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Trump Says He Feels Badly for General Flynn; Trump Endorses Accused Child Molester Roy Moore; Billy Bush: Yes, It Was Trump On "Access Hollywood" Tape. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 4, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:13] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone, top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

Breaking this morning, Donald J. Trump, a man who promised to be a law and order president, just endorsed a candidate who is an accused child molester and said an adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI got a bum deal.

Moments ago as he departed the White House, the president said his former national security adviser, not convicted felon, Michael Flynn, has been treated unfairly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life. And I feel very badly, John.

I will say this, Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame.

Hillary Clinton on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath. It was the most incredible thing anyone's ever seen. She lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Over the weekend, the president appeared to suggest that he knew Flynn had misled not only the vice president, but also the FBI. But then an attorney for the president said those words on Twitter that caused so much controversy and uproar were actually his and not the president's but they were on the president's Twitter account.

Shimon Prokupecz is with us now. There's a lot to take through with you. Let's just begin with what facts do we know at this hour, Monday morning, about what the president knew about what his former national security adviser, General Flynn, said to the FBI.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I would say there's still a lot of confusion as you can imagine. But it seems to be, and we're getting some reporting now, that the lawyer, the White House counsel Don McGahn, knew, was briefed.

Sally Yates who had initially raised issues with Michael Flynn, the former attorney general who was running this investigation at the time, went to Don McGahn but wouldn't exactly characterize what the interview with the FBI was like between Michael Flynn and FBI agents who went and spoke to him at the White House.

But there seems to be some indication at least that she may have told Don McGahn that perhaps Flynn wasn't as truthful, maybe -- may have even lied which wasn't honest about the nature of the conversations but wouldn't specifically get into what was said. She says -- remember she has said, but she wouldn't really characterize it.

HARLOW: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: But look, there's still a lot of confusion because we keep hearing different things about what exactly did the president know.

HARLOW: Right.

PROKUPECZ: And now this all plays into perhaps into the obstruction case. Did the president know that the FBI was investigating Michael Flynn for lying to them? What exactly did he know about the investigation? And if that is the reason why he ultimately fired the former FBI director.

BERMAN: What we know right now is what was written on his official Twitter account which he didn't say.

HARLOW: But he didn't dispute it even if it was John Dowd.

BERMAN: Even if -- yes. The president has not yet been asked directly, did you know. We're waiting for him to be asked that question.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: And for him to answer or dodge it.

All right. There's another issue when it gets to the president and the FBI. He said the FBI is in tatters right now. And he's been criticizing them because of a story that came out and CNN has reported on as many others have as well. That the special agent who ultimately ended up working for Bob Mueller but initially was leading the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails had sent some text that showed some political bias. Explain.

PROKUPECZ: That's right. So they -- during the -- after all this happens, the Hillary Clinton investigation, there is an investigation launched by the inspector general. And during that investigation, they went through this FBI agent, his name is Peter Strzok, a senior, very leading senior counterintelligence, one of the best probably, at the FBI when it comes to this stuff. They went through text messages. It wasn't that he was specifically targeted. They were targeting everyone at the FBI. And in reviewing those texts, they found that he was texting another

FBI agent perhaps, someone on the staff at the FBI where he was sending pro-Hillary Clinton texts, anti-Donald Trump texts. We don't exactly know the nature, but it seems a little political and the inspector general brought that information to Bob Mueller. And Mueller then removed him from the investigation, from the special counsel.

But this guy is one of the best. I mean, and I think many people are shocked by this. But we tried for months to find out exactly why he was removed.

HARLOW: Right.

PROKUPECZ: And no one would tell us. It was tightly held.

HARLOW: Now we know.

PROKUPECZ: And now we know. And look -- sort of the political storm that it has created.

HARLOW: Sure.

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.

At least a ton going on right now. Joining us now CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller, Michael Zeldin. Also with us CNN law enforcement analyst, retired FBI supervisory special agents, James Gagliano.

