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President Trump Defending Mental Fitness; Frustration Boiling Inside West Wing After Staff Banned From Using Personal Cell phones; North and South Korea Prepare for Landmark Talks Next Week. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 7, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:07] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are 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 stable genius at that. That is how President Trump is defending his mental fitness in a wake of an unflattering tell-all book. During a retreat today at Camp David surrounded by Republican members of Congress who wanted to talk about their agenda, the President was forced to talk about a series of tweets he sent out this morning in which he said in part throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like really smart. And then noting his riot to the presidency, he added, I think that would qualify as not smart but genius and a very stable genius at that.

Not surprisingly, those tweets came up today at the presidential questions at Camp David. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to the best college. I went to -- I had a situation where I was an excellent student came out and made billions and billions of dollars and became one of the top business people. Went to television. And for ten 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 at all, by the way did not interview me for three -- he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House, it did not exist, OK. It is in his imagination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: I want to get right to CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

Boris, that Q&A session was supposed to focus on the Republican agenda for 2018. It quickly (INAUDIBLE) off topic, didn't it?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did, Ana. It comes in the date of the president, essentially said his agenda for 2018, alongside Republican lawmakers and numbers of his cabinet.

The President forced to answer questions about his sanity, clearly taking some of the statements in this "Fire and Fury" book by Michael Wolff personally. And not just that but also things that Michael Wolff has said on television about the President saying quote "he has lost it." Going further and saying that 100 percent of the people around the President have questioned his fitness for office.

The President responding by calling Michael Wolff a fraud, listing his accomplishments as you hears as a college student, as a business person, as a TV star and now as president. Beyond that, that President reputed the idea the Michael Wolff had interviewed him for several hours.

And then he also take an opportunity to attack his former chief strategist Steve Bannon calling him sloppy Steve. Listen to more to what the President say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I did a quick interview with him a long time ago having to do with an article, but I don't know this man. I guess sloppy Steve brought in the White House quite a bit. And it was one of those things. That's why sloppy Steve is now looking for a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: And it is really not the first time that the topic of the President's mental state, his intellectual capacity to be president have come up as topics of conversation. You will recall that just a few months ago, it was actually Steve Bannon who said that there was a 30 percent chance that those around the President would invoke the 25th amendment questioning again his fitness for office. And beyond that, just about a month ago, more than a dozen lawmakers were briefed by Yale physiatrists specifically about the President's mental state, Ana.

CABRERA: Boris, we are also learning some new information about the pressure of the White House put on attorney general Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia probe. Give us an update.

SANCHEZ: Yes. CNN has learned that effort from the White House to put one White House official call pressure on Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself from the Russia investigation was led by one of the President's attorney Don McGahn. And he was aided apparently by former press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as former chief of staff Reince Priebus. Clearly, Sessions did give in to that pressure, he did recuse himself. And it puts him to context this news some of the tweets that we saw from the president last year disparaging his attorney general. The President did not answer yes or no as to whether there was pressure put on Jeff Sessions. Though he did say that anything that the President did was proper, Ana.

CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN crime and justice reporter now Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, this new evidence related to Mueller's probe come amid questions about Sessions' future as attorney general. What are you hearing on this front?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes. So you know, every couple of weeks or so, we hear this come up, what is the next step for the attorney general. Today, the President saying that he stands by the attorney general. And then as Boris said, he went onto to talk about there was a question about whether or not he was the President have put pressure on people at the White House to talk to Jeff Sessions to try to get him not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, did you ask the White House council to ask attorney general Sessions not to recuse himself?

[16:05:05] TRUMP: The story, by the way, of the "Time" is way off or at least off. But everything that I have done is 100 percent proper. That's what I do is I do things proper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PROKUPECZ: Right. And while the President may think it is proper, this is certainly created some news. This pressure that he may have put on people to put pressure on Jeff Sessions to trying to get him not to recuse himself again goes on.

And also, it is not entirely clear that this is even part of the obstruction probe, it could be and may not be. And as we know that as it is still ongoing.

CABRERA: Now "the New York Times" also report that days before James Comey was fired, one of Jeff Sessions' aide as a congressional staffer whether there was any damaging information on Comey. What is the justice department is now saying about that?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So they denied that, the spokesperson, for the department of justice denied that anyone went ahead and did that. They denied it to "the New York Times." And then they publicly denied it in tweets and a statement.

