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Ex-Strategist Alleges Money Laundering, Treason; Condemnation Of Trump's Tweet On Nuclear Button; Iran's Revolutionary Guards Claim Protests Are Over. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, accusations of treason, money laundering, and a long-held fear of poisoning. A new book offers a brutal look inside the Trump Campaign and the Trump White House, including the claim that Donald Trump never really wanted to be president, but now he's firing back hard at a man once known as the architect of his agenda.

Also, hurricane-force winds, blizzard conditions, and temperatures colder than mars in the midst of the monster storm heads up the U.S. East Coast.

Hello, thank you so much for joining. I'm Sara Sidner. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

First, this hour, a lot to get to out of Washington. Explosive details about the Trump White House revealed in a new book. Accusations of treason and talk of money laundering have put Former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and President Trump crosshairs. Mr. Trump is said to be furious over Bannon's comments; our Jeff Zeleny has the details.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump firing back today at his former Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, for calling a 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, treasonous and patriotic. In a blistering statement, the president said, "Steve Bannon had nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he'd not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

The extraordinary war of words broke out over a new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House." Part of which were reported today by The Guardian and New York Magazine. Bannon taking direct aim at Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. All of whom met with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

"The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers," Bannon reportedly says in the book. "Even if you thought this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad expletive, and I happen to think it's all of, you should've called the FBI immediately." Bannon went on to say, "they're going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national T.V." White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, dismissed the book as trashy tabloid fiction and described the president's reaction like this.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think furious, disgusted would probably, certainly fit when you make such outrageous claims and completely false claims against the president, his administration, and his family.

ZELENY: The explosive comments from Bannon undermine a White House effort to downplay and discredit the investigation into election meddling and potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. "You realize where this is going. This is all about money laundering," Bannon reportedly says in the book. "Their path to expletive Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. It's as plain as a hair on your face." In unusually personal terms, the president blasted Bannon, his Former Adviser, saying, "He's only in it for himself."

The book, written by journalist Michael Wolff, also has strong words for the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Kushner, her husband. "Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. The two had made an earnest deal. If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she'd be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton, it could be Ivanka Trump."

So, the president and the White House tried distancing themselves from Steve Bannon. Clearly, trying to diminish his role in everything that had happened her, during his time at the White House, even saying he had few one-on-one meetings with the president. One administration official says that's actually not true, he met privately with the president all the time. He had walk-in privileges into the oval office. One thing is clear here: this Russia investigation, still so sensitive to this president. Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


SIDNER: Just a couple hours ago, Steve Bannon talked about the new book and his apparent feud with President Trump. Listen to what he said on Breitbart News tonight on SiriusXM Radio.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president of the United States is a great man. You know, I support him day in and day out. Whether going through the country giving the Trump miracle speech or on the show or on the Web site. So, I don't think you have to worry about that.


SIDNER: Joining me now here in Los Angeles, Former L.A. City Councilwoman, Wendy Greuel; Radio Host and Conservative Commentator, Joe Messina; and Civil Rights Attorney, Brian Claypool. We'll start with first -- potentially, the most explosive thing that would probably make the president the most angry, and that is that that he basically, said look, the people involved in your campaign are treasonous; they're guilty of treason. What do you make of his claims? There are so many of them. The bridge seems burned now for sure. But then, he says, look, President Trump's a great man. Meanwhile, the president is distancing himself from Bannon. What do you make of all this?

[01:05:12] JOE MESSINA, RADIO HOST AND CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I think that he's being boisterous again. I think it's just blowing off some steam. And again, I want to say the same thing. Think about where were all these things before? Why hasn't he said this prior to this? If he really didn't like it, or if he really these problems in there, what was he doing there? He's always talked ill of the president's children. This is nothing new, either, as well. And as far as being explosive, look, I can see President Trump being explosive at times. I can see Bannon being like a bull in a China shop at times as well. So, I would imagine that White House's not full of regular politicos, did have its moments.

SINDER: To be fair, these are things that he said while -- ostensibly, while the reporter is sitting there in the White House, and this is all just kind of happening. So, all the drama is going on and he's just gathering this information and Bannon's talking and he has his way of doing things, and it's just now coming out. But what does it tell you about what's happening in the White House? How did they get anything done, I guess, is the question?

WENDY GREUEL, FORMER L.A. CITY COUNCILWOMAN: Well, it was clear from the excerpts we've seen from this book that it has chaotic and not a controlled environment or whatsoever that it was running amok, and who was in charge. And I think that this -- you know, Wolff had unfettered access pretty much, it sounds like, really sitting in and being there in the hallways and hearing all this.

So, there's a lot of truth to what he's saying. And I think Bannon was, as he usually is, spouting off and saying things, and many of which -- again, what we're hearing, are things that really are problematic for the president and problematic for his relatives -- both in his son and son-in-law.

