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GOP Leaders Meet at Camp David; Trump Had WH Lawyers Urge Sessions not to Recuse Himself; "Fire and Fury". Aired 11-12p ET

Aired January 6, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:12] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks so much for joining me this Saturday.

This weekend the President and top Republican leaders are meeting at Camp David. Their plan -- set the 2018 legislative agenda.

But upstaging the day's planned events: President Trump's bruised ego. He has been unleashing on Twitter, defending his intelligence following the Friday release of a tell-all book that questions his mental stability.

Trump on Twitter saying "Now that Russian collusion after one year of intense study has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lap dogs, the fake news mainstream media are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence. Actually, throughout my life my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard, and as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from very successful businessman to top TV star, to president of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius, and a very stable genius at that."

All of that via Twitter this morning from the President of the United States and all of this as CNN learns that two high-ranking White House officials were involved in pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Not only did White House counsel Don McGahn pressure Sessions, but so did former chief of staff Reince Priebus and ex-press secretary Sean Spicer. One official telling CNN, quote, "I think it's fair to call it pressure," end quote.

Plus, that explosive new tell-all detailing life inside the White House in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. The author of the book saying that 100 percent of the people around Trump question his fitness to be president.

All right, let's get straight to CNN White House correspondent Abby Philip. So Abby -- the President has been tweeting, but has that happened before those meetings have gotten under way at Camp David? ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred.

Well yes, this book seems to have really gotten under President Trump's skin. This morning he was scheduled to be in meetings starting around 9:45 a.m., but well before then he appeared to be keeping up with the news on cable television and tweeting about some of the revelations in that book especially that chatter about his mental stability.

Now, the President's defense of these charges in the book in which Michael Wolff suggests that the President is repeating information that he doesn't perhaps read books and that his aides believe that he's not capable of doing the job. These revelations the President responded to on social media and seemed to only prolong the narrative of this conversation in the political sphere.

Now, all of this is happening on a big weekend for President Trump. He's in Camp David as we speak and is supposed to be meeting with Republican leaders about this 2018 agenda -- both the political agenda and the policy, the legislative agenda for the coming year.

One of the things that they are talking about today is likely to be the future of the deferred action program for undocumented children who are here in this country, and also about plans for an infrastructure package.

The President is also supposed to be meeting with his cabinet, several members of his cabinet are expected to be there -- Defense Secretary James Mattis, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and others.

But there is one conspicuous absence on that list, and it's Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was not invited to the Camp David retreat. The White House says it's because several other cabinet members are not expected to be there and the Department of Justice is not exactly on the agenda for this meeting which is supposed to be focused a little bit more on the legislative priorities and perhaps less on executive branch priorities -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And because of that that's why some would argue that it would not be unusual for the Attorney General not to be there. But the difference is Jeff Sessions, once a senator himself, also knows politics and strategy and planning for elections very well.

All right, Abby Philip -- thanks so much at the White House. Check back with you.

All right. More now on the pressure from several White House officials to persuade the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

A senior White House official tells CNN that not only did White House counsel Don McGahn urge Sessions to remain on the Russia investigation, but so did former chief of staff Reince Priebus and ex- press secretary Sean Spicer, according to our reporting.

[11:04:59] CNN justice correspondent Jessica Snyder has the story.

JESSICA SNYDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeff Sessions tells CNN White House counsel Don McGahn personally reached out to Sessions in early 2017 to try to dissuade the Attorney General from recusing himself from the Russia probe. The "New York Times" reports Mueller has learned about that outreach and that it was a direct order from President Trump who reportedly erupted in front of several White House officials when Sessions announced his recusal in March.


SNYDER: Sources put it this way to "The Times". "Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy as Attorney General had done for his brother, John F. Kennedy, and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama. Reached for comment, White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined.

Former ethics czar and CNN contributor Walter Schaub says at the time he recommended recusal and expressed outrage upon learning McGahn was personally lobbying Sessions against it.

WALTER SCHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: 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.

