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Chief Justice Roberts Defends Judiciary in Rare Statement after Trump Criticism; Independent Agency Opens File on Potential Whitakers Violations; Sources: Trump Organization Braces for Democratic Investigations. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 21, 2017 - 21:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here. Chris Cuomo is getting after it somewhere near turkey. Thanks for spending part of your Thanksgiving eve with us. If you're anything like the President, you spent the day engaging in the traditional pre- Thanksgiving activities of golfing, re-tweeting yourself asking important question about global warming and lecturing the chief justice of the United States about how the courts work in this country.

That last part was after Chief Justice John Roberts in a rare and stunning rebuke took the President to task for claiming a recent ruling against him was a disgrace from, "an Obama judge."

CNN's Senior White House Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny joins us now with the very latest.

Jeff, we're going to get back to you in just a minute. Now I'm told we have Jeff Zeleny in Florida racing to the microphone, braving the warm weather to be with us. Jeff, tell us what the friction between the President and chief justice is all about.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, sorry about that. We had been here at our post. I think the good weather might have interfered with the microphone.

But look, the reality here is what this is all about is really two things. The independent judicial branch of government and tribal politics, and the President clearly does not, if not recognize certainly appreciate the independent judicial branch of government.

The chief justice doing something he rarely does by weighing in saying, no, no, Mr. President, it's an Obama judge, it is an independent judge. And the President clearly did not accept that as an answer because of tribal politics. Everything in the President's view is who is with me or who is against me. That is how he viewed this.

Never mind the fact that some of the judicial appointments he made has ruled against him, and some Obama appointments have ruled for him. But the chief justice perhaps trying to give a lesson today, but clearly we'll see if that was a good idea because the President clearly didn't accept that. He fought back. BERMAN: So, Jeff, where does this go from here? There is no reason

to believe the chief justice is going to make this an ongoing back and forth, is there?

ZELENY: I would be very surprised if he would. We checked with the Supreme Court after the President responded to see if the chief justice would have an answer. They did not get back to us or have an answer to that. This all came about because a reporter from the Associated Press asked for a comment from the chief justice, if he had something to say.

So, he did clearly want to stick up for the independent nature of the judiciary. But, John, I think where this goes from here, if the President keeps up this line of attack, he's doing something he hasn't done much before. He's wrapping his immigration argument, you know, which is deeply politicized into an argument against the judiciary. So if he decides to continue down this line, it's clearly one more attack against an institution here.

So we'll see if the chief justice responds, but I can tell you others, I'm guessing will, but it's one more crack at institutions which are already being diminished and discredited at the hands of this President, John.

BERMAN: And it's taking on a guy who has a lifetime appointment to boot.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for being with us. I am thankful for you. Appreciate it.

So rare as it may be for a Supreme Court justice to comment on the President's behavior, what isn't new is the President lashing out at judges and the judicial system when things don't go his way. Randi Kaye reports.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even before Donald Trump became President, he was tangling with members of the judiciary. In the spring of 2016, he said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was a, "hater." Curiel presided over fraud la lawsuits against the now defunct Trump University.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He is a hater. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. OK?

KAYE: Curiel quickly became the target of racially tinged remarks by then Candidate Trump who seemed to argue that the judge's heritage impacted his ruling, since Trump talked so tough on immigration.

TRUMP: This judge of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall.

KAYE: Judge Gonzalo Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants and is not from Mexico, as Trump had suggested. Still, Trump told Wall Street Journal, "I'm building a wall. It's an inherent conflict of interest."

As President, the attacks continued. In February last year, President Trump went after U.S. District Judge James L. Robart, the federal judge in Washington State who temporarily blocked enforcement of his travel ban.

Trump's tweet storm included this. The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous, and will be overturned. That attack on the judiciary even caught the attention of Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court at the time.

During his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch told the senate the criticism was "disheartening and demoralizing." And when two federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland later blocked a watered down version of his travel ban, the President called it politically motivated.

[21:05:05] TRUMP: The order he blocked was a watered down version of the first order, that was also blocked by another judge and should have never been blocked to start with.

KAYE: A month later after a federal district judge blocked the Trump administration's move to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, the White House called the judge's actions erroneous, saying, this case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single unelected district judge.

And earlier this year, District Court Judge William Alsup temporarily blocked the Trump administration from ending the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA. Saying protections must remain in place for dreamers.

