Return to Transcripts main page


McCain, Cochran Health Concerns ahead of Vote Next Week; WAPO: Trump Continues to Reject Evidence on Russia; Omarosa Slams Report She was Thrown out of White House. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


Top of the hour, turns out getting Republican senators to support their historic tax bill. It is just half the battle. Getting enough members in the chamber for the vote, that is now up in the air.

BERMAN: Yes. The big issue right now is, is that two key Republican senators are battling serious health issues.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill with the very latest on that. Sunlen?

HARLOW: There she is.


BERMAN: All right. We're having trouble with Sunlen's feed right there. The issue is Thad Cochran who of course has had some health issues over time hasn't been in the chamber for some time and Senator John McCain, of course the senior senator from Arizona, battling brain cancer. He is in Walter Reed receiving treatment this week. Unclear when he will get out. Vice President Mike Pence has delayed, delayed a trip to the Middle East. He will now be leaving on Tuesday. Some of the thinking is, some of the thinking is perhaps he pushed off that trip because he needed to be around to break a possible tie.

HARLOW: Right. So we'll keep an eye on it. They have a deal but do they have the numbers to actually get the vote through. We'll come back to that in a moment as soon as we get Sunlen back up.

This morning, there are also - if you haven't read it. A pretty stunning new report in "The Washington Post" that talks all about the president, the relationship with Russia and the Russia investigation specifically, and the refusal still to accept Russian meddling in the race.

BERMAN: One administration official tells "The Washington Post" that the president is insulted by the idea that the Russians helped him win and that he has never held a cabinet-level meeting about Russian interference in the Russian election.

Joining us now to talk about this retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling to help us understand what's going on here. General, thanks so much for being with us, really appreciate it. One of the key findings in this report is that in the daily intelligence briefing, the intelligence officials talking to the president. Feel like they can't bring up Russian meddling. They dance around it because they're afraid of upsetting him. The impact?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. It's critical, John. Good morning to you and Poppy. What I would tell you is intelligence is going to drive strategy, and if you're fearful when you're a member of the Intelligence Community going in and briefing your boss about what's going on and not being completely candid and transparent about all the elements of the intelligence that you've gathered -- and we have the greatest intelligence gathering force in the world. It could be problematic.

It's one thing not only portraying what's going on but then getting action on that. Now that the president is getting ready to -- or the National Security Council is getting ready to deliver the national security strategy. That's really driven by intelligence and it tells you what you're going to do all over the world. Russia has maligned U.S. actions in multiple places. They're in the Middle East. They're in Egypt. They're in Syria. They're in Ukraine. They're in North Korea.

So having intelligence in terms of what Russia is doing, what Putin's Russia is doing, is absolutely critical and you can't back off by delivering that intelligence to the people who are the decision makers.

HARLOW: The fact that the president has this inability, according to what we've heard from him and this new "Washington Post" reporting, to draw a line between, you know Russia's meddling in the election process, meddling in democracies and his victory. What does that tell you? Because now he's a year into his presidency and this report starts out with really high ranking people like Jared Kushner, like former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus going into his office and pleading with him for days to just come out and say I accept the findings of this January 6th intelligence report and the refusal to do so?

HERTLING: Yes. It's difficult for me to understand it, Poppy. Because every morning when I was commanding in Europe I would get something called a black book which showed me what was going on throughout the entire theater. Now the president gets that for the entire world from his intelligence chiefs. He has to act on that. He has to put aside anything that has to it with the election, although that continues to be in the news every day. And he has to remember what his oath to the Constitution is, which is to protect and defend the country against all enemies foreign and domestic and Putin's Russia is definitely maligning multiple actions of the United States around the world.

So I think the separation of that and taking a businessman's approach where he trusts his employees and doesn't trust the employees of the person before him, is not true at all with the Intelligence Community. These men and women are faithful to the Constitution. They're faithful to the government. And they're intent on delivering the kind of information that drives the United States security. The president has to understand that and take that for what it's worth.

[10:05:00] There may be indicators that there was certainly things going on with the election and I believe that the election was influenced and anyone that has dealt with the Intelligence Community, can tell you why that's so. But that's one subject. The other subject is what is Russia doing everywhere else and what strategy do we use to counter those actions?

