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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Author: 100 percent Of The People Around Trump Question His Fitness To Serve As President; Book: Trump Insisted On False Story About Don Jr. Russia Meeting; Source: W.H. Counsel Tried To Stop Sessions Recusal; Book: Jared & Ivanka "Panicked" Over Russia Probe; Top Republicans Ask DOJ to Investigate Dossier Author; Sessions Gets Tough on Pot, States Fight Back. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 5, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:10] ERIN BURNETT, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Next, the bombshell book that's raising a question loud and clear, is Donald Trump fit to be President of the United States?
Plus, damning new revelations in the Russia investigation. Do they point to obstruction of justice by the President? And defiant over pot. The growing outrage over the Attorney general's move to get tough on pot. Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, fitness for office. The explosive tell-all about Trump's White House with a major claim. That 100 percent of the people around Trump question his fitness for office. "Fire and Fury: inside the Trump White House" went on sale today and the author, Michael Wolff, spoke out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC ANCHOR: One of the overarching themes is that, according to your reporting, everyone around the President, senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURRY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": Let me put a marker in the sand here. 100 percent of the people around him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: 100 percent. So what are the things that Wolff says they're seeing in President Trump that makes them so worried?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: They say he's a moron, idiot. Actually, there's a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who this man is. Let's remember, this man does not read, does not listen, so he's like a -- he's like a pinball, just shooting off the sides.
GUTHRIE: One of the more disturbing observations you make in the book is that the President's close advisers, people around him, have noticed him repeating stories, expression for expression, you say, within a short period of time.
WOLFF: In a shortening period. So they've all tracked this. It used to be, I know people would point out that in the beginning it was, like, every 25 or 30 minutes you would get the same three stories repeated. Now it's the same three stories in every 10 minutes.
GUTHRIE: And what's the suggestion there? Because that goes beyond saying, OK, the President's not an intellectual. I mean, what's -- what are you arguing there? You say, for example, he was at Mar-a- Lago and didn't recognize lifelong friends.
WOLFF: I will quote Steve Bannon. He's lost it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Bombshell claims in the book which has already topping bestsellers list comes in the same week Trump tweeted this. "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from this depleted and food- starved regime please inform him that I, too, have a nuclear button but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works." A tweet that in it of itself. Before we even heard about the book sparked open discussion about President Trump's mental stability and fitness for office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: I'm very concerned about this mental state because the decision making role of the President in terms of nuclear war is extremely significant.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: We've gotten to a place, a very weird place, where it really doesn't matter what the President of the United States says anymore because it is so bizarre, strange, not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Conservative commentator Bill Kristol tweeting, "I trust V.P." reference, of course, that's Mike Pence's twitter handle. "Has asked his counsel to prepare a draft document transferring power in accord with Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, in case it's suddenly needed and that he's discussed this with Chief of Staff Kelly." The 25th Amendment offers a way to remove a president who is mentally or physically incapable of fulfilling official duties.
Now, all of this is a pretty stunning place to be in if you think about it. And the White House day after day this week was forced to talk about the President's mental state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Americans be concerned about the President's mental fitness that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding nuclear button?
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the President and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness of the leader of North Korea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the President's reaction to the growing number of suggestions, both in this book and in the media that he's mentally unfit to serve as president?
SANDERS: The same way we have when it's been asked before, that it's disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there, wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Today, even the publicly reticent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, someone the President, of course, has personally slammed, was forced to step in and defend his boss' sanity.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Everybody in this book, you know, questions his mental fitness. Have you ever questioned his mental fitness?
[19:05:02] REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I've never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to question his mental fitness.
BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage tonight OutFront at the White House. And Jeff, the White House obviously far from happy with this now barrage of questions about the President of the United States mental fitness and stability to do the job.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, no question that they're not pleased by this line of questions, this line of thinking that really has come out and really been amplified by the release of this book. But they also aren't new questions. These questions were raised during the Republican primary campaign and President Trump, then-candidate Trump, of course, won the Republican primary.
But now it feels like it's a different moment here because there's specific examples and things that is connected to it, and, of course, he's dealing with so many other issues. But I can tell you, Erin, the White House is more upset and worried about other allegations in the book, other comments in the book about the Russia investigation, other things like that.
