Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Spends Most of Sunday Tweeting; Poll: Most Americans Think Trump is Lying about Russia; New Poll: Iowa Democrats Like Joe Biden for President in 2020. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 16, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:22] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It's now 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 in the afternoon out West. Thanks for being here. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

President Trump spending much of today on the Internet, posting on Twitter, starting very early this morning a tweet storm lashing out at what he calls unfair news coverage.

He didn't like "Saturday Night Live." He compared his and President Obama's border policies. He promoted his favorite news network. And as always, no collusion, and no less than five witch-hunts in the space of just a few hours.

President Trump also added a new word to his list of insults for his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has now flipped on the President and will soon start a three-year prison sentence.

This from the President today. I'm quoting here. Remember Michael Cohen only became a rat after the FBI did something, which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of until the witch-hunt was illegally started.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House right now.

Boris, so Michael Cohen is a rat, according to the President of the United States. But before he goes away in March, Cohen may have even more to say on the record.


Despite the fact that he admitted that he had lied to Congress as part of his plea deal with the Southern District of New York, Representative Elijah Cummings, today on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER," said that he would like to invite Michael Cohen back to Capitol Hill to testify once more.

Of course, Cummings is the incoming chair of the Oversight Committee in the House, and he believes that there are still unanswered questions that Michael Cohen could account for in the sake of transparency. Listen to more now from the representative.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I'm hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation.

I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings. They want to hear from him, and I certainly would like to see him come in the month of January to -- before the Congress and so that the people's representatives will have an opportunity to ask him questions.


SANCHEZ: Of course, from the White House's perspective, Michael Cohen should not be taken seriously. Rudy Giuliani spent most of Sunday morning trying to discredit the President's former fixer, suggesting that Cohen was a liar and not to be trusted.

He did say that, for example, Michael Cohen, his claims about the President, could not be taken at face value, that he -- we can only rely on his word to believe what he's saying.

That's not the case when you look at the filing from the Southern District of New York. They have ample evidence that corroborates what Michael Cohen is saying.

Further, Giuliani continues to suggest these hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were not campaign contributions paid by the President, that they were paid for personal reasons.

Of course, as you know, Ana, Michael Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance violations based on those two payments.

So there's what has actually happened in court and then there's the posturing that we're seeing from Rudy Giuliani and others, Ana.

CABRERA: Boris, also just released today, new nationwide opinion poll from NBC News and "The Wall Street Journal." This poll covers a lot of issues, but look at this.

On the question of whether the President has been truthful and honest about the Russia investigation, a big number there, 62 percent say, no, they see the President as not being honest.

Now, no mention, though, of this poll in the President's big tweet storm today. Do we even know if he's seen it?

SANCHEZ: No, Ana, no indication yet that the President has seen that sort of polling. Based on his previous responses to those kinds of questions, you'd imagine that he said -- he would say that those are fake polls.

What isn't fake is the President's frustration over this Russia investigation. You will recall that in the past few weeks, he tweeted out that his approval rating would be in the 70s based on a successful economy, his judicial appointment, et cetera, were it not for this Russia investigation. Of course, as you all know, Ana, that is a cloud that has hung over

this administration. And no matter how many times he tweets that he's been cleared, we won't actually know until Robert Mueller submits his final report -- Ana.

CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, thanks for that reporting.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

CABRERA: I want to point out something else that the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll found. It also reveals that 45 percent of Americans want the investigation to continue compared to 34 percent who want to see it end.

With us now, former adviser to four U.S. presidents, both Democrat and Republican, David Gergen, CNN's senior political analyst.

And, David, first, your reaction to that first poll that more than half of the Americans, in fact, nearly two-thirds, think Trump is lying about Russia.

[19:05:06] DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's very damaging for a president of the United States if more than half of the country thinks you've been lying on one of the most important public policy issues of the day.

And it must be discouraging for a lot of people working around him, but the truth is, you know, I think there will be some Democrats who think, what about those other 40 percent? What are they not getting about this? You know, because I think there are a lot of people out there who just believe that, whatever happens, he's going to lie about it.

And you know, and the fact we've got these stunning sort of numbers from "The Washington Post" that's been following this of over 6,000 lies or misstatements since he's been president, that's just -- I can -- you can remember back in American history.

It wasn't so long ago when I was growing up and Dwight Eisenhower was president. Eisenhower himself, one of his greatest regrets as president, is that he lied once in a big way about Francis Gary Powers flying over the Soviet Union.

