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Trump Tells NYT He Thinks Mueller Will 'Be Fair'; Trump Claims More Knowledge on Bills Than Any Other President; Four Kids Among 12 Killed in NYC Apartment Fire. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: I think the public trust in this whole thing is gone.

[05:59:22] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump contradicting his supporters, saying he thinks Special Counsel Mueller will treat him fairly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's just a way of him trying to project "Everything is fine. I have it under control."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump mocking global warning in a new tweet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to remind him that what global warming is doing is causing very severe weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of his supporters probably don't believe in global warming either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom texted my sister that they were trapped in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our hearts go out to every family that lost a loved one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, December 29, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off. Bill Weir joins me. Happy Friday.

BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Friday. Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Good morning. Here's our starting line. President Trump shifts his tone on the Mueller investigation, telling "The New York Times" that he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be fair to him. But he says the Russia investigation makes the U.S. look very bad.

This was an impromptu interview in which the president insisted 16 times there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. President Trump also says he has an absolute right to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. And he reveals why he's been soft on China.

WEIR: President Trump also made news last night with a tweet, tweeting that the East Coast, quote, could use a little bit of that good old global warming. As bitter cold temperatures grip much of the nation, Mr. Trump once again trying to undermine the science behind climate change knowing the fact that the rest of the planet is above normal temperatures is something he repeatedly called a hoax.

And cities across the nation are deploying an unprecedented number of law enforcement officers to protect revelers as they ring in the new year this weekend.

We have it all covered, but let us begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live in West Palm Beach, Florida, on the president's revealing interview. Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

Yes, the president spending a couple of minutes with a "New York Times" reporter in the dining room of his Mar-a-Lago resort just a few blocks from here. The president talking at length about this Russia investigation and making some surprising comments about the idea that he believes that Robert Mueller is conducting an investigation that he has at least some confidence in.

Let me read you a little bit of what he had to say to that reporter. He said, "There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I'll be treated fairly. Timing-wise, I can't tell you. I just don't know. But I think we'll be treated fairly."

Now, that seems to contradict a lot of what we've been hearing from other Republicans who have waged something of a campaign over the last several weeks to undermine the Mueller probe, suggesting that that probe is, at its core, unfair to the president. because perhaps the people who are investigating the president are supporters of Hillary Clinton.

The president also talking a little bit about the impact that he thinks the probe is having on the reaction to the United States abroad. He said, "The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it's very -- a very bad thing for the country, because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better."

Now, it's possible that the president was also reflecting a little bit on how it makes him look on the world stage in addition to the country.

And I think the other remarkable thing about this interview, Bill and Alisyn, is that the president was at his club where he is often not totally surrounded by aides. And there was not a single person who worked for him at the White House with him when he sat down for 30 minutes with this "Times" reporter. Many of them learned about this interview much after the fact and probably were surprised by the fact that he spoke so freely about this ongoing investigation -- Bill and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Abby, very interesting. So he was, we can assume, sort of untethered by any aides, if he's ever tethered. But anyway, it is quite illuminating. So let's get to it. Thanks so much.

Let's discuss with CNN political analyst David Drucker and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

David Drucker, isn't it interesting to hear the different tone than certainly some of his surrogates, where he said that he thinks that Robert Mueller will be quite fair to him?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I actually think the president struck the right tone there. If you're going to try and cast doubt on an investigation -- and that's a pretty normal political thing to do when a political figure is under investigation -- they think they're innocent or they at least don't want to be found guilty of anything or indicted, the best thing to do is to have your supporters and your allies cast doubt. And then you play the role of the statesman and saying of course you have full confidence in the justice system and in the people conducting the investigation.

So from a political standpoint, it was unusual, because Trump doesn't always abide by those conventional rules. And then we end up caught in these discussions about whether or not he has any concern or understanding for how the rule of law works in the United States and how it impacts the presidency. Here he seemed to be taking that conventional approach. And I think if he could stick to that, I think it would do him well as long as, as he claims, at the end of the day, there will be no indictments and there will be no aspersions cast on him from this Russia investigation.

WEIR: Yes. Renato, he made an interesting point about his control of the Department of Justice. He was asked if maybe would open up an investigation into the Clintons, as has been threatened in the past. And he said, "I have absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter."

He talked again about how his disappointment in Jeff Sessions's recusal: "It's too bad that Jeff recused himself. I like him. It's too bad he recused himself. I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will say this. Eric Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever." I'm assuming that was the Fast and Furious--

CAMEROTA: Yes.

