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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Trump Signals He Will Veto Newly Passed Relief Bill; Trump Issues Wave Of Pardons, Includes Former GOP Congressmen & Two Who Lied In Russia Probe; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) On Trump's Wave Of Pardons. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 22, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: You can catch it streaming live at 6 p.m. Eastern at CNN.com/FullCircle, or you can watch it there on - and on the CNN app at any time, on-demand.

As we said, there is a ton of breaking news tonight, so let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME."

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CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thank you, John. I am Chris Cuomo.

And we do have breaking news. And I'll tell you this is a very bad situation that the President is creating right now. And I think he's doing it to look good. But it's about the rest of us. And here's the news, OK?

It took almost to the end of this tan-Trump of a presidency, but we now have a moment for this president, an ultimate moment of "Put up" or "Shut" up about being a champion for the American people, OK?

The President has just put out a video statement, saying he may not sign the relief bill. There are two big wants that he has.

But the one that matters most is that he says he wants the checks to you to be made bigger. Now, this is something you can't just say. It is not about talking the talk, because every moment you delay, people suffer. You must walk the walk.

The Democrats, as you know, always wanted more money in the checks. It is his Party and, frankly, Trump's own staff that bargained down the eventual amount.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, Democrat, obviously, seized on this truth, and issued the challenge that will define the final days of Trump's presidency, in terms of what he does for you.

Here's her statement, a tweet. "Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President

wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let's do it!"

Mr. President, are you ready to walk the walk for the American people? This is a thing that they need more than anything else, at a time that they need it more than any other time.

It would be a damnable thing to delay relief, the way you are right now, by not signing, and force millions of Americans to suffer, to starve, all through the holidays, and into the New Year, if you don't deliver.

And this should be a simple task. Get the Re-Trump-licans in line. They must do as you say. And ordinarily, I wouldn't argue that.

I'd say "Sure, you're the President. But the Party has got its" - but that's not the way it works with you, and you know it. You've gotten them to swallow so much worse this will do good for people.

You have gotten them to be silent, or even more importantly, complicit, about your election canard. And even you know that's what it is. Even you are surprised at how gullible they have been. It's part of your frustration.

I hear what you're saying. I hear that you're saying, "I don't get it. They'll say whatever I want them to say. How come I can't do anything here?" Well I can't help you on the election, because that's about the Constitution and the law. But this is about you and your will.

Get your Party to face the truth about the need in this country. They have no problem swallowing lies. Get them to own the truth. This is your moment. This is what will be the ultimate capstone. Are you a deal-maker, or just a con?

Here's the President's position. If certain items that he thinks are part of the relief bill, but aren't, there's an omnibus spending bill that was attached, right, I don't like it either.

I think there should have been just relief, and they should have gotten it done a long time ago. But again, you got to expect better, and demand more from Congress, if you want this kind of culture to change.

In the attached spending bill, there are certain items that he sees as wasteful. Interestingly, and for me, really foreboding of a bad outcome here, he wants the three-martini lunch extended even longer.

So, is he really about wasteful things when that's about as wasteful as anything in the bill, except for that wall spending they put in, in the middle of a pandemic?

Now, here's the thing. Why should we question whether or not he is going to do anything, rather than just talk? Months of inaction, all that negotiating was going on, he wanted no part of it. He either watched passively, as Pelosi said, and all reporting points in the same direction.

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The Republicans wouldn't even say what the President wanted. They didn't even want him to have any role in this. He sat passively or completely ignored it. Now he's saying checks should be $2,000, not $600. Everything points to this being something where he gets to look good, as others will truly suffer.

People absolutely could use more money. And it was on him to fight for that, but when the fight was happening, not after it has been decided. This is not swooping in at the last minute. This isn't picking up the ball in the one yard line. This is a delay of game.

He has been told that this delay and any help that was going to come may not come, for anybody, by Christmas, or New Year, and it could scuttle any chance of a deal, anytime soon. Americans were supposed to start getting checks next week.

I'm trying to find new ways to tell you this all the time. I've never seen hunger in this country the way it is right now. I'm 50 years old. We haven't seen it since the Depression.

It's one in six or seven of all of us in the richest country in the world, but depending on where you live. You got one in four, one in three children, not getting adequate nutrition, and I'm not saying the type of food. I'm saying the amount of food. It is desperate out there.

People are desperate for this money, and he is holding it hostage three days before Christmas. Let history remember, in the final days of Trump's presidency, he messed with good people.

And if he doesn't deliver, that must be his legacy because I'll tell you what he did do. He took care of bad people. This pardon blitz is the worst we've seen. It's a new low. You can support Trump. But don't you dare ever call him a "Law & Order" President again.

