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Putin Calls: Thanks Trump for CIA Tip that helped Foil Attack; Mueller's Team Obtains Thousands of Trump Transition Team E-mails; Mueller Team Denies "Unlawful" Obtaining E-mails; Mnuchin: I think Russia Investigation be Over Quickly; Cornyn: Would be a "Mistake" for Trump to Fire Mueller; Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 17, 2017 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone and thank you for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. For the second time in three days, President Trump and Russian president, Vladimir Putin have spoken by telephone. The latest call happening today when Putin offered thanks for U.S. intelligence which helped prevented ISIS-inspired attack on Saint Petersburg.

For more on this unusual series of calls and the reasons behind them, let's bring in CNN Nic Robertson live for us now out of Moscow.

So, Nic, what do you know about the call today and how U.S. Intelligence helped prevent a planned terror attack in Russia?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So today was President Putin's turn to call President Trump and thank him, of course, late Thursday night. President Trump had called President Putin to thank him for mentioning how well President Trump had been doing with the U.S. economy.

What President Putin had to say this evening was quite astounding in many ways. What he was doing was calling President Trump to thank the CIA for providing intelligence information to stop an ISIS-planned attack in Saint Petersburg, major city here in Russia. The target was the Kazan Cathedral and public places close to it.

Now, what we understand about this terror attack perhaps comes from an announcement made by the federal state security services here on Friday. Because they announced on Friday that seven men from an ISIS terror team that were plotting attacks in Saint Petersburg, major city institutions and places around about it using suicide vests, using IEDs. The police in there raid, catching these seven men were able to collect weapons, ammunition, terrorist paraphernalia and also explosives as well.

So the two, they seem to be the one in the same incident. So it seems that President Putin is thanking President Trump for stopping a suicide bomber, IED-type attack on a tourist area in St. Petersburg that could have led to shooting on the streets, shooting in crowded in public areas as well as an attack using explosives inside the cathedral.

And that attack had been expected to happen on Saturday on one of the clues as to how the CIA may have gotten involved or known about it. What we learned from the Russian state security services on Friday was that this ISIS team was being led by a team leader outside the country, outside Russia communicating with this ISIS cell using the telegram messenger application.

WHITFIELD: And then, Nic, do you know whether there was any hesitation from Russia on trusting U.S. intelligence?

ROBERTSON: It's not clear at the moment. What we have heard from the Russian side this evening is that they now say that they will provide any information and intelligence immediately to the U.S. side if they understood that the United States or its citizens or its interest were under threat from a terrorist attack. So that commitment comes this evening, but also there's an insight from John Huntsman who's the U.S. ambassador here on Friday.

He posted a message when those arrests originally happened, of course, that time we had no idea with the CIA's connection to the arrest, but on Friday, Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador tweeted a video posting saying that he expected improved cooperation between the United States and Russia on one of those areas where there would be improvements with over security.

So I think we're beginning to see an aligning of bits and pieces of this jigsaw. But it's very clear here that this is something that President Putin wanted to thank President Trump for and seems to have elicited a statement from the Russians saying that they would return the favor if the situation were reversed.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, adding to an already unique relationship between the U.S. and its adversary of Russia.

Thanks so much, Nic Robertson, appreciate that, in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Russia investigation here in the U.S. coming under attack from lawyers representing the Trump presidential transition and team and several GOP members. This after the special counsel obtained thousands of e-mails from the Trump transition seem.

Trump transition lawyers claimed the e-mails were obtained illegally. Robert Mueller's team firing back with a response taking the unprecedented step of defending its tactics with this rare statement saying we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process.

All of this as some republicans and the conservative media --


WHITFIELD: -- casting doubt on the credibility of the Mueller investigation. Democrats now questioning the motives behind the attacks on Mueller.


SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: I think republicans should end their concerted effort to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation. The questions is, what are they afraid of? What is the White House afraid of? Let's let them finish the job and get the facts.


WHITFIELD: all of this coming with what could be a critical week in the Russia investigation as Mueller's team prepares to interview President Trump's private lawyers about Russian interference in the 2016 election.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I think there's nothing there. It should be over quickly and people want to focus on other things.


