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President Trump Spends Most of Sunday on a Tweet-storm; New Report Shows Extent of Russia's Support for Trump Online; Washington Braces for Shutdown at the End of the Week; Judge Cracks Down on Obamacare, Rules It Unconstitutional; Father of Migrant Disputes DHS Claims about Daughter's Death; Susan Collins: Nothing Wrong with GOP Challengers to Trump 2020; Trump Names Mick Mulvaney as Acting Chief of Staff; Former FBI Director Comey to Face Off with Republicans on Capitol Hill; U.S. Futures Down After Friday's Major Losses. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: That's beautiful and what a sensitive Santa to know how to approach Matthew.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Let's be honest. If there's one guy who knows everything --

CAMEROTA: It's Santa. Good one.

All right. The president facing investigations into nearly all aspects of his public life. "CNN NEWSROOM" starts now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Make no mistake, President Trump is approaching the halfway mark of his presidency with a wide array of very serious investigations into his campaigns and his businesses. And now a partial government shutdown is growing more likely, by the minute, over his signature campaign issues, slash, policy priority, the wall.

HARLOW: That's right. On Capitol Hill this morning. Also, former FBI director James Comey is due next hour. He makes a return in a close-door appearance, number two, before the House committees that soon will be under Democratic control. Over the weekend Comey blasted the president's attacks on the FBI searches of his then lawyer Michael Cohen back in April.

The president false described those searches as break-in, and claimed that they turned Cohen into what he called a rat. What the president failed to note is the very important fact that the FBI had a warrant for the search of Cohen's apartment and office.

Well, tomorrow another former member of the president's inner circle Michael Flynn will stand before a judge to be sentenced. The former National Security adviser hoping a solid year of cooperation with the special counsel will result in him completely staying out of prison for lying to the FBI.

SCIUTTO: And must have been he's cooperated a lot.

HARLOW: A lot.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin this hour with CNN's Abby Philip, she is at the White House.

So, Abby, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, he was speaking this weekend as well and made some new comments, explanations, perhaps some troubling ones for the president.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim and Poppy. Yes, Rudy Giuliani made the rounds over the weekend, making some comments about many of the developments that we've seen in the Russia probe and in the investigation into the president's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that have come out in court filings over the last several weeks. One of them was that Michael Cohen acknowledged that a Trump Tower project that was being discussed by Trump and people around him during the campaign that would have happened in Moscow, those conversations continued well into the 2016 campaign.

Now for the first time, Rudy Giuliani seems to be indicating that these conversations went all the way up to November 2016. Listen to this exchange.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABS NEWS HOST: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of -- November 2016, he said he had conversations with him about it.


PHILLIP: So this is something that we have to remind folks that the president didn't even acknowledge existed until fairly recently. He used to say that he had absolutely no dealings with Russia. But now it turns out that apparently some of those conversations were going on well into the presidential election after the president was the Republican nominee. But that's not all. Rudy Giuliani made a number of other statements, seeming to move the goal post when it comes to the central issue of the Mueller probe, which is collusion.

He said in interviews over the weekend that, first of all, collusion is not a crime. Then he goes on to say that if the president's friend, Roger Stone, gave anybody a heads up about WikiLeaks, that's also not a crime. And then he says, as it relates to the president's statements and misstatements over the last several months that the president is not under oath when he doesn't tell the truth about some of these developments that we've learned about over the last few weeks. So we just need to point out here that this is clearly changing the

standard here for what is collusion and what the president is responsible for. The question is, why? And we don't really know the answer to that yet. Perhaps we'll find out more if there are further developments in all of these cases -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Definitely moving the goal post there.

Abby, thanks very much.

Two full years after Russian trolls and bots, with hackers and leakers interfere with the U.S. presidential race, the fruits then of those efforts is only now coming into focus. Research done for the Senate Intelligence Committee show every major social media platform was exploited and the meddling didn't stop once Donald Trump was elected. Actually just the opposite.

"The Washington Post" got a draft of the report. Craig Timberg co- wrote the story and joins us now.

