Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Senate Approves Criminal Justice Reform in Bipartisanship Vote; Fed Expected to Hike Rates Despite Trump's Warning; McConnell to Introduce Short-Term Bill to Prevent Shutdown; Flynn Ordered to Hand Over Passport After Sentencing Delayed; Jeremy Corbyn Denies Calling British.Prime Minister "Stupid Woman" in Parliament. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 19, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond, is with us with some incredible insight on how this whole thing game together.

Jeremy, let's start with the fact that they actually refer to this as the zombie bill because it refused to die.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. There were so many moments where both supporters and opponents of this legislation thought that this bill was going to die. Even before it got to the floor of the House of Representatives in May, there were some poison pills that were being put in by officials at the Department of Justice, according to our sources. And after that, in August, you'll remember the president actually tabled this measure and said we're going to hold off on this until after the midterms. And there was a final push to get Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to bring this to the floor.

All of this was propelled by this unlikely coalition of Democrats, Republicans, even some celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, who came in to help encourage the president to move forward with this. Now the Senate has passed this overwhelmingly, 87-12. It's going to the House today and the president is expected to sign this bill before he leaves for Mar-a-Lago at the end of the week.

BALDWIN: Obviously, this is a massive win for this president. You said he had to overcome concerns that would lead to his own Willie Horton moment. Can you explain what that means and how he was able to push past that?

DIAMOND: That's right. Willie Horton was a convicted murder who raped a woman while he was on furlough from prison back in the 1980s. He became the subject of this devastating attack ad against the Democratic nominee in 1988, Michael Dukakis, who was the governor of the state where Horton escaped from and raped this woman. It was a devastating political attack. And the president was concerned that if attacked his name to this legislation and somebody got and did something terrible, that he would face the political consequences of that. This all came to a head during a meeting in the Oval Office on September 5th when the president gathered with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the main proponent inside the White House of this legislation, Van Jones and Kim Kardashian West, who actually played a key role in terms of encouraging the president to move forward on this despite those concerns. She sought to replace the name of Willie Horton with the name of another convicted felon, Alice Marie Johnson, the 63-year-old woman who the president pardoned from her life sentence in prison for non-violent drug offenses last summer. Kim Kardashian said she told the president, "Alice is your legacy, Mr. President." That's how she was able to get the president to start getting over this fear of Willie Horton. And supporters said this was one of the key pivotal moments, among many, that led the president to support this legislation, brought his public endorsement and allowed this to get to the floor of the Senate -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Jeremy Diamond, great piece.

Folks, if you haven't' read it, go to CNN.com and you can read this whole thing.

Jeremy, thank you.

President Trump has tweeted his support for the prison reform overhaul and promises to sign it when it reaches his desk, as Jeremy was reporting, before he leaves for Mar-a-Lago at the end of the week. The president has said, "America is the greatest country in the world. And my job is to fight for all citizens, even those who have made mistakes. Congratulations to the Senate on the bipartisan passing of an historic criminal justice reform bill."

With me now, CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen, former presidential adviser for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton.

Hello, sir.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hello.

BALDWIN: This is a huge, huge deal, this legislating happening.

GERGEN: A long, dark chapter, so good to see some light and to be encouraged.

BALDWIN: Isn't it?

GERGEN: We've hammered the president and his administration a lot, and I think justifiably so. But on this one, we have to say he did a good job on this. He did the right thing for the country. In particular, Jared Kushner played a pivotal role. Had it not been for his persistence, phone calls, his strong interest, and partly, because his dad went to prison.

BALDWIN: It's personal.

GERGEN: It was in his family to deal with this, this came about. You said you had Van Jones sitting here yesterday and he's thrilled by this.

BALDWIN: Thrilled. GERGEN: As other people ought to be. This is what politics should be, about building consensus that goes across the aisle for good causes. This bill does not complete the job on criminal justice reform. There's a lot more to be done. If it helps to bring down our incarceration rate, especially for non-violent offenders, that is a really good thing.

BALDWIN: Van Jones was here yesterday. We were talking about something else but he was like, "Brooke, it's happening this week!" So he's obviously thrilled.

Something else, and I don't know if people are thrilled by it. It's a bit of an interest rate hike from the Fed. We learned at the top of the hour, raising the rate 2.5 percent, saying don't freak out, it's just a little bit. But the president inserted himself earlier this week in trying to assuage Jay Powell to not do that, fearing a slowdown in the economy. He has essentially handcuffed himself to this economy, to what has been a booming economy. So as he has done so, and we look ahead to 2020, he must be nervous.

