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Pence Swearing in Two New Democrats; Bannon on Trump Junior Meeting; Fusion GPS Op-Ed Offers New Clues; Romney Possible Run in Utah. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:16] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

Any moment Vice President Mike Pence will swear in two new Democratic senators, just in time for another government shutdown deadline.

Plus, Steve Bannon calls two of the president's family members treasonous for attending a 2016 meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And President Trump's combative and colorful tweets on North Korea's dictator shock and concern some in the intelligence community.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There are potentially millions of lives at stake, an untold death and destruction here. And, to me, it's very -- very disturbing. But certainly no one in the White House knows what is Kim Jong-un's ignition point where one of these tweets is going to set him off and he's going to hit that button.


BASH: But first let's go to Capitol Hill where Democrats Tina Smith and Doug Jones will be sworn in any moment on the Senate floor. Jones' win in Alabama las month narrowed the Republicans majority in the Senate to just two seats.

CNN's congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, I think there's a lot of -- been a lot of question right now is, what kind of senators are Tina Smith and Doug Jones going to actually make. Well Doug Jones vote with Republicans because of the state he comes from?

Here's, I think, what's important. You look at it from a practical purpose. Fifty-one Republican senators now. That means that Democrats basically only need to take one or two senators away to block any nomination. But more importantly, given the deals that have to be made and what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for, bipartisanship, to really get anything done over the course of the next eight to 12 months, you recognize that these are two individuals, Tina Smith up for re-election in 2018, Doug Jones, from a very red state, who will likely be in play for any type of bipartisan deal. We all talk about the ten senators that come from Trump won states that are running in 2018. Well, now add two more Democrats to that group that people will always be watching to see if there's a bipartisan deal to be made, where is that group of Democrats, because, remember, Dana, with 51 senators, that means Republicans are going to need at least nine Democrats, likely more, for anything bipartisan they want to do. Keep those two Democrats in mind whenever those deals are coming to pass.

BASH: And, Phil, these are such, you know, sort of classic, ceremonial moments.


BASH: Today will be really interesting. Three VPs are going to be at the swearing in?

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's right, Vice President Mike Pence was going to be there. He, traditionally, the vice president, comes in to swear them in. But also, take a look at the picture that the vice president's office just tweeted out. Joe Biden also there. Walter Mondale also there.

Now, it's worth noting, Tina Smith worked for Walter Mondale's 2002 Senate campaign. Joe Biden is accompanying Doug Jones.

And, Dana, we all remember every single January, early January, Joe Biden's role swearing in senators, which was must watch TV for about an hour and a half here.

Look, this is ceremonial. This is important. It's taking place in what I think is the best room in the Capitol, the old Senate chamber. Think Webster Clay Calhoun. All of that happening. But kind of the historic moment, not just two new senators being sworn in, but three living vice presidents in the room at the same time. It sounds maybe perhaps a little bit too light, but it's pretty cool if you ask me.

BASH: Absolutely. No question about it. And I should say, as you're talking, Phil, the current vice president, Mike Pence, is beginning the ceremony, sitting in his seat as the Senate president chamber.

Should we listen?

OK, we can't hear anything. When we begin to hear, we will get back to it.

There's Vice President Joe Biden walking up with Doug Jones, who is about to be sworn in as the next senator from Alabama.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please raise your right hands and repeat -- and prepare to respond.

Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?



PENCE: Congratulations, senators.

[12:05:12] BASH: You just saw the swearing in of two new United States senators. I mentioned Doug Jones, who is the new senator from Alabama. We all watched that very, very contentious race, the first Democratic senator now from Alabama in more than a quart century. And also Tina Smith, who certainly never expected to be where she is today as the new senator representing the state of Minnesota. She has been appointed to replace Al Franken, who, of course, resigned last month amid charges of sexual misconduct.

I think our Phil Mattingly is still with us.

Phil, what do you make of the moment and maybe, more importantly, how this plays in to the dynamic that you're going to see in this very important year and -- never mind year, first month of a lot of must- pass legislation that's before the Senate.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think, Dana, and you know this as well as anybody, you kind of have to look at 2018 through a different lens than you look at 2017. 2017 was to take the football analogy here, where Republicans were throwing the deep ball twice on two major must pass items and through a vehicle that allowed them to pass something with just a simple majority. Everything they have to do in 2018, they are going to need Democrats for. And that means losing one Republican seat, adding Doug Jones, adding Tina Smith, as well, these are people that are going to have to be in the room, or at least at the table, for any of these major bipartisan deals that they have to make.