Trump once again lashed out on Twitter. It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our court system is when the opposing side in a case such as DACA always runs to the 9th Circuit. And almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Randi for that. Lots to talk about tonight with Time Magazine National Political Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst, Molly Ball, Attorney and Former South Carolina State House Member and CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers, and former Trump White House Lawyer James Schultz.

Molly, I want to start with you here because the President goes after a number of targets. He's gone after top generals and admirals. He's gone after judges before. But this time is different because the chief justice of the United States responded, and now you have a back and forth between the President and the chief justice. That's pretty unprecedented.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is rare, and it is true that the Supreme Court in particular tries to stay out of politics, tries not to touch anything of this sort. And, you know, as Randi was just reporting, this has been a very long pattern by Trump of insulting and perhaps seeking to delegitimize the entire judicial system.

And so I think it finally reached the point that the chief justice felt he had to send a message not only to the President, not only to the American people, but I think it was also directed at his fellow judges and directed at the rest of the judicial branch of government, saying that, you know, saying that the courts are going to stand up for themselves and the courts have a role to play and the courts maintain their independence even in the face of these types of insults, which do pose the danger of eroding public confidence in the judiciary.

BERMAN: Jim, I'm very curious how you look at this and feel about it because you're a Republican who worked in the Trump administration, but you are also a Republican long before the Trump administration. So do you feel caught in the middle? Do you feel like your parents are fighting here?

JAMES SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: No, here's what I think. I believe -- look, there's no one -- I don't believe judges that are appointed are beholden to any particular president. But to say that a judge doesn't have -- is left leaning or right leaning or has certain views on certain issues is ludicrous because they do.

Lawyers farm shop every day when they're looking to file cases. They try to figure out the strategically what the judges may think about a particular case. That's why forum shopping occurs. So to say that judges are beyond politics or beyond being liberal or beyond being conservative is just flat out wrong.

Now, they have to follow the rule of law. They have to follow precedent. But how they interpret the rule of law can have a slant to it from time to time. I think that's what the President was getting at. I think he did it a little more aggressively than that.

But I think that's what he was getting at, that he was disappointed with the decisions coming out of the 9th Circuit, which by all accounts, if you talk to folks in the legal community, is viewed as a liberal circuit. Right now it's 16 to 7 Democratic versus Republican judges in that circuit. He's got six more pending that can probably even it out a bit. But it's certainly a left leaning district.

BERMAN: So what do you think pushed the chief justice over the edge, then, Jim?

SCHULTZ: Look, he has to protect the integrity and he has to protect the independence of the judiciary. And that's what I was getting at earlier. I don't think you have judges that are beholden to the Presidents who appoint them. But I do think judges come in with, first of all, they're following the rule of law. They have to follow precedent. You see the vitriol with the appointments process. And it is a very political process that's engaged in confirming these judges.

So I think what you're seeing Justice Roberts reacting to is not only the President, but also the process that we just went through with Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch, and the narrow margins and the vitriol even before the allegations, the political accusations that went on during that, during that time period.

BERMAN: Bakari, I heard you laughing.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, no, I was laughing because he referred to them as Justice Gorsuch. Don't we all wish? And I think that is evidence or somewhat made his point.

[21:10:09] Even more so, I think that what we see here is a President who disrespects the norms, who disrespects the fundamental tenets of democracy. Even more importantly, doesn't understand them. I think that Donald Trump believes that judges should be beholden to him. I think that he believes judges do have a D or R beside their name.

I think he disrespects individuals based on what team he believes they're on. And so we're here. This is not anything new. He's done this with our United States military and generals, even sending 5800 troops to the border and saying that it's Thanksgiving, they'll get over it they're service members so they'll get over it.

He's done it with our press and assaulting the free press and saying that people like yourself are enemies of the people. And now he's doing it with the justice system. And so this isn't anything new, what he's setting out to do is destroy norms.

And people twist themselves into pretzels, trying to find some sliver of light that they can defend the President of the United States when there is either one of two reasons he's doing it. One, he is very abusive of the tenets of democracy, or two, he's ignorant of how government works. I think those are the only two choices.

BERMAN: Bakari, should we Chiron, you John Roberts fan at this point?

SELLERS: No, I think that John Roberts is a United States justice who doesn't wear a red or blue vest when he goes to bed. I don't think that he chants "lock her up" and I don't think he says that, you know, hope and change, praise god for Barack Obama. I don't see him being either one of those things. In fact John Roberts maybe extremely happy, when he ensured that we could have the Affordable Care Act and it stayed intact.