SIDNER: Let's talk a little about -- you're talking about Michael Wolff; he wrote this book that is already, I think, hitting quite a few sales, pre-sales. Let's talk about what he said because, in the book, he also gives you a little caveat there. He says, "Most of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another. Many in Trumpian fashion are baldly untrue. Those conflicts and that looseness with the truth is not with reality itself, are an elemental threat of this book.

Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions and turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances, I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources, I have," turning the page, "come to trust settled on a version of events I believe to be true."

What does this tell you about this? And Brian, I'm going to start with you, does he indemnify himself by saying, look, there are some things that are clearly untrue, there's nothing I can do about that, people don't always tell the truth. But I've also -- I believe that I've written things that are true.

BRIAN CLAYPOOL, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, Sara, look, President Trump's motto from day one has been fake news. Remember, he's talked about that a lot. And I really think this book and these comments made by Steve Bannon that are so unreliable and so fake actually will embolden the Trump camp because let's talk legally about what Bannon has said. He's accused President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner of engaging in treason and money laundering. And Sara, I will tell you there's absolutely not a single shred of reliable evidence or information that would support any of those allegations.

So, that actually fuels the Trump campaign about this being fake news. And I'll tell you, President Trump recently sent a cease and desist order to the Bannon camp. And although that cease and desist letter might not stop this book from coming out and these allegations coming out about Trump and his camp, it will send a message to Bannon that if you continue down this path, and you make these false allegations about President Trump and his family that he's going to face, Bannon will face legal consequences and financial repercussions if he continues.

SIDNER: I do want to point out the investigation is still underway. We don't know if any of these things are going to turn out to be true. But there has been no evidence that has been given to everyone to say yes, definitely treason; yes, definitely money laundering. But those cases are being looked at right now and investigated and there have been indictments.

GREUEL: And Mueller, you know, is going to be having Bannon, you know, is going to probably interviewing Bannon, and then the Congress is going to have him testify under oath as to what he knows when he knew it, and that is going to be part of the discussion. And what this book is going to do is have further questions about some of the realities of the Trump administration. And I think that's what people are going to be looking at.

And I believe that if they're doing a cease and desist, they're trying to hide things that are necessary going part. This book is going to be out there no matter what. They're not going to stop that publication from happening.

[01:10:05] SIDNER: Question for you: do you think that people will look at this as they have just about everything -- we're in such a polarized situation. Will people say, OK, I support Trump, so I believe none of this, and I don't support Trump, so I believe every detail? Is that where we are now?

MESSINA: I think we're close there. I also think that there are some on the left too that look at this and say, look, this is nothing but a constant bash of a man that people don't like. So, how much of that is really true? You look at what's going on now. The cease and desist order? I think that that's nothing but a flair by President Trump, and putting it up there. I think as far as Bannon is concerned, he's still going to go, he's

still going to speak the way he does. He's not going to stop doing what he does. And he's the one that's going to lose that base. All that base that he thought he had behind him, that he could use to prop up or to help support President Trump, they're leaving him. They're leaving him in drove tonight. When you look at what's being written on Breitbart and other places, against Bannon from the right.

SIDNER: A certain huge rift with someone who's once had a very important role in the administration. Let's talk a little about some of the things that are also in this book: a relationship that Mr. Trump has or had with Mr. Murdoch. Here's something that is an excerpt from the book. He says, "They really need these H-1B visas," that's Mr. Trump talking to Mr. Murdoch, "and Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas which open America's doors to select immigrants might be hard to square with President Trump's promises to build a wall and close borders.

But Trump seemed unconcerned," the book says, "assuring Murdoch we'll figure it out." And then the response from Murdoch was, "what an f- ing idiot," as he got off the phone and shrugging. When you read something like that and you see people who are clearly very close; they were talking a lot, according to the book, all the time on the phone, what does that tell you about Trump's relationships with the people who are very close to him?

MESSINA: I don't worry about how relationships with people. I can't believe that they actually make money. I don't know how they get up in the morning because I don't think they're very smart and bright people. They end up pulling these off because they're good at what they do. The H-1 visa issue, what have you -- I grew up in the technology business. I was livid that we were bringing people in from other countries, we were allowing them to come in on those visas because they knew more about technology than unemployed people. We weren't training these people up in community colleges and such. So, there are ways to make this work. And I think that there were two men with two differences of opinion. Two very successful men with differences of opinion.

SIDNER: But Joe, doesn't this speak to the fact that the president, here he is talking to technology companies about H-1B visas. He's not educated on the subject, right? He goes against his own policy.

MESSINA: In what sense? In that he brought them in --

SIDNER: In that, he's saying, look, we want to keep -- basically we want to -- immigrants should not be coming into this country in a big way, that we want to keep jobs for Americans to create more jobs for Americans. And then, he's saying oh, these guys like me, they need my help. He's sort of taking the bait.

