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Hitting ISIS after NYC Attack; Trump Begins Asia Trip; Trump on State Vacancies; Mueller's Obstruction Case. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 3, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Raqqa, Syria, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Claims of revenge. President Trump declaring the U.S. has struck ISIS harder after the terror attack in New York City. But the evidence doesn't back him up.
More amnesia. President Trump, despite claiming he has the best memory, says he can't remember the meeting with the campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his Russian contacts.
And 11 minutes of silence. Who deleted the president's Twitter account? New questions emerging about who has access and the very troubling risks.
We start with President Trump and a new declaration of war against ISIS, saying the United States military has now stepped up attacks on the terror group as retribution for Tuesday's terror attack in New York City.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're doing is every time we're attacked, from this point forward, and it took place yesterday, we are hitting them 10 times harder.
So, when we have an animal do an attack like he did the other day on the west side of Manhattan, we are hitting them 10 times harder. They claim to miss a soldier, good luck. Every time they hit us, we know it's ISIS. We hit them like you folks won't believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: ISIS claimed the New York terror attack suspect as a soldier of the caliphate.
Let's bring in our Pentagon Reporter Ryan Brown. Ryan, the president tweeted that the U.S. military has been hitting ISIS much harder over the past two days. He said it, once again, you heard before boarding Marine One. What are you hearing from officials over there at the Pentagon?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Wolf, there's no clear indication that there's been any increase in military activity against ISIS. In fact, statistics released by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria actually showed that the number of air strikes against ISIS has remained steady over the last few days.
In fact, the numbers had quite a fall from a few months ago, when the number of strikes was a lot higher. Part of that is there's so much success on the ground against ISIS. They've been expelled from Mosul. They've been expelled from Raqqa. They're left in a few border towns on the Iraq-Syria border.
So, there are fewer targets to actually hit. So, there hasn't been a dramatic increase in publicly released statistics on strikes.
Now, again, part of that could be that there are always options of special operations' mission, clandestine missions we don't know about that haven't been publicly talked about. But nothing publicly so far to show the military has increased its operations.
The Pentagon not specifically addressing Trump's comments but saying that the military remains active, fighting ISIS all over the world, including Iraq and Syria. But also in places like Niger, Nigeria, the Philippines, elsewhere where the U.S. is helping local militaries battle ISIS-affiliated groups.
So, no direct indications or public indications of any uptick in military activity, at this time, despite what Trump said.
BLITZER: Ryan Brown at the Pentagon for us with that update. Thanks very much.
Let's turn now to some new developments in the Russia collusion investigation and the impact on the president's inner circle. Jared Kushner delivering documents to investigators, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, credibility called into question, once again, after new revelations over what he knew about contacts with Russia.
And even new claims about the president's actions during the camp -- a campaign meeting where the Russia issue popped up, asked about that meeting today. Here's the president's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't remember much about that meeting. (INAUDIBLE.) I don't remember much about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you stand by your claim that you never -- the campaign never talked to anybody from Russia? Do you stand by that claim?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I can tell you is this. There was no collusion. There was no nothing. It's a disgrace the fact that they continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said the same thing, basically, yesterday that the president didn't remember the meeting surprising given the president's boast about his memory. Even just last week. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president may not remember the meeting, but now we know from other -- another foreign policy adviser at the table who says the president, quote, "heard him out" when George Papadopoulos suggested a face-to-face meeting between the then candidate, Donald Trump, and Russian officials.
Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining us right now. Let's start, Jessica, with Jared Kushner. What more do we know about the documents he turned over and what investigators are hoping to learn?
[13:05:07] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, Jared Kushner has voluntarily handed over documents that he had from the campaign, also the transition, in addition to anything he had related to contacts with Russia. All to the special counsel's office.
Now, this document production is coming at the same time, sources tell us, investigators have begun asking other witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May.
Now, Kushner has said that he was in favor of the decision but didn't press it. While other multiple sources tell a bit of a different story. And they say Kushner was, actually, the driver of that decision.
