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Trump: Author of Tell-All Book is "A Fraud"; Trump Defends Mental Stability; White House Officials Tried to Pressure Sessions to Not Recuse Himself; Book Author Says Trump "Has Lost It". Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired January 6, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That will do it for me. Thanks so much for being with me this Saturday. Much more NEWSROOM straight ahead. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Ana Cabrera is up next.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Glad to have you with us this weekend.
It was hard to know where to start the show today between big new developments in the Russia investigation, a bombshell book on Trump's first year, and now questions about the president's mental fitness.
We begin with the tweet that stole the spotlight from a Republican gathering today at Camp David. Lawmakers looking to push their 2018 agenda and, instead, questions about this message from President Trump, writing, "Now that Russian collusion and one year of intense study has proven to be a hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the fake-news mainstream media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence. Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played this card very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from very successful businessman to top TV star to president of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius, and a very stable genius at that."
Those tweets an apparent response to the instant best-selling book, "Fire and Fury," by Michael Wolff, in which the author claims Trump's closest aides have referred to him as an idiot, a moron, and like a child.
The president also addressing this during a brief question-and-answer session at Camp David.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to the best colleges, a college. I went to -- I had a situation where I was an excellent student. Came out and made billions and billions of dollars. Became one of the top business people and went to television and, for 10 years, was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won. And then I hear this guy that does not know me, doesn't know me at all -- by the way, did not interview me for three -- said he interviewed me for three hours at the White House. It didn't exist, OK. It's in his imagination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in CNN Boris Sanchez, at the White House.
Boris, what a scene. The president defending his mental fitness with the top Republicans in Congress all lined up behind him.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president answering that question about why he sent out those tweets this morning by listing his accomplishments, saying he was a great student, went to the best college, he was a successful businessman. As you heard, that he ran for president and won. He's clearly taken the message from Michael Wolff and his book, "Fire and Fury," personally. At one point, calling Wolff a fraud and calling claims that 100 percent people question his fitness for office, personally, he refuted that he even had those three hours of interview with Michael Wolff. The president clearly laying out his case for why is mental fit for office, calling himself a stable genius.
Let's be clear, though, these conversations about the president's mental fitness for office have been coming up long before this book was published. In fact, this week, CNN learned that some dozen lawmakers in both chambers of Congress were briefed by a Yale psychiatrist on the president's mental state -- Ana?
CABRERA: Boris, we're learning new information about pressure the White House put on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself in the Russia probe. Sessions didn't follow that pressure. But give us an update on that.
SANCHEZ: Yes, that's right, Ana. CNN has learned that that effort was led by White House counsel Don McGahn and aided by former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer to try to convince Jeff Sessions to oversee the Russia investigation and not recuse himself from that.
The president was asked directly whether or not that story was true. Here's some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, did you ask the White House counsel to ask Attorney General Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia investigation?
DONALD TRUMP, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything I did was 100 percent proper. The story, by the way, in the "Times" was way off, or at least off. But everything I've done is 100 percent proper. That's what I do is I do things proper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Interestingly, Ana, that news puts into context the president's anger and disparaging remarks he made about Jeff Sessions on Twitter last year. Though he said in this briefing he backed his attorney general, the timing is interesting because, just a few days ago, you had key Republicans in Congress in the Freedom Caucus calling for a new attorney general -- Ana?
CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you.
I want to bring in CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, how important could this reporting about Sessions under pressure be to Robert Mueller's investigation?
[15:04:56] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Ana, it would be an important aspect to this investigation. But there also may be nothing wrong in what the president did and that he may be right in this case that what he was doing here was appropriate and proper.
Keep in mind, at the time, the only reason why Jeff Sessions was considering recusing himself and wound up recusing himself was because of his own conversations with the Russian ambassador. That was the reason why Sessions and the career attorneys at the Department of Justice decided and informed Sessions he should recuse himself.
The president himself, at least from everything we know, and as the former FBI director at that time, President Trump was not under investigation. So it may have not necessarily been inappropriate for the president and his staff to do that. But that's actually something perhaps maybe Mueller would look into. But there's no indication, at least from anything we've heard, that has been an issue that Mueller has addressed.
CABRERA: Go ahead, finish.
