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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Awaiting Senate Vote on Tax Bill, House Must Revote; Donald Trump Jr. Stokes Russia Conspiracy Theory; Interview with Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So, the president says he is not going to see a dime from the tax bill he is about to sign. Now, that may be true, but only if he keeps his eyes closed.

John Berman here, in for Anderson.

The bill just hit a minor Lucy pulls the football technical snag but it's still on track for the Senate to pass tonight and the House to pass a second time by tomorrow.

Based on what the president said in the past, he might be surprised with what is in it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. Believe me. This is not good for me. Me, it's not -- I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, many of the provisions in this mammoth piece of legislation are debatable, such as how much, if at all, it will grow the economy. Estimates range from nearly nothing to the president's 4, 5, even 6 percent he said the other day.

You can debate who in the working middle class is healthy and who isn't because it's a real mixed bag, although a large majority of taxpayers, some estimates are at 80 percent, will see some kind of cut.

However, several things are simply facts. Congress's own nonpartisan number crunchers say the bill will add tremendously to the deficit between $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion. The highest income earners will see the biggest gains. Corporate tax gains will drop a lot, a whole lot, and those cuts will continue even after the personal ones expire.

Those are all facts. Now, what you will hear next is not a fact. In almost no conceivable world is this statement true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me. Believe me. This is not good for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, in a moment a very quick non-eye glazing rundown of why this is certainly almost not true.

First, how press secretary Sarah Sanders dealt with it today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: How does he figure this is going to cost him a lot of money?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we expect that it likely will certainly on the personal side could cost the president a lot of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Unless cost suddenly means save, it's hard to see how that's true. Yes, the bill sharply cuts deductibility of state and local taxes which could be considerable for a New York billionaire, but the top personal rate falls 2.6 percentage points for every dollar the president and Mrs. Trump earn above $600,000 and for a billionaire, that adds up. Also, there are other provisions of this bill almost tailor-made for wealthy real estate tycoons with small family owned companies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: He seems to benefit from pass-through deductions, top rate tax reduction, state tax exemption is doubled, he's going to make money on that.

SANDERS: Look, again, this is a tax plan that we hope benefits all- Americans primarily and priority number one is middle class Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Which may be a fine talking point, but it doesn't answer the question. So, our Jim Acosta gave it a try.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president did say that this tax cut bill would cost him a fortune. That was false, right?

SANDERS: No, because on the personal side, this actually could impact the president in a large way.

ACOSTA: Have you looked how it would balance out corporate versus personal if he's going to come --

SANDERS: I'm not sure if he has done a side by side but I know there are a number of provisions that would negatively impact the president personally, and so we contend that those comments are still very consistent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: No, but what has been consistent is the president's claim that he's the big loser. Here he is in September.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm doing the right thing and it's not good for me, believe me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Believe him or not, because there is a big change to the estate tax which helps wealthy filers, a reduction of the alternative minimum tax which helps wealthy filers. Corporate tax rates dropped 14 percentage point and a special provision gives big tax breaks for so-called pass-through corporations, which is how Donald Trump, the real estate developer, structured his businesses.

The Trump Organization isn't really one big company, it's hundreds of smaller pass-throughs which now would pay far lower taxes than before.

So, to the extent that the president is enriched by his businesses which you will recall he has not divested himself from, he certainly stands to do quite well, something by the third question today Sarah Sanders all but conceded even as she tried again to change the subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Look, I said that in some ways, particularly on the personal side, the president will likely take a big hit, but on the business side he could benefit. But the biggest focus for this White House has been to make sure all-Americans are better off today after this tax package passes than they were beforehand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Again, because of the way he has structured his businesses, there isn't always a division between business and personal. Of course, there is one way to know for sure. One way to know how much this would benefit the president or as the president claims would not. He could release his tax returns.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has the latest on how tonight's vote is expected to play out.

[20:05:02] They now have tomorrow morning's vote will play out.

Phil, these problems that cause the House to have to revote, what's the latest on that?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORESPONDENT: Well, they certainly are going to postpone things a little bit. Look, the House Republicans and Senate Republicans went into today assuming this would be done today, tonight when the Senate Republicans vote, still on track to do that.