But either way, this cooperation now, handing over documents by Kushner. This is just another example of Mueller's team reaching into the president's inner circle, and continuing that probe into the obstruction of justice issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Sessions clearly now in the hot seat, once again. Former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. What did he say about his Russia contacts and what Sessions knew?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Carter Page now disclosing that he told Jeff Sessions that he was traveling to Russia at the height of the campaign. He says he informed Sessions about that trip during a group dinner in Washington in 2016, while Sessions was a top campaign surrogate and leading the campaign's national security team. Now, this is what Carter Page said behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. He said, back in June 2016, I mentioned, in passing, that I happened to be planning to give a speech at a university in Moscow. He continued saying, understandably, it was as irrelevant then as it is now. So, Page downplaying that brief discussion.
But, really, Democrats on the Hill say Sessions' omission of this mention is problematic. Here's the line of questioning from June.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Are you aware of any communications with any Trump officials or did you have communications with any officials about Russia or Russian interests in the United States before January 20th?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: And that was a similar answer that Sessions gave at multiple hearings, including in back in October.
And then, of course, there was that meeting in March 2016, where George Papadopoulos sat just feet from Donald Trump and then Senator Jeff Sessions. And Papadopoulos, at the time, said he wanted to set up a meeting with campaign officials and Putin, even with Trump himself.
Now, we're hearing from campaign advisor, J.D. Gordon. He was in that meeting as well. He put it this way, saying that, at the time, Donald Trump heard him out.
So, we also know at that same time, Jeff Sessions, he did dismiss any possibility of a meeting with Putin. But, again, the problem here being Sessions never disclosed those details, despite repeated questioning from lawmakers over the past year. Now, they want answers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they do. Jessica Schneider reporting for us. Jessica, thanks very much.
With investigators on President Trump's doorstep right now, he's getting more aggressive with criticism of the Justice Department.
Now, this is part of a series of tweets this morning. Quote, "People are angry. At some point, the Justice Department and the FBI must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it." Close quote.
Then, as the president prepared to leave for his Asia trip, he said this on the south lawn of the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm really not involved with the Justice Department. I'd like to let it run itself.
But, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats. They should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty. They should be looking at a lot of things.
And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And here's the president in a separate radio interview last night, seeming to lament his lack of control over the U.S. Justice Department.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very frustrated.
All right, let's bring in our panel. John Kirby, CNN Diplomatic and Military Analyst, former spokesman for the Pentagon and the State Department. Our CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates is with us. Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics Reporter, Editor-at-Large. And A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor and Columnist for Real Clear Politics.
So, Laura, let me start with you. What do you think about what the president said about his inability, he's very frustrated that he can't control the Justice Department and the FBI.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's by design under the Constitution and separation of powers. And, of course, the policy of procedures in place assume that the FBI and the DOJ should be able to operate independently.
And, frankly, his frustration, I think, is probably to understand when he's frustrated, he cannot have a hand in it. However, it has not acted as a muzzle. It hasn't acted as a sensor.
[13:10:00] And certainly, actually, if he is aware that he cannot be involved with the FBI or Justice Department, it almost begs the question of why you fired the FBI director? Why you fired the attorney general, Sally Yates, at the time? And why you continue to have a hand in your rhetoric about what the Justice Department does? If you're aware of that frustration, it certainly hasn't been a tie that has bound his hands or his mouth.
BLITZER: Yes, it's very interesting, Chris, because I think there's, like, 13 or 14 tweets already --
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: -- just today. The day is only halfway through here in Washington. He's on a plane now. He's flying to Hawaii and then starting his Asian visit.
But a lot of these tweets going after what he calls crooked Hillary, repeatedly. You know, right after the election, do you remember, he said he was done going after Hillary Clinton. Didn't need any more investigations.
But now, tweet after tweet after tweet, he wants the Justice Department to start a new investigation. He wants the FBI on Hillary Clinton as well.
CILLIZZA: Yes. One of my favorite Donald Trump quotes, and there are many, but one of my favorites was, I will be so presidential, you'll be bored. Which is he said that in June of 2016, when there were doubts about whether he could transition from, sort of, pundit attack dog candidate to, if he won, what we would think of as president.
He's, sort of, given that up and, now, said, I'm modern day presidential. Which I think means you act like a conservative pundit most of the time.
If I was Jeff Sessions, I'm not sure I would ever sleep terribly well in this administration. Given that, you know, I mean, Donald Trump has called you beleaguered. He's attacked you publicly.
