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State of the Union
Florida Recount Redux; Interview With New York Senator Chuck Schumer; Interview With Colorado Senator Cory Gardner; Interview With New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Trump And Others Claim Election Fraud In Florida Without Proof; President Trump Degrades Three Black Female Reporters In Three Days. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired November 11, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Constitutional crisis? As President Trump joins other heads of state on the world stage in France, Democrats back home worn his latest shakeup at the Justice Department could push U.S. law to a breaking point.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount.
TAPPER: We will talk exclusively with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer next.
Plus, here we go again. All eyes on Florida, where election officials are in the middle of another recount.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're finding votes out of nowhere.
TAPPER: President Trump alleging voter fraud, but election officials say he's got no evidence.
Republican Senate Campaign Chair Senator Cory Gardner will be here.
And taking on Trump. Democrats win control of the House and have a message for President Trump.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: He will be held accountable. We have a president, not a monarch.
TAPPER: And, in response, the president offers a threat.
TRUMP: They can play that game. But we can play it better.
TAPPER: The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, in moments.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is honoring our veterans.
While we here in the U.S. express our appreciation to those who serve our nation, President Trump is in Paris gathering with other world leaders to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.
But the president's trip abroad has not been without controversy.
This morning, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered what appeared to be a scathing rebuke of the president's America-first agenda, as well as other forms of nationalism, saying in front of the international gathering -- quote -- "Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism."
Saturday, President Trump drew swift condemnation after canceling a planned visit to honor American soldiers who died in the war, the White House citing inclement weather. The White House explained the weather made it unsafe to helicopter and logistically challenging for the president's motorcades to make the 50-mile drive outside Paris.
But, as images appeared of other world leaders honoring their fallen soldiers, veterans and former White House aides criticized the American commander in chief for not having a backup plan to attend the event.
President Trump also facing a slew of unfolding crises back home, a recount already under way for three races in Florida, deadly wildfires ravaging California, and warnings from top Democrats about a possible constitutional crisis after his decision to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replace him with a critic of the special counsel.
Joining me now is Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Leader Schumer, Minority Leader Schumer, I want to start with Tuesday night's election, big Democratic gains in the House and some warning signs for Republicans in the suburbs. But Republicans in this Senate look poised to grow their majority, flipping three blue seats in Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana, as well as potentially in Florida.
Why didn't the Democratic message resonate in those states?
SCHUMER: Well, let me say this, Jake.
The election was a great victory for Democrats. Taking back the House with up to 35 seats is huge, seven governorships, lots of legislative races, lower state legislative races that we picked up seats.
So, Trump and the Republicans are trying to say, well, but the Senate showed that we really won.
Nothing could be further from the truth. First, if you would have told us a couple of years ago that we'd be as close as we are, people would say we're crazy. They were saying we would lose eight to 10 seats and even the 40 votes in the Senate.
We had 10 states where Donald Trump won the election in 2016. Our senators one in six of those 10, with one still, Florida still in contest. And in the three states that carried Trump to victory, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, not only did Democratic senators win by double digits in two of them, but Republicans told Trump he couldn't even set foot in those states because he was so unpopular.
And so this is a great victory. For Donald Trump to claim, because he won a Senate race in North Dakota or Indiana or Missouri, states he won by 19, 19 and 36 percent, that shows how weak -- I would be very worried if I were Donald Trump and the Republicans about the 2020 elections, if all they can claim is they won in North Dakota.
We greatly regret the loss of wonderful people, great senators like Heitkamp and Donnelly and McCaskill, but hardly a victory in those three states is any vindication for the Republican -- for the rout of the Republicans.
TAPPER: Well, with all due respect, sir, is it not true -- I mean, I have talked to a number of Democrats in those states who say, this is a warning sign for Democrats when it comes to the 2020 presidential election.
Kavanaugh and the caravan, they say, those messages from Republicans, those message from President Trump enabled people, even like Claire McCaskill, who ran a pretty flawless campaign, relatively speaking, in Missouri, to lose decisively.
Do Democrats not have to come up with a better response when it comes to border security. And did you not get outplayed when it came to the Kavanaugh nomination, not just the fact that he's on the court, but also the fact of the politics of it?
SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is, the Kavanaugh dispute, I think, helped us more than it hurts us.
It's one of the reasons we won the House so decisively. It's one of the reasons we won governorships in so many other states, because suburban voters who are traditionally Republican came to our side.
And if the coalition, the old Democratic coalition, can add suburban voters to it and continue to focus on issues like health care, which matter to working-class Americans throughout the country, we're going to win.
West Virginia, the state that Trump won by more votes than any other, other than Wyoming, Joe Manchin, despite President Trump's efforts, won.
SCHUMER: And he focused exclusively on health care.
And the issue of health care, of infrastructure and jobs will resonate in rural America, in -- or suburban America and in urban America. And the way it helped us in 2018, it's going to help us here.
I think the president lost more votes because of the Kavanaugh issue than gained throughout the country.