And then when he took away the fact that public unions -- the right for public entities are unionized, then you hate John Roberts. And so, you know, I think that he's a justice who believes in what he believes in, but he's not a partisan figure. I don't give any of them that. And I think that that's sad that the President of the United States is so petty that he puts a D or R beside anyone's name.

BERMAN: Molly, clearly the judicial process or the process of getting judges on the bench is highly political. There are entire societies devoted to vetting judges to make sure that they are acceptable to one side or the other. So, is there an element that the President is only voicing the reality? BALL: Sure. I mean, we all keep track of which judges are appointed by which Presidents and nobody failed to notice when it was a Trump appointed judge, for example, who ruled against him in the CNN case. And I think that is what the sort of norm, the expectation is for judges, is that they do not carry the water of a particular political figure. They don't work for one side or the other. They don't take orders from anybody, but they do have a judicial philosophy and that judicial philosophy is heavily vetted and it does tend to fall on one side or the other.

So it is true that judges on the 9th District tend to be appointees of Democratic Presidents or put out by Democratic Senators because of the tradition of judicial approval by the senators in those states. And they do tend to issue more liberal rulings, but it's also the case that there have been adverse rulings for this President in numerous appellate courts, not only the 9th Circuit. So he seems to be targeting the 9th Circuit for the perception that it is his only problem here.

But his problem is doing things that many courts have insisted violate the rule of law and go beyond his Presidential prerogatives. Now that's not to say that other Presidents haven't also had adverse court rulings, but this is very much Trumpian, to take everything personally and to believe that any judge who rules against him, like Judge Curiel, must be out to get him and have an axe to grind against him personally rather than a judge who, you know, through the lens of that judge's judicial philosophy, reviewed the precedent, reviewed the law and decided that what he had done did not follow it.

BERMAN: Just a few points on the 9th Circuit. There are two circuits that have higher rates of reversals than the 9th, so it doesn't have the highest rate. It is slightly higher than average but it is not the most.

Jim, when you look back at this week, you know if I told you two years ago that President Trump would spend a week attacking Admiral McRaven, the guy who was in charge of the Special Forces during the Osama bin Laden raid, and Chief Justice John Roberts, would you have believed me?

SCHULTZ: I probably would. I mean, this is a highly charged political atmosphere. This President, you know, reacts right away and reacts via Twitter. He reacts via the television, reacts with his voice. I mean, that's what he does and when folks are critical of him, he punches back. And I think that's what we're seeing here.

BERMAN: Are you happy with it, though? Honestly, Jim, is that the way you would like to see him spending this Thanksgiving week?

[21:14:59] SCHULTZ: Look, I think there are times when this President needs to defend himself. He needs to defend his policies because he's -- and he needs to get his voice directly to the American people. And that's what he does.

From time to time, does he do it somewhat aggressively, somewhat in artfully? And sometimes I don't agree with the manner in which he does it? Sure. But I think he needs to be out there defending his policies, talking about the good things that this administration has accomplished and defending himself in an environment where he is under attack.

BERMAN: Bakari, I want to give you the last word here and I want to focus on the judiciary if I can quickly. Have you seen any evidence in elections that Democrats will come out and vote on the issue of judges? Because we've seen a lot of evidence that Republicans will. But I'm not sure if you seen the reverse.

SELLERS: I don't think we've seen that yet. I think that now we recognized the importance thereof after the Kavanaugh hearings, we've seen what happens with Gorsuch, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama attempted to make the issue of the Supreme Court sexy near the end of the election, and it simply did not work. And it did not -- it was not a base motivator.

But right now, one of the things that we're seeing in this country which is driving Democrats is whether or not you can close your eyes and you can listen to my colleague Jim or Lindsey Graham or Ben Sasse or any other Republican who turns a blind eye to what the President of the United States is doing and destroying these norms and trampling on the Constitution.

And I think that is what's driving the majority of Americans coming out. And I think that's why you had a blue wave a couple of Tuesdays ago because Republicans are being (inaudible), they're being proverbial fence sitters and nobody stands up to the President of the United States. They make excuses for him.

BERMAN: Bakari Sellers, Molly Ball, James Schultz, thank you all for being with us. I hope you have a wonderful holiday tomorrow.

BALL: Happy Thanksgiving.

SELLERS: Happy Thanksgiving.