The issue here though is the effect that this has on the people of the FBI, you know. I have talked to some people who are disturbed by this. The idea that the department of justice, someone on behalf of the attorney general, if true, would go ahead and do this. Some certainly have found it very disturbing. Again, the relationship, it is such an important relationship that needs to be maintained between the department of justice which really oversees the FBI. And here there is reports that they were trying to undermine the FBI director.

CABRERA: Unbelievable. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you.

With us now, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for the Atlantic and Sabrina Siddiqui, politics reporter for "the Guardian."

Ron, the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, wakes up this morning and he is tweeting that he is not mentally unstable. In fact, he is a genius. And then he hold as surprise news conference with GOP leaders, standing right behind him. And he says everything he does is 100 percent proper. If you are Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, what is going through your mind as you are standing behind the President?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, right. Look. I think we can almost state as truism that if you are stable genius, one marker of that is not to tweet out you are a stable genius. Because what the President is doing is focusing I think more attention on what has been, I think throughout his greatest single political vulnerability which is highlighted as well by the Michael Wolff's book.

It is not so much his intelligence, most Americans in polling have consistently said they believe he is intelligent. It is his temperament, his stability, his experience, his judgment that is in question for many Americans. And what I think has happened, I think paradoxically over the past year is that as those doubts have harden, you now have 60 percent of the country or more are consistently saying they don't believe he has a temperament that they want to see in a President.

You have seen Republicans like McConnell and like Ryan, lashed themselves ever more closely to President Trump. Rather than establishing more distance, they are embracing him more closely and defending him more reflexively on all fronts including the Russia investigation. And that is a huge gamble, Ana, for 2018 when you look at where voters are on the President and their desire for some checks, some balance on him, Republicans now I think are making it easier to argue that they simply will not provide that as long as they are in the majority.

CABRERA: Sabrina, a reporter asked if Mueller requested to talk to President Trump during the investigation, what the president agree to it and the President appears to answer yes before deflecting. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, if Robert Mueller ask you to come and speak to his committee personally, are you committed still to doing that?

TRUMP: Yes, just understand. There has been no collusion. There has been no crime. And in theory everybody tells me I am not under investigation, maybe Hillary is, I don't know. But I'm not. But there has been no collusion. There has been no crime. But we have been very open, we could have done it two ways, we could have been very closed. It wouldn't take in years. But you know, sort of like when you have done nothing wrong, let's be open and get it over with. Because honestly, it is very, very bad for our country. It is making our country looks foolish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Sabrina, is it significant that he would be willing to be talk to Mueller?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, certainly significant. I think the question is, would the President be willing to testify under oath. Because this is the President who on more than one occasion have changed his story with respect to key elements of the Russia investigation. And of course, we already have seen more than one of his top aides charged with lying to the FBI.

I think that this is also coming at a time notably when Robert Mueller and his team are reportedly zeroing in on whether or not this President and his aids engage in obstruction of justice. They are particularly examining the now infamous Trump tower meeting in June of 2016 which was attended by then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyer Natalia (INAUDIBLE). And the President's role in crafting a statement that was highly misleading about the nature of that meeting, not initially saying that they had accepted an offer to potentially receive damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton.

So there are a lot of questions certainly that the special counsel team would have for the President. I think the real question would be, would he be willing to speak under oath?

[16:10:33] CABRERA: During this news conference, it was, really, a lot of different question that the President was having to answer including about the book. And he, of course, took the moment to take some shots at Michael Wolff, the author, calling him a fraud. I want to point out some of Wolff's reporting has been corroborated. But there have been some errors identified as well. Here is Wolff now on his book "Impact." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE AND FURY: One of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor has no close effect. That the story that I told seems to present this presidency in a way that it says he cannot do this job. The emperor has no clothes, suddenly and everywhere people are going oh my God, it is true. He has no clothes. That's the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Ron, is President Trump inadvertently bringing more publicity to Wolff's book stunning the flame, giving the book more power and credence than it may otherwise have if he said nothing at all.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, the answer is clearly yes.

And you know, this as I said, this goes right at what has been the principle of vulnerability from the beginning. If you go back to election day and it usually forget this, in the exit poll on the day President Trump was elected, a little more of one-fifth of the people who voted for him said they did not think he was qualified to be the President. And a little more than one-quarter of the people who voted for him said they did not think he had the temperament to succeed as president. But they are willing to give him a chance.

