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White House Press Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: It will be the first briefing that we've since Michael Flynn pleaded guilty, many other developments that have happened as well in the Russia probe.

We expect that the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, is going to be asked questions about the president's support for an accused child molester, Roy Moore, who is running for the Alabama Senate seat.

We expect that she is going to get questions about a possible government shutdown. We expect that she is going to get questions about the president's intention to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing the city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which could have far-reaching effects that have many nations, many experts concerned.

I want to bring in my panel to talk about this.

We have Gloria Borger. She's CNN's chief political analyst, Mark Preston with us, CNN senior political analyst, Laura Coates, our CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

OK, I want to first ask you, Gloria Borger, about something that we heard from Ruddy, who is a friend and an adviser of Donald Trump's. I think he said that he had spoken to him in the last week.

And he's saying that now Mueller's investigation, the special counsel's investigation has moved well beyond the jurisdiction that he should be operating within.

Do you think that this is just a one-off? Do you think this could be a preview of something we may hear today at the briefing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's hard to know specifically what he is referring to, if he's referring to questions.

There have been some stories about bank records being subpoenaed.

KEILAR: That's right.

BORGER: I think that that's probably what he's referring to. And I spoke with one of the -- I heard from one of the president's

attorneys, who denies the story, says it's not true.

KEILAR: Says it's not happening. OK.

BORGER: Says it's not happening.

But we have "The Wall Street Journal" reporting it and Bloomberg. We're going to have to see. But I think the point, the larger point Chris Ruddy is making is that this gets into the president's financial records and that that is not under the jurisdiction of the special counsel. I think the special counsel might argue otherwise.

And, Michael, you would know more about that than any of us would.

KEILAR: And, Michael, talk about that, because the president has said that he would consider that outside the scope of what Mueller should be doing.

Once he would get into financial dealings of the Trump family, that is something that the president feels is unrelated. But is it an area where Robert Mueller is totally fine to be operating in?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, the president said it is the red line that Mueller can't cross.

KEILAR: That's right.

ZELDIN: The Manafort indictment tells us that Mueller does not believe that private financial dealings, which was the Manafort case, is beyond his scope. These are matters which he considers to be arising out of or related to the Russian investigation, because it may be the quo of the quid pro in it.

We can't slice and dice these things. The way it would work is, if Mueller felt that this was relevant, but maybe perhaps beyond the black letter of his mandate, he goes to Rosenstein and he says, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to continue on this, in which case Rosenstein has the ability to, under the regulations, expand his mandate, or does he say to Rosenstein, do you want it? And Rosenstein says, I will take it over.

Either way, if evidence has been developed that a crime has been committed in the private dealings of the Trump ecosystem or otherwise, it is going to will be investigated. It doesn't really matter much who.

KEILAR: And that's the thing, Laura, about a special counsel.

And when the special counsel was created, that is what is so difficult about this for any president, right? That is what was difficult about a special counsel for President Clinton was that the special counsel, there can be a mission creep, because any investigation that leads to information even that you're weren't investigating that there was some sort of wrongdoing, then the special counsel or perhaps just the U.S. government, DOJ, FBI, can then investigate anything that's found. LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And doesn't that make sense, that

you wouldn't expect somebody who was investigating or engaging in a probe to turn a blind eye to things that may lead to incriminating evidence?

That would make sense to people. And the idea that there may be one or more or dozens of rabbit holes that Mueller goes into without any progress being made is part of the circumstance of being a special counsel.

But the gist of this is that Donald Trump is not in the position, nor are his friends, to determine what those red lines are and where to stay away from. That's why you have somebody who is independent and presumably objective to say, I need to investigate and conduct the investigation in a manner that shows that I'm pursuing every viable lead, and not turning a blind eye where it is inconvenient for you for me to look at.

ZELDIN: Can I just add one thing to that, which is...

KEILAR: Yes.

ZELDIN: And I agree with that.

I think what we are seeing here a little bit is beginnings of a sort of political/legal strategy, John Dowd saying, even if the president did something wrong, he can't be indicted or charged with obstruction.

[15:05:08]

"The Wall Street Journal" editorializing about Mueller's sort of conflicts, if we want to call it that, now this thing about mandate creep.