PROKUPECZ: Go ahead, Ana. I'm sorry.
CABRERA: The president -- I wanted to ask you about Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he said during the press conference today, in fact, that he does stand with the attorney general. There are these people, though, in his party who have been calling for Jeff Sessions to resign. Are the people in the Justice Department, have they been wondering about Sessions' future?
PROKUPECZ: I think there are people at the Justice Department, there are people in other parts of law enforcement that feel the situation, the relationship between Jeff Sessions and the president is causing problems, is polarizing. It's also paralyzing parts of the Department of Justice, and certainly parts of the FBI because there are investigations that are under way. And there really is not this great relationship right now between the Department of Justice and the FBI. Outside of the Mueller investigation, which is completely separate and
apart from the Department of Justice, it just seems that the relationship between law enforcement, the FBI, and the Department of Justice, and even people within the Department of Justice just is not really good right now.
CABRERA: Shimon Prokupecz, in Washington, thank you.
I want to get right to our panel, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, and the "New York Times" reporter, Ken Vogel.
Tim, have we ever seen a president have to go out and defend his own mental fitness publicly like this before?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No. No, we haven't seen this before because we haven't had a president who ranted publicly before. Richard Nixon ranted privately. We learned a lot about that when the tapes were released, but Nixon was very careful not to let the public see the inner turmoil. Only a couple of times near the end of his administration did the people actually see the anger within.
So President Trump has actually put on display, even before the Wolff book came out, this turmoil and anger. It's not surprising that he should respond publicly because he's been showing everything else publicly. It's really damaging for him. Frankly, a president should not be telling the world that he's not unfit and mentally unstable. I mean, that's not what the world needs to see. That's not what our adversaries need to hear.
CABRERA: But he's telling the world he's a genius.
NATFALI: He's being a salesman is interesting there. The point is, it's damaging for the United States when our leader is speaking as if he were on the couch for the world to listen and watch.
CABRERA: He hasn't done anything differently than what we've seen him do previously. He's been consistent as far as that goes.
Ken, the president, though, is supposed to be planning the 2018 agenda today with the biggest Republican leaders in Congress. If you are Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in that group, what's going through your mind as you stand behind the president at that press conference?
KEN VOGEL, WASHINGTON BUREAU REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Obviously, he's distracted, and their efforts to get on the same page as far as the legislative agenda, which is the more immediate task at hand that the meeting was called to hash out, are being diverted, at least the attention is being diverted from those efforts to the response to this book, which, in many ways, has validated the book. The fact that he's repeating the charge that is made by sources who talked to Michael Wolff, the author of this book, in the book, and repeating other charges to deny them is drawing attention to them in a way that is not helpful. It's part of this pattern that has a lot of Republicans worried about his ability to be an effective surrogate for the party heading into the 2018 midterm elections. I think you're going to see him selectively deployed by party leaders to just a few districts that are maybe deep red districts, maybe in contested primaries, but not necessarily in swing districts where his historically low unfavorable ratings could be a drag on the party overall in a midterm that is already shaping up as difficult and an historical trends show is difficult for the party in power to do well in.
[15:10:04] CABRERA: Paul, let's talk about this Russia investigation. We're learning information about three White House officials pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was still in charge of the Russia probe not to recuse himself. He didn't listen to them but what do you think Mueller is going to do with this information?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the back story on this is that if Mueller is closing in on an obstruction of justice charge against the president, this might be one portion of that charge, that he was actively considering forcing Sessions to resign from any involvement -- rather to participate in involvement in the investigation to help the president. In and of itself, though, it's not criminal. He's the president. Jeff Sessions is his attorney general. He has the right to issue orders to him. And he has the right, frankly, to remove him from office. So Mueller would have to have a lot more evidence to make a criminal charge here. This would just be one small piece of a criminal charge.
CABRERA: I want to ask about Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury." Here's one of his quotes, "'Comey was a rat,'" repeated Trump. 'There were rats everywhere and you had to get rid of them. John Dean, John Dean,' he repeated, 'do you know what John Dean did to Nixon?'"
Tim, what does it mean he's referencing Watergate?
