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GOP Intensifies Attacks To Undermine Russia Investigation; FBI Official Backs Up Comey's Claim That Trump Asked For Loyalty; 128 Countries Condemn Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Brennan Calls Trump "Narcissistic, Vengeful" After U.N. Threat. Aired 7-8pm ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- in THE SITUATION ROOM. Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront, next. Conspiracy theories mounting over Russia, one Republican even saying Obama officials should be investigated. This, as a new poll shows only 8 percent of Americans believe what Trump says about Russia is completely true.

Plus, what was former presidential candidate Jill Stein doing at a dinner with Vladimir Putin that that investigators want to know? She is my guest tonight.

And Trump's Mar-a-Lago reportedly jacking up the price for its annual New Year's Eve party. What's wrong with this picture? Let's go OutFront.

Good evening, I'm Pamela Brown in for Erin Burnett. And OutFront tonight, not giving up, Republicans determined to discredit the Russia probe. Case and point, the Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, grilled behind closed doors by two House committees today. McCabe is the latest target for Republicans eager to show anti-Trump bias in the FBI and Department of Justice. The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee had this to say about the hearings today.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This hearing is part of an ongoing Republican attempt to divert attention. It's just an attempt to divert -- part of their attempt to divert attention from the real investigation into the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.


BROWN: Senator Rand Paul today weighed in with a conspiracy theory of his own tweeting this, "Time to investigate high ranking Obama government officials who might have colluded to prevent the election of @realDonaldTrump. This could be worse than Watergate."

So it's not quite clear what exactly he is referring to here. And Paul's statement is similar to what his Republican colleague in the House, Jim Jordan, had to say.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Was James Comey part of a plot to keep Donald Trump from being president?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R) OHIO: We'll find out. We'll find out. All I know is the text message from Peter Strzok to Lisa Page share points to that being what looks like took place. And that's what we're going to investigate.

BERMAN: You think James Comey was part of an effort. It went all the way to the top of the FBI to keep Donald Trump from being president? Why then --

JORDAN: We find out -- here's what I know.

BERMAN: That's true, why then did he come out again and reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and never even tell us before the election about the investigation into alleged Trump collusion. If he was trying to keep Donald Trump from getting elected --

JORDAN: We want to find out.

BERMAN: -- don't you think he might tell voters this?

JORDAN: Yes, we'll have to find a --


BROWN: And that's to be all done. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes is demanding interviews and documents from the DOJ and FBI about how to use the opposition research, the dossier on Trump and Russia. Despite this intensifying effort on the part of Republicans to tear down anything related to the Russia investigation, a new CNN poll shows nearly half of Americans, 47 percent say they approve of Mueller's handling of the probe into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. 34 percent say they disapprove.

And then there's this, only 32 percent approve of how Trump is handing the Russia probe. And a stunning 56 percent of people think the things Trump says about the Russia investigation are false.

The only people who seem to be more convince that the Russia probe is not a serious matter are Republicans. In fact, only 60 percent of Republicans take it seriously. That is down from 28 percent just last month. Nearly 8 and 10 Republicans think it's just an effort to discredit Trump's presidency.

Manu Raju is OutFront tonight on Capitol Hill. So Manu, you have some new information about what happened behind closed doors today with FBI Director Andy McCabe, right?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Andy McCabe, for the second time this week, facing grilling from three different House committees. Earlier this week, he met with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. And we are learning more of what he said to the House Intelligence Committee in that interview.

We are told he was asked about his interactions with his former boss, then-FBI Director James Comey. He was asked to whether he was aware about these conversations that allegedly occurred between Comey and President Trump, including when President Trump asked Comey for loyalty this before Comey was fired.

Now, according to McCabe's testimony, he said that Comey told him about the conversations that he had with Trump after those conversations occurred. So he was essentially a contemporaneous witness to these accounts of James Comey, this according to multiple sources from both parties of direct knowledge of these conversations.