20 pardons and commutations tonight, for political allies and others, including two convicted in the Russia probe, three corrupt disgraced GOP Congressmen.

Papadopoulos, remember him? He's just a liar. The former Trump Campaign staffer lied to the FBI about his Russia contacts.

Remember Alex van der Zwaan, who was deported after pleading guilty to lying to investigators about his interactions with a person with ties to Russian Intel?

Former GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter - look at - I mean this is the kind of stuff. You talk about draining the swamp? Say hello to the alligators. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months for stealing campaign funds. He gets a pre-Christmas pardon.

Former GOP Rep. Chris Collins, sentenced to 26 months for insider trading, lying to investigators, and he was doing that trading while in Congress. He gets one too.

Why? They were some of his earliest backers. That's not law and order, and you know it.

Trump commuted the sentence of former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas. He was about two years into a 10-year hitch, conspiring to take hundreds of thousands in donations meant for charity and voter education.

Also pardoned, four Blackwater guards involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.

What does this mean? Now look, the pardons, that's about what Trump is about, in terms of character or lack thereof. If you're good to him, nothing else matters. He's not about law and order. Know that. He just proved it to you.

But we have the perfect guest to speak to what's happening with this relief bill, and what those pardons may portend what could come next, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who led the Trump impeachment effort, Congressman Adam Schiff.

It's good to have you back in a short window. Thank you for responding to the need of the news tonight.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): You bet. Good to be with you again.

CUOMO: Now, what do you think about this? Do you believe that this is just an ugly bluff, or do you believe this is a moment where Trump can say to these guys, "I want to, go out, looking good. Change the amount."

SCHIFF: Chris, it's really hard to well. I think we're seeing a real descent, in the President's abilities, capability, attention, focus, conduct, and it's going to probably get worse over the next 30 days.

But the reality is if the President didn't like the amount that the Republicans in Congress, willing to go along with, he should have said something. He's been completely missing in action.

And this has been true not just since the election, although it certainly was heightened after the election. But for months now, as we have tried to get a relief package going, he's been completely disengaged.

Why wait until the House passes the bill and then the Senate passes a bill to say, "Oh, suddenly, I like the checks to be bigger."

Now, it is true, Chris, the only thing he's ever cared about, in the relief package are the checks that have his name on them. But nonetheless, if he wanted to make them bigger, he could have weighed in, and he didn't.

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So, I don't know what this last-minute gambit is all about. But look, if he's serious, if he's going to put pressure on McConnell, and Senate Republicans to go along with him, I am all for it.

The Speaker, as you pointed out, said, "We can take up a bill ASAP by unanimous consent to increase the amount of these checks." So, we're willing if he can get the Republicans onboard.

CUOMO: Now, I mean, hopefully, you can't even see, I'm biting my lip here, because I - this is so - I know we use this word, and we abuse it, in the media, and we shouldn't, but this is dangerous for these families out there.

I know you know. I know you're responsive, Congressman. The need is very great in your state.

I mean the outpouring of people from around this country, who tell me, they are starving, and need this money, and they needed it months and months ago, my concern is this.

Let's say it is a bluff. And he goes to them, and says, "Give me more money," and they say, "No, beat it." Now what happens if you have to - if he says, "Fine, I'm going to veto it," because he's all about taking it too far and doubling down.

Do you have the votes to override a veto in this bizarro world of Re- Trump-lican politics, where the same guys who don't want to give him more money for the checks may not vote against him to override the veto because they fear him, so the people don't get the checks, and we don't get a bill signed into law?

SCHIFF: Chris, you're absolutely right. We don't know.

First of all, you're absolutely right about the need out there. In my district, where the - there are no rooms in ICUs, where businesses have had to shut down, where there are long lines for food, people need the help. And that is true all over the country. They just can't wait anymore.

And so, this has a real direct impact on them, their livelihood. Certainly, it's an even more bitter blow during the holidays. But it's a matter of food on the table, and a roof over their heads.

But here we are. We passed the bill in the House. We passed the bill in the Senate. Suddenly, the President weighs in. Is he serious about vetoing it? And if he does, will the Republicans who voted to pass it, suddenly change course? They're capable of that, Chris.

I mean, look, these are the same Republicans who said, we're not going to impeach him, even though essentially we find him guilty, because we think the voters should decide. And once the voters decided, they said, "Well we don't like what the voters decided, so we're going to join a lawsuit to overturn the election."

They have shown no floor below which they will not go to appease this President.