But I would especially not sleep well right now because Donald Trump, you mentioned this, Wolf, eight tweets before 8:30 in the morning. About half of them taking off after crazy Bernie, crooked Hillary and Pocahontas, his not very pleasant reference to Elizabeth Warren. But also mentioning the Justice Department.
He's now sent five more since he's been on the plane. It's a long flight to Hawaii. He's going to be on the plane for a while longer.
You know, is firing Jeff Sessions something I think is likely to happen today? No, it's not likely to happen. But given Donald Trump's track record, given his misunderstanding, continued misunderstanding of separation of power and why these things are separate for the good of democracy, you know, I don't rule anything out, at this point.
BLITZER: And he said in - we just heard him say, A.B., he said, a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me. And in that one tweet he said, everybody is asking why the Justice Department and FBI isn't looking into all the dishonesty going on with crooked Hillary and the Dems.
Well, you know who runs the Justice Department, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the one.
SCHNEIDER: Right. And that's -- I mean, to Chris's point, there are a lot of people around him that would like him to be super aggressive, including Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, who would like him to go after Mueller.
And there is some, you know, worry right now and wonder about whether or not he intends to fire Jeff Sessions in order to have a new A.G. and fire Bob Mueller.
And one of my favorite quotes from Donald Trump came just a few nights after his election to Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes" when she asked whether or not she would -- he would proceed to lock up Hillary Clinton? And he said, I don't want to hurt them, about the Clintons. They are very good people. I don't want to hurt them.
So, this is obviously a way of distracting from what's going on with whatever it is. His agenda, the Russia investigation, and all of the indictments in the news surrounding that. And that's why he keeps talking about how it's a disgrace and there's no collusion.
We didn't hear about this months ago. Certainly, there is a new revelation about Tony Podesta being targeted by Bob Mueller. But this concern with Hillary Clinton is a way of distracting and Donald Trump makes that clear all the time. He likes to distract.
COATES: And, you know, it's one thing to worth note -- worth noting that FBI Director, former, Comey has given the American people the perception that we routinely comment on ongoing investigations, the existence of them, whether they do not exist.
And so, it's a presumption, right now, being made by the president of the United States that there is not an investigation that may be parallel into the Clinton or the campaign.
And so, I think because of the actions taken about that infamous press conference where you outlined the thought process and the logic and the discretion that goes into a prosecutor's decision to charge a case, that everyone is left saying, well, we should be knowing more by now.
But, really, the history of the FBI and Justice Department is one where you do not have the tar and feathering happen in public because you don't want this weird thing to happen.
BLITZER: Let me get John Kirby in to react to what the president said. It started this morning in that tweet. ISIS just claimed the degenerate animal who killed and so badly wounded the wonderful people on the west side, was their soldier. Based on that, the military has hit ISIS much harder over the last two days. They will pay a big price for every attack on us.
You heard Ryan Browne, a reporter at the Pentagon, say they've looked to see. It hasn't, at least so far, been a much more accelerated pace of going after ISIS.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (retired), CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: It's an odd thing for a commander-in-chief to say, quite frankly. [13:15:00] And we can't rule out that maybe over the last couple of
days they got actionable intelligence. You know, they captured some ISIS guys in Libya just a month or so ago. So maybe they got something. We don't know.
But, look, I think two things are really important to remember. There has been, for three years, a continuous military push against these guys. Continuous kinetic activity. It started under President Obama. And to Trump's credit, he has loosened up some of the rules and they have been able to accelerate some of that pressure.
But what they haven't done and what I think they all -- they need to focus more on is countering the narrative, the ideology. This guy that did this attack in New York City was self-radicalized online here in the United States. And I've seen precious little out of this administration to try to tackle the narrative of ISIS, which obviously continues to propagate and to find purchase.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: And just to add to that point here. Being tougher is not a policy. I mean like this wasn't, we're going to come back at them 10 times as hard. OK, but what is that? In the same way when he said, this guy's going to -- w should change the laws and get him the death penalty.
OK, well, how -- how do we get there? How does that fit into a broader strategy of how we approach these folks, both in terms of countering their ideological beliefs and countering what their actions are.
There isn't anything. It's surface. It's sort of said because he thinks it, but then you have H.R. McMaster or John Kelly or whoever it is come up and say, well, what he was really trying to say is, he was going to secure America against these sorts of people. Well, he said the guy should get the death penalty. That's not the same thing.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot going on right now. We're watching every step of the way.
