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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
FBI Official Backs Up Comey's Claim that President Trump Asked for Loyalty; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 21, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington, where a big shoe has just dropped in the Russia investigation, testimony that could bolster the credibility of the fired FBI Director James Comey, could corroborate his account of what happened between himself and the president, and could directly undermine a key claim the president made about it on more than one occasion.
Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: People suggest that the question that apparently the "New York Times" is selling that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty was possibly inappropriate. Could you see how they would think that?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I read that article. I don't think it's inappropriate, number one, it isn't.
PIRRO: Did you ask that question?
TRUMP: No, no, I didn't, but I don't think it's bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty of the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question.
I hardly know the man, I'm not going to say, I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath? I mean, think of it. I hardly know the man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, that's the claim. He never asked Director Comey for loyalty pledge, but there's breaking news on that tonight from testimony the FBI's deputy director gave to the House Intelligence Committee.
Let's go up to capitol. CNN's Manu Raju joining us with the very latest.
Manu, what are you hearing about what happened behind closed doors with the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he was asked
earlier this week with -- he met with the House Intelligence Committee about these conversations with James Comey, his former boss, FBI director when Andy McCabe was deputy director then and is now.
And what McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee was that James Comey, in fact, did tell him about these conversations with President Trump. As you recall, Comey has testified under oath that he had multiple conversations with the president. There was an ask for loyalty. The president asked him to pledge loyalty, ask him to -- suggested that he should maybe back off his friend and - fired former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
And what we're told from multiple sources with direct knowledge of McCabe's testimony is that McCabe, in fact, confirmed that Comey told him this directly. When Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wolf, he said that he told his senior leadership about this, but he did not say that he told McCabe about it.
This is the first time we're hearing that McCabe potentially could be a contemporaneous witness disputing the president's account if special counsel Robert Mueller does decide to look into this further, it does decide to look into the firing of James Comey, perhaps will ask McCabe his impression of what happened, because according to McCabe, Comey told him all about this at the time and he could be a contemporaneous witness, Wolf.
BLITZER: Potentially very significant. What could you tell us about McCabe's relationship with Republicans?
RAJU: Well, a number of Republicans have been critical of McCabe. They do not believe he's necessarily been a fair arbiter at FBI and particularly they don't like the way the e-mail investigation was handled, the Clinton email investigation was handled. And that's one reason why he was brought behind closed doors before two House committees today. He just left today, Wolf, after spending nine hours behind closed doors, second testimony this week.
In large part, he was asked about the Clinton e-mail investigation. And what I'm told from Republicans who left the room, including the Republican Jim Jordan is that it reinforced their belief that Clinton was treated favorably by the FBI, by the FBI's decision not to press and pursue any charges against Clinton for handling of her emails and her private e-mail server. So, the question is whether or not McCabe essentially eased any of the criticism from Republicans, uncertain about that, because heading into this, Wolf, some Republicans are saying he should step aside, including the Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, said he should step aside from this job. But this is just the beginning of this investigation from those House-led -- these two committees, Wolf, who want to look into possible FBI bias and their decisions in the 2016 campaign.
BLITZER: Yes, lots of important developments.
Manu, thank you very much. Our political and legal team is here with us. Former Trump campaign
senior adviser Jason Miller, former Clinton manager Robby Mook, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us as well.
Jeff, how big of a deal is this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's very important because, remember, the core of the obstruction of justice investigation here is whether James Comey was improperly pressured to lay off the Russia investigation, whether he was improperly pressured by the president. Part of that is whether he was asked for loyalty. Of course, it ends with Comey being fired.
[20:05:03] But the question of whether he was pressed for loyalty is very important. The president very clearly as we saw in the interview with Jeanine Pirro said it never happened. Comey said it happened. Comey said he wrote contemporaneous memos about his recollections of these conversations, and now it appears McCabe is corroborating Comey's versions of those conversations.
All of that is powerful evidence that Comey was pressured to stay loyal to the president. It doesn't seal the case, it's not a smoking gun, but it is certainly evidence that tends towards the theory that some kind of obstruction of justice occurred here.
