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White House Defends Moore Endorsements; Russia Probe Tests Pence 'In the Dark' Defense; World Leaders Condemn Trump's Jerusalem Plan. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired December 6, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: They don't mind giving up a seat to a Democrat. You're not going to be able to walk away now, Mitch.
[05:58:55] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There's been no change of heart. I had hoped he would withdrawal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision that could rock the Middle East.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not going to restart a peace process successfully when you make a move like this.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Ultimately, he'll make what he feels is the best decision for the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump Jr. preparing to face the House Intelligence Committee today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, they want to know more about that June meeting.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: New questions about how Vice President Pence could have remained in the dark.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: What did he know about Flynn's contact? I want answers.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 6, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.
The White House defending President Trump's support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. The president's full-throated endorsement of the accused child molester forcing some Republicans to pick between the controversial candidate and their own principles.
President Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on the attack at a rally for Roy Moore, Bannon once again blasting the Republican establishment and slamming Mitt Romney by name, accusing Romney of hiding behind his religion to avoid serving in Vietnam.
CUOMO: World leaders are condemning President Trump's expected announcement today that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, making good on a campaign move to move the U.S. embassy there. The president dismissing warnings that it could cause major unrest and jeopardize any hope of peace in the Middle East. No one has an embassy in Jerusalem, and we will explain why.
And President Trump's eldest son will be in the congressional hot seat today. Donald Trump Jr. facing questions from the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on their Russian meddling investigation. This comes amid new questions how much Vice President Pence really knew about Mike Flynn's dealings with the Russians.
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live in Fair Hope, Alabama, with our top story -- Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Chris. Steve Bannon has certainly been one of Roy Moore's longest and most ardent supporters. And with just six days left to go in this hotly-contested race here in Alabama, he was seeking to give him a boost.
But instead of touting his candidate, he spent most of his speech last night focused on attacking what he calls the Republican establishment. A string of attacks on GOP leaders. But he saved his harshest criticism for Mitt Romney and Senator Jeff Flake. Now, to put this in perspective, Chris, the reason he did this is because yesterday Mitt Romney said that Roy Moore as a senator in the United States would be a stain on the GOP. And Jeff Flake wrote a $100 check to the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: You're a total embarrassment. If you're going to write a check, write a check.
You avoided service, brother. Right? OK, Mitt -- Mitt, here's how it is, brother. Not only -- the college deferments, that's -- we can debate that. But you hid behind your religion.
Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in that pinky finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, as for Roy Moore, he did not focus much on the specific allegations made against him, ones that have threatened to derail his campaign in these last few weeks here, and those are the same allegations that the White House was asked about yesterday after the president fully endorsed Roy Moore. And when a reporter asked the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, if the White House thinks it would be worse if a Democrat was elected over someone who has been accused of sexual assaulting a child.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: The president feels that he would rather have a person that supports his agenda versus somebody who opposes his agenda every step of the way. And until the rest of that process plays out, you have a choice between two individuals, and the president has chosen to support Moore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, the president's support led to the RNC restoring funding for the Moore campaign in these last few days which, Alisyn and Chris, is certainly a welcome boost for the Roy Moore campaign here in Alabama.
CAMEROTA: It sure is, Kaitlan. OK, thank you very much for bringing us all that background.
Joining us now to talk about it, we have CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for the "New York Times," Maggie Haberman.
Maggie, great to have you. You have new reporting about what was going on in the White House behind the scenes that led to this Roy Moore endorsement. So how did it work?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES"/CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I mean, look, it worked as a pretty close poll. The president is not speaking to a ton of people. You saw Steve Bannon, who still relays messages to the president, very publicly making the point that, essentially, the president's base was leaving without him.
The president has a paralytic fear of losing his base. We have seen, especially under times of stress, he goes back to that every time. So he sat back and he watched. There were a lot of people in the White House who would rather he didn't make this move.
When he woke up and began his tweet storm on Monday where he decided to wholeheartedly endorse Roy Moore, almost no one knew this was going to happen. People basically in -- on the staff of the West Wing read it on Twitter like everybody else.
He doesn't have a political operation in the White House, as several people described to us, that he trusts. There are not people who he has a bond with. There are very few people whose word matters to them. Even though he does the thing where he asks everybody the same question 100 times. There are only a couple voices he's listening to. And as often is the case, he's listening to the ones who will support his existing -- existing beliefs.
