Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Takes Aim at FBI again; Trump: Killed Mandate "Essentially Repeals" Obamacare; New South Korea Department will Monitor North Korea Threats. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 10:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: He also called the dossier garbage. To be clear, investigators have corroborated part of the dossier. Let's go right to CNN's Sara Murray. Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Pam. Well, the president insisted that he was getting back to work today, but it's clear he's still distracted by this Russia investigation. He spent the weekend going after the FBI. And today, apparently, taking in some cable news and getting worked up yet again about this dossier calling it a pile of garbage and insisting that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Obviously we know there are congressional committees who are still investigating that, as well as Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who's leading the FBI's investigation into allegations of Russian collusion.

Now this is supposed to be a day when the president is refocusing on his agenda. The White House said he would be spending some time thinking about how he wants to move forward with Congress, with a number of legislative agenda items on that list including infrastructure, including what to do about the DREAMERS. But the president was tweeting about an entirely different agenda item this morning referring to health and saying that somewhere down the line, eventually it may be Republicans and Democrats will come together for a health care solution. Obviously, we haven't seen a lot of bipartisanship so far on Capitol Hill. Maybe 2018 will be a new year. But as for now, the last we've seen of President Trump, he was headed to his golf course here in Mar-a-Lago. Maybe the work will come later, Pam.

BROWN: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much. Live for us from West Palm Beach, Florida.

And for more n this let's bring in CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. All right, Manu, let's do some fact checking here. The president tweeting, as Sara broke down for us, that the dossier is garbage and that it basically was the basis for the Trump campaign Russia investigation. Break down what do we know, and what are we still learning about the Trump dossier?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, the dossier has been the subject of intense interest for GOP critics of the investigation so far. But there are elements of the document that are in fact true. While the most salacious allegations in the dossier have not been verified. It's brought assertion that Russia waged a campaign to interfere in the election is now accepted as fact by the U.S. Intelligence Committee.

Now CNN also reported earlier this year that U.S. investigators have corroborated some aspects of the dossier, specifically that some of the communications among foreign nationals mentioned in the memos did actually take place. Now this most salacious allegations have not been - have not been verified but that - certainly has been accepted as fact.

Now, in addition, that the FBI has used the investigation, but has used the dossier, but it's not the basis of its own investigation. But it has also used that dossier as part of its justification to secretly monitor that Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. Now the FBI has its own investigation. And indeed, none of the four charges in the Mueller probe actually referenced the dossier.

Now, earlier this year, we did report that some of these allegations have been -- have been, in fact, verified. But Pam, Republicans on Capitol Hill have raised significant concerns because of the revelation that the dossier was effectively paid for by a law firm from retained by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. So, GOP lawmakers have been trying to learn more about that matter. So, expect them to raise more concerns and dig deeper into this in 2018, Pam.

BROWN: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

And joining me now, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic." Paris Dennard, CNN political commentator and former director of Black Outreach in the George W. Bush administration, and Michael Nutter, CNN political contributor and former mayor of Philadelphia. Gentlemen, great to see you. Thanks for coming on.



BROWN: Good morning. Let's start with you. Here we are, day after Christmas. President Trump said he wants to get back to work at Mar-a- Lago, focus on his legislative agenda. Yet here he is tweeting about the dossier and calling the FBI tainted. Why?

BROWNSTEIN: This is the work. Look, I have felt for, you know, many months that -- for his portion of the presidency, his conception of the presidency, is to wage these personal and political conflicts against an unending series of targets. That I think is what he delivers above all to his base. The sense that he is fighting against all of these forces, that he is trying to convince them are holding him down. Whether it's cultural elites, coastal elites, the media, forces inside of government.

I mean, this is the fight. And the paradox here is that for the broader electorate, I think this is the biggest problem that he faces. I mean, why is his approval rating stuck below 40 percent with the economy doing so well? It is largely because of the way he comports himself as president and the sense of perpetual conflict. I talked to one strategist in Alabama who was talking about how important it was for Doug Jones to playoff of that idea, that he would be someone who would work together. And I think Republicans on the Hill who are trying to look away from this behavior are really walking into a dark alley in terms of what voters are looking for in 2018.

[10:05:11] BROWN: Paris, do you agree? Do you agree that this behavior, tweeting about things like the dossier, the FBI is what is hurting the president and his approval ratings and could hurt Republicans in the midterms?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely not. I think the American people know exactly the type of man that the president is. He is a man who speaks directly to the American people without the filter of different media sources that tend to not focus on the positive things that he's doing. His Twitter account is something that he uses, and it is an effective tool. The president believes -

BROWN: So why is he randomly tweeting about the dossier and the FBI the morning after Christmas? And by the way, we have been focusing on his accomplishments in this show. But go ahead.

