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CNN: Trump Expects Letter Of Exoneration From Mueller; House Investigators To Hold Key Interviews; Trump: Not Planning To Fire Mueller; Amtrak Train Derails On I-5 In Washington State; Four Hundred Plus Flights Canceled Today After Atlanta Blackout. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. The Trump transition has long since closed-up shop, but they're back at work today accusing the special counsel in the Russia investigation of taking tens of thousands of e-mails that they say are theirs and they say Bob Mueller had no right to take. Just as Republicans continue to pile on that the whole Russia investigation is biased.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The fix is in against Donald Trump from the beginning.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I have a lot of admiration and respect for Director Mueller, but I would think he would want to eliminate challenges to the integrity of his investigation.


BOLDUAN: But still, President Trump says this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Muelle?



BOLDUAN: Today, sources say President Trump is more confident than ever that he's about to be cleared, exonerated. Where is that confidence coming from? Well, let's get to it.

Sara Murray joining me right from the White House with this fascinating new detail. Sara, your reporting has been amazing on this. What are folks telling you?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the president has been less agitated about the special counsel's probe into allegations of meddling or of collusion during the campaign between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and part of the reason is the president has become convinced that he's going to be cleared in this investigation.

He's become convinced he's going to get a letter of exoneration from Mueller's team. Now the president's lawyers both publicly as well as privately been very optimistic about the timeline insisting that Mueller is close to wrapping up this investigation, that that could come any month now.

But lawyers who have been involved in this investigation, other legal experts say there's little indication that this is winding down. That has some of the president's allies worried if this deadline comes and goes, he could end up more irritated than ever.

And to even decide to do something rash like move forward with firing Mueller, despite the fact that he told reporters yesterday that's still not something he's considering.

BOLDUAN: And also, so Sara, can you also tell me what are you hearing at this moment about this -- I guess we call it a fight. I'm not really sure if it is a fight between the Trump transition and the Mueller team over their e-mails?

MURRAY: But what we've seen are the Trump transition lawyers releasing this public letter insisting that Mueller, his team unlawfully gathered thousands of e-mails from the Trump transition effort.

Now Mueller's team in this very rare public comment came out and said we've gone through the legal process to obtain any e-mails that we have in this investigation and it's worth noting, Kate, people are eyeing what the Trump transition lawyers have done a little skeptically because they've released the letter publicly.

They have not gone to a judge and made this allegation, but it comes at the same time as we see some of Trump's political advisers being much more critical of the Mueller investigation and the people he has working for him. That could be a sign of what's to come if the president starts to believe he may not get the shake he was hoping for in this probe.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Sara, thank you so much.

So, from the White House now to Capitol Hill, where a series of high- profile and potentially key interviews in the Russia investigation are about to take place. One with British music publicist, Rob Goldstone, who arranged the now infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who is promising dirt provided straight from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton during the election.

And also facing House investigators today Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. She was the head of the Democratic National Committee, of course, and the focus there, the also now infamous Trump dossier.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is joining me right now with all of this. So, Manu, what is going to happen today? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It's a very busy day starting for a packed week of witnesses before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. In the House side, Democrats are concerned that Republicans are strategically stacking these witnesses as part of an effort to quickly wrap up this Russia investigation end it in the coming days and weeks.

And today there are three witnesses alone coming to the door to the House Intelligence Committee. Right now, Michael Susman, who is an attorney with the firm Perkins Queen (ph), meeting with the House Intelligence Committee.

That's the same firm that was hired by the DNC and the Clinton campaign and that firm retained the services of that opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which was behind that Trump/Russia dossier compiled by the British agent, Christopher Steele.

Now, in addition to that, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz will also be questioned about what she knew about that dossier. She had said that she knew nothing about it when she was the head of the DNC, did not know about these payments that were going to this firm, Fusion GPS.

But also, another high-profile witness coming before the committee today, Rob Goldstone, who is a British publicist who set up the meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, met with Russians after Trump Jr. was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign.

Goldstone himself has met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff last week, but Kate, Democrats are concerned that this is all part of this effort to end this Russian investigation.

But Republicans are saying, look, we've interviewed everybody, do as much as we can, we have no date to end this just yet, but still they realize they say this investigation cannot go on forever -- Kate.

[11:05:09] BOLDUAN: All right. We'll see. Manu, great to see you. Thank you so much. A very busy day and busy week on Capitol Hill there.

