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Trump Visits FBI After Vowing To "Rebuild" It; Tillerson Backs Off "No Preconditions" For North Korea Talks. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 11:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- could not be more true to all of those who serve in blue. Thank you. Thank you to my panelists and being with us this Friday. I'm ready for the weekend. Hope you have a great one. John and I will see you back here on Monday. Kate Bolduan picks it up now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Poppy. Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

I will always have your back. That is the message that the president had today for local law enforcement, but very much not the message that he had on his way there for the FBI where the president, kind of the institution where the president was speaking. His anger for the bureau evident once again as he boarded Marine One this morning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's a shame what's happened with the FBI, but we're going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever, but it is sad when you look at those documents and how they've done that is really, really disgraceful and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it.

It's a very sad thing to watch. I will tell you that. And I'm going today on behalf of the FBI, their new building, and, you know, but when I -- everybody, not me, when everybody, the level of anger at what they've been witnessing with respect to the FBI is certainly very sad.


BOLDUAN: Let's get over to the White House right now, CNN's Abby Philip is there for us. So, Abby, I mean, it was minutes apart and two very different messages coming from the president towards various law enforcement.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Two different venues, two different messages but one president who's venting about an investigation that he thinks is out of control and unfair to him. Some of the comments the president making before leaving for Quantico earlier today referenced some text messages that were sent by an FBI agent involved in that investigation that seemed to be disparaging toward the president. He called those messages disgraceful, but the comments that he made at this academy, which we should note were for state and local law enforcement officials, it was physically at the FBI headquarters, but he was addressing folks who are going back home to their states. Here's a little bit of what he had to say to them today.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I want you to deliver a message to your fellow officers -- the president of the United States has your back 100 percent. I will fight for you, and I will never ever let you down, ever.


PHILLIP: Lots of applause in that room for those comments. The president noting that he campaigned on this kind of message of supporting law enforcement, but his message to the FBI from earlier this morning signifies that he is not letting down on those criticisms and it's about largely undermining this investigation into his campaign and his associates that he called a scam earlier this morning -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. A scam is how he laid it out. Exactly, Abby. Thank you so much, Abby. Really appreciate it.

Let's discuss this, joining me right now, Paul Begala, CNN political commentator, former Bill Clinton White House adviser, Jason Miller is here, CNN political commentator, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, and Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist.

Jason, first to you, when it comes to these two Trumps that we saw minutes apart how can he be heading in to speak at the FBI and be literally slamming the bureau as he's heading into it?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Kate, one of the things to keep in mind is how strong a supporter law enforcement President Trump was on the campaign trail last year, and I think this was one of the hidden issues that helped propel him to victory.

Law enforcement had really -- I think under the direction of President Obama and I think people looked at Secretary Clinton and didn't think that she would do a good job with it and the FBI became highly politicized under Director Comey's leadership over this past year as we saw the back and forth with Secretary Clinton and the e-mails, and all of that nonsense --

BOLDUAN: But he's still slamming it today saying it needs to be rebuilt. It's not under Comey anymore.

MILLER: Well, that's why I think the president was in Quantico sending the very strong message that -- to law enforcement that he has their back, that he supports our law enforcement officers at all different levels, he wants to make sure they're rebuilding it. We need to get the political nature completely out of law enforcement and let folks do their job and make sure they know that they have the complete support of the president. I don't think that there's any --

BOLDUAN: Yes, but you have a lot of angry people seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch. I'll tell you -- I mean, these are not -- these messages are not the same.

MILLER: Well, where I think a lot of the anger is right now, as some of these e-mails and text messages are coming forward where we are seeing some very political commentary in nature that are coming from some of the different agents, that's where I think it was absolutely correct that Director Mueller removed these people from the investigation.

[11:05:05] Quite frankly I think the bar is probably set even higher now to make sure that folks who do have political bents or interests are removed from any investigatory process because we can't have that. We have to know that it's completely above and beyond approach.

BOLDUAN: So, Ana, he's slamming the FBI and critical, of course, of the investigation into the election, any election meddling, but his handpicked FBI director defends the bureau, who he was sitting next to on stage, his deputy attorney general defends Mueller, the special counsel, just listen to this.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women who are working as hard as they can to keep people that they will never know safe from harm.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: We recognize we have employees with political opinions and it's our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions. Pardon me. So, I believe that Director Mueller understands that and he is running that office appropriately.


