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GOP Lawmakers Call for Purge; Trump Predicts Bipartisanship on Obamacare; McCabe to Retire; Trump Intensified Attack on FBI Harry And Obama; Lawmaker Demands Information; Infrastructure Push; Purge FBI And DOJ. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 13:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar. Wolf Blitzer has the day off.

It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow and 2:30 a.m. Thursday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you so much for joining us.

It is deadline day in the Russia investigation. A top lawmaker is demanding details about anti-Trump text messages from an FBI agent who was removed from the Russia probe.

And what's next on the agenda for President Trump after tax reform? He is pushing for a big infrastructure bill. But some leaders in his own party have different ideas about what to do next.

And when Harry met Obama. The prince and the 44th president sitting down for a one-on-one interview. The questions were fast. But mostly fun during the lightning round. Check this out.




HARRY: "Titanic" or "The Bodyguard"?

OBAMA: "Titanic."

HARRY: "Suits" or "The Good Wife"?

OBAMA: "Suits". Obviously.

HARRY: Great, great answer. Cigarettes or gum?

OBAMA: Gum now, baby.

HARRY: Gum. White House or Buckingham Palace?

OBAMA: White House just because Buckingham Palace looks like it would take a really long time to mow. HARRY: OK, fair enough.

OBAMA: A lot of upkeep.


KEILAR: A lot of upkeep at the White House as well, we should point out.

But up first, another day, another deadline in the Russia investigation. The Senate Judiciary chairman is demanding details about anti-Trump text messages between an FBI agent and an FBI attorney. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wants answers today.

Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider here for giving us more details. So, Jessica, a growing number of Republicans are alleging bias in the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, investigation.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Brianna. And that has been the rallying cry of Republicans, ever since those anti-Trump text messages were disclosed.

So, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he did face fierce questioning on that subject, when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee in mid-December.

It was then that he pushed back, saying that political viewpoints aren't the same as political bias. And that mere viewpoints don't necessarily impact agents' work on investigations. Of course, all relating to those Peter Strzok text messages.

But, really, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, he isn't taking that answer alone. In fact, he sent a detailed demand to Rosenstein asking for extensive records about those text messages, including things like when they were sent, exactly what they meant.

So, that deadline for Rosenstein to respond, it is today. And the Department of Justice spokeswoman tells me that they are working with the Senate Judiciary Committee but declined to comment further.

The president, of course, though, has referred to the FBI as quote, "in tatters." He has repeatedly called the Russia probe a witch hunt.

It was the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who sent those anti-Trump text messages during the campaign and he was part of the Russia probe until he was removed this summer.

But one Republican today says that while he defends the FBI, it does need to be scrutinized.


REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: In my almost decade serving in the intelligence community, I had the awesome opportunity to serve shoulder to shoulder with a lot of real patriots in the FBI. And so, I have full trust in the bureau, but one of the things we should be doing in Congress is fulfilling our oversight role and making sure the right trade craft is being used.

This is something that we have to make sure and ensure that the people that are law enforcement, are federal law enforcement and intelligence communities are protecting, that they can trust that these institutions are doing things the way they're supposed to be doing.


SCHNEIDER: And Congressman Hurd speaks with experience. He spent about nine years with the CIA as an operations officer.

Now, in the meantime, the Department of Justice also has the inspector general looking into the handling of the Clinton e-mail server investigation at the FBI. Rosenstein has said, well, that should suffice for now.

But, of course, Brianna, Republicans, as part of that, they're calling for a second special counsel.

So, the criticism does not end and we see it continues, even now and probably will until 2018.

KEILAR: Yes, and it may get louder.

Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that report.

In the meantime, the president plans to kick off the new year with a push on infrastructure. A plan that he says will be, quote, unquote, "easy to get passed because everyone wants it."

Well, is that exactly the truth here? Let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles who is live in West Palm Beach near President Trump's Mar-a- Lago estate.

So, Ryan, tell us what we know about the proposal and also whether it's going to be as easy as the president is saying it will be.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as we know, nothing is as easy as presidents make it out to be in Washington.

And while there are Democrats who have interest in infrastructure upgrades and a federal investment in infrastructure, there probably aren't as many fiscal hawks on the Republican side who would like to see a bill like this pushed through.

[13:05:09] So, it's certainly something that's going to require bipartisan support. And it's something the president thinks that he can get.

