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State of the Union
Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Discussion of Government Shutdown; GOP Senators Sound Off On President's Recent Policies; When Trump Learned To Tweet In This Week's "State of the Cartoonion". Aired 9-10a ET
Aired December 23, 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 (voice-over): Chaos for Christmas, the Dow plunging, and paychecks on hold, as President Trump's wall shuts down the federal government and the president contradicts himself.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be the one to shut it down.
Call it a Democrat shutdown.
TAPPER: Which party will pay the political price? Republican Senator Rand Paul is here next.
And turning on Trump, Republicans livid, feeling betrayed.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm pleading with the president to reconsider.
TAPPER: After President Trump announces Syria a pullout and Defense Secretary Mattis says, I am out.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker, will be here exclusively.
Plus, blocking foul? CNN exclusive reporting that President Trump fumed to his top Justice official about federal cases related to himself, as Democrats prepare to launch their own investigations.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We have had this deeply unethical man running the country.
TAPPER: The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, is here to respond.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is chaotic, with fears that it's all about to get much worse. If President Trump was looking for a dramatic season finale, he's got
it, government shutdown, top officials quitting in protest, a plummeting stock market. And there's still a week of 2018 to go.
Saturday, President Trump announced that he and Melania will celebrate Christmas in Washington this year, instead of at Mar-a-Lago. They will not be able to gaze upon the normally spectacularly adorned National Christmas Tree, however. The government shutdown means it's lights out for the large evergreen near the White House, as the government seems almost sure to remain partially closed through the holiday.
Congress will not resume official business until Thursday, with no deal in sight, leaving federal workers facing uncertainty over the holiday. Some 380,000 employees will stay home until the government reopens, while about 420,000 employees deemed essential will be forced to work without pay.
A reminder, most federal employees do not live in the Washington, D.C., area. They live throughout the country.
Saturday, lawmakers and members of the president's team appeared to remain at an impasse, with no signs of a path forward. Republican Senator Leader Mitch McConnell announcing nothing will happen until the president and Democrats agree.
President Trump is demanding $5 billion for his border wall, and Senate Democrats say they will not give him the votes for it, this as the president seems to be even less restrained than normal, after the sudden resignations of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, and Brett McGurk, a top diplomatic official in the fight against ISIS, moves that have even some of the most loyal Republicans expressing misgivings and concern.
I want to go straight to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Jake, good to be with you during these festive times.
TAPPER: That's right. Merry Christmas.
You were heavily involved in the negotiations. You helped secure a deal requiring all the parties involved, Pelosi, Ryan, Schumer, McConnell, and President Trump, to publicly agree before a vote to end the shutdown.
I have to say, I found it striking the part of this deal was that President Trump needs to publicly endorse it before there's any vote.
Why? CORKER: Well, look, Jake, this is a purposely contrived fight over,
at the end of the day, even no matter who wins, our borders are still going to be insecure.
I think you know that, back in 2013, John Hoeven and I crafted a border security amendment that passed was 69 votes in a Senate where Republicans were in the minority. I'm a junior senator from Tennessee. And 69 people voted for $46 billion to secure our border.
It was overly prescriptive, and it was overkill, but our borders would have been secure. Not long ago, just a few months ago, the president could have received $25 billion in border security just by dealing with the dreamers, which, by the way, most Republicans want to deal with the dreamers issue.
So, we had $25 billion that could have been spent on border security. Now the government is shut down over what ultimately is going to be $2 billion. This is a made-up fight, so the president can look like he's fighting.
But, even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure. And part of it is because of what we're spending the money on. We have all kinds of technology, as you know, that we can use to secure the borders. The $46 billion did include 700 miles of fencing, which was important.
But there's all kinds of technology that we use in Iraq and Afghanistan to secure our borders. And so it's not unlike going to the Pentagon and saying, look, we need to buy fighters, and we have stealth fighters, and they're supersonic, and they have precision- guided missiles, but, no, let's -- let's use the Wright Brothers.
And so this -- it's not just about the money. It's about what we're spending in on.
CORKER: We could secure our borders. We could solve this problem. This is a made-up fight.
And I would just tell citizens across our country that, turn this off, but focus on the significant things, the fact that we just announced we're pulling out of Syria...
TAPPER: Yes, I want to get to that in a second.
CORKER: ... something that is -- yes, go ahead.
TAPPER: I'm going to get one second, but let me just -- I just want to just understand this.
You're saying that President Trump, if he wants that money for the border wall, for border security, he can get it, but he needs to make a deal, but he doesn't want to make a deal, he just wants a campaign issue. Am I hearing you correctly?
CORKER: It has to be that, because this is -- this is like falling off a table.
The Democrats easily would support more border funding, border security. They have said that; 25 of them came to the floor and voted for something that provided $25 billion worth of border security, in exchange for dealing with the dreamers.
And Republicans want to deal with the dreamers. So, this is something that is unnecessary. It's a spectacle. And, candidly, it's juvenile. The whole thing is juvenile. I want to see real border security. And that's why I'm disappointed at where we have ended up at the end of this Congress.
