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New Revelations From Bombshells Book: CNN Has Early Copy; Bannon In Book: Ivanka Was "A Non-Event On The Campaign"; W.H., Trump Intensify Campaign To Take Down Bannon; Janice Min: Every Word About Bannon Dinner Party Is Accurate; Publishers Defies Trump Lawyer's Demand To Quash Bombshell Book; Aired 7:00-7:30pm ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's coming up at 11:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Thanks for watching. "Erin Burnett OutFront" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next, breaking news. We have an advanced copy of the book rattling the White House tonight. This as team Trump's campaign to take down Steve Bannon is in full swing. My guest, a Trump White House insider.

Plus, a former Trump aide quoted in the book speaking out tonight, also my guest here "OutFront". And Yale psychiatrist making a stunning claim to lawmakers that Trump is "unraveling." I'm going to speak with the congressman who got that briefing this hour. Let's go "OutFront."

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight, the breaking news. This is it, the book. We have a copy. It is being released tomorrow to anyone watching, at 9:00 a.m., and that is four days ahead of scheduled, but here it is. Even as team Trump issues a cease-and- desist order trying to keep this book off the shelves, the publisher's response, "We see 'Fire and Fury' as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book."

Now, among the new revelations we've just found reading through this was this quote from Steve Bannon about Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Bannon telling Wolff, the author of the book, "She was a nonevent on the campaign. She became a White House staffer and that's when people suddenly realized she's dumb as a brick. A little marketing savvy and has a look, but as far as understanding actually how the world works and what politics is and what it means, nothing. Once you expose that, you lose some credibility. Jared just kind of flits in and does the Arab stuff."

This just the latest revelation here and that again a quote from Steve Bannon coming as a seemingly desperate Sarah Sanders launched this bomb about the man who gave Michael Wolff that quote, the same as Steve Bannon who helped get her boss elected to the highest office in the land.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware that they were ever particularly close. I would certainly say that they have spoken a few times since he left the White House, but it's not like there were regularly scheduled calls or -- and certainly no meetings between the two of them.


BURNETT: Not particularly close. And her boss, the President, today also try to revise history and wipe Bannon from memory.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't talk to him. I don't talk to him. I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer.


BURNETT: OK. That's the same Donald Trump who said these things about Steve Bannon.


TRUMP: Bannon has, you know, I like him a lot. He's actually a very good guy.

Steve is very committed. He's a friend of mine.

I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve has been a friend of mine for a long time.


BURNETT: Not just a friend, just a good guy, a friend for a very long time. That's what the President said. And the two, of course, do seem particularly close in photo after photo. Here they are greeting the Teslan -- Tesla, sorry, CEO, Elon Musk, in the state dining room, again, as Trump signs an executive order about the oil pipeline industry. And then this, Trump speaking on the phone with Vladimir Putin, and who is there, Steve Bannon.

And then when they worked together in the White House, check this out, their offices, steps apart. In fact, the only person who sat closer to the President of the United States than Bannon was President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Even the official chief of staff, Reince Priebus, sat farther away from President Trump. And of course, as Trump knows well from his real estate days, power is all about location, location, location.

Slamming Bannon, though, was only part of the White House operation today. The press secretary tried to rip the book itself and its author, Michael Wolff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you just give a few examples of things that have been said in this book that are false, that you would like to set the record straight on?

SANDERS: There are numerous mistakes, but I'm not going waste my time or the country's time going page by page talking about a book that's complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip, because it's sad, pathetic, and our administration and our focus is going to be on moving the country forward.


BURNETT: OK. It is not complete fantasy. I want to make it clear, we have not independently corroborated many of the details in the bombshell book, but let's just take two examples. Two of the people who are in the book are verifying part of what's in it.

Trump supporter, Ann Coulter, confirmed her quote to "The Washington Examiner." According to Wolff's book, she said to Trump, "Nobody is apparently telling you this. But you can't. You just can't hire your children."

And "The Hollywood Reporter," Janice Min, tweeted today that everything she knew about an intimate media dinner reported in the book is true because she was there. She says, "So I was one of the six guests at the Bannon-Ailes dinner party in January 2017, and every word I've seen from the book about it is absolutely accurate. It was an astonishing night." Ailes, referring of course to the former head of Fox News, Roger Ailes.

[19:05:03] Jeff Zeleny is "OutFront." And, you know, Jeff, does the White House feel like they are winning the fight against Bannon and the book here tonight or not?

JEFF ZELENY: Erin, I don't think they know the answer to that question yet and this is why. I mean, certainly every quote from Steve Bannon in this book undermines exactly what the White House has been trying to do for more than a year, that is discredit the Russia investigation. Steve Bannon added new credibility and authority to all of that, depending on what comes from that.

Now, in terms of actually winning the war at the moment, they are pointing out inconsistencies in the book. Yes, there are a few things that may have not been as they said. So one example, Sarah Sanders raised this in the briefing today, the fact that the President knew speaker Boehner and Michael Wolff has said that he didn't know who that was, not true. We've heard Donald Trump talk about John Boehner for years.

But on the whole, this has rocked the White House. This has overtaken their agenda. They wanted to start 2018 talking about immigration that matters. In fact, that President, Republican leaders I'm told are going to Camp David this weekend to talk about the agenda on the same day this book is coming out. So the President will be meeting tomorrow at Camp David at the very moment this book is coming out. So the reality here is in terms of winning or losing, I don't think we know the answer to that yet. But there's one thing that is clear, the President had a close connection to Steve Bannon. We'll see if that's ever rebuilt or not. At this point, it seems unlikely, Erin.