They did not like Hillary Clinton. They were tired of conventional politicians. They wanted change. So they are willing to vote for him. What has happened over the past year, has done more I think to deepen those initial doubts than to dissuade them. And what you have seen is as his approval rating has dropped, I think it is largely among those voters who are ambivalent to begin with.

And what this book does, the reason why it strikes such a nerve even in some of the particulars may not be correct is because it reinforces the (INAUDIBLE) that people have seen in public of a President who is at best impulsive at worst erratic and volatile has raise questions about whether he has kind of the basic capacities, in temperament and experience and judgment to do this job. And that above all I think is the threat to him and Republicans in 2018 and 2020.

More than the policy, their elements of the policy agenda that are unpopular, some that are more popular. But what you have is a hardening 60 percent of the country that at this point is not convinced that he has able to do the job or maybe has become convinced that he is not able to do the job. And Republicans have lashed themselves to that. And that's why when you see Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell standing behind them, they are in fact are in this together now pretty irrevocably.

CABRERA: But just let me push back for a second. When you talk about the book itself and the impact of this book really exposing what people knew all along so to speak, the same time, I mean, it seems like this news cycle moves so quickly and in a couple months' time will people going to remember who Michael Wolff is?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look. I would say it doesn't really matter to tell you the truth. Because I think, again, this is flowing in the current. I mean, Michael Wolff did not create the question about President Trump's fitness and he will not be the last word on it, you know. In some ways, this is a right a passage in Washington in a world that used to be played by Bob Woodward (ph). His books about a new administration. When we kind of look under the hood and it is a lot messier than we think.

I think what is different here is that is coming against this context of so many Americans having underline questions about whether whatever they think about the policy and the ideology, that whether he is fit for the job. More by temperament than intelligence. I think that's an important distinction.

CABRERA: Sabrina. I know you interviewed Doctor (INAUDIBLE). He is, you know, psychiatrist who brief members of Congress last month on potential risks of President Trump's behavior. Lee has said she was speaking out because she feels quote "the danger have become imminent." The physiatrist have not examined Trump in person which is important to note. What were your takeaways from your conversation with her?

SIDDIQUI: Well, it is clear that there is a growing number of mental health professionals who feel that there is an obligation to at least urge lawmakers on Capitol Hill to take more seriously questions around the President's temperament and his fitness for office. I think those concerns were amplified by the President's tweets earlier this week taunting North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un about having a bigger nuclear button.

Really is, this is -- we are talking about the commander-in-chief and someone who has his finger on the nuclear codes. And so I think that this group of mental health professionals believe that there is a potential risk to the public given the President's often erratic behavior. It is anyone isolated incident. As Ron pointed out, this is been something that's plagued this President throughout ever since he took office and throughout his candidacy. And a concern that was initially raised by Republicans when he was campaigning for President.

I do think though it is notable so far, the professor I spoke to has met with majority Democrats, there was only one Republicans who was present at the briefing that she held last month. She is (INAUDIBLE) with one more Republican this month. But, so far this is very much split along partisan lines.

I think as Ron clear out, Republicans are much more concerned with having the President's signature on key items of their legislative agenda. Such as attacks build last month. They really are embracing him and going into this midterm election. And as Ron pointed out, they are taking significant risks by doing so and it remains to be seen whether it will be on the right side of that political calculation.

[16:16:18] CABRERA: Real quickly, Sabrina. Very quickly, I mean, just follow up with you, Sabrina, then I actually have to go. But when you talk to Doctor Lee, did she address the critics who said what she is doing those against the American psychiatric association rules of kind of conduct in terms of making a judgment on somebody who they have not examined.

SIDDIQUI: Yes. That's the so-called goal water rule which is not necessarily lab. But it does prevent mental health professions from speaking out about the condition of public figures especially without having examined them or public officials I should say and without their consent.

But there is more than one now who believe that despite the criticism, this President has prompted, caused potentially renewing those ethics standards especially because lawmakers are not yet taken seriously of what they do believe to be a potential imminent risk.