Now today, that was not the focus of today's investigation. Today's investigation was led by two Republican led House committees. They're actually trying to investigate whether or not there was any FBI bias in this handling of a number of decisions during the 2016 campaign. So they focused in large part of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

[19:05:02] They are really grilling the FBI Director over their concerns that this FBI investigation was not handled properly and gave Clinton favorable treatment. And Republicans are merging from that hearing today told me that they believe that McCabe essentially reconfirmed their beliefs that Clinton was treated favorably. Pam.

BROWN: And how are Republicans, Manu, responding to these charges from Democrats that they're trying to discredit Mueller's investigation?

RAJU: Well, a bit of pushing back. They are saying that they are simply trying to understand exactly what happened here. They believe that there are some prosecutors on Mueller's team who are impartial.

And according to the words of some Republicans are trying to, quote, clean house. They say, this is not an effort to discredit Bob Mueller, try to discredit the FBI, they just say they want to get the facts.

But there are some Republicans who are concerned that the President goes too far, tries to fire Bob Mueller, tried to under cut the investigation. There will be a major backlash among Republicans. That's mostly on the Senate side. There are some House Republicans who agree with that, too.

But there's a growing number of House Republicans who are just frustrated with the FBI. Frustrated with the decisions not to charge to Hillary Clinton last year and believe Bob Mueller's investigation has been impartial. Pam.

BROWN: All right, Manu, stay with me, a lot to discuss here. I also want to bring in David Chalian, our Political Director. So David, what is your reaction to Manu's reporting?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the reaction is, we have learned that McCabe is one of the people. But as Manu said, what is key here is in addition to the contemporaneous notes, there's now a contemporary collaborating witness basically to the account. I mean, this isn't just James Comey now going to a car and typing up notes to make sure it's freshly kept right after the event. It is also that he shared with a senior official inside the FBI.

Those two things together build credibility around what Comey says occurred. So I think that is no doubt a significant development, Pam.

BROWN: And also Manu, when you look at the CNN poll, it appears that Republicans efforts to discredit Mueller's investigation might be working among Republicans because it is now down to -- I think we said something like 17 percent, 16 percent Republicans take it seriously, this Russia investigation, down from 28 percent last month. What has the reaction been on Capitol Hill to this?

RAJU: Well, you know, this is -- it's interesting you point that out because increasingly, you are seeing the Russia investigation on Capitol Hill take a partisan tone, especially in the House. And that probably suggests -- it probably -- if you point to those polls, it makes a lot of sense, because they're speaking to their supporters who believe that some of these investigations have gone on for quite some time that they should be wrapped up pretty soon.

And they have not found that evidence of collusion that Democrats, in particular, have been searching for. So it you're seeing multiple narratives play out, Pam, Republicans say there's nothing there. Democrats say there's a lot more to investigate. Pam.

BROWN: All right, we have a Democrat coming up to speak to. Thank you both for coming on.

Tonight, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse joins us. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. Thank you for coming on, Senator.


BROWN: First, I want to start with Rand Paul and his tweet basically saying Obama officials should now be investigated, too. What do you say to your fellow Senator?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I'll keep this public. I don't want to address the fellow Senator through the TV medium. But I think as a general proposition, there are two very concerted efforts that are taking place with respect to the Mueller investigation. One is to try to redirect it and to push other investigations and to cloud the issues. And the second is to deprecate it and to try to make the FBI and/or Special Counsel Mueller, and/or the Department of Justice all look bad, as if they're tainted in some way. And I think both of those are strategic preparation for something, either an attack on the Mueller investigation or just an effort to fight back against whatever it reveals.

BROWN: Well, what is very revealing is the CNN poll out today. And this poll shows that over the past month alone, Senator, there was a 10-point increase among Republicans who think the Russia investigation is simply an effort to discredit the President. It seems as though Republicans tactics are working, at least within their own party. Does that concern you?

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, it does because I'm a former United States attorney. I think very highly of the Department of Justice and the FBI. I think that efforts to degrade their public reputation simply for political advantage have potentially severe and lasting consequences that are very irresponsible.