And this is what we know about the plan so far. We know the president plans to unveil it sometime in mid-January. It'll even be the focus of his state of the union address. He's looking right now at somewhere in the range of $200 billion in investments in infrastructure upgrades. And this was a campaign promise. But on the campaign, Brianna, he proposed as much as $1 trillion in investments.

Now, the White House is hoping that the $200 billion buy-in by the federal government will then lead to investments at state and local governments, maybe adding as much as $800 billion in funding across the country.

And, you know, right before he came to Florida, the president talked about his legislative priorities for 2018. And infrastructure was one of the things he specifically talked about.

Take a listen to what the president said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done. And maybe we start with infrastructure because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.

Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it, Republicans and Democrats. We'll have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure as you know.

I could've started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road.


NOBLES: So, the easy one is how he's calling this, Brianna.

But the question is, and there's a cold political calculous here for Democrats, do they want to get involved in a bargain with Donald Trump, that could be a big legislative victory for him? Especially when they feel they've got a very good chance of taking back the Congress in November.

That's something we're going to have to wait and see -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Ryan Nobles in West Palm Beach. Thank you.

As Republican criticism of the Russia investigation grows louder, a GOP Congressman is calling for a, quote, "purge" at the FBI and the Justice Department.

Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida denies that he's trying to undermine the agencies.


REP. FRANCIS ROONEY, R-FLA.: I don't want to discredit them. I just -- I would like to see the directors of those agencies purge it and say, look, we've got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here.

Those are the people that I want the American people to see and know the good work is being done. Not these people who are kind of the deep state.


KEILAR: Congressman Rooney is joining us now live from Naples, Florida. Congressman, you say there -- and thank you so much for being with us during this holiday week. I really appreciate it. I know a lot of people are spending time with their families.

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY, R-FLA.: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: And we're so glad that you're spending some time with us.

But you say you're not trying to discredit the FBI or the Justice Department. I want to talk to you about why you have criticism of them. But first, are you sure you want to be throwing a word like purge around?

ROONEY: Well, it might be a pretty strong word. I'm not maybe the most nuanced political person in the world coming from a career in business.

But I'm pretty frustrated all the things that have come out by the -- Strzok and Ohr and what may or may not have taken place --

KEILAR: But let me ask --

ROONEY: -- in the deputy general's McCabe.

KEILAR: -- but Strzok -- but -- well, let me stop you there. Strzok -- Mueller removed Strzok. Ohr was demoted.

I mean, so, what's the evidence -- what's the evidence, then, that bias has impacted this investigation when the very data points you're putting there -- actually, action has been taken against those individuals.

ROONEY: As an American citizen, I'm nervous and discontent that people would have those kinds of lack of impartiality and bad animus, as displayed in those e-mails, that they would have gone so far as to try to use that -- possibly use that dossier to discredit the campaign.

I think that's just going beyond just having political views. And I hold the FBI and the Department of Justice in very high esteem.

KEILAR: But where is the evidence that happened? Where's the evidence that --

ROONEY: Well, what --

KEILAR: -- bias has infiltrated this investigation? Do you -- do you have some knowledge we don't have? Because we're not seeing that. ROONEY: No, no, I don't -- I'm not saying it necessarily influenced

the investigation. But they certainly were trying to work to impede Donald Trump. That's what the guy said in those e-mails.

And I just don't know that someone in the FBI and the DOJ ought to be doing that kind of stuff with all the power and authority they have over American citizens.

KEILAR: That was your takeaway from the e-mails? I mean, are you quoting the e-mails?

ROONEY: Yes, ma'am. Yes, I read -- I read the articles same -- probably the same ones you have, where they talked about having the insurance against the election of Donald Trump. And we have to stop him at all costs.

And what was referred to -- some conversation that was referred to in Deputy Attorney General McCabe's office. I wonder what that was all about? I hope that the House Oversight Committee can get to the bottom of it.

KEILAR: But we don't know what that was all about. And we don't have evidence, at this point, right, that this has infiltrated the -- why, if there's no evidence, that this has infiltrated this investigation, would you be calling for a purge, which is a word that -- you know, an action that is more closely associated with authoritarian governments than Democratic ones, like the one you're a part of.

[13:10:06] ROONEY: Well, I think if you've got two percent bad apples, like this Strzok guy and Ohr, I think it's incumbent to make sure that you --

KEILAR: But, again, one removed and one demoted.

ROONEY: -- knew who they all are and to get rid of them.

KEILAR: One was removed. One was demoted.