I think that we are in a neighborhood where I hope Mueller is looking at this very seriously for obstruction of justice, because it could be.

SNYDER: Obstruction is part of Mueller's probe, prompted in part by the President's firing of FBI director James Comey in May. In this letter to the President from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the reported reasoning for removal centered on Comey's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's e-mails. But shortly after firing Comey, the President admitted he had Russia on his mind.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

SNYDER: The President spent the weekend before the firing at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey where sources say the President drafted a letter he intended to send Comey, but never did. In it President Trump, according to "The Times", described the Russia investigation as fabricated and politically motivated. The paper reports Mueller knows about this letter.

A source tells CNN the special counsel has also obtained hand-written notes from former chief of staff Reince Priebus. they document the President telling Priebus that Comey had assured the President he was not under investigation. The "New York Times" also reports that days before James Comey was fired, one of Jeff Sessions' aides asked a congressional staffer whether there was any damaging information on Comey in an effort to undermine the FBI director. The DOJ has denied this account.

The new evidence relating to Mueller's obstruction of justice probe also raises new questions about Jeff Sessions' future as Attorney General. He's offered his resignation before but the White House suggests he's still safe.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now he's focused on doing his job. We're focused on doing ours. We don't have any reason to see that there's anything different today than there was yesterday. We feel like we're in a great place and we're moving forward.

And the Attorney General is going to continue showing up to work this week and next week, just like he has ever day since we started, and keep doing good work and moving the President's agenda forward.


WHITFIELD: All right. Jessica Snyder -- thanks so much for that.

All right. Let's talk more now about these stunning new developments and possible implications with my panel right now. Joining me now: Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia; and David Sanger, a CNN political and national security analyst and a national security correspondent for the "New York Times". Good to see you both and happy New Year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks. Happy New Year.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Michael -- you first. You know, let's start with these allegations. Not only did President Trump have his legal -- his lawyer, you know, pushing to stop the U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself, but also now potentially there was pressure coming from right inside the White House -- Reince Priebus and perhaps even Sean Spicer.

So, what does this do in terms of building a case or helping to stack up any potential case of obstruction?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think that's the way to think about this. These cases are built like a chain with links. And so we don't necessarily have to look at any individual act that the President did. In this case asking Don McGahn to go and get Sessions to keep from recusing himself. Nor do we have to just look at the fact that the President fired Jim Comey at a time that he was running an investigation and he wanted to go light on Mike Flynn.

But when you look at all the things together, and all these actions in concert with each other, then I think you start to get a much clearer picture of an obstruction case. You get a better picture of somebody who is trying to control an investigation where they are a subject or target of that investigation, or at least subject to inquiry and sort of get people close to them whether that be family members or members of the administration who are in there.

So I think at this point we really do have a situation where when you put all the pieces together, you look at the whole thing in context, that you get much closer to some obstruction.

[11:10:01] WHITFIELD: If this is the case, most likely the Mueller team already knows this, has already looked into it further, or perhaps could it be potentially influential for the congressional reviews?

MOORE: My guess is that Bob Mueller has been well on this for a long time. And all this information starting to come out tells me that probably the President now is particularly embarrassed.

Today you have him on there defending his own sanity, you know, in his statements. So not unlike Richard Nixon did when he stood before the American people and said I just want to tell you all I'm not a crook. But we know where, you know, that ended up. And I'm guessing that down the road that might be where we end up with President Trump as people question his competency and his capability to effectively serve as a president.

WHITFIELD: And David -- you know, to you. What are the possible implications for Priebus and Spicer if they were indeed involved in this pressuring of Sessions? You know, Sean Spicer has already been quoted as saying that, you know, it just doesn't seem plausible that he would have been influential or tried to do something like this.

But in your view, are potential subpoenas likely to come the way of Priebus and Spicer?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first of all, this was pretty remarkable reporting by my colleague Michael Schmidt at "The Times". And I think that it tells us a couple of important things.

