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New Twist in Russia Investigation; "Fire and Fury" Hits Bookstores as Instant Best Seller; U.S. Authorities Reactivate The Clinton Foundation Probe; U.S. Secretary of State on Relations with North Korea; Strong Words at U.N. Security Council Meeting; British Latte Levy. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 6, 2018 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A new twist in the Russia investigation. We are now learning how far the U.S. president was willing to go to keep his attorney general on the case.

Plus, one-on-one with the U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson talks exclusively to CNN about North Korea.

And later, raising the price of a cup of coffee. Why U.K. lawmakers are considering a latte levy.

It's all ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us, I'm Natalie Allen. We begin right now.


ALLEN: We are following developments in the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump's team and Russia. And it hits at the heart of two key questions about the U.S. president.

Did he obstruct justice?

And is he fit to serve?

CNN has learned that at least three top White House officials were involved an effort to persuade attorney general Jeff Sessions to remain in control of the probe into Russia's election interference. Ex-press secretary Sean Spicer, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House coun Don mcgann all worked to get Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russian probe, according to CNN sources. Our Jim Acosta has more.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I talked to a source familiar with these conversations just a short while ago. That senior administration official told me, quote, "I think it is fair to call it pressure." That is a quote from this official, describing these conversations

that went on between top White House officials and staff members in the attorney general's office, including the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And I should also point out, according to the senior administration official, this person described what was going on and the conversations regarding Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself -- or not recuse himself -- as being, quote, "chaos."


ALLEN: Priebus is declining to comment on our reporting. Spicer told CNN he called Sessions' office but that it was about a news conference. CNN's Jessica Schneider has been following Don mccann's role and has more about that from Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A source close to attorney general Jeff Sessions tells CNN White House counsel Don McGann 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.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-ALA.), U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Therefore, I have recused myself.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 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 Shaub says at the time, he recommended recusal and expressed outrage upon learning McGann was personally lobbying Sessions against it.

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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 McGann 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.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 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 (R), 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.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 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 handwritten 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 --


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- 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, DEPUTY 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 every day since we started, and keep doing good work and moving the president's agenda forward.

SCHNEIDER: The White House has even started calling out the press amid questions about Jeff Sessions' future. Sessions was not invited to Camp David this weekend, despite the fact that eight other cabinet members will be joining the president for meetings on the 2018 legislative agenda.

When CNN asked why Sessions wasn't invited, a White House official issued a stinging reply, saying this, "The press should stop using a long-planned meeting with congressional leaders to take cheap shots at the attorney general." So now it seems the White House is defending the attorney general,

despite the fact that the president has often taken shots at him, even calling him "beleaguered" months ago over Twitter -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: The tellall book about the Trump White House hit bookstores Friday as an instant bestseller. "Fire and Fury" is extremely unflattering to the president, portraying him as selfish and incompatent. Mr. Trump has dismissed it as phony and full of lies.

Earlier he tweeted this. "Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell his 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."

As we mentioned, Mr. Trump is at the presidential retreat at Camp David this weekend. CNN's Jim Acosta tells us what that is about.


ACOSTA (voice-over): 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're going to get really good over the next couple of months.

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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.

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

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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 advisers, family members, every single one of them questions his intelligence and fitness for office.

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": Let me put a marker in the sand here: 100 percent of the people around him.

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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. 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 midsized company.

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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 (voice-over): But the White House and the president's friends have fanned out across the air waves 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 (voice-over): Slamming Wolff's key takeaway that the president is not mentally fit for office.

CHRIS RUDDY, CEO AND PRESIDENT, NEWSMAX MEDIA: 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 has not "lost it," as he claimed.

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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 --


ACOSTA: -- 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.

But the White House says there is no message being sent to Sessions. An official here says the White House stands firmly behind him -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


ALLEN: U.S. authorities are once again investigating allegations of corruption related to The Clinton Foundation, which is Bill and Hillary Clinton's charity. The FBI and prosecutors are looking into whether donors to the foundation were promised political favors or special access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.

You may recall an initial inquiry stalled prior to the presidential election. A representative for the foundation is dismissing the allegations and calls them unfounded.

Meantime, the U.S. is reaffirming its commitment to defend South Korea against any threat from the North. That is the word from U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who spoke with his South Korean counterpart on Friday, the same day the North agreed to hold official talks with the South.

