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Senate Passes Sweeping Tax Overhaul; Flynn Cooperating with Russia Probe; Interview with Francis Rooney. Aired 11a-12n ET
Aired December 2, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:41] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield. NEWSROOM starts right now.
We begin with the aftermath from a turbulent day of highs and lows for the President.
Let's start with the breaking news from overnight on Capitol Hill where Republican senators narrowly passed a major tax overhaul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as amended, is passed.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, this is a -- this is a great day for the country. It's been 31 years since we've done comprehensive tax reform. We have an opportunity now to make America more competitive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: No Democrat voted for the bill and every Republican voted yes, except for one. Democrats complaining that Republicans did not give them enough time to read the rewritten version of this sweeping legislation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: This is your government at work. Here's the bill as it's written. Here's the modifications that are in it. I can read one word. It's called "add this language". Can you tell me what that word is? If you can, you have better eyes than me. This is unbelievable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Democrats arguing the bill is a gift to the rich and will add a trillion dollars to the deficit over ten years. Republicans say it will fuel economic growth and boost the middle class.
The vote serves as an important victory potentially for President Trump who promised to give Americans a huge tax cut for Christmas. And then just hours before that victory or what's being considered a victory came a guilty plea by Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admits he lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
His plea signaling he may flip on other members of Trump's inner circle. Earlier this morning, the President brushed off concerns over Flynn's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm not. What has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There's been absolutely -- there's been absolutely no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Right now President Trump is in New York where he will be attending a fundraiser and also attending a victory finance breakfast.
We also find our Boris Sanchez there. So Boris -- what else are we hearing from the President? He gave those rather spontaneous remarks as he was embarking on this trip to New York. How is it being received?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey there -- Fred.
Yes, the President touting his first major legislative victory after a year lacking in them, frankly. The President had been working on this for several months, not only going around the country himself, but also sending surrogates like Ivanka Trump, the Vice President Mike Pence, touring and giving speeches to promote tax reform.
He'd also gone up to Capitol Hill several times to personally speak with lawmakers. He was making phone calls over the Thanksgiving holiday from Mar-a-Lago to lawmakers to get this done. And it is an achievement for this White House.
However there is kind of a cloud looming over this victory lap. And that's the news that former national security advisor Michael Flynn not only has pled guilty to having lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, but also the fact that he's now cooperating with the special counsel and that has led to serious speculation about what he may be telling Robert Mueller.
The White House yesterday distanced themselves from Michael Flynn saying that he is an Obama era official and claiming that the Obama administration ok'd Michael Flynn's conversations with Sergey Kislyak and other Russian officials. Despite that we should point out that it was wildly reported at the time that President Obama warned Donald Trump about hiring Michael Flynn and then shortly after the inauguration acting attorney general Sally Yates also came to White House with warnings about Flynn's connections overseas.
Beyond all of that, Fred, the President has several events on the schedule today. He mentioned the fundraiser he's taking part in behind me. That is open to the press. And we may be hearing from the President shortly. He was greeted by several dozen protesters I should mention here on the streets of New York. Later he has two closed door meetings before he heads back to Washington.
[11:04:57] And there is still a major hurdle along the way here facing this White House now -- Fred. Let's not forget that government funding dries up on December 8 and both sides, Republicans and Democrats are very far apart when it comes to coming to a deal on a spending bill.
The debt ceiling will also have to be raised. And there are several chips on the table up for negotiation including a solution to the issue of Dreamers as well as funding for Children's Health Insurance Programs.
So there's plenty to negotiate on. But there still is a big hurdle on the road ahead for this White House. Not to mention, the news that this Russia probe is likely not going anywhere any time soon -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez in New York. Thank you so much. We'll check back with you.
All right. Well, no doubt the White House may have concerns about what comes next following Flynn's plea deal and who could be potentially implicated.
CNN learned that Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser, directed Flynn weeks before the inauguration to contact the Russian ambassador about a U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli settlements. That's according to sources familiar with the matter.
Here's a timeline now of Flynn's contacts with Russia. December 22, 2016 -- according to court documents, General Flynn asked Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to postpone that Security Council vote.
December 29 -- President Obama announces new sanctions against Russia. And Flynn asks Kislyak not to retaliate.
December 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he won't retaliate against U.S. sanctions.
And we'll get back to the timeline in a moment, but right now President Trump in New York. Let's listen in.
