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INSIDE POLITICS

Watching for Human Rights Violations in Iran; At Least 2 Dead in Iran Anti-Government Protests; Trump Says "No Collusion"; DNC Struggling to Raise Money Ahead of 2018; Trump Eyes His Next Agenda Item: Infrastructure; Alabama Certifies Jones' Win Over Moore. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 31, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[08:00:12] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A New Year and a new to-do list for Trump and his party.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have signed more legislation than anybody.

HENDERSON: But is bipartisanship on Congress's 2018 agenda?

Plus, Trump's Russia mindset, the president's take on the special counsel and what we now know about one of the investigations.

And midterm party politics. On the right, the outsiders versus the establishment.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There's a time and season for everything. And right now, it's a season of war against a GOP establishment.

HENDERSON: On the left, Democrats messaging beyond being the opposition party.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Republican-controlled Washington has been all-you-can-eat buffet for the privileged and powerful.

HENDERSON: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest story sourced by the best reporters, now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENDERSON: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. John King is off today.

To our viewers here and across the world, thanks for being with us this morning.

We begin with breaking news. 2017 is ending with major unrest in Iran and President Trump cheering on the protesters. We've seen videos of demonstrations in cities throughout Iran. At least two people have been killed. Protesters say they're fed up with rising food and gasoline prices and with Iran's authoritarian government.

As we said, President Trump is very much taking notice in tweeting, quote: Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption and its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian government should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching.

Vice President Mike Pence joined in as well with his own tweet: The president and I stand with peaceful protesters in Iran who are speaking out for freedom, and we condemn the arrests of innocence. The time has come for the regime in Tehran to end terrorist activities, corruption and their disregard for human rights.

Let's get the latest from CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, what is today likely to bring?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nia- Malika, it looks as though today might bring more protests in the street of Tehran and other cities as well. It certainly seems as though the tension is building in some areas, not only in the capital but in other places also.

And you know, one of the things that's really remarkable about these protests and almost unprecedented is that while the demonstrations themselves taken singularly are fairly small, they are so widespread in the country, not just in bigger cities. But also in smaller towns as villages that's something that you don't necessarily see that in Iran.

On the other hand, the other big thing that we also see is that they're not necessarily directed against one or the other political group. They're not against moderates or hardliners. They seem to be against the entire political establishment of Iran. That is the government, the clergy and also large parts of these security forces.

So, it really seems as though the Iranian government, the Iranian authorities are dealing with the crisis in confidence that's rooted much deeper than the economy. People seem to have much longer standing issues there. Certainly, the economy plays a role you mentioned larger rising food prices gasoline prices as well, but they also seem to want more political freedom and that's certainly something that people have been calling for.

And as you've noted, two people have already been killed. There have been demonstrations in several parts of the country, and it doesn't seem as though that's something that will necessarily slow down very soon. So, we are going to keep an eye on it, and it's going to be especially interesting to see what the rest of today will bring.

It's early afternoon right now in Iran, and the authorities from what we're hearing are already gathering to try and prevent any further demonstrations from happening, Nia-Malika.

HENDERSON: Fred, thanks so much for your reporting. We'll look to hear from you as things develop today.

Now on to domestic news. For President Trump and the Republican majority the New Year brings new challenges, finalizing a real budget is a top priority for both parties. And the big four -- Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- will meet on Wednesday with Chief of Staff John Kelly to negotiate how to keep the government running beyond that January 19th deadline.

Trump's just coming off of a huge win with his tax cut law and now comes the real hard work to actually sell this plan to the public and some skeptical members of his own party. Other 2017 agenda wins for Trump include regulation roll backs and appointing conservative judges. But there's still some things left undone -- repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the wall and the biggie, infrastructure.

Now, Trump sees some common ground for at least one item on his wish list and that is infrastructure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Infrastructure is, by far, the easiest people wanted, Republicans and Democrats.

[08:05:04] We're going to have tremendous Democrat support and infrastructure as you know. I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: The easy one.

President Trump told "The New York Times" Thursday the Democrats should come to him to make deals on DACA and on health care, as well as on infrastructure.

But a day later, he tweeted this: The Democrats have been told and fully understand that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the southern border. And in into the horrible chain migration and ridiculous lottery system of immigration, et cetera. We must protect our country at all cost.

