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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Claims "No Collusion" 16 Times in One Interview; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut; President Trump: Mueller Will Treat Me Fairly. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 29, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:15] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So, can you have a fair witch hunt?
John Berman here, in for Anderson.
The question comes up because President Trump has been talking, but there are new questions about what he is saying. He spoke at length with "The New York Times" off the cuff with no aides present, and he made news on the Russia investigation. A new response of whether he thinks it's fair, a witch hunt, or both.
Here's what he said when "The Times" asked him about Robert Mueller. He said: I hope that he's going to be fair. I think he's going to be fair. And based on there, there has been no collusion, but I think he's going to be fair. And if he's fair -- because everybody knows the answer already.
So, there's a great deal open to interpretation, but "the fair" part is new. And one thing is abundantly clear, this is not how he normal talks about the investigation. This is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
There's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: The president went on to say I think bob Mueller will be fair and everybody knows there was no collusion.
I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion. She's the head of the committee.
Now, keeping them honest, Senator Feinstein has yet to publicly reveal that she has reached any determination one way or the other on collusion or collaboration. It's hard to know exactly which of her remarks the president is referring to.
Here's what she told Wolf Blitzer back in May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have evidence that there was, in fact, collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Not at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Again, that was in May before the indictment of Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chair. That was before campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty about lying about campaign contacts with Russia, before the president's former national security adviser Michael Flynn also pleaded guilty. It was before we learned about that meeting at Trump Tower last year. Manafort, Jared Kushner, A lot has happened since May.
So, perhaps, the president was talking about this interview, Senator Feinstein back in early November with Jake Tapper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So we learned this week that former Trump policy adviser George Papadopoulos traveled to London in 2016 and in April he met with a professor who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians. Have you seen any evidence that this dirt, these e-mails were ever given to the Trump campaign?
FEINSTEIN: Not so far.
TAPPER: Not so far? Have you ever seen any communications that suggested that the Trump campaign wanted them to release them through a different means? Because obviously they were released by WikiLeaks.
FEINSTEIN: No, I have not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Senator Feinstein neither implicating nor clearing the president, only saying she had yet to see evidence that the Trump campaign tried to get the WikiLeaks e-mails. And what she has said more recently is hardly comforting to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: The Judiciary Committee has an investigation going, as well. And it involves obstruction of justice, and I think what we're beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: A case of obstruction of justice. You did not hear the president quoting that. But back to what he did say, his claim that everybody agrees, even Democrats, that there was no collusion. Well, here is Mark Warner, the Democratic co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee just last week speaking in defense of Robert Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Despite the initial denials of any Russian contacts during the election, this committee's efforts have helped uncover numerous and troubling, high level engagements between the Trump campaign and Russian affiliates, many of which have only been revealed in recent months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Doesn't sound like he's clearing the president. Then there's what the president said on the possibility of reopening the Clinton e- mail probe. Quote: I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.
So, is he saying a decision not to impede or influence these investigations is somehow conditional? It depends on whether he thinks he's being treated fairly. Is that what he's saying?
To be honest, we don't know for sure. The question is, does he?
It certainly is something to talk about, which we certainly will tonight. First, one of the investigators just before air, I spoke with Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
BERMAN: So, Congressman, the president did an interview with "The New York Times." And 16 times, no fewer than 16 times, he said there is no collusion.
[20:05:05] There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. You sit on the House Intelligence Committee. You've been investigating this for a long time.
Is that a fair statement?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, John, I mean, we've been hearing that for the last year or so that there was no collusion, and in that year, we've seen Michael Flynn plead guilty. We've seen George Papadopoulos pled guilty to Russia-related issues. We've seen -- we've learned, thanks to "The New York Times", the Don Jr. meeting at which the president son said, sure, I'd love to hear the dirt on Hillary Clinton. You know, collusion is the word that people argue about, but there's no question while the campaign was on, the president and his people were very interested in being close to Russia, in hearing what Russia had on Hillary Clinton.
What happened after that, of course, is why this investigation needs to continue. Look, we're not going to prejudge it. You know, maybe that's as far as it goes, but that's why these investigations need to finish.
BERMAN: You know, Papadopoulos and Flynn didn't plead guilty to collusion. Among other reasons because you can't, because there is no collusion crime. They pled guilty to lying to the FBI about Russia related matters. You did an interview with Alisyn Camerota on "NEW DAY" which made news in conservative circles for this statement. You said, I'm not sure I've seen a lot that the American people aren't already aware of.