Gloria, what is the latest sense you're getting of what President Trump thinks of deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and whether this news of McCabe's testimony could further exacerbate the tensions between the president and the FBI?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president didn't think much of Andrew McCabe going into this testimony. He's probably going to think less of him coming out of it. I mean, you remember, last July, the president was a tweeting about McCabe, saying why didn't Attorney General Sessions replace Acting FBI Director McCabe, a Comey friend in charge of the Clinton investigation, et cetera?
And anything that corroborates something that Comey said is not going to sit well with the White House. I think the question is, how angry will this make the president, also about Jeff Sessions who did not replace McCabe. The president believes that McCabe is a Democrat, that his wife ran for Democratic seat in Virginia, Hillary Clinton donated $700,000 to his wife. And so, the president believes McCabe was bias from day one.
I want to point out however that Chris Wray, the new head of the FBI, has pushed back on suggestions that McCabe operates in any kind of biased way at the FBI.
BLITZER: Robby, you want to say --
ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it was Terry McAuliffe that made the contribution, not Hillary Clinton.
BORGER: Sorry, you're right. Donated to Terry McAuliffe's PAC.
MOOK: Terry McAuliffe who is completely separate from Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: It was a Virginia state race, Democratic governor of Virginia.
MOOK: He is the head of the Democratic Party. It is not unusual for the head of the Democratic Party in Virginia to give to candidates running in Virginia.
BLITZER: Jason, you're a Trump loyalist, how concerned are you about the testimony that presumably corroborates what James Comey was saying and some of that potentially could be at the heart of any obstruction of justice case?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, not at all. I mean, of course former Director Comey is going to give the same story to Deputy Director McCabe as he would have put down in his notes. But it's also important to keep in mind that Former Director Comey essentially cleared Secretary Hillary Clinton before she came in for her interview Fourth of July last year.
But taking a step back for a moment here, I think there's one thing to keep in mind. We have tens of thousands of people in the FBI and the DOJ who show up to work every single day, who check their political allegiances or any of their ideological underpinnings at door and who don't want to get involved in any way, shape or form. But something happened in 2016, and that is, our law enforcement became highly politicized, both in the investigation into Secretary Clinton -- which, Robby, I know you're not sending Director Comey any Christmas cards this year. That is for sure.
MOOK: We can agree with that.
MILLER: We'll agree with that.
But is that went through about whether it was Loretta Lynch meeting with former President Clinton and this magical tarmac meeting, all the politicization that went on, with all of our law enforcement. I think we're at a point now where most Americans want to see all of this completely removed and if there are investigations or if there are aspects of oversight from Capitol Hill, people want to see investigations get to the bottom of it, but get the politics out of it.
BLITZER: Robby, you're the former Clinton campaign manager.
MOOK: I just -- you know, if somebody is guilty tonight, House Republicans are guilty of stepping on their own agenda. They just passed this tax bill, and they can't help but talk about Hillary Clinton and her e-mails. It's incredible to me.
And they are defending a president who, day by day looks more and more guilty. Just let this investigation go on. Let Robert Mueller do his job, and get about legislating.
I honestly -- I am stunned sitting here. I think the tax bill is atrocious and they shouldn't celebrate, because I think they're going to lose the House because of it, but my god, just let Hillary Clinton go for a second --
BLITZER: Hold on, Jeff, one second. Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: I also don't think you can say that entire FBI is politicized or that, you know, somehow it's a rampant -- an organization run amok. I think that in any organization you have some problems. But you can't -- you know, you can't say that the entire FBI under the last director was a terrible place.
MILLER: I completely agree with you on that.
BORGER: I don't think you can say that, so you can't tarnish it because maybe the president doesn't like Andrew McCabe or he didn't like James Comey.
[20:10:04] Or, you know, I think that just takes it a step too far.
MILLER: Completely agree. But I think we can also agree that the way that politics has been infused into the debate surrounding the FBI and the DOJ is something that is --
MOOK: By Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the one who infused the politics. He made this bet.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin -- Jeffrey, go ahead.
TOOBIN: I mean, this idea that politics has been infused as if it was magically infused from the outside. Andrew McCabe is a career FBI official whose wife had a job. A lot of people's wives have jobs, and husbands have jobs.
