Return to Transcripts main page


W.H. Plans For News Conference Scrapped, Fearing Russia Questions; Pelosi Urges Ryan Not To Let House Russia Probe Shut Down; Democrats, GOP Deeply Divided on Sexual Harassment Views; Trump's Longtime Assistant Interviewed in Russia Probe. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:35] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: OutFront next, the White House grabs an end of the year press conference. So why did Trump's advisers overrule the president? Plus, Russia investigators talk to Trump's long time assistant. Who is Rhoda Graff and what does she know?

Plus, the president hunkers down at Mar-a-Lago. Why the luxury estate always seems to be in the middle of controversy. Let's go "OutFront."

Good evening. I'm Pamela Brown in for Erin Burnett. And "OutFront" tonight, not meeting the press. The president left Washington today without holding a traditional end of the year press conference. Something we are told Trump wanted to do. It's a surprising decision given the president could tout his biggest legislative accomplishment to date. The sweeping tax bill that is now the law of the land.

But White House advisers overruled the president, we're told. Two White House officials telling CNN the fear was over questions about Russia, questions they clearly didn't want him to answer. But that didn't stop Trump from giving his own version of reality after he signed the tax bill into law. Here he is on Obamacare and the end of the individual mandate. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Essentially I think Obamacare is over because of that and we're going to come up with something that's going to be very good.


BROWN: So Obamacare is not over. 8.8 million people signed up for 2018 coverage. According to the Trump administration's own figures. Trump went on to boast about his own accomplishments.


TRUMP: We have more legislative victories than any other president.


BROWN: Well the bottom line is Trump has only had two major victories in Congress. This tax bill and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. And here's what he said about money from overseas.


TRUMP: We're going to bring back probably $4 trillion from overseas. Nobody knows the exact number, but it's massive. It will be over 3 trillion. It could be 5 trillion, but it's a tremendous amount of money that was fall (ph) overseas.


BROWN: And there's no guarantee the overseas money will come back to the U.S. And if it does, Fortune 500 companies report only $2.6 trillion offshore according to the Institute On Taxation and Economic Policy. Our Jeff Zeleny is out front with us tonight. So Jeff, this is the first time in 15 years a president has not held a year in news conference.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Pamela. It certainly is a change from tradition. Most presidents have year-end news conferences of some form or another, but for the last 15 years, they have had news conferences of President Obama, President Bush, of course going back even much further.

But the reality here is there was a sense among the president's advisers that they were worried that his accomplishments mainly signing the tax bill into law would be overshadowed perhaps by the Russia investigation or other questions that still hang over this White House, but the president seemed in a good mood.

I was in the Oval Office with him when he was signing that bill. He seemed like he was more eager to answer questions. I can tell you, Pamela, aides were surrounding the resolute desk there, urging reporters to leave the room there. They were trying get the president off to Florida. He did of course talk about the accomplishments and he also talked about things to come in the new year.

BROWN: And you managed to ask the president if he has any regrets from his first year, right?

ZELENY: We did ask if he has any regrets and he shook his head, no. Perhaps not surprisingly, but there are some indications that he wants to try and change things up, potentially in the new year, talking about infrastructure first and foremost, saying Democrats should work with him.

So I asked him if things would have been different this year if they would have started with infrastructure, working with Democrats rather than trying to repeal Obamacare. He said no, he wanted to save infrastructure for the second year because it's easier.

But Pamela, now the question is, it's an open question, if that's a wishful thinking or perhaps a new year's resolution to work in a bipartisan way on infrastructure, something Democrats now do not want to work with this White House. Republicans think some projects are too expensive. But that is one of the things to put on the top of the list for the new year. Pamela? BROWN: All right. We'll have to see how the view pans out in the new

year. Thank so much Jeff Zeleny.

And "OutFront" tonight, Steven Moore, former senior economic adviser for the Trump campaign. He was also an informal adviser to the White House on Tax Policy. Also with us, Keith Boykin former Clinton White House aide and Tim Naftali, CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library.

Gentlemen, great to have you on.



BROWN: So Tim, I'm going to just start with you just for perspective here. What does it say to you that the presidential seems to be breaking with tradition by not holding a year-end press conference at this point?

