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White House Shows Fitness for Office; California Rocked by Mudslides; Judge Blocks End to Dreamers Program; Trump Wanted to Stop Recusal; Dossier Author Feared Blackmail. Aired 6:30-7:00a ET

Aired January 10, 2018 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Together. He did that nice bait and switch with the TV cameras, which was a little bit of TV genius.


CUOMO: And now in terms of what was in it for people who want to be a critic of his, he didn't really get the clean bill stuff. He really didn't show any mastery of the issues on hand. And we'll have to see if he lives up to his pledges.

CILLIZZA: Well, he's got a bunch of contradictory -- a bunch of contradictory stuff.

CUOMO: Right. So --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's the substance.

CUOMO: Right, but I'm --

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, in terms of the style, did it quite the conversation, the "Fire and Fury" conversation?

CILLIZZA: It helps. It helps. I would say, do not think that we are being conspiracy theorists because as soon as it was over, the Republican National Committee sent out a big thing with tweets from people saying, Trump looked presidential.

CUOMO: Gotcha.

CILLIZZA: Trump looked stable. Like, that was clearly --

CUOMO: Yes, I gotcha.

CILLIZZA: Clearly the goal from a style perspective.

CUOMO: It was all very obvious yesterday and that's a good thing for the American people.


CUOMO: I quick programing note. Tonight on "Cuomo Prime Time," we're going to have Kellyanne Conway on. She can talk about what is the wall these days, what did that meeting mean to them, where is the president now on the points that matter. And the map next to her, just as important in a way. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio running for Senate in Arizona. He will be tested.

CAMEROTA: That will be interesting.

All right, first, it was raging wildfires. Now Californians are being ravaged by deadly mudslides and flash flooding. So we have a live report from the scene, next.


CUOMO: Wildfire ravaged southern California now being ravaged by deadly mudslides and flash flooding.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is live in Montecito, California, with the latest.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, as you look behind me, utter devastation in Montecito. At least 13 confirmed dead, but they expect the death toll to rise.

This is just one of the many houses that are completely covered or surrounded by debris. I'm on a street that became basically a river. And you can see what was pushed down this river. Trees and parts of other completely destroyed houses. Somewhere between three and six houses completely destroyed.

[06:35:09] And there are still people actively being searched for. This is not in away a done search and rescue effort. We also understand in the Romero Canyon community of Montecito, in those foothills, there's about 300 people who have been cut off from civilization if you will. They can't get to them and they're going to pull them out later today by helicopter.

But that is the scene here repeated over and over and over again, how did it happen? At one point, in nearby Carpenteria, they got an inch of rain -- about an inch of rain in just an hour. It hit those absolutely denuded and stripped of vegetation hillsides. And when that rain hit those ashy hillsides, the mud, the torrent came cascading down into Montecito and in Carpenteria. A major artery, the U.S. 101, is now closed. They've got a lot of heavy lifting to do here in the next couple days.

Back to you now, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It sure looks like it, Paul. Thank you very much for the update from there.

So, should the White House be influencing what the Justice Department investigates? We will talk to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about all the day's news, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CAMEROTA: A federal judge temporarily blocking the Trump administration's efforts to end protections for dreamers. Here to discuss this and more, we have former U.S. attorney general and counsel to President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales. Mr. Gonzales is currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law and the author of "True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace."

Dean Gonzales, thank you very much for being here.


CAMEROTA: What does this judge's ruling mean? Are dreamers safe today to stay?

GONZALES: I think they're safer today than they possibly were yesterday. But long term I fear that it may take the pressure off of Congress in doing its job in providing long-term relief to the dreamers. So that concerns me a bit. I think this is -- I think everyone understands and agrees, this is a responsibility of Congress to deal with this issue of dreamers.

[06:40:05] I support providing some kind of relief to the dreamers. I think most Americans -- many Americans do. I think there is support for that in the White House and support for that, a majority of -- members of Congress.


GONZALES: But this is a very difficult issue and, obviously, it's a very political issue, a politically charged issue. And one of the things I do worry about is that this ruling does relieve some of the pressure upon Congress to get something done.

CAMEROTA: Because there's no urgency. So, in other words, if they don't think -- I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but if lawmakers don't think that they have this March deadline that they're up against, then they can back off making a decision? And so my question is, how long are the dreamers safe?

GONZALES: Well, that --

CAMEROTA: And can President Trump or the White House appeal this judge's ruling?

