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NYT: Pres. Trump Ordered WH Lawyer To Stop Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions From Recusing Himself From Russia Probe; CNN Obtains Bombshell Book On Trump White House; Winter Storm Slams East Coast, Record-Breaking Cold Ahead. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, topping this hour, on a night of blockbuster stories, reaching deep into the White House and touching directly in the Russia story. Including the blockbuster new book that CNN obtained an early copy of, there is more, an item breaking in "The New York Times" tonight speaks not just the president's ongoing rage about the probe but especially to a key question from investigators. Did President Trump try to stifle the effort? Did he try to obstruct justice? Did he obstruct justice?

Now here's the lead of "The Times" report. "President Trump gave firm instructions in March, the White House's top lawyer, stopped the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department's investigation to whether Mr. Trump's associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election."

Joining us now is CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Carrie Cordero, Michael Zeldin, and on the phone, Former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean.

Jeff Toobin, do you think this is another potentially a significant piece of a possible obstruction case?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do. Because, you know, you have to look at the full context of the president's efforts regarding the Russia investigation in the spring of last year. You know, obviously, we know he fired James Comey, who was leading that investigation. He told Lester Holt and the Russia visitors that he did that, not as he said publicly because of Comey's investigation of Hillary Clinton, he did that because of Comey's investigation of Russia.

Here we have another example of the president trying to get hold, control the Russia investigation, by telling his White House council to tell Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself, to keep control, and have -- and, you know, one of the remarkable things about this "New York Times" story is, he's saying, where is my Roy Cohn. Roy Cohn was one of the most corrupt and evil lawyers of the 20th century. He also represented Donald Trump at one time. To think the attorney general of the United States, who represents not the president, but who represents all Americans and runs the Department of Justice, should behave like this crooked lawyer, Roy Cohn is really an astonishing, astonishing thing for any president to say.

COOPER: John Dean, was it appropriate -- I mean you were in the White House Counsel under Nixon, was it appropriate for Don McGahn to go to Jeff Sessions. Because, universally, pretty much everyone has said Jeff Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself. That is something he had to do. Was it -- if Don McGahn doest represent President Trump, who represents the office of the president, was it appropriate for him to try to convince Jeff Sessions to do something that he should have done?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL (via telephone): Well, it depends upon what he did and how he did it. If, indeed, he leaned on the attorney general on behalf of the president to not recuse himself, that would raise suspicion. If he merely communicated the president's feelings about it, so the attorney general could crank that into his decision. That's probably a little bit less offensive. But one of the things I think he should put in context and remember when we talk about obstruction of justice, it's an endeavor statute as well.

COOPER: What does that mean?

DEAN: We have to accomplish the obstruction, merely your efforts to do so can get you on the wrong side of the law with that statute.

COOPER: So even if the obstruction doesn't work, but you made the effort, you can be charged with that?

DEAN: That is correct.

COOPER: Carrie, "The Times" is also reporting that four days before James Comey was fired, an aide to Jeff Sessions was up on Capitol Hill asking a Congressional staffer for dirt on the FBI Director, Comey. Which again, I mean, A, that sounds highly unusual, what do you make of it?

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE U.S. ASST. ATTY. GEN. FOR NATL. SECURITY: I do. I mean, as a former Justice Department lawyer I've just never actually heard of 13 years in the department, I never heard of sort of a personal aide or an aide in the Justice Department to the attorney general, going to Capitol Hill to try to dig up dirt on anyone, really. It's not their job. It's not their role. It's not in the traditions of the department. So I just find that reporting odd, if it's true, that somebody would go and try to -- at the attorney general's direction, try to find derogatory information on the FBI director.

[21:05:29] It does raise an interesting question about the role of the attorney general in sort of coming up with the reasons for the FBI director being fired. In other words, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general had a memo that sort of purported to lay out reasons why the FBI director should no longer continue in his position, and this report cuts against any support for the fact that there was any kind of substantive reason why the FBI director was fired. We know why the FBI director was fired. The president has said why the FBI director was fired. He was fired because the president thought that that would end or derail the Russia investigation.

COOPER: Michael Zeldin, I mean you know Robert Mueller. You worked with him in the past. Do you think this reporting by "The Times", assume that he already knows it, but would be of interest to Mueller?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it will be of interest to Mueller, but I don't think it's going to be dipositive of anything in particular. In the most benign way, the attorney general is going to recuse himself because the code of federal regulations requires him to, the president asked is lawyer, McGahn, the White House Counsel to see if there's any moment movement there that Sessions would consider not recusing himself. I think that's all OK in the most benign sense.

To Jeffrey Toobin's point, though, if it is part of a pattern of trying to obstruct Mueller's investigation, thinking that if Sessions stays on, Sessions is not going to, you know, either appoint Mueller or if he does appoint Mueller, not going to give Mueller the mandate that Rosenstein did, then possibly, in a more corrupt way, that's obstruction of justice, but I think on its face, it's not all that terrible because Jeffrey Sessions -- because Attorney General Sessions did not listen to McGahn and did what the law requires him to do, which is to recuse himself.