He thought they -- you know, he thought Powers was dead and he lied about it. We don't know, not us. And Khrushchev had Powers, you know, in a backroom somewhere, brought him out, and proved Eisenhower a liar.

That was once. I don't think any -- I don't think there's any other record of him not telling the truth. And that was the standard for our presidents for a long time

CABRERA: That is stunning. Or for a president to use facts to their advantage.

GERGEN: Yes. CABRERA: Just bend facts but not necessarily to just blatantly lie

and not correct those lies if they are indeed mistakes or misstatements.

GERGEN: Right.

CABRERA: But Trump, you know, he uses words to his advantage.


CABRERA: He's attacking the Mueller investigation frequently, but Mueller isn't the only one who is looking into this president.

I want to show our viewers all of the Trump entities currently under investigation by Mueller and other jurisdictions. We're talking about his campaign, his transition team, his inaugural committee, his White House, his organization, his foundation.

David, as we have mentioned, you have worked for both Presidents Clinton and Nixon. Have you ever seen these many investigations to this extent involving one president?

GERGEN: No. No, it's just far beyond anything we've ever seen before. And what's striking, Ana, also about those numbers and the institutions you just put up, that is every organization he has run. All six of those organizations.

All six organizations he's run as a professional are now under investigation of one kind or another by, you know, three different legal organizations. You've got the Mueller team. You've got the federal team in the Southern District of New York. You've got the Attorney General of the State of New York.

Now, you're going to have the Congress, you know, looking into it. This is going on and on. It's beyond anything, and I think it's the totality that's beginning to have as much dampening effect on the President's capacity to govern as it is the Russian question.

Even though that remains the heart of this investigation, there are so many other issues out there that suggest illegality or cutting corners or, you know, things that you would not expect of a president of the United States. Things that had they been revealed during the campaign, the vote very likely would have gone another way.

CABRERA: You were actually brought into the Clinton administration during the early days to be an adult in the room, so to speak, to help bring some order.

GERGEN: Yes. Yes.

CABRERA: That's sort of the same thing we've heard about General Kelly who is now leaving. At the same time, it seems that the walls are really closing in.


CABRERA: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

GERGEN: Well, in many ways, I thought having this all -- having Kelly leave right in the middle of when Mueller seems to be coming down or very likely to come down with his report within a matter of days, if not weeks, was a bad time to change the manager of the White House. You know, there's just too much, to kind of put it.

I do think the President, given the choices he had, made a smart choice in Mick Mulvaney to come in from the Office of Management and Budget. On the face of it, he's coming at -- he's the right person at the right time for the President.

If the government is shutting down here in just a few days, as it looks apparent it may, you know, he will have had the experience of running OMB which helps to manage shutdowns.

He is going to be there, I think, in the early days when the Congress starts, you know, as Democrats on the House start lining up investigations. He's worked in the House, been a member of the House. He has a lot of friends there.

So you can look -- you know, look at this -- and he has a legal background. He went to the UNC, University of North Carolina law school, so he has got the training on the law. All of those things play in his hands, and the President trusts him.

But underneath all of this, there is a question of how ideological is he going to be, how rigid is he going to be as Chief of Staff. Usually, your Chief of Staff is also your chief negotiator with Capitol Hill.

[19:09:57] Mulvaney has got a reputation of being a real hardliner, very stiff, very difficult. And whether the Democrats and he can get together and talk about things and find common solutions, I think that's a huge question over this. That's the big question hanging over it right now.

CABRERA: And we know how much President Trump values loyalty. And yet listen to Mick Mulvaney shortly before the 2016 election.

GERGEN: Yes. Yes.


REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump. I'm doing so as enthusiastically as I can, given the fact that I think he's a terrible human being. But the choice on the other side is just as bad.


CABRERA: David, I know it was hard to hear, so we had the captions there.


CABRERA: But he called President Trump, then-candidate Trump, a terrible human being.

GERGEN: Well, you know, the Trump people do place a huge value on loyalty. It looks like they've given Mulvaney a free pass, and they're forgiving him. But I will bet you there will be staff members who will be sniffing around all the time to see, is he really one of us or not? Is this opportunism, him coming here, or is he really dedicated to the President?

