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Trump Tweeting; North Korea's Shifting Tone. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Happy new year, everyone.

Will this year end with a Senator Mitt Romney?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump is kicking off 2018 by going on Twitter, blasting Democrats, calling for a political opponent to be thrown in jail, demanding a potential witness be investigated, and praising himself. So, no New Year's pivot, apparently.

Breaking news. The longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate says he is retiring, laying the ground for a Republican civil war in a deep red state. That's a movie I think we have seen before. And also opening the door for Mitt Romney.

Plus, Kim Jong-un offers a hand to the South and his finger on the nuclear button to the U.S. What is really behind the dictator's shifting tone?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

For anyone hoping for any Twitter-related New Year's resolutions from the president of the United States, some bad news today. He was back at this morning with blowback domestically after calling for the jailing of a Hillary Clinton aide and referring to the Justice Department as part of the -- quote -- "deep state," and blowback abroad where leaders of Iran and Pakistan are responding to the president's rhetorical attacks today.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are headed back to Congress with some major items they have to move on in the next few weeks, including preventing another government shutdown.

My political panel is here with me to discuss all of this with me and much more.

But let's begin with CNN's Sara Murray, who is at the White House.

Sara, what did the White House have to say today about the president on Twitter referring to his own Justice Department as the deep state?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A pretty surprising tweet from the president, certainly a shocking

one, and one in which he left the White House press secretary to clean up his mess for him today. The White House insisting, no, no, the president doesn't believe that the entire Justice Department is part of the deep state.


MURRAY (voice-over): With a jam-packed legislative agenda looming, today, the president is talking about almost anything but. At stake early this year, funding the government, tweaking Obamacare, renewing CHIP, the Children's Health Care Program, and striking an immigration deal.

And while Trump closed out 2017 with tax reform and high hopes for the new year...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is going to be a fantastic 2018. We're off to a very good start, as you know, with the great tax cuts and ANWR and getting rid of the individual mandate, which was very, very unpopular, as you know. But we are going to have a tremendous year.

MURRAY: ... today, the president appears more focused on airing grievances than on legislating, starting his day a tweetstorm that continued into the afternoon.

Trump calling for jail time for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin for reportedly including confidential government information in personal e-mails, adding on Twitter: "Deep state Justice Department must finally act, also on Comey and others."

The president's swipe at his own Justice Department coming days after he told "The New York Times" he plans to stay out of the way of any investigations related to Clinton's e-mails. "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I have stayed uninvolved with this particular matter."

The White House later clarifying Trump's statement that the Department of Justice was part of a conspiracy called deep state.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that.

You know, one of the things that the president has done is appoint Christopher Wray at the FBI because he wants to change the culture of that agency and he thinks he's the right person to do that.

MURRAY: In one of his few agenda-focused tweets, Trump weighed in on the fate of the so-called dreamers, tweeting: "Democrats are doing nothing for DACA. Just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start falling in love with Republicans and their president. We are about results."

Trump taking a shot at the same Democrats he insists he wants to work with this year.

TRUMP: I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done.

MURRAY: And Democrats were quick to point out the president was the one who ended DACA.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has raised the bar for our nation's aviation, safety and security.


MURRAY: Now, despite the spate of distractions on the president's Twitter feed today, there are top White House officials who are starting to look at this agenda at the beginning of the year.

We're expecting the director of legislative affairs here and the budget director to head to the Hill tomorrow to at least sort out the spending side of things. As for the rest that is on this laundry list, that may come up later this weekend, when the president is at Camp David with GOP leaders -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House for us.

Let's talk about it all with our panel now.

Let's start with what was alarmed a lot of people formally in the Justice Department and the national security apparatus, his attack, his tweet attacking the deep state, going after -- quote -- "crooked Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin," suggesting she didn't abide by security protocols and writing in part -- quote -- "Jail. Deep state Justice Department must finally act, also on Comey and others."


And, of course, this comes just a few days after he told "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with this Justice Department."

How do you see this all?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one, I think the president is still confused about how this is supposed to work. He cannot direct the Justice Department to arrest people, to jail folks, direct investigations.

And I think someone should continuously explain that to him. But, two, really I'm concerned about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We know he's been on thin ice with Donald Trump in the past. But this is his moment to lead, to step up and protect his Justice Department.

