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Guardian: Bannon Calls Trump Tower Russia Meeting "Treasonous"; Trump Taunts Volatile Kim: My Nuclear Button Works; North And South Korea Reopen Cross-Border Hotline. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 11:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- is President Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, describing the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a whole group of Russians during the presidential campaign as treasonous and unpatriotic.

That is just one line in an explosive new book by journalist, Michael Wolfe, seen by "The Guardian." It quotes Bannon as saying, "Even if you thought this was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad expletive, and I happen to think it is all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."

CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us from Washington. Jessica, Bannon apparently had a lot to say about the Russia investigation and it's not good news for Trump's inner circle.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's not, Ana. This is really Steve Bannon unleashed, which of course we've seen before, but this time, he's targeting the Trump family. In particular, he's going after Donald Trump Jr. hard, calling out that June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.

That's also where Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chair, and Jared Kushner, they also attended. Now that meeting did happen about two months before Steve Bannon joined the campaign, as chief executive. And Bannon now talking in this book, this soon-to-be released book, "Fire and Fury."

He's saying this, "They're going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national tv. So, that's from Bannon. But, of course, Don Jr. has previously said that he took the meeting as someone new to politics. He said, as a businessman, you take every meeting that presents itself.

He also says he views it as getting opposition research, but Bannon, as you saw in that quote, hitting back hard on that defense. And Bannon, in addition, also going after Jared Kushner, of course, a top adviser, son-in-law to the president.

In some of the excerpts released, he said that in the end, he believes the investigation will come down to money laundering. And then, also saying this, he said, "It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner expletive. The Kushner expletive is greasy. They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those two guys up and say, play me or trade me." Now, of course, it was reported last month that federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank.

That's the German bank that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Jared Kushner's property empire. So, really, Ana, Bannon suggesting there that Mueller will, in fact, cross that red line that the president warned him against months ago while talking to the "New York Times."

Bannon saying that Mueller is bound to dig into or probably is digging into the family and business finances, and really strong and damaging words about Trump's inner circle from the man who really helped you shall Donald Trump to the presidency.

CABRERA: He said to still be his supporter. Jessica Schneider, thank you for that report. There are a total of four Russia investigations. There's the special counsel probe, as well as two in the Senate and one in the House, and today marks a deadline in the House Intelligence Committee.

Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, has given the Justice Department until today to turn over documents related to that infamous dossier linking President Trump to Russia.

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz is joining us with details on this. Shimon, what exactly is Devin Nunes after and is he going to get it?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes. So, it appears that Nunes, controversial a little bit, conducting in some ways his own investigation, and he's specifically been harping on, trying to get information from the Department of Justice and the FBI on some of the information that they have related to the Steele dossier.

He wants, according to some people I've talked to, he wants information on some of the witnesses, some of the information that was used to compile the dossier. But a person I spoke to says they believe that they've given Nunes everything they have, everything that is related to his request that they, at least have, that they can provide him.

That's the Department of Justice. So, they're not even sure exactly what more he wants, and whether it even exists, so this is in some ways, while these requests are coming often from Nunes, they're making a lot of noise. It doesn't appear that there is anything else that they need to give him right now.

CABRERA: All right. Shimon Prokupecz in Washington, thank you.

Joining us now is CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. So first these comments from Bannon. We'll get to the Fusion GPS and the dossier in just a moment. But he says that this meeting at Trump Tower was treasonous. Of course, he is not a lawyer, you are. Any -- what would make that treasonous? Is there anything there?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: This is so rich, because Steve Bannon, of course, is very much associated with Breitbart and the conservative, you know, media movement. He sounds today like he's from MSNBC, you know, he's now sort of taking the other side. The backdrop to this is that while they were all in the White House, Bannon hated the Trump relatives. He hated Kushner. He hated Trump Jr. --

CABRERA: Get him out.

TOOBIN: Get him out. So, you know, there is a real axe to grind here. But look, the idea that it was inappropriate, if not treasonous, to meet with, you know, Russian government officials, who explicitly were trying to interfere in the election, that's -- a lot of people find that bad.

And what's only surprising here is that a Trump loyalist has said it. But a lot of people have said it was completely inappropriate for Kushner and Trump Jr. to meet with these Russian lawyers. But, it certainly is interesting that Bannon is saying it, as well. Treason has a very specific legal definition, and I don't think there is any --

CABRERA: He's pointing to a crime.

TOOBIN: Right. I don't think -- if there was any crime, I don't think it was treason, which has a sort of military component. But it certainly, I think, clearly was inappropriate. And whether it was part of a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws or aiding and abetting hacking, these are the legal crimes that I think Mueller will be examining. And, clearly, Bannon thinks there is, perhaps, financial crimes, to investigators, as well.