BURNETT: That is for sure. And, of course, another thing that is for sure is this book is a best seller.

"OutFront" tonight, the White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley. And Hogan, I appreciate your taking the time coming on to talk about some of this and give your side of the story.

You heard Sarah Sanders repeatedly downplaying the relationship between President Trump and Steve Bannon today. The reality, of course, you just saw it. Bannon was in the room constantly. I was in a meeting, right, it was Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, the President, at the time the president-elect, and Steve Bannon. He was there all the time.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: OK. I mean, I'm looking at a picture now. You're showing multiple people in the same picture. It wasn't like the President was sitting alone with Steve Bannon plotting and deciding how to move forward. I mean obviously Steve Bannon was on the campaign. Obviously he was in the White House, but he wasn't on the ballot.

The people voted for Donald Trump. Steve Bannon was not some Svengali for the campaign. Donald Trump was able to defeat 16 Republican candidates, accomplished Republican candidates, seven weeks before Hillary Clinton could defeat three and that was without Steve Bannon.

We just passed tax reform without Steve Bannon. So I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to get at here. And even you just made the point that you haven't corroborated so many of the stories in this book. And I do want to make one point if I may.

BURNETT: Right, but I don't want to confuse that with that we've tried and failed and are saying it isn't true. I'm simply saying we haven't -- CNN has not had the time to go through and corroborate all of that.

GIDLEY: Right.

BURNETT: And you're wrong, I just want to make it clear so people understand.

GIDLEY: Right. But let's make another thing clear. So this morning I released a statement on behalf of the White House about a meeting that President Donald Trump was having with several sitting United States senators about a major agenda item moving forward and it was immigration.

I received no -- and I also had it on the record statement in that e- mail. I received no fewer than three inquiries from CNN asking for corroboration, which is exactly what CNN is supposed to do. However, this book comes out and you guys run it lock, stock and barrel without deciding to corroborate any of it ahead of time? That makes zero sense and it's completely inconsistent.

BURNETT: Let me clear it. What we're showing here tonight are Steve Bannon's quotes, Steve Bannon's quotes, which were on the record from Steve Bannon, OK? He has not questioned any of them. That is all you have seen on this program right now. And of course as I point out, Janice Min corroborating a dinner she was at. Ann Coulter, supporter of the President, corroborating hers.

GIDLEY: Sure. Sean Spicer denied his. Katie Walsh denied hers.


GIDLEY: Mick Mulvaney denied his. So I just want to know where it stops because it's pretty obvious right now that there are many discrepancies. This is full of false information, inaccuracies, and quite frankly --


GIDLEY: -- this author is quite frankly a crackpot, fake news fantasy fiction writer and it's been proven time and time again by his own admission. He says he's loose with the facts and journalists say that's his reputation. So let's not run this wall to wall on CNN saying it's all factual, it's not.

BURNETT: OK. Again, what we're saying is this is what the book says and the quotes that I'm sharing are from Steve Bannon. And I want to talk to you about some of the allegations in the book which people who they are attributed to say they happened, OK?


BURNETT: But first, I want to ask you about this effort today to say Steve Bannon was not a big player, wasn't instrumental to the winning the Assange, wasn't a Svengali, all the things you just said.

OK, it's not just the pictures, which by the way, yes, you're right, it's not just him and the President, but it includes people like Jared Kushner, who I think we all know is close to the President, right, the people who are there are important people.

GIDLEY: Who's still there, by the way.

BURNETT: Right. I'm just simply saying, you know, if you've got a group and it's Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, the President and somebody else, I think people know the point I'm making.

Let me just play for you, though, because it isn't just the pictures, it's what the President of the United States himself said about Steve Bannon, who again is on the record in these quotes in the book. Here's the President.


[19:10:11] TRUMP: I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve has been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot.

Steve is very committed. He's a friend of mine and he's very committed to getting things passed.

I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine.

Bannon has, you know, I like him a lot. He's actually a very good guy.

Steve's a good guy. Steve is a very good guy.


BURNETT: Now the book comes out and, what, he's just a total liar and all that's false? I mean, I'm trying to understand.

GIDLEY: Well, that was then and this is now. And obviously over the course of Bannon -- Mr. Bannon's time in the White House, you've seen the results that he produced, which was zero and the President fired him for it. It's obvious that Mr. Bannon spent his time in the White House talking to Mr. Wolff as opposed to doing his job and preparing the President for victories.

You just pointed out the fact that he had not really done anything in the White House. You're pointing to a few quotes that the President had said about Mr. Bannon. But right now, Mr. Bannon came out and lied about the President, attacked his own family, so all bets are off now.

BURNETT: What about Sarah Sanders today saying that they weren't particularly close. She used the past tense. The President in the past tense is saying they were very good friends. So who's a liar, Sarah Sanders or the President? I mean, you know what I mean? This is --

GIDLEY: Yes, that's ridiculous. The only liar here is Steve Bannon.

BURNETT: OK. So let me just ask you about the steps that you all are taking out, right? You put the cease-and-desist letter out because you say that this -- that the book is untrue.

GIDLEY: No, we didn't. That's the President's own personal attorneys, not us.