But, look, the reality here is we don't really know what the President's health is like. He is going to have his first physical as President next Friday at Walter Reed. I'll be surprised if too much information is released from that. But, look, these questions have sort of taken on a life of their own. So far, Democrats largely have been raising them.
Republican senators I've spoken to, members of Congress who meet with the President, will not say that they see anything wrong here. So, interestingly, they're all meeting this weekend in Camp David. We'll see what they say after that. But, again, so far this seems like more of a partisan attack than a actual concern about his mental health. But temperament, Erin, is perhaps the biggest issue we've learned from this book.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.
BURNETT: And I want to go now to the Democratic Congressman John Garamendi who's attending a meeting next week on President Trump's mental health. And a lot to ask you, Congressman. So let me just start with this. What specifically concerns you on this topic of the President's mental fitness?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Everything, absolutely everything. Obviously, North Korea. I mean, we got a crazy leading the North Korean and we got a crazy in the White House. Just a small mistake, a small error somewhere on that peninsula, and we could have a nuclear war.
We could have hundreds of thousands of people killed. Maybe not in a nuclear war, but just in an all-out war. It is a very, very serious problem.
What if you had an uncle, what if you had an uncle that lied to you, did untruth 1,951 times in the last 11 months, and every morning you wake up wondering what in the hell is the tweet going to say this morning? That's what America faces. And we got a bully. We saw him bully every one of those candidates in the Republican primary. And do the same thing, stalking Hillary Clinton in a debate, and then who knows what he's going to say. It is downright frightening for the entire world.
All around this, in my own district, people are asking me, what in the hell is going on in Washington? What is that President going to do? And I know from national leaders and key people in other governments that are going, can you explain this? Yes, I can explain it. We got a guy in the White House that is unstable and not fit for office.
BURNETT: Do you have any proof of that, though, you know, as Jeff Zeleny was saying, you got people like Bill Kristol, it's being talked about in a way that it wasn't before. But, you know, the American public on Election Day, 60 percent of them, 61 percent in a poll said they didn't think he was qualified to be in office. The same number that didn't think he was three months into the election itself, right? They voted for him, anyway. Is this just a partisan opportunity for folks like you?
GARAMENDI: It's -- well, I wish it was only that. If that was all it was about, an opportunity for Democrats to hit at the President, that would be OK. But the reality is there. You wake up in the morning, I wake up in the morning, I'm going, oh, my god, he said that in his tweet? What is that going to do? And he's constantly going after a guy that does have a -- the fourth largest military in the world, North Korea, constantly badgering him.
Every year, every few months there's some incident on the Korean peninsula that has in the past brought us very, very close to a war. We don't need to have the kind of uncertainty that this President is creating. We know, we have to go to negotiations.
Every time Tillerson begins to talk about negotiations, he's undercut by the President. We have to have China on board. We start working toward that and suddenly the President comes out with a tweet that undercuts those negotiations.
BURNETT: So --
GARAMENDI: Who knows what's going to happen because this guy is totally unstable, totally unfit for office, and downright dangerous.
BURNETT: So let me ask you on this issue of partisanship, because obviously if this is really going to proceed further, it has to be bipartisan, right? Definitionally must be.
BURNETT: So, I know you're going to be attending, you know, a meeting next week on the President's mental health. Have you talked to your Republican colleagues or any of them?
BURNETT: In agreement with is or?
[19:10:02] GARAMENDI: They're certainly not going to say it. The Republicans have a political agenda. They wanted a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. They got that because they had a Republican President.
They want to cut what they call entitlement programs and they're going to do that in the next months ahead. What are we talking about here? We're talking about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. They --
BURNETT: But you're saying that because of that agenda which they need him for, they're not saying it, but are they saying it, have you had one-on-one conversations where they're agreeing with what you're just telling all of our viewers tonight?
BURNETT: Yes, you have?
GARAMENDI: And I'm not going to tell you who they are, but I'm telling you they are key people in the Republican Congress that they're going, they're shaking their heads and going, oh, my god, look what he did today. They're concerned. They know what's happening. They know the lies. They know the untruths, 1,951 of them. Be over 2,000 by the time his first year is over. And you know the bullying, you know the -- you know that he's -- this President has a constant need for praise.