TRUMP: Jobs -- and Ronna. So we took Ronna and we said you want to come down and run the RNC. And tell them how have we done on the fund raising front? RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We
have broken -- we have broken -- because of him and because of you -- we have broken every record in the history of the RNC post presidential -- over $120 million. Thank you. Thank you.
TRUMP: Thank you -- sweetheart.
Great job. Ronna has been outstanding. Great job.
And we have a lot of folks that have helped us so much with the campaign. But I'm going to talk to you about another campaign that we just finished last night.
So last night at about 3:00 in the morning I got a call. I said call me. You can call me. It's the largest tax decrease in the history of our country by far -- it's not even close.
And by the way, where's Giuseppe Cipriani (ph) -- my friend for a long time -- where is Giuseppe? Giuseppe and where is Paulo? Paulo -- what a champ. You guys are in trouble. You guys -- look at that table. That's a rough table I have. That's my friends on that table.
But I want to thank you. Great job -- Giuseppe. Paulo -- great job. Fantastic -- thank you very much. This is really incredible.
So last night we passed in the history of the country, the largest tax cuts and reform. And, you know, when we first went into this deal, I said, it's tax reform. Because for years, not since Ronald Reagan has anything even come close to having passed them. They couldn't pass them. They couldn't get the votes.
And for years I said I wonder why they use the word "reform". Because nobody knows what reform means. Reform could mean your taxes are going up. And I said to my guys. I called everybody and we had a meeting -- senators, congress, everybody. I said we have to use the word "tax cuts".
Now if you want to throw reform. You can say tax cuts and reform. But you have to use the word "cut" because people don't know what reform means. Reform could mean your taxes going up -- like a lot of people thought that. So for years, 30 years, 31 years -- they've been using the word reform.
So we use the word tax cuts and last night, out of 52 Republican senators, 51 voted and we ended up doing it and we didn't need our great Vice President to break the tie -- Mike. We didn't need Mike. We didn't need anything. We voted.
The Democrats left before the vote was even -- somebody said started. Somebody said before it was over. I don't even care. But we got no Democrat help and I think that's going to cost them very big in the election because basically they voted against tax cuts.
And I don't think politically it's good to vote against tax cuts. But what we're doing is if you look at it, we're going to grow the country, we're going to grow jobs. We're going to be growing everything.
We have companies now that are pouring back into our country, even before this. We just set records in so many different ways. We've set records with every conceivable -- you know, if you look at it. Consumer confidence at a 17-year high and I think it's an all-time high, Consumer confidence. Business confidence -- all time high.
[11:10:04] Everything is like at an all-time high including the big one. It's called the stock market -- at an all-time high.
So I was backstage taking pictures with people far greater than my business people. I love my business people. But these are -- they're called law enforcement people, ok. Do we concede -- business people? All my business friends.
And one great gentleman came up and he said, sir, I want to thank you. I said, what did I do for you?
He said my 401(k) is up 40 percent. And I never thought of it. You know, I tell you he gave me one of the great campaign lines. It's called how's your 401(k) doing? Because I can say this -- if the Dems won the election, in my opinion, and I feel strongly about this, the numbers right now we hit record highs every day. I think we had 66 times now where we've hit a record high since the election, 66 times -- 66.
But if the Dems won, and by way, wasn't it like 306 to 223? That's a big, right Howard -- that's a big difference.
WHITFIELD: Well, we lost that signal there. We're going to try and reestablish that. But the President there in New York at a victory fundraising breakfast and he has a day of other fundraisers.
But you heard him really boasting of what he's considering a victory after getting that phone call at 3:00 in the morning that the U.S. Senate passed its version of the tax cut and reform bill. Of course it goes on to reconciliation. It's not over yet.
But this is considered a hurdle that the White House cleared and is happy and boasting of that. And also the President patting himself on the back about the continued steamy economy and he talked about being approached by somebody who is celebrating good numbers on his 401(k).
All right. So let's talk to my panel right now until we're able to reestablish that signal out of New York. Joining me right now, David Swerdlick, who is a CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post". Amie Parnes is a CNN political analyst and a senior political correspondent for "The Hill". Also with me Michael Zeldin, who is a CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice.
All right. Good to see you both. Let's talk about first this you know, tax reform and tax cut bill that the U.S. Senate passed. It's not over yet. It still moves on to reconciliation. Both the House and Senate still have to make some more modifications before it's voted on again. So David -- to you first. It sounds like the President is very upbeat. He was heard earlier while embarking on this trip to New York that he said he's really not worried about the Russia investigation post the Flynn plea deal.
