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Soon: Trump Leaves for Florida after Tax Victory; Trump Predicts "Working with Democrats" in 2018. WAPO: Aides want RNC to Install more Trump Loyalists; CNN: Deputy FBI Director could back up Comey's "Loyalty" Claim. WAPO: Aides want RNC to Install more Trump Loyalists. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:00:40] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

For President Trump Christmas break is one hour away. He is due to set out for Mar-a-Lago at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. Will he sign the tax bill before he walks out of the White House? We will see. One thing he must sign, the bill Congress scrambled to pass last night keeping the government up and running for another month.

Let's go to the White House. There's where we find our Kaitlan Collins. It's interesting. This is his first legislative win and it's huge for him and for the Republican Party and we still don't know if he's going to sign it before he heads out or if there will be any sort of public ceremony. Anything you're learning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, Poppy. We do not know yet and the president is scheduled to leave the White House here in the next hour where he's going to go to his Mar-a- Lago club in West Palm Beach, Florida, for that Christmas vacation and we've been told by several White House officials that they expect that he is likely to sign that $1.5 trillion tax bill that Republicans passed this week into law before he leaves. But there's nothing on his schedule for a signing ceremony. So it's unclear if he's going to sign that in public or in private. We know that he celebrated with Republican lawmakers here at the White House on Wednesday where he invited several of them to come to the microphone and thanked them. It's a very big victory party. But he hasn't technically signed the bill yet because it had to be formally enrolled before it could be on his way over here to his desk. So we're still waiting to see if we're going to actually see the president sign that first big legislative victory for the White House and for Republicans and on another note, something else that's also not on the president's schedule today is a year-end press conference.

Now most presidents typically hold a year-end press conference with reporters before they leave for that holiday vacation where they take questions from the reporters on the news of the day kind of wrapping the year up, but there's nothing scheduled on the president's - there's nothing on president's schedule to take one yet and as you know, Poppy, he hasn't held a free-ranging solo press conference since back in February. So there is a chance he will take questions from reporters as he heads out to Marine One and we will keep you updated if he says anything.

HARLOW: Please do. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much at the White House.

So, not to rain on anybody's holiday but in keeping the government funded for four more weeks, Congress has set up a pretty rough year ahead, Manu Raju on the Hill with more.

They did sort of save some really important things like children's health insurance, et cetera, for the short term, but they've got a lot to do when they get back.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. They really punted all their thorny issues into the New Year, which Congress tends to do when they reach these points. They tend to pass a short-term spending bill like they did that would only extend government funding until January 19th. That same point there's also be an expiration of government surveillance programs that have come under fire from civil libertarians.

On top of that what it also includes is that funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program that had already expired but that will only go until March. But on top of that, Poppy, a number of key issues have been punted. An $81 billion spending package for disaster relief for all these regions hit by these hurricanes earlier this year that was not included in the final proposal after it was not taken up by the Senate. On top of that there's health care legislation that had been pushed by Susan Collins of Maine as one reason why she voted separately for the tax bill, that health care provision did not get into this final package. They're going to have to deal with that in January, not to mention the issue of DREAMERS, the people who came into the country illegally at a young age. There's a big fight, particularly among Democrats, to try to get that on to this bill. Democrats in the House by a large amount voted against it over this issue. This has to be resolved in January too.

So a lot of key issues, Poppy have been left into the new year and this is going to expire on January 19th right before the president's one-year anniversary of coming into office, presumably another shutdown fight right before that or perhaps another punt, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. We'll see. Manu Raju, thank you very much. I hope you get -- do you get a few days off, Manu, I pray?

RAJU: You should talk to our bosses about that.