Here to share their reporting and their insights, we've got Ileana Johnson of "Politico", "The Washington Post's" Karen Tumulty, "The Wall Street Journal's" Julie Bykowicz, and Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post".

Thank you all for being here. Happy New Year to each of you.

I want to start with really, Karen, what has become kind of a watchword here and a New Year's resolution. This whole idea of bipartisanship, they'll get a crack at it at least on Wednesday when they'll meet to discuss on how to keep the lights on. What do you think? What are the prospects for real bipartisanship going forward?

KAREN TUMULTY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Pretty dim.

(LAUGHTER)

TUMULTY: It's -- we haven't seen a lot of it in Washington in a long time, but this is an election year. And election years generally are more about times for drawing contrast than coming together. We have seen some rare exceptions.

For instance, back in 1996, the Republicans in Congress decided it was there in their interest to cut a welfare reform deal with Bill Clinton. But those instances are pretty, pretty rare and especially in this climate where the Democrats believe in particular that they have a real shot at winning back the House.

HENDERSON: And Trump himself name-checking one of the Democrats at least in that interview he had with "The New York Times" talked about Joe Manchin who, of course, is up for election in West Virginia.

Here's what he had to say about Joe Manchin: Joe is a nice guy. But he talks. But he doesn't do anything. He doesn't do. Hey, let's get together, let's do bipartisan. I say, good, let's go, then you don't hear from him again.

I like Joe, you know, it's like he's the great centrist, but he's really not a centrist.

It feels like if you're Trump, you might want to be praising people like Joe Manchin and not necessarily criticizing him as he did in this interview, Eliana.

ELIANA JOHNSON, REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, we've seen the president often has an interesting way of courting allies. I think this was an example. But I think what we're seeing is that 2018 is going to present different and I think bigger challenges than 2017. The White House really ended 2017 with a lot of momentum, signing the tax bill.

It came at the end of the year. Trump didn't really have a honeymoon period, but he had a honeymoon final three months of 2017 where he decertified the Iran deal, declared Israel the capital of Jerusalem and then came and signed the tax bill at the -- at the close of the year. But 2018 looks to be much more challenging given that it is an election year, and the prospects for the passage of big ticket legislation like that tax bill look much more daunting, I think.

And I think there are a few senior administration aides and members of Congress that you talked to that really think you're going to see an infrastructure bill passed or major entitlement reform, things Paul Ryan wants. I think aides, you know, White House aides think the prospects of that are pretty slim.

HENDERSON: And one of the things you'll see from Trump is him continuing to try to sell the economy and Democrats are not so high on the direction of the tax bill. At least, I mean, do we expect to see him out there a bit on the stump selling the tax plan?

JULIE BYKOWICZ, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I absolutely think he's going to do like a mini tour of some kind, to go to places and promote the tax legislation that just passed. It's really his sort of crowning achievement of the year, it came right at the end of the year.

I remember just a couple of days ago, it just seemed like so surprising that he would sign the law in the Oval Office rather than getting out there and sort of doing it in a really public way. But I think he'll in some ways do a redo of that, you know, take himself on a little tax tour and in the -- in the course of that, I'm wondering if he sort of begins to present himself in a little bit of a different way given his unpopularity. He's just continued to have very low favorability ratings and knows that this is a midterm year, knows that it's extremely important to him to keep Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

So, I wonder if he'll sort of pair a tax plan salesmanship tour with something to sort of boost his own popularity.

HENDERSON: And he certainly -- he talks a lot about -- he tweets a lot.

[08:10:02] He tweeted this on Saturday in terms of jobs. He said: Jobs are kicking in and companies are coming back to the U.S. Unnecessary regulations and high taxes are being dramatically cut, and it will only get better, much more to come.

Karoun, what's your take on what's to come from Trump? What's to come from 2018 in terms of prospects for bipartisanship?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, as Karen said when we started this conversation, I think it's fairly slim. I think there's going to be a lot of discussion that isn't bipartisanship. Nice and sure, we can find ways to work together across the aisle at the beginning of the year and when it comes -- push comes to shove, when you get to the specifics, I don't see how it's there.

Democrats are already pushing back against the way the Trump wants to approach infrastructure because they're saying the money isn't there.

