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President Trump Claims Russia Dossier "Bogus", FBI "Tainted'; President Trump Takes Aim At Top FBI Officials. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening. Jim Sciutto here, sitting in for Anderson, and, hoping you had a very nice holiday weekend.

As for president Trump, down at Mar-a-Lago, he signaled last evening that his holiday is over, tweeting, quote: I hope everyone is having a great Christmas, then tomorrow it's back to work in order to make America great again, which is happening faster than anyone anticipated!

So, this morning, he hit the links and had nothing on his public schedule for the rest of the day. More on that shortly.

We begin, though, with a tweet he sent out this morning. And in a way, it did herald a return to work for him, namely his ongoing effort to discredit the Russia investigation in general, the FBI in particular, and a number of FBI officials by name, including one Assistant Director Andrew McCabe who he seems to be openly taunting.

Here is the latest. Quote again: Wow, "Fox and Friends", dossier is bogus. Clinton campaign, DNC funded dossier. FBI cannot, after all of this time, verify claims in dossier of Russia/Trump collusion. FBI tainted. And they used this crooked Hillary pile of garbage -- I'm quoting again -- as the basis for going after the Trump campaign!

This is, as we know, becoming something of a refrain for the president.


TRUMP: Didn't she spend $12.4 million on a dossier that was a total phony, right?

I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. I think it's a disgrace. It's just really very -- it's a very sad -- it's a very sad commentary on politics in this country.

When you look at that horrible dossier, which is a total phony, fake deal, like so much of the news that I read, when you look at that and take a look at what's gone on with that, and the kind of money we're talking about, it is a disgrace.


SCIUTTO: Now, the president is referring to the Steele dossier, and keeping them honest tonight, some of what he's saying on camera and Twitter is incomplete, misleading, and out and out false.

The dossier, as you know, is a collection of research compiled by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, for a firm called Fusion GPS. And, yes, Fusion was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign for its work, but it was initially hired during the primaries by one of candidate Trump's Republican opponents. It details alleged Russian efforts to help the Trump campaign and includes salacious and unsubstantiated details which CNN is not and has never reported.

However, keeping them honest again, both in general, and particular, based on our own reporting and word from numerous official sources, the dossier, in fact, is far from bogus, as the president claims. In fact, U.S. investigators have corroborated portions of the dossier, specifically, some of the meetings and conversations detailed in the dossier took place on the dates and in the places as described.

Still, the dossier was not, as the president suggests, the central basis for going after his campaign. He seems to be conflating it with or blaming it for the entire suite of Russia probes. Special counsel has his own investigation, and before that, so did the FBI. As did their broader intelligence community, which was piling up evidence of Russian meddling on its own. And of the four people so far charged, none of the court documents mentioned the dossier at all.

More broadly, the most central question, whether Trump associates colluded or cooperated with Russians is still not closed neither by special counsel Mueller, nor the relevant congressional committees and throughout the year, again, using numerous sources, CNN has been reporting on precisely how the dossier does and does not square with the facts as we know them, about an alleged campaign contact with Russians, intelligence intercepts of Russian officials talking among themselves, how the dossier is being used by investigators and more.

To simply call it bogus as the president did again today is to call the work of so many intelligence, counterintelligence, and other career public servants bogus. To call the FBI tainted or in tatters, and target of one of its top officials by name, well, that's for the panel to discuss, and you to decide.

Right now, let's go, though, to CNN's Evan Perez to flesh out some more of the facts.

So, Evan, the president tweet -- his tweet suggests the entire Russia investigation is based on this dossier, in fact, is equivalent to the dossier. The fact is, it's just not that simple.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really isn't. It's more than that. The dossier, you know, that we've come to know is considered raw intelligence, Jim. It's a series of memos put together by the former British intelligence officer who, by the way, is highly regarded by the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community. The basic thesis, as you pointed out, is this, that the Russians were trying to meddle in the U.S. elections and were trying to use connections with people close to Donald Trump and with Trump's businesses to try to exert their influence. [20:05:06] And as you know, this is a serious concern among U.S.

intelligence officials, even before the FBI got ahold of early drafts of the dossier last summer. Now, there's an independent investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller which will tell us more about exactly what happened, and that investigation is a lot broader than the dossier. The president's tweets appear to be an effort of political distraction to discredit the ongoing investigation.

