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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Makes Surprise Appearance In Briefing Room, Takes No Questions; Notable Dems Pick Their Early Favorites For 2020 Nominee; New NY AG Vows To Target President And His Family; Trump Makes surprise Appearance in Briefing Room, Takes No Questions. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired January 3, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have never had anything like it in terms of calls coming in, in terms of people writing in and tweeting and doing whatever they have to do. I've never had this much support, and we've done some things that, as you know, that have been very popular.

So I'm going to ask Brandon Judd to just step forward and say a few words.

This group has apprehended last year 17,000 criminals trying to get across the border, 17,000. And that's one category and there are plenty of others.

The other thing that has been so incredible is what they have done in terms of drugs and stopping drugs, and with that, and with everything else, plenty unfortunately come through our southern border.

But I'm going ask Brandon to come up and say a few words and maybe introduce our friends and some very brave people.

Brandon, please? Thank you.

BRANDON JUDD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: Thank you, President.

TRUMP: Thank you.

JUDD: We really appreciate the support you've given the Border Patrol. You appreciate the support you've given ICE.

My name is Brandon Judd. I'm the president of the National Border Patrol Council. I've been a border patrol agent for 21 years. I can personally tell you from the work that I have done on the southwest border that physical barriers, that walls actually work.

You hear a lot of talk from the expert that -- you hear a lot of talk that there are experts that say that walls don't work. I promise you that if you interview border patrol agents, they will tell you that walls work. I worked in Naco, Arizona, for ten years. We didn't have physical barriers in Naco, and illegal immigration and drug smuggling was absolutely out of control. We built those walls, those physical barriers, and illegal immigration

dropped exponentially. Anywhere that you look where we have built walls, they have worked. They have been an absolute necessity for border patrol agents in securing the border. We need those physical barriers, and we appreciate President Trump and all of his efforts in getting us those physical barriers.

There's also a lot of talk on the shutdown that federal employees do not agree with this shutdown. I will tell you, that's not true, and with that I would like to introduce Art Del Cueto. He is the vice president of the National Border Control Council. He's also a long time border patrol agent out of the Tucson sector, and he'd like to say a few words about the shutdown.

ART DEL CUETO, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BORDER CONTROL COUNCIL: Thank you, everybody.

Once again, my name is Art Del Cueto. I am a vice president with the National Border Patrol Council.

I want everybody to take the time to understand what's going on. We are all affected by the shutdown. We have skin in the game.

However, it comes down to border security, and we are extremely grateful to President Trump and we fully support what he is doing to take care of our nation's borders, to take care of the future of this United States. It has nothing to do with political parties.

You have all got to ask yourself this question. If I come to your home, do you want me to knock on the front door, or do you want me to climb through that window? We fully support the president and all his efforts to secure our nation's borders.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

HECTOR GARZA, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: Hello, everyone. My name is Hector Garza. I'm the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. I am also a Border Patrol agent on the Texas border.

I just want to talk about some of those criminals that Border Patrol agents apprehend on a daily basis. We're talking about murderers, rapists, people that commit very serious crimes in this country.

ICE has been doing an amazing job in deporting a lot of these people back to their countries. Unfortunately, once we deport these people, these people will not stay in their country. These criminal aliens that have been released from jail, that have been deported, will come right back into the United States. However, if we had a physical barrier, if we had a wall, we would be able to stop that.

Again, we want to thank President Trump for advocating for Border Patrol agents. And again, we ask our congressmen to fund border security and fund the border wall.

Thank you. TRUMP: So this meeting was set up a long time ago. It just came at a very opportune time. And I thought -- we were all sitting in the Oval Office, working on different plans and different ways of stopping the problems that we have in our country. And other countries have problems, but nobody like ours.

The economy makes it even more so. The economy is bringing people in because we're doing so well with the economy. Unemployment is now 3.7 percent, and that's among the lowest we've ever had, the lowest in 50 years. And among certain groups, it's the lowest, historically.

So I just appreciate them being here. I said, let's go out, and see the press. You can tell them about the importance of the wall.

They basically said -- and I think I can take the word "basically" out: Without a wall, you cannot have border security. Without a very strong form of barrier -- call it what you will -- but without a wall, you cannot have border security.

[16:35:01] It won't work.

You see what's just been put out on social media, where thousands of people are rushing the border. Having a drone fly overhead -- and I think nobody knows much more about technology, this time of technology certainly, than I do. Having drones and various other form of sensors, they're all fine, but they're not going to stop the problems that this country has.