DENNARD: I wasn't talking about this show, Pam. I think you're doing an excellent job today. I think that what the president is doing is focusing on the things that are both good and both bad as it relates to his administration. Something that is bad is the dossier. If you listened to Manu, let me translate everything that Manu tried to say -- there is no Russia collusion, the FBI special investigator Mueller did not have anything in his initial findings that tied the Trump campaign or the Trump White House to Russia. So -

BROWN: No, no, hold on. Sorry, Paris. I have to jump in here. He was saying that they haven't -- none of these charges stemmed from the dossier. He did not say that there is no evidence of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia. I just -- speaking for my colleague, I heard him. He didn't say that.

DENNARD: Well, I'll say it. And I'll go on to say that in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty. If you look at the media, if you look at what liberals are trying to do, they're trying to say the president, the White House, and the Trump campaign are guilty. Guilty of nothing. You are innocent. There have been no charges, no charges, no proof, no evidence of any collusion. And that is what the president is frustrated with, especially when you see some of the things that are coming out from the FBI investigators, some have tweeted anti -- anti-Trump, some have been major donors to the Clinton campaign. And the fact that you see some of these emails that have been received that weren't done in a proper channel.

So, the president is right to go ahead and put this in the forefront of the American people that he believes that this is a distraction, not just to the president but to the American people. We should move forward and look to the things that are really going on with respect to Russia. Because we're trying to say that the Trump campaign have something to do with colluding with Russia, rather than focusing on, let's say, was there any collusion between the Democrats, was there any collusion between the Clinton campaign but we don't want to focus on that.

So, the president is right to focus on at times the issue --

BROWN: We can just tell you that Special Counsel Mueller's investigation is focused on many aspects, but also whether the Russians in the Trump campaign, whether that there was any coordination. But do you think that, Mayor Nutter, he has a point here that some of these, you know, texts from the FBI agents showing political bias and donations to Democratic Party is tainting, the Russia investigation. Does Paris have a point?

NUTTER: No, he doesn't. Other than his blood pressure being up this morning, that's straight out of the usual talking points.


DENNARD: My blood pressure is just fine, Mayor.

NUTTER: Hey, Paris? Hey, Paris? Happy Holidays to you.

DENNARD: My blood pressure is fine. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

NUTTER: Let me finish.

DENNARD: Finish but don't talk about my health. My blood pressure's fine.

BROWN: OK. Go ahead --

DENNARD: Finish your point.

NUTTER: Calm down, brother.

DENNARD: Don't "brother, calm down" me. First of all, don't talk about somebody's health. My blood pressure is not high. Finish your point if you have one.

BROWN: OK. OK. Mayor Nutter, let's focus on the point you were trying to make here -

DENNARD: He doesn't have one.

NUTTER: Four people have been indicted. One was the national security director. One was the campaign chairman for a variety of things. That's one. Special Counsel Mueller's investigation is nowhere near over. And continues on its proper course. Third, the president, as usual, in his un-focusing, undisciplined way, is still obsessed about things that took place in the past. And one might say, as usual, he doth protest too much. So, you know the bottom line is he has the lowest approval rating of anyone in modern times. At some point, he'll actually accept that he did win the election. He has to govern and not just talk to people who like him.

And so that's what really governing is all about. That's what happens after you get elected. Not staying focused on battling every old fight from a year or two ago, and that's why his approval rating is in the dump.

BROWN: I want to talk about another tweet this morning from the president, Ron. He tweeted about health care saying based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate has been terminated as part of our tax cut bill which essentially repeals over time Obamacare, the Democrats and Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new health care plan.

[10:10:12] But Ron, Mitch McConnell told "NPR" that the Senate will be moving on from repealing Obamacare. Let's listen to what he said.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with the 52-48 Senate, we'll have to look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate, but I think we'll move to other issues.


BROWN: So, where does the Obamacare fight go from here, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, there are two great ironies in that tweet. I don't think people remember but in 2008 President Obama as a candidate -- maybe Mayor Nutter remembers -- ran against the individual mandate. Hillary Clinton was the one who supported it. He believed it was not necessary to make the health care system work, that people would come in just from the carrot in effect, the subsidies. But he was convinced that ultimately you need the individual mandate to bring in younger, healthier people who are on the margin about whether to buy health insurance.

And that's the second big irony in what the president is tweeting. By removing the mandate, the big losers in that are older people with greater health needs who needs younger people in the system to keep down the overall premiums. So what's the irony there? Well, right now, younger people vote predominantly Democratic. Those who are going to be relieved of the mandate here. Majority of Donald Trump's votes came from whites over 45, 60 percent of whites over 45 voted for Donald Trump. Particularly when you get those interior midwestern states that decided the election.