You know, there's a lot of reason to believe he is a real loyalist. And, you know, I frankly think, in politics, if somebody goes over the line, one mistake, you shouldn't kill him. So I don't -- I think the real question is, does he ever breathe anything, ever even breathe such a sentiment in the future?

CABRERA: Susan Collins was on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning.


CABRERA: She said something I had to go back to make sure I heard correctly. Listen for yourself.

GERGEN: Right.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But it sounds like you think it would be a good thing for the country and a good thing for the party, for the President to face a primary challenger?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, it's really not my choice. It's the choice of those individuals, but I see nothing wrong with challengers. That is part of our democratic system.


CABRERA: That is astounding, no, hearing a sitting Republican saying they are OK with someone challenging the current Republican president?

GERGEN: Yes, I agree with you, Ana. The real issue -- because Susan Collins is seen as an outlier on issues like this, I think the real question is going to be, will that spread? Will you see a more mainstream Republican or, let's say, a more conservative Republican? Even a Corker or a Flake could raise some real hackles if they came out that hard.

John Kasich, the outgoing governor of Ohio, a state which is so important to both parties, you know, he's in the wings. He's making noises that he might take on the President.

I think the truth is, at this point, unless things change, anybody who goes up against this president and -- again, within his base, is going to get crushed, but that person may also force the President more to the center for national election purposes.

No matter who you are, if you're a sitting president, you do not like a challenger in a place like Iowa or New Hampshire. You know, that kind of person we saw with -- we just, you know, buried

George H.W. Bush. He had Pat Buchanan come in against him when he was running for re-elect, and it really damaged him out in New Hampshire. Even though Bush won the primary, Buchanan got enough votes to damage him.

CABRERA: All right, David Gergen, you are always a wealth of knowledge and experience.


CABRERA: Really appreciate you taking the time, as always, on a weekend for us.

GERGEN: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you.

Up next -- by the way, in the next hour, I should say, our Ryan Nobles is going to break down -- we have a brand-new poll from CNN in the Des Moines register. Last night, we brought you the Democrats. Tonight, it's the Republicans, what Iowa caucus goers think about a potential challenger to Trump. So stay tuned for that.

Another CNN poll revealing the race for 2020, which is already in full swing. The obvious lesson is that at this early stage, being well known is the key. We'll break down those numbers. We'll also talk about it with a congressman. Ro Khanna is with us, next.

Plus, we speak for the trees. Dr. Seuss makes an appearance in court, but it's not what you think. We'll explain a judge's unusual ruling.

And raise a glass. As we all trod off to our holiday parties this year, how much wine is too much? A CNN reality check is coming up. Don't miss this. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: A Democratic showdown brewing for the 2020 White House race. And now an early look at who the top contenders might be. It's early, but this is a new CNN/Des Moines register poll on Iowa, which is the all-important first caucus state.

And it finds former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack right now with 32 percent support, Senator Bernie Sanders with 19 percent, Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, 11 percent, and Massachusetts' Senator Elizabeth Warren with eight percent.

Largely echoing a national CNN poll from December 6th. You see the top three there are the same top three. I want to discuss this now with a sitting House Democrat, Congressman Ro Khanna of California.

Congressman, good to have you with us this evening. Two 2020 polls there out this week with the same top three Democrats -- Biden, Sanders, and Beto O'Rourke. Any surprises there?

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: No, I think we're going to have a very strong field. The polls reflect name I.D.

Obviously, the former Vice President, Bernie Sanders finished as the runner-up. Beto ran a great race against Ted Cruz, and Elizabeth Warren has been a national figure. But I also think you're probably going to see some dark horses emerge when the campaign gets going.

CABRERA: Beto O'Rourke has had a lot of energy around him, but I want to ask you about this since you are the vice chair of the progressive caucus. Waleed Shahid, a communications director for a progressive political action committee told Axios this, and I'm quoting.

He says, I can't remember anything from Beto's campaign that seems like a big policy idea. The thing I fear most about Beto is that he's like Emmanuel Macron, super charismatic, runs a great campaign, really good at organizing, and really good at speeches. But then on policy, he's going to surround himself with Wall Street backers because he doesn't have really strong ideas.

[19:20:02] Do you share those concerns?

KHANNA: Well, I don't think he's like Macron who's a neoliberal. Beto and I founded the NO PAC Caucus, and one of the ideas Beto had was not taking any PAC money. And I think that is a big idea.

I do think there will be other great progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and they should all debate the issues. But I don't think it's healthy to be attacking any of our candidates before the race has even begun.