MESSINA: We don't have the education system to train people to take the jobs on the H-1B visas. Look where they're coming in from, look at the jobs that they're getting, most of them are in technology. What are we doing to train up our people in technology? SIDNER: Well, there's an argument that they're just bringing people

in because they're paying them less, and that is one of the big argument that has been fought --


GREUEL: And I think the point that Murdoch was trying to say, look, on one hand, you're saying I don't want Muslims, I don't want Mexicans, I don't want all these people coming in. But I want these H-1B visas that are educated, you know, people that I think are the people I want to let in, but I want to create a wall for somewhere else. I mean, that's the message that Murdoch was saying; you're, kind of, fighting each other on this one. But the bottom line is, it was not a consistent message and I think Murdoch was frustrated with him in that viewpoint because he was not thinking logically from his perspective.

SIDNER: Here's some personal revelation -- from the perspective -- there are some personal revelations in this book if you believe what you read. And here's one of them: that President Trump had a long- time fear of being poisoned and one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald's, nobody knew he was coming, and the food was safely premade. Does this have any impact, or does this make anyone think of, say, Nixon and paranoia, or is this, you know, the president being the president as people will say?

MESSINA: Are we going to believe everything that comes out of this book? Are we going to believe every that's made?

SIDNER: And it's a fair thing to ask.

MESSINA: We're going to see a tweet or we're going to see, you know, the 140 or 280 characters now, whatever it is, come across on a regular basis. I'm not going to believe everything I hear. I want to see it, I want to read it, I want to talk to people were close to him. Are we sure that President Obama didn't have some concerns of his own that just didn't get out? In this case, they've gotten out. But, I mean, seriously, I'm going to discount a good portion of what I read until I know it to be true.

SIDNER: Brian, let me quickly ask you about this because some of the details that are coming out are embarrassing at the least, some of them have to do with legalities. If there's something that goes forward legally, whether there's a defamation lawsuit or a fight over something else and they go court? I mean, could this actually, though, hurt -- end up hurting the Trumps if they do take legal action because of this book?

[01:15:19] CLAYPOOL: Well, that's the million-dollar question. We still have a pending investigation by Robert Mueller of the Russia scandal, the election scandal. So, President Trump and his camp have a big decision they have to make. Do they take legal action against Steve Bannon and Michael Wolff for all of these I perceive to be very nefarious and unfounded allegations? If he chooses to do so, Sara, he then opens up a potential can of worms that could not only enhance the Russia scandal investigation, but it can also make it a bigger investigation.

So, I think what Trump is going to do, there's a one-year statute of limitations in Washington, D.C. for Trump to file a defamation lawsuit. That's important in this analysis. Because if I'm his lawyer, giving him advice, I would tell him right now, sit back, send your cease and desist letter like you did, wait, and then let's hope that this Russia investigation closes up in the next six or eight months. And then he still has -- Trump still has four months then to decide whether to go ahead and file this defamation lawsuit.

SIDNER: All right. Joe, Wendy, and Brian, there's one more thing, it does not have to do with the book. It has to do with something that the president made a statement today, he said this: "Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states refused to provide the presidential advisory commission on election integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer's expense.

Today, I signed an executive dissolve the commission and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine the next courses of action." Your thoughts, Wendy, on this particular commission that time after time, after time, people said, look, there is no strong evidence to support voter fraud.

GREUEL: There's no basis for that voter fraud in existence. And this commission was really just a sham for him trying to say I got more votes than Hillary Clinton did. And in fact, one of -- many of the things they were actually asking for from the various states were personal information that these secretaries of states of all of these states in the United States, many of them; Republicans and Democrats said we're not going to provide that to you. And so, they were not being transparent as far as the commission. There was lots of information that people wanted; they weren't willing to share. Its time has come. I'm glad that they no longer have this commission.

SIDNER: This is the one thing that seems like was a bipartisan "no" to President Trump, for the most part, which is very --

MESSINA: Yes, but I think there's two things going on here. One is, we know being involved in politics, we can get this information without a commission, without a group of people. You can go down to the county recorder's office and grab this information.

But I think the thing that I love that the left never, ever, ever talks about is the thousands of people that are on the rolls illegally, that have been dead, they've been gone. My next-door neighbor, eight years, she's gone, was a Republican all her life, voted a Democrat in the last four elections; how does that happen? She found he way back? I want to know about it. You know, it has to be looked into.

SIDNER: And there are some issues. But I think the overarching issue is that he's saying there's massive fraud. There's always going to be something that doesn't equal. But the massive fraud issue clearly has decided that he doesn't want to pursue anymore.

Thank you so much, Brian, Joe, Wendy. We appreciate your time. A lot to go through and we appreciate it.