CABRERA: And before we go there, I want to bring in David Chalian to the conversation on just the face of it. The fact that Bannon was part of the administration. Now that he is out, he has said he wants to help the president from outside the White House. Why would he throw the president's own family under the bus like this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: As Jeffrey was suggesting, there was clearly some score settling happening in this book. There is no doubt about that. There is no love lost, we know, between Steve Bannon and Jared and Ivanka. That is a sturdy relationship over the course of Bannon's time in the Trump universe.

But, it doesn't negate the importance and the weight that these words have from somebody who was inside. I mean, there are a few people who had as close of an inside view to Trump world from immediately after the convention in 2016, through the first summer of the president in office.

When this entire Russia story was developing in the investigation, coming into full view of the American public, to have him put his characterization of what he saw in that meeting on there, clearly has some impact and weight in a way that somebody from the outside, those words would not have.

And Ana, the other thing I do want to point out, when Bannon says, here, I think it's so interesting here at the end of the quote that he gave to Michael Wolfe here that somebody should have told the FBI. I do think that is a question that continues to hang over what Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner were thinking.

We just learned that the Australians, when they learned of some information, picked up the phone and made a call to American authorities about it. So, the question is continuing to be begged, I think, as to why didn't they?

TOOBIN: And if I can just raise one more thing about Bannon's comments. The reference to Deutsche Bank is very significant because it's not just Jared Kushner, who had hundreds of millions of dollars of dealings with Deutsche Bank. It was Donald Trump, as well.

You know, a lot of the bigger banks, the Citibanks, the Chase Banks, by this decade, wanted nothing more to do with Donald Trump. So, it was Deutsche Bank that Donald Trump dealt with a lot.

And if the Mueller prosecutors are looking at Deutsche Bank, boy, that is a big, big subject. I certainly don't know if there's any criminal activity to be disclosed there, but that is sympathetic that will certainly give the Trump people a lot of pause.

CABRERA: And it's not just Bannon who is pointing toward financial crimes. We have Fusion GPS, which is the firm that commissioned this dossier and was working with Christopher Steele that just penned this op-ed in "The New York Times." They're angry because Congress hasn't revealed, wouldn't put out the transcript of what they have testified before Congress, so they've decided to do it in this op-ed.

TOOBIN: And Devin Nunes is clearly much more interested in investigating Fusion GPS than he is investigating the Trump administration.

CABRERA: Which is interesting, and I want to read a quote. They wrote, "We told Congress from Manhattan to Sunny Beach, Florida, and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raise questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don't seem to interest Congress." Jeffrey, do you think that this maybe where the Russia investigation is headed, at least Mueller's investigation?

TOOBIN: Well, Mueller, certainly -- I mean, you know, one of the most damning facts in the op-ed piece is that the only bank records that have been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee are Fusion GPS' bank records, not any of those related to the actual thing they're supposedly investigating, which tells you that the House Republicans are clearly much more interested in protecting the president than investigating him.

CABRERA: And Bannon also insists he knows no Russians. He will not be a witness, will not hire a lawyer, will not appear on national television answering questions, at least that's what he tells Michael Wolfe. Since he's already just laid all this out, do you think this changes it? Will Mueller call him in?

[11:10:05] TOOBIN: I don't see why he shouldn't call him in. I mean, he was intimately involved in the campaign and if he has nothing to hide, he should go talk to him.

CABRERA: David, I want to ask you also about the fact that Bannon takes issue with the White House response to the Russia probe. He tells Michael Wolfe, they are sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category 5. Those are strong words?

CHALIAN: Yes. And in Bannon's view, it's a Category 5 that they created, right. Bannon when he left the White House sat down and did an interview with Charlie Rose and called the firing of James Comey the greatest and biggest mistake that the president has made as president because it launched this entire investigation. He has opinion on the record for quite some time about how poorly he thinks the White House has handled the response to these inquiries.

CABRERA: So, as Nunes and other Republicans point to this dossier as a smoking gun that everyone's out to get Trump, Fusion GPS also provides more details behind the dossier, how it came to be writing, "Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert, but we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question.

Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun. What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele's sources in Russia who were not paid reported on an extensive and now confirmed effort by the Kremlin to help Mr. Trump president.

Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the FBI." Jeffrey, can Republicans now credibly continue this argument that the dossier is bogus and that this whole investigation is a witch hunt?

TOOBIN: Sure, because they have a whole network that does nothing but say this all day long. Fox News is going to continue to say it and they're not going to get into these facts. One of the big differences between this media moment and earlier scandals is that there is an entire television network devoted to defending the administration.