[19:10:01] But it does show that when the Republican Party begins to saturate the right wing media with a particular message, the Republican base picks it right up. So you're seeing, I think an echo of what we have all seen in the right wing media, which is this cascade and litany of criticisms of the investigation.

BROWN: But what do you say to the Republicans who say, look, just look at the facts. You have the text messages from the FBI agent showing anti-Trump bias, one of the ones who have overseen the investigation. He was sent away by Robert Mueller, then you look at the other investigators in his shop who've donated to Democrats. I mean, do you think that their concern is warranted at all?

WHITEHOUSE: I don't. I think that from my experience in the FBI and that is pretty Republican outfit in general. I suspect that if you polled who voted for whom, most FBI agents are probably voting Republicans.

I was a United States attorney. I trusted the people who worked for me to do a good job. I knew who was a Democrat. I knew who was a Republican, in some cases. I didn't know in other cases. But there's a very, very high point of pride at the FBI and at the Department of Justice that you do a professional job, whatever your private political beliefs might be.

And it seems to me there's a bit of inconsistency developing between the very high standard of neutrality and disinterest that they seem to be demanding of FBI agents, compared to the right wing crowd that they are very happy to jam through as judges. And you would think that a judge would be the one that's held to the higher standard because the FBI, ultimately, has to clear the Department of Justice or the Special Counsel and it has to clear a judge and a jury and a grand jury. There are all sorts of checks and balances around prosecutors. So I think that what they are doing is strategic, that it is not sincere, and that it's a sign of attacks to come.

BROWN: I want to ask you, before we let you go, your colleague Senator Mark Warner gave a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, drawing a red line for the President on this investigation. Let's listen.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Any attempt by this President to remove Special Counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power. These truly are red lines and simply cannot allow them to be crossed.


BROWN: So Senator, is there a specific reason he gave that speech now? Do you have any indication something is about to happen? Because as you know the White House has repeatedly said there is no consideration to fire Robert Mueller.

WHITEHOSUE: I don't have any particular inclination as to why Senator Warner chose this time. I think certainly on our side, we've seen it as a red line the entire time. So it's not news on our side.

I think most of the Republicans who've spoken about this have said, hey, it's a red line for us, too. This would be really serious. I suspect it's a response to this increasing cacophony of criticism that is being set up that looks like it's the precursor to some kind of an effort.

It reminds me a little bit of the battlefield scenes where the artillery softens up the beach before the invasion. This is the public relations artillery designed to soften up the beach before they do something. And I don't know what it's going to be.

I do think it's important that Senator Warner mention the pardon power as well. I think if you are in the White House council's office, you're going to be very careful about pardoning any serious witness, anybody who's cooperating or might cooperate because there's a very good chance that even a valid presidential pardon could, nevertheless be an obstruction of justice if a jury will later define that the intent of the President and of White House staff in administering that pardon was to interfere with that investigation. There's nothing that prevents that from being evidence of obstruction of justice in the White House.

BROWN: But to be clear I believe the White House lawyers have came out and said there's no consideration to pardon now. Very quickly, do you believe this is coordinated (ph)?

WHITEHOUSE: They're trying to clean that up after what the President said and for good reason.

BROWN: Really quickly, do you believe the White House is coordinating with Republicans as you say lay the groundwork for something bigger?

WHITEHOUSE: I think that anything that is this concerted and that is happening this broadly likely has something going on behind the scenes. I don't know what is going on behind the scenes, but I would be not one bit surprise to find out that this is being strategized with the White House.

[19:15:02] BROWN: OK. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you very much.


BROWN: And OutFront next, the former head of the CIA compares President Trump to, quote, narcissistic vengeful autocrats. I want to tell you why.

Plus, Senate investigators now turning to another former presidential candidate, Jill Stein. So what does Russia meddling and the election have to do with her? And she's my guess.

And Mike Pence sure likes Donald Trump a lot.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congratulations and thank you. I want to thank you, Mr. President.

