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HALA GORANI TONIGHT

White House Press Briefing; White House: Trump "Furious, Disgusted" At Bannon Comments; Iran's Revolutionary Guard Claims "Seditious" Protests Are Over; Trump Has Supported Iran Protests In Series Of Tweets; Manafort Sues DOJ, Challenges Mueller's Authority; Trump: My Nuclear Button More Powerful And It Works. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:16] HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome. I'm Hala Gorani tonight. The biggest story in the world was the president of

the United States taunting North Korea with the size of his nuclear button. Another headline comes along that washes it all away.

The White House press briefing is due to start any moment now. We'll bring that to you live when it does. First, though, we need to get you up to

speed with an incredible rift and developments from Washington.

First, the rift between President Trump and the man some credit for getting him to the White House. According to excerpts from a new book, Steve

Bannon called a meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer treasonous.

Bannon reportedly said, quote, "They're going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national tv." In the last few hours, President Trump has responded and

responded in an extraordinary way.

In a statement, he said, quote, "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his

mind," end quote.

Before this row erupted, President Trump was already making some headlines today for some inflammatory remarks of his own. He fired off a series of

tweets, one threatening the prospect of nuclear war.

Mr. Trump warned North Korea that he has a much bigger and more powerful nuclear button than Kim Jong-un saying, that his actually, quote, "works."

He also took on Iran, Pakistan, the Palestinians and much, much more.

Let's talk about all of these developments, by the way, as we continue to monitor the briefing room in the White House, a briefing that's due to

start in about 15 minutes' time. We are joined by White House reporter, Stephen Collinson, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Rear Admiral John

Kirby, director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, Larry Sabato, and Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International

Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

I'm going to start with you, Stephen Collinson. These explosive excerpts from a book by Michael Wolfe called, "Fire and Fury" in which Bannon is

quoted as saying that this June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr., Paul Manafort, and others and Russian operatives would be considered

treasonous. And that the chances that Trump did not meet or was not introduced to some people attending that meeting was, quote, "zero."

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's pretty incredible, Hala, that meeting in Trump Tower is at the center of a lot of the intrigues

surrounding the question of whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and to have somebody come out who after that point

became a key member of the president's inner circle, both in the campaign and in the White House, is sort of setting a touch light under those

allegations.

And that makes it a huge problem for the White House. But it's been a crazy, as you say, first two days, two business days of 2018. I think it

shows that this White House is still unstable, it's racked by controversy.

We have the president now publicly feuding with the man who is in many ways the sort of the heart of his populous nationalist philosophy that helped

him get to the White House and was instrumental in the first few months in the White House, in passing things like the immigration ban, for example.

So, these are extraordinary moments in Washington, and you have to really think what brought this on, what made Trump come out so angry in the first

few days of the year. Our colleague, Dana Bash, is reporting that the president is so upset because he had been assured by his lawyers that by

the end of the year, the Mueller investigation would wrap up.

That he would be exonerated, and he feels that they keep moving the goal post and pushing it further and further away and that might explain some of

these rather unstable international tweets and his rage, of course, at Bannon.

GORANI: And Vali Nasr, I want to ask you about some of these international tweets that have made so much news abroad, not at least the one about north

Korea, I have a bigger button, bigger than yours and mine works, speaking directly to Kim Jong-Un.

Also saying to Iranian protesters, you'll see great support from the United States at the appropriate time. What should we make of these explosive

foreign policy pronouncements on social media by the president of the United States?

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE DISPENSABLE NATION": I think (inaudible) an audience of people who are actually these tweets are directed at and then

there is a broader international community that's watching and he's seeing a very chaotic exercise of foreign policy that the leader of North Korea

could so easily get under the skin of the president of the United States and provoke him to react and create an international crisis in Asia at a

time when at least North Korea seemed to be going in the right direction.

[15:05:12] The president complicated issues with Pakistan and the Palestinians by trying to publicly humiliate their leaders, which is going

to make it only more intransigent.

And in the case of Iran, we have a moment in Iran where, of course, the protesters require moral support of the United States, but given the way in

which President Trump has handled the Iranian people themselves.

That he has handled the country that has threatened it, coming out in the manner that he has only gives ammunition to the leaders of Iran to argue

that these protests are not genuine. They are the work of the United States and they are going to serve the purposes of a U.S. government that

has shown hostility towards Iran.

And I don't think the president has really thought through about what the implications of all of these tweets are.

GORANI: And stand by, everybody, we are getting news in that Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Trump, is suing Robert Mueller,

who is heading an investigation into whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives over Russia's probe

authority.

I'm just discovering this at the same time as all of you are. The suit was brought Wednesday in a U.S. district court in Washington where Manafort and

another former Trump campaign aide are charged challenging Mueller's decision to charge Manafort with the alleged crimes that he was charged

with.

Larry Sabado, what I was saying at the beginning of the hour, you think one headline is the biggest headline of the day and minutes literally later,

something else takes its place. What should we think of these latest developments?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Hala, it's just another bizarre day in the most bizarre presidency in all of U.S.

history. I don't know what to tell you. I'm as surprised as anybody else, I never leave my iPhone anywhere anymore because I'm so worried I'm going

to miss something.

I'm not sure what the Manafort suit means. I will tell you this, it's going to keep the Mueller investigation in the headlines even more, which I

can't imagine pleases the White House.

The Bannon controversy is unbelievable, Hala. Look, I thought the amazing part of Trump's statement was the fact that he made it at all. No other

president would have issued a statement like that.