But, John, as you noted, some problems cropped up, most notably the Senate budget rules. Obviously, Republicans going through the budget rule process in order to be able to do this with a simple majority, pass this with just Republicans, pass this in a partisan manner.

The problem with that issue is there are rules that apply to that. Those rules have caught two specific provisions and get this, the title of the bill as being problematic before it can actually move forward. So, those will be stripped out. It won't be a major problem, these aren't major substantive issues that will change the core components or tenants of the bill, aren't going to cause any major long term problems.

But what they will do is force the House to vote again tomorrow morning. So, while the Senate will vote tonight, while Speaker Paul Ryan had the big gavel moment earlier today in the House, he'll apparently have to do that again.

BERMAN: We'll get live pictures on the Senate floor right now. I believe that's Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown right now giving a speech. Where does the bill stand exactly right now, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Well, they're in the middle of a debate. And again, this was a debate that was supposed to lead to the final vote to clear this for the president's desk. As it currently stands, Republicans are in very good shape.

I've been talking to Republican aides all day. The hang up on the Senate budget rules, that's not considered problematic. They are very clearly on track to pass this.

The big question right now is a matter of when. In terms of when the Senate is moving right now, expects a vote sometime later tonight, maybe 11:00, 11:30 right now. They're trying to move through debate as fast as they possibly can. But again, there is a recognition that this isn't it. There is one more step to come.

BERMAN: The president wants this on his desk by Christmas. They'll almost certainly get it way before that, right, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a foregone conclusion at this point, barring some unseen issue that jeopardizes the bill itself. The president is going to have a signing ceremony tomorrow. It won't necessarily be the final bill signing ceremony. They have to wait for the process to send it up to the White House.

But as it currently stands right now, the White House planning to do that tomorrow afternoon. Lawmakers expected to go over there. This will be done and it will be done tomorrow, something that I think a lot of us chuckled at the idea a few moments ago.

Republicans moving through the first tax overhaul in more than 31 years in just a couple of months, not only are they getting it done, but they're getting it done on the very aggressive time line that the president talked about. BERMAN: And there are people who thought tax reform will be harder

than health care. Health care didn't work, they're getting it away, both of it before Christmas.

Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Here Jim Acosta questioning Sarah Sanders a moment ago. He joins us now from the White House.

So, Jim, what's the latest from the White House on all of this, both the process and the substance of the bill.

ACOSTA: Well, you heard Phil Mattingly just a few moments ago say that they're going to have to have this revote so they can't break out the Trump Wine at the Trump Hotel just yet here in Washington, John. But they are going to have the revote tomorrow. They are planning for a ceremony over at the White House. It won't be a bill signing ceremony as Phil just explained.

But the White House is very happy about this. You can see it on the faces of officials here. They do have more of a spring in their step than they normally would when, say, the Russia investigation is in the headlines. But they do have a problem to solve with the glaring headlines about the president saying he is not going to have to pay huge tax bill in all of this. Obviously, he is going to benefit from this tax bill that is going to be passed and signed by the president.

The other thing, John, is that they're going to have to deal with this issue heading into the midterms in terms of how the middle class is going to respond to this. Middle class voters depending on which state they live in may actually get hit with a bit of a tax increase if their state and local income tax deductions are curtailed or if their homeowner mortgage deductions are curtailed. They may actually have to pay more in taxes in all of this.

BERMAN: So, is the White House worried at all about the consequences in the midterms?

ACOSTA: Not at this point. You know, you see the president pointing to the stock market and insisting that this tax cut plan is going to result in the stock market going further up in the New Year. Of course, keep in mind during the campaign, the president then candidate Trump was talking about a stock market bubble in that it would eventually burst at some point. Apparently, he's not worried about that heading into the midterms.

But I did talk to a GOP source close to the process in the last several minutes, John, who said -- offered some framing in all of this and said, listen, if Democrats are going to oppose these tax cuts, they're essentially going to be arguing heading into the midterms for a tax increase. If they want to repeal these tax cuts, they're essentially arguing for a tax increase. That is not going to be a winning issue according to the Republican source.

But, of course, a lot of this is going to shake out in the New Year when people start to see exactly what is going to happen to their tax bill because it may not be as simple as the Republicans, and the president, White House officials as they were describing it earlier today.