What do you mean?
HIMES: The question was about whether there are crimes. The question I was asked, have you seen evidence of a crime? Remember, the congressional investigations aren't equipped or designed to investigate crimes. We don't wire people up. We don't issue subpoenas to people for criminal reasons.
What I meant was, first of all, you know, we need to approach this objectively, meaning we shouldn't be saying that there clearly was collusion, and secondarily, if there were crimes committed, I don't think it's going to be the congressional investigations that float those crimes. It's likely to be Mueller's investigation.
BERMAN: Let me ask you this because there's the issue of collusion, and there is no collusion crime, but there's the issue of obstruction, did the president or anyone around the president try to obstruct the investigation into the Russia matter. Have you seen -- first of all, would that be a crime?
HIMES: Well, clearly, obstruction of justice is a crime. You know, I'm not a lawyer, but when the president fires the head of the FBI, as he fired Jim Comey, says that he did it because of Jim Comey's treatment of Hillary Clinton, and then admits publicly that he did it to lift the pressure of the Russia investigation, look, I'll leave that to lawyers and prosecutors. But that seems like an action that was taken in order to slow or stop the FBI investigation.
He's railed on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, because Jeff Sessions has recused himself, not being, quote/unquote, "loyal" to him with respect to this investigation. So, I'm not going to make the final judgment on obstruction, but there is an awful lot of evidence that this president wants that stopped.
BERMAN: One of the other things he said, he has an absolute right to do whatever he wants to do with the Justice Department. Ranking membership of the intelligence committee says that he doesn't see it like that. Do you see it like that?
HIMES: Well, nobody sees it that way. The president of the United States does not have the absolute right to do whatever they want with the Justice Department. The president doesn't have the absolute right to do anything.
We are a nation of laws. We are also a nation in which the Department of Justice has stood apart and independent from the president. The Department of Justice does and must serve the law and the American people and the Constitution as a whole. Not a man.
You know, if we have the guys with guns, and we say the Justice Department, we're talking about guys with guns, serving an individual president, now we're a banana republic, or not a republic anymore. I mean, this is -- what he said is deeply damaging to the tradition of this country.
BERMAN: But he could fire the attorney general.
HIMES: He could fire the attorney general. And, by the way, we've seen that before in the early '70s, which lead to the downfall of another president.
BERMAN: And he can fire the FBI director.
HIMES: And he did fire the FBI director, and, of course, that got the independent counsel going, Robert Mueller.
So, you know, I think my interpretation of the president's calm around Mueller, was I think he realized as the drumbeat to fire Mueller accelerated, and as people started to speak up, I think he realized that was a no-go zone politically.
BERMAN: Congressman Jim Himes, have a happy New Year.
HIMES: Thanks, John.
BERMAN: So, with me now, constitutional law professor, Elizabeth Foley, of Florida International University, CNN national security and legal analyst and former National Security Agency attorney, Susan Hennessey, and CNN legal analyst and former prosecutor, and Paul Callan.
Elizabeth, I want to start with you. The president said 16 times during the interview with "The New York Times," there was no collusion. But Congressman Jim Himes who is on the House Intelligence Committee says we don't know that yet. We are still investigating.
Is this case closed?
ELIZABETH FOLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, look, I don't think the case will be closed till the case is closed. There are ongoing investigations. I don't think there's any indication that the president is trying to obstruct either congressional proceedings or the special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation.
And I think he has indicated rather clearly that he's going to stay out of those processes. Let them unfold naturally. But he personally is trying to tell the American people that there's no there there, and he's confident that there has been no collusion.
BERMAN: You know, Paul, it is interesting, in this interview with "The New York Times," he says I think Robert Mueller is fair. It is a distinctly different message than we've been getting from Republicans loyal to the president -- Congressman Jim Jordan on this program just a week ago, and others -- who are suggesting that the Mueller investigation is somehow, you know, tainted terminally, beyond repair right now.
[20:10:14] That's a very mixed message.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a totally mixed message. As a matter of fact, it kind of reminds me of the old good cop/bad cop routine when, you know, a suspect is being interrogated. Remember, they've been on the attack against Mueller and the fairness of the investigation all along. And now, all of a sudden, the president has become the good cop saying, well, I think Mueller can be fair.
And I think what he's trying to do is he's trying to send a message to Mueller that he should be reasonable in his approach to this, and that the president doesn't have any personal animosity toward him, hoping that that will induce Mueller to back off. I don't think it will, but that's the message he's trying to send.