BERMAN: All right, coming up, more potential trouble for acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. What CNN has learned about a new investigation over money that Whitaker accepted as political contributions, next.

And later, The Trump Organization is facing multiple investigations from state and federal authorities and is now bracing for what could be more from Democrats in Congress.


[21:20:23] BERMAN: CNN has been reporting Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker revised his financial disclosure forms five times after being appointed. The forms were released after pressure from government watch dog groups and showed that Whitaker received almost a million dollars in payments from a conservative group over 2016 and most of 2017.

Now, CNN has learned that an investigation is also looking into whether Whitaker accepted political contributions that may violate the Hatch Act. Our Justice Reporter, Laura Jarrett joins me now with the very latest. Laura, what are you learning about these potential violations?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well John, the issue stems from roughly $9000 in political contributions that Whitaker received associated with his failed bid for U.S. Senate there in Iowa. The only problem is these donations came in early 2018, after he's already serving at the Justice Department as Jeff Sessions' Chief-of-Staff.

Now, the Hatch Act says that political appointees are not supposed to be soliciting or knowingly accepting political contributions. So there is an issue right there. A government watch dog group filed a complaint and we have learned today that the office of special counsel, no relation to the special counsel Robert Mueller's office, different office altogether, an independent agency has now opened a formal investigation, John.

BERMAN: Not all special counsels are created equal here, Laura. This did stem, as you mention from an ethics watchdog group complaint?

JARRETT: Yes, that's right. You know, a various watchdog groups have sort of been raising issues about Whitaker's financial disclosure forms in recent days. The citizens for ethics in Washington as well as in American oversight tried to get a handle on those financial disclosures, asking for them. Turns out they had been revised in recent days, soon after Whitaker had been appointed as the acting attorney general. And now of course this complaint has been opened as a result of what they had been asking for.

BERMAN: And I understand, Laura that you have reached out to Whitaker's campaign treasurer, again from the 2014 campaign. What did he say?

JARRETT: Yes, he's still around. I talked to Bill Gustoff today and he said Whitaker actually never solicited these donations and neither did he. He didn't understand where they were coming from, why they were made at all. But he did say that he took them. He accepted the money and he was using it to pay down debt because Whitaker had actually spent his own money on the campaign. And there is this outstanding, around $49,000 left over in debt. But, of course, none of this was disclosed on the campaign finance disclosure forms, John.

BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett fascinating 2014 it will never end. I appreciate it. With me now former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers and Obama White House Ethic Czar, and CNN Contributor Norman Eisen, Author of the Last Palace, "Europe's Turbulent Century In Five Lives and One Legendary House."

Ambassador Eisen, how significant is this investigation? Because you said we don't know the full story. We clearly don't know the full story surrounding Whitaker's financial disclosures.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, thanks for having me back. And it's very significant because if this were an isolated episode, one would say, well, the campaign contributions came in. They disclaimed knowledge. But it's not isolated. You have this facially troubling situation against the Hatch Act rules that I helped administer when I was in the Obama White House. And it comes on top of so much more of the constitutional legal questions about his appointment. His ethics issues, whether he has to step aside as Jeff Sessions did.

John, it raises questions under those rules because now we're learning from these financial disclosure forms, as Laura said, my watchdog group crew together with American Oversight has been doing intense work on this. They started fussing with these forms the day we asked for them, John. And they raised questions about his political affiliations, all the money that he got to attack Hillary Clinton. So there's too much smoke here. Something's deeply wrong.

BERMAN: Jennifer, let's focus on the Hatch Act if we can for a moment. How many people have ever gone to jail for Hatch Act violations?


BERMAN: And that's because?

RODGERS: It doesn't have any criminal penalty and the office of Special Counsel doesn't have any enforcement powers. So what happen is that for violation is suspected, the office investigates it and they send a recommendation to basically the person overseeing the person who committed the Hatch Act. So when Kellyanne Conway was tagged with the Hatch Act violation, they sent a letter to the President recommending that he discipline her or do something. But in reality, nothing really happened.

BERMAN: In this case it would be the President who would have to decide to discipline Matt Whitaker. He didn't discipline Kellyanne Conway. Doesn't seem likely he would discipline Whitaker.

[21:25:02] RODGERS: I agree.

BERMAN: But, but, it doesn't mean in your mind that this isn't worth paying attention to.