HARLOW: Oh, no. I hope you do. Thank you so much for all the reporting as always.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators Alice Stewart, also she's former communications director for Ted Cruz, Matt Lewis is with us, senior columnist at "The Daily Beast" and Patti Solis Doyle, former presidential campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. Nice to have you all here. [10:05:05] Guys, Matt Lewis to you, a tone of bipartisanship this morning, I think people are feeling good ahead of the holidays, the president tweeting about working with Democrats in the new year, feeling good about that, tackling infrastructure which is, you know, typically a very bipartisan issue. What do you make of it?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would say I think it's very nice that we have some bipartisanship this time of year. We'll take it while we can get it. I don't know how long it's going to last. You know we very well could have had a big fight over all sorts of things including defense spending, disaster relief, children's health care, it looks like we've avoided that, looks like the tone is going to be pretty positive. You know Donald Trump had a big accomplishment right at the buzzer here at the end of this year. He seems to be taking more of a conciliatory tone right now.

And you know, it's good time to be, you know -- by the way, let me just say as a journalist, I know we're supposed to be wishing that there would be this press conference and that there should be more questions with reporters. I don't think anything good can come from that. -

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Come on, Matt, what about the American people, -- shouldn't we hope to hear from the president --

LEWIS: I think what would happen is Trump would say something horrible about the NFL. And we would end up talking about that for the next 72 hours. So I'm in like Christmas mode right now and all is good.

HARLOW: All right. Have you already had eggnog this morning, Matt?

LEWIS: I'm not going to say what's in my coffee.

HARLOW: Alice to you, look, on a really serious note, some fascinating reporting from Maggie Haberman at the "Times," "Washington Post," et cetera about this really tense meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday, the same day they got their tax bill through, and it had a number of key players like chief of staff John Kelly, the president there, Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski the president's former campaign manager and Maggie's reporting is it tempers flared as aides vented their frustration with electoral defeats this year and concerns about the 2018 political map. Concerns about getting defeated by a Democrat in the reddest of red states like Alabama, and, you know, the thinking from Lewandowski that the president needs more folks in his corner in establishment places like at the RNC. You know some more about this. What can you tell us?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I mean, this is classic Corey Lewandowski. He wants everyone to realize he has access to the president and can have meetings and no secret where this came from. What the president needs more of is, loyal soldiers who don't have private meetings at the White House and go tell everybody about it. That would be first and foremost what the president needs this Christmas. Look, I think we can all agree that it would be best for us to work to get a great field of Republican candidates to run in the midterm elections and I'm sure everyone in that meeting agreed on. What happened here was that Corey Lewandowski got himself into a meeting, and he's on the outside. He doesn't work in the White House. He's not familiar with what they've been working on and what their plans are for 2018. While there are concentric circles with this group of people, he's not in the in the inner circle. So he goes in there and thinks he can still throw his weight around and that certainly wasn't the case and I think he learned that very quickly.

I do have trust and confidence that those others in the meeting have a good footprint ahead as to what they're going to do moving forward for 2018. A lot of that includes getting the president involved in some serious fund raising to help the RNC to recruit and further push GOP candidates, but more than anything I think we have a good, solid team in the White House and the last thing we need is someone going in there trying to pimp a book to get his name in the headlines.

HARLOW: Well, the president likes having Corey around. So we'll see.

Patti, to you, it may be messy, may have been messy getting here, right? This White House Oval Office meeting on Wednesday, you know is just one example of that, but if you look at the year in review for this president, didn't he actually get a lot done? I mean, tax reform, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, lot of lower court appointments that are very important, travel ban 3.0 through the court system? What do you think?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think he did not get a lot done, certainly not in the legislatively. Yes, he got tax reform over the goal line, but when you look at it, it's not a good bill and I think Democrats will be very happy to campaign against it moving into 2018. We have a very unpopular president, historically unpopular.

We have right now polling showing that, you know, in a generic race between Democrats and Republicans, Democrats win by double digits. And we have a resistance that is very energized and very female. We're talking about more women running. We're talking about women coming out to vote. We saw that in Alabama. We saw it in Virginia. We saw it in New Jersey. So I, you know, I understand that they had a very tense meeting, appropriately so. They've got some real headwinds going into 2018.

[10:10:07] So while, you know, I will give them Gorsuch, I think that was a solid win, but everything else is -- the Democrats can really sort of run against.