CABRERA: OK. Ron, you had a quick final thought.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. You know, whatever the portrait of the President and the Michael Wolff's book or for that matter, the equally devastating portrayal from foreign diplomat in Susan Glassier's piece last week in "Politico." I think most Americans perception of him are shake not by this third party accounts but what they are watching him do and say himself every day. That's where the impressions of his fitness are lack thereof are being forged much more than any of these other accounts. CABRERA: Ron Brownstein and Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you very much for

the conversation.

And still to come, agenda over shadow, Republicans would like to keep their legislative checklist on the spotlight but this new White House controversy has suddenly front and center.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:21:00] CABRERA: Top Republicans putting on a united front with President Trump at Camp David today touting their 2017 wins and looking ahead for the New Year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We got a lot of work done. A lot of great work for the people.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We are excited about the progress that is already been made. And we are very excited about what we have in store for us for 2018.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, thanks for the opportunity to be here. We are excited about the New Year. Ready to get to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: But the bomb shell book, "Fire and Fury," threatens to overshadow their agenda that is causing obvious headaches for the White House including raising of questions about the President's fitness for office and in that early morning tweets from President Trump fired back saying among other things he is quote "a very stable genius."

Joining us now, CNN commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye and former spokesman for governors Mitt Romney and John Sununu, Ryan Williams.

Gentlemen, thank you for spending part of your Saturday with us.

Doug, I know you are also the communication director for the RNC. We have talked in the past about how the White House sort of stuff on its own message when it wants to focus on policy. Are we seeing that again with the President today?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. We are seeing two messages. One, the Republican leadership with the House and Senate with the President trying to talk about what their accomplishments are. And two, Donald Trump going down the twitter rabbit hole that he always does.

I think there is a little bit of a difference here though this time, Ana. And what I mean by that is, you know, we have three or four days now of Donald Trump enduring unseasonably negative coverage in really personal negative ways. And so we talk about his tweets and talk about how their distractions, but sometimes there is also a reset button. And what Donald Trump has done today is he has hit reset. He is defining the debate, whether you think it is a good debate or not a good debate, is obviously a whole other question. But he is resetting the debate away from some what the accusations are in the book and talking about things that he wants to.

The problem and the challenges for Republicans moving forward, they much rather talk about legislative accomplishments that actually impact and benefit the lives of Americans throughout the country.

CABRERA: And I guess the question is the effectiveness of this rest and the message that the President is tweeting.

Ryan, would you have handle the fallout from Michael Wolff's book this week and the same way we see this administration handled it?

RYAN WILLIAMS, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY: No. The President elevated this to a whole new level. It is over the top response, the lawsuit, you know, the attack on Steve Bannon's statement. I mean, Trump should be getting a cut of the book sale. He has been amplifying this so much that is - he is selling a book for anybody else.

So this administration as Doug pointed out should focus on policy. They just had a big win of the tax bill. The President should be going around the country selling that bill right now to the public. He should be talking about the legislative agenda for the upcoming year. That's the way to get beyond this.

But the President cannot let things go whether it is the Russia investigation, whether it is Michael Wolff's book, whatever. He gets obsessed with things and just cannot focus on the bigger picture. And that's a problem for him. It is a problem for the party in general.

CABRERA: But let's focus on the bigger picture among us. Republicans, we know, have an ambitious agenda, DACA, the children's health insurance program, entitlement reform, and government spending. And today, we again for some talk of wanting to work with Democrats.

Doug, does that seem likely?

HEYE: I think it is certainly possible when you are talking about things like DACA or certainly transportation and infrastructure reform.

With DACA, I actually look at this with all the rhetoric that we have seen from Donald Trump about a big, beautiful wall and certainly some harsh language store immigrants. I actually think this could be an opportunity for Donald Trump to have a Nixon and China moment that only Donald Trump might be able to cut of what he like to call the big beautiful deals that he says he can do as the great negotiator.

He is only going to be able to do that if he can get Democratic buy- in. It is an open question as to whether or not they will be able to do so. But that would be a great thing for Republicans to not just to tout for those Republicans who want to but move it off their plates because of something that Republicans have been vulnerable to attack on for years coming from Democrats and even moderate voters.

CABRERA: Ryan, Republicans could be welcoming Mitt Romney to Congress this fall. He changed his twitter location this week sparking the speculations on twitter that he could vie for Orrin Hatch's Senate seat. I know you have been in touch with Romney in the past. Have you talk to him since this announcement?