RODGERS: No, I mean look, and Norm is exactly right. It's just thing after thing with this guy Whitaker. He's a disaster. And the one thing that Norm didn't even get time to mention is the fact that he was on the advisory board of a company now under investigation by the FBI for fraud. And when he was sending threatening e-mails on behalf of that company, he was throwing around his weight as a former U.S. attorney which is completely inappropriate. So this guy is just top to bottom a disaster. He should not be there.

BERMAN: And I ask facetiously will all this come out in a Senate confirmation?

RODGERS: Well, you know, I don't think he's going to have a Senate confirmation. I do believe the President will nominate someone else. I think they were taken by surprise by all the furor over this guy. I just hope that they nominate someone with integrity who has the experience that this guy does not.

BERMAN: Yes, in all likelihood there won't be a Senate confirmation because he's been appointed under the vacancies act which says he can't be hired permanently. He can only serve 210 days.

And Norm, let me ask you, big picture about Matt Whitaker, because three U.S. senators have now filed a lawsuit saying that the constitution doesn't allow him to even serve in this job in a temporary way. It seems like a lot of people are doing a lot of things to slow this up, but if you had to bet, this guy is going to work at least the full 210 days as Attorney General, won't he?

EISEN: Well, John, I wouldn't make that bet. I think we're only at the beginning of the Whitaker revelations. There are very serious constitutional and statutory questions about whether he's capable of serving. There's also litigation going on in a Maryland Federal Court about that question. It's in the Supreme Court. There's been a petition filed. There's going to be more. Those are real questions because the constitution says advice and consent. And the advice and consent has not happened here by the Senate for Whitaker.

Number two, he's going to be grilled in front of the House. The House has already said he's going to be the first or one of the first called by the House Judiciary Committee. So these questions are going to be answered. And then we have questions like his financials. Five changes starting the day that my watchdog group asked for them in over the past two weeks.

They were amended five times. What were those amendments, John? We filed FOIA requests today to find out the answer to that question, so there's going to be more. When this kind of smoke is pouring out of the walls, it usually doesn't spontaneously stop. There will be more.

BERMAN: And Jen, I mean the Ambassador is right that the House Judiciary Committee has already said that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will be the first witness. Will that committee be able to get its hands on everything?

RODGERS: Well, they should get their hands on everything related to the inquiry. They're not so much concerned about the Hatch Act and so on. They're looking into what conversations he had with the President about Mueller and what he was going to do with that investigation. So that's what they're digging around in.

And with respect to that, yes, they should be able to subpoena whatever communications there were, whatever documents there were. They'll be able to talk to witnesses and hopefully they'll be able to get to the bottom of what, you know, even just that piece which we haven't spoken about yet at all is very troubling with respect to Whitaker.

BERMAN: And Whitaker may only get 210 days as acting Attorney General, but it will be action packed, jam packed 210 days.

RODGERS: It will.

BERMAN: Jennifer Rodgers, Ambassador Norman Eisen, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

RODGERS: Thanks.

EISEN: Happy Thanksgiving.

BERMAN: You too.

Why sources say the Trump organization, the President's family business is worried now that Democrats have control of the House and have subpoena power. That's next.


[21:32:13] BERMAN: New tonight, the President's family ran business to Trump organization is bracing for new legal fights this time on Capitol Hill. CNN Business and Politics Correspondent Cristina Alesci joins us with the details. Cristina you're part of the team that broke the story. It's really interesting. What exactly is the Trump organization preparing for?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Democratic control of the House, that poses an entirely new and distinctive threat for Trump's business, John. I'm told that in the days following the midterms, Trump organization executives got on a call to discuss the possible onslaught of Congressional inquiries and they also reminded staff to preserve records and the same executives discussed hiring new lawyers who specialize in government investigations.

Now, adding new lawyers, I've been covering this company for a long time. That would be a big deal because historically, the Trump family business has kept the legal team small to control costs and the information flow.

Right now, the company uses a relatively small group of very loyal criminal defense attorneys, but they're dealing with so many different issues, multiple investigations and lawsuits. For example, New York State is investigating potential tax fraud, federal investigators are looking into campaign finance violations. Add to that Congressional investigations and the work load could be a tremendous burden.

All that said, John, some lawyers we spoke to that are advising the company told us they could handle the work themselves. We think that's partially driven by a sense of optimism, maybe wishful thinking that the Democrats are going to ease up on the Trump organization.

BERMAN: Really interesting. They had meetings right after the election on this. Any sense, Christina, of what Democrats' investigative priorities are?