COOPER: Jeff. Go ahead.

TOOBIN: But -- I think, Michael, you know, you're looking at this phone call as if that's all we know about it. Remember, I mean, at least according to "The Times" story, and of course that has to be confirmed. But, I mean, if "The Times" story is accurate, the reason he went -- he tried to get Sessions not to recuse himself is because he didn't have someone like Roy Cohn there protecting him. He wanted the attorney general to protect him. That is a corrupt motive.


TOOBIN: -- that is not why the attorney general -- you know, it's not the job of the attorney general, and so it's -- I think it -- again, if "The Times" story is accurate, it's a lot less benign than you're making it out to be.

ZELDIN: Well, I'm saying it could be benign or could be corrupt. I'm not disagreeing with you Jeffrey completely, all I'm saying is that it really depends on your perspective, in "The New York Times" article, Trump has also said that he was looking for a Bobby Kennedy or an Eric Holder. So it wasn't just Roy Cohn, he was looking for an attorney general who would have his back. Those are the names that he mentioned, Cohn, Bobby Kennedy and Eric Holder.

So in that context it's not as corrupt necessarily. So, you know, to Anderson's question to me, is this going to be of interest to Mueller? Absolutely. Will it be dispositive of an obstruction of justice case? Probably not. But it's just another interesting fact along the road that we're going down.

COOPER: Yes. John Dean, as someone who was the White House council under Nixon, I mean Don McGahn, and Carrie made this point in the last hour, is at the center of an awful a lot of conversations, knows an awful a lot about, you know, the inner workings of the White House and particularly this administration and what was said and wasn't said, does he -- if he works for the office of the White House, not for Donald Trump as an individual, does he have an obligation to report anything that he feels is improper?

DEAN: Not -- there's an ethical obligation that he has, he represents the office of the president and not the occupant of the office. If there's wrongdoing going on in the office, he may have to go first and say to whoever occupies the office, stop it Mr. Trump, this is illegal, and I represent this entity and this organization, and you're violating the law. Now if he can't stop it, he may have obligations to go higher and to report out. It's a gray area in the District of Columbia. It's not an automatic situation. I don't know all the bars he's admitted to it's somewhat governed by which bar he belongs to.

[21:10:24] COOPER: And John Dean, this notion of an aide to Sessions going to a Congressional staffer or looking for dirt on Comey, how unusual does that sound to you?

DEAN: That sounds very unusual. I worked at the Department of Justice and that is just way out of bounds of the norms of the Department of Justice. Even as political a one as Nixon had with first Mitchell and then Kleindienst.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. This is obviously a political as well as a legal story. Let's bring in the political panel. Bianna Golodryga, Van Jones, Jack Kingston, Nia-Malika Henderson, Paul Begala, and Jason Miller, and go.

Van, what do you make of the reporting tonight?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, you know, this is disturbing.

First of all, just the idea that you have the president of the United States saying, I want someone to protect me. Sir, you're supposed to be protecting us. You're the commander in chief. So just already -- we're weigh in some bizarre world, and then for him to mention President Obama and John Kennedy. President Obama was never accused of cuddling up to an enemy of the country like Osama Bin Laden. President Obama had Osama Bin Laden killed. John Kennedy was never accused of cuddling up to Castro. He confronted Castro. The problem we have with president he's not confronting our enemy in Russia but it seems to be trying to cuddle up to them through the campaign and efforts which is why he's under investigation.

So we have a situation now where the president of the United States wants protection, rather than try to protect us. And can't make a distinction in his mind between the situation he's in and any other president. We've never had a president accused of this kind of stuff which is why it doesn't make a lot of sense -- hope that the attorney general will save him from it.

COOPER: Congressman. JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But let me say this, as a Republican, I think Eric Holder was a great watchdog for President Obama, he --


JONES: -- accused of?


KINGSTON: Well, let me just say, he was the only attorney general in history to get accused of contempt of Congress. In fact the only cabinet member, you know, he held the line on things like fast and furious.


JONES: Let's not relitigate the Obama hearings.

KINGSTON: Let me say this, if the administration, if the president was looking for something on James Comey, the easiest place to look would have been on Harry Reid's letter during August 2016 where he accused him of violating the Hatch Act. Or he could look at what Podesta and Hillary Clinton themselves said in terms of him influencing the election.

JONES: Look, you're going to say bunch of mean stuff without --

KINGSTON: -- and speaking in front of Loretta Lynch. I mean --

COOPER: So you're saying they shouldn't have sent a staffer? They should have --

KINGSTON: I think it's absurd to say they sent a staffer there.