Many of the people who will be hurt by the higher premiums that will come from withdrawing the individual mandate are Donald Trump voters. They are the people who put him into office. It is unlikely I think that they can go back at Obamacare because really what's left are the subsidies, the insurance mandates, and the Medicaid expansion. And all of those proved very politically difficult to remove. The last one in particular because so many Republican governors rallied behind it. So we are left with this kind of very strange set of policies now where the administration is -- and the Republican Congress has taken out a pin, no doubt, from Obamacare. But one that may largely hurt their own voters.

BROWN: And of course everything they do in a year -

NUTTER: Pamela?

BROWN: Go ahead, Mayor Nutter.

NUTTER: Just, I mean, you would think after the disaster of a couple of times by the Republicans for full repeal and replace politically, now going into 2018, you would think the last thing that any of them would want to do is go back to the disaster of early 2017. So I think leader McConnell is trying to give the president some indication that, yes, we're going to move on, maybe to some things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on like infrastructure and other things that Americans really care about and put some more people back to work.

BROWN: And the president has also said that he hopes there will be a bipartisan effort to focus on infrastructure. But Paris, I want to give the final word to you.


BROWN: Go ahead.

DENNARD: Look, the president is -- is going to do something that is positive for the American people. When you look at repealing Obamacare. He wants to do this because he campaigned on it, but he knows at the end of the day that it's a bad policy, and it's going to hurt more people in the long run than it's going to help. And so, the reason why he wants to have it done is because there are parts of it that are bad.

Now, there are also parts that are beneficial to people like -- like the pre-existing condition which he would not take out. But we have got to get to the bottom of this. And for the Senate, you know, at the end of the day, the Senate failed to act. The House acted. They repealed it. It got to the Senate and they failed to act.

Now, the Senate has got to do something for the American people that is going to make a difference, especially with Obamacare. And so, the fact that the Senate majority leader is saying this is not surprising because they didn't have the will to do the right thing from the beginning. But to go back and to improve and make something better, a disastrous plan, which is Obamacare, is not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

BROWN: Just really, quickly, Ron, very, very quickly. So, they repealed the individual mandate. What's going to happen to health care now? I mean, isn't that a crucial part of Obamacare? What's going to happen now?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, people have to understand there were two components of Obamacare. One was expanding Medicaid which is unaffected by the change in the individual mandate. That was where most people ended up getting coverage. The individual mandate has to do with the individual insurance market. And as I said, the long-term effect of pulling this out will presumably be to have fewer younger, healthier people in the system. It will tilt more toward older sicker people. Premiums will go up in the individual market.

And the paradox is that it will go up for older people with more health needs who tend to be Republican voters, particularly in the states that decided the election. And that's where we will be a year from now heading into the 2018 election. Republicans in Congress will be dealing with big premium increases in states that will be critical battlegrounds in the 2018 election. That was the bed they had chosen to make.

[10:15:02] BROWN: We've got to wrap up. But it is worth noting, though, that enrollment is still high. Obamacare, I think something like 8.8 -

BROWNSTEIN: Almost nine million.


BROWN: Almost nine million with even more limited time frame to enroll. OK. Thank you all, Ron, Paris -- Paris - well, Ron, Paris, Michael, thank you all. Got to wrap it there.

Ready to mediate. Now Russia says it wants to help de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. We're live from Moscow.

And the president says Dems and Republicans will come together on health care. Really? We'll ask a Democratic lawmaker.

Plus, just plain scary. Snow and ice sends JetBlue passengers on a frightening ride. We'll be back.


BROWN: South Korea has a new plan to respond to threats from North Korea. They're setting up an entire department to follow the regime's every move. And this announcement comes as Russia is offering to mediate talks between the U.S. and North Korea if both sides can agree to talk. That's the big question. For more we're joined by CNN international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. Fred?

[10:20:00] FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Pamela, two questions really. On the one hand, do the two sides really want to talk? And then the bigger question, do the two sides really want to talk through the Russians? But certainly, the Russians say they are offering it up, and they also said that they have actually, in the past relayed messages from Washington to Pyongyang.

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, saying in one instance the Americans allegedly came out and said that they were willing to de-escalate the situation by stopping some military maneuvers. But he also says that later those military maneuvers did take place. So, the Russians are saying, look, they could mediate in all of this. They also said in the form of Sergey Lavrov that they believe anybody who is sane would not want some sort of bigger conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The Russians really have a mixed interest in all this. On the one hand, of course, when they say things like this, they are somewhat poking the United States. There was also heavy criticism of U.S. policies while Sergey Lavrov was saying this. On the other hand, of course, they also don't want a bigger confrontation on the Korean Peninsula.

