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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; Michael Wolff's Colorful and Controversial Career; Hollywood Awards Season Begins; Battle of the Buttons. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired January 6, 2018 - 05:00   ET




LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A new twist in the Russia investigation, we're now learning how far the White House is willing to go to keep attorney general Jeff Sessions on the case.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus, "Fire and Fury," the explosive new book about President Trump's White House, whose title pretty much sums up the administration's reactions.

KINKADE (voice-over): And is it political payback or simply the authorities doing their job?

The FBI reopens its probe of The Clinton Foundation.

HOWELL (voice-over): Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm George Howell.

KINKADE (voice-over): Hello. I'm Lynda Kinkade. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 5:01 on the U.S. East Coast. We're getting new insight into new details about the Trump White House. The question: how willing officials willing to go to keep the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, on the case.

KINKADE: There's a lot at stake. So far CNN has learned that at least three top White House officials were involved in an effort to persuade attorney general Jeff Sessions to remain in control of the probe into Russia's election interference.

HOWELL: The ex-press secretary, Sean Spicer; the former chief of staff, Reince Priebus and White House counsel Don McGann all worked to get Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe. This according to CNN sources. Our Jim Acosta has details for us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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."


HOWELL: Jim Acosta there, speaking our colleague, Anderson Cooper.

KINKADE: Priebus is declining to comment on the reporting. Spicer has told CNN that he called Sessions' office but that it was about a news conference.

HOWELL: CNN's Jessica Schneider has been following Don McGann's role and has more now from Washington for us.


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 --


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- 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 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.


KINKADE: The tell-all book about the Trump White House hit bookstores Friday as an instant best-seller.

HOWELL: That book called "Fire and Fury," it is extremely unflattering to the U.S. president, portraying him as selfish, childish and incompetent.

Mr. Trump has dismissed the book as phony and full of lies.

KINKADE: Earlier, he tweeted, "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."

HOWELL: As we mentioned, the president is at the presidential retreat at Camp David this weekend. He's meeting with congressional leaders and some of his cabinet.

KINKADE: The president may not know it but the author of "Fire and Fury" credits Mr. Trump for helping to boost interest in the book. And more on is that, here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump heading off for a weekend retreat with Republican leaders.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to Camp David with a lot of the great American senators and making America great again.

ZELENY (voice-over): As "Fire and Fury" inside the Trump White House was released four days early, the president took his contempt to Twitter.

"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 path and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve."

A not so flattering nickname coined for Steve Bannon. Now in a feud with the Trump family over blistering comments in the book. Michael Wolff speaking out for the first time about his weathering picture for president and fitness for office.

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR: I will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common. They all say he is like a child. And what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification. It's all about him.

ZELENY (voice-over): Appearing on NBC's the "Today" show, Wolff defended his portrayal of a deeply dysfunctional West Wing.

WOLFF: My window into Donald Trump is pretty significant. But even more to the point, I spent this -- I spent and this was really sort of the point of the book, I spoke to people who spoke to the president on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute basis.

ZELENY (voice-over): Secretary of state Rex Tillerson told CNN's Elise Labott he did not agree with those who question the president's ability to serve.

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

ZELENY (voice-over): For a second straight day, allies of the president also defended his capacity for Oval Office.

CHRIS RUDDY, CEO AND PRESIDENT, NEWSMAX MEDIA INC.: This is just an absurd allegation by someone who has talked to a lot of disgruntled people at the White House.

ZELENY (voice-over): Meanwhile, the president once again mocked the Russia investigation, saying on Twitter, "Collusion with Russia is proving to be a total hoax."

Yet its new questions --


ZELENY (voice-over): -- about potential obstruction of justice that now hang over the White House. A source close to attorney general Jeff Sessions confirmed to CNN that White House counsel Don McGann tried to dissuade Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

"The New York Times" was first to report the president ordered that effort and also said an aide to Sessions sought to find damaging information about FBI director James Comey four days before he was fired.

ZELENY: Now as for attorney general Jeff Sessions, he was not on the invitation list to appear at Camp David for that weekend treat. The Defense Secretary, the secretary of state and several other members of the cabinet are. Mr. Sessions is not. The White House says, don't read anything into that. They are still

fully behind him -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Jeff, thank you for the report.

The Clinton Foundation back in the spotlight. U.S. authorities are once again investigating allegations of corruption, which is Bill and Hillary Clinton's charity. The FBI and prosecutors are looking into whether donors for 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 2016 election. A representative for the foundation is dismissing the allegations, calls them unfounded.