Now, earlier this year, we heard from White House officials that the president feared accepting the intelligence of Russian interference, would undermine the legitimacy of his election, but the fact is that the Russian interference happened, even if the president doesn't want to acknowledge that it did, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It happened, as you and I reported, many times, the intelligence community judged that it happened in part to help Donald Trump win the election. As you know, and have reported, the president's legal team has been periodically predicting that the Mueller investigation would be finished by Thanksgiving, by Christmas, by the end of the year.

PEREZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: There's really no sign that this investigation is about to end.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, certainly, we got a few more days to see what the latest prediction will come to pass or not. But, look, the most lawyer of the lawyers we talk to associated with this investigation don't quite see the optimism we hear from the president's lawyers.

Now, we're told there's still a lot more work to be done, especially on the issue of potential obstruction of justice. We'll see in the coming weeks whether some of the White House employees who recently provided interviews to special counsel Mueller are going to be brought back for follow-up sessions. That's something that happens often in these types of investigations, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, thanks very much as always.

Joining us now is former FBI and CIA senior official, Phil Mudd, former senior Justice Department official, Carrie Cordero, who currently teaches law at Georgetown University, Matt Lewis of "The Daily Beast" with us tonight, and so is CNN political analyst and legendary investigative reporter, Carl Bernstein.

Carl, for one, it seems the president here is trying to conflate the entire Russia investigation with the dossier, of course, as Evan said, it goes far beyond that. But he's also trying, it seems to me, to color any individual or agency that has criticized or investigated him as not to be believed.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, everybody else is the issue here, not Donald Trump and his actions or those around him. The key word in all of this that he keeps using is "tainted." There's only one institution that really has been tainted through these months and that is the Trump presidency. It's tainted by the president's lies, by his disrespect for American institutions operating under the law with traditional American democracy and instruments thereof. He's contemptuous of those instruments.

And what we're seeing in those constant attacks which are undermining, indeed, confidence in the legitimate institutions of our government, which are trying to do their job. If the president is as confident as he says that this investigation is going to end very soon and with him being exonerated, he ought to welcome all this instead of attacking constantly. He's doing a grave disservice to our democracy.

And the really awful thing is that Republicans particularly in Congress, but also an awful lot of the Republican, quote, establishment, and voters, are going along and enabling him to make these claims and make everything the issue but what really happened here and has our democracy been -- and our elections -- been undermined with some cooperation from the Trump campaign, from members of his family, from the president, himself? The answer might be no. He ought to welcome the answer if, indeed, things are as he claims.

SCIUTTO: Yes, he's willing to throw a lot of people over the trench, a lot of institutions and individuals over the transom as he launches this assault, in effect constant assault.

BERNSTEIN: It hasn't stopped and its purpose is very evident for anyone to see who's open-minded and that is to make everybody else the issue except himself.

SCIUTTO: Phil, you spent a lot of time in the CIA. U.S. investigators did, in fact, corroborate some of the communications in the dossier as myself and Evan Perez reported back in January. I just want to ask you a question, the president -- the top -- the senior- most intelligence officials during the administration, they briefed then President-elect Trump and President Obama on the existence of the dossier before the inauguration there.

Based on your experience, would they waste their time with this if they didn't at least take it somewhat seriously?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Let's be clear here, I think we're talking about two different issues. That is when we're looking at the dossier, the question is, as you're raising, one question is whether they took it seriously? The other question is you never want the president of the United States to be surprised or blindsided. Even if you had significant problems or questions about the dossier, you might want to tell the president of the United States, look, this is what's circulating.

There's a separate issue that the president, for obvious reasons, isn't raising.

[20:10:01] And that is what does this dossier have to actually do with the investigation? Robert Mueller we know has acquired financial records, even mail records, phone records, interviews. Those -- that combination of information has led to four indictments and two guilty pleas. SCIUTTO: Yes.

MUDD: And none of those four indictments has the dossier cropped up. Those guilty pleas included people who said, admittedly in front of a court, that day lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. So, the president's trying to mix apples and oranges.


MUDD: He's trying to get us to focus on the dossier. The indictments so far don't have anything to do with that, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And the investigations whether it be the special counsel or the Hill investigation, House and Senate Intel Committee, the dossier just a very small part of those investigations.

Carrie, you spent a fair amount of time in the Justice Department. You know how these investigations work. As Carl noted, this is part of a public campaign, not just by the president, by some of his allies to undermine the investigation and in the process, undermine the institutions carrying out the investigation, including the special counsel and his team.

