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GOP Tax Bill Faces New Uncertainty Ahead of Vote; Trump: "There's Absolutely No Collusion"; Trump Considers Pardoning Michael Flynn; Trump Judicial Nominee Struggles with Basic Legal Questions. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:46] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump just a short time ago said he has seen the final tax bill and it's going to do well, in his words, and get passed next week. Do Republicans on the Hill share that level of confidence? The clock is very much ticking down as lawmakers sign on literally sign on to the compromised bill. And with their signatures that locks in the final language, meaning no more changes to the bill as of noon eastern.

One major wild card right now, Senator Marco Rubio, saying that he is going to vote no unless the final version expands a child tax credit to millions of families, something he cares very much about, that is definitely not the only thing to watch right now.

Following the bouncing ball for us, congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining me from the Hill right now.

Sunlen, what is the very latest on Rubio's ask and demand is this.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems, Kate, as of the last hour that Republican leaders are certainly making some progress in bringing Marco Rubio to a yes, but they are not officially there yet. Changes made in the last moments this morning to the bill really to appease specific demands from Marco Rubio over the child tax credit. Republican sources say the refundability portion of the child tax credit has been expanded in the final version of this text. That was a line in the sand that Marco Rubio drew definitively last night and threatened to vote no over that specific portion. As of this morning we still do not know if he, indeed, will move to a yes with get what he wanted. Will that be enough? Essentially the big question mark of the morning. He tweeted out this morning it needs to be significantly higher for low-income family, families making $20,000 to $50,000 a year for him to get a to a yes. As of now his office says we haven't seen the final portion of a bill, definition of what is higher in their opinion, and they're still TBD but Republican leaders are telling sources up here to CNN that they feel confident this will be enough to get him to the fold. They needed his vote but need many other people's votes as well. There are still big question marks.

BOLDUAN: Put out one fire, several more to deal with. The clock is ticking down. Great to see you, Sunlen. Thanks so much.

Joining me for more on this, chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, when it comes to Marco Rubio, let's start there, I guess, depending on who you talk to Rubio is a major snag in their plans or he's going to come around in the end and no one believes he's really going to like be the -- muck this up. Is it clear which way he lands on the spectrum this morning?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITCAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, or a third, which is, he's acting like a smart and cagey politician.


BASH: At the end of a very dicey and just ahead of an important legislative vote.


BASH: So you just heard Sunlen report it looks like they've upped the child tax credit, which I think at the end of the day, Kate, if Marco Rubio is able to get that, and get on board with that, and not only sort of -- look there's a saying and I'm sure you've heard it so many times from your travels in those hallways up there, just as I have, that smart policy is smart politics and I -- it's not always true but in this case it is. One of the biggest concerns of Republicans, certainly one of the criticisms of Democrats, is that this bill is for the rich and not going to help people who need it most. The child tax credit if he can up that deduction is something that will help people who need it most and also something that Marco Rubio can go home to Florida and maybe to Iowa and New Hampshire and anywhere else in the young man's future that he wants to say he was able to get this extra help in this bill.

BOLDUAN: Also, so this is -- these minutes ticking down are critical because this is when the lawmakers involved in the negotiation between the two different bills, they're actually signing it and so no more changes after noon, that's the plan. So if there are no more changes after noon, what then?

[11:34:57] BASH: Well, then it's going to be a big question mark as to whether they can -- the leadership canned the president himself can get enough votes and twist enough arms. It seems to be in a good place when it comes to getting the 218 Republicans on board in the House, but it is that razor thin majority in the Senate, 52-seat majority, not only do you have Marco Rubio, you have bob corker who didn't vote for the first Senate tax bill who has given not a lot of indication he will vote for this one, therefore, they can really only afford to lose one other Senator. If Thad Cochran, who was having medical issues, and John McCain, who is in the hospital, aren't available, you know, it could be in trouble. It doesn't seem as though there is an indication that John McCain will still be in the hospital next week, but he has cancer and he is suffering understandably from pretty aggressive treatment, so every hour is different. And so it's going to be not unlike pretty much everything Congress does this days, high drama, because of the to'ing and fro'ing and the narrow majority.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

Great to see you, Dana.

BASH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Every minute going to be different when it comes to this plan.

Coming up for us, the president says, "we'll see what happens" when asked if he is going to pardon or about the possibility of pardoning former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, a member of the House Intelligence Committee will be joining me to discuss. That's next.


