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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana; Suspected Cop Killer Arrested After Two-Day Manhunt; Wife Of Justice Thomas Stirs Debate With Far-Right Rhetoric; Russian Company Claims Nude Photo Is Part Of Data Collected In Mueller Investigation. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 28, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: We know that Southern Command and Northern Command, I've served on the Armed Services Committee, are desperately short of funds to stop the drugs coming in. And so maybe there could be an additional plus to work on stopping those drugs from coming in, on working at the border crossings where those drugs are coming in.

[16:30:09] But there won't be funding for the wall.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Very interesting. So you are serving in your last few days of Congress right now. So is Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who, like you, was defeated in November. She sat down with CNN's Manu Raju to talk about Republicans you serve with and what they really think about the president. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Now, they'll tell you, if it's just the two of you, you know, the guy is nuts. You know, he doesn't have a grasp of the issues, he doesn't -- he's making brash decisions, he's not listening to the people who know the subject matter. But in public, if they go after him, they know they get a primary. And they know that's tough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Senator, have you heard similar things from your GOP colleagues?

DONNELLY: Well, we know they're very, very concerned about the primary situation. And look, in the work we do, everything is based on your word. And your word is your bond.

And like early last year or this year, we put together an agreement to do the border wall, as well as DACA funding. Ten Democrats, ten Republicans. It was a team effort. The president said, if you do this, I'll get this -- I'll move it forward.

We all kind of looked at each other and we knew that we could get this done, we'll get it to that point. And it may well sink at the White House that night, because having the word, yeah, I'm going to stand by this and do it, doesn't always work with this president. That what it is today is very different tomorrow. And all my colleagues know that.

BASH: And -- but on the notion that Republicans, you know, in the cloak room, on the floor, are saying to you and your fellow Democrats, that kind of thing, or as Senator McCaskill said, they think he's nuts or whatever -- you know, choose your adjective. Are you hearing that, as well?

DONNELLY: Well, what I'm hearing is that they're really concerned about the judgment, that we know as a Senate how to get out of this process. But we don't know how we ever get an agreement out of the White House, for instance, on the wall. There's paths there that we have all talked about and that can get done, but the problem is it then gets to the point where there is an agreement one day and then the next day, they listen to Rush Limbaugh and everything changes.

And so, that's the problem, is there's no consistency from day-to-day.

BASH: I'm going to ask you about your party, about the Democratic Party. You lost in Indiana in November. McCaskill, we just talked about, lost in Missouri. Heidi Heitkamp lost in North Dakota. The Democratic Party was already receding to the coast, even more so now. So can the Democratic Party be viable without appealing to the interior of the country where you live and where you represent?

DONNELLY: Boy, I don't know how you do that. I mean, I was fortunate enough -- I got more votes in this midterm than any Democrat in Indiana in modern history. But it wasn't quite enough, because the president came three times in about the last week, six times in about the last month and a half. And said this is about him.

And he said, if you don't vote, basically, you're betraying me. And we have not made enough of a connection. I work like a dog nonstop to make that connection. But that the people of my state understand that culturally, we want to make sure you succeed. That we're going to fight to make sure that, for instance, on student loans, we'll keep the interest rate at the same rate as a housing loan.

But when you talk Medicare for all like I heard on the panel earlier, you start losing the people in my state. When we start talking about, hey, we're going to work together with the insurance companies to lower premiums, that's what connects. And so, you know, the talk on the coasts just doesn't get it done in the middle.

And, Dana, this presidential election that's coming up, you know, what's going to happen on the coast is already baked in the cake. This is going to be won in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin and North Carolina and Florida and Arizona and Iowa.

BASH: Yes.

DONNELLY: And that's where the meat and potatoes is going to be. And if we're talking the other way, we're just not talking to those folks.

BASH: I was going to ask you about something like Medicare for all, looking ahead to 2020. So given what you just said, who is the person? Who is the person, or what kind of person do you really think is viable against President Trump?

DONNELLY: Well, you know, who wins the primary is not necessarily the best person in general.

BASH: Oh, who should win the primary?

DONNELLY: Well, I'm not going to --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Not a specific person, but a kind of person?

DONNELLY: Yes. A kind of person who can go into Michigan and go to the auto plant and have spent time there before, and have talked to the workers there, and have talked to the families at the churches and have talked to them about how important it is for their kid to get decent health care, and that that decent health care is with lower premiums and coverage for all.