BERMAN: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining us now are senior political commentators: former U.S. senator and Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, and Jennifer Granholm, former Democratic governor of Michigan.

[20:10:03] And CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, former adviser to presidents, Republicans and Democrats, dating back a long, long time.

David, let me start with you.

This is a legislative victory for the president, a big tax bill, a repeal of the Obamacare mandate among other things. Do you think this pays off for the White House politically?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president absolutely is legitimate in proclaiming a major legislative victory. This is on his timetable and basically a tax bill that he has wanted.

It also shows -- sends a message that with a majority in Washington, they can govern, they can make changes, and this is, after all, what he promised on the campaign trail. I think the surprise, you know, is as he achieves this great victory is how unpopular it is with the country. I can't remember a major achievement like this that is met with disapproval. CNN polls, not unlike others, 33 percent approve the tax bill, 55 percent oppose it.

BERMAN: Well, it isn't exactly what he promised, first of all, because he did promise on the campaign trail that he would be a big loser in this. In fact, he's not.

GERGEN: No.

BERMAN: He promised he would do away with cuts of uncarried interest. Those rules, he did on that either.

Nevertheless, Senator Santorum, to David Gergen's point, the polling is not good. CNN poll says 55 percent of the American public doesn't like the bill. Why is that?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'll tell you several reasons. Number one, I think the Republicans did a woeful job of describing what this bill does.

And, you know, the opponents have been very effective in carrying the message and you've heard me say this many, many times. The president is not on message. He's really -- even with this discussion of whether he's going to benefit or not, the fact that he and the White House cannot drive a message consistently to the American public about what this bill does and the benefits of the bill to working men and women across this country because he's distracted by other things that are going on within the White House and other messages he's trying to send I think makes it very, very difficult to deliver that message.

Here's the good news. The good news is the vast majority of Americans are going to get a tax reduction starting in January. So, I'm not worried and I think most Republicans are not worried about what polls say today. They're going to be -- those polls are going to change once people see that their take-home pay is going to be up starting in January.

BERMAN: What about that, Governor Granholm? Because, you know, next year, when people are paying their taxes, some people in the middle class, the average is, what, $900 more that they'll see. One tax bracket up. They'll see an average of $1,500 to $1,800 back.

When they see that money in their pockets, will the bill get more popular?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, of course, that ends up being spread out, right? So -- but here's the deal is that it's not just about the fact that some people are going to get a tax cut, it is really a question about fairness. So, I heard somebody describe it this way. If you have ten people in a room and you've got ten sandwiches and you give eight of the ten sandwiches to two people, but two of the sandwiches to the rest of the eight, well, those people, the eight are not going to feel that great because they got a bite of their sandwich rather than having their own.

It's about fairness. And if they see 80 percent of the benefit of this goes to the top 1 percent, how is that fair? How does that remedy the problem that everybody has been talking about now for years since the Occupy Wall Street movement about income inequality in America? This will make us the most unequal country of all of the advanced countries. It is this historic transfer of dollars, $1.5 trillion from working people and from the middle class, to the wealthy.

Why is that healthy for the economy? It is not.

BERMAN: I see the thought bubble in Senator Santorum, the Republican thought bubble. You know, the wealthy get bigger tax cuts so they pay more in taxes.

Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, a couple of things. First up, a lot of the benefit and was designed this way goes to businesses and the reason it goes to businesses is because we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world and it's made us uncompetitive. It's one of the reasons that companies are moving off shore and moving their income offshore and moving their intellectual property offshore, all of which is to the detriment of workers here in this country.

So, even Barack Obama said that we needed to reform the business tax rates and we needed to lower the rates. So, benefits even under Barack Obama were going to corporations. Let's set that aside.

Let's take the top 1 percent. The top 1 percent of America makes 20 percent of the income in America and pays 40 percent of the taxes in America.

So, I would say to Jennifer, what's fair? Should they pay 50 percent? Should they pay 60 percent? Should they not get any relief? Should they pay -- if we cut taxes --

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: What is the relief. If you are a millionaire or billionaire, you can't even spend all of that money.

[20:15:00] I mean, come on, put it in the hands of people --

SANTORUM: So, tax them more is what you're saying? They should pay even more.