Michael, we're going to ask you a few questions about the law then we're going to talk you, James about the FBI. Just to tell you how this is going to go.

So, Michael, leave aside sort of the bizarre explanation from the president's lawyer about who wrote this tweet and whether it makes sense.

HARLOW: Right.

[09:05:05] BERMAN: It doesn't. But let's ask you about the significance. If the president is admitting that he knew that Flynn lied to the FBI, why is that important?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it would become important if you know that your national security adviser has lied to the FBI about a matter of national security importance. And then you tell Comey, you don't want him investigated. That's, you know, sort of textbook obstruction of justice behavior. And so, but you have the obligation here to say, one, did the president actually know this? And some say yes and others say, no, I've been one who wonders whether he actually knew this or was making it up.

And then two, you have to believe that he told Comey to stand down. So there are two things, the president --

HARLOW: Right.

ZELDIN: You know, is contesting the latter. And the former, we just don't know enough about to know whether it's true or not true. But if it's true if the president asked Comey to stand down, that's legally problematic for him.

HARLOW: So, also legally, the president's lawyer, his outside lawyer, John Dowd, is making this argument to Axios this morning, Michael. He says the president cannot -- let me read you the quote. "The president cannot obstruct justice because he's the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution's Article II. He has every right to express his view in any case."

That doesn't seem to hold water legally. He says the president can't obstruct justice?

ZELDIN: Well, we know the president can obstruct justice and can be charged with, because that was the case in --

HARLOW: Right. Nixon.

ZELDIN: -- Clinton and in Nixon. So, I mean, I don't know what exactly he's saying. If what he's saying is that when the president fired Comey that cannot be an act of obstruction. That opens a legal debate of constitutional scholars about whether or not the president can be fired, can be charged with obstruction for doing something he has the constitutional right to do which is to fire Comey. Some say he can't.

And others say, if he does that with bad intent, then he can be charged. So that opens up that. So if Dowd is saying, look, among academic constitutional lawyers, there's a debate about whether or not you can or cannot be charged with obstruction of justice of doing something you have a constitutional right to do, you know, fine. But that's really not all that material at the moment.

BERMAN: Right. And there's also no debate about whether the House, if it wants the House of Representatives can impeach the president for that.

HARLOW: Exactly.

BERMAN: Or whatever they want to impeach him for. Whatever they deem a high crime and misdemeanor.

ZELDIN: Exactly right. That's exactly right.

BERMAN: James, you know, again, you spent your life working for the FBI so I want to ask you about the president's statement. He says the FBI is in tatters. That is what he wrote over the weekend. Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara points out that the president often gives praise to high heaven for Putin, Duterte from the Philippines, Erdogan, in other words dictators, but he heaps scorn and contempt on your own FBI.

Preet says, "This is called ass-backwards." It's Preet swearing, not me. I'm wondering if I can get your reaction to this, James.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. I know Preet Bharara fairly well. I mean, he was the U.S. attorney for 7th District New York and a lot of my cases went through there and I stand by his remarks. I think the president has definitely mischaracterized what's going on at the FBI.

The FBI is not a monolith. It's an organization made up of peoples with their own opinions and their own political ideologies but it prides itself on its apolitical nature. I think in regards to the agent that was in charged with this -- the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and then subsequently moved to the Mueller Russian probe, he made a very, very bad mistake. He made -- it was poor judgment exhibited, no doubt about that. He never, ever should have spoken about a case or given his opinions on a bureau electronic device.

Does that mean that partiality and bias was infused into the case? No, I can tell you that a case that sensitive, and I've heard people weighing in about it being called a special case, special investigations are major cases. That's part of FBI culture. That's a terminology we use for cases where the subject of your investigation is either a politician, or a journalist, or a clergy member. Somebody in a sensitive position.

So there's nothing wrong about that. No malfeasance there. And I think the president's frustration, I guess, with the fact that this investigation has been ongoing and continuing is causing him to reach out and basically attack the FBI.

