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Sessions Faces New Scrutiny; Hitting ISIS after NYC Attack; Kushner Turns over Documents; October Jobs Report; Trump's Credit for Economy; GOP Tax Plan. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 3, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But the president says they don't matter.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one that matters is me. I'm the only that matters. Because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be.


KING: Plus, strong economic news as the president hits the road. The economy roared back last month after taking a hit from the hurricanes. Republicans hoping that the goal of fueling even more jobs growth helps their new tax cut plan overcome some major political hurdles.


REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), CHAIRMAN, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: And the Senate will have a chance to pass their tax reform. And we think unlike health care, where simply they didn't deliver, we're hopeful they'll work together to provide big bold tax reform, just as we did.


KING: Up first, though, this hour, new credibility questions for the president and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Just days after he bragged about his amazing memory, the president now fuzzy about a campaign meeting that is front and center in the Russia election meddling investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting. It took place a long time. Don't remember much about it.

All I can tell you is this, there was no collusion. It's no nothing. It's a disgrace, frankly, that they continue. You ought to look at Hillary Clinton and you ought to look at the new book that was just put out by Donna Brazile where she basically bought the DNC and she stole the election from Bernie. So that's what you ought to take a look at. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Thanks for the advice, Mr. President. We will take a look at that in a bit.

But first, that, I don't remember much comment and how it fits into major new credibility questions again facing the president of the United States and the attorney general of the United States.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev, Olivier Knox with "Yahoo! News," and Seung Min Kim of "Politico."

So, here's the issue. Court records filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller suggest there were clear Trump campaign conversations, at meetings and in e-mails, in which adviser George Papadopoulos recommended outreach to Russians. Candidate Trump was at one such meeting. So was then senator, now attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon recalls the candidate listening to the pitch. Another person in the meeting says Sessions shot the idea down.

So that's the Papadopoulos pitch. Now let's add in foreign policy adviser Carter Page. CNN has learned Page told congressional investigators yesterday that he informed Sessions about a campaign year trip he did take to Russia. But here's what Sessions told Congress in June and then last month.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.

Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians, is that what you're saying?

SESSIONS: I did not and I'm not aware of anyone else that did. And I don't believe it happened.


KING: Let's take this in reverse order because you have the attorney general right there. Democrats say he has a problem with the truth. That one Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Quigley, saying this morning he thinks the attorney general has perjured himself. Can they get him back before Congress? Democrats clearly don't have the power to do that. Will Republicans view this as big enough to bring him back?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Republicans are basically saying right now that, you know, if Democrats have questions, they can send letters to Attorney General Sessions, but they're not --

KING: Good luck with that.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I mean -- well, I mean -- yes, well but they're (INAUDIBLE) it's a legitimate question basically, but they're not saber rattling. They are now saying, and we're going to get Jeff Sessions right back to The Hill, you know, tomorrow to try to make him account for his poor accounting before of the campaign's contacts with people that were affiliated with Russia.

So does this build up to that fever pitch? We saw Franken put out a letter yesterday. We know other Democrats on those committees, Judiciary and Intelligence, are upset and want to be asking questions. But do they start demanding this and do Republicans offer it? They're not protecting Sessions right now, but they're also not jumping into the fray.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG": You know, it's interesting because President Trump and -- with the caveat that the chopper blades were going very loud and it's not clear how much of all the questions he heard this morning as he was getting ready to depart, but he was asked this morning whether he was planning on firing Jeff Sessions, and rather than just saying, no, of course not, I completely support my attorney general, he said, I don't know, and then proceeded to say he had no interference with the Justice Department, but then he thought they should do a number of specific things that he set forward.

The president, as we all know, originally, for many weeks or months, contemplated the idea of punishing Jeff Sessions or letting him go because he allowed the Mueller investigation to take place. This criticism is the opposite, which is that he wasn't forthcoming about what he knew were some of those background conversations.

So one of the questions was, is Jeff Sessions the guy who gets thrown under the bus now if somebody needs to get thrown under the bus, or is this just going to be another sort of passing element in all of this? What we know from early reporting on this is that Jeff Sessions does not appear to have been the problem in terms of encouraging conversations with Russia or Mr. Putin. Just the opposite.

[12:05:08] KING: Right.

And it is entirely possible that Mr. Papadopoulos and that Carter Page are as described by Trump campaign officials and people around the president now, that they were low to mid-level people, that they didn't have a lot of sway, that the campaign was disorganized and kind of messy. And when they said these things, it was kind of like, yes, whatever.