ROONEY: Yes. He's demoted but he still has a lot of authority in the other job that he has. And he still just as him -- just lacks impartiality and is very aggressive in his views.

KEILAR: But there's no evidence that has impacted the work.

ROONEY: We don't know what the guy might have been able to impact in his great amount of authority he has as an FBI agent. I worry about people that have authority over American citizens' lives, saying the kind of things he put in that e-mail.

KEILAR: Do you worry about maligning the agency as a whole, when we're talking about the men and women working very hard to keep Americans, like you, like me, safe? We're talking about the organization that foiled a terrorist attack, a terrorist plot recently in San Francisco. Do you worry about the effects of that?

ROONEY: Well, what I worry about is the debilitating impact of people like Strzok and possibly McCabe on the institution itself and on the importance that that institution has in our country.

KEILAR: What do you think Republicans would have said if -- rewind to the Obama administration. If Democrats were going after the FBI the way you and some of your GOP colleagues have been going after the FBI and the DOJ? It seems that there would have been tremendous outrage on the part of your party.

ROONEY: I would -- I would hope that we wouldn't have been doing what these people were doing with the dossier and that kind of stuff. I think they -- it's very unsettling to me.

KEILAR: What are you saying they're doing with the dossier?

ROONEY: And also, the -- well, I hope we get to the bottom of it. There have been articles written, questioning whether or not that was used for some purpose by the Department of Justice and I'm not going to speculate what that might have been. But I think that we need to have some of those people testify to get to the bottom of it.

KEILAR: Well, the sweeping conclusion of the dossier, which is in the first paragraph, which is that Russia mounted a large systemic effort to meddle with the election, has been proven. I mean, that's been proven independently. The DNI said that was the case in January of last year. Not privately but very publicly in a report that can be Googled.

I mean, there are parts of the dossier that have not been verified. But the overarching conclusion of it is very much true and has been backed up by the entire intelligence community.

ROONEY: Right. I don't think anybody disagrees that the Russians tried through digital ads and things like that and counter-intel propaganda to influence our election and the climate of the United States. But I don't think they succeeded.

KEILAR: Do you trust Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel?

ROONEY: Yes, you know, basically, I do. The guy's reputation is impeccable. And that's why it's so disheartening to see that he picked a team that is 12 to one ratio of contributions to Hillary Clinton and Democrats versus Republicans. I would have thought he could have at least found a few more Republicans and have it more balanced.

KEILAR: Where is -- where is the -- and I actually -- I cannot fact you on that donation breakdown. I just want to make that clear right now. I don't have the facts in front of me on that.

But where is the evidence that you think his team is not being impartial? When you look at the fact that as soon as he found out there were text messages between Peter Strzok and an FBI attorney. That, you know, he pushed this guy off the investigation. Where's the evidence that there is this impartiality that is affecting the investigation?

ROONEY: I think it's great that he pushed that guy off the investigation. I think they probably ought to push him right out the door.

KEILAR: But you said you were worried, obviously, that this is not an impartial investigation, even if Robert Mueller you trust. Where's the evidence that this has somehow been compromised by individuals' politics?

ROONEY: Well, I think that's what the committee needs to get to the bottom of. And they need to get to the bottom of why did that Ohr guy go meet with the Fusion GPS person about the dossier? What were they trying to accomplish there?

KEILAR: But -- who met with the Fusion GPS people?

ROONEY: Bruce Ohr.

KEILAR: Who has been -- who's been demoted.

ROONEY: He's still working over there though.

KEILAR: He's not a part of this. He's not a part of this though. We're talking about the Russia investigation.

ROONEY: No, I'm glad they're off the investigation. But what other kind of damage might they do sometime, if they -- if they are those kind of people that are so focused on what the ends that they want to accomplish are, that they'll use any means to get to what they want.

KEILAR: But -- and, actually, someone just fact checked and got nine of the 15 lawyers on Mueller's team gave to Democrats. So, I just want to put that out there.

[13:15:07] You had said -- you had said a certain number when it came to dollar amounts. That is -- that is publicly known.

ROONEY: Yes, we -- when we check the contributions, it was like -- don't hold me to the exact number, but it was around 67,000 to about 4,000.

KEILAR: You're talking not -- OK, but just to be clear, we're talking about individuals. You're putting it in a dollar figure, which inflates it and makes it seem as if it's like the vast majority, but actually there's 15 members of the team of lawyers and this is just the lawyers side, just so we're clear on that. I just want to be clear because, you know, we need to be very specific about the statistics.