Thank you for your leadership.



BROWN: New tonight, a stunning rebuke of President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The U.N. General Assembly voting 128 to 9 to declare Trump's move, quote, null and void. A defiant message given the administration's threat of taking names of countries voting against the U.S.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.


BROWN: But these threats, not going over so well with former CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan tweeting tonight, "Trump admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in U.N. to oppose U.S. position on Jerusalem is beyond outrages. Shows Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone. Qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats."

[19:20:19] Well OutFront tonight, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, he is the former U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Karoun Demirjian, Congressional Reporter for the Washington Post, also David Chalian, our Political Director joins us. A lot to discuss here.

Ambassador, I'm going to start with you with this tweet from John Brennan slamming the Trump administration for threatening to retaliate against nations that opposed the U.S. Have you ever seen anything like this?

AMB.NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: I think we're in unchartered territory in terms of describing the President of the United States. But I will say this. I understand the frustration of the Trump administration. There is a lot of -- there are problems with the United Nations, of countries wanting the United States to help them but countries not voting with the United States. This has existed for a long, long time. There's hypocrisy there.

But this was I'll-advised by President Trump and Ambassador Hailey to essentially threaten to withdraw American economic and military assistance from countries that didn't vote the right way, our way, on this particular resolution, which does not have any kind of mandatory impact on the United Nations. And to think that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt, all major recipients of American aid are going to have their aid cut off by Washington, I don't think that is going to happen. And so, it does demean, I think the presidency, for the President to act in this way.

You can imagine any of the President's predecessors making these kinds of empty threats and demanding that other heads of state vote his way. It doesn't work that way in diplomacy. So, the President didn't win today and America didn't win. And I think the White House needs to have a more realistic sense of how to practice diplomacy effectively.

BROWN: So you, Ambassador, call the threats I'll-advised. Of course, as we know it wasn't just Nikki Haley making the threat before the vote, also the President did. Let's take to listen to what the he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For all of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us potentially at the assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they are doing.


BROWN: So, what do you think, Karoun? Was the White House naive to think that these countries, that the United Nations would go along with the U.S. because of these threats? What's your take on this?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, it's not the first time that there's been issue about Israel that's been put before the United Nations. And you've seen that many countries are sympathetic to what the Palestinian position is, which in this case, would be not to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But there's also the misunderstanding in what the President is saying about how these aid packages, how these donations to the U.N. work. I mean, it's not buying votes or paying for allegiance when this happens.

Usually, the reason the United States engages in investing dollars or giving for an aid is because there's an incentive to the United States to have -- to try to promote stability or to try to, you know, back those allies in these various places around the world, depending on what kind of aid we dole out. The President is kind of boiling it down to a much more transactional sort of trade off. And what he said which is not the way it's really worked and probably not the way it's going to work, even under this administration which has other considerations to make specially as we try to deal with many different global crises. This is not an administration that has spoken in the language of multilateralism in the past. So, it's in line with that that.

I supposed that the President and Nikki Haley are both talking the way that they are. But it's not really to draw some game. And again, going into this, it's not like this is the first time the United States has gone to the United Nations and only ended up with a minority of other countries on its side when it comes to questions that relate to this particular part of the world in this particular complex.

BROWN: And David, as you all know, President Trump, someone who expects loyalty, he had talked a lot about loyalty. Let's take a look at some of those examples.


TRUMP: We could use some more loyalty. I love loyalty. Loyalty can be a wonderful thing. Loyalty is very important. I'm loyal, to a fault. I'm loyal.

Because I'm a loyal person. Loyal person. You know, some of these people have like 10 percent loyalty. Meaning, if they sneeze in the wrong direction, they're gone.


BROWN: So, Brennan says in his tweet, David, that these are the quality found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats. Is that a fair comparison?

CHALIAN: Yes, I wish Brennan would tell us how he really feels, though, it's -- obviously, what you just played there is then- candidate Trump or President Trump speaking about political loyalty, loyalty of people he hires into his operation, that's very different when talking about other countries.