Congratulations on the scoop. It is fascinating and very important. This is an Oxford report, Oxford and Graphika report, and no one is going to be surprised, Craig, that these Russian trolls or the Internet Research Agency, IRA, as it is known, meddled in the election. We know that. What is so striking and fascinating is your reporting on the fact that there was actually a spike in the social media post to boost the president after the election, continuing in earnest effort for six months postelection. Why?

[09:05:04] CRAIG TIMBERG, TECHNOLOGY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, we obviously don't -- we can't interview them. So we don't know why they did what they did. But every single platform that these researchers monitored showed this very pronounced spike in action after the election for the first six months after the election. And well into 2017 until the social media companies discovered these accounts and began to shut them down. So this whole disinformation campaign did not slow down. It accelerated.

HARLOW: Right. And it wasn't just accelerating to help the president or to boost him directly. It was also accelerating before the election in terms of trying to, as you write, quote, "confuse, distract and ultimately discourage" Trump critics from voting, targeting African-Americans in particular.

TIMBERG: Indeed. There's a huge amount of this that was about keeping people who might have supported Hillary Clinton from going to the ballot boxes and also to confuse them about how to vote. There were all sorts of messages saying Hillary Clinton is just as bad as Donald Trump, we should show our power by not voting, or, hey, let's vote via text on a Thursday night as opposed to, you know, on the actual election day.

HARLOW: Yes. Which --

TIMBERG: So it's a really -- yes, it's amazing how shrewd they were. HARLOW: Is there any evidence at all, Craig, any indication that

President Trump gained from this effort directly? Obviously, we know what our intelligence agencies have found, right? The clear intent was to help the president. But is there anything in this report that we didn't know in terms of what it may have done for the president or not?

TIMBERG: This is, of course, the unanswerable question. The report doesn't shine any new light on this. But that's because there's no way to know the answer to that question. You can't rerun the election, you can't rerun the election without the Russians involved. We do know that it was extraordinarily close. But we also know now that the Russians were working extremely hard to push one side and not the other.

HARLOW: I'm struck by the philosophical sort of big picture warning in this report that you obtained. And it talks about social media in general. Let me read, people, a little bit about what you write. "Companies," social media companies, "once viewed as tools for liberation are now threats to democracy."

I think we know that, looking at what particularly Facebook has been battling, right? But I wonder if the authors of this report provide any solutions to that come 2020.

TIMBERG: This is not a solutions oriented report. It's forensics. But a lot of researchers have made a lot of different suggestions. And the social media companies have put into place like they've done a better job at protecting this kind of stuff, they took down several Russian and Iranian efforts during the midterm congressional vote. But it's a big problem. You know, the Internet is wide open.


TIMBERG: These social media platforms are incredibly powerful. And I don't think anyone really has their hands around this problem yet. We certainly don't.

HARLOW: Yes. And there's this report that you detail and then there's another report to the Senate Intelligence Committee from an intel firm called New Knowledge which explains how these, you know, social media companies may have provided, quote, "the bare minimum of information" about all of this to Congress which is problematic in its own right. We'll have one of the members of that next hour.

It's important reporting, Craig Timberg. Thank you.

TIMBERG: It's my pleasure.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now is CNN National Security Analyst and the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

General Clapper, thanks for taking the time this morning.


HARLOW: So you in deep on Russian interference in the election during your time as DNI. This report from "The Washington Post" is interesting because it extends Russian interference into President Trump's administration. I'm quoting here. "Russia's disinformation campaign around the 2016 election used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters' interests to help elect President Trump and worked even harder to support him while in office."

Now as you know so far the IC has not announced evidence of interference in the 2018 midterm elections, but with this kind of interference in the political discourse of the U.S., in a very divided time to support the president, in your view, would that be equally concerning?

CLAPPER: Well, certainly. Absolutely, Jim. The fact that the Russians, through surrogates or whatever mechanism, continued to involve themselves in our political processes is, in the end a threat to our democracy as they attempt to undermine it whether in the run-up to the election or afterwards.