ROONEY: Yes. We should -- we should take a look at the entire -- yes, that's a good point. We should take a look at the totality of all of the paralegals and FBI people and investigators and find out exactly how many people as well as dollars. That's a point well take.

KEILAR: And why do you want to do that?

ROONEY: Well, I would just -- if you're going to -- if you're going to -- to make sure we see how (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Because you don't trust -- you're not -- you don't trust the investigation? You don't trust the team?

ROONEY: I have a little bit of concern when I saw those e-mails, when I see that this Reh (ph) lady worked for Eric Holder and the Clinton Foundation, when I see the meeting in Director McCabe's office talking about the dossier. That kind of makes me nervous. I hope that the House Oversight Committee will really drill down and get to the bottom of all this so that we can feel good about the work the FBI is doing and not bad.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Francis Rooney, we certainly appreciate you being with us. And very happy New Year to you, sir.

ROONEY: Brianna, thank you for having me on.

KEILAR: And coming up, the president's prediction for the new year. It's a bipartisan deal on health care. Can Democrats and Republicans really come together in 2018 though? I'll be asking Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York next.

And, nonstop to nowhere. A flight from L.A. to Tokyo ends up right where it started after eight hours of flying. A total nightmare. The passenger mix-up that forced a mid-air U-turn.

And then later, the diplomacy of wedding planning. Prince Harry interviews Barack Obama and fields questions himself about whether the former president is getting an invite to the royal wedding. His response, next.


[13:21:05] KEILAR: Republicans have had full control of Congress for nearly a year now and they still have not been able to repeal Obamacare. But as the new year approaches, President Trump predicts that Democrats will actually work with the GOP to help make it happen, to help fix Obamacare. He tweets, based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate has been terminated as part of our tax cut bill, which essentially repeals over time Obamacare, the Democrats and Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new health care plan.

So, can we actually expect Democrats to help change Obamacare with Republicans? I want to ask a Democrat. Joining us now is Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

So, congressman, I know you've -- you follow President Trump's tweet and this prediction that he has for the new year. Are you and other Democrats willing to work with Republicans to make changes to Obamacare, especially now that the individual mandate has essentially been gutted?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, D-N.Y.: Well, if we're going to move forward and deal with health care, I think the foundation is that we have to keep the many parts of the Affordable Care Act that are working incredibly well for the American people. And to the extent that there are adjustments that are necessary to strengthen it, that we have always been willing to reach out and work together in a bipartisan way to do that.

The problem is, at the beginning of this year, Trump and the Republicans came into Congress with the intention of simply fulfilling a political promise, which is to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and to put in its stead Trumpcare, which would have thrown off 24 million Americans from their health insurance and posed a draconian age tax on Americans between 50 and 64 and stripped away protections for pre-existing conditions.

KEILAR: But they couldn't do it.

JEFFRIES: And so, you know, if that's going to --

KEILAR: But they weren't able to do it, as you know. They weren't able to do it. So --

JEFFRIES: That's right. They weren't able to do it. So if that's going to be Trumpcare 2.0 or 3.0, then I don't think there will be a lot of Democratic support. If they're going to reach out in good faith --

KEILAR: Well, sure, but what about -- there's other -- there's discussions between Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander about doing things to stabilize the individual insurance mandate. And you have right now, without this mandate, without saying, hey, you have to pay a penalty, Americans, if you don't have insurance, have you 13 million people who are expected to lose coverage over the next decade.

So with that in mind, I don't think anyone is expecting the Democrats are going to go along with what we saw come up in Congress this past year. But with that in mind, something that is more bipartisan and meant to stabilize the market so that Americans can having better insurance, can have more access to insurance, is that something that you would be open to?

JEFFRIES: Well, certainly, if there's a good faith effort to improve the health care that Americans get and rely upon moving forward, that's something that Democrats and Republicans should come together regardless of partisan politics to accomplish.

KEILAR: So I want to change topics and talk to you about the FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, because we have learned recently that he is planning to retire in 2018. Just last week he testified before your committee, the Judiciary Committee. Did you find that he corroborated James Comey's claims that President Trump asked for loyalty?

JEFFRIES: Well, he actually testified behind closed doors with a subset of the Judiciary Committee, so I wasn't a part of that conversation. But based on my communication with my colleagues, it did seem like he has corroborated what Comey said about the loyalty pledge and the other moments of uncomfortability that James Comey spent with President Donald Trump before he was unceremoniously fired by the president, even though he was leading the criminal investigation into his campaign.