So, I think that we're beginning to see, as the investigation of Mueller begins to creep closer to core people in the presidential team, they are going to start attacking him and his mandate.

KEILAR: Mark, we have heard from President Trump when it comes to Michael Flynn.

He has said that Hillary Clinton lied to the FBI, although they're -- that's not what Jim Comey told Congress, but that's been the case that he's making. He's been saying then Michael Flynn's life gets ruined and for other people they get to go along their merry way. That's basically what he is saying.

Do you think that's what we are going to hear from Sarah Sanders, or do you think we will be hearing some other approach when it comes to the Michael Flynn from the White House today?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I think when you go back to what the president said about Michael Flynn, not only did he say that about Michael Flynn, but he also went out -- and of course now his lawyer says he is the one who wrote the tweet -- and said, I fired him for lying to the FBI. KEILAR: Not only Mike Pence. That's right.

PRESTON: Yes, as well as Mike Pence.

I think what you are going to see from Sarah Huckabee Sanders today from the lectern is to say, I'm going to refer back to the president's statement. I'm going to refer back to what the president said. I'm going to refer back to the president's statement.

There's nothing else she can say. She is really caught between a rock and a hard place. But when it comes to Michael Flynn, he was the national security adviser. If he is now cooperating, as we do know, with Robert Mueller, that means he's willing to give up somebody who is even higher than him.

There's not that very many people that go higher than the national security adviser. So you have to wonder, who is in that firing line? Now, some would say speculating on television probably isn't right thing to do.

However, that's what happens on television. You do a little bit of speculating. So you have to look at the small cast of characters that have surrounded President Trump, including himself.

KEILAR: Another thing that we have seen, Gloria, is this.

And we have had ideas that this may be happening, this idea that the U.S., that the president is going to make good on a campaign promise and say, yes, I am moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I am recognizing it as the capital of Israel.

This is a big deal, especially if you are looking, not just at peace, not just Mideast peace, but also the fight against ISIS, where the entire Middle East are all of these stakeholders when it comes to these things that the U.S. is trying to achieve in the region.

What do you think we might hear from Sarah Sanders? What do you think the questions are that she's going to get?

BORGER: Well, she's going to get questions, because we think it's going to happen tomorrow.

And I think, for the president, and I think what we might hear from Sarah Sanders is that this is a campaign promise, that Donald Trump has become more and more concerned with keeping his promises. And the tax bill is one example. Health care didn't go so well for him. He promised during the campaign that he would do this.

This is a different kind of timetable and in a different way. But I think you have a president who is afraid that his base will desert him, and, in effect, that's all he has left is his base of support.

And so he feels that he needs to keep every promise he can, whether it's immigration or whether it's on the embassy and the capital.

And I think that Sarah Sanders is going to probably reflect, well, this is what the president -- this is what the people voted for when they elected Donald Trump, and we are going to do exactly what they wanted us to do.

KEILAR: And who is his base? We have new poll numbers, right, that are showing us where that number is.

The Quinnipiac University poll, as well as Gallup poll, I think they are both putting 35 percent. That's where they're putting his approval rating at this point. So he's in a tough situation.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes.

Well, his approval rating is historically low. He can't afford to lose any members of his base. He has to fight for his base. And I think that's what we are seeing play out in every venue, in every single venue.

And that's why the Russia story is such a problem for him, because on the day his tax bill passed out of the Senate last Friday, you had the Flynn indictment.

KEILAR: Yes. You almost wouldn't have noticed it had happened because it was so over...

BORGER: Or the plea deal, the plea deal. Yes. Yes.

KEILAR: That's right. It was -- that's right, the plea deal.

It was so overshadowed by this. But you are looking at these poll numbers. What do you think?

PRESTON: Well, a couple things, too.

Not only did he the overshadow the tax bill, but, Brianna, you and I were sitting here yesterday against just about this time, when he went out to Utah to roll back the regulations on the two National Parks out there.

That's a big Republican win, a victory, but yet overshadowed again by the Russia investigation and by his own tweets. But when it comes to his base right now, his base has always around between 35, 39 percent, somewhere around there.

[15:10:08]

When he starts, when that ticks below, say, 32 percent, or around 32 percent, that means he's now really starting to lose his base.