Let's talk through the day's political headlines this hour with Scott Lucas. Scott is a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, typically via satellite in the United Kingdom but this day here on set with us here in Atlanta.

It's good to have you, Scott.


HOWELL: So let's talk about this. First, the push to stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself. And we now know more officials were involved. Initially we learned that Don McGann was involved but there were more, including the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the ex-press secretary, Sean Spicer.

They were involved in phone calls we understand between the Justice Department and the White House, this according to a senior administration official. The White House is not commenting on the matter.

But does this add another brick to the question of obstruction of justice?

LUCAS: It depends on the circumstances around those phone calls. Now we've known for months that Donald Trump did not want Jeff Sessions to recuse himself. And in fact was quite angry about it.

But the question is, did those phone calls come after legal guidance had come, for example, from the Justice Department, that Sessions had to step aside because of the Russia investigation?

Did they come before that?

See, if it's before that and it's just like, we'd like you to stay, Jeff; we'd like you to investigate this, no problem. But there's legal guidance which is the attorney general has to step aside and then the White House officials keep pushing for him to stay on, then you've got possible obstruction of justice. HOWELL: All right. Let's move on to the book, "Fire and Fury." It paints a picture of dysfunction in the White House. The question, does the fish stink from the head, really?

That's the question from this author through the writing. Let's hear what Michael Wolff had to say about this book, "Fire and Fury." We'll talk about it on the other side.


MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": They say he's a moron, an idiot. Actually there's a competition to 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 -- he's like a pinball, just shooting off the side.


HOWELL: In the book there, Scott, Michael Wolff describes the president as childlike. Says that many people around him have the same feeling about him.

What does this book do for the White House and this president, turning the corner into this next year?

LUCAS: Well, the book just make headlines and it shines a spotlight. But let's be clear here, for all the attention on Wolff, we've been hearing this from inside sources for months and sometimes Republicans.

So remember, many people have said that Donald Trump really isn't interested in the details of information, that he tends to just simply watch television. That's there. But probably more importantly, we've had numerous officials either privately or publicly question his competence.

Rex Tillerson, although he denies, remember, reportedly called him a moron back last July. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee came out publicly, remember, said he questions the president's stability.

And I know from multiple people up on Capitol Hill, that this is an opinion not only of Democrats but of Republicans. But what happens, of course, s two things. One is Wolff just gives unwanted shine on to this story, which is why Trump is so angry.

But, two, more importantly, it's in the detail. When Steve Bannon comes out and says that that meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 with criminally linked envoys was treasonous and when we know it involved Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort, that is as damning as any piece of information which so far has alleged collusion between Trump and Russian officials.

HOWELL: Let's talk just a bit more about the ex-chief strategist, Steve Bannon. He's quoted throughout the book. You mentioned the quote --

[05:15:00] HOWELL: -- about the meeting being treasonous, that infamous meeting between Trump officials and the Russian attorney at Trump Tower.

Also quoting Bannon, about the president in that book, saying "he's lost his stuff." Bannon has not walked away from any of this. He's not refuted any of this.

How does this play out, this rift between the President of the United States and Steve Bannon?

LUCAS: It's not just a two-way rift, George. The significant thing here is we've got a three-way rift. Because remember, when Steve Bannon left or was forced out of the White House in August, he declared #War on the Republican establishment, leaders like Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

So when Bannon did that, he said, oh, I'm doing it for Donald Trump. I'm doing it for his policies. So fair enough, that's Bannon and Trump versus the GOP.

Now Bannon is turning on Trump. Something that's been forgotten, George, remember, before this book came out, Bannon had talked to "Vanity Fair" and said, you know what, I may run for president in 2020. Now he said that's if Donald Trump chooses not to run.

But what you have is the prospect is, you've got more than one, quote, "conservative" Republican Party. You got the GOP, you've got Bannon and his insurgents and then you've got whoever is around Donald Trump as we approach 2020, if Trump makes it that long.

HOWELL: And the question really, the people who follow Steve Bannon, will they still be likely to follow the President of the United States if he turns the corner to run again?

That will be the question we'll see. Scott Lucas, we appreciate having you. We'll see you again back in the United Kingdom.

LUCAS: Thank you.

HOWELL: Thank you so much.

KINKADE: Great discussion there. Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, an exclusive interview with U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson, how he says Iran can stop all sanctions and how North Korea can earn a place at the negotiating table.

