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CNN: Deputy FBI Director Could Back Up Comey's "Loyalty" Claim; CNN Poll Shows Huge Partisan Divide on Russia Probe; Israel: Other Countries Will Follow Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Bannon Hits Trump and His Inner Circle. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It could be very significant because as -- in this investigation, the Mueller probe goes forward and (INAUDIBLE) what he's going to try to figure out. What Comey said to other people in the -- after these conversations allegedly took place? The president disputed having these conversations with Comey, even suggesting according to Comey's public testimony that he urged him to back off the Michael Flynn investigation, that he asked for his pledge of loyalty which the president disputed on several occasions.

But, here is Andrew McCabe, the deputy director under oath to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week asked specifically about this and said that yes, Comey did tell me that soon after it occurred. So he gave -- Comey gave his contemporaneous account to McCabe.

Now, we do also know that Comey has said publicly that there have been multiple people that he has informed about this. So there other people presumably that also could back up Comey's account. So, there could be more than one person saying that -- what Comey said at least was accurate at that time. We'll see if the president agrees to say the same thing under oath.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It'd be interesting if we get to a point and we expect to get to a point where the president is interviewed by the special counsel, he said it didn't happen. But you have Comey, McCabe and several others with years of experience in law enforcement. Comey took contemporaneous notes and briefed people right away and gnaw what he was doing.

Went and told other people so that it was on the official record. That's how you build a case against somebody.

Let's move on to the other issue. I was watching another network last night that I often refer to as state T.V. here. And they were making -- there weren't touching that part of the story because of who it involves. But they were saying that, you know, McCabe is one of these people who they view as tainted. And they're working behind closed doors.

If the Republicans have a case, if they have a case that whether it's Deputy Director McCabe or other people at the FBI not sending a few foolish text messages but we're actually working with bias. Will they held a public hearing or they just have behind closed door meetings and then come out and (INAUDIBLE) people who've given 10, 20, 30 years of their lives to law enforcement?

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO: Public hearings for sure, I do believe. Devin Nunes, if you watch him at the House Intelligence Chairman, he's a Trump loyalist. And he's been -- we reported out this week he's been -- he started this sort of secret investigation beyond only his committee's investigation. It's an investigation specifically aimed at looking at criminal actions in the FBI.

Now, there are a lot of Republicans who are very uncomfortable with this. It created this divide in the House about whether or not, you know, trying to discredit this investigation is going to bar a questioning and making people question a law enforcement agency that is one of the most respected in the country. But, I think that Nunes, you know, is a dog with a bone right now, and they really are trying to make the point to try to discredit these folks in order to protect Trump.

KING: Just saying you're investigating to the base of the Republican Party undermines their confidence. Their chairman is investigating. It undermines public conversation and institution.

My point is, if they have something, bring it out in the public. We do -- if they have something, well then, we should see it. But if they're just trying to change the subject with behind closed door hearings and then innuendo, that's reckless.

MOLLY BALL, TIME: Oh, that is really the question. Is this just an attempt to delegitimize somebody at the waters and to create confusion? And that -- you know, you see as you mentioned that the echo chamber of right wing media really creating -- really presenting this one-sided portrait. And so, that is much more about persuading the public rather than, you know, coming up with a matter that Congress could investigate and do something about. It really just about convincing the public that there's nothing to see.

KING: And to the point, it works. You know, Speaker Pelosi writes that she wants the House investigation to continue. I think the Senate investigation and the Intelligence Committee sense that more credibility in town among people in all parties.

But the investigation that counts is the special counsel of Robert Mueller. He's actually operating in the court system.

And look at our new poll. The Russia investigation is a serious matter or an effort to discredit Trump. Ninety-three percent of Democrats say it's a serious matter. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say it's an effort to discredit Trump.

So, this attacking the institutions and the investigators and the prosecutors works.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that absolutely works. I mean, it works during the Clinton era too. You saw how effective that was and how it can start part of it to be a political document when it came out.

I think that's that it's easy for Republicans to try to follow this sort of the same play book, you know. There are broader concerns about what this does to the fabric of American society when you're trying to undermine an institution like the FBI.

So, I think that that, you know, is a broader concern and part of what's driving the (INAUDIBLE) right now, the concern about what Nunes is doing even among Republicans. But, you know, you're right.

Look, the house could continue, they could close their investigation early. You know, they could reach their own conclusion. But what matters ultimately is what Mueller finds. And I think it will still be difficult for serious Republicans in town to completely dismiss that even if their base may sort of believe that this is all just a joke.

RAJU: And expect next year, the House Republicans in particular to focus on the Clinton e-mail investigation which was why McCabe was behind closed doors with the two joint committees yesterday asked about how they handled it.

[12:35:07] They believe it was not handled properly. They believe what he said gave them fuel to the concerns that she was treated favorably as a candidate which is why she was not charged.

That can be a big focus for them next year. So, these investigations will probably, at least in the House will grow partisan lines and probably shape the narrative heading into 2018.

BADE: I would also say, watch Republican leadership open house in the Senate, Ryan and McConnell, also Senator Burr potentially (INAUDIBLE) who's a former prosecutor himself. If these figures start to agree with Devin Nunes and going to that direction, then, you know, this could be a potential problem.