But he actually said in the statement that he thought Steve Bannon had lost his mind when he left the White House. No, people who observed Bannon for

years knew that he was off kilter years before he attached himself to the Trump campaign.

GORANI: We're going to talk a lot more about this in a moment. Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, can join me now with more on this suit

that Paul Manafort is bringing forth. Tell us more about what's happening, Paul Manafort is trying to achieve with this legal action.

(NO AUDIO)

I thought it was just me, but apparently audio is not going out there with Evan. We'll get back to Evan in just a moment. I want to get to John

Kirby, because the big topic of discussion, internationally, John, was, OK, let's say that the president does kind of in a moment of -- in an impulsive

moment decide that he wants to use America's nuclear arsenal. What is the chain of command to get -- between the moment a decision is made by the

president, can anyone get in the way of a nuclear weapon being launched?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, once the president has made a decision, an authenticated decision to

have nuclear missiles launched, no, that's the end of it. But actually, the process is sort of the reverse of the way you described it. There's a

series of checks and balances and discussions and betting over targets and delivery vehicles and quantity and timing, all of that's done before it

goes to the president for a decision.

Now, it may be done in a very quick fashion depending on what the timing of situation is and what's going on with your adversary, but there is a very

strict set of guidelines and process that is in place that leads up to an ultimate decision by the president.

He will be advised right up to the very second he makes that decision by the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by

the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who is in charge of our nuclear arsenal. All of that will take place.

GORANI: But can there be push back against the president?

KIRBY: Absolutely.

GORANI: If it's deemed by those in the chain of command that this is not a warranted nuclear strike.

KIRBY: Absolutely. In fact, that would be part of the best military advice that both Secretary Mattis and General Dunford, the chairman of the

Joint Chiefs of Staff would give to the president directly. There is a process for him to get alternative views and descending opinions and facts

that could counter manned a decision before it's made.

[15:10:11] But once it's made, Hala, the way the system is designed, the president is the one who makes this decision, and once he does, that's the

end of it.

GORANI: And it has to be carried out?

KIRBY: Absolutely, it has to be carried out. Because by then, again, by that point, the chain of command will have had ample opportunities to shape

that decision and influence it.

GORANI: Vali Nasr, internationally, is there concerned based on everything you're hearing, reading, the people you're speaking to that there could be

an accident here, that this something could really just go off the rails unintentionally in terms of how the United States is now approaching

different foreign policy crises around the world?

NASR: Absolutely. I think there's a view outside that the process in Washington, the kind of process that Admiral Kirby mentioned is not

working. The president is reacting to what he's reading and seeing without consulting the different institutions, without consulting his foreign

policy advisors or ignoring their opinions.

And he's throwing essentially hand grenades into the international arena and there's always a chance that world leaders may react to it. May

overread the president's comments or may on the other hand dismiss him thinking that this is yet another tweet and therefore, the room for making

mistakes is getting narrow.

So, we are in an area in international affairs for the first time the president is forcing everybody to play outside of the lines that they're

used to be playing in and that always creates greater risks.

GORANI: So, either people could take something seriously or almost as bad, people could stop believing the president of the United States and not take

him at his word. I believe we have Evan Perez back, our justice correspondent for more on Paul Manafort, who is suing Robert Mueller

leading the Russia probe. I can hear you this time, Evan. Go ahead. What have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We know that from this lawsuit that Manafort is asking for the court to essentially put aside

the indictment that was brought against him several weeks ago. He says that the authority of Robert Mueller exceeds the law that establishes

special counsels.

That Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general essentially violated the law in the authority that he gave to Robert Mueller, and they're calling

into attention, one particular part of the order that was signed by Rosenstein back in May, when he appointed Mueller.

And that part of the order says that Mueller can investigate any matters that arose or may arise directly from this investigation. So, that gives

Mueller some pretty broad authority and what Manafort is doing is calling attention to the fact that the charges that have been brought against him

so far, have no mention of Russia, have no mention of the 2016 campaign.

They have to do with the work that he was doing back when he was representing the former government of Ukraine under Victor Yanukovych (ph).

You'll remember he was ousted in 2014. That's when Manafort's work with the Ukrainian government ended.

So, the charges, money laundering charges and other charges that have been filed against Manafort, so far have not, at least anything to do with the

2016 campaign, which is what Mueller is supposed to be investigating. That's the essence of this lawsuit.

Look, I think the odds are still pretty low that this lawsuit succeeds, but I think what this represents is something broader, which is you have seen

over the last few weeks an effort by people connected and supporting the president, challenging Robert Mueller and the authority he has, this

investigation.

They believe that this has gone on long enough. They think that this should be ended and that's what you're seeing here, this is part of a

broader assault on what Mueller is trying to do.

GORANI: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much for that update. Paul Manafort, of course, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump.

We're talking as well today about Steve Bannon, Steve Bannon who was a top advisor until he left the White House a few months ago and who Donald Trump

is now saying lost his mind when he left Washington.

Stephen Collinson and our panel is still with us. Donald Trump has gotten into a habit of distancing himself from former advisors, campaign chairmen,

when they either get in trouble or get indicted in the case of Paul Manafort, saying Paul Manafort was a peripheral figure.

Steve Bannon was never on a one-on-one meeting or barely ever. George Papadopoulos was a coffee boy. Mike Flynn we knew from the beginning he

wasn't being truthful. Is that being believed in sort of Washington circles or among his support base that this is the case?