So, none of this stuff is going to make any difference to them. But, remember, the president's support is only, you know, 35 percent or so. And Fox News, while certainly significant, is -- doesn't reach most Americans. You know, but can people say that this is still a witch hunt? Of course, they can still say it. It's not true, but they'll say it.

CABRERA: David, will they change course?

CHALIAN: Well, I certainly agree that most die-hard fans of President Trump aren't going to change course in their feelings about him. And Jeffrey's right, I mean, Fox News, Breitbart, the whole sort of right- wing echo chamber is what is putting this floor of support at about 35, 38 percent beneath President Trump.

Whereas, perhaps, in a previous era, some of these headlines would really have more weight and drive those approval ratings down even further. So, it does give him a floor of support. But there's nothing -- there's no evidence I have, Ana, that the president is interested in taking a different approach or changing his ways. You know, we've talked about a Trump pivot for the better part of two and a half years now. I think we can pretty much assume --

TOOBIN: Any day now, David! It's any day now!

CABRERA: Well, you never know. You never know with this president. He may just surprise us. Jeffrey Toobin and David Chalian, thank you both.

So, as this Russia probe continues to cast a shadow in Washington this morning, so does the threat of a government shutdown ahead of a huge meeting on Capitol Hill today. Soon, White House officials will meet with top lawmakers from both parties on how to keep the government running while the battle over immigration is heating up. Details ahead.

Plus, "my nuclear button is bigger than yours," the president taunting North Korea with the size and the power of America's nuclear arsenal, just as North and South Korea make a rare move to de-escalate tensions. That's next.



CABRERA: Even for a president who revels in the shock and thunder of outrageous tweets, Donald Trump is delivering a new jolt to the escalating nuclear tensions with North Korea. This tweet last night shocking both enemies and allies by using schoolyard-like taunts to bat away the nuclear saber-rattling of North Korea's volatile leader, Kim Jong-un.

President Trump saying that he too has, quote, "a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his and my button works." This tweet raising eyebrows and concerns.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, what's the White House saying about this latest broadside from the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they're maintaining that they're taking the same approach to North Korea, but out of the 16 tweets that the president sent yesterday, this one was certainly the most striking, because he was essentially taunting Kim Jong-un by questioning the strength of his nuclear arsenal and making quite a jab at him, as he did so.

And that tweet came after Kim Jong-un gave a speech on New Year's Day, saying that the, quote, "Nuclear button is always on his desk" and the president tweeting that, and it's almost impossible to see, Ana, how that tweet does not come up during the president's lunch today with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Now, to put that lunch in context for you, it's the only thing on the president's public schedule today. And we've seen the president and Tillerson often differ on their approach to North Korea, because as you'll recall, just a few months ago, after Tillerson hinted at a potential line of communication with North Korea, the president got on Twitter and told him to stop wasting his time by doing so.

But all of that comes as North Korea and South Korea have reestablished this hotline that has been dormant between the two of them for almost two years, since February 2016 and speaking for about 20 minutes yesterday. And Ana, that could signal that they are paving the way for formal talks here.

CABRERA: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, keep us posted.

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, along with Susan Glasser, the chief international affairs columnist for "Politico." She is also the author of the new column "Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously."

[11:20:03] Samantha, I'll start with you about Donald Trump's tweets and its impact. This one on North Korea. I want you to take a listen to Richard Haas, who we know served in both the Bush administrations.


RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: So, these words don't just have a domestic audience. These words have an international audience. Does this make North Korea more or less likely to do what we want to do and to maybe agree to some restraint?

Does it make South Korea more or less comfortable with the fact that they are dependent on us as an ally? Does it make other countries more or less likely to work with us to trust in the judgment of the president of the United States? That's the criteria. I'm all in favor of potentially tough language, if I think it's going to advance us.


CABRERA: So, Samantha, how do you read the president's "My button is bigger and more powerful than yours" tweet?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the tweets are obviously ridiculous, but they're also really dangerous, when you stop to think about the fact that there are millions of lives at risk on both sides in this conflict.

And we have to take a step back and try to think about, what's the end game here? Our end game should be, aside from these tweets, trying to prevent a scenario whereby either side, whether it be the North Koreans or the United States try to prove that their nuclear button is bigger. We want to avoid nuclear war, not encourage it.

CABRERA: So, you see the president's tweet goading the North Koreans?

VINOGRAD: I think that the president's tweets are definitely goading Kim Jong-un into another test. When you look back over the last year, we've seen an escalating cycle of tweets and tests. We have inflammatory rhetoric by the president including insults over Twitter.

And then we have Kim Jong-un launching more missile and nuclear tests. It's an escalating cycle and the fact is, as Richard points out, we haven't seen tough language deter Kim Jong-un from his behavior, or change course and abandon his nuclear program.