HENDERSON: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: And then they're bringing up the tax bill and you wasted the money on the tax bill. It's already a referendum on everything that happened before it even gets off the ground and starts, right? So I mean, this is -- and you see -- I mean you brought up that Manchin tweet a minute ago and we were talking about whether that's wise or not if Trump wants to build allies. When Trump feels back into a corner, he starts lashing out and trying to whip his base, not really courting allies and Manchin has to worry about the voters maybe more than he's going to get a chance of being able to, you know, have Trump speak in glowing terms. You might go better about what the wisdom is on that front.

But it seems that if Democrats are not willing to play ball it's not like Trump is going to be the type of person to offer a bigger olive branch so that they will. And that's going to lead you to a situation of more political acrimony, not well.

HENDERSON: Is it clear that Republicans are even on the same page in terms of what the priority should be? You have some saying it should be entitlement reform. Some saying -- at least Trump saying it should be infrastructure.

TUMULTY: Well, first of all, Republicans traditionally have been sort of dismissive of infrastructure that -- the fact that President Trump who, of course, comes from a building and developing background with so much in favor of it during the campaign was actually something that distinguished him from other Republicans. So, you know, oddly this is on paper an issue where he should be able to make some kind of common cause with Democrats. But it, at this point, the environment is so poisoned that it's hard to see it.

HENDERSON: Right.

JOHNSON: The fact that infrastructure is even a Republican proposal I think speaks to the changing nature of the party and Trump's influence on the party. When you hear Paul Ryan talking about wanting to tackle entitlement reform, he's really an embodiment of the traditional, conservative Republican priorities and they are butting heads. They're coming into conflict.

But it is interesting and I think if the president had tried to tackle infrastructure in his first year in office, Republicans were inclined to say, OK, you just came into office we want to give this a chance. And there was also a chance that Democrats would have been willing to work with him. I think it's going to be much tougher for him to tackle that in year two.

HENDERSON: And what's in it for Democrats to actually play ball with the president on any of these issues. You feel like early on, Chuck Schumer was getting a lot of pushback from the base for seeming to want to want to cooperate with Trump on any numbers of issues.

BYKOWICZ: I mean unless I'm missing something, I don't see any incentive at all for Democrats to work with the White House.

HENDERSON: Even if you're Joe Manchin or Claire McCaskill and you're in this Trump states.

BYKOWICZ: Because the president's so unpopular at this point and because there really isn't a sort of a thorough and sincere effort to work between the White House and the Hill, even on the Republican side sometimes, there just isn't a lot of incentive for any Democrat to get out there and try to be the face of bipartisanship with the White House.

TUMULTY: And also the way the president is drawing the terms of engagement is rather puzzling. I mean, he is saying that the Democrats will only get what they want on DACA, the deferred action for people who were brought here as children by their parents, illegally, which is by the way popular. He says, you only get that if you come my way on the wall. The wall is supported by no more than three and ten Americans. So, he is telling --

HENDERSON: And not supported really by Republicans on the Hill either, right? TUMULTY: So he's telling them you have to come to me on something that's very unpopular and I won't or I won't give you something on something that's very popular. That's not a deal the Democrats are going to want.

DEMIRJIAN: And even on infrastructure, because of the way this is being set up financially, where the federal government is not putting all the skin into the game, it's relying on the local governments, he's giving Democrats that don't want to play ball a sales pitch for saying, this is going to cost you --

HENDERSON: Right, because he's going to --

(CROSSTALK)

DEMIRJIAN: Exactly. It's not actually going to be a boon of the federal government giving us money that we've been waiting for.

HENDERSON: You guys are all pessimists on bipartisanship.

Up next, Steve Bannon's promises about under season of war in 2018. We'll look at the states he's turning and whether he has the political capital to play spoiler. But, first, politicians tend to say the darndest things, with a look back at "SNL's" take on Trump's White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEC BALDWIN AS DONALD TRUMP: Thank you for coming. I'd like to start by answering the question that's on everyone's mind. Yes, this is real life. This has really happened.

MELISSA MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER: First of all, I just like to announce that I'm calm now.

[08:15:04] And I will remain calm as long as you sons of -- I'm not going to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone is celebrating this huge tax bill. Mitch McConnell is serving everyone bourbon, I got so drunk I told the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Michael Flynn the ghost of witness lifts. Mr. President, I came to warn you, time for you to come clean, for the good of the country.