Joining me now to discuss this former U.S. attorney, Michael Moore is here, Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. He worked under Special Counsel Bob Mueller when they were at the Justice Department together, and Eliana Johnson, a national political reporter for "Politico."

Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much for coming in. Michael Moore, first to you, on this back and -- it's -- maybe it is a back and forth between the transition and the Mueller team, the transition writing this letter releasing it.

Writing this letter to congressional investigators saying the Mueller team improperly obtained e-mails through the -- of the transition, folks, tens of thousands of e-mails of transitions folks, is there anything there to this? MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: No. I really don't think there is, Kate. When you're unhappy with the way an investigation is going, what do you do, attack the investigators and try to somehow bring doubt into the investigative process and question their credibility.

It's incredible to me, I will say this, to have anybody associated with Trump or his administration to call others corrupt or compromise is about like being told by a skunk that you smell bad. I think that in this case, there's nothing there.

They knew the e-mails. They have address. There's no expectation of privacy in those. Bob Mueller is too experienced a prosecutor to have gone about this any other way than the right way.

My guess he's had these for a long time and knows what information is in there, back and forth, who was given what position, any deals that were cut, any discussions about sanctions, he's been digging into this for some period of time. This is just noise out here to try to distract us from other parts of the investigation.

BOLDUAN: Part of all of this is where the president's head is on this, Michael Zeldin, the president is telling, coming from Sara Murray, the president telling folks he is confident that Mueller will be sending him a letter clearing him of any wrongdoing. A letter coming from Mueller exonerating the president, is that how this would go?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it would be a lovely Christmas gift for the president, but I don't think it's likely to happen. It's possible that Mueller could indicate to Dowd when they meet this coming week that the president is not a target of his investigation.

That's theoretically possible, although, I expect more likely they will not get that letter of exoneration or even an indication of potential wind down of the investigation. It doesn't seem the way that Mueller operates.

BOLDUAN: Does it come in the form of a letter? Is that how this goes?

ZELDIN: No, typically not. You could tell a target that they're no longer a target or you could tell a person that they're solely a witness. You could tell them if you wanted to where you are in the course of your investigation.

Those are prerogatives that the prosecutor possesses, but the notion of a letter of exoneration just is not normal to my experience in these types of investigations and remember, I was an independent counsel like Mueller on a smaller investigation and we never issued any such letters. The final exoneration, if you will, of our target came in the form of our report to Congress saying that she did nothing illegal.

BOLDUAN: That's why it's fascinating he would get this idea when it seems so highly unusual. Eliana, after lots of speculation that hasn't ended yet, but Donald Trump said last night in a question from reporters he's not going to fire Mueller. Does this fit into, I don't know, I've been thinking about it, the category of Jeff Session, which is I'm going to keep him around but blame and shame him whenever it suits me.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think the president is aware that the consequences of firing Bob Mueller are far more grave than would be the consequences of firing Jeff Sessions who truly does serve at his pleasure.

That being said, you see from the president and his allies including members of the presidential transition but also White House officials and Republican members of Congress, a pretty systemic effort to undermine Bob Mueller and to paint him and his team as political partisans.

So that when his findings come down and if charges are filed, the findings of his investigation are put in the camp of, you know, the political results, kind of like when the star report came down in the Clinton administration, while there were serious charges leveled in that report, they were dismissed by half the country because Democrats had done such a competent job as painting Ken Starr as a politically motivated actor.

[11:10:03] BOLDUAN: And Michael Zeldin, CNN is also reporting that Trump's personal attorneys and you alluded to this, they're set to meet this week and that Trump's team is hoping in this meeting to get a sense that -- of basically what Mueller's next steps are in the investigation. What kind of information could actually be exchanged in this kind of a sit down?

ZELDIN: Well, really, anything that Mueller wants to relay is theoretically transportable to Dowd. You have to remember that Dowd is the private counsel to the president, so --


ZELDIN: -- Mueller will not talk to Dowd about anything about the president if he talks to Dowd at all about it. You know, we don't know who asked for this meeting. If Mueller asked for this meeting, it well could be, Kate, he's saying look, I'm going to get ready soon to interview your client under oath so let's start talking about dates. If --

BOLDUAN: Really?

