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Trump to NYT: "Think Mueller Will Be Fair"; DOJ Has Until Monday to Appeal Ruling on Transgender Recruits; Will be Summer Before Some Puerto Ricans Get Power. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:34:04] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: President Trump has long called the Russia investigation a witch hunt and a hoax. Recently, he and other Republicans have begun attacking the top FBI officials by questioning impartiality and suggesting they were part of an elaborate conspiracy to stop him from becoming president. Now, however, President Trump seems to be cautiously optimistic about the special counsel's investigation. He's telling the "New York Times," quote, "There has been no collusion, but I think he is going to be fair."

The "he" there referring to Robert Mueller. Do his Republican counterparts in Congress feel the same way?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger from North Carolina.

Thank you, sir, for spending part of your holiday week with up. We do appreciate it.

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Happy Friday to you. Hope you are well.

KEILAR: Happy Friday.

Congressman, when Mueller was first appointed as special counsel, Republicans praised his credentials. He is a Republican and served the Bush administration, the Bush tenure. Recently, we have been hearing Republicans raising questions about his investigation, taking aim at the DOJ and the FBI. Your colleague, Francis Rooney, calling for a purge of the FBI and the DOJ. Where do you stand on Robert Mueller and his investigation? Do you trust him?

[13:35:25] PITTENGER: Well, I don't think that Mr. Mueller served himself well in keeping on some folks inside the department of the investigation that he, frankly, should have been aware of and should have let go of sometime back. I think that affected him and in some measure discredited him. I think it's important that --


KEILAR: Do you mean Peter Strzok? I want to understand what you are saying. Do you mean Peter Strzok and Bruce Ohr?

PITTENGER: Strzok, McCabe. You have to realize by the folks you associate yourself with, you are considered to be part of them and carry that same mantra. I think it's reasonable for any observer as they take a look at this to say, you know, you could have led with above approach quite a bit more.

KEILAR: He got rid of Strzok from the investigation. That was insufficient in your opinion?

PITTENGER: And McCabe, Andrew McCabe. That's the problem as well. I think --


KEILAR: What about McCabe is a problem to you?

PITTENGER: I think he allowed much of this to happen inside the department. He was aware of it. I think you got to be above reproach. If he wants to convey and he wants his legacy in this important time in our country to demonstrate that he did the right thing and he was never questioned, I think that's what America is counting on.

KEILAR: What evidence is there to you that bias has infiltrated the investigation?

PITTENGER: Well, I think, again, you look at the association of people. You look at the individuals who are alongside of him, and you have a number of people, of course, who have been very supportive of Mrs. Clinton and her campaigns. And maybe that plays out in the benefit for the president, at the end of the day, when he's cleared and there is no wrong-doing, we can say certainly it wasn't political because many of the folks involved were major contributors to Mrs. Clinton.

KEILAR: You are more concerned there could be an infiltration of bias, but it doesn't sound like you are saying there is anything definitively where you're seeing bias, that you are aware of at this point.

PITTENGER: Years ago, remember Leon Jaworski? A very principled man. He was a above reproach in every respect. He led an investigation and America trusted what he had to say. There was nothing that hung on to anything he was a part of that you ever questioned. I think that's the importance of the role that Mr. Mueller has. That he has allowed himself to be entrapped with other individuals that are associated with him or work for him, directly or indirectly, that affects his reputation.

KEILAR: But it's a reputational -- I want to be clear, because you are a member of Congress you are privy to details that the public is not. You are not aware of specific evidence that there is an infiltration of bias that has substantively affected this investigation? It's just a concern that it could?

PITTENGER: You would have to have an investigation into that? Maybe that's warranted. I think, by every appearance, as I've said, there are a number of people on the side that certainly demonstrated significant bias against the president. And frankly --


KEILAR: What do you want investigated? What part do you think should be investigated?

PITTENGER: At the end of the day, what role they played, and what was their objective, what interest did they have? I think --

KEILAR: In what? Which part? I'm saying, what do you want to investigate?

PITTENGER: Politically. I mean, this has --


KEILAR: But are you talking about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? What case are you talking about? What is the question that you would have pertaining to what work they have done specifically.

PITTENGER: Sure. Yes, ma'am. The association of the individuals, as I said, who are involved with Mr. Mueller. And where their perspective came from, what they did and what they conveyed, what they e-mailed out, what the relationships were. I think this all becomes relevant.

KEILAR: OK, and so beyond the e-mails and the texts, which I think you had a chance to see, right? Some of these e-mails and texts that you have seen from within the agency?


KEILAR: Is there something more you want investigated?

[13:40:03] PITTENGER: Well, what you have is what you see as of today. Is there more out there that needs to be reviewed? I don't know that. I want Mr. Mueller, at the end of the day, to be able to hold his head high, as Mr. Jaworski did. Jaworski was a Democrat, but he was highly regarded and highly respected as he completed his assignment. I think the American people want to be able to trust Mr. Mueller, but many people from the left and the Democrats as well have spoken out with concerns about the role he has had and the associations he had that affected his reputation.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Robert Pittenger, from North Carolina, thank you so much. A very happy New Year to you and your family.