BURNETT: Right, I'm sorry. The President's personal attorneys, team Trump, let me just -- to your point be clear, send cease-and-desist. They're not ceasing and desisting. In fact, they have pushed the publish date up by four days. So instead coming out next week, it's coming out tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. The publisher again, the statement, let me read it to you, Hogan. "We see 'Fire and Fury' as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse." What's your response to that?

GIDLEY: Look, I'm no attorney so I'm going to leave the attorneys to litigate with the attorneys for the -- the spokes people for this particular piece of tabloid trash. But it's pretty obvious that if I were an attorney, there are plenty of accusations in that book that have already been disproven. There are plenty of accusations in that book that are not credible. And again, I'm not an attorney but it seems like I'd have a field day with that in a court of law.

BURNETT: So let me just take one. We talked about some things that we do know, people who are in the book who said it's true. Janice Min, editor for "The Hollywood Reporter" was at that dinner, which included Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon. She said that it was an astonishing dinner. Everything in the book is absolutely accurate.

One of the exchanges that was reported in the book about that dinner went like this. "What has he gotten himself into with the Russians, pressed Ailes?" That's referring, of course, to the former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes. "Mostly, said Bannon, he went to Russia and thought he was going to meet Putin. But Putin couldn't give an expletive about him. So he's kept trying." Now a person at that dinner said that actually happened. Your response?

GIDLEY: Right. But Mr. Bannon wasn't even there during these meetings, these conversations. So I don't exactly know how he's credible in this. I'm not exactly sure who she is --


BURNETT: He's obviously at the dinner because he had the conversation with Roger Ailes.

GIDLEY: I'm saying I don't know anybody else at that meeting or that dinner who's corroborated that story at all.

BURNETT: Yes, Janice Min was there from "The Hollywood Reporter" so she's corroborating that.

GIDLEY: But as I'm saying, you're saying one instance. I'm saying who else was at the dinner?

BURNETT: Well, now that's two people.

GIDLEY: Who else is corroborating --

BURNETT: That's Bannon and another person at the dinner. Roger Ailes is obviously no longer alive.

GIDLEY: OK. But as what I'm saying, you're using one person to try and make your point. I'm telling you there are multiple people at the dinner. You're just picking and choosing which ones to believe.


BURNETT: We have no one else at the dinner has come out and said it didn't happen as of it, of course.

GIDLEY: Right, absolutely. So that is my point. You're cherry picking that. So CNN who does a good job trying to make sure that immigration meeting happens at the White House and the attendees are there, you're just running with this as though it were fact and that speaks more about CNN than it does --


BURNETT: But there's all kinds of rules on sourcing. Often two sources would be what you would go with, especially when they're named, as they both are in this case. But, again, I'm not trying to say the whole book is true, we're not sure. I'm just now giving you an example where two people at one dinner said something happened. What's your response? Your response is they're both not telling the truth?

GIDLEY: Right. There are more people than just as those two at that dinner is what I'm saying. And you're trying to double source something and I understand that, that's fine. But there are other people at the dinner as well.

BURNETT: Right. And I'm looking forward to hearing what they have to say. If they start coming out and saying that this kind of work really didn't happen, we will report that as well, of course, no one has yet at this point.

GIDLEY: I hope you do.

BURNETT: And we certainly will because what matters is getting it right and getting the facts right. But that's the bottom line.

GIDLEY: I want it duly noted you just said that.

BURNETT: Yes, and that's what we do every single day. Thank you so much, Hogan. I appreciate your time.

GIDLEY: Absolutely. Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And I want to go to Mark Preston, our Senior Political Analyst. Your reaction, Mark.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. I think the most important thing that Hogan Gidley said out of that interview, Erin, is that he said all bets are off now.

[19:15:06] Meaning that the war that we've been discussing or we think might come to fruition between Steve Bannon and between President Trump is very much real and is very much not going to be over any time soon.

We saw Steve Bannon kind of try to put I guess a fig leaf or an olive branch out to the President by saying some nice things on his Breitbart radio program, but the fact of the matter is it's clear that the President wants blood now from Steve Bannon.

BURNETT: Right. And look, they're engaging in a he said, he said, he said, she said, whatever it is. You heard that. Well two said that, but how many more people -- I mean, you heard that whole exchange and back and forth.

They want to raise doubt on everything in here. And as he points out, there are some things in here which are directly contradicted, the people who are in, not about that particular exchange but others that people said didn't happen. They think that raising more questions will cause a problem. But of course the book is going to be a top best seller. How does it play out?

PRESTON: Well, it plays out this way. I mean, the fact is if we go over the past year and we take the book and we overlay it with the reporting from folks here at CNN, at "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," what have you, the Associated Press, there does seem to be a lot of similarities. And certainly the actions and the way that Donald Trump came to decisions.

One of the most important things that I've read that have come out of that book is the disinterest that we saw from President Trump when it came to Manushi (ph) details about very important subjects. And I've got to tell you, people that I've talked to over the past year have corroborated that. They told me that he was very disinterested in these details and the chaos in the White House is very much real.

BURNETT: Yes. Certainly we have that. There's a couple instances of things in here that I know from talking to the people involved also happened as reported. Again, a couple out of many, but we'll see as the reporting continues. Thank you so very much, Mark.

And next, did Trump really need a crash course on the constitution? The man who briefed him mentioned, quoted in this book, is going to be my guest next.

And growing alarm tonight about Trump's mental state. A Yale psychiatrist actually briefed lawmakers about it.

And the big chill, the bomb cyclone as it's called crippling cities across the entire East Coast. The storm's pressure expected to drop to a level that you would see in a massive hurricane.