The Russians actually have a direct border with North Korea. They do have a decent amount of cross-border traffic. I was actually on that border a couple of months ago. So, they have some people going across. They have goods going across. That's certainly not something that they want to jeopardize. And they certainly wouldn't want a larger movement of people coming across that border if in fact, there was a real military confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea. So, this is an offer out there whether it's real or legit. It's something that to all parties will need to see about. Pamela?

BROWN: Yes. We'll have to wait and see what happens there. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

And let's bring in our panel now to discuss. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst, and CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier. Kimberly, first to you, do you think that the U.S. and North Korea will actually meet with Russian mediating? How likely is that? Is it a good idea?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, from the U.S. point of view, it is ceding this key diplomatic space to Moscow. From the Kremlin's point of view, they have nothing to lose by offering to mediate these talks. And same goes for North Korea. North Korea knows that there's this tussle between Russia and the United States for who is the biggest influencer around the world. So, by offering to talk through Russia to weigh a sort of thumbing it in the eye of Donald Trump. So, all in all, will the U.S. agree to stop military maneuvers? And will North Korea agree to stop testing? Two of the things that have to happen for these talks. I don't know.

BROWN: -- Do you think that those actually could happen, those two things could happen, Rick, for the talks to start?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, I don't think so. You know, we've been here before. This is a continuation of the North Korean goal of just let's sit down and talk. And all they do is talk and nothing ever happens. The North Koreans, of course, want to be recognized as a nuclear state. And if we agree to these talks with the Russians, it's going to legitimize them. That's what they want. They want recognition that they are a nuclear power. And if we meet with them, we give them that.

So, I don't think we're willing to do that without some sort of precondition. And our precondition is a commitment from the North Koreans for the nuclear -- denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and they're not willing to do that. So, we may agree to talk, but I don't think it's going to go anywhere.

BROWN: Kimberly, I want to talk about some of the accomplishments the president often names like NATO funding goals, defeating ISIS, where things that you could trace to the previous administration. What would you give this president credit for accomplishing on his very own?

DOZIER: Well, from his perspective, the military strike in Syria against Bashar al Assad's forces after the use of chemical weapons against its own people was a way of this White House demonstrating its resolve. The decision to arm rebels in Ukraine with lethal assistance is another step that they would say is signaling to Moscow that the U.S. is going to play by the same rules. If Moscow arms someone, the U.S. is going to arm someone. They also point to the national security strategy. This is the first administration that's completed such a strategy in the first year which outlines everything they intend to do, how they're going to handle China, how they're going to handle Russia. And messages countries like Iran that the U.S. is not going to be pushed around. From their perspective, they have put these concrete accomplishments on the board that also count with the Trump base.

BROWN: Right. And do you give him credit, Rick, for involving China more when it comes to the North Korea threat?

FRANCONA: Yes. I think that's been a real accomplishment. The problems is what we have is commitments from China, but now we don't know if they're going to follow through. If the Chinese do what they say they're going to do, they can really have an impact on North Korea. You know, we did see the Chinese and the Russians both agreed to these increased sanctions on North Korea. So, if the Chinese will come through, that's a major accomplishment. And you know I give the president credit for at least trying to engage the Chinese. Now let's hold their feet to the fire.

[10:25:10] BROWN: So, when you look at some of these accomplishments in the Trump administration, Kimberly, do you think they'll be enough to propel his party into next year's midterms?

DOZIER: Well I think he'll have enough to point to his base that he has done things like cut expanses at the United Nations, made NATO pay up. Now a lot of people don't understand that every previous U.S. administration was trying to get all NATO members to invest 2 percent of their GDP in defense. That's been a long-running campaign. He's going to get credit with his voters for his accomplishments on his watch. And that could help. Democrats don't have an easy road. Many of the seats that they're going after are either in red states or purple states, and they have been criticized for not having a clear enough message to win people back from the Trump side.

BROWN: What do you think, Rick?

FRANCONA: I try and stay out of the political realm here you know. It's common that the party in power would lose seats during the off- year election. So, I assume that will probably happen. So, I think the president is going to have to use this year to energize those people that he's lost. And he has lost people since the election. If you look at his numbers, he's alienating each some of his own base. He's got to get them back and he's got to make inroads in other areas. It's going to be very, very difficult for him.

BROWN: All right. Yes, 35 percent approval rating for the president. Colonel Rick Francona, Kimberly Dozier, thank you so much. And the president in the meantime says he is back to work and renewing his attacks on the FBI just this morning. We're getting reaction from Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel up next.