HARLOW: Well, what about, James, "The New York Times" reporting on these K.T. McFarland e-mails, who was a deputy of Michael Flynn at the time, shows the extent to which Flynn was not isolated. I mean, you know, the forwarding of these e-mails about conversations regarding Russian sanctions, et cetera. How significant do you think that is? Showing you know, it was forwarded to Tom Bossert who then sent it to at least six other top people on the Trump transition team. How significant is it that we know that now?

[09:10:04] GAGLIANO: Well, certainly, I'll leave the legal end of this to Michael. But I'll say this, I think we are moving from the Russian collusion investigation into a straight obstruction of justice investigation because the plea that we've all been talking about last week, General Flynn's plea to one count of 1,001, basically providing a false or misleading statement to the FBI.

Generally prosecutors try to get you to take a plea to a top crime. Not an ancillary processed crime. And that's what lying to the FBI is. Now if that's the best that they had, if they don't have him as part of a broader scheme, he's now also damaged himself as a potential witness in this because Flynn and Papadopoulos now both have pleaded guilty to lying.

You want to use them as your exhibit A witness against the president and that's going to be a troubling thing. I think we're moving to the impeachment process and out of the criminal justice realm. HARLOW: All right. James Gagliano, thank you. Michael Zeldin, we

appreciate it.

Also some big news this morning. The president has explicitly this morning endorsed someone credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. For weeks he has implicitly, even throwing his weight behind Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. This morning, though, he just went there. He flat-out said it, quote, "Democrats' refusal to give even one vote for massive tax cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama."

BERMAN: "We need Republican Roy Moore to win." Those were the president's words. This morning seems like a good time to restate the words of Leigh Corfman. She told "The Washington Post" that when she was just 14 years old, Moore touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hands to touch him over his underwear. She says, I wanted it over with. I wanted out.

There are in fact eight women who have now come forward for alleged sexual abuse or assault against Moore. Four more say that they were pursued by Moore when they were just teenagers. Nevertheless, this is the man that the president is backing now.

Joe Johns for us with the very latest from the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The difference here is the nuance. First, the president said last week that Moore denies the allegations, suggesting that the president believes those denials. And then today, outright, the president says that he supports Moore. Certainly the president indicating political reasons for wanting Moore to be elected as opposed to the Democrat in the state of Alabama.

So it's very clear here that the White House is, among other things, saying we want to get this guy in. But they're trying to also walk a line because they realize that the last time the president and the White House weighed into an Alabama race, it was the primary and the president picked the losing candidate in the Republican primary. Many reasons for that, among them Alabama voters might very well not take kindly to outsiders. Even this president trying to influence their decision at the polls.

HARLOW: So the president, Joe, may not be going to Alabama but he's going to Pensacola, Florida, which is like a hop, skip and a jump, like that close, to Alabama, 25 miles away or so from the border.

JOHNS: That's right.

HARLOW: And he's going to hold this big rally, this as he endorses Roy Moore. He's got family members reaching out to Alabama voters to come to the event, robocalls, et cetera, after Ivanka Trump said explicitly, there's a special place in hell for people that carry out behavior like this.

JOHNS: Right. And again, they're trying to walk a line. The family member you're referring to is Laura Trump. She is the wife of the president's son Eric Trump. She has southern roots. She's from North Carolina, which North Carolina state, I believe. And she has recorded a robocall. That robocall suggesting that Alabama voters ought to come on over to Pensacola, which you said 25 miles from the border of Alabama. About 60 miles from one of the most important media markets in Alabama, that would be Mobile.

So let's listen to a little bit of that robocall and talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA TRUMP, PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: I'm incredibly excited to invite you to an event in your area. The special rally event featuring President Donald Trump will take place on Friday, December 8th at the Pensacola Bay Center.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Very tight race right now in Alabama. The "Washington Post" poll has the Democrat and the Republican in that state within the margin of error. So it may be that the president thought he needed to do a little bit more. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House.

As we said, very busy morning.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: It was you. Billy Bush says any talk about the "Access Hollywood" tape that it didn't feature the now president is just not true.

