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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Democrats Release Trump-Russia Probe Testimony; Steve Bannon Out at Breitbart; Interview With Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired January 9, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: And so I -- I don't expect that that will go very far.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Would you support him if he...
FLAKE: No, no, no, no, not at all. That's the last -- that's not our best foot forward as Republicans.
TAPPER: All right, four no's -- four no's and a not at all is pretty clear.
Lastly, sir, your colleague Tennessee Senator Bob Corker has questioned the president's stability and has said that President Trump debases our country, but yesterday it seems like he smoothed over the feud during tax reform negotiations. He was on Air Force One.
Another Republican senator who has been critical of the president, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, he once called the president a political car wreck who -- quote -- "scared the hell out of me." Now he's golfing with the president. He often defends him.
You find yourself in a smaller circle of Republicans who have been willing to criticize President Trump. What's going on? Are these other Republicans bowing to political expediency? Or were they wrong to begin with? What happened?
FLAKE: Well, I think, in Senator Corker's case, he's chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. There are a number of hot items that we're going to be dealing with, Iranian sanctions, North Korea, things that are going to require that Bob Corker and the president work together.
So I'm glad that he's working with the president where he can. Lindsey Graham, certainly on immigration, is working with the president and on a number of other issues.
As for myself, I will continue to work with the president when I can and criticize him when I must. One thing that I have been critical of is his relationship with the truth. And I will be saying more about that on the Senate floor in the coming days. I think that's -- it's something that we ought to be really concerned
about, when this issue of fake news is being used by authoritarians worldwide to justify cracking down on protesters or labeling their opposition. That's not something that we ought to be proud of that we're lending to the lexicon.
TAPPER: Lastly, sir, before you go, have you given any more thought to whether or not you might run for president against President Trump in 2020?
FLAKE: No more thought. I'm focused on the Senate. I have got a year left in the Senate, and I plan to make the most of it.
TAPPER: Senator Jeff Flake, always good to see you, sir. Thank you so much for your time.
FLAKE: Thank you.
TAPPER: How much influence did President Trump have, if any, over today's exit by Steve Bannon from Breitbart News? We're going to discuss with the panel next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and the breaking news that Steve Bannon is out at Breitbart News.
Bannon saying -- quote -- I'm proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world- class news platform."
This move comes after the bombshell book "Fire and Fury," in which Bannon is quoted disparaging the president and his family and after the White House said that Breitbart should consider removing Bannon. A source close to Bannon telling me moments ago it was clear that Bannon had to focus on either Breitbart or politics, campaigns and building a political movement, but that Bannon could not do both or he would jeopardize Breitbart as a Web site.
Also, the source notes that Bannon's core team continues to run Breitbart, the Web site.
My political panel is back with me.
And, Joan, I have to ask, I have to wonder if the -- if Bannon was just too toxic after his comments and even after his walk-back where the White House didn't really seem to really accept his apology, whether you can run a conservative Web site and have alienated a conservative president?
JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's alienating the conservative president, but it's also alienating the Mercer family and Rebekah Mercer in particular. That was really -- that was the big news last week, was that she doesn't speak very much.
She and her father are very hard to interview, virtually impossible to get an interview with. And she came -- when she came out and rapped him, she and her father -- well, now she because her father had to distance himself from Breitbart, but she is the money behind Breitbart. So I think the folks within Breitbart, even those who were loyal to Bannon, were really probably given an ultimatum, it's him or my money.
TAPPER: And it's weird also if you have been -- I don't know how often you read Breitbart, Susan.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": We read it a lot more than we once did, right, in the past year.
TAPPER: But how they covered the last week or so has been odd for them, because obviously it's a Web site with a ideological point of view. They're very pro-Trump. They're also very pro-Bannon.
And then all of a sudden you have Bannon and Trump at loggerheads. And their coverage has been kind of confusing.
PAGE: I think the question once there was this great schism between Trump and Bannon with the publication of the Michael Wolff book is, where did the movement that they had kind of together put together, brought to the White House, where did the movement go? And it's pretty clear it goes with Donald Trump.
Trump is the figure at the head of this movement. He has solidified his position now as the head of the Republican Party. He has -- he's really -- this doesn't really unite the party . There are still divisions in the party, as you heard with Senator Flake, but this goes a distance to making much weaker those who would go after, for instance, Republican senators in primaries this year, as Bannon had promised to do.
TAPPER: And yet they were at loggerheads in the Republican primary in Alabama. Trump with was the incumbent senator, Luther Strange, who had been appointed, and Bannon was with Roy Moore. And Bannon won that fight, although he lost -- he and Trump both lost the ultimate fight to get him elected to the Senate.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but Susan is ultimately right.
The more enduring vehicle, the cause celebre for many of these most ardent conservative supporters of Trump is President Trump. It's not Bannon or a devotion to the actual Web site. The Web site is a place where they gather, but the actual enduring vehicle for them, the one that they believe is going to help them achieve the agenda items that they want to see achieved is President Trump.