And who knows where he goes from there, because Gloria is right. He has nowhere else to go.

KEILAR: All right, you all stand by for me. We are awaiting this briefing. And to be just transparent with our viewers, we were told 3:00 p.m. It's now 3:10. We are on borrowed time here. This is going to happen any second.

We are going to get in a quick break and bring it to you live as soon as it gets started.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: OK.

So, right now, we're waiting for the White House briefing. It's going to start any moment now.

But, just moments ago, we learned something, that Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, says that she backs call to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. to come before the committee.

[15:15:08]

My panel back with me now.

OK, Michael Zeldin, with your legal expertise, when Dianne Feinstein is saying that she's now backing calls, and she's clearly taking a sort of tougher stance than her Republican counterpart, what does this mean?

ZELDIN: Right.

It means that's what her hopes are, but she has no subpoena power. That's within the majority's control. And all she is saying is, stop slow-walking this investigation. Let's get to the bottom of it.

The country, the president, everybody deserves to know what happened here. And if there is any reticence on the part of any witnesses to come forward, let's just subpoena them and get their testimony on the record. As long as there's not a conflict with Mueller and they can work that out, so that there is no Oliver North immunization of a witness that prevents him from being prosecuted, then everything is copacetic.

KEILAR: Laura, what do you think?

And what are Democrats hoping to learn from Don Jr.? What are some of the outstanding questions? And where is all this whole thing with him cooperating?

COATES: Well, I think you have this turf war that's been going on for quite some time between the criminal probe led by Mueller and of course the congressional legislative-based probe that is happening.

And there is a conflict going on, because, of course, nobody wants to willingly testify in front of Congress if it means it will jeopardize or expose them to greater legal jeopardy in front of someone like Mueller. And with the acceleration that we're seeing, with at least two now

convictions, two guilty pleas of people in the Mueller probe, you see that Feinstein is looking for a commensurate acceleration, perhaps progress on their side.

The American people have outstanding questions. And they have to do with what is the -- relative of collusion and what actually is happening here? And is there progress on either side?

They see it at Mueller's side. They don't see it in Congress. And, of course, it should not be surprising to anyone that the day that Conyers decided to resign and step down from his very prominent position, as he was, on Judiciary Committee, then you have got Feinstein asking for, now that that distraction is out of the way, let's get acceleration now.

KEILAR: Gloria.

BORGER: They have interviewed a bunch of people particularly about what happened on Air Force One when Don Jr. was kind of the subject of that.

And it was a question of that meeting at Trump Tower with Russians and the e-mails that went back and forth.

KEILAR: When you say what happened on Air Force One, you mean the crafting of the...

BORGER: The crafting of the statement about what that meeting was about.

KEILAR: That the president was involved.

BORGER: We know the president weighed in is what Sarah Sanders has said.

We are not quite sure what that means and we are not quite sure how relevant that is to anything. It's not a crime to lie to the American public. We know that that statement had to be revised multiple times.

But presumably they have interviewed other people about what occurred on Air Force One. And they probably want to fill in the holes here. And Don Jr. was not on the plane, by the way, but his attorney was in contact with people.

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: Sorry, Michael. It's not that just.

It's also the WikiLeaks discussions he had as well.

BORGER: It is, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: And so you have got the Russian adoption lawyer who presumably had this conversation.

We have got entering -- things like campaign laws and whether you received a benefit in some form from opposition research. And, of course, the back-and-forth direct messages between Donald Trump Jr. and Julian Assange are very, very interesting, if you're looking at it from the context of was there somebody...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Oh, you guys, let's put this on hold while we listen to Sarah Sanders and the White House briefing.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president just wrapped up briefing in the Oval Office with four families from different parts of the country.

They are veterans, small business owners, workers, moms, dads, and students. And they all had one thing in common. The president's plan to cut taxes and reform our broken tax code will help them thrive and build a better life and a better future for themselves and their children.

This event was an important reminder that, while Washington focuses on the politics of the day, the president is focused on the forgotten men and women around our nation.

These are the families who deserve a tax cut for Christmas. And that's exactly what we are going to deliver.