And if the attorney general won't stick up for the Justice Department and stand up to the president, who will?

TAPPER: What do you think? BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": They seem to be ignoring

President Trump. They haven't arrested Huma Abedin or gone after James Comey, to the best of our knowledge. That's good news.

The institution has remained pretty strong. It is an interesting question how much -- one of the big questions I think a year into the Trump presidency is how much damage can he do, has he done, will he do to the institutions?

I guess my tentative judgment is the institutions have been strong so far. But three years more is a long time. And the erosion of norms and of sort of protocols and of normal democratic discourse, whereby the president of the United States does not target individual citizens and say they should be in jail, that does damage even if the relevant authorities in the Justice Department ignore him and nothing actually happens.


KRISTOL: It corrodes people's understanding of how constitutional government and the rule of law works, even if it doesn't actually lead to the direct abuse.

TAPPER: It is odd that we're heralding Sessions and FBI Director Wray for ignoring the president, when, I mean, as we say, and maybe anybody who thought we weren't going to be saying this in 2018, this isn't normal.

That's not normal for a president of the United States to be calling for people, for his political opponents to be jailed or be investigated, and yet he continues to do it.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": It's normal in the Trump administration.

TAPPER: Right.

PAGE: I think it looks year two of the Trump administration will be a lot like year one.

So, maybe we should say this is normal for this time and what do we do about a situation like that? We don't know what's happening in the Justice Department on things like leaks investigation, what they will do on a potential Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation or whether the president will fire the attorney general or the special counsel.

All of these things are things that could happen this year.

TAPPER: Yes, let's turn to the dreamers. He talked about how he's tying any resolution for the situation with the dreamers, these are illegal immigrant who's were brought here when they were children through no fault of their own, that he's tying it to more border wall funding and then to chain migration, which is a process where immigrants bring their family members to the United States, give them legal status. He also tweeted today -- quote -- "Democrats are doing nothing for DACA," that's the dreamers program, "just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start falling in love with Republicans." For some reason that's in quotes. "And their president. We are about results."


SANDERS: I just -- where does he live? No one is going to vote -- look, the Democrats, in my opinion, from the people I have talked to, are not going to pony up to the table and easily come to the table and vote for any type of legislation that has funding for a wall tied to saving the dreamers.

Furthermore, the Latinos and Hispanics and dreamers in this country are not about to flock to the Republican Party, whom are using coded dog-whistle language to talk about real people and real families. So I think that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are very interested in making a deal that is in the best interests of the dreamers and young people in this country, but dreamers and these activists are not going to go quietly into the night.

If Democrats do not hold the line for them, they're going to have to pay for it.

TAPPER: Let me play devil's advocate, Bill. The Democrats don't control the House, they don't control the Senate , and they don't control the White House. Why not offer border wall funding? I mean, who cares?

KRISTOL: No, I think they will.

I think this is a case where the president, this is a somewhat hard- to-understand tweet, and slightly garbled, but there is a deal to be done here and people are talking about it. Senator Cotton, who is a pretty hard-line guy on immigration, and Senator Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, have had conversations about could they put together a deal with DACA, so protecting the dreamers, combined with something that is not quite a wall, but funding for enhanced border security?

I think people are open to reform on chain migration and the refugee program. It's doable. I don't know if the president is helping or hurting with that tweet, but I think this is something that has got to be worked out by January, what is it, 19, when the funding...

TAPPER: There's government funding in January and then the dreamers thing in March.


KRISTOL: The actual sort of deadline on this. It's a real issue. And there could be a deal.

PAGE: Well, you know, the Democrats have a lot of cards to play when it comes to the funding issue, because when you control all the branches of government, both houses of Congress and the White House, you will be held responsible if the government shuts down.

But Democrats face a lot of pressure on this, too. The president is correct there were a lot of Hispanic leaders very disappointed when nothing happened to fix and extend the dreamers, the DACA program before the end of last year.


If Democrats fail to deliver on that again, I do think that's a political problem for them.

TAPPER: Yes, because they didn't insist it be part of the government funding program.


SANDERS: They did not hold the line.

TAPPER: Democrats didn't, right.

SANDERS: Democrats did not hold the line for dreamers or for these young people, but I don't think that that means that dreamers will be flocking to the Republican Party.

