Return to Transcripts main page


Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon issuing a statement about his comments in the book "Fire and Fury"; One on one interview with President Trump's advisor Stephen Miller. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 7, 2018 - 16:00   ET



[16:00:16] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. And thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. That scathing tell-all book about life inside the Trump White House remains front and center and the fallout continues this hour.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon issuing a statement saying his comments in the book about Donald Trump Jr. are inaccurate. And he expressed regret about not responding sooner. Bannon writing this in part, "Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around. I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting on Don Jr. has diverted attention from the President's historical accomplishments in first year of his presidency," unquote.

But it may be too little too late. President Trump drawing a line in the sand calling allies and friends making it clear they must choose between Trump and Bannon.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is live for us at the White House where the President has returned from his weekend at Camp David.

So Boris, Bannon didn't just say his comments about Don Jr. were inaccurate. He also went after former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. We first saw these explosive excerpts from "Fire and Fury" on Wednesday. Now five days later we are getting our first direct response from the former chief White House strategist calling the reporting in the book inaccurate.

Specifically, he mentions a passage in which he's quoted in saying that the meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian nationals at Trump Tower back in June of 2016 was not only unpatriotic but also treasonous. He says that those comments were directed not as Donald Trump Jr., but as you said, at former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Here specifically what he writes in a statement, Bannon. Quote "my

comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicity, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr."

We should point out it was Donald Trump Jr. that brokered that meeting at Trump tower. He was the one that looped in Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. And he has even quoted in one email saying he loved the idea of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton that these Russians were offering.

Perhaps the most fascinating portion of this statement though comes in one part where Steve Bannon appears to offer an olive branch to President Trump even touting his own abilities as a messenger for the make America great movement.

He writes quote "I'm the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism and remain ready to stand in the breach for this President's efforts to make America great again."

We should note here that, for several days now, we have seen attacks the on Steve Bannon coming from the President's surrogates as well as the President himself, just yesterday referring to Steve Bannon as sloppy Steve.

You also noted some of that reporting and CNN has been able to confirm that over the past few days the President has reached out to friends and allies to essentially draw a line in the sand and say that either they stand with him and the White House or with Steve Bannon. And, further, last week we saw Steve Bannon's biggest financial backer Rebecca Mercer distance herself from the head of Breitbart news. So you get the sense that statement that perhaps Steve Bannon feels his influence waning and is now trying to make amends.

One final note, Fred. There is no mention of some of the more explosive statements regarding the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or the one about money laundering being part of the Russia investigation in this statement released today by Steve Bannon, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you.

All right. All of this as the White House continues its assault on Steve Bannon. The President's senior policy adviser Stephen Miller staunchly defending the President today in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, which did become quite contentious.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So President Trump and the White House have been calling the Russian investigation a witch hunt and a nothing-burger. But obviously in this new Michael Wolff book "Fire and Fury," Bannon offered a different take on the Trump tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and these other officials including the Russian lawyer. He called it treasonous and unpatriotic. And he said that quote "the chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero."

Did President Trump had a meeting with any of the so-called jumos who were in that Trump tower meeting?

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: Steve Bannon's eloquence in that description notwithstanding, it's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive. And the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments which were grotesque.

And with respect to the Trump tower meeting that he is talking about, he wasn't even there when this went down. So he is not really a remotely credible source on anything. It reads like an angry, vindictive person spouting off to a highly discreditable author.

The book is best understood as a work of very poorly written of fiction. And I also will say that the author is a garbage author of a garbage book. And the tragic thing about this book -- and there are many things about it that are unfortunate, but the betrayal of the President in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him, to my own experience having spent the last two years with him.

You know, on the campaign I have a chance to travel all across the country with the President on Trump force one. The President, me, Dan Scavino, Hop Hicks, a few other people going from rally to rally to rally to rally to rally. And I saw a man who was a political genius. Somebody who we would be going down landing in descent, there would be a breaking news development, and in 20 minutes he would dictate ten paragraphs of new material to address that event and then deliver flawlessly in front of an audience of 10,000 people.

[16:06:25] TAPPER: So you were at the campaign during that Trump tower meeting, I believe, right, in the summer of 2016? Just to answer the question, because you were there and Steve Bannon was not, did any of those people from that meeting meet with President Trump as Bannon says the chance that Don Jr. didn't walk these jumos up to his father's office the 26th floor is zero. Can you just settle that for us? Did President Trump meet with any of the people?