So does this offer a real boost of confidence for the White House after such an incredible blow yesterday?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning -- Fred.
Yes, sure it does. I mean if the bill gets through the House, gets through the conference committee and goes to final passage before the end of the year -- and we have basically a month left in fact year -- then, yes, the administration and President Trump will be able to end the year saying they had one major legislative victory that up until now has alluded them. So it's no wonder that the President is bragging about that this morning.
On the other hand, the administration Republicans in Congress have really never been able to strongly make that case that tax cuts A, are needed right now; and B, that they will lead to growth.
You know, many observers, economists have concluded that we're already near full employment. The stock market is up 20 percent under President Trump. It was up 150 percent over eight years of President Obama.
timing of tax cuts right now has not sort of been demonstrated by any of the major studies out there. And then you have groups like the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, other outside groups that have said that this will add to the deficit.
But clearly this was not an impediment for Republicans to going ahead and passing this and the President clearly happy about it.
WHITFIELD: And so Amie, you know, at what risk potentially does this come? Because the approval ratings for the President, you know, are very low, as is the case for Congress, as is the case for the public sentiment about these, you know, tax reform, tax cut proposals. So why does the White House feel like this is a victory or something to celebrate thus far?
AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they needed to put points on the board very badly. They haven't really been able to do anything this past year. And Republicans, it was causing a lot of consternation in the party.
[11:14:56] Going into 2018 they all felt like they needed something substantial, something palpable that they could point to and say look, we did this. This was something that was long needed. And they can actually say, you know, even though they're temporary tax cuts, yes, we did provide you with tax cuts.
The problem is that Democrats will point out that this really largely helps corporations and maybe some small businesses, but isn't really middle tax cut break and doesn't offer much for the middle class. And these were the people who really came out and elected Donald Trump president last year.
And so that's a problem for them, I think. And that I think is something that Democrats will point to continuously in the next year.
WHITFIELD: So Michael, perhaps this is a temporary respite because, you know, it's not enough to completely upstage what happened yesterday with, you know, Michael Flynn. You know, pleading -- and currently you know how Mueller's team works having been -- you've worked with him before.
Is it your feeling that this plea deal only promises that Mueller's team will be able to get to someone very high up the food chain?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGALA ANALYST: Well, it's not clear yet whether this information, the plea that Michael Flynn entered is going to necessarily lead to senior White House officials or senior transition team officials -- Bannon and Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. -- all off those people still, you know, have prospective liability. So too the people like Roger Stone and Carter Page. So it's by no means nearing the end in my estimation.
What we'll have to see though is whether or not Flynn can tie back what he pleaded guilty to, which is activities that occurred during the transition period, to some predicate to that that predates the election.
So the collusion, the collusion would take place before the election, Russia and the Trump team agree to share information so that Trump can be elected so that after the election they can each ask one another favors.
In this case, the United States is asking Russia for two favors -- one to lay the vote on in the U.N. and two don't react to sanctions. Russia may say -- and Russia said fine to both. And Russia may have been waiting to come back and say, fine, let's ease sanctions, all part of which was part of the quid pro quo that was the predicate in the collusion part.
But we haven't reached that connection yet. So we'll see whether Flynn can take, excuse me, whether Flynn can take us there or whether we're really just in a bubble that doesn't reach the collusion. That's what Flynn has to take Mueller toward.
WHITFIELD: All right. So David -- before the President headed for New York, he sounded very confident, didn't he? He even, you know, underscored no collusion. That's what, you know, that plea, you know, and what we've learned from court documents seems to say.
And even his attorney Ty Cobb, you know, sent out a statement prior to that saying Flynn's, you know, short tenure at the NSA and that he was at the White House only for, you know, 25 days and the fact that he was sort of a holdover from the Obama administration really kind of, you know, allows the Trump administration to escape, you know, any real connection.
But then, you know, James Clapper assessed all of that this way. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, it was absolutely absurd. There was great concern at the time. Not just with this particular contact, but with the violation of the principle that has normally been told of one president, one administration at the time. And that was what gave rise to it because of all these contacts that Mike was having and others in the transition with the Russians and other foreign entities.