Do you think that is affecting the special counsel's work? You probably have come across Bob Mueller, do he or his team, would they be intimidated by this kind of public questioning, public assault?

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE U.S. ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: I don't think the special counsel's team would. This is a group of highly seasoned, highly experienced investigators and prosecutors, and really the number of investigators are, FBI agents assigned to the special counsel's team would have originated from the underlying FBI investigation that was already taking place before the special counsel was even put in place, under the original FBI investigation conducted under Director Comey before he was fired.

So, on one hand, you know, going back to something that Phil said with respect to how the investigations are conducted, investigations whether it's counterintelligence or counterterrorism or a complex criminal investigation, they can be based on a number of types of information and that could be well-verified information or that could scan all the way to the other end of an anonymous tip. And that investigation then picks up on whatever information there is, and then develops it over time. And so, this singular focus on the dossier is really misplaced by the president and his surrogates because at this point, this much later, the investigators would have moved far beyond that and have conducted all sorts of other investigations.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of -- dozens of witness interviews, thousands and thousands of documents collected during that time since the dossier put together.

Matt, I have to ask you this because beyond the president's own legal interests here, and political interests, in setting this aside, undermining the justification for this investigation, are the health of the institutions that he's attacking, the FBI, the intelligence community, he's called the intelligence community Nazis. He's said the FBI is tainted. He said individuals in the FBI and other organizations are political hacks, a term he likes to use.

For Republicans, are those attacks acceptable? Do they accept those in defense of the president? Or is the president in the view of Republicans, and even some of his supporters, going too far in those attacks?

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think, you know, depends on whether or not he's right. I mean, look, I do believe that --

SCIUTTO: Wait, wait, whether or not he's right that the FBI --

LEWIS: Let me finish.

SCIUTTO: -- are tainted?

SCIUTTO: Let me finish. Look, I do believe liberal democracy is fragile, we have to defend it. . We have two scenarios here, right?

One scenario, and both are very serious -- one scenario, as everybody on this panel believes and maybe you're right, is that the president of the United States is knowingly and intentionally misleading the public and tarnishing these institutions that hold him accountable, the media and the FBI. If that's happening, that is a huge deal and I think it's incredibly damaging.

I would say this, though, I think that the FBI has contributed to some degree, even if this is a misrepresentation, I think the FBI has contributed to this perception. Now, we're talking about the dossier. Obviously, it's paid for by the DNC. We talked about that.

Then I think they did use it to get wiretaps, but there are other problems, right? You have, like, Mueller's team, almost half of the people on Mueller's team have contributed to Democrats. You have the fact that members of Mueller's team are texting each other -- here's my --


SCIUTTO: You know Washington well enough to know if you looked at any institution, you would have political donations to both parties, if you went through, whether it's cops or the FBI or the Justice Department. Does that impugn the credibility of the institution?

LEWIS: I think this looks really, really bad. And so there's a -- I think there's within the realm of possibility a chance that there are people high up within the FBI who don't like Donald Trump and wanted to do whatever they could to stop him, or it very well could be the case that Donald Trump is trying to tarnish these institutions.

[20:15:06] And I just think that the FBI has actually helped him by their behavior.

And I was -- I was a big supporter of Mueller originally. I'm just surprised by this team he's assembled.


SCIUTTO: Listen -- we're going to be able to --


BERNSTEIN: Rosenberg, who's supervising this investigation as the deputy attorney general.

SCIUTTO: Fair question, but also Matt raised some interesting questions there. I do want to focus more on that after the break on the president's attacks on the bureau as well.

Later, another presidential claim that the massive tax overhaul he got through Congress will also, as he says, essentially repeal Obamacare. Is that actually true?

We're going to be keeping them honest again.


SCIUTTO: We're talking about President Trump's continuing attack on the Russia investigation, the FBI, more recently the assistant director, Andrew McCabe, the intelligence community, you name it.

Matt Lewis raised a remarkable point there, an argument that perhaps the president is right when he says that there are senior people in U.S. law enforcement, Justice Department, FBI, who have it in for the president.

Carl Bernstein, I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that.

BERNSTEIN: Well, there are two people who can bring that to the attention of the American people and probably would if it were really the case. The first is the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, appointed by Donald Trump and who is overseeing the current investigation and looking at what occurred earlier under Comey and what occurred then.

[20:20:01] Second is the deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the overall investigation and likely also was appointed by Jeff Sessions to oversee this investigation.