BOLDUAN: So, is this now -- I feel like I'm saying once again, the president versus everyone else on this?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, we see the president versus everyone else even people in his cabinet constantly, right. Just this week we heard Tillerson say one thing about North Korea and the White House basically put him back into his place and into his corner and cubby hole the next day. It happens constantly.

We've seen that in this administration. They don't sing from the same hymnal. On this FBI issue, look, it's important for President Trump to realize this is not about one speech. This is about daily occurrences. It's about a tone.

It's about morale at the intelligence agencies in the United States, which he has been bashing constantly and attacking and questioning in order to defend himself for the last year since he's been president. He has got to stop that. These people are patriots and they put their lives at risk and I agree with Jason, I am glad that Mueller has taken swift action because this investigation needs to be above board. It needs to pass muster. If -- we cannot let it be politicized. Trump is not the one that should be attacking it.

There's people that can be attacking it and what we are seeing is kind of a coordinated effort within Republicans and the administration, and President Trump, to attack this investigation by attacking the credibility of the FBI agents that has to stop. The president of the United States is the chief morale officer for intelligence agencies.

BOLDUAN: I mean, and he really unleashed today on it once again, Paul. I mean, you served in the White House that had been under scrutiny and one be that did its best to undermine Ken Starr then. What is the difference here in your view?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, big difference between Ken Starr and the FBI. Bill Clinton's FBI director was somebody Clinton didn't like at all. Terrible relationship. Clinton never attacked the FBI in public. Never. He did not undermine their work because it's too important.

Even if you don't like your FBI director which was the case with Clinton and Lou Freeh, and Lou Freeh hated Bill Clinton. They didn't take that public. What the president is doing is undermining an investigation of himself and at the same day in the same hour he undermines the FBI and then goes and tells law enforcement I have your back.

Are you kidding? This is what he's doing. He is an autocrat and he admires autocrat. Yesterday "The Washington Post" had a story the people he most admires on the world seen are Xi Jinping, the president of China, Recep Tayip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Duterte, the president of the Philippines, all dictators. He like dictators.

Of course, his commander-in-chief, Mr. Putin in Russia. Anybody who challenges him is attacked. The FBI is now in tatters, the CIA is like the Gestapo. The federal judiciary as so-called judges. The free press is fake news. This is what he's doing. This is part of a coordinated strategy that our president is leading to undermine any checks or balances on his authority and it's frightening to me.

BOLDUAN: Jason, what do you say?

MILLER: Well, I think Paul is trying to essentially trying to hide the football here. Look, the fact that we had agents who are engaging in such blatant political commentary who are then involved in this investigation was very problematic.

BOLDUAN: Does it change your view at all, Jason, it came out overnight from yesterday that this same text message exchange also included criticism of Chelsey Clinton and criticism of Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder?

MILLER: Well, and they were criticizing Bernie Sanders. BOLDUAN: Yes.

MILLER: The whole point in being that you shouldn't have folks, who are that highly politicized involved in these types of operations.

BOLDUAN: Does it change at all that this all came out because the FBI was conducting an investigation, the inspector general, and that's the only reason why they have those text messages and the guy was removed? This doesn't change your view at all?

MILLER: No. Folks have an absolute right to be outraged over this. Again, that's why I said --

BOLDUAN: But he was removed.

BEGALA: Jason, I have to ask you were you outraged with Jim Comey attacked Hillary Clinton and tipped the election to your guy. You didn't win this fair and square.

[11:10:11] James Comey, the head of the FBI came out 11 days before election and attacked Hillary Clinton unfairly which tipped the election to Donald Trump. It's how he was able to sneak through --

MILLER: Paul, you're fine with it when President Trump is being attacked, you're not fine with it when Secretary Clinton --

BOLDUAN: I think you both are saying -- guys. You're saying the same thing just in a different way. Paul, you're --

NAVARRO: Kate, I'm the only one on this panel who didn't have a dog in the race and I'm bothered by all of it frankly. I was bothered when Comey did that in October and I'm bothered by the e-mail -- the text exchanges that have come out this week. To me it was --

BEGALA: How texting your girlfriend is not the same of interrupting a national election.

NAVARRO: Well, I agree with you but no problem --

BOLDUAN: Hang on. I can't understand any of you guys right now, hold on, Jason stop. Ana, finish your thought.