BERMAN: You know, it was interesting, Susan Hennessey, 16 times the president said no collusion. Not once did he say no obstruction, and he quoted Dianne Feinstein on collusion, did not quote Dianne Feinstein on obstruction. What signs have you seen that this might be an area that Robert Mueller at this point is investigating?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Meaning sort of the obstruction area as an area that he's investigating?
HENNESSEY: Right. So, that's clearly within sort of the purview of that original mandate that Rod Rosenstein gave to Mueller, right, that he's going to be investigation, both issues related to Russia, anything or rising out of that, and also any investigation related to the termination of Jim Comey. That clearly is a criminal investigation related to obstruction.
It is a pretty complex legal question, whether or not the course of conduct of the president can rise to that level. But clearly that's something that Mueller's team is considering.
BERMAN: Based on what we've been hearing from people facing the special counsel, the types of people he's been talking to and the types of questions he's been asking, it certainly seems he's investigating that. Whether or not that is a crime, that is open for interpretation.
We have much more to discuss after the break, including something else the president said. Did His praise of Obama attorney general for what he sees as his personal loyalty signal he expects the same from Attorney General Jeff Session and the Justice Department?
Later, David Gergen on the many ways President Trump has already left his mark on the office and changed it like few others have. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[20:16:03] BERMAN: We're talking about the president's interview with "The New York Times", his thoughts on the Russia probe and his remarks whether he thinks special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly can be read as something more forceful than just a mere expectation.
There is evidence of that. His claim of having, quote, the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, his repeated criticism of the attorney general and now praise for loyalty as he seats it of Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, the loyalty he showed his boss.
Again, quoting the president. Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look at the IRS scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these were real problems.
When you look at the things they did and Holder protected the president, and I have great respect for that. I'll be honest, I have great respect for that.
So, does he see the Justice Department's role to be his loyal protector?
Back now with the panel.
Elizabeth, I want to start with you now with the Eric Holder comments, but with the notion that he has, quote, the absolute right to do whatever he wants to do with the Justice Department. Is that true, Elizabeth?
FOLEY: Yes, it's absolute true as a constitutional matter. Look, the DOJ, the special counsel, the FBI, these are not independent agencies. They are directly accountable to the president.
In fact, if the DOJ, for example, or a special prosecutor of FBI is not accountable to the president, who are they accountable to? You want these executive branch officials to have some line of political accountability to the president. It's a dangerous situation when they don't.
Just think back to the Herbert Hoover days where basically he was a rogue bureaucrat because he had dirt on everyone and he was sort of threatening to blackmail them. You don't want bureaucrats who are not politically accountable. That's a reason the framers built in the structure of accountability into our Constitution.
BERMAN: That may be a legal answer, you harken back to Herbert Hoover. But you think back to Richard Nixon to think there's an issue beyond a legal matter, Susan. Sure, you can fire somebody or order someone to be fired, but it will have ramifications beyond a legal matter, correct?
HENNESSEY: Yes. One of the things we see at the Justice Department really is a bifurcation. Certain decisions are committed to those political appointees for precisely the kind of accountability that was just reference, that sort of political accountability. Then, a number of decisions are committed to career prosecutors, the sort of civil service level, in part because sort of avoiding that perception of any kind of politicization, the notion that the Justice Department is sort of hired guns of the president is so profoundly damaging.
And really, that appears to be the part of sort of Jeff Sessions' job that President Trump appears to kind of not understand, particularly as he's describing sort of Eric Holder's personal loyalty to the president.
BERMAN: What about that, Paul Callan, because the president sort of lamented that Jeff Sessions isn't as loyal to him as Eric Holder was to President Obama?
CALLAN: Well, you know, his attacks, continuing attacks on Jeff Sessions really are kind of astounding to me, because Sessions, in many respects, has been as loyal an attorney general as you can possibly imagine. And the only reason that sessions got out of the Russia investigation was he was being accused of lying himself about his own role in communicating with the Russians, and had become a witness in the case.
Now, that's very different than Holder's position in the Obama administration. So, I think it's really surprising that the president has been so aggressively attacking his own attorney general.
BERMAN: You know, and, Susan, just to the point of the special counsel, when Elizabeth was saying the president has an absolutely right to fire who he wants to, we're talking about the attorney general, we're talking about the FBI director in this case. The special counsel is in a little bit of gray area there. I mean, he can order someone to fire the special counsel, but he can't just sign a piece of paper to get it done, can he?