SCIUTTO: The president's --


BERNSTEIN: So there are Republicans looking at this appointed by the presidency and members of his own cabinet. And also, we need to let this investigation proceed. If there is anything that has occurred in this investigation that is untoward, you can bet we're going to learn about it after the investigation.

But the time is once we know what Mueller and the FBI have found, including the possible exoneration of the president and everyone around him. That's the time for this.

SCIUTTO: Carrie, let me ask you a question because you came from the Department of Justice here. You worked with, I imagine, some of these people. Are they not capable of separating whatever political leanings they have? Say, for instance, with Andrew McCabe, one of the criticisms from the president and the right has been that his wife ran as a Democrat, but, I mean, listen, in Washington, D.C., there are a lot of two-party couples that I've run into there.

I mean, from your perspective, do Justice Department, FBI officials in the course of their work separate whatever political leaning they have from the work they do?

CORDERO: I would say that the vast majority of people that I worked in the 13 years I was with the Department of Justice, I probably never knew what people's political -- personal political views were. The fact is both FBI agents and Department of Justice lawyers leave their political views at the door, if they have a job to do that is focused on a particular investigation.

But I have to go back and correct something that I think is just factually wrong that Matt said earlier, which is something -- I think he said something like half of the special counsel's team donated to Democrats. There's been so much focus on a couple individuals or a handful of individuals who were brought from the outside to the special counsel's team. But that is not even half and that's not the whole team that is comprised.

This special counsel team is comprised of a few people who were brought from the outside of the department, but it's also comprised of career lawyers and prosecutors from within the department, and career institutional FBI agents who were assigned, or detailed, as we would call it, to the team. And so I just think that's factually wrong to say.

The second piece with respect to these tweets that are directed at senior FBI officials, I think there's a national security point here, Jim, which is that Andy McCabe, the director of the FBI, senior department leadership, other members of the FBI and the FBI institutionally is responsible for protecting the nation from counterterrorism and other threats and in this particular time that we're in right now, sort of this between Christmas to New Year's, which often as Phil can tell you is a time period that often is one of sort of heightened nervousness and heightened threat in environment, these tweets and this vile directed at them is really a distraction from these individuals needing to focus on their job which is to protect the country.

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, we reported this a short time ago, there was actually a foiled attack during the holiday season.

But, Matt, how do you respond to that?

LEWIS: Well, look, I mean, again, this is very serious right now. Either Donald Trump is intentionally trying to discredit people who are holding him accountable and looking into him, or, or there is something there, right? Like some deep state -- I don't want to say coup, but we know there were members -- we know there were members of --


BERNSTEIN: Astonishing to say.

LEWIS: I said I don't want to say coup.



LEWIS: We know there were members of Mueller's team who were texting each other things, horrible things about Donald Trump. We have to stop him, things like that. Here's my point.

SCIUTTO: There was one member to his affair (ph), but let me ask you a question --

LEWIS: There were other people who were --

SCIUTTO: This is a curiosity I have, how can these two positions be true? If the Democrats blame the FBI for losing the election for Hillary Clinton, how could the victor in that election blame the FBI for a silent coup against him? You know, explain this to me. Is there a cabal going on to support both parties, one during the election, one after the election?


LEWIS: I don't want to advance this theory -- look, I listen to talk radio, I watch Fox News sometimes. I'll tell you what the argument is, not my argument but what the argument is, is that they didn't think Donald Trump was going to win. They did not think that Donald Trump was going to win, that they didn't need to do anything to stop him.

But I think very clearly, if you look at the background information, I think there are a lot of people who were very concerned, including myself, by the way, who were very concerned about Donald Trump. It is not a partisan thing. I don't even think this is always like a Republican versus a Democrat.

[20:25:01] I think some people believe that Donald Trump had these authoritarian tendencies and is actually quite a dangerous person.

SCIUTTO: I just think if you're going to make an argument that there's a silent coup going on, you got to have more than -- more than --

LEWIS: You want to know my argument? .

SCIUTTO: -- a whiff of controversy.

LEWIS: This is my argument. My argument is that I believe that the FBI handled this horribly and that it looks really bad and they have allowed Donald Trump all of these examples, and we can cite many of them, we haven't even mentioned one -- I think one of the -- part of Mueller's team was a counselor to the Clinton Foundation, for example. It was like numerous things that look and smell really bad.

And if you're Donald Trump and you want to advance the notion that this -- that the game is fixed and the system is rigged, they've helped him do that.


