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Trump Tells NYT: I Think Mueller Will "Be Fair"; Trump to NYT: "I Have Been Soft on China"; U.S. Officials: North Korea May Soon Test Ballistic Missile. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:14] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello on this Friday. Thanks for being here. I'm Ana Cabrera. Brooke Baldwin is off today.

President Trump spotted golfing again at his club in Florida today. This time, he invited 60 members of the U.S. Coast Guard to join him on the links. This is on the heels of a candid end-of-year interview. President Trump discussing the Russia investigation with "The New York Times", saying he expects special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly. But he says the investigation and the president's words, quote, make the country look very bad.

The president also insisting there was, quote, no collusion between his campaign and Russia, repeating those words, no collusion, 16 times throughout this interview.

Let's get more on this from CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's joining us live from West Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago.

Ryan, we know the president often talks "The New York Times" as failing, what more can you tell us about this interview?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a pretty revealing and wide-ranging interview, Ana. In many ways, it sets the stage for Donald Trump second year in office. You are right. He talked quite a bit about that investigation into collusion with his campaign and the Russia government.

He even talked about Robert Mueller who is special counsel investigating that matter. And even though he's called Robert Mueller's investigation a witch hunt, he said in this interview that he believes Robert Mueller will be fair and ultimately will not yield any results.

He also talks about his relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He talks about China and their role in dealing with the North Korea situation and he also talked about his electoral victory and defended the fact that he won the Electoral College and not the popular vote.

But what's interesting about this interview, Ana, is the way this came down. It was while the president was at his golf club in south Florida, in West Palm Beach, it's actually not Mar-a-Lago, it's the Trump International Golf Course, he happened to be there while Michael Schmidt from "New York Times" was there as a guest of a good friend of Donald Trump, Chris Ruddy of Newsmax. And Ruddy said that the interview was kind of an impromptu thing.

Listen to how it all went down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, NEWSMAX MEDIA CEO: It wasn't certainly the plan. Michael was a guest of mine with a couple of other people, including Andrew Stein, borough president of Manhattan, and the president enjoyed his conversation with Michael. And they did an interview of quite a lengthy interview. But you know the president is a guy that likes to speak his mind and he doesn't necessarily follow protocols all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And an example of how he doesn't follow protocols all the time, as Chris Ruddy alludes to, is the fact that the president never held a year-ending press conference, which is something that presidents traditionally do. In fact, he hasn't had a formal press conference in sometime, Ana. Instead what we got was this very long interview with "New York Times" that addressed a number of important topics -- Ana.

CABRERA: Ryan Nobles, thank you.

A lot more headlines to discuss from that interview, I'm joined by Michael Moore. He's a former U.S. attorney. CNN contributor Norm Eisen, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic and former ethics czar for the Obama administration. And also with us, CNN political commentator Andre Bauer, a Republican and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

So, Ambassador Eisen, even though the president was sure to mention 16 times there was no collusion, he took a rather measured tone on Mueller. He said at least three times that he thinks he's going to be fair unlike his Republican colleagues, the right wing media outlets in the past few weeks who've been trying to discredit Mueller and his team. What does this tell you?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ana, thanks for having me back.

And the president's remarks, his faith in Mueller's fairness will welcome. I know Bob Mueller. I've worked with him, worked against him, and he is scrupulously fair, tough but fair. So, the president is correct about that.

It tells me that the president's lawyers have convinced him that he stands to emerge unscathed from the investigation, that the odds are on his side. It may claim others. Michael Flynn surely didn't do that plea deal just to go on vacation. He's going to testify against somebody else.

But the president's lawyers have convinced that the president may emerge unscathed. He may or he may not. That's a gamble. Lawyers don't always win their gambles. CABRERA: Andre, the contrast with what we are hearing from the

president now compared to what some of his Republican colleagues are saying is stark. Do you think it's really they're not on the same page or is this perhaps a game of good cop/bad cop, with Trump saying Mueller will be fair, Republican lawmakers questioning the integrity of the investigation?

[14:05:03] ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there are a lot of folks that have questions about some of the players in the game, some of their actions that may cause you to believe they don't have the interest of what's right and wrong. In fact, they maybe skewed one way or another. But I think it's in the best interests of the country and the president for him to stay above that.

I like the fact he is saying, hey, they are doing his job but he's not criticizing. There have been times he's criticized folks, and said, you know, he's my man but I wish he'd stick to other things.

So I like how he handled this today. But I do think this is fair in leadership if they think this is being handled incorrectly, or if they think there are folks involved in the investigation that shouldn't be in there because of actions they've taken that skew their ability to be fair and impartial, then that's more than fair for any one in Congress, that's their duty to call that out.

