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Bannon Expresses Regret Over Response To Bombshell Book; Trump White House: Russia Investigation; Game Time Safety; Golden Biggest Night. Aired 3-4pm ET
Aired January 7, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:20] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again and thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
All right, more fallout from that scaling tell all book about life inside the Trump White House. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon disputing some of the comments in the book issuing a statement in fact saying excerpts in the book about Donald Trump Jr. quoting him are inaccurate and he is expressing regret now about not responding sooner, saying this.
In part, "Donald Trump is a both patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around. I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Junior has diverted attention from the president's historic accomplishments in the first year of his presidency." That's from Steve Bannon.
All right, but it may be too little too late. President Trump drawing a line in the sand calling allies to make it clear they must choose between him, the president, and Bannon. The president returned to the White House after a weekend at Camp David and that's where we find CNN's Boris Sanchez. So Boris, Bannon also expressing his support for Donald Trump, in what way?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. At one point, seeming to offer an olive branch to the president and the statement. Before we get to that, I did want to take a step back and just note that it's been five days since we saw the first excerpts from fire and fury attributing some of these explosive quotes to the former White House chief strategist. And it's now -- five days later that we're first hearing this response, direct response from Steve Bannon calling this reporting inaccurate and specifically noting some of the quotes that are attributed to him about the meeting at Trump Tower in June of 2016 between Trump campaign officials and some Russian nationals in which he is quoted as calling it unpatriotic and treasonous.
We should note that Bannon had said that he did not make those comments in regard to Donald Trump Jr., but rather he wanted to direct the comments to Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman. Here's part of what he wrote in the statement. He writes, "My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends to reiterate the comments were not aim at Don Jr."
But we should point out that it was Donald Trump Jr. who essentially set up this meeting and looped others into it in an e-mail trail. You actually see one portion where Donald Trump Jr. says that he loves the idea of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton that these Russians were offering.
Beyond that getting back to what you noted, the hand of reconciliation that Steve Bannon is apparently offering the president, he touts his own abilities as a messenger for the Make America Great Again movement at one point writing, "I'm the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism and remain ready to stand in the breech for the president's efforts to make America great again."
The statement of course coming on the heels of several attacks from not only Trump surrogates but from the president himself calling Steve Bannon, "sloppy Steve" and further news that Cnn confirmed that in the past few days the president reached out to friends and allies to essentially draw a line in the sand as you said Fred, and tell his friends and allies that they support him or they support Steve Bannon.
Beyond that earlier this week, we had Rebekah Mercer, Steve Bannon's biggest financial backer making comments distancing herself from the head of Breitbart news. So you can get the sense that Steve Bannon feels his influence waning (ph) and he's trying now to make amends with the statement.
One final note, Fred, we should point out that in the statement, Steve Bannon doesn't address some of the more explosive comments that he makes, specifically about the president's son in law, Jared Kushner and money laundering being involved in Robert Mueller's special investigation of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House. Thank you. So this as the White House continues its assault on Steve Bannon. The President Senior Policy Adviser Steven Miller staunchly defending the president today in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper which did become quite contentious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump and the White House had been calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt and a nothing burger, but obviously in this new Michael Wolff book, Fire and Fury, Bannon offered a different take on the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and these other officials including a Russian lawyer. He called it treasonous and unpatriotic and he said that, "The chance that Don Junior did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero." Did President Trump meet with any of the so-called jumos who were in that Trump Tower meeting?
[15:05:18] STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Steve Bannon's eloquence and description not with standing, it's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make the grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive and the White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments when were grotesque.
And with respect to the Trump Tower meeting that he is talking about, he wasn't even there when this went down so he's not really a remotely credible source on anything. It reads like an angry vindictive person spouting off to a highly discredible author.
The book is best to my understood as a work of poorly written fiction. And I also will say that the author is a garbage author of a garbage book. And the tragic thing about this book and there are many things about it that are unfortunate, but the betrayal of the president in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him, to my own experience having spent the last two years with him.
You know, on the campaign, I had the chance to travel all across the country with the president on Trump Force One and to view the president, me, Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks and a few other people going from rally to rally to rally to rally. And I saw a man who was a political genius. Somebody who we would be going down and landing in decent and there would be a breaking news development and in 20 minutes he would dictate 10 paragraphs of new material to address that event and deliver flawlessly in front of an audience of 10,000 people.
TAPPER: So you were at the campaign during that Trump Tower meeting, I believe, right, in the summer of 2016. Just answer the question because you were there and Steve Bannon was not. Did any of those people from the meeting meet with President Trump as Bannon says the chance that he didn't walk his jumos up to his father's office in the 26th floor is zero. Can you just settle that for us? Did President Trump meet with the people?