[11:40:55] BOLDUAN: President Trump this morning staying true to form calling the Russia investigation a hoax and also a scam, and also saying that there is no collusion. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even the Democrats admit there's no collusion. There is no collusion. That's it. We got to get back to running a country. What we have found and what they have found, after looking at this really scam, is they've found tremendous, whatever you want to call it, you have to make up your own determination, but they've found tremendous things on the other side. When you look at the Hillary Clinton investigation, it was -- you know I've been saying it for a long time, that was a rigged system, folks.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck, of Washington, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the committees investigating collusion and Russian meddling in the investigation in the 2016 election.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. DENNY HECK, (D), WASHINGTON: You're welcome, Kate. Good morning to you.

BOLDUAN: Good morning to you.

You heard what the president said right there. That was him just this morning. Part of your job is looking into this question of collusion. What do you say to the president?

HECK: I would sure like to know which Democrat he was referring to when he said even Democrats are acknowledging this, because I'm a Democrat and here's my take, Kate. Collusion is hiding in plain sight. That's already been determined. Fact. Period. The Trump tower meeting in June of last year, the e-mail exchanges between Donald Trump, Jr and WikiLeaks, these are all proof positive evidence that the Trump campaign did, in fact, engage in collusion with Russians.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, if it's proof positive and fact and collusion was a huge question, why is there even anything left to investigate and why aren't people moving -- making moves on this administration?

HECK: Well, the fact of the matter that collusion, per se, is not a violation of federal law. You have to get into conspiracy and coordination in order to be able to assert the violation of federal law.

BOLDUAN: And it says, what, that I have not heard a Republican repeat what you just said?

HECK: Pardon me?

BOLDUAN: It says, what, that I haven't heard a Republican say there's proof positive evidence of collusion who's on your committee?

HECK: Well, that's proof positive there's a lot of foot dragging going on, Kate. The fact of the matter is that we are, what, 11 months into this and the president's objective grasp of reality has been called into question at every turn. I thought, Kate, the most interesting press revelation of the week was the story about how shortly after the Intelligence Community's assessment that the Russians interfered, there was a discussion among the Trump people and they all encouraged, including the president's son-in-law, to acknowledge the reality that the Russians interfered in our elections and, basically, he alone resisted that. He kind of gave a nod and wink toward it, regretted it and backpedaled it all the way. I think he's completely alone in all people in acknowledging the Russians interfered.

BOLDUAN: That is what is true, in saying that he has never placed a phone call to Russia, he definitely still today is not acknowledging that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the fact that the director on down has said it. Also what he said this morning was doubling down on his attack, though, that the FBI is -- in whatever terminology he uses by day, depending on the day -- a mess, that it needs to be rebuilt. There were issues, Mueller had to throw someone off his team when anti-Trump text messages were found on his cell phone. The deputy attorney general had to demote one of his assistants because of things that went on. Do you think that the FBI needs to be rebuilt? Do you think there are issues there?

HECK: I think the fact that Bob Mueller removed somebody for the text messages is proof Bob Mueller is committed to undertaking this investigation with the utmost of integrity. And, Kate, while you're mentioning Director Mueller, I just want to point out that the deep, deep contrast between the kinds of speeches that Bob Mueller gave out at the FBI Academy when he was director and that given by the president today. When Bob Mueller was out there, he talked about the need to engage in their work and undertake their work with integrity and always, always be committed to the truth, as opposed to engaging in the kind of fantasy attacks that the president engaged in this morning. There's an incredible contrast between the record, the public service record of Bob Mueller, dating back to when he was a decorated Marine serving in Vietnam, and that of Donald J. Trump.

[11:45:33] BOLDUAN: Let me ask you something else the president said, about pardoning Mike Flynn and his answer was, his answer was, "I don't want to talk about pardons with Mike Flynn yet." Is that reassuring to you?

HECK: If President Trump pardons Mike Flynn or any of the other people involved in this, I confidently predict it will be the beginning of the unraveling of his presidency.

BOLDUAN: You do?

HECK: Just as when President Nixon -- yes, you heard me do it -- just when President Nixon engaged in what is known as the saturday night massacre 40 some years ago. But, the other thing I think is important to remind everybody, Kate, it won't matter. The fact is, that the president can pardon these people for federal -- violations of federal crimes but cannot pardon them for violations of state crimes and one of the most interesting passages in the plea bargain deal that General Flynn entered into was a binding agreement that he also cooperate with state and local authorities as appropriate. So if he thinks he's going to give them a get-out-of-jail-for-free card, he's flat wrong. Once again, this president, who seems, frankly, on so many occasions not to embrace the basic and fundamental American precept of the rule of law, he just doesn't get it.