KINGSTON: -- would not have happened.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is part of what our president has done that we should not turn away from, is that he's trying to bend the norms of democracy to his own autocratic will. The White House must never reach out to the attorney general to try to pressure him. The president the other day tweeted out that a terrific public servant whom -- served Hillary Clinton in state where she should be prosecuted, that's not what a democracy does. I worked in the White House --

COOPER: -- believe that she should go to jail not just prosecute.

BEGALA: Exactly. When I worked in the White House, if I want Janet Reno, the attorney general, to come to a press conference, Bill Clinton was doing about community policing, I went to the White House Counsel's office. I didn't call mean call Janet directly for something like that much less put my political enemies in jail. This is a guy who does not understand the norms of democracy. He wants to be an autocrat. And this is what we're watching in realtime. Our democracy --

COOPER: Jason.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I disagree. Paul, every attorney general looks out for the president against political attacks. I mean, I challenge you to find anyone here on this panel, to find someone in your life who defends you the way that Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch defended President Obama.

BEGALA: Absolutely.


TRUMP: Trump didn't do anything wrong here.

JONES: President Obama was never accused of criminal activity the way that you're suggesting.

MILLER: -- actually right if the story is correct. And again, because it's all (INAUDIBLE) full of anonymous sources we have to take with the boulder (INAUDIBLE) and everything. Is the message that was sent to Attorney General Sessions by recusing himself, that wouldn't take any of the pressure off from the opponents, whether they be in the media or political opponents across the board. And he's absolutely right about that, and so I think if that was a message that was sent, I think he's spot on, but as far as --

JONES: Come on --


COOPER: One at a time.


JONES: If President Obama in the same situation, and this was being said about President Obama, you would be saying, no big deal, no problem, you have -- it's complete -- I don't understand how you guys can have a completely different set of standards for one president versus the other.


[21:15:06] MILLER: Hey, the way that Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder defended President Obama --

JONES: No, not in a criminal investigation, of course.

Listen, if you are a part of an administration, you are going to stick up for the administration, that doesn't mean you're going to obstruct justice.


JONES: President Obama --


COOPER: All right, let's -- OK, we have had this conversation, let's take a quick break.

Later, what Michael Wolff's book claims reveal about the president and Russia as well as questions being raise about the book itself, that and more when we continue.


COOPER: We're talking about a late breaking report in "The New York Times" on the president's effort to keep Attorney General Sessions from recusing himself on Russia. As we discussed, the story shows a president seeking a kind of personal loyalty from this attorney general that he seem to think President Obama had and others on the panel had, say he had from Eric Holder and that JFK have from this brother Bobby. Back now with the panel. Bianna we haven't heard from you.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What stood out to me was the lack of trust that the inner circle including a McGahn aide had as to the president's ultimate motivation, in fact, the president for months had been trying to find a way to fire Comey, and according to the reporting, this aide had found out that he could fire Comey, and yet he didn't let the president know, because he was too concerned about what his ultimate motivation was. That set out to be. That's not something that's normal in a presidential administration.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Trump's conception of the presidency, right? People around him being essentially his bodyguards, his protectors. This idea that they aren't separate from him and have a responsibility to the country that mainly the responsibility is to him for everything -- everything is sort of personalized. So that is -- I mean, it's a recurring theme from this president sort of -- his entire misunderstanding of the role of the presidency, the role of the cabinet members. And so that's one of the things I think that stood out to me, and I think we'll see more of.

GOLODRYGA: Weaken Sessions again, yet again. I mean, he's already a weak attorney general if in fact it is true that an aide of his was looking for dirt on Comey. Once again, puts him in a very difficult position.

HENDERSON: Yes, and you have some Republicans saying he should resign.

COOPER: So for a president who wanted loyalty and wanted, you know, Jeff Sessions to be his Bobby Kennedy. I mean, the amount of leaks and people who just left and, you know, or being quoted and Steve Bannon and -- I mean it's stunning -- is that -- you know, to have all these hired guns around him --

[21:19:59] JONES: Also, loyalty is a two-way street. When you are crapping on all of your own people, you know, John Kennedy never hung Bobby out to dry. I mean, look at the way that Donald Trump has treated the people around him.

COOPER: Well even the night that Comey -- the day Comey was fired, you know, all the folks in the White House came on television saying, oh, it's because of the way he treated -- and then the next day or, you know, two days later --

HENDERSON: It's on the Russia.

COOPER: Oh no, it's Russia.

JONES: So, I mean, so, again, loyalty is a two-way street. He wants one way loyalty to protect him when actually the loyalty supposed to go the other direction, to the American people and you're supposed -- I mean, having been in that building. You know, for me, I think for a lot of people that worked in that building, it's so painful to watch this because when I used to walk in that building I had a very low job compared to lot of these people we talk about everyday. That pride, that sense that you're there on behalf of something that's going to be in your obituary, this is the most important job you're ever going to have. You hold this up to a high standard. To watch this kind of -- it's just painful and wrong.