MILLER: I have no knowledge of anything to do with that meeting.


MILLER: But what I can tell you unequivocally is that the allegations and insinuations in this book which are a pure work of fiction are nothing but a pile of trash through and through.

TAPPER: Well --

MILLER: Well, just to finish, Jake. Because your network is going 24/7 with the salacious coverage. And I know that it brings a lot of you guys, love and joy to try to stick the knife in, but the reality is, is that page after page after page of the book is pure false. I see sections of the book where events that I participated in are described and I have firsthand knowledge that as it described, they are completely and totally fraudulent.

TAPPER: Nobody in CNN is sticking knives in anybody. There are a lot of people in the White House quoted in the book. I don't know why --

MILLER: The quote that you are referring to is a quote from Steve Bannon.

TAPPER: Right. He was the President's right hand.

MILLER: And I think that the President's statement on Steve settles once and for all the view about all that.

TAPPER: No, let's talk about that because -- I want to talk about that --

MILLER: Let's dig in to your comment about he was also the President's chief strategist. So one of the other tragedies of this grotesque work of fiction is its betrayal of the President. The reality is that the President is a political genius who won against a field of 17 incredibly talented people who took down the Bush dynasty, who took down the Clinton dynasty, who took down the entire media complex with its 90 percent negative coverage, took down billions of dollars in special interest donations, and he did it all through the people and through his strategy and his vision and his insight and his experience.

TAPPER: Let's talk about this. The President is now calling Bannon quote "sloppy Steve." And he released a scathing statement this week saying in part quote "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

You worked hand in glove with Bannon at the White House and on the campaign. Is the President really arguing that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with him or his presidency?

MILLER: I can only tell you my experience, which is that I joined the campaign in January of 2016 before the first ballot was cast.

TAPPER: Right. Bannon helped you get that job. No?

MILLER: Corey Lewandowski is the one who offered me the job in the Trump campaign, but just to finish --

TAPPER: Bannon wasn't helping you. Bannon didn't help you get that job on the campaign?

MILLER: I think the person who probably helped me most get the job on the campaign was probably Corey. But the most important thing -- because I had been working with Corey before I joined to try and help out with the campaign. But the most important thing to say about this is that the President's first speech that he gave unfiltered, unscripted, that was Donald Trump. That's the same Donald Trump who for 30 years has talked about how America's getting ripped off on trade, on military deals and everything else, is the same Donald Trump who tapped into the pulse of millions and millions of Americans. TAPPER: Right. But there's no presidency that's one person --

MILLER: It's something that a phenomenon was happening that you didn't see, that the rest of the political class didn't see. All these so-called political geniuses in Washington, whether it be at the big lobbying firms or the --

[16100:05] TAPPER: The only person who has called himself a genius in the last week is the President.

MILLER: Because it happens to be a true statement.


MILLER: A self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV --

TAPPER: And I'm sure he is watching and he is happy that you said that.

MILLER: No. You can be condescending.

TAPPER: I'm not being condescending.

MILLER: No, it's a snide remark. You are sure he is watching, he is happy. Let me tell you something.

TAPPER: Why is that snide?

MILLER: Look, you can be as condescending as you want, that's part of your MO. But listen, you can have 24/ 7 --

TAPPER: I have no idea why you are attacking me.

MILLER: Well, I will explain to you.

TAPPER: My point is Steve Bannon --.

MILLER: Jake, you can have 24/7 --.

TAPPER: Helped push the President's travel ban --

MILLER: I won't -- I'm so glad you brought that up. That's one of the news items in the book. I would happen to know better than you, Jake, about how the travel ban was written. Steve Bannon didn't push the travel ban --

TAPPER: If you let me ask this question.

MILLER: No, because you have 24 hours of negative anti-Trump, hysterical coverage on this network, that led in recent weeks as some spectacularly, embarrassing false reporting --

TAPPER: I think the networking ascertain --

MILLER: No. Because you are entitled to have three months of the truth. Why don't you just give me three minutes to tell you the truth of Donald Trump that I know and all of our campaign --?

TAPPER: Because it's my show and I don't want to do that.

MILLER: Well, this isn't a courtroom and I have a right to speak.

TAPPER: Stephen, settle down. Settle down.