BERMAN: General, the fact that there's been no cabinet-level meeting. Does it have a substantial effect or is it more symbolic, the message it sends not just domestically but perhaps internationally as well?

HERTLING: Well there's certainly that message getting out internationally, John, and it's not just the cabinet-level meetings with the members of cabinets. What kind of primary committees, the so- called PCs and DCs that are occurring within the West Wing and the National Security Council. If the president isn't taking a small group of people - and that's all the national security team, defense, state, NSC -- but also folks like treasury, commerce to see what they have to say in terms of the security of the United States in smaller meetings other than the big cabinet brouhahas. You got to get together and say what do we know in terms of state secrets that will help us compete better. And if he's not doing that, that's problematic and it's not just Russia, there's many other parts of the world where this has to occur. And if those things aren't happening it is -- it will provide a challenge to our national security.

HARLOW: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you very much for joining us on all of this new reporting this morning. We appreciate it.

HERTLING: Pleasure, thank you.


BERMAN: Joining us now our political panel, Amber Phillips, the political reporter for "The Washington Post." Also joining us -- who else is with us right now, David Drucker, it was a mystery guest, I didn't know, no one told me. David Drucker is here as well. David because you surprised us with your presence, I want to start with you right now. And this is something you've talked about a great deal, the inability of the president to separate the fact that, you know, he won the election. He is in the White House from people who said that Russia meddled. Now "The Washington Post" is reporting saying he still doesn't believe that Russia meddled and he fights the very notion and everyone around him walks -- your reaction.

DAVID DRUCKER:, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, this is everything that we have seen since he took office and I've always thought that president is missing an opportunity because I think the preponderance of the evidence from the Intelligence Community and their analysis is that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the election. It doesn't mean that President Trump's victory is illegitimate.

I think that you can point to Hillary Clinton and all of the mistakes she made as the reason that President Trump won, in addition to many of the things that he did right in a very close election. Russia still meddled. In fact, they meddled on President Trump's behalf with the intent of helping him because they -- Vladimir Putin saw the president as a fellow nationalist who would be more amenable to Russia's agenda around the world and he did not like Hillary Clinton, still blaming her for in his eyes fomenting Democratic uprising the last time he was on the ballot or at some point that he was on the ballot in the early 2000s, so none of this is a problem.

And what the president had the opportunity to say when he came into office, yes, the Russians meddled. It happened under the watch of my predecessor and I'm going to be the one that finally does something about it. And I think that this would have put him in a very strong position and it would have also changed the politics surrounding the Russia investigation because the fruit of the investigation has always been in some ways the fact that President Trump will not bad mouth Vladimir Putin. He'll bad mouth everybody, the Chinese, the Europeans, allies, adversary, not Putin, who remains a -- one of our major geopolitical adversaries around the world in many theaters. And so I don't think any of this is surprising, but I do think the president could approach it differently and come out looking much better.

HARLOW: So, to David's point, Amber, this is, you know, what a senior White House official told "The Washington Post" reporters, one of whom we had on last hour, to try to explain some of this, OK? Let me read this to you. We were looking to create some sort of bargain that would help us navigate a very dangerous world, but if we do anything, Congress and the media will scream bloody murder. That is the stance of the White House, trying to, you know, explain this. Do you think that's a fair counter argument to the point that David makes?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": I think that to the point David made, there is, you know, the facts suggest that this election, even though Russia meddled, as intelligence agencies say, is not illegitimate. Trump won. But Trump seems to be emotionally connecting the election and Russia meddling and not looking at it rationally saying, you know what, if I acknowledge that Russia meddled in this election, I am in his mind, delegitimizing my win. You know, if you move by one percentage a couple of states, Trump could have lost the election. Obviously he lost the popular vote.

[10:10:03] And so I think the White House is struggling. How do you explain a president who is really focused on an emotional reaction that is not rooted in the facts?

BERMAN: The fact that the staff is afraid to talk about it is interesting in of itself. Guys, we want to go back to Sunlen. Stand by because we're going to talk to you again in just a second.