MILLER: I was going to say, I think it's also important that we don't conflate (ph) a process story that talks about conversations that or may not have happened was something illegal or untoward about that actual conduct or those conversations, we heard from the legal experts this last go around, most of them who said, there wasn't anything actually illegal that happened there. And there were conversations that may or may not have happened. There wasn't anything wrong.

COOPER: I think we still have Jeff Toobin. Jeff Toobin you believe this as part of a piece is more significant?

TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, I think it's quite the opposite of what Jason is saying. There is a criminal investigation underway now to determine whether these activities were illegal. I mean, the firing of Comey, and all the related activities. I'm not here to say it is criminal, but the idea that it somehow a settled question, that it's not criminal I mean that --

MILLER: Hold on, Jeffrey, so you're saying this story, that there's activity in this story that is criminal behavior?

TOOBIN: I'm saying it is possibly evidence of criminal behavior, absolutely. The idea that --

MILLER: Oh man.

TOOBIN: -- no, I'm sorry to disappoint you. But I mean the idea that the president is trying to cling to the attorney general because he will protect him from a criminal investigation of the president himself, that doesn't strike you as possibly related to the issue of obstruction of justice?

MILLER: It sure strikes me that way.

That's not what it says in the story. Because if the president didn't do anything wrong then why are you saying there's a criminal --


COOPER: But, but --

TOOBIN: That's not the standard.

COOPER: Right, Jeff, explain why that's not the standard.

TOOBIN: Right. Is that, you know, obstruction of justice can take place, even if there's not an underlying crime. I mean if the court had held this for decades that if you corruptly stop an investigation, if you lie, if you cheat to stop the FBI from investigating you for x, it doesn't matter if you are guilty of x. Obstruction of justice can take place without an underlying crime.

COOPER: Right. And John Dean also went further and said, even if the obstruction wasn't successful, just the fact that you attempted it is criminal.

TOOBIN: Watergate being the classic example of that. I think we can all agree the Watergate cover-up failed since it led to the resignation of the president and a whole bunch of people going to prison. It was a failed cover-up, but it was still illegal and a cover-up.

KINGSTON: But Jeffrey, remember, we also knew a crime had been committed within, what, 24 hours of the break in, in the Watergate hotel. We don't know of any crime in this case. And, you know, in terms of the hearsay. I just think it's always wishful thinking that the shoe is about to fall in terms of what the Democrats are saying. I've heard Alan Dershowitz saying, I believe it was on this show, Anderson, says obstruction, it really is tampering with the evidence or intimidating a witness, intimidating a juror or perhaps, you know, outright lying to them to change the outcome, and in this case, all we have is, perhaps there was somebody lying. But that's "The New York Times", that's not a court record.

JONES: Here's where I think the American people are trying to get our heads wrapped around this. You can do a bunch of stuff as president. You have a lot of authority but you can't do it with a corrupt motive. And the problem is -- it's becoming hard to figure out what is the innocent motive for all this stuff? That's the problem.

KINGSTON: Well, firing Comey. Now the case was made by the Democrats. Everybody in Washington, D.C., was anti-Comey until President Trump fired him.

JONES: Listen.

KINGSTON: But it was started by Harry Reid, and then John Podesta, then Hillary Clinton.

JONES: So, you like Comey less than you used to when I like Comey more than I used to. But that is --

KINGSTON: I bet you like Bannon more than you used to.

COOPER: Paul, go ahead.

BEGALA: -- one thing on the record, Jack. You might have missed it. There was the crime of the century during that election. A hostile foreign power hacked the United States and tried to swing the election to Donald Trump who then won. There is increasing evidence that Mr. Trump's relatives, campaign chairman perhaps and others cooperated in a conspiracy to do that. We don't know that yet. We know the crime -- it was it committed. The question is, was it also committed by Mr. Trump?


[21:25:27] MILLER: You sound like a kid writing out his Christmas list to Santa, --

BEGALA: -- breaking into computer system.

MILLER: You sound like a kid writing out his Christmas list to Santa like you're hoping that there some collusion. There hasn't been one shred of evidence saying that there was collusion between the campaign and some foreign entity and --

BEGALA: That's simply not true. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, all met with the Russians with the stated intent of gaining from the Russian government as they were told in e-mails, dirt on Hillary Clinton.


KINGSTON: -- adoption program.

BEGALA: Months, months before.

COOPER: Wait a minute, Jack, you don't actually believe they were meeting for an adoption program?

Let's just be real. You don't really believe that.

KINGSTON: I will agree with you.

COOPER: OK, all right.

KINGSTON: Let me say this, people in campaigns constantly are hearing from other folks, oh, we got something on your opponent. And you say --

HENDERSON: From foreign governments?

COOPER: Not from some like pop star in Russia saying, this is coming from the Russian government?

KINGSTON: When information is not acted on and it just kind of blown off --

COOPER: -- doesn't matter, magically, it doesn't matter.