WILLIAMS: I haven't talk to him since Senator Hatch announced it. But I do think that he is seriously considering running to replace him. The governor is someone who cares very deeply about the country. He is committed to the public service. I know he is very concerned about the future of the country. And I do think that he is inclined to seek this opportunity. He is still making a decision. And I think it is a little wise off but he is somebody who could bring an independent voice to the Senate.

He is someone who is a conservative Republican would agree with the President on many items, but would also disagrees with him. And I think given his statue in the party, the fact that he is a state man, he would provide a voice of independence and be with the President most of the time, but also speak out when he had disagreement and provided different perspectives.

[16:25:37] CABRERA: Doug, we had tape to different Romney in the past, one who criticize Trump, one who was auditioning for role in his administration. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

Let me say it again. There is plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man and a fake.

I had a wonderful evening with President Trump. These discussions have been enlightening and interesting and engaging. I enjoyed it very, very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So Doug, which Mitt do you think we would see if he is elected?

HEYE: Well, I think there is a big difference between campaigning governing as we saw from Governor Romney's clips. But ultimately, you know, if you want to draw distinction with Donald Trump, you can do so on policy. But what Romney does is he is going to be a strong and I will use the word the President did today. He will be a stable voice, not just for the country but for Utah. That's how you demonstrate being difference from Donald Trump because you don't have to talk about being stable. You just act in that manner that certainly that Mitt Romney that we have seen whether as a candidate or as a governor and is what active voters in Utah might be looking for who are not favorable to Donald Trump even Republicans in Utah.

CABRERA: Ryan, something else happened this week. We saw the President disband his controversial voter fraud commission panel. Of course, had been under criticism from state officials voting right advocate. A commission member even sued this commission. The President Trump we know is long allege mass voter fraud in the general election. He has cited that the grounds for this commission to begin with but never provided any proof. If the President is going to undermine competence in our election, does he need to address this fundamental issue and either show proof or put it to rest.

WILLIAMS: I hope we just move on from this now. There was no evidence of any kind of massive voter fraud in the election. And by the way, Donald Trump won. So I don't know why he was so fixed on it. But the commission was not really getting in anything done. It was bogged down with legal challenges as you pointed out. Hopefully we just put this behind us and getting back to other more important issues like the upcoming agenda and the tax bill. I don't think that we should focus much more on this commission and the President's accusations.

CABRERA: Ryan Williams and Doug Heye, good to see you guys. Thank you.

HEYE: Thank you. Take care.

CABRERA: You too.

Coming up, CNN reports frustration boiling inside the west wing after staff are banned out from using personal cell phones. What's behind that? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:16] CABRERA: Beginning next week, personal cell phones will be on the ban list for White House staffers and quests in the west wing. And CNN has learned many staffers are frustrated. They are unhappy about this decision which the White House denies has anything to do with this brand new tell all book about the Trump's presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All right, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SANDERS: Absolutely not. That's a ridiculous characterization. This is about the security and the integrity of the technology system here at the White House. This is something that has been in process and in the works for over six months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Let's talk it over with Brian Stelter, senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." So Brian, we heard Sarah Sanders there say this is all to a national

security but CNN is hearing from sources that is not exactly the case.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It is certainly it is important to the White House to secure, but this seems like the latest in the yearlong effort to clamp down on leaks. And by the way, every President wants clamp down on leaks. This is not new for President Trump. President Obama prosecuted leakers in several other cases. In this case, what we have seen for the past year is the department of justice going very aggressively against leakers and that's why you wonder this is part of that strategy.

CABRERA: So let's talk about this new book of Michael Wolff and some of the fallout from this, with the criticism that he is receiving. We are learning more about of him and himself. He has been described as part gossip columnist, part psychotherapist by Michelle Cottle who is a contributing editor for the "Atlantic" who has interviewed him before. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE COTTLE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: It is very peculiar writing style where he will set the scene for - so he doesn't say someone fit and then a quote, he will say this is what they would have said or should have said in the circumstances. So it is a little bit of art that he is sticking in there that makes it not quite a hard quote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So there are some questions about some in accuracies of this book. What more can you tell us about his its veracity?

STELTER: You know, from what I have read, certainly there are errors. The errors I found are mostly very small. But whenever you see even a tiny mistake, even if you are reading a local paper, it makes you wonder about the rest of the story. And that's the issue of Wolff and the sloppiness in the book.