Sunlen Serfaty, standing by on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, we tried to talk to you before about the new concerns, about the numbers game, not within the tax plan, but getting people inside to vote in the chamber, particular health concerns about two senators, what's going on? SERFATY: That's right, John. You know the margins here were always going to be tight for Republican leaders but now there is some extra dynamics at play that's causing a lot of last-minute uncertainty as they barrel towards potentially having a final vote here in the Senate on Monday. Now, we know Vice President Mike Pence, he has delayed his trip to Israel. His vote is going to be needed next week when they vote on this with Pence voting for the tax bill, they can only afford to lose two more Republican senators.

Now that math very important because we have two Republican senators, John McCain and Thad Cochran who have both been ill, who have both recently missed votes. We know that Thad Cochran does indeed intend to return up here on Capitol Hill to vote for the tax plan next week but McCain who is receiving cancer treatment and he's in the hospital for that is still a TBD.

Also, add to that mix, we still have a lot of wild cards here. Senator Flake, Senator Collins, we also have Bob Corker. He's not said how he will vote but they really can't rely on his vote. He said just yesterday, look, I have the same concerns about this bill that I always have. So while the members here are making progress in the policy, yesterday they merged the two bills from the House and Senate together to make one bill they can actually vote on, while they're making progress on the policy the politics is not in line where they need to be. All this said this is just a few days potentially before they hold a final vote, so a lot of uncertainty.

HARLOW: OK. Sunlen thank you.

Let's go back to David and Amber on this one. I mean, David, if you look at the newest polling on this, because it looks like most of the Senate bill, more of the Senate bill got into this than the House bill, the most recent polling shows that overall, majority of Americans don't like it, 55 percent, if you look at party lines, you've got 66 percent of Republicans like it, so that's helpful to the president certainly on this one. What does this do for the president do you think. I mean, how big is the political dividend if he can get this thing through in year one?

DRUCKER: Well, I think that it's very important for the president and Republicans to be able to deliver on something significant. Both from the standpoint of delivering on campaign promises because of the importance politically that actually following through on what you say you're going to do in the campaign have become. That's become a much more important thing than it was in the past when voters sort of expected campaign promises to fall by the wayside and they were willing to live with it more.

I also think given we're approaching a midterm election year and Republicans are in full control of government, if they can't show their own voters that they got something for full control of government, they're going to throw up their hands and say there's no point in us showing up again if you can't do anything. And for all of the crowing that the president does about all that he's accomplished and on the executive side and regulatory side and the judicial side, he's got a great argument to make. On the legislative side, it's just been nipping around the edges here and there, at different things.

So I think this is a very big deal for Republicans. The next challenge, of course, is going to be whether or not people actually like the tax bill and whether they like it in the right places in swing districts where the House majority could be on the line.

BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Amber Phillips, David Drucker, and Sunlen, thank you so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Omarosa out at the White House, but she says she was not thrown out. Others are saying somethings else. Also, a very, very interesting comment she made about what made her uncomfortable at the White House. Reporting on that next.


[10:18:17] HARLOW: Outgoing aide to the president Omarosa Manigault Newman is fighting back to reports this morning that she was fired from the White House following a dramatic confrontation that's been reported with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Take a listen to her.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: John Kelly and I sat down in the situation room, which is a very secure, very quiet room in the White House. And we had a very candid conversation and I wanted to make the one-year mark that was one of the goals that I set out to and then get back to my life.

ROBIN ROBERTS, HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": So were you saying that all these reports that are coming from one person, but -

NEWMAN: No. Let's be clear, only one person.

ROBERTS: Only one person.

NEWMAN: No one else has reported what she's reporting and this is the one person who has attacked me for the last year. So you know that this is personal.


BERMAN: So separate from what Omarosa is talking about there, CNN reporting this morning that Omarosa did not resign as she says and once she made it known that she was going to appeal her case to President Trump, she was escorted out.

Joining us now, though, is the one person that Omarosa was talking about there, CNN political analyst April Ryan of American Radio Networks. April, again, I don't think it's any mystery she's talking about you there. She says you have a personal vendetta against her. What's your response?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I've been doing this for 20 years at the White House, been in the business for 30, and, you know, I've been covering any and all things presidential. That's what a White House correspondent does, listens to sources inside the White House and outside of the White House. And one thing for sure, be it Republican or Democrat, some may not have liked what I've reported but I've never had anyone say that there's been a vendetta. I've heard Republicans say I'm fair and I've heard Democrats say I'm fair.