COLLINSON: No, not at all. Paul Manafort, who you were just talking about, was a key figure in the runup to the Republican National Convention

and securing a nomination for Donald Trump. He once lived in Trump Tower. He's been around Trump for years.

[15:15:07] The president's team downplayed the influence of George Papadopoulos, who has done a plea deal with the Mueller investigation, yet

the latest revelations that supposedly he told an Australian diplomat in London, this was reported in the "New York Times," that the Russians had

dirt on Hillary Clinton that could be used in the campaign clearly undercut that.

And as I said, Steve Bannon was a huge sort of political guru, if you like, for the president. I think in many ways it's not surprising that they have

finally become estranged, because they're both two massive ego-driven brash characters that sort of operate in sort of technicolor politically.

And it was almost inevitable I think that in the end they would sort of come to blows publicly, and the way they operate is very much the same,

they take no prisoners. Bannon believes he's in a political war, and that's the way Trump views politics as well.

But the idea that none of these people had anything to do with Trump and he did it all on his own, I think is a little bit fanciful and nobody is

believing that.

GORANI: John Kirby, after the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House, the president tweeted this very congratulatory and complimentary

toward Steve Bannon, "I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against crooked Hillary Clinton. It was

great. Thanks."

So, it's going to be harder to believe now that from the beginning of the period after which he left the White House that the president believed he'd

lost his mind.

KIRBY: Yes. I think that tweet that you showed there is a common thing that you do when somebody leaves, and you want to make sure they leave on

as good terms as possible so that they don't trash you when they leave. But I think Steve Bannon is not afraid to burn bridges and as Stephen just

said, he is very much like Trump, very volcanic in temperament and impulsive --

GORANI: Interestingly, though, John, he hasn't said these things publicly. He was quoted in a book and this book was based on hundreds of interviews

that Michael Wolf wrote. So, it's not like he suddenly came out and started tweeting inflammatory things toward the president. So, this is

something that he told a reporter.

KIRBY: That's true. But in the Roy Moore campaign he wasn't afraid to lay down a couple of gauntlets on the Trump administration, maybe he wasn't

personally directed at Donald Trump himself, but he wasn't afraid to criticize those around the president and the direction in which the

president was moving.

GORANI: Vali, one of the things that over the last several months has been an interesting trend is that with the retreat of the United States, with

Donald Trump, the president of the United States sort of folding U.S. foreign policy back on to itself, that you have sort of a world where the

United States has less leverage, less power, less involvement. In Iran, for instance, if the U.S. withdraws support from the nuclear deal, does

that mean it's dead and if so, what happens next?

NASR: Well, I think the U.S. has already withdrawn support for the nuclear deal and the nuclear deal is technically there, but I think the Iranians

don't expect any more economic benefit to come from it or any other deals or agreements to follow it.

GORANI: But they haven't reimpose the sanctions?

NASR: Well, even the sanctions that they had lifted and what Iran could do have been slow to come. I think part of the reasons why we're seeing

protests is that the Rouhani government has not been able to deliver what he promised to the people and many Iranians are looking at the

international scene, and are realizing that the promises of the nuclear deal are not going to happen and that makes other economic issues look a

lot worse.

But I think also another issue that today's news brings to the floor is that many countries around the world, including the Iranians, look at

Washington and are going to think how effective this president is going to be, if he's going to be consumed by these internal issues, and Steve Bannon

is not a small fish in that conversation.

He's not likely to have a lot of bandwidth to pay attention to them and they may be calculating things differently, for instance, crackdown on

demonstrators or do things that otherwise they might have been worried about.

GORANI: OK. That's interesting. And Larry Sabato, by the way, we are continuing to wait for this White House press briefing to start. Sarah

Sanders will no doubt be taking questions about those Steve Bannon quotes in the Michael Wolf book, "Fire and Fury." But it's not just Iran, it's

also North Korea. That was a remarkable tweet from the president of the United States. Do you think that this is going to have a lasting impact on

U.S. influence on foreign policy outside of the country?

SABATO: How could it not? And it not just that incident, it's a whole series of them since Trump took office, and he's been in office nearly a

year now. Look, it's just hard to interpret these things and Donald Trump can change, he's so mercurial from hour to hour, day to day, week to week.

[15:20:07] I think -- as this year wears on, imagine what happens if the Democrats win one or both houses of Congress? I think Trump's last two

years will be very difficult, not just for him, but also for the country, or at least the presidential system.

GORANI: Yes, certainly that is something that they're going to have to strategize toward, right, Stephen Collinson? Because what we saw in

Alabama, and we know there are many Democratic contenders, honing their strategies for the midterms in 2018, we know there are many vacancies

coming up and Republican Senate seats in 2018 as well, with senior and veteran senators stepping down and retiring. This could be a very

different picture a year from now.

COLLINSON: It certainly could, Hala, and there are a lot of sort of political soothe sayers who are saying that there's perhaps an even chance

that the Republicans lose control of the House, control of the Senate. Even there in the Senate, we thought it would be a pretty tough year

because there are 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states that Donald Trump won.

But what that means is effectively, as the Democrats grasp for an economic message to take home Trump, Trump says he hasn't a great success, he's had

like the tax law for example. What the midterm elections going to end being is effectively a referendum on impeachment.