HOWELL: Plus, a North Korean official says his country is ready to send athletes to next month's Olympics. What they're doing to prepare -- as CNN NEWSROOM pushes on.



(MUSIC PLAYING) HOWELL: Japan's Kyotung (ph) News reports that North Korea's representative to the International Olympic Committee says his country is likely to participate in the Winter Olympics.

KINKADE: A representative says he expects to send two figure skaters to compete in next month's games which are being held in South Korea. It, of course, comes a day after North Korea announced it would hold talks with the South for the first time in more than --


KINKADE: -- two years.

On Tuesday, envoys from both countries will meet in this room near the demilitarized zone to discuss the Olympics and work on the relationship.

HOWELL: In the meantime, the United States is reaffirming its commitment to defend South Korea against any threat from North Korea. That's the word from the Defense Secretary, James Mattis, who spoke with his South Korean counterpart on Friday.

As that face-to-face meeting between North Korea and South Korea looms, CNN's Elise Labott spoke exclusively with U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

KINKADE: She asked the top U.S. diplomat whether he thought North Korea could be paving the way for talks with the U.S.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, some are speculating 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.

So they do know how to reach us, if and when they're ready to engage with us as well.

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

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

Our policy is the complete deniable, irrefutable elimination of nuclear proliferation. The Chinese have it as a stated policy. Russia has it as a stated policy.

Recently, all of the countries in the neighboring area as well as the international community are well relying on the policy. How we achieve the ultimate end point, the final, full denuclearization, the verification of that and irreversibility of it, clearly, that's going to take some time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KINKADE: Rex Tillerson there. Well, let's get more on all that's

going on in the Korean Peninsula. Will Ripley is live for us in Seoul.

Good to see you, Will. We've heard that South Korea was informed of North Korea's willingness to open these discussions via a fax message, certainly an old-fashioned way to get that message across. Those talks we know will happen this Tuesday. A lot riding on that.

What can we expect?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the fax thing is a really interesting detail, Lynda. By the way, there was a sixth phone call on that inter-Korean hotline today as well. The discussions between the two countries are continuing, even though ahead of these talks there actually aren't going to be any discussions to kind of lay the groundwork.

So essentially, the officials, the delegates from the respective unification ministries in North and South Korea will be sitting down at the table and kind of, just on first glance, laying out their agenda, which, at least from all indications we're hearing, is going to be pretty focused on the logistics for getting a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, just over a month from now.

And it is interesting that you heard North Korea's only IOC representative saying that it is very likely that the pairs figure skating duo, Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, will be potentially going here to South Korea to -- I mean it, it's going to be all eyes on these figure skaters, who actually qualified last year but then missed the deadline in order to actually be on the Olympic roster.

So the International Olympic Committee is working on granting an exception for them. It seems as if these talks are really going to be focusing mostly on that, on the Olympics. And the bigger issues would come later, if North Korea and South Korea agree for more talks down the road. But really, we're not going to know if that agreement will be reached, if that is going to happen until after this meeting concludes on Tuesday.

It's noteworthy, though, that they so quickly pulled together these talks, a span of less than a week, from when North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, said that he was willing to send a delegation to when they actually set a date for these talks.

It does show an eagerness on the part of the North Koreans to sit down and have discussions. You can read into that as you will.

My take is they might be looking at the forecast economically for 2018 and realizing if they don't get some of these economic sanctions lifted, it could be pretty hard times ahead, trying to maintain their economy and economic growth they saw last year, when they can't sell any of their legal exports practically and can't even really import many of the things that they need as well. KINKADE: Quite remarkable that South Korea is looking to accommodate the North Korean request to come to the Olympics at these late stages. We'll listen closely to how those talks go on Tuesday. Will Ripley, we'll have to leave it there for now. Thank you very much.

HOWELL: Accusations flew at the United Nations on Friday over anti- government protests in Iran. The U.S. called an emergency session of the Security Council. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the world was watching how Iran deals with protests there.

KINKADE: Iran and Russia both slammed the U.S.' request for a meeting. But --


KINKADE: -- Iran's ambassador accusing the U.S. of abusing its power at the Security Council. Iran's foreign minister called the meeting "a blunder" for the Trump administration and an attempt to hijack the Security Council's mandate.

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

KINKADE: There are also reports Tehran University has launched a committee to help police jailed students. Authorities say the protests have ended. But hundreds of people were arrested. At least 21 people were also killed.

Well, the Trump administration has strongly backed Iran's protesters. U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson recently spoke about that support in this exclusive interview with CNN's Elise Labott.