WHITFIELD: It really is a meeting between Trump attorneys and Mueller team attorneys. So for more on this now, let's bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

So, Boris, you're just getting off the phone, in fact, with the head of the Trump transition team getting more information. What are they telling you about these e-mails, the complaints that the team has about the weigh in which these e-mails were obtained by the Mueller team.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. I just got off the phone with Ken Nahigian, he was the executive director of the Trump transition team. And he's shedding some light on the transition team's view of who owns these e-mails after earlier today.

The GSA told Buzzfeed News that these e-mails were public record. He is refuting that. He is saying that during the entire transition, there was an understanding between the Trump transition team and the general services administration which handles logistical components of a transition things like e-mail that though they would process them, these e-mails were ultimately of a property of the transition team.

Essentially at their discretion as to who they would be handed over to. So he's making the case that these e-mails were never in the purview of the GSA. They ultimately belong to the transition and it's up transition to determine who gets to see them beyond that in light of these recent rumors being brought up by democrats and that there is a plot to fire Robert Mueller and discredit the Mueller investigation.

Ken Nahigian told me that this letter that was sent by the Trump transition team to congress was more about protecting the integrity of future transitions. He says that the transition team is fully independent of the White House. He actually told me that a transition has no relationship with the White House. He said, I don't talk to the White House.

Beyond that, he told me that now the team was exploring options to figure out how to respond to this revelation that Robert Mueller is in possession of these e-mails. We may see a response from them as early as later today, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK. And is there more coming from the White House? We know the president is at Camp David, but is any more being said about this from the White House officially?

SANCHEZ: We have not gotten a comment from the White House as to this news that Robert Mueller obtained these transition team e-mails. However, we are hearing several White House officials responding to claims being made by democrats that there is some sort of plan in place behind the scenes to get rid of Robert Mueller.

Yesterday, Ty Cobb put out a statement to CNN saying that essentially there was no plan to fire Robert Mueller and earlier today you played a bit of it. You had Steve Mnuchin, the treasury department had on CNN saying much of the same.

Here's more of what he said.


MNUCHIN: I haven't heard the president. I was at dinner last night with the president and vice president. I haven't heard anything about this any firing. But we've got to get past this investigation. This is a giant distraction. Nobody has said that in any way this impacted the outcome of the election.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But when you say you've to get past it, do you think it should run its course?

MNUCHIN: I think it should be over quickly since I think there's nothing there. It should be over quickly. People want to focus on other things.

TAPPER: Does that include the president firing Mueller when you say you wanted over quickly or should it be allowed to run its course?

MNUCHIN: I don't have any reason to think that the president is going to do that, but that's obviously up to him.


SANCHEZ: Despite these denials, you still have some democrats including two on the house intelligence committee, Jackie Speier and Adam Schiff this weekend, both going out of their way to make clear that they believe that the firing of Robert Mueller is imminent.

So plenty to discuss when the Trump legal team meets with Robert Mueller potentially as early as later this week, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thanks so much.

All right. Let's talk about a lot of moving parts here with my next guest, Congressman Ted Lieu is a democrat from California. He is also on the house foreign affairs --


WHITFIELD: -- and judiciary committees. Good to see you, congressman.


WHITFIELD: All right. So let's begin with that phone call that we understand, the second now in three days between Putin and Trump. This time Putin calling to thank the president for intel that he says helped thwart a terror attack.

Do you find it contradictory particularly in light of President Trump not having much credence in the U.S. intel community but now suddenly enough credence to share it with Putin?

LIEU: Well, I am pleased that Russia trusts our intelligence agencies. I would hope our own president also trusts our intelligence agencies. But, I have no objection with the United States having close relations with any other country including Russia. I think it's good that we helped them foil a terrorist attack. I just want to make sure we hold Russia accountable for the massive cyberattack against U.S. last year.