TAPPER: You don't think they're going to -- quote -- "fall in love"?

SANDERS: Not fall in love with the Republicans.

TAPPER: I do want to turn to the fact that the president also took credit for commercial aviation's safest year -- quote -- "Since taking office, I have been very strict on commercial aviation. Good news. It was just reported that there were zero deaths reported in 2017, the best and safest year on record."

We should note that in the United States, the last fatal commercial airline crash involving an American carrier was in 2009.

The White House released a statement today to try to clarify the tweet, saying, "Last year the president's announced his initiative to modernize air traffic control and under his leadership the Department of Homeland Security released enhanced security measures to ensure safer commercial air travel."

And then Sara Sanders said the president raised the bar for aviation, safety and security.

PAGE: It didn't pass, though. He proposed the measure, but it didn't pass.

I think the risk for the president is if you take credit for planes not crashing, if a plane crashes, are you responsible for that? It's like the stock market. If you continue to take credit for the stock market going up, when the stock market goes down, will you also accept responsibility for that?

KRISTOL: But it's even worse in the sense that it's so -- if a president of the United States tweeted it's great news there was no commercial airline crash anywhere in the world this year for the first time ever, great work by all the people involved, everyone would think that is very nice.

He can't resist taking credit when it's utterly ludicrous. There is literally nothing he did that had anything to do with this one way or the other.

It shows a kind of narcissism that is a little bit -- not to repeat ourselves from the last year, a little worrisome that the president of the United States seems to either think that -- either believe it, or if he doesn't believe it, I can't believe he really believes it, thinks somehow that he can convince people that he should get credit for it.

TAPPER: He might be surrounded with people who have convinced him he had something to do with it.

But, everybody, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about, including Senator Orrin Hatch announcing he is retiring. Will the race to replace him lead to an all-out GOP civil war in a deep-red state in Utah?

That's next.


[16:15:53] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our panel.

And sticking with the politics lead, what could be another pending Republican civil war in a deep red state just as we saw in Alabama.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, just announced this afternoon he will retire at the end of his seventh Senate term and thus will not be on the ballot this November. This sets the stage for Trump nemesis Mitt Romney to potentially run for the seat and Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon who loathes Romney to try to put one of his more nationalist candidates to run in that race.

President Trump had previously asked Hatch to stay on.

Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

And, Sunlen, how will Hatch's retirement affect the Senate?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it opens up the Senate seat in Utah, Jake, a solid red state, and, of course, gets some new blood up here in Congress. Hatch had been serving here for over 40 years and there was a lot of speculation whether he would retire or not at the end of his term. And, certainly, he labored over this decision to announce that he will retire, will not run for re- election.

Here is part of his announcement made online earlier today.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I've always been a fighter. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. For me, that time is soon approaching.


SERFATY: And Hatch had been personally lobbied often directly by President Trump who wanted him to stay in his seat and continue serving, running for re-election.

This, of course, now opens the door for Mitt Romney, a fierce Donald Trump critic, to potentially run. He is most widely seen as the person who most likely will, indeed, run and could potential win in that race. Today Mitt Romney releasing a paper statement saying in part, quote, I join the people of Utah in thanking my friend Senator Orrin Hatch for his more than 40 years of service to our great state and nation. As chairman of the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees and the longest serving Republican senator in U.S. history, Senator Hatch has represented the interests of Utah with distinction and honor.

But very notably there, Jake, Mitt Romney in this statement today makes absolutely no mention whether he intends to run or not -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill for us.

I want to bring back the panel.

Let me just remind you how tough a critic of President Trump then candidate Trump, Mitt Romney was on the campaign trail back in 2016.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.


TAPPER: Wow. I forgot how tough it was.

What do you -- I mean, do you think he can win?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I remember speaking to him that day. I think I called him to congratulate him and we agreed we had a good shot of stopping Trump in the primaries. Oh, my god. Yes, I think Mitt Romney is very popular in Utah. I think he's likely to run and I think he's likely to win.

TAPPER: He's going to potentially face a primary challenge from somebody that Steve Bannon, the president's former strategist, has recruited. We don't know who that might be but we know Bannon has been interested in it, and we also know that Bannon hates Mitt Romney. Take a listen.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: You avoided service, brother. Mitt, here's how it is, brother (INAUDIBLE) you hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.