We've never had more people wanting to come to the United States. And that has to do with the economy and it has to do with a lot of other things. We're doing great as a country. But the better we do, the more people want to come in.

So, folks, I just want to thank you very much. It's an honor to be with you. And I'm glad you came, and I'm glad we came out here. And first time I've ever done this. This is the first time I've done it. I've done it for you, and I'm very proud of that, because you've done a fantastic job.

And I want to thank you all. Chris, thank you very much.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: Sarah, are you not taking any questions at all?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right.

That was the first briefing room appearance of President Donald Trump, so significant for that factor. However, he -- he did not take questions.

I want to discuss this with my panel.

So we saw him, you called it, that he was come out, Bill Kristol. I give you credit.

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: Thank you.

KEILAR: We saw him with members of this union, the National Border Patrol Council, which endorsed him during the campaign, so these are current and retired border patrol agents, right?

KRISTOL: Right.

KEILAR: These represent border patrol agents. It's not the border patrol, it's a union, just to be clear, and he has them behind him. But it's just pulling the spotlight back to the White House and to his point of view, but it's -- he didn't even take questions.

KRISTOL: And it doesn't real explain -- I think the Democrats can make their point and they presumably can with Speaker Pelosi, fine, we have a continuing resolution for the department of homeland security for a month, we will debate the border issue. Meanwhile, we have six other agencies in the federal government that you are closing down and holding hostage that we're willing to pass bipartisan appropriations bills for those.

I think it's a very hard argument for Republican senators to resist as I said before. Donald Trump can resist it by not addressing it, right? It's here are the border patrol guys and we need a wall, thank you.

KEILAR: To be clear, this is basically -- this is a stunt. This isn't a briefing. So we thought thereto was -- it was billed as a last-minute briefing. It was not a briefing.

A briefing is questions. A briefing have more than just a political stunt which is what we just saw.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It being held in the briefing room does not a briefing make there. There should have been -- yes. This was a -- this was a press availability, I guess, maybe, a photo- op, except there were words. I don't know.

KRISTOL: Here's what it was. Donald Trump couldn't stand that Nancy Pelosi was the center of attention today. He can't stand the fact any other human being could get his or her day in the spotlight so he had to butt in at 4:30 in the afternoon.

It's pretty disgraceful, don't you think? New speaker of the House, a moving moment on the Hill, new members, and he has to have a ludicrous stunt, a ludicrous stunt with some union officials who endorsed him?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's exactly what it is. It's deflection and distraction. He can't stand it that there's Democratic Woodstock going on, you know, in the streets of Washington and Capitol Hill, this entire day. There's Democrats running around, you know, almost throwing glitter. There's happiness. They are ebullient. And, you know, he can't stand it. He doesn't want to hear about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. He doesn't want to hear about the first Somali refugee. He doesn't want to hear about the first African- American from Massachusetts or the first Latina from Texas, or the fact that there's 89 women swearing in as Democrats to the new Congress. It's driving him crazy.

So, he needs to somehow be able to --

KRISTOL: He doesn't want to hear about the government shutdown that he was going to take responsibility for.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Let's bring Kaitlan Collins in because she was there in the briefing room for this non-briefing, a non-briefing. More of a -- the president showing up which is certainly -- that hasn't occurred before.

But, Kaitlan, what was your impression of this stunt?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly wasn't a press briefing which is what the White House called it when they summoned the reporters up here so abruptly. There said this would be a press briefing with the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, in the White House press briefing room and that's not what happened when they came out.

Now, Sarah Sanders came out. There's a slew of other White House aides here, including the White House communications director, the White House social communications director, and then all of these border patrol council members behind the president, and the president said they had been meeting in the Oval Office talking about the wall.

Now, this is President Trump's first time in the press briefing room. He came up to the podium. He made that remark several times. It was his first time in there, and, of course, that would lead you to presume that the president question would take questions as some of the president's predecessors have done in the past.

Except instead, he spoke about the wall. He invited them to come up and took no questions from any reporters in the room on the government shutdown that is now stretching into 13 days.

[16:40:00] And then, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, also walked out behind the president and they did not take any questions from reporters. Now, this is something that is essentially unheard of. I'm not sure if the press secretary has ever come into the press briefing room before and not taken a single question from one reporter.