BERNSTEIN: How about advance the notion of what are the facts, why can't we --

SCIUTTO: We're going it to try to stick to facts here.


BERNSTEIN: -- from the White House as well, the Congress, the investigators, let's find out what the facts are here. That's what is absent from the White House continually, from the beginning to the present. The idea from the White House constantly is to lie, to not give forthcoming answers, to try and discredit the investigation and really to take a wrecking ball to traditional American democratic process, including the respect to responsible institutions of government.

SCIUTTO: I should say as a final note, CNN has polled this as others have, the majority of Americans find special counsel's investigation credible.

Listen, it's a good conversation. It's a worthy one. Matt, Phil, Carrie, Carl, we're going to continue it. Thanks very much.

Next, should you be teed off about the president working on his back swing after saying he would be getting back to work, or is it much ado about golfing? We'll look at the facts so you can decide.


[20:30:23] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: At the top of the program we mentioned the president's tweet from last night. His message, you can see it there, "tomorrow it is back to work." And this morning, his workday began on the first hole of Trump International near Mar-a- Lago. So what are the facts about his days off?

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now. Abby, so what are you learning? Was this, in fact, a working vacation as the White House always likes to say?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well hi, Jim, the president spent about five hours today at the Trump International Golf Resort not too far from here. We heard from the White House a little bit after he got there, that he was playing with two PGA golf stars and also with a Republican senator from Georgia, David Purdue. Perhaps an indication that there may have been some work being done on the golf course. Now it's important to know that the White House almost never confirms when the president is golfing or who he's golfing with even when he goes over to his properties. Today was a rare exception, perhaps because they wanted it to be known that the president was out there with a Republican senator perhaps making some deals as he likes to do.

SCIUTTO: Abby, how does president match up with his predecessors in number of days off in his first year in office?

PHILLIP: Well, we can't exactly make an apples to apples comparison. But here are few numbers to give you a good sense of it. President Barack Obama who the president criticized quite a bit about his golf game spent 26 days on vacation outside of the White House in his first year. George W. Bush spent 73 days. And Bill Clinton spent 21 days.

Now the White House notes that President Trump is often working even when he's at the golf course. This is his 80th day at a Trump -- at a Trump golf resort, either here in Mar-a-Lago or in Bedminster, New Jersey. It's also not the end of the president's first term quite yet and there are a few days left of this Christmas vacation, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Those are the numbers. Abby Philip with the President, thanks very much.

Turning now to former Obama White House ethics czar, Norm Eisen and former Republican, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Norm, so looking at those numbers there, you don't begrudge a president, I imagine, getting some downtime. What is your issue with President Trump and all this?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Jim, thanks for having me back. My issue is, number one, President Trump made a commitment to the American people when he was running that he wouldn't take vacations and wouldn't golf and here he is nearing the end of his first term. He spent over 80 days on his own golf courses and over 100 days, almost a third of his time in office, at his own businesses. So he's promoting his own businesses. Of course, I don't begrudge a vacation. I don't like the dishonesty. I don't like the hypocrisy and the self- promotion is absolutely contrary to the dignity of the office, to ethics and to legal considerations. So that's wrong.

SCIUTTO: Ken, I mean, there are two issues here, there's the time on the course right, nearly 100 vacation days about -- since his time since he's been in office. But it's also the fact that he goes the courses where he profits from the visit and there's a lot of money that goes into that right, from renting golf carts, to the rooms, et cetera. What's your defense?

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FMR VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, let's start with the golf. Look, back when people claimed about President Obama golfing, and when I say people complaining, I mean my side of the spectrum other conservatives, other Republicans. My response to them was, hey, what do you want him, at work? And for all you people out there who do not like President Trump, surely you don't want him working instead of playing golf. I just, you know, and it would flummox my fellow conservatives when I'd tell them to it about Obama. I didn't begrudge President Obama playing golf. I'd rather he do that than legislated with his phone, usually.

And with respect to where he's doing it, look, President Trump is the first president, maybe the only one I've ever known of, that flew around in his own plane while he was campaigning. I mean, this is all part of who he is and everybody knew where he was living. This is not a change in his lifestyle. The problem is --

SCIUTTO: Should his lifestyle --

CUCCINELLI: Let me finish.

SCIUTTO: -- shouldn't his lifestyle change when he's president --


CUCCINELLI: The same problem with President Obama and that is we now have this imperial presidency, it's like moving a castle around the country for the president to go anywhere. And I think that's the problem. The problem isn't specific to Trump, it isn't specific to President Obama. As the complaints happened during his administration.