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, so the president just taking to Twitter. Here's what he writes, "Will be signing the biggest ever tax cut," that's not factually correct. We'll get to that in a moment. "And Reform Bill in 30 minutes in Oval Office. Will also be signing a much needed 4 billion dollar missile defense bill."

So Matt Lewis, the president is going to sign this thing. He keeps saying it's the biggest ever tax cut ever. He's right on one front, on corporate tax cuts, but that's about it. It's fifth when you look at overall tax cuts, Reagan, you know, JFK, Obama, extending the Bush tax cuts, et cetera. That aside, the president signs this thing. He heads to Mar-a-Lago. I take it you disagree with Patti says, this is great for us, the Democrats. We can run against this.

LEWIS: Well, look, I think every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And in politics, sometimes winning is losing and losing is winning, right? Barack Obama gets health care passed, you know he gets to pass Obamacare, but then Democrats lose midterm elections. And so, any time you are putting points on the board, even tax cuts which I know are supposed to be popular, but in this political environment, any time you change something of this magnitude, there are going to be winners and losers and there are going to be people unhappy with the messy process and the way it looks.

And so yes, I think Donald Trump deserves credit and so do Republicans, for a very substantial, maybe not the biggest tax cut ever as Donald Trump would say. But going out 2017 on a high note, but, of course, Democrats can run against this and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. I mean, if history is any indication, Republicans are in for a very, very tough midterm election.

HARLOW: And Alice, what do you do about that?

STEWART: You hope and pray that what you're campaigning on and what you campaigned for works out like you have promised. You hope and pray that this tax reform package does what it is intended to do, the average family getting $2,000 by the end of the year and a corporate tax cut hoping to boost the overall economy.

Look, we all understand and I'll quote James Carville again, it is the economy, stupid, and if the economy is strong and people's personal take-home pay is stronger come time for the midterm that is going to go a long way to help seal the deal for the GOP. But if it doesn't, yes, and the president's popularity ratings are still down in the mid- 30s. Then that's going to be a serious uphill battle for the GOP.

HARLOW: I would just say it's the economy stupid, until your approval ratings don't reflect a strong economy, which is what's going on right now with the president. Thank you all. Stay with us. We have a lot more to get to.

Meantime, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sending a sort of urgent letter to her Republican counterpart House Speaker Paul Ryan saying don't shut down the Russian probe. Is this all just politics or did something actually spark this? This as new testimony on the Hill may have corroborated FBI Director James Comey's claim that the president asked him for loyalty before he fired him.

Also, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer feeling the heat from his Hispanic Caucus members, several reportedly confronting him over the failure of Democrats to get something done on DACA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:17:35] HARLOW: The president will sign his historic tax reform in less than half an hour now. Now we have just learned that from the president's Twitter feed.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny outside the White House with more. So he's going to sign this thing in the Oval Office, but not have a big to do around it, not on camera, right? No questions that we know of?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: At least that is the word we're getting right now, Poppy. It's very interesting the president just sending out the message, just a short time ago saying he will sign this bill into law in the next half hour or so privately in the Oval Office. We are told aides and advisors at least now say that this will be a private ceremony, certainly a striking departure from how the president normally likes to announce or herald these types of things, particularly on the biggest legislative accomplishment of the year. It is raising some questions about why he didn't have a bigger event in the Rose Garden as was initially planned or you know, particularly someplace else here in the White House.

The president has signed so many executive orders this year, had so many ceremonies for different matters. This is the first real big piece of legislation and as of now we're told he will sign it privately. There are many discussions going on behind the scenes this morning and last evening as well and one sort of strain of this, Poppy, is that some of his advisers are worried about the president being, you know, taking a lot of questions here about a variety of other topics, the Russia investigation, other Matters here. So that is my sense of why this is now scheduled to be a private signing ceremony. But, you know, private or not, he will still sign this bill into law and it's his biggest accomplishment so far of the year. Just interestingly that he of all people is doing it off camera, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. It is surprising. Our Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

New testimony from the FBI deputy director may have corroborated the former FBI Director James Comey's claim that president asked him for loyalty before he fired him.

Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington. This is what is standing out to everyone from the 16 hours that McCabe testified behind closed doors under oath. This is what everyone is talking about.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, yes, at least that's what people have told us so far from the committee, and keep in mind, you know, it was 16 hours, over two days, two separate committees on the Hill where he faced some tough questions, and what we learned as you said is that he said that Comey, the former FBI director, briefed him on his conversation with the president where it's been -- where Comey claims the president said, you know, he wanted sort of loyalty from the FBI director.

[10:20:07] And that in some ways could corroborate Comey, who as we know, that whole situation is now under investigation by the special counsel. He also faced questions about the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. McCabe has some connections to the Democrats, his wife ran for state office and that had seemed a little bit of a conflict by some of the Republicans and he faced questions about that as well yesterday.

HARLOW: OK. We'll see what else you learn, Shimon, in your digging for what he said in those 16 hours. Thank you very, very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

All right, joining me now is Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. It's nice to have you here. Thank you for being with us.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Thank you so much, Poppy. Glad to be here.

HARLOW: And happy holidays to you. We'll let you get to your holiday in just a moment. But I do have a lot to go through with you. Look, you were there, you were behind closed doors in this, you know, the testimony that we heard, and you reiterated some of your concerns. You wrote that it was a tense meeting and tense testimony from, you know, between lawmakers and deputy director of the FBI Andy McCabe and you also write -- this is part of the attempt by House Republicans to baselessly discredit the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller.

That's quite an accusation saying this is a you know, concerted attempt to do those things. What happens until you basing that accusation on?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, thank you for having me on. Yes, I was part of hours and hours and hours of closed door interviews with deputy director McCabe. You know, basically, what's going on here, and this is public knowledge at this point, I can't get into the details of the actual testimony, but what publicly known is that there's an investigation again into the Hillary Clinton e-mails and the handling of that investigation. And you know, basically, I don't know if my colleagues got the memo, but although I admire Hillary Clinton, she did lose the election and it's time to move on.

However, we're basically back to hours and hours of investigations into these e-mails -

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: But that doesn't mean that you can't -

KRISHNAMOORTHI: -- in an attempt to undermine the FBI.

HARLOW: I hear you, but that doesn't mean you can't have two concurrent investigations. Devin Nunes has said that you know that probe you mentioned has been ongoing for a while. You said that this is an attempt by your Republican colleagues to discredit the FBI and special counsel. I'm asking you, I know what the rhetoric has been, but I also know what folks like Republican Senator Bob Corker have said on this. Just listen to him yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think, John, there will be an uprising and revolt. I think that's just beyond the pale. I don't think it's being considered. I get no indication from those at the White House that this is something they're thinking about, but there would be an uprising. That would be something that would not be tolerated, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He's talking, Congressman, about any move to remove Bob Mueller as special counsel. The White House has said as much, the White House counsel has said as much, the president has said as much. So what are you basing your accusations on?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, we know that there's a lot of coordination going on right now between members of different committees in terms of going after Mueller. We know that they are questioning whether there was political bias in the handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation by the FBI. Someone said that the FBI is corrupt. The top levels of the FBI are corrupt.

You know, I should tell you that the FBI, the men and women of the FBI, are some of the people who are at the -- you know, they represent the pinnacle of integrity, so hauling them in front of our committees to question their integrity is just wrong.

HARLOW: Let me ask you this, how -- I hear that and all of our thanks to the men and women who serve us all and protect us all in the FBI across the board, no question about that, but in terms of the attacks, the rhetoric against, you know, against the special counsel and his team, I think back to the Clinton White House and the attacks on Ken Starr.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, look, what we know right now is that the special counsel is conducting an independent investigation and we should let him do his job. We should not be investigating the investigator right now. And what appears to be going on is that Special Counsel Mueller is advancing in his investigation and there are some people who would like to slow it down and I just say -

HARLOW: Would you say we -

KRISHNAMOORTHI: -- what are you afraid of?

HARLOW: So you say we should not be investigating the investigator? As you know, there are legitimate questions about some folks high up on Mueller's team like Peter Strzok and those anti-Trump text messages.

[10:25:02] He's been removed from the team. But there are these questions. Do you really think there are no legitimate questions that you have whatsoever about any potential bias among anyone on the team when you say we should not investigate the investigator ever?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: No. I'm not saying that. But having 17 hours of hearings and closed door interviews over the handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and assorted matters is a big waste of time. Yesterday's session was a big nothing burger. Now we should have been spending that time instead on some of the priorities that matter to Americans, such as passing children's health insurance, finding a fix for the DREAMERS, passing a full year military budget. But we punted that instead.

So our priorities are wrong right now in Congress. We should be spending more time on what matters to average, ordinary Americans, and less time on re-litigating the election of 2016 and going after Hillary Clinton.

HARLOW: Do you -- well that sounds like you're saying, though, that then Congress should be spending less time on the Russia probes too, and the president, and looking into the president and those around him, do you also agree that the House and Senate committees that are investigating the president on Russia front because it's tied to the 2016 election are also a waste of time, Congressman?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, what I'm saying is that Special Counsel Mueller should be allowed to do his job, and he's outside of Congress.

HARLOW: Right. But I'm asking you, do you also think that the Congressional inquiries into the president and Russia and his team are also a waste of time because those are also about the 2016 election?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, let's get something straight, which is that all of our intelligence sources and Intelligence Community said that you know basically Russia tried to interfere in our -

HARLOW: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: -- democracy and our election. And so these committees are trying to do whatever they can to shore up our defenses against that interference and make sure that the 2018 and 2020 elections are adequately protected. I think that's worthy of spending time on. Going back and investigating Hillary Clinton and how she -- how her investigation was handled, I just don't think is a proper use of our time right now.

HARLOW: Moving on, you're up for re-election in the midterms in 2018.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes.

HARLOW: And I wonder how you plan to run and how you think other Democrats should run? Do you think it is a persuasive argument to run on, for example, Russia, Russia, Russia, or, you know, this tax bill is awful or do you think that your party overall, Congressman, needs a more proactive, positive message, here is the change we will implement and here is why?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes. I think that we need a positive vision and a positive agenda to run on. For me, the reason I was hired by my constituents was how do we grow and strengthen the middle class of America. And so, what I've been focused on and kind of my positive agenda has been focused on career, technical and vocational education. It's the idea that although a four-year college degree may not be for everybody, a post-second dairy education must be and if we provide the post-secondary education, we can start to fill some of those 6 million unfilled jobs in the economy right now because employers can't locate the skills and the knowledge necessary to fill them. -

HARLOW: Yes.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: That's what I'm running on in my district. It's a really troubling number and one that's not talked about enough. Before you go, you -- a number of other Democrats, wanted to see something happen on DACA, wanted action to protect the DREAMERS, not just Democrats, by the way, some Republicans want action on that too. It didn't happen. You didn't get it. So how do you go back and face your constituents. What do say to them when you come up and say, why didn't you do enough to protect DREAMERSs this year? How are you going to do it next year?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: That's a very fair question. You know, basically right now, I think that there are -- there's not enough attention being paid to this issue. Mitch McConnell the other day said he doesn't believe that DACA situation is an emergency however if you are one of the DREAMERS an DREAMERS and facing deportation - or the possibility of deportation in three months it's an emergency to you and that appears to be an emergency for our country.

And so I was heartened to see that Jeff Flake in the Senate said they that are with working on a bipartisan DACA fix to be introduced in early January. I really hope that they -- that they come up with something. I voted against the continuing resolution yesterday in part because I didn't see any meaningful progress on this issue along with the other issues I talked about children's health insurance, full-year military budget and disaster relief and so forth. So let's get back to town, let's work on this in a bipartisan way, and the season of, you know, recognizing the humanity in our fellow men and women.