[19:20:05] BURNETT: Breaking news, the publisher of the upcoming bombshell book on the Trump White House ignoring a cease-and-desist request from President Trump's lawyers to stop publication. The book will now go on sale tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. instead of next Tuesday. A book by an author that the White House is doing absolutely everything it can, of course you just heard Hogan Gidley tried to do, also Sarah Sanders tried to do earlier today.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If you were calling that Michael Wolff book a book full of lies, didn't this White House give Michael Wolff all the access that he wanted?

SANDERS: Absolutely not. In fact there are probably more than 30 requests for access to information from Michael Wolff that were repeatedly denied, including within that at least two dozen requests of him asking to have an interview with the President, which he never did. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Wolff, though, said he had extraordinary access to Trump. He said he was able to take up "something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing," an idea Wolff claims was encouraged by the President himself.

Wolff says he conducted more than 200 interviews over 18 months. He says he has tapes and says those interviews included the President himself and most members of the senior staff. Also according to "Axios," the reporting outlet, Wolff says some of those conversations are taped, including those with Steve Bannon.

So "OutFront" now, one of the people quoted in the new book, former Trump campaign aide, Sam Nunberg. Sam, good to have you back on. It's been a while.


BURNETT: So, all right. I want to talk about this overall, right? The book is called -- sorry, the White House is calling the book complete fantasy, sad, pathetic. You just heard Hogan Gidley in a similar vein. You spoke to Michael Wolff for the book.

NUNBERG: Right, three times.

BURNETT: Three times.

NUNBERG: I met with him three times.

BURNETT: So if you met with him, you had conversations, OK. You're quoted in the book -- you actually mentioned in the book several times and now we're looking at it. Sam, I haven't actually seen all of the times, everyone, but you are -- but one time he quotes about how you were explaining the constitution to Trump.


BURNETT: He quotes you as saying, "I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head." Tell me the context in which this happened.

NUNBERG: Sure. Well first of all, the context of it was that the President before the first debate, I was out of the campaign starting around September of 2015. The President before the first debate was actually going to one of his properties in Europe and we were trying to get a lot of issues in before he left so he couldn't get these gotcha questions or infamous gotcha questions before the 2016 cycle.

The infamous one was like they asked Rudy Giuliani what's the difference between a Sunni and a Shia. And what I wanted to do was I able to a lot some time in his schedule where I was able to go over some of these questions where I thought possibly on the constitution some people either on the stage as competitors or some of these moderators would try to ask him quick questions. It wasn't to teach him the constitution. He knows the constitution. It was to say here's per se something that has been asked before.

We didn't get -- we only got to the Fourth Amendment there and at that time he remembered. Besides running for President, he was running his business. So in terms -- I mean, Michael in general, Erin, I'm not criticizing Michael. I like Michael. A political book, I believe it's not nonfiction, but on the other hand, they use puffery and they try to create a narrative.

BURNETT: So you did get as far as the Fourth Amendment. But you're saying is that you don't know his motive for suddenly then becoming disinterested.

NUNBERG: He had a ton of things to do. He had a ton of things to do. And one other thing in general that I wanted to say that's perhaps not in this book is the President and I had a common disagreement. The President was 100 percent correct and I was incorrect. The President --

BURNETT: About whether there was going to be a gotcha question.

NUNBERG: About in general what the average voter wanted. If the average voter wanted cerebral esoteric direct, you know, minutia answers, then they weren't going to vote for Donald Trump to begin with. The President understood this was going to be -- if he was going to win the nomination, he understood this better than me that it was going to be about big ideas, big, big --

BURNETT: So you're getting maybe his motive who are being -- whatever it was, disinterested or incurious or whatever it might have been.

NUNBERG: And here's the other thing and I'm not spinning for him. I'm a supporter of his. I don't work for the White House. I don't try to make money off the White House. From my opinion, from my point of view, from where I stand, he's appointed the best judges I could ever have imagine in his short time in office.

BURNETT: And you agree with his politics.


BURNETT: Right. I understand right, you were working for them briefly. OK. Many of the quotes here, like Rupert Murdoch, expletive, and by the way, that's the trend all the way through the book people can read it themselves.

NUNBERG: But look, there's a lot of cursing within the Trump.

BURNETT: There's a lot of cursing.

NUNBERG: We're New Yorkers where, you know what I mean?


NUNBERG: This is a very aggressive type -- BURNETT: And those quotes are in there.


BURNETT: But most of them consistently point to what role refers to as Trump's wide-ranging ignorance, OK? You're framing that. It sounds like in this conversation, the context of -- he had other things to do or he judged that the voter wouldn't care.

NUNBERG: In general --

BURNETT: But what's your takeaway about his interest and his ideas in policy?

NUNBERG: In general --


NUNBERG: -- and this is what I -- he is a stubborn, stubborn man in a way where you can argue with him about what he needs to know, you can argue with him about what he wants to do. But I'll tell you what, he's sitting in the Oval Office. Say what you want about him.

[19:25:02] He got 306 electoral votes. He won the states that I didn't think he was going to win up to four days before when I was talking to people in the campaign and the trend was going there. And I could see that and I'm surprised from reading the book. I don't know this because I don't talk to him while he's in the White House. I can see he's not going to change. That is him. That is it.

BURNETT: So you know Steve Bannon well.


BURNETT: You just heard Hogan Gidley come on and, you know, try say that they don't know each other. I mean, you know, well, it's absurd.