CABRERA: Sure. I also wanted to ask you about the fact of the timing of this investigation, continuing into the New Year now. I mean, here we are the weekend before January 1st, and the investigation is not over, despite the fact that President Trump's lawyers have suggested it would have been over as early as Thanksgiving, then by the end of the year, here we are.

What do you make of that, Andre?

BAUER: Well, first off, I'm not a lawyer. But I'll say 18 months seems like a very long time for an investigation for us not to have been given more than we've gotten. But I do believe in due process. I do believe in investigation if people think that there were wrongdoing -- I actually think the investigation should have involved both candidates, because it looks like involvement all the way across the board.

But that being said, we haven't seen anything where it actually affected the outcome, and I wish they would go ahead and get to that and tell us what it is, if it's out there. If not, let's move on as a country.

CABRERA: All right. I think that's what they are trying to investigate though exactly what was the influence.

BAUER: Well, they've had 18 months.

CABRERA: Social media campaign, though, and that has come to fruition to show there was Russia influence in terms of at least connecting with the American people.

BAUER: But we don't know for sure involving Trump.

CABRERA: Well, actually, it involves some of his policies.

But, Michael, let me turn to you, because I want to get back to the interview that just happened with the "New York times." the president says this, quote: I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department.

Now, this was in response to a question about whether the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation should be reopened. It wasn't about the Mueller investigation.

But bottom line here, does the president have the absolute right to do what he wants with the DOJ?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: No. And I'll tell you, I think there is really a chasm with this president between what he understands the Constitution to say and what the truth is about its responsibilities and the duties and limitations it puts on the executive.

Justice Department has maintained strict and fierce independence and there is a reason for that. It is not to be used for a tool for a politician to prosecute political enemies or somehow be a cheerleader for that particular person. In this case, I mean, he's trying to give the indication if he wants the attorney general to launch an investigation, he'll tell them what to do and they'll move forward.

That's what got him in trouble with the whole Comey thing. He went in there to use his position as Jim Comey superior to essentially ask that he'd go easy on Michael Flynn. That's why we are talking about obstruction today.

So, I think the president just does not have an understanding of his constitutional role. I do not think he understands the independence of the Justice Department and the need to have that in our formal government.

As far as this investigation, let me say this, dragging out, we spent years talking about a blue dress. And we are basically at a point now where we have brought in witnesses, we've had people come in, every time we turn the page, we find out about another Russian meeting or a failure to disclose information or something else that went on. So I hate to tell the president this, and I don't applaud him necessarily as much as my colleagues do for his statement about Bob Mueller because I do think it's a question of good cop/bad cop and I think he's trying to control the narrative and I think he's got in his mind a way to try to figure out he can be the good guy and let Congress come down on Mueller and other people.

But this investigation is not nearly over. And I think as time moves on, we'll see other people indicted. We'll likely to see a superseding indictment. I think they'll be a scathing report by Mueller to Congress. And it wouldn't surprise me at all at some point to see the president having to question whether or not he uses his pardon power to try to keep people quiet. If he does that then we get to a dangerous place, I don't think he can

survive it politically. But he's acting like any other crime boss, he's acting like any other gang leader. He's basically just going, you attack the investigators, you attack the investigation, you attack the length of time, you attack whether or not they've shown evidence is a way to try to make distance between yourself if you are the subject of an investigation, and what's going on on the ground with the investigators.

CABRERA: But he is now saying he believes Mueller will be fair.

[14:10:01] So it doesn't sound like he's attacking Mueller at all.

MOORE: Well, I mean, he said a lot of things. I mean, today, he says Mueller is fair. He said earlier about he wishes Jeff Sessions hasn't recused himself so he wouldn't be in this position I guess with Mueller looking at him in the first place.

So I don't know which thing we are supposed to believe. And I think he's sort of a master at keeping us guessing and keeping things moving and throwing red herring out to us on regular basis. And I don't know that we necessarily have to take everything he says at face value what he thinks of Bob Mueller, because my belief is he's talked about the investigation and Michael Flynn and what didn't went on with Michael Flynn. And that was Bob Mueller and his team that moved that investigation forward.

So I don't put a great deal of stock in sort of what I deem fake praise for the president toward Bob Mueller.

CABRERA: So, Norm, Michael --

EISEN: And, Ana --

CABRERA: Go ahead and then I want to ask you about the president's relationship with Jeff Sessions.

EISEN: I wanted to point out that, and you noted it, there is one very important falsehood. By the way I agree there is a good cop/bad cop game going on. And it's coordinated. We know those congressmen criticizing Mueller visited the White House. I still welcome the president saying he's going to be fair and it's the New Year and Mueller hasn't been fired. That's good news.