[16:35:10] People just want to make sure they have a good job, decent health care, that they can retire with dignity, and that they know that the future is better for their children and grandchildren. When we talk about those things, we have success in the Midwest. I won four elections in a row -- elections I never was supposed to have won, because I talked to the hopes and aspirations of good jobs, making sure your kids have a great opportunity, and knowing that you'll get decent health care. That's what this is about.

BASH: Senator Joe Donnelly, I watched you many years work the halls and work hard for your constituents in Indiana, and I know that's a bipartisan, nonpartisan feeling on Capitol Hill. So thank you so much for that. And thank you for coming on.

DONNELLY: Thanks so much. It was a privilege being with you today.

BASH: Thank you.

And breaking news in our national lead. The man suspected of murdering a California police officer is now in custody. Investigators say Gustavo Arriaga came into the U.S. illegally and was arrested earlier today while trying to get to Mexico. Before an arrest was made, President Trump tweeted: Time to get tough on border security, build the wall.

CNN's Sara Sidner joins me now.

And, Sara, an emotional day for his family and the police department.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly emotional. No one in that room could stand there and listen to Reggie Singh, Ronil Singh's brother, without shedding a tear. I want to let you listen to what his brother said. He was trying simply to thank those who had finally arrested the man after a 48-hour manhunt who was accused of killing his brother.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REGGIE SINGH, BROTHER OF FALLEN POLICE OFFICER RONIL SINGH: There's a lot of people out there that miss him. And a lot of law enforcement people that I don't know that worked days and nights to make this happen. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: You hear him there. He just can barely get the words out, so devastated, as any family would be.

Ronil Singh killed in the line of duty while trying to pull over a man he suspected of driving drunk. But as it turned out, according to the sheriff, that man was actually an illegal immigrant who was known to law enforcement, and the sheriff railed against California's new law, which keeps local departments from being able to contact ICE and let them know that they have someone in their custody and then hand them over.

He said this is a known gang member. This is a person who is known to law enforcement for drunk driving in the past, that he crossed over the border illegally and to Arizona, and ended up in this community, killing one of the officers who was beloved in this community.

The sheriff is very angry about that. Here's what he said about what has happened in California and, as you know, California calls it their sanctuary laws.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF ADAM CHRISTIANSON, STANISLAUS COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: My point is, why are we providing sanctuary for criminals? Gang members? It's a conversation we need to have. I'm suggesting that the outcome could have been different if law enforcement wasn't restricted, prohibited or had their hands tied because of political interference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: And this coming at a time, of course, when immigration is top of mind as part of this political power play that is happening there in Washington, where you are. Now we're certain to hear from Donald Trump about this. Exactly the talking points he's been making, trying to get his wall paid for -- Dana.

BASH: They sure are. They sure are. It doesn't make it any less heartbreaking for that family.

Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Sara.

And up next, she's a long-time conservative known for pushing the envelope. But did the wife of a Supreme Court justice go too far with her latest Facebook posts?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:34] BASH: Not just the divided Congress about to come back to Washington. A more polarized Supreme Court is also just days away from a new session, and the far right, Trump-supporting Facebook posts of one of the wives of a Supreme Court justice is raising questions. For years, Ginny Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas' wife, has been a vocal presence in conservative circles.

But as CNN's Jessica Schneider reports, her most recent rhetoric is #MAGA all the way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I, Clarence Thomas --

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Supreme Court spouse for decades, Virginia Thomas, better known as Ginny, well-known for speaking out among conservative circles.

VIRGINIA THOMAS, WIFE OF JUSTICE THOMAS: The second Reagan revolution is growing.

SCHNEIDER: But it's her recent, rapid succession of Facebook posts blasting Democrats and promoting highly partisan views that are prompting pushback. Earlier this month, Thomas put up this meme, asking, where is the wall? Portraying California as a war zone, where undocumented immigrants attack and carjack Americans.

She reposted this claim of Democratic voter fraud after the mid terms with no proof at all. She has even derided Republicans for not going after the left, who she has labeled as liberal fascists one week after a woman was killed in Charlottesville.

One user responded to a recent post, you're literally married to a sitting Supreme Court justice and you put out this partisan propaganda. You tarnish the people's faith in the court and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ginny Thomas has every right to have whatever opinion she wants. She has every right as an individual to express those opinions publicly.

[16:45:00]

The question is whether, by expressing those opinions publicly, she is calling into question -- she is providing fodder for those who want to attack the impartiality and the credibility of the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: Jenny Thomas didn't respond to our request for comment.