And so Steve Bannon is now -- he was just one part of that and now he's put himself at odds with the president, and I think it was an easy choice for a lot of these supporters.
[16:40:07] TAPPER: So, Hogan Gidley, the White House deputy press secretary, was asked on Air Force One about whether or not Bannon could get back in the good graces or even work potentially back at the White House. And he said, "I don't believe there is any way back for Mr. Bannon at this point."
WALSH: Right, because Bannon's...
MADDEN: You broke my heart, Fredo.
WALSH: I think Bannon's sort of mea culpa, it praised Don Jr., but it didn't take anything he said about Eric or Ivanka off the record.
Another thing that -- I believe the source was Bannon -- there is a lot in the Wolff back about how weird the Mercers are and how Robert Mercer in particular doesn't talk much, really kind of a difficult person to be in the same room with.
You know, what was he thinking to talk that way if, indeed, it was him...
TAPPER: If was him.
WALSH: ... about his patrons?
MADDEN: I will say this.
We always cover the fall, but there will be -- and Washington is pretty typical in this regard that we do like the comeback story, too. We're only a few weeks away from Bannon plots his comeback.
TAPPER: Right. And we will cover that, too.
Coming up next -- everyone, stick around.
Coming up next, details of a secret interview that's now been made public, what a firm, an opposition research firm, told Congress about that infamous Trump/Russia dossier and why the former British spy who helped compiled the research felt the need to go to the FBI during the campaign.
Stay with us.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news. In our "POLITICS LEAD." CNN is now learning that Christopher Steele, the British spy who authored the Trump-Russia dossier alerted the FBI in July of 2016 because he was so concerned then-candidate Donald Trump may have been vulnerable to blackmail. This comes from transcripts of the Congressional testimony of the head of Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS is the research firm which paid Steele for the dossier. The testimony was released by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon over the objections of the Committee's Republican Chairman. I want to bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto. And Jim, Glenn Simpson, that's the co-founder of Fusion GPS, he claimed in his testimony that Steele told him that the FBI had similar intelligence as to what he was telling them from "internal Trump campaign source." Is that accurate?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that would be quite an explosive thing for the FBI to have someone on the inside, in effect a whistle-blower. Here's the exact quote from the testimony. Simpson testified before the Senate that the FBI, "believed Chris -- this being Chris Steele's information -- might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization." I should say that since that, this testimony, of course, was in August, since then Glenn Simpson, a Fusion -- actually, a source inside Fusion has clarified that this refers to the information that the Australian Ambassador passed on to the FBI.
You remember this, that George Papadopoulos had drinks in London with the -- with the Australian Ambassador and shared that he knew that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton and the Australian Ambassador so concerned by that information that he then shared that with the FBI. So not a whistle-blower inside Trump organization, but still they had other intelligence which was somewhat consistent with what Flynn was telling -- rather, what Christopher Steele was telling them about possible compromising information on Donald Trump.
TAPPER: But just to underline the point, Simpson's testimony there is inaccurate, the FBI did not have a source inside the Trump campaign. It's just they had heard something similar from the Australian diplomat --
SCIUTTO: That's right.
TAPPER: -- about somebody inside the Trump campaign.
SCIUTTO: Exactly. So you could say a second-hand information from someone inside the Trump organization.
TAPPER: OK. And -- but Simpson's argument is that all of this about Steele coming forward, et cetera, contradicts President Trump and his supporters who argue that the dossier was a purely political document paid for by Democrats trying to hurt Trump.
SCIUTTO: That's right. On a couple of different levels here. For one, Simpson testified that Steele went to the FBI entirely on his own and that he did not so not because he was told to by the DNC or Democrats but he was genuinely concerned that presidential candidate Donald Trump was being blackmailed by Russia. Here is what he said to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in the government, in our government about this information."
Information that he described that Simpson in his testimony describing Steele's comments described as blackmailable in effect. Now, we should note to date there's been no proof, no evidence has emerged that Trump was, indeed, blackmailed, but I should also note this because Simpson testified and he was asked a lot by the Republicans on the committee as to whether Fusion GPS told Steele what to put in his dossier or told Steele who to release that dossier to and Simpson's testimony at least, if you believe his account is that, no, Steele did this on his own.
TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks so much. My panel is back with me. And Joan, obviously so much of this investigation has been politicized. Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Delaware is a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told Manu Raju, CNN's Reporter, that the release of the Fusion GPS transcript shows that the investigation on the Judiciary Committee has reached an impasse is that bipartisanship is effectively over in that panel. Feinstein, the ranking Democrat releases this against the objections of Grassley, the Chairman, who is a Republican.
JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is a very unusual move for Dianne Feinstein. She is really someone who is cautious. She tries to be bipartisan. She could face a primary challenge in California because some folks on the left don't think she's far enough left. This is not something she did casually and I haven't spoken to her, but what it appears to be is that Senator Grassley himself has politicized some of this information by demanding that FBI investigate Christopher Steele and along with Lindsey Graham, the two of them have made -- have cast some dark aspersions against both Steele and Fusion GPS. So I think this was her way of saying, here's what we know. Given that she was being hamstrung from kind of pushing back on those, I don't want to say they're baseless allegations because I don't know all the facts but we don't know what they're based on. And that seems like the political maneuver that got this thing started.
[16:50:39] TAPPER: It seems the Senate Intelligence Committee right now is the only committee left investigating this in the Congress where there still remains some bipartisan agreement and cooperation. I know they fight behind the scenes, but the House Intelligence Committee is a mess and now you have the Senate Judiciary Committee just devolving into this.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and there is no shortage of charges about partisanship back and forth. I would say, though, in releasing the information, we haven't had a chance to go through it all, but what we have heard from it, there's really not a whole lot of new information in there. What I did find surprising was that so much of what Glenn Simpson testified about was his perspective or providing sort of in his own insights versus a new revelation of this like lockdown, verified information that was going to maybe alter the way that the Special Counsel was conducting his investigation or alter the way some of the Senators were conducting this information. So it doesn't seem like it's really going to change a whole lot.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: I disagree. I think there's a very significant disclosure we've seen already although we haven't studied this document in depth. And that is that it was not the dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign that sparked the FBI investigation, which is an allegation that Republicans have been suggesting, that it was -- that the whole investigation is corrupt at its core because that was what prompted it. This says, no, that wasn't the case. What started the investigation was George Papadopoulos running his mouth at a bar in London. The Australian Ambassador reporting it back to the FBI and then the Fusion GPS report coming in and verifying or fortifying some of that information. That it seems to me is fundamentally a very important thing to know.
WALSH: And we learned that Papadopoulos information from The New York Times, I think it was just last week. These weeks are longer and longer.
TAPPER: It's tough to know.
WALSH: I believe it was just last week. So that came out and made a big splash on the record and now we have a piece of what seems like corroborating information. So I think you're just going to -- we are all going to spend a lot of time piecing things together. I was actually reading the Luke Harding book Collusion on the train down here today when this broke. And I was at the stop where Luke Harding has a lot of this information, too, about Christopher Steele being so freaked out by what he was learning that he felt that he had to go to the FBI.
WALSH: So we're going to have to you know, tear out pages and line them up and see what corroborates.
TAPPER: Everyone stick around. President Trump is wading into the Oprah hype, says flat-out he could beat Oprah. But could he? Could anyone? Well, talk about that next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back and sticking with politics. She may be the closest thing America has to a monarch, but President Trump is not fazed by rumors of an Oprah 2020 presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll beat Oprah. Oprah would be a lot of fun. No, I like Oprah. I don't think she's going to run.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, guys.
TRUMP: I don't think she's going to run.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, guys.
TRUMP: I know her very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I want to bring back my panel. He said two things there. One, he doesn't think she's going to run, when probably the good money is on that, but, two, that he would beat her.
PAGE: So, I don't know who would win that race but I do want to cover that race. A Donald Trump-Oprah presidential contest, count me in.
MADDEN: And that's the political equivalent of the President of bring it on. I think you'd have to be very wary. I mean, she has better -- if not better T.V. skills than he does.
WALSH: Much better -- much better T.V. skills. No, I think she would be formidable. I think that there's so much in her biography that raises her to the Times and that's why her speech was so powerful. On the other hand, I think we have to look at a history of kind of pedaling some sort of anti-science, anti-medicine. She was a big proponent of the book The Secret which some people found -- some people, I don't want to speak for everyone here -- to be a little bit of hocus-pocus. That you know, we attract things to ourselves by how we think about ourselves. Some of Dr. Oz has gotten in trouble. She was a big Dr. Oz booster. Dr. Phil, I don't want to hold the doctors against her necessarily, but she would have a lot of things to answer for. Can you imagine the opposition pouring over all of her T.V. shows?
TAPPER: You're -- don't check your Twitter feed for that.
WALSH: I know.
TAPPER: I mean, what are you doing?
WALSH: It's my debut. No, I love her. I love you, Oprah. I'm not saying don't do it.
TAPPER: She's going to have to put --
WASH: She's got a lot -- she will have a lot of questions to answer.
TAPPER: But against President Trump who is a full-on vaccine truther?
WALSH: I don't -- I can't believe I'm saying this but I don't think we can give up our critical faculties just because she would be facing him, which I don't think is going to happen --
PAGE: She's got a bigger problem and that is when we have a new president and there is an opposition to him, we want to do somebody who is different from that president, as we saw over and over again as we saw with Obama as we saw with the election of Trump. And the opposition to Trump is going to be somebody who I think has experience in government that he hasn't had and is not a celebrity candidate.
TAPPER: All right. They're ringing me off. Thank you so much one and all. It was great to have you. Congratulations on your debut. We're so happy to have you.
WALSH: Thank you.
TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.