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Fusion GPS' Founders Fight Back; Trump's Lawyers Meet with Special Counsel; Bannon Comments on Trump Tower Meeting; Trump Talks Nuke Button; North Korea Reaches out to South Korea; Millions Brace for Monster Storm. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the research firm responsible for the Steele dossier, that report with salacious allegations against President Trump and also a number of allegations that have been backed up by the intelligence community and the president and his team's ties to Russia, well that firm, their co- founders, are fighting back. The firm is called Fusion GPS, and it calls Republican accusations that that dossier started the FBI's investigation into Russia conspiracy theories. Now they're asking Congress to release their full testimony.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So all of this is going on as CNN has learned that President Trump's lawyers had talks with the team of Special Counsel Mueller just before Christmas.

Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider following all of this from Washington.

Let's start with Fusion GPS, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John and Poppy, a hard-hitting, an aggressive op-ed by the founders of that research firm Fusion GPS. They say in this op-ed that they were shocked by what the British spy, Christopher Steele, uncovered when it came to the Kremlin's effort to help elect Donald Trump. And then also in this op- ed, they pushed back against claims that the dossier itself prompted the FBI investigation. In fact, part of the op-ed saying this. They said, as we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports that the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

Now, that other source from inside the Trump camp, it could be who "The New York Times" reported over the weekend, George Papadopoulos, the fact that he told an Australian diplomat over drinks at a bar at the height of the campaign in London, that could have been the impetus for the start of the FBI probe. He told that diplomat that the Russians told him that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. And then, of course, the Australians alerted their U.S. counterparts.

So Fusion GPS, in this op-ed though, telling Republicans to really stop the attacks on them, stop the attacks on the dossier. Of course, John and Poppy, the president has been a key part of these attacks, repeatedly calling this dossier bogus.

John and Poppy.

BERMAN: Jessica, what do we know about the meeting between the president's legal team and the special counsel's office?

SCHNEIDER: So we know that it happened just a few days before Christmas. And really, John and Poppy, the lawyers, they wanted two things from this meeting. First of all, they wanted to get a better sense of the next steps in the Mueller probe, and also an idea of really how long this cloud of the investigation could continue to hang over the president and over the White House.

Of course we've heard over the past few months the president's legal team, they've expressed this public optimism that the Russia probe is wrapping up. They previously had predicted it would be finished by the end of Thanksgiving or Christmas or even the end of 2017. But, obviously, that date has come and gone.

But, you know, this meeting with Mueller's team, it did come at a key time, again, the end of December. At this time, all of the White House interviews that were requested by Mueller, they had wrapped up. That included interviews with communications director Hope Hicks, as well as White House council Don McGahn. And in addition, the White House had handed over all the requested documents. So it's possible that Mueller could request more.

But, John and Poppy, we know that a source tells us there has been no request as of yet to interview the president or the vice president. So, yes, the lawyers for the White House meeting with Mueller and trying to get some more detail about when this thing could wrap because, obviously, they're anxious for it too.

John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed. Jessica Schneider, appreciate all the reporting. Thank you.

So also new this morning, really new this morning, the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, tells author Michael Wolf in a new book that that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with Don Junior, et cetera, and the Russians was, quote, treasonous and unpatriotic. A lot to get to. Our chief legal analyst Jeffery Toobin is here.

So let's start with that. A lot of people will be reading this book.


HARLOW: Steve Bannon calls this meeting treasonous, unpatriotic. Says, even if you didn't think it was those two things, you should have gone to the FBI immediately. Your read?

TOOBIN: Well, this just shows that there are -- remain major divisions within the Trump camp. Steve Bannon never liked the Trump family, especially the two sons, and this is an indication of it. But, you know, it is a significant statement when you think that the architect of the Trump campaign thinks that when the Trump campaign, not him, but others were associated -- other associated with it were told that the Russian government was trying to help Hillary Clinton win the election, he thinks that was treasonous to collaborate with that. I mean that's pretty significant.