He needs somebody sitting around saying, oh, you're the most wonderful biggest most huge thing in the world. Well, he has a huge military and has to be used wisely. But we got a man that's in the White House that is neither wise nor stable.
BURNETT: So when you say key Republicans, I know you can't say who they are, that would be a violation obviously of their confidence.
GARAMENDI: That's right.
BURNETT: But you are talking about leadership here, then, in some of these cases?
GARAMENDI: I think I've gone far enough, let's just say these are people that are important in the Republican Caucus.
BURNETT: So, when you're going to be briefed next week, and I know there's a meeting, but the Yale psychiatrist that I understand is involved, Dr. Bandy Lee, she edited a book called "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" which includes more than two dozen psychiatric experts assessing his mental health, right. It's not just Lee, these other people as well. But neither Lee or these other experts have actually treated the President. Does that concern you? I mean, that's -- that's really unprecedented in a certain sense. I mean, certainly I've talked to doctors who are willing to weigh in on what they think, but to come out and do so publicly, is that an overstep?
GARAMENDI: It's downright frightening. This man is a very public person. He's on television, he's tweeting, he's talking. He's not writing, but he is constantly out there in the public and people are capable of assessing who he is and what he is. And based upon that, not necessarily having him on the couch, but in a very public and in a very way that's quite open, they've made an assessment that there is a very serious problem with the President.
BURNETT: All right. Congressman, I appreciate your time. Congressman Garamendi. I thank you for coming on the program tonight.
GARAMENDI: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, the White House reeling from a new scandal this hour. What was the President's role in issuing, at the very least, incredibly misleading statement about that infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians?
Plus Michael Wolff had extraordinary access to the White House while writing his book on Trump. Who let him in?
And the President's obsession with size, it does never seem to get old. Certainly not for him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I guarantee my I.Q. is much higher than any of these people. This is the largest tax cut. He referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:16:46] BURNETT: New tonight, the explosive book that's rocking the White House also raising new questions about the Russia investigation and whether the President was attempting to obstruct justice by trying to control it. Among the new revelations, the author, Michael Wolff, writes about, that infamous Don Jr. meeting in the Trump Tower. And he writes about how the President was personally involved in then crafting a false cover story for the meeting.
Here's what Wolff writes in the book. He says, "The President insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times," referring to The New York Times in this case, "had the incriminating e-mail chain. In fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had this e-mail chain. The President ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton."
OutFront, Richard Painter, former White House Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times White House Reporter, and Tim Naftali, former Director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Tim, you're with me, so let me start with you. According to Wolff, Trump wanted to create the story. He didn't care that wasn't true. In fact, he knew full well it wasn't true and he wanted to do it, anyway. How damning if true?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: It's very damning, because it shows you dishonest intent. One of the challenges for the Mueller investigation is to prove that the President intended to obstruct the investigation. If you can show that he misled the public knowing that his son had actually been discussing Russia and Hillary Clinton, then you begin, it raises questions, it begins to build a picture of someone who's hiding something. So it's a big deal.
BURNETT: So, Julie, you know, Wolff also writes in the book that the Russia investigation's causing the President's daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared, to panic. "The kids, Jared and Ivanka, exhibited an increasingly panicked sense that the FBI and the DOJ were moving beyond Russian election interference and into family finances. Ivanka is terrified, said a satisfied Bannon."
Now, when you combine that, Julie, with your reporting that the President's White House Counsel, Don McGahn, tried to persuade that the President's insistence, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. If you connect all the dots, this is a troubling picture it seems for the Trump family.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPOTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, absolutely. And what we learned about the President dispatching Don McGahn to lobby Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself was the degree of personal jeopardy the President felt that he was in. But it's definitely the case that his daughter and son-in-law were also worried about the other potential avenues that this investigation could take.
Quite apart from the idea of the campaign having colluded with Russia, they were worried that this could then reach into their finances and President Trump's finances, his businesses, Jared Kushner's businesses. We know he had a lot of foreign business contacts that he failed to disclose initially. And there's been a lot of anxiety for many, many months on the part of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and Trump's inner circle that not only could this be very politically damaging, legally damaging, but there were going to be things uncovered about the family finances that they just didn't want out in the public domain.