There is no evidence that Andrew McCabe did anything improper here. There's no evidence that his wife's career, which she is more than entitled to have, affected his performance in the job. The mere fact that his wife was running for a state job in Virginia has nothing to do with whether the FBI was politicized. I mean, it's just a completely phony issue to distract from the fact that Andrew McCabe, like James Comey, has given powerful evidence, apparently, of obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.
MILLER: So, Jeffrey, if I can jump in for a moment. So, you don't think that the investigation into Secretary Clinton's e-mails was in any way bungled? You think it was handled absolutely smoothly?
TOOBIN: I think there were definite problems with it, but I'm not -- I don't think it had anything to do with Andrew McCabe. And the person who should be complaining about that investigation is Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was, it seemed to me, destroyed on the eve of the election by the fact that James Comey felt compelled to announce that the investigation was reopened, which turned out to be a big nothing.
That's the person with the real grievance here. Donald Trump should be worshipping the ground that James Comey walked on, because he, probably more than anyone, made him president of the United States. You don't think that's right, Jason?
BLITZER: Let me get Robby on that. You believe and Hillary Clinton believes that in those final days of the campaign when Comey said he was reopening the case, Hillary Clinton believes -- let me get your thoughts -- that was the kiss of death. That's why she lost.
MOOK: It was devastating. She lost by 70,000 votes spread across three states. We -- I was there in the office, saw the numbers dropping, we heard on the ground how it created enormous doubt. He basically went out and said, I think I found that she could potentially be a criminal and then two days later pulls it back.
It was outrageous and I've been critical of him for that. But here's the thing -- if the Republicans are worried about politicizing the FBI, why not bringing in Rudy Giuliani. I remember on television, he predicted preternaturally that FBI was going to make a stunning announcement just before that letter came out. What about the leaks that were coming out constantly from the New York field office about the investigation?
I completely agree with Jeffrey, Hillary Clinton has a lot to complain about but this is again my point. Why in the world a year after the election are we still relitigating this. This is all to distract --
BLITZER: And I will point out to you, Jason, that Christopher Wray, the new FBI director, he was testifying the other day up on Capitol Hill, he gave a very strong vote of confidence for his deputy director, Andrew McCabe.
MILLER: Well, I mean, where I would actually agree with Robby is I think the timing of this -- I mean, I have no idea what House Republicans were thinking scheduling this today or why doing it now. I heard different things that, maybe they were going to be getting into some more of the whole dossier issue and why the heck there may have been government funds go to this or who knew what and when.
But the bottom line is, with such a huge win off tax cuts, this is the only thing anyone with R by their name should be talking about heading into the holidays. So, I would agree with you on that.
But going back to my broader point earlier, whether it be the FBI, or the DOJ, or anyone in law enforcement, we got to get politics out of it and the fact that we might have senior folks at DOJ going to the Hillary Clinton campaign, I mean, you know, probably not that fun.
But we need to take all of this out of it and let law enforcement do their job and not let these people --
(CROSSTALK) MOOK: But why does Donald Trump politicize every time. Why did he fire James Comey after he wouldn't take a loyalty pledge? Why is he the one who is constantly attacking the FBI over political issues? I mean, this is the point.
Donald Trump is just keeping this constantly mixed up, because in every step, we're getting closer and closer to the truth coming out.
BLITZER: Gloria, button it up.
BORGER: Let me tell you one thing. I mean, you have the president criticizing the FBI every single day, you have the attorney general not saying a word about it. And I think that's an issue. I think it's a problem. I think that they need a vote of confidence from leadership if the president is out there every day talking about them and that doesn't occur.
BLITZER: Everybody, thanks very much. This conversation is continuing.
[20:15:00] Coming up next, James Comey's own account and we'll hear from a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
And later, we're going to tell you about the vice president's surprise visit to honor U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We're going to talk about his ongoing effort to honor his boss profusely when 360 continues.
BLITZER: Tonight's breaking news, a potential bombshell in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, 14 hours of grilling in all. And now, multiple sources from both parties say he told lawmakers that fired FBI Director Comey spoke with him at the time about conversations he, Mr. Comey, had with the president of the United States.
Mr. Comey's testimony under oath backs up Director Comey's claim that the president asked for his loyalty. In a moment, we'll speak with a key member of the House Intelligence committee, Democrat Jim Himes.