ALESCI: Well, I think John, the Democrats are aware of the political blow back if they spend too much time investigating the President's company and not enough time working on legislation that benefits the average American. But if they do go hard on The Trump Organization, we have a road map that they might pursue. Adam Schiff, the likely incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has indicated that he would like to investigate possible Russian money laundering and he considers that a top priority.

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee will likely press for more information about foreign payments with Trump organization, especially the company's hotel in Washington, D.C., and Maxine Waters, the incoming Chair of the Financial Services Committee has called for an investigation into Trump's relationships with one of its largest lenders, Deutsche Bank. She's already asked questions about its Russian operations, John.

BERMAN: All right. So what about Michael Cohen, right? I mean, he was the President's former fixer who pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Are executives worried about him?

ALESCI: Yes. We know that Michael Cohen has spoken to prosecutors, but we don't know what he's told them. And it's not clear The Trump Organization knows either.

Now, his sentencing is scheduled for December 12th, so we'll likely find out if the prosecutors found him helpful.

[21:35:05] Cohen remembers one of the people that certain lawmakers including Schiff might call back for more questioning. Schiff has mentioned also questioning Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, remember him, and the company General Counsel Alan Garten. Now, those executives could be haul to Congress, but we'll have to see how aggressive the Democrats will get.

BERMAN: Yes, pay attention to these names. They might be coming to a hearing room near you. Cristina Alesci, terrific reporting. Thanks so much for with us.

ALESCI: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Investigative Reporter David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump." David thanks so much for being with us. What specifically do you think The Trump Organization has to be concerned with here?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, inflows of money from Russian mobsters and other criminal elements because Donald has long done business with these people and allowed them to purchase apartments from him through anonymous wealth corporations. If you had a desire to buy a Trump Tower apartment in the name of Snow, Inc., Donald didn't ask, gee, is that a ski lodge in Colorado or a cocaine trafficking business? He just said, pay up and I'll be glad to sell you the apartment.

Secondly, the investigators are going to be looking for books and records. And Donald has a long, well documented history of hiding and destroying accounting records that were sought during audits.

BERMAN: So, the incoming chair of the house intelligence committee Adam Schiff has indicated that he will make investigating possible Russian money laundering through The Trump Organization a top priority. Is that what you're talking about there, some of those condo purchases through front organizations?

JOHNSTON: The condo purchases, transactions involving the Trump SoHo Hotel which now has Donald's name taken off of it. And a variety of other transaction that's go back to as early as 1983.

BERMAN: And that will reveal a relationship, in your mind, at a minimum with Russians with money, right?

JOHNSTON: That's right. And remember that the only bank which your correspondent just mentioned that will directly loan to Donald is Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is a preferred bank for Russian criminal money laundering. It's paid over $600 million in fines for laundering money for Russians in New York, Germany, and Cyprus.

BERMAN: So you know this better than anybody. From the outside, though, it looks like The Trump Organization is actually a small family-ish business. That they've bring in a lot of outsiders. So, what does it tell you about the level of concern that they're talking about staffing up?

JOHNSTON: Well, Donald has always run a tight small operation. His father did, to control information. But let's keep in mind that Michael Cohen, his lawyer, is actively seeking to tell prosecutors everything he knows, and that some sort of deal has been made with Allen Weisselberg, the guy who cuts the checks, which means investigators will be able to learn about inflows as well as outflows and among other things, whether Donald, for example, took improper income tax deductions, whether he violated the foreign corrupt practices act, a whole host of other actions.

And there's, of course, the unanswered questions about how much, if any, of the $10 billion stolen in Kazakhstan ended up with Donald Trump. It's believed that at least some of it did.

BERMAN: You brought up Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg. Explain to us exactly how much each one of those men might know.

JOHNSTON: Well, all of the recent deals, the last 10 years roughly of Donald's deals, were run through Michael Cohen as his lawyer. And we have, of course, that tape in which he talks about how he's doing this and brings up Allen Weisselberg.

Allen Weisselberg worked for Donald Trump's father Fred Trump, back in the day when Fred Trump's partner was a Mafia front named Willie Tomasello. And so he has a very deep knowledge of where the money was put, how it was hidden, the deals that were made, because as the chief financial officer, he oversaw the outflows of money.

BERMAN: David Cay Johnston, it is fascinating. It will be interesting to see how far Democrats want to probe here. I appreciate your time. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

JOHNSTON: You too. BERMAN: So, last night we brought you CNN's exclusive interview with Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Coming up more of Laurie Segall's face-to-face with the man in-charge of the social media giant, the giant that faces serious questions about its past practices as well as its future plans.