ZELDIN: -- Dowd asked for the meeting it might be hopeful wishful thinking that Mueller is going to say, look, Dowd, tell your client he has nothing to worry about it. I think that's in the nature of wishing, but doesn't make it so type of thinking.

So, I really don't think there's going to be a likely outcome that's going to satisfy the president in light of what he's been saying in the press in the last two days about this will wrap up and get this Christmas present letter of sort of being cleared. BOLDUAN: Right. And also gets -- exactly to this, Michael Moore, the timeline. You've got some of Trump's team who has all along been kind of moving the goal post on when they think this thing is going to wrap up.

You got Ty Cobb said that they were going to -- almost going to be over by Thanksgiving and then it was going to wrap up by the end of the year and now he's predicting early next. I do wonder if any attorney should be giving these promises with these goal posts for any client.

MOORE: I think this is a combination of client management and fake news. I mean, I think really from the client management side, trying to do something to pacify the president to make him think that there's an end in sight.

And at the other time, they are trying to spin us on when they think it will wrap up to make us think there's nothing out there. There's just no indication that this thing is coming to a close.

I mean, you got Mike Flynn, who has entered a plea and cooperating. Bob Mueller didn't give him that kind of deal, that kind of sweetheart deal, just so he can close this up by the end of the year.

My guess is that there's more things coming, more information out there and you don't have to look any further than the fact that remember that the president has been, by all accounts, complicit in the formulation of this letter on Air Force One outlining the meeting, the Russia meeting, trying to hide what the purpose of that is.

And people, it's Christmas time and adults write fake things from Santa Claus, but when they write a document that's fake that's usually one reason, to hide the truth. The president is caught up in that mess right now.

ZELDIN: And Kate, to that point, add one thing to Michael's point, I agree with completely, which is you have a couple of streams here, one you have this so-called collusion stream, but then as Michael reports, you've got the obstruction thing.

And it's not likely that if there was going to be any sort of, you know, sort of closing of the collusion part that it would also implicate the obstruction thing because that seems to be alive and well and still quite active.

BOLDUAN: All right. Michael, Michael and Eliana, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up for us, does "I'm going to resign" no longer mean I'm going to resign. One Democratic senator says Senator Al Franken should stay in the Senate. What is going on here? We'll get to it.

Plus, the Republican tax reform bill looks like it is headed to the finish line, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some last-minute drama unfolding. We're going to go to Capitol Hill for the very latest that's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BOLDUAN: All right. Getting some breaking news just handed to me. An Amtrak train, there is some sort of a derailment, a car has derailed and dangling on the Interstate 5 in Pierce County, Washington State.

That's according to the Washington State's Department of Transportation. They put this out on Twitter. Here is an image that we have, you can see highway, the train clearly dangling off the track.

I'm told I-5 runs all the way through the state of Washington. This is Amtrak Train 501. The tweet from Amtrak is, "We are aware of an incident involving Amtrak Train 501. We will update with any additional details as they become available." Scant details at this moment.

Let me try to get some more from Greg Mukai, an eyewitness. I think he's joining me on the phone right now. Greg, are you there?

GREG MUKAI, WITNESS (via telephone): Yes, I'm here.

BOLDUAN: What can you tell me? What did you see? What are you seeing?

MUKAI: I was traveling to work this morning along I-5 and we all came to a sudden halt right after passing the (inaudible). We all tried to stop quickly to avoid running into each other to be honest. Once we all came to a stop I was able to look up and see unfortunately this scary thing of like you said a train hanging off of the overpass. Lots of military personnel and people ran to try to help the best they could.

BOLDUAN: Is it -- from your perspective, could you see it, was it hanging? Was it on the highway or hanging over the highway?

MUKAI: So from what I could tell, it had -- something happened to cause it to come off the tracks and it actually crashed on to the freeway. Some cars were involved. There is a backup of cars as a result. So, it's not just hanging off. It came off of the tracks on to the highway there.

BOLDUAN: And you -- did it -- did it hit? Did it come in contact with cars on the highway?

MUKAI: That's what it looked like. I couldn't tell you how many. I didn't want to get too close. I'm not skilled with first aid or anything like that. I tried to stay out of the way.

[11:20:09] BOLDUAN: You said people were getting out of their cars going to offer help. What can you tell us? What did you see?

MUKAI: You know, we're just south of the military base, Fort Lewis- McChord and a lot of folks in there ran out to try to help so kudos to the military folks for stepping up. Like I said, I don't have those skills. Many people we tried to grab the first aid kits out of our cars, extra clothes to help however we could to help keep them warm and OK.