Guys, thank you very, very much. As the president begins his Asia trip, North Korea now accusing the United States of a nuclear strike drill. The former national security adviser to President Obama, Tom Donilon, he's standing by live. He'll join us. We'll discuss.
Plus, who deleted the president's Twitter account? Serious new questions about who has access after apparently a rogue employee apparently pulled off a stunt.
And Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army sergeant who risked the live of his fellow troops after abandoning his post will not -- repeat, not serve prison time. The surprising decision from the judge.
That and a lot more coming up.
[13:21:19] BLITZER: The controversy and chaos rocking Washington happening as President Trump takes his first extended international trip to Asia. Topping the agenda, the growing nuclear threat posed by North Korea. China, South Korea and Japan all have huge stakes in resolving the issue peacefully.
This as South Korea's spy agency now says another missile test by the North Koreans is possible given an active movement of vehicles around a missile research institute in Pyongyang.
Let's discuss with my next guest. Tom Donilon is joining us. He was President Obama's national security adviser.
Tom, thanks very much for joining us.
TOM DONILON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR OBAMA: You're welcome.
BLITZER: How much is at stake right now in this presidential visit to Asia?
DONILON: Well, a lot's at stake. This is -- this will be the longest trip this president would have taken. This indeed --
DONILON: This -- yes, five nations, two multilateral summits, 12 days in the region. And the longest trip that a U.S. president, I think, has taken since George Bush 41 took his trip to Asia in 1991.
DONILON: What's at stake here is Asia is going to want to know, I think, from the president, what does -- what does U.S. policy look like in the time of an America first approach. What dose America first mean to Asia? And there will be a lot of challenges here, I think. I mean reassuring allies, reasserting the commitment of the United States to its presence and leadership in the region, which has been key to Asia's prosperity and security over the last 70 years. What's our approach to economics in the region? All these questions are going to be on the table. And, of course, you've got the key questions that he'll have on North Korea and on economic --
BLITZER: And China in this meeting -- the president's meeting with Xi Jinping, the president, the leader of China. China could presumably be doing a whole lot more to reign in the North Koreans.
DONILON: I think that the North Korea issue is the acid test of the U.S.-China relationship. And it needs to be front and center, obviously, during the course of this trip, but especially in meetings with Xi Jinping.
The most important geopolitical event in the last few weeks -- really one of the most important events recently, was the national party congress in China were Xi Jinping emerged for a second five years really as the most powerful leader that China has had since Mao. And I think China is as confident today as it's been in its modern history. But a key test here for the relationship between the United States and China is going to be China's efforts to deal with a nuclear program in North Korea.
BLITZER: What about Russia because there's a possibility he could meet they say on the sidelines --
BLITZER: With Putin during this -- these upcoming 12 days. A, is that a good idea? And if he meets with him, what's the main mission?
DONILON: Well, the current posture between the United States and Russia is hostile right now. Russia has struck a generally hostile posture against the west and the United States when Putin returned to the presidency in (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: I'm not sure the president necessarily agree with you on that.
DONILON: That's exactly right. And I don't know that he agrees with me on that. But it's pretty clear, right? If you look at the Russian conduct across the board, whether it be in Syria or North Africa or Afghanistan or Europe or indeed in the U.S. election, 2016, Russia has struck a hostile posture towards the United States. I don't know that a meeting between -- a brief meeting between the president and President Putin at this point would be -- would be productive. I think we need to deal with Russia from a position of strength in a very determined way.
But, interestingly, as you point out, one of the most important things I think the president could do -- and I think actually would do his administration a lot of good -- is really to just acknowledge the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that in fact Russia did attempt to affect the elections of the United States and then start to talk about, what are we going to do about it in the future.
BLITZER: Well, should he, if -- let's say he does meet with Putin. Should he say to Putin, stop it, don't do it? This is what President Obama said to him.
BLITZER: To Putin. But do you think he should come down rally hard and say, we know you guys interfered in our presidential election. We know you're still trying to do it. Stop it or else you're going to pay a price.
[13:25:05] DONILON: Yes, the president met with Putin and had this conversation according to the briefings after the -- after the session. I think at this point, Wolf, it's important what we do. I think we need to take steps, as a country, to ensure that we are much better protected against incursions into our election (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Like what?