CUOMO: I mean that - that's what I just argued.

SCHIFF: And that might mean sustaining a veto.

CUOMO: I just argued that that this should be easy for him.

If you get men and women, supposedly of goodwill, to either be silent, or even worse, complicit, in what they know is a fraud, about questioning the election, giving people more money, that's not even their money, it's the taxpayers' money, should be easy for him.

But when do you think - I just have one more question about this. We're hearing from our Congressional Reporter, Phil Mattingly that you guys are thinking of putting this on the Floor, Thursday.

But won't you know tonight, tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon, if the Republicans are going to go anywhere near it?

SCHIFF: Well Chris, I have to think that the Republicans are not going to go anywhere near this. But we're willing to try. I'm willing to go back to the House floor, do whatever, I can, whatever time, hours, it takes, to get it done.

I'm sure that some Republicans will object to unanimous consent, so we'd all have to come back and vote on it. But I'm all for it. If we can get more money to the American people, we should all come back and vote on it.

But I have little confidence that this lame-duck president is going to get that kind of a bill through the Senate, and maybe he doesn't even care, because maybe, as you point out, this is just about him posturing in a way that he thinks will help him down the road.

The suffering of the American people has never been all that much an issue for him. It's always only about "What's in it for Donald Trump."

CUOMO: Now, I mean, look, the good news is, you guys probably had to come back to vote on that NDAA anyway, another piece of legislation that he's expected to veto, or expected to.

But I hate to even say this, and exacerbate an obvious problem in this country. But these are his people, who are hungry in this country. These are Trump voters. These are, you know, look, it should be that we're all his people, right? He's supposed to be the President of everybody. But these are his people. So, we'll see what happens.

I'm really worried about the delay, here, really derailing this situation. Then you wind up going away for the New Year, and you come back, and people don't have the checks, and who knows what happens, leading up to the Inauguration, and stalling this even further. I mean, every day counts.

And then we have the pardons that come out. I am not as shocked as some people are by this pardon list. I expected him to take care of his friends. That's what he does.

What is your biggest concern on the list?

[21:15:00] SCHIFF: Well I think it's really difficult to point out what's the most egregious on this. But look at the categories.

Republican corrupt public officials, who endorse Trump, they get a pardon. People who kill innocent civilians, in a theater of war, they get a pardon. They're heroes on Fox, I guess, they get a pardon. People who lied, to cover up for themselves, or for the President, they get a pardon.

It's just another body blow against the rule of law in this country.

When you think about the damage that the military pardons are going to do, to military justice, to our relations with Iraq, when you think about the damage it's going to do to public integrity, to consider "Well, you know, people who insider trade, or people who defraud us, you know, supporters, if they're elected officials of the same party as the president, well then the law doesn't apply to them."

It's just a terrible injury, again, another injury to our democracy by this corrupt president. But, look, it's like the old adage of "Garbage in, garbage out." You elect a corrupt president, you get a corrupt result.

CUOMO: Yes, so much for draining the swamp!

But here is my concern, and tell me if I'm off base on this that this is a nice signal to people that "Listen, do whatever you can for me, between now and January 6th, or maybe even after that. It doesn't matter. I don't care if they come after you. They can't do anything to you that I can't undo. Do anything you can to keep me in power."

I mean doesn't this send that signal as clear as anything?

SCHIFF: It does. And frankly, that's been his message all along, which is if you lie for me, if you cover up for me, if you're loyal to me, I will abuse my power to protect you. On the other hand, if you cooperate with authorities, and you expose corruption, then I will come after you. If you stand up to me, I will come after you.

When he praises Paul Manafort, another multi-convicted felon, a supporter of his, his former Campaign Manager, giving private polling data to Russian - someone linked to Russian Intelligence, when he does stuff like that, and he praises someone like Manafort, because Manafort wouldn't cooperate against him, but he condemns others like Michael Cohen, who did cooperate, he calls him a rat, now he's acting like an organized crime figure, except this organized crime figure is the President of the United States--

CUOMO: Right.

SCHIFF: --with the power to give people a "Get out of Jail Free card."

CUOMO: Congressman, again, thank you. We just had you on the show. You're always welcome. It really mattered tonight. Thank you for coming through, Sir. Appreciate you.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: I mean, look, this is a big deal. This is heavy anti-Santa territory. Look, everybody wants more money in their checks. I know the desperation out there. All of us should know it.

But if he's just puffing up his chest, and saying, "Look, you know, I went big, you know, the system here," that's unforgivable, because every day is a life being off-course in this country.