Now, move infrastructure aside for a minute. That's obviously the big agenda item that the Trump administration, that Republicans here are looking at right now. But you made the key point, by January (INAUDIBLE) they have to have a spending deal. They need to figure out a solution for DACA. They need to figure out a solution to the Children's Health Insurance Program. They need to figure out a solution for a -- what the intelligence community calls a must pass reauthorization of a key intelligence community program. All of these things have to be done in a matter of weeks. These senators are not going to get a chance to adjust. They are now in the game and they will be key players in all of these deals as they're made, if not because they're writing a legislation or helping to draft a legislation, but their votes are going to be needed Dana, for everything that happens over the course, not just of the next couple of weeks, but really the next year.

BASH: And it's worth underscoring that the United States Senate is now basically a one-seat majority for Republicans. Two votes, if you include the vice president for tie-breaking votes. We're going to get to that a little later in the show.

Phil, thank you so much for walking us through that ceremony and that important moment in the U.S. Senate.

Now we're going to turn to some extraordinary remarks by a former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. According to "The Guardian," Bannon is sounding off against Donald Trump Junior and Jared Kushner, calling their 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer treasonous. In a new book obtained by the publication, Bannon says the three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room of the 25th floor -- he's talking about Trump Tower -- with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad expletive, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz joins me now.

And, Shimon, I have to say, listening to -- or reading those words from Steve Bannon, you could insert any Democrat's name in there talking about what the view of that meeting was.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right. And you can -- that is exactly right. And it is now a focus of the special counsel's investigation, that meeting. And here we see Bannon really going after that investigation. He goes after Don Junior, as you say, for the meeting at Trump Tower.

Now, keep in mind, you know, as we know, there's really no love lost, you know, between Bannon and Kushner. So it's really no surprise he goes after him.

But I think, you know, him going after the son, Don Junior, that is interesting. And, you know, I think people who talk to Bannon are probably not surprised by any of this. But, you know, these kinds of statements by Bannon could easily and just really rile up the president even more because he's talked about -- the president has talked about this red line concerning Mueller's investigation. And now if you look at the Manafort indictment and you look and see what that was really all about, it really all has to do with money, some of what Bannon is talking about in this book.

So in some ways, while we don't think Bannon has any insight into the investigation, he is talking about issues that other people close to the president have raised to me and others at CNN about their concerns for what the special counsel investigation has become. And I think this quote, you know, much in this story in "The Guardian," you know, there's a lot of quotes here from Bannon and this one particular quote really sums up Bannon's thinking on the investigation. And it is where he says, you realize where this is going, that this is all about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann -- this is one of the prosecutors -- first and he is a money laundering guy. Money laundering guy. Now their path to expletive, Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Junior and Jared Kushner. And it's as plain as a hair on your face.

[12:10:24] I mean that is a pretty stunning quote and it kind of takes the idea and the thoughts that so many people who have concerns on Trump's side about this investigation, Dana.

BASH: Shimon, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

And here at the table to share their reporting and insights, Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal's" Michael Bender, Asawin Suebsaeng from "The Daily Beast" and Eliana Johnson from "Politico."

Hi, everybody. Thanks for being here.

Let's start where Shimon left off about this wild set of quotes that are apparently in a new book about, you know, what goes on inside the White House. The notion of money laundering and the fact that this may be what the Mueller investigation is ultimately going to go after, as Shimon said, that's something that, you know, is a fear.

We should note that it's hard to imagine that Bannon has actual inside knowledge into it. He was maybe more pontificating about what he thinks based on who Mueller has hired and the experience there.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And also what he knows of the people in Trump's inner circle.

BAS: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: He's taking his own experience plus what he's reading from Mueller's moves that have been made public and making these conclusions.

But there were various contacts with, you know, Russian officials who were tied to investment banks. Why would you do that if there isn't some money involved there? So these are open questions that have been out there. The thing that's really striking is seeing somebody who was Trump's top guy on the campaign for a period of time saying that this is treasonous. I mean that is a line that not even all Democrats have been willing to say up until this point. So the fact that you have, you know, Bannon, his former chief strategist in the White House, coming out and putting this out there makes -- it ruptures what the GOP has been trying to do, which is to say there's nothing there to see.

BASH: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: This is going to exonerate the president. It's going to all be OK. When you have this sort of thing thrown in there, that's a real lighted match in (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Right. And he said -- and we should say, Bannon was not part of the campaign until after this happened.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Right. Right, of course. Yes.

BASH: He took over after Manafort was fired about a month or two months later.

But just the idea of him saying that what they should have done was called the FBI because that's what you do. Again, that is what every Democrat and many Republicans who have worked in campaigns have been saying about that meeting. That is the protocol. It's 101.

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes. And I -- just to take a step back, the way I read those quotes is, that's just the way that Bannon talks.

BASH: No question.

BENDER: He's very confident about, you know, when he has a thought and he wants to project something, it's sort of -- he states it as a statement of fact instead of -- you know, he's not one for hedging. And we see that with the treasonous statement. And he's also very confident that he had nothing to do with any of these Russia questions. That's one thing that had to sort of back up that point.