GRANHOLM: -- who can spend it to stimulate the economy. I am saying that we should have a fairer and more progressive tax system and to your point on the business sector -- you are right --

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: So, someone paying 20 percent, paying 40 is not fair?

GRANHOLM: Wait. Wait. Wait. You already said this. Wait a second. No, I am saying we need to have a progressive system, like every country in the world does who cares for their people.

SANTORUM: It is.

GRANHOLM: Because right now, what you're going to see is that this $1.5 trillion tax cut that goes to the wealthy is going to be paid for by reforming entitlements which means that my mother's Medicare, my mother's Social Security is going to be used to pay for a tax cut for Bill Gates. That's not fair.

SANTORUM: Hang on one second.

GRANHOLM: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. You talk about both the corporate and the individual. Let me respond on the corporate for one moment.

On the corporate tax, yes, our rate is very high, but our effective payment, meaning that when companies take advantage of all of the loopholes in the corporate tax structure, they pay about 23 percent.

So, let's reform the tax code, yes. But let's not just do a tax cut, let's take away all of the loopholes that are being paid so that you're not reducing the tax dollars to the Treasury which pays for basic services for people that make us who we are as a nation, which is we should be caring for one another.

BERMAN: That gets to the word that is not spoken yet and barely spoken at all in this discussion, David Gergen, which is the deficit, you know, and the federal deficit, which by some estimates could go up between $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. I mean, I'm old enough to remember when this was a major defining unifying issue for the Republican Party and now it seems to be out the window, David.

GERGEN: Well, that's absolutely right. Leon Panetta was on this program last night, you know, saying basically it's going to be a lot more than $1.5 trillion added to the deficit. We can go into that argument.

But let me point out why I think it's going to be harder to have this bill win approval next year. It relates to deficits. If the Republicans are going to turn around as they're saying they're going to do, and say, well, we have such large deficits in the country now, now we really need to reform the entitlement programs. In other words, we want to cut Medicare and Social Security and we're going to do that because we have these large deficits, that is not going to make this tax bill which brought to help to increase the deficit, it's not going to make it very popular.

When people see that in this tax bill, there is this removal of the mandate on health care and as many as 13 million Americans could be without health care insurance as a result of this, that's not going to make it more popular among working people in this country. So, whether the economy can sustain this, that's going to be the big gamble.

If President Trump and his team are right and he does get 3 percent growth, that's going to help him enormously politically. If this is a sugar high as his Democratic opponents believe, that also is going to make this tax bill something other than a major, major political success for the president.

BERMAN: Senator?

SANTORUM: Yes, I would say this. First off, that I don't think you're going to see Donald Trump reform Social Security or Medicare. He said very, very clearly he doesn't want to touch either of those programs.

BERMAN: He also said he wouldn't give himself a tax cut. He also said he was going to deal with the carried interest here. So, he said things.

SANTORUM: Look, I think, you know, obviously, the president doesn't get everything he wants in every bill. And he didn't get exactly what he wanted in this bill. As you know, this was written primarily in the House and Senate. Certainly, the president had some oversight.

But this is a congressional process, not a White House process. And they got what they could get the votes to pass, not what Donald Trump wanted, and that's the way it works all the time.

Look, on the other issue that this is somehow, you know, going to be a huge increase in the deficit, this is just a fundamental difference between whether you believe we are -- that lower taxes, putting more money out there for businesses and individuals to be able to grow this economy is going to result in actually more revenue and less expenditures coming out of Washington, D.C.. And I can tell you, I've talked to a lot of Republicans, both the House and the Senate, they believe that this will produce the growth that is necessary to more than offset the deficit.

And, you know, if they're wrong, then they're going to be held politically accountable for it, but I don't think anybody is going in here thinking, hey, we're going to do this, it's going to hurt revenues. We think it's going to cause more spending in Washington.

I think just the opposite. And it's just a fundamental difference in belief.

BERMAN: Look, history has shown that tax cuts don't necessarily lead to growth, which offsets --

GRANHOLM: Yes, and so do economists say that.

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: Yes, OK, you got to go.

BERMAN: Governor, Senator, David Gergen, we'll call you the czar for that purpose, thanks so much for being with us.