TAPPER: I want to turn to foreign policy.
The president tweeted about his defense secretary, James Mattis, yesterday. Mattis obviously resigned following the president's announcement he's pulling all U.S. troops from Syria.
In his resignation letter, Mattis made it very clear he disagrees with the president when it comes to Mattis having respect for allies and alliances, that he thinks that China and Russia are bad actors.
What was your reaction to it all?
CORKER: Look, I'm -- I'm saddened.
We have been working with allies. There are some 60 coalition groups that are working with us. The SDF, which is made up of Kurds and Arabs, have been doing the fighting for us. We have been helping them do what they're doing, but they're the ones that are doing the fighting.
We're in the final stages. ISIS is now concentrated in the Euphrates River Valley. We're just a few months away from finishing something that we started, where we would annihilate a large number of ISIS members.
And we stopped. I'm just saddened for our country. I'm saddened for the broken relationships with countries that have been with us. I'm saddened for the many Kurds and others that likely will be -- will be killed and slaughtered by the Syrians or the Turks.
I'm saddened for our country in being so unreliable. There are number of, as you know, foreign fighters that are there as prisoners. What do we do with them? Do they go back to countries? Do we release them?
I'm -- I'm devastated by this. And I think that what Mattis did was very important for our country, because for some of these machinations that we see coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania, people realize they don't really matter. This one matters.
TAPPER: Yes. CORKER: This one matters to our country. It matters to our foreign
interests. This matters to our citizens.
TAPPER: Senator, the president also tweeted yesterday about Brett McGurk. He's the top U.S. diplomat in the fight against ISIS, who announced he's going to leave his post early.
The president tweeted -- quote -- "Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015, was supposed to leave in February, but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The fake news is making such a big deal about this nothing event."
Now, in point of fact, obviously, Brett McGurk was working for George W. Bush before he was working for Obama. But, to the point that the president brings up in this, he doesn't know the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS?
CORKER: Yes, so -- you know, I would not be surprised if they have not had a meeting.
He is a real talent. I have met with him many times. We have all dealt with him through the years. And he was leaving in February.
But, as Mattis just did, one of the greatest patriots I have ever met in our -- in my public service, General Mattis -- but, as Mattis did, he followed suit and left.
And he did the right thing. So, I don't look at that as grandstanding. He's been an important person to us. Obviously, the secretary of defense is in a higher role and much higher-profile position and much more important, but Brett has played an important role for our country.
I thank him for his service. I thank him for dealing with the most difficult issue. And I wish him well as he moves on.
TAPPER: Well, listen to this, Senator Corker. This is something you said more than a year ago about President Trump and what some people called the axis of grownups.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORKER: I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Tillerson was fired via Twitter. Mattis and Kelly are going to be leaving in the coming days and months.
First of all, it's hard to imagine that the last year is the year without chaos, but should we expect even more chaos than we have already been experiencing, given the lack of these three men in the administration?
CORKER: Yes, so, look, I had a lot of respect for these three gentlemen and some who've come on since.
I think what's happened, really, about three or four or five months ago, I noticed a real change. And I don't think that -- I doubt there's anybody that really can -- I think the president has felt that: Look, I have got this now. Input from people like this is much less relevant to me. I have got this under control.
So, I think we're just in a -- in a whole different period now. When you have got Secretary Pompeo, John Bolton, General Mattis laying out all the problems that occur -- could occur with a precipitous decision like was tweeted out about Syria, and yet it still happens, I think you're at a place now where we're beyond that.
And, again, some devastating decisions are being made, even with people giving strong input in the opposite direction. So, I don't know what to say about it.
Jake, I have done as much as I can as a senator -- I'm leaving soon -- to point out all the problems with this type of decision-making. Now we're into something that's incredibly sober as it relates to Syria and possibly Afghanistan coming soon.
And, somehow or another, I hope that the president will see fit to make some decisions here that are not -- not ultimately devastating to our country.
TAPPER: What do you say to the person sitting at home who thinks, you know what, we have been in Afghanistan forever, we can't be in Syria forever?
I'm sure President Trump came in, gave the generals some time, said, OK, you have a year, OK, you have another year.
TAPPER: And then, ultimately, he's just like, we're never going to have -- we're never going to get out of these wars. These are forever wars. And we can't just fight them indefinitely. So, even if I don't like the manner in which he's doing it, I support President Trump ending these foreign wars, ending these foreign entanglements.
What -- what do you say to those voters?
CORKER: Well, we got 28,000 troops in the DMZ between South and North Korea. They're not in harm's way, but they're still there.
In Syria, I mean, this was a very low-cost situation for us to continue to rout out Syria and to rout out ISIS, but also to keep in check what's happening there with Russia and Iran. So -- so -- and the fact is, we were coming to a close. At some point, obviously, we were going to leave Syria. But to leave it when you're within a couple of months of doing something that is very important in the fight against ISIS -- and the president knows that -- and we pull the -- jerk the rug out from under two months in advance, that's hard to understand.