TAPPER: Him saying, do not talk to me about honor and integrity, you hid behind your religion when others were fighting in Vietnam.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Didn't he work for the man that had bone spurs and didn't serve and is currently the president of the United States?

TAPPER: Bannon?

SANDERS: Yes, Steve Bannon.

Look, first of all, there are a large number of Republicans that identify with the religion that Mitt Romney participates in and I think they were also offended by those comments. Look, I think Steve Bannon was, 0-2 for now in putting up folks to run.

TAPPER, Well, 1-3 if you include Trump.

SANDERS: Oh, 1-3.

[16:20:00] You know what, the odds are clearly in his favor.

I think we're likely to see Steve Bannon put someone up. But I agree, Mitt Romney is extremely popular. He's likely to come out on top and I'm interested to see what that dynamic looks like once he gets to the Senate.

TAPPER: Going to be a tough fight?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, Utah is a Republican state, it is not a Trump state. It's a state where Trump is less popular than you expect in such a solidly red state.

"The Salt Lake Tribune" did a poll in October where Romney in a five- way race got 44 percent of the vote for the Senate. Hatch ran third. I mean, I think Romney enters this race in a pretty commanding position.

And what a change that will be. You remember just last week when they sign the tax bill, Senator Hatch said Trump may be our greatest president ever. Those are not the kinds of words or attitude that a Senator Mitt Romney is going to bring to the White House.

TAPPER: Certainly not. You have a trivia of questions for us. You're going to give the answer in a little bit. But what's the question?

PAGE: The question is, when was the last time someone represented was elected governor of one state and then was elected senator from another state?

TAPPER: Governor of one state, senator from another, which would be what would happen if Romney ran.

Don't go anywhere. We have a lot going on, including rage in Iran. President Trump voicing his support for protesters, some of whom have already been killed. Will the heavy hand of that regime come down on them? We'll go inside Iran live, next.

And don't Google that trivia question. We'll have the answer later in the show.



[16:25:01] NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: By the thousands, Iranian citizens are taking to the streets to protest the oppression of their own government. We must not be silent. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom loving people must stand with their cause.


TAPPER: That was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, earlier today, calling for support of anti-government protesters in Iran who are demanding economic and political reforms. According to Iranian state-run media, at least 21 people have been killed and hundreds more arrested in six days of widespread demonstrations throughout the country.

President Trump today tweeting, quote: The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and, quote, their pockets, unquote. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching, unquote.

I want to get right to "L.A. Times" reporter Ramin Mostaghim who is in the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Ramin, tell us what are the conditions like on the ground right now there?

RAMIN MOSTAGHIM, REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: In Tehran, it's tense, and unpredictable. We are still don't know what will happen in the coming days, but we have to wait until Friday when the Friday prayers, congregational Friday prayers. It is staged actually in Tehran University campuses. And then we can see it will fizzle out or spread to other parts of the cities or will woe the middle class and urban areas.

TAPPER: How did the protests start? MOSTAGHIM: Out of the blue. Actually, let's say when I was in front

of Tehran University campus, I saw 30 girls and boys young students shouting and they were saying that principalists, means hardliners, reformists, the time is over for you. So, they just tried to be anti- establishment from the very beginning and then say 200 -- around 200 young people under 25 mostly just took to the streets near the square, revolutionary square, and they shouted against the establishment.

But I think it was just venting frustration for unemployment and being jobless and no future for them. But very quickly galvanized and became sort of anti-establishment.

TAPPER: How do these compare with the protests of 2009?

MOSTAGHIM: I can say in terms of the organization, it is more spontaneous, more unexpected, leaderless, no agenda, very galvanized sort of anti-establishment. Against all kinds of officials across the spectrum on all officials are blamed by the young people.

And the participants seem apolitical minded, just want to vent out their frustrations and they are not political minded like 2009 at all.

TAPPER: All right. Ramin Mostaghim, thank you so much for your time and stay safe.

MOSTAGHIM: Thank you.

TAPPER: Kim Jong-un sending a surprise message to South Korea as U.S. officials fear another missile test might be coming. The former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, joins me next.

Stay with us.