For other breaking news, there's that law --


CNN has obtained a copy of the bombshell book on the Trump White House, the author Michael Wolff, detailing a crucial moment on Air Force One that could, if true, play a key part in the Russia investigation. Details when we continue.


COOPER: Our other breaking news tonight, CNN has obtained that new tell-all book on the Trump White House. Michael Wolff's page "Fire and Fury", before talking about it, it's important to know that some of his reporting has been corroborated, some errors have already been identified. We also want to make it clear that Wolff paints many scenes without directly quoting anyone. And other times his sourcing is vague. He explains his methods in the book preppers saying, "It is worth noting some of the journalistic conundrums that I faced when dealing with the Trump administration, many of them the result of the White House's absence of official procedures and the lack of experience of its principles." Wolff continues saying, "These challenges have included dealing with off-the-record or deep- background material that was later casually put on the record. Sources who provided accounts in confidence and subsequently shared them widely, as though liberated by their first utterances, a frequent inattention to setting any parameters on the use of conversation, a source's views being so well known and widely shared that it would be risible not to credit them, and the almost samizdat sharing, or gobsmacked retelling, of otherwise private and deep-background conversations." Wolff also notes, "And every where in this story is the president's own constant, tireless, and uncontrolled voice, public and private, shared by others on a daily basis, sometimes virtually as he utters it."

[21:30:55:] Now with all that in mind let's get to a key passage in the book. This is aboard Air Force One according to Wolff. President Trump returning from an overseas trip. This is after the news of the Trump Tower meeting ahead. His is key because this moment could form the basis for cover-up allegations if it in fact happened. Wolff writes, "The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That's what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain, in fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had this email chain -- the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton."

It was a real time example, he writes, of denial and cover-up. That of course is Wolff's own take. Our panel is back to give their take. Paul, you're shaking your head.

BEGALA: It comes back to Van's point about loyalty. This is a man who threw his own son under the bus. Under Air Force One in this case. He knew or should have known that the truth was going to come out. Donald Jr. probably knew. He knew that there was e-mails about this. So, you know, staff guys like me we're all expendable. I understand that. But this is his son, his namesake son and Trump went out and destroyed his son's credibility for one news cycle. Not even, he didn't get a good news cycle.

COOPER: But why would he insist that this was about adoption knowing full well -- I mean, everyone else seems to know it wasn't about adoption.

BEGALA: Not just --


BEGALA: -- but put that in the voice of his son.


KINGSTON: -- that Wolff is telling the truth and, you know, that was the most convoluted --

COOPER: But the statement that went out was saying it was about adoption.

BEGALA: From Air Force One -- about the president, this is not the first reporter to tell us that.

KINGSTON: But I think that really was his understanding of the meeting at that time. I don't think he's necessarily throwing his son under the bus.

COOPER: Wait, so the president of the United States actually believed the meeting was about adoption. Even though anybody he knows anything about Russia knows that adoption is a code word about sanctions.

BEGALA: He would not --

COOPER: So, even saying it was about adoption, even if you think it's about adoption you know it's not about adoption, you know it's about sanctions. So why say it's about adoption?

KINGSTON: But -- I don't think adoption is used synonymously with sanctions.

COOPER: Yes, it is.


HENDERSON: It's code for the Magnitsky Act.


KINGSTON: -- who did vote on sanctions and --

COOPER: Among professionals? You think -- (CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Political professionals --

COOPER: You would think the president of the United States --


KINGSTON: I got to tell you. As somebody who voted for sanctions, I never heard that as used anonymously. And I'm not trying to --

GOLODRYGA: You never heard of the Magnitsky Act?

KINGSTON: I've heard of the act. But not --


MILLER: I have some real problems with this book. And as you might remember when the "Shattered" book came out about Hillary Clinton, I bashed that book pretty strongly. And I think there's a real loyalty factor that -- if you work for someone whether it's someone who ran for president --

COOPER: I agree with that --

MILLER: -- Sectary Clinton or who is elected like President Trump. If you work for them, and you work that hard then -- and you still want to be a part of their team, you do not go and bash your principal to a member of the press or an author like this. So, someone like Paul for, you know, who I very much respect and I think has done a fantastic job advocating for his previous boss, President Clinton, over the years, I went look online today I couldn't find over the previous 20 years a single time that Paul went and bashed President Clinton up and down. And so to see people on the record bashing President Trump like this, now, there are a couple cases where we've seen both the first lady and we've seen former deputy chief of staff, say, scenes that were attributed to them in this book, are completely false, and completely not --

HENDERSON: But it goes back to --

MILLER: But -- just the fact that you have people who are saying this, I think really disturbs me, is really troubling. It's also troubling with some of the sourcing and the way this was all put together.

And look, because today, what we should be talking about is the fact that the stock market went over 25,000. This is all great news. The fact that we're getting pulled into Kardashians on the Potomac --

COOPER: It's not quite that, when you have Steve Bannon who, you know, is as close to the president as anyone --

MILLER: And I was really disappointed that Steve didn't come out one or two things, say that this was --

COOPER: Great --

MILLER: -- he didn't say it or apologize.