BALDWIN: What the good --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The good of the country.

BALDWIN: The good for the country?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HENDERSON: Democrat Doug Jones is set to be sworn in as a U.S. senator this week and the special election to fill that Alabama Senate seat made national headlines for months and it's finished, has been no different. Controversy followed the Republican in the race Roy Moore. During the campaign, of course, he was -- several women came forward accusing him of sexual assault and harassment in the past. Now, he's refused to concede and filed a complaint claiming voter fraud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET PORTER, MOORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: When we have evidence of fraud from three -- and yes they are experts. One gentleman has three degrees in mathematics. He's written four books on election fraud and he confirms that there's enough votes, enough fraud that took place in just one county to change the outcome of this election. It is the job of John Merrill to make sure that the elections are free and proper and that they're fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:20:03] HENDERSON: Alabama secretary of state who certify the election results last week says that Moore and his supporters are just flat-out wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MERRILL, ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that has followed this election objectively, that this election has been conducted with the utmost integrity, that it's been safe, secure, been credible. The results have the kind of integrity and credibility that the people of Alabama expect and demand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Eliana, when you talk about that Alabama race, obviously, Doug Jones is going to be seated on Wednesday, you have to also talk about Steve Bannon. He was very instrumental in this race. He has said the ship has sailed on Roy Moore. In some ways, he's sort of on that ship as well.

What do you make --

JOHNSON: Peeling away.

HENDERSON: Peeling away possibly.

What do you make of how powerful Bannon is now in the wake of what happened in Alabama?

JOHNSON: You know, in general, I think Bannon's power has been overstated. He joined the Trump campaign after it was well off the ground and after Trump had gained a lot of popularity and though he positions himself as the tribunal of Trumpism, I think we've seen over the past several months that he really just -- has distinguished himself and distanced himself from the president in a lot of ways. And I wonder whether voters will begin to pick up on this. He's

criticized the president for being soft on China. He's endorsed candidates who are different from the president, and he spent a lot of his time since he's left the White House really undermining and criticizing the president.

And so, I do question whether the extent to which he's spent time criticizing and undermining Trump will -- that voters will begin to pick up on the fact that these are two different people and that Bannonism is not Trumpism, whether that will undermine, you know, whatever power he does have.

(CROSSTALK)

TUMULTY: But where Steve Bannon does matter is in Republican primaries and that's what we saw in Alabama. He can bring in a Bannonite candidate be a spoiler in a primary, and that could actually do damage to the Republicans come November, if in fact it -- particularly in some of these critical districts, if they have candidates who are just too extremists to win.

HENDERSON: And he's targeted --

JOHNSON: Whether -- if voters begin to understand that Steve Bannon doesn't carry the imprimatur of Trump, it won't care -- you know, it will lessen his power in these primaries.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean -- you mentioned the fights he wants to get into, you wonder about the next Alabama's -- here are some of the contests that he looks like he wants to play in Wyoming, on Nebraska, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, get in those primary fights.

Julie, you've written about Bannon. You've written about donors, how they feel about him. What do you see coming from him in terms of his power?

BYKOWICZ: Well, even before Alabama went totally south for Republicans, donors were very skeptical of what it is that Steve Bannon wants to do. You know, he talks a big game about getting involved and sort of shaking up the Republican field. But even though you're Steve Bannon and you have sort of bandwidth from the president, you've got your own media site, it is still very expensive to challenge all sorts of Republican senators.

And so, donors have been waiting to see, you know, who else gets in with him. It's sort of kind of a game of chicken at this point to see which donor will go first. And I think that there really isn't a clear source of funding at this point for some sort of large-scale Steve Bannon-led insurrection. So, I'm really going to be watching closely in the first few months of the year to see how his funding shapes out.

HENDERSON: Yes, it's clear that he is good at getting himself press. He was on the cover of "Newsweek". But it's also clear that he does have some power in terms of maybe pushing some Republicans towards the retirement. You know, the exits here is Charlie Dent sort of talking about his decision to retire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I'd say that the president was a factor but not the factor for me deciding to leave. We're in a very challenging midterm environment. You know, the party the president you typically you know loses about 32 seats in a midterm like this. So, I think most of my colleagues are well aware of the historical challenges that we face, of course, and Donald Trump, you know, complicates that because he's a very polarizing figure. And so, I suspect that our challenges will be even greater.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, I think that's true but I think that's what you saw happen in 2017. You saw a lot of people saying, all right, I'm out, I'm not doing this again. This is not the Congress I want to be in. This is not the race I want to run.