The first is there were a few pathways for Director Mueller, former Director Mueller, to go. And one of them was trying to look at that collusion/conspiracy side of this. And the other is the obstruction of justice side, which, of course, if you go back on the history of the Nixon impeachment and other big investigations, you know, the obstruction issues frequently become an easier thing to prove than the underlying offense.

Secondly, Spicer -- Mr. Spicer and Mr. Priebus would certainly be critical witnesses about what the President's intent appeared to be at the time. And intent is pretty critical here. Whether or not he was, in fact, attempting to interfere with the investigation, stop the investigation. And if that's what the firing of the FBI director, Director Comey, was all about.

So, would you expect that they would be subpoenaed? You could well. Certainly, we know that --

WHITFIELD: And why wouldn't they have been already, given that they are so close to the top? SANGER: I was about to say, they probably already have. We believe

some of their notes already are in the possession of the -- of the prosecution team.

And that would make sense, because their notes were basically property of the White House. And so we know that there's been a broad collection of all of the White House records related to this.

And if those records end up backing up Director Comey's testimony, that tells you here who's most likely to be telling the truth.

WHITFIELD: Ok. And then, Michael, you know, this issue of Jeff Sessions -- we know, you know, he had recused himself from any Russia- related probe under the umbrella of the Justice Department. And now reportedly one of his aides asked a congressional staffer for any kind of dirt on James Comey.

Would it make the difference of whether that was before or after recusal, or just the fact that that reportedly may have happened? How bad is that?

MOORE: Well, I mean I think it's bad. I think, you know, I felt like the Attorney General did the right thing when he recused himself from the investigation. The problem is, he has somewhat continued to meddle a little bit in it along. And even some of the statements he's given to Congress have not exactly been the most forthcoming thing.

So here we've got an aide acting on his behalf, we assume, trying to get information on the director at the time, then that would raise certain suspicions and, I think, be concerning.

There's a reason that people recuse themselves. It keeps the investigation clean. It keeps the public trust. And it allows public confidence to remain high when ultimately there is an outcome, whichever way it goes, whether we can believe in the outcome and the findings of the investigation.

So he has gotten close I think to the edge there, and if we find out that in fact, after his recusal he was continuing to send sort of his minions to do his work, then I think we've got a bigger problem.

WHITFIELD: And the President continues to argue that it was inappropriate, not even necessary, for Sessions to recuse himself. But by virtue of his, you know, being sworn in to uphold the law and the virtue of the fact that he was on the campaign, didn't he have to?

SANGER: Yes, I don't think there's much doubt that it was absolutely the right thing to do. And I applaud Rod Rosenstein for appointing Mueller to come in as special counsel in the case to look at it. But you had Sessions, who was in the planning stages.

We know now about Russian meetings going on during the transition. We know that Sessions was involved in some discussions about the Russians. We know that he had undisclosed meetings, or at least light-disclosed meetings with various Russians that may, in fact, be the subject of some of the interference or some of the collusion going on.

[11:15:01] So I don't think he had much choice when you look at it. I mean he takes an oath to support the constitution. He is the Attorney General for the nation. He is not the protector of the President. He is not there to be the defender of Donald Trump.

WHITFIELD: As the President tried to make the comparisons of a Robert Kennedy, you know, and John Kennedy.

MOORE: Well, and I think the President has shown repeatedly a lack maybe of some constitutional understanding but the Attorney General is not there as his independent lawyer.


SANGER: Well, you know, I think what's remarkable here is that we're having a debate about whether the Attorney General did the right thing by doing the cautious thing that his own staff recommended.

He maintains that his professional staff looked at this, basically said, sir, you're likely to be called as a witness in this investigation, so you can hardly be overseeing it. You've got another role in it, and, therefore, must recuse yourself. He took the position that his staff was right. I could imagine a reverse situation where we're sitting here arguing today over whether or not if Sessions had not recused himself, whether he should remain overseeing the investigation, even in the most formal of ways.

But it strikes me as particularly odd that we're sitting here arguing whether he did the right thing by being cautious and following the recommendations of the professional staff of the Justice Department.