[19:25:01] In fact, Pam, I pulled up this sentence from President Trump's own speech before the United Nations General Assembly just this past September. We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interest of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.

That's what Donald Trump said before the United Nations. That he did not act by those words at all today with he -- and the way Nikki Haley was responding to the vote today.

BROWN: You are absolutely right about that. Ambassador, what does it say to you that the President and the U.N. Ambassador would use language like this as a threat, which has David points out flies in the face of what the President has previously said about countries in the U.N., and that virtually no one heeded that warning from them?

BURNS: Well, because everybody else in the world has domestic politics too. And if you issue a public challenge and demand that countries vote the way you want them to vote, if you back down to the President of the United States, it may cost you at home. We know the Canadians were considering voting with the United States, but because of these peremptory demands by the President, these very viable demands, they abstained. And so, we didn't get their vote.

And so, I think in diplomacy, obviously, you want people to side with the United States, that's the President's job, but he has to do it in effective way. This was completely ineffective because the United States was isolated and it does get back to the central issue. The President got ahead of the Israelis and Palestinians of the entire Middle East negotiations in proclaiming that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. No other President had done that since Harry Truman and that's the core of the problem. That was not popular internationally and you saw that vote today.

BROWN: So, the vote should have been no surprise in some sense and that what you point out. Karoun, what's your take?

DEMIRJAIN: Yes. Coming off what the Ambassador said -- I mean, look, this is not the first or last time that the United Nations is going to grapple with these questions. And we've seen that, you know, a very, very large number of countries are not cowed by the fact the United States said side with us or else. That opens up the question of what happens next time when we get into the next general assembly.

Palestinians has brought questions having to do with everything from settlements to, you know, UNESCO membership. Will there be more sympathy now for them on future issues, and will the United States actually have less leverage going forward because there may have been overplaying of the hand this time.

BROWN: All right. Thank you to all three of you for coming on and sharing your perspectives, appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

BROWN: And OutFront, up next, Jill Stein seen in this picture with Mike Flynn and Vladimir Putin. That's just one reason Senate investigators want to talk with her. She is my guest tonight.

And a watchdog group is asking for an investigation into Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. We'll tell you why. We'll be right back.


[19:31:07] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Scrutiny tonight on former Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein. The Senate Intelligence Committee are zeroing in on Stein's campaign as part of its investigation in Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Stein is of interest to investigators, in part, because she dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin and former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in 2016, as you see in this picture right here.

In just a moment, I'll speak with Jill Stein.

But, first, Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT live in Washington.

Jessica, what are lawmakers saying about why they want to speak with Jill Stein?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, they're really putting it quite starkly, saying the committee will be looking into whether there was collusion between the Russians and Stein campaign. Jill Stein ran as the Green Party candidate in 2016. But, of course, the question of collusion, the exact same thing that Congress and the special counsel are examining in relation to Trump's campaign.

Now, congressional investigators, they are pointing to that 2015 gala for Russian state TV broadcaster RT as really a cause for concern or at least some questions. You can see in this photo, Jill Stein sat at the same table as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as well as former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who, of course, has just recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

Now also, Pamela, in addition, the vote totals from some key states in the election could also provide a line of inquiries. So, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, they all had razor thin margins. If you were to move all of those Jill Stein votes into the Hillary Clinton column, it's possible that Hillary Clinton could have won those states, changing the outcome of the election. But Senator Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, looking into the possible collusion, he will only say, broadly, that they are investigating Stein's campaign and possible collusion with Russians.

And, you know, Chairman Burr also saying that there's another campaign they are investigating in regard to collusion, and really Pamela, he won't say directly which one, but all signs and the process of elimination indicate that it is Hillary Clinton's campaign as well -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider.

And Jill Stein is OUTFRONT with us tonight, the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate.

Jill, thank you for coming on.


BROWN: So, first question, what is your response to the intelligence committee looking into whether your campaign was colluding with Russia?