TAPPER: Let's talk about the Florida recount going on right now. The Florida Senate election is moving in that direction, as are two other races there.
Broward County, Florida, has been plagued with election problems, not just this year, but in the past. The election supervisor has been accused in the past of illegally destroying ballots in a previous election, that the county already missed a reporting deadline this year set in state law, and a judge needed to step in.
Isn't it reasonable for people to have concerns about what's going on in Broward County?
SCHUMER: Well, look, every vote should be counted. And President Trump and Rick Scott are so afraid of every vote being counted, because they think Scott will lose if that happens, that they're interfering.
They allege massive fraud. That's what Scott said. His own Republican officials in Florida said there is no fraud. When you vote by mail, it takes a while to count the ballots, because some of the mail votes come in on Election Day.
And that's a process that should be transparent. There have been Republicans and Democrats in those election places. No one has alleged any fraud. And what -- now we have a recount.
And my guess, Trump and particularly Scott will try to interfere in that recount, because they don't want the votes counted. We Democrats, we want every single vote counted. That's every American's right, no matter who they vote for. We're willing to abide by the outcome if every vote is fairly counted and nothing is interfered with.
SCHUMER: We believe that Bill Nelson will be reelected senator if every vote is counted. And that's what Trump and Scott are so scared of.
TAPPER: Well, I take your point that there hasn't been any fraud or theft proven or even evidence introduced.
But do you not understand why some people looking at Broward County say, boy, that place is a mess, it's run by Democrats, and there have been election problems for a long time in that county, so I have concerns about how legitimate the count is?
SCHUMER: Well, wait a second.
Saying it's going to slowly is one thing. Saying you have concerns about how legitimate the count is, is another, because, as you just said, no one has said there's any fraud here. And the paramount issue here, the paramount issue is having every vote counted, even if it takes a little longer. We should not be rushed into doing this, particularly in an election that is so darn close.
And one other point, Jake. Even in Georgia, the secretary of state recused himself because he was on the ballot for governor. Scott should recuse himself immediately. He has a self-interest in jaundicing this election. He should be out of it altogether.
TAPPER: The president on Wednesday fired the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and appointed Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general.
This has prompted even some Senate Republicans, such as Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, to call for this legislation to make sure the president can't fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
You have supported this legislation for months. How far are you willing to go to support it? Are you willing to risk a government shutdown to force this into the agenda, that President Trump has to sign it?
SCHUMER: Well, let me say first the appointment of Mr. Whitaker should concern every American, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, who believes in rule of law and justice.
He's already prejudged the Mueller situation. If he -- if he stays there, he will create a constitutional crisis by inhibiting Mueller or firing Mueller, even -- so, Congress has to act, has to act.
Now, here's what he said. This is amazing. This fellow Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, said that there -- at one point that there was no proof that Russia interfered in our elections, when 17 intelligence agencies said we (sic) did.
He has already outlined how to strangle the Mueller investigation, cut their funding and other things.
So, we Democrats intend to do two things. First, today, I am sending a letter, along with Leader Pelosi and some of the other Democrats who are ranking members of their committees in both houses, to the chief ethics officer of the Justice Department, asking him to issue guidelines: Should Whitaker recused himself from anything involving Mueller?
He issued guidelines like that with Jeff Sessions, and Jeff Sessions recused himself. Whitaker should.
But, second, if that doesn't happen, we Democrats, House and Senate, will attempt to add to must-pass legislation, in this case the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Mr. Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation.
That legislation has had bipartisan support. Two Democrats and two Republicans introduced it. As you mentioned, the -- there are a number of Republicans who have spoken out that we cannot allow Whitaker to interfere with the Mueller investigation.
SCHUMER: So, there's no reason that legislation shouldn't pass...
SCHUMER: ... and be added to the bill.
TAPPER: But the majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has expressed zero desire or willingness to have this be voted on in the full Senate.
You have the power, because of the 60-vote threshold, to force this legislation into the government spending bill or some other mechanism if you risk shutting down the government.
Are Democrats willing to do that? Are you willing to risk shutting down the government and not signing a government spending bill unless the Mueller legislation is included?
SCHUMER: Look, I believe our Republic -- there will be enough of our Republican colleagues who will join us.
There's no reason we shouldn't add this and avoid a constitutional crisis. And so that is our position. If that doesn't happen, we will see what happens down the road.
TAPPER: And I don't mean to be skeptical...
SCHUMER: That's OK.
TAPPER: ... but why would you believe Republicans are going to join you on this?
SCHUMER: Well, we have -- as I said, we have bipartisan legislation, and a number of Republicans have spoken out.
I have spoken to some. People are really concerned about this. Better to avoid a constitutional crisis before it happens.
And Mitch McConnell said he saw no reason because there's no interference. With Whitaker, there is every reason to believe there will be interference, based on what Mr. Whitaker has said.
So, the thing -- the world has changed from when Rosenstein was in charge of the investigation. And I think -- I believe that many Republicans will find the same.