As it relates to Afghanistan, no doubt, I mean -- and we have made a lot of mistakes there. A lot of resources went from Afghanistan to Iraq in the early years. And I saw it happening on the ground, visiting.
So, yes, we have been there a long, long time. But there are ways of leaving and ways of leaving. And, again, this is precipitous. It appears to me that some changes are taking place as to the way we're looking at Afghanistan. And, yes, we're negotiating with the very people that we went there to take out.
So, I understand the frustrations with Afghanistan. I do. I do not understand, I have no understanding of what we did -- why we did what we did in Syria. It just totally boggles any sane thinking that could take place, boggles. I don't understand it.
TAPPER: You were actually at the White House on Wednesday after the president made his announcement to withdraw from Syria.
But, before you could speak with the president, he canceled the meeting. What happened there?
CORKER: I don't know. I think he had no public events that day.
I think the incoming -- obviously, our conversation had evolved to be -- it was going to be all about Syria. And I just don't think that was a topic on that day. I think he -- I think he knows that he's made a mistake. I do.
The president's tendencies are to dig in and double down, even if he knows he's done something that probably is incorrect. And so I don't think he wanted to talk about Syria that day. And so the meeting was called off. And that's what happened.
TAPPER: This week, you told "The New York Times" about President Trump -- quote -- "I question whether he runs again. He's having difficulty handling the situation."
Why do you think the president might not run again?
CORKER: Well, I -- look, I look at just what's happening economically this week. You know, I don't know. I mean, look, we will see.
This next quarter, I -- I'm glad -- I'm glad, Jake, I'm so privileged to have been able to serve in the Senate for 12 years. And I really am. And that's what I told the people of our state I would do, is serve for two terms. I do wish I was serving for 12 months -- 12 years and three months. I
do think this next three months is going to be a very important three months for our country. I'm cheering the guys on that are there.
But I think this next three months could well determine whether he decides to run again or not. I think it's going to be very important for our country that the United States Senate really dig in and make sure we don't make other colossal mistakes as it relates to foreign policy.
But I think there's a -- I think the stage is going to be set. And we will see. Again, only he knows what he's going to do next, but we will see. Very important three months coming up, though.
TAPPER: Do you want him to run for reelection in 2020?
CORKER: Oh, I -- that's -- it's -- it doesn't matter what I want or don't want. That's something he will have to decide.
TAPPER: Senator Corker, we have always enjoyed having you on the show. And even though you're leaving the U.S. Senate, we hope you will not be a stranger.
And I wish you the very most merry of Christmases for you and your family.
CORKER: Thank you so much.
It's been quite a privilege to work with you and others. And I wish you the very best during this momentous time in our country and meaningful time for families at home, I hope.
TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Corker. Appreciate it.
Up next: a very different point of view on President Trump, someone who says President Trump is doing exactly what got him elected. Could we see more of that with General Mattis gone in 2019?
Senator Rand Paul joins us next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
With Democrats about to take control of the House, some of President Trump's Republican support appears to be eroding, the top Senate Republican even saying he is distressed after Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that he's out.
The last straw for Mattis? The commander in chief announcing a surprise withdraw of all U.S. troops from Syria.
One Republican backing the president's decision is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Paul, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
I do want to start with the shutdown, just because, obviously, that's the pressing news in Washington right now.
When we have had shutdowns in the past, it's usually because the Republican Party is trying to get the federal government to spend less money. This is the first time I can ever think of that Republicans are forcing a shutdown because they want to spend more money, and not offset by any tax increases or spending cuts.
Do you support the president shutting down the government until he gets the $5 billion for the border wall?
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, I have never been a fan of saying we're going to shut it down purposefully. But I have also not been a fan of keeping it open and spending so much money, that we're bankrupting the country.
This year, the deficit will be about a trillion dollars. And so I don't want to add more money. The bill we've got up there already looks like a Christmas tree with all things added.
I'm not against border wall funding, though, but I would find it and pay for it. Right now, we're spending $50 billion a year in Afghanistan. We could easily find $5 billion for a wall if we weren't spending so much money building and rebuilding Afghanistan.
TAPPER: Let's turn to foreign policy.
It's clear the president went against the advice of his defense secretary, his top official leading the fight against ISIS, Brett McGurk, and his national security adviser, John Bolton, when making the decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
You obviously support this policy. Did you talk to him about this?
PAUL: Yes, I have.
And I'm very proud of the president. This is exactly what he promised. And I think the people agreement with him, actually. I think people believe that we have been at war too long and too many places, and that we do need to turn attention to problems we have in home here, roads, bridges, schools.
We have a lot of problems in our country. And I think people are tired of spending -- you know, we have spent several trillion dollars on these wars everywhere. And I think the president promised that he'd be different.
And it's really one of the reasons he won, because he actually attracts independents, who aren't beholden to either party, who say, you know what, why don't we turn attention back to America.
TAPPER: After the president's surprise announcement, you applauded the decision.