[19:05:02] TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, what's really interesting is when Mr. Trump ran for president, he pushed the idea that he was a great salesman. And he has been, he was very good at selling his candidacy. But he has not been that effective at selling his presidency.

Look at his approval ratings. Why he would lose or miss an opportunity to promote his program and to answer questions deftly, I don't know. He could, there are ways to distract from Russia. If he got a question he didn't want to answer, there are ways to handle that. You would think by now he would have learned how. But this president has only had one news conference. It is lowest number of news conferences for any first year president in modern presidential history. He doesn't have the practice. It's a shame. He missed a grand opportunity today.

BROWN: And you know, does it signal to you that his aides perhaps were concerned he didn't have the discipline to stick to an answer on the Russia investigation and that's --

NAFTALI: I don't know their motives.


NAFTALI: I'm saying that this is yet another missed opportunity for this president. He had a lot to say he could have said and he has to learn how to answer questions. Not every question was going to be about Russia.

BROWN: OK. Steven, I'm going to go to you because as Tim said, the president has bragged about being a salesman. Yet he says the tax plan is becoming so popular that he won't need to sell it much. Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, can you talk about how much you'll travel to sell this tax plan?

TRUMP: I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it's selling itself. It's becoming very popular. But I think it will really, you'll see something on February 1st when they open up the paycheck. That's when you're going to start to see it.


BROWN: The polls show, Steven, only 33% favor this plan. Do you think he's making a mistake thinking he doesn't have to sell it?

STEVEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well look, Pamela, are these the same polls that showed Hillary Clinton was going to win 40 states in November. I think we've learned that polling isn't very accurate in terms of, you know, how people feel about things. But look, this was probably Donald Trump's best week in office. I think, you know, it's interesting, you said he only has two victories. The Supreme Court --

BROWN: Legislative.

MOORE: -- appointment of Gorsuch --

BROWN: Legislative.

MOORE: -- and then of course this tax cut. That's like saying gee, only hit two grand slams in the bottom of the ninth inning.

BROWN: Well, to be clear, he was saying he had more legislative victories than any other president. There were two legislative --

MOORE: I know. I know. Of course.

BROWN: Stick with the facts there.

MOORE: I get it. I'm just saying yes, maybe he only had two legislative victories, but for conservative, those are really big really, really victories. And I got to tell you, there's a euphoria among conservatives of the last couple of days over this tax bill. We're very nervous about where it would happen.

I'm not too concerned about the polls on the tax cut because I think that this victory kind of does speak for itself and I do think when people see number one, how it impacts the economy and I'm predicting 4% growth next year or something, that would be about double what we had under Obama, and people will actually see the money in their paycheck, I think there will be, let me put it like this. I think Democrats, what are they going to run on? I'm going to get rid of the tax cut that Donald Trump gave you? I'm not sure that's a political winner.

BROWN: Keith, you were shaking your head.

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AID UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Where to begin. I mean this tax bill so unpopular. It's the least unpopular tax bill I think that we've seen in decades. It's less popular than Obamacare was at its lowest point. It's lower in popularity than the 1993 Bill Clinton tax increase.

How do you make a tax cut less popular than a tax increase? You do it by skewing the benefits primarily towards the wealthy with this tax bill does. Now, the president missed an opportunity surely today, because there are other things you could have been talking about, that he didn't want to talk about not just Russia. But the government has refused to do anything about the Children Health Insurance Program with 9 million kids who were left uninsured potentially, they just left town and didn't deal with the issue. They didn't deal with DACA.

President Trump said he was going to deal with -- he was going to be build a wall. He was going to repeal and replace Obamacare. He's going to lock up Hillary Clinton. He was going to drain the swamp. All these promises that he said he's going to do. He didn't do any of those things and we're left with a tax bill that basically just gives him a tax break and people like him.

BROWN: On the Obamacare, though, he does say he repealed the individual mandate which is essentially get rid of it. We're going to talk about that in just a minute. But just to your point on the tax bill, sure, it's unpopular in the polls, but as Steven pointed out, many more Americans will see more money in their paychecks; companies like Comcast, Boeing, Wells Fargo and AT&T have pledged to give bonuses, wage hikes to their employees. So do you think that that will change, that it will become more popular because more people are going to see money in their checks?