[19:20:02] BURNETT: I mean, and Richard when you take this -- I mean, is it obstruction that the President of the united states would have asked his Counsel, Don McGahn, to get the Attorney General of the United States not to recuse himself, right, obviously with the intent that the Attorney General, Jeff Session, would protect the President in any investigation.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER W.H. ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, that's obstruction of justice. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse either the lawyers' ethics rules as well as the government ethics rules. He had no choice but to recuse. So, I don't know why Don McGahn would try to persuade him not to recuse, which would clearly be a violation of the ethics rules.
If the objective of this was to get the Attorney General to derail the Russia investigation, or to steer the Russia investigation away from the President and the President's family and the President's staff, that is obstruction of justice. That along with the firing of James Comey, that along with the drafting of a false statement by Donald Trump Jr. who is a material witness in the investigation.
We have multiple instances where the President appears to have engaged in obstruction of justice and I'm very surprised that the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee are not convening to discuss this. This is much further down the road than when the House and Senate Judiciary Committees conveying to discuss the possible impeachment of President Richard Nixon. It is a very serious situation, put on top of that the President's mental instability and nuclear weapons and we're in some serious trouble.
BURNETT: Tim, you know, on this point of Don McGahn, which Richard is referring to, the news Julie broke, Wolff viewed, you know -- Wolff says that Trump viewed Comey as someone he needed to get rid of, obviously, as well as Sessions in terms of his recusal. Wolff writes, though, about Comey. "Comey was a rat, repeated Trump. There were rats everywhere and you had to get rid of them. John Dean, John Dean, he repeated, do you know what John Dean did to Nixon?" Of course he was the former White House Counsel and became the star witness against Nixon. And obviously you're the historian covering Nixon. So, how significant is this? This President's obsession, even, that we're now seeing, again, just in the book, with John Dean.
NAFTALI: OK. What's really important now, for those of you especially for those of you playing at home, is we've got a mosaic that's being built, a jigsaw puzzle. And there are pieces that are really, really good, and there are pieces we're not so sure of. I don't know the sourcing on that particular -- those set of statements. They don't surprise me.
You don't actually -- you didn't need Michael Wolff's reporting to know that because of the tweets. We know that the President is obsessed with Comey. We also know that the President told us that Russia was the reason why he fired Comey. He admitted that.
So his obsession, which has been problematic throughout this whole investigation, remains to be explained, but the fact of the obsession we knew before Wolff. Wolff adds new details. Wolff also gets Bannon's view. Now Bannon is an interesting party, so not everything he says through Wolff should be taken without a grain of salt.
But Bannon's testimony through Wolff is still important and another set of important pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. We're not finished yet. Mueller will teach us a lot more before this is over, and other material will come to light. But people should realize that we're building a puzzle. Right now the puzzle does not look good for the President.
BURNETT: So Julie, you know, this comes on top of, right, the other reporting in the book, you know, that Steve Bannon said that Don Jr. would crack like an egg when he was actually exposed to serious questioning. That Steve Bannon said they should have called the FBI about that meeting, it was unpatriotic and treasonous, right? These are all things, again, interested party, important to point out as Tim says, but on-the-record comments from Steve Bannon. How concerned are the inner members of Trump's family right now? Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared Kushner.
DAVIS: I think they're very concerned -- frankly, I think they've been very concerned for a while. Most of the things I think in this book are not a surprise to them. Many of these issues have been talked about for quite some time among the President's inner circle.
I think it tells us a lot about the President's state of mind when some of these key events happened. And from our reporting today, we now know that the Special Counsel is looking at some of these things in a very substantive way with a potential eye toward building an obstruction case as Richard said. But I think that, you know, the -- in addition to all the other revelations in the book about Trump's temperament, and what may have been said in the privacy of his own meetings and on other issues, the big concern for them is what this has revealed about the Russia investigation and how the White House has dealt with it. And I do think that, you know, that they're going to have to continue to deal with that because Mueller is looking at all of these things in a very critical way.
BURNETT: And Richard, but where are we? How much more time left on this investigation?
[19:25:04] PAINTER: Well, that's for Robert Mueller to decide. He's focusing on the criminal side of this. Potential criminal activity. But that's not all there is to be concerned about.