SCIUTTO: As you know, the intelligence community, the FBI, law enforcement, they've indicted a number of Russians, Congress as well, often in a bipartisan way has fought to defend against this kind of interference. But the president, as you know, has often touted the importance of the interference, doubted the intelligence community's assessment of that interference.

Can the U.S. effectively defend against this kind of Russian influence operation without leadership from the very top?

CLAPPER: Well, it can but it would certainly be a lot better if there were a very forthright and staunch, stalwart statement condemning this kind of activity.

[09:10:08] I think a point I should make, Jim, in all this is, you know, it's kind of gratifying to see this report some two years later, which I think validated or corroborated, reinforced further the intelligence community assessment that we were rendered on the 6th of January of 2017 in which we briefed President Trump. And this really captures, I think, in rich depth what we have probably only scratched the surface on, and that was a huge -- a profound impact of social media companies.

I think there's a difference between the presidential election and the midterms and obviously the midterms are much more diffused since you have all 435 members of the House of Representatives up for election and about a third of the Senate. So it's much more diffused whereas the presidential election was clearly focused on supporting now President Trump and demeaning and minimizing, marginalizing Secretary Clinton.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. There's another revelation this weekend from the president's own attorney, is that discussions between then candidate Trump and Russian individuals of a lucrative -- potentially lucrative Trump Tower Moscow project continued, Giuliani said, up until November, close to election day.

In the past, you have said that the Kremlin treated President Trump the way a foreign intelligence service might treat an asset. And I wonder if keeping up discussions of a lucrative business project with a possible leader of the free world, whether that would be the way Russia would treat an asset, to seek to create a quid pro quo sort of relationship.

CLAPPER: Any way that the Russians can ingratiate themselves, seek access, seek leverage, seek influence, they'll do it. And of course, you know, the way for this particular asset, I'll use the term advisedly in air quotes, is, you know, through ego and financial inducement. And of course, from their vantage, I'm speculating here, you know, is a way in which they could generate leverage and influence over now the president.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because one of the ongoing questions is whether there was actual conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russians during election interference. And this weekend Rudy Giuliani again seemed to create a whole new narrative of moving the goal post legally on this.

I want to play what he said about the possibility that the Trump campaign was given a heads up about WikiLeaks releases supplied by the Russians. Have a listen.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Roger Stone ever give the president a heads up on WikiLeaks leaks concerning Hillary Clinton and the DNC?

GIULIANI: No, he didn't.


GIULIANI: Not at all. I don't believe so. But again if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads up about WikiLeaks leaks, that's not a crime.


SCIUTTO: I don't want to turn you into a lawyer here, General Clapper, about whether that's a crime but if a foreign intelligence -- if an American candidate learned of e-mails stolen by a foreign intelligence service in advance of their release, that's not a crime. Again, I don't want to treat you as a lawyer. Is that disloyal to America to take advantage of that?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, yes, it's certainly questionable. And I think something that struck me as very important is then candidate Trump's exhortation to the Russians in July of 2016 to go find those missing e-mails. So clearly there was a lot of interest in Hillary Clinton's e-mails on the part of the campaign. And again, collusion, as supporters of President Trump and President Trump himself on numerous occasions is not necessarily a crime.

Conspiracy, though, is. And, again, I don't know whether -- you know, I can't say a definitive answer to that. And certainly that's -- you know, the hope is that the Mueller investigation will, once and for all, resolve that question for all of us, because it's creating a huge cloud for this president and this presidency and for the country.

SCIUTTO: At the halfway mark of this presidency, indeed. A bigger cloud.

Director Clapper -- General Clapper, thanks very much for joining us.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Yes. Important perspective from someone who has a lot of experience.

SCIUTTO: Who's been deep in it for a long time and I mean, he was watching it unfold as director of the National Intelligence --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: During that --

HARLOW: Seeing what a lot of us haven't learned until recently.

SCIUTTO: It's true, and also as it was happening, he'll --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The public, they were not aware at the time of how deep and broad the influence was --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: They became aware overtime. And this is what's --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Happening since, it keeps expanding, right?