[10:20:00] I'm doing my job. When you get sources - I mean think about this election night, I'm working until 2:00 a.m. on the set with Don Lemon, go to sleep at 3:00 a.m., my tweets -- not tweets, excuse me, my text messages are blowing up at 6:00 a.m. I hadn't gotten any sleep. So you get the first one from a high ranking Republican saying that someone gave him information that mission accomplished and said her name was -- what are you talking about.

And then you get another and then another and then another and then you say OK, let me e-mail Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her deputy press secretary. And then I also sent out a tweet, a very benign tweet that said hashtag fired, never said a name. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the deputy decided not to give me the story. They gave it to the associated press as well as "The Huffington Post." But I wanted -- when Sarah finally gave me the information about the negotiated resignation that there's said to be a signature people have seen with the end date of January 20th, I said what about the other stuff, what about the drama that I'm hearing about the firing.

Everyone went dark. But I'm continuing to hear information from all sides. I mean credible sources. And I'm not the only one. I may have broken the story, but CBS, ABC, "Wall Street Journal," "New York Times" I'm not the only one. I have no vendetta. I am a reporter who is covering the beat.

HARLOW: And April, this morning, when Omarosa did that interview, she was also asked about this "Washington Post" reporting that she was very unhappy with the president's handling of Charlottesville and the endorsement of Roy Moore. Let's listen to what she said in response.


NEWMAN: When I have a chance to tell my story, Michael, quite a story to tell, as the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and an assistant to the president I've seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally. It has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.


HARLOW: What do you make of that?

RYAN: Provocative. I was watching in real time and while it was going on when she was saying that, I e-mailed again the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who didn't respond right away, but she did in an e-mail a little while later said yes, I did. And she said we'll talk about it later and I'm sure she's going to be talking about it in the briefing room. It sounded like -- take away the name and the person, but if you are -- if you resign as you say, why would you be doing a tell-all unless you're angry. Those are the things that a report wear think. It was a very newsy interview. I picked up some very interesting pieces. It sounds like she's very angry with the White House. She wants to do a tell-all.

HARLOW: Right.

APRIL: And we'll see what happens. But she also -- you guys, she also went in on the secret service talking about not -- went in, she talked about the secret service and put a lot of heavy weight on what they said in their tweets about the incident. Now the secret service gave two tweets yesterday, one saying that they did not escort her off the complex. But this was a very telling tweet where she said, the secret service said this, where they said that the secret service was not involved in the termination process of Miss Manigault Newman or the escort off the complex. Our only involvement in this matter was to deactivate the individual's pass which grants access to the complex. So that totally contradicts everything she said on "Good Morning America" about whether it's a resignation versus termination if she was taken off the campus. Secret service didn't but someone else did. And she does not have a hard pass from secret service at this time.

BERMAN: Fact of the matter is she's not going to be working there much longer and sounds like we will hear more from her soon. April Ryan thanks very, very much.

All right, breaking news this morning, we just learned that Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold will not seek re-election. He says he's going to retire after this term is up.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: This comes after we understand he's under new ethics investigation. We do know that he has settled a harassment claim for $85,000 in taxpayer money already.

He's been defiant, but this comes after this new claim that our MJ Lee reported from a former male staffer who said he made these sexually lewd remarks and made him so uncomfortable by screaming, et cetera, that he was vomiting daily so he's not resigning but he's not going to run again.

BERMAN: Not resigning yet. Because as retiring. We'll see what happens next.

HARLOW: Right.

OK. Senator John McCain is in the hospital being. He's being treated at Walter Reed. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest on his condition. That's next.


HARLOW: All right, so Senator John McCain is back in the hospital this morning. His office has released a statement saying he's receiving treatment for normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us right now. Thanks for being with us. You have talked to John McCain's doctors when he received his diagnosis some months ago. What's likely going on here? He's been in treatment for some time.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What typically happens is that, as part of treating this type of tumor to his brain, there's often radiation therapy given and what happens with radiation therapy is that it's designed, obviously, to attack these tumor cells, but it can also cause some swell in and around the tumor, swell around the brain, and, you know, that can cause symptoms, sometimes cause headaches or weakness on one side of the body because the brain does become swollen.