You know, what was this all about? So to say that we (INAUDIBLE) or acquiesced, you know is a stretch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So Amie, does that help underscore that the White House, the Trump White House, wants to continue living kind of in its own bubble.
PARNES: Yes. And I think you're going to continue to hear that spin that this wasn't our guy. He was only there for 25 days. But the fact of the matter is -- and I've talked to a couple of people about this in the last day -- it's going to -- you know, they wouldn't have struck this deal with him if not for something bigger, if not for something he knows that's larger.
And I think a lot of people after telling you the truth at the White House and people around President Trump will tell you that it is a bit troubling and it is a bit worrisome.
And they are kind of paying very careful attention and that's why you saw President Trump kind of stay off Twitter yesterday and not really talk about this issue in particular. I think in the backdrop, they're a little worried about it.
WHITFIELD: And Michael -- go ahead. It looks like you were about to say something.
[11:19:59] ZELIZER: I was going to say two things. One, with respect to Clapper, what he raises is what's called the Logan Act which is that it is illegal for a private citizen to engage in negotiations with foreign governments when the United States government is doing the same thing.
This is exactly what the information that Flynn pleaded guilty to alleges with respect to the Trump transition team. And so you have a statute there that hasn't been used since it was drafted in the late 1790s but which is on all fours with this and carries criminal penalties.
So that is one statute that I think all of the senior transition people have to be worried about, those who were in Mar-a-Lago in December when Flynn was communicating with them and Kislyak about the U.N. and the sanctions. So there were a lot of people potentially on the hook for that. And as well, what we see here in this indictment is that Flynn was accused and pleaded guilty to lying, but that lie was based on his failure to remember. He said, I don't remember. Mueller said I don't believe you. I do believe that you remember. And that was one of the 1,001 lies in the prosecution.
So we've seen "I don't remember" being used by Attorney General Sessions and others throughout the testimony over the past months and Mueller's I think putting down a sort of a marker that "I don't remember" is not going to be enough to overcome him if he believes that's over is that that is a lie.
And that's important I think because we got a lot of "I don't remembers" out there by a lot of people.
WHITFIELD: But in this case, David -- he suddenly remembered when it also meant that, you know, his son may potentially go down with him. And as we know it now, there are no charges that had been imposed on his son. And that was the leverage that Mueller's team really took advantage of -- David.
SWERDLICK: Yes -- Fred. I mean what we saw yesterday with the plea deal suggests that the Mueller investigation is trying to go after others in the immediate Trump circle on that Michael Flynn, General Flynn is sort of a steppingstone to get there. I think that's pretty clear.
Just to go back to something that Michael said a moment ago, you do have this situation where if what's in those charging documents is right, that it was more than many conservatives or many members of the administration have suggested as a way of defending what Flynn did.
This idea that well, of course, someone in the transition is going to, you know, start informal getting to know you talks with Russians when you're out there essentially as has been alleged now saying, look, let's take a temperature of where people are on this specific U.N. resolution. Let's see if we can manipulate what's going on with this U.N. resolution.
That is as Michael said on all fours with what the Logan Act is supposed to be preventing.
WHITFIELD: All right. David Swerdlick, Amie Parnes, Michael Zeldin -- thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. See you soon.
SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred.
ZELDIN: See you soon.
PARNES: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: So now with the U.S. Senate passing its own tax reform bill, we now have dueling plans. And there are key differences between the Senate and House versions. We'll talk about how Republicans plan to bridge that divide with Republican Representative Francis Rooney of Florida -- next. [11:23:18] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
It's perhaps been the best and the worst 24 hours for the U.S. President Trump and Republican senators crossing a huge hurdle on their way to a legislative victory on tax reform.
And the flip side of the coin -- a guilty plea from former national security advisor Michael Flynn, bringing the special counsel investigation closer to the White House.
Joining me right now, Florida Congressman Francis Rooney -- he's on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Joint Economic Committee. Congressman -- good to see you.
Before we talk about taxes, let's talk first about that Michael Flynn guilty plea. What's your reaction to all this?
REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think that the effort started out as an effort to imply that the election wasn't fairly won by President Trump and that the Russians had some kind of impact.
I don't think that's been proven yet so now they've moved on to Flynn's conduct after the election where he did some things that don't appear to be illegal. But certainly he was part of the lie --
WHITFIELD: Except his behavior prior -- his behavior prior to the election in the campaign is also being scrutinized though.
ROONEY: Well, it is, but we haven't seen anything yet to tell us that anything untoward happened with Russian officials.