North and South Korea now are making a significant move toward talking with one another. Coming up, how this could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, and an expert's take on what the results of the talks could be.


[01:21:05] SIDNER: North and South Korea have taken a significant step toward talking to each other by reopening their hotline in the Demilitarized Zone. Seoul says Pyongyang has called three times in less a day checking technical issues. Hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump taunted the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un about the size and power of his nuclear button. The White House remains defiant despite widespread condemnation for that tweet. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the president is not going to cower or be weak in the face of Pyongyang's nuclear threat.

Our Paula Hancocks is joining us live from Seoul with more on this story. Can you give us some sense of what the significance of this open line is now even though not much has been said so far?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, this is really the crucial first step. You have to get past this step before the North and South Koreans can really sit down and talk. This is the sort of technical step if you like, we're being told by the unification ministry here. So, three phone calls as you say. The first one lasted 20 minutes. But the readout that they gave us was really very slim; just saying that there was no mention of Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there was no mention of any future talks, it was simply to try and test the line.

Now, of course, we don't know whether or not there was more talked about, but that's the line we've been given. A similar one a few hours later, the North Koreans actually phoned and said let's call it a day. So, letting the South Koreans know not to expect another phone call yesterday. And then, one this morning at 9:30 a.m. local, 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. And in that one, the south asked the North Koreans: do you have anything to report? And they said, no, we don't, and then hung up.

So, they really -- it's interesting in a way how little is being said or at least how little we're being told is being said, that this is a crucial first step before the two sides can meet. So, the question is: will North Korea accept that offer of January 9th, next Tuesday, that South Korea has made to meet for high-level talks at the DMZ. Sara.

SIDNER: Paula, it's hard to predict, obviously, but is there any thought in your mind that you will get a direct response to what President Trump tweeted, which was a response to Kim Jong-un tweeting that he had a button on his desk; the president tweeting, well, ours is bigger, it's better, and it works.

HANCOCKS: You won't get a direct response from South Korea, that's for sure. The U.S. is an ally and they just don't want to go there. The North Korean is a different matter. It is possible. It is very possible you would have some kind of response. We have in the past -- I mean, remember after, after the U.S. president said that he could totally destroy North Korea if necessary at the United Nations. There was a response, a very direct response from that. We've even had a direct statement from Kim Jong-un himself almost talking directly to the U.S. President -- that was unprecedented when that happened.

So, these two men have the ability to get under each other's skin and they do respond to each other, we've seen in the past. We don't know whether this time if Kim Jong-un is actually more focused on trying to get these talks with the South Koreans and to actually send the delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which is only a month away.

That's certainly the hope from the South Korean side that the focus is actually going to be on, as Kim Jong-un said, alleviating the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. But, of course, both men, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, are very unpredictable in what they do. So, it's very difficult to assess whether or not Kim Jong-un will let this one slide or whether he will feel he has to respond.

SIDNER: Paula Hancocks, thank you so much, joining us live there from Seoul, South Korea.

Joining us now is Stephen Noerper. Stephen is the Senior Director of the Korea Society, a non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of greater awareness, understanding, and cooperation between the United States and Korea. Thank you so much for joining us, Steven. We appreciate your time.


SIDNER: Let's begin with this. South Korea and North Korea taking diplomatic steps directly with one another, without the United States' assistance. How likely is this to garner results?

NOERPER: Well, we'll see. There's an opportunity here. Clearly, there was a message that was delivered on New Year's Day by the North Korean leader that he would be willing to engage in some sort direct contact. The South Korean administration has received that well and is proposing to sit down next week. Today, they turned on a military hotline. Perhaps, they get together for the winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

SIDNER: Does this give some kind of indication that the United States is sort of being frozen out or cut out? And if so, what does that mean for the South Korea-United States relationship?

NOERPER: Well, I don't think we can say that the U.S. is frozen out or cut out. There may be a wedge tactic that's being employed here. But the U.S.-South Korea relationship is strong. And it's an alliance that's stood the test of 70 years. So, there's no question that there's a relationship that can withstand this. But the United States needs to allow South Korea room. And the Moon Jae-in administration has to have the room to talk with

North Korea, and at least see if its overtures for talks that seem now to have been met by North Korea lead to anything substantial. Clearly, opening up hotlines is a good thing. We need communications at a time of high tensions. And let's see if we can get them to the Olympic games; that would be extraordinary.

SIDNER: If North Korea continues to blast off ICBMs, do the nuclear test as it talks with the south, then what? I mean, what happens then? Did the south just say, OK, enough, we're going to, you know, go back to status quo?

NOERPER: Yes, it creates the dynamic that is challenging, because it means that the United States and other western powers are concerned about this type of evolution of technology, both by way of nuclear and missile on the part of North Korea. But at the same time, South Korea is encouraging engagement and trying to get to the negotiating table. However, South Korea's objectives really don't differ. They want denuclearization, and they're concerned about those developments. So, if North Korea does both, if it tests nuclear, if it launches missiles, and at the same time makes diplomatic overtures, together they don't really work. So, the entire international community will be looking to see if North Korea holds back on any further testing.