MILLER: Jake --

TAPPER: I have a question for you about issues. Steven Bannon who the President says had nothing to do with the presidency. He was part of the President's travel ban. He was part of pulling out of the Paris climate deal. He was part of withdrawing from the TPP. He is part of border security. He was part of being tough on immigration.

MILLER: Do you want to go through --?

TAPPER: No, I don't want to go through. But my point is, is it really the position of the Trump White House that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with the presidency or can you acknowledge the reality that he was a key player?

MILLER: I think that what the point is, is that his role has been greatly exaggerated whereas the President hasn't gotten the due that he deserves for the movement that he put together to tap into the kinds of people whose life concerns don't get a lot of attention on CNN. Not a lot of hours of coverage on this TV talking about the working class construction workers who lost their jobs to foreign labor. There is not a lot of coverage on this TV about the people getting slaughtered in sanctuary cities. You don't do a lot of human interest stories about immigrant communities under siege from MS-13.

He tapped into a reality that has happened in this country as not covered on this network. And I know you think I'm interrupting you, but I think the American people deserve have two or three minutes of the truth.

TAPPER: And we have let you talk.

MILLER: No, here's the truth. I traveled with Donald Trump all across the country in the world. I would be with the President on a campaign plane with a rally in 20 minutes --

TAPPER: You have already made this point, Stephen.

MILLER: He may go to come up with material --.

TAPPER: You have already said that. We let you say that at the top.

According to "The New York Times" special counsel Robert Mueller has in his possession an early draft of a letter that you helped write in May 2017 detailing reasons to fire FBI director James Comey. According to the newspaper, the first line of the letter mentions the Russia investigation. Did you write a letter outlining reasons to fire Comey and list the Russia investigation and is that true?

MILLER: Here's the problem with what you are saying. The final draft of the letter, the one that was made --.

TAPPER: I'm not talking about that one. I'm talking about the one that Comey has that mentioned Russia.

MILLER: If you want to have an answer to your question and not to get hysterical, then I'll answer it. The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.

TAPPER: So it was just moved from the top to the bottom.

MILLER: No. Look at the letter. It is in the beginning. The investigation is referenced in the beginning of the final letter that was released to point out about the fact that notwithstanding having been informed that there's no investigation, that the move that is happening is completely unrelated to that. It was a disclaimer that appeared in the final version of the letter that was made public.

TAPPER: I want to ask you because you obviously are very offended by the notion that this book "Fire and Fury" paints a picture of Trump. Trump is not mentally up to the job.

On Saturday, President Trump put out a series of tweets trying to defend himself on this issue of fitness. And he said quote "actually, throughout my life my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and everyone knows went down in flames. I went from a very successful businessman to top TV star. The President of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify not as smart but genius and a very stable genius like that.

Do you think tweets like that help or hurt the (INAUDIBLE) at the President is stable enough for the job?

MILLER: Not only do I think they help it, but I think in the toxic environment that you created here in CNN and cable news which is a real crisis of legitimacy for your network and we saw it, of course, with the extremely fake news you reported about the Don Jr. and WikiLeaks story, there was a huge embarrassment for your network --

TAPPER: Stephen --

MILLER: Just like the huge embarrassment you had when you got the Comey testimony wrong.

[16:15:00] TAPPER: Stephen, I'm trying to get to the issue of the President's fitness which a lot of people are questioned.

MILLER: Well, I'm game to the issue of your fitness. But the President's tweets absolutely reaffirm the plain spoken truth, a self- made billionaire, revolutionized reality TV and tap into something magical that is happening in the hearts of this country. The people that you --.

TAPPER: He has approval rating in the 30s. I don't know what mass are you talking about. MILLER: The people that you don't connect with and understand, the

people whose manufacturing jobs have left, who have been besieged by hog time communities and who have been affected by a policy of uncontrolled immigration, those voices, those experiences don't get covered on this network. And to prove the point, I was booked to talk about the very issue I'm just describing that you are not even asking about because they are not interesting facts to you.

TAPPER: That's not true. I have a plenty of questions on immigration. You just have to filibuster by talking about your --

MILLER: No, I'm saying --

TAPPER: I'm trying to --

MILLER: No, don't be condescending. Jake.

TAPPER: Stephen.


MILLER: Jake, the reason why I want to talk about the President's experiences, what I have seen with him traveling to meet dozens of foreign leaders with his incredible work --

TAPPER: OK. You're not answering the questions. I understand --

MILLER: No. You got 24 hours a day of asking some material --.

TAPPER: Stephen, you are being --.