NAFTALI: I would need to see the sourcing. I mean, how Mr. Wolff knew what President Trump said. But let's assume this is a correct portrayal of the president -
CABRERA: It's important to note that we don't have sourcing behind everything that's written.
NAFTALI: It wouldn't surprise me that Donald Trump knows about Watergate because Donald Trump admired Richard Nixon. We know that. Donald Trump showed people a letter that Richard Nixon had sent him. Donald Trump, one of his close friends, at one point, was Roger Stone, who has a bunch of ideas about Richard Nixon. So it wouldn't surprise me that he is aware of Watergate and that he would share the Nixon defense line about Watergate, that John Dean is the ultimate enemy, the ultimate rat, if you will. I'm in the surprised it's in his mind. The fact that he connected John Dean so quickly to Comey gives you a sense of why he's so obsessed with Comey.
CABRERA: It reinforces his insistence that people around him are loyal to him. That's a theme that has been without him throughout his presidency, throughout his campaign, and it's been consistent with the reporting that's out there.
Ken, Wolff also writes about that now infamous Trump Tower report, quote, "Trump insisted that meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That was what discussed period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the 'Times' had the incriminating e-mail chain."
That seems to back up previous reporting as well about the president's role in drafting the statement about that meeting.
VOGEL: Yes, that's right. As the book alludes to, the setup for that meeting, the dangle, if you will, by this publicist who set up this meeting between had Russian lawyer and Russian-American lobbyist, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort, was that there was the possibility that this Russian lawyer had dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton that she was going to offer. So that e- mail and Donald Trump's reaction to it -- Donald Trump Jr's reaction to it, "I love it," which was also in an e-mail made public subsequently, is pretty damning. Whether President Trump wants to cast this about Russian adoptions as content of the meeting itself, we know the setup of the meeting is something very different. If you're looking for collusion, obstruction of justice sort of effort, if you're looking for an effort by the campaign to work with the Russians to hurt Hillary Clinton, that would be a key piece of evidence in such a case.
CABRERA: So I want to ask about this other statement that was made or not made. It's hard to say. We were trying to decipher exactly what the president said when he was asked whether he would be willing to sit down with Mueller's team. Let's listen. I want to get your take, Paul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There's been no collusion. There's been no crime. In theory, everybody tells me I'm not under investigation -- maybe Hillary is, I don't know, but I'm not. But there's been no collusion. There's been no crime. But we have been very open. We could have done it two ways. We could have been very closed, and it would have taken years. But sort of like when you've done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with because, honestly, it's very, very bad for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Paul, do you think the president will ultimately have to sit down with Robert Mueller?
CALLAN: He doesn't have to sit down with Robert Mueller. He could be compelled to appear before a grand jury if Mueller issued a grand jury subpoena. He doesn't have to voluntarily comply.
I will say this, though. He is correct that the White House has been very cooperative with Mueller. McGahn, White House counsel, has been remarkably open in describing the procedures followed at the White House and that sort of thing. They have not shut down the White House.
But I think the reason for that and why you hear the president repeat "no collusion, no collusion," it's like it's on a loop, he says it every time he appears publicly, is he wants to stop the investigation at that point, no collusion with the Russians. He's fearful if Mueller continues, as he did with Manafort, and starts looking into the operation of the Trump business empire, or maybe he looks at the president's tax returns, he sees something there that's suspicious, that opens a whole box of problems for the president, and that's why the president wants to say this investigation stops because there's no evidence of collusion.
[15:15:57] CABRERA: The "New York Times" is also reporting, quote, "Four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions' aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey." Part of an apparent effort to undermine the FBI director.
What's your reaction, Tim?
NAFTALI: I want to say one thing that's really important. When people are under stress -- and we saw this when Richard Nixon was under stress -- the public line he'll take is the line he thinks is the easiest to defend. In the Watergate period, what they kept pushing was the president had no foreknowledge of the break-in. A lot of the other president's abuses of power they couldn't defend. But what they did was they figured out something for which there was no evidence. Richard Nixon did not know before the break-in at the Watergate. It may be that this defense that this current president is following is about something he knows he didn't do and no one could prove. The other things, whether it's money laundering, whether it's obstruction of justice, the things that he may well have done, he's not talking about. So we've seen this before. I'm not saying it's the same story or it's going to have the same outcome. But the Nixon White House focused on something they knew they could defend successfully. And everything else they tried to either deny or not talk about.