But it seems that one of the last straws for Defense Secretary Mattis before he resigned was that the Turkish defense minister publicly threatened to slaughter the U.S.' Kurdish allies as soon as the United States withdrew.
Does -- does that not concern you at all, what the Turks might now do as soon as the U.S. is gone?
PAUL: Well, even General Mattis has sort of admitted that there is no military solution to Syria and that there's no military solution to Afghanistan.
So, I think really it's the opposite. I think the burden should be on General Mattis and those who want to stay forever in every war theater around the world, the burden is on them to say, if there's no military solution, why are we still sending more military?
Syria is an absolute mess. And the one lesson from Syria is that we need more diplomacy, and we actually need to have conversations with Russia. We have made it toxic for anybody to talk to Russia. But, if you're not willing to talk to Russia, Russia is a big player in Syria, has been for decades, is not going anywhere, and if we don't talk to Russia, we're never going to find a peaceful solution to the Syria mess.
TAPPER: Well, I think a major issue here for people who oppose the president's announcement is not just the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the way it's being done, unilaterally, with little consultation with experts about it.
TAPPER: But I want you to take a listen...
PAUL: But here's the thing, Jake.
TAPPER: Well, just take a listen to what retired four-Star General and the former top diplomat charged with countering ISIS, General John Allen, told me earlier this week. And I want to get your response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), FORMER INTERNATIONAL COALITION COORDINATOR: Look, we all thought at one point that they -- they would come home.
But a precipitous departure of our troops could create a military disaster. And a global coalition will think twice about coming to help the United States, if we need to, in a great emergency, because they know we won't consult with them when the time comes. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You're always talking about the importance of alliances and the importance of diplomacy. Don't you think that the way this is being done, without consultation with allies...
TAPPER: ... could lead to...
PAUL: But -- but...
TAPPER: Go ahead.
PAUL: But here's the thing, Jake.
You get these generals, and they will say, oh, if we bring -- bring the troops home from Afghanistan, that's precipitous also.
And it's like, we have been there 17 years. How does it become precipitous to leave after 17 years? The president said when we went into Syria very clearly, we're going to defeat ISIS. That was our goal.
Then all these people who believe in forever war changed the goal. They changed the goalposts. They changed the mission. And they started saying, oh, we're going to stay there until Iran and Russia leave.
It's like that means we're saying forever, you know? Iran's not leaving anytime soon, unless you want to fight Iran. Do you want another war with Iran?
American people are tired of war. So, they want another war with Iran? Do they want us to have a war with Russia as well? I think we need to find a peaceful solution. And it is complicated, because it's going to involve the Turks. It's going to involve the Russians, the Iranians, the Iraqis, us. There's -- the Kurds.
I mean, all of these forces are going to have to come together. And it isn't going to be easy to find peace. But leaving our troops there is sort of like a trip wire to a much larger war. The war has every danger every day of becoming an explosive, expansive war.
And so I think the president is doing the best thing. He doesn't -- he said -- he said, we weren't going to be for nation-building. We're not going to go create a nation out of that chaos of Syria or Afghanistan. We're going to take care of things we have got here at home.
And I think, actually, the people are with him. Washington's against him, but this wouldn't be the first time that Washington doesn't represent the people very well.
TAPPER: Well, I hear what you're saying. But I guess one of the concerns also is, if the U.S. withdraws from
Syria precipitously and unwisely, then the question is, will the U.S. have to go back again?
Take a listen, for example, to something President Trump said during the 2016 campaign about Obama withdrawing U.S. troops precipitously and too early. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Obama is the founder of ISIS, right?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: The founder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, President Trump calls Obama the founder of ISIS because he says Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq created this power vacuum in the Middle East.
Does the president -- doesn't he now...
PAUL: Right. I think it's important...
TAPPER: Go ahead.
PAUL: I think it -- I think it's important that we get history correct here.
Where did ISIS begin? They began in Syria in the midst of a civil war. The civil war got worse as the U.S., Qatar and also Saudi Arabia were supplying arms to people like ISIS, al-Nusra, al Qaeda, Sunni extremists fighting against Assad.
The problem is -- and this is the mainstream foreign policy problem of our country -- we think we always have to be involved. Maybe, when there's two evils -- Assad may be an evil, Sunni extremists may be an evil -- maybe we shouldn't always have to choose a side and be involved in a war.
But we got involved in that war, and we added to the chaos. And so the millions of people that left, that's on the -- on the hands -- the hands of many Americans who said, like Hillary Clinton, oh, we have got to be in there and we have got to somehow get rid of Assad.
It should not be the job of America to be replacing regimes around the world. This is what President Trump recognized in Iraq, that that was the biggest foreign policy disaster of the last several decades. And he's right,.
But guess what? All of these Republicans and all these generals you quote, they still don't get that the Iraq War was a mistake. And they're wrong. And I think the people actually know it. And if this were put to the people -- this is polled all of the time. I think 69 percent of the people were polled in a Pew poll recently
and said, we should get out of Afghanistan, whether it's sooner, later or immediately. People are ready to come home.