Yes, we've had short briefings. Yes, they have been quick before, and, yes, they're not very regular in their occurrences, but typically, they always take questions. That is not what happened here today. And the only thing that it can really remind you of the first time when Sean Spicer was press secretary and the day after the president's inauguration when they summoned reporters pretty abruptly. Then, he came out here and shouted about the president's crowd size, saying it was the most attended inauguration ever, and then turned away, went back to that door up to his office and didn't take any questions.

That's pretty much what just happened with Sarah Sanders and President Trump minus all the shouting that Sean Spicer did on that day. This was not a press briefing, Brianna.

KEILAR: Thank you, Kaitlan, very much.

That is -- that is very much the point, Symone, and I wonder because it's just so incongruous what we saw happened in the briefing room, that the sort of thing that you might see in the Oval Office where he's meeting -- where the president might be meeting with some folks and the press is invited in. Even then he tends to take questions. Why not just do this somewhere else since that's what it is, it's just -- it's a photo-op, it's a stunt?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not really sure. You know, as a communications professional, this upsets me. It just really upsets me.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the press secretary. It's literally her job to interface with the press and as we all know, the Trump White House has not had the best relationship with the D.C. political press. So why do you want to continue to poke the press and chide them? Why call them -- she is not setting herself up for any more successes. She's not making any more friends today and I think today, she might have made a couple --

KEILAR: That's assuming he controls the president though.

SANDERS: Maybe she doesn't.

This is what I'll say about this though. I think that -- it seems like so long ago, but today, a blue check was put on Donald Trump. That was a referendum on his and Republicans closing argument in 2018. They did this already, this fear-mongering, this thing about immigration. That these migrants, these immigrants are rushing the border, and we have to secure our borders.

They did this already in 2018 and they were rebuffed by the American people. And so, for the president to come out today with carbon copies of Matthew Whitaker standing behind him, behind the press podium and whine about his wall on an historic day for Democrats.

It's absurd. But it's also something that the American people told you they didn't want. This is not doing him or Republicans any favor, and I'm waiting to see when Republicans in Congress will stand up with him.

KUCINICH: But he wanted enough attention on -- he knew that if they called the press in there, everyone would take it live. Everyone would cover it.

It reminds me actually of when he decided to say about Obama's birth certificate when he made everyone come to the Trump Hotel. And we all waited, and at the end, he goes, oh, yes, he was born here, and left. I mean, he got all this attention.

NAVARRO: The recent -- you asked the question why. It's obvious, because they then control the narrative.

KUCINICH: Right.

NAVARRO: We've had an entire where we were going to talk about oversight, we're going to talk about investigations and potential impeachment, and the attorney general of New York, and instead for 30 minutes, we're talking about what Donald Trump wants to us talk about which is Donald Trump, his favorite subject in the world.

KEILAR: Let's talk about the false narrative here though, right? He said something off the top that it was interesting to hear where his mind was though it was not in fact land to be clear. He said he's never had so much support. I've never had so much support as I have in the last week over my stance for border security, control, the wall or the barrier. Calls coming in, people writing in and tweeting.

OK. If he is getting calls and tweets, that is not a measure of where the American people are. We know that, thank goodness, with the tweets we get all the time, too, right? That sort of what gives a little -- but let met just --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: He's not getting calls. Now we know he's not getting calls because the White House switchboard is closed because of the government shutdown.

KEILAR: He has a cell phone. It's a cellphone, Bill.

KRISTOL: If you call 4561414 right now, you get a recording now I believe.

KEILAR: Let's look at this poll, when you look at where the American people are on the wall. Would you favor or oppose building a wall along the entire border with Mexico? This was done last month. Fifty-seven percent oppose. This is not where public opinion is, Jackie.

KUCINICH: Right, and they also opposed shutting down the government for the border wall, but the president doesn't care because it's not about the nation. It's about his base because when you break down the numbers even a little bit more, there was an NPR poll a couple weeks ago, Republicans are the ones who don't want him to compromise on this. He's playing to the people he cares about, who he's always cared about.

This is about politics. It's not -- the wall is Donald Trump, Donald Trump is the wall. It's about him. KEILAR: Let's talk about who he's not mentioning here, too, Jackie.

He's not mentioning these Americans, these federal workers, 800,000 of them, and how many more people who rely on contract work with the government who are not getting paid, and a lot of these people are paycheck to paycheck.