WHITFIELD: Ok. But what does the guilty plea say to you in terms of how close potentially this investigation will get to the inner workings, the higher echelon of the White House?
ROONEY: Well, I've been thinking about that. I'm not a real expert in how people like Mr. Mueller do their investigative activities.
But on the one hand, it could be that he just doesn't have anything else and so he went for what he could get.
And on the other hand, he could think he's got a big fish to go up the food chain with.
WHITFIELD: Ok. So the investigation overall though creeping closer to, you know, the tip or the, you know, hierarchy of the White House because otherwise why would Flynn, you know, cut a deal if the Mueller team didn't feel like he had some information that would lead them potentially to something else.
But meantime there's also turmoil in the U.S. State Department. And reportedly there had been, you know, a lot of discussions about whether Rex Tillerson is potentially on his way out.
What kind of message does this send to our allies about the stability or lack thereof in this country?
[11:29:58] ROONEY: Well, I think the worst problem in the State Department right now is that we haven't filled up the assistant secretary, deputy assistant secretary and bureau chief position so that we can adequately put forth our foreign policy around the world.
WHITFIELD: What do you mean?
ROONEY: There's tons of vacancies. The State Department needs a lot of senior positions filled so you can you know be conveying the message around the world.
WHITFIELD: So who is to blame for that? And how does that you know transcend into a message to our allies?
ROONEY: Well, I think that's a bad message. I think we need to get the assistant secretaries who drive our foreign policy in western hemisphere affairs, in near east, Europe, et cetera in place. I think there have maybe not been as many candidates put forward as in prior years, but also the Senate has been very slow in confirming people.
WHITFIELD: OK. So, staying with, you know, if I could get the language then from President Trump. Staying with this issue of Rex Tillerson apparently Trump tweeted this, "You know the media has been speculating that I fire Rex Tillerson or that he would leave soon. Fake news. He's not leaving and while we disagree on certain suspects, in parentheses, (I call the final shots), we work well together. America is highly respected again."
How does this undermine the secretary of state as he continues to try to do his job? Well, you know, if you look at the North Korea situation, I think that the combination of Secretary Tillerson's diplomatic comments that we don't want regime change, take over the peninsula, have dove tailed nicely with the president's very firm commitment to do something to remedy the situation.
Unless China and to a lesser extent Russia will do the part they can play, and he's managed to get China engaged in. So, it kind of a team approach, at least in North Korea.
WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Now back to taxes, so your party has just taken a major step forward with the Senate passing their version of the bill overnight. Some Democrats not very happy. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JONH TESTER (D), MONTANA: This is your government at work. Here's the bill as it's written. Here's the modifications that are in it. I can read one word. It's called add this language. Can you tell me what that word is? If you can, you've got better eyes than me. This is unbelievable. SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: They know they've got what they mostly needed and that's to payoff to the big Republican donors and whatever else it does to hardworking families, this economy, they don't care. They just want to put this thing through and payoff their donors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. So, how worrisome is all of that to you that A, there are, you know, members who say they couldn't have possibly have read the 497 pages. Those handwritten notes alongside, you know, the pages make it very confusing. This proposal sees you know potential earnings wins for the wealthy, but not necessary by for the poor and middle class.
ROONEY: Well, any time you're voting on something at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, It's going to be perceived as a little bit cumbersome especially after, you know, on and off delayed votes over the last couple of weeks.
So, it may be cumbersome, but they got it done, and I'm glad they got it done. You know, that's preposterous to say this is a payoff to donors. You know, the Democrats sometimes don't like to admit the fact that you got to have favorable tax treatment to stimulate investment.
If you don't have investment, you won't have a growing economy and be creating jobs. That's what this is all about is to enable our companies to stay in the United States, come back to the United States. They have a tax rate that lets us compete all around the world.
WHITFIELD: But what about, you know, historical documentation that you know this kind of trickledown economics has not led to higher earnings for Americans, has not necessarily led to more jobs, but instead it has lined the pockets of companies and their investors.
ROONEY: Well, I think their economist, they're smarter than me that argue on both sides of supply side, economics versus other types of economic stimuli. But there's no doubt that to my mind that this will help draw capital back into the United States that's been parked abroad because of the disincentive to bring the money back now with the higher rates. It will allow our companies to compete more effectively. We should increase investment, which therefore should increase job growth and wages.