However, if you look at the Papadopoulos filing with -- the special counsel filing about his plea agreement, e-mails to senior campaign officials in which he pitches this trip. The president was at the one meeting. J.D. Gordon says the president heard him out. Another person at the meeting says it was the attorney general who shut him down.

You would think knowing that these questions are out there -- again, the Trump campaign thinks they're ridiculous questions. The Trump campaign thinks it's much ado about nothing. However, a man with the prosecutorial power of the attorney general is asking these questions. Congressional committees chaired by Republicans are asking these questions. And the president has said for months, and his attorney general has said for months, nope, never happened.

OLIVIER KNOX, "YAHOO! NEWS": And Mueller's not starting with his biggest revelations. Mueller is --

KING: Right.

KNOX: The Papadopoulos statement of offense in which he admits and swears the following is true and details some of these conversations and the contacts, that's not the full story. And so a lot of people in the -- in the orbit of this investigation have reason to be concerned that there are -people -- there are other puzzles that are going to -- little pieces that are going to fall into place. The main question for me right now is, Papadopoulos says he was told by a Russian cutout basically that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails. I don't know which e-mails he meant.

KING: Right.

KNOX: Whom, if anyone, did he tell on the campaign? It -- the document doesn't affirmatively say whether he did or did not. My guess is that's a rather large shoe that will drop.

SEUNG MIN KIM, "POLITICO": And I would say right now -- and we don't know what will happen -- but it does seem unlikely that Republicans would be eager to call Sessions back to the committees any time soon. The reason he was before the Judiciary Committee in October was its regular oversight hearing.

KING: Right.

KIM: It's an annual hearing that will go until next year. Sessions skipped out on testifying before the Appropriations Committees earlier this year on the DOJ budget.

And we saw when Sessions had misrepresented some testimony earlier this year during his confirmation hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley was OK with just him clarifying his comments in a letter to the committee instead of bringing him just back again. Because it's a -- because it's happened multiple times, we, I guess, we won't know what happens. Chairman Grassley says he is looking into it, but I'm not, you know, on my -- the edge of my seat waiting for that any time soon.

KING: And so that's the attorney general question. I said reverse order. Let's get back to the president who this morning says, I don't have much of a recollection of that meeting, which is entirely possible. He's a candidate for president. He's having dozens of meetings a day. Some of which are important. Some of which are not so important. Some of which are for the cameras to show, look at this big meeting we're having, when it really isn't a big meeting. That's the way it goes. However, how much does it hurt the president that just days ago he said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.


KING: No hesitation. One of the great memories of all time.

Here's my issue. Now some are going to see this as apples and oranges or, let me have a joke, apples and bananas.

Here, listen to the president this morning. The president this morning talking about in the wake of the New York City terror attack what has happened with ISIS.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're doing is, every time we're attacked from this point forward, and it took place yesterday, we are hitting them 10 times harder. So when we have an animal do an attack like he did the other day on the west side of Manhattan, we are hitting them 10 times harder. They claim to miss a soldier. Good luck. Every time they hit us, we know it's ISIS, we hit them like you folks won't believe.


KING: Now, what does that have to do with the president's credibility in the Russia investigation? Well, what the president of the United States just said there, standing outside of the White House, in front of Marine One, is not true. If you go to the Pentagon and you look at the numbers, they say, no, here's the number of attacks a week ago, the day before, the day after, the day this, that didn't happen. It didn't happen. The president didn't pick up the phone and the generals didn't pick up the phone after the New York City bombing and say, launch 10 times as many attacks on ISIS. They hit targets when they see targets of opportunity.

And so I would just pause it that that, and the dozens more examples that we could say of the president of the United States not speaking facts, not speaking truth, how much does that undermine his credibility when we get to the point -- and I believe it's a when not an if, that Robert Mueller says it's time to talk to the president?

KNOX: I don't want to nitpick, but my sense of what the president was saying out there is, they hit us, we're hitting them 10 times harder than they hit us, not that American military power is suddenly 10 times more intense. Just -- again, I'm nitpicking, but that was my sense of what he was saying.

KING: Kind of you. KNOX: The thing that came out, when he came out and said, one of the great memories of all time, is that a lot of people who've covered him for years were like, yes, here are some of the depositions in which he's testified, in which he says I can't recall dozens or scores of time. So I think the out liar here was the great memory of all time, not the, I can't recall.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, I can't remember is a great defense when you're, you know, being presented with something that you can't explain away, right? So that's the uncharitable interpretation of what he said.

