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Tillerson: U.S. Has "Poor Relationship" With Russia; Homeowners Rush to Prepay 2018 Property-Tax Bills; Trump Falsely Claims He's Signed The Most Legislation. Aired 1230-1pm ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you guys. We're going to take a quick break.

And we should note that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill who distort about it and just got attacked on CNN is going to join my colleague, Brianna Keilar in the next hour.

But up next, Rex Tillerson sends a tough message to Russia. But is it also a message to his boss, the president?


BASH: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is telling Russia today, no more business as usual after days of Russian officials publicly criticizing the U.S. over its roles in Syria and Ukraine and after Tillerson spoke on the phone to his Russian counterpart.

He wrote this in the "New York Times" this morning in an op-ed. He wrote, "The United States has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others. Absent a peaceful solution of the Ukraine situation which must begin with Russia's adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia."

The Russian Foreign Ministry said, they were surprised by the article calling it confrontational, "All this was like striving to drive some additional wedge into relations with other states, first of all with China and Russia."

[12:35:07] CNN Global Affairs Correspondent, Elise Labott joins me now. Elise, break this down and take me behind the scenes on the shifting tone and also approach by Tillerson to do what he did in the "New York Times" today.

ELISE LABBOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, I think Secretary Tillerson has got a lot of criticism over the last few year because he kept such a low profile and people don't actually know what it is that he's doing. He's got a lot of criticism for his management at the state department and also on some of the other diplomatic, you know, objectives you've seen out of line with the White House, you've seen as kind of being maybe a little too soft on some countries. And I think that this is an effort to try and get on the record what he is doing at the State Department. And I also think it's an effort to kind of increase morale at the State Department and for the secretary to say to his rank and file to the troops at the state department, I appreciate the work that you are doing and it is making a difference.

And I think on Russia, I mean, look, you know, there's a total disconnect between what the President is tweeting and what he is saying about Russia and what the actual policy is. You know, one of the reasons that the Russians are criticizing the U.S. on Ukraine is because last week for the first time President Trump had approved the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine --

BASH: Right.

LABBOT: -- which is really a kind of step up from President Obama. So, the rhetoric from President Trump might be very soft and he, you know, refuses to acknowledge election meddling, and the rest of his cabinet is certainly doing so. And certainly, the policies and even President Trump's national security strategy suggests that they feel Russia is aggressive and needs to be countered.

BASH: That's a really good point. I want to turn to something that is just breaking now and that is what the President tweeted actually this morning in the last hour about China. He said the following. He said, caught red handed, very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen.

Really, really interesting because the President did a 180 from the campaign where he was promising to get really tough on China and always to -- when he became President, in large part, he said he because he thought the Chinese would be helpful in putting North Korea in its place. Now, he's going after China for doing just the opposite.

LABBOT: Well, you know, every other week, Dana, the rhetoric is very tough on China and that when he meets with President Xi Jinping, he's praising China. And just a little over a week ago, the United States along with China passed the toughest sanctions on North Korea which includes a cut in 90% of oil experts to North Korea and China is responsible for most of those exports. So, I think, you know, President Trump is trying to balance getting tough on China with this rhetoric and also getting China to try and do something.

Now, this tweet comes from reports that over the last several months in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution, China has been, you know, sending oil shipments through ship to ship to North Korea. That was before this resolution was passed so it's a little bit, you know, in the past. We have to see now if China is going to implement these very tough sanctions.

I think the U.S. knows that China has been skirting some of the sanctions in the past, passing the resolutions and then, you know, kind of on the side, not implementing them, and giving -- supporting North Korea whether it's oil, whether it's export exports.

I think the key now and I think that's what President Trump is at least trying to say in his tweet, maybe not so artfully is that we're expecting you to implement these sanctions because that's -- this pressure campaign that the U.S. is trying to get on North Korea is they are hoping it's going to really squeeze the regime to the table.

BASH: Really important explanation in context as always. Elise Labbot, thank you so much for that.


BASH: Bring it around the table. Let's just return to the Tillerson op-ed. I'm just struck by well, many things. Let's just start with the fact that he acknowledges in print, in public, and the President's favorite publication although he denies it, your publication, "The New York Times" that the Russians meddled in America's election which he still calls a hoax.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. And look, I mean, I think the President's view on this has been kind of on an island for a long time. I mean, there has been no doubt that most members of the cabinet, most -- obviously the intelligence services, they all have concluded that the meddling did occur. The President is the one that's been out there.