TAPPER: You're still not talking about the way that we're doing it.
But I do want to ask you just one philosophical point. And I don't want you to think that I'm being rude here. But I'm just wondering, in the last 20 years, is there any act of U.S. intervention with military force abroad that you support?
Do you -- did you support going...
PAUL: Yes. I supported...
TAPPER: Go ahead.
After we were attacked on 9/11, I did support to go into Afghanistan. I would have voted for the resolution. But we're ignoring the resolution. It said we'd go after those who planned, abetted, aided the people who attacked us.
It never said anything about associated forces, never said anything about war in Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Syria. None of this was ever authorized by Congress.
So, what we're doing in like seven different war theaters right now is unconstitutional. And we shouldn't be doing it. But I did support going in after 9/11. But I have not supported the nation-building. I would have declared victory long ago and come home.
And so, when the president declares victory over ISIS, he's exactly right. We took back 99 percent of their land. Aren't these people going to stand up and now fight for themselves? Can they not do anything?
And it doesn't work to have Americans there policing Muslim lands. It just engenders more terrorism. The longer Americans stay, the more terrorism you will have.
We are so forward-deployed, that we can attack on a moment's notice from anywhere on the planet. So, us leaving doesn't mean we don't have to be involved. We are offshore under the waters. We are everywhere around the planet. There is nothing about us leaving that means that we couldn't be involved if we had to be involved.
But, really, the people who live there, the Muslims who live in these lands need to police the Muslims who live in these lands. If it's Americans, it'll always be seen by those who live there as some sort of religious crusade. And it encourages more terrorism.
So, the sooner we get out of that mess, the better. TAPPER: All right, Senator Rand Paul, there's a lot you said there, but, unfortunately, we're out of time.
Merry Christmas to you and your family, sir. We really appreciate it.
PAUL: Same. Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Imagine, one day, we look back on the first two years of the Trump White House as the calm before the storm.
House Democrats are already lining up to investigate the president, his campaign, his business dealings in the new year. And President Trump just offered Democrats a new thread, according to exclusive CNN reporting, by venting to his acting attorney general about being implicated in Michael Cohen's federal crimes.
Here with me is the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Congressman, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it. Happy Hanukkah to you.
I want to start with the news that President Trump has at least twice expressed his frustration to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker over why Whitaker hasn't done more to control federal prosecutors in New York.
You called this wrong, unethical, inexcusable.
Now, the president's defenders will say, this is just the president venting; as long as Whitaker doesn't take any action, there's no reason to be concerned.
What's your response?
SCHIFF: My response is, this is just the president ignoring the rule of law, ignoring decades of precedent and policy.
This is exactly what we feared about Whitaker's appointment, that he was picked not because he was qualified for the job -- he really isn't -- but he was picked because he was auditioning on TV talking down the Mueller investigation talking about he could -- how we could privately cripple the Mueller investigation.
So Trump chooses him, and then he doesn't appear to do exactly what the president wants, at least not yet, while he was seeking an ethics opinion, which we now learned he has ignored, because the ethics lawyers told him that he should not participate, should not supervise this investigation, that the public wouldn't have confidence in his judgments.
And now we learn that they're discussing the case. The president of the United States is discussing a case in which he is implicated with the attorney general.
That is wrong at every level. And, of course, it will taint anything that this acting attorney general does, any role he plays in this investigation.
This is a real assault on the rule of law. And we are going to scrutinize every single action by Matt Whitaker to make sure that the public knows just what he does.
TAPPER: All right, you said two things that I want to dive deeper into.
One of them has to do with Whitaker not recusing himself from overseeing the special counsel's investigation. You noted the Department of Justice Ethics Department did suggest that he does recuse himself.
But I have to point out, they also said it was a close call and -- quote -- "Credible arguments can be made either way" and that -- quote -- "There was no actual conflict of interest that would bar the acting attorney general from supervising the special counsel investigation."
Why should he remove himself if there's no actual conflict of interest?
SCHIFF: Because you're required to remove yourself when there's an appearance of a conflict of interest.
It's not just whether you have an actual conflict. But if the public can have confidence in what you do, that undermines the public faith in our justice system.
So, when I was a ground-level assistant U.S. attorney, I would have had to step aside from anything in which it appeared that I was acting improper, whether I was acting improper or not.
That same principle ought to apply in spades to the top person in the Department of Justice. And the fact that it was a close call doesn't make it any better. The ethics lawyers are saying, OK, this is a close call, but we recommend that you recuse yourself.
And we're not just talking about a garden-variety case here. We're talking about the highest-profile case in the Department of Justice, one that, more than any other, will help form Americans' opinions about whether they can really trust that the Justice Department is following the rule of law.
TAPPER: You said last week that -- quote -- "Every argument the Justice Department has made for putting Michael Cohen in jail applies to Donald Trump" -- unquote.
What exactly are you saying with that? Are you suggesting that the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York should indict a sitting president?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm suggesting a couple of things.
First, if they have proof that Individual 1 directed and coordinated this scheme...