[16:45:00] KEILAR: They need that check on January 11th. They're freaking out that they're not going to get it. He didn't mention.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think -- honestly, I think it was Rick Santorum who said on this show yesterday, that's why I was watching at home, who said the President won't -- isn't moved by empathy. Rick Santorum said here on this show and said Donald Trump doesn't care about the folks at home not getting their paychecks.

Donald Trump doesn't care about you. And you know what, he sold a number of people in this country a bill of goods when he told them that he was the -- when he convinced people that he was the billionaire that was going to fight for the little guy. This is a physical embodiment. We're seeing it play out what Donald Trump really cares about and where he's willing to put his "political muscle" at.

I hope folks are paying attention. I hope that "forgotten man and woman" that Donald Trump keeps talking about are watching, are listening, because he is letting you know exactly where his bread, his butter. I'm going to tell you it isn't the forgotten windmills of the Midwest.

KEILAR: All right, stand by for me. We are going to talk about other things, Anna. I know you're very excited about this. Who's going to emerge to take on the President in 2020. The buzz around some, the controversy around others, and this race has barely gotten started.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] KEILAR: All right, we're back now with our "POLITICS LEAD" and if you are looking for a consensus pick in the extremely crowded field of Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls, it's going to be a while.

Just today longtime California Senator Dianne Feinstein gave a nod to Joe Biden. Former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley threw his support behind Beto O'Rourke. Meantime, Progressive favorite Elizabeth Warren is trying to generate buzz while Bernie Sanders is already trying to fend off controversy.

All right, I want to start with this support for former Vice President Biden, Jackie, from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein keeping in mind the junior senator from California.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He may or may not --

KEILAR: The junior senator, her colleague is Kamala Harris who we believe will likely run. She's sort of seems to be in that path. So here's what she says. Joe was chairman of judiciary when I came to this place. I watched him as vice president, I've seen him operate, I've seen him perform, and I think he brings a level of experience in seniority which I think is really important. Do you think that seniority and experience are going to be the driving factors that Democratic voters want to see the cycle?

KUCINICH: It's very early. It doesn't seem like that is what they're looking for. I mean, look how hard Nancy Pelosi had to fight to become Speaker of the House just you know, a couple minutes ago or at least leading up to it. It just doesn't seem -- it seems like the Democrats I speak to are looking for something new. And the people love Joe Biden but Joe Biden can be problematic for some of his past stances and because he's a very known quantity within Democratic circles.

KEILAR: What do you think Symone?

SANDERS: Look, I think that Senator Feinstein is well within her rights to throw her support, signal her support behind anyone whom she's like, so are many of the other Democratic senators and members of Congress and activists and operatives that are going to get engaged and involved in this race. I do think that invoking is chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee during -- I think he was also -- he presided over the Anita Hill which I would call a debacle but --

KUCINICH: That's one of the problematic things.

KEILAR: And there's moving lips when it comes to that. I mean, this isn't -- these aren't quotes right, this is him on camera saying things in hearing.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Yes, but I mean, look, you're going to have -- this is going to be a Democratic primary where maybe 25 why people put their -- put their name in the hat. Out of those 25 people, I think maybe ten of those campaigns will be very viable to go a very long way. We need a robust primary. I think Democratic voters are really looking for someone that they can trust in what they're saying.

You know, I don't like Donald Trump. I'm not a fan. But the people that voted for him trusted what he said even though I think he's a liar so they're -- voters are looking for somebody that they believe it's candidly and authentically delivering their message.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, as a -- as a Republican who cannot stand Trump, never supported him, never will, I am begging Democrats to please give me somebody that I can vote for. I'm ready to vote for a potted plant. I'm ready to vote for a hologram. I'm not sure I'm ready to vote for Elizabeth Warren.

And so you know, I think I hope that Democrats think about you know, themselves falling in love and somebody that can get their juices flowing and their love tank filled, but can also appeal to people like Bill Kristol and Ana Navarro who really don't want to vote for a hologram. We would rather vote for somebody who has a pulse and a brain.

KEILAR: Who is that person?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I like the idea of voting for a hologram. That could be -- that can be an upgrade. You know, the funny thing with that is when I came to Washington, I was at the Education Department, and I didn't really know Congress very well. One Democratic senator from one state was undercutting the Democratic Senator from another state, I was (INAUDIBLE) so I can't what it was. And I remember asking the public affairs person, what's going on, aren't they supposed to work together? And she said, there's no enmity as bitter, no rivalry as fierce that's between two Senators in the same party from the same state. The degree of competition for the -- for the spotlight, for the media, resentment for the older Senator that somehow this woman 30 years to your junior as much as experience --

[16:55:02] KEILAR: She said oh, I love Kamala. She said oh I love Kamala.