MILLER: You are not going to give three minutes for the American people to get the real experience of Donald Trump.

TAPPER: I get it. There is one viewer that you care about right now and you are being obsequious and being a factual in order to please him. OK.

MILLER: No. You know who I care about.

TAPPER: I think I have wasted enough of my viewers' time. Thank you, Stephen.

As Republicans lawmakers call for attorney general Jeff Sessions the resign and a major reversal --.


WHITFIELD: All right. That's really what unfolded. That's really how it ended. We have got a lot to talk about there. My panel joins me, next.


[16:19:54] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Let's continue our coverage now that explosive interview from the top

Presidential adviser Stephen Miller with our Jake Tapper. Miller appearing on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" earlier today and then gave a very fiery defense at the President and then blasted former Trump strategist -- chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Here's a quick snippet of that contentious interview.


[16:00:16] MILLER: It's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive and the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments which were grotesque.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's discuss this with my panel now. CNN political analyst and columnist for "the Washington Post" Josh Rogin and CNN political analyst Michael Sheer and Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Good to see you all. Happy New Year.

All right. So Brian, let me begin with you. You know, we haven't heard much from Stephen Miller since he had some very heated television interviews back in February of 2016. So what is the strategy behind and the mission behind advisor Steve Miller coming out today and conveying his message on behalf of the White House, the way in which it happened.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: One word -- ego. This was all about President Trump's ego. And Tapper at the end of the interview made the comment that Miller was really only performing for one person. And Trump then confirmed that later in the morning by tweeting out nastiness about CNN and Tapper.

So I think in some ways Trump confirmed and Miller confirmed some of the claims in Wolff's book which are that the President cares so deeply about how he has treated and covered that his anarchistic, an ego maniacal.

When you see White House aide go on television and perform the way Miller did, you ought to remember, normally, Sunday shows with Presidential aides or officials, these are conversations about policy matters, conversations about important topics, but instead Miller kept going back to how powerful the President is, how successful he is. It was clearly a show for one man. Clearly, the President liked it. But I think the rest of us learned a lot about how unusual and how dysfunctional the White House still is.

WHITFIELD: Yes. I mean, Miller got that at-a-boy, you know, from the President via tweet.

And Josh, even, you know, Miller kept saying, well, there are things that I want to talk about, you know, kind of policy driven but then he was the one who kept going back to, you know, praising the President. The interview did reveal a few other things, didn't it? And you know, particularly, the moment of contradiction involving this draft letter and Miller either having a hand in it or not. The sequence of priorities on that draft about the Russian investigation. Let's listen to these explanations that came by way of Miller.


MILLER: The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, 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.


WHITFIELD: So Josh, is this the White House attempting to change the story, make that Lester Holt/President Trump interview go away? What's happening here?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is a continuation of the dissonance that's been coming out of the White House on this issue since Comey got fired, right. Everyone says that he had nothing to do with the Russia investigation except for the President who not said it to Lester Holt but also said it is the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the oval office.

But I think, you know, the big takeaway from this interview is that it really highlights a fundamental problem with the White House's defense, right. They say it's all fake and Michael Wolff made it all up. And all Jake was pointing out was that a lot of the information comes from people who are in the White House, who are in a position to know. And when he confronts Stephen Miller about that, Miller's response is, fake news, fake news, fake news, which if you think about it is a really sort of Bannon-esque response, right. This is the Bannon approach to the media. Attack all the time.

WHITFIELD: His replacement.

ROGIN: When you got caught on contradiction, just attack the questioner. Scream fake news. And no one will be able to figure out what's going on.

WHITFIELD: Well, isn't that what the President does, too, though?

ROGIN: Exactly. What that shows you is sort of that here you have Stephen Miller, who despite what he said today, was very close to Bannon, at least for the first few months of the administration, was actually kind of a disciple band. And now you have the student, you know, throwing the master under the bus. But he is still there. And he still believes what Bannon believed, which is that the White House should take this sort of adversarial approach to everyone, Republican establishment, the media, you name it. That's what Bannon believe. That's what - if you read the whole book, that is what this whole

fight was about. You have a bunch of people who want the President to act Presidential, to work with communities of interest, to get stuff done, the stuff that he wants to get done, and then Bannon saying, no, no, that's never going to work. We just have to fight everyone all the time. That's what Bannon believes, that's what Trump believes. And obviously, that's what Stephen Miller believes. I don't think it is working but that is the way it is.