Again, you're looking at live pictures from the Senate floor. This is Ohio Rob Portman now arguing for this tax bill. We are expecting the Senate vote shortly. We will keep our eyes on it and our eye open for any possible drama that may emerge.

Coming up for us, a member of the House Intelligence Committee says she is hearing that the president may fire special counsel Robert Mueller by this Friday.

[20:20:04] I asked Congresswoman Jackie Speier about it. The interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. We are watching the United States Senate right now. Ohio Senator Rob Portman arguing for passage of the big tax bill. The Senate will vote shortly. We are watching this tonight and we'll keep you abreast as news develops.

In the meantime, breaking news tonight, Donald Trump Jr. stoking a conspiracy vibe over the Russia probe in remarks to a student group in West Palm Beach, Florida. Listen to part of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Imagine what would happen if we rolled back the clock to 2008 and a conservative director of the FBI and higher up people in the FBI leading all of these investigations wrote an e-mail about an insurance policy, the dossier, in the unlikely event that Barack Obama was elected president.

What do you think would happen? Do you think the media would cover that? Yes. Do you think it would be brushed under the rug like oh, it's nothing, it doesn't mean anything? There would be revolution in the streets. So, I'm glad that this is coming out now because it is good because

real people have to see this.

[20:25:01] You know, my father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign. People are, oh, what are you talking about?

But it is. And you're seeing it. There is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a House Intelligence Committee member, told a local TV station that she worried for the future of the Russia investigations on Capitol Hill and within the FBI. This is what she told KQED last Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I believe that the president wants all of this shut down. He wants to shut down these investigations and he wants to fire special counsel Mueller. The rumor on the Hill when I left yesterday was that the president was going to make a significant speech at the end of next week and on December 22nd when we are out of D.C. He was going to fire Robert Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, I spoke with Congresswoman Speier just before air time. Here's that conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Representative Speier, this rumor on the Hill that president is going to fire Robert Mueller by this Friday, is that still what you're hearing?

SPEIER: Well, I've certainly heard it last Thursday. It's been tamped down a little bit, in part because the president himself has been asked the question and he has said no. But it's not as if the president doesn't change his mind from time to time.

So, it's a grave concern to me and I think to many of my colleagues that this is the kind of action that could be undertaken by the president and we want to put him on notice that it is something that we will not tolerate.

BERMAN: What was this based on though? Were there any facts to back this up? Because I've heard from a lot of critics over the last few days that suggest, you know, it's reckless for a member of Congress to spread rumors about such a sensitive subject if it's not based on something solid.

SPEIER: Well, I made the point when I was talking to a local reporter back in San Francisco that this was a rumor. And I specifically said that. I'll say it again tonight. But rumors have a way of becoming facts in Washington, D.C.

So if this has any kind of prophylactic effect of making sure that this idea, if it was hatched, is not pursued, then I feel it was worth making it known to the public.

BERMAN: It's one of these things though over the last five days since this came out, it's been Democrats saying that the president was going to fire Robert Mueller, not the president, not his team, not the White House. And Republicans saying, no, no, he's not going to. We don't want him to.

But it was something that was largely fueled by your talk of this rumor.

SPEIER: Well, that's correct. But again, all you have to do is look at what has happened in the last two weeks. The way the Republicans in the House in particular have, through the Judiciary Committee, started to cast aspersions on the Mueller investigation, looking at these e-mails and texts that were released, talking about the e-mails that they now argue have been obtained illegally by the Mueller investigation of the transition team.

This is a concerted effort to undermine the Mueller investigation. Make no mistake about it.

BERMAN: The comments from Donald Trump Jr. today, which seemed to be stoking some conspiracy theory. He suggested there are some people the highest level of American, you know, power that don't want America to be America.

Do you think comments like this are trying to undermine the investigation?

SPEIER: Well, I can't speak to what Donald Jr. said in his speech tonight and what he's really referring to. What I can say is that the American people trust that we make sure the rule of law stands the test of time. That we are going to speak out and make sure that the Constitution is respected and upheld and anyone who tries to mess with our system of government and with the Constitution is going to hear loud and clear from the American people.