But, Ana, there was very important lie. And it was repeated again and again, a false statement there was to collusion. Because Mueller, and, Andre, he hasn't been there 18 months. He's been there less than a year.

He has Michael Flynn testifying that there was collusion with Russia in the transition. That Michael Flynn coordinated with many other people in the transition around the sanctions. He got Russia to back down, not to retaliate. That is collusion.

And now what Mueller is doing is trying to see if it extends back into the campaign. So, the president's repeated statements that there were no collusion are false. And he said it so often that you have to believe he knows they are false.

CABRERA: Andre?

BAUER: The nature of this investigation was that there was election meddling. And if you really get back to it, again, I've said many times, as we've had these interviews, that the other side had much more interaction with Russia, Hillary Clinton and her group of individuals, than the Trump campaign ever did. And we know that for a fact, over $100 million in her foundation, Bill Clinton getting a $500,000 speaking fee. Him getting a personal phone call from Putin.

So, I know nobody wants to talk about that, but there are a lot of folks --

CABRERA: Where are you getting all of that, though, Andre?

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Because what intelligence community has unanimously concluded was that Russia meddled in the election and they did so trying to help president Trump win the election.

BAUER: They have not done that. They have -- tell me where they connected those dots? Where they helped the Trump campaign in the election?

CABRERA: Where Russia helped?

BAUER: Tell me one thing. Yes.

CABRERA: Through social media is one of the campaigns we know they launched.

BAUER: We don't know that.

CABRERA: I'm basing my facts based on what the intelligence community tells us they have all the information.

BAUER: They haven't given us one example.

CABRERA: The impact of their campaign is what they are trying to figure out through this investigation, and to what extent and whether there was any coordination with the Trump campaign. We don't have all the answers or all the information just yet.

BAUER: The investigation has gone on a year and a half.

CABRERA: Go ahead, Michael.

MOORE: Let me just point this out and remind us all of this thing. It was a meeting with little Don and Jared Kushner and some other people with some Russian operatives. And the Russians don't come in there wearing a big furry hat come to you saying we want to be -- we want join forces with you and all that. They send people in on soft targets. I think is what you'll find intelligence community says, just define

whether they'd be some reception to their overtures. That meeting happened. And people didn't talk about it. They lied about it. They didn't disclose it. They didn't talk about it.

We also know the president was involved apparently on Air Force One with other people in writing a letter that covered up and changed the purpose and discussion about that meeting. People don't write documents that lie unless they've got something to hide. And that's just a fact.

And so, I think at this point for us to be talking about who had the most Russian discussion or most Russian interaction, I don't think there is any question at this point that the Trump campaign had that. And the question is how much were they involved both before the election? Well, I don't think there is any question about that. You have people pleading guilty to it. So, I mean, as a lawyer I can tell you, you don't tell your client to plead guilty unless there is something else there.

CABRERA: Gentlemen --

BAUER: So, they wouldn't be giving $100 million of Clinton foundation if they weren't interested in helping Hillary Clinton out.

EISEN: Andre, that's false.

MOORE: This president and his family wouldn't be telling stories about whether or not they were meeting.

BAUER: It's not false.

[14:15:00] EISEN: Andre --

MOORE: I mean, I've said this before, you're all explanation on the other side, like one of those little Russian wooden dolls, like a little (INAUDIBLE) doll, they give an explanation somebody looks into it, and another Russian pops out. That's what's happening with the explanation here.

I mean, there's no question that Russia was involved with this president. The question is ultimately, does Bob Mueller, and this is what I think will happen, does he and his team get back to whether there was Russian money that goes back deeper into the Trump business and Donald Trump himself and did that have an impact.

(CROSSTALK)

BAUER: An election money to pay Bill Clinton half a million dollars to speak.

CABRERA: OK, got to leave it there. Michael Moore, Norm Eisen, and Andre Bauer, thanks, gentlemen.

BAUER: Thank you.

MOORE: Thank you.

EISEN: Thanks, Ana. Happy New Year.

CABRERA: Happy New Year to you all.

Up next, after publicly shaming China, saying they were caught red- handed helping North Korea, why President Trump is admitting in this new interview that he has intentionally been soft on China.

Also, comfort zone. The president's own national security adviser H.R. McMaster says the president's approach to foreign policy is out of his comfort zone. And why he says that's a good thing.

And tragedy in the Bronx, the cause behind an apartment fire that killed a dozen people, including several children. Investigators say it involved a child playing with a stove.

We'll have a live report, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:20:13] CABRERA: Going easy on China? The president now telling "The New York Times" China is hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war.