We'll be right back.


KEILAR: Earlier this year, President Trump said he planned to bar transgender people from serving in the military, but, on Monday, the Pentagon is under court order to open up the ranks. The question is whether or not the Trump administration will try to stop it.

I'm joined by CNN Supreme Court reporter, Ariane de Vogue.

And the clock is ticking. How did we get to this point?

[13:45:02] ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: It is. It is. Barring court action, transgender people are going to be able to apply on January 1st. I talked to man from Ohio yesterday and he is excited, but nervous. He has reason to be nervous. This thing is still really tangled up in the courts.

So for a little background. The Obama administration allowed transgender people to serve openly. They had put a future date for new recruits. And Trump came in and reversed the policies and he sent out the August memo saying he didn't want them to serve. But the court, so far, has frozen key parts of that memo and said, look, we will let that January 1st deadline stand. That's where we are now.

KEILAR: Do you think that the government is going to appeal this or are all indications no?

DE VOGUE: Right now, they are not saying if they will appeal. We are talking about next week. If they did, they would go to the Supreme Court. They've always said it's premature to bring these legal challenges. But the DOD is still looking into this. So far, they have not said they are going to appeal. So we could see this happening next week.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much. Really appreciate that.

CNN is on the ground in Puerto Rico now as power is being restored in one town 100 days after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. We'll tell you why many could still be without power for months, next.


[13:50:40] KEILAR: It has been 100 days since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as category 4 storm, and many residents still living in the dark. Although electricity is slowly coming back to the island, officials estimate some rural areas could be without power until summertime.

Leyla Santiago has more.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's more than a flip of the switch.


SANTIAGO: Finally, a hint of what life was like before Hurricane Maria.


SANTIAGO: After more than three months without power --


SANTIAGO -- Ida is one of the lucky few who just got power.


SANTIAGO (on camera): Hot water. She's able to take a hot shower.


That's what she's excited about, a hot shower.

(voice-over): The coop in south eastern Puerto Rico now has a massive generator to power substation. It's enough to power part of the town, not a permanent solution. Not enough to turn the lights back on for all 38,000 people.

(on camera): This has always been known for its agriculture. Now it's known for that area where Hurricane Maria came in with 155-mile- per-hour winds knocking out electricity immediately.

The mayor says he doesn't know when power will be restored, so believes they were the first to deal with Maria and they could be the last.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): The mayor was born and raised in these mountains near the coast. He calls Maria a "monster that destroyed them."


SANTIAGO (on camera): He's saying the urban area could get power very soon, but this area, the mountainous area, it could be summer before they see it. Which, take note, summer is when the hurricane season begins.

(voice-over): Miles away from town, high up in the mountains, where the power lines are, Cheryl de Jesus has little hope her home will be back to normal soon. Maria rushed in through the windows and doors and ruined more than furniture. It ruined her life. For now, new paint is all she can afford to fix any of it.

(on camera): She has no idea when she'll get power back.


SANTIAGO: I'm asking her if she thinks it will be soon.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): Without power, Cheryl and her children lost more than the lights.


SANTIAGO (on camera): Without power, they don't have water.

(voice-over): The mayor says the problem, constant bureaucratic delays.

(on camera): For a month they had power workers here, but not enough materials to actually carry out the work.



SANTIAGO (voice-over): The mayor calls this is a start. He says they need more generators, power pools, cables.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers admits a shortage of supplies sent to other natural disasters is part of the reason it took so long to get power back to people like Ida.


SANTIAGO: She doesn't have to wash clothes by hand anymore.


SANTIAGO: Back in town, Ida will spend tonight in a home, overjoyed. Power is the best Christmas gift they could ask for.

But for the families up in the mountains, the sun sets on another night as they wait for their gift to arrive.


KEILAR: Leyla Santiago joining us now from Puerto Rico.

It's so heartwarming to see folks who are so happy to finally be getting their utilities back.

But tell us more about people who will not possibly have power until the summer. I mean, it's almost unfathomable that U.S. territory could have power out for more than a year.

SANTIAGO: Right. U.S. citizens up in the mountains, like that family you heard from. The two children haven't had power from before powerful Irma, so hitting 115 days without power. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say it could be May until they have any sort of power in the more remote areas.

But Brianna, just in the last hour, the governor has announced he would like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand its capacity. And he's now asking for 1,000 to 1,500 more workers, more utility workers from the states on this island working to restore power in Puerto Rico.

[13:55:11] KEILAR: All right. Leyla Santiago, in San Juan, thank you so much for that report.

We'll take a break and we'll be right back.


[13:59:43] KEILAR: Well, whatever you were doing this holiday weekend, make sure you ring in 2018 with CNN New Year's Eve special, hosted by Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. Guaranteed to be unforgettable. This Sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern.

That is it for me. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern on "THE SITUATION ROOM."

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next.

For our viewers in North American, NEWSROOM with Ana Cabrera starts right now.