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CNN NEWSROOM

Investigation into Officials' Air Travel; Trump on Health Care Bill; Trump Touts Tax Plan; Trump on NFL Owners; Hugh Hefner Died at 91. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 28, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:30:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, more members of the president's cabinet coming under scrutiny for private flights on the taxpayer dime. CNN has learned that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt used private and military jets instead of flying commercial for some work trips over the summer.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So this comes as President Trump did not rule out firing his Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price after Politico revealed that Price took dozens of private jet flights all in just a few months, all paid for by you, the taxpayer.

Joining us now, CNN contributor and the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, who had an interesting tweet this morning. Let me read it. Watching CNN coverage of desperate Americans in Puerto Rico, think about our champagne cabinet on luxury planes that could be taking supplies to them.

We are all thinking about the people of Puerto Rico. They are at their wits end, understandably, as our Bill Weir just reported for us. What's wrong with what these cabinet members are doing? Because it's not just Price. It's Mnuchin as well. It's three members of the president's cabinet.

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Right. Well, it all comes back to the basic principle of public service, which is the core of the ethics program that public service is a public trust. So every penny they spend of your money on one of these charter flights is money that's not going to something like the Puerto Rico disaster recovery after the hurricane.

Apparently, though, they've pushed -- and, in fact, it's really become somewhat widespread because you have Secretary Mnuchin, secretary -- or Administrator Pruitt and Secretary Price under scrutiny right now. The House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, led by Chairman Trey Gowdy and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, have actually launched an investigation. They sent letters to the White House and 24 different federal agencies demanding answers by October 10th.

And one of the key issues in that investigation is going to be the level of responsiveness from the administration. We've had issues this year with the administration, particularly with letters from minority members, simply not responding, which is a very significant departure from the norms of the government.

BERMAN: What --

SHAUB: Yes.

BERMAN: What are the actual rules concerns flights for cabinet members? Because some of these flights -- I think all of them were, in fact, vetted by the various, you know, legal offices inside their departments. So what do the rules say?

SHAUB: Right. Well, first of all, they have to get sign-off from the chief legal officer in their agencies, usually the general council. But, of course, the general council works for them. It's sometimes in a large agency, if you isolate yourself too much, you can become something of an echo chamber at things that sound really ridiculous to the outside world, you can convince yourself are somewhat normal. So the basic rule is, they have to travel by the most cost effective method when traveling, you know, around the world.

Now, there are some exceptions. And it makes sense that the secretary of defense needs to be on a government jet. He's got significant security concerns. They can respond to hostilities around the world at any moment. But it's more typical for other cabinet officials to travel by commercial air. And it's actually quite rare that they do otherwise. And, in this case, it's become somewhat frequent with Secretary Price running up about $400,000.

HARLOW: Right. And one of those trips, just as an example, was to -- was down to where his son also lives. He was speaking at a medical conference, had lunch with his son.

SHAUB: Right.

HARLOW: It's important to speak at a medical conference. There's probably a commercial flight that can get you there in time, right?

SHAUB: Yes.

HARLOW: The thing is with Price, when he was congressman from Georgia, he ripped into Democrats for doing anything like this.

SHAUB: Yes.

HARLOW: Let me read what he said to CNBC about how Democrats trying to spend $550 million on eight passenger jets. This is just another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok in Congress right now. That was not that long ago. Same guy who's now done it, what, 24 times?

SHAUB: Right. Yes, and, in fact, he's given us a wonderful phrase because what he's doing is fiscal irresponsibility run amok. In this case, though, I would say a lot of the blame lies at the top. Now, President Trump has said he's not happy with Price. But I actually think Price's actions are the natural consequence of a bad ethical tone from the top. When you have a president not only not divesting his private

properties, but traveling to them frequently at great expense to the taxpayer, and obviously he has to take the Secret Service with him, but he's also taking a number of White House officials, and cabinet officials. And every one of these trips they take to one of his properties, almost every weekend it seems, is just racking up an enormous bill for the taxpayers. So why would Secretary Price have gotten any other message from the White House except the idea that high office is a cause for enjoying perks.

[09:35:24] They seem to view these as rewards for having obtained their position. When, in reality, the culture of the government is supposed to be one of service, where you travel very austerely and do everything you can to conserve the taxpayers' money.

BERMAN: Walter Shaub, great to have you with us. Thanks so much, sir.

SHAUB: Thanks.

BERMAN: The Republican health care bill, is it dead? The president doesn't seem to think so. He may not be watching TV quite as much as usual this week. Stay with us.