[20:35:05] The problem is the massive overgrowth of the executive, the imperial presidency, as it's often called, and that isn't specific to any particular president. That is a problem, a bureaucratic problem we've grown up with. i think it needs to be reversed.

SCIUTTO: Listen --

CUCCINELLI: These are consequences.

SCIUTTO: -- is you see the motorcades going around. I mean certainly --


SCIUTTO: -- you move the office, its giant. But you did not answer, to be fair, the numbers there. He's spent four times as much time away from the White House. He's -- and this is the president who criticized Obama whenever he would go golf. How do you answer that -- how do you answer that contrast?

CUCCINELLI: Sure. So back in the campaign, I mean, this was -- this was the president was the king of hyperbole. I mean, the notion that he was not going to play golf and not take any vacations, I don't think anybody actually meant thought he meant what he said when he said that I didn't, and I worked for a different candidate to get elected. So, I just think this is part of what people knew they were getting with this president and they're getting it and for those who don't like this president, and don't like the agenda he has, I think you're better off with him on the golf course.

SCIUTTO: I'm going to put that one in the bank, by the way, I don't think anybody thought he meant what he said when he said -- we'll come back to that later. But, norm, from an ethical perspective, what are the rules, what is the precedent, rather, for a president to go to a property where he makes money off the visit?

EISEN: Well, Jim, it just has never happened, and I know Ken will appreciate this because we have our political differences, but he believes very strongly that you go into public service to serve the public, not to make a buck. And what President Trump has done, he's broken a bipartisan tradition going back four decades, if you go into the White House, you put your businesses in a blind trust, you step away from your businesses and you don't create this terrible appearance of conflict, where the president has turned the presidency into a giant infomercial for his own businesses.

It's so unseemly. And I'm sorry, I have to disagree, obviously, I don't approve of everything President Trump does from a policy perspective, to say the least, but look, he is in charge of the country. We do want him in the Oval Office. We do want him in the White House. There's important critical decisions to be made. If there's an emergency, we don't want someone running onto the golf course to talk to him. And the expenditure, the amount of waste, Ken, you ran on this. The amount of government waste, the millions the secret service has busted its overtime budget. So much more that have been spent on previous presidents. We have a perfectly good Camp David for vacationing. We don't need to take that castle on the road. It's costing the American taxpayer. That's wrong.

SCIUTTO: Norm, I got to give Ken a quick final word here, just in fairness, just a quick one, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I think this would be a great opportunity for us to shrink this entire entourage, not just for President Trump, but now and forever. Let's shrink the presidency. Let's shrink the entourage forever. And, look, the point about him going to his own properties is an absolutely legitimate one, but at the same time, this is how he lived his life before he was president. I don't think this is a surprise to people who voted for him. This was covered pretty thoroughly when he was running for office. He would have his meetings during the campaign at these places. So it's not like he's pulling a fast one on anybody. Do I wish it were done differently? Yes. But the main thing I wish were done differently was that we didn't have this monstrously immense entourage with the presidency that shrink it in terms of dollars and people and power.

SCIUTTO: Ken, Norm, thanks very much. Happy holidays to you and your families.

Next, we're going to be keeping the president honest on another claim that his new tax bill, in his words, essentially repeals Obamacare.


[20:42:59] SCIUTTO: More tweets from the president and more claims, "based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate has been terminated as part of our tax cut bill which essentially repeals over time Obamacare, the Democrats and Republicans will eventually come together and develop a great new health care plan!". The last part remains to be see seen, as for repealing Obamacare keeping them honest, it does it, believes in tax subsidies for millions of Americans keeps mandates on what must be covered, keeps Medicaid expansion and more.

Joining me now is former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo and CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers.

Bakari, to start with repealing Obamacare, obviously a big campaign promise for President Trump. Has he pulled it off or partially pulled it off in your view with this bill?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I mean and no one's view has he pulled that off. In fact the Republicans with control of the White House, with control the both the House and Senate, have royally failed on the campaign promise. And thank God, many Americans depend on this, need this. And in fact many people who are new enrollees into Obamacare actually live in Trump states.