SIDNER: Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, tweeted about the phone line being reopened between the North and South, and he said he wondered why? Seemingly crediting his father for forcing talks. Is this because of President Trump's tough talk, or is it something else?

NOERPER: Well, I think we can assume a few things. One is North Korea is feeling the bite of international sanctions. And secondly, they're concerned about the level of tension. And they're having trouble reading Donald Trump and they know where the Americans are in terms of what we've seen by way of a large display of U.S. and South Korean coordinated military activity, extended deterrence that is meant to counter the North Korean threat. So, North Korea seems to be in a little bit more of a pro-engagement mood, and they realize that by approaching South Korea, it maybe drives a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea. But the U.S. and South Korea won't let that happen.

SIDNER: What do you think Kim Jong-un, though, is extending the olive branch now? There's been a lot of tough talks, and is this something he kind of does or has done over the years?

NOERPER: No, it isn't something that he's done. And this will be -- just the hotline being turned on is the first time in two years. It may be a new diplomatic overture that accompanies his turn toward economic development. He had a two-pronged strategy that he announced -- Byungjin Policy. And that basically means nuclear development and economic development.

And now that he has announced that they've reached some sort of fruition in terms of the nuclear front he may be turning more toward economics, and certainly, the sanctions don't help and make more of a challenge for him. So, that may lead him to be more pragmatic. Beyond that, it's his birthday; he may be trying to do something that is encouraging. And beyond that, he seems to be a fan of winter sport, and the Pyeongchang games will be big. And so, he may see a benefit to having North Korea at the table for the South Korean-hosted games.

SIDNER: What do you think South Korea makes? Are they nervous about the rhetoric that is quite fiery between the United States and the North?

NOERPER: I think it makes them very uncomfortable. It makes the South Koreans uncomfortable, other allies, and frankly, the international community. And the U.N. secretary-general has warned that we not sleepwalk into conflict. Clearly, the bombast in terms of the exchange of rhetoric between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is not healthy. And what it does is raise the specter of tensions that are high, and with this time, we need to find ways to de-escalate the crisis. What you don't want is for a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, or a misread to lead to some very open conflict, and that would have an extraordinarily dangerous impact.

[01:30:06] SIDNER: Steven Noerper of the Korean Society, thank you so much for joining us and to hash some of this out, and give some understanding to the issue.

NOERPER: OK. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SIDNER: Iran's revolutionary guard has declared the anti-government protests are over. Why some say that's a veiled threat, just ahead.


SIDNER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Sara Sidner. The headlines for you at this hour: Donald Trump is firing back at his former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon after some highly unflattery quotes that is being released in a new book. Bannon called the Trump campaign's 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer, quote, treasonous and unpatriotic. President Trump says Steve Bannon has lost his mind.

Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is suing the U.S. Justice Department and special counsel in the Russian probe Robert Mueller. Manafort alleges they overstepped their bounds and the charges against him have nothing to do with the 2016 election campaign. Manafort was indicted on money laundering and other charges. He pleaded not guilty.

North and South Korea have reconnected. The North made three phone calls to South Korea in less than 24 hours on a DMZ hotline. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had the line reopened to begin talks on sending a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics.

France's President says the country will pass new laws this year to curb the spread of fake news, especially during elections. Emmanuel Macron says the new measures are necessary after Russia interfered with last year's French Presidential election.

Nearly a week after an anti-government protests began in Iran, the head of the revolutionary guard says they are over. During pro- government demonstrations on Wednesday, he issued what many saw as a warning against future protests, calling their defeat definite. The last heir to Iran's now-defunct monarchy says blaming the protesters is simply missing the point.


REZA PAHLAVI, LAST HEIR TO NOW-DEFUNCT IRANIAN MONARCHY: My analysis is the fact that obviously the core issue is the dismal economic situation that forces people to voice out their anger. But it's beyond that now. It's going to a point of knowing that the reason why you're in such a mess is because of a total not only mismanagement of the system but its basic for non-care for the people. The regime is there to sustain itself. It has done so systematically. It is there to use the country's resources to support its militia and its vassal state or in (INAUDIBLE) whether it's in Syria or Lebanon or elsewhere, or Hezbollah, or what have you. It is not trickling to the people.

[01:35:09] You know, how long can we expect a nation to wait, how long do you expect people to deal with economic hardship, to deal with unemployment, to deal with inflation, to deal with just a situation where they are systematically clobbered?