HARLOW: And now whether just aside from politics, those companies going to do to really stop it, and how will government hold them responsible for this --

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

HARLOW: All right, a lot ahead, the deadline is in sight, not a deal, though. Five days until the government is not fully funded and that funding expires for cage and sees the president's border wall is dividing Congress on this. Also over the weekend, in case you missed it, a Texas judge cracking down on Obamacare, ruling the entire thing is unconstitutional. That doesn't mean Obamacare goes away, though. So what happens next?

SCIUTTO: And the father of a migrant girl who died in U.S. custody is disputing a Homeland Security officials claims about his child's death. There's a picture of her there, we're going to have a lot more on that story ahead. [09:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: This morning, we are one day closer to a partial government shutdown, just in time --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: For Christmas, just five days left before the money runs out for several key federal agencies, hundreds of thousands of government workers' jobs --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: At stake here, and there's still no deal in sight.

HARLOW: Democrats laying out their terms nearly a week ago, they're not budging, the White House isn't budging, Congressional Republicans not budging, what's going to happen? Now they may have it, as senior adviser to the president says the White House is ready for a shutdown in order to get funding for the wall.

We're talking about Stephen Miller, who certainly has the president's ear on all things immigration. With us, CNN Political Analyst, Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and Susan Page, Washington Bureau chief for "USA Today".

Good morning to both of you. Susan, let me just start with you, because you guys at "USA Today" have a really interesting new poll out about this morning. Two things, Jim and I find really telling, OK, about how the American people feel about potential shutdown.

Fifty four percent of Americans oppose a shutdown. And if there is a partial government shutdown, 43 percent blame Trump and blame the Republicans. Your read?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, you know, I think there's no signs at all, not even a deal in the works that they're even talking to each other. One thing that might encourage the White House to try to make a deal before the shutdown Friday night would be these numbers because it shows by nearly 2-1 Americans are inclined to blame the president and the Republicans, not congressional Democrats for a shutdown if it comes.

And that should be no surprise because last week, the president told congressional leaders on the Democratic side, he would be proud to claim the responsibility for the shutdown --

HARLOW: Right --

PAGE: Americans seem to be taking him at his word.

SCIUTTO: Now, Seung Min Kim, listening to the president, he said a lot of things about the wall. But one thing we noticed is that he said we need to build a wall, but he moved from there to saying we are building the wall, we're upgrading border fences. And we wondered if that was a signal of him setting himself up for a

plan B here, to say, you know what? I don't need that money I actually asked from Congress because I'm using the military, we're already building it, lo and behold, here are some pictures of the changes in the border wall. I mean, is that -- is that what the president was signaling there?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, he shifted on that from time to time. Because I remember, before that dramatic Chuck and Nancy meeting last Tuesday, we saw hints of that from the president's Twitter feed that signaled that maybe he wasn't going to get all the wall money after all, and he was looking for other ways out such as deploying the military to build the border wall which first of all is not -- and we must emphasize that is not the military's job.

But I mean, looking four days out, five days out from a potential shutdown, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of discussion here. And I think even if the president himself has talked about a potential plan B, you saw one of his -- well, one of his top advisors Stephen Miller say that they are --

HARLOW: Yes --

KIM: Quote, "absolutely willing to risk a shutdown to get the wall money." But the thing to remember is that even if this hard line discussion and the hard-line rhetoric for a border wall may play well with his base, play well with the president's base, there's just not a big constituency or any constituency on Capitol Hill, even among Republicans for risking a shutdown to get that border wall money.

I mean, I talked to a lot of Republicans last week, and they -- while they would like to support the president -- the president on his border security goals, they are not going to go as far as a shutdown to get there. So that's why it appears that the White House may have to be the one to cave, but right now, the president has no signs of doing that.

HARLOW: But he might not, Susan, I mean, it's -- two years is a really long time in anyone's political book especially in the playbook of Washington politics. And it's not like we're a month before the midterms here. This is two years out from 2020.