BERMAN: You know -- you know, and it's connected to the other discussion that we're having, and Jessica was just having, about Fusion GPS, saying, hey, wait a second --


BERMAN: It's not the dossier that started this whole investigation. There were other things. Granted it wasn't actually the Trump Tower meeting because no one learned about that until much later. It may have been George Papadopoulos. It might have been other things. But, you know, does this undercut the argument that we've heard from a lot of congressional Republicans, Republican supporters of the president, that this is a witch hunt, that the dossier is this fake document, that you can't -- you can't believe that, so you can't believe anything.

TOOBIN: Right. Well, you know, the dossier has become publicly a lot more important than it really is. I mean, you know, FBI investigations start for all sorts of reasons. They often start for some -- an FBI agent reads something in the newspaper and says, you know what, I think we should follow-up on that. So the idea that there has to be some official start to an investigation that has to come from some pure as the driven snow source is just --

[09:35:23] HARLOW: Wrong.

TOOBIN: You know, it's just not how the real world works.

But it now seems that this whole line of attack that the Trump -- that the Steele dossier set off the investigation, even if that's a sort of frivolous argument, it's not true in the first place.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: That's what we learned from "The New York Times" this weekend.

HARLOW: He keeps getting undercut by multiple things, not to mention the key finding of the dossier, not the salacious, but the key finding was corroborated by the intelligence community across the board.

So in this opinion piece this morning --


HARLOW: The founders of Fusion GPS write, as we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it was corroborated -- corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

TOOBIN: That's a very -- that last phrase, including someone inside the Trump camp --

HARLOW: Including one --

TOOBIN: Was there an mole, an FBI mole in the Trump camp? Was someone in the Trump camp talking to the FBI during the campaign? That's somewhat suggested. It's not clear that the Fusion GPS people would even know that, but that's suggested by that, and that's certainly a tantalizing suggestion if not proof of anything.

BERMAN: One other connection I just thought of between the Fusion GPS stuff and this new Steve Bannon interview. Steve Bannon says that he thinks the financial issues --

HARLOW: Money laundering he calls it.

BERMAN: Money laundering, he calls it, the Kushner blank is greasy he calls it, may be the most fertile avenue of investigation for the special counsel's office. Well, Fusion GPS said in this op-ed today, you know, we gave Congress -- we said to Congress, you should go investigate --

HARLOW: Deutsche Bank..

BERMAN: Deutsche Bank., all these past financial dealings that the president and his team have had and Congress didn't bite.

TOOBIN: And one of the most damning facts in that op-ed piece is that out of all the bank records in the entire sorted saga that could have been looked at, the only bank records that the House Intelligence Committee looked at were Fusion GPS's bank records.

HARLOW: Their personal records.

TOOBIN: Their own records. Which, you know, is so peripheral to this story, but it just shows how the Republicans in charge of this administration are more interested in find -- in attacking the critics of the president than in examining the president's behavior.

HARLOW: They call it chasing rabbits.

TOOBIN: Chasing rabbits.

HARLOW: All right.

TOOBIN: I'm more kind of a city guy, so I don't know a lot about chasing rabbits, but I get the metaphor.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, always great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.

All right, three days into the New Year and three major foreign policy changes for the president. Really many of which, or at least two of the three, he has created in some ways on his own. We'll discuss, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:41:50] BERMAN: So, just one day after President Trump taunted Kim Jong-un over the size of his nuclear button, we are learning the Kim regime has sort of re-opened talks with South Korea for the first time in more than two years.

HARLOW: It's really significant. There's a lot to cover. With us, former Obama ethics czar and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norm Eisen, and CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

Gentlemen, nice to have you.

And, colonel, let me begin with you. Help me understand what this administration gains, what Americans gain, what the world gains from the president saying essentially my button is better and bigger than yours, if the administration's goal is de-escalation, as it has stated? How does that get us there?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, that's a really good question. I think the president has tried to put Kim Jong- un on notice. I believe he's done that. Not exactly the particular bludgeon tool I would have chosen, but he got the message across. And, of course, we're talking about it.

I think there was much more in this series of tweets and these announcements from the North Koreans and the president that are more important, but this is what everybody's fixated on. And this is the problem. When the president does something like this, it takes us away from what we should be talking about and ignores, you know, what's really important.