It's almost certain that if the Democrats get control of the House of Representatives and have a majority there, they will in some ways sort of

move to start impeachment proceedings against the president, whatever Robert Mueller said. There are a lot of Democrats who believe that the

president has already committed --

GORANI: But they would need both houses for that to come to fruition, right?

COLLINSON: They certainly would. And there's no certainty in the Senate that you would get a conviction of the president because the majority would

very likely still be very close, but there's a real feeling in the Democratic grass roots that this will end up being an election, which is a

referendum on the first two years of Trump.

And if you talked to grassroots Democrats, that's the feeling there is. So, the stakes could not be higher for the president in the midterm

elections. I'm not quite sure whether that has yet sort of filtered through the White House and whether the president himself looks that far

ahead. Most times it looks like he looks a few minutes ahead, rather than 11 months ahead.

GORANI: John Kirby, you're a military man. You were a spokesperson of the Pentagon and the State Department. I wonder what do you think the reaction

is in the hallways of the State Department or the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., when a tweet like the one that the president sent yesterday about the

nuclear button drops? What do you think? I mean it -- people must still not -- they're probably not used to -- still not used to this type of

communication from the commander-in-chief?

KIRBY: Yes, I think you can tell a lot by the way both institutions have responded publicly. The State Department saying no change to our policy.

The Pentagon's been mute on this. If this tweet had really been helpful to the policy making process, had been helpful to the diplomacy that Tillerson

and Mattis are trying to keep in the lead, if it was a useful tweet by the president, you would have seen both institutions come out and support it

publicly by their spokesmen. I've been on the other side of the podium --

GORANI: Speaking of podiums, I'm sorry, we have to go to the White House press briefing. Sarah Sanders is starting to speak. Let's listen.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- the president urges Democrats to adhere to the so-called Schumer Rule, and not hold the

government hostage in an attempt to advance a radical political agenda. We must fully fund our military, and ensure our brave men and women in uniform

have the resources they need. They're always there for our country, and we must not let partisan bickering get in the way of the government taking

care of them. The president wants a clean funding bill that fulfills our obligations, takes care of our military, and keeps our people safe.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Cecelia (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. The president says that when Steve Bannon was fired, he not only lost his job; he lost his mind. Does he feel betrayed by

Steve Bannon? Does he regret hiring him?

SANDERS: I think the president's statement is extremely clear on what his position on Mr. Bannon is. It was pretty lengthy and pretty detailed, and

there's not really much to clarify, or to add.

QUESTION: But is there regret then? I mean, he said a lot of (inaudible), and they did have a -- a long and close working relationship. So is there a

sense of betrayal?

SANDERS: Once again, I think the president's statement fully addresses what his position, and what his relationship with Mr. Bannon is. April (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, when is the last time the president talked to Steve Bannon? And this is a serious question: Is the president now blocking Steve

Bannon from calling his cell phone?

SANDERS: I'm not aware that he was calling his cell phone, but I believe the last conversation took place at the first part of December.

QUESTION: And what does this do to the base, that these two power houses are fighting, in the Republican party? What does this do to the -- the

president's base?

SANDERS: I don't think it does anything to the president's base. The -- the -- the base, and the people that supported this president, supported the

president, and supported his agenda. Those things haven't changed. The president's still exactly who he was yesterday -- as he was two years ago,

when he started out on the campaign trail. His agenda hasn't changed, and he's continuing to fight for and push for that agenda. And I think the base

is extremely excited and happy with the job that this president has done in his first year in office. Look at all he's accomplished. I think they're

pretty happy with where he is. Peter (ph)?

QUESTION: Steve Bannon has a distinct following -- the alt white -- and some people who may not necessarily be for the other -- people who are

xenophobic. What happens there?

SANDERS: I think that's a question you're going to have to ask Steve Bannon. The president's base is very solid. It hasn't changed, because the

president hasn't changed, and his agenda hasn't changed, and we're continuing to accomplish a lot of the things that were on the president's

agenda, as we did last year, and we're going to do a lot more this year, as we move into the beginning of 2018. Peter (ph)?

QUESTION: A couple questions. I'll try to make these simple. First, did the president's son...

SANDERS: You don't think I can handle the hard ones?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Did the president's son, Donald Trump, Jr., commit treason?

SANDERS: I think that is a ridiculous accusation, and one that I'm pretty sure we've addressed many times from here before. And if that's in

reference to comments made by Mr. Bannon, I'd refer you back to the ones that he made previously on "60 Minutes," where he called the collusion with

Russia about this president a total farce. So I think I would look back at that. If anybody's been inconsistent, it's been him. Certainly hasn't been

the president, or this administration.

QUESTION: So to follow up on that, did the president (inaudible) of Donald Trump, Jr.'s guests at that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting on that day?

SANDERS: As the president has stated many times, no, and he wasn't part of or aware of that. John Decker (ph)?

QUESTION: If I could ask you, after the tweet about -- about nuclear threats, the nuclear button tweet, should Americans be concerned about the

president's mental fitness; that he appears to be speaking so lightly about threats regarding the nuclear button?

SANDERS: I think the president and the people of this country should be concerned about the mental fitness of the leader of North Korea. He's made

repeated threats, he's tested missiles, time and time again, for years, and this is a president who's not going to cower down and is not going to be

weak, and is going to make sure that he does what he's promised to do; and that's stand up and protect the American people.

(CROSSTALK)

Sorry, Peter (ph), I'm going to keep moving.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: But isn't it possible that he could misinterpret that? You said he's unpredictable, so couldn't he misinterpret a tweet like that if he's

so unpredictable?