TAPPER: So, you have raised concerns about the legality of Whitaker's appointment in a letter that you sent to the White House Friday.
SCHUMER: Yes. TAPPER: But the text of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act says --
quote -- "If an officer of an executive agency resigns, the president may direct an officer or employee of such executive agency to perform the functions and duties of the vacant office temporarily in an acting capacity."
Now, I get that you have objections to Matt Whitaker, but isn't the president within his legal authority to put him in as acting attorney general temporarily?
SCHUMER: Well, the Constitution requires advise and consent for principal officers.
And if the attorney general isn't a principal officer, who is? The Constitution would supersede that legislation. It hasn't been tested. There are a number of senators who are looking at a lawsuit. We will have to see if they have standing. But there are people who do have standing who will pursue this in the courts.
And I believe that will be found that Mr. Whitaker cannot be put in as attorney general because he has not been approved by the Senate.
TAPPER: Well, I believe...
SCHUMER: It's not only the right thing to do. I think it's the constitutional prerogative as well.
TAPPER: There was a test before the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Eaton in 1898. The court rejected the idea that a temporary fill-in for a principal officer needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
SCHUMER: Yes, well, I think, in the case of attorney general, it's different.
And I think that the courts will side with us. If there was ever a principal officer, someone in charge of law enforcement, in charge of rule of law, who has responsibilities far beyond being a partisan, such an extreme partisan, as Whitaker is, this is the instance.
And I think the courts will rise to the occasion.
TAPPER: Democrats are going to have new levers of power in January, when your colleagues take control of the House.
Now, you have been out warning about a possible constitutional crisis, including on the show this morning. From everything you have seen from President Trump so far, should House Democrats file articles of impeachment, or is that premature?
SCHUMER: Look, I think we should pursue the ways that we're going about this now, as I outlined.
I think that the ideal situation, which I hope will happen -- I believe our Republican colleagues will join us in making sure it happens -- is to allow the Mueller investigation to go forward, to make public what he recommends, and take it from there.
So that's where I think we should go right now. First step, job one, avoid interference with Mueller. It's paramount to the rule of law and this country not to become a Third World republic.
TAPPER: Let's turn to health care. You brought it up earlier. You say it's an issue that helped the Democrats take the House and keep some of the Senate seats.
And, obviously, it was very important for voters, according to exit polls. A lot of the candidates in 2018 rallied around not just preserving the protection for people with preexisting conditions, but Medicare for all.
And, in fact, last year, a third of your Senate caucus, including Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, co-sponsored the bill that President Obama has called a good idea, Medicare for all.
You, however, have not signed on to Medicare for all. Why not?
SCHUMER: My view is, there are many different approaches.
Democrats are united in one thing. We want to provide better health care at less cost for the American people. When the average family sits down at their kitchen table Friday night, they worry more about rising health care costs and the inability to provide health care for a parent, a spouse, a child than anything else.
That's why, even with this good economy, Democrats did so well in the election. And there are lots of different approaches to make that happen. There's Medicare for all. There's buy-in to Medicare or Medicaid. There are many other approaches. Senator Murray has a -- has put forward some.
And we are united in improving health care at lower costs for Americans. And there are lots of different approaches. We will unite on an approach and come forward with that as we move through the legislative process.
TAPPER: Is Medicare for all not politically a wise approach? I mean, your senator who was reelected from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin, she embraced it.
SCHUMER: Yes. No, I'm not...
TAPPER: And she won -- she won reelection in a state that Donald Trump won.
SCHUMER: I am not picking one over the other. There are lots of good approaches.
And the most important thing here is to have Democratic unity. We had unity on health care back in 2017, and we were able to preserve the health care of 30 million people, when we defeated the attempt to repeal the ACA. We will come together. We have a great caucus in the Senate, and I
hope it will be duplicated -- I believe it will -- in the House, where people from Elizabeth Warren to Joe Manchin come together, and we discuss how we can be united in a strong position.
And it's worked. I think it'll work again with health care.
TAPPER: Well, speaking of your caucus, you watched what happened in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, when more than a dozen candidates ran against each other and beat each other up pretty -- pretty good.
It looks like your party, the Democratic Party may face a similarly crowded field in 2020, if not even more so. Are there any lessons learned that you will take into this presidential cycle that you will caution Gillibrand, Booker, Warren, Sanders, et cetera, when it comes to Democratic presidential primaries?
SCHUMER: Look, I think we have lots of strong candidates across the political spectrum.
My basic philosophy right now is, let 1,000 flowers bloom. Let's get a lot of people out there. The political process, it's a little like sports. It's almost mystical. You never know who's going to emerge on top.
And so having candidates out there of various views, all united in the need to change the course of how the presidency is conducted and of how we help the middle class, people aspiring to be in the middle class in a much better way than the Republicans have, I think Democrats at the end of the day will be united, will be united on a candidate who can best defeat Trump.
And, at the moment, there are many different approaches. Let's see which one proves to be the strongest.
TAPPER: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, thank you so much for your time, sir. We appreciate it.