Looking ahead, the president will visit Mississippi on Saturday, where they are celebrating the state's bicentennial, 200 years of statehood. To mark the occasion, the president will participate in the grand openings of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Tomorrow, first lady Melania Trump and second lady Karen Pence will travel to Texas to continue their efforts in assisting those affected by this year's devastating hurricane season. They will participate in a meet-and-greet with first-responders in Corpus Christi and then travel to Rockport to meet with a family whose home was destroyed in the hurricane.

Mrs. Trump and Mrs. Pence will also visit a local elementary school to speak with faculty and students about the hurricane. And their last stop will be at a local food bank to meet with volunteers and help sort boxes for donations.

Finally , I know there have been a lot of questions surrounding the president's decision on Jerusalem. Tomorrow, the president will deliver remarks regarding this action. At 5:30 this evening, senior administration officials will hold a background briefing here to explain the president's decision.

[15:20:13] And with that, I will take your questions.

Major.

QUESTION: Sarah, one issue that you may have seen this morning, is the White House or the president at any level considering creating a global or regional spy network that would circumvent the U.S. intelligence apparatus and serve the president outside of the normal and legally defined intelligence-gathering mechanisms?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I am not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time.

QUESTION: The president would be opposed to that?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't had that conversation with him, but I am not aware of any plans for anything like that moving forward.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) has been briefed on that idea or it has been discussed at any level in this administration?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't done a full survey of every member of the administration.

But I can tell you, as of right now, that's not something that is currently being planned and not something that I'm aware is moving forward in any capacity.

Again, I'm not going to answer every hypothetical for every single member. Did some random person off the street come in and say something? I don't know, Major.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Is it something the president might consider?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I haven't asked him. But it's not something that is currently in the works.

John.

QUESTION: World leaders have spoken out, Sarah, in the last 24 hours about the possible move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas says that it would have great consequences for peace and stability in the region. King Abdullah said much the same thing. Saudi Arabia, at least publicly, is saying the same thing, though I'm told privately they're saying something different than that.

French President Macron said that he thought it was a bad idea. In the face of all of that, would the president ignore that advice from world leaders and go ahead and make the move at this time? HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the president's

remarks that he will make tomorrow. He did speak with a number of leaders this morning. And he's going to continue to have conversations with relevant stakeholders. But, ultimately, he will make what he feels is the best decision for the United States.

QUESTION: Is it safe to say other than Israel, which thinks that this move is 22 years overdue, that all of the feedback that he's been getting is overwhelmingly negative about this idea?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No.

Again, he spoke with five leaders. That's hardly indicative of everybody across the globe. But, certainly, you know, he's going to continue to have conversations with different leaders from across the world and we will keep you posted as those calls take place and we will let you know when the president has made a decision.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the president said that he felt very badly for General Flynn. Would he consider pardoning him?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of that that has come up or any process or decision on that front.

QUESTION: So you haven't talked to him about it or...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I haven't asked the president whether or not he would do that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think before we start discussing the pardons for individuals, we should see, you know, what happens in specific cases.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say it's on the table?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I just said I haven't had the conversation with him because I don't feel that it's necessary until you get further down the road and determine whether or not that is even something needed.

Steve?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Has the president made up his mind about this or is the decision still in flux a bit?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president, I would say, is pretty solid in his thinking at this point.

April?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sarah, a couple questions.

One, there are comments from people from people from the NAACP, from black ministers, who are planning on protesting and boycotting this weekend for the president's visit to the Civil Rights Museum. What say you?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that would be, honestly, very sad.

I think this is something that should bring the country together, to celebrate the opening of this museum and highlighting civil rights movement and the progress that we have made and I would hope that those individuals would join in that celebration, instead of protesting it. However they have every right to protest it.

QUESTION: Jordan?

RYAN: (OFF-MIKE) he's coming, as we have had issues of Charlottesville (OFF-MIKE) the president couldn't get his statement straight on Charlottesville.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he got his statement very clear when he condemned all forms of racism, bigotry and violence.

There is no gray area there, and I think he made it very clear what his position is.

Jordan.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Did the president know that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI at the time that he fired him in February?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president knew that he lied to the vice president. That was the reason for his firing.

Matthew.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up.