BOLDUAN: Are you -- I assume are you -- you're no longer in the traffic? Are you passed? Where are you now?

MUKAI: They just started turning us around and heading back north away from the incident.

BOLDUAN: So, this is very much still ongoing as we speak?

MUKAI: Absolutely. There are a ton of first aid and medic cars, local police, you can name it, they're all there.

BOLDUAN: Did you see anyone who appeared to be injured from your vantage point when you were out there?

MUKAI: I didn't see anybody injured at the time. I took that video and tried to run and help some folks. As I was sitting in my car, you do see people, obviously, being taken to first aid vehicles to medic vehicles and on stretchers and backboards and such.

BOLDUAN: How are -- from what you could see, how are folks being taken off the train? I mean, it's dangling? It's on the highway.

MUKAI: I'm not seeing it. I'm -- I can't tell you how they're doing that. I did see some emergency personnel on the tracks trying to evaluate it. I wasn't there to be able to speak to that.

BOLDUAN: OK. So right now, traffic is still -- is traffic still stopped or you're getting turned around and getting moved out of the way?

MUKAI: We're getting moved out of the way. We're close. All the traffic that is behind and being diverted either any way they can. Right now, both sides of the freeway north and south are closed at that overpass.

BOLDUAN: Gosh, that image that we're showing right now, you can't see it if you're in your car, but amazing to see the train dangling off the track on to a busy highway, nonetheless.

MUKAI: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Greg, thanks for jumping on. I really appreciate it.

MUKAI: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. So, we're going to keep an eye on that and bring you all the details. We'll have an update. We'll bring that as soon as we can.

But let's get over to another situation we've been tracking since overnight. The power is back on at the busiest airport in the world right now. Airlines are trying to get back on track. Until a few hours ago it might have been the quietest and darkest airport on earth.

An underground fire knocked out the power to Atlanta's Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport for 11 hours yesterday. We're getting a look at what that damage is looking like and what that damage did.

CNN's Martin Savidge is at the airport in Atlanta with the very latest. Martin, you've been there since early this morning. What exactly happened and how are things going now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, things are doing better. The airport I would say is up to 80 percent, 90 percent of full operations. I don't want to -- I hesitate to say things are back to normal. They're not. But as far as the functionality of the airport it's gone.

They've got people in line clearly, lots of lines, because what you've had now is you got about 50,000 people from yesterday that got stranded, mixing with the regular crowd of about 270,000 people that come through this airport in any given day and on top of that it's the beginning of the holiday travel period.

This literally could not have come at a worse time and remember, it isn't just that people were delayed. There was a lot of fear yesterday and that's what people talk about. The lights go out for hours, a great deal of confusion, no clear understanding as to why, people are stranded on aircraft for hours, others are trapped in various parts of the airport.

Smelling smoke and don't have a means of communication. That fire apparently started as a result of the -- some kind of problem with the electrical system and appears it was so intense in a confined space, utility crawl space, that it essentially took out the backup line.

Experts say when you have your primary and backup line that close together you really didn't have a backup line to begin with. The city has a lot of explaining to do on this. They're trying. They released photos.

By now the biggest thing is to make sure they can get to where they need to be safely and securely and that is being done. But trying to iron this out, it's going to take days because airplanes are out of place. Crews need rest.

I could go on and on about bags, not to mention unaccompanied children which would be a nightmare ta you're a parent waiting at the other end and poof, you can't contact them in Atlanta. This was huge.

And it makes the Atlanta airport look very bad when it likes to always say it is the world's busiest. Eleven hours without electricity most folks here cannot believe that happened.

[11:25:08] BOLDUAN: It is unbelievable and the fact that it's the timing, the time of year, the fact that they're trying to get folks with all these canceled flights get them on flights already so booked because of exactly right during the holiday season. Could probably not come at a worse time for anyone who's traveling and Atlanta as an airport. Great to see you, Martin. Thank you.

Coming up for us, in just a few hours, President Trump will be laying out his vision for the country's national security strategy. What will he say about Russia? How about China? And what will he say about interference in U.S. elections. We have a preview coming up.


BOLDUAN: When it comes to the Republican tax bill, what is the appropriate line today? It's a done deal? It's not over until it's over. Don't count your chickens until --