[14:35:09] GERGEN: I was going to use a different word but not over the air.

BALDWIN: Let's use your word.

GERGEN: No, no. This is exactly what he wanted the Fed chairman not to do. And the Fed chairman's his guy. But as other presidents have discovered, the Fed is an independent body. You start beating up on them from the White House publicly, they go the other way to prove their manhood, to prove they are independent. This administration would be so much better off if they shut their mouth. Mnuchin hasn't been speaking out. He's been keeping quiet. They ought to keep quiet in White House.

BALDWIN: It's been a week since we all witnessed that bizarre 17 minutes with the president, and the vice president was there, when he referred to them as Chuck and Nancy, Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi all talking about this president wants $5 billion for his border wall, and they're saying, nope, you're not getting that much, maybe $1.6 billion. Now we're learning that there's been talk of a C.R., a continuing resolution, pick it up in February. What does February mean? You have a Democratic majority on the House side. So essentially, it could mean -- does that mean bye-bye border wall?

GERGEN: I think it does very likely mean that, unless there's something big he gives in return. That's the only way he'll get it. It will have to go beyond DACA and a lot of things.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Do you see that?

GERGEN: Listen, I've mentioned Nancy Pelosi has been smart to not be gloating today. She kept a low profile. But she helped drive him into a corner. He put himself there on the question of the border wall. And now people hope on the question of Syria, on his decision on Syria. Can you keep putting pressure on him, like, Rubio is picking up on the way he is doing --

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Yes. Lindsey Graham and others.

BALDWIN: We'll see. We'll see on that.

GERGEN: We'll see.

BALDWIN: So far, on the border wall.

David Gergen, always a pleasure.

GERGEN: Good to see you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

Coming up, a lot of questions after Michael Flynn's sentencing hearing took a bizarre twist yesterday. One huge question left unanswered, why did he lie to the FBI in the first place? Was he just covering his tracks? Was is something more nefarious? We'll bring in the experts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:41:23] BALDWIN: As Michael Flynn waits to learn what his sentence will be for lying to the FBI, he will not be able to travel very far from home. The same judge who delivered that blistering rebuke of President Trump's former national security has ordered him to hand over his passport. Flynn has to stay within 50 miles of Washington. All of this comes after that surprising and dramatic court hearing. Flynn's sentencing now postponed until at least march.

With me, former deputy attorney general, Harry Litman, and former federal prosecutor, Berit Berger.

Good to see you both.

Harry, starting with you.

If Flynn, everyone has painted him out to be the cooperator, the golden-haired boy, if you will, for this Mueller team, helping them out. Why did the judge throw all these restrictions on him? What message is that sending?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: The message it was sending was in direct response to the sort of hiccup that Flynn delivered at the very end. He had been an exemplary cooperator, in there early, gave it all up --

BALDWIN: Until?

LITMAN: Until in the final sentencing memo he picked up on the Trump talking point and his memo had about two pages of, "you know what, they didn't give me the warning so maybe I wasn't trapped and Sullivan was. Wait a second." (CROSSTALK)

LITMAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think, when Sullivan first gave that, "I want to see the 302," people were expecting him to come after the government, as he sometimes does. In fact, he instead came after Flynn and said, did you really mean to plead guilty, et cetera? Then he went on to really excoriate him on the facts of the crime. But he was, I think, taken aback by the public and the suggestion in the memo that, in fact, he had been ambushed as the talking point for the White House.

BALDWIN: So not only was it a curve ball for Flynn, his family, who was in the courtroom, who were probably hoping for this slam dunk and he would just walk out, it was also a curveball for the Mueller team. Why?

BERIT BERGER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. Usually when the government goes into sentencing, especially for a cooperating witness, they've put this letter in front of the judge, given the judge all this information, much of which we haven't seen but the judge has seen. They probably expected like everybody, there's going to be a sentence here and this is the end of the chapter. Now to have to continue this process and write another update of how his cooperation will continued, I imagine that was a surprising to the government.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let's say when he goes back in March, is the judge's sentencing contingent on how much more he cooperates? Is that the deal?

LITMAN: That's what the judge suggested. I think that's a figure leaf to, we'll have the tongue lashing, we'll slap you around some, and see you another day. Mueller said he's just about done, but there are these new charges he could be a witness if he went to trial. You've gotten your lecture now, you sit in the corner for a while, and I'll see you in March.

BALDWIN: But the crux is, which no one knows the answer to, is, why did he lie to federal prosecutors in the first place? You have a hypothesis. Do share.

