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Interview With New York Congressman Gregory Meeks; Republicans Attacking FBI Over Trump-Russia Probe; Sex Crimes in the Sky; President Trump Hits Golf Course. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, President Trump said it's back to work. Well, maybe after another round of golf.

THE LEAD starts right now.

From burning bridges on Twitter to building them with Dems, the president begins to focus on the issue that we all may be talking about, as the battle for the balance of power begins in 2018.

Purge, a word that usually comes after Kim Jong-un in a headline, but one GOP lawmaker is now standing by his comments that that's what should happen at the FBI.

Plus: sex crimes at 30,000 feet. Why are so many reports of sexual assault in the skies not being investigated?

And good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD on this Wednesday. I'm Pamela Brown, in for my colleague Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our politics lead and the White House's goals for 2018, starting with an infrastructure bill. In the coming weeks, the Trump administration is set to unveil a proposal to fix the nation's bridges, highways and airports, but could Democrats put up a speed bump or even a roadblock?

Let's begin with CNN's Ryan Nobles in Florida, where President Trump is spending the holidays.

Ryan, he just checked off a major win with tax reform. Is the White House feeling confident about building bridges with Democrats in the new year?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, there is no doubt that the president and his administration feel they have a degree of momentum behind them after passing that sweeping tax reform bill into law.

And he believes that infrastructure could be a very positive agenda item for him going forward, primarily because he thinks he can get Democratic buy-in. In fact, Friday, before he left to come here to Florida, this is what the president said about a potential infrastructure bill.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it, Republicans and Democrats. We're going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure, as you know. I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road.


NOBLES: So, an easy one is how the president describes infrastructure, but his plan would be pretty big. This is a look at what White House officials are telling us to expect sometime in mid- January.

This is a proposal that could mean $200 billion in federal funding. The goal would be that that federal funding would then encourage funding at the local level as well. This is even something that the president is planning on making one of the primary planks of his State of the Union address in January.

Pam, we should point out that this was a campaign promise of the president. At that time, he promised $1 trillion in funding. The question is, can he get Democrats to come on board, particularly in an election year, where Democrats may not be encouraged to do anything to help this president, Pam?

BROWN: Yes, that's a serious consideration.

And, Ryan, yesterday, CNN shot video of the president golfing. Any sign of him doing that again today?

NOBLES: Well, this is kind of a silly back and forth that's happening between the news media and the White House. We did have a location. It was on public property where we were able to get a view of the president golfing. It happened twice this week.

Well, today, when not just our cameras, but cameras from a number of different news organizations showed up in that same spot on public property, a big, mysterious white box van showed up at the same time. In fact, when our photojournalists attempted to move around the van to get a shot or whoever may have been golfing at that time, the van moved with them.

And then after a very short period of time, the van left. Now, the United States Secret Service says that they had nothing to do with that van and the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office also saying they have nothing to do with that van, but we can tell you today, Pam, we never saw the president on the golf course, even though he was at Trump International Golf Course for quite awhile this morning.

BROWN: The mystery surrounding that white truck continues.

Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

I want to bring in my political panel right now, CNN political reporter Rebecca Berg, CNN political commentator Shermichael Singleton, and "Weekly Standard" editor at large Bill Kristol.

Shermichael, first to you.

What do Democrats have to gain by working with the president ahead of the midterms in 2018? I mean, the president seems pretty confident he's going to be able to work with Democrats on infrastructure. Do you think it's going to be that easy?


Think about it. CNN just reported today that the president's approval ratings nationally are at 35 percent. So why would Democrats want to work with the president? Now, I think Democrats are going to be as objective as they possibly can be about this.

I think you will hear some Democrats that will say, we want to work on something. And I think they will fight like heck on the things they disagree with.

BROWN: OK. But on the flip side of this, infrastructure is something that Democrats want to fix. They have been outspoken about it.


BROWN: So, does politics, the fact that we're heading into a midterm be enough to stop Democrats from working with the president, Rebecca?


REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you have to consider what the final plan is going to look like, Pam.

You would have to assume that anything coming out of a Republican Congress or a Republican House or Republican Senate, and, of course, the president himself being a Republican, Republicans are going to want spending cuts to complement any sort of spending increases on infrastructure.

And so Democrats, it's possible, would oppose some of those cuts. And so with any sort of legislation we're talking about in Congress, the devil is always in the details. But from a political perspective, I would expect some of these red state Democrats, especially on the Senate side, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, to at least give this legislation a hard look, because, in their states, they supported Donald Trump.