You know, the communications, much more important. The talks between North and South Korea, much more important, yet we're going to be fixated on a capability that the North Koreans really don't have yet. So I think this is a -- really a little premature to be making these kinds of blustery statements.

BERMAN: Ambassador, leave the button statement aside for a moment. We will --

HARLOW: If you can.

BERMAN: If you can. We will come back to that, I promise.

But these new communications between North and South Korean, the overtures from the North, the response from the South, the possibility of a delegation of northern athletes going to the Olympics in South Korea, all of this, are these positive developments?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: John, Poppy, thanks for having me back again.

Look, we are always happy to see dialogue happening, but this is a movie we've seen again and again over the years. North Korea and South Korea have gone to the Olympics together. They've marched under the same flag and a "One Korea" banner. There have been conversations before. The hotline was active, contrary to the president's tweets, not the first time ever, hotline was active as recently as two years ago. The problem is -- and this is a problem that has bedeviled administrations of both parties, guys. We have not come up with an effective strategy to squeezed North Korea to reduce its nuclear and ballistic capacities. The president is pursuing a random strategy. It's moving us further away from a solution. So I don't put much store in Kim's reaching out to the South.

[09:45:03] HARLOW: You know, former DNI, James Clapper, colonel, said last night, quote, no one in the White House knows what Kim Jong-un's ignition point is where one of these is going to set him off. That's a very salient point, is it not?

FRANCONA: It is. And, you know, thanks to my former boss for bringing that up. But I don't think that's exactly the case. I think people have assessed what the trigger point is. And hopefully someone is telling the president, please don't approach that. You know, this is not helpful when -- you know, when you're trying to push someone who is already paranoid.

The North Koreans believe that that nuclear capability is the only thing that guarantees the survival of that regime.

HARLOW: Right.

FRANCONA: And if you threaten to take that away or threaten to attack it, they might just say, you know what, we're going to be attacked by the United States. And you -- and you push over that tipping point.

So, you know, this is very dangerous. And, you know, when you're working in intelligence, you deal with two things, capabilities and intentions. We probably have a fairly good handle on the capability, but, boy, the intentions are really, really the problem here. So hopefully someone's got a better handle on this than I think than we do.

BERMAN: Ambassador, I wanted to give you a chance to talk about the button issue once quickly.

EISEN: Well, John, it's the opposite of what I learned when I was trained as a diplomat and what I taught other ambassadors in training later in my career, never make the situation worse. International relations are always a mess. And what Trump is doing with his impulsive and frankly bizarre tweet, that tweet caused me to question his stability and his fitness for office. He's making the situation worse.

First do no harm, then you can try to come up with a comprehensive international strategy with allies to put pressure on North Korea. So it was a very bad moment. Maybe the lowest single moment in his one year foreign policy tenure.

HARLOW: On Iran, before we let you guys go, colonel, to you. The White House just would not answer the direct question yesterday about whether it wants to see regime change in Iran, asked multiple times. They dodged that. But here's what is a real deadline, and that is January 12th, and that is when, once again, the president has to decide whether or not to waive these sanctions against Iran. And if he doesn't, then it essentially backs the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal. Do you think the current environment, the protesters going on day seven in Iran, what the White House, Nikki Haley have been saying about and to Iran opens the door for that more for the president?

FRANCONA: Well, it does. And it kind of plays into his hands a little bit. But the problem is, you know, this is not the same revolution that we saw in 2009. This is really kind of a leaderless, spontaneous uprising of different groups and different reasons. There's not -- there's not one group orchestrating this. So it's very hard for us to be able to -- to influence it effectively.

As far as the nuclear -- I think the nuclear issue, I think we're going to continue right where we are. The president may not certify it again. And I think he'll just kick it back to Congress. I don't think much is going to change on that. I think the status quo is going to continue. But, you know, Iran remains a big consideration for this administration.

BERMAN: Colonel Rick Francona, Ambassador Norm Eisen, thanks so much for being with us, guys. Happy New Year to you both.

EISEN: Happy New Year.