In the stories about Russia over the last year, no one has put Bannon in the room on these Russia talks. And he's leveraged that every chance he can off the record and now on the record. And when it comes to, you know, there was -- this thought about him going after the family, he's not going to do -- he's not going to step too far away from where Trump is. And going after Don Junior is frankly different than going after Ivanka Trump.

BASH: It -- yes.

BENDER: Trump has -- himself has emasculated his own boys in front of other people.

BASH: He has.

BENDER: And Bannon is kind of doing now what -- in public what he has seen happen in private.

BASH: And he -- and there's no love loss with him and Jared Kushner.

I want to turn to something that is going on today and around the investigation from people who have been kind of knee deep in it. And it's Glen Simpson and Peter Frisch. They are the sort of leaders of this organization, this group called Fusion GPS. They were involved in helping to get the infamous dossier collected and put together. And for political clients, I should say. And they said something very interesting because the whole question has been whether or not this dossier was what triggered the FBI investigation. And I just want to read. It's rather lengthy but I think really important. Here's what they said.

Our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp. The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet, lawmakers, in the thrall of the president, continued to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.

[12:15:11] So defending their work, but also giving some breadcrumbs to those of us wondering what is going on inside the investigation and how much more do they know.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. They're definitely signaling that there are a lot more shoes to drop, certainly a department store's worth of them. But in doing this, they're also pushing back on the fact that the Steele dossier has become an ultimate boogeyman, not just within conservative media, but within Trump's inner circle and a hell of a lot of lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, on Capitol Hill. They see it as sort of the ground zero of what is potential corruption, perhaps even within the FBI or DOJ itself.

So this was a clear effort on their part to get out and finally say, this is why we're not what you keep portraying us as.

ELIANA JOHNSON, "POLITICO": I do think that in the op-ed that appeared in "The Times" by the Fusion founders, they make some distinctions that are not really substantive differences. So they say that they didn't spark the FBI investigation, but that the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, the British intelligence officer, went to the FBI, independent of their investigation, and provided them with intelligence that was worrisome. I can't imagine that the intelligence he provided the FBI with was all that substantively different from the information that appeared in the dossier, which was what he was producing for a client. So it does seem to me that the Steele dossier was worrisome in that it corroborated pre-existing information and that the author of the dossier independently went to FBI. It seems like there's a whole lot of overlap to me here and that, as a result, it was the Steele dossier in part that did spark this investigation.

BASH: Right, and they're not saying it's not that -- it's not that it wasn't part of the reason for the investigation at all.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think they're trying to say it wasn't the soul --

BASH: Exactly.


BASH: Exactly.

JOHNSON: Impetus for it.

BASH: Exactly.

DEMIRJIAN: We're getting like a crash course basically on how the FBI does its work as we're watching all of this unfold. I mean of course they're going to have multiple sources that are talking about similar things if they're going to actually act on it and build a case, right? So -- but, yes, it upsets the political balance because each party is trying to find, especially the GOP, something to point to and say, this was all for a different purpose. And it's not as clean as it would be convenient to have it be for the politicians and -- BASH: Right. Exactly.

All right, everybody stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

And, up next, new members of the Senate, who we just saw being sworn in, and a new reality for Republicans.

Plus, now that Senator Orrin Hatch is calling it quits, all eyes are on Mitt Romney. Will he throw his name in now that a Utah seat is up for grabs?

Stay with us.


[12:21:42] BASH: With today's swearing in ceremonies, the U.S. Senate now officially has two new members, no more empty seats, and absolutely no room for defections, if you're the Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Fifty-one-49 is a pretty -- is a pretty tight majority.


BASH: Understatement of the year. That makes the stakes for November's midterm election even higher. And some familiar names could be on ballots for the U.S. Senate. None bigger than Mitt Romney. He hasn't announced he is running, but just yesterday, he changed his Twitter location from Massachusetts to Utah after long-time Senator Orrin Hatch announced he will retire when his term ends at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty may run for the Senate for Al Franken's old seat, the one he left behind in Minnesota that Tina Smith now sits in. She was sworn in, as you saw just at the beginning of the show, and she will only hold the seat until the end of the year.

So, everybody, thanks again for coming back in.

I think that this Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney situation and the question about whether Mitt Romney is going to run is so fascinating. As somebody who has watched former executives, former governors, former kind of alpha individuals try to get into the Senate and to be one of 100, it is a tough transition.

So my first question is, why does he want it? Why would he want it, I should say?

JOHNSON: I think that's a fantastic question. It occurred to me, why does this guy keep trying to take bites at the apple? You remember there was the big question of why he was going -- whether he was going to run in 2016 after failing pretty spectacularly in 2012. The guy has a great life, a beautiful family and why would he want to get back in this thing now.