And look, when it comes to the pardons, I mean, who is surprised? This President isn't about loyalty. He doesn't go both ways. It's fealty. "You put me first, I'll take care of you, doesn't matter the felony."

Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins, this wasn't about Mueller. These guys broke the law. And he just forgives it, why, because he can.

He's got four weeks left. What else is he telling people right now? "Do this for me, do that for me," what? He can get them out of anything. What does this suggest about what could come next?

Preet Bharara, Andrew McCabe, next.

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CUOMO: All right, two big stories on our watch. What's going to happen with the relief bill now? I just got some new reporting on that. We'll take it up, OK? That's still developing.

What we did see are these pardons. And the concern is not just, "Surprise, Trump is not about law and order. He will reward felons, if they pay fealty to him." But what could it suggest about what else he can do? What does it show about where his head is?

I have two great heads on this, Preet Bharara, and Andrew McCabe.

Gentlemen, thank you. There is no need to discuss, does he have the right? The answer is, yes, unless you would somehow show that this was self-dealing, and who knows if that's going to happen?

But the question becomes what they say about what he might do, Andrew McCabe. What is the suggestion for you on that, especially looking at not just the Mueller folks, but guys with unrelated, Stockman, Collins, Hunter, they had nothing to do with Mueller. They're just crooks.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You're absolutely right, Chris. And this breaks down on kind of interesting lines. First, the Mueller - the Mueller defendants, I mean, look, none of that is surprising to anybody, right?

And the simple fact is he can continue to pardon everybody who was convicted in the Mueller probe, everyone who was interviewed, in the Mueller probe, if he likes. None of that will ever erase the fact that Donald Trump is the only American President, in history, to have been elected--

CUOMO: He's even messing with the signal!

Is Preet Bharara still there?

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, HOST, "STAY TUNED WITH PREET" PODCAST: I'm here. I believe so.

CUOMO: Good. Take up the point for me about what these pardons signal to you.

BHARARA: Look, you make an interesting point. Are other people out there, who are still hoping for a pardon, who have enough power, or influence, or position, to do something that's favorable to the President? I don't think there's that many people in that category.

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I do think what he's doing is, among other things, laying the groundwork for additional pardons that are going to be even, I think, more controversial.

So, these are controversial. Everyone is talking about them. I think many of them are disgraceful, especially the ones you keep mentioning, the two congressmen, who were convicted by the Justice Department, under Donald Trump, under his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for engaging in clear misconduct and lining their own pockets.

But there's going to be a next wave of pardons that might extend to people even closer to him, maybe even family members, and ultimately maybe even - maybe even himself.

And so, he does have a peculiar way of defining deviance down, as the phrase goes, by sort of inuring us to his doing these things. And we yell about it, and we say he has the authority to do it, and we criticize it. But then he can do it again and again and again, and I think, in even more disgraceful way going forward.

CUOMO: Right. And he always benefits from a culture of low expectations, Preet, you know, people like "Ah! They all pardon their friends."

BHARARA: Yes.

CUOMO: "Remember this guy? Remember that guy?" And it just creates a culture of accommodation. But there is an interesting aspect to this.

What we would not have seen before was pardon as prophylaxis, pardoning his, own kids. Now, people think, "Well doesn't there have to be an investigation?" One, there's not a lot on this.

But no, they're - Preet, my understanding is you could, you know, if you were President, you could say, "Cuomo, you're going to get in trouble with your mouth, at some point, I pardon you now," I mean couldn't he just do that?

BHARARA: Well so there are two limitations on the pardon power that we've been discussing which otherwise is very, very broad, and unfettered. One is he cannot pardon criminal conduct that occurs at the state level, that can be chargeable by the state.

CUOMO: Right.

BHARARA: By a district attorney, by a state attorney general. And he also can't pardon conduct that hasn't yet occurred. You can pardon conduct that has occurred in the past, but has not yet been charged. That's what happened with--

CUOMO: Right.

BHARARA: --with President Ford and Richard Nixon. The conduct had already occurred, no charges have been brought, you can do that. So you had to--

CUOMO: But what if he were to say--

BHARARA: --so you think if someone--

CUOMO: --"Anything that Jared Kushner has said or done, while he's been here with me, from this date, until this date, anything to do with any of that, he's pardoned, because I'll tell you why, there are bad people who will go after him for bad reason, and I'm going to protect him from it."

BHARARA: Well that's ultimately going to be his speech. That's his narrative. And that's why I think he's going to do it with respect to a lot of people, including himself.

What you've described is essentially what President Ford did for Richard Nixon, that he was pardoned for all conduct during his presidency, crimes against the United States of America, based on conduct during his presidency.