MILLER: I have no knowledge of anything to do with that meeting.
MILLER: But what I can tell you unequivocally is that the allegations and insinuations in the book that are a pure work of fiction are nothing but a tile of trash through and through.
TAPPER: Well, just --
MILLER: Just to finish, Jake, because your network has been going 24- 7 with the salacious coverage and I know that it brings a lot of you guys a lot of joy trying to stick the knife in, but the reality is that page after page after page of the book is pure false. I see sections of the book where events I participated in are described and I had firsthand knowledge that as it describes they're completely and totally fraudulent. TAPPER: Nobody had seen a sticking knife to anybody. There were a
lot of people in the White House quoted in the book. I don't know why.
MILLER: Well, the quote that that you're referring to is a quote from Steve Bannon.
TAPPER: Right, who was the president's senior strategist.
MILLER: Who and I think that the president's statement on Steve settles once and for all the view about all that.
TAPPER: Let's talk about that --
MILLER: Let's dig into your comment that he was the president's chief strategist. So one of the tragedies of this grotesque work of fiction, is the betrayal of the president. The reality is that the president is a political genius who won against a field of 17 incredibly talented people who took down the Bush dynasty, who took down the Clinton dynasty, who took down the entire media complex with its 90% negative coverage, took down billions dollars in special interest donations and he did it all through the people and to his strategy and his vision.
TAPPER: So let's talk about this.
MILLER: And his insight and his experience.
TAPPER: Let's talk about that. The president is now calling Bannon "Sloppy Steve" and he released a scathing statement this week saying in part, "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
You worked hand in glove with Bannon at the White House and on the campaign. Is the president really arguing that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with him or his presidency?
MILLER: I can only tell you my experience which is that I joined the campaign in January of '16 before the first ballot was cast.
TAPPER: Right. Bannon helped you get that job. No?
MILLER: Corey Lewandowski is the one who offered me the job in the Trump campaign. Just to finish --
TAPPER: Bannon wasn't helping you? Bannon didn't help you get that job on the campaign?
MILLER: I think the person who probably helped me most get the job on the campaign was probably Corey. But the most important think because I'd been working with Corey before I joined to try and help out with the campaign.
But the most important thing to say about this is that the president's first speech that he gave, unfiltered and unscripted, that was Donald Trump. TAPPER: Right.
[15:10:04] MILLER: That was the same Donald Trump who for 30 years talked about how America is getting ripped off on straight and military deals and everything else, is the same Donald Trump who tapped into the pulse of millions and millions f Americans.
TAPPER: Right. But there is no president --
MILLER: And it's something that -- it's something that -- a phenomenon was happening that you didn't see, a phenomenon that's happening that the rest of the political class didn't see. All this so-called political geniuses in Washington whether it be, at a big lobbying firms or --
TAPPER: The only person that called himself a genius in the last week is the president.
MILLER: Which happens to be a true statement.
MILLER: It's a self-made billionaire who revolutionize reality TV and he changed the course of politics --
TAPPER: I'm sure he is watching and happy you said that. But --
MILLER: Jake, you can be -- no, no, you can be condescending.
TAPPER: I'm not being condescending. I'm trying to get to the point that Steve Bannon.
MILLER: You can be con-- no it's a night remark. You sure he's watching and he's happy. Let me tell you something.
TAPPER: Why is that sound --
MILLER: Your network, you can -- look, you can be as condescending as you want as part of your MO, but listen, you can have 24-7.
TAPPER: I have no idea why you are attacking me.
TAPPER: He helped pull out.
MILLER: I'm so glad you brought that up.
TAPPER: Let me just --
MILLER: That's one of the fakest items in the book.
TAPPER: Steven, Steven -- MILLER: I would (INAUDIBLE) that better than you would, Jake, about how the travel ban was written. Steve Bannon didn't push the travel ban.
TAPPER: If you would let me --
MILLER: Steve Bannon --
TAPPER: If you would let me ask these questions. No because you have president --
MILLER: You have 24 hours of negative anti-Trump hysterical coverage on this network --
MILLER: -- that led in recent weeks some spectacularly embarrassing false reporting.
TAPPER: That can ascertain --
MILLER: The viewers are entitled have my three months of the truth. Why don't just give me three minutes to tell you the truth about Donald Trump I know and all of our campaigns --
TAPPER: Because it's my show and I don't want to do that. So here's my -- here's my --
MILLER: This is not a courtroom and I have a right to say it.
TAPPER: Steven, Steven settle down. Settle down. Calm down.
MILLER: Jake --
TAPPER: I have a question about issues. Steven Bannon who the president says had nothing to do with his presidency. He was part of the president's travel ban. He was part of pulling out of the Paris climate deal. He was part of withdrawing from the TPP. He was part of border security and being tough on immigration.
