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Senator Mark Water Warns Trump Against Firing Special Counsel Mueller; Interview with Senator Roger Wicker; U.N. to Vote on Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:30:43] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: New reaction from Capitol Hill over the Russia probe and the future of Special Counsel Bob Mueller's job.

Our Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

You just spoke to Republican, Democrat, what are they saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. We're actually outside a closed hearing right now where the FBI deputy director is meeting with two different House committees and will undoubtedly get a grilling particularly from Republicans who believe that the FBI investigation into the Clinton e-mail server issue was not handled properly, they're concerned about potential FBI impartiality when it comes to the Robert Mueller investigation.

And there are concerns about the FBI's relationship with Christopher Steele, who is that British agent who put together that dossier including the allegations of Russia and Trump connections. This is the second hearing that McCabe will -- has faced this week. Earlier this week he met with the House Intelligence Committee as well, but Democrats here on this committee are raising concerns that this is all part of an effort to undercut the key institutions, the investigations, to undercut Robert Mueller's own investigation as a way to either discredit him or try to move to potentially fire Robert Mueller.

Now the top Democrat on the committee -- on the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, just spoke to us about what his concerns are. Here's what he said.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: This is a fight for the soul of our democracy. Nothing less. And so I'm going to work hard to make sure we save that democracy and I will fight until I die.

RAJU: What do you mean, save our democracy?


RAJU: Now he was raising concerns about the potential of firing Robert Mueller. The White House, of course, has denied that they're even considering that action and one member of the House Oversight Committee, a Republican member, Mark Meadows, as he entered this hearing and said he had this conversation with the president about this, about firing Robert Mueller, he said he wouldn't do that. This is what Meadows said.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: There's not a concern in terms of trying to discredit the special prosecutor that has been not only established but continues to investigate and so Robert Mueller is not a subject of our investigation.

RAJU: How would you react to the president takes steps to get rid of Mueller?


RAJU: And some members, some Republicans are taking it a little bit further. Bob Corker we heard today said there would be an uprising if the president did fire Robert Mueller and I can tell you that speaking to Republican members up here, senators in particular, they don't want the president to go that route which is probably one reason why the White House is sending signals that they're not taking that step.

But, still, on the House side there are a number of Republicans who don't like the way Robert Mueller has moved forward. They think his team has been impartial and they also think that the FBI has had its issues, too, which is why Andrew McCabe, behind closed doors, is going to get an earful, particularly from Republicans, on these two committees -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Manu Raju, on the Hill, thank you for that reporting. Important.

It was sold as a middle class tax cut. You heard it over and over from the president. So why then did President Trump say corporate tax cuts were actually, quote, "the biggest factor" in the GOP tax plan. He said that yesterday.

Also the major part of the bill that the president told Republicans not to talk about. Ahead.


[10:38:25] HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures of the United Nations General Assembly where all of the members are voting now on a resolution to reject the president's naming of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, recognizing that by the United States.

The U.N. -- the U.S. saying it will be taking names on this one for any country that goes against them. Pretty much all are expected to. We'll keep an eye on that, see if Nikki Haley makes any comments.

Meantime, several Republican lawmakers are now floating the theory that the Department of Justice and the FBI led by former FBI director James Comey were part of a coordinated plot against candidate Donald Trump.

My co-pilot typically on the show, John Berman, spoke to one of those lawmakers last night, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan. Here's the exchange.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Was James Comey part of a plot to keep Donald Trump from being president?

REP JIM JORDAN, (R), OHIO: We'll find out. We'll find out. All I know is the text message from Lisa -- from Peter Strzok to Lisa Paige sure points to that being --

BERMAN: Again --

JORDAN: Being what looks like took place.

BERMAN: Why then did he come out again and reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and never even tell us before the election about the investigation into alleged Trump collusion? If he was trying to keep Donald Trump from getting elected, don't you think he might tell voters that?

JORDAN: We'll have to find out. Yes. We'll have to find out.


HARLOW: You should watch the whole exchange, it's about 20 minutes long online.

Joining me now, Republican senator of Mississippi, Roger Wicker.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for being here, sir.

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Glad to be with you.

HARLOW: So what do you make of assertions like that, like what we heard from Representative Jim Jordan last night? These Republican colleagues of yours in Congress making assertions like this, not based in fact that we see.

[10:40:08] Is it responsible?

WICKER: I haven't heard much talk about it but I have to agree with Jim Jordan. We'll see. The questions will be asked and a lot of information comes out when people start poking around.