BERMAN: You sit on the House Intelligence Committee. What can you tell us if anything about Deputy FBI Director McCabe's testimony today before your committee meeting? What came out of that?

SPEIER: Well, I can't obviously speak about the classified interview that took place, I can just tell you that I believe that the FBI acting director was, in fact, very forthcoming, willing to answer virtually all of our questions with the exception of a couple and I think that his testimony is very helpful to the investigation.

BERMAN: You're colleague, the ranking member, Democrat Adam Schiff, on your committee says that he is worried that Republicans will try to shut down the House Intelligence Investigation by the end of the month. Is that something you see? SPEIER: Well, we're very concerned about that. These interviews have

stepped up in their pace, two or three on the same day. I have been in the Intelligence Committee offices all day long today and it is a pace that you can't keep and also I think do a good job.

There is other interviews that are being schedule outside of Washington D.C., which make a very hard for us to vote on bill. And also at those very important interviews as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congresswoman Speier, thank you so much for being with us.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, the President on Twitter today calling the "Washington Post" fake news. What's it about this time? Reports say that the President considered pulling Neil Gorsuch's nomination as Supreme Court back in February after private comments criticizing the president's attacks on the judiciary. We will hear from the reporter who broke that story when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Another day, another fake news claim from the President about reporting he doesn't like. This time it's a story first in "The Washington Post." The President considered withdrawing the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court after the judge privately criticized President Trump's attacks on the judiciary.

Well, "The Washington Post" reporter who broke the story, Josh Dawsey, joins me now to talk about that.

So the Josh, the President was not too fond of your reporting. This is what he wrote today. He wrote, "A story in the @washingtonpost that I was close to 'rescinding' the nomination of Justice Gorsuch prior to confirmation is FAKE NEWS. I never even wavered and am very proud of him and the job he is doing as Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The unnamed sources don't exist!"

[20:35:13] How do you respond?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: We stand by our reporting wholeheartedly. We worked on this for quite some time. We gave the White House plenty of time. We fact checked the anecdotes. We did on the record interviews of officials as you saw in the story and we were pretty rigorous in piecing together these scenes of how he reacted to Judge Gorsuch criticizing him. So we stand by our reporting 100 percent. The President obviously has a right to his opinion and we have a right to public what our facts lead us to believe.

BERMAN: So let's talk about the reporting itself. For months, the President has boasted about his pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court but you reporting that behind the scenes it was on the verge of going awry? What happened for the President to waiver in this nomination? DAWSEY: Right. So in the meetings with senators on Capitol Hill as part of the confirmation process Neil Gorsuch criticized the President or at least the President comments on the judiciary. And his goal was to show some independence. And say, listen, President Trump nominated me but I am my own man, and this is how I feel about issues particularly the President's sharp condemnations of juries and judiciary.

The President was not expecting the criticism. He was taken aback to see it on television and he vented to aides on several different occasions that he did not think Gorsuch was grateful for the appointment. And he did not believe that after appointing him he had gone straight to others and criticize the President. It was a moment of deep frustration for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: It's been well reported about how much the President values loyalty or requires loyalty you might say.

DAWSEY: Right.

BERMAN: From what you've learned, how close was he to actually polling the nomination?

DAWSEY: Well, that's the tough part, John? He certainly said to others that he was considering it. He made it very clear that he was very unhappy with the situation, but the President as he and others have reported often vents. He will get very spun up in a situation or in a moment and, you know, make grandiose promises or vow anything that he ends up not doing, after he calms down. I think sometimes, he got angry and then he calms down. We do not have reporting to indicate that he called the Senate or went through any of the formal machination to rescind the nomination just that he talk some of his advisers, hey. I might take this back. What do you think?

BERMAN: Yes, only the President knows for sure if those threats were for real, if his words actually met what he said.

DAWSEY: Right.

BERMAN: You know, finally Supreme Court nominee is starting their independent from the President. I mean, it is something that ultimately happened based on your reporting, was this something the President just wasn't prepared for?

DAWSEY: Yes. It was something the President wasn't prepared for. Some of Neil Gorsuch's sharpest defenders, Chuck Grassley among others, wanted to see independence.