CUOMO: So he has a paralytic fear, and then it winds up becoming symptomatic of paralysis by analysis. They were frozen after the Luther Strange thing. He makes this over, the cell from Sanders, is -- which is an echo effect, right? It's not like she's creating her own message, is he wants someone who supports his agenda.
[06:05:03] Are they concerned that that agenda will be seen as being exclusive of women's empowerment? Because that's what Roy Moore represents for those who won't vote for him within that party.
HABERMAN: There's a certain cognitive dissonance of suggesting that you would rather have the vote for your plan when you're faced with -- this is not just allegations about harassment. This is specific to sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old, with a minor. Right?
HABERMAN: Correct. The cases -- the claims against Roy Moore, which he has denied, are much worse than a lot of what we have heard just on a different level in terms of the national conversation about harassment and about misconduct. They are not particularly concerned with that. The president wants to pass, you know, this tax plan, which is being called the tax cut. That's a little misnomer. It is not a cut for most people. But that is what they're interested in doing, and they have made a cold political calculus. They would not be the first White House to do that. But certainly on this kind of an issue, that it is worth it to do this.
But the president feels like, to your point earlier, he endorsed Luther Strange. He did that on the advice of Mitch McConnell's folks, and he felt like he got burned because of it. He felt that he didn't do what he wanted him to do. And it ended up, you know, singing him. And he doesn't want to go through that again.
CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, it seems as though he's going to make up for that regret now.
CAMEROTA: He's going to dig in and go for the candidate that he believes will win.
HABERMAN: But it also is the same that we've seen a million times older with this president through the campaign, certainly through this year, which is he believes his own gut is more precise than the advice that he gets from other people. And if Roy Moore does win, that will be a data point he points to.
CAMEROTA: So here is how the White House had to grapple with this when they were getting so much questions from the press and beyond about why Roy Moore. So listen to Sarah Huckabee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: You have a choice between two individuals. The president has chosen to support Moore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if that person who would support his agenda has done what Roy Moore's accusers have said?
SANDERS: Again, we've said that the allegations are concerning. And if true, he should step aside. But we don't have a way to validate that. And that's something for the people of Alabama to decide, which we've also said. And we maintain that. And ultimately, it will come down to the people of Alabama to make that decision.
ACOSTA: How can that vote in the Senate be that important that you would take a gamble on somebody who has been accused of molesting kids?
SANDERS: I think that's something...
ACOSTA: Of finding (ph) somebody who's underaged?
SANDERS: As I've said, that is something for the people of Alabama to decide. We find the allegations very troubling. And again, this is up to the people of Alabama to make that decision. I'm not a voter in Alabama and can't make that decision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why endorse him? You want the people to decide. You're influencing the decision by endorsing him.
And secondly, are you saying that, no matter who runs as a member of the GOP, it's OK as long as you are in lock step with the president and vote the way he wants?
SANDERS: Once again, I'm not going to get into every person that could or couldn't run for office down the line.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said just a moment ago that the president would want somebody in the Senate...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: So that was the question. It took a few rounds.
CAMEROTA: Brian Kern's (ph) question.
CUOMO: But if you want somebody who follows your agenda, that's fine. But if you are troubled by the accusations, don't endorse the man outright and do what you say you want to do. The escape clause is let the voters decide in Alabama. Good. Then don't endorse it...
CUOMO: ... and leave it to them. That's not what the president has done.
HABERMAN: No, that's the issue. You can't both say, "I want to leave it up to..." I thought that question was very good, and I think it was actually the most precise. Because other -- everything else is the same thing over and over again.
CUOMO: It's a criticism.
HABERMAN: It's a criticism also that she is able to dodge. I mean, this was the point of there is a total cognitive dissonance in what the White House is saying. And that last question was the one that got to it. You cannot say let the states decide as the president tells you what you should do.
And they are basically saying -- and I thought that last question held Sarah Sanders to this point. And to be clear, she's not setting policy on this. She is saying what she is told to say from higher up.
But basically, they made the point that, essentially, there is no bottom here. You are saying there is no hard principle that you will stick to.
CUOMO: That's right.
HABERMAN: Everything is fungible. And as we know with Trump, that is basically his philosophy.