WHITFIELD: Well, particularly odd, then that you've got many members of the GOP who are now saying as a result of his recusal, now he needs to be resigning.

So this conversation, you know, is going in so many different directions as it pertains to whether, you know, he was -- if he's upholding to, you know, the oath that was taken, or whether there are other influencers that override that.

MOORE: Well, and remember this is the same Attorney General who when he was questioning Sally Yates during her confirmation hearing basically insisted that she had the fortitude to stand up to the President when the President was doing wrong. That tells me he had at least some understanding at that time of the role.

Now that he's assumed the job, it doesn't mean that he gets to change those requirements and those responsibilities in that role. So he needs to do the same thing. He should recuse himself, he's done that. And I think at this point anybody who questions it might be looking just for a change of history and a way out.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael, David -- thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. See you soon.

SANGER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Also still ahead President Trump lashing out again today at a new tell-all book about his administration, calling it, quote, "boring and untruthful". How for Trump this is not about the presidency, it's personal.

Plus, the FBI is looking into allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation -- were donors promised access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state in exchange for cash. What the foundation is saying about the allegations. More next.


WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump firing off a barrage of tweets this morning, defending his mental stability in response to claims made in that explosive book "Fire and Fury". The tell-all paints a picture of President Trump as not fit for office, to which Trump responded he is a very stable genius.

But despite criticism from the White House and legal threats against the publisher, the book's author, Michael Wolff says the White House response is only helping him, quote, "prove the point of the book".

CNN senior correspondent Jim Acosta has more.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It was perhaps the only on- message moment of the week for the President, touting his economic record as he was leaving for Camp David.

TRUMP: The tax cuts are really kicking in, far beyond what anyone thought. The market is good. The jobs reports were very good. And we think they are going to get really good over the next couple of months.

ACOSTA: The President, who boasts he always punches back, made it clear there would be no on-camera comments about the book "Fire and Fury", written by author Michael Wolff and starring his former chief strategist and sudden Trump critic Steve Bannon.

Mr. President, have you read the book "Fire and Fury"?

Mr. Trump saved his fury for his Twitter feed. Tweeting, "I authorized zero access to White House, actually turned him down many times for author of 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." A new nickname for Bannon.

Appearing on NBC, the book's author did not hold back, hammering the President's mental fitness for the job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to your reporting, everyone around the President -- senior advisors, family members -- every single one of them questions his intelligence and fitness for office. MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR: Let me put a marker in the sand here -- 100

percent of the people around him.

ACOSTA: And Wolff thanked the President for driving up interest in his book, which was released early due to the heightened demand.

WOLFF: What I say is where do I send the box of chocolates?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You think he's helping you sell books?

WOLFF: Absolutely. And not only is he helping me sell books, but he's helping me prove the point of the book. I mean this is extraordinary that a president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book.

This doesn't happen -- has not happened from other presidents, would not even happen from a CEO of a mid-sized company.

ACOSTA: As for the attacks on his book, Wolff was ready for that one.

WOLFF: My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point. I will quote Steve Bannon, "He's lost it."

ACOSTA: But the White House and the President's friends have fanned out across the airwaves to condemn the book.

SANDERS: Look, we said they spoke once by the phone for a few minutes, but it wasn't about the book. They had a very short conversation, but he never interviewed the President about the book. He repeatedly begged to speak with the President and was denied access.

ACOSTA: Slamming Wolff's key takeaway that the President is not mentally fit for office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just, like, so absurd, it's so ridiculous. So 100 percent, I'm around the President. I've been around him quite a bit through the past year. I met him 20 years ago. He is not psychologically unfit. He's not lost it, as he claimed.

ACOSTA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN's Elise Labott he's never raised the issue of the President's mental state.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I've never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to question his mental fitness.

ACOSTA: The President will spend the weekend meeting with Republican congressional leaders and his cabinet up at Camp David to go over his party's agenda for 2018. One cabinet member who won't be present is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has frequently been the subject of the President's fury.

The White House says there was no message being sent to Sessions. An official here says the White House stands firmly behind him.