[21:43:19] BERMAN: Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is under fire on multiple fronts, including the residual fallout for why the social media website didn't more actively monitor Russian misinformation during the 2016 election. Last night we brought you the first installment of CNN's exclusive interview with Mark Zuckerberg. Here's Laurie Segall with more of what he had to say.


LAURIE SEGALL, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Respond to the criticism that folks say that this was delayed or denied, and that it just wasn't transparent enough, didn't name Russia, and that there was actually drama of the chief security officer going to Sheryl Sandberg and saying, this is a problem, you know. So, can you respond directly to that?

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: Yes, I think the real issue is that we were behind on building the systems that we need to help prevent these attackers in the first place. At each step along the way when we learned about it, we've invested a lot to go make sure we understood the full reality of what was going on and buildup the systems that were in place. And I think the reality is now we are in a place where our systems for preventing election interference are stronger than any other company out there, and probably almost any government, too.

So I wish that we were faster on this. These are complicated issues. Unfortunately, once we started learning about them, they're not things that you can just resolve in a few months. It really has taken a year or longer to get all these systems in place. But I would strongly push back on any suggestion that when we learned about this, we didn't push very hard to address the issues that we saw, and that we didn't communicate about them.

SEGALL: I want to talk a little bit about the changes you guys also made recently with the Facebook news feed and algorithm. Can you explain exactly what you changed and what was your thinking behind it?

[21:45:02] ZUCKERBERG: Yes. So, in terms of content overall, we have a community of 2 1/2 billion people. The vast majority of what people share is good. But then there are these cases where we really need to prevent people from spreading terrorist content or hate speech or bullying people or doing really terrible things.

And that falls into two categories. So one are things that violate our policies where we need to take down the content. But then there's another class of content, which is it doesn't violate the policies, but it's just sensationalist, right? And people have a natural tendency to want to engage the most, with the most sensationalist and provocative content. And, you know, that's true on social networks. It's also true in cable news and tabloids, and all media. But I think we can correct that and make it so that the most sensationalist content isn't what spreads the most on social networks. And I think that that will create a better and healthier discourse.


SEGALL: And, John, I think it's worth noting as Facebook tries to get on top of these issues, their business is going to take a hit. I mean, they are investing billions in security. They've added 30,000 security professionals to try to handle a lot of these threats on the platform on democracy.

And they've also changed, as you heard in my interview with Mark, they've changed the algorithm to not -- to help demote sensationalist content. But remember, that kind of content met more eyeballs on screen which meant more money for Facebook. So fundamentally, the question at the core of this is, is their business model broken and can they fix Facebook without breaking their business? John.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Laurie Segall. That was part 2 of CNN's exclusive interview with Mark Zuckerberg. Of course a good deal of the recent scrutiny of Facebook was generated by a lengthy "New York Times" investigative piece about the company and its practices, which included according to the Times, hiring a Republican opposition research firm to discredit Facebook protesters, in part, by linking them to liberal financier George Soros.

Sharing the by line was "Times" National Security Correspondent Matthew Rosenberg who's done a great deal of reporting on Facebook and joins me now.

Matt, great to see you here. I just want to get your reaction to a little bit of Laurie's interview there, hearing from Mark Zuckerberg himself saying that Facebook was slow and meaning it was slow to respond to attacks from Russia. Is that admission enough? What do you make of that?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes and no. I mean, look, when this stuff was unfolding in '15, in 2016, nobody had a full picture or idea of what was going on. But one thing either Zuckerberg nor Facebook has really answered they try to avoid is the fact that when they finally knew what had happened, in September 2017, first under pressure from journalists, under pressure from Congress, they admit, well, the Russians bought about $100,000 worth of ads from us.

And then it takes another two months to find out, well, actually, 126 million Americans saw content produced by Russians which is a little different than the first admission. It's a slow walking, slow rolling out earlier in the year when they knew more, they kind of resisted putting Russia, putting the name out there, some of that was political considerations by they're kind of Washington office saying, hey, you know, we're going to upset Republicans if we do this. And so, you know, they weren't totally forthright.

BERMAN: It's really interesting because he seems to be answering questions about 2015, 2016, not as much about 2017. And there are plenty questions about that as well. So you've written about how Facebook feared Trump supporters.

