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Trump Engages in Revealing Interview with NYT. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: He insisted 16 separate times that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

[07:00:04] BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: As scrutiny of Mueller's investigation intensifies, President Trump says he has, quote, "an absolute right" to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. And he reveals why he has been soft on China hours after accusing Beijing of secretly shipping oil to North Korea.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's discuss this revealing interview with one of the writers for "The New York Times" story, their White House correspondent, Michael Shear. He is also a CNN political analyst.

Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Good morning. Thanks for having me, guys.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here to explain this article. It was very revealing. Interesting that it was impromptu. It just happened in the dining room of his golf club after perhaps a round of golf. And he was feeling relaxed and just sort of pontificating, I guess, or answering questions with "The New York Times." What jumped out at you about it?

SHEAR: Well, yes, it was a remarkable interview. And kudos go out to my colleague Michael Schmidt, who was down to Florida with the president and managed to get that interview, you know, something that most presidents wouldn't grant ever. President Trump, you know, has a habit of doing this kind of thing, where he sort of holds court with members of the press, despite his, you know, frequent criticism of us.

And so, you know, what we wrote in the article, the thing that sort of most struck us was his comments about the Russia investigation, which as we say at the top of the story, he focused a lot on the fact that he feels like Bob Mueller will be able to be fair to him. That's striking because it comes -- it so undercuts many in his own party, who have spent the last several weeks trying on Capitol Hill to -- to discredit Mueller's investigation as a kind of partisan witch-hunt. So that was interesting that it was a striking difference.

But he then went on to say that, even though he thinks he will be treated fairly, that he has every right to do with the Justice Department what he will. It sort of left a kind of ominous kind of tone there hanging: what does he really mean? And he didn't explain. CAMEROTA: Right. That's right. And I do want to ask you about that. But very first, just to -- just on the Robert Mueller thing, because it was such a different tone that I think it bears repeating. He writes, " I hope that he's going to be fair. I think that he's going to be fair. There's been no collusion, but I think he's going to be fair. Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion, none whatsoever." And as you point out, he sort of rejected the collusion idea 16 separate times.

But what did he mean when he said he can do whatever he wants with the Department of Justice?

SHEAR: Well, it was a little unclear in the interview. Mike had posed a question to him about the fact that he had control of the Justice Department, and did that mean that President Trump was going to order a new investigation in Hillary Clinton's e-mails. When the president answered, he appeared to sort of ignore the part about the e-mails and really focus on this question of control of the Justice Department.

Because when you look at his answer, what he then says is "I can control the Justice Department," and then he went back to the idea of being fair and that he feels like they're going to be fair to him, which seemed to be a reflection or a comment about the investigation into Russian meddling and collusion. And, you know, and ultimately said he's going to sort of -- he's chosen to stay out of this situation sort of for now.

So it felt like what he was referring to was the Russia investigation, not Hillary's e-mails at that point.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what he said about China, also very revealing. He says, "China is hurting us very badly on trade. But I have been soft on China. Because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. OK?" What did that mean?

SHEAR: Well, you know, the thing that was interesting, when you -- we sort of watched President Trump on China evolve. During the campaign he was incredibly tough on China, basically all but saying that he was going to declare a trade war with China once he got into the White House.

Then he got into the White House, and he has been much less aggressive on trade than I think everybody thought he would be. He sort of hinted in the past that the reason for that kind of backing off the trade issue is because he was trying to get China to help on North Korea.

This was, though, the first time that he's ever said explicitly that he is going soft on China. And ironically, it came on a day that he was sort of being hard on China, you know, kind of focusing on these reports that the Chinese were secretly giving oil to North Korea, which would undermine the idea of pressure on that regime. And so it was a kind of mixed message day, where in the tweet earlier in the day he's tough on China and then in the interview, you know, he's sort of talking about going soft on them. braggadocios One of the striking things in the interview was, of

course, his view of himself. There was -- there was a bit of braggadocios nature, as we all know. But sometimes in print, it is just interesting to read it. Here is a little excerpt: "No. 1, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressman and senators. I love them, and they love me. And No. 2, I know more about the big bills than any president that's ever been in office. Whether it's health care and taxes. Especially taxes. I couldn't have persuaded 100 congressmen to go along with this bill. I was a great student and all this stuff. 'Oh, he doesn't know the details.' These are sick people."

[07:05:22] So I mean, it is very important to him. He said this repeatedly, of how smart he is. But I had not heard him before say that he knows more than any president that's ever been in office.