[08:25:00] This is -- I'm clearly not for this age right now.

HENDERSON: Right, the kind of chaos of this age, right.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. The chaos of this age, and then you didn't do a lot of those people like Bob Corker, like Jeff Flake, like Charlie Dent, have now, you know, kind of established a different soapbox for themselves that that's not fair I guess. But a different platform for themselves to speak about this in a way that is unencumbered by the need to run an election and potentially run against a Bannon-backed primary challenger.

But I think you're at this point -- correct me if I'm wrong -- but probably dealing with the fields that you've got right now for 2018. I mean, the year to announce your retirement unless something dramatic happens has passed. We are now.

Everybody who's in it is probably going to be in it until 2018, has stared down the barrel of this potential Bannon-backed primary gun and what-have-you, that's the metaphor strategy fire, but you know what I mean. And so, he's right in having identified the climate that I think led a lot of people to say I'm not doing this anymore.

Also, you've already had Alabama happen and you've had people like Mitch McConnell say pretty strongly worded snide thing --

HENDERSON: Yes --

DEMIRJIAN: We're not believing that anymore, right.

And so if the Republican Party decides to shift as a result of that and say, OK, we're going to stand up to this potential onslaught in the primary and is successful and doesn't lose both houses of Congress or even one in the process, you'll probably see that retirement flow stanch, right? But if it goes the other way, maybe you'll just pick this up again in 2019.

HENDERSON: All right. We'll see.

Just ahead, Trump's mindset on special counsel Mueller and the Russia investigation. Why the president claims that the probes might actually be helping his image and not hurting his image.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:30:28] HENDERSON: We're back with more on today's breaking news.

President Trump -- he is awake and he is tweeting about the demonstrations in Iran. At least two people have been killed as demonstrators throughout the country have taken to the streets to protest rising food and gasoline prices and Iran's authoritarian government. We're seeing of course, that Iran is now blocking social media applications that people have been using to organize.

And a few minutes ago, the President sent this tweet, "Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The U.S. is watching very closely for human rights violations."

Now back to politics, President Trump has been clear about what he thinks of the Russia investigations, calling them a witch hunt, a hoax and a ruse. According to Trump, there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. And to drive that point home, Trump kept dropping that phrase using it 16 times in a 30-minute interview with the "New York Times" on Thursday.

But the probes aren't going anywhere. We are now getting a better sense of one of the factors in the FBI launching its investigation.

According to the "New York Times", George Papadopoulos told an Australia diplomat in May of 2016 that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. And two months later when leaked Democratic e-mails surfaced online, Australia passed the tip about Papadopoulos' claim onto their counterparts.

That's the same month that the FBI opened its inquiry.

Karoun -- never a good thing for this White House when George Papadopoulos is back in the news as he is today.

DEMIRJIAN: No, and especially in this regard, it seems like this report is highlighting something that may have gotten the whole scrutiny on Trump started. So their association with Papadopoulos has, you know, cost them, in a way, perhaps because he just spoke openly about what was going on.

But it's making it more awkward for the White House because they're having to do pirouettes basically to re-explain what the relationship was there to make this go away as much as possible. You have seen various figures that are supportive of Trump coming out and question Papadopoulos' integrity, saying that he lied to the FBI. He's saying he's telling the truth on this when he's having a conversation. We can't trust him, we can't trust him. But yes, it's -- you know, he's not the only person that has made a plea deal, plea arrangement. He does not seem to be the last person that the FBI and the Mueller's probe is going to focus its scrutiny upon.

But he certainly seems to be a recurrent figure that spoke with pride about the things that he was doing. And the question is, was that because he was trying to please the big boss or because the big boss actually trusted him to do these things? And that is the critical element here to sell out.

TUMULTY: And in the "New York Times" report, which was extraordinary, it blows a hole in President Trump's main talking point, one of his main talking points about this investigation, which is that it was just all sort of manufactured on the basis of this now famous dossier that was funded in part by the Democrats, in part by the other Republicans who were running against him.