HARLOW: So you're OK with Congressman Jim Jordan and others making assertions and allegations that there was a coordinated effort at the top levels of intelligence including at the FBI to, you know, campaign against then candidate Donald Trump?

WICKER: Well --

HARLOW: Because that's what he kept saying over and over again. WICKER: OK, that's not --

HARLOW: Are you comfortable with that?

WICKER: That's not what I just heard him say. What I just heard him say was we'll see, we'll ask questions, we'll investigate and see what comes out. So I'll go back and listen to the full 20 minutes. It's probably a good interview. But the part that you just showed, I have no problem with. Let's find where the information leads and see to what extent there was or was not any bias.

HARLOW: It is a good interview and I think you'll enjoy watching the whole thing.


HARLOW: It's very important. As you know, your fellow senator, Mark Warner, on the floor of the Senate yesterday said he's alarmed by what he calls this coordinated nature of attacks against the Special Counsel Bob Mueller and he said any attempt by the president to remove him or pardon witnesses would be a gross abuse of power.

Are you, sir, in your position as senator, aware of any coordination between your Republican colleagues in the White House to attack or discredit the Mueller investigation? Any coordinated effort?

WICKER: No, I'm not. But let me just make a prediction here four days before Christmas. Robert Mueller is not going to be fired. The president made that clear two days ago. And also, in case anybody is worried about it based on reports, there's not going to be a government shutdown. So that's my prediction. I think I'm -- I think I'm 99.9 percent certain that I'm going to be right on that and we'll have a nice Christmas and get back after the new year. Mr. Mueller will still be in place and the government will be funded.

HARLOW: Let me get your take on the tax bill that was passed yesterday that's headed to the president's desk today. So the president came out as you know and he talked about it yesterday and he said about corporate tax cuts, quote, "that's probably the biggest factor in our plan." That's much different than the promise over and over again that this would be a broad-sweeping middle class tax cut.

He also said that repealing the individual mandate as part of Obamacare, he said that he told Republicans to be quiet about that. Don't talk about that too much, be quiet about that. Were the American people at all misled in your opinion by the president on those two big fronts?

WICKER: OK. Well, the lowering the corporate tax rate was always a big part of it and it's something I've always talked about. You know, we had a 35 percent corporate tax rate, Europe was down around 20 percent, the same for Asia, give or take a point or two. So we were out of competition with the rest of the world. So --

HARLOW: Look, President Obama wanted to lower the corporate tax rate -- WICKER: -- I've been happy about that.

HARLOW: -- to 28 percent in 2012. I get that. What I'm asking you is the president and his team kept selling this as no cuts for the wealthy and a big middle class tax cuts, and then he said yesterday the biggest part of this was the corporate tax cuts. Did he mislead the American people?

WICKER: Well, look -- no, he didn't and I think it's unfair to mischaracterize that. This is an incentive for job creators and basically what we've been doing the last few years is taxing job creators at 35 percent while the rest of the world was down around 20 percent.

HARLOW: How do you know they're going to create jobs?

WICKER: We've been proud of that.

HARLOW: How do you know they're going to create jobs? Because I know you saw that Yale study that came out yesterday that said that of the Fortune 500 CEOs that they surveyed, only 14 percent said they're going to use the savings from this tax plan for capital investments and that means job creation.

WICKER: Well, that was --

HARLOW: I mean, you have no guarantee, do you?

WICKER: That was a study by Yale University. Look, I think --

HARLOW: Yes. It's a good university, is it not, Senator?

WICKER: OK. Let me answer your question. I think job creators respond to incentives and when you tax job creators at 35 percent and other countries can get the job done at 20 percent or 19 percent, that is a huge incentive to ship jobs overseas.

HARLOW: But then why aren't these CEOs saying --

WICKER: I am absolutely convinced about that.

HARLOW: Why aren't -- I hear you and I hope you're right. I hope for the American people that want these jobs, you're right. But there is nothing in this bill --

WICKER: Well, thank you for that. That would be great.

HARLOW: Of course. There's nothing in this bill, though, that mandates the companies use any of this for hiring.

WICKER: Well --

HARLOW: There's nothing in the bill that says it can't all go back as history has shown that it has, to dividends and share buybacks. And as you know your Democratic colleague --

WICKER: The approach --

HARLOW: -- Sherrod Brown tried to put that in, tried to put a mandate in that would have guaranteed some hiring and these CEOs, the majority of them aren't saying they're going to hire.