DONILON: A number of things. Information sharing between the government and the states. The hardening of our electoral processes in our federal networks. I think establishing norms around the world with respect to cyber. There are a number of things that we can do here that would be -- that would be effective.
You know, we have -- our states need to have funding to harden up their -- harden up their systems. We should fund that from Washington. A number of things we can do. A lot of very good ideas.
BLITZER: I want you to listen. The president did an interview once again with Fox and he was asked about the vacancies.
BLITZER: Key positions at the State Department that remain unfilled.
You were President Obama's national security adviser. You worked closely with the State Department clearly. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't need all the people that they want. You know, don't forget, I'm a business person and I tell my people, where you don't need to fill slots, don't fill them. But we have some people that I'm not happy with their thinking process.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But assistant secretary of state, you're not getting rid of that position?
TRUMP: Well, but let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The only -- I'm the only one that matters. What's your reaction when you hear --
DONILON: Now, as the chief of staff at the State Department as well.
BLITZER: You worked at the State Department. You worked at the NSC.
BLITZER: When you hear the president say that, what's your reaction?
DONILON: A president can't implement his policies without having a team to do so. You can't -- one person needs to be able to leverage his policies, right, to get them implemented. And we really do have a very serious problem, I think, in the government right now in that it's under staffed. You cannot execute these policies.
Well, I'll give you an example. You know, I oversaw our pressure campaign on Iran for four and a half years. That took a tremendous amount of diplomacy and effort by a number of agencies of the government to successfully execute. We're trying to do a sanctions campaign against North Korea right now. Same kind of pressure on North Korea to drive them to the negotiating table. You can't do that alone, right? That takes an entire -- an entire all of government effort. And, indeed, I think that the president really misserves himself, frankly, and limits his ability to execute his policies by not having the government fully staffed.
BLITZER: Well, so when he says I'm the only that matters, is that once again at least another indirect slap at the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson?
DONILON: Well, the president obviously sets the direction in policy for the United States government. But at the end of the day, as I said, you can't -- he can't execute this by himself, right? Any good CEO would know that, right? You have to build -- you have to build a competent team to execute your policies.
BLITZER: The president continues to weigh in on the terror attack in New York City earlier in the week. He tweeted this. New York City terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed eight people, badly injured 12. Should get death penalty. Is it appropriate for a president to call for the death penalty?
DONILON: I think it makes the prosecution of this individual who executed -- who carried out this terror attack more difficult by interfering into the jury pool.
BLITZER: Well, and tell us why.
DONILON: Well, because it makes getting -- the -- his defense team will argue that it makes getting a fair trial and getting a jury that can be fair with him more difficult.
BLITZER: What -- what's your reaction to Robert Mueller, the special counsel's, first legal steps earlier this week, two indictments, one guilty plea?
DONILON: Yes, I'm not an expert on that -- on that. I really don't know the facts at this point. I do know Bob Mueller, though.
BLITZER: But you worked with him for many years?
DONILON: I worked with him closely.
BLITZER: What do you think of him?
DONILON: And, again, without commenting on the facts, because I don't have any firsthand knowledge of the facts, right. I know this about Bob Mueller. He is a dedicated public servant. He's as experienced a prosecutor and law enforcement person as we have in the United States government. Remember, he served for the 10-year term and then President Obama extended his term with the permission of Congress in the Obama second -- in the Obama second term. He is fair, tough minded, and, again, is about as experienced a prosecutor and law enforcement official as the United States government has.
BLITZER: Because I ask the question because there's some pressure on the president to fire him. If he were to do so, some would accused the president of an act of obstruction of justice.
DONILON: Well, again, I -- you know, I don't know. I'm not -- I'm a national security person. I'm not really involved in the legal matters here. But I can tell you this, because I said that you have in Bob Mueller someone who will do his duty. And he will -- he'll take them as they fall. He'll investigate where it takes them. He'll be fair, but tough. I guarantee it.
BLITZER: All right. Tom Donilon, thanks very much for coming in.
DONILON: All right, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
President Trump suggested he should be executed after deserting his base in Afghanistan. Moments ago a judge deciding Bowe Bergdahl's fate. We'll go -- we'll go there live. Stand by.
And new today, the U.S. unemployment rate hitting its lowest point in 17 years. You're going to hear the reasons why and whether this helps the president pass his tax plan. Stay with us.