HENNESSEY: Well, sure. It's a little bit of a distinction without a difference. He can order someone to remove the special counsel.
[20:20:01] Clearly, that is within his authority.
I do think there's a broader question in sort of the subtext of Trump's statement, I have the absolute right to do whatever I want with the Justice Department. You know, that kind of rhetoric is more concerning, because it suggests that he doesn't understand sort of the difference between his personal interests, the interests of the American people.
You know, the president is not above the law. He cannot discharge his office in a way that violates sort of a fundamental rule of law. That's a central question of the obstruction of justice inquiry as the special counsel is looking into right now.
So, these are complex questions as they relate to the president. But his sort of broad assertions of I can do whatever I want, that just plainly isn't true. BERMAN: You know, Elizabeth, I see you nodding your head here.
You've written and spoken on this subject of obstruction. And in your mind, what the president has done, what we know he has done does not constitute in a legal way in your mind obstruction.
FOLEY: Yes. I mean, not what we know so far. Look, what we do know is that he fired James Comey as FBI director, and that certainly cannot be a basis of obstruction of justice charge. Obstruction of justice can be committed by the president -- I've heard some people say he can't commit obstruction of justice. I would not go that far.
Certainly, the president can, for example, obstruct a proceeding of the Congress, he could obstruct a proceeding of the judiciary. But by simply firing one of his subordinates, which is well within his constitutional power, that alone cannot constitute obstruction of justice.
So, until I see more, I see no evidence of any obstruction of justice.
BERMAN: You know, Paul Callan, big picture here, where do you think the special counsel is right now? You know, we've been on this Christmas/New Year's break, so we've had a little bit of a time off from focusing on the investigation. But where do you think he'll be when we come back next month?
CALLAN: Well, I have to say he's been running a tight ship. We're not seeing a lot of leaks from his part of the investigation as to what's going on. And, you know, at this point in time, I think he's moved in to the White House.
He's interviewed a circle of people very close to the president. It seems to me that he's hit all of the major investigative points that he would want to hit in developing this investigation. He probably had George Papadopoulos wired, and went -- who was out talking to other members of the Trump campaign.
He's got a guilty plea from General Flynn and he's using that as pressure to try to get Flynn to supply information. Manafort has the same pressure. Manafort, of course, was the campaign manager.
So, he's really got all of his pins lined up in a row here. Now, the question, though, is, is there anything there underneath it? And it's starting to look like he's coming up thin, because he hasn't established at this point anything that we know about direct collusion with the Russians.
And I think he's going to be left in the end with either obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, or one of those what we call collateral offenses that have often done in other presidents, like Richard Nixon. Abuse of power is one. But, you know, when I listened to the president today throwing out the olive branch, and saying, you know, something, maybe this is a fair investigation, I see a man who has been talking to his lawyers who have been saying, back off, and you're going to be facing abuse of power allegations from Congress eventually and impeachment, unless you tone it down and he's toning it down.
BERMAN: All right. Paul Callan, Elizabeth Foley, Susan Hennessey, great to have you with us tonight. Happy New Year to you all.
Next, more of the president's comments in "The New York Times" from that half hour-long interview and how they're playing out politically for him.
BERMAN: In the last segment, we talked about the legal aspects of President Trump's interview with "The New York Times," his claims about the Russia probe, special counsel Robert Mueller and more. Now, let's talk politics about that as well as some other things the president said, including this on the tax bill and health care.
Quote, I know the details of taxes better than anybody, better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most. Better than most. Not better than the best CPA.
Joining us now, Tara Setmayer, Scott Jennings, Brian Fallon and Jack Kingston.
Congressman, I want to start with you. We'll talk about whether we're talking the president as an accountant soon. But I want to talk about what he had to say about Robert Mueller first, the idea that he thinks Robert Mueller is being fair. He said that over and over again. He also said there's no collusion.
Do you get the sense that his opinion of Robert Mueller's fairness, though, is contingent on Robert Mueller not finding anything damaging on him?
JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Well, it's hard to say. I think that he was sending a signal that OK, I'm going to quit criticizing this investigation and let the chips fall where they may. As you know, this has been going on previous to Robert Mueller being appointed. So, after 16 months, we don't have a single thread of evidence that even suggests there was collusion.
We have some people who lied to the FBI. We have some people who broke some campaign finance disclosure laws, but we don't have anything that indicates there was collusion. So, I think the president at this point, he's realizing what the American people are realizing, is that this investigation is leading to nowhere, and it probably should be wrapped up very soon.