SANDERS: I don't -- I don't think it's -- I didn't say that. I think it's extremely clear what the president's position is. And our position on North

Korea hasn't changed since the beginning. This is a president who is committed to protecting Americans and protecting the people of this

country. And he's not going to back down from that.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah. It's a very harsh statement that the president put out today and it's not the first time that Steve Bannon has

been Topic A, here at the White House Briefing. The last time, as you made reference to, was after his interview on 60 Minutes.

And during that White House press briefing on September the 11th, when a series of questions were asked of you at the time, you were pretty much

hands off, in terms of going after Steve Bannon. The president didn't really respond in any particular way to the 60 Minutes interview.

What's changed? What's changed between then and now after the interview that he apparently did with Michael Wolff for his book?

SANDERS: Look, once again, I think the president and his feelings toward Mr. Bannon are very clear in his statement and there's really not much else

to add beyond that. I don't think there's much grey area in what his feelings are.

Francesca (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

But to pick up on that, this is a pretty dramatic falling out between the president and someone who worked on his campaign and also worked in this

White House very close to him every day. And so, I think everyone is wondering what -- what led to this quite dramatic falling out and was it

the loss of Roy Moore in that Senate race that was mentioned in the statement? You mentioned that they had last talked in early December.

Is this a direct response to Steve Bannon calling the president's son unpatriotic and saying that he committed treason?

SANDERS: I think there are a number of factors that played in. I would certainly think that going after the president's son in an absolutely

outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody.

Ashley (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, you mentioned the statement the president put out, it was very harsh and it basically says the entire book is fiction. That said, a

note explaining how the book came to be said that the authors conducted interviews for 18 months, including many with the president, spoke to over

200 people, many of the president's top aides and people that --

SANDERS: He never actually sat down with the president just to be very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But did they ever speak on the phone?

SANDERS: There was one brief conversation that had nothing to do originally with the book. It was, I think, around five to seven minutes in

total since the president has taken office. And that's the only interaction that he's had.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) only phone calls (INAUDIBLE)?

SANDERS: That's the only interaction that the president has had with Michael Wolff since he took office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: - you could reconcile the president's statement with the author's statement about how the book came to be?

SANDERS: I'm not sure what the author's statement is on how the book came to be. I know that the book has a lot of things, so far what we've seen,

that are completely untrue.

You have many people that have quotes that are sourced to them that are now coming out publicly and saying that those things are not true. And so, I

can't speak to what the author's comments were. I can only speak for the White House.

Charlie (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the White House have a copy of the book now?

SANDERS: I believe there may be some individuals that do. Jim (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, the statement - the president's statement suggests that Steve Bannon had very little influence in the White House.

But the president himself elevated him to the same level as the chief of staff and put him on the National Security Council. How do you reconcile

that?

SANDERS: I wouldn't say that he elevated him to the same level as the chief of staff. And I think that in the actions that Steve took, the

president was clear that it didn't have a lot of influence on him or the decision-making process throughout his time here at the White House.

Margaret (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, can you clarify, because many of us here have seen Michael Wolff at the White House on multiple occasions. We've seen

him firsthand. So, we know he was here. Who gave him access to the White House? What was he here for? Can you explain any of that since we don't

have access to the logs.

SANDERS: Yes. So far, from what I can tell, the roughly just over a dozen interactions that he had with officials at the White House, I think close

to 95 percent were all done so at the request of Mr. Bannon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) compliance really, you would just say, came from Steve Bannon? Other White House officials were not working with

him and helping to -?

SANDERS: Any that did so far as far as we can tell did so at the request of Mr. Bannon. Deborah (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President tweeted that he'll be announcing the most dishonest and corrupt media award of the year Monday at 5:00 p.m. Can

we get some details on that? Where will he say it? Will it be televised? How many awards will he present?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will there be an audience?

SANDERS: I certainly don't want to spoil anything, but my guess is that there are quite a few individuals that could be up for those awards. And

beyond that, I think we'll have to see what happens on Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the press core be in the room for that?

SANDERS: We'll certainly keep you posted. It might be hard for him to present trophies if you guys aren't there, but I don't know. We'll have to

wait and see what happens on Monday. Justin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have two policy ones. The first one is, there's some controversy over the weekend about a letter from the Department of

Transportation, suggesting that the administration doesn't support the split federal state framework for the Gateway Rail Tunnel connecting New

York and New Jersey. Since it's infrastructure week, I'm wondering if the president -

SANDERS: Is it infrastructure week?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: - in principle supports at least a 50/50 split on that? And if not, what's changed from when he met with the bipartisan New York

delegation earlier last year?

SANDERS: We don't have any new policy announcements on that front at this point. But as we get further into the year and further into the

conversations on infrastructure, we'll be rolling out more details on what we want to do, what we hope to accomplish and what the plan is to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we had some questions yesterday about the sort of shorter list of demands on immigration. I'm wondering if that's something

that Mick Mulvaney (INAUDIBLE) to Capitol Hill today as part of those discussions?

SANDERS: It's possible that it comes up. We are certainly open to having conversations on that. The conversation today, the primarily focus is on

the budget. Once again, we'd like a clean budget bill. And so, that's not what our focus is going into today's meeting.