STEIN: I think it's really great to clear the air because that picture has been circulated, sort of a factless photograph that's been used to smear our campaign actually for a part of a year. And it really surfaced a year after the event itself, which was back in 2015 once the DNC, the Democratic National Committee e-mails were leaked and, you know, suddenly, you know, there was an effort to change the topic from the collusion of the Democratic Party to eliminate Bernie Sanders, which was, essentially a rigged primary. There was an effort to kind of divert attention and our -- the picture of my attendance at a conference, actually at RT, Russia Today TV station.

Who else was there? The BBC was there. The national networks for China, for India, Telesur, the Canadian Broadcasting System. This was a conference, a substantive conference actually about foreign policy issues. I was delighted to have a chance to share the ideas, the vision of my campaign, which was all about a peace offensive in the Middle East, a different approach to this endless war that is costing us, you know, half of our discretionary budget, $23,000 per taxpayer since the war in the Middle East begun.

[19:35:01] You know, it's really important that we have some other ideas out there. And the same agenda that I was advancing during the election domestically, I was happy to share overseas, not only with, you know, Russian officials, media from all over the world, but in the same trip, I spoke with Jeremy Corbin. I didn't speak to Vladimir Putin. I'll come back to that.

But I had a chance to speak with leaders from China and from the U.K. This is what we are supposed to do, whether we are citizens, candidates or elected officials.

BROWN: You were at Vladimir Putin's table, which is raising questions among investigators. Let me ask you this --

STEIN: Yes. Can I just clarify?


STEIN: If I could clarify, there was no translator at the table. Vladimir Putin came in very late with three people, three, four, that I thought were his bodyguards. It turns out they were core people in his administration, but you never would have known it. There were no introductions, no conversations.

Russians spoke Russian. I spoke to the only person in earshot that spoke English, who was a German diplomat that was sitting to my right. So, it was really quite a non-event.

BROWN: Did you ever speak to Russians after that, after the dinner, or was that it?

STEIN: No. No. And the substantive conversations were actually took place at the conference. That conference is entirely online. So, you can see, actually everything I said, which is there in video form.

There was no really pre-contact, nor after the conference, either. This was really -- you know, we have been getting the message out about this for the past year.

(CROSSTALK) BROWN: I know you want to clear the air, that's why you are coming on to clear the air.

Let me ask you this, former FBI director, James Comey, said they are known for manipulating people, especially people in presidential campaigns. Can you say unequivocally you were not acting as an unwitting agent for the Russians?

STEIN: Thank you for raising that question. It's really important.

There's a very clear cut answer, which is that my agenda in the election was really no different fundamentally from the Green Party's agenda for the past many years, actually decades. We have had a very strong peace climate agenda based on international law, human rights and diplomacy. So, there's nothing really different in this election.

BROWN: I want to ask you about something else that Senator Warner brought up, something that's raised for questions for him, is that you have been complimentary, very complimentary of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which as you know the intelligence committee has said was doing the bidding of Russia during the election.

Do you still hold the same view of WikiLeaks and Assange despite that?

STEIN: I have praised WikiLeaks for enabling critical whistleblowers, Chelsea Manning, who exposed war crimes on our government, which we had a right to know about and likewise, Edward Snowden for exposing the violation of our constitutional rights and mass surveillance, which has also been really critical for Americans to know that our constitutional rights were being violated.

Whistleblowers really play a critical role in our democracy. I think to criticize me, you know, based on my political opinions about whistleblowers really is not pertinent to the investigation. What would be pertinent --

BROWN: Well, it is to the intelligence --


STEIN: Well, I would dispute that. You know? I would dispute. This is not a thought police inquiry. This is supposed to be an inquiry about actual influence, about quid pro quo deals, about the violence of campaign finance laws and so on. That's legitimate stuff. I am all for exposing any sort of interference by Russian oligarchs, by Russian government, as well as by American oligarchs for that matter.