BERMAN: I just want to be clear, one of the issues here is that collusion as a criminal charge doesn't really exist. There may not be proof of conspiracy yet. Collusion, small c, was there collusion, was Donald Trump, Jr. colluding with people on the basis of the promises of dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign? That may be the case. I understand your point there.
Brian Fallon, to you, because Congressman Kingston said something interesting there. He said that he thought the president was sending a signal that he was going to back off his criticism of the Mueller investigation. Did you read it like that? BRIAN FALLON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, HILLARY CLINTON'S 2016
PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I read it the way that you seem to suggest in the premise to your question just now, John. I thought it was a very conditional endorsement of Bob Mueller's fairness. It seemed like when he made that straight comment suggesting that the Department of Justice answers to him and that he -- that it operates under his thumb, it was suggested to me that he thinks he can fire Bob Mueller whenever he wants as soon as he starts to think that Bob Mueller is closing in on him.
So, it was a worrisome interview from my perspective. For that reason, I think it's time as a country we stopped tiptoeing around the issue of asking serious questions about the president and his cognitive state because I thought that this interview was rife with delusions. And late today, you've seen stories from people like John -- respected people like John Harwood raising questions about this has reclined for Vox, suggesting that the President does not seem well. And I think that's a fair, honest and --
BERMAN: Brian, that's absurd. Come on, you all have been saying that 2015, I mean this --
FALLON: I was -- well, I -- Jack, I lived through --
BERMAN: And I'm armchair--
FALLON: Jack, I mean you can't possibly defend any of the statements that the President made in that interview. And for too long now for over a year, we've heard people chuck it up and say, "Well, you have to take him seriously, but don't take him literally. It's just his bravado. That's just a shtick. He's playing six dimensional chess." They were dangerous, delusional statements that suggest he has a very loose script on reality contained in that interview. And I lived through 2016 campaign.
FALLON: Jack, let me finish. I lived through the 2016 campaign where Hillary Clinton had one fainting spell and had one weekend where she came down with the flu, and there were appropriately a bunch of questions raised about releasing additional medical information.
Donald Trump, I think it is fair to start asking questions about whether the man is fit to hold the job. I don't mean from a qualification standpoint.
KINGSTON: But Brian --
FALLON: I don't mean from a character standpoint.
FALLON: I mean in terms of how --
KINGSTON: Let me just say --
BERMAN: Can I tell you one thing. Why did you find delusional, Brian, just so we have a basis (inaudible) discussion?
FALLON: I mean there's -- where-- how much time do you have, John? There was any number of statements contained in that interview that were just completely unmoored from reality. He said the Democrats have exonerated him on the issue of whether there was collusion with Russia, that's not true.
He said he has better -- you read some of the statements at the top of the segment, that he has better grasp for some of these health care policy details and the tax code than any President before or CPA. He suggested that Republicans support him and said that Manchin-- said that Joe Manchin supports him. When Joe Manchin didn't even feel a need to support his tax plan --
BERMAN: Let me add Jack weigh in and I want to bring Scott and Tara. And then Jack --
KINGSTON: Well, first of all, I want to say to my friend, Brian, number one, it's not time according to the Democrats to start asking. You, guys, have been asking since 2015 when he became a threat and you sort of pretend like, "Oh, now, because of this article, we have to start." Let's be honest, you want this President to fail and you want to question his insanity and put a star (ph) around.
FALLON: Jack, let me be clear. I think --
BERMAN: Hang on, hang on, guys, hang on because I want -- because Tara has got to be patient here. Tara, did you read this as the headline of the interview?
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Which this?
BERMAN: Well, Brian is definitely -- somehow the collection of statements that the President made here --
BERMAN: -- you know, indicates, you know, something suffering from delusions.
SETMAYER: Well, not necessarily. I mean there have been plenty of other times where I think the President has been less coherent and gone off on this kind streams of consciousness, then this one. And this was another classic Trump unfiltered, but that's -- he said these things before. I mean the idea of him saying that he is -- he knows more about the tax bill than the greatest CPAs and all that.
That's like when he went on the Sunday shows and said that he knew more about fighting the war and terrorism than the generals. I mean it's not the first time he speaks this way because he does delude himself, I believe, into making himself be the best at everything, that's been the hallmark of his career forever. So, that part of his character I think is something that has concerned
a lot of us because you can't get away with that kind of hyperbolic, nonsense when those words matter, when you're President of the United States. It may work if you're in WWE match or if you're, you know, selling Trump stakes or whatever.