NAVARRO: look, I -- I realize they are going to try to punch as many holes into the Mueller investigation because it is a serious investigation that is making them hot around the collar, OK. It is getting very close to them and beginning to nip at their toes. So, they're going to try to punch as many holes into it as they can.

That's why those exchanges worried me, because they feed those flames, they give fodder to that, and because he's laying the groundwork so that his base does not accept whatever conclusions they may be, if they are not positive conclusions for Donald Trump. I am glad to see Bob Mueller is doing the right thing and removing them as soon as, you know, he realizes that there's a problem there.

BOLDUAN: Guys, let me play one other thing that happened because I want to get your take on it. President Trump was asked about the possibility of pardoning Michael Flynn, his fired national security adviser, who is now charged for lying to the FBI. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see.


BOLDUAN: Let's see. OK, round robin, Paul, you hear that and you think what?

BEGALA: I am watching obstruction of justice occur right before my eyes. General Flynn is a cooperating witness in a case investigating Donald Trump. Donald Trump is holding out the possibility of a pardon to him. That is witness tampering live on national television, obstruction of justice.


MILLER: I think the president said now is not the time to talk about that and cracks me up to watch the partisan opponents go scrambling and watching their heads explode. I think it was very clear that he was saying this wasn't the time to get into something like that now.

BOLDUAN: Jason, let's not -- I mean, everyone except for me in this box is a partisan. Let's at least be honest with each other on this. But -- Ana, you tell me what you think.

NAVARRO: I think he had an audience of one, Michael Flynn. He's basically sending Michael Flynn the message that, hey, listen, if you don't turn on me, don't spill the beans, don't sing like a canary, I will consider pardoning you. Now if you do, you're out of luck.

BOLDUAN: Guys, always good to have you. Thank you so much. Great to see you.

Coming up for us, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson trying to, it appears, turn down -- turn up rather, pardon me, turn up the pressure on North Korea addressing the U.N. Security Council and the North Korean ambassador, North Korean representative there, just moments ago.

But, is he now today on the same page as President Trump when it comes to meeting with the North Koreans or is there now daylight between them? We'll bring you the remarks and we'll analyze it. That's ahead.

The president today also calling the Russia investigation a hoax, a top Democrat investigating Russia says Republicans are trying to shut the whole thing down. We're going to talk to a member of the House Intelligence Committee at the center of this all coming up.



BOLDUAN: Speaking at the U.N., is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disagreeing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and more importantly, with President Donald Trump on a huge and critical issue, North Korea. Here's Tillerson moments ago.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation, but we do not seek nor do we want war with North Korea. The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains the diplomacy will produce a resolution. As I said earlier this week, a sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin.


BOLDUAN: That sounds like preconditions are back on before North Korea can talk with the United States, which would be something different from how the secretary laid it out earlier this week when Tillerson said -- offered to sit down with North Korean leaders without any preconditions. So where are we right now?

CNN 's senior diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kosinski, is here with me now with much more on this. Michele, what is your take of what happened today?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: I love the way we keep trying to make sense of this, but it just keeps getting more and more confusing.

BOLDUAN: It should be clear.

KOSINKSI: It's supposed to be clear, but I think what has never changed from really anything we've heard is that there were always preconditions.


KOSINSKI: I mean, let's face it, when we heard Tillerson just days ago emphasize no preconditions, come on down, North Korea, sit with us, any kind of table you want, we can talk about the weather if you want, that sure sounded like no preconditions but within that, he also said, but you have to come to the table first with a view of changing things.

That sounds like a precondition. He also said that there should be a period of silence, meaning no missile tests while talks would be going on, also sounds like a precondition.

[11:20:07] And he said that containment of their nuclear program is not an option. So, the goal is always denuclearization. That sounds like a big if not a precondition to talks than a big caveat, you know, come talk to us, but we don't agree that you can ever have a nuclear program. So, there were always preconditions. What we don't know is why Tillerson so hugely emphasized no preconditions days ago, and then today at this speech, he was going to -- I don't want to say the phrase double down because I hate it, but he was going to say it again. We saw his prepared remarks and he took it out.

BOLDUAN: That's what I want to -- he's prepared remarks were released to the media.


BOLDUAN: And there is this -- there is this -- apart from that step there are no preconditions for talks, nor we accept preconditions from North Korea or others, and that wasn't said.

KOSINSKI: I know. So, he had that in there sticking to his original statement about no preconditions.