Jim Acosta, CNN -- the White House.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about all of this right now. CNN political commentator David Swerdlick with me, Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun-Times" Lynn Sweet, and CNN politics senior reporter Stephen Collinson. Good to see you all.

[11:25:01] And this is the book that has been flying off the shelves four days ahead of its scheduled release. It's already a bestseller on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and certainly, it's also igniting the fire under the President this morning who's been tweeting about things in this book and other things.

So, Stephen, to you first -- you know, your recent column said the President's image is under siege. You said, and I'm quoting now from what you wrote, "When a presidency is anchored so fundamentally on an image as it is with Trump rather than a long history of political achievement or ideological consistency, any deterioration of that image can be especially perilous."

So in other words, you know, Trump's response is less about the presidency, the office of the presidency, and really more about his ego being bruised here.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: That's right. I think if we know anything about Donald Trump, it's that his image is fundamentally important to him.

You know, he's -- the Trump brand is everything. He's plastered his name across buildings. He built this image of himself through his reality show as this you're fired corporate titan. He's the ultimate deal maker. In foreign policy, the most important thing for him is to show toughness.

And what this book does, it paints a picture of the President as somebody that's, first of all, not mentally competent, that's not particularly strong, that sometimes appears almost as a forlorn and bewildered figure in the White House, who's treated by his subordinates as a child, and who almost, according to Michael Wolff's rendering of this, sometimes appears to be sort of dealt with somewhat sort of condescendingly by members of his own family.

So it sets up this gap between the myth of Trump, if you like, and the reality as portrayed by Michael Wolff. And I think, you know, that's perhaps one reason why it's particularly painful to the President because it sets up, you know, whether all the stories in this book are true, it sets up an image of the President who is something that has not let us on to believe that he is.

WHITFIELD: But then Lynn -- doesn't that unflattering characterization get underscored by an example like this morning of him tweeting? You know, the President is at Camp David meeting with key GOP leaders about the 2018 agenda, yet he is upstaging the event by tweeting about, you know, some of the content of the book, his feelings about Russia and the investigation. Doesn't this potentially undermine his goal this weekend at Camp David?

LYNN SWEET, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Well, actually, he got up early. The meetings hadn't started yet -- so, ok, he was doing that before the meetings started.

Here's what I think in our analysis the more fascinating thing. Of all the vulnerabilities that Donald Trump has, this shows that when you say he's not smart, you have pushed a button, maybe a big one.

This is -- you got it?

WHITFIELD: Yes, I got it.

SWEET: Ok. So here's the thing that's fascinating in the psyche of the President and how self-revealing he is. Most of us do not keep talking about what schools we went to or if they were -- how smart we were. He constantly brags at age 70 when he was running -- yes, when he was running, 70 years old. He was bragging that he graduated from Wharton.

And actually, if we're dissecting it a little bit, he didn't even go for four years. He didn't even go to the graduate school of business. But he had to let you know constantly where he goes.

So saying he's not smart is explosive. Just think how smart this insight and this intelligence will be to foreign leaders who deal with him, who now know through certain kinds of flattery or the psychological advantage he's giving to people who he will negotiate with on the world stage. It's just another area that we can analyze and translate when you're looking at how he underscored whatever you might think about his own smartness by making sure we know how smart he is.

WHITFIELD: And then, Dave, you know there was once kind of that bromance and now I don't know what to call it. But, you know, but Trump really wasted no time calling out the former White House chief of staff -- chief strategist rather, you know, Steve Bannon.



You know, who had been one of Trump's biggest advocates. The President tweeting, "Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad."

So, you know, Bannon, still executive chairman at Breitbart. He has been a force even after leaving the White House. That was reported widely, but then now what potentially is next for him?

[11:30:05] DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, a couple of things, Fred, and good morning.

So in that tweet, first of all, you know, it's just funny that the President calls Michael Wolff a loser even though he's got a bestseller going, even though that's all we've been talking about for the last two days.