We heard Mark Zuckerberg there talking about how Facebook isn't political or tries to be different or separate than politics. But when Donald Trump then candidate, you know, talked about his Muslim ban on Facebook, there were clear political considerations for Facebook not taking it down.

ROSENBERG: And look, I think by all accounts, Zuckerberg was horrified by that. He's put money into kind of for immigration groups. But, you know, he wasn't part of the initial Facebook conversation about whether this post should stay up or not. You know, there was -- is this violating our standards. They had a conversation about it.

And Joel Kaplan who runs our Washington office, he's a long-time Republican kind of figure, had pushed back saying if you take this down, you're going to upset Republicans. So for Facebook to come back and say, well, politics had nothing to do with whether or not we take down a post by the leading Republican candidate for President is kind of defies belief. Of course politics has something to do with it. It's a political consideration.

And so there is this kind of like we're not going to admit anything and just look the other way. We've got systems, we've got systems now. It's a dodge mostly.

BERMAN: Yes, it really isn't addressing the main issue. I'm not sure people would be surprised or horrified to think --


BERMAN: -- the side politics goes into the decisions. To that point, today --


BERMAN: -- Thanksgiving eve, Facebook decided to address this controversy. And I'm not even sure how much of a controversy it really is, but --


BERMAN: -- the fact that Facebook hired Republican strategy firm definers --


BERMAN: -- which did work, connecting some of the people complaining about Facebook to George Soros. What did you make of that statement?

ROSENBERG: I mean, it had a strange element to it where a very senior Facebook executive is the guy who made the statement, Elliot Schrage. And he was kind of asking himself questions and answering them. And it felt like maybe there were his bosses standing in a room --

[21:50:09] BERMAN: Right.

ROSENBERG: -- you know with the weapon pointed at him saying answer these questions. I mean I don't want to be glib, but it had this kind the weird confessional, I'm going to take a bullet for the company kind of tone to it.

It also sought to kind of justify this idea. Well, Soros was really funding some of these critics. Therefore, that's why we wanted it out there. But I think the question Facebook isn't answering is why single out Soros? You know, why not look at the other funders? Could they not find it? I don't know the answer to that. But I do know that in a number of circles, Soros is -- there's a liberal boogeyman card which he absolutely stands. And some people are going to hear that as, you know, the Jewish conspiracy card.

Now look this was all done before the caravan, before the pipe bombs, so I think we do have to be mindful of the context there. So they're not doing it today. They were doing it a few months ago. But to kind of come out and say, well were just curious about the funding, you know, is a little disingenuous.

BERMAN: Yeah, it was a weird way to sort of take a fall on that, if I take it to the less --


BERMAN: -- you surprised by how Facebook is responding to your reporting?

ROSENBERG: No. No. We -- the reporting were thorough.

BERMAN: Matthew Rosenberg, great to have you with us. Thanks so much and thank you for your reporting, appreciate that. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

ROSENBERG: You too, thank you.

BERMAN: All right up next, giving thanks and remembering a fallen soldier.


[21:55:11] BERMAN: Before we leave you tonight on this Thanksgiving Eve, we have a moment of remembrance and gratitude. Sadly tomorrow the family of Major Brent Taylor will have an empty seat at their Thanksgiving table. You may remember Major Taylor was killed earlier this month in Afghanistan.

He was on his fourth tour of duty in a war zone as a member of the Army National Guard. He was also the mayor of North Ogden, Utah. He was on a leave of absence while serving our country, but his proudest role was husband and father to seven children ranging in age from 11 months to 13 years old.

This morning on "New Day," his widow, Jennie, talked about their grief with my co-anchor, Alisyn Camerota, but she also had this powerful message.


JENNIE TAYLOR, WIDOW OF MAJOR BRENT TAYLOR: We always come back to how grateful we are. You know Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude. It's a day of reflection. Our hearts are full. Our hearts are broken, but our hearts are full. And when I talk to our children not just now but into the future, it will always be with a sense of pride.

And to be able to be a soldier's son or a soldier's daughter, a soldier's wife, a soldier's mother is an honor. There are not a lot of people willing to pick up a soldier's uniform and especially to go in a combat. And Brent wasn't forced. He wasn't obligated to even join in the army in the first place. He was driven.


BERMAN: He sure was. Our condolences to the Taylor family and we give thanks to Major Taylor for his service to our country. And to all the U.S. military members serving overseas this Thanksgiving, our best to you.

That does it for us. The news continues here on CNN in just a moment.