NUNBERG: He did a pretty bad job, by the way. Yes

BURNETT: Were they close? Are they?

NUNBERG: They're very close. They were very close. I can tell you that when I worked for the President from 2011 through 2015, and I was essentially with Michael Cohen and Roger Stone, the only people there supporting and believing in the fact that he could be elected president from 2013, 2014. There were two people that would take our phone calls. Steve Bannon at Breitbart, Chris Ruddy at News Max, that was it. And he was a very good person for us to get, you know, to spring ideas off of.

I'm sorry that this happened. I disagree with what Steve said about Don Junior. He should not have said that. Steve should also not have said or insinuated anything about money laundering with the Trump organization. I had nothing to do with Mr. Trump's business or President Trump's business.


NUNBERG: I can tell you, anytime I heard of anything there was nothing that was above the letter of the law there.

BURNETT: So look, I think you're putting the nuance here, which is important. Overall --


BURNETT: -- you know, the President is saying like Bannon is sour grapes. He's lost his mind, was his quote.


BURNETT: Look, you were let go from the Trump campaign and then sued for allegedly leaking information, right? That's what they have said. What's your response if they come out and say, "Hey, you, Sam Nunmberg, you're just sour grapes, you're a liar." As you heard Hogan just try to do about everything in the book.

NUNBERG: My response is I hope the President is very successful. I'm not trying to get a job in the White House. I think it's amazing that he won this election. I think that he's a man of historic proportions. One of the things that they took a quote out of context Michael did was where he said he's going to be the most famous man in the world.

But for me he was saying 100 years from now and they write about you, they'll never going to be able to say you were perennial trees (ph). And I support his re-election. I hope to be able to, you know, donate to him in 2020. I'm not out here.

My point is anything I told Michael was the point was that this guy is a very unique, interesting guy. And you're not going to see this. The same way you're not going to see another Barack Obama. You're not going to see another Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.

NUNBERG: Thank you.

BURNETT: I appreciate your time, Sam.

And now let's go to our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and the former Ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard Painter.

And Gloria, look, a big takeaway from Sam, right? He's not denying that what was said in terms of what he said. Obviously he's trying to say maybe that the nuance of it is a little bit different when it's coming in, but he's not saying that that moment did not happen.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he's not. Look, his point I think to you is that Donald Trump is different from anyone we've ever seen in the Oval Office.

BURNETT: Right. BORGER: That he's unique, he's interesting, and he's stubborn. And this is who he is. And that, you know, he didn't deny the anecdote at all, but it seems to me as if he said, you know, this is the guy who won.


BORGER: And that's who he is.

BURNETT: Right. It is what it is and that's who he is.

BORGER: Yes, yes.

BURNETT: Well, he sort of saying, you know, take it for what you want.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: But it is what it is. You know, Richard, President Trump's lawyer, that cease-and-desist letter, right, they sent it. The response is no. They think it's an extraordinary contribution to American society. They are not pulling it out. But this -- pulling the book out, I'm sorry. In fact they're rushing it to the press.

Yet the White House is fighting this so aggressively. I don't know if you heard Hogan Gidley, but just basically, you know, everybody is a liar, liar, liar, liar. Steven Bannon, you know, why? Why not just ignore it?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER W.H. ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I don't really understand why the President is doing this. Apparently he got that briefing on the constitution, got up through the Fourth Amendment. I assumed he must spend almost of all of his time talking about the Second Amendment and guns, because the First Amendment he has to understand enough. There is freedom of the press in this country. This is freedom of speech.

There is absolutely no way you can go into court and get a judge to enjoin the distribution of a book. Even "The New York Times" when they were publishing classified information in the Pentagon Papers, the courts were unwilling to hold that "The New York Times" violated the law by doing that, the same with WikiLeaks. We do not enjoin publication of anything. And this book doesn't even contain classified information.


PAINTER: Libel suits cannot be brought by public figures unless they show an extremely high degree of malice and reckless disregard for the truth. And those suits can only be brought after the fact, after the book is published. So this idea that you can ask for cease-and-desist is utterly ridiculous.

It shows no understanding of the First Amendment of the constitution, and we just don't do business that way in this country. In Russia or some other country maybe the president can say that a book can't be sold and shut down the presses. Not here.

BURNETT: All right, not here. And as we said, 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning that book will be on the shelves, four days earlier than planned. Thank you both.

And next, remarkable meetings between --


RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: -- the president can say that a book can't be sold and shut down the presses.

[19:30:05] Not here.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right, not here. And as we said, 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, that book will be on the shelves, four days earlier than planned.

Thank you both.

And next, remarkable meetings between lawmakers and a Yale University psychiatrist who says Trump is, quote, unraveling. Well, I'm going to speak to a congressman who was briefed and can tell you what was said.

And President Trump taking credit for North and South Korea talking. Does his own defense secretary, Secretary Mattis, agree?


[19:32:09] BURNETT: New tonight, the president's mental health was the subject of a meeting between a dozen lawmakers and a Yale psychiatrist who believes the president is, quote, unraveling. Now, news of this unusual meeting coming as the White House for the second time in as many days is defending the president's mental health.


REPORTER: What's the president's reaction to the growing number of suggestions that both in this book and in the media that he's mentally unfit to serve as president?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The same way we have when it's been asked before, that it's disgraceful and laughable. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen. This is an incredibly strong and good leader.