[06:05:23] WEIR: -- he was referring to. "These were real problems, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that. I'll be honest, I have respect for that."

What strikes you about his take of the relationship between the executive and the Justice Department in those words?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, in that second passage, essentially the president is saying that he thinks the attorney general should shield the president from investigations that are problematic. That essentially, whenever the president does something that might violate the law, the attorney general should step in, and you know, have his back, and stop those investigations which, of course, is not at all the way that the Justice Department is supposed to interact with the president of the United States.

But you know, in that first passage you mentioned, I mean, that's a little concerning, right? Because the president is saying, "I have absolute authority to do whatever I want with the Justice Department. To end investigations into me. To initiate investigations into opponents, for example."

CAMEROTA: And does he? I mean, is that right? Does the president have authority to do that?

MARIOTTI: Well, he doesn't if he is doing so in an unlawful way. If you -- for example, you can imagine a president ending an investigations into himself or into his friends, essentially, in order to benefit himself in a corrupt way. That's not provincial; that's against the law.

Or you could imagine a president taking bribes to end an investigation. Of course that's against the law.

So there are certainly limits on what a president can do. And, you know, he kind of parrots an argument there that we've heard at times from his -- from his team. And so I do agree that he was on point in terms of making the arguments that perhaps he wanted to make. But it's a very dangerous argument for a president to make.

CAMEROTA: David, also interesting, 16 times the president said, "There was no collusion between my campaign and Russia." So obviously, you can tell that he's thinking about it and concerned about it, since he felt the need to sort of repeat it many times.

However, it's interesting, because if he didn't know about the meeting with Don Jr. and a Russian lawyer, if he didn't know about Michael Flynn's meetings with the Russian ambassador that weren't disclosed, how can he know if there was collusion between his campaign and--?

DRUCKER: Right. And it's possible he can't. And look, I think we've seen from the beginning the president very, very sensitive to this idea that his campaign colluded and did things that were untoward. Because it would delegitimize, from his point of view, his victory and make it something that wasn't really aboveboard and therefore wasn't really real.

You know, I always thought that the best tack the president could take would be to say that, "Look, I didn't do it. I did not collude. And as far as I know, nobody in my campaign colluded, because of course I wouldn't have abided by any such action. But let the investigation goes where it does. And if anybody did things they weren't supposed to do, I want them prosecuted. I want to find out about it."

And the president could wrap this up as a matter of trying to deal with the overall meddling of the Russians in the election, saying he was going to finally do something about it when his predecessor didn't. This would be an argument, regardless of what people think about that argument. But this would be an argument that would put him on offense and put him where you would want a president to be politically. And I think voters would understand that a lot more.

And as we have found out over the last year, we don't know quite yet if there was collusion, but we do know that people weren't always telling the truth about who they met with and why they met with them in terms of people within his circle.

CAMEROTA: Right.

DRUCKER: And until those things are explained, it leaves open this idea that he might not have always known what was going on if, in fact, it's true that he personally did not participate in any activities like that.

WEIR: And every time he brings up a particular point that makes you scratch your head, it just opens up a new line of questioning into his logic. For example, he says, "I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion. She's the head of the committee. The Republican, in terms of the House committees that come out, they're so angry, because there's no collusion. I actually think it's turning to the Democrats. because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats." Trying to spin it around.

This is exactly what Dianne Feinstein said on television. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think what we're beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice. I think we see this in the indictments, the four indictments and pleas that have just taken place. And some of the comments that are being made. And I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of Director Comey. And it is my belief that that is directly because he did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. That's obstruction of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: He can say "no collusion" 16 times, 26 times. But the fact remains, Renato, he fired James Comey and admitted to Lester Holt he did it because of the Russia investigation. If anybody remembers the lesson of Watergate, it's the cover-up, not the crime that will eventually sink you, right?

MARIOTTI: That's right. And I will say, probably the oddest thing about the interview, there was a number of odd things. But one of those is this passage that you're pointing to go where over and over and over again the president keeps saying that Democrats are claiming that he didn't collude. You can say whatever you want about Democrats. But giving President Trump the benefit of the doubt is not one of the things that they have been doing a lot of.

I think the Democrats have really been going after the president on this issue. So there's -- I can't think of a Democratic elected official who is, you know, out there saying that the president didn't collude. So that's a bizarre statement, I guess, from his -- in his mind if Democrats are out there saying, "Hey, you know, there's an obstruction of justice issue" or something like that that that means, in his mind, that there's no collusion. Which I don't know if that is exactly what Senator Feinstein is saying.