CAMEROTA: We have to, again, play the Steve Bannon sound from last night, with him in Alabama. The naked hypocrisy is -- is so -- bring them. Let's listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BANNON: You ran for commander in chief. You had five sons. Not one day of service in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have 7,000 dead and 52,000 casualties. And where were the Romneys during those wars?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Where were the Trumps during those wars?
HABERMAN: Right. Well, one Trump had bone spurs.
CAMEROTA: Donald Trump...
CAMEROTA: ... had five deferments. So he can go after Mitt Romney and his sons? Did the -- have the Trump sons signed up for military service?
HABERMAN: If you want the most perfect distillation of Trumpism, that was it on that stage. That was what we saw repeatedly through the last year, which was Donald Trump essentially ignoring charges made against him, charges that were legitimate against him and trying to -- it's essentially, "No puppet, you're the puppet," with Hillary Clinton when she accused him of being a puppet of Russia in that -- in that debate last year.
[06:10:10] Look, I think it is really jarring and sort of remarkable to see Bannon on the stage like this, like a principal in his own right. You don't normally see that with a chief strategist this way. That looked like a candidate rally. That looked like a candidate rally for himself.
But to your point about -- about the basis of what he's saying, he's suggesting Mitt Romney was hiding behind his religion. And I'm not sure how well that's going to go over with a lot of people, particularly in Utah where Mitt Romney is a possible Senate candidate, and Orrin Hatch has said he's retiring. And the White House is trying, with a lot of effort, at least you know, behind the scenes to get Orrin Hatch to stay in to block Romney.
CUOMO: Orrin Hatch is not going to do anything he doesn't want to do.
CUOMO: He's not beholden to this White House. If this is an ugly display of us versus them, but it's not the most stark one, believe it or not.
CUOMO: We're going to take a break, but I'll tell you what. You should watch Poppy Harlow's interview with the Roy Moore supporter that she did yesterday here on NEW DAY. That is the most stark example of "us versus them" that's going on in that Roy Moore campaign.
Maggie, stay with us. We're going to transition here, though. In just hours, Donald Trump Jr. is going to be on the hot seat, not about whether or not he decided to serve this nation, but questions from members of the House Intelligence Committee. New questions have surfaced about what exactly Vice President Pence knew about Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia, about that meeting that Don Jr. was so anxious to have.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House with more. What do we know, Jeff?
ZELENY: Good morning, Chris.
In a few hours' time now, you're right, the House Intelligence Committee will be the place where lawmakers for the first time can ask Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son, questions about the whole Russia investigation. Particularly that meeting back in June 2016 at Trump Tower when he met with Russian operatives.
But this morning, it's questions about what the vice president knew or how he could not have known about how Michael Flynn was contacting the Russian ambassador. Those questions this morning are raising new questions if he'll face part of the Mueller investigation in the weeks to come.
ZELENY (voice-over): New questions about how or whether Vice President Pence could have remained in the dark over Michael Flynn's talks with the former Russian ambassador. It's causing anxiety within the vice president's inner circle he'll eventually be called for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They are preparing for that, one Republican close to Pence told CNN.
Court documents unsealed last week show several Trump advisers talked to Flynn about his calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak over U.S. sanctions even as Pence's aides still insist the vice president was unaware.
How some of Trump's top confidants could have known while Pence, who at the time was leading the Trump transition team, did not is a mystery hanging over the Russia administration. A review of the timeline of the events raises more questions than it answers.
On December 20, Pence holds a national security meeting at the transition offices in Washington. On December 28, The day President Obama approved new sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election, President-elect Trump said this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think generally about sanctions?
TRUMP: I think we ought to get on with our lives.
ZELENY: On December 29, while Pence was in Indiana, preparing for his son's wedding, Flynn calls K.T. McFarland who is at Mar-a-Lago with other transition officials to discuss Russian sanctions. Flynn then calls Kislyak to talk about sanctions. And finally, Flynn calls McFarland back to discuss the Kislyak phone call.
Sixteen days later, on January 14, Pence calls Flynn to personally ask about his calls with Kislyak. Pence goes on television.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose a censure against Russia.
General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That's exactly what the incoming national security advisor should do.
ZELENY: Five days later, on January 20, Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Pence is sworn in as vice president. On February 9, a "Washington Post" story reveals Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with Kislyak. Four days later, on February 14, Trump fires Flynn. Three days after that, on February 16, the president offered his reasoning for Flynn's dismissal.