SCHUMER: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: The president is...
SCHUMER: Good to be here.
TAPPER: Good to have you.
The president is accusing election officials in Florida of committing election fraud. Is there any evidence? Is there any proof?
Republican Senate Campaign Chair Cory Gardner of Colorado joins me?
And he reportedly called himself the best choice to impeach President Trump. So, is that his plan? We will ask the incoming head of the House Judiciary Committee next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
It's deja vu all over again in Florida this week, where narrow margins of victory are triggering automatic recounts.
County election officials have until Thursday to submit their recounted vote totals in the races for Florida governor and the U.S. Senate.
President Trump has been working to undermine that process, calling the effort to count votes a fraud and an attempt by Democrats to steal the election, charges that are not backed up by the Republican Florida secretary of state or Florida law enforcement.
Joining me now, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. He's the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
A statement from your organization the NRSC says of Florida -- quote -- "It's clear the Democrats' goal here is not to count every vote fairly, but to steal an election."
In a tweet, President Trump accused Democrats in Florida of committing fraud. Governor Rick Scott, who's running for Senate, has made similar comments.
Is there any specific evidence at all of anyone committing fraud or trying to steal the election and trying to change the outcome?
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Well, here's the specific evidence we have.
We have a court in Florida that has said there was a violation of the Florida Constitution. We have a court has -- that has directed certain better behavior out of the Palm County election supervisors.
And we have courts that are saying, follow the law that is not being followed. We know they're not following the law. They certainly weren't following the law. They were posting when they were supposed to be about the results of ballots coming in. They weren't providing the canvass, the total number of ballots that had been cast.
And courts have agreed with us on those points. So I think there's clear evidence that the Constitution was violated, and a court in Florida has said the same.
TAPPER: Well, it's true, what you're saying about transparency, and it's true...
GARDNER: That is exactly right. It's true.
TAPPER: ... what you're saying about transparency and about meeting deadlines. Absolutely correct.
But Florida's Department of Law Enforcement said Friday they haven't even received any allegations of criminal activity, of fraud, of stealing. And the secretary of state's office just said yesterday there's still -- quote -- "no evidence of criminal activity."
So, it just seems like the rhetoric we're hearing from the...
GARDNER: Well, what is a violation -- what is a violation of the Constitution?
I mean, violating the Constitution doesn't rise to the level of concern in Florida? It absolutely rises to a level of concern.
TAPPER: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying...
GARDNER: We have people -- we have people who are actually duplicating ballots, which is allowed under law if you follow the law, but they're doing it without, witnesses without the canvass that they're supposed to.
I mean, this is insane. You have -- you have election officials that weren't even following court orders yet. They weren't in compliance with court orders. And so I think this is a big problem.
And what we're trying to do is make sure that we're protecting every single vote in Florida. We're protecting them from the fraud. We're protecting the integrity of these votes. Every vote should be counted, but, by gosh, not let fraudulent or anti-constitutional behavior prevail.
TAPPER: Well, this is what I'm taking issue with. There is -- there is a difference between all the things that you're taking issue with, which I mentioned to Senator Schumer in the previous interview, legitimate areas of concern about the behavior of election officials in Palm Beach County, and, more importantly, or more specifically, in Broward County.
But there's a big difference between that and fraud and stealing and theft of an election. And I have covered recounts before. I have covered recounts in Florida before. Typically, lawyers for the candidate who's ahead, they go in and use every legal maneuver they can to prevent votes from being counted.
And I guess the question is, does the NRSC think that every single vote legally cast by Election Day should be counted? Is that an important principle for you?
GARDNER: Every vote legally cast should be counted. And every vote legally cast should be counted the same, whether it's Miami or Pensacola. We shouldn't have standards that are different in Broward County or
Palm County. We shouldn't have somebody who is actually defying the law or court orders.
Now, this isn't a question of potato, potato here. This is not what we're dealing with. This is the Constitution of Florida that has been violated and a court that has said the same. And so I don't take this lightly.
We need to make sure that we're protecting the integrity of the electorate -- electorate in Florida, that every vote is counted, and to make sure that we protect this from fraud.
And that's exactly what we're doing each and every day that we're in Florida with these court decisions and making sure that the law is applied equally across the state.
TAPPER: The state -- the Senate race in Arizona is also right now still too close to call.
The NRSC sent out a press release accusing the top Maricopa County election official in Arizona of -- quote -- "using his position to cook the books for Kyrsten Sinema." That's the Democrat in that race.
But the Republican governor of Arizona, Ducey, Republican secretary of state, they have all voiced support for the process. We haven't heard any complaints from the Republican Senate candidate, Congresswoman Martha McSally.
Is there any evidence to support that the Maricopa County election officials are cooking the books?
GARDNER: Well, I think what -- what -- what we have seen in Arizona is an attempt to make sure, like in Florida, that we're treating everybody equally under the law.
There had been concern that, in Maricopa, a process was being used to determine signatures or validation of ballots that differed from places in other parts of the county -- other parts of the state, other counties in the state.