BURNETT: Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT in Washington tonight.

So, Sunlen, what can you tell us about this meeting, how it came to be and who was there?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin, this briefing happened in early December up here on Capitol Hill. A small group of lawmakers took this briefing, about a dozen Democrats and Republicans and at least one Republican senator took this meeting. This meeting was set up by a former U.S. attorney at the request of many lawmakers, a briefing specifically to look at Donald Trump's fitness, mental fitness to be president.

I spoke with one of the psychiatrists that briefed these lawmakers, Dr. Bandy Lee from Yale University. When I spoke to her today, she said the lawmakers in that briefing were engaged, they were asking questions, interested, and specifically in that briefing she said she believes according to her professional opinion that Donald Trump is showing signs of impairment is what she told them. She believes he's become very unstable very quickly, that he is unraveling -- again, in her opinion. And that she believes he seems to be losing his grip on reality.

And she left that meeting, Erin, with the impression that many lawmakers were legitimately concerned about President Trump's mental health. A big side note to all of this, one that Dr. Lee did emphasize in my conversation with her today, she said she's not in a formal position to formally diagnose his condition, given that there are certain protocols for medical professionals and given that she has not examined him herself -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sunlen.

I want to go now to Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin who met with Dr. Bandy Lee.

And, Congressman, I appreciate your time.

What did she tell you?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD), VICE RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I think she spoke to a lot of people in the mental health community in telling us that there are growing signs of paranoia, delusion and isolation in the president's behavior. And any hope that we had that it might turn around or get better was dashed by the discussion. And she and other mental health professionals we've spoken to have said that there are other people who they have treated with the same kinds of symptoms and there's basically no real medical cure for the condition that he's demonstrating and their object in treating people with these symptoms is to contain them and to keep them away from weaponry.

[19:35:14] BURNETT: So, contain them and keep them away from weaponry.

And you're saying that she is not the only professional of her level of expertise who said this to you?

RASKIN: Well, Dr. Lee, of course, edited a book which is a bestseller now, called "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump." And there are dozens of essays and articles in there. And I read the book before she came down.

And, you know, there's this group called Duty to Warn with thousands of mental health professionals.

Now, from our perspective, we're not psychiatrists. We're not mental health professionals. That's not our job. But it is our job to enforce the Constitution. And the 25th Amendment has a way of dealing with this potential crisis.

BURNETT: And I want to ask you about that, it's about fitness to serve. But first, Sarah Sanders, she says it's disgraceful and laughable to question the president's mental fitness. He defeated the strongest pool of rivals out there. He wouldn't be in the Oval Office if he was unfit.

What's your response to that? She has a point. I mean, the man went through a grueling campaign and he won.

RASKIN: Yes. Well, to begin with, the president himself has called people a nut job, a basket case, accused other people are going insane as recently as yesterday when I think he said that Steve Bannon was losing his mind. And, of course, to the psychiatrist, that looks like a massive projection on the part of the president.

But, look, this is America. We've got the First Amendment and everybody has a right to speak, whether it's in a book or from the Oval Office or an article, and people can talk. But my interest is doing our institutional duty under the 25th Amendment.

And 50 years ago, both houses of Congress, overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike said that we've got to prepare for the possibility of a president who becomes physically or mentally impaired and unable to execute the powers and duties of office. And there are two ways that the provisions are activated under the fourth provision of the 25th Amendment. One is the vice president and the cabinet can act, but the framers of the 25th Amendment knew that the cabinet was, of course, for the president (ph).


BURNETT: Yes, that's not going to happen. Yes.

RASKIN: So the other is the vice president and a body to be set up by Congress. That body unfortunately was never set up. In 50 years that body has not been set up, but we've got legislation to do it. Today, the 57th co-sponsor joined the legislation and it's a bipartisan body appointed by Republicans, by Democrats, with a chair appointed by Democrats and Republicans together with psychiatrists, with physicians and with former states people on it.


RASKIN: So there's nothing to be afraid of because this body will act in the interest of the country and that's what the 25th Amendment is all about.

BURNETT: OK. So let me ask you, though, to this point.

Your Republican colleague in the Senate, Richard Shelby, spoke to CNN about the president's behavior today. He said: I don't know the president well, but I spent an hour and a half with him back in September, just the two of us talking. He seemed to be lucid. I think he's different, I think he's unique. We're all unique individuals.

That's his description of it. This president is just -- look, we all know it. The guy isn't like pretty much anybody else, OK? That's unique. That doesn't mean that he's unstable.

Is it possible you're blowing all of this out of proportion?

RASKIN: Well, every person in the country is unique, undoubtedly. The question is whether or not you are constitutionally capable of executing the powers and duties of the office of the presidency of the United States. You know, we have 535 members of Congress.

We only have one president, and that person as the president reminded us this week has control over nuclear weaponry and the ability to take the world to war. So, this is -- this goes beyond the normal push and pull of the daily political gossip. I mean, this goes to the question of the security of the country, the survival of our people and people around the world.

So, I just think that we need to take our responsibility seriously. There's enough questions that have been raised that we would not be doing our constitutional duty if we don't set the body up in the event that things continue to spiral downward.

BURNETT: Congressman Raskin, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

RASKIN: Thank you very much.

BURNETT: And next, President Trump taking credit for talks between North and South Korea, which, by the way, historically important thing, a big success. His own defense secretary, though, doesn't seem quite to agree with who gets the credit.