CABRERA: And just stay focused on what they wanted.
NAFTALI: What they wanted.
CABRERA: So about this issue with the "New York Times," since we want to get everybody involved in the conversation, I'll turn to you, Ken Vogel.
Because what I just mentioned about the pressure on people, aides of the attorney general to dig up dirt on James Comey when he was still the FBI director, I heard from lawyers who said that alone would be reasons for Jeff Sessions to have to go. We started to hear more and more calls by Republicans who also want to see Jeff Sessions resign. Currently, what would that do for the Russia investigation?
VOGEL: Well, I think that that effort that you mentioned there that we reported about asking congressional aides about whether they had dirt on Comey was really the beginning of this pattern that we've seen sort of emerge and bloom of an effort to undermine, not just the Mueller investigation but, even before that, any sort of preliminary investigations by the FBI and the FBI, writ large, and even the Justice Department. And it's now a multi-pronged effort, including citing texts between FBI agents working on the Clinton investigation and then on the Mueller investigation suggests they are biased. It's pointing to donations by lawyers on the Mueller team. It pointing to former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe's wife's campaign from Virginia state legislature and the donations that it got from Terry McAuliffe's Democratic Party there. So this is an effort to sort of delegitimize the FBI as a whole, and the Mueller investigations, in, so if there are any findings averse to Trump, he can say, look, there is an illegitimate investigation from an illegitimate body.
CABRERA: Paul, last word here.
CALLAN: I have to comment on the president's two questions -- two statements today that he's mentally stable and very smart. If I were interviewing a lawyer who wanted to work at my law firm, and I said what are your two greatest assets, and he said, "I'm mentally stable and I'm really smart," that would be the end of the interview. To hear the president of the United States touting those two things as the things that make him great, it's very, very disturbing, extraordinarily disturbing. And I think a lot of people in Washington and around the United States are shaking their head at how the president can speak like this.
[15:19:47] CABRERA: Gentlemen, thank you all for being here.
CABRERA: Tim Naftali, Paul Callan, Paul Vogel, I appreciate it.
Coming up, a psychiatrist briefed members of Congress on the president's mental state.
Plus, federal investigators now actively looking into the Clinton Foundation. What they're searching for and the allegations, all next.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: "Very smart, very stable and maybe even a genius" -- that's how President Trump is describing himself and defending himself in a series of tweets after the new book, "Fire and Fury," raised questions about his competence. The Author Michael Wolff is adamantly defending his depiction of Trump's closest aides, believing he is, quote, "like a child and an idiot," and he went even further in an interview with the "Today" show. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CO-HOST, THE TODAY SHOW: One of the more disturbing observations you make in the book is that the president's close advisers, people around him, have noticed him repeating stories, expression for expression, you say, within a short period of time.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR: In a shorten period. So they've all tracked this, that is used to be -- I know people would point out that, in the beginning, it was in the first 25 or 30 minutes, you'd get the same three stories repeated. And now it's the same three stories in every 10 minutes.
GUTHRIE: And what's the suggestion there? That goes beyond saying the president is not an intellectual. What are you arguing there? You're saying, for example, he visited Mar-a-Lago and didn't recognize lifelong friends.
WOLFF: I will quote Steve Bannon, "He's lost it."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in our CNN political commentator, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings. And Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign manager, Patty Solis Doyle.
So, Scott, what if this was the White House you worked in and this was a topic of discussion among the staff, how would you handle it?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's strange and unprecedented. A lot of things about this presidency are unprecedented. We're dealing with issues for the first time we've really never dealt with. One of those issues, of course, is the president's ability to change the course of conversations in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I see these tweets that he does, like the one today, and I try to put myself in his shoes. And today, I mean, think about it, he's endured 72 hours of the most brutal news cycles you can endure. This book and the subsequent coverage has questioned his fitness for office, has questioned whether he's smart, has questioned whether he's a child, which is what some people alleged in the book. It hurts. And so --
[15:25:29] CABRERA: It's not the first time.
CABRERA: You have people like Bob Corker previously tweeting that he's in an adult day care center.