They're going to be trying to appeal to voters who supported Trump. So they want to show they're willing to work with him as well.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I hope Rebecca's right, that Republicans still care about the deficit and the debt enough to actually insist on spending cuts to pay for the infrastructure, but there is no evidence that they -- Trump certainly doesn't care about it.

BERG: Right.

KRISTOL: Trump will cut a deal with Democrats and he will take a lot of Republicans along with him, as the Republicans, it turns out, don't care much about the deficit and the debt.

I think that's a very bad idea. We have already a tax plan that balloons the debt even more. Infrastructure is sort of the conservative politically correct term for stimulus. We had a huge infrastructure plan in 2009. President Obama spent hundreds of billions of dollars.

There was a defense of it at the time from a Keynesian point of view. We were in a deep recession. Now we're growing 3 percent. We're eight years into a recovery. There is very little case, in my opinion, for spending a huge amount of federal money without at least cutting somewhere else, but no one's going to cut anywhere else.


BROWN: If you remember, let's remember Trump's contract with the American voter, where he said he would introduce a bill for $1 trillion towards infrastructure within his first 100 days. Now the proposal is $200 billion.

SINGLETON: It's not realistic.

And as it relates to Republicans and tax cuts, I'm a Republican when George W. Bush was in office, and we spent a lot of money, a ridiculous amount of money. And I don't think that's going to change under President Trump.

Now, I do think that there are going to be Republicans, perhaps Heritage Foundation, et cetera, that is going to put pressure on the White House to say, no, you guys have to -- if you're going to pass infrastructure, you have got to have tax cuts in it. You can't just continue to spend money

KRISTOL: Spending cuts.

SINGLETON: I mean spending cuts, rather. You cannot continue to spend money as if there is no limit, because the average person, Bill, sees that and they say, OK, if I'm at home with a husband and wife and they're thinking about spending on a monthly basis, they have to figure out where every single dollar is going to go.

And they expect politicians to do the same.


KRISTOL: They don't expect politicians to do the same.

Look, Trump and the Democrats are going to get along great spending our money and putting us more into debt. It's depressing. None of Bush's deficits was as high as the current deficit today. And no one is serious about it. Paul Ryan made his career on entitlement reform because we're going to go bankrupt, which we are. The debt is getting too high.

And he's given up on that. So, we're talking about -- this is very revealing, with a Republican president and a Republican Congress, think about this.


SINGLETON: He's not a real Republican.


You know, think about this. What are we talking about? We're talking about a big suspending program. We're not talking about entitlement reform. What was the Republican issue for 2013, '14, '15, '16?

SINGLETON: That's right. You're right.

KRISTOL: Correctly, in my view. Entitlement reform. Everyone has walked away from that.


BERG: It's pragmatism. It's the reality of the situation, because, as Mitch McConnell has pointed out, their majority in the Senate is going to narrow in the next year.

BROWN: Doug Jones of Alabama.


BERG: It's going to be a 51-49 majority. Everything has been difficult for Senate Republicans with 52 votes. If you look at the situation with 51 votes, everything is going to be that much more difficult for them to pass.

BROWN: Really quickly, before I let you guys go, Trump tweeted it was time to get back to work starting yesterday after Christmas, but since then he's visited his golf course twice.

Now, look, this makes it 87 days that President Trump has spent at his golf properties. Of course, it is the holidays. A lot of people are on vacation. He has every right to go golfing. But this is notable only because for Trump's own hypocrisy.

He criticized Obama for golfing. But does it matter? Have people just accepted this is just the way the president operates?

SINGLETON: The pot calling the kettle black? Come on, nothing surprises me from this president anymore. He criticizes everyone else and he does the exact same thing. It shouldn't be a surprise.

I think people at this point in time have said that's Trump, and Trump is going to be Trump.

BROWN: That's Trump. He's going to say he's going back to work, but he hits the golf course. (CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: It's just as well. From my point of view, golfing is the least that he does. He does very little damage when he's on the golf course.



KRISTOL: If he lets H.R. McMaster run our foreign policy and lets John Kelly run the White House and lets I guess Gary Cohn run trade policy and economic policy, that's fine. He should play two or three rounds a day. Take advantage of the good weather down there, Mr. President.


BROWN: Over the weekend, he was golfing and then he was tweeting about Andy McCabe retiring. So, it doesn't keep him off Twitter.