CAMEROTA: Didn't sound like it. David Drucker, Renato Mariotti, thank you both very much for all that insight.

WEIR: It doesn't look like we're going to get an end-of-the-year press conference from President Trump, so this, I guess, is the closest we have, and there's a lot more to get to, to dig through this revealing interview with "The New York Times."

The president insisting he knows more about the big bills in Congress than any other president ever. Do the facts support this? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:15:23] WEIR: President Trump sat down with "The New York Times," impromptu, unsupervised for a wide-ranging interview yesterday after golf, in which he bragged about his knowledge of things saying, quote, "I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most. Better than most. And if I didn't, I couldn't have talked all these people into ultimately"--

CAMEROTA: Yes.

WEIR: "-- ultimately only to be rejected."

CAMEROTA: This is not you messing up this read.

WEIR: I'm sorry, I --

CAMEROTA: This is the grammar that -- where it gets a little tricky.

WEIR: It's a bit of an off-ramp that I wasn't seeing.

Let us discuss now with men with good grasps of the English language, David Drucker and -- oh, and Abby Phillip is back with us. Renato had to leave.

Good morning to both of you, as well.

So let's talk about the big bill knowledge. Abby, you've covered this White House since the beginning. And I remember the quote about "Who knew health care could be so complicated?" But he seems to be honing in on the tax, taking credit for the tax bill. Take us through your impressions of that comment.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think that the idea that he knew health care better than anyone is probably something that most people on the Hill would disagree with. But it is true that they gave him a lot of credit for knowing the details of taxes, or at least caring a lot about them, and wanting to move things around to make -- make that bill work.

It was interesting to hear him say that he also knew all the details of the big bills that Congress has done of which there have not been that many in this past year. But it's -- it's fascinating to hear him react to that -- that criticism of him that, frankly, you hear from both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, that this is a president who just does not want to get into the weeds on policy except on the issues of taxes, which he appears to know a little bit better than others.

CAMEROTA: I'll just read a little bit -- a little bit more of it, David, of what he said in this revealing interview to "The New York Times": "No. 1, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressmen and senators. I love them, and they love me. And No. 2, I know more about the big bills than any president that's ever been in office, whether it's health care and taxes. Especially taxes. I couldn't have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. I was a great student and all this stuff. 'Oh, he doesn't know the details.' These are sick people."

DRUCKER: Well, I guess--

CAMEROTA: Dramatic reading these is enjoyable.

DRUCKER: It's very entertaining. I guess I'm a sick person. Look, you know, the thing about it is presidents don't have to know the details of everything. The key for them is to know the details of a few big things and then to make sure that they know how to delegate and they know how to build unity around some big ideas and get some things done.

The American people don't expect their presidents or their members of Congress, for that matter, to be experts on everything. They do want them to be people that they think are competent, that they can trust and they feel are generally intelligent so that they -- when they come into contact with new policies and things that crop up that you can't even plan for, that you're going to be able to deal with it.

I always thought -- and we saw the president's deficiencies when it came to certain policies versus others. When it came to health care, he knew a lot less than he understood about international trade and about taxes. I always thought his biggest handicap this year was that he didn't seem to understand the process of governing.

And what I mean by that is he came to the table not really understanding the pressure points in Congress and just the processes of Congress, the committee process, and how members of Congress are going to deal with pieces of legislation and how the president, maybe the president and the leader of his political party. But it doesn't mean that everybody just hops to it like when he was CEO, running his closely-held family business.

Him getting his arms around that process, if he has, if he understands that better, will put him in a much better position in 2018. But -- and I don't think, Alisyn, that it's necessary for him to brag about things that are just not -- I mean, they're just not true. I mean, we've dealt with some real policy wonks.

CAMEROTA: You don't think he knows more than Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton and -- I don't know -- we could go through all of them? You don't think that President Trump knows more about everything than all of them?

DRUCKER: I mean, he's one of 44. And I think there were a few that were policy wonks. And by the way, they may not have been as good as politicians. They didn't necessarily get things done. So it's just odd to me that he feels the need to be -- to put himself, to describe himself this way, when that's not how the American people are going to judge him.

[06:20:08] WEIR: And he does, as you say, he has a perception of a man who ran a privately-owned business, not even answering to shareholders. And especially when it's talking about Democrats, Abby. He said, "Had they come to me, the Dems, for a bipartisan tax bill, I would have gone to Mitch. I would have gone to the other Republicans. We could have worked something out bipartisan. And that could have been either a change to SALT or a knockout of SALT." That is the state and local tax deduction on the federal.