BOYKINS: What we're probably going to see is a one-time impact on this. I mean what's happening right now is there's some political stunts and publicity stunts by various companies that are engaging and helping Donald Trump to sell this plan because they benefit from the corporate reductions.

But in addition to that, we're also seeing that historically, wage increases don't follow tax cuts like this. We saw this in 1986 with the tax reform from 1986. Wages actually fell during period, four- year period after the tax cuts.

BROWN: Right.

BOYKINS: So no guarantee we're going to see an increase this time.

[19:10:10] BROWN: And quickly to that point, there wasn't really a political lift after you saw the tax cut in 1986, Steven.

MOORE: I'm sorry. There wasn't what?

BROWN: There wasn't a political lift. Republicans lost the midterm in 1980.

MOORE: Sure. Well, you know what's interesting I was there in '86 and I was working for Ronald Reagan at the time. And, you know, that's the last time reform the tax system and it's amazing to me, I mean you go back to 1986 and I remember the vote on the Senate floor to cut the highest income tax rate to 28%, from 50%. That passed 97- 3. It was supported by Ted Kennedy, Al gore, Howard Metzenbaum, virtually all of Democrats.

And it's amazing how the Democratic Party has degenerated to the fact that today or this week, not one single Democrat, none, not one in the House or Senate, voted for a tax bill because they said oh, it's going to cut the highest rate to 37%.

I mean I have to say the Democratic Party has become an antibusiness party. Yes, this, Keith, you're right. Let me make this point. Keith, you are right. This is a pro business, pro American business tax cut. It's going to help American corporations, American small businesses and that, but a lot of people on CNN have been saying. It's a pro, you know, Nancy Pelosi said it. This just helps corporations. Well, we want to help corporations. We want jobs coming back to the United States and put America first and boy --

BROWN: You also have to --

MOORE: -- you know, the Europeans, Asians are not happy about this.

BROWN: But go ahead, Tim Naftali.

NAFTALI: You know, this is not about the Democratic Party. This is about America. I wasn't there in 1986, I was alive, certainly. You remember Mr. Moore, Professor Moore, that because the 1986 tax reform was had so many problems with it, George Herbert Walker Bush who succeeded Roland Reagan had to fix it and it was called the 1990 budget act.

MOORE: I remember that.

NAFTALI: You remember that. Because 1986 --

MOORE: It was the worst --

NAFTALI: No. It was great --

MOORE: Disaster. It's why the Republicans lost the presidency in 1992.

NAFTALI: It's not about party.

MOORE: Yes. Yes.

NAFTALI: It's about country. The Bush-Clinton recovery of the 1990s is a product of both the first president Bush's approach to tax reform and President Clinton's.

MOORE: No it wasn't. Sure, Bush cause the -- there was a recession in 1991 after Bush raised taxes. How can you say that was a success?


BROWN: Hold on for a second. I'm going to let you come back.

MOORE: George Bush raised taxes and the economy went into recession. BOYKINS: Let me say one thing here Steven. OK, this tax bill they just passed that President Trump signed is going to blow a hole in a deficit for $1.5 trillion. This is something that even with dynamic scoring analysts, still talking about over $1 trillion out of the budget.

So if you're talking about being fiscally restraint and fiscal conservatism, you can't support this tax bill. That's the reason why Democrats are so upset about the hypocrisy of Republicans saying they cared about the deficit and suddenly when it comes to giving tax cuts to the wealthy, tax cuts to wealthy, they don't care about that.

In 1990 when Bush raised taxes, it was because he had to do something to clear up the deficit that had been created from the tax cuts in the Reagan era. So let's not revise history.

BROWN: OK. I got to give Steven the final word here. Go ahead, Steven.

MOORE: Actually after we raised taxes in 1990, the deficit went up. It didn't go down. We called it the worst deal of the century. And by the way, that's changed the Republican Party forever. It's now a party that realized that when you raise taxes, you don't help the economy.

But look, I think ultimately, this will be b resolved by how the economy does next year. If the economy really continues to boom as it's been doing under Trump, I think he will be vindicated big league as Donald Trump would say.

BROWN: All right. Thank you all. I really appreciate that lively discussion. Thanks so much.



BROWN: And "OutFront" up next, Nancy Pelosi now warning about Republicans trying to shut down the Russia investigation next week. Could it happen? Plus, the political divide on sexual assault. Why don't Republicans take it as seriously as Democrats? We'll show you some stunning new numbers from our new CNN poll. And Jeanne Moos on the Christmas gift for that someone special.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introducing the original Trumpy bear.