This book was rushed out. And as a result maybe fact-checkers and editors did not spend quite enough time with it. But I don't think we should let the errors, even though they are real, distract from the broader picture of these painting.

Michael Wolff, definitely has a sharp claws. He is a controversial writer. He and I had fought on occasion. But his access is undeniable. He was really in the west wing for months. HE really was able to observe the White House up close in those early chaotic days. So a lot of what he saw has not been and cannot be refuted.

And I'm really struck by what out colleague Kevin Lipp (ph) just reported on CNN.com this afternoon. He wrote about the suggestions of the President is not competent, that he is not fit for office. He said look, CNN has not verified everything in this book. That is definitely true. But quote "the broader culture of our president surrounded by aides and advisors where he had this temperament has been born out in conversations with officials over the past year. People are worried about his erratic move and short views, et cetera, et cetera.

So what Wolff has done is now - he hasn't contracted prior reporting. He is really confirmed and complemented added to, I did in some cases, to a little more explicit, a little more vulgar. Wolff's writing style is provocative and unusual. I don't think I would write a book the way he did. But that does not mean what he wrote is wrong.

CABRERA: And "USA Today" has actually tried to promote some of his, I guess you could say video (ph) secrecy. Ley's watch a promo because he used to work there so watch how they handled him when he was there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a Michael Wolff here to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Read Michael Wolff. And thank you lucky stars, he is not writing about you. "USA Today."

[16:35:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is off the record

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: Really good.

CABRERA: Do we know anything more about past controversies?

STELTER: Well, the idea of that add, about ten years ago, Michael Wolff said it write a book about Rupert Murdoch, the owner of FOX News and 20th century of FOX. So he wrote a really flattering profile of Rupert Murdoch. And partly for the reason, Murdoch let him inside. He gave a series of interviews in the better part of the year. The book that came out about the Murdoch Empire was not very friendly. It was quite critical. Murdoch was furious about the book when it came out. And it seems now, Rupert is on the same thing with President Trump, you know. Wolff wrote a flattering story early on. He seems very friendly.

I remember this time last year, Wolff sat here. Attack me. He said I was too tough on Trump. He said the media airtight Trump. So the media was out to get him. What was he was doing was he was saying, hey, White House, I am on your side. I am on your side, President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks. I am the friendly voice that is here to take your side. And I think he was doing that obviously to warm up to his sources. Cozy up to the White House.

Now, a year later, we see the results. He was able to get inside. And he was able to write what it turned out to be a very damming illustration of a White House in crisis. Now, you might criticize his tactics saying it was kind of underhanded or inappropriate to be out there saying one thing and now saying something very different.

But as he said on NBC's "Today" show, he did whatever he had to do, said whatever he had to do to get the story. CABRERA: And he stands behind this reporting 100 percent, he said.

And he also says he has some journals and he has some recording that would also backups (INAUDIBLE).

STELTER: And that I am curious about.

CABRERA: Yes. Don't we all want to see and hear those?

Thank you very much, Brian Stelter. Good to see you. We will have you back next hour.

Don't forget to watch Brian also tomorrow morning on "RELIABLE SOURCES" at 11:00 a.m. eastern.

Still ahead for us, tic tac a piece or is this just a ploy? North Korea agreeing to face to face talks with the south. But Intel and fighter say they have their doubts.

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[16:40:02] CABRERA: Today, the White House is denying. It is now that attorney general Jeff Sessions by not inviting him to join the President and other cabinet members at Camp David this weekend. In the meantime, Sessions is coming under fire for members of his own party for ordering a justice department crack down on marijuana.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more. 3

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Republican California is going its own way again. Another battle and the war between the world's six largest economy and the Trump administration, this time over pot.

JERRED KILOH, OWNER, THE HIGHER PATH: When I first found out, I felt pretty scared.

MARQUEZ: Jerred Kiloh has worked in the legal medical marijuana business for decades. He says the attorney general's order rescinding Obama-era marijuana guidance will have real world effects.

KILOH: We are in day four of recreational sales. Yes, this could scare some people from entering into the industry.

MARQUEZ: While sales of recreational path have been legal in other states, the size of the California market is so big, it will be increasingly difficult for banks, Wall Street, other states and the federal government could ignore.

How much have you been stockpiling for recreational sales?