JENNINGS: Sure. But my point is this, for three straight days, he's been watching and consuming this coverage. I would submit that if any one of us were in his position and anyone said, sir, ma'am, in your pocket is a magic device that could change the conversation, if you want to change it. We would all do it. What does he do? He's picked up his phone and sends out a tweet to defend himself because he's absorbed this brutality for three days. So it's unusual. The author has some credibility issues. There have been some inconsistencies pointed out already in the book. But if I were the president, I think if any one of us were in his position today, I bet you we'd all pick up the phone and tweet something to try to change this conversation because it's been absolutely terrible.
CABRERA: Did he actually change the conversation, Patty? What he tweeted --
CABRERA: -- seems to add fuel to the fire.
PATTY SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right, Ana. Scott is right, we are in unprecedented and uncomfortable territory when we have a sitting president who has to defend his own mental stability. The problem is, more so than any book or any reporting, it's the president himself to makes the case for his mental instability, whether it's his tweets, you know, playing a game of chicken with the leader of North Korea or whether it's his own public appearances. Let's take the Charlottesville press conference where a young woman is tragically killed by Neo-Nazis and he defends the Neo- Nazis, whether it's screaming at reporters, telling them they're fake news in the middle of a press conference. And today's tweet, defending your own mental stability. That's just not normal, Ana. He makes the best case for his own mental instability.
CABRERA: Scott, we know that --
JENNINGS: Can I add one thing to this --
CABRERA: Sure. Sure.
JENNINGS: -- conversation just very briefly?
I was listening to that answer, and something that popped into my head that you asked me about in my White House that I worked in. I did watch the national press and the president's political opponents, President George Bush's opponents, caricature him as someone who wasn't smart. They called him dumb. This was the whole way the Democrats and news media tried to portray George W. Bush. And I personally witnessed this man dealing with high-level stuff, handling things, acting exactly the way you'd want a president to act, and it was a complete opposite picture internally than what the caricature was. I would just say -- I see this happening again. They're trying to make a caricature of Trump. Does he do things to feed this fire? Absolutely. But it is possible to caricature someone and make it so much more exaggerated than it may be. I would sound a note of caution on this as someone who has seen it up close.
CABRERA: Sure. That's a good point.
But at the same time, as you just talked about how George W. Bush handled the attacks on his character, is still very different from what President Trump is doing.
JENNINGS: -- first president who can change -- this is a president who has a magic button in his pocket who can defend himself and change the conversation in an instant. We've never had in the history of electronic communications the ability to literally change or add yourself in the conversation at a moment. I've been on CNN a number of times when we've broken in to whatever we were talking about to read the president's tweets on television.
JENNINGS: I'm tell you, as we move forward with the president in the future, this is going to be a temptation that presidents are going to be hard to resist. If you're consuming coverage you don't like, and you could insert yourself into it, I think a lot of us would want to do it.
CABRERA: The dozens of lawmakers from the -- let me just get this in because a dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate had a briefing with a Yale psychiatrist back in December who said this to CNN, "As he is unraveling, he seems to be losing his grip on reality and reverting to conspiracy theories. There are signs that he is going into attack mode when he is under stress. That means he has the potential to become impulsive and very volatile."
Scott, back to you for a second. This is a psychiatrist saying that. Does that trouble you?
JENNINGS: It's a psychiatrist who clearly hasn't met with the president, so it doesn't trouble me. You have a lot of partisans out there who will say things about the president. That's what happened in this case. The Democrats got together to do something in the middle of a news cycle that was already hurting the president. We've not heard the president's physician, the White House physician come out and make any statements like this. This was a partisan exercise designed to exaggerate a caricature they want build of the president.
CABRERA: I want to put that to rest for minute and switch gears. Because CNN has learned that the feds of actively investigating the Clintons for corruption, specifically whether the Clintons took donations in exchange for political favors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
Patty, what is your reaction to this?