He is saying, it had essentially a phony foundation. Now we find out that the foundation of the investigation, the thing that triggered it, comes from within Trump's own campaign.

And so it's going to be much harder for him to continue to argue that this is just, you know, all ginned up out of a, you know, fake dossier.

HENDERSON: One of the things that came out in the "New York Times" interview that Trump had was, he obviously kept saying that there was no collusion. But he also seemed to think and say over and over again as well that he felt like Mueller could be fair to him.

He said it about six or seven times, almost as many times as he talked about there being no collusion. This is what he said in part, "I think that Bob Mueller will be fair and everybody knows that there was no collusion. I think I'll be treated fairly. Timing-wise, I can't tell you, I just don't know, but I think will be treated fairly."

There had been reports they were going to wrap this thing up, you know, before Thanksgiving and then Christmas -- the timeline seems to be moving all over the place and just not clear at this point, Eliana.

JOHNSON: It was difficult to distinguish in that interview, I think, whether the President was projecting a hope or whether that was a sincere belief about his belief about Mueller's, you know, intentions and his frame of mind.

[08:35:02] And I don't think we had real substantive reports that the Mueller investigation was actually going to be wrapping up in the coming months. Certainly that's what the President's lawyers have been telling him.

HENDERSON: Right.

JOHNSON: And that is clearly a management strategy on their part to keep his temper at an even keel about this. I question whether as the inquiry proceeds through 2018 whether he will get wise to this and become increasingly frustrated with it.

I do think it's clear, you know, there are attempts by foreign governments to permeate presidential campaigns. That is standard. What is not standard, and I think "The Times" established is that campaigns are receptive to those overtures.

And, you know, what remains unclear, as Karoun said, is whether that receptiveness, which George Papadopoulos was receptive to, whether that went all the way to the top. And that's really the crucial question in this inquiry and we don't know the answer to it yet.

TUMULTY: The other possibility, by the way, is that the President's comments about the fairness of the investigation were sort of a threat as in, this is a nice little investigation you've got going here, it would be a shame to see something happen to it. Because in the same interview, he asserts that he has the power to start and stop any investigation that he wants to.

HERRIDGE: That's right. And one of the things that's interesting too, when he talks about fairness, you have some Republicans very much on a different page in terms of how they are characterizing Mueller. Here's what a few of them had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: The Congress have an obligation to expose this bias, to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation. And I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in calling for the firing of Bob Mueller.

REP. LOUIS GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: He's bad news. He's out for a scalp. He would love to get Trump's scalp. He would love to be the hero of the left to take out Donald Trump. He will do everything he can to do that.

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R), ARIZONA: This is really spun far beyond what Mr. Mueller's authority should have been limited to. And we have to bring it back in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Julie, what do you make of those comments?

BYKOWICZ: Well, I think it is interesting, the President's comments in that interview the other day, I just -- I don't take his words on being treated fairly or thinking he's being treated fairly by Mueller. All that seriously, because I think it's reflective of his pattern of saying a bunch of different things.

Kind of muddying the waters by sort of projecting the sense through some of his allies that you just heard that the investigation's totally unfair, totally corrupt, out to get him, saying also at other times that he thinks he can be treated fairly.

I mean, there's just so much talk. And it's going in so many different directions that I don't really necessarily put a lot of stock in what he told "The Times" the other day.

But I think that we'll just, the first month or two of this year is going to be so interesting, because we're well beyond the timelines that his lawyers have been giving him for when this investigation is going to be wrapping up.

And does he become more agitated and frustrated with it? And if so, what does he do about that?

HENDERSON: He at least suggests, Karoun, in that interview that the base doesn't seem to care. We talked to some of his voters who say, oh, this is nothing but a ruse. They don't care.

One of them said that they don't care because at least it went Trump's way that Russia may have interfered. So, on that score, he seems to not be losing with the base.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. The thing is that the Russia issue, in general, is very real to worry about Russian meddling. It is very real to worry about cyber security. It feels theoretical though probably if you are somebody who's worried about various other things, you know, your financial situation, immigration, things that feel like they are a lot closer to home.

And so yes, it's not a thing that would shake-up the base at the level that we're at right now. I think it becomes very explicit, very much bigger if other things, if Mueller finds other things, maybe, but right where we are, yes, I believe it wouldn't necessarily upset.