KILOH: Hundreds of pounds. I mean, we are probably between 600 or 800 pounds of stockpile.

MARQUEZ: Kiloh views attorney general Sessions' action as a threat to the recreational market just getting started here. He also says given where the country is going, it won't mean much.

The long-term trend, do you see this having an effect?

KILOH: Now, we see a lot of politicians coming out strongly in favor of what the public of California has stated they want to have.

MARQUEZ: The Republic of California and its voters going its own way on healthcare, immigration, environmental protection, taxes and now cannabis.

XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL, CALIFORNIA: We have to confront the Trump administration for their constitutional overreach. We are going to protect not just our people but our laws. And the things that made California, the economic engine for the country.

MARQUEZ: Politicians across the state is telling the Trump administration, if you are going to try to stop legal pot, give it your best shot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: And so what you are looking at here is marijuana that will soon be on the market here in California specifically in Los Angeles. What the big question here is whether or not the attorney general, what he did is he will actually mean anything for this pot or any other in the not too distant future. The U.S. attorneys that he appointed recently and that we are already in office have not said a lot, basically saying they will keep doing what they have been doing which is essentially nothing -- Ana.

CABRERA: Miguel Marquez, thank you.

Coming up, North and South Korea prepare for landmark talk next week as President Trump says this would not even be happening if he had not been so tough on Kim Jong-un.

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[16:46:46] CABRERA: Some of the new development in attempt standoff with North Korea. A short time ago, President Trump said he is willing to talk over the phone with the country's leader Kim Jong-un. Meanwhile, Russia is warning the U.S. not to undermine landmark talks between North and South Korea. The two sides are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in the demilitarized zone after a rare diplomatic breakthrough this week.

A hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang actually begin ringing. After going on news for two years, South Korea announcing it would welcome North Korea's participation in the upcoming winter games and that military exercises with the United States would be postponed until after the Olympics.

CNN's Brian Todd has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a message sent by fax, Kim Jong-un's regime says it will come to the table and engaging in peace talks with it South Korean enemies, days after holding a muscle flexing rally in Pyongyang.

It will be the first high level contacts between the rivals in more than two years. Diplomats will meet face to face net Tuesday, the day after Kim's birthday in a place called the peace house in the DMC.

The talks will center around the possibility of North Korea sending athletes to the winter Olympics next month in Pyongchang, South Korea which many observers feel could ratchet down boiling tensions at the region. But several U.S. officials tell CNN, American military and intelligence officials are viewing these piece arbiters with some skepticism. And those who have sat face to face with the North Koreans say there is a good reason for it.

EVANS REVERE, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT IN SOUTH KOREA: The first round of any negotiation with the North Koreans is usually tough, sometimes even confrontational and often very demanding.

TODD: We have spoken with several former U.S. officials who negotiated directly with the North Koreans. They expect Kim's diplomat to try to exact the concessions from the South Koreans in exchange for sending North Korean athletes to the winter games.

To press for economic health and the likely demand a scaly back of joint U.S. South Korean military exercises. These veteran diplomats say at the bargaining table, the North Koreans can be friendly, charming, persuasive and then sometimes can turn into gangsters.

Evans Revere was with U.S. envoy William Perry during talks in 1998 when the North Koreans got frustrated.

REVERE: One of the North Koreans turn to Secretary Perry and said to him, we can even turn your home of Palo Alto into a sea of fire.

TODD: And the North Koreans have carry out threats made at the bargaining table.

Former NSC official Mike Green says in 2003, North Korean negotiators told him the U.S. had better end its hostile policies towards Pyongyang or else.

MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The North Korean said they would transfer their so-called deterrent, their nuclear capability to another country. Four years later, the Israeli air force bombed the nuclear reactor being built by the Syrians with North Koreans; help. So they clearly demonstrated willing to transfer this capability.

TODD: And these diplomats warned beware of North Korean promises.

Former envoy Joe DeTrani says when the U.S. and North Korean struck their first big nuclear deal in the 1990s, the North Koreans promised to stop producing plutonium but secretly started producing uranium instead.

[16:50:02] JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY TO NORTH KOREA: That was in violation of the agreed framework. Certainly, the spirit of the agreed framework. We learned that and we put it to them. And they admitted to having the program. So whether they were being disingenuous, absolutely.