SIDNER: Our CNN's Arwa Damon joins us now live from Istanbul. Let's first off talk about what impact that might make, the statement from the eldest son of the long ago exiled Shah. Might that have on any of the protesters or protests as they -- as they hear from him?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's difficult to tell as to whether or not that will necessarily galvanize a stratus of the population that is currently not partaking in the anti-government protests, and that is those individuals who were largely behind the 2009 Green Movement. But there are some very valid points there. And that is first and foremost, these ongoing economic grievances, the frustration with corruption, and the sense that the government for its part is looking too much toward its foreign policy, whether it's -- in terms of support of its proxies in Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Yemen versus focusing on its internal domestic issues.

And the protests, as we know too well at this stage, did go from initially being just about economic grievances to morphing into something that is a lot larger. Of course, we don't necessarily know exactly what the end game is for these individuals that are partaking in the demonstrations at this stage, which of course makes the situation all that more complicated, Sara.

SIDNER: How are these protests being looked at by other governments, for example, Turkey where you are, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon? You mentioned a few there. They've all got differing relationships with Iran and different views of the Iranian regime. But how is it playing out with other governments?

DAMON: You know, and it really boils down to just that, Sara, exactly what is the particular government's relationship with Iran? If we look towards Turkey, for example, Turkey despite the fact that they are on opposite sides of the war when it comes to Syria, they do have a strategic relationship with Tehran. So, Turkish foreign ministry pretty much saying that they are hoping for stability, that they do want to encourage peaceful demonstrations but are urging protesters to stay away from violence. Saudi Arabia is Iran's archenemy, especially within the regional dynamics. And it most certainly to a certain degree would perhaps serve Saudi's interest to see Iran internally destabilized.

And Iran, for its part, has also among the many nations that is blaming for sort of fomenting the violent element of these anti- government demonstrators has included Saudi Arabia in that as well. Iraq has a very close relationship with the Iran and with Iran's revolutionary guard and with Iran's religious leadership. And so, that of course, creates a kind of reaction that we would see from Iraq at this stage, which has not exactly been very public or vocal, but suffice to say, this is not a region that necessarily can afford even more unrest at this stage.

DAMON: Arwa, we've also heard Iran talking about the U.S. and saying that it's their interference as well that has caused some of this. We've heard from President Trump via Twitter about seven or eight times of supporting the protesters, the anti-government protesters. Now, we're hearing from Vice-President Pence. Here's what he had to say.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The contrast between the silence and the failure to support freedom in the last administration and President Trump's unapologetic willingness to stand with the courageous people of Iran. I know it is giving hope to the people on the streets of those cities across that country. And we're going to continue to support them in not just verbally but as they bring about change in their country.


SIDNER: These kind of overtures coming from this particular administration mean anything in any way to the -- to the people who are taking part in these demonstrations, are they paying attention to it at all?

DAMON: They are paying attention to it to a certain degree, Sara, but they also are paying and have been paying very close attention to America's recent history within their region and it just takes one look at Syria to see what U.S. support actually does look like. Of course, that was the Obama administration, now we're talking about a completely different dynamic when it comes to the Trump White House. But this does also serve as something of a double-edged sword because America doesn't have much of a leg to stand on in the region, and plus, it sort of validates the statements by the Iranian government that these protests are being fueled by outside forces.

[01:40:07] That being said, the State Department is not shying away from how it is actively encouraging people to take to the streets, saying they want to encourage protesters to continue to fight for what's right and to open up Iran. But is America going to do anything more than just put rhetoric out there at this stage? How far is the United States willing to go? And again, this is, as we were discussing earlier, boiling down to what a particular country's government has in terms of a relationship with Tehran and what they perhaps want the end game to see. And suffice to say, the Trump administration's relationship with Tehran is one that has been fairly hostile from the get-go, Sara.

SIDNER: Arwa Damon joining us live there from Istanbul. Thank you so much for that great insight, Arwa.

The advocacy group, Human Rights Watch says Iran has a responsibility to not only ensure public safety but also the right to peacefully assemble and free access to information. This statement from its Middle East Director Human Rights Watch says, "Blocking the popular cellphone applications Telegram and Instagram is yet another over-the- top response to people raising grievances against systematic corruption and repression. And that Iranian authorities should change their addiction to repression and allow people to speak and to demonstrate."

And the author of that statement joins us now live. Sarah Lee Whitson of Human Rights Watch is with us here. First of all, tell me a little bit about how Human Rights Watch gets information from inside of Iran, a place that is notoriously difficult for people to speak freely.

SARAH LEE WHITSON, MIDDLE EAST DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, we've been working in Iran, documenting human rights and abuses in Iran for many decades now. We have numerous contacts, sources that provide us with information, and tell us what's happening on the ground. Obviously, lawyers, victims of human rights abuses, journalists, writers, but the government also puts out a tremendous amount of information itself.