MILLER: You want to go through the list?
TAPPER: No, I don't want to go through, but my point is --
TAPPER: -- is it really the position of the Trump White House that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with the presidency or can you acknowledge the reality that he was a key player?
MILLER: I think that what the point is that his role has been greatly exaggerated where as the president hasn't gotten the due that he deserves for the movement he put together to tap into the kinds of people whose life concerns don't get a lot of attention on CNN. Not a lot of hours coverage on this TV talking about the working class construction worker who lost their jobs to forward labor.
There's not a lot of coverage on this TV about the people getting slaughtered in sanctuary cities. You don't a lot of human interest stories about immigrant communities under siege from MS 13.
He tapped into a reality that is happening this country that is not covered on this network. And I know you think I'm interrupting you, but I think the American people deserve to have two or three minutes of the truth.
TAPPER: Well, we let you talk.
MILLER: No, no, no here's the truth. I traveled with Donald Trump all across the country and the world. I would be with the president on a campaign plane with a rally in 20 minutes and he would be able to.
TAPPER: You already made this point, Stephen.
MILLER: He would come up with material --
TAPPER: You've already said that. We let you say that at the top. According to the New York Times, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, has in his possession, an early draft of a letter that you helped write in May 2017 detailing reasons to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to the newspaper, the first line of the letter mentions the Russia investigation. Did you write a letter outlining reasons to fire Comey and list the Russia investigation? Is that true?
MILLER: Here's the problem of what you're saying. The final draft of the letter, the one that was --
TAPPER: I'm not talking about that one. I'm talking about the one that Comey has --
MILLER: If you want to have an answer to your question and not to get hysterical, then I'll answer it. The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump-Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.
TAPPER: So it was moved from the top to the bottom?
MILLER: No. No, look at the letter. It's the beginning. The investigation is referenced in the beginning at the final letter that was released to point out about the fact that not withstanding having been informed that there is no investigation that the move that is happening is completely unrelated to that. It was a disclaimer appeared in the final version of the letter that was made public.
TAPPER: I want o ask you because you obviously are very offended by the notion of this book, Fire and Fury, it pans (ph) the picture of President Trump. Trump is not mentally up to the job.
On Saturday, President Trump put out a series of tweets trying to defend himself on this issue of fitness and said, Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards 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."
Do you think tweets like that helped or hurt the cause if the president is stable enough for the job?
[15:15:12] MILLER: No, I think that helped it. But I think in the toxic environment that you created here in CNN cable news which is real crisis of legitimacy for your network. And we saw it of course with the extremely fake news you reported about the Don Jr. and Wikileak story. That was a huge embarrassment for your network.
TAPPER: Stephen --
MILLER: Just like the huge embarrassment you had when you got the Comey testimony wrong --
TAPPER: Stephen, I'm trying to get to the issue of the President's fitness which a lot of people thought --
MILLER: Well I'm getting to the issue of your fairness (ph). But the president's -- the president's tweets absolutely reaffirm the plain spoken truth. A self-made billionaire revolutionized reality TV and tapped into something magical that's happening in the hearts of the country. The people that --
TAPPER: You don't have approval rating in the 30s. I don't know what magical you are talking about.
MILLER: The people that you don't connect with and understand. The people whose manufacturing jobs that left, who have been besieged by high crime communities and who've been affected by a policy of uncontrolled immigration, those voices, those experiences don't get covered on this network. And to prove the point, I was booked to talk about the very issues I'm describing and you're not even asking about them because they are not interesting facts to you.
TAPPER: That's not true. I have plenty of questions, immigration (INAUDIBLE) this filibuster by talking about your flights with the President.
MILLER: No, I'm not --
TAPPER: I wanted to ask you a question because --
MILLER: No, don't be condescending, Jake, Jake --
TAPPER: Stephen, the reason in the White House -- The president is in the White House -- The president is in the White --
MILLER: Jake, the reason why I want to talk about the President's experiences, what I've seen with him traveling to meet dozens of foreign leaders with his incredible work --
TAPPER: OK, you are not answering the questions. I understand --
MILLER: You have 24 hours a day of asking --
TAPPER: Stephen, you're being --
MILLER: -- that material and you are not going to give three minutes for the American people --
TAPPER: I get it --
MILLER: -- the real experience of Donald Trump.
TAPPER: There is one viewer that you care about right now. And you are being obsequious.
MILLER: No, no--
TAPPER: You're being (INAUDIBLE) in order to please him, OK.
MILLER: You know who I care about?
TAPPER: And I think I've wasted enough of my viewer's time.