But our priorities on what we would hope to have in any immigration bill and any DACA deal haven't changed. They would include securing the border

with a wall, ensuring interior enforcement, eliminating the visa lottery program and ending chain migration. All those are still the same. Steven

(ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nailed down some of the data points with respect to Steve Bannon. You said that the last time the president spoke with him was

in the early part of December. Was that before or after the special election in Alabama?

SANDERS: I would have to look back at the exact date and circle back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you take us through the drafting of the statement the president issued today. It's rather lengthy. Did he write it in his

own hand, did he dictate it?

SANDERS: Look, these are the president's words. I think they're very clear and there's not much to add beyond that. Kevin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been reported that he was furious when these reports first came out about what Bannon is quoted as saying. Is that an

accurate depiction?

[15:35:06] SANDERS: I think furious, disgusted would probably certainly fit when you make such outrageous claims and completely false claims

against the president, his administration and his family. Kevin (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, thanks. I wanted to ask you personally, and I know you speak on behalf of the president and behalf of the American

people. How surprised were you at what you read these excerpts attributed to Mr. Bannon? Did that surprise you in any way? And if so how?

SANDERS: Certainly surprising. I, for one, was somebody who very much believed that the president could and would win. Otherwise, I wouldn't

have dedicated so much time to that.

But not only that, I worked in the White House since the very first day, and a lot of the characterization that I saw that he was pushing out was

the opposite of what I saw take place every day that I've been here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I follow very quickly on North Korea? There's been some folks in town who've said, listen, it doesn't help, despite the idea

being we are going to be forceful, we're going to push back.

Some have said it doesn't help when the tweets come out the way they do. And yet, we know that the president has made clear, I am who I am, I'm

going to tweet the way I want to tweet. Has there been any consideration that tweets like the one on North Korea actually don't advance the agenda,

meaning working with other partners in the region?

SANDERS: I think what didn't help was the complacency and the silence of the previous administration. This is a president who leads through

strength and he's going to do that and he's going to focus on everything that he can do in order to keep Americans safe and he's not going to be

pushed around by the leader of North Korea.

Our policy with North Korea has not changed. We are fully committed to continuing to apply maximum pressure and working with all of our partners

in the region, including South Korea, who we have a better relationship now than ever before.

We are going to keep working with them and keep pushing forward and, hopefully, North Korea will start making better decisions. Kristin (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, thank you. Do you think that people should question the mental fitness of Kim Jong-un? So then, isn't it dangerous

for the president to be taunting him on Twitter?

SANDERS: I don't think that it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country. I think what's dangerous is to ignore the continued threats.

If the previous administration had done anything and dealt with North Korea, dealt with Iran, instead of sitting by and doing nothing, we

wouldn't have to clean up their mess now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, the taunting tweet to say that he has that he has a larger nuclear button.

SANDERS: I think it's just a fact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one more. What does it say about the president's priorities that he unleashed a four-paragraph statement about

Steve Bannon and one tweet on North Korea?

SANDERS: The president has issued a number of statements, as have I, as have the administration, Ambassador Haley, Secretary of State, Jim Mattis,

Secretary of Defense have all talked extensively about North Korea. To try to limit it down to one tweet is just disingenuous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: - president is there is no actual one nuclear button. He's saying it is actually bigger.

SANDERS: The President's very well aware of how the process works and what the capacity of the United States is. And I can tell you that it's greater

than that of North Korea. Smera? (ph)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two foreign policy questions. One, yesterday, you said there would be more details on Pakistan in the next 24 to 48 hours.

We're seeing some reports that the administration plans to announce as soon as Wednesday or Thursday that it plans to cut off security assistance to

Pakistan. Is that accurate?

SANDERS: We'll continue to keep you posted as those decisions are finalized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And then, regarding Jerusalem and Israel, the president tweeted last night that we have taken Jerusalem, the toughest

part of the negotiation, off the table. But Israel, for that, would have to pay more.

First, taking it off the table, when the president announced that Jerusalem was capital of Israel, the administration policy was stated as that the

borders were not being decided. This doesn't affect negotiations. This tweet seems to contradict that.

SANDERS: I don't think so. It doesn't affect the negotiations. We still want to continue to have conversations and continue the peace process.

We're still very much committed to that and hope we can continue to push forward in that point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what is this pay more thing?

SANDERS: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that Israel would have had to pay more?

SANDERS: I'd have to check on the details of that. I'm not sure, Smera. Jordan (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Sarah. In light of this book and the back and forth over how much access Michael Wolff had to the White House, will the

White House reconsider its decision to block public release of visitor logs? Will you release visitor logs to the public?

SANDERS: I don't anticipate any changes to that policy at this point. But if it happened, we'll certainly make sure that you guys are aware. John

(ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, during the campaign, the president said repeatedly entitlements were off the table and

he would preserve social security, Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare Part D as they were.

Now, with the passage of the tax reform legislation and the recent statements of House Speaker Paul Ryan that entitlements should be

considered with the budget, has the president changed his position from the campaign?

SANDERS: The president hasn't changed his position at this point. Again, as conversations go on, if that does change, we'll let you know. Trey

(ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My other question, is it safe to say Steve Bannon is off the list of social invitations for the White House?

SANDERS: Probably so. Trey?

Since those are controlled by the first lady, I think her statement is pretty clear on her position as well. Trey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. A couple of questions on Steve Bannon and one on North Korea. How would you describe Steve Bannon's role

in the White House when he was serving in this administration?