We have a President who is clearly engaged in conduct which appears to be obstruction of justice, on repeated occasions. Who's obsessed with this Russia investigation. Who talks about putting his political enemies in jail. And is talking about -- how his nuclear weapons are bigger than North Korea. And this is a dangerous situation. Congress needs to deal with it.
And we can put the puzzle together for purposes of a criminal investigation but we cannot wait around while Donald Trump has a control of the nuclear weapons. And I'm shocked the Republicans in Congress don't want to just, you know, pull the plug on this and put Mike Pence in there. I don't agree with Mike Pence on a lot of issues, particularly the social issues, but at least he appears to be mentally stable. This is a very, very dangerous situation right now.
BURNETT: thank you very much, Richard, Julie, Tim.
And next, the President said he gave zero access to Michael Wolff, but the truth is that Wolff says he spent hours with the President and he was in the west wing a lot. That's the fact. So what is the real story?
And the Russia probe taking a turn. Republican senators set their sights on a new target.
BURNETT: New tonight, Trump slamming the author of "Fire and Fury" saying he never gave Michael Wolff access to the White House and the book is full of lies.
The President tweeting, "I authorize zero access to White House. Actually turned him down many times. For author, a phony book. I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies. Misrepresentations and sources that don't exist. Look at this guy's past and watch what happens to him and sloppy Steve." That of course is reference to Steve Bannon.
[19:30:00] Wolff's response to Trump, it's not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don't know, but it certainly was not off the record.
I've spent about three hours with the president over the course of the campaign and in the White House. So, my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.
I have recordings. I have notes. I am certainly and absolutely in every way comfortable with everything I've reported in this book.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And when it comes down to it, White House journalists and Twitter have confirmed seeing Wolff at the White House. A reporter for "The Associated Press" tweeted, quote: The several times that I saw Wolff at the White House, he was cleared in with a blue appointment badge allowing West Wing access, rather than a gray press badge.
And "The USA Today" White House correspondent Gregory Korte another writing: I personally saw Michael Wolff come to the northwest gate and walk into the West Wing on multiple occasions.
OUTFRONT now, David Gergen, former advisor to four presidents, Nixon and Clinton among them, White House correspondent for American Urban Media Networks, April Ryan, and our senior political analyst, Mark Preston.
Mark, let me start with you, one of our White House reporters, Jeff Zeleny, was on this program earlier. Told us earlier today he saw Wolff at the White House quite a bit. The reality of it, Mark, is Wolff had access no.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no doubt he had access, Erin. And what we're seeing from the White House right now is a strategy to try to create an incredible amount of white noise around the publishing of this book and by doing that, they're trying to just eat away at any bits of credibility they can do so.
Now, having Sarah Huckabee Sanders stand at the lectern in the press room of the White House and say that he had no access, to have the president of the United States tweet out that he had no access, is really sending a message to their base, and what they're saying to their base is believe us, don't believe anything else.
BURNETT: Right. In other words, David, don't let the facts get in the way.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's true, and I think it's also if you create a lot of white noise as Mark said, I think that's exactly what they're doing. You divert conversation away from the substance of the book. And that's really with what we ought to be talking about because it may well be there are mistakes in the book.
And I -- you know, Bob Woodward, the father of a lot of investigative reporting in the modern age, Carl Bernstein, you know, he had mistakes but the thrust of what he was writing turned out to be true. Unless and until others like Steve Bannon and a number of the principals come forward and deny, which they have not done, there's going be a lot of credibility attached by the journalistic community.
BURNETT: No, and certainly, as reporters when we look at -- you know, I'll look at an individual who's discussed in the book and I will read it and be able to say, look, I talked to this person all the time and I know the thrust of what is being said here is absolutely and completely true.
However, White House, April, the White House says the book is tabloid fiction and a total lie. Here at CNN, we haven't corroborated every singled piece of it. Steve Bannon, of course, as we point out spoke on the record. Others have verified parts are true.
But just moments ago "The Washington post" reporter Mark Berman tweeted in part, April: spotted in the new Michael Wolff book about Trump, a Four Seasons breakfast featuring, quote, "Washington Post" national reporter Mark Berman.