TAPPER: Well, they have asserted as much.
SCHIFF: They have asserted as much.
If they can prove it, then what is the argument to be made that Michael Cohen, a lesser player in that scheme, should go to jail, that the rich and powerful can't be allowed to operate by a separate rule, and the argument that Donald Trump somehow should escape justice?
That just doesn't square. Now...
TAPPER: Well, there is an -- you know this, but there's an -- just for people at home, there's an Office of Legal Counsel memo in the Department of Justice. I think it dates back to the Nixon years, but maybe I'm wrong.
But it states that a sitting president should not be indicted. That's not a rule. It's not a law. But it's a suggestion from the Justice Department.
SCHIFF: Well, two things.
First of all, I was discussing what might happen when he leaves office.
SCHIFF: But I think, actually, when you look at the OLC opinions, there is a very powerful case to be made that you can indict a sitting president.
It's more difficult to make the case that they should be tried while they're in office, because that would very disruptive of the president's responsibilities. But the only argument -- and it was really not the focus of attention in those prior OLC opinions -- the only argument was made was that it would stigmatize the president.
SCHIFF: Well, the Justice Department already crossed that Rubicon when they said Individual Number One, the president, was implicated in these two crimes. So, that has already -- that bar has already been passed.
The bigger issue for me is, does the statute of limitations run on this? Is the president able, by staying in office, to somehow evade justice entirely?
And the interest of the justice system in making sure that doesn't happen, I think, outweighs any additional stigma that an indictment would bring.
TAPPER: You know the president's lawyers have said they might try to block special counsel Robert Mueller's report from becoming public by claiming executive privilege. If that happens, and it's blocked from the public seeing it, one
course of action might be for Congress to subpoena the report, to then make it public.
You are about to have subpoena power. You're about to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Is that something that you're prepared to do?
SCHIFF: I'm prepared to make sure we do everything possible so that the public has the advantage of as much of the information as it can. And...
TAPPER: That sounds like a yes.
SCHIFF: That -- well, that pretty much is a yes, from my point of view...
SCHIFF: .... that we ought to make sure this report is public. Now, there may be parts of the report that have to be redacted because they involve classified information or they involve grand jury material.
But here's the thing. For the last two years, I have been warning the Justice Department, as they have been turning over tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of pages of investigative files in the Clinton e-mail investigation, that whatever precedent they were going to set, they were going to have to live by, which means that, when the Mueller investigation is over, they're not going to be in a position to say, we're not going to provide information to Congress about this investigation.
So, they have already decided that's the precedent they're going to live by. And, at the end of the day, this is just -- this case is just too important to keep from the American people what it's really about.
And particularly when we have had questionable characters like Matt Whitaker at the top, there's all the greater need for transparency here.
TAPPER: One last quick question, if possible.
Your committee voted earlier this week to provide the transcript of Roger Stone's interview with the House Intelligence Committee to special counsel Mueller. There's a suspicion that Stone may have lied before your committee. I know you're not going to go in detail about what you think he lied about, potentially.
You're also looking at the testimonies of Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. Have you found inconsistencies in either of their testimonies?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, I can't confirm whether we have provided any materials to the special counsel.
SCHIFF: But I have stated for quite some time that I thought we should provide transcripts really of all of the witnesses to allow him to determine who has been truthful and who has not. I don't want to itemize all of those that I have serious questions about.
The reality is, though, that Mueller is in a better position to make those decisions about perjury than I am, because he has the benefit of information that I don't. But I have sufficient concerns where I think we should definitely take step with all of the transcripts.
TAPPER: With all the transcripts?
TAPPER: You have concerns with all the transcripts?
SCHIFF: Well, I have concerns about several witnesses. But I do think that the special counsel ought to have the advantage of both the evidence that we have accumulated, but also the ability to prosecute those that have come before our committee and lied.
TAPPER: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, soon-to-be Chairman Adam Schiff, thanks for being here. Happy Hanukkah. Happy new year to you and your family. Thanks for being here.
We will see a lot more of you in 2019.
TAPPER: Democrat Chuck Schumer blaming the government shutdown and President Trump's two-week temper tantrum. But which side will carry around the stench of this latest shameful episode in Washington?
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn't work.
Call it a Democratic shutdown. Call it whatever you want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: President Trump 11 days ago, saying the shutdown was on him, only to now blame it on the Democrats. The ongoing government shutdown is just one example of Donald Trump's chaotic style of government. Is (ph) the (ph) challenge (ph) (INAUDIBLE) where do we go next? Let's discuss. Mary Katharine, this is all over funding for the border wall, $5 billion that the president is demanding. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader saying you're not going to get it. Where do we go from here?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do not know where we go from here but can I comment on where we've been briefly?
TAPPER: Yes. Please.