SHEAR: Yes. I mean, I think the interesting line in that, in what you read, I think, was when he sort of mockingly is describing or deriding the description of him as, "Oh, you don't know the details." Because I think what that shows is that have been, during the course of the tax debate in Congress but also in other articles. I had an article about immigration that I quoted people saying that he -- you know, he doesn't, you know, embrace the kind of detailed analysis of immigration. People have said it about health care.

And what's telling about that -- that passage that you read is that he so much focuses on that criticism. And it really rankles him. He likes to see himself not as a kind of above-it-all guy. You could embrace that. If you were Donald Trump, you might embrace the idea that, "Look, I don't get into weeds. I just sort of manage the big picture." But he doesn't want to embrace that. He wants to be the best at everything and thinks that he's the best at everything. And so it just -- you can see that it just tears him up.

CAMEROTA: I mean, he's the person who said, "Who knew how complicated health care is" after diving into it. So we're just, in some part, quoting him. But Michael Shear, thank you very much for sharing the reporting and the article with us. Really fascinating to read this morning.

SHEAR: Sure. Happy to do it.


WEIR: Good "get" for "The Times." Let's broaden the conversation out and bring in Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor for CNN Politics; and CNN political analyst David Drucker.

So Chris, just broad strokes, who do you think he was talking to with this interview? You know, because he tweets to the base. And you've got to think that "The New York Times" interview is -- there's some motivation behind it. Was it to get the "no collusion" bottom line out there 16 times? Do you think maybe he was talking to Robert Mueller, you know, between the lines here?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, Bill, let me suggest that at least the possibility that we have to assume that there was some broad strategy behind this maybe not right.

I think he--

WEIR: OK. Good point.

CILLIZZA: I think, I mean, Alisyn said this leading into her conversation with Mike Shear. I think he had finished playing golf and was, you know -- he's at his club. He's president of the United States. He's on Christmas break. Sort of feeling pretty good about himself. Got the -- got the tax bill passed. The economy is doing well, and he saw a guy he's known, Mike Schmidt, through "New York Times" and New York's political circles for a long time, and thought, "You know what? I'm going to sit down and run through some things with him."

I would say, look, does the "no collusion" -- if he didn't give this interview, would we not know that Donald Trump doesn't think there is collusion? You know what I mean? Like, he's made that -- yes, he made it very clear in that interview. Yes, he has made it very clear before.

You know, he has his Twitter feed if he wants to speak to the base. I think this was Donald Trump. This is his hometown newspaper. He is someone who we know, despite what he says, cares deeply about what the media thinks about him. And he decided to do it.

Remember, no staff present. No staff aware he was doing it.


CILLIZZA: I'm not sure this was sort of a planned--

CAMEROTA: Strategy.

CILLIZZA: -- strike.

WEIR: Yes. I'm sorry for -- forgive me for overthinking it.

But he did, David, specifically say, "There's one thing you should cover more, and that is Roy Moore." He was talking about the problem with the loss and that Luther Strange was brought up way before the endorsement, almost won. "I never thought Roy was going to win. And I wish you would cover that more."

It's not about the country. It's not about the makeup of the Senate. It's that "I want credit for calling this. You know, I made that prediction. And I don't get the credit."

CAMEROTA: But he didn't make it out loud. I mean, again, this is one of these that, if he never thought that Roy Moore was going to win, why did he endorse him?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think he ever thought that Luther Strange was going to win either. So we'll take that with a grain of salt. Look, I'm with Chris on this that the president is a sort of walking political id, and he does what strikes him when it strikes him. He cares very much about his hometown paper. I think it's a validation for him that "The New York Times" cares about what he has to say. And I think that's why, of all of the media outlets that he talks to, at least media outlets considered mainstream, "The New York Times," not understanding the stature of "The New York Times," as well, but I think that it holds a special place in the president's heart because of growing up in New York City and what "The Times" meant to New York and Manhattan and how important all of that was for him.

[07:10:13] Look, the Roy Moore situation is interesting, because the president had an out. If he didn't think that Roy Moore could win after the revelations from the "Washington Post" on the sexual misconduct that he was accused of, the president could have easily you sat this one out. And even though he said he felt that he had to endorse -- endorse Roy Moore, because he was the leader of the party, well, it might make some Republicans, in an odd way, feel good that the president felt he had to stick by Republicans because of his leadership of the party. That's never stopped him before. He has beaten up Republicans left and right when it suited him, notwithstanding that he's the leader of the party. And it's hurt had his own agenda at times. It helped his agenda on tax reform that he didn't beat up members of his own party.