If you boil down that tweet, though, you're left with this sort of attack at Steve Bannon, calling him Sloppy Steve, much the way he would have said Crooked Hillary or Little Marco. Basically saying, you know, he's casting him out of the Trump life boat.

But here's the thing, it's setting the tone for how this second year of President Trump's term is going to go. Now there's this clear rift between Bannon and Trump. It will be -- it could be a fight over that base, but so far, the base is sticking with President Trump.

The last "Real Clear Politics" polling average has President Trump at 40 percent, which is only 5 percent lower than where he was on inauguration day. So even though his poll numbers are bad, the bottom has not fallen out for him.

The challenge for Bannon here is that so far at least he hasn't disavowed these quotes, which doesn't mean for sure they are all true, but suggests that they are true, so now he's got to figure out how to regenerate whatever mojo he had going for the last two years without Trump.

Now it's basically Bannon as Bannon, not Bannon as Trump whisperer. Remember Bannon first hitched his start to Sarah Palin at one point, and she fizzled out on him. Now he's in a situation he has a rift with Trump. He either has to glom on to another sort of person that he can be theirs (inaudible) or he's got to brand himself as someone who's a force in politics, or go away.

WHITFIELD: It's interesting, because Steve Bannon or not, 2018 did seem like a promise for the Trump White House to be clean slate, especially after coming off ending 2017 with its first big legislative win, and that is like so far in the rearview mirror now. I mean, now it's about back to temperament, tone, how this president is handling this, and his clearly thin skin.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fred. But I think you can make an argument notwithstanding the fact this is clearly damaging to the president and distracting from his agenda that he's talking about with those leaders at Camp David today. The Bannon/Trump split is actually in the end quite good news for the Republican Party.

If it diminishes the chances that Bannon is going to be able to build this core of insurgent candidates to take on Mitch McConnell's favorite candidates in Republican primaries this year, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has been warning that Bannon-style candidates, as we saw down in Alabama with Roy Moore, could cost Republicans the Senate.

So, if the president decides with the departure of Bannon he has more leeway to perhaps be slightly closer to the Republican establishment leadership in Washington, that might actually help Republicans. And you made a good point, as well. You know, Bannon and Trump together were one thing.

But Bannon on his own, he's lost some of the backing of the big corporate donors in the Republican Party now. It does raise questions about his capacity to influence Republican politics going forward.

WHITFIELD: All right. Stephen Collinson, we'll see you later. Thanks so much. David Swerdlick, Lynn Sweet, we'll see you soon. All right, thank you so much.

All right, coming up, the Justice Department is taking a closer look at the Clinton Foundation amid allegations of corruption. What the foundation is saying about claims that donors were given special access to Hillary Clinton in exchange for contributions. That's next.



WHITFIELD: Hello again. A U.S. official tells CNN federal authorities are actively looking into allegations of corruption related to the Clinton Foundation. At issue is whether donors received access to then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in exchange for cash. That's the charity run by Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation.

Joining me right now to talk about this, "Washington Post" assistant editor and CNN political commentator, David Swerdlick back with me, and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times." All right, welcome back.

OK, so, this is almost like a repeat, David, because we know that investigators were looking into this kind of alleged behavior while back just prior to her run for the presidency. What's different now?

SWERDLICK: Well, we don't know what, if any, new evidence the FBI has, and that would be the basis for reopening this investigation, right? I think, look, there are allegations that continue to dog Secretary Clinton, former President Clinton about their foundation, about other controversies.

It's not that there's a prohibition on investigating them if the FBI has grounds to do that, but because the president made statements during his campaign, during a debate about looking into Secretary Clinton based on, you know, hearsay, essentially.

That he would essentially attack a political opponent if he got into office and because we don't know exactly what they are investigating at this point, there is this appearance around this that it is, in a sense, a way of turning the tables on Democrats or at least on Secretary Clinton, because of all the scrutiny that President Trump is getting from the special counsel investigation from the FBI.

It's sort of a tit for tat feel right now, and, you know, if it turns out, in fact, Secretary Clinton, there was a quid pro quo going on with the foundation, that will come out. But if there isn't, then this does start to smack of a situation where the Justice Department now or the FBI now rather, you know, is sort of trying to even the scales, even if the scales don't actually need to be evened.