MILLER: You know who I care about --
TAPPER: Thank you, Stephen. As Republican policy makers offer General Jeff Sessions to resign in a major reversal Democrats --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Right, and that's how that unfolded and how that interview actually ended. We have so much to talk about, stay with me. My panel joins me next.
[15:20:24] WHITFIELD: Hi, welcome back. Let's continue with our coverage of that explosive interview from top Presidential Adviser Stephen Miller, Miller appearing on CNN Save the Union earlier today, and gave a fiery defense of the President of the United States and blasting former Trump Strategist Steve Bannon. Here's a quick snippet of that contentious interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILLER: It's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments. So out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive and the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments which were grotesque.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss this with my panel. Tara Setmayer, CNN Political Commentator, Jack Kingston as a CNN Political Commentator and former Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign, and Tim Naftali, CNN Presidential historian and former Director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Good to see you all, happy new year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same to you.
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Happy New Year.
WHITFIELD: All right, so Tara, you first. You know, your reaction to of this interview and Stephen Miller and his descriptions of a grotesque tell all book and that Steve Bannon's behavior is also unacceptable.
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he clearly studied the talking points. But looking at his disposition and his demeanor through out that interview, it was really disturbing to watch. I mean, to me it was almost reminiscing of a lieutenant in a tyrant's cult.
I mean this guy is the last person that should be out in front of cameras trying to convince the American people that the White House is stable and the President of the United States is competent and everything is OK. And a book like this is supposedly fiction. He is not a credible messenger on this.
You know, this is the same guy who couple of months ago during the Muslim ban controversy went on I believe with CNN, it was Sunday day show. And said that the quest that the President's authority shall not be questioned.
I mean there is some kind of very creepy pathology about Stephen Miller that I think takes away from any defense that he may have come out, you know, he may have offered that would try to alleviate concerns about the book or the attacks on the President. I just think that, you know, Stephen Miller is a terrible, terrible messenger to try to dissuade the American people from believing this White House isn't in chaos.
WHITFIELD: So Jack, are you in agreement that it's not just the messenger, but also the message showed today?
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Look and I think Steve Miller is a very levelheaded. He's a great spokesman. He's very cool under pressure. I think it was a tough interview. Frankly, as American, I'm glad that we have interviews like that because of the First Amendment.
But I think what Steve Miller is really frustrated about is the fact that he was there. And we all know any series student of history would call Michael Wolff was a liar. Look at his 1998 book called A Burn Rate, 13 people who were in that book denounced that and said these events never happened, as respect Fire and Fury, Steve Mnuchin, Mulvaney, Hope Hicks and all kinds of people about -- who stepped forward and saying that's a bunch of buff. I work with --
WHITFIELD: But Steve Bannon only was disputing his quotes of Don Jr. He did not dispute other things in the book that credit Steve Bannon as talking about how people around the President were very concerned about his mental state and his lacking of a capacity to be educated on, you know, the presidency, on how Washington works, et cetera. I mean all those things that were in the book, you know, being attributed to Steve Bannon, clearly did not dispute.
KINGSTON: Let me say this. As the son of a psychologist, and one of my best friends, Dr. Christy Lisky (ph) and Megan Georgia (ph), as a psychiatrist, they would be the absolute first to tell you that there is no way people from an arm chair length state of view could evaluate the mental stability of anybody else. It's just ridiculous, this partisan sniping.
The Democrats did the same thing under Ronald Reagan. They questioned his senility (ph), they questioned his mental stability at that time. I mean, it's just the popular left wing tactic when you don't want him --
WHITFIELD: But even his own son later add credence to that in terms of, you know, some qualities of Alzheimer's. But this is very different. Now we're talking about people who are being quoted and Michael Wolff saying100% of the people around him were worried about his intelligence, or worried about how he was accepting the responsibility of the presidency, how he was reacting emotionally to things.
[15:25:04] KINGSTON: I don't think any of us would want Michael Wolff to be a witness in our trial. This guy according to the New Republic, Michelle Cottle said, he doesn't recreate stories. He creates them for the first time. You know --
SETMAYER: But the White House let him in.
KINGSTON: I won't --
SETMAYER: You have to hang around for 18 months.
KINGSTON: Well not as much as he -- I talked to Sean Spicer directly about that the other day. And he said that's not even true. But you know, --
WHITFIELD: That they didn't let him in? He wasn't there?
KINGSTON: Let me say this. I've run for office and I've done -- I was in elected office for 30 years. It is grueling, it is -- it's disruptive as having a death in the family. I can tell you unequivocally having been through both experiences, it's miserable. You don't run for office unless you want to win and you don't hang in there unless you think you are going to win.
And for him to say that the Trumps did not want to win and did not think they were going to win, when he was never in Trump Tower with the rest of us last summer during "Access Hollywood," it's just ridiculous.