On Tuesday, envoys will meet in this room near the demilitaryized zone for their first highlevel meeting in more than two years. As that facetoface meeting between the North and South looms, CNN's Elise Labott spoke exclusively with U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

She asked the top U.S. diplomat what would bring the U.S. to the table with North Korea.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There was big news last night about the North and South arranging talks for next week. North Korea now, coming to the table. Is that an opening, maybe for talks with the U.S. or nuclear talks?

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think it's too early to tell. We need to wait and see what the outcome of their talks are. The president had a -- President Trump had a good call with President Moon yesterday morning, which I participated in.

And their intent is to talk about the Olympics. Obviously a very important upcoming event for South Korea and the potential participation of North Korea in those Olympics, so our understanding is that's the content of the meetings. So I think it's a little early to draw any conclusions at this point.

LABOTT: But it could be a positive sign, maybe, that North Korea wants to engage a little bit?

TILLERSON: Well, we'll see. We'll see. Perhaps. I know some are speculating that this may be their first effort to open a channel. But as you know, we've had channels open to North Korea for some time and so they do know how to reach us if and when they're ready to engage with us as well.

LABOTT: Well, maybe you'll be next.

TILLERSON: We'll see.

LABOTT: If you can explain a little bit about what the U.S. policy is on North Korea, because I think Americans are a little bit confused.

Do the North Koreans have to give up their nuclear program before committing to talks?

TILLERSON: Our policy is the complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization --

LABOTT: Right.

TILLERSON: -- of the Korean peninsula. That is a policy that is commonly held by everyone in the region as well.

LABOTT: Right.

TILLERSON: The Chinese have that as a stated policy. Russia has it as a stated policy. So regionally, all of the countries in the neighboring area, as well as the international community, are well aligned on the policy. How we achieve the ultimate endpoint -- the final fully -- full denuclearization, the verification of that and the irreversibility of it, clearly that's going to take some time.

So how we begin the talks is yet to be determined but we clearly need a signal from North Korea that they understand these talks must lead to that conclusion. The pathway of how you get there, that is the nature of a negotiation. There'll be some give and take to achieve those objectives. So that objective has never changed.

LABOTT: Because you said, it's unrealistic for them to kind of sit down and say, we're ready to do it. But it sounds like, you know, they have to show some willingness but then the mechanics of that are able to be worked out.

TILLERSON: We have to have a shared view that that is the reason we're talking. That's the purpose of these talks and it is through those talks that North Korea actually can chart the way for themselves of a more secured future, a more prosperous future for their people as well.

So there are very positive outcomes to these talks from North Korea as there will be positive outcomes for the security of the entire region. That is the nature of the negotiations.

LABOTT: Do you think -- a lot's been made about the president's tweet on the nuclear button but now North Korea's talking with South Korea. Do you think that tough rhetoric has worked here?

TILLERSON: I think the rhetoric that North Korea understands is while it is our objective and the President's been very clear, to achieve a denuclearization through diplomatic efforts, those diplomatic efforts are backed by a strong military option if necessary. That is not the first choice and the President's been clear that's not his first choice. But, it is important that North Koreans as well as other regional players understand how high the stakes are in an effort to ensure our diplomatic efforts are fully supported and I think to date, the diplomatic efforts have been --


TILLERSON: -- supported very well in the international community.

If you look at the three U.N. Security Council resolutions on sanctions, the participation in those sanctions and a number of countries going well beyond the Security Council resolutions and imposing unilateral actions on their own, both economic as well as diplomatic.

I think it is a recognition that the President has demonstrated to the world how high the stakes are. That's why we must achieve a diplomatic outcome but the North Koreans have to understand that and they have to understand that the penalties to them will continue and will only grow more severe in terms of sanctions actions and other actions until they do get on a pathway to achieve that objective that the entire world hopes to achieve.

LABOTT: So it sounds like this kind of good cop, bad cop if you will. Hold out the prospect of talk but if talks don't work, military action. That might be the formula that you and the Presifdent will continue.

TILLERSON: I'm going to let you characterize that way. I'm not going to necessarily show all of our cards.


ALLEN: Large parts of the U.S. are blanketed in snow, resembling an icy tundra. Coming up here, Derek Van Dam tells us there is more to come.

Plus if you live in Britain, going to the coffee shop could become a little more expensive. We'll tell you why.




ALLEN: Welcome back to NEWSROOM.

Very strong words and harsh accusations were exchanged at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday. The U.S. requested the session to discuss the recent antigovernment protests in Iran.

And while most nations agreed with the U.S. ambassador's stance on human rights, others, including Iran, accused Washington of meddling in Tehran's affairs and having ulterior motives. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: In 2009, the world stood by passively while the hopes of the Iranian people were crushed by their government. In 2018, we will not be silent.