GONZALES: Oh, no question, they're going -- it's going to be appealed. And, of course, you ask, how long will it take? It depends on how long it will take to get a final decision from the courts. And, of course, this is a district court ruling. It's going to go up to the court of appeals. And then most likely up to the U.S. Supreme Court depending on the outcome at the court of appeals level. So it takes -- it could take a period of months, perhaps, you know, a year. And -- but so, at the end of the day, though, the dreamers may lose in the courts. And at that point, you know, they're out of luck completely. And so I really do believe that their -- the solution here is for Congress to take action, irrespective of what the court has done here. I'm hopeful that Congress will move forward and work with the president and get something done.

CAMEROTA: It looks like they're working on it if yesterday's meeting was any indication.

I want to ask you about the Russia investigation as it pertains to Jeff Sessions and Don McGahn. The -- as you know, "The New York Times" reported that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, went to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and relayed a message from the president asking Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself. The president didn't think that Jeff Sessions needed to and didn't want him to recuse. You are such an interesting guest because of course you've been attorney general, you've been White House counsel. Was that a legitimate ask from the president?

GONZALES: I think there's certainly nothing -- I mean it's certainly -- the power is there for the White House to make that communication because, after all, the Department of Justice is within the executive branch and the president's the head of the executive branch. But it does create --

CAMEROTA: But should he have made that?

GONZALES: It does create some very serious political issues, political challenges. The optics are not good. And then, of course, it does set up the possibility of possible obstruction of justice down the road in doing so.

At the end of the day, I -- you know, I'm on record as saying that I think Jeff Sessions did the absolute right thing. This is not about whether or not Jeff Sessions is in charge of this investigation. The question is, whether or not there is confidence in the American people of this investigation, that there is no bias, no impartiality. And so I think Jeff Sessions, after consulting with the experts in the Department of Justice, I think he made the right call. And I think to have gone against the advice of the career folks at the Department of Justice, it would have caused Jeff to lose credibility within the building and I think it would have done damage to the reputation of the Department of Justice. So I support the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

CAMEROTA: But when you were counsel to George W. -- to President George W. Bush, would you have done that? If he asked you to go to the attorney general, would you have made that ask?

GONZALES: President Bush would not have made that ask. We were -- we had a very close relationship --


GONZALES: And we had an understanding that with respect to investigations by the Department of Justice, you stay away from -- you stay as far away from it as possible. That you cooperate fully if there's a request for documents or to talk to members of the White House. You know, you cooperate to the fullest extent possible. When I was in the White House Counsel, we never asserted privileged in

connection with any ongoing investigation. So I can't imagine anything like that would have ever happened with -- under President George W. Bush.

CAMEROTA: So -- but the fact that President Trump did ask Don McGahn to do that, is that obstruction of justice?

GONZALES: It depends. I'm not in a position to answer that question without knowing a lot more information. I don't know whether or not Don McGahn put it this way. Listen, the president wants you to think hard about not recusing yourself. We know it's a judgment call. We know at the end of the day you're going to exercise your own best judgment as to what's right here. But I'm here to tell you the president hopes that you can stay on in this -- in that investigation. So if it was presented that way, you could make an argument there would be nothing improper about simply communicating the president's wishes. But understanding at the end of the day General Jeff Sessions has to make this call based upon his own best judgment. That would not have been inappropriate in my judgment.

CAMEROTA: But it sounds like, from what you've read, you're not comfortable with what happened there.

GONZALES: Well, again, there's a lot I don't know about the relationships. A lot I don't know about the investigation. But based on my experience as White House counsel, this is not a conversation that would have occurred.

[06:45:01] CAMEROTA: OK. Alberto Gonzales, thank you very much. Always great to get your expertise on this.

GONZALES: Thank you, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right, so the Trump administration removing Florida from its planned expansion of offshore drilling. Why? Why not other states? That's next.


CUOMO: The Trump administration is reversing course, now saying there will be no oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unveiled a proposal last week rolling back offshore drilling restrictions. But then Republican Governor Rick Scott objected, saying Florida's coasts are heavily reliant on tourism. As a result, Zinke changed his decision for Florida, but not other coastal states with the same complaint. Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson criticized the move as political posturing, saying it's meant to help Scott, who's expected to challenge Nelson for his Senate seat this year.

CAMEROTA: Federal judges ordering the state of North Carolina to redraw its 13 congressional districts, ruling that the current map is unconstitutionally partisan. The three judge panel rejecting the Republican controlled general assembly's map, claiming that it violates the equal protection clause, the First Amendment and Article One of the Constitution. The state now has three weeks to file a new redistricting plan for the 2018 midterms.

[06:50:25] CUOMO: A Kansas state lawmaker is stepping down from two leadership posts after remarks suggesting that blacks had a genetic predisposition for abusing drugs. Republican Steve Alford made the comments during a legislative coffee session last weekend. Alford arguing against legalizing marijuana in the state. He said, you have to look back at why we got rid of drugs in the 1930s, essentially to protect black people from users -- to protect people from black --


STEVE ALFORD (R), KANSAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: One of the reasons why -- I hate to say it -- it's the African-Americans, they're -- they've been -- they -- they were basically users and they -- and they basically responded the worst of those drugs is because their character makeup, their -- their genetics, I think (ph).