TRUMP: He didn't tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then he didn't remember. And that just wasn't acceptable to me.
ZELENY: So the question here looking back at all of that is how the vice president could have been left out of the loop of all those conversations.
Now we talked to seven officials who worked for him at the time in the transition and who still work for him. They told us all that he did not know any of the details about that conversation. But Chris, it does raise questions how the vice president could have
been essentially one of the only senior officials here at the White House who didn't know about that.
[06:15:05] Now, that is something that we may learn more about in the coming days. The vice president's office, for their part, said that he is not preparing for any testimony with the special counsel's office but, of course, they would cooperate in any of this as it goes forward. But for today at least, it's Donald Trump Jr. on Capitol Hill.
CUOMO: Yes. A little bit of a bad or worse proposition. That's right, Jeff? It's bad if he didn't know anything and he was in charge of the transition. These were key transition meetings. And it's even worse if he did and covered it up. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
So coming up on NEW DAY, we're going to get reaction right from the heart of Trumpdom. We have Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who will come on here to discuss all that matters in the news today.
CAMEROTA: And world leaders condemning President Trump's impending decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and warning it could trigger violence. We discuss all of that, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: He did speak with a number of leaders this morning, and he's going to continue to have conversations with relevant stakeholders. But ultimately, he'll make what he feels is the best decision for the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: That's the White House defending President Trump's decision to announce later today that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. World leaders are condemning this potential plan. They're even warning of potential violence. Even Russia is worried about it.
Back with us, Maggie Haberman; and also joining us, CNN political analyst John Avlon.
[06:20:02] So let's do an inside-outside game here. Inside, what is this about for them? 1995, a law came to move this. It's been passed as -- on a waiver by each successive president because of concerns, outwardly stated, about national security; inwardly stated, it's a divided place. It was meant to be divided by the green line. Now a shift. What's the inside thinking?
HABERMAN: Look, it's actually not that different than what you would think from looking at it. Right? This is a campaign promise that the president made. This is a president who does not have a ton of signature accomplishments after an incredibly difficult first year. And this is something that he feels like he can point to. There is also something of a -- I don't want to say self-deluding, but
there is certainly keeping of their own different set of wisdom about the Mideast peace process is and what could impact it within this White House. And they have convinced themselves that this would be good for that.
There are -- is almost nobody who actually agrees with that. I mean, with people who support this move on the pro-Israel side, who say, look, if there's violence in response, that just shows that the other side isn't serious about peace.
But that is -- that is not the same as saying, but this will actually help peace. Again, there's little indication that it will.
What has been striking about how they dealt with this over the last few days, they were all over the place on exactly what they were doing, on what the messaging was. I don't think that they have yet articulated a coherent set of points as to what they think this could do to advance what the president has called the ultimate deal. And what we are seeing is a lot of concerned response worldwide about the potential violence in response.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not very diplomatic. But I mean, look, this isn't about making a deal. This is about fulfilling a campaign promise.
And look, credit Donald Trump for following through on conservative catechism. Republicans, when they run the primary always back this policy. And then when Republicans and Democrats get in office, they sign the six-month waiver. Why? Because it makes Jerusalem even more of a tinder box, potentially, than it already is.
This -- you know, all of Jared Kushner's Magical Mystery Tour to bring about Mideast peace is undercut by this move.
HABERMAN: That's right.
AVLON: But a lot of big donors and backers in the administration, a lot of folks on the far right on Israeli politics are celebrating this. And they will see Trump as a strong figure, finally doing the right thing after a lot of talk.
But in terms of the big picture, making that big deal, that just got much more distant if it was ever even remotely close.
HABERMAN: And the other thing that I would add is that this is being done in a moment of incredible turmoil politically in the Middle East. You see what is happening in Saudi Arabia. It is not exactly clear how this is going to help calm things down regionally.
CAMEROTA: Here's just a little context, numbers for people. Here are the numbers of countries with embassies in Tel Aviv, as the U.S. embassy is now 86. Here they are, embassies in Jerusalem, 0. So that just tells you globally how people are feeling about this. CUOMO: Right. Now, a lot of countries have consulates in Jerusalem.