[12:10:05] The charitable interpretation of what he said would be that he didn't actually remember, as you said. But, you know, you shouldn't be surprised at this point if you're the president or the attorney general and you've read the news cycle. You know this probe has been going on for months. Check. Check with your subordinates. Check with your, you know, clerks. Check with people that might have a record of this stuff, just to make sure, if you can't remember on the spot, that you at least did your due diligence so it looks like you're trying to cooperate with what the investigation is, instead of just being like, I don't know all of a sudden a few days after you say you have the greatest memory.

KING: Right. A critical point because the facts better be on his side. I've got these gray hairs covering a White House that starred with "I did not have," you can finish the sentence at home, or, "her story is not true" -- "her story is not true." And then, at the end of the investigation, after a special counsel had done meticulous work and sat down with the president of the United States and showed him the evidence to the contrary of what he had said publically, that president had to change his story and it led to a very different dynamic. That's not to say what's happening here, but the president better be checking his facts. And you said, when he keeps repeating things, you know, I can't remember, I can't recall, you think he would do the due diligence by now.

Here's another. Listen to the president on the radio yesterday. Now, he says he shouldn't meddle with the Justice Department.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I'm very frustrated by it.



KING: Isn't saying that being involved with the Justice Department? Isn't saying -- so he's not calling the attorney general and saying do this or do that, but by going on the radio and airing your grievances and saying what you think he should be doing, aren't you trying to put your thumb on the scale? TALEV: And what you heard him say today at the Marine One departure

was similar. He couched it a little bit differently by saying, I'm not really involved with the Justice Department. But then he proceed to say, but they should be looking at Donna Brazile's book, Hillary Clinton, Podesta. I assume he meant John, although you never know these days. And basically told them precisely what he would do if he were involved with the Justice Department.

It strikes me that the danger in some of this is, first of all, yes, of course, it looks like some degree of interference when you're saying, I'm not interfering, but this is what they should do. But also, every time that he goes on the record, whether it's on Twitter or an on camera spray, every time his press secretary goes on the record and attempts to answer kind of factual questions about what happened in the Mueller probe, it becomes part of the record for Mueller and Mueller's investigative team, which is the peril of commenting on this. I mean, we're reporters. We all want to know. We're all going to ask some questions and we all want to know his answer to those questions. But the peril in answering is that your answer then becomes part of the record for the investigation.

KING: Part of the record. And I just -- I just want to sneak this in before we have to get in a break. Jared Kushner, the president's son- in-law, senior adviser, among those at that now infamous 2016 meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. where they did meet with Russians and they thought it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. So there were proposed meetings with Russians, suggested meetings with Russians --

TALEV: Of course.

KING: Pitched meetings with Russians and actual meetings with Russians during the campaign. The president says there were no such meetings. Jared Kushner has turned some documents over to the special counsel. We expect he'll be interviewed in the near future.

Here's how Breitbart treated that one. Mr. Perfect report. Jared Kushner turns over documents to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Ouch.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, you know, he's not pulling purchases where he doesn't want to pull punches. And you've got this intra-Republican fight that's happening now that Bannon is a free agent and he can do these things. So which is like --

TALEV: And a pretty well-known tension between Bannon and Jared Kushner.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, a well-known entity and --

KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: Exactly. But one other thing I just wanted to add, which was about the last thing we were talking about with Trump's comments about how sad it is with the judicial branch. I mean it's not sad. It's what makes this country different than places like Russia and Turkey and the Philippians, where you've got these strong man leaders that control everything and that's not the direction we want to go (ph).

TALEV: You mean judicial independence?

DEMIRJIAN: That -- that's (INAUDIBLE) Yes.

KING: That. Yes. Yes, that.

Everybody sit tight.

Up next, a very good jobs report for the president. The economy booms back after a rough month because of the hurricanes. How will that impact the now big Republican debate over tax cuts.


[12:18:08] KING: Big news today on the economy. And you could say this, the Trump economy going strong when it comes to jobs. Today's report shows unemployment now at the lowest rate in 17 years. The October jobs report also showing big gains over last month, which was undercut by the hurricane.

CNN Money Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans break down the numbers for us.