But, first, here's the relevant portions of James Comey's testimony when he talked about meeting the president over dinner multiple times and how he says the request for loyalty came up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Well, my impression -- and it's my impression, I could always be wrong, but my common sense told me what was going on is, either he had concluded or someone had told him that you didn't -- you've already asked Comey to stay and you didn't get anything for it.
[20:20:09] And that dinner was an effort to build a relationship. In fact, he asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay. As I said what was odd about that, we had already talked twice about
it by that point and he had said, I very much hope you'll stay. I hope you'll stay. In fact, I just remember sitting here, a third one. You've seen the picture of me walking across the blue room, and what the president whispered in my ear was, I look forward to working with you.
So, after those encounters --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was just a few days before you were fired.
COMEY: Yes, that was Sunday after the inauguration. The next Friday, I had dinner, and the president begins by wanting to talk about my job. And so, I'm sitting there thinking, wait a minute, three times you've already asked me to stay, or talked about me staying.
My common sense, again, I could be wrong but common sense told me what is going on is he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, we all understand I was governor and had people work for me, but constant requests, quoting you, him saying that he -- despite you explaining your independence, he kept coming back to I need loyalty, I expect loyalty. Had you ever had those kind of requests before from anyone else you worked for in the government?
COMEY: No. And what made me uneasy was, I'm, at that point, the director of the FBI. The reason that Congress created a ten-year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they're serving at -- with political loyalty owed to any particular person.
The statue of justice has a blindfold on, because you're not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you're doing. It should be about facts and law.
That's why I became FBI director, to be in that kind of position. That's why I was so e uneasy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me move on, my time is running up, February 14th, again, it seems a bit strange, you were in a meeting, and your direct superior, the attorney general, was in the meeting as well, yet the president asked everyone, including the attorney general to leave, before he brought up the matter of General Flynn.
What was your impression of that type of action? Had you ever seen anything like that before?
COMEY: No. My impression was something big is about to happen, I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And again, I could be wrong, I'm 56 years old, I've seen a few things.
My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering. And I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. So, I knew something was about to happen, and I need to pay close attention to. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: James Comey back in June up on Capitol Hill.
With us now, House Intelligence Committee member, Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you can't discuss specifics of what the Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told your committee. It was all behind closed doors.
But give us the bottom line. Do you have a greater sense in what Comey said as result of what you heard?
HIMES: Yes, no. I think it's a really important question, Wolf, because I mean, I can't disagree more with what Jason Miller said a little while ago on the program, what we're hearing too much, which is that FBI and law enforcement and DOJ were made political.
In yesterday's testimony, in every document that I have reviewed, every testimony I've seen behind closed doors, there is zero evidence that the FBI or DOJ have been acting on partisan grounds. The president criticizing the FBI is throwing mud on a storied institution. So, again, without getting into what happened yesterday, because this has been too leaky a committee, I have yet to see anything which contradicts the testimony that Jim Comey gave, the written contemporaneous work that he did around those meetings.
I've seen nothing to suggest that Jim Comey was being anything other than honest in the testimony that you just saw.
BLITZER: What about Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director? Is he credible? You heard the Republicans complaining about the fact his wife ran for state elected office and she received hundreds of thousands dollars from Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.
HIMES: Yes, look, I say shame on them. Shame on Sean Hannity, shame on my colleagues who are implying that Andrew McCabe is not exactly what he is, which is a terrific public servant who has risked his life over a long period of time.
Look, you can't judge somebody's credibility in a matter of hours, but there was nothing in his testimony, nothing in his demeanor to suggest that he is anything other than a very dedicated public servant.
Wolf, FBI agents like CIA agents, like United States Marines, like members of Congress have political and partisan opinions. And we've heard that. We've seen that.
What happened when a couple of FBI investigators were shown to have exchanged partisan opinions? Mueller fired them immediately, which is exactly what should happen. So, yes, of course, they have political opinions, everybody does. But there is not one iota of evidence that this investigation has been -- or that the FBI or the DOJ have been tarnished by partisan bias.
[20:25:08] BLITZER: What they're alleging, the Republicans, is going back to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, that there was a partisan amount of support for Hillary Clinton, Comey, McCabe and others watered down the entire investigation to help Hillary Clinton. That's what the Republicans are alleging.