That's a quote from the book. Berman responds: I've never had breakfast at the Four Seasons, never actually been there.
Does this, April, a mistake like this, appears to be that's what that is, it's inaccurate, make you question the takeaway of the book, which, of course, is the president's mental fitness for office, and that everyone around him says he's unfit?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, David's right, there's going to be some portions that may not necessarily be as accurate or correct, or may be just downright wrong.
RYAN: But you have to wonder, this man had access to the president of the United States. He had access, and this is what he's saying, he says he's got notes, says he's got tapes. He's had access to Steve Bannon, high-ranking officials and has them on tape.
Now, knowing this White House, as I do, if it was really just nothing, they'd blow it off calling it fake news or just fake. But there is a reason, and we need to find out why they are doubling down on this, why there's such a fast and furious effort to discredit Wolff, to discredit this book. I mean, he had access. I mean, too many reporters saw him there.
RYAN: And he was walking around with a pass.
So, something in there is bothering this White House. Something in there, some parts may not be as false as they want to claim. So where there's smoke, there's fire.
Yes, some parts may be wrong. I give him that. Some parts may be downright wrong.
[19:35:01] But there's some parts that are bothering this White House.
BURNETT: That's true. And there are a lot of claims including Steve Bannon saying the meeting in Trump Tower was treasonous and unpatriotic. That's on the record, just to make a point, right? That isn't something in question. It's on the record, he hasn't denied it.
I mean, Mark, look, the takeaway from the book, Trump is not fit, he is not stable. And there are so many details and stories to support that within it.
But is there a chance Trump is loving all this? Because here's Trump's own words in "The Art of the Deal," his book. Quote: from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks. It's really quite simple. The funny thing is even a critical story which may be hurtful personally can be very valuable to your business.
So does he actually love being called mentally unfit? Since it's making him the world's top bestseller?
PRESTON: You know what, I haven't really thought of it, but in some ways, he's got to love the attention, right? He's got to love the fact that he continues to dominate the news cycle whether it's for good or for bad, because even if it's for bad, he can then go out and attack us, attack the media, and say that we're not covering the good such as the economy.
So, you got to wonder deep down inside, does President Trump actually let -- you know, like at least the glare of the spotlight on him? I don't think he likes the negative comments. But I do think he likes the attention he's drawn upon himself.
BURNETT: Yes, I mean, right, it was an important distinction that you're drawing.
I mean, April, we have been talking about explosive details and stories in the book for days. Today when the book finally came out, there was this about what went on behind the scenes with the president's response to the white supremacist violence that ended in murder in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few months ago.
And Wolff writes, quote, talking about the president: privately, he kept trying to rationalize why someone would be a member of the KKK. That is, they might not actually believe what the KKK believed and the KKK probably does not believe what it used to believe, and anyway, who really knows what the KKK believe now.
Are you surprised, April, that according to Wolff, President Trump would repeatedly try to justify why someone would be in the KKK?
RYAN: No, I'm not surprised. You know, we have been hearing about the alt-right, hearing about so many different groups. I mean, we had neo-Nazi groups coming -- reporters, coming to the White House that this White House allowed in. They were bringing new different groups.
No, I'm not surprised. It just lays out a little bit more of the thinking of Charlottesville, but, I mean, no one should be surprised, because when Charlottesville happened at the beginning of August, I remember it so vividly, that this president kept going back and forth about six or seven times how many times did he use the teleprompter to get it right? Then when he was asked the question, and he didn't have a teleprompter, and he went off the top of his head, all hell broke loose.
And, I mean, there were a lot of tensions at that time. So the president -- and the reason why he couldn't get it right, because he was vastly -- we heard David Duke come out, David Duke, a former, what, grand dragon, who has a large following, and who actually told the president you better get this right on our behalf, basically.
So I believe that this kind of sheds a little bit more light. I'm not surprised.
I'm also going to say this, I talked to many Republicans today, this president is furious. He's very upset about this book. This book broadsided them. They didn't expect it to come out this early.
So, something is wrong. I don't think he likes this. I don't think he's delighting in the fact that his name is out there, whether it's good, bad or indifferent, because this is a critical time. You got the Russia investigation that's really doubling down. And people are thinking the inner circle is a target.