A strong jobs report for the month, really a bounce-back from those two major hurricanes, 261,000 net new jobs in the month.

And look, September actually had job creation. That means you're talking about 85 months in a row of job growth here. This continues to be a pretty strong trend. The unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent. That's the lowest since late 2000. And 4.1 percent, that's a level economists consider full employment. You have 6.5 million people unemployed in this country looking for work. You have 6 million job openings. Trying to put the two together is the next trick here.

Let's talk about the sectors. Where were those jobs gained? Bars and restaurants. Not a surprise there. Those are jobs coming back after being laid off in those -- after those hurricanes. Business information services, about 50,000 jobs there. And in manufacturing, 24,000 net new jobs. Another saw another month of job creation in health care. That has been a steady performer overall.

What has not been a steady performer, 2,4 percent wage growth. This has been a missing part. A very big missing part of the job recovery.

KING: Christine Romans, thanks.

As Christine points out, let's take a closer look here. Wage growth is a sticking point for the Trump economy right now. In October, up 2.4 percent from last year. That's actually down a bit from September, which showed 2.8 percent wage growth. But if you ask the president, he says, hey, look at the strong GDP numbers, look at the record-breaking streak for the Dow. He thinks he's not getting enough credit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one of the greatest in the history of our country, and I'm in here now 10 months and we are setting record after record, day after day.

No, I'm not getting enough credit for it.


[12:20:00] KING: Does he get enough credit for it? Look, the economy is any president's best friend if it's going that way. Yet, what's interesting is that most presidents see their approval rating go up when the markets are doing so well, then the unemployment rate is so low. This president has stayed pretty static. So those who are against him are not warming to him, even though they see the economy doing better.

TALEV: Yes, I was going to say, Olivier and I think we may have actually single handedly brought back the bar and restaurant jobs in the United States.

But, look, President Obama, after the recovery from the financial crash, began to get the economy back on track. And President Trump has been able to continue those trends.

And, for him, the biggest claim, the most important claim for his months in office now has been the stock market. And he uses it again and again if he's in trouble on other political fronts.

He should get credit. This -- the economic news is good -- as long as the good news lasts. And part of what he's been trying to do in terms of his Fed pick and in terms of the tax reform push that they're aiming for the end of the year is to try to keep those trends up rather than reverse them because if they do halt or reverse, it could really be a big political problem for him.

This Fed pick is meant to be continuity from Janet Yellen, but a switch to a new person and also a Republican. But it is meant, for this purpose of stability. But, really, all the chips now are in on this tax reform plan. That's sort of widely thought that if that stumbles, they want to get it done by the end of the year for this exact reason, so that these claims about the economic stress and him getting credit for it, that he's able to uphold them and that he's able to stabilize the market and stuff.

But even if it slides into early next year, the Republicans know that in order for him to lock in that credit on the economy, that needs to happen.

DEMIRJIAN: Look, there's one issue, though. The president can get credit for an improving stock market. But an improving stock market is not an answer for the entire, you know, economic health of the country, how people feel about their own bottom line and whether they are doing better.

We talk about these numbers all the time. And when they're going up, that's really good. Remember, it's coming after a long period where we're seeing, you know, people are not doing the jobs that they used to, not earning the incomes that they used to earn. There's also the issue of, you know, when you have the unemployment rate that's that low, does it take into account everybody who's not in the work marketplace anymore because it's been so long that they've been out of a job. And you're seen, as you pointed out in that earlier graphic, that the wage growth is -- it's still growth, but it's not as much as before.

And this is a similar discussion to what we're talking about when we talk about tax reform. What's the middle class experiencing? What are poor people experiencing? You can't point to the stock market and say that answers that question for where people at home.

KING: It's a key point, wages, number one, especially if you look at those blue states that Trump turned red, your Pennsylvanias, your Wisconsins, your Michigans, those people, A, they want to see their wages go up, especially manufacturing workers.

And just to -- we like to put the record straight. Yes, the economy's doing well, the unemployment rate is lower under the president, but the first nine months of the Trump administration, they've created just shy of 1.5 million jobs. In those same nine months last year, when Obama was president, the economy created 1.8 million. So the job growth is actually in the first nine months of this president running a little bit behind the same months last year. So it's about the same economy. You haven't seen -- in terms of jobs. You haven't seen a boom yet.

How does this impact the tax debate in which the Dow records are in part based on psychologist in those corporate board rooms that we're going to get a big tax cut. The Republicans are trying to sell this now.