BERG: Maybe he should be doing multiple rounds, instead of just one.

BROWN: There you go.

All right, Everyone, stick around. A lot more to discuss.

So, will Democrats work with President Trump in the new year, like we were just discussing? I'm going to ask Congressman Greg Meeks up next.

Stay with us.



BROWN: And Welcome back to THE LEAD.

President Trump says he's looking forward to working with Democrats in 2018 after a first year marked by bitter partisan battles. So are Democrats on board with that?

Congressman Gregory Meeks, Democrat of New York, joins me now.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Good to be with you.

BROWN: First off, a White House official said next month the president is going to propose spending at least $200 billion to fix the nation's roads, airports and bridges.

This is what you said this past May about the nation's infrastructure. Let's listen. Oh, my bad. We actually have a full-screen. You said: "My colleagues

on both sides of the aisle have prioritized rebuilding our nation's crumbling infrastructure. We all agree it needs to happen."

So in light of what you said back in May, does that mean you will work with the president on supporting this bill?

MEEKS: Well, as I heard in your panel, the devil is always in the details.

My concern is, that was before we spent over $2 trillion for tax cuts for the top 1 percent. And now you're talking about $200 billion, which is not enough to do anything of substantial nature as far at as what our infrastructure needs are.

And, you know, I think that you look at what the middle class, the working class and poor folks, well, clearly you're going to cut things that are important to them. Like, I think they would like to go -- Republicans would like to go after entitlements like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid.

So, I have got to look at the entire package.

BROWN: Well, but there is no indication at this point that is a priority for Republicans in the new year, right?

MEEKS: Oh, I think it is.

I think that one of the things they do -- and it's been their strategy all along -- is to say they're reducing government or they're going to give back the people some money in tax cuts, so that they can say that the government is broke, and so we have got to cut some of the entitlement programs, or we have got to cut some of the most -- you know, health care.

Also, with this past tax bill, 13 million Americans who had health care coverage may lose it. So, we have got problems in that regard. So, it's my responsibility now not just to be looking at what's right in front of me, I've got the responsibility of looking at a broader and bigger picture and a lot of it has been shaped by already giving away $2.5 trillion to the top 1 percent of Americans.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: So then what would Democrats be willing to work on with the president next year?

MEEKS: Well, I think that if you look at the president talks about health care. Not repealing and replacing, as he talked about, but we all said there were some fixes we could do to make sure that the that the Affordable Care Act -- you know, we want the 24 million people to have health care.

If you talk about regulations of community and small banks so that local business folks, small businesses and people can get mortgages and we make sure that some of the regulations that are placed on some of our small banks and medium sized banks and regional banks that are really based in the communities. That if they have unintended consequences from the some of the Dodd/Frank regulations, I'd be willing to work with them on that.

BROWN: But infrastructure is off the table for you unless there is more money?

MEEKS: But infrastructure, as I just said, on a bigger picture there, we've got to look at now based on the fact that we gave $2.5 trillion basically to the top 1 percent of Americans and corporations, where is the money going to come from? I cannot allow someone to rob Peter to pay Paul, I've got to make sure that we are taking care of the middle class and working class families throughout America.

BROWN: Well, let's talk about the middle class, the working class, because the tax law -- the GOP tax law under that, 91 percent of the middle class Americans are going to get a tax cut next year. Bernie Sanders, Democrat, your colleague in the Senate, said that is a very good thing.

Do you agree with him?

MEEKS: Eighty percent of the tax cuts that are coming is going to go to the richest 1 percent. So, yes, if you want to say you're giving them a crumb, and that tax cut expires in 10 years, whereas it does not expire for the major corporations of America. So, there is a bait-and-switch is what I'm concerned about with how this president has governed over the last year. He baits and then switches. He says one thing and then there is really a different result.

And so, we've got to be careful. You know, I've said all along that this president is a con man. And we've you've got to see a con man, he gives you something that might sound sweet but you know it's going to be bitter in the end. And so you've got to pay extra attention to what he does because he's a bait and switch con man and that gives me a concern.

BROWN: All right. Let's talk about some of the rhetoric coming from Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the GOP tax bill Armageddon. Some of your colleagues are pushing for President Trump to be impeached. Do you think the Democrats are overplaying their hand with that kind of rhetoric?

