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New Revelations From Book On The Trump White House; U.S. Suspends Security Assistance To Pakistan; Massive Winter Storm Lashes The Northeast; NYT: Trump Ordered White House Lawyer To Stop Sessions From Russia Recusal. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired January 5, 2018 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:00] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- months, that it drives Donald Trump crazy because here's the thing. When something drives Donald Trump crazy he talks about it like a broken record over and over and over again.
I mean, for God's sakes, he's been president for a year. He's been relitigating the election for a year and will probably do it for another three if he's president.
He has been talking about this recusal of Jeff Sessions, which has driven him crazy, for months, since the moment it happened. And he's probably never going to stop because he thinks that's where he lost control of the Russia investigation.
And everything else -- the pot that's fallen on his house since then is all emanating from the seed that was sown the moment that Jeff Sessions left.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: On that note, Ana Navarro, Rick Santorum, thank you very much for the debate -- Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right.
So, the author of that bombshell book about President Trump is speaking out. What does he have to say?
Does he back up what's in the book? Of course, he does. How? You'll hear next in his own words.
CUOMO: "Fire and Fury," the new book that is bringing insight into life inside the Trump White House.
[07:35:01] Just moments ago, the author, Michael Wolff, said he absolutely spoke to the president during his reporting. The president put out in a tweet that he didn't speak to him about the book. And, spoke about Steve Bannon's role in this book. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE: The president has tried to put this -- this book is about Steve Bannon, so let me -- let me say very forthrightly, this book is not about Steve Bannon. This book is about Donald Trump.
As far as Steve Bannon -- and I spoke to Steve, as I spoke to many people throughout the length of the reporting here and really saw a transformation, not only of Steve but of everyone. But Steve's, in a way, is most vivid or his language is the most vivid.
And the transformation was, you know, we thought this presidency could work. We thought Donald Trump is an interesting, unique character and we might be able to do something here. And they saw him over that time come to the conclusion he cannot do this job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: All right.
Here to react is Keith Koffler. He's the author of "Bannon: Always the Rebel." And, Kurt Bardella, who is a former "Breitbart" news spokesperson. It's good to have both of you on the show.
So, since we spoke yesterday, what do we know? We know, still, Bannon has had lots of opportunities to back off what he said and he has not.
Now, we're in this battle of Michael Wolff suggesting that Bannon, over time, shifted.
Keith, let me start with you. The notion that Bannon started off with Trump thinking boy, this guy is unique and he seems to want to play ball with what he defines as the base. And then over time, he shifted and started to question his competence -- Trump's competence to do the job.
Do you buy that?
KEITH KOFFLER, AUTHOR, "BANNON: ALWAYS THE REBEL": I don't know if I buy it or not. I can tell you that as I did the research for my book I talked to Bannon for 10 hours in July and then in August right after he left the White House, and I didn't sense any of that.
Now, look, Steve Bannon is media savvy. He could have been spinning me. But he was full of praise for Trump at that point and he would have to be a tremendous assimilator to have been, you know, not on the level with me at all about that.
So, I did not sense any diminution in the esteem with which Bannon held Trump at that point in his conversations with me.
CUOMO: And, Kurt, you still know people in the shop at "Breitbart." Is it true that what Bannon has said in this book and this perceived division with the president may mean his ouster?
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, BREITBART NEWS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ENDEAVOR STRATEGIES: Yes. I think we've seen in the last 24 hours the feet beneath "Breitbart" has completely shifted right now and the people at "Breitbart," they don't know whether Steve is going to last the week or not. They don't know what the future for their organization and their platform really is going to be. And, you know, it was a very significant moment yesterday when Rebekah Mercer, a very private person, put out a public statement distancing herself from Bannon, saying that she's not going to fund his initiatives anymore.
And for "Breitbart," that means where's the money going to come from? Does the Mercer support at "Breitbart" -- is that contingent upon having Steve Bannon be removed from "Breitbart?" That's the question that they've got to answer for themselves right now.
CUOMO: And since we spoke yesterday, Keith, I'm sure you've been working the sources. There has to be a decision made, you know.