[16:25:08] WHITFIELD: All right. So Michael, you know, several GOP lawmakers were making the rounds today on the Sunday talk shows defending the President and pushing, you know, the agenda of the GOP. And one of the most unexpected Trump defenders was a longtime Presidential critic, I mean, at least longtime maybe many months ago, Senator Lindsey Graham. And here is how Graham explained things.


CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Hey, as the senator, why he is suddenly cozying up to Trump? What would you say to him?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Because he is President of the United States, he is going to make a decision about immigration I have been working on for a decade. He is President of the United States going to make a decision about North Korea, which is one of the biggest threats to the world at large. He is going to decide whether or not to stay in the Iranian agreement.

I have enjoyed his company. He beat me like a dog. I said everything I know to say about him. I used every adjective on the planet. And I lost, he won. And I feel an obligation to help him where I can. I have enjoyed working with him. I don't think he is crazy. I think he has had a very successful 2017. And I want to help him where I can. And we should all want him to be successful. He has got a lot on his plate.

TODD: If he asks you to serve in his cabinet, would you say yes?



WHITFIELD: So Michael, how do you explain this? This is very different, very different Lindsey Graham when on the campaign trail, very different when he went back to his job for a few months, after the inauguration, and now very different relationship between he and the President or admiration or something.

MICHAEL SHEER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, I mean, I sort of take Senator Graham at his word that, you know, his interest is in getting things done and he has decided that, you know, all else being equal, he would rather cozy up to the President if that means that he can sort of tweak the President in the direction he wants to go in on immigration and some foreign policy things that he cares about and the like. And he has decided that the better stand to take than say for example Senator Corker who, you know, is clearly in a much more adversarial position regarding the President.

I would like to go back to one thing on Stephen Miller, though. You know, I do think Jake is right that there was an audience of one in the sense that the President was clearly watching and we saw that from the tweet. But there was also another audience too and that is the sort of 32, 34, 36 percent that is Trump's base.

And look, you know, when they watch that performance that Stephen Miller did, which we all look at and sort of shake our head and think, boy, that's not the way it's done. That's not the way Presidential aides, you know, obviously perform on TV. That's not how it's done. But that 36 percent, they look at that and they say at-a-boy. That encourages them. They think that the President and his staff are giving it back to the media --.

WHITFIELD: So it's reassurance?

ROGIN: Yes, it's reassurance. And I think - and I'm certain that Stephen Miller and the rest of the staff think that was actually a good performance from the perspective of firing up their base and keeping them happy. It doesn't expand the support for the President. It never will, you know. But I'm not sure they think that it was as problematic as others might view it.

WHITFIELD: So then, Josh, with the New Year, there could potentially be a new shake-up, new staffing possibilities within the White House. Is there any inference being made by way of what was unrolled, unraveled today, you know, by Miller?

ROGIN: Yes, listen. The White House has been in constant personnel turmoil. And the turnover is just ridiculous by any standard. Now what we are seeing is that a lot of key figures at the top of the White House including deputy national security advisor Dana Powell, deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn and several others will leave in the coming months or two, OK. That's big, OK. That these were some of the most senior staffers, some people consider them adults in the room. They have been there a long time. They wielded great influence. But overall, what we are seeing is a real tough effort by this President to get top people to work for him and to stay there.

You heard Lindsey Graham. It's not a job that everyone's clamoring for, OK? So what you have here is you have Stephen Miller who has been there since January 2016. He is still there. He has got the, you know, bureaucratic survivability that rivaled Donald Rumsfeld. He is there, OK. And he has got big power and bog influence. There is no doubt about it.

So whether you like him or hate him, he out survived Priebus, Spicer, Bannon, Flynn, you name it. So I think that that voice, especially because Donald Trump seems to like him and agree with him, he is going to continues to be an important voice in figuring out how this White House works. And if you think that's good or you think that is bad, that's something we are going to have to continue to pay attention to.

WHITFIELD: Right. But then there's background noise versus, you know, the demise of those who end up becoming more in the forefront and we see kind what the pattern of events has been.

So then, Brian, as it pertains to the media, the President continues on his mantra of, you know, using the media but at the same time being very critical of journalism. So was there an unveiling of anything new or more of the same in this new year from this White House today?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: I thought it was interesting today. He said first there was fake news, now there's a fake book, calling Michael Wolff's book fake. This is the number one book in the country. It has sold out in many bookstores. The publisher is actually desperately trying to print as many copies as they can now in order to meet the demand.