SETMAYER: Donald Trump himself said how he missed his old life. And you can just see.
KINGSTON: All of us miss our old lives. SETMAYER: No, I mean, did you ever hear George W. Bush or President Ronald Reagan or Obama or even Clinton whine about how they missed their old lives? I don't think so --
KINGSTON: Oh, good god, they do all the time.
SETMAYER: It's an honor of the -- it is utmost honor to be the president of the United States. So, this is not like we haven't seen.
KINGSTON: You miss the free time. I mean that's normal.
WHITFIELD: So, Tim is this less about just reacting to the book and more about how the White House is handling this kind of flurry of information and how the White House is now reportedly the President actually reaching out to allies to say it's either him or me. Where are you? How troublesome is this to you or how parallel is this to perhaps other presidencies?
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well we -- look, the President's obsession with this book is disturbing. The President should have other more important things on his mind such as North Korea, such the possibility of reaching some kind of a legislative agreement with the Democrats over DACA and the wall.
We haven't seen this level of obsession with the publication since the summer of 1971 when President Nixon lost it over the Pentagon papers. It is not helpful, I believe to the President's argument about his fitness, for him to be sending forward bomb throwers like Stephen Miller.
What he needs is to remind us that he was elected President to do things. Talk about what he wants to do. Show us in his conduct that he is in charge. That will dispel many people's concerns. But he is not doing it. No, no, wait a second. This is really important. His statement, is the White House's statement about Bannon was off the wall. That's not how you deal with a book you disagree with. You ignore the book.
WHITFIELD: In terms of calling him sloppy Steve and name calling --
NAFTALI: No, no, no. Let's not forget the issue of his mental fitness came from the President saying that Bannon was insane. So this is the problem. The President's people are acting as if this is a reality TV show when this is about the future of our Republic.
KINGSTON: But let me say this. As a Presidential historian, you are probably the first one to agree that President Trump is like no other president. He doesn't go by the conventional rules, if you will. And I can say this. As somebody has a very micro Twitter account, it doesn't take time to send a tweet out and stir things up.
In the meantime, he's meeting with Republican leaders. He is addressing the upcoming budget debate. He's trying to come up with a solution on DACA, on infrastructure and the debt ceiling, children's health care all that set us on the table. I stay very close to my former colleagues in Congress that this White House is absolutely very engaged with him. People like Mark Shore, they are working 70 hours a week and behind the scenes to try to represent what's the good solution to all of these problems with the House and the Senate? So, you know, I mean look at this.
WHITFIELD: Yes, yes, I mean I think most people are in agreement that there's a tremendous theater here. And it was even the President himself who said, I'm going to be so presidential, you're going to be sick of it.
SETMAYER: That's right, and the American people are concerned --
WHITFIELD: It's not just at issue of --
KINGSTON: And the President don't change.
WHITFIELD: But you have to wonder how complicated this is now for so many Republicans who are trying really hard to show this united front. You saw that picture, that image yesterday at Camp David. You know, you've got many Republicans who are standing along with him. And then you have senators today on a Sunday talk shows, talking about or hoping to talk about the agenda but at the same time having to address the questions about the President and his conduct. Here's Senator Rand Paul on CBS Today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[15:30:05] JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: Let me ask you about the climate here in Washington. This new book about the White House, a lot of debate about it. As a politician, the president has responded by talking about his mental stability. Why do you suppose he did that when, instead, he could say, "Forget this book. We've passed tax cuts, we're defeating ISIS, we've nominated a bunch of judges." Why do you think he did that?
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, I don't know. I guess my first response was this was sort of a gossipy book, kind of like a Kitty Kelley book back from, you know, when I was in high school. I remember her books would come out and nobody really believed them. They were treated as, you know, sort of like a sitcom or treated as a television show. They weren't really treated seriously by the media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Tara, why are so many trying to explain this away?
SETMAYER: Well, this is the perfect example as to why the President's reaction to this, whether it takes him five seconds to send a tweet out or not, the fallout from that is consequential for all the Republican lawmakers who are actually trying to do the business of the American people. Because we talk about this, the media is going to ask about it and then they complain when they say why aren't we talking about the stock market and the economy and taxes. Well because the President of the United States is behaving like a 15-year- old girl. And so, these kinds of things -- that words matter, tweets matter when you're the President of the United States.
So as long as Donald Trump chooses to engage in these kinds of very petulant attacks from the perch of the White House, we're going to keep talking about it because it affects the office of the presidency. And when 70% of the American people think that the President doesn't have the temperament to be president, that is concerning.
So, we -- you know, this is a problem. Going in -- there are a lot of legislative -- a lot of legislative, serious legislative issues that have to be addressed coming into the New Year now that believe me members of the Senate and House don't want to be talking about this. But the President continues to keep throwing the debate because he can't help himself.
