tax reform, all of these things. We're asking them to actually go and do what they said they were going to do. This isn't a Trump agenda. Quite frankly, I don't even think it's a Republican agenda. It's a common-sense agenda.

LEWIS: If Donald Trump really wanted -- like, if Donald Trump's top priority wasn't the culture war, but if his top priority was actually passing legislation, then why -- then would he go after three sitting Republican U.S. senators and attack them on Twitter, if his primary goal was to say past tax reform, that doesn't make sense.

BOLDUAN: Right, when you've got the keys to the kingdom, there's a way to get it through, is to -- RYUN: Exactly. The voters have given Republicans everything that

they need, the White House, the Senate, the House. Heck, you even look at the local levels, 34, 35 Republican governors and 69 or 70 of them are state legislators.

BOLDUAN: But does Donald Trump care about it, though? Because Donald Trump was the one who did not help when it came to health care. He said, yay, you guys in the House passed a health care bill, but I'll hold a rally for you at the White House. And then just shortly after that, he called it mean. They can't trust that he's going to be with them. Go ahead, Alice.

STEWART: I think, also, at the end of the day, excuse me, Ned. I think at the end of the day, these people are beholden to their constituents, and not Donald Trump. And if they promise their constituents, as they have for the last eight years, are going to repeal and replace Obamacare, they need to repeal and replace Obamacare.

If they promise tax reform, they need to do that. And I think while it's frustrating that they can't all work together, we fought hard to have the House, the Senate, and the White House, but at the end of the day, members of Congress, as Ned said, they need to put together meaningful legislation that will pass.

And that the president can sign, because day need to show a deliverable, show some accomplishments, for them to get re-elected.

BOLDUAN: Ned, let me ask you this, because this is what Jeff Flake, sorry, this is what Jeff Flake really got to with this speech yesterday, was this question. Do you think Republican lawmakers, in order to stay on the team, I'll say it that way, do they need to swear blind allegiance and loyalty to the president?

RYUN: No! I think what they actually need to do is just adhere to the words that they've already spoken in campaign promises. And by the way, raise tens of millions of dollars on.

At a certain point, as Alice made the point, Donald Trump's not voting for them in 2018, their constituents are. And a lot of the base is feeling like they got sold a bill of goods. They are ready for change.

And the thing, Kate, that these guys need to understand is 2016 was a revolt against D.C., not Hillary and just the Democrats, but all of the D.C. establishment, Republicans and Democrats. And they're not content with the status quo.

We're going back and just saying, do what you said you were going to do. And I made this point last week in an op-ed, Kate, Republican leadership has sewn the wind with their empty promises. They should be prepared to reap the whirlwind if they are not going to follow through on those promises.

It's their call. They can either step up to the plate or not. Forget about Donald Trump. They get to face the voters in 2018. Donald Trump is not on the ballot next year.

LEWIS: But Jeff Flake voted 92 percent of the time with Donald Trump's agenda. You know, Mitch McConnell is not on the ballot this time. Maybe if you don't like him, maybe he's the leadership to go after. But Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, I don't know that they've been that out of step with voting for Donald Trump's agenda and trying to stop it.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask -- what this comes down to is obviously what we're looking at is the lack of unity in the Republican Party. I know, I'm saying, breaking news right now. But Matt, it made us think right now, I interviewed Jeff Flake right after the election. And at that point, he was going -- even though he did not support the president, he said very clearly, he was going to give the president a shot. Listen to this.


FLAKE: There are a number of good things that we can do, and I will agree with Donald Trump on perhaps the majority of what he proposes to do. And I look forward to working with him on those things and where we disagree, we'll do so, I believe, amicably. And I'll stand up for my state.

BOLDUAN: So that was then. We are here now, Matt. Yes, the legislative accomplishments have not born fruit like they wanted it to, but did Donald Trump do anything to do, as he promised, which was to unify the party after the election?

LEWIS: If the buck stops there, then he hasn't done it, you know? The president, you can say, he has some responsibility to be a uniter, to heal these wounds. He has done the opposite. I think what Senator Flake was doing there is the triumph of hope over experience.

We saw the way Donald Trump behaved in the campaign. How divisive he was. How he lacked in many ways character and I think that how's he govern, I mean, the tweets, the attacking, you know whoever, other U.S. senators, other Republican senators. I mean, Donald Trump, it's not just an ideological problem, Donald Trump has a character problem.

BOLDUAN: Guys, we could talk --

RYUN: I could disagree with that --

BOLDUAN: What?! No way! Just kidding. Go ahead.

RYUN: I know shocker, breaking news, this is a numbers game. You can whine about Donald Trump all you want, when Jeff Flake is at 18 percent in approval ratings, half it will phone book in Phoenix probably has higher ratings than he does.

It was a numbers game, he knew he was done, move on. You know what, knock yourselves out in going after Donald Trump, not following through on your campaign promises, because guess what?

Bob Corker and Jeff Flake will not be in the Senate come January of 2019 and if we have to play the long game to get this agenda through, we will play the long game.

BOLDUAN: This is -- you know what I hear right now? I just hear plain old-fashioned unity or not. Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

Happening right now on Capitol Hill, members of Congress putting politics aside for a moment, yes, it's true, coming together to do something very important, bestow an honor 70-plus years in the making.