BERMAN: All right, this morning, Joshua Boyle, he's the Canadian man who spent five years with his family in captivity in Afghanistan --


BERMAN: Is scheduled to appear in court. Boyle is facing 15 charges -- new charges, including assault, sexual assault and making death threats from incidents that allegedly happened since he returned home to Canada. Boyle's lawyer tells CNN he has not seen any evidence yet but looks forward to defending him against the charges. Boyle and his pregnant wife were kidnapped in Afghanistan by a Taliban-linked terror group back in 2012. They were freed in a mission carried out by Pakistani forces, returned to Canada last October.

HARLOW: All right, we'll keep you posted on that.

Also switching gears. Bone-chilling temperatures about to meet up with powerful winter storms. A hundred million people in the path. What's ahead, next.


[09:52:47] HARLOW: An arctic blast is sweeping the country. Nearly a dozen people are dead this morning due to the frigid temperatures. Half of those deaths happened in the Midwest, which has seen bone- chilling temperatures and is continuing to today. Wind chills there dipping to 32 degrees below zero and it's about to get worse.

BERMAN: Yes, the cold front about to meet up with a monster storm heading up the East Coast. In the southeast, Georgia's governor issued a state of emergency for about 28 counties. Florida's panhandle and the coastal Carolinas could see ice and snow for the first time in years. And in the northeast, the storm will bring blizzard conditions with hurricane-force winds.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, in the Weather Center for a look.

You know, this is some 100 million people worried about this, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Exactly. And it's just now starting to get its act together. And it's doing it in the form of snow and even ice in places like north Florida that aren't used to this at all. In fact, you have to go back to 1989 to find any measurable snowfall in Tallahassee. And they did have some ice and snow today. In fact, portions of I-10 has been shut down in both directions. We've seen a lot of car accidents and a lot of bridges and roadways are closed across north Florida and southern Georgia. So definitely be careful out there.

This is going to rapidly intensify as it heads up the coast. It's what we call bombogenesis. It's when a storm lowers 24 millibars in 24 hours. And this is going to do that by tomorrow, which means it is going to bring some very, very gusty winds along the coast and some very heavy snowfall.

So here's the radar right now. Across southern Georgia, you can see the purple is ice and then some snowfall. So it's basically going to turn all to snow by the time it gets into portions of South Carolina, North Carolina. And then, as you mentioned, we could see blizzard-like conditions, especially along the coast, in northern portions of New England, where we could see hurricane-force winds, anywhere from 60 to 70 miles per hour with gusts even higher. And so it's going to be a dangerous situation over the next couple of days.

Two to four inches of snowfall expected across portions of the low country. Some isolated amounts, even more. And then I think for the northeast, it's really going to be eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and then eastern portions of Maine that's going to be hit the hardest with up to a foot of snowfall possible. So airports in Boston and New York could see delays tomorrow. It is just going to be a mess.

[09:55:04] So here's the forecast. One to two inches in Philly. Three to six in New York. Nine to 12 in Boston. And let's track it. As we go forward in time, and you can see the snowfall all the way up the coast, hurricane force winds possible, and then you can see all of that snowfall just impacting the northeast.

The other component to this, the very frigid temperatures, and as you guys know, a lot of times with these nor'easters, we get power outages. And so folks that do lose power in all of this will have to find a way to keep warm because temperatures are going to drop even more. High temperatures in the single digits by the time we get to Saturday.

HARLOW: All right, Jennifer Gray, you're going to be busy working around the clock, I have no doubt. Thank you very much for that forecast. BERMAN: Bombogenesis.

HARLOW: That's what they call it on The Weather Channel.

BERMAN: Bombogenesis.


All right, so the president's chief strategist, his former chief strategist, a man very close to him, Steve Bannon, says that infamous meeting between the president's son and Russians at Trump Tower was, quote, treasonous and unpatriotic. That's a bombshell. We're following all of it, next.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

We are following a lot of breaking news this morning.

This morning, "The Guardian" reports on some pretty stunning remarks from the president's former chief strategist.

[10:00:03] BERMAN: Yes, according to a new book seen by "The Guardian," President Trump's former strategist, Steve Bannon, said this about the 2016 Donald Trump Junior meeting in Trump Tower.