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In NYT Editorial, Tillerson Slams Russian Actions; IRS Warning: Prepaying Property Tax Might Not Pay Off. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 16:30   ET


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, also saying that she believed that the language that Secretary of State Tillerson was using would not work with Russia.

[16:30:02] She called it a language of coercion and of trying to use economic influence to use power against Russia. There was one other thing that he wrote in the op-ed, where Secretary of State Tillerson said the one place that Russia and the U.S. could cooperate was in Syria and the future of Syria. While on that point, we actually reached out to the Kremlin and we got in touch with a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Peskov, and he told us as far as the Russians are concerned, there is no cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in Syria.

So, as you can see, some of the warm words we've heard recently between President Trump and Vladimir Putin doesn't look as though that's translating to policy differences when you look at the every day politics between the Russia and the U.S., Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: It sure doesn't. Fred, thank you so much for joining me.

And we're back with the panel now.

Symone, obviously there is a lot of important diplomatic information in this op-ed that Rex Tillerson wrote this morning, but just the fact that he wrote it is political.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's absolutely political. And I think it lends to something that folks were saying on-air earlier today in that yes, the State Department, they're top dog at the State Department has came out and said this, and it's absolutely political, but I also believe that Secretary Tillerson wholeheartedly believes what he's saying. But the problem is folks are not taking the State Department seriously because the White House and other parts of the administration have undermined it.

So, when Rex Tillerson or anyone says something, it has to go on and be checked with the National Security Council, with the Pentagon, and that's problematic. And so, when President Trump is conducting the diplomacy via Twitter and you've got your secretary of state basically screaming, no, this is what we'd like to do via the "New York Times," I just think it's confusing for our allies and adversaries. BASH: So, is it no, this is what we like to do and setting down his

own marker on foreign policy or is it, David, this is what we are doing, despite the noise on Twitter, this is what is happening behind the scenes, this is what our policy is, look over here, not over there?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, it's hard to tell because oftentimes Tillerson and the president will be speaking out of different sides of the country's diplomatic mouth if you will and it's if they disagree or if it's a good cop, bad cop act. What's very interesting on Russia is as much as the president has coddled Putin rhetorically and refused to jawbone him the way he has our allies, not to mention other adversaries, the administration has been stepping up pressure on Russia in certain areas.

Now in Syria and that's a problem and the Russians are still running that part of the Middle East which is a problem for the United States, but we've stepped up our support for the Ukraine, we have okayed --

BASH: Just this week.

DRUCKER: Yes, we've okayed energy sales into Eastern Europe. These are things the Obama administration would never do. And so, sometimes you look at what the president says and how he acts and it appears as though he's not taking Russia seriously. Then you see some of the actions his administration is taking and it appears as though they are taking the Russians very seriously.

The rhetoric does matter, however, he needs to couple both, but you can't say entirely that he is not dealing with Russia properly when you look at some of these actions.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it was positive that he was able to acknowledge that Russia did meddle in our election. While the president won't do that, I was pleased to see the secretary of state would do that.

I think the overall takeaway from this is he started out by saying look, the era of strategic patience of the Obama administration did not work. And this administration's peaceful pressure campaign will work. And we're already seeing progress for that certainly with regard to ISIS.

But I think what the president and Tillerson may have a good cop, bad cop. We have the president out there with fire and fury and Tillerson is really working hard --

BASH: Do you think that's intentional or just their personalities?

DRUCKER: Meanwhile, though -- meanwhile, Tillerson supposedly is on his way out and he doesn't get along with the president and that's why, supposedly, and that's why it's sometimes whether they're working in tandem or whether they're at odds --

BASH: And it's hard to tell please don't fire me op-ed or this was a look at what we've done. I know I'm going to get fired, see you later?

SANDERS: I mean -- it's probably the latter. I think the other thing to note is that yes, while the administration as a whole, parts of it have put pressure on Russia in spite of the president's rhetoric, that just goes to show that the system still works. The Donald Trump has not broken down the entirety of our system and there is still good people and good parts of our government that can operate. That does not necessarily mean that the administration has a strategy or rhetoric, but real action.

BASH: Well, I don't know.

I totally agree with you, Alice, I read the paper this morning, and yes, I actually read a newspaper with my hands and I scanned it for election to see if he talked about it, and he did.

STEWART: It was buried, but it was in there.

BASH: If the president read that, he's probably not going to be happy, even though the entire administration and the world had said it.


BASH: Which is the president hasn't.

Thank you, guys. Stand by. Stick around.

We have a lot more to talk about, including rather growing confusion over prepaying property taxes.

[16:35:02] How the IRS clarification may be causing even more uncertainty.


BASH: We're back with the money lead now.