But I don't think you see those types of members right now doing anything like that. So, right now, this two sort of dynamics will be interesting I think.

KING: It's a great point because when they come back, it will be an even numbered year and an election year. And sometimes that influences behavior of Washington D.C. (INAUDIBLE) probably help you decide. Sure, there's gambling in the casino.

Up next, why the former CIA director -- CIA chief John Brennan says some of the president's remarks mirror those of a narcissistic vengeful autocrat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:39] KING: Let's check some other stories on the political radar. Today, Senator-elect Doug Jones of Alabama, a Democrat telling a talk show last night that by move on, he actually meant from the contentious race in Alabama, not from the issues that colored it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: I wasn't really talking about moving on from those allegations. I think the people of Alabama voted me -- voted for me to put me up there to try to talk about health care and those issues. And I want to get in there to do those issues. But that doesn't by any stretch mean that I don't think that those issues and those women who have made these allegations aren't important. They are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A little clean up there from the senator-elect. And the man Jones beat in that Alabama Senate election, Roy Moore still has not conceded.

President Trump aboard Air Force One now, right now headed to Florida to Mar-a-lago, one of his properties. And look at this breakdown. Today will be the 106th day the president spent at a Trump property spread across his resorts and golf clubs in Florida, New Jersey, and Virginia.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin describing the newly laid out Trump administration international security strategy today with one word. Aggressive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The USA as you know has recently presented their new international security strategy. And diplomatically speaking, if I can put it into words, it is an attacking nature. And if we use military terms, it's no doubt aggressive. We need to take that into account in our practical work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Putin talking about what he calls violations of Cold War era nuclear missile treaties. He says the military build-up in some NATO countries are new threat to Russia. Plus, he says those NATO countries see things the other way around.

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley following through on her promise to take names after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to condemn President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On Thursday, Haley sent more than 60 nations an invitation to a friendship reception at the White House in January.

Among the list of those invited, nine nations including Israel, Togo, Honduras who voted against the resolution. Meaning voted with the United States. Nations that abstained or didn't cast a vote were also invited.

Well, earlier this week, you might recall, the president suggested a vote against the United States could mean losing foreign aid.

It's an interesting week from Ambassador Haley. What do we make of it? BALL: Well, look, this is going to be one of the really interesting -- it goes beyond Nikki Haley, but just watching what the reverberations are in 2018 of the foreign policy checks that this administration has sort of laid down in the first year. There's been a lot of destabilizing gestures made. And they haven't had an effect yet because these ripples take a while to reach the edge of the pond they get to extend a weird metaphor.

So, you know, in the Middle East, there's going to be continuing reaction to the move on Jerusalem. What effects does that have in 2018? The president's international security strategy is very aggressive as Putin said towards Russia and China. What do they do to respond to it?

The moves that he's made that had the NATO countries beefing up their own defenses because they don't necessarily think they can rely on the U.S. All of this and of course the rhetoric with regard to North Korea.

It's in 2018 that we're going to see, you know, does the U.S. follow through on some of the threats it has made? Does the president finally start that trade war he keeps wanting? What are going to be the concrete effects of all of these policies that the -- these things that the administration sort of put in motion in the first year?

KING: And words do have consequences. So if you look at the Jerusalem decision, and number one, you had the vote at the United Nations yesterday, a 128 countries voting in favor of the resolution that implicitly could -- the United States wasn't named but it was a slap at President Trump's decision. A 128 in favor, nine against, 35 abstentions.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says forget about it. He says he won't even talk to the Trump administration right now because the president has made this decision which for years Jerusalem has been part of the final status. Leave that to end, let it be settled directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

But listen to the prime minister of Israel here. The Palestinians are mad, they say they won't even entertain conversations about a peace plan right now. Prime Minister Netanyahu says President Trump might be starting a trend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We are not talking to several countries who are seriously considering now saying exactly the same thing as the United States and moving their embassies to Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which countries or from what continents?

NETANYAHU: I could tell you that, but I won't because I want it to succeed and I think there's a good chance it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [12:45:01] KING: It's interesting there because many people in this town who worked on this issue for a long time essentially predicted number one, they weren't getting anywhere with their peace process anyway. They don't -- Abbas is not strong enough and Netanyahu they don't think is interested enough at times. That this is a Trump administration essentially playing the plague with Netanyahu saying that's our Israeli policy.

RAJU: I don't think that politics are cut and dry here domestically. I mean, there are people in both parties that support what the president did. Democrats are certainly divided about this.

And I think that if Netanyahu is right and it leads to a trend that suggests that there are more people in the United States side than what we saw at the U.N. yesterday, perhaps the president will have something to talk about.

So, I think this will take some time to play out. And I do think it's really quite clear exactly how this will impact the political debate here at home because people are in sort of all over the map on this particular issue.

MURRAY: But I think in terms of the peace process, the Trump administration sort of felt like they had nothing to lose in this scenario. They sort of like they have seen presidents make this promise over and over again. They failed to move the embassy because they don't want to disrupt the peace process, but then the peace process doesn't go anywhere anyway.