KOSINSKI: And then somewhere along the line somebody came along with a sharpie and took that part out. So, today instead of emphasizing, come on down, there are no preconditions. He is emphasizing there's a major precondition and that is you have to have a sustained cessation of --

BOLDUAN: Threatening behavior.

KOSINSKI: Threatening behavior. He didn't get super specific. You always want to leave some vagueness in there. You don't want to make it so structured that immediately North Korea is going to say no way because everybody would like to see diplomacy work here.


KOSINSKI: Maybe not North Korea but we would assume they would like some conversation. So, he's emphasizing you need -- first you need sustained cessation of what you've been doing and then we can talk. So, it's not completely different, but it's different.

BOLDUAN: I think the one thing we know it's not -- it's not offering more clarity --

KOSINSKI: Have we cleared any of this up? I'm not sure.

BOLDUAN: Does anyone have more clarity. Great to see you, Michelle. Thank you so much.

Let's get a little more perspective on this as well, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, former State Department spokesman, and Elise Labott, CNN global affairs correspondent.

John, can you give me your take? Is there daylight now between Tillerson and Tillerson? Daylight now between Tillerson and Trump? I am confused. REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think what you're saying play out here, Kate, is actually differences of approach between the National Security Council and their staff led by General McMaster and the State Department and DOD on the other end.

I think it's less about Trump and Tillerson than it is Tillerson and McMaster. McMaster has taken a more muscular approach I think to North Korea than state or DOD are really interested in doing it.

I think that Tillerson said this, he said this no precondition thing in a Q&A, wasn't part of his prepared remarks earlier this week, but I think it was kind of on the spot. He just kind of did it. Now whether that was a strategy behind it I don't know.

But it clearly was not in keeping with where the White House, particularly the National Security Council, wanted to be on the conditions for which to talk to the North. That policy, interestingly enough, has not changed, even from the Obama days that there has to be a commitment by North Korea to denuclearize before we would sit down and have any meaningful negotiations and that's still their policy today.

BOLDUAN: Elise, what are you hearing behind the scenes on this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I completely agree with John. I don't think that Secretary Tillerson was trying to make any new policy. In fact, aides say he doesn't. He was going, you know, into that speech, he made his speech laying out the policy that Admiral Kirby just talked about, but then in a Q&A off the cuff was trying to be harder and say, hey, we can talk, we don't have to sit down and talk about -- I think he's talking tough about talk --

BOLDUAN: But what he said at the Atlantic Council it wasn't like, well, you know, he said, we're ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Off the cuff that's a bit of a mess if that's not what you mean.

LABOTT: I think we have to distinguish here between meaningful negotiations as John was saying and kind of striking up a dialogue. Look, I think it's no question that Secretary Tillerson wants to get North Korea to the table.


LABOTT: And you not only have the nuclear issue, you have some detained Americans that are being held by North Korea, that has been used in the last several months as kind of a way to get the North Koreans having a dialogue today.

I mean, you have today for the first time, North Korea -- not the first time but in a very long time, a North Korean diplomat addressing the U.N. Security Council for the first time ever, a U.S. secretary of state is sitting in the council for that.

And so even though the U.S. is staying firm on the idea that it will not have negotiations on a nuclear agreement, unless, you know, ultimate denuclearization North Korea giving up its nuclear program is on the table, but would he have a conversation with a North Korean diplomat in order to move towards that goal? I think yes.

[11:25:05] And even today in the council, what he might have taken out the preconditions thing, but he also said, I'm really glad to have the North Korean ambassador here so that we can talk to him directly.

So, I think we need to make the distinguish between formal talks, formal negotiations and just kind of chatting about the weather or anything like that.

BOLDUAN: Well, still, another distinction of who speaks for the U.S. foreign policy? Is it Rex Tillerson still today or is it now Donald Trump? Because there is a lot of reporting about who's listening, who's listening to whom anymore. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. What a huge issue.

OK, coming up for us, as Republicans race against the clock to pass their tax reform bill, again a clock that they have set themselves remember that, self-imposed deadline, Marco Rubio is throwing a wrench in the plan saying he is a no. This bill will be locked down in minutes. Will Rubio get what he needs to get to a yes. This is a critical time period for this bill and the success on the Hill. We'll get to it.

And one of President Trump's picks for federal district judge unable to answer basic questions about the law. The exchange between that nominee and the Republican senator. That's coming up.