And I think it's the same sort of bug that you see in every senator, you know, when you talk to their aides. They say every single one of these guys wants to be president. And it's why Orrin Hatch is not retiring until the age of 83 and why so many of these guys stick around, you know, sort of long after their expiration dates. They get bitten by the political bug and continue to want to serve.

BASH: OK, because you said that, we have something I was going to get to later in the segment, but you completely teed it up. So let's put up the ages of some of the most powerful senators in both parties who chair or are the top of the -- ranking member in their committees. Check that out. You can see the ages. They all start with an eight. And, look, they range from 80 to 84, all of those senators who are really running things on Capitol Hill. No ageism here. Just a note of where things really stand.

JOHNSON: Just science.

BASH: Just science.

BENDER: Is that what we're deciding here, that Mitt Romney's doing this so he can feel young again?

BASH: Maybe.

SUEBSAENG: Comparatively, he's a tween.

JOHNSON: His hair hasn't gone white yet, completely.

BENDER: And you bring up the point about being an executive in a legislative body. But he's also -- he's also a moderate in an increasingly conservative party.

BASH: That's a great point.

BENDER: You know, I mean, is Mitt Romney going to be any more effective than Jeff Flake was? I mean Jeff Flake was -- is an important voice in the Senate, no question. But, you know, he's leaving for a reason. And I don't think it's 100 percent that, you know, that he's concerned about getting re-elected. I think there's a bit there that he just can't get anything done anymore.

[12:25:09] BASH: Well and -- go ahead.

SUEBSAENG: I think there's a bit of a tendency in national political news media to overplay how much Mitt Romney is himself a fierce Trump critic. So much of the narrative going right now has been that, oh, if he becomes a senator, he could potentially be a hash tag never Trump thorn in President Trump's side. Mitt Romney was effusively praising the president shortly after he was inaugurated, back when he was being interviewed --

BASH: I'm going to -- I'm going to stop you because we have a way to illustrate the two Mitt Romneys when it comes to Donald Trump during the campaign where he was incredibly harsh and when he was being talked to for Trump's secretary of state.


MITT ROMNEY: Donald Trump is a phony. A fraud.

Let me say that again. There's plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake.

I had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump. These discussions I've had with him have been enlightening and interesting and engaging. I enjoyed them very, very much.


BASH: So I interrupted you to help make your point.

SUEBSAENG: Right. Here's this con man who also I think in certain ways is brilliant and I would love to work for him was kind of Mitt Romney's line for a period of time. And now, when things are politically convenient for him, to sort of knock the president, especially post Charlottesville comments where it seemed to be par for the president to simply denounce Nazis, Romney has seen very clear openings to make politically advantageous remarks, like, oh, Mr. President, you shouldn't have been equivocating on Nazis, which I think is a pretty easy shot to take.

BASH: Yes, it is. And I should say that I was just told that Mike Pence, who was -- we saw was -- is on Capitol Hill was asked whether Mitt Romney should run. He didn't answer the question. But we were talking about his resume, which is incredibly impressive, Mitt Romney's. He was a businessman and still is a businessman, former Massachusetts governor, organized the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2012, of course, was the Republican presidential nominee. So this would basically be his fifth act.

Which, look, if public service is his thing, more power to him. But, you know, one has to wonder how much of an effect he could potentially have as one of 100.

DEMIRJIAN: And he has to figure out how to sell himself in this environment, which is very different than anything else that he's actually competed in, right? He has why now, why Mitt Romney at this time and this place. You know, and clearly the man has aspirations to be in public life. We all know that. But beyond that, what is he going to bring to the table in this race, especially at a time at which the primaries that matter, frankly, going into this next cycle. You're going to have, you know, the more Bannon wing of the party putting up very, very conservative challenges to the more establishment wing of the party. And this may be, you know, compared to the various southern states that may be in play, this may be the more tame one of the bunch. But it's still a shift after, what, 40 years or something that Orrin Hatch has been in that seat. This is an open season and an opportunity for everybody to kind of play hard ball and can Mitt Romney also play hard ball and tell everybody why he's the guy.

BASH: Although those Republicans who were kind of yearning for some adult in the room, for lack of a better way to say it, are probably begging Mitt Romney to run.


BASH: And as a reminder, before we take a break, Senator Hatch leaves as the longest serving Republican senator. Here he is on CNN almost 37 years ago. And the Teddy he's talking about in what I'm about to show you is the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, who was actually one of Hatch's closest friends.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I'm one tough bird. I've had a lot of fights up here on The Hill with Teddy, not the least of which was just a couple of months ago in fair housing. And I don't think there's anybody on The Hill or frankly anybody down at the White House who has any brains who would say that Ted or anybody else is going to push or shove me around.