And I guess you could do something like that for Jared, Cohen, and others, yes. There's nothing preventing him from doing that.

CUOMO: Cohen? He's not doing anything for Cohen unless - because that's going to be on state level anyway.

BHARARA: Yes.

CUOMO: Andrew McCabe is back now. Let's loop him in. Preet and I are discussing the idea of pardon as prophylaxis for his own, and saying that "Anything that Jared Kushner has said or done," you know, just to use him as an example, could be Ivanka, could be any of his kids, "Anything that they have said or done, from this period, to this period," obviously that encompassing his Presidency, Andrew, they - "they can't be charged with anything on the federal level." He could do that.

MCCABE: He absolutely could. I mean it is, you know, Ford is obviously the example.

There is some degree of specificity that has to be included in the pardon. But I think that by attaching that to the time period of his presidency probably satisfies that requirement.

So, he absolutely, I believe, could issue those sorts of pardons to his friends and family members, parts - members of the administration.

CUOMO: Before tonight, 88 percent of Trump's commutations aided someone with a personal tie to the President or furthered his political aims. Preet, how does that number stick out to you in reconciling administrations past?

BHARARA: Look, I haven't done a deep dive, going back generations. And there have been bad pardons before. We always have to say this with Donald Trump, right?

There have been other presidents who have made misstatements. There have been other presidents who have abused their power. There have been other presidents who have abused their pardon power.

Trump takes all of these things, on every occasion, to the next level, in size, in scope, and in disgrace.

Bill Clinton had bad - had a couple of bad pardons. True. He was investigated for one of them, the Marc Rich pardon by my former office, the Southern District of New York. So, there was a consequence, even after he left office, although no charges were ultimately brought.

So, he does it a cut above. He's special in that regard.

CUOMO: I mean, look what he could do. One of the things it's very curious that's going on right now is this fund that he's using for contributions. And I get the emails all the time. I don't know about you guys, but I'm one of the anointed. I'm one of his key donors, apparently.

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And that money, he could say, "By the way, anything to do with us raising this money, and where the money goes, or how we use it, I pardon all of the people involved with running the charity." That would create a real problem for the DoJ, wouldn't it, Andrew?

MCCABE: It would. Although, I'll tell you, Chris, I don't know if it's even necessary. I mean, the fact is, this leadership PAC, which is what he's created now, to kind of fund his activities, after he leaves the White House, there's almost no restrictions on--

CUOMO: Right.

MCCABE: --how that money can be spent, who can donate to it. So, it's a black box of campaign finance law right now. And so, it's - he's really profited incredibly based on these insane conspiracy theories about voter fraud, over the last couple weeks, and remains to be seen how he's going to spend that money.

CUOMO: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

Look, I do believe that the big cautionary sign in this is, if he's OK with this kind of stuff, what might people do between now and when Biden is inaugurated that he could forgive them for, and let them know that. That's the kind of concern you have to have because these are the kinds of things this man is capable of. He just showed you.

Preet Bharara, Andrew McCabe, god bless, and be well, and thank you.

BHARARA: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right.

MCCABE: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: So, look, that's the law and the kind of political conflation there, combining with it in terms of outcome.

There's no question that Trump is OK burning things down in the name of his own aggrandizement, sparing felons who once took an oath to serve the country. What does he care? It's about the oath to him.

But what's happening with relief now? His threat to veto creates several paths of potential chaos for American people, 36 hours before Christmas Eve.

I've got Anthony Scaramucci, who understands, in his talking to people around this President, and Michael Smerconish, who just has a knack for understanding what makes sense in a situation like this.

What - let's look at the different ways this can go, and what they can mean for all of us, next.

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CUOMO: All right. So, what has Trump done by threatening to veto this bill?

From our reporting and, me, working phones and texts, during the show, and in commercial, I can't see it as anything good, right now, except for himself, this kind of illusion that he wanted to do better for you.

The Republicans are split in two ways because there are three avenues, OK?

The one is that the Democrats bring this up as a unanimous consent vote, you know, which means would just going to go to the floor, and vote on it right now, that doesn't seem like it's going to pass muster that enough Republicans will say, "No, we don't want to do it this way that you'll have to have everybody come back."

They were going to come back anyway, because there's another piece of legislation that the President is going to veto. But it's about the time that this takes, with people not getting help.

So, if you look at the numbers, 359-53 in the House, 92-6 in the Senate, 359-53 in the House, 92-6 in the Senate, what does that tell you? Veto-proof, OK? Pocket veto, but veto-proof.