So I think that's the president trying to save face there, because he does not like to lose, and he does not like to be associated with a loss.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And that is -- of course we know that. But I think that that plays into one of the other headlines of this interview, Chris, is that he talks about the Russia meddling and what bothers him so much: "I think it's bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about the timing, I think it's very bad for the country, because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out" -- he's talking about the investigation -- "the better it is for the country. But there's tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party."

So in other words, he doesn't like the Mueller investigation because it makes the country look -- I mean, I'm just extrapolating -- weak, I guess? It makes the country look vulnerable? He doesn't like those things?

CILLIZZA: Well, you have to extrapolate, Alisyn, because he doesn't explain.

CAMEROTA: That's right.

CILLIZZA: Right? I mean, "It makes the country look bad." I think you -- if you sub in "me" for "the country" you get--

WEIR: Me, yes.

CAMEROTA: Then it makes sense. CILLIZZA: -- get more to what he's going for, and he makes that clear

with that last quote about collusion, Democratic Party.

Let me -- just a very quick fact check for roughly the billionth time. The reason that there's a special counsel investigation into Russia's attempted interference in the election, possible collusion is not because of the Democrats or the dossier that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee paid for by this guy, Chris Steele, former British spy. That is not the center of this investigation.

The reason it is, is because Rod Rosenstein, who is a deputy attorney general in the Trump Justice Department, decided that was the best way forward and appointed someone in Bob Mueller who's a Republican who was appointed to the FBI, as FBI director, by George W. Bush.

So I think it is important to separate out what Donald Trump is saying from the facts that we know about this investigation. He's doing it because, in his mind, it's all one big thing. But if you pull it apart factually, it's just not.

WEIR: He also goes after Paul Manafort a little bit in this, trying to distance himself from the campaign manager who was charged with obstruction of justice and money laundering: "I've always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man. I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months."

CAMEROTA: As campaign manager.

WEIR: As campaign manager. "He worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, Bob Dole, many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you're talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him."

If we flipped it around, David, and if Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, if Robby Mook was -- had an ankle bracelet on somewhere right now, after other national security advisor was -- had already pled guilty and was cooperating, I have a feeling that there'd be a different tone when it comes to the--

DRUCKER: Maybe. I mean, who knows? Republicans don't necessarily like to investigate Hillary Clinton. It gives them no joy whatsoever.

Hey, look, guys. I mean, this is -- this is situational politics at its best. The president obviously wants to distance himself from Paul Manafort, who was the key player in his campaign after they dumped Corey Lewandowski and, for the first time in that whole effort, brought in a real professional.

Paul Manafort has a very shady background, as we've all learned. But he was the first person in that campaign that really knew how to run something. And he was crucial to President Trump, then-candidate Trump making sure that he won the delegates he needed at that convention.

And if the tables were turned, actually, we don't even have to turn the tables, because congressional Republicans are busy investigating Hillary Clinton, or attempting to, and I think that that will go on for some time, and she lost.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

WEIR: He did say he was going to attract the best people, right? So you can't have it both ways. It's either the best people came on your campaign or "I didn't know the guy. Don't blame me."

Anyway, Chris, David, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, guys.

All right. President Trump say he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly. That's, of course, a stark contrast to recent attacks on Mueller from many of the president's allies. So we'll speak to a Republican congressman about where he stands on this now. That's next.


[07:18:59] CAMEROTA: President Trump tells "The New York Times" that he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be fair to him, but he said this of the investigation: "The only thing that bothers me, about timing. I think it's a very bad thing for the country, because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better."

Joining us now to talk about this and more is Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R), ILLINOIS: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you. So what does the president mean when he says the Mueller investigation makes the country, the U.S., look bad?

DAVIS: Well, it's never good for any country to have an investigation, one. Let alone three going on against a perceived slight for the administration. So it is bad, perception-wise. But I think we have to look at some of the successes of this administration and working with the Republican Congress over the last year, too, and also give credit where credit is due.

CAMEROTA: I hear you, and we will get to the tax bill. I do want to get to that with you. But first, just about this investigation, look, the U.S. tries to get to the bottom of things that go wrong. I mean, that's what we do in this democracy.

[07:20:08] So it sounds like the president is saying that an investigation makes the country look vulnerable somehow or look weak. And do you agree with that?

DAVIS: I don't think the president means that the country is going to look weak on the world stage. I just think it's a blemish, the fact that we've got one investigation, let alone three right now that are currently going on to address issues related to the last election.

I think the president is clear in his distaste for the disarray that any investigation causes. And I think its just -- I think he's right to say that.

CAMEROTA: So what is the president doing to make sure that the meddling of Russia doesn't happen again?