But when you're President of the United States, those things have consequences. But I think he does it now so often that we're almost numb to it which is -- which scares me because I don't think we should be desensitized to normalize it anyway. He should be responsible for that hyperbolic -- truthful hyperbole, right? That's when he wrote about in -- part of the deal.
SETMAYER: Well, that matters when you're President of the United States and should hold him -- keep holding him accountable for it.
BERMAN: Scott, choose your own adventure here, you could either weigh in on this aspect of the discussion or I am genuinely curious whether or not there have been a lot of Republicans criticizing Special Counsel Mueller's investigation very directly right now, if any of them will see the President statement that he thinks that Mueller has been fair as a signal to maybe back off a little bit.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you may want to grab a poncho, everybody, because what I'm about to say is likely to make poor Brian's head explode. I think the President on his New York Times interview, you read the way it's written up by the reporters who did the interview.
I think the President came off very measured. He came off measured on Special Counsel. He came off measured on collusion by saying what his position has always been. There is no collusion. He came off measured I think on his achievements for the year. He seemed like a relaxed man who was comfortable in his own skin. He was unstaffed for the interview.
So, you know, the Democrats get upset when the President attacked the Special Counsel. Then he comes off today and said, "you know, I think he's going to be fair. He's going to treat me fairly. And the Democrats were upset. They are never happy with what Donald Trump has to say about virtually anything. So honestly, the way I read the article and the most -- and most people will consume this interview by reading the write-up, not by reading the transcript. I think the President came off fine. And regarding whether the President is sending a signal, actually, I wondered if he has looked at the landscape and said, "You know what, I've got enough surrogates out there, sort of keeping Mueller honest and keeping the Special Counsel honest. I can afford to play the good cop now."
BERMAN: So, that's good.
JENNINGS: "I have enough surrogates on the attack."
BERMAN: Brian Fallon, you were warned your head would explode. How is your head?
FALLON: Well, I'll just post the question back to Scott. One of the statements in the interview, he said he has the authority to do whatever he wants over the justice department. Did you consider that a measured statement? Actually, the attorney --
JENNINGS: I think what the President meant was the justice department. The justice department is an executive branch agency and he does have authority over, he did not say he was going to outside the bounds of the law, however, Democrats today suggest the presidency thinks he can do anything he wants to do in or outside the bounds of the law. That's crazy. It is an executive branch agency. At no time did the President suggests he was to go outside the bounds of the law and does suggest otherwise I think is --
BERMAN: Sorry, I mean for time immemorial--
SETMAYER: He did suggest a little bit that he could because he could do whatever he wants with the justice department, but he has chosen not to get involved yet. There was a caveat in that. It wasn't that -- you know, it was a little concerning that he was kind of bragging that he has this power but he hasn't done it yet. I think the yet part is what makes everybody concerned.
BERMAN: We're going to leave it there. It's the yearend cliffhanger everyone,Tara, Scott, Congressman Brian, great to have you here. Happy New Year to all of you.
BERMAN: Next, we have finally solved the mystery of the golf blocking white truck of Palm Beach, what we found out after a quick break.
BERMAN: Well, today, we can finally close the loop and the saga of the white box truck of Palm Beach. As you remember on Wednesday when CNN cameras tried to get shots of the President playing golf from a public sidewalk, this happened, a big white box truck blocking the shot.
The Secret Service denied responsibility. The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office didn't own up to it either. And yet, what your wondering eyes did appear yesterday what looked like the same big white box truck in the parking lot of the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office. It turned out that yes, yes, that was it.
Today, Santa Cruz and Florida were finally able to compare license plate, and yes, that is the truck that blocked your view from a public sidewalk of our Commander-in-Chief. Today, no truck, just a President playing golf, a President who once claimed he had no time for that, a President parrying from the bushes and the news cameras on the other side.
The episode is just the latest example of the Trump presidency operating differently than most. It does raise questions about how the presidency itself is changing. No man better to discuss that than David Gergen. He joins me now. He was an adviser to four Presidents. David, big picture here, not golf.
But when you look at the President's first year in office, you know, whether you're a Trump fan or a Trump critic, you know, he has undoubtedly done it differently. What is the most significant change do you think he's brought to the office?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, like Trump supporters are going to say that he's strengthened the office, that he had done significant breakthroughs that are needed to be done and he's finally connecting with working-class Americans. And so, they're going to look at him with favor.