WHITFIELD: So Jack, it was seem difficult for any Republican or anyone should really stand along side the President and try to separate standing alongside the behavior, the instinct, the stuff that's being, you know, dissected right now versus standing along him for policy's sake. I mean it has to be difficult and has to be potentially dangerous for any lawmaker to do that.
KINGSTON: I think with base Republican voters that they understand that this President is different. His style is different, his approach is different. And I think that most Republicans understand that.
But I can say this. What Republicans aren't doing right now is worrying about the reduction in the land for the national monuments. They're not talking about offshore drilling. And any time you're talking about those issues as a Republican, you are losing ground. But unfortunately, for the Democrats and the Sierra club and the environmentalists, nobody is talking about those major policy shifts.
I still believe that this White House is smart enough to distract people with issues that don't affect their lives. I mean this book is going to come and go. It's longer than a 48 hour story, but nobody would really think this book is going to be talked about two or weeks or a month from now. I mean it's like primary colors, it's like blood sport or Christopher Hitchen's expose on Clinton called. No one lit the lights because these books come and go and they are great for the crowd.
But on the issues that really affect America, the Dems aren't doing anything but saying they are against Trump. They're not getting any traction in terms of being loyal opposition party with an agenda. All they're doing and saying, oh, his mental health. But they are not getting anywhere with the American people on that. Not when the stock market is breaking records and unemployment is at a 17-year low.
WHITFIELD: So then Tim, are these distractions, you know, up staging the political genius of the President?
NAFTALI: Well, the question -- the point that Jack is making is that these whole White House strategy is to distract us, but it seems that the President is not under control. He is not self-disciplined. He seems very emotional about something that is a strategy.
I would -- might remind Jack one very important thing. Your approach to the presidency as a president can change. Look, the institution evolves, but there are responsibilities in inherit in the presidency that never change. They go back to the constitution. And one of them is to be head of state.
When President Trump speaks and tweets, he speaks for all of us. And when he uses the language he is using, he is sending a signal to our adversaries as well as our friends that we are petty, petulant, emotional, that we don't have self discipline. Tell me, is that really in the interest of the leadership --
NAFTALI: -- of a great power?
KINGSTON: If that's the question, let me say unequivocally people in the world are reminded now that we do have a bigger nuclear arsenal. It was in plain spoken bigger button. I think those who criticize Trump are missing the point that --
SETMAYER: You think the world needs to be reminded of that?
KINGSTON: -- that he was reminding China and Russia that hey, you know what, if North Korea starts a war, we're going to be able to finish it. And that's not a good thing for the world.
[15:35:07] So, I actually think that his plain spoken manner has made a big difference. Look at ISIS right now; they've lost 98% of the territory that they had gained under President Obama.
I mean, it had fit what he is doing is world stage is significant, moving troops up to the Baltic States, that worries Russia. Cooperating with China on North Korea, these are significantly insane.
NAFTALI: Jack, the strategy on ISIS started before Trump.
KINGSTON: I know. Everything that's good is Obama's credit. I've ever --
SETMAYER: Trump did --
SETMAYER: You know, Jack, Trump didn't defeat ISIS with Twitter. Look, Trump didn't defeat ISIS with Twitter rants, you know. There was strategy that was in place from before --
KINGSTON: No, he didn't. He ordered (ph) the troop.
SETMAYER: -- and has carried over. Thank God for Secretary Mattis and Jim Kelly and those guys that know what they are doing, because, you know, God only know what's going on with Trump when he decides to pick fights like this.
KINGSTON: Well, I can tell you, he's a member of the defense committee.
SETMAYER: All right.
KINGSTON: He told the military, you guys call the shots. We're not going to call them out of Washington anymore. You do what you need to do.
SETMAYER: But that was after he said he knew more than the generals, right, because he watches the Sunday shows? Come on.
WHITFIELD: All right. We'll live it there. All right. Tara Setmayer, Jack Kingston, Tim Naftali, thanks so much. Good to see you all. We'll be right back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good seeing you.
WHITFIELD: Hi, welcome back. New questions and concerns over a report that suggests that there was a growing body of evidence in the Russia investigation point to potential obstruction of justice. The report in today's "New York Times" saying that President Trump ordered a White House lawyer back in March to pressure U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. The Times also reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is examining the move as a possible obstruction of justice.