So whether it was Yuma or Maricopa or other places, they were concerned that Maricopa was holding a standard that was not being allowed to count votes in other parts of the state.
So, I believe there's been an agreement amongst the counties with the officials there to count everything the same, to follow the same procedure. And that's important, because a vote that's cast in Yuma shouldn't be disqualified under the same provision that qualifies a vote in Maricopa.
A legally cast a vote wherever it is legally cast should count the same, not with differing standards amongst the offices.
TAPPER: I know, but your organization accused an election official of cooking the books. And I don't see any evidence of any illegality. There are questions about there -- if you want to get technical here about what emergency voting is. In Maricopa County, the law is very vague. Maricopa County set for four emergency voting stations before Election Day, two of them, by the way, in Republican areas, Mesa and Scottsdale.
And different counties interpret that vague law in different ways. That's not cooking the books. And I just...
TAPPER: I keep hearing the organization you chair accuse people of breaking the law. And I don't see evidence of it.
If you're a voter in Arizona, and you're -- you cast a vote in Yuma, and you cast a vote in Phoenix, legally, you did it the same. And your vote in Yuma is disqualified. Your vote in Maricopa is not disqualified.
Is that fair?
TAPPER: I defer to the...
GARDNER: Is that fair?
TAPPER: I defer to the governor and the secretary of state of Arizona. They're both Republicans. And they say everything is going according to how it should be going.
Now, if you have issues with county-by-county election processes, whether it's in Florida or Arizona, then I don't want to stand in the way of you introducing legislation saying every state has to do it the exact same way.
But if the Republican governor and Republican secretary...
GARDNER: Well, now, that's -- I'm not talking about federalizing elections.
I'm talking about the state of Arizona. I'm not talking about federal legislation. I think federalizing the elections would be a bad idea.
I think making sure that as -- if you're in Arizona, that the vote you cast legally counts, I think that's what we're trying to do. That's what was reached.
GARDNER: That's the agreement that was reached in Arizona, and I think that's a good outcome.
TAPPER: But where's the evidence that anybody was cooking the books?
GARDNER: Well, we had evidence that people were treating ballots differently.
And, again, this is about the integrity of, when you go and cast a ballot, you don't expect to yours to be disqualified under a provision that would allow a ballot to be counted somewhere else.
I think that's fair. And so that's exactly what we're trying to do.
TAPPER: Whose ballots were being disqualified?
My understanding of the situation is that what happened was, in Maricopa County, they had four emergency voting stations set up in the county. By the way, it's a county that Joe Arpaio won. I mean, it's a mixed county, and Republicans and Democrats both can win in that county.
And that's what happened. It's not like people in Yuma County were not allowed to vote. It's just that this elections official set up four emergency voting stations throughout the county, including in Scottsdale and Mesa, which are Republican-leaning.
GARDNER: Well, I think I have answered the question. We just want to make sure that every vote counts and that every vote that is legally cast is counted, and that you don't have different standards on signatures or verifications of the signatures that might not allow a vote to go forward in one part of the state that allows it to go forward in another part of the state.
I think we're both interested in making sure that every vote is counted, that every person who legally cast is there. That's what this is about.
So, we're trying to protect the people of Arizona to make sure that, whether they cast it in the southeast part of the state or the northeast part of the state, doesn't matter. It counts the same.
TAPPER: Well, I think you and I agree, and probably everyone watching, every vote that was legally cast by Election Day should count.
Senator Cory Gardner, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time.
GARDNER: Thanks for having me, Jake. Thank you.
TAPPER: My next guest has a history of clashing with Donald Trump.
Years ago, they opposed each other over real estate expansion in New York City. And now they're set to clash over -- well, the sky's the limit, as House Democrats prepare to exercise their new oversight power and investigate President Trump on a dizzying array of issues. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TAPPER: Joining me now is the likely new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York.
Mr. Chairman, in all likelihood, thanks so much for joining us.
You have been saying that, under the Republicans, there's been no congressional oversight of the Trump administration. Now that you're expected to be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, what are the first three things that you want to hold hearings on?
NADLER: Well, the very first thing, obviously, is to protect the Mueller investigation.
The president's dismissal of Attorney General Sessions, and his appointment of Whitaker, who is a complete political lackey, is a real threat to the integrity of that investigation. That investigation is of utmost importance in making sure that we adhere to the rule of law and that the administration is held accountable.
And we will certainly hold hearings on that. Our very first witness on -- after January 3, we will subpoena Mr. -- or we will summon, if necessary, subpoena Mr. Whitaker.
TAPPER: And what will you ask Mr. Whitaker?
NADLER: Well, the questions we will ask him will be about his expressed hostility to the investigation, and how he can possibly supervise it, when he's expressed the -- when he's come out and said that the investigation is invalid, that there was -- that, contrary to the findings of every intelligence agency, there was no Russian interference in our election, and when he has expressed ridiculous legal opinions that go against the foundations of American law.