Once again, the people of Iran are rising up. They are asking for something that no government can legitimately deny them, their human rights and fundamental freedoms. They are calling out, think of us.

If the founding principles of this institution mean anything, we will not only hear their cry, we will finally answer it. The Iranian regime is now on notice. The world will be watching what you do.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHMO (PH), IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It is unfortunate that, despite the resistance on the part of some of its members, this council has allowed itself to be abused by the current U.S. administration and holding a meeting on an issue that falls outside the scope of its mandate --


KHOSHMO (PH): -- putting on display the failure of the council to fulfill its real responsibility in maintaining international peace and security.


ALLEN: The Russian ambassador issued his displeasure, questioning whether, according to U.S. logic, the council should have also met over the Occupy Wall Street movement several years ago in New York.

Iran has reportedly lifted its ban on the social media site, Instagram. A semi-official news agency said the ban was over on Friday. The government blocked Instagram on Sunday as antigovernment protests spread. State media report the ban was needed to ensure security.

The Arctic has taken hold of much of the U.S. down under. It is the seasonal opposite; Australia is in the midst of a heat wave.


ALLEN: The brutal weather that we're having here in North America isn't affecting just people. Jeanne Moos reports on the wider impact of the big freeze.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who needs a thermometer to answer the age-old question, how cold is it?

Cold enough for the Calgary Zoo to temporarily bring its penguins indoors before letting them out again. Cold enough to freeze a shark. At least three of them were found washed up on Cape Cod, likely stranded due to cold shock, noted the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. They had to be thawed to be autopsied. A true sharkcicle.

How cold is it? Not cold enough at six below to detour a guy dressed as a banana from water skiing on the Mississippi, but definitely cold enough to generate Internet memes. I'm not going outside until the temperature is above my age.

Remember this trick from previous cold snaps, turning boiling water instantly into snow is so last year. This is the year of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frozen bubbles.

MOOS: Craig Boehm (ph) created a perfect specimen at a temperature of minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit. In Saskatchewan, Canada, it has all the allure of a fragile --


MOOS (voice-over): -- homemade snow globe with over 4 million views.


MOOS (on camera): There's pretty much one basic recipe for making ice bubbles and it doesn't involve using that store bought bubble blowing stuff.

MOOS (voice over): Another Canadian who has helped whip up hash #bubblemadness recommends warm water, corn syrup, dishwashing soap and sugar.

MOOS (on camera): The corn syrup, what does it do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It basically hardens. It gives it a little bit of structure. Otherwise they just blow away.

MOOS (voice over): And if you really want a snow globe affect, add a Christmas tree. So when the temperatures dip, just dip your straw and --


MOOS: Even penguins love bubbles -- Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ALLEN: Thank you, Jeanne.

Right now in Britain, it's just near 8:30 in the morning and it's freezing outside. So a cup of coffee may be in order. But what if that cup of coffee was taxed?

That is what a group of British lawmakers are proposing. They want to charge the equivalent of around 34 cents on disposable coffee cups. The aim: reduce waste.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a huge problem. Something like 2.5 billion coffee cups thrown away and not recycled each year in Britain and the number is nearly 50 billion in America.

So in Britain, there's enough cups to go around the world 5.5 times and in the United States enough to go back and forth to the moon five times. And the trouble is that these cups are both plastic and paper so can't be recycled.

So we want to put pressure on the manufacturers to produce disposable recyclable cups and consumers to reuse reusable cups. There are incentives, of course, to go to coffee outlets but only 1 percent of people use those because they're given the double incentive of having to pay, more would bring their own cups.


ALLEN: Makes sense. But we took to the streets of London to see what coffee drinkers think about this latte levy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried to recycle them but I found out that they're not actually recyclable, which is a bit of a shock, because I thought that they were. So I'm a bit disappointed that it's not actually recyclable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They feel completely recyclable, right, they just -- they feel like cardboard. So, no, I didn't know that. And anyone that is doing what I'm doing, stop now. And if you have coffee, enough coffee, get a cup that you can recycle. And if not, stop drinking coffee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know that they were not recyclable at all, no. And that seems bonkers, absolutely mad.

But what can you do?

There's no point in penalizing the people who sell the coffee. They need to penalize the people who make the coffee cups.


ALLEN: There you have it. Though the tax would raise the average cup of coffee by 10 percent, lawmakers say that money would go toward building better recycling facilities. So bring your own mug, one that says CNN maybe.

Thank you for watching. I'm Natalie Allen. I will be right back with our top stories.