And the rush to pay the government early. You heard me right. Some residents in high tax states are scrambling to pay their 2018 property taxes ahead of time before the new Republican tax plan takes effect. That's because the tax plan passed last week and it limits the amount of money you can deduct for state income, sales, and property taxes, and it limited to $10,000.

Right now, those deductions are unlimited. The IRS has tried to clarify some of the confusion, cautioning that these prepayments may only work in limited circumstances, saying pre-payments that might be deductible if, if, they are made before the end of this year, and if the tax was assessed prior to 2018.

[16:40:03] I want to bring in Bradley Heim. He is a former economic -- excuse me, economist at the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis.

So, there is a lot of confusion, Brad, it is going to be up to you now to try to clarify this. First and foremost, is there kind of a one- size-fits-all answer to taxpayers in these states where they have very high property taxes and whether they should try to pay now?

BRADLEY HEIM, FORMER ECONOMIST, TREASURY DEPARTMENT OFFICE OF TAX ANALYSIS: Now, so there's actually -- whether you're going to benefit from pre-payment depends on a couple of things. So, there are really two groups that might benefit. The first is taxpayers who currently would be itemizing their deductions, claiming property taxes and claiming more than $10,000 total, they might benefit.

The second group actually is a larger. Those are people who are currently itemizing deductions and claiming property taxes, but where under the increased standard deduction in 2018, they would no longer find it profitable to itemize deductions. The first group I think they're roughly about 4 million taxpayers in that situation, the second group is actually larger, we're talking about 18 million taxpayers.

BASH: So, we talk about a benefit, how big of a tax benefit are we talking about? The biggest possible? Is it worth the headache?

HEIM: So, the benefit can be quite large. So it's going to depend on how much you can prepay and what your marginal tax rate is and the larger of those two things, the larger the benefit's going to be. So, take someone who is able to prepay $2,500 of their property taxes this year rather than waiting until after the first of the year, if they face a 25 percent marginal tax rate, they're going to save $600 in taxes, somebody that would be in the top marginal rate bracket of almost 40 percent, they're going to save almost $1,000 in taxes.

BASH: So do you think that this scrambling is because of flaw in the legislation or is it just because this is going to be a new law and people are trying to kind of get in, sneak in before that new law takes hold?

HEIM: So, whenever there is a big change in taxes, a lot of times there is going to be this incentive to try to alter the timing of transactions to take advantage of it. Now, in this particular case, it's pretty clear that Congress was hoping that this wouldn't happen. And they actually put a provision in the law that disallowed prepayments of income taxes.

Unfortunately, the law ended up being silent about property taxes, and that led to the confusion over whether or not people could prepay their 2018 and beyond -- property taxes, and still be able to claim them this year.

BASH: That's so interesting. I want you to listen to what the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, said today. He signed an executive order last week allowing New York residents to prepay their property taxes in 2018. Listen.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: This tax provision hits the blue states by eliminating the state and local tax deductibility, and uses that money to finance the tax cut in the red states. This is the most partisan, divisive legislation we've seen.

There's always politics in crafting of legislation, but this was an egregious, obnoxious -- what the Senate was saying is because we have no senators from the blue states, we don't care. So, let's pillage the blue to give to the red. That's never been done in this nation before. That's partisan politicking over any semblance of good government.


BASH: Is that accurate? Is it really a blue state, red state thing or are there high property tax areas in the reddest of red states?

HEIM: So, there are some high property tax areas in red states also. And so, this isn't strictly a red state, blue state thing, that having been said, blue states like New York, California, they do tend to have higher property taxes than the rest of the country.

BASH: Brad Heim, thank you for trying to make sense of this. I think you tried as hard as you could with your expertise, but people back home are probably still thinking. Thank you, United States government, is still is clear as mud. I appreciate you trying.

And our panel --


BASH: Thank you.

And our panel is back with us, and will this property tax confusion we've been talking about have a political impact on Republicans who passed it into law? We'll discuss that, next.


[16:48:59] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back with our "Politics Lead" and my panel is still with me.

David Drucker, we were talking with a tax expert trying to make sense of this property tax issue on the raw politics of it. Do you think that this confusion is going to hurt Republicans as they try to sell this as a big victory?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly a challenge. And it's a challenge for Republicans in that the districts where the House majority is going to be decided are districts that are upscale suburban and don't tend to like Trump, even though they usually vote Republican and they really like tax cuts.

And so that's the challenge for Republicans is trying to make sure that these voters, who they need to hold a majority are going to be with them and because these voters are going to lose some benefits in terms of tax deductions they've depended on for years because the postcard sham isn't going to work for them. I mean, if you're --

BASH: This is supposed to be tax reform where you make it easy on a postcard.

DRUCKER: And I think for -- yes. I think there are millions of taxpayers out there that that will work for them, but these are upscale voters who have lots of deductions.