SANDERS: I think the president addressed what he feels it was. And to me, that's the most important voice in this process. And he has spoken very

clearly on that front.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if I could follow-up, is the president looking for an apology from Steve Bannon? What is he looking for in the future from

Steve Bannon?

SANDERS: I don't think anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if I can follow-up on North Korea, discussing earlier the idea that Kim Jong-un would be the one who is mentally ill, is

the president concerned that tweeting about nuclear war could cause someone like Kim Jong-un to act with military force?

SANDERS: Again, I have addressed this. I think the president is concerned about the continued threats that this individual has made towards the

United States and others. And he's not going to allow him to continue doing that without saying something and standing up for the people of the

country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two questions. First, three former DHS secretaries have said that the deadline for DACA really is this month, that there is

not enough time to put a new program in place by March if it's not done this month. Do you all agree with that? I mean, does that make you feel

like you have to get this done sooner? I know there has been some talk here about not worrying about it until March.

SANDERS: We'd like to get something done. But, again, we want to make sure that we have complete and responsible immigration reform. And we are

not just dealing with one piece of it. And we've laid out what our priorities are and what it would take for us to make a deal on that. And

we look forward to having those conversations and getting that done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does it have to be done this month as they are saying?

SANDERS: I don't know that it necessarily has to be done this month. Look, we'd like to make a deal on securing funding for the border wall as

well as ending chain migration, ending the visa lottery program, interior enforcements. We'd like to do that right away.

So, if the Democrats are willing to sit down and make that deal, I think we'd be happy to get that done by the end of the month. Sorry, I'm going

to - OK, we'll do a quick one here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just a very quick one, which is I just don't understand the timing of something. Steve Bannon left in the summer, late

summer. If the president says he lost his mind when he left, why did he continue to talk to him for so many months?

SANDERS: Look, the president continued to have conversations with him, often asked for by Mr. Bannon. The president spoke with him, but that

doesn't mean that he can't hold that position. Andrew (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. What do you base - your comments about Kim Jong-un and his mental stability, is that based on a US

government assessment, a psychological assessment, or is that your opinion?

SANDERS: I am not going to get into any further details on that front. I'll take one last question. Go ahead, Andy. Sorry, I'll come back.

Andrew, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president enjoyed a slight bump in popularity when he was down in Florida golfing. I'm sure you saw this. Is it possible

that Americans like him more when he's out of the news and not tweeting?

SANDERS: I think Americans like the fact that he got the largest tax cut in history done. I think they like the fact that they're going to see a

lot more of their paycheck. I think they like the fact that American companies are investing back in this country and not other ones.

I think they like the fact that American companies are now giving out massive bonuses across the board. We are seeing every single day more and

more companies announce decisions like that. I think that's what most Americans certainly were very happy about, particularly as they went into

the holiday season and they had a little bit more money to consider spending as they celebrated Christmas with their family.

Take one last question. Hunter (ph), go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the past day or so, we have seen President Trump attack the press, the Justice Department and now his former ally, Steve

Bannon. By attacking critics and key institutions in our democracy, isn't the president engaging in authoritarian behavior?

SANDERS: Not at all. The president is simply responding often to news of the day. I think if the president can't respond aggressively to an

individual like the leader of the North Korea that continues to threaten Americans, then that's a dangerous place that we don't want to go down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president called for critics to be fired from their jobs, that's not the president of North Korea?

SANDERS: I'm sorry I couldn't hear the first part of the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have seen both you and the president calling for critics to be fired from their jobs?

SANDERS: I don't think it's necessarily critics. We are certainly happy for people that have different opinions. But there is a difference between

different opinions and different facts and people are entitled to an opinion, but not entitled to their own facts. And we have a big problem

with people putting out misleading information. Those are very different things.

Thanks so much, guys.

GORANI: Sarah Sanders, a highly anticipated press briefing at the White House after revelations in a new book by Michael Wolff, the journalist

Michael Wolff, called "Fire & Fury", in which Steve Bannon, the former top adviser to President Trump, is quoted as saying that a meeting between

Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and some Russian operatives is treasonous.

And we heard there from Sarah Sanders say that this is ridiculous, that the White House once again is repeating that Donald Trump, the president, did

not meet with the Russian lawyer and others who attended that June 2016 meeting.

A reporter asked about the mental fitness of the president, Donald Trump, who tweeted at Kim Jong-un about the size of the US' nuclear arsenal. He

called it the nuclear button. Sarah Sanders said people shouldn't be concerned about the mental fitness of the president. They should be

concerned instead about the mental fitness of the North Korean leader.

And as far as the reaction to what Steve Bannon is quoted as saying, Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially said there is nothing to add beyond the

statement.

And, in fact, we also have received a statement from Melania Trump, the first lady. "The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction

section," read the statement. "Mrs. Trump supported her husband's decision to run for president and, in fact, encouraged him to do so. She

was confident he would win and was very happy when he did."

This, following reports included in the book that perhaps there was great shock at the victory and it was not part of the plan by the Trump team.

Let's get back to our panel there for a quick reaction. We're joined by our White House reporters, Stephen Collinson; CNN military and diplomatic

analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby; and also, Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia.

So, Stephen, it's what we expected. We expected Sarah Sanders to say this is rubbish. This is true. The president is fine. He should be allowed to

tweet things about North Korea in the way that he did because Kim Jong-un is the one who is dangerous. What stood out to you in what we just heard

today?