WHITFIELD: And then on that issue of Russia meddling and this ongoing probe, you actually had quite the back and forth kid of tweeting fight with Senator John Cornyn, republican of Texas. It got a little heated over his calls from Mueller to clean house to partisans. This was the tweet that you sent back to him. "Dear John Cornyn, FBI Director Christopher Wray gave $39,000 exclusively to republicans. Are you OK with that? Because if you are, then you need to shut up with the partisan talk about our dedicated professional and patriotic FBI officials."

And then today, Cornyn was on ABC this week and still challenging that Mueller needs to clean house of anyone with political influences on the team, even after two team members have been removed. But he also said that firing Mueller, he admits would be a mistake. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears that some of the president's allies in the congress are starting to lay the ground work for him to fire Robert Mueller. What would that mean if the president fired the special counsel?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I read that the president's own lawyers says that's not going to happen. I think that would be a mistake myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Congressman, are you worried that the groundwork is being laid to fire Mueller?

LIEU: I am. It is dangerous to our democracy for the president and members of congress to attack the credibility of law enforcement just because they don't like where the investigation may be heading. It's also demeaning to professional FBI agents many of whom have risked their lives for our nation.

Look, all of us have political opinions. We're not robots, but to suggest that FBI agents can't do their jobs just because they have exercised their first amendment right to make political contributions, that's an offensive notion.

WHITFIELD: Let's talk now about these e-mails from the transition team that Mueller's team now has. The transition team and the group calling itself Trump for America alleging the transition e-mails are private property, not government records. You also heard Boris Sanchez talking with someone on the transition team saying that there was an understanding even that the e-mails are the property of the transition team.

Does that understanding seem like it would be a written contract? Is that pretty typical? Transition team's information would be off limits and not considered official government business with an incoming president?

LIEU: That is a ridiculous claim. I'm a former government lawyer. I'm also a former prosecutor. These were government e-mail addresses. Courts have not found a right of privacy to government e-mails. Those are the property of the government and the taxpayer. In addition, media reports show that the GSA gave notice to the transition team officials that their government devices and government e-mails may also be monitored so this claim is completely ridiculous and shows how desperate the Trump transition team lawyers are.

WHITFIELD: So you have no concerns or worries that the Mueller may have obtained them illegally because that is the charge coming from Trump for America, the transition team.

LIEU: They were not obtained illegally. And if they actually thought they were, they would have gone to court and file something to stop it. They did not do that.

WHITFIELD: OK. I promise we talk about a lot of things. Let's talk taxes now. Republicans seeming to be pretty confident that they have the votes this week on that final tax bill. The White House argues it's a big beautiful gift to the middle class for Christmas. IN fact this is the treasury secretary.


TAPPER: What percentage is going to the middle income people that President Trump keeps talking about?

MNUCHIN: Jake, the numbers are very complicated and different people will present it different ways. As you know, there are distribution of taxes. The distribution is staying very similar and this is all about fixing a broken tax system. So this will be very large tax cuts for working families and very large tax cuts for businesses to make them competitive.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, do you think the American public agrees that this is a tax plan for the middle class?

LIEU: Not at all. The reason that only 29 percent of Americans support this tax plan is because they understand that the benefits are going to go to corporations and the super rich. Millions of middle class families will have their taxes increase to fund a state tax doubling for people who have $22 million in the state. That is what this is going to do. Benefit the super rich, hurt the middle class, democrats have a better plan.

WHITFIELD: All right. Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much.

LIEU: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, President Trump vowing to continue to campaign for republican candidates next year, but given Roy Moore's stunning loss in Alabama, is that the best strategy for republicans going forward?

Plus, firefighters pause to honor one of their own killed while fighting one of the largest fires in California history. That fire continuing to grow overnight. We'll take you there live.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Donald Trump vowing to campaign for republicans in next year's mid-term elections. This despite his failed endorsement of defeated senate candidate Roy Moore whose loss gave Alabama's seat to a democrat for the first time in 25 years and that democrat Doug jones says it's time to move on even though Moore still has not conceded.