SANDERS: I was going to say, you know, they have a good relationship.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Why would you on January 3rd, 2019, support Joe Biden if not to stick it a little bit to Kamala Harris. So I like that. I kind of like -- that's kind of old-fashioned -- that's old-fashioned Washington politics. You got to -- you got to kind of like that.

NAVARRO: Remember that Senator Feinstein faced a little bit of a rebellion in the California convention, the California primary. A lot of people saying the same thing they say about Joe Biden. She's told to be running, she's told to represent us, and her argument to win was seniority and experience and here she is.

KEILAR: But is it age or is it freshness? I mean, because I will say, Bernie Sanders, he's not that young, Symone.

SANDERS: He's not young. Bernie is 77 years old.

KEILAR: I know that's not news, but he brought something that inspired voters. Joe Biden has been around a long time so is Bernie Sanders, maybe more problematic for Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders had some problematic votes. But they just want something that sort of -- that inspires them right? Does the age matter?

KUCINICH: Think Democratic voters want to fall in love and they want someone who's going to beat Donald Trump. And whoever fits that mold the best is who's going to end up the nominee. It's just who that is right now. There's a lot to pick from.

NAVARRO: Look, Bernie Sanders was old but he's authentic. He wasn't trying to pretend that he's going to get him -- get me a beer and you know, thanking his wife for being in their kitchen. I mean he's authentic. You can argue about his policies all you want, you can argue all you want about Bernie Sanders, but the guy is authentic. SANDERS: What you see is what you get.

KEILAR: All right, guys, thank you so much. President Trump's problems are not just the new Congress in Washington in New York State. The new Attorney General called him an illegitimate president. Letitia James is also the state's first black Attorney General, its first black woman ever elected to a statewide office, and the CNN's Athena Jones reports she has some fighting words for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL, NEW YORK: I will work in a legal system where even the most powerful in the country cannot use a loophole to evade justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Letitia James!

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: New York's new attorney general has big plans.

JAMES: Let that be a fair warning to all of those in high places who think that they're above the law.

JONES: And Letitia James sworn in on Tuesday --

JAMES: -- do solemnly swear --

JONES: -- has made clear that among her biggest targets will be President Trump and his business practices.

JAMES: That will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president.

JONES: After all, Trump's company is headquartered in New York and so was his 2016 campaign.

JAMES: What is fueling my soul right now is Trump and his abuses, abuses against immigrants, against women, against our environment.

JONES: Among the many items that James has said she will look into, Trump's finances and his real estate holdings including any potential money-laundering which James has said she believes there's evidence Trump has engaged in.

JAMES: President Trump was almost on the verge of bankruptcy, and then all of a sudden he was flushed with money.

JONES: And with a view to the possible repercussions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into 2016 election meddling, James campaigned on passing a bill to change New York's double jeopardy laws to allow her to pursue state charges against anyone the President were to grant a federal pardon.

She plans to continue an ongoing probe into whether Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause which says federal officials cannot accept gifts from foreign powers without congressional approval. And James' office will continue the lawsuit brought by the previous A.G. against the President, the Donald J. Trump Foundation and three of his adult children. Trump and Trump foundation officials deny any wrongdoing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations to our great history-making Attorney General.

JONES: It's shaping up to be a long to-do list for James, one she is eager to take on.

JAMES: We must do our job to ensure that the man currently occupying the Oval Office is held accountable to any and everything he has done.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These people --

JONES: The President meanwhi0le is already previewing his argument against James chalking it all up to politics, calling James an attorney general who openly campaigned on a get Trump agenda.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, in addition -- now in addition to going after Trump, James campaigned on promises to tackle Wall Street abuses, protect immigrant's rights, fight the opioid epidemic and hold law enforcement accountable, but it's her rhetoric about Trump that's raised concerns in some quarters about whether she can be impartial. James's defenders say that regardless of her previous statements, James will make decisions based on what the evidence supports and where these investigations take her if anywhere. Brianna?

KEILAR: The expectation is this will be some drama ahead though right, another challenge for the President.

JONES: Yes indeed.

KEILAR: All right, Athena Jones, great report. Thank you so much. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

END