The difference is an embassy is the big deal. And it's what recognizes the sovereignty of whatever place where it is. So if you put your embassy in Jerusalem, you're recognizing the sovereignty move by Israel there. That's why it matters.
But there's also a reason that it's zero on the other side. You certainly have three days of rage being called for on the Palestinian side. You have European partners who are concerned. Who we haven't heard from, and it will be an interesting dynamic for Trump to deal with: Christians. Christians have been exiting out of Jerusalem because of pressure. But there is also a sense of ownership for them. I wonder if any of the base here of this new type of Christianity in the United States will play to that and their ownership.
AVLON: Well, the evangelicals have really found common cause with Israel over the past several...
CUOMO: So they've just given it to them.
AVLON: Yes. Jerusalem is a holy international city, multiple faiths finding it central. But it's also a very troubled city. And you know, even before the green line divide in the wake of independence.
This is a clear state. The United States has never had its embassy, obviously, in Jerusalem. And if this follows through, it becomes a major security concern, a major statement about support of Israel. And the U.S. and Israel obviously historically close allies. Bibi Netanyahu getting finally what he's been hoping for with this move.
But you know, considering, for example, how Trump has tried to cozy up with the new leader of Saudi Arabia, this undercuts other efforts to anything resembling Mideast peace, that grand deal.
CAMEROTA: And just very quickly, where does this leave Rex Tillerson? When Donald Trump makes decisions like this somewhat unilaterally, then what?
HABERMAN: It leaves Rex Tillerson where he was before they pretended that they were not looking at a way to ease him out, and it leaves him where he is now, which is that he is the secretary of state who has had not just a president who is constantly saying, "I call the final shots and my word is the only one that matters," but Jared Kushner, who behind the scenes is also telling people how much his own word matters.
There are too many voices speaking on a variety of issues in this administration. To have so many different voices speaking on issues of diplomacy and foreign policy is very problematic.
CAMEROTA: Yes. As we know, Tillerson is meeting with the Turkish foreign minister right now, who has said this is a big problem.
AVLON: And it's -- you know, if you have a secretary of state in name only, that's not good for diplomacy.
CUOMO: So Jared Kushner is going to be in the spotlight. But the man in the hot seat today is Donald Trump Jr. He's going to answer more questions. This is on the political side, not on the Mueller side. It's done in a-closed-door meeting, which is a little bit of deference to him. But what's on the table for him today?
HABERMAN: Look, I mean, he's going to face a fresh round of questionings -- questioning, I believe, in the House this time. He will be questioned about primarily his meeting with this Russian lawyer who came to him in 2016 with, according to an e-mail that was sent to him by an intermediary, with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The lawyer has offered different versions of her own story. There was yet another version that she showed up, I think on NBC last night, suggesting that she told people that Donald Trump Jr. had asked her about illegal donations, potentially, to the Clinton Foundation. We will see whether his testimony comports with that.
I think that what you're going to see is -- it's interesting. The plea deals in the Mueller probe have involved lying to investigators. So I think that you can assume that, when it comes to people who are speaking before Congress, even if this is not sworn testimony, lying to Congress is still a crime. I think that you can anticipate that that is going to be one of the things they look for is consistency.
CAMEROTA: How do you see it?
AVLON: Look, we have a clear pattern with the Trump crew. They were stonewalling any Russia connections. And now we have a preponderance of evidence. We have contradictions in testimony.
But I mean, it really is stunning the amount of outreach, the amount of conversations that have been documented. And Don Jr. seems at the middle of many of them. This meeting wasn't about the Magnitsky Act, no matter what the lawyer -- lawyer may say.
So this is real live fire. In fact, it's the second testimony in front of Congress. I agree with Maggie: it sets up a case of double jeopardy. It's got to be consistent. But the facts have changed since he gave his initial testimony.
CUOMO: And also, you have to remember, it's a different standard. One of the things that's confusing for people is the idea of, well, so obstruction of justice, whatever it is, is it a crime? It doesn't matter to these political committees. They're not looking for a legal standard to be beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal behavior to take action. So he's got to be careful of the lower standard there.
CAMEROTA: We have lots of lawmakers coming on to talk about all that. Maggie, John, thank you very much.
So President Trump's decision on Jerusalem is stirring outrage among Palestinians. What does it mean for Middle East peace? We get the Palestinian perspective, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)