[19:18:10] BROWN: Tonight, House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi warning Paul Ryan not to let Republicans shut down the Russia investigation. Pelosi writing in a letter, "Democrats are deeply concerned by the majority's efforts to curtail the House Intelligence Committee investigation and its overall failure to address Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. We expect that you will take urgent action to ensure this investigation can continue and justice can be pursued unhindered."

"OutFront" tonight, Democratic Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee. She is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Thank you so much for coming on. I want to first ask you, do you share Pelosi's concern that Republicans are trying to shut down the investigation?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Pamela, first of all, let me wish you and all of America a very, very happy holiday season --

BROWN: Thank you.

JACKSON LEE: -- and a blessed one. We've had some difficult times. I absolutely do. And it comes from the tens upon tens of letters that the House Democrats sent to Republicans dealing with having a fair review in the Judiciary Committee of what happened in the election.

On January 6th, 2018, it will be one year to the date that the intelligence community indicated that Russia absolutely did interfere with the 2016 election and skew it, if you will, to candidate Trump. From that time, we have seen a number of Trump operatives be indicted including Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, Mr. Papadopoulos, General Flynn and we've seen the president engage with Republicans in the worst, if you will, abuse, of an individual and his work as it relates to Special Council Mueller. When I say abuse, he's been called corrupt, he's been called acting like a KGB agent. He is been called infected with bias or his investigation, all to taint the general population.

BROWN: Well you're not hearing that specifically from the president. You're not hearing that the president actually has been surprisingly quiet on Mueller and the White House has consistently said that he as no plans, there are no considerations to fire Mueller.

JACKSON LEE: Well, that's a very good point. The White House wouldn't have to say much because Republicans are saying for it for him. I think what would be helpful and what Leader Pelosi is saying to both Mr. Ryan, I know her letter was to Speaker Ryan, I believe the President and Speaker Ryan will do well.

Right during this holiday season to reinforce their commitment to the unfettered investigation in the House Intelligence Committee and maybe ultimately in the House Judiciary Committee, and as well the president reaffirm his affirmation of confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation overall. And Special Counsel Mueller, a Vietnam vet and a director who was appointed by two presidents--President Bush, George W. Bush, and President Obama. That has not been the tone from the White House.

And I might argue that what you hear is that as the Republicans continue to taint this investigation, both the special counsel and the intelligence committees in the House and Senate, this gives the president the opportunity to pardon some individuals that have been indicted. BROWN: And to be clear, the White House --

JACKSON LEE: Make that very clear --

BROWN: -- has said the lawyer for the president said they have no plans to pardon either. But let me just ask you, what proof do you have that Republicans are trying to shut down the investigation beyond the rhetoric that you pointed out?

JACKSON LEE: Well, we know that Chairman Nunez is having back room investigations. We know the Republicans are trying to distract from the Russian investigation, which really goes to the core of democracy. It has to do with how did we get to where we are in terms of the elections. I know there's dispute of how Mr. Trump got elected. He's now the president of the United States. But you certainly can't negate what the intelligence community said January of 2017, which was that Russia definitely interfered with that election.

What I see is that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are trying to call for a special counsel and also the president's lawyers, for an investigation into the Clinton e-mails. They're trying to distract away from investigation of Special Counsel Mueller. They're trying to suggest because there are individual agents who expressed personal opinions and they have a right to do so as American citizens. They were gotten rid of or moved away from the investigation immediately. That tainted the entire investigation.

They're setting the atmosphere for the American people possibly to be challenged as it relates to their confidence in the process. That goes a long way. That's why I believe it is important if the president is serious about not pardoning individuals, or serious about letting this investigation go forward and get to the ultimate truth, how and when and where did Russia interfere with this campaign or this election that his son did not rush to the meetings with the Russian lawyer and others when he heard there was dirt on Clinton, and that there were not other conspirator ways of trying to undermine this election.

BROWN: Let me --

JACKSON LEE: If the president was simply saying his confidence, then I would believe that would go a long way in giving us confidence that he does not intend to fire Special Counsel Mueller or shut it down.