TILLERSON: We always support a peaceful transition of power. We do not support violent transitions of power, but we do support peaceful transitions of power, and we've seen those expressions in years past with the large demonstrations at the elections in 2009, the demonstrations that we see in the streets today.

We are supportive of the Iranian people achieving their aspirations for a better quality of life, for greater freedom. We believe they deserve that, but it will be up to the Iranian people to manage that peaceful transition. We support that.

LABOTT: How do you help them facilitate that?

TILLERSON: I think by amplifying their voices. When they go to the street, we listen to why they are there, what are their concerns. And where there are legitimate concerns, and we agree that their concerns are legitimate, we should support the expression of those.

And that's what the president has done, the White House, the vice president, myself here at the State Department, through statements we've made, is to give their voice amplification.


HOWELL: That was U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, speaking exclusively to CNN's global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

KINKADE: Still to come, President Trump calls the author of a tell- all book "a total loser," to which Michael Wolff says, "Thank you, Mr. President."

We'll explain why.

HOWELL: Plus prosecutors are investigating whether The Clinton Foundation engaged in pay-to-play politics with its donors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. A live report ahead from Washington. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM; it is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

KINKADE: And good to be with you. I'm Lynda Kinkade. Thank you for joining us. These are the headlines we're following this hour.


The U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has been a target of President Trump's anger ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. The president seems to view Sessions' recusal as an act of disloyalty.

HOWELL: Earlier we spoke about this with political analyst Michael Genovese, who said Sessions had no choice but to remove himself from the investigation. Here's what he had to say.


MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Code of federal regulations is so specific on this. And the attorney general had no choice but to recuse himself. To do otherwise would have led to a firestorm.

The problem is, the president sees his administration, the Justice Department, et cetera, as his personal law firm. It is not. It is the nation's. It is the presidency's. It is the country's. The president has his attorneys; he has his legal representation.

The Justice Department is different. And, yes, you'd like loyalty. You'd expect loyalty from the people you appoint. But this kind of blind loyalty that the president insists on is completely inappropriate given the nature of our constitutional system.

We don't operate like that. The president again, in part because of his lack of experience, doesn't quite get that; he thinks that the people you put into power, you put in to help the president, to help Donald Trump.

And when it looks like someone is being disloyal, even when he's doing the right thing, as Sessions did, recusing himself, the president gets upset.


HOWELL: As we mentioned, Mr. Trump is at the presidential retreat at Camp David this weekend. He's meeting with congressional leaders and some of his cabinet.

KINKADE: And the president may not know it but the author of "Fire and Fury" credits President Trump for helping to boost interest in the book. For more on that, here's CNN's Jim Acosta.


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 --


ACOSTA (voice-over): -- 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 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.


KINKADE: The Clinton Foundation is back in the spotlight as U.S. authorities are once again investigating allegations of corruption.

HOWELL: They're looking into whether the charity improperly engaged in pay-to-play politics with its donors. Our Laura Jarrett reports from Washington.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: 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 Clinton's 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.

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's an active probe, one the Clinton camp pretty swiftly dismissed, calling it 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.


KINKADE: Laura Jarrett reporting there.

Coming up, Hollywood gets ready for its golden night. Who is likely to go home with an award. We'll have that story when we come back.





KINKADE: Very cool video clip. J.T. there, back with new music. The pop star released the song "Guilty" on Friday.

HOWELL: (INAUDIBLE) a pop and lock better than a robot. I mean, the robot is going to beat you at that. It's the first single from his new album, "Man of the Woods," his first since 2013. Timberlake said he was inspired by his son, wife and home state of Tennessee.

KINKADE: While the album will be released in early February, just two days before the pop star performs at the Super Bowl halftime show, no doubt, he'll cash in on that.

HOWELL: The robot be there, too?

It's pretty cool.

KINKADE: I hope so.

HOWELL: All right. So Hollywood's awards season kicks off Sunday with the Golden Globes. This year's nominees for Best Drama include a fairy tale made for adults and a same-sex love story.

KINKADE: The cinema could take a back seat to politics with the #MeToo movement set to dominate the show. Isha Sesay has a preview.


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It was no surprise that Hollywood loved "La La Land" last year, dripping with all the glitz and glamor of cinema's golden age.

Nominated for seven awards at the Golden Globes, it won all seven. This year, a different kind of film is topping the list with seven nominations.

"The Shape of Water" is more creature feature than Broadway musical. While Hollywood has long snubbed horror films at awards season, Guillermo del Toro has reimagined "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" as a love story.