BROWN: Right. And WikiLeaks is certainly part of the equation as the Intelligence Committee said was the intermediary for the Russians. So, that is how WikiLeaks --

STEIN: I'd like to see -- I'd like to see the evidence, you know, as a medical doctor, as a trained scientist.

BROWN: I would like to see it, too. Unfortunately, they say, the intelligence community says the information they have providing the evidence is classified. But Mike Pompeo said it's in hostile non- state intelligence service. He's come out and publicly said that. Go ahead.

STEIN: Remember the Iraq war. We had intelligence assuring us there were weapons of mass destruction. And those of us who lived through debate, you know, I think, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

John F. Kennedy in the midst of Cuban missile crisis, he declassified the evidence showing that the missiles were present in Cuba.

[19:40:06] And this is what, I think, citizens should expect from our government. When we are ready and many congressmen have said Russian interference was an act of war, we need to see the evidence so we know what we are getting into, because we are still paying the price, you know, 5 trillion and count for that mistake made in Iraq, which initiated this catastrophe in the Middle East. So, it's time to assert our democracy.


BROWN: Has Robert Mueller -- let me ask, did special counsel Robert Mueller's team reached out to you or anyone to your campaign as part of its investigation?

STEIN: No, they have not. But, we would be very -- we are being supportive and fully cooperating with this or any other investigation. We think Americans are really entitled to a lot of daylight here. We have been completely transparent throughout the campaign and we will continue to be.

BROWN: OK. Jill Stein, thank you so much for coming on the show.

STEIN: Great talking with you, Pamela.

BROWN: Yes, you, too.

And OUTFRONT, up next, breaking news, the Senate just voted to overt a government shutdown. What is in the deal to keep the government running and what's not.

Plus, Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate reportedly jacking up its prices for a hot tickets to its New Year's Eve party, the one President Trump traditionally attends. Conflict of interest? We'll see.


[19:45:13] BROWN: Breaking news: the Senate just voted to overt a government shutdown. And this follows the House's lead earlier this afternoon. This comes only one day before the government was going to run out of money and the measure is just a temporary band-aid. Meaning Congress will have to revisit all of this again in a few more weeks.

Sound familiar? Well, it's because this has happened before.

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill.

So, what exactly does this vote actually do, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, Pam, it funds the government. It keeps it up and running for another month, but it is essentially just a very short term stopgap measure.

In the end, it actually ends up being a skinny measure for all the debate that went into this. It keeps the government funded only until January 19th. It includes a short-term reauthorization of the FISA program, the government surveillance program that expires at the end of the year and a short term extension through March, of funding for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program that had already expired this past October.

Now, leading up to this, there had been much debate, a lot of back and forth even among House Republicans squabbling on what could be included and what potentially could get added to the short term CR. In the end, they didn't get much. This is a scaled down proposal. So, a lot of legislation and priorities need to be fought another day.

BROWN: All right. As you mentioned, Sunlen, the CHIP program will only be funded through March.

What are the other top priorities for Congress that aren't addressed in this version?

SERFATY: Yes, a lot of really left in the cutting room floor so to speak. A few of the biggest ones is on DACA. A lot of Democrats pushing hard to get a long-term permanent fix for DACA programs and take care of so-called DREAMers, that will not be included in this.

Also, disaster aid relief. This is something a lot of lawmakers from the states of Florida, California, Texas, who have been hit by natural disasters this year, they were fighting for that to be included in the CR. That will not be included. The House tonight, Pam, went over and voted on a short term -- excuse me, a standalone measure for disaster relief, $81 billion expectation that the Senate could have taken it up, but they did not take it up. Which means the disaster aid will wait until next year.

BROWN: Kicking the can down the road.

All right. Thank you so much, Sunlen Serfaty.

And OUTFRONT up next, Mar-a-Lago reportedly hiking the prices for its New Year's Eve bash. Does the president profit?

And does Vice President Pence respect Donald Trump or idolize him?