So, what does that mean? Well the Republicans are saying, Manu Raju says, with his reporting the leaders don't want to negotiate. So, they're basically saying "Go ahead and veto it."

Now how does that look? That looks bad for Trump, because in his own Party has some clearance to say, "You see? We weren't always Trump's minions." And he does not going to like that look, right at the end.

But then you have the Re-Trump-licans, who may be afraid to go along with this bill, because he's against it. But what's hurting that effort, which would be the best-case scenario, right, in terms of getting more money for people? They don't really believe that he is serious about it.

So, the delay can go all the way to January 3rd. That's the backstop. What happens January 3rd? The new Congress is sworn in. So, what does that mean? That means you have to start again, from scratch.

Now, that, to me, is the worst-case scenario here, because Trump could perceive that as him being tough, right, and the congressional leaders, not the Democrats, this is terrible for them, but for the Republicans, they could say, "Well, we held our ground, even against Trump."

And what happens to all the people who are hungry? It all starts again, this bill. So, the best-case scenario, right now, is for Trump to be dismissed as what he is, a con, and that this is just another con.

"Go ahead and veto it, but do it now," and that they may come out and say something like that, "Either sign it now, or veto it now, because we're going to override you, or you're going to pass this. Either way, we're going to get what we want, and you're going to hurt people with delay."

Now, let's bring in Anthony Scaramucci, and Michael Smerconish, to discuss.

Mooch, does that square, Anthony, with what you're hearing from around him, on what the play is? I mean, it's an obvious chest thump, right? "I want more money for you. I'm the good guy."

But he never fought this fight, when they were fighting it. So, what's the play?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, FOUNDER, SKYBRIDGE CAPITAL: Well it does square, and he had lunch with one of our mutual friends today, who is trying to caution him on what he is doing right now. Hopefully, he's listening.

But listen, I was with him, in July of 2017, on Air Force One. He wanted to veto the Russian Sanctions bill. And I begged him not to do that. I said, "Listen, what's going to happen is they're going to override it. They're going to totally emasculate your presidency."

And so, he doesn't care about that stuff now, because he's got 28 days, 29 days to go. But when he realizes that they're going to emasculate him, by overriding his veto, he's going to sign the legislation. That's my prediction, because he doesn't want that level of humiliation with the 28 days, 29 days to go.

CUOMO: Smerconish is shaking his head "No." How do you see it?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I don't agree with either of you. I think you're underestimating the President.

[21:40:00]

I don't think the perception of him being the Grinch who stole Christmas is accurate. I think that this is arguably, politically speaking, the most effective thing that he has done, since losing the election.

The American people aren't going to understand the difference between the COVID relief bill and the omnibus spending bill. They are going to think William Proxmire. You remember, Chris?

CUOMO: Yes.

SMERCONISH: You remember the Golden Fleece Awards?

When they hear things like counting amberjack fish, which is what he said in that video, at a time when Americans are getting $600, the $600 is going to sound like chump change. And it is him, frankly, laying back on those arguments that first put

him in office, that he's the champion of the working person, and he wants $2,000--

CUOMO: I agree.

SMERCONISH: --in everybody's pocket.

CUOMO: I agree.

SMERCONISH: I think it's very effective for him.

CUOMO: I agree. For him! I'm saying, I don't think he can get it done.

And there's a cost to the dilatory nature of this, Smerc. Every day that is delayed, because we're seeing whether or not he is going to be Robin Hood or not, people are starving in this country. And the check is not going to come.

SMERCONISH: They are, Chris. But you are looking at the roll call, and you are assuming that those volt - those votes in the Senate and the House hold firm.

CUOMO: Right.

SMERCONISH: I don't know what tomorrow brings. I don't know what the reaction is on AM terrestrial talk radio and on that other cable station and so forth. I'm sure they're thumping their chests in support of the President, and that base may shake those votes.

CUOMO: That would be awesome. But then, you still get back to this existential questions of, Anthony, which is where you've been?

The Democrats have been fighting for $2,000 for six months, and his own staff had been fighting against it. I don't think he's going to get the clean kill on this, and be Robin Hood, the way Michael suggests, because the facts are against it.

But what do you think the chances that his Party doesn't veto, and go Michael's way, which is "There's too much pressure. He's the guy. He'll haunt us. We got to give him this?"

SCARAMUCCI: Well listen, I appreciate what Michael is saying. But I think that's Donald Trump 2015 or 2016. It's not Donald Trump 2020. And he's got a lot of things to worry about on January 21st.