LITMAN: It's not that complicated. He was carrying on that rogue foreign policy during the transition. He was making upwards of half a million dollars with Turkey trying to influence things. And he had lied about it already over the past couple weeks with Vice President Pence and maybe others. Then the FBI shows up on his door. What's he going to do? It was imprudent and it got him into even more hot water. I think he felt committed to the story and hoped a jocular, casual, palsy approach with the FBI would just get him past it. It was a vain hope. He knows as well as anybody that they probably have the transcript of the phone calls he had made with Kislyak and others.

[14:45:17] BALDWIN: So last question. Riddle me this. Why does the president continue to throw praise on Flynn? The question was the meat of the briefing yesterday. He's met with the Mueller team 19 times. He's lied, lied to Trump, was fired for lying, lying to federal investigators, yet it's Michael Cohen who is the rat. What do you think?

BERGER: There's a huge disconnect between the way he treats Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn. My best guess of why you see this different treatment is because one of these two people threatens him a lot more and I think that's Cohen. Cohen knows all of the financial dirty secrets here. He's had a much longer relationship with the president. He knows more about these potential shady financial dealings. It seems by the tenor of the president's tweets, which is how we know he's thinking of the situation, that that's where he sees the real threat is with Cohen.

BALDWIN: Berit and Harry -- did you want to --

LITMAN: Just one more thing.

BALDWIN: Yes.

LITMAN: It plays into his witch hunt tweets. We've got Strzok and McCabe, are the two people who originally confronted Flynn. Trump liked that talking point. I think after yesterday, it will be harder to sell.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

LITMAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead, the battle over Brexit is getting even uglier. Did Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn really mouth the words "stupid woman" toward the British prime minister? Did that really happen? You can be the judge. We'll play it for you.

Also just in, we are hearing about top Republican Senators giving Vice President Mike Pence an earful, blasting this plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I know this, if Obama had made this decision, Republicans would be all over him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:51:33] BALDWIN: Read my lips -- stupid woman. We have witnessed proceedings inside Britain's parliament get rowdy, but sexist? People are talking about opposition party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his reaction to comments made today about British Prime Minister Theresa May. Some say it was "stupid woman" that he was mouthing. At the time, the prime minister was addressing the parliament during here weekly Q&A topic, Brexit.

We're going to play for you what she said. I want you to pay close attention to Jeremy Corbyn's mouth and what appears to be what he's muttering at the end of May's speech. There you go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They said they put down a vote of no-confidence. Then they said they wouldn't. Then they said they would. Then they did it but it wasn't effective.

(SHOUTING)

MAY: I know it's the Christmas season and the pantomime season, but what have we seen from the Labour front --

(SHOUTING)

MAY: He's saying he's going to put a confidence vote. Oh, yes, he is. Oh, no, he isn't.

(SHOUTING)

MAY: I've got some news for him.

(SHOUTING)

MAY: I've got some advice for the honorable gentleman. Look behind you.

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Maybe we have to play it again there. Immediately after that, the prime minister stood up and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAY: Can I say to my honorable friend that I think that everybody in this House, particularly in this 100th year of the anniversary of women getting the vote, should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber.

(SHOUTING)

MAY: And to stand in this chamber and should -- and should, therefore, use appropriate language in this chamber when they're referring to female members.

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Wow.

CNN correspondent, Bianca Nobilo, is with me.

And we'll replay it. I had to watch it a few times today. He's denying, Jeremy Corbyn is denying that he said, "stupid woman." So what is it he says he was saying?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeremy Corbyn, Brooke, said he said, "stupid people," referring to how raucous the prime minister and her benches were being today in that pantomime session you were taking a look at there. But the outcry was strong, nonetheless. The minister for women in the U.K. said, "Whether he said, 'stupid women' or 'stupid people,' that neither are nice, and that's not the kind of tone expected in parliament."

It's also resonated particularly over here because there's been a lot in the press lately and much about female members of parliament, in particular, receive a lot of abuse on social media. So that is being focused on.

Also, it is now 100 days until the U.K. is scheduled to leave the European Union. There's much frustration from lawmakers in Britain and the general public. That parliament has descended into raucous displays of childlike behavior and name calling at a time when Britain is facing potentially the biggest crisis since World War II.

BALDWIN: It's one thing to have a contentious, intelligence debate and getting a little rowdy, but calling names, uh-uh.

Bianca, thank you very much.

[14:54:47] Still ahead on CNN, President Trump makes another unusual move when it comes to bucking the rule of law. Now he is reviewing the case of a Special Forces soldier charged with murder in Afghanistan. We'll speak to the soldier's wife on what she expects from such high-level influence like the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)