So, your predecessor said on June 6, it's the president of the United States, so they are considered official statements by the president of the United States in regards to his tweet -- in regards to his tweets. Does that still -- does that standard still apply to the president's tweets?

[15:25:05]

HUCKABEE SANDERS: It does.

And I know that you are probably referencing the tweet that was written by the president's attorney, and he since clarified that. And I would refer you back to the attorney's clarification on that.

Matthew.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

The White House originally said that if the accusations against Roy Moore were true, then Moore should step aside. I'm wondering how the president reached the conclusion that all of Moore's accusers, including those who have put forward evidence, are lying.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Didn't say they were lying.

The president's position hasn't changed, still finds those concerning. But, as we have also said, the president feels that he would rather have a person that supports his agenda vs. somebody who opposes his agenda every step of the way.

And until the rest of that process plays out, you have a choice between two individuals. And the president has chosen to support Moore.

QUESTION: Even if that president who would support his agenda has done what Roy Moore's accusers have said he's done?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, we've said the allegations are concerning. And if true, he should step aside. But we don't have a way to validate that. And that's something for the people of Alabama to decide, which we've also said. And we maintain that.

And, ultimately, it will come down to the people of Alabama to make that decision.

David?

QUESTION: Sarah, can you tell me a little bit about the process and timing as to how the president got to the potential Jerusalem announcement tomorrow? Do you have somewhat of a backstory on that, to the degree that you can at this point?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can tell you that it was a very thoughtful interagency process.

In terms of specifics, that is something that will be addressed in greater detail later this evening at the background briefing and then further by the president in his remarks tomorrow.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. And evangelicals' role in this, how crucial has that been in terms of the Faith Advisory Council?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president wanted to make the decision that was the best for the United States.

And I'm not going to get ahead of anything beyond the events later today and tomorrow.

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

I have a question for you about special counsel's office. Does the president believe that special counsel Robert Mueller or anybody on his staff is biased in any way against the president?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think we have seen some reports that certainly cause a great deal of concern. And we hope that those are fully looked at and investigated.

Blake?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up for you, if I may, Sarah.

I think it was about five or six weeks ago that you indicated from that podium on a few occasions that you believed, the White House believes that Mr. Mueller's investigation will be wrapping up shortly.

Since that time, we have seen that a very high-level aide to the president, former aide to the president, former national security adviser has entered a plea deal with the special counsel's office.

Do you still believe that this investigation is wrapping up soon?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We did. And I would refer you to the comments that were by Ty Cobb where he indicated as such over the last few days.

Blake?

QUESTION: Thank you.

Let me ask you two questions on so-called red lines. If Robert Mueller ends up looking into the president's finances or if he has already looked into the president's finances, does the president, does this White House believe that's a red line, and, if so, why?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think it's important to note, and hopefully you guys have seen this statement that Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, has put out within the last hour, that they confirmed that the news reports that the special counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the president are completely false.

No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources. I think that this is another example of the media going too far too fast and we don't see it going in that direction.

QUESTION: Let me ask you the second red line.

This White House has consistently said there are two red lines on tax reform, middle-class relief, and then a 20 percent corporate rate. But the president over the weekend seemed to suggest that he would be amiable to a corporate rate up to 22 percent.

Why would he be willing to step over his own red line on that issue?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president said, just I guess maybe a couple of hours ago that we are firm, and we feel strongly about the 20 percent, and we are very excited about the progress we have made on that front and think that we will get there on both sides, in the House and Senate.

QUESTION: Two quick things.

One, does the president believe, as the lawyer from the Solicitor General's Office said at the court today, that a baker could put a sign in his window saying "We don't bake cakes for gay weddings," and that that would be legal? HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry. Could you say the first part of that

question again? My cough kind of drowned you out.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes.

So, the solicitor lawyer, the lawyer from the Solicitor General's Office for the administration said today in court, at the Supreme Court, that it would be legal, it would be possible for a baker to put a sign in his window saying -- quote -- "We don't bake cakes for gay weddings."

Does the president agree that that would be OK?

The president certainly supports religious liberty. And that's something that he talked about during the campaign, and has since upheld since taking office.

QUESTION: That would be -- that would...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I believe that would include that.