And so, while behind the scenes, we may, you know, have heard rumblings from the Jared Kushner wing that things are going great and they're making progress. You know, Trump acknowledged publically, look, we haven't really moved forward with this peace agreement anyway. We'll see how this impacts it.

The White House couldn't say a little bit of the truth (INAUDIBLE). But I think they sort of fell like they're at a stalemate anyway and so why not fulfill one of the president's campaign promises and see what happens next.

BADE: It's interesting you mentioned Kushner because my colleague who covers the White House, she did a really amazing story right after this about how Jared Kushner made a calculation that he thought this would be -- there'd be some sort of knee-jerk reaction where people would of course be aghast and protesting, et cetera in the Middle East.

But he thought was in a couple of weeks, people would, quote, you know, get over it and move on and came back to the table for the peace negotiations. That has absolutely not happened. And I don't think it's going to happen. People are really ticked.

KING: I don't know where he's been (INAUDIBLE) for the last 50 years. I don't he's not enough to ask that question. But I don't know where he's been for the last 25 years if he thought the president of the United States could do what he just did about Jerusalem, people are going protest for a week or three and then come back to the table.

That's somebody who (INAUDIBLE) doesn't read the newspaper or the history books. So let's just leave at that. Good luck.

Up next, Steve Bannon calls himself an ally of the president. But, read what he says, listen to what he says. Friend or foe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:54] KING: Welcome back for those of you not keeping count at home. It's been four months now since Steve Bannon left his job as the president's chief White House strategist.

Now, Mr. Bannon says, he is still the president's wingman, yet, he's increasingly harsh in his assessments of both his former boss and many of those still in the West Wing inner circle. In a Vanity Fair profile gave several reports, quote, Bannon has remarked on the toll the office has taken on Trump, telling advisers his former boss has, quote, lost a step. Quote, he's like an 11-year-old child, Bannon joked to a friend in November.

Now Bannon scoring for presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is no secret. Still, this take on Kushner's campaign year meetings with Russians is scathing. Quote, he's taking meetings with the Russians to get additional stuff. This tells you everything about Jared. They were looking for the picture of Hillary Clinton taking a bag of cash from Putin. That's his maturity level.

It's great theater, the Bannon-Kushner relationship. But let's come back to the Bannon-Trump relationship. He's lost a step, he's like an 11-year-old child. If I said those things about you, Molly, would you think I was your wingman?

BALL: Well, look, I mean, I think everybody knows that Bannon is a trash talker. But this is not the first time there has been public conflict between him and Trump, right. Trump sort of dissed him on his way out the door.

And in that article, there are white -- numerous -- there is -- they're White House officials, you know, talking trash right back at Bannon and saying that he -- you know, he's sort of a bitter disgruntled employee basically. And, you know, they were originally on opposite sides of the Alabama Senate race in the primary working at cross purposes, and in that competition between Trump and Bannon, Bannon won.

And so they are competing for the mantle of the leader of what Bannon sees as his, you know, transnational populous nationalist movement. Whatever that means. But I still think that, you know, this is what Bannon does. He likes to stir things up, he knows that he can say thing that create controversy and get himself in the headlines and create more chaos. I mean, that's ultimately his agenda.

RAJU: Perhaps these anti-Bannon forces in the Republican Party in Washington can see this as an opportunity to exploit those Trump- Bannon decisions. This is what Mitch McConnell said earlier today about Bannon.

He said, "The political genius on display throwing away a Senate seat in the reddest seat in America is hard to ignore." That is referring to Alabama. It's clear they're trying to send a message to the president, don't listen to this guy, forget him when it comes to Senate races when Bannon may side to a primary opponent.

KING: But let's have to listen to Leader McConnell because that's an interesting point. You're at the end of this year, (INAUDIBLE) of the year, you just lost this red state. If you're Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, you're saying, Mr. President, please listen to us or please listen to people we like and don't listen to this guys but we know, the president still talks to Steve Bannon, still listens to him sometimes. Here's the leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you blame Steve Bannon for Doug Jones being elected in Alabama?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, let me just say this. The political genius on display throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America is hard to ignore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:55:05] KING: It's one big happy Republican family, right?

BALL: Yes.

MURRAY: Well, there are allies too who -- of the president inside the White House who would agree with Mitch McConnell and who also made their concerns about Steve Bannon very evident that they feel like his political advice at this point is not worth much. But also that he's trying to become sort of the voice that Trump was. That he's trying to take credit for the president's achievements or the president's populist appeal. And there are a lot of Trump loyalists inside and outside the White House that that's not sitting very well with.

BADE: You got to wonder if part of the reason, you know, he participated in this profile and that this now was just sort of changed narratives, because everybody are talking about how Steve Bannon was the reason they lost Alabama, you know, he was terrible for the Republican Party. And then this profile comes out and he's floating the idea that maybe he would run for president which we were just talking about in the break, and probably could never happen. But, at last it gets people talking

KING: And to borrow phrase from my favorite football coach, we're on to 2018. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here Sunday morning, 8 a.m. Eastern. On Christmas eve, come join us.

Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)