You know, the judiciary is one of the three co-equal branches of government. And you expect some independence. Presidents tend to pick folks, who have same judicial philosophies as they do but independence on certain rolling and certain comments from the President. That said, the President really disdains public criticism of himself as several of his advisers have told me and then other reporters, it's been pretty documented heavily that one way to really tick the President off is to criticize him publicly. He doesn't like to hear criticism and that's what Gorsuch did. And it was early in the administration. His advisors did not tell him to expect that and all of a sudden he was turning on the TV, looking at newspapers. He was the guy we picked for the Supreme Court, who was not telling senators, I don't agree with the President. Josh Dawsey, great to have you with is. Keep digging.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Next, breaking news in that horrific train wreck in Washington State, also, why technology that would have prevented it, something that's called the single most important rail safety development in more than a century was not in place to save the day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:43:06] BERMAN: A day after the Amtrak derailment in Washington State that killed three people and hurt more than 100. We have learned the train was speeding around the curve, 80 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone.

We're also learning new details including where the conductor was when the train derailed creating a horrific scene with part of the train dangling off and overpass.

Kyung Lah joined us now. Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORESSPONDENT: Well, John, we're learning many new details and that lead conductor, he wasn't in the cab. He wasn't at the controls. That's according to a news conference that the NTSB held.

One other part of the investigation that the NTSB is focusing on, it's trying to retrieve every piece of evidence. What you're looking at there is what is left of a passenger car that just gives you an idea of the horrific force of a train derailment.

The NTSB says that they are no closer yet to understanding exactly why but getting more details about the moments before the crash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): The NTSB says at the moment Amtrak 501 derailed the train's lead conductor was in the passenger's section, not in the cab. Instead, the engineer and a conductor in training were in the cab. The engineer is still allowed to operate the train.

TED TURPIN, NTSB: Under Amtrak policy, he couldn't operate the train unless he was qualified and familiar with this territory. So, the answer would be, yes, within the previous two weeks, he had been qualified to operate on the territory.

LAH: But the NTSB says, a crew did not hit the emergency brake before the derailment. It was automatically activated more information but still no answer why on its very first run on a new passenger route. The train sped at 80 miles per hour, much faster than the posted 30 mile per hour speed limit for the curved section of track. [20:44:58] Investigators already recovered both of the train's black boxes and they also know this. Life saving technology called Positive Train Control was not activated on this brand new passenger rail line. PTC forces speeding trains to automatically slow down.

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB SPOKESWOMAN: The locomotive was in the process of getting PTC, a system of PTC installed but it was not yet functional.

LAH: Positive train control won't be the only safety question.

MAYOR DON ANDERSON, LAKEWOOD, WASHINGTON: I'm an advocate for safety. I'm not so concerned about the cost if you can't afford to do it the best way through our community, I'd rather not have it there.

LAH: Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson and the city council fought to stop the train line siding safety concerns. A $180 million in federal stimulus money spurred Washington State to move the passenger line from this sparsely inhabited coastline directly to towns like Lakewood and over Interstate Pipe. Anderson warned just two weeks ago a disaster could be coming.

ANDERSON: Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting those safety enhancements.

LAH (on camera): Maybe you didn't predict this exact thing but have seen it coming?

ANDERSON: You know, there's certain degree of guilt associated with it. Maybe we gave up too soon.

LAH: You feel guilty?

ANDERSON: Not intellectually but emotionally. We don't like to lose and maybe if we had won, things would have been different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Kyung, I understand the train was outfitted with cameras both inside and out. Have investigators seen that video?

LAH: They haven't been able to look at it fully. The NTSB though highly interested in what was happening inside that cab, if there were two people inside that cab. The engineer and this conductor trainee, what were they doing in those moments before the derailment? Was the engineer distracted? Why they didn't they hit the emergency break DTC, the curve coming and the train track? So, a lot of questions at the NTSB have. They're hoping the cameras might shed some light on that.

BERMAN: A lot of work to do. All right, Kyung Lah in Washington, thank you so much.

Coming up, the recent arrest of Sarah Palin's oldest son for allegedly beating up his father, the latest sad twist for that family. We'll take a look next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:51:30] BERMAN: New trouble for the Palin family. Sarah Palin's oldest son, 28-year old, Track was arrested on charges including assault for allegedly beating up his father. This is the latest chapter in a book that's been both dramatic and tragic. Randi Kaye reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They build themselves as the all American family, Sarah and Todd Palin and their five children, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. But what we saw during the 2008 campaign and what we know now are worlds apart.