HIMES: Well, it's interesting, if you look at whole admittedly unusual steps that Jim Comey took, first announcing investigation, then saying it's over, then subsequently right before the election, saying the investigation is back, at any given point of time, the Clinton people were outraged, then the Republicans were outraged, and then the Clinton people were outraged. What Jim Comey did was very unusual and I think we'll be debating for years about whether making those public announcements was the right thing to do.
And, by the way, when history weighs in because and I say this as a member of the intelligence committee, not all of the facts, as you might imagine are known. Those facts that impacted Jim Comey's thinking. When history judges this, I think will be regarded as but again, there's not a shred of evidence that he was acting in partisan manner, and that's evidenced by the fact that he at some point, pretty much angered both campaigns.
BLITZER: Do you believe or do you fear or do you think the president might try to fire the deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe by putting pressure on the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, or the new FBI director, Christopher Wray?
HIMES: I really do. I mean, you know, of course, right? We've seen the president's tweets in which he has slandered Mr. McCabe, who as far as I can tell is a guy who could be in private sector making a ton of money but instead chose to put his life at risk to protect all of us.
The president of the United States has slandered this individual and I say this again probably with more knowledge than most Americans, with absolutely zero evidence. Yes, his wife I guess decided to run for public office. Are we going to make a rule that if your -- you know, your spouse decides to run for public office, you're therefore not able to do your job? It's sort of an absurd notion.
BLITZER: What can Congress do if anything, if Andrew McCabe is fired?
HIMES: Well, look, the American people need to understand that what is happening today, is happening on Fox News, or Sean Hannity, with Jeanine Pirro, with all sorts of people, they are deliberately trying to do what they did to the media, generally, which is to say, you can't trust anybody. You can't even trust those guys with guns at the FBI or the DOJ, because you know what they -- and here's what they are thinking, they may come up with information. And look, I'm an investigator, so I'm going to say this as neutrally as I can, they may not. But they may come up with information that is damaging to the president. This is all a campaign to make sure that if and when that information
emerges, that the institutions that would out that information, the FBI and the DOJ, have been sufficiently slandered, sufficiently called into question that Americans just throw up their hands and say, I don't know what is true. And that is profoundly dangerous to this republic.
BLITZER: Congressman Himes, thanks very much for coming in.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
We're going to get reaction from the White House. That's coming up next.
[20:31:22] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news tonight, the FBI's deputy director may be able to corroborate that President Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to pledge loyalty. That something Comey says happened and the president denied. Sources tell CNN's Manu Raju, McCabe testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Comey told him about the conversations that he had with the president after those conversations occurred.
Let's go to the White House right now, CNN's Jeff Zeleny is standing by. Jeff, this reporting on McCabe and Comey, is there -- first of all any reaction from the White House tonight?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. There is no reaction on this new reporting from the White House tonight that reached out to several officials here at the White House to ask them directly about this loyalty pledge of course, and the fact that it seems to be backing this, you know, original story up. And we've not gotten a response.
Now, at the time though Wolf, the White House that defended that private meeting, you know, saying the president asked for pledges of loyalty -- expects pledges of loyalty from a lot of people who work for him. But of course Wolf, this was so much different, because of course this is the FBI director. But again on this new reporting, there's no reaction yet tonight from the White House.
BLITZER: We'll see if there is, you let us know. And there's also some new CNN polling Jeff about the president's and Robert Mueller's handling of the Russia investigation. Tell us about that.
ZELENY: Wolf it is, and it offers an interesting look at how the different figures here are viewed by the American public in terms of the handling of this Russian investigation. Let's take a look at these numbers just out this evening here. Now, in terms of how Bob Mueller, is the -- the special counsel, his approval rating, if you will, Americans, 47% of Americans believe that he is handling it OK. They approve of it. Now, 19% unsure, 34% disapprove.
But look at president's handling of the Russia investigation, a different story here entirely. A majority, 56% disapprove, now at third of Americans, 32% approve of this handling of this. So Wolf, this just offers a snapshot here into how the public is watching this and viewing this. That special counsel Bob Mueller, even though he's being a criticized by some conservative, some republicans, most Americans believe he's doing a fine job.