HAM: I think it's fair for the president who campaign on this promise to make this part of a negotiation, and negotiation is what you do in these situations which, of course, I think we all agree it's irresponsible to fund by continuing resolution. This shutdown, it should be noted, as less shutdown than usual because they actually did appropriate bills --
TAPPER: They did. Yes, they did --
HAM: I want to applaud them for that, incentivize good behavior. So I think it's fair for that to be part of the process and it should be said they have a bill in the Senate that could fund the government that they refuse to vote for.
HAM: That being said if you want to make that part of the negotiation you got to have a plan for making that part of the negotiation and not give up part your -- part of your bargaining which is to say, I'm not going to blame you guys. It's off of you. It's on me and then change your mind afterwards.
It's just classic Trump, who was supposed to be a deal maker, to give that mix of things to us.
TAPPER: And, Senator, you heard Senator Bob Corker earlier in the show saying you can get Democrats to vote for tens of billions of dollars in border wall but it just -- it needs to be a negotiation, you need to involve the dreamers or whatever.
And President Trump isn't doing that. He -- Corker said this is all just so President Trump can look like he's fighting for something.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure that's true. Look, I think the president is right in taking this on. I think he's right.
Even saying, you know, it's on me because he's -- he's focused the debate on exactly where he wants to focus. This is an issue that's a winning issue for Republicans. It's a winning issue for the country, that we are going to protect our southern border. The fact that we're shutting down the government is going to be blamed on the person asking for the money. I mean, it was blamed Chuck Schumer last time (INAUDIBLE) was blamed on anybody who's the person saying, I would do this unless you do this, is going to be blamed for the shutdown.
Might as well own it. The president has owned it. I think that's a very good thing. And now we're talking about a very important subject which is actually good for (INAUDIBLE).
TAPPER: But I do wonder. I mean, I think there are a lot of House Republicans who are about to collect their first unemployment checks who would disagree with the idea that this is winning issue for Republicans necessarily. Certainly in some parts of the country.
But is this a winning issue for Republicans?
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think so. And he's not really owning it. I mean, he had this public display with Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer to say, I'll shut it down, I'll take the blame. And then he reversed course because he understands that he went too far.
This reminded me of a quote from "Hunger Games" that says, destroying things is much easier than making them. We are really in a "Hunger Games" moment right here and it's always that kind of moment when it comes to the president of the United States. He says one thing and does another or he'll do something and say another.
It is total chaos. This is not helpful for the country at all. We cannot lose sight of the 800,000 government workers who some still have to work. Most will not receive a paycheck, if at all. And they have kids.
And it really just doesn't make sense. And then to have the last lunch, so to speak, with the freedom caucus. They have the luxury of having lunch and hob knobbing. Meanwhile back at the ranch, government employees don't get their pay.
TAPPER: So a lot of Senate Republicans are upset with President Trump because he did convey he was going to be willing to sign this short- term spending bill that would fund the government until February.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Which they have already voted for.
BEGALA: The president said it's unacceptable. All of his Senate Republicans voted --
TAPPER: Although they did so by unanimous consent.
BEGALA: Sure. TAPPER: Which means there's no record of it --
TAPPER: -- voted for.
So McConnell might have had some idea of what was about to come. But that said, there was a lot of blowback from conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So I get this direct message, you tell Rush that if there's no money in this it's getting vetoed. If there's no money. If there's no money for a wall I'm vetoing this, plain and simple.
This was the message that I just got.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So President Trump conveying to Rush Limbaugh one way or another, I'm listening to you.
BEGALA: Right. Because he's -- I know the president's office is an oval but he's cornered. He's cornered.
The walls are closing in on him, legally, diplomatically, militarily, economically, politically, constitutionally. And so he's retreating to his base. I understand that.
He's not going to win. He doesn't have the votes. I think Mary Katharine is right, it's something he could have, should have negotiated months ago he could have had multiple times of the $5 billion that he's asking for for the wall in exchange for citizenship for those dreamers. He turned that deal from the Democrats down.
But I understand what he's doing. I mean, these are the good old days for Donald Trump. It's about to get so bad.
He has no idea how bad his life is about to get. He thinks he's having a rough Christmas, he's going to be begging for these times next year.
TAPPER: The president is getting flack from the right. Lot of Republicans on the right are supporting him when it comes to the standoff but they are not supporting him when it comes to his decision and his announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We have been dishonorable. This is a stain on the honor of the United States.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: It's colossal in my mind mistake, a great error.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Pulling a plug in these troops without giving due consideration to the consequences I think is something that I don't think any of us want to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Those are the president's allies, Senator. I dare say if you were in the Senate right now, you would probably be saying a similar thing.
SANTORUM: Look, there are very few Rand Pauls in the United State Senate. There are very few Rand Pauls in the House. There are very few Rand Pauls in the Republican Party. And there are very few Rand Pauls in the base of Donald Trump voters.
I don't know who he's talking to. I really don't. I understand that he made a pledge that we get out of Syria. I get that.
And I would like to get out of Syria, too. But I don't know of too many Republicans -- I don't know of too many base voters who believe that the president, in response to a call from the Turkish president should be capitulating in front of the Turks and allowing our allies to be slaughtered by Turks.