And the question has always been, you know, to what extent can the President's people sort of acknowledge that publicly. And this is a pretty, you know, written in black and white, the secretary of state saying it.

You know, what struck me about the op-ed overall, you know, we reported and a bunch of other places reported a few weeks ago that the secretary of state is on his way out. It hasn't happened yet.

[12:40:11] You know, it sure seems like the President is preparing to let him go. And the op-ed struck me as an effort by Rex Tillerson to kind of lay out what, you know, sort of like prepare his exit in a sense and sort of lay out what he thinks his accomplishments are because once you are gone, you don't get to set that agenda, you know.

BASH: Yes.

SHEAR: Or you don't get to write your story quite that way.

BASH: I would think he has prepared his exit or make an argument for your job, to keep your job. What do you think?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, I think there has been quite the narrative and a times it's been maybe urged on by the President himself and the State Department hasn't been openly functional. There has been poor morale that something that the state departments spokeswoman has acknowledge at one point or another that a lot of former state department employees, a lot of foreign service officers have criticized the way that he's gone about the job, and this was an opportunity with no questions asked, just to lay out in detail what he thinks he has accomplish and what he thinks the department has accomplished.

And that goes beyond just what's happening with Russia or what's happening with China or what their relationship with Pakistan, but it's also about the restructuring of the department, which has garnered a lot of criticism from across the board, across the ideological spectrum in his ability or his effort to defend what he has actually done and give his rational in a plain spoken manner through print why he actually decided to do that and why he thinks that will be beneficial in the future.

The criticism has kind of been unanswered because he's not out in front of the media a lot. He hasn't traveled with the press all the time.

BASH: Exactly, right.

MATTINGLY: And this was an opportunity to address it kind of in his own way at blink.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITTER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: And certainly without reporters --

MATTINGLY: Yes, yes.

BASH: Yes.

BACON: -- putting their take on it. The reality is he can't stay in this situation. The whole point as secretary said, if you travel abroad, people think you are speaking for the President. People think that this man is definitely not speaking for the President in which the President often reinforces that view.

So, the President has to reinforce and say Tillerson is my guy. I don't care what you think or let him go. But the situation is unattainable and I assume Tillerson like Michael said he's probably on the way out in the next months and wants to say here is my record.

And also to say since everyone in the world thinks, except for Donald Trump that Russia interfered with the elections. I'm sure Tillerson wants to be on the right side of history in terms of what the establishment on what people think in where -- in his next phase of his career.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: And on the Russia component, I mean, we're just a couple of days away from 2018. Remember, every bit of testimony you've heard from experts say that the Russians are planning to interfere in the 2018 elections here and elsewhere, and so that remains an issue. And I think it also kind of laid out how much the administration is going to have to juggle next year and kind of a reminder of how many uncertainties there are heading into this New Year.

BASH: I just want to play one thing because you mentioned the whole the question of Tillerson and whether he's going to stay or go. He has spent a lot of his tenure, his year -- almost year as secretary of state fighting off rumors about that. I want to play some of that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There's never been a consideration in my mind to leave. I serve at the appointment of the President and I am here for as long as the President feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.


TILLERSON: It's laughable.


TILLERSON: That's ridiculous.


BASH: I mean, it's kind of understandable that he doesn't like to go out before the press because rightly so, reporters ask him that question whenever they do and it's because of reporting like your papers, you know. But it would behoove him if he came out more often. It wouldn't have to be asked every single time because he comes out and talks to reporters so infrequently and he might have been. Maybe this is a lesson learned as you were saying, putting this New York Times op-ed out that like he is not getting his own message out.

SHEAR: And at the end of the day, the only thing that keeps in the job and gives you the credibility of the job is that the President backs up what you say and do and that hasn't happened.

BASH: OK. Everybody, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

And coming up, President Trump tells a crowd he signed more legislation than anybody but there's a little problem with that statement. The facts of it, let's look at how he compares himself to past presidents and let those facts are, next.


[12:48:26] BASH: Here's a look at some of the stories on our Political Radar. "Vanity Fair" is apologizing for a video that mocked Hillary Clinton by suggesting possible New Year's resolutions for the former presidential candidate to keep her mind off politics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take more photos in the woods. How else are you going to meet unsuspecting hikers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take up a new hobby in the New Year. Volunteer work, knitting, improve comedy, literally anything that'll keep you from running again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To finally put away your James Comey voodoo doll. Now we all know you think that James Comey cost the election, it might have. But so did a handful of other things. It's a year later and time to move on.