Plus sources tell CNN this morning of growing tensions inside the administration. This time between the secretary of state and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

HARLOW: And he is the president's chief of staff but the president reportedly finding ways to work around General Kelly. That reporting, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Yes, you said that, former TV host, Billy Bush, says in an op-ed this morning, it was President Trump's voice on that "Access Hollywood" tape. Now, you know Bush because his voice was the other voice on that tape. He subsequently lost his job at NBC as part of that, because he joked and lamped with the president after the president said many, many offensive things about women. Let's listen.

(AUDIO CLIP)

[09:20:10] BERMAN: So, Billy bush has an op-ed in "The New York Times" just this morning. Joining us now to discuss CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter. An interesting read, Brian.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Bush says he was motivated to write this partly because of those recent news reports saying Trump is not so sure it's actually his voice. So, here's a part of the op-ed by Billy Bush published in this morning's "New York Times."

He said, "Yes, he said it." That's the beginning of the column, "He said it, grabbed them by the p word, of course he said it. And we laughed along without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America's highest rated bloviator."

Bush goes on to say, "Surely, we thought none of this was real. Now we know better." So, Bush is saying that he and the other men on that were on that bus that day, taping an "Access Hollywood" segment.

None of them thought that Trump would actually engage in sexual assault the way he's bragging he did, but now Bush says he believes the accusers. I think there are two things here, John and Poppy.

Number one, Billy Bush wants to be back on tv. He has a new agent. He wants to get a new job. He's out there positioning himself against Trump as a better man, who's learned his lesson, made a mistake and learned his lesson.

But I think the second thing going on is we're seeing the start of a news cycle about the accusations against Trump, which he has always denied. We've heard from a new accuser, a woman today who accused Trump during the campaign, who says she thought other women's allegations and her allegations would be taken seriously.

Her name is Rachel Crooks. Here's what she said on "NEW DAY" this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL CROOKS, ACCUSES TRUMP OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN 2005: I was so happy that he came to our defense, albeit months later. You know, I thought it was wonderful that he was willing to do that, and I'm thankful for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: So, Rachel Crooks saying she appreciates Billy Bush blatantly acknowledging her account and the account of other women who described sexual misconduct by Trump. She also said on "NEW DAY" she thinks this is part of the political atmosphere that many people have forgotten about her allegations and the allegations made by other women. But John and Poppy, we are seeing Billy Bush bring those back to the surface.

HARLOW: He is indeed at least 13 women, and another woman who has never given an interview before will be on "AC 360" later tonight. So, they are coming back to the surface, but the president got elected with all of these women talking in detail about these accusations. Brian, thank you. Joining us now to talk about this and of course, the president endorsing outright Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent for Urban Radio Network, April Ryan, and national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics," Caitlin Huey-Burns.

We'll get back to the Billy Bush op-ed in a moment, but April, to you, the fact that the president came out fully, explicitly as clearly as possible endorsed Roy Moore, despite these credible accusations of child molestation against this 14-year-old and eight women in full coming out. And he is saying it is because the agenda itself is so important, the wall, tax reform, et cetera. Just to be clear here.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This is about a win for the president. The president still has yet to have an official legislative win. We see something going through, you know, on Capitol Hill right now. The tax reform plan that looks like it could pass, but he doesn't successfully have a win yet.

And if Roy Moore were to come on board, he would definitely be a check for yes with almost the president does because he's standing solely behind him. The issue is ethics and morality.

And we heard so many in the Republican Party say, this is not about the party. This is not about being Republican. This is just wrong. You know, putting politics or a win over the hurt, or -- of these young women, who credibly giving their testimony, or their statements, about what happened to them.

You have leaders, both the House and Senate who said that these women were credible and then you have the president of the United States just bucking his own party. It's not good.