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your love for this country and the people of this country. (END VIDEO CLIP)


[19:50:54] BROWN: New tonight, if you want to ring in the New Year with President and Mrs. Trump, it's going to cost you. Political report says tickets to New Year's party at Mar-a-Largo are $600 for members and more for guests. That is a huge price hike from last year, raising all kinds of ethical questions.

Former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter is OUTFRONT tonight to help us understand this a little bit more.

So, Richard, prices last year were $525 for members, $575 for guests. Is there anything wrong with the move to hike the prices this year?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, yes. It's just that paying money for access to the president of the United States and members of the White House staff who likely will be attending with him along with his family. Keep in mind, however, these are the ticket prices for members and guests of members. And you don't become a member of the mar-a-largo without shelling out I believe $200,000. And they doubled the initiation fee after he became president of the United States or after he was elected.

So, this is clearly payment of cash in return for access to the president. It is not bribery under the bribery laws as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court which recently ruled that payment of cash for access to a politician is not itself criminal bribery. But it's something that's certainly -- should be of grave concern to the American people.

BROWN: Let me just tell you what the Trump Organization's outside ethics adviser Bobby Birchfield said. He said this according to "Politico", I personally don't see any issues raised. It's not a campaign event. It's a normal business, New Year's Eve party.

Your response?

PAINTER: Well, the point here is that in order to even get invited to this party, you need to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to join President Trump's private club. So, it's not just $600 we're talking about. And people who pay President Trump for membership in his clubs get access to the president, whether it's on New Year's or whether it's at the golf course or anywhere else.

And that's not the way it ought to be. He is the president of the United States. He's there to represent all of the people. And have that type of preferential access for those that pay him is morally unacceptable, even if it does not violate the bribery statute as it's interpreted by the Supreme Court.

BROWN: Let me ask you before you go. You're the vice chair of the ethics group CREW which filed a complaint today on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Why do you want Ross investigated? And do you think he broke the law?

PAINTER: Well, we do not believe he adequately disclosed his holdings, particularly his holdings in shipping companies, some of which are apparently doing business with the Russians, and with people under sanction in Russia. And this should have been disclosed. And his form 278, that's the first problem, that's his financial disclosure form.

The second problem is that he may very well have conflicts of interest that prohibited him from participating in certain matters. So, we want the inspector general to find out whether he illegally participated in those matters at the Commerce Department.

BROWN: All right. Richard Painter, thank you for coming on.

PAINTER: Thank you.

BROWN: And OUTFRONT up next, President Trump has a really big fan and his name is Mike Pence. Jeanne Moos is next.


[19:57:56] BROWN: Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He may be the vice president, but he's the applauder in chief.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the history of our country --


MOOS: Leading the cheering section, practically mouthing along with the president.

TRUMP: Making America great again. You haven't heard that, have you?

MOOS: At the last cabinet meeting, Vice President Pence outdid himself.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congratulations and thank you. I want to thank you, Mr. President.

MOOS: "The Washington Post" even timed the flattery.

Pence praises Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight, then went outside and did it all over again.

PENCE: Thank you for your leadership. And thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief.

MOOS: Already said this once.

PENCE: Thank you for your leadership. MOOS: Already said that twice.

Twitter snickered, ritual submission and exultation is nearly pornographic.

TRUMP: Very impressed.


MOOS: Along with laughing at his boss' jokes, Mike Pence has perfected the art of the gaze.

TRUMP: He likes actions.

MOOS: The adoring gaze often accompanied by the nod, nodding almost to the beat of the maestro's gestures.

TRUMP: New American jobs.

MOOS: The VP's gaze is so loyal and so consistent that it's been compared with love struck children's characters. One name keeps popping up to describe how Vice President Pence fixes his eyes upon the president.

It's Nancy Reagan eyes aimed lovingly at her husband. But a worshipful stare seems wasted when president forgets you're there.

TRUMP: I want to thank Mike Pence. He is --

MOOS: A Republican media consultant tweeted wistfully, I want someone look at me just once in my life the way Pence looks at Trump.

The president picked Pence as his political dance partner, now Pence has to do it his way.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BROWN: And thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.