WHITFIELD: Yes. It doesn't really help, does it, that it was the president who told "The New York Times" fairly recently, saying, you know, I have the absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.

SWERDLICK: Yes, could I just add one more thing, Fred?


SWERDLICK: The other sort of taking a step back and big picture thing about this, look, ultimately the American people decided for a multitude of reasons, but including that they didn't find Secretary Clinton trustworthy enough.

You know, last week when I said that, a lot of people pointed out to me that she won the popular vote, but didn't win enough votes in enough states to win the election. That is the point. That was one of the reasons, trustworthiness, clearly.

So now that that's been litigated, the sort of net effect of going after Secretary Clinton on a political level is sort of dubious. The question is whether there was actually something going on behind scenes at the foundation.

[11:40:01] WHITFIELD: And, Lynn, the Clinton Foundation has reacted to this news with a statement to CNN, and it reads, "Time after time the Clinton Foundation has been subjected to politically motivated allegations and time after time these allegations have been proven false.

The Clinton Foundation has demonstrably improved the lives of millions of people across America and around the world while earning top ratings from charity watch dog groups in the process. There are real issues in our society needing attention that the Clinton Foundation works hard to solve every day, so we're going to stay focused on what really matters." Lynn, the importance of a statement like this?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Well, here's why it's important. We had a few trails of discussion here. Just so people know, what does the Clinton Foundation do? Unlike other presidential foundations that might have symposiums or discussions, they provide direct services, opioid, malaria, assistance in terrible situations around the globe.

So, that's what their money goes for and their money is listed on their website, what they get. That's one trail here. Trail two, did the Clintons when she was secretary of state put on a board or commission at the State Department somebody who was a donor or give a meeting to somebody that wanted to talk to her and give advice?

Then investigate that if you still want to, then do that and have at it, but at what point then does the resources the federal government end? And, three, President Trump is politicizing this by making it look, of course, as if he's ordering a witch hunt against a political opponent who he beat, which somehow he can't absorb.

He won, everyone accepts it, and so if it looks like he is ordering the Justice Department to retaliate by revisiting and reopening an investigation, then that is a problem. So, I guess the problem is, if the Justice Department has loose ends to look at in the Clinton Foundation, wrap it up, be transparent, explain what's happening.

WHITFIELD: Nearly running the risk of kind of justification for perhaps why he did win, if the Justice Department is able to kind of substantiate that there was some absolute wrong doing by the Clinton Foundation. All right. David Swerdlick, Lynn Sweet, thanks so much.

SWEET: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, dangerously cold temperatures blamed for more than a dozen deaths across the country today. Many cities will struggle to make it into the teens. We'll take you live to Massachusetts, where it feels well below zero. That's next.



WHITFIELD: All right, brr, and welcome back. A severe winter weather with frigid temperatures has left the Northeast and Midwest in a very deep freeze, with no chance of thawing out inside this weekend, and it is potentially very dangerous in Boston.

People's cars right there literally frozen shut after immense snow and an unprecedented surge of water from the harbor splashed into the streets there. It is a frozen tundra there.

CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval joins me now from a very chilly Massachusetts. So, what is the situation there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You described it very well, frozen tundra is what many people in the northeast are experiencing now. You don't just feel it, you can literally see it. Look over the harbor, Fred, you can see some of these fishing boats and the condition they are in right now.

In fact, there's some folks here, fishermen, prepping their boat. Not sure if they are planning to go out, but you can see how much snow was packed into the boat there, so they are working to clear that. You can also see it from the air. Look at pictures the CNN drone captured.

You can see some of the large chunks of ice here in the harbor. This is very much similar to what it looked like a couple of days ago with some of the record tide tides turning some of the streets into slushy rivers.

The good news, slush emptied out, water receded yesterday, so officials here are really focusing on the recommendation to stay indoors, because that is the real threat now. These icy temperatures here it's 9 degrees, what the thermometer says, but it is well below that when you look at the real feel, almost negative 10 degrees here Fahrenheit.