Bannon is trying to have it both ways right now. He's saying I support the president, I support the agenda, but he has just been throwing haymakers at Trump's family since he was in the White House.
What are you hearing about how he wants to be perceived?
KOFFLER: Well, I think at this point what Bannon is trying to do is to stay with Trump. Look, you know, Trump is still the man. I mean, he's the President of the United States.
If Bannon is separated too much from Trump that hurts him -- that hurts Bannon's standing with the Republican base, with the populist nationalist movement.
But hey, you know, he's only going to take so much and a certain point, especially if he's still in command with "Breitbart" -- and I don't think he's necessarily out of there -- he will start to turn on Trump. He will start to talk about some negative aspects of the presidency.
But I think one thing we also need to think about is what does Steve Bannon know? He actually said that there was about a 30 percent chance of Trump completing --
KOFFLER: -- his presidency.
I think the thing that made Trump really angry was not so much that he went after Donald Trump, Jr., but that he talked about his money laundering. And so --
CUOMO: Right, but a lot of it is unconventional. And I say that, you know -- obviously, you can't exaggerate really how unconventional this has all been. I mean, the idea that a man that we're talking about, whether or not he supports the president, just got a cease and desist letter from the president.
And then, you have another level of absurdity of how could a President of the United States think that he can really stop someone criticizing the President of the United States, the most public official that we have.
But here is what the president said about Steve Bannon yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any words about Steve Bannon?
TRUMP: I don't know. He called me a great man last night so, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.
[07:40:02] All right, thank you all very much. Thank you.
I don't talk to him. I don't talk. I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: I don't talk to him. Who believes that? Show of hands. No hands.
Kurt Bardella -- and obviously, look, that's part of the problem here, right, is that the president engages in what he called in his own book truthful hyperbole on a regular basis. We catch him being wrong about things and often, deceptively wrong about things on a regular basis.
Do you believe that he is estranged from Steve Bannon in terms of having not spoken to him for a long time?
BARDELLA: Well, he might be estranged right now but all evidence is to the contrary about their relationship to this point.
I mean, this is -- you're finding this out. The president has told -- Chris Cillizza wrote about this for cnn.com. He's told almost 2,000 mistruths or exaggerations in less than a year, so when he says something like that it's really tough to believe him.
You know, he's -- we have him on record, on tape talking about how his friend, Steve Bannon. How he respects Steve Bannon. How -- what a good man Steve Bannon is.
There's a tweet how he welcomed him back to "Breitbart" and said it would be good for the platform and good for the conversation.
So, you know, with Donald Trump, we know that you're in his good graces until you're not or until you become a political liability. And as we've seen with the various people who've come into the spotlight of Robert Mueller, they can't distance themselves quick enough from people --
BARDELLA: -- once they get to that point. But until then, they're best friends.
CUOMO: You know, it's interesting. Keith, I mean, let's see now. We've got the two peas in the pod analogy that we're getting from Kurt, and fair enough in terms of what we've seen in this relationship.
But it is interesting that for all the opinions that Bannon has -- you know, the incendiary word "treasonous" about that Trump Tower meeting -- I've seen no public indication that Mueller and his investigators have reached out to Bannon for his perspective.
What do you know?
KOFFLER: I haven't heard anything about that. We don't know for sure, I would say, but he's going to do that now.
I mean, if Bannon suggested that there was some type of illicit activity and something wrong with that meeting that occurred and that there may have been money laundering or something like, and that the whole troop of them may have been marched up to talk to Trump as well, I can't imagine that Mueller is not going to want to him about that.
CUOMO: Well, unless you give a nod of respect to the investigators that they're different from the media, you know. We go on what people say. They go on what they believe is material to a case and what they can show.
This guy having an opinion about a meeting when he wasn't even in the White House at the time is different than somebody who is a party who has firsthand information, you know. So, we'll have to see. You could be right. Maybe they will reach out.
BARDELLA: Well, remember, Chris --
CUOMO: Go ahead.
BARDELLA: -- we didn't know anything about George Papadopoulos until Mueller dropped that on everybody.