And this kind of puts a little bit more fuel -- no, it doesn't put a little bit more fuel, it adds kerosene on a fire.
BURNETT: Yes, it sure does. I mean, just want to -- David, we have a statement, CNN has learned that Steve Bannon and his allies drafted a statement on Wednesday praising Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump right after the excerpts came out where Bannon called Trump Jr. treasonous and unpatriotic.
Now, this is according to a Bannon ally, right, they have the statement drafted, Bannon hadn't made up his mind yet whether to release it. Then, the president released his own scathing statement about Bannon slamming him saying he'd lost his mind. It was too late, right? Trump jumped to the gun before Bannon could do any kind of cleanup.
GERGEN: That's true. He would have been a much smarter to get out quickly.
He did -- I think it's fair to point out that he -- after the president spoke in such a devastating way, Steve Bannon sort of graveled and apologized or didn't apologize but said Trump's a wonderful man, great man. President -- dining out on that since.
So, you know, the damage is done. I don't think there's any real joy at the White House, just the opposite about the book coming out. There may be, in a political circles of the White House, some relief that Steve Bannon is now going to be persona non grata in this White House and he's going to have a diminished role in the 2018 elections.
[19:40:09] That would well be true.
But the rest of it -- look, one other thing if I may say so, the things like Charlottesville fall in the category, what's in this book in part as the "Wall Street Journal" editorial argued today, in part what this book does is confirmed what we've already known. His supporters are trying to dismiss the book, it's all just what we've known.
That's not true. There are new things in here. Who knew that as you've been saying, who knew that the White House staff has been concerned about his mental health? That there was a time early in his presidency where he would tell the same three stories over a 30-minute period, and now, it's down to ten minutes he's telling the same stories over a ten-minute period. And people are concerned about that.
Who knew that such a large number of people around him have concluded, if there's any validity to this Wolff book, that they've concluded Donald Trump is not fit for office. These are the people who work with him every day.
BURNETT: And to your point, they're there every day. They're now there wondering who spoke, who said what. Now, he's looking at all of them. So, when you talk about the chaos, fear in that White House, all of that, of course, surging.
Thank you, all, so very much.
And next, new developments in the Russia probe involving the former spy who wrote that dossier, that infamous and salacious dossier on Trump and Russia.
And Jeff Sessions under fire for getting tough on pot. Now, the GOP is doing something the president has wanted them to do for quite a while, turning on his attorney general.
[19:45:18] BURNETT: New tonight, the first known criminal referral from Congress' Russia investigation's revealed and the target may surprise you. Two senior Republican senators are now recommending an investigation to the former British spy, Christopher Steele. You may know his name, related to the dossier.
Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT.
And, Pamela, Senators Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, are the names we're talking about here. And now asking the FBI to investigate Steele. Why?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. They claim that he potentially wasn't upfront, wasn't truthful with the FBI about his interactions with reporters, and so they are asking the FBI, essentially, to investigate him.
They didn't provide any proof to back up the claims that Steele wasn't forthcoming or truthful about these interactions. They say that it's a classified information, which is why they couldn't release that publicly. But as you know, Erin, Christopher Steele is a British citizen. So, you know, there's questions of jurisdiction, OK, if the FBI investigates, what then?
It appears to be a bit of a political stunt in that regard. But as you pointed out, this is their first criminal referral in this probe.
BURNETT: Which is obviously, you know, significant in and of itself and the dossier is at the center of everything, as you reported so extensively, Pam. And you is the special tonight on the Trump/Russia investigation that looks in part at the dossier.
Here's a clip.
BROWN (voice-over): Ten days before the inauguration of Donald Trump --
BURNETT: We are live in Chicago tonight.
BROWN: -- on the same night President Barack Obama was giving his farewell address to the nation.
BURNETT: We have breaking news in the nation's capital tonight, though, that we need to tell you about. I want to go straight to Jake Tapper.
BROWN: A team of CNN reporters broke a stunning story.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez, and Carl Bernstein and I have been working on this story.
BROWN: -- about America's new president.
TAPPER: Claims of Russian efforts to compromise the President-elect Donald Trump.
BROWN: The president-elect and the outgoing president had both been briefed on the most sensational charges in the dossier.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.