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[09:40:15] HARLOW: At the White House this morning, the president's team is hoping that tax cuts, big tax cuts, can turn around what has been a taxing eight months for this administration. This week alone, the president's pick in the Alabama Senate primary got trounced, as did a last-ditch GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Now, the former can't really be disputed. But in an interview with Fox News this morning, the president refused to accept the latter. Listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The health care bill didn't go down. We have the votes. But reconciliation is a disaster. But, as you know, it ends on Friday. So we don't have enough time because we have one senator who's a yes vote, a great person, but he's in the hospital and he's a yes vote. So we can't do it by Friday.

So we have the votes. We will do it sometime at the beginning of the year, but prior to the election in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: OK, a couple things here. There is no yes vote in the hospital. Thad Cochran, who seems to be the senator in question, who's had some medical issues, he's been tweeting saying, I'm not in the hospital, everyone. Look at me, I'm recuperating in Mississippi. Look forward to returning to work soon. So, that part's not true.

Also not true, if they had the votes, they would vote.

Let's discuss. Joining us, CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Symone Sanders.

You know, Doug, the president keeps putting Thad Cochran in the hospital and keeps insisting they have the votes to pass health care, which they don't right now. What's going on here?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think they still can't admit that the serious problems that we have for repeal and replace, how difficult it is. And our base still wants to repeal and replace Obamacare. So we're going to continue to talk about it.

I -- not only do I think that this bill is dead, I never thought it was alive in the first place. We've struggled for years on any kind of repeal and replace. I can tell you, in 2014, when I was working as a staff member on repeal and replace, for six months we couldn't put out a white paper, we couldn't even get past the meeting phase. Republicans don't want to let this issue go. We also need to do things on health care because there are serious issues out there. But we'll keep talking about it because it's an existential problem for Republicans.

HARLOW: Just a quick follow-up on that because you were -- are a Republican, but also were one of the chiefs in terms of communications for the Republican Party, OK, and then we'll get to you, Symone, on all of this.

The president says with this new tax plan, these cuts, he wouldn't benefit. That is almost certainly, Doug, not true. No matter how you slice it, whether you look at the estate tax going away, the AMT going away, the top rate going down from 39 percent to 35 percent, I don't get it, it's just not factual.

HEYE: Well, I mean, obviously facts and Donald Trump sometimes aren't always in the same room, as we've learned so many times. Clearly some things he's going to benefit from. AMT being one of them.

I can tell you, I've worked on the estate tax issue a lot. We call it the death tax in the Republican Party because folks like Donald Trump and Warren Buffett and Bill Gates aren't the ones who pay it. It's the small farms, the small businesses that have high capital intensity that can't pass that business on to their children.

BERMAN: Now, Doug --

HARLOW: It also affects people --

BERMAN: Doug, 80 -- 80 family farms last year, 80, 8-0, not 80,000, not 80 million, 80 across the country when you're talking about farms. Most of the people who benefit are rich people who die because the estate tax limits have been raised so much over the last year.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: It's because of the work of you and your fellow Republicans since the George W. Bush administration.

Symone, to you. What the president wants do is put pressure on Democrats. Joe Donnelly, senator from Indiana, travelled with him. There's Heidi Heitkamp, there's Claire McCaskill, there's Joe Manchin in West Virginia. How much pressure on these Democrats is there to do something on taxes? People like tax cuts, Simone.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: People do like tax cuts. But the president and the Republicans are being disingenuous with what's happening. So you can expect that Democrats are going to use the president's words against him and the Republicans.

Look, everybody's taxes is going to go down. People are going to get more money. Donald Trump won't benefit. These are all claims -- false claims, actually, but claims nonetheless that the Republicans and their president have made. And so you can expect Democrats' to hold Republicans' feet to the fire.

Of course we want tax cuts for the middle class, OK. And you can expect Democrats to get on board with a plan that does that. This plan -- one, it's not even an actual plan, but, two, does not do that.

HARLOW: So, Symone, the president, this month, said this, September 13th, the rich will not be gaining at all with this plan. I think the wealthy will pretty much be where they are. If they have to go higher, they'll go higher, frankly.

There's nothing in this --

SANDERS: I mean it sounds good, Poppy. It sounds --

HARLOW: But there's nothing in this plan that reflects that.

SANDERS: No, because, one, this is not a -- for one, we have been having a conversation prior to this about tax reform. What we have currently in front of us is not a tax reform. This is absolutely tax cuts. And it's disingenuous.

Look, this is a plan, a tax cut plan, that benefits millionaires and billionaires and still hurts middle class families. The deductions for state and local taxes are going away. This is not a plan that basically is good for the majority of the American people. If Republicans would like to put forth a plan, a bipartisan plan, they should sit down with Democrats and do that. That's not what we've seen here. And this is why this is not going to be successful.

[09:45:24] BERMAN: Doubling the standard deduction is going to help a lot of people, you know, in the middle class. There are other things that are questionable. You mentioned the states like California, New York, and New Jersey. There could be some deduction there that hurt. But doubling the standard deduction will help. And rates will be cut for everyone across the board. These are the things that need to be debated over the coming months.