I don't -- I don't think anybody in the president's base is for that. It's not just bad policy. But the way he did it, the precipitous decision making and saying we're pulling people out without a plan to make sure that we have a transition is -- this is what worries me about -- look, and I support the president's policy overwhelmingly.
What worries me about going into this election is the narrative that this supports, which says the president doesn't listen to the people he has got around him to advise him on how to orderly run the federal government. The American public can disagree and agree with the president on things, but they won't like the fact that he's just doing things by his gut and damn the consequences.
That's a real problem, it's going to be a problem for him if he doesn't walk this back. I think he will. I think in the end -- I hope the president will walk this back and say, look, OK, I made this decision, we're going to do it, but I've listened and we're going to do this in a way that's going to make sure the transition is successful.
TAPPER: Senator Turner, let me ask you. Because the progressive left wants to end these wars. The progressive left -- I'm not telling you, you are a member of it, I'm not, but they're against forever war in Afghanistan, they're against forever war in Syria.
Isn't this something that some of the voters you represent might be happy about?
TURNER: It's the how though, Jake. Everybody should be against forever war. You know, when you have your family members over there it really starts to hit home, but it's the how the president is doing it and running the government specifically trying to run foreign policy by the seat of your pants does not work. So the how, our allies, our women and men that are over there right now, but the how does absolutely matter.
TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, take a look at -- this is -- this is just this last week, an ongoing government shutdown over the border wall funding, an abrupt announcement on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and possibly Afghanistan as well, I should note, an unprecedented rebuke and resignation from a respected defense senator -- defense secretary, a stock market having its worst year since the great recession and the president under investigation venting to his acting attorney general about federal prosecutors. That's just this week.
HAM: Yes. The news as the meme would say is not great, Bob. But, look, a couple things in listening to Senator Paul earlier, look, pull out of Syria, a government shutdown and the improbable and I think very good success of a criminal justice reform bill, it's a very libertarian Christmas out there.
But look I think the American people are torn on foreign policy. I am now what I would term hawkish-ish because interventionalism has had many challenges and I've been very close to many who have played the ultimate price for those things. So I think people deserve -- the American people deserves jurisdictions for why we are in different places, how we are going to win, what that's going to look like.
What is disconcerting to me is both -- in any administration is when we come to what I think is a pretty successful middle ground of having a small footprint and the -- the elimination in large part of many ISIS strong holds is a success, but when you have a sort of a small footprint and success and then you abandon that likely to a vacuum, I think, as we did in Iraq as well when you are kind of on the leading edge and you are getting done what you need to get done, that to me is very discouraging.
But we need a justification of all of it regardless and the leaders do not talk to the American people about this because it is uncomfortable.
BEGALA: Right. There is a process. Katharine is right. Senator Turner is right.
I'm not wise enough to know what our policy should be in Syria but Donald Trump sure as well isn't, and President Erdogan of Turkey certainly is not in a position to decide American national interest. There is a process. You talk to your gen (ph), you talk to your diplomats, you talk to your congress members, then you talk to your allies.
One of the things that troubled me most about this is that our closest allies in Israel are upset, our greatest adversaries in Moscow are happy. That should tell those of us who are not experts that this is really going to damage America's standing in the world. TAPPER: All right. Merry Christmas one and all. Thank you so much for being here.
You were so preoccupied with whether you could but you didn't stop to think whether you should. A quote from "Jurassic Park" or the story of the President Trump's first tweet? That's this week's "State of the Cartoonion," next.
TAPPER: The former aide who empowered President Trump with Twitter this week offered us a brilliant metaphor for his creation and that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump and Twitter.
TRUMP: I think that maybe I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Twitter.
TAPPER: Did you ever wonder how @realDonaldTrump actually came to be.
TRUMP: You know who says don't use Twitter? Your enemies.
TAPPER: Trump's former social media manager Justin McConney used to tweet for the mogul who then started playing with his new android start phone. One day a tweet was sent that McConney had not sent -- quote -- "The moment I found out Trump could tweet himself was comparable to the moment in 'Jurassic Park' when Dr. Grant realized that velociraptors could open doors," McConney told "Politico." "I was like, oh, no."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you see the danger.
TAPPER: And quickly Mr. Trump broke free.
TRUMP: When somebody says something about me, I'm able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it.
TAPPER: And things started to get out of hand. Some of the president's advisers such as outgoing chief of staff John Kelly have tried and failed to take the Twitter beast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on to your butts.
TAPPER: Others have just tried to explain it.
ELLIS SATTLER, FICTIONAL CHARACTER: These are aggressive living things that have no idea what century they're in and they will defend themselves violently, if necessary.
TAPPER: The president has fired top officials on Twitter, made destabilizing foreign policy announcement on Twitter, he has even potentially obstructed justice on Twitter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did it. The crazy son of a (EXPLETIVE), you did it.
TAPPER: But with his 56 million Twitter followers, 40,000 tweets and counting it seems the creature cannot be stopped.
TAPPER: Merry Christmas.
"FAREED ZAKARIA" starts right now.