WHITFIELD: Congressman Rooney, we'll leave it right there. We'll be right back.
ROONEY: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump hitting one of highest and perhaps lowest moments of his presidency all within the last 24 hours. Early this morning, Senate Republicans passed the GOP tax bill putting the president one step closer to achieving a landmark legislative accomplishment.
All of this while the Russia cloud darkens and inches closer to the president's inner circle as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.
Here to discuss all of this CNN political commentator, Hilary Rosen, also a Democratic strategist, and former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Jack Kingston. Good to see you both. Also, Jack, a CNN political commentator.
All right. So, Jack, let me begin with you, Trump's legal team's response yesterday appearing to really distance itself to Flynn saying he was an Obama official and he really didn't serve within the Trump presidency very long.
[11:40:08] But then listen to Trump in the past, really glow about the former national security adviser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Where is General Flynn? He's around here, incredible guy.
How about General Flynn. We love General Flynn, right? Mike Flynn.
I want to thank General Flynn for being here. Great guy. Great man.
General Flynn, who is here some place. I love General Flynn.
Michael Flynn is a wonderful man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. So, Jack, how do you explain this? Is it loyal until he's not?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there's no question that General Flynn was involved in the campaign. General Flynn was advising the campaign. I don't think there's a real argument there despite what may be coming out of the White House about it.
I think that the real question is that after over a year's worth of investigation and millions and millions of dollars, there's still nothing about collusion. He lied to the FBI about --
WHITFIELD: Except we don't know that.
KINGSTON: -- the actions that he took in December.
WHITFIELD: We don't know that, though, right? KINGSTON: Well, we know at this point there has been nothing shown about collusion. So, yes, it's true. Six months from now, two weeks from now, we could find something, but we've been hearing that for a year now that there was collusion. No question about it. This is going to be an easy case.
The critics are all chest pounding about it on the nightly news and yet here's the biggest indictment of the day are the plea and there's no collusion. It's simply that he lied to the FBI, which is a big deal.
KINGSTON: But he was fired for lying by this administration.
WHITFIELD: OK. Well, you know, the investigation is ongoing and still unclear what's around the corner, and the plea deal, I guess, Hilary, is in hopes of leading to something. Is this the Trump, you know, team just simply you know in denial about this investigation?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know that they're privately in denial as much their public posture, but I think the smart analysis is that he got leniency from Bob Mueller for a reason that he obviously has told them things that we don't know about yet.
Here's the interesting thing to me, which is when you go to have an investigation, a meeting with the FBI, the first thing they tell you is it is a felony to lie. So, now we have two former campaign officials from the Trump campaign being prosecuted for lying.
Why? What are they protecting? Who are they protecting? What are they afraid of? There is more to this story. I think you cannot -- you cannot come to any other conclusion, but there is more to this story and that they are lying for a reason.
WHITFIELD: And so Hilary, I know you have said that this, you know, really does exemplify for the Trump White House a real huge credibility problem, but then Jack, you know, why are so many Republicans still pushing for Trump's agenda, I.e., you know, this tax reform, you know, bill, when you know, this investigation continues and potentially it's getting closer and closer to the top.
KINGSTON: Well, I think the party philosophy goes beyond any given person in the party whether they're the president or the leader of the Senate or the House or any given member that the conservative principles of less government and people can spend their money better than the bureaucrats in Washington.
I think that prevails whoever holds the gavels if you will. I want to get back to this, you know, I think Hillary is right. There is some seriousness to it, but still, after all of this time millions and millions of dollars and hours and hours of investigation. No proof of collusion.
Yes, maybe General Flynn is going to say something, but for now, the only thing we have is people who have lied to the FBI. I have to say, I think they're total idiots about it. I don't know why General Flynn would meet with FBI without being surrounded by lawyers, but he chose to do so.
I think that sometimes people maybe let their own press get to their head or whatever, but I don't believe that he's going to point to any fingers about collusion.
ROSEN: Collusion is no longer the issue.
WHITFIELD: That is the burning question, why lie knowing what's at stake. I mean, Flynn was not new to the game because the defense has been by many of Trump's inner circle folks that, you know, we didn't really know how this goes, we're new to it, et cetera, but Flynn, not so new, Jack.
ROSEN: We've come to a different point, though, in this conversation and investigation, which is really, you know, I personally think that the American people elected Donald Trump thinking he was already a liar. We knew he was a cheater in business. Those stories didn't seem to matter to people.