He's totally unqualified. And his only qualification seems to be that he wants to be -- that the president wants him to be the hatchet man to destroy the Mueller investigation.
TAPPER: Well, be that as it may -- and you have called Whitaker's appointment illegal -- the law in this case -- and it's the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 -- authorized the president to replace the attorney general, in this case Jeff Sessions, with any senior official who has been serving in the same department for at least 90 days, as long as they're -- quote -- "acting capacity" for fewer than 210 days.
NADLER: Well, I believe...
TAPPER: Regardless of your opinion of Mr. Whitaker, he meets those requirements.
NADLER: Well, I don't think so.
There's very good constitutional law that, regardless of the Vacancy Act, you cannot have an attorney general or, for that matter, an acting attorney general who hasn't been confirmed by the Senate, and that anything he does is invalid.
But that may very well be tested in court. But, meanwhile, we have to ask the attorney -- the claimed attorney general for assurances that he's not going to interfere with the -- with the investigation by Mueller, because the rule of law must be maintained. And no official can be above the rule of law, not the president.
And that is -- and that is key. There's been -- the Republicans in Congress have refused to have any checks to perform our constitutional duty, being a check and balance on the president.
We will do that. And this is the first step in doing that. The president may think that he is above the law. He may think that he will not be held accountable, but he will be.
TAPPER: Do you plan to take any action to remove President Trump from office? Are you going to attempt impeachment?
"The New York Times" reported you pitched yourself to your Democratic colleagues for the top spot on Judiciary...
NADLER: No, no, no, no.
TAPPER: ... as -- quote -- "the strongest member to lead a potential impeachment."
NADLER: Well, the key word is potential, if it comes up.
We -- no. We're -- impeachment is a question that will come up down the road, maybe, depending on the findings of the Mueller administration and of other investigations. We're far from that right now.
TAPPER: You were vocally opposed to the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, of course, in 1998. You called them a partisan coup d'etat.
You said that any potential impeachment of President Trump -- quote -- "must not be partisan."
NADLER: That is correct.
TAPPER: According to CNN's exit polls from Tuesday, 77 percent of Democrats support impeaching President Trump, 5 percent of Republicans.
There is a real partisan divide on this issue of impeachment. Does that concern you?
NADLER: Not really, because, as I said, we're far from that.
If we get to the question of impeachment, then one of the tests should be -- and I have said this repeatedly -- is the evidence so strong of misdeeds so terrible that you really believe at the beginning of the process that, by the end of the process, when all this is laid out publicly, a very large fraction of the people who voted for the president will grudgingly acknowledge to themselves and to others that you had no choice but to impeach the president?
That's a test, because you don't want the country torn apart, in the sense that half the country says for the next 30 years, we won the election, you stole it.
So, one question before you do an impeachment is, do you think that the evidence of such terrible deeds is so strong that a large portion of the opposition vote base, of the president's vote base, will be convinced by the end of the process?
TAPPER: And you're not there yet? You don't see anything...
NADLER: Oh, we're far from...
NADLER: Well, I see a lot of potentials, but we don't know.
That's why we're waiting to see what the special counsel finds. We're waiting to see what a fair investigation -- the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee made sure there was no fair investigation in Congress. There will be now. And we will see what that comes up with, what the special prosecutor, special counsel's office comes up with.
And we will then have to make judgments. I certainly hope that we will not find the necessity for an impeachment. But you can't rule that out.
TAPPER: A conservative writer overheard you on the train from New York to D.C. on Wednesday. You were on your phone.
And according to her, you were detailing a plan to impeach recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh for alleged perjury.
NADLER: She was not telling the truth. And I'm not going to comment on a private conversation with a friend.
TAPPER: It's not true...
NADLER: That was incorrect. No.
TAPPER: You have no intentions of trying to or even discussing potentially impeaching Justice Kavanaugh for perjury?
The only thing that we -- what I think we do have to -- no, no. What I think we do have to do is -- one of the things that the committee has to do is to investigate the question of the FBI not doing a proper investigation, so -- because of White House interference, so that we can do whatever is necessary to make sure that, in the future, investigations are adequate. TAPPER: But you did promise to investigate Kavanaugh if the Democrats gained control of the House, right?
NADLER: No, I said that we would look into the question I just mentioned.
TAPPER: OK, but no commitment to investigate him.
All right, Congressman Jerry Nadler, one last question for you. "The Wall Street Journal" reported on Friday that President Trump was -- quote -- "involved in or briefed on nearly every step of hush money payments made to women on his behalf, women with whom he allegedly had affairs. Prosecutors have evidence of the president's participation," "The Journal" reported.
If the president is found to have been involved in campaign finance violations that are potentially criminal, is that an impeachable offense?
NADLER: That might very well be an impeachable offense.
And the question would be, A, can you prove -- well, it may be an impeachable offense, if it goes to the question of the president procuring his office through corrupt means. And that could be impeachable. And you would have to see whether a -- how good the proof of that is and, secondly, what else there is, because the fact that an impeachable offense is committed -- has been committed does not mean necessarily there ought to be an impeachment.