BARDELLA: They've been very good at keeping things secret when they want to keep it secret.
CUOMO: True, true, absolutely. I would argue that there's some distinctions in what Papadopoulos got jammed up on versus just opinions about things, but fair point.
Kurt, Keith, thank you very much. Look forward to having you back. I assume there will be a next chapter.
KOFFLER: Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Safe assumption. A massive winter storm slams the northeast. There's now record- breaking cold here. We have the forecast for you, next.
[07:46:47] CAMEROTA: The State Department announcing that the U.S. will withhold millions of dollars from Pakistan, saying that that government is not doing enough to fight terror groups within its borders.
CNN's Michelle Kosinski is in Washington with more. What have you learned, Michelle?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn.
Well, the U.S. had already suspended more than $250 million from Pakistan, but over the last several months there have been these multiple, high-level talks with Pakistan. Now, the State Department isn't describing it as an impasse, but they say Pakistan knows what the U.S. wants it to do in terms of combatting terror and they just haven't done it.
So now, the U.S. is withholding even more. One senior State Department official tells us that this is going to be at least hundreds of millions of dollars more in military and security assistance.
But this move comes only days after President Trump's first tweet of the year, saying "The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they've given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan with little help. No more."
So, I asked senior State Department officials is this coming now because the White House demanded it or because of that tweet, and they would say only that they can't discuss internal communications. Although, another senior State Department official said that this was decided among the White House, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense.
Now, Pakistan denies providing safe haven to terrorists and they just put out a statement on this withholding of money, saying "Working towards enduring peace requires mutual respect and trust along with patient and persistence. Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements, and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats."
CUOMO: Boy, oh boy, Michelle, it doesn't get much more complicated than it does with the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. Another thing people are going to have start reading into because if this stays we're going to hear a lot more and a lot of it's not going to be good.
Good to see you on the show. All right, so people in the northeast are digging out. There was a massive storm. It dumped more than a foot of snow in some spots.
Parts of New York facing blizzard conditions. Neighborhoods are buried. I know because I live in one.
Places in New England saw record storm surge. Did you see the flooding on the streets of Boston?
There's now record-breaking low temperatures -- dangerous combination.
CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray live in the Weather Center.
Did you see that video of the fire truck trying to make it through the streets of Boston? It was like three feet of water there and now, that's all going to freeze?
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I did, yes, and it's unreal. We saw the type of storm surge that we get with hurricanes and so this just shows you how powerful this system was.
And now, on the backside of it, as you mentioned, the very, very cold temperatures. And for a lot of people, this is going to be harder to deal with than the Nor'easter because we have thousands of people without power and temperatures are going to be some of the coldest that we've seen in years.
And so, here we go. Here's our windchill threat. We have about 140 million people under some sort of windchill alert.
With current windchill it feels like 10 below in New York. Twenty-one below is what it feels like in Pittsburgh. Look at Duluth -- it feels like 42 below zero there, and so temperatures are very, very cold and going to stay this way.
[07:50:00] These are high temperatures as we get into the weekend. Saturday, in New York, only reaching 11 degrees.
So, Alisyn, those people without power are going to have to stay warm. It is going to be a hard weekend for those folks and then not to mention, travelers with all the thousand flights canceled again today.
CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. What a mess. Yes, I can attest it is freezing out there.
CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, Jennifer.
All right, so listen to this.
A former ethics chief says he is furious after a report that the president tried to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia probe.
Walter Schaub is going to tell us why he is so upset today. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: According to a new report in "The New York Times" today, President Trump ordered the top White House lawyer to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia probe.
Walter Shaub is a CNN contributor and the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, and he joins us now with his reaction. Walter, great to see you this morning.
I read that you said this is the most infuriating story you've ever seen. Really? Of all of these stories that we've reported, this one gets you the most infuriated? Why is that?
WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF ETHICS, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Yes, it may be because I'm personally close to it, but after reading this story, my view of Don McGahn is that he's a cancer who has done much to undermine anti-corruption mechanisms in this country.