There's a big chunk of the country that wants to hear and read what Michael Wolff is reporting. Even though there are some errors in the book, parts of it have been corroborated. And you know what, it's not over yet. Wolff's TV tour really starts in earnest tomorrow. We're going to see him everywhere from Colbert to "The View," from "Hardball" to Smerconish.

We're going to see Wolff all over the place talking about what he found inside the White House. So if anything, this is going to go on for days to come. And if the White House thinks this is over, the worst is over, the book is out, I have a feeling this is actually going to continue for quite some time. And that's why the questions about fitness are going to remain front and center for quite some time.

WHITFIELD: An you wonder if there are going to be any corrections in that new, you know, printout of this book, any of those typos or omissions, corrections of, you know, names, et cetera and then, you know, hearing from Michael Wolff earlier today on "Meet The Press," he says there was stuff that he didn't even include that was far worse so will there now be an exclusion there.

STELTER: I was really struck by one thing he said on "Meet the Press" -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, Fred. He said it was even worse than people think.


STELTER: You know, and he spent months inside the West Wing.

WHITFIELD: He did. All right, thank you so much to all of you. Appreciate it. Josh Rogan, Michael Shear and Brian Stelter, appreciate it. All right, we're continuing to follow breaking news from JFK airport. Look at these images right here. A water main break forcing the evacuation now of a terminal and creating a mess at baggage claim. We're going to take you there live.


WHITFIELD: Al right, we're continuing to follow breaking news out of JFK International Airport in New York. Some international flights have been canceled and a portion of the airport has been evacuated because of a water main break. Chaos was already brewing at JFK today with thousands of stranded passengers and people unable to retrieve their luggage, and now this. Polo Sandoval joins us from the airport. So Polo, what is the latest?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well at this point, officials here at JFK International Airport, Fred, announcing the shutdown of international flights coming into terminal four and you may be able to see why. If you look off in the distance in part, one of the entrances here at JFK International, one worker, one of many trying to push out all of the water that has flooded a portion of the arrivals hall at terminal four.

Let me take you inside with some of the video that we shot earlier today as we watched some of this water cascading down one of the interior walls here. Officials rushing, scrambling to evacuate people as the water was spreading very quickly. One of the more disheartening images that we saw was piles of people's luggage that we know has been backed up since Thursday's storm, began to get soaked by this water that was flooding a portion of this terminal.

At this point, this really is the latest in what officials have called a cascading series of issues. They have said that they've already experienced frozen equipment breakdown, they have experienced staff shortages as well and also some baggage handling complications after Thursday's winter storm. So it's already been several days since some of that wicked winter weather hit the northeast, but still those residual effects are being felt. This situation making things even worse.

The silver lining in all this perhaps is that some of the outbound international flights have been unaffected, according to the last update that came out 10 minutes ago, but I was just inside a little while ago, Fred. We can still hear the sound of rushing water. So as you can imagine this situation is not going to be resolved any time soon.

They are scrambling to make sure they can dry out the situation. And last observation I should mention, Fred, there were some of the large trucks that were dumping sand and salt out front because all that water that's being pushed out could potentially freeze. It feels like one degree here in Queens even though it's about 15 degrees on the thermometer.

WHITFIELD: Right. A terrible, terrible situation. All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. Really feeling for all the travelers coming and going and stuck.

All right, coming up, the director of the CIA says the president's tweets about Kim Jong-un are actually helping the situation with North Korea. So how are they expected to play amid crucial talks between North and South Korea coming up in the next couple of days?


WHITFIELD: All right, just days after bragging about the size of his nuclear button, President Trump insists that he is willing to talk to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on the phone, an apparent 180 in tone and policy. But today top cabinet officials are pushing back on critics who question whether the president's statements and tweets on North Korea are a cause for concern.