KAYE (on camera): Did you know that she was actually active?

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR, ALASKA: No, and that is why it was shocking.

KAYE (voice-over): As the family's fairy tale started to unravel, Bristol Palin tried to move past it.

BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: I just want to go out there and just promote abstinence.

KAYE: But then came here on again, off again engagement to her son Tripp's father, Levi Johnston, a long drawn out custody battle ended with Levi's spilling dirt on the Palin family.

LEVI JOHNSTON, BRISTOL PALIN EX-FIANCE: If she's going to out and say stuff to me, about me, I'm going to leak some things on her.

KAYE: With the election long over, the Palin kids found themselves caught up in a series of very ugly and very public fights. In 2010, then 16-year-old Willow Palin went after a fellow student on Facebook after he said he was hardly impressed with the family's new reality show. She hurled homophobic slurs in response calling the viewer gay, demanding the student quit talking blank about her family.

(on camera): In 2014, the whole Palin family made headlines after a bloody brawl at a party. Police in Anchorage, Alaska had to break up the fight. A hysterical Bristol Palin tried to explain the insanity of that all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me what happened?

B. PALIN: My little sister comes over to me and says, "Some old lady just (beep) pushed me. She just hit me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

B. PALIN: (Beep) Oh no, no one's going to touch my sister.

KAYE (voice-over): Bristol also said the owner of the house where the party was taking place went after her. B. PALIN: I walked back up, "Did you push my sister?" And some guy gets in my face, pushes me down on the grass, drags me cross the grass. You (beeps). I get back up. He pushes me down on the grass again and pulls me by (beep) feet. They took my $300 sunglasses, they took my (beep) shoes. And I'm (beep) just left here.

KAYE: No chargers were filed. And just when you thought it was over, more drama. In 2015, Bristol Palin who reportedly made hundreds of thousands of dollars as a spokeswoman for a group that promotes abstinence announced she was pregnant again.

S. PALIN: The cool thing about putting your faith in God is he certainly is a God of second chances and third and fourth and fifth chances. I screw up all the time.

KAYE: Last year, after Bristol gave birth to her second child, the baby girl's father, Bristol's ex-fiance Dakota Meyer sued for custody. A judge later awarded joint custody to the couple. Also in 2016 trouble for Sarah Palin's oldest son Track. He stole the headlines this time after being arrested for striking his girlfriend with his fist. He took a plea deal and many of the charges were dropped.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Randi Kaye with me now. Randi, didn't Sarah Palin try to explain last year why her son acted that way towards his girlfriend?

KAYE: Absolutely, John. After Track Palin was arrested for hitting his girlfriend, his mom did come to his defense, Sarah Palin said that her son was suffering from PTSD after serving overseas in Iraq. She actually call his arrest, the elephant in a room and said her son and the other war veterans come back a bit different, that's her word and they come back hardened, she said.

[20:55:07] Track Palin spent a year in Iraq after enlisting actually on September 11th. But despite all the push back and all of these explanations, the drama, John, continues and the hits just keep coming in this latest attack on his father. There hasn't been any public explanation from Sarah Palin or any of the Palins in fact about Track's behavior. All we know is what his father Todd Palin told police that Track Palin had been drinking and was on some sort of medication, John.

BERMAN: All right, Randi Kaye, thank you so much.

Coming up, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is warning that Republicans are trying to shut down the committee's Russia investigation. I will speak with Congressman Adam Schiff about that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Breaking news tops the hour. We are waiting for the Senate after a minor legislative snag to vote and pass the biggest tax bill in a generation. They're vetting it right now on the Senate floor. You're looking at a live picture. This is consequential for most taxpayers, more so for businesses and very wealthy taxpayers, consequential for the deficit too, and if you believe the rose in your scenarios, maybe a big boost for the economy.

[20:54:57] And any case, the President and his party are counting on this to be a big political boost which remains to be seen for a number of reasons. One, new CNN polling showing the President's approval rating at 35 percent, a new law for the survey.