Instead, the evidence shows that this kind of language just gins Kim Jong-un up and I think it's going to lead him to try to prove that he's being honest about his nuclear capability.

CABRERA: Susan, one thing Richard pointed out, too, there was the fact that this impacts the rest of the world. These tweets aren't just for the American audience. They're for world leaders to look at and to interpret. Are other foreign powers paying attention?

I know you've been speaking with a lot of people. We do have some reaction that we saw from a Russian lawmaker saying, quote, "It is not worth the U.S. as a great country to compete with the DPRK in sizes of nuclear buttons."

In the people you've been talking to, your reporting on the way the world views how President Trump is handling foreign policy, how does this tweet fit in?

SUSAN GLASSER, EDITOR, "POLITICO" MAGAZINE: Well, I have to say, it's yet another example of what I would call the shocking, but not at all surprising foreign policy stylings of Donald Trump, right? At this point, we're a year in. Fair notice that this is how he uses his Twitter feed.

And yet, I think it is important to retain a little bit of that sense of shock. And as I debriefed, you know, senior diplomat, other world leaders who have met with President Trump, who have interacted closely with him and his national security team over the last year, that's one big, important takeaway.

As stunning as some of his public tweets are, the private interactions have been equally jarring and unsettling to many of our closest friends and allies. South Korea being a great example, of course.

This is not only a close ally, but who is being potentially put at risk by Donald Trump's rhetoric. And I think that partially explains this little eruption we're seeing over the last two days.

South Korea gets the message pretty clearly that Donald Trump is not exactly committed to anything other than America first. He's not a big believer in alliances and partnerships. North Korea, perhaps correctly, sees an opening to possibly cut the U.S. out of negotiations to separate the United States and South Korea.

And I think that's a little bit of what's going on. Obviously, a petulant Donald Trump doesn't like that notion very much. And once again, here we are talking about his tweets.

CABRERA: Let me push back on this notion, though, that this doesn't work. That this approach doesn't work because here we see North Korea and South Korea suddenly with this open door of communication. Where South Korea had said that they had been trying to talk with North Korea every day for the past two years. Sometimes trying to call them twice a day. Is this progress?

VINOGRAD: I think it was a shrewd move by Kim Jong-un. And to Susan's point, I think that Kim Jong-un saw a window of opportunity to peel South Korea away from the United States and took it. President Moon of South Korea has been pretty open about the fact that he prefers a diplomatic outcome, which makes sense when you think about the fact that there are so many South Korean lives at stake, if there is a military strike.

So, we know President Moon has preferred a diplomatic outcome. We also know that President Moon is deeply focused on a successful and secure Olympics in a few weeks. And I think Kim Jong-un saw this window of opportunity to say to South Korea, let's talk. Let's have a cross-border communication.

And let's talk without the United States in the room. I think that this is bad news for the U.S. policy on North Korea. The South accepted discussions with North Korea, with no preconditions and without having the United States in the room.

[11:25:08] So, we don't really know what's going on and we also know that the North Koreans have a history of abusing negotiations and using them to buy time to continue bad behavior without giving anything up. So, net-net, I think that this is a loss for the United States.

CABRERA: OK. In the meantime, the president also shaking up other parts of the world, threatening to withhold money from the Palestinians. This after the Palestinians made comments that they won't accept the U.S. as brokers of a Middle East peace deal. Susan, you have reported on this disconnect between Trump and his own foreign policy and national security advisers. Is this an issue where they're on the same page?

GLASSER: Well, look, I think it's a great example of the Trump effect in action, which is to say his tweets, his, at times, even arbitrary policy decisions overruling members of his own team, have actual real- world consequences.

On the Jerusalem decision, I was told by someone who spoke with both Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson that they literally begged President Trump not to make the decision to recognize unilaterally Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

For years, American officials in both parties, I should point out, have believed that Jerusalem was an important component of a bigger, more sweeping peace deal. Now, effectively, as Trump acknowledged in his tweet yesterday, we've taken Jerusalem off the table without getting any concessions in return. Now, he seems to be realizing that and furious with the Palestinians, that he didn't extract something more. He's now demanding in a public tweet no less, to withhold the millions of dollars in aid that we annually provide to the Palestinian authority.

And I just think 2018 is going to be the year when some of Donald Trump's rhetoric, some of his promises or insistences about foreign policy come home to roost for him. He's either got to decide to follow through on some of these threats, on some of the bluster, or other world leaders are going to take matters into their own hands.

CABRERA: Susan Glasser and Samantha Vinograd, I thank you both for being here.

Coming up, the race to avoid a government shutdown. Soon, top White House officials will meet with a bipartisan group of leading lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as we approach this crucial deadline to come up with a budget. But will a battle over immigration put a big wrench in their talks? We'll discuss, next.