JOHN DICKERSON, HOST, CBS FACCE THE NATION: You said in December the president's tweets actually helped the CIA execute its mission. This week the president tweeted about the nuclear button. How does that help the CIA do its mission?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes, sir. That tweet is completely consistent with U.S. policy. The president, unlike previous administrations, has made a real commitment that is the denuclearization of the peninsula is the mandate. That is what we are going to achieve. The president has made very clear that we're going to do everything we can to do that in a way that doesn't involve military action, but has equally made clear that we are not going to stand for allowing Kim Jong-un to hold Los Angeles or Denver or New York at risk.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC GOOD MORNING AMERICA: DO you think the tweet was a good idea?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N: I think that he always has to keep Kim on his toes. It is very important that we don't ever let him get so arrogant that he doesn't realize the reality of what would happen if he started a nuclear war.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's bring in our panel now, CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN national security analyst Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon and our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. Good to see all of you. All right, General Hertling, you first. Should U.S. allies be concerned with these kinds of tweets from the president of the United States about the nuclear button, size of it, essentially issuing a threat of nuclear war to Kim Jong-un?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is in connection with a whole bunch of other things, Fred, and I think this was certainly a factor, but it was way down the list of the important factors. When you're talking about the connection between South and North Korea again, the opening up of conversations, there's a whole lot of other things that are playing on this primarily the opening of the Olympics in a few months. The last time the Olympics were held in South Korea in Seoul in 1988,

there was a flurry of activity by the North wanting to be involved in that. You combine that with the desire to participate in the Kaesong Industrial zone, a small work place that is in North Korea, it is really necessary as the sanction have really started to bite into the North Korean's economy more so than they ever have before, that's important.

And then you certainly have the requirement to have China and Russia perhaps impose their will on North Korea. So, there are a whole lot of factors in the diplomacy and the economic factors that are affecting the things that are going on in North Korea. Trump's tweeting, truthfully, I don't believe is anywhere in the top 10 as the things that are actually contributing to the opening up of conversation between North and South.

WHITFIELD: Well he believes and he said yesterday at Camp David that his strong stance is helping to bring these parties together and he should get a lot of credit for all of that.

HERTLING: Yes. I would say that that's more informational. One of the four elements of national power, a lot of diplomacy and military actions and economic actions have been going on much more behind the scenes, and there's also the coordination with other nations in the region.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, Gayle, you know just days after that nuclear button remark, the president says he would be willing to talk directly with Kim Jong-un by phone. So, how are the North Koreans, U.S. allies expected to read that kind of dramatic change in tone or is

that, you know, universally very helpful?

GAYLE TZEMACH-LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well look, there has been a shift between what has been said in terms of rhetoric in the U.N. speech and certainly in twitter versus the policy, which has been very consistent in terms of use economic power, use diplomatic power and try to avoid military engagement if possible while making clear that military engagement is needed would be pursued.

And so Secretary Tillerson had also said that there is a possibility for conversation. It's not the first time we've heard it from this administration, but I think

[16:45:00] what is fascinating is you know, you have this week a five- person delegation from the North coming to meet a five-person delegation from the South. And there are lots of folks both within South Korea and also in Japan wondering whether the North Koreans are trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States.

And what exactly will come out of this to where we actually have an effective turning down of the volume, which everyone would like to see, or will we have more political brinksmanship and games from North Koreans who have been petty effective at the game thus far.

WHITFIELD: And so at least we heard Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. say it's all about keeping Kim Jong-un on his toes, but are there real diplomatic risks here?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONBDENT: Well, I think there are diplomatic risks in the sense that, you know, there could be a miscalculation. I mean, this is a very unpredictable leader. You don't know how he's going to respond to a tweet such as the nuclear button. You know, on the other hand, when I spoke with Secretary Tillerson the other day, he said, you know, it's important that everybody knows what the stakes are. And so by using this kind of tough rhetoric including the nuclear button, that like lets everybody know that the U.S. means business and there's no messing around. But I just want to build on what Gayle said. I think it's very

important to note that, yes, these talks are going to be about the Olympics and North Korea's possible participation, but this is an effort. A lot of diplomats and analysts think to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, President Trump and President Moon do not see things eye to eye. President Moon is very much of the engagement policy and President Trump is, you know, wants engagement but wants certain things first in terms of the North Koreans committing to denuclearization.

So, we don't know how this is going to go. If the North and South continue to develop that relationship, and that could see North Korea turning away from the U.S. That could see the U.S. moving towards Japan in some ways. You could see a lot more instability as North Korea tries to drive this wedge between the U.S. and its allies.

WHITFIELD: And then of course, you know, I guess you've heard about this new book, this "Fire and Fury," you know, and how it does kind of paint a picture of a president who is surrounded by people who are questioning his competence quietly. British Prime Minister Theresa May was actually asked about the book's many claims and this is what she had to say.