All the top leaders on both sides of the aisle set to award the Congressional Gold Medal to honor 260,000 Filipinos who fought with the U.S. troops in World War II. The medal is considered the highest civilian award.

This comes after a 75-year fight for recognition for these Filipino veterans back in 1946. Those who served were stripped of their status and benefits after the war, but a law was signed just last year granting these veterans recognition for their service. Long overdue.

Coming up for us, though, coming up for us, we're going to be following some breaking news. A new warning from North Korea. A North Korean official telling CNN just this morning, just a short time ago, that the U.S. should take the threat of testing their strongest hydrogen bomb yet literally. Details on that, ahead.

Plus, a new report says the Clinton campaign and the DNC helped fund the infamous Trump dossier that laid out claims of connections to Russia and contained some, of course, very salacious allegations, as well. So why did the Democrats initially deny it? What is going on here?



BOLDUAN: New details this morning about Hillary Clinton's campaign connections to that salacious dossier, alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia. A source telling CNN that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund the research behind that document.

CNN's justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has all the details for us. Jessica, there's a lot to this, because a lot was already discussed about this throughout the -- in the past months. What do we know right now and who knew what when?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's definitely been a hot topic, Kate.

[11:25:00] But what we know now is that the Clinton campaign and the DNC now openly owning up to the fact that they both paid for Fusion GPS to do opposition research that eventually led to this salacious dossier that was disclosed back in January.

Now, just to be clear here, much of this dossier has not been corroborated, especially those salacious details, but U.S. intelligence has backed up some of the claims in it, particularly that the Russians interfered during the election season.

So, let me run down for you exactly the timeline of all of this. We do know that Republicans, anti-Trump Republicans began funding this dossier some time during the primary season.

But then, we know, based on some letters that were released from Clinton's law firm that Fusion GPS actually came to that law firm in April or March of 2016, and said, we've been doing this research, if you want to pay us, we can continue that research.

That's when we know Clinton's campaign and the DNC, they took Fusion GPS up on this offer. They funded this research well through the election. Now, we've heard from Clinton's spokesman at the time, Brian Fallon, he said he wasn't aware of this until this past weekend. And here's what he had to say about his boss, Hillary Clinton, and what she knew.


BRIAN FALLON, FORMER SPOKESMAN, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: She may have known, but the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge. For instance, it could have been that a decision was made to authorize Perkins to do some kind of commission, some kind of research, but then decisions about, you know, going out and finding Fusion GPS, finding Christopher Steele, you know, she may or may not have been aware of that level of detail. I don't know.


SCHNEIDER: And more information about this dossier is yet to come, Kate. House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes, he's issued a subpoena for Fusion GPS' bank records. That could potentially pinpoint who funded this dossier on the Republican side, it could lead to other information, as well.

But of course, as you can imagine, Fusion GPS is fighting the subpoena in court, saying it violates the First Amendment. There is a court deadline tomorrow where Fusion GPS needs to update the court if it's come to any settlement about the bank records.

Now, it's interesting, in the last day or so, the law firm that represented the Clinton campaign and the DNC, it's admitting to funding the dossier. They say they're doing this so Fusion GPS doesn't have to release its confidential list of clients.

And also in that letter, the law firm is urging other parties who are involved in this funding to also come forward, but, of course, still no additional information. But the big news today is that the DNC and the Clinton campaign did, in fact, play a role funding this dossier -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Opposition research. It is maybe a dirty game, but it is a dirty reality that is not going away in politics anytime soon.

SCHNEIDER: So true. BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Jessica. So, do you remember that moment when the Senate went against the president over the summer? The Republican Congress went against the president over the summer, overwhelmingly passing new sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. It was a big moment.

President Trump reluctantly signed the legislation afterward, but it has been crickets since. The administration blowing past a deadline to actually implement the sanctions weeks ago and that is not sitting well with members of Congress.

Now I want to bring in CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, what are you hearing about this?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I would call it increasing concern up here on Capitol Hill among lawmakers about this delay and many lawmakers now putting it rather bluntly calling it a spade a spade, essentially.

Senator John McCain saying this is overdue. He wants to know more. He now wants to know why the delay. Why this has not been complied with? And he's calling out the administration on here. He spoke -- he sent a letter about two weeks ago with Senator Cardin of the Armed Services Committee.

They said in that letter to the administration, they said the administration has had a lack of responsiveness on this deadline, which calls into question the Trump administration's commitment to the sanctions bill. So, they're going one step farther there.

We also heard from Representative Duncan Hunter. He was asked point- blank yesterday in an interview with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM," why do you think the president is delaying imposing the sanctions. Check out his response.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you think the president is delaying imposing those sanctions against Russia?

REPRESENTATIVE DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, that's like asking me, why do you think the president hasn't preemptively attacked North Korea yet if they're going to shoot a nuke at us. My answer would be, the president knows what he's doing. He has information that you and I don't have.

BLITZER: But he did sign into law the legislation that you and the House passed overwhelmingly, the Senate passed it overwhelmingly. Supposed to go into effect October 1st. Still hasn't gone into effect. Why is he delaying? This is the law.

HUNTER: I don't know, Wolf. I don't have an answer for you on why he's not. But you have to trust the commander in chief to know when the right timing is and when to put this into effect to get the most advantage out of it.


SERFATY: Now, the State Department was asked about this recently and they say they are well --