KEILAR: We've seen President Trump taking aim at him here over the weekend. We've seen a growing number of your Republican colleagues who are taking aim at the FBI and the DOJ. I think you just heard the interview with Congressman Rooney. When you hear that criticism, what do you -- what do you chalk that up to?

[13:25:03] JEFFRIES: Well, all Americans should be deeply troubled by the clear effort to undermine an independent investigation that's underway by Bob Mueller, who prior to him being appointed as a special counsel was universally praised and respected by Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives. He's a first rate law enforcement professional.

And as you pointed out during your previous interview, there is not one scintilla of evidence to suggesting that bias has guided this investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with our election. He's going to be guided by the facts, apply the law and lead to whatever conclusion is based on what has been presented to him.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you so much for that. We appreciate you spending time with us this holiday week.

JEFFRIES: Thank you. Happy New Year.

KEILAR: You too, as well.

I want to bring in our panel to talk more about this now.

Joining us now, senior political correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," David Drucker, and associate editor and columnist from RealClearPolitics and host of "No Labels" radio on Sirius XM, A.B. Stoddard.

So I do want to talk about health care. But I first want to talk to you about the Russia investigation and what we have heard from Democrats and Republicans. It's not all congressional Republicans who are saying that Robert Mueller can't be trusted or that are questioning the objectivity of the FBI and the DOJ. Marco Rubio has said that he has full faith in Robert Mueller. But you just heard from Congressman Francis Rooney, who doesn't. you know, he suggested that there should be a purge at the FBI and the DOJ. I mean what do you make of this what now seems to be a growing chorus, A.B., of Republicans, along with President Trump, taking aim at the FBI?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, once it moves from the pages of "Breitbart" and other sort of alt-right very pro-Trump media into lawmakers in Congress, it becomes more potent and it has the effect of ultimately discrediting the findings of Robert Mueller's report when it ultimately comes among Republican voters. And that's a serious matter. And what you were talking about with Congressman Rooney really undermining faith in the FBI.

But what is -- what we're seeing is that there's a division where someone like Trey Gowdy, who used to be head of the Benghazi committee, did not sign on to an investigation that Congressman Nunes is undertaking by himself into potential corruption at the FBI. And his office basically put out a statement saying, you know, he backs the FBI. And so there's some critics of the investigation who are at the same time stepping back from this precipice of delving into a full on attack of the FBI.

KEILAR: And I imagine, David, that has something to do with the fact that Republicans want to be the party of law and order. You know, normally it would seem that the party would be so interested in maintaining the integrity of the top law enforcement agencies in the country, and yet some of them are making political calculations here.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's definitely a little bit of a switch for some Republicans. Normally they're on the side of law enforcement agencies and they tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the conduct of those law enforcement agencies.

And, look, don't forget, in 2016, after then FBI Director James Comey's news conference in which he called Hillary Clinton extremely careless for use of a private e-mail server, then you fast forward to October of that year, ten days before the election he sends a letter to Congress saying in effect we're taking another look at this e-mail scandal. Two days later, oops, never mind. Democrats were outraged at Jim Comey and his conduct and felt like the FBI, in a way, might have cost Hillary Clinton the election.

I think what we're seeing here, which is unusual, is that you have some Republicans in Congress picking up on this, quote/unquote, deep state conspiracy that the president pushed when he was a candidate and kept pushing after he was inaugurated, suggesting that there is a cabal of bureaucrats inside the federal government that want to oust Donald Trump and skirt the democratic process.

I'm laughing here a little just because I think these are the kinds of things that we used to discuss if fictional television shows. But I think, you know, some Republicans really believe this.

I will say though that there are some questions that would be helpful for Mueller's team to answer, which is, have they vetted everybody --


DRUCKER: And do they know that there are no more Peter Strzok's and other people because, you know, look, I was talking to a former agent and he said, everybody's got a political opinion in the FBI. But you do not broadcast it via text message and they should have at least used their own private devices.


DRUCKER: And that's part of the problem.

KEILAR: Quick -- final word from you on a different topic, A.B., which is, the president says infrastructure's going to be easy. Maybe not so easy. What do you think?

[13:29:58] STODDARD: The problem are not only that -- after all of the -- a long year of calling Democrats obstructionists and losers, trying to come to the table to work with them after getting through the next month of deadlines, on legalization for the dreamers and everything else, the problem is also division with their own Republican ranks.