PATTY SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is as clear as it appears to be, and that is President Trump and Republicans in Congress are trying to deflect from the current Russia probe by saying, but look, Hillary is the one who used a private e-mail server and, look, Hillary is the one. I think it's very clear. President Trump has been livid with A.G. Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. He has let him know that. He has let the entire country know that. He has been tweeting that the FBI needs to investigate Secretary Clinton. He has been doing coordinated campaign with FOX News and Republicans in Congress, and I believe that Jeff Sessions in an effort to save his own job has now complied with the president's wishes. We have been through a vigorous FBI investigation of Secretary Clinton's e-mails. The FBI also looked into the Clinton Foundation and found that there was not enough "there" there to pursue any kind of investigation. And now, lo and behold, because the president has been tweeting about it, they are now taking it up.
CABRERA: Scott, your response?
JENNINGS: That's a great story, but it doesn't match up with the facts. Here are the facts. Number one, this investigation of the Clinton Foundation started under the Obama administration, and according to the reporting today, it was never closed. Number two, the Clinton Foundation, we know from reporting, routinely did not disclose major donors, such as massive donations from the Algerian government. Number three, we know that when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was routinely asked to take meetings with Clinton Foundation donors. Honestly, this sounds like something worth looking into to me. I don't know what's going to come of it. And I'm not going to say something definitely happened that was illegal. But when you look at the facts as they exist, it sounds like it ought to be looked into. And I'm glad the FBI is continuing something they started under the Obama administration.
CABRERA: Scott Jennings and Patty Solis Doyle, thank you both for coming on.
Coming up, backlash. What CNN has now learned about a new push to get Steve Bannon fired from his job after he made some unflattering remarks about the president and his family to a best-selling author.
[15:36:01] CABRERA: He was once dubbed the great manipulator and most dangerous political operative in America but, today, Steve Bannon is facing an uncertain future. CNN has learned there is a very hard push by influential people to get Steve Bannon fired from his job as executive chairman at "Breitbart" because of unflattering remarks he made about the president and his family in the book "Fire and Fury," including saying that Don Jr's and Jared Kushner's meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was treasonous and unpatriotic, and that the president's daughter, Ivanka, was, quote, "dumb as a brick."
Bannon, we should note, has not disputed any of the direct quotes that appear in this book.
The president, expressing his rage, is now referring to his former chief strategy as Sloppy Steve.
I want to bring our panel, former "Breitbart" spokesman, Kurt Bardella, and deputy managing editor of the "Weekly Standard," Kelly Jane Torrance.
Kurt, Bannon has lost the support of a major conservative donor, Rebecca Mercer. He's on the outs with the president. If he loses his job, too, does he continue to be a relevant force in politics?
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESMAN, BREITBART: No. Because, seemingly within a week, he'll have lost everything that made Steve Bannon influential or useful to the president. He lost the ear of the president, that proximity that Steve has been trading off of for more than a year. This major financial backer, the Mercers -- this is the person who is supposed to fund the entire effort to take out the 2018 Republican primaries, go after the establishment, run these leagues of extraordinary candidates he boasted about. He doesn't have any money now to do that. If he loses "Breitbart," he loses his platform, his mouthpiece, the place that every day gave him the opportunity to be in front of broad audience within the Republican Party. All of those things are gone and in jeopardy. For anyone out there, why would anyone care about Steve Bannon at this point? He has nothing to bring to the table.
CABRERA: Kelly Jane, other than Jared Kushner, though, Bannon was the guy who sat closer to the Oval Office, closer than even former chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
Now listen to how the president is talking about him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any words about Steve Bannon?
TRUMP: I don't know. He called me a great man last night. He obviously changed his tune pretty quick.
Thank you all that much.
TRUMP: I don't talk to him. I don't know. I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Kelly Jane, what might the fallout of this book do to the growing Republican divide?
KELLY JANE TORRANCE, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: That's a great question, Ana, and one I'm not hearing enough people asking. Steve Bannon has been the head of the war on the Republican Party. Honestly, I don't understand why his career wasn't over after the Alabama Senate race. Here, he managed to take one of the deep, reddest states in America and give it to the Democrats. I think Steve Bannon almost singlehandedly is responsible for a shocking political failure. It's amazing to me that people took him seriously after that. It's quite amazing it's only very personal comments about the president and his family that have finally seen him fall from grace.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the Republicans. I was kind of curious, the sort of Trump base, where were they going to come down on this? Reading comments on "Breitbart," they are firmly with the president. I think that says a lot. And that might mean maybe a little bit of stability in the Republican Party, except for the fact that the president of the United States is a Republican and certainly not on board with a traditional Republican agenda.