HENDERSON: And we'll see what happens in 2018, if there's any interference again in these crucial elections.

Up next, Trump calls them the opposition party. And for Democrats, they may be -- that might be just the messaging that they want for 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The Republican brand, even in deep red Alabama, is positively toxic. The American people and even some in the Trump base are beginning to catch on.

If they continue to run the government for the benefit of the few special, powerful, wealthy interests, there will be many more Alabamas in 2018 -- many more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:39:38] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: Democrats are energized going into 2018 saying that the momentum is on their side heading into the midterms, but do they have the resources to take on the GOP's majority in Congress?

The number crunching isn't exactly on the Democrats' side when it comes to cash on hand. You have the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has a mere $6.3 million compared to the Republican National Committee's almost $40 million.

And as for fund-raising totals, as of November, the DNC has $60.7. The RNC basically has twice that, a little more than $121 million.

And we got a tweet from the President -- as we said he's up and he's tweeting. He's talking about the Democrats and their chances in 2018. Here's what he tweeted, "Why would smart voters want to put Democrats in Congress in 2018 election when their policies will totally kill the great wealth created during the months since the election. People are much better off now, not to mention ISIS, the V.A., judges, strong border, Second Amendment, tax cuts and more.

Julie -- you had written about the Democrats' woes. In some ways, again, they have got some momentum; a lot of the generic ballots seem to be on their side as well. But there is this gap in terms of how they're able to turn that enthusiasm into actual cash.

BYKOWICZ: Yes, it's really kind of an interesting miscorrelation between how much enthusiasm there seems to be out there based on polls for Democrats winning the midterms. And what the fund-raising is like so far.

Just taking a look at the DNC versus the RNC, as you said, the RNC has literally doubled what the DNC has been able to raise. And in my story, I talked about how there are two really big factors with that.

[08:45:04] One is that the small donors haven't come home to the Democratic Party because of the 2016 election, because so many people feel or have this perception that the party kind of forced Hillary Clinton on them, didn't give Bernie Sanders a fair shot.

You know, party leaders, of course, say that never happened. That it's false. But there's that perception out there that has really stopped people from wanting to give money on the small donors' side.

And on the big donors' side, you have people like Tom Steyer out there freelancing spending $20 million of his own money --

HENDERSON: On impeachment.

BYKOWICZ: -- on the impeachment project, you know, instead of supporting the party.

And so there's really -- it's a tough year for the Democratic Party to try to rebrand itself and market itself in a way that is attractive to small donors and big donors alike.

HENDERSON: And that is the big topic, right? What should the messaging be? We had the party of this July, Chuck Schumer, this whole idea that they were going to be the party of the little guy.

Here's what he was saying back in July about where the party should be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCHUMER: President Trump campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people. That's why he won. But as soon as he got into office, he abandoned them.

We Democrats are going to fill that vacuum. Democrats will show the country we are the party on the side of working people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: How is that going, Karen -- showing folks that they are on the side of working people?

TUMULTY: Well, at this point the Democrats really have not sort of articulated their rationale for being put back into power, other than that they would block Trump, that they would stop Trump. So, you know, we will just have to see if we see a real sort of set of, here is what we would get accomplished.

Because the fact is, it is hard to make that argument when the other party is going to be controlling the White House after that. And when you have actors like Tom Steyer out there trying to get everybody, you know, on the record with impeachment. That is going to be the big distraction for trying to say, here are the nuts and bolts of our agenda.

HENDERSON: And Howard Dean, he of the primal scream, who won and had a 50-state strategy for the DNC. Here's what he had to say in terms of what the Democrats should do in 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: In the off-year elections for Congress your message is, I'm not the President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

DEAN: And that is all you need. Then 2018, not being Donald Trump is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: That didn't work so well in 2016.

JOHNSON: It didn't. He is talking about the midterm elections. And that worked for Republicans in the midterm elections when they crushed Democrats.

HENDERSON: Yes. The party of no.

JOHNSON: Exactly. I'm not Obama. And they swept into office in 2014 and in 2010. Huge Republican majorities came into office, enormous anti-Obama energy.

And, you know, you noted the huge Republican fund-raising advantage in the beginning of this segment. I think Trump really showed that money is not everything -- energy, enthusiasm, all of that, matters as well.