BROWN: OK, let me jump in here with Paul Ryan's spokeswoman in her response to Pelosi's letter. In a statement, she says, "To suit her political agenda, Leader Pelosi would like to see this investigation go on forever. That is obvious whether it concluded next month, next year, or in three years, she will say it is too soon. The investigation will conclude when the committee has reached a conclusion." So when is enough enough?

JACKSON LEE: Well I think I totally disagree with Speaker Ryan's spokesperson. Leader Pelosi is a former member of the intelligence community. She, excuse me, intelligence committee. I'm on a intelligence subcommittee on Homeland Security. And I'm on the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee. We know when these investigations begin. We know that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. We are not in any way, wishing to push an investigation beyond its life. Beyond its final report.

And so what Speaker Ryan should be responding is thank you, Leader Pelosi, you can be assured that they have my commitment to the committee and to the leadership of the committee, Democrats and Republicans, that we will allow them to finish their legitimate work. There's no men of Congress that wants to make waste, that wants to waste time investigating and getting nothing from it.

[19:25:07] But we feel the atmosphere. We question for six hours yesterday, the Deputy Director McCabe. Of course, it was a confidential meeting, but it was driven by Republicans. They don't want to discuss anything dealing with, this is on judiciary, anything dealing with the idea of the Russian interference with elections or the obstruction of justice. But they wanted to probe Mr. McCabe on his wife's running for office.

So what I'm saying is they're creating the atmosphere to taint the investigation, both Special Counsel Mueller and as well with the intelligence committee that is working in the House.


JACKSON LEE: What we want from the Republicans is to be as quick to make political statements, which they're making, about leader Pelosi's very straightforward letter protecting the investigations. We will let Speaker Ryan to stand up and say this investigation is legitimate. I want my chairman and my ranking member to follow every trail and to finish their report legitimately on behalf of the American people. That would be the statement that we want to see.

BROWN: OK, congresswoman, thank you so much.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you so very much as well for having me.

BROWN: And "OutFront" up next, new reports of a warning from the RNC chairwoman to the White House about Trump's support for Roy Moore. A warning that fell on deaf ears.

And the woman who knows everything about Donald Trump interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there are bodies buried somewhere in the Trump organization on a graph (ph), will be able to point out where they lie.



[19:30:19] BROWN: Tonight, a new CNN poll shows a deep divide among party lines when it comes to sexual assault and harassment. Eighty- five percent of Democrats say it's a serious problems in the U.S. compared with just 45 percent of Republicans.

And when it comes to weather an elected official should resign over sexual harassment allegations, 78 percent of Democrats and just 37 percent of Republicans say yes.

And as for the president, 85 percent of Democrats say the way President Trump treats women is an indicator of his ability to serve as president. Only 38 percent of Republicans agree with that.

OUTFRONT now, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter, and co-chair of the Women for Trump PAC, Amy Kremer.

Ladies, thank you for coming on.

This is -- there's a lot to discuss here with the polls and everything going on.

Amy, I'm going to start with you. Are you concerned that GOP voters are on the wrong side of history with this issue?

AMY KREMER, CO-CHAIR, WOMEN FOR TRUMP: You know, I think GOP voters are upset about using this as a political advantage. It is definitely a serious issue and I'm glad that it's come to the forefront and we are having this conversation. Obviously, there's a big problem in Washington, but I think people are upset that they're seeing that this issue is using -- is being used to drive a wedge for political purpose -- purposes. And that's why there's a divide there.

And there's no, I believe that the Democrats absolutely are using that as a wedge issue and I think they need to be careful about that.

BROWN: I have to mention this though. You did support Roy Moore.


BROWN: We know what allegations against him were.

He lost after the allegations came to light. Even though before that, he was projected to win and women play a big role in handing him the victory, so it does appear this is playing into voter's minds.

KREMER: Pamela, I agree with you. Listen, I mean, we originally endorsed Mo Brooks in the primary in that race and we got behind Roy Moore because it was a choice of who is going to support and push for the president's agenda of securing the border and tax reform and repeal and replace of Obamacare, and Roy Moore was the candidate that was going to do that.

I respect the voters of Alabama. They absolutely had the information in front of them when they went to the polls. They made their decision. He has not conceded and I think he should concede.