BOLDUAN: I've got so many other questions I do want to get to. I want to ask you about what Adam Schiff told Wolf Blitzer yesterday. He said that when it comes to -- a top Democrat on your committee. He said, "I think they view shutting us down as a prerequisite to shutting Bob Mueller down, and we see very disturbing signs that's what they intend to do."

Do you agree with that?

HECK: I think that the Republicans have picked up the pace of trying to get to the end of the investigation at a rate or at a velocity which is completely out of sync with what is necessary to do this job. I think they're more interested in getting it over with than getting it right at this stage. And I think that they are completely misunderstanding what the implication of that is, both with respect to the substantive work product we hope to achieve as well as what the American public's reaction to it will be.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Denny Heck, thank you so much for your time. Much more to discuss in the future. Thank you.

HECK: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, one of Donald Trump's judicial nominees struggles to answer basic legal questions at his nomination hearing.


MATTHEW PETERSEN, JUDICIAL NOMINEE: I was involved in taking depositions when I was an associate. I first came out of law school. But that was --


SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: How many depositions?

PETERSEN: I would -- I would be struggling to remember.

KENNEDY: Less than 10?


KENNEDY: Less than five?

PETERSEN: Probably somewhere --


BOLDUAN: The viral -- more on the viral exchange with the Republican Senator coming up.


[11:51:53] BOLDUAN: President Trump thinks Matthew Petersen would make a good federal court judge. When a Republican Senator asked the nominee on Capitol Hill about his job experience, it does not go well.


KENNEDY: Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?

Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?


KENNEDY: Have you tried or taken a deposition by yourself?


KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in state court?


KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?



BOLDUAN: Remember, judicial nominees are up for lifetime appointments.

This is not the first Trump nominee to face questions over his resume.

Senate Judiciary Chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley, said two others are not going to be approved in light of questions about their qualifications or things they said or posted on line in the past.

Joining me now, CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, for much more.

You saw this video and you thought what?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALSYT: I thought excruciating, painful, but revealing. This was obviously not an impressive nomination. The president has been enormously successful in filling vacancies on the federal bench with lifetime appointments and people who are very conservative on the courts of appeals. And these people are going to serve long after Donald Trump is gone from the presidency. If you ask evangelicals, very conservative people, who are the base of the president's support, why they still support him, it's largely because of Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and other federal --


BOLDUAN: Talk to me about this guy. I am no attorney and I may not be able to answer these questions, but should someone who is up for a judge in D.C. --


TOOBIN: There are a lot of lawyers in D.C. It's not difficult to find qualified people.

BOLDUAN: Should he be able to ask the questions?

TOOBIN: It wasn't that he didn't know the answer.


BOLDUAN: No, he didn't know some of these questions.

TOOBIN: But he had never had any experience. The questions were, have you ever argued a case, have you ever tried a case.


BOLDUAN: Right, and then you go on to these --


TOOBIN: That's right. He didn't know -


TOOBIN: People who are ordinary civilians should not be expected to know that Daubert Rule is, which, by the way, is a rule about how and whether expert testimony is admissible in front of a courtroom. If you are nominated to the federal bench, you should know that and have some experience. But it just shows how political this process is and how conservatives have been extremely successful in getting their nominees through the Senate, even though this narrow majority in the Senate is with Republicans.

BOLDUAN: He hit a snag. Two others have hit a snag. But the president has been successful in getting, especially in the circuit court, judges through. If these positions are not filled, what does it do to the nation's court?

[11:55:09] TOOBIN: There were lots of vacancies in the end of President Obama's term. And Mitch McConnell did not just keep the Supreme Court seat open, he kept the circuit and district court seats open, so that potentially a Republican president could fill them. The courts can function at less than full strength. But judges have a tremendous amount of discretion and the opportunity to fill these seats is the most important jobs any president has. It's lower profile than a lot of stuff we talk about.

BOLDUAN: We've talked about it. But worth noting, this was questioning coming from a Republican Senator.


BOLDUAN: This is how this is playing out.

TOOBIN: Excruciating and disastrous. What's your favorite adjective?

BOLDUAN: One of those.

TOOBIN: I know. One of those.

And it did not go well.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Jeffrey. Great to see you.

Coming up, moments from now, the language in the Republican tax bill will be locked in. But do Republicans have the votes they need to pass it? A big day today.

We'll be right back.


12:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you --