TODD: Still, if the talks next week go well, experts say, they can be helpful and at least starting to dial back the tensions in the region. But if the talks break down or the North Koreans don't get what they want, Kim's regime could test another missiles, launch a cyber-attack or find some other way to disrupt the Olympics.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Joining us now Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and opinion columnist for "the New York Times" Nicholas Kristof.

Nicholas, as someone who has not only covered North Korea but actually visited the country, I want to get your take on what the President said today. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If I were involved, they would not be talking about Olympics right now. They would be doing no talking or much more serious. He knows I am not messing around. I'm not messing around. Not even a little bit. Not even one percent. He understands it. At the same time if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we are working on it with Rex. We are working on it with a lot of people. If something can happen and something can come out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all of humanity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Nicholas, does the President deserve more credit than he has been given, I guess, for this renew talks between the North and the South?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that President Trump has indeed managed to put more pressure or economic pressure on North Korea. He has elevated sanctions and indeed and Pyongyang and North Korea, you do feel that.

On the other hand, it is not clear if those are plausible strategy. It seems to be getting North Korea to give up higher nuclear program. They simply won't (INAUDIBLE). So I think he gets credit for putting more pressure on North Korea. But I don't think it is not really clear where that road goes. And that seems to me that we are being a little marginalize as North Korea and South Korea now have discussing (INAUDIBLE)

CABRERA: The President has been criticized for his "Fire and Fury" comment and talking about, you know, having this big button. But today, he seems more measured. He even went onto say that he would be willing to have a phone call with the North Korean leader. Did that surprise you?

KRISTOF: Well, boy, President Trump is just hot and cold on this. As you remember about a year ago, he was you know, again, making nice to Kim Jong-un. And then in August and September, he threatened to totally destroy North Korea. Then he had the latest tweets which were pretty harsh. And then North Koreans when I visited, they were - they could not understand what was going on. They were trying to understand it. But now, I think that the danger is that of the strategy that (INAUDIBLE) they are working towards then there is a risk (INAUDIBLE).

CABRERA: Let's talk about that tweet from the President that got a lot of attention this week. Again, quoting here. "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted food starve regime please inform him that I, too, have a nuclear button, but it is much bigger and more powerful one than his. And my button works."

In response, Obama White House photographer Pete Sauza posted this image indicating that the only button on Trump's desk is the one to call the valet. All that joke aside. How do you think that tweet was viewed not only by our allies but the nearly 30,000 U.S. troops sanctioned and stationed rather on South Korea?

KRISTOF: Well, look, I think our allies are pulling out our hair on this issue.

I think that is indeed one reason why South Korea is now negotiating directly with North Korea. But, it is also worth noting, did this play right in the hands of North Korea. When I was in North Korea, I was struck that people had no idea of the University of Virginia student who had died there or who were died shortly after being returned.

CABRERA: Warmbier (ph).

KRISTOF: Exactly, I wonder. But everybody knew about President Trump's rhetoric toward North Korea because it fits into the North Korean narrative that the President Trump is threatening them. And so, I think that this tweet will be getting a lot of attention in North Korea but it fits Kim Jong-un's narrative. He is (INAUDIBLE). He is (INAUDIBLE). So I think it is really unfortunate we did escalates tensions in (INAUDIBLE) and does it really serve any clearer objective of resolving the problem.

[16:55:07] CABRERA: Secretary of state Rex Tillerson sat down with CNN with our (INAUDIBLE) in a rare and exclusive interview. He was asked about his future in the Trump's Trump administration. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I look forward to have a very, very successful 2018.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the whole year.

TILLERSON: I tend to be here for the whole year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President is giving you any indication that you won't be around for a while?

TILLERSON: None.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: None whatsoever?

TILLERSON: None whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Quickly, if you will. What does 2018 look like for Tillerson's relationship with the President?

KRISTOF: Well, I'm with bet Tillerson that he will not be around at the end of the year. And he may not have it (INAUDIBLE). But we watch at CNN (INAUDIBLE). So I don't think he is going to survive. And the country as North Korea I think will back unfortunate. I think in many ways he has been a disaster as secretary of state. But (INAUDIBLE), he and Jim Mattis have actually worked together to try to reduce the rest of the catastrophic emblem (ph).

CABRERA: All right. Nicholas Kristof, thank you very much.

KRISTOF: Good to be with you.

CABRERA: Coming up, the President defending his mental fitness.

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