So, there is a lot of information to be had that's coming directly from the government. The government does not speak in one voice, in fact. And so, you'll also hear information coming from different parts of the government that provide a lot of insights into what's happening in the political dynamics in the country.

SIDNER: There was a protest, a rather large protest in 2009. Now, we're seeing it again in 2018. What does this tell us about what's happening inside the country, and do you think this is going to be something that eventually grows into something that may have an impact on the current administration and regime there?

WHITSON: Well, I think nobody knows whether or not these protests are going to morph and spread or expand any further or whether or not the government will successfully clamp down and crush the protests. I think that's probably more likely to happen, particularly given the disorganized state of the protests and the protesters who do not have any articulated unified central voice. So, it's going to be very hard for this to continue as a mass movement that articulates specific demands. But I think regardless of whether or not these protests continue today

or tomorrow or next month, they are going to have and have already had a tremendous impact on the government and its calculations on what it needs to do to address what is clearly deep, deep, deep resentment and anger and frustration, not among political intellectuals and elites but among its own base, its solid base, small communities, villages, towns, populations of 40,000 people with thousands protesting.

This is what's remarkable. And I think this is what should be shaking the government up to really question the strength of its support among its own population in a way that really cuts across political lines.

SIDNER: You talked about that, the significance of this isn't necessarily how large the protest was but that it was so widespread it was in places that maybe they hadn't seen protests in the past and kind of took the government by surprise. I do want to ask you about -- there were so far -- the count is 21 people have been killed in these protests. What are you asking the Iranian government to do about that? Are you telling them, look, you have to investigate how these -- how these deaths happened and why?

WHITSON: Well, this count is actually now 22 in our last recording. And we have asked the government to investigate these killing as a demonstration of good faith and a demonstration of independent of its prosecution and judiciary to find wrongdoing, to investigate wrongdoing by its security forces and to punish them. Do I think that's realistically going to happen? No. If Iran's past record, particularly the record of 2009, is any indication, but we do want to give the opportunity of the government to show that it takes killings of its own citizens quite seriously.

Beyond that, I think they really have no choice and really it is about saving their own necks from an overthrow, from the kind of disruptions that we've seen throughout the region to actually do what the public wants, which is to deal with the corruption crises, to deal with the economic inequalities, wealth disparities, the bloated budgets of religious foundations in the government that is clearly stirring a lot of anger and resentment throughout the country.

[01:45:08] There are now vast disparities in wealth in Iran, and the promises that the Iranian government made in the 1979 revolution to respect and uphold the rights of average poor even Iranians, those are not being meet.

SIDNER: Is there any indication that the protesters, I mean, exactly what sparked this? Was it just a build-up of promises, promises and then seeing that some people were getting vast amounts of wealth and others were getting basically nothing, no help at all?

WHITSON: Well, I think it's a combination of factors, and there's usually a match that ignites things and what was the most immediate percipient factor was the release of a budget, a very strong Austerity budget that was going to show major cuts in the budget. It's a very just local municipal and social service economies that really upset people. And what the government itself started to do, what Rouhani's own

minister started to do is to leak the otherwise secret line item budgets of the Ministry of Defense of these religious foundations to show its own population that these agencies of the government itself cannot control, were growing and getting fatter while the government was forced -- Rouhani was forced to deliver this austerity budget.

But in a broader sense, the failure of -- you know, if you look at the arrest numbers that the government has told us, 95 percent of those arrested are under the age of 25, they have college degrees but they no economic rewards to show for their investment in education. This was a promise that was made to them, that sanctions would be lifted, that things would improve, and that has not happened. So, this is very strongly economically driven.

At the same time that Iranians can now see via social media that not all Iranians are living impoverished as they are, that children of regime officials, of senior-level officials are living the high life and showing off on Instagram and other social medias. So, the relative disparity in wealth is also something that I think is quite glaring and obvious in a way that might have been much more hidden before.

SIDNER: Thank you so much, Sarah Lee Whitson of Human Rights Watch. We appreciate you giving us some insight into that.

In North America, an enormous winter storm of the year is on its way, and it could produce blizzard-like conditions with hurricane force gusts in some areas. We'll have more on that, coming up.


SIDNER: A bone chilling and potentially dangerous winter storm will wreak havoc on parts of the eastern U.S. coast into the Canadian Maritimes this week. It's threatening hurricane-force wind gusts in a region already crippled by dangerously cold temperatures. reports there are more than 2,800 flights that have been canceled in the U.S. in the coming day, and at least 12 deaths have been linked to the frigid weather in the United States. Meteorologist Tom Sater has more on the arctic blast.


TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: An early morning fire in the Bronx, New York, as firefighters try to hose down the flames, residents struggle just to get out. But the extremely cold weather made it difficult. Water from the hydrant froze and even the fire escapes had icicles making it almost impossible to climb down.

[01:50:12] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I literally flipped down the fire escape with my baby. I just felt scared, very scared.