BLITZER: I understand. You're also learning more about when the president will sign the tax bill. What can you tell us?
ZELENY: We are Wolf. The president is planning on flying down to Mar-a-Largo, his Florida vacation spot for the Christmas holidays tomorrow. I'm told that he plans to sign the bill, hopes to find the bill before he leaves. So that would be sometime tomorrow morning. There is no announcement yet of the ceremony or any a type formal signing. This may just happen in the Oval Office. Of course he had that big ceremony among the south lawn of the White House earlier this week. But the signing at now Wolf, all but a formality on the biggest legislative achievement of the year.
BLIZER: Yes, pretty quickly they're going ahead with the formal signing usually takes several days. So what does this mean the timing for when the bill goes into effect?
ZELENY: Wolf, the timing here is pretty quick. It's going to most pieces of it, will go into effect January 1st, that's and some 11 days here. And this is going to create, you know, a lot of concern and questions for people, how it affects their individual tax returns. But the -- you know, it's going to take effect early January and you'll be seeing a difference in your paychecks, some people will at least, you know, early in the new year, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have -- some are suggesting maybe as early as February or March, paychecks will be a little bit lower for a lot of folks out there. Jeff Zeleny, reporting from the White House. Thanks very much.
Meanwhile, the United Nations condemns the United States today over the decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
[20:35:01] In response the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley today threatened U.N. funding, a threat President Trump hinted at yesterday. We have new details. Stay with us.
BLITZER: A landmark vote in the United Nations today, an overwhelming majority of 128 countries voted for resolution to condemn the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as capital of Israel. That vote came just after U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Nikki Haley issued a direct threat saying the U.S. could withdraw funding for the U.N. if the U.N. voted to condemn President Trump's decision. And the president made similar comments by the way yesterday about saving money if the U.N. voted to condemn the U.S. decision. The former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted today in response, and I'll put up on the screen, "Trump administration threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous, shows Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone, qualities usually found in narcissistic vengeful autocrats." That tweet from John Brennan.
Joining us now is CNN's Elise Labott. And Elise, first of all how realistic is this funding threat?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think it's pretty much an empty threat. I mean let's be honest, the U.S. gives countries aid because it's in their U.S. national security interest, not because they're doing out of goodness of their heart, of course they expecting something in return. And if you look at some of the countries that are the largest recipients of aid, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, these are countries that were sure to vote against the resolution.
[20:40:04] So I mean, it's also if the president threatens to withdraw aid from the U.N., he had said and I was traveling with Nikki Haley in Africa a few weeks ago. She was saying that this is pennies on the dollar that the U.S. pays to the United Nations, because it stops, the country, United States from having to go to fight conflicts that it doesn't want to fight. And so, the U.N. really picking up a lion's share of the peacekeeping around the world, Wolf.
I think it's really interesting when you talk about President Trump criticizing that the U.S made this sovereign decision in his national security strategy just a few days ago. He said all countries should be sovereign to make their own decisions for their own people. So, if they're comfortable with the decision that U.S should be able to live with the criticism, Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise Labott thanks very much.
Let's get to more on this. Joining us our CNN military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby is a former State Department spokesman and former Pentagon press secretary. He serve during the Obama administration.
So, what do you make, first of all the U.N. vote today?
JOHN KIRBY, FMR. SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT.: Yes, I don't think it was a surprise by any stretch. In fact, I think you could tell by the way President Trump talked about it yesterday at the cabinet meeting and Nikki Haley's comments that they expected that this was going to be resoundingly against them. So, no surprise there.
And I think, you know, to Elise's point, its representative of the sovereign nature, the deliberate nature -- the deliberative nature of the U.N. And the degree to which President Trump's decision to declare Jerusalem capital really struck a nerve not just with countries involve in the region but around the world.
BLITZER: But if the President of the United States makes a threat like that or even the U.S Ambassador to the U.N makes a threat that, you vote for this, funding will go down, and today she sort to stipulated funding for the U.N. will go down. And they don't do that, what is that do to U.S. credibility?
KIRBY: It hurts U.S. credibility. Again, foreign aid and assistance is really in our interest, it's almost like paying an insurance premium, there's a good reason why we do it. And there's a good reason why we support the U.N. It short-sighted at best.