That depends on whether the situation is serious enough that it makes sense to do an impeachment to defend the system of government and the system of democracy.
And so, yes, that would be a factor that would go into any such judgment.
TAPPER: All right, soon-to-be-incoming Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New York, thank you so much for your time this morning.
NADLER: Thank you.
TAPPER: President Trump fired his attorney general and replaced him with a critic of Robert Mueller. He banned a reporter from the White House. He called Florida's election count a fraud. But other than that, how was your week? Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't know who won but we do know that when people vote, they deserve to have their votes counted if they can be. And so we ought to just respect the process.
TRUMP: What's going on in Florida is a disgrace. Go down and see what happened over the last period of time, 10 years.
Take a look at Broward County. Take a look at the total dishonesty of what happened with respect to Broward County.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Two presidents, two Florida recounts, two very different tones. Let's dive right in and talk about it with our panel.
Congresswoman, I'll start with you. President Trump going full- throatedly against what's going on in Florida. You saw the difference with President Clinton who -- that was a presidential one and it was his vice president was on the ballot there. What's your take?
REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D), ILLINOIS: Well, he ought to have proof for what he says. That seems to be something that has been thrown out the window. But if you are going to say something is -- there's criminal behavior or there's unethical behavior or there's corruption, you ought to have proof. He doesn't have any proof of that.
Look -- and I've seen your guests that were on just a little bit ago. Every vote ought to count. That's what matters.
Getting to the truth, whether it's an investigation, whether it's vote recounts, whatever it is just getting to the truth matters. We talked a little bit ago. I'm a former journalist, I'm a former investigative journalist and what always guided us in journalism, and I don't believe journalists are the enemy of the people. I believe they're essential to our democracy, but getting to the truth is what should matter.
We should count every vote and we ought to have every attempt to do that.
TAPPER: And we should not also that election officials in Florida -- Broward County and Palm Beach County should be transparent with the process and open up these rooms to the journalists down there. Florida has excellent local journalists and that's part of this process as well -- Senator.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's a big thing. Look, I mean, we have -- we know that they have violated the law. The court came down and said that Palm Beach County violated the law.
TAPPER: In terms of transparency and in terms of when they filed the votes.
SANTORUM: Well, that's sort of important.
TAPPER: It's very important. But I'm just saying it's not fraudulent vote. That's all a (ph) fact (ph).
SANTORUM: But that -- but where does fraud happen? It happens when people aren't watching and there is no transparency and people aren't following procedures.
Procedures are in place to stop fraud. They are not following procedures. Therefore -- and they're keeping it -- there's no transparency.
That raises a big concern that there might be fraud going on. Because if there wasn't, why wouldn't you be transparent and why wouldn't you follow the law?
TAPPER: Senator Turner, you're from a state where people have alleged voter fraud against Republicans. I'm old enough to remember the 2004 presidential race where people made all sorts of allegations against the Bush campaign in Ohio without any evidence, without any proof, just based on a lot of suspicion.
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, listen, if they broke the rules -- the court said that they broke the rules in Palm Beach, then they should be held accountable for that. But we can't conflate these two different things between elections officials not doing their job and actually saying that there is voter fraud going on in that state.
Florida has a problem. It has had a problem for a very long time. The Federal government should step in and the Help America Vote Act, there was funding there. A lot of these states are underfunded in terms of their voting apparatus.
And we need to have a better commitment as a nation towards making sure that every state has what they need to have their apparatus. But count every vote and let the chips fall where they may.
TAPPER: So, the president railing against what's going on in Florida was part of a very aggressive week by the president in which he went after a whole bunch of American institutions, House oversight, journalists, election officials, et cetera.
There's one -- in particular that I really was curious about your response to it as a former FBI official, the president attacking the Democratic House majority and their desire to do oversight, tweeting the morning after the election, "If the Democrats think they're going to waste taxpayer money investigating us at the House level then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all the leaks of classified information and much else at the Senate level. Two can play that game."
And then later on he went on at the press conference to talk about how the Trump administration itself would be going after -- that's not just using the Senate against the House but that's also potentially using the Department of Justice and the FBI against the House. What do you think of that?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously that's always the wrong answer in any of these. I do think that the House risks going into becoming the House of investigations, throwing subpoenas because they're curious, not well founded. That's a risk that can't happen.
But I think the president interjecting himself into a process of I will investigate you, that is a form of intimidation that I think is uncalled for at the presidential level, candidly, just like I think it's wrong that Democrats are saying we have a stack of subpoenas that we're just curious about.
To me that's wrong, too. We have to get back to a normal operation of these House committees and the president needs to just worry about -- listen, if he would have talked about jobs and the economy and the things that his administration did do right, I think the election could have turned out very, very differently.
He didn't. He's caught in this trap of -- it's really -- it's not that I win, you have to lose. And when he goes through that -- I think this was a week of frustration. You saw the president venting that frustration in ways I don't think is helpful to good regular order of really important institutions, the Congress of the United States.