MEEKS: Look, I think that we're the greatest country on this planet and think that we are going to survive Donald Trump. But I think for the sake of our institutions we have to hold everybody accountable, including Donald Trump. And so, Donald Trump, I think if he had his way would undermine the basic institutions of America as is indicated by him and other Republicans trying to go after the FBI, Mr. Mueller and others.

So, it's the institutions that if we allow that to happen would be the destruction of our country. But I have faith in the American people. I have faith that that will not happen. That sooner or later, we will stand up to make sure that we preserve the institutions that are so effective and what has made America the country that it is.

BROWN: All right. Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much.

MEEKS: My pleasure.

BROWN: Strong words from a former White House ethics lawyer. He says it's time for the new FBI director to stand up to Trump or stand down. We'll talk to him up next.


BROWN: Breaking news. President Trump speaking at a firehouse in West Palm Beach to firefighters.

[16:15:02] Let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys were depleted, too. We're giving you -- particularly the police -- we're giving them military equipment, which was taken away by the previous administration. You know all about that. And now, you're getting the military equipment.

They didn't want us to use the military equipment. Somebody will explain why. But now, you have the best military equipment and you're able to use it for the police force.

But I want to thank you for the job you do medically and the paramedics and the job you do with the fire has been incredible. So they said would you like to come over here and say hello? Some of you've I've met, many of you down in Palm Beach, but you do a fantastic job so we just wanted to thank you very much. Really fantastic people.

And hopefully with the media surrounding us, they'll understand exactly what's happening. Because we want to give these people credit for the great job they do. So, thank you all very much. We appreciate it.

Now, I'll go back to Palm Beach and you go back also watch yourselves on television, all right?


Create some stars in here, Chief. You know that, right? Do you have any questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House and the Senate passed the safer (INAUDIBLE) is that a good thing?

TRUMP: Well, they just passed it. It's coming to me and it's a good thing. You like it, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love it. We just appreciate --

TRUMP: You know, one of the things that people don't understand, we have signed more legislation -- we broke the record of Harry Truman and saying, if we get this big tax cut, because that's the legislation of all legislations. That's the biggest there is.

But that included ANWR, as you know, and it included the repeal of the individual mandate, which is a disaster. That's where you have the privilege of paying a lot of money so that you don't have to buy health insurance, all right? The most unpopular thing, which most people thought should have been unconstitutional. But we repealed it and we got ANWR, which is going to be one of the great drilling sites of the world, one of the great (INAUDIBLE) a lot of things.

But we had a lot of legislation passed and here's an example of something that soon will be passed and sign. So, yes, we're going to take -- I know your folks have been fighting for that for a long time. We've got a lot of legislation passed. They were saying that if we got this one done, we would have succeeded with legislation.

But I believe we have -- you have to ask those folks, but I think they know the real answer, we have more legislation passed, including -- the record was Harry Truman. That was a long time ago. And we broke that record. So, we have a lot done.

In addition, we have a lot of executive orders. We've gotten a lot of the rules and the regulations -- you people suffered from that to a certain extent, too, in all fairness. But a lot of the regulations were voided and now you can go back to work and do your jobs. In the case of builders and in case of farmers and so many others, they can go back and do their jobs.

So, we have the all-time record for stopping ridiculous regulations and we're very proud of that. That's one of the reasons the stock market has jumped at a record level. We've broken 84 times this year, the stock market hit a new high, 84 times since he won the election on November 8th of last year. So that's something we can all be proud of. That means you are all very smart.

Your families, say, boy, you're a great investor, right? When you have your numbers go up and your stocks go up and everything else. When the stock market goes up, that affects everybody, not just you. You think of the rich. The fact is that it affects everybody because people own stocks, whether it's in 401(k)s or otherwise.

We'll get that signed. It's going to be signed.


TRUMP: Oh, good. You have 15 of them. You know who were talking about? Come on over here.



TRUMP: Better sign it. Now I have no choice, right?

Thank you, everybody. Thank you.

Congratulations. Thank you. Thank you very much. I'll go back and sign it fast, OK?

BROWN: All right. There you heard President Trump speaking at a fire station in West Palm Beach. It was a little tough to hear him there. It didn't look like he had a mike on.

I want to bring back my panel to discuss.

What we did hear -- what I think I heard was him thanking the firefighters for all that they do, asking the media to cover them more, which, by the way, CNN does highlight the great work of our first responders, just putting that out there.

But it didn't take him long to sort of turn the focus on his -- what he perceived his accomplishments in his first year in office, saying that under his administration, more legislation has been passed than Harry Truman.