DOUG JONES, SENATOR-ELECT, ALABAMA: I say it's time to move on. Alabama has spoken. It was a close election, there's no question about that. Elections can be close sometimes. But now it's time to heal. Now, it's time to move on and go to the next thing. We're ready. We're starting to put our team together to take over and try to get in there as soon as possible. And I would just say let's go. The election should be certified in a week or so. And I'll be ready to go regardless of whether he concedes or not.


WHITFIELD: Jones win is a massive blow to the GOP. And there could be more trouble ahead for republican candidates. In a new poll, 50 percent of voters say they prefer a democratic controlled congress while just 39 percent favor a republican controlled one. And that marks the biggest lead in congressional preference in nine years.

All right. A lot to discuss now. So let me bring in my panel. Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst. And historian and professor at Princeton University. Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. And Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney. Good to see all of you this Sunday.


WHITFIELD: All right. You first, Lynn. Ladies first. So, do you think after Alabama, GOP candidates want the president rooting for them given his approval ratings are so low and just now looking at that graphic about voter preferences?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, the answer is it depends. It does depends. If you're a member of a house in a swing district, you do not want Donald Trump coming in to campaign for you, especially if you're a suburban -- if your district has any of the suburbs in it, with a lot of independent-minded women voters there.

So the -- this is not unknown, by the way, that not all political figures fit every district. Even President Barack Obama by the time he had been in office a year or two wasn't welcome in every district for reelection. He could help a lot in raising money.

But in particular for republicans, I think that there's going to be a radioactive factor with President Trump.

WHITFIELD: Julian, you have the president supposed to have some clout.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true. But in this case, I think democrats will be the ones extending the invitation.

It's true that in mid-terms, presidents are often unpopular and not necessarily desired in these races, but in this case, it's worse than usual. And he'll do two things. One is he has the potential to depress turnout among republicans in these swing districts and swing states as we saw in Alabama. And he might mobilize the Obama coalition as we saw in Alabama in a way democrats can't do themselves.

And so in both cases, President Trump's involvement could actually swing control to the democrats.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. And let's talk about messaging of a different sort. A real contradiction coming from the White House with that phone call on one hand. The president trusts the U.S. intelligence enough to tip off Russia with CIA material, winning praise for thwarting an attack in St. Petersburg. And then on the other hand, you've got the president of the United States who has said the U.S. intelligence is not to be trusted with its findings on Russia meddling in the U.S. election. Is this about convenience, Lynn, or is this about the advantage for the White House bottom line?

SWEET: I think it's about President Trump not being consistent. Do not look any more. Do not look any further than this episode for consistency. Intelligence that was good enough to have the Russians to accept, sometimes that same intelligence isn't good enough.

I think we know what's going on now with President Trump almost so many things are situational, Fred. It just depends. Everything just depends.

WHITFIELD: And these two phone calls now within 72 hours. The first one was about the economy.


WHITFIELD: The second one now but the CIA helping Russia. All of this while the Russia probe heats up and accusations now from some republicans undermining special counselor Bob Mueller. These are some of the warnings that have come across party lines on whether undermining Mueller could lead to his fire ultimately. Listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I see no reason for him to be dismissed and the only reason you can do it is for cause. There were some effort to do it without a good reason. It would be holy hell to pay.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If they're willing to go to that length to discredit the FBI, the justice department Bob Mueller, they certainly will have no compunction about shutting down the house investigation indeed. I think they view it to shutting us down is a prerequisite to shutting Bob Mueller down. And we see some very disturbing signs of that's what they intend to do.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think Mr. Trump is for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin or afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations.

So it's very worrisome and I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference and their democratic processes as well.

So it's either naivety, ignorance or fear in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis to Russians.


WHITFIELD: Joey, this threat of a Mueller removal. It's not just about politics, but we're talking about another rule of law here.

JACKSON: We really are, Fred. And good afternoon to you.

And listen to the irony here. The whole import of the Russian investigation is because of the undermining of our democracy. How much would it undermine our democracy to have the firing, potential firing of an independent counsel? Think about it.

The whole reason base is for an independent counsel is for confidence in our system. It's to ensure that you have an independent lawyer. An independent prosecutor who's not beholding to anyone to come up with findings that we all can trust, that we all can respect and that we could all look to.