Doug Heye, you know, we just talked to Walter Shaub about Tom Price and the runways on the drained swamp for private flights that now exist right now. He's now in the "we'll see," you know, dog house of President Trump's. The president says we'll see if I'm going to keep the secretary of Health and Human Services on board. Do you want to handicap the future for Tom Price?

HEYE: Well, look, you know, two months ago we were handicapping the future for Jeff Sessions and it appears fine for him. The bigger challenge for Tom Price is that this is stretched out over a long time. If there are more revelations of more private flights, especially ones that he could have taken commercially, it's going to be very damaging for him.

I can tell you, the word on the street is that we're going to hear about more flights from Price. If that's the case, it's going to be a real problem.

HARLOW: Like the -- like the private flight that took off a five minute difference from the commercial flight he could have taken from Washington To Philadelphia. That problematic optics to say the least.

Symone, to you. The president gave this interview this morning on Fox News. Here's the latest thing that he said about the NFL owners.

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TRUMP: I have so many friends that are owners, and they're in a box. I mean I've spoken to a couple of them. They say we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they're afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful.

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HARLOW: He says they're afraid of their players. He says this isn't about race. Is that a dog whistle?

SANDERS: That is absolutely a dog whistle. One, this is absolutely about race. Colin Kaepernick took a knee to highlight the injustice in the justice system, to talk -- to highlight police brutality and to highlight racism and white supremacy. Then you have Donald Trump come in and say, everyone who's taking a knee are sons of bitches and that the owners need to basically get their players in line. If that's not a dog whistle, I don't know what is.

That is why it is incumbent on the national Football League Players Association to stand up for the current players. It is incumbent upon the NFL to get a plan together about how they are going to deal with this basically PR crisis that is currently surrounding them. And folks cannot let Donald Trump hijack this conversation.

HARLOW: Symone, thank you. Doug, thank you. We appreciate it.

HEYE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Ahead for us, the original Playboy, Hugh Hefner, has passed away. Next, we take a look back at his life.

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[09:52:19] HARLOW: The original Playboy is being remembered this morning. Hugh Hefner, the iconic founder of "Playboy" magazine has died at the age of 91. He passed away of natural causes at his home, the Playboy mansion.

BERMAN: Want to go to CNN's Miguel Marquez, live in front of the mansion right now.

Miguel, quite a life.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An incredible life. Whether you thought he was a scoundrel or a pioneer, he certainly left a mark on American culture. At the Playboy mansion overnight, even in the very small hours of the morning here in Los Angeles, people stopped by, brought flowers. Some had beers with him, leaving Modello (ph) beers for the Hef. Maybe that's what he liked to drink.

This is a guy who spent so many years starting that magazine in 1953 for 600 of his own dollars on a kitchen table in Chicago. Marilyn Monroe -- he bought rights to the Marilyn Monroe calendar pictures, put that in his first magazine, and an industry was born. He created a giant corporation off of that. Even President Trump, at one point, was on the cover of the "Playboy" magazine.

Sixty years he was editor in chief of "Playboy" magazine. This is a guy who made sex sort of respectable in society for some, sort of a boy's magazine, and also made, of course, silk pajamas and smoking jackets cool and sheek (ph).

Anderson Cooper interviewed him a few years ago and asked him about obscenity and what he thought obscenity actually was.

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HUGH HEFNER: Racism, war, bigotry. But sex itself? No. What a sad and cold world this would be if we weren't sexual beings. I mean that's the heart of who we are.

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MARQUEZ: His son, Cooper, said that his father lived an exceptional life and advocated free speech, civil rights, and sexual freedom.

Hugh Hefner actually purchased the crypt next to Marilyn Monroe just a couple of miles from here, and that's where he will be buried. Of course, she's the one that started his giant career with that centerfold.

Also the word centerfold, Hugh Hefner brought into the lexicon for America.

So he will lay next to her for eternity.

Back to you guys.

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, Marilyn Monroe in the very first magazine. And one quibble, you know, smoking jackets, Miguel, have always been cool. Hugh Hefner did not make them cool.

Miguel, our thanks to you. All right, desperately needed supplies all over the island of Puerto

Rico. Well, 3,000 cargo containers sitting just off the docks in San Juan. What is standing in the way of those supplies getting to the people? That's next.

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[09:59:30] HARLOW: All right, breaking news this morning. Is red tape all that sits between hurricane victims and vital aid? The situation in Puerto Rico is growing more and more dire by the hour.

Pause for a moment, look at that. What is that? That is thousands upon thousands, some reports of up to 9,500 containers, with food, water, medical supplies, that are just sitting at the port of San Juan, not reaching those in need. They are already on the island. Their contents not helping a single person at this point.

This morning, the mayor of San Juan made this plea.