BASH: The magazine release the statement saying the video was an attempt at humor and missed the mark. It certainly caused plenty of outrage online although President Trump had a different view. He tweeted in part "Vanity Fair, which looks like it's on its last legs, is bending over backwards, and apologizing for the minor hit they took at crooked H."

Americans in states with high state and property taxes are scrambling to pay their taxes early this week that's because the new tax law limits the deduction they can take for paying state and local taxes. But since it's not yet in effect, taxpayers may still be able to take the full deduction if they pay next year's taxes now.

The IRS though says not so fast under only certain conditions with his work around pay off her taxpayer. And in some cases the tax experts say be careful, because paying early my ultimately mean you're going to pay more.

[12:50:02] And President Trump uses a surprise visit to a Florida firehouse to tout his legislative record in the first year as the most successful of an U.S. president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we have -- and you'll have to ask those folks, but I think they know the real answer. We have more legislation passed including the record is Harry Truman a long time ago. And we broke that record. So we have a lot done.


BASH: Here's the problem with that statement. It's not true. In fact, President Trump has signed fewer bills in his first year in office than any administration in decades.

Trump has signed 96 laws this year. Harry Truman who he cited. Cited -- Signed rather about 250 according to the Truman Presidential Library.

Coming up, nothing to see here, folks. A day after CNN cameras catches the president hitting the lynx, a mysterious truck shows up to block their shot. What's going on? We'll try to tell you, next.



TRUMP: Obama ought to get off the golf course.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

He has played more gold than most in the PGA tour.

He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.


BASH: Remember that go-to attack line from the president, then- candidate Trump during the campaign? We do.

But for all that criticism he directed to President Obama for playing golf, there are some facts about this president, President Trump's own time on the lynx since taking office. Eighty-eight days in all. CNN cameras were able to capture him golfing at Trump International again today after something really mysterious happened on Wednesday.

A large white truck appeared out of nowhere and blocked the view of journalists who had gathered on public property from getting another shot at the president. Well, when CNN attempted to move the camera, the truck moved again, obscuring the shot again. This is just so great. And we're trying to figure out where this white truck comes from. I should say for the record, our Noah G ray has been on the case.

The Secret Service had said that the U.S. S.S., Secret Service, is in the business of protection and investigations not commissioning vehicles to block the media's view of the president's golf swing and the Palm Beach sheriff's office also denies that.

I just to also want to put up on the screen as we start to talk the comparison between President Obama and his golfing which was 29 in his first year. And Donald -- and by the way, that was thank you Mark Noeler who keeps all such stats of CBS, Donald Trump 88.

So, here's my thing, Perry. I think everybody wants a president to, you know, let off some steam and golfing is a great way to do it. So it's not like this is necessarily a bad thing that he's golfing, it's just that hypocritical.

BACON: I think it's also been that whoever is trying to obscure what the president is doing with the ban is bad. (INAUDIBLE) it seems like I'm not surprised he plays golf. He played golf before.

[12:55:09] I think the whole idea that it also the number of days is surprising. I feel like Obama played golf a lot when I covered him, and now I feel like this 29 and, you know, that's three times as much. I'm also surprised by that as well.

HUEY-BUMS: And this is the White House that has worked overtime to say that the president is not doing what he's doing, right, in terms of playing golf. Remember in the beginning they talked a lot, they wouldn't answer questions about what the president was doing on the gold course even though he was dressed in golf clothes.

BASH: And he does golf with people who he does business with. Not business like, you know, the political --

MATTINGLY: You mean lawmakers Lindsay Graham, Rand Paul. He does a lot of golf, he does a lot of phone calls on the golf course with Mitch McConnell is the one we've all heard about. He does work when he's on the golf course.

I don't think anybody has a problem with him golfing or taking some times to shake things off. I think the question is why the White House tries to hide it. And the big mystery of this van, shutout to Noah Gray. I'd like tweeting (INAUDIBLE) for his next e-mail trying to break the case of where this came from.

BASH: We're going to have to leave it there. Sorry Michael. Thank you guys for a rock and roll hour. Thank you for joining us on Inside Politics. Brianna Keilar is up after a quick break and she is going to talk to the Alabama secretary of state about Roy Moore's challenge.