I just want to show you -- I think they've put one of these maps up and let's show you again. Congressional districts that take the state and local tax deduction. We show you some big ones up here. Those members of Congress there, what are we going to do about that? Counties where the property taxes are above $10,000, they're going to take -- limit your deduction there to $10,000. Can they sell this now that they're going to go -- they have a proposal. Now they have to go to committee. And a lot of these members of Congress are saying, it's OK, but I'm going to change this, that and the other thing. That's what happened on Obamacare.

KIM: Exactly. And it does -- the -- the economy does give an initial boost of momentum to Republican leaders who do want to get this tax overhaul bill through as soon as possible, ideally by the end of the year. But, again, once you start to trickle down into the details of what this tax bill really is, you've gotten some Republicans from these high tax states on board. You had Tom MacArthur, New Jersey, sounding a little bit more optimistic this morning.

But there are a whole nother swath of, you know, Republicans from New York, New Jersey who are still concerned about this. You remove that one piece, then you're going to have to make up the revenue somewhere. Like, we got the tax floor (ph) last night from the joint committee on taxation and it's just under that $1.5 trillion mark that they've been trying to reach. So they don't have a lot of room for error at this point to tweet with the numbers.

And, again, that doesn't even start to begin the troubles in the Senate where you -- we're expected to have just margin of error two votes.

KNOX: If you look at the last two big tax cuts pushes, the stimulus, which cut a bunch of middle class and small business taxes, and then the George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001, radically different (INAUDIBLE), right? The depths of a financial crisis, from which we were desperate to recover, and a time of peace and prosperity, saying essentially we can afford to give you this money back. Won't that be great?

What we learned from both of those is that the level of presidential involvement matters a lot and the level of political -- the way the politics harnesses those (INAUDIBLE) really matters a lot. What we haven't really seen yet, at least not a conventional campaign by Republicans to get this through, the proposals so far are not that popular, even though they're not really public. We just got (INAUDIBLE).

[12:25:10] What we haven't seen is the kind of push by George W. Bush where he went, you know, state to state making this argument. But Democrats used to say, it was like pushing against a tidal wave because they were making this really convincing argument. We haven't seen the same structured campaign by this White House, by this administration. Now, will it ramp up? Sure. But the idea of this -- of this deadline, you know, by Thanksgiving, by Christmas, by -- we all know what the real date is. The real date is Election Day next year.

KING: And part of it -- part real Election Day next year. But the markets, I think, are based on something happening more quickly than that. The president says he wants it on his desk by Thanksgiving. Good luck. Christmas. Good luck, but maybe.

And there's a divide in the Republican family about this. These interest groups. I'm going to call it the Republican family. But for this bill, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association to Manufactures, that matters when members of Congress go home to their districts.

Against it, the National Association of Home Builders. They don't like the property tax changes and the deductibility issues. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, small businesses mostly. The National Farmers Union.

Again, members of Congress, you know, go home and that's who they see. Those are the people who can organize in their district. Those are the people who raise money for them. And there's a -- we're in a bit of a quagmire here.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. And it's important to note that because of the way that the changes are being made in the tax bill, yes, you've got an increased standard deduction, but a lot of the way the tax system is organized is to try to incentivize certain parts of the economy. You are going to see certain parts of those be disincentivized if this tax bill passes the way they presented it, which is why you'll have so many interest groups basically saying no, no, no, no, no, you're going to kill the housing market, you're going to kill the subsidies that we need in our various industries, and that's -- that's going to be a real crunch. That actually might affect -- we talk all the time about Trump saying, I'm not getting enough credit for job creation. These bigger, you know, indicator numbers, those actually might be negatively affected if you have a bad reaction to the stimuluses going away if the tax system changes.

TALEV: I think that's part of why we haven't seen this campaign from the president yet. I mean I expect in December we will see him out and about in a lot of key states with a lot of political constituencies. But there needs to be a vote, at least through one chamber first, so that he has a good idea of what he's selling.

KING: Right. Well, and some of the early analysis are that it's not a -- it's a good deal for some middle class taxpayers but not for other middle class taxpayers. It will be interesting to see if the president's consistent, as he's now come out.

Everybody sit tight.

The president, as we noted, on his way to Hawaii. After a day there, he heads out to Asia. The North Korea missile and nuclear crisis, issue number one. But also, how will the president -- remember how tough he was as a candidate -- how will the president handle the China challenge.