[15:40:15] Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina insisting that Jeff Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself from the investigation. And while he supports Mueller's probe, Graham said a second Special Counsel should be appointed to look at the DOJ's actions surrounding Peter Strzok, he is the FBI agent who was removed from the Russia investigation for writing text messages to a colleague critical of President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I believe there is plenty of evidence that the Russians interacted with the Trump campaign and Mr. Mueller is going to get to the bottom of it. The FBI is a great organization, but no organization --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
GRAHAM: --is subject and can't be looked at. If you are not worried about the Mr. Strzok then it's hard to Clinton e-mail investigation given his attitude towards the Clintons and Trump and what he said, then I think you're blind to the fact that this whole investigation needs to be looked at independently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, CNN Legal Analyst Michael Zeldon of Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice. Good to see you. And here in Atlanta with me, CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Page Pate, good to see you as well. All right. All right, so Michael, let me begin with you. A second special counsel to investigate the DOJ and FBI, necessary?
MICHAEL ZELDON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think it falls within the purview of the regulations. I don't understand why if there's anything that needs to be investigated here, the Justice Department could investigated it itself.
But beyond that, there is an inspector general report that is being undertaken and I think that it would behoove all of us to wait to see what the inspector general says about the communication that struck head during this campaign to see whether it's actionable in the first place and if it's actionable whether or not it can be handled properly by the DOJ, or whether it needs too go outside of the DOJ. So, I think Senator Graham is a bit premature in his call for the special counsel.
WHITFIELD: All right. Page, I saw you nodding and you are apparently you're in agreement with that.
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the Office of Inspector General should look at this first. I mean, we've got to stop thinking of the Justice Department as a tool in the political arsenal. This is supposed to mostly understand some in the Executive Branch but independent as far as criminal investigations. Because if we're going to have any credibility in what the Department of Justice does, we have to believe that it's free from political influence.
WHITFIELD: And disciplinary action was taken. I mean, he was --
PATE: Absolutely, yes.
WHITFIELD: -- for discovery was made. You know, in the meantime, you've got, you know, Senator Graham along with the Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley also referring the author of that infamous Russian dossier, Christopher Steel now to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution over a potential false statements and now, yet another type of investigation. Does that kind of muddy the water or is that -- is there real credence there?
PATE: I mean, I don't know. Based on what we've seen reported, I don't think there's evidence if a crime that was committed there. But again, if we're diverting Department of Justice's resources basically on a political witch hunt or an attempt to be proactive and they go into offense instead of being on the defense, they were misusing the Department of Justice, we're misusing the prosecutors and the agents who are there to protect us into investigate legitimate crimes.
WHITFIELD: So, Michael, how do you see this and which is it, the White House sending a message that the DOJ can be trusted or that it can't be trusted?
ZELDIN: Well, it's clearly sending a mixed message. The earlier reporting today in the "New York Times" that the White House counsel, the special communications guy, Spicer, and Chief of Staff Priebus all going over to speak to Sessions to implore him not to follow what the law requires him to have done which is to have recuse himself which he did properly --
WHITFIELD: For complex interest.
ZELDIN: -- speaks -- right. Speaks to pressure that Page is talking about that really doesn't belong in the criminal justice system because it undermines the integrity of that system. So, when you have Grassley and Graham sending a referral to the FBI, the first and only referral being that of the author of the Steele --
ZELDIN: -- dossier, it just creates all sorts of appearances that make this appear to be political and that I think is really troublesome.
WHITFIELD: And then today, you have a White House adviser, Steven Miller on with Jake Tapper earlier today trying to downplay the report in the "New York Times" about a draft letter that Bob Mueller and his team have which makes the inference that, you know, the White House had a direct hand in the firing of James Comey and a connection to the Russia investigation, et cetera. So, Miller tried to make the case that the Russia investigation had nothing to do with the firing of Comey contradicting the President's own words when he was talking to NBC.
Here's a recollection of that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[15:45:10] MILLER: The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump-Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: OK. So, Page, the President said he'd be willing to talk to Bob Mueller so whether it would be under oath or not, that makes a difference that he said on the record in an interview one thing and now his folks are trying to say something else.
PATE: Fred, I don't know that they realize what they are doing here. I mean, let's go back up for a second. There's nothing wrong with the President interfering with an investigation in the Department of Justice. He's a chief executive and the Justice Department is under the executive. He can decide the investigation needs to stop and when needs to start. Technically, that's his job.
The question about obstruction, the issue that the Special Counsel's office is looking at is did he act with corrupt intent. Was he trying to protect himself, his family members, and business interest?
So, while a President does have influence over the Justice Department, that's the way they the constitution is designed, their separation of powers, he cannot act with an improper influence. So, the different statements --
WHITFIELD: So, when the President said just last week, I can do whatever I want with the Justice Department, you are saying --
PATE: Not so. Not when he acted with corrupt intent when it's more about him than the country. So, all of these misstatements, all of these inconsistent statements, they're not on the same page. That can be evidence of the corrupt intent.
WHITFIELD: All right. Michael, last word on that?