TAPPER: You're a Democratic congresswoman but you're from a Republican part of Illinois, you you're a former investigative journalist, it says you want to go where the facts go. Do you have any concerns having heard from incoming Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler that Democrats are going to go out on fishing expeditions?
BUSTOS: Well, I'm not a lawyer. I'm not on the judiciary, but I believe we ought to just let the truth guide us.
Listen to Mike Rogers. We were talking in the hallway on our walk down to sit right here with you. He was speaking glowingly about Dutch Ruppersberger who was the Democrat when Mike Rogers was the chair on intel. We just -- we just need to let the truth guide us.
Remove the politics, especially from the Intelligence Committee. We need to work together, Democrats and Republicans. I don't think it's that hard. When you have reasonable people, I don't think it's that hard to do that.
TAPPER: What do you think? That's -- from her mouth to God's ears, but I don't know.
SANTORUM: Well, I just look at it from the president's perspective. The president suffered some losses that were unforced errors. A lot of suburban Republicans lost because of this president's hyperbole and combative tone.
This is an opportunity for him to sort of take a step back and recognize this is going to affect his ability to win re-election. He cannot win states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and other states continuing this -- this harsh, combative attitude that turns off suburban voters. While at the same time not appealing to minorities who I think should be voting for him based upon his record of the economy and what he's doing to create employment opportunities and better well-being for them.
So he has to do something to change his tone. And what he's done coming out of blocks is doubled down on that tone. And that's just a big mistake.
TAPPER: Speaking of which another -- something that I wondered what you thought had to do with the president's combative tone. He went after four journalists in particular this week, one of who is Jim Acosta, perhaps the one that was noticed the most.
TAPPER: But coincidently or not, the other three were African- American women.
TAPPER: Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YAMICHE LEONE ALCINDOR, PBS NEWS HOUR CORRESPONDENT: On the campaign trail you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalist. Now people are also saying that the president --
TRUMP: I don't know why you'd say that. That's such a racist question.
I mean, you talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing.
What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That's the president talking about Yamiche Alcindor PBS who did not ask a racist question. April Ryan a colleague of ours here who is not a loser. She's with American Urban Networks. And CNN's own Abby Phillip who didn't ask a stupid question and is in fact one of the smartest people I know. Your response?
TURNER: I'm pissed I'm trying to keep my composure on this fine Sunday morning. The senator -- I mean, excuse me, the president was a bully, just flat out. And some people will say he's an equal opportunity bully, but we understand that in this country when you level those kinds of comments against African-Americans, you're a loser, you're stupid -- you know, Gillum is a thief, he knows exactly what he's doing. He's invoking and stirring up stereotypes that impact the African-American community, our image, our profession, who we are more deeply than anybody else. He should be ashamed of himself, but is he not. And there was a photograph that was captured of seeing him, you know, pointing his finger at Abby in a way that it should be totally unacceptable. But what do we expect from this president this is who he really is.
And he has a disdain for African-Americans and other people of color, whether it's calling all Mexican rapists or calling countries that are dominated by people of color a shit hole countries. He has shown from the Central Park Five to this moment this president has a great hate and disdain for people of color, period.
TAPPER: Congresswoman, as a former journalist, what do you make of all of that?
BUSTOS: The president was disgraceful. He behaved in a way that we should never see a president behave. What Nina just said about how he is directing his comments to people of color, you know, we shouldn't have a president who feels like he can speak in those tones whether it's to African-Americans, whether it's about people coming from Mexico or Central America or people who are living in our country, people of color.
I mean, I think it's disgraceful.
TAPPER: I understand there are people who think he just attacks everybody.
SANTORUM: He does attack everybody.
TAPPER: Are there any African-American women journalist in the White House press corps, to the same of the White House press corps which is another matter. But, I mean, to go after four people, Jim Acosta, I get there's a whole thing there, OK, we don't have to go into that. But I don't think that they should have taken away his credential for the record. But the other three, I mean, it is so disproportionately African-American women.
SANTORUM: The president does treat everybody that confronts him poorly. And -- but having said that, he needs to be aware of what he's doing. He can't -- he can't see this as -- in a vacuum that it is. He went after people specifically African-American women and he has to recognize that's a problem and he shouldn't do it.
TURNER: The journalists asked him questions. They didn't treat -- I mean, they asked him questions.
SANTORUM: They were incendiary questions. At least one of them was.
TURNER: Well, that's what -- he's the president of the United States of America. He should be able to take it.
BUSTOS: But he does he what he's doing. TURNER: Exactly. On purpose.
BUSTOS: You said, he should know what he was doing. He does know what he's doing.
SANTORUM: I think he's just combative.
TAPPER: Well, anyway, I don't think we're going to settle the matter right now. Thank you so much. And thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us.
Tonight, don't miss the final episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN" with a very personal tour of Anthony Bourdain's Lower East side tonight at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.
Fareed Zakaria sits down with French President Emmanuel Macron next. Stay with us.