BERMAN: And, look, I think that is a big part of this, Caitlin, by the president saying this out loud, he's saying I do not believe those women. I believe Roy Moore. I don't believe the eight women including Leigh Corfman, who said she was 14 she was molested. Not dissimilar to what he says about the 13 women who accused him?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Right. And perhaps potentially giving some cover to others in Congress that are accused about his kind of behavior. I think this comes against the backdrop of people wondering why there have been such swift firings of people in all other industries accused of bad behavior as it becomes to sexual assault.

And yet the president was elected as you said. Other members of Congress still in their seats after being accused on both sides of the aisle of sexual assault. That's kind of the context for this that I think is important here.

I think in the Alabama race there are a couple things going on. First, the polling has kind of settled down. Roy Moore has taken the lead again.

[09:25:12] BERMAN: It's mixed. The "Post" has Doug Jones up. Other polls have --

HUEY-BURNS: Sure. We have about three points, right, it's still close. But we're a few weeks away from the original report of the allegations and I think you have, you know, everything going on in Congress right now. I think that raises a significant question here about this behavior, generally, and the president is not addressing that, and in fact, he is doing quite the opposite.

HARLOW: You know, April, you do have a shift in tune also from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who just said yesterday on ABC on a Sunday show, let the people of Alabama make the call. He's shifting a little bit more to where people were early on in this.

But I just wonder why you think we are seeing that and also the president now explicitly endorsing Roy Moore, after not doing so for weeks. Why do you think he sees really no political risk in this?

RYAN: Well, let me say this, Mitch McConnell was very clear a few weeks ago that he would try to unseat him if indeed he won. I mean, those words still resound and now there is a backpedaling. This president has the biggest bully pulpit and Mitch McConnell and the president did not get along so well just a few weeks ago so that has to play out.

But also, I'm thinking back to last week when I asked Sarah Sanders about John Conyers. She said that's up to John Conyers if he wanted to resign. So, we see the shift with what's happening. They don't want to get involved with because they try to stand with Roy Moore.

And this also throws something on the president. You know, he's basically saying, you know, I believe Roy Moore, let him go and run this race. People are smearing him. This president also has what he considers smears on his reputation and his credibility when it comes to issues of sexual harassment.

We're still waiting for the president to file lawsuits against those who named him or made claims against him. There is a shift. But at the same time, those words from the leaders before still stand, and we understand what the president is doing. You see it playing out perfectly well.

BERMAN: I do want to say Mitch McConnell's position as of this weekend seems to be a little different. He is now sort of saying he thinks that the people of Alabama will decide. I'm not sure where he'll be if Moore wins. If he'll still push an ethics investigation, he says he will. So, Moore could still be in jeopardy inside the Senate.

You know, Caitlin, to Billy Bush in the discussion about Donald Trump specifically, do you think now, that the president's past is now out there again or is it rising in terms of being an important discussion point?

HUEY-BURNS: Well, I think it's always been an important discussion point for a lot of people. Just because he was elected and we knew about all these accusations doesn't make them any less so. I think you're also seeing, perhaps, lawsuits as well.

I think this elevates the conversation as it actually has been elevated by members of Congress, by all the accusations we've seen. I am wondering how all of this taken in aggregate plays among Republicans in Congress as it pertains to Roy Moore.

If you have the president coming out with an explicit endorsement of Roy Moore, what kind of pressure does that put on lawmakers on Capitol Hill? A lot of whom have said that they don't want him to win.

They think somebody else should be written in, but you do have a lot of Trump supporters in that state who are promoting him there, of course. I'm wondering how this all factors once this election is over if indeed he wins.

HARLOW: People should watch that interview that Alisyn did this morning with Rachel Crooks because Alisyn asked her what did you think would happen when you came forward with these claims against the president, she said, I mean, I thought people would take it seriously.

I thought being a president of the U.S. is such a highly regarded position that someone would take it more seriously. So, I think we'll be hearing from more and more of them. We appreciate it, April. Caitlin, thank you very much.

So, Congress now has five days to keep the government open and running for you, the taxpayer. Republicans trying to buy some sometime. We'll talk about what's ahead next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)