[21:35: 04] COOPER: And the direct quotes in the book are on Bannon quotes, --


COOPER: -- and Bannon was the guy who was bringing Michael Wolff into the White House.

MILLER: And I think that's really troubling that he didn't come out --

COOPER: Right.

MILLER: -- and either -- like I said, either apologize or say that he didn't say those things. Because, again, if you are strong supporter of President Trump --


MILLER: -- this book is an attack not just on President Trump but on the presidency.

GOLODRYGA: But it shouldn't be that big of a surprise maybe the direct quote and sourcing of some of these people and what they've been saying. But you go back to the reporting over the past year and a half, and we were all stunned. Twenty sources, 30 sources, 17 sources. So the fact that a lot of these people went on the record may be of a surprise, but some of the details in the quote-unquote --


COOPER: -- coming out for a year.

GOLODRYGA: -- isn't that of a surprise.

HENDERSON: It seems like -- I mean, obviously, he was talking to Bannon at points but Trump seemed to be OK with inviting Michael Wolff into the White House at times. They have said he -- and gotten to the White House fewer than 20 times. He apparently was also holed up at a hotel across the street from the White House and people would go over there. He had 200 interviews. So, I mean, I think it speaks to the chaos and sort of the vacuum in the vanity of the White House, inviting a reporter in there in this way. And a reporter they didn't vet, right? I mean, they can thrash this reporter now, but it seems to me that a quick Google search would have said that Michael Wolff --


COOPER: Let's take a quick break. More from the book, Michael Wolff quting Steve Bannon talking about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and the Russia investigation, what he's claiming they're worried about when we continue.


[21:40:12] COOPER: More now from Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury", the new book on the Trump White House. CNN has obtained a copy of the book. Jason Miller is mentioning the book and I just want to get a reaction from Jason on what it says. You're mentioned twice.

Described not just a Bannon loyalist, but part of what Wolff characterizes as a "off balance sheet communication staff, a private army of leakers and defenders." Go ahead.

MILLER: Well, I mean, I'm clearly on board with President Trump's team, and I'm a strong supporter of the president and Steve -- we're working very closely on the campaign trail as was a whole bunch of other folks who are currently in the White House.

But as far as like, you know, this outside team, I mean, look, I'm a strong supporter of the President and I'm proud to say that every single day of the week.

COOPER: I'm going to read another passage. Part of this is Wolff's characterization, his sourcing is unclear again as Wolff says in the book. He faced a number of what he called journalistic conundrums because of the White House's lack of experience and procedures for setting parameters for conversations. Well, that in mind, here's what he wrote and also what he says Steve Bannon told him.

The Kushner position was not helped by the fact that the President had been gleefully telling people that Jared could solve the Middle East problem because the Kushner's knew all the crooks in Israel. The kids, Jared and Ivanka, exhibited increasingly panicked sense that the FBI and Depart of Justice were moving beyond Russian election interference and into family finances. Ivanka is terrified, said a satisfied Bannon.

Three key words there, Ivanka is terrified. Back now with the panel.

GOLODRYGA: Well, speaking back to previous reporting, I mean, it had been reported that Jared was also pushing the President to fire Comey and Bannon too. Charlie Rose in October said that that was the worst political decision ever made or at least in recent political history.

So, you do get a sense of why they were angry or worried too about what Comey could be looking for and finding.

HENDERSON: And Trump himself, I mean, in talking about what a red line might be in terms of Moore has talked about finances as well and he said that on the record. So in some ways, I mean, we talk about the ways in which a lot of his book, we'll figure out if it's corroborated, we'll figure out who his sources were.

But, this -- all of this reporting has been out there and I think this line about Ivanka being terrified about someone going near the family finances or digging too deeply into that, Trump has essentially said the same thing. KINGSTON: Well, let me say this. I really think that this book is Partisan. I think this is a Democratic answer to Primary Colors or Blood Sport or maybe more recently Clinton Cash. I worked with John Boehner.

Wolff says that he did not know who John Boehner was. John Boehner has played golf with Donald Trump for years. They text each other. Boehner was not a close supporter at all, but he absolutely knows John Boehner. I talked to Sean Spicer earlier --

COOPER: The alternative explanation is that he forgot or that it didn't happen.

KINGSTON: They were in communication. I know that as soon as he was elected, John was one of the first people to get directly to him and congratulate him. I talked to Sean Spicer earlier tonight about the access that Wolff had.

And he said, if you just read that first statement about him kind of attributing quotes and back filling and so forth, that's what he was doing, he did have access to Bannon. Bannon should be denying some of this stuff.

It would be helpful if he would. Apparently, he's moved over in a different position right now, but Sean was very skeptical that this guy had the access that he claimed to have. And then finally, the statement, and Jason knows, he was in the Tower every day, I was there, not every day, but I was in contact with them.