GINNI THOMAS, AMERICAN ATTORNEY: Clarence Thomas, you're the best man walking the face of the earth.

SCHNEIDER: She did interview her husband in January as a contributor for the conservative site Daily Caller.

CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT, UNITED STATES: God, you make me laugh.

SCHNEIDER: Their banter offered a window into their close and playful relationship.

C. THOMAS: I keep a sign on my desk, don't make fun of your wife's choices. You were one of them.

G. THOMAS: Thank you. I really appreciate that. And it's so true. OK, what do you -- what do you say --

C. THOMAS: Because I love my wife so --

SCHNEIDER: And Justice Thomas told CNN's Jamie Gangel in 2016 that his wife is his rock.

C. THOMAS: Some people could put your life on the worst course, some people could put your life on a better course. You take my wife, she put it on a better course.

SCHNEIDER: But he also seemed to distance himself from her outspoken conservative commentary in that Daily Caller interview.

C. THOMAS: As a judge, you don't get to be on one team or the other. You have to think independently in order to live up to the oath that you take.

G. THOMAS: And the best part of being a justice.

C. THOMAS: Its -- first of all, it's -- it'd be impossible without you and I have to be honest.

SCHNEIDER: And Justice Thomas and his wife were married since 1987. And Ginny Thomas was an outspoken political advocate even before they met. But Dana, Supreme Court watchers do warn that even though she is entitled to her own opinions with such close scrutiny of the Supreme Court in this upcoming year, it could become even more important to stay away from any appearances of impropriety. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, thank you so much. That interview between husband and wife was interesting. Thank you. Back around the panel. OK, so as Jessica reported, look, Ginni Thomas, I remember when she was working for Dick Armey in the 90s. You worked with her in conservative circles back then. What's your take on all this Bill Kristol?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, she's got a different way than I have in terms of Donald Trump and in terms of some aspects of conservatism, but I don't think there's really a story here. There's zero evidence that Justice Thomas has voted some way on a case because of his wife's views. I mean he's a very consistent justice, a very strong originalist. I think you -- most court watchers could predict a lot of his opinions based on his jurisprudential views and no one's ever said oh look at that case, that's a weird one where obviously his wife has somehow taken a political view so I really don't think it's an issue.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She was very opinionated and vocal and involved in the conservative movement. I've been involved with her on and many issues. She was this way well before he was on the court and she's been very outspoken on certain issues. The NFL and entitlements and what she views as those on the left taking away the rights of all Americans and she's always been outspoken on that. The fire and her conservative belly really was reignited after the Anita Hill hearings and she really got more involved. But she views this as her free speech and I challenge anyone to try and tell her she needs to pull it back.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No she has a right to free speech. That's fine. But the implications and the impact that it may have especially her insensitivity after Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville you know, by neo-Nazis. Then I can't let the moment pass the senator that you just had on attacked flat-out attack Medicare for all. So you, know about, 44 percent of Americans in this country could not pay, they skip going to the doctor because it couldn't pay their medical bills. I'm sure some of those folks live in Indiana.

And newsflash to the senator, people want more than decent health care, they want good health care. We pay more per capita in the United States and any other industrialized nation. Our life expectancy is going down.

BASH: Ladies and gentlemen, a preview -- a preview of our 2020 presidential race in the Democratic party.

KRISTOL: Nancy Pelosi -- Nancy Pelosi is watching this and seeing the next two years of her life --

BASH: Yes, no kidding. Symone, getting back to Ginni Thomas, one of the Trump advisors during the campaign, commentator Stephen Moore told The Washington Post the following on Ginni Thomas. She has channels into the White House and gets her stuff on the President's desk.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's scary given some of the things that Ginni is putting on her Facebook page. But I will say this. You know, I was surprised and also kind of interested to see this story because there is so much attention on George Conway ideas and things that I agree with George Conway says on his Twitter page. And people are saying well, George Conway is saying this, how did this affect Kelly and Conway. She can't do her job, a split household. And here we have Ginni Thomas spouting some -- not just far-right. Some of the things she has said are downright conspiracy theories. She said the Parkland children were radicalized from Democrats who were destroying democracy and danger to democracy. That's not just conservative. That's -- I don't -- I would even --

BASH: She deleted that post --

SANDERS: She deleted that post but she put it up in the first place. And so it lives on -- it still lives on the internet somewhere. So I will say that I was interested to see that it seems as though that folks in the media and other folks are looking to hold if you will, Justice Thomas to a similar standard that they are holding Kellyanne Conway. I know Kellyanne Conway --

BASH: Yes, it's not entirely analogous because George Conway is speaking out against the policies that Kellyanne Conway, his wife, goes into the office every day to defend --

SANDERS: Agreed.