But there's a difference there than say with President Trump that, you know, the voters had that, the information in front of them and they went to the polls and they chose President Trump to be the president of the United States. And so, we've litigated that. Alabama litigated the Roy Moore race

and it fell where they wanted it to fall and I respect that decision.

BROWN: Right. To be clear, you did campaign with Roy Moore, although you do say sexual harassment is a serious issue.

Amanda, what do you think is behind the divide here?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR OF SEN. TED CRUZ: Listen, allegations of sexual harassment have always been a political weapon. It's also used to drive a wedge against opponents. If you want evidence of that, look to the 2016 race where Donald Trump paraded Bill Clinton's accusers before a presidential debate. So, that happened.

But here's the thing. It's going to go back in Donald Trump's face soon enough, because Donald Trump has his own accusers. So, we're going to have another whole round of this. And what remains to be seen is this going to be a top voting issue. In 2016, it wasn't. Maybe it was because Donald Trump drove Hillary Clinton's negatives up to high, but it didn't stop him.

And so, the Democrats, how are they going to play this? All in on trying to beat this around Trump again and maybe they'll have some traction, because people are much more comfortable talking about these issues. I think people will be much more willing to look over Donald Trump's past with more of an enlightened eye. There are people that didn't want to touch the comments he made about his daughter because they thought they're tawdry.

I think the environment has changed. They have to go into Donald Trump character and, you know, if they're betting on just taking down a sexual harassment allegations, or his unwillingness to talk about that, it wasn't enough before.

BROWN: And, Amy, you do point out that yes, Donald Trump was elected despite the allegations of sexual harassment from several women. However, the cultural landscape has changed. There has been a movement and poll numbers among Republican women are going down for Donald Trump. Are you concerned this could hurt Republicans in the polls come midterms?

KREMER: Well --

BROWN: Sorry, her voters, voters will vote against Republicans come the midterms.

[19:35:02] KREMER: I mean, of course, I'm concerned. Absolutely. And I think the party should be concerned.

But this is a thing. Is that when you have John Solomon coming out last Thursday or Friday with this report about some of these accusers being paid money, their mortgages being paid off. I mean, there's a big problem there. And the American people have the ability to understand that. While it is sensational for us to talk about it and it's definitely an issue that we're facing right now in this country and I think it's good that the conversation is front and center, at the end of the day, when people go into that voting booth, what they vote on are things that affect them personally.

And we just saw historic tax reform pass and if President Trump goes out there and continues to do what he has said he is going to do, because he is the one person who's campaigned on tax reform and all these things, and he does what he says he's going to do, if he continues to do and that talk about the American workers and the American people and what he's going to do for them, I think in February when they start seeing more money in their paychecks and the economy is jump-started, I think that is what is going to drive people in the polls when they make their decision at the ballot box. I think that, ultimately, that is what matters.

BROWN: All right. Amanda, I want to listen to this sound from President Trump in talking about the women who have stepped forward against him. Let's listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. Never happened. Never. All of these lies will be sued after the election.

The stories are total fiction. They're 100 percent made up. They never happened.


BROWN: How do you think comments like that, Amanda, play with Republican women?

CARPENTER: Terribly. I mean, here's the thing, if the future elections for Republicans are about a great economy and tax cuts, great. But if they're about clips of Donald Trump saying that and having to answer for that, then that is doom. I mean, the RNC chairwoman who is a woman, Ronna -- formerly Romney McDaniel, apparently she had to drop that because the president didn't like seeing Romney in the letterhead, she went to the White House with the memo saying it's going to be a blood bath with women and they pretty much threw it out the door. Didn't listen to her.

If I were her, I would walk out.


BROWN: Well, she said if you back, Roy Moore, you know, you're going to do poorly with women. And he ended up backing Roy Moore regardless.

CARPENTER: Yes. So, he didn't listen to her at all, which is a huge sign of disrespect then followed by, you know, having to go back into the race. She made herself look like a fool. So, I would have resigned over that if I were her.

But like I was saying, if the race is about Donald Trump calling women liars, threatening to sue them and saying they weren't attractive enough to molest, doom. If they can manage to make it about something else positive, maybe we have a chance.

BROWN: OK. Thank you so much, ladies. Great discussion. Thank you.

KREMER: Thank you.