And now to talk about his removal, that's the ultimate in terms of undermining any process that we have. And so the best we can hope for, look, there's all this partisanship going on. If the results don't look like the results that you want then you attack all these independent text messages going out. There are independent text messages going out. Are you kidding? Why are they involved?

The independent council active to remove such people. And so to me, I think we have to let the process play out. We have to let Mueller do his job. Apparently, he's doing it quite well in the last seven months to have two people plead guilty and other two who speaking about in addition to his colleague to at this point be looking at an indictment. That's significant work. But let's see what's ahead of them and let's see what these e-mails do from the government purpose's administrator.

WHITFIELD: Bringing us to that, because even -- despite the removal of the two people on the Mueller team, because of texting or what appeared to be partisan, et cetera, there are still those who are saying Mueller needs to do more, about vetting or getting rid of any potential partisan on the team.

At the same time now you've got transition team members and lawyers who were saying that Mueller illegally obtained these e-mails, Joey. We even heard from our own Boris Sanchez through a phone call he had with someone on the transition saying there was an understanding -- there was an understanding that these e-mails from the transition team would be private.

Would such an understanding or contract, so to speak, exist? Or is this simply fair game now?

JACKSON: Well, put it this way, Fredricka. You can have a memorandum of understanding and I have examined the underpinnings of what it would say, but on the face of it, you have a transition team which is using devices that are supplied by the GSA, right? Which is the Government Services Administration, which is assisting in the transition. There doesn't appear to be any independent expectation of privacy. You're using government equipment and you're on public servers.

And so what could you really say as to this was private. It wasn't to get out in public. It would seem me that this is very much in the public domain and it would be fair game for Mueller to go through the process, which he did, to request the documentation and to receive it.

So I'm really befuddled by the flame that it was unlawfully seize, unlawfully obtained. I think there are fair game e-mails that are out there what is critical to me to know, which is and anyone to know what specifically is on those e-mails and what is the big to do about it in terms of their privilege. We can't have them out there.


WHITFIELD: So, Julian, I wonder, is this another example of or is this an example of this White House trying to control the message? If it's not on the Russia probe, then one of the latest examples was just yesterday in "The Washington Post" reporting about the CDC and the seven forbidden words and phrases including diversity, science-based, evidence-based, fetus.

What do you interpret by these actions from the Trump administration on trying to either erase a messaging or perhaps plant messaging?

ZELIZER: This is an administration that's very attuned to shaping the national conversation. Sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways. With the CDC, I think that's a very transparent effort to remove certain words and to do so in a way that's appealing to the base of the Trump coalition.

And I think with the Mueller investigation there's a very transparent effort to shape the conversation to raise questions about the credibility of the entire investigation. In some ways he wouldn't need to fire him at this work, because the conversation has now shifted to his Mueller breaking the law. Are they following the rules rather than the president and his team? And that's exactly what Trump tries to do.

So the real question to me. On the latter part, is what does the republican congress do? Because so far, they've been very reluctant to take aggressive steps and we might reach a point this week where we see it's the day of decision.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think it could jeopardize -- I wonder, Lynn, do you think all of this could potentially jeopardize that vote for taxes this week?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": No, because the Republicans have every incentive to get that vote done sooner than later and not let it kick into next year when Doug Jones by then would be seated and then any one Republican senator can stop the bill. So, the Republicans have that incentive to settle their differences within themselves and get that vote as soon as possible.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it right there. Thanks to all of you. Lynn Sweet, Julian Zelizer, Joey Jackson, appreciate it.

All right. Still ahead, California's third largest wildfire consuming another 1,500 acres overnight. This as firefighters lay to rest one of their own, killed battling that very fire. The latest from the front lines, next.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Following breaking news out of Atlanta, we are being told that several systems are down at America's busiest airport meaning no power now. Hartsfield Jackson Airport is running on backup power after a massive power outage plunged through most of the facility. It sent it all into darkness just a short time ago.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is there and joins us now with the very latest on this. So, Kaylee, what are you hearing about what caused this outage and to look at this photograph, what appears as though it's just one beam of light illuminating an area?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Fred, we know little about what caused this power outage, but I can tell you that it has paralyzed the airport just as I walked in the doors. One security agent told me we are at a complete stand still.