CABRERA: We are seeing some of those candidates, these primary challengers to the establishment are now distancing themselves from Bannon. We'll watch where that goes.
Kurt, the president has sent Bannon a cease-and-desist letter, accusing him of defamation, yet Bannon had nothing to say but nice things about the president in a radio interview even after this book came out. Let's listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
STEVE BANNON, EDITOR, BREITBART & FORMER TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: The president of the United States is a great man. You know, I support him, day in and day out. Whether going through the country giving the Trump miracle speech or on the show or the websites, so I don't you have to worry about that.
(END AUDIO FEED)
[15:40:09] CABRERA: What do you make of Bannon's response there?
BARDELLA: Bannon's on a contrition tour now. He's going to do everything he can to get back in Donald Trump's good graces. And history shows Donald Trump can be susceptible to flattery from people in and out of his own staff before. You can be on the bad end of Donald Trump today and. at the end of the day, back in again. Sessions spent half the time attacking Republican Senators, and he's working with them now trying to get an agenda moved forward. He's very hot and very cold. In a fight between Trump and Bannon, it's not really even a real fight. It's Trump beating down Steve. Bannon is trying to be much more conciliatory, looking for that reconciliation opportunity. Ultimately, the American people don't know who Steve Bannon is. I've never heard of any voter asking their congressman or their candidate, what do you think of Steve Bannon. It's usually, what do you think of Donald Trump. It's why Trump has the advantage here.
CABRERA: It's like Bannon became a person because of Donald Trump's rise in politician.
Kelly Jane, I want to read a portion of this book, "Fire and Fury," that features Bannon talking about the specter of impeachment. Quote, "Bannon's tone veered from absurdum, desperation to resignation. 'If he fires Mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. Why not? Let's do it. Let's get it on. Why not? What am I going to do? Am I going to get in and save him? He's Donald Trump.'"
What's your reaction to this coming from someone who was inside the administration?
SOLIS DOYLE: The picture that book paints is a little shocking to those of us even here in Washington, who don't think there's anything we can be shocked by anymore. It's incredible. You wonder why did Steve Bannon make all these comments? He certainly -- we actually saw some news outlets reporting that he had actually drafted a statement before Trump attacked him that was going to sort of apologize ahead of time for his comments that were in the book, but then Trump attacked him, and he had to scrap that statement.
But this is the thing, I mean, Steve Bannon has been probably the biggest supporter and apologist for Donald Trump in America since the guy started running for election. And so, if even he is making comments like this and if even he thinks that it's possible to impeach the president, that there's reasons to do it, then that really should worry everyone else, that Trump's biggest apologist thinks it's possible that Donald Trump will get impeached.
CABRERA: Kelly Jane and Kurt, thank you for being here.
Coming up, from cars frozen in floodwaters in subzero temperatures and icy shrapnel, a closer look at the deep freeze. It's happening right now up and down the east coast. Sit back, get a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, some tea, and stay with us in the NEWSROOM.
[15:46:18] CABRERA: So January in New England is supposed to be cold, right? But really, 30 degrees below average? That's what a lot of people are living with this weekend. Even the National Weather Service is using the words "brutally cold" talking about Massachusetts, Upstate New York, from the Great Lakes eastward. Look at this neighborhood in Revere, Massachusetts, flooded up to the car doors and now frozen solid!
CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Scituate, Massachusetts, where it's looking very sunny and mild out there -- Polo?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You've lived in Denver, you know what cold is. But something about 9 degrees and forecasted zero degrees tonight that just doesn't seem normal, at least not for this south Texan. Look at what's going on here. Some of these boats here in Scituate, not only are they covered in snow, they are filled with snow. Earlier, there were fishermen out here, literally shoveling the snow out of these fishing boats so they can eventually get out on the water. If you look out in the distance, you can see some of these boats look for like those ice breaking ships in the Arctic. Take a look at it from high above, courtesy of some of our CNN drone video. You can see what the situation looks like. A lot of these ice chunks were washed into some of the streets in these towns along the northeast, particularly here in Massachusetts with some of these record-level tides. However, the water has receded, taking some of the ice with it. And what's left behind are some of these temperatures.