So I think Democrats, they may be able to succeed simply on an anti- Trump platform and those numbers may not matter as much as people think they do.

HENDERSON: And Karoun -- 2018 in some ways is a dry run for 2020. And you imagine that you'll see a lot of jockeying from a lot of folks on the hill. People like Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker might run in 2020. Some sense that they're tacking to the left and courting progressives.

DEMIRJIAN: Sure, they definitely are and you'll see, probably they will be going out on the campaign for the mid terms and doing stumping where they feel like they can both have an effect that is measurable and maybe be credited for that, and also just have a platform from which they can be heard.

There's a lot of attention to be paid to certain key races where the audience may be far more sympathetic than the audience in Iowa, you know, let's say the following year.

So yes, it's a dry run to see how they perform. How much they can pull certain voters along, how much of a message actually is good for anybody else's district or state than their own, right? And so that is an important test for these guys.

HENDERSON: That will be really interesting to see where these folks are wanted, if you are Kamala Harris -- are you wanted in Missouri or West Virginia?

TUMULTY: The key places to watch are those 23 house districts where you have a Republican member of congress sitting in a district that was won by Hillary Clinton.

And as people like Nancy Pelosi have warned, there's a real danger in putting forward a Democratic candidate who goes too far to the left in those districts.

HENDERSON: That will be fascinating to watch. >

Next, our reports open their notebooks for previews of the political news ahead, including a record number of women running for governors' offices around the country.

[08:49:57] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: We'll close by asking our reporters to share a tidbit from their notebooks so you can get a glimpse of some of the biggest political headlines in the works right now.

Eliana -- I'm going to start with you.

JOHNSON: You know, we saw John Kelly storm into the White House over the summer and start getting rid of some of President Trump's aides. I think we're going to see some of that in the New Year as well. There's been a lot of focus on some high-profile departures in the White House a year into the Trump administration. I think we're going to see not only departures, but also some forcible removals.

HENDERSON: Wow, more shake-ups to come.

Karen.

TUMULTY: You know, running for executive office has always been a different kind of challenge for female candidates. And this year, we are seeing that there are 79 women in the mix running for governor. It's going to test this proposition that social scientists have seen where voters are more comfortable with women in a legislative setting.

But they are, you know, it's pushing against the barriers to see women running, this many of them, to be the decider.

HENDERSON: Yes. A lot of talk about whether or not this is really going to be the year of the woman, like 1992 was. We'll see what happens in the gubernatorial level.

Julie.

BYKOWICZ: You know, I'm really watching to see how Republicans and President Trump market the tax law. Just signed into law right before the end of the year and we'll see if the President travels to different factories and states to sell this law, because it really remains deeply unpopular.

[08:55:01] You're already hearing about some groups that did a lot of advertising during the tax debate, say that they're going to continue to, you know, put up advertisements and try to get that popularity up. So we'll see if Democrats come back with their own set of advertising to highlight some of the negative aspects of the new law.

HENDERSON: Yes. All the talk on that, you feel like it's just getting started.

Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, we have been talking a whole bunch about the investigations and what will yield between the investigations that are looking into Trump and Russia.

But I'm also going to be watching the investigations of Hillary Clinton. And if that feels like looking backwards than forwards, that's an argument you could make but there's a -- the House especially, various types of Congress have been looking into the Clinton e-mail investigation, how the FBI and DOJ handled that.

Looking into questions about -- surrounding the dossier and those things are heating up. We saw the groundwork laid right at the end of the year with the House Judiciary Oversight Committee bringing in FBI director. It seems as the GOP pushes to wind down the investigation into Trump, they are pushing to ramp up the ones with Hillary Clinton.

The President is intimately --

(CROSSTALK)

DEMIRJIAN: So the question is how much steam do they pick up and what kind of role does that play going forward, especially as you start to see this potential shift happen and the investigations generally play a role in politics in the New Year.

HENDERSON: Clinton always a fascinating topic for Republicans.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. We want to wish you a very happy New Year from the INSIDE POLITICS team here.

Thanks for sharing your Sunday with us.

Stay right where you are because Dana Bash talks Trump's first year in 2018 with former communications director Anthony Scaramucci next on "STATE OF THE UNION".

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