And, frankly, Wolf if you look at the National Security Strategy that the President just valued about the other today, I mean, it says in there that aid will be judiciously applied not just to help people in need but to help our interests around the world.
BLITZER: The former CIA Director John Brennan is on Twitter now, and you heard what he said about other things that this statement by the President, the threat shows President Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everybody, quality is usually found in narcissistic vengeful autocrats. John Brennan is not been shy in expressing his views lately.
KIRBY: No he's not. Look, the United Nations is not Trump country club, right. We don't own it and we shouldn't expect that everything we want to do or we want to see pursue is going to be supported by every other nation. That's the beauty of the U.N. that's also what makes it hard, I understand that.
And also understand that some on the administration get frustrated about burden sharing. And they have legitimate concerns there. But way to work through that is compromise and accommodation, not to issue these kind threats which they clearly had no ability to completely carry through in every regard.
BLITZER: Yes, my sense is knowing President Trump a bit, he makes a threat like this about funding let say for the U.N. forget about funding for Jordan, or Egypt, Iraq --
BLITZER: Yes, Afghanistan, major, you know, recipients of U.S. economic and military resistance.
BLITZER: But I clearly see in cutting U.S. funding for the United Nations which he never liked to begin with.
KIRBY: He could do that or maybe he could pinch a little money off some bilateral trade deal that he has coming up. But I don't think that they're going to be able to really execute this in a massive way.
And even the State Department spokesman today sort of walked this back and caveated, and by saying, look, we're going to look at Panopoly of issues when we talk about financial contributions made, not just the vote that happen in New York City today.
BLITZER: John Kirby, thanks very much for that analysis.
KIRBY: OK. BLITZER: Coming up there's compliments and there's praise for the President. Vice President Pence had made -- has more accolades for the commander in chief of the speech in a surprise trip to Afghanistan.
Randi Kaye digs in to that dynamic when we come back.
[20:48:15] BLITZER: President Trump paid a holiday visit to wounded troops today over at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. He called the service members there some of the bravest people in the world. Vice President Pence also visited troops for the holidays, a surprise trip to Afghanistan, he met with the Afghan president and rallied the U.S. troops.
Here's part of what he said in the speech at the Bagram Air Base.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the President if he had a message for our troops here in Afghanistan. And he looked at me without hesitation from behind the resolute desk and he said, tell them I love them.
BLITZER: The Vice President speech in Afghanistan was full of praise for the President, he comes just day after another such display over at White House.
Randi Kaye has more on this dynamic between the two men.
PENCE: You know, he's a man known for a large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma. And so, I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was Vice President Mike Pence during the campaign, boosting up his boss while playing the role of self-deprecating sidekick.
All these months later, Pence is still what some have called a permanent pat on the back.
PENCE: I will look back and say it was President Donald Trump who led a tremendous renewal of the American spirit.
KAYE (voice-over): There are a lot of good jobs and way to go. But there's also a lot of shoulder talk?
PENCE: President Trump got broad shoulders and a big heart.
Donald Trump showed you can have broad shoulders -- Broad shoulders and a big heart.
Of a broad shoulder of leadership of Donald Trump.
KAYE (voice-over): CNN's Dana Bash asked Pence to explain.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: What do you mean by that?
[20:49:59] PENCE: Well, I just, I think Donald Trump really embodies the American spirit. I mean, he's strong, he's freedom loving, he's independent minded, he's willing to fight for what believes in.
BASH: So, you're not referencing the muscularity there?
PENCE: Oh, no it is.
KAYE (voice-over): Even when he grilled during a trip to Asia about policy, it always came back to the boss.
PENCE: As the President says, it's time for them to behave.
The policy that President Trump has articulated. The President's vision for this is very straightforward.
KAYE (on-camera): And yesterday, it was more of the same and then some. Asked to say a few words at a cabinet meeting, the praise-o- meter turned up to 11.
PENCE: Congratulations and thank you. Thank you for seeing through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country. You've restored American credibility on the world stage. I'm deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here.
KAYE (voice-over): It didn't go over well on Twitter. This Mike Pence prayer of thanks to Trump is excruciatingly stomach turningly uncomfortable to watch. Another tweet read, Mike Pence praised Donald Trump 14 times in three minutes during Wednesday's cabinet meeting, that's once every 12.5 seconds. And this, did the licking of his shoes and kissing the ring on his finger happen before or after the speech. Camera seems to have missed that.