The most illuminating, if you will, statement we have is from the FAA. They put a ground stop for flights headed to this airport due to the power outage. The FAA tower can operate normally.

However, departures are delayed because airport (inaudible) terminal is not working. A ground stop means that flights headed to Atlanta are held on the ground at their departure airport.

So, that's we are hearing from the FAA. We have yet to get any concrete guidance from any of the airlines about flight cancellations. But if nothing is taking off and nothing is landing, I think everyone is prepared for a whole lot of problems moving forward.

Right now, I am standing in the Delta departures area where people would normally would be checking their bags. But, of course, those agents at the desk can't do anything. Everyone standing around.

It's a lot of bodies standing here with very little understanding of what happened next. Backup generators have kicked in for some lights, overhead lights, to light the way, if you will.

But here especially in this area of the headquarters, you have lights coming in from the outside where people would be coming in and out from the outdoors. So, you do have lights brightening up this area.

Baggage claims right now, of course, not moving. People using those as reclining chairs, if you will. People sitting on their luggage and a lot of people having trouble getting a cell signal out of here whether it's to make a phone call or (inaudible) mobile device.

We don't understand why that is the case other than the fact that I would liken it to being at a sporting event where you have hundreds of thousands of people trying to get on their mobile devices at the same time, Fred.

I will keep you posted as we hope to learn more about what caused this massive power outage paralyzing the Atlanta airport. WHITFIELD: Right. Kaylee, let's talk about the weather. Sometimes weather can be a factor. However, it is very messy outside meaning it is wet, it is cool but not freezing. Is there any thinking along the lines of weather, in any way, impacting the power there at the airport?

HARTUNG: What I can tell you, Fred, is the weather conditions here in Atlanta are not freezing. There is a rain coming down outside that is dampening the area, but I have not heard any discussions here at the airport of how that weather could have impacted things. You just never know what role that could have played in this.

Right now, very little answers to the big question we have of what caused power outages that put the Atlanta Airport in standstill.

WHITFIELD: All right. Quite a mystery. Keep us posted. Kaylee Hartung there at Hartsville Jackson Airport in Atlanta. Right now, virtually a standstill meaning no outgoing planes because of that power outage. A lot of folks left in the dark literally about what is happening. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: Firefighters in California are battling what is now this third largest blaze in modern state history. Nearly 9,000 firefighters are tackling the 269,000-acre Thomas fire. Here's the Thomas fire by the numbers.

The total firefighting cost $110 million, 18,000 homes threatened, 95,000 people evacuated and 85,000 power outages. The Thomas fire has now burned an area larger than the entire city of Dallas.

This is a map of Southern California with the blaze roughly 70 miles north from Los Angeles. The Santa Ana winds adding fuel to the fires there.

Meanwhile, a funeral procession was held earlier today for fallen San Diego firefighter, Cory Iverson, who died Thursday while battling the Thomas fire. Iverson leaves behind his wife, who was expecting and their 2-year-old daughter.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is on the ground in Santa Barbara County. So, Miguel, what's the latest? How concerned are people?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Santa Barbara, Montecito and Summerland where over the last 24 hours they have seen extreme fire and wind behavior. They have really dodged a bullet. The winds that they predicted overnight didn't happen and right now, we have an onshore breeze, which is great because it's blowing the fire back in on itself.

[14:45:06] I want to show sort of a good example of where we're standing and what happened yesterday. The fire was burning just over that ridge there. You can see that red along the top of the ridge line where they were dropping fire retardant.

All that green below it, it didn't burn there, but embers blew to literally where we are standing here, but probably about a quarter mile away and to the homes in the neighborhood. You can see where firefighters were able to be so effective.

The firewood that was stack up outside the home that burned before they intended it to and the fire itself burned up through the shrubs and the stuff that they did up to the base of the house, but the house was saved.

There are fire crews everywhere throughout this area, hopping on every hot spot they can. For this area, it looks like a good day right now. Further south in Ventura, they are expecting the Santa Ana winds to blow.