But I must tell you, John, I think historians, mainstream historians are likely to record that this first year has not only been controversial but it has accelerating trend that's been danger for the presidency, and that is the seeping away of influence and authority that has been going on now, started long before Trump but has accelerated during his time in office.
You see it not only here but you see it especially overseas. Where -- well, the United States -- you know, and admitted, acknowledged retreat from world leadership, President Trump is proud of that, that has also meant that he's lost influence overseas. Let me give you an example, John, of what I'm talking about.
When many of us were growing up, we looked with awe and a certain amount of reverence toward the presidency because it seemed to mix the powers of royalty with the powers of a prime minister. You had the head of state and you had the head of government combined. And so, it had this elevated quality and you had -- got things on as a chief executive.
Over time, especially in this past year, the sense that the President as the head of state, that he represents sort of some noble traditions has all but disappeared. He's very much more in a prime ministerial role and even with that, his -- where the tweets and everything else, the level of discourse is below that we've seen from any other President I can remember.
BERMAN: You know, you brought up his use of Twitter. Look, he ran communications for President for the past year.
BERMAN: You know that any White House likes to set an agenda and do things its way, get its message out. And supporters of the President say, you know that he uses Twitter to set the agenda, to get that message out. Is it that simple?
GERGEN: I think it's a little more complex in its fundamental sense. The best Presidents have used new forms of media as a way to gain influence and power. Look at Franklin Roosevelt with the onset of radio. He was -- he became the master of radio. And his fireside chats were legendary now as a form of governing. Along came television, and who was the master of television, John
Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. And they both use it to increase their influence as leaders and to bring the country together. And Donald Trump is clearly the master of social media and you have to give him credit for being able to reach people with his pithy little comments and keep the attention on himself. But at the same time, he's used social media not in a way that previous Presidents have used new media, but as a way to divide and conquer.
BERMAN: Finally, David, you know, what do you think people should expect from the second year in office?
GERGEN: Boy, that's a really interesting question. You know, John, typically, as I think we've discussed once before, the second year is a rougher year for a President. The congressional elections, everybody turns your attention to that. And I think that he's going to have a harder time getting Democrats to come around on some of the bills he wants to pass than he's imagined.
You know, he's -- in the past, in the past year, the big bill he got through tax bill, he normally needed 51 votes in the Senate to rule. Now, he's going to need 60 for most of the kind of legislation he's looking at, and that means it's going to be very tough to get big things done.
BERMAN: David Gergen, always great to see you, sir. Have a wonderful New Year.
GERGEN: OK, John, take care.
BERMAN: Coming up, what the President wrote today about his approval rating and where he actually stands plus what his supporters say about his first year in office.
BERMAN: The President kicked off his day with a series of tweets. The first reading, "While the fake news loves to talk about my so- called low approval rating, "Fox and Friends" just showed that my rating on December 28, 2017, was approximately the same as President Obama on Dec. 28, 2009, which was 47 percent and this despite massive negative Trump coverage & Russia hoax." We should mention CNN doesn't use Rasmussen polls because they don't meet our standards according to our own polling and Gallup.
At the end of President Trump's first year in office, his approval rating is the worse of any modern President by far. There is the President at the bottom there at 35 percent. Above him, President Reagan, at the end of his first year in office, 49 percent. President Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were, both at 54 percent. Yes, they were all re-elected.
But while all this is true, the President still does have strong support from many of those who make up his base. Gary Tuchman spoke with voters in Dawson County, Georgia for their take on the President's first year.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dawson County, Georgia is the heart of NASCAR country. It also happens to be one of the most Republican counties in the Republican state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Who did you vote for in the election day?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): In the Dawsonville poolroom restaurant where every day, they honor hometown NASCAR legend Bill Elliott known as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, they also now honor President Donald Trump and his first year in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DALE CUMMINGS, PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER: George Washington was the father of the country. Abraham Lincoln held together. Ronald Reagan saved us from communism. And now, Donald Trump is going to save us from ourselves. He's going to build a strong economy.
SONNY SIMMONS, PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER: They've done excellent as far as I'm concerned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): Restaurant regular Sonny Simmons, just like many people here are saying, the good news about Donald Trump is getting swept under the rug.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: What do you think hasn't been reported has been ignored?
SIMMONS: He has that mask and sign no telling how much legislation that never gets mentioned.
TUCHMAN: Well, then you become a good point, Sonny, because you just said -- he just said himself that he signed more legislation than any President since Harry Truman.
SIMMONS: He has.