He's got a direct signal from Mitch McConnell. They've been told in the Senate to knock this stuff off. Trump is just raising money off of this ruse, related to the election fraud, all that false nonsense, Chris.

And so, I just want to frame it as Donald Trump 2020. He's looking at the tea leaves. He's going to get overridden. Mitch McConnell is going to completely embarrass him in the Senate. He doesn't want that. And so, he is making noises here, but he'll sign that bill. CUOMO: That is the factor for you to put in there, Michael, and to the equation, of your thinking, which is who knows what the day brings, who knows what terrestrial radio brings, but how much does Trump want this? That matters also.

SMERCONISH: I think - I think he wants - I think he wants a Donnybrook with Mitch McConnell now, because, as you well know, the President is totally focused on January 6th, and where McConnell has admonished his Caucus, and told them to stand in line.

"Don't give Trump the vote that he wants. Everybody needs to stand together. Tuberville, we hope you don't go along with the House Republicans who want to challenge the Electoral College."

It further suits the President's interests to fight with those Republicans. He thinks he owes them nothing.

CUOMO: But if this goes too far, Michael, you get to January 3rd. People are really in a bad place.

SMERCONISH: Yes, they are. But I'm not convinced that the court of public opinion points a finger at him, when they hear from him the laundry list of aid to Cambodia and aid to Egypt etcetera, etcetera.

CUOMO: Well don't forget - don't forget the billion-plus--

SMERCONISH: And they're saying "Wait a minute. Why the hell are we getting 600 bucks?"

CUOMO: Well don't forget the billion-plus for his wall, in there and that he wants to extend the lunch thing for rich guys on lunches, to make that a longer-term proposition. This is not a guy who has all the sudden found Jesus, in terms of what the purpose of charity is.

SMERCONISH: I am only suggesting to you that it's not black and white that he does not necessarily come out of this, politically speaking, as a loser.

CUOMO: No, yes, I don't think you're wrong. I don't think you're wrong because just asking for more money for people looks good, right?

SMERCONISH: Right.

CUOMO: In the backward words--

SMERCONISH: Right, yes.

CUOMO: --world of Republican politics right now, which is they're supposed to be the Austerity Party, but people in the middle of a crisis, so why would they play on austerity anyway, when they didn't play it with the tax cut?

But, look, Michael is right about this one thing, Anthony. By the way, Donnybrook is one of those fancy people words for a brawl, all right? That's what we would have called the--

SCARAMUCCI: Yes.

SMERCONISH: It's not fancy.

CUOMO: Donnybrook is fancy.

SMERCONISH: Baseball term.

CUOMO: That's a big word. The biggest word we use is "Mayonnaise," on this show, by the way. I want you to know.

So, I appreciate you both. We don't know what the day brings. But this is what we do know. Every day without resolution is a day that people don't get the relief they need. This was brilliantly broken down inside and out.

[21:45:00]

Anthony Scaramucci, thank you. Michael Smerconish, as always, thank you. If I don't see you both, god bless the families for Christmas, all right so?

SMERCONISH: Merry Christmas.

SCARAMUCCI: Merry Christmas, Chris.

CUOMO: How do we do the job in this situation? How do we handle this, you know? All of this is new. We've never seen people do these kinds of things. Norms have been respected. What do we do?

One of the deans of the White House Press Corps alumni, Sam Donaldson, my mentor is here. How does he see what's going on with the pardons, and this last-minute appeal for more money? Does Trump look good? Did Trump look bad? Does it matter? What are we supposed to do?

He'll answer all of it in 18 seconds, next.

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CUOMO: I've started bringing you in more on kind of the philosophy or the strategy of our coverage decisions, because we're doing the job for you.

[21:50:00]

So, we've seen controversial pardons before. They've been criticized as presidents taking care of people who took care of them.

But, like so many other things, while Trump didn't start this kind of problem, he sure did blow it into a new universe. And now, we have, again, something I've never seen before. People play brinkmanship with legislation all the time, not so much during the middle of a crisis.

But here, when you already have a deal, now Trump wants to look the hero, and say "I want more money for the people" but he never fought for that? Does that make him a good guy, or something else?

Let's talk to somebody, who literally, was a mentor to me, in terms of how to question power, but also how to frame situations for people to make them more understandable, Sam Donaldson.

The best to you and the family for Christmas. You are a gift to me, Sir.

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Well hello, Chris.

What we're seeing now is "Apocalypse Now." Colonel Kurtz up the Beacon River (ph) hiding out, muttering about the horror. Only this time, Donald J. Trump is the horror.