So you know, we'll see, the president may be gambling on that. I do want your take on something else, and that is a really interesting answer that Republican Senator Susan Collins gave this weekend on Cnn just yesterday when Jake Tapper asked her about, you know, another Republican potentially running against the president in 2020. Listen to this exchange.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Whether it's Kasich or Flake or Sasse or anyone else, do you think it would be good for the Republican Party and good for the country for President Trump to face a Republican challenger in 2020? SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's always interesting when we have

primaries because a lot of times, it allows different viewpoints to surface. It can influence public policy down the road, and it's healthy for our democracy.


HARLOW: It is healthy, Susan, for our democracy.

PAGE: You know, interesting maybe for Senator Collins, maybe not so much fun for President Trump to get challenged. You know, I don't doubt that President Trump could have some kind of symbolic challenger in the Republican Party.

You also saw Senator Corker talking about that possibility yesterday, but I don't see the means for a serious challenge, for a challenge that might actually take the nomination away from President Trump. His support among the Republicans continues to be very strong, 85 percent --

[09:25:00] HARLOW: Right --

PAGE: In the latest polls that we've seen. So you don't even see the president -- you rarely see the president even challenged on a policy issue from --

HARLOW: That's --

PAGE: Republican members of Congress. So --

HARLOW: Yes --

PAGE: I think that will be -- I'll be curious to see if there's a real challenge to him in 2020.

SCIUTTO: It's a really hard thing to do, to challenge --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Even an unpopular incumbent, but --

HARLOW: Especially in a strong economy, right, if it holds.

SCIUTTO: True, of course, there is the Mueller report --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Hanging over --

HARLOW: There's that --

SCIUTTO: Him. Seung Min Kim, the president has a new chief of staff after --

HARLOW: Yes -- SCIUTTO: A little bit of looking around, that of course is Mick

Mulvaney. We just want to remind folks of what Mulvaney said during the 2016 campaign, to see if it's something that sticks in the president's mind. Have a listen.


MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT & BUDGET: Yes, I've supported 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.


SCIUTTO: Now, just hard to hear the audio there, but you saw the -- you saw the subtitles. "I think he's a terrible human being, but the choice on the other side is just as bad."

Is that words that are -- are those words that are forgotten for this president as he welcomes a new chief of staff?

KIM: Well, we haven't seen the president react publicly to that, those remarks surfacing from the new acting chief of staff.

HARLOW: Right --

KIM: But I think that so far -- I mean, look at what the president went through the last week in terms of trying to find a chief of staff? First of all, he announces that John Kelly is leaving without having a successor locked in place. We saw Nick Ayers look like he was going to be that heir-apparent, and then backed out.

And then a week of headlines with different candidates essentially turning down the president's -- turning down the president and offer to be that -- be in that valuable chief of staff position. So I think no matter what Mick Mulvaney may have said in the past, this is the chief of staff that the president can get and serve him at this time.

So -- and the two men you've seen, I mean, Mick Mulvaney is a -- was a different type of Republican before the president -- before the president won. But you've seen how throughout his role in the administration, he's really become a Trump ally in so many things.

You know, Mick Mulvaney was a deficit hawk, and now in his position at OMB, he's not so much anymore. And he has already --

HARLOW: Right --

KIM: Served the president in a lot of these different roles, acting CFPB director, so I do think that the two men would be pretty simpatico for the next however long he may be chief of staff.

SCIUTTO: The president --

HARLOW: There we go --

SCIUTTO: Doesn't have selected memory on some things because, of course, Lindsey Graham said some not-so-nice things --

HARLOW: That's true --

SCIUTTO: About the president during the campaign, and they are the best of buddies.

HARLOW: All right, thank you both, have a good one.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, James Comey is said to arrive on Capitol Hill in just about an hour. It will be round two for the former FBI director as he faces off with congressional Republicans in a lame duck session. We're going to be live from the Hill.

HARLOW: And we're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Take a look at futures this Monday morning, pointing lower. The Dow fell almost 500 points Friday, the S&P 500 off 2 percent that day, at its lowest level since April of this year.

Three issues impacting markets right now are peaking economic growth in the U.S., are we sort of as high as we're going to get for now? And the bite from the ongoing U.S.-China trade war and concerns about rising interest rates.