But let's talk about what the individual mandate does because it's very clear that the president of the United States doesn't even know what Obamacare is. It's actually less than 3% of the total cost of Obamacare. Even more specific it only deals with the people in the individual markets which only encompass about 7% of the people who are covered by Obamacare. The fact of the matter is that you have more individuals who were covered through Medicaid expansion, you still have the subsidies in place, you still have those as you called them the necessities that have to be covered by insurance companies also known as pre-existing conditions. We still have the fundamental tenets of Obamacare. But I will tell you this, Democrats understand that Obamacare needs to be fixed. We understand that markets need to be stabilized. And while the White House wants to sabotage Obamacare, I'm hopeful that there will be a bipartisan fix with Murray/Alexander that comes sooner rather than later to helps reverse the sabotaging that this White House is doing, not just Donald Trump, but also McMulvaney.

[20:45:05] SCIUTTO: I do want to get to that Murray plan. But Michael, what do you say? I've spoken to Republicans who say that in reality it is more of a strategy of taking it apart piece by piece. Is that what we're seeing here with the taking away of the mandate?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: And I think that's what the president meant when he said over time, I mean, this is -- while it might not be the largest share of the funding, or the expense of Obamacare, it is a very important pole in this tent and there are Republicans and opponents to Obamacare across the board who think that this might cause fundamental, you know, damage to the program, that over time it falls apart. But of course, we just saw a fairly robust signup period for Obamacare this past time around. In fact, my family and I were forced to sign up for this abomination again last Friday or two Fridays ago. My -- from the very beginning our deductible went up 10 times and our price keeps going up 30%, 40%, each year.

But what we do have here is 13 million people who will not be forced to buy something that they don't think they need. I just spent a little bit of time with a friend of mine who's in the construction trades. He feels he's healthy enough and doesn't want to pay for health care and he believes that if not this year, next year, the president just put a $1,300 back into his pocket and that matters to him.

SCIUTTO: Bakari, how do you respond? I mean part of this issue here, is it not that you need healthy people and sick people to sign up because that's kind of the way insurance works because if it's all sick older people, right, you know, you don't have enough money in the system to pay for them.

SELLERS: I mean, but just listening to that argument, I mean, is why Democrats are winning elections now. I mean, really we don't have a clear message, but Michael actually helps us make our message. There are two reasons. One is the policy reason. The fact is, when you actually eliminate this individual mandate, he's complaining about his prices and where they are, well, guess what, they're going to go up. You know why? Because fewer people are going to be part of the pool. That's fundamentally how insurance works.

And the second part of this is, like, I mean, for Christ sake, I mean, when do we become a country where we're absent any moral compassion? When do we become a country where we don't want to care for others who may be sick or in firmed? I mean I've never understood this whole trait where all of a sudden we lose our empathy, we lose our compassion and don't care for someone who is less fortunate than we are?

SCIUTTO: But Bakari, Bakari --

SELLERS: Anybody can't just dole out cash to pay for their treatments. But I mean the fact is, this is a plan that is imperfect.

SCIUTTO: No I hear you. I just want to give --

SELLERS: Well let's work together to fix it.

SCIUTTO: I want to give him because we're running out of time, I want to give Michael a chance to answer that before we go. Just a quick question, Michael, is it good politics for Republicans to do this to Obamacare when, there fact, many people signing up, particularly through Medicaid expansion, are Republican voters?

CAPUTO: Well, we were forced to sign up. We didn't like signing up. Out here in fly over country, we don't like Obamacare and, frankly, the most compassionate years of America were not the last eight years. They don't have a -- you know, Democrats don't have a monopoly on compassion here, but one thing I want to say before we go, the president needs to take a look at the corporate mandates, the company mandates, the business mandates of this program because it's cost by some estimates upwards of 300,000 jobs, $19 billion in wage stagnation since Obamacare came in. the business community is not getting any relief --


CAPUTO: -- in this -- in this action by the president.

SCIUTTO: Folks, we're going to have to leave it there. Michael and Bakari, thanks very much.

Next, North Korea and a new twist now from Russia.


[20:51:58] SCIUTTO: As tensions rise between the U.S. and North Korea, Russia says it is ready to act as a mediator between the two. The offer came after the U.S. government today announce, sanctions against two North Korean individuals connected to the country's missile program. Perspective now from CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier and CNN military analyst retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

You know, Kim to start with you, these new sanctions are this ones that really have teeth to bite against the North Korean regime.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well when you combine these two sanctions together with the ones passed by the U.N. Security Council last week, it's beginning to ratchet up the economy pressure. And Russia was part of those U.N. sanctions. But Russia is also now offering the Trump administration and Pyongyang another avenue which burnishes Russian President Vladimir Putin's reputation just ahead of elections in March, even if they go absolutely nowhere.