DAVIS: Well, I think it's not just the president that is concerned about this. All of us are, Alisyn. As a matter of fact, I think the president is doing exactly what he said he was going to do: let the investigations play out. Let the professionals at the Department of Justice with the special counsel. Also let the professionals of the House and the Senate intelligence committees that are investigating this process, too. Let's let the evidence play out and see where it goes.

CAMEROTA: What about the deterrence for Russia to not do it again?

DAVIS: Well, there should always be deterrence. But let's also take a step back and look at the last election. Remember, our elections are not held at the federal level. Our elections are held in -- at the level and overseen by county courthouses just like the one here in Springfield, Illinois, where I'm at.

I don't think anybody believes that Russia hacked into each -- each individual voting machine in the precinct and had any effect on the outcome of the election. Frankly, I think the outcome of the election was sealed because many mistakes were made on behalf of the Clinton campaign. And successes in strategies were put forth by the Trump campaign.

CAMEROTA: Sure. And nobody says that the income -- listen, nobody says that the outcome was altered. The question is, since we know that Russia meddled, if you believe the intel community, so what is the president doing about it? Because it does feel as though the president is -- is sometimes so upset about the investigation into his campaign that he's not taking any steps to deter this from happening again. What exactly is the president doing?

DAVIS: Well, I don't think the president should or could do anything, because there's an investigation going on.

CAMEROTA: You don't think that the president of the United States should do anything to deter Russian meddling?

DAVIS: The president and all of us should deter Russian meddling. But again, let's take a step back and--

CAMEROTA: But how?

DAVIS: -- what was that meddling? Was it Facebook ads?

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's one.

DAVIS: I mean, are those what determined Hillary Clinton for being -- so basically, if I as a candidate for Congress the next time, put out the same percentage of Facebook ads, is that going to make sure that I win my race overwhelmingly? No. Come on.

The American people are the ones that chose President Trump. And the investigations into this possible collusion that no evidence has been shown to exist--


DAVIS: -- that's going to play out in these investigations that are free from party politics.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I understand, Congressman, but I think you and I are talking about two separate things. What I'm talking about is the intel agencies that put together these sweeping recommendations of what to do. There's something like a half a dozen specific operations that the CIA and other intel agencies have said can be done to try to deter Russia, who will try to do it again or are currently trying to do it again.

And for some reason, the Trump administration hasn't acted on any of those. Why not?

DAVIS: Well, I don't know how to answer that question. But what I can tell you, Alisyn, is that it's also going to be up to some of these American companies, these tech companies, to ensure that they don't have a process and a platform that allows for any country, let alone our adversaries in Russia, to try and interfere with not just the electoral processes in the future but also financial processes and other issues that are very important to the American economy.

CAMEROTA: OK. To taxes. I want to make sure that we get to this before the time runs out. The treasurer of Macon County, one of the ones that you represent, says that they've seen unprecedented levels of people showing up to pay their 2018 property taxes early, because they're so afraid that they will be hit with a whopping bill next year.

So what do you say to the folks in your district who say that this tax plan is actually going to hurt them next year?

DAVIS: Well, we don't believe that's the case. And if you look at my district right now, Macon County, Sangamon County where I'm at right now, and Christian County where I live and others, 75 percent of my constituents don't itemize to begin with, under the current tax policy. A doubling of the standard deduction--

CAMEROTA: What about the 25 percent that do and are rushing to the treasury -- to the treasurer's office?

DAVIS: Well, I think there's -- I think there's a little disarray and misunderstanding of what this tax bill is going to do. Because when you look at the overall statistics in my district, Alisyn, less than 10 percent of my constituents actually have a tax bill that has a SALT deduction and a property tax bill of over $10,000. [07:25:17] This isn't New York City, Alisyn. It's a much different

area. So less than 1 percent of the 10 percent of constituents I represent fall into that level.

But we're also reducing the overall rates for them. When you look at this tax bill, it's going to be a benefit across the board. But the focus of this tax cut, the focus of the highest percentage of tax relief, go to middle-income and lower-income families. And that's exactly what our goal was when we wrote this bill.

CAMEROTA: OK. Congressman Rodney Davis, thank you very much for talking with us about all of these issues this morning. Happy new year.

DAVIS: Thanks for having me, Alisyn.


WEIR: Alisyn, President Trump claims he knows more about the new tax plan than the greatest CPAs. Is that true? One of the campaign advisers who helped write the tax bill says so and will join us next.


WEIR: President Trump is taking on critics who claim he does not know the deals [SIC] of important legislation like health care and taxes. But he tells "The New York Times," "I know the details of taxes better than anybody."