ANDREW MARR, SCOTTISH JOURNALIST: In the states there are quite serious questions being raised by some people about his mental state. Do you think they're serious?

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: As I say, when I deal with President Trump, what I see is somebody who is committed to ensuring that he's taking decisions in the best interests of the United States.


WHITFIELD: So Gayle, would you expect a response, anything different from that, coming from the prime minister?

TZEMACH-LEMMON: No. I wouldn't and also she also announced in that interview that President Trump would be coming to the U.K. for a state visit, which has had been an on-again, off-again conversation. But what is fascination is, you know, Theresa May herself is trying to move forward, right. Trying to push post Brexit. 3

You have Germany trying to build a coalition government. So Europe, while the French president's really talking about trying to build a united states of Europe in part to counter what there is perceived lack of U.S. leadership, Europe also has its own challenges in terms of the domestic political terrain and I think Theresa May would be very happy to talk about her own situation rather than what's happening in the United States.

WHITFIELD: And then general, what would be the approach or thinking of so many leaders of allied nations such as Great Britain or even Germany and France. The president actually sending out a statement, the White House sending out a statement that the president actually had a phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron as early as yesterday. How might they be receiving all of this reporting about this new tell-all book?

HERTLING: I can talk more about Europe and the Middle East, Fred, because I've been there. I can't talk across the globe, but what I will tell you is there have been factually increasing surveys among the people of most of the European countries and the middle eastern countries that show a decreasing support for the Trump administration. Now, does that take into account how the leaders of those countries will interact with the president? I don't know.

But we've seen different intelligence sources say that the other countries of the globe are getting the measure of the man, Mr. Trump, and saying here's how we're going to have to deal with him. And there have been many countries who have reported a lack of trust in the policies of the United States. Now, they've regained that trust by using conversations with other members of the administration, like the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State.

But there is confusion and I've seen this firsthand anecdotally at various security conferences I've been in Europe where there is a questioning of what is going to come next from the Trump administration even though the national

[16:50:00] security strategy, which was published a few weeks ago and the president's cabinet members seem to be toeing the party line and the strategy, they are still confused about the actions of the president.

WHITFIELD: All right, fascinating. Thanks to all of you, appreciate it, General Mark Hertling, Gayle Tzemach-Lemmon, and Elise Labnott and Happy New Year to all of you. We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. It's one of the president's unique talents if you want to call it that, coming up with biting nicknames for his opponents. Usually just two-word monikers, but they can cut pretty deep. And that's this week's "State of the Cartoonian" by Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN STATE OF THE CARTOONIAN (voice-over): Almost like magic late on Thursday, President Trump came up with a new nasty nickname for his former chief strategist Steve Bannon.


TAPPER (voice-over): The nickname comes in the midst of a rather consequential fight about a book that paints a picture of the president that's disconnected and not up to the job. There is one job that the president is clearly up to, coining devastating nicknames.

TRUMP (voice-over): Rocket man. Crooked Hillary Clinton. Low energy Jeff Bush. Lying Ted Cruz, lying Ted. Little Marco.

TAPPER (voice-over): Cruel and juvenile and occasionally racist.

TRUMP (voice-over): I call her Pocahontas and that's an insult to Pocahontas.

[16:55:00] TAPPER (voice-over): So does President Trump come up with that perfect nickname? Does he workshop them? Sardonic Steve? No. Silly Steve? No. Hobo Steve? Might anger the hobo community.

TRUMP (voice-over): Sloppy Steve.

TAPPER (voice-over): But Bannon is capable of coming up with biting nicknames as well. According to "Politico," he privately refers to President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner as Fredo, the craven son in "The Godfather." Though we should point out thet "Politico" originally misreported this saying that Bannon called Kushner Frodo, the character from "Lord of the Rings."

So will Bannon now return fire and come up with nickname for his former boss? One wonders where this epic battle might end up, perhaps like an old west standoff with smartphones instead of guns.


WHITFIELD: All right. And thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The next hour of the "Newsroom"" starts after this.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. You're in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Glad you're with us. New words today used by a top White House official talking about this tell-all book that paints the first year of the Trump administration as completely dysfunctional.

[17:00:00] This man, Stephen Miller, the president's senior policy advisor was on CNN earlier today. He calls the book, "Fire and Fury" garbage. The man who wrote it, Michael Wolff, a garbage author about the quotes attributed to the president's former right hand man Steve Bannon grotesque.