Showered with compliments, Donald Trump is feeling the love and that seems to suit the both of them just fine.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And I am joining us now to discuss President Trump's biographer, Michael D'Antonio. He's the author of the book, "The Truth About Trump" and McKay Coppins, recently he wrote a very lengthy profile of the vice president for "The Atlantic".
McKay, in your piece, you write about the first day the President and Vice President met as potential running mates. So this dynamic between them seems like it's been in place since then, right? MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, that's right. They played golf together over 4th of July weekend in 2016. And it's funny, I actually talked to Kellyanne Conway, who said that while Pence was on his way over to that game, he called her and asked for advice. And she said she knew that they would get along because Mike Pence is somebody whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good. Those were her words.
So, he ended up -- he spent that game, you know, kind of kissing the ring. He told Trump that it would be the privilege of a lifetime to serve him, that he would definitely win. And afterward, Pence actually made a point of going to the press and talking about how great Trump's golf game was. He's just kind of putting on the performance and showing Trump that he could be the obedient, loyal, differential deputy that I think Trump is looking for.
BLITZER: But Michael, people know that President say that's the way he operates, that he needs a lot of praise, a lot of affirmation, right?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP: Most definitely is. I think that Mike Pence has either an instinct or has been coached very well, because this is a President who loves cheerleaders and he especially loves those who are cheering for him. When I dealt with then-Businessman Donald Trump, his big complaint is -- his initial big complaint about Barack Obama was that he had stopped being a good cheerleader.
So, if you're around Donald Trump and you want to get along with him, complimenting him is always a good idea, and stealing any bit of the spotlight is a very bad idea. And the Vice President seems to know that.
BLITZER: McKay, in your article, you also write that the Vice President believes in something called servant leadership. Explain what that is and how it pertains here.
COPPINS: Yes, this is interesting. This is actually the theological root of Mike Pence's approach to Donald Trump that I learned about as I was reporting this piece, which is that he believes in the scriptural concept called servant leadership that is rooted in the New Testament, where Jesus washes his disciple's feet and teaches that anyone who should be great among us must be humble. Pence has always believed, ever since he was a young congressman that his political career, his career as a leader should be infused with a servant's attitude.
So, when he was a congressman, that applied to his constituents. When he was a governor, that applied to his constituents. But he believes that once he joined the Trump's ticket, once he accepted the job to be on the presidential ticket as the number two to Donald Trump, he was coming under Trump's authority, in the words of Pence's friends. And that meant that he was there to humbly serve and submit to the will of Donald Trump. Donald Trump was the boss and he was his servant. And that -- I think that attitude, that dynamic has kind of infused his service as vice president over the past year. [20:55:07] BLITZER: Michael, has there been anyone in the President's life who's still close to him, who didn't necessarily play by these rules?
D'ANTONIO: I think there have been very few people. Certainly, no one who worked for him failed to play by these rules and if they did, they didn't stay around very long because the President has said that he actually hates to fire people, you know, despite the catch phrase of "The Apprentice", you're fired. He's not comfortable with actually firing people himself, but he'll have someone do it if he's displeased. So, in this case, I think we're seeing something consistent with the President's values.
And I think what McKay points out about Vice President Pence viewing himself as serving President Trump would please Donald Trump very much. He actually equates himself with the government and then the nation at large. So his attitude, as I think he expressed it when he was talking about the Comey affairs that if I'm asking for loyalty, it might be loyalty to me, but I'm actually standing in for the country. And if you're going to be loyal to the country, that means you're loyal to me.
BLITZWER: McKay, give me a quick answer because you say the praise is essentially the bargain the vice president has made. What do you mean by that?
COPPINS: Well, right, this is important. You know, Pence may be very well be as impressed by Donald Trump as he says he is in public, but he also knows that this is the price of power for him. The closer he is to Trump, the more able he is to advance an agenda that he cares about in the way that does that is by maintaining the President's ear, and submitting to him and performing his loyalty to him.
BLITZER: Guys, good discussion. Thanks very much. We'll be right back.