BROWN: U.S. officials with direct knowledge told CNN that Trump had been warned Russia could have kompromat on him. That's the damaging information often gathered through surveillance that Vladimir Putin is believed to collect on powerful people.
(on camera): Was your concern that the Russians could have leverage over the president of the United States?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, yes.
BROWN (voice-over): Former intelligence chief, James Clapper.
CLAPPER: Gaining leverage. That's their objective. And if they can compromise somebody, you know, they have a term for it, an acronym for it. Kompromat.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: Kompromat, and that's what that dossier is all about, Pamela. If even more parts of it end up being confirmed, it would be damning.
How central to the Russia investigation right now is the dossier?
BROWN: Well, look, it wasn't the basis for the Russia investigation, it was just one factor, we're told, by sources. It's not the entirety of the Robert Mueller investigation, we're told. In fact, out of the four people charged in the Russia probe, the dossier wasn't referenced, wasn't included as part of the charges but certainly it was something that investigators have been interested in. That's why they interviewed Christopher Steele, author of the dossier, former British spy to learn more about it.
And it continues to be at the center of controversy, Erin. As you know, the lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the DNC funded the dossier. Republicans continue to be focused on that, casting doubt on its credibility. But we look at what has been corroborated in the dossier and the documentary tonight.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. That is tonight, as Pamela said, special report on the Trump/Russia investigation coming up at 10:00.
And next, the attorney general's war against pot. What does it mean for the latest state to legalize marijuana? That's California. And our Miguel Marquez is live at a grow operation tonight.
And the story that is pushing people's buttons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST/COMEDIAN: We have two maniacs with nuclear warheads bragging about who has the bigger button.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:52:43] BURNETT: Tonight, President Trump at Camp David with some of his top advisers for the weekend. One man not there, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions not invited.
The White House, though, denying it's a snub. It also comes as Sessions finds himself under fire now from members of his own party for ordering a Justice Department crackdown on marijuana.
Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Republic of California going its own way again, another battle in the war between the world's sixth largest economy and the Trump administration, this time over pot. JERRED KILOH, OWNER, THE HIGHER PATH: When I first found out, I felt
MARQUEZ: Jerred Kiloh has worked in the legal medical marijuana business for decades. He says the attorney general's order rescinding Obama-era marijuana guidance will have real world effects.
KILOH: We're in day four of recreational sales. Yes, this can scare some people from entering into the industry.
MARQUEZ: While sales of recreation at pot have been legal in other states, the size of the California market, it is so big it will be increasingly difficult for banks, Wall Street, other states and the federal government to ignore.
(on camera): How much have you been stockpiling for recreational sales?
KILOH: Hundreds of pounds. We're probably between 600 and 800 pounds of stockpile.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Kiloh views Attorney General Sessions' action as a threat to the recreational market just getting started here. He also says given where the country is going, it won't mean much.
(on camera): The long-term trend, do you see this having an effect?
KILOH: No. We've seen a lot of our politicians come out very strongly in favor of what the Republic of California has stated they want to have.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Republic of California and its voters going its own way on health care, immigration, environmental protection, taxes and now, cannabis.
XAVIER BECRRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA: We've had to confront the Trump administration for their constitutional overreach, and we're going to protect not just our people but our laws, and the things that have made California the economic engine for the country.
MARQUEZ: Politicians across the state telling the Trump administration, if you're going to try to stop legal pot, give it your best shot.
[19:55:05] MARQUEZ: So what you are looking at there is pot, buds that will soon be on the medical or recreational market here in Los Angeles.
The big question with all of this is with what the attorney general did this week, will it matter? And he's kind of left it up to U.S. attorneys across the country. He named 17 interim U.S. attorneys this week, and so far it has been absolute silence from all of them. The closest they're saying basically is that what will change? Nothing -- Erin. BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Miguel.
And next, Jeanne Moos on buttons. Big ones.
BURNETT: Just what is it with Trump and size?
Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN 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: John, 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
MOOS: When it comes to big buttons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was easy.
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: Stop!
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?
BURNETT: Always well-done but especially so tonight for Jeanne.
Thanks so much for joining us. You can watch OUTFRONT any time, anywhere on CNN Go. If you're anywhere that's cold, stay warm this weekend.