They always thought they would win, and that was what was amazing to me that somebody who supported Cruz that when Mr. Trump got the nomination, I was surprised. They all were --

COOPER: Well, wasn't Kellyanne Conway the night of the election, didn't she start giving some interviews, sort of saying that the RNC didn't give them the kind of support that they needed.

MILLER: Anderson, I can tell you. Kellyanne is someone who I worked with very closely also on the campaign trail and she was someone who in private small meetings or even in one-on-one always expressed confidence that we were going to win, even the -- to the President himself.

I mean, I remember down the home stretch, we're trying to make decisions about what state we were going to go to. And the President kept saying, we got to go back to Pennsylvania, got to back to Pennsylvania. You guys are a bunch of idiots. We're going to win the state.

The reason why Republicans don't win Pennsylvania is because we don't go there enough. Look, I know what I'm doing. I'm telling you guys we're going to Pennsylvania, we're going to win this thing. I spent hundreds of hours with the President on the campaign trail in 2016, never once did he ever say something the fact that he thought we were going to lose, he wasn't dedicated.


JONES: You guys spent a lot of time picking through the book and trying to point, you know, things that are -- you know, this isn't right, that isn't right. And listen, I am not comfortable myself with some of the sourcing of this book. This book is bizarre. But how do you cover a train wreck in a zoo next to a circus?

[21:44:56] And that's the problem, trying to figure out how to cover this White House even for those of us here has been very difficult. And so, part of -- you got to eat the whole hamburger here. Yes, in fact there's stuff in there I'm not comfortable with, but there's stuff in there that fits a pattern and that fits with a lot of stuff out there already.

KINGSTON: And then, he is selling books. He has given wishful affirmations to Partisan --

JONES: I would like -- I will tell you this. I would -- I want to know who his book --

KINGSTON: Let me tell you this, I just want to say every Republican convention that I went to for 10 years, I always had Primary Colors or now Clinton Cash out there.

JONES: Then why did Trump let him in? Then why did Trump let him in? Why did Bannon let him in?

KINGSTON: I don't think he was let in. That's what Sean told me.

BEGALA: The problem of the book, it seems you haven't read it yet, but for the reporting we've got is this. And I wrote this down for the coverage. This is Wolff's words.

My indelible impression of talking to senior Trump advisers and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency is that they all 100% came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job. This is the crisis we face. It's evident to an outsider and apparently it's obvious to an insider.

KINGSTON: But let me say this. As somebody who was involved in the campaign and not to the extent of Jason, that is absolutely not true. People did not universally think that Trump wasn't --

MILLER: He's talking about now. He's talking about now.


MILLER: But we don't talk like that in the White House.

KINGSTON: I talk to the White House every few days, and they don't feel like --

MILLER: They do not talk like that in the White House.

COOPER: Jason -- MILLER: People in the White House absolutely do not talk like this.

I mean, whoever is saying this is -- I'll tell you where I think a lot of this probably comes from, it probably comes from people who spend no time around the President, probably people on Capitol Hill or people out in the bureaucracy or whoever --


COOPER: We did talk to Janice Min in the last hour, who was at the dinner with Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon corroborated virtually everything that was said, if not word for word, the subject -- anyway, much more to talk about with the panel including another passage in the book, Michael Wolff quoting a key member of the Trump White House.

Wolff says he had a stunning reaction when learning FBI Director James Comey had been fired.


[21:50:10] COOPER: In the last segment, we talked about the president's competency, which is a tough place to be, but it's where's some think -- we are back with the panel. Jason, your point was that people in the White House currently do not talk like that?

MILLER: Correct, and the people who have worked for the President even going back to the transition team and on the campaign trail wouldn't talk like that about the President. And so, that's where I think a lot of this really starts getting suspect and I think a lot of it might be hearsay because it just -- it doesn't add up.

I mean, I talk to folks in the White House almost every single day or every other day and they never talk like this. I mean, they just don't. I mean, they love the President, they think he's doing a great job and --

COOPER: But with every tweet that comes out, there's nobody who says oh, you know, jeez, is that a good idea or rolls their -- I mean, Wolff talks about a lot of people rolling their eyes.

MILLER: But that's the difference. Like even when I -- earlier when I was praising Paul, I mean, I'm sure Paul disagreed with President Clinton a couple times when he worked for him over the different years, but it was never -- never became a personal thing, you didn't go and bash him publicly. But this goes well beyond just maybe --

COOPER: Right. But it seems like from Wolff's methods, if somebody said to him, oh, this person did this, then he would sort of include that. Now, whether that's -- you know --

BEGALA: He'll have to defend his reporting, but this does jibe with everyone else's reporting. The secretary of state called the President a blanking moron. Was asked if that were true and he refused to deny it. That's as solid a confirmation as you can get.