He drove the Federal Election Commission into a ditch to undermine our election laws. He did a direct assault on the ethics program. And now, we're learning he attacked the Department of Justice.
[07:55:10] While I was on the phone talking to Department of Justice officials, telling them that Jeff Sessions had no choice but to recuse in order to resolve a criminal conflict of interest, we now learn that Don McGahn was pressuring Jeff Sessions on behalf of the president to do just the opposite -- participate in that investigation.
You know, he can try to hide behind the 'I was only following orders,' but that didn't work at Nuremberg and it's not going to work here because as an attorney, the president is not his client. The office of the president is his client and he's ultimately answerable to the American people.
This is just -- I don't have words I can use on T.V. this morning to describe how angry I am to learn this.
CAMEROTA: Walter, I mean, you're using very strong words. I mean, to say that -- to liken it to Nuremberg.
You're saying that you think that Don McGahn, the chief attorney for the White House, is the president's puppet?
SHAUB: Yes. And I don't mean to liken it to Nuremberg, I just meant that that excuse didn't work and we've established that.
Here's the thing. It is a crime for a federal employee to participate in a particular matter in which he has a financial interest. An investigation is a particular matter. A subject of an investigation is a financial interest in that investigation.
And, Jeff Sessions was a member of the Trump campaign who spoke with Russian officials in 2016 in one capacity or another and did not reveal that in his congressional testimony under oath. So he was certainly a potential subject of any investigation into the Trump campaign's communications with Russian officials and he knew that, which is why he did do the right thing and resign -- recuse.
I have to say -- and I can't talk details about individuals or time because I'm limiting myself to what's already publicly known and I had revealed while I was director of OGE that I gave this advice to DOJ. But I can share that I felt the DOJ officials seemed uncharacteristically rattled when I was talking to them and I couldn't figure out why. I thought well, maybe Jeff Sessions has a hot temper that I don't know about.
But it turns out Don McGahn, who is known to have a hot temper, was leaning on them to recuse and that, to me, fills in the missing piece of the puzzle as to why they seemed a little rattled when I was talking to them.
CAMEROTA: Do you think this is obstruction of justice?
SHAUB: I think that we are in the neighborhood where I hope Mueller is looking at this very seriously for obstruction of justice because it could be. I don't like to say for sure that a crime has been committed because we don't know all the facts yet. But at this point, it would be irresponsible not to look into it.
And members of Congress, the few of them who are actively trying to undermine the Mueller investigation, really need to back off if they care at all about their country.
CAMEROTA: I mean, since you feel so strongly about this, why do you think that Don McGahn went through with following those instructions?
SHAUB: Well, this is Don McGahn's history. He drove the FEC into a ditch to prevent it from being able to effectively enforce election law. From the time I started dealing with him in the government, he was undermining the ethics program. So what would stop this man from undermining the Department of Justice's independence?
There was reporting that he went and asked if he could find out about a FISA warrant, something any White House counsel not -- would not do.
I mean, you have to understand. The role of the White House counsel is to keep the White House out of trouble. Your typical White House counsel is an imposing figure who makes even presidents nervous. That is not Don McGahn.
He's in over his head in this job and I question whether he's got the character he needs to be able to do that.
CAMEROTA: So what are you -- what are you saying? What are you calling for with Don McGahn?
SHAUB: Don McGahn should go back in time an undo what he did.
CAMEROTA: Walter Shaub, thank you very much for expressing your strong feelings this morning. Appreciate talking to you.
SHAUB: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: "The New York Times" published a blockbuster story about President Trump's efforts to keep control of the Russia investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have the White House counsel going to tell the attorney general not to recuse himself on the order of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It speaks to the very depths of the gravity from this White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sending someone from the Justice Department to find dirt on Comey, I've never heard of anything like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's absolutely his prerogative if he wanted to fire the FBI director.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Wolff book suggests that the president was putting out a false story.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This author is, quite frankly, a crackpot, fake news, fantasy fiction writer.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: We've got serious stuff to deal with and instead, we're caught up debating the mental health of the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your new day.