[16:25:08] Fact check. Is that true? Do we know?



BROWN: One major legislative victory, tax reform --

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What's interesting, though, is that this is something he's been saying, Pamela, since his first 100 days. And it might have been truer at that point when you're considering all of the small pieces of legislation and bills that we don't necessarily pay attention to at the national level, but it's not true any longer, certainly. Yet he keeps saying it because once Donald Trump latches on to a line he likes, he use it is over and over again.

BROWN: He said it just before he left for Mar-a-Lago, too, the same line.

KRISTOL: Here's what happened. He was in the clubhouse, he just finished his round of golf, he was watching the show, needless to say, and he's heard you making gun of him playing golf instead of working. He quickly put on the suit --


KRISTOL: He had a quick turnaround, hustled over to the fire station. There he is in his work attire thanking first responders. Who can dislike that? CNN reports and the president responds, right?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: When I think of leadership, I think of leaders being selfless, once again we see this egoist type of behavior mentality coming from the president, where at one moment, he's thanking the first responders and then, again, he's talking about himself. I always asked myself, what about discernment, time and place? When is it the right time to appropriately thank people for their action, their work and what they're doing to contribute back to community and society overall versus what he's doing as president?

And again, I think a lot of people keep pointing this out, there is a lack of transformational leadership from this president. There's a term called pseudo transformational leadership, and we continue to see that time and time again from this president. If you want people to rally behind you, to support you, you have to make them feel good besides talking about yourself. The president isn't doing that.

BROWN: And he did. I mean, he started off doing that.

SINGLETON: He started off great.

BROWN: It sort of reminded me, at the beginning of the year, because now, we're ending the year. Remember when he was at the CIA and early on and he was talking about how large the crowds were at his inauguration, you know, kind of bringing it back to himself. I mean, in fairness, he did -- some of the points he made, look, the stock market is high. The stock market is doing well.

Is that fair for him to point that out as an achievement under his administration, Bill?

KRISTOL: Sure. To the degree he's holding most of his supporters at this point, he's not doing great in the polls but he's not doing as badly as he might be, it is mostly because of the economy and the market.

I'm struck by how many reluctant Republicans I run into kind of standard Republican voters don't like Trump much, really dislike his personal qualities and some of the decisions, a lot of the rhetoric, but, you know, the economy's fine. There has been no foreign policy crisis yet. So, it's not as bad as you say, Bill.

I hear that all the time.


KRISTOL: So, I think he's wise -- at some point the stock market will go down and you're sort of on your own.

BROWN: But it won't be his fault, right?

KRISTOL: It won't be his fault. People underestimate our conversations around Washington when we talk about Trump's tweets and he did this, how much the health of the economy, for which he deserves a little credit but not that much, honestly, is holding him up. It would be an interesting question where Trump's approval numbers would be if we get a downturn or a recession.

BROWN: Yes. All right. Everyone, stick around. I'm so glad to have you here for that. Thanks so much.

Also this week, President Trump has renewed his war of words on his own FBI, doubling down on his frequent criticism of the bureau, calling it tainted with the reputation in tatters.

Now, a former top aide to President George W. Bush says the new FBI director needs to stand up to the president or step down.

Richard Painter was the former White House counsel on ethics to President Bush and he joins me now.

So, bottom line, why do you think the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, needs to stand up to the president or resign?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS COUNSEL UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first, I want to emphasize I think Christopher Wray is an excellent person to lead the FBI and he has impeccable credentials, but it's a challenging job, particularly under this president, and Christopher Wray has a job to do. He has to defend his agency, the FBI, against the unwarranted attacks from the president of the United States and from members of Congress.

There is honestly no evidence of disarray at the FBI or corruption at the FBI that's at all extraordinary and nothing like what the president of the United States and various members of Congress have alleged. Andrew McCabe, the deputy director, is a man also of impeccable credentials. He's done a very good job. The allegations against him are just flat-out lies.

So, it is the job of the director of the FBI to stand up to the president when he has to and say, no, that is not right what you're saying about Mr. McCabe, it's not right what you're saying about my agency. He needs to defend his agency.

If he doesn't have the courage to do that, he's going to have to stand down.

BROWN: He has testified before Congress, this happened earlier this month, where he was asked about the president's attacks on his agencies. Here is how he responded to that.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: There is no shortage of opinions out there. What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe --