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Trump Tweets Displeasure with Book, Declares His Genius; More in GOP Calls for Sessions to Resign; White House Lawyer, Others Tried to Stop Sessions' Recusal; Official Says Clinton Foundation Under Investigation; Expose Book Says Former Trump Aide Called Him a Fool; Sessions Rescinds Obama-era Memo on Pot; Trump Tweets About His Genius; Weather Snarls Travel, Major Delays at JFK Airport. Aired 8- 9p ET
Aired January 6, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Deep freeze. More than 100 million Americans facing bone-chilling cold for yet another day.
Blizzard backlog. Passengers flying in and out of JFK Airport facing major delays and being told to pack their patience.
And fighting words. A bombshell book about the Trump White House has Washington in a tizzy. The new attempts to turn the page.
Hello, everyone. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with me. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
President Trump trying to help Republicans push their agenda forward but forced off script again by a bombshell book that paints him in a terrible light. The President is hosting GOP leaders at Camp David right now. It's a weekend dedicated to mapping out the New Year's legislative agenda.
But the new White House expose, "Fire and Fury," came up during Q&A session, and Trump shrugged off the book's description of him as the work of fired chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
A reporter also asked the President about reports he tried to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything that I've done is a hundred percent proper. That's what I do, is I do things proper.
And, you know, I guess the collusion now is dead because everyone found that after a year of study, there's been absolutely no collusion. There has been no collusion between us and the Russians.
Now, there has been collusion between Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and the Russians. Unfortunately, you people don't cover that very much. But the only collusion is between Hillary and the Russians and the DNC and the Russians and one of those things. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now, that was the public President Trump today as we mentioned. He also lashed out about the new book that paints the Oval Office in a not-so-flattering light and reports that suggest he is not mentally stable. In fact, in one tweet, the President refers to himself as a, quote, very stable genius.
CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us from the White House with more. Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, President Trump making news on multiple fronts today from Camp David.
And not only praising direct talks between North and South Korea but also saying that he backs his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, when just yesterday you had several Republicans in Congress in the Freedom Caucus calling for a new Attorney General.
The President even sent a message to Democrats saying that the issue of Dreamers and their legal status would not be resolved unless he got funding for his border wall.
All of that, however, overshadowed by the President making a case for his own mental stability. He is clearly taking comments being made by Michael Wolff, the author of "Fire and Fury," personally.
The President refuting the idea that he was interviewed by Michael Wolff for several hours, denying that Wolff had that kind of access, and also using a question about the book and about his tweets on Saturday to take a shot at his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Listen to more of what the President said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I did a quick interview with him a long time ago having to do with an article, but I don't know this man. I guess Sloppy Steve brought him into the White House quite a bit, and it was one of those things. That's why Sloppy Steve is now looking for a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Yes. These comments from Michael Wolff in which he says that a hundred percent of the people around the President question his ability to fulfill the role of the President aren't exactly new.
If you recall a few months ago, Steve Bannon reportedly said that there was a 30 percent chance that those around the President would invoke the 25th Amendment to force him out of the White House because of his mental state.
And beyond that, just last month, you had a Yale psychiatrist briefing lawmakers, about a dozen lawmakers in both chambers of Congress, on the President's mental condition.
Though it's not really a new conversation, we've never seen this kind of forceful response from the President like the one we saw at Camp David today, Ana.
CABRERA: Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thank you.
President Trump's comments on Jeff Sessions following "New York Times" reports suggesting he ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to try to prevent Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
Now, CNN has learned that three White House officials were part of that effort.
CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is back with us now. Shimon, what does this mean for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So we know that the three people who were involved -- at least that we're told were involved in some of the pressuring of getting the Attorney General not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation -- that's Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, and Sean Spicer -- have all met with the Special Counsel, have been interviewed.
So this information isn't necessarily new to the Special Counsel. He's probably had it and it's now part of their investigation.
It's not clear if there is anything criminal or perhaps how this would play into possible obstruction charge. But politically, you know, we can't underestimate, obviously, the implications of this.
[20:05:02] But it is going to be part of anything, perhaps, that Mueller and his team will be looking at to sort of try and look at a larger picture of what the White House was doing here, of what the people close to the President, the President's orbit, were doing it -- were doing here.
And also questions surrounding the firing of the former FBI Director, questions about the statement -- the crafting of a statement that the President was directly involved in aboard Air Force One where they were responding to a "The New York Times" story about the President's son meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
All of this just kind of comes together and could be part of a larger picture, perhaps, towards an obstruction case and whether or not -- you know, inevitably, if they do bring these charges, you know, we still have probably sometime before that happens.
CABRERA: OK. We're going to talk more about that with our legal expert next, but let me ask you about these growing calls for Sessions to step down. Actually coming from the President's own party, in fact, from Republicans.
How is this going over inside the Justice Department? What are you hearing?
PROKUPECZ: Right. So, you know, inside the Department of Justice, you have the career prosecutors. Certainly, you know, some of the political positions have not been filled, have not been confirmed, so you still have that going on.
Some of the U.S. attorneys have not been confirmed, but, you know, we do know that they used another method to place some of these U.S. attorneys.
So within the Department of Justice, you know, there is some turmoil only because there's just does -- it's not a very steady, steady machine. And also the issue, you know, from people that I've talked to, really comes from the FBI in that, you know, they have a very close relationship with the Department of Justice, with the prosecutors who work there in their investigations.
And this turmoil, no doubt, has an effect on what's going on, on morale within the Department of Justice, but also within the FBI. So that's where all of this really has an -- where all of this really plays a role and has an effect on folks.
But outside of that, I think, for the most part, people are just going to do their jobs and really in two things, is really keep us safe and keep prosecutions and investigations moving forward.
CABRERA: Shimon Prokupecz in Washington. Thank you.
With me new, Norm Eisen. He was the White House ethics czar under President Obama and also former ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Ambassador, White House lawyer Don McGahn, do his reported actions give you reason for concern?
NORMAN EISEN, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC: Ana, thanks for having me back. And having worked in the office of White House counsel, I'm shocked and appalled by the behavior of Don McGahn.
Attorney General Sessions had a clear obligation, Ana. It was not a close call that he had to recuse himself. He can't investigate the campaign when he worked on the campaign, and McGahn urged him not to do so in direct contravention of those regulations, those ethics rules.
That feels more like advancing an obstruction of justice than McGahn's duty of serving the office of the President. So, profoundly disturbing.
CABRERA: So you think he could be in some legal trouble himself?
EISEN: I think that anybody who is involved in aiding and abetting what may have been an obstruction of justice by the President -- big additional evidence pointing to that coming in this week -- anybody who was nearby ought to feel some concern.
And I am sure that Bob Mueller and his team are taking a close look at the actions of Don McGahn. Remember that the critical cooperator in the Watergate scandal was the White House counsel, John Dean --
CABRERA: Right. EISEN: -- who was neck deep in the obstruction and other misconduct
and who ended up, God bless him, cooperating and acting as the guide there. So, yes, I think McGahn is probably not having a very restful weekend.
CABRERA: It's not just McGahn. CNN is learning it was actually three White House officials. Along with McGahn, Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, we're told, were part of an effort to pressure Sessions to not recuse himself. Does that add or change the situation?
EISEN: Well, there is some point at which a smart prosecutor -- and I know Bob Mueller, he's a very smart prosecutor. I've worked with him and worked against him.
There is some point at which a smart prosecutor says, you know, even if technically there is a huge group that obstructed justice, where is the core? And I think McGahn is in a very different situation. And certainly, the President, those around him, Jared Kushner, were deeply involved in this decision-making.
[20:10:00] And, you know, McGahn kind of trying to get Sessions to block from following the law? That's the opposite of what the White House counsel is supposed to do. So I suspect that, unless there's more that comes out, Priebus and Spicer are probably in a little less trouble.
CABRERA: OK. So the President then said today that he stands by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Why do you think we're hearing so many of Trump supporters, other members of the Republican Party, lawmakers included, are publicly slamming Sessions for not recusing himself from the Russia probe?
EISEN: One reason and one reason alone, Ana. They want to get Sessions out of there and slide somebody in who, unlike Sessions, is not recused from the Russia investigation and can take control of Bob Mueller. That's all this is about.
They had no problem with Sessions when is he was accused of lying over and over again to the Senate. But now, the reason that Rod Rosenstein is managing the Mueller investigation is because Sessions is recused.
Well, if you take Sessions out and you put in one of the President's lap dogs as A.G. and that person doesn't have a conflict, they can curb Bob Mueller. That would be an outrage. And I don't think the country will stand up for that manipulation, but that's what this is about.
CABRERA: So we have talked about some of the things that the President was asked about today at this press conference. He, of course, was also asked about his tweets that he sent out.
The most powerful man in the world waking up this morning, tweeting that he is not mentally unstable. In fact, he says he's a genius.
You tweeted in response to this, quote, whoever wrote these tweets should be locked up. Padded room would probably be safest. Isn't the President allowed to defend himself against a criticism just
like every other American?
EISEN: Of course, Ana, he is allowed to defend himself. You know, we all sometimes like to be a little tongue in cheek on Twitter, and the rest of my tweet was that, you know, I thought the President's Twitter account had been hacked.
But let's face it. These are -- there's normal self-defense, and there's bizarre claims over and over again. Claiming he is a genius, asserting that he is very stable, I think even with the strange stream of tweets, these statements are enough to give one pause.
And coming on top of so many other bizarre behaviors, the weird tweet this week about who's got the bigger nuclear button on their desk. Neither the North Korean leader nor the American president has a nuclear button on their desk, Ana.
So there has been a stream of strange tweets. And while I was tongue in cheek, I do have profound concerns about the President's temperament and his fitness to serve. And it gets worse day by day.
You know, the -- probably, the biggest sign of it is not just these bizarre tweets. It's the constant lying. Probably his assertion that he's a genius is not 100 percent true.
CABRERA: Well, "The New York Times" -- I also want to get, while I have you, your expertise on this reporting that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions' aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, which was part of an apparent effort to undermine the FBI Director.
That is a quote. What's your reaction to that?
EISEN: It's troubling, Ana. One of the classic signs of obstruction of justice is the effort to intimidate, frustrate, and undermine witnesses so they can't truthfully testify.
And that reporting -- and I had, with co-authors, an op-ed in "The New York Times" yesterday, pointing out that all of this evidence taken together deepens the pattern that is emerging of an obstruction of justice.
We're not there yet. It will depend, ultimately, on Bob Mueller and Donald Trump sitting across the table from each other, looking each other in the eye, and Bob Mueller is going to have to judge whether Trump's intent was pure or not.
But, boy, when you're doing those kind of character assassinations and smears -- the "Times" reported they wanted one negative story a day about Comey -- that feels like witness intimidation. That's a part of obstruction --
CABRERA: The Justice Department has denied that, though.
EISEN: In fairness -- CABRERA: We got to highlight that.
EISEN: In fairness, this administration denies a lot of things that later turn out to be true, so we don't have a lot of confidence in the truthfulness starting with the President of the United States.
Just 16 percent of what he says, true or mostly true according to POLITIFACT. Almost 2,000 lies by President Trump in the past year. So how seriously can we take these denials, Ana?
[20:15:06] CABRERA: Norm Eisen, thank you very much for your time. And we always appreciate you coming on, especially on a Saturday.
Up next --
EISEN: Always a pleasure.
CABRERA: Up next, CNN is learning the feds are continuing to look into allegations against the Clinton Foundation. What we know about the investigation, next in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: The search for the plane at the center of aviation's biggest modern-day mystery is set to resume if you can believe that Malaysia's government and a U.S.-based company expect to finalize a new search contract for MH370 in the coming days.
A spokesman for Ocean Infinity says the company has already moved a vessel towards this possible search zone. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished in March of 2014, almost four years ago, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board. They are not giving up finding what happened to it.
Federal authorities are now turning their attention to the Clinton Foundation. According to a U.S. official, an active investigation is looking at corruption allegations related to Bill and Hillary Clinton's charity during the time Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State.
CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett has more on what exactly the FBI and federal agents are looking for. Laura?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: Well, after months of the President clamoring for an investigation into Hillary Clinton, CNN has now learned that one does exist. But it's actually about the Clintons' family charitable foundation.
A U.S. official tells me that the FBI and federal prosecutors in Little Rock, Arkansas are looking into whether donations to the Clinton Foundation were made in exchange for political favors while Clinton was Secretary of State and whether any tax-exempt funds were misused.
[20:19:58] But this inquiry isn't entirely new. CNN reported in 2016 that FBI agents in different field offices had opened preliminary inquiries into whether there had been any improper dealings with donors. But they didn't get very far, and the inquiries fizzled out before Election Day.
And the Justice Department did agree that FBI agents could move forward if and when more evidence emerged. Well, something changed, and now there is an active probe. One the Clinton camp pretty swiftly dismissed, calling this a politically motivated sham.
And a spokesperson for the foundation telling us that, time to time, the Clinton Foundation has been subjected to politically motivated allegations. And time after time, the allegations have been proven false.
But the tricky part to watch here is how the Justice Department navigates this situation as it tries to maintain independence from the President on the one hand while investigating his political rival on the other.
CABRERA: Laura Jarrett, thank you for that. Now, the stunning details keep pouring out from this new tell-all book on President Trump. One former aide telling Michael Wolff, the author, that Trump's eyes rolled into the back of his head when he was being briefed on the constitution. That's next.
CABRERA: Now, back to the new bombshell book that President Trump calls phony and full of lies -- and sources that don't exist.
Author Michael Wolff in "Fire and Fury" depicts a president who never intended to be president telling his former aide, Sam Nunberg, at the beginning of the race, quote, I can be the most famous man in the world.
It also quotes Nunberg wildly saying of Trump, he's just an expletive fool. And then there's an incident where Nunberg talks about trying to explain the constitution to Trump and, quote, I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.
Well, Sam Nunberg is here with me now.
You've been asked about these quotes. You admit that you said those things, but you say the full context of those quotes weren't actually put into the book. But still --
[20:25:06] SAM NUNBERG, FORMER CAMPAIGN AIDE TO DONALD TRUMP: Absolutely.
CABRERA: But, wait, still --
NUNBERG: And by the way, I'm not criticizing Michael at all. I sat with Michael. I cooperated with Michael.
NUNBERG: We all sat and cooperated with Michael.
CABRERA: But this doesn't make the President look good even if you -- even if it wasn't the full context. You said those things.
NUNBERG: I had -- well, first of all, calling the President a fool, I'm sure he's going to be very upset about that. He's called me much worse and I've probably called him much worse in the past. I wouldn't take it literally.
As he tweeted earlier today, he is the one who got elected. He does it his own way. He's a very, very stubborn man, and I mean that in a good context.
He is somebody where -- it's not that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He knows what he doesn't know, doesn't think he needs to know it, and --
CABRERA: He didn't worry about what he doesn't know.
NUNBERG: And doesn't worry about it. And then we'll get people to cover that.
CABRERA: Is that --
NUNBERG: To take care of that.
CABRERA: But how do you interpret that? Is that a good thing?
NUNBERG: Look, my position is -- and I'm a supporter of his. I'm a -- I voted for him. My position is we had somebody -- his predecessor was very cerebral. He was an academic. He was editor of the "Harvard Law Review."
And you know what? I didn't like his policies. I didn't like the way he came down on issues.
I like the judges that this President has appointed. I like and I don't think he gets proper credit for what he's done on foreign policy. I agree with him on Iran. I agree with him on standing up against North Korea.
So things like that, I mean, he is what he is. He's a businessman. He's not an academic. That's where I was coming from.
CABRERA: Well, about this issue of his intelligence and his mental fitness. I mean, that has been raised by this book, the questions. And he, the author of this book, was asked --
NUNBERG: Michael, yes.
CABRERA: -- about this portrayal of the President when he talked with Savannah Guthrie on the debate "Today Show" yesterday. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS 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 FURY, INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": Let me put a marker in the sand here, 100 percent of the people around him.
GUTHRIE: Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, Ivanka Trump, question his fitness for office?
WOLFF: Every time I -- and I want to be careful about who I spoke to because the nature of this kind of book is you kind of grant everyone a veil. But having said that, certainly, Jared and Ivanka, in their current situation, which is in a deep legal quagmire, are putting everything on the President. Not us, it's him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: What do you make of that, that he just said 100 percent of the people he talked to questioned his intelligence and the President's mental fitness?
NUNBERG: Well, I've never personally questioned the President's mental fitness. And as we were discussing off camera, now I know what it felt when you were a Democrat and you were supporting Barack Obama, and we were going -- Republicans saying he wasn't born in Hawaii.
I look at that as they're gasping for straws here, that this is the way they're going to be a way to take him out. And I think it would have --
CABRERA: The questions of his fitness, you think, are people gasping for straws.
NUNBERG: Yes, and I think it motivates the Democrat base. I think it motivates the Democrat base, and it's a tactic and a strategy which works. I -- you know, I understand there were some -- there were some psychiatrists that came to the Hill to talk to --
CABRERA: Dr. Bandy Lee who is the Yale psychiatrist --
NUNBERG: Gee, I wonder who they so the voted for.
CABRERA: -- who was brought on to talk about the President's mental fitness.
NUNBERG: I wonder who they voted for, right?
CABRERA: But back to the book.
CABRERA: There's also this. I want you to hear this from Michael Wolff. NUNBERG: Oh, sure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUTHRIE: You said that these senior people insult his intelligence. What are the kinds of things people would say?
WOLFF: They say he's a moron, an 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Now, you again.
CABRERA: You mentioned it, too. We've --
CABRERA: We've read it earlier. You said he is a bleeping fool. Do you regret saying that?
NUNBERG: Do I regret saying it? No, I have a big mouth. I don't really regret saying it, and I don't really -- he's said much worse about me and I've said much worse about him also off the record.
CABRERA: But that does point to his intelligence.
NUNBERG: I would not say -- but he's an extremely intelligent person. I wouldn't take it literally that I said he's a fool. I call a lot of people a lot of names.
He is very, very difficult to work for. So if you go to the constitution anecdote -- and first of all, I wasn't teaching him the constitution. It wasn't in the proper context. Perhaps I wasn't clear to Michael. We were going over issues that could have been got you questions for the first debate.
Now, I'm working with a guy who is leading the primary. He is the number one national frontrunner. You can't turn on CNN. You're not covering him. And he's going before the first debate to his property in Scotland, and I had to get in there. And I was trying to go over something with that --
CABRERA: Because he wasn't worried about it, he didn't want to prepare for it, you're saying?
NUNBERG: He didn't want to -- but you know what -- and here's where I remember he said to me once. He said, Sam, something you're not going to understand -- and I'm not quoting him literally. I'm quoting -- I'm just -- he says --
[20:30:02] CABRERA: You're just paraphrasing. NUNBERG: Paraphrasing. Sam, you're not going to understand. You
have to communicate things in a way that people can understand them and care about them. And he was right.
The reality is -- and this is a longer issue, a deeper issue -- is, frankly, the average voter does not care about the Seventh Amendment. The average voter does not care about dicta or the rationale from a Supreme Court case. He was right about that. And when you go back --
CABRERA: So I want to get back on track, though, in terms of just talking about this book.
CABRERA: And I get your point, what you're saying, in terms of it really doesn't matter necessarily if the President was preparing for this debate in a way that most people would expect him to, but back to what we just read in this book. Now, the result of this, the President has sent a cease and desist letter to Bannon as well as to the publishers.
NUNBERG: Which was a mistake.
CABRERA: Now, you've been on the receiving end of one of the President's lawsuit.
CABRERA: Do you think he'd actually follow through with this then?
NUNBERG: No, I don't think he's going to follow through on this. I think that that was a -- I think this is Donald Trump not acting as if he lives in 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He's acting as if he's back on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in Trump Tower. This is -- these are his antics that he's done.
I personally -- and by the way, I could tell you right now, I guarantee you people around him or anybody that has a voice and wants to give him the proper counsel said don't do this, you're only going to help the book. And he knew that and he still wanted to do this.
CABRERA: Can I ask you about Bannon real fast?
NUNBERG: Sure. Sure.
CABRERA: Because we've seen, since the fallout of this book, a lot of people are pushing Bannon away. The Mercers who have been in his corner have completely come out, condemning what he said in the book, what he's quoted as saying. We're even hearing the forces kind of pushing Breitbart to dump Bannon from them.
NUNBERG: Which will never happen. CABRERA: I mean do you think he --
NUNBERG: Because that will never happen, by the way.
CABRERA: I mean, at this point, is he relevant anymore? Is he toast?
NUNBERG: He's high -- first of all, we're talking about him right now so he's certainly relevant. And the reality is whether Mad George (ph) likes him or not, the reality is if you watch when talk radio hosts are talking, conservative talk radio hosts, they're refreshing Breitbart all day. They're not refreshing Drudge Report anymore. He runs it --
CABRERA: But does Bannon have the same kind of influence now --
NUNBERG: Yes, he does.
CABRERA: -- as he did before?
NUNBERG: Yes, he does. The Mercers could -- I believe the Mercers could want to fire Steve, could want Steve out of Breitbart. And guess what? They'll end up being kicked out.
Steve is not going anywhere. Steve is not deferential to the Mercers anymore, something I've noticed. When I used to spend time with him in 2015, 2016, the Mercers would just come up in conversations by him. And, you know, in terms of, this is their opinion on this, this -- he's not like that anymore.
CABRERA: But you don't think people cared about Bannon because of his connection and closeness to the President of the United States? You think that people will give him that much, I guess, power individually?
NUNBERG: I think that, for Steve, this is certainly -- from that aspect, you're 100 percent right. It's not good because it shows publicly what people like me have already known privately.
They're not friends, they don't like each other. That is the reality. They're not allies. They're strategic partners as of now.
But on the other hand, Steve can be a very, very big problem for the President if he wants to be. And the President should be cognizant of that.
If Roy Moore had not blown that race -- and Roy Moore lost that race, OK? Not Steve Bannon. If Roy Moore had not blown that case, I don't think it would have been as bad, the fallout from the book, as it was now.
NUNBERG: Now, it looks as if he's in a position of weakness.
CABRERA: Well, Sam Nunberg, thank you very much.
NUNBERG: Thank you.
CABRERA: We appreciate your time. Thank you.
Still ahead for us, pot pushback. The Attorney General's war against marijuana. What does it mean for the states that have legalized marijuana and those which may be considering it this year? CNN visits a growing operation in California, next.
[20:36:42] CABRERA: Today, the White House is denying it snubbed Attorney General Jeff Sessions by not inviting him to join the President and other cabinet members at Camp David this weekend.
In the meantime, Sessions has come under fire from members of his own party for ordering a Justice Department crackdown on marijuana.
Now, keep in mind the marijuana industry has proven to be enormous business in the now eight states that have now legalized recreational use. It took in $8 billion last year. And in the next two years, that's expected to nearly triple.
In a poll taken three months ago, 64 percent of Americans say they're in favor of making pot legal. And that's the most people in 40 years of asking that question.
Now, in a recent study, it reveals 44 percent of Americans in their teens and older have tried marijuana at least once.
I want to get criminal defense attorney Midwin Charles in here and also former spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, Mason Tvert.
I know you and I, Mason, have talked a lot about marijuana over the years because of the legalization there in Colorado sort of being ground zero, so I want to hit you in a moment.
But, first, when it comes to legally what's changed, Midwin, the Obama-era memo, you'll recall, was really just guidance.
MIDWIN CHARLES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Right.
CABRERA: So the law has never changed on a federal level. What does this latest move by the Attorney General really do?
CHARLES: That's right. And I think a lot of people don't know. If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, whether it's for medicinal use or recreational use, you are still in violation of federal law. I think a lot of people did not know that.
But you were right, there was a guidance that was sort of put forward by the Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 or, I think, 2014 that instructed U.S. attorneys to refrain from prosecuting people who were sort of using marijuana.
Now, what Jeff Sessions has done on January 4th is sort of issued another guidance and say, you know what, forget about it. I am encouraging or authorizing U.S. attorneys to prosecute people who use marijuana in violation of federal law. And it is still a violation of federal law.
CABRERA: People who use marijuana, sell marijuana, medical business owners --
CHARLES: Sell marijuana and distribute -- right.
CABRERA: -- and users or consumers.
CHARLES: Exactly. And right now, marijuana is listed as one of the controlled substances under the Controlled Substance Act, which basically says that if you are in possession of marijuana, you are going to be fined up to a thousand dollars. And it's a misdemeanor which carries a jail fine -- a jail penalty of about one year in jail.
CABRERA: OK. So there is that potential for people to actually get hit pretty hard in that regard.
CABRERA: But, Mason, if it doesn't technically change the law in any way and, for example, we have seen now the U.S. attorney in charge of the jurisdiction that covers Colorado come out and say he doesn't plan to change his method of prosecution in any way. So what do you think people are really worried about?
MASON TVERT, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECT: Well, I think that this is really going to cause a lot more confusion and concern than actually going to cause chaos. I mean, as you pointed out, this is about guidance to prosecutors. They previously had discretion. They had to prioritize their cases.
They still have discretion. They still need to prioritize their cases. There has not actually been a change in enforcement that we've seen yet. So that could occur. It has not yet.
[20:39:58] And really, the biggest problems we're seeing are more on the business side. You know, this is going to raise concerns among investors in some of these businesses and things like that.
CABRERA: Midwin, what do you see as the impact on the criminal justice system?
CHARLES: Well, I think it going to be widespread. There are two concerns. Number one, is this the best use of Department of Justice resources, right? We are currently facing an opioid epidemic. Ninety people in America die per day of an opioid overdose.
So the -- it really does beg the question, is this really the best use of the Department of Justice's time and energy and efforts and our tax dollars, to go after people who use marijuana, who aren't overdosing, who aren't sort of, you know, having a major impact on our economy rather than, you know, just sort of, you know, just basically making sure that they stay on track with what the laws are? CABRERA: Right, because previously the guidance from the Justice
Department was not to not prosecute at all.
CABRERA: But I remember covering stories and showing that they were going and really cracking down on people who had illegal grows, who were trying to hide within the state laws.
CHARLES: Well -- right.
CABRERA: I mean, it was also targeting people crossing state lines with marijuana --
CABRERA: -- as well as keeping it out of the hands of children.
CHARLES: Correct. So that's my one point, is this the best use of resources? But, two, there is a concern that this is a backhanded way to sort of funnel African-Americans and Latinos into prisons because while studies have shown -- the ACLU has shown that African-Americans and Whites use marijuana pretty much equally, yet African-Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for the use of marijuana.
CHARLES: So the people who are sort of going to really bear the brunt of this, if U.S. attorneys decide to go forward with this discretion --
CHARLES: -- are African-Americans and Latinos.
CABRERA: Mason, 29 states have now passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana for either recreation or medicinal purposes. Can Sessions really put the proverbial genie back in the bottle?
TVERT: You know, I think it would be a huge mistake politically and just as a matter of policy. I mean, you know, marijuana legalization is more popular than Jeff Sessions. It's more popular than Donald Trump.
TVERT: It's more popular than both political parties. I mean, 64 percent of Americans, including both a majority of both major parties, support making marijuana legal. And just think of how crazy it would be --
CABRERA: Right, including 51 percent of Republicans.
TVERT: Yes, 51 percent of -- you know, how crazy would it be for Donald Trump's administration to come into states and stop them from controlling marijuana and handing marijuana production and sales back over to Mexican cartels and gangs and criminals?
You know, Colorado and Washington and Oregon and now California, they're doing more than any other state in the country to control marijuana, to make sure that people are safe when they go to find it, when they use it, to keep it out of the hands of kids. It would just be a terrible mistake politically and just as a matter of public policy to come in and disrupt that.
CABRERA: Mason Tvert, Midwin Charles, thank you both for the conversation.
And tomorrow, we will be talking with Colorado G John Hickenlooper about this apparent marijuana crackdown. That will be at 6:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. We're back in just a moment.
[20:47:05] CABRERA: President Trump unleashing on the author of a tell-all book over his controversial claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUTHRIE: 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.
WOLFF: Let me put a marker in the sand here, 100 percent of the people around him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: And that prompted a flurry of Trump tweets in which the President defended his mental stability and declared himself a genius.
He said, in part: actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.
He goes on to say: I went from a very successful businessman to top T.V. 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.
Let's talk it over with Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth About Trump."
Michael, you have known Trump for years. He's always been one to hit back, we know, at his critics. Have you seen Trump specifically delve into his mental health in the past, or is this something new?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I just think this is a new element of his defensiveness that has to be placed in the context of a lifetime of defensiveness. This is a person who hits back even before anyone criticizes him, so it's -- we all have to kind of consider this in the broad context of his life.
You know, even his suggestion that he ran for president the first time in 2015, 2016 isn't accurate. He contemplated running in 1987.
D'ANTONIO: He actually ran in 1999. But, you know, the truth and the President have a very distant relationship. Let's put it that way. So, of course, this is a new development because I'm sure he's watching CNN and other news sources and seeing that people are wondering what's going on with this guy.
CABRERA: But you also write: the President and his allies perhaps would be right to express outrage over how Wolff and his sources, Bannon chief among them, treat his family. So do you take issue with the way he is defending himself and his family?
D'ANTONIO: Well, I think everyone has a right and may even have an obligation, I think, to defend their loved ones. When the President speaks in defense of his son and daughter and his son-in-law, I think he is on firm footing with most Americans. We really do have an agreement in this country that spouses and children are off limits.
Now, the complicating factor in all of this, of course, is that he placed his daughter and son-in-law into positions in the White House, so it becomes very murky. And at the same time, he's had his children involved in his businesses for as long as they have been adults.
[20:50:10] And, you know, when Michael Wolff writes about how a hundred percent of the people have doubts about the President's fitness, when I was in Trump Tower, just about everyone, at least, gave me the side eye about the President, then-private businessman, Donald Trump.
He is extreme. He's always been extreme. And people --
CABRERA: When you talk about that side eye, though, what was your take away? What were they implying?
D'ANTONIO: Well, that even his children said to me directly that once they get the chance to run the company, they will do it differently. That they would be more conventional, less extreme in what they say and do. I think everyone recognizes that he is an outside personality -- outsized personality and that he goes too far sometimes.
CABRERA: Now, do you think Bannon is to blame for the kind of access Wolff had to the White House? Because the President has tried to, really, put the brunt of the blame on Bannon's shoulders for the poor portrayal of what was happening inside the White House.
D'ANTONIO: Well, I have serious doubts about whether Steve Bannon would have permitted this and been allowed to permit it all on his own. I doubt that the President would have said, oh, it's OK to have this guy hanging around if he didn't think it was OK.
You know, this is a president who is very much jealous of his own decision-making. He's always been the decider in his life. He's always been the decider in every enterprise he has conducted. And Wolff has said that he spoke with Donald Trump. I believe him
that he did speak with him. I think that he had to have seen Wolff hanging around.
So to lay this all on Bannon, I think, is unfair to everyone in the White House. And I suspect that this was another case where Donald Trump found the attention of a reporter irresistible.
You know, he is almost like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. He gets hurt many times when he lets people in too close. But yet given the offer, the chance to play the game again, he always goes back to it because he relishes the attention.
CABRERA: He doesn't want to be left out. Michael D'Antonio, thank you.
D'ANTONIO: Thank you.
CABRERA: Still to come, the ripple effects of the bomb cyclone leaving passengers stranded for hours at one of the country's busiest airports. We'll take you there. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:56:29] CABRERA: Well, don't get too excited for the East Coast arctic weather to be over so soon. Forecasts say an ice storm will still blanket parts of the Northeast and Midwest late Sunday. Massachusetts already saw a preview to that icy weather as ice strips filled harbors and flooded the roads there.
And take a look at this, across the region, single digit temperatures and intense winds have given little reprieve to freezing temperatures. Even in Florida, it got so cold that iguanas fell from their trees completely frozen.
A reptile keeper at Palm Beach County Zoo ensures that these are just cold-stunned iguanas. Their bodily functions slowing down to a crawl, but we're told they are still alive. And with some warmer weather, they will thaw out too.
Meantime, more than 3,000 flights at this point have been delayed and 400 canceled because of the weather. In fact, at JFK International Airport, it is digging out of a backlog of flights that created such serious headaches for delayed travelers.
It all began two days ago. The passenger on one flight here was lucky that they arrived, but, unfortunately, they ended up sitting on the tarmac for five hours before being able to deplane, to get on a shuttle bus.
Dan Lieberman is joining us not at JFK International Airport. Dan, how are the delays looking there now?
DAN LIEBERMAN, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ana. Yes, we're still here. And basically, what we're hearing tonight from the Port Authority is that the FAA is restricting some inbound flights, especially internationally, this evening. They're trying to really deal with the congestion that's built up over the last couple of days with so many cancellations and delays.
They're trying to ease that out. So hopefully, by tomorrow they're hoping that things get better.
We have spoken to several passengers and families here at JFK Airport earlier this evening. It's been very traumatic and stressful because a lot of passengers had been on these delayed flights coming in internationally, and they've been on the tarmac for hours, unable to get off.
We spoke with one family that finally got word that their loved one was getting off the plane. Here's what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: How long has it been? How has they've been --
ALINA FREIER, STRANDED PASSENGER: Four hours.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
LIEBERMAN: Four hours?
FREIER: We landed at 12:45 and it's like now -- like 5:00 p.m. We've been waiting like four hours walking around.
LIEBERMAN: But are you talking to him from the plane?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we're texting back and forth.
LIEBERMAN: What's it like on the plane?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he said he's going crazy. People are, like, screaming. People are going crazy, just let's get out of here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: And JFK was number one for delays today, and it was really causing a lot of frustration and anxiety for families like you just heard. But officials here do say that things are easing up, and it's expected to get better tomorrow, Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Dan, can you feel your fingers in that amount of time that you're out there?
LIEBERMAN: I keep shaking them.
CABRERA: I'll send you some hand warmers for your night shift. Thank you so much. Good to see you.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you.
CABRERA: Again, thank you at home for being with me tonight. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. That's going to do it for us. I'll be back tomorrow at 5:00 Eastern.
"CNN SPECIAL REPORT: SECRET STATE INSIDE NORTH KOREA" starts now. Have a great night.