General McMaster, the National Security Adviser, has been reported having called the President an idiot. He's in the book calling him a dope. The secretary of the treasury in the book calls him an idiot. Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, calls the President an idiot. This goes --

COOPER: I think Rupert Murdoch as well.

BEGALA: Rupert Murdoch. But what's interesting is you have these wars for a president's soul, had them in the Reagan White House, had them in the Clinton White House, had them in the Obama White House.

What's different here is this isn't about policies. Nobody is saying the President should move left or right or sign this trade bill or veto that bill, they're all saying he's unfit to serve. We have never seen this before where the people closest to the President are screaming that he's unfit to serve.

GOLODRYGA: And look, so domestically you could argue short term this is actually potentially beneficial for the President amongst GOP establishment, right? That if it's a decision between whether they're going to be with Bannon or team Trump, that maybe this pushes them closer to team Trump.

But to Paul's point, larger picture globally, it's not just the U.S. that's reading this book and talking about it. I mean, it's salacious. But also, what are the consequences long-term for us as a global power? You've got countries that are still trying to figure out what this President is all about, what these tweets mean, you've got North Korea and South Korea really circumventing the U.S.

And I think long term our place as a geopolitical leader really is in balance right now when they're hearing that the people that they're supposed to be talking to in the White House think that the President of the United States is "a moron, an idiot" whatever you want to throw in.

MILLER: Although, Bianna, I would -- where I would push back on that and say the policies do matter and I think the policies this President is putting into place are having a real impact. I mean, the fact we have China, our biggest economic --

GOLODRYGA: What policies?

MILLER: With our tax cuts. The biggest tax cut of an entire generation that we just passed. I mean, China is going to U.S. companies right now and offering them incentives to stay and not bring everything back to the U.S. I mean, our economic policies are having a real difference all around --

GOLODRYGA: Do you mean trade? Trade deals also have implications.

MILLER: Folks in Ireland are freaked out that U.S. companies are going to take their money out of the banks there in Ireland and bring it back to the U.S. and repatriate them those dollars.

I mean, our policies are having a real deal impact. You look at all the company -- or all the countries where we've improved relations now that Trump is in whether it'd be India, you look at Saudi Arabia, look at Israel.

There are countries all around where Trump has us moving in the right direction. So, I got to disagree with your assessment.

COOPER: All right. We got a -- coming up, a different kind of bomb, the so-called bomb cyclone, and I don't know where people came out with this term. Everybody seems to be using it. I've never heard of it before.

But really bad weather slammed the northeast, as you probably know, bringing snow, hurricane, force winds, gusts wicked bad flooding in Boston and beyond. It is of course winter. This does happen. The latest on it next.


[21:57:56] COOPER: Well, up until this week, you may never have even heard the term bomb cyclone, I haven't. But if you live in the northeast especially near the coast, you are familiar with it now.

It happens when a low pressure system has a big drop and atmospheric pressure and fast. What that translates to is blinding snow, massive wind gust. More than 13 million people were under blizzard warnings from Maine to Virginia, that's down to 2 million right now.

Let's go to Meteorologist Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center for the latest. And where's the storm right now and how long is it going to stick around?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All right. It's dwindling right now. Good news. Most of the snow is tapering off. It's northeast of Cape Cod. Here are some of the numbers. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, we had eight states, Anderson, all reporting a foot of snow or more.

The storm system that dropped in pressure rapidly is very rare. Of course, since the beginning of the satellite era, I think we've only had a couple, the center of the storm pressure dropping down equivalent to a category 3 hurricane. But the great news is it stayed offshore, about 250, 270 miles, keeping the hurricane-force winds really off the coastline.

Only three areas reported hurricane wind gusts and that's in Eastern Massachusetts. Notice the flow in the Great Lakes coming down from the north. That's the cold air and that's moving in toward the northeast windchill, Green Bay minus 15, Chicago minus 8, Pittsburgh minus 12.

By the time this cold air moves into New York, I don't think we're going to have windchills above zero tomorrow. On Saturday, minus 15 degrees. Boston, a windchill of minus 26. Saturday, some interior areas of New England minus 30, minus 35. Only an inch of snow in Washington, D.C., wasn't expected to be much.

Philadelphia picked up four, Jersey Coast over 13 inches, Atlantic City, we got a good almost 10 inches in Central Park, but it was in Boston at a record high tide occurred. It was a record of 15.1 from the blizzard of '78, they surpassed that today. Waves of water and sea into the streets of Boston, now undergoing a flash freeze which means the scores of automobiles will be locked in ice most likely for days.

All of the warnings are slowly getting erased, which is good news. The storm makes land fall in New Brunswick later on tonight in the Nova Scotia, but then the cold air moves in and it will be bitter, high temperatures in the single digits in Boston.

COOPER: All right. Tom Sater, appreciate that. And thanks very much for watching 360. Time to hand things over to Jake Tapper. "The Lead" starts right now.