BASH: -- and it's murky what's going on in the Supreme Court.

SANDERS: But I think the question is can you be held responsible for something that your spouse says and does in their personal and private time. And I think that the you know, this is not totally out of the question. I think there are valid concerns here when it comes to the things that Ginni Thomas is putting on her Facebook page.

STEWART: I think Justice Thomas has been very clear and consistent on his views and certainly how he has behaved and acted and ruled on the high court and that hasn't changed. And like I said, they're two strong-minded people and certainly as that piece showed, they're madly in love. But look, she's a strong voice for the conservative movement. I'm actually glad she's getting some attention because she's been very active in the conservative movement for many, many years. But what she says and does on her private time and on her Facebook page, it is not going to influence Justice Thomas.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Does Justice Thomas agree with what his wife is saying? Much like we asked Kellyanne Conway. Again, I'm not a Kellyanne Conway defender, but I think it beg -- we have to put the question on the table.

KRISTOL: I just think the panel on Monday should be Nina and Joe Donnelly.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Democrats from Ohio, Democrats from Indiana, the rest of us will just leave and with -- that's the whole hour.

BASH: That's one tease. Here's another tease. This tease is what a naked selfie has to do with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] BASH: In our "POLITICS LEAD" today. How could a nude selfie threaten the national security of the United States? That's the question one Russian company is asking alleging Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team collected the proactive photo as part of its investigation into the Russia election interference issue. CNN's Sara Murray joins me now. Sara, you have the floor.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Isn't this the only thing that Mueller investigation was missing was an apparent nude selfie?

BASH: Clearly.

MURRAY: So this is a charge that Concord Management is making. This is a company that Mueller's team has said was involved in helping to spread political propaganda and try to influence American voters. You know, Mueller's team brought charges against them and a number of Russian entities and they're saying you know, we believe in this pile of data that Mueller has collected, there is a nude selfie. They don't say who is in the nude selfie and they're saying what should -- what could this possibly have to do with national security. They're doing this as part of a plot to try to get access to all of this data that Mueller has collected that's evidence in this case.

What Mueller's team wants to do is they want to share it privately with the judge. They don't want to give a Russian company access to what they believe is sensitive information that could reveal secrets about how the U.S. collects this information. And this is a Russian company with close ties to someone who has close ties to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. They definitely don't want that information getting in their hands either. But they've chosen to make their argument in a very colorful way.

BASH: Obviously. And you said that there's a connection with Vladimir Putin.

MURRAY: There is a connection. One of the people who is an executive in his company who is tied to this company is someone who sometimes referred to as Putin's chef. And so, one of the things Mueller does not want to do if they do not want to hand over tons of information, they do not want to reveal any information about how they collected it to someone in Putin's inner circle.

BASH: Sara Murray, thank you so much for that, and explaining all of that very important information about the naked self.

Since taking the stage at Studio 8H, Gilda Radner cemented herself as a comic legend. The first person ever cast on Saturday Night Live, Radner was a trailblazer for women in comedy until ovarian cancer took her life at age 42. The new CNN film loved Gilda uses the comedian's diaries, photos, and home videos to tell her story and give some of the biggest female names in comedy a chance to say thank you for paving the way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GILDA RADNER, COMEDIAN: Hi, I'm Gilda Radner and -- OK, now.

FRAN DRESCHER, ACTRESS: Dear Gilda, hi, it's me, Fran Drescher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Gilda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Gilda, I loved watching you on Saturday Night Live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda Radner was a huge inspiration to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I was about nine, I saw the sketch The Judy Miller Show, it inspired me to write my own one-person comedy sketch. It was directly because of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for teaching us that it's OK to be unapologetically wacky and fearless.

RADNER: Dear, Roseanne. Roseanne of Dallas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You blazed a trail for so many of us and I am so grateful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is incredibly funny girl who's like equal to the guys.

DRESCHER: I started to experience gynecologic cancer symptoms. I kept talking about you and your symptoms. Then I survived and then I thrived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gilda Radner was a bloody great girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only were you brilliantly funny, you had a terrific soul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "LOVE, GILDA" tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Tune in this Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION." Our guest will be Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.