And I think he's creating chaos in his last few days, on purpose, because in his mad way, he thinks that if he could get his base riled up, and he'd get other people wanting those $2,000, on the 6th of January, something will happen that make the Congress to overturn the will of the people, and make him president for another four years.

Now, that is madness, but we are dealing with a madman.

CUOMO: But that's the point is, how do we explain what's happening here to the American people, so let's unpack both.

Pardons, "We've seen bad pardons before, Marc Rich and Clinton, the line goes on, and obviously what Ford did with Nixon. This is just more of that." What do you say?

DONALDSON: Well he can do whatever he wants to do, and he doesn't care about the pardons, unless it serves his interests.

Now, the people who murdered in Iraq, his base likes that. They're - Fox has made heroes out of them. "They are military men. They had the right to do that, by defending themselves."

Now, the people who were his friends, trying to keep that Russia probe, from destroying him, when in fact Russia had nothing to do with this, well his base loves that, too.

So, I mean, hey, most of the pardons that I've seen, about the political friends of his, and the people that I just talked about, are directed towards the base.

He wants the base now for the 6th of January. And if that doesn't work, if he actually has to leave the presidency, horrors there, he wants that base to continue to follow him as far as he wants to go. CUOMO: So, the idea of saying "I want more money for you," that's good. The conviction to fight for it--

DONALDSON: Yes.

CUOMO: --to the end, do you think he has that, because he didn't fight for more money up until this point, and this could get ugly, if the relief is delayed because he's holding out.

DONALDSON: He doesn't care about Americans who frankly - what has he called Americans in the past? "Losers," not just in the military, but the people he doesn't want to associate with him.

Remember the times he's saying, "Well I don't - this crowd of mine, I don't want to really see them. I don't want to really be with them." That's not his kind of people. His only kind of people is the person he sees in the mirror. That's all that he cares about.

Now you say how do we get this across to the American public? We've gotten it across, to the public, and they turned him out of office, and voted him out, even though Republicans down the line did pretty well in this last election.

So, that got to enough people, and many of them had voted for him in 2016, I'll bet you that they said "No this - we don't want this guy, this is terrible."

But his cult followers are still there, and I don't know how to reach them. I'd like to. Because you don't know what to do with them or for them. They're Americans. And we should do something for them and see if we can bring them back into the fold of sensible regress here. But--

CUOMO: Well there are plenty of people who voted for Trump--

DONALDSON: --in the meantime we cannot--

CUOMO: --who are starving.

DONALDSON: In the meantime, we cannot allow them - we cannot allow them to win and support Trump to be another president for four years.

CUOMO: Well look, subordinating the Constitution to his own interests is something that seems highly unlikely, but not great for our culture.

DONALDSON: Yes.

CUOMO: That's for sure. But a lot of his voters are hungry. And I know it sounds good, he wants to get us more money. But he didn't walk the walk on that. He's just saying it now.

But I wonder how the politics play in your estimation. He doesn't want a veto override, even though the numbers suggest it. So it's "Is the power of Trump strong enough over that Party to have them go back on their own negotiated deal, and do so before January 3rd?" DONALDSON: That's right. But again, I mean, he's created chaos. He probably doesn't know how it will play out. But he thinks it will play out to his benefit. But look what he's doing to the senators in Georgia, these senators wanted, and Mitch McConnell wants to have them elected.

[21:55:00]

Well OK, he says, "I want $2,000 for everyone." As you point out, if he could have done that earlier, and then taken credit, particularly in Georgia, it might have kept them in office, and they may still be in office. I'm not calling the election.

CUOMO: Right.

DONALDSON: But we come back, Chris, to this point that he is not you. You worry about Americans who are hungry. He doesn't. He's not hungry. Ivanka is not hungry. His sons are not hungry. What do you - what do you expect of him?

CUOMO: I guess exactly what we're getting. Sam Donaldson, thank you for putting it in perspective as you do.

DONALDSON: Yes.

CUOMO: Like I said, your insight has always been a gift to me. This Christmas will be no different. Be well, my friend.

DONALDSON: And same to you and the family.

CUOMO: Thank you, Sir.

Well look, the question becomes, what happens in the next couple of days? This is not a game.

Look, of course it is good to ask for more for the poor. But he didn't. He didn't ask for more for the poor until now. Can he get it done? Or is this what Sam suggests, just him wanting to look good to the right people, at the right time? What a sin that would be against the culture of this country and the need?

We'll be right back.

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CUOMO: Thank you for watching. I'll be back with you again, tomorrow night. I have a little something special for you, right before Christmas.

"CNN TONIGHT," the big show with the upgrade, Laura Coates in for D. Lemon right now.