CUOMO: All right, so, just to be clear, that is what the controversy is all about. There's no science, there's no logic, there's no suggestion to back up the idea that African-Americans were more susceptible to marijuana use and drug use because of their character and makeup.

CAMEROTA: That was swift action that saw him losing his leadership there.

CUOMO: Well, he stepped down and it was important for us to call it out because he --

CAMEROTA: Because it's crazy talk.

CUOMO: And you have to keep track of it, where it happens, even in the quite little moments. You know, even when it's not big and loud. It matters.

CAMEROTA: All right, so, what does the release of this Fusion GPS transcript reveal about the motive of the dossier author? Someone who knows all about the dossier, James Clapper, joins us next.


CUOMO: Have you read the released transcript of the interview of the head of Fusion GPS? The company that came up with the dossier with the help of Christopher Steele, the former U.K. intelligence agent. Well, the founder, Glenn Simpson, was before a Senate committee and revealed that the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, approached the FBI, not because he was paid to, not because he had a political agenda, but because he was worried that candidate Trump was being blackmailed.

[06:55:13] So, does the release of this transcript and the answers in it undermine efforts by Republicans to discredit the dossier's author?

Joining us now is CNN national security analyst and former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Good to have you on the show, sir, as always.


CUOMO: Your takeaway from the transcript?

CLAPPER: Well, I think it validates the character, frankly, of Christopher Steele. He was well regarded. And I'm -- and I'm speaking, I should say, the caveat here, I'm speaking of contemporaneously when I was serving as DNI before January 20th. Chris Steele was regarded as a competent professional, a dedicated professional, both by his British colleagues -- I know this firsthand -- as well as by the FBI. And I think it speaks to his instincts, his professional instincts, that when he grew concerned about what he was learning, that he first apparently reported this to his own government, as well as to the FBI.

I think the transcript, to me, just a casual read of it, it seems like there's a lot of focus on trying to shoot the messenger rather than the substantive content of what he was reporting, which to me is the important consideration here, not who commissioned the study or who paid for it. In the end it's, who put it together.

Now, having said that, I have to reiterate as well that the reason that we did not include the dossier per say as an organic part of the intelligence community assessment that we published on January 6th of 2017 in which we briefed to then President-elect Trump on that day, was, we could not, in the time we had, corroborate the second third order assets that were used to compile it. But as far as Christopher Steele's own credibility, we didn't have any question about that.

CUOMO: Now, that's an important point. Let's clarify that. And then I want to get back into what the transcript makes clear about the intentions of this particular Senate committee.

There is a notion that the reason that they have to go after the dossier is it's all you guys had. The FBI based everything they did, the intelligence from the DNI on down, based everything on this dossier. You've got nothing else.

CLAPPER: That is incorrect, completely incorrect. We -- the reporting that we did in the intelligence community assessment was drawn from other sources entirely, in which we had very high confidence. And that was one of the ground rules that we set for ourselves. I say we. It was CIA, FBI, NSA and my office that we set for ourselves was a high confidence level of anything that we put in that intelligence committee assessment. We -- because of our inability to validate, verify the sources that were used in the dossier, we did not include it as a part of the intelligence community assessment. I will also say, though, that our -- that some parts of the dossier were corroborated in our report from separate sources that we did have confidence in. CUOMO: Beyond what wound up being to our best approximation,

Papadopoulos and the source from the diplomat who said that Papadopoulos had said the same types of things to him that were in the dossier, did you have sourcing beyond that?

CLAPPER: Well, yes. And I didn't -- absolutely. And I -- George Papadopoulos was a new name to me that I was not aware of until the revelation of his plea.

CUOMO: All right. And back to the transcript for a second. When you read through it, what does it seem to you is the clear intention of the committee questioners? Does it seem that they're looking to get to the bottom of interference and what was done by Russia and who might have helped them, or is it something else?

CLAPPER: Well, I'll just say, Chris, that this is a -- what was -- manifested in that transcript I think is characteristic of this whole -- of this whole matter where whatever was done, whatever was reported, a meeting becomes political, politicized. And so the Republicans, not surprisingly, seem to be more interest in assailing the credibility of the company that sponsored Chris Steele's research and, of course, Chris Steele himself. And that's why I think, frankly, the criminal referral on Chris Steele by Senator Grassley and Senator Graham is another manifestation of this.

[07:00:08] So we're more concerned with attacking messengers than we are the substantive content, which, to me, is the more important matter.