And the East Coast frozen. LaGuardia Airport in New York barely reopening. Other airports, though, I mean, completely shut down. A massive cyclone bomb.


[19:43:07] BURNETT: New tonight, President Trump at odds with his defense secretary over North Korea. Trump personally taking the credit for talks between the North and South, tweeting in part, quote, with all the failed experts weighing in, does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn't firm, strong and willing to commit our total might against the North?

Well, the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, certainly isn't giving Trump the full personal credit here.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JIM MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Those talks clearly are the result of the amount of international pressure and they are a way, I think, for North Korea to start talking while keeping it contained to a benign issue.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Ian Bremmer. He is president and founder of the Eurasia Group, a renowned expert on foreign policy.

And it's great to have you in person, Ian.


BURNETT: So, the president came out and, you know, taking full credit. That's the way he operates, right? The defense secretary saying it's international pressure, it's a much broader thing. Which is it?

BREMMER: I'll give him partial credit here. Let's break it down quickly.


BREMMER: Stuff he's done well. He's gotten the Chinese more onboard, tougher sanctions, including at the Security Council as well as cracking down individually because he linked it to American trade. He made it a high priority issue. That's worked.

He's also forced the North Koreans under pressure to consider that talks with others would be a good idea, right? So, you give Trump some credit for that, more than you would Obama.

But North Korea testing all these ICBMs, ramping up on that, which is quite dangerous, doing it because they're concerned, they feel like they need a stronger deterrent before they go into negotiations. They have definitely picked that up because of Trump.

And most importantly, South Korea, our ally, going by themselves to talk to the Chinese and the North Koreans because they understand that Trump's America first policy sure as hell isn't a South Korea first policy. They have to worry about themselves. That's what they're doing. That's an ally that isn't as strong of the Americans right now working their own game.

[19:45:04] BURNETT: All right. Very succinctly said.

So, look, the president finished that tweet, I said in part. So, I want to -- the end of the tweet --


BURNETT: -- said fools, referring to the experts who said that he wasn't doing a good job. Talks are a good thing.

Now, look, a lot of people would say of course talks are a good thing, except the president for himself said talks were a bad thing. In fact, in October, he tweeted: I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state -- when he says something like that, you know he's about to slam you -- that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man.


BURNETT: OK, so now talks are a good thing but then they were a bad thing.

BREMMER: Well, the beautiful thing about Trump is his ability to pivot 180 when he feels like it serves his purpose at the moment is vastly greater than any other president. I mean, Mexico is going to pay for the wall, now they're not.


BURNETT: He thinks it's a strength to be completely inconsistent.

BREMMER: I don't know if he thinks it's a strength. I certainly think that he's in the moment. He's tactical, he's not strategic.

And in that regard, if there were the potential for a deal between North and South Korea, that Trump would have personally savaged a month ago, he could swoop in and say my deal. We could actually see a breakthrough because of Trump's inconsistency but we could also see war.

I mean, in other words, under the previous presidents --

BURNETT: Well, that's a pretty terrifying binary choice, though, OK?

BREMMER: It's binary.


BREMMER: Yes. Well, the last 20 years haven't been good. The last 20 years have been a whole bunch of presidents kicking the can down the road.

BURNETT: It's building -- of different parties building in one direction.


BURNETT: But no one ever said there's going to be a binary outcome, which eventually I guess there would have been.

BREMMER: Yes. I mean, eventually, the alternative is we just learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.

BURNETT: And that's the way it is, as the United States has done with nuclear power after nuclear power.

BREMMER: Yes. I mean I think it is certainly much more likely today that a miscalculation will lead to war on the peninsula. BURNETT: And what's your take of the my button is bigger than yours,

which at best was juvenile?

BREMMER: Yes. But I will also say that 98 percent of the coverage that I've seen at least in the United States this week on North Korea has been about the button.


BREMMER: And by far the most important point on North Korea is that for the first time since Kim Jong-un has become leader, the North and the South Koreans are now talking routinely by telephone directly. That's actually what matters.


BREMMER: It matters because it could lead to a breakthrough. It matters because it could isolate the Americans against North and South Korea. We should be talking about that, but it's not entertaining, and Trump knows how to get us worked up by putting these tweets out. I mean, it is a useful strategy.

BURNETT: All right. Ian, thank you so much. Wonderful to see you.

BREMMER: You too.

BURNETT: And next, blizzard warnings Maine to Florida. The weather bomb cyclone, that is the technical term, delivering.

And the president's bizarre appearance at the briefing today. He was 200 feet away. Why did he appear like this?


[19:51:37] BURNETT: Breaking news, massive bomb cyclone wreaking havoc across the eastern part of the country tonight, pounding the northeast with blinding snow and ice, some of the nation's busiest airports closed. JFK closed. Just too dangerous to take off.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded. Savage winds pushing frozen Massachusetts Bay over its banks. We got video of the storm surge, a feet of water just surging through Boston. It's pretty incredible to see this.

Homes and buildings surrounding by floating chunks of ice. Cars submerged, frozen and conditions are getting much worse because of the temperature plummeting.

Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT live in Boston.

And, Alex, this is incredibly powerful storm. What is it like where you are right now?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, you're absolutely right. This bomb cyclone exploding up and down the coast of Massachusetts, causing mass flooding into homes, into roadways, leading to rescues in homes from vehicles.

Here in Boston this morning or this afternoon, I watched flood waters come up over the docks of the Boston Harbor, mixing with snow in the streets. Creating this slush-like thing that looked like molten lava. We're told that tide reached some 15.1 feet, possibly tying a record set by a blizzard in 1978.