SCIUTTO: Colonel Francona, Colonel, the Russians raising their hands now as mediator. Could they be an accepted and unbiased mediator in this a useful one for the U.S.?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they can be useful because they provide, they can talk to both sides. I -- you know, this was and I agree with what Kim says, in the Putin playing the statesman. He's done at the Middle East the -- not only what he's doing with Syria but he's done this with Egypt, he's done it with Libya. So now he seem trying to supply China as the key influential power in the far east. So, yes can could play the role, the problem is can he actually deliver, can he bring the two sides together who have, you know, diametrically opposing positions? But I don't know if he's serious about this or he's actually making a political play.

SCIUTTO: And we may forget that Russia was there with the U.S. during the Iran-nuclear negotiations, adversaries in some place, but they were parties to that agreement there. Kim, as we look at this now, the president's overall strategy, it's been somewhat confusing, at least in public comments because he have some senior administration officials, Rex Tillerson among them saying we're open to talks. You have others saying well we're not even close to talks. So I mean what is the policy? What's the actual policy?

DOZIER: Well, if you look beneath the tweets, what the Pentagon has been doing is preparing for a possible military invasion so that other nations, such as China who could possibly get Pyongyang to the negotiating table, see that the U.S. is serious about those preparations and put some political and economic capital on the line to make it happen. What is happening inside the White House, we see from the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster national security strategy that they are talking about messaging Russia, messaging China that they expect those nations to work along with U.S. interests or they're going to face some sort of censure. How this results in some sort of resolution on the Korean peninsula is really not clear at this point. The U.S. doesn't seem to have the levers to get Pyongyang to disarm any more than Pyongyang can get the U.S. to agree to stop those military maneuvers with South Korea.

[20:55:05] SCIUTTO: Colonel Francona, I -- and I'm sure I'm not alone, I've listened to some of the public comments, for instance, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who speaks to the president on this issue, saying that a military attack, an armed attack is very much an option for the U.S. and that perhaps President Trump is closer to exercising that option than some people realize. What is your view? Do you see that as a just despite the potential consequences as a realistic option for this administration?

FRANCONA: Well let's just say it's an option, granted, no one wants to exercise the military option, but we have to have one. And you have to present that to the president as one of his choices. But we're a long way from that. I mean there are so many more sanctions that we can apply, there are so many other diplomatic avenues we can take because that would absolutely be a disaster. We've talked about this before, what will happen if there's any kind of military confrontation there. So, you know, the Russians present maybe an opportunity, but I think the real opportunity is continued sanctions and these increased sanctions --


FRANCO: -- in the U.N. are welcome, the problem is are the Chinese and Russians serious about delivering on them.


SCIUTTO: With North Korean regime. Kimberly Dozier, Rick Francona, thanks very much and very happy holidays.

Next, how one part of the country got hit with more than four feet of snow and where else is due to get hammered next.


SCIUTTO: Some extreme winter weather is slamming parts of the country, Erie Pennsylvania, 53 inches of snow in just two days shattering the highest two day snow fall record in the entire state. CNN's Allison Chinchar joins me from the CNN Weather Center. For looks what's coming next Allison, are we going to see anything like that the rest of this week?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, because the snow is still falling and those temperatures are going to get colder. When you take a look at these numbers, Erie Airport, 62 inches, Perrysburg, New York, 32 inches. This is an incredible amount of snow. But you also have to keep in mind, it's been incredibly cold temperatures. We have windchill advisories from Montana all the way to Maine and thing with that is, is that we're going to have find multiple waves of cold temperatures. So we have the one that's currently taking place right now, that Arctic blast. That's going to slide away a temporary warm- up on (INAUDIBLE) on Thursday before the next one begins to arrive back into the area.

The problem with this is we have so many people that have plans for New Year's, especially in New York City. So when you take a look at the forecast for this, again, notice the big dip. The problem is going to be that when we get to Sunday night, when so many of those folks are standing outside in New York City for hours on end, the temperature is going to be in the single digits. And Jim, the windchill is likely going to be minus five to minus 10, and its not just in New York, Boston, Cleveland, a lot of other cities will be experiencing much of the same.

SCIUTTO: I'm feeling in New York right now. Allison Chinchar, thanks very much.

[21:00:03] I'm Jim Sciutto. Time now for the CNN Special Report, "All the Best, All the Worst 2017".