[10:45:07] So I'm just asking you, how do you know this is going to create jobs?

WICKER: I believe it's going to create jobs, and, of course, the approach of the left would be to do some mandates on what businesses should do. I think they respond and basically how do I know this, because they have responded in past years to incentives and I'm convinced they're going to do so again. You know, that's not the only thing about the tax bill.

HARLOW: That's not.

WICKER: We also -- we cut taxes on the middle class, we doubled the standard deduction and we doubled the child tax credit. So there's a lot more to it.

HARLOW: You did. And look, Brookings says 80 percent of American families are going to get a tax cut next year because of this and I've said that over and over again. It's also true --

WICKER: And we ought to celebrate that at Christmas time.

HARLOW: -- that the wealthy are going to get more. That the wealthy are going to get more.

Let me ask you, in your state of Mississippi, has any CEO told you, I'm going to create jobs because of this?

WICKER: I haven't asked them, but I'm convinced they will.

HARLOW: Why? But why wouldn't you ask them?

WICKER: Well, you know --

HARLOW: You're voting on a belief, Senator. You said I believe they'll create jobs.

WICKER: Now, Poppy, what if I told you that before I voted on bills I went around asking CEOs what they thought. I've talked to hundreds, thousands of recipients.

HARLOW: You said this will create jobs. You said this will create jobs.

WICKER: I've talked to thousands of my constituents and they say it's a good idea.

HARLOW: Those are the folks that create jobs.

WICKER: They celebrate it.

HARLOW: I think -- I think it would be a pretty apt question to say if this happens would this lead to job creation, no?

WICKER: I've talked to thousands, hundreds or thousands of Mississippians. This tax cut is wildly popular back home and I think most people share my conviction that job creators respond to incentives and we're lifting a huge burden on people that want to create more jobs.

HARLOW: OK. Our polling shows the most recent polling out yesterday shows 33 percent of Americans favor it. Only 33 percent of Americans favor it.

WICKER: I'm not surprised -- I'm not surprised at that based on the misstatements that have been said. But the reality is, in January or February of next year, people are going to start seeing more take-home pay, less taxes taken out of their paycheck, and then in the coming months I think the economy is going to boom.

Perhaps I'm wrong and if I am I'll stand corrected. But that would be contrary to what's happened as a result of many, many tax cuts in the past.

HARLOW: Let's hope the economy keeps booming as it has been. Let me get you on one other thing, switching gears to the very important issue of sexual misconduct and mistreatment of women across sectors and within Congress clearly.

Yesterday on the "Today" show Savannah Guthrie had Paul Ryan on talking about taxes and she also asked him very importantly about the women that have come forward with these allegations against the president including three women, Senator, who have asked Congress to investigate these claims. Here's what the House speaker said.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, as you know, the person charged with that -- of that committee, Trey Gowdy, has given a very articulate response. Those are criminal matters that Congress doesn't do criminal investigations.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC'S "TODAY" SHOW HOST: The White House's position on the -- on the president's accusers is that they are all liars. Is that your position as well?

RYAN: Look, I don't even know what all of these accusations are. I'm focused on fixing Congress.


HARLOW: The House speaker says he doesn't even know what the accusations are. He should, the House speaker, know what the accusations are against the president and do you see, Senator, any role for Congress to play in investigating these claims against the president?

WICKER: Probably not. And I think --


WICKER: I think Mr. Ryan knew what the allegations were, but I think he's correct this is typically not something that Congress would investigate. We'd be investigating ethics charges against our fellow members and that's being done extensively.

HARLOW: Why is there no role for Congress here? Because as you know the statute of limitations for a lot of these claims legally in the court system against the president would have expired. So why is there no role for Congress here?

WICKER: Well, you know, I'll just say, I think this has been litigated in the campaign. The American people made a value judgment about that and elected Donald Trump. And I really don't see any point in not moving on beyond that. Perhaps you disagree. But I think that allegation is pretty much been answered by the American people.

HARLOW: Senator, we have to leave it there because we need to get to the U.N. where Nikki Haley will speak. Please come back. Thank you very much.

Again, at any moment, you will hear Nikki Haley speak in front of the U.N. General Assembly. They are there voting on this resolution to reject the president's decision for the U.S. to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is a critical and very controversial vote.

[10:50:01] The U.S. really standing alone on this one. You'll hear from Nikki Haley ahead.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Let's listen in.

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: For the state of Israel. Both the current and the previous secretary-generals have objected to the U.N.'s disproportionate focus on Israel. It's a wrong that undermines the credibility of this institution and that, in turn, is harmful for the entire world.