But I do question whether they're going to condone a president who lies, regardless of whether it's the same person.
[11:45:06] And I think the problem here is not so much whether collusion is a crime and there's a lot of people in the Trump White House trying to convince people that even if they did collude with Russia, it wasn't a crime.
I think the problem we have here is did Donald Trump try and cover this up? Did he fire Jim Comey from the FBI for that reason? That is why Bob Mueller was originally appointed was because there was a concern that there was obstruction of justice.
WHITFIELD: Potential obstruction and that's still a concern.
ROSEN: Obstruction of finding out the truth, and I think that's what we are facing as the American people. We are not parsing words and hairs anymore as lawyers. We are citizens wondering whether the president has told us the truth.
ROSEN: And that's a very simple thing that we still don't know.
WHITFIELD: So much we still don't know. Go ahead, Jack.
WHITFIELD: As you were talking about the collusion on jury instructions --
KINGSTON: The anti-Trump left has been like a broken record for six months if not a year saying aha, we got you. This is about -- the hammer is going to fall. It really hasn't. People are really concerned about is national security and jobs, putting money in their pocket book.
That's where the Trump White House is focused right now. Frankly, Flynn lying to the FBI, he should be convicted of it. But in terms of helping the American people, national security and jobs.
WHITFIELD: OK. All right. All of this still ongoing as is the investigation, which also is about national security and democracy of this country, right?
WHITFIELD: Jack Kingston, Hillary Rosen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Still so more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, but first, when you're on the go, sometimes a little preparation is all it takes to transform your hotel room into a cozy haven.
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WHITFIELD: All right. In less than two weeks, voters in Alabama will head to the polls for a special Senate election. A new "Washington Post"/Shar School poll shows the race is neck and neck. Republican Roy Moore at 47 percent. Democrat Doug Jones, 50 percent. Moore has been accused of sexual assault and pursuing relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Our Gary Tuchman spoke to two women who were troubled by how this campaign has handled those allegations.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This woman says she was 17 years old when she initially met Roy Moore 40 years ago. Joan does not want her last name used because she has some fear about talking to us on camera.
(on camera): Where were you the first time you ever saw Roy Moore?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Old Hickory House.
TUCHMAN: That's the restaurant?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The restaurant.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The restaurant is now gone, replaced by an urgent care center, but it's the restaurant that Beverly Young Nelson says she worked at in 1977 when she was 16 years old, where she says she was sexually assaulted by Moore in a car behind the restaurant.
At a press briefing last week, one of Judge Moore's spokespeople implied that his candidate did not patronize Old Hickory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two former waitresses and two former patrons state that they never saw Judge Moore in that restaurant.
TUCHMAN: Rhonda Ledbetter who says she was a former waitress there told CNN affiliate, WHNT --
RHONDA LEDBETTER, ALABAMA RESIDENT: I never once saw Roy Moore come into the restaurant.
TUCHMAN (on camera): When you hear that, what do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's false. I saw him in there four and five times a week.
TUCHMAN: So he was a regular?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a regular.
TUCHMAN: Joan says she doesn't know Rhonda Ledbetter or the accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, for that matter, but used to work across the street from the restaurant. She says she came to the Old Hickory House several times a week for at least a year starting in 1977 to pick up her sister who worked there.
(on camera): You saw him four or five times a week, you said, in that restaurant?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: So for 52 weeks, that would be 100, 125 times. Do you think you saw him that many times in the restaurant?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): This woman says she worked at the History House too. She's so fearful of being shunned or verbally attacked that she doesn't want her face on camera.
(on camera): So, you were a waitress there for a few years starting when you were 17 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
TUCHMAN: And would you describe Roy Moore as a regular customer?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: And how many times would you see him in a given week?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three or four or three.
[11:55:10] TUCHMAN: So between three and four times a week?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Roy Moore's team implying he didn't go to the restaurant angered her and that's why she decided to talk to us.
(on camera): So, if someone says he was never there, your response to that is what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he was. I mean, I had tips from him. He tipped me. I mean, you know, I waited on him at the counter.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Both of these women say they voted for Donald Trump for president. Both say they can't be positive that the sexual abuse allegations against Moore are all true. But both are deeply troubled about how he and his campaign have handled these allegations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want him to tell lies and then be elected senator. Once he gets to be senator, he'll just tell more lies.
TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN.
WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.