BROWN: And OUTFRONT up next, her name is Rhona Graff and she may know more about Donald Trump's secrets than anyone else. What did she tell the House Intelligence Committee today?

And the powerful place at the center of Trump world. Not the White House, Mar-a-Lago.

We'll be back.


[19:41:50] BROWN: New tonight, congressional investigators questioning a woman who has been at Donald Trump's side for decades. She is Rhona Graff, the president's personal assistant who gained the reputation as Trump's gatekeeper during her nearly 30 years working for the real estate mogul.

So, what could she know?

Alison Kosik is OUTFRONT.



ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For three decades, Rhona Graff has been one of Donald Trump's key gatekeepers. If you want to get to him, you have to go through her.

TRUMP: Thank you, good job.

KOSIK: Even on TV, she's summoned the apprentices to meet with Trump.

RHONA GRAFF, TRUMP'S LONGTIME GATEKEEPER: Hi. This is Rhona. Mr. Trump's office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He asked he to call you and tell him to meet him tomorrow morning at the New York Stock Exchange.

KOSIK: In "The Art of the Comeback", Trump called her my very loyal secretary.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": She would have possibly heard some of the phone calls. She might have been present in his offices for some of the conversations that took place, even sensitive conversations.

KOSIK: Discreet, efficient, loyal, a Trump confidant. As senior vice president of the Trump Organization, Graff is so much more than a secretary according to Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio.

D'ANTONIO: She's been keeping track of his schedule for 30 years. She's the go-to person if you want to connect with the president through his business enterprises. And even today, people will still go to Rhona if they want to reach the president in a channel way.

KOSIK: Originally from Queens, the same borough as Trump, Graff holds a master's in education. After working in sports marketing, an employment agency got her a job with Trump, according to what she called "Real Estate Weekly". In 1993, she married Lucius Riccio, who was then the commissioner of transportation for New York City. The mayor resided over the ceremony at the plaza hotel, which Trump then owned.

Today, both in their 60s, they live on the upper east side of Manhattan with a daughter in high school. She's the reason Graff chose to stay at her job in Trump Tower even when her boss moved to the White House.

But as Trump's right hand woman, she's now caught in the crosshairs of a congressional investigation. Her name mentioned in this e-mail from music publicist, Rob Goldstone, to Donald Trump Jr. in 2016, promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

I can send this info to your father via Rhona, Goldstone wrote, but it is ultra sensitive, so wanted to send to you first.

Now, House Intelligence Committee staff want to know what she knows.

D'ANTONIO: I would say if there are bodies buried somewhere in the Trump Organization and somewhere in Donald Trump's campaign or even his more distant past, Rhona Graff would be able to point out where they lie.


KOSIK: Now, we did reach out to Rhona Graff. We have not heard back. As for the meeting today, it was mostly consisting of congressional staffers from House Intelligence Committee. They are the ones who mostly interviewed Graff today. Though some lawmakers were expected to have been there.

But, Pamela, this may not be over because Ted Lew, a Democrat who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, he told CNN today that he would be interested if having Graff testify before his committee.

BROWN: Yes, it's not a surprise investigators want to speak to her given how close she's been to the president.

KOSIK: Absolutely.

BROWN: For all these years.

Thank you so much, Alison. Appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT now, John Dean, former Nixon White House counsel. John, what are investigators looking for from Rhona Graff, given just

how close she has been to him for so long?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it's clear her name popped up in the e-mail and that's what provoked their interest as far as the campaign goes. She's not at the White House. So, she obviously can't testify to what he's doing today. And what he's done since he's been elected president. But he -- they can learn from him, from her a lot of his pattern and his style of working. And that could be interesting to the staff.

The fact it was a staff interview is to me more interesting that the members didn't schedule her or bring her to Washington (AUDIO GAP) assume, (AUDIO GAP) were there. We don't know that yet though.

BROWN: As you look ahead in this investigation, the Russian investigation, what should be, we be watching for in the weeks and months ahead?

DEAN: Well, we should be watch for the longevity of the investigation as one of your earlier segments explored. A lot of people on the Democratic side are concerned that it's going to end prematurely before all the witnesses who they need to talk have been heard. The Republicans are holding it pretty close to the vest as to what they're doing. We know that there is some kind of subcommittee of the committee that is trying to discredit the FBI. And looking at that and trying to attack the Department of Justice.