This is what people in the northeast are having to put up with right now, are having to fight and endure. According to experts, when it gets anywhere from 15 to 25 below, then that is when frostbite is a real threat in a minimum of at least 10 minutes.

That's something, again, we're seeing here and something that we're certainly going to take their word for. We are bundled up as we continue to follow the situation in the northeast -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: You do not want frostbite. I have been there before, it is miserable. My goodness, I'd think with those conditions, too, it's really putting a lot of stress on electricity, on heating, you know, for folks to try to stay warm in such frigid, horrible conditions. All right, Polo, thanks so much. We'll check back with you.

Still so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. First, wild card weekend is upon us in the NFL, and our own former NFLer, Coy Wire, caught up with one of the head coaches of this weekend's teams.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: This week's difference makers is presented by the new 2018 Ford F-150. Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera grew up in a military family and learned the importance of leadership early on. I caught up with coach to see how that upbringing helped make him one of the most impactful leaders in the game.


RON RIVERA, HEAD COACH, CAROLINA PANTHERS: I've been fortunate enough to speak to generals and admirals and sergeants and corporals and privates and listen to their stories and take something from them.

And the one thing I've always learned that I've taken from all of them is that when you delegate authority, you know, you've got to make sure you set the standard more so than anything else. It's OK to give people the opportunity to own something, but you have to understand what the standard is.

That's probably the biggest lesson I've learned. I always talk about three things I can't control, I might be able to influence, but can't control. Control your attitude, preparation, and effort. Those are the three things you control.

Whenever you step into a classroom, on to the football field, whatever you do in life, your attitude, the way you perceive things, the way you look at it, how well prepared and the type of effort you give. That can tell you whether you're going to be successful or not.


WIRE: As a former player, I love hearing things like attitude, preparation and effort. The Panthers are going to need all of that as they square off against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday in a wild card matchup.



WHITFIELD: Sunday night kicks off Hollywood's award season with the 75th Annual Golden Globes. The best of this year's tv series and films will face off at the show hosted by "Late Night's" Seth Meyers.

As the first awards show since sexual harassment allegations rocked the entertainment industry, some of Hollywood's biggest names will be wearing black in support of the "Me Too" and the "Time's Up" movements. CNN's Stephanie Elam has a look at what to expect tomorrow night.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's that time of the year, award season in Hollywood. The Golden Globes kick off the festivities by honoring the best in film and television from the last year. The "Shape of Water" leads the movie categories with seven nominations including best picture drama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very artful fantastic visually striking film also with an actress, Sally Hawkins, whom they like very much.

ELAM: The unusual romance faces off against "Call Me By Your Name, Dunn Kirk, The Post, and Three Bill Boards Outside Eving Missouri."

[11:55:07] The inclusion of "Get Out" for best picture in the comedy or musical category stirred up some controversy, but the racially tinged thriller was a fan favorite in theaters.

The box office hit is up against "The Disaster Artist, The Greatest Showman, I Tonya and Lady Bird." For television, "It's All About the Ladies of Big Little Lies. The HBO series is up for six awards, the most of any television program including best tv movie or limited series.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In addition to being a great show, it's also really on point with the conversation in Hollywood right now.

ELAM: In fact, expect sexual harassment and sexual assault in the entertainment industry to be addressed during the show. Nominees like Meryl Streep are planning to wear all black in support of the "Me Too" movement.

Seth Meyers, who's hosting the show, is known for his politically charged comedy. His promo posters which tout, quote, "Hollywood, we have a lot to talk about," make it clear the late-night host won't back down at the Globes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will be difficult to avoid having some national and presidential politics creep into what Seth Meyers has to say from the stage.

ELAM: A lot to expect from Hollywood's biggest party. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.


WHITFIELD: All right. Good luck to all the nominees. I'll be in Los Angeles next week. I'm up for an NAACP Image Award so wish me luck, fingers crossed. So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.