SATER: Dangerously cold temperatures have affected much of the United States and Canada over the past week. Even parts of Texas, accustomed to moderate temperatures this time of year, hit a low of -2 recently. Four people died here from exposure. And the Red Cross is setting up additional warming centers for the homeless. And Tallahassee, Florida experienced its first measurable snowfall in 28 years on Wednesday. And that's not the only place where there could be record-breaking weather. Forecasters say the first major winter storm of the year is on its way, already hitting parts of the south that are not accustomed to snow. The northeast, however, could see blizzard-like conditions with hurricane-force wind gusts in some areas.

The dangerously cold weather did not keep tourists away from Niagara Falls. Subzero temperatures have frozen areas around the falls, creating sheets of floating ice. In Richmond, Virginia a lucky swan rescued after being stuck on the lake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't say I've ever rescued a swan from the middle of a pond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Until the first day of 2018?


SATER: These manatees, however, didn't need to be rescued. They huddled together in the water just to keep warm. And these penguins may be used to ice but it's so cold in Calgary, Canada, zoo officials had to bring them indoors. Tom Sater, CNN, Atlanta.


SIDNER: Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us now with more on this winter storm. And I see you standing in front of a graphic that no one is going to like that much.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL WEATHER ANCHOR: Yes, Sara, if that doesn't give you a headache, I don't know what will. 2,800 plus cancelations Thursday alone, Boston, Philly to New York, and that number keeps rising, by the way. Hey, you know, there's been a very popular kind of it word that's been floating around the internet and some of the media agencies today -- bombogenesis -- what exactly is it? Well, it's a term meteorologists use to talk about a strengthening low pressure system. It has to officially drop 24 millibars in 24 hours in order for that to be called a bombogenesis. But this particular storm is strengthening so quickly it is dropping 24 millibars in 12 hours.

This is a rapidly intensifying area of low pressure and it means business. In fact, over 15 states right now under some sort of winter weather advisory including blizzard warnings for Boston proper. Let's time this down for you. Conditions are going to get nasty this morning in New York City, just in time for the morning rush hour, but as we head up the east coast in time for Thursday evening rush hour into Boston, that's when things go downhill for that area. We couple in winds over 70, 80 kilometers per hour and we've got a recipe for disaster.

Can't forget about our friends in Nova Scotia and the New Brunswick region. They will also have hurricane-force winds and pelting snow from this particular snow system. How much snow? Here's the (INAUDIBLE) Boston, 30 to 45 centimeters. New York 10 to 20. Lesser amounts the further south and west you travel.

Look at these wind totals. 102-kilometer per-hour winds expected near Nantucket. It will be colder on the east coast of the United States than it will be on the surface of Mars later this week. That's amazing, huh, Sara?

SIDNER: That's not bombogenesis. Remind you, the polar vortex, remember when we're talking about that all the time?

VAN DAM: We do. We love the words, don't we?

SIDNER: Thank you so much. Coming up, the U.S. President's taunt to North Korea about his nuclear button isn't the first time he's boiled things down to size. His measure of power, just ahead.


[01:5:26] SIDNER: Diplomatic language is usually carefully crafted. Often the meaning of something has to be deciphered by reading between the lines, not so with U.S. President Donald Trump. In his message to North Korea, he reduced the U.S. nuclear capability to a quintessentially male boast, mine's bigger. Jeanne Moos examines how much size matters to President Trump.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And here you thought button size only mattered in sewing. Now, the President is tweeting about how his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than Kim Jong- un's.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!: We have two maniacs with nuclear warheads bragging about who has the bigger button.

MOOS: One journalist called it a button-measuring contest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean, how big is your button?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buttons, button size, and button performance.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS, COMEDIAN: And it's all about who's got the bigger button.


MOOS: When it comes to big buttons.


MOOS: The one on President Trump's desk can't compare, but he uses this tiny one to order diet Cokes, not nuclear strikes. The so-called football carries everything needed to launch a nuclear attack. It's obvious size matters to President Trump. From his I.Q. --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guarantee you my I.Q. is much higher than any of these people. MOOS: To his tax cut.

TRUMP: This is the largest tax cut.

MOOS: To his hands.

TRUMP: He referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you.

MOOS: Cher referred to President Trump and Kim Jong-un, tweeting, they're probably both the size of Tom Thumb.

When it comes to bragging about the size of your nuclear button, it might be wise to button it.

And even if the button's huge, that doesn't mean a leader will press the right one, as we saw in "Monsters vs. Aliens."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a disaster.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That button launches all of our nuclear missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, then which button gets me a latte?

MOOS: Make that a diet Coke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other one, sir.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What idiot designed this thing?


SIDNER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Sara Sidner. The news continues with Rosemary Church in Atlanta right after this. Thank you so much for watching.