Tonight, here in Boston, the snow isn't so much falling as it is gusting all around. We've watched crews working all day long, trying to clear these roads.

This is in Boylston Street in the center of Boston. You can see they've done a pretty good job clearing this road and other ones. There have been some 750 vehicles out here today clearing roads, clearing sidewalks, putting -- throwing down salt to make it safe for people. City officials asking people to hunker down, to stay at home, not just for their own safety, but so that they can do their work and clear all these streets.

Now, Erin, just in terms of the snow that we're seeing, look at all of this, this is all from the last 24 hours. It's been falling at rate of two to three inches throughout course of the day. Reaching as you see now, around a foot I would say. It's up to my knees. In some parts up to 16 inches.

Now, it's not the snow that officials are worried about. Bostonians and people from Massachusetts can deal with snow. They're a hardy people. They're used to the snow and the cold.

But as you mentioned, it is the wind that is going to follow this snowstorm, it is the extreme cold, temperatures down to under zero degrees, possibly setting records. That can lead to power outages.

We know from the governor of Massachusetts, he has said that there have been some 24,000 outages already. That could grow. There could also be people losing their heat. That is danger that people in Boston and Massachusetts face tonight -- Erin.

BURNETT: Right, and I guess the point here is that when you look at, you know, airports closed across the East Coast, worst is still to come. The cold -- I mean, the cold is crippling and perhaps greater in some places than anything ever before seen.

MARQUARDT: Yes. These crews can -- the city can deal with snow. That's not what they're afraid of.

But they're afraid of these arctic temperatures. They're talking about temperatures that could go to minus seven between now and Sunday. Those are temperatures that we're told by scientists are seen on Mars. And that can have a crippling effect as you said, as I mentioned, on power and on heat.

[19:55:04] And so, that creates a very dangerous situation for people who have been told to stay home but are now home, possibly without power or heat by the tens of thousands -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Alex, live from Boston.

And now, breaking news in the Russia investigation from the special investigator Robert Mueller. "The New York Times" reporting tonight that President Trump told the White House's top lawyer to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

White House counsel Donald McGahn according to "The Times" carried out the president's orders and asked Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry. As, of course, we know, Sessions did not listen.

"The Times" says that upon hearing that, that Sessions was going to recuse himself, the president erupted in anger in front of White House officials saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Special counsel Bob Mueller has learned about this incident as he investigates whether President Trump obstructed the FBI's Russia inquiry.

On the phone now, Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor, CNN legal analyst, of course, worked with Bob Mueller.

Michael, let me just ask you here. "The New York Times'" Michael Schmidt reporting, and I want to read this because the way he wrote first sentence is important.

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House's top lawyer, stop the Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department investigation into Russia. Firm instructions to the White House top lawyer.

What does it mean?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, it means that the president wanted Don McGahn to try to talk Sessions out of his belief that the Justice Department regulations that prohibit him from being attorney general on this didn't apply. And McGahn failed to convince Sessions of that. And Sessions was quite clear in his testimony that he believes -- and he's correct in his belief -- that he has no choice in the matter but to recuse himself because of the role he played in the campaign.

So, McGahn tries, Sessions adheres to the law. McGahn fails, and the president erupts. What that is relevant mostly to Russia investigation is whether it's another brick in the wall as we keep calling it of the president's obstructionist behavior.

BURNETT: And do you think it is obstruction of justice when you hear this or not?

ZELDIN: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think the president has the right to say to his White House counsel, go talk to the attorney general, and try to convince him he doesn't need to do this under my -- the president's interpretation of the law. Because the attorney general doesn't agree with him and doesn't recuse himself, I don't think that makes it obstructionist behavior. But it does speak to the president's state of mind about the Russia

investigation and how concerned he was about how much Mueller might do damage to his presidency and that he needed as they say in the "New York Times" article, a Roy Cohn, someone to protect him from Mueller. So, he's quite clearly concerned about Mueller, but him not get his attorney general to not obey the law.

So, good for Sessions, bad luck for the attorney who has to deliver this message and obviously bad luck for the president because he's still enmired in this mess.

BURNETT: So, the Justice Department is fighting back tonight, Michael. Their spokesperson just telling us, you know, about this report again from Michael Schmidt, who is, of course, a top notch reporter for "The Times," quote, this did not happen and would not happen, plain and simple.

This is the way they handle everything in the Trump administration. They just say point blank something didn't happen. And maybe it didn't, maybe it was slightly different or may they just point blank lie. It's very hard to tell the difference.

ZELDIN: Well, that's right. But I think that McGahn had to have known at this point that there were clear Justice Department regulations that prohibit the attorney general from overseeing matter that involves a political campaign which he was active participant. So, there really isn't a choice here for Sessions, and that's what Sessions testified to, and that's why Sessions recused himself.

So, McGahn has this unenviable position to having a client who's demanding an outcome that's unobtainable. And I think that's just the way it is. Maybe the Justice Department's point of view is he didn't order Sessions to stay on, but rather tried to convince McGahn that Sessions didn't have to do this. So, there's word Schmidt didn't hear that could be a more benevolent interpretation of this.

But no matter what, Erin, what this speaks to is how afraid the administration and president particularly is of the Mueller investigation.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. And, of course, that is the bottom line.

Michael Zeldin, thank you so very much. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

"AC360" begins right now.