Another unexpected romance is also up for Best Picture, this one featuring a same-sex couple.

"Call Me By Your Name" Is a coming of age story, where a professor's son falls in love with a doctoral student.

Also in the running for Best Picture, this foul-mouthed drama.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" follows --


SESAY (voice-over): -- a mother's struggle to find her daughter's killer. While many critics praised the film, some people have criticized its handling of racism.

And Christopher Nolan's World War II epic "Dunkirk" is also up for Best Picture and is a favorite among many movie critics. Nolan is up for Best Director, as is Steven Spielberg for "The Post."

The film chronicles "The Washington Post" while it was led by its first female publisher, portrayed by Meryl Streep, who is nominated for Best Actress in this role. She made waves at the last Golden Globes for using her speech to condemn then president-elect Donald Trump for imitating a disabled reporter.

Just months after Trump's victory, the 2017 awards season was painted with anti-Trump overtures. A year later, this season is casting the shadow of the #MeToo movement with sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has denied the claims, and several high-profile actors.

Some critics expect the #MeToo movement could be in the awards show spotlight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every holiday movie season, people ask my least favorite question, who will win the Oscar?

I generally say, "Beats me."

But this year, I have already answered, someone not charged with sexual harassment.

SESAY (voice-over): Isha Sesay, CNN. Los Angeles.


HOWELL: Isha, thank you.

One lucky winner in the U.S. state of Florida has hit the jackpot of $450 million lottery. After 23 straight Mega Millions drawings with no grand prize winner, a single winning ticket was sold. The winning numbers were 28, 30, 39, 59 and 70. The Mega Millions ball was 10.

KINKADE: And if you didn't win that one, there is a chance to land an even bigger payday Saturday night with a $570 million Powerball jackpot, I had to read that twice, a crazy amounts of money, $570 million.

HOWELL: I think we'll all play it here in the NEWSROOM.

KINKADE: I know.


KINKADE: Still to come, a large part of the U.S. blanketed in snow. We're freezing here, even in the studio. Record low temperatures still forecast for the coming days.

HOWELL: I think we can fix that for the temperature, here in the studio at least. And why diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea now seems less about the size of armies and more about the size of, well, buttons. We'll explain that. Stay with us.






HOWELL: It has been dangerously, miserably cold --

KINKADE: Absolutely. Freezing.

HOWELL: -- in parts of the United States.


KINKADE: A diplomatic sandwich (ph) is carefully crafted, often the meaning is something has to be decided by reading between the lines.

HOWELL: Carefully crafted.


HOWELL: Not so with the U.S. president; in a message to North Korea this week, he reduced the size of U.S. capability with nuclear weapons to a comparison of buttons. You get the point with this. Jeanne Moos explains how much size matters to Mr. Trump.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And here you thought button size only mattered in sewing. Now, the President is tweeting about how his nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful than Kim Jong- un's.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!: We have two maniacs with nuclear warheads bragging about who has the bigger button.

MOOS: One journalist called it a button-measuring contest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean, how big is your button?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buttons, button size and button performance.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: And it's all about who's got the bigger button.


MOOS: When it comes to big buttons... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was easy.

MOOS: -- the one on President Trump's desk can't compare, but he uses this tiny one to order Diet Cokes, not nuclear strikes. The so-called football carries everything needed to launch a nuclear attack. It's obvious size matters to President Trump. From his I.Q. ...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guarantee you my I.Q. is much higher than any of these people.

MOOS: -- to his tax cut ...

TRUMP: This is the largest tax cut.

MOOS: -- to his hands.

TRUMP: He referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee you.

MOOS (voice-over): Cher referred to President Trump and Kim Jong-un, tweeting, "They're probably both the size of Tom Thumb."

When it comes to bragging about the size of your nuclear button, it might be wise to button it.

And even if the button's huge, that doesn't mean a leader will press the right one, as we saw in "Monsters vs. Aliens."





CHRIS MILLER, ACTOR, "ADVISOR COLE": That button launches all of our nuclear missiles!

"PRESIDENT HATHAWAY": Then which button gets me a latte?

MOOS (voice-over): Make that a Diet Coke.

MIKE MITCHELL, ACTOR, "ADVISOR WEDGIE": That would be the other one, sir.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

"PRESIDENT HATHAWAY": What idiot designed this thing?




KINKADE: Size does matter. That's it for the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Lynda Kinkade.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. The news continues here on CNN. Stay with us.