This is a stunning admission from a president who previously said China was raping the United States on trade. This interview came on the same day he accused China of selling oil to North Korea despite U.N. sanctions.

I want to bring in Michael O'Hanlon to talk more about this. He's a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. And also with us, Elise Labott, CNN global affairs correspondent.

Guys, before we dig into this "New York Times" interview, we just got word from U.S. officials who tells CNN that North Korea may be moving now towards an intercontinental ballistic missile sometime after New Year's.

Elise, what more can you tell us?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana.

Well, officials are telling CNN's Barbara Starr that there is some equipment at North Korean missile sites that have been moving around that could indicate a test in the first part of the New Year, a ballistic missile test. Now, nothing concrete, but certainly when you see this kind of equipment moving around, you do look to North Korea to see if it's going to launch another missile test. It said it would.

And, you know, U.S. officials take North Korea at its word. When it's says it's going to launch more missile tests they generally do. And U.S. does watch North Korea trying to continue to perfect that ballistic missile technology. CABRERA: Michael, the president has been saying for a long time that

he needs China's help with North Korea. What is your reaction to the president now saying as a result of needing their help, he has been soft on China? Again, the word soft, a word he has often used against his opponents, but now he is using it to describe his own approach.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I think President Trump has, as you said, mitigated and softened his approach quite a bit in 2017 compared to what he said as candidate. He's talking about slapping major tariffs on all trade with China, probably a very unrealistic concept, but that's what he was saying as candidate, 45 percent tariffs, that kind of thing.

And as we know, since he's been president, he's built a bit of a personal rapport with President Xi at least when they've been together face to face, he's often tried to sort of sweet talk the Chinese premier. And, frankly, I haven't had as much of a problem because at least it's been combined with official positions on China, especially on security issues that have been fairly tough. For example, the national security that just came out some ten days ago.

So, Trump is trying to do almost this good cop/bad cop thing, sometimes within his own administration towards China, sometimes by himself, good cop one day, bad cop the next. I suppose at some point, you run out of play in how well you can use those tactics to achieve any good effect.

I think he's trying to make it clear to the Chinese leadership that U.S. policy is going to be pretty demanding on issues like the trade imbalance and intellectual policy and, most of all, North Korea. By the same token, he wants to maintain a good enough working relationship with Xi, that he can take a little bit of the edge off the discussion on those issues. So, if that strategy can really be nicely balanced with sophistication, it could work. The question is, you know, is that really the way President Trump thinks and is he really up to that temperamentally.

CABRERA: And, Elise, I want to get your take on that. I first want to read for our viewers the president's, quote, specifically on China, now after saying he's been soft on them, actually threatening China, saying if they don't help us with North Korea, then I do what I've always said I want to do.

What exactly is he saying there?

LABOTT: Well, look, I think you've noticed from these very candid quotes impromptu at the "New York Times" that the president is, as everyone has said, a very transactional president. You do this for me, I'll do this for me. You don't do this for me, this is what I'm going to do to you.

I think what the president himself and his aides have been trying to kind of temper the president's real impulses on trade, which is to go after trade for the trade -- China for the trade deficit, for currency manipulation, and I think President Trump has really held off hoping that China would get tough on North Korea.

I think, you know, the president isn't giving himself enough credit here. There has been more from China in this administration than any other administration. I don't -- I think what's interesting is we haven't seen a bar from U.S. officials. They always say China has done some, but China could do more.

China could always do more. But you've seen China in the last couple of months sign on to the toughest resolutions ever. The last one this week could be potentially be a game changer in terms of 90 percent of exports, of oil to North Korea banned now.

[14:25:08] Now, if China hasn't implemented all of those sanctions in the past, if they start doing so, that could be a real game changer.

I think also, the administration here, while they are looking for China to do more, they may be overestimating the influence that China really has.

You know, for China, they are looking at two bad options here. One is to pressure North Korea to the extent that the regime collapses, which they feel is also a path to war. Or they cooperate with the United States on other aspects of a tougher policy towards North Korea. And they see a preemptive strike on North Korea as potentially causing a war in the region.

So, I think China maybe doesn't think it has as much influence as U.S. thinks it does. It certainly has more. But I think we'd all like to see from the administration specifically what they are looking for China to do.

CABRERA: All right. Elise Labott and Michael O'Hanlon, thank you both.

Up next here in the NEWSROOM, families in the Bronx speaking unspeakable tragedy today. Deadly fire rips through the apartment building. What we are learning about how this happened.

Plus, two days until New Year's Eve and cities across the U.S. are now working overtime to make sure celebrations will be safe. Live to Times Square, coming up.