COLLINSON: It's kind of interesting what we saw there with Sarah Sanders trying to put a rational and cohesive sort of argument out there for the

actions of the president over the last few days, which have neither seen rational nor cohesive.

Two interesting points, I think. One of them, she said that the president last spoke to Steve Bannon in early December. That sort of raises

questions about his statement, in which he said, as soon as he left the White House last summer, he lost his mind. That begs the question of why

he was still speaking to Bannon if he had thought he'd lost his mind.

And the issue of the tweet about North Korea and the nuclear button, one of the reporters asked her in response to her contention that the only person

here that was mentally unstable was Kim Jong-un.

That raises the question of, if the president thinks that Kim Jong-un is unstable, why is he tweeting such inflammatory sort of confrontational

rhetoric and is he not, in fact, worried that Kim could miscalculated and take that perhaps more seriously than it was meant.

So, while it was a good attempt by Sarah Huckabee Sanders to try and smooth over some of the events of the last 48 hours, it raises many questions as

it answered, I think.

And John Kirby, we were - right before going to the briefing, you were saying that you stood on the other side of the podium. Another - yes, at

the State Department and at the Pentagon and other settings. What stood out to you here at this briefing.

KIRBY: Yes. She has got the toughest job in Washington. There is no question about that. And you could see - watch that whole exchange about

the mental fitness of Kim Jong-un.

She knows she stepped in it when she said that because, as Stephen rightly says, other reporters piled on and said, well, gee, you really think we

should question his fitness, why the heck is the president making tweets about this like this and taunting him.

And then, she backed off. After every other question she got about it, she said, I've said enough, I'm not going into it. That's a classic podium

jockey tactic to say, OK, I screwed up and I shouldn't have said it, I'm not going to repeat the error again for soundbites going forward.

[15:50:03] But, look, I mean, the way she reacted to everything today, the Bannon comments and the book and North Korea and everything else, all tells

you she is trying to paper over these differences and try to just get through this as quickly as she can and try to convey the idea that there's

nothing here, nothing new and that we're moving forward.

If there was really meat to what the president did, if there was strategy behind these ridiculous tweets yesterday, she'd have been all over that and

been laying out the case, which she couldn't do.

GORANI: And one reporter, Larry Sabato, asked, well, if you're saying essentially that Michael Wolff, the author of the book and also an article

in "New York Magazine", which is an excerpt from the book, really didn't have that much access, as much access as he claimed, why don't you just

release the White House visitor logs?

This was custom before. We would be able to know who walks in and out of the White House. And, essentially, she said that's not something that

we're going to discuss at this stage. What did you make of that?

SABATO: They'll be releasing the visitor logs right after they release his taxes.

Listen, this was really outrageous. And I'm not going to comment on the shrewdness of Sarah Sanders handling of these controversies.

Did you hear what she said at the end? She had the nerve to tell reporters that they were entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts. This

from a person representing a president, who according to a tally being kept by "The Washington Post" has lied or misrepresented the facts nearly 2,000

times since last January 20th.

It is to laugh. All presidents have cleanup crews. This president is a 24-hour-a-day cleanup crew, seven days a week, holidays included. And

that's all Sarah Sanders was trying to do, was to clean up the messes that Donald Trump has created lately.

GORANI: Larry Sabato, thanks very much. Stephen Collinson, we've got to leave it there unfortunately. John Kirby, I hope we can continue this

discussion very soon with a lot more. All this news, I can guarantee you. There will be more tweets. There will be more developments. That is

something that we've come to expect.

Thanks, gentlemen, to all of you. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: The leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guards is claiming that days of protest against the government are now over.

The protests were the most visible challenge yet to the government's authority since mass demonstrations rocked the country in 2009.

But now the government seems to be tightening its grip as the US president expresses his support for the demonstrators. Nick Paton Walsh has our

story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was the day the government had its voice heard and ensured its people hit the street.

[15:55:02] Lavishly covered by state TV, the unrest, chants of death to the dictator replaced with, more common to Iran, of death to America. After

days of measured and even sympathetic government responses and encouragement to the unrest from the White House, the major popular force

that was out there to be seen was backing the status quo again.

At the same time, the anti-government unrest appeared to ebb partially. Rare videos like these from Tuesday night emerging. Yet it could return as

fast and unexpected as it emerged.

(on-camera): Well, the protests spread very quickly at the start of those seven days. You can see here maintaining some of that reach during the

week, but Wednesday Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guard stepped forward to dry and draw a line under the protest.

Their head, Mohammad Ali Jafari, saying they were never more than 15,000 protesters out and 1,500 at a time in one particular protest. He declared

an end to what he referred to as the sedition and even hinted a former official might have been involved in sparking the first protest.

(voice-over): So, if this was meant as a wake-up call to Iran's ruling clerical elites, the more moderate President Hassan Rouhani, did it wake

anyone up?

ESFANDYAR BATMANGHELIDJ, FOUNDER, EUROPE-IRAN FORUM: It took a few days for Rouhani to make a substantive statement, a few days for the supreme

leader to make a substantive statement. We would hope that that indicates that they are in a little bit of a listening face, trying to understand

exactly what's contributed to these mobilizations and seeking to find a reasonable approach.

Now, if you're more of a pessimist, then that silence might simply be a fact that they just don't know what to do.

WALSH: For now, the root economic causes remain as does a sense of Iran being shaken by an unexpected rage from an unexpected part of its youth.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Do stay with CNN. I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for watching this evening. "Quest Means Business" is coming up next. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END