I've often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body, and then I remember that Israel has chosen to remain in this institution because it's important to stand up for yourself.

Israel must stand up for its own survival as a nation, but it also stands up for the ideals of freedom and human dignity that the United Nations is supposed to be about.

Standing here today, being forced to defend sovereignty and the integrity of my country, the United States of America, many of the same thoughts have come to mind. The United States is by far the single largest contributor to the United Nations and its agencies. We do this in part in order to advance our values and our interests.

When that happens, our participation in the U.N. produces great good for the world. Together we feed, clothe and educate desperate people. We nurture and sustain fragile peace in conflict areas throughout the world, and we hold outlaw regimes accountable.

We do this because it represent who we are. It is our American way. But we'll be honest with you, when we make generous contributions to the U.N. we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected. When a nation is singled out for attack in this organization, that nation is disrespected.

What's more, that nation is asked to pay for the privilege of being disrespected. In the case of the United States, we are asked to pay more than anyone else for that dubious privilege. Unlike in some U.N. member countries, the United States government is answerable to its people. As such, we have an obligation to acknowledge when our political and financial capital is being poorly spent.

We have an obligation to demand more for our investment. If our investment fails, we have an obligation to spend our resources in more productive ways. Those are the thoughts that come to mind when we consider the resolution before us today. The arguments about the president's decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem have already been made.

[10:55:07] They are by now well known. The decision was in accordance to U.S. law dating back to 1995, and its position has been repeatedly endorsed by the American people ever since. The decision does not prejudge any final status issues, including Jerusalem's boundaries. The decision does not preclude a two-state solution if the parties agree to that. The decision does nothing to harm peace efforts.

Rather, the president's decision reflects the will of the American people and our right as a nation to choose the location of our embassy. There is no need to describe it further. Instead, there is a larger point to make.

The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations.

And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us as they so often do to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit. America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do. And it is the right thing to do.

No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that. But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the U.N. and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the U.N. and this vote will be remembered. Thank you.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaking at the United Nations there ahead of the General Assembly vote to condemn President Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

I want Straight to Michele Kosinski. Ambassador Haley making the point very clear there this day will be remembered, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: I'm so sorry. I didn't hear the first part of your question. Can you ask it again?

HILL: Absolutely. Sorry about that. Just making the point that Ambassador Haley was very clear in her speech there that this is a day that will be remembered.


HILL: And specifically remembered very clearly in terms of where these countries fall by the United States.

KOSINSKI: Yes. And she says that this vote affects how they view other nations that in her words disrespect the U.S. So this was similar to what we heard her say during the first vote. There was a smaller vote in the U.N. Security Council on Monday where she talked about this being the will of the American people, that this reflecting reality.

You know, she has explained multiple times now that in the U.S. view this doesn't really change anything and it doesn't change the final status of Jerusalem, but, obviously, we see most of the rest of the world feel absolutely otherwise. I mean, the U.S. was completely isolated in the vote on Monday.

Now comes the bigger vote in the U.N. General Assembly and it will be interesting to see how people vote. I mean, we know that there are some countries like Canada, Australia, others that are considering abstaining. We know that the UK now is not yet sure how it will vote on this, whether they decide to abstain to or they vote for the resolution that would be against the United States.

We've seen the U.S.' closest allies disagree with the U.S. stance on this and now we're hearing speakers explain that point of view.

HILL: As we're hearing, who else are we expected to hear from today? Because as I understand it, too, there had been a push, to diplomats, to Israeli diplomats, to reach out to high-level officials as was reported in "Haaretz," and make the case not only for opposing this but at the very least asking them not to speak?

KOSINSKI: Yes. Well, there is a long list of speakers. Interestingly North Korea has also popped up on this list. But it's just changed. In fact, we weren't expecting at first to hear from Nikki Haley and then she was just added fourth in line. So, so far, we've heard from the Palestinians, we've heard from Turkey, we've heard from Yemen, that is putting forward this vote today.

So we'll have to wait and see how the order goes and who speaks and who doesn't. But that's also part of the intrigue, the tension surrounding this. It really has been a striking rebuke for the United States' action on this and as much as the U.S. has tried to explain, even in a letter -- I mean, we know that Nikki Haley sent around this letter after the Monday vote to almost all of the U.N. member states and it was quite a friendly and polite letter saying, you know, here's our stance, this, again, doesn't change anything, we're not prejudging the outcome of peace negotiations.