[16:50:03] They make a decent amount of money. Their finances are a bit complicated. They're still going to need their accountants. It's still going to be confusing, hence your last guest. And so that it is going to be a challenge and this is what Republicans face in trying to sell this.

BASH: OK. Alice, the president started his presidency almost a year ago, claiming that he had the biggest crowds at his inauguration in the history of inaugurations and the history of mankind. Yesterday, he said that he's ending the year signing more legislation than anybody. In fact, he has signed the fewest number of bills into law than any first year president dating back to Eisenhower.

How does that symbolize the Trump presidency? We start with an exaggeration that is false and we end with one that's false.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It just goes to show he is so obsessed with the size of things and has a very loose relationship with the truth. And that's the way he campaigned, that's the way he won, that's the way he is governing.

Here's the reality, I think he would do himself a lot more benefit if he can focus more on the content of legislation as opposed to the count. The content of what he's actually been able to accomplish certainly with the tax reform which also includes repealing the individual mandate and drilling in Anwar which I think are all good things, that is positive.

I think aside from that he should focus on getting the Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court, I think reducing the federal government regulations. These are all positive things. It took a while to get to a significant piece of legislation, but if he would focus on what's he's done overall as opposed to making up numbers as to how successful he's been, I think he would be able to sell his accomplishments much greater.

BASH: And Symone, we learned this afternoon that President Trump has a doctor's appointment, which shouldn't breed news, but it's been quite opaque. When I say it I mean the president's health and its records. We've got an letter over the past year --

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's been kind of like his taxes, we don't really know.

BASH: A year ago about exactly what his health is. But the White House is saying that the exam results will be announced afterwards. Of course, saying his lab results. A letter from the campaign, his personal doctor said his results were astonishingly excellent among other glowing assessment.

SANDERS: So it comes no surprise that anyone that I have a very hard time believing things that come out of this White House because we have seen that the White House will say one thing and then the truth comes out, either the White House will lie, I mean, the truth comes out, it'll be something else. And so --

BASH: And on this particular thing, this is after we have heard stories about Big Macs and Diet Cokes and really fried foods.

SANDERS: Absolutely. And so I think the White House will try to go over and above to demonstrate that the president is in excellent health. That he's not -- whatever the newspapers are saying, that's, quote-unquote, fake news. I think we have to take it with a grain of salt whenever we hear from the which is problematic because this shouldn't even be a thing that we have to contest or think deeply about.

BASH: It's a thing. Thanks, guys, appreciate all your time and insight today.

Millions of Americans are under deep freeze warnings and the big chill is not expected to let up before the ball drops in Times Square. That's next.


[16:57:17] BASH: Across the country, cities are stepping up security for some of the biggest outdoor parties of the year. In Las Vegas, the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the National Guard is doubling its presence and snipers will watch over the strip.

And New York City is increasing security around Times Square. The NYPD says it's adding more bomb-sniffing dogs and counter sniper teams. But officials say they've seen no credible threats.

And if you're heading to Times Square to see the ball drop, and I'm looking at you, Anderson and Andy, you better bundle it. It could be one of the coldest New Year's Eves in decades in New York City. A dangerous freeze is impacting millions.

We want to go straight to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar in the weather center.

Allison, I've got my car this morning and the temperature said 15 degrees, and I am a complete temperature wimp. It is cold.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Then I have bad news for you because it's only going to get colder. And not just for D.C., but so many areas. Right now it feels like minus two in Minneapolis, two in Buffalo, and minus eight in Boston, but we have another wave coming in. So you'll see those temperatures remain cold. In fact if you wake up tomorrow in Boston, it's going to feel like minus 19, minus 8 on Saturday.

Chicago, the temperatures are only going to get colder as we go through the week and the reason for that is the next wave of cold air, it's going to push back down into the region. The thing is, it's also going to dip pretty far south. In fact,

places like Dallas may not even reach the freezing mark on Monday. Atlanta, may not even reach 35, Dana, on Monday. So again, this is going to be a pretty widespread area of cold air.

BASH: And this bitter cold isn't just uncomfortable, it's dangerous for a lot of people. What should people do to avoid risk?

CHINCHAR: Right. So the best thing I can say especially for the folks who have New Year's Eve celebration outsides. Again, we talk about the temperatures potentially in New York, about 11 at midnight. With the feels like temperature in the negative numbers.

Layers, that's the best advice I can give you. Layers upon layers upon layers. Because this is going to be the coldest once they've had since 1962 and the thing you have to understand is when you are outside, your body naturally has a layer of heat on the outside of it, it expands a couple of temperatures, but when that wind comes in, Dana, that takes away that layer of heat so the more layers you can put on the better it will be for you if you are outside.

BASH: Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

Better Andy and Anderson than me. That's all I can say.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Brianna Keilar, in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."