So, these are all issues that r going to come to a boil eventually. And that's what we have to keep an eye on.

BROWN: We'll see you long it lasts. Thank you so much, John Dean.

DEAN: Thank you.

BROWN: OUTFRONT up next, why Mar-a-Lago always seems to be b in the middle of the action and controversies. Have you noticed that?

And need a last-minute Christmas gift? How about Trumpy bear?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Show your patriotism and proudly show Trumpy on Flag Day.



[19:50:37] BROWN: Well, President Trump is in Mar-a-Lago tonight, spending Christmas holiday with his family, marking the 106th day he visited one of his properties as president. The golf club also dubbed the Winter White House has been front and center for key moments during Trump's first year in office.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once every three days, that is almost how often he's stopped by his privately owned property since taking office -- resorts, hotels and golf courses from Hawaii to the East Coast. This holiday weekend, the getaway spot is South Florida where a cheering crowd greeted him on the way to his Mar-a- Lago club just hours after he signed the Republican tax bill.

TRUMP: And I consider this very much a bill for the middle class and a bill for jobs.

FOREMAN: This is the tenth place to the place she's dubbed the Winter White House. A good deal of business has unfolded there.

TRUMP: We have a great person right now in Judge Gorsuch. I mean, a great person.

FOREMAN: The president has used Mar-a-Lago trips to push a Supreme Court pick, to host foreign dignitaries, to unleash military forces.

TRUMP: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

FOREMAN: When North Korea launched an unexpected missile, he and the Japanese prime minister discussed it on a terrace as visitors snapped photos, making joint statements inside moments later.

TRUMP: The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.

FOREMAN: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's response? There is no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.

But the biggest question about the business of Mar-a-Lago concerns what Trump and his team knew in private when they gathered at the resort during Trump's transition to power. Investigators say during a few pivotal days, then-Trump security adviser Michael Flynn was talking to a Russian ambassador even as outgoing President Obama was preparing to sanction Russia. This is what authorities say Flynn lied about to the FBI.


FOREMAN: So, what exactly was discussed? Were promises made? Were laws broken and did the president personally know about any of it as he greeted the New Year?

Those questions about what happened at Mar-a-Lago have grown steadily hotter, so much so that his favorite Florida resort may not feel like much of a getaway anymore -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT up next, Jeanne Moos and Trumpy Bear. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:41] MOOS: Well, tonight, the Christmas gift that keeps on giving, a version of President Trump you can snuggle up with.

Here is Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prepare to be blown away by this Christmas gift just by the fact that it exists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind whispered through the forest, I come when the Trumpet sounds. Introducing the original Trumpy Bear.

MOOS: Is this really a thing?, reads a typical comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just find the secret zipper and pull out the flag blanket.

MOOS: This looks like a bad "SNL" skit, read another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone knows Trumpy Bear loves to go to the golf course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ride with Trumpy Bear, he makes my golf game great again. Thank you, Trumpy Bear.

MOOS: Is this crap for real read a third?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply style his trademark hair.

MOOS: You bet you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Order now for only two payments of $19.95.

MOOS: I can personal vouch for Trumpy Bear. He exists. We have one.

A company that specializes in xenon TV ads is doing the marketing for the woman who created Trumpy Bear.

Nothing partisan, the VP says. We'd like everyone to buy it, meaning Trump lovers and haters.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: Trumpy Bear is proudly made in America. I'm kidding. It's made in China.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most fearless bear anymore.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: That's right. He'll kick Winnie the Pooh's ass.

MOOS: Instantly recognizable with its red tie and its combable hair, no wonder critics are making small hands jokes.

I am disappointed with the size of its paws. One thing Trumpy Bear cannot do is tweet. No fingers.

Hey, if President Teddy Roosevelt can inspire Teddy Bears, why can't President Trump inspire Trumpy Bears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud to have Trumpy Bear ride by my side.

MOOS: Its maker is planning design changes in the New Year, but it will still come with --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The special certificate of authenticity.

MOOS: So that you know who can say --

TRUMP: Why doesn't he show his birth certificate.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless Trumpy Bear.

MOOS: -- New York.


BROWN: If you're confused by that, you are not alone. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Have a great weekend. "CNN Special Report", "Secret State: Inside North Korea" is up next. Happy holidays, everyone.