That side of the Thomas fire, this is a massive fire complex, backed down towards 126 in the ridge lines there and that sadly is where Cory Iverson, the firefighter from San Diego was killed when fire overtook him and his crew as they were working -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Terribly sad. All right. Thank you so much, Miguel Marquez. Keep us posted there.

All right. Meteorologist Tom Sater is joining us live from the Weather Center. Tom, what are the weather condition there across Southern California?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not good, Fredricka. I mean, the winds are still strong this morning. We had gusts in the last 12 hours that have been over 60 or 70 miles per hour. Firefighters in Montecito with an urgent message to anyone in Montecito or Summerland area to evacuate immediately.

The Santa Ana winds kicked up and we knew it was going to be a problem because they extended into the morning and I believe they will lighten up. These are for Ventura and Los Angeles County. They are erratic because a cold front moved through.

Here's a list. The most destructive fires in California history. The Thomas fire is number seven. If you look at this, three of the top 10 are this year. The Tubs fire in Northern California in October. This is just an unprecedented year and unprecedented month because you just do not see fires like this during the month of December.

When it comes to the acreage that has been scorched, how large are these fires. The Thomas fire last week moved from six to five to four, to three. I believe by the end of the day the Thomas fire will be the largest fire in California history. Yesterday, it's scorched 10 acres. It only needs less than to get to the number one spot.

Again, it's in the month of December when the others were all in autumn months. Cold fronts swept through and we talked about a chance of rain in two weeks. That was today. A cold front moved through and only dropped a trace of rainfall in Santa Barbara and (inaudible). But it switched the winds up and kick the winds up. So, firefighters that had the Santa Ana winds coming northeast, then saw the front switch those winds and dramatically out of the west northwest.

Thirteen fires are still burning. We have a problem in Northern California again. This is something we didn't have the last several days. Down to the south is where we continue to watch these fires.

As you mentioned, 8,400 plus personnel on the Thomas fire. Maybe containment by the 7th of January. Winds lightened up, Fredricka, a good news later on today and tonight. They may stay that way until Wednesday. We expect them to surge again.

WHITFIELD: Still very volatile. All right. Tom Sater, thanks so much. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. You're fired. That's the phrase and the gesture that made businessman, Donald Trump, a national sensation and he hasn't stopped using in the White House. That's this week's "State of the Cartoonion."


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD" (voice-over): As comic book aficionados know Superman has his arch enemy "Bizarro," (ph), who lives in a topsy-turvy world where stop means go and yes means no. increasingly, it sounds as though there is a "Bizarro Trump," who also lives in a world of opposites.

In the real world, reality, we all heard President Trump say this about the hideous "Access Hollywood" tape.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (voice-over): I said and have done things I regret. The words on this more than a decade-old video are one of them.

TAPPER: But "Bizarro Trump, well the "New York Times" reports that he still insisting the tape may not be his voice.

"BIZARRO TRUMP": Totally fake and made up. It's like a novel.

TAPPER: Here on planet earth, President Trump finally admitted this.

PRESIDENT TRUMP (voice-over): President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.

TAPPER: But in "Bizarro" world we are told, the president is still questioning the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate.

You can see this phenomenon almost everywhere, whether it's how often the president golfs or how well he is doing in the polls.

"BIZARRO TRUMP": I'm getting tremendous support even in your polls.

TAPPER: In fact, what we are all watching these days, it makes a lot more sense if as a kid you read a lot of Superman comics.

"BIZARRO TRUMP": This is reality. You know it, they know it, I know it and pretty much the whole world knows it


WHITFIELD: All right. What we know is there is much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.



WHITFIELD: All right. Hello, again, and thanks for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

So, with the cloud of the Russia probe hanging over the Trump administration and vailed threats from Republicans that Special Counselor Robert Mueller might be fired, today, we learned that President Trump talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the second time in the past three days.

The latest call happening today when Putin offered thanks for U.S. intelligence, which helped prevent an ISIS-inspired attack on St. Petersburg, Russia.