CABRERA: I'm glad you brought up Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders because we're learning they met this week to talk 2020.

You've obviously worked with both of them. If you had to pick just one -- because, as you know, they kind of occupy similar space in terms of the electorate -- who do you think is the stronger candidate between the two of them?

KHANNA: Well, I've got to sit down and look at their platforms. I think they both have strengths.

I think Elizabeth Warren has done so much on issues of holding Wall Street accountable and economic policy. Bernie Sanders has just helped stop the war in Yemen and had the success with Jeff Bezos in getting a raise of $15 an hour for Amazon workers.

My view is they're two of the greatest progressive leaders in recent times, and they both would be great candidates. Of course, I would make a decision as the campaign unfolds.

CABRERA: Of course, so much can and will happen between now and 2020. But we do know, just next month, Democrats will be taking over the House, and we've heard a lot of talk about shaking things up in terms of oversight in this administration.

There's been talk about whether impeachment proceedings should begin. Take a listen now to Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who was part of the Clinton impeachment process.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS HOST: Do you regret the impeachment process?

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: You know, I read Ken's -- I looked at Ken Starr's book. I think all of us, looking back at that, would not want to rush to anything that has all of the ramifications that impeachment has.

If I was giving advice to my friends in the House, most of the chairmen I would have served with when I was in the House, my advice would be -- legislate, don't investigate, if you want to be rewarded with the continued opportunity to be in control of the House of Representatives.


CABRERA: Legislate, don't investigate, he says. Does he make a point about political repercussions?

KHANNA: It's a little bit ironic for him to be giving that advice given his own role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, given that McConnell did nothing but obstruct President Obama.

That said, I don't think there's a choice that needs to be made. Of course, we're going to legislate. We're going to legislate to protect the Affordable Care Act and have Medicare for all. We're going to have a $15 minimum wage. We're going to have an infrastructure bill.

We're going to have a positive agenda, but we also have a constitutional responsibility to hold this president accountable, to look at the Mueller report, to look at evidence. That's what we're sworn to do. So we can do both.

CABRERA: But this conversation was in reference to the Clinton impeachment which, as you know, turned out to be bad political -- a bad political gamble for Republicans.

KHANNA: Well, I don't think you can compare Trump's actions with President Clinton. I mean, President Clinton was in an inappropriate affair with an intern, no one defends that, but with Donald Trump, you have so much evidence.

I mean, you have the issues about what happened with Russia. You have the issues into his finances. You have issues of campaign finance violations. You have issues of an abuse of the executive office. So it's very, very serious, and it would be a dereliction of duty not to at least hold hearings and look into the matter.

I'm not saying that we jump to conclusions or make that our only focus, but that is our responsibility, being members of Congress. Regardless of the politics, we're sworn to hold this president accountable.

CABRERA: It's also your responsibility to keep the government running. And less than a week from now, we could see a government shutdown. You are on the House Budget Committee. The sticking point, as you know, is the funding for Trump's border wall. Will Democrats meet Trump halfway on this?

Because earlier this week, we heard your colleague, Representative Jackie Speier, signal she could budge that number up to $2.5 billion up from the $1.6 billion that's been talked about by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if DACA recipients were given a pathway to citizenship. Do you concur?

KHANNA: I'm open to looking at it next year but not in the context of keeping the government open. I mean, we should not have to fund the wall to keep government running. The President is holding the entire country hostage for billions of dollars that he wants on his wall, and there's no correlation.

I mean, fund the government. Next year, we can have a debate about the immigration issues. But don't hold hostage the United States government for your own agenda. So I respect Nancy Pelosi's position that we're not going to cave on funding the wall to keep the government open.

CABRERA: Congressman Ro Khanna, good you have to with us. It looks like a beautiful day there in San Jose, California. I hope you can get out and enjoy a little bit. Happy holidays.

[19:25:07] KHANNA: Thank you, Ana. Happy holidays to you.

CABRERA: Thank you.

The all-clear finally called as anxious families are finally getting the chance to return home. What victims of California's deadly Camp Fire are facing after their journey back. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: We mentioned how President Trump has been on a Twitter terror today starting early with anger over media coverage and "Saturday Night Live" skits before moving on to Michael Cohen and FBI agent text messages.

[19:30:01] But a few hours later, he touched on the issue of child separations at the border, claiming the separation process was much worse under Barack Obama -