This is a serious threat, according to officials, who warn that if the temperature, at least the wind chill drops from 15 to 25 below, it takes only 10 minutes for frostbite to set in. That's something we're not ready to demonstrate. We are bundled up. The people that I have seen braving the elements to make take their dogs out for a little while are bundled up from head to toe. But New Englanders are a hearty bunch, they can handle much of this, and they are taking warnings from officials and choosing to stay indoors. CABRERA: We saw the pictures of cars frozen solid after the flooding.
Polo, what are people expecting to find in terms of what a cold snap like this does to houses and roads and cars?
SANDOVAL: Power outages is a concern here. I've seen some of the ice on the lines here in Situate. We did see a couple of days ago some of the waters that receded left behind some fairly minimal damage here. That is not something they're expecting once things actually thaw out.
The main concern is for people to stay in place, stay indoors. They are expecting warming temperatures during the week. Anything above freezing they would gladly take here -- Ana?
CABRERA: Polo, I am so impressed that your mouth didn't freeze, that you got out all of those words so gracefully and fluently. I'd be looking like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stumbling and mumbling.
[15:49:08] CABRERA: Thank you for that report. Go get warm.
The blizzard shutdown major airports up and down the east coast. Many of them are far from back to normal. This was New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in the middle of this whiteout, when no one was flying anywhere. The ground stop caused a backlog that is still a big problem this weekend. Frustrated passengers are taking to social media today, delayed for hours, waiting for very long lines, waiting for luggage. Not helping the frustration level, an incident on a JFK taxiway in the week hours of the morning. Two airliners clipped one another. One wing tip hit the other's tail. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Coming up, it is known as Hollywood's biggest party, but after a string of high-profile harassment scandals, will the Golden Globe awards look and feel different this year? We'll get a preview, next.
CABRERA: There will be a red carpet, champagne and plenty of celebrities, but the glitz and glamour of the Golden Globes may take a backseat this year as Hollywood grapples with a string of sexual harassment scandals.
CNN's Stephanie Elam has a preview.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is that time of the year, awards season in Hollywood.
ELAM: The Golden Globes kicks off the festivities by honoring the best in film in television from the last year. "The Shape of Water," leads the movies category with seven nominations
including best picture, drama.
ALISON BROWER, DEPUTY EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: It is a very artful, fantastic, visually striking film. Also with an actress, Sally Hawkins, whom they like very much.
ELAM: "The Unusual Romance" faces off against "Call Me by Your Name," "Dunkirk," "The Post," and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So how long has this thing been going on?
ELAM: The inclusion of "Get Out" for best picture in the comedy or musical category stirred up some controversy. The racially tense thriller was a fan favorite in theaters.
The box office hit is up against "The Disaster Artist," "The Greatest Showman, "I, Tonya," and "Ladybird."
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I want more.
ELAM: For television, it is all about the ladies of "Big Little Lies." The HBO series is up for six awards, the most of any television program, including best TV movie or limited series.
[15:55:05] BROWER: In addition to being a great show, it is also on point of the conversations of Hollywood right now.
ELAM: In fact, expect sexual harassment and sexual assault in the entertainment industry to be addressed in the show.
Nominees like Meryl Streep are preparing to wear all black in support of the "Me Too" movement.
SETH MEYERS, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: And I'm very excited because everyone is going to be there. What's that? Oh, he's not going to be there. Well, that's good.
ELAM: Seth Meyers, who is hosting the show, is known for his politically charged comments. His promo quote, "Hollywood, we have a lot to talk about," make it clear the late-night host won't back down at the Globes.
BROWER: I think it will be difficult to avoid having some national and presidential politics creep into what Seth Meyers had to say for the stage.
ELAM: A lot to expect for Hollywood's biggest party.
Stephanie Elam, CNN, Hollywood.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CABRERA: Coming up, the bombshell book that's raising one question loud and clear, is President Trump fit to be president. Hear why the author thinks the revelations in his book are enough to end the Trump presidency.
[16:00:07] CABRERA: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Great to have you with us on this cold Saturday.
Not smart but genius, a very --