What was the -- the reality of the interplay between Democrats and the Republicans during that tax process?

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think the Republicans made it pretty clear from the beginning that they wanted this process to be largely one that reflected the values of the Republican Party. And it was going to be very difficult to get Democrats on board with that.

Underlying all of this is the reality that not a single Democrat has voted with this president in this first year of his term, which I think in January everyone would have thought was unheard of. There are several Democrats, Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill, who are in states that Donald Trump won, who this White House believed would need to be with this president on a lot of policy; and they haven't been. And largely, the reason for that is because the president is viewed as politically toxic among Democrats and among moderates. And many Democrats don't see any political consequences to not being with him on policy. So perhaps that's true.

Although I'm not -- I'm not positive that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would have gone along with that. I think, the theory of bipartisanship is often, you know, more important to this president than the reality of it, which would require them sacrificing a lot of things and even sacrificing some Republican votes in order to get a few Democrats on board.

CAMEROTA: So the president, I think, just tweeted about global warming or how cold it is. Maybe we can put that up.

WEIR: That was, yes, last night.

CAMEROTA: Last night? OK. "In the east, it could be the coldest New Year's on record. Perhaps we can use a little bit of that good old global warming that our country, but not other countries, was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up."

So obviously, you know, the president has said it's a hoax. Any time it's cold out, that means global warming isn't happening.

WEIR: Just for reference, let's put up a map of the entire planet. And you can see the bright red spots are where it's above normal temperatures. And the Arctic is the most alarming part of that. The blue blotch that we're living through right now is just a little tiny part of a big heated planet. It's sort of like not understanding that when the sun goes down in your neighborhood, it's not dark everywhere.

CAMEROTA: It's not?

WEIR: No.

CAMEROTA: Oh. Well, I don't know, David. Case closed on global warming.

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think sometimes the president is just trolling us and having a good time. There are disagreements on both sides. There are disagreements among Republicans and Democrats about climate science and about the impact of climate -- ma-made climate change and what should be done about it.

These are times when I think the president, who has probably been briefed enough because he had to make a decision about whether or not to keep the U.S. in the Paris Accords or not, just decides to have a little fun with everybody.

And look, it will resonate with his political base, who in particular, is more skeptical about manmade climate change and the impacts it may or may not be having than are people in the middle and people on the left. And so some of these things with the president I take with a grain of salt, in that I just think he's probably putting the tweet out there and then having fun watching everybody react.

CAMEROTA: Such a great point.

David Drucker, thank you very much.

Abby Phillip, thank you, as well.

Now we have to get to this story. It is so tragic what happened here last night. At least 12 people were killed in the worst fire in New York City in 25 years.

What caused this? Why did so many people die? We have a live report from the scene next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:28:23] CAMEROTA: We are following breaking news. At least 12 people were killed in the worst fire tragedy in New York City in 25 years. Four children are among the dead.

CNN's Scott McLean is live in the Bronx with the latest. Scott, what do we know?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn.

Well, we are just learning this morning that three of those children that you mentioned who died in this fire were under the age of 10. This is an absolute tragedy.

You can see that firefighters, they are still on scene. They have been here since just minutes after this fire broke out, shortly before 7 p.m. yesterday, on the first floor.

They got here quickly. Three minutes or less, according to city officials. But those flames seemed to spread even quicker. One hundred fifty-plus firefighters ended up here on scene battling those flames. But obviously, not everybody managed to make it out. Those who did had to climb down those fire escapes on the side of the building into absolutely bone-chilling temperatures.

One of our local affiliates actually spoke to one woman who was waiting outside anxiously, as you can imagine, because she had gotten a text, the last text that she got from her mom, saying that she was trapped inside of a three -- inside of a third-floor apartment.

All told, 12 people have been killed. There are others who have been injured. The ages of these victims range from just 1 to 63 years old. And the mayor says there could still be more victims because there are still several people who are in the hospital.

Now, we've checked public records. This building, we know, has 29 suites inside. But according to the records that we found, it's only had four complaints since 2004, and none of them appear to be fire- related.

As for the cause, we've just spoken to a fire official on scene here. They said that they haven't gotten any new information for us. But they should have an update for us just after 8 a.m. this morning -- Bill.

WEIR: All right, Scott. When it gets this cold, people get desperate to stay warm.