TUCHMAN: Well, here's the thing though, is that objective people look at this and find out that he's actually signed less legislation than any President has signed to now. So, it's kind of the opposite. And the question is, why do you think it --
SIMMONS: How did they figure that out?
TUCHMAN: Well, because it's easy, you just count them. That was pretty easy. And objective people count them and you say -- SIMMONS: That democratic senate would have some good stuff done.
TUCHMAN: Does it concern you when he kind of embellishes a little bit, when he kind of fibs?
SIMMONS: Kind of what?
TUCHMAN: How come?
SIMMONS: Because everyone of them (big liars).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): Many in the restaurant say the news media, Democrats and establishment Republicans have been working to keep the President down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN CARY, PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't blame him on that count. In other words, he say what he could do. He's trying to do it. And like I say, politicians, you know how politicians are.
TUCHMAN: How come he doesn't get any responsibility for not being able to pull people together when he promised he would?
CARY: He's trying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): The proof of that, many here point to the legislation the President just signed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK WOODLAND, PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER: Poor man ain't going to create jobs. And, you know, the rich people would create jobs.
TUCHMAN: So, you like this tax plan because of the benefits that gets incorporated (ph)?
WOODLAND: Yes, oh, yes, definitely.
TUCHMAN: Do you think that will benefit a man like you?
TUCHMAN: How was that?
WOODLAND: Well, it's just going to stimulate the economy, everybody is going to be spending money, I mean if you got money, you know, they going to spend it. TUCHMAN: So, you have faith that these big corporations are going to
take that tax savings and invest it in more workers and raise salary?
WOODLAND: Yes, I think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): And with 2018 now on the way, here's advice for the President from his most loyal supporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE EVERETT, PRESIDENT TRUMP SUPPORTER: He could probably do better with his public relations.
TUCHMAN: What would you advice him if you were his public relations expert?
EVERETT: Not to tweet.
TUCHMAN: If can be talking to the President, what would you say he should be doing?
SIMMONS: I would tell him, whatever you want done.
TUCHMAN: Claim check with you.
SIMMONS: Yes, whatever you want to do, you are the boss now.
TUCHMAN, (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN Dawsonville, Georgia.
BERMAN: Thanks, Gary, for that. So, 2018 is almost here. They're already getting ready for the biggest party, just a few blocks from here in Times Square. We'll get an update on just how cold it's going to be here is a you know, hint, very next.
BERMAN: The countdown to the countdown is on. Anderson, Andy Cohen and about a million others will gather in Times Square to rig in the New Year two nights from now and it's going to be cold, and not just here in New York, most of the country will be 20 to 40 degrees colder than usual on New Year's Eve.
Meteorologist Allison Chinchar in the CNN Weather Center with the very latest. So, Allison, look, how cold are we talking about this weekend?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're not talking cold. That's probably not even the right word. I would say frigid, is probably a better word to use. Look at some of these wind-chills. Now, we have wind-chill advisories, watches and warnings in effect for over 30 million people, and this is a combination of the cold temperatures, but also the wind, it's going to make that feels like temperature minus 25 to minus 45 for some of these regions. Waking up tomorrow in Boston, it's going to feel like minus 13.
Chicago, by the time you're starting off the New Year, minus 23 is the feels like temperature. That's because we have yet another wave of cold air that's going to be moving back in as we go Sunday into Monday.
Now, the main concern with this is what it does to your body. OK, you have to understand, on the normal basis, you have a layer of heat that is around the exterior of your body. However, when you put wind as a factor, it blows away that heat that sits just on the edge of your body which makes it very difficult for you to understand how quickly your body loses heat. And in some cases, it could be 2 to 4 degrees. That's it before hypothermia would actually set in.
The problem there is we also have to talk about snow because, John, we have winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings in effect all the way until we get to the New Year. The problem here is, it's for much of the same region that has been dealing with snow for the last couple of weeks namely around the Great Lakes, widespread amounts about 2 to 4 inches but there will be some pockets on those eastern edges of the lake. And yes, John, that includes Erie, which could end up taking up an additional foot of snow before we hit the New Year.
BERMAN: All right, Allison Chinchar, talking about the feels like temperature and it feels wicked cold. Thanks so much, Allison. Well, remember to tune in to watch Anderson and Andy Cohen. They will be shivering in Times Square with a million of their closest friends. The New Year's Eve coverage starts at 8 P.M. Eastern Time Sunday night here on CNN. I'm John Berman. I will be warm for the weekend. Thank you so much for watching 360, the CNN original series. The 80 starts now.