ZELDIN: Well, I think that the putting together of an obstruction of justice case is a complicated process with lots of little pieces of a mosaic that had to be added together. I don't yet think that we are there, but when you see things like deconstruction by Stephen Miller or the ordering of McGann to go speak to Sessions about a recusal that the law requires him to do, all those things get to be factored into the process and Mueller want to figure out whether or not it arises to the level of an indictable offense or an impeachable referral.
I don't see it yet, but they are not helping themselves in any way, shape, or form in the way they have been proceeding with this investigation, which should be let it go, let's be quite, and we'll see what happens.
WHITFIELD: And of course, this is assisting all the stuff that's public.
WHITFIELD: That's not so public.
ZELDIN: That's exactly right.
WHITFIELD: We don't know.
ZELDIN: We don't know --
PATE: We don't know everything.
ZELDIN: That's right.
ZELDIN: We don't know what Mueller knows.
WHITFIELD: All right, Michael Zeldin and Page Pate, thanks to both of you and appreciate it.
PATE: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.
[15:50:52] WHITFIELD: All right, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, sharp shooters perched on top of buildings all in an effort to ensure security for anyone attending tomorrow's college football national championship game in Atlanta. Kaylee Hartung joins us live now near the stadium where the President of the United States will also be attending the matchup between Georgia and Alabama. What's going on?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, federal, state, and local authorities have been working together for more than a year to plan for this event and it's about more than just Monday night's game. This is a weekend-long event with free outdoor concerts now in Centennial Park behind me and free fan events along the streets of Atlanta as well.
So, authorities are having to work in such a coordinated effort as they welcomed us into their joint operations center to show us the lengths that they are going to. They tell us they've not received any specific threats, but they are keeping a watchful eye on every aspect of this.
Think about this, 10,000 video cameras monitoring electronic surveillance in this city. And let's start in the air, if you will. The FAA has issued flight restrictions in this area. No aircraft or drones of any sort are allowed in this air space around the Mercedes- Benz dome. The FBI already telling us that yesterday, they did spot a drone and that is a federal crime. They want us to ensure that we stress they must be heeding these warnings.
Also, once you're in this area on the ground here, traffic the biggest concern, Fred. You know on a good day, rush hour is not easy in Atlanta. You bring in the President of the United States as well with road closures we don't yet know about. That's where people are really going to have to ensure that they arrive early, take public transportation and understand what they're in for.
WHITFIELD: Yes, have a lot of patience and, of course, enjoy the festivities. All right. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much, appreciate it. We'll be right back.
[15:51:01] WHITFIELD: All right, Hollywood's Golden night is just hours away, but the color expected to dominate the red carpet is black. Many stars attending tonight's Golden Globes ceremony are planning to wear all black to make a statement about the sexual harassment scandals that have rocked Hollywood. And CNN's Stephanie Elam has a prime spot on the red carpet in Los Angeles. Good to see you Stephanie in a beautiful combination of color and black.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It the color, Fred, you're right, and thank you. If you take a look down here, if you look, you can see there's some other color around here but really the color dominating the carpet as things are still getting prepared right now is all about black. You see people are wearing it even from the media wearing black. No one -- none of the stars are here yet. We're still just getting set up and so, that's actually why I can stand on the red carpet right now.
But you're right, a lot of people here are coming out and they are going to be making a statement wearing black, saying that there needs to be more parity between men and women in Hollywood. Also the sex scandals that have rocked Hollywood over the last few months also making a statement about that and also saying that more women need to be in decision-making role. So, a lot of that two movement you're going to see it here on the carpet. Some of the celebrities are expected to show up with activists as well, so we're looking for that.
The one thing that people are also going to be looking for, Fred, is what Seth Meyers has to say. You know, he doesn't shy away from talking politics on his show. He's expected as the host, as the emcee of the night to really bring that out further. So, people will be listening to him.
Other than that, you've got the nominees obviously that people will be waiting to see and hear about and it's really about the women this year. A lot of people looking to see who is going to win, whether it will be Allison Janney who played in "I, Tonya" who really apparently just stole the scene, a lot of people looking for her. And then Nicole Kidman for Big Little Lies, a lot of people looking for her turning that as well. But you got a lot of movies that people are just getting to know, like "Shape of Water," that's still out in the theater.
So this will be for people really have chance to get their idea of what this can be like on the march too, of course, the Oscars. But the show is just getting ready to get started here in a little bit, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Yes. So, real serious statements being made that we've heard from folks in Hollywood over the years who said Gold Globes is usually among their favorites because of kind of the atmosphere that usually comes with this award ceremony.
All right